Thursday, October 23, 2014

Italian children’s tales are part of Nonno Michele Spadoni’s legacy

Nonno (Michele Spadoni) in his Shore Acres farm yard.
My sister and brother had the good fortune of living in Nonno’s house during their early childhood. Linda was seven and Roger five when Dad and Mom moved from Nonno’s house to Rosedale, and I was born a few months later, just as our family was moving to the new house. Dad had spent all but the first few months of his life in the Shore Acres neighborhood of Gig Harbor, and when he married Mom, she moved into the Spadoni family home. Linda and Roger remember waking up on cold winter mornings and crawling into bed with Nonno, who would often tell them stories with his heavy Italian accent. For me, unfortunately, Nonno was just the name of the old man who held me on his lap and gave me money when we went to his house on Christmas Eve. He died when I was six.

Nonno’s stories, however, live on. His children told them to their children, although not frequently enough for most of us to remember them today. Though I barely knew Nonno, at least I had the good fortune of having Linda and Roger for sister and brother, because they probably knew Nonno better than any of his grandchildren still alive today.

It is mostly from listening to Linda that I know the stories of Pigottino, Patuzzo and the Filli Billi Macola. The latter story, I have concluded, was concocted entirely by Nonno, as none of my Italian relatives has heard anything like it. However, last April when Linda and I visited our cousin Grazia in Italy, we asked if she had ever heard the story of Pigottino. After a little prompting, she said she did remember it. In fact, she said, it was a well-known children’s tale in the Tuscany region, but we had the name wrong: It should be Pochettino. Armed with this new information, I did a web search and located the story on several Italian websites. The sites confirmed that the story has been told for many years throughout Tuscany, and the hero of the story is usually named Pochettino, but some versions call him Buchettino, Buettino, Pezzettino or Minuzzolo. I even found one reference to the story of Pigottino, although the text was not provided, and I eventually discovered that a Pigotta is a rag doll, so Pigottino would be a diminutive form of that word. Each version is slightly different, but most all have the same key features in common, and overall I am amazed at how closely the online accounts match the story as told today by Linda.

Children’s stories—favole, in Italian—were passed from person to person, and each story-teller added his or her own personal flair. Nonno and Linda both added details that are not in the online accounts I found. Since I found only one version written in English—using the name Buchettino and in a book from the early 1900s that is out of print—I have decided to translate one of the Italian versions myself. It does not have some of the embellishments added by Nonno and Linda, but perhaps at a later date I will mix those in as well. I would be interested to hear from other Italian-Americans to see if their parents or grandparents told them a similar story. I have left a few words and phrases in Italian so as not to interrupt the rhyming.
llustration by Carolina Casali, a grade school
student in Livorno. Her class wrote a version
of the story after asking their grandparents to
recount it.

In the days that cats could fly and holidays were held every other day, there was a beautiful child whose name was Pochettino. To teach Pochettino how to work, his mother hid a coin in the house, and every day she said to him: “Pochettino, Pochettino, sweep the house well and you’ll find a soldino.”

Pochettino always swept well and made everything shine, and finally one day the broom swept out a penny, and Pochettino jumped with happiness.

“Now that I’ve finally found it,” Pochettino said, “I have to think hard about what to buy and spend it wisely. I think I will buy a bag of cherries . . . no, because I have to throw away the pit and the stem! Then I will buy nuts . . . no, because a part of the penny will be spent on the shells! And if I buy apples, I’ll be paying for the core. I know: I’ll buy a bag of figs, because we also eat the skins and don’t throw anything away!”

And so he went to buy a bag of figs, but it was a small bag because a penny wouldn’t buy very much. After returning home, he began to eat on the window ledge. As he was eating with great gusto, the last one fell below him in the lane. Pochettino began to cry, calling his papa to find the fig that had fallen. But his father said to him: “Pochettino, leave the fig where it fell, because soon a beautiful plant will be born. Fig trees grow quickly, and then branches will be here in front of the window, and you can go up to eat the figs!”

In fact, since fig trees do grow fast—even faster in stories—a beautiful tree soon grew outside the window, and Pochettino climbed on the branches and went up to eat the figs. One day Pochettino was eating a fine meal when an ogre passed by and saw him there dining on the beautiful figs. He called out:
Pochettino, Pochettino,
Dammi un bel fichino
Col tuo bianco manino.

(Give me a beautiful little fig with your little white hand; some versions say “santo manino,” would could mean sainted or more figuratively, precious little hand.)

But Pochettino said to him: “No, because if I reach out my hand, you will eat me! I will throw it to you.”

Pochettino let a fig fall to the ground.

“I don’t want that; it went into the mud,” said the ogre, and he called again:

Pochettino, Pochettino,
Dammi un bel fichino
Col tuo bianco manino.

“No, you want to eat me! Take this one.”

And he threw another down, but the ogre dropped it and said:
“I can’t eat that. You see it fell into some cow poop.” And once again he called:

Pochettino, Pochettino,
Dammi un bel fichino
Col tuo bianco manino.

Pochettino was a kind-hearted boy, so he said: “I’ll give you one, but don’t eat me.”

He reached out to hand the ogre a fig, but the ogre grabbed him by the arm and put him in his sack. He threw it on his shoulders and began to run home to cook and eat Pochettino with his wife.

On the way he needed to stop and relieve himself, so he put down the bag and told Pochettino to be good.

“Go farther away, ogre. Otherwise I will smell the terrible stink,” said Pochettino from the bag.

The ogre moved away a little, but Pochettino had a good idea, and he said: “Go farther. The stink will disgust me.”

“Is this OK?” said the ogre with a voice far, far away.

“Even farther,” shouted Pochettino.

When he had sent the ogre so far away that he could not see, Pochettino took a little knife from his pocket and cut the string of the bag. He took the largest stones he could find and stuffed them in the bag. Then he re-tied it and ran away.

When the ogre had done his business, he returned to pick up the bag and put it back on his shoulders. He said, “Oh, Pochettino, how did you become so heavy: when I caught you, you seemed lighter. But that is better, because now we can eat you for several days.”

As the ogre arrived in sight of his house, he began to cry out to his ogress:
Mogliera, my mogliera,
make a fire for the caldera
I captured Pochettino!
Mogliera, my mogliera,
make a fire for the caldera
I captured Pochettino!

When he got home and found his wife, the ogre danced for joy, and said: “Did you put a fire under the caldera?”

“Yes, everything is ready,” she said.

In fact there was a fire that looked like a furnace, and the boiling water looked like a volcano. The ogre opened the bag and dumped it out into the water, but the large stones broke through the caldera and the water came out in a wave, washing over the ogress, killing her and badly burning the ogre. He was so enraged that he bit into his hands and fire spurted from his eyes. The next day, still in pain from the scalding water, he took the bag and ran to recapture Pochettino.

When he heard the ogre coming, Pochettino climbed out a window onto the roof. When the ogre saw him up there, he pretended that everything was a joke, saying, “Pochettino, how did you get on the roof? I want to come up there too.”
“Certainly not. You will eat me.”

“No, I don’t want to eat you. Just tell me.”

“No, you will eat me!”

“I won’t eat you. I promise.”

“Then I’ll tell you. I made ​​a ladder with all the pans that were in the house!”

The ogre went into the house and took all the pans, making a ladder, but when he was in the middle, the pans tumbled down, and the ogre fell and broke some bones.

“Pochettino,” he said, rising with difficulty. “Tell me the truth! How did you get up on the roof?”

“This time I’ll tell you. I made a ladder of the dishes.”

The ogre believed it and made the ladder of dishes, but it ended the same way.

“Look at how I’ve been hurt, Pochettino! Do not be evil and tell me: How did you come up?”

“This time I’ll really tell you,” said Pochettino. “I made a big ladder with the glasses.”

The ogre, with great effort and the few healthy bones he had left, made a ladder of glasses, but after arriving almost at the top, he fell like a log, and died.

Pochettino came down from the roof and climbed up the fig tree and went back to eating his figs, finally at peace . . . and if you go to his house to see, the tree may still be there.

1 comment:

  1. I grew up hearing this story from my wonderful mother, God rest her soul.


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