Time Ages in a Hurry
Antonio Tabucchi
Translated by Martha Cooley
and Antonio Romani

(Archipelago Books)
Tabucchi's often stated that all of us "have a corrupted relationship with history." In one of these nine stories, Feruccio's aunt --- who took him in when he was quite young --- reminds him that there is much of his youth that he cannot remember, so she will, as she is now dying, tell him the truth.

In another story, Karl, now old, recalls that Renate, his soul-mate there in East Germany, was working secretly with the state police. She might have been the apple of his eye, but she was spying on him. Even in love; even in bed.

When he goes to the graveyard, it is not to visit Renate's tomb --- but that of the German poet Anna Seghers. "Hi," he says to her headstone: "I've come to see you."

In a third of these stories, one of these characters goes to the arboretum and looks out and sees a woman hanging laundry out in the sun. She is with her child Samuele, and she is singing, "Yo me enamoré del aire, del aire de una mujer, como la mujer era aire, con el aire me quedé."

"I was in love with the air, / With the air of a woman, / Because the woman was air, / I am still left with a handful of air."

§   §   §

Tabucchi takes some getting used to. I was in a foul mood when I started Time Ages in a Hurry, thought the stories to be too thick, too wordy, an Italian Henry James in no rush. But as I read more, I found myself cheered by his rich, occlusive writing, filled with flecks of gold, panning the river bottom of our lives, finding here and there scintillating bits, some deviously interesting characters, all deftly laid out on the page. And the epigrams.

"Dreams aren't so much what happens as the emotion one feels while living what happens."

Or this on night:

"How can the night be present? Composed only of itself, it's absolute, every space belongs to it, it's mere presence is imposing,"

    The same presence a ghost might have that you know is there in front of you but is everywhere, even behind you, and if you seek refuge in a patch of light you become its prisoner because all around you, like the sea surrounding your little lighthouse, is the impenetrable presence of the night.
Whoever edited this book knew what they were doing, for they fitted the most accessible of the stories (and the longest and the funniest) smack-dab in the middle. It's called "Clouds," and for lovers of early J. D. Salinger, it will bring back sweet echoes of "For Esmé --- with Love and Squalor."

    --- You stay here in the shade all day, said the young girl, don't you like going in the water?

    The man gave a vague nod that could have meant yes or no, but said nothing.

    --- Can I use tu with you? asked the girl.

    --- If I am not mistaken, you just did, the man said, and smiled.

    --- In my class we also use tu with adults, said the girl, some teachers allow it, but my parents won't let me, they say it's impolite, what do you think?

    --- I think they're right, responded the man, but you can use tu with me, I won't tell anybody.

Since the story is mostly dialogue between the two of them, we might think of it as a play. If so, it is a delicate, subtle, funny-sad play, and by its end, we know all we need to know about the girl and much --- but not enough --- about the man

She is smart beyond her years, curious, Italian, is called Isabèl by her friends ("with the accent on the e"), has a "developmental crises" (according to her psychologist, whom she parrots).

Her father is an architect who works for the city. She was born in Peru. Her skin is a "little bit darker" as he denominates it ("which has a very beautiful color," he adds). She just got out of the seventh grade, and she revels in the word "existential."

She likes telling people what to do, like this stranger on the beach. She tells him right off that he should eat more, get in the sun more (she says he is pale). She also tells him to stop taking so many pills (he downs several in front of her --- he assures her that they come from his physician). The pills and bad eating habits will make him say strange things, she says.

He does, of course, say strange things. And the strange things he says become, by the end of the story (or the playlet), mesmerizing, even turn into high poetry. Such as his explaining to her the meaning of Nefelomanzia. He informs her (and us) that it comes from the ancient Greek geographer Strabo. Nefelomanzia he says is "the art of predicting the future by observing the clouds, or rather, the form of the clouds, because in this art, form is substance..." And then, to our delight, he and Isabèl, right there on the beach, start practicing it. By looking off in the distance, they induce a session of nefelomanzia, which, it turns out, has no little bit to do with beaches (and inquisitive children on beaches), and lots to do with pale and sad men on beaches.

Also existentialism.

And "developmental crises."

Which we all may have, he says.

Along with its attendent misery, loneliness.

--- Lolita Lark
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