Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi was a professor of Portuguese literature at the University of Siena and spent six months of each year in Portugal as well as translating Portuguese writers into Italian. So familiar with the Portuguese language he wrote “Requiem: A Hallucination” (Requiem, uma Alucinacao”, 1991) in it.
It is said that he travelled around Europe in the footsteps of his favourite literary characters and in Paris he found the poem “Tabacaria” (“The Tobacco Shop”, 1928) by the Portuguese Fernando Pessoa, where his love of Portugal was defined.
In Archipelago Book’s latest publication, “Time Ages In A Hurry” Tabucchi explores memory, a raft of different European destinations and of course the passing of time. In this collection there are nine short stories and running to only 140 pages, it is not a challenging read, although an extremely rewarding one.
Our collections begins with “The Circle” where a family reunion is underway to remember the passing of one member ten years earlier. Although our female centre of the story has been married for fifteen years she is childless and being in her late thirties, this is frowned upon:
And why was she wondering just then about the why, in this place that wasn’t hers, on this desolate plain shrouded in August heat? Perhaps because Greta, two years younger, had produced two splendid children? That was the word exactly, produced, and she regretted thinking it, the word was somewhat obscene, but at the same time she sensed its intimate truth, the truth of flesh, because the body produces, and flesh reproduces itself, propagating, when it’s alive, through the vital humors circulating within it, when there’s water, that amniotic fluid of the placenta nourishing the tiny witness who’s received the transmission of the flesh., Water. She felt she’d grasped that everything depended on water and all she could do was ask herself if her own body lacked water, if she too couldn’t avoid the destiny of her people who’d fought against the desert for centuries, resisting the sand that covers everything, and who then had to surrender and go somewhere else, and by now the wells were all buried where her ancestors once lived, only dunes remained, she knew that. Panic invaded her, her gaze wandered lost, over that yellow plain where a too-red sun was beginning to set. And in that moment, she saw the horses.
The theme of a failing memory comes to the fore in the second story “Drip, Drop, Drippity-Drop”, which is the sound of the morphine being dispensed through the intravenous tube to a terminally ill patient. We have a patient in hospital at the end of their life telling stories to relive childhood memories.
And then he heard them, the drops. At first they were muffled sound, a subterranean thrum, as though coming from the floor or walls: drop, drop, drippity, drippity, drip, drop, drippity-drop. They reached into his skull, tapped against his brain, but with no echo, a snap that pops and disappears to make way at once for the next snap, seemingly similar to the previous snap, but actually with a different tone, the same way rain begins falling on a lakeshore but if you really listen you can hear there’s a variation of sound from drop to drop, because the cloud doesn’t make the drops identical, some are bigger, some smaller, you just have to listen: drip, drop, drippity-drop, according to their own musical scale, they sounded like that, and after arriving and getting muffled inside his head, began growing in intensity to the point where he heard them burst in his head as though his skull couldn’t contain them anymore, and they burst from his ears into the surrounding space, like bells gone crazy whose sonic waves grew to a spasm. And then, by sorcery, as though his body were a magnet able to attract sonic waves, he felt they were swarming toward him, but no longer in the brain, in the vertebrae, at a precise point, as though his vertebrae were the well of water where the rod discharges the lightning bolt. And it was also right at that point, he felt, that they extinguished themselves, tearing though the pall that the night imposed on the earth, lacerating its presence. The chinks in the shutters began going pale. It was dawn.
Our next story is “Clouds” where we have a conversation between an older man (age or era not exactly disclosed) and a young female child on the beach. This poetic and prophetic tale centres on the prediction of the future based on the formation of clouds.
“The Dead at the Table” is a third person narrative with an in-depth reflection on the life of an old man, wandering, celebrating, and remembering his love of his life.
“Between Generals” tells the story of a Hungarian general highly decorated for fighting an unwinnable battle, later jailed for the majority of his life, released and awarded medals and now reflecting upon the time he spent with the Soviet general to whom he had lost.
“Yo me enamore del aire” a woman singing as she is hanging out the washing is observed by our protagonist from a hiding place in an Art Noveau building. “Bucharest Hasn’t Changed a Bit” centres on an old man in an aged-care facility being visited by his son. Our main character believing he is still in Romania although he left there before his son was born:
He grew quiet, as if he’d finished, but he hadn’t, it was only a pause, he only needed to get his wind back. You know, my son, he went on, you can go ahead and tell your memories to others, they’re eager to listen to your account and perhaps they get everything, even the smallest nuances, but that memory will still be yours and yours alone, it doesn’t become someone else’s memory just because you’ve told it to others, memories are told but not transmitted.
Our collection finishes with the story “Against Time’ where a “man” travels from Italy (“whether it was Milan or Rome was secondary”) to Athens and then Crete. On one of the flights he flicks through “GREAT IMAGES OF OUR TIME” in a weekend magazine, these images most of us would recall. He then lands in Crete and takes a turn off on a whim….
I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of stories, all having central characters reliving an important, and life changing memory. The reflection upon time and place captured in a melancholic style with depth of clarity around quite simple everyday occurrences. This collection will be published in April 2015 and later this year Archipelago will release “Tristano Dies: A Life” (due September 2015) to add to their already published works “A Woman of Porto Pim” and “The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico”. More subtle meditations on memory, its failings in later life?