Trafika Europe 14 - Italian Piazza
an online quarterly journal with some of the best new literature from Europe
is a publication of
Trafika Europe ISSN 2472-2138
Editors’ Welcome ____________________________ vi
The Animal Gazer_ ______________________ 8
The Plant of Dreaming_ __________________ 30
Piero Schiavo Campo
The Man at One Kelvin Degrees_ ___________ 44
Ferocity_ ______________________________ 70
Extra Passwords_________________________ 98
A Perfect Idiot_ _________________________ 112
Lessons in Torture and Seduction___________ 164
Poems_ _______________________________ 182
Elsewhere in Europe
The Saga of Redhead_____________________ 204
About the Artist
Stefano Travaglini_ ______________________238 About the Authors ___________________________ 242 Acknowledgements __________________________ 252
TRAFIKA EUROPE 14 - ITALIAN PIAZZA Editors’Welcome To catch the pulse of life in an Italian town, head to a piazza – a center of community there for millenia. With our modest selections in this issue, we hope to give some flavor of current Italian literature. We start with Edgardo Franzosini ’s The Animal Gazer. This work, which the New York Times praises for its “[l]impid, laser-sharp prose” is a quirky, striking biopic inspired by the sculptor, Rembrandt Bugatti. Following that, Elisa Biagini ’s new poems speak of the all-in-all with precision in every stanza – a real treat. And check out our brief video of her poem, “When the eye grows dim,” with painting animation by Mark Boston. Piero Schiavo Campos’ The Man at One Kelvin Degrees introduces a bit of mystery, fusing speculative fiction and detective fiction into one genre. Nicola Lagioia’s Ferocity highlights a different sort of detective fiction, turned into family drama. Federico Federici ’s Extra Passwords poems are full of mercy and love. A Perfect Idiot by Frank Iodice explores a relationship entanglement across two countries. Irene Chias’ Lessons in Torture and Seduction is a timely contribution to the #MeToo conversation
Trafika Europe 14 – the whole being a grisly tale of revenge served cold. Finally, poems by Barbara Serdakowski obliterate the literary border entirely. A long-term resident of Italy born in Poland, she weaves a multilingual spell of English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Polish language in her multilingual verses. Our Italian focus is rounded out by a couple of other works from elsewhere in Europe. Lawrence Millman channels his knowledge and affinity for Icelandic saga into this parodic tribute / send-up, “The Saga of Redhead”. Finally, Austrian author Günther Kaip shares a generous selection of Miniatures – short meditations on life. The photographs in this issue, and on the cover, all come from Italian composer and photographer Stefano Travaglini – and by the way, an excerpt from his latest piano composition, Ellipse , is also the soundtrack in our animated video of Elisa Biagini ’s poem, “When the eye grows dim” . We hope you can spend some more time in our piazza in the following pages – and enjoy!
Clayton McKee Andrew Singer
Edgardo Franzosini The Animal Gazer
“His appearances at Arata’s studio became less and less frequent, tapering off until they ended completely. He confided to his friend that some nights he could only breathe by holding a damp handkerchief over his mouth. He could no longer stand Milan. He had the impression it was the city that kept him from shaking off the exhausting sadness and revulsion that had suffocated all his feelings.”
THE ANIMAL GAZER By Edgardo Franzosini http://newvesselpress.com/books/the-animal-gazer/ Translated from the Italian by Michael F. Moore
As of August 20, under the advance of the divisions of the Central Powers, the capital of Belgium was no longer Brussels but Antwerp. The Austrian 305-mi l l imeter mortars and the 45-ton Krupp howitzers had devastated the cities and laid waste to the vi l lages. Liège was overrun and torn asunder. The news that Rembrandt read in Le Matin d’Anvers was shocking. Al l was being submerged beneath a dark f lood of atrocities, horrors, and perversions. The trees were gone from the countryside and the f ields were burning. The roads were l ined on either side with the bodies of the dead: decomposing corpses immersed in puddles of rain and blood. The houses had been looted. Chairs, armchairs, and mattresses had been gutted, furniture overturned, ti les ripped up, wal lpaper torn off, in search of gold, jewelry, cash. Requisition orders were posted on wal ls riddled with gunf ire but sti l l standing. Bodies were hanging from telephone poles. The Germans had set f ire to barns, pouring gas f irst on the pigs and the cows. The elderly had been forced to march at the head of columns of the imperial army 11
of Wi lhelm I I , to act as human shields against the gunf ire of their fel low citizens who were resisting the invasion. Those who didn’t march fast enough on the muddy roads were rewarded with a bul let to the nape of the neck. Chi ldren were beaten to death with the butt end of ri f les before their mothers’ eyes. Sons and husbands were bayonetted before their sisters, their wives, who were then ordered to dig the graves. Girls were raped and murdered, their bodies left by the sides of the road, skirts upturned, bel l ies sl iced open. Boys were beaten and hung by their scrotum. Husbands and wives were bound together with rope, back to back, straw stuffed into their trousers and under their skirts: an off icer would approach them with a smi le on his face and a cigarette in his hand, ready to set them on f ire. Chi ldren were ordered to dance before the bodies of their parents, to dance and sing the old folk song: I l pleut, i l pleut, bergère —It ’s raining, it ’s raining, l ittle shepherd girl . The bel l towers of churches were toppled out of fear they could be used by snipers. Perhaps al l of this was not in strict compl iance with the laws of war and the international conventions signed by the Kaiser, but the strenuous Belgian resistance had ultimately exasperated the soldiers of the German Army.
The Animal Gazer
ON THE NIGHT of August 24 and 25, 1914, shortly after midnight, when the citizens of Antwerp were already in bed or about to turn in, a steady, incessant humming erupted from the sky. Rembrandt stuck his head out the window and had the impression that the air itsel f was vibrating. Looking up he could see in the incredibly luminous sky the outl ine of a Zeppel in slowly approaching, headed toward the center of the city. The machine looked powerful , threatening, but also a l ittle comical . It was shaped l ike an enormous cigar. Al l of a sudden something was shot from the bel ly of the Zeppel in that resembled a shiny sparkler. A second later an explosion made the rooftops shake, the chimneys crumble, and the wal ls crack. The f irst bomb fel l on Beurstraat. Next to be hit were Albert von Barystraat, Schermersstraat, Justitiestraat, the Waag, the publ ic weigh station, the Falconplein barracks. Ten explosions in a row that blazed the passage of the Zeppel in over the city. The bombs— adorned, according to reports, by an engraving of the face of Wi lhelm I I—opened holes in the paved and cobblestoned streets that were as deep as craters. Gas pipes exploded and water pipes broke. By the end the casualty count reached twelve dead and more than f i fty wounded. On the next night the citizens of Antwerp remained awake in their houses, making do with candlel ight, going to bed ful ly clothed, or sitting in the dark
on the stair landings. They were waiting for the Zeppel in to cross the sky again. But the enormous cigar did not reappear. It would come the next day or the day after that, was the common refrain as they peered at the sky. Whi le waiting they could not remain inert, they had to take precautions. And so they marked with chalk the houses that had a cel lar or an underground room that could provide shelter, where mattresses and food suppl ies could be arranged. In the courtyards they prepared buckets of water to extinguish f ires. But they also contemplated less immediate, less evident possibi l ities. For example, the zoo was located next to the train station—a sensitive target—and therefore there was a big risk that those bombs that fel l with a hiss, leaving a f i lament of l ight in the sky, would free the animals. Then they would swarm the streets in packs. Sni ff ing at doors, defecating on the townhouse stairs, bathing in the fountains. Trying to cl imb up to the windows of the homes. Perching on the huge signs that boasted the qual ity of Kub boui l lon cubes. Or else, i f a bomb should strike the cages and slaughter the animals, their bodies would lay rotting in the sun, since no one doubted that soon, very soon, there would no longer be any way to bury people, much less animals. It was a question of publ ic health. And also of publ ic order! There was a danger that the marabou, ostriches, and leopards might come
The Animal Gazer
to the tables of the Café de l ’Union, where the businessmen played dominoes, or make it as far as the banks of the Schelda to drink from its waters. The zoo adopted of its own accord emergency measures for the most dangerous animals: the smal l cats were caged in the cel lars of the Feestpaleis— the biggest bui lding of the complex—whi le the larger ones were moved to the armored cages normal ly used for transportation. The bears instead were too cumbersome, so no better expedient was found than to ki l l them immediately by gunshot. The escape of the animals was not the only problem. Maybe they wanted to prevent the enemy from seizing the most prized animals, property of the most beauti ful zoo in Europe, and transferring them to Germany as war booty. The fact remains that the provincial governor, Gaston van de Werve et de Schi lde, rati f ied the order: al l the animals of the zoo had to be destroyed, without further delay. “Yesterday they communicated to me the resolution of the municipal counci l ,” wrote the director to Bugatti , “granting me forty-eight hours to prepare everything. At f ive o’clock tomorrow morning I have to open the gates of the zoo to a battal ion of soldiers who wi l l handle the appal l ing business.”
AT FIRST THEY had thought of assigning the “appal l ing business” to the Garde Civique, then
they changed their minds. The Garde did not have suff icient training. Above al l it did not have suff icient equipment: its single-shot ri f les were not up to the task. Therefore, what appeared at dawn before the gates of the zoo was a platoon of f i fty men from the Second Regiment of the Chasseurs à Pied, armed with Mauser repeater ri f les with f ixed bayonets. The soldiers were in high uni form: double- breasted, dark green jackets with a yel low cordon aff ixed to the shoulder, gray trousers with a thin yel low stripe down the side, and a shako topped by a crest of black feathers. No white gloves, only because gloves did not ease the task of loading the ri f le. So why sul ly the uni form they would have to put on a few days or a few hours later to repel the enemy assault? The soldiers spread out over the great entrance boulevard in orderly rows. They marched past the pavi l ion where, in peacetime, on Sundays in the late spring and summer, a band played the waltz, the polka, the marches, and they passed by to the Moorish bui lding where the monkeys were housed. “We’ l l save that for last,” said the captain who commanded the platoon. Perhaps they resembled man too closely, and it seemed awful to begin with them. So they began with the birds. The aviaries that housed them were opened cautiously to prevent any from escaping. In each aviary, which were tal l and spacious, two soldiers entered, whi le another
The Animal Gazer
stood right outside. As soon as the parrots saw the soldiers inside their cage they started to shriek wi ldly, f lapping their wings, jumping from one perch to another. The two peacocks, beaks extended, pounced on the chasseurs, who had probably never expected a simi lar reaction from animals with such a regal bearing, such a harmonious gait. The doves and turtledoves instead conserved, even at that moment, their natural elegance and l ightness in f l ight. The soldiers cocked their ri f les and started to shoot. Their comrades in arms who did not enter the aviaries remained on the avenue, in formation, waiting for the others to complete their assignment. The bul lets pierced the metal netting of the aviary, and the birds took advantage to escape. But for every breach, every opening that they found, they also encountered the ri f le of the soldier posted outside. “I don’t want to hear any shouts,” said the captain to his men. “I don’t want to hear any cries of enthusiasm. And I don’t want to hear any cursing.” In fact the only sound that could be heard were the gunshots, the cries of the birds, and the beating of their beaks against the metal netting, as wel l as the noise of the occasional bowl or feeder rol l ing over or shattering. When not a single bird was left al ive in the aviary, the soldiers who had done the shooting rejoined their comrades who had remained standing, ri f les on their shoulders, l ined up along the avenue. The captain gave the order to
get into a new formation and the platoon resumed its march. From the cages arose shrieks, moans, and howls of agony that drowned out the rhythmic thud of the soldiers’ footsteps. For the great Indian elephant an almost regulation execution was organized, with a dozen soldiers arranged in two rows, the f irst crouching and the second standing. A sergeant gave the order to take aim and f ire. For the tiger, by contrast, al l it took was a shot right between the eyes. And a single bul let was also enough for each of the fal low deer, gazel les, and zebras. On the antelopes they didn’t waste a single bul let, making simple recourse to the bayonet. The f iring squad was reassembled, however, for the rhinoceros, the giraffes, and the hippopotamuses. The agony of the rhinoceros lasted for hours after the concentrated gunf ire had fel led him. The next morning crows circled in the pale autumn sky above the zoo. The smel l of gunpowder stagnated in the air and blended with the stench of corpses that fermented and became putrid. Amid the haste no thought had been given to the reduced capacity of the zoo’s crematorium, whi le the quantity of animals was inf inite. Because of the wait the carcasses had to be pi led up near the fence, and the smel l of blood drew packs of stray dogs for days and days.
The Animal Gazer
THAT NIGHT REMBRANDT had a dream. He found himsel f at the entrance to the Snai l Room, hunched over, his long legs cramped. The room dated back to a few years earl ier and had been conceived and bui lt by his father, Carlo. It was made of oak and simi lar to the shel l of a snai l both in color and, i f you touched it with your f ingers, the porousness of its surface. Walking with his back bent forward, Rembrandt cl imbed the steps of the spiral that led to the room. At the center of the room there was an oval table, covered with a tablecloth of f ine yel low brocade, on which miniature tapirs, anteaters, marabou, and ostriches the size of sparrows were moving excitedly. Next to the table, on a chair careful ly upholstered in pewter and vel lum, Carlo Bugatti was seated. On a sofa, with her legs dangl ing over an armrest that ended with the head of a giant snai l , Rembrandt ’s sister, Dejanice, was lying down. The snai l head had crystal eyes. I bui lt al l this for the sultan of Constantinople, said the father severely, but neither you nor your sister is wi l l ing to boi l the glue that holds it together. In the meantime the l ittle animals have multipl ied and no longer occupy just the table: they ’re swarming onto the chairs, the sofa, and they ’re starting to invade the f loor. You who love animals and are loved by them in turn, order them to leave.
At that point Rembrandt woke up, got out of bed, and dragged himsel f to a corner of the room where there was a pitcher and a basin, and splashed generous handfuls of water onto his face. Then he started to cough. A dry cough that hurt his sides and made him feel l ike vomiting. In the end he spit up a thick, foaming substance, a kind of clot, and the water in the basin turned red. FOR A FEW days, l ike a wounded animal , it seems appropriate to say, Bugatti wandered in the vicinity of the zoo, without summoning the courage to enter or even get too close. To go beyond a certain l imit. He roamed the streets around Antwerpen- Centraal rai lway station with his temples throbbing and his head in a fog. The giant howitzers started to thunder in the morning, raising clouds of black smoke into the air. The Germans, people were saying, have doubled their contingent opposite the forti f ications that surrounded the city. From the station square Rembrandt noticed a pair of chasseurs standing guard in front of the zoo. What are they guarding? he wondered. What are they protecting? Then he left, started to wander again, walking aimlessly down streets l ittered with shattered glass and chunks of plaster, coming across columns of soldiers moving from one neighborhood to another,
The Animal Gazer
and groups of fami l ies leaving their homes with bundles on their backs, bundles into which they had crammed their most prized possessions as best they could. As soon as the darkness came, with shaky legs and heavy feet, Rembrandt headed toward his studio on Begi jnenvest, where he threw himsel f on his bed, exhausted, and fel l asleep. ONE MORNING, TOWARD the beginning of September, before the indi fferent stares of the two chasseurs ( it seemed that no one had bothered to rel ieve them) , Bugatti mustered the strength to cross the threshold of the zoo, and to enter, not without some hesitation, the great boulevard that led, after a sl ight swerve to the left, to the front of the Feestpaleis. The spectacle that appeared before his eyes was not what he had expected. Rather than desolation and si lence he found an ample movement of people coming and going, a frenzy of activity. A frenzy that may have been heartrending but was sti l l a frenzy nevertheless. The wide terrace balcony, the restaurant, the café, the bi l l iards room, the winter garden of the Feestpaleis, and especial ly the sumptuous atrium with its marble f loors and shiny chandel iers by which one entered the concert hal l had been converted into a makeshi ft hospital for the wounded. Badly
injured and suffering soldiers were arriving from the front every day, in addition to the people whom the hospital trains had already evacuated from the south and center of the country, from the now lost provinces of Liège, Namur, and Brabant. Strange that Rembrandt had noticed nothing, after hovering around the station for days, despite being in the grips of a mi ld form of somnambul ism. “Do you know how to dress an arm, stop a hemorrhage, or administer medicine?” they asked him. “No,” repl ied Rembrandt. “You look young and strong: I ’m sure you can handle the poles of a stretcher.” After an hour of intensive training, during which they insti l led in him a few rudimentary notions about the transportation of the wounded, as wel l as how to monitor them ( it ’s important, they explained, to protect the wounded from themselves, to prevent them from doing stupid things or, worse, frommaking any rash movements), Rembrandt entered the ranks of the DSTP, the dispensés du service en temps de paix , those exempted from mi l itary service during peacetime. The other stretcher- bearers were mainly teachers who were on in their years, musicians from the town band, seminarians and priests ( it ’s easy to reawaken the faith of soldiers over whom death is hovering, leading them to pray, to confess, and thus prepare themselves for eternal happiness) . Rembrandt learned immediately that the main
The Animal Gazer
requirements of a good stretcher-bearer are del icacy and precision. Precision in the sense of the abi l ity to walk at an even pace, in concert with one’s partner, and to keep the stretcher as horizontal as possible. The steps to the entrance required special attention: you had to be careful to carry the stretcher headf irst when you were going up, and feetf irst when you were going down. Del icacy was needed when the stretcher was set down on the ground. And then there was a third qual ity that would come in handy for anyone equipped with it: resi l ience, i f not a certain impermeabi l ity, before human suffering. Atop the pink marble pavement of the Feestpaleis, where the wounded had been laid out, there was an uninterrupted coming and going of stretcher-bearers. When someone died, it was their job to wrap the corpse in a bedsheet and add it to the pi le that was heaped in what unti l a short time before had been the animal cages. Rembrandt had come to spend his whole day, every day, amid the moans and the howls of the suffering and the death rattle of the moribund, and he had learned that nothing is more consol ing than the possibi l ity of assisting one’s fel low man in his moment of pain. But in his case it was a brief, temporary consolation. THE ARTILLERY BARRAGE and the shots f ired by two guns mounted on an armored train were not enough to hold the forti f ied positions. The f looding of the countryside around Antwerp slowed but did not halt the enemy ’s advance. The two defensive f lanks were broken and f inal ly col lapsed, one after the other. On the night of
October 7 the monstrous German howitzers took aim at the city. The Belgian cannons went si lent before the enemy ’s superiority. On October 10 the mayor signed the capitulation of the city to the Germans. Bugatti abandoned Antwerp. He traveled with a convoy that moved slowly over deeply-rutted dirt roads, coming across clusters of soldiers camped out by the sides of the ditches, crossing smal l towns that were almost unrecognizable in the darkness and the dust. After one day he arrived, in the morning, at the Ostend port, from where he embarked that same night for Dunkirk. And from Dunkirk he f inal ly reached Paris. There he spent a few weeks, just enough time to convince himsel f that even the elderly, women, chi ldren, and those exempt from the draft—the only ones, in other words, who had remained in the city—had the aura of people preparing to leave; enough time to real ize that the houses, streets, and parks of Paris seemed fami l iar but were al ien; enough time to notice that the Jardin des Plantes had been transformed into a desert. In the end Rembrandt took a decision: after ten years of being away, ten years in which, in truth, he had never l ived with nostalgia or regret, he left Paris and returned to Italy. Two days before his departure for Mi lan, Rembrandt paid a visit to Adrien Hébrard at his foundry on Avenue de Versai l les. The contract they had drawn up in earl ier times was sti l l val id: “Monsieur Bugatti agrees for a period of ___ years . . . not to cede any of his works to another foundry or art publ isher . . . and to consign to Monsieur Hébrard,
The Animal Gazer
who wi l l nevertheless be free . . . with exclusive rights . . .” etc. , etc. But the foundry had been closed for months. The ovens were extinguished, ovens whose mouths had issued masterpieces that earned Hébrard comparisons to the master founders of the Renaissance, works that some had compared to the bronzes buried beneath the ashes of Pompei i . Even the doors to the gal lery, whose windows looked onto Rue Royale, were barred. The rooms deserted and empty. The only thing left in the off ices was a desk, behind which Bugatti found Hébrard, seated. “ Times are tough,” Hébrard told him. “War destroys art. Did you hear of my father ’s death? Do you feel l ike having a bite to eat?” he asked. Not far from Rue Royale there was a brasserie. It was a modest place, but with a couple of inside rooms where you could have a meal without running the risk of being disturbed. Bugatti and Hébrard headed in that direction. “What wi l l you have?” asked Hébrard. “I think I ’ l l have the leg of lamb,” answered Rembrandt, after taking a quick glance at the menu. “I thought you were a vegetarian. Didn’t you used to say it was deplorable, shameful , to ki l l animals so we could gorge on their f lesh and blood?” “You’re confusing me with Troubetzkoy,” was Bugatti ’s curt reply. “Anyway,” Hébrard went on, “no one is interested in
artworks anymore, whether paintings or sculpture, smal l or large. Not even in the colored terracotta statuettes that used to sel l so wel l unti l last year. And even less in animal sculptures. Want to hear a story? The other week I needed a new pair of cl ippers to prune the plants in my garden, so I went to La Samaritaine department store. And who should I f ind amid the watering cans and rakes in the garden section? A man who looked l ike Pompon. François Pompon, the animal sculptor.” “I l ike Pompon,” said Bugatti , “he’s talented and brave. I ’ve heard that he has himsel f locked inside the aviary with the birds he uses as models, not worrying that he might catch an infection from their feathers and droppings.” “ That ’s him,” continued Hébrard, “wel l there he was, Pompon, behind the counter, stacking up bags of ferti l izer. At f irst I thought it couldn’t be François, but rather his twin, Hector, whom I don’t know, but whom I ’ve heard mentioned. I didn’t know that Hector had died six years ago. It ’s me, said Pompon, I don’t have any more commissions. Before I used to make a l iving carving out blocks of marble for other sculptors. Now there’s no more work. My wi fe is sick and it ’s hard to f ind anyone who wants to give a job to a man with white hair. And so, when this position opened up, I accepted immediately. The salary is good. Can you bel ieve it?” concluded Hébrard, eating a piece of cake. “ This is the situation.”
IN MILAN BUGATTI surrendered to the void, to ennui . There was no zoo in the city, only a few cages here and there in the Giardini Pubbl ici on Corso Venezia, with
The Animal Gazer
a giraffe, a leopard, a few deer, a monkey, and a few aging gazel les. The only friend he spent time with was Giul io Ul isse Arata, the architect and art critic. At f irst Rembrandt tried to see him every morning at his studio on Via Mascheroni . The studio, which also doubled as his home, was on the second f loor of a bui lding that Arata himsel f had designed (an elegant bui lding, symmetrical , with a sober façade divided by pi lasters with acanthus leaves and a moderate display of eclectic elements such as a double-vaulted balcony on the piano nobi le . The bui lding could not have been more unl ike the gothic f l ights of fancy he would later design) . This is how Arata described those visits: “Rembrandt would enter the studio looking painful ly sad and melanchol ic. He would come in without saying hel lo, without saying a word, and sink into an armchair and start complaining about how tired he felt. He would attempt to work. He would start a statue but not f inish it, making and unmaking. Some days he would come to the studio only to destroy the work he had done the day before.” His appearances at Arata’s studio became less and less frequent, tapering off unti l they ended completely. He conf ided to his friend that some nights he could only breathe by holding a damp handkerchief over his mouth. He could no longer stand Mi lan. He had the impression it was the city that kept him from shaking off the exhausting sadness and revulsion that had suffocated al l his feel ings. At the beginning of the summer of 1915, Rembrandt returned to Paris. His father and mother had left the house on Rue Jeanne-d’Arc some time ago, and were now l iving in Pierrefonds- les-Bains. Carlo Bugatti had
become mayor of that smal l town in Picardy, known for the therapeutic qual ities of its sulphuric waters, which rel ieves ai lments and aches and pains. It was then that Rembrandt, looking for new lodgings that would also serve as a studio, ended up f inding a two room apartment, not very wel l - l it but large enough, at 3 Rue Joseph-Bara. On the opposite side of the street, at number 6, his friend André Salmon l ived in a smal l oblong room. Now he was at the Western Front, with the 26th battal ion of the Light Infantry. Poet, writer, journal ist, art critic, a few years earl ier, in the pages of Art et Décoration: Revue mensuel le d’Art Moderne , he had compared Bugatti “to an ancient shepherd,” who during his leisure time, rather than sculpt frol icking shepherdesses, preferred “to take as his subjects the sheep in his f lock, his horses and his long-horned bul ls.” He cal led him an “animal sculptor by predestination.” In closing he observed that even the few human f igures Rembrandt had created were nothing more than “animals of a superior species.”
The Animal Gazer
Elisa The Pl Drea
iagini nt of ing
“This, the labor of cutting and filling, what matter whether with stone or word.”
Click here to see our animated video of Elisa Biagini’s poetry.
THE PLANT OF DREAMING By Elisa Biagini (poems)
When the eye grows dim don’t look for the warmth
of the hand that lowers the eyelid, escape from the melody of the word, the voice that smiles at you through false teeth. If language is world, is mirror, be in it with your pupil wide open, fish out from that black the ink that speaks words vertically. In its shadow questions grow, space is given to thoughts breathing. Not horizontal words that submerge, but the white of margins, the pause that covers the absence between you and me.
Zähle mich zu den Mandeln. Too many things already said, too much already breathed, in my palm only a stone spit out again small as an almond (the sweet part is too hidden and the shell is too hard) Count me among the almonds.
The Plant of Dreaming
My lips, yours are slits through which drop loose change, house keys that open doors elsewhere.
Fingers all eyes to feel you swim, drown, my thoughts stained by the sound of bees, your voice rises from the water: its skin covered with pins.
The Plant of Dreaming
A burnt match lifts your eyelid, it looks for the retina’s mirror, the net with fish-memories.
Es ist einer, der hat meine Augen There’s someone who has my eyes he wrings them like a sponge after the dishes, pulls them like a sheet, he stops the doors with them and from then on every step is bitter, like a wind blowing directly into your mouth.
The Plant of Dreaming
A wind that kneads me with hot gas, that melts my soles while I pick: what stone recalls you, the sound of what siren.
Now is the time of the mine, clay grazing my head,
hard language, lamp gone out. Stairs in the rock claw the bottom, where
skin sweats stones, gurgles the heart.
We go down the shaft along a trail of pyrite crumbs, go down with our eyes, knees, go down to trail the trace, drop marking the rock
Elisa Biagini by dropping, making memory overflow.
(we melt with the heat, drop by drop, we knead back into the sea. we meet again,
knots on eyelids). I listen inward to the support beams, count the fuses that open the view, I amass us for the flight, look for us in the dark, in the heat. I look for us two: you, a cloud of memory, me, running from myself like mercury, that tremor of a thermometer
The Plant of Dreaming
I swallow, glass and all. (A train from the dark,
a foot on each track, an eye, blinded, that looks for you, a train in the dark, that waits for you.) … then … It is the crackle of breath that announces you, all the dust got into the alveoli, now sandpaper. It is the glow of a match within the eye. (dust comes down from the mines, interlaces with lung, at each floor the sack sags, gets more threadbare.)
… in the gallery ( fever still) car running on empty, overheating, fast breath of the one that feels that one flees, a light bulb sizzles and goes out. … pulling the red thread from your shoulder blade, following you in the earth bones beyond the frontier of the lip, us, removed from light. This, the labor of cutting and filling, what matter whether with stone or word. ______
The Plant of Dreaming
Piero Schi The M One Kelvi
vo Campo n at
Piero Schiavo Campo
“What had he discovered? Making my way up the stairs, I saw him staring at a painting on the wall between two large windows overlooking the park. “I’m about to perform some little-known hacking. While you followme, I’ll make sure our avatars are monitored by an agent. There’s something I have to show you, but you’ve got to see it with your own eyes, or you won’t believe me.” ”
THE MAN AT ONE KELVIN DEGREES By Piero Schiavo Campo (NOVEL EXCERPT) Translated from the Italian by Sarah Jane Webb 1 On my flight from London to Milan I had time to recap the essentials of my case. Not that I hadn’t followed the affair, of course. The media had been talking about it for months, and there wasn’t a single person on Earth who hadn’t heard of De Ruiter, or of quantum teleportation. Yet no-one could have imagined how it would all end up; and until that moment my own interest in the matter hadn’t been professional. I had but a layman’s knowledge of the facts, and before meeting Stauder I wanted to go over them thoroughly. I activated my expensive Rolex watch (a present from Jasmine), donned my 3D specs and connected to the net. First of all I wanted to take another look at online footage on the Stelline building, which had been aired for hours, non-stop, on the interactive news. It was just possible that I’d missed something. The video was in all the media archives on the 3DWeb. It showed a rectangular hall with a vaulted ceiling, awash with yellowish morning light. Along the side wall, six large windows framed a garden enclosed by 47
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a brick wall. The garden was also visible through the arched doorway in the far wall of the room, leading out of doors. Through this, a romantic glimpse of a wrought-iron gate partly covered in ivy contrasted sharply with the bulky technological equipment cluttering the space indoors. I peered attentively at the small crowd thronging the room. All I could gather was that the air conditioning must have been running at full capacity, judging from the profusion of jackets. Along one wall was a wooden platform, in the center of which a tall, stout man smiled as he addressed the audience. That was Goldbach with the heavy blond plait falling softly on his right shoulder. Once again I tried to study his expression. Nothing indicated that he knew what was about to happen. Next to him, a man and two women were busy carrying out some final tests. Over their clothes they wore short light-blue coats. I’d been told these were commonly used by CEPS (Centre Européen de Physique Supérieure) technicians. They, too, gave no sign of unease or worry. I turned my attention to the equipment at the end of the room. The device near the arched door looked like a cupboard of polished metal, whose truncated- conoid hatch bore two noticeable diagonal black bands. Under these bands, inside an evenly-lit niche, a small gray sphere could be perceived. The equipment
The Man at One Kelvin Degrees on the opposite side resembled a huge black insect, ready to grab its prey. The ‘cupboard’ was a little taller than Goldbach: the ‘insect ’ grazed the vaulted ceiling. I wound the holographic film fast forward until the point where Goldbach started to illustrate the experiment ’s scientific details. He seemed calm and relaxed, his voice soft and low, his English perfect. “As you all know, we are here to witness an epoch- making event whose outcome could influence the future of mankind as a whole. I’m talking about the first-ever demonstration of quantum teleportation of an object of macroscopic size. The sphere you see in that niche in the machine on my left will be transferred instantly to this other device. And I mean instantly, not at the speed of light…” I wound the recording forward. Goldbach’s explanation lasted a good twenty minutes, and I had no intention of listening to it again. While the film sped forward, with the scientist moving ultra-fast, the scene in 3D appeared surreal. I reached the point where the lights were dimming, the insect was emitting a menacing drone, and the small sphere was lifting itself a few centimeters. Instead of teleporting, the machine started to produce strange rhythmic sounds – like someone sneezing. Goldbach frowned. I’d already noticed his expression
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during the live broadcasting: it seemed entirely genuine. Having switched off the machines, the technicians set to work. With their quick, precise movements, they transmitted a hasty calm. While they shifted levers and checked readings on measurement tools, Goldbach invited the audience to be patient. I wound the film fast forward again. I remembered that at least ten minutes had passed from that moment to the opening of the cupboard. Returning to normal speed, I located the point where one of the girls in the light-blue coats pressed the large red button on the front panel of the device. The insect was immobile, as if lying in wait. The conoid hatch lifted itself ten centimeters, then glided soundlessly to one side, revealing two metal bulkheads, one above the other. The girl turned some dials, while Goldbach invited the onlookers to stand back. The hatch on the lower bulkhead opened. This, of course, was the point that interested me most. A dense vapor escaped from the device, as if it had been filled with boiling water. In fact, as everyone knows, it was ice-cold: one kelvin, i.e. just one degree above absolute zero. Through the vapor, the stiffened figure of a man was distinctly visible. The vision lasted but a few seconds, before the body transformed itself into a frozen bas-relief.
The background murmur suddenly stopped. Among
The Man at One Kelvin Degrees the bystanders, those closer to the machine on the right stepped backward. A man on the side of the insect drew himself up to get a better view. Goldbach was petrified. The technicians looked on, transfixed. Had anyone realized that what lay before them was the corpse of professor Jan De Ruiter? Based on questioning conducted forthwith by the Lombardy Police, apparently not. I continued to scrutinize the scene with the utmost attention. Goldbach’s eyes were half-closed. He moved closer to the machine and stared at the frozen body, then lifted his gaze to observe a row of LEDs blinking indifferently on the front panel. I had the impression that, for a moment, his gaze had focused on a point of the bodywork, unremarkable except for a metal plate with the serial number of the device. I rewound and manipulated the holographic film, shifting the angle of vision and zooming in. Naturally my Rolex couldn’t project a real hologram, but my glasses afforded the identical vision as that obtained by a stationary holographic platform, had I used one. The position of my hand was deciphered by sensors in the strap, which registered movements of the tendons in my wrist. The corpse of professor De Ruiter was crammed inside the cubbyhole of the device, facing forward. Eyes closed, arms hanging inertly down his sides, he was huddled up unnaturally, like a sack hanging from
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a nail. There was a dark mark on his right temple: but even by tilting the visual angle as much as possible, I couldn’t see any better. After rewinding several times to look at the faces again and to study the movements of those present, I concluded that I wasn’t getting anywhere. I gave up and decided to focus on the problem of De Ruiter ’s replacement. CEPS had announced the Stelline experiment on March 12, 2061, during a press conference held by Goldbach himself as head of public relations. The official promulgation stated that the actual experiment would be conducted personally by Jan De Ruiter, director of the Parisian research institute. From then onwards, the media had done nothing but talk about this event. De Ruiter had become a worldwide star, and quantum teleporting the subject of numberless debates, interviews to scientists, and even comic strips. The better-informed commentators maintained – probably rightly – that this couldn’t possibly be the first-ever teleport experiment. Obviously, they said, CEPS knew what was what, or they wouldn’t have risked failing in public. I could clearly remember the questions that had bothered me in the days when the ‘frozen professor ’ (as later dubbed by the media) was still very much alive and kicking. Why choose Milan? Why transform a scientific experiment into a worldwide media event?
The Man at One Kelvin Degrees Observers all agreed that the reason was political. At the time, the Cold War on Trade was in full swing – which, for the Western world, meant flexing its technological muscles. Teleport was very promising in theory, but still far from feasible applications. Even the location seemed to have been chosen for political reasons. In the last fifteen years, lingering clouds of the Long Crisis witnessed in the early part of the century had been dispelled by the warm sun of economic recovery. Belgium and Spain had made it back into the Eurozone, and Northern Italian regions also seemed ready. The choice of Milan was generally thought to be associated with the growing importance of Lombardy in the Continent ’s economy. When Goldbach appeared on the platform instead of De Ruiter, everyone was taken by surprise. Only later was the course of events made known. Questioned by the Lombardy Police, Goldbach himself had declared that he hadn’t the least idea what had prevented the professor from being present at the Stelline. De Ruiter had got in touch with him on the evening of June 13 on the 3DWeb, not in person but through his avatar. This wasn’t unusual, according to Goldbach: the professor had spent hours on the 3DWeb, and had been known to communicate in the same way with Institute staff. In any case his avatar was certified, so it was difficult to question his identity. During their conversation, the frozen-professor-to-be had mentioned health problems; it had occurred to Goldbach that, for some
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reason, he hadn’t wanted to show his face. But this was merely speculation on his part. The conversation had taken place in Goldbach’s virtual room, within the space reserved for CEPS. The recording of that conversation is still available on various sites. For those who haven’t seen it, this virtual space resembles the inside of a Renaissance church, with two aisles of different depths leading to rectangular windows revealing a landscape of green hills. The aisles are surmounted by cross vaults, with two-light mullioned windows framing a sky of perfect blue. Between the aisles at the center of this virtual space is a sort of raised sitting-room, mounted on a wooden platform. On this, there are a table and a book-case, with books, vases, and other objects. Two agents, represented as a peacock and an owl, strut beneath the platform on a floor of multi-colored tiles. The identities of Goldbach and De Ruiter are both certified by the system, as indicated by the Verified label appearing alongside their respective avatars. Throughout their conversation, Goldbach’s avatar manifests a complex mimicry of facial expressions and gestures. Instead, De Ruiter ’s remains immobile. The effect is bizarre, and gives the impression that the professor is part of the decor. It was only later that I learned that De Ruiter had always refused to use mimicry controls when
The Man at One Kelvin Degrees connecting to the 3DWeb: he couldn’t stand them, according to some; he didn’t know how to use them, according to others. De Ruiter: “Goldbach, I have a problem. A serious one. I won’t be able to do that presentation the day after tomorrow for the teleportation show in Milan . ” Goldbach (after a moment ’s pause): “I don’t understand, professor. What sort of problem?” De Ruiter: “It ’s a personal matter. I’m in poor shape, I need you to stand in for me . ” (Another, longer pause.) Goldbach: “I would be honored, of course. The media have been talking about this for months. What ’s the matter, professor? Are you unwell?” De Ruiter: “I’d rather not talk about it. All I can say is that I’m well aware of the importance of the event, and also of its very positive impact on the media. If at all possible I’d do the presentation as planned. I’m only asking you to replace me because it ’s absolutely impossible for me to be there. Goldbach, believe me: there’s no other way . ” I started to think things over. Questions – mainly without answers – were piling up in my mind. What had really happened to the professor? Where had he been from June 13 to the moment his frozen body had shown up inside that device at the Stelline?
Piero Schiavo Campo
I glanced outside the aircraft window. We’d passed the Alps, and stretching ahead of us was the endless, milky, murky plane of the Po valley: the megalopolis was nearby. I had just enough time to study the reports of the PRL (Regional Police of Lombardy). For reasons of territorial jurisdiction, the local police had immediately launched an investigation. The media had broadcast the severe visage of Luciani, Commander of Milan’s PRL, who had pledged that his patrols would identify the culprit without delay. However, as the victim was a senior European executive, official protocol required the intervention of the European Police Department (EPD). The Big Boss in person had summoned me at eleven o’clock and ordered me to reach Stauder in Milan. He’d called while I was still watching, nonplussed, the live holographic news service on Europe Press. I began to study the holographic reports of the first interrogations, received during my flight. Goldbach maintained that his plane had landed at five p.m. on June 14; he’d picked up a rented car and had gone straight to his hotel, the Excelsior, in Piazza della Repubblica. At nine in the evening he’d asked for a snack to be brought up to his room, and at eleven he was asleep. His statements were easy to verify, and no doubt PRL’s bloodhounds had already done so. Throughout the interrogation, Goldbach had seemed tense and concerned – but this was only to
The Man at One Kelvin Degrees be expected, after the Stelline affair. The Police had also interrogated CEPS’ technical staff and the convention center ’s employees. All the statements were in agreement. The machinery had been delivered and assembled on-site on June 1 and 2. The teleport modules came from Paris; while the cryogenic devices – including the one that had become De Ruiter ’s icy burial chamber – had been manufactured and transported to the congress hall by CrioGen of Sesto S. Giovanni, a Milanese suburb a few kilometers from the city center. The cryogenic devices, which had arrived on June 2, were the sealed compartments inside the cupboard’s belly. The engineers claimed that these weren’t highly technical objects, but simple cooling stages capable of reaching the temperature of liquid helium (approx. 1 K, as it happened). Both devices had been activated on the morning of June 13. Witnesses were ready to swear that up to that moment there were no dead bodies in the devices.
21 The garden had changed. The moon still shone on the gravel driveways, but behind the trees in the park loomed a strange city in flames. It wasn’t really a city – an exact definition eluded me – it was
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more like an immense tower, from whose windows flickered tongues of fire, illuminating the façade of the eighteenth-century mansion. Once again I had that weird, larger-than-life sensation experienced in Atlantis. The same guardian as the last time asked me my name: I answered ‘Oberon’, and he let me in. The hall was also different. This time it was full of avatars and agents of all types. Nudity prevailed – though rarely total – but many avatars flaunted very elaborate costumes. These were accompanied by fantastic creatures. Some were mounting liocorns; others were astride enormous air-born fishes; or giraffes; or gigantic birds, moving awkwardly among the guests. The scene was at once wonderful and absurd. Through the chat cube, John Silver sent me a message. “Something very odd’s going on here, captain. Mind if I have a look around?” He was standing next to me. His red musketeer outfit was perfect for the occasion. He wore a contemptuous sneer, while his sword hung beside him with arrogant menace. “What shall I do if anyone speaks to me?” “Call me on the chat cube and I’ll be right there,” he replied. I saw him make for the ample staircase I’d climbed on my first visit. He trod heavily, as one would expect
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