HISTORY AND CELEBRITIES
Vincenzo Peschi the Figaro 
Beard, Hair and Fantasy
By Nicola Piccone
His name was Vincenzo and he had a very unusual surname for
our parts, where there is a proliferation of families such as Teti, Antrilli,
Ficca, Porreca and other houses of equal lineage that some centuries ago were
vying with the local Barons for the arid, stony, feudal lands surrounding our
village. We remember that his Uncle had been the barber and that from a young
age Vincenzo learnt the art from him, looking after the shop and as a brush-boy,
then, when it was time for him to get married, he become its proprietor thanks
to it being graciously gifted to him.
Zio (Uncle) Camillo, who retired because of old age (but without a pension because they didn’t exist in those days) left not only his razor and his brush to his nephew, but also a large clientele and the license to be messenger of the Conciliazione.
The succession occurred before the War in Ethiopia, when silver 5 lire pieces were in circulation, with a picture of an Imperial Eagle on them (called the “pigeon” perhaps because of its mild appearance but also because it is perched on a sort of a gutter), and when arguments amongst the poor were fairly frequent, usually involving abusive pasturing, small thefts of logs of wood or bundles of brushwood twigs, injuries and other “trash” of little criminal relevance. Vincenzo was in charge of delivering injunctions, decrees and citations and also for the Prefecture though without an Official Judiciary title, and because of these positions he knew absolutely everyone; he was a sort of computerised Registrar.
With his fast legs, optimum memory and his willingness to work hard, he was often to be seen at dawn, already prepared to shunt out the Justice papers to the surrounding districts, or to go to the houses of elderly clients, carrying the tools of his trade in a small trunk-like cloth bag. He looked like an actor when, on going to their homes, he would attend to freeing the elderly and the ill of their superfluous hair, or when he carried his small collection of home-bred leeches, with all the necessary discretion of the case, to use for therapeutic bloodlettings.
Open full time, his shop was a sort of social centre, used as a meeting place, for conversations, comments on the facts of the day, the lottery and as a reading room for the newspapers, The “Tribune” and The “Giornale d’Italia”. Vincenzo also sold newspapers (in those days they arrived with the evening coach, when news had already become history) and he had many other skills, he was always available for any set of circumstances.
But his main strength was fantasy, his imagination
flourished without brakes and without hesitation, wisely delivered with
expressions of unsuspected seriousness to his customers, psychologically
identified as naďve or gullible.
Especially in the
winter, when there were many who frequented his shop, lined up along the walls
enjoying the warmth of a charcoal brazier. Vincenzo became an incomparable
lecturer. He made his listeners drowsy with his stories. With the snow of the
very long winter outside, the atmosphere inside was smoky and in the dim light,
spread by frugal light bulbs, one could catch a glimpse of Vincenzo wearing his
white jacket, standing in front of the large misted mirror that was like scenery
for him (with the writing Happy Christmas painted by dipping his finger into the
shaving soap which camped out in the corner and stayed there until Carnevale)
intent on rattling off his usual evening lecture.
Vincenzo Peschi at his business
selling them as such, was known to many friends and clients; but they only came to realise that they were stories, fanciful and sometimes absurd, with the passage of time, when they noticed the true facts; yet despite this, the entire audience liked him and regarded the author of this rubbish with great affection.
About ten years ago, on the occasion of the feast-day of San Nicola, organized by the hundred or so men with the same name as that miracle worker from Bari, a qualified artist, maker of paper balloons, came to the village to release them into the air, multicoloured specimens, messages of devoutness. Many balloons were released, large and small, round and pear-shaped, with writings and images of various types, but none of them rose any higher than the belfry. We never found out the cause of this failure of that joyous event, and the organisers of the festa thought the introduction of their novel attraction was a great disappointment, although it was an addition to the usual sack race, cycling competition and fireworks.
When they reached a certain height, just above the rooftops, all the balloons dispersed downhill, each one running after the other almost in Indian file. Somebody observed that the artist, because he was a stranger, had not taken into account the “civitarese”; that treacherous little wind which blows at low levels; but Vincenzo, a connoisseur on the subject in a figurative sense, on observing this strange phenomenon, passed judgment that it was not sufficient to know how to make the balloons, but one also had to know how to “inflate” them. Vincenzo Peschi was a soldier in the Light Cavalries of Savoy, and already as a young man he had learned the art of launching himself beyond reality, on the saddle of an imitator of Pegasus, the winged horse from Greek mythology.
 Figaro –
the name given jokingly to a barber; from the name of the protagonist of the
comedy by the French writer P.-A. de Beaumarchais The Barber of Seville
(1775), which he later rewrote as another comedy The Marriage of Figaro
(1783). Later still it appeared in the works of Paisiello, Mozart and
© Amici di Torricella No 14 December 1994 page 7
Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca
<=Back to Index