Now onto the bells and balls. Those, unfortunately are missing.
One of the more endearing sounds in Montone were the bells. Note, the past tense. They were very civilized bells; they started at 8:00 am, and stopped at 10:00 pm. If you were still in bed, and the bells rang...damn...you were late!
Last October the bells started getting erratic, and apparently over the winter, the music died. The official rumor is that there isn’t enough money in the town coffers to fix the bells. The unofficial rumor is that someone with clout thought the bells were annoying and they won’t be repaired.
Living in Italy, you soon learn, it isn’t about the will of the people. Its about the will of the one with power.
Now, onto a more delicate subject. Niccolino is our town cat, he’s affectionately called the Mayor of Montone, or Il Capo. He’s a little scruffy around the edges, but always a gentleman. One of the mysteries of life, is how he got his name. (There is a family in town who call him Romeo, but they’re Romans, so we excuse their eccentricity. Besides, deep in their hearts, they know he is Niccolino.)
Jeff and Niccolino have a special bond. They are simply the best of friends. Whenever Niccolino gets hurt, he comes to visit Dr. Jeff. We keep a tube of antibiotic in the garage with his name on it. Niccolino will present his latest injury: a torn ear, a nasty scratch on his nose. Our cat, Raffaello, thinks Niccolino is the most exotic, wondrous playmate and he waits by the door every morning hoping Niccolino will make an appearance.
When we leave in the fall, Jeff goes around to all the neighbors to make sure Niccolino will be well taken care of during the long winter months. One winter, he lived in our Post Office. He was snug, warm, and probably sorted the mail during the night.
This year, a woman named Lily took care of Niccolino. Now remember, he’s a street cat. He’s fathered some kittens here and there, and he has to mark his territory because there are other cats in town. Its only natural. Lily took it into her head that she could get Niccolino to stop spraying if she had him spayed. This cat is at least 8 years old, and he’s really used to having his equipment intact. But, somehow, and most clumsily, the deed was done and poor Niccolino is now ball-less.
This has divided the town into two factions. The majority of us are outraged at this indignity. Our friend, Anna, in mourning for Niccolino’s loss, declared him ‘il ultimo vero gatto’...the last true cat in town. There is a smaller camp, who’ve declared that he sprays less, or that it smells less. I seriously doubt anyone has done a sniff test.
While it might seem that Montone never changes, that’s hardly true.
We’ve also lost our beloved gas station. Now, really, how often have you called a gas station beloved? Ours was run by the very beautiful Carla, who kept the station filled with flowers and good conversation. Carla is entirely in tune with nature, and in particular, the weather. Rain makes her sad, summer heat makes her want to shed her clothes, so sometimes the outfits she throws on to pump gas leave little to the imagination. Once in awhile, we’d fill up the car and come away some freshly shot pigeons, or fresh eggs. More satisfying than a windshield wash, wouldn’t you say? Her family has been in the benzina (gas) business for three generations, but the latest round of taxes and rules demanding a self service gas pump made it impossible for her to stay open any longer.
And Dina’s is gone! I think the restaurant was called, “Il Fonte”, but to us it was just Dina’s. It was a simple trattoria and the first place we ever ate in Montone. Her tortellini in brodo was the magic chicken soup elixir, guaranteed to cure whatever ails you. She has a knack for picking melons, and when prosciutto e melone was on the menu, you had no doubt the melon would be delicious. And if you wanted meat: her salty, grizzly, toothsome, flavor packed grilled lamb was exactly perfect.
And sadly, we’ve also lost our long time Montone resident, and Jeff’s very dear friend, the artist, Daniel Lang. Daniel was one of the earliest ‘stranieri’ to buy a house in town and his first-night-in-his-new-home story is one of my favorites. When Daniel bought the house, it had been vacant for awhile, and very un-restored. As he’s puttering in the kitchen, he hears very heavy, deep, asthmatic breathing. Un-nerved, he turns and looks up, and sees an ancient, wheezing eagle glaring at him from a beam in the ceiling. The eagle sighs deeply, grumbles, and flies away, never to be seen again.
Daniel, the whole town misses you. We hope you are resting well and in peace.