First chapter of Clays


…the pheasant in this Holy See convicted…

Filippo Piffetti, from the letter to the Cardinal Bernardi in Siena


He cried for three days in a row when he learned that the pheasant was dead.
Intrigued by the wheels of the approaching cart, she was hit and dragged for several meters on the cobblestone. It was a fast cart, faster than the ones roaming the sleepy provincial roads. Passing by, swift and urgent.
His whole life called “the pheasant”, due to a cry lasting three days, when he was twelve years old.
At that time his face resembled the hills where he was born, sweet and soft. His dense curly hair the forests that covered those hills.
He was born in Orvieto with Brizio as the given name, few days before the chapel bearing the same name would have been made eternal thanks to the gentle “cortonese” 1.
The father, Pietro Tasconi, merchant of spices coming from all corners of the globe, never saw a geographic map.
The shop at the ground floor of their home emanated a mix of smells, changing according to the season. The predominance of one spice, produced in huge quantity that year in the middle east, or the lack of another, lost in some grievous storm, changed the flavor from peppery to sweet, and then from pungent to earthly, in a random feast of the senses. That was the way Pietro was imagining the world, thanks to those fragrances picturing the furthest and most hidden recesses.
“Brizio, do you feel the sweetness of Madagascar, full of vanilla and cumin?”. So he charmed the son into that journey to unknown lands.
“And Damasco, so sour, ginger, cedar skins and lemons. I never get tired of.”
He had from his mother side noble lineage, and some pope as a distant relative, or so at least told her whole life his mother, Eleonora Saconti.
Whether this lineage was real or alleged nobody knows, and especially none of the connected privileges came to materialize.
But, it is known, in the province too, truth is an appearance to wear, and the Saconti benefit of great respect. Respect maybe due more to the Tasconi, thanks to the spices and roots offered by Pietro, delivered for exotic places.
It seems spices were never enough in town, nobody dared to praise their aphrodisiac qualities, and the comments not devoid of winking looks concentrated on the tastiness of the cinnamon chicken cooked by Madam Francesca, the daughter of the notary, and on the exquisiteness of the pork marinated in ginger and sichuan pepper, that Giorgio Albani, husband of the milk woman, used to sustain his lazy days, while contemplating the jagged horizon of the Umbrian hills.
The pheasant, she was as well coming from far away. The uncle Filippo, brother of Brizio’s father, tireless traveler, needed no tricks for her to follow him aboard the ship that from China set out back to the Mediterranean sea.
Maybe tired of the humid climate she was born in, maybe attracted to the ocean she had been smelling all her life, took the decision and did not lose sight of Filippo, if not for few moments, in which he was busy in affairs not appropriate to a real pheasant as she was.
Honestly Filippo would have preferred that a male pheasant took part in that perilous crossing.
The males of Chrysolophus pictus, so called as per binomial nomenclature, are shy as a consequence of their flashy coloration.
The plumage is a palette worth of Etruscan graves, shifting from gold to orange, fading from blood to rusty cinnamon.
Green and blue and their mixtures decorate like precious stones the back and the long tail, legacy of archaic flights.
He was followed by a female instead, brown and monochromatic as all females of the species are, but bold and independent like a woman from Macao or Siena.
The crossing, wearying for most of the people, was not for her, that had never been at the sea.
The rolling of the ship pushed by the wind, the rhythmic oscillations, the black stormy days and the azure calm ones, the sea dark and huge, the lands touched and left, the rare encounters in the middle of water, everything became familiar to her in a short time, darling of the crew, ocean-pheasant.
They arrived on a rainy day, in August, the puzzled pheasant in front and Filippo following, tanned and loaded.
Somebody gave them a lift from the coast till below Orvieto, letting them climb the hill with their own legs (and paws).
The ascent, the rain, the oppressive heat and the effort due to the long trip almost at the end, played with the mind of the pheasant, whose emotions winded up in bends as steep as the turns of that climb.
For a moment she thought of being just awaken out of that dream which the ship, Filippo, and the trip itself were part of. She felt like she never left and the disappointment changed into nostalgia when she became aware of new and unknown details, and then again into bliss when out of last turn she saw the valley, luxuriant of poplars and chestnuts, and on the other side the tall and thick walls of the city, the voices in that bouncing and singing language, and the smell of food she never experienced before.
Brizio was busy with ordering glass bottles in the same line, each with a different size and color, without any structure that could reveal a mental arrangement.
The clamor coming from outside was getting closer and closer, it made the fragile bottles jingling, softly, still enough for Brizio to comprehend the exceptionality of the event.
Filippo, the uncle from the East, of whom he only heard about, entered the town, welcomed with festive shouts, hugs and collective excitation.
Still behind his uniform barricade of glass, Brizio did not move, continuing unperturbed the role play of his beloved bottles.
A beak made his appearance through the door slightly open, a beak small and yellow, then an eye, curious and inquiring, and at last a neck and a paw.
The pheasant, escaped the pinches, deceptive caresses, pats and threatening words by the ones that came welcoming Filippo, and sneaked in the house to look for some peace.
Already used to many people and attentions, she did not flinch in discovering that someone else was in the room. She got closer to the bottles and put the beak in the neck of each to savor the air inside.
Brizio, usually jealous of his row of glassy vessels, let the pheasant carry on with the tasting, who knows, maybe, he would finally understand the meaning, of that accurate game.

  1. Born in the city of Cortona, Tuscany.

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