Selected Stories

Selected Stories

The Stream of Stars

The true reasons which ages ago gave origin to what we poetically call “the Milky Way”, are known to only a very few in this world.
The sinuous procession of the starry masses we can see in the cosmic space on calm summer nights, are not stars, celestial matter or something similar, as commonly defined. Their composition is of an entirely different nature and here, in brief, we shall reveal their true physical conformation.
In fact, ponderous volumes on astronomy, survived by chance, affirm that millions of light-years ago, i.e. when the whole universe did not yet have its present equilibrium and structure, at the dawn of a torrid day on a small planet of the celestial space, called Kyros, its inhabitants awoke not because this was physically normal for them, but owing to a diffused sensation of insufficiency of breath in many cases accompanied also by cardiac insufficiency.
In the short course of events, its inhabitants were panic-stricken, no doubt also due to the tragic vision associated with the phenomenon. In fact the sky above them did not take on the usual blue hue of the morning, but gave signs of collapsing on the cities and on nature in general. It resembled a cloth which had just been pierced by an ominous nail.
In the general turmoil which followed, also among animals that gave signs of restlessness, everyone reacted according to their nature; some put themselves at the disposal of the authorities, offering their professional capacities, while others withdrew into themselves confiding on religious mysticism because in this tragic event they perceived clear premonitory signs of the end of the world.
Others, beside themselves, wandered about in the streets. There were some cases of suicide.
There was a general alarm and the fear which overtook many, indicated that, should timely measures not be taken, the menacing sky would become a shroud for all.
A cold, oblique light and the dawn which failed to lift the veil of daybreak, seemed to forebode the unavoidable for the small planet.
News, true or false, were deformed and exaggerated, thus further increasing general consternation. Besides, light, unable to pierce the sheet of sky, seemed to increasingly create an oppressive atmosphere which dulled any reasonable thought as to how to thwart the phenomenon. There was a sensation of an imminent catastrophe.
In spite of the fact that the scientists of Kyros were very advanced in cosmic studies, they confessed to be astounded by the phenomenon, though it was clear to them that there was an imminent danger of pollution by cosmic rays.
Tension was at its peak and none of the scientists had ever considered the remotest possibility of such a disaster.
The people, in the meantime, partly due to the real cause and partly to autosuggestion, suffered from an increasing insufficiency of breath. There were endless hospitalisations.
It must be said that at the outbreak of this atmospheric calamity, the emergency organisation was set into motion in an exemplary way, just as in the other rare occasions when they were called upon. The “Council of the Wise” was therefore urgently summoned and hardly a day after frenetic consultations with the “Masters of the Cosmos”, it organised a “Salvation Committee” which, in the course of a night session, after ample discussions, approved a daring but intricate project.
Thus a colossal system of ingenious construction sites was put into motion. The project was urgently approved and was based on an apparent simplicity which, however, did not conceal underlying perils.
It consisted in creating in record time, four huge architectural works formed of obelisks vaguely resembling human beings, much taller than the mythical “Tower of Babel”. They were to be autonomously raised, by means of an appropriate device, unknown to us, constructed in the four cardinal points of the small planet of Kyros and would self-generate owing to a complex mechanism, whose secret formula had non reached us. We only know that in a short lapse of time, each of the four effigies, soon known as “giants”, mysteriously arose from the jelly-like mass into which the water of the lake, chosen for each of them, had been transformed.
The scope was to have the amorphous figures grow simultaneously to reach a height enabling them to lift the sheet of sky which tended to devitalise because polluted by the inhabitants in their abnormal thirst of gain.
All this took place million of light-years ago when nature, in its absolute virginity was entrusted to man, who trampled on its values, heedless of the immense gift offered to him. It is not absolutely improbable that we are running the risk that such a calamity could again take place to-day.
In spite of a diffused general scepticism, the colossal plan was developed as foreseen and gradually brought the sky, which had given these premonitory signs, back to its normal position.
Gradually social life rivived; everyone took heart going back to the usual occupations. Scientists, engineers, politicians and workers all were highly praised and declared to have done “good service”. However, many remained perturbed in their minds by the sad experience they had gone through.
Naturally, the “giants” were seen from each cardinal point of Kyros, because in contrast to other celestial bodies, it belonged to the category of “flat planets”.
The landscape of Kyros was transformed, thus permanently debasing its physical configuration. This was the bitter price paid.
However, the air was again oxygenated and the sunlignt now filtering normally on men and objects, again diffused its regenerative properties. As the opacity of the air dissipated, the sad experience remained only a memory.
Those inhabitants of Kyros would never know that in the space of a few light-years corresponding to some of our centuries, one of the abnormal figures – the one placed to the west of the planet, gave evident signs of sagging owing to the ascertained friability of the bottom of the lake on which it had been raised.
After a long lapse of time, therefore, the old menace of a catastrophe, experienced by the ancient inhabitants of Kyros, came up again.
In order to avert the possible danger, mindful of the past, they again resorted to the “Council of the Wise” which, advised by the “Scientists of the Cosmos”, after animated discussions, decreed to hastily abandon Kyros trusting in a charitable reception by other planets.
It was a painful decision, taken in an atmosphere of contrasting opinions and evident hesitations. Nevertheless, the order of evacuation was given.
The exodus was to take place in the shortest time possible, making good use of their outstanding peculiarity of being able to fly as they were wont to do on some great occasions or when visiting neighbouring planets to promote friendly relations. In those cases, they equipped with much dexterity fantastic means of transport derived from clouds attracted to the ground, mounting which they joyfully departed from their small planet.
This proved ability reassured the scientists and a colossal organisation started. All valid men were employed in different sectors and assigned tasks and responsibilities. Fortunately, the season of cosmic winds was nearing, bringing clouds over Kyros, thus facilitating their attraction.
Everyone worked with fervour, conscious of contributing towards his own salvation.
No reliable information as to the system of attraction has reached us; remains the fact that these wispy clouds served the purpose. Obviously the Kyrosians did not attach importance to the aesthetic aspect of these air transports which, however, could contain a large number of people. A real battle against time was engaged.
Everyone contributed to this extenuating work and in less than two weeks a large number of these means of transport was equipped and within two days the entire population, a large quantity of lyophilised food and food in pills, as well as many pairs of animals which could be used as food, were taken on board.
It is known that a certain number of elderly Kyrosians firmly refused to abandon the planet and face an adventure which had no certain issue. There were heart-rending scenes between the parting persons. Undoubtedly, these elderly people were sceptic about the undertaking and just simply fatalistic.
Thus, on a glorious breezy morning, these strange airy machines resembling huge birds, sailboats, carts etc. carrying a cargo of a hapless humanity, cast off their moorings and rose slowly to glide in the air illuminated by an oblique ray of sun.
The exodus started like a fading bad dream. Recent international astronomic studies have reconstructed, though in a legendary form, on the basis of ancient volumes that had reached us, this unique event in the history of man. Here, however, we must explain the agonising phases of the exodus and what this millenary peregrination incurred. Because this was the fate of their flight through the sidereal spaces after tentative and repulsed landings on neighbouring planets.
The reasons advanced were many – all fantastic and improbable.
The planets considered as good neighbours betrayed the links of brotherhood.
The immense procession of these phantasmagoric means of transport began to roam without a goal, trusting in destiny, as written in the books of prophecy, leaving behind them an echo of plaintive cries. Even uninhabited planets were reached, but scientists discarded them as unsuitable because they contained evident layers of carbon dioxide at the height of man.
This distressing peregrination perhaps epitomised the ancestral redemption of man and it would be sufficient for us to remember this and to be aware of such a misfortune.
There was nothing left for them to do, but to continue to roam hopelessly.
That is why on calm summer nights we can clearly distinguish that sinuous stream of stars obliquely illuminated by the sun, appearing in the cosmic darkness, as a galaxy of imaginary celestial bodies which we poetically call “The Milky Way”.
It is certainly a celestial vision spurring imagination and inducing it to reflect.
It is a flight of imploring angels still searching a physical and spiritual haven.
And for those who wish to hear their anxious calls which reach us distorted in a sort of celestial melody, it is sufficient to have the chance to find themselves on the highest peaks of the Tibetian Massif. There, as some of the greatest mountain climbers affirm, it is possible, in a state of spiritual elevation, almost detached from all earthly matter, to hear the agonising cries which the great earthly distance exalts as something mysteriously musical, never before heard by human ear.
But to achieve this, it is necessary to concentrate in spiritual participation, sustained by a sensibility akin to the nature of poets.


A Cherub in Paris

From the famous Place Pigalle in Paris a winding street called Rue Lepic leads to Montmartre, the quarter of artists, where music, literature and painting cohabit.
Place du Tertre is the focal point of third-rate artists in search of glory, rooted with their canvasses and easels under the scanty trees of the square.
“Au Pichet du Tertre” is one of the haunts of these penniless people in search of human warmth and, in winter, of the physical warmth where, in front of a glass of absinthe, following the example of painters who laid the basis of Impressionism, the existential discomfort which assails those who struggle for survival, seems to disappear.
The smoky premises are literally covered all over by the paintings of such artists who have thus paid their long suspending account with the proprietor. The paintings are so numerous that when, raising your eyes you can admire just as many attached to the ceiling facing downward.
Many artists such as Manet, Seurat, Monet, Toulouse Lautrec, Van Gogh and Gauguin, Matisse and their epigone Utrillo, lived their strip of life in this quarter, attracted by its particular charm and where, numerous Art Galleries have the odour of paint and resin of the exposed works.
The short Rue Norvins offers a classical vision, adorned in the distance by the imposing white domes of the Sacré Coeur. There is not a single painter who has not fallen under its charm and has not painted it.
Rue Rustique, which is parallel to it, gives shelter in its garrets to those penniless artists, who lead their Bohemian lives torn between enthusiasm and discouragement, exasperated idealism and vicissitudes of life. In the evening, its lamp-posts diffuse a faint light shedding a glow of dawn when it reaches the windows of those studios.
The old antique bookshops buried in the narrow streets expose their graphic treasures: incisions and volumes which in spite of their high cost have a vivacious market and scholars of many countries pass hours in them, systematically searching for some rarity still not discovered by others.
“Le Lapin Agile”, “Le Moulin de la Gallette” and “Le Moulin Rouge” all close to each other, are places which have transmitted to fiction dealing with art, vices and virtues, exhilarating rowdiness and exasperated human stories lived among endless discussions on the value of Art.
This animated artistic life has almost completely disappeared, it is surpassed by another with less rooted and therefore superficial values. Its sole aim is the economic gain in view of the flow of tourists.
There is no Modigliani anymore with his women and his Russian poetess Anna Akhmatova painted in memorable nudes; no absinthe is drunk and no drugs taken in search of an inner elegiac poetry, there is no De Chirico who was reprimanded by the irritable Picasso for his exasperate presumption.
Other times and other personalities with a different stamp have taken their place.
In the fifties in Montmartre, apart from Bernard Buffet, none have remained in the story of Art. There was no sign of figurative productiveness so that the quarter seemed lifeless.
The artists were dispersed in the old buildings of Montparnasse whose walls are covered by advertisements and writings of the nineteenth century, between Boulevard Saint Michel and Boulevard Raspail, between the “Café de la Coupole” and the “Procope”, where Sartre and Simone de Bouvoir, as well as Prévert and Greco, surrounded by the intellectuals of their time, laid the foundation of the literary movement of Existentialism.
“Café Procope”, where at the end of the eighteenth century Procopio dei Coltelli, a genius from Palermo, invented ice cream, is still the meeting place of intellectuals of every country and every cultural centre. There and at “La Coupole” as well as at the “Rotonde”, in the twenties, Modigliani and others unwillingly portrayed some bored customer.
In the beginning of the fifties, attracted by the important names, a young Sicilian artist, Placido Marino, who admired their example, but who, however wanted to settle on the hill of Martyrs for the particular charm and important stories connected with Georges Michel to Corot, from Gericault to Louis Daguerre, the pioneer of photography, from Berlioz to Chopin, from Franz Liszt to Eugene Sue, the author of the very popular “Les Mystères de Paris”, to Susanne Valadon, mother of the epigone artist Maurice Utrillo.
Placido Marino rented a garret at Rue Rustique and lived there without having very clear ideas in his head. However, he needed to re-equilibrate his thoughts while discovering the quarter and its inhabitants.
He lived alone for over a month comparing his own pictorial concepts with those exposed in the Galleries. He also looked for an amiable face among so many anonymous ones to comfort his initial discouragement.
Money was not a problem as he received financial gifts from his relatives and friends who believed in him so that the period of orientation served him to carefully observe the people living there and, at the same time, to weigh the possible opportunities of affirming himself.
It was thus that one evening at “Au Pichet du Tertre” he met the eyes of Angela Parajso, a beautiful Portuguese girl with raven hair and an amber-coloured complexion.
A few words were sufficient to discover that they were looking for each other without knowing it; she was refined, slim, naturally elegant and proud as a rose, with an inborn sense of protection; he was tall, agile, high-strung, like a thoroughbred horse, and a reassuring appearance which concealed a fragile nervous system.
One sole evening sufficed to exchange reciprocal revelations and their hearts were laid bare by a cathartic confession.
They were attracted to each other as iron to the magnet, followed by days revealing them pervaded by the same frenzy of life. They put together their scarce means and united their destinies. He tried to find a bit of notoriety and she tried her luck with the fashion houses of Montparnasse to participate as a model in a fashion show.
At Place du Tertre a distracted tourist would stop among the easels of painters and the rarely sold work allowed the author to have a warm meal and a glass of absinthe diluted in some water, which by reviving the spirits, stimulated creativity, it was believed.
In the garret of the two lovers, frost reigned supreme in winter, so that sometimes they went to bed dressed, covering themselves with the two blankets they possessed. The tiny electric stove gave a minimum of warmth and they fell asleep in each others’ arms trying to warm themselves whereas the light of the lamp-posts forming a halo in the miserable room, seemed like a primordial dawn enveloping the earth. Yet in summer from that bed they could see the smile of a complaisant moon comforting their poverty.
Placido, firmly believing in his artistic talent, continued to propose to the art merchants of Montmartre his painting which, being completely different from the common commercial art, had all the requisites to affirm itself and it was in that ruinous spiritual state that he incredulously assisted at an unexpected event; another Sicilian, also an artist in search of notoriety had the casual idea to paint a face of a child, a very sweet one in truth, which suddenly opened to him the doors of the Montmartre market.
Orders abounded to such an extent that he was imitated by others with a similar success. Placido was so disheartened that, even though he was incited, absolutely refused to sign a similar painting as a Parisian “souvenir”. It impressed him but he stubbornly continued to follow the line of his inspiration on which he based all his creations. He was so downcast that he was on the point of giving everything up though conscious that this would make him the laughing-stock of all those who believed in him. He resisted however not wanting to debase his painting and though his poverty increased; he followed his unheeded artistic path.
He continued wholeheartedly to paint the distant sunlit landscapes seen with longing of the nature of his childhood exalting even the dunes of torrid sand on the seashores embellished by the dwarf fig trees with their honey-tasting fruit and fragrant brooms which on gloomy days mitigated the sadness that increasingly took root in him.
This life of poverty and the systematic refusal on the part of the Galleries, forced him together with other artists to visit the market of “Les Halles” at dawn and at noon to gather vegetables for a hot soup, reminiscing the Sunday meals in the warmth of his family circle.
Angela was attracted by the artist and when he used certain dialectical expressions she found some similarity with her own language of origin, to the point that she could understand their meaning and this bound her even more to his sullen personality, always ready for a bitter self -irony. She had for Placido feelings never felt before and, falling ever more in love with him, she felt she had to protect him considering his first symptoms of physical suffering increased by the mortification of his soul.
Sometimes Placido painted stubbornly all day long overcome by an uncontrollable elation from evoked landscapes to nudes of Angela and then suddenly passing to days full of introspective anxiety, without uttering a word pervaded by a lack of ability to move his hand to accompany his creative thought.
Few years later, with changes of humour and intimate mortifications, Placido’s physical condition with the exhaustion of his vital energy brought about a certain opacity of the mind.
It was thus that one morning Angela understood her earthly mission; hardly awake from her deep sleep full of premonitory dreams of some ill omen, she felt at her shoulder-blades two cartilaginous excrescences which vaguely resembled wings. Surprised and curious, she got up briskly and looked in the fragment of a mirror hanging on the wall and smiling radiantly she discovered that it was a clear indication of her so long awaited promotion to a cherub.
Her happiness was immense and she could not resist waking Placido who, still half asleep with a dull look showed only a vague interest in the incredible news beyond all imagination.
Montmartre was evidently shocked by the news and seemed to awaken from its torpor. The numerous sceptics, meeting Angela on the street, tried to touch those wings which were already clearly apparent and shaking their heads and calling her a mystifier, moved away, while she, proud and dignified, walked on through the Quarter as though floating on air.
Someone went so far as to ask her whether she was taking part in some publicity stunt and she was even interviewed by “Paris Match”, but she did not want to speak of her earthly mission nor of the origin of those wings; she only referred to the great gift received.
The case was certainly clamorous; an angel or a pseudo one, no one had ever seen or dreamt of anything similar. Those gentle white wings on her body resembling those of a majestic eagle or those of certain paintings of the Renaissance period, created a sensation.
Even the foreign press showed interest in the case, but shortly after, once the novelty was exhausted, it was forgotten, though it remained in the “routine” of the Quarter.
Angela became a personality in perfect harmony with the typical extravagance of the place.
In the meantime Placido began to feel the symptoms of a serious physical suffering which gradually consumed his vital energy; however he firmly refused to be hospitalised. He only wanted to have his guardian angel, as he called her, near him comforting the painful days ahead.
He died at dawn of a grey autumn morning, after having asked to kiss the hand of his cherub.
The passing away took place in the halo of lamp lights of Rue Rustique.
To the pain of this death, borne in silence, Angela associated the end of her earthly mission. She was absorbed in her thoughts when she suddenly heard the flutter of wings at the window; there were two doves posed lightly on the washing line looking inside that nest as though asking to carry the corpse on their wings.
In that miserable room ended the life of an artist sold so cheaply to a bitter destiny.
Seven friends, a priest and Angela accompanied him to his last resting place in the vicinity of that of the animals.
A brief religious ceremony, under a veil of rain, concluded this farewell.
On that miserable tomb, dug in a field, there remained three carnations and Angela petrified and closed in her wings like a chrysalis.

Rome, 2006

An Enormous Gift

Having received the notice of the receipt of a parcel coming from Rome, Irina went to the post office of her district wondering why the parcel had not been delivered to her home.
When the employee in charge of the collection asked her whether she had the means of withdrawing it, she was almost irritated and thought “What means – financial or of transport?” A bit hesitatingly she followed the employee to the back of the Central Post Office building where she was shown a huge parcel, big as a building, perfectly packed with long wooden strips, wrapped in tons of heavy paper, on which was written the name of the recipient.
The sender, she was certain could not be anyone else but him. She was glad, but remained pervaded by a diffused sense of panic.
Who could transport it and how? Where could she put it? It was out of the question to place it at home.
The employee, looking at his shoes while he cleaned his eyeglasses, showed evident signs of impatience, after a while, with a self-sufficient look, he said: “Well?”
Irina seemed to rouse herself from the impact and timidly, though with a decided air she whispered: “I shall have it transported as soon as possible to my home”.
She had to entrust a firm, specialised in voluminous transports, to deliver and place it, fortunately in the large grassy space in front of her home. Having obtained a special permit from the City Administration, all traffic on that day was prohibited along the whole distance up to Irina’s domicile. She assisted at the transport among all sort of difficulties, overcome, it must be said, by the ability of the men of the transport firm. Finally the huge parcel arrived and was placed in Gospitalny Val, in the space in front of the council flats in which Irina lived on the eleventh floor.
Once the laborious transport was carried out, the hundred workers proceeded to unwrap it from the tons of paper, ropes and other packing material and thus was revealed in its ancient splendour something that stunned her, her parents and all those who had assisted at the operation from their windows.
In the meantime, thousands of curious people flocked to the scene. The news spread immediately among all the inhabitants of Moscow.
Towards sunset, the whole parcel was uncovered among the amazement and most various comments. The mayor of Moscow, who had given the permit also assisted, aroused by the great curiosity.
All of the grassy space was occupied both by the gift and the people summoned by the primitive tam-tam.
Irina, overcome by a great emotion, together with her parents looked out of the window of their flat on the eleventh floor, suddenly noticed that in the centre of that monument, in the space in which gladiators fought for their lives and Christians were sacrificed to the delight of the Romans, there was a big white envelope.
Hastily running down the stairs she took it and recognising the unmistakable writing of Mario, tremulously opening it she found a small visiting card saying, briefly: “Neither this Colosseum, nor hundred, or thousand or other ten thousand of them could ever contain my love for you”.


Cover image: Mario Tornello “Composizione”, ’80, acrilico.

Translated from Italian by Assia Boutskoy