They all cried out at once. Evidently Mandas was more than flesh and blood could bear for another minute to these three conspirators.
“Then you are very bored here?” say I.
And the quiet intensity of that naked yes spoke more than volumes.
“You would like to be in Cagliari?”
Silence, intense, sardonic silence had intervened. The three looked at one another and made a sour joke about Mandas. Then the black-cap turned to me.
“Can you understand Sardinian?” he said.
“Somewhat. More than Sicilian, anyhow.”
“But Sardinian is more difficult than Sicilian. It is full of words utterly unknown to Italian—”
“Yes, but,” say I, “it is spoken openly, in plain words, and Sicilian is spoken all stuck together, none of the words there at all.”
He looks at me as if I were an imposter. Yet it is true. I find it quite easy to understand Sardinian. As a matter of fact, it is more a question of human approach than of sound. Sardinian seems open and manly and downright. Sicilian is gluey and evasive, as if the Sicilian didn’t want to speak straight to you. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t. He is an over-cultured, sensitive, ancient soul, and he has so many sides to his mind that he hasn’t got any definite one mind at all. He’s got a dozen minds, and uneasily he’s aware of it, and to commit himself to anyone of them is merely playing a trick on himself and his interlocutor. The Sardinian, on the other hand, still seems to have one downright mind. I bump up against a downright, smack-out belief in Socialism, for example.[Pg 146] The Sicilian is much too old in our culture to swallow Socialism whole: much too ancient and rusé not to be sophisticated about any and every belief. He’ll go off like a squib: and then he’ll smoulder acridly and sceptically even against his own fire. One sympathizes with him in retrospect. But in daily life it is unbearable.
“Where do you find such white bread?” say I to the black cap, because he is proud of it.
“It comes from my home.” And then he asks about the bread of Sicily. Is it any whiter than this—the Mandas rock. Yes, it is a little whiter. At which they gloom again. For it is a very sore point, this bread. Bread means a great deal to an Italian: it is verily his staff of life. He practically lives on bread. And instead of going by taste, he now, like all the world, goes by eye. He has got it into his head that bread should be white, so that every time he fancies a darker shade in the loaf a shadow falls on his soul. Nor is he altogether wrong. For although, personally, I don’t like white bread any more, yet I do like my brown bread to be made of pure, unmixed flour. The peasants in Sicily, who have kept their own wheat and make their own natural brown bread, ah, it is amazing how fresh and sweet and clean their loaf seems, so perfumed as home-bread used all to be before the[Pg 147] war. Whereas the bread of the commune, the regulation supply, is hard, and rather coarse and rough, so rough and harsh on the palate. One gets tired to death of it. I suspect myself the maize meal mixed in. But I don’t know. And finally the bread varies immensely from town to town, from commune to commune. The so-called just and equal distribution is all my-eye. One place has abundance of good sweet bread, another scrapes along, always stinted, on an allowance of harsh coarse stuff. And the poor suffer bitterly, really, from the bread-stinting, because they depend so on this one food. They say the inequality and the injustice of distribution comes from the Camorra—la grande Camorra—which is no more nowadays than a profiteering combine, which the poor hate. But for myself, I don’t know. I only know that one town—Venice, for example—seems to have an endless supply of pure bread, of sugar, of tobacco, of salt—while Florence is in one continual ferment of irritation over the stinting of these supplies—which are all government monopoly, doled out accordingly.Share It