There was once a beautiful wood with perfumed trees and flowers all year round, lots of tiny little lakes full of geese, swans and ducklings. It was here that Menia the tortoise lived; she was small, and as she was old, she spent all her time in her den, looking for a dead worm in the earth.
But one day not long ago, she decided to come out of her long warm den, and to very slowly run into the wood to refresh her body and breath, which both smelt musty. She picked up a dry salad leaf and made a hat that looked like an ugly boat, stuck it on her head and went out.
Her little wrinkles, hard and grey from old age, hung from her neck and burnt as she scratched them with the nails of her paws, while she toddled around as slow as a snail. She was so hot underneath and above her shell, that she moved to where the treetops meet to form a hut.
Toddling here and there, she saw some inscriptions carved in the bark of the trees: ” Scirac the wolf, think how horrible war is!” “Scirac the wolf, no to the experimentation and building of new traps!” “Scirac the wolf, think about your cubs!” “Scirac the wolf has knocked his head on the ground and wants to see us all dead!”*1. “Scirac the wolf, hasn’t the harrowing history of the woods taught you anything?”
Menia the tortoise read some here and some there, slowly
reading the words out to herself.
“Who is this Scirac the wolf?” she asked herself. “Damned old age, I don’t even read the papers anymore! The fact is that I don’t have ear-laps to balance spectacles on; other animals have ear-laps…and nice big ones too!” Menia thought of an elephant; she then laughed, rolling around in the earth, leaves and thorns, imagining her tiny body with two enormous elephant ears!
1.Note:In the original this is a Neapolitan phrase:”Lupo Scirac è ghiuto cu à capa n’terra e nce vo fà murì a tutte quante!”
“I wonder who this Scirac the wolf is?” she asked herself, becoming serious again,” Another wolf who is giving orders?”
The tortoise lifted her neck and noticed an ugly old bald-fox with its spectacles on, reading a little newspaper in the shade of a bramble-bush full of berries.
“What does the paper say?” the tortoise asked the fox timidly. “It says that there is ozone with a hole in it in the sky,” answered the fox. “But don’t worry, it’s not a doughnut: if it were a doughnut I’d already be up there, quick as a flash to eat it!” He continued: “Why are you peeping at me like that? Do you want to know what the hole in the ozone layer is? I’ll tell you if I can! The ozone with a hole in it is…well, it consists of…ozone is…it is Allotropy of the oxygen…it’s complicated and the thing is…don’t worry…I only fished this complicated word out of the dictionary yesterday. Allotropic ozone…allotropic ozone is caused by electrical discharge in the atmosphere! Oh heavens, what is going on in the atmosphere! The experts say that ultraviolet rays…well…they, the sun’s rays…pass through the hole like this!” the fox said excitedly!
“Ozone with a hole in it? Oh my God! Is it dangerous?”
“What are you worried about? Can’t you see that you are old, and then…you have a shell and I have is this fur! We are all right, you and I. It’s the poor worms who are naked that should worry! And the snakes as well. They really are in a fix, poor creatures.”
The frightened tortoise stared at the bald fox that looked
pitiful with her tiny little unseeing eyes.
“Why are you looking at me, ugly one? The fox started to blather, “I can see you have just come out of your den; you were probably even still in hibernation, and now you want to know everything, and all at once?! Anyway, tomorrow go down there: all the different animals will probably be there and they will definitely quite rightly protest, shout and rail against Scirac the wolf, saying that they don’t want to die like fools.
I personally think that Scirac the wolf is like “an old rag in a bottle,” as they say around my way! He doesn’t know that we’ve enough trouble already round here in the woods! We just want to be left alone! The old rat! He’s scarin’ the whole world!” Rolling his eyes behind his glasses, he stared at the tortoise and said, ” Now youse want to knooww why I’m in ere, don’t yeh?”*2.
Menia shuddered with fear, thanked her, said good-bye and left.
Nobody knew why the old fox was there, seeing that she came from who knows which Neapolitan wood. Anyway, she hadn’t told Menia who Scirac the wolf was, or what he was really up to. But the tortoise thought that she might meet her the following day, demonstrating in the middle of the clearing, and that maybe even she had written something against Scirac the wolf in the bark on the trees.
And so she set off on her tired little aged paws, in search of someone selling magazines and newspapers, because she wanted to know.To know.
She got right to the bottom of the path where there were three overturned hampers, each with a parrot standing on it. Their heads were held high and their claws wide, with all the colours in the world on them; each one held a newspaper with a different headline in its beak.
Another overturned hamper was covered with magazines, with articles about almost all the topics regarding the woods and the undergrowth. Another still had a few magazines with baboons and snakes exposing their sexual organs on the cover, and finally a newspaper written in American, coloured in light-yellow and sea-green, showing a fox and a wolf making love
surrounded by baskets full of berries and blackberries in the sunlight.
Menia the tortoise lowered her gaze to the ground; she could feel her face reddening, and in a meek little voice she asked the fat polecat who ran the place, for copies of the three newspapers that the three young parrots were holding in their beaks. 2.Note-In the original this is a Neapolitan phrase:”nu’ scicchignacco dinto ‘a butteglia”,come si dice dalle parti mie! Nunn’ ha capito che nuie vulimmo stà quiete:’e guaie dd”o bosco già song’ assaie! E na zoccola vecchia! Sta appauranno ‘o munno! Ma tu mò’o vuò sape’ pecche’ stò ccà dinto? ‘O vuò sape’?” A scicchignacco is an old rag or ear of corn used to clean the inside of bottles etc
She paid with one hundred and five long and short aromatic worms, which she kept round her neck in a bag, made of tobacco leaves.
Just a bit further across in the sun, an elderly weasel was standing in the bushes, loudly rehearsing her speech which she had written down on a pile of long wide leaves:
“What else does Scirac the wolf want? Doesn’t he have enough traps? He still wants to experiment? To make the traps even more powerful? It’s always war and blood: blood that costs us food and labour, all just wasted on the ground making the cyclamen petals and all the leaves sticky!…”
Menia looked at her and sighed. Then she moved under a clump of low bristled plants full of black berries, and unfolded her newspaper. With her head glued to the paper, as she couldn’t see much, she started to read a bit of the bottom and a bit of the top, a bit of the right and a bit of the left. It took her four hours, but she read it all! Her head was throbbing and her eyes seemed to want to roll out and escape through the woods!
She wasn’t used to reading so much anymore, not since she had been a teacher of the things of life when she was young. But Menia had finally understood everything, and realised that things had changed a lot from that far-off time when she had been young.
She thought and thought.
She thought that stream water was once the most deadly trap known to her!
“Oh my God, oh God; a thousand and a thousand and a thousand animals dead, all in one go!” she exclaimed. And she remembered the bygone days when wolves and foxes had held rally after rally from the tree stumps, bawling and sweating, and then forcing the cubs that had just grown up, to go off and die in war because they had to defend their woods! Their woods! Them! The very same animals that had to feed off those few animals that had survived the very war they had won for them!
And she thought about how everything in this world is decided by wolves and foxes! It’s a well-known fact, and anyone, who doesn’t know this is a foolish animal indeed! She also realised that a lot of the wolves and foxes no longer wanted war. They preferred to eat in peace, because they could end up dying in war as well! Things really had changed!
“Why is Scirac the wolf doing this? Even he has his cubs. Doesn’t he think of his cubs? Bah. What more does he want, when even the wolves and foxes want to live in peace? Things have changed! Oh God, oh God; a thousand and a thousand and a thousand animals dead, all in one go!” she exclaimed again.
Night had fallen, and Menia the tortoise’s head was spinning and her shell was squashing her to the ground. She decided to sleep just where she was; she was so tired that her old paws were all curled up. She hid further inside the hedge, for fear of nasty animals, and then rolled up in a pile of dry leaves and fell asleep.
Morning came, and Menia awoke with a sudden start; the wood was alive with the sound of slender trumpets and whistles, and then from afar came the rolling of drums…
A flock of animals was toddling past noisily, heading for the clearing. A myriad of snails with coloured shells and long antennae were following the procession, crawling in a frothy sweat full of bubbles and they muttered amongst themselves like nuns in a convent.
So the tortoise slowly hurled herself into the fray and
started to follow the group of animals.
The stage was at the far end of the clearing and was made of intertwined poplar branches. The same weasel that had been rehearsing her speech in the bushes the previous day was now on the stage. She asked everyone to be quiet through a binocular-shaped microphone made of long reeds, and asked the blackbirds and parrots not to repeat everything, and not to mimic her.
She unfurled the wide leaves one by one, and started: “This …this moment we are going through is very particular, really particular for the history of the woods. All the intelligent wolves and foxes want peace and not war! They are wise and they prefer to eat in peace, and are worried that they may die as well, if there is a war. We are settled with them: that they may eat peacefully and healthily and leave us alone, for it’s peace that we want: peace. We are scared of the crazy wolves and foxes! Today’s traps are powerful enough to kill us all! Does Scirac the wolf know this? Scirac the wolf, for example, is a crazy wolf! He is chasing glory! He who chases glory turns the woods into pools of blood…”
“Into pools of blood, into pools of blood,” echoed a parrot that ended up mimicking, as they do.
The weasel was sweating and the microphone was shaking between her paws, who knows, maybe it was the parrots untimely interruption, or the exhaustion she felt in her paws which no longer supported her…what is sure is that she fell flat on her face!
She was assisted, and quickly replaced by the porcupine who started out: “My friends, I ask myself what would happen if these traps were used by the vainglorious wolves and foxes, what would happen then?…”
“Vaingloriousss, what would happen?” warbled a blackbird.
“Have you ever asked yourselves? Animals whose brains are worm-eaten and seeking false glory! (as our friend the weasel had just said before falling flat on her face) It’s all they know how to do. They are scary.
“They are scary, they are scary…. “the blackbirds and
parrots started to repeat together.
“Useless animals who don’t even love a flower, a tree, nor the wind, nor the rain! They just want to shed blood here and there, left, right and centre! Scirac the wolf: we don’t want to die skinned.”
“Scirac the wolf, we don’t want to die skinned!” a blackbird and a parrot re-repeated. And all the animals that were there laughed at the top of their voices and beaks.
The porcupine stopped for a moment then went on.
“It has already happened that wolves and foxes who lust for glory have started to give orders, and have caused massacres in the woods! One day not so long ago, they divided up animals of the same race into many different races….”
“Of the same race, into many different races…”re-re-re-repeated the blackbirds.
“…They burnt part of a race that they claimed wasn’t a good race in the ovens! Race! What does race mean? They don’t know….”
“Race! What does race mean? They don’t know shit!” re-re-re-repeated the parrots.
And all the animals started loudly applauding the porcupine and the parrots with their paws.
Menia the tortoise was almost up on the stage, and she was laughing like mad at how those nice strange birds grimaced.
But suddenly there was a strong wind, a lot of squawking, and the sky was filled with colours.
The animals all raised their eyes to the sky, and saw millions and millions of blackbirds and parrots of all different races and colours! They nose-dived onto the branches that surrounded the whole clearing where the meeting was being held. They came from every corner of the world and brought a new message with them; they mingled with the other blackbirds and parrots who were already there and started to say “PEACE, PEACE, PEACE.”
It was then that something really strange happened. Everyone started to repeat: “PEACE”! The ants and the crickets whispered it amongst themselves: “peace…” the ferns with the
cyclamens from the undergrowth: “Peace…peace.” Until even the blades of grass echoed out: “Peace…peace…peace ” Then it became one loud voice that shouted out from the clearing, to the whole wood, to the whole world: “PEACE!”
This went on all day, and who knows if they did the same at night.
Then Menia the tortoise, who was up on the stage in that bawling of words of peace, grabbed the microphone made of reeds with one of her trembling little paws, and concluded:
“Scirac the wolf should heed the blackbirds and parrots! They have learnt to say “peace, peace, peace” so well (and it’s hard, very hard to make blackbirds and parrots repeat anything without anyone here prompting), that it shows that everyone in this world, all over and at every moment, is pronouncing the word “peace”, because everyone wants peace, which is a such beautiful thing!”
Then Menia lifted her pretty little head to the star-filled sky and made a wish: That Scirac the wolf abandon his experiments on his already powerful deadly traps, and spend his time bringing his cubs together with all the cubs from the wood, and all holding onto each others paws, they form a big circle and sing: “Ri-ng a ri-ng of ro-ses, how bea-uti-ful the wo-rld is…”