Andrea Dei Castaldi What Lies Beneath

Sounds funny, as I was born just a few kilometers from here, but I never spent a night in Venice. That’s what I say while we tighten up our coats and tie our scarves into a knot around the neck, watching our breath go up like smoke against the black sky above our heads. From San Sebastiano we end up disoriented by the tangle of deserted calli as we take to walking briskly as though we wanted to leave behind the cold that’s been clinging onto us since we left the osteria. They had to kick us out of there, we were their last customers, but we had some pretty good food and drink, says Luca with his content way of articulating his words and of listening to his own voice, and in the utter silence our footsteps on the pavement follow us like an echo. Our women, he then adds mockingly, quickly glancing behind him and then seeking my complicity with a look dulled a little by the wine and the late hour. I too turn slightly, scanning for the girls’ slender silhouettes, they are walking some distance behind us, arm in arm. When they stay behind and jabber on with those clouded faces, it means they’re talking about us, I say. Nothing you can do about it, he says, with a chuckle. Like that poem by Borges, he adds, they are like all the others, but they are themselves. I too laugh it off, but my laughter comes off jarring, sort of fake, and for one moment I look back, guilty. It’ll be Christmas soon, I find myself thinking, it’s already been one year since Buenos Aires, since the life I thought would be and never started. We come out from under a portico and we are almost surprised by the immense emptiness of St. Mark’s Square. Ever seen it like this, asks Luca, not a soul in sight? I shake my head as we cross it, feeling smaller and perhaps lonelier than before. Arches and columns and ledges and carved stone surround us, like white, disdainful ghosts, and the golden wing of the Basilica stands out, sumptuous and precarious like a painted backdrop. To think that once there was nothing but sea here, I say, in admiration and perplexity. Such is man, says Luca, who suddenly appears to be at a loss for words. Something is stirring not very far from us in the middle of the square. The shape of a big seagull is sending minute ripples through the darkness, in short pulses. We get closer and stop a few steps away, focusing on the sharp profile of the bird, standing proud and upright on its legs, now completely still, as if made of stone. The beak is a curved blade, reddish frayed shreds hang from it. For an instant the gull stares at us from the blackness of its wild and empty eye, furious at seeing us, as if probing us, then resumes its relentless mangling of the carcass of a pigeon, lying shapeless on the stones like a bundle of rags. Not even when the girls catch up with us can we stop watching quietly as the animal goes about its business. I see Chiara pressing against Luca and leaning on his arm trustingly, and yawning without wondering much. Cristina on the other hand comes to my side, and something prevents her from bridging the small distance between us. I look at the line on her forehead and at her brow, creasing on her gloomy gaze, something resembling fear in her wide open eyes. All of a sudden everything around us seems to me fake and wobbly, something is screeching and shaking the screens and the scaffolding and the whole square. It is what lies beneath, something we will have to face. From tonight on, no more deceiving ourselves.

Andrea Dei Castaldi

What Lies Beneath

Landscape Stories, 2011 | translation by Francesca Gola

© Andrea Dei Castaldi – 2011