At the flea market of sadness, in the pitch dark of a warm March afternoon, it was raining heavily with the sun; monotonous and thick water was pouring down from the sky; the noise was washing the cobwebs into the basement of the minds of people who were laughing, flaunting happiness, all wrapped in the severe black cloth of condolence.
Many novelties in this first month of spring! Starting from the décor. The mourning drapes were magnificent, chrysanthemums lined the square, thriving and lush; huge wreaths on every corner. Skull and bone lamps, scapula chandeliers miraculously resistant to the heart’s rain, burning a yellow oil, a thick and aromatic lard, with a dull disgusting smell. Flexible, the skeletons danced on the windowsills of the Municipal “Palace of Our Dead People”, in a surreal fluorescent opalescence. It is black darkness here!
Among the marble and travertine, shacks are selling their goods, you know what they are selling only when you’re close to them, and enter into their cone of light. From the outside, it always seems distant and unattainable, enveloped in total dismaying darkness. Traders shout out their offerings, but about them too, from the outside, you hear as if from a great distance, muffled. “Death rattles, beautiful death rattles! Ladies and gentlemen; beautiful death rattles! Twenty cents apiece”. Condolences were so fresh, vivid, yet they moved!
Consternation and despair went like hot cakes! “Rueful, gentlemen, rueful! You will be rueful like you have never been before! Rueful, gentlemen, rueful! Buy our prostration, it comes from beyond the Alps!”
At one corner, a cast iron stove is on, a small old lady on a swing is drinking soup from a mess dented tin. She sells epitaphs and necrologies, funeral inscriptions, obits and obituaries; they were piled in bulk, such as used books, on a bier with an open coffin on top and edged with laces. Some were very beautiful, antique paper, parchment, others plasticized, some of them decrepit, others modern and ugly.
Leafing among them, let’s try our luck! I examine some, picking them up casually from the catafalque. You never know, maybe you’ll find some uncommon one:
A TOMB NOW SUFFICES HIM FOR WHOM THE WORLD WAS NOT ENOUGH. – Alexander the Great.
HERE LIES THE ARETINE POET, THE TUSCAN WHO TALKED BADLY ABOUT EVERYONE BUT GOD, AND APOLOGIZING HE SAID I DO NOT KNOW HIM. – Pietro Aretino.
How much time!
NEAR THIS SPOT
ARE DEPOSITED THE REMAINS OF ONE
WHO POSSESSED BEAUTY WITHOUT VANITY,
STRENGTH WITHOUT INSOLENCE,
COURAGE WITHOUT FEROCITY,
AND ALL THE VIRTUES OF MAN WITHOUT HIS VICES.
S = k log W – Ludwig Boltzmann.
HIC CINERA UBIQUE NOMEN. – Napoleon Bonaparte.
A little too much into the mainstream and the common protocol until now, I already know them all …
ON AILLEURS TOUJOURS C’EST LES AUTRES MEURENT HERE. – Marcel Duchamp.
WIR MUSSEN WISSEN. WIR WERDEN WISSEN. – David Hilbert.
I do not know German.
DER BESTIRNTE HIMMEL ÜBER MIR UND DAS MORALISCHE GESETZ IN MIR. – Immanuel Kant.
This, however, everybody knows!
BONES OF PHILIP OTTONIERI BORN TO GREAT ACTIONS AND TO GLORY HE LIVED IDLE AND USELESS AND DIED WITHOUT FAME BUT NOT UNAWARE OF HIS NATURE OF HIS DESTINY. – Philip Ottonieri.
Oh! Look who it is! Philip Ottonieri! That is awesome! I am tempted to buy it …
ALIEN AND TEARS WILL FILL HIM FOR PITY’S LONG-BROKEN URN, MOURNERS WILL BE OUTCAST FOR HIS MEN, AND ALWAYS OUTCASTS MOURN. – Oscar Wilde.
We could not miss Wilde!
Reading is no longer so fashionable as it used to be; opiates are preferred, fumes and vapors, even the incense sells in great quantity, but all organic stuff, for goodness sake! A dense and thick fog rises from one of the better graded and rich stalls, you can try the merchandise before you buy it, black lotus, black lotus of the Styx, nepenthe or water of Lethe, Oriental opium. No one smiles, no one speaks, the skeletons dance on the balustrades, my head is spinning. I left the cone of light. I do not feel any good! I tumble and soon get up again.
Later on, a sturdy handlebar mustachioed gentleman, elegant, but rocky like an old wrestling fighter, one of those who lifts metal balls to workout, sitting on a old bicycle, sells sophisticated liquors and macaroons, sweets and almonds, cassis and marzipans. Hm, such a delicate commerce for someone like him! I do not know if the phrase pops out of my mouth, or it remains stuck just in my thoughts; he slips me a sweet pill between my teeth, authoritarian, but still nice in its own way. It is walnut! It tastes like the dead though.
The fact is that we are close to the mummy and bandages kiosk, ointments give off a bestial, pungent stench; resin, gauze, rugs, and shady men, eastern-like and bony, all with a big nose, are fumbling with a boiler full of a liquid that bubbles like pitch, with noisy bubbles. I cannot help but think that I could get severely burned if I end up in it. I’m leaving, but mostly for the stench.
We’re coming out a bit from the crowd; from a huge tent that takes up most of the area of the Dead People’s Square you can hear a neigh. It is selling black cabs, lamps, lights, candles, decorations, and accessories for horses, saddle-cloths, finishes, reins. Look at the plumes! Beautiful objects, made with expensive materials. Inside the tent there is also a pair of enormous black horses. One, with a powerful kick destroys a candlestick, a solid gold candelabrum judging by the face and the desperation of the merchant.
I do fear animals and horses, they kick and bite as well. I step away.
Here we are! Silver frames, a wide selection of postmortem photographs. On one corner, a vigorous old man with a clean-shaven skull, waits, reading a newspaper, to be consulted in order to make some money with one click for the burial recess. Not the kind of stuff for me, I never liked photography! On display, probably for decorative purposes, placed between blood-red curtains, there is a daguerreotype. Accessories for photography. An open coffin for test shots.
Stained glass windows for graves!
Pyres! Huge funeral pyres assembled at home by local woodsmen.
Shovels and digging tools. A little shabby stall, this one!
Now this one is rather beautiful, elegant, instead: Italian tailoring top quality “by Guarnelli, Naples”. Top hats and coat tails, suits for undertakers and for the deceased and, if necessary, for the most demanding family members of the deceased; “Supplier of the Royal House”. Ass kissers! Only men’s fashion, however. For the ladies there is another stand later on: “The Elegant Funeral. Gorgeous dresses for the classy funeral”.
It’s full of crows, crows everywhere in the square. Look what shit! And what annoying sounds! It’s just that people have the silly mania of launching the rest of the pastries in friable wafer to the ground, there is no more inviting birdseed …with almonds inside.
Here’s what I was looking for, the music stand! Finally! I am looking for a first edition of … but no! They only have requiems! I ask but … there is no hope. If I am interested in… there is some Gregorian chant. I am not interested!
There she is! All these problems to get a damn degree in embalming and thanatopraxis! Of all the people I could have met, just she is here … damn! She puts me in a bad mood. I need a very bitter coffee. Black Italian coffee. The closer place to this side of the square is renowned for its coffee, is just between the forensic medicine exhibition, and the taxidermy exposition. I drink it … it tastes sandy, apparently it is dust. I start coughing, I smoke too much, that’s it! As soon as I go out I see the words: “Smoking kills, smoke!” I light a cigarette! And I cough even worse.
I would like to distract myself with the spectacle of pathologists, but damn, that’s her again! Dressed for a funeral, watching, with the unintelligent expression women have here, objects in the nearby kiosk: “Coffin, sarcophagi, graves, cinerary urns”.
I can’t stop looking at her! Maybe someone died in the family? She seems very interested in a luxurious coffin. Well, the money is not missing there! Maybe it’s just to go shopping that she is there.
I have half a mind to approach the “sand coffee” waitress; I could take her to the silent film, or to the shadow puppets. We could take a glass of “Lacrima”, just for a bit of company, what the heck! There are beautiful flowers for wreaths, gladiolus, black roses and chrysanthemums. I buy a beautiful chrysanthemum and invite her to go some place. Old Fashioned! She says “no”!
The pendulum clock of the coffee shop strikes six. Enough! I went toward the avenue of cypresses, as soon as I get in, a cone hits me on the head. Not a good day! I’m going back home! Private mourning tonight! I will slip under the tombstone, with a beautiful marble slab on the head, alone in my graveyard, and that’s it … Sleep is the brother of Death!