The Pheasant

They had married in September and it was the end of October when Giovanni stood alone at Malpensa airport waiting for his Canadian adventure to take off. His sweeter half would have followed after he had had the time to find accommodations and employment.

Giovanni did not give much thought to the fact that this was the first time he had ever been on an airplane: his attention was fully absorbed by a male pheasant grazing at the edge of the tarmac. As the jet began its acceleration for take-off, the long-tailed fowl kept pace, until the speed of the aircraft exceeded that of the bird. This was the last vision he had of his country of birth.

The plane arrived in Montreal at night. It flew low over the city that glittered with lights from all the tall buildings and a rotating beacon at the top of a skyscraper. It was an impressive view, suggesting that Canada was a very wealthy nation.

In Milan, the only nocturnal illumination came from street lamps. Electric light was so sparsely used that when climbing the stairs of an apartment building, you had to count the seconds before reaching and tapping again on the switch that illuminated the next series of steps.

Because his wife would be arriving with the large trunk containing most of their possessions, Giovanni had brought just a few garments in two average-sized suitcases that had gone straight into the luggage compartment of the plane. However, the twelve-gauge Beretta and an Anschutz rifle equipped with a telescope he took with him in the cabin. In 1966 it was common practice to accommodate delicate items for travelers going abroad for a hunting or fishing expedition. Giovanni’s thoughts turned to the romantic view of pioneers feeding their families by relying on nature’s resources.

He approached the Customs desk at Dorval Airport with the Beretta on his left shoulder and the Anschutz on the right, and laid them on the counter. He handed the officer an eight-and-a-half-by-fourteen-inch sheet that attested to his immigrant status.

The officer checked the document, opened the holsters and called on a co-worker, when he realized that language was impeding the dialogue. In very broken Italian, the second man, who seemed to examine the guns in admiration, asked the reason for all the metal. In the best English he could master, Giovanni mumbled: “Me like hunting.”

The Customs officer extended his right hand, as he replied: “Welcome to Canada!”

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