Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino


  “We shall see . . . ”

  Her husband came in. Don Giovanni rose and bowed. “I am a landowner,” he said, “and I would like to rent your thirteen warehouses to fill with beans, peas, and all the rest of the harvest. Also, if I may, I’d like to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

  “Ah! What is your name?”

  “I am Don Giovanni Misiranti, dealer in peas and beans alike.”

  “Well, Don Giovanni, give me twenty-four hours to think it over, and you will have your answer.”

  That night, mother took daughter aside and told her Don Giovanni Misiranti, dealer in peas and beans alike, wanted her for his wife. The daughter eagerly accepted.

  The next day Don Giovanni went back to his friend and borrowed another outfit. The first thing he did was slip the bean into the pocket of the new waistcoat. He went to the residence of the warehouse owner and, receiving the answer, was in seventh heaven.

  “I would like to marry as soon as possible, then,” he said, “since my many occupations don’t give me any time to waste.”

  “By all means, Don Giovanni,” replied the girl’s parents. “Would it suit you to draw up the contract in a week’s time?”

  Throughout that period, Don Giovanni went on borrowing clothes, wearing something different every day, so that his parents-in-law-to-be took him for a very rich man indeed. They signed the contract, and the dowry consisted of two thousand gold crowns cash, sheets, and linen. Seeing so much money at his disposal, Don Giovanni felt himself a new man. He went on a shopping spree, buying presents for his bride and clothes for himself as well as all the trimmings to cut a fine figure.

  A week after signing the contract, he got married in fine wedding clothes, with the bean in the pocket of the vest. The newlyweds gave parties and banquets, and Don Giovanni spent money right and left, as though he were a baron. His mother-in-law began to grow uneasy over this unending extravagance. “Don Giovanni,” she said, “when do you plan to take my daughter to see your fields? It’s harvest time, you know.”

  That upset Don Giovanni at first, and he could find no excuse. Racking his brains, he took out his good-luck piece, saying, “My luck, you must again help me out.”

  He had a fine sedan chair readied for his wife and his mother-in-law and announced: “It is time to leave. We shall go toward Messina. I shall ride ahead on horseback, and you will come along behind.”

  Don Giovanni left on horseback. When he saw a place he thought would serve his purpose, he called to a farmer in the field. “Here are twelve crowns for you. When you see a sedan chair come up with two ladies inside, if they ask you whose fields these are, you are to say, ‘They are owned by Don Giovanni Misiranti, dealer in peas and beans alike.’”

  The sedan chair passed. “My good man, whose fine lands are these?”

  “They are owned by Don Giovanni Misiranti, dealer in peas and beans alike.”

  Mother and daughter smiled smugly and moved on.

  At another estate the same thing happened. Don Giovanni rode on ahead, throwing out twelve-crown pieces; tucked in his pocket was the bean which made up his entire fortune.

  When they got to where there was nothing more to see, Don Giovanni said to himself, “Now I’ll find an inn and wait for them.” He looked around and saw an enormous palace, with a young lady in green standing at the window.

  “Pss, pss!” said the young lady, motioning him inside.

  Don Giovanni started up the grand staircase which gleamed so he was almost reluctant to walk on the steps, lest he muddy them. The young lady came forward to greet him and, with a sweeping gesture indicating all the lamps, carpets, and gold-sequined walls, asked, “Do you like the palace?”

  “Can you imagine my not liking it?” answered Don Giovanni. “I would be happy here even as a corpse.”

  “Look around, go up to the next floor.” And she showed him through all the rooms. Everywhere were jewels, precious stones, fine silks, things Don Giovanni had never even dreamed of.

  “Do you see all this? It is yours. Take care of it. Here is the deed. It is a present from me. I am the bean you picked up and kept in your pocket. I shall take my leave now.”

  Don Giovanni was about to fall at her feet and tell her how grateful he was, but the damsel in green had vanished under his very eyes. The handsome palace, though, remained, and it belonged to him, Don Giovanni Misiranti.

  When his mother-in-law saw the palace, she exclaimed, “Ah, my daughter, what luck has come your way! Don Giovanni, dear son, to think you had such a lovely palace and never breathed a word about it to us!”

  “That’s right! I wanted to surprise you . . . ” So he showed them around the palace, seeing it for the first time himself. He pointed out the jewels, the deed to the domain, and then a cellar full of gold and silver, with shovel planted in the midst; then they saw the stables with all the carriages, and finally the lackeys and all the household servants.

  They wrote his father-in-law to sell everything and come and live with them at the palace, and Don Giovanni also sent a reward to the good woman he had found seated before the warehouses.

  (Palermo)

  155

  The Sultan with the Itch

  A fisherman had a little boy who, seeing his father get into his boat, would say, “Take me with you, Father.”

  “No,” replied the fisherman, “a storm might come up.”

  And if the sea and weather were calm, the man would say, “No, there’s danger of sharks.”

  Or if it wasn’t the season for sharks: “No, the boat might sink.”

  He thus held off for nine years, after which he could object no more: he had to carry his son along to fish in the open sea.

  On the open sea the fisherman lowered his nets, while the boy dropped a fishing line. The fisherman pulled up the net, which contained nothing but a minnow; the boy pulled up his line, and hooked to it was an enormous fish. “This, Father, I will take to the king in person.” They went back in, the boy donned his Sunday best, slipped the fish into a basket lined with green seaweed, and went off to the king.

  At the sight of the fish, the king clacked his tongue. “Come here!” he called to a servant. “Give this little fisherman fifty crowns!” And he asked the boy, “What is your name?”

  “I am Pidduzzu, Majesty,” replied the little fisherman.

  “Well, Pidduzzu, would you like to remain here at the royal palace?”

  “Would I!” answered the boy.

  So, with his father’s approval, Pidduzzu was reared at the palace. He was dressed in fine silk, and had many teachers and professors. He received his education, grew up, and was no longer called Pidduzzu, but “the knight Don Pidduzzu.”

  Also growing up at the palace at the same time was the king’s daughter, Pippina, who loved Pidduzzu better than life itself. When she was seventeen, a king’s son showed up to ask for her hand in marriage. Her father, who favored the match, tried to persuade her to marry him. But Pippina was in love with Pidduzzu and informed her father she would either wed Pidduzzu or never marry at all. The king flew off the handle and called in Pidduzzu. “My daughter has lost her head over you, and that cannot be tolerated: you will have to leave the palace.”

  “Majesty,” replied Don Pidduzzu, “are you turning me out like that?”

  “It displeases me to do so,” said the king, “for you were like a son to me. But have no fear, you will continue to enjoy my protection.” So Don Pidduzzu went out into the world, while the princess was shut up in a convent—St. Catherine’s, of all places!

  Don Pidduzzu took lodgings at an inn. His window overlooked an alley, as did a small window of Pippina’s convent. She appeared at the window and, the minute they saw each other, they began comforting one another with gestures and words. Pippina had found a book of magic hidden in her cell by a nun-turned-sorceress, and she passed it down to Don Pidduzzu from her window.

  The next day the king went to see his daughter and asked the mother superior for per
mission to speak to her. As he was king, it was granted him. “Listen, Father,” said the princess, “let’s settle this matter once and for all. The prince has a brigantine of his own. Give Don Pidduzzu a brigantine. Let both of them sail off, one in one direction, the other in the opposite. Whoever returns with the finest presents will be my husband.”

  “I like that idea,” replied the king. “It shall be done.” He called the two suitors to the palace and laid before them his daughter’s plan. Both young men were delighted—the prince because he knew Don Pidduzzu hadn’t a penny to his name, Don Pidduzzu because, with the book of magic, he was certain of success.

  Thus they weighed anchor and departed. Out on the deep, Don Pidduzzu opened the book and read: “Tomorrow, dock at the first land you come to; go ashore with the whole crew and a crowbar.” The next morning an island was sighted, so Don Pidduzzu and the crew disembarked, carrying along a crowbar. On land he opened the book and read: “In the very middle of the place you will see a trapdoor, then another, and another; pry them up with the crowbar and descend.” That he did. He found the trapdoor in the middle of the island and raised it, using the crowbar as a lever. Underneath was another trapdoor, and under it still another. When he had opened up the last one, he saw a staircase. Don Pidduzzu descended it and found himself in a gold-sequined gallery—walls, doors, floor, ceiling, all gold, and a table laid for twenty-four persons, with gold spoons, salt cellars, and candelabras. Don Pidduzzu looked in the book and read: “Take them.” He called the crew and ordered everything carried on board. It took them twelve days to load the treasure on the ship. There were twenty-four gold statues so heavy that a couple of days were needed to load them alone. In the book it was written: “Leave the trapdoors the way you found them.” That he did, and the brigantine weighed anchor.

  “Hoist your sails and continue your voyage,” directed the book. So they sailed an entire month, and the sailors began to grow weary.

  “Captain, where are you taking us?”

  “Let’s push on, boys. We’ll be back in Palermo in no time.”

  Every day he opened the book, but nothing was written in it. At last he saw: “Tomorrow you will sight an island: disembark.” On land, the book again said: “In the middle is a trapdoor; raise it. Then two more, and a staircase; descend, and everything you find is yours.” This time Don Pidduzzu found a cave hung with hams and cheeses, and countless jars lining the walls. Don Pidduzzu read in his book: “Eat nothing, but take the third jar on the left containing a balm that cures every sickness.” So Don Pidduzzu carried the jar on board, where he opened the book: “Go home,” it said. “At last!” shouted everyone.

  But on the homeward voyage, while they sailed and saw only sky and sea and sea and sky, lo and behold on the horizon loomed ships of Turkish pirates. A battle ensued, and all the men were captured and taken to Turkey. Don Pidduzzu and his pilot were carried before the sultan, who asked his interpreter, “Where are these men from?”

  “From Sicily, Majesty,” replied the interpreter.

  “Sicily! Heaven help us!” exclaimed the sultan. “Chain them up! Put them on bread and water and, for their labor, let them transport boulders!”

  So Don Pidduzzu and the pilot began that hard life, and all Don Pidduzzu could think of was his princess waiting for him to come back with gifts.

  Note that the sultan suffered from an itch covering him from head to foot and which no doctor was able to cure. Learning about this from the other prisoners, Don Pidduzzu told the guards that, in exchange for his freedom, he would cure the sultan.

  The sultan got wind of the statement and sent for the Sicilian. “You’ll receive whatever you ask for, if only you cure my itch.” A promise wasn’t enough for Don Pidduzzu, who insisted on a written agreement and permission to return aboard his ship. The ship had been pulled up on shore, and nothing had been touched or stolen, since these were pirates of honor. Don Pidduzzu filled a bottle with balm from the jar and returned to the sultan. Instructing him to lie down, he took a brush and applied balm to his head, face, and neck. Before nightfall the sultan was shedding his skin like a snake, and underneath that itchy skin appeared new skin, smooth and pink. The next day Don Pidduzzu anointed the sultan’s chest, belly, and back, and in the evening his skin changed. The third day arms and legs were anointed, and the sultan was completely well. So Don Pidduzzu sailed off with his crew.

  He disembarked at Palermo and jumped into a carriage to go to Pippina, who couldn’t contain herself for joy. The king asked him how things had gone. “God only knows, Majesty,” replied Don Pidduzzu. “Now I would like a gallery readied for displaying my presents. True, they’re trifles, but since I have them here . . . ”

  And he ordered all the gold objects unloaded. For an entire month they did nothing but unload. When everything was finally in place, he said to the king, “Majesty, I will be ready tomorrow. If you like, go first and view what the prince has brought, then come and see my things.” The next day the king went to see the prince’s presents—knickknacks, toiletries, pretty objects, but nothing to rave about. The king heaped praise on him. Then the two of them went to view Don Pidduzzu’s display. At the sight of such splendor, the prince gasped, wheeled around, flew down the steps, boarded his ship, and was never seen again.

  “Long live Don Pidduzzu!” cried the crowd, while the king embraced him. Together they went to St. Catherine’s to fetch Pippina, and three days later the betrothed were joined in matrimony.

  Don Pidduzzu sent for his mother and father, of whom he had lost track since leaving home. Poor dears, they were still going barefoot! He had them dressed in a manner befitting a prince’s mother and father and from then on they lived at the palace with him.

  They were always happy and content,

  While we are here without a cent.

  (Palermo)

  156

  The Wife Who Lived on Wind

  There was, in Messina, a prince as miserly as he was rich, who ate only two meals a day consisting of one slice of bread, one slice of salami as thin as a communion wafer, and one glass of water. He kept only one servant and gave him two pence a day, an egg, and just enough bread to sop up the egg. Thus it happened that no servant could endure more than a week in his service; they all left after only a few days’ work. Once he ended up with a servant who was a notorious rogue and, no matter how sly the master, this man could steal his very shoes and socks in a foot race.

  When the servant, whose name was Master Joseph, saw how things were, he went to a coal dealer who had her shop next door to the palace, a rich woman and mother of a beautiful maiden, and said, “Neighbor, would you like to marry off your daughter?”

  “Please God that some fine young man will turn up, Master Joseph,” replied the woman.

  “What would you think of the prince as a suitor?”

  “The prince? Don’t you know how stingy he is? He’d have an eye gouged out sooner than spend a penny!”

  “Madam, follow my advice, and I’ll make sure there’s a wedding. All you need do is say your daughter lives on wind.”

  Master Joseph went to the prince. “Sir, why doesn’t Your Majesty get married? You’re growing older, and the passing years will never return . . . ”

  “Ah! You want to see me dead!” exclaimed the prince. “Didn’t you know that with a wife to support, your money runs through your fingers like water? Hats, silk gowns, plumes, shawls, carriages, plays . . . . No, indeed, Joseph, nothing doing!”

  “But hasn’t Your Majesty heard about the coal vendor’s daughter, that lovely maiden who lives on wind? She already has money of her own and cares nothing for luxury, parties, or plays.”

  “You don’t mean it! How can anybody live on wind?”

  “Three times a day she takes up her fan, fans herself, and thus fans away her appetite. To look at her plump face, you’d think all she ate was beefsteak.”

  “Well, arrange for me to have a look at her.”

  Master Joseph took care of everyth
ing, and in a week’s time the wedding was celebrated, and the coal vendor became a princess.

  Every day she went to the table and fluttered her fan, while her husband looked on as pleased as Punch. Then her mother would smuggle in roast chicken and cutlets, and the princess and the servant would gorge themselves. A month passed, and the coal vendor began to complain to the servant about the heavy expense to which they were putting her. “How much longer must I foot the bill?” she asked. “Let that silly prince of yours contribute something himself!”

  Master Joseph said to the princess, “Know what you have to do, my girl?” (In public he addressed her as “Princess,” but in private he called her “my girl.”) “Tell the prince you would like to see his wealth, just to satisfy your curiosity. If he says he’s afraid of a few gold pieces sticking to your shoes, tell him you’re willing to go into the treasury barefoot.” The princess asked the prince, but he made a sour face and would not be persuaded. She kept on, saying she was even willing to go into the treasury barefoot, and at last obtained his consent. Then Master Joseph said, “Quick, smear glue all around the hem of your long skirt.” The princess did just that.

  The prince lifted a plank in the floor, opened a trapdoor, and directed her down the steps. The young woman was speechless with amazement when she saw the heap of gold doubloons. No king in the world was half so rich as her husband! As she gaped and ooed and ahed, she innocently swished her long skirt around, gathering gold pieces by the dozen. When she got back to her boudoir and pulled them off, there was a nice little pile of money, which Master Joseph carried to her mother. So they continued to stuff themselves, while the prince watched the princess work her fan and rejoiced over having a wife who lived on wind.

  Once when the prince was out walking with the princess, he met one of his nephews whom he rarely saw. “Pippinu,” he said to the youth, “do you know this lady? She’s the princess.”

 
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