martedì 22 febbraio 2011

chicken man

Later F. would tell me, "See what you would miss if it weren't for me?" and yes, I would have missed it entirely if he hadn't turned around on his bike and said, "Did you see that? Aveva una gallina!" So we stopped, backpedaled, and sure enough, a man was walking down Corso Garibaldi with a rooster on his shoulder.

The man was strolling down the street at dusk, in an old blue shirt and jeans, and the rooster was happily settled on his shoulder, beautifully dark colored and shiningly clean. It hardly fluttered a feather as they made their way down the street together. We watched as the man stopped by a cafè and started a conversation with the three people, two men and a woman, who sat outside. While they talked, the men amused but willing, passersby feigned disinterest, turning around to stare only after they were out of the man's sight. Of the conversation, we heard the man say something like, "Sorry to disturb you, but I can only stay outside of locales, sai, they're always kicking me out."
And one of the men saying, "But it's not you, it's him!" Gesturing at the rooster, who adjusted his seat on the man's shoulder.
"Well anyway, I'm armed. Like in the old west." And he pulled up his shirttails to reveal a bottle of beer in each of his pockets. They all laughed and he continued on his way, but not before praising the beauty of the woman they were with.

"Che dici, lo seguiamo?" said F. Perhaps following a man with two beers and a rooster is not the city response to strange occurrences, but of course I agreed. We walked with our bikes a little ways behind him. He crossed the street and we watched as he greeted every person he passed, singing "Bandiera Gialla," sometimes stopping to talk, another time making an obscene gesture at a signore who offended him. The rooster rode peacefully, every so often flapping its wings to regain its balance. It didn't make a sound. On our side of the street three little girls and their moms passed, and the one in front cried,
"Cel'ha una gallina lassù quel signore! C'è una gallina!" That man has a chicken!
But her friends didn't believe her and couldn't see as far. "Ma era un cane, dai."
And we smiled because we knew the truth.

Finally we sped up and crossed the street, so that we would be in his path as he passed. I pretended to look at some flowers, watching him approach out of the corner of my eye. He stopped beside us, and from up close I could see he had a big bushy beard and sparkling eyes, a sweet face really but the kind that could turn frightening. He stood next to F and told him that he shouldn't be afraid of the chicken, non ti fa niente. And so F reached out a hand and stroked the rooster, who seemed to retract his head into his neck in contentment. A woman behind us was saying, "Che meraviglia, what a miracle, quel signore ha una gallina. Che bello."
And he said, "No, pardon me, you know what the miracle is?" Smiling he pointed at me and the woman who worked at the flower stand and then swept his arm to include the women passing by on the street and said, "Sono loro la vera meraviglia, they're the real miracle. Le nostre compagne. Our companions."
And excusing himself for the intrusion, he continued down the street.

giovedì 17 febbraio 2011

20 questions

A scene from my game of twenty questions with my fourth year students today:
[A boy approaches the front of the classroom, as he has just guessed Bangladesh correctly and now it's his turn to think of something. He chooses jobs.]
E (aside to me): What do you call a man who makes pizza?
R: Let's say, pizza maker.
E (to class): Ok, I've thought of it.
Class: Do you work with other people?
E: Uh, sometimes.
[He sits down at the teacher's desk (I'm always on my feet) and leans back.]
E: I'm tired.
Class: Is it a manual job?
E: Uh, yes, I suppose.
Class: Do you earn a lot of money?
E: Sometimes.
Class (growing indignant): What does it mean, sometimes?
E: Some people who do this job have a big salary but not always.
R: Most of the time no.
[Class grumbles.]
Class: Do you work outside?
E: No.
Class: Can you do this job in Milan?
E: Yes.
Class: Do you work in a hospital?
E: Ehh no. Ok, maybe in a really big hospital. Maybe in the United States hospital.
Class: Are you a lawyer?
E: No.
R to E: Maybe you should give them a hint.
E: Okay, it's someone who gives people happiness.
[Class mumbles.]
Class: Is it a clown?
E: No.
A girl: Un attore comico! Non so chiedere in inglese...
A boy: Is it a comic actor?
Same girl: Sarà il suo spacciatore! Fai soldi un po' si un po' no, qualche volta lavori con altra gente...
Class: Is it a pusher?
R: Drug dealer.
E: No.
[Class grumbles.]
A boy: Do you give massages?
[Some of class makes confused noises and I explain what "massage" means.]
E: Sometimes.
[Class is becoming truly confused.]
R, reminding: He said that you can do the job in Milan. What kinds of jobs are especially Italian?
Class: Do you work in the evening?
E: Yes.
A boy: Is it a prostitute?
E: No.
R: You guys are leaving out a big industry.
[The bell rings.]
Class: What is it?
E: A pizza maker!
[Collective moans and loud complaints. "Makes you happy?! Massages?! Macché!" E trundles back to his desk, a victorious smile on his face.]

lunedì 14 febbraio 2011

ponte farini

When you cross the ponte Farini on your bike--probably on the red-painted sidewalk on the left side, against traffic, so that you can avoid the frightening intersection with the trams and easily slip onto your street, and probably on your boyfriend's graziella because your bike has a flat tire from a piece of glass picked up on that same street--you can see the Cimetero Monumentale down below. It'll be to the left, beside the train tracks that the bridge lifts you above, and even after the cemetery is closed the tombs will be lit up with yellow lightbulbs that are meant to imitate candles and from this distance do indeed seem like little flames.

Maybe if you come at the right time, early twilight, like I did tonight, you'll pass a straight-backed old man with large glasses and a crumpled-up expression on his face. He'll be kissing his fingers at the cemetery and he'll be whispering something inaudible. Maybe you'll wonder who he's kissing, and who he's whispering to, like I did.

mercoledì 2 febbraio 2011

culture shock

While waiting to check out the supermarket, I had a moment of that special culture shock that I haven't experienced in a while. Because I saw this:...cioè, baby food made of horse meat (40%, the company proudly declares).

And I thought Italy couldn't surprise me anymore.

martedì 1 febbraio 2011

il cavaliere inesistente

Italo Calvino outside the Einaudi publishing house in Torino

I've been gobbling up books lately, too quickly actually, driven by more a fury to read than to digest, so I decided to slow myself down by reading something in Italian. The book is I nostri antenati, our ancestors, an anthology of the three novellas by Italo Calvino, Il cavaliere inesistente, Il visconte dimezzato, and, the only one I've already read, Il barone rampante. So I'm in Il cavaliere inesistente right now, the story of a knight in Charlemagne's army who doesn't exist; his suit of armor is empty of any body, it contains only his mind, his spirit, maybe his soul? I think I have to finish the book to find this out.

Midway through the book, Agilulfo (he who doesn't exist), Rambaldo (a young and idealistic young man hoping for glory), and Gurdulù (the mad fool who has been assigned to Agilulfo as a page by Charlemagne--O bella! Questo suddito qui che c'è ma non sa d'esserci e quel mio paladino là che sa d'esserci e invece non c'è) set about the task of burying the bodies from the earlier battle. Each confronts a corpse and has his own reverie: Agilulfo thinks proudly and defiantly of the pains and disgust of having a body that can die, Rambaldo questions his fury for glory and thinks of his love...and Gurdulù:

Gurdulù trascina un morto e pensa: "Tu butti fuori certi peti più puzzolenti dei miei, cadavere. Non so perchè tutti ti compiangono. Cosa ti manca? Prima ti muovevi, ora il tuo movimento passa ai vermi che tu nutri. Crescevi unghie e capelli: ora colerai liquame che farà crescere più alte nel sole le erbe del prato. Diventerai erba, poi latte delle mucche che mangeranno l'erba, sangue di bambino che ha bevuto il latte, e così via. Vedi che sei più bravo a vivere tu di me, o cadavere?"

Gurdulù drags a dead body and thinks, "You're farting out worst stink than me, cadaver. I don't know why everyone pities you. What do you miss? Before you moved, now your movement passes to the worms that you nourish. You grew hair and fingernails: now you will melt to manure that will make the grass grow in the sun. You will become grass, then milk from the cows who will eat the grass, blood of the baby who drinks the milk, and so on. See how you are better than me at living, o cadaver?"