Renzo Besozzi (translated by Bryan R. Monte)
My Lisanza. Summer memories of an octogenarian.
A reading by the old ‘doc’ from Lisanza
There are no certain rules to define whether a village, like Lisanza, should have a masculine or feminine name, but I shall decline it in the feminine: Lisanza is small, and beautiful, and my homeland. I’m not the only one: our dear dialect poet Giovanni Bonfini used to say ‘Lisanza mia’. Lisanza preserves my summer memories, memories of a Lisanza that is no more; only in my heart.
The sounds. Not the far roar of the road, but the chirping of the birds, the cockcrow, the mooing of cows waiting to be milked, the crickets, the croaking of frogs, the vociferous calls of the children in the square, the sweet toll of the bells crowning summer evenings, when the sun is engulfed by its own embers.
The cobbled square. The boys, armed with long poles try to intercept the improvised flight of bats. The men sit on the steps to observe complacently and to tell the events of the day. The old women drag their chairs under the hallway of the backyard to watch the spectacle of the rowdy youth. Clouds of midges clustered in columns sway up and down. Myriads of sparrows intertwine the sky, myriads of midges cluster in columns, sway up and down, and then line up later on the strands of light.
The shore of the lake. The fishermen sitting on the ground, armed with shuttles, patch the long nets spread out on the grass, the house of the tencia (for the dyeing of nets), the women kneeling on their ‘stretchers’ while plunging the clothes into the water of the lake, the sheets stretched out on the grass by the shore to bleach, the boats lined up, the cows left to graze the sharp grass on the marshy shoreline banks. The wailing, under your barefoot step, of the grassy ground wet by the slow reflux of light waves.
Fishing. The children, armed with cane and bait boxes, spent the entire morning trying to ‘hunchback’ fish into their ‘tanes’, or to more easily lure a ‘perch-trout’ (the boccalone). Myriads of bleak shamans, from the forest of green algae, bite the bright hooks. The older children organized themselves into groups for bag fishing, much more productive, and they share the spoils. At home, mothers are tired of cleaning small fish every day, but they let them do it, so they have some free time by their children.
The lake. Always calm and smooth, in the sunny and silent noons you can hear the voices of the children fishing on the other shore, you do not see them, but feel them as if you were next to them. Clear and clean water, who does not have the well in the yard, draws from the lake with the bucket (in the corona, or where the water is deeper). The magnificent sunsets paint the waters red and violet. The slow slipping of the boat, the water slapping against the keel, while the oars rub across the surface.
The castle. It was already considered a ruin during the Maria Theresa of Austria census of 1722. The steep, cobblestone road that winds its way up the strange, low, near-lake chine, from the other moraine hills. The square, roofless tower, the oval wall enclosing the plateau where the church was, the enclosure of the old cemetery, with the headstones on the walls, according to the dictates of Napoleon’s edict of Saint Claude.
The icehouse. Beautiful and practical hexagonal construction near the lake, which the cooperative of fishermen fills with ice and snow pressed in winter and that throughout the year serves to store the fish waiting to be delivered to the merchants.
The slingshot. Toy and weapon of all boys, built with a small piece of wood and strips of rubber cut out of old bicycle tyres. Hunting for poor paserotti, poor sparrows or swallows or the few lamps on light poles. Sometimes also used in bloody battles between groups of boys. Fortunately, the shots are not very precise. We were no better than the youth of today.
One day a year, a great party for us children, comes to ‘Crociera’ Street (where today there is a traffic light) a hellish and noisy threshing machine and all those who have cultivated wheat or other cereal bring the bundles to be shelled, and they bring back their sacks with the fruit of their labour and the straw bales, magically spat out and tied with the wire, which will be used for the litter of the animals in the stalls.
The hay. Guys, let’s go to make hay. Yesterday, the great ones mowed the grass of the fields and this morning they have turned it over to dry completely. We bring the cows to the cart, the double yoke to the rudder, tridents and rakes, and we children on the empty wagon. We keep the cows still while the big ones load the hay; now and then we move the cart, and the mound grows … up to two or three metres. And then back on the wagon, we climb over the scented hay and so we return home, hot and happy.
Dear, old Lisanza, which I revive in my heart, the land of my father ‘in whom I trust, a kind and pious mother, who covers both my kinsman’, as Petrarch says! AQ