Since days, the tourist couple have been immersing themselves in experiences of art and architecture, ancient and contemporary. They have slept in the bed of a Russian poet with sparse hair despite his youth, and who used to wear a flowing, off-white linen gown outside the house. His apartment, crooked and minuscule, was situated on the last floor of an almost hidden house at the end of a picturesque and quiet calle. Sometimes, a disco boat passed through the canale behind the house – the only source of nocturnal noise. His apartment was beautiful, furnished with antique library shelves and tables, with books, paintings and profane objects, such as jars of мёд, all radiating the poet’s senso di saper vivere.
Every night, after wandering the city on his own for many hours, dressed in the linen gown, the pale, soft-spoken Russian brought home a different woman – previous acquaintances or casually met on the very day – to have sex with. He was very popular among the international crowd of art residency hoppers as well as among the local mecenati di poesia. The tourist visitors always seemed to get back home at a time, when the sex had already or not yet taken place. Four people hardly fit into the tiny rooftop space together, and so it felt like they entered and left the apartment through separate time traps.
During the day they cruised the city, busy between art galleries and rotting palazzi, passing by Sub-Saharan Africans in colourful gowns – the Russian poet’s antagonists in hairstyle and apparel – selling counterfeit handbags and home video movies, a total patchwork of styles and references, laid out on off-white bed sheets they could quickly grab when a carabinieri patrol was announced by a whistle from the next corner. The tourists wondered who would buy those goods. They never witnessed an actual transaction. Only the men setting up, displaying, calling for attention, dismantling, running from the police, relocating, and setting up again. Maybe fake tourists were their customers, an entirely different type of visitor, invisible to the unprepared eye?
On their third day in town the couple decided, as tourists often do, to sit at an outside table of an arbitrary café on an arbitrary small square to have a coffee – innocently assuming that this café was off the beaten track. They were the only guests, or at least the only ones sitting outside.
In the midday heat, a man with a baby on his arm approached them, staggering slightly. He must have overheard them talk between themselves and addressed them in Deutsch, their native language, but his pronunciation seemed seriously flawed. He was tanned, wore a small, battered backpack and looked like he had slept in the same brownish T-shirt and worn-out jeans for days. The baby was wrapped in a beach towel and seemed to sleep peacefully. The man’s face had the lost look of someone who stares into an interior void. He spoke with the accent of a non-native speaker – or his speech ability could have been impaired by the effects of a drug, possibly heroin. He had trouble finding words, and after he had made some sad attempts to comment on the fine weather and the city’s beauty, he proposed to sell the baby.
Instantly, the tourist couple asked themselves: was it his baby? Was he a desperate tossicodipendente? What had happened to the baby’s mother? Was the baby asleep because it had been drugged? Was the baby dead? Was it a latex doll?
The couple felt nauseated with this sudden dark energy – a sensation contrary to the joy of their artistic explorations. They declined the man’s offer. He staggered off to the next square, the next café, the next tourist couple. Then, after he was no longer visible and already behind the next bend, they realized that their image of this city and of each other had now changed. The café owner arrived to take their orders.
/ Marc Behrens
Achnowledgements: Molly Schröder