Lavori in corso" Photography by Diedré M Blake, 2012. (Primavalle neighbourhood, Rome)
It’s a wakeful morning, a bit too early. Yet still, it is not early enough for me to justify returning to sleep. I turn my mind to thoughts of my plans for the day, which inevitably leads me to broader thoughts about my plans for my life–I won’t get into that here though. It is about one of my thoughts, a simple plan really, upon which I would like to reflect today.
You see, after spending some months tackling the Italian language
and feeling a bit bruised and battered by the process, I have finally made a decision. I have decided to learn Italian.
At this point, you might wonder what in the universe am I meaning, considering that my previous statement suggested that I was studying or “tackling” Italian. No, I am not completely off just yet. What I mean is that my morning reflection led me to realize that I have not been truly wanting/desiring to learn Italian… that is, until now.
I understand that some, perhaps many, people have this edict regarding the language: i.e., Italian is one of the most beautiful languages to speak, to write, and to learn. I have not been of this mindset, and am not certain that I am now. What I am is appreciative of the nuances of the language and I have come to enjoy its melodic quality. I am still more inclined, however, to Germanic languages
… but that might have a lot to do with certain aspects of my personality and how those languages complement them.
The point is that after all these many months of my studying and my 16-month love affair with Rome, I have only now opened myself to truly connecting with the people and the culture–I was a bit too busy living and trying to extend the pseudo-reality of the honeymoon phase in my relationship with Rome.
What I realize now is that I can accept Rome and that Rome can accept me. More importantly, a most wonderful aspect of this acceptance is that we will finally come to understand one another. Yes, it may sound a bit strange to speak of a city in this way, but…
A bit late…
I’ve spent a great deal of time roaming the streets of Rome. From the very start, what appealed to me the most, beyond the monuments, was that I understood little of what was being said by those around me. I wanted to be lost in a crowd of people, with whom I did not have to share my thoughts and to whom I did not need to react.
Of course, it is hard for someone like me to be invisible anywhere in Europe, where my dark skin certainly contrasts with the norm of whatever society in which I am presently. I did, however, achieve a sense of my own private world, away from the some of the harshness of the reality that I had been living prior to my first visit. Rome gave me a chance to see myself again, to hear my own voice, to listen to my thoughts, to believe in the possibility of building a beautiful and touchable future.
I suppose that I had thought that if giving up this “separateness,” this self-imposed “isolation,” this ignorance of the world moving around me would mean losing everything that I had gained. I believe I have written about this very issue before, i.e. how our thoughts (sometimes highly irrational) can prevent us from embracing that which is can actually enhance our lives.
So, here I am. This morning I have woken with the desire to read an entire novel in Italian. It is my favourite novel from my adolescence. I even went so far as to purchase the book in Italian on Kindle, so that I could immediately begin the process. No, it is not A braccia aperte
by Mario Tornello. It is Intervista col Vampiro
(“Interview with the Vampire
“) by Anne Rice
A braccia aperte
The reason for the image of A braccia aperte is that this book of poetry was what ignited the desire within me to learn the language… It is also another reason why I am feeling a bit late.
I discovered the book on a random walk one early afternoon through my neighbourhood, Garbatella
–this was before the snow. There is a small bookshop just before the roundabout that leads to one of the major roads in Rome, Via Cristoforo Colombo. I am not quite sure what possessed me to go inside the shop, but go inside I did.
It was quite dismal and suitably dark. Here and there were smatterings of stationery and schoolbags. From what I could tell, many of the books had been bought either at the start of the new millennium or in the decades before. The owner of the shop, a lady, was engaged in a long conversation with a customer, regarding the latter’s family–that’s as much as my Italian could tell me. When she did finally notice me, she came over and in halting Italian I explained to her that I wanted to find a poetry book of Eugenio Montale
. I had imagined that given the fame of the poet, finding a poetry book of his in a bookshop would not pose a problem. I was wrong.
After much conversation, during which I was offered every romantic novel the store had to offer (now folks, do I seem like the romantic novel type to you?), the owner finally left me to wander about… although there was not much wandering to do as the shop consisted of one very tiny room, which currently included all its merchandise (both offered and stored), the owner and her customer, and me. Still, I hovered near the entrance and allowed my eyes to scan over a number of books that were easily visible to me, and that is when I saw it…
The small cream-coloured book with its Times New Roman font and its single graphic design of a winged eye appealed to me. Perhaps I thought that it would be easy to read, because it was not a large book, or perhaps because of the simplicity of its design. Who knows. Whatever the reason, I picked it up and opened it to page fourteen.
Parlerò di te
Parlerò di te
che mi riconosci il passo
sui mattoni di cotto,
di te che rubi sulla mia pelle
pensieri rappresi, sospesi tra due cieli;
di te, dei tuoi spenti desideri
ormai chiusi in arcani pensieri.
Di te che ho voglia di dire
e di sentire curiosità sopite,
di te che mi sfuggi
come un sabato che se ne va.
Parlami, perché io varchi la tua soglia
sotto l’ibisco che accende lanterne rosa
tra giardini a mare.
Stringi tra le tue dita
di cristallo d’arte
queste mani che ti dicono
quale luogo profondo
hanno scavato tra le mie carni.
E tutto si perde
nella sofferenza dell’attesa,
nelle parole pronunciate e spente
a fil di labbra,
nella palude delle idee
dove ritrovare se stessi
è come avere un poker tra le mani.
Without knowledge of the meaning of all the words, I understood the poem. When I write “understood,” what I mean is that the poem connected with some core part of myself that allowed me to grasp its meaning. Whether reading it in silence or aloud, the poem (for me, at least) elicits a profound experience.
Ho letto il tuo urlo senza voce
e m’è caduto il cuore.
Mi dici che i morti in riposo,
sospesi tra due cieli bruciano
sullo scoglio vestito di sole.
Non saprò più immaginare
sulla cenere di ciò che fu.
Siamo inermi nel delirio
di chi non sa amare
ciò che l’alba del tempo
ha inciso per l’uomo.
Mario Tornello was a painter, a poet, and a writer. He was born on October 21, 1927 in Palermo and died on February 2, 2010 in Rome. He was all that I hope one day to truly label myself to be. At present, I am a bit of a lavori in corso (“work in progress)… but then again, aren’t we all.
Now, I am off for my walk; kindle, Italian/English dictionary, poetry book, and pen; for which I am already late… but happily so.
Until next time!