Stories of Old Paduli: “The Peddlar, Don Peppino ‘U Napulitano”

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INTRODUCTION

“The Peddler (Don Peppino ‘u Napulitano) is another story of old Paduli recounted by Giovanni Saccone in Padulese dialect and translated into Italian by Maurizio Luongo.  (I began these stories in Blogpost 3 with a translation of “Il Calzolaio” (The Shoemaker).  Below is the English translation of “L’ambulante/The Peddler” followed by the original text in Italian.

 

The Peddler (Don Peppino “u napulitano” [the Napolitano]

How many times I’ve heard this story! Yet every time it seems like the first time because of its fascination and ingenuity, and once again I am reminded that if there’s a will, there’s a way. Stories like this submerge you into an unreal world, a thousand years away from the present, and yet all of this happened a mere fifty years ago.

There was a man, a certain Don Peppino from Napoli, who made a living as a traveling peddler, one of those who looked for any means of making a living yet without profiteering and in good conscience.

He would always say, “Whoever has money should pay”. His business was buying and selling, barter, and trade. Habitually he would set out on Mondays from Naples and travel through the Sannio region, even for two weeks at a time, leaving at home a wife and two sons. He traveled in an American Dodge that he got, one doesn’t know how, from the American Army. He would depart from Napoli loaded with various kinds of things according to his own precise work plan.

The Sannio region, his first stop, called for clothes, salted anchovies, dried cod (baccalà) and wool.

I never had the pleasure of seeing him in person, but the stories told to me made his visits come alive. Don Peppino would arrive at the home of my grandfather on Monday afternoons as the first stop on his route. Everyone in the town knew of his arrival. He parked his truck in the farmyard and, after a habitual glass of wine, he would remove the tarpaulin and show his wares. Woolen sweaters, pants made from military fabric, balls of wool and cotton, containers of various kinds, cigarettes, baccalà, and salted anchovies. Our town, Paduli, was the first center of exchange. Don Peppino would always arrive like a being from another world, elegant, well-mannered, and reverent with the ladies, a true household tradesman.

It comes to me almost like a memory. Don Peppino would arrive at lunchtime, and my grandfather would invite him to join him in eating a plate of cold beans, the ones with oil and onions in them. Don Peppino would pull out two cigars and light them almost as if he were engaging in a religious ritual, toasting with a glass of wine that was of little pretense, but which at that moment seemed likethe veritable nectar of the gods. Then Don Peppino would show his goods. “Zi’ Giuvà (Uncle Giovanni)! I have some pants of pure wool which I brought just for you, some anchovies which are out of this world. Go ahead, taste them! And some baccalà like you’ve never seen before!”

In the meanwhile, the ladies were beginning to form a circle around the truck.

Don Peppino had his sales plan all worked out. After Paduli he would pass through Fortore [a municipality in the Province of Benevento] where the product most available was tobacco. At that time, tobacco was produced under strict observance of the applicable laws and the agency designated to enforce the laws was the Financial Guards. Even the leaves were counted, and it was impossible to avoid the law. My grandfather hid the surplus under the tiles in the house and then he would give it to Don Peppino – two traders in contraband acting together with no accounting whatsoever for the gravity of the act.

But, hunger doesn’t know anything about rules.

And so, Don Peppino would come to our house first as a matter of mutual convenience. If someone asked for wool, he would ask for oil. A woolen sweater was worth one liter of oil; a piece of baccalà, a folder (fascicolo) of tobacco or a “muzzetto” of grain; a cup of salted anchovies, a measure of flour. Some would pay in cash.

All of this was part of Don Peppino’s business strategy; everything had its value. The tabacco in Fortore was exchanged for cheese or wool.  Oil in Napoli was as valuable as gold.  Flour could be exchanged with anyone.  Cheese was for the rich. Salted olives, wine, bread and potatoes were as good as cash.

Don Peppino was also a friend of the youth, so much so that they waited for him outside the town. In exchange for a bottle of oil or wine, stolen from their parents, he would give them erotic photos, either of fake American actresses or from casinos in the North (of Italy), intended to increase their erotic fantasies sexually hidden from everyone. If, after obtaining this erotic booty, with a little extra “sacrifice”, they were able to obtain a pack of cigarettes, you would instantly see these obstinate boys transformed into cocky adults. In the evening, by the light of the moon, with their photos and cigarettes, they would all be intent on consuming their lungs, hands and brains.

L’ambulante (Don Peppino ‘u napulitano)

Quante volte ho sentito questa storia! Ogni volta sembrava la prima volta per il fascino e l’ingegno che emanava, è risaputo, l’uomo se vuole può tutto.

A raccontare storie come questa si sprofonda in un mondo irreale, lontano mille anni dalle nostre abitudini, eppure tutto questo avveniva cinquanta anni fa.

C’era un signore, un certo Don Peppino di Napoli che di mestiere faceva il venditore ambulante, uno di quelli che cercavano con ogni mezzo di guadagnarsi la giornata, senza approfittare delle situazioni favorevoli ma con coscienza.

Era solito affermare “chi tiene i soldi deve pagare”, il suo commercio era la compravendita, il baratto, lo scambio. Era solito partire il lunedi da Napoli e trattenersi nel Sannio anche per due settimane lasciando a casa una moglie e due figli. Si muoveva con un Dodge americano avuto non si sa come dall’esercito americano; partiva da Napoli carrico di vari generi con un suo programma di lavoro ben preciso. Il Sannio, sua prima tappa, richiedeva vestiario, alici salate, baccalà e lana.

Non ho avuto il piacere di essere un testimone, però i racconti ascoltati mi fanno rivivere quegli attimi; Don Peppino arrivava a casa di mio nonno il lunedi pomeriggio, quasi prima tappa del suo giro; tutti in paese sapevano del suo arrivo. Si parcheggiava nell’aia col camion e dopo il bicchiere di vino di rito scopriva il telone e mostrava la mercanzia. Maglie di lana, pantaloni in tessuto militare, gomitoli di lana e cotone, scatolette di vario genere, sigarette, baccalà, e alici sotto sale. Il nostro paese, Paduli, era il primo centro di scambio; Don Peppino arrivava sempre come un essere di un altro mondo, elegante, educato, riverente con le signore, vere commercianti di casa.

Referisco come da racconti. Arriva Don Peppino a ora di pranzo, il nonno l’invita a consumare con lui un piatto di faggioli freddi, quelli con olio e cipolla. Don Peppino tira fuori due sigari e li accendono quasi con rito religioso brindando con un bicchiere di vino di scarse pretese ma al momento vero e proprio nettare degli dèi. Poi Don Peppino illustra la mercanzia. “Zi Giuvà, tengo dei pantaloni in pura lana, li ho portati pe vui, certe alici che so’ a fine du munno, assaggiatele, e ‘u baccalà nun s’è mai visto!”

Intanto le donne cominciano a fare cerchio intorno al camion.

Don Peppino aveva un suo programma commerciale. Dopo Paduli passava nel Fortore, e li prodotto più ambito era il tabacco. All’epoca dei fati il tabacco si produceva soto stretta osservanza delle leggi vigenti e l’organo predisposto ai controlli era la Guardia di Finanza. Anche le foglie venivano contate, non si poteva fuggire ai controlli. Mio nonno le eccedenze la nascondeva sotto le tegole della casa e poi le dava a Don Peppino; contrabandieri entrambi senza nemmeno rendersi conto della gravità del reato.

Ma la fame non conosce regole.

Così per un fatto di mutua convenienza Don Peppino veniva a casa nostra. A chi chiedeva lana lui chiedeva olio, la maglia di lana valeva un litro d’olio, il pezzo di baccalà un “fascicolo” di tabacco o un “muzzetto” di grano, un “cuopo” di alici salate una “mesura” di farina. Chi poteva pagava in contanti.

Tutto questo era il mercanteggiare di Don Peppino, ogni cosa valeva. Il tabacco nel Fortore si scambiava il formaggio e la farina, l’olio a Napoli valeva oro, la farina si scambiava con tutto, il formaggio era per i ricchi. Olive salate, vino, pane, patate erano considerate moneta contante.

Do Peppino era anche un amico dei giovani, quanti l’aspettavano fuori paese. In cambio di una bottiglia di olio o una di vino, rubata ai genitori, lui regalava anche foto fantasie erotiche di improvvisate attrici americane o dei casini del nord atte a sviluppare fantasie erotiche di giovani sessualmente all’oscuro di tutto. Se poi a quell’erotico bottino, con un piccolo ulteriore “sacrificio”, si poteva aggiungere un pacchetto di sigarette, allora vedevi di colpo imperbi adolescenti trasformarsi in uomini adulti e spavaldi; di sera, al chiaro di luna, con “foto e sigarette” tutti insieme intenti a consumarsi polmoni, mani e cervello.

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