This post is also available in: Italiano
by Paola Moretti
Chorus – Woman 1, Woman 2, Woman 3
The old vinegar hag
In Sicily the story of the so-called “vinegar hag” is well known. This old woman lived in Palermo in the 1700’s. Quite by chance she discovered the amazing virtues of arsenic and how it might bring about the perfect murder.
The old hag sells “miraculous vinegar” to all who seek it, especially women, who look on murder as the only road to social advancement.
Melospheres – elements of sound – made of apparently unconcerned and tedious prattle, an impenetrable cloak drawn over a long series of murders, negative female strength unleashing aggressiveness in a context of poverty and despair devoid of rules.
Note the prayers mumbled in Church Latin and the two short rhymes in the Sicilian dialect are more efficacious if delivered in the original languages. Translations are given so that the actresses may be aware of what they are saying. Indications of how to pronounce the texts and names based on equivalent English syllables are provided. The omission of capitals in the Latin prayers is indicative of the how the words mean nothing to the women who drone them like some kind of mantra.
Voice off – Your Honour, my name is Maria Costanzo, I sell wine here in Palermo, in the Olivuzza ward. I want to report the murder of my son Francesco, slain by his wife Anna Maria, using a death potion.
Santa Crucidda vi vegn’a vidiri
china di sangu vi trov’allagata
cu fu chidd’omu chi vinni a muriri?
Fu Gesù Cristu c’appi’a lanciata
/San-tah Crew-chiddah vee ven-ya veedeeree
Keen-ah dee san-goo vee trohv’allahgahtah
Koo foo kidd oh-moh kee veen-ee a moor-ee-ree
Foo Jay-zoo Krees-too kapp-eea lan-chah-tah/
Holy Cross, I come to look upon you
And find you drenched in blood
Who was the man who came here to die?
It was Jesus Christ pierced by a lance
Scena: a wake
Chorus –(very shrill voices) Avemariagratiaplenadominustecum
Benedictatuinmulieribus [hailmaryfullofgracethelordiswiththeeblessedartthouamongwomen] (softly) What are you doing? Sleeping?
Anna Maria – Too hot. I can’t breathe.
Woman 1 – It’s only an impression. Straighten up!
Anna Maria – I can’t. I’m going to faint.
Woman 2 – It’ll soon be cooler.
Anna Maria – When ?
Woman 3 – At dusk.
Anna Maria – Who says so?
Woman 1 – The wind is rising.
Anna Maria – No it’s not.
Anna Maria – There has never been such heat.
Woman 1 – It’s only an impression.
Anna Maria – What?
Woman 1 – Nothing.
Anna Maria – My rose has withered too.
Woman 2 – Which rose?
Anna Maria – The one on the balcony.
Woman 3 – You haven’t got a balcony…
Anna Maria – You think you know everything!
Woman 2 – … or a rose either.
Anna Maria – Not now, it’s withered.
Woman 1 – Come, help yourself, no standing on ceremony. A drop of lemonade?
Anna Maria – Thank you, no.
Woman 2 – You risk congestion.
Anna Maria – Like poor Francesco.
Woman 3 – What misfortune !
Anna Maria – Blessed be…
Chorus – the most precious names of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Anna Maria – Who’d have thought…
Woman 1 – Such a fine healthy man…
Anna Maria – Ruddy cheeks.
Woman 2 – I used to see him in the Ward eating like a horse.
Anna Maria – And now look at him.
Woman 3 – (sigh) We are but
Anna Maria – a puff of wind…
Woman 1 – …a drop in the ocean.
Anna Maria – Nothing.
Woman 2 – Look… he’s laughing.
Anna Maria – The dead don’t laugh.
Woman 2 – They smile ?
Anna Maria – They grimace.
Woman 1 – They let go…
Anna Maria – No more suffering.
Woman 1 – No more laughing.
Woman 3 – Anna Maria, your husband’s in heaven…
Woman 1 – Blessing you.
Woman 2 – Watching over you.
Woman 3 – Supporting you.
Woman 1 – Did he leave you any money ?
Anna Maria – (she speaks quickly, linking the words as if reciting a convulsive nursery rhyme) When I first met Francesco… that is… at the beginning of this story… because there must have been a beginning, surely… maybe at the time I didn’t even realise what was happening, I didn’t give events their proper meaning, like when you’re young, even when you’re not young, you can’t always think clearly about what’s best for your own happiness, or you think so long about it that you grow weary, accepting things as they come to get it over with… perhaps that’s why I stood stock-still and didn’t run off to hide in the bottom of a pit… as would have been natural… as soon as Francesco told me of his intentions… I just stood there staring at him… not in the least resigned … resignation is not second nature to me, though I admit it’s a charming virtue, but you can’t change your disposition, even if you want to, it’s a hard thing to do… so much the better,after all. ..so I just stood there stock-still- in no way resigned, just very tired, aware there was nothing more detestable and odious to me than his nearness… no, not exactly, now that I come to think of it, his oily skin on my delicate body, his obnoxious breath on my silk-smooth hair… I sincerely believe they were more bearable than the stench of death his mother exuded… as if a decaying corpse had spawned another more alive than itself but of the self same substance. Ah, I was such a beauty, blond and joyful… I ate little and with grace, a morsel, a smile, then another, unhurried, as if at Court… I knew how to dance… three steps towards the chest, three steps towards the bed, three steps towards the bureau… and again… three steps… three steps… three…and again… but no prince ever knocked at my door, no gentleman came a-courting me…no merchant sought my hand… my looks went unseen amid the city’s alleyways… my sweet voice unheard in the suffocating, sunless, soulless silence … (pause) He came to sing beneath my window, or so it seems, although I find it hard to believe he had a voice, that kind of voice, I mean, a voice than can reach a window from below… and be heard without making you shake with fear… he sang in the tar-black dark, his voice rising up from the pits of hell… I couldn’t see him, I simply imagined him, handsome and blond, kind spouse, long-awaited brother of my dreams, come, climb up to me…
And he crawled up the wall like a scorpion… with bloodshot eyes and gaping mouth… he dragged me to his den at the end of the street and his mother bolted the door. I knew how to dance and eat with grace, a morsel, a smile, then another, but I was seized in the dead of the night and carried off to a realm of torment… three steps from the chest … three steps from the bureau. Bow down, Anna Maria, to death, to silence, to unceasing slaver… there is no end to what you can stand… they say… it may be true… for those who enjoy that kind of pursuit…boring in the long run… not for me… I’m not prepared to accept things, besides, I can’t put up with… I’ve a nasty disposition, I know… someone once told me so…a nasty disposition… but it has its advantages, because I have experienced absolute bliss, motionless, in the dark, never a gesture, a glance, sometimes I opened my eyes, sometimes I closed them… just like that… as I saw fit… totally unpredictable… delicious, I liked it, it had its own inner beat… one that only I could perceive… a distant music… beyond reach. His mother stood there looking at me, leaning against the fire breast, sweeping up the litter every so often… heaps of refuse whose source I was never able to account for, seeing that Francesco his mother and I… seeing that the three of us consumed next to nothing… not even words… denied… lost…shut out forever. In the end he forgot me… his mother remained there staring at me with none of the enthusiasm of the early years, that is…every day slower… duller… colder…narrower… indistinct… she falls asleep on her feet… leaning up against the fire breast. Perhaps.
Woman 1 – Anna Maria, the door’s open !
Woman 2 – Here comes the sun !
Woman 3 – We’ll wash your hair…
Woman 1 – It will dry in the wind…
Woman 2 – Today it’s blowing from the sea…
Woman 3 – Billowing your skirt!
Woman 1 – Shall we fly?
Anna Maria – Your hands… tightly entwined!
Woman 1 – A lovely gust of wind…
Chorus – Away! … all together!
Shouts of joy, laughter, sea birds calling
Anna Maria – I’m tired.
Woman 1 – Let’s rest here, on the rooftops.
Woman 2 – Flying makes you sweat.
Woman 3 – How do birds manage?
Woman 1 – They’re naked, only feathers.
Woman 2 – No skirts to hamper them.
Woman 3 – No plaits that come undone.
Woman 1 – No shoes…
Woman 2 – Bodices, necklaces…
Woman 3 – Only feathers.
Anna Maria – –But we… are we witches?
Woman 1 – Hush!
Anna Maria – Why? There’s only the wind…
Woman 1 – The sun.
Woman 2 – The rooftops.
Woman 3 – The people below…
Woman 1 – They look like ants.
Anna Maria – Let’s gobble them up!
Woman 1 – Anna Maria, look, there… your husband!
Woman 2 – Stumbling.
Woman 3 – Staggering.
Woman 1 – Drunk.
Woman 2 – Throwing his money away. Instead of giving it to you.
Woman 3 – You must rid yourself of him.
Woman 1 – And get a rich man.
Woman 2 – With carriages and land.
Woman 3 – Kill him!
Woman 1 – His time is up.
Woman 2 – May his soul go in peace
Woman 3 – In the name of God!
Woman 1 – I know a hag.
Woman 2 – A witch.
Woman 3 – Perfectly dependable.
Woman 1 – Praiseworthy.
Anna Maria – How much does she want?
Woman 1 – Three Onzas at death… expenses on top.
Woman 2 – But she’ll take what you can give… .
Woman 3 – She’s a woman too…
Woman 1 – Rosa paid 18 Tarìs and a copper candlestick.
Woman 2 – Vannuzza a dress and a silver spoon.
Woman 3 – Maria two lengths of cloth and 15 Tarìs.
Woman 1 – Massacre of men.
Woman 2 – Carnage of consorts.
Woman 3 – Dependable. ..
The vinegar hag – Worthy women. Gather round me…loudly…lightly… dripping blood… draped…dazed…startled…stunned… peacock-proud from first-flight frenzy… celestial spheres… newly born, splendid seraphs, sharp as pins… here… between my eyes… come inside me… slow and easy… do not harm me… a short stay then back to light again… that’s the way it has to be, nothing known can last forever, nothing known is e’er complete, this the meaning of true magic … the rest just leave it to the dead, to folks out -raving them with ranting, seeking, spying, spuming, fuming over space and time frothing over life and love, over breath and souls and death… authentic death… known to prophets veiled in secret, though there’s no secret to be found, none has ever been unearthed, always hidden always sought, instead of cursing all creation, spitting on one’s given lot before departing elsewhere… or remaining… it matters not… like all else… but you fail to grasp me, I’m weary of your wistful weeping, wailing, whining… deafening voices venting vainly, slow, ceaseless, constant drone… phials, potions, hexes, charms… take them all… I need to sleep in peace and quiet… my time is priceless, precious… I am but a woman, old and poor and good for nothing. Here they come in legions thronging searching poking chatting weeping begging looking for… what they want and more, more just once and more again, and again and again and again… a tiny track to take them elsewhere, to real, to long-lost dreamt-of far-off shores, fabled, fancied, forbidden… they don’t even pay me for my trouble… But here’s my vinegar my arcane liquor … some for you too, my child, little heart of marble stone, a heart no longer heart, merely remnants of a heart… Your husband drinks it…three days only then he dies… but what remains put it by to rinse your hair and kill the lice… you must never squander miracles, that would be a mortal sin, waste not want not… Three grains only of the liquor… only crystals nothing more… a drop of water, a drop of wine… darkest direst salts of lead… boil them gently, gently does it… slower, lower than before… put a lid upon the cauldron lest the vapours leave the pot…golden yellow… topaz orange… amber brown… any colour, but it must be transparent, totally tasteless… three carafes bring certain death… maybe he will make atonement, maybe even die a saint… the soul will leave him in slow stages… to emerge … shining… flying straight to heaven, into the very arms of God… we are good Christians, loving wives… I’ll be waiting here for you, don’t forget the money.
Anna Maria – ight the lamp.
Woman 1 – The dead must not remain in the dark.
Woman 2 – Such a cheerful corpse.
Woman 3 – A bewitched body.
Anna Maria – Here comes the priest.
Chorus – Benedicite [Blessed be]
Anna Maria, back, half naked is dressing slowly in black; she puts on layer after layer until she becomes an indistinct spectral mass
Anna Maria – Three steps towards the chest … three steps towards the bed … three steps towards the bureau…but let us rest now… after all the smiles, all the trouble, that’s what they say, I think, the words…I can’t hold them in… they laugh all over me… they spill into random mounds, wicked foes… a trifle, compared with the other problem… Francesco’s death, I mean… revolting, obscene… if that old hag thinks I’m going to pay her… I waited for him to come back home, in the dark, to put an end to it all, as if one can envisage a beginning and an end, a coming and a remaining, so closely interwoven as to be undistinguishable, with the constant risk of the one prevailing over the other… remaining, for example… more bubbly, buoyant…remaining or not remaining… which does not mean leaving… but a metamorphosis in progress… noise more than anything else… unbearable. (pause) I waited in the dark with the supper ready… a fast-day supper, a holyday vigil … the hag’s vinegar ready… a few drops only, a smile, and heaven forgive me… I handfed him gently… a prelude to love. (shivering) He began pawing me at once and sullying my silk-like hair with his filthy breath… but then he began to shake, to shudder, to wriggle and writhe, a similar profanity is excruciating, submerged in his own vomit he went on eating and what he swallowed came gushing back mountain-like from his mouth… spewing all over the linen cloth, embroidered with my initials… in satin stitch. And his mother ran around and around out of her mind, tearing her hair, tearing her clothes, tearing… then she began to run around again… but what can it be, what can’t it be, the evil eye, ice-cold water, why don’t you help him, why don’t you cry, why don’t you pray, you don’t care if he dies, you don’t care if he lives, you’re a whore and I’ve always known it, that’s why you hate me, that’s why you don’t speak, that’s why… But then she too ran out of words…worn out… both… the two of them. Existing no longer. Speaking no longer. Trying to go on existing. Trying to go on speaking. Then nothing. Immobile. Mute. Finished. Silence.
|Figghjuzza ‘nta lu suonno mi vinjsti
du’ paruleddi ruci e tinni isti
mi vaiu pi vutari e un viu a nuddu
chiagni mugghieri mia maritu persu
/Figg-yoottssah intah loo swan–oh mee
Doo parooleddy roochee eh teennee eestee
Mee vie-yoo pee vootahr-ee eh oon vee-yoo ah nooddoo
Keean-yee moog-yehree mee-ah mareetoo persoo/
|Darling daughter during sleep you came to me
Two sweet words and off again with you
I went to turn but found no-one
Wife, weep for me your lost husband
Woman 1 – And now she goes off to die.
Woman 2 – Serves her well.
Woman 3 – Too fond of money…
Woman 1 – Nothing for nothing…
Woman 2 – Then let her die!
Woman 3 – Tortured.
Woman 1 – Hanged.
Woman 2 – Serves her right.
Woman 3 – Not one tear.
Woman 1 – Not one whimper.
Woman 2 – Neither does she wring her hands.
Woman 3 – Hag of stone.
Woman 1 – Good-for-nothing.
Woman 2 – She’s played her part. . .
Woman 3 – Now she must leave the stage.
Woman 1 – And what of us ?
Woman 2 – No vinegar.
Woman 3 – No witch.
Woman 1 – No mother.
Woman 2 – Nothing
Woman 3 – What have we now ?
Woman 1 – Strong wind… from the sea.
Woman 2 – Billowing our skirts…
Woman 3 – Close together…
Woman 1 – Hands…tightly entwined.
Woman 2 – Shall we fly?
Woman 3 – Away!… all together!
Anna Maria – Come dear sisters. Spread your wings. Cast a shadow on the earth. Time for light. Time forever. Futile time of ceaseless space… and of never-ending nothing. In the sun in the sky in the void in the dark in the sun. Away…
Shouts of laughter, sea birds calling