I have this memory of storms and blackouts in Nichol’s Point. Sitting on the linoleum floor in the dark, a tape recorder powered by batteries, played the Eagles Hotel California. On the combustion stove, all cooking complete for the day, a single flame flicked with the gusts of wind from the flu, fractured shadows rippled and bent, hot breath of incandescence.
No fear, the contrary, for the cool surface, somber tone soothed and relaxed. Darkness is like that, a floating limbo of expanse and suspension.
The floor was also the place we lay for our midday summer siestas, the hum of the air-conditioner a calm mummer softened the ear to slumber.
In a teacup saucer, shallow pool of olive oil sat a piece of cotton fabric, remnant from a ragged petticoat, twisted and looped tightly with cotton thread and coiled in the dish, a fashioned thick wick (il micio) sat over the lip, lit with a single match. There were no candles in the house for emergencies, only a torch with batteries. Who knew how long the black out would last.
With fabric, olive oil and a match one could generate a lamp.
In the village Natile, there was no electricity. To illuminate the home at night, people used il lumo, a small metal kettle with a handle for hanging. Constructed by the local forgiarro, the blacksmith, I’m told that ‘he’ also made the three legged tipodi (tripods) designed for the cooking pots to sit easily on an open fire. There were always three pots, small, medium and large, matching the small, medium and large tripodi. The pots were ceramic and designed to cook certain foods. (another story coming)
Il lumo, was designed with four grooves, evenly spaced around the cylinder, not dissimilar to indents on an ashtray. This is where i mici were placed and lit, like the wick of a candle. Il micio was the end of a long piece of twisted linen, neatly wound around and around in the bottom of the deep metal vessel, soaked in the olive oil. With each night and the need for light, il micio with the help of the oil burnt slowly and would last for a long time. For more light all four mici could be lit and il lumo hung from the roof illuminating. For less light one would simply blow out one or two mici.
This memory of making light coupled with the perspective of a young child, from the linoleum floor, triggers the memory of my Mother’s ingenuity administering copetti, bent over Dad lying face down with his naked back exposed.
Copetti is the Calabrese version of cupping, which we tend to associate with Chinese medicine. Cupping is an ancient form of medicine where suction and negative pressure is used to loosen a muscle, encourage blood flow in order to relieve back, neck and the pain of stiff muscles.
My Father, then a young farmer, used ‘old techniques’ a spade, pick and axe to do his work. Hard work meant an addiction to pain and so when the threshold was reached he would often come home sporting shoulders longing for relief from little feet stepped on his back. I dreaded the thought because it was difficult to balance. I was afraid of the ramifications should I take a wrong step. But he encouraged us to get on board, guiding us to go gently up and down cooing relief. Then, at Mum he flirted the request “i copetti”.
Mum repurposed small vegemite jars, which we used as drinking glasses as well as cookie and scone cutters, fashioned the perfect circle. On this occasion the vegemite jar became the perfect vessel for the cupping technique. There was a bowl of redundant rusty pennies in the nick-nac cupboard. One penny folded into a square piece of cotton, the corners drawn together tightly in the centre, then twisted and wound with cotton thread, made a short thick wick. The penny created a solid base to sit flat and neat against the sore flesh and the final form resembled a puckered, alert nipple. The nip lit at first burning bright, the flame smothered with the cup, sucking the skin up into what resembled a big thick cyst that relaxed when the cup was prized off with a “pop” imprinting neat, round, violent red circles, like sunburnt love bites, supposedly soothing.