This micro-tale was written by my very good friend eclipse, in Spanish. She has presented it to a micro-tale contest but unfortunately has not won. I have promised that I would publish it in my blog, and here it is. For those of you who know Spanish, the original version follows. The blame for the clumsy translation is all on me. Enjoy it as I did.
(by eclipse – translated by Barsine)
He never had the courage to tell her how much he loved her. He was just a clerk in the big library, and she, a distinguished customer. He adored for months her beauty, full of mysteries and promises.
– “I can provide you that love novel you are looking for” – he said one evening, repenting suddenly. Her long eye lashes fluttered above the book she was glancing through, ethereal and coquettish as black butterflies.
– “I’m not looking for a novel” – she said handing him the book, as she pierced him with her honey-dewed glance. He opened it embarrassed and saw a note written for him in the margin.
Months later, when he felt brave enough, he knelt in front of her to utter at last the words he never could.
– “Although you don’t believe me, I love you, I always did…” – and, raising up, he retired the dried leaves that covered the cold tombstone.
Amor secreto – por eclipse
Jamás tuvo valor para decirle cuánto la amaba. Él, un vulgar dependiente de la gran librería; ella, una clienta distinguida. Meses estuvo adorando su belleza, llena de enigmas y promesas.
-Le puedo conseguir esa novela de amor que anda buscando-pronunció una tarde, arrepintiéndose al instante. Las largas pestañas revolotearon por encima del libro que estaba hojeando, etéreas y coquetas, como mariposas negras.
-No busco una novela… -le contestó entregándole el ejemplar, mientras lo atravesaba con la miel líquida de su mirada. Lo abrió ruborizado, y vio escrita para él una nota al margen.
Meses más tarde, cuando se sintió capaz, se arrodilló frente a ella para pronunciar al fin las palabras que nunca pudo.
-Aunque no me creas, te quiero, siempre te he querido…- Y levantándose, retiró las hojas secas que cubrían la losa fría de la tumba.
[Ophelia] Wondered what Italy was like: warm, and full of colour, she imagined. One day… Dreams.
While the cold bleak winter reigns in the state ruled by king Claudius, another land looms in the distance. A haunting presence, the promised land. Most of the main characters of A.J.Hartley and David Hewson’s audionovel “Hamlet” talk or think of Italy in one moment or another of the narration, referring to it as a refuge or a destination, for themselves or for others. The mighty republics and ducats of the Italian peninsula are idealised, they are the source of all things, both good and evil. Beautiful as some of the objects they have surrounded themselves with, the tiny Murano crystal bottle which contains the bergamot essence Ophelia will bath in, the statue of the jester Yorick, the tapestry, mute prophecy of Gertrude and Claudius’ treason to old Hamlet. Beautiful, but also lethal, as the poison prepared by the wife of Vortimand who “being Italian was familiar with the poisons from the Medici court”, the pistol with which Ophelia would like to kill Hamlet is Spanish, but invented by “a famous Italian, Leonardo da Vinci, to protect the Florentines against their foes”. There is a physical Italy of the objects and a dreamt one, bonded to desires and dreams. But, as the bergamot essence in the beautiful Murano bottle will drown Ophelia, this dream of Italy is inseparably united to the idea of death. Rosencrantz, in his way to the scaffold in the Tower of London, regrets that he won’t be able to eat oranges in Florence anymore, Fortinbras admits to Elias that, if he was not to attack Elsinore, an assault necessary to fulfill his plan to take both the Norvegian and the Danish crown, “he would be in a bark to Italy”. Paradoxically, the same land that can save Hamlet is the one that will kill him.
As I wrote in my previous post on this novel, one thing that I particularly appreciate about this novel, are what I have called the “Tom Thumb’s crumbs” left by the authors throughout the narration. If you are curious enough you can pick them up, and use them as a key to discover more things. I have chosen three of them, three keys that open three different windows to a world full of lights and shadows, the Italy of the Renaissance.
It was made by a curiously nasty sculptor from Florence. A man named Benvenuto.
Benvenuto Cellini, was a Florentine sculptor (although he was not the author of the real statue of the Boboli gardens in which Yorick’s sculpture is based on) and the adjective with which Yorick defines him, “nasty”, can be definitely regarded as a compliment. There is a brilliant tv series called “Una vita scellerata” (A wicked life), directed by Giacomo Battiato in 1990, which renders sufficiently the idea. If you are not able to find it (as often happen with good old tv series they are not easy to retrieve), you can make yourselves an idea reading the way a man called Baretti, in a journal of the 1760’s called “La frusta letteraria” (The Literary Whip), defined Benvenuto Cellini:
“Peppy as a French grenadier, revengeful as a viper, superstitious to the utmost, full of extravaganzas and whims, gallant within a company of friends but unwillingly fond of tender friendship, more lascivious than chaste, a little bit of a traitor without believing him to be so, a little bit envious and wicked, boaster and vain without suspecting him to be so, without ceremonies and without stiffness, with a not negligible dose of madness accompanied by the firm confidence of being very wise, circumspect, and prudent.”
Cellini, during his life, was charged with three murders, accused of stealing the pope’s gold and imprisoned in Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, from where he managed to escape. He was thought to be dead once due to the fevers, but when his corpse was being prepared for the funerals, he “resurrected” and woke up as if after an afternoon nap. He served the Florentines, the Pope and the king of France, and, as happened with Caravaggio, notwithstanding such a disorganised life he produced many masterpieces. The most famous one is undoubtedly the Perseus’ statue exposed in the Loggia dei Lanzi at Florence: a daring composition very difficult to execute as the sculpture was made with a single bronze cast. If you have the chance to see “A wicked life” that scene will impress you, as it impressed me, even if I have just seen it once when I was twenty years old.
If Benvenuto Cellini had not had an easy life, neither did some of his works. The astounding salt cellar made for king Frances I of France, and kept in the Kunthistorisches Museum in Vienna, was stolen in 2003 and was missing for three years until when the thief asked a ramson for it (he sent the police Neptune’s trident as a prove that he possessed the piece). Finally it was recovered by the Austrian police, three years after, and the thief identified. He was not a sophisticated “pink panther style” thief, but a simple Mr. Nobody. The alarms were ignored as the guardians thought that there was a problem with the security system.
[…] supposedly from the Medici court, a place that had the best poisoners in Europe
In 1600 the Grand Duke of Tuscany was Ferdinando I and the Medicis were not worried those days with plots involving poison or sharp daggers as during the old times of Lorenzo il Magnifico and the Pazzi conjure. The main problem of each new duke was to secure the succession through the still prolific offspring of a family that, in 1743 will die together with Anna Maria Luisa, the “Palatine Elector”. Ferdinando dei Medici was a cardinal and had to renounce his vows when his brother the Duke, Francesco I, died. A brother that after holding for a few years the reins of the ducat, almost succeeded in vanishing the work of his famous father, Duke Cosimo I. Under Ferdinando the Great Ducat of Tuscany thrived again, the treasure was full of gold coins, the economic situation was boyant. The Livorno harbour became one of the most important of the Mediterranean (it is said also because Florentine ships not only fought the Turks but assaulted their merchant ships), Piazza della Signoria was embellished with the fountain of Neptune made by the Gianbologna, and the same artist made an equestrian sculpture of Cosimo I and of the new Duke himself in the Piazza of Santissima Annunziata. When Ferdinando I held the power, the only conflict within the family was the strenuous fight with his niece Maria de’ Medici about whose sculpture the Gianbologna had to finish first, if his own one or the king of France.
And what about the poison? Certainly it had nothing to do with the violent death of two women of the family. The duke’s sister Isabella felt under the hands of her husband Paolo Giordano Orsini, and his sister-in-law, Eleonora Alvarez de Toledo, was murdered by his brother Pietro; both women paid with her life their infidelity to their husbands, a “crime of honour”.
Nevertheless, Ferdinando’s predecessor, Francesco I, and his second wife, the Venetian Bianca Capello, died within a few days one of the other in mysterious circumstances. Although the official version was that he died of cirrhosis and she of a breast tumor rumours grew and the word poison was whispered throughout the city; the only beneficiary was the new duke, Ferdinando, but he was always a Medici. It was a family matter and, both the previous duke and his second wife were not loved by the people. Therefore the practical Florentines welcome with their arms open the Duke Ferdinando I, protector of the arts, who brought to the statues gallery in the Uffizi his classical sculpture collection, gathered in the roman Villa Medici during his years of Cardinal.
The Italian women
[…] and the women in Venice” (Gregor Macbeth) […]
[…] with those pretty Italian girls” (Yorick)
Italy, the promised land, the land of beautiful women, saints and sinners. The renaissance painters’ mistresses posed for the portraits of saints. The most wicked painter of them all, Caravaggio, dared and scandalised the clergymen who commissioned the “Madonna dei Palafrenieri” portraying his mistress, Lena, as the Virgin Mary, and in his attributed “Maria Magdalena in ecstasy”, the mystic experience is more earthly than heavenly. As a French visitor would say in the seventeenth century in front of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s “ecstasy of Saint Therese”: “if this is the love of God, then I am an expert in the matter”.
The names of these courtesans of the Renaissance have arrived to our days. The most known one was Fiammetta Michaelis, the mistress of Cesare Borgia. As a testimony of the thin line that divided the saints from sinners, in the Roman church of Sant’Agostino are buried several famous courtesans, those who having powerful protectors could be buried in consecrated soil. Among this “onorate puttane”, Fiammetta Michaelis herself, but also Giulia Campana and Tullia d’Aragona.
Beatrice Ferrarese has been identified as the “Velata” portrayed by Raphaello, while it is unknown the name of another woman who we only know by a sublime portrait, “La Fornarina”. It is said that Raffaello was so dependent of this woman that he took her with him when painting the frescoes of Villa Farnesina for Agostino Chigi, the wealthiest banker of the Renaissance, who shared with princes and cardinals the favours of another famous courtesan, Imperia, but fell passionately in love with another woman, the Venetian Francesca Ordeaschi. Chigi, who was so in love as to marry her and renounce to the convenient match with Margherita Gonzaga.
This is the Italy that the inhabitants of Elsinore Castle dream of. The land of the “Roman assassins” and the beautiful women, of art and cruelty, lust and sanctity.
Personally speaking, it has been a pleasure to hear the country I live in portrayed not as a place to run away from, as it happens now with the new generations of talented Italian men and women that leave the country for other promised and cold lands, but as a dreamed destiny.
Forcellino, Antonio – RAFFAELLO – UNA VITA FELICE – Laterza Editori (2008)
Pocino, Willy – LE CURIOSITA’ DI ROMA – Newton Compton (1985)
Vannucci, Marcello – I MEDICI, UNA FAMIGLIA AL POTERE – Newton Compton (2009)
… that John Hawkwood’s figure intrigued me. Therefore, as Amazon customer of the century, here I have now in my hands this beautiful book, 400 pages long, published by John Hopkins University and written by associate professor William Caferro. It gathers fifteen years of work of professor Caferro on the figure of Hawkwood or Giovanni Acuto. It won’t be an easy reading but I know that I will enjoy it a lot.
I’ve started my day trying to break the world’s record of spilt coffee over a desk in a year. This is the third time since January. These are the kind of things that make me feel old, not the white hairs in my head. Fortunately, in Italy we drink it espresso.
You know that feeling, when you are starting to read a book, and you know that you will fall in love with it, even after just fifteen pages?
It’s happening to me with “The Temporary Gentleman” by Sebastian Barry. I bought it by chance (or it chose me) in a shop at Gatwick Airport, almost a month ago.
And myself still very young, when the brain seemed to brook no real thought of the past or the future — the movement of time and the world stilled
Sangre. Por todas partes. Mis dedos están pegajosos, creo que si quisiese moverlos no me sería fácil soltar la espada: la mano se ha pegado a la empuñadura. Demasiada sangre. No es mía, o por lo menos no toda. Advierto un picor desagradable en el muslo, veamos. Sí, ese riachuelo de sangre es mío. Habrá sido Agelao, era el más valiente de todos. Tengo casi cuarenta y tres años, y he deshecho a tantos*. Ni siquiera veinte guerreros juntos durante toda su vida han masacrado tanta gente como yo. El Hades me espera, para ofrecerme una pesadilla eterna y sin esperanza. Sí, mis manos han deshecho a tantos, pero mi inteligencia aún más. Ya no se oyen gritos, Telémaco ha seguido mis instrucciones. Le he pedido que me deje sólo unos momentos. Después, mi anciana nodriza llamará para anunciarme que el baño está listo. Penélope no puede verme así. Penélope. He estado con otras mujeres, intentando averiguar desesperadamente si sus abrazos eran tan suaves como los suyos. No lo eran. ¿Por qué te fijaste en mi, Penélope? Te he causado dolor, nunca te haré feliz porque nunca estaré contigo, ni siquiera cuando esté a tu lado. Ésta es mi maldición. Nuestra maldición: la tuya esperarte, la mía, añorarte. Te echaré de menos incluso cuando mañana despierte entre tus brazos. Y me esperarás otra vez, cuando vuelva a dejarte. Sé que lo haré, que pasado un tiempo, dentro de un año, o puede que diez, subiré a la colina más alta de nuestra pequeña isla y miraré el mar, y me preguntaré qué me espera al otro lado. Me iré, y no volveré nunca. Y te recordaré como te vi ayer por la noche. Cuando mi diosa me transformó en un viejo pedigüeño y viniste a hablarme. “Cuéntame, qué ha sido de mi marido, extranjero”. Tu marido no debió haber nacido nunca.
 dietro le venìa sì lunga tratta
di gente, ch’i’ non averei creduto
che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.
(Y detrás [de Caronte] había una fila tan larga de gente, que nunca pensé que la muerte hubiese deshecho a tantos – Dante Alighieri – Infierno)
I wrote this small piece a couple of months ago, originally in English. Nevertheless, as I will never be Joseph Conrad, capable to write masterpieces in a language which was not his own and that he learnt when he was already an adult, I have decided to publish it the blog, in order to remind me never to write fiction in other language than my own, Spanish (in my opinion the text in Spanish is definitely better than the one in English). The picture portrays Italian actor Alessio Boni as Odysseus or Ulisses, protagonist of a tv series co-produced by RAI but that has still not been aired in Italy, although it has been broadcasted by French tv channel “Arte” almost a year ago. It seems that there are too many nudities. Almost five hundred years after, apparently Italy still needs a Braghettone
A quick note just to link this article in Italian about the identity of the protagonist of the “Death of Gonzago” played by the travelling actors in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and in the audio-book Hamlet.
This theory, which strengthens the one of the doubts about the identity of who actually wrote Shakespeare plays, identifies Gonzago as Francesco Maria I della Rovere, duke of Urbino and husband of Eleonora Gonzaga. He died in 1538 in misterious circumstances, and a barbier was condemned for killing the duke “pouring a venomouos liquid in his ears”. In the play represented in Elsinore, the murdered king says that has been married thirty years to his queen, the same time as Francesco and Eleonora Gonzaga.
In Hamlet: prince of Denmark, my favourite brand-new character of the novel, the Scottish soldier of fortune Gregor Macbeth says this (by the way, one of the many pleasures of this audio-book is to hear Richard Armitage speaking with an Scottish accent…):
A condottier from Milan told me something I should never forget: ‘we’re mercenaries, we’re not paid to fight, we’re paid to win
This sentence triggered my curiosity, and I wanted to check out if it could be attributed to one of the Italian “condottieri” I have ever heard of (Sigismondo Malatesta, Federico da Montefeltro, Niccolò Orsini…). I have found a very interesting post (in Italian) about soldiers of fortune, or “condottieri” as they are called in Italy. In this article, another name has attracted my attention, the one of an English knight, called John Hawkwood or Giovanni Acuto, who served, among others, the Florentines in late 1370’s. The first thing I have thought after having a quick research in internet about this soldier is: why has never been made a film about him? His life has all the ingredients to create an award winning series or film. Therefore, following the philosophy of this blog as a public service and provider of creative ideas for free, I launch my particular Voyager to the internet space, bipping John Hawkwood, waiting for someone to accept the challenge. In the meantime, I have found a name for the protagonist of my very very very future and next writing
Although I’m not very good in maths, I know that according to one of its laws the order of the factors does not change the production. This is what A.J.Hartley and David Hewson have done with the Shakesperian Hamlet: none of the characters are what we thought they were according to William Shakespeare’s play. Claudius (my favourite character) is not a cold-hearted bastard but had his [particular] reasons, being his main fault to love Gertrude and the young Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not the elegant courtiers but a grotesque comic couple in the line of Elvis and Costello (or Totò and Peppino). Polonius is not the kind Santa Claus of Denmark’s court but ruthless and heartless, the epitome of what we know by the word “Machiavellian”. Ophelia is not so innocent, and not virginal at all. Gertrude is the big sacrificial victim of the court of Denmark. The absurd attachment of Hamlet to the ghost of his cruel father is difficult to understand. But, notwithstanding all this radical changes, the end of the plot remains unchanged. As Hamlet says in both works “all the rest is silence”.
Maybe for some purists these changes and plot twists are sacrilegious, as the authors have dared to take the Bard’s name in vain. But this not the case for a good part of the first wave of hearers, because we are used to it. I defined this novel in a previous post, when some extracts were released in April “a luxury fan-fic”. This group of hearers, to which I belong, have arrived to this peculiar Elsinore attracted by the narrator, Richard Armitage (with all the respect of the previous work of the authors which, personally speaking, I didn’t know). We are used to read in internet stories in which well-defined characters and plots are changed, twisted and re-written. That is what fan-fiction is about: to fill the gaps, to answer the many unanswered questions you pose on a story or a character already existent. The purists and bard-worshippers may think that to re-write Hamlet requires very few imagination or work, as the starting point is a piece that is “only” four hundred years old; something that, by the way, did Shakespeare himself as many of his plays are re-creations or re-elaborations of previous plays or novels. On the contrary, the good fan-fiction, as a good novel, and a good audio-book, requires work. And in fact my favourite passages of the audiobook are the “new” stories and sub plots. For instance the crude and heartbreaking scene of Hamlet’s birth. The new characters, as the young Yorick or the Scott Gregor Macbeth. The novel has plenty of something that I particularly appreciate and like: subtle references to other works of art, which are left by the authors in the path as Tom Thumb’s crumbs. The surname of the Scottish sellsword as a tribute to Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” and their previous successful audiobook. Richard Burbage, the leading man of the company of English actors, was the name of one of the most successful actors of Elizabethan theatre, and was the leading actor of the Chamberlain’s Men.
The continuous Italian references, Florence and the Medicis, the Florentine sculptor fond of daggers called Benvenuto [Cellini], the gardens of Boboli, the pose of the dwarf compared with the one of the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius, the tapestry made in Italy with Venus, Mars and Vulcano (I know I have seen it somewhere but I can’t remember where now… and this drives me crazy! please check the kind comment to this post of one of the authors to have more information about the source) , the daggers, the poison, the “new” Renaissance air which is arriving also to the cold North. The authors, as the witches in Macbeth, fill their cauldron with all these ingredients producing nine hours of magic and spell.
This post has already more than five hundred words and I have not written anything yet of the narrator… I guess that, in this moment, very few actors would have been able to narrate this book as Richard Armitage has. In my opinion the narration of an audiobook is by far more difficult than to participate in an audiodrama where the work is shared by a group of actors and the sound effects help the hearer’s imagination. Here everything is made by himself, pure acting, a man alone (with a director behind the booth) in front of a microphone. And, as happened in the beginning of times, when our ancestors gathered in front of the fire to hear the story teller, the magic is created, apparently from nothing. The magic potion cooked by the authors in their cauldron comes to life and his voice guides us to that world. The scene of the murder of Pollonius and the following dialogue, the confrontation between Gertrude and Hamlet, are one of the most moving performances that I have ever heard “I wonder how a woman who wept for THIS man goes to THIS in less time that take to a funeral banquet to ROT! I have dogs that are more loyal”, with the enhanced difficulty that between the “this man” and “goes to this”, the voice of Hamlet, broken by the emotion, is mixed with the impassive tone of the narrator. I guess this is something extremely difficult to make, technically speaking. Of all the repertoire of voices that Richard has created for this audiobook two are my favourite ones: Claudius and Gregor Macbeth. The voice of the king is the more “Thorin-like” of all: deep, profound, conveys perfectly to the reader the complexity of Claudius’ psychology “I killed your father for good reason… I never wanted your life too. Yet foul deeds begot others”.
Many other hearings of this audiobook will follow and I’m sure that with each of them I will discover something new.