The man with the cigar


Luigi Barillaro was a man around his sixties, good looking, always in his suit and with an elegant bearing that instilled reliability and competence. He used to hang around Lovere with one hand behind his back and the other one holding a cigar, unlit most of the time. All the sellers of the village would greet him - you could tell he was from there. Where I arrived there I remember that, with his very distinguished manners, he nodded his head. His first gaze imparted a particular sense of authority. The thing that you'd soon realise, let's say the second time you met him, was the weird reaction that some people from the village had. Especially when, for example, he passed in front of the bar; it was like everyone was sniggering. After only a couple of days, I think I was at school and I asked the headmaster who that fellow was; I remember I said: “Just out of curiosity, could you please tell me who is that man with the cigar?”, he snickered with his big moustache and said: “Luigi Barillaro, il ballonaro!”(*). He didn't add anything else, he patted me on the back and kept walking. If I think about it now I can't help laughing. After a couple of days I realised that he was known in the village for his inclination to tell untrue stories about himself; absolute bollocks. Once he admitted to be the founder of Barilla, while he was trying to beguile a girl from Bonzano who was on holiday with her family, mother and father. I'm grateful I was there listening. I was at the point of believing him, I swear. He was so convincing, he had such a stance, a way of telling stories and an incredible ability to switch completely into the character that would inevitably persuade you. You had to believe him, you couldn't do otherwise. The curiosity of listening to the story was stronger than knowing that it wasn't true. Just like a good book that swallows you and from which you can't escape. Every story that would come out from his mouth was real; from the moment he moved his cigar until he would slowly put it back again, to savour its aroma. It was normal that a lot of people made fun of him. I still remember when, talking to a site manager from Como, he made up that he was the one who planned the tallest skyscrapers in New York - he was even showing him pictures. When he took out the pictures from his pocket, the other man's eyes opened wide just like a photographic lens. He passed away ten years ago and I still smile when I think about him. I remember that there was a big civic meeting, in the square. The Mayor told everyone the news and I will never forget the general weeping followed immediately by laughter. They had to bring the corpse into the square to make us believe it. And everybody kept talking in front of it, as if they wanted to double check that it was true. We almost thought he could even hoodwink death. The Mayor announced that Luigi owned nothing and that for this reason the municipality would pay for his cremation. The tobacconist was the first one who stood up to speak; he offered to pay altogether Luigi's burial. I don't know why we all started to call him Luigi, it was like we all started to realise what happened. When Franco, the butcher, offered to collect all Luigi's most important stories to write them on his gravestone, all the village laughed and Luigi's funeral turned into a party. Around him. Apparently it was true he managed to hoodwink even death. The bronzed bas relief represents his most famous story, the one in which he was the colonel, pilot, paratrooper of the battalion Intrepid Destroyers of the Royal Air Force. That one is the funniest, everybody knows it in the village and they keep telling it. Maybe one day I will tell you or maybe you'll hear it around. 


(*): 'ballonaro' means fibber