The Private Viewing

Camilla Marrese
The Private Viewing
The private viewing begins at 12. It’s 11:45. I’d actually be on time for once, thinks Nicolò, if it wasn’t for all this traffic. A guy behind him beeps his horn. Like that’s suddenly going to make all the cars in the traffic jam disappear, like that odious noise has the power to create enormous corridors on the tarmac, down which everyone will suddenly be able to file to wherever they have to be on a Saturday morning - downtown, to lunch with relatives, to the private viewing, on time. Its only effect in reality is to spark a chain reaction, and suddenly all the backed up cars begin sounding their horns. How do jams like this form and vanish so suddenly? Nicolò thinks to himself, and whilst he’s thinking his hand slides quickly into his pocket and retrieves his phone on which he’s now reading articles written by experts on traffic jams. Only at the last second does Nicolò realise that the car in front of him has braked sharply and it’s pure intuition which saves him from a collision. Motionless, he looks at the car in front of him with a slight tremor in his arm. 10 or 15 centimetres between them he reckons. I am officially late to the private viewing, he says aloud, and even if jam starts to clear now I’ll still be at least 20 minutes late. Not that it’s a problem, at the end of the day: a private viewing doesn’t demand punctuality. But Nicolò is agitated anyway. He’s never been able to manage the anxiety that comes from being late. He gnaws at the nails of his free hand, the one not resting on the steering wheel. For weeks he has had this event in his diary and has been telling friends of friends about it at dinner parties when he hasn’t known what else to say. An official invite to a private event where all the glitterati of the industry would be in attendance. The perfect opportunity for buying and being bought drinks, for handing out business cards, putting on the air of an art connoisseur with whoever ends up next to you, who could well turn out to be your next client, or a journalist whose telephone number will almost certainly come in handy one day. An event in which to take and pose for photographs that will be shared online so that everyone knows who was there. The artist whose work is on display, then, is described as a mere enthusiast compared with the array contemporary talent in the city where Nicolò lives. The paintings are innovative, but not so much so as to be irritating. They are perfectly incompatible with the stylish living room of a well-off family, the kind of living room in which Nicolò hopes, one day years from now, to be able to offer cocktails to friends, and after this evening, he hopes, he will be one imperceptible step closer towards attaining it. Is therefore unfathomable when, at the turning for the motorway which would lead him to the gallery, Nicolò, without thinking about it, drives staight on instead. He keeps driving and he doesn’t stop, like nothing has happened at all, and at first he’s not even aware of the reason for his choice. Almost as though it wasn’t really a choice at all, it was simply that the car had refused to turn, and who is he to get in the way of such unstoppable will?

Nicolò knows that this road, which continues straight for a good seventy kilometres, leads to the mountains. And he knows that because, year after year, he went skiing there as a child. His parents’ house is full of photographs, poorly shot and a little out of focus, of Nicolò as a kid, wearing a purple ski suit that was clearly much too big for him and clutching a pair of skis taller by quite a way than he was. He’s not quite clear on why they had stopped going skiing. Partly because it cost a lot, he imagines, partly because Guglielmo, Nicolò’s father, had an accident one time and hurt his back – nothing serious, but enough to force them to skip a year, and then the rhythm of habit was broken. And Valeria, his mother, had only really gone for Nicolò and Guglielmo, because she couldn’t ski and sunbathing bored her after a while, and at the end of the day she wasn’t that much of a reader. The next year Guglielmo and Valeria had divorced, there was no more mention of the mmountains and even Nicolò hadn’t questioned it. Now that he thinks about it, he doesn’t know why: he loved skiing and every year the snow falling in the city would bring lead him here. But perhaps for some reason he had relegated the mountains to an idea of the past, of childhood, and he had decided to let them be. As he drives he gradually relaxes. With each kilometre the tarmac grows smaller, there are fewer cars, walls, fewer billboards, fewer shops. It’s a slow but but determined process. His eyes see optical space and they devour it. And the straight, linear, monotonous, predictable road becomes sinuous, a succession of curves.

I won’t remember anything, Nicolò. It has been too long. And yet, at the second of the final series of hairpin bends, it hits him: he remembers, and he remembers it well. It’s not a neat memory by any means, rather it resembles a déja vu: a vague sensation of having already been there a long time ago, of having seen that exact moment before, but without knowing when or how. The difference is that Nicolò’s memory has very real and concrete roots, even if they manifest themselves in a confused way. The road, which he thought he had left behind, is there again, metre after metre, hairpin bend after hairpin bend, as familiar as the roads he takes every day to get home, go to work, to the bookshop, the bar. Only with a bit more nostalgia mixed in.

When Nicolò goes into the ski equipment rental shop he realises that it’s still the same owner: a middle-aged man, who Nicolò had already thought middle-aged thirty years ago, bald but with a huge white moustache. The shoes hurt the balls of his feet, he had forgotten that. A discomfort and a faint pain that are, however, beautiful, and walking on the damp, dirty floor of the rental shop is like walking on the moon, a movement that is at once strenuous and spectral. Nicolò smiles at the man. He puts on the skis and the sound he hears as they click into place is wonderful, familiar. He makes for the first piste, the one that leads from the shop to the ski centre. He goes straight down. He lacks agility and confidence, but the piste is easy and anyway it doesn’t matter, he keeps going without stopping. The smell of the snow is the same as all those years ago, as is the sensation of his body as it descends in a controlled freefall. The white of the ground and the intense green of the firs. He goes up on the chair lift that no longer has two freezing metal seats but six, now, for comfort, upholstered in a blue material. As he sees himself lift off from the ground, he shuts his eyes. It starts to snow lightly and the snow, together with the wind, stings his cheeks.

Translation by Rosanna Forte
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