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Red in your eyes - Norman A. Rubin
The color red is the zenith of colors as it represents the sun and the war gods. The ancient peoples of the past revered the color red for the sacredness of solar power. For the town of Tintaretto, a coastal town at the north of Italy the color red played a significant part in its history. No, it was not in the color of their banners or in their belief. For the good citizens of the town the color red was only a symbol of lustful passion joy in sexual excitement and of fertility. Along the peaceful blue waters of the Bay of Genoa is the picturesque village of Tintaretto, a town of busy fisher folk, their bossy wives and a quantity of bambinos of all sizes and ages. The good citizens of Tintaretto are proud to wave the Italian flag and for many years its colors flew over the rooftops; except for the short period of time when that Corsican took away the 'etto' and replaced it with vous.
The pages of history passed by the village. That Carthaginian general Hannibal landed his elephants on its harbor and quartered the beasts at the nearby fields for many days before their trek along the snowy Alps. The quiet coastline along the town was (and still is) an excellent smuggler's cove; the fishermen's memories still retain the thought of the times when they helped supply Luckies and Camels to the desperate smokers of Italy upon the sound of bells of victory.
The fertile fields filled with nature's gifts surrounding the village with the background of nearby verdant hills make it quite a tourist haunt and for artists to set their easels. But sun glasses are needed for the tourists and a great quantity of crimson color are required for the artists as the color of red in all shades could seen on the hair of all its citizens. It is seen in all hues from the carrot-top hair on the fishermen, combed red on the merchants and officials except those that were balding or with hair turning white, sun bleached red on the hair of the bossy wives, delightful flowing scarlet on the tresses of nubile darlings, and ruddiness with freckled face on the kiddies from the wee ones to those in the teens.
There are only two exceptions in the town. One being Fra Alberto the good and gentle padre as he being a citizen of Rome; the other is an expatriate, an elderly white-haired English tourist who missed his bus and remains in its pleasant confines to enjoy the last of his years.
This phenomenon was (and still is) of great study to the many astute scientists, biologists, and voodooists and voodooists of all calibers and they still probe and experiment. Yet if those learned gentlemen and ladies would want to have an insight to this astonishing marvel they should have a word with the village pensioners. Yes a word of two with the elders that can be found around the tables of the local bistro. They wouldn't mind stopping their endless game of cards or chess and to have a confab with those learned men and tell all about the color of red.
One such curious investigator came recently to the town to learn of the phenomenon of its red-hair citizenry. Off course he was referred to Signor Pietro di Viciolo who was holding court at the local bistro. Upon the introduction to the inquirer the astute signor ceased in his palavering and learned of the young gentleman's scholarly probe.
"Si, si, there is a story behind the red," echoed Signor Pietro di Viciolo, a senior nearing his eighty-fifth year. The good man is the reputed leader of the pensioners; the white-haired gentleman is looked upon as being esteem and wise in his elder years and his words are accepted as god's truth.
Signor Pietro di Viciolo is seen in the eyes of the beholder to be a slim chap of medium stature, slightly bent in age. His thin oval features are quite prominent with bushy brows around watery blue eyes set above a beaked red veined nose and pursed lips.
His dress is as immaculate as his bearing. White is his suit, blue is his cravat and tan is his shoes. A well-blocked Panama hat is set just right on well-trimmed white hair. The ornaments to his dress are limited to a gold stickpin to his cravat and a wedding band of past love around the third finger. A needed knobby cane is always held tight in a gnarled right hand, ready to serve him.
"Please set you on this chair next to mine and my fellow compatriots," Signor di Viciolo offered the guest a cushioned cast iron seat with a twinkle to his laughing eyes. A chair was scraped back from the table and the honored soul accepted the offer with a worded thanks to the lips. "That's better, yes, yes," the signor exclaimed. Introductions followed - Alberto, Giovanni, Masetto, and Geranimo, four elderly chaps with the white of their hair depicting their passing years. Each in turn offered a hand and a gruff, but polite word of welcome from their lips.
Then it followed with a wave of the hand, which caught the eye of the wife of the bistro proprietor, a stout woman topped with faded reddish hair. She clumped heavily on her veined feet to the signor's table and inquired of his need.
"A bottle of vino... or if my good friend would like something stronger like grappa?" offered the signor in well-mannered words.
The guest deferred the offer and gratefully accepted the vino. The good woman took the order and then in a voice that would match the call of the Sirens, "Joseph, a bottle of wine!" Within a moment a carrot-topped young waiter appeared carrying a tray with a flask of wine and two glasses, which he placed on the table.
Signor Pietro di Vicolo relaxed on his chair and delicately sipped from his glass of vino. After a moment or so he cleared his throat loudly to call attention to him. All paused and waited for his words, "Ah yes this scholarly gentleman is interested in knowing a bit about our fair red haired town folk. Yes, yes! Now, my dear sir, listen patiently to my words and you will know!
"Let me jog my brain cells a bit, he continued in the slur of his tongue, "Let's see! Ahh yes do recall! It was in the year of '42 in the hot months of summer with the partisans shaking the regime of Il Duce and the Huns were getting hot under the collar. The boys in field gray weren't pleased to see that buffoon in Rome getting pushed about so they goose-stepped into the northern provinces of the Boot. Well they became unwelcome guests in our town as our best Chianti had to be hidden from their eyes. Terrible, terrible time!
"Our boys in the hills were no so benevolent as they didn't like all that seig heil parading all around their beloved country, so they put a bit of shot in the Munich beer. Well, the jackboots were not to happy to chase about the mountains after our boys, and getting there butts full of lead and their feet full of corns.
"The partisans were not to careful when they laid a charge under a culvert under a road and a passel full of Heinie officers were torn apart. It seemed that one of the braided ones was a good pal of Shiklegruber and he was nigh put out. So his toothbrush moustache twitched in anger and he gave the orders of reprisal, which meant a few of the patriots, mainly women and old folk were put to the wall.
"The helpless partisans heard of the terrible tidings from the safety of their hideouts in the craggy mountains. They also learned that the men in gray in their stupid wisdom decided to remove from our village the rest of the men, from the elder folk, the fishermen and almost to the wee tots. Nobody with a prica or bollocks was left to be seen. Unfortunately only a handful, broken in health, returned to their beloved village. Do not ask of my suffering.
"Terrible, terrible time for the women folk, but they managed somewhat. The Marchioness of Montferrato was taken from her retirement and through her wise ways became the mayoress. Efigina, the buxom wife of the former bistro owner was elected chief of police, as she was quite experienced in dealing with rowdies. Madame Salvestro, the doctor's wife took up the duties in the clinica. The rest of the women carried on in casting the nets, teaching the female bambinos the three r's, tolling the church bells for prayer and signals, and so forth.
"Life carried on magnificently more or less until that dark night in the middle of summer of that same year. All was blacked out with the night curfew when suddenly the sound of an airplane could be heard overhead..."
Signor Pietro di Vicolo stopped in palavering and caught his breath. Then with one hand raised he imitated an aircraft in flight with a 'vrrooom, vroooom' sound coming from his mouth. Then the other hand pointed and the rattle of anti-aircraft fire was stuttered. "Boom, boom", he called out. Then with both hands spread above, which depicted the plane being hit; hands pointed downwards indicated the flaming wreck falling to the ground.
"Suddenly figures were coming from the burning plane and slowly they were under a canopy of white; one, two, three, four, five were floating down. Ahh, those Jerries were nasty as they fired off their machine guns at them - rat-atat-tat." And again his hands and twisting body pictured the scene.
Signor Pietro di Viciolo took a clean white handkerchief from the vest pocket of his suit coat and wiped a bit of perspiration from his brow. Then he cleared his throat once or twice and continued in his specification.
"But the merciful Lord made winds to blow from the sea and the parachutes drifted to the mountains. There were a lot of 'achtungs' about as the booted officers shouted to their men to take to armored cars. Ahh such goings on with Hienies going helter skelter about." On that note a chuckle came from his mouth chorused by his companions.
"Suddenly a sixth parachute appeared close to ground and hidden a bit by the trees high in the hills. It drifted past the hillocks and soared towards the town. Then it dropped gently into the small farm of Lidia, the wife of the Pirro the benevolent supplier of grappa to the town. Terrible time, terrible when the Jerries took him.
"I heard later that Lidia rushed to the aid of the crewman and also rescued the white nylon parachute. The hefty woman quickly bundled the white cloth to her thick arms and brought the jumper into hiding in the cellar of her home. The emblem on his flight overalls indicated he was a Britisher but a strange one at that with a funny accent with lots of 'burrs' and 'ayes'.
"Lidia was also surprised when the crewman removed his jump suit and revealed he or rather she was a strange type of male or female. Her eyes sighted a rather stocky person slightly bandy-legged; and the surprise of surprises he or she wore an uniformed shirt and a CHECKED SKIRT. Lidia was puzzled when she stared into the florid face and tried to figure out the crewperson's gender.
"She took into account of his or her gentle appearance of blue eyes, freckled ruddy face topped with flaming RED HAIR. But her bewilderment of the gender was solved when a strong draft swept through the cellar and she learned of what's under a Scotsman's kilt. Then joy creased on her worn and tired features upon this blessing that fate brought to her. After all she had four darling daughters nearing the time of sacred vows at the altar."
"The news of the rescue of this Scotsman caused great consternation in our town as good and true maidens without the taste of fulfillment demanded their share of his bounty. For a week or so green eyes greeted the bouncy daughters of the farmer's wife.
"The comely damsels' tempers boiled over to a dangerous red. The time had come for the charming nymphs to take action and the grievous complaint of the fair citizens was brought to the attention of the mayoress. It was stormy night when all the ladies of various ages and forms met in the town hall. It took a bit of time for the Marchioness of Monterrato, the mayoress to attempt at order, but with the shout of buxom Efigina it was achieved.
"Well there was lots of hemming and hawing all about the first hour of meeting with one proposal or another put forward. Yackedy-yak all over the place with each fair one trying to down shout the other. But the Marchioness was patient and she tried to listen to each proposition put forward.
"Quiet reigned upon the shout of buxom Efigina when she announced that the astute Marchioness of Monterrato had come to a fair solution. Namely the Scotsman, by the name of Angus McTavish, would be given the hospitality of the home of each eligible maiden on a weekly basis. The choice would be through a fair lottery, which all agreed, even though Lidia tried to raise an objection.
"Oh, a great squeal of jubilation was voiced by dark eyed Francesca, a chubby eighteen year old girl as her mother was the first to draw the right of hospitality to Angus McTavish. Madame Isabella, a very curvaceous lady brightened at the news of being the second to allow this stranger to enter the warmth of her home.
"Throughout the hour the town hall rang with happy female cries. Off course there were a few groans from the last ones drawn in the lottery. But, my friend it was fair as fair can be."
A beefy member of the local gendarmerie passed by and he took notice of the gathered crowd around the table at the bistro. He tipped his hand to the visor, an official regalia in salute; the fingers touched the red of his hair.
"Then the sacrament of marriage was ordained with dispensations. It was sight to warm your heart at the last days of that great conflict; so many curved bellies, so many red-haired bambinos blessed the town of Tintaretto. Angus McTavish really was a real patriot and he did his duty beyond the call."
The honored guest allowed a restful pause for Signor Pietro di Viciolo. He stared at the nearby village square with its name changed from Il Duce to Plaza del Angus. All around the centered fountain red-haired housewives sat on the stone benches and the nattered this and that with each other; their carrot-topped little ones scampered around their feet in play. But there was something that caught the eye of the guest, namely the sight of two comely housewives colored blond in hair; their children were of the same hue.
Signor Pietro di Viciolo noticed his guest's attention that was focused to the sight of blond hair. "Ahhh yes, we had unfortunately our collaborators. There were two or three if I do recall. One was lusty Bianca who was romantically smitten by a Nordic sergeant of the Reich and love was joined secretly, but her belly gave her away. But we good citizens did our patriotic duty at the right period by stripping her bare to the skin and shearing off her hair to show her guilt. But within time all was forgiven.
"Ohh, by the way don't be bothered by the 'burrs' and 'ayes' of that white haired Englishman when you meet him and a have a bit of chat. Quite a gentle chap...."
Norman A. Rubin