The ghost of Ophelia

From the book WOMEN BY BELISARIO RIGHI


Ophelia - Painting by John Everett Millais



In August, my family on vacation, left alone in the city one evening, I went to dinner at the Hostaria Canonica in Trastevere, near Piazza Santa Maria, near the Pasquino Theater, now closed for some time. I had been to that restaurant before. As it happened, I always sat at the same outdoor table next to the entrance, and that evening I sat there too. I ordered a Neapolitan pizza and some wine. In Trastevere, the Festa de Noantri was celebrated, a typical event of this ancient and celebrated Roman district. The narrow street teeming with people and busy with motorbikes that were constantly circulating, the continuous coming and going of the waiters with their comings and goings between the tables and the kitchen, the shouts of the square, the always loud conversations of passers-by, all this created a din that was impossible to bear and I thought of leaving, but here was a trumpet sound, which was accompanied by a noise of timpani and cymbals and then, guitars, maracas and other wind instruments were added to the trumpet and drums, producing disjointed sounds, rehearsals orchestra. I stayed at my table, the maracas made me think that I would be listening to South American music, instead, how sad! From that indefinite mixture of sounds a Roman voice rose, a popular music that I have never been able to appreciate. Resigned, I poured myself a generous glass of wine. Many young boys passed through the noisy alley, among whom I curiously noticed the total absence of foreigners, even though it was in July. Better this way, after all, why contaminate that strip of pure Romanism with foreign ethnic groups? I wanted to smoke, but I realized I didn't have anything to light up. Nearby, a couple was sitting with a lady, certainly the girl's mother. They were smoking. I asked them to turn me on.

The young woman was insignificant and the mother who, in handing me a lighter, smiled a smile, which I kindly returned, was like her daughter. I would have liked a nice table neighbor, too bad! On the balcony of a window of a side building, an incredibly colored towel floated in the air that fluttered like a flag, hoisted as if to testify to the popular nature of the neighborhood. Er barcarolo va controcorente... the singer warbled like this. But basically I liked that song, it took me back to the ancient past of Trastevere, one hundred, two hundred years ago, when the language of Belli and Trilussa was spoken. How beautiful Rome must have been in those days! I had a waiter bring me a sheet of paper and a pen. I started writing. The neighbors at the table looked at me, in their eyes I noticed respect and embarrassment. They must have thought I was an intellectual. Intellectuals terrify, who knows why, as if the intellect were the exclusive prerogative of learned people. When you drink, there are those who sing and there are those who do something else. I write. While I was scribbling I saw a little girl pass by. He must have been no more than five years old. She wore a cotton tank top dress and wore clogs with which she made a beastly noise. She was a gypsy, filthy from head to toe. His eyes were full of all the tenderness and sweetness of a child. He was begging for alms. He did not come to me. I would have gladly given her a big tip. He was smiling, and I can't resist the smile of a child. I was still immersed in writing, when in the crowd I glimpsed a girl coming towards me.

Her face was very sweet and hieratic, the whiteness of her skin ivory, her hair smooth and flowing, her gaze dreamy, her figure slender. He remembered the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, the ethereal women of Waterhouse. Was it the sweet Lady of Shalott, or John Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci? With its light gait and its translucent beauty it captivated me and brought me in my mind to all the dame sans merci, whom I have been lucky enough to know and sometimes to love. They are merciless women, the most dangerous, because they offer themselves without reticence and often love too, but they never give themselves totally, because they belong only to themselves, they are ideals, they live in another world, and if they sometimes come down from hyperuranium to join us, they belong to an imaginary and surreal reality, where what is earthly is transcended by the cruel spirituality of their beauty. They are the women of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Like Guinevere, they love without sinning and live in the grace of candor, without being infected by the world around them, and candidly consume unfaithful loves, while they tear apart the hearts of husbands and lovers, but when she passed me by, and with light steps I watched her go away, carried from a breath of wind came her perfume, a fresh scent of moss with a faint scent of willow and I seemed to hear a faint, almost imperceptible song. The beautiful passerby was Ophelia. Awakened from her eternal sylvan sleep, she had left the brook that had held her prisoner for centuries, to be once again with us. Suddenly, the restaurant emptied itself, leaving room for the air, which stagnant among the patrons, did not cool off the sultry evening while now it crept into every passage, bringing refreshment and relief. I wanted to finish my bottle of wine and lit another cigarette, when a deafening noise echoed in my ears. The music had completely changed. No more Roman songs were heard but only bad rock, played in an unworthy way. I asked for the bill and left.

I stopped at a bar in front of Piazza S. Maria in Trastevere. Meanwhile, the concert continued with songs from the 60s, from my young time, and not even these interested me, indeed they bothered me. I have always looked forward, because the past hurts and does not enrich. The past can no longer make us relive the same emotions, because we have changed, our perception of things has changed and nothing will ever be the same again. I would like to know the future, not the next one that could concern me, I would like to know what will happen in a thousand years, when I will no longer be for a long time and see what my life could be, no longer conditioned by the past that today knocks on the door every day of the present. I paid for my whiskey and headed home.

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