ADVENTURES IN THE IMMEDIATE UNREALITY
(Romanian title: ÎNTÎMPLÃRI ÎN IREALITATEA IMEDIATÃ)
By Max Blecher (1909-1938)
Translated by Alina Noir
„I pant, I sink, I tremble, I expire"
P. B. Shelley
When I fix my eyes for a long time on a precise point on the wall, I
sometimes fail to recollect who I am and where I am. At that moment
my identity vanishes, and I feel, for a second, no more, like a
complete stranger. This abstract figure and my real self struggle
for my awareness with equivalent forces.
One second later, my identity recomposes, like in those stereoscopic
views in which sometimes the two images are being separated by
mistake and the operator reunites them, offering, all of a sudden,
to the viewer’s eye, an elusive landscape. My room appears in those
instants of a freshness which it did not possess before. It regains
its earlier consistency and the objects flow wisely to their places,
just as a clod of soil thrown into a glass of water settles at the
bottom in layers of different elements, well defined and of various
colours. The room’s elements stratify in their own contour and in
the colouring of the old memory I have of them.
This feeling of remoteness and loneliness during the instants when
my daily being is dissolved into inconsistency is tremendously
different from any other sensation. When it lasts longer, it
converts into the pure terror that I might never again regain
myself, and an insecure silhouette lingers in my brain, surrounded
by a strong and profound, almost tactile light, like certain distant
objects seen through the fog.
The terrible question “Who am I?” lives by its own in me, like a
totally new entity, a mere excrescence from my body, made out of new
and totally unknown skin and bones and organs. Its solution is being
asked for by a sort of clearness, more profound and more essential
than that of the brain’s. Everything capable of motion in me begins
to stir, to move, to struggle, to revolt, more strongly and
elementarily than in my daily life. Everything begs for a solution.
I sometimes rediscover the room as it usually is and as I know it,
just as if I simply closed and opened my eyes; and every time the
space is clearer, just as a certain landscape appears through the
field glass, better and better organized, while, setting the
distances, one’s eye sails through all the veils of intermediary
At last I recognize myself and my room again, and I experience a
slight feeling of drunkenness. The room is unexpectedly condensed in
its inner matter, and I’m implacably back to the tactile surface of
things: the deeper the wave of obscure misunderstanding, the higher
its peak; now I have the clear certitude that every object must
occupy its inherent place in the universe and that I must be in
possession of my true self.
At that moment, my awkward struggle in the midst of uncertainty does
not have a name, and it becomes just an untainted regret that I
found nothing in the depths of my efforts. I am only surprised by
the fact that such a complete lack of meaning could have ever been
attached so profoundly to my intimate matter. Now that I have found
myself and I try to express this feeling, I find it completely
impersonal, a simple exaggeration of my identity, grown up like a
cancer from its substance: a jellyfish’s tentacle, stretched
immeasurably, having desperately explored the waves’ entrails before
returning safely under the gelatinous sucker. In only some moments
of unease, I pass through all the certainties and uncertainties of
my existence, and then come back, irrevocably and painfully, under
the opaque shell of my solitude.
This solitude is infinitely purer and more pathetic than at any
previous moment. The feeling of remoteness of the world is clearer,
and more intimate even: a lucid and tender melancholy, like a dream
which comes back into one’s mind in the midst of the dark night.
Only this melancholy reminds me a little of the mystery and the
slightly distressing charm of my childhood crises.
Only in this sudden vanishing of my identity can I revive the past
fallings into cursed spaces, and only in those seconds of immediate
lucidity that follow the return to the surface does the world appear
to me in the light of its unusual uselessness and desuetude, which
would grow around me after my hallucinatory trances had overthrown
My “crises” were always provoked in the very same places, a street,
the house, some garden. Every time I overran their borders, I was
overwhelmed by a state of swoon and dizziness. Invisible traps
placed randomly all around the town, differing in nothing from the
surrounding atmosphere, they were ferociously waiting for me to fall
prey to their special substance. A step, one single step was enough
to enter deep in one of these cursed spaces, and the crisis was
One such place was in the town’s central park, in a small clearing
at the end of an alley, where nobody ever went. The ring of bushes
of wild roses and dwarfish acacias surrounding it opened tightly
towards the desolate landscape of an empty field. In the whole world
there was no other place so sad and deserted. Silence was
descending, opaque and condensed, on the dusty leaves, in the
summer’s musty heat. From time to time one could hear the echoes of
the trumpets from the distant military regiments. Infinitely
poignant were those long callings from the desert… Far away, the air
heated by the sun was trembling, vaporous like the transparent steam
flowing above boiling water.
The place was wild and isolated, its loneliness seemed endless.
There, the day’s heat was infinitely more tiresome, and the air
heavier. The yellowish dusty bushes were burning in the sun, in a
scenery of absolute seclusion. A bizarre feeling of uselessness was
flowing above that clearing living its own outlandish existence
somewhere in the world, where I had come without any purpose or
reason, in a certain summer afternoon, useless itself and
chaotically lost in the heat, anchored between the bushes in the
tangential space. At that particular moment I was feeling,
profoundly and painfully, that I didn’t belong to this world, that I
had nothing to do in it but wander through lost parks, through their
dusty, heated clearings, deserted and wild. And this wandering was
finally breaking my heart to pieces.
Another cursed place was at the other side of the town, between the
high and hollow shores of the river in which I was bathing with my
The shore had sunken on one side. Up on the bank there was a
sunflower-oil factory. The seeds’ hulls were thrown between the
edges of the sunken shore, and in time the pile had risen gradually,
until it became a long slope of dry hulls, uniting the bottom of the
coast to the river bank.
My playmates were descending towards the water on this slope,
carefully holding each others’ hands, stepping deep into the carpet
of rotten vegetable fabric.
The walls of the high shore, on the two sides of the slope, were
abrupt and fantastically irregular. The rain had sculptured long
stripes of delicate fissures and intricate arabesques, but hideous
like badly scarred wounds, true rags into the mud’s wet flesh,
horrible and unwrapped cuts.
Amidst these walls which impressed me tremendously, I had to descend
as well, towards the river.
When I was still far away, long before arriving to the shore, my
nostrils were filled with the smell of the rotten hulls, which was
preparing me for the crisis, as a short period of incubation: this
smell was unpleasant, and, at the same time, sophisticatedly
scented. My crises were exactly the same.
My olfactory sense was separated into two somewhere deep inside me,
and the effluvium of decomposed aroma was vibrating in different
regions of my enflamed brain. The gelatinous smell of the decaying
hulls was very distinct, emanating, simultaneously, a very pleasant,
warm and domestic smell of grilled peanuts.
When this perfume touched my nostrils, it would transform me in a
matter of seconds, circulating abundantly through all my inner
fibres, dissolving and then replacing them with a more airy and
insecure matter. From that moment on I couldn’t avoid my natural
impulses, as my chest was filled with a pleasant and bewildering
feeling of fainting which hurried my steps towards the shore, the
place of my final defeat.
I would descend towards the water in a madman’s rush, on the pile of
hulls. The air was opposing me its strong density, sharp as a
knife’s blade, and the world’s chamber was crumbling, chaotically,
in an immense hole with unexpected forces of attraction.
My playmates were witnessing with fearful eyes my fanatical gallop.
The gravel was very narrow, and the slightest wrong step could have
thrown me into the river, in a place where the bubbles at the
surface of the water confirmed the evidence of tremendous depths.
Still, I knew very well what I was doing. Upon arriving near the
water, in that rush, I was avoiding the pile of hulls and was
running further along the shore, to a place where the coast was
There was a small cave deep down there, a shadowy cavern, cool as a
small room engraved in the rock. I would enter there and fall down,
sweaty, tired and trembling.
As I was finally regaining my spirits, I would find next to me the
intimate and immensely pleasant scenery of the cave, with its
delicate spring flowing directly from the rock on the ground,
forming, in the middle of the floor, a basin of very clear water,
over which I was leaning to see the wonderful strips of the green
moss on its bottom, the worms attached to the pieces of wood, the
fragments of old iron, covered with rust and mud, and other living
creatures and various things, in the fantastically beautiful water.
Except for these two cursed places, the rest of the small town was
lost in a paste of shapeless banality, with anonymous houses, which
could have replaced one another, with trees unbearably immobile,
with lazy dogs, vacant lands and dust, and dust everywhere.
In closed spaces, the crises were coming more easily and more often.
Usually, I couldn’t stand being alone in an unfamiliar room. The
mere fact of waiting would produce in some seconds the tender and
terrible faint. The whole space was preparing for it, a warm and
hospitable intimacy was filtered by the walls, flowing gently over
the furniture and the objects. All of a sudden, the room was
becoming sublime and I was feeling immensely happy. But this was
only a betrayal of the crisis, one of its delicate and tender
perversities, as, in the following second of my ecstasy, everything
would fall down into pieces, completely mingled. I was staring
around with eyes wide open, but the objects were gradually losing
their common sense, and a new existence was surrounding them.
As if they had been suddenly uncovered by an unseen hand from under
the multiple layers of thin and transparent papers which had hidden
them until then, their appearance was suddenly ineffably new,
destined to a superior and mysterious utility, concealed to my
But this was not all: the
objects around me were animated by their desperate desire for
freedom, they were equally independent and ecstatically exulted.
I was always moved by their enthusiasm to live in a new sphere: I
was tied to them by powerful adherences and invisible anatomical
cohesions, I was attached to the room, like all the other objects,
in the same way in which a new organ, grafted onto the living flesh,
integrates with the foreign body, through subtle exchanges of fluids
Once, during a crisis, the sun had sent on the wall a tiny cascade
of rays, as an unreal water of marble and gold and shiny waves. I
could see the corner of a large wooden bookcase where thick volumes
with leather covers were protected by the glass windows, and these
prosaic details, perceived from the remoteness of my trance, finally
anaesthetized and overthrew me, like a last inhalation of
chloroform. I was regularly disturbed by the most common and known
aspects of those objects. The habit of seeing them so many times
finally managed to dissolve their exterior skin, and thus they
seemed to me of an excoriated purple-red colour, and alive,
The supreme moment of the crisis was consumed in a floating beyond
any world, pleasant and painful in the same time. But had I heard
steps in the corridor, the room was reintegrated quickly in its old
appearance. The walls were again condensed, the room was
imperceptibly diminishing its exaltation, and this fact was offering
me the assurance that the certitude in which we live is separated
from the world of uncertainties by a very thin pellicle.
I would wake up in the far-too-familiar room, sweaty, tired and
filled by the sensation of the uselessness of the surrounding
things. I could observe in them new details, just as though one had
discovered a strange facet in an object used for years.
The room preserved vaguely the memory of the catastrophe, like the
smell of sulphur after an explosion. I was looking at the books on
their shelves and I could notice, in their strange immobility, a
treacherous air of complicity and mystery. The objects around me
never abandoned this secret attitude, ferociously hidden in their
Common words lose their viability at certain depths of the soul; for
example, now I try to define exactly my crisis and I can only find
images. The magic word expressing them should borrow something from
the essences of other sensitivities, dissolving from them as a new
smell in a scholarly composition of perfumes.
In order to exist, it should contain a small part of the stupor
which overwhelms me when I’m looking at a person in reality and then
I am following his or her gestures in a mirror, and then something
from the disequilibrium of falling into a dream, with the whistling
fear that crosses my spine in an unforgettable second, or something
like the fog and transparency surrounding the bizarre landscapes in
I envied the people around me, hermetically closed in their
mysteries and isolated by the tyranny of objects. They were
prisoners under their overcoats, but nothing coming from outside
could harm them, or terrorize them, or defeat them, nothing could
infiltrate their magnificent prisons; while between me and the outer
world there was no boundary, I was invaded by everything surrounding
me, as if my whole skin were pierced. The distracted attention with
which I was looking around me, was not a simple act of will. The
world was stretching towards me all its tentacles, and all the long
arms of the hydra were crossing my entrails. I was facing with
despair the conviction that I was living in the world I was seeing.
And I had no weapon to fight against this certitude.
The “crises” belonged in the same measure to me and to the places
where they occurred. It’s undeniable that some of these places
contained a “personal” evil, but all the rest had already fallen
into trance long before my arrival there, such as certain chambers
where I could feel that my crises are being crystallized from their
melancholic immobility and their infinite loneliness.
Reminiscent of a sort of equity between me and the world (an equity
which immersed me more irreparably into the uniformity of the
unrefined matter), the conviction that the objects could be
inoffensive became equal to the terror that they sometimes imposed
on me. Their harmlessness was produced by a universal lack of
I vaguely felt that nothing in this world could be accomplished,
that nothing can be brought to perfection. The objects’ fierceness
was being exhausted as well. In this way an idea grew into my mind
gradually, that of the imperfection of any manifestations in this
world, even if they be supernatural.
In an endless interior dialogue, I sometimes defied the evil forces
around me, in the same manner in which I sometimes despicably
eulogized them. I practiced certain strange rites, which had their
hidden sense and employ. If, having left home alone and walked on
different roads, I always came back to my initial route, this
happened only because I never wanted to draw with my steps an
invisible circle and close in it houses and trees; my walk resembled
a thin wire, and if I hadn’t closed it on the same road, after
having unwound it, the objects assembled in the footsteps’ knot
would have remained forever and irremediably tied to me. If, during
heavy rains, I tried not to move the stones in the steam’s way, this
was only because I didn’t want to add any effort to the water’s
action, and thus to avoid interceding with the display of its
Fire purified everything. I always carried in my pocket a box of
matches. When I was very sad I would light a match and pass my
fingers through the very flame, first one and then the other.
In all these actions there was hidden a certain melancholy of being,
a sort of torment organized in the limits of my childhood existence.
In time, some of the crises disappeared naturally, but their strong
memory still lingers in my brain.
When I became a teenager I had no more crises, but that crepuscular
state which preceded them and the feeling of the profound
uselessness of the world which followed, all these became gradually
my natural condition.
The uselessness filled the hollows of the world, like a liquid
diffused in all directions, and the sky above me, always correct,
absurd and indefinite, acquired the concrete colour of despair.
In this surrounding uselessness and under this everlastingly cursed
sky I still wander, today and forever.
A doctor was consulted regarding my crises, and he pronounced a
weird word: “paludism”; I was very surprised that my most intimate
and secret anxieties could have a name, and, above all, such a
peculiar name. The doctor prescribed quinine: again I was
astonished; I couldn’t understand how the sick spaces, they,
could be cured by the quinine which I was supposed to take.
But I was mostly bewildered by the doctor himself. Long after the
consultation he kept wiggling in my memory, with tiny, automatic
gestures, and I was unable to stop their inexhaustible mechanism.
The doctor was a tiny man, his head like an egg. The pointed
extremity of the egg elongated itself with a little black beard, in
continuous agitation. His small velvet eyes, his short gestures and
his protruding mouth made him look like a mouse. This impression was
so powerful from the first moment, that it seemed to me natural,
when he began to talk, to hear him prolonging the letter “r” in
every word, lengthily and sonorously, as though, while speaking, he
were crunching something hidden and delicious.
The quinine he gave me also me strengthened my conviction that the
doctor had something mousey in his personality. This certainly was
confirmed in the weirdest way, and it is so intimately connected to
very important occurrences from my childhood, that I must devote
some lines apart to this incident.
Close to our house was a shop of sewing machines, where I would go
every day, remaining there for hours and hours. Its owner was a
young man, Eugene, who, having recently completed his military
service, came to our town to make a living and opened this shop. He
had a sister, Clara, one year younger than him. They were living
together in a slum somewhere, and during the day they worked in the
shop; they had no relatives or acquaintances in this town.
Their shop was just a simple private room, rented for the first time
The walls preserved the memory of the previous parlour paint, with
violet garlands of lilac and rectangular and discoloured traces in
the places where paintings had been hung, and from the ceiling a
bronze lamp was still suspended, in a shade of dark-red ceramic
covered on the side with green faience leaves; it was a very
remarkable collection of precious ornaments, old and obsolete, but
impressive, and it reminded me of a royal funerary monument, or of a
retired general wearing at parades his old and ridiculously elegant
The sewing machines were meticulously placed one near the other in
three lines separated by two wide paths. Every morning, Eugene
carefully drenched the floor, with an old pierced sardine can. The
trickle of water was very thin and Eugene handled it with
adroitness, drawing on the floor spirals and scholarly eights.
Sometimes he even signed his name, or wrote the date. The elegant
painting on the walls evidently reclaimed this kind of delicate
At the back of the shop there was a sort of cabin, separated by the
rest of the space by a sort of screen of wooden boards, its entrance
hidden by a green curtain. Eugene and Clara would sit there all the
time; they also ate lunch there, in order not to leave the shop
during the day. They called it “the artists’ cabin”, and one day I
heard Eugene saying: “This is indeed an artist’s cabin. What am I,
if not an actor when, for half an hour, I masterly try to convince
the client to buy a sewing machine?”
And then he added, with a very erudite tone: “Well, life in general
is but pure drama.”
Behind the curtain, Eugene played the violin. He would lean over the
sheets of music on the table, patiently deciphering the notes as if
he were untangling a ball of knotted thread in order to take out of
it one single delicate pearl, the music line. The whole afternoon a
small gas lamp would burn on an old wooden bottom drawer, filling
the room with a dead light and projecting on the wall the enormous
shadow of the violin player.
I went there so often that, in time, I became a sort of
furniture-guest, an extension of the old oilcloth couch on which I
would remain immobile for hours, a thing which didn’t bother anyone
and of which nobody took notice.
At the back of the cabin, Clara was making her toilet. She kept her
dresses in a small wardrobe and she was looking in a mirror placed
on the bottom drawer, near the lamp. It was such an old mirror that,
through the partly faded foil and through the semi-transparent
spots, the objects behind it could be seen intermingled with the
reflected images, as in a photograph with superposed negatives.
Sometimes Clara undressed herself almost completely and perfumed her
armpits with eau de Cologne, shamelessly raising her arms, or her
breasts, shuffling her hand under the shirt. Her shirt was short,
and when she was leaning over, I could see her amazingly beautiful
legs in all their length, squeezed by the perfectly-stretched
stockings. She looked exactly like a half-naked woman I had once
seen in a pornographic postcard that a pretzel seller had shown me
in the public garden.
Every time, her presence provoked in me the same unidentified
feeling of fainting just as the obscene image did, a sort of void in
my chest intermingled with an atrocious sexual longing, which was
clutching my pubis like a claw.
I always sat in the cabin in the same place, on the couch behind
Eugene, waiting for Clara to finish her toilet. At that moment she
was usually leaving the shop, passing between me and her brother
through a space so narrow that she had to rub her legs against my
I would wait for this moment every day, equally eager and tormented.
But its accomplishment depended of a long inventory of infinitesimal
circumstances, which I would weigh and observe with a maddening and
unusually sharp sensitivity. For example, if Eugene was thirsty, or
didn’t feel like playing the violin, or had to welcome a client in
the shop, he would leave the cabin, and the space between me and the
table would be large enough for Clara to pass too far away from me.
When I went there in the afternoons, while approaching the shop’s
door, long and vibrant antennas would grow from my body and explore
the air in order to catch the sound of the violin; if I heard it, I
would suddenly became peaceful and tranquil. I would enter as
quietly as possible and I say my name aloud even from the doorway,
so that Eugene wouldn’t believe that I was a client and stop playing
even for one second; maybe that single second of silence would
suddenly interrupt the calm flowing and the enigmatic miracle of the
melody, and he would put his violin aside and not touch it for the
rest of the afternoon. But this was not the only possibility of
unfavourable occurrences. So many other things happened in that
cabin… While Clara was making her toilet, I would listen to the most
inaudible sounds and observe the slightest movements, as any of them
could have ruined the afternoon. For example, Eugene could vaguely
cough, swallow a drop of saliva or say that he was thirsty and
wanted to go to the confectioner’s to buy a cake; these minuscule
facts, like this cursed cough, could ruin, monstrously and
enormously, entire afternoons. The whole day would then lose its
vital substance, and during the night, in my bed, instead of
thinking at leisure (and stopping for some minutes at every detail
in order to visualize it and remember it better) of the precise
moment when my knees touched Clara’s stockings (hollowing,
sculpturing, disembowelling and caressing this beloved image), I
would toss and turn in my burning sheets, unable to sleep and
waiting anxiously for the following day.
One day, something particularly unusual happened; it all began with
the halo of a disaster and ended with an unforeseen surprise, but so
abruptly and starting from such a insignificant gesture that my
whole subsequent joy, relying on it, was like a scaffolding of
heteroclite objects held in a fragile equilibrium by a magician at a
single immobile point.
With a single gesture, Clara changed entirely the content of my
visits, giving them another meaning and a new fever, like in that
old chemical experiment in which a small piece of crystal, put into
a goblet of red liquid, is transformed instantly into a startlingly
I was sitting on the couch, in the same place, waiting with the same
impatience as usual, when suddenly the door opened and somebody
entered the shop. Eugene left the cabin immediately. Everything
seemed lost. Clara continued to make her toilet, unconcerned, while
the conversation in the shop prolonged endlessly. I was secretly
hoping that Eugene would come before his sister finished her
I was following the painful deployment of the two events, Clara’s
toilet and the conversation in the shop, thinking that they could
continue to unfold independently until Clara left the shop or, on
the contrary, they could have met in the fixed point of the cabin,
like in those movies when two steam engines come one towards the
other at a crazy speed, to crash or pass beside each other depending
on whether or not a mysterious hand intervenes to change the switch;
in those moments of febrile waiting I clearly felt that the
conversation was following its own way and, in parallel, Clara kept
powdering her nose…
I desperately tried to correct this painful fatality by stretching
my knees towards the table, so that they could meet Clara’s legs. I
was sitting right on the edge of the couch, in a position if not
weird, then at least comic.
I had the impression that, through the mirror, Clara was looking at
Soon she had finished rounding the contour of her lips with carmine,
and she powdered her cheeks for the last time. The perfume spreading
through the cabin dizzied me with despair and lust, and, at the
moment she passed by me the thing I least expected happened: she
touched her legs to my knees, like every day (or maybe even more
intensively? but this was of course just a physical illusion), with
that air of indifference that between us nothing was going on.
There is a complicity of the vice deeper and more rapid than any
understanding through words. It instantly sweeps all one’s body,
like an interior melody, and transforms completely your thoughts,
flesh and blood.
In the minuscule second when Clara’s feet touched mine, new
expectations and new hopes exploded in me, immense and
With Clara I understood everything from the first day, from the
first moment; she was my first complete and normal sexual
experience. An adventure full of torments and expectations, full of
inconsistencies and anxieties and gritting of teeth, something that
could have been love if it weren’t just a simple continuity of a
painful eagerness. Just as I was impulsive and daring, Clara was
calm and capricious; she had a violent manner of provoking me, and
felt a sort of doggish joy in seeing me suffering, a joy that always
preceded the sexual act, playing a tremendous part in its process.
The first time the thing I had been waiting for so long happened
between us, her provocation was so elementary and almost brutal,
that the poor phrase she uttered then, and the anonymous verb she
used, still preserve in my memory something from that past initial
virulence. It is enough to think a little longer of that phrase, and
my present indifference is corroded as if by a mental acid, and her
words turn as violent as they were back then.
Eugene was away in town. We were both sitting silent in the shop,
Clara wearing her regular afternoon dress and she sitting
cross-legged behind the screen, knitting attentively.
Some weeks had passed from that event in the cabin, and between us
suddenly grew a sort of severe coldness, a secret tension manifested
by an extreme indifference on her part. We stayed still, one in
front of the other, for hours, without uttering a word; in this
silence I could feel the threat of a sudden explosion, a perfect
secret understanding. I lacked only the mysterious word that could
have cut through the conventional layer; every evening I built
dozens of projects, but the next day they were crushed by the most
elementary obstacles: the knitting that could not be interrupted,
the lack of a more favourable light, the silence in the shop or the
three lines of sewing machines, too correctly arranged to permit any
minor change in the shop, even a sentimental one. My jaw was always
clenched; the silence was terrible, locking in itself the evidence
and the contour of a scream.
It was Clara who broke this silence. She spoke almost in whispers,
without raising her eyes from the knitting: “If you had come earlier
today we could have done it, Eugene left for town immediately
Until then, never in our silences had the shadow of a sexual
allusion been found, and all of a sudden now, merely from some
words, sprang a new reality between us so miraculous and
extraordinary, like an antique marble statue grown from the floor in
the middle of the shop among the sewing machines.
In one second I was near Clara, I took her hand and began to
violently caress and kiss it. She wrested it and said, irritated:
“Leave me now, it’s too late.” “Please, Clara, come…” “No, it’s too
late, Eugene will come back, just leave me alone.” I was touching
feverishly her shoulders, her breasts, her legs. Clara kept
protesting. “Come now, we still have time.” I was imploring her.
“Where?” “In the cabin… come on... it’s so good in there…”
And when I pronounced the word “good”, my chest was filled by a warm
hope, I kissed her hand again and I forced her to rise from the
chair. She let herself go, without enthusiasm and trudging her feet
on the floor.
From that day on, all the afternoons changed their “habits”: the
scenery was the same, Eugene, Clara and the same sonatas, but now I
could hardly stand the sound of the violin, I was waiting,
tormented, for Eugene to leave. In the cabin my unrests transformed
into other monsters, as if I were playing a new game on a paper with
lines drawn for a game already known.
When Eugene finally left, the true expectancy would begin, heavier
and more unbearable than the previous one; the silence of the shop
would turn into a block of ice.
Clara would be sitting at the window, knitting: this was our every
day “prelude”, without it our adventure could not take place.
Sometimes Eugene was leaving while Clara was almost naked in the
cabin: at the beginning I had thought that this detail could rush
the course of the events, but I was wrong, Clara would not permit
any other prelude than the one in the shop. I had to pointlessly
wait for her to dress and to go near the window so that I could open
the fleshy book of the afternoon at its first page, behind the
I would sit in front of her on a stool and begin to talk to her, to
beg her, to ask her, for a long time. I knew it was in vain, only
rarely did Clara agree to come with me, and then she used one of her
foxy tricks, only because she didn’t want to offer me her complete
acceptance: “I’m going in the cabin to take a pill, I have a
horrible headache, please don’t follow me.”
I would promise not to do so, of course, and in one second I was
following her, and in the cabin one of those fabulous fights would
start, a fight during which Clara’s forces were of course ready to
give up. She would then fall on the couch, as if she had stumbled
over something. Then she would put her hands under her head and
close her eyes as if in deep sleep; it was impossible for me to
change even for a centimetre the position of her body; I had to
wrest her dress from under her legs in order to touch her. Clara had
no resistance to any of my gestures, but didn’t help me either. She
was immobile and indifferent like a piece of wood, and only her
intimate and secret warmth proved to me that she was attentive and
that she “knew”.
During this period the doctor who prescribed me the quinine was
consulted. My impression that he had something mousey in himself was
confirmed in that very cabin and, as I have already said, in the
most surprising way.
One day, while I was pasted to Clara and tearing her dress with
hungry gestures, I suddenly felt something strange moving in the
cabin and –with the obscure but very sharp instinct of the extreme
pleasure towards which I was heading, and which couldn’t admit any
foreign presence around, and not with my real senses- I understood
that a living being had penetrated our intimacy and was looking at
I turned my head, scared, and I saw on the bottom drawer, behind the
powder box, a mouse. It had stopped exactly near the mirror, on the
drawer’s edge, and was looking at me with its small black eyes, in
which the light of the lamp was reflected in two shiny golden round
spots. For some seconds its gaze pierced my eyes and descended deep
down into my brain, and I felt in this silent meditation a heavy
reproach regarding my actions. All of a sudden this mutual
fascination dissolved and the mouse ran away, disappearing behind
the drawer. I was now sure that the doctor had come to spy on me.
The same evening, at the moment when I had to take the quinine, my
theory was enforced by a perfectly illogical reasoning but very
plausible to me: the quinine was bitter, and the doctor had seen in
the cabin the pleasure which Clara was giving me; thus, in order to
establish an universal equilibrium, he prescribed me the most
unpleasant medicine ever, and I could almost hear him crunching his
reasoning: “The biggerrrrrr the pleasurrrrre, the more bitterrrrr
Some months after the consultation, the doctor was found dead in the
attic of his house; he had shot himself in the head.
My first question when I heard the news was:
“Were there any mice in that attic?”
For me, this piece of information was vital.
In order for the doctor to be truly dead, it was imperative that a
wild herd of mice should raid the dead body to puncture it and
extract the entire mousey matter borrowed by the doctor during his
lifetime in order to be able to practise his illegal “human”
I must have been twelve years old when I met Clara. No matter how
deeply I explore my childhood memories they are all related to
sexual awareness, which appears to me with the same nostalgia and
the same purity, like the adventures of the night, of fear or of
first friendships. It differed in no way from all the melancholies
and the other hopes, such as the boring expectation of becoming an
“adult”, that I measured concretely every time I shook the hand of
someone older, trying to determine the difference in weight and size
of my small hand, lost under the unrefined fingers, in the enormous
palm of the one holding mine.
At no single moment in my childhood did I ignore the difference
between men and women. Maybe at some point I confused all living
creatures in a unique clearness of movements and stillness, but I
have no exact memory of that period. Only the sexual mystery was
always apparent. It was a simple “secret”, but it could just as well
have been an object, like a table, or a chair.
When I examine attentively my most distant memories, their “lack of
awareness” is being revealed through the misunderstanding of the
sexual act itself. My imagination distorted the feminine sex and the
carnal act itself, which for me was more pompous and eccentric than
that which I subsequently discovered with Clara. Still, in these
misinterpretations, which became in time more and more accurate,
there was a feeling of mystery and bitterness, which achieved its
consistency little by little, like a great artist’s painting that
started from a simple sketch of shapeless forms.
I remember myself a small child, in a long sleeping shirt touching
the ground, crying in a doorway, in the afternoon, in a sunny yard,
its gate open towards a deserted market, warm and infinitely sad,
with dogs sleeping and vendors resting in the shadows of their
The air was filled with silence and the smell of rotten fruit, huge
flies were buzzing around me, sucking the tears fallen on my hands,
then flying in frantic spirals, in the yard’s dense and heated
light. I stood up and began to urinate, attentively, in the dust.
The ground avidly absorbed the limpid liquid, and on that place
remained a dark spot, like the trace of a non-existent object. I
wiped my face with my shirt and I licked the tears gathered on the
corners of my mouth, tasting their flavour. I sat again in the
doorway, feeling miserable. I had been beaten.
Just some minutes before, in the room, my father had slapped me
several times on the naked buttocks, I don’t know too well why. I’m
trying to remember. I was lying in my bed, near a little girl of
about my age; we had been laid there to sleep, while our parents
were gone for a walk. I didn’t hear them coming back, I don’t
remember what I was doing to the little girl under the blanket. I
only know that, the moment my father suddenly raised the blanket,
the little girl had already begun to accept my proposals. My father
became red with anger and beat me. This was everything.
I sit in the doorway, in the sun, I have cried and wiped off my
tears, now I draw circles and lines with my finger in the dust, I
change my place, I move at the shadow, I sit cross-legged on a big
rock and I feel better. A girl has come to the yard to take some
water, she whirls the rusted wheel of the pump. I listen carefully
to the squeak of the old iron, I look at the water springing in the
pail, like a magnificent silver horse tail, I look at the girl’s big
dirty legs, I yawn because I didn’t sleep and from time to time I
try to catch a fly. It’s the simple life that starts all over again
after the tears. In the yard, the sun pours down its overwhelming
heat. It’s my first sexual adventure and my oldest childhood memory.
From now on, obscure instincts shrink, grow and distort,
encountering their natural limits. What should have been an
amplification and a continually growing fascination was for me a
long series of renouncements and dreadful reductions towards the
ordinary; the evolution from childhood to teenage meant for me a
continuous diminishing of the world, and as things organized
themselves around me, their ineffable aspect gradually disappeared,
like a shiny surface covered with vapours.
Ecstatic, miraculous, Walter’s shining figure still fascinates me.
When I met him he was sitting in the shadow of an acacia tree, on a
trunk, and was reading an issue of Buffalo-Bill magazine. The clear
morning light was filtered by the green and thick leaves, in a fizz
of chilly shadows, and his clothes were far from ordinary: he was
wearing a dark cherry-red tunic with buttons sculptured in bone,
deer-suede trousers and, on his naked feet, sandals knitted from
delicate strips of white suede. When I sometimes want to relive the
extraordinary sensation of this meeting, I stare for a long time at
the yellowish cover of some old issue of Buffalo-Bill magazine.
Still, Walter’s real presence was beyond any description, no word
could possibly portray his red tunic in the greenish air in the
shadow of the acacia.
His first gesture was a sort of elastic jump, like an animal’s. We
immediately became friends. We spoke a little and all of a sudden he
made me a stupefying proposal: to eat acacia flowers. It was the
first time I had ever met someone who ate flowers. In just a few
seconds Walter was up in the tree, and he gathered an enormous
bouquet. He then got down and showed me how the flower should be
delicately detached from the corolla, and then he sucked only its
top. I tried as well; the flower crackled a bit under my teeth, with
a very pleasant click, and a delicate and fresh perfume spread in my
mouth, an aroma never tasted before.
For a while we ate acacia flowers, in complete silence. All of a
sudden, he grabbed my hand tight: “Would you like to see the
headquarters of our gang?”
His eyes were burning, I was suddenly afraid. “Do you want to or
not?” he asked me again. I hesitated for one second, then I said “I
want”, with a voice which wasn’t mine anymore and with a desire of
risk and adventure exploding suddenly from my inner depths and which
I felt as no longer belonging to me.
Walter took my hand and we passed through the small gate at the far
end of the garden, and came to a deserted and vacant field. Grass
and wild herbs covered the soil. The nettles were burning my feet
and we had to pull aside the thick stalks of hemlock and burdock
with our hands. We finally arrived near the ruins of a wall; in
front of it there was a ditch and a deep pit. Walter jumped inside
and told me to follow him; the pit opened directly into the wall,
and it is through there that we entered an abandoned cellar.
The steps were broken and covered with moss; the walls were
filtering moisture and the darkness in front of us, impenetrable.
Walter clenched my hand and dragged me after him. We slowly
descended about ten steps, and then we stopped.
“We have to stay here”, he said, “we cannot walk any further, there,
at the back, some iron creatures with iron hands and heads, grown
from the floor, stand still, and if they find us in the dark they
will strangle us.”
I turned my head and I looked with despair towards the circle of
light on top of us, coming from a simple and clear world, where no
iron creatures existed, and where one could see in the distance the
plants, people and houses.
Walter brought from somewhere a wooden board and we sat on it. We
remained silent for some minutes. It was good and chilly in that
cellar, the air had a heavy smell of humidity and I could have
remained there for hours and hours, isolated, far away from the
heated streets, from the boring and depressing little provincial
town. I felt good there, enclosed by the cold walls, under the earth
which was being walloped by the heat. The useless hum of the
afternoon could be heard like a distant echo, through the opening of
“We bring here the girls we catch”, Walter said.
I vaguely understood what he was talking about. The cellar became
swiftly of an unprecedented appeal.
“And what do you do with them?”
“You mean you don’t know? We do what all men do with women, we sleep
with them and… with a feather…”
“With a feather? What kind of a feather? What do you do with them
exactly?” Walter laughed again.
“How old are you, little boy? You don’t know what men do with women?
You don’t have a feather? Here is mine.”
He got out of the pocket of his tunic a small bird’s feather.
In that split second I felt that one of my habitual crises was
starting. Maybe if Walter hadn’t got out of his pocket that feather,
I would have continued to tolerate around me that air of complete
and desolating seclusion of the cavern, but all of a sudden this
isolation gained a new and painful and deep meaning, only now did I
realize how far away that cellar was from the town and its dusty
narrow streets. It was as though I was withdrawing from myself, in
the loneliness of an underground depth, under some ordinary summer
day. The black shiny feather that Walter was showing me was the
concrete proof that nothing more existed in my decipherable
universe. Everything was melting in a swoon where it was shining
weirdly, in the middle of that odd chamber with wet herbs, in that
darkness which was inhaling the light like a cold, hungry, wide open
“What’s wrong?” Water asked. “Let me tell you what we do with the
With every second, the sky outside, seen through the cellar’s
opening, was becoming more and more white and vaporous. Walter’s
words were hitting the walls and passing through my soft flesh as if
I were a liquid creature.
He kept talking, but he was so far away from me, and so airy, that
he seemed just a simple clearness in the dark, a spot of fog
wiggling in the shadow.
“You first caress the little girl with the feather”, I could hear as
in a dream, “and then you caress yourself… You must know these
All of a sudden, Walter came close to me and begun to shake me, as
if he wanted to wake me up. Slowly, slowly I began to regain my
consciousness. When I opened my eyes, Walter was bowed over my
pubis, his mouth tightly stuck to my sex. I could not possibly
understand what was going on.
Walter rose in his feet.
“You see, this did you good… The Indians during the war wake up the
blessed like this, and we in our gang, we know all the Indian charms
and incantations and remedies…”
I woke up smashed and tired. Walter ran away and disappeared. I
climbed the stairs as well, very carefully.
During the next days I searched for him everywhere, but it was in
vain, the last option was to meet him in the cellar, but when I went
there, the deserted field had changed completely, everywhere there
were piles of garbage, with corpses of animals and rotten rubbish,
smelling horribly in the sun. With Walter I hadn’t seen any of these
things. I gave up going to the cellar and so I never saw Walter
Soon after this I got a feather which I kept secretly in my pocket,
wrapped in a piece of newspaper. Sometimes I had the impression that
I was the one who had invented that entire story with the feather,
and that Walter never existed in reality. From time to time I would
unfold the piece of newspaper and look at the feather for a long
time: its mystery was unreachable, I would touch my cheek with its
soft and silky shine and this caress would make me shudder as if an
invisible person, but still a real one, had touched my face with the
top of the fingers. The first time I used it was one beautiful
evening, in quite unusual circumstances.
I always liked to stay outside until late, and that evening a heavy
and ponderous storm had started. All the day’s heat was condensed in
an overwhelming atmosphere, under a black sky cut by lighting. I was
sitting in a doorway and looking at the play of electric lights on
the walls of the narrow lane. The wind was swaying the bulb which
illuminated the street and the concentric circles of the globe,
shadowed on the walls, were sloshing like a liquid agitated in a
vase. Long ribbons of dust were being whipped up in the road, rising
All of a sudden, in a blow of the wind, I had the impression that a
white marble statue was rising in the air. That moment had in itself
an incontrollable certitude, like all certitudes. The block of white
stone was moving up fast and edgeways, like a balloon escaped from a
child’s hand. In just a few seconds the statue became a simple white
spot in the sky, the size of my fist. I could now see distinctly two
white persons, holding hands and gliding through the sky like two
At that precise moment, a little girl stopped in front of me. I must
have had my mouth and my eyes wide open, looking amazed at the sky,
because she asked me, astonished, what I was seeing up there.
“Look, a flying statue… look quickly… it will soon vanish…”
The little girl looked up attentively, knitting her brows, but told
me that she could see nothing. She was my neighbour, a plump
creature with red cheeks like medical rubber and hands always wet.
Until that night I had seldom spoken to her. Now, in front of me,
she suddenly began to laugh:
“I know why you tricked me, she said, I know what you really want…”
She began to move away from me jumping in one leg. I got up and ran
after her; I called her into a dark passage and she came without any
resistance. There, I raised her dress. She let herself be handled,
submissive, holding my shoulders. Maybe she was more surprised by
what was going on than aware of the indecency of the act itself.
The most surprising sequel of this adventure came some days after,
in the middle of a market. Some masons were slaking lime in a
container. I was looking at the boiling lime when suddenly I heard
someone calling my name and saying aloud: “Aha, with the feather…
you like to do it with the feather…” He was a young man of about
twenty years old, a big, unpleasant boy with reddish hair. I think
he was living in some house inside the dark passage, I only saw him
screaming at me for one second, on the other side of the container,
emerging like a phantom from the lime steams like an infernal
apparition speaking from the middle of the fire and thunder.
Maybe he told me something completely different, and my inflamed
imagination gave his words a new meaning, one of which I was
preoccupied with during those days, I cannot believe he could have
seen something in the compact darkness of that passage. Still,
thinking more about it, I finally concluded that maybe the passage
wasn’t as dark as I thought it was, and everything was visible, and
maybe we had even stood in the light… All these presumptions
strengthened my conviction that, during the sexual act, I was
possessed by a sort of a dream that blurred my sight and my whole
senses, and finally I resolved to be more cautious next time. Who
knows what sort of aberrations my inflamed body and spirit could
force me to accomplish: in full day light, under the weight of the
excitation and possessed by it like by a heavy sleep in which I move
In deep, almost organic connection with the memory of the feather
there is another one, with a small black book, extremely
bewildering. I once found it on a table and looked in it with a lot
of interest. It was an ordinary novel, “Frida”, by Andre Theuriet,
in an edition illustrated with many drawings. In every one of these
drawings appeared a blond little boy, with curly hair and velvet
clothes, and a fattish little girl, with a dress with furbelows and
frills. The little boy looked exactly like Walter. The children
appeared in the drawings sometimes together, sometimes separately:
it was obvious that they mainly met in the secret corners of a park
and in the shadow of the ruined walls. What were they doing
together? This is what I wanted to know. Did the little boy have a
feather, like me, and keep it hidden in his pocket? You could not
see it in the images and I didn’t have time to read the book. Some
days after, the little book disappeared without a trace. I began to
look for it everywhere, I asked about it in all the bookshops, but
nobody ever heard of it. It was probably full of secrets and hidden
truths if one couldn’t find it anywhere.
One day I dared to enter in the building of a public library. A
tall, pale man with slightly trembling glasses was sitting at the
back of the hall, on a tall chair, and looked at me coming timidly.
There was no way back. I was bound to go to that table, in front of
the short-sighted man, and there to pronounce the sensational word
“Fri-da”, like a confession of all my hidden vices. I got very close
to his desk and murmured with a feeble voice the infamous title. The
librarian’s glasses begun to tremble more obviously on his nose, he
closed his eyes as if he was searching for something in his memory
and then told me distinctly that he “never heard” of it. But still,
for me, the trembling of his glasses was the proof of some interior
trouble; I now had concrete proof that “Frida” contained the most
veiled and thrilling revelations.
Many years after this I found the book again, on the shelf of some
forgotten bookshop. It was not my small book dressed in black
fabric, but a humble and miserable brochure, with yellowish covers.
For a second I wanted to buy it, but then I changed my mind and put
it back on the shelf. The image of a small black book is still
intact in my memory, and in it is enclosed something from the bitter
and authentic perfume of my childhood.
In the minuscule and unimportant objects -a black bird’s feather, an
ordinary book, an old photograph with fragile and obsolescent
characters, who seemed to suffer from some serious internal disease,
a tender ashtray of green faience sculptured like an oak leaf,
always smelling of old ash, the simple and elementary remembering of
Samuel Weber’s glasses with thick lenses-, in these tiny ornaments
and domestic things can I find the whole melancholy of my childhood,
and that essential nostalgia of the world’s futility, which
surrounded me from every angle like water with mineral waves. The
raw matter -with its profound and heavy masses of soil, rocks, sky
and water, or with its most enigmatic forms, the paper flowers, the
mirrors, the small glass spheres with their enigmatic interior
spirals, or the coloured statues- kept me ever a prisoner, and this
state of slavery hit painfully at my inner walls, perpetuating in
me, meaninglessly, the strange adventure of being a man.
Wherever my reason headed, it always met objects and immobilities,
like some sort of walls in front of which it had to kneel.
I would think, terrorized by their diversity, of the infinite forms
of matter, and I tormented myself during endless nights, stirred by
the series of objects continuously aligned in my remembrance, like a
mechanical stair unfolding in thousands and thousands of steps.
Sometimes, in order to stop the wave of things and colours which
flooded my brain, I would imagine the evolution of a single contour,
or of a distinct object.
I would imagine, for example –and this, like a methodical inventory
of the world- a procession of all the shadows on the earth, the
outlandish and fantastic grey world that sleeps at the bottom of
I imagined, in my solitude:
The black man, lying like a veil on the grass, with his thin legs
slopped like water, with arms of dark iron, then walking between
horizontal trees with diaphanous branches.
The shadows of ships fleeing on the sea, unstable and aquatic like
the common sadness which comes and goes, sliding on the waves’ foam.
The shadows of birds flying, like black birds born from black dust,
or from a gloomy aquarium.
And then the solitary shadow, lost somewhere in space, of our round
I would think of the caves and the grottos and the unbearably deep
precipices in the mountains, of them, but also of that elastic and
warm and ineffable cavern, the sexual cavern. I don’t remember from
where I got a small electric lantern and, during the night, in my
bed, maddened by the lack of sleep and by the objects in the room
that were continuously changing their place, I would hide under the
blanket and observe, with strained attention, in an intimate and
aimless study, the folds of the sheet and the small valleys between
them. I needed such a precise and minuscule occupation to calm down.
My father found me once, at midnight, exploring with the lantern the
unknown under the blanket, and took it from me. But he didn’t scold
me, I think that for him this discovery was so strange,\ that he
couldn’t find in his common vocabulary the words and the morality
which one could have applied to such an action.
Some years later I saw in an anatomy book a photograph with a wax
casting of the ear’s interior. All the channels, all the sinuses and
all the holes were made of solid matter, representing their positive
image. I was so impressed by this photograph, I almost fainted; all
of a sudden I realized that the world could exist in a more
authentic reality, in a positive structure of its caverns, so that
all that is empty could become full, and the present relief could
simply become a void of an identical form, without any content, like
those delicate fossils which reproduce in rock the traces of some
prehistoric shell of leaf which macerated during the long epochs,
leaving behind only the delicate prints of its shape.
In such a world, people would stop being nothing but these fleshy
and coloured excrescences, full of complicated organs and bound to
rot, but would instead be pure voids, floating, like air bubbles in
water, through the humid and supple substance of the entire
universe. It was exactly like the intimate and painful sensation
which I often felt during the endless teenage wanderings, when all
of a sudden I would wake up in the core of a terrible isolation, as
if all the people and the houses around me had become a compact and
shapeless mucilage, in which I was just a simple void, sadly
wandering around, purposeless.
As a whole the objects formed different settings. The impression of
spectacular reality was always inside me, and I had the feeling that
everything evolves in the middle of a sad and fictional show. When I
sometimes managed to escape the boring and uniform vision of a
colourless world, its theatric, emphatic and obsolete aspect would
Within the framework of this general show, certain amazing
performances would particularly attract me because of their
artificiality and insincerity and because the actors who played in
them seemed to truly understand the world’s sense of mystification.
They were the only ones to know that in a spectacular and decorative
universe, real life had to be played in a false, artificial and
Two of these incredible shows were the cinema and the panopticon,
with its carnival sideshow.
Oh! The cinema hall, long and dark like a sunken submarine! Its
entrance doors were covered with crystal mirrors, in which a part of
the street was reflected: thus, there was a free show even from the
entrance, before the one inside the cinema, an amazing screen in
which the street appeared in a dream-like greenish light, with
somnambular people and cotton carriages, moving softly in its
In the hall itself the atmosphere was hot, mouldy, and acidic, like
a public bath. The floor was of cement and the chairs’ creaks
sounded like short and desperate screams; in the first rows, right
in front of the screen, a large crowd of pretzel vendors and tramps
cracked sun-flower seeds and commented aloud about the movie. The
titles were syllabified by some dozens of mouths at the same time,
like the texts for an adult school. Exactly under the screen the
orchestra was playing, composed of a woman piano player, a violin
player and an old Jew, who plucked away on the double bass. This old
man also had the job of uttering different sounds according to the
actions on the screen. He would scream cock-a-doodle-doo when, at
the beginning of the movie, the cock, symbol of the cinematographic
house, appeared; once, I remember, when the life of Jesus was
presented, at the moment of the Resurrection he started frenetically
hitting his bow against the double bass, in order to imitate the
I would live the episodes in the movie with an extraordinary
intensity, integrating myself into the action like a true character
of the drama. It sometimes happened that the film absorbed my
attention to such an extent that all of a sudden I had the
impression that I was walking in the parks on the screen, or that I
was leaning on the balustrade of the Italian terraces on which
Francisca Bertini was acting with pathos, dishevelled hair and arms
agitating as through transparent veils.
Anyway, there is no clear difference between our real person and our
various imaginary interior personages. When light was turned on
during the breaks, the hall seemed like coming back from very far
away. There was something precarious and artificial in this
atmosphere, much more uncertain and ephemeral than the action on the
screen, I would close my eyes and wait until the mechanical grind of
the equipment told me that the movie continued; then I could again
find the hall submerged in darkness, and all the people around me,
illuminated directly by the screen, pale and transfigured like a
gallery of marble statues in a museum illuminated by the
Once, the cinema caught fire. The strip of celluloid film tore and
lit so quickly that for a few seconds the flames appeared on the
screen like a sort of honest premonition that the cinema was burning
down and, at the same time, like a logical continuation of the
function of the projector to present the “latest news” and whose
mission thus made it, through an excess of perfectionism, present
the last and most thrilling news item, that of its own fire. From
everywhere burst screams and sharp shouts, “Fire! Fire!”, resembling
short revolver shots; in a second the hall was filled with so much
noise that it seemed that the watchers, silent and obscured until
then, had been gathering howls and rumblings within themselves, like
calm and inoffensive batteries that explode when their recharging
capacity is violently exceeded.
Within a few minutes and even before half of the watchers had been
evacuated, the “tremendous fire” was extinguished, but still they
kept screaming, as if they had to consume a certain quantity of
energy in themselves. A young lady, her face powdered like plaster,
was screaming stridently looking straight into my eyes, without
making any step towards the exit. A muscled pretzel-seller convinced
of the usefulness of his physical power in this kind of situation,
but still not knowing how to use it, was raising the wooden chairs
one by one and throwing them towards the screen. Suddenly an ample
and very sonorous boom was heard: one of the chairs had hit the old
musician’s double bass. The cinema was full of surprises.
In the summer I would go for the matinee and come out in the
evening, when it was almost dark. The light outside would have
changed; the ending day was slowly dying. Therefore I could see that
during my absence the world had experienced an immense and essential
transformation, a sort of sad obligation to continue endlessly its
regular flow towards the night, its diaphanous and spectacular flow
on the way to the unknown. I was entering then in the middle of a
complete certitude which, through its daily rigor, appeared to me of
an endless melancholy, in a world subjected to the most theatrical
effects and obliged every evening to perform a correct sunset, while
the people around me appeared like some poor beings, pitiful for the
seriousness with which they were consuming their modest lives and
for the naivety of their occupations. Only one human being in the
whole city could understand these things, and I admired her
unreservedly: she was the town’s fool. She alone in the midst of
these rigid persons, all just a package of prejudices and
conventions, had kept intact her freedom to scream and to dance in
the street whenever she felt like it. She wandered on the streets
all ragged and dirty and toothless and crazily-ravelled-red-haired,
holding close in her arms, with a motherly tenderness, an old little
wooden coffer filled with dry bread loafs and various objects
gathered from the garbage.
She would show her sex to the passers-by, with a gesture which,
employed for another purpose, could have been qualified as “stylish
and elegant”. Oh, what a sublime and splendid thing, to be a fool! I
was thinking, and unfortunately I had to confess to myself,
infinitely sad, that I was separated from the extreme freedom of a
lunatic’s existence by a whole chain of strong and stupid
conventional habits and a strong and crushing rational education. I
think that someone who never had this feeling is condemned to
forever ignore the true amplitude of the surrounding world.
This general and elementary impression of the spectacular became a
real terror as soon as I entered a panopticon with wax figures. It
was one of those fears intermingled with a drop of vague pleasure
and somehow with that weird feeling that anyone has of having
already lived in a certain place. I think that if once the instinct
of having a goal in life could flourish in me, and if this impulse
is related to something really profound, essential and irremediable
in my true being, then my body should become a wax statue in a
panopticon, and my life, a simple and endless contemplation of the
exhibitions from the panorama.
In the sombre light of the carbide lamps I felt as though I were
truly living my own destiny, unique and impossible to imitate. All
of my daily actions could be mixed like a pack of playing cards, I
didn’t care for any of them; people’s irresponsibility towards their
actions, even the most conscientious ones, was of an undeniable
evidence. It didn’t matter whether I or another person commited
them, the world’s diversity was swallowing them in the same
shapeless monotony. In the panopticon, and only there, was there no
contradiction between what I was doing and what was going on. The
wax characters were the only true thing in the whole universe; they
were the only ones to falsify life in the purest and most evident
manner, belonging through their strange and artificial immobility,
to the world’s true matter. The uniform holed by bullets and stained
with blood of a certain Austrian archduke, with a yellow and sad
face, was infinitely more tragic than any real death; in a crystal
box was lying a woman adorned in a dress of black lace, her face
shiny and pale, with a red rose between her breasts, and a blonde
wig which had begun to peel off at the edge of the forehead, while
on her nostrils the red colour of the powder was still palpitating.
Her blue eyes, limpid as only glass can be, were staring at me,
immobile. It was out of the question for that woman not to have a
deep, troublesome significance, undiscovered until then. The more I
contemplated her, the clearer her true meaning appeared to me,
persisting somewhere deep inside me like a word which I would have
wanted to remember, but which only lingered in me like a very
I have always been fascinated by women’s uncontrollable appetite for
artificial, cheaply ornamented adornments. A friend of mine
collected the most diverse feminine objects he could find; for
example, in a mahogany box, he kept a strip of black silk,
bejewelled with infinitely delicate lace on the borders and sewed
with shiny sequins. It had obviously been torn from some old ball
dress; the silk was mouldy in some places. Just to let me see it he
would ask me stamps and even money. After the payment he would lead
me into a small old-fashioned parlour, while his parents were
sleeping, and he let me see it. I would stay like this, holding the
delicate strip of silk, bewildered by stupefaction and pleasure. My
friend would wait in the doorway, watching to see if someone was
coming; he would come back after some minutes, take the strip from
my hands and put it back into the mahogany box and say to me: “Your
time is over, you must go now”, just as Clara used to do sometimes
in the cabin.
Another object which perturbed me immeasurably when I first saw it
was a gipsy ring. It was definitely the most fantastic ring a man
could ever invent to adorn a woman’s hand.
Birds’, flowers’ and animals’ extraordinary ornaments, all having a
very precise sexual role -the ultramodern and ultra stylised tails
of the birds of paradise, the oxidized feathers of the peacock, the
hysterical lace of the petunias’ petals, the improbable blue colour
of the monkeys’ intimate parts- are only pale attempts towards
sexual ornamentation compared with the dazzling gipsy ring. It was
a superb, elusive, grotesque and hideous article, made of cheap
metal, attacking love in its most darkened regions, at its very
basement, a veritable sexual scream.
I am sure that the artist who made it had been inspired by the same
visions in the panopticon. The stone of the ring, actually a simple
piece of glass melted until it got to a lens’ thickness, looked
exactly like the lights in the panoramas through which I looked at
magnified sunken ships, at combats with the Turks or at royal
assassinations. In the ring I could see a bouquet of flowers
chiselled in the cheap metal and painted with the aggressive colours
of the panopticon: the violet of the corpses dead by asphyxiation
next to the pornographic red of the women’s garters, the livid
pallor of the infuriated waves in the core of a macabre light, or
the semi-obscurity of the glass sepulchres. All this microscopic
landscape was surrounded by small Titian leaves and other mysterious
Everything that is imitated makes a deep impression on me,
especially artificial flowers and funeral garlands, especially
these, forgotten and dusty in their oval glass boxes in the
cemetery’s church, surrounding with an obsolete delicateness
anonymous old names, forgotten in an eternity without echoes.
I’m also impressed by the cut-out images with which children play
and the cheap statues in the fairs. In time these statues lose their
heads or some limb and their owner, in order to repair them,
delicately surrounds the head with white gypsum layers. The bronze
of the rest of the statue then takes on the tragic significance of a
noble suffering. I also like the life-sized statues of Jesus in the
Catholic churches. The stained glass throws onto the altar the last
reflections of the red sunset, while the lilies at the Christ’s feet
exhale at this exact hour of the day the plenitude of their heavy,
lugubrious perfume, and in this atmosphere filled with airy blood
and aromatic swoon, a pale young man plays on the organ the last
notes of a desperate melody.
All these things emigrated in real life from the panopticon. In the
fair’s panorama I can find the common gathering place of all these
nostalgias scattered through the world, which, gathered in the same
place, form its deepest essence.
I have only one single supreme desire in life: to witness the
burning of a panopticon, to see, speechless, the slow and scabrous
melting of the wax statues, and how the yellow beautiful feet of the
young bride in the glass box curl in the air, while the untouchable
sex between them is consumed by a real, devouring flame.
Except for the panopticon, the summer fair in August brought every
time the same sadness and exaltation. Its oversized performance
swelled like a real symphony, starting with the prelude of the
isolated panoramas, which came long before everything else and
indicated the general rhythm of the festival, like the secluded and
prolonged sounds that announce at the beginning of a concert the
theme of the whole composition, which lasts until the heroic ending,
exploding in screams, thumps and fanfares, like at Judgment Day,
followed by the immense silence of the deserted field.
The few panoramas which first arrived enclosed in themselves the
whole fair, presenting it in its most minuscule detail. It was
enough for the first to be installed, and soon after, all the
colours, all the glitters and the full smell of carbide of the
complete fair had already filled the town.
In the multitude of the everyday noises one could suddenly hear a
slight sharp sound, but not the chirp of a tinned spoon on a ceramic
plate, nor the distant tinkling of a set of keys, not the jingle of
an engine, it was the easily recognizable clatter of the “Wheel of
In the obscurity of the boulevard, all of a sudden, in the evening,
a circle of coloured flamboyances was lit like a primordial
constellation. Soon, others would follow, and the boulevard would
become a lighted corridor, through which I would pass bewildered,
just like a young boy of my age whom I saw in an illustrated edition
of a Jules Verne novel, leaning against the porthole of a submarine,
looking at the mysterious marine phosphorescences floating in the
deep oceanic darkness.
In only a few days the fair was completely settled. The semi-circle
of barracks was finally organized, complete and definitive.
Well established sectors sectioned it into regions of shadows and
lights, the same every year. First, the area of the restaurants,
with its dozens of necklaces of tinted lamps, the district composed
of the panoramas of monstrousness, the circus façade bathed in light
and finally the obscure and humble barracks of the photographers.
The visitors would walk in circles, from the highest luminosity to
the deepest darkness like the moon in my geography book, which was
passing alternately through different typographic spheres of white
We usually entered some miserable, roofless, badly illuminated
panorama with few artists, where my father could bargain with the
director at the entrance for a collective and reduced price for our
There, inside, the performance had an improvised and clumsy aspect.
The chilly night winds would waft above the viewers’ heads and far
away up there the cold stars would shine glassily. We were lost in a
fair sideshow, gone astray through the night’s chaos, on the
infinitesimal point in space of a lonesome planet. At that precise
point on that planet, men and dogs were acting on a stage, men
throwing in the air different objects and then catching them, dogs
jumping through circles of fire and walking on two paws. Where
exactly was all this happening? The immensity of the sky above us
seemed even more immeasurable…
Once, in one of these poor barracks, an artist promised a prize of
five thousand lei to the person able to imitate the sensational and
extremely easy number which he would perform. There were only few of
us sitting on the low benches. A very fat man, known in town to be
extremely avaricious, excited by the unprecedented possibility of
winning an enormous amount of money in that meagre panorama,
suddenly changed his place, coming a few benches closer to the stage
to observe carefully the artist’s slightest gesture, in order to
reproduce it later and take the prize.
Some moments of terrible silence followed.
The artist came close to the footlights: “Gentlemen, he said in a
profoundly raucous voice, “it is all about exhaling from the neck
the smoke of a cigarette.” He lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply and
then, taking his hand from his collar, where he had kept it up until
then, released a delicate trickle of blue smoke through the orifice
of an artificial larynx, probably the result of surgery. The fat man
remained for some seconds speechless and bewildered; he became all
red with anger and, while returning to his initial place, he
murmured quite loudly: “Well, sure, of course he can do it, he has a
devilish machine in his neck!”
Imperturbable, the artist on the stage answered him: “Please,
please, come and try”, and maybe he was honestly willing to give a
prize to this unknown fellow in suffering…
In these barracks, in order to earn a living, pale and skinny old
men would swallow stones and soap in front of the public, young
girls would twist their fragile bodies and anaemic children, leaving
aside the salty boiled corn they had eaten up until then, would go
up on stage, to dance with small bells tied to their peasant
During the day, immediately after lunch, in the heated stuffiness,
the fair’s desolation was limitless. The immobility of the wooden
horses, with their goggled eyes and their bronze manes, acquired
suddenly an inexplicable melancholy of paralyzed life. A warm and
familiar smell of food came from the barracks, while a solitary
barrel organ, somewhere far, far away, insisted on trickling out its
asthmatic waltz, from the chaos of which, from time to time, a
metallic whistling note spurted out like a sudden “jet d’eau”, high
and straight, liberated from the mass of a pool of water.
What I liked most of all was to sit for hours in front of the
photographers’ barracks, contemplating the unknown persons, in
groups or alone, turned into stone and smiling in front of the grey
landscapes with cascades and distant mountains. All these people,
integrated into the same landscape, looked like members of the same
family, gone on a trip to the same picturesque place where they were
photographed one after the other.
Once I saw my own photo in the window of one of these itinerant
studios, and this sudden meeting with myself, immobilized in a fixed
attitude there, on the outskirts of the fair, had a depressing
effect on me.
Before getting back to my town, it had surely travelled in other
places, unknown to me. For one second I had the feeling that the
real me was the one in the photo. I experienced very often this
reversal of mental positions, in the most diverse circumstances. It
would come stealthily and change all of a sudden my interior body.
For example, stopping near a street accident, for a few minutes I
would look at the whole scene like any other observer near me but,
all of a sudden, the whole perspective would change and –exactly
like in that game where one sees in the walls’ painting some sort of
a weird animal, which one cannot reconstruct again the next day
because in its place, and formed by the same decorative elements,
one sees a statue, a naked woman or a landscape- even though
everything had stayed intact, I could suddenly see the whole scene
of the street accident from the point of view of the wounded person,
as if it were me lying on the street and looking up at the
surrounding world, from the centre to the periphery, and I would
have the distinct feeling that the blood was flowing out from my
body, through my wound. In the same way, without any effort and as a
logical consequence of the simple fact that I remained in my chair
looking at the screen, I would imagine myself living in the intimacy
of the scenes of a movie. It was from this perspective that I saw
myself, in front of the unknown photographer’s shack, in place of
the motionless boy staring at me from the cardboard.
My whole life, the life of the little person of flesh and blood who
stayed on the other side of the show case, appeared to the boy in
the photograph, all of a sudden, indifferent and meaningless, just
as the living me found absurd the wanderings through unknown regions
of the other me, the nomadic image.
In the same way in which the photograph representing me rambled from
place to place, contemplating ceaselessly new perspectives through
that dirty and dusty window, I was walking my own character in
totally different places, always looking curiously at the world, and
never understanding a thing of what was going on. The fact that I
was moving, that I was alive, was just a simple coincidence, a
meaningless one because, just as it was possible for me to exist on
the other side of the window, I could also exist in this world,
having the same pale face, the same eyes, the same ashen hair, and
all these traces composed in the mirror a rapid and weird figure,
I was always receiving different warnings from the exterior which
tried to immobilize and estrange me from usual comprehension. They
would bewilder me, stopping me and summing up, all of a sudden, the
entire world’s uselessness.
In that precise second, everything appeared to me chaotic, just as,
when I was listening to a band and I covered my ears, if I removed
my fingers for one second the music seemed nothing but pure noise.
I wandered the whole day around the fair but even more on the
surrounding field, where the performers and the freaks from the
sideshows, gathered around the huge boiler of hot polenta,
dishevelled and dirty, abandoned their beautiful settings and their
nocturnal existence as acrobats, bodiless women and sirens, joined
in the common throng and sad filth of their irremediable humanity.
What looked admirable, carefree and even luxurious in the sideshows,
there at the back, in full daylight, was transformed into an
irrelevant and uninteresting familiarity, which was actually that of
the entire world.
One day I participated in the funeral of the child of one of the
The doors of the panorama were wide open and inside, in front of the
photographic background, the uncovered coffin was lying on two
The background image was printed on cheap fabric, representing a
splendid park with Italian terraces and marble columns.
In this dream-like scenery, the little body, with his hands crossed
on his chest, dressed in his best clothes, with bracelets of silver
tinsel around his thin wrists, seemed immersed in an ineffable state
The child’s parents and some other women were crying desperately
around the coffin, while outside the band of the big circus,
borrowed for free from its director, gravely intoned a serenade from
“Intermezzo”, the saddest piece in the whole program.
In those moments, the dead boy was surely extremely happy and
tranquil, in the intimacy of his profound peace and the limitless
silence of the park with plane trees.
But soon after he was wrested from that solemnity and put into a
cart, in order to be taken to the cemetery, to the humid and cold
grave destined to him.
The park remained behind him, desolate and deserted; I realized that
death itself also borrowed from the fair’s implausible and nostalgic
decorations, as if that reality were something completely different,
destined to prove the infinite melancholy of the artificial
ornaments, from the beginning of life until its end, with the living
example of certain pale existences consumed in the dreary light of
the panopticon, or in that chamber with one infinite wall, lost in
the surreal beauty of the photographers’ unreal panoramas.
Thus the fair was becoming for me a deserted island, invaded by
desolating aureoles, looking exactly like the mysterious but very
lucid world in which I was transported by my childhood crises.
The upper floor of the Weber family’s house, where I went quite
often after the death of the old Etla Weber, looked like a real
panopticon. The rooms were sunny all afternoon, and the dust and the
heat were flowing in front of the old china-closets, filled with
obsolescent things, thrown one on top of the other on the shelves.
The beds had been moved to the first floor, and the rooms were now
uninhabited. Old Samuel Weber (agent & commissioner) and his two
sons, Paul and Ozy, were living downstairs.
The first room, facing the street, still served as an office. It had
a mouldy smell, filled with registers and big envelopes containing
samples of cereals, upholstered with old advertisements, stained by
Some of the flies, having stayed on the walls for years, were
completely integrated to the family life. Above the money safe, an
advertisement for a mineral water represented a tall and thin woman,
dressed in diaphanous veils, spilling the healing liquid onto the
cripple at her feet. I am sure that, in the mysterious hours of the
deep night, Ozy Weber would come as well to drink from the
miraculous source, with his thin arms like flutes and the hunch of
his chest visible under his clothes like a turkey’s swollen
The other familiar advertisement was that of a transport company,
which, with its ship gliding along the elegant waves, completed the
person of Samuel Weber and accorded his captain’s cap and his
glasses with thick lenses a third marine element. When the old man
closed a register and clamped it in the pressing machine spinning
the iron wheel, he looked as though he was manipulating a real
ship’s rudder on unknown seas. The pink cotton balls filling his
ears hung in long threads; this was surely a very wise precaution
against the sea’s currents.
In the second room, Ozy spent his life reading popular novels, sunk
into the depths of a leather armchair, rising the volume up high in
order to capture the thin light coming from the street into the
office. In the darkness of a corner, a metal spittoon in the form of
a huge cat glittered, and on a wall, a mirror strangely reflected a
square of grey light, a sort of ghostlike memory of the outside
I would come to see Ozy, just like dogs that enter unknown yards
just because they see an open door and nobody chases them away. I
was mostly attracted by a sort of strange game that I don’t even
remember which of the two of us invented, and under what
circumstances. The game consisted of an invented dialogue, performed
with the deepest seriousness. We had to remain sombre until the end,
and not to reveal the inexistence of the things we were talking
I would enter, and Ozy would tell me with a terribly dry voice,
without raising his eyes from the book: “The head pill I took last
night to make me sweat made me cough terribly. Until the morning I
tossed in my sheets, but some moments ago Matilda came (there was no
Matilda) and gave me a massage.”
The absurdity and the stupidity of the things said by Ozy would
pound my forehead like hammers. Maybe I should have got out of the
room immediately but, with the trivial voluptuousness of
intentionally lowering myself to his level, I would answer to him in
the same tone. I think this was the main secret of our game.
“I have a cold as well, I told him (even though we were in July),
and doctor Caramfil (he existed for real) prescribed me some
medicine. It’s a real pity that the doctor… you know, he was
arrested this morning…”
Ozy raised his eyes from the book: “I told you already that he has
been making counterfeit money…”
“Well sure, I added, otherwise where would he get the money to spend
so much with the dancers in the music hall?”
In these words I felt the disgusting pleasure of surrounding myself
in the mediocrity of the dialogue and, at the same time, a vague
impression of freedom. I could slander freely the poor doctor, who
lived nearby and whom I knew with certainty to go to sleep every
night at 9 o’clock.
We could speak about basically anything, mingling the real things
with imaginary ones until the whole conversation gained a sort of
airy independence, floating detached from us in the heights of the
room, like a curious bird, and we wouldn’t have been amazed by its
exterior existence if the bird had truly appeared before our eyes,
more than by the fact that our words had nothing to do with
When I got out onto the street again, I had the feeling that I had
just woken up from a very deep sleep. But the dream continued, and I
would look in deep amazement at the people on the street speaking to
each other very solemnly. Didn’t they know that it is possible to
speak seriously about anything?
Sometimes Ozy didn’t feel like talking and then he would take me
upstairs to rummage among old things. In the years since it had been
deserted and because of old Weber’s habit of sending “upstairs” all
the useless objects, that space had become a true menagerie of the
most diverse and extraordinary things and inventions.
In the rooms, a hot sun entered through the dusty windows without
curtains. Their glass would tremble slightly when I walked on the
old floors; between the rooms, a curtain of pearls served as a
I would come from downstairs a little bit dizzied by the day’s heat.
The complete desertion of the room was mystifying to me, I felt as
though I lived in a world which I had known for a long time, but of
which I had no memory, my body was strangely detached from this
existence. This feeling was more profound when I had to pass from
one room to another, through the curtain of pearls.
I would search for old letters in the drawers, in order to detach
the stamps. From the yellowish papers would fall aged dust and odd
insects quickly trying to hide between the sheets. A letter would
fall aside, opening to reveal an old-fashioned and complicated
calligraphy, written in discoloured ink. There was something sad and
resigned in it, a sort of tired conclusion of the passage of time
since it had been written and a quiet sleep in eternity, like
mortuary garlands. I would also find old photographs of ladies
dressed in crinolines and meditative gentlemen with a finger pressed
to their foreheads, smiling anaemically, and in the lower part of
the image, two angels carrying a basket of fruit and flowers, under
it being written porte visite or souvenir. Between the
photographs and the objects on the shelves –the elegant fruit dish
of pink glass with beclouded margins, velvet purses containing
nothing but moth-eaten silk, various objects with unknown monograms
-between all these there was an air of perfect understanding, as if
they had their own independent life, identical to the past one when,
for example, the photographs corresponded to people existing and
moving in this world, when the letters were written by real, warm
hands, but this was a life reduced to a smaller scale, in a narrowed
space, within the limits of the paper and the photographs, as in a
theatre set seen through the thickest lens of a pair of opera
glasses, scenery which remains the same in all its components but is
still incredibly minuscule and distant.
In the evening, when we descended, we often met Paul Weber on the
stairs; his wardrobe was upstairs, in the first room, and he would
go up to change his clothes.
Paul had big hands, bristling reddish hair, thick lips and a clown’s
nose. In his eyes shone an incredibly calm and resting candour.
Everything Paul did had, because of this innocent look, a very
detached air of indifference.
I loved him very much but in secret, and my heart beat faster when I
met him on the stairs. I liked the simplicity of his speech and the
smile on his face, as if our conversation had, apart from its basic
meaning, another, more distant and ephemeral. His smile persisted
even in the most serious conversations, and even when he was talking
business with his old father. I mostly loved Paul for the secret
life he led outside his daily occupations, and about which I knew
only from the distant echoes whispered with stupefaction by the
adults around me. Paul spent all his money on women, at the variety
show. There was a sort of irremediable fatality in his debauchery
which old Weber came up against like a wall. Once the whole town
buzzed with the rumour that Paul had unharnessed all the horses at
the carriages in the central market place and had taken them inside
the variety hall, where he improvised a sort of circus in which the
most eminent drunkards of our town participated. Another time I
heard that he bathed with a woman in champagne. But what wasn’t
rumoured about him?
I am incapable of defining my sympathy for Paul. I could very well
notice the mediocrity of the grown-ups around me, the uselessness
and the boredom that consumed their lives, the young girls in the
garden laughing stupidly, the merchants with cunning and immodest
eyes, my father’s theatrical necessity to play his role of a father,
the awful tiredness of the beggars sleeping in the dirty corners;
all these things were melting and then combining in a general and
trivial aspect, as if the world, having been waiting for too long
inside me and already having a definitive form, didn’t allow me more
than to verify its obsolete content in my deepest self.
All things were simple, only Paul was outside them, in the middle of
a density of compact life, completely inaccessible and obscured from
I kept deep inside me all his gestures and his most minuscule
attitudes, not like a memory but rather a double existence. Very
often I tried to walk like him. I would study intently one of his
gestures and repeat it in front of the mirror until I thought I
could reproduce it perfectly.
On the upper floor of the Weber house, Paul was the most enigmatic
and delicate wax figure, and soon after he brought inside the
element lacking from the whole picture, a pale woman with gestures
and steps of silent mechanism…
Thus the upper floor completed its panopticon gallery, starting with
the old ship captain Samuel Weber and ending with the delicate and
mangled and infantile phenomenon named Ozy Weber.
I could also find old and melancholic things on another upper floor,
the one in my grandfather’s house. The walls were covered with
strange paintings, with thick frames of golden wood or in thinner
frames of red plush. There were also frames made from juxtaposed
small shells, worked with a fanatical attention for detail that made
me contemplate them for hours and hours. Who had glued the shells?
Whose were the hands that performed the tiny living gestures in
order to unite them? In these kind of defunct and minor works of art
could I suddenly perceive entire lives, lost in the shadows of time
like the images in two parallel mirrors, hidden in the greenish
depths of a dream.
In a corner rested the noble gramophone, its trumpet upturned,
beautifully painted with yellow and crimson stripes like an enormous
portion of vanilla and rose ice-cream, and on the table were
different stamps, two of them representing King Charles I and Queen
For a long time the strange paintings mentioned above intrigued me.
I honestly thought that the artist was very talented, because the
facial traits were very delicate and firm, but I could not
understand why he had used an ash-like paint, greyish, discoloured
as if the paper had been kept for a long time in water.
But one day I made an amazing discovery: what I had thought to be a
faint colour was actually a mass of minuscule letters, only
decipherable under the magnifying glass.
In the whole drawing there was not even one single line made with
the pencil or the brush; everything was made of words describing the
lives of the king and queen.
My stupefaction converted, all of a sudden, the misunderstanding
with which I had been looking at the drawings and my distrust of the
anonymous artist’s mastery into a limitless admiration, intermingled
with the chagrin of not having noticed earlier the essential secret,
as well as a growing mistrust of my modest perceptions: if for so
many years I had contemplated the drawings without even suspecting
their true matter, wasn’t it possible, because of a similar
short-sightedness, that I had misunderstood the meaning of all the
things around me, just as clearly as the words composing the two
images of the royal couple?
Around me, the world’s surfaces suddenly acquired weird sheens and
uncertain opacities, like curtains that suddenly become transparent
and show us the profoundness of a room when a light is turned on
But behind the objects that intrigued me no light had ever been
turned on, and they remained forever hermetically enclosed in their
volumes and sizes, even though sometimes their surfaces seemed to
become thinner and almost translucent, revealing their true meaning.
The floor had many more other curiosities particular only to itself:
for example, the view of the street as seen through the front
The walls being very thick, the windows were carved deep in them,
forming sorts of alcoves in which one could sit very comfortably.
I would go into one of them, as in a small glass chamber, and I
would open the windows to the street.
The intimacy of the cave, combined with the pleasure of gazing at
the street from a comfortable position, had given me the idea of a
vehicle similar in size and smoothness, with soft cushions to lie
on, with tiny windows through which to look at the different cities
and unknown landscapes while crossing the world.
Once, while my father was recounting for me some of his childhood
memories, I asked him about his most secret and burning desire
during those times, and he answered that he had wanted deeply to
have a miraculous vehicle, in which to lie while crossing the whole
I knew that in his childhood he slept in the upper room, and so I
asked him if he used to hide in the windows’ alcoves to look down at
He answered, all surprised, that indeed, every night before going to
sleep, he entered in one of those warm caverns and stayed there for
hours and hours, and sometimes even fell asleep there. He probably
had his dream of the magic vehicle in the same place and in the same
circumstances as me.
I understood then that in the world there were also, besides the
cursed spaces secreting vertigos and faints, more benevolent places,
from whose walls pleasant images flowed.
The walls of my alcove filtered the fragile reverie of a vehicle
crossing the world and the person lying in that exact place was
slowly impregnated by this reverie as by an intoxicating hashish
The upper floor also had two attics, one of them opening through a
little aperture towards the roof. I would climb through it to the
top of the house. The whole town unfolded at my feet, grey and
amorphous, until far away across the fields, minuscule trains
corssed the brittle bridge like mechanical toys.
My secret wish was to reach a state of equilibrium equal to the one
I had down on the ground. I wanted to lead my “normal” life on the
roof, in the subtle and sharp air of the heights, fearless in front
of the void. I was thinking that, had I managed to do this, I would
have felt my body more elastic and vaporous, and become a bird-man.
I was convinced that only the care not to fall was the heaviest
thing in me, and the thought that I was at a great height went
through me like a pain that I would have liked to wrest from its
In order to avoid the out-of-the-ordinary feeling, I always tried to
do something precise and commonplace on the roof: to read, to eat or
I would take the cherries and the slices of bread given to me by my
grandfather and go up on the roof, I would divide every cherry into
quarters and eat them one by one, so that this “normal” occupation
of mine would last as long as possible. When I finished one, I
would strive to throw the stone down on the street, into a big
bucket placed in front of a shop.
When I went down, I would hurry to see how many cherry stones had
gone into it. There were always only three or four, but what mostly
disappointed me was that, around it, I could only find three or four
others. That meant that I had eaten only few cherries, while I had
the impression of having spent hours and hours up there on the roof
… In my grandfather’s room, on the clock’s green faience dial I
could also see that only a few minutes had passed since I went up
there. Time had probably become more concentrated on the roof, and
there was no point in my trying to prolong it by remaining there
longer. Back down I always had to face the fact that less time had
passed than I thought. This somehow strengthened my weird feeling of
the indefinite, of the unfinished… The time down here was more
rarefied than in reality, it contained less matter than up above and
was contributing to the fragility of all things, which seemed so
dense around me yet so instable, always ready to abandon their own
meaning and their temporary contour in order to appear under the
form of their exact existence…
...The upper floor decomposed piece by piece and object by object
after my grandfather’s death. He died in the humid and humble little
room built for him in the yard, which he had made his old age’s
refuge, and out of which he didn’t want to go but for his last walk.
Before he died I used to go and visit him in that chamber every day;
on the eve of his death I was there as well, and I attended the
prayer for the dying, which he recited himself in a shivering but
emotionless voice, after having dressed in a new white shirt in
order to make the prayer sound more solemn.
After some days I saw him dead in the same chamber, lying on a metal
table for his last toilet. My grandfather had a younger brother, but
their resemblance was striking: they both had the same round head
like a small sphere covered with shiny white hairs, the same look in
their eyes, alive and penetrating, and the same beard with sparse
hairs like foam full of air bubbles.
This uncle requested from my family the honour of washing the dead
and, although old and crippled, he began his work with a lot of
He shook from head to toe, while bringing the big buckets of water
from the pump in the yard, to warm in the kitchen. When this was
done, he brought it into the chamber and began to wash the body with
linen soap and wisps of straw.
While rubbing, he was crying and –as if my grandfather could hear
what he was saying- talked to him in whispers, sobbing bitterly:
“Look what I’ve become… look where my black days brought me… you’re
dead now and I’m washing you… poor me… why did I have to live so
long… until this miserable moment…”
With his coat’s sleeve he wiped his cheeks, and his beard wet with
tears he washed the body even more zealously.
The two old men, amazingly similar, one dead and the other washing
him, formed a quite hallucinatory picture. The workers in the
cemetery, who usually did this job, receiving good tips from the
whole family for it, were sitting in a corner, looking with rancour
at the intruder who was stealing their job. They were talking
between themselves in whispers, smoking and spitting on the floor,
in all directions. After about an hour my grandfather’s brother
The body was on the table, turned face down.
“Did you finish?” asked someone from the group, a little man with a
reddish goatee, snapping his fingers tensely, full of spite.
“Yes, I finished, answered the dead man’s brother. Now let’s dress
“Aha! You think you finished, said the little man again, ironically.
You really think you finished? You think this is how a dead man
should be buried? In this state of filth?”
The poor old man remained bewildered in the middle of the room, with
a wisp of straw in his hand, looking at every one of us and begging
us with his eyes to defend him. He knew how carefully he had washed
the body, and knew that he didn’t deserve any insult.
“Now I will teach you to mind your own business”, the little man
continued impudently and, wresting the wisp of straw from the old
uncle’s hand, went to the table, introduced it with a rapid movement
into the dead body’s anus and brought out a piece of excrement…
“You see you don’t know how to wash the dead? You wanted to bury him
with this dirt inside him?”
My grandfather’s brother was shaken by a violent shiver and burst
The funeral took place during a very hot summer day: nothing sadder
and more impressive than a funeral in full warmth and sunshine, when
people and things seem a little bit bigger, in the vaporous heat, as
though seen through a magnifying glass.
What else could people do on such a day other than bury their dead?
In the heat and the torpor of the air, their gestures were the same
as hundreds of years ago, then and now, and always. The wet grave
engulfed the dead man in its coolness and its darkness, and he
probably sank happily in it. The clods fell heavily on the wooden
boards, while the people in dusty clothes, sweaty and tired,
continued leading their imperious lives on the surface of the earth.
Paul Weber got married some days after the funeral.
He was a little tired during the wedding, but he had his usual
smile; a sad, forced smile, at the beginning of a devotion.
Under the rigid collar, opened in the front, his red and hairless
neck was moving strangely; his trousers seemed longer and narrower
than usual; the tails of his dress coat were hanging grotesquely, as
on a clown. Paul had concentrated in his person the whole grave
ridiculousness of the ceremony. I contained its most secret and most
intimate ridiculousness. I was the small clown, unnoticed and
At the back of the dark reception room, on a platform, the bride was
waiting on her large armchair. Her face was covered in white veils,
and only when she came back from under the canopy did she raise them
and I saw Edda for the first time…
The tables for the guests were arranged one near the other, white,
in the yard, in a single line; all the town’s beggars and vagabonds
were gathered in front of the gate; the sky had an indefinite colour
of yellow clay; the pale young bridesmaids in dresses of blue and
pink silk were offering small silver candies to everyone. This was
the wedding. The musicians were creaking out an old, sad waltz; from
time to time, its rhythm was lost or became faster and seemed to
cheer up, but then the tempo would become frail again, more and
more, until nothing remained but the tinny strain of a single flute.
It was a horribly long day; a whole day is too much for a wedding.
At the back of the yard where nobody was going, there were the
hotel’s stables and a mound from which I looked into the distance,
while around me some hens were pecking grains in the grass; from the
yard came the air of the sad waltz, mingled with the fresh smell of
the wet hay in the stable. There I saw Paul doing something
extraordinary; he was talking with Ozy and it was obvious he was
saying something funny, maybe a joke, who knows, because the cripple
began to laugh and he became violet, almost suffocating under the
curved front of his starched shirt.
Finally, night fell. The few trees in the yard became dark
silhouettes, hollowing in the obscurity a mysterious and invisible
In the badly-lit hall, the bride was still sitting on the platform,
near Paul, tilting her head towards him when she wanted to whisper
something to him, leaving her soft arm between his fingers and thus
caressing him along the full length of his white glove.
Wedding cakes were brought on the table: one of them was especially
monumental, with a petrified sugar castle on top, fortified with
crenels and thousands of miniature buttresses of pink cream. The
petals of the sugar flowers covering it had a frosted and oily
shine. The knife was thrust deep into its core and a rose creaked
with a soft sound under the cut, exploding like glass in dozens of
pieces. Old ladies were walking majestically in their remarkable
velvet dresses, with innumerable jewels on their chests and fingers,
advancing slowly and solemnly, like small itinerant church altars,
Slowly, slowly, my sight grew blurred, everything in front of my
eyes was increasingly growing vague and absurd… I fell asleep while
looking at my red and hot hands.
The room in which I woke up smelled of acrid smoke; in a mirror in
front of me, the window reflected the morning light, gradually
growing, like a square of blue velvet. I was lying on a rumpled bed
covered with pillows. A tiny noise was echoing in my ears, like
inside a shell; in the room, the thin smoke flowed in multiple
I tried to wake up and my hand encountered the bed’s wooden
carvings; some of them filled my hands and others moved away from
the bed, growing in the room’s pale light and ramifying into
thousands of crenels, holes and laced mildew; in only a few seconds,
the room was immaterially filled with all kinds of volutes, through
which I had to squeeze to the door. I felt my head still tingling,
and all the air’s caverns repeated this murmur. In the corridor, the
white light washed my cheeks and I woke up completely. I met on my
way a gentleman in long night shirt, who looked at me very upset, as
if reproaching me for being dressed up so early in the morning.
I met nobody else. Down in the yard the tables for the guests were
still there, deserted, with bare pine boards. The twilight was
gloomy and cold. The wind had scattered all around the yard the
candies’ tinted tinfoil wraps. How did the bride keep her head? How
did she bow it on Paul’s shoulder? In some panopticons, the wax
woman had a strange mechanism inside her, which made her bow her
head and close her eyes.
The town’s streets had lost all their meaning; the coldness
penetrated my coat; I was cold and sleepy. When I closed my eyes,
the wind put his wintry cheek on mine; over my eyelids I could feel
it like a mask inside which it was shady and cold, like inside a
real metal mask. Which house on my way was about to explode? Which
street lamp would contort like a rubber stick, laughing at me?
Nowhere in the world, and under no circumstance, was anything
When I got in the market place, workers were unloading fresh meat
for the butchers’ stalls. They carried in their arms halved cows,
red and dark blue, wet with blood, tall and splendid like dead
princesses; in the air floated a warm smell of unblemished flesh and
urine; the butchers hung all beasts with their heads down, their
globular and black eyes turned towards the floor. They were aligned
now in front of the white porcelain walls like red sculptures cut in
the most various and delicate matter, having the watery and
rainbow-hued reflection of oriental silk and the milky and turbid
limpidity of gelatine; at the edge of their opened bellies hung the
muscles’ lace and the heavy necklaces of the pearls of animal lard.
The butchers were wedging their large hands inside that rippled
crimson velvet and then lifting out the precious entrails, putting
them on the table: round, broad, elastic and warm objects of flesh
The fresh meat shone smoothly like the petals of monstrous and
hypertrophied roses. The dawn turned vinegar blue; the freezing
morning was singing with an organ’s profound echo.
The harnessed horses were looking at people with their eyes always
in tears; a mare released on the pavement a hot stream of urine; in
the newly-formed puddle, partly foamy, partly clear, the sky was
mirroring itself, black and bottomless.
Everything became distant and desolated. It was early in the
morning, people were discharging meat, wind was entering under my
clothes, I was shivering with cold and sleeplessness: in what world
was I living?
I began to run like crazy on the streets. The sun appeared again,
huge and red, at the margins of the roofs, but on the narrow streets
with tall houses it was still dark, and only at the crossroads light
was bursting, wild and shimmering, like through open doors along a
I passed behind the Weber house, the heavy shutters at the first
floor were closed, everything was sad and forsaken; the wedding was
The upper floor of the Weber house was illuminated by Edda’s arrival
with shadows and coolness, just like certain clearings in the deep
forests become further lighted by a green brightness filtered by the
First, Edda covered all windows with curtains and put on the floors
soft carpets, in which all the deserted echoes of the upper floor
lost their voice.
Every morning I was up on the terrace, inventorying the multitude of
contorted and artificial objects from the dusty shelves of the
Together with Ozy, we were cleaning them conscientiously, and then
throwing them one by one in the garbage bin.
Edda was coming and going to and from the terrace, dressed in a blue
gown, wearing a pair of high-heeled slippers, which were banging at
every step. Sometimes she remained for a long time leaned on the
banister, eyelids half closed and looking through their narrow
opening at the pearly sky.
The upper floor acquired an ineffable perfume which changed its
content like a heavy essence combined with alcohol.
Thus all events destined to appear in my life melodically and all of
a sudden, out of my power of understanding, isolated in their
contour from any possible past. Edda became another object in my
personal menagerie, a simple object whose existence was torturing
and annoying, like a word endlessly repeated, which becomes
increasingly obscure as its understanding becomes more and more
The world’s perfection was about to emerge from somewhere like a
flower bud which still needs to pierce its last peel in order to get
to the light.
During the summer mornings, on the upper floor’s terrace, something
was going on, and my whole body struggled to understand what.
I was armed to meet Edda with all the griefs, all the humiliations
and all the ridicule indispensable in a new adventure.
She kept the curtain of pearls between the two rooms, she adorned
the china-closets with white cloths with big bows of coloured
ribbons, and the Weber house changed completely. Around Edda began a
pantomimic ballet with four participants: Paul became grave and
faithful; old Weber bought a new cap and gold framed glasses; Ozy
was waiting all the time gasping with thrill for Edda to call him
upstairs, and I was staying on the terrace staring into vacancy.
Every Saturday afternoon we were gathering in the front room
transformed into saloon, where the gramophone was playing oriental
arias from “Kismet”, and Edda was serving us sweet-bitter cookies
baked with honey and almonds. In a fruit bowl were peanuts, eaten
mainly by the old Samuel Weber, who was chewing them rarely and
firmly, his Adam’s apple dancing like an elastic doll.
He was sitting cross-legged, which constituted a resting position
out of his business with cereals, looking like an artist on the
theatre stage, and, while he was speaking, he was shooting out his
lips in order to hide his gold teeth.
He was afraid to touch any object and while passing through the
curtain of pearls, he would turn around to unite the two halves, so
that his passage would be inaudible.
All of Ozy’s deformities sharpened and curved in a position of
intense concentration. His hunch grew even more, as if it, too,
tried to take notice of Edda’s slightest word and gesture and meet
those one second before they were produced.
Paul was the only one stepping on the carpets calm and sure of
himself. He had full gestures, to which there was nothing to add,
and when he was hugging Edda, we were finally all of us three happy
that he did it better than any of us.
As for me, I had no idea what was happening those days.
In one of those afternoons, being comfortably engrossed in an
armchair, I pushed my head into the plush, without any particular
reason. The small pricks entered my cheek’s skin, which made me feel
a vivid pain. In only one second grew in me, ridiculous and
splendid, an imperative desire to be heroic; it was one of those
numerous absurd thoughts which can only be produced on a Saturday
afternoon, on the boring music of a gramophone.
I begun to push even more strongly my head into the plush and as my
pain grew more and more violent, my will to endure it became
Maybe inside us there are hidden forms of hunger and thirst other
than the organic ones, and something inside me needed in that
precise instant to satisfy a simple and keen pain. I was pushing my
head deeper and deeper in the sharp pricks, being tortured by a
suffering which was tearing me inside.
All of a sudden Edda remained still with a gramophone record in her
hand, looking at me in deep stupefaction. Around me grew an
embarrassing silence. “What happened to him?” asked Edda. I saw
myself in a mirror, I was utterly ridiculous. On my cheek I had a
violet spot oozing with drops of blood from place to place.
With eyes wide open and bleeding cheek, looking at myself in the
mirror, I couldn’t stop thinking that I was the incarnated allegory
of the front cover of a very fashionable novel, which presented the
Russian tsar bleeding and covering his jaw with one hand, after an
attempt to his life.
More than the pain in my cheek, I was tortured now by the miserable
destiny of my heroism, which ended by incarnating an episode from
“The Court of Petrograd”.
Edda dipped a handkerchief in alcohol and wiped my cheek. I felt a
vivid pain on my skin, which was burning like by a flame.
I descended the stairs dizzily; the greedy streets received me again
in their dust and monotony.
The summer had swollen chaotically the park, the trees and the air,
like a madman’s drawing.
All her burning and abundant breath had exploded monstrously in an
abundant, luxurious, fleshy vegetation.
The park had overflown like lava; the stones were burning; my hands
were red and heavy.
In that soft and warm wilderness, I was carrying Edda’s image inside
me, multiplied in tens of copies, in hundreds, in thousands of Eddas,
one near the other under the summer’s heat, statuary, identical and
There was in all this a cruel and lucid despair, propagated in all I
could see or feel. Simultaneously with my straightforward and
undemanding life, other intimacies were growing apace in me, warm,
beloved and secret, like a terrible and fantastic inner leprosy.
I was composing the details of the imaginary scenes with the most
punctilious accuracy. I could see myself in sordid hotel rooms, with
Edda sleeping near me, while the twilight was coming into the room
through the thick curtains, and their delicate shadow was
impregnating on her tranquil face. I could see the pattern of the
carpet on which were thrown her shoes and her bag opened on the
table, the corner of a handkerchief was poking out of it. Also, the
big wardrobe with mirror doors in which was reflected half of the
bed and the painting with flowers on the walls…
A bitter taste lingered after these thoughts…
I was following unknown women in the garden, walking on their steps
until they arrived at their homes, and I was remaining in front of
their doors, crushed, desperate.
One evening I walked after a woman to the gateway of her dwelling.
The house had a small garden in front, illuminated by a weak
With a swift impetuousness, unsuspected in me, I opened the small
gate and sneaked inside the yard, after the woman, while she entered
her house without noticing me, and I remained alone in the alley. A
strange idea came suddenly to me…
In the middle of the garden was a circle of flowers, in only one
second I was in its middle, I kneeled and, with my hand to the
heart, bare-headed, took a position of prayer. I wanted to stay like
this as long as possible, immobile, petrified in the middle of the
circle of flowers. I had been tormented for a long time by this
desire to commit an absurd act in a totally unknown place, and now I
had the possibility to fulfil it, spontaneously, without any effort,
almost like a joy. The evening was vibrating, warm, around me, and
in the first seconds I felt enormously grateful towards myself, for
the courage to have taken this decision.
I decided to remain completely motionless until the following
morning. Slowly, slowly, my hands and my feet became rigid, and my
position got an interior shell of limitless calm and immobility.
How long did I stay like this? All of a sudden I heard voices inside
the house and the light in the garden was turned off.
In the dark I felt the night breeze and my isolation better, in the
garden of an unknown house.
Some minutes later the light was turned on and then again turned
off. Somebody inside the house was turning it on and off in order to
see what effect it had on me.
I continued to stay immobile, decided to face experiences more
serious than this game with the light. I kept my hand on my heart
and my knee on the ground.
The door opened and somebody came in the garden, while a deep voice
inside shouted: “Leave him alone, he will leave by himself.” The
woman I had followed came near me. She was now wearing a dressing
gown and slippers, and her hair was dishevelled. She looked deep
into my eyes and didn’t say a word for a time. We both stayed
silent, and after a while she put her hand on my shoulder and
uttered, tenderly: “Come on… it’s over now”, as if she wanted to
make me realize that she had understood my gesture and had kept
silent for a while just to make it become accomplished in its own
I was disarmed by this sudden understanding. I got up and wiped off
the dust on my knee. “Don’t your feet pain?” she asked. “I could
have not remained immobile for so long…” I wanted to say something,
but I only managed to murmur a poor “Good night” and left in a rush.
All my despairs were painfully screaming again in me.
I was a tall, slim, pale boy, with a thin neck coming out boldly
from a large tunic collar. My long arms were hanging out of the
sleeves like animals freshly skinned. My pockets were exploding with
papers and objects. I could hardly find at their bottom my
handkerchief, to wipe off the dust on my shoes, when arriving on the
streets in the town “centre”.
The simple and elementary facts of life were evaluating around me
according to their own laws. A pig was scratching on a fence and I
was stopping for whole minutes to look at it. Nothing was more
perfect than the squeak of the harsh hairs on the wood; I could find
in it something immensely satisfying and an appeasing assurance that
the world still existed…
On a street on the town’s outskirts there was a studio of folk
sculpture, where I was also spending a lot of time.
Inside the studio there were thousands of white, smooth things,
in the middle of the chubby wooden stripes which were falling from
the scraper which were filling the room with their rigid foam,
smelling like resin.
Under the scraper, the wood piece was becoming more delicate,
silkier, paler, and its small veins appeared clear and well written,
like under a woman’s skin.
Nearby, calm and heavy wooden balls were lying on a table, balls
which filled my hand on all its skin’s surface, with sleek,
There were also the chess men, smelling like fresh varnish, and a
whole wall covered with flowers and angels.
Sometimes, delirious eczemas with tatting suppurations, painted
or sculptured, came out from the matter’s flesh.
During the winter, ice fringes grew from the cold air, in the
delimited forms of heavy water; during the summer, numerous flowers
burst out in small explosions, with red, blue, orange petals of
During the whole year the sculptor, his glasses missing a lens,
extracted from the wood smoke wreaths and Indian arrows, shells and
ferns, peacock feathers and human ears.
In vain was I attentive to his slow work, in order to intercept the
exact moment when the ragged and wet piece of wood was expired in a
In vain I tried to accomplish the miracle myself. I held the shaggy,
hairy and solid pine, and all of a sudden the scraper’s scratch left
behind an elusive and slippery trace, like a faint.
Maybe then, the moment I was beginning to caress the wooden board, I
was filled with a deep sleep, and extraordinary powers grew like
tentacles from my hands, spreading in the air, entering the wood and
producing the creative cataclysm.
Maybe that the whole world was stopping its motion in those moments
and nobody knew how much time had elapsed, and the master had
sculptured all the lilies on the walls and all the violins with
spirals in a very deep sleep.
When I was waking up, the board showed me the intimate lines of its
age, just like the lines of fate in an opened palm.
I was holding one object after another and I was amazed by their
diversity, in vain was I using the file, sliding my fingers on its
surface and touching my cheek with it, I was rotating it and then
letting it roll… in vain, in vain, there was nothing understandable
in its mere existence.
Around me, the tough and immobile matter surrounded me from all
parts, in the studio in form of wooden balls and sculptures, on the
street in the form of trees, houses, stones, it surrounded me from
every possible direction, immense and futile, imprisoning me,
starting with the clothes I was wearing and ending with the springs
in the forests passing through walls, through trees, through rocks,
In the tiniest corner, the matter’s lava had gone out of the earth,
transfixing in the empty air, in the form of houses with windows, of
trees with tall branches stinging the void, of flowers which were
filling, softly and colourfully, small curved volumes in the space,
of churches with domes growing higher and higher and stopping at the
thin cross on the very top, where the matter had stopped its flowing
into the heights, unable to climb further.
It had infested the air everywhere, irrupting into it, filling it
with the closed abscesses of the rocks, with the wounded hollows of
the old trees…
I was wandering around, maddened by the things I had seen, bound to
be their slave forever.
But sometimes I could find some isolated place where my head could
rest for a while. There, for an instant, all the vertigos were
quiet, and I was feeling better.
Once I found refuge in one of the strangest and most unsuspected
places in town.
It was indeed so outlandish, that not even myself could have
imagined that it might turn up to be such a lonely and admirable
I believe that only that burning desire to fill the void of my days,
anyhow and anywhere, had pushed me towards this new exploit.
…One day, when passing in front of the town’s music hall, I finally
dared to enter.
It was a calm, shiny afternoon. I crossed a dirty yard with many
closed doors, I found one open at the back, then followed some
In the vestibule a woman was doing laundry. The corridor smelled
like lye. I got up the stairs, the woman didn’t tell me anything at
first, then, when I arrived on the middle of the stairs, she turned
her head towards me and murmured, more for herself: “Oh… you finally
came!”, probably taking me for someone she already knew.
Long time after this encounter I remembered this apparently
inconsequential detail, and I didn’t find her words that innocent
anymore: maybe it was hidden in them the announcement of the
fatality of my struggles and the washerwoman was just trying to show
me that the places of my adventures were established in advance,
that I was bound to fall into them like in well-disguised fox-traps.
“Oh, you finally came, said my destiny’s voice, you came because you
had to come, because you couldn’t possibly escape…”
I arrived on a long corridor, heated by the sun that entered through
all the windows facing the yard.
All the doors were closed; no noise could be heard; in a corner, a
faucet was dripping unceasingly. The corridor was balmy and
deserted, and the canal’s aperture sucked up every drop of water, as
if it were sipping a too cold drink.
At the end of the corridor there was a door opening towards an
attic, where clothes were drying on ropes. I crossed the attic and
arrived to a small hall with clean little rooms, freshly painted, in
every one of them there was only one chest and one mirror; these
were probably the cabinets of the music hall artists.
On one side, a staircase was going down towards the theatre’s stage.
I descended it and all of a sudden I found myself on the empty
stage, in front of the deserted auditorium. My steps had a bizarre
sonority. All chairs and tables were arranged correctly, as for a
show. I was alone on the stage, in front of them, in the middle of
the theatrical scenery of a forest.
I wanted to open my mouth, feeling that I should say something out
loud, but I was petrified by that deep silence.
Then I saw the prompter’s cage. I bowed and looked inside.
In the first few seconds I couldn’t distinguish anything, then
gradually I began to see the under stage, full with broken chairs
and old props.
Very cautiously I got into the cage and descended down there.
There were thick layers of dust everywhere. On the one side there
was a pile of golden pasteboard stars and crowns, which had surely
served for some sort of a fairy play, and on the other side, a piece
of Rococo furniture, a table and some chairs with broken legs, and
in the middle, a solemn and huge armchair, resembling a royal
I let myself fall into it, tired. I was finally in a neutral space,
where nobody knew about my presence. I put my arms on the golden
ones of the throne and let myself be jiggled by the most pleasant
feeling of solitude.
The darkness around me dissolved a little bit as the daylight begun
to enter, dirty and dusty, through the double windows. I was far
from the world, from its hot and exasperating streets, hidden in a
shady and secret cell, under the surface of the earth. The silence
was flowing in the air, old and mouldy.
Who could have guessed where I was? It was the most unexpected place
in the whole town. I felt a calm joy knowing myself there.
Around me there were broken chairs, dusty boards, abandoned objects:
the place of all my dreams incarnated in that very spot.
I remained like this for some hours, quiet, in perfect ecstasy.
Finally I left my hideout, following back the same itinerary.
Strangely enough, I didn’t meet anyone this time, either.
The corridor seemed enflamed by the sunset’s blaze. The canal’s
aperture kept sucking up the water with tiny, regular sips.
Back on the street, I had for one moment the impression that none of
these things had really happened. But my trousers were covered with
dust, and I left them like this, as a proof of the distant and
admirable intimacy which I had felt under that stage.
The following day, at about the same afternoon hour, I was suddenly
invaded by the nostalgia of the isolated basement.
I was absolutely certain that this time I would meet someone, on the
corridor or in the hall. For a while I tried to ignore the
temptation to return there, but I was too tired and too heated by
the day’s warmth, and no possible risk could frighten me. I had to
go back there no matter what.
I entered through the same door in the yard and I ascended the same
staircase. The corridor was equally deserted and nobody was in the
attic or under the stage.
In only few minutes I was back at my place, in the theatrical
throne, surrounded by my delicious loneliness. My heart was beating
fast, I was extremely thrilled by the astonishing triumph of my
I began to caress in yawning elation the throne’s golden arms. I
would have wanted to be infiltrated as deeply as possible by this
heavenly situation, to be burdened and touched by it in the most
invisible cell, so that I could feel it real.
I stayed there for a long time, and when I left, again I didn’t meet
I began to come back there regularly, every afternoon.
The corridors were always empty. I was falling in my throne, crushed
by bliss. Through the dirty windows, the same blue and breezy cavern
light would enter. The atmosphere there was impregnated by a
complete and secret solitude, and I couldn’t possibly have enough of
These daily expeditions in the music hall’s basement ended one
afternoon as strangely as they had started.
When I got out on the corridor, at dusk, a woman was taking water
from the faucet.
I passed quietly near her, facing the risk to be asked what I was
doing there. But she continued her occupation, with that indifferent
and defensive air which women display when they suspect that a
stranger wants to talk to them.
I stopped at the bottom of the staircase, willing to talk to her. My
hesitation was facing her scowling certitude that I would talk to
her. The water’s gurgle from the faucet was splitting the cold
silence in two very well delimited and distinct domains.
I turned back and got close to her. I asked her if she didn’t know
some person who could be my model for some drawings. I pronounced
the word “person” with a perfectly natural voice, so that it
wouldn’t let her guess the trivial desire to see a naked woman, but
only the purely artistic and abstract preoccupation to draw a human
Some days before, a student, in order to impress me of course, had
told me that in the capital, where he was studying, he would bring
home with him young girls with the pretext of drawing them, and then
slept with them. I was sure that not a word was true, because I
could feel in his narration the obvious clumsiness of the
appropriating and the re-telling of a story he had heard before.
Still, it had inlayed deep into my memory, and now it was a good
occasion to use it. This occurrence of an unknown stranger, after it
had passed through the infertile ground of some other narrator, was
now mature enough to fall again into reality.
The woman did not seem to understand, or she simply pretended not to
understand, even though I had tried to be as clear as possible.
While I was talking a door opened and another woman came.
They begun to whisper, and then one of them said: “Let’s take him to
Elvira then, she has nothing to do anyway”.
They walked me into a low, dark chamber, which I had never noticed,
near the attic. Inside, instead of a window, there was a hole in the
wall, through which a cold air current entered. It was the
cinematographic cabin, from which movies were projected in the
summer, in the garden of the music hall. On the ground were still
visible the traces of the pedestal on which the projector had been
In a corner, a sick woman was lying on a bed, completely covered
with a blanket, chattering her teeth. The other women left and let
me alone in the middle of the room.
I got close to the bed. The sick woman got a hand out from the
blanket and pushed it towards me. It was a long, delicate, icy hand,
I told her in few words that it had been a confusion, that I was
brought to her by mistake. I tried to apologize, telling her vaguely
what all was about: some drawing for an artistic competition.
From everything I said she only retained the word “competition”, and
answered with extinct voice: “Sure… sure… I will give you the
competition… when I’ll be healthy again… now I have nothing…
She probably understood that I needed some sort of a financial help,
and for some seconds I felt bewildered and embarrassed, not knowing
how to escape from there.
During this time she began to lament with a very natural voice, as
if she wanted to apologize for not giving me anything: “You see, I
have ice on my belly… I’m hot… I’m sick…”
I left from there very sad, and never came back.
Autumn came, with its red sun and steamy mornings. The little houses
in the slums, clustered in the light, smelled like fresh lime. The
days were dull and ashy and the sky was cloudy like a dirty canvas.
The rain was pelting infinitely in the solitary park. The heavy
curtains of water were agitated by the wind on the alleys, like in
an immense empty hall. I was walking in the wet grass, and the water
poured on my hands and hair.
On the dirty lanes at the outskirts of the town, when the rain
stopped, the doors were opened and the houses inhaled the fresh air
into their humble interiors filled with wooden cupboards, bouquets
of artificial roses carefully arranged on the drawers, their small
statues of bronzed plaster and their photographs from America. Lives
totally unknown to me, lost in the slightly decaying rooms with low
ceilings, sublime in their resigned indifference.
I would have liked to live in one of those houses, to become
impregnated by their intimacy, letting all my dreams and all my
sorrows dissolve in them like in a strong acid.
I would have given anything just to be allowed to enter those rooms
with familiarity and to let myself fall on the old sofa, between the
feminine pillows covered with flourished fabric. To gain there a new
interior intimacy, to breathe another air and to become another
person… Lying on my sofa, I could have contemplated the street on
which I was walking just then, from inside the house and through the
curtains (and I was trying to imagine the street’s aspect seen from
the sofa, through the opened door), to be able to find in me, all of
a sudden, memories of things I had never experienced, memories
foreign to the life I was always carrying in myself, over and over
again, memories belonging to the intimacy of the bronzed statue and
to the old lamp globe, with blue and violet butterflies.
I would have felt so protected in that cheap and indifferent
background, which completely ignored my existence…
In front of me, the dirty street was stretching its muddy paste. The
houses were displayed like an oriental fan, some white like huge
blocks of sugar, others undersized, with roofs covering their eyes,
and clenching their teeth like immobile boxers. I would meet in my
way ordinary wagons with hay, or, all of a sudden, something
extraordinary: a man walking in the rain, carrying on his back a
chandelier with crystal ornaments, a magnificent glass work sounding
like bells on the man’s shoulders, while heavy drops of water were
breaking on the multiple shiny facets… What was the secret of the
world’s magnitude, and where was it hiding?
In the garden, the rain was washing the withered flowers and plants.
The autumn was lighting in them scarlet, ruby and purplish-blue
fires, like small blazes shining more powerfully in the seconds
before burning out. In the market place, the water and the mud were
flowing tousled from the enormous piles of vegetables. In the
beetroots’ cut could be seen, all of a sudden, the earth’s dark red
blood; at one side lingered the kind-hearted, mild potatoes, near
the heaps of the decapitated heads of engorged cabbages; somewhere
else was the pile of exasperating beauty of the swollen and hideous
pumpkins, their stretched rinds exploding from the plenitude of the
light they drank the whole summer.
In the middle of the sky the clouds were grouping and then
scattering around, leaving between them rare spaces, like narrow
corridors lost in the infinity, or, on the contrary, immense empty
spaces, much more beautiful than the devastating void floating all
the time above the town.
Rain was falling from afar, from a distant and limitless sky, and I
liked the changed shade of the wet wood and the rusty lattice
surrounding the domestic and wise little gardens, through which the
wind was passing wildly, mingled with streams of water, like the
immense mane of a fantastic horse.
Sometime I would have liked to be a dog, to look at that wet world
from the animals’ oblique perspective, from down up and slightly
inclining my head, to walk closer to the earth, with my eyes fixed
on its surface covered with livid mud…
This odd desire hidden deep inside me slithered frenetically into
the reality on an autumn day, on the waste ground…
On that day I had walked purposelessly till the town’s margins, in
the field of the cattle market, now soaked by the rain and
transformed into an immense mud slop.
The dung was exhaling an acrid smell of animal urine. The sun was
setting above, in an embellishment of ragged gold and purple; in
front of me the warm, tender mud was stretching to the horizons.
What else could have filled my heart with such an unbearable joy,
than this clean and sublime mass of filth?
I hesitated for some seconds, inside me were fighting, with forces
of moribund gladiator, the last traces of education, but in one
second they were sunk in an opaque obscurity, and I lost myself.
I entered the mud first with one leg, then with the other. My boots
slithered pleasantly in the elastic, sticky leaven. Now I was grown
from the mud and a part of it, as if I had sprouted from it.
Now I was sure that trees also were nothing but curdled mud, grown
from the earth’s crust. Their dye was the sufficient proof. But why
only the trees? What about the houses, or the people? Especially the
people. All the people. Of course, I’m not referring to that dull
legend “from earth you came unto earth you’ll return”, this was a
thing too vague, too abstract, too inconsistent in front of that
field of mud. All people and things had sprung from this very dung
and urine in which I was dishing a pair of very concrete boots.
In vain had the people covered themselves in silky white skin, and
dressed in stylish suits, in vain, in vain… the mud was hidden
inside them, implacable, authoritative and elementary, fat, warm and
lethargic… Another evidence was the stupidity with which they were
filling their boring lives.
I was a special creation of the mud as well, a missionary sent by it
in this world. I could very well feel in those moments how its
memory was coming back to me and I remembered my past long nights of
struggle and hot darkness, when my essential mud was uselessly
remounting to the surface; I was then closing my eyes and it
continued to boil in abstruse mutterings…
Around me the muddy field was stretching, this was my real body,
stripped of its clothes, its skin and its muscles, stripped to
its very flesh.
Its elastic humidity and its unripe smell were receiving me in their
depths, because I had belonged to them since forever. Some apparent
and purely accidental features, like, the few gestures I was capable
of doing, my delicate hair, and my dark glassy eyes were separating
me from its immemorial serenity and dirt. It was not enough in front
of the immense majesty of the mud.
I wandered around, in all directions. My feet sunk in the mud to my
ankles. It was raining slowly, and far away, the sun was setting
behind the curtain of bloody and purulent clouds.
Suddenly I bowed and I thrust my hands in the dung. I wanted to
scream: Why not? Why not? That paste was warm and tender; my hands
were wandering through it easily. When I clenched my fists, the mud
got out through my fingers in beautiful black, shiny slices.
What had my hands done until then? Where had they lost their time
and energy? I was moving them hither and thither, at their will’s
sake. What had they been until then but poor prisoner birds, tied
with a terrible chain to the skin and to the muscles and to the
shoulders? Poor birds destined to fly only at the length of some
stupid gestures of good education, learned by heart and repeated
Slowly, slowly, they became wild again and regained their ancient
freedom. Now they were rolling their head in the dung, were
prattling like doves, spreading their wings in complete happiness…
I began, delighted, to flutter them in the air, making them fly
again. Heavy drops of mud were falling on my face and on my clothes.
Why should have I cleaned myself? Why? This was only the beginning,
no severe consequence followed my actions, no trembling of the
skies, no terrific earthquake… I touched my cheeks with my dirty
hands, and I was overwhelmed by an immense joy, it was a long time
since I had last been so happy, I began to rub with my dirty hands
my cheeks, my neck, my hair.
All of a sudden, the rain became thicker and sharper. The sun was
still illuminating the field, like an immense lamp from the back of
a room of ashy marble. It was raining in the sun’s light, a golden
rain smelling like clean laundry.
The waste ground was deserted. Here and there were piles of
well-seasoned corn, food for the cattle. I took one corn stem in my
hands and began to open it carefully. I was shivering from the cold
and my hands were dirty with mud, but I was absorbed with the
unwrapping of the corn leaves. Much was to be seen in a dry corn
stem. Far away there was a shack with thatch roof. I ran to it and
hid under its eaves. The roof was so low that the top of my head was
hitting it. The ground near the wall was completely dry. I lay down,
I leaned my head on some old gunnies and, cross-legged, I could now
continue my meticulous examination of the stem.
I was glad in this mundane occupation of mine, really glad. The
canals and the holes in the stem filled me with real enthusiasm,
thus I pricked it with my teeth and found inside it a soft, sweet
fluff, a very unexpected and wonderful lining for a plant; if
people’s arteries were also sheathed with mellow ruffle, I’m sure
that the darkness inside them would be infinitely easier to live
I was looking at the stem and the silence in me was smiling calmly,
as if inside me someone was continuously making soapsuds.
It was raining but sunny, and far away, in the fog, the town was
fuming like a mound of garbage. Some roofs and church towers were
shining weirdly in that humid crepuscule. I was so happy that I did
not know what absurd action to perform first: to analyze the corn
stem, to stretch my bones or to look at the distant town.
A little bit further from my feet soles, where the mud’s territory
was starting, a small frog suddenly began to jump, first she came
close to me but then changed its mind and headed towards the fields.
“Farewell, my little frog”, I cried after it, “farewell…” My heart
was broken by its sudden departure. “Farewell, my beauty…” I began
to improvise a long hymn for the little frog, and when I finished, I
threw towards it the disintegrated stem, to hit the ungrateful…
Finally, after a long gazing at the locust beams above me, I closed
my eyes and a deep sleep entered deep into my bone marrow.
…I dreamed that I was wandering on the streets of a dusty town, with
white houses shining under a heavy sun, maybe an oriental town. Near
me walked a woman dressed in black mourning veils. Strangely, she
did not have a head. The veils were very well arranged in the place
where her head should have been, but instead of it was an open hole,
an empty sphere.
We were both in a hurry, following a cart with a sanitary cross on
it, in which lay the dead body of the woman’s husband.
I understood that it was during the war, and soon we arrived at a
railway station and descended some stairs to a basement vaguely
illuminated by an electric bulb. A convoy of wounded had just
arrived, and the nurses were bustling in great agitation on the
platform, holding in their hands small baskets full with cherries
and pretzels, offering them to the wounded soldiers in the train.
From a first class coach descended a fat man, well dressed, with a
decoration at his tab.
He was wearing monocle and white leather shoes. His baldness was
hidden under some silver hairs. In his arms he was holding a small
white Pekinese dog, its eyes like two agates floating on oil.
For a few seconds he walked around, searching for something. He
finally found it, it was the flower seller. He chose from her basket
some small bouquets of red carnations and paid for them, taking his
money from an elegant wallet, with a silver monogram.
He then went up in his coach again; a few seconds after I could see
how he put the dog on the table near the window and began to give
feed to it, one by one, the red carnations, which the animal
swallowed with obvious pleasure…
I was awoken by an awful quiver.
Now it was raining really hard, the huge drops were pelting near me
and I had to draw myself near the wall. The sky was now black and I
could no longer see the town.
I was cold and still my cheeks were burning. I could very well feel
their heat under the scab of curdled mud. I wanted to rise but an
electric drift fulminated in my legs. They were completely numb and
I had to unfold them very carefully, first one, then the other. My
socks were cold and wet.
I thought about seeking refuge in that miserable kennel, but its
door was closed and, instead of a window, the small house only had a
hole in its wooden wall. The wind was cluttering the rain and I
could not stay away from it.
It was almost evening, very soon after the field was dark. At its
very margin, in the direction where I had come from, a pub turned
its lights on.
In only one second I was there. I would have liked to enter, to
drink something, to stay at warmth, surrounded by people and by the
alcohol fetidness. I fumbled in my pockets for money but I couldn’t
find any. In front of the pub, the rain was falling merrily, through
a curtain of smoke and steam engrossing from inside.
I had to decide something, anything, for example, to go home, but
It was impossible to do it, dirty as I was, and, at the same time, I
didn’t want to give up my filth.
My soul was enveloped in a thick sadness, like when one realizes
that in front of him there is nothing but emptiness and
purposelessness, and nothing left to live and nothing left to
I began to run in the streets, in the dark, jumping over slops and
sometimes sinking to my knees in them.
Despair grew in me, massive and excruciating, and made me feel an
urgent need to scream and to hit my head on the trees and on the
walls, but then it writhed in a tranquil, tender thought. I knew
what I had to do: because I couldn’t go any further, all I had to do
was to finish with everything, in that exact moment and place. What
was I leaving behind? Just a humid, ugly world, in which it was
I entered the house by the back door. I sneaked through the rooms,
avoiding looking in the mirrors. I was searching for something
efficacious and quick which could have thrown in the dark everything
I was feeling and seeing, just as a wagon of rocks when one discards
its bottom plank.
I began to search all the drawers for some violent poison, devoid of
any thought except for the one that all this must finish as soon as
possible. It was a duty like any other.
I found all sorts of useless objects: buttons, twine, coloured
thread, little prayer books with a weighty smell of naphthalene.
None of these futile things could help a man die. This is what the
world contained in its most tragic moments: buttons, twine, coloured
At the bottom of a drawer I found a box with white pills, they could
have been a poison or just an inoffensive medicine, but I thought
that anyway, in a big quantity, they should certainly be poisoning.
I put one on my tongue, my whole mouth was filled with a vaguely
salty and faded taste. I crushed it between my teeth and its dust
absorbed all my saliva. My mouth became dry.
There were many tablets in the little box, more than thirty. I went
to the faucet in the yard and I begun to swallow them, one by one,
steadily and patiently.
I drank water with every pill, I needed a lot of time to finish them
all. The last ones couldn’t slither down my neck, which felt
It was completely dark in the yard. I sat on a step and I waited. In
my stomach began a terrifying boiling, but I was feeling good in the
rest of my body, and the rain was now my intimate friend,
understanding my state and surrounding me with its care.
The yard became a lounge, and I was feeling more and more feathery
in it. All things were desperately trying not be to drawn in the
deep obscurity. All of a sudden I realized I was sweating terribly.
I put my hand under my shirt, I was all wet. Around me the void was
growing vertiginously. I entered the house and fell on a bed,
And then I saw it.
It was a beautiful head, extraordinarily beautiful.
Maybe three times bigger than a human head, spinning slowly on a
brass axis which was sweeping it from the top, through the neck.
First I could only see its nape. Out of what was it made? It had a
pale shine of old faience, with tusk glitters. All of its surface
was printed with small blue drawings, all sorts of filigrees
repeated geometrically, like on a carpet. From afar they looked like
a delicate writing on an ivory paper; it was incredibly beautiful.
All of a sudden, the head begun to move, spinning on its axis, and I
was overwhelmed by a deep vertigo. I knew that in some seconds would
appear, in front of the skull, the frightening, horrible face.
It was a well-formed face, with all its normal human sets: dished
eyes, very prominent chin, and two excavated triangles under every
cheekbone, like in a thin person.
But its skin was fantastic: formed out of delicate spangles of
delicate flesh, one near the other, like the brownish foils on the
back of the mushrooms.
There were so many foils, and so tight, that, if you were looking at
that head by closing the eyelids for a bit, nothing seemed abnormal,
and the minuscule lines looked like the hachured shadows of some
Sometimes, during the summer, looking far away at the chestnut
trees, charged with leaves, they looked like enormous heads stuck in
trunks, with the cheeks holed in depth, like this head.
When the wind was blowing through the leaves, this face would
undulate like a field of wheat.
In the same way the head was quivering, when the pedestal was
To see that the head was made out of spangles, it was enough to dish
my finger a little in its flesh: it would enter without any
resistance, like in a humid, soft paste. When I took it out, the
spangles were returning to their original position, and no trace
Once, in my childhood, I was present during the exhumation and
inhumation of the body of a girl who had died very young, and had
been buried dressed in a white wedding dress.
The silk bodice had disentangled in long, dirty strips, and from
place to place, the traces of embroidery had mingled with soil. Only
her face looked intact, and had kept entirely its traces. Its colour
was dark-blue, so that the head seemed made out of humid
When the coffin was taken out, someone passed his hand over the dead
girl’s face, and we all had a terrible surprise: what we had thought
to be a very well preserved cheek was only a two-finger thick layer
of mustiness, which had replaced the skin’s depth and forms.
Underneath this illusion was the empty skull.
My head was exactly like this, but instead of mouldiness it was
covered with layers of flesh, but I could traverse them to the bones
with my finger.
The head, although hideous, was a secure refuge against the air.
Why against the air? In my room the air was in continuous movement,
viscous, sticky, heavy, flowing from everywhere and trying to curdle
in ugly, black stalactites.
In this air had appeared the head for the first time, and around it
began to grow gradually a void, like an aureole.
I was so happy and pleased with its apparition that I felt like
laughing. But how was it possible to laugh in the middle of the
night, in the dark?
I began to love the head passionately. It was my most precious and
intimate possession. It had come to me from the mysterious world of
darkness, from where only an inaudible buzz would arrive to me, like
a continuous boil under my skull. What other things could be found
there? I opened my eyes wide open and I scrutinized in vain the
obscurity but, except for the ivory head, nothing else appeared.
I wondered with some sort of fear if this head would not become in
my future life the centre of all my preoccupations, replacing them
all, one by one, so that at the end I would only remain with it and
with the darkness. Life appeared at that moment in a precise, true
light. For a very short instant, it had grown in the air like a
complete, matured fruit.
The head was my rest and my felicity, my unique possession. Had it
belonged to the whole world, a terrible catastrophe would have taken
place. Only one moment of full happiness could have petrified the
Against the power of the “head” fought continuously, more and more
powerless, the air’s dirty flow.
Sometimes near it appeared my father, vague and indirect, like a
mass of whitish steams. I knew he would put his hand on my forehead;
his hand was cold. I tried to explain to him the useless fight
between the head and the air, while he was unbuttoning my shirt and
sliding the thermometer under my armpit, like a thin glass lizard.
Around the head began a troublesome movement, like a flag’s flutter.
It was impossible to stop it, the flag was fluttering evermore.
I remembered the day when, at tea time, upstairs, in the Weber
family, Paul had let his hand hang down the chair, and Edda, from
the bed, raising her shoe a little, began to scratch his palm, as a
joke. In my memory, her gesture gradually reached an unusual vigour.
When I thought about it, the shoe was scratching Paul’s palm with an
incredible might, until it produced a small wound, and then a deep
hole in his flesh. The shoe never stopped its annoying mechanism: it
was continually holing the wounded hand, and then the whole arm, and
then the whole body… In the same way began the movement of the flag.
It could have destroyed everything, and then devour me…
I screamed in great pain and despair, all sweaty.
“How much?” asked a voice in the shadow.
“39”, answered my father, leaving me prey to the storm growing
The convalescence announced itself one morning as an extreme
fragility of the world, in the room in which I was sleeping; it was
entering through the window on the roof, and the room’s volume
diminished gradually in its density. The things’ clearness was
lighter now, and, no matter how deeply I would breathe, a wide void
remained in my chest, like the disappearance of an important
quantity of my being.
In the warm sheets, the bread crumbs were sliding from under my
legs. My leg was searching the bed’s metal, which was stabbing it
with a cold knife.
I tried to get down from the bed. Everything was just as I
suspected: the inconsistent air could not sustain me. I was walking
through it abruptly and without any coordination, as if I was trying
to cross a vaporous and warm river.
I sat on a chair, under the window on the roof, around me the light
was relegating the things’ exactitude as if it were washing them
thoroughly, in order to deprive them of their glitter.
The bed, in a corner of the room, was dipped in darkness. How did I
manage, in that obscurity, to distinguish, during the fever, every
grain of lime?
I began to get dressed; my clothes were lighter than usual, hanging
on my body like blotting paper, and smelling as lye after having
Flowing in gradually rare waters, I got out into the street. I was
instantly stunned by the sun. Immense stains of yellow and greenish
brilliancies were partly covering the houses and the passers-by. The
street itself looked thin and fresh, like having surpassed the fever
of a serious disease.
The carriage horses, grey and loose, had abnormal movements, now
they were walking very slowly, with difficulty, and the next moment
they were running wildly, breathing powerfully on their nostrils so
that they would not fall too weak on the asphalt.
The long corridor of houses was slightly rocking under the wind’s
blow. From afar came the strong smell of autumn. “A beautiful autumn
day”, I said to myself, “A splendid autumn day!”…
I was walking very slowly near the dusty houses, and in a bookshop’s
window I saw an agitated clock-work toy.
It was a small clown, dressed in a red and blue outfit, which was
clapping with two minuscule copper cymbals. He was very comfortably
closed in this kingdom of his, in his window, surrounded by books,
balls and inkwells, and he was clapping his cymbals thoughtless and
My heart was touched by its purity, my eyes were filled with tears,
it was so clean and so shady in that window corner!
Indeed, an ideal place in this world, where one could clap appeased
his cymbals, dressed in beautiful coloured clothes.
After so much fever, I could perceive a simple, clear thing, there
in the window, in the intimate autumn light, which was falling down
on earth in lovely beams. Oh, how I would have liked to replace the
small, happy clown, there, in the middle of all those books and
balls and clean objects, correctly arranged on a blue paper. Bang!
Bang! Bang! How it’s good to be in this window! Bang! Bang! Bang!
Red, green, blue; balls, books and inks! Bang! Bang! Bang! What a
beautiful autumn day!...
Slowly, slowly, stealthily, stealthily, the clown’s movements slowed
down. First, the cymbals didn’t touch anymore, and then his arms
remained numb in the air.
I realized with great terror that the clown had stopped his playing.
Something deep inside me was painfully petrified. A beautiful moment
lost in the ether…
I left quickly from that window and headed towards a small public
garden in the centre of the town.
The chestnut trees had already lost their yellow leaves. The old
wooden restaurant was closed and in front of it was an upside-down
pile of broken benches.
I let myself fall on one of them, I don’t know what form it had but
all of a sudden I found myself almost lying on my back, staring at
the sky. The sun was sending through the branches a divided light,
filled with crystals.
I stood like this for some time, eyes lost in the heights, weak,
All of a sudden, a stalwart boy stood next to me, with the sleeves
of his shirt tucked up, with red, strong neck, with big, dirty
hands. He scratched his head for a few seconds with all his ten
fingers, and then took out from his trousers’ pocket a book, and
began to read.
He held tight in his palms the pages, so that the wind would not
turn them over, and he muttered aloud; from time to time he passed
his hand through his hair, to understand better.
I coughed suggestively and asked him, while capsized on that bench,
eyes lost in the tree’s branches: “What are you reading?”
The boy put the book in my hands as if I were blind. It was a long
story, in verses, about adventurous brigands, a dirty book with oily
pages: it was obvious it had passed through many hands. While I was
inspecting it, he rose and stood in front of me, prevailing, sure of
himself, with sleeves tucked up and a bare neck.
Something just as beautiful, pleasant and calm as the clown patting
cymbals in a bookshop’s window.
“And… your head doesn’t hurt when you read?” I asked him while
giving him his book back.
He didn’t seem to understand what I meant.
“Why would it hurt? No, it doesn’t hurt at all!” he replied, and
stood back on the bench, to continue his reading.
There is a certain category of things in this world to which I would
never belong, mechanical, careless clowns, strong young boys, who
never suffer with headache… Around me, through the trees, in
daylight, a spirited, ample current was flowing, carrying along
vigorous life and untouched purity. I was cursed to remain forever
at its margins, stuffed by darkness and weakness and faint.
I stretched my feet on the bench and, leaning against the tree, I
found a very comfortable position. After all, what kept me from
being strong and careless as well? To feel circulating in me a
vigorous, fresh pith, like the one flowing through the thousands of
branches and leaves of the tree, to remain vertical and irrational
under the sunlight, straight, sober, leading a secure, well-defined
life, closed under my skin like in a trap…
For this I had to breathe deeper and more rarely: I was breathing
faultily, my chest was always either too full or too empty. After
some minutes I felt better. A weak fluid of perfection, which was
bloating with every second, began to stream in my veins. The street
noises reminded me that somewhere far away the town was spinning
around me, unhastily, like an old gramophone record. I had become
the main centre of the world, its very axis, its nucleus. It was
vital now not to lose my brittle equilibrium.
One morning, in a circus, while the artists were rehearsing, I
assisted a scene which came to my mind all of a sudden, hearty and
unsullied. A volunteer from the public, a simple bystander without
any training, climbed, courageously, on the pyramid of chairs and
tables from which had descended a moment before the circus’ main
acrobat. We all admired the precision with which he was escalating
the dangerous construction; the frenzy to have managed to defeat the
first obstacles intoxicated that amateur with a sort of
irresponsible and unwise wisdom of the equilibrium, which made him
know exactly where to put his hand or his foot and what was the
minimum weight he had to assume in order to conquer a new step.
Bewildered by the perfection of his gestures, he made it in only a
few seconds to the top. But there, something strange happened: all
of a sudden he became aware of the fragility of his position, as
well as of his extraordinary bravery. Trembling and sweating with
fear, he asked, with a low voice, for a ladder, and recommended many
times to the others to hold it tight and not to move it. The
audacious amateur descended with infinite prudence, step by step,
all sweaty and frightened, disorientated by the senseless idea he
just had, and angry with himself.
My position in the garden was similar to the one on the top of
the fragile pyramid. I could feel in me the circulation of the
strong pith, but I had to make efforts not to fall from the height
of my admirable certitudes.
A thought passed through my head, that this was the state in
which I should meet Edda, calm, sure of myself, illuminated; I
hadn’t visited her in a long time… I wanted to appear in front of
someone, once in my life, complete and unflinching.
Silent and superb like a tree. Yes, like a tree, so I filled my
chest with air and, lying comfortably on my back, I greeted warmly
the branches above me. There was something rough and simple in that
tree, organically and wonderfully related to my new forces. I
caressed the trunk as if it were an old friend. “My friend, my
fellow tree!”… The more I looked at the infinitely spread wreath of
branches, the more I felt my flesh dividing itself and air
circulating alive through its gaps. My blood was flowing in me
majestically rich, foamy of the simple life’s bubbling.
I stood up. For a moment my knees bent, as if they wanted to compare
in a single hesitation all my force and all my feebleness. With
large steps I headed towards Edda’s house.
The heavy wooden door facing the terrace was closed. I was
bewildered by its immobility. All my thoughts disappeared.
I pushed the door handle. “Courage!” I said to myself, but then I
stopped to correct myself. “Why courage? Only shy people need
courage in order to achieve something, the normal, strong ones don’t
feel courage or cowardice, they just open doors…”
The fresh darkness of the first room received me with a calm,
blissful air, as if it had waited for me for long.
This time, the curtain of pearls, when uniting after me, had a
strange tinkling, which made me feel alone in a deserted house, at
the edge of the world. Was this the sensation of extreme equilibrium
in the top of the pyramid of chairs?
I knocked violently at Edda’s door.
She answered with a frightened voice to come in. Why were my steps
“Did I step softly?” I felt that the presence of a person like me
or, better said, of a tree, must have been felt from afar.
But no wonder awakened in the room, no fever, not the slightest
For some seconds my thoughts preceded me in an ideal manner, with a
great perfection and sobriety of my gestures. I saw myself stepping
forward natural and confident and taking a seat at Edda’s feet, on
the bed where she was lying. But my real person remained somewhere
behind all these attractive projects, like a villain and broken
Edda asked me to sit down and I sat on a chair, at a large distance
The clock was ticking between us its very sonorous, annoying
seconds. Strangely, the tick-tock was growing and decreasing like
the sea’s ebb and high tide, advancing in waves towards Edda, until
I could hardly hear it, and then coming back to me, swollen and
“Edda, I told her, interrupting our silence, allow me to tell you
something very simple…”
She did not answer.
“Edda, do you know what I am?”
“A tree, Edda, a tree…”
Of course, this short conversation took place entirely inside me, no
word had been uttered.
Edda snuggled on the bed, gripping her knees and covering them with
the blanket. Then she put her hands under her head and looked at me
attentively. I would have given anything for her to look anywhere
All of a sudden I saw on a shelf a big bunch of flowers in a vase.
This saved me.
How come that I hadn’t seen them before? I kept looking in that
direction since I had entered there. In order to verify their sudden
apparition I looked for a second somewhere else and then glanced
back at them. They were there, real, big, red, immobile… How come
that I hadn’t seen them? I began to doubt my certitude of being a
tree. An object appeared in the room, out of nothing, I wondered if
my sight was always clear, maybe in my body there were still some
traces of impotence and darkness, which were circulating through my
new luminosity like clouds on a shiny sky, covering my sight when
mingling with my eyes’ fluids, just like the clouds cover the sun
and sink in darkness a part of the landscape.
“How beautiful are those flowers, Edda…”
“Those on the shelf…”
“Those red, big dahlias…”
“What do you mean? Those dahlias…”
I got up and ran to the shelf. On a pile of books there was a red
scarf, and the moment I touched it I understood it was really a
scarf, but something was still hesitating in me, like the wavering
of the amateur acrobat’s courage on the top of the pyramid, between
genius equilibrium and pure dilettantism. I had got to my limit, to
my highest point…
Now all I could do was to go back and sit on the chair. What could I
do or say next?
For some moments I was so bewildered by this problem that I was
incapable of doing the slightest movement. Like the very big speed
of a motor’s propeller, which makes it look immobile, my profoundly
desperate hesitation imposed on me a statue’s noble rigidity. The
tick-tock was stronger with every second, fastening me with tiny
audible nails. I wrested from my immobility with difficulty.
Edda was in the same position on the bed, looking at me with the
same calm wonder; I had the impression that a mean and perfidious
power was making things glitter in their most common aspect, in
order to confuse me. This is what was implacably fighting against
me: the common aspect of all things.
In a world so accurate, any initiative was ineffectual, or even
And what was driving me crazy was the fact that Edda could not have
been different from this woman with perfect hairdo, with blue-violet
eyes and an imperceptible smile at the corner of her delicate mouth.
What could I do against such a bitter exactitude? How could I make
her understand that I was a tree? This could only be transmitted
through immaterial, uniform words, through the air, like a wreath of
branches and leaves, superb and enormous, just as I felt it growing
inside me. How could I possibly do this?
I came near the bed and leaned upon the wooden head board. From my
hands emanated a sense of certitude, as if in them descended, all of
a sudden, the core of my uneasiness.
And now? Lingering between Edda and me was that petrified
transparent air, untouchable and inconsistent, in which had
accumulated all my ineffectuality. Heavy hesitations, elongated
silences, doubts and dizziness of flesh and blood, all these entered
that miserable space without the black colour and the viscous matter
containing them, and in the world the distances were not merely
those that could be measured with the eyes, infinitesimal and
permeable, but also those that were invisible, populated with
phantasms of shyness, of fantastic projects and sudden gestures… If
all these had coagulated abruptly in the form for which they were
destined, they would have transformed how the world appeared in a
horrifying cataclysm, in an astonishing chaos of atrocious
misfortunes and ecstatic beatitudes.
In that moment, looking at Edda, the manifestation of my thoughts
could have resulted in that simple gesture screaming in my head: to
take the paperweight from the table (I was glancing at it from the
corner of my eye, a noble medieval treasure weighing down upon the
papers), and heaved it at Edda, and then witnessed its immediate
result, a formidable spring of blood from her chest, vigorous like
steam flowing from a broken faucet, gradually filling the room,
until my feet lapped in clammy, warm liquid, then my knees and then,
like in those American thrillers in which a character is trapped in
a hermetically-sealed room in which water is gradually rising, felt
the blood touch my lips, and then be drowned in the savour of its
I begun to move my lips and swallow my saliva.
“Are you hungry?” Edda asked me.
“No, no... I’m not hungry, I was thinking about something...
absurd... completely absurd.”
“Please tell me what it is. Since you came, you didn’t say a word,
and I didn’t ask you... now I’m waiting, you see.”
“Look, Edda, I started, it is something very simple, maybe too
simple… I’m sorry to tell it to you, but I…
I wanted to add “I am a tree”, but this phrase had no value at all,
since I had that desire to drink blood, and was loitering, pale and
faded, at the bottom of my soul, and I wondered that it had once
been so important…
I started again.
“Edda, I felt sick, I felt weak and lost, but I am always healed by
your presence, only seeing you makes me feel healthy again… does
this upset you?”
“No, not at all”, she answered, and then begun to laugh.
Now I was definitely ready to commit something absurd and bloody, so
I took quickly my hat, uttered “I must leave now”, and in only one
second I was downstairs.
Now I had the certitude that the world was petrified in its common
aspect and that I had fallen in it by pure mistake, and that I would
never become a tree, I would never kill anyone, and the blood would
never spring in waves. All objects and all people were closed in
their sad obligation to remain accurate, nothing else but accurate,
in vain would I see dahlias in a vase, when in reality on that shelf
was only a red scarf… the world didn’t have the power to change, it
was so niggardly closed in its exactitude that it could not allow
itself to see scarves instead of flowers...
For the first time in my life I felt my head powerfully enclosed in
its skull, painfully captive…
That autumn, Edda got sick and died. All the previous days, all my
aimless wanderings, all my tiresome and painful questions gathered
in the pain and the trouble of a single week, like in those liquids
where the mixture of more substances condenses suddenly the violence
of a deadly poison.
At the first floor, the silence became even deeper. Paul found, in
some wardrobe, an old topcoat and a stale tie, which he knotted
around his neck like a rope. His skin was now dark-blue, like
covered with the delicate gloomy veil the sleepless nights envelop
the cheeks in.
“She suffered all night”, he said. “I asked the doctor yesterday
what he thinks and he told me the whole truth. It was like an
explosion in her kidneys, the doctor said. Very rarely does this
disease manifest itself so brutally, and so swiftly. Usually it
appears slowly, and shows different symptoms long before it gets
serious. An explosion in her kidneys, an explosion, yes, an
explosion in her kidneys…”
Paul was talking quickly, but with long interruptions, as if between
the words he wanted to allow the heavy pain inside him to swarm and
In the office downstairs it was now dark like in a cave; the old
Weber, his head sunk in a register, gave the impression of being
Every morning the doctor was coming, and, with quiet steps, was
gathering the three Webers.
I was going after them, speaking with Ozy. We hadn’t played in a
long time our imaginary game, and now it was a wonderful occasion to
It would have been so good to be able to speak about Edda’s disease,
as if nothing ever happened!
Climbing the stairs, I was thinking of the extraordinary possibility
to be in a game coordinated by Ozy, to which the doctor, Paul and
the old man also participated … Once in his lifetime, the
unfortunate hunchback could have conducted an imaginary, inexistent
play. The more we climbed, the more urgent was in me the desire to
yell: “It’s enough now, it’s over, you all played magnificently,
Paul’s mask was really impressive, it was obvious that old Weber was
in big pain, but now it’s enough, it’s over, please, Ozy, tell them
to give up the rest…” But everything was too well set to finish on
While the doctor entered Edda’s room, we remained in the room, old
Weber, Ozy and me.
It was maybe the first time in his life when old Weber tried to
choke back an unbearable pain. With his head leaned on the armchair,
he was looking somewhere outside, his gaze impersonal and vague, as
if he didn’t know and didn’t expect anything, and in the end, as the
big actors who bring to perfection their role with an astonishing
detail, he rose and got closer to a painting on the wall, to see it
better. But just as a big actor whose voice, thickened to its limit
in order to sustain a tragic monologue, turns into a ridiculous
scream provoking heavy laughter in the audience, old Weber, trying
to play his role too calmly, mistook its effect: while he was
standing and watching the painting, his irritated fingers were
rapping into a chair…
Paul grab my hand:
“Edda wants to see you, come with me.”
Edda was lying on the bed with white sheets, her head turned towards
the window. Her hair was rummaged on the pillows, blonder and
frailer than usual, a result of her disease’s subtlety and
refinement. In the room the things were whitely decomposing in the
much too bright light, and Edda’s face was melting in it,
Suddenly she turned her head towards me.
It was true… That moment something stirred in me, something
indistinct, clear and surprising, as an evident truth received from
outside… I realized that Edda’s head was exactly like the ivory head
appearing in front of my eyes during my nights of fever. This
evidence was so overwhelming that I almost thought that I had
invented in that exact moment the accurate form of the old faience
head, with the dreams’ surprising speed of composition, which form
an entire episode the moment one hears a gun’s shot.
I was now sure that something violent and bad will happen to Edda
soon. Maybe later I imagined this as well; as for Edda, I don’t
distinguish now what was the true her.
She tried to look deep into my eyes, but had to close her eyelids,
tired. Her hair was delimiting her yellow forehead like a wax block.
I was again hermetically closed in Edda’s presence, in what she was
now and in my delirious nights, during none of my wanderings and
none of my meetings had I thought seriously of someone else except
for myself, it was impossible for me to imagine a foreign interior
pain, or simply someone else’s existence. The persons around me were
just as decorative, ephemeral and material like any other object,
like the houses, or the trees, only in front of Edda, for the first
time in my life, did I feel that my question can evade, and,
resonating with another profoundness and another form of existence,
come back to me in enigmatic and troubling echoes.
Who was Edda? What was Edda? I could see myself for the first time
from the exterior, and, in her presence, these questions were the
true meaning of my life. In the moment of her death did she shake me
most profoundly and most authentically; her death was also my death,
and in everything I did ever since and in everything I lived, was
projected the immobility of my future death, cold and obscure, as I
had seen on Edda’s face.
At that day’s dawn I woke up heavy and rigid, disturbed by a foreign
presence on my bed.
It was my father, who had waited in silence for me to wake up. When
I opened my eyes, he made some steps in the room and brought me a
white wash-bowl and a cup of water for me to rinse my hands.
With a painful convulsion, which pricked my heart, I understood what
“Wash your hands”, said my father, “Edda is dead.”
Outside it was raining softly, and it kept raining for three whole
The day of the funeral, the mud was dirtier and more aggressive than
ever, the wind was blowing in waves of water in the roof and in the
windows. All night a window was lit upstairs in the Weber house, in
the room where the candles were burning.
In old Weber’s office everything was put aside to let the coffin
pass; mud entered the rooms; I could very well see it, triumphant
and insinuating, like a hydra with numerous protoplasmic
prolongations, stretching on the walls, going up on the people and
on the stairs and trying to climb the coffin.
The wooden floor appeared downstairs, in the office, from under the
oil cloth covering it, and which was thrown away: long lines of dirt
appeared, like the black lines deepened on Samuel Weber’s old face.
Around his shoes ascended the mud, slowly but tenaciously,
penetrating his skin and going up to his heart, dirty, heavy,
sticky. It was mud and nothing else, it was the floor and nothing
else, candles and nothing else, “My funeral will be a sequence of
objects”, Edda once told me.
Something in me was struggling somewhere far away, as if wanting to
prove to me the existence of a truth superior to all this mud,
something different from it, something useless… My identity had
become true long time before and now, in a very normal way, it was
only verifying itself: in the world nothing exists except the mud.
What I thought to be pain in me was only its weak boiling, a
protoplasmic prolongation modelled in words and reasons.
On Paul rain drops were falling like in a bottomless receptacle.
Clothes were flowing on him and on his hands, hanging heavily and
bowing his back. His tears were flowing down his cheeks, dirty and
elongated, like water on the windows.
Slowly, balancing on the people’s shoulders, the coffin passed near
Samuel Weber’s boat, near the old registers and the dozens of little
bottles of ink and medicines, discovered during the whole operation
of cleaning the office, her funeral was just a long sequence of
Some other details happened, beyond life itself: in the cemetery,
when the body was taken out from the coffin, coated in white sheets,
on these was a large stain of blood.
It was the last and the most insignificant detail before its descent
in the cemetery’s warm, moldy basement, filled with bodies soft as
jelly, yellow, purulent…
From time to time I am thinking of these things, trying to combine
them into something I could call my true person; when I remember
them, old Weber’s office becomes suddenly the room in which I feel
the smell of old registers and mould, but then it disappears and it
becomes the real place I’m in, and I am again put in front of the
same painful question, that is, how do people spend their lives,
making use of, for example, rooms, and feeling that inside them
grows a strange body, ramified like a fern and inconsistent like a
smoke, a strange smell, like the profoundly enigmatic odor of the
mould; when the events and the people open and close inside me like
fans; when my hand tried to describe this weird and mysterious
simplicity, then I feel, for a second, like a convict who realizes
that death is approaching (and would like his struggle to be
different from all the other struggles in the world, thus liberating
him), and I hope that, from all these adventures, a new and
authentic event will appear, warm and intimate, which could sound in
me clear and unique as a name, a name never heard before, the true
meaning of my life, its true understanding…
For this purpose, and not another, still persists in me that
intimate -and so hostile in the same time- fluid, so close but still
so rebellious in its catching, which transforms by itself, in Edda’s
vision, or in Paul Weber’s bowed shoulders, or in the excessively
precise detail of the water faucet, in the corridor of an anonymous
Why does the memory of Edda’s last days come back to me, so clear?
Why, asking in another sense (and questions can grow chaotically in
thousands of different directions, like in that childhood game when
I was folding a paper stained with ink and I was pressing it so that
the ink would effuse as much as possible, revealing, when I was
unfurling the paper, the most fantastic and most unexpected
contortions of a bizarre drawing) this memory and not another comes
into my mind?
With every misunderstood and exact memory, I must realize, once
more, -like a sick person’s violent pain, which shadows all his
others pinches, like, for example, the bad position of the pillows,
or the bitterness of the last medicine- that all my other
troublesome and niggardly memories are unique, in the poorest sense
of this term, and they had their exact place in my linear life,
contributing towards one single exactitude, unalterable from its own
“Your life was like this and not different”, she says, and in this
phrase can be felt the immense nostalgia of a world closed in its
hermetical lights and colors, in which nothing is permitted to any
individual destiny, but to extract from itself the aspect of an
Here, in this inimitable and arid world, can be found the melancholy
of being unique and limited.
Sometimes during the night I wake up from a horrible nightmare, my
most simple and most frightening dream.
I dream that I am sleeping in the same bed where I lay in the
evening. Around me is the same room and it’s exactly the same time
of the night which should be. If, for example, my nightmare begins
in the middle of the night, it places me with exactitude in the
darkness of that hour. I can feel the position in which I am, and I
can also see, I know exactly in what room and in what bed am I
sleeping, my dream fits closely, like a delicate skin, over my real
position and over my sleep, so one might say that I am in a way
awake: well, I am awake, but I’m dreaming, and I’m dreaming of me
being awake. I am dreaming about my sleep in that precise moment.
Suddenly I feel that my sleep becomes deeper and heavier, and
carries me after it.
I want to wake up, but my sleep weighs heavy on my eyelids and on my
hands. I dream that I am stirring, that I move my hands, but my
sleep is more powerful than me, and after a second of struggle, it
holds me even more ferociously, and I begin to scream, I want to
resist the sleep, I want to be awake, I want somebody to slap my
face violently, I am afraid that my sleep will sink me deeper and
deeper, to a place from where I will never be able to come back, I
am begging for someone to help me, I want to be shaken…
Then comes my last scream, the most powerful, which wakes me up in
my real room, identical to that in the dream, in the position in
which I was dreaming myself to be, at the hour when I was struggling
in my nightmare.
What I see now around me differs very little from what I was seeing
a second before, but it is enveloped in some sordid air of
authenticity, flowing through objects and through my being, like a
sudden coldness in the winter, which enlarges all sonorities…
What is the real sense of my reality?
Around me grew the life I will lead until the next dream. Memories
and present pains will weigh heavy in me, and I want to resist, I
don’t want to fall into their sleep, from where I will never come
Now I struggle in this reality, I scream, I beg to be awaken, awaken
to another life, to my real life. It’s clear it’s daylight, I know
where I am and what I live, but something is missing from all this
scenery, like in my terrible nightmare.
I struggle, I scream, I fret. Who will wake me up?
All around me, the accurate reality carries me down, trying to sink
Who will wake me up?
It has always been like this, always, always, always…
(1934) – translated by
You remember, when you arrived, the locomotive was still shrieking
in your head Paris Paris
It was dark and other darknesses were lurking on the streets and in
You wrapped your cloak about you so that the night's wind would not
get to you
In the open hole in your chest, in the unique abyss of your
The exterior boulevards were desert as old cemeteries
Like gardens empty of people and invaded only by silences.
You were crying or wanted to cry, the sky was clouded, the same used
The same narrow sky of your provincial innumerable sadnesses, the
same fabric sky
You left your luggage at the hotel and your soul in them
You soul from home folded carefully between the linen perfumed with
So that you can wander on unknown streets, without soul, without
suitcases, like a fleshless phantom
Like a cloud on the asphalt sky, shapeless and vaporous like a
cloud. Rambling on streets bordered by houses which were hurting
your hands In their fanatical gesticulation, Paris Paris was
shrieking in your ears
Until when tired with pain in your legs with pain in your head and
You entered a house illuminated as for a feast; it was a brothel
... A blond and very beautiful woman with stockings like a faint
Asked you something complicated, maybe very pleasant, but you didn't
You were coming from the bottom of Moldavia and only some evening
You had been seated at the table with your mother, with your father,
and your sisters
Here the mirrors were multiplying you palely, it was hot, you
imagined the autumn outside Like a disappointment arrived from the
bottom of Moldavia with the immemorial winds With the old rains,
with the old well-known water which falls from the sky on the
pavement It was like this outside and even colder, darker, lonelier,
It was raining unhurriedly and the blood inside you was wandering
like always through the flesh of the soundless words
It was like some other time and on the skin the joy of the blond
Like an echo often thousand years, like a covered grave
Absurd, high, superb, the doggish souvenir in the rain
In your clothes, in your hair, in your brain, in the hotel room
Like the warm flesh and the silk in the brothel, it was Paris Paris
the pale light
Trapped in the hotel room and you in the light uneasy but still
Hugged by outlandish arms, by arms which at midnight
Are clamind down your storm and the blood inside you with tender
gestures of cloth
It was Paris Paris you fell asleep late, Oh! The falling in the
It was like falling asleep at home, in your true sleep, in your wax
And only in the morning when the sun rays in incredibly bright
Stormed through the windows with their swords into the mirror
Smelling like gasoline, and sounds of engines and heavy steps down
in the street
Only then did your soul smelling the light brightened up a little
And you took it out for a walk as if it were a puppy, walking it on
In the white clear morning of Paris.
The Exegesis of some Common Themes
The examination of common places and of current concepts which are
constantly subject to discussion and which form what one could call
a basis for commonsense, is not without interest to the one debating
the problems of consciousness and of the vision of the world in the
framework of the most abstract metaphysics.
In other words, no real philosopher can nor must remove them from
The philosophical theories and systems always recalled this field of
the common sense, either if they started from it in order to prove
it wrong and to use it in the construction of another system though
contrast with it, as the idealist school did; either these
commonplaces have been introduced in the framework of the most
austere metaphysical rigors –or even exalted,- as was the case with
Fehner’s philosophy and James’s pragmatism; or finally, to record
it, simply, and to take out from it numerous concrete examples, as
Hegel’s position in this respect must be mentioned because of the
isolation in which it stands: through contradictory dialectics,
common sense is, on the one hand, admitted, and on the other hand,
put under discussion. Fundamentally, for a Hegelian philosopher
there is no autonomous field of the commonsense, and this is
included in the problematic of the spirit, close to every other
academic metaphysical theory; dialectics equals them by similarly
The withdrawal from the basis of commonsense was not fertile for
We will examine here briefly some notions of common sense which were
absorbed by philosophy and became, thus, gradually more incongruous
the more abstract they became.
The variety of the exterior world is one of the most frequent
commonplaces introduced in philosophy. Of course, not ascertained in
a crude and exclamatory manner as commonsense does, but rather
hidden in theories and systems.
Our classical example would be Fehner’s theory which built upon the
basis of this “variety” an intricate metaphysical and mystical web,
in which one can find easily the most absurd and fantastic
For Fehner the world in its infinite variety is a living creature
like any other. The earth has a circulation similar to the blood’s,
through rains and rivers. The earth’s lungs function by exchanges
taking place between our surrounding air and infinite space. The
earth’s brain manifests itself through the precise relationships
with the other planets of the solar system. Similar comparisons are
done for all the organs.
This is a convenient example in which one can see easily where this
idea of the variety of the exterior world can aberrantly take us.
We will now discuss a more complicated example from Bergson. This is
a subtle theory of the variation of one organ in different species.
The variety is understood here as a biological and purely scientific
notion. Bergson presents us the eye’s evolution as an organ of
vision, from the mollusc to the human and comes to the conclusion
that, even though in the course of this evolution one can observe
certain aberrations, one can still not deny a clear and mysterious
intent of living matter to be endowed with an organ of vision. In
the mollusc’s eye and the human’s eye one can find the same elements
of the retina, the same primitive system of nerves and the same
This example from Bergson is very thrilling indeed and the final
conclusion is of an undeniable evidence; we seem to assist here at
an international hidden effort, as life, in different ways, gave the
same eye to different species; this is a clear “international”
Still, this theory forgets one important point. Seeing this theory
from a different perspective changes everything.
It is clear that in the evolution of different animal species we can
find identities and intents of variation and this can bring us to
final conclusions. But thinking that nature’s intent is finalised,
how could one explain and what sense could one give to the
variations particular to a certain species? Why, for example, would
that ideal being have hands, nose, and ears, (organs so different
from one another) and not be just a full perfect eye?
And then: if organs grow in number and quality at infinity, in which
sense would that solve the problem of the relationships of that
ideal world with the exterior world?
Finally, even without the hypothesis of an ideal being, considering
the species in their present biological structure, is the variety of
organs of a certain species “intended”? In other words we should
inverse this problem and instead of concluding that the mollusc’s
eye and the human eye have identical elements, let’s better notice
that man has hands and ears, non-identical organs.
Instead of identity in variation we should analyse the problem of
variation in identity, just as interesting, but onthological and not
allowing any final conclusion.
We can see here the idea of variation infiltrated in diverse ways in
different philosophical systems. For a philosopher, in the end, the
problem cannot be posited with the hope of a revelatory conclusion
extracted from only this idea.
The concept of variation must be examined from an existential point
of view, or otherwise the conclusions will be incorrect. The
variation of the exterior world does not constitute in itself the
fundamental problem. The enigma is more profound and wide.
I will give an example: in a mathematical problem we can have some
sheep, a shepherd selling them, the money he receives, his expenses,
so, several concrete objects. But these concrete objects do not
count towards the mathematical point of view, and it would be absurd
for a student to discuss if the sheep are shorn or not, if the
shepherd is old or not, if in the fair there were many people, or
other similar questions. But the most important question is: how
many sheep the shepherd had; how much money he received for them;
how much he spent and how much money he is left with. All these
things are not expressed in objects but in numbers of uniform
mathematical essence. And as for the pure and simple materiality of
this problem, this is not important from a mathematical point of
view and in the problem it has purely a symbolic character.
When Bergson discusses the variation of the mollusc’s eye, he makes
the error of the student who cares about the shepherd’s age. The
variation of the mollusc’s eye is of no interest in its identity or
its diversity, but rather in its existentiality. What philosophy is
interested in is the mere existence of this eye and the intimate or
exterior fact of this existence. In a world with only one
philosopher and only one object, in which the pure and simple
variation could not be differentiated, the problem of existentiality
would be posed with the same intensity for the philosopher and our
ordinary world, where what is disturbing and true, is not the
morphology of variation (like in the mathematical problem) but its
Researching this onthological perspective we enter in the realm of
another important philosophical problem: the problem of knowledge.
In no field did abstract and systematic philosophy move further away
from the common sense than in this one.
The possibility of “the knowledge of knowledge” is a big illusion,
cultivated in all the philosophical systems from antiquity. Is this
possibility related to the realities of thinking?
We think not, and we also think that we cannot really discuss it.
Before anything else a “knowledge of knowledge” requires an
intelligence of double role, functional and discursive, which could
exercise these faculties separately. The discursive quality of
thinking would be thus the one classifying its functioning. The pure
examination of knowledge is done functionally: we cannot classify
thought without thinking at the same time, so introducing in the
middle of our objectivity, our functional thinking is the one that
must be analysed. Up to what point is their discrimination possible?
Husserl believes in a pure anatomy of logic which would be knowledge
of oneself. For him a fire does not destroy a house as long as the
spatial and geometrical elements of the house remain available in
our mind. This point f view is not analytical, it is exclamatory.
For Husserl knowledge is existential, therefore functional and
discursive in its mere existence and encloses through existentiality
its own analysis. The problem of knowledge is not solved and thus it
is not solved because in general no solution is possible, absolutely
independent and available in itself.
In the problem of knowledge it is interesting that knowledge itself
created at some point a necessity of auto-analysis. Completely
different from all other vital functions, there is in knowledge the
necessity of a personal supremacy, so that a function analysed and
which functions is superior to a function which only activates.
In this twisted attitude of a function there is only an apparent
exception from universal materiality. Fundamentally the materiality
of a stone is turned towards its own materiality, as it will be
In the problem of knowledge, most exceptional is our limiting
attitude within its framework; the question on knowledge contains
its beginning and its end; knowledge in its auto analysis is supreme
and cannot be integrated in any other attitude without the risk of
This is why, in another sense, as long as in our reasoning enter
elements of an educational conformism, allowing us a definitive and
heterogeneous attitude, it is impossible to have an absolutely pure
solution of the problem of knowledge.
In knowledge we see a graduation of existence and not its autonomy;
the autonomy of knowledge implies an absolutely gratuitous finalism.
We can even go as far as talking about a materiality of thought
which would escape the investigations of our organic existence,
because of the conditions of functioning of this organic form,
insufficient to understand entirely all its own elaborations, and
then, it is clear that materiality stretches far beyond the field of
materiality with our senses can perceive.
What remains from philosophy without the problem of knowledge?
The concept of individuality itself seems threatened because it was
based in the biggest part on the exegesis of knowledge. The concept
of individuality is closely related to the problem of knowledge and
maybe its exaggerations are due to the aberrations of this problem.
Maybe it is time for philosophy to rethink this concept.
All philosophies, from ancient times, had as their main project the
problem of their own efficiency. All philosophers started by
thinking in which way a new vision of the world could modify
knowledge of another individual, and all philosophers ended by
mixing up these metaphysical subtleties, so that the problem of the
efficiency of their philosophy was forgotten. Surely, all these
philosophers had the illusion of an efficiency in their solitude,
and in their intense speculations: the human mind is created in a
way that if it enters the rules of a simple game it believes in the
utility of that game; otherwise the game is not possible.
In the direction of their own efficiency went most of the
existentialist philosophers such as Jaspers, Klages, Heidegger,
Husserl and Barth who declared that they were living their own
philosophy. This efficiency is purely philosophical but not at all
practical. All these philosophers only desire the possibility of a
life tortured by questions, resembling the tortured and exalted life
of their master, from whom they all descend, Kierkegaard.
But lives cannot be imitated.
Life is linear, unique, irreversible and even existentialist
philosophy declares it this way. The concentrated interior analysis
of existentiality can take one to an intimate vibration which
approaches essentiality; but this is true only for the philosopher
itself and only in the contemplative moment. The efficiency of this
philosophy is very ephemeral and leads naturally to a useless
exaggeration of the concept of individuality.
This is why today we find it more important to rethink this concept
more than any other. The exaggeration of the philosophical
individualism does not do a favour to individuality in itself.
So we can ask: is it possible to modify the concept of individuality
in its absolutely close framework?
Our belief is that the philosophical efficiency will not start until
the moment when philosophy will put with the same intensity the
problem of the self and of the other, concomitantly. In other words,
there is no solution to the problems of individuality, but in the
framework of the collective.
I know all the objections that one can raise against this manner of
seeing things and the most important would be that it is not
possible to contemplate philosophically a collectivity and nor to
give a philosophical solution to an interior problem, in this
We can easily recognise that the objection is just: the advantages
of solitude in contemplation are incommensurable; but we must add
that this is only a certain kind of contemplation.
That contemplation is the interior attitude which takes one to a
unique vision of the world, but we must admit that if this
definition is true, than we can say that, in the end, the
contemplation is not related necessarily to spirituality.
We can very well conceive an interior attitude which could change
the vision of the world, a product of the happiness of work, for
example. The interior vibration which this feeling could give could
of course attain the same degree of essentiality as the profound
research of the ontological problems. The spiritual human condition
cannot exist as an absolute and always speculative and desperate.
In the end nobody can affirm which certitude is more essential, the
one resulting from pure contemplation or the one resulting from the
joy of working (and we can say, in the same way, from the joy of
being just, or the joy of being integrated in a community), but we
can say surely which one of the two is more efficient.
Moreover, we can predict easily a progressive graduation of the
feeling of presence in the community which would go further in
essentiality than all the philosophical interior contemplations
obtained in solitude.
The problem of individuality posited and solved in the community
can, by itself, bring one to an efficient solution of all
philosophical problems, with the condition that this could be
modified entirely in this direction.
When philosophy will go towards the field of an efficient thinking
for the community, it will be able to say that its mission is useful
and can solve the problem of modification of “knowledge through
knowledge”. The vision of the world will be then different and the
concept of individualism will be debated in a new consciousness
which will integrate community as a personal and subjective
The possibility of a transformation of consciousness in this sense
is everything that our thinking can predict more clearly and more
truly in the evolution of the human spirit.