In Praise of Reading and Fiction

In Praise of Reading and Fiction

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“This one goes out to those who read of General Simon Bolivar last days, feel the intense smell of dampness of the Colombian jungle, and start sweating because of the humidity. Even if they are about to switch off the light, they are in their bed, and they live in Torino”

(Singapore, October 2021)

My mum has a kind of morning ritual. Every day she walks with my dad to a park close to her apartment in Paris and checks the content of her “passe-livre”. A passe-livre is one of the many “French exceptions”, like the legal obligation for radios to broadcast a given, and big, percentage of French songs. People go to their favorite passe-livre, which is often a kind of wooden birds house, and drop the books that they have read. Everyone can go and pick the books that someone else left, for free. Normally, people pick up and drop books, and this creates a balanced system where written thought circulates freely everywhere. Your freedom to read is granted, even if you are broke.

You may be asking yourself: “Why is he telling this story?”. I am telling this story because, when my mum walks home with the random book-catch of the day, she is happy. I have never seen anyone happy because of social media.

A few days ago, a whistleblower revealed something that we all already know: Facebook top management is well aware of the fact that the algorithms they use to build engagement have horrible effects on people, especially teenagers and girls. Hate speech propagates thanks to such algorithms design and children’s self-esteem is deeply harmed by a social media instigated culture of untouchable eternal fun and physical perfection. Facebook decision makers know but prefer to look somewhere else, as hate and depressed teenagers make for good money. Facebook spokespersons, and Mark Zuckerberg, denied all allegations, and again, I suppose we all know that they are lying. 

Books are old school and today many cultures and tribes replaced them with phones, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and what else, but a die-hard bunch still believes that written thought can make better human beings. One of them is my mum, and another one is Mario Vargas Llosa who, when awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, delivered a memorable lecture.

I don’t know why, but I have the feeling that Mario Vargas Llosa does not have an Instagram account. My mum certainly does not.

Mr. Llosa full lecture can be found here.

In Praise of Reading and Fiction

I learned to read at the age of five, in Brother Justiniano’s class at the De la Salle Academy in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It is the most important thing that has ever happened to me. Almost seventy years later I remember clearly how the magic of translating the words in books into images enriched my life, breaking the barriers of time and space and allowing me to travel with Captain Nemo twenty thousand leagues under the sea, fight with d’Artagnan, Athos, Portos, and Aramis against the intrigues threatening the Queen in the days of the secretive Richelieu, or stumble through the sewers of Paris, transformed into Jean Valjean carrying Marius’s inert body on my back.

Reading changed dreams into life and life into dreams and placed the universe of literature within reach of the boy I once was. My mother told me the first things I wrote were continuations of the stories I read because it made me sad when they concluded or because I wanted to change their endings. And perhaps this is what I have spent my life doing without realizing it: prolonging in time, as I grew, matured, and aged, the stories that filled my childhood with exaltation and adventures.

I wish my mother were here, a woman who was moved to tears reading the poems of Amado Nervo and Pablo Neruda, and Grandfather Pedro too, with his large nose and gleaming bald head, who celebrated my verses, and Uncle Lucho, who urged me so energetically to throw myself body and soul into writing even though literature, in that time and place, compensated its devotees so badly. Throughout my life I have had people like that at my side, people who loved and encouraged me and infected me with their faith when I had doubts. Thanks to them, and certainly to my obstinacy and some luck, I have been able to devote most of my time to the passion, the vice, the marvel of writing, creating a parallel life where we can take refuge against adversity, one that makes the extraordinary natural and the natural extraordinary, that dissipates chaos, beautifies ugliness, eternalizes the moment, and turns death into a passing spectacle.

Writing stories was not easy. When they were turned into words, projects withered on the paper and ideas and images failed. How to reanimate them? Fortunately, the masters were there, teachers to learn from and examples to follow. Flaubert taught me that talent is unyielding discipline and long patience. Faulkner, that form – writing and structure – elevates or impoverishes subjects. Martorell, Cervantes, Dickens, Balzac, Tolstoy, Conrad, Thomas Mann, that scope and ambition are as important in a novel as stylistic dexterity and narrative strategy. Sartre, that words are acts, that a novel, a play, or an essay, engaged with the present moment and better options, can change the course of history. Camus and Orwell, that a literature stripped of morality is inhuman, and Malraux that heroism and the epic are as possible in the present as is the time of the Argonauts, the Odyssey, and the Iliad.

If in this address I were to summon all the writers to whom I owe a few things or a great deal, their shadows would plunge us into darkness. They are innumerable. In addition to revealing the secrets of the storytelling craft, they obliged me to explore the bottomless depths of humanity, admire its heroic deeds, and feel horror at its savagery. They were my most obliging friends, the ones who vitalized my calling and in whose books I discovered that there is hope even in the worst of circumstances, that living is worth the effort if only because without life we could not read or imagine stories.

At times I wondered whether writing was not a solipsistic luxury in countries like mine, where there were scant readers, so many people who were poor and illiterate, so much injustice, and where culture was a privilege of the few. These doubts, however, never stifled my calling, and I always kept writing even during those periods when earning a living absorbed most of my time. I believe I did the right thing, since if, for literature to flourish, it was first necessary for a society to achieve high culture, freedom, prosperity, and justice, it never would have existed. But thanks to literature, to the consciousness it shapes, the desires and longings it inspires, and our disenchantment with reality when we return from the journey to a beautiful fantasy, civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables. We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist. Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life. When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute – the foundation of the human condition – and should be better. We invent fictions in order to live somehow the many lives we would like to lead when we barely have one at our disposal.

Without fictions we would be less aware of the importance of freedom for life to be livable, the hell it turns into when it is trampled underfoot by a tyrant, an ideology, or a religion. Let those who doubt that literature not only submerges us in the dream of beauty and happiness but alerts us to every kind of oppression, ask themselves why all regimes determined to control the behavior of citizens from cradle to grave fear it so much they establish systems of censorship to repress it and keep so wary an eye on independent writers. They do this because they know the risk of allowing the imagination to wander free in books, know how seditious fictions become when the reader compares the freedom that makes them possible and is exercised in them with the obscurantism and fear lying in wait in the real world. Whether they want it or not, know it or not, when they invent stories the writers of tales propagate dissatisfaction, demonstrating that the world is badly made and the life of fantasy richer than the life of our daily routine. This fact, if it takes root in their sensibility and consciousness, makes citizens more difficult to manipulate, less willing to accept the lies of the interrogators and jailers who would like to make them believe that behind bars they lead more secure and better lives.

Good literature erects bridges between different peoples, and by having us enjoy, suffer, or feel surprise, unites us beneath the languages, beliefs, habits, customs, and prejudices that separate us. When the great white whale buries Captain Ahab in the sea, the hearts of readers take fright in exactly the same way in Tokyo, Lima, or Timbuctu. When Emma Bovary swallows arsenic, Anna Karenina throws herself in front of the train, and Julien Sorel climbs to the scaffold, and when, in “El sur,” the urban doctor Juan Dahlmann walks out of that tavern on the pampa to face a thug’s knife, or we realize that all the residents of Comala, Pedro Páramo’s village, are dead, the shudder is the same in the reader who worships Buddha, Confucius, Christ, Allah, or is an agnostic, wears a jacket and tie, a jalaba, a kimono, or bombachas. Literature creates a fraternity within human diversity and eclipses the frontiers erected among men and women by ignorance, ideologies, religions, languages, and stupidity.

Literature is a false representation of life that nevertheless helps us to understand life better, to orient ourselves in the labyrinth where we are born, pass by, and die. It compensates for the reverses and frustrations real life inflicts on us, and because of it we can decipher, at least partially, the hieroglyphic that existence tends to be for the great majority of human beings, principally those of us who generate more doubts than certainties and confess our perplexity before subjects like transcendence, individual and collective destiny, the soul, the sense or senselessness of history, the to and from of rational knowledge.

I have always been fascinated to imagine the uncertain circumstance in which our ancestors – still barely different from animals, the language that allowed them to communicate with one another just recently born – in caves, around fires, on nights seething with the menace of lightning bolts, thunder claps, and growling beasts, began to invent and tell stories. That was the crucial moment in our destiny, because in those circles of primitive beings held by the voice and fantasy of the storyteller, civilization began, the long passage that gradually would humanize us and lead us to invent the autonomous individual, then disengage him from the tribe, devise science, the arts, law, freedom, and to scrutinize the innermost recesses of nature, the human body, space, and travel to the stars. Those tales, fables, myths, legends that resounded for the first time like new music before listeners intimidated by the mysteries and perils of a world where everything was unknown and dangerous, must have been a cool bath, a quiet pool for those spirits always on the alert, for whom existing meant barely eating, taking shelter from the elements, killing, and fornicating. From the time they began to dream collectively, to share their dreams, instigated by storytellers, they ceased to be tied to the treadmill of survival, a vortex of brutalizing tasks, and their life became dream, pleasure, fantasy, and a revolutionary plan: to break out of confinement and change and improve, a struggle to appease the desires and ambitions that stirred imagined lives in them, and the curiosity to clear away the mysteries that filled their surroundings.

This never-interrupted process was enriched when writing was born and stories, in addition to being heard, could be read, achieving the permanence literature confers on them. That is why this must be repeated incessantly until new generations are convinced of it: fiction is more than an entertainment, more than an intellectual exercise that sharpens one’s sensibility and awakens a critical spirit. It is an absolute necessity so that civilization continues to exist, renewing and preserving in us the best of what is human. So that we do not retreat into the savagery of isolation and life is not reduced to the pragmatism of specialists who see things profoundly but ignore what surrounds, precedes, and continues those things. So that we do not move from having the machines we invent serve us to being their servants and slaves. And because a world without literature would be a world without desires or ideals or irreverence, a world of automatons deprived of what makes the human being really human: the capacity to move out of oneself and into another, into others, modeled with the clay of our dreams.

From the cave to the skyscraper, from the club to weapons of mass destruction, from the tautological life of the tribe to the era of globalization, the fictions of literature have multiplied human experiences, preventing us from succumbing to lethargy, self-absorption, resignation. Nothing has sown so much disquiet, so disturbed our imagination and our desires as the life of lies we add, thanks to literature, to the one we have, so we can be protagonists in the great adventures, the great passions real life will never give us. The lies of literature become truths through us, the readers transformed, infected with longings and, through the fault of fiction, permanently questioning a mediocre reality. Sorcery, when literature offers us the hope of having what we do not have, being what we are not, acceding to that impossible existence where like pagan gods we feel mortal and eternal at the same time, that introduces into our spirits nonconformity and rebellion, which are behind all the heroic deeds that have contributed to the reduction of violence in human relationships. Reducing violence, not ending it. Because ours will always be, fortunately, an unfinished story. That is why we have to continue dreaming, reading, and writing, the most effective way we have found to alleviate our mortal condition, to defeat the corrosion of time, and to transform the impossible into possibility.


Talking about bridges

Talking about bridges

History reminds me of a river: on most days, sitting nearby a bridge, we could see it calmly flowing before our eyes. However, in times of storm and heavy rains, a bridge is where danger occurs.

Many years ago, I became very close to an adorable girl from a town named Mostar, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. During one of our nocturne conversations, that often took place facing the Mediterranean while sitting on Nice old town pebbles beach, she told me the story of Mostar bridge.

Stari Most, “the old bridge” in English, was built in 1566 by Mimar Hayruddin, apprentice of famous architect Mimar Sinan and stood for 427 years. Croats deliberately destroyed it using mortar shell bombing on 9 November 1993, during the ethnic conflict that opposed them to Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Sinan disciple engineered its aerial pull to last forever and statics laws prescribed it could only be annihilated by an equal and opposite push of human hate. By shattering the old bridge, Croats intended to eradicate memories of pacific co-existence of Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic populations living on the banks of Neretva river.

Between 1991 and 2001, several conflicts tore the territory of the former Republic of Yugoslavia leading to the death of approximately 130000 persons. It all happened a few kilometers away from our borders: in Puglia we saw F104 taking off from Italian air force bases, ready to bomb Serbian positions during Kosovo war and rockets were deployed on our beaches in protection from retaliation.

I did not understand such slaughter: Yugoslavia was a developed and prosperous country that colonel Tito managed to steer firmly for almost forty years after the end of World War II, navigating through cold war perils while maintaining peace among many different ethnic populations living within its borders.

Flashback to the sixteenth century, when great Mimar Sinan, Hayruddin master, disseminated Ottoman Empire of remarkable landmarks. One of the most accomplished displays of his craftsmanship was the bridge on Drina river in Višegrad, built in 1577 and named after Mehmed Paša Sokolović, that became four centuries later the splendid scenery where the epic plot narrated by Ivo Andrić in The Bridge on the Drina unfolds.

Artillery had been silenced for a while at the time when I read the novel. I found there answers to all my questions about wars in ex-Yugoslavia: stories of the generations living near Višegrad bridge were the best illustration of how Bosnia-Herzegovina was cursed by both history and geography, condemned to be one of the sharpest friction points between Arab and European civilizations, “impersonated” in that region by Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.  My Bosnian ex-girlfriend mom used to say that in Balkans every generation has to live through three wars; according to this rule current generations are safe, what about the future ones?

Few writers reached Ivo Andrić heights in representing events that shaped Western world history and among them I surely count Ernest Hemingway, one of my youth literary heroes. Talking about bridges, “Old man at the bridge”, first published in May 1938 and later included in “The first forty-nine short stories“, is a little shining literary gem where, in purest Hemingway style, no word is redundant. Bridges are a great writers affair.

Old man at the bridge

An old man with steel rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road. There was a pontoon bridge across the river and carts, trucks, and men, women and children were crossing it. The mule-drawn carts staggered up the steep bank from the bridge with soldiers helping push against the spokes of the wheels. The trucks ground up and away heading out of it all and the peasants plodded along in the ankle deep dust. But the old man sat there without moving. He was too tired to go any farther.
It was my business to cross the bridge, explore the bridgehead beyond and find out to what point the enemy had advanced. I did this and returned over the bridge. There were not so many carts now and very few people on foot, but the old man was still there.
“Where do you come from?” I asked him.
“From San Carlos,” he said, and smiled.
That was his native town and so it gave him pleasure to mention it and he smiled.
“I was taking care of animals,” he explained. “Oh,” I said, not quite understanding.
“Yes,” he said, “I stayed, you see, taking care of animals. I was the last one to leave the town of San Carlos.”
He did not look like a shepherd nor a herdsman and I looked at his black dusty clothes and his gray dusty face and his steel rimmed spectacles and said, “What animals were they?”
“Various animals,” he said, and shook his head. “I had to leave them.”
I was watching the bridge and the African looking country of the Ebro Delta and wondering how long now it would be before we would see the enemy, and listening all the while for the first noises that would signal that ever mysterious event called contact, and the old man still sat there.
“What animals were they?” I asked.
“There were three animals altogether,” he explained. “There were two goats and a cat and then there were four pairs of pigeons.”
“And you had to leave them?” I asked.
“Yes. Because of the artillery. The captain told me to go because of the artillery.”
“And you have no family?” I asked, watching the far end of the bridge where a few last carts were hurrying down the slope of the bank.
“No,” he said, “only the animals I stated. The cat, of course, will be all right. A cat can look out for itself, but I cannot think what will become of the others.”
“What politics have you?” I asked.
“I am without politics,” he said. “I am seventy-six years old. I have come twelve kilometers now and I think now I can go no further.” “This is not a good place to stop,” I said. “If you can make it, there are trucks up the road where it forks for Tortosa.”
“I will wait a while,” he said, “and then I will go. Where do the trucks go?”
“Towards Barcelona,” I told him.
“I know no one in that direction,” he said, “but thank you very much. Thank you again very much.”
He looked at me very blankly and tiredly, then said, having to share his worry with some one, “The cat will be all right, I am sure. There is no need to be unquiet about the cat. But the others. Now what do you think about the others?”
“Why they’ll probably come through it all right.” “You think so?”
“Why not,” I said, watching the far bank where now there were no carts.
“But what will they do under the artillery when I was told to leave because of the artillery?”
“Did you leave the dove cage unlocked?” I asked. “Yes.”
“Then they’ll fly.”
“Yes, certainly they’ll fly. But the others. It’s better not to think about the others,” he said.
“If you are rested I would go,” I urged. “Get up and try to walk now.”
“Thank you,” he said and got to his feet, swayed from side to side and then sat down backwards in the dust.
“I was taking care of animals,” he said dully, but no longer to me. “I was only taking care of animals.”

There was nothing to do about him. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro. It was a gray overcast day with a low ceiling so their planes were not up. That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck that old man would ever have.

Post Scriptum

Ernest Hemingway had a passion for Spain and a long time ago inspired me for a 5000 Kilometers drive through Andalusia and Algarve, two regions that, despite being in the heart of Christian Europe, were ruled for centuries by Moors and went under the name of Al-Andalus. Spanish Catholic kings finally conquered back Al-Andalus but for long the lower part of Iberic Peninsula, likewise Balkans, was a perilous bridge between civilizations. During my road trip, I walked across the bridge that joins the two parts of Ronda and was impressed by its daring architecture.  This story started flowing under the stones of the old bridge in Mostar and comes to its end on Puente Nuevo in Ronda; The great Sinan would have loved it.

(Ulaanbataar, 23 of April 2017)

Valse pour un amour

Valse pour un amour

Quand chargée de ton âge et ta chasteté

Parmi rêves et illusions

Des beaux jours qui ne reviendront jamais

Tu retrouveras mes chansons

En les écoutant tu seras surprise

 Que quelqu’un ait voulu chanter

La rougeur de tes lièvres de cerise

Désormais souvenir du passé

Mais il ne te servira plus à rien

Il ne te servira

Que pour pleurer sur ton refus

De mon amour qui ne reviendra

Mais il ne te servira ce rêve

Il ne te servira

Que pour pleurer sur tes beaux yeux

Qui personne plus ne chantera

Le temps vole, tu sais, le temps vole et va

On s’en rend pas compte toujours

Mais encore plus vite c’est toi qui s’en va

Le long de la pente des jours

Pour cela je te dis mon amour, amour

Je t’attends des maintenant

Mais tu viens, je t’en prie, viens ici chérie

Car ce soir c’est encore le printemps

Post Scriptum

Il y a longtemps j’ai traduit cette chanson de Fabrizio De André. Et en suite, je l’ai faite vivre, dans des soirées arrosées aux gout de Bohème, dans les yeux bleues de certaines filles. Elle m’a amenée de la bonne chance et laissés des agréables souvenirs. «Valzer per un amore» a fait du chemin avec moi, dans sa version Italienne, aussi bien que dans ma version Française. Elle est encore la et toujours aussi vraie.

En Français, sur ce blog…

Fisherman Blues

Fisherman Blues

Blue boats on a blue sea.
In the inlet of thought
they look but do not see.

The treasure of the depths
caught in the net of the eye.
The scent of life
captured by the memory.

A tranquil blues
of the water and the sky
sparkles like the priceless gems
gathered in peace.

The moments lost
in perpetual motion
immerse in the stillness
of the silver eve.

Copyright © 2016 Kat

Note: Sea is fascinating and soothing. It speaks a mysterious language of travels, colors, culture, traditions, pain and pleasure. I wanted to share images captured in different places and I asked my friend Kat in the Afterlight to put her words on my pics. And she sang the fisherman blues.

Thanks Kat, vaya con Dios!

If you speak Italian, you can also read Mare s. m. [lat. mare]


Chere Lolita…

Chere Lolita…

Chère Lolita,

La nuit dernière j’ai rêvé de toi. On était tous les deux quelque part probablement en Italie, dans un village aux façades colorés. C’était à la mer et je venais te chercher au quai avec une petite barque. T’avais mis une de ces robes que dans nos blagues de gamins stupides on appelle lolitaesques, qui s’envolait parfois à cause d’un coup de vent soudain. Je ramais et t’étais assise en face de moi, te protégeant les yeux de la lumière du soleil avec la main. Tu me disais que t’aurais voulu en cadeau un chapeau de paille a l’occasion de ton anniversaire tandis que moi, je m’acharnais sur les rames. On tournait autour d’une pointe et on arrivait finalement à une baie tranquille ou je jetais l’ancre que j’avais trouvée au fond de la barque.

A ce point de mon rêve, j’enlevais ma chemise pour sentir les caresses brûlantes du soleil sur ma peau bronzée et tu sortais de ton sac une grosse pomme rouge. Tu me regardais droit dans les yeux pendant que t’enfonçais tes dents dans le fruit juteux. Tu mangeais avec avidité, tout en continuant à passer ton regard indiscret sur mon corps.

Apres la baignade on revenait au village, on abandonnait la barque et on s’acheminait sur les étroites ruelles qui grimpaient vers la citadelle située au sommet d’une colline surplombante le village. Sur le chemin du retour une petite dispute éclatait entre nous sur le chemin à suivre pour revenir au port. On se séparait et chacun de nous suivais sa route.

Arrivé en bas je me disposais à t’attendre, je m’asseyais sur la digue et je prenais un air dérangé. Je ne sais pas combien de temps j’ai attendu ainsi, mais au fur et à mesure que les minutes défilaient, j’ai été saisi par la peur qu’il ne s’agisse que d’une illusion, que tu ne sois qu’une image crée par mon imagination. Au bout de mon attente j’étais envahi par une sensation de vide et, en regardant loin dans l’espoir de te voir apparaître dans la foule des touristes, j’étais désormais convaincu que tu n’avais jamais existé. Je me disais que ça ne pouvait pas être autrement et, les larmes aux yeux, je me préparais à partir, à revenir à la réalité.

j’étais envahi par une sensation de vide et en regardant loin dans l’espoir de te voir apparaître dans la foule des touristes, j’étais désormais convaincu que tu n’avais jamais existé

Et ça fut à ce moment que je t’ai vue marcher vers moi. Finalement t’arrivais en face de moi et les larmes n’étaient plus qu’un souvenir assez vague. Tu me caressais la joue et t’affichais une petite grimace capricieuse. Finalement t’approchais ta bouche à mon oreille et tu me soufflais : « Chéri, j’ai encore envie d’une pomme ».


Pour les illustrations, je souhaite remercier :

En Français, sur ce blog…

Don’t stop Tardelli

Don’t stop Tardelli

This post is an “emotional transfer” experiment.

Any psychologist could explain how who we are is the result of experiences that were instrumental in developing our personality; the soul is like film in photography and the bright moments we live, especially when we are kids or teenagers, leave permanent marks on it. From the moment we step into adult age, we keep eating Proust Madeleines for breakfast, every day. Most of the time, we just pretend we don’t care… we’re big guys (or girls) now.

“From the moment we step into adult age, we keep eating Proust Madeleines for breakfast, every day. Most of the time, we just pretend we don’t care…”

Those marking episodes are often very personal and would hardly make sense if we tried to explain them to our acquaintances. Still, individuals that grew up at the same time and place share collective memories. There is a scene in the movie “Goodbye Lenin!” where the main character desperately looks for perished stocks of pickles, easily available in East Germany during the cold war. His mom felt in a coma before the Berlin wall collapse and had recently awakened; surrounding her with Communist era memorabilia, he wishes to recreate for her an emotionally comfortable landscape. Whoever grew up in Eastern Germany and neighboring countries still associates old Trabant cars, pickles, and certain Communist songs to childhood: if childhood was good, they will smile when they see a Trabant.

In this post, I will share with people who grew up in other places, one of the most defining moments for Italians, especially men, today in their mid-40s. I would like you to feel at least a little bit what we felt in that long summer of 1982.

I was born in Puglia, southern Italy, in July 1972 and back then I just turned 10; outside of Italy, the eyes of the world in the summer of ’82 were probably looking at the short and deadly Falklands war between Argentina and Great Britain; I remember TV constantly reporting huge casualties on both sides.

I should not say, but in Italy, we really did not care about the Falklands war. If you found yourself walking on Italian streets on the night of 11 of July, you would have thought that some strange bomb had killed the whole country population while leaving buildings, cars and everything else untouched. That night we were ALL watching the football World Cup final.

Italy had a difficult preparation for the competition and was clearly an underdog. In the second round robin, we faced the two best teams, Argentina and Brazil and no one would ever have bet a dime on us. Surprisingly, we won both matches. Yes, in Italy, when speaking about the 1982 football World Cup squad we say “We”. You would believe that there were 50 million Italians on Spain pitches that summer. Still today, some of us mentally spend a few refreshing minutes on those sunny pitches every year.

“In Italy, when speaking about 1982 football World Cup squad we say “We”. You would believe that there were 50 million Italians on Spain pitches that summer.”

So we find ourselves playing the final against the Deutschland team, packed with stars and led by mighty striker Karl Heinz Rummenigge.


Paolo Rossi scored our first goal and deserves a story of its own. Then at the sixty-ninth minute, Gaetano Scirea passes the ball to Tardelli, just outside of the penalty area. He adjusts it on his left foot and, while fading, shoots a precise, beautiful, strong strike which the keeper cannot reach.

And then Tardelli starts running across the field. The whole Italian team runs after him but for a long moment, no-one can catch him. Marco Tardelli keeps screaming his incredible joy in the air. This image is timeless and still moves our souls almost 35 years later. Every Italian ran with Tardelli that afternoon; we were young, bold and shameless and we would have loved if that run could never stop.

Marco Tardelli and Claudio Gentile at 1982 football world cup in Spain

“Every Italian ran with Tardelli that afternoon; we were young, bold and shameless and we would have loved if that run could never stop.”

Many years ago, I read a collection of short stories by Gabriele Romagnoli and one of the novels was a tribute to that precise moment of summer of ’82. It’s a dialog between two players, in a locker room lost in the middle of some Italian province. I’ll do my best to translate without making too much of an offense to the writer.

Don’t stop Tardelli

They are the last two, all the others are already in the corridor, waiting to get on the pitch. The right wing is nervously tying and untying his shoe strings, then he beats his cleats on the ground.

The left-wing rolls his head back, closes his eyes and holds the hanger.

Right wing is ready to go; he is almost getting up but left wing starts talking, still.

Left wing: “What if they did not stop him?”

Right wing: “They did not stop who?”

Left wing: “Tardelli. What if they did not stop him after he scored the goal in World Cup final? You know, we watched that scene a thousand times on TV: he runs shouting, shaking  his fists, runs so fast, those spirited eyes…”

Right wing: “So what?”

Left wing: “Then the others reach him and drag him down. But what if they did not do it? What if no-one stopped Tardelli?”

Right wing: “And? What would have happened?”

Left wing opens his eyes.

Left wing: “If he kept running, with that orgasm inside, if he went out of the stadium shouting, people would have followed. He would have kept running with all that force. He would have never stopped, millions of people behind him, running after a winner who wants to win, again and again. That’s it! If we all followed Tardelli, would that have changed the world?”

Right wing looks at him and shakes his head.

Right wing: “Nothing would have changed, he would have felt down on the sideline. A player is a player and does not get out of the pitch. No-one would have run after him!”

Left wing (nervous): “Oh, really? Well, if today I strike the winning goal, don’t even try to stop me!”

Right wing gets close, puts a hand on his shoulder, looks in his eyes.

Right wing: “No winning goal today, dude. We fixed this match, we’re bound to lose”.

End of the story

Gaetano Scirea died in 1989, in a car accident while scouting local football talents in Poland.

We still call Paolo Rossi “Pablito”, to remember those Spanish nights.

Tardelli eventually got stopped that afternoon, but he never really got out of the pitch. 35 years later, it’s still common to see him running on TV, young, bold, and shameless.

Italy won another title in 2006, after kicking once again Deutschland’s ass. But no football World Cup will be like 1982. Ever.

The Italian squad at 1982 FIFA World Cup

Italian squad at 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain
Italian squad at 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain

Other media on Tardelli and 1982 football World Cup

If you speak Italian and wish to complete the Amarcord experience, you should also:

If you want to understand how Paolo Rossi could be convicted in a match-fixing scandal and then be the best scorer in 1982 football World Cup, read “Viva l’Italia!” on this blog.

Non Fermate Tardelli

Sono rimasti solo loro due nello spogliatoio, gli altri sono già nel corridoio, in attesa di entrare in campo. L’ala destra slaccia e riallaccia le scarpe. Batte i tacchetti sul pavimento. L’ala sinistra tiene la testa rovesciata all’indietro, gli occhi chiusi, le mani aggrappate a due attaccapanni. L’ala destra è pronta, accenna ad alzarsi. L’ala sinistra parla senza muoversi: “E se non lo fermavano?”
“Se non fermavano chi?”
“Tardelli. Se non fermavano Tardelli dopo che aveva segnato il gol nella finale dei Mondiali. Sai quella scena vista mille volte in tv: lui che corre urlando, i pugni chiusi, le gambe a mille, la faccia da pazzo”
“Sì, e allora?”
“Poi arrivano gli altri, i compagni, e lo tirano giù. Ma se non lo avessero fatto? Se non avessero fermato Tardelli?”
“Beh? Che cosa sarebbe successo?”
“Ecco l’ala sinistra apre gli occhi Se avesse continuato a correre con quell’orgasmo dentro, se fosse uscito dallo stadio urlando, e la gente dietro, via, con tutta la forza, senza più fermarsi, milioni di persone dietro uno che ha vinto, con la voglia di vincere ancora. Ecco, se fossimo andati tutti dietro a Tardelli, sarebbe cambiato il mondo?”

L’ala destra lo guarda, scuote il capo: “Non cambiava niente, cadeva da solo sulla linea di fondo. Un calciatore è un calciatore, non esce dal campo. E nessuno gli andrebbe dietro”
“No? Beh, se oggi segno il gol della vittoria, tu non provare a fermarmi”
L’ala sinistra gli si avvicina, gli mette una mano sulla spalla: “Nesssun gol della vittoria, Tardelli, questa partita è venduta. Venduta a perdere”.

More sports stories on this blog

Once were heroes… Shining stars: the amazing tales of Usuain Bolt and Joseph Schooling

Once were heroes… Fallen angels: more stories from 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games

Le Voyage

Le Voyage

À Maxime du Camp


Pour l’enfant, amoureux de cartes et d’estampes,
L’univers est égal à son vaste appétit.
Ah! que le monde est grand à la clarté des lampes!
Aux yeux du souvenir que le monde est petit!

Un matin nous partons, le cerveau plein de flamme,
Le coeur gros de rancune et de désirs amers,
Et nous allons, suivant le rythme de la lame,
Berçant notre infini sur le fini des mers:

Les uns, joyeux de fuir une patrie infâme;
D’autres, l’horreur de leurs berceaux, et quelques-uns,
Astrologues noyés dans les yeux d’une femme,
La Circé tyrannique aux dangereux parfums.

Pour n’être pas changés en bêtes, ils s’enivrent
D’espace et de lumière et de cieux embrasés;
La glace qui les mord, les soleils qui les cuivrent,
Effacent lentement la marque des baisers.

Mais les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-là seuls qui partent
Pour partir; coeurs légers, semblables aux ballons,
De leur fatalité jamais ils ne s’écartent,
Et, sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!

Ceux-là dont les désirs ont la forme des nues,
Et qui rêvent, ainsi qu’un conscrit le canon,
De vastes voluptés, changeantes, inconnues,
Et dont l’esprit humain n’a jamais su le nom!


Nous imitons, horreur! la toupie et la boule
Dans leur valse et leurs bonds; même dans nos sommeils
La Curiosité nous tourmente et nous roule
Comme un Ange cruel qui fouette des soleils.

Singulière fortune où le but se déplace,
Et, n’étant nulle part, peut être n’importe où!
Où l’Homme, dont jamais l’espérance n’est lasse,
Pour trouver le repos court toujours comme un fou!

Notre âme est un trois-mâts cherchant son Icarie;
Une voix retentit sur le pont: «Ouvre l’oeil!»
Une voix de la hune, ardente et folle, crie:
«Amour… gloire… bonheur!» Enfer! c’est un écueil!

Chaque îlot signalé par l’homme de vigie
Est un Eldorado promis par le Destin;
L’Imagination qui dresse son orgie
Ne trouve qu’un récif aux clartés du matin.

Ô le pauvre amoureux des pays chimériques!
Faut-il le mettre aux fers, le jeter à la mer,
Ce matelot ivrogne, inventeur d’Amériques
Dont le mirage rend le gouffre plus amer?

Tel le vieux vagabond, piétinant dans la boue,
Rêve, le nez en l’air, de brillants paradis;
Son oeil ensorcelé découvre une Capoue
Partout où la chandelle illumine un taudis.


Etonnants voyageurs! quelles nobles histoires
Nous lisons dans vos yeux profonds comme les mers!
Montrez-nous les écrins de vos riches mémoires,
Ces bijoux merveilleux, faits d’astres et d’éthers.

Nous voulons voyager sans vapeur et sans voile!
Faites, pour égayer l’ennui de nos prisons,
Passer sur nos esprits, tendus comme une toile,
Vos souvenirs avec leurs cadres d’horizons.

Dites, qu’avez-vous vu?


«Nous avons vu des astres
Et des flots, nous avons vu des sables aussi;
Et, malgré bien des chocs et d’imprévus désastres,
Nous nous sommes souvent ennuyés, comme ici.

La gloire du soleil sur la mer violette,
La gloire des cités dans le soleil couchant,
Allumaient dans nos coeurs une ardeur inquiète
De plonger dans un ciel au reflet alléchant.

Les plus riches cités, les plus grands paysages,
Jamais ne contenaient l’attrait mystérieux
De ceux que le hasard fait avec les nuages.
Et toujours le désir nous rendait soucieux!

— La jouissance ajoute au désir de la force.
Désir, vieil arbre à qui le plaisir sert d’engrais,
Cependant que grossit et durcit ton écorce,
Tes branches veulent voir le soleil de plus près!

Grandiras-tu toujours, grand arbre plus vivace
Que le cyprès? — Pourtant nous avons, avec soin,
Cueilli quelques croquis pour votre album vorace
Frères qui trouvez beau tout ce qui vient de loin!

Nous avons salué des idoles à trompe;
Des trônes constellés de joyaux lumineux;
Des palais ouvragés dont la féerique pompe
Serait pour vos banquiers un rêve ruineux;

Des costumes qui sont pour les yeux une ivresse;
Des femmes dont les dents et les ongles sont teints,
Et des jongleurs savants que le serpent caresse.»


Et puis, et puis encore?


«Ô cerveaux enfantins!

Pour ne pas oublier la chose capitale,
Nous avons vu partout, et sans l’avoir cherché,
Du haut jusques en bas de l’échelle fatale,
Le spectacle ennuyeux de l’immortel péché:

La femme, esclave vile, orgueilleuse et stupide,
Sans rire s’adorant et s’aimant sans dégoût;
L’homme, tyran goulu, paillard, dur et cupide,
Esclave de l’esclave et ruisseau dans l’égout;

Le bourreau qui jouit, le martyr qui sanglote;
La fête qu’assaisonne et parfume le sang;
Le poison du pouvoir énervant le despote,
Et le peuple amoureux du fouet abrutissant;

Plusieurs religions semblables à la nôtre,
Toutes escaladant le ciel; la Sainteté,
Comme en un lit de plume un délicat se vautre,
Dans les clous et le crin cherchant la volupté;

L’Humanité bavarde, ivre de son génie,
Et, folle maintenant comme elle était jadis,
Criant à Dieu, dans sa furibonde agonie:
»Ô mon semblable, mon maître, je te maudis!«

Et les moins sots, hardis amants de la Démence,
Fuyant le grand troupeau parqué par le Destin,
Et se réfugiant dans l’opium immense!
— Tel est du globe entier l’éternel bulletin.»


Amer savoir, celui qu’on tire du voyage!
Le monde, monotone et petit, aujourd’hui,
Hier, demain, toujours, nous fait voir notre image:
Une oasis d’horreur dans un désert d’ennui!

Faut-il partir? rester? Si tu peux rester, reste;
Pars, s’il le faut. L’un court, et l’autre se tapit
Pour tromper l’ennemi vigilant et funeste,
Le Temps! Il est, hélas! des coureurs sans répit,

Comme le Juif errant et comme les apôtres,
À qui rien ne suffit, ni wagon ni vaisseau,
Pour fuir ce rétiaire infâme; il en est d’autres
Qui savent le tuer sans quitter leur berceau.

Lorsque enfin il mettra le pied sur notre échine,
Nous pourrons espérer et crier: En avant!
De même qu’autrefois nous partions pour la Chine,
Les yeux fixés au large et les cheveux au vent,

Nous nous embarquerons sur la mer des Ténèbres
Avec le coeur joyeux d’un jeune passager.
Entendez-vous ces voix charmantes et funèbres,
Qui chantent: «Par ici vous qui voulez manger

Le Lotus parfumé! c’est ici qu’on vendange
Les fruits miraculeux dont votre coeur a faim;
Venez vous enivrer de la douceur étrange
De cette après-midi qui n’a jamais de fin!»

À l’accent familier nous devinons le spectre;
Nos Pylades là-bas tendent leurs bras vers nous.
«Pour rafraîchir ton coeur nage vers ton Electre!»
Dit celle dont jadis nous baisions les genoux.


Ô Mort, vieux capitaine, il est temps! levons l’ancre!
Ce pays nous ennuie, ô Mort! Appareillons!
Si le ciel et la mer sont noirs comme de l’encre,
Nos coeurs que tu connais sont remplis de rayons!

Verse-nous ton poison pour qu’il nous réconforte!
Nous voulons, tant ce feu nous brûle le cerveau,
Plonger au fond du gouffre, Enfer ou Ciel, qu’importe?
Au fond de l’Inconnu pour trouver du nouveau!

— Charles Baudelaire

En Francais sur ce blog: Chere Lolita est une nouvelle librement inspirée par  par l’heroine de Vladimir Nabokov

The Voyage

To Maxime du Camp

To a child who is fond of maps and engravings
The universe is the size of his immense hunger.
Ah! how vast is the world in the light of a lamp!
In memory’s eyes how small the world is!

One morning we set out, our brains aflame,
Our hearts full of resentment and bitter desires,
And we go, following the rhythm of the wave,
Lulling our infinite on the finite of the seas:

Some, joyful at fleeing a wretched fatherland;
Others, the horror of their birthplace; a few,
Astrologers drowned in the eyes of some woman,
Some tyrannic Circe with dangerous perfumes.

Not to be changed into beasts, they get drunk
With space, with light, and with fiery skies;
The ice that bites them, the suns that bronze them,
Slowly efface the bruise of the kisses.

But the true voyagers are only those who leave
Just to be leaving; hearts light, like balloons,
They never turn aside from their fatality
And without knowing why they always say: “Let’s go!”

Those whose desires have the form of the clouds,
And who, as a raw recruit dreams of the cannon,
Dream of vast voluptuousness, changing and strange,
Whose name the human mind has never known!


Horror! We imitate the top and bowling ball,
Their bounding and their waltz; even in our slumber
Curiosity torments us, rolls us about,
Like a cruel Angel who lashes suns.

Singular destiny where the goal moves about,
And being nowhere can be anywhere!
Toward which Man, whose hope never grows weary,
Is ever running like a madman to find rest!

Our soul’s a three-master seeking Icaria;
A voice resounds upon the bridge: “Keep a sharp eye!”
From aloft a voice, ardent and wild, cries:
“Love… glory… happiness!” �Damnation! It’s a shoal!

Every small island sighted by the man on watch
Is the Eldorado promised by Destiny;
Imagination preparing for her orgy
Finds but a reef in the light of the dawn.

O the poor lover of imaginary lands!
Must he be put in irons, thrown into the sea,
That drunken tar, inventor of Americas,
Whose mirage makes the abyss more bitter?

Thus the old vagabond tramping through the mire
Dreams with his nose in the air of brilliant Edens;
His enchanted eye discovers a Capua
Wherever a candle lights up a hut.


Astonishing voyagers! What splendid stories
We read in your eyes as deep as the seas!
Show us the chest of your rich memories,
Those marvelous jewels, made of ether and stars.

We wish to voyage without steam and without sails!
To brighten the ennui of our prisons,
Make your memories, framed in their horizons,
Pass across our minds stretched like canvasses.

Tell us what you have seen.


“We have seen stars
And waves; we have also seen sandy wastes;
And in spite of many a shock and unforeseen
Disaster, we were often bored, as we are here.

The glory of sunlight upon the purple sea,
The glory of cities against the setting sun,
Kindled in our hearts a troubling desire
To plunge into a sky of alluring colors.

The richest cities, the finest landscapes,
Never contained the mysterious attraction
Of the ones that chance fashions from the clouds
And desire was always making us more avid!

— Enjoyment fortifies desire.
Desire, old tree fertilized by pleasure,
While your bark grows thick and hardens,
Your branches strive to get closer to the sun!

Will you always grow, tall tree more hardy
Than the cypress? — However, we have carefully
Gathered a few sketches for your greedy album,
Brothers who think lovely all that comes from afar!

We have bowed to idols with elephantine trunks;
Thrones studded with luminous jewels;
Palaces so wrought that their fairly-like splendor
Would make your bankers have dreams of ruination;

And costumes that intoxicate the eyes;
Women whose teeth and fingernails are dyed
And clever mountebanks whom the snake caresses.”


And then, and then what else?


“O childish minds!

Not to forget the most important thing,
We saw everywhere, without seeking it,
From the foot to the top of the fatal ladder,
The wearisome spectacle of immortal sin:

Woman, a base slave, haughty and stupid,
Adoring herself without laughter or disgust;
Man, a greedy tyrant, ribald, hard and grasping,
A slave of the slave, a gutter in the sewer;

The hangman who feels joy and the martyr who sobs,
The festival that blood flavors and perfumes;
The poison of power making the despot weak,
And the people loving the brutalizing whip;

Several religions similar to our own,
All climbing up to heaven; Saintliness
Like a dilettante who sprawls in a feather bed,
Seeking voluptuousness on horsehair and nails;

Prating humanity, drunken with its genius,
And mad now as it was in former times,
Crying to God in its furious death-struggle:
‘O my fellow, O my master, may you be damned!’

The less foolish, bold lovers of Madness,
Fleeing the great flock that Destiny has folded,
Taking refuge in opium’s immensity!
— That’s the unchanging report of the entire globe.”


Bitter is the knowledge one gains from voyaging!
The world, monotonous and small, today,
Yesterday, tomorrow, always, shows us our image:
An oasis of horror in a desert of ennui!

Must one depart? Remain? If you can stay, remain;
Leave, if you must. One runs, another hides
To elude the vigilant, fatal enemy,
Time! There are, alas! those who rove without respite,

Like the Wandering Jew and like the Apostles,
Whom nothing suffices, neither coach nor vessel,
To flee this infamous retiary; and others
Who know how to kill him without leaving their cribs.

And when at last he sets his foot upon our spine,
We can hope and cry out: Forward!
Just as in other times we set out for China,
Our eyes fixed on the open sea, hair in the wind,

We shall embark on the sea of Darkness
With the glad heart of a young traveler.
Do you hear those charming, melancholy voices
Singing: “Come this way! You who wish to eat

The perfumed Lotus! It’s here you gather
The miraculous fruits for which your heart hungers;
Come and get drunken with the strange sweetness
Of this eternal afternoon?”

By the familiar accent we know the specter;
Our Pylades yonder stretch out their arms towards us.
“To refresh your heart swim to your Electra!”
Cries she whose knees we kissed in other days.


O Death, old captain, it is time! let’s weigh anchor!
This country wearies us, O Death! Let us set sail!
Though the sea and the sky are black as ink,
Our hearts which you know well are filled with rays of light

Pour out your poison that it may refresh us!
This fire burns our brains so fiercely, we wish to plunge
To the abyss’ depths, Heaven or Hell, does it matter?
To the depths of the Unknown to find something new!”

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

The most beautiful woman in town

The most beautiful woman in town

Charles Bukowski has been one of the most controversial American writers of the twentieth century, regarded by some as an absolute genius while dismissed by others as totally overrated. Best remembered by his detractors for his habit of crashing parties after heavily drinking, he left among his friends memories of a kind gentleman, making no compromise with celebrity lifestyle, despite his late global success.

In short, he was a “love him or hate him” type of person.  What follows is an extract of The most beautiful woman in town & other stories.

Charles Bukowski banner

“Baby, roll me another smoke.”

we were on the top floor, the 4th, floor, high up on a hill, but you can lookout on Los Angeles and get nothing, nothing at all. all those people down there sleeping, waiting to get up and go to work. it was stupid. stupid, stupid and horrible. we had it right; eye, say, blue or green staring deeply through shreds of beanfields, into each other, come.

Baby brought me the cigarette. I inhaled and watched the sleeping city. we sat and waited on the sun and whatever there was to be. I did not like the world, but at cautious and easy times you could almost understand it.

I don’t know where Tito and Baby are now, if they are dead or what, but those nights were good, pinching those high-heeled legs, kissing nylon knees. all that colors of dresses and panties, and making the L.A. Police Force earn thgreen.

Spring or flowers or Summer will never be like that again.”

bukowski small.png


I remember how I felt when a very long time ago reading the paragraph above when the be-bop rhythm of narration slows down and the guy looks down at sleeping Los Angeles. I felt good as if at times I could really understand the world 😉

You will be missed Henri Chinanski