Animal Encounters

Italians love animals. Or do they? I’ve had some embarrassing moments with animal-derived food: ‘carne equina’ – horse meat a speciality at a restaurant, to which I’d been invited by trusted friends. Blackbird pie, (or was it thrush pie?) was offered to me once as a great delicacy. (I failed to count whether there were four and twenty of the poor little creatures baked in it).

I suppose it’s the same the whole world over. There’s succulent boiled dog in Korea while the inhabitants of the gracious Palladian city of Vicenza are denigrated as cat eaters. As they say, ‘vicentini magnagati’. However, we’ve also all heard of krauts, frogs, choc-ice and bananas used as ethnic slurs.

Incidentally, with regard to the Vicentini there’s a well-known piece of doggerel written in Venetian dialect, and referring to the various cities of the former ‘Serenissima Venetian republic, which goes:

 “Veneziani, gran signori;  

Padovani, gran dotori;  

Visentini magna gati;  

Veronesi tutti mati;

Udinesi, castelani,  

col cognome de furlani;  

Trevisani, pan e tripe;  

Rovigoti, baco e pipe;  

i Cremaschi, fa cogioni;  

i Bressan, tagiacantoni;  

ghe n’è anca de più tristi:  

bergamaschi brusacristi;  

E  Belun? Pòreo Belun  

te sè proprio de nisun!”


In a previous post I did mention that learning standard Italian is only one’s first step. Move yourself outside (or sometimes even within) Tuscany and, even if you’re fluent, you might catch less than half (or nothing at all) of what you hear. So here’s my tentative translation from the Venetian language as I’m learning it from the web page at

“The venetians are great lords

The Paduans are great doctors

The Vicenza people eat cats

The Verona inhabitants are all mad

The Udine lot are all keepers of castles and have the surname of furlani (the furlana is a fast and furious dance from Friuli in 6/8 time and appears especially in such works as Tartini’s solo violin sonatas).

The citizens of Treviso eat bread and tripe

The Rovigo lot are winos and pipe smokers

The people from Cremona are thick as two planks

The people from Brescia can’t be trusted  

And there’s worst: the Bergamo residents are atheists

And Belluno? Poor Belluno

They’re nothing at all”.

 Actually I haven’t found any Vicenza recipes including cat meat although, oddly enough, in Dickens’ Pickwick papers (chapter 19) Pickwick tells  Sam Weller off for telling a grisly (or gristly?) story about a cook who butchered cats and put their meat in his pies.

It’s true to say, however, that the Vicentini, like so many other Italians in the starvation conditions of the last war, did resort to eating cats. This sad fact was brought home to me last night when an intrepid BBC reporter, entering into the last pocket of IS resistance in Mosul, noticed there were no cats left and was told by the inhabitants that they’d eaten them all, as indeed, they’d also cooked carpet fibre to survive.

With regard to human cruelty to animals there’s absolutely no excuse regarding what happened recently in the nearby sea-side resort of Viareggio. The council had drained, refurbished and refilled a swan lake in the western pine-park. They’d also supplied the area with a peacock and peahen. Last week the peahen was found drowned and a scandal occurred as a result – anyone knows that peacocks don’t have webbed feet and should not be placed in an area where there’s a lake deep enough for them to drown in. The widowed peacock became almost a satire for the peacock-strutting town council. Indeed, the Italian word ‘pavoneggiare’ means to walk around showing oneself off in a pompous manner.

Other people commented that the Viareggio council members proved themselves to have a brain even smaller than that of a peacock. But I think that’s unfair on these beautiful birds who screech only because they suddenly look on their claws and see how ugly they are compared to the rest of their ‘pavoneggianti’ selves.

Dogs are ever more popular in Italy, although, since having a dog as a pet is a relatively new thing, many four-legged friends seem to be treated as fashion accessories. The Italian word for mongrel is ‘meticcio’ or, more directly, ‘bastardo.’ Every summer many dogs remain suffocated in their owners’ cars or are even abandoned on holiday and I remember this self-explanatory poster particularly well.

Actually brits are amazed at how easily Italian canines can gain entry into such places as restaurants, bars, hotels and supermarkets where they would be banned in so-called animal-loving UK. Cats are even more accepted. In 2014 we had just become servants to a new kitten, Cheekie, who travelled with us in the Maremma. Quite by chance we chose a hotel whose owner adored cats and had pictures and mementoes of cute felines plastered all over her reception area. While we were busy exploring Etruscan ruins or enjoying Mediterranean beaches, Cheekie was having a whale of a time being pampered and cared for in our hotel bedroom quite without charge by the hotel-keeper.

Hunters claim they are protectors of nature and great dog lovers. Yet I recollect two sad stories involving dogs belonging to people I know. Some years ago, in the village of Brandeglio, a beagle belonging to an English lady disappeared and was later found dead. My vet carried out a post-mortem on the poor animal and found that it had been poisoned. The poisoner has still not been apprehended although it is known who he is.

Yesterday I met a friend from Montefegatesi, a brilliant photographer who was collecting some prints from the local photography shop. He showed me one of them: it was his dog who he discovered dead shot through with several pellets from hunters illegally going for deer.

The world is truly a Manichean universe mixing good and bad in an unending chess-game battle. To conclude on a happier note, however, a little deer was found recently drowning in a small canal within the walls of Lucca. Deer in Italy, like foxes in the UK, seem increasingly to look for food within an urban setting. I just wonder how this little dearling managed to get to where he was. Fortunately, he was saved. The saviour was none other than the now world-renowned tenor and impresario Mattia Campetti (whose productions I have described in such posts as ) and the great rescue was filmed, adding yet another feather to Mattia’s cap as not only a brilliant musician but a brave rescuer. Perhaps Campetti should consider singing the part of Max in Weber’s ‘Der Freischutz’?

(Video courtesy of Giancarlo Monsalve Leyton)




4 thoughts on “Animal Encounters

  1. Not at all wanting to be obnoxious, but I feel obliged to point out that eating horses, dogs, cats, and little birds is not different from eating other mammals and birds. (speciesism)

    • Not at all Karen. In fact, I’m now realising more and more the connexion you’re making and could well turn out to become a vegetarian like so many of my friends are now,

      • I’m glad. It’s only logical, and you are such an intelligent person and lover of (certain) animals that it’s sort of amazing that you’re not already a vegetarian. I wish you the best in your “journey.”

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