The piazza in San Donato, Italy is about 800 feet long and exists on a saddle a mere 75 feet wide. A road passes through it and it marks the divide between the old part of the village, located higher up the hill and the new part, which lies below the plaza. Along one side of this plaza is the small market, a butcher shop, a newsstand, a few coffee shops and a cigarette machine that is open to the elements so that smokers can access cigarettes 24 hours a day. Throughout the day the locals come and go. The older citizens move from one end to the other in steady conversations that can have only been held thousands of times before.
There is a statue on one end of the plaza commemorating the men of the village who lost their lives in The War to End All Wars. Would that it were so. Atop the pedestal stands a winged woman signifying victory. She is made of bronze and has one breast exposed. I guess that’s what they were fighting for.
I’ve counted the names. There are 94. Some represent multiple family members: fathers, sons and brothers. Many carry the first name “Donato” after the village in which they were born. 94 men is a lot to extract from a village that numbered 7,000 at the start of World War I. Now the population has dwindled to just over 2,000 and the exodus continues. Many have immigrated to the United States, settling mainly in the Boston area.
There is also a steady congress with a fish and chips shop in Dublin, Ireland that was set up in 1885 by an émigré from San Donato. A woman to whom I speak and who understands English well enough to get our points across once worked in the fish and chip shop for three years but has returned to her native village to live with and care for her mother. She tells me that she does not care for Italy complaining that the Mafia is more than real and at one point offered her “protection”. She refused. Her little coffee bar is strictly small potatoes and the mafia at large is not present in San Donato for the sole reason that there is no money there. Just a handful of small villagers living out their lives hopefully in peace.
I go to the piazza every day to get an espresso or use one of the only two Internet connections in town. There is a dog that wanders the piazza and being a dog person I make an attempt to get to know him. I call him and he looks at me but makes no effort to approach me. I step closer. The dog doesn’t move an inch but keeps an eye on me. I approach closer still and he holds his ground while considering me only indifferently.
Finally his side is gained and I cautiously offer him my hand. He sniffs. He allows me to pet him. I’m slow in my movements, not trusting him as he seems not to trust me. I get his back, his ears, under his chin and that special place just above the tail that causes all dogs to arch their necks in ecstasy.
His face is all marked with black battle scars that show through his fur. Scientists believe that the proto dog, the dog that all dogs would become if left alone by humans, would evolve to be the Australian Dingo: a yellow, medium-sized dog with a tail that curved up over their back. He is very much the proto dog.
I ask my friend in the coffee shop what his name is. She says he has no name and that about two years ago he appeared in the plaza perhaps left by some visitor. He looks to be about five years old and is in very toned condition. He sleeps in the leaves by the side of the flower shop. She has no idea who feeds him.
Over the days I see him several times and although he now knows me, he still refuses to come when he is summoned. But he always allows me to approach and pet him for four or five minutes until we both grow bored.
Initially I think to name him Clint or Sergio in homage to The Man With No Name but come to realize that I would be doing him an injustice to saddle him with a name of my choosing. He has chosen to own himself more than any dog I have ever met and he alone has made the choice to live his life without a name.