by Giuseppe Foderaro
Who or what was there in front of me?
I had never really asked myself that question. Perhaps another office like this one, maybe a company, perhaps an embassy, or private apartments. Or maybe just another meet-ing room with another tired and irritated director who tried in vain to put the blame on anyone but himself for the inef-ficiency of his new strategy. The thought almost made me smile ... and what if I’d done all that laboring for noth-ing? If I had gone sailing over to that window only to find that beyond the glass there was nothing? Just a mirror which endlessly repeated my miserable life?
It was with some relief that I pulled myself together then, when the mirrored windows closed. My train of thought stopped, the clouds ceased to flow in the sky, and I went back to seeing only the black glass of the skyscraper, which reflected the building opposite, in a hall of mirrors with no beginning and no end.
This is exactly what I was thinking that day when I re-ceived an unexpected visit from Howard O'Brien.
Despite his disenchanted gaze and sly leprechaun looks, I immediately saw that this good-natured man was visibly upset. As always, when he spoke to me, he tended to Italianize every word. In his own way, of course. He was angry, once again, with the pieces of shit buildings. It was his picturesque way of re-ferring to the skyscrapers that now, in his native New York, expanded each year, replacing everything with the vigor of a harmful and poisonous carnivorous plant. The quaint restau-rants were no longer. They had closed to make way for the giant multinational corporations, banks and private compa-nies. He and I were very similar in the end. We hated the savage business, technology, gossip, and even sports. But he was almost worse than me. He didn’t have a cell phone, he had given his car away to a technical school, and in his studio apartment, the appliances were unplugged because he kept books in them. He claimed that people could also live well without innovations.
He had come to Milan for a conference on Gaelic, a sub-ject that fascinates him greatly because of his distant Irish ancestry and, like a good language scholar, in that moment, he was extolling, in Italian, one of our popular proverbs that went something like this: to a fleeing enemy, bridges of gold.
I couldn’t quite understand what he was getting at, at least not until he waved the picture of Giuditta Sommaruga under my nose.
Slowly I began to put two and two together. The confer-ence, he was telling me, had been held opposite the gigantic Regional government building, in Via Melchiorre Gioia, here in Milan. The history of that place, I must admit, was in-teresting. Giuditta Sommaruga, sole heir to a fortune esti-mated at the time to be something like one billion seven hundred million old lire, had left all her property in a legacy to the hospital, Ospedale Maggiore, in 1964. Then progress and the city’s endless need for expansion had pro-duced the usual aberrant mutations. The entail of the dona-tion had been bypassed, the Sommaruga nursery had been ex-propriated, and the Tar, the Regional Administrative Court, had confirmed the validity of the agreement between the Re-gion, Province and Municipality to build a huge complex on the land inherited by the Countess Sommaruga, which now be-longed to the Niguarda Hospital. Then, in a sort of alien opposition, even the plants in the Fumagalli nursery, during expropriation, had turned into a sort of living jungle, giv-ing rise to what had gone down in history as the Bosco di Gioia, the Woods of Joy. I remembered that at that time that the citizens, celebrities and influential people, had mobi-lized to save those old plants from destruction, but the 26,000 square meters of property had been transformed into a complex system of curved glass and steel buildings, crowned by a monstrous tower 39 storeys and 161 meters high. Nursery schools, panoramic lookouts, auditoriums, restaurants and cafes were not enough to soften that deforming design that was an insult to the city and the best of the intellect that barely survived in our clouded minds.
The day before there was the blessing of the Madonna, with the participation of Cardinal Tettamanzi. One of the old Milanese traditions that barely survives the engulfing progress it that there is a Madonna on each of the highest points of the city, the Torre Breda, the Pirelli tower and Palazzo Lombardia, to be precise.
He called it ellipse although for me, frankly, the word ellipse continued to evoke a geometric figure vaguely resem-bling a circle stretched in a particular direction, perhaps even that of a skyscraper with opaque windows like many evil eyes, shiny and rectangular, reflecting absolute nothing-ness. Useless dark and ominous squares witnessing the monot-onous life of a poor attendant who, as a girl, was called Evelina Sommaruga.
Why had one of Countess Sommaruga’s heirs been killed in Palazzo Lombardia on the day of the inauguration? For someone like me who doesn’t believe in coincidences, this was definitely something to investigate, and this, perhaps, might also have been able to tickle my manager’s interest, that very same manager who over the course of that never-ending meeting, was looking for - with the despair a ruler about to be deposed - a potential gold mine to exploit. A cause against the three sisters?
Who could stand up to the three-headed Gorgon? Who would dare to challenge the powers of the Municipality, the Region and the province put together, if not that good Yan-kee in front of me, who, in his infinite humanity during a conference on Gaelic, been taken into confidence by an old woman who cleaned the bathrooms and who had once been heir to a limitless fortune?
Only then did I begin to see what Howard was suggest-ing. In the upper right hand corner behind the portrait of Countess Sommaruga, someone had hidden the original of the holographic will of the deceased, of which all traces had now been lost, along with another, insignificant little doc-ument. Evelina Sommaruga, before she was killed, had signed over Howard as a proxy.
Now we could take action and succeed where they had all failed. And only now, finally, did we understand the incred-ible perfection of that design, slightly elliptical, which from the windows of a skyscraper had brought me to the omis-sion of a detail in a sentence. Nothing to say. From today the term ellipse, in my eyes, took on a whole new meaning.