The story of "Meist"
Giacomo Giovannini, called "Meist" - Ceresole Reale
On October 1st, 1929, in the 7th year of the Fascist era, the City of Turin sent, by means of a "hand delivered registered letter" a communication to the inhabitants and landowners in the hamlets of Frera, Benir, Pezze, Villa:
"This Administration shall soon perform the operations for filling the basin under construction in Ceresole Reale and which is part of the Orco hydroelectric plants. Therefore, by means of this letter you are formally given notice to clear all houses and shelters in the properties included in the area of the basin, as well as to knock down, collect and move all the trees and whatever you may want to take. I add that, should you fail to do the above, this Administration will take care of it , and it will be fully charged to the people concerned. Yours faithfully". There followed the signature of the podestà of Turin.
One of the receivers of this letter was Giacomo Giovannini, called "Meist", which according to some could mean "tramp" but what I think to be nice and fair to construe as "the Master". Since in his way we can consider him also a master of life for his useless, weak but touching opposition to what he considered, and actually was, the insolence of the rich against those who had almost nothing, of the city against the mountain, of industry against agriculture. This battle was naturally lost from the start, but precisely for this reason, worthy of memory and commotion.
His little house was poor, made of stone with the help of very little mortar, with a roof of stone slabs and a proud sentence: "I did it all myself". Near his house there was a small rock wall; the Meist carved a niche and then he left for Turin, by foot, taking his savings with him; he went to Via Garibaldi, in a shop of religious items and asked for a statue of the Virgin Mary; they offered him coloured statues. But the Meist was an artist and he did not like a spot of lively colours in the austerity of a landscape dominated by the Levanne, surrounded by pine forests, caressed by the singing of the brook and by the bells of herds. He wanted a Virgin Mary in marble, which was more expensive and heavier to carry. He put it on his shoulders and went back, on foot, to his town.
It took him three days and his body was broken by the weight. But his Virgin Mary was something to see, admire and pray to. Then came the order and he said no, they could not let the waters of the brook rise, which was destined to become a lake; his Virgin Mary would not let her feet become wet. Eventually he had to surrender to violence, though the Company reached an agreement, and the surveyors measured his house, destined to disappear in the lake, and built a new identical one behind the Town Hall. There was no rock to build a niche there, so he took the Virgin Mary to Church. But one day the priest protested because the Meist had heaped his bundles of wood right in front of his garden. And so he took his bundles away, together with the Virgin Mary. Years went by, the Meist became a nice, old man and painters would paint him, with his great beard and the look of a poor Alpine patriarch.
Then he finished his days; among his mountains there remains his legend, a painting in a town restaurant and a song that Piero Genisio di Forno devoted to his story and his Virgin Mary of the lake.
Text by: Angelo Paviolo - www.comune.ceresolereale.to.it
The King of the ibex
One day, on the Monti del Ferro a wandering tribe arrived. They were sea people privy of their beaches, conquered by the swords of cruel invaders, who had landed a night a long time before. For months the wanderers had trodden foreign soil, every day more surprised by the alien world emerging step after step.
Used to waves and soft sand, the sailors shivered at the green surges of meadows.
They moved with difficulty on the pebbles fallen from the impressive and threatening mountains. When icy cold wind swept the path, the moan generated by the gorges of the rocky giants turned into cries in children and fear in adults.
Hungry, the tribe forgot fishing and learned hunting; they left nets and friendly sticks to practise with unfair spears and arrows. Incomprehensible beasts appeared from the forest, making night bivouacs sleepless, and forcing them to huddle around bonfires.
Salaxo understood it was time to stop, his people were exhausted by terrible marches, rapacious ambushes, poor food and icy nights.
No one could bear being chased away, forced into a wandering life so different from that of the sailors. Salaxo ordered them to settle down in the largest valley, while he would go and negotiate with the head of the Iron People.
Salaxo prepared an offer of precious gifts from his lost homeland, hoping they would be sufficient to appease the obscure race that drew iron and gold from earth and water. Otherwise, this time it would be war to the death, for survival or extinction.
His counterpart stared at the inexplicable stranger, bold and a leader like him, yet so dark in his hair and skin, with a strange salty smell.
The seashell and coral necklaces astonished the blonde monarch even more. He had never before seen such a wonder.
So he welcomed the guest in his humble miner hut, and ordered that he be placed at his side at the table, where he passed him food from the right, before giving it to his family. Salaxo remained with the boss for a whole moon quarter.
He established a common language with him, to understand each other beyond gestures. Eventually Salaxo managed to present the request of his people to the Iron People. “Let us live in peace on the piece of plain where we have built our settlements. We ask you more than a shelter, we beg you to give us a new home country”, this is what Salaxo asked at the Meeting of the Elders of the Valleys.
The sages discussed it at length until the Medicine Man said: “You shall remain only if you can conquer the permission of the King of the Ibex”. Salaxo waved his sword and declared: “I am ready to fight”. The Medicine Man explained: “You shall follow the path that starts from the village. You will go where this valley and the stream begins. The King of the Ibex is waiting there. If you are able to overcome his challenge, you may stay on the land where you are sleeping. If you fail, you shall leave”.
Salaxo accepted the challenge, though it worried him deep in his heart. Now he was the master of the entire story of their ancestors: but if he should lose, in the event he came back, he decided he would not stand to be forced to leave with his people.
Greedy looks of wolves accompanied the Salaxo’s lonely walk, until he arrived in the place where the valley and the stream begins. There was an immeasurable silence.
Salaxo felt a presence. He turned immediately. The King of the Ibex stared at him, commanding and crowned by its powerful horns. The long white beard signalled the venerability of this impressive animal.
Taking courage, Salaxo screamed: “I have come to stay, with or without your permission. If you are a god, I do not fear you. If you are only animal, your horns will soon be the trophy of my victory”. Salaxo prepared himself for the duel, but he was surprised. Instead of charging, the Ibex went up the mountain. “Do not escape, I must fight you!” – Salaxo shouted and chased it.
The Ibex climbed calmly, staring at the tired man who was trudging. Chamois and marmots observed the scene with wonder, before they escaped. Foxes spied the chase at length. In the sky, eagles flew high over the duellists.
Little by little, vegetation became less dense, animals disappeared and there remained only rock, snow and wind.
The Ibex disappeared in the sudden fog. Exhausted, hands and knees bleeding, desperate, Salaxo the sailor was about to give up. “Better dead than unworthy of pride among my people” – he thought.
Salaxo made a further effort and climbed again. He found himself standing above the clouds, the arch of the mountains open to his look, the whole world under his ecstatic eyes. “Paradise” – Salaxo whispered. “It is true, human” – a voice answered.
The King of the Ibex appeared near Salaxo. “Thus shall you call it with yours, the Gran Paradiso” – the Ibex went on– “You showed strength, courage and boldness accepting my challenge. But my permission comes from the love with which you have seen my kingdom, taking the war away from your heart. I accept you, you can stay in these valleys, as long as you keep them the way you have admired them today”.
“I swear it” – undertook Salaxo.
The King of the Ibex was pleased and greeted the man with the following words: “I trust in my new ally, for he shall maintain his promise. Now go, go back to your people. Unite your people with the Men of Iron, generate a new race. Your children shall bear your name, in memory of what you did: they will be called Salassi. I shall ensure that nothing and no one can send them away from this land, ever”.
Having said this, the King of the Ibex moved, to return to his secret kingdom. Salaxo quickly went down the mountain, to begin the prophecy of the Ibex.
But that is another story.
Text by Roberto Cucaz