I heard a child’s voice: ecco il bosco! (here is the forest … )
That is what I think it is too, il bosco.
It is actually an avenue of trees planted by my late uncle, who seems to have gone through a stage where he planted as many as he could.
The cemetery a short way across the road is surrounded by his trees.
It is his legacy, tall and mature, various species, living and magnificent …
He lies buried in the cemetery as his trees live on.
He lived with us, my mother’s brother, as an extended family, before he returned to the madre terra.
So he is the only uncle we really knew …
Once, when I was about eight years old I came across with him and my mother and my brother … my father stayed behind to keep on working and pay off the debts back home that all immigrants tend to do, often the reason they leave the familiar for the unknown.
For a short summer we had grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins … but that is just a flicker …
Immigrants are a special kind, regardless of culture or creed.
I say this not because I am one, my parents are, and I witnessed at close hand their sacrifices and their courage.
Us offspring take off in the matrix of culture of the new lands, we go back ‘home’ with our foreign accents.
We ‘think’ we are, say, Italian, but Italian is just the adjective before the noun of South African.
And so it was with this child who in perfect sing song Italian happily exclaimed that ‘here is the forest’.
The mother, her grandparents, her uncle are not Italian … they are extra-communitari (basically foreigners) from the Balkans.
When I saw it was them I went across to greet them … they had been introduced to me by a retired local teacher, she could have been a stern headmistress in any one of our South African schools, and she was no doubt an organizer of Chaos, staunching the natural flow of Entropy.
Entropy has it that everything moves in the direction of order to disorder, from hot to cold, but as long as this Head Mistress is around she will have none of that!
These people need a place to rent that provides 10 square metres per person so that they can have their residenza … residence permit.
If the Head Mistress recommends them, who am I to argue?
Our South African schools demanded the utmost of respect from us for the principal and his/her teachers so naturally I would listen.
I might even have stood at attention when she spoke to me, we used to have to parade in khaki uniforms on the school fields of old, and of course like most of my peers I never escaped conscription even if it was in the Navy.
So we have this place that is temporarily available and under discussion.
But it was not for this that the entourage arrived, minus only the grandfather.
She wanted to come as a Cat, her mother explains.
The little girl has makeup whiskers, red lipstick, and cat’s ears on her forehead … she could not be happier.
We are going to see the donkeys, she adds.
Oh yes, they are around the corner. Have you been there before I ask?
No, we sort of have an idea, she says.
So I offer to show them as it is not quite as simple as that.
The grand mother bravely tries to speak Italian, she is still quite new here.
But her daugther is fluent, she has lived in the city from which springs forth La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady) as Juventus is called.
I have no idea really why that is my favourite soccer side, along with Barcelona of course!
It is in Torino, not here. But I know I love the name: Juventus … The Youth!
(Come to think about it where does the The Old Lady come into it … ?)
So of we go, and I explain how the plot alongside came to be my uncle’s and how the dirt road ends off into the campagna (the farmland) but there see, the asphalt has reached into it, and we turn there to reach the donkeys.
Paradoxically, despite the asphalt, it becomes even more of a bosco, even with a lovely wooden house in it.
We get to the gate of the farmholding beyond the house, and this is as far as I know.
The gate is not locked, it just has a chain across it. Open or closed?
The Mother has no choice after she transformed her daughter into a Cat to come and see the donkeys but to open the gate and have us go in even though there seems to be no one around, excepting the first chickens.
Con permesso, con permesso … she calls out over and over again (with permission, with permission).
You say that here to declare your bona fides.
As we go along so we see donkeys, and more chickens, then goats, and yet more chickens.
The Cat is having a whale of a time, her sing song exclamations float, sparkle and shine like the heavenly pearls they are.
There is a nonno, the Mother calls out to the Cat!
And there he is, in his patriarchal splendour, Billy Goat Gruff with a pair of horns rising high, and a magnificent white beard – all safely behind the stockade of course.
Nonno, Nonno, Nonno … the Cat happily sings.
When my 93 year old father bent down to ask her a few days earlier if he could be her Nonno, she replied no, she already has one!
The mistake, I said to him, was that he should have asked to have been her bisnonno (great grandfather). He agreed, next time then.
Further along were the sheep.
The Mother and Grand Mother were very excited about the one – it may have been natural for them to have seen a heavily pregnant sheep where I just saw a fat sheep.
It has two, the Grand Mother said.
But the Mother is firm, even if she is her mother’s daughter, and says it is three – they can have three.
I am glad that they did not ask for my opinion, because I would have said three too, as I had gathered by now who was in charge.
To have said one, well that would have been ridiculous now that I could see that the fat sheep was awesomely pregnant.
And four would have been ridiculous too.
So, if you have to take sides be wise.
The Cat could not have cared less, the presence of sheep too in this outing along with the chickens and the goats was a bonus regardless.
And so we let the Cat have her fill of all the donkeys, chickens, goats and sheep that she could absorb.
Once this magical threshold had been reached we seemed to have ended up back by the gate.
Back on the short asphalt strip, down past the overgrown dreams of the German who bought a plot from my uncle, where Entropy in the form of trees and general vegetation was swallowing up a couple of abandoned old cars, a caravan, a lorry … you have to look hard to see this, Nature has flourished in her work.
Like it has been swallowing up all the WW1 trenches in the general area, and giving the remains of all those that died and were never taken home to their broken hearted mothers a dignified burial.
If not back to their mothers, then at least to Mother Nature herself.
As I have said a couple of times before this is where Hemmingway cut his teeth in life experience as a front line medic before he went on to be the famous writer he became.
A Cat however would not think of that … she is skipping along, in sing song delight …
Thank you, they say to me … and I reply, no, no … it is nothing … and I think to myself that if they came [sternly] recommended by the Head Mistress, I am going to be at my utmost best … and perhaps a bit more too … just in case, old school habits do not fade that easily.
The truth is though, that I had also not yet seen the donkeys, and I was curious, and the Tao has a way of providing you with opportunity.
Well, that is one truth, and there may be others … or perhaps only one other one, that after all this was a Cat that dearly wanted to see her donkeys.
As they continued back to the main road, through the bosco, beneath my dear uncle’s beloved trees, I watched … the Cat still skipping in her sing song delight, she is of this land now, and when she too goes back ‘home’ she will speak with a foreign accent … just like the rest of us …