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My sudden decision to leave for a cruise in the Mediterranean sea could not go unnoticed, in fact it rose amazament and perplexity in those people who know me since a long time. In fact it is clearly known my dislike for all things that are in some way bound or vaguely linked to the very idea of the sea and of his noiseless depths.
Who knows me, remembers well how firmly I have always refused to plunge into the sea-water, even only for a short swim in the proximity of the shore, nor to go on holiday to a seaside resort, up to feel disgusted even to nearly touch the sea water or the sand moistened by the waves, an absurd loathing accompanied by hypochondriac reactions, in a word my attitudes have been judged time after time like mania, phobia, fear to drown... this fear for example is in part justified by my complete inaptitude for swim.
I am the first to recognize that this my own manner is innatural, morbid and nearly psychotic, but until today I have preferred to give no excessive explanations, preferring in the opposite to be judged a little bizarre.
In a certain way it is almost true yet no one knows the true reason of my fears and of this bizarre behaviour of mine...
In all of these years I never went for a single day in a seaside resort, always preferring for my rare and short holiday the relaxing calm of the silent mountains.
As I said above the horror that I prove for the sea has been justified by someone in the past, I do not remember who, with my absolute incapacity for learning to swim, in a certain way it is true from the moment that in many years I was not able to learn the basic movement, neither in a covered swimming pool, the only sight of a great quantity of water causes to me a feeling of bewilderment, anguish, a real terror that nothing and no one could dispel.
At the source of all of this it is an episode happened many years ago, when I was still a child of eight or nine years old, in that episode is hidden the reason of the horror that today I feel for the sea...
Moreover, let me make a short digression, it is well known my cynic manner toward the death, on this argument we will return later, a behaviour that goes close to the most absolute cynicism and indifference, I can not do anything, it is something that I could not control yet in front of a body of a drowned person this apparent mask suddenly fall down and I am taken by an anguish unexplainable by who is watching me, this seems contraddictory but pay attention this happens only in front of a drowned person in the sea, if the dead body is rescued from a river or a lake his own incident leaves me perfectly indifferent!
Contraddictions! Maybe... but all of this has a meaning only for whom would be able to see what my past hides; in order to understand it is necessary to go back with the memory many years in the past, till the wonderful age of my first youth... Of the people that knew me in those years very few of them are still alive the others are looking the grass by the side of the roots since a lot of time, yet no one in many years has ever thought to link those far away events to my subsequent behaviour... Events forgotten by everyone but not by me that sometimes I live again the frightening experience lived in a far away summer...
As every young boy I also had a real passion for the sea and when the schools finished I went on holiday with my family in a town on the Tyrrhenian shore, Fregene, Anzio, Nettuno... now I do not remember very well, many years have passed and of that period I recall only some heterogeneous episodes besides the incident that marked forever my life.
Well, every summer I went on holiday to the sea and together with my cousins and with my numerous childish friendships established through the years I joyfully began again the many games interrupted at the end of the preceding holidays and playing I forgot the weariness of the school year just finished.
My favourite game, I remember it with a lot of vivid details, was to build gigantic and phantasmagoric castles made of sand, bristling with squat towers protected by mastodontic ramparts and thin minarets and pinnacles, all linked by communication trenches dug in the embattled walls, fanciful castles like the ones that still today one can see in a book of fables, and I in order to make them look better I was used to make flags and orifiammes with pieces of seaweeds and colored paper, that I threaded on the toothpicks and then I put them on the highest towers of the castle.
Around the castle I dug a deep moat and with some cardboard pulled by rubber bands I made a drawbridge, at last digging through the opening I arrived with the hand under the castle and there I made obscure and deep dungeons where I imprisoned small puppets, imagining them chained prisoners forgotten there by many long years, waiting in pain for an impossible liberation.
Sometimes, the imagination of the childhood is practically inexhaustible, I built up volcanoes...
Yes, big and stately volcanoes set up by huge heap of sands and at their slants I dug a dry tunnel till a deep underground, large and regular chamber, directly communicating through a small chimney with the overhanging crater, in that chamber I put pressed paper pellets and after that,filled the fournace with fuel, I threw a fag-end still burning, offered by a smoker relative, then,without losing any time I closed the tunnel with pressed sand and I waited in order to see the effect, this one was always astonishing and it made the swimmers that were crowding the beach curious, in fact after few minutes from the crater a thin wisp of smoke burst out that sluggishly delayed in the calm air of the July up to, little by little, it grew due to the combustion of the paper, till to become a tall column of dense and brownish smoke, so much to make people think that really a new volcano was forming on that anonymous tyrrhenian beach, the show lasted only for few minutes, at the most ten minutes, then the sand become fiery buried the underground chamber extinguishing the furnace... yet with my small creation I succedeed in drawing the amused and curious glances of a great number of people.
Yes I was enjoying myself to create with few handfuls of sand unforgettable shows and in every amusement of mine I searched always to put in new surprises up to transform everything that was surrounding me an amusing game.
At that time, as it would be clear to anyone, I did not hate the sea, on the contrary, I passed whole mornings on the shore-line and my greatest amusement was to swim in the afternoon, when the water is warm and full of sun.
All was proceeding in the same way when, in one of those endless mornings, one of my cousins, excellent swimmer, had got the ill-fated idea to make the motorboat... saying it today seems a terribly stupid game but the then children were not the haughty and hard to please brats of today, the idea could really appear amusing to our eyes, so I took a lifebelt and grasped at it I leaved myself to be drag by my cousin. In a short time he gained velocity cleaving the foamy water with large strokes, but when I realized that the shore was becoming farther behind me suddenly the amusement vanished, I was not able to swim and I felt the muscles of the arms soring due to the grasp kept for too much time on the brink of the lifebelt, so I cried to him to return back, searching in some way to make me hear from him,I began to fear to drown and the more I was grasping the lifebelt the more I felt the pain growing. While I was calling him, having difficulty in maintaining the mouth out of the water, suddenly I lost the grasp and I sank bubbling into the sea.
In front of my eyes for an instant it appeared an unusual vision of the sky and of the deep sea depths divided by a light veil of white foam, suddenly I understood with all the immaginably horror that I was drowning, with the open mouth and barred eyes, crying silently and not audible I saw the lifebelt going away out of range, I realized that many minutes would have passed before that the motorboat could return back to pick me and in any way he hardly would be back in time... Would they have find me? It is incredible how in certain situations the time seems to expand to infinity, in a dizzy windmill I saw again in a kaleidoscope of images my own sand castles, my gameís mates, the elementary school that I was attending, my relatives and many other things that, I was sure, I would never ever seen again. I felt horror inside of me for this stupid death that I was undergoing but for some unknown reason I was conscious of my situation till the point to go out from my body in order to watch me from the outside.
I saw myself sinking into the sea as if the one that was drowning was another person separated from me, it is not possible today to clearly explain that feeling felt in those moments of terror, even if during these years I have lived again many times the nightmare of the drowning always asking me what has really happened that time...
Maybe only today I think I could give an answer to the interrogatives remained for so many years without an answer.
In those endless minutes I saw in the green sea-dephts a huge castle, bristling with towers and spires, similar to that ones that I patiently built on the sea-shore, but in the water the rags of the seaweeds flapped like authentic orifiamme moved by the wind, not like the ones of mine that were hanging like inert, wet and unable to wave rags, the seaweeds around the castle seemed like a park full of secular trees and the surfaces of the overhanging waters seemed the sky-vault in which the reflections of the sun took the shape of twilight moons... in that time I forgot my unpleasant situation and I admired that superb, huge and well-finished building, but above all I was surprised by the fact that the sea seemed unable to vanish the walls till to destroy it, in the same way that the mercyless waves always did with my ephemeral creations...
It seemed ancient like the sea that was accomodating it, incredibly ancient, crouched down in a sluggish waiting of a ghastly lord of the manor to whom entrusting the silent of boundless and festooned by the moss rooms.
Who knows - I thought - if in the dungeons there were emprisoned puppets like the ones that I put in there, maybe in those dungeons something else moaned dreaming of the impossible ransom and I preferred not to ask myself who or what it was.
The rags made of seaweeds were waving like frayed fingers, like foreign hands greeting me in a strange way, I that was slowly sinking in the silent sea-kingdom.
I think to have caught a glimpse on someone showing himself from the balconys decorated by carved mullioned window, or perhaps I imagined it, but in that time I was sure to be observed by the silent inhabitants of the fantastic building.
I remember that I called toward the windows, I cried toward the dark of the boundless rooms, I sighed searching someone that come to me in order to be my guide in that lost kingdom...
Then I felt a whirlpool, I saw the water begin to whirl in front of my eyes, then the sun and the air exploded around me.
My motorboat was able to rescue me and, worried and frightened, he ordered me to spit the water that I had drunk and to breathe... only then I realized that I have no water in the lungs, to have not drunk and in spite all of my efforts to remember my own convinction was that I had breathed underwater. In fact I remember that there underwater it never lacked me the breath, I never had the sensation to drown. I knew that I was drowning but nothing and no sensations confirmed to me the phenomenon.
I was persuaded, and I have been for all the following years, that there underwater I have breathed without even realizing it.
I know well that all this seems absurd, the incredible fruit of my fertile imagination, but surely I remained underwater for at least four minutes, if not even more. My cousin in fact, even noticing that I had let go the hold sinking into the sea could not rescue me that after some minutes like himself told me when we were on the shore.
Obviously none gave weight to our words, in certain moments of anxiety the Time seems slowing down to infinity and also a minute seems last for an eternity and the real duration of this passing misses our perception...for this reason frightened for the happening and for his own responsibility he must have believed that it was passed more time than what it was really passed...
Someones said that it could be possible to resist without breathing underwater for nearly five minutes, like the pearl-divers, but I was not a pearl-diver, I was only a frightened child and really I am sure to have not thought in the moment when I let go the hold, to hold my breath after having made a good supply of air in order to resist for a longer time, if the case it is true the opposite, I moved about restlessy, I called, for sure I did not thought to take a long breath, as well because formerly when I was grasping at the lifebelt, I breathed and maintained my mouth out of the sea with difficulty, so I refuse to believe that in those conditions I could take a sufficient breath in order to resist in apnea for more than one minute... when it is impossible to find an explanation to a mistery it is easier ignoring the mistery also if it is illogic... that happened,the unexplainable fact was ignored by all but not by me...
Yet there was something other that was not right, I had not drunk and or better still I remembered and still remember to have naturally breathed underwater like if I was in my environment and that returned to the air and to the sun I felt an all consuming regret like if I was taken away from my world.
It is difficult to give weight to the imagination of a child, for this reason my words were judged a trivial, ridicolous attempt in order to gain some importance and to create around me a halo of mistery, for the adults it was easier to believe to absurd but plausible explanations rather than asking themselves if in what I was saying there was something true.
When the mess caused by the event calmed down I asked my cousin if he had seen the wonderful castle too that impressed me so much. Surely - I thought - he must have seen it when he dived to rescue me. His negative answer surprised me and when he asked me to tell him my dream suddenly I understood that all that was happened to me it was something useless to tell to the others.
I let the speech die and he asked me nothing more.
From that day many things changed inside me, in the first place I limited my bath near the shore, to the immediate water-line, then after some days I ceased also these ones when a damp rag of seaweeds clung to my ankle as it would take me back. In that moment I saw under the veil of the water a castle full of walls and embattled towers. I am not sure if I cried for the terror or not, but since then I never approached the sea again.
Hardly I came out from the sea,fighting against the backwash that for its own dark reasons wanted to take me back into the open sea, the next day I returned to the city with my family and this time I did not protest like in the passed years for the end of the holidays but I was secretely happy to go away from that distressing sea...
Since then I was no more the same,I escaped the sea with a stubborness almost ridicolous, at the beginning this obsession of mine was justified by the passed bad adventure, but when some time passed by this excuse was abandoned and my behaviour was interpreted like a senseless freak.
Soon I realized how deep and innatural was the change that I had undergone, I deserted the games of the children of my same age that were starting to seem to me stupid and childish instead I closed myself in impenetrable worlds of imagination, I abandoned myself to my dreams, romancing over the bizarre memory of a lost kingdom,frequently I found in the false dreams of the morning the dozy memory of the castle seen indistinctly in the depths of the sea and in an unexplainable way I begin to feel a far away recall and I realized that something was waiting my return in the boundless depths of the ocean.
The death itself took on a strange fascination and I was no more able to be touched in front of it, I cynically looked at every its manifestation, without partecipating to the sorrow that was sorrounding me, the loss of a relative, of a friend grieved me but I did not feel a real sorrow, as if in that far day all the tears of a life would have dried from my eyes and in spite of all I realized that all this was not good but pernicious and inhumane.
My indifference, my impassibility was explained with an unsuspected hardness of heart and this was not right but I could not explain the reason of my behaviour, nothing of what I could have said in my defence could have changed the opinion that the others had about me.
Unfortunately I was no more able to be moved, I could no more be moved, I saw everything from the outside, perhaps I would have to pretend, I would have show a sorrow that I did not feel, but why, I asked myself, had I to be hypocrite only to content the others? Was this that the others were expecting from me?
When I lost my wife, and I only know how tenderly I loved her, my coldness, the lucid way I arranged the funeral rites and her burial made me lose the love of her whole relatives, I became the object of a real sense of repulsion, of a bad concealed hostility and none of them would never ever see me again, they could not forget the way I look at her dieing, maybe they believed that I never had her loved,surely they ascribed her death to me, maybe for the sufferings she had got to undergo for my cause.
I knew how false were these accusations, but in what way I could have explained to them that since from the beginning I was ready for her death, it did not come suddenly to me, it was an ictus for the others, for the doctors, for the world, but I knew already for over a year that I will have her lost, I tried to be near her till her last day, I deeply loved her yet I did not suffer for her imminent and premature death and when that day came I look at her agony silently,the sarcastic and ungenerous comments of her relatives, the veiled accusations did not slip past to me, but as I already said I did not feel any sorrow for her death, for too long I knew it.
From the day in which I went out from the sea escaping its deadly embrace I soon discovered to be able to smell the odour of death on yet living people, but that soon the grave will have them called.
The first time that I could smell it was that same night, when we returned to the boarding-house where we were lodged, it exhaled from the old owner, it was intense and nauseating, I told it to my parents and they reproached me for what I had said, then I did not know what it was, so I only said that the old woman stank, my parents did not notice any particular odour and they told me that the good manners are a must for all people, but in that case I was wrong because the good woman kept a very good condition of hygiene and what I had said it was only an unfair wickedness, or better still besides being malicious I was also a liar.
I speak on it no more, but the following year it was necessary to find a new boarding-house because the owner of that one died during the winter.
Since then many times this disconcerting phenomenon took place, it was not continuos but enough frequent, so at last I learned to link the odour that only I could smell with the imminent death of the person on which I smelt it or on a relatives of this one.
When I was only twelve years old I could understand from the intensity of the odour how long the person who emanated it would have yet lived. Sometimes it was disconcerting catching the bus and noticing that someone would be dead in five months, another one in a year, the bus-driver in few days - maybe in a car accident - it seemed like making a journey with a load of unburied deads. So I got used myself to the death and my indifference was a sort of shield, differently I believe that soon I would have gone insane if I would not reacted in some way.
More sad was noticing that odour on relatives or friends, above all on young and of the same age ones, I always knew a lot of time ahead what for the others would be a sudden choc, the piece of news of the death of an acquaintance did not ever catch me by surprise and this reinforced in the others the conviction that my behaviour was an unworthy cynicism, but saying the truth how could have I suffered for someoneís missing that for me was dead by many months? If only I could have closed my nose to that odour maybe I would have learned again to suffer, maybe I would have found again the consolation of the tears, but in my case the death, above all of a person near me, transformed itself in a liberation, I would never ever smell that odour! Many times I was unfair towards them, I sent them away from me, I treated them bad, but only because the odour that they were emanating made me upset and sometimes I was exhausted by it, knowing this who could have blamed me? Who could do it if only he would have known for only few time my curse?
I do not search any excuse I would only ask to who has criticized me to try to imagine what it would be living smelling each day the odour of the death... Who has judged cynic my behaviour in front of my wife that was passing away, he must only try to imagine what means to love a young woman, apparently full of life, having her always by your side, sharing the bed with her and smelling each day on her the nasty odour of death, every day growing, every day stunnier, waking up in the middle of the night and smelling that nasty and sweetish stink, smelling it on her... Oh my God,how many times I was near to suffocate her with a pillow while she was sleeping only to make that filthy stink stop, how many times I roughly sent her away only because I could resist no more to her vicinity!
I know that with my behaviour I have made her suffering, yet I only know with how much heart I remained by her side, also to some monstrous, anomalous and blasphemous things sooner or later you get used, but what in a stranger in the long makes you indifferent, on a creature tightly bounded to you and infinitely loved, it turns in another way, at last the death of my wife was a liberation... who could really blame on me at this point if in front of the bed where she was laying white as wax I felt relieved?
May I deserve blame if I disposed with so much calm for the burial rites without showing the right torment for the misfortune that had just hit me?
Now she knows, wherever she is, she surely understand what I have undergo, this only is important for me, now I feel better and the spiteful criticismes do not bother me.
Describing the stink of death... how could it be possible to describe a thing that the others do not notice? Try to explain to a dumb people the noise of the lightning, the rustle of the leafs, the babbling of a stream amongst the rocks... try to explain to a blind people the colour of the sunset, the sight of the rainbow, a meadow during spring, the dream pictured on the butterflyís wings... it is not possible, it is too hard to transmit to the others what they could never ever know, yet in some way I must find the right words, in some way I have to show the others the nightmare that is with me for so long time, for how much it could be an incomplete explanation maybe I will be able to give a pale idea of what has poisoned my life for over forty years...
Letís imagine the paths of a cemetery in autumn, the flowers of a moltitude of funerals, piled up to decay on the oily and greasy ground, under the rain, with a sky wet as for a mourning, letís add the stink of the corrupted body, the stink of rotten things, the stinging dampness of the saltpetre, the sweetish and stinking air of the tomb, the sense of the death itself, letís add the odour of the creosote and the other one... that one that lingers in an institute of legal medicine after the dissection of what the sea has retained in its embrace for over than a month, letís add all this odour together, increase and increase them of intensity as the days passed by and letís imagine to had to live near a person that emanates it, to had to sleep together, to kiss her... it is only a pale idea of what I have underwent... maybe understanding this will be more difficult condemning the smile that lingered on my lips when they had let down my wife in the grave...
With the slow and inexorable passing of the years I have asked myself many times the meaning of that castle on the seabottom of the sea, I have asked myself many times why I only had seen it, but above all for whom were waving those orifiammes made of seaweeds, maybe they were welcoming the arrival of someone, but who? In those days none drowned o was near to drown in those waters.
Many times I have asked myself the same question, many times I have searched for an answer that none except me could ever give me...today I realize to have seen the Stronghold of the Fishes and its stendards of seaweeds waved to welcome my arrival, yet something pulled me out from the seaís embrace, but it rescued only my body, my soul remained prisoner over there crying in the dark dungeons, invoking for that body pulled out from the waters... maybe for this reason the death has no more caused emotions in me, maybe for this reason its intense stink has been the continuous background of these long years, maybe not wrongfully I have been judged soulless because I left mine in the depth of the sea in the July of many years ago... I feel the death like only the dead ones could feel it, because, now I am sure, I am dead, drowned since many years and I have stolen my ephemeral life day after day, avoiding the sea in order to extend beyond any boundary the illusion to be alive.
Yet now this burden has become too heavy and the call of the sea is getting louder every day, I tried till the last to illuse myself to be strong enough to ignore it, but the death of my wife has shown me that there is no escape route.
Odd destiny the one of us, for an entire year two deads have shared the same bed sleeping one near the other. I do not know if she has ever had the suspicion of my true essence and idly I ask myself what would be born if we had conceived a son, what we would have generated with our embrace...
Many questions that will remain forever without an answer, for this reason by now tired I decided to do this journey on the sea, it was by too many years that I had to correct the anomaly of my crepuscular existence, this journey it is not and it will not be a holiday, but the end of an illusion, somewhere, it does not matter where, a castle full of flags made of seaweeds is waiting its escaped lord of the manor, somewhere a soul is crying in its dungeons, calling for the abducted body... now it is no more the time for delays, the cerulean sea has waited for too long my return.
Also this story was written on the 10th September of 1979, it was partially rewritten in an unknown date on my notes, it is inspired in a certain part by the legend of the Stronghold of the Fishes, that it is an omen of death for everyone that sees it in the sea, and more directly to my memories of my summer holidays when I was only a child and really in one of them I was near to drown as described in the story.
It is a story absolutely unpublished, never read by others before arriving here on the web,the transfer from paper to a digital support was made between 10th and 11th of november 1998.