Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vita Italiana - the Beast of Tirrenia

The Beast

On Tuesdays during the summer there is a market set up in the morning until lunchtime in Tirrenia.  When we lived there it was a nice way to spend a Tuesday morning; a fifteen minute walk down streets shaded by tall pine trees to the sprawl of stands, where vendors didn’t need to call out to passersby, but attend to the wandering eyes and hands and questions of price at a leisurely pace.  Everyone comes to Tirrenia, especially in the summer time, especially on Tuesdays in the summer time to shop for sandals and scarves, plastic kitchenware and potted herbs, clothing and roasted chicken.  Since the American community around here is so small, and there’s not a lot to do locally, except baking your skin or your dinner, it’s rather unlikely not to run into someone you know in the market. 

I hadn’t been down to the Tirrenia market since the previous summer and it was already July, so I headed down before the morning sun got too hot.  As I wandered through the mess of people and past each stand, casually eyeing the merchandise, I was surprised not to see anyone around I recognized.  When I got to the chicken truck, its side open, revealing the showcase counter and slowly turning spits full of whole chickens, I looked for Alberto.  Alberto usually bought a slow-roasted chicken every Tuesday during the market season, but I didn’t see him in line.  I stopped at the stand with the rough silk tablecloths, runners, curtains and pillows and tried to spot the last set of curtains I’d bought from this very stand.  Nothing new today.  After a half hour of milling around with nothing of real interest catching my attention and feeling a little lonely, a familiar face passed me by, his black, curly coat brushing my calf as he made his rounds through the market stalls, trotting assuredly on his way to someplace important.  I smiled and went on my way, uplifted somehow having seen him.


Why, 'The Beast'

We passed him every time we left the neighborhood, following the road that wraps around the backside of the Grande Golf Hotel, by his house and out to il Pisorno, a treacherous stretch of road leading away from the coast.  Every time the car rode the bend and approached his house, he was there, poised and waiting to bark his insults at us and fearlessly chase us on.  His stature was short, and his fur curly and black, so we regularly hit the brakes when he disappeared from view, afraid of running over this valiant guard dog.  Often when alone, I slowed with my window down to speak to him, thinking we could come to some sort of agreement, as I never wanted to risk hurting him, rushing, perhaps.  He would listen to nothing and continue to bark, rushing right up to the car before circling it with the conviction of an animal guarding a house made of meat.  I spoke to him with a smile every time, nonetheless, and was soon on my way.

There came a day when the little black flash of fury did not appear as we rounded the bend in the road.  Being so used to seeing him and preparing to either speed up or slow down to accommodate his darting, I was slightly startled by his absence.  I rolled by, peering through the ever-open gate from where he usually emerged, if not sleeping in the shade on the street, but nothing.  Two weeks passed and he wasn’t there.  I asked Chris every few days if he’d passed our little neighbor on his way out, but the answer was steadily a no.  Then one Tuesday in early June, I’d walked down to the square to check out the summer market and saw him.  He was trotting down one aisle of stalls as if on duty, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth.  I was relieved and had to laugh at myself for having worried so much over a dog that very likely might take a finger if I reached from my car window on one of the days I stopped to chat at him.  But this little scrapper had become an endeared part of life here, here in Tirrenia, my first home away from that of my childhood; here in Italy, a thousand miles from everything I knew.  This little growling matte of lazy black curls was a reason to smile this Tuesday morning, and I watched him disappear around the corner stall, in the direction of his street post a few blocks away.

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