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Giuseppe Mahldolvi

Posted on September 23, 2010 at 10:26 PM

Peppe Mahldolvi walked a half mile each day to a bench located at the crossroads. Three separate roads leading from the Mahldolvi valley met at this point before continuing through the foothills to the port city of Sesimbra. He would leave his home each day around 11 am. Stopping along the way to visit with friends and neighbors, he would arrive at the bench in time for a lengthily rest and lunch. At ninety years of age, Peppe was in no hurry.


Peppe enjoyed this few hours each day. It was a way for him to get away from a household full of women and children. With the men off to work, Peppe found this daily routine to be a pleasure. He loved his large family and the women pampered him to no end, but this allowed him some time to himself and a chance to visit with others.


Arriving at his bench he sat for a few minutes and caught his breath. His lunch, like the mild coastal weather, varied little each day. From his small shoulder bag he pulled a jar of olives, a goatskin of wine, a brick of cheese, and four small biscuits. Now this was twice what he would consume, the women reminded daily, but he often shared or lured a passersby to join him for a chat. If not, then Peppe would daydream or nap or pull out his knife and just whittle. Taking a deep breath and relaxing, Peppe felt this would be a good day.


Soon a young man came walking down the main Mahldolvi road, the same road Peppe had just walked down. He remembered the dogs barking earlier that morning.


Waving to the stranger he asks, “ Hello. Did you walk up this road this morning?”


“Yes, sir. I’m on a day hike from Sesimbra. I’m from the university. I just finished my exams yesterday so I needed to clear the head.”


“May I offer a drink or a brief rest? You must be famished?”


While sitting and removing his daypack he said, “I am a bit winded. Oh, my name is John, I’m a second year student.”


Offering his hand, Peppe greets him and offers the goatskin in return. “ I am Peppe.”


Peppe glances at john’s hiking boots and notices a reddish clay on their soles. He comments, “Did your hike take you beyond the meadows and the cork oak?”


“Why yes, I followed the road until it gave out and then continued on through the olive groves. Further on I crossed several meadows before I came to the cork trees. How did you guess?”


Peppe explained that John’s boots told the tale. He slid the jar of olives to John and pulled a beautiful fisherman’s knife from his vest, offering it handle first. “You must try the olives since you walked among the trees they came.” Peppe opened the biscuit tin saying, “ Then one of these. You see the olive is married to the biscuit.”


“Oh my, this olive is marvelous. It is the largest I’ve ever seen, and so sweet. You are right, sir. It goes nicely with the biscuit.”


Peppe pulls the brick of cheese from its wooden drawer. “Follow with a slice of this. You see, the tongue is asking to be brought home again. No?”


“You are too kind Peppe. I did walk up an appetite. This is grand of you.”


Peppe helped himself to lunch also and then offered more wine to John.


“I really shouldn’t, you have been so generous already.”


Peppe countered, “ You have walked the Mahldolvi valley and now you have a Mahldolvi lunch. No?”


As John continued lunch and relaxed, Peppe says, “Let me tell you of the Mahldolvi valley. You have tasted the olive. It is the finest, yes? You have tasted the Mahldolvi wine. It is damn good, no? The cork groves you have seen. It is the best quality available. The sheep, you did not see them, they are now in the north meadow. The wool and meat of the Mahldolvi sheep is prized by all in the region. Even the cheese we make, although it’s made in an amount that never makes it beyond our valley. Our women…” Peppe stops to loosen his tongue with wine. “Our women are slender, and they have the beautiful eyes like shiny coins. Oh my friend, don’t get me started on the beautiful women.”


John chuckles, “I did see a couple of girls just up the road. They were very pretty.”


“Oh yes, indeed. All these things we are known for, but only in this region. There is one other thing you have not seen. This we are known for up and down the coast of Portugal. Especially in the port of Sesimbra. What is this you have not seen John?”


John smiled and replied, “ Peppe, I cannot guess what I have not seen. Please sir, what can it be?”


“Well my new friend, it is the Mahldolvi fishermen. They are known throughout the land. They are known across the ocean. They have fished the cod off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland since the sixteenth century. You see, they are as good as any fisherman, but it is not the skill that makes them known. It is not the strong back, or the knowledge of the sea. No, it is none of these things.


What is it that these men carry with them. What is it that is the pride of all Portugal. My friend it is the luck. They carry the luck of the Mahldolvi! When the mother ship is signing on the crew, the fishermen will ask, are there Mahldolvi aboard? No, well thank you we will check back. You see, once a ship has signed on a Mahldolvi, oh my friend, then the fishermen line up to be aboard. The mother ship will fill quickly. The purser will have to send fishermen away. Sorry we are full, and we have our Mahldolvi!


The mother ship will have 30 or 40 wooden fishing boats aboard. Each fisherman will occupy his own boat. The Mahldolvi will be given his choice of boats and the rest will draw lots. Once on the Banks, the Mahldolvi will put his boat over and row in the direction of his choice. The others will put over and row in their designated directions. The boats will fan out like the spiders web and row for three hours, then drop their lines. They will row back at dark and unload their catch. Whichever boat returns with the most cod, and usually it is the Mahldolvi, then the mother ship will move to this spot during the night.”


Peppe looked over and John was resting his eyes. He too leaned back and soon was daydreaming.




Giuseppe Mahldolvi rowed slowly but steadily into the fog bank. He had rowed continuously through the night and into what he thought was now mid-afternoon. The fog had been the worst he’d seen in all his years at sea. A few hours ago he thought he heard the fog horn of his mother ship and had corrected his rowing in what he hoped was the right direction. He did not wish to be out another night alone. It was slow going because his boat was filled to the hand rails with cod. He was gentle with the oars, being careful not to splash water into an already full boat.


His meager rations were gone. A sip or two of wine only. No cheese, olives, or biscuits. Of course he had fish. He chuckled. Then, faintly he heard the horn. He listened for the second. There was always a second……………………………Yes, there. Faintly. Now there should be the bell announcing how many boats were still lost. He turned his good ear toward the fog and…………..Ding……Ding……Ding.


Three boats still out. His boat and who else he wondered. He rowed with a new energy, steadily. About a half-hour later he heard the fog horn again. It was much closer and then……………………….Ding.


He began rowing again and was grinning. They were all aboard now except for him and he was closing on the mother ship steadily.


Another half hour and a giant wall appeared before him, and men were shouting, “ Our Mahldolvi has returned! Our luck has returned!” Men were signing the cross. The fog horn blasted repeatedly. The bell was beaten wildly. Hats were tossed. Soon lines were thrown down. A violin, concertina and mandolin could be heard playing. Singing and dancing broke out aboard.


“We have the Mahldolvi!”




John awoke to the sound of violin music. Coming down the left road of the Mahldolvi valley was a cart pulled by a donkey. In the cart two very pretty young ladies, each playing a violin, were swaying softly to the music. As the cart pulled near the bench the girls saw John and Peppe and stopped their duet. The donkey stopped on cue also, as did Peppe’s nap.


“Grand-Peppe,” the eldest girl said, “ It is Isabelle. Anita and I are off to violin instruction at Aunty Maria’s.” The girls were studying John and giggling to each other.


“ Yes, yes I see my Grand-daughters. You must meet my new friend, John. He has been hiking the Mahldolvi and is returning to Sesimbra. Perhaps he could accompany you as it is his path also.”


“ Of course Grand-Peppe,” Anita replied. “ We must be on our way or else we will be late to Auntie’s.”


John shook Peppe’s hand and thanked him for his hospitality. As the cart pulled away John called back, “ Peppe, I may check into the cod fishing. I need to earn enough for my studies.”


“ Yes, you must continue the books my friend. The ships from Sesimbra are the finest on the salt. Tell them you shook the hand of Giuseppe Mahldolvi, and he wished you the luck.”

Categories: Short Story, Jip Morgan, Adventure

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Reply o
1:22 PM on September 24, 2010 
'Now this was twice what he would consume, the women remanded daily...' Did you mean the women reminded daily?'

This is a mellow, comfortable little story. While it's not heavily into dialect, there is just enough to reflect the region. I haven't read anything of yours before that employs the
old-country tempo and philosophy. I found it refreshing and appealing. While there is not a definite goal or end-point the characters are real and their movement within the story is gentle and patient. It reads like the opening chapter of a longer piece. It is excellent. I would like to sit on the bench and share the lunch with Peppe.
Reply C.M. Marcum
6:32 PM on September 24, 2010 
Fabulous. Rich and Exotic. True literature. I'm thinking, it's only a small sliver of a master piece. Yes? No?

small typo: at John's hiking boots...

In the sentence, ' In the cart two very pretty young ladies, each playing a violin, were swaying softly to the music.' The first time I read it, I though it a little rough. The second time it seemed better. Always a danger to inject a clause between the subject and the verb.
Reply Brokenwing
7:58 PM on September 30, 2010 
I loved this story when you had it posted at ER and I still think it's one of your best. Great local color and scene setting. Good story.