Dario was a native of the island of Elba which lies off the Tuscan coast. His father, Umberto Scalippi, was a sculptor originally from Umbria. His mother, Anastasia taught Science rather eccentrically at a public school in the seaside town of Portoferraio and became known for keeping a chemistry lab in which she conducted some odd and occasionally toxic experiments . She was from an old established Elban family including one forbear, the captain of the garrison provided to supervise Napoleon’s brief incarceration on the island. Uncorroborated evidence was passed down that the captain was obliged to dine with the demoted French emperor. It was a case of noblesse oblige during this time in history when exiled tyrants were feted with a suitable establishment, access to fine food and wine and the amiable company of his captors.
Apparently there is a letter to the captain’s wife claiming the prisoner was, very possibly the most boring man he had ever met, and he knew what he was talking about, having spent many a tedious day sitting around listening to old soldiers whilst waiting for battles to start. Below is an excerpt from the captain’s letter:
“The august exilee would, following the evening meal, read aloud to all assembled from obscure texts regarding the minutiae of military strategy, after which he descended into maudlin and inebriated silence punctuated by occasional belching and to my horror, small explosions from between his legs. We unfortunate guests, were forced by convention to sit at table until his manservant literally carried him to bed.” He continued to declare, “…the sooner the tyrant was back in the hands of the French the better, because given his current melancholic and odious disposition it would be more productive to have this tedium unleashed on the British rather than myself and my officers.”
As it turned out, Napoleon’s subsequent defeat at Waterloo and final exile on St. Helena in the entirely more suitable ocean of the Atlantic, allowed him to disseminate the wisdom of Thucydides and Sun Tzu uninterrupted by further Italian contact.
Dario could look out of his second story bedroom window of their house in the low, black dirt hills above the village of San Giovanni for a view the sparkling blue of the Ligurian sea. He would have made out the Livorno coast and perhaps even the vague mirage of La Spezia on a good day but the southern seaboard of northern Italy was an unseen ghost beyond the horizon. His home consisted of a once splendid villa now in need of urgent repair, some tangled and perpetually dying grape vines, a poorly tended orchard and a barn in which Dario’s father Umberto, performed his angry persecution of unrepentant marble and querulous steel. His father furiously created amorphous structures that loosely adhered to the freeform movement of earlier times and contained nothing that might make them a known quantity among the living; or the dead come to think of it. He was a man as strange as the product of his vocation but more of him presently.
There were no other children from this union and Dario survived a lonely existence in a storm of marble dust, persistent catalytic effluvium and connubial disharmony. Both parents loved Dario but due to their perpetual and mutual hostility towards each other an insufficiency of demonstrable nurturing was bestowed on the boy. Alcohol was involved but at the heart was a melancholy so deep, it could not be repaired even by the dauntless Dario. The war was one of attrition, with the infequent full scale skirmish. On such occasions, Dario felt called upon for ambassadorial appeasement usually in the form of tears and entreaties to desist.
Once, he ran away but Elba being modest of proportion, the unhappy waif was quickly found in a disused shack a mile inland from the town by local Carabinieri. The fury of the Scalippi family eruptions were well known to the locals and Dario’s parents were contrite and ashamed when their progeny was handed back by the stern officer, chiding them for their abject neglect of the little one. Realizing they had caused their beloved son so much anxiety they attempted reconciliation only for it to be thwarted by their individual and singular disappointment with each other.
The nature of this disunity was manifold as it often is in affairs of the heart. In this case the two hearts in question were broken well before they were known to each other. Umberto, a complex man consorting obsessively with hard materials in an effort to bestow his convoluted grace upon them, failed to recognize the imperviousness of his own character. For this failing his own father, Donato could accurately be implicated and perhaps his father’s father but we have no knowledge of such a thing.
Umberto’s father was a man whose talent for ceramics appeared to have vitrified his heart. Umberto’s mother died of a malady of the brain when the boy was eight and both father and son were left bereft beyond measure. She was to go her grave with her poor brain invaded by a tumor the size of a small and bitter lime as described by the doctor, her young son on one side of her final resting place and Donato on the other weeping in despair for the kind and clever mother and wife they had so unjustly lost.
An habitually taciturn man, Donato further embellished his own character with embitterment and cruelty, as often as not, directed towards his son. It appeared as if a compensation might be garnered for the loss of his beloved wife by impugning Umberto in her demise. One minute he would ferociously demolish the boy by implying, if he had better managed his behaviour she may still be picking the beans from the kitchen garden and cheering them and friends with her toothy laughter. At other times his half mad father would look at Umberto across the room and weep bitter tears of sorrow.
At night the father sat at the table with his bottle of Chianti while the boy prepared their evening meal, making the best of a loaf of bread, some pickled peppers and Capocollo sausage or smoked ham and railed against God and government reserving some of his fury for Umberto for the paucity of his clay getting skills. Umberto was a mere work horse for his father, forced to leave school at an early age to cut and shovel the fine red Umbrian clay near the shallows of Lake Trasimeno and leaving his son as hollowed out as the pit in which he toiled by day. In a studio beside an ancient house on the outskirts of the village of San Vito, Donato converted the product of his sons toil to pots and platters in the style of Terra sigillata, the method of silky surfaced red pots favoured by the ancients. It was an exacting and complicated method which received good prices in the markets of Arezzo and Siena. Occasionally there was a Trip to a Galleria owned by friend of his fathers in Follonica on the coast.
Umberto met Anastasia in this holiday town. After unloading the pots from their old utility and setting them down on the gallery floor Umberto was dismissed with a few lira while his father’s friend opened a bottle of Chianti. Umberto, who was now used to his father’s lack of affection for him, left the shop without a word. He was a handsome but ropey boy of fifteen then and he loped down Via Roma to the beach as self-conscious any child of that age and in that time of the nineteen ’70s.
An Esplanade with a stone wall separating land from sea followed the beach in both directions, north to south along with the hotels, B and B’s and ice cream vendors. He sat on the low sea wall looking out at the colourful umbrellas and sailing boats. It was high summer and there were many people enjoying the sunshine. On a jetty lapped by the blue bay sat the pretty Piccolo Mondo Restaurant and Pizzeria. Umberto made for the jetty with the hope of a morsel that might meet with the demands of his meager lira.
Strolling along the jetty he fell in behind a family of four. A girl approximating his own age turned and upon seeing Umberto, gave him the gift of her smile. She was dressed in blue and red summer dress and leather sandals, her long blond hair bunched up on top of her head in the fashion of the day. The family spoke together companionably, the father joking with his young son, ruffling his still-wet sandy hair and the mother arm in arm with the daughter who had delivered the smile to Umberto. The Corsican influenced dialect was odd but still recognizably Italian and Umberto liked the sound of it.
The family stopped at the waiters station to be seated. A fastidious little man in black and white appeared and told them they were lucky as only one table was available and with a surly glance dismissed Umberto. The girl spoke into her mother’s ear, who turned to Umberto and said that he must join them, asking the waiter to provide an extra chair. ‘Si, Si, buon giorno!’ Suddenly polite to the family’s young guest. ‘Idiota.’ The father said to the receding back of the waiter and shook Umberto’s hand.
Duly seated and introductions made all round, he learned that they were natives of Elba, the parents teaching at a university in Sienna and the children a school in the Bagnoli district nearby. They possessed a small estate on Elba handed down through generations but were forced to live on the mainland most of the year returning when possible to their beloved Elba. Umberto, in turn, imparted his story in a somewhat censured form so as to limit sympathy to a minimum. Since his mother died he had successfully steeled himself against his own self-pity and was not about to delegate it to others.
Anastasia took to this rustic, sensitive boy immediately, possibly seeing in him the very severe lack she knew to be in her own personality. She carried a terrible secret that was not divulged to any person until she confessed to Umberto shortly after the birth of Dario in their, yet to be, future. For Umberto’s part, his impression of the radiant Anastasia was a mixture of awkward stolen glances and a leg jiggling nervous excitement interspersed with mono-syllabic communications. On parting Umberto did not even consider that Anastasia and family would want any more to do with him, and was prepared for a polite goodbye. When they all reached the esplanade and proceed in opposite directions, Anastasia once more whispered into her mother’s ear who then suggested to Umberto that he may like their phone number if he was ever in Follonica again.
With the phone number scrawled on the back of a bus ticket and safely stowed in his pocket, Umberto wandered back to the Galleria as if in a dream. He decided not to notify his father of his meeting with Anastasia in Follonica. As it was, the trip back home that afternoon was resonant with language that would go unheeded in a bordello but be incompatible with a discussion concerning the affairs of the heart. Donato’s driving resembled that of a lunatic at the best of times but with a skinful of Chianti onboard it became literally psychotic. As the sun fell below the coarse low hills to the west and they screeched into their gravel driveway, Umberto was fairly sure they had run over next door’s cat. He did not go back to check. Anxious to escape the inevitable morose ramblings of his remaining parent he escaped to his room to do some to do some brooding of his own on the significance of his newly discovered romantic inclinations and how he may best pursue them.
A distance of nearly 300 kilometres by train seprated San Vito on the eastern side of Lake Trasimento in Umbria from Follinica on the Tuscan Coast . The railway that unfortunately deviated north at the border with Tuscany, terminating on the coast at Livorno and then necessitating a change of trains for the journey south to Follinica. A long way for a boy of fifteen without means to traverse. The distance could be shortened considerably by the use of the utility parked in the lean-to beside the open kiln. Donato had angrily taught his son to drive so that he could make the trip, strictly, to and from the lake for the clay.
When Umberto set out early in the morning a month later for this purpose he merely kept driving until he reached Follinica and the vehicle was found abandoned in a lane off the Viale Carducci by the police a week later. We do not know if Donato despaired at the disappearance of his son, we only know from a look at the local records, he himself disappeared a year later, his dead body was found washed up in the shallows of Maggiore, an island in LagoTrasimeno. The locals believed he had died by his own hand, of both an excess of Chianti and a broken heart.
….to be continued
“Che rumore! who is that yelling his head off”
Dario is standing at the wide entrance to the university and staring down the narrow street at the rapid and alarming approach of the small engine of a man as equal in width as height. A battered cap is propped up on by unruly long, grey hair and a bitter, stubbly face. His steps are enumerated by the clump, clump of a large old knapsack bouncing on his back. The man’s clothes are of the mismatched variety thrown together from a jumble sale of necessity rather than any acknowledgement of sartorial nuance. His feet are bare and dirty. He yells in a very deep voice at the top of his lungs the crudest of oaths and accusations at no-one in particular. Dario’s companion, Miguel, explains without following his astonished gaze.
“Ah, that is Angry Man or at least it is what we all call him. By the way, best not to make eye contact with him or he will direct his wrath directly at you. He’s harmless but pretty unnerving up close.”
Dario quickly turns away as the furious man, wreaking of an acidic body odour stops close by and gesticulates into the courtyard of the university all the time swearing his head off. Students in the quadrangle stop what their doing and laugh or happily return fire. He grunts loudly his pink face now heart attack red and resumes his mad rampage through the city.
It is the custom of the University of History, Art and antiquities, Firenze to view its responsibility to not only the young minds of its clients but their bodily comforts and insists that its newcomers be greeted at the gate by an undergraduate of a comparable age. Miguel with an elegant bow signals Dario to enter the impressive portal. and shows him first his room and then around the grounds and facilities of the university. Miguel has a friend Christian who has a girlfriend, Capri, and the four become firm friends. He is almost immediately provided with the nickname ‘Corsica’
Within a couple of days of meeting Dario, his new friends invite him out for dinner and drinks at an American bar not far from the Ufizzi. On this occasion he became drunk and they all ended up singing La Marseillaise in Italian, until everyone in the bar is singing along without a thought to why the French national anthem was being sung in an American bar on a Thursday night in Florence, Italy. This was the infamous ‘Bar Red Garter’ known in the student world as a decidedly quirky if not, occasionally inflammatory nightspot. The ‘Garter’ was run by a couple of leftish expats from New York. They put on raunchy cabaret’s and encouraged provocateur stand up comics and poets to display their wares to an appreciative audience. Dario started talking to a girl from Sydney who was studying Political Science and who said her name was Esta.
Esta could speak very little Italian but she did not fail to indicate to Dario that she was very much taken with him and invited him home with her. After waving goodbye to his friends spilling out of the bar, Dario and Esta ran down the narrow st towards the Arno, across the Ponte alle Grazie like absconding children and climbed the stairs to her second floor flat, beside Bardini Park.
It was the first time he had sex of the fumbling, urgent variety. It especially excited Esta to discover he was a virgin and she was vigilant in relieving him of the burden. When he lay down on her bed without the expected prurience of a bulge in his underpants, she asked him if everything was OK. She said “stai bene?” and with her accent he almost misunderstood but then he told her. The word sounds the same in English and she smiled a smile of mischievous delight.
The thing he remembered the most was the smell. With joyful desire she took him in her mouth and he soon became hard. She rose over him holding his cock to guide it inside her and it surprised him that she was so wet, he didn’t expect that. Looking up at the the tremor of her breasts and her expression of singular happiness, a kind of intoxication entered and consumed him. He felt empowered by her plump body and he searched it for clues to its mysteries like an adventurer in a new and exotic land. The brackish redolence of her enveloped them like a steamy mist replacing the air and eventually reason itself. Esta, an art student, determined their lovemeaking to be a work in progress, requiring regular practice.