Cabbages and Kings
"Americans? May the saints preserves us, the Americans again. I wonder what you'll do to me this time," said the Italian farmer with just the trace of a smile on his lips. The busload of pleasantly jabbering tourists had stopped in Viggiano to avoid traversing the southern countryside during the very hottest part of the day. Most of the safari had headed straight for the nearest cafe and the combination of watered red wine and water which the proprietors dearly loved to sell tourists for only 25 times its cost. A few of the more enterprising members of the group wandered off, cameras ready, to look for "typically native scenes" for their lenses to immortalize.
In an out of the way bistro, they stumbled on an "oh so typical, hold it a minute please, mister" farmer who seemed furtively stealing a few moments relaxation at one of the sidewalk tables. He took the intrusion with good grace, and began, in fact, to converse with some of the multi-lingual invaders.
"It has been over ten years now since the Americans left. And well do I remember them. First there were the tired soldiers with their guns in their hands. Then the guns were on their backs and the soldiers were not so tired. Then they came in trucks and had no guns, but many cigarettes and candy. Then they left."
He looked up at the small group, most of whom were beginning to be politely bored with a story they had heard over and over again throughout Europe. But the farmer continued, gathering steam as he went.
"Yet what I remember most is what you did to our land, and now I am distressed because even I did not forsee the unhappy results. You see," and he leaned forward, eagerly, "we have been lemon farmers for many generations. On our land, there is good soil for farming, and too, there are some rocky hills which must be leveled to make more land for farming. My father and his father before him and back into time have farmed the land, and also--with their hands--leveled the hills, so that each has a bit more than his father.
"But you Americans, with your machines and your black powder, you were impatient, you needed the land leveled at once, to land your airplanes. So your trucks came to the farm of my neighbor, and in one day, you destroyed his hills, carried them away, and now he has all his land leveled and grows much more than he ever dreamed he could.
"Understand, I am not envious of my neighbor; I do not grudge him his good fortune. It is my sons I am worried about. For they are young and do not realize how good our way of life is. They saw only that your American machines did in one day what we have not finished doing in hundreds of years. 'Why,' they ask me, 'should we spend our lives picking at rocks which machines can remove so easily?' For several years they stayed at home not smiling with their work, but scowling at it. Now they have gone to Naples to work in a canning factory. Sacrificing their freedom to another's machine for a few more lire to spend on the women. And it is you Americans who have caused this."
He took a long, slow swallow of the freshly refilled wine glass. His mood was not bitter; it was, in fact, quite friendly, as though he were telling his tale to a group of trusted friends. The camera had been put away, and everyone was thinking, not unsympathetically, that "here was a neat story for the folks back home."
"So do you not think," the farmer once again eyed his audience intently, "that you could get the American government to come back to Viggiano and restore the mountains on the land of my neighbor? For then, surely, my sons would realize that it is their fate to work the land, and not to can tomatoes. Surely your rich American nation would do this. I have sent letters to your government, but received no replies. If you would use your influence..."
The bus left not much later, and some of the tourists were noticeably quieter than others, not quite knowing whether to laugh or not.