Giuliana Morandini was born in 1938 in Udine. In her novels and critical essays, published regularly in Italian newspapers and magazines, appear the themes of Terst and its surroundings in Café of Mirrors (1983), Central Europe, its culture and history in Cut Glass from Vienna (1978) and An Angel in Berlin (1987), and the women and their role in the society in And So I Was Arrested. The Testimony from Women s Mental Hospital (1977). Besides her own work, which received several important Italian prizes for literature, she also translated complete Pasolini s dramatic work into German and prepared for publication S.Beckett s Italian translations. Giuliana Morandini lives in Rome and Venezia.
The Cafe of Mirrors (part)
Against the pallor of the city where large buildings fronted the sea she made out a solitary, green dome. She recognized the columns eaten away by salty air, the statues like cardboard cutouts against the sky.
Only when the dark car stopped before the hotel did she hesitate. She would have gone on, but the taxi driver had already unloaded her suitcase.
The man she met was wearing a uniform too big for him. He seemed suspended from a hook, or perhaps he had only lost weight. He stood slightly stooped, and when he fumbled for his round glasses in the back pocket of his trousers, he pushed aside the flap of his uniform.
She stood still, the big bag slung over her shoulder, feeling the buckle cutting into her skin. The flesh there was already bruised. To change position had become impossible. She was in that state of mind when, after a sharp blow, immobility is the only reaction possible. She felt as if someone was pushing her forward, or maybe it was the draught from the revolving glass door, which rotated like the cylinder of some optical instrument. Her bag slipped off, pulling her towards Reception.
The unknown faces of people passing before her were reassuring. The gangly shape of an Englishman went in front of her:
“Good morning,” he said in English. “I wonder if you have a single room with bath.”
Not wishing to interrupt the remoteness that the English language gave, she also spoke in English: “ My name is Katharina Pollaczek. Last night MR.Osermann reserved a room for me. Would you mind checking under my name?”
She went downstairs on foot, past empty floors. She sat by the expanse of glass to look at the sea.
A woman dressed in vivid, contrasting colours, from red to purple, was waiting to cross the avenue. She turned her face carelessly towards the glass entrance; her face was still pretty, with high cheek bones and grey eyes. Katharina felt herself observed. The woman picked up the bag she had put on the ground, the wind stirred her coloured skirt and her figure swayed a little, unsteady, perhaps not only because of the wind. She kept on walking slowly and went away.
The noise of the sea came as far as the large window. The ceiling flooded with the glow, but the rest of the room was sunk in shadow. The dark street lamps broke the line of the water and the air was agitated by the flight of seagulls.
“The wind always comes back . . . but why does fear begin again?” “Yes,” she searched a long way back. “When I came to this city . . . “ She discovered the girl who ran away from those abandoned things, from those figures who no longer had a face. She had left for the Orient, where boundaries disappeared and the wind wore away their traces.
A distant dream recurred, a huge sky, vaster than in any other place, a dome enlarged by bright frescoes. She was staring at the horizon, motionless in its reflection, full of apprehension, she who loved the blue sky and the mountains brought close by limpid air. But that morning in July the clouds were white, murmuring among themselves and one, higher than the rest, was proudly teasing the smaller strays. She was looking at the road, the grey colour of the granite was more friendly than that un- compromising light. Those few items of make-up in the wicker basket she had as a young bride would dispel her pallor but not the dark circles round her eyes. Her life was changing and with the determination of a simple girl she sought a few crumbs of happiness. But above her the blue was deep.
“A familiar fear . . . And when the wind drops, one must wait.” Again something had to happen, and the uncertainty, the drawing out of time frightened by her. “And yet I am here for a precise reason,” she convinced herself. “I have an appoitment with the lawyer for the custody of my son Friedrich.”
She wanted to walk without being seen, she tried to do this but it was a great effort when other people’s eyes met hers. She endured the contact with people and this tired her, the lump in her throat grew bigger. It was because of a certain intensity on the part of the hotel staff, in the way they looked at her.
She avoided those eyes which stopped her thinking and looking at the sea, the only thing she longed for. She ordered tea and cakes.
The waiter approached quietly, watching her. Katharina searched for something to say but nothing came to her lips, she could not articulate with the vague movements of her swelling tongue. The man looked at her openly, demanding attention, but she kept staring at the glass door, even when he carelessly banged down the last piece of the tea-set, scraping it against the green marble top of the table.
“One more scratch” thought Katharina.
Some milk dripped from the spout, stood like a chalk button.
The waiter went away, his footsteps leaving no trace on the thick carpet.
She took a cake. “I haven’t eaten any for a long time,” she thought. They were flat and icy cold like pottery. “They must be false . . . How odd to think of winter and cakes.”
Those cakes she used to eat as a child. Her house did not look onto the sea, but down into the square. Her nanny Cerovka would enter a few minutes before her mother, the expression on her face clearly heralding some decision which affected her. Behind Cerovka came her mother; one could hear her voice before she was in the room, a voice to which one was not able to respond except with silence. It planned the day as always: “Today you will not go out with Cerovka.” “Not even to school?” she would ask; for even though she knew the answer she liked to make sure. “No, not even to school . . . the bora is as strong as ever.” She would remain only for a second so that her voice hung in the air, suspended.
Katharina used to look forward to the scene behind the cold glass. She would suck her fingers, sticky with kolaci and run barefoot to the window. She would press her face against the glass to have a better view upwards.
In the swollen sky, taut to the limit, dark furrows like veins of tin and lead laced the purple vault, sketched the outline of the storm in every direction. The clouds divided across a map ruled by magnetic fields.
In the room the delicate smoke not drawn in by the fireplaces exuded the resins of Slovenian woods. The stove whistled as if, instead of wood, they had fed it wolves.
“Listen,” Cerovka invited her to lend an ear, ”the voice comes down from the mountain.”
“Whose voice is it?”
“The brothers from Carso come down to the sea to fight and die and their sister cries for them.”
“Does she wait for them on the rocks?”
“No,” recounted Cerovka patiently, “she has swollen, has become big, has flown along the gorges . . . it is the bora.”
The bora was approaching, oppressing the landscape with its power. One could not see her; she could be recognized by the houses, the roofs where she took command; her fury grew as she swept through the attics; the lofts let themselves be taken, seduced by her impetuous and extravagant folly; the streets behind her were unrecognizable. She would take the form of a witch mad with excitement while she cleaned and recleaned the market square. The pavement shone like a bald head and the mad gusts left behind a white emptiness. The sky was becoming cold and dull in colour and the roofs under the arches looked black and curved, full of expectation. For Katharina, the lone spectator, little figures appeared on the wild stage, marionettes pulled by a thread that had escaped from the puppeteer’s hands, clinging to the stone walls, their cloaks assuming every bizzare shape enjoyed by the wind.
Her breath was steaming and the window panes, no longer frozen, misted with little clouds of water.