Inspired by a recent trip to France
In 1485, Count Champignon who lived in the Duchy of Milan suffered what was then called mentis testa or “crazy head” and is now referred to as vertigo. His wife, the Countess Carmine Ghia, was a duplicitous but highly resourceful woman and advised the Count to meet with her personal physician who was known only as Dita di Burro.
The doctor explained that the only way to be cured was to go to the Camargue region of France where a very wise and very old hermit named Phil, could heal him. The Count insisted he could not be away from his fiefdom that long and was perplexed on what to do. It was then that the Countess suggested he just send his head so his body could remain home and rule. As you could imagine the Count was not exactly on board with this idea, but the Countess assured him the doctor had learned to separate the head from the body and keep both alive for several days. “You have to be back in a fortnight otherwise they will remain separate forever. This three-day journey should pose no problem,” said the doctor. The Count’s dizziness was unbearable and he sent for his trusty servant, who he called Servant not ever having learned his name, to make ready for the trip.
Meanwhile, the Countess was making plans of her own. “With a small bribe to Servant they won’t be back for a month. By that time it will be too late and I can finally rule as I was meant to.”
After a surprisingly short operation, the Count’s head was removed from the rest of him and gently placed in a velvet-lined birdcage. “This is a rather odd sensation,” muttered the Count.
After the fourth day on the road the Count began getting nervous since they hadn’t arrived at Phil’s house yet. The Count asked repeatedly, “Servant, are we there yet?” but would always receive the same answer. “Just a little further.” On the sixth day they reached Phil’s house and knocked on the hermit’s door.
“Who is there?”
“It is I, Count Champignon, and I have need of your talents. Will you let us in?”
But being from the Camargue he would not give a straight answer and went back to sipping his black coffee laced with anise, which is the preferred drink of the region.
Meanwhile, the Countess had problems of her own. The Count’s body, being free of thinking, would not leave the Countess alone for a minute. All day and all night the Count chased her around the castle trying to gain her amorous favors. This left her so exhausted she had no time to rule the fiefdom.
Finally after several hours, Phil stood up and gestured Servant to bring in the Count’s head.
“This is a problem. You have no body.”
“No, no,” the Count explained. “I suffer from mentis testa and was told of your great skill in this manner.”
“These things are part of life as we rush towards our inevitable death,” Phil said with great French malaise.
“But can you help me?”
And with that he shook the Count’s head as violently as possible. When he stopped, the Count found himself completely cured. The Count had Servant pay Phil his two pounds of espresso beans, and a carton of Turkish cigarettes, which is his standard fee.
“Come loyal Servant, we’ve not a moment to lose.”
“I have a name, you know.”
“Quickly, ride on!”
Servant knowing how angry the Countess can get in these her after child-bearing years, decided to take the old swamp road, which is as slow as it sounds and would insure a late arrival. They came to a river that was impossible to cross…and waited.
“Why did you take this road Servant?”
“The other was too dangerous and this one much shorter,” he lied. “We just need to wait for the ferryman to bring us across.”
For Servant had noticed a placard posted in the last town telling how the ferrymen were on strike due to their three hour lunch breaks being cut down to just two. However, in short time drifting out of the fog came the ferryman.
“Ahh, there you are good fellow,” said the Count.
“You’re back!” said Servant with great surprise.
“Oui. The strike she is over,” mubbled the ferryman.
Now Servant was stuck between the Count and the Countess and it was more than he could take. He broke down and told the Count his wife’s plan. The Count thanked him for being loyal and promised a reward if he got him home in time. Once across the river they made their way quickly back to Milan.
Back home, the Count rushed to see the doctor with only moments to spare. His head was reattached to his body and he immediately had Servant executed for now he could no longer be trusted.
“But what about my reward?”
“I decided to pay all your funeral expenses. Guards!”
He then threw the Countess in the dungeon for thirty days to teach her a lesson, where she was only to happy to go.
“Finally, I can get some rest,” exhausted, she collasped on her prison cot.
After several months things settled down with the Count back on his throne. And as it turned out, it made little difference whether the Count had his head on straight or not when it came to ruling his fiefdom. In fact, many who have lived under his rule proclaimed the place was never run better. Which explains an old Milanese saying, “The best politician is a headless one.”