STUFF YOU WOULDN’T FIND ON NETFLIX

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They saw a movie last night. First they discussed which movie; he’s been downloading movies all week – stuff you wouldn’t find on Netflix. Then they talked about the movie for a while before switching everything off for the night. The building across the street: the same; so in the apartments below, above. They appreciate the dialogues of the movies they see, they find the plots credible, they spot holes and admire the cinematography. “Would they like mine?” His eyes go red, he twitches his little-white-rabbit nose, and on the roof he says, “Yes, I’m happy I started this pandemic!”

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2020/03/19/march-19-flash-fiction-challenge-3/#comment-67117

BRECHT, TOKYO AND MT. VESUVIUS

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In 1956 Bertolt Brecht sent his written contribution to a debate about the theatre taking place in the city of Darmstadt, Germany. In his clear-cut style and well-defined images, he warned the listening congregation (we are assuming somebody else read his words) that if they wanted to talk to today’s people they needed to present today’s problems in relation to their solutions, the world as a world that can be changed. “Years ago,” the voice (not his) continued, “in a newspaper I saw a photograph of the city of Tokyo destroyed by an earthquake. Most of the houses had collapsed, but a few modern buildings were standing, unscathed. ‘Steel stood’ was written over the image.” The voice then invited them to compare this description with Pliny’s description of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, concluding that it seemed obvious which one “our modern playwrights should avoid.” (Alas, we can only imagine the reaction of the passionately debating congregation. In 1956.) “We can no longer present man to man as a victim, as the passive object of an unknown and immutable environment.” The voice finally spoke in stone, “If we put ourselves in the position of the ball, the laws of motion become inconceivable.” (In 1956, of course.)

SEPARATING

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I don’t have a mask. Should I have a mask? There are no masks left at the local pharmacy. A friend has posted a video explaining how to make your own mask, at home: parchment paper, two rubber bands, and scissors. She saw it on national TV. Then a journalist signed in live from a hospital in the north, stood right in front of the two sliding doors separating the virus ward from the rest of the hospital and said, “This is the line separating Life from Death.” Then folks from the more affected north tried to escape to the less affected center and south of the country, returning home, while a horde of outraged folks on social media poured their higher-than-god anathemas “Your mother is going to die because of you!” against them. And while the train is darting through the country, they hear the chants of bored home-forced revelers as if the hills are alive with the sound of sirens and orgiastic mourners, the loudspeakers blasting the death toll for the day gone by, with no explanation – only the sheer numbers.

OVER THE HEDGE

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One thing I Know: I know what happens in the world, I don’t know what happens at the end of my street. Street level, on a hilly road that curves where my building is, a little garden right outside my door, a hedge that lines it on two sides out of three. I can stare at the top of the road, but I can’t see the bottom, and that’s where the buzz is (or might be), the big road intersecting the major thoroughfare further north, the big square, the restaurants (shut), the stores (shut), the bars (shut), the tobacconists (shut? – there was a debate as to whether cigarettes are essential needs in times of confinement, can you walk in the park?, can you walk to relax?, to walk off the tension of living 24/7 with… who had ever been with these folks all this time?) Those who are home alone are spinning monologues to their kitchen curtains, and I wonder if I should see to really know, or whether I really want to know.

MORNING DAY 1

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The birds outside the window must be wondering where we are. They can still fly, observe from above, and the city is empty, those big boxes of metal and plastic, we call them cars, are parked idle on the side of what we use to travel or walk, we call them streets. Bird Two says to Bird One they can finally breathe and the message is relayed. Another bird comes, Bird Three, slightly different chirp, he was at the park earlier, to catch the proverbial worm naturally, and the gates there are closed. Bird One is astounded, but Bird Three, worldly and well-flown, explains the parks are shut because we didn’t understand what it means to stay home. He tells the story of how Big Man in government told all of us to stay home, then urged us, then pleaded, but we all went out anyway. Drastic Measures, National Shutdown, and Bird One has a shiver when he hears the words. Chilly morning, huh? Spring is coming. Spring is here – March 12, can you believe it? Bird Two can maybe count the days, and be astonished. Do they care? Should they? The world is theirs! (this morning) – they fly away.

III – AT THE PORTA CAPUANA

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Then some will inevitably tell you that what you’ve seen is not the real city. The real city is its outskirts, the rundown, dirty, crime-ridden outskirts – what you’ve seen is the relatively polished, the cleverly cleaned-up version of what this city is or can be, a better phrase, because we don’t want the criminal, we want the charming, (it is so complicated to explain.) In a counter bid to our obsessive encasing of historical ruins, the makeshift basketball court in the shade of the Porta Capuana, youths playing while a bunch of people of many oriental nationalities camped right underneath its bastions, seemed the perfect example of the prejudice of beauty in the face of stones and history – they are revamping the area alright, cleaning the pavement, restoring the old gate (with funds for the peripheries of the European Union) – yet these teenage basketball players, born and bred in the hood, don’t, literally, give a damn; they play there just as they could be playing anywhere else, provided they have a basketball court (The surprise lies in their not playing soccer.) So this is the issue with the broken outskirts, they have nothing, never had nothing, and young folks there have no courts, or fields or pools, nothing, what are they going to do? – you go in and you feel that crime is lurking behind piles of trash – those youths can only go down the wrong road of the bad life, while these kids at the Porta Capuana, right across the street from what was the official Courthouse of the city of Naples for five hundred years, live a life of hardship, you’d imagine, but the easy kind. What does one expect? Crime at every corner? No, but neither does one expect this baroque eccentricity which does exist. No, it doesn’t. People just live normal lives here – that’s all.

II – FACING THE WORLD

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Areas around train stations don’t usually get much attention. Yet this one, and its large rectangular square, may be the best ordinary gateway into the city in all its ‘splendor and squalor’ (S&S – Naples’ rhyming code to its much maligned beauty and decay?) You’re not really encouraged to walk right, but the hood oozes life of all colors and creeds – in the throbbing heat of summer, too, when the rest of town only seems discernible through the style of dripping laundry hanging dry out of windows and balconies; neither is there a reason to go left, but the air smells salty like seawater, seeping in from behind a few boulevards, some unpleasant buildings and the docks – you don’t see the sea, you smell it; And, finally, why venture to the other end of the square, despite any beautifying revamp, to a statue of Garibaldi, the hotels, and the pulsating beat of avenues leading to other visceral hubs? The image of veins and arteries, often used but seldom with any meaning, comes to mind, pounding beneath your feet. There’s a church dome some way off up to one of the hills, and a former castle and a former charterhouse; the craggy outline of densely populated humanity, and spots of greenery that were once pastures and vineyards, praised by those who saw the city a few hundred years back, or less, when, you’re constantly reminded, this was a capital, and what a capital! – left now to talking buildings and people that look instead of listening.

I – WHERE TO LOOK

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It is the day Ethiopia will plant 250 million trees to tackle climate change and yet another boat of refugees will sink in the Mediterranean; posts are viral with the reactions of Italian Navy officers rescuing dead bodies, of mothers, of infants, of newborns wrapped firm in their mother’s denim leggings; (globalization for all of us, baby; or the impression of safety you think denim leggings will give against the very blue waters of the Med? I was staring, spellbound, at the same sea only yesterday afternoon, from the soothing shores of Cape Posillipo, the ‘respite from worry’ of ancient Greek seafarers – this would have struck a discordant note with the death bulletins from south of Sicily.) This morning Vesuvius shows the bay and the city its sinuous flanks and round top, the middle ground being wrapped in clouds, white and light blue, like the clouds can steal the hues of the morning sky – anyone can wax poetic when it comes to the bay of Naples – guide books informing the impression-thirsty traveller where to look at dawn and where to look at sunset, where to be as the sun rises and where as the sun sets (then do whatever you like in between, explore what’s in between sunrise and sunset, like the vows some exchange at a wedding, for better, for worse, for rich and for poor, in sickness and in health, till death do us part – who’s us? – the Baroque absurdity of existence coming out in the crumbling palazzi, some wonderfully restored, which you will just stumble on, not visit, as they come to you unexpectedly. You can’t feel it unless you’re here.)

FLAKING OFF THE WALLS

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A gust of warm wind rushed in with the man from the foyer. The chandeliers rattled; dust whirled down onto the carpeted floors.

“Lily and Becky?” he asked.

“My sister couldn’t…”

“Yes, it’s you and your sister. The gig’s outside the castle. 6am to 8pm.”

Lily nodded.

In the abandoned megaphone-shaped auditorium, ghosts of opera-goers gazed at their own paint flaking off the walls. Mr. Reynolds excused himself with his best beggars-can’t-be-choosers look; rushed backstage echoing orders. Now a car horn reached Lily’s ears from outside. Becky, of course, double-parked! By the entrée des artistes – the Irony of it.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/04/11/april-11-flash-fiction-challenge/

AS THE FLAMES FLING HIGH

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In the smoky gray courtyard, the firing squad is lined up, awaiting those to be shot. The former smoke while the latter lit candles in the night on their windowsills. But a section of the confiscated buildings is on fire and firefighters are trying to tame the ever-spreading flames – those who live in the area are out firing questions at officers ill-equipped at this fired-up injustice. The morning sun rises firing the tops of burned-out trees. “Fire! Fire!” a second of hesitation too many, “Fire, fire!” And all, at present, is gone up in tiny little bits of smoke.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/04/04/april-4-flash-fiction-challenge/