The poet had everything ready: a light briefcase, a ticket, an address. Now, while he was sitting on a bench waiting for the train, there was nothing he could do but look at the road map of the destination city and looking for the shortest journey from the train station to his destination.
He had done it thousands of times in far more alarming situations, when he did not even know a word of the local language and everything had always gone smoothly. He had finally managed to get out of all society events. There, everyone used to pull him in order to receive his forecast of the literary movement, which could count him among its protagonists./ There, everyone desperately wanted to get his forecast…He was not one of many writers but he was the point of reference who would allow the spread and survival of the movement. On the other side, the most eccentric colleagues preferred getting drunk and having fun, and travelling to exotic places till they all died little by little/ bit by bit.
But him, solid as a rock, managed to help the movement survive/ help the movement to survive and more than fifty years later, in most countries, its poems were read aloud with the rhythm they had created. Sometimes the poems were revised using rap music.
This corner of the world endured, and its people wanted these poems to be performed lively by beautiful actresses always wearing black dresses with narrow straps or by actors better if good-looking and with a soothing voice reading aloud accompanied by a background music.
Thank God the performances had improved lately: silly shows hadn’t been broadcasted anymore. There poets showed off their own creativity, while in the background painters tried to follow the Word rhythm. In the distant background rock bands were playing like crazy trying to give the performance an impression of refined Postmodernism.
The Poet saw him by chance on RAI International and his colleagues laughed like mad. It was him who had to explain that spontaneity of creating poems was difficult for the artists of that Country, stuck between prizes and juries.
What a dead weight the origins were: there were two world-class poets who had conveyed two contrasting traditions seven hundred years before. All of this without taking part in noisy parties or in arguments about publishing house websites like it would have happened today.
One of them insisted on the fact that poets should have a civilian/political role and he set himself up as hardline judge using his rhyming tercets to send historical, mythical and contemporary characters either to Hell, to Purgatory and to Paradise. While the other one spent his time locked in his secret rooms admiring the beauty of a dead woman writing 365 poems to her and hardly ever taking part in social life.
After all, what could you expect from this original schizophrenia? Immobility at least. It was necessary that poets made a move, since the situation in the Country was getting worse and worse; now more than never their poetry was needed.
Speaking about poetry- the Poet was pondering- actually it was the singers, especially the songwriters, who carried out the mission of the poets across some decades at the end of the previous century.
He remembered one songwriter in particular, who had sung during the event organized by the anarchists, his favourite supporting sponsors of all and his second favourite supporting sponsors were the Festival dell’Unità (festivals to celebrate national unity), followed by the static poetry festivals.
What an Amazing Man! He was a kind of mix between Bob Dylan and French socially and politically active singers. On the right he had a huge bottle of wine, a cigarette between the fingers and he wasn’t that good-looking but he did know a lot about poetry. He talked about a dark spring where the rosemary blooms, about the moon which loses its wool, about angels in chains and dogs barking. He encouraged us to dress our grief with leaves and cover it with feathers.
He was able to revolutionize the Catholic commonplaces and the main ideas of the left party in a Surrealistic way, while he was speaking up for social outcasts. It could be said that they had similar beliefs, even if there were some differences due to the historical conditions in their own countries.
Unfortunately, he passed away like the others; and now there was nothing left but the dull TV chatter here and the foolish talk shows in his country.
Luckily now travelling by train, he would have the chance to practice his listening skills with some popular speeches. He would probably understand something this time because compared to the past years he had studied more. The Poet had been attending some Italian full-immersion courses for six months because he wanted to run away from his “bloodhound” fellow passengers who were always hot on his heels and used to carry him around claiming he wasn’t able to speak Italian and he could get lost.
They had started with simple things, like the teacher asking him: “Lorenzo, what is in your pocket?” and he answered clearly but with a strong American accent: “I have my keys, my handkerchief, three coins, six dollars and my driving license.” Step by step they managed to build sentences using the subjunctive.
He couldn’t always speak that well and he was struggling to understand people talking at a normal speed, but finally, for the first time in his life, he hadn’t strongly wished to be invisible because of his long-lasting dream. No, this time he would show off the radiant body of an eighty-year old man. With white hair, cerulean blue eyes, a blue cap on his head – in his home country this was an artist symbol- wearing casual bordering on cool clothes, which maybe would satisfy the host country style expectations.
After that he would knock them flat, asking them with the right usage of the subjunctive and conditional, that his teacher had been insisting on for three months, to take a picture of his ancestors’ house.
They could not deny his request, considering his linguistic efforts and his sweetness, not to mention the sense of hospitality, the attachment to the history and to the family which had always characterized the Italians.
It would be a kind of prodigal son’s return after many generations and different historical, political and literary events. He had to do it all by himself. He was extremely sure that the search of one’s roots implied a violent and deep emotion that should be lived intensely, without being distracted by obligations towards fellow passengers or assistants.
* * *
The train arrived. Since he didn’t know much about the rules of Italian queuing, our Poet ended up being the last one who got on the train, struggling to find a free seat. Half of the seats seemed to be taken up by bags and rucksacks. Our poet ignored the fact that this was an excuse to prevent people from sitting there, one of them might even be an immigrant. On the other seats there were some teenagers who were listing to their MP3s and some men and women who were reading newspapers or talking on the phone. The only free seat seemed to be the one next to a young African man, but he couldn’t be the right person to practice Italian with.
Sighing the Poet, after taking a quick glance, decided to sit there anyway. He tried to listen to potential conversations but actually there was no interactions. There were predictable monologues such as “I am about to arrive, wait for me at the train station”, some others difficult to understand, like “I am on the train. In half an hour you can buttare la pasta”, work calls “Yes, Ms Rossi, the appointment is at 3 pm. I’ll be waiting for you.”, lovers’ speeches “Yes, Honey, you know that I could never do something like that to you. Don’t listen to those gossip-mongers, people hate us because we love each other.” He couldn’t hear a single subjunctive not even for all the tea in China.
The Poet put his heart at rest: he knew that during this journey he wouldn’t speak much Italian. Better taking out the poetry book to get ready for the next festival, which would see him as the protagonist since he was the last main poet of his generation.
The young man in front of him, reading the title of the book “Howl” and guessing his age and native country, filled with curiosity, asked him in English: «Have you ever heard a Beat generation poetry reading? In my country we do freestyle, but I know that The Last Poets and the early rappers learned a lot from the Beats».
Ours, having found an unexpected elective affinity, unleashed a stream of information and questions that made him spend the three-hour trip quickly. By now, even if there had been the most fascinating conversation in Italian, overflowing with subjunctives and conditionals, he would certainly not have given up this pearl of opportunity offered to him by the Nigerian freestyler.
Luckily the boy gets off at Brescia as well. He picks up a large tarp-bag placed nearby and sets off. Coincidentally he knows very well where that address is: right in the centre; every two weeks he is just a stone’s throw away from there, spreading out the towel and selling the bags. The two of them exchange some jokes about these bags produced in China with remnants coming from Italian designers and sold by a boy from Lagos to a lady from Brescia. «It’s globalization, all right».
The boy spreads out the towel, arranges the bags and asks the neighbour to watch his goods while he goes to accompany the gentleman. When he arrives at destination, he shows him the house number and hugs him (Ours has not revealed his identity, but the boy is perceptive and now the image of his life has gone around the world).
At this point all that remains for Ours is to ring the bell. Taken by great emotion, he does not feel like doing it right away: first he wants to take a peek at the various gates, try to the neighbourhood of his ancestors recreate in his imagination, the baker where they bought their bread, the greengrocer, the pharmacy, the butcher, unchanged for at least three generations.
Now he delights in taking pictures that one day he may need to write or paint something, to find his soul buried under the sedimentations of times and continents. He gets tears in his eyes thinking that his first language was French, that of this beautiful language full of vowels and rounded and clear consonants, accompanied by now chaotic, harmonious gestures, has not remained a shred of imprinting: he can only make a clumsy attempt to force his now ankylosed tongue to reproduce sounds that in his mouth are aliens. A great sadness takes him over and, at this point, he decides to ring the bell in order to take some pictures of the interior.
As it so happens, Mrs. Maria Ferrari had been standing there on the balcony for at least one hour watering the plants and had seen the various movements of this bizarre old man (it’s not clear from up there if it was a homeless: she saw him hugging the black man who sells the bags, they could be accomplices), and now someone rang the bell. Lady came Maria came downstairs, and she fund him in front of her, bloodshot eyes, clearly drunk, stuttering disjointed phrases like “Good morning lady, this apartment, your house, I mean my house, was grandparents’ house. If you don’t mind letting me in, I’d like to take some pictures”.
She was amazed by his good manners, and suspicious of his tongue-tied pronunciation and red bloodshot eyes, mindful of him hugging the black man, Maria opposed: “Go away, or I’ll call the police!”
“Miss, I just want to see my home, I came here from America”.
Do you think I am a fool? Just like an American, Sir. What type of people are going around these days, and there are also Slavs robbing houses. He has blue eyes, maybe he could be Albanian or Romanian. And she slams the door in his face.
He stood completely still: he could expect anything, except for someone slamming the door in the Prodigal Son’s face.
After few minutes he collects himself and starts ringing the bell again. The lady stands on the balcony and shouts: “I will not open the door, go away, stop annoying me!”
“But Miss, just photos, I want to see my grandparents’ house!” and, as a real hippie, he sits on the step waiting.
Maria calls 113: she says that a Non-European is attempting to come into her house.
* * *
And four policemen “with hackle and arms” arrive but those, in compliance with the Bossi-Fini dispositions, claim his identity card. He, who hadn’t recovered from the shock of the refuse yet, saw them moving closer and reproaching him with a brusque tone: “Documents!”
He doesn’t realize that he must immediately show his documents because he is not in San Francisco, but in a country that is still ruled by the Albertine Statute, and persists in explaining (but now his linguistic proficiency is lowering): “I just want to take photos of my grandpa’s house. Nothing more. I’m American. My name is Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m a poet, you can ask. I just want to visit my grandpa’s house. I don’t have a passport”.
“Sure, now everybody wants to be American, American. But they were born in Romania. Now not only young guys who are sent around to commit crimes, but also old men. Come on, and let’s drive him to the police station”.
But luckily, as another great sage used to say, at this time there was no police commissioner at the police station, and procedures were slower. Instead of taking photos, He is being photographed, but they can’t take his fingerprints because the prompt operation of the super-efficient North-Eastern machine of intelligentsia kicks off.
That’s what happened: the Nigerian freestyler observed the scene carefully, but, for obvious reasons, he couldn’t personally intervene, so he spoke to the shop assistant of Feltrinelli, a pale Philosophy student who loves poetry, sometimes smiled at him and never complained about his cloth lying down in front of the library. “The Poet had been arrested! Could you please show me the anthology of the Beat? Maybe there’s a photo”.
The girl brings him the volume, and he confirms: “It’s him. They have taken the Poet. What do we do now?”
“Isn’t he supposed to be in Venice tomorrow? I have the number of the festival organizer, maybe he could help him”.
So the sequence of events suddenly concluded. It is true that family roots of a certain Lawrence Ferlinghetti, well-known poet as well as cultural organizer, rescued by a festival promoter, one of those ranked third among the people that are nice to him here in Italy, had received a strong shot, maybe it is the origin of the common saying “shoot yourself in the foot”.
We also have to be aware that the accident can be the starting point to work and get back in touch with affinities and elective coalitions and, as a result, reviving the possibility that in the future all those people concerned will be more inclined to define their roots more in extension than in depth.
Tranlsation by Alessandra Botti, Elena Cammarata, Anna Pangrazio and Giulai Pasinelli, edited by Jenovia Amisti Smith.
Notes – The story wittily evokes a historical fact that really happened to Lawrence Ferlinghetti exactly twenty years ago.
 Literally it means throw the pasta away, but it’s a common way to say “put the pasta in the pot”.
Alessandra Botti, Elena Cammarata, Anna Pangrazio and Giulai Pasinelli are students of the Linguistic Sciences and Foreign Letters faculty at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Brescia, Italy; they collaborate with Inkroci in the translation project coordinated by Professor Jenovia Amisti Smith.