Something on my father

I lost my father so early, you know, before he had time to know me, even to meet me, almost. I’ve learnt something about him, much later; he was a bit like you himself; you had in common a certain amount of vulnerability intensified by events, the empty space that remains in the soul when one doesn’t surrender to the cruelty of the world, and yet cannot evade it, and faces it in one’s own way. No doubt, your way has given more to you and to many others, but the root of the suffering was not so distant.

What impressed me about you was the exceptional way in which you managed to make points of strength and resilience of all that might have been, and perhaps had been, the exact opposite. Reasons for defensiveness became a motive to deeply connect with others, of what risked to be a constriction, you’ve made material to build stronger wings and fly more freely. You turned your shyness into the ability to give yourself up entirely, with no defenses or reservations; your loneliness and need for affection into the ability to love beyond measure; the need for the approval of others into an urge always to give your best and never to settle for less than that; the pain into understanding of the suffering of others. And into a desire to laugh and make others laugh, not like a clown, not at all. Not in the least. Never a clown, always a man, through and through.

My father used to write, like myself. This similarity, which goes beyond the fact that I never spoke to him, that I don’t even remember seeing him, although it happened, at an age of which, unfortunately, memory is later lost without remedy, took me by surprise, and moved me deeply.

I thought of his pictures, in which his face looks so sweet, after all he’d been through. Not so long ago, thinking of you, I was talking of mildness, of how it is conquered at the cost of fighting harshly against ourselves, in order not to give in to the temptation of seeing only the worst aspects of the world and of the people as “reality”. Mildness demands greater sacrifice and an infinitely stronger character than the prevailing “hard-core” approach, for which the human race may as well die out, which sees everywhere cities to be destroyed and sowed with salt, and enemies to be made responsible for our own barbarism, and for which anything that brings joy is an evil to be rooted out at all costs.
My father fought in the Indochina war.
My father always remained the sweet person he was. Was this true? In the pictures, his face is sweet. There are only a few, because it was him who took pictures, usually. Especially of my mother, a lot, she has not wanted to be photographed that way anymore, since then. At most, you can manage to snitch a few shots, while he photographed her always and she smiles in all of those pictures.
Yes, I think he remained sweet, in spite of it all. In spite of his “monsters”, which he tried to defeat as he could, because nobody knew how to treat certain diseases at the time. Not even now, maybe. And they were not even “his”monsters. They had sneaked into him, burnt into his skin like the wounds and blights he’d surely seen, in the people he was fighting against as well as in his mates.
I’ve little more than this, of him. Images of a few serene moments, of him looking tenderly at me. And a few details I had almost to force out of my mother’s mouth, one by one, ruthlessly. Was it necessary?
Yes, it was.
Because she was afraid, for me. Afraid that the disease that tormented him was not just due to the war, and that I had it in myself as well: she trembled every time I “stepped out of line” a little, resented even the slightest rebellion, and I didn’t know why.
She has not done that for a long time, now. Now we are both aware that whatever his monsters may have been, he has taken them with himself, and has left to me only the joy of being alive, the determination to fight and be happy and spread smile around, as far as I can. With a constant and yet almost gentle pain, like a shadow that makes light softer, gives it volume and substance and meaning.

When I hear someone listing the reasons why giving birth to a child should be a mistake, in today’s world or in the world of fifty, a hundred or a thousand years ago, it doesn’t matter, I smile,  and think that life to me has been an opportunity that my father decided to give me, knowing that it would be no bed of roses, but he strongly wanted me. He gave me a name reminding of the Country he came from, although he had at least a reason to hate it, and yet he still loved it, even against himself, who knows, seeing as it was him who had decided to leave. Maybe it’s because of him, of my father, that I’ve learnt to love English as if it was another home. It has given me my job, has become part of my life, and later a way to get closer to you, to your voice, in all meanings of the word. It’s because of him that I decided I would be a translator, to connect two worlds, two languages, two cultures, both of which belong to me. I don’t need to feel divided, I’m lucky enough to believe only in the kind of boundaries that can be freely crossed using words and memories.

But if I’ve kept pursuing the dream of giving, through words, a part of myself, it’s because of you.

This is an extract from the English version of my book on Robin Williams. He is the “you” I’m writing to, as I’ve always felt so close to him and he has influenced my life and thoughts like no one else.

Cielo sottosopra

Pensavo che è curioso, questo interesse relativamente nuovo per il cielo, perché in effetti è nato… beh, all’incirca un anno fa diciamo. Non che prima non l’avessi mai guardato, ma c’è qualcosa di diverso. Si potrebbe magari pensare che stia provando a trovare qualche segno di te, quasi che potessi nasconderti in quel disordine scompigliato di nubi che sono sicura avresti amato molto, ma è strano comunque, perché mi pare che il tuo interesse per la terra fosse decisamente superiore a quello per il cielo. Forse, in effetti, mi piacerebbe credere che tu ti nasconda là dietro per poter continuare a guardare quaggiù, al riparo dagli sguardi e dalle pretese indiscrete.  Perché per il resto ho sempre pensato che non fosse tra le stelle il luogo giusto dove cercarti.

Forse è anche una questione di luce, perché la luce, ai miei occhi almeno,  è il tuo elemento,  e specialmente poi queste luci irregolari,  un po’ scomposte,  talvolta persino esagerate,  un po’ fuori misura e sicuramente molto fuori dall’ordinario.

Poi l’altra sera c’era quella nuvola così strana, come l’enorme penna caudale di un uccello gigantesco e candido. E quella notte, che non ero agitata o roba simile, ma semplicemente sono rimasta sveglia a lungo, a un certo punto ho pensato che potresti chiederla in prestito, quella nuvola, e anche tutte le altre, tutte quelle che possano esserti utili, come facevi con qualunque oggetto ti capitasse sottomano che trovassi interessante per improvvisare una delle tue magie, di quando catturavi un istante, una piccola cosa, un pezzetto di quotidianità, e li rendevi irripetibili e indimenticabili. Una sciarpa diventava quello che decidevi tu e apriva un mondo di possibilità. Cosa mai avresti potuto fare, cosa mai potresti fare con questi doni del vento, questo inargentare confini, confondere forme, questo continuo movimento di corpi che non sono corpi ma sogni di vapore e di schiuma e d’aria, di colori che si fondono e si distinguono in maniera così inusuale. Sì, credo che decisamente ti ci vedo, in questo caos creativo, in questo universo di opportunità. Forse è proprio questo il segreto, un cielo sottosopra, un capovolgimento, un’anticonvenzionale inversione dei ruoli, perché neanche da lì potresti mai rinunciare a mostrare che le cose si possono sempre guardare da un altro punto di vista.

Mi è venuto da sorridere, secondo me anche col cielo saresti capace di osservarlo, assimilarlo e appropriartene, renderlo un po’ ‘tuo’, come facevi con tutto quello che c’era intorno a te, per poi restituircelo reinterpretato e reinventato, mai uguale a come era prima. E Dio… beh, è evidente che se un Dio c’è, deve averlo per forza, il senso dell’umorismo, per cui credo che ti lascerebbe fare, magari un po’ in disparte, sicuro che tanto qualcosa di buono ne verrebbe fuori.

Del resto rido molto in questi giorni. Rido con mio figlio ‘piccolo’, la più simpatica bertuccia del mondo, con cui ci divertiamo un sacco, e qualche volta mi sorprendo a usare una delle tue espressioni, dei tuoi gesti, e non so se puoi capire quanto bene mi fa questa cosa. Come scrivere di te, e pensarti, quando per chiunque altro, l’unico modo di superare il dolore per la sua assenza sarebbe probabilmente cercare di mantenere il ricordo in un piccolo angolo del cuore e andare avanti, e invece trattandosi di te, più insisto a ripercorrere le tracce di tutto quello che ti riguarda, e più il dolore si attenua. E poi guardo le tue cose e rido ancora fino alle lacrime, sai, proprio perché mi manchi, più rido e più ti sento vicino e in quelle risate c’è anche questo, hai riempito la mia vita di luce e continui a farlo e sei talmente speciale che davvero, forse, nel tuo caso ridere è il modo migliore di mostrarti tutto il rispetto che meriti.

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Tra nuvole e marciapiedi / Between clouds and sidewalks

Quando sarà che ho fatto l’ultimo giro in giostra?
E’ così tanto tempo che neppure più ricordo
il colore e la forma, o in che giardino mi trovavo.
Abito qui, ora, tra nuvole e marciapiedi,
volo tra i rami degli ulivi e ridiscendo a volte
per l’occasionale dolcezza dei lamponi;
ho traslocato da poco e forse
non sarà l’ultima volta che succede.
Faccio ancora castelli che viaggiano sull’aria,
i miei occhi sono sempre ben aperti quando sogno
e lancio ancora piccoli sassi dentro il mare,
ch’è il mio modo di rompere la quiete
per riaggiustarla dopo a cose fatte;
ma non penso più che sia la spiaggia l’importante,
solo qualche granello ogni tanto, o qualche fiore
dimenticato tra le sdraio alla fine del tramonto.
Ho anche riordinato un poco le mie cose,
lo spazio l’ho trovato gettando via i rimpianti.
La nostalgia no, ché può sempre venir bene:
sta a portata di mano in un cassetto semi-chiuso;
e poi non pensare ch’io non viva,
ho da stendere i panni e far le lavatrici,
ho figli e tastiere e giorni d’incastri e gambe stanche,
e un gatto che s’arrotola in improbabili pose nella cesta;
ho tempo per amare e prendo anche il raffreddore,
ma tengo un sole di riserva nella tasca
per qualche anomala stagione delle piogge.
Però ti prego, accarezza ancora dolcemente
le semicancellate linee dei miei fragili confini
perché svaniscano del tutto sotto le tue dita.
S’intersecano i tuoi passi disallineati
sui duri solchi delle mie pietre natali
creando quel mosaico di molteplici percorsi
tra le tue personali vie dei canti e i miei colori.
So cosa diresti di queste brecce offese,
delle crepe nei muri che esplodono
crollando in polvere inflessibile,
di queste nebbie che screpolano il cielo.
Si scioglierebbe ancora in parole la tua faccia
e riconoscerei tra mille quella smorfia ferita
che spegnerebbe i tuoi occhi appena un attimo prima
che l’illumini la compassione un’altra volta,
lo sprazzo del tuo fulmineo riso
ad inventarci una bellezza temporanea ed infinita
nascosta tra gli anfratti della nostra pelle stanca.
Per questo mi accoccolo tra i tuoi pensieri
e ti ritrovo, come sempre, dentro i miei.

Wall crack (original image on

Crack in the Wall by Lokiev

When was I last on a merry-go-round?
It’s been so long I don’t even remember
the colour and shape, or the garden I was in.
I live here now, between clouds and sidewalks,
I fly through olive branches and come down at times
for the occasional sweetness of raspberries;
it’s not long since I’ve moved house, and perhaps
it won’t be the last time either.
I still make castles and have them travel in the air,
my eyes are always wide open when I dream
and I still throw pebbles into the sea,
it’s my way to break the quiet to then fix it late in the day;
but I no longer think that it’s the beach that counts,
only some grains, now and then, or some flower
forgotten among the loungers at the end of sunset.
I’ve also tidied up my things a little bit,
I’ve made room by throwing regrets away.
Not longing, though, as it can always come in handy
It’s at my fingertips, in a drawer that I keep ajar;
and then, don’t you think I’m not living,
I’ve got to do my wash and hang the laundry out to dry
I’ve got children, and keyboards,
days with so much to wedge in, and legs that hurt
and a cat that rolls up in unlikely positions in his basket;
I’ve got time to love and sometimes catch a cold
but keep a spare sun in my pocket
for some unexpected rainy season.
But please, keep fingering with your sweetness
the semi-deleted lines of my fragile boundaries
so they will melt completely at your touch.
Your out-of-line footprints cross at times
the unyielding groove in my native stones
and create that mosaic of multiple paths
with your personal songlines and my colours.
I know what you’d say of these injured breaches,
of the cracks in the walls that blow up and collapse
into an inflexible dust,
of these fogs that chap the sky.
Your face would break up in words once again
and anywhere would I recognize that hurt frown
that would turn off your eyes just before
they’re lightened up by compassion once again,
the spark of your lightning-quick laugh
that would invent for us a temporary beauty without end
hidden in the clefts of our weary skin.
that’s why I nestle into your thoughts
and find you, as always, within mine.