May 2011

Moving the Mail in Mareno

Years ago, in a moment of excessive propriety, I explained to Anna Maria that there was a more delicate way to announce one’s need to er, fare caca. Americans use euphemisms such as “I need to powder my nose” or “I have to read” I said. The last one I made up, but she liked that the most and it has stuck. Perhaps for its comedic potential;

“Yesterday I was reading an interesting article…”

“Serena, were you reading or


“Look Serena, I think that sculpture is of a woman
reading…but not reading.”


The sheep are on the move. As Luciano tells me, they have to get to the mountains before the 25th of April or they are stuck here in the lowlands like all the rest of us. For some reason, they walk up there. Loading sheep into a truck and driving up the mountain would take an afternoon. Yet, they walk, meandering their way across miles of fields, gardens and unwatched roads dodging traffic and angry homeowners for weeks to finally arrive in the promise land of cool breezes and green grass.

I have learned however, that there is a reason for the meandering route up to the hills. These flocks are one big maternity ward. Recently I looked up from my computer…bells, barking, a few shouts. Sheep were arriving! I think Giancarlo had made it painfully clear that no sheep could set hoof on our street with their pooping destructive ways, but our campo, the field across the road, was another matter. The group swelled and undulated across the scruffy grass and ruts left by the recent roadwork project. The sheep found nourishment there somehow and called to each other in plaintive oddly human sounding bleats. The serious sheepdogs floated across the bitter grass to gather them up and bounce the group off the back fence, for fun it seemed.

I noticed however that there were many babies, trotting on tip toe, some with umbilical cords still dangling, after nonchalant mothers. Their coats were white compared to the matted mud-crusted coats of the adults. Stoic donkeys punctuated the herd, standing quietly as the dogs trotted around them. After a few hours of this the scruffy shepherds pulled out a roll of netting and started to set up a fence around the enormous herd.

“They are staying a while it seems.”

“Yeah, I am giving them until tomorrow and I am calling the police.”

“Come on, they are not on our street and they seem to be keeping them away from the rosemary and Giancarlo’s grapes”.

Indeed, Giancarlo had given one of the shepherds a bottle of wine as they passed through town last year. He stomped out across the field with a bottle of cabernet franc and we have not seen them on our street since. I am not even sure if it is the same group of shepherds bedding down across the way, but this is how it works.

“Yeah, whatever.”

A few hours later I noticed more babies.

“I think babies are being born, Ciano.”

“That could explain a few things, but I am still calling the cops.”

Those sheep stayed all night and at dawn, stirred, and with bells, bleating, barking, and moved on. The net fence disappeared into a banged up truck and the sheep flowed like water before the snapping teeth of the dogs. The herd was a little bit bigger with the newborns that arrived during the night stuffed into pouches slung over the backs of the bored donkeys as the new mothers shuffled a little faster to keep up.

A week later a large circle of dead grass matted down with an oversupply of newly installed manure still remains. It looks as if a UFO landed, leaving a crop circle in our campo, which honestly makes our shabby field more interesting. And now I understand that these herds linger because babies are being born and this should happen in an open field instead of in a truck on the highway…at least in my idealistic frame of mind..

The last time those sheep appeared actually on our street in fact I was not here. Having seen it before I was happy to have been gone and when I got home the street was clean, pristine even. I could only imagine Giancarlo’s rage as he swept up the detritus. Anna Maria filled me in.

“Serena, there were thousands of them. What a disaster, donkeys, dogs, everything. Even a pony. I am surprised the grapes are still standing. What a mess; and you know Serena, those sheep read
a lot!”


Now they are moving crap from one end of Mareno to the other. Literally. Lumbering tractors chug down our little street pulling massive trailers filled to the brim with shit. As I sit here in the library I can see the top of the pile go by the second story window a few seconds after I smell it. I asked Anna Maria where it comes from…well, I knew where it came from, but just exactly what was the plan? Why this conveyance of cow pie from point A to point B?
“There are a bunch of bulls down at the far end the street and so they are moving it.”

I wanted to teach her, “That’s bullshit!” I think she could handle it. After all, she is the one who invented the word “crash”, a combination of crap and trash. Maybe later. She was keeping an eye on Giancarlo, who was keeping an eye on the tractors. And the tractor drivers all had a wary eye out for Giancarlo who, armed with a broom and a watering can, waves his arms and yells at the drivers who go too fast. Every bounce from those crash-encrusted wheels catapults a bit of merda onto the street and Giancarlo is on it, angrily scraping and rinsing away every trace. They seemed to have learned to slow down in from of our house…I can hear the shifting of gears as they approach the corner.

Now, I want to know why all this work? Why can’t they just move the producers to the wherever all this shit is going and eliminate the middle man? I must ask at lunch tomorrow. This is exactly the kind of question Anna Maria likes to field: previously unconsidered, very practical, a bit scatological and just a little ridiculous.