Welcome Back Leo Pardoni

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Leo Pardoni is enjoying a carefree lifestyle in cosmopolitan Paris when he receives two mysterious phone calls that force him to return to the home of his elderly parents, in a village in the middle of Tuscany, where nothing happens. 

Or so he thinks. 

 A series of unconnected events turn his life upside down, as old friends and acquaintances come together and a cacophony of fashion, food, conspiracies, money laundering and a fatal accident put the sleepy village, that his parents call home, into the world’s spotlight.


 In his new book, “Welcome Back Leo Pardoni”, Francesco Dori takes you on a joyful romp through the hills of Tuscany, turning everyday trials into entertaining experiences. 

 Who else could combine an octogenarian’s circumcision with men’s tampons and garlic?

Chapter I


The unbuttoned tuxedo, the absent smile, and
the sore red eyes hidden by tinted glasses were clues. The final confirmation
was that he had lain in a comatose state on the conveyor belt. Leo Pardoni had
obviously partied again and, at fifty-one, the younger travellers waiting with
him for their luggage at the airport were jealous.

The sniffer dog barked and the customs officer
stopped Leo. “Another night discussing business… I guess.” The two men knew
each other, having met before in similar circumstances. A quick search was made
with no success and Leo was able to leave the airport at last.

His head was bursting after catching the
flight, for reasons still unknown to him, at the last minute from Paris. He got
in a cab and gave twenty euros to the taxi driver. “It’s all tip, please shut

After an hour spent in complete silence, they
reached a sumptuous gate in the countryside, bearing. I.N.R.I., the initials
for the Latin title that Pontius Pilate had written over the head of Jesus
Christ on the cross.

“Crucifixion brand! Original and certified. I
can guarantee you. It comes from a cemetery. My father got a good deal.
Actually, in this case, the deal of a lifetime!”

The passenger’s sudden chit-chat surprised the
driver, much more than the inscription. Leo paid for the ride, got out of the
car and waited for the taxi to leave. He then took the joint he had hidden in a
pack of crisps for the trip and grinned. “The mutt at the airport was right all
along.” The joint was so greasy that, once lit, it had such a sickening taste
that, to smoke it, Leo had to sip vodka ­– he always travelled with a bottle –
with every drag.

His parents Ettore and Eleonora rarely moved
far from their residence and couldn’t understand how their only son preferred
Paris. Leo instead, having spent his adult life abroad in big cities, had a big
problem with the countryside. Lately, he had to be high to pass through the
entrance gate. He wandered for ten minutes in the fields, making fun of
everything and everyone. Only after the calming effect of the joint and the
vodka had reached his already confused brain did he head toward the family’s
home. He made sure he was presentable – not an easy task – and then rang the
bell, waiting, with a set smile, in front of the entrance. It didn’t take long
for the door to open. His parents appeared, one beside the other. Ettore
welcomed his son with a warm “You’re late. Dinner is almost ready”. Eleonora
followed with her sweet yet firm voice, “You stink of smoke. Go to your room,
freshen up, and change. Quickly! I’ve cooked something especially for you.”

Their liveliness at eighty was as immortal, as
Leo’s boredom while in his family home was neuronic. He unpacked the suitcase
and wondered why they had made him come back. It had recently become a habit,
to ask him to return home without telling him why. A mystery that always left
the poor man no other choice but to visit them. Three months earlier, he had
rushed home just to find out that they could not find the duplicate keys, his,
which he had with him all the time. Today, though, they had not allowed him to
pass through the kitchen. What were they about to tell, or ever worse, ask him?

With steam coming out of his nostrils from the
cold, Leo wore the heavy socks, thermal pyjamas, farmer’s pants and wool
sweaters needed for dinner. His parents, in fact, spent the winter without
turning on the heating. They considered it economically advantageous, good for
their health, and a challenge they were proud to overcome.  The wood-burning stove and the fireplace were
the only sources of heat in the house. Hot water was scarce and supplied by old
boilers, with the result that, in winter, everybody washed only when odours
became unacceptable. Leo noticed that his armpits smelled; he opted for

Electricity was restricted too. “This way, at
night, you can turn off the light once seated” his father had explained to Leo
when he was a child after placing a switch above the toilet roll in the
bathroom. Then, with years and progress, came a control panel that imposed a
punitive blackout lasting fifteen seconds in case the limit of one light bulb
per person was exceeded in the house.

Since childhood, Leo had developed an
extraordinary orientation in the dark. Despite the joint, the vodka, and the
awkwardness of his clothes, he reached the kitchen without turning on a single
light bulb.

The aroma of chocolate and vinegar made his
stomach rumble. His mother was at the stove and his father at the dinner table,
with a bottle of Chianti. “We told Pat to retire,” muttered Ettore as he
wondered if the peppershaker was empty enough to justify the addition of
“pepper” to the shopping list.

Lepre in dolce e forte and no table service? Leo didn’t know what was
going on but this time it was serious! He decided not to delay the wait, sat
down, and turned to his parents. “So?”

“I have to have surgery,” whispered Ettore. Leo
looked at his mother in shock. Eleonora reassured him immediately,
“Circumcision. We were wondering if you could help.”

“Circumcise babbo?” The astonishment on
Leo’s face was real. “Babbo” is Tuscan for dad. The babbo in
question was eighty! Why now? Why ask their son? Leo was panicking. 

“No, obviously. What we are asking for is just
support and help during hospitalization and convalescence,” Eleonora was not
amused by the obviously, at least for her, altered state of her son.

“Since it stopped exercising,” Ettore glanced
at his wife with an accusatory look, “it has put on weight! As a result, its
hood is a little tight! It chokes… feels strangulated… almost as if it is

“I see, I see,” Leo quickly nodded in order to
avoid the disclosure of more details. He raised his glass in a toast, “À la

A good Tuscan wine drowned them in a wonderful
state of relaxation that was unfortunately interrupted by Miou-Miou, a female
blue Persian cat. She was a rare example of beauty and elegance, coupled with
moral decay and filthiness. Over the years, she had had several litters of
kittens, one after the other, as ugly as they were hairy. She also had the
habit of taking naps in the litter box after using it. She had an irresistible
aphrodisiac effect on the tomcats of the land, but ended up a disgusting,
matted grey mop that wandered around the house. She stank! “Shall we wax her
tomorrow?” Leo was relaxed by the wine and relieved by the news. A circumcision
was not as bad a surprise as he had feared. He left Ettore watching the news on
TV, the only relationship he had and wanted to have with the outside world,
while Eleonora flipped through the pages of her book on Tuscan flora.

Leo arrived in his room and closed the door. He
sat on the edge of the bed and turned to the painting of St. Sebastian on the
wall. “You’ll see. I’ll stay roughly two weeks.”

The large image of the bloody martyr, tied to a
tree and pierced by arrows, had always been beside his bed. As a child, before
going to sleep, Leo listened to his mother tell wonderful stories that turned
the saint into a cactus, a toilet brush, or a porcupine.

Leo loved the painting and considered it a
friend whose silence could be trusted. “Yes, unfortunately, I fucked up again.
Excuse the language. I have two containers full of tires stuck for months now
in the port of Marseille, because of the shit, excuse the language again, going
on in the Ivory Coast, where they were to be shipped. A super deal for which I
now have to pay for storage.” He sighed as he placed his tuxedo in the closet.
“Thank God, Tomer works. Last night I did a great job at a party. He’s been
asked to do an exhibition in Argentina. Can you believe it?”

During his life Leo had had many different
careers and a lot of success. Recently though, his failures had been a lot. He
didn’t care though. In the meantime, he helped Tomer’s career, an Israeli
sculptor fifteen years his junior with whom he lived. He mused that, according
to the odds, soon something good was going to happen to him too. With a smile
on his face, he fell asleep.

The next morning at seven o’clock, the alarm
went off with its usual perfect timing. “Slap!” “Bang!” “Boom!” Opening the
windows of the house, making as much noise as possible by slamming the shutters
against the walls, was his dear parents’ way of saying “Get up!”

Leo was asleep in bed, happy under a mountain of
blankets, when he was awakened by their noise. In a place where the morning was
cold and little or nothing was happening, the impatience of his parents was
incomprehensible to him and so annoying.

He got up reluctantly. Putting on all the
clothes he found laying around the room, he walked down to the kitchen.

“As bald and as grey as my dad! What are your
plans for today?” was Eleonora’s good morning. Ettore added “shampoo” to his
shopping list.

Leo had just woken up and found that already
there were too many questions.

“I’ll go visit Pia and Lia. Where’s the

“Good morning, sir. Careful, many hot”

Leo looked up. “Good morning, Pat. How are

“No problem, sir. Maybe!” Pat replied with a
smile, and then poured the milk into Leo’s cup, spilling most of it.  “Mamma mia, mamma mia,” she cried as
she headed to the sink to grab a sponge.

“Mamma mia” was the only thing Pat could say and use in the right
context in Italian. She was a devout fan of Abba and possessed many Filipino
cover versions of their songs. It had been over twenty years since the day she
had arrived with a St. Bernard dog and two cats. They had been relocated to
Tuscany due to the strict immigration and quarantine regulations in Singapore,
where Leo had moved. Pat used only the feminine when she spoke, it was not
clear in her sentences what the subject and the object were, and the total lack
of tenses made yesterday, today and tomorrow a unique, indefinite time. This,
combined with the letter “V” that she pronounced “B”, put Ettore and Eleonora
to the test every day.

In a house where the correct use of syntax was
second only to food, Pat’s Italian was often the cause of major discussions.
The wacky language though was an excellent mental exercise for the old couple
as guessing what she meant was never easy. To the question, “Patience, is there
enough salt?” she would answer, “Poco salato”, “A little salty” so
Eleonora would not add salt. A mistake, since “a little salty” meant there was
little salt. On the other hand, if Pat said, “È salato”, “It’s salted,”
she could mean it needed salt. “Yes” had to be ignored, because she would
always say it, whatever the question, often followed by “maybe”.

Leo had tried to communicate in English, which she spoke badly the day she arrived and was
now suffering from her multilingual skills
. The result was that almost
no one could understand a word she said.

Pat was a little over fifty, short, petite and
of dark complexion. She couldn’t see very well and had three pairs of glasses.
Despite Eleonora’s insistence, she refused to wear them outside her room,
because the lenses made her “bikkia”, which is how she pronounced “vecchia”,
old in Italian. She dusted and swept with extreme energy to compensate for her
inability to see where the dirt was. This created a storm that redistributed
the dust on the furniture and highlighted the cobwebs on the chandeliers. After
struggling in vain for years, Eleonora was now resigned to the dust, and
considered it an addition to the “country character” of the house.

The old farm of Torre Leon a Teole, the name of
his parents’ property, towered on the top of a hill at the end of a steep dirt
road. It was composed of three buildings, with the villa, the family home for
generations, being the largest. It overlooked a stone-paved courtyard, with
lemon trees growing in the earthenware pots that Eleonora had placed on stands
of ancient marble. On the opposite side of the house, the ground was steep with
a lower floor, the cellars, the pantry, and Pat’s bedroom. The kitchen plus the
dining and living rooms were on the ground floor, the bedrooms on the first,
and Ettore’s study in the tower above it because, in his words, the master had
to be on the top.

The second house, on the opposite side of the
courtyard, had been the granary, stable, and barn. It was very charming, with
arched windows on the ground floor that lit a large lounge with an old manger.
Nowadays it was rented to tourists, but only if the opportunity at the right
price came along. Privacy was precious and vital. In the third and smallest
building, the oil and wine were stored. The proximity of the three made the
property look like a small village, with connecting courts and alleys. It was
heaven for Ettore and Eleonora but represented purgatory, if not hell, for Leo.

He thought about it as he went to his room to
change because winter at Torre meant you had to undress to go out as it was
colder inside than out. He began to walk around the family land. He was not
insensitive to the beauty of the olive groves and vineyards, but could not care
less if, due to last year’s fly infestation, the extra virgin olive oil “tasted
like meat”.

Do flies taste like meat? He didn’t know or
care. He had no affinity for the land, only for its value.

Leo reached the outskirts of the village where
a sign read ROGNE DI SOTTO. The name Rogne, which in Italian means “hassles”,
derived from a stream called Rognone, which means “kidney”, running below, “di
sotto”, the village. Leo’s etymology was a bit different though:

Rogne’s main attraction was the former local
fascist headquarters, now the town hall. Partially bombed during the last war,
it had been reborn as one of the ugliest of the Italian post-war
reconstructions, an odd mixture of Imperial Rome, Modernism, and Renaissance.

The majestic front door, in the middle of a
rectangular loggia, was reachable from the marble steps that lined the length
of the building. The stairs and the loggia were divided into three equal parts
by the two huge Roman columns that supported the upper floor. A terracotta
balustrade topped the palazzo with two marble statues at both ends. The first
was a tall, thin woman, with a bow aimed at the other statue, a voluptuous
woman sitting on the balustrade while dangling grapes above her mouth. Rumour
has it that the statues, dubbed with the nicknames Donna Abbondanza and Sora
, Lady Abundance and Sister Famine, were the result of the unknown
sculptor’s ménage a trois with Pia and Lia, whose house and place of
work was on the opposite side of the square.

Nobody in the family had either confirmed or
denied it, but the rumours were sufficient to prevent the sisters from
marrying. They had also been considered as those in town to ask for advice or
answers to the most private of problems.

Pia and Lia were Ettore’s younger sisters.
Ettore had also had a twin sister who was stillborn. He always proudly stated,
“I had nine full months to kill her.”

As the only male son, he had to take care of
his sisters – he had just turned twenty – when his parents died prematurely,
one after the other within a short period of time.

Pia was short, puffy, and voluptuous; Lia was
tall, skinny, and flat. They were both uninhibited, pleasure-loving women who
had distinguished themselves from their peers in the post-war time. They had
also been a source of embarrassment for Ettore, with whom they shared a
love-hate relationship, based on mutual admiration and irritation.

The sisters’ shop was called Barbariccia, curly
beard, after the devil in Dante’s Divine Comedy that farted to give the
go-ahead to his demon followers. It was the meeting point for women’s
activities in the area, where they socialized and discussed the latest gossip
and news. Pia and Lia were excellent seamstresses, who could sew clothes,
suits, curtains, and tablecloths. They were always cheerful, like their
wardrobe, which was made with their own hands in the most garish colours. Leo
had fond memories of entire days spent in what at the time was for him the
funnest place on earth. The store occupied the lower floor of a small, elegant
building, with two large windows and a wooden door. A bronze knocker was shaped
like Barbariccia’s musical instrument, where one had to put a finger in the
hole to ring the bell.

Leo was about to do it when the door opened.

“Come here, my beautiful flower bud. Give your
aunt a kiss,” yelled Pia, with a broad smile that reached her gold incisor
tooth. She was wearing a red apron that she had decorated with large black
organza roses. Lia appeared, standing tall behind her sister, her kimono
embellished with beautiful hydrangeas, and shouted, “Leopardino is mine!”

They didn’t just love Leo, they adored him.
They had spoiled him shamelessly as a child, encouraging his curiosity and
instilling in him their enthusiasm for life. The two embraced their nephew so
ardently that, to end their suffocating welcome, he was obliged to ask for

It didn’t matter if it was a cold winter day or
a hot summer afternoon, at Barbariccia all visitors had to drink broth. Not a
Tuscan tradition, it was just the sisters’ way of thanking their mother, who
had left them some beautiful two-handled china cups.

Leo entered their home with the excited
nostalgia of a grown man re-visiting and gazing at the past. On the wall was a
photograph of his grandfather, a very tall man for his time, with a long white
moustache like that of Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy. On a
Venetian glass table the picture of his wife, a rather short and large woman,
was proudly displayed next to Buricchio, the black and white bunny, Leo’s
childhood companion and friend. It was “resting” on a cushion decorated with
silk shamrocks, set up as a shrine to his unfortunate demise. The tragic
incident had been caused by a suppository that a stupid farmer had inserted in
his ear to cure an ear infection, thereby compromising his hearing. Eleonora
had shouted from the kitchen door, “Please bring me a head of garlic”. He had
understood “cut the head off the rabbit”, and so had killed the poor
animal. Fortunately, Leo remained unaware of the incident. Buricchio was found
“to have died in his sleep” under the painting of San Sebastian. Pia and Lia
had taken care of the remains.

To this day Leo didn’t know two other things.
First, that the embalmed animal was not Buricchio, but another unlucky bunny
killed to replace the original, served to Leo for dinner the evening of the
accident. A rabbit is always a rabbit and once it’s dead, you eat it! Second,
that the death of Buricchio was Pia and Lia’s fault, as they had told the
farmer to put the suppositories in his ears after he refused to put them up his

While Leo started chatting with the stuffed
animal on the floor, around him was a joyous disorder, with the floor covered
with scraps of cloth, the sign of an imminent collection.

Pia, in the kitchen with her sister, was
stirring the broth on the stove as she watched her nephew with his bunny. “What
a charming idiot,” she said to her sister. “I can’t wait to know what they
invented this time to keep him here,” replied Lia with a shudder that shook her
body, “and judging by his mood, nothing dramatic or requiring lots of time.”

With a cup of hot broth in their hands, the
three began to talk. “I’m here to take care of father’s circumcision.” The
sisters looked at each other, swung back and forth on the chaise longue
on which they were sitting, and broke out into raucous laughter. The rays of
the midday sun coming through the window illuminated their thin and fragile but
impeccably coiffed hair.  Pia’s red locks
looked like a ball of fire, while Lia’s silver-blue, a storm cloud ready to
burst. “Wait,” Leo said with a tone of authority, “there’s more!” He looked at
the two faces before him, brimming with joy, and whispered, “Tomer was
commissioned an exhibition for the Museum of Modern Art in Buenos Aires”. Pia
put her hand to her mouth and muttered, “We would be more than happy to pose
for him.”

“Overjoyed!” said Lia, who continued, “You’re
doing well then?”

“He is. Me, apart from some minor lottery

After an hour passed talking about every aspect
of their lives, Leo put his late companion back in his resting place and made
sure the silk shamrocks surrounded it. He carried the empty cups back to the
kitchen, where he took a piece of oily focaccia from the breadbasket.
Accompanied to the door, he stopped, all of a sudden, surprised by the two
naked mannequins in the windows. He pointed at them and asked, “A little too
minimalist, don’t you think?”

“They will be ready tomorrow,” answered Pia.

“The collection is almost finished and it’s
inspired by the barcodes used in supermarket checkout systems,” said Lia with a

The three went out and stood at the entrance. A
gust of wind made their door sign waver and sway. On it read, “Patientia
fortium virtus est
”, patience is the virtue of the strong. It would be
replaced the next day by “Factum infectum fieri non potest”, what’s done
is done.

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