The Last Mule of Anzi

November 10, 2015 / Local Interest
Anzi, Basilicata

The old traditions are what we find so appealing about Italy.  Things have changed in modern times, that is certain, but many of the long-held customs and crafts are – at least for the moment – still alive.

Anzi donkey

One of the first thing we saw when we visited my ancestral village for the first time was a man with a mule ambling along in a narrow, stepped lane.  We found it sweetly reassuring that, in a world where technology blitzes forward at a mind-boggling rate, some things are better left to tradition.

Through our many visits to Anzi we would see this man, striding along his clip-clopping mule, which was usually bundled with firewood.  We would wave as we passed him, and exchanged buongiornos and polite chit-chat as he delivered wood to an old signora’s doorstep.  In an ancient hamlet with leg-numbingly steep and narrow streets, the mule makes sense.  How else are you going to get a load of heavy wood home?

All around town there are stone circles affixed to many buildings, placed there to tie up a mule.  At one time, my cousin Michele told me, there were probably thirty working mules in Anzi.  They would be utilized to haul tools and implements to the fields, tote grain sacks to the flour mill, and transport olives or grapes to be pressed.  Now there is just one.

La Panda ha ucciso il mulo,” Michele’s wife Melina stated flatly.  The Panda killed the mule?  What?

“The Panda, the car by Fiat,” she said.  It became the workhorse of rural towns like this because it was narrow enough to fit through many of the streets, had enough power to accelerate uphill to reach them, and came in a four-wheel drive version that could be taken to the fields.  It was also economical, didn’t require feed, a stall, or pooper-scooper clean-up.

Completely logical.  It was only then that we took notice of just how many older model Pandas were still in use in Basilicata, and now understood why.  The new Panda is much larger and less desirable in towns like this; old ones are greatly in demand.

Yet the mule guy continues unfazed.  His customers are mostly anziani, elderly folks, but he can be seen around town every day guiding the mule up the stepped, inclined alleyways with bundles of wood to fuel their stoves and fireplaces.  It is an old-world tradition that will likely die when he does, but for now he and his mule carry on.

Anzi Donkey (2)

Valerie Schneider

by Valerie Fortney- Schneider

Through her company My Bella Basilicata Valerie uses her tourism industry experience to offer travel planning and on-site genealogy research in the Basilicata region. She is a freelance writer with magazine and website articles to her credit, adores cappuccino, and is an enthusiastic cook.

Valerie Fortney-Schneider

16 Responses to “The Last Mule of Anzi”

  1. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Finally! A solution to how I can get my groceries and ” stuff” up my cobble stone path where my Panda can not do! It might also be nice company to have a mule in the garden.

  2. Grazie for the heartwarming story of another dying way of life in our beloved Italy.

  3. Angela Finch

    Nice story. It seems sensible to keep the mule on since the panda had outgrown its usefulness. I was in Amelia, Umbria, recently – the smell of diesel from the vehicles grinding their way up the cobbled streets was quite unpleasant.

  4. Here in Sicily too there are very few mules left. Some villages still use donkeys for refuse collecting but the mules they used to have for transporting things back and forth from the countryside just seem to have been substituted with SUVs but there are still a few Pandas chugging around!

  5. Larry Naddeo

    My family makes a special pasta dish only at Christmas. It is made with nuts & olives in a brown sauce. No one knows where this tradition started but I read it is popular in Basilicata. My family comes from Salerno & Naples. Can you comment?

  6. Aside from Sardegna, my next favorite region in Italy. A place where I hope the old ways will never be forgotten. There are a few places in Sicily too …and in many small villages throughout Italy. Its what makes Italy, ITALY, for me at least.

  7. John Bellanti

    Valerie, I am glad you captured in writing and in photos a part of history before it vanishes beyond our vision. Change is difficult to the older immigrants to the electronic world of super computers, smart phones, and modern cars. A few months ago I attended a Teaching and Learning Symposium and the person who introduced the main speaker said this, She said, ” I came to Penn State University during the Dark Ages of Technology…that was seven years ago.” Thank God for grandchildren who now are our teachers in this new and exciting age. I hope they will savor and respect the generations that preceded them much like you have done in this article. John Bellanti

  8. Kathleen Dameo

    thank you for the lovely note on Basilicata. My sister and I just returned from Picerno and Torrecuso this spring. We were so impressed with these lovely lands to the south and the welcoming people. While we love the north too, we will go again and explore some more.

  9. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    It is still a way of life…at least some life in Italy…..Also in Monteroduni ,Molise


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