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Nicola Ricciardi
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Crazy Skewers: a short story on Patrick Tuttofuoco’s “Ambaradan”

DIS magazine
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05

A fictional, delirious short story commissioned by DISmagazine and written using exclusively quotes, references, bits and pieces of information from books, songs, movies and real life situations that have inspired, influenced or shaped “Ambaradan”, a solo show of Patrick Tuttofuoco at Milan’s Studio Guenzani:

He gave one last fleeting look at the semi-hollow tray that laid in front of him – the crumpled paper, residual remnants of sauce and chips, a straw still wrapped in its white envelope – then he stood up, with a slow but firm movement; both hands against the table, calves slightly pushing away the chair, his back assuming an upright position. Only a vibration in the front right pocket of his pants broke the continuity of his motion. He took out his phone and passed his thumb gently across the screen, leaving a trace on the otherwise immaculate surface. Another customer, not far from him, and he too sitting alone in front of a half- empty tray, watched the dazzling light of the display reflecting in his eyes as he read the content of the message: “Via degli Omenoni number 3”. He then put the phone back into his pocket, took the tray with both hands and placed it on top of the trash bin behind him (the one with a double golden arch engraved on it).

After slipping on the jacket, one sleeve at a time, he descended a flight of stairs and went out into the square. Before him stood the cathedral, all lit up, and to his left were the porches, with the shops illuminated as well. If he had shifted his gaze to the right and upwards he would have noticed the big red neon sign that seemed to float in the darkness of the night. He decided to take the scooter. It was parked next to a small white taxicab, and from afar the bike looked e-x-a-c-t-l-y as big as half the car. After a two-minute ride, with a cool breeze on his neck and on his gloveless hands, he reached his destination. He stopped on the sidewalk; she was standing few feet away. Before he had time to take his helmet off, she said in one breath, and with some trepidation: “And now, what shall become of us without any barbarians?” He did not answer but as he stood down from the scooter, turned it off and put it on the stand, he thought, with a mix of regret, frustration and grief: “Those people were some kind of solution.”

Then, out of the blue, a red minivan approached. Easing the car slowly along the sidewalk, the driver brought the couple into view and coasted to a halt, softly touching the brake, making his stop lights flare: two ruby-red fires glowing in the dark. The man rolled down the window and asked the pair for directions. He had things to deliver. As soon as he got the information he wanted, the driver turned the radio on (a pop tune from the eighties was playing) and left as stealthy as he came. The same piano tune looped over and over and over as the car taillights ghosted slowly to the east and out of sight. Suddenly, it was silence again in Via degli Omenoni. He stared at her—his beautiful Madonnina; her skin pure gold, just like her dress. Her arms open with palms upward, as if she’s been waiting for something for quite some time (maybe just a little bit of heart and soul). He felt as low as her head was high. “Leaving you ain’t easy now,” he said. Then the girl in the cafe taps him on the shoulder and he realizes five years have gone by. He’s older.

Memories smolder, winter’s colder. Still, that same piano tune loops over and over and over in his head. “Double espresso, please”. The owner of the cafe is looking at him from over the counter (the skin of his face looks like a piece of fabric, full of wrinkles and impossible to iron). The owner has a hard-boiled egg in his hands; he peels it with care, puts a little salt on it, and eats it in one bite. A picture of him on the Great Wall of China hangs behind the counter. “How was it?”, he asks pointing at the picture, while the waitress serves him the double espresso at his table. “Pretty repetitive,” answers the man, throwing the eggshells in the trash.“I walked for seven hours on that damn thing. It felt as if I walked for seven hours without moving an inch.” Then I must be on the Great Wall of China right now, he thinks without saying it. As new customers come in, everything around him smells of morning routine. The newspaper delivery guy enters the cafe and drops a pile of magazines right next to his table. He picks up a copy of The Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review.

There’s a review of the latest gig by Ludwig van Beethoven at London’s Philharmonic Society. He reads: “The truth is that elegance, purity and propriety of our art, have been gradually yielding with the altered matters of the times of multifarious and superficial accomplishments, with frivolous and affected manners. Minds, that from education and habit can think of little else than dress, fashion, intrigue, novel-reading, and dissipation, are not likely to feel the elaborate and less feverish pleasures of science and art. Beethoven writes to suit the present mania, and if this be so, he has succeeded in his purpose, for everywhere I hear the praises of this his last work…”. As his eyelids become heavy, he can actually hear the sound of time crashing in on itself, the resonance of his own steps on the thick bricks of the Great Wall, along with some damn noises from the kitchen (an orange-squeezer, maybe?). He closes the magazine, places it back on top of the pile, stands up and reaches for the counter to pay his dues. He hands the owner a shiny one Euro coin and walks out the door. Five years—that’s all he’s thinking about now.

Five years since that night, since that semi-hollow tray, that two-minute ride, that red minivan. Five years since the barbarians didn’t show up—and yet they were expected to do so! Feeling his thoughts slipping away, he decides to go for a walk. All manner of amusing things happen around him (a man dressed as a clown is breakdancing in the street; two folks and a girl are playing at dice on an iPad). But nothing distracts him. He just walks and thinks, and thinks and walks until, as often happens in bad films and great books, a little bit of history repeats itself. There are 2565 streets in the city of Milan, but when his feet stop the name on the sign reads “Via degli Omenoni”(oh, the magic of fiction!). There he is. Again. Only this time it is the middle of the day and rays of light bounce like tennis balls on the pale surfaces of the buildings around. It all shines bright. Everything is beautiful, nothing hurts. Then he looks up, his chin in the air, and he realizes something: the barbarians are there. They’re standing right in front of him. They’ve always been there.

From: DISmagazine, June 2014