Giancarlo Micheli

 

 

 

(ITALY)

 

 

 

 

Western Indies

 

excerpts from Indie occidentali by Giancarlo Micheli (Campanotto editore, 2008)
English translation by Leslie Foster and Giancarlo Micheli

 

 

I (chapter I, p.17)

As they were returning home with hovering pace, arms in arms, their eyes were locked in a mutual gaze.
Aurelio stared at the girl, who was his wife. The virile strength of his stare drew her into the watery depth of his green eyes, where she advanced as though enveloped by a field of corn, in the village; and there she lingered in front of the crimson drops of the poppies, motionless, enraptured by the truth of her feelings. Her rural ups and downs of amour enfantines crossed and crossed again the furrow of her suitable shyness, learned in the shadows of the grandmothers’ peasant skirts. They had been ripped away by the wind, in one of those winter gales that carried off wolves and herds in its sorcerer’s whirl and then it laid down them all, beyond the blue mountains. They had left with a dowry of nice linen sheets, removed and replaced in the chests of drawers by the womenfolk so that an eager shiver of lavender sang a clear Hymn, and the peach-tree blossom and the gold-bearing spring of the sexes crowned them. America had been ease and a glimpse of magnificence, the right to parade along avenues of opulent bliss, along boulevards lined by the heavens of English-speaking gods. Then had come the bar, that sor Clemente had rented to them, inclusive of a large hall, a ringing cash-desk and glasses full to the brim with thirsty delights; and highly respected persons, Italians, from the South or from Veneto, Germans and Slavs from the East Village, and Jews also came. All the patrons of the bar were good people, people who knew what they were about.
They almost ran along Fifth Avenue, Aurelio and Erminia, airy as the wind that had taken them there.

 

 

II (chapter IX, pp.52-53)

“I began with the employment agency” said sor Clemente, friendly and easy. “At first it were the railways who kicked off all games. So I invested what I was able to do. I understood the Americans at once… I like their way of thinking. Do you know I formed a friendship with John Pierpont Morgan too?… of course, just the famous financier. I’ll tell you about it, if I get the chance. Would you have thought it, hey?… a poor old man… a dago like me… that’s what they call us, isn’t it?”
“In fact, here in America, there are no few prejudices towards the immigrants. It is undoubtedly a wide-spread belief that Italians are a turbolent people, who don’t take kindly to the discipline and are incapable of noble and altruistic acts. And also, here in America, we fear anarchy. You must understand, here society exists… it is something real, which men and women belong to from childhood. School, culture, leisure… these are all elements of civilisation that our people have known how to win.”
“The legionaries of Rome carried the daga… but since that time a lot of water has flown under the bridge. Now we too have our State… with a parliament and everything we need. But even today it is the violence which regulates human relationships. If you aren’t born to love others, you are destined to be at war with them, madam.”
“Your aphorism seems to me a little laconic, mister Clemente.”
“Unfortunately that’s the situation, madam.”
“I think it more sensible to say that those who refuse to try to understand each other are destined to fight each other.”
“Starvation and instincts lead the actions of men. This is the cruel truth. If they can’t satisfy their needs, they will destroy everything they can get their hands on, that’s it.”
“Forgive me, sir, but also this statement, even though it may appear to be common sense, contains an error. The principles that rule human behaviour are different… the illusion for example. Men aren’t simply goods, and yet the whole modern production and trade system is founded on the use of human labor” when he heard this, as sor Clemente was a shrewd and wise man, it made his hair stand on end. You must beware of all those who professed socialist opinions, even if they were only vague opinions. If you want to make your way and not get into trouble in America, you must keep away from that kind of thing. Sor Clemente had learned that lesson quickly. From then on he stopped listening to the lady, who nevertheless continued with perspicuous argumentations, corroborated by solid logic.
Sor Clemente, instead, turned his attention to Ernesto who was unusually busy behind the mahogany bar. The latter was gathering some bottles and carefully checking the labels; he then put them away into a wooden case which sor Clemente could make out, by leaning a little from his stool and over the bulky encumbrance of the bar with an expression of curiosity in his anxious eyes.

 

 

III (Chapter XX, pp. 83-84)

The hall where the conference was to take place was at 166 West Washington Street. It was the head office of the Industrial Workers of the World, the most hardened trade union in the whole United States. If, on the one hand, the American Federation of Labor, strong in its worship of the Samuel Gompers’ charismatic personage, who was its many times re-elected president, gathered together far more workers, the wobblies’ trade union, on the other hand, didn’t give in at negotiations, neither with industrial syndicate nor with the citizens’ alliances, which, particularly in the small towns, deep in the continental womb, exercised auxiliary powers of repression, not infrequently availing themselves of the benevolent tolerance of the State or Federal authorities.
Therefore, when the day shift ended, Aurelio and captain Burns got ready to go to West Washington Street. They cleaned themselves up and changed their clothes, they repeated everyday gestures, which a dull twilight weakened while the large windows of the locker-room swallowed up. They left the Stockyards through the door of Exchange Street and walked in silence as far as the bus station. For the entire journey Aurelio maintained the same sullen and detached expression he had had on his face since the morning. Not even during the lunch break his friend’s reliable affability had been able to disperse the cloud of worries which surrounded Aurelio and, from time to time, shook him from shoulders to wrists, until he, with compulsive stubbornness, went back tormenting his nose, which he bended and twisted by hooking it between the phalanx of his forefinger and thumb. Aurelio remained silent. The captain preferred not to question him, since he supposed that Aurelio’s reserve was the result of one of the usual quarrels with his wife, with regards to which the old man assumed were part of the rythmical ebb and flow of conjugal peace and were beneficial to his friend, so much so they provided him with a profitable anger, good for neutralizing the fatigue of hard work. Yet, that evening, things seemed to go differently than usual. Even when they had got on the City lines bus, which was to take them to West Washington Street, and the captain had uttered some metaphors, between the sarcastic and the impertinent, with which, sorted out from a rich canvas, he cultivated his talent as a fanciful and loquacious speaker, Aurelio’s mood still didn’t change.
“By Jove, Aurelio” the captain said, seeking his friend’s gaze among a sea of heads which were waving over the platform. “Tonight you are melancholic like an Old Testament prophet.”
“I have some troubles with Erminia. I am very worried.”
“It will be the usual row, when your wife feels the effects of the moon. Women are the unfathomable mystery.”
“No, this time it’s a serious matter. Yesterday evening, when I got home, the baby was weeping and crying, and Erminia was motionless in front of the window… she was staring out, motionless… without blinking. I took Eugenia in my arms, I tried to calm her. I asked Erminia if the baby had eaten, if she had a temperature, what the devil was wrong, and Erminia began to scream as though she was possessed. I had never seen her like that before. She said that I too must take responsability for the baby’s future… she couldn’t cope any more. She said the lady whose she sewed the clothes no longer wanted to employ her and the grocer downstairs refuses to give us any more credit. – I read the papers – she said me – do you think your taking up with those anarchists is good for me or the baby? – . We argued all night long. I haven’t close my eyes for two days. I am worn out.”
“Do you talk to her, Aurelio?” asked the old man, while he was doing his best to soften the jolts of the vehicle and to arrange himself with dignity in front of Aurelio’s sorrowful gaze. “Did you explain to her that trade union exists to help the workers, to prevent them from yielding to the bosses’ blackmail? In Denver, when the foundries also went on strike, in support of the miners’ struggle in Colorado, the trade union, in a few months, managed to open a chain of warehouses where the members could get their supplies. Try to calm her, tell her that trade union doesn’t abandon its men. Get her to be reasonable.”
“It’s what I tried to do all night long.”
“You must show her that you are convinced of what you say.”
“I am convinced, Phil; but Erminia has cracked up… do you understand!? She says she doesn’t want feed the baby any longer… that she would rather see her die at home than on a street, she has cracked up!”
The captain turned slowly towards the bus window, beyond which the gloomy string of tenements ran, poised over the bank of the river. The uneven line of the roofs faded by the low clouds, behind which the sunbeams spread a sorrel ink, so that the network of the streets, in the lead of twilight, looked like an uncertain scripture waiting to be printed on the papyrus of the sky.

 

 

IV (chapter XLV, pp. 175-176)

“This is one of the most shameless monstrosity that has ever been perpetrated in the name of new art. This is the work of a diseased mind… of a corrupt personality, a devilish one… none of this has anything to do with art” a refined lady declared with up turned nose, barely concealing a grimace of disapproval behind the veils of a baroque hat.
To the left of Aurelio, on the contrary, a young man was in easy conversation with a friend:
“At last some air! At last we can breathe! This is an art that can nourish us, here is a world and the rules by which it is developed.”
“The great Marcel, the most intelligent man in the world” sneered his friend in reply. “If the world you are speaking about really exists, it will not be saved from the Saturnian jaws of our omnivorous public opinion. There is nothing that our commentators and critics can’t digest, not to mention the art dealers. They will swallow up the work of your Marcel too, just like Cronus, the father, devoured his children, he also gobbled up the stone which his wife had brought him to save Jove from his voracity.”
“And that meal cost old Cronus dearly, as I remember.”
“It will cost dearly, and that will be beneficial to those who can spare no expense. Consider that the owner of the Barnum Circus bid 10000$ for Sarah Bernhardt’s leg, in the unluckily case that the famous actress should undergo an amputation. It seems that everything can be considered a work of art today. At this rate we will soon end up attributing an artistic value to the objects bought in department-stores.”
The wise visitor showed that he had finished his hyperbole, where form and content climbed along an ironic asyndeton. In fact Marcel Duchamp was soon to devise the concept of ready-made, creating the Bottle Rack, or Egouttoir, or Porte-bouteille, or Hérisson, by purchasing it in a parisian emporium in 1914 and putting his signature to it a couple of years later. At the time of the Armory Show, nevertheless, the most intelligent man in the world, who was able to revolutionize the concept of artwork and that of exchangeable value, was still gathering his own disruptive creative energy in the anonymous solitude of his studio in Neuilly, outside the French capital town. He still didn’t know that he had become the most famous French man in New York together with Napoleon and Sarah Bernhardt, as the novelist Henri Roché wrote of him. The previous year that painting, le Nu descendant un Escalier, had even been turned down by the organizers of the Salon des Indépendants. The art show received thousands of works foreign to academic circles, from cheap and decorative paintings to the works of the neo-impressionist, fauvist and cubist avant-gardes. The painter and theorist of cubism, Albert Gleizes, had laid down that Marcel’s work didn’t respond to the standards of the new pictorial doctrine, and he had begged Marcel’s elder brothers, Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp Villon, to persuade him to withdraw the canvas on his own initiative. At that time Marcel suffered his brothers’ ascendency, since they had made more of a name for themselves in the Montmartre artists’ society than he had. Furthermore, all three brothers were dependent at that time on the economic support with which their parent, a rich notary from the Norman village of Blainville, gave them prodigally. Therefore Marcel could only consent the request of abjure. From then on, however, as Aurelio too was able to ascertain while standing two meters from the controversial painting, Marcel’s fate had radically changed, to the point where everyone in the metropolis of New York, from the man of genius to the wretched one, from the great banker to the lowest hobo, asked himself whether that Nude descending a Staircase was a work of art or the work of the devil, and they also questioned what kind of man the author must be.

 

 

V (chapter XLIX, pp. 193-194)

“A majestic task awaits us. From Greenwich a new Renaissance may arise, an American Renaissance… what am I saying? an internationalist one.”
“We must be careful not to be dazzled by so much light, madam” the brilliant publisher interjected. Mabel waved the forefinger of her hand which had been resting on her hip and pointed it at Max, while looking him up and down with gay bitterness.
“It was only to soften the colors, Mabel” the young man apologized. “Your description is passionate and romantic, but to face the task that awaits us, as you say, we need above all balance of mind and lucidity … we must be Aristotelian rather than Neoplatonist.”
“Our points of view differ in many aspects, dear friend.”
“I think it is a good thing to start from discordant opinions” intervened Big Bill, while stroking the lapels of his tweed jacket by rubbing the mounts of Venus of both hands up and down repeatedly over the cloth, and who felt that the conversation was falling into a useless squabble.
“One can say it is a good thing only when opinions are expressed with sufficient clarity and when they have been understood adequately by all participants” specified Max, sternly and becoming earnest and almost contrite.
“The point is that in Paterson the strikers are getting tired” said Big Bill, looking boldly at the publisher. “It isn’t enough to feed and clothe them. We must find some ideas to encourage them to go on with the struggle. The press talks continually about anti-patriotic plots; the journalists paint us as criminals and they are proud to be able to announce each warrant for arrest that the County Court pass against our members. The workers become demoralized and their unity is at risk.”
“I hear that a workman has been killed… by the detectives of the private agency” said Mrs. Dodge with real sorrow.
“He wasn’t a textile worker. He was a waiter, the father of two children. It happened during a battle between the demonstrators and the police. That poor man, while he was recalling his children home from his stoop, has been hit by two bullets fired by an O’Brian detective. The judges concluded that the detective fired the shots in the air as a warning to the strikers in front of him and that the victim’s death was accidental: manslaughter with the extenuating circumstances of self-defence. The detective was subjected to an interrogation and released straight away, without any charges against him. The workers’ life is worth less than nothing to the Passaic County Court!”
“In this situation it’s very difficult for our people to find the courage and moral strength to go on with the struggle” agreed the landlady.
“I think I have found an idea that could be very useful to us” Max had said at the time, and his grey-green eyes had shone with inspiration. “It is my friend John Reed’s idea. You know him well, Bill. John is, by instinct, a revolutionary as well as an excellent writer. Although he is little more than a boy, he has already the temperament of a moralist. He possesses a rare gift, he’s able to discipline his imagination and he has a clear understanding of human nature. His idea seems to me to be exceptionally shrewd. He suggested putting on a play about the vicissitudes of the strike. The Pageant of the Paterson Strike, could be the name of the play.”
“The Pageant of the Paterson Strike” repeated Mabel, savouring those heuristic words with the soft movements of her lips.

 

 

VI (chapter LII, p.209)

It was already less than a week to the pageant day, when Eugenia left together with a throng of workers’ children. They waved good-bye from the train window, their faces, serious and bewildered, amazed by the angry clang of the locomotive, by the quickly fading faces of their loved ones, who looked for them from the platform until only a mechanical feather of steam could be discerned. The cloud of iron and steam ploughed into the bay, and the children gathered together inside its womb, they drew near to each other cautiously. They spoke shyly, each using an abundance of barbarisms, mixing English idioms with a Diaspora of Italian, German or Slavic words. Nevertheless, they understood one another.
Little Eugenia got on particularly well with a German boy, no more than two years older than her, who listened to her carefully, while he scratched his curly hair, his nose or one of his ears with the forefinger of his right hand. Eugenia explained to him that she too would have liked to appear on the stage as an actress, but she also said that the revolution was more important. On that point the two children agreed, so much that, for the entire journey, they enjoyed imagining how good and adventurous the life of a revolutionary was, and they supposed they pictured themselves in faultless and dangerous roles, taking part in heroic and glorious actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nota biografica

Giancarlo Micheli è nato a Viareggio il 3 febbraio 1967. Si dedica alla scrittura, in versi e in prosa, da circa vent’anni. Ha pubblicato il suo primo racconto (Fucking fist, Viareggio 2004) nella collana Jazz Mediterranea per l’editore Baroni. Per lo stesso editore alcune sue poesie sono presenti nella silloge di poeti versiliesi L’ora d’aria dei cani (2003), nella quale si raccoglie parzialmente il frutto del lavoro del gruppo omonimo (letture pubbliche di testi poetici, con accompagnamento musicale e videoproiezioni). Ha collaborato alla realizzazione della mostra-evento La vita agra – l’arte del resistere dal 1943 al 2003 (Viareggio 2003, Massa 2004). Dal 2003 ha partecipato alle iniziative dell’associazione culturale BAU, che promuove la produzione e la distribuzione dell’omonimo contenitore di arte e cultura contemporanea. Nell’autunno del 2004 è stata edita la sua prima raccolta di versi (Canto senza preghiera, Baroni). Ha partecipato a varie edizioni della rassegna nazionale di poesia Altramarea, ideata e diretta dal poeta e filologo Angelo Tonelli. Alcuni suoi versi figurano nelle antologie della rassegna, Altramarea – poesia come cosa viva (Campanotto, Udine 2006) e Atti di Altramarea e Argonauti nel Golfo degli Dei (Arcipelago, Milano 2010), nonché sulle riviste Poesia di Crocetti, Isla negra, The waters of Hermes, Pagine, NLE, Il Convivio. Altri suoi testi sono comparsi sulle riviste Zeta, La Mosca di Milano, Alleo, Erba d’Arno. Nel febbraio del 2007 è stato pubblicato il suo primo romanzo, Elegia provinciale, per i tipi della collana Mediterranea di Mauro Baroni editore. Sempre nello stesso anno ha curato, per l’Associazione BAU, la pubblicazione del libro Percy B. Shelley – il cuore e l’ombra viva (Pezzini, Viareggio 2007), raccolta collettanea di testi e riflessioni sulla poetica del poeta romantico inglese. Nel marzo 2008 è stata pubblicata la sua seconda raccolta di versi, Nell’ombra della terra (Gabrieli, Roma 2008). Nel settembre 2008 è stato pubblicato il suo secondo romanzo, Indie occidentali (Campanotto, 2008), cui è stato conferito il Premio Internazionale di Poesia e Letteratura “Nuove Lettere” (XXII edizione, 2008). Nel gennaio del 2010, è andato in stampa il nuovo romanzo La grazia sufficiente (Campanotto, 2010). Nel 2012, il suo saggio Thomas Mann il Nutritore, è stato inserito nel volume collettaneo Il Mito nel Novecento letterario (Limina Mentis, Monza 2012) e, in questo medesimo anno, verrà pubblicata la sua raccolta di versi La quarta glaciazione (Campanotto, 2012).
Ha compiuto vari lavori di traduzione di testi letterari, tra i quali una versione (ad oggi inedita) della raccolta Le grand jeu (Gallimard, 1928) del poeta francese Benjamin Péret.
Ha pure realizzato alcuni video operando ibridazioni dei formati e delle fonti luminose in direzione di una ricerca di realismo lirico (La realtà è quello che è?, 1996; L’amour fou, 1997; La terra desolata, 1997; Rendering, 1998; Res accendent lumina rebus, 2001; Impressioni n.16 (all’interno del Laboratorio Cinema del Comune di Viareggio, 2002); La colpa della troia è che i porci la pagano, 2002; Il sangue sulle spighe, 2003; Memoria e resistenza, 2004).

Coltiva passioni non inessenziali nel teatro e nel cinema. Nel 2004 ha lavorato, assieme a Paola Lazzari e a Pierfrancesco Biasetti, alla messa in scena dell’atto unico Parti di guerra (testi di Giancarlo Micheli, musiche di Antonio Agostini) e del monologo La confessione (interprete Paola Lazzari, testi di Sandro Luporini e Giancarlo Micheli). Nel 2009 ha seguito la regia del monologo Elegia provinciale (tratto dal romanzo omonimo; attrice Paola Lazzari, musiche Antonio Agostini).

 

 

 

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