In which our hero eats a bit, begins to formulate a strategy for his talk, worries about his plants back home, reflects on the place he is in and the people who are from there, and beds down for the night.
The urge to exult, to run around and flap his arms, arose in Franco but he immediately restrained himself and cut a piece of cheese and bread instead, and then pretended that he had just remembered that he also had wine, when in fact he knew all along that he had some. “Pan, furmài, e vin l’è ‘l maià del cuntadìn”, Franco said aloud, relishing the rustic sounds of the dialect of the valley. Bread, cheese and wine. No fruit. No vegetables. Good for the blood. A balanced diet. Hearty and simple and easy to carry. Franco was happy.
Davos. Davos. All of the milling. All of the thinking. All of the words. Milling words, like milling grain, to make… flour, yes… but of words. Words, words, words. What do you read, my lord? Indeed. Lack of food, and especially lack of water, put Franco where he wanted to be. Will lack of words do it? No, lack of food and water also for the Davosians. They get led through a maze that lets them feel what it is like to be migrants on the run across the desert. Maybe a day or two, or three, would yield a similar phase shift. And yet it took only a morning for Franco, coupled with some serious walking, before he was sent into another dimension. A walk, a walk in the woods is what he had to do with them. Come everyone, Franco would say, smiling and confident, come with me into the Davosian woods so that you can see and feel what I would otherwise be talking about, or something like that. Franco would have to work on the wording. Would it work? Word work? Or wood work? Franco took a bite of pan and furmài and a sip of vin, and thought about it.
Franco thought about his plants at home and worried, not about them, necessarily, but worried nonetheless, an amorphous worry, an existential worry. Why were they there, in that house? Did they belong there? What did they feel about it? Franco could ascribe sentience to a stone, feelings to a fiber, so he was not shy about his animation of plants. Being away from them was both soothing and mildly distressing, but mostly the former, and mostly for their sake. He felt that he too often got in their way, that he was intrusive and commanding by merely being present. He worried about how they all got along, or if they even paid attention to each other, and if they felt uncomfortable, if there was anything they could do about it. This is why it was good for him to go away, so they could sort things out for themselves, without his meddling and approbation, or disapprobation, whichever the case called for.
Franco was not really sure what the name of this place was. He knew it was somewhere near Poschiavo but that was all. Often the names got shorter the higher up you went. The next could be just Pont or Piz, followed maybe by a succession of versions ending in è or eì. Sometimes there was no similarity at all, where an Italian name, maybe a saint’s name, remained unchanged and notable by a lack of diacritical marks indicating dialectical inflections. Ancient enmities were encoded in these names, but also ancient attractions, with the men or women of the other group possessing exotic differences in sound and appearance. They were groups of never more than a few thousand, but what a world they made, among each other and among the trees, and the mountains and streams, and the pastures and fields, and the animals of those pastures and fields, and the birds and insects in the trees, the moss and flowers at their feet.
It was so easy, Franco thought. This is the message for Davos. Let’s all just relax with a little pan, furmài and vin with the cuntadìn. He knew it had never been perfect, but it had to be better than this. It had to be better than that cluster of billboards. Never cleaned my teeth, the man he met one day said, never, pulling down his lower lip to show three or four of them still rooted in his jaw, proud of their tenacity. In the faltering light, water glistened on the rusted metal that protruded from the concrete fountain, reinforcing the stain that ran down its side for decades, enchanting and soothing in its decay. By why faltering, Franco wondered, it could not be much past two. Had he stopped too soon? It was always a difficult decision. In fact, it had been a good one, because just then a raindrop made a solid plop on the paper that had wrapped the cheese, signaling the time to get serious about setting up camp. Why not just get wet, Stolid Donkey, Franco thought, since it was, after all, just water. But Franco was not Stolid Donkey, with his thick hair and hide, and sturdy legs and ears. He was mostly bare, except for his clothes, and those did not behave as well in the heavy rain as a donkey coat.
Franco’s mind was a bit of a mess. The gyroscopic effect of his walk had worn off and his ideas gathered into a ball in his mind. But wasn’t linearity the enemy of truth? What about his opera singers all singing their different arias simultaneously while on stage together? Whatever the shape, some structure was needed, some coordination, so Franco put the remaining food in his sack and edged his way sideways through the partially open door of the old stone hut that stood above the fountain. Inside was musty but dry and Franco laid down on the bed of straw that lined one wall, adjusting his head so that he could see out of the small windowless window that looked out onto the glade that stretched out before him and down the hill. It would be a long night, fraught with turning and tossing as Franco tried to recreate the orienting movement that had provided such clarity on his trip out of the valley, but the sun had not yet set, and in any case, there was no stopping the fall of darkness that descended outside, nor the rush of thoughts and imagined conversations, that welled up inside him.
Flutter fall… flutter fall… flutter fall… pitter pat and wind song… pitter, pitter, pitter… pitter pat… shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… and so it went, throughout the night.