Il 7 Maggio 2006
Traduzione di Consolo
Now it seems to me that, stuck here between Peace and Paradise, as if dead, in contemplation, static and affixed to an eternal light, or wandering, deprived of weight, memory and intent, above the skies, along never-ending and vain tree-lined avenues, stairs, among churches, and palaces of clouds and beams of light. To me it seems now (old age whore!) that I have the comfort and the time to let myself return to the old vice, as old as my life, that is to detach myself from the real truth of things and to dream. This is perhaps because of the beautiful village names among which I move, between my home and the home of my sons. Or perhaps it is because of my waking up so early, summer and winter, fair weather or bad, even at night, with the moons and the stars, to go out, drag my feet to the beach, sit atop a rock and wait for the dawn, the sun that finally chases away the shadows, the dreams, illusions, discovering the truth about the world, the earth, the sea, this Strait furrowed by every ferry and ship, every boat and its hull, grazed by every wind, bird, made uproarious by every rumble, siren and shout, etched in its blue, in July, in August, those black lines, the steel of the highest pylons, high like those masts that glide across the sea, from Faro to Scilla, that are upright like swords on the noses of the prows of the feluccas, today called passerellae. Still, in waiting, each one in its place, or searching, swift and roaring, to capture some poor animal.
Then the moment arrives for voices and the din of motors on the sea (the windshields of the cars shine, as do the windows of the trucks that run along the hairpin curves far away along the Calabrian coast, above Gallico, Catona: and the glass and the plates of those great seagulls (the aerial hydrofoils), on the road at my shoulders, that runs, between the houses and the sea, down towards Messina, the port, stopping at Gazzi, Milli, Galati, then on towards Ganzirri, Rasocolmo, San Saba. And the moment comes to hide myself.
I put myself to work then on models of swordfish made out of wood, blue and silver, tuna, alalonga and aguglie, according to the models of the original lontri, of the ancient feluccas, to repair nets and weave again memories, of my life, which has always been here, over this short ribbon of sea, this infinite ocean of facts, of adventures, of the world.
I was born (and who by now knows when?) at Torre Faro, of a renowned master harpooner, Stellario Alessi, and I was the third of five children. The boys, Nicola, Saro, and I, by name (and only by name) Placido, still more or less babies, never left our mother a fork to eat with in the house, because we tied them to the top of a reed in the manner of a trident to spear octopi, bollaci and costardelle, and any fish that by luck happened to be within reach of our eyes and arms. It was the instinct that carried us toward the trade, just like it had drawn in our father and his father before him. It carried us towards our fate on the sea, on the Strait, to the swordfish, to the old feluccas and the lontri, carried us to spears, to palamidare, palangresi.
Nicola died as a soldier, and Saro on his bed, from influenza. And I don’t remember anymore the first time I jumped on the lontro and first threw the harpoon. I have in my eyes only the view of the harpoon, of that precious one made by master ironsmith Nino, that nailed itself into the polished skin, the color of steel, in the heart of the flesh, of the fish that jumps, that arches itself, the sword high over the surface of the water, and it goes down deep, whipping emphatically with the crescent-shaped tail, disappearing rapidly with all the thread of the rope, the trail of blood that draws its own path, a path that ends in death. I have in my eyes the crew that pulls it into the boat, great, heavy, inghiaccato to the tail, mouth open, the sword in low, like a knight who has lost the battle; in its eyes, round and fixed, that gaze beyond, beyond us, beyond the sea, beyond life. I have in my ears the voice of my father, his commands, the voice of the crew: “Buittu, viva san Marcu binidittu!”. After the female, it was the male’s turn, who moved around, heavy and resigned, as if offering himself, around the boat, near my harpoon.
I still have in my eyes and in my memory the infinite formation of pierced fish, broken swords stuck in the marrow, of heads, of fins, of cut tails.
My father, old and lacking other sons, wanting by now in sight and strength, was forced to come down from the mast and to hire, for the upcoming season, a man from Calabria, where one finds the sharpest antennieri of the Strait, even though they shout the commands, in sight of the swordfish, all in their own language. “Appa, macca, pale, ti fo…” they cry.
One young man, Pietro Ianni, who had always been, as a Caruso, a sentry on the stations on the high rocks of Scilla, of Palmi, and of Bagnara, later married Assunta, my sister, and he returned to his own village. It was at the baptism for their first son that I met the girl who would become my wife. The daughter of a master of boats, padre Sestito, she was a beautiful and wise girl, also quiet and tormentingly beautiful. But, like the bagnarote that go free to trade fish, to wheel and deal salt, always back and forth on the ferries, she was always close to home, and at the furthest on the beach, among the boats of her family. Dark, with a handkerchief on her head, her fleeting eyes glimpsing furtively, tight around her waist, her hips within the sea storm of the folds of the skirt, the bust that bloomed over it, daring and slender: thus it appeared to me at first during that celebration. The wedding, with all the agreements and the sacraments, was held in the beautiful church of Carmelo, and the reception at the ample home of the bride. It was this day that my father, in the presence of the Sestito family, pronounced his will and testament, and said that the boats, the fishing tools, all would pass to me, and that I would from that day on be the new master.
The festivities didn’t last too long. I brought her, Concetta, my wife, into our home, there near the church, in front of the monument with the marple angel which had one of its wings cut off during the war, in front of our boats, the sea, with the rock of Scilla on the other side of the Strait. I introduced her to Messina, the port, with all the confusion of the moored ships, and the ones in motion, of the ferry boats, the Madonna there at the tip of the moon, high above the column, over the fort of the Savior, the Duomo, where she stood, bewitched, at midday, for the bell tower and the clock, one of the wonders of this world of ours: the bells ring, the rooster crows, the lion roars, the dove flies, the young and old men pass, death passes with a scythe; the church of Montalto rises, the angel passes, St. Paul returns to the embassy of Jerusalem, the Madonna blesses…I led her along the tree-lined avenues, to Cristo Re, to Dinnammare, up to Camaro, to Ritiro, to the hills of San Rizzo. But she, always resigned, subdued, seemed as if she was always a foreigner here, as if inextricably tied with her mind to the land there, beyond the Strait. And the more she gave me children (three births in five years), the more silent and discontent she seemed to grow. There was between us, what can I say? A sort of distance, a strait, a Scilla and Charybids between us that she wasn’t able to navigate. And yet, santissima Madonna!, I treated her with every care and affection, I adorned her with garments, with gold, I took her to the celebrations at Ganziri, to the procession of San Nicola on the swamp, to the trattoria of don Michele; and to Messina, to the celebrations of the Ascension in mid-August. One time I even pulled for a vow at the church (a vow to finally have this woman for my own, this woman for whom I could die, pierced like a swordfish), I pulled the gran Vara cord, barefoot, without a shirt, and she beside me, her hair let loose, certainly because of her own secret vow, which she never revealed to me.
One July, at the beginning of the fishing, because of the sickness of my lookout man, she suggested to me, as if by chance, the name of a relative of hers far away, Rocco Polistena, renowned between Bagnara and Scilla. And he arrived, this slender man, tall, with a curly head of hair like that of a giant Griffin on a horse. On top of the mast he remained all hours without a hat, his only defense his natural helmet made of sea snails and mussels. I saw him and hated him immediately. I don’t know why. Perhaps because of his posture, his smile, the reputation for which everyone laughed and murmured, of some kind of gift which was outside of ordinary, a bachelor as he was at his age, a lover without a heart. It appeared to me that Concetta, at his arrival, changed in mood, in her way of doing things; she spoke more frequently, with me, with the children, she even smiled sometimes. And when I raised my arm in order to hit the fish (how bright and straight it umped under the water along with the spear)—the harpoon seemed to me to strike, to dig into that man. And I saw the sea all red, then silver, then blue, then black like the night.
For the time that his presence lasted at Faro (two three summers, I don’t remember), without a sign, an action, a true justification, my anger grew always greater, along with the obsession of deceit. And all this even though we were not very young, neither I, nor him, nor Concetta. It lasted until the year in which the great metamorphosis began, the year in which oars, feluccas and lontri passed into disuse, and the old boats changed into motorized ones. And it took a lot of money to buy the motors and the antenne. For this reason I decided (but perhaps it was an excuse) to disembark, to abandon everything, to fire the crew, the Calabrese.
In order to take care of my family I started as a sailor, I the owner, on the Luigi Rizzo, the ferry boat that connected Milazzo to Lipari, Vulcano…outside the port, coasting along the peninsula of Capo, beyond the Castle, in front of the house of that admiral who was a hero in the great war, as well as a poet, idolized for a daring enterprise against the enemy, the boat that took his name, would whistle a salute. Then someone, a servant, a relative, answered waving a white cloth from the terrace. In the summer the boat was always full of tourists: thus I discovered the world. I became, in order to destroy my love for Concetta, a great predator of women, of foreigners. In the winter, in the breaks at Lipari under the Monastery, in the pauses brought about by the ugly weather, I became entwined with a woman from there, one of those women of that island, fleeting, disastrous, seductive.
I returned to Faro, my home, at every turn of rest; I returned also for the celebrations. And she, Concetta, was always shut in her own world, always indifferent. Moreover she now seemed only taken by the children, who were by now grown and who gave her more work.
I experienced one summer the peak of her coldness towards me. Perhaps for challenge or perhaps with the intent to move her towards the inevitable clash, I brought a foreign girl with me to her at Faro, until the extreme tip of Peloro, at the crossing of the seas, where the currents form whirlpools, those that the German girl attributed to the monster Cariddi. We passed in front of my house. She, Concetta, saw us, from behind the window, and she wore a smile of contempt, of pity.
After that, I decided to set off, to return to my trade of fishing. And I, like the others, put aside the oars and lontri, bought a motor for my boat and began to run, to follow the swordfish on the Strait. I had hired a new sentry man from Fiumara Guardia, and my old harpooner’s arm was returning to being strong and precise as it was in the past. It was in one of these wanderings, chasing the fish from my post, that I met with a boat that had, in challenge, captured swordfish. There, on the antenna of this pirate ship, I saw after a long time the Calabrese. The dispute was carried out in front of the Council, which sentenced naturally in my favor. But to Polistena (I knew he was the master of the pirate boat), I let it be known that the judgment for me, beyond the Council, was in repairing the insult with a duel, one that should take place on the beach, just below Faro. He was punctual to the duel, like one who has been summoned. We were walking towards each other, when, a step away from one another, bullets from guns began to whistle over our heads. We happened to be just under the field of the clay pigeon shooting. We threw ourselves on the ground, faces against the sand. And we remained like this, unable to move, for I do not know how long. Each of us inspected the other out of the corners of our eyes. Then, unexpectedly, he was the first to laugh, to laugh strongly, and he made me laugh too, and dragged me by the heel, while the plates in the air crumbled from the shots. Then, when there was silence, and the sky was darkening, we got up, we looked at each other’s face. It was him, Rocco, who stretched out his hand to me. I didn’t see it anymore. I let him disappear from my sight and from my life. I also let fly at once all the rancor and the jealousy that I had about Concetta.
She told me, at the hospital Margherita, lying in bed, eyes meeting mine, her hand locked in mine, she said to me: “Ah, Placido, look how you’ve passed through life without knowing!”.
From then, when I left my Concetta, I felt that I was quickly becoming old. I gave all, my boat and my nets to my children, I left Faro and I came here to live in a new house.
Now it seems to me, fixed here between Peace and Paradise, as if I am dead…but alive in memories. And alive as long as I have in my eyes the blessed contemplation of the Strait, of this small sea, of this ocean that is as vast as life, as existence.
foto of the “steel pylons” di Torre Faro, al Stretto di Messina: