Other news about Bruno Lattes
Bordered all around by an old perimeter wall about three meters high, the Israelite cemetery of Ferrara is a vast grassy surface, so vast that the tombstones, collected in separate and distinct groups, appear much less numerous than they are. On the east side, the boundary wall runs close to the city ramparts, still dense today with large trees, lime trees, elms, chestnuts, even oaks, lined up in double rows along the top of the embankment. At least on this side the war has spared them, the beautiful, ancient plants. The red sixteenth-century tower that about thirty years ago served as a military powder keg, half hidden as it is behind their large green domes is barely visible.
During the summer months, the grass in our cemetery has always grown with wild strength. I don’t know at the moment. What is certain is that around 1938, at the time of the racial laws, the Community used to entrust the mowing to a farm in the province: a company from Quartesana, Gambulaga, Ambrogio, or thereabouts. The reapers advanced slowly, arranged in a semicircle and moving their arms with an unanimous rhythm. Every now and then they would come out in guttural cries. And the sentries guarding the nearby powder magazine, listening to those distant voices, lost in the heat wave (the sentry box in front of which they stopped stood out white, up there, at the foot of a centuries-old black trunk), had to feel the weight of their constriction stronger, more acute. the nostalgia for freedom.
Around five in the afternoon the peasants stopped mowing. Overflowing with swinging hay and pulled by yoked couples of oxen, their wagons went out one after the other in via delle Vigne, where, at that hour, the inhabitants of the district, pensioners in shirt sleeves with a pipe or Tuscan between their teeth , old arzdóre bespectacled mending laundry or cleaning vegetables, most of them sat outside, in a row in front of the low, single-story huts. The road was narrow, a little wider even in those days than a country road. So much so that if, coming in the opposite direction, a funeral had happened at that point, never mind: the funeral had to resign himself to waiting there, at the lively intersection of Corso Porta Mare, five minutes, ten, and sometimes even a quarter of an hour.
As soon as the hearse had crossed the threshold of the great entrance gate, and as it crossed it made a slow jolt, a sharp smell of cut hay came to revive the heat-ridden procession. What a relief. And what a peace. There was a sudden, almost cheerful, simultaneous stirring. Some scattered among the tombs near the entrance. Others, most of them, left behind the now stationary wagon from which the gravediggers began to detach the crowns, and together with it the compact group of family members and relatives left waiting for the coffin, were already walking briskly towards the distant place of burial.
Only the insistence of his father (“Cancer does not forgive!” He said with the usual, pathetic admonition and blackmail air) had been able to induce Bruno Lattes to attend the funeral of his uncle Celio. In order not to be there to fight he had adapted. And indeed, for quite some time, having surprised him first of himself, he had been very good. Not only during the journey from via Voltapaletto to the cemetery, but also afterwards, confused in the small crowd of relatives and close friends, by whom, high on their heads, the coffin had crossed the whole cemetery from west to east, even after he had behaved more than well, always keeping himself good, quiet, very calm.
At a given moment, however, he had awakened. Ever since the gravediggers had begun to work to get the coffin into the grave, and his gazes had returned to cross with the lost ones of his father, from that moment he had felt resumed by the dull anger that was his habitual.
What was there in common – he wondered again – between him, on the one hand, and his father and his relatives and relatives on the other? He was tall, dry, dark in skin and hair, while his father, and behind his father, the interminable parade of the Camaioli, Bonfiglioli, Hanau, Josz, Ottolenghi, Bassani, etc. “Lattes tribe”, were largely short, stocky, equipped with blue eyes, a washed-out blue (or black, but a dull black, without splendor), and certain special soft and round minds, unmistakable. And morally? Well, even from the high character no resemblance between him and they , thank God, not even the smallest. Nothing unstable, excitable, morbid about him, nothing so typically Jewish. His character was much closer, at least so it seemed to him, to the strong and straightforward one of many of his Catholic friends, and not for nothing was his mother, born Catholic, very Catholic, called Marchi. And as for cancer, finally, that since grandfather Benedetto, in 1924, at the end of almost two years of unspeakable suffering, had been killed by a stomach tumor, his father had decided that he should be by force the family illness (but uncle Celio no, in any case, they weren’t counting lies: uncle Celio had died following an attack of nephritis, an old nephritis, and therefore the cancer for once had not entered neither for long nor for a little …), whether he would come, one day or another, if he wanted to come! After you. Sit down. As far as he was concerned, he had long ago proposed to behave even in such a circumstance exactly as his mother would certainly have behaved, always so cheerful, she, poor thing, always so simple and natural. That cancer could become a daily nuisance, a dominant thought to be nurtured and pampered inside, between fear and delight, for years and years? Disgust! This to cancer he would not have loved to let him. Ever and never.
The coffin now lay on the bottom. The gravediggers had withdrawn their ropes, and Rabbi Doctor Castelfranco, with his nasal and chanting voice, was already reciting the prayers of the dead.
When there is an accordion sound, very close.
Bruno looked up.
Because of the wall that separated the cemetery from the ramparts, the player could not see it. He could only see a soldier up there in front of a sentry box (a sentry standing guard at the powder keg, it was clear), who, leaning his sweaty face forward, nodded in time to the music.
A female voice sang:
bring me many roses …
Someone ordered: “Silence!”. More shouts of protest followed, punching insults, swearing. Behind the great trees of the walls, beyond the lustrous and compact mass of their foliage, one could make out an open air, an almost sea breeze.
The shovelfuls of earth followed one another faster and faster.
Bruno turned his eyes away.
And after dinner – he thought -, when he would pass by bicycle along that stretch of the ramparts, inevitably torn between the desire to discover the couples embraced in the grass with the headlight and the fear of looking towards the black expanse of the cemetery below (since he was a child he had always had a horror of the flames of the will-o’-the-wisps), would he ever find him, after dinner, the young soldier standing in front of his sentry box? Who knows. Bitterness and disgust: this, in any case, was what he felt at that moment.
However, he knew, and how he knew! The impatience, the almost frenzied agitation from which now, thinking of the sentry guarding the powder keg, he felt tormented casino, maybe …), were not born in him at all, as an immediate reaction, from the stupid corvee that had been inflicted on him today, but from much farther away, from very far away: from a point of the lost past at the bottom of an almost infinite distance.
At the funeral of his grandfather Benedetto, in August ’24, the gravediggers had unscrewed the lid before lowering the box into the hole. So on the body wrapped in an embroidered linen sheet, quicklime was sprinkled, in accordance with the most ancient Jewish rite. It was the grandfather who had wanted it so. He had just stopped breathing when someone immediately ran to open the will. The will was clear. Quicklime should have been introduced into the crate after , at the cemetery, in front of the wide open pit. Before, that is, at home, no. Trouble.
He was nine at the time. On the lawn of the cemetery, where he had never been taken once before, together with the first shadows of the evening, dense swarms of mosquitoes had descended. And these mosquitoes had seemed to him curiously similar, especially if he covered one eye with his hand, to the military fighter airplanes that one August evening several years ago he had seen silently pass through, as they landed, the immense sky opening. in front of the dining room window where grandfather Benedetto, widowed for the second time, dined alone. The war was still going on. Dad was at the front. And mum? Where was Mom? Someone, perhaps Aunt Edvige, who after the death of her grandmother Esterina had become the housekeeper, had told him that her mother had left for Feltre, where she would spend a short leave with her father. But Feltre? Where was he, Feltre? And indeed, what era? And the rear, of which Aunt Edvige had also spoken, what were the rear? The fighter planes descended slowly, slowly, one after the other, into the milk-colored sky of the evening, without making the slightest sound. Touching them seemed easy. It would have been enough, to touch them, to protrude an arm from one of the two windows of the dining room. Unfortunately, there was the grandfather behind there, dining alone, and in the meantime, with his glasses raised to his forehead, he read in the newspaper, leaning it as usual against the jug of water. If his grandfather, capable as he was of guessing everything, even the most hidden thoughts, had understood what he wanted to do, he would not have scolded him, not at all. He would have confined himself to staring at him with his hard, stinging eyes of blue enamel. And it would have been much worse.
That other August afternoon in which grandfather Benedetto had been buried, that of ’24, the lawn of the cemetery appeared freshly mowed: exactly like now. Invited to run. And he, in fact, at a certain point withdrew his hand from that of his mother, who stood together with the others in front of his grandfather’s grave still far from being filled, he had started to play on his own, chasing clouds of mosquitoes and getting further and further away.
Suddenly, however, he had fallen: long stretched out, and with his face forward. While he was still falling, he immediately realized that he had skinned a knee. Yet he hadn’t paid any attention to the knee at the time. He had looked around. What solitude all at once! Although his leg hurt, very bad, no one cared for him, not even his mother. The tears on his cheeks had dried very slowly.
“What have you done to yourself?” his mother shouted when, out of breath, she reached him. “If you were a still minut! Don’t you know that grandfather Benedetto is dead? “
He had been late in answering. Finally, remembering a phrase he had heard from his father that same morning, at the table, he had repeated it almost without realizing it: the same identical.
“Only the dead are okay,” he said, sighing just like Dad. And meanwhile he raised his eyelids to look at her, his mother peered at her from below up.
After staring at him long enough with her beautiful deep-rimmed brown eyes from the many nights spent at his father-in-law’s bedside during the last months of his illness, and yet more alive and brighter than ever, Mom had placed a hand on his. mouth. Then, bending down, she bandaged his knee with a handkerchief.
taken from: Giorgio Bassani, The smell of hay , Milan 2013. | 1 to and. Milan 1972.