Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

03 October 2009

Capo di Tutti Polizia di Castelnuovo di Garfagnana?

Mounted on a wall across the piazza of Castelnuovo a fat, street-stained, bronze cherub gazes benignly over the shoppers. Ideally, to photograph him, I should have the camera on the tripod but that’s impossible with the amount of passing traffic so I walk out to where the pedestrians end and the traffic begins and as I raise the camera a small blue Alfa-Romeo with ‘Polizia’ on its side stops beside me, blocking the traffic. I lower the camera and look at the driver, a young policeman who gives me a knowing half smile as, from the passenger’s seat, a stout officer emerges. He is gorgeous; a cockerel in blue with scarlet trim adorned by shiny buttons, medal ribbons and embroidered badges. In one hand he carries a pair of white kid gloves which he slaps across the palm of the other as he approaches.

‘Buon giorno’, I greet him brightly and wanting to get in first. ‘Parle Inglese? No parlo bene Italia…’

‘No parlo Inglese.’ he shakes his head, but he extends a hand to me and vigorously pumps mine. There ensues a bizarre exchange in my execrable Italian and a mutual waving of hands.

I point at the statue and wave my camera: ‘Cherubini. Statua. I photograph…

‘Si - bella, bella.’

He wants to know where I am from.

‘La Nuova Zelanda?’ he muses, his perfectly trimmed eyebrows raised in slight surprise: then he nods knowledgeably. I get the impression he has no idea where New Zealand is.

Not English: non Inglesi,’ I say pointing to myself, ‘In la Nuova Zelanda per multo anni, many years. Da Londra a la Nuova Zelanda in 1960…

I’m conscious that my word endings are all over the show but he seems to understand, even though I have do 1960 in the air with a finger.

He is so splendid that I feel I should throw a question back at him. Pointing at him I say, ‘Capo di tutti polizia di Castelnuovo di Garfagnana?’ (Which I think may come out as ‘Are you the chief of police..?’).
His chest expands a little more, the shoulders are squarer, he confirms that he is, indeed, the head man. I take a step back and bow my head in deference whereupon he raises me from my humble position by shoving his hand in mine yet again and shaking madly.

Meanwhile the traffic is held up in a line that stretches across the square and around the walls of the castle and I can see cars all the way up the hill in the other direction. Not a horn has been sounded. He is either oblivious to the traffic or enjoying his power for he continues the conversation to ask where I am staying. I manage to get across that my wife (mi moglie) and I are staying with ‘la sorella di mi moglie’ (the sister of my wife - I can’t do ‘sister-in-law’ in Italian) at Barga.

He wants to know where in Barga.


‘Ah, si, Gragnana.’ He asks with whom.

‘Signor e signora Testa.’ At ‘Testa’ he assumes they are Italian.

‘No - Inglesi, da Londra,’ and I throw in ‘Cockfosters… Barnet’ just for the hell of it.

‘Gragnana … Cockfesters … Barrrrnet.’ Again his nods importantly as if all three locations were within his manor.

Some of the vehicles having now turned off their engines, and the crowd is becoming restless as if the arrest is long overdue, but he shakes my hand for the last time, beams broadly, wishes me ‘Buona fortuna, signor Don’, climbs into the Alfa, wiggles a finger in a circle in the air and points ahead like a cavalry officer, ‘Andiamo’, upon which they advance.

I return to the side of the square to appraising stares: who is this straniero that he has so much influence with the capo di tutti polizia di Castelnuovo di Garfagnana?

From ‘Antipasto’
random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy


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By Don Donovan