The scythes

A good deal today in the village, but the arrival of a gendarme...

he smuggler Gino descends to the village to sell his special load. Today he carries splendid scythes and the best method to gain something more is to sell them directly one by one. It is enough to let the blades ring against each other and someone will arrive; then the word will spread quickly in the village: “Gino has brought splendid scythes from beyond the border!” The word spreads quickly, especially to one who keeps his ears professionally open: the gendarme. In the meanwhile Gino is doing good business and everybody seems happy.

The gendarme presents himself to control the situation. A glance at the scythes and then the inevitable request to see if all the documents are in order. While Gino searches his pockets for documents that he knows he does not have, he is looking for a solution, a plausible excuse, a rescuing phrase. He finds it! But…

The protagonist

The gendarme

It is his role to observe and control, but often it is difficult and the situation requires turning a blind eye.

The protagonist

Gino

A good smuggler must also be a good salesman and has to know how to save one’s skin in every situation.

Historic hints

The smuggler of the alpine valleys is very different from the smuggler-outlaw of the Ancien Régime. The latter is glorified with the aura of a champion of justice, a kind of hero in the eyes of the farmers who see him as one who fights against the state’s tax excesses. The smuggler of our mountains instead is a farmer himself: he has a wife, children, a house, livestock and fields to cultivate. The “hero-outlaw” brings off bold coups with big and organized gangs, while the alpine smuggler is often part of a network of local exchanges and modest commerce connected with husbandry activities.
The alpine economy requires a lot of movement on the territory to reach the alpine pastures, a trait that was used by the smugglers to disguise their commerce. Even in the years of the Second World War, when smuggling was a requirement to survive, the smuggler – in order to reach the villages beyond the border – eluded the surveillance of the customs officers by means of concealing his goods under faggots or hay loads, and he used the alpine cabins as a place of support and shelter in case of need.

Bibliography

Ottonelli Elisabetta – Il Contrabbando – Storie di contrabbando per i colli di Viso – Comunità Montana Valli del Monviso – Progetto Alcotra Vis’Oc
Ottonelli Elisabetta – Les contrebandiers – Histoires de contrebande entre Queyras et vallées du Viso – L’ Office de Tourisme du Queyras – Projet Alcotra Vis’Oc

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