Chapter 5 – The Di Luca farm

At the neighbouring farm, our friends had by now become part of the Di Luca family. We saw them quite often in the evenings and on Sundays – the Sabbath was normally kept as a day on which no work was done in the fields. As I suggested earlier, the relationship with their hosts was less formal than ours, less inhibited perhaps. Some of this difference was no doubt due to both Hoop and I being somewhat reserved; more so than the other three, in particular Norman, who was very open and expansive. In this he was not unlike Amilcare, a more flamboyant character than anyone in our household. The Di Luca were volatile; Guiseppe himself, head of the family, although a warm-hearted man, was often moody and could show a violent temper. Palmira was a strong character who could stand up for herself, but when she appeared one day with a black eye, her explanation of a fall was clearly not believed by the Cardarelli.

Palmira had a fine set of her own teeth, and these were always proudly on display, reminding me of photographs of Eleanor Roosevelt – especially one that I remembered in ‘Lilliput’, in which she was compared to a horse. These teeth had been inherited by Amilcare and Secondina; one of the former’s parlour tricks was to pick up a chair by its back with his teeth and to swing it around the room. Secondina was content to use hers for a characteristic warm smile.

The presence of two young girls from Rome helped to lighten the atmosphere; I expect that they had been pretty bored by country life, and the arrival of some exotic young foreigners, and also of cousin Amilcare – he had deserted from the Air Force – must have been very welcome. Elia was a rather dull pudding of a girl and amongst ourselves had been dubbed Bessie, after the sister of Billy Bunter, whom she resembled in build and in glamour. Lina, on the other hand, justly known as Skinny, was attractive in a stick-insect way. She enjoyed chatting to – and being chatted-up by – the English, and in making an attempt to explain something of the Italian language and customs. Uncle Guiseppe kept a suspicious eye on things to make sure that flirtatiousness went no further, once or twice making known his displeasure at what might have developed into a threat to the virtue of his nieces. In fact it would have been quite difficult to find sufficient privacy for anything very indiscreet.

Maria, like a daughter-in-law at our house, had not heard from her husband Gino since before the armistice. She was a plump good-humoured woman who seemed to fit in well in her adopted home. Elvia, her eldest child, went to school in Gualdo and often stayed there with her mother’s family during the week to save a long walk each day. The closeness of the family and the importance of relatives was a principal feature of social organisation in this rural community and, for it to hold together, much tact and give-and-take were necessary. How else could in-laws live together peaceably, as they clearly did in most households? Mothers-in-law treated their adopted daughters with a fairness and kindness equal to that given their own. Implicit in the relationship must have been the possibility that when the mother became old and widowed it might well be the daughter-in-law who would be looking after her rather than her own daughter, by then married and living elsewhere. Looking back now, with hindsight, this is exactly what happened eventually to Palmira.

Bastiano and his wife Maria – usually called by the name of Maria-Silla to distinguish her from the other Maria – lived in the house rather as poor relations. The couple were both somewhat simple, almost to the point of being half-witted, and because of this had become dependent on Bastiano’s shrewder brother, Guiseppe. They had no children, and this in itself was a thing to provoke scorn; together with their simplicity, and their lack of independence, it made them something of a laughing stock to their relatives and neighbours. Although they certainly worked as hard as anyone else in the household, nephews and nieces treated them with little respect. Amilcare liked to play practical jokes on Bastiano and would trip him up in passing – more so I think when we were there, as he thought it would amuse us. One result of this was that we made a point of treating them both with great politeness. In return, they adored us all and Maria needed little provocation to weep over us and declare that we were the sons she never had. With Maria often tearful, and Bastiano with no roof to his mouth, much of the conversation was a little one-sided. However we got on splendidly with them, and when eventually we left they must have been the most sad to see us go – the only people they had ever known who were polite to them.

The Di Luca always gave me the impression that they considered themselves somehow higher in the social scale than the Cardarelli. Their standard of living and of education was no better; their house was as old and no more convenient than ours; they were tenants under a landlord in the same way, and with much the same amount of land. Yet, justified or not, they seemed to maintain an air of superiority and self-esteem which I certainly felt, even though I cannot explain it.

Chapter 5 Supplement – November 1990

The Di Luca had a mongrel dog called Lampo – ‘·Lightning’ – who spent most of his time on a chain by his kennel. The chain was fixed to run along a wire several yards long and ending near the house door, nicely adjusted to stop Lampo’s noisy charge a foot or so from the visitor and suitably terrifying to any unauthorised caller. It might have been supposed that most farms would have a dog, but many did not and neither the Cardarelli nor the Lucarelli had one. I cannot remember being attacked by a dog at any one of the dozens of houses which I must have approached as an unexpected stranger.

Link to Chapter 6

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