L’anno dei naniti

imagesDalle mie ceneri è un romanzo del 2007, che curiosamente è ambientato nel 2015, cioè proprio l’anno in corso. E tratta di un tema, le nanotecnologie, che proprio in questi giorni si sta sviluppando in sanità. Per di più di questo romanzo ho trovato la traduzione in inglese del primo capitolo. La propongo agli anglofoni. Buona lettura.

FROM MY ASHES

A novel by Giampietro Stocco

Mi Buenos Aires querido,cuando yo te vuelva a ver,no habrá más penas ni olvido.

(Alfredo Le Pera, 1934) 1

1. Capital Federal, summer 2015

The couple of tangueros2 ended the figure dance surrounded by applauses, remaining at the end tightly wrapped; her tiny body was bending backwards, and her left leg around her partner’s flank; his languid and grasping face stretching out just a few inches from the woman’s face. Feign passion for a street performance on a red hot Caminito3 as a result of the summer season: the January sun hit on the dusty pavement and on the painted tinplates of the Boca, while a gloomy Maradona carton winked to a asado (grill) restaurant’s menu. At the nth stink of grilled meat cooked just right by meticulous mechanic chefs, Rico felt a lump of nausea. That smell seemed to be everywhere, since when the city became a kind of a southern Paris. Organized groups of Chilean and Brazilian tourists crossed their paths and idioms, as if instead of being in the Gran Buenos Aires they were on the flat Abu Simbel. All of them eager to visit what remained of the neighborhood of the Argentine artists, and no one was able to distinguish the flavor of a local speciality that by now every bar prepared exactly the same way.

Rico floundered in the moisty air brought by the La Plata River4. The mist hid the crystalline top of the metropolis towers, and from the large river rose a haze full of steam. He felt a strong pain on the right hand. Instinct made him consider rubbing the sore fingers.

Immediately he sneered to himself. The best he could have done was to press lovingly the other palm on the end of a stump, cut off at the height of the elbow by a sharp blade of a kukri5. On Mount William, Malvinas Island, the 14th June 1982. Thirty-three years before. This memory made him clenched his teeth: he still had a vivid and blinding torment. He gathered all his courage and grabbed the tip by then softened end of the bone. It didn’t take him a big effort to assume an expression of pain. He sighted and approached the Brazilian group.

Charity, senhor, for a veteran of the South Atlantic… Charity, por favorObrigado6!

Experience taught Rico that only a few would listen to a beggar. Even less people, in the middle of all that shoulder, back and hips squeeze would have noticed though, that the panhandling hand would as well help itself emptying pockets and bags with fast ability. Obviously, he raked together little money but credit cards could quickly double it, guaranteeing a week span to strip the bank accounts of those moneybags. And, spend it all. This was how a former hero from the Malvinas7 survived in the streets of Boca, he was one of the six hundred Italian volunteers who increased the rows of the Argentine army.

Hey, you, crippled one. What are you doing?

The police officer had materialized out of thin air, standing near to Maradona’s caricature. He beat up the palm of the hand with a long black nightstick, undoubtly one of those with built-in taser. Then, he got near Rico, plunging his fingers on the stump, right where the nerves had been cut. The phantom hand reacted as if cut once again. A pain pang exploded right in the brain.

What are you doing now, scrounger, why have you stopped? ― asked the cop with a cruel smile. Big drops of cold sweat began flowing down Rico’s face. ― Move along, ladies and gentlemen ― urged the police officer addressing the crowd which had gathered around them. ― The police monitors so that citizens from the Southern Cone can enjoy the Gran Buenos Aires. Pay attention when you go into the alleys! Keep your steps on the green holo lane. Here, that’s it. In the meanwhile — kept addressing Rico — this son of a bitch comes with me to the police station.

Still with Rico firmly held by the stump, the policeman went through the sleaziest streets flanking the harbor. No 3D signs for tourists, no fast track, just the characteristic neglection of the seediest part of the city a few steps away from the fine neighborhoods. The smell of cheap cologne released from the pomaded hair of the cop wreaked in Rico a new retch, which he struggled to smother back.

The bitter gall taste had invaded his mouth right when he crossed the squalid doorstep of a building in bad shape. The Liberty facade, once white, was by now completely disfigured by the smog and filthiness: nearby the splendor of the Boca, the Recoleta8 or from the modern Puerto Madero9 districts, Buenos Aires was always the old same shabby whore. Two scuzzy stair flights, a quick walk through an open space that regurgitated police officers with ear-buds and video camera-partners roosted on the shoulder, most of them sat in front of virtual consoles operating just by slight moves of their hands. Finally, Rico was escorted into an office as bright as devoid to the appearance, of electronic tools. Besides the wide window, the sight over the docks and the warehouses along the La Plata River made him ridiculously recall of the Genoa harbor. A new and violent sharp pain and tug made him take a seat on a lurching chair. In front of him was a wide desk. The agent who had arrested him whispered a few words in the new guy’s ear. This one had an olive-colored complexion showing off his dated pencil mustache. He was seated behind a light blue plastic surface reading an obsolete paper report. Rico recognized the color slightly luminescent of the table: it was enough to scribble something on it with the right pen, or even a nail, and the built-in software would translate the signs into digital notes. Surely the least technology an officer not very used to modernity could afford. Inside of him, Rico grumbled with sufficiency. That local cop could bear a grudge.

It’s ok, Alvárez. You can stay — said at last the cop making a vague gesture near him. The Argentine policeman sat on the left of his superior with his arms crossed behind his back, in the stand at ease position.

So, pal — started the man, passing his fingers over the mustache. — You lighten tourists’ pockets, right?

The accent wasn’t porteño10, for sure.

Chief…— started Rico. He didn’t know which hierarchical degree he was facing, but chief was a good title to use with any Argentine police officer.

Shut up, don’t interrupt. I do the questions. And call me captain Salinas.

Chilean, fuck. Rico understood from the sharpened inflection, even before his arrogance. With a sudden fear, he rose his eyes up to the photos, authentic and expensive reproductions on carbonless paper, which ruled on the wall besides the desk: on the left, a man with glasses with a heavy frame and pure white hair. El compañero Presidente Salvador Allende, 1908-1988 was written in nice letters. Next, on the other photo, more common in public offices, was depicted a man in uniform. El general Leopoldo Galtieri, presidente de la Republica Argentina 1981-1985. Both are smiling, Galtieri in the last year of his mandate. So, he is in front of a Chilean police officer working in Buenos Aires. It wasn’t rare, but only if they were high ranks. In a country like Argentina, where despite the new order, prejudices were stiff and the Chilean and their rough manners weren’t well seen.

Documents, please ― ordered the Chilean. ― No, not that bad imitation in carbon fibber, which Alvárez has confiscated ― added with a sneer reading Rico’s mind. He stretched out a callous hand over the table surface. ― Hand me the Document.

Rico hesitated; he translated to himself and then understood. Salinas had used the word papél11. Of course. The document par excellence. How didn’t I understand? Rico handed mechanically his old discharge papers, four pages of wear out paper where it was hardly possible to read it. The challenge didn’t discourage Salinas, who instead smiled when handling the old pages.

De Luca Enrico… A nice Italian name. Aren’t you ashamed? Son of a well-known and our friend nation, and in addition you are a war hero. And you have ended pick-pocketing?

With the retirement funds the government pays! — burst out Rico while massaging the stump. — Do you read the newspapers, or not? Inflation…

What inflation and inflation! ― interrupted Salinas. ― Apathy doesn’t affect me. The Yankees, and the damned Brits that stifle us, like they did yesterday and still do today.

For years anti-British confession of faith had became as common among Chileans as a bombilla for the mate12. Not always, however it was this way, and Salina’s hoisted sneer was eloquent.

However — insisted the cop — inflation is not a good reason to steal.

Salinas calmly leaned over the desk. — Oh, of course. I understood — added, punching his bony indicator on the temple. — To make me forget you are an ordinary thief, you will now start saying bad things about the government, right?

No, of course not, captain — quickly Rico denied, raising the palm of his left hand, lifting as well the right stump due to the habit. — Ours is the best government we could have!

Absolutely — pleased, Salinas answered back, leaning once again on the seatback. Rico saw for an instance he was evaluating if the answer had been sarcastic, and removing that thought with a smirk of the pencil mustache. The attention of the Chilean returned to the desk. With the nail of the indicator wrote something, underlining it more than once. Then, he joined the tips of his fingers at his nose height. This gesture would remain impressed in Rico’s mind forever, and he started hating it.

Hence, De Luca ― restarted Salinas while Alvárez was still standing, static, next to him. ― I’ll tell you something, and for your own good open your ears. In its great nobility, our government still believes to have an honor debit with all those who rushed to fight in order to join the Malvinas Islands to the Argentine nation, known today as Southern Cone. So, we, guardians of the order are forced to turn a blind eye to bad eggs. Not forever, though.

He took a break and lightened a brown and smelly cigarette. Rico quivered. For the first time in many years he saw someone smoking. He had lost the bad habit after the war, and the prohibition arrived from the United States did the rest. To use tobacco in a public office was worst than strip in front of the Casa Rosada13.

Transmission genius, that’s what’s written in this sheet of paper — read Salinas rising with two fingers Rico’s discharge paper.

I have been enlisted in that division. But I only saw the training camp of Chacabuco14, you know what I mean?

Of course. A delightful town in my country.

The Chilean smiled, winking at the agent next to him.

Yap — whispered Rico. — Nearby were brought English war prisoners. They looked, and we marched. It was there where I had a taste of the Chilean and Cuban instructors…

And thanks to them you became a front-rank warrior. A pity for that — commented Salinas glancing towards the stump.

Rico in turn stared at the appendage. With a vacant look in his eyes, he saw himself prisoner again, then on a base hospital bed at Port Stanley15. The dormitory was covered with the front pages of the Nación and the Clarín16. South Atlantic heroes ward off at a very high price the offensive hurled by the Gurkhas17. The Malvinas remain Argentine thanks to the sacrifice of the Italians. That was what was written on the Buenos Aires newspapers, and nevertheless the ache and fever consuming Rico, he shared the atmosphere of triumph: tens of volunteers from the Italian International Brigade had been massacred by the Nepalese ill-famed soldiers armed with kukri, that horrible sword they used in close combat.

However, they had continued to flood over the enemy, managing to surround and then, with a ferocious clash to obtain their surrender. Who bothered to know if the Gurkhas surrendered because just fifteen were left, circled by Italians and by the mined fields left behind, or only because in the meanwhile, an improbable news arrived: the knocking down, not very faraway, of the helicopter where prince Andrew, duke of York and son of the hated queen Elizabeth II of England, was on board. The fact is that the Latin American press had given the Italians, and among them the by now mutilated Rico, the credit of having repelled the key offensive which was about to bring back the British to Port Stanley, two months after that on the Falklands renamed Malvinas Islands fluttered again the Argentine banner.

De Luca? Are you still with us? — It was Salinas’ voice. Rico jolted and took his hand under his shirt, lightly touching the gold medal on his chest, sent by the Military Junta twenty years earlier. He looked at the Argentine sun: it smiled as much as the Leopoldo Galtieri general when it was announced that the French Exocet18 have sunk the Argonaut frigate, the Brilliant destroyer, and lastly, the Invincible aircraft carrier with three devastating crashes. Finally his glance stopped on Salinas’ electronical desk: it was almost jammed with new drafts the policeman must have quickly done.

As much as it might seem amazing — articulated the Chilean — you believe this Country owe you something. You still think, in some way, to be a hero. But let someone who knows very well parasites like you tell you, our government has been too magnanimous with the survivors. It’s almost twenty years you are sponging on us, and now it would be the moment you become somewhat useful, like we all do. Laziness corrupts, and the government often forgets there must be order. It’s on order that true social democracy is based, or am I wrong?

Salinas giggled for a second, it was a strange sound, like a rattle. Almost embarrassed by that sound, he hesitated and then he went back to normal, while tightening the tie knot. Deadpan, he once again joined the tips of his fingers under the tip of his nose.

What did you exactly do during the war?

You have my discharge papers, read it again — mumbled Rico.

I told you to answer! ― uttered Salinas, hitting noisily with the palm of his hand on the desk. The graffiti on the surface trembled for a moment and vanished. The policeman swore in a low voice. His thick eyebrows arched. To Rico they resembled the hairy legs of a spider. Spiderman is having you for dinner tonight… He threw away the nightmare image that verse of an old song had evoked and tried to gather his thoughts.

You already know I have been placed at the Genius — replied — You had to fortify the southern flank of Mount William, from where the Nepalese would have attacked, and…

This is history, De Luca. Everyone knows it. ― Impatient, the spider legs stretched. ― The heroes of the South Atlantic. Bare hands against the kukri, bla, bla, bla…

Listen to me — interrupted Rico, exasperated. — I am a pickpocket, it’s true. Why don’t you just put me in jail and throw away the key? Otherwise stop chatting and come to the point!

Careful Italian — chastised Salinas, a steel tip with an amusing tone. — Don’t make me regret for choosing you. Alvárez is working his ass off for days to keep an eye on you. — Glanced towards the other policeman, who lifted his chin proudly.

You were among those who decrypted the codes of the British missiles, right? — suddenly asked the Chilean.

It was so long ago… — replied Rico. He started to be alarmed for real. One thing was to be blocked at the police station for a common pickpocket, another was to find a cop that knew everything about you.

― So? — insisted Salinas. The spider legs began dangerously climbing once again his face. Rico shivered.

Your memory needs some help? ― mocked the cop. ― Here you are. During the spring of 1982 there was a restricted group of Italian volunteers. All of them very young, they were true enfants prodige specialized in communications, who worked closely with the Chilean counter-espionage. Among those surveilling them was I. The mission they had received from the La Moneda Palace19 was to intercept British code messages and translate them for the high Argentine command. President Allende wanted Argentina to win that war by all means. It was the only way to get our two governments close, and to avoid those fascists, Pinochet and Merino to try it again.

The Chilean giggled when recalling of his compatriots generals and the failed coup on September 1973.

It went like this — continued inspecting his right hand nails on purpose, the one Rico didn’t have. He glimpsed the hatred gaze on his prisoner and sniggered, then continued his story. — That group of Italian young men, very motivated politically and technically well-prepared, was welcomed on May 1982 as a blessing from heaven. In a few days the codes of the British missiles were decrypted.

These are common stories the newspapers make up — hit again Rico raising inflamed his arm and stump. — I just know we were thrown into the fray after a few weeks of military training. I saw the Chileans and the Cubans only there, in Chacabuco, near the prisoner camp for the British. A Russian and then again I don’t even know how he looks like.

You don’t lose that much ― sniggered the cop. ― Yet, De Luca… ― Salinas frowned his face and closed his dark black eyes up to a crack.― Your face is not completely new to me. ― For long instances the pupils of the Chilean probed Rico like gimlets, then they released the grip. ― You want to make me believe you don’t even have a personal console at home?

I have a personal computer, yes — admitted Rico, resigned.

What ugly words you use! But maybe you are a bit Yankee, De Luca. You empty the pockets of the Brazilian companions, ain’t that right? — Salinas laughed to himself, pleased with the drift. — Which sites do you visit on the Internet? No, don’t answer, I don’t want to know. And, by the way, how is it to do a hand-job with the left hand? Is it true it seems it’s another one doing you the job?

Salinas burst laughing, this time heartily, engaging agent Alvárez too. He glanced towards the front wall, where stood out another big portrait, the one of the Brazilian president.

The federal president, the companion Luis Inácio Lula da Silva — read with dignity, — he is for years doing an enormous job to assure the future for all of us. — Like the Prime Minister, companion Nestór Kirchner — added frowning again the hairy spider legs. — And the Economy Minister, companion Michelle Bachelet. All work for one Latin America which will tear down at last all the borders!

Salinas spit the word companion as a spoof, or an insult. Rico looked at him interdicted, but the Chilean averted him, by gazing on his turn. He just batted the eyelids. — Grab — said tossing a little ball over the desk.

What is it inside? — asked Rico. He had grabbed immediately the object, recognizing the compactness of graphite.

You are a genius in transmissions, right? Well, find out yourself. And, watch out. Speak to no one, otherwise agent Alvárez could remember you are an expert pickpocket. And, me too, I could remember of it. I will be waiting for your call tomorrow.

Chief…

Capitan. You want to know the conditions, right? It’s fair. Thirty thousand dollars now, and seven thousand at end of the job. Along with a brand new passport to disappear anywhere you want. The best possible offer for the best.

A hundred thousand American dollars?

To the last dime. It can buy you a new arm. But before starting making plans about your new capitalist life, let’s make a toast.

The Chilean extracted a bayonet from a drawer and under the desk a bundle that looked like protective boxes for bottles. What game are you playing now? thought Rico, worn out. Salinas winked, tore out the carton and lifted the expensive sample of red from Tarapacá20.

Nectar from my land — stated the Chilean with dignity, broaching the bottle and holding it in front of him. — Drink to me.

Capitan, hear me…

Drink! — ordered the Chilean.

Rico sighted. He had just started to earn them, those hundred thousand dollars. Grabbed the bottle and started to pour the content in a deep stem glass. Lost in thought, he was almost tasting the fruity bouquet, when…

What is this stuff?

Surprise! — warbled Salinas. — I knew you wouldn’t be disappointed. But the best part is still to come!

Rico stared with disgust to a kind of greyish mush filling in the stem glass. Incredulous, he saw it brim over with a will of its own, a trembling shape that climbed down the crystal walls of the glass to fall down with a liquid plop on the desk. Electrical discharges swept the sky blue level, while the lump stayed static as a rotten pancake, once and a while shaken like a shiver.

For God sake, what is this obscenity? — screamed Rico.

Nanomolecular jelly — answered Salinas with affected careless. It was as if he had learnt a script by heart. — It’s front-rank stuff, do you know? Iranian patent, developed in Israel and stolen by the Americans. And we have lifted from them. Come on, touch it…

Not in a thousand years!

Touch it, I said!

Salinas’ holler shocked Rico. Carefully he approached the surviving tip of his index to the trembling lump. The jelly stopped shivering and began shaking. The dirty greyish color transformed in bright chrome paint. Looking like a mercury pound, the substance rised up. At the beginning was uncertain how to behave, then with major confidence extended a kind of tentacle towards Rico’s hand. Disgusted, tried to take it off him, but the fluid was faster. It covered all the five fingers, one after the other, then it extended up, covering the forearm like a metal glove. Short of breath, Rico saw his good arm transforming in that of a superhero.

As if satisfied with the outcome obtained, the jelly folded at last, and keeping the new shape fell on the table.

Rico didn’t have time to sight with relieve. He looked at Salinas who stared during the entire process, he was thrilled, then he stared again the pseudo-forearm: it raised, this time over the chromed fingers, and almost aiming like an Aries, fitted on the right stump, melting with what remained of the elbow.

Rico shouted with ache and horror. It wasn’t finished yet.

The thumb of the new right hand, grotesquely protuberant on the wrong side of the palm, unplugged from the joint with a cluck. Then it started scrolling on the meat like a cream dessert. A sound similar to a suck, and the finger set on the right place, while the other ones, almost as if were worms on the bait, shook and changed until the thumb and the pinkie hadn’t swapped place so as the middle finger and the annular. With a strange buzz under the skin the bones of the new hand adjusted to the right form.

Wow, eh? — comment Salinas, smoothing his mustache. His eyes were bright. — That jelly is able to read your genetic code and to reply any organ or missing limb. The first time you use it takes your breath away. Then you thank God for the gift result of progress.

I…

No need to say anything, De Luca. This is just a small reward. Just to make you understand what you can get from this deal. Who knows, maybe that arm could be yours forever, just if…

A new arm. A new life. Rico looked breathless to the new limb, the metal color skin which slowly picked a more natural pink shade. With tears on his eyes he saw on the skin between index and thumb blooming again the old brown birthmark he had forgot about.

1 My dear Buenos Aires, When I see you again There will be no more pity Nor forgetting. (Alfredo La Pera, 1934).

2 Tango dancers.

3 A street museum and a traditional alley, located in La Boca, a neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

4 Is the estuary formed by the confluence of the Uruguay River and the Paraná River on the border between Argentina and Uruguay. It forms part of the border between Argentina and Uruguay, with the major ports and capital cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo on its western and northern shores, respectively.

5 A Nepalese knife with an inwardly curved edge, used both as a tool and as a weapon.

6 In Portuguese “senhor” means “sir”; “por favor” means “please” and “obrigado” means “thank you”.

7 Malvinas Islands, known in English as Falkland Islands. On April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and the UK sent their military force to retake the territory.

8 Recoleta is a downtown residential neighborhood, is an area of great historical and architectural interest in Buenos Aires.

9 Puerto Madero is a district occupying a significant portion of the La Plata River riverbank and representing the latest architectural trends in the city of Buenos Aires.

10 Porteño in Spanish is used to refer to a person who is from or lives in a port city. In Buenos Aires, since the end of the 19th century it has come to be the name of the people from that city due to the great immigration waves from Europe.

11 Papél in Spanish means the document; in English it would be Document.

12 Bombilla and Mate. Mate is a traditional South American infused drink, particularly in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay. It is prepared from steeping dried leaves of yerba mate. Mate is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd. The straw is called a bombilla in some countries.

13 Casa Rosada, in English would be the Pink House, is the executive mansion and office of the President of Argentina. Officially is known as Casa de Gobierno, which means “House of Government”.

14 Chacabuco is one of the many abandoned nitrate or “saltpeter” towns in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.

15 Port Stanley is the capital of the Falkland Islands.

16 La Nación and Clarín are Argentine daily newspapers. Today, Clarín is the largest newspaper in Argentina.

17 Gurkhas are military units in the British or the Indian army (Gorkhas) enlisted in Nepal.

18 Exocet is a French-built anti-ship missile whose various versions can be launched from surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.

19 Palacio de la Moneda or just La Moneda, is the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile. In English literally is Coin Palace.

20 Tarapacá is one of Chile’s 15 first order administrative divisions. It’s one of the most northern regions of Chile.

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