This essay appears in our Autumn 2013 Print Issue 23. Also featured in this issue is a short story by Robert Kostuck, poetry by Jane Hirshfield, Emily Vogel, Linda Radice, and more!
The entire issue is available for download in digital format.
Duccio is a heavy-set man in his sixties, with a ruddy face, a peppery stubble of beard, intense blue eyes, one of which strays to the right. He is always bundled in several layers of sweaters, because he is sensitive to cold, and is never seen without his brown corduroy pork-pie hat, indoors and out. He and Giovanna live in the house next to mine. Our front doors are connected by a loggia leading to a steep flight of stairs down to a cobbled courtyard where our wood is stacked and where cars may park. Duccio spends the greater part of the day sitting on the loggia outside his kitchen door, like a sentinel, with a calico cat perched on each armrest, one on his shoulder, and another in his lap. When he is not napping, he is reading his favorite comic book, Paperino, the Italian version of Donald Duck. Coming in or out of the house on my way for a walk, out to the garden, or down to the car, I have to walk right past him and his cats, so it was only natural that we should become acquainted. In the short time I have been here, he has told me a lot about himself, about the village, and about his unusual profession.
Duccio told me that he was not always a healer. He began as a dowser in his teens, discovering he had the knack for finding underground water. After an accident with a tractor which rendered him “infirm” he developed the healing touch in his hands. Duccio doesn’t look infirm to me, although he does move slowly and deliberately, because, he explains, of his tender joints. He does a minimum of work tending his vegetable garden, olive grove, and vineyards. Giovanna does the more demanding physical tasks, like hauling firewood from the shed up the steep stairs to their kitchen. She is ten years older than he but in much better health.
In addition to the unexpected gift of the therapeutic touch as a result of his accident, Duccio also acquired the ability to travel outside his body, or so he tells me. He doesn’t use the New Age term, “astral travel,” although I suspect he is familiar with it. Instead, he describes this experience as “traveling at night” and sometimes, more simply, as “flying.” For a long time, his favorite activity when in this state was playing tricks on his friends while they were enjoying their merenda, a sort of picnic when a group of men gather for a meal around a trestle table under a tree or pergola in some rustic setting. He would fly over the table, snatching food from their forks and overturning flasks of wine, to their great consternation because he was, of course, invisible while all this was happening. With gusto he recounts to me one episode when he terrorized some local men by grabbing a flask off the table and taking a swig of wine. With theatrical flair, he acts out the scene: the flask bobbing up higher and higher into the air as if borne by a wave, the astonishment in their faces as he tilted it to his lips, then the wine gushing down his throat, through his esophagus and into his stomach. “Yes,” he chuckles, “they could see the wine suspended in the air above their heads, but my stomach and my whole body were completely invisible!” It is interesting to note that this event seems to have occurred in the daytime, for the men were eating lunch, but paradoxically for Duccio’s body, back home asleep in bed, it was nighttime. Therefore, when he travels, he also jumps about in time.
After that occasion, he confesses, he had to start being careful, for that day he realized that one of the men could see actually see him and recognize him when he was outside his body, which put him in grave danger. The next time they met, the man accused him, “I saw you there! I know what you did! You had better watch out,” which suggests that he has special powers too and might even be a sort of rival. Duccio swears he heeded the warning and stopped frightening his neighbors. “I didn’t want to be responsible if someone had a heart attack,” he explains.
I ask him how far he can travel when he flies, and if he always visits the same places and people. He tells me that he prefers to stick close to home.
When he was younger, he used to fly all the way to Siena or Florence to visit people he knew. But this was more problematic. The farther from home, the less energy he has, and he also finds city environments confusing when outside his body. Streets and buildings all look identical to him, and he cannot find familiar landmarks to guide him. Moreover, he is unable to read street signs, the numbers on buildings, or the names on doorbells, which all seem written in an unfamiliar alphabet.
“So I end up drifting up and down the street, completely lost, and then I get tired and I just fly home and straight to bed.”
Tuscans are pranksters by nature and most people would think that by telling me these stories, Duccio is just pulling my leg. But I sense that it is more complex than that. Perhaps these experiences he relates with the comic mimicry of a master story- teller originate in very vivid dreams he has, as Giovanna has suggested, embellished for the gullible or for those who relish a good story well told. Yet I am sure that in these stories there lies a grain of truth, a grain of his own truth, and that Duccio really does believe that he travels about without his body while asleep.
LINDA LAPPIN is a prize-winning poet, novelist, and travel writer who divides her time between Italy and the USA. She has published three novels, The Etruscan, Katherine’s Wish, and Signatures in Stone, which won the 2014 Daphne Du Maurier Award for mystery writing. Her newest project, The Soul Place of Creative Writing Workbook will be published in May 2015 by Travelers’ Tales. One of the exercises in the book previously appeared in the Tiferet newsletter. www.lindalappin.net
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