Sunday, January 11, 2009

Vanni Santoni

translated by Linh Dinh:

Precarious Characters


“Five thousand years of history, an entire planet, and the nastiest things of all time happened a few miles from here, not even seventy years ago. Now, tell me why shouldn’t I fear the future?”

Elmo (July’s oldie goldie)

"Can we make love like we did at twenty-years-old?"

“That’s impossible, my treasure, not only because we’re 58, but also because at the time of our first intercourse we were twenty-two and not twenty. I remember it very well, that moment when I was twenty and dating a dear girl from Lucca.”


Is in Stockholm.


Teodoro is timid and fragile, but is adapting well to life in the high-security C. Lombroso correctional institute: he keeps to himself, doesn’t draw attention, yet notices everything. Recently he heard strange sounds coming from under the mess hall, but hasn’t worked up enough courage to go down and investigate.


Penelope sleeps more and more. When she was small, she already slept nine or ten hours a night. During adolescence, it rose to thirteen hours then appeared to stabilize when she was nineteen-years-old.

Instead, now that she is twenty-nine and lives alone, maintaining herself on profit from some real estate, she has become accustomed, within a few months, to sleeping eighteen, nineteen or even twenty hours a day. When she wakes up, Penelope is always in a great mood.


The sweet wind of Provence caresses each day Francois’ old, apparently sunbaked, yet perfectly functioning body. Sometimes it blows away his blue felt beret.

Claire died thirty-three years ago. Their son, Jaqui, nine. Francois has never been interested in anything since youth, it appears.

But he has, truly, one passion: to stay alive. He measures the temperature, the wind, the sun, his nutrition, heart beats, complexion, blood pressure, cholesterol level. A hundred and six years old. In good health. Francois laughs under the March sun.


Zippo is a clown in the Mariposa circus. His real name is Guglielmo Diné. Gugliemo has killed his cousin and two other pieces of shit over money. Has raped his sister and caused a miscarriage with his kicks. When Guglielmo is Zippo—one hesitates to say—he’d feel an infinite tenderness at the sight of children laughing at his skits.


Ilaria is totally in love with her guy! Pages of her diary are filled with this notion! She has even started a blog to scream about her love to the world! They met two weeks ago! The day before yesterday they got together! They kissed! His name is Mauro! She wrote “Mauro” on her backpack!

Tomorrow Llaria will discover that her guy has a prosthesis of plastic and aluminum in place of his lower right leg, and will become speechless.

She’ll ask herself if all of her love was located in that piece of Mauro right there, and she’ll feel infinitely empty and shitty.


Today, for some reason, the servants bought for Ugolino a milk chocolate with a filling. Ugolino hates that nougat filling. He’ll stay in a bad mood for days. At this moment, Ugolino is digging the nougat from the chocolate with a silver spoon, while screaming unmentionable insults towards Switzerland.


Galatea is a normal girl. She’s five-feet-seven, a brunette, with brown eyes. Neither beautiful nor ugly. Neither brilliant nor an idiot. Neither good nor evil. She likes the singers Battiato and Carmen Consoli, the books of Milan Kundera, Hello Kitty accessories, decoupage. She studies physical therapy and plays volleyball.

Her father, one of the greatest literary figures of his epoch, cannot resign himself to the quiet normality of Galatea, and has begun to suspect that she is not his daughter.


Five feet eight inches, 170 pounds. Black hair, black eyes, dour. A hint of a beard, a few light wrinkles around the eyes. Forty nine years old, married, without children. A bypass. Tano is a taxi driver.


Mirella feels vulnerable, and entrenches herself behind heavy makeup, boots from Max & Co., suits from Prada for the career woman, hair done every week, long and stringy and colored “hazelnut haze #06.” Mirella is in love with a cashier at the corner pastry shop, a chubby, timid punkette.


Antonietta staggers into the toilet of the fashionable club where she has gone tonight. She is beyond drunk and cannot find the bag of cocaine in her purse. She turns towards the mirror and notices a wrinkle that has never been there. Soon she will vomit with remarkable grace, considering her condition.


Markus wanted so much to be a vigorous, ruddy country boy. Instead, he’s an emaciated artist, drug addict and snob.


Tonight Federico roused himself and finally took the fluorescent spray paint bought a few weeks earlier, went before Lidia’s house and wrote on the asphalt “My pearl fogive me.” Without the R. What nerves.


Hellen makes stickers. She designs them by hand, scans them, converts them into vector graphics then prints them on shiny paper. She always carries at least ten in her back pocket to stick onto street posters, pub bathrooms, walls of the metro stations. Sometimes when she’s home and it’s icy outside, she would go out with a small knife, scrape ice from a poster to plant a sticker, then quickly go back inside. In this period Hellen is making stickers of rabbit.


The way Alberto uses the expression “starved to death” would outrage even a Nazi, but it’s nothing compared to the way he uses, from youth, “beaten dog.”


Maguerite will be married in April. In recent months, it so happens that she’d think, more and more, about an adolescent love affair (if such a brief, unconsumated episode could be called that) with a growing nostalgia.

This anguish installs itself in her mind, grows, makes itself large, enormous. It encompasses and illuminates the past, explains the present, obscures the future.


Marcello watches his son being transfixed by the Playstation, and for a moment was lost in thoughts remembering all the games he played as a child on the street, the same street right outside. How he initiated soccer and tennis matches, races, made bicycle tracks on the hillocks, poked into hornets’ nests, got into fist fights with children from the other side of the avenue, placed firecrackers inside mailboxes, and how fearful he is now of letting his own son leave the house for 10 minutes, alone.

Marcello turns off the Playstation by instinct, but does not have the courage to say “Go out!” to the sitting boy who watches him in astonishment, pissed off, and so he turns the game back on and apologizes.


Mara is the most active of activists. She organizes participates leads occupies manifests informs. Once Mara threw a rock at the window of a temp agency. The rock bounced back without leaving a crack on the window. Mara felt both mocked and relieved. Mara hides from everyone the fact that she’s super rich and says that the apartment she lives in on Campo de Fiori is rented.


Barozzo, baron of Montamaro, sent for three hundred Swiss mercenaries to defend his fiefdom from hostile neighbors. The Swiss arrived and saw that the fiefdom was vulnerable yet prosperous, so they promptly sacked it, raped whoever was rapable and laid siege to the castle. The castle’s weak defense was breached after three and a half hours, and the siege concluded with them drinking wine from cracked casks and sodomizing the baron amid loud laughter.


“You’re in your thirties, pig!” This hateful phrase wakes Roberto up every morning (at noon), screamed from the efficient throat of his energetic mother. Roberto already hated to hear such words when he was twenty eight, so we can figure what he thinks of them now, being thirty four.


Yesterday the sergeant asked Wu what is the soldier’s occupation; Wu answered “to kill” and he was punished. Today, to the same question, he answered “to die” and was again punished. Wu runs in the mud and tries to works his imagination since tomorrow he will be forced to guess again.


Tazio is a good-looking guy, with dark skin and hair. When Tazio meets a girl, the first thing he makes clear is that he has a glass eye. Sometimes he even shows up for the first date with an eye patch. Even if it becomes the center of attention for the evening, his empty eye socket doesn’t usually create problems. Tazio is always marveling at how little it has damaged his sex life.


Carmine manages a small bookstore. He defines himself as an eclectic anarchist liberal, without being any of them. Carmine is bald with a thick reddish beard, smokes toscanelli and gitanes, and will never order a book if you ask him to do it. Certain mornings he puts on an old head band like Bjorn Borg’s and goes running in the country.


Gianna bought a timeshare in Baleari. He has only been there but once, alone.


There are four types of birth: from an egg, from a matrix, from a miracle, from heat and humidity. And yet Simona appears to have come from dryness, from a shell, from a morning sleep, from paper.


Among all the tall girls, over thirty, with a helmet hairstyle from the 20’s, never absent from an art opening, Diana is the one who soaks up the most prosecco.


A twenty-nine-year-old archeologist, Marinella cheats on her man frequently, keeps her hair nearly shaven and dresses like a kraut on vacation.


In the last month Sergio has come to understand:
1) if he reads few poems he will have difficulty writing them well.
2) to make a fool of yourself cooking fish is easier than it seems.
3) Florentinians, including himself, are absolutely wicked.
4) there are even those who could use Post-it in a sensible way.


Suddenly, Francesco loses the notion of what is appropriate. He asks an acquantaince the whereabouts of the man’s “hideous mother,” insults with an evil relish other people’s physical defects, and asks a woman on the street if she wants to, by chance, “look at a prick.”


Five feet ten, one-hundred-and-one pounds, blonde, green eyes both malicious and vulnerable, Nastassja was a poor yet emerging model until a poker, hurled by her live-in lover, struck her on the mouth, broke her front teeth and busted up her lower lip. Nastassja has not returned to Poland to see her grandparents.


If you live at 8 Brothers Roselli Street, you’d know Simona’s singing, which rises high and gorgeous each evening at 7 o’clock. Many of the newest tenants believe that Simona is that cool and lanky woman who always leaves early in the morning, but they’re wrong: she’s actually that chubby one who brings the cats the leftovers each evening.


Rudy, six-feet-seven of boyishness, red hair and a regular face, carries buckets of cement.

On Saturdays, Rudy dances, drinks and snorts way too much; sometimes he would leave the disco alone, without telling his friends, and flee down the highway.


Mary-Ann is that small, fierce doctor from England in the emergency department of Pisa Hospital, all curly hair and freckles. Once, alone in the morgue, under the trembling chemical of the neon light, Mary-Ann gave a long kiss to a corpse.


This summer Roberto bought a late-model telephoto lens from Canon. To try it, he decided to take some distant shots of his three-year-old son playing on the beach.

Someone saw him and thought he was a pedophile: Roberto barely escaped from the lynch mob, and lost both camera and telephoto lens.

Roberto doesn’t take photos anymore, not even in the winter.


Almost everyone remembers Erika for her huge tits rather than her many virtues. Above all else, Erika is afraid of spiders trapped in the bathtub and has an obscure fascination with seeing, or better yet, with not seeing, the fake glasses made of blue plastic on the little round carpets at Ikea.


“Misfortune in love does not make census-based distinctions.” This sentence, read in who knows which comic book, returns to Gano’s mind today as he masturbates while sitting on the floor, in the living room.


Faustina, a little old lady with red-tinted hair nudged by white, is only a retired cleaning lady, but you won’t find on this earth a more absolute concentration of virtues. All of her children, inexplicably, are petty and cruel.


Garuda is an invincible monster with fangs sharper than a tiger’s, moreover it’s faster than a leopard but stronger than an elephant, moreover it’s invisible, moreover it spits fire like a dragon but hotter, moreover it eats men and mountains and seas, moreover its horns are of diamond, moreover its roar kills, moreover it has eyes that hypnotize, moreover, moreover, moreover…


The amount of makeup foundation on Ottavia’s face, this evening, is such that it creates the impression, on kissing her cheeks, of a velvet couch covered with dust from half a decade in an attic.


Saburo is a forty-year-old South American with curly long hair and a broken nose. When he was in Copenhagen, he made chairs out of scrap metal from the naval shipyard. Here in Florence he doesn’t know what to do. Occasionally, when there’s enough time and wine, Saburo’d tell a long story that takes place in Ulan Bator, Caracas and Osaka, from where he got his Japanese name.


When he knew he had cancer, Urbano bought a pistol. “For when the suffering is intolerable,” he has solemnly said to himself this solidly-built man. Today, when he watches the crowd from the balcony, Urbano has a strange light in his eyes.


An angel when she sleeps, a cat when she stretches, a piece of shit at work, an ice box under the blankets.


Always surrounded by his employees, Franco is the owner of an awful buffet right downtown. When the chicken salad goes stale after days, he adds more mayonnaise.


The slogan will be: “Surveillance cameras at the police station, screens at the squares.”

Vanni Santoni was born in Montevarchi in 1978 and now lives in Florence. He is the author of Personaggi precari [Precarious Characters] (RGB 2007), which started as a blog, and Gli interessi in comune [Common Interests] (Feltrinelli 2008), a novel about drugs, sex, alcohol and boredom among a group of teen boys growing up. It made a splash upon publication. Santoni is the founder of SIC – Scrittura Industriale Collettiva [SIC – Industrial Writing Collective], and writes for Italy’s leading newspaper, the Milan-based Corriere della Sera.


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