This is a dialogue between the Catterina Coha and myself that evolved with each episode of Sabrina and with a few additional comments from Giuseppe, which be both things it is worth publishing. I hope you will enjoy. Any opinion is wellcome!
Centre for Islamic Culture – Doha, February 11th 2017 – Photo by F. Marincola
A conversation about the short story “Sabrina”
After the publication of Part 1…
Catterina’s original comment:
…Well, so far Luca has found two women with propensity to “be enslaved” to men, and one who finds comfort in sharing cynicism. No wonder he feels like a cold fish…neither slavery nor cynicism deserve love. Martina’s character remains too undefined to judge, but this may be exactly the problem. She may be too shallow to be described beyond her physical appearance.
Luca’s quest for understanding women in this company is pointless. He needs to find a woman, who could answer with the words of Montale (see attached) from a wall in Monterosso, Cinque Terre:
…Non domandarci la formula che mondi possa aprirti,
Si’ qualche storta sillaba e secca come un ramo.
Codesto solo oggi possiamo dirti,
cio’ che non siamo, cio’ che non vogliamo
…Do not ask us the formula that could open a world for you
Yes, a few crooked syllables dry like a stick
Just this today we can tell you
What we are not, what we do not want
Reply from author:
You should elaborate a little more (explain better what you mean for “propensity to be enslaved”). Also, I am not sure about what is the point made by the words of Montale; can you explain what they have to do with the story?
Of course, I am flattered that you have strong opinions about the characters! It’s the all purpose of writing. Frankly, Luca is not that original of a character. Luca could be the man character in Dostoevsky “The “meek one” or the “man without qualities” in Musil’s story, or in “the Trial” of Kafka. Men like Luca are more common then appreciated, lost in a bubble of cynical existentialism, just the opposite of the optimistic determinism of Le Candide!
Luca like those other characters cannot be judged in ethical terms because his ethics are too evanescent. But the women around Luca I believe are quite extraordinary. Of course, the characters will emerge as the story goes on but I think we could learn from each of them (…most of them, by the way, are sketches of real people collated into one story. So they are less far from reality than they may seem).
Thanks for reading it anyways
My dear Franco
Sorry for the cryptic nature of my comment –
I guess to me the women characters are closer to a man fantasy of women than to real human beings.
I know – you say they are modeled from real people – and maybe they are indeed (sadly) how you have interpreted the women who either you or somebody you know well – have slept with …because in this story this is all they do.
To your credit the description of Sabrina is colorful and funny but it is totally unclear what is her motivation to sleep with Luca – Servility? Financial benefits? Fear to be fired? …Because if it is love, it would not work without trust but only resignation to be hurt and abandoned like a slave after she is no longer needed to please the master. And he does not treat her as a lover – more like a butler – at best a wise butler.
Martina …it is not sophistication that she lacks – but hypocrisy that she shows. She has little to loose by being with an old man – from what we know about her – and it is unlikely that she does not know that he sleeps with the others. – So love and honesty is not in the picture either – but of course, she likes him and being with him could make her life so much better…I admit it is not rare for women to think this way – seek security and shelter and comfort from a man.
She is an old friend who could never get love from Luca and resigned to be a close “body”.
But her consolation rests in this illusion of sharing a superior intellect with her friend.
But there is no passion, no ideals
Cynicism may sound good but it is to run from! It is dry.
I guess I am more attracted to people who are irrationally passionate
And honest – although not elegant perhaps – in their passion
I do not find any of these women extraordinary at all
Although yes they can be real
Thanks for your patience,
Reply from author:
This correspondence is a lot of fun!
I think that your “executive summary” of the women characters is perfect but is just exactly what a “third” party would think; an icy and objective analysis of a situation as seen from the outside. I try to describe my characters from their point of view (I guess the extreme is “The Leopard Story“, in which Jeremy (a professional killer) is portrayed according to his own logical process and, if you allow, his “dignity” even though in the end he remains a horrifying criminal. I believe that it is fair to judge behaviors according to our point of view, but we should not forget that it is just ours against that of another human being, which may be just as legitimate. It could be the moral version of the “theory of relativity”!
Thus, the women in this story may very well be characterized as you judge them but, I am sure you would concur that if they were questioned about their situation, they might agree with the crude facts upon which your judgment was based but not with their interpretation and they would justify their behavior differently. This is the point of the narrative in my characters and if you allow this is the way the narrative of life most commonly flows: we rarely argue about the facts but rather their interpretation creating a reality around them that supports our point of view. Nobody is right or wrong in my stories but each character (even Tommaso in the Old Boys Academy) acts according to what his or her instincts (often rationalized as moral choices) tell them to do at a certain point in life. The same character might make different decisions in identical situations at a different time point. We may call them disingenuous but how can we judge? I believe that most human beings can justify most of they time the reasons why they do what they do, no matter how illogical their choices may seem to others. I am finishing the Sabrina story and although your summary of her character is convincing, you will see that it will taste differently when seen from her point of view (this is why I am using the stratagem of making her talk to God/Saint Francis in Part 2, so we can hear from her voice, how she feels).
I wish you would let me put together this correspondence into an “edited” blog because it is stirring interesting points related to narrative and the literary rather than the contextual value of a character.
Thanks so much for caring.
Of course I have a propensity to grant you your wishes. So go head and post our correspondence.
And I agree that we all live with deep contradictions that we rationalize in our own ways.
I think that in this case, the piecemeal posting may have triggered premature opinions about the characters – questions that would have been resolved by reading a little further…
Anyway, as I left out the “Montale” words from my prior explanation I will explain here:
Luca seems to think that there is some revelation that could explain women nature and reactions (la formula che mondi possa aprirti) and all he gets from Luisa is (qualche storta sillaba e secca come un ramo) cynicism
If he would listen with his heart (which he may be unable to do because of a slight autism), he could understand what women are not (slaves or commodities) and what they do not want (to feel used and lied to)
Reply from author:
Thanks for agreeing to put together this correspondence as a blog. It is deeper than we appreciate. It has to do with aspects of life more than writing styles. As we try to look at life from different angles we observe characters that change like chameleons according to the lights and shades of the surroundings. I love your points particularly because they trigger reactions and thoughts. You make me think more deeply about what we are trying to accomplish by writing and it is great to do it with you: are we simply painting something that we see, or are we creating beyond what we can see?
It will take me some time to work on this correspondence. Secretly, I was setting up the Luca character for a thriller story since the trilogy (Walk in the park, Old Boys Academy and Sabrina) is a preliminary sketch of a novel I am working on. So, as you said, it makes less sense reading bit by bit rather than the finished story, but in the end isn’t the way life goes? Don’t we just judge others most often according to the ‘episodes’ we happen to observe rather than the complete picture, which most of the times we miss?
So, I think more and more about our correspondence and about the fact that I could be not only a better writer but also a better human being.
After the publication of Part 2
…Sabrina is now emerging and starting to shape into a more interesting character.
As for the “question” of marriage (“Should I marry Martina?): Luca could have asked if he should buy a Ferrari, just the same. Since there is no emotional commitment, marriage here is only a commercial transaction, which will be mostly advantageous to Martina. Perhaps for Luca it is a way to relive his own sense of guilt, although I doubt that he feels guilty. Maybe he is really trying at his best to interpret the societal signs that he thinks point him towards the right direction, but an autistic person cannot distinguish the difference between a label and its true meaning when it comes to emotions. It is like a blind person choosing between two shades of colors. We’ll have to wait for the rest to know to which degree he is truly autistic.
Giuseppe enters the picture:
I cannot avoid answering to this drastic comment by Catterina. It may seem that Luca is autistic but then I wander if half of men are like that. I believe it is a much more subtle way to feel. I believe that Luca is a sensible man but not grown up and his narcissism excludes the understanding of others in particular the feelings of a woman. I believe that none of us boys or elderly men have gone completely through this stage of sensibility. Some of us like Luca; have not yet reached the consciousness of love. I do not defend him at all; I just would leave it to the possibility of explaining who he really is! Personally it took me several hours of therapy and dozens and dozens of poems to just have a pale idea of what it is to be loved by a woman and love back. May be you, as woman, have an explanation to this complicated reality.
Reply from author:
Very good point Giuseppe, I believe that Luca, perhaps sadly, is quite representative of a lot of people and perhaps mostly men. The sadder thing is that he is not a bad person. He is a common being, who is also fortunate to be attractive to women and, perhaps because of this, he is spoiled and not trained to understand them but, besides this twist peculiar to this character, a lot of men, you and I included, wonder why it is so difficult to love. I am not even sure that it is narcissism but it is more a sort of existentialistic depression that hampers a lot of middle age persons and affects emotions. I am exploring with this character this aspect of humanity and this is why I choose somebody who is beyond the common hurdles of ordinary life behind which we often find excuses for our choices. Here is a perfectly fortunate man, with all he can hope for and yet; he still shares the problems of several men of his age. No excuses for Luca except being a man like many other. But let’s see what will happen to him and the other characters. In the end, these first chapters are just the setup for the real story.
After the Conclusion…
It is interesting how there are times when we enjoy playing games, living parallel lives and finding comfort in our contradictions. It is, perhaps, the pleasure of going back to the fantasy world of childhood, to the make-believe games we used to play. It is, perhaps, the need to brake the boredom with a diversion from the certain and expected, or the appeal of a creative solution out of our misery that allows us to change everything without changing anything.
Luca, Sabrina and Martina, all lie to each other, and lie to themselves, living for a while in the fragile equilibrium of the make-believe game, to escape their problems. But, as always happens in life, the magic breaks, and in a way, perhaps unconsciously, it is exactly what they all desire, growing weary of the game.
Sabrina, far from “enslaving” for others, emerges as the most fortunate and emotionally solid. This is because she cannot blame herself for her failed marriage, and whatever “sins” she might commit, she does it to survive while she is completing her mission, which is of unquestionable high moral value: sending money to her children to assure a better future for them. In addition, she found herself in the perfect position to do what it is in the feminine nature a fulfilling task. Taking care of others can bring in itself a form of pleasure, especially when a woman is deprived of the ability to do so for her children. This is not a servile attitude, but I would rather characterize it as a form of power when applied to a cherished person, in sharp contradiction to the powerless Luca, well described in the “conclusion of Sabrina”, who is lost longing for the women who, from his very first recollection, were the providers of caring affection.
Martina is the biggest loser, but she is so proficient at hurting herself that Luca has hardly any role in the outcome. As most women, she cannot help it but link her sense of worth to childbearing, to the point that this is borderline pathological, and she will keep running away from any real relationship assuming that her physical inability to have children is like an “original sin” from which there is no refuge.
To the main question of what is “love” there is not one answer, but many answers. Love is a lot of different feelings, mostly the product of our own fantasies, an energy that happens to fall by chance more than fate, on whoever is in the right place at the right time. Whether it will lead to a “relationship” that lasts in time may depend more on the degree to which each of the lovers has something unique to offer to the other. In the case of Sabrina, if Luca were to leave her, she would find another master with a nice disposition to care for and feel, in her own way, happy. Luca just needs a “warm body” near him …but is this not what we all need?
Of course, I still believe that there is another form of love, much more rare, which can link two people through the soul in a privileged bond that has no equals, no substitutions. However, it will probably be the topic of another story…
Now Giuseppe interjects:
Well Franco, I believe you succeeded to give the angle that is a compromise between all the possibilities that could have followed Sabrina’s decision in the church in front of St Francis. Luca maybe could have redeemed himself but not. He just went through the evening rituals and then to bed. Only Sabrina with her love knew that she had to accept all that Luca could give in his own way and nothing more. I think this is the most realistic ending that one could expect.
I am waiting to see Luca become a real wise man and not only an old boy. Let see the next novel.
So entrenched we are in the evolving judgment of the characters that I sense simultaneous success and failure! I was able to stir strong emotions and created what Chekov would call “a page-turner!” at the same time. Did the succession of events made my story so superficial to make my characters just bearers of accidental information? Why are we so critical of them? Is it because they are too real or because their portrait fails to convince? Do they miss the shadows and contrasts of the artist’s masterful touch that could make them live? Are they just poor quality sketches for a telenovela or are they worthy of deeper appreciation? Do we care about their actions or about the way they were described? Did the latter make the story worth reading or was it just another mind-engrossing tabloid in front of us?
In the end, we are not here to judge the human value, but rather judge whether in our readings, we learned or felt something novel, triggered by the description that we did not stop to notice before.
Like the face of a homeless begging for money; how many of us would recognize that face just a few minutes after distractedly evading his gaze?
I would like to end with Luca’s own word in the “Old Boys Academy (Part 8)”:
“…I wish one could crafts emotions, tune them up or down at will. But that is not possible! …We can describe how we feel but in the process we cannot change what happens inside of us. Semantics do not help in my case! For an artist graphics is about geometry, music is about mathematical harmonies, photography is about light and angles, poetry about verbal consonance, narrative about dynamics of flow because the content is wrapped in form and that is what the artist cares about. The emotions that the artist bestows and that admirers covet are a given reality shared by all humans upon which the masters base their work. They are the dough that allows the chef’s masterpiece. We all can experience at times fantastic feelings, emotions, and thoughts. They are no different from what a poet experiences but we do not know how to translate them into a universal language that everybody can understand as well as the poet can. The reason why we can relate to great artists is because they describe just exactly what we are feeling but we cannot express. Artists do not invent emotions; they cannot create or change them! They can only describe them better than most. I am no artist, and I wish I could better explain to all of you what I feel tonight but perhaps you can imagine it if you ever went through the same.”