The peacock train

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Tale of a love story

Love, an oak tree, two peacocks and a war. All of this brings us back to more than 200 years near Macerata.

The story takes place in the “contrada” San Marco di Treia at the end of April 1815.

The leaves on the trees are still, when Michela starts walking towards the sea, leaving behind her the last houses of the village of Passo Treia.

She takes the right fork that leads to Treia and enters the courtyard of a farmhouse. The 18 year old girl is wearing a colored shirt, a wide linen gown and sandals. She stops to admire and to greet the 200 years old oak tree. Between the farmhouse and the Potenza river there is a large woodshed and next to it is an aviary with an open gate. Michela pulls out a headscarf and sits gracefully on a wooden log and starts reading her favorite book; “A thousand and one nights”.

It’s a beautiful day with clear blue skies. The surrounding hills gently slope eastward letting the river free to flow towards the Adriatic sea.

Everything around has the lively colors of springtime; one can hardly hear the waters of the Potenza river flow.

Michela is deeply immersed in her book, the breeze brushes her long curly blond hair. A gorgeous bird is coming back after a walk along the river and approaches her in a majestic way. Safar, the conceited male peacock, is followed by a female peacock whose colors are dull and she stops to peck. The male opens its splendid tail made of magnificent feathers where the ‘eyes’ can be admired. He wants to be noticed. Michela looks up in admiration; after one round of the yard Safar moves closer to her: they know each other, they are friends. She pulls out a small sachet from her bread bag, inside there is a home made piece of cake and she gives some crumbs to the haughty animal.

The two regal birds belong to the administrator of the Francisci estates. Michela’s father is very fond of the peacocks that is why he entrusted them to the care of his best farmer. He looks after them carefully and at night closes them in the birdhouse so that nothing happens to them. Once he forgot to close them in. The next early morning, as he went to attend to the cows, he found both of them on the roof of the farmhouse, not far from the fireplace flue. Eventually they came down alone, but the farmer was very worried. They are a good defense against the fox that cannot take those roof lovers birds by surprise.

It is 3.00 p.m., the farmers are taking their afternoon rest, but the young girl does not have this habit. Safar too, in the end, decided to rest and fell asleep with the beak inside his wing, close to  Michela’s gown.

The sky is starting to be covered with big rain clouds; who knows where those clouds come from: a storm is approaching. The birds perceive the rain and reluctantly take refuge in their nigh shelter. Thick drops start falling and the young girl seeks shelter in the nearby hut waiting for the storm to stop. Thunder and lightning break the bucolic tranquility of the countryside and heavy rainfall starts to come down.

Suddenly one hears a horse galloping coming from the main road: the girl turns her head and sees a rider coming towards her; he dismount bringing the horse inside the shelter and waves at her.

The 22 year old young man asks:” My Lady, will you allow me to shelter here from the storm?” She answers:” Of course, you are welcome”. The man immediately takes care of the horse, removes the saddle and dries the animal with a cover to prevent it from catching cold. He takes some branches and without hesitation puts them in the fireplace then pulls out a linchpin from his pocket to light the fire that soon starts to crackle. After that he removes his cape and bodice and hangs them to dry.

Michela remains enchanted looking at him: his beautiful face, wide shoulders, intense look and proud posture. She thinks: ”He must be someone on an important mission, not the usual stroller”. The female intuition does not deceive. They sit on two logs close to each other and looking at the fireplace. The rider warms up, dries his clothes and carefully cleans his service binoculars, that he keeps in the saddle’s holster, with a small deerskin. The storm outside becomes more intense. Even the big oak tree is afraid.

Michela hardly notices that the young military soldier has a gun hanging from his belt, but she feels she can trust him and tells him that she is the only daughter of the Francisci estate administrator and she lives in the nearby village of Passo Treia.  “When I can I come to read under the shade of my beloved oak tree; here I find tranquility and also enjoy the peacocks: the whole family is very fond of them”.

The young man talks; “My name is Pierre, son of a French merchant, I was born and grew up in Napoli. Unfortunately sad events will soon break the tranquility of these regions”.

While the young man is talking to the girl he realizes how captivated he is by her beautiful blue eyes, golden locks, refined features, natural grace, warm and sweet gaze. He would have loved to embrace that lean girl that looked like a mirage in the storm. All of a sudden he decides:” Why not do it immediately? Who knows if I will be here tomorrow”. He draws the charming girl towards him, puts his hand behind her head to feel her long golden hair. Surprised by such audacity and fervor she has no time to react and she reciprocates.

The storm outside, with its intensity and violent pouring of the rain, contributes in keeping anybody away from the hut. The attraction between the two of them flared up like thunder and they look at each other in the eyes.

The young man tells her a secret:” I am a pioneer sergeant of the French-Neapolitan army. I was sent in an undercover mission of reconnaissance to find out news about Baron Ferdinando Bianchi’s Austrian battalion that is approaching from the north to fight against Gioacchino Murat’s army. I traveled from the hills of Filottrano that dominate the medium-low valley of the Esino river. I must urgently bring news about the approaching German army. We are fighting a war to free those lands from foreign domination. I consider myself Italian”.

Time flies while the two are looking at each other and hug tenderly exchanging romantic words and French kisses. Their clothes dry with the warmth of the fireplace, the horse too rests and recovers. Pierre gives Michela a French coin portraying Liberty as a token of his love. We do not know how much time they spent together, only that they promised to see and love each other again and for ever.

Soon after the handsome military officer took his leave from his beloved one with the following words:” I have to complete my mission”. He then got back on his horse again and started galloping away on his way to report to his commander. Michela’s eyes full of tears followed him till the end. She hoped to see and hug him soon again.

The officer fought in the French-Neapolitan army of Murat during the Tolentino battle on May 2-3, 1815. The Austrian army won that battle. Pierre survived, but it is still unknown if the two young lovers managed to meet again.

The setting…two hundred years later

After passing the small district centre of Passo di Treia, on the right, heading to Recanati, there is asmall Mediterranean grove.

After a few metres, there is a narrow road which leads to a typical old-time farm. The large courtyard was the centre of agricultural activities and life as a whole: the place where the rites of corn husking, chickpeas and beans threshing were once carried out.

To the left, now there is a typical storage for wheat and tools, but when it was built, there were very few work instruments in the countryside. Here, an old Super Landini, the forerunner of modern tractors, is covered by a canopy. It is called “hot-headed” since the combustion is triggered by the very high temperature in the combustion chamber.

Suddenly I imagine living in the Fifties; a group of people look with curiosity this blowing and rippling horse-like iron machine at work, then the so-called “vergara”, the traditional name for women of the Marche region who took care of the house, offers a nice glass of wine to everyone, and you could also taste bread and “ciabuscolo”, a typical soft salame of the region made out of pork meat and usually spread on bread. On the right, there is an eighteenth-nineteenth-century farmhouse where the farmers’ families lived. All seems to have remained almost intact.

Looking towards the river, in the great farmyard, there is an enormous plant, a gigantic downy oak, the largest of the Marche region. From a distance, it almost looks like a normal oak, as seen in the Marche countryside. However, as you get closer, you realize how huge and magnificent this centennial tree is. I feel like I am standing at the base of the colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, which no longer exists. You can admire the balance of its foliage, the immense trunk, the main branches which are as large as other oak trunks. The leaves are a beautiful intense green colour, with their typical downy hair, hence the Latin name Quercus pubescens. It was first classified by the Berlin botanist Carl Ludwig Willdenow in 1805.

Some branches have been reinforced with iron brackets after being damaged by recent lightning bolts and storms. Beyond a certain weight and size, even its very hard wood tends to break. In the past, several bolts have struck it and cut off a few high branches, distorting its lovely shape. The more you get closer to the sky, the more you attract Jupiter’s arrows… It is a risk that all oaks know well. As a child, I have been sad for a long time after my father’s oak had been struck by a lightning bolt which did not split its strong fibre, but it partially removed its bark. After a few weeks, the tree dried up. Another oak of our neighbour, a shorter one, remained undamaged!

Since its first years of life, around the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, being in a plain territory and close to the Potenza river, its roots have found enough water to nourish and grow. The secrets of the seasons have been hidden in its trunk’s rings for almost five hundred years: rain, drought and so on. It has been through a lot! Happy events and occurrences might have taken place under its deep shadow: parties, weddings, births, races and other children’s games. During the Second World War, the Germans hid troops and tools under the big trees as not to be discovered by the Allies. It might have happened here, too.

Visit these places and you will have the chance to go back in time and meet at least one character of this story. Maybe you can also see the peacock on the roof of the farmhouse! In this regard, the peacock was a sacred animal to Isis and Juno, a solar symbol and a link between the Earth and the sky. In Arab countries, it is a bird of positive value, its colourful feathers represent perfection.

Eno Santecchia

My warm thanks to Emanuela Versari for the translation.

Dicembre 2020


Bellissimo il racconto, emoziona …

È molto bravo a descrivere, le scene scorrono davanti agli occhi come se fossero immagini talmente sono realistiche. E poi il pavone con la sua descrizione comportamentale, l’intreccio amoroso tra i due, il riferimento storico … tutti tasselli che si uniscono, si incastrano insieme per dar vita alla storia d’amore.

Interessante il finale che ci lascia immaginare a modo nostro in base alla nostra sensibilità e fantasia. Bravissimo!

Lo metta anche in italiano.

F. F.

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