WORDS Nicolò Michielin
IMAGE "WE HAVE A TUMMY FULL OF DREAMS", Toiletpaper, Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari

I took the early morning train from Venezia Santa Lucia station with Serge. He had done a shoot at the Palazzo Ducale the day before and now we were heading back to Milan to return all the equipment we had rented. I bought two Tennent’s from the station bar for the journey. I had the bartender open one immediately and I began to sip it. There was construction work happening on the line so the train would take almost two hours longer than usual. Serge was sleeping with his head resting on the table, using his coat as a pillow, and had pulled his hat down over his eyes to shield himself from the warm April sun filtering through the window. I was drinking my beer and observing people on the platforms whenever the train pulled into a station: workers, drug addicts asking for change, lovers, professors in Loden coats, and students wearing Nikes. On the train, sitting in the seats opposite me was a distinguished elderly couple. She was reading Nabokov. Who knows where they had met – perhaps at a conference of dishevelled Soviet philologists, maybe at a Grand Hotel in Buenos Aires, over breakfast with blueberry jam and boiled eggs. Perhaps they had met like everyone else – at a friend’s house for dinner, or in a café downtown, or maybe at an antique shop in the Parioli neighbourhood, while looking for an Orthodox icon of St. Nicholas. I wonder if they remember the first words they said to each other.

Hello, pleased to meet you.

My god, how many years and lives spent together begin with these words, and yet we say them so casually, with the same lightness as ordering a drink at the bar. I wonder if they still held hands or if they had an old photo at home of them embracing in a café in Tangier. I took a sip of beer and placed the bottle on top of a magazine that a passenger had left at my seat. The cover was getting wet from the condensation and I could have simply moved it, but I decided I didn’t care. I let the glossy paper darken around the glass. At each station, Serge would get off and inhale as much as he could of a cigarette. He smoked a pack and a half of Davidoffs a day, holding them between his ring and middle fingers and exhaling the smoke through clenched teeth. “I saw Bob Dylan do it; it took me a while to learn,” he told me at a table in a bar, drinking a glass of Slovenian cognac, one of the first times we went out together. On that same cold morning, he also told me the story behind his stage name and asked me not to tell anyone, which I didn’t. At some point, he went to smoke in the bathroom or maybe to make himself a “coffee,” because Serge may have been a photographer, but he had the soul of a 70s punk. As Brad Elterman once told me after meeting him in Rome sometime before, “Serge has the attitude; I’m sorry, but he’s a superstar,” and that included casually consuming almost every kind of drug on the market without batting an eyelid. When he came to visit me in Venice, he passed out on Angela’s rooftop after we had downed a bottle of gin between the two of us. He was lying there blissfully unconscious, like a martyr in a painting with the Grand Canal and the Gallerie dell’Accademia in the background. The same thing happened two weeks ago when Kat came to visit me. It’s true that she’s a woman, but as she would write in her article for Vogue a few weeks later:

Everyone knows that you should never drink with Russians or Venetians.

It was still early when we got to Milan, but the sun was already high in the sky and it was hot. Serge’s wife was waiting for him, an American with red hair and blue eyes he had met in Paris while working at the Palace. They had gotten married in Serge’s hometown and had later left France to move into an apartment near Loreto, in front of a Peruvian restaurant that served lomo saltado and rice at pretty much any hour of the day. Uma had gotten a job as a bartender at Plastic to make ends meet, but she quit shortly after because it was too far from home and most of her earnings went to the taxis she had to take at dawn to get back to the other side of the city, making the whole thing almost pointless. Marco, one of the managers, told me they were sorry she didn’t work there for longer because she was a lovely girl. Serge stubbed out yet another cigarette on the pavement with his boots and they both got into a taxi. I took the one parked right behind theirs and gave the driver Bianca’s address near Corso San Gottardo. Bianca wasn’t home but she had left the keys at a restaurant at the end of the street for me. Once inside the apartment, I took my Mac out of my suitcase, where I had wrapped it in a blue-and-white striped Marina Yachting sweater with a wine stain on it. I was supposed to be working on an essay about Michel Foucault and the regime of truth for my PhD, but I couldn’t focus knowing that I would have to go out soon, so I started to lose myself in observing the room I was in. There were lemons on the sideboard and, on the wall, one of the photographs from the exhibition Massimo had done for Saint Laurent. He and Bianca had dated briefly that summer and he had photographed her in French stockings. Bianca looked beautiful in those photos. Massimo was a great photographer and a great artist; photography was his whole life. There were three things he loved in the world: women, photos and alcohol… He was obsessed with them. He slept with a different girl every night, preferably very young ones, and drank like a madman until his blue eyes couldn’t see anymore. Needless to say, I’d had some great drinking sessions with him. The last time we had dinner together, he had brought along one of his latest conquests, the daughter of two novelists, also an aspiring writer, who seemed to have stepped straight out of an episode of Californication. They slapped each other at the table because it excited them both, then he ripped her shirt, leaving her half-naked, and they disappeared to fuck in the restaurant bathroom. Meanwhile, I continued to drink, sitting at the table, dazed by all the noise, and worrying about what the sweet waitress who had served us fish thought of us. His relationship with photography was the same. In the darkroom, he touched the film like they were women. That was another place where he would take his girls to fuck. The print on the wall in Bianca’s house was of a lap dancer from a Las Vegas club where photography was prohibited. Massimo always told the story of that shot, of his Venus, as he called her, who he had managed to immortalize as soon as the bouncers were distracted. Then, on the coffee table in front of the sofa was the first copy of the Italian edition of Harper’s Bazaar (where Bianca had worked after quitting what was probably her favourite job in Paris), and the following books: Glamorama and The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, an old copy of Dubliners by James Joyce that she had found on the street one Sunday when she had gone to Bologna for lunch, and Watermark by Brodsky, a book set in Venice that my editor had recommended I read. As soon as I saw the book, I pulled my phone out of my jeans pocket to send him a photo and a crumpled piece of paper came out with it. It was the phone number a girl had given me in a bar in Rome that I can’t remember the name of, but I do remember it was near Calisto. I had been staying at Sandro’s house in Rome at the time and we had gone there for a drink after dinner. His friends were mostly actors, musicians and artists of various kinds, people who didn’t have to get up early in the morning. As soon as we saw her, everything around us disappeared. Sandro pointed out that the girl was looking at me, so I turned towards the table where she was sitting and immediately locked onto her big dark eyes. “You’re an idiot if you don’t go and talk to her,” Sandro told me. “Actually, if you don’t, I’ll give it a go, even with this broken face,” he added shortly afterwards. The night before, he had been beaten up at a rave by people trying to steal the gold chains from around his neck. He had managed to land two punches in the face of one of the thieves because he knew how to handle himself in fights from the days of hanging out with the ultras of a basketball team from his hometown. Something you wouldn’t expect from a medical student with excellent grades. Anyway, I was too sober and embarrassed to do anything, so I let it go and we went inside to sit down. We ordered tequila. After a while, the waitress came over with Irene’s number – that was her name – and gave it to me. I was over the moon, a moment of pure happiness. Everyone, including the waitress, told me at that point to go and talk to her, but I didn’t, I was too embarrassed. In fact, when Sandro and I had to leave the place for a minute to meet the dealer, I went out through the back so as not to run into her. I was an idiot. We bought the cocaine a hundred meters down the road and the girl was no longer at the table with her friends when we returned. I was a bit sad, but I didn’t have time to think about it because we immediately went into the bathroom to make ourselves a “coffee.” I hadn’t thought about that girl again until the moment I found her number. I fantasized about who she was and what kind of life she had. I imagined she had a degree in literature and a black beret that she would occasionally wear on Sunday afternoons in the autumn. I wondered what Irene, my imaginary love, the literature student with a thesis on Dostoevsky, was doing at that very moment. Perhaps she was smoking a cigarette outside a bar in Trastevere while a madman played Alba Chiara by Vasco Rossi in exchange for a few euros, or maybe she belonged to Rome’s high society, in which case she would be drinking Chilean wine on a terrace in Piazza di Spagna. Maybe she was at home with her boyfriend watching a movie or perhaps she was listening to a song by Pulp; maybe she was doing a line of crystal meth on a bathroom mirror, but she didn’t seem the type from the way she smiled – there was something sweet about her, I couldn’t see her doing that kind of thing. Perhaps she was discussing Hayek with her friend, an assistant at Sapienza University who was wearing a Daft Punk t-shirt under his Barbour jacket, or maybe she was talking about hook-ups with an actress from Cinecittà who would give anything to have paparazzi outside her house. Maybe she was already in bed. What was she doing? Maybe she liked working-class indie bands or ecstasy raves in the countryside outside Paris; maybe she was an angelic face at the shopping mall. I didn’t know, so I wondered. What a fool I had been, and yet, how often does nothing come of a glance or a smile exchanged on the street that could easily have been the beginning of a beautiful love story?

What a waste.

Even though I had to hand the essay in a few days later, I decided to blow it off because I could barely string two words together. Instead, I took out my mobile phone and texted my dealer, a Senegalese guy whose name was saved in my iPhone as Karl Popper, because that’s how he had been saved in the phone of an academic I had met at university during a Georg Simmel seminar and who had given me his contact. The next day, I had to present my book at Book Pride, and I knew I would probably need something to give myself a little more presence, considering what had happened last time. I had done an interview with Rai before going on stage at Più Libri, Più Liberi and it was a disaster. I couldn’t finish a single sentence, resulting in the recording being deemed “unusable” after editing. I still remember the journalist’s bewildered gaze as I stared back at her, wondering, “What the hell am I saying to make her look at me like this?” It was an experience that would have killed me with embarrassment under any normal circumstances and I had no desire to repeat it. The dealer told me to meet him near Piazza XXIV Maggio, so I took the opportunity to pop into McDonald’s and buy myself a hamburger; I was starving. I ate it while walking. I was really tired and it was giving me the cold shivers. Four or five Ernst and Young brokers in suits and ties passed by me; they would later waste their money on cocaine and Eastern European prostitutes who call you darling. As I walked towards the meeting spot, I passed by the following in this order: a bakery with Christmas lights still confusingly wrapped around its sign, a recently opened ramen place that I had never seen before, a modern art gallery selling Jeff Koons, an Indian-run fruit shop that also had a fridge for beers, and not much else. Once I reached the tram stop, I saw him. I approached, we exchanged the usual polite bullshit, I gave him the money and, without looking at me, he gave me my two baggies, and we went our separate ways. We bid farewell with a nod as a group of kids came running in our direction, shouting and waving their hands in the air. They managed to stop the tram door from closing and get on.

I met Sandro at Enrico’s place for lunch. Enrico was a friend of his whom I had recently met. He lived in San Babila in a ground-floor apartment that overlooked a garden with linden trees and a covered porch adorned in bougainvillea. Across the street, opposite the gate, were billboards from a The Cure concert a few months prior. Some of them were torn and fluttering in the wind. There were luxury cars with Swiss license plates parked in the courtyard. I called to let them know I had arrived at the address they had given me and Sandro told me they weren’t home yet, but to go in because the door was open. That seemed strange to me, but I went in anyway. After a few seconds, a Ukrainian model came out of the other room wearing leggings and a men’s black hoodie. I thought that she had just gotten out of bed. She spoke softly and I caught a trace of sadness in her disoriented gaze. We exchanged a few words about life in general. A few minutes later, the guys arrived, along with Serge, his wife, a male friend of Bianca’s whom I had already met in Venice and who was doing his doctoral thesis in fashion history on the Vogue archive, a stylist with pink hair, and a DJ dressed like a Brit from the suburbs who seemed stylish to me. There was nothing to eat and, even worse, there was nothing to drink. Well, a few beers, but no vodka. However, there was ketamine and MDMA. I did my part and offered up what I had just bought from Karl. Someone put on a love song by Battisti. I found something poetic about the contrast between those sweet words and all the drugs. The girl with pink hair told me she didn’t like Oasis and Sandro didn’t like them either. Everyone was dressed very fashionably. Sandro, Serge and I promised ourselves that we would head to Berlin in a van that summer to retrieve the prints that Serge had left behind in a gallery in Kreuzberg after his exhibition the previous year. He had left Berlin on a Saturday morning without taking anything with him: He got into his car wearing a leather jacket, cigarettes in the pocket of a pair of vomit-stained black jeans, and speed to keep him awake as he drove for the next twelve hours towards Paris. Sandro and Serge hadn’t known each other for long, but their relationship was intense from the start. A few days after meeting each other, Serge moved into Sandro’s house for a few months. On one of those evenings, they branded each other’s shoulders with a red-hot crucifix, perhaps because ultimately there can be no love, in any form, without some kind of suffering to help us atone for our guilt. I had also spent some time in that house with them. Sandro didn’t keep my book on the bookshelf alongside Sartre, Tondelli, Rimbaud, García Lorca and Kerouac, but on the coffee table next to the couch where his cousin’s book was also placed, as he was considered one of the most important Italian philosophers at the time. “These are the books that are special to me,” he said. I didn’t know if he had just put it there because he knew I was coming, but whatever, it was still a nice gesture. The nights and drugs seemed endless in that house, but the mornings were strangely sweet. I woke up coughing, surrounded by cigarette smoke so thick that it was hard to see the other side of the room. I put my jeans on and, to avoid waking them up, went down to the bar to attend PhD seminars on my computer while drinking a beer. Hours later, when they also woke up and came downstairs, we ordered crema di caffè, a kind of ice cream that I was crazy about. I thought that going to Berlin with them would be interesting; they reminded me of the characters I had read about in my favorite books. After an hour and half a dozen lines of Calvin Klein, I said goodbye to everyone and left, knowing that we would all see each other again at the concert that evening.

I walked to Porta Romana to meet Moira. I had met her a few evenings back at a shoot we did for ’89. She was the model and she wasn’t just any model, she was what we can call a supermodel, certainly one of the most famous Italian models of recent years. She had been a muse to Karl Lagerfeld and Dolce & Gabbana and, as you would imagine, she was as beautiful as a sunset over the sea in Cuba and as wild as a rockstar. And she was sweet, too, so sweet. A girl with a pure heart who wanted nothing more than to forget the obscenity of the world but couldn’t. I waited for her outside the metro station, leaning against a wall, smoking a cigarette. She arrived, flashing one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen from behind her brown curls, and we went into a nearby bar. I ordered a vodka soda, she ordered a cappuccino, and we sent a photo to a mutual friend. She told me about her life, the outskirts, and her past loves – rappers and skaters. She told me about Vivienne Westwood and Hong Kong airport, about a rapper she had fought with and her dogs, about her agent and her father. We talked with the honesty of strangers. When I went to pay, I grabbed some strawberry candies from a bowl on the counter and gave her one. As we left the bar, we started walking towards her home. She showed me a place where it was said they sold drugs and another where she thought they made good hot dogs. She was cold and I gave her my jacket. She looked like a Berber princess with big eyes. I tried not to show it, but I was freezing. The sun had set and the streets were getting dark, but the sky still shone blue like a Magritte painting. When we passed by a Chinese emporium, she said, “I can lose myself for days in places like this. I go in and think about my things among the shelves.” We walked a lot while we talked. Mostly, she talked, and I listened as dogs barked in the distance like strays in the kasbah of Marrakesh. We crossed paths with a cleaning lady carrying a bucket full of water in her bicycle basket. Why was she doing it? She was a fifty-year-old Italian woman with dyed hair and tattooed forearms, maybe she had been a punk in her time or something like that. She wore a pink uniform with thin white stripes and sneakers. She was pushing the bike extremely slowly by hand, but despite that, the water kept slopping out of the bucket due to the roots that came up through the pavement. Her face was twisted into a grimace, revealing all the effort she was putting in to avoid spilling the water but failing. I felt a strange sensation – tenderness, admiration, sadness, maybe a mix of all of the above. I wanted to help her but I was embarrassed, so I simply continued to watch her, pretending not to notice until she passed us. Then I turned around and continued to observe her for a few more seconds, pretending to look at my phone. What was her story? Which of these bars did she go to for a drink? I wonder if she had ever walked on the sunny beaches of California. Was she a mother? A lover? What had her dreams been as a girl? All things I would never know; the only thing I could be certain of was that I would probably never see that woman again, which made that precise moment on an anonymous city street unique, and its uniqueness made it somehow precious. We resumed walking. As a man in a black t-shirt and jeans walked past us holding a bunch of flowers, we found ourselves on an overpass from which we could see the first windows lighting up in the distant buildings. People were getting home from work, pouring themselves a glass of wine to fuel their dreams and forget their troubles. To reach Moira’s house, we cut through a park where a mother watched her little boy ride his bike in circles and where two elderly people speaking a Slavic language were sitting on a bench, drinking wine. They were drunks. On the next bench was another solitary boozer who had just finished a bottle of beer and was placing it under the bench with the others. A quick glance revealed four bottles. The old drunkard had a happy expression. Dazed by his beers, he proceeded to open another one that he took out of a canvas bag. I wondered, perhaps seriously for the first time, if I might ever end up like that, given the problems that drinking was causing me in everything I was supposed to be doing for work. The scent of burning marijuana and tobacco wafted across from somewhere.

Moira lived in a residence for the wealthy and there was a pile of unopened packages at the entrance to her loft. I asked her what they were. “They’re all gifts sent to me by brands. Those are the ones that came in the past week.” On the wall were two murals by two artists whose names I couldn’t remember and a box of vinyl sat near the sofa. It contained Nirvana, The Smiths (her favorite band) and Placebo. I told her that I had lost my virginity to a girl I truly loved while wearing a Placebo t-shirt that I bought at the concert, the second concert I had ever been to in my life, after The Prodigy. There was nothing to drink in her house, but I made do without. Franco, along with his girlfriend Carlotta and Bianca, picked us up to go to a Chinese restaurant on the other side of town before the concert. Vlad, a Siberian photographer, and other friends of Franco would join us there. We were seated at a round table with a Lazy Susan. After browsing through menus stained with Kikkoman sauce, we ordered vodka and grilled dumplings for everyone. There was a faded photo of Anthony Vaccarello with a French actress on the wall. I wondered why it was there and who had put it up. Perhaps the young waitress dreamed of Hollywood and its splendors and didn’t want to resign herself to wearing that dirty cotton apron stained with Xiang soup or crab and onions for another twenty years. She was smiling, but an infinite distant sadness shadowed her eyes. Franco and I went to the bathroom to do a CK. I had “coffee” and he had ketamine. He said, “Let me do it, I know the perfect proportions. It has to be 70:30, or there’s no point.” Franco was my age, and he also had a law degree. He was a likeable guy whom I enjoyed chatting with. He seemed intelligent, someone who knew his stuff, and I thought it would be nice if he came to work with us. What was left of his stash fell into the toilet and we burst into laughter. After leaving the bathroom, I went to the bar to order more vodka. Two scruffy guys with swollen eyes were eating peanuts with their mouths open and drinking Chivas, dirtying the collar of their jackets. They were cursing. A sign above the counter read:

“Play higher than you can afford to lose and you will learn the game. – Sir Winston Churchill.”

 I finished reading it just as the bartender placed the glass next to a plate littered with melon peels. I half-smiled at a woman sitting at a nearby table right after taking a sip of my drink. She smiled back. Perhaps she was a prostitute? Her glass was smudged with lipstick where her mouth had been. I felt a semi-erection in my jeans and moved away, gesturing to her with my glass. Maybe one day I would jerk off thinking about her and what we could have done in a hotel room. Vlad took photos of everyone and a guy who worked for a fashion brand, who had just told me how he had quit drinking and drugs, gave all the girls roses.

The concert and the evening in general continued in the same manner. We went to a place near the station where Franco and I split two pills. They were pink and triangular shaped with a skull on them. I went to the bathroom with a girl I liked, whom I had been flirting with for a few days, and she offered me a line. I wanted to kiss her, but I didn’t. What a wonderful feeling when you like a girl and you know that you’ll meet her somewhere that evening, all dressed up, perhaps tanned on a July night, with her hair loose over her shoulders.

My evening ended completely differently, however, at a house with strangers smoking crack pipes, while a guy with kind eyes made me listen to songs he had written on his phone and talked to me about his daughter. I left that place around seven and had to be at the fair a few hours later. I was freezing, wearing nothing but a Fred Perry jacket from Brando with nothing underneath. I buttoned it up to my neck. I was supposed to be in bed and there I was, sacrificed on the altar of the morning, facing a sad and beautiful sunrise. Who knows how many people see dawn before going to sleep and how many when they wake up early in the morning to go to work. Who knows how many never see it at all. Dawn in Belgrade, dawn in Seville and Guadalajara, dawn in Venice and Milan, which is where I was wondering this that morning as I entered the house, as a stream of clear light entered from the balcony. Bianca was asleep and I got into bed next to her, trying not to wake her. She was stunning. Before falling asleep, I thought about Sophie. Who knows where she was. Perhaps she was in Berlin at some techno club, my sweet Berghain flower. Maybe she was in bed with one of her many lovers, or maybe she was doing special K with a trendy guy who would then fuck her. Maybe she spent the evening watching a Cronenberg film at her place, in front of the stadium, or reading Kierkegaard. She had sent me a photo of us kissing the day before, and I looked at it on my phone. My goodness, she was beautiful. She was an August night, a song by The Verve. For an advertising campaign, we had written “Meet me in Sant’Elena, ti amo” on a vaporetto and on the evening of that photo, I told her that the phrase had come to me while thinking of her. I said it to all the girls I was seeing at the time, but she didn’t know that and it made her happy. Oh, Sophie, how I wished I could save you from this wretched world and take you to a house with a white picket fence to watch the summer. But I couldn’t even save myself and that girl would ultimately drag me down. I heard bad things about her, things I didn’t want to hear and that made me want to keep my distance, but as we know, the heart wants what it wants. To freely interpret Lucretius’ De rerum natura, I was in a perfect situation: If I saw her, I was happy, and if I didn’t see her, I was still happy.

I woke up half an hour before the time that Giorgia, the girl who worked for the publishing house, had told me to be there. I felt terrible, like I was about to vomit. On the floor, from the previous evening, were my muddy jeans, crumpled in all their sadness next to a pile of fashion magazines that ended with a catalogue by Mario Testino. I took out my American Express card from my pocket and did a line on the bedside table. I put on a polo shirt and my coat and went downstairs to catch a taxi. I was running late, but the station was right at the end of Bianca’s street. Near a lamppost in a grassy area, I saw daisies, my favorite flowers, perhaps because they reminded me of when, like everyone else, I had played in the meadows as a child. A builder in the courtyard of the building across the street wiped the sweat off his face with his elbow and spat on the ground. He looked like an avant-garde poet or a Muslim intellectual, a kind of Algerian John Fante who wrote poems about sadness and women when he got home. It took about fifteen minutes for the taxi to arrive while Giorgia bombarded me with messages asking where I was. The taxi driver was very kind and chatted about this and that. I had him drop me off at the entrance, and Giorgia was there waiting for me with my pass in her hand. I was ashamed to have shown up in that condition yet again. But, then again, fuck it, it was all part of the game, right? I had to live up to my image because, to be quite honest, there were very few writers around that I actually liked. Nowadays, they’re all influencers, well-connected, or fucking idiots, and in that case, it’s better to be a failed novelist who drinks because losers – if not in real life, at least in storiesare always fascinating. I ordered a beer at the bar and sat on the pavement in the courtyard with my head between my knees, waiting for my turn. When I entered the half-empty room, there were about thirty people there, maybe fewer, and Andrea and Beatrice were among them. They were so kind to have come all the way there. Seeing Beatrice filled me with joy, it gave me peace. Spending time with her was a balm for the soul. I did nothing but tease her and she would laugh and then I would laugh, too. I sat next to the moderator chosen by the Independent Publishing Fair for my presentation. He was a nice guy I had met a little earlier. He told me he was a professional writer and I wondered how he managed to survive. A few days later, while at a Feltrinelli bookstore to buy Death in Venice for the Adam Green shoot, I saw his book in the shop window and thought, “Damn, this guy’s famous.” I picked up both books and headed straight to the checkout. The presentation was a disaster again, at least whenever I was speaking. Andrea, the writer, was very professional. He had a notebook full of notes about my book and looked at me as if I were an idiot. At one point, about ten people got up and left the room. I waved goodbye to them. Everything had gone to shit by then, so I told the story of when I had met the manager of a bar in the Navigli neighborhood a few days earlier. I had walked into the bar because the one next door, where my friends were, didn’t have any hard liquor. “Why did you name this bar Star?” I asked him. “Because I’ve lived a star’s life,” he replied. And so he began telling me his story: He had managed one of the most famous S&M clubs in Milan for thirty years and had been forced to close with the pandemic. This bar, scattered with relics and memories, was his way of trying to rebuild his life. He offered me shots of tequila as he told me about all the porn stars he had been in a relationship with, his Chinese woman whom he had met getting a hand job at a massage parlor, and how the BDSM world worked in general. And that’s when I thought about how it doesn’t matter which rules a person decides to respect, but whether they decide to respect any at all. There’s not much difference between honor and taxes. Anyway, it seemed like no one was interested in my story except for a guy sitting right in the second row, whom I had a perfect view of because the front row was completely empty. It all ended with a few words from my publisher.

After leaving the room, I stopped to talk to Beatrice and the publisher. Sophie had asked me to give her a copy of the book, so I took one from the publisher’s stand along with a pen that was on the table to write her a dedication. I opened the book to the first blank page and wrote: “Sophie, don’t be angry. I thought of you before falling asleep the other night and that must mean something. Only when I can describe in words how beautiful it was to kiss you for the first time, will I be able to say that I have become a good writer, but I already know I’ll never be able to.” When I reread it, I found it too romantic and was tenderly embarrassed, so I decided I would never give it to her. I placed the book back with the others for sale, warmly said goodbye to everyone, and left. Beatrice rode away on her bicycle. I was exhausted and vaguely sad as I walked towards the metro station with headphones on. The world didn’t seem all that wonderful to me that morning. It was a cold day, fucking freezing, but also one of the most beautiful. The wind was coming from the north and the sky looked like plastic, blue and dense, not a cloud in sight, and the mountains were visible. Then Between Planets by The Jesus and Mary Chain started playing on my iPhone, and everything seemed to make sense because, in the end, for those of us who aren’t saints or ascetics, what would life be if we didn’t have something to pursue? We are all desperate at some point and sometimes all it takes is a sad song and the sun in the sky to bring a smile to our faces. I got on the metro and sat next to a respectable lady who clutched her Hermès bag tightly to her. I had done nothing but dive into whatever substance came my way, just like I had at the age of fifteen, but now I was thirty and maybe I should just stay in the university library studying Walter Benjamin. But people never change and if they do, it’s often because they are lying to themselves. I closed my eyes and rested my head against the advertising billboard for a private school behind me. I just wanted to leave because it’s true that things happen in cities, but peace is always at home. Tranquility is like youth, I thought, or like the love of your life. Only when you’ve lost it do you realize how much you miss it and then you do everything you possibly can to find it again because everyone wants to go out when it’s summer, but as soon as they see that winter is out there, too, there they are, lining up at the door, hankering after a warm bed. But, perhaps, in the end, it isn’t easy being happy, so everyone is always searching for something they don’t have.

And, very often, they’re doing it in Milan.