It was the summer holidays of 1987. In less than a year, Carlo would leave home.
It was the summer holidays of 1987. In less than a year, Carlo would leave home.
I think I had already noticed an increase in the tension between my parents, for Carlo and Catherine had started frequently quarreling and screaming at each other. Usually, they just ignored one another, so that it seemed I was luckier than most children of my age, whose parents had already divorced. I did not know what Catherine and Carlo discussed, nor what went between Carlo and Tarso -- but I could sense the severity of the issues by the way adults changed their tone and seemed to pretend else in my presence.
I had started worrying, and often startled at the beginning of my parents fights. It was as if the tight silence that hung over our home would suddenly break, bursting into pieces, whenever Carlo and Catherine bumped into one another, and unable to avert their collision routes, irreversibly clashed. Initially, I could hear Catherine accusing Carlo, and when, after having defended himself from repeated attacks, he would start accusing her too. I never tried to pay attention to what they were fighting about, nor why -- as if those matters remaining a mystery to me, leaving their causes and reasons far from my understanding, would somehow and miraculously avoid my parents splitting. But not even by the might of my worst fears could I have predicted that Carlo would leave us.
"You know that books grow from trees, son?" After having dedicated himself almost exclusively to Carlo for a couple of days, Tarso had decided to give me some attention. By then, I had set up my reading and writing corner -- just like Catherine would have found one for herself -- at the kitchen. It was the brightest room in the house, and, apart from the living room were I was not welcomed by the men, the only other place where I was sure to sometimes find Tarso, since he was doing the cooking. My core evolved around rejection, and I had started fearing that my great-grandfather was planning to avoid and ignore me during the whole of our stay. "It's time for you to acknowledge their origin, rather than stick to themselves. Lets walk through the fields! It will do you better than burying yourself into those books!" My great-grandfather promised me, pulling me away from my notebooks, in which I wrote children's stories that I wanted to pretend were the great adventures of adult characters.
I was still too young to realize the scale and importance of what was happening at that meeting of generations, and I did not share the pride and happiness that my great-grandfather and my father seemed to feel just by my presence in our family's ancestral farm and lands. They must have felt the gap -- Carlo's father, and Tarso's only son, that had died young. But whether any gloomy shadow crossed their hearts, it was never passed on to me -- my existence, as the continuity of the D'Allegros, was more important, and to be discreetly celebrated.
At least, I was able to show true enthusiasm with what we saw on our tour through the mountains. I thought we were going to hike along Via Flaminia, the ancient Roman road leading from Rome over the Apennines Mountains to the coast of the Adriatic Sea -- but I was not thoroughly frustrated when Carlo guaranteed we would go there another day, once Tarso wished to remain on the D'Allegro lands only.
For the first time I was seeing the world from so high, and my constant exclamations actually amused my great-grandfather, as much as annoyed him. I could often notice by a certain glow in his eyes, denoting a doubtful approval. I was too noisy for his standards, but not so much that he needed to scold me.
But he never smiled.
Not even when I noticed, from our vantage point over the landscape, how there were trees from the same species but of different sizes growing in the valley beneath us. I pointed them out, without knowing whether they were pines or poplars, and said as much.
"They look just like us. Those trees, of different ages!" I had exclaimed, enjoying the analogy. I thought I should explain further when Tarso looked at me in dismay, but instead I realized he was shocked that I had tried to break the massive, almost sacred silence that enveloped us. Just to let me know that I had been understood, Carlo drew me closer in his embrace, and sniffing my hair, kissed me tenderly on the shoulder.
I was not aware those lands belonged to me -- actually, I belonged to them --, nor even how they constituted my essence, being the ground for my birth as much as Punaouilo was. How before me, countless generations of D'Allegro boys -- and girls -- had been born and raised there, turning into men -- and women --, marrying, constituting families, working the land, and century after century incorporating another piece to the property, and another generation in our history. The family had once grown to be almost large, but it had decreased in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to be finally reduced to Tarso and Carlo only.
My father had been the first D'Allegro to leave, be it out of courage or irresponsibility, to Tarso's deep sorrow and revolt. And I had been the first D'Allegro born far away from our ancestral land. But even our presence, and Carlo's return, were not enough to pacify Tarso's concern about the farm -- in Carlo, that was an artist, and in me, that was a foreigner, my great-grandfather could see no continuity to the agricultural tradition of the D'Allegros.
Our joy was also spoiled by the fact that my great-grandfather was still a bit upset about Catherine not having come with us.
I did not know, but Carlo had hidden my mother's refusal from Tarso until our arrival. Not to show beforehand his 'weakness and lack of authority as a husband', as my great-grandfather had thus interpreted Catherine's strong will and freedom.
I never had heard that she had been invited, and I think she never even considered joining us. I was actually glad that it had been just the two of us, my father and I. As for Carlo, despite Tarso's strict disapproval, I could see that he was exulting in his freedom, and enjoying, just like me, our renewed closeness.
But my great-grandfather had still another intention, that was bothering me above all -- he wanted me to work in the fields, experiencing the peasant activities like once my father, my deceased grandfather and Tarso himself had done.
"No way, dad! I don't want it!" I had complained, far from my great-grandfather's presence. "I did not come here to work... or did I?"
"I will not force you to obey your great-grandfather, Laurent. Although he cannot conceive being disobeyed... Tarso just want you to have the experience that for generations has been that of the D'Allegro family. One day, Laurent, this farm will be yours, and if I know your great-grandfather well, he wants you to love this land as he loves it himself, to make sure that it will continue in the family when he dies, and when I die..." I remember shivering to that thought. Carlo, dead? I could not live without him! "Could you perhaps try to please your great-grandfather? Even if you don't want to, could you pretend that, son? Tarso will be so very happy!"
I went to sleep under a blanket of goodwill like my father had asked me to, and stuffed my pillow with the best intentions, to cultivate in my dreams the best perspectives about the forced labor that awaited me . But I woke up the next day very grudgingly, when my great-grandfather came to take me out of bed shortly after the sunrise. The sun had not yet ascended above the mountain crest when we left the house, after I refused to have breakfast. Truffle, homemade sausage, rustic bread, roasted aubergines -- food I would consider as delicacies, as I grew older. But at twelve, I almost vomited at the sight of dried figs and the pungent smell of goat cheese. How could I have been hungry at dawn? Where were the croissants, the brioches, my beloved pain au chocolat that was among my best recollections of Paris? Everything at my great-grandfather's seemed too rustic for me -- like himself.
Foreseeing the worst vacations of my life -- enslaved -, I followed Tarso to the fields on a barely illuminated path. Full of ill will, but without the courage to dare contradict my elderly boss, not even curse nor whine, even though my mood worsened every time I tripped over camouflaged roots and loose rocks. In Paris I had dreaded Celeste's scolding -- in the Apennines, I feared Tarso's huge and heavy hands.
That same morning, however, my annoyance evaporated and turned into enchantment and commitment of becoming an exemplary farmer -- when I met Fabio.
Since Carlo had abandoned the farm and gone to study in Paris, Tarso had been forced to hire someone to help him on the farm -- at that moment, it was Fabio, the son of a former employee.
Fabio would have been 18 or 20 years old, I guess -- because I never got to ask. There are things I never knew about him, because our communication was very cooperative but never was deep nor fluent. What little I know from the mountain dialect, I learned that summer, in my effort to talk to Fabio.
I started to wake up every day early, spontaneously, to my great-grandfather's contentment. Though sleepy, I was happy to go the fields -- not because of the work that awaited me, obviously, but because I knew that Fabio would be there.
Surprisingly, the path through the woods that separated the house from the fields became so lovely. Like if I strolled on the path to paradise, I rejoiced with the dim, flickering light filtered through the trees taking the last veils of dreams from my eyes, as the morning symphony of birdsong delicate and joyfully helped me wake up. The sun majestically rose behind the mountains, illuminating the day without being yet seen -- and when the first rays of sun fell upon the earth, I'd meet Fabio. And he was the sun, for me.
I had learned in school that ancient people worshiped the sun as a deity -- and I adored Fabio as if he were the sun! There had been tribes who sacrificed their people to their gods? I sacrificed my sleep and my vacations -- I sacrificed my laziness for Fabio.
My day did not start before seeing him and exchanging a "Buon giorno!" with him -- it began only after I had looked into his eyes, as green as the needles of the perfumed pines around us, and having again amazed at his beautiful face and the manly body.
Even while working, I sought Fabio. I looked with curiosity and worship at his muscles bulging from the hard work -- he gave me all the easiest tasks -- and how, when he was sweating, his body gloriously started to shine. I cannot possibly quite remember the smell of his sweat, but I do remember that when I'd smell it, it was like a punch in my perception, and I felt a shiver across my whole body.
Fabio wouldn't notice my worshiping devotion. At first, he was polite and kind to me, just because I was the great-grandson of his employer. And he treated me like the child I in fact was -- the shy, awkward boy, a foreign and foolish city kid. Even if I lived in an isolated house lost in a corner of rural France, to him I seemed metropolitan. However, since I strove as best I could to help him, and tried as well to learn the dialect to be able to communicate with him -- perhaps my sincere efforts, to work and talk with him, had won him and he started to show his liking for me.
In the afternoon, when the sun got too hot, we worked in the barn. Away from the fields, and far from my great-grandfather's frown, Fabio relaxed and we could then talk.
Although I spoke poorly the local dialect, with creativity and the will to communicate, we'd spend many hours talking, sometimes even neglecting our work, and on various subjects -- although that might be more the result of a fanciful recollection than that of reality itself, since we had no common vocabulary to talk that much and sustain our exchange. And probably, neither interests nor experiences in common.
My childhood memories, however, recall of long talks with Fabio whom, to my eyes, was not just an ordinary peasant, as someone we'd met at the street market, for instance. Not only was he very beautiful -- he also had dreams and ambitions. He wanted to study, wanted to go to town and to have a technical profession, to progress in life.
At least, that was what I could guess -- but still, if I did not understand much of what he spoke, I could see his determination and ambition. He was happy to have someone to talk to, and I -- I was absolutely delighted with the attention and the time that an older guy shared with me. I listened to him with devotion, his words that were at once meaningless and wondrous to me, while worshiping him with my eyes. Fabio was markedly my first experience of rapture with masculine beauty. I lived continuously in an altered state, all my senses heightened in Fabio's presence, as dangerous, exciting and foolish as it could be for a twelve years old drunk boy, for the first time listening to the awakening call to become the man he only much later would.