The Via dei Falegnami

Once upon a time, in the palaces and castles of the Great City, there lived kings and queens, princes and princesses, knights and popes.

Once upon a time.

But this story is not about that time.

Far from the palaces and castles, and almost unknown to the kings and queens, in the most hidden heart of the Great City, just where the river slowed down around an island, there began and immediately finished the Via dei Falegnami, a street so narrow that by looking out of the window of one of its poor homes, one could shake the hand of those who lived in the house opposite.

This is how the inhabitants of the Via dei Falegnami passed to each other the toys to exchange, the books to borrow, the clothes to be repaired, and even the homeworks to be secretly copied, from window to window, by simply stretching a hand.

If, during the meal, someone lacked salt, it was enough to ask from his neighbor vis-à-vis, and to lean from the window, not even leaving his chair, and take the salt shaker from the table of the polite neighbor.
If at night a nightmare agitated the sleep of one of the inhabitants of the street, he often ended up rolling through the open window in the bed of the in-front neighbor, and continued to snore quietly between husband and wife, who kindly made him a bit of space; this is why the beds in the Via dei Falegnami were always very large. After waking up in the morning, the hosts invited the guest to breakfast who had rolled at night to them: this is why at the tables of the Via dei Falegnami always there was an extra chair. The guest, having thanked with a little bow, climbed on the sill, and jumped back lightly in his own home, and the day began with the usual efforts.

And finally all those who lived in that street, used to sew on their clothes a star of yellow cloth as a sign of recognition, and none of them went out on the street without wearing it. It was rumored that sooner or later would come the Terrible Days to strip off their clothes those pieces of colorful cloth, but for the moment with all those stars sewn on the clothes hung out to dry after washing between the windows, the Via dei Falegnami seemed a dense constellation which slipped quietly down from the sky to almost touch the pavement.

In that street of stars and windows lived their lives Sara and Amos.

This story is about them.

Sara and Amos were born in the same moments in the two houses which, at the beginning of the Via dei Falegnami, looked on the Fountain of the Turtles. Sara was born in the house on the left side of the street where only girls were born, and Amos was born on the right side of the street where only boys were born. Their fathers, right after the birth of the two children, leaned out their windows to hug each other, wishing each other Mazal Tov, which means Good Luck.

To tell the truth, even in the midst of so much happiness, something strange happened that day.

Little Sara, born just a few minutes ago and placed in the cradle prepared for the occasion, slowly began to rise in the air, flying slowly upward like a happy little cloud.

His parents were quite surprised. Since when do children fly?

The first to recover from the surprise was the old midwife who had helped the birth of Sara and all the other girls on that side of the street. The old woman gently grabbed the ankle of the child, pulling her down before she went to bang against the ceiling.

Do not worry, said the midwife, it can happen sometimes that, by an excess of lightness, newborn children do not understand what is their place in the world, and whether they are clouds, birds, or people. Just explain her the laws of nature, and you'll see that as she grows, she will forget about flying and will stay with two feet on the ground like everyone else.
Sara’s mother embraced the little girl tight, for security, and the smile returned to everyone’s face.

At the same time, in the opposite flat, the little Amos, who was also born just a few minutes earlier, began to sink into the cradle in which he was placed, so that it broke under his weight. Her midwife, who had helped the birth of Amos and of all the other boys on that side of the street, grabbed the ankle of the child just a moment before he fell to the floor through the bottom of the cradle now completely open.

Do not worry, said the woman to the parents, it can happen sometimes that, by an excess of heaviness, newborn children do not know what is up and what is down, and whether they are stones that sink in a pond, or a lead weight for scales, or people. By the time he grows up, he will find the golden mean and will be equal to all others.

Amos’ mother had the baby lying in the bed beside her, supporting him with one arm under his small back, while his father reinforced the bottom of the cradle with some sturdy wooden slats, and everybody felt happy as never before.

The Via dei Falegnami was filled with the years that elapsed from that time onwards. Although narrow and short, the street managed to store all the days of all its inhabitants, stacking them neatly as they piled up, along the red brick walls of the houses, above the window sills, and in the darkness of the stairways.

Sara and Amos grew up healthy and beautiful, but neither of them recovered from their respective peculiarity that made them so different from the other children.

Sara continued to be pushed upwards by a light vertical current which made her light as a feather in a puff of wind, and could only leave the house taken by the hand by someone who served as an anchor, to keep her from flying away over the red roofs. She did not find anything strange in this, as she was like this since her birth, and she was, indeed, always happy and smiling. It was the other inhabitants of the street who looked astonished at the girl who never put her feet on the ground.
Amos, on the contrary, could never be left in one place for too long, because then he began to sink in the spot where he was. Someone had to grab him and pull away before he disappeared in the floor or in the ground.

When Sara and Amos met for the first time, it was natural for them to join hands. The little girl, so light, made light also Amos who did not sink any more, and the boy, so heavy, prevented Sara from flying away in the clouds. Since then, the two friends went about always hand in hand, even when Sara gradually grew so airy that neither Amos was enough to keep her back. Then her friend procured her a pair of heavy blue shoes with soles of lead. The inhabitants of the street got used to see them this way: the light girl, the heavy boy and the blue shoes, always together.

Who know how it is? whispered Sara one night, watching the sky from her bed.

How is what? asked Amos, who heard her from his room in the house opposite.

Flying. Flying seriously, over the houses, over the street, over all the Great City, answered Sara, looking out of the window.

It would be wonderful… sighed Amos from his windowsill.

Then let’s do it, Amos. Let us fly over the roofs. I will teach you how to fly and you will provide me that few which is necessary so the wind does not take us away. Courage!

Sara climbed onto the windowsill, and took off her heavy blue shoes, one after the other, which she also bore in the bed in order not to slip off, and immediately began to fly upwards, so that Amos from his window just managed to grab her by the hand before she flew away.

That impulse dragged them both above Via dei Falegnami, Amos’ feet just touching the roofs, and Sara swaying lightly as if made of sky.

How different and strange was this world, seen from above!
Their street, filled with the yellow and thick light of the gas lamps, from above looked like a thin slice of cake with cream, so much that you wanted to stretch a finger to taste it, and the houses on both sides of the alley seemed soft and sweet marzipan cubes.

Flying from rooftop to rooftop they discovered that, while people were sleeping, the Great City was populated by strange creatures, invisible by day: they were the night dreams coming out through the windows of the rooms where they were dreamed, and met on the streets to play hide and seek with each other, or to happily dive in the river which, so quiet in the day, was filled with the songs of green-haired sirens, while its waters were crossed by galleons of terrible pirates in search of the island of treasures. And the four turtles of stone on the fountain at the beginning of the Via dei Falegnami every night came to life and started to walk towards the river to swim to the sea which they have never seen in all their lives. However, being heavy and slow creatures, during half of the night they only did two or three steps, and then each time turned back to the fountain so they would not be surprised by the daylight on the street, and since centuries they consoled each other by saying, in the language and with the trust of the turtles, Tomorrow, we will try it again tomorrow.

At the end of that first flight, and all the following night flights, Sara and Amos returned to their windowsills and, having embraced each other and vowed to keep secret of what they had seen, they slipped back in their beds. But none of them was able to sleep, because their eyes were too full of happiness and wonder.

After some time, however, the adults in the Via dei Falegnami began to say that the Terrible Days would soon come to take away the stars sewn on their clothes.

What will become of us without the stars? Amos asked.

I do not know, Sara replied, but whenever they speak about it at home, Dad starts to pull his beard in despair, and Mom cannot stop crying. It must be something so dreadful that even adults do not know how to defend themselves..

The days of the street seemed being piled up just as always, now they did it with more fatigue and less order, as if the space for them would have suddenly exhausted. The street got even more narrow and shorter, and you could already not walk side by side with someone, but only in a single file. When two people crossed each other’s way, one of them flattened against the wall to let the other pass.

And finally one night the news came: the Terrible Days would be there in the Via dei Falegnami just in a few hours, already the next morning. Nobody could sleep that night, and the street was filled with sighs and groans, and stars were looking out of each window. Even Sara and Amos were awake and talking to each other from the two sides of the road which already touched each other with their facades.

We could all flee away, Amos suggested.

It would be useless, said Sara. The Terrible Days would find us anyway, with these pieces of yellow cloth sewn on our clothes. It is our stars they want. I wish at least we could strip them off ourselves.
Why do you blame the stars? After all, they are your destiny, Amos said.

What do you mean? asked Sara.

Have you ever thought about what would happen if you took off your blue shoes and I did not detain you? You would fly upwards, higher and higher, until you reach the stars. Nobody would ever find you up there.

Of course, you’re right! exclaimed Sara. This is the solution! We have already learned how to do it: let us teach it to the others as well.

Sara and Amos called loudly all the inhabitants of the street. Whoever was not already looking out of the window, now leaned out, and listened with eyes wide open to the words of the two children who told about flights and pirates and turtles. The adults were bewildered and doubtful, but they had no other choice, as the morning was coming. The other children, however, thought that it should not be so difficult to fly, as birds and flies and butterflies also can do it without the least effort. At a sign of Sara and Amos all went on their windowsills, some in pajamas, some in nightgown, and some still wearing work clothes. And all, adults and children, had their own yellow stars sewn on their clothes.

Leave what is not needed, even the ugly thoughts, explained to them Sara and Amos. You must be very light. And now, let’s all join hands.

The Terrible Days arrived at dawn, and furiously burst open the doors of every house, they went into every room, blew flames from their nostrils, and with a voice of thunder called one by one the names of all the inhabitants of the street.

But in the houses, in the rooms and on the street there was nobody any more, only silence and emptiness. Even the turtles of stone abandoned their fountain and finally reached the river and the sea. All the windows were wide open, and on every windowsill there were left, in haste but in order, the shoes for women, men and children. Among all, there stood out with its colorful happiness, a pair of heavy blue shoes.
And even today, if in a clear autumn night you look up on the sky, you can see a dense constellation of yellow stars rotating hand in hand. It is the whole Via dei Falegnami dancing, freely and happily, the round dance of the world.

Flaviano Fillo, Ghetto of Rome


The Via dei Falegnami is one of the alleys bordering the historic area of the Ghetto of Rome.

At the entrance of the Via dei Falegnami, in Piazza Mattei, where there was a gate of the Ghetto (the Mattei family were responsible for opening and closing the gates of the gates of the Ghetto at dusk and dawn), stands the Fountain of the Turtles, built in 1500 by Giacomo della Porta. The turtles that give its name were placed a century later and are attributed to Bernini.

Sixty-eight years ago, at dawn of Saturday, 16 October 1943, a hundred German soldiers surrounded the Ghetto of Rome. They captured 1022 Jews, including about 200 children. The prisoners were loaded onto a convoy of 18 cattle carts. The convoy, which started on 18 October, arrived at the concentration camp of Auschwitz on 22 January. Only 17 prisoners survived, including one woman, and no child.

3 comentarios:

Effe dijo...

Thank you very much, Studiolum, for giving voice to the sound of silence.
The tale is part of the anthology "C'era (quasi) una volta", published by Senzapatria Editore (2011), edited by Marino Magliani.

Studiolum dijo...

A commentary by Petrus Augustinus to the Hungarian version: “This was extremely beautiful. Thank you so much!”

Studiolum dijo...

blist’s commentary to the Hungarian version: “Wonderful!”