“These kinds of things leave their mark on you, and you remember them forever.”
‘He, I Say, He’ or ‘A Flash of Black Light’
by Roberto Monti
Finding fiction from San Marino that has been translated into English could be its own Olympic sport. First, I consulted Ann Morgan’s list and saw that she had a chosen a travel guide for this country, which is an enclaved microstate within Italy and home to some thirty thousand people.
Secondly, thinking that there must be some fiction out there, I proceeded to google every combination of San Marino / writer / novelist / Sammarinese until I came across this short story, translated as part of another reader’s effort to ‘read the world’ and made available online here.
So, thank you very much Paul Kron for making this possible.
If it wasn’t for this short story, I very nearly purchased Marino Fattori’s ‘Ricordi Storici della Repubblica di S. Marino’ (Historic Memories of the San Marino Republic) and would have struggled through it with my patchy understanding of Italian.
This short story by Roberto Monti (pictured right), is selected from his short story collection ‘Il Fatto Che Ancora Non Piova’ (from 2011) and translated into English by Ariel Zambenedetti at the request of the internet travel website The Culture Trip.
It takes as its central premise, a down and out musician, who, after starting with a diverse list of annoyances (everything from when a performance in front of a crowd is interrupted by an “idiotic ringtone…punching out the teeth of the velveteen chords and harmonic phrases” to the Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi and the cawing of crows) narrates a series of other reveries and musings.
Monti takes us on a journey through the narrator’s childhood, through reminisces of some of his formative memories, interspersed with daydreams of his childhood hero Zorro.
Zorro, the ‘He’ from the story’s title, and also the repeated reference to “a flash of black light” that crosses the narrator’s vision and acts as a mnemonic for various events in his life or a spur to think of the right course of action, is described by the narrator, who reveals why he is his hero:
“He, I say, He was always happy. He joked and never once lost his cool, not even when someone tried to pull the wool over his eyes for their own profit. Then he’d get pissed off, but without actually getting pissed off. He’d intervene, but he never took credit for anything. He’d appear out of nowhere. How the fuck did he manage to just appear like that, already dressed in a cape and mask?
I never figured it out.”
For the narrator, Zorro is not “a character”, he is “real” and influences the narrator in how he interprets his life events, causing him to recognise injustice, specifically the bankruptcy of two local business, one of which is his father’s:
“…by that point the Titania had gone bankrupt, just like the Marmaca, the Sammarinese ceramic workshop where my father had been employed”.
The narrator daydreams about Zorro putting a stop to this course of action:
“He, I say, He wouldn’t have let that happen.
He would have intervened with a smile on his face, tracing a nice “Z” on the asses of all those fuckers who made the Titania and the Marmaca go bankrupt.”
Unfortunately, Zorro is not around to save the day or his father’s ceramics workshop: “that incredible place filled with lumps of clay shaped like elephants that had called my father down from Castelbolognese because he painted porcelain like no one else could“. An interesting reference to Sammarinese ceramics, a staple of the state’s economy.
Although a little hard to follow in places, the stream of conscious style that Monti employs is effective at emulating the narrator’s thoughts and permit a deeper pattern of order within the musings. A reflection on aging, loss and most predominantly, change. I would like to read something longer of this author and will keep my eye out for his work in future, fingers crossed for a translation!
I’ll leave you with the narrator’s thoughts when as a child, he is unable to get a Zorro costume:
– “I’m all out of Zorros, Gina, but I have a few pirates left if you’d like”
– “Such is life”