Another Tuscan Tale for you from Simon Law:
In San Giuditta in Tuscany, the usual span allotted to men and women has been extended from the usual three score years and ten – by another ten – and more.
Anna was not old, being fortunate enough to have been born into, and be living in a village where apparently some deal has been struck with the Lord.
But Anna had not been well for some time. This was obvious to anyone who saw her struggling, with her almost spherical body, up the steep-cobble-paved-streets on her regular trips to the Village piazza, where the shop, post office and bar were all located.
The effort of these regular perambulations did nothing to deter Anna from either her shopping needs or her social obligations. The trip from house to piazza was made at least four times a day. Newspapers and magazines were to be collected first thing – Anna kept up with world events, as well as show-biz gossip and was far too busy to wait her turn for the bar’s single copy of the newspaper La Nazione. She was also a stalwart of the church. This meant several trips a day in the opposite direction, down to the dull-grey, looming, edifice that is the church of San Giuditta, to clean. She was also in charge of stocking and ordering the religious supplies necessary for the day-to-day running of the church for the priest, who lives, not in the presbytery in the village, but in the local town.
Anna, in short, was a busy woman. Husband, family, house, church and village: duties that were etched on her overworked heart. She did not neglect any one of the duties that she took upon herself.
Nor did Anna neglect a single person she met. Everyone, be it friend, neighbour or stranger, was greeted, on every meeting, in an organised and accounted form: ‘good morning’, on the first meeting of the day, ‘good evening’ after lunch, and an affectionate and well meant ‘ciao’ on every other encounter.
That was Anna’s life: husband, family, house, church and village. There were weaknesses, of course: in her youth. What pleasures there were to be had, and sometimes there were few, Anna enjoyed. She loved to dance and took every opportunity to do so. A ride on a motorino was a treat. Her three coffees a day: at breakfast, after lunch and dinner, were a joy, taken at home or in the bar, right until the end. The lush pastries in the bar, were a problem – after Anna’s body turned against her, and the doctor diagnosed the diabetes. It was traitorous, that body of Anna’s. The cigarettes had been easy to discard – years before. Wine was, as is the custom, only taken with meals. Spirits, entirely forsaken (apart from the one that she worshipped, each Sunday). But food, and especially sweet food! The denial of sugar in her coffee – it was so unfair.
The mildness of the winter had been hard on Anna. Cold can be combated by another log on the fire and another layer of clothing, but the thick mists that rolled up the valley and choked the village made breathing difficult. Spring brought not only better weather but the first of the visitors, first the Germans and then the French – more people for Anna to greet, on her regular visits to the piazza. Summer brought the influx of the Swedes, many of them regular visitors and therefore known to and remembered by Anna.
The sirens of the ambulances are not rare in the valley – but usually assumed to be attending some other village. At two o’clock in the morning, the two ambulances that arrived in San Giuditta were heard and noticed. Anna’s death notice was pasted at ten. At midday the bells tolled for ten minutes. The conversation in the piazza was hushed – unbelieving. Anna was as unfailing as the water in the fountain. It was not credible that either might be removed.
That morning would have looked a normal day to any outsider. The business of the village continued – just quieter. At four o’clock, the bells tolled again, Maria locked her shop. The bar closed. People drifted quietly through the piazza towards the church.
The piazza was soon empty, except for a small group of bewildered English visitors. The day before, the village had seemed so alive: the only village in the valley with a shop a bar and a social club, a game of football using the narrow gateways as goals, and groups of elderly people gossiping in the shadows.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
The church was packed. The pews were full. There was no space, even in the aisles, for more standing. Those who chose not to enter the church did not – but paid their respects, standing for the whole hour of the service, outside.
Anna’s family, friends and neighbours took turns to carry her on her last journey down the road to the cemetery.
The whole village – and more – stood, shoulder to shoulder, in the walled necropolis, as the priest said his last words – and Anna’s coffin was lowered into the ground. People took their turns to say their personal good-byes, before silently drifting away, singly, or in family groups.
No English-style cold meats and cucumber sandwiches, not in San Giuditta. The mourners simply returned to life. Some went straight back to work, in the fields, or in their homes. Maria opened her shop. The bar was busy – but subdued. In the social club, the card games quietly, almost guiltily, resumed.
A simple piece of paper was pinned to the village notice board. The childlike handwriting, of Anna’s daughter, thanked those who had attended the funeral.
The priest would have to find another servant for his church and, in September, after the month long festival that surrounds the Ferragosta holiday is over and the visitors have departed to their real lives, there will be one fewer resident to brighten the village with cheerful greetings.
Another missing soul for San Giuditta to look over.
After Chelsea School of Art, Portsmouth Polytechnic and Ruskin College, Simon began work in the film and television industry in 1979 (United Motion Pictures, Southern Television, TVS, LWT, Thames Television, BBC, C4, British Screen, Skreba Productions …) as an assistant film editor, later as an editor – occasionally a director and producer.
Simon splits time between London and a small village in North Tuscany. Between buying a house, beginning to do it up and the arrival of #1 son, he worked on: “The Last Syllable”, a connected series of short stories; a novel, “Come Again” and a series of short stories about the village, “San Giuditta”.
Simon can be found on Twitter as @SanQuirico
Photo of Piazza del tribunale Lucignano with the church of S. Michele Arcangelo in the background by Welkinridge