For your Xmas degustation
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For your Xmas degustation

It was the week before Xmas and nowhere was quiet. The sunny December skies we have become used to had disappeared behind blankets of dark clouds. Wind-lashed Xmas carols were repetitively blasted through streets, shops, airports, hospitals. Christmas Fathers hung from balconies, strobing lights of all colours and sizes forcibly illuminating our way.

Nobody considers the children with epilepsy.

People scrambling, frantically wrapping up their year’s work. Rushing to their third Xmas party of the day. Shuttling from shop to shop, desperately acquiring gifts. Throughout all of which we contemplate the unworldly implications of the virgin birth of the Baby Jesus.

Christopher Hitchens, in his 2011 article, The True Spirt of Christmas, describes “the experience as too much like living for four weeks in the atmosphere of a one-party State”.

“Oh God, what a grinch, let me enjoy my Christmas,” you moan.

You are not the first, and I’m sure won’t be the last to call me that.

Everyone knows the Christmas routine. Love it or loath it, there is nothing new (at least to adults). We’ve heard all the stories, we know all the lyrics to George Michael’s Last Christmas… Hitchens was right, it is Pyongyang.

If you crave that type of article then google ‘Hitchens’, he makes for better reading.

As it is Xmas, I’m going to retell a story I heard a few years ago about a boy aged 11. Affectio­nately called Salvino by his Nannu Pino, Salv or Salvu by the rest of the village, and Francis by his mother, Suzanna.

He lived on Nannu Pino’s farm, found outside the village. Big enough to house the young fami­ly, Nannu Pino and his artistic proclivities. Salvino’s father Francesco, worked as a high-ranking naval engineer in the Navy. Suzanna, a biochemist, preferring the outdoors to the sterility of a laboratory, ran the farm alongside Nannu Pino.

Seventy-eight, silver haired and straight backed, Nannu Pino’s olive skin was weathered from years of life under the sun. His blue eyes looked out with the intensity of his youth. His mouth carried a knowing smile, except on occasions when his gaze would drift into the distance, his smile curl downwards, giving aged sorrow to the man’s face.

A decorated officer, he served in The Great War, as it was called by the old folks. So violent and destructive was this conflict, all who lived through it promised to never let the same mistakes occur. But a tragic truth of war is, the people who fight it suffer it; they are never the same people who declare it.

Fifty years have passed since Nannu Pino put down his gun but for those who fought, the smell of war lingered. His generation silently suffered the shared shame of those years of inhumanity.

Salvino spent most of his time with his grandfather. After school and on weekends they walked through the fields, tasting the crops, greeting the animals. Two horses, a donkey, chickens, pigs, goats and a dog called Bob.

Nannu Pino would tell him stories about the land they lived in. Teaching him traditions to be passed down, respect of the land that provided them with a life and home.

No snowflakes fell, no yuletide logs burnt, no fat men in red suits. A story about our forgotten humanity

“We do not own, and are not owed anything,” Nannu Pino told Salvino. “We are only curators.”

Salvino listened to his grand­father’s every word, but wanted to hear about Nannu Pino’s wartime adventures. He knew his grand­father didn’t like to talk about the war but he would succumb to his boyish curiosity and ask anyway.

“Tell me about the war, Nannu. Why is it called The Great War?”

“There was nothing great about it Salvino,” he said curtly, “only great shame.”

“But you won the war!” exclaimed Salvino.

“Nobody won,” replied the suddenly aged man.

He always regretted upsetting him.

Nannu Pino loved his grandson; he called him Salvino because in his young eyes he saw humanity, the type that one loses with age; a humanity that redeems and cares. The boy’s capacity for kindness was known throughout the village, even the animals knew it.

The village constructed atop a plateau was a few kilometres from the sea. Inhabited mainly by farmers, its streets, winding and narrow, sheltered passers-by from the midday sun. Leading to a small paved square, enclosed by a chapel, two bars, a police station and the home in which lived the uncontested, rotund mayor.

In the centre of the square stood a statue of their patron saint, under which a gushed fresh water, sourced from an ancient spring deep inside the plateau. The water source was decreed common heri­tage, free for all to use.

It was a time of peace and prosperity. The fields yielded more than enough for the village, increasing trade with outside markets.

Salvino’s family wanted for nothing. Under Suzanna the farmland flourished with produce. While Francesco, stationed overseas, sent back an officer’s salary and exotic gifts.

For some time, news of tensions abroad had been trickling in. Activity at the naval yards was visibly increasing. Although ignored, the tension could be felt throughout the village.

The elderly, now few in numbers, were worried. The youth, who only knew prosperity and wealth, felt strangely animated by the news. Calls for recruitment spread from village to village. More ironed beige shirts were worn.

It was December, the weather was uncharacteristically dry and hot. The lack of rain put a strain on water supplies, many having to resort to the fountain to maintain production. The mayor said that this was normalcy, nothing to be concerned about.

One morning a plume of black smoke could be seen rising from the coast. Everybody saw it.

Hours later a group of 20 men, women and children ap­proach­ed the village. Sunburnt, dehydrated, famished, wearing rags. The villagers simply looked on.

Entering the square they saw the water beneath the saintly figure. They rushed to it, giving way to the children. They sipped slowly at the water, as if scared by its abundance. One of the men dipped his head into the water, his confusion transformed to relief.

The villagers, not knowing what to do, curiously gathered around them. A murmur rose above the crowd, as the mayor’s beiged aides barged through followed by the mayor himself.

“Who are you?”

“What are you doing here?” enquired the mayor.

A white-haired woman, the only elder among the travellers, approached and explained that they had fled from their home during an attack. They had been smuggled out by boat and knew not where they had landed.

“Do you have identification?”

“Do you have any possessions?”

“They are drinking from our fountain!” cried a young beige recruit.

The murmur grew louder.

“Turn off the water, they could infect it,” another shouted.

Curiosity was turning into hostility. The white-haired wo­man was shoved back to the centre. The children by the fountain began to cry.

Nannu Pino and Salvino heard the commotion coming from the square. Nannu Pino made a beeline towards the mayor and demanded an explanation.

“These are dangerous times Pino! We need to care for our own. Close the fountain!” barked the mayor.

“That spring is common heri­tage, it is open for all,” Nannu Pino exclaimed.

Bang. A shot rang out. Nannu Pino fell to the ground. Still holding his grandfather’s hand, Salvino looked around, eyes wide with shock.

The square was stilled.

Salvino let go the lifeless hand, walked towards the fountain. Using his hands as a ladle, he gave the white-haired wo­man to drink.

No snowflakes fell, no yuletide logs burnt, no fat men in red suits. A story about our forgotten hu­manity. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is about?

Stop blaming 2016; it’s been bad for quite some time now. The beige shirts are coming. It is time to recall the humanity of Salvino.

Enjoy your meal.

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