Sometimes I just feel like taking the day off, driving away to the house by the sea, and write, just write. I never do it, of course.
Although it is a strong impulse I know it’s short-lived. Had I the chance to spend time writing I know I’d soon become weary. I don’t have the willpower a real writer must have.
A man and a woman met by chance at the waiting room of a hospital. He was already there when she arrived, waiting for his mother to walk out from a minor operation in one of her eyes. The woman walked into the waiting room some fifteen minutes later than him. She was accompanying her mother too, who had to undergo some similar minor eye surgery. The woman and her mother sat across the room from where the man was sitting and then their eyes met for a split second. They instantly recognized each other. They were close friends long ago, during their late teenage years. High-school classmates. They even dated for some time, up until they found a fork in the road. Now they were both in their fifties and had not seen each other in the lifetime long interim.
He stood up and walked towards her. She grinned and stood up too. They showed genuine surprise and affection and happily proceeded to update to one another the highlights of the last thirty years, however succinctly.
But no, that did not happen. They instantly recognized each other, that much is true. However, as soon as they became aware of each other’s presence they lowered their gaze fast. All through their waiting they avoided subsequent eye contact, pretending their identification had not happened, they neglected each other. Their acting was both right and wrong, simultaneously neither good nor bad, it was just the way it was. The reasons could be diverse – irrational, pragmatic, understandable, conscious, against their will, unknown to them, whatever. Their reasons were the least important bit to explain their behaviour. Assuming it needed explaining.
Sometimes I go to her drugstore. It is not only because I need to buy something. It is also because I like to see her. We do some small talk then and all along the memory of her long gone brother escorts our mundane conversation like an invisible presence hovering overhead. We both feel it and we both bear it. My visits to her drugstore are not frequent, only a few times a year. I notice her aging as no doubt she must notice mine. I wonder if she pays attention to my physical changes as I grow older. I’d like to think she does. Her brother and I were the same age and perhaps my appearance is a proxy of how he might look like today. I’d like to think I’m being useful.
Everyday, as I walk up the stairs in the office building where I work and I reach the space in between the first and the second floors my eyes look out the window for a second at the municipal graveyard across the street. This is a recurrent little scene, a regular brief moment. Beyond the low walls of the cemetery my gaze is fixed for an instant on the neatly arranged array of burial drawers, on their stones in monotone tones of gray with their ugly buckets of flowers decaying on their holders. I keep climbing up the stairs to prepare my lectures and ponder over the wonders of the universe and the image is instantly forgotten until the next day. The graveyard seems immutable, unaffected by time, while I am a day older each time I look again out of the window and into those tombs in the distance. The event is not entirely devoid of significance, the street a metaphorical divide separating the true us and them. There are no other us and them but those at either side of this street. Any other arrangement seems purely artificial.
I used to write short-form entries. I used to have time to do it. I used to even have fun writing them.
The latest movie we’ve seen, in an actual theater that is, is Manchester by the Sea, by American director Kenneth Lonergan. It is a very sad movie, deeply sad if you are a parent and easily empathise. It is also a good movie although unnecessarily long, however subjective this type of perceptions always are. To me, the story it tells could have been told equally well by editing out, say, about thirty minutes of footage. It is also exceedingly slow. I guess this is done on purpose to reflect the inner despair of the main character, his lack of goals or direction in life, to make the viewer painfully aware of the magnitude of his emotional torment. The slowness of the movie may however emphasize its long duration for the worse. To me, and to a lot of people for that matter, the most salient feature of the film is the superb playing of the leading actor, Cassey Affleck. His part is tough and demanding but he nails it. As somebody told me recently, you leave the theater wishing you could run into him in the street to hug him long and tenderly.
Trento greeted me with overcast skies. Firenze was no better – wind and rain. That was no reason not to walk around at length, no reason to spoil the beauty and the pleasure of revisiting both cities.
Last night my train from Trento stopped at Firenze Campo di Marte. The name of this station is just wonderful, as if borrowed from a Jules Verne novel. But that’s pretty much it, there’s nothing else beautiful or remotely interesting about the place. The station itself is commonplace and ugly. I had to wait for twenty long minutes in the rain for a taxi that never came. It didn’t seem to matter that I was waiting in the taxi pick-up area. I ended up getting on a bus which I didn’t quite know where it was bound to. Eventually I made it to the hotel and set off to enjoy a plate of fresh pasta for dinner followed by the inevitable gelato. And off to greet David at la Signoria and get soaked in the rain.
This morning, as I waited in Santa Maria Novella to take an early train to Pisa Centrale I noticed a beggar who was sitting close to me. He was a bulky man, on his fifties. He reminded me of another beggar I once used to see almost daily on the tram, back in the days when I was living in Munich. The same physical heavy size, the same lack of luster in his hair, skin, and clothes, the same distinctive dignity, still intact despite everything else. The man sitting next to me in the station was writing down thoughts in big capital letters on a handful of sheets he had ripped from a notebook. I couldn’t help glancing at his writing. It was a silent cry of outrage against the “cattolici“, telling from the few words I could read from my seat. Other words that I noticed were “sodomizzato” and “Beppe Grillo”, the name of the populist, left wing, Italian politician. The report was long, the handwriting nice. The writing was fluid too. At some point the man stood up and slowly started looking around. He moved to the end of the line of seats and stopped in front of a woman who was talking on her phone. She had not stopped talking for the last twenty minutes or so. A few bags and a suitcase encircled her, a quiet poodle dog (ridiculously dressed in some sort of funny doggy clothes) resting on a low table attached to her seat. The beggar stood before her and mumbled, pointing a finger to the floor. The woman dismissed him, the way non-beggars (have the power to) dismiss beggars, nonchalantly, detachedly, distantly. The man insisted and the woman insisted back on her dismissal, all the while continuing with her phone conversation. It took the man some more patience and polite insistence to make the woman realize that under the seat she was sitting lay a large bag of his that he needed fetching. She barely blushed a little.
La serpiente sale del pozo, da la vuelta al árbol, y vuelve a entrar en el pozo.
That’s what dad sometimes told me when I was a kid. These were the steps you should take if you wanted to tie a particular type of knot known in Spanish as “As de guía”. The snake was the end of the rope, the well was a lace in the rope, and the tree was the rope itself. This knot was used, if I remember his words well, to secure vessels in harbour moorings. Dad learned all about knots during his military service, which he spent in the navy in the coastal town of Cartagena in eastern Spain. I had not much interest in knots but it was nice when he taught me to tie some. It was rare too when that happened. He taught me how to tie a few knots indeed but to this day I can only recall the as de guía. Somehow the intriguing accompanying words of explanation stuck.
I’m in Pisa, alone, on a weekend. I have work to do, and I’m somehow on it, but still, after a certain point you start to feel tired of being on your own. I went for a long walk this morning, trying to discover places in the city that I’ve not seen already. I went to a canal that looked promising on Google Maps but when I got there it proved to be not nice at all – filthy water, decaying factories lining the bank, scattered junk all over the place. I went back to the center of town, got inside La Feltrinelli and bought myself a novel.
The novel’s Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami. I have already read it. Twice. I owned it at some point, in Spanish, but I don’t think I own it anymore. I lent it to my daughter long ago, when she was living in Dublin. And I think she never turned it back. I’ve bought it in English this time around. I own a large collection of Murakami’s books, in physical format, and both in English and Spanish. Usually I buy first the Spanish translations since they are published before the English ones, for some reason. However, I prefer the English translations better. Much better.
I had lunch at La Ghiotteria, a small trattoria off Piazza Garibaldi, at the heart of the city. It is a tiny place, barely half a dozen tables, and very economic too. If you are a tourist visiting Pisa for the only sake of the leaning tower you will never eat at this place. A pity for you. It may not look inviting from outside but I can assure you that the pasta they serve is second to none. I am sort of working on becoming a regular.
When my espresso arrived I read the first few pages and was instantly transported to that distinctive world Murakami so easily crafts in all of his novels. A simple paragraph suffices. It is the prose, the rhythm of the words, that does the trick, together with the gloom and the melancholy that sets the background of the stories from page one. It is simply superb writing, direct and simple yet at the same time far from being deceivingly so. It seems a style that everyone could replicate. I could write like him. Yes, you could, only you could not. Let me state the unknown obvious: only Murakami can write like Murakami.
Back to work now.
I’ve been eating them for more years than I can possibly remember. Nestle’s Kinder chocolate bars, that is. We call them “tinas” at home, short for “chocolatinas”. Sometimes we (mostly me) call them “tinans” too, a variant of the correct shorthand name whose origin I ignore. I just love those bars. After a meal at home I just have to eat one of them. It is a must, a delicious after-dessert.
Ever since the first day I started eating them bars I made a habit of folding their aluminium foil wrapper in a precise number of folds. I do this in an automatic way, unconsciously, as I watch TV from a comfortable sofa, an espresso on a low table at arm’s reach. The folds are simple and straightforward, unlike origami, nothing to write home about. I just keep folding the little rectangular foil into two symmetric halves, up to a point it is no longer possible to do one extra fold. And then I stop and stuff the neatly folded wrapper into one of my trousers’ front pockets. It will remain there until I throw it into the garbage bin, which I often forget. It is thus not rare to find folded chocolate wrappers in the pockets of my trousers, sometimes in significant numbers, sometimes even after the trousers have been taking out of the washing machine.
I sometimes wonder if there is something to infer about me (my inner me, that is, my psyche) out of my methodical folding of foil wrappers, a lifetime habit. I could have chosen not to fold them and throw them away instead into the bin or onto the table in an undefined form – a wrinkled messy wrapper – just as my son does. Somehow that doesn’t seem to suit me. It does not feel right. I have to repeatedly fold those damned wrappers tightly to put the correct ending to my petty after meal liturgy, as much as I feel the impulse to close a half-opened chest-drawer, switch off a light someone forgot to, or interchange the position of a pair of shoes on the bedroom’s floor if the left and right shoes happen to stand beside one another in their unnatural place – pointing outwards instead of inwards. I know this is just a silly little wont of mine but there is nothing I can do about it. It is a basic form of order that I just seem to need.