Ekphrasis of a Window #2

Rome, Monday 25 May, 9:42-9:59 h
There are clouds in the shape of wrinkles and sores. A Hertz van is coming. Two people unload an armchair and place it on a trolley that’s too small for it. The armchair sways, but somehow they manage to keep it upright, and they reach a door and disappear inside. Only now do I notice that there are dozens of bicycles chained to the railing that runs along the Via Catalana. I stop for a moment and suddenly I hear it. The silence. Amid all the bustle of this lazy city, I’m struck by the silence that comes from the school opposite. This should be the time of bucket pranks and shaving foam – the days when the unruly high spirits herald the end of term. Through the windows I can see the deserted classrooms, the desks piled up, terribly close and empty. A blackboard. A projector. I regain my sight, and lower my eyes onto the tiles. Yesterday morning the feather really did move, in just a few moments, from my roof to your computer. Nobody will believe it. But that doesn’t matter. I use my fingernails to scratch off the chocolate-box picture I’m forced to look at. I transform myself into the window. And I am also the body that leans out and crosses the borderline. An emptiness, a void appears, and I plunge right into it. I swim. And every now and then I bump into corpses, pieces of wood, the wreckage of a colourful ark with the name Titanic written on it. And then I reach a small bridge that connects Rome and Casalpusterlengo, and in the middle of the bridge there is an androgynous figure, with elusive features and a huge sombrero that casts a shadow over its body. The figure holds a green and brown accordion, compressing it and extending it. It plays Gino Paoli’s Senza fine and accompanies the melody with a delicate, barely hinted dance. I start singing: I don’t care about the moon, I don’t care about the stars, you for me are moon and stars, you for me are sun and sky... then I realise that the bridge is made of petals and butterfly wings. I wonder how it manages to hold me up. And down I fall. You are on the river bank, you hold out a sword towards me, the sword of Joan of Arc, of Hey girl!, I catch hold of it and cut myself. I look at my hand. Sweet violets bloom from the gash. Then I let myself be carried away by the current.

Casalpusterlengo, Monday 25 May, 9:42-10:02 h
I must try not to be seen. I must look out and then immediately duck down to the edge of the window, as though I were in the trenches, to protect myself from the human enemy that inhabits the image today. It is Monday and there is work going on, activities, regular functional activities, the week is all marked out, with its working hours, trade, and money changing hands. “That’ll be 37 in all,” says the owner of the building supplies store here in front of me, his voice muffled by his white mask. 37 euros is the cost of a couple of orange PVC pipe elbows. Where will they end up? What will they connect? What will go through them? What is the price of these words that we choose in order to communicate and connect – we who constitute another type of system? Here we transport fluids of meanings, debris of images, exhalations of the spirit.  How much are they worth? Another customer has come. More muffled voices, more requests for materials. I look down at the shelves outside, beneath the grey roof where the cat was walking the other day, and I would like to get out of the window and climb down, and spend my day tidying up. I’d need some help to do it all by sunset. Humans bring chaos and dust. There’s too much to tidy up. I desist. Not a single bird has flown for me this morning.

Rome, Monday 25 May, 22:42-23:29 h
I lean out and look to the left: the facade of the Quirinale is lit up in green, white, and red. The national flag paraded on the facades of buildings and on the face masks of politicians nauseates me. I couldn’t give a damn about being Italian, Friulian, Roman, Lombard. There’s too little time and extinction is beckoning. The seagulls are circling like vultures over the Altar of the Nation. Next to it, more discreet and stately, the Ara Coeli basilica is bathed in a warm amber light. The light flows down like a liquid, pouring down over the one hundred and twenty-four steps of the stairway. If you want to win the game, you have to climb those steps on your knees, reciting the De Profundis. I reel in my gaze as if it were the line on a fishing rod. Little flashing blue lights are reflected on the school windows: they frame the entrance to the restaurant in the square. The little traffic light next to the retractable bollards is shining red. Someone is watching television in the building next door. I hear a noise, and turn round. Behind me, in the other window, the first crescent of the waxing moon is shining through. I turn back and look out. The lights of the synagogue extinguish the stars. I can only make out the brightest ones. I use an app on my phone to help me. The constellations appear on the screen as the ancients imagined them. There’s Vega to my left. Arcturus above my head. And on the right, a little lower down, Spica, in the constellation of Virgo. Spica looks like a star, but actually it’s a binary system: two stars that are so close that they deform each other. I meditate on this closeness that deforms, distorts, infects... I think of isolation and distance as a possible means of salvation. I think about how much we’ve changed. About how ridiculous this survival instinct of ours is from the point of view of a star.

Casalpusterlengo, Monday 25 May, 22:42-23:10 h
For the first time, everything has disappeared. Before me I have just little bright dots on more or less black backgrounds, constellations of windows, street lamps, faint glows, almost all warm and small, which direct my night vision. I’d like to join them up and draw them in the void, as one of my Night Drawings. But then, the hour is drawing near and I would make it big, enormous, infinite. A line measured in miles. A line that stretches from Casalpusterlengo all the way to the gates of Rome. An arc without buckling, a bold trace. Once it reaches Rome, the line should knock, creating three small ripples that would wait for the big shutters to open. You would then see them rejoicing in the streets of the capital, racing off to the right, then back to the left, making rapid turns, spinning round, slowing down in front of certain corners or monuments, so you can look at them a little better and find out why you hate them. But then the time would come to rise up and, to facilitate their upward movement, the ripples would once again rearrange themselves to form a single line. In my mind’s eye, I see you very high up, above everyone, like the melancholy gaze of God, with your fist holding up your slightly grumpy ill-humoured face. But it’s a face that can make flowers and petals appear at will, along with exotic fragrances, songs of a past I don’t know, things that make one smile and sway together with it in a large wooden cradle. The line I’ve traced is there to be walked upon, like the prop of an acrobat, like Starobinski’s artist. We should walk along this line, find our balance, pirouette over the void, and move along putting one foot exactly in front of the other. It’s hard, but in the dark I wouldn’t be afraid of falling.

Rome – Casalpusterlengo, Tuesday 26 May
Today, nothing.

Rome, Wednesday 27 May 13:42-14:07 h
I take a tape measure and measure the window. I need to set limits for myself. 93 centimetres wide, 113 centimetres tall. I rest my eyes on the iron stumps that stick out from the brick-coloured wall. When I first came into this house, there were rusty iron bars on the windows. And there still are in the bathroom and in my study. They were there to protect tenants from burglars. Protection and segregation. A prison made to make you feel safe. Now the bars are gone. I look out. I can see that the scenographers do no more than change the background of the sky: somewhere, off stage, there must be a huge roll of fabric that they unravel behind the buildings. That’s how they simulate the movements of the clouds. I’m sure of that. It’s just that, right now, the stage hands are resting and the clouds have been nailed on with improbable fixity. The sun does its bit, crushing you to the ground. Under cover of darkness, as they used to say, I’ll slip out of my cell and try to keep my balance on nothing.

Casalpusterlengo, Wednesday 27 May 13:42-14:05 h
How long have I spent stretched out on the floor? When and who found me and put me back here, in the order of things? I have a problem with time, or rather, with memory. Even though the world is starting up again and everything is back to the way I knew it and the way it has always been, I still can’t get back to what I was before. It’s as though I had lost my consistency and identity, and a day weighs upon me like a week, a month like a year. Events are narratives that mix in with what I have thought and said – but to whom, I can’t remember. Did I just think it, or did I really say it? Maybe I wrote it somewhere. I’m woken by the sound of a machine starting up in the building site opposite. It picks up sand from the ground and drops it into a truck parked in the courtyard. Moving bits of the world. I thought that was my mission too. The more I watch the work proceed, the more dusty and blurred the image becomes. There’s a nice cool breeze. I want to close my eyes and breathe deeply. I don’t want to look. Grains of sand fly all the way up to my window. I can feel them in my mouth. I move my teeth back and forth, and they dance in my gums. I chew hard, rough granules, the remains of prehistoric stones and shells, I hear an age-old noise resonating around my skull, like bones crumbling and adding more material to the sand in my mouth. For a moment, a strange image flashes through my mind. I see my mouth without any teeth. They’ve all fallen out, they’ve disintegrated, leaving a black hole in my face. I think something’s got inside me and has infected me, and now it’s trying to take possession of me. I’m turning into a void, maybe a space for something or someone to come and visit me soon. 

Rome, Wednesday 27 May 2:42-2:58 h
I set the alarm for the middle of the night, as if I were to witness some celestial phenomenon, a total eclipse. My mind is free from clouds, everything appears to be filled with meaning. A carabiniere comes to relieve his colleague. They talk, then one leaves and the other stays. He leaves the door of the sentry box open, perhaps to air it. He pulls out the stool and disinfects it. Then he disappears, and the road and the buildings with him. On this night that swallows everything up and makes time bend, I step over the window sill and start walking barefoot towards the gutter. I have some gold objects in my pocket, for I know I’ll need them during my journey. The line you traced has turned into a vein with a fringe of blue capillaries hanging from it. I clamber on and walk through a fogbank. I feel all the wounds of the world upon me. I am born and die endlessly, and each time I can’t quite understand, something escapes me, and each time I come into the world with a different scar. I try again. A rabid dog blocks my way: I throw him a golden toy soldier, and he swallows it and lies down. An African woman with a splendid coloured dress walks beside me with a bundle made of the same fabric on her back. Inside the bundle there’s a child with milk-smeared lips. I give them a little golden book full of stories, a magical book that can reproduce itself infinitely. The representative of all the solitudes in the world comes to meet me: I embrace him, with no protection, no face mask. I offer him a golden apple. Then I smash my face onto the ground, and I chew the dust and the sand. I get up and lean against a stack of bricks protected by transparent cellophane. A grey cat passes by. They’re all grey at night, but I know this one. I see a window with the light on, I climb up and I enter your gaze and find myself at your place. I feel your fever on my skin. Beneath the window there is a cabinet and on the cabinet is your computer. It’s just like mine, but lighter. I rest my fingers on it and try to put the words in order, but the screen only shows what you are writing. I hear you breathing.

Casalpusterlengo, Wednesday 27 May 2:42-3:04 h
I couldn’t sleep. I was in a discussion. And being here now at the window I’ve been staring at all these days is like coming back into myself, calming my breath, weeping for a moment. The house of the man with the chair, who has never been back, has a little light on all the time at night outside on the terrace. It is magical, unique, I’d like one myself. It pulsates. I hypnotise myself, so I don’t have to think. Ooooooohm. I see concentric circles coming towards me. Like rays emanating from that speck of light. One doesn’t think clearly at night, one thinks in the dark. One speaks more slowly, but it seems that words suddenly have relative meanings that are misinterpreted. When the sun comes out, people are uncovered, and they can be seen as they move around the world, without shadows. Then the night makes them free to reveal their darkness. And to manipulate meanings. I do it too. Pulsate little light, pulsate and carry me far away. Teleport me to lands I have never been to, or to parallel worlds, like the tomorrow of which I need just a glimpse this evening. Talk to me, little light. Tell me a secret with your Morse code, which I should know. I need a sign, a story, a secret. I envy your calmness beyond measure, your calmness makes you more intense and then less, with no trace of fear. Your rhythmic stability. You know, I think we are always too fearful. And so, again this evening, I haven’t been out of my window. But, like that, I’ll be here, ready to wait for you. 

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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