XVII. OLD MORANO
This Morano is a very ancient city; Tufarelli, writing in 1598, proves that it was then exactly 3349 years old. Oddly enough, therefore, its foundation almost coincides with that of Rossano. . . .
There may be mules at Morano; indeed, there are. But they are illusive beasts: phantom-mules. Despite the assistance of the captain of the carbineers, the local innkeeper, the communal policeman, the secretary of the municipality, an amiable canon of the church and several non-official residents, I vainly endeavoured, for three days, to procure one - flitting about, meanwhile, between this place and Castrovillari. For Morano, notwithstanding its size (they say it is larger than the other town) offers no accommodation or food in the septentrional sense of those terms.
Its situation, as you approach from Castrovillari, is striking. The white houses stream in a cataract down one side of a steep conical hill that dominates the landscape - on the summit sits the inevitable castle, blue sky peering through its battered windows. But the interior is not at all in keeping with this imposing aspect. Morano, so far as I was able to explore it, is a labyrinth of sombre, tortuous and fetid alleys, whexe black pigs wallow amid heaps 'of miscellaneous and malodorous filth - in short, the town exemplifies that particular idea of civic liberty which consists in everybody being free to throw their own private refuse into the public street and leave it there, from generation to generation. What says Lombroso? "The street-cleaning is entrusted, in many towns, to the rains of heaven and, in their absence, to the voracity of the pigs." None the less, while waiting for mules that never came, I took to patrolling those alleys, at first out of sheer boredom, but soon impelled by that subtle fascination which emanates from the ne plus ultra of anything - even of grotesque dirtiness. On the second day, however, a case of cholera was announced, which chilled my ardour for further investigations. It was on that account that I failed to inspect what was afterwards described to me as the chief marvel of the place - a carved wooden altar-piece in a certain church.
"It is prodigious and antichissimo," said an obliging citizen to whom I applied for information. "There is nothing like it on earth, and I have been six times to America, sir. The artist - a real artist, mind you, not a common professor - spent his whole life in carving it. It was for the church, you see, and he wanted to show what he could do in the way of a masterpiece. Then, when it was finished and in its place, the priests refused to pay for it. It was made not for them, they said, but for the glory of God; the man's reward was sufficient. And besides, he could have remission of sins for the rest of his life. He said he did not care about remission of sins; he wanted money - money! But he got nothing. Whereupon he began to brood and to grow yellow. Money - money! That was all he ever said. And at last he became quite green and died. After that, his son took up the quarrel, but he got as little out of the priests as the father. It was fixed in the church, you understand, and he could not take it away. He climbed through the window one night and tried to burn it - the marks are there to this day - but they were too sharp for him. And he took the business so much to heart that he also soon died quite young! And quite green - like his father."
The most characteristic item in the above history is that about growing green. People are apt to put on this colour in the south from disappointment or from envy. They have a proverb which runs "sfoga o schiatta" - relieve yourself or burst; our vaunted ideal of self-restraint, of dominating the reflexes, being thought not only fanciful but injurious to health. Therefore, if relief is thwarted, they either brood themselves into a green melancholy, or succumb to a sudden "colpo di sangue," like a young woman of my acquaintance who, considering herself beaten in a dispute with a tram-conductor about a penny, forthwith had a "colpo di sangue," and was dead in a few hours. A primeval assertion of the ego . . .
Unable to perambulate the streets of Morano, I climbed to the ruined fortress along the verdant slope at its back, and enjoyed a fair view down the fertile valley, irrigated by streamlets and planted with many-hued patches of culture, with mulberries, pomegranates and poplars. Some boys were up here, engaged in fishing - fishing for young kestrels in their nest above a shattered gateway. The tackle consisted of a rod with a bent piece of wire fixed to one end, and it seemed to me a pretty unpromising form of sport. But suddenly, amid wild vociferations, they hooked one, and carried it off in triumph to supper. The mother bird, meanwhile, sailed restlessly about the aether watching every movement, as I could see by my glasses; at times she drifted quite near, then swerved again and hovered, with vibrating pinions, directly overhead. It was clear that she could not tear herself away from the scene, and hardly had the marauders departed, when she alighted on the wall and began to inspect what was left of her dwelling. It was probably rather untidy. I felt sorry for her; yet such harebrained imprudence cannot go unpunished. With so many hundred crannies in this old castle, why choose one which any boy can reach with a stick? She will know better next season.