And do you not see that what you are daring to do simultaneously bears the imprint of two or three crimes?
M. de S.
The-will-phone fizzles on the runway, while a foehn wind whistles elsewhere. Touch down in Sicily – it’s night-time. Slouching on the bus, an off-duty uniform is ringing up a mate. Cheek, pressed into the window and your superimposition, eyes, lensing to the blur of that shabby airport terminal, hair, prickling in the texture of an off-duty, tongue, licking urinals. Canny art where the-would-phone fizzled out the runway, I – that was the line under the line that our bus pulled onto the motorway bends. Take a book out, how, and read, stop. One line is enough for now behind you, in a language I can follow, a voice sets up a meeting with a number in a restaurant. I do not have a number in Palermo. But you do have this address – and that, I type into your map. But you fail, at length, to connect.
THE MOST BASIC LINE
I have come to the island in search of Armanda. Precisely, a room in which to shoot it, which number few across Europe and are altogether absent from the island I am coming from: where one finds the right light but the line, broken by the openings, does not extend to infinity. One has to improvise the space for a Soneryl shot. On the continent, once, I located a room, downlit, full of glamour, two tables without holes, having spun down a stairway, approaching, a broad distinguished balding figure, stood behind a varnished oak countertop, rounded, wearing a yellow short-sleeve shirt, blonde hair on the arms, discreet gold watch on the wrist and a number of large rings on the fingers. When asked how many, I raised three ringless fingers. The music – no, I don’t remember the music. Unfolding a stepladder, this figure in yellow reached for a high shelf, returning with a small velvet bag, a single elastic glove, for which I gave a deposit. Folding the stepladder shut, the figure swung open the oval countertop, led me down, down, down a dim halogen corridor, at the end of which, finally, was a room lined with benches surrounding two tables, on one two svelte bushy haired figures were engaged. I put the glove, covering two fingers and a thumb, on. I snapped the elastic against my wrist, I felt my pulse begin to race. Across the surface, I gently cupped the balls, at first inside the bag, and then, letting them spill out, across the surface of the table – testing the cover-like skin, its lines and contours, before finally picking up a stick and shooting. A lusted grunt. It was years – another story – since I last shot Armanda, in a room such this. I commenced to test out spinning a strange music playing. Watched over by both figures at the other table. However, I could not recall the most basic line, or rule. I grew self-conscious, fearful. Every line my shape addressed, felt – each line was off, stop. Leave the bag on the table. Pay for the little you’ve taken. Up, up, up, flee, into rush hour at the intersection. Relying, since then, on the internet – pacing it out, so the lines are more legible to me.
A TONGUE I CAN’T FOLLOW
Two feet grounded on a stone path slick with the streetlight and the rainwater issuing out from Teatro B, flowing, down, the, stair, way, into my blue suitcase that I hunker down in zipping open search of my effects. Reacquainted with the basic procedure now. Up, up, up – stop. My room is spare and clean. It has a high walled balcony. It’s ideal. I push the bed against the door and lie in the direction of my tall narrow window, sign into Moderno WiFi, scan something horrific on the Irish Times website, get sick in the toilet, take a shower, shit badly, I take another shower, then out down the lift for a street off Via Oddo, where I’ve read, online, you can score. No sooner have I taken the corner than a boisterous figure catches my eye and, with a disarming smile, says something in a tongue I can’t follow. My name is D catches up with me and asks, what is your name for an elaborate heritage, a grand disinheritance, and seasonal work as a dancer? D completes a surprise backflip, laughs and asks for money. I root through my pockets, but can’t find any cash. Buy me a drink, D says. Nothing about scoring. How long are you staying on the island? Eight? Do you know Armanda? You don’t need it. Let’s get a drink and go dancing. What about dinner? Hungry? In the restaurant D orders deep-fried something. A waiter holds out, until I nod my head. Something arrives with free pasta.
Reveries in colour and line (and eternal return) is the stuff to which I am devoting reveries in client relationships (and eternal R.R.). The four parts at normal speed last just over two hours, but I usually pace things out, making eight hours, spent entirely in one room, at the centre of which, surrounded by a carpet of various greys, is a table with a green cloth and thick wooden edges. The sound of heavy breathing. Tingles on the skin arise. At the top of the room, at the back of the picture, the black tuxedo of an official disappears in the obscurity of a black curtain: this dour face appears to float on the white triangle of a shirt, visible, like the white collars of the black gowns disembodying the heads round the green cadaver in Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, of which I have been thinking.1 Cut away now. Do a close-up. Introduce the figure of O, like a figure from the silent era, applying a film of chalk to the instrument’s point, rubbing the shaft up with a cloth. Shirt too big, quite wrinkled, the waistcoat loose as well. A muscular figure sits behind O, sunglasses hanging from the collar of a too-tight shirt, dragging it, revealingly. Top buttons of another one, undone. At sixty-eight-years-old, O still dominates the Armanda scene. One of the two narrators, close-by, not in-shot, praises O as il gran patriarca de Armanda italiano. O stares down chalk in expressionless silence.
Down, down, down to get cash in the morning. And yet again, declined. I flow back to the Moderno, up, up, two flights, whirling round the breakfast buffet spread, sweeping seven yoghurts, six apples, three croissants, three bananas, two double Americanos and a small box of Rice Krispies for the room. I have come with more credit than ever, but the balcony is flooded with an apple in my mouth. Fetch a few towels to prevent a flowing over sitting open on the bed with directions for a walk to the Sala Armanda. Down, down, down. Left, left, et cetera, however, walking an hour in rectangular courses, holding to my ear a hold line’s thirty second loop of Nachtmusik ringing tinny through your speakers drowned out around the blocks that I walk, unsettled, trying every machine – some in banks, some in walls, some standing free. I am squeezing this one last euro coin in one pocket, two bananas and a croissant in the other, yet three felled palms on the drenched red rug, outside a Grand Hotel, invite me in. I head for the bar, a plan in mind. But it’s closed. Sorry, but all our lines are still busy. Please continue to hold and one of our operators will be with you shortly.
THE SIGNS ROTATE
The room could be anywhere-valley. It appears to be underground. Something is prior to the subject, but a ‘something,’ D repeated, that is not to be understood as a model of the substance O sprawls across the table. Two figures dot the edges: at the back, behind the signs, a floating official; and to the right, a tall administrator in a black bow tie with a short-sleeve shirt, hands joined over crotch still as O bends into the table. The signs rotate: each other’s double, side by side, emblazoned with CORONA – in each rendering, the letter O distinctly unlike the other letters, not white serifs, but red, filled with red, with a white circular panel about a tenth of its size inside, at its eccentric centre (an O within an O returns later), as in certain monuments by Lissitzky.2 Waist down covered, hidden by the hoarding, a left-hand lifting, obscuring the face. That official is now but a smudge. What view has a smudge of O’s stick that I see as diagonal, transgressing the portrait aspect? Can a smudge see?
THE PUDDLES LOOK
Parallel to Via Oddo, the strings of Nachtmusik – already altered, like the brushstrokes of Van Gogh, by mass reproduction – are altered more still by your speaker: climaxes illegibly distorted; interruptions every several seconds. Hold. At the next intersection, I swing right and am back, back on the street that declined me last night, just off Via Oddo, in a queue for the very machine. Relax, relax, relax. Put your keen eye away now, just listen to the trio of wind instruments busking, their joyous funereal music, a loping procession by which I am moved to hold the holding strings away from my ear, dismissing the idea of loudspeaker, dancing I am waiting, wanting to be skipped, until suddenly, apparently, sooner than expected, I am next. Is that the sound of money getting ready to come out? Fifty, fifty, fifty. Out. On the held line, I hang up, no goodbye, and withdraw a bit more for the room. Up, leaving empty the yellow hat of the trio, I shop for a baguette, a razor blade, cream and white wine. The pavements glimmer with the Soneryl. The street becomes, the puddles look. Up to my room. Then to razor my face take the cream gliding shower. Make an image of myself and upload it. Down.
Slowed to abstraction, a voice like a cranking of gears. O inches back – a cue for the cut to a close-up of sorts: waist bent O leans into the table, left arm out, sleeve creased, bunched up, tip poking through the hole of O’s coiled index, tip of which is pressed upon the knuckle of O’s middle digit. Pulling out. Right hand gripping the end of O’s stick. Pushing in butt moving out, transgressing the white border of the hoardings, behind which that official still lingers – pince-nez covered by a blue graphic reading [ODD: I | O / ZAN: O | O] beneath which the triangle of a white shirt hangs, like a wedge, over O’s shoulder, which continues with its motion, slow, pushing in, so far as to almost touch the white. Focus on a point in the distance. Pulling back slowly pushing in, pulling back.
Through clouded glass, the light shoots in at such an angle as to justify my inside shades. Yet the bar in the Grand isn’t open. Having passed a slouched reception, I have wandered, underneath a ceiling (baroque scenes) supported by twelve marble pillars. Up, up in the bathroom, by the sink and its mirrors, I have come upon one strange antique: a white penholder, streaked with ink resembling blood, containing a lens containing a beach scene. When my eye looks closely, all swells. I am sitting on the toilet. My pants are on the shimmer. I fidget with the handle of the window, of clouded glass an . . . it opens . . . to a view of a side street: three cabs lined up, all the drivers asleep. I am not that far above the ground. If your eyes were to open, a white shirt would certainly be visible, and to such eyes that would know I am likely to watch with pants down. Close the window. Put the antique in your satchel. Shit and wipe your ass. Fold up your shades, fix your bloody hair. Down, down, you push, down, whirling, through the revolving doors. On the corner of Via Oddo, under a sign for a late-night restaurant, a large plastic ice-cream cone is standing up on its tip, with three large scoops of plastic ice-cream (white, yellow, red) at the top. A driver wakes up easy. Nobody is passing on the street.
A HEART IN THE SHAPE OF A LIVER
While O’s right arm strokes back and forth the spotted white is still. Slowly pushing in, still pulling back. O is patient. From the red-spotted white to the unspotted red, O’s eyes move up in their sockets. From this three-quarter angle, most of the letters on the rotating billboard have been obscured by O’s body, but the bowl of the C can be seen (an apostrophe round O’s ass) as well as a section of the red-filled O, visible between O’s planted left arm and loosely-shirted chest (an exterior heart, in the shape of a liver). O twists the stick back in, running the tip through that coiled index. The shot is now zooming up, inward, down, so the liver-shaped exterior heart occupies incrementally more of the frame, while the apostrophe round O’s ass is periodically obscured by O’s slowly jerking arm, reflected on the glossy oaken frame, disappearing on the up stroke of slowly pushing in. Pulling back. Reappearing. Cuts to the main shot now, the image is sufficiently distant, appearing still for some seconds. Is this what the narrators see? Their voices, slowed down into echoic broken soundscapes. A grunt steams into a choke. Shoot white. Hit red. The glare on O’s head is a constant.
The driver grips the handle, to loopingly reveal a crow’s feet face, wearing comical, if fashionable, glasses. Presenting your note. A look up of a look up at my face. Turn on the light above. It is red, makes reflections of the driver, squinting at your writing. Reckon bounds the inside of the cab. Signals down. Conosci questo indirizzo? Points to the mountain in the distance – depicted, you tell me3, by a friend of W.G., on leave of absence from state duties (‘a bid for freedom’). Quale percorso? Dreary always to repeat, I think, folding my legs into the back seat, counting my reflections, humming Nachtmusik. You tell me. I can’t secure the seat. I give up trying not to vex the belting river, the turn of a light, in the cab sets us off Via Oddo, rushing past, a big fuck-off palazzo, a post office, evidently from the Fascist era, through a yellow light, turning left, left, down Via Oddo, then right, turning left, onto Via Oddo. I lose count of the stations, attending to the signs. Driving straight down Via Oddo for a time, the driver has been speaking – but you will not translate until a finger points. A grey wall extends to our right out in front. Points. That is. The harbour. No see. No sea. Guarda. To the left. Goes on. A prison. Which before. It was renamed. After one of its marshals. Fallen to an organisation. Went by the old word for thistle – cultivated on the land until 19th century, when thistle prison was built. Really? Firm nod, assent. Despite the palms, it is the image of a prison, sitting there in gridlock, at the red, at a bridge, over which a wire pole is angling / a slanted line, italic. Too many plates to keep spinning? asks a billboard. We can help you. Pay up. Head over the bridge. Across the bridge is a billboard for wine. Red that warms the heart. Turn left onto Via Oddo. Then cross the street again. Pass a torn and faded poster of a single eye lit up, in Matrix-green, reading: Sleight of your eye. Lean against the wall, push back. Take the penholder out from your satchel, walk along a row of | crumbling | towers slope under a sign | SALA ARMANDA.
O rolls up the sum of hell | O acting | just what rang | too long after the bus shows | O speaks of upper sounds that twirl in doors to put too close to stand | half the under think O wave reads | feeling bites the way that up gives O | the space in movement rolls the torn shot wide of back departure O is | pressed to find the wander of the table | still the figures crook the stand | still weighing strokes of lack in slowly fraying rings of | inside cushions | give the word | obscure red points of | O got ran | guardada folds of skin like shots behind the ears | froth | both announced | in breathing closely | thistle | O’s audience is not the would just ask if grey still figures wouldn’t cutter bristle sleeves that seek to thumb the debtor’s net like printed hoarding what | O shouldn’t last tick leave | O leaves the glove and marbles wide of in to over read as if the stroke of would breathes in off air | the stroke of would this edge of greener than the stroke of wouldn’t thinking if | O shortening decrees that balls off course be scooped to cue the voice’s wards | O gra zzz i | as pet a | gent | il | es.
It was late when I left and the city was quiet and I walked so far off course that when I stopped and let you ask directions (ritornello, Via Oddo) a solitary walker shrugs and laughs. Sometimes it feels like I’m walking in circles. You try to hail a cab, but that’s fruitless. Sometimes it feels like triangles. I go with my gut, turning left onto Via Oddo where a tower of crates of drinks will not be taken in till morning; then right, onto Via Oddo, a row of boutique shops, in the late-night windows of which eyeless figures strike italic poses; then left, onto Via Oddo, where the roadworks are finished for the day, the digger, drill and cherry picker, still, in suggestive repose, beyond a netted threshold. The next left I swing is right now and finally onto Via Oddo. I know that once I see at my feet, a lock of my hair hung into my vision, the fallen palms lined up along the Grand. I stop and watch the valet in a top hat has to step, over, is standing up correct amid the palms. You read the menu, angled up at forty-five degrees, like a sheet of tanning foil, behind a sheet of glass in whose faint reflection, I sweep the lock behind my ear and saunter past the valet, whirling through the doors, revolving, plonk you down, down on a circular table (number what?) across from a table at which two German tongues crank up beneath the high baroque above. Upstairs, you say, the menu said, is a room, open to guests, named after Wagner – who, you repeat, finished Parsifal while living here. I have ordered a drink from a buttoned-up jacket, who spoke my language haltingly, but German, you can just about make out, with ease. The bar is open. One of the figures a few tables over wears a yellow pillbox hat, the other looks about. My drink arrives with nuts and a selection of small biscuits, which I crunch firmly as the sense of O hits. Each is rolling free and rich. Thinking tricks of O, attempt, engage an eye. Are you able to hear them? Not clear enough to interpret. So, quit chewing please. You cough something out while I slouch with the looks over who, as I feel for the ceiling of Soneryl in me, beneath the yellow hat, the voluminous dyed mouth of a speaker is beneath a figured gaze will meet mine and I will look away, put out on the table the penholder, dial up your last number. Pretend to take a call.
- Rembrandt, P. Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolas Tulp. 1632.
- El Lissitzky, Monument to Rosa Luxemburg, 1919–21.
- C.H. Kniep, Road from Palermo, 1787.