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I wonder if they take drugs? Graziano thinks to himself.
If he can sell them a few grams and make a few lire, this already promising evening could become magical.
‘You must have an amazing life: all sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, eh?’ asks the brunette, a lobster pincer between her teeth.
It depresses Graziano when people say things like that.
Why do they open their mouths and spew out words, useless words?
Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll … The same old line.
But over dinner he continues to muse on it.
Actually, it’s true in a way.
His life is sex, drugs and … no, you can’t really call it rock’ n’roll … and flamenco.
But what’s wrong with that?
Sure, many people would hate a life like mine. Drifting. Rootless. But I like it, and I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.
Once a Belgian guy, sitting in meditation on a flight of steps in Benares, had told him: ‘I feel like an albatross borne on the currents of air. On positive currents which I control with a gentle flap of my wings.’
Graziano, too, felt like an albatross.
An albatross with one great commitment: not to harm others or himself.
According to some people pushing drugs is harmful.
According to Graziano it depends how you do it.
If you do it to make ends meet and you’re not trying to get rich, it’s okay. If you sell to friends, it’s okay. If you sell quality drugs and not crap, it’s okay.
If he could make a living just from playing the guitar, he’d give up pushing on the spot.
According to some people taking drugs is harmful. According to Graziano it depends how you do it. If you overdo it, if you let the drugs freak you out, it’s not okay. He doesn’t need doctors and priests to tell him that the white stuff has unpleasant side-effects. But if you only take the occasional toot, there’s nothing wrong with it at all.
And what about sex?
Sex? Sure, I get a lot of it, but how can I help it if women like me and I like them? (I’m not into men, let’s get that quite clear.) It takes two to have sex. Sex is the most beautiful thing in the world if you do it in the right way, without any complications. (Graziano has never reflected much on the obviousness of this statement)
And what else does Graziano like?
Latino music, playing the guitar in restaurants (as long as I get paid!), sunbathing on the beach, fooling about with his friends in front of a huge orange sun as it sinks into the sea and …
… and that’s about it.
Don’t believe those people who say that if you want to appreciate the good things of life you have to work your butt off. It’s not true. They’re trying to con you. Pleasure is a religion and the body is its temple.
And Graziano had organised his life accordingly.
He lived in a studio flat in the centre of Riccione from June to August, in September he moved to Ibiza and in November he went to Jamaica for the winter.
At forty-four years of age, Graziano Biglia felt like a professional gipsy, a vagabond of the dharma, a migrant soul in search of its karma.
That’s how he described himself, at least until that evening, that fateful June evening when his life intertwined with that of Erica Trettel, the go-go dancer.
And here is the professional gipsy two hours after the feast at the Carillon del Mare.
He is sitting in the gallery of the Hangover, slumped over a table, as if some thief had stolen his backbone. Eyes reduced to slits. Mouth half-open. In his hand he holds a Cuba libre which he can’t drink.
‘God, am I wasted,’ he keeps repeating.
The mix of coke, ecstasy, wine and fried seafood has done for him.
The pet-food manufacturer and his wife are sitting beside him.
The discotheque is crammed fuller than a supermarket shelf.
He has the impression that he’s on a cruise ship because the discotheque keeps rolling from side to side. The place where they’re sitting is lousy, though it’s supposed to be the VIP area. A huge speaker, hanging above his head, is shattering his nervous system. But he’d rather have his right foot amputated than get up and look for another place.
The pet-food manufacturer keeps yelling things in his ear. Things Graziano doesn’t understand.
He looks down.
The dance floor is swarming like an anthill.
All that’s left in his head is simple truths.
It’s a madhouse. It’s Friday. And Friday’s always a madhouse.
He turns his head slowly, like a Fresian bull grazing in Swiss mountain pastures.
And he sees her.
Dancing naked on a cube in the middle of the anthill.
He knows the usual dancers of the Hangover. But he’s never seen her before.
She must be new. Wow, she’s a real fox. And can she dance.
The speakers vomit out drum’n’bass over a carpet of bodies and heads and arms and she is up there, as remote and unattainable as the goddess Kali.
The strobe lights freeze her in an infinite sequence of plastic sensual poses.
He observes her with the fixed gaze typical of substance abuse.
She’s the sexiest woman he’s ever seen.
Imagine being her man … Having a girl like that beside you. Imagine how they’d envy you. But who is she?
He’d like to ask someone. The barman, perhaps. But he can’t get up. His legs are paralysed. Besides, he can’t take his eyes off her.
She must be something really special because normally the young heifers (that’s what he calls them … ) don’t interest Graziano.
A communication problem.
He usually hunts more seasoned game. He prefers the mature, voluptuous woman, who can appreciate a sunset or a moonlight serenade, who isn’t full of hang-ups like a twenty-year-old and who can have a good fuck without burdening it with paranoia and expectations.
But in this case every distinction, every category goes down the can.
A girl like that would make a poof turn straight.
Imagine screwing her.
A faded image of making love on a white beach on a desert island goes through his mind. And as if by magic his cock begins to stiffen.
Who is she? Who is she? Where did she come from?
God, Buddha, Krishna, First Principle, whoever you are, you’ve materialised her on that cube to give me a sign of your existence.
Not that the other go-go girls, around the sides of the dance floor, aren’t perfect too. They all have firm buttocks and shapely legs, full rounded breasts and flat muscular stomachs. But none of them is like her, she has something special, something Graziano can’t put into words, something animal, something he’s only ever seen in the black girls of Cuba.
This girl’s body doesn’t react to music, it is music. The physical expression of music. Her movements are as slow and precise as those of a t’ai chi master. She can stand immobile on one leg, wiggling her pelvis and sinuously moving her arms. The other girls are spastics compared to her.
And the incredible thing is that no one in the disco seems to notice. Those fools keep moving around and talking when a miracle is taking place before their very eyes.
Suddenly, as if Graziano had sent her a beam of telepathic waves, the girl stops and turns towards him. Graziano is sure she is looking at him. She stands quite still, there, on the cube, and looks straight at him, him in the midst of that mayhem, him in the midst of those milling masses, him and nobody else.
At last he sees her face. With that short hair, those lips, those green eyes (he can even see the colour of her eyes!) and that perfect oval, she’s the spitting image of an actress … an actress whose name is on the tip of Graziano’s tongue …
What’s her name? The one who starred in Ghost?
How grateful he would be if someone could prompt him: Demi Mo
But Graziano is in no state to ask anyone, he’s mesmerised, like a cobra before a snake charmer. He stretches out his fingers towards her and ten little orange-coloured rays are released from their tips. The rays join together and trace a wavy path like an electric flashover across the disco, above the oblivious masses, and reach her, in the middle of the dance floor, enter her navel and make her shine like a Byzantine Madonna.
Graziano starts trembling.
He and she are linked by an electric arc which fuses their identities, transforms them into imperfect halves of one complete being. Only together will they be happy. Like one-winged angels, from their embrace will come flight and paradise.
Graziano is about to burst into tears.
He is overwhelmed by a boundless love, such as he has never felt before, a love that is not vulgar lust but the purest of emotions, a love that impels a man to reproduce, to defend his woman from external dangers, to build a den to raise children in.
He reaches out his hands seeking an ideal contact with the girl.
The Milanese couple gaze at him in amazement.
But Graziano can’t see them.
The discotheque is no longer there. The voices, the music, the confusion, have all been swallowed up by the mist.
And then gradually the greyness disperses to reveal a jeans shop.
Yes, a jeans shop.
Not a trashy little jeans shop like the ones in Riccione, but one that resembles in every way and every detail the stores he’s seen in Vermont, with neat piles of Norwegian fishermen’s sweaters, rows of Virginian miners’ boots and drawers full of socks hand-knitted by the old women of Lipari and jars of Welsh marmalade and Rapala lures and there are he and the go-go girl, now his wife, very obviously pregnant behind the counter, which is in fact not a counter but a surfboard. And this jeans shop is in Ischiano Scalo, in place of his mother’s haberdashery. And everyone who passes by stops, comes in and sees his wife and envies him and buys moccasins with penny buttons and Gore-tex parkas.
‘The jeans shop,’ whispers Graziano ecstatically, his eyes closed.
That’s what the future holds for him!
He has seen it.
A jeans shop.
And no more of this footloose life, with all its trendy nonsense, no more loveless sex, no more drugs.
Now he has a mission in life: to meet that girl and take her home with him because he loves her. And she loves him.
‘She loves me,’ sighs Graziano, and he gets up from his chair and leans over the rail with arms outstretched to reach her. Luckily the Milanese guy is there to grab him by the shirt and stop him pitching over and breaking his neck.
‘Are you out of your mind?’ the woman asks him.
‘He fancied that little tart down there in the middle.’ The pet-food manufacturer bursts out laughing. ‘He wanted to kill himself for her. Can you believe it? Can you believe it?’
Graziano is on his feet. He is open-mouthed. He is speechless.
Who are these two monsters? And how dare they? Above all, what are they laughing about? Why are they mocking a pure, fragile love that has blossomed despite all the ugliness and filth of this corrupt society?
The husband looks as if he’s going to die laughing at any moment.
Now this son-of-a-bitch dies. Graziano grabs him by the neck of his Hawaiian shirt and the man stops laughing at once and puts on a smile with too many teeth. ‘I’m sorry, I do apologise … I really am sorry. I didn’t mean …’
Graziano is about to punch him on the nose, but then thinks better of it. This is the night of redemption, there is no place for violence and Graziano Biglia is a new man.
A man in love.
‘What do you understand, you … you heartless creatures,’ he mutters under his breath, and staggers off towards his beloved.
His love affair with Erica Trettel, the go-go dancer from the Hangover, proved to be one of the most disastrous episodes in Graziano Biglia’s life. Perhaps that mix of cocaine, ecstasy, seafood and Lancers that he had ingested at the Carillon del Mare was the immediate cause of the coup de foudre that short-circuited Biglia’s mind, but the remote causes were obstinacy and congenital blindness.
Normally, when you wake up after a night of over-indulgence in alcohol and psychotropic substances, you have a hard time even remembering your name, and indeed Graziano had erased from his memory the successes of the Carillon, the pet-food manufacturers, and …
Not the girl who had danced on the cube.
He hadn’t forgotten her.
When Graziano opened his eyes next day, the image of him and her in the jeans shop had nested, octopus-like, among his neurons and, like Orion Quest inside Grandizer, continued to pilot his mind and body all summer.
For throughout that ill-omened summer Graziano was blind and deaf, he refused to see or hear that he and Erica weren’t suited. He refused to understand that his fixation was irrational and would bring only pain and unhappiness.
Erica Trettel was twenty-one and stunningly beautiful.
She came from Castello Tesino, a village near Trento. She had won a beauty contest sponsored by a salami factory and run off with a member of the jury. She had worked at the Bologna Motor Show as an Opel girl. A few photographs for the catalogue of a swimming-costume manufacturer in Castellamare di Stabia. And a course in belly-dancing.
When she danced on that cube at the Hangover she could concentrate, give of her very best, blend in with the music, for positive images kept flashing, like Christmas-tree lights, in her mind: her in the dancing troupe of Sunday Live, photographs in Novella 2000 of her coming out of a restaurant with a guy resembling Matt Weyland, and the big quiz show and TV commercials for the Moulinex stainless steel grater.
That was where her future lay.
Erica Trettel’s desires were simple and concrete.
And when she met Graziano Biglia, she tried to explain this to him.
She explained that these desires did not include getting married to a superannuated rocker who was obsessed with the Gipsy Kings and who looked like Sandy Marton at the end of the Paris–Dakar rally, much less ruining her waistline by giving birth to screaming brats, and even less opening a jeans shop in Ischiano Scalo.
But Graziano just would not understand and explained to her, like a teacher to an obstinate pupil, the world of television is a kind of mafia. He knew this only too well. He had played on Planet Bar a couple of times. He told her that success on TV was ephemeral.
‘Erica, you must grow up, you must understand that human beings weren’t created in order to make a show of themselves, but to find a space where they can live in harmony with heaven and earth.’
And that space was Ischiano Scalo.
He also had a recipe for getting Sunday Live out of her head: leaving for Jamaica. He argued that a holiday in the Caribbean would do her good – it was a place where people enjoyed themselves and chilled out, where all the stress of this crappy society counted for nothing, where friendship was all that mattered and you just lay on the beach and did fuck all.
He would teach her everything there was to learn about life.
All this garbage might have made some impression on a girl who was into Bob Marley or the liberalisation of soft drugs, but not on Erica Trettel.
The two of them had about as much in common as a pair of ski boots and a Greek island.
Why, then, did Erica lead him on?
This snatch of a conversation between Erica Trettel and Mariapia Mancuso, another go-go girl from the Hangover, as they were getting ready in the dressing rooms, may help us to understand.
‘This rumour about you going out with Graziano, is it just baloney?’ Mariapia asked as she tweezed out a superfluous hair that had planted itself next to the areola of her right nipple.
‘Who told you that?’ Erica is doing some stretching in the midd
le of the room.
‘Everybody’s saying it.’
‘Oh … are they?’
Mariapia inspects her right eyebrow in the mirror, then attacks it with the tweezers. ‘Is it true?’
‘That you and he are an item.’
‘Well, sort of. Let’s say we’re seeing each other.’
‘How do you mean?’
Erica snorts. ‘What a pain you are! Graziano loves me. He really does. Not like that shit Tony.’
Tony Dawson, the English deejay at the Anthrax, had had a brief fling with Erica before ditching her for the lead singer of Funeral Strike, a death-metal band from the Marche.
‘And do you love him?’
‘Yes. He doesn’t create any problems. He’s a straightforward kind of guy.’
‘That’s true,’ Mariapia agrees.
‘Do you know he gave me a puppy? It’s really cute. A fila brasileiro.’
‘A special breed, very rare. They used to use them in Brazil to hunt down the slaves who escaped from the plantations. He looks after it, though – I can’t be bothered. I’ve called it Antoine.’
‘After the hairdresser?’
‘And what’s all this about you getting married and going to live in his home town and opening a clothes shop?’
‘Are you crazy? No, it’s just that the other evening we were on the beach and he starts going on about his home town, this jeans shop selling Norwegian sweaters, his mother’s haberdashery shop, saying he wants to have children and marry me. I told him it was a nice idea …’
‘Hold on a minute. You know how it is when you say things just for the sake of saying something. Right then and there it seemed like a nice idea. But he can’t get it out of his head. I must tell him not to go around telling everybody about it. It makes me look stupid. I’m going to get really angry if he goes on.’
‘You tell him.’
‘I certainly will.’
Mariapia switched to the other eyebrow. ‘And are you in love with him?’