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ITALIAN GHOSTS

 

Len was a master painter. His workshop was located near Ponte Vecchio. Tony was his most gifted apprentice but he might have existed only in Len’s mind.

 

TONY: Why don’t you ever finish what you begin?

LEN: A work of art is never finished. It’s always abandoned.

TONY: Sounds impressive but what does it mean?

LEN: Haven’t you noticed that as soon as you finish a painting, a feeling of despair comes over you? You realize that much more work could be done on it. But the patrons are waiting and you must eat. The work I do for myself drags for years in my workshop. In my darkest moments a voice inside my head screams “Burn, burn and rape, burn and rape and kill.” The voice is almost irresistible. Sometimes I don’t believe that I’m still an artist. At night, I dream of dark dungeons, and prisoners in chains.

TONY: Master, I thought only apprentices felt like that.

LEN: We’re all apprentices. What do you think Verrocchio taught me? Not much… Nature is our only teacher. Your blond hair is made of waves, like the sea. It seems perfect but it isn’t. Nothing can be perfect; God never really finished the universe. The universe came from chaos and one day it will return to it with all our works. See, even God never finished his work of art. . .

TONY: Why do we paint? Why do we study? Why don’t we just spend our time designing weapons and organizing feasts for princes? At least we’d make more money!

LEN: We paint because thinking gives us more pleasure than any vice; because we cannot be satisfied by just producing excrements like most people do; because nature taught me to try to understand the world around me; because I want to exist, more than the stone, more than the tree, more than the cat. . .

TONY: Most people produce only shit! Is that what you think?

LEN: Well, some people. . .

TONY: Let’s change the subject. When we saw the French soldiers stone to death your equestrian statue we cried. Wasn’t all that work a waste of time? That’s all we do, preliminary sketches and clay sculptures; we never get to cast anything in bronze. The Duke riding that horse would have looked fantastic in bronze. It broke my heart to see the clay figures die. We should have gotten drunk instead. . .

LEN: No! Work is what saves us. When we paint we forget the dark voices of the soul. When we go and dig up corpses, like thieves in the night, it’s to better understand the human body; you can’t guess what’s inside a machine. . .

TONY: Master, please lower your voice. These things are forbidden by the Holy Church. . .

LEN: By the Church, not by God!

TONY: Master, please, I fear these conversations.

LEN: You don’t have to be afraid of death. Death is part of life just as darkness is part of light in my paintings. A dead body is just like a statue abandoned by its creator. Death is God’s equestrian statue... It’s not death but dying that hurts.

TONY: Then Master, what was the use of planning new war machines? Did you think you would conquer the world? Did you think of abandoned statues then? Or did you hope to bring all the blond boys to your bed?

LEN: You‘re going too far, Tony! You‘re hard with me, and you‘re not fair. Let me remind you how that rumor started. An unfortunate incident happened on April 8th in 1476. At that time Florence still had a “Tamburo.” It was a sort of wooden box where anyone could put anonymous accusations. The tamburo was set up in front of Palazzo Vecchio. That day four of my friends and I were accused of having sodomized Jacopo Saltarelli; you remember Jacopo, the model? To make a long story short we were found innocent. Since then my enemies have tried to spread the rumor that I am a homosexual. Believe me, I abandoned my war plans and my vices a long time ago. Maybe I am virtuous after all, or I am simply following my fundamental law of abandon. Nobody escapes it. Remember Our Lord was abandoned by his disciples…

TONY: If you’re implying that you’re like Christ… Master, this is blasphemy! Is the dark voice taking over again? Should I get the exorcist?

LEN: No. I’m alright; I’m just using an image to make you understand. . . Let me get my notebook, I just discovered a few new words today!

TONY: Please Master; let’s not start with the notebooks again. I‘m sorry. I didn’t want to add to your bitterness. But tell me: even if thinking gives you more pleasure than any vice, why do you begin so many projects? If I chose the pleasure of painting why should I waste time with the pleasure of mathematics?

LEN: Anyone who dedicates his life to studying; the noble art of satisfying curiosity; the superior habit of spiritual gossip; can in the end carry the vast universe in the narrow space of his chest. Nature and your heart must share the same cage. So painting and mathematics are part of the same mystery. God doesn’t like specialists.

TONY: Master I have a tough time understanding what you’re saying. Some people believe that only the Greeks and the Romans could manage such miracles. They think that there’s nothing new. . .

LEN: You’ve already studied long enough to know better. I taught myself Latin but that’s not a sign of admiration for the Romans; actually I taught myself many things. You don’t need the Greeks and you don’t need the Romans; you don’t even need the French, except when they pay for your services. To see the true image of the universe, you only need observation and meditation. How many birds begin building a nest and can’t finish it because the storm is near? How many children begin sandcastles and can’t finish them? How many emperors begin the conquest of the world and never finish? It would be a sign of inferiority to finish everything I begin. How can my hands finish what my spirit imagines? Even the most accomplished artist doesn’t have hands with a mind of their own.

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About the author:

Alexandre Amprimoz is a poet, critic, translator, writer and programmer. He teaches Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario Canada. Books include: A Season For Birds: Selected poems by Pierre Morency. Translation. Toronto: Exile Press, 1990; Venice At Her Mirror: Essay by Robert Marteau. Translation. Toronto: Exile Press, 1990 ; Nostalgies de l'ange. Ottawa: Editions du Vermillon, 1993. He has recently published poems in: Alsop Review, Antigonish Review, Octavo, Dégaine ta rime, Resurrétion, Hélices and LittéRéalité.