Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cinderella #143 Pippina the Serpent (Calvino,1956)


Can you find Palermo on this
map of Italy?

Note: Contains violence. Once upon a time, in Palermo, "there was a merchant with five children — four little girls and a boy.  The boy was the oldest, a handsome youth by the name of Baldellone. The luck of the merchant shifted, and he went from rich to poor."  Such a bad time to find out that his wife was expecting another little bundle of joy.  Baldellone took this announcement as his cue to "kiss them goodbye, and go to France. He was an educated youth, and when he got to Paris, he entered the service of the royal palace, and was finally promoted to captain." Back in Palermo, the merchant's wife gave birth to a baby girl "of matchless beauty, and father and mother were so moved, that the burst into tears. 'Dear daughter, it breaks our heart to see you born into such poverty." They had already sold the dining room table to buy linens for the little one, and those things all babies need. The child grew, and soon she toddled around on her own little legs.  One day, "while playing in the straw, she called out, 'Mama! Mama! Look! Look!' and held out hands full of gold pieces." When her mama and papa came running, she showed them the hole she had put her hand into: they looked, and there was a jar full of money! Now they could buy all the groceries they needed, and "have a real meal, for a change." A few years passed, and now Pippina's father said to her mother, "Wife, I think it's time to have a charm put on Pippina. We certainly have the money, so why not have her charmed?" The way it was done, in those days, was to "go halfway to Montreale, where four fairy sisters lived. They took Pippina there in a coach, and presented her to the four sisters." Now, these four sisters gave very specific directions, that must be followed if the charm was to work. They told the parents how to prepare, and agreed to come to their home on Sunday. The fairy sisters arrived as promised, and promptly "washed their hands, mixed up a bit of Majorcan flour, made four fine pies, and sent them off to be baked." But the baker's wife smelled those pies in the oven, and the scent drove her to gluttony.  When they were cooled, she ate one! She did not tell anybody, and no one saw her, so she thought that it would not matter. (She was wrong!) Quickly, she made another pie, of "regular flour and water drawn from the trough in which she washed the oven broom." It looked exactly the other three. During the ceremony, the first fairy cut one of the pies open, saying,"I charm you, lovely maiden, so that every time you brush your hair, pearls and other precious stones will come pouring forth. " The second fairy cut another pie and said,"I charm you to become more lovely yet than you already are."  The third fairy sliced a pie and declared," I charm you so that every fruit out of season you might desire will instantly be there."  Now the fourth fairy cut into the last pie.  It was "filled with sweepings" and a "cinder flew out of it and landed in her eye.  Howling with pain, the fairy said,"Now I'm going to put you under a monstrous spell.  When you see the sun, you shall become a black serpent!" And then those four fairy sisters vanished! How the mother and father wept.  Their darling child could not risk playing in the sunshine ever again. "But now, let's leave them, and turn to Baldellone."  This young man from an impoverished family had told all his new friends in France that his family was actually quite rich, though he was actually penniless. "But with all his big talk he impressed everyone; as the proverb says: He who goes abroad, Presents himself as count, duke, or lord. " Baldellone's bragging reached the ears of the King of France, and he sent a squire to Palermo to find out the truth. Since Baldellone's family had become rich while he was away, the squire brought news to the King that not only was Baldellone's father a wealthy man, but his young sister, Pippina, was the loveliest maiden he had ever seen. Of course, the King wanted to marry the girl, so he commanded Baldellone to go home and get his sister.  Baldellone went — but "he had a girl friend, who insisted that he take her to Palermo." When these two arrived, and found the riches and splendor in which Baldellone's family lived, the girlfriend began to scheme.  But when she met Pippina, destined to be Queen of France, her scheming took an uglier turn.  She coveted the girl's position, and so cunningly, she became Pippina's closest companion. She travelled in the same sedan chair back to the ship, and, when they arrived in Paris, the two girls rode together to the castle. Of course, Pippina's parents had warned Baldellone never to let the sun's rays shine upon his sister, so the girls were cloaked inside a dark sedan.  The girlfriend, having guessed that some harm might befall Pippina by the light of the sun, began to wheedle and beg to have the curtains opened.  Pippina at first simply refused, and then, thinking her friend meant her no harm, told her the reason. At that, the girl friend "snatched a penknife and rent the leather ceiling of the sedan chair. A ray of sunlight shone straight down upon Pippina, and she changed into a black serpent that went wriggling down the dusty road and disappeared under a nearby hedge in the King's garden." Now Baldellone had a terrible dilemma: how could he go to the king without bringing him a bride? The girlfriend offered an easy solution: she would go in place of Pippina, thus pleasing the King. Well, Baldellone had no choice to agree, but the plan made no one but the girlfriend happy. The King took one look, and thought to himself, 'Well, she's not too bad looking, but I wouldn't exactly call her beautiful...' Baldellone thought to himself, 'That scheming girl! She's caused my sister's demise, and left me without even a girl friend.' And the girlfriend thought,'Yikes! Baldellone is really mad at me! I'd better figure out a way to get rid of him." So she feigned sickness, and, though it was not their season, begged the King to send Baldellone out to find her some fig.s This the King did, and Baldellone went on this fruitless search.  But his sister, the serpent, greeted him in the garden, and when she found that he wanted figs, told him of the gift from the third fairy.  In an instant, she gave him a basket of figs. He took these to the King, who fed them to the Queen. This greedy girl now demanded apricots, which were procured; then cherries, which were produced, and, finally, pears. "But we forgot to say that the charm worked for figs, apricots and cherries, but not for pears." And when Baldellone could not give pears, his execution was ordered. His dying wish, that he be buried in the garden, was honored. That night, the wife of the gardener heard a voice, singing sadly, "Baldellone, O dear brother, Buried here amid dark verdure, While the author of your fate Now plays Queen to my intended mate." And when the gardener went out to cut flowers in the morning, he found jewels and pearls amongst the blooms.  The next night, the song was repeated, and the gardener carefully gathered up all of the gems and gave them to the king. Then he lay in wait, so that he could see what he might, after dark. When he heard the singing begin, he drew his pistol and was about to fire, when the loveliest maiden he had ever seen stepped out of the shadows. She told him the story of the four fairies and their gifts, and begged him to bring the King to the garden the next night. So the King came, and when he saw the maiden and heard that she would be his wife, if only the curse were lifted, asked how this might be done. And Pippina said, "Leave tomorrow on a horse that runs like the wind, and go all the way to the Jordan River. Dismount on its bank and you will see four fairies —one with a green ribbon around her tress, another with a red one, a third with a blue one, and the last with a white one." She told him to take their clothes from the shore,and to hold them until the fairies gave him the ribbons. The one he must have, she said, was the white ribbon. By receiving it, the spell would be broken. So the King followed these directions.  He rode for thirty days and thirty nights, got the ribbon, repeated the journey, and ran out to the garden. The moment he tied the white ribbon around the black serpent, she changed back into a beautiful young girl.  Now yet another plan was hatched. The King asked the gardener to take the girl away by ship, but to bring her back, "under a foreign flag", a few days later. Then he would pretend that the ship carried a long lost relative. Of course, his false Queen could not resist showing off for the visitors. She demanded to accompany the King onboard. When she saw Pippina, who was introduced as the king's cousin, she grew afraid. Now the King asked his false bride whether the girl were not the daintiest maiden she had ever seen? The girl replied that she was.  The King pushed her further: what if someone wanted to hurt the lovely girl? Then how should that person be punished? Well, the false queen especially enjoyed advising the King on punishing wrong-doers, so she said, "He would deserve to be thrown through the window and then burned alive!' 'And that's just what we are going to do!' snapped the King, and then he told the girl that he knew all. "No sooner said than done. The liar was dashed throught the window and the burned right there on the ground next to the palace." Now the King begged Pippina's forgiveness for the hanging of Baldellone, and Pippina said,"Let's let bygones be bygones and see what can be done in the garden." There they dug up Baldellone, and, "with a small brush, Pippina applied a certain salve to his neck, and Baldellone began breathing again, then moving," When he finally jumped up, as though a man getting out of bed in morning, his sister wept and embraced him. "The scene was indescribable. The King, giving orders for grand festivities, sent for the merchant and his wife and married Pippina in great 
pomp."
Notes: It is interesting to find a cinder as the object which sets in motion Pippina's tranformation to a serpent. Interesting too that the snake, rather than being a helping animal, is the actual girl herself
From Calvino, I.(1980) Italian Folktales Retold. New York: A Harvest Book (p. 534)
Montessori Connection: Geography/Italy
1. Read this story and notice that it is from the city of Palermo, Italy.
2. Find Italy on the globe.
3. Using a map of Italy, find Palermo.
4. Using a map of Italy, find Chiaravalle, the birthplace of Maria Montessori.
5. Think about what it might have been like for Maria growing up: Maria Montessori: A biography for childrenMaria Montessori: A Biography (Radcliffe Biography Series) or 
6. Think about whether stories like Pippina the Serpent might frighten young children, or whether they would like to read about the girl who turns into a snake, then back again.

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