Melancholic pigeons from Berlin.
Chords are played on a piano in Berlin. They are played with a slow, melancholic touch, late on a cold night. The apartment is quiet and the sounds travel through an open window and echo around the empty square below. The music and the brittle light of the stars ricochet off the walls of buildings gleaming with sleet, though ricochet seems to be too harsh a word to use for chords of melancholy piano music, though I cannot find a more appropriate word to use. I could say instead that the music bounced off walls but perhaps bounce would be too frivolous. So we will leave it that when the music was played by a slow, despairing hand the sounds flowed out of the open window to be redirected out of the empty square when they touched the wet walls. Some of the music along with some shards of broken light slithered down the walls to dissolve in puddles of snow melt.
The melancholic soul of the pianist was transmitted through the quiet atmosphere into hallways and attics of buildings all the way to Vienna where they disturbed the dust in one particular closed-up room where generations of my family took their turn at dying over many decades. I heard the music arriving in the rustle of an evening newspaper. My grandfather heard it also and it disturbed his sixty year sleep and he paced around the room for a long time, fretting over pictures that had hung on the walls since before he was a boy, photographs that had been faded by age and revenge.
Now the light of the moon is glinting off the wet cobblestones in a small town in Umbria. The world has fallen silent, or just about. The only sound to disturb the cold peace that has blown in from the countryside is the occasional squeal of a cat roughly mated by a passing Tom. The back street I walk along is narrow; in places I can touch the houses on both sides at once when I stretch out my arms. In the near distance I can see wooded hills on top of which the moon seems to be balancing. The smell of pines and cooking drifts about on the night air. A door opens quietly onto the street, letting a wedge of light fall onto the cobbles. A women puts her head out into the street, holding her dressing gown tightly around her body. She looks around but doesn’t notice me standing in the shadows. A man pushes out past her, takes hold of a scooter that he pushes down the street away from me without responding to the woman’s wave, and soon in the quietness I hear an engine kicking into life and the scooter zips away into the night, buzzing like a demented wasp at the end of summer. The woman stands in the doorway for a while looking up at the stars. I can smell the smoke from her cigarette and hear a slow melancholy playing on a piano from inside her house.
And so to Syracuse. By the time the music arrives the moon has moved away. I have an espresso on the terrace of a café opposite the cathedral where the early morning sun glints off the wet, white marble forcing me to hide behind sunglasses. No-one else is about, or almost no-one. A priest comes out of a tiny dark door in the side of the cathedral. Black, ankle-length soutane, black hat, green scarf. He sneezes in a loud, uncontrolled fashion almost losing his balance and his hat. He looks embarrassed and pretends it never happened, he never filled the quiet piazza with a vulgar sneeze. A nearby dropping of pigeons is startled and lifts off the white marble pavement in a flap of dry, dusty feathers to roost on the roof of the cathedral, and as they and the sneezing priest leave the piazza it returns to its melancholic quietness to make room for the piano music pouring into the morning out of an upstairs window above the café.