From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 30
The People of Gioviano
Memories of
Marjorie Haw Russell

Adenaco -- “Mr. Gioviano” seemed to take care of everything except the clock which was Loi’s responsibility. Gioviano is in the Commune of Borgo a Mozzano, and it is from there that the business of Gioviano is handled. Therefore when problems arise, notification must be sent to Borgo. For example, it was Adenaco who called when streetlights burned out, After he finally “went away to the graveyard,” getting such problems taken care of was difficult. He spent a great deal of time looking out the window at the bar, which had a view of the parcheggio and all of the comings and goings. He always watched for us, and greeted us with “Where you been?

When George and Sue were looking for a house to buy in Tuscany they met Adenaco at Leo’s Bar at the foot of the hill. His son had recently been killed by a drunken driver in Catania, Sicily. Adenaco and George bonded immediately, and soon George was like a son to Adenaco. He helped him look for houses and could not understand why George chose Casa Giorgio. The little house had not been lived in for years and needed lots of work done. George explained that he was buying the house for the view.

When we first saw the house in 1978 it was truly in ruins. George, Sue, Baby Anne, Lady, and their two parrots had moved back to Huntsville, and storms had ravaged the roof letting rain in to finish the damage. When George brought us to see the house, it was the first time he and Sue had seen it since they left. Horrified at the condition they found it in, they felt like they should sell it. The Giovianini did not want to lose George and family and eventually talked them into keeping it. Adenaco offered to look after the renovation while we were in the States.

Mary Lee Nolan (George’s sister) and Sidney Nolan came and worked out what needed to be done, and George put the designated amount of money in the bank. When Kenneth and I came back the next May the work was finished, and there was $400 left over. We tried to give the money to Adenaco, but he was offended. In a loud voice he declared, “I don’t take money from my friends, and Giorgio is my friend.” Eventually, when George came in June he was able to convince Adenaco we would like to do something for the town. That year we bought new uniforms for the soccer team.

We lived in the house for two or three trips without electric lights or running water. The toilet was a six-inch round hole in a stone block on the second floor that connected to the cesspool under the pigpen. To kill the odor, we lit a newspaper and dropped it down the tube.

It took three trips before we got electricity. In the meantime we used little cans of gas in a lamp contraption to furnish light. There was a small coal oil stove for extra heat. The main heat was from the open fireplace that still had a large kettle that was at least a hundred years old that was used for cooking. The sink did not have running water, but the basin drained to the outside of the house through a hole. We carried water from the community faucet on the piazza.

Each year that we came back, George had Adenaco tell him what was needed in Gioviano, and we took care of it. Some of the things we did were: re-roof the church, repair the organ, restore the little chapel of San Bartolomeo about a mile up a dirt path in the mountains, furnish a room to enable a doctor to come up once a week to care for the people, and furnish and equip a kitchen for use in local dinners.

When Kenneth and I started living in the little house, Adenaco watched over us, keeping us informed about events and helping in every way he could. He was about the only one in Gioviano who spoke English, and we hadn’t learned Italian. He loved America and was proud of “his Americans.” He had lived in the U.S. for fourteen years, having gone over with four other men to earn money to send home. Italy was in deep trouble after World War II, and out of necessity many families had to leave to earn a living.

Adenaco was able to come home every three years and was the only one of the four to return to his family. By viewing the same movies over and over, he gradually learned the English language. He started out as a janitor in a restaurant in New York. One day he swept up a $100 bill. which he took to the manager. Having proved his honesty, he was given a better job. He was charming, honest, and concerned. He had several favorite expressions one of which was “I don’t trust anybody but myself, and sometimes I don’t trust myself”; another, “The American smoka the cigar; the Italian pusha the wheelbarrow.” Each time we came we brought him various gifts, but always Marlboro cigarettes, his favorite. One year George brought him a toy wheelbarrow, and we all had a good laugh.

We often took Adenaco and his wife, Adriana, out to dinner. The 33 curves up to Gioviano from the valley made for hazardous driving. When we came to a curve, Adenaco would say, “Honka da horn.” As it was dark and the car lights were on, Kenneth saw no reason to honk, and tried, to no avail to tell Adenaco that any approaching car could see the lights. But, he didn’t understand and nervously repeated his request. I finally said, “Kenneth honk the horn.” He finally did.

Adenaco absolutely refused to drink cappuccino after 10 a.m. He always looked forward to the arrival of our daughter, Suzanne, and one evening when we were out, she agreed to have caffè after dinner if he would have cappuccino. He promised he would, but when the time came he looked so downcast that she relented. He always finished his meal with a serving of Parmesan cheese. When he came to see us we served him Mamma Rosa liquor in elegant little goblets. We enjoyed seeing his pleasure and were careful to have some on hand.

Kenneth and Adenaco had a running contest to see whether the weather would be buono o brutto (good or bad). Adenaco stuck by the weather reports, and Kenneth took the opposite view. Kenneth was right often enough that Adenaco finally refused to bet anymore.

All of our guests were impressed with Adenaco. He was dapper and charming, a real ladies man! He was a faithful friend and is greatly missed. At his funeral the little church was filled to capacity and the street full of people. When his casket was brought out, there was a great shouting and clapping, a fitting tribute to Mr. Gioviano.

Argia -- Kenneth and I never knew Argia in the flesh, but we are well acquainted with her spirit. Because our friend Dina was so close to Argia, we have heard a great deal about her. She and her husband and two sons came to Gioviano from New York to take care of her father until his death. They bought the Palazzo which they called “Casa Calissi.” It became the gathering place for the Giovianini. In those days there weren’t so many cars, TV’s and other means of entertainment. Many of the people played musical instruments, and it seems that friends gathered in the Calissi home most evenings for singing and dancing.

When we met Enrico, her son, years later he said he could hardly walk through the great soggiorno (living room) without hearing the music. It was evident that Argia was greatly missed by everyone. After her father died, the family returned to New York and the boys had no desire to return to Gioviano. After her husband died, Argia came back alone, and Dina and Domenico did everything they could to help her refurnish the house and get settled again. All through the years they faithfully took care of her and of the Palazzo. After her death they continued to care for the house even though there was no money for repairs. When it rained, Domenico climbed on the roof and tried to rearrange tiles to stop the leaking. The attic had many containers for catching water. Casa Calissi was vacant for 15 years before George bought it in 1988 and renamed it Palazzo Margherita.

Enrico and a friend had come to Gioviano in order to try to sell the house. He and his brother and their children were not at all proud of being Italians and cared nothing for maintaining the house or for their relationships with old friends. We began dropping in for coffee and got a feeling for the house even though it was very dark with heavy drapes which were kept closed, except in the kitchen. Argia’s last years were spent in that kitchen, which was her world. To this day Dina can’t go into it without reaching upward and calling “Argia.” When the furnace was installed, Kenneth called Dina into the house to show her how warm it was. She threw her hands up toward the ceiling and called out to Argia, saying in a loud voice, “Argia, è caldo” (“Argia, it’s warm!) It was spooky. Poor Argia had suffered from the cold in that big kitchen with the fireplace and wood stove the only sources of heat.

The Palazzo was in terrible condition when we moved in. We stayed through all the renovation in order to watch the work in progress and to make decisions. There were often eight men there at one time as a new roof was being put on, and plumbing was being done as well as interior work. Our bathroom was “outdoors” at the end of the arcaded terrace.

Our first encounter with an experience that made us call Argia “our ghost” was when I lost a black cameo that I had inherited from my Aunt Bessie. It was a rare piece of jewelry as well as being an heirloom, and I had looked for it frantically for several days, when all of a sudden it lay just outside the bathroom door. It had not been there before. We decided that Argia had placed it there in gratitude for our saving the house. From then on there were innumerable incidences when her presence manifested itself.

There was a beautiful cat that began to stay right by the front door, seemingly trying to get in. One day it succeeded, and it took us two or three days to get it out. We began to call the cat “Argia.” We have become so accustomed to blaming Argia for mishaps that we have decided her ghost followed us to Texas.

Dina -- Dina Marchi Giannasi died in December 2006. She had been a guiding light in Gioviano. Her home was the first house on the left as one enters the villiage. It was her custom to sit on her spacious porch and greet each passerby whether coming or going. Therefore she knew about all there was to know about what was going on in Gioviano and was able to deliver messages to people. She helped everyone in any way she could She was also very hospitable. Her porch was a gathering place for family and friends, and she enthusiastically invited folks in for coffee. Her life exemplified one of my favorite poems, “Let Me Live in a House by the Side of the Road and Be a Friend to Man.”

Many years ago I had an accident. I was resting upstairs in Casa Giorgio when the doorbell rang and I went hurrying down to answer the doorbell. The newly varnished stairs were very slick and I was in my stocking feet. I slipped, caught myself on the corner of the landing and ricocheted catching my left foot between the wrought iron railing and the sharp corner of the stair. The injury was severe and brought on some of the strangest events that ever happened to us in Gioviano.

Dina and our friend, Adenaco Lotti, worked out teams of two men to carry me in a rocking chair down to the parcheggio every time I needed to go for medical help. As I was heavy there were always two teams, for the way was steep and narrow---too narrow for a car. An exchange of carriers took place about half way down. Dina was always on her porch directing things.

When Kenneth had a medical problem she helped him get in touch with a doctor to get his medicine, and she came up each day and gave him a shot. He developed a serious back problem and was hospitalized in Castelnuovo for about ten days. She got everything arranged and brought a lovely tablecloth and nice dishes for our table. When she thought he was being kept too long she got him home again. The Giovianini helped in many ways. It was heartwarming to receive the outpouring of love.

Dina could look up at our house from hers and see when the lights went out, and when we got up in the mornings. She kept track of where our car was in the parcheggio, and if it was moved, she found out where we were. She was truly our guardian angel. She sent food up often and gave us dressed rabbits to cook. The biggest treat was tiramis, a Tuscan dessert she frequently had a daughter-in-law make for us. Those who haven’t tasted tiramisu made in a village with truly fresh eggs laid by happy hens have no idea of what a delight they are missing. The word “tiramisu” means “lift me up,” and that it does.

We also had lunch with Dina and her husband Domenico quite often. Our efforts to keep up conversation with our limited Italian and their no understanding of English were comical. At first we took them a bottle of fine wine each time we came, but they never touched it. They only drank the wine they had made from their own grapes.

When not in Gioviano I missed having Dina call up from her terrace to ours as we watered our flowers in the mornings. She was such a part of our lives I can’t picture Gioviano without her. Both she and her husband, Domenico were helpful to all and were very important to life in Gioviano.

Eletta -- Eletta was one of the most unforgettable characters I have ever met. I wish I could describe her and make you see that she looked as if she had just stepped out of the pages of a book of fairy tales. She was a tiny woman who was humped over a bit from hard work. She always wore an apron and a kerchief tied on her head with little gray curls escaping. She had beautiful eyes, and I suspect that she had been very pretty once.

Eletta lived in the center of Gioviano but had a capanna, or barn on the road about a fifth of the way down the hill to the valley. Here she had a place for her pigeons and animals-- bestie she called them. She walked around carrying a big sack and a sickle and gathered piante, or plants, as food for them. She had a little goat that she brought into Gioviano until it ate enough flowers that the Giovianini complained. When she could no longer take it around with her, she kept it in her capanna. There was a window looking out onto the road, and through the years Mr. Goat looked out at the passersby, whether in a car or walking down the hill. Often it was his rear end we saw, but inevitably he was there. He became a symbol of Gioviano, as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris and the Arch to St. Louis. He lasted long after Eletta had gone away to the graveyard. When a few years ago, he too breathed his last, he was greatly missed.

Eletta also had many piccione (pigeons), the descendants of which are still there today. They are so numerous that they are almost a traffic problem. Giampaolo, her son, restored her home and had his first restaurant there. He could have served pigeon as one of his specialties, but instead he takes care of them in memory of his mother. Eletta’s daughter Ennia can be seen struggling along the road with sickle and bag, dressed as her mother did. Ennia’s daughter has a house that is home to 24 cats.

Eletta liked to visit with one and all. It was almost impossible to understand her as she talked fast, leaving no space between words. She was especially happy when offered a glass of wine. It is difficult to believe that this tiny woman was the mother of Giampaolo and Valentino (Marta’s husband), both large men.

Emanuela -- One of my first Giovianini friends was Emanuela. She had grown up in Gioviano and had no desire to live anywhere else. When Kenneth and I first moved into Casa Giorgio, she was living in the house across La Corte with Vittorio, her son-in-law, who had retired from the Polizia and was farming the family land. Daria, who was Vittorio’s wife and Emanuela’s daughter, was working in Prato near Florence and lived there with her two daughters during the week. Emanuela was a very loving person, and one of our granddaughters called her “Everybody’s Grandmother.” She did most of her food preparation on her front porch, and watching her is how I learned to cook Italian food. The way to make soup as she did was, and has been, one of our favorite recipes. Her recipe for minestra is located in the Appendix.

I learned many Italian expressions and mannerisms from Emanuela, as I often visited with her, both on her porch and in her chicken yard, which was adjacent to our terrace. She loved her chickens and often sat and held them. The mutual affection was amazing. The eggs she gave us had the deepest orange yolks we had ever seen, and of course, were the most delicious. She also gave us tomatoes, and other produce from her garden. My first efforts to write Italian were thank you notes to her. As terrible as I am sure they were, she kept saying, “Brava! Brava!”

Emanuela was overweight and suffered from elephantiasis, making walking difficult for her, but she struggled along to the bottega to do her shopping, always cheerful. The only times I saw her unhappy was when Rosina tried to drive the children away from La Corte -- then words were exchanged! She always looked out for me when the Algerian peddlers came by. She was especially anxious to keep me off the terrace when they were around. A great warmth left La Corte when she died.

Emilio -- Emilio was Dina’s brother, a bachelor. I think he spent a good many evenings with Costanza, who constantly felt sorry for herself, as she had never married. He was a friendly fellow and liked to show us his cow and his land. When he walked up the hill, we often encountered him. He was a good example of a Tuscan farmer; so good that I painted an oil painting of him working with his hay. We got better acquainted with him when we were dinner guests at Lina and Riccioto’s house. They had lived in the United States, and Lina had a sister living in St. Louis, and so she loved Americans. She was an excellent cook and prepared food enough for an army, insisting that we keep eating or she would think we didn’t like her food. Emilio ate with them often.

After one of these gargantuan meals we went with Lina, Riccioto and Emilio to watch the cheese-throwing contest, a traditional event in nearby Ghivizzano in which contestants competed to roll big rounds of cheese the greatest distance. This event was one of Emilio’s favorite sports. At this time we were living in Casa Giorgio, and he lived in a wing of the Palazzo. By the time we moved into Palazzo Margherita, he was older and often sick. He had to give up driving his little Cinquecento (Fiat 500) and wandered around a good bit. If we left the door open, he just walked in. He was impressed with the size of the rooms and often questioned us as to why we didn’t add partitions and make more rooms. His sisters took good care of him, especially Rita who lived in town. When I was in my kitchen and looked out the window over my old stone sink Rita would come to Emilio’s window, and we tried to visit. When he “went away,” we really missed him.

Loi -- I really can’t do the little man justice. Loi and all his family were dear friends. We were regular dinner guests at his home sometimes with each of the boys. Loi was the postino (postman). He rode down to Calavorno every morning on his motorcycle for the mail. He was colorful to say the least. He was small, the cycle big, and he looked so cute with his helmet and large brown leather bag. Later, after Loi retired, Oriana, his wife, took over delivering the mail. The two of them rode on the motorcycle, looking as if they had come from the moon. They made quite a picture as he took her and the big brown bag around to do her job.

As postman, Loi encountered everyone in Gioviano and was well liked by all. He was part of all endeavors. One of his responsibilities was to wind the clock once a week. It was on the campanile, a tower that rose on the Castello, the highest part of Gioviano. This was quite an undertaking and to miss would be most disturbing to the townspeople. The clock was a six-hour clock, chiming the time every quarter hour and the Giovianini depended on it. Once he took George up when he climbed the steep steps to wind the clock, and we went with him. It was not an easy climb. After he died, it was difficult to keep the clock wound because no one wanted to be responsible for doing the job.

Loi loved Gioviano. His two brothers and sister had grown up in Scotland with their mother. Loi stayed in Gioviano with relatives and would not leave, even to visit his family. I think he was about three when they left. They say his last word before he died was “Mama." Loi inherited his palazzo and his land from the relatives. The family grew wonderful vegetables and he was generous with them. They also made good wine from their vineyard. Having guests didn’t cause Loi to miss his favorite TV shows. We talked above them. The food was very, very delicious. Before we left for the States he always said, “You will eat here when you come back!” thumping the table for emphasis. I was with him, his family and Francesco, the priest, when he was brought home from the hospital shortly before he died. He and Oriana were the last local postini. It was never the same with different people delivering the mail-- people from other places who were changed frequently.

Mafalda -- Mafalda was a character! She lived in Sesto a Moriano but spent a great deal of time in her little casa at the end of La Corte. She had a strong, deep voice, which was in evidence as she did her own thing, which was often different from the norm. I can still picture her sitting on the stoop of the house in front of Casa Giorgio reading aloud and often finding comfort from the sun by sitting under a big black umbrella. She also indulged in singing at the top of her voice as she rested there. The house was empty most of the time, and somehow sitting up high must have appealed to her.

She was so much a part of everything. On one occasion a group of us was sitting on La Corte shelling peas and chatting. I was mostly listening. Renalta was very upset because her son was planning to get married, and she was burning up with jealousy. She kept saying, “He’s been happy with me for 32 years. Why does he want to change things?” Mafalda didn’t hesitate to give her “what for” saying it was time for him to find a wife! After Renalta met the fiancé Simonetta, she approved of her and accepted her completely.

When we first arrived in Gioviano, every time I started to go through La Corte, which was necessary to get anywhere, she would come out, take hold of me and lead me to the center of the piazza and go into her “Grazia a Dio” (Thanks to God) for our arrival. She tried to strike up a conversation, but of course it was impossible since I hadn’t learned Italian yet. She wouldn’t give up but held onto me and tried time and time again to make me understand. One of my funniest memories of her is when she cornered George, who wasn’t that well acquainted with her, and grabbed his lapels pulling his face right up to hers, and kept talking to him. His expression was one to remember.

Mafalda was a brave, unconquerable woman. During WWII, she hid two English soldiers and saved their lives. While we were in Gioviano one summer, she was honored in a program on the BBC. I believe she was flown to England for the big event. It was the talk of Gioviano.

One of my most vivid memories of her is when she went funghi (mushroom) hunting, wearing boots and cloak and carrying a basket and a heavy bastone (cane). She was the champion gatherer, usually returning with an impressive number of porcini mushrooms. These she dried in front of her house and so was able to take a good supply to her family in Sesto.

When Mafalda was unable to come to Gioviano anymore, her house was sold to Florian, a summer resident from Sweden.

Marta-- Marta called herself “Tutto Gioviano” and with good reason. She had the only shop, bar, and telephone; therefore she knew all that was going on. The bottega, as the Giovianini called it, and the bar were the center of life in the village. Marta was a hard worker and kept the shop and bar open till 7 p.m. in the evening. When there were no customers in the store or bar she sat on the steps out in front. Her husband, Valentino, raised beautiful vegetables on their land, kept the store stocked, and worked in the bar part of the time. He was a considerate person. One stormy day, the first year we were there, I was walking by when he ran out of the bar and took me inside. I couldn’t speak Italian, but he kept saying “pericoloso” (dangerous) and pointing to the rooftops. I later learned that tiles blow off the roof during storms and there was danger of one falling on my head.

Shopping in her bottega was an experience, as Marta gathered all the purchases herself and prepared the bill by adding everything up with pencil. She could add a column of figures quicker than one could put them in an adding machine. Kenneth has watched her and marveled. We paid our bill only once a month. It was a real convenience to be able to charge items.

When people in Gioviano got a phone call, Marta left the store or sent someone to their home to get them. A couple of weeks after I had had an accident and had checked into a hospital in Lucca for a day, she kept getting calls for me from the hospital. She came to Casa Giorgio several times to call me to the phone, but I was not at home. We finally found out that they had not kept a record of my checking out of the hospital, and as far as they were concerned, I was lost. After that, we would tell Marta when we were leaving to go anywhere so she could deliver the message.

It was a sad day for Gioviano when, several years ago, Marta was killed when stepping out of a bus down by Leo’s Bar. That was the end of “Marta’s store” as we knew it. She had already given the franchise for the bar to Giampaolo, her brother-in-law, and even though Brigida, her nephew’s wife was working in the store, Marta was still in charge. Now the store is run and managed by a lady from another village. Marta’s family continues to grieve for her and can’t stand to come to Gioviano anymore. Her flat remained empty for a number of years before it was rented to strangers. The flowers on her balcony are greatly missed as well. It was full of a variety of plants with blossoms of many colors.

Rosina--Rosina was a little widow and the object of ridicule in the paese (small village). We found her generous, funny and lovable and eventually were able to have her more accepted by the Giovianini. Her story is a sad one. She was epileptic as a child, which set her apart in that superstitious village. Her husband was killed in WWII and left her penniless and with a baby boy. There was no financial help for war widows and she, lacking money for clothes, wore his trousers. Women wearing trousers was unheard of in those days. To make matters worse, her little son Germano pulled her hair so often that she cut it off, another unheard of thing. The children began to make fun of her and made her life so miserable that she couldn’t stand to have them around and made all sorts of fuss when they played on La Corte.

When we were first getting acquainted in Gioviano, people would start twirling their hands around their heads, indicating that she was crazy, and they felt sorry for us for having to live next door to her. Understandably, the very thought of war was almost paralyzing for her. Imagine her horror when she saw soldiers dressed in army fatigues on the roof of Casa Giorgio. She ran through the streets crying, “There is another war. Soldiers are on the roof next door.” George had just bought Casa Giorgio and had brought soldiers with him to repair the roof.

I’ll have to say, living next door to Rosina was a rare experience. The wall separating our houses was very thin, so she heard everything that went on in Casa Giorgio. She complained because we spoke English, but it is amazing how much she understood. She could tell us the next morning what time we got in from our wanderings. She knew if one of the children woke up during the night. She really missed very little of what went on in our house, and she went out on her little bathroom stoop and called out our news to anyone near enough to hear.

She was always eager to help in any way she could. I can still hear her say, “Kinny che fa”? (Kenneth, what are you doing?) When she found out what he was doing, she pitched in and helped. One thing she always did was to help carry the wood for the fireplace (our only source of heat) down through the dark passageway to the pigpen on the terrace for storage. She was a little woman, but strong. She owned some forest land far up in the mountains, and she carried heavy loads of wood all the way down on her head. We had some strong young men visitors one time, and they couldn’t lift her load.

When we first knew her, she was working in a restaurant in Calavorno. Her son was grown and gone, and she was lonely. Some time later when she was retired, during riposo (rest time) she sat in front of her house knitting socks for Germano. At the time of her death, she had “truck loads” of them. The son lived in Cune, and we took her up there to see him a time of two, but he was not nice to her. In fact, he always came around when her retirement check came in and took most of it away. She was so fearful of being left without anything, she collected everything she could get her hands on and stored it in her little house. There was hardly room to walk through to the sink, stove and out to her little toilet, which hung on a balcony and was the last primitive toilet in Gioviano. She loved flowers and had nice potted plants. When we had visitors who wanted to stay in Casa Giorgio after we had moved to the Palazzo, we always had them give Rosina flowers. One of the many things she did for us was to help us repot plants. She brought the concime (manure) and much advice!

I could write a book about Rosina and the funny things that occurred. For one thing, she always came by to get our trash and take it down to the containers. She also saw us off when it was time to return to the States. She was a great help with our luggage, however, one time she packed our garbage in the car thinking it was a parcel to take home. Fortunately, we discovered it before boarding the plane.

Rosina’s death was a big blow to us. She fell sick while we were away on a trip. When we returned and heard that she was in the hospital, we were told to wait a day before going to see her as she was too sick for visitors. By the next day she was dead. How I regret not going on and holding her hand at the last. She had no one.

I will say her funeral was a triumph. How I hope she was able to look down and enjoy it all. She was buried in Cune, and there had just been a wedding in the church, so it was full of beautiful flowers. Her little casket was in the center of the church surrounded by the floral arrangements, and surprisingly enough there were lots of Giovianini at the funeral. That little lady was one of the most interesting characters I have ever known.

Updated December 21, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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