Thursday, December 20, 2007

Calypso of the Appenine Way

Chapter One of my new novel continued......

Via Garibaldi was filled with shadows and half light as we made our way along the great central artery of Parma that connected the outside suburbs with the very centre of the city itself. Along this thoroughfare there were shops and commercial dealers of every description: jewellery shops, ice cream shops, tobacco shops, small restaurants and big restaurants. Most of all, however, there were the boutiques and clothes shops run by independent artisans. To my jaundiced north European eye, they appeared to be all grossly over priced. Nevertheless, even to a sceptic like myself, most of the materials looked handsome and well made. Horses for courses, I thought. Parma was one of the richest provincial cities of northern Italy and most of the locals were more than well enough heeled to delight in over-spending for their necessary trifles in life. Eva pretended to take the same attitude as myself to the over-priced luxury of Parma; yet as with most women, one felt that it wouldn’t take much to make a rebel of her and send her screaming and possessed into a melee of berserk shoppers waving her hard earned lire over her head like some half demented lunatic.

As we passed the gelateria at which we’d stopped earlier that night, Mario seemed to perk up and he looked long and hard through the glass front of the shop hoping to catch the eye of the dark haired girl within. However, I could make out that she was surrounded by five or six customers and mostly obscured from our sight.

“I think Mario is in love”, I confided to Eva still clinging next to me and warm at my side.

“Really?” she replied questioningly. “With Ilaria, you mean?”

I took a quick look at Mario who was now walking alongside us--and seeing that his face never changed its expression I decided that it would be OK to rib him a little.

“Oh yes, always with Ilaria”, I replied. However, one such as Mario is unable to keep all his loving for only a single woman. On our way to ‘La Bussola’ this evening, we took a gelato in this place--and it seemed to me that the poor girl who served us, was infatuated with our brave Rudolf Valentino here.”

Eva laughed while Mario responded by giving me a dirty look and saying nothing.

“What on earth will Ilaria say if she finds out that you have roving eyes Signor’ Mario?” asked Eva bending over and across me in order to look in Mario’s face and see what emotion it might be registering: I thought surliness was the predominant feature.

“Don’t listen to John, Eva. He is only joking. Yes, of course; Eva is my woman and I love her very much. Nevertheless, seeing how changeable women can be, it is never a bad idea to keep another in reserve--just in case anything should go wrong.”

“And what might go wrong?” enquired Eva, a little nettled by Mario’s words in spite of herself.

Mario shrugged. “Who can say? It is clear though that a little fame or flashiness can often turn their hearts away from one who loves them deeply. If this were to happen, a man would look foolish indeed if he had not provided another beauty for himself; in reserve, so to speak.”

Eva laughed; but I could see that Mario’s words had irritated her. “And why might a woman leave a partner except for the common enough occurrence of a man cheating on her, or not treating her with the respect and dignity she craves and deserves?”

Mario shrugged again. “I wouldn’t know Eva. However, I am convinced that it is best for both men and women to prepare for all possibilities in their relations with each other.”

Eva gave a strained laugh. “I see you have been spending too much time with John, Mario. These are his ideas I’m sure.”

This time Mario shook his head lugubriously. “No Eva. These are my own ideas--though I respect John’s viewpoints very much. It is my own experience with women that has led me to these--admittedly somewhat sour--conclusions.”

I knew that Eva was thinking of Sharokh. Clearly, he loved her dearly and would do absolutely anything for her. Yet here she was with me, a well known double-dealer. Looked at dispassionately (if that was possible), Eva’s actions seemed to support the truth of Mario’s words--and she didn’t like it.

By now we had reached the end of Via Garibaldi and the mounted statue of the great man himself came into view on our right. We took a turn into Via Mazzini and once again passed all the bars in Piazza Garibaldi, before taking refuge from the still falling snow flakes under the porticoes that led back to Eleonora’s house and office. Everything was darker than before and few people seemed to be any longer abroad in the swirling, snow infested night. When we were about half way down the porticoed arcade of Via Mazzini, it was time to cross the wide, undefended road and take the small side street down to the birreria, ‘Oktoberfest’. As we crossed the street, three abreast, the snow, which over the last half hour had been coming down ever stronger, whirled around our forms and covered everything with a fine sliver of white. In particular, our overcoats and scarves picked up the snowflakes in abundance so that to anyone we came upon unexpectedly, we would give the impression of being three shapes freshly returned from Hades’s underworld--possibly on some hopeless mission sanctioned by the goddess Persephone herself.

The street lights burnt strangely dim as we entered into the small side street that led down to the birreria and passed the little cinema on our right which this week was showing a new biopic of the sixties group, “The Doors”. I knew that Mario was a great fan of the group and also that he’d been along to see the movie with Ilaria a couple of evenings before. So far, I’d forgotten to ask him of his impressions of the film, so now, as we approached the yellow light of the silent birreria, I decided to ask him about the movie.

“So how was this movie, Mario? Worth the entrance fee?” Mario seemed to consider deeply for a few moments before replying.

“Certainly worth the entrance fee, though far from being wholly satisfactory.”

Oh?” I responded. “What was wrong with it then.”

“Nothing in particular”, replied Mario. “The only real problem was that it was made as a biopic and so the director felt the need to cover everything. The story was too long and wide ranging to be adequately treated of in just a couple of hours. This was the main difficulty. However, there were other smaller ones too. Certain parts of the real story were romanticised while others were glossed over entirely.”

I nodded my head in an understanding fashion. “Plenty of good music anyhow?” Mario’s face creased up into a smile of sheer pleasure confirming what I already knew: that he loved Jim Morrison and the music of ‘The Doors’.

“Oh yes”, he confirmed redundantly. “The music is always something special.”

We were now outside the birreria and through the glass I could see the Sicilian, Paolo, waiting behind the counter. He was alone, but no doubt his three sons, I thought, were busy serving the student clientele in the basement below. As he saw us, through the glass window, he waved his hand vigorously in the air and shouted his greetings. I pushed open the door and we entered into his establishment.

Buona sera amici miei. Che piacere di riverdervi su questa notte brutta e tempestosa! There was always a certain level of irony in Paolo’s words--and so it was this evening. Paolo and all his Sicilian family had become good friends during my stay in Parma. He helped in various ways--particularly with information.

Grazie Paolo, I replied. E’ davvero una notte brutta. Siamo qui per incontrarci con Sharokh, l’uomo di Eva.” At these words, Eva gave me a dirty look, while Mario’s face was expressionless and conveyed nothing. Paolo simply shook his head with a non e’ qui.

“It seems he’s not yet arrived”, I said to Eva, a little amused at her obvious irritation.

“Yes, thank you, John. I can speak a little Italian” (her Italian was quite brilliant and far better than mine). “It’s only 10: 40 PM and I imagine he’ll be here in a few moments now.”

The three of us took our places at the single table on the top level, which was right next to Paolo’s counter. I ordered German lager for myself and Mario and Eva ordered spremute, or crushed orange juices. The drinks had just arrived, when Sharokh walked into the birreria and offered us all his greetings. He exchanged a few words with Paolo, whom he knew quite well, before ordering a small beer and sitting down next to Eva. He appeared to be in high good humour, but he often seemed this way and I was doubtful about how much of the true Sharokh I was really seeing on these occasions. Much of his bonhomie was clearly for Eva’s benefit. He wanted it to be clear to her that he harboured no suspicions regarding her behaviour and that myself and Mario were regarded as deep and sincere friends. It was a dangerous game he was playing and it was only because of my own infatuation with Eleonora that the pretense had been allowed to continue for as long as this. I attempted to make some small talk.

“Anything interesting happen in the factory today?”, I enquired. Sharokh shook his head.

“Nothing interesting ever happens in that damn place, except on the last Friday afternoon of every month when we all receive our pay--not that we get much.” I knew that Sharokh picked up about a million and a half lire monthly. As he said, it wasn’t a lot; but it did enable him to keep some dignity and get out of the house instead of always begging for money and being underfoot. Perhaps, it even assuaged his pain somewhat, as he didn’t know what Eva was getting up to while he was slaving away in the motor factory.

Eva looked uncomfortable at Sharokh’s words and she asked him if he’d paid the rent to the landlord before setting out to pick her up that evening. Sharokh confirmed that he had indeed done so. Eva and Sharokh lived some kilometers outside Parma in a little village called “Felino” On arrival from Perugia, they’d had to pay six months rent in advance, a sum that had come directly from Eva’s pocket. Now, the six months had finished and they were back to paying on a more regular monthly basis again.


Anonymous Soap fan said...

Oooooohhhhhhh...What happens next?

11:42 PM  

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