My first story for this storybook project comes from
Palermo, the capital city of Sicily, which is located on the Northwestern side
of the island. The name of the fable for this week is Cola Pesce and it
is a story about a young boy who turns into a merman and about the adventures he
has during his life. The story takes place in Messina a seaport on the
Northeastern tip of Sicily.
Word spread all across the land that there was a creature half fish and half man who inhabited the waters around the coastal town of Messina. His name was Cola but people called him Cola Pesce because of his fishy appearance. At present Cola did live in the depths around his hometown of Messina, but years before he lived as a normal little boy with his mother in town. Life was quite pleasant for young Cola. He would play in the waters of the coast everyday from the time he woke up till the time his mother came to drag him out of the water. Frequently Cola refused to leave the water and disobeying his mother one day he decide to swim further and further away from her. "Cola, come back here now!" was the last thing Cola heard his mother say to him as he drifted into the middle of the sea. With her breath gone and her spirits dampened Cola's mother cursed her son whom she would never see again by saying, "Cola, May you turn into a fish!"
Many years had passed since the time Cola abandoned dry land. The King of Messina at this time was aware of all the rumors about this so-called Cola Pesce, therefore he sent out a decree saying that anyone who saw him must tell Cola that his presence is required at the court of the king. Not long after this a sailor bringing up the anchor of his ship caught sight of the half man, half fish. "Cola, Cola, you must swim to the palace of the king for he wishes to speak with you," said the sailor to Cola. Obeying the wishes of the king, Cola swam to the palace and was given an audience with the king.
After meeting with Cola for some time the king requested that Cola swim all around Sicily to see how deep the the sea is around her and to know what he might come upon during this task. Without hesitation Cola dove into the water to fulfill the request of his majesty.
With a short time having passed Cola resurfaced and recounted the magical scene of the deep sea to the king. Cola painted a vivid picture for his king. He said thus:
"All of Sicily is surrounded by the purest blue water. Under
the sea the landscape is much as it is on
After hearing Cola's words the king asked what Messina was built on. Cola replied that it was built on a reef held up by three columns, one in good condition, another somewhat damaged and the other completely broken. During their conversation, Cola admitted to the king that he did not venture to the bottom of the sea in the area of lighthouse because he said it was too deep and that he was scared to do so. This however fueled the king's curiosity and he forced Cola to return to the lighthouse to see what was hidden there.
Much time passed as the king waited for Cola to return. Day after day went by without any sign that Cola would ever return. After more than four days a pale and shaking Cola came to the surface of the water. He told his majesty that he encountered a large fish deep in the waters near the lighthouse who could quite easily swallow all of Messina in one gulp. The king however was only concerned with how deep the sea went near the lighthouse. Sadly Cola told his majesty that since he was afraid of the large fish and the sheer vastness of the water in that area, he did not find out how deep the water goes near the lighthouse.
Consumed even more with an itching curiosity to know what lay in the depths of lighthouse the king carefully took off his crown and threw it into the sea. Puzzled Cola ask him, "What have you done, Your Majesty?" The king replied that his crown was one of a kind and that Cola himself had to retrieve the crown for him. Cola again obeyed the wishes of the king, yet fearing that he would never return Cola told the king to give him a pouch of lentils which he would release if he was unable to escape the deep near Faro. Upon receiving the lentils Cola swam back into the depths without turning back to look at the king.
Time again passed as the king awaited Cola's arrival. Days were washed away into months and then years but no sign of Cola, then one day the king staring at the waters' edge saw three lentils and he knew that Cola would not return.
After the Story
There are many reasons why I chose this story, one being that this is the first fairy tale I ever read in Italian. Besides that I chose Cola Pesce because it contains many important aspects relevant to my project as well as to Sicilian culture. The life of a typical Sicilian fisherman is depicted in this story and vivid images of Sicily emerge when one reads this tale. The key themes that I mentioned in my introduction are present in this story. Metamorphosis and food imagery play huge roles in Cola Pesce since we see a boy turn into a merman which is both an example of a character changing into something else and an tribute, one could call it to fish which is one of many staples in the Sicilian diet. Further carrying along the food imagery are the lentils at the end of the story. Lentils too are prevalent in the Sicilian cooking and I have been fortunate enough to have tried a wonderful Sicilian pasta with lentils as the star ingredient. Another key theme not mentioned in my introduction, which is not only part of this story but also plays an enormous part in almost all Italian fairy tales is the element of superstition and curses. It is my understanding that Italians can be very superstitious and that Italian culture in general has kept some very old superstitions. The best one I can remember is that if wine spills on a tablecloth, everyone at the table must dab their fingers in it and rub some of the wine on their necks just below the ears.
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