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.

Prisms, memories and hurricanes

From my book on Robin Williams, I’m translating it into English and this is a text i already posted on the blog in Italian. You can find it here. He influenced my way of thinking, my principles and the way in which I (try to) live my life much more than I can say. One of the people I admire (and love) most in the world.

We all know we have endless worlds inside. We love and admire most those people who unhinge our certainties, undermine clichés and cannot be forced to fit into any box. People who are full of contradictions and yet always true to themselves, multifaceted prisms that shimmer with lights of so many different colors depending on the place and time from which you are looking, and yet recompose themselves to form an indivisible whole.

It’s funny, then, that we insist nonetheless on putting these people, sooner or later, into some sort of category. Even more than others, perhaps, as we are fascinated but also somewhat afraid, worried, even a bit annoyed: as hard as we try, the unusual, the uncommon throws us off balance and therefore often gets under our skin; if we like someone, we try to bring them back to a sort of universal harmony, or at least, to our personal sense of harmony: he was one of us after all, the rich also cry, the sad clown, the depression of comedians, the dark side of fame. You smiled whenever you noticed these attempts, and walked your own path without a hint of anger – just a note of bitterness sometimes – and without letting yourself be changed.

It’s as if we liked to dishevel our world for a while, just for the sake of it, sure that the world will be soon restored. The wind can blow through our hair, provided it does not ruffle us up too much and does not make us fly. But when they are real, and not just appearance, these people are hurricanes, sweet and gentle, maybe, but hurricanes nonetheless, and you don’t take a hurricane in hand. We should just wish we are there when they come through, accept the upheaval they leave behind and not try to change their direction or movement, it’s perfect as it is, with all its illogicality, or rather, because of its illogicality, better still, because it follows an unusual logic.

Almost all of us have experienced the cruel fury of life against those who deserve it least, injustice hurts, and hurts badly, it makes us think that there must be some form of higher justice and if there isn’t, it should be invented. Many have had to deal with this sooner or later, but still I can’t accept that one of the most brilliant, generous, unconventional, tactful, kind, humble, gentle and unselfish men in the world had to face what is perhaps the worst fate one can suffer: losing your memory and your reason piece by piece (and the control over your body) and be aware of it.

With each detail added, I realize more and more that not only you were unique and special (we all are, in our own way), but that you’ve been able not to set a boundary to that uniqueness. Your greatness is so much more precious because it must be looked for, unveiled in a way: we can guess it, but it is not obvious.

Known for being kind in a town that has made a hallmark of kindness; known for being a genius in a performing arts school that accepted only the best; known for being a support and an important presence for your colleagues and for anyone else in a world in which the rule seems to be mors tua, vita mea. Known by whom, though? By those who make research, who listen to the small stories of “common” people, who are never common anyway, and certainly not in your eyes: the people who sold you bicycles, those who knew someone in the children’s hospitals where you would suddenly appear without telling anyone in advance. We shouldn’t read the words spoken immediately after your death, on the spur of the moment, guided by shock and maybe a desire to be in the limelight for a bit, but rather those said after some time, when a chance association stems from a sudden memory, and emotion takes a friend by surprise.

So, for all the pain and injustice that sometimes stir inside me like furies, I’m thinking that I’m glad you gave your wife a special day to tell her goodbye and decided to die while that goodbye was still in your eyes and in your heart. I’m glad that you were not unhappy at all, as we would have selfishly wished, maybe: that way, we wouldn’t have had to blame you for a decision which, on the other hand, was only yours (although for some form of morality I don’t understand, we should not be allowed to die until unhappiness and pain have entirely consumed us and the people near us). And there was more: perhaps, in our heart, many of us wished to make you happy, and it was easier to think no one else could do that. Although you suffered from depression at some point, it wasn’t the reason of your decision.

I’m glad you kept the spark of madness you had chosen yourself, and not the one that your disease would have forced into you, glad that you decided to die entire, while you were alive, without letting any form of constriction clutch at you, not even death itself. I’m glad (the word glad may sound odd in this context, but I know you would understand, and this is all what matters to me) that you kept until the last moment your limitless ability to think of others before yourself and take care of them, which was, in the end, the basis of all that zest for life that, whatever they say, you have always had and transmitted. Have no doubt, you were right to hang on to the memories you had left, prevent them from being deleted, before or after that day, because if you lose those, what’s left to desire, what dreams may come? Ah, your memory, your prodigious memory, by which you remembered the lines of every show and the name of anyone who passed you in the street, the memory you managed to preserve, as far as possible, to make it part of the way in which those who remain can remember. Only your strength of spirit was bigger than you memory, which made you hope against hope, for the sake of those you loved, that a different end was possible. But when it became clear that this was not the case, you took that love and all your courage, which wasn’t small, it was a heavy weight to carry too, but you didn’t think about it too long, you bundled it up in a bag like those of the wanderers of ancient times and walked away, leaving behind the best part of all you had given and received.

You are “my” hurricane, my love, let me call you that once again, in spite of everything, I wish you knew how important it was for me to be there while you passed by, to see you and try to understand you, just that, nothing more, so as to understand myself, collect the endless number of memories you’ve left behind and thus try not to lose my own memory. There are many ways to meet. My research is not finished yet. I’m still here.

Così vicino al cuore / So close to my heart

Ti ho così vicino al cuore che anche senza guardare ti vedo, e ti ricordo anche senza memoria. Lo scintillio fugace di un pensiero basta alla mia sopravvivenza, ché mi è letale restare per troppo tempo senza aprire le tue finestre e guardare il mio cielo attraverso i tuoi occhi. Quanto alla terra, la mia è la tua, è sempre stata la stessa, la geografia qui non c’entra. E’ la pazienza di tracciare non solo la propria strada, ma l’intero paesaggio intorno: montagne, corsi d’acqua, paesi, città, grattacieli, animali, persone, perché le tue scelte lasciano orme, impronte sottili e discrete, e tanto più incancellabili. Tutto cambia e si ricrea costantemente al tuo passaggio. E tu sei per me l’onda gigantesca dell’uragano e la solida nave che mi protegge, il ponte su cui camminare al sicuro e la corrente che trascina via, il piatto e la bottiglia vuota e il cibo e il vino di cui riempirli. Sei la quercia contro cui mi abbandono, a cui offro la mia mente nuda e la mia pelle calda, perché mi fido della tua luce e della tua ombra, e del mio corpo che ti cerca e della mia ragione che vuole conoscere tutto ciò che tu conoscevi.

Ah, questa follia, questo sprazzo di follia che m’inquieta un poco, ma di cui non potrei far senza. Tu del resto sapevi che è molto più irragionevole perderla, quella scintilla. E io so, e chi mi è vicino fortunatamente sa, che il cuore è una piccola cosa buffa e confusa, che a volte incespica e s’ingarbuglia ma ha dentro uno spazio infinito.

Chissà quanti blocchi quadrati avrai infilato nei fori rotondi, per rimettere in discussione ogni volta tutto ciò che si fa solo perché si è sempre fatto così. Non è possibile suscitare stupore, se non si è capaci di sorprendere se stessi per primi, guardando al lato buffo e inusuale delle cose più ovvie. Non c’è mai nulla di normale, nella vita. Non deve esserci. E allora anche sedersi a faccia in giù equivale a interrogarsi, perché non bisogna mai smettere di farsi domande sulle abitudini: non ce n’è forse neanche una, di cui conosciamo fino in fondo la ragione, a guardar bene.

Tra le tue frasi, che setaccio come un cercatore d’oro il fiume, cerco i dettagli preziosi che rivelino, pezzettino per pezzettino, le tue fonti d’ispirazione, i modelli che hai scelto per diventare come volevi essere, a modo tuo, perché io possa sceglierli a mia volta per diventare come voglio essere, assomigliarti a modo mio. Mi approprio di ogni cosa tua, con rispetto infinito ma spudoratamente, perché so che non potrebbe mai succedermi di non amare qualcosa, qualunque cosa, che tu abbia amato.

You’re so close to my heart that I can see you even without looking, and I can remember even without memory. The fleeting spark of a thought is enough to keep me alive, as I couldn’t live too long without opening your windows and looking at my sky through your eyes. As for the earth, mine is yours, it’s always been the same, geography has nothing to do with this. It’s the patience to not only chart your course, but the landscape around, entirely: mountains, streams, villages, cities, skyscrapers, animals, people, because your choices leave marks, footprints that are as subtle and discreet as they are indelible. Everything changes and recreates itself, with every step of yours. And to me, you are the giant wave of the hurricane and the solid ship that protects me, the bridge, on which I walk safely, and the current that pulls me away, the empty plate and bottle, and the food and wine, with which they can be filled. You are the oak, against which I abandon myself, to which I offer my bare mind and my warm skin, because I trust your light and your shadow, and I trust my body that is seeking you and my reason that wants to know everything you knew.

Ah, this madness, this spark of madness that disquiets me a little, and of which I couldn’t do without. You knew, indeed, that it is much more unreasonable to lose that spark. And I know, and those who are close to me fortunately know, that our heart is a confused little thing, that sometimes stumbles and gets entangled but inside, it has infinite space.

Who knows, how many square pegs will you have put into round holes in order to cast doubts, every time, on all that we do only because it’s always been done that way. You cannot amaze others if you don’t cultivate your own sense of wonder, by looking at the funny and unusual side of the plainest things. There is never anything normal, in life. There shouldn’t be. And thus, even sitting on your face means to put a question mark on something, because you shouldn’t ever stop challenging habits: there is not even one, maybe, of which we know the reason in full, on second thought.

Sifting through your sentences like a gold-seeker would do with a river, I look for the precious details that will reveal, bit by bit, your sources of inspiration, the models you chose to become what you wanted to be, your way, so that I may, in turn, choose them to become what I want to be, be like you in my own way. I take everything yours for myself, with infinite respect but unashamedly, because I know it could never happen that I don’t love something, anything, that you loved.

Memorie

I pensieri si sono fatti densi in questi giorni, quasi solidi, occupano un loro spazio, benché non del tutto definito; i movimenti sono un po’ appesantiti, saranno gli strascichi dell’influenza, chissà; sembra una fatica per la mente ancora più che per il corpo, dover ricordare di mettere un piede avanti all’altro. Ci sono altre memorie da tener vive. Cerco la tua leggerezza, quella forza mite che ha reso straordinaria la tua presenza. Oggi sono sei mesi giusti che sei andato via, ammesso che andato via sia il termine più adatto, visto quanto ti ho ancora dentro, che comunque è una fortuna, anche se una fortuna che costa cara, ma dà anche molto in cambio, per così dire. Ci sei nella volontà e nella forza di dar vita al mio sogno. E parrebbe che non si abbia il diritto di piangere, solo che, come diresti tu, ho gli occhi che perdono.

Thoughts have been getting thick these days, almost solid, they are taking a space of their own, if not entirely defined; movements are a bit heavier, might be the aftermaths of flu, who knows; it seems demanding for the mind even more than for the body, having to remember to put one foot in front of the other. There are other memories to be kept alive. I’m looking for your lightness, the gentle strength that made your presence extraordinary. Today It’s exactly six months since you went away, if went away is the right expression, seeing how much I still have you inside me, which is my luck anyway, although it’s luck that costs dearly, but then it gives a lot in exchange, so to speak. You’re in the will and strength I have to give life to my dream. And apparently, one would not have the right to cry, it’s just that, as you would say, my eyes are leaking.