Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Rooftop Dancing for Wanton Women

This is what can happen.

It's Saturday and you play your Haydn sonata, the second and third movements, over and over in pieces on your maestro's divine grand piano. He whizzes through the trio you are going to play together.
You walk out onto the street, pooped.

You sit in a bar where the internet connection is so much faster than the Fred Flintstone pace you have in the sticks.
You spend two hours on just one ginseng coffee. One euro thirty.
There are lots of flashy families about. Men who've thought way too much about they're going to wear.
And they are wearing it.
You read the words to the Frost Scene in Purcell's King Arthur, which on the CD you've never been able to decipher.

What power art thou, who from below, who from below,
Hast made me rise unwillingly and slow,
From beds of everlasting snow?
See'st thou not how stiff and wondrous old, 
Far, far unfit to bear the bitter cold,
I can scarcely move or draw my breath
Let me, let me freeze again to death.

You realise this music was created in the late 1600s and it kills you.

On the way back to the car a very nifty Nigerian beggar called Kevin asks you for his fare to Bari. Says he came up here looking for work for the vendemia - grape-picking.
You tell him the vendemia was over ages ago and you admire his crocodile tears.
You know exactly how much petrol is in your tank.

Some hours later you park the car in another city, the evening is closing in. You pass by a Pentecostal church milling with Ghanaians in green printed shirts, all of them the same material.
Your eyes fill with tears.

You walk into town with mates, walk through the people, over the cobbles. You try on those boots you've been ogling as much as you would ogle a man. More perhaps.

In a bar an old painter who has had a very bad accident tells you you are a fairy and he wants to paint you.

You are led up to the bar on the roof of the Basilica, unexpectedly. You are invited to drink by some rowdy men from Emilia Romagna, one of whom has a chequered blue and white sweater which is a little startling.

The setting is flawless. Palladian sculpted statues are set along the balustrade, each naked stone body hoisted upright by curved iron supports that look like bondage devices. The light is rosy on the broad stone wall reaching up into the copper dome against the night.

You hear some good music and take your gin tonic up to the small area where two older German ladies from Dusseldorf with spiky haircuts are dancing in crazy eighties movements which are totally off the beat.

Somehow, they have made your night.   

Monday, 14 October 2013

Weddings, walnuts, exes and sad dirty truths

There was a wedding. Not a huge one, nor too boisterous. It was a little stiff, with much joy however, on a cold crisp day.

There were exes present. Plus fluffy new partners. Kids darting off. Teetering heels getting trapped in the cobbles.

A certain young soprano we all know sang an aria beautifully, in a frescoed chamber.

Later, at the other end of the day there was a big dancing party at the ranch here. My homie DJ mates delivered us into soul heaven and I swapped my spiky boots for some chunky heels and grooved.


But as we danced and recovered and cracked walnuts the day after, there were other, larger events happening along the peninsula.

Way down south, near an Italian island that lies not far from the Tunisian coast, people were crowded into a leaky vessel that would soon find its way to the bottom of the sea. Three hundred lives were lost. It has been said that a fire was lit to attract attention when engine trouble slowed the boat. The fire took hold and people pushed to one side of the vessel, causing it to capsize. The boat was within sight of the shore. Despite valiant efforts by locals and coastguard, most people drowned.

Days afterwards, when bodies were still being recovered, another disaster occurred. More drownings. More coffins lined up along the shore, teddy bears for kids who've probably never held a teddy bear in their lives.

In Italy these boats arrive every day and they are not turned away. Or shot at. Nor are people put in camps. They are clothed, fed, medicated. They begin the long legal path towards possessing a visa or, if necessary, are simply sent home. But every time I stop to think about this - as everyone in the country has over the past two weeks - I wonder what type of determination is required to undertake this perilous journey. Even in a sound vessel the sea at night is treacherous - have you ever been cupped in its waves? And on a leaky vessel as a fearful non-swimmer, with no life-jackets, depth sounders, good captaincy or enough fuel, I can't imagine the level of terror. Is it foolishness to hand your life over to these human traffickers? Or does the blind desire to reach Europe cancel everything else out?

Once I employed a West African guy, a friend of a friend, to help me plant a row of trees. The guy was a rascal and we got talking. He'd come over in a boat. Twice in fact. The first time the boat broke down and they were sent back to shore - Libya it was, before the war. He lost his money and had to work as a labourer for another six months. Oh, and before that he said he'd crossed the Sahara (don't know if I believed that, but it was easier then). The second time he said they made it. I don't remember whether to Lampedusa or all the way to Sicily. On the way there were bodies thrown overboard. The sick, the weak. This guy was tough. He dug deep holes in moments, swinging the pick with huge muscly arms. He was a survivor. A rascal, but a hard worker. I'm sure he's flourishing somewhere.

The saddest story to emerge from last week's events is a mother and her newborn son discovered in the shipwreck. Why did a seven-months' pregnant woman attempt this journey? To rejoin family members? To give her son an easier start in life? To escape a war-torn country?

We will never know. The divers who found her - grown men, heroes - broke down when they found her.

Our masks were full of tears, they said. Our masks were full of tears.