The recently revealed Da Vinci notebooks have yielded a wealth of information about life in Renaissance Italy. The Da Vinci in question, of course, is not Leonardo but Ricco, the “Amorous Plumber of Rome,” who discovered the cold shower and other milestones in personal hygiene. While most of Ricco’s notebooks contain nothing more than girl’s addresses and sketches saying “Kilroy Was Here,” there are some surprises. He was an avid collector of folk songs and ballads, and filled many pages with lyrics from the popular tunes of his day. Usually they were brief (but not brief enough) and told some sort of story (stop me if you’ve already heard it). Even now, they sound like hits.
The Cheese-Seller’s Lament
An old cheese-seller limps down a street in Naples crying, “My cheese is good (gouda), will no one buy it? Unhappy am I, for my boots are full of provolone, and there is no room for my tired feet. My cheese is soft to the touch, like a baby’s brow, and many fine molds grow quietly upon it. Oh, who will purchase the cow’s treasure?” He continues this way for several hours, until he slips on something and cracks his skull on a lamppost.
Even My Wig Grows Bald When You Are Near
Pepito, a young gallant, enters the courtyard beneath his loved one’s window. It is early morning, about two a.m. The young man begins to sing, accompanying himself on a lute badly out of tune. He catches his fingers in the strings and yelps with pain the following words: “Even my wig grows bald when you are near, my love. Oh, my fingers! Oh, my poor fingers!” A girl appears at the window and shouts something indistinguishable. The young man smiles and says: “So great is my love, I tip my wig to you,” at which point he pulls out two huge handfuls of his own hair, nearly knocking himself unconscious with the lute. The girl throws down her hand mirror as a symbol of her ardor, but it shatters on the fellow’s head. “Oh, my wig!” he says, alternating this with “Oh, my fingers!” The girl is so touched that she drops a small chair squarely onto the boy’s back where, like his heart, it breaks. He is almost prostrate with passion. “My name is Pepito, my name is Pepito,” he moans. “I think I am dying.” “Shut that damn noise!” chimes a voice from across the way, and a shower of beautiful tableware follows. Several forks and knives apparently find their mark, and for once Pepito is speechless. Only the sound of still-resonating lute strings fills the air. After a brief pause, the girl shoves a maplewood dresser over the balcony, and a moment later Pepito is blotted from view. The clock strikes three. Finally, all is quiet.
March of the Maggots
A warm summer evening in Florence. The nightingales sing over the soft a cappella of the crickets as the breeze caresses the olive branches. Soon a horde of maggots crawls into town, drunk and behaving very badly. Their coarse, brutal laughter awakens several residents. A bottle breaks, and another. Who will pick up the glass? The maggots howl their drunken abuse, as if to say, “Not us!” They recite several off-color limericks and fall down a lot, which is hard for a maggot to do because he is not really standing up to begin with. Then, just as day breaks and the east turns pale crimson and blue, they are crushed beneath the heels of a sad old cheese-seller who is not looking where he is going.