Monday, April 22, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Forty-Two

MobyDick Shipchandler Co., Istanbul, Turkey.

Pavor watched as the semi-trailer truck slow-geared past on the way to the commercial port further on, the driver in the sheer faced cab, a powerful chin with a massive tattooed forearm, the captain of his own ship, call him Ishmael with his Moby flash-frozen in the trailer behind. MobyDick Shipchandler out of Istanbul. Four foot blue lettering on a white semi-trailer truck. He needed that. A jolt of East and West to pull him out of his maunderings along the harbour. The name on the truck brought up memories of Melville and also Conrad's Lord Jim, Jim working as a water-clerk for a ship chandler's business in distant tropical ports, ever moving from port to port in the romantic pursuit of a fresh start.

The cars, trucks and motorbikes sputtered and farted past as he waited on the sidewalk to cross.

It had been a half-hour since Pavor had left the stone pier and its dark iron cleats behind, the winds having prevailed upon him; a half hour since he left his conjectures over how many people have simply walked to the end of that long stone pier and descended the few slime-slick stairs, water rilling in the crevices, and surrendered themselves to the cold dark waters. A long half-hour.

Nearby, to the bronze sculptures on the side of another set of stairs, these leading down to the water in front of the Piazza Unità, he had made his way, and had gazed upon these realistic depictions of two woman sitting on the concrete ledge sewing the flag of Italy, their dresses rippled like water, their hair furrowed by the imaginary wind. One woman had an all-knowing, all-seeing expression, wistful yet bemused. Sewing time itself. The sculptures had made him think of the numerous modern naturalistic bronze sculptures in Montreal, the man reading a newspaper in Westmount, or the couple embracing on a bench, and many others. There must be thousands of similar statues around the world he had thought, an art movement away from austere representations on high pillars and plinths, towards art for the people, eye to eye. He had wondered if there might be a correlation between freedom and natural interactive art, the more 'democratic' freedoms available, the more natural and accessible the art? He had stood looking at the bronze figures—not realizing tourists were hoping he would move so they could take photos of the bronze sisters—remembering when a friend of his had shown him a photograph of the statue of John Diefenbaker in his home town, some prankster had climbed up and screwed a cigarette between the former prime minister's lips and fitted a condom on his outstretched finger, an example of the perils of representation.

A grey and white butterfly flittered around Pavor's head before swiftly flying towards Bennigan's Pub across the street as if the smell of Foster's and other fine ales were mimicking Valerian, lavender or the blue flowering Hyssopus high on the Mountain slopes over-looking Trieste. It should be sunning itself around Miramare Castle he thought. Equally lost as himself perhaps.

Using the crosswalk near the marina where he had found himself, he made his way over to the city side of the harbour, redirecting his thoughts inland, towards the hospital and the possible answers awaiting him. At the corner of the Piazza Venezia, he made his way past the spicy aroma emitted by a Chinese restaurant that tried to seduce his hunger, but his fluctuating thoughts were preoccupied with Ishmael, Lord Jim, Mélisande, sculptures, doctors, nurses, and Tullio on a gurney possibly clinging to life like Ishmael to Queequeg's coffin.

He felt like he was entering a maze as he made his way down the narrow Via Torino, which curved round to the Piazza Attilio Hortis, a leafy refuge from the winds. The large chestnut trees and Pines provided a welcomed canopy for shade and softened light, an ideal resting place for his already tired feet. Sitting down, he watched the other park denizens and passersby, tireless mothers with their children in strollers, a few elderly men in windbreakers and caps sitting on a bench deep in conversation, arms crossed as if contemplating a chess move, the bicycles and motorbikes passing on the side streets, a woman tugging on the dog leash of her unseen pet intent on smells and odours on the other side of a low shrub, and the dark-winged figures in the trees above looking down on it all with possible distrust. Two short, jowly elderly men, one with a wooden cane slowly scuffed past him, their hats and well-cut suits from another era, brothers perhaps, like mirror images of Jorge Luis Borges. Next, two elderly woman, once again, one with a cane, possibly sisters, arm and arm, their kerchiefs and low-heeled shoes emblems of acceptance and propriety. A procession of twins or married couples? Friends reacquainted off for a stroll and a breath of air? Pavor wondered how they managed the heat during the long shuttered summers.

No one paid any attention to Attilio Hortis, the former head of the public library honoured with a bust on a plinth in the centre of the park. His nose had been broken off, a paper weight on someones desk or crumbled dust swept away by the grounds keepers long ago, Pavor would likely never know. The expression was a bit haughty, even from afar. People, with a capital P, do not like haughty when it comes to book learning it seems. The lawyer turned librarian had a name that evoked, for Pavor at least, Attila the Hun and Horticulture, such was his cultural bias.

Good old Hortus warranted a photograph for Mélisande, so he took out his cell phone and walked over to take a series of shots of the white stone bust while the old men on the bench stared at him open-mouthed as if surprised that a damaged sculpture of a forgotten librarian could possibly be of interest to anyone. Turning around, he made his way over the dusty ground to Italo Svevo who stood in Bronze on the sidewalk nearby, book in hand, hat in the other, a Triestine stroller frozen in time. With the toe of his shoe, he swept a few leaves off the bronze plate affixed to the sidewalk and took a number of photographs, Svevo lost in thought, perhaps thinking of that near-sighted, guitar strumming exile from Eire. Pavor had hesitated with James Joyce as many have, and finally having read Ulysses for a University course, he had felt riven from his Jamesian fixation, the author weaving the English language, history, Catholicism and the classical past and wrapping the reader like a top and pulling the umbilical cord and setting the reader off into a vortex of dizziness, coming to rest on the soft rich earth, eyes to the sky, head spinning, re-birthed with the depths of the idea of love, yes, yes, yes, love. This aroused a memory of the picture he took of Mélisande one crisp yet dusty spring morning, Mélisande leaning on the plexi-glass surround to the Robert Indiana sculpture in old Montreal, the psychedelic colourful letters spelling LOVE, evocative of the Beatles music, I love you, ya, ya, ya, a counterpoint and contrast to the nineteenth century limestone architecture that loomed above and around it. Mélisande, love, marriage, equanimity and contentment. Were not Joyce and Svevo married and conventional? Italo Svevo, the elder protégé of the younger Irish flanneur, had fallen within the Joycean shadows, and yet his writings were still unknown to him. People had told him he should read The Confessions of Zeno, As A Man Grows Older, and A Life, and though he owned paperback copies purchased from The Word bookstore and Grange Stuart Books back in Montreal, books taking up valuable real estate on his jumbled shelves, he had yet to venture into them; three more books on a seemingly endless scroll of a books-to-be-read bibliography easily catalogued by his love, Mélisande the librarian.

He wondered if Joyce had frequented Benington's Pub. Perhaps there was an unpaid bar tab framed and labelled, a tourist tidbit, a draw for the wayward scholar. Another pint if you will, sir. Another toast to that fearful jesuit. Such places as the pub and the Chinese restaurant provided a change for some, but Pavor had avoided them, their appearance so much like places back in Montreal. He had tried to seek out the little family run establishments where locals gathered for local sourced foods and recipes, from seafood and pasta dishes, to sauerkraut and sausage soup, so diverse the cultural mix of Italian, Austrian, Hungarian, Slovenian and Croatian cuisine available. His stomach gave a preliminary growl, a troubling presentiment of possible hospital cafeteria food. Checking his watch, he decided his landfall was well behind him, the journey to the hospital at the centre of this maze of streets lay before him like an uphill endeavour, and so off he trudged like a reluctant Theseus without his thread.

Adrift without a map, he headed along the Via di Cavana with its stylish shops and small restos, where locals let their dogs pee against the light posts and flower stands, then took a right on Via Madonna del Mare, its narrow sidewalk just enough for a svelte solitary stroller. He yielded to an older woman and her plump canvas bags in each hand like comically over-sized boxing gloves, by walking onto the street only to have a spluttering Vespa make him jump with its horn. Looking over his shoulder, he caught sight of an attractive young woman, gleeful in profile—was that a wink? ogling his tight pants—her scarf flowing behind her like a banner.

On he walked, the crumbling buildings and their proximity producing in him a sense of claustrophobia. An officious flag fluttered above a doorway ahead of him, and as he approached it he could make out amidst the strange illiterate scrawls of graffiti, a ghostly sentence half scrubbed away on the stone base of the building. He crossed the street making his way between the line of parked Vespas and motorbikes, and took out his note-book and pencil and began to write the words down.

Il futuro non e'scritto.    il passato non si riscrive.      riprendiamoci il presente.

He could see the shadowed remnants of other words scrubbed away from previous scrawls of protest, as if the rough stone was a poorly cleaned black board of unrest. It is written in the future not the past, reclaim the present. And further on, in a different hand, La liberta é tutto. Freedom and everything. A brass plaque revealed it to be the offices of some state magistrate. The seemingly endless playing out of the past and the present, the pyramid of old wealth over the positionless strugglers beneath, the generations rising and falling in a cycle of circumstances, stoically impaired. The writing on the wall, letters falling between the cracks.

Ahead, a four storey building with lemon coloured upper floors caught the sun. A huddle of five youths stood before the rusticated doorway, their cigarettes and conversation in the air; three young women and two men, not anarchists and futurists, but pleasant students before the open door of learning, the public library, a building more reminiscent of an apartment block. The address number was 13, making him wonder if Italians lacked a superstition over the number.

“Biblioteca?” Pavor enquired disingenuously.

Roused from their closed thoughts, they welcomed the chance to interact with a stranger. “Si, si, biblioteca,” said a tall, very thin young man, his thick dark hair tousled above his long neck helping to exaggerate his pronounced Adam's apple. Confident, and sensing a late season tourist in their midst, he flourished his cigarette in his long fingered hand, sweeping the air before him, “Yes, but books in Italian, yes, no many Inglese. Sistema Dewey. You look for James Joyce?”

“His ghost perhaps, il suo fantasma,” Pavor said with a smile.

Their laughter united them. “Si, il suo fantasma ossessiona Trieste,” the youth said with open arms, “garda, eccolo!” he said pointing to an old man who had emerged from a side street and was walking away from them, cane in one hand, “James Joyce!” They all laughed and bumped shoulders, enjoying the moment.

“Al secondo piano si trova il Museo Joyce,” one of the bespectacled girls said looking up from her cell phone.

“Oh, grazie, domani, domani,” Pavor said pointing at his watch, and with a friendly nod he was off.

“Buono fortuna!” they called after him.

He turned and gave them a friendly wave, “Grazie, buono fortuna.”

Could Joyce really haunt Trieste? Dublin perhaps, but not Trieste. How could anyone dominate a city of countless lives and diversities of experience? Cities are inexhaustible. A hundred writers would come up with a hundred different stories, each representational, each capturing a time and place.

Stubbing his toe, Pavor managed to keep upright. Why do people look back? To admonish the uneven stone? To fix it in memory for the next time? To reveal to others that the fault was not in their stride, but in the stone? His thoughts and steps had brought him to a crossroads, a thirty foot cobblestone circle surrounded by three buildings, their concave colourful facades facing each other like three card players, the balconies and flower boxes their cards held close to their chests. The ground level windows and doors were protected with iron bars like laced boots, a common sight in Trieste, a leitmotif, a motivo conduttore or was the Italian phrase filo conduttore? The two streets climbed before him. Left or right? He chose the darker one to the left, and climbed the Via della Valle, thinking of being with Mélisande in Old Montreal, playing tourist, ice creams and window shopping, coins for jugglers and mimes. It would be about 6:30 a. m. in Montreal now. Still asleep. Clio pawing or kneading the covers perhaps.

Arriving at the end of this small street, he turned right on Via San Michele. Not a soul in sight. Coming to a small white mausoleum-like building, a Neoclassical facade with two Tuscan pillars and additional posts beneath the pediment with its small cross, a smooth, simple and unadorned white washed building. Christ Church, Anglican. The address was 13. He began to worry about Tullio. Two thirteens in a row made him feel his desultory steps were being guided by a higher hand. If the number was not inauspicious, then the library and the church could be seen as positive signs, a possible location for a marriage ceremony, and Tullio would be found sitting up in a hospital bed complaining about the food. He stood before the whitest,  most reflective building he'd come across in Trieste, and crossed his fingers.


Upstairs in Jerome's painting studio, Arthur Roquebrune quietly paced the room, his hands clasped behind him, whistling softly. The nervous whistle filling the silence with innocuous innocence, it's just me, the well-meaning landlord. He scanned the worktable, the bookshelves, the floor and furniture for anything anomalous. There had been no answer to the phone, nor to the door bell, and he thought he might look about in the early morning light for other possible clues. Justifiable under the circumstances, a dispensational right, at 6:45 a. m.

Certainly Jerome was interested in Bronzino, the stack of McGill library books on the painter and the studies of the portrait of Lucrezia Panciatchi, made their silent case.

The oddly titled book by the author P. K. Loveridge lured him, intrigued him, and he opened it to the title page and read the inscription to Jerome by the author. A close friend of Jerome's. Trieste. Fetid paints? He sniffed deeply but couldn't say they were fetid. Slightly astringent perhaps, a touch of linseed oil in the air, but not fetid. Trieste? He wouldn't have left for Italy without telling him; he had arranged with Jerome to be made aware of any long excursions abroad, and Trieste was hardly a long weekend. Turning over a few pages of the book, the name Mozart caught his eye, and he stopped to read a poem:

-A lyric sadness in the air. Mozart?
Or Haydn? Almost sounds like Arvo Part.
-She is superb this busker near the curb.
-A balm for equine meditated flight.
-She raises all our darkness to the light.
We join the crowd. The pigeons we disturb
Advance and peck the concrete looking lost.
Our coins, festina lente, tempest-tost.

The sharps and flats and pitch are anchors thrown
To still our stride, like snares of sound our own
Hearts recognize. Becalmed in placid seas
Of melody, she bows us into port,
Slow sarabandes for landfalls soft, they court
Our wayward variations with a breeze
Of interlude. You take my arm and draw
Me on, exampla of Newtonic Law.

He turned back to the title page, making a mental note of the publisher Oxtoby & Snoad, Rye, as a possible outlet for his translations, and put the book back in place and went to the window. When would this fog relent he wondered? He would have to phone Jonathan Landgrave. Honesty generally proved to be the most reliable remedy. No point going in circles like a circus bear on a bicycle.

© ralph patrick mackay

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