“I am afraid of the unknown, of what will happen and not feeling good”, thought Martino by lighting a Gitane Brune sans Filtre, just taken from the half-empty package.
It was hard to find the Gitanes Brunes sans Filtres in Rome. Actually, even in Paris it was not easy. It was annoyingly difficult to find even a dozen of those cigarettes anywhere.
However, Cécile, his cousin, always found someone to ask or scrounge something from. Usually, they were men bewitched by her beauty, unable to refuse her demands.
And Martino was the first one who did that.
He thought back to his black felt hat, which ended-up in her cousin’s hands last Christmas, or to his vinyl collection, mutilated every Easter of an important title.
Bringing these memories to his mind produced an unexpected domino effect in his stream of consciousness.
All of a sudden, the Gitanes Brunes sans Filtres and other things that her cousin had taken away from him overshadowed.
The embarrassment caught him unprepared and it strongly coloured his cheeks when his thoughts went back to the last summer: he could not restrain himself from looking beyond the half-open door and from admiring Cécile while she was touching herself in the shower. That image, barely ten seconds long, always arrived without any warning. Without even knocking at the door.
He thanked some tobacco god for the tenacious taste of the Gitanes Brunes. The French Caporal mixture took the memory of Cécile in the shower away from him – he was relieved and sorry at the same time – and it descended upon him like a lullaby.
Martino had recently moved back to Rome. He went to Paris with his parents after primary school and he had been far enough away from Rome to forget the name of those four classmates who went to his house to play when they were ten years old.
He had returned to live in Rome to study violin at the conservatory in Via dei Greci called Saint Cecilia, by sheer coincidence.
The violin was at the centre of his thoughts every day, even now. It took possession of his thoughts even in that moment, before becoming aware of it.
He had been studying for a couple of years at Giacomo Sora’s home, a very famous composer in Rome, almost completely deaf by now, a retired conductor with a passion for playing cards, like Tressette, Briscola chiamata and Scopa a Fidasse.
Giacomo Sora taught him how to make music come alive. It was amazing how he followed the music, perceiving its most hidden sounds and contours, despite the incipient deafness that prevented him from a happy listening.
Thanks to his teacher, Martino had not just learnt how to play the violin, but also how to play chess and to love Edna’s quince pie. Edna was Giacomo Sora’s wife, a Bosnian or “Bosgnacca” woman, as his husband always called her.
Martino was the male son that he and Edna had never had. He used to spend hours and hours, after school, at their home, playing the violin, eating a lot and flirting with Elisa, the composer’s granddaughter. Elisa was one year younger than him. She was one of the best students in one of the most important classical high school in Rome. Martino always told her that she was a well-shaped beautiful girl and he used to tease her about it.
Elisa was not an 18-year-old girl like the others. She was a woman, not one of those you can see nowadays. She was an old-style woman.
On the other hand, Martino was constantly searching for his place, like all his peers, always collecting the sheets of a score complex to perform and which the wind would punctually mess up. Elisa played her role as daughter and student without failing. She was not going clubbing or encouraging people to come forward with her and, moreover, she did not post half-naked photos of herself on social networks. It was like she was anchored, happily anchored, to a past world, to a story where cooking is life, where one wakes up with the aroma of coffee that comes from the kitchen and in the evening everyone gather around the table to tell each other about the day.
This is a kitchen in which grandmother’s iron pans of different sizes and not particularly old, but blackened by fire, are hung on the wall. They were shallow and large pans with two small handles.
In that kitchen Martino fall in love with Elisa and her hands – maybe he should have told her. He watched her while she took off her rings and started kneading the shortcrust pastry for the pie. And when she cooked something, he hugged her from behind and kissed her neck. He could smell her perfume of wisteria. She complained about the tickle for a while, then she laughed and smile, a smile that Martino only glimpsed but which he knew very well.
Thanks to Elisa, he started to accept and to contain in his very little Nordic nature the multiplicity and plurality of that Mediterranean land, made of many contradictions.
And thanks to Giacomo Sora he had met Elisa. She was diligent and elegant, not like him; actually, he was indolent, but steady in idleness.
A strong bond, which had its roots in sharing, was soon created between the two of them.
It was extraordinary how a violin had been able to produce such revolutionary music in Martino’s life. He finished his cigarette slowly, with small drags. Once he put it out, he looked around himself. He was alone. Behind him there was the school entrance. In front of him, the almost empty courtyard. He thought about the speed with which the students had disappeared, in a heartbeat, the time for a cigarette.

Translation by Francesca Scivoli
Photography by Alessia Musio