Nights in the countryside take on a rhythm of their own. In our valley, in the evening time when the long shadows start to fall, and the heat begins to wane a little, doors begin to open and our neighbours appear. Manuela, on the west side, will call to Pasquale still working in the fields, and on the eastern side Leila will take the two dogs, Lily and Beethoven, for a walk. At the moment Lily is on a long piece of rag so that she cannot stray far. She is wearing socks on her back paws and is a sorry sight. Some hunter has put poison down in our woods and Lily has trodden in it.
Beethoven and Lily are tied up at night, each to their own tree, below our bedroom window. They have to be. For in the middle of the night both the deer and a large herd of wild pigs, or ‘cinghiali’, come through, foraging along the hillside and down towards the stream. The dogs would be after them like a shot, and the enormous tusks of a cinghiale would do more damage than even the hunter’s poison. Once Leila has tied up the dogs, and we’ve had a little chat in my experimental Italian, she disappears back inside. Then old Enzio locks up his beloved fowls and follows Leila indoors. All around the old house you can hear doors closing and shutters being secured, for there is a nasty little Tiger mosquito around at the moment.
So, as the darkness settles around the valley, you might think a blessed peacefulness would too. But right now the nights are not peaceful. In the early hours of the morning, as the cinghiali move through, Beethoven sets up a steady bark. Lily accompanies him with an incessant whine, no doubt a lament on dogs compelled to wear bootie-socks. Last night a cat joined the chorus – to such a pitch that for the first time ever, old Enzio, who is as deaf as a post, suddenly appeared at the dogs’ tree using some Italian words that have not been in my weekly Italian vocabulary lessons. And then there’s the cock.
It was one of our visitors, earlier on in the summer, who came down to the kitchen one morning in a state of apoplectic shock.
‘Morning Marion, sleep well?’ I asked.
‘Not at all’ she replied. ‘It’s that b—– cock. I think I’m going to wring its b—– neck.’
I was mildly surprised. We’ve sort of got used to Enzio’s cock – a tiny, colourful Chianti cock who struts around his hens with the air of an Italian gigolo surrounded by pretty girls in a small piazza. Sure, Enzio’s cock crows every morning at about sunrise, but it’s all part of the Tuscan country dream, or so we thought. Not so Marion.
‘We all know our nursery rhymes,’ she said ‘and we all know our animal sounds. That’s elementary. Now this b—– cock doesn’t. It’s left off the ‘doo!’
‘What on earth are you on about?’ I asked.
‘Well it does,’ she said. ‘It’s supposed to say Cock – a – doo – dle – DO. Five syllables. And it only says Cock – a – doo – dle. Four syllables. It leaves off the DO every time, and I’ve had no sleep at all, waiting for the wretched DO and I’m fed up with it.
So right now in the heart of a peaceful Tuscan valley the nights are not for sleeping. Once the deer, the cinghiali, the cats and the foxes have done their bit to keep us awake, we have to listen carefully. And my Italian vocabulary lessons are at stake. For I have learnt that Italian cocks say ‘chicchirichi’.
Chi – cchi – ri – chi? It seems like four syllables to me.
Does this mean that Italian cocks are different from English cocks … four syllables and not five syllables? And for that matter, between cocks, does a syllable matter?
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