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Hear the Frogs

Only at the close of the bathing season, when once again the vague atmospheres fade and the sweet perfumes wane and the sunny after­ noons shorten, the dawns that earlier were fresh and misty are humid and hazy, the sunsets are no longer flaming but dull and leaden etcetera etcetera, did Zuckermann start to cast an eye to the so-called future,  the near future too, the one waiting just around the corner and, who knows why, things never did add up. The who knows why is sarcastic.

Looking at things from the metaphorical armchair and starting from the end, that is from the return journey when you count the dead and chuck the sand on to the bloodied asphalt and run the sword under the tap, you might just think that the famous pearl couldn’t stay inside the oyster forever and the sight of Zuckermann as the only man on earth was nothing more than a rite of passage and initiation, as the Flemish anthropologists say, or so-called nature that had to run its course, as Bonifazzi said and Zuckermann repeated, or the puppetteer that sooner or later had to tire, as I modestly say.

Then, as I explain to Sogliani, there is an obvious but nevertheless important detail: that girl from Rome wasn’t one of those ugly cows without any charm that nobody wants but maybe they meet anyway, luckily for humanity because ugly cows often conceal all the qualities of Venus and Athena. I say this so that the conversation doesn’t appear reactionary. We are talking about someone who evoked the songs of the earth and the hymns of the Arcadian shepherds just by looking at her, without the need for makeup or trimmings; let’s say frankly that when the Roman girl went past it was normal for men’s heads to turn.

Among the men whose heads turned for example was tractor-driver Ilario Flisi of the San Demetrio farm who had the contract for cleaning the littoral and who every evening would turn up with his John Deere and his air of easy winner, go down on to the beach through the entrance near the pier where the local girls were always dangling their

legs, rev his engine, give his winning smile and phony soldier’s salute and, if the Roman girl was there, stop and offer opinions at random, for example on ponytails, because the Roman girl tied her hair in a ponytail and then he would always crack the same jokes, while she laughed disinterestedly. Then maybe the next evening he would pass by again, stop the John Deere, look at the Roman girl again, make the same joke about the ponytail, again, and leave.

Anyway, Sogliani says that a man on a tractor has charismatic authority because he combines the Dionysian qualities of primitive man with the skills of the mechanical pioneer and at the same time embodies, so to speak, the theme of man’s superiority over machinery which is a much exploited topos in today’s aesthetics of design, as if to say that man is the measure of all things and, as a result, maker of his own destiny, and if Leonardo da Vinci were alive today he wouldn’t draw a stiff, naked Vitruvian Man in geometrical Renaissance pose in the circle and in the square, but a man on a tractor in the pose of an organics expert.

And while it is true that women have been attracted to men on machines since the beginning of man’s existence, well, actually, since machines came into existence, Western man uses this rule impro­ perly, contaminated by abridged aesthetics, and indeed Western man, the victim of serious epistemological misunderstandings tends, in his attempt to attract women, to equip himself with powerful luxury machines, like SUVs, supercars, quod bikes, Carrera and Ducati which, however, instead dominate him right from the start, according to the dynamics that reproduce that archaic relationship between servant and master and that in socioeconomic terms recall the agrarian question in the Marxist debate. Western man though does not understand that woman is attracted to the tractor and the tractor-driver, and that a ride on a tractor driven by an expert who knows how to use his console to perfection and flaunts a milling machine connected to the shaft has a whole different effect on the psyche; let’s say the same power of sugge­ stion as certain propitiatory fertility rites among the Apache tribes or as the dances of Central Africa, just to give some examples. And this is just one of the many fundamental differences between the driver of a SUV and the driver of a tractor that we will deal with in greater detail, some other time though.

Man as the measure of all things was not an invention of Sogliani’s; it is an idea of Plato and it became the technical manifesto of the Enlightenment, later taken up by Le Corbusier and a Swedish quantity surveyor from Smaland who invented a furniture brand that is very popular today and has a turnover of twenty-five billion euro a year in Europe and a million Swiss francs in Switzerland. Therefore, harmony always comes out of geometric measures and proportions, which was what the musicians at the time of Vitruvius thought when they said that the art of sound is like the movement of celestial bodies, in other words, abstract mathematical speculation; it has little to do with reason but hey too bad, it’s general knowledge.

To get to the heart of the matter brought up by Sogliani, just towards the end of the bathing season it so happened that one evening tractor­ driver Ilario Flisi on his John Deere with the milling machine hooked up to the shaft stopped near the pier, tooted his horn, greeted the girls in his usual mocking military way and at the sight of the Roman girl standing with her back to him he stopped to give her a good once over, from her ponytail down her back to the modelled regions there below. Let’s bet, said Ilario Flisi to the Roman girl that tomorrow you aren’t wearing a pony tail! Which was one way of getting her to turn round, not a real bet, which is a sentence without a presumption oflogic, said just for the sake of it. And the Roman girl smiled absently at her friends and shrugged at Ilario Flisi, without even turning round. If I win the bet Flisi continued, you’ll come for a ride on my tractor  tomorrow. And the Roman, still not turning round, gave her girlfriends another distracted smile and him another shrug.The following evening the girl from Rome was there on the pier again with her friends, perhaps by chance but perhaps not, her loose hair reaching half way down  her back and with a slightly shorter dress, this perhaps by chance as well, or perhaps not, and in  the midst  of their chatting came the sound  of the John Deere and the saucy horn followed by the voice of Flisi saying: See? And as he said it he thumped his fist on the mudcap to claim his prize. And the Roman girl covered her face with her hands as if to say look how I fell for it, and maybe even said the words, then she got down off the pier and leapt athletically on to the John Deere, where she sat in the passenger seat while Flisi glided into gear.

How do you know these things, asked Sogliani. Heresay, I replied.

The episode of the ride on the John Deere with Flisi the tractor-driver may seem of little importance, because after all there’s nothing wrong in getting on a tractor driven by a tractor-driver; I mean passing that way while the John Deere was digging the beach no one would have noticed anything special, other than the fine sight of a job finished, which are the sights you see at Zobolo Santaurelio Riviera and not in other seas, like that of the Great Antilles in Jamaica but that’s all, and who knows how many other times tractor-driver Flisi had done the same with other residents or holdiay makers perhaps even without gaining anything from it but just for the sake of showing off, and you start to wonder why we’re even talking about it. And Sogliani says he’s been asking himself the same question for a quarter of an hour.


Translated into English by Isobel Butters

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