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When the Targa came to town

12 ottobre 2020

Dirk Cussler

The Targa Florio Classica is currently taking place (October 15-18) along the fascinating roads of Sicily. To celebrate this legendary competition a noted American author evokes the Ferrari victory in the Targa Florio of 1948 with an imaginary take on how it coincided with everyday Sicilian lives

Mamma, where is Francesco?”   
The eight-year old girl tugged at her mother’s apron with a herculean grip. Doe-like brown eyes, matching the colour of her long hair, gazed upward in curiosity. Her sympathetic mother, handwashing a stack of breakfast dishes, peeked out the kitchen window at a small courtyard. “I’m afraid the side gate has been left open again, Luisa. He must have let himself out for a stroll about town. La passeggiata.”

The girl released her grip on the apron and ran to the front door. “Where is papà?” she screamed. “We must go find him!” “Papà has gone to watch the Giro. Now don’t you go out
on the street,” her mother yelled, but the fireball in the blue- checked dress had already scampered down the front steps, letting the front door slam shut behind her.

Luisa gazed down the cobblestoned street, searching for her beloved beagle. Francesco was still a pup, but one who yearned for freedom, and the occasional crumb of bread that may have fallen on the street outside his home. “Francesco!” she called in her squeaky voice, but no canines appeared. Several citizens of Enna did, however, all rushing in the same direction, toward the west end of town, an exalted chatter of conversation filling the air as three men passed by.

“Hard to believe it’s been eight years since the last Targa,” she heard one man say. “My money is on Biondetti.”
“No, no, Biondetti is too old,” replied another. “The young Ascari, he’s the one to watch.”
“Too many new drivers since the war,” lamented another. Their voices seemed slurred, and Luisa wondered if they had been drinking in the early hours of the day.
She turned the other way, climbing up the slight hill of the town’s main street until reaching an open piazza. A string of gaily coloured flags hung over the square, whilst the thick paving stones appeared swept clean of their normal dust and litter. She strolled toward the opposite side, where a wall of limestone colonnades guarded the top of an abrupt cliff. The village of Enna was situated in the very heart of Sicily, on a high promontory. Only the towering grey slopes of Mount Etna to the east surpassed the heights of the city.

Luisa stepped to the wall and peered out. Beyond the cliff lay an expansive vista filled with serene rolling hills. Squinting into the morning sun, she could see the distant blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The normally empty ocean was speckled with boats from the mainland, crowded around the coastal town of Palermo. The sea glistened like a sapphire jewel, she thought, wrapping itself around the big island like a giant tiara.
Luisa turned from the dizzying view and made her way to one of the stucco houses lining the square. Her grandmother’s home was easy to spot, as it was fronted by a pair of clay pots overflowing with snapdragon plants, their magenta flowers bursting like fireworks in the warm Sicilian sunshine.
“Nonna, nonna, have you seen Francesco?” she asked, bursting through the door without knocking. “He’s run away again.”
A slender old woman with sparkling grey eyes sat in a leather armchair reading a newspaper. The sounds of an Italian band playing a Tommy Dorsey tune blared from a large Philco radio behind her. She smiled as the little girl bulled her way into the tiny living room.
“Santa Maria, who is this barging into my house!” the woman exclaimed in mock anger.
“It’s me, Luisa,” the girl explained. “He’s run away again. My Francesco.”
The old woman patted the girl on the head. “That mangy dog sure likes to explore the town.”
“Have you seen him?”
“No, I’m afraid he didn’t come by for any cannoli today, but he’ll turn up. He best stay off the streets today, though. You, too,” she said with familial concern.
Luisa’s face turned down. “Where could he be?”
“Well, if I were a dog, I might go visit Signor Volpini’s shop.”
“The butcher?”
The old woman nodded.

Like a bolt of lightning, the girl took off again, running out of the house and across the square. Around the corner, she found the butcher’s shop, but it was closed for the day. A stray seagull circled overhead. But there were no beagles to be found.
“Francesco!” she called, her voice weakening in despair. Listening for his familiar bark, she heard only a deep rumble echo off the nearby hills.
She made her way back to the piazza, taking a seat on the pavement curb. The village was empty, and she suddenly felt very alone. Tears welled in her eyes, then dribbled down her checks as she muttered the lost dog’s name over and over.
The rumbling noise grew louder, until it became recognisable as the mechanical workings of a hard driving vehicle. Closer and closer it came, until the motor’s growl was replaced by a screeching of tyres. The vehicle’s rumbling sound died away for a moment, then started again, quiet at first, then growing into a bellow.

Then it appeared. The car burst around the corner, unlike any Luisa had ever seen. It was mean and bulbous, with a menacing horizontal front grill that resembled the open jaws of a shark. Though covered with road dust, the vehicle’s blood red skin oozed speed and power. Her father would have recognised it as a Ferrari 166 Sport, hand built at Maranello, but to Luisa it was a terrifying mechanical creature, yet one of strange beauty. It rounded the turn with tyres squealing, the heads of its two ‘piloti’ protruding from the open top. The driver, a dark-haired man wearing goggles and a cloth racing cap, blipped the motor as he downshifted the gears. The car then began to accelerate until the driver spotted the crying little girl seated on the curb. The tyres shrieked again, this time as the driver stood on the brakes.

The car headed right toward her, then swerved and pulled to a stop at the last second. A cloud of dust enveloped the car, but as it settled she made out a large number painted on the side of the door: 36. Why she noticed the number, she didn’t know, for something much more dear to her heart was visible inside. It was Francesco, seated on the lap of the passenger! The co-pilot, a handsome man with brooding eyes, passed the brown dog over the door to the surprised girl. “Ciao, bella!” he said with a wink. And then the tyres squealed once more, leaving a black trail on the cobblestones as the red beast stormed up the street. Luisa stood in shock, holding the dog tight against her chest. She closed her eyes, inhaling the dusty smell of the animal’s fur, mixed with the car’s exhaust and the odour of burnt rubber. Was it all a dream? The young girl felt a warm lick of the dog’s tongue on her cheek and opened her eyes. Rushing into the road, she turned and waved after the vanishing car, her tears dry and a smile on her face.


The Author

Dirk Cussler is the co-author of eight Dirk Pitt action adventure novels, published in more than forty countries.
His latest book, Celtic Empire, was released in March and spent seven weeks on The New York Times bestseller list,
whilst reaching number one on The Sunday Times list in the U.K. When not writing, Cussler heads up the National
Underwater and Marine Agency, a non-profit foundation devoted to maritime history and the discovery of historic
shipwrecks. A classic car enthusiast, he owns two Italian marques in his collection in Colorado, and longs for his first Ferrari.

12 ottobre, 2020