The Saint

“Play with the children but don’t joke with the Saints.”


It broke, at last! Tonight, bursting by surprise, when the adults were sleeping and the teenagers had gone wild, the storm stopped over the the forested valley scorched by the heat. It liked the place and wanted to settle there, that is when it threw resounding thunders and lightening bolts upon the homes and the area parched by the seasonnal dryness. It was time for a cool breeze: the heatwave, the agglutinated bodys, the cars’ blaring, and the nocturnal and rowdy teens, all this had created chaos. That night, the confusion had cooled down a little bit as the disturbance moved rather towards the sky than on the grounds. Meanwhile, the inclined roofs were rocked by peaceful raindrops caressing the tiles, they slid on their rounded back and leaped on the drenched ground,  absorbed as soon as they reached it. It was really time for some rain! That is what the Saint was thinking in the church, half-opening his eyes on the drenched dawn whose light infiltrated through the multicoloured stained-glass windows. No matter what, he’s a happy one: today, it is his day and there will be a celebration. His colleagues, the other saints will look at him with envy because this day does not belong to them. They will not be carried on the procession on the shaft around the village at night; they will not be getting hymns, candles, kisses, flowers, prayers... They are little Saints, as for the big One, it is quite a different story…And he is well aware of it, the sly one that never comments on it: His day is all he needs when the church puts everybody at the same level.... behind Him. Today, he will be the only one leading the show, he is the only one allowed. Moreover, it is August and the village is crowded. On Virgin’s day there was only a handful of people, on Lucy’s day one has to stare wide-eyed to notice someone : not even the Mountain’ Saint in his chapel up there, can rally as much people as the Saint Patron does at the end of the summer. On top of it, he even gets helped by the Lord: a little ablution at night for a better day. The Saint is a real Pacha, the holy family’s favourite if one can say. The others are gradually waking up: when they realize the offering of the night, they can’t help saying: “It rained on purpose, the Lord only thinks about himself, us, we are left-over. Now, for sure, all the houses must be opened and there must be a big show. As for us, summer or winter, we stay by ourselves and it becomes difficult to nab pilgrims”.

Even Joan of Arc wanted to interfere in the conversation but nobody let her breathe: as soon as she opens her mouth, they scowl at her. They have called her “A Pinzuta”, the Stranger, since she came to settle in all villages of the island, carrying her sword and her flag, imposed by that bishop more inclined to carry weapons than a cross. Realizing that nobody is eager to listen to her, she stays silent and envious for a double reason: of the Saint who has a high opinion of himself, of her colleagues’ language that nobody ever wanted to translate for her. She asked for some help to her superior Saint, explaining that she wanted to learn the local idiom but the highest intercession did not work: all the saints, either men or women, were mad and told the Lord that nobody had ever asked their opinion about the stranger and her comes and goes. Thus, they wanted to put her aside until the end of times and that is why they had named her “a Pinzuta”. So, as discreet and silent as she could be, they had enough of this arrogant and pretentious Saint who is getting bigger every year.

The church was fragrant with the scent of the bunches brought by the women. They are the matrons: they take care of the cleaning, the maintenance, they fill vases with flowers, they polish the pews, and put shining product on the statues.  They are not any kind of women, they re the ones from the Party that holds the power there: in the villages, on the public market (if there is some…), on various games, competitions and parties. Everything in the church is its own, except for the hymn; in the winter, loneliness welcomes chorus; otherwise, for the rest, there is a few having the knowledge and the “savoir-faire”. The cleansing products administered on the Saint’s body give him a headache and the rubbing cloth tickles his nose. He wishes he could scratch himself and sneeze but the spying others expect him to do it as any other human being. So, he will not give them this pleasure even less to that “Pinzuta”: his position is about discernment and pride.

The satisfied archpriest rubs his hands. What a glorious day! The crowd is gathered and the church’ treasures are cleaned and exposed. What a fine day it promises to be! Especially, after they say the mass, they will do an announcement: they are going to start the construction of a day-camp, only a kilometre from the village, on the community’ chestnut grove. The archpriest strokes his chin: the C.E.O of the company offering the camp has proposed few millions to restore the church’ roof and that does not include all the enormous flower bunches leaving a fragrant smell in the air. That important man from the continent is a godsend! The beginning of the construction and the financial gifts will be announced in the city hall, at the “aperitif time”, after the mass. An abundance of money, after such a lack of it, does not harm anybody, does it? The Saint is not a little proud: patronal feast, personal adulation, plenty of money for the church. Thank God for ordaining such a beautiful event. The other saints grind their teeth as the Lord watches them from the top of his cross.

Outside, the sun starts its ascent to the sky. The chestnut trees shake the left drops of water, the green and the white oaks drink the last falling drops. The homes glued to each other, now reveal their stone armour to a growing sunshine stopping the last rain. They look like a real breast swelling as it breathes.

Everybody is busy in each home. Every one is getting ready for the mass, checking out children’s nails and ears, they are given few pennies, then the bad teenagers who are still sleeping after the night out, are waken up. They will have to behave as Christians at least for today. They get up half asleep and drowsy and freshen up in the bathroom where the unnerved women cannot enter anymore. Not only they have to fix the meal, get the children ready, find their husbands ‘ties but they still have to waste time on little kids who go to sleep at the sunset. But this is not a day to blaspheme but each one is going to parade as soon as he comes out of the house until he goes to sleep tonight, after the ball…

The second stroke rang and more and more people arrive on the main street that ends up at the church. Men are rather gathered according to their own district, women, more traditional, are assembled by family: grandmothers, mothers, aunts and cousins, all followed by a bunch of kids whose nose, from time to time, need to be blown (there is nothing to do if they sneeze, they will get dirty as they do not know how to use an handkerchief!). As soon as they arrive to the square, they hurry to get into the church, meanwhile the men chat under the elms.

For several days they have had the same topic that comes right at this time, the mayor followed by the president, his treasurer and the whole city council gang with ties. The mayor, an important character from the continent, has met the president at a garden party given by some obscure minister. Our CEO who was supposed to talk about the community land, so called now communal land, about the general abandonment of the parcel, the orchard and the estate, had the desire to come last spring, to see the village and, fascinated by it, had given the deal to the mayor. There had been plenty of discussions at the city council; they were still going on under the elms: this place belongs to everybody. Who is going to reimburse the family’s chestnut trees? The pigs will not be able to destroy them. Such a beautiful chestnut grove, so near! There had been so many and even too many talks about this deal but the mayor convinced the counsellors: the work and local taxes and above all, employment all year around had eliminated the majority’s scruples because the political members are not all pig breeders or cattle breeders.  

However, this miracle is hard to accept: poverty and solitude have been following us for too long, and the hidden foxes are suspect, especially by some young people, who are called by the old timers “I corsi” because they think they are more Corsican than Corsican people and that they have to give lessons to the others. Some old timers say that they are lazy, just good to sing, get wasted and make scandals. It is obvious they have never been under any authority because if they had, they would have changed their behaviour.

The third knock rings, followed by the sign of the small bell. The population had all gathered in the church, the women in front, the men in the back, the children in the middle and the Saint…upon his stage. God bless the Saint for offering such a fortune (the fellows pretend smiling but it is a bitter smile, and he glances and scorns at these little saints…). The archpriest laughs, the mayor triumphs and the women strike up a new song in a good French. The elders, in the back seats, mod and sigh, thinking about the chorus who sometimes stroke up and gave goose pumps to the audience. Times have changed, and the church belongs to women, and people want to hear their voices. And they manage the singing, the Saint and his fellows enjoy their sweet voices. The mass goes on, magnificent and calm, the choir children do not play tricks to the priest this year (nowadays children are docile!). The sermon (be you all blessed today, you will be granted by a magnificent announcement), the communion, the singing, everything is all right. The Saint is in heaven. The mass ends up at twelve o’clock. The rays of sunshine are burning.

Women go up to fix the meal, the tables, men go to the mayor’s aperitif, especially his partisans, they are all followed by the kids and the ones that do not even care about politics. The opposition and “I corsi” will both go the café. They are opposed to the mayor and will not change their opinion. The mayor reads a solemn speech in the city hall: the workers, the locals, the employed ones, through a place brought back to life (the Saint nods in his church). Then, comes from the CEO who praises the place, the season and the people from the village; the men are rewarded by a cheering toast improvised by one of them as a funny joke. Wine, “pastis”, cake and doughnuts are promptly swallowed between few chats, laughs, and songs. At the café, there is more drinking than singing….

At lunch time, it is nap time and nobody is out. It is too hot and a nap is the best cure after a great meal. The best one is the one from the first mayor’s assistant who has invited the mayor, the CEO, his treasurers and the priest. People eat, drink and sing. Some of them sing to the old timers who have known those songs when they were young, their hearts full of nostalgia. Anyway, it is not worth crying, everybody is happy: The Saint is feeling drowsy because he was waken early by the women. The fellows take this opportunity to make comments in a low tone of voice:

- This CEO is bringing to many new comers this year.

- Yes, but a few of them are welcome!

- Have to deal with it, will there be new ones this winter?

- Some were born here, some were not!

- Everything turns to Big Saint!

- The priest, if I am not wrong, has never seen anything…

“A pinzuta” wants to say something too, believing she can do whatever she wants.

At the sunset, the café begins to be filled, but this is not time for choosing a political party, with the new comers, tourist and young guys coming back from the river, hugging their girls. The younger ones ask for some money to their dad to buy a soda or to play pinball. Everybody is laughing, gossip, drink and sing: the mayor explains to his treasurers the village customs….

After diner, everybody is back in the enlightened church: men in the back, children in the middle women upfront and the Saint…in heaven. He quietly glances at them, the archpriest laughs, the saints pray. Women strike up the singing, some men grab the Saint‘s platform: it is time for triumph, for the procession of the village upon the paths enlightened with candles, with all these eyes which see to be looking at the immensity. But obviously, the platform is also from the party and nobody can lift it up: the Saint does not care; he incarnates the vanity of human feelings. Beyond him, the church is filled with singing and little candles. The priest sings and the choir answers, the elders sigh and the young ones make plan for the party. In the church, the lonely saints talk about the luxurious linens, the wealthy people, the priest, the vanity of the Saint. The Holy Father stays quiet, so does “a pinzuta”. The procession ends, people go back to church.

After the last hymn, the last benediction, they run to kiss the statue, its platform and they throw coins in the basket next to it. Now that they have done their duty, that they have purified their soul, it is time to go dancing. The church emptied out all of sudden, even the bishop hurried out: the Saint let a cry of sadness, so do his companions. So many people, it will take another year to see them, if it is God’s wish.

A young guy puts the music on and the pagan party begins under a star-studded sky. All villages’ rhythms mix together inviting some teenagers and kids to move and wriggle, and some elders teach the real way of dancing to these littles. In a corner, two or three “Corsi” strike on singing a polyphonic song; next to them, an older man listens but seems to look somewhere else. Farther, the CEO, the mayor, the archpriest and the first mayor assistant chat.  The opposition, few “Corsi” and two or three councillors drink and argue, argue and drink with the treasurer, all slumped on the counter. Farther, in a dark corner, a couple makes promises. As time is passing by, liquor is pouring, everybody is squawking and singing: inside the church, all the Saints, even a “pinzuta”, nostalgically remember the old times when they were humans and Christians (it is not that Joan of Arc….). Under the stars, a languished music from a trendy singer heats up the young hearts: hairs are getting closer, bodies are brushing against each other, breathes are warming up; the dancers indulge in a fugitive sense of well-being and in the eyes, it is pouring stars.

At the bar, the treasurer is dead drunk: he is used to work but not used to drunkards getting plastered and their kind of conversation. All of sudden, trough the drunkard stupidities appears a precise question about the future of that camp which is not built yet. The treasurer, who is already confounding dancers and drinkers, sees everything in a blur and starts cracking up with laughter. People get nearer to see what is happening. The treasurer keeps on laughing and laughing and gulps it down. He wipes his mouth with his palm and raising his finger, wiggling, explains to the listening village people that the camp will be of no use for the locals: the merchandise will be coming from the other side of the sea, little workers will be coming from third world countries and regarding the commercial and the administrative people, the CEO already has an handful ready to come from the company headquarters. Concerning the jobs, the peasants can forget about them and they should not complain because the commune will get professional and property taxes, and more and more…

The councillors raise their eyes, leave their drinks and go away; the opposition and the “Corsi” start laughing and the treasurer chuckles. They get him another drink and he laughs even more. As time passes by, dancers are hugging and children are falling asleep, exhausted, on their mum’s breast. Men, from what they have heard, they will talk about it again tomorrow. That much of a rumour! The archpriest and the mayor have gone to sleep a while ago. They will have time to hear the sequel. A first love story is being born at sunrise and the quiet breathes cool down.

Inside the church, all exhausted Saints have closed their eyes, even “A Pinzuta”. The Saint dreams and the Lord keeps quiet. Stars are extinguished and the crowdy homes are nestling, one next to another. At first light of dawn in the valley, trembles the rush of the rocky armour meanwhile the silence of the heavy autumn haze wraps it.