Wednesday, 01 December 2021

The short film starring Raoul Bova and Rocio Munoz Morales relaunches the “ciucci"

Sul corto di Muccino non casca l’asino 

Thanks, Gabriele Muccino and thanks Raoul Bova and Rocio Munoz Morales. We owe it to the lively debate that has opened around their short film if we   go back to talking about donkeys in Calabria.

Ciùcci, scecchi, sumari, bagàglhi, once again enjoy attention and curiosity, even the spotlight. Yet, until a few decades ago, many still made their unmistakable ironed clogs clop early in the morning even on the asphalt of many city centers. They seemed extinct, these humble, very useful horses whereas there they are again. Unexpected protagonists, parade in favor of the camera, along citrus fruit avenues, which have become the subject of a rediscovery operation. After all, besides the faded black and white images next to the classic dry stone wall, the donkeys do not speak only of an ancient Calabria. Noble companions of man in the humblest and most strenuous jobs, they had already been placed at the center of relaunch and enhancement projects. Mayor Mimmo Lucano had rehabilitated them in Riace, in an ecological key as an ideal means of transport for the separate collection of waste in the alleys of the Ionian municipality that has become a reference point for the reception of refugees from around the world. I remember the door-to-door garbage collection with the “green” and “slow” donkeys, which carried a flag on their backs with the words: “We make the difference… only waste!”.

And how can we not remember that further north, in Sersale, on the Ionian side of Catanzaro, six donkeys have become fully part of the “Valli Cupe phenomenon”? Carmine Lupia, the talented botanist-naturalist who discovered and made known the kilometers of wild canyons that have become a "cult" for trekking and wilderness enthusiasts, used them for excursions and has made make that environmental treasure accessible even to those who do not have athletic skills. Those in the know, speak of "donkey trekking". The excellent relations between the Calabrians and the donkeys date back to the dawn of time. Our donkey breed is a variant of the Apulian one and there is a special project funded and initiated by the Aspromonte National Park Authority which is saving it from extinction.

The native Calabrese appears in official documents dating back to 1240, when Frederick II ordered Pietro Ruffo of Calabria to contact Ruggero, a monk of San Giovanni, so that - as a connoisseur he was - he would provide him with good donkeys "pro cooperiendis jumentis nostris".  Corrado Alvaro writes about it ("the one that accompanies the Calabrese, the donkey, the mule, the bagpipe, the accordion, the fife ..."). Of course, the consistency of our donkey heritage which in 1908 counted about 68,000 and between 1930 and 1950 had reached 78,000 heads, has gradually thinned. From the 1960s onwards, when Jean Meyriat estimated 58,000 specimens, the donkey population in Calabria experienced a drastic demographic collapse. The survival of this equine species today is also ensured by its precious milk, which science celebrates as being similar to human’s milk. It is certainly not new, in Calabria it had been known for centuries and in this regard Antonio Delfino, journalist and writer, offered tangible proof of it. Every time he met a donkey he  ran to caress it and, hugging it - as Bruno Gemelli recalls - called him "brother of milk". But there are also other valuable testimonies to help our donkey. Like the one reported by Annarosa Macrì, in her "The last lesson of Enzo Biagi" (Rubbettino, 2008). It was the 1950s and the great journalist was a young reporter visiting a kind of boarding school-colony established in Romagna by the Edison company. He hosted needy children who came from all over Italy and many of those from Calabria who had suffered a disastrous flood. But here are the words of Enzo Biagi: "Which animal do you prefer?".All the children in the colony had been asked to write on this theme and I went to look around. A child decided: the tiger, because it is the strongest; another wrote: the eagle, because it flies higher ... and so far: cute, but all as expected. Then I read the theme of a Calabrian child. He wrote: "The animal I prefer is the donkey, because it eats little and works a lot". I will never forget it: that child had understood everything, and certainly had already seen everything, in his difficult land: what intelligence! I always say: the Calabrians have a head! Tell Bossi: without the South the Italians would be much more stupid ».