Giardinieri

by Radu Părpăuţă
translation from Romanian by Raisa Lambru [MTTLC student]
click aici pentru versiunea română

 

 

Firenze. Via Giambologna – a calm, shaded street, with colourful, nobby ville. Three men are walking slowly from the slopping end of the street: two of them seem to be around 50 years old, while the third isn’t even in his thirties.  All three of them are wearing blue overalls, and on their back, written in big, white letters, there’s one word: GIARDINIERI. The younger one idly pushes a plastic, mobile dumpster: it’s small, white and blue, with various wheels, big and small – it looks like a toy dumpster. The other two move behind him in the torrid weather, talking in a similar manner, as if saying “take it easy, it’s not like the Huns are after us!”. They’re Romanians. Old man Vasile, a Moldavian from Murgenii Vasluiului, resumes his story:

“And dad’d tell me about gramps, how he had a pair of sorrel horses, big and beautiful. He’d pride himself on them! And when the Russians came, you know, when the front was destroyed, a Russian lady walks in our yard and goes straight to the stable, where the horses were. She takes the horses out and wants to leave with them. But gramps blocks her way with a fork, yelling ‘Niet! Niet!’. The lady was already riding a horse, with one of those tousled hats on her head, and was holding the rein with her right hand, since the left was cut off right above the elbow. Then she let go of the rein and took her gun from her belt: bang! bang! she fired a few shots in the air. And then she pushes gramps out of her way with the horse. My dad, he was 15 or so, he jumps on gramps and pulls him back: ‘You’re crazy, dad, do you want to get shot?’ Then their captain comes, shouting at her ‘Lena, Lena’ and giving her an order. The Russian lady turned around and left, taking gramps’s horses. And people in the village kept saying that she was mad, since the Germans had killed the man she was in love with…

 

For a while they went on walking in silence. Then, again, old man Vasile, who seems to be the boss, tells the one in the front, who was handling the dumpster:

“Here, Fane. Get the goods out!” Fane stops, opens the dumpster and takes out a dirty bag made of raffia. From inside he pulls out a dead, grey cat.

“There!” old man Vasile says and points at a luxurious, terra cotta villa, covered in green. Inside the yard, there’s a dog walking around restlessly, with his wrinkled muzzle pointed downwards, seemingly confused. Fane grabs the cat by its tail and, moving his weight from one leg to another, throws the cat over the wired fence and right under the dog’s nose. The animal seems even more puzzled. He smells the cat’s corpse and starts barking like crazy. The three men each light a cigarette and move to hide under the shade.

After about 10 minutes of rabid barking, a fat lady comes out; she’s not lacking when it comes to fat cheeks and goitre, and she’s wearing a purple turban, as tall as a tower. For a while, one can hear someone pounding and bustling around, exclamations. Then the woman sees the “giardinieri”, who are sitting aside, but not too far so as not to be seen.

“Giardinieri! Giardinieri! Aiuto! Aiuto!” and she waves at them to come closer. Old man Panait, a guy from Brăila, with a thin, sly moustache, immediately responds:

“Si, signora, vengo subito.”

“Aiutăm, aiutăm,” old man Vasile says in a sui-generis of Italian and Romanian. Inside the yard, the woman, teary-eyed and with a merciful expression, shows them the cat:

“Ecco! Un gatto!”

“No problem, seniora, no problem. Subito!” Panait says in a mix of English and Italian, gesturing at her to calm down.

They take the cat, they slip it inside the raffia bag, which they then throw in the dumpster, they leisurely sweep the yard, which didn’t even need sweeping, they move some pergolas and a vaso da flori made out of stone, moresco style.

After 15 minutes, Panaite knocks at the metal door:

“Finito, seniora.”

“Grazie, molto grazie! Da dove siete?”

“Romania, seniora.”

“A, romeni, molto gentili romeni,” says the woman, nodding with her purple tower.

“Grazie, seniora.”

“Subito,” says the woman and hurries inside. They can hear her slamming doors or pulling open drawers. Then she comes back with some money.

“O, no, no, no, seniora.”

“Spiccioli, spiccioli,” she offers as an excuse, that is, some change, and she shoves the money in Panait’s hand.

“Mille grazie, seniora.”

Then the three slowly walk away. Panait counts the money and divides them into three. Following them, there’s the dog with the wrinkled muzzle and watery eyes, just like its master’s. He walks around the dumpster, smells it and whines.

“Well, look here,” Vasile says, “it’s like a cop’s dog.” He kicks it in the ribs, but not hard enough. The dog barely reacts: it looks like it doesn’t know what it’s like to have its ass kicked.

“Fane!” Vasile simply says, his eyes moving to the dog. Fane grabs the broom which he had just hung on the dumpster and hits the dog right on its back. “Yelp, yelp, yelp” the dog whines like any other mongrel and runs away with its tail between its legs. It looks like, for the first time, its fur felt the huge distance that stands between Firenze and Ferentari.

“Go and whine at madam Bardot,” Panait says.

“And have her sent us each an otograph,” Vasile adds.

 

Then Panait starts telling another story about horses:

“There were two guys at Corbu: Ion and Ilarion. And they both liked horses a bloody hell lot. When they’d met, as they were good friends, they’d only talk about horses. They’d have contests to see who knew more about horses. Sometimes Ion won, other times, Ilarion. They each wanted to win against the other. That’s what they did all their lives. Later, Ion fell ill and was on his deathbed. He called Ilarion over and told him: ‘I’m about to die, Ilarion. You’ve been my closest friend, so I’ve got a request. When I die, put me down on the ground, in the church’s yard, and jump over me three times while riding a horse”. Okay! And Ion dies. At his funeral, they placed the coffin on the ground, in the yard, and Ilarion was ready, having brought his horses to jump over Ion. Try this, try that, hit the horses. They didn’t want to jump. People started laughing…”

“Oh, I know about this.” Vasile cut him off. “The horse never jumps over the dead. So your old buddy Ion made a fool of himself.”

Then, concerned, Vasile added:

“We’ll try again one more time today. Tomorrow we start earlier, around eight. And Fane, get us a new cat, this one stinks. Got it?”

“Got it,” Fane replies.

 

The three walk away. On the twilight sky you can see, firm and gloomy, Bruneleschi’s masterpiece – Santa Maria del Fiore, with its famous arch, which Stendhal talked about, saying it makes him surrender to madness as if he were around his beloved woman. But the three giardinieri ignore it. And as for Bruneleschi, they haven’t even heard of him.

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