Ekphrasis of a Window #1

Rome, Saturday 23 May, 5:42-6:04 h
The Earth goes round, night dies away, and light invades the world, always with the obstinate determination of its perpetual motion. Everything has always begun, and everything will always begin. With or without us. I look out of the window at this rectangle of tiles and blue. Seagulls screech as they trace out lines, slicing into the canvas of the sky. A pigeon turns around on itself, performs a courtship dance, puffs up, opens its tail, hops, and moves towards a female that flies away. He dives off and chases her. The sun is heralded by an apricot-coloured glow. It pierces the spire of a church and, at last, appears with blinding light. All is hushed for a moment, the seagulls stop their clamour, and swallows remain in the sky. Nothing moves, except the flapping of wings. And humans beings have melted away.

Casalpusterlengo, Saturday 23 May, 5:42-6:25 h
I waited. A night when even twenty minutes seemed like two hours, head turning four or five times on my pillow, and a waking dream. I can breathe at last. It is already too hot in here. I know someone is out there, sitting by a window, as I am now, looking outside and listening. A big black crow has just come into my field of vision, and it hovers effortlessly among the dense forest of aerials that stick out from the roofs in front of me. Each aerial comes from a different species. There are those with just a few arms, and those with countless appendages emerging from a central body. There are unidirectional ones, with their arms pointing in a single direction, and some I would call spiral, with their arms revolving around them. Even the arms have different characteristics: there are linear ones and complex ones, while others are jagged, with lots of little crests that emerge from the base or along the entire length. There are dark ones, which are older, and shiny ones – young’uns, I say. Birds prefer the simple ones. They alight upon them, many pausing for a rest. And they too look out from their perches. I hear a flapping of wings very close by, making a sound like a series of little slaps – which is exactly what I would need right now to get me fully out of my sleep. Light rapidly fills the sky. A sky without contrast, a sky that is flat, with no great promise for the dawning day. Just like people, birds follow paths, trajectories across the sky that lead them to their daily destinations. These tracks are invisible but if, right now, I took a transparent sheet and drew every trace I see in the air, I might draw a small aerial city made of criss-crossing roads going uphill and down, with junctions, corners and turns. The sound of birdsong, so delicate and melodious, is gradually fading away and that of cars, and some voices, is taking its place. Now there is also a body. A man, the first today, has come out onto one of the terraces in front of me. He is wearing a blue t-shirt and bending over as he works on the ground. He is moving objects, but from here I can’t see what they are. He has opened a folding chair and placed it against the wall. Now he’s sitting on it. Looking out in front of him.

Rome, Saturday 23 May, 18:42-19:54 h
An elderly gentleman is watering his plants. He’s holding a yellow hose that’s coiled up like a snake. He has a shiny pate and a haircut that looks like a friar’s tonsure. He’s wearing a washed-out grey vest. Some kids are drinking something, making jokes and laughing on the terrace next door. Above them is a helical cloud spiralling down. The buildings are shrouded in soft light. The sun strikes the Torah carved onto the front of the synagogue, and the holy book responds by emanating its rays of stone. The plane trees that line the Lungotevere are lush and green, laden with leaves. At the end of the Via Catalana, two little girls are playing, chasing each other. They’re wearing washable white cotton masks. An elderly lady is sitting on the edge of a large flower box. A little boy, dressed in a red romper, walks unsteadily as his father looks on. A few feet farther back there’s an olive tree planted in memory of another child, who was killed on exactly that spot by a hand grenade thrown by a terrorist in 1982. A carabiniere comes out of the sentry box on the corner by the Jewish school, blows his nose and throws his handkerchief into the rubbish bin. Some people greet each other from one balcony to another. I look further up. In the distance I catch sight of the yellow and red flag on the Capitol, and then I twist round and see the tricolour on the Quirinale. Another drape – a white sheet – is hanging from a window left ajar: I take it as a declaration of surrender. I hear the chirping of little seagulls, a shrill, piercing lament: they’re hungry. I try imitating the sound, but then I give up. The mother arrives, or maybe it’s the father, I couldn’t say. The little ones wail even louder, raising their beaks towards the adult. The seagull is about to regurgitate: it’s a scene I’ve witnessed countless times. It opens its beak and a flower of dark feathers blossoms from the cavity. They’re the wings of a dead pigeon, but they look like the corolla of a beautiful flower. And while I wait for the seagull to share its meal, it looks at me, pushes the food back down its throat and closes its beak. And then, I don’t know why, I remember the gentleman who was sitting on the balcony in front of your window at dawn and I start thinking it would be nice if there was a passageway, a corridor, between the seagull and the man. And I start writing a letter to you. With pen and paper, the old-fashioned way. The seagull comes near, grabs it with its beak and turns it into a white lily. And then, a few moments later, this flower appears to be sticking out of the chest of the stranger you noticed in the building opposite. It pierces his chest, lacerating it, leaving the man alarmed, but still alive. And I think that, if it were possible, if it really worked like that, things and living beings would be far more interesting. Then I lower my eyes.

Casalpusterlengo, Saturday 23 May, 18:42-18:57 a.m.
A leap, which is the movement I go back to most often in this period. In this case, a leap through time. I find myself sitting here once again. I don’t want to think about today, which again doesn’t seem to have been that full, but certainly too short. I’d like the man from this morning to come back, but he’s gone. He has melted away into nothing. Maybe I’ll wait for him a bit, as I did at dawn, but I don’t think he’ll be back: his shutters are completely closed, the roller blind of his day is already down. Well before ours. What has he been doing all day? What do people do? It’s a question I often come back to. It’s just human curiosity, and has to do with the everyday methods, practices, and exercise of life. The wind has got up, and I like this cool breeze on my face, for my forehead is far too warm, as it often is when I don’t get enough sleep. But the trees that appear above the old grey roof in front of me also enjoy it, too, and I can see them swaying, performing their flexuous dance, always in rhythm with the gusts. They, at least, never miss a step. But now, just as I am about to close the window, the scene I was waiting for appears before me. I hear a child crying, but not in one of those energetic wails demanding something. It’s a weary cry, as though the child had to do it. I look up and see a mother wearing a bright red jersey, holding the child in front of her, showing it to a woman leaning out from the terrace opposite. They are greeting each other. Booming sounds resonate all around, and the wind blows harder: I have witnessed the display of a small god, the divinity of the sunset, when the sun sets and another day is shrouded in darkness.

Rome, Sunday 24 May, 7:42 am-8:12 h
The sun is a pale spot, and it’s only there to make the clouds that hide it look darker and denser. I like clouds. I’ve spent fifteen years looking at them from this window. Layers of candyfloss, cotton wool. Swallows have taken over the sky. They’re the only birds now. They sweep past me, screeching. There’s a nest above my window. I feel my heart beating. I try to looking farther off, towards the hills, but to no avail. Someone said that if you want to find out about distant things, you don’t need to travel far, but simply go deeper within yourself. The carabiniere closed in his sentry box is reading something. He normally has a tablet in his hand, so he can watch television series. He is the only human figure, the rest is just bricks, tiles and stones laid down over the centuries. Everything is stock-still, like the stage in an abandoned theatre. And then there’s me, a spectator of a show that is always about to begin. And then there’s you. And we all know there’s no neutral, passive way of looking: our eyes transform the world. And I realise that what we’re doing is a scientific experiment. Physicists would call it entanglement. Once the entanglement between two particles is established, the distance between them becomes an irrelevant variable: what makes one vibrate, reverberates in the other. And while my thoughts are on it, two little white feathers slide down beside me.

Casalpusterlengo, Sunday 24 May, 7:42-8:24 h
The elderly gentleman’s roller blinds are already up this morning, as is the sun, which brings out the different tones of yellow on the houses. They’re harmonised in a palette of descending nuances of light.  There’s less life in the sky this morning. Maybe the birds have already finished doing their duties and are safely back in their nests, where they always hide, but there are more signs of life below. Within the space of a few minutes, I become a spectator of choreographed entrances and exits, from windows, roofs, and terraces. This is how it begins. A black-and-white cat walks from right to left along the edge of the grey roof. It takes its time, with elegance, handing the scene to a woman, who makes her entry on stage, on the left-hand terrace. She twice beats a sheet and then lays it on the railing of the terrace, before leaving my field of vision and going back into the house. She leaves the stage and attention to two men, one even farther to the left, and the other just below the stage. The first one walks like this: one step forward and four to his left. at each step a faded green pleated curtain drops down in front of him, hiding him from view. The other faces away the entire time, with his maroon waistcoat isolating him like a bust. Then he turns round. He leans against the yellow wall, and he and the other man wrap up the scene, each going back to his own home. All is calm again. The tone is lighter in the portion of the sky I’m looking at. It’s always there. As though it were painted. I hear a siren wailing and immediately my thoughts go to the emergency we were living through until yesterday. But I also think of the physical phenomenon they explained to me at school: the Doppler effect. In my mind’s eye, I see it like those concentric black-and-white circles they put beside the explanation, to help people understand how sound waves move through the air. The circles approach the observer and make it seem closer, rather like these words we write to each other, each imagining the other. The distance between us is relative. The sound passes by and then leaves me. A little white feather, suspended in the air, settles lightly on my computer keyboard and stops my hand, saying “that’s enough for now”. 

Rome, Sunday 24 May, 20:42-21:22 h
I hate this city that survives everything, that’s never affected by anything. This city that opened my eyes and forced its beauty upon me. I hate this fake puppet theatre. I hate the dolce vita, the good life. I hate Mara Venier’s home. I hate the Altar of the Nation. I look out of the window reluctantly, restively, like Mantegna’s frescoed arrows in the church of the Eremitani in Padua. I pray that a swallow might go off course and hit me in the face. I look down towards the square and see a group of tourists. They’re all wearing face masks. They’re the first since the lockdown began. The guide is clear to see, holding an Italian flag. The sunset has left a purple flare in a small portion of the sky. And right there an airliner is making a turn. I look back inside, and try to reach you. We aren’t the last survivors of the human race. We’re not the only particles left in the universe. We’re not special. We’re not white feathers that flutter through time and space.

Casalpusterlengo, Sunday 24 May, 20:42-21:09 h
Pink, purple, and orange are back. Some warmth. There’s a constant annoying background noise, made by someone I can’t see, who’s finishing some Sunday cleaning. I guess it’s one of those high-pressure water guns. The power of a single element concentrated on a single point. The sound conflicts with the sky, which I’d love to wrap myself in now, like a blanket. I feel a certain strange chilliness, like a fever from some pointless fatigue. Can you, too, feel this detachment from where you are? A detachment that separates our senses from our perceptions. I wonder if what I think from afar has the power to materialise objects and situations elsewhere. I wonder if a thought is all it takes to caress a distant person, or to let them know one’s thinking of them. There was a time when, if I thought about something hard enough, it came true. That frightened me but, at the same time, it thrilled me. I called it fate, but I think it was just paying attention to what was going on around me, the ability to observe phenomena, as we are doing now, and to interpret them. Like this, chance became destiny. It became magical. Like a rabbit emerging from a magician’s hat or like two white feathers multiplying at different latitudes. Was it chance or destiny? Pink is beating them all. A female triumph over a sinking day. 

Silvia Costa, photo by Elsa Okazaki
Silvia Costa, photo by Elsa Okazaki
Umberto Sebastiano, illustration of Valeria Petrone
Umberto Sebastiano, illustration of Valeria Petrone

Silvia Costa is an Italian director and performer, associate artist of the Triennale Milano Teatro (2017-19). She is the author of a theatre that feeds on a deep research on the image, as an engine of reflection and shaking of the spectator. From time to time author, director, performer or set designer, this protean artist uses every artistic field without discrimination to conduct her own personal exploration of the theatre. Her work has been presented at the most important Italian and international festivals.

Umberto Sebastiano has dealt with cultural news, architecture and design for the daily newspaper "L'Unità". He has collaborated with periodicals and magazines such as "L'Espresso", "Left", "Doppiozero". As an author he has worked for the most important national television networks. He has recently completed the writing of his first novel. His literary reports can be read in "Primo Amore".

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