The Fire on Kepler Street

Translated by Arnold Hartley

They were telling all kinds of wild stories about the fire at number 14. But the truth is that not even His Excellency Filippo Tommaso Marinetti would have been able to synthesize the simultaneity of everything that happened in three minutes’ time in that howling rat’s nest as deftly as the fire succeeded in doing: it instantly spewed forth all the women tenants half-naked in the August heat, along with all their kids, from the stench and sudden terror in that building; then various men, then a number of poor ladies and it would seem each one of them with bad legs, all looking bony and pallid and uncombed, in white lace lingerie, rather than the sober black they usually wore on their way to church; then a number of men, they too in pretty sad shape, then Rotunno Anacarsi, the Italian-American poet; then the maid of the Garibaldi veteran who was near death on the sixth floor, then the Achilles bearing the baby and the parrot; then the Balossi lad in his underwear carrying the Carpioni woman in his arms; no, no, I’m wrong, it was Maldifassi he had, and she was shrieking so loud you’d have thought the devil was right behind plucking her feathers. Then, finally, amid the unending shouts, screams, tears, babies, and wails of anguish, and the thump and crash of valuables and bundles of goods thrown out of the windows hitting the ground, when you could just hear the fire trucks arriving at full speed and two trucks were already unloading three dozen police officers dressed in white uniforms, and the Green Cross ambulance was pulling up; then, at last, from the two right-hand windows on the fourth floor, and a moment later from the fifth, the fire could do no less than let loose its own fearful sparks, so eagerly awaited! and twisting red tongues in sudden spurts darting here and there, with whorls of black smoke, pitchy and thick as if from some infernal roast, billowing out in puffs and puffs or coiling itself up like an ashen python risen from the depths with sinister flashes of light; and blazing butterflies, so they seemed, perhaps of stationery or more probably pieces of cloth or charred leatherette fluttering all over a sky befouled with soot, adding to the terror of the disheveled women, some in bare feet in the dust of the still unpaved street; and others in house slippers without concern for the horse piss and turds there, amid the screaming and crying of their thousand babies. They could already feel their heads, and their vainly waved hair, ablaze in a horrid, living torch.

From the chimneys and nearby factories the sirens screamed to the sky roasting above: the cryptosymbolic network of electrical alarms perfected the desperate cries of anguish. Distant fire stations flung open their doors, batteries of fire trucks rushed forth, immediately intent on swiftly bringing every evil eruption of flames under control even as the last fireman of the fifth brigade, leaping for it, was just able to grab with his left hand the last rung of the fire ladder on the truck pulling out of the door while fastening the buttons of his uniform with his right.

The slicked-back indifference of automobile drivers whose bumpers swipe at the knees of limping oldsters crossing the street as they turn a corner, and who seem to be placidly daydreaming inside as their cars shoot by outside like wild arrows, scraping away at the most venerable curbstones and sidewalks of the metropolis; suddenly the electrified warning signals stop them short at the intersections; and, instantaneously, the onset of the sirens overhead. Streetcars nailed to the tracks; horses held at the bit by their dismounted drivers; horses with the wagon pressing against their rumps, the corners of their blinded eyes showing white at the unknown terror.

Everywhere the immediate effects of the fire were terrifying. A threeyear-old child, Flora Procopio, the daughter of Giovan Battista Procopio, having been left home alone with a parrot, was crying out desparately for her mother from the highchair into which she had been hoisted and tied down, unable to escape; huge globular tears like unstrung pearls were welling up from her eyes and rolling down over her cheeks onto the soggy bib embroidered with Buon Appetito, and into the muddy porridge of a caffelatte into which she had dunked, piece by piece, a whole stick of French bread, evidently badly baked, along with several Novara or maybe Saronno biscotti, but in whichever case, they were at least three years old, too, that’s for sure. «Mamma, mamma», she screamed in terror; while over there, beyond the other end of the table, the multicolored bird, with a beak like the nose of a duchess, whose habit it was to preen haughtily and rapturously show off whenever the boys called out to him from the street, «Loreto, Loreto»; though sometimes he was overcome by a kind of melancholy or a lethargy without remedy, and they would provoke him, shouting «Hey you, Loreto, come on, sing Viva Italia!… Hey, you drooling show-off, Loreto!» and as soon as he heard the word «sing», he would answer back with a sweet gurgling «Sing yourself», but this time, poor thing, it was quite other than «Sing yourself!» Oh Lord, not at all; in fact, there was, to tell the truth, a certain smell of something burning which he had already noticed, not so strong yet as to be disturbing. But when he saw the orange petals of that sinister magic diagonally cross the open window and then enter directly into the room like so many blazing bats and begin to lick at the rips in the old upholstery and the yellow blinds’ ashwood slats, rolled up with their worn cord at the top of the window frame, then, he, too, suddenly began to screech from the bottom of his gullet whatever came to mind, all in a jumble, like a radio. And in his fright, he tried to escape towards the baby in quick bursts of flight, each time cut short after scarcely a foot and a half by the inexorable perfidy of the tiny chain that held him to his stand by one claw.

It was said that in his youth, this parrot had belonged to General Buttafava, veteran of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and the battle of Berezina; and afterwards to the late lamented Sir Emmanuele Streppi, a peaceful childhood full of light and ideas in Borgospesso; and he had succeeded in outliving not only Streppi, but the most venerated figures of Lombard patrician rank, about whom, incidentally, he was in the habit of making snide remarks to passersby. But now, confronted by the swirl of smoldering banknotes which seemed to be issuing up from the mint of Beelzebub himself, his wit deserted him and he completely lost his bearings. It seemed as if he had gone crazy: «Hiva-i-Ita-ia! Hiva-i-Ita-ia!» he began to squawk loud enough to rupture his gullet, flying wildly this way and that with the chain tied tight to his claw, in a flurry of feathers and an infernal shower of soot and charred paper, hoping to secure for himself a propitious fate, while the baby girl screamed «Mamma! Mamma!», howling terror-stricken in her crying, and beating on the table top with the handle of her spoon. Until a certain Achille Besozzi, age 33, with a police record for theft and currently under surveillance by the state authorities, unemployed and obliged, as a result, to sleep during the day in order to be free for a little job or two at night, but only when necessary, you understand, and in spite of the tabs they were keeping on him, so as to earn enough for a mouthful of bread, he too, poor devil, and so it was a true blessing and the great mercy of St. Anthony of Padua, let us loudly proclaim it to all, and recognize it for what it was, that this special ward of the police, who was sleeping precisely one floor up and directly above in Mrs. Fumagalli’s apartment, on a sofa like one of the family, as soon as he realized the danger, bravely pulled himself together right then and there, what between the fear and the smoke, the smoke that blew upwards through the funnel of the stairwell as if through a chimney, and all those women in shifts and dressing gowns rushing down the steps and the screams and the babies and the sirens of the firetrucks just arriving. He broke open the Procopio’s door with kicks and heaves of his shoulder, and he saved the three-year-old and the parrot; not to mention a gold watch that happened to be on the sideboard, which he neglected to return, and which everyone assumed had been lost in the flood of water with which the firemen, in order to control the blaze, inundated the apartment, from top to bottom.

Besozzi had heard the screams, and he knew the baby was alone, as five in the afternoon was just the time when he customarily disembarked from the cushions of the sofa onto the wharf of a waking consciousness all messed up by this trouble with the police; when he rubbed his eyes, scratched himself here and there, and especially in that mop of hair, and proceeded to stick his head under the faucet, which he then dried off with a towel the color of a sewer rat. Next, he would attend to his hair, with half of a green plastic pocket comb, and, with great delicacy, pull off each individual strand of hair stuck to it, count them, and drop them one after the other into the sink, which was overflowing with stacks of pots and greasy plates left behind by the «homestyle cuisine» of Isolina Fumagalli’s «boarding house». Then, yawning, he would put on a ragged pair of pants and a shirt and slip into those two ancient gunboats, shoes half-dilapidated from the sweat of his feet, and finally go out drowsily to the landing and wearily begin to haunt those interminable stairs, up and down, full of pretexts, and every so often from his pursed lips shoot off a liquid missile of spit upon the steps or against the wall, listless and scheming all at once, his bones still tired from the sofa, hoping for some pleasant encounter. An encounter… well, you know… with one of those «housewives», and some of them choice; and prosperous, too; and ready for anything. And then they would rush down those steps, their high heels going tatìc, tatàc, tatìc, tatàc right down to the entranceway and out the door. And certainly No. 14 was not without its share of these ladies, even though Kepler Street is now flush with shopkeepers and tradesmen who over the last several years have moved into No. 14 with their families. And so that day he had run into the mother, a snotty bitch! and consequently he knew that the baby had been left alone with the parrot. And that’s how he saved her. And Loreto, as well. Maybe that would teach them a bit about who he was, and the kind of stuff he was made of, and how he paid them back for their stuck-up airs; and that despite all the trouble the police were making for him, day and night. Well, yes, there was the watch; but as for that, it’s something else altogether, you know; too bad for them if they had left it on the sideboard just at the moment that the house caught fire.

«A fire», they all said later on, «is one of the worst things there is». And it’s true: amid the self-sacrifice of those blessed firefighters and all the confusion, amid cataracts of good drinking water pouring over the couches, piss-stained discolored green, though this time menaced by a really ugly red, and over the sideboards and cupboards, custodians perhaps of a quarter pound of oozing gorgonzola, but already licked by tongues of fire as a python might lick a fawn in its coils; with spurting, hydrous needles, out of the swollen sodden serpents of hempen fire hose and long piercing javelins from the brass nozzles that ended in white plumes and clouds in the torrid August sky; and pieces of half-scorched porcelain insulators that fell and shattered to bits, pakkishhh! on the sidewalk below; and melted telephone wires, detached from the red-hot brackets that had held them, fluttering about in the evening sky, with black airborne peninsulas of charred cardboard and montgolfiers of carbonized upholstery and smoldering wallpaper, and down below, among the feet of the firemen, and behind the fire ladders, bends and coils and hoses rearing back as they spewed parabolic streams up from every part of the mired street, jagged pieces of shattered window glass immersed in a swamp of water and slime, enameled iron chamberpots full of carrot-length turds, thrown from the windows, even now! slopping over the highboots of the rescuers, against the leather uppers of the engineers, of the carabinieri, and of the firechiefs commanding the men; and the insolent and uninterrupted chick-chàc, chickchìc, and chickchàc, made by the old wooden sandals of the women as they went about gathering pieces of combs, or fragments of mirrors, and blessed images of San Vincenzo de’ Liguori among the splash and spill of that catastrophic laundering.

A pregnant woman, another truly sad case, and she was already in her fifth month! from the panic and anguish of the uproar and perhaps, also, overcome by the fumes on the stairwell, that blew up in a frightful gust the minute she opened the door, began to feel sick and fainted, right there on the landing while trying to escape. And this one was saved miraculously by a fellow named Gaetano Pedroni, son of Ambrogio, age 38, a porter at the central railway station, where he was due to report for his shift at 6:30 that evening. Sent by Divine Intervention! when you think that to pick up and carry a trunk like that you had better be an expert at it. Whistling like a blackbird, he was about to exit from a door right above, another one of Isolina Fumagalli’s, on his way back from a vigorous romantic interlude on which it is almost certain that the Good Lord above must have closed at least one eye. And after the farewells, he felt free and uplifted, and more inclined than ever to come to the aid of the weak and bewildered; he picked up his boater, adjusted it on his head, and lighting a half Toscano already began to work out in his mind the complete arranging, handling and directing of the twenty-five or more trunks, valises, and hatboxes of some fussy American woman, long-winded and overbearing, the kind who go about with a man’s walking stick, between the Venice and the St. Gotthard lines, the Bologna and the T.P. (1)

When suddenly, never mind the American lady, you’re hit with the screams and the confusion and the smoke coming up the stairs just as you open the door, enough to blind you in a second. It was a horrible moment, as he told the story that evening, one of the worst in his whole life. He immediately shouted to his lady, who was still busy at the tap with a bidet and tub and certain other vessels she had, and a huge gushing of water. But she dropped everything then and there, soap, towel, tub, water and everything, and in a flash threw on a kind of Chinese robe, or maybe it was Japanese, and without wasting a moment began to scream, «ah, Madonna! ah, Madonna! my fur coat, my fur coat!» and she wanted to get her purse out of the dresser, and he had to grab her by the arm and drag her out as she was, with that Porta Volta kimono on her and not even a pair of panties, in bedroom slippers, one of which however she immediately lost on the stairs; and pulling her behind him with one hand, they both tried to escape being overcome in that awful suffocation. He, by mere instinct, smashed the first window they passed with a couple of kicks, and then the smoke came billowing ouf there, too. One floor down, a moment later, they stumbled over the unconscious mother-to-be lying on her back against the doorjamb; and then with the help of the other, who was limping on the foot missing the slipper and wanted to run for her own life, but he instead seized her by the arm and didn’t let go and shouted in her face, «either you help or I’ll», and together they succeeded after infinite toil and terror and sweat to get the expectant mother down to the ground floor, where the ambulance and the Green Cross nurses had already arrived, as God willed, and, by then, the firemen.

Then, on the other hand, there was Signora Arpàlice Maldifassi, cousin of the famous baritone, Eleuterio Maldifassi! I’m not kidding! Really! The very one who sang at La Scala in 1908… in Mephistofele… during the spring season… oh, yes!… a triumph! one of the true glories of this wonderful Milan of ours! In trying to rush down to safety with everyone else, the signora was shoved and pushed, by the «egoism», as she later recounted, of the inhabitants of the sixth floor, who were all leaping down the stairs like so many rabbits, and what happens?… those rotten bastards! but she catches her shoe between the Carrara marble step and the twisted and badly designed iron railing! Yes, indeed! and that’s how she broke her leg, according to her. But the truth is she only twisted her ankle on the very first step, slipping in her fear and uncertainty about how to get down the stairs with those high heels reaching up toward three or more inches, as women nowadays wear them. And all because she had wanted to save at any cost the portrait of her Eustorgio, poor woman, as well as her jewels, which were also a reminder of her poor Eustorgio, so she rushed back in to retrieve them from the dresser, the ones she had that very morning redeemed from the pawnshop with the money repaid her by Signora Menegazzi. Talk about coincidence! Imagine what she had to be going through, she too, Lord Almighty! You shiver merely to think of it, let alone to put it into words, when in all the turmoil and terror, she felt herself being slammed against the railing and then against the wall, by «the merciless egoism of human nature», and then slammed again against the railing and in danger of falling over it into the void! And to the natural fearfulness and weakness of the feminine sex, add that she suddenly twisted her foot, that sudden shooting spasm like a bolt out of nowhere followed by a horrible pain up the entire leg, because of which she fell with her backside hitting the edge of the step, then slid down a few more on her rump, a horrible toboggan ride, every new bump from step to step bruising over and again her sacrum, or coccyx, if that’s what you want to call it, which was so poorly protected in the absence of a surrounding gluteal mass, sadly lacking the unfortunate Signora Maldifassi ever since she was a young girl! Coughing and sneezing in the acrid soot, she was screaming, «Help! Help! ow, my leg, save me! for the love of God! ow! ow! ow! Madonna, Madonna, my poor leg, my poor leg, please help me, please help me!» And she kept emitting these six-syllable couplets from her twisted mouth, her soul terror-stricken, her body in torment. And who had to drag her down the remaining flights of steps amid deafening screams of pain and in that horrendous smoke but that valiant apprentice bricklayer and member of the Fascist youth, Ermenegildo Balossi, son of Gesualdo, age 17, who, wearing only his underpants, his face pale as a sheet, was about to save his own precious jewels, these not being the kind you can hock, alas, at any pawnshop. Well, in any case, at least not at the Monte di Pietà, (2) though who knows what they might fetch at the Monte di Venere. Even here… the finger of God was seen. Because Balossi was hurtling down in his bare feet from the roof, where he had been attending to the repair of the battered tiles, damaged by the furious hailstorm of the week before, which came down with complete indifference and impartiality on various roofs of the neighborhood, like all disasters which pride themselves on being the instruments of Divine Providence, or of Justice, as the case may be.

He was working towards late afternoon with his head covered, for in the full heat of the day you could end up roasted on those red-hot roof tiles, and with your brain sunstruck. Around his head he had wound a big red and yellow bandana, but more than anything else he was insulated by his thick curly hair, which was just like sheep’s wool but all powdered with lime; and he was working, as we have seen, in very light garb, with a faded blue undershirt full of holes, made of Viscosa and transparent, looking like tissue paper drenched in sweat. His enormous feet, wide and fleshy, with short, fleshy, splayed-out toes like an open fan, offered excellent purchase on the toasted porosity of the terracotta roof tiles and were prized by master masons and building foremen all over the city; in short, there were no feet quite so well-suited among all the masons and apprentices of Milan to be sent up to roam like a phantom about the chimney pots, sliding in here and there like a fearless cat along the gutters and ridgepoles at seven lire a day… His «place in the world», as Virgilio Brocchi would say, had been earned the hard way, through pluck and grit, not by pull or connections. And in the course of toiling for this hard-won bread, he had lost, one after another, four of the binding straps from around his ankles, like a Hermes of Cinisello on whose feet the wings had been frizzled away leaving only loose dangling thongs.

Meanwhile, the master mason, his mustache all powdered with lime and his wrinkled, dried-up face sprinkled with white moles, and now weary and beaten down by the pandemonium, kept trying to call the boy, wailing up from the fearful bottom of the stairwell, «Oh, Gioànn! Oh, Gioànn!» (3) and went whining his explanation to all those frenzied women in their house slippers fleeing in fright with bundles and screaming kids, that there was still a young lad up on the roof, «the apprentice, my apprentice», that he had to be up there in the attic, «Gildo, the apprentice, Gildo Balosso from Cinisello»; then he resumed howling «Gioànn!» into the smoke-filled horn of that infernal stairwell, from bottom to top, but overwhelmed by the shouting and screaming of everyone else. No one, certainly, turned back with the plight of the apprentice in mind, and most of the women did not even hear him. Until the lad himself, all red, agitated, soaked in sweat, with that red and yellow rag of a bandana wrapped around his head and a black streak across his cheek, appeared on the bottom ramp holding Signora Maldifassi, who was screaming «I’m suffocating! I’m suffocating! ow! ow! my leg, my leg! Oh, God, oh Madonna! help me, you there!» but all the while clutching in one hand a little cloth sack that you could see she would not let go of for the world: and he with his underpants dropping to a position of extreme emergency and nearly falling off altogether, stumbling at every step over the straps with those wide-apart toes of his feet like two combs. He had picked her up and was holding her by the armpits, from behind, and at each step down, with one knee and then the other, he made a temporary seat for her poor skinny rump, making sure to keep their balance and not tumble down one on top of the other to the foot of the staircase. So that afterwards, on Statute Day, they honored him for his civic-minded courage; a poor but brave lad! And he really deserved it.

And another poor devil, old Zavattari, also just escaped by a hair. For years, this character had been suffering from asthma and bronchial catarrh… a serious case, clearly, since not even Milan’s August heat was able to give him any relief and by now they had all concluded that it was incurable. He got a kind of minimal temporary remission from pain by staying in bed until noon and then sitting until six at the table, a table covered with a dirty cloth and bearing a bottle of Barletta – «my medicine», as he called it – paying no attention to the blotches of wine, tomato, and coffee, and unbothered by the mess of bent and splintered toothpicks and all the leftover shreds of gorgonzola and sausage, through the hours of the late afternoon. Out of that bottle, seated at the table, with his left elbow on the cloth and the hand dangling inert, old Zavattari went on for the whole sleepy shiftless postmeridian, pouring himself little by little one half-glass after the other, «just a half-glass», and «just another half-glass» and with his shaking right hand, from time to time, he would slowly raise the tumbler to beneath his mustache; and in that manner never having to stop sipping and savoring (as if he were judging at a wine-tasting), with long sloshings in the mouth and noisy slapping of the palate, as if it were some ambrosial nectar rather than that thick red panerone(4) from the Martesana wineries that is already on the market by ferragosto, that left him with a couple of millimetres of violet-blue mud on his burbling tongue: and then big vermilion drops on his drooping whiskers, like Belloveso all loused up with a cold… drops so bright and red they seemed to flow from the Sacred Heart or the Addolorata in a painting by Cigoli. And his look, too, was like that: veiled, melancholic, staring into the far faraway of some heavenly lethargy, (5) with the upper hemispheres of his eyes hidden by his drooping lids in a kind of slumber-of-the-brow, so that even his eyes assumed something of the tones of the Sacred Heart, though in the style of Kepler Street, for it was actually the sacred flask of panerone that was working the magic. And so, hour after hour, with his elbow on that pigsty of a tomato-and-Barletta-stained tablecloth, one hand dangling and the other, if he was not busy pouring or sipping, scratching his knee; he grunted and rasped in his throat for hours on end, all through the wasting hours of the afternoon, sweating in the stench and stuffiness of that dusty room, with the bed yet to be given an airing and the pillowcase the color of a hare; and with a tail of nightshirt sticking out of his unbuttoned pants and his moldy green feet in a pair of worn-out slippers, with his short breath which seemed to glide upon ballbearings of mucus, cherishing as if with a young mother’s devotion that subdued catarrh of the catacombs, like a glue bubbling at a slow boil in a kettle forgotten on the stove.

This man Zavattari was a business partner of the Pasquale Carabellese firm in Via Ciro Menotti, number 23; between the two of them, they sold low-priced Atlantic fish from the Genoa fishing corporation Genepesca, caught with the trawlers Stefano Canzio and Gualconda and sometimes with the Doralinda, but they also dealt in oysters from Taranto at very reasonable prices, and seafood packed in ice from both shores of the peninsula. And that business had not treated him at all badly, passing off pieces of green monsters from the marine depths on the astonished housewives of the Cir Menott, who, seized with the idea of saving some money, had not the faintest notion of how to cook such unicorns, whatever the way.

But none of this matters: what needed to be said is that old Zavattari, at the first whiff of a hint of the blaze and at the first cries of fright from the stairway and the courtyard, old Zavattari, although already in a state of comforting stupefaction and torpor, tried – even he – in a kind of anguished physical hallucination, to direct himself toward the window in order to open it, for in the condition of hebetude at which he had arrived he thought it was closed, while it had actually been open the entire afternoon; a primordial physical fear which fluttered like an ignis fatutis around that stump of instinct he still had left. However, he succeeded only in upsetting the bottle of Barletta, half empty and as unsteady as he. And instead, cataracts of bronchial phlegm and mucus were suddenly unleashed as were, simultaneously, the strongest inhibitory muscles of the anal sphincter, so that between terrible fits of coughing, while he saw seeping through the keyhole and under the door a pitchblack acrid smoke, and in terror and unable to breathe, seized with the horrible thought that he was all alone and feeling his legs give way like pastry dough at the very moment he needed them most, he ended up by letting everything go in his nightshirt, and then expelling from the depths of his lungs so much of that good stuff that I am sure that not even the Sea of Taranto with all its oysters would ever be able to disgorge a catch equal to it.

The firemen, in gas masks, battering down the door with blows of an axe, saved him. «You could see that the fire had loosened up his bowels a bit», opined the fire chief, Bertolotti, when the rescue was over.

Most painful of all, and unfortunately fatal, was the story of Cavaliere Carlo Garbagnati, the old Garibaldian veteran on the sixth floor: one of the original «Thousand» of Marsala, and among the fifty thousand who claimed the same distinction on the battle’s fiftieth anniversary. All because, despite the shouts of the maid, Cesira Papotti, he insisted on wanting to carry to safety, against every norm of good sense, all his medals and even the daguerrotypes and two little portraits of when he was young; that is, at the time of Calatafimi. Now, carrying away the medals of a soldier who fought with Garibaldi, above all in circumstances of total panic, is not as simple a problem as it might seem at first glance. The result was that he, too, was overcome by asphyxia or something of the sort, and the firemen had to go in and carry him out as well, if they wanted to save his life, and to risk their own while they were at it. But it got to be too much, what with his age, 80 years! and his weak heart, and the painful blockage of the urethra from which he had been suffering for a long time. So that the Green Cross ambulance, by then on its fifth trip, had not even arrived at the first aid station in Via Paolo Sarpi when they had the driver pull a u-turn and head toward the morgue at the university clinic, out there at the end of the campus in back of the new Polytechnical Institute… what Via Botticelli!… farther out, farther out!… on Via Giuseppe Trotti – that’s it, you’ve got it – but even past Via Celoria, even farther, past Via Mangiagalli, and then past Via Polli, Via Giacinto Gallina, beyond Pier Gaetano Ceradini, beyond Pier Paolo Motta, and all the way out to hell and gone.

Original title: L’incendio di via Keplero

Kepler readings


1. [Torino-Parigi. – tr.]

2. [Translator’s note – the Italian text is a succesion of allusions: the description of Mrs. Maldifassi’s jewels, recently redeemed from a pawnshop (which in Italian is called a Monte di Pietà, after the mons pietatis first established at Perugia by the Franciscan Barnabas in 1462) is followed by the reference to the metaphoric jewels of young Balossi hurrying down from the roof; the mention of one «Monte» then inspires a reference to another, the mons veneris (in Italian, Monte di Venere).]

3. «Gioànn, Gioannin is the name used by Lombard masons for an apprentice or helper and results from a curious contamination of two roots, the proper name Giovanni, which is the generic expression for a male, and the noun giovane [young fellow – tr.], from which derives giovanino [a diminutive – tr.], the equivalent of the Italian giovanetto [as distinct from Lombard usage – tr.]. Magütt, in official designation, is yet another term for apprentice mason. Bindello is a ribbon [or flat tape – tr.]. For example, the four straps of the long underpants. Sfrigolarsi is to sizzle into crumbs in flying, used here to be deciphered and that is to be transformed at the price of a diminishment: in common speech sfriggolare is meant to sound like something frying.

4.Panera is panna [cream – tr.]: Milanese dialect. Panerone is very thick cream: and in the jargon of the drinkers it is a term used for a heavy and very dark wine which will not fail to deposit on the tongue of the connoisseur the desired muddy coating: without which it would be condemned as watery, frog’s blood, etc.

5. [To the last word in the Italian text, «affisato lontan lontano dentro il cielo della slòngia» (here rendered as «staring into the far faraway of some heavenly lethargy») Gadda attached the following footnote – tr.]: Apathy, weariness, desire to do nothing, in Lombard dialect.

Published by The Edinburgh Journal of Gadda Studies (EJGS)

ISSN 1476-9859
ISBN 1-904371-02-7

© 2001-2024 by Arnold Hartley & EJGS. Previously published in Forum Italicum, 32, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 219-31.
artwork © 2001-2024 by G. & F. Pedriali
framed image: after Umberto Boccioni, Elasticity, 1912, Collection Dr Riccardo Jucker, Milan

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