It is his most beautiful declaration of love for this land to which he has given all of himself.
(From the Preface by Maria Rosaria Sannino)
Gianni's book is available from La Libreria, Positano, Italy
Click hereto see some of Gianni's beautiful paintings, with which he supports his nature preservation work.
Gianni can be reached at email@example.com.
The place of the spirit is the true wealth of a person. And when you are lucky enough to find it, you must never leave it but rather cherish it as a real treasure. That is what Vali Myers and Gianni Menichetti did when they discovered in the valley "Il Porto" of Positano a refuge to protect and love unconditionally. Thanks to them, this place has remained unspoiled, with its many varieties of plants and animals of inestimable value, its beautiful Moorish pavilion that seems like a mute sentinel of passing time, its pools full of frogs and toads, the ancient fountain that evokes the splendors of Pompeii. It is a natural oasis, rich in history and legends.
Anyone lucky enough to visit this place at least once has felt it beat in his or her deepest core. Diving into the midst of nature, just one step away from one of the most renowned tourist spots in the world, is like living in the past and the future of a land all at the same time.
Even though Vali Myers left us on February 12, 2003, her spirit and her passion will remain here forever.
This great Australian artist (who left Paris in 1958 to take refuge in this oasis far from the comforts of modern life) wrote the following words from Melbourne in 1998 to Gianni Menichetti, her life’s companion:
"…I realize now what an amazing thing we’ve been able to achieve with ‘Il Porto,’ the most important being the fact of letting things alone, so that the so-called lower, smaller creatures are alive and healthy, which is essential for all the larger ones. Also that the trees and undergrowth are left alone, including dead wood and humus which gives life and security to all those unseen creatures."
To protect nature and preserve it from all violence. This was the most important battle waged by this extraordinary woman, far from the canons and customs imposed by society.
"…When I think of our lovely wild canyon and the sounds and smells, it all seems like a savage paradise and my heart keens for it. People teach me nothing, and creatures and nature everything, and music, drawing and dancing are my realm. Foxy I am, and proud to survive like those red-gold creatures, who stupid people call cunning and vermin – so be it – but I love to feel ‘lonely’ and an outlaw, nothing can change the weird, wild spirit I was born with."
The profound, stoic emotion that the magic of this "wild canyon" gave her is captured in these passages:
"…I cried for the first time this trip, while putting into the big drawing the little house and enclosed garden and outside walls and paths, the whole scene in miniature, and so simple, but what that inner vision evokes I could never describe in words: it’s really the wildlife oasis of my soul, and always the smell of the sea and rosemary … At least we can walkabout in dreams and in the valley, really it’s a richness, love. We have caves and cliffs, and wee wild creatures, plants and trees and a stream and waterfalls. That’s hard to find anywhere these days…"
There is a whole unknown world described in these unedited letters: animals and plants, streams and waterfalls, perfumes and sensations, lived with different eyes and moods, in a choice of a unique life with no temporal barriers.
The peace and the inner conquest that the valley "Il Porto" knew how to give are present in this book by Gianni Menichetti, written with an ironical clarity and a classical simplicity. These tales come forth like magic. It is an ancient fable lived and passed on to the present day.
It is his most beautiful declaration of love for this land to which he has given all of himself.
Maria Rosaria Sannino
To attempt a historical study into the Land of the Sirens is an enterprise destined to fall into the void or to lose itself in a labyrinth of oblivion. The Sirens are prehistoric, even anti-historic, creatures and their voice spirits us away from all that has a rational human order. In fact, it seems almost an act of sacrilege towards the spirit of this land to make a scientific investigation into its past and to go on a search of dates.
This does not seem to be my problem, because of the nature of my subject -- the Valley of Il Porto, a natural oasis among the mountains of Positano. This wild canyon that looks out over the sea, from 1958 to 2003 the home, or rather the realm, of the Australian artist Vali Myers, is where I have lived for more than thirty years. In this land, mystery leads to mystery, myth to myth, and legend to legend, and so the fragments of available history are almost insignificant.
The ancient archives of the land have almost vanished into nothingness, and so I have no choice but to rely on the few stories or popular beliefs that I was fortunate enough to hear from the older inhabitants during the first years of my life here. Therefore, once again: "Scripta volant et verba manent."
In this microcosm, so near to the world and yet so far and isolated from it, only natural reality is in itself clear. It is living nature, an open book whose pages turn by themselves day after day, season after season, a text not based on any data from human history.
Incipit, "The horrendous cliffs"
The first scholar of local history, apart from Matteo Camera, is the Reverend Enrico Talamo, who in 1890 published his "Monograph on the City of Positano," a work that can be defined as erudite historical sketches rather than true history. Between Pindaric flights and various oddities, one can still find some interesting records, though very few on the subject which I am addressing, the Valley of Il Porto, which he describes thus:
"The principal Valley to be found in the territory of Positano is that of Il Porto, and it has taken such a name from its shape, which resembles that of the place where ships rest in cover from the winds. It is encircled by horrendous cliffs that plunge abruptly into the gorge separating the villages of Nocella and Montepertuso. The sun must advance substantially along the horizon for its rays to penetrate here. The shepherd standing on the edge of this valley and looking at the sheer cliffs is shaken by terror. Turning to look elsewhere for fear of falling, he is quick to lead his flock to safer pastures." (Page 213)
And in another chapter:
"Passing beyond, through a thousand different views from the high mountains to the deep valleys, you arrive at a place called Il Porto, where you behold a great gorge encircled by overpowering cliffs, here smooth as a plank, there jagged and rough, that plunge from a height of more than two hundred yards. This place is inhabited by weasels, beech martens, and birds of plunder. At the bottom rises a spring rich in limpid, crystalline water. After having irrigated a nearby garden of orange and lemon trees, it feeds two mills, one next to the other. This place is illuminated by the sun for but a few hours." (Page 98)
I don’t think the name "Il Porto" derives from its structure, a deep ravine sheltered from the winds. Almost certainly, it comes from the bottom of the valley, where there was an old mill on the narrow beach called d’Arienzo. The mill was fed by the waters of the river Porto, which bears the same name as the valley where it runs.
The mill of Arienzo was transformed into a villa by the Russian Mischa Semenov, an eclectic and versatile character, at the end of the nineteen twenties. All that remains of the mill are the highest parts of the building and the long, wide canal which, running along the edge of the precipice, brought the water from the riverbed. Legend has it that this mill goes back to the time of the Emperor Tiberius. The Emperor, living on Capri for the last ten years of his life, sent boats full of grain to be ground at the mill of his freedman, Arienzo, the only person he trusted not to poison him. The maritime traffic going to and from this mill so near to the sea is perhaps the origin of the name of the deep valley towering above it: "Il Porto."
Worthy of note is the interpretation of our Positanese historian Romolo Ercolino, according to whom the name would derive from the Latin portus, in its meaning, "river mouth." From ancient times, people from both this area and nearby villages would have come to draw water at the mouth of this perennial stream.
Beliefs and Superstitions
Until very recently, thanks to its harsh, wild nature, "Il Porto" has been – and, frankly, still is -- a place that is feared and tied to strange superstitious beliefs. This is not difficult to understand: the awe-inspiring roar of the rocks that tumble down from the towering cliffs, the devastating force of the stream during a cloudburst, the profound darkness in the winter period and the elevated populations of amphibians, snakes, and "birds of plunder" – especially the nocturnal ones – do not make this place look like a paradise to Mediterranean eyes. Dulcis in fundo, the local proverb of this valley, which by now nobody knows, was:
Rint’ o Puort’ trase viv’ e jesc’ muort’
(Into Il Porto/you arrive alive/ and you leave dead).
The late Ferdinando ’o craunaro (the charcoal burner), revealed this and other things to me when I went to his house to get huge bags of carobs for the donkeys and goats.
I am very proud of this proverb.. . .
In the first years in which Vali lived here, the hunters circled around these gorges undisturbed, shooting randomly at every winged shape that came into sight, even climbing onto trees and rocks destroying nests and nestlings. There is something obscene and abominable, truly contemptible, about the hunters of these areas. Perhaps it reflects the geomorphologic isolation of these zones, where an absence of witnesses allows one to perpetrate just about any crime against nature. Their religion is not animistic but exclusively centered on man, without a single taboo or the minimal sense of the sacredness of other living creatures. Thus to demonstrate their unquestionable virility the hunters of these territories shot at owls, falcons, sparrow-hawks and other rare species, with neither discrimination nor scruples. Certainly ignorance is the greatest of all sins.
If by now the number of non-migratory birds in Il Porto has risen, it is definitely thanks to the omnipresent packs of dogs, whose numbers have increased since the sixties, reaching their most impressive size in the mid-seventies. When I arrived here in the first months of 1971, the pack consisted of about 25 dogs. I have recently written my "canine memories." With 240 faithful companions in the course of 30 years, how many stories there are told – so many different personalities and characters; events that were hilarious, tragic, sweet or cruel; lives, deaths, and miracles; interminable fights and feuds in the bosom of the pack. This ravine has always echoed with their barking and their discordant howling. Still, here it is impossible to celebrate the most beloved dogs, so instead I will limit myself to a brief description of two highly individual characters, two outsiders who in reality did not belong to the pack, or the canine society.
Being a dog and finding yourself outside the pack is a very dangerous position. The pack smells the difference in the individual who doesn’t belong and waits for the great day to eliminate him, in a bloody way. I have been involved with so many pack-conspiracies! If you didn’t rush in to separate the infuriated gang, in half a minute the poor unfortunate victim of the conspiracy would be little more than a shredded rag.
Felix was an unforgettable creature who belonged to the golden age of Suzy, friend of the fox-queen I described with the great African smile. Felix was a strange case of nature, a kind of hermaphrodite although the only sex she had was feminine, like a miniscule petal that never developed. By contrast, her body was large and both her appearance and gait had something masculine about them, but only at first sight. It is difficult to imagine a more tender and sensitive soul, terrified by fireworks and sudden, violent noises. She would become anxious in the vicinity of a burrow where a female dog had puppies, like a big brooding hen without chicks. She was the first to follow me wherever I went, even when I went down into the town, where she did not disdain to overturn the garbage cans in search of some leftovers. She was among the dogs that Vali specially loved, and to me she was always a great lady. Sometimes, just for fun, I dolled her up with a necklace of false pearls. The least pain or surprise made her jump and shriek. Large and hefty as she was, she would never have dreamed of hurting a fly.
Pearl belonged to the world of elves. This little white bundle of long curls always kept to herself, rather like a trembling leaf, very timid and frightened of the pack. Wherever she went – and this is really strange – a chair or a stool or some other object would fall, barely missing her head. Once she tumbled down from the high garden wall, without even realizing it; we had to keep an eye on her as if she were a little girl always in trouble.
According to an ancient popular gypsy belief, a child who gets hit by a stick made of elder-wood will not grow any more. Pearl was not even a year old when she had a nearly fatal incident. Walking under a trunk of elder propped up against a wall, the trunk inexplicably fell on her back, almost breaking her neck; she fought against death for a couple of days and survived beyond all expectations. But from that moment on, her character radically changed: this timid little curly lamb became as brave as a lion, snarling at any dog who came near her when she had a bone. And she became so eccentric and sure of herself that from then on the large pack maintained a proper and almost sacred distance. Her olfactory sense was refined beyond belief. Her gait was slanting; she seemed almost to be a leaf carried by the wind. Vali nicknamed her "snowflake."
An unforgettable chicken
I cannot resist telling this short story, the animal anecdote about Sally, an honorable red chicken of the old days. She was already eight or nine when I had the pleasure of meeting her. In those times -- it seems almost as if I were speaking of a golden age in which the lion and the deer lay next to each other side by side -- this venerable hen went to and fro among the dogs without one of them dreaming of hurting even a feather, and in the evening she returned to roost on her perch.
It was nearly twilight at the end of a rainy and muddy autumn day when Sally decided to retire for the night. She walked with a martial step toward her perch, but just in front of it she had to stop. Two large, powerful male dogs were confronting each other, since their female was in heat, snarling incessantly -- really making more noise than anything else. I even remember who they were: the shiny black Bobby and the piebald Spotty. What horrific grimaces they made to each other, showing their teeth and gurgling darkly, snarling until they couldn’t any more, and making it impossible for her to pass through. Sally wasted no time. First she gave them both indignant glances, as if to say, "But what manners are these?" Then, quick as lightning, she pecked first one and then the other on the nose. The two growling adversaries came to with a start, abandoned their struggle, and made off, it seemed as it the Red Sea had opened for the passage of her majesty. An unforgettable scene, as if a distinguished lady had taken her purse and whacked the faces of two unmannerly boors who had failed to show her respect. Then Sally rose regally to her perch.
Loves of my life
The first animal I fell in love with here was Flora, a little white dog with a broken tail, a sort of angelic trumpet of the pack of dogs, who was always on the qui vive, the first to bark and often to give false alarms to protect her vulnerable life from the gang. And her existence was brief and fragile like that of a bud. I loved playing with her; I threw her, high into the air and caught her in flight in my arms. I delighted in covering her with black embroidered veils almost to make her look like a Spanish lady.
After her came a black sheep, Becchina (old popular diminutive of ‘Beatrice’). Her long curly fleece and a refined Ethiopian profile were enough to steal my heart. Very delicate in her infancy, she became a splendid, wise creature who led a semi-wild life. Once, she gave birth out in the valley during a violent snowstorm, a very rare event around here. I found her, an incredible black apparition with her little lamb in the snow; she had succeeded in eluding the barbarous pack.
How could I forgive myself for having betrayed her, then, with Bastienne, the superb Vesuvian goat who was one of the greatest loves of my life? Even though Becchina lived in her world of black sheep there were times when she threw me sidelong glances of perplexed jealousy. Fortunately, Vali took her lovingly under her maternal wings. My Becchina had such a melodious voice!
To Bastienne, who began an illustrious herd, I dedicated countless epic poems and rhymes that celebrated her impetuous and proud spirit, her noble appearance, that aquiline profile and the fleece black as the night that that pours out of a volcano. My heart overflowed when I was with her. She was for me a true Muse. Her end was that of an Amazon warrior, as she had been for all her life. On a windy, icy day of winter, the pack that lived outside the garden pushed her into a gorge where they attacked her ferociously. She defended herself with all her strength, but in vain, against some ten large dogs. Irony of fate, they were the sons of her dear friend Alboino who every day used to dance in front of her, to pay homage to her when she went out to the pasture. She lived one single day after that bloodthirsty frenzy, and she died in my arms. How many times my heart has broken when I lost the creatures that I loved so much!
The latest one who made a deep crack in my heart was a soft cat who seemed to have walked out of a fairytale. Audrey was the reincarnation of a powder puff. A strange, eccentric, and most refined creature, she was not of this world. Wherever she sat or lay, everything around her became like velvet, silk, and satin; even out in the wild she brought along the perfumed atmosphere of a boudoir. When I went out of the garden with the pack of dogs, she came too, wagging her tail. She could never conceive that cats and dogs should have any bone of contention. In fact, even the meanest dog would not have dared to touch her, and so she would pass through the pack as if wearing a sable cloak. In bed in the winter she was my cashmere scarf and my fur hat. Whenever she saw me coming back home, she jumped down from the garden gate, where she was waiting for me, and ran a hundred yards so swiftly, and rolled on the ground by my feet to welcome me. Audrey, apple of my eye, my love, I hope to find you in an animal paradise after this life....
The Story of Foxy
This is the story of Foxy, the fox queen, one of the seven unknown wonders of the world.
Exactly on this day, Friday February 13, 2004, while on the other side of the world the ashes of Vali Myers are being scattered at her will over the tempestuous ocean between Australia and Tasmania, a year and a day after her death, because from her ashes the most beautiful memories of her life are reborn, I would like to begin the story of this wild creature who seemed to be – and even became – more Vali’s natural daughter than her adopted one. It is a story that seems like a fable or even more a legend, even to me who now brings it back to life, and it has the aura of an incredible dream. If I had to invoke a muse for my inspiration she would be Yamlika, the queen of the serpents of the "Thousand and One Nights" who knows where the greatest treasures are buried. The wild memories which I am about to narrate are in fact the greatest treasures of my life, and for a long time they have been buried in my soul. Being so precious it is as if I never wanted to expose them to the light of day. They are "burrow memories" that belong more to the night than to the day, since they are reminiscences of a nocturnal creature, and they are the chapter of an utterly unique "Jungle Book."
An inestimable jewel that no one could ever possess. Vali never fell in love with any human being in her entire life, and she lavished her boundless and impassioned affection on all her numerous animals; but she gave her whole heart to one creature alone: to Foxy, who was like a reincarnation of her, herself, a pagan spirit, wild and indomitable, and like her untamable. Or else the fox queen was an identical animal manifestation of Vali: her own spirit wrapped up in a tawny coat with a thick tail, eyes of golden and amber honey, instead of the color of the stormy sea, black ears always on the "qui vive," and with an innate instinct of suspicion towards human beings. Lady into Fox, Fox into Lady.
Towards the end of spring in 1965, on the coastal road near Positano, the hunters had killed a mother fox, and her little puppies, still unweaned, in vain awaited the return of their mother. Drawn by hunger, they crept out of their den and were captured to be cruelly used like toys in an absurd though brief captivity. Fate had it that Rudi, Vali’s consort in those days, happened to be passing by that area. He picked up one of the sooty little bundles and took it home with him. It is surprising that in the first months of life a fox puppy has none of the most obvious characteristics of its species; the coat is the color of dark smoke and the muzzle is far from long and tapered. That day, Vali was in bed unwell. When Rudi handed her that tiny, dark bundle, she thought that it was just the umpteenth dog puppy (I think the pack of dogs at that time was up to about twenty). But it was enough for her to bring her finger near to that parched little mouth to understand in an instant . In a stroke of lightning , the little beast bit her: Vali lit up with an inexpressible joy, recognizing her true nature, and she fell in love forever. That little fox was destined to be the love of her life and to signal the most beautiful period of her extraordinary existence, which in large part I shared with her. In the same burrow in which I now write, thirty-three years ago I met both mother and daughter fox. Foxy was then six years old, and except for her human/fox mother, she never let anyone come near her – not even Rudi, who had rescued her, snatching her out of stupid, cruel hands. But there is no reasoning with wild things. Gratitude and recognition are generally notions that belong to our world, in which are included domestic animals. It took months before I had the good fortune to make friends with he, before I could even touch her lightly with my little finger, since I saw only fleeting nocturnal apparitions of her. "The burrow" where I live until today is the ancient Moorish pavilion in the heart of a very deep gorge, the Valley of Il Porto, the wild canyon whose history I have already written. Vali always called this house of hers "my burrow," and it certainly was that in the truest sense of the word in all that time – a little kingdom for her and her fox. When I say that you cannot reason with wild creatures, that is even more true with foxes, who are beings with an incredibly powerful sense of freedom, and who do not accept compromises or conditions. If they are not treated with reverential respect and the lightest step of a tightrope dancer, and above all treated as equals, there is absolutely no possibility of being able to meet them or become close to them. A sudden step of a false movement, and they fly away like the wind.
With loving care, Vali nursed her with a type of medicine dropper, and soon she was weaned. Naturally, from then on the doors to the pavilion, provided with gratings, had to stay religiously shut to ensure her safety from the pack of dogs who lived either in front of or behind the house-burrow. Foxy, however, had a little patch of earth on a sheer wing of land by the riverside where she could dig, find refuge, and sleep during the day, and across a low, narrow opening in one of the walls, go in and our of the dwelling, something so essential for a fox who has an absolute need of a "land of no one," of a territory that is indivisible with others and of a very wild privacy that admits no intrusion.
It was in the summer of 1971, while I was sitting on the ground with Vali, that she came near to me and nibbled my foot to test me, but I stayed there immobile and imperturbable. In the following days, while she fluttered around me like a breeze, I could touch her for an instant with one finger. And still quite a long time passed before I was allowed to stroke her head and tickled her gently on the neck, but she always held a little paw ready for flight and her mouth was always slightly open, the teeth ready to bite.
Truly magical was that night when, jumping through corbels and arches, she arrived at the loft bed where we were lying in the candlelight. Never before then had Foxy come to the raised bed, except when, holding her in her arms, Vali had taken her there in her moments of solitude. That time was like a sign from the gods to consecrate our union, our wild connubiality never recognized by any law other than that of nature, an animal attachment in the most beautiful sense of the word, which grew ever stronger and was destined to last for a long, long time.
From then on, she would jump upstairs almost every night, passing whole hours in Vali’s arms or in her long, fire-colored tresses, in which she was not above hiding an occasional small chicken bone or other favorite morsels of hers. I almost held my breath so as not to disturb that aura of nocturnal magic that surrounded us. From time to time, Foxy amused herself nibbling my toes, as if they were little mice hidden under the covers. A game that we often played with her was to move a hand under the coverlet, dragging it along in imitation of a mouse, and with a great bound she would immediately leap on it as if on a prey. In those days the house was full of mice. Once, when Vali was returning from a short trip to Vienna, she brought back with her a couple of little silvered mice of Alaska (? – is this right?, which obviously reproduced in a vertiginous way. The pantry, which was protected by a metalic grate/net RETE, became their home, but soon it began to overflow with those most adorable creatures, which then set themselves to looking for dens and refuges a little bit everywhere, especially under the fireplace where they dug deep tunnels. However quick they were they certainly could not flee from the lightning-like nightly incursions of Foxy, and often in the morning it happened that we found a small victim lying on the cold floor.
In the beginning of the autumn of my first year in the Valley, I had the idea of dedicating to her – as a pledge of my friendship and a token of veneration of her extremely noble wild spirit -- not a more or less ordinary seat but a real, bejeweled throne where only she and her mother could sit. Once I had built an imposing seat with a high back, I covered it with furs, veils, strands of pearls, sequins, "pailettes," and little mirrors, and I studded it with every imaginable type of similar gems and rhinestones. The two wonders of this splendor were a semicircular amber of the same color as her eyes, set in a precious and intricate silver filegree, and an old Indian ring, that too of silver, which instead of a jewel had a little round mirror and inside contained the transcription of the poem ‘Alone’ by E.A.Poe, in the tiniest and splendid calligraphy of Vali, who considered this poem one of her favorites. The arch that crowned the throne had among black veils a fan of peacock feathers and a little gilded animal skull. From the richly befurred seat hung luxurious flowered trailing skirts which concealed a secret hiding-place. The arms were covered with bright red lace with puffs of fur and innumerable strands of pearls. The front two legs of the throne were shod in tapered red-vermilion boots that SPUNTARE appeared at the edge of the flowered skirts. Foxy, so mistrustful of every new thing and often upset by the most minimal change in "her" home, didn’t hesitate to sit there like a queen, and for the rest of her life that was her post of honor.
Without doubt, the most extraordinary reminiscence of my life is the nocturnal vision from outside the Moorish pavilion. Through the door grating, in the golden light of the gas lamp I saw silhouetted against the fire-red wall the dark, imposing throne, all bejeweled, with every brilliant stone quivering and sparkling in the wind of the night. There Foxy sat regally, her penetrating tawny amber eyes so full of life, looking at me and starting even at the rustle of a leaf.
Always, before going into the house I had to announce myself, whispering her name, always as if to ask her permission, and with what a light hand I had to open the door and with what a light foot I had to move, almost holding my breath so as not to disturb her: the least brusque movement would have made her flee into one of her hiding places. Already at the beginning of the fifties, Vali in her miniatures in black and white represented the figure of a fox, her familiar animal or, COME DIRE, totem forever. In her first years here in the valley, before having dogs, she had for a brief period a fox-cub, a young male who came and went in absolute liberty and who, then, still very young took to the woods.
The name Foxy, the simplest imaginable, came from the story by Mary Webb, "Gone to Earth," in which the female character Hazel, daughter of a harpist lives with her father and the best companion among all her animals is the fox, Foxy. It is a book that Vali adored and often reread and therefore kept among her treasures: she identified very much with Hazel, this girl of a INGENUO however very wild, whose only love was her fox. The story, which belongs to a "naif" literature in the most beautiful sense of the word, has a very tragic epilogue. While the fox is wandering through the fields, an aristocrat hunter arrives with his pack of dogs. Hazel runs desperately to reach her and take her in her arms, but to flee from the maddened pack, she falls, with her creature close to her breast, into a terrible abyss where she meets her death.
The dramatic epilogue of this story reminds me of another rare event. When Alboino, the pack leader who lived free outside the garden, was standing there behind the door of the Moorish pavilion. Foxy, excited by his smell, slunk along the floor like a plumed serpent and, beside herself, raised agonizing shouts and making terrifying rattling sounds almost as if a pack of dogs were tearing her to pieces, while her eyes burned with a wild, mad passion. She first did exactly the same thing when, separated only by the same door, she scented the odor of his father, Piggy. Love and death, what else can I say? Only once Alboino, hardly an adolescent, was admitted to the presence of the fox queen, but only for a few moments, since his hunting instinct was already aroused.
With the arrival of the large fox Chumpo, of whom I will speak in a chapter dedicated to him, nothing changed in her life. She never made friends with him, she ignored him like an unknown neighbor for six years, and the only time that we made them meet face to face, she seemed to be a machine-gun ready to cut him down pitilessly. Vali in fact had for a long time dreamt of finding her a companion so as to have her babies. But it was a complete fiasco. Thus, once again Vali could repeat that motto so often written in her diaries: "Foxy and me, bachelors till our dying day."
I have never known such a frugal creature, with such control over her appetite; rarely did I see her eat her food quickly. How many times she would come to inspect it and then wander away, circle it, walk around it, observe it, sniff it, then perhaps take a tiny taste of it or return hours later to eat it, and before every mouthful she would look around her, on every side, as if some enemy could jump out on her emerging from behind a bush, always on the qui vive, with her ears always on guard and taut as a violin string. However, her meals were always regal. Even in the lean years, to her were destined the best morsels. She never lacked a mixture of milk and egg, with a few drops of olive oil and a pinch of cinnamon, with bread soaked in broth; she adored honey, butter and cheese, but all in miniscule quantities; as also with chicken and every delicate type of meat. In the hard times, when I would go down after twilight to forage in the garbage cans in town, the best trophies were always hers. In the times of plenty, chicken legs were cooked for her with sage, raisins or grapes, and various spices. With what elegance she would eat! She would take each morsel with extreme delicacy, just as one picks up the most fragile object with the tips of one’s fingers. In fact, if we left her a whole egg in its shell, she managed wonderfully to seize it between her fangs and carry it around with her tapered teeth without breaking it, and she would walk around with the egg in her mouth making a sweet guttural warbling which sounded like the laughing song of a little stream running between rocky banks. And how many times she would put it down and pick it up again, leaving it intact until, the moment having arrived, with a sudden bound she broke it and then began to lap it up, sucking it up to the last drop.
She detested hearing the ferocious fights of the dogs outside "her realm" which, sad to say, were frequent. When they attacked each other with their fangs, she flew into a state of mad excitement and threw herself against the door scrabbling furiously. I remember that one night of winter, while she was alone with me on the bed and there was a scuffle of dogs right outside the door; whipped up by an unrestrainable rage she plunged her fangs into the thing nearest to her: my hand. She almost went through my hand from one side to the other. I remained immobile like a statue; I didn’t move an eyelash. Never, never did I feel any rancor at these actions of hers, nor did I ever conceive of the least reprisal; it would have been the end of our friendship. A fox does not accept punishments; a being so proud, free, and independent, it cannot be dominated.
What to say then when I would clean the floor with the wet rag? She considered this a personal affront. She seemed almost to be a dragon who breathed flames through her nostrils as she furiously ripped the rag out of my hand and then tried to seize even me with her fangs. Often when I went up the steep ladder that led to the loft bed, like a fish wriggling out of the water, she would bite my heels like a lightning bolt in a peaceful sky: how she enjoyed this game! And so on those rare, precious moments in which she allowed me to stroke her and tickle her neck, I was in seventh heaven. Just like her human mother, she loved to be massaged on her head and neck, but even in the most sensual moments of abandonment, her mouth was a little open, the teeth ready to flash, and a little paw like a spring disposed to let her suddenly jump away.
Vali played the most fanciful games with her, since only in her arms was Foxy relaxed, she seemed to be a sea-horse with her tale swirled into a spiral when Vali made her bounce on her lap. She would make a pocket in her long skirt and with Foxy inside it, she played at "kangaroo," jumping and rebounding. Vali knew how to speak the language of foxes, and so with Foxy she expressed herself in "fox language." There was not a vulpine verse that she did not succeed in imitating: from the dry bark to the continual howling and querulous warbling, from the most harsh and guttural sounds to those most acute and throbbing.
For anyone who has not lived with foxes, it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the desolated scene in the house in the morning, after a "wild night" of savage incursions. It was like being in Carthage after its destruction. And then all those times in winter, when Foxy managed to move the grate in front of the fireplace, and to dig madly in the ashes: the floor looked like a Siberian landscape after a violent snowstorm, and everywhere there were strewn the cannibalistic trophies of her nocturnal meal which often gave her more joy in disseminating barbarously than in devouring.
Fair and foul are near of kin….
And yet her brilliant eyes of golden amber will shine forever in the twilight caverns of my memory, rather in my soul. Her indescribable beauty was without limits, as were the moments of overpowering fury during her barbaric devastations.
When this pure spirit wrapped up in a fox mantle looked at me, she could read me like an open book, she could scrutinize the deepest mazes of my being as if I were made of the most transparent crystal, and she anticipated my every move, breath, and thought.
The commonplace of the slyness of foxes is a misinterpretation of their extreme sensibility of spirit (that is more accentuated in female foxes, almost beyond belief) which gives the impression that their steps, rather than on the ground, are in mid-air on a line of a tightrope walker without a net.
More than once she burned her tail brushing it against the flames that burned in the fireplace, showing total indifference, while Vali got very upset about it, since she adored her thick tail. Foxy loved to steal shoes and take them with her into her secret hiding places, especially outside in her burrow in the ground, where she bit them voluptuously. When Suzy arrived at an advanced age, two other canine creatures were admitted inside the house as "lady companions": Pearl, called "snowflake," with the long white curls, and Gundagui, all covered with sepia freckles, she too with a soul that was absolutely "kosher."
In her advanced maturity the virgin queen, half-reclining on her throne, used to caress her nipples with her little paw, very sweetly: it was as if she were playing the harp. And after a certain time, the miracle occurred, there were turgid drops of milk from her tiny breasts, red behind the thick fur. Vali, squeezing a few drops onto her finger, made me taste that wild milk. I believe there are very few mortals on this earth fortunate enough to have done that.
Vali and Foxy had identical nocturnal habits. Although Foxy, as a real fox, woke up at twilight and went to bed at dawn and Vali usually got up around eleven or noon, the heart of the night, until cock’s crow, was their most intense and lively time. And while Vali painted at night, her little fox kept her company with me, who would read stories aloud often, however, ending up with my nose between the pages like a bookmark.
She was always a great hunter of rodents. I will never be able to forget the day when she managed to dislodge an entire family of rats who had made their general quarters behind boxes and trunks, and in the space of a few seconds, she struck five of the six members while they were squirting anger in every direction, with a speed faster than thought: only one managed to escape through the window and put himself in safety. And instead in the late years of her life, seated on the throne, she would observe the comings and goings of the mice with magnanimous detachment, almost with philosophical tolerance: an unusual lesson in "ahimsa."
I could tell so many other stories of this divine creature and her stupendous existence.
Foxy lived fourteen years; I wonder if any other fox ever lived so long. Sensing that her end was approaching, she stopped eating and for some ten days before her death accepted only a few drops of water. By then she was only bones and tawny fur, but her eyes, now enormous, still shone. She passed away in the arms of her mother, and I was next to them, a few hours before dawn on March 1, 1979. Foxy was the only creature that Vali did not want buried in the garden like all her other animals. She wrapped her up in the most beautiful fabrics she possessed, satins, silks, shawls with arabesques and embroidery, and she asked me to place her among the highest branches of her great elder tree: a "Red Indian" funeral. Among those branches she stayed exactly eight months, and on the second of November her remains, wrapped in the most beautiful veils and perfumed with essences and spices, lay in a beautiful casket of chestnut wood that Vito Talamo, a carpenter in Positano, made with simple but fine art, for which he refused to be paid.
On an oval of polished brass inscribed in Naples these
words are written:
Foxy (1965-1979) Only beloved daughter of Vali Myers
From then on, this beautiful casket has been by Vali’s bed, and still is, to the present day. It is so near to me that I can touch it even as I write the last lines of this extraordinary story that seems like a fable or a dream, yet a dream that I myself have lived.
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