The Miracles of Santo Ficoby D. L. Smith
A magical story of love...and miracles After twenty years, Leo Pizzola has come back to the Tuscan village of Santo Fico, still single and still looking for a way to get rich. The town is as poor as it was when Leo left, yet some things have changed. Of Leo's childhood companions, only little Guido, whom everyone calls "Topo," embraces him. His best friend is long… See more details below
A magical story of love...and miracles After twenty years, Leo Pizzola has come back to the Tuscan village of Santo Fico, still single and still looking for a way to get rich. The town is as poor as it was when Leo left, yet some things have changed. Of Leo's childhood companions, only little Guido, whom everyone calls "Topo," embraces him. His best friend is long dead. The woman he once adored refuses to talk to him. And, worst of all, the kindly old town priest seems to have lost his faith. Perhaps what Santo Fico needs is a miracle-even if Leo and Topo have to manufacture one themselves. Now, as one botched scheme after another unravels, something completely unexpected happens, and wonders indeed begin to transform this Italian town, including the greatest miracle of all... Published around the world, this debut novel sparkles with the Italian spirit and emotions that will dance off the page and into your heart.
To describe Santo Fico as "off the beaten track" is only the truth: The road to it is so narrow that anyone driving onto it has to keep going, since it's not wide enough to turn around-a fact that has brought many tourists over the years and has kept the local institutions (the one hotel, one church, etc.) alive. But it's a flyblown place all the same. Leo Pizzola grew up there and was glad to leave for Chicago, where he lived for 18 years until his father died, when he had to return to claim his estate. Now Leo wants to leave again, but he can't find anyone to buy the family farm. So he hangs out with his old friend Topo Pasolini, goofing off in the cafes and telling tall tales to the British or Americans who wander into town. He invariably steers the tourists to the hotel run by his old love Marta Fortito, though she refuses to speak to Leo and only lets him set foot in her bar when he brings customers. What old grudge is she nursing? There are tales still making the rounds of Leo having his nose broken by Marta the night before her wedding to Franco Fortito (who died years later in a motorcycle accident). But the details are hazy now. Even old Father Elio, who knows everyone's darkest secrets, isn't clear about just what went on. Now that Leo is back and Marta is a free woman, can there be reconciliation? Unlikely. Leo makes his meager living by telling strangers the story of the miraculous fig tree that bore fruit in Santo Fico all year long. He knows full well that people love stories that are charming rather than true. But maybe, sometimes, they can be both.
A delightful fable,told with wit and grace.
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The Miracles of Santo Fico
By D. L. Smith
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
Sleep was the enemy. The old man knew that. The heat was merely its
accomplice and these scorching days of August were particularly
dangerous. He rebuked the little voice whispering in his ear that it
would be all right to lean his head against the cool stone wall of
his closet for just a moment. But the little voice insisted that a
quick rest of the eyes might even help him to concentrate on Maria
Gamboni's moans droning from the other side of the black lace
The old man thought of all the years he had been hearing this
particular confession and his mind couldn't help but wander to how
many atonements this poor woman must have uttered over the years.
Years became numbers that rolled around in his head like marbles in
a bowl, brushing against his fingertips, always just out of reach,
or a bit too slippery to grasp-and again the little voice suggested
that maybe he would feel better if he just rested his eyes for a
moment. Soon Maria Gamboni's muffled voice droned into some vague
distance as the familiar blanket of heat and darkness folded over
him and he wondered if this pleasant sinking feeling was what death
was like. How fitting it would be to die in this little closet,he
thought, while Maria Gamboni chants her sins next door. How
Only when his white head finally plopped and his neck snapped
forward and his skull conked against the hard stone did the old
priest jerk upright.
"Oh, my goodness," Father Elio Caproni mumbled as he tried to
stretch his aching limbs, but there wasn't enough room in the
cramped compartment. He sternly rubbed his craggy face with both
hands in an effort to focus on his task. Sweat poured down his
forehead, stinging his eyes, and that helped a bit. He tugged at his
soiled white collar in an attempt to capture more air, but it did no
good. How could anything as old and frayed as that collar be so
stifling? He recalled his childhood daydreams of wearing the white
collar. It never occurred to him, back then, that being a priest
could ever be a bad thing. That came later. It wasn't until he was a
young man of twenty-two returning home from Bologna, wearing the
stiff white collar for the first time and for all the town to see,
that he realized he had made a horrible mistake. Everyone was so
proud of him that day, and yet he was so ashamed. God knew his lie.
He swore that day to devote his life to serving his neighbors as the
priest of the Church of Santo Fico. If he did that, he thought, God
would have to forgive him for his terrible sin.
Now, Father Elio had been Santo Fico's priest for as long as anyone
could remember, including Father Elio. For fifty years he kept his
secret and devoted himself to his promise as he waited for some sign
that God had forgiven him. But nowadays his faith was worn as thin
as his frayed collar, and his heart felt as dry as that fountain in
the center of the piazza. These days, if he dreamed at all it was no
longer in hopes of a sign-these days he usually dreamed simply of an
On the other side of the black veil, Maria Gamboni whined, "...
and heaven knows that I deserve whatever punishment God chooses to
inflict on me, because He knows all of my wicked sins against my
beloved Enrico-God rest his soul if he be truly dead ..."
It wasn't difficult for Father Elio to find his place. He had been
listening to this same confession at least once a week for almost
thirty years and he not only managed to catch up, but even inserted
a comforting "There, there ..." right on cue. At least he hadn't
fallen completely asleep and snored like last Thursday.
It had been almost thirty years ago that Maria's husband, Enrico
Gamboni, had disappeared. One spring morning he walked down the
steep cliff road leading southeast out of Santo Fico to catch the
bus into Grosseto, where he was going to buy a new rebuilt oil pump
for the engine of his fishing trawler. He was never seen again. The
police combed the streets of Grosseto for weeks, but they never
found a clue as to what happened.
Maria, on the other hand, knew exactly what had happened. She had
driven the poor man away-probably to his death. Since the day Enrico
disappeared she knew that God was punishing her for being a
disagreeable wife. And Father Elio had to acknowledge that there
might be some truth in this.
"... And Father, I swear," Maria Gamboni whispered as if she were
revealing a black secret, "sometimes I feel like if God were to ask
me if I should live, I would just say, 'No. Come ahead and take me.'
That's what I would say. I would just say, 'Come ahead.' Is that a
terrible sin? ..."
Father Elio was prepared to answer, but he knew it wasn't necessary.
Maria wasn't interested in replies.
"... I ask God to forgive those thoughts. But sometimes I wonder
if God even hears me. Sometimes I think I should go to a big church
in Siena and light a candle, because Santo Fico is so small I feel
like my prayers get lost. No one ever comes here anymore; sometimes
I wonder if God does. I know it's a terrible sin to say that, but I
can't help it ..."
Father Elio leaned against the cool stones and smiled. Maria Gamboni
was not the first resident of Santo Fico to feel the frustration of
insignificance. He recalled another confession along those
lines-actually, it wasn't really a confession, not in any priestly
sense. This confession was some years ago now and was actually more
of an owning up to the truth. The disclosure slipped out quite
accidentally over lunch one afternoon, when his niece Marta Caproni
Fortino finally admitted the actual facts concerning Santo Fico's
wonderful summer of miraculous arrivals.
Father Elio enjoyed recalling the days when Marta was young and
carefree, part of a band of four that had a rare and special
fellowship, one that transcended blood ties. There were Leo Pizzola
and Franco Fortino-closer than brothers and rivals in everything,
they seemed determined to set the world ablaze together. And then
there was nervous little Guido Pasolini-Topo, or little mouse, as
they called him-whose devotion to his friends made him everyone's
Sancho Panza. And at the center of this golden circle was his
beautiful niece Marta, younger than the others, but still wiser and
stronger than her years. These four shared a bond that lasted ...
perhaps, lasted too long. The old man sighed. He didn't want to
think about that part right now.
He could still see Marta's earnest expression as she explained,
trying unsuccessfully to sound repentant. It seems that the four
friends had been lolling about the church's bell tower one hot
afternoon, fighting off the summer doldrums by inventing ways of
getting enough money to escape Santo Fico. According to Marta, it
had been Franco who first suggested that Follonica and Punta Ala had
the right idea.
"Tourists!" cried Franco. "Santo Fico should do something to bring
Marta swore that she wasn't trying to encourage anything illegal
when she pointed out that "those other towns have certain things
that tourists want-attractions!"
"But Santo Fico's got attractions!" Leo almost whispered. "The
Miracle and the Mystery are attractions and I'll bet tourists would
even pay to see them."
Well, some things are so incredibly obvious that one wonders how
they stay undiscovered for so long, and as Leo unfolded his clever
scheme the others could only stare at him slack-jawed. Finally Marta
(according to her, the only determined voice of reason) pointed out
that they also lacked another basic ingredient-advertisements! Those
other places had highway signs to entice passing travelers.
She was right. After a long collective silence it was a dejected
little Topo who sighed, almost to himself, "It's not fair ... We
should just go out to that highway and change those stupid signs!"
Marta assured her uncle that no one ever spoke anything out loud,
but Leo's and Franco's eyes grew wide and the power of their silent
resolve and the danger of such a wild plot frightened Marta and
Topo. In fact, Topo suddenly remembered he was supposed to help his
father with something. Within seconds he was gone. Marta also
remembered certain nonspecific chores and quickly disappeared-but
not before this ten-year-old girl had given both boys a stern
lecture on the law and sin.
Leo and Franco brought their scheme to Father Elio. The two
twelve-year-old boys sat with him in his kitchen and solemnly
explained to him all the virtues of telling tourists the stories of
the Miracle and the Mystery. Of course, he gave them permission to
bring guests into the church-after all, they were his altar boys.
But he warned them, "Don't get your hopes up, boys. If anyone comes
to Santo Fico, it will be a miracle!"
Imagine his amazement when the very next day two carloads of
travelers on their way south to Riva del Sole suddenly found
themselves in the piazza of Santo Fico by mistake. Father Elio was
so proud of the way Franco seized the moment to convince the
confused travelers to have lunch in the hotel across the piazza and
then allow his good friend, "Leo, the Altar Boy," to show them "the
Miracle and the Mystery of Santo Fico."
By the end of the first week, a half-dozen automobiles and a few
small buses had unexpectedly found themselves in Santo Fico's dusty
piazza. Father Elio had to admit he might have investigated this
marvel with more vigor, but there was something so wonderful about
the way Leo told those stories. Day after day, he found himself
sitting with the pilgrims-who donated surprising amounts of money to
the boys-listening to Leo's wonderful tales.
All that summer the procession of tourists continued and the boys
always gave a share to the church. It was a happy arrangement for
all. Until one day in the fall, the carloads and buses of bewildered
tourists who thought they were headed for Piombino or Orbetello or
Punta Ala suddenly stopped arriving in Santo Fico. Father Elio
remembered when the man from the government drove into town, stopped
his car in front of the hotel, and stomped inside. A lot of yelling
was heard from within the hotel before the man from the government
stomped back out to his car and roared out of town.
It seems that someone had gone out to the highway and changed a
bunch of the signs. Travelers en route to a particular destination
suddenly found themselves in the center of Santo Fico. It occurred
to the man from the government, whose job it was to fix all of those
signs, that the most likely candidate for this dastardly act was the
owner of the only restaurant in town. It was later learned that he
had threatened Father Elio's brother, Young Giuseppe Caproni, with
jail if there was ever again any funny business with the signs. For
his part, Young Giuseppe threatened the man from the government with
immediate emasculation if he ever entered his hotel again ...
Father Elio had to smile when he recalled how he had warned those
boys, "If anyone comes to Santo Fico, it will be a miracle." How
could he have known that what they had in mind was a whole summer of
Suddenly, Father Elio sat up with a jerk and held his breath. In the
adjoining closet Maria Gamboni had stopped talking. The old priest
had no idea exactly when her words had stopped, but he had certainly
heard something that had abruptly caught his attention. Maria
Gamboni had growled at him. It was a low, rumbling, menacing sort of
growl and he found it quite unsettling. He strained to listen, but
now all he heard from the other side was the sound of the old
woman's heavy breathing.
In her adjoining cubicle, Maria Gamboni also strained forward with
her eyes wide in both amazement and no small amount of fear. In all
the years that she had been making her confessions to Father Elio,
at no time, as far as she could recall, had he ever growled at her.
But she had definitely heard it-a distinct growl. And now she too
heard stirrings next door. He was leaving the confessional.
The old woman opened her door and peeked out and in the shadowed
cathedral light she discovered Father Elio also peeking out of the
adjacent door, staring back at her in a curious fashion.
"Excuse me, Father. Did you ... ehh ..."
Just as he was about to ask her a similar question, from outside the
church came a low, rumbling growl. And it was getting louder. Father
Elio, followed closely by Maria Gamboni, hurried down the empty
aisle to the front of the church. Whatever grumbling beast was doing
this growling, it was arriving just beyond the cathedral doors.
What greeted them outside was a blast of hot air, blinding sunlight,
and the spectacle of a blue and white sightseeing bus straining up
the last steep street leading into the center of Santo Fico. Its
gears ground painfully and the engine groaned in anguish as the
stunted little tour bus rounded the corner and drove past the
church. The bus appeared to have been transported from a previous
decade. It was too fat and too tall with exaggerated windows and it
was only about a third the proper length. From where they stood on
the church steps, Father Elio and Maria Gamboni stared dumbfounded
into the vacant eyes of a dozen bewildered travelers trapped behind
The little bus made a slow exploratory circle around the piazza,
using the empty fountain in the middle of the square as a pivot
point. At one time the marble fountain was quite a centerpiece for
the small piazza. The central pedestal was made of white marble and
topped with a smiling cherub tipping some sort of jug that once
poured an endless stream of water into the surrounding pool. But the
cherub's bottomless jug had been dry for many years and the only
water that graced the pool anymore came during the rainy season.
Nowadays the monument best served as a turnaround point for lost
buses and a bench for old men.
At that moment one old man sat on the edge of the fountain watching
the one-bus-carousel revolve slowly around him. A skinny gray dog
lay at his feet, and as the bus rolled by, raising a cloud of dust
and diesel exhaust, the dog lifted his head curiously. The old man
scratched the white stubble on his chin and apparently decided that
some greeting was in order because he offered them a friendly wave.
The gray dog went back to sleep.
From their front-row seats behind the sun-baked glass the visitors
had a wonderful view of all the high points of Santo Fico on their
orbit around the town square. First, of course, came the blessed
Church of Santo Fico, and standing on the church steps was an old
priest with a wild shock of white hair and a bewildered smile that,
like his hair, seemed to be gripped in perpetual surprise. It was
sad, the observers thought, that there should be such a deformed
lump growing out of the old priest's back, but on closer inspection
the lump blinked two frightened eyes at them. Even though Father
Elio was a short man, Maria Gamboni was shorter still and as thin as
Excerpted from The Miracles of Santo Fico
by D. L. Smith
Copyright © 2003 by Dennis Smith.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
D. L. Smith is an award-winning playwright and professor in the Theater Arts Department of Southern Oregon University. THE MIRACLES OF SANTO FICO is his first novel. He lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons.
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