Ekphrasis of a Window #3

Rome, Thursday 28 May 15:42-15:56 h
The seagull chicks flap their wings and hop around. For a moment, the branches of the trees come to life and sway. Yet again I try to describe the reality contained within this space. If I look out into the distance, I see countless majestic trees: cypresses, maritime pines, palms, and plane trees. Then there are the plants on the terraces, bougainvillea. Seagulls, swallows, crows, pigeons, blackbirds, sparrows and, the latest arrivals, green parrots inhabit the air. There’s almost always a grey heron on the river, but I can’t see it from here. Starlings fly around at other times of the year, creating splendid black clouds, and then they bomb humans and cars with their droppings. A pair of goldfinches came onto the roof this year, in February, before the lockdown began. Really beautiful. They stayed for a few days, then flew away. And that’s what I’ll do tonight. To meet you, to see your eyes in mine. The instinct of life naturally tends to shatter distances. Life is a process of bringing together and shaking up all things. I sense that your mind is full of pictures. I can almost see them: they’re struggling to get out and show themselves, without no trace of arrogance, with the enthusiasm and power of a little girl. There’ll be a space for them tonight. And for us.

Casalpusterlengo, Thursday 28 May 15:42-16:21 h
Lots of colourful rectangular cloths have appeared on the windowsills, with each house displaying its coat of arms, which it creates by laying bare the night altars, revealing the surface where sleeping bodies have lain, showing the traces of love or the cycle of the months. Now they are swaying in the breeze of an afternoon that is warm but too bright. An imaginary parade is being prepared, a procession that will celebrate us and nominate us observers of time, of the air and clouds, of flapping wings and feathers, of the hems of trousers, of transmission antennas, of the heart of darkness. The city is donning its finery for us. I feel important. And I need to. I’d like the village band to strike up, if possible, with the discordant, slightly drunk trumpeter breaking rank. I’d like to be carried away on a golden litter, held aloft by tall, shiny black horses that will blend into the darkness tonight. I’d like to rest my head on a cushion of soft feathers, letting it sink down as though immersed in fresh water. I’d like lots of people to come.

Rome, Friday 29 May, 4:42-ad libitum 
While waiting for the dawn that heralds the sunrise, I look out from this window for the last time. It was wonderful to be part of this ritual, knowing that we would be doing the same things at the same time. My temperature has risen today and I feel weak. The window frame comes away from the wall and remains in my hand, and then it falls on top of me. The panes shatter. The buildings opposite begin to crumble, and a white cloud of rubble rises up. I call for help, but they no one answers. I grab the script and go down ninety-nine spiralling stone steps. They’re waiting for me. My carriage is a piece of roofing, a rectangular piece of corrugated iron drawn by four Norwegian rats and a coypu. I lie down and let myself be dragged along. In the meantime, the Olympian gods have dressed up as clouds. I observe life from below, and smell the pungent odour of guano. I gain confidence with my next evolutionary step, which is that of food for worms, insects, and plants. Meanwhile, I go over the part: This is the story of two stars that become one, of two particles that do not obey the rules of classical physics. Then it says that you laugh and I miss my cue. Someone heaves me up. I am handed over to soldiers wearing hazmat suits. They lift me onto a stretcher and push me towards the bridge from Rome to Casalpusterlengo. On my side there are marigolds, chrysanthemums, and buttercups: the dominant colour is orange. Yours is a triumph of red: petunias, poppies, and carnations. The colours reflect the risk of contagion. We’ve stopped. The soldiers are waiting for the go-ahead. Everything happens as though this were an exchange of prisoners. The signal comes, and off we go. Your procession moves too, accompanied by a band playing Debussy’s La Damoiselle Élue. You’re holding the white lily that I had sent to you by the seagull and the man on the balcony. In place of a frontier post at the middle of the bridge, there is a circle drawn in gold dust. Our stretchers come side by side. A soldier says: “You have five minutes, then we have to take you away.” They leave us alone. This is the moment when we should say important things to each other. I look for the script but can’t find it. Everything’s written down there: the plot, the characters’ motives, possible opening words. I can’t remember a thing. You lift yourself up a bit, and you pull out your spine and wave it in the air like a rattle. It makes the sound of a cat purring. I see your lips moving, but hear only a whisper, words coming and going: theatre, eyes, bodies used as magnets, chrysalides, death, life goes on. It makes me want to cry and laugh. I stretch out my hand towards yours. Our fingers barely touch and suddenly all the butterflies flutter up. The petals of the flowers begin to fall. The bridge disappears. We melt away. Only the words remain. Words are viruses that reproduce rapidly.

Casalpusterlengo, Friday 29 May 4:42-ad libitum
I’m on edge. I feel I still have lots of things to do before it happens. I look around to see what they are and write them down on a blackboard in mid-air, but as soon as I prepare to get them done, they all disappear, leaving me breathless, And this tires me out and I feel even more anxious. Anxiety is synonymous with indecision, and it comes out in me when I have to make decisions. Go or stay, hold on or let go, heads or tails, right or left, before or after. I’ll miss this place, this familiar, insignificant space that has become special for me during these days. It’s become a space with a story I can tell. A space in front of a window, in front of a mountain of sand, a construction site, in front of houses, windowsills and chimneys. In front of other windows with their walk-on actors who gave fleeting and unwitting minor roles; in front of a forest of aerials, in front of a sky with its clouds and flights of birds. In front of someone else – you – who waited for me at the same time, waited for my words as I awaited yours. A game of predictions to create a narrative that would bring us together, in this closed world infected not just by a virus, but by countless other invisible evils. It’s our time. It’s time for displacement. Time for interaction, for the contact that is our epilogue. And I am here, writing for the last time with the melancholy of a farewell. Writing as though I were talking to someone not that far away. A whisper is enough. I try to feel and look at everything more intensely, I peer around me intently, I amplify my senses, drawing everything into me. My body is a dark room where I develop the images of memory to keep them forever. My fluids are developing agents and fixatives. Now my mind is a museum where I exhibit all the images we have evoked in recent days. Is this what they’ll take from us once we’re dead and gone? Will they analyse these pictures, like serum in a laboratory? That’s it – they’re here. They put me, too, on a stretcher, which is certainly the same as the one you describe and it’s pushed by people like those you see. Also the surface of the bridge between here and there is the same. At times it jolts our bodies, tossing us around and shaking us from side to side. The village band is coming with me: yes, this is the music you hear and that I wanted you to listen to. We stop. I’m affected by the fact that they’ve asked me to speak. I know I’m free, but for me, as an actress working with a director who doesn’t like improvisation, these little stage directions are imperatives. I know that what has to be said must have a certain profundity, like a revelation. And, what’s more, I want to make a good impression, especially at the end. My hands are sweaty – how humiliating! – but we aren’t allowed to shake hands. That’s something we don’t do any more, not even in our world. I know you don’t know what to say to me, and the tension is rising, but knowing this diminishes the density of our eye contact, one pupil inside the other. And suddenly we smile. Because just being here is everything. We’ve always been everything. Right from the start. 

The End.

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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