In the spaces between the rains the sky runs and falls; gathers itself and plunges again towards the sea. Cumulonimbus titans strike their shins on the horizon line as they stumble through the Mediterranean, dead drunk and anxious to reach Ithaca. This is a place where mothers still name their sons Ulysses.
The houses are like barnacles on a rock; roof tiles buried in lichen and slathered with concrete where they meet at the crown in an uneasy sea-sick ridge. Below the rust-eaten white iron boundary of the balcony-rail I can see two flaps of a prickly pear struggling out from between two heavy arcs of terracotta.
The edge of the sky at dawn over the water is like Montale’s description, a singing strip of metal lath, a kite string straining against the rebounding vault of blue. His was the western sea, the Ligurian coast, a sunset light. Here the Ionian dawn makes eastern music…Jove’s mute mistress writes her name in the sand with a round hoof…IO.
Despite lying just above the Ionian Sea, named for Jove’s mythic mistress transformed into a cow, Caulonia Superiore is a place of goats. The goats, along with a few sheep, are kept in enclosures called ‘ovile’ just outside the town walls. There should be a better English translation for the Italian word, “ovile” (oh-VEE-layh) but there is not. “Fold” is inadequate, it’s too short in sound and too broad in meaning. “Goat fold” although accurate, is just plain ugly, clanking off the tongue like a broken carburetor. I mention this translation difficulty because I am about to tell the story of “The Ovile of Mimmo and Pepe” and I don’t want to leave readers scratching their heads as to what an “OH-vile” is until they reach the third paragraph. And so we begin…
THE STORY OF THE OVILE OF MIMMO AND PEPPE
This morning Matthew, Robin and I woke up early to go and visit the ovile of Mimmo and Peppe so that Robin could see the baby goats and we could all have a breakfast of fresh ricotta. The three of us piled into my big blue van and Matthew managed to squeeze, nudge, and coerce it through the slender streets of Caulonia Superiore until we found ourselves on the dirt road that meandered below the vaulting walls that are still (just barely) sustaining Piazza della Carmine above. Matthew parked the van atilt on the shoulder of the road, leaving room for another car to pass, maybe.
The ovile was what you would expect: a big fenced in plot of land for the grown sheep and goats in which every hint of something green had been eaten. Three rambunctious, gangly white puppies tumbled over one another, and a minor river of water, goat shit and urine ran across the road and under the front tires of my van. Adjacent to the large open pen was a roofed enclosure where the baby animals were kept separate and which was abutted by a cinder block shed where Peppe and Mimmo were working making the cheese.
As we walked up the path towards the porch that fronted the shed we passed by a fluffy white dog whose eyes were badly infected, the skin all around them pitted and inflamed. Robin wanted to pet it until she got a little closer and her good will towards animals banged flat up against something sad and ugly. She solved the struggle by resorting to reassuring herself with words, “Bobbie give sad puppy hug, now she happy puppy!” She looked obliquely at the dog while hugging her own round, pink arms. I found my self wondering when we should start teaching her to look at the ugly things straight on and with compassion instead of looking at the ground and calling them beautiful; then I remembered that I was still working on that one myself and our daughter was not yet two years old. Today would not be the day.
We passed by a small fenced in garden with olive and lemon trees. Across from this were a series of low-walled concrete pens one of which housed two large, pink pigs. Matthew held his hand down to their wiggly snouts saying, “See, it’s a pig. He has a wiggly nose.” Robin edged nervously against my leg saying, “Mama gonna pick you up. Don’t want pigs.” For the first time she was seeing the real animals and they were not wearing plaid shirts and blue jeans like the small, shiny, cartoon pigs in her picture book. They were twice as big as she, I would have been nervous too. I lifted her up. “Lets go see Mimmo and Peppe and the BABY goats,” I said.
As we neared the shed we saw another white dog, this one young and healthy, tied up near a large tree. He was lapping up the water and whey and bits of curd that came from a tube functioning as a drain that led from the cheese making shed out the door and on to the concrete sluice that angled down from the porch. As we reached the open door to the shed Matthew said the obligatory “con permesso” as we walked in.