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BARICCO, Alessandro



Novecento
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He was twenty-seven, but seemed older. I barely knew him: I had played with him those four days, with the band, but that was all. I didn’t even know where he bunked. Of course the others had told me something about him. They said a peculiar thing: they said, Novecento’s never been off the ship. He was born on this ship, and has been here all his life. Always. Twenty-seven years without setting foot on terra ferma. Put like that, it sounded like a colossal bunch of bull… They also said that he played music that didn’t exist. What I knew was that every time, before we started playing, there in the ballroom, Fritz Hermann, a white guy who didn’t know anything about music but had a great face for a bandleader, went over to him and said in an undertone:

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Now, if a guy who plays the trumpet on a ship meets someone, smack in the middle of a storm, who says to him ‘Come on,’ there is just one thing that guys who plays the trumpet can do: go. I followed him. He walked. I… it was a little different, I didn’t have that composure, but still… we reached the ballroom, and then, ricocheting this way and that–I mean me, obviously, because he seemed to have tracks under his feet–we arrived at the piano. There was no one around. It was almost dark, just a few small lamps here and there. Novecento pointed out to the feet of the piano.

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The piano followed the waves, back and forth, turned in a circle, headed straight toward the window, and when it got within a hair’s breadth stopped and slid gently back; the sea seemed to be rocking it and rocking us, and I couldn’t understand a damn thing, and Novecento was playing, he didn’t stop for a second, and it was clear he wasn’t simply playing, he was steering the piano, you see? with the keys, with notes, I don’t know, he was steering it where he wanted, it was absurd but that’s how it was. And as we spun amid the tables, grazing lamps and chairs, I realised that at that moment what we were doing, what we were really doing, was dancing with the Ocean, us and him, mad, perfect dancers, embracing in a slow waltz, on the gilded parquet of the night.

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