Traveling with Nino

The Marettimo donkeys

by Mida Casasco


"Donkey" are a childhood memory for me, when, looking at my grandmother's gate, I watched fascinated Ersilia, one of the elderly women in the country, in the courtyard, still working with such a beautiful animal.

"Donkey" is a gaze that bewitches, two eyes full of a penetrating sweetness.

"Donkey" is a world. A slow and placid world that nowadays does not seem to be useful anymore.

And "Donkey" is also Nino's world. A troop of six female and two male donkeys, actually led by Nino, their cheerful master. Always on the island, one of those who stubbornly remain, he started to work with donkeys twenty-five years ago. "Casually," as he says, "in the first time I was a fisherman and then the donkeys conductor for the Forestry Department. The donkey is my daily working companion. In my father's family we have always had these animals. I started to work with tourists by accident", and he tells about it...

I started by accident. And with a little, at first I used the "bardedda".

"One night my Forestry Department manager met me at the restaurant and there I met some friends of his who had seen me going back and forth with my donkey every day, and they asked me to take them around the island. I did not want to, I said ‘no, no, I do not do this with my animals’ but then they persuaded me... "

Here's where Nino’s adventure began: "While I was going around with them, the tourists saw me and asked me 'when can we take a tour with donkeys? So it started ... I started with little", he says, "with the "bardedda", he explains, "a kind of poor saddle that was pretty much a jute bag full of straw without brace nor knob." “After a while, some curious journalists came. One in particular made me famous, Donatella Bianchi by RaiUno, "LineaBlu", "as he points out. Even on this occasion, he tells me "I was more shy, I lived my life, and I did not have all this contact with people." As he talks, Nino always smiles and is eager to talk about his job, made of patience and attention.

A lot of attention is needed above all, because if a horse gets you off right away, donkeys do not, they have this beautiful quality, they are animals using instinct, and maybe, if you're not careful, they go on their own. To get so much, to get them to do this, to walk in a straight line loose for the trails, it took so long, I had to struggle a lot", he points out. Even his beloved donkeys have sweated so much with him, and they really sweat as I notice, tired of the ascent, when we stop for the first time in the woods. Because yes, it is true, "working so much makes them even more docile," he admits. In Nino's words two things strike first and foremost: respect and passion for these animals. Deep respect, though occasionally, along the way, he jokingly threatens them to cook them in pan as meatballs in the evening, because he eats donkey meat and it is also good. And then the passion he has and which he does his job with.

Working with donkeys is passion, respect and so much attention.

However he gets upset, when he says that unfortunately his daughters and grandchildren have not taken the passion and they will not continue his work, and becomes melancholic. "I would have wanted a male. The boys follow more in their father’s footsteps, they are closer to him. So, to this day, unfortunately, none of the family means to continue the tradition. But then he becomes cheerful again and adds: "When I go out two days, I miss the saddle, if I do not see a countryside with pasture I'm not well. I have to eat the grass too," he says, “They have to take me where there are horses and cows grazing: I miss the animals! " He cannot just stay away from the "scecco", as they call the donkey in Sicily.



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