Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

  The innkeeper looked at the goose and, realizing what his daughters had in mind, said, “Very well, the young man will sleep in a nice room, and we’ll put the goose in the barn.”

  “No, you won’t,” said the youth with scalp disease, “the goose goes where I go. It’s too fine a goose to stay in a barn.”

  After dinner the youth retired for the night and put his goose under the bed. As he slept he thought he heard something stirring, and all of a sudden the goose went “Quack, quack!”

  “Stick to my back!” he shouted and got up to see what was going on.

  The innkeeper’s daughter had crawled into the room in her nightgown, grabbed hold of the goose to steal its feathers, and now she was stuck in that position.

  “Help! Sister! Come get me loose!” she cried. In came the sister, also in her nightgown, grabbed her sister around the waist to pull her loose from the goose. But the goose cried “Quack, quack!” and the young man added “Stick to my back!” so sister stuck to sister.

  The youth looked out the window and saw that it was almost day. He dressed and left the inn, followed by the goose and the two girls stuck to it. Along the way he met a priest who, noticing the innkeeper’s daughters in their nightgowns, exclaimed, “Shame on you two! Is that any way to be going about at this hour of day? I’ll show you a thing or two!” At that, he began spanking them.

  “Quack, quack!” went the goose.

  “Stick to my back!” said the youth, so the priest stuck too.

  They moved on with three persons now sticking to the goose. Whom should they meet but a coppersmith loaded down with pots and pans. “Oh, my goodness, what’s this I see? A priest in a position like that? Just let me at him!” At that, the coppersmith whacked him hard.

  “Quack, quack!” went the goose.

  “Stick to my back!” added the youth with scalp disease, and the coppersmith stuck too, pots and all.

  That particular morning the king’s daughter was on her balcony as usual when the strange group came into view: the boy with scalp disease, the goose, the innkeeper’s first daughter stuck to the goose, the innkeeper’s second daughter stuck to the first, the priest stuck to the second girl, the coppersmith with pots and pans stuck to the priest. At that sight, the princess went into peals of laughter. Then she called her father, who also burst out laughing. The whole court looked out the windows and laughed until their sides hurt.

  Right in the middle of all the mirth, the goose and everyone stuck to it disappeared.

  There remained only the young man with scalp disease. He went up the steps and introduced himself to the king. The king glanced at him, noticed his scalp disease and his coarse old clothes all patched up, and had no idea what to do. “My good lad,” he said to him, “I’ll engage you as a servant. How’s that?” But the boy with scalp disease refused the offer: he wanted to marry the princess.

  To gain time, the king ordered him bathed from head to toe and clad in noble garb. When the youth reappeared, no one recognized him: he was so handsome now that the princess fell violently in love with him and had eyes for no one else.

  Putting first things first, the young man insisted on fetching his father immediately. He pulled up in a carriage and found the poor cobbler on the doorstep grieving over the departure of his only son.

  The youth took him back to the royal palace, introduced him to his father-in-law, the king, and his bride, the princess, and the marriage was celebrated at once.



  The Happy Man’s Shirt

  A king had an only son that he thought the world of. But this prince was always unhappy. He would spend days on end at his window staring into space.

  “What on earth do you lack?” asked the king. “What’s wrong with you?”

  “I don’t even know myself, Father.”

  “Are you in love? If there’s a particular girl you fancy, tell me, and I’ll arrange for you to marry her, no matter whether she’s the daughter of the most powerful king on earth or the poorest peasant girl alive!”

  “No, Father, I’m not in love.”

  The king tried in every way imaginable to cheer him up, but theaters, balls, concerts, and singing were all useless, and day by day the rosy hue drained from the prince’s face.

  The king issued a decree, and from every corner of the earth came the most learned philosophers, doctors, and professors. The king showed them the prince and asked for their advice. The wise men withdrew to think, then returned to the king. “Majesty, we have given the matter close thought and we have studied the stars. Here’s what you must do. Look for a happy man, a man who’s happy through and through, and exchange your son’s shirt for his.”

  That same day the king sent ambassadors to all parts of the world in search of the happy man.

  A priest was taken to the king. “Are you happy?” asked the king.

  “Yes, indeed, Majesty.”

  “Fine. How would you like to be my bishop?”

  “Oh, Majesty, if only it were so!”

  “Away with you! Get out of my sight! I’m seeking a man who’s happy just as he is, not one who’s trying to better his lot.”

  Thus the search resumed, and before long the king was told about a neighboring king, who everybody said was a truly happy man. He had a wife as good as she was beautiful and a whole slew of children. He had conquered all his enemies, and his country was at peace. Again hopeful, the king immediately sent ambassadors to him to ask for his shirt.

  The neighboring king received the ambassadors and said, “Yes, indeed, I have everything anybody could possibly want. But at the same time I worry because I’ll have to die one day and leave it all. I can’t sleep at night for worrying about that!” The ambassadors thought it wiser to go home without this man’s shirt.

  At his wit’s end, the king went hunting. He fired at a hare but only wounded it, and the hare scampered away on three legs. The king pursued it, leaving the hunting party far behind him. Out in the open field he heard a man singing a refrain. The king stopped in his tracks. “Whoever sings like that is bound to be happy!” The song led him into a vineyard, where he found a young man singing and pruning the vines.

  “Good day, Majesty,” said the youth. “So early and already out in the country?”

  “Bless you! Would you like me to take you to the capital? You will be my friend.”

  “Much obliged, Majesty, but I wouldn’t even consider it. I wouldn’t even change places with the Pope.”

  “Why not? Such a fine young man like you . . . ”

  “No, no, I tell you. I’m content with just what I have and want nothing more.”

  “A happy man at last!” thought the king. “Listen, young man. Do me a favor.”

  “With all my heart, Majesty, if I can.”

  “Wait just a minute,” said the king, who, unable to contain his joy any longer, ran to get his retinue. “Come with me! My son is saved! My son is saved!” And he took them to the young man. “My dear lad,” he began, “I’ll give you whatever you want! But give me . . . give me . . . ”

  “What, Majesty?”

  “My son is dying! Only you can save him. Come here!”

  The king grabbed him and started unbuttoning the youth’s jacket. All of a sudden he stopped, and his arms fell to his sides.

  The happy man wore no shirt.



  One Night in Paradise

  Once upon a time there were two close friends who, out of affection for each other, made this pledge: the first to get married would call on the other to be his best man, even if he should be at the ends of the earth.

  Shortly thereafter one of the friends died. The survivor, who was planning to get married, had no idea what he should now do, so he sought the advice of his confessor.

  “This is a ticklish situation,” said the priest, “but you must keep your promise. Call on him even if he is dead. Go to his grave and say what you’re supposed to say. It will then
be up to him whether to come to your wedding or not.”

  The youth went to the grave and said, “Friend, the time has come for you to be my best man!”

  The earth yawned, and out jumped the friend. “By all means. I have to keep my word, or else I’d end up in Purgatory for no telling how long.”

  They went home, and from there to church for the wedding. Then came the wedding banquet, where the dead youth told all kinds of stories, but not a word did he say about what he’d witnessed in the next world. The bridegroom longed to ask him some questions, but he didn’t have the nerve. At the end of the banquet the dead man rose and said, “Friend, since I’ve done you this favor, would you walk me back a part of the way?”

  “Why, certainly! But I can’t go far, naturally, since this is my wedding night.”

  “I understand. You can turn back any time you like.”

  The bridegroom kissed his bride. “I’m going to step outside for a moment, and I’ll be right back.” He walked out with the dead man. They chatted about first one thing and then another, and before you knew it, they were at the grave. There they embraced, and the living man thought, If I don’t ask him now, I’ll never ask him. He therefore took heart and said, “Let me ask you something, since you are dead. What’s it like in the hereafter?”

  “I really can’t say,” answered the dead man. “If you want to find out, come along with me to Paradise.”

  The grave opened, and the living man followed the dead one inside. Thus they found themselves in Paradise. The dead man took his friend to a handsome crystal palace with gold doors, where angels played their harps for blessed souls to dance, with St. Peter strumming the double bass. The living man gaped at all the splendor, and goodness knows how long he would have remained in the palace if there hadn’t been all the rest of Paradise to see. “Come on to another spot now,” said the dead man, who led him into a garden whose trees, instead of foliage, displayed song birds of every color. “Wake up, let’s move on!” said the dead man, guiding his visitor onto a lawn where angels danced as joyously and gracefully as lovers. “Next we’ll go to see a star!” He could have gazed at the stars forever. Instead of water, their rivers ran with wine, and their land was of cheese.

  All of a sudden, he started. “Oh, my goodness, friend, it’s later than I thought. I have to get back to my bride, who’s surely worried about me.”

  “Have you had enough of Paradise so soon?”

  “Enough? If I had my choice . . . ”

  “And there’s still so much to see!”

  “I believe you, but I’d better be getting back.”

  “Very well, suit yourself.” The dead man walked him back to the grave and vanished.

  The living man stepped from the grave, but no longer recognized the cemetery. It was packed with monuments, statues, and tall trees. He left the cemetery and saw huge buildings in place of the simple stone cottages that used to line the streets. The streets were full of automobiles and streetcars, while airplanes flew through the skies. “Where on earth am I? Did I take the wrong street? And look how these people are dressed!”

  He stopped a little old man on the street. “Sir, what is this town?”

  “This city, you mean.”

  “All right, this city. But I don’t recognize it, for the life of me. Can you please direct me to the house of the man who got married yesterday?”

  “Yesterday? I happen to be the sacristan, and I can assure you no one got married yesterday!”

  “What do you mean? I got married myself!” Then he gave an account of accompanying his dead friend to Paradise.

  “You’re dreaming,” said the old man. “That’s an old story people tell about the bridegroom who followed his friend into the grave and never came back, while his bride died of sorrow.”

  “That’s not so, I’m the bridegroom myself!”

  “Listen, the only thing for you to do is to go and speak with our bishop.”

  “Bishop? But here in town there’s only the parish priest.”

  “What parish priest? For years and years we’ve had a bishop.” And the sacristan took him to the bishop.

  The youth told his story to the bishop, who recalled an event he’d heard about as a boy. He took down the parish books and began flipping back the pages. Thirty years ago, no. Fifty years ago, no. One hundred, no. Two hundred, no. He went on thumbing the pages. Finally on a yellowed, crumbling page he put his finger on those very names. “It was three hundred years ago. The young man disappeared from the cemetery, and the bride died of a broken heart. Read right here if you don’t believe it!”

  “But I’m the bridegroom myself!”

  “And you went to the next world? Tell me about it!”

  But the young man turned deathly pale, sank to the ground, and died before he could tell one single thing he had seen.



  Jesus and St. Peter in Friuli

  I. How St. Peter Happened to Join Up with the Lord

  There was once a poor man named Peter, who earned his living by fishing. One evening he went home tired, without having caught a single fish. To make matters worse, his wife had fixed no supper for him. “I spent all day looking around,” she said, “but I found nothing, and you know we don’t have any money.”

  “But how can I go to bed without any supper? Get me something to eat, and hurry!”

  “There’s nothing in the house, Peter. If you like, we can go to the field where those fine cabbages are and help ourselves to them.”

  “But I don’t want to steal!”

  “In that case we’ll fast.”

  “Cabbages, you say? Can we get them? The two of us together . . . ”

  “Here’s what we’ll do: so as not to attract attention, one of us will go one way, the other the other.”

  Peter agreed, and they headed for the field, he by one road, and his wife by another. Along the way, Peter met a man with blond hair and gray eyes sitting on a post by the road. “What on earth is that stranger doing here?” wondered Peter, who addressed the man. “What’s up, my good man?”

  “I’m here to teach men not to do evil . . . ” began the stranger.

  Oh, my goodness, thought Peter, his remark seems directed at me in particular!

  “ . . . and if they’ve done evil, to make them repent,” concluded the stranger.

  This kind of talk did not sit well with Peter. He cut the man short and moved on. But the stranger’s words continued to ring in his ears. Upon reaching the field, he saw the shadowy figure of a woman moving about. “The owner’s wife! The owner’s wife! I’m getting out of here fast!” Peter took to his heels, overleaping rows of plants, ditches, and hedges. He ran all the way home, still thinking of the words, “make them repent,” and as soon as he walked in, he grabbed the broom handle and thrashed his wife. “So you wanted me to become a thief, did you? You hussy! You lowdown wench!”

  “Peter, for heaven’s sake, forgive me!” cried the woman. “I wasn’t able to steal a thing, since the man who owned the field arrived, and I had to flee for my life.”

  “And I was scared away by his wife! You hussy! You lowdown wench! The idea of making a thief of me! Just for that, I’m leaving you and going off to repent.”

  Off he ran and kept going until he overtook the stranger on the road and told him the whole story.

  “Yes, Peter, you did the right thing by coming to me,” said the stranger. “Now let me tell you that it wasn’t the owner’s wife you saw, but your very own; nor did she see the owner, but yourself. You scared each other, and your guilty consciences kept you from recognizing one another. Come along with me. You will be my foremost friend and my right arm. I am the Lord.”

  II. The Hare Liver

  Once the Lord and St. Peter were going through a field, when out darted a hare from among the vegetable rows and bumped right into the Lord.

  “Quick, Peter! Open your bag and put it in.”

  Peter bagged the hare and said, “We??
?ve not eaten in so long, Lord. We’ll have to roast this one.”

  “Fine, Peter! This evening we’ll have a good dinner. Since you really know how to cook, you can fix the hare for us.”

  They came to a town, saw the taverner’s sign hanging above a certain door, and went in.

  “Good evening, Mr. Innkeeper.”

  “Good evening, gentlemen.”

  “Bring us a half-bottle of wine,” said the Lord. “And in the meantime, Peter, you go and cook the hare.”

  An expert all the way, St. Peter took a big knife, sharpened it on the billhook he always carried with him, skinned the hare, quartered it, and threw it into a pan. As it cooked, his mouth began to water. “How nice and fat it is! What an aroma! Just wait! I’ll take a little taste to see if it’s all right! It’s delicious! Here’s the liver done already: I believe I’ll eat it with this bread crust. The Lord will never know the difference!” No sooner said than done! He stuck his fork into the liver and ate it. Then he called, “Lord, the hare is done! Shall I bring it to the table?”

  “Done already? Bring it in, by all means.”

  Carrying the pan with one hand and wiping the grease from his whiskers with the other, Peter went back to the Lord. He put half of the hare on the Lord’s plate and the other half on his own, and they began eating. But the Lord started looking around on his plate.

  “Say, Peter, where is the liver?”

  “Goodness, Lord, I don’t know, I really didn’t notice it. It’s not on my plate either . . . . Maybe this hare had no liver . . . ”

  “Maybe not,” said the Lord smiling and taking up his fork again.

  But Peter couldn’t swallow a thing.

  “Come on, Peter, don’t you have any appetite? Do you have the liver on your stomach, perhaps?”

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]