Spanish Made Simple
The secret language of lovers has a grammar all its own, and very little to do with words. Deep down, all human connections have their own code of intimate gestures, and force us to invent a new language.
Learning from a blind friend to see with one’s hands, teaching a beguiling tourist a local lingo that only works between the sheets, and learning another language effortlessly yet with unexpected drawbacks—the protagonists of these five stories live through their conversations, as we all do. They use words to play, hurt, seduce, explain, and confuse others as well as themselves. And sometimes they don’t quite realize how those same words end up “using” them, taking them places they didn’t even know they wanted to go.
These tales are, first and foremost, a phenomenology of love. Here we encounter surprising kinds of love: one fostered by playing together; one conquered through hiding behind words; one consumated, exhausted, and reinvented by quite literally putting oneself in someone else’s shoes. But since every love affair requires that we play the game, and there’s no game without risk, each of us has an arsenal of defenses to prevent others from penetrating our own existence too easily.
Our arsenal includes language barriers, both real and metaphorical, that first seem like obstacles but often open up to reveal new paths forward. We also have personal practices centered on a perceived void, rites of excision and exorcism that help us ignore the emptiness we’re frightened to dive into or keep hidden within ourselves.
Miranda, for example, can’t see with her eyes, but makes out a world of unpredictable colors and forms with her hands: in her company, simple window shopping becomes a risky, exciting adventure.
When Lele meets Ulla on a lazy summer vacation on the island of Stromboli, he finds her as fascinating as a woodland nymph, somehow strange, and thoroughly Teutonic. Between erotic play and word play, not understanding one another becomes yet another kind of desire.
Mara and Michele share a passion for travel and Polanski films. Childless, they’ve lived together for many years, and believe they’ve found the perfect formula for a happy marriage, until they pick up the wrong suitcase at the airport baggage claim one day . . .
These encounters could be drawn from real life, or perhaps they’re five stories conjured from pure imagination, in which the only touch of supernatural intervention is the author’s ability to narrate strokes of magic and small diabolical possessions, wielding the power to create things simply by naming them. Gabriele Pedullà’s prose is crisp and accurate as clockwork. These stories’ stylistic crescendo of suspense sweeps the reader into narrative detours de force, ending up perched on the precipice.
The author: Gabriele Pedullà is a Roman short-story author, novelist, and literary critic. After studying with Jacques Derrida in Paris, he was a fellow at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti in Florence, and has taught at Italian universities as well as Stanford and UCLA.
His prize-winning nonfiction spans from Renaissance political theory to film studies, the Italian Resistance during WWII, and contemporary literature. In 2010 Il Sole 24 Ore named him one of the top ten Italian authors under 40, and in 2012 L’Illuminista named him one of the 25 most important 21st-century Italian writers.
His work has appeared in French, German, and English, including In Broad Daylight: Movies and Spectators after the Cinema (Verso, 2012, trans. Patricia Gaborik) and “Miranda” (Chicago Quarterly Review, 2015, trans. Alta L. Price). His book on Machiavelli is forthcoming in English from Cambridge University Press, and his second short-story collection and first novel are forthcoming from Einaudi.
Rays of light are to the eyes as canes are to the hands,
and the eye may be likened to an organ with an infinite
number of hands holding onto an infinite number of canes.
ÉTIENNE BONNOT DE CONDILLAC, Treatise on the Sensations
The first time Miranda suggests they go shopping together they’re sitting down to the umpteenth cappuccino that morning at the university cafe, and Stefi obviously replies with a quick yes, even though she notices a hint of embarrassment in her tone that irks her, embarrassment, although why should there be, there’s nothing about a question like that that should embarrass her, but even at the not-so-tender age of twenty-two everything new still scares her, which must be why her father still calls her my little girl, even in public and even at the not-so-tender age of twenty-two, to anyone else Stefi’s still his little girl (that’s just how dad is, everybody knows).
Shopping with Miranda—Stefi’s never thought about it, but it’s normal that two friends, so totally normal, like talking about clothes or boys or new movies (although movies are out of the question, at least with Miranda), yet Stefi’s anxious just the same, and now kind of upset that Miranda will have noticed her untimely hesitation, because she has real feelers when it comes to certain things, and always picks up on everything (even if you’d never think so). She doesn’t know how she does it, she senses them, she simply senses them, and Stefi’s certain that in this case Miranda will have measured the three seconds of silence between her question and the answer with that natural metronome hidden in her ear, which doesn’t skip a beat, by now she knows her pretty well, so basically her affirmative answer, a yes, but somehow anxious and uncertain, also in light of the fact that Stefi’s never been any good at lying to her friends. Come on, it’ll be fun, Miranda quickly adds, as if to encourage her, giving her a little extra shot of trust, although Stefi’s already rebounded, and replies in turn with a yes of course, of course, which already sounds more persuasive, especially because of her tone of voice. Of course Miranda, fantastic, really, I can’t wait.
That’s not actually how it is, but at this point she might as well fake it, a skill Stefania has never really mastered since all it takes is a little white lie for her mouth to start smiling on its own, like some unruly little schoolgirl trying in vain to cover up the evidence. It’s too bad though, because Stefi guesses, no, actually, she’s sure that Miranda has detected her embarrassment and she’s saddened by it, no matter how much she keeps telling herself that it’s no different, she’s well aware that that isn’t the case, and it pains her, always. She always wishes things were different between them, basically she wishes there were no difference at all (at least between the two of them), and yet all it takes is the slightest distraction and once again the worst prejudices gain the upper hand, even now, even with her, because it’s unbelievable but in the end Stefi reacted exactly like anyone else would have, and now she’s ashamed. What a wuss. So typical.
The fact is, Miranda’s blind, or, as one should say in such cases, to be more PC (and, indeed, as Stefi always says, because she’s so careful about such things), visually impaired. How many times has she had to tell her parents and sister not to use that word?
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