The Very Unpleasant Pheasant Plucker

The village of Val Di Pimento, like so many others in that part of Italy, is insignificant. There is no slight intended in this statement; rather it is to say that there are no major features to it that might draw the tourists’ eye enough for them to make a small diversion from the main roads. In essence then there is nothing remarkable about the place. The scenery is beautiful – large fields, set out to grow the very mainstay of crops – with large weaving hedgerows dancing across the evergreen horizon as high as the eye can see. Roads are narrow, no more than farm tracks in places, and are so tangled that it is difficult to notice that they led anywhere at all, never mind to a traditional Italian village. If a visitor followed these tracks they would, in the first instance, have come upon a little stone cottage of no great architectural appeal. The white building being shuttered during daylight hours was not uncommon. Venturing farther the visitor would have been able to indulge in a slice of Italian rural life not changed for centuries. Small markets were held during the summer months where local produce could be procured. Allied to this were several village shops whose crafts and craftsmanship had been handed down from father to son. The visitor might also stumble on the awkward notion that the old shack opposite the little cottage that was seen on first arrival was to be avoided.

For in this small hamlet there lived a man whose very name caused children and adults to quite literally shake in their boots; so frightened were they. The village folk had good reason to do just that as this man had shown his utter contempt for all that was decent and honourable. He name was Carlo Tomassini but everyone knew him as the Oaf. He was a bear of a man who dressed himself in reeking fleeces from long-dead animals. His hair was black as the night sky and hung down his back like a lion’s mane and he smelt of musk, according to those fearless enough to approach him. At almost seven feet tall he towered over all of the other men in the village – indeed in the local county. Although it had been many years since anyone had actually heard him speak the elders said that the words just tumbled from his lips like guttural noises from a wild animal. One day the Oaf had stopped speaking altogether and began the habit of simply pointing at what he required. The villagers at once understood that their own continued existence depended on their best efforts to translate these curious notions.

The Oaf worked all day, every day, in a little hut that the locals had christened the Oaf’s Temple. Shooting parties were his main clients. At dusk they would deposit their prized pheasants at his door knowing that they could trust him to prepare them for their pots. Many were world famous restaurateurs whose clientele would pay a small fortune for a taste of such game. A steady stream of such strangers would enter the village in their fancy cars. Once in a while they would park up and at least buy some of their provisions from the local shops.

Each night the Oaf walked the short distance to his little stone cottage where after eating he would drink his fill of homemade wine. No-one from the village had to peer into the Oaf’s dwelling to see this was how his evening proceeded. Once he was sure he’d had enough to drink the Oaf would throw open the wooden shutters of his cottage to share what he no doubt thought was his wonderful voice with his neighbours. The noise would go on most nights until the early hours of the next morning after each successful refill. The songs themselves could not easily be distinguished – apparently some were traditional Italian melodies whilst others were believed to be variations on famous arias. All were sung unaccompanied in a booming monotonous drone that cascaded over the surrounding countryside – more Pavarotten that Pavarotti.

It had been many years since the villagers had managed to get a good night’s sleep. Indeed many accidents had been caused by their lack of preparedness for the day ahead. Only last week a full cart of milk was toppled over because the postman lost control of his vehicle in the tight streets surrounding the dairy. Thankfully neither Mr Ponchielli of the dairy nor Mr Umberto were hurt in the incident, although Mercury the mare took flight and was later retrieved from an adjacent field, cowering in the undergrowth. It took many more days for the horse to recover. Mr Umberto has since confessed that he fell asleep at the wheel. Privately each villager prayed for the Oaf to reap the rewards of drinking such large amounts of alcohol:

“Surely it is only a matter of time before his liver gives up the ghost” or “His heart can’t be as strong as it once was” or “Why can’t he just die?” they would say to each other; usually on their way to Mass or Confession. So it was that a plan was hatched by The Priest himself after listening – and then, of course, absolving – many of the good Catholics who had repented their less that holy thoughts about the Oaf.

“You should hold a village meeting to discuss the problem”, suggested Father Antonio, “But be careful that the Oaf – I’m sorry, I mean Carlo – doesn’t find out so that he is not offended and, more importantly, aggravated. I would say that the meeting should be organised by word of mouth.” The Father offered to chair such a meeting but made it plain that the villagers themselves should be charged with the provision of ideas and the final decision.

Over the coming weeks the villagers spoke to each other in subdued tones as they met on the streets of the village whilst going about their normal days. They whispered in the bakery, the pharmacy and the dairy. Long discussions were held by elderly neighbours whilst walking their dogs. It was generally agreed by all that something had to be done about the Oaf. Yes, something must be done – but no-one could agree just what. Eventually a list of reasonable ideas began to emerge. I use the word reasonable here for it is important to be able to distinguish between what is reasonable and what is not and many of the villager’s ideas were definitely not reasonable. Some instantly dismissed as being either one, ludicrous or two, illegal or maybe even both. I shall leave it you, dear reader, to place into the appropriate basket the suggestions of castration, a mafia-style hit and the provision of a large crate delivered to darkest Africa.

The meeting would be held in the church hall at a time that the Oaf would be at his busiest – a Monday morning following the shooting parties’ successes of the weekend before would be ideal. The Oaf would be up to his neck in pheasants and would not be able to eavesdrop on the village meeting. Indeed the Oaf had not once entered into the church at any stage of his life as far as anyone knew.

It is at this point that I am afraid I must depart for a brief few moments from telling the story for I recall having omitted one or two details that will prove to be of interest. As I stated before, the village of Val Di Pimento is quite small but it does have one characteristic that sets it apart from all other villages in the area – it has a small, landscaped garden at its very centre. In this confined area there are three bronze effigies that pay homage to the past glories of the village. One is of a former Mayor, Antonio Esposito, who was arrested by The Fascists and paid the ultimate sacrifice for trying to protect the people of the village from payment of unfair taxes and burdens. At the base of his statue there are a few words that when translated show the villagers everlasting thanks to him: “La calma è la virtù dei forti” – (The calm is the virtue of the strong).

…to be continued

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