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.
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.