If you haven’t read yet chapter 1 – a long day by train, you can start there
It’s a marvelously dry and sunny day of Spring. The countryside is blooming with colors and the air is embalmed with the bewitching scent of the flowers of almond and orange trees. Enzo is sitting down at a tesselated table between his father and Giuseppe who are both grinning, exchanging pleased looks with Barbara and Tonino, and all drinking a lemonade that tastes of heaven. A pergola where climbs up a vine loaded with unripe grapes shelters them from the sun. Nonna is sitting on a couch a bit farther, her hands busy knitting, her slippers of cloth at the foot of the couch, mixing their colorful patterns with a parterre of small wild flowers blanketing the soil.
A gentle breeze arises, and all their gazes settle in the same direction on a far away and dark spot among the green sea of unripe wheat on an undulating hill. The spot is slowly coming forward; it grows and grows until it becomes a shape, and then a silhouette. She gets closer, and her face assumes vivid traits. She looks like the washed-out picture which Enzo has spent hours and hours staring at in the dusky living room. The fairness of her hair shine under the April sun, and her face has an indescribable tenderness about it. She opens her welcoming arms, and an angelic smile appears on her lips, the smile of a mother reuniting with a child she has parted from, for a very long time. They all rise from their seats, taking some steps forward. Enzo wants to rise and to cry, mom, mom, but his legs are of stone and the cry stays down in his throat. The singing of birds, the humming of bees and the rustling of leaves cease, wrapping them up in a silence of stone, and they all stay immobile, for a fleeting instant appearing like an eternity, in a silent confrontation.
Only few meters separate them, and they resume their progression toward Anna who is standing at her place now, almost frozen. As they are about to get together, her face starts losing of its definition, receding slowly and stealthily, farther and farther, until its complete disappearance in the morning haze, leaving but a wide emptiness of green fields of wheat, as if it were all but an illusion. A moment of blankness follows. Still sitting, Enzo cannot see the face of his familiars who are turning their shoulders. An indefinable discomfort has got a grip on his throat and his stomach, and the taste of lemonade that was so sweet has become sour. They all turnabout, and stare at him. Their eyes are cold and charged with reproach. His father, Giuseppe, Tonino, even Barbara. All of them. He then looks at Nonna who didn’t move from her couch either. She has started sobbing, desperately smacking herself on the head, crying the name of her daughter and that of her late husband. His father looks at Nonna and Enzo at turn, hoarsely whispering that it is their fault if his wife has disappeared a second time. Their fault. Their fault. He then collapses on the ground, sobbing, his face turned toward the grass.
Enzo wakes up sweating with agitation, his mouth painfully dry. After a dazed moment in bed, he gets up, opens the window and deeply inhales the chilly morning air to drive away the images of the shaking scenes he has gone through in his sleep. He then takes abundant sips of cold water from the tap. The dream was vivid, too vivid, almost real. It is a dream that has haunted many restless nights of his childhood, but it had become less frequent in the last years; it’s the first time he dreams it since he is in Lausanne.
His family has never reproached him with anything concerning Anna’s death, at least not directly. Yet, Enzo feels guilty, and a dull anxiety oppresses his chest when he thinks about it.
The solution for chasing away depression before it settles down is simple in that case. He changes in a swimsuit, pulls his jeans above, races down the stairs in the morning chill of this second Saturday of October, and rides his bike. He pedals and pedals until the lake and the mountains fill his view. He locks his bicycle, leaving it on the sand, and takes a dip. The water is quite cold, but warmer respect to the morning air. It’s not even eight o’clock yet. With wide and sharp armfuls, he swims away from the coast, warming up with the intensity of his movements. Lausanne is glowing under the morning sun at the east, sprawling on its high hills that dominate the lake.
Every now and then, Enzo floats on his back, taking deep breathes and watching the washed-out azure of the sky, which is troubled by some grazing clouds. The surface of the lake is barely moving. He plunges in its murky waters, opening his eyes without any trouble for the absence of salt, and touches the bottom several times, picking up handfuls of sand, large cobbles and shells, which he drops back into the water.
There’s nothing more agreeable than taking a hot shower after exercising in the cold, and the remembrance of the tormenting dream of last night has faded away, blown away by the brightness of the morning. Enzo feels all the muscles of his body alive and sharpened, sipping his warm coffee – bitter as he likes it – and sitting at his desk that faces a white and dull wall, thinking of how to start the letter he is to write for Barbara.
He remembers the last words she said before he left a bit more than two months ago: “Brother! You’ll always be my little one. I know what a golden heart hides here in your chest. Don’t look away, it’s the truth. You have to write to me. At least once per month! And you have to take good care of yourself, and eat well… and regularly. Promise it! Take this cross, it belonged to mom, it will protect you.” She handed him a small wooden cross, kissed his forehead, and hugged him, unable to repress her tears. Oh sweet, sweet, Barbara!
Barbara, who is ten years older, has always been the kindest to him, standing up in his defence against the harshness of their father and the cruelty of Giuseppe when he was a small kid, and at a certain point, he almost looked upon her as a mother before to be torn away from his family and sent to Catania.
Barbara is a linear person with no swings of mood, almost naive in her kindness. She is the only one who has fully accepted Anna’s death. Since her early childhood, she was lucky to have a strong faith in the religion and in God’s goodness, which deeply comforted her, and she never questioned the intrinsic principles of life. She believes that her mother has died because of God’s will, and that she is now peacefully waiting for them in heaven. And this allows her to be serene and to sow little seeds of happiness around her, being of a deeply sympathetic nature.
Enzo knows she does not understand all the subtleties of his complex being. She accepts him as he is and loves him for it. She doesn’t realize how harsh are his internal struggles, for his face and manners show nothing of them, nor does his tongue.
My dear Barbara,
I’ve been missing you a lot, and if I didn’t write earlier, it is because I had quite busy weeks settling down and getting used to how things work here. I promise to write more regularly from now on!
I bet that it’s still summer in Enna!
Tell me about yourself, I want to hear all the details about the school and the class you’re teaching! Are children treating you well this year? I know that it will make you blush, but are you still seeing T.M.? Did he declare himself?
How is doing father? I shall count on you not to conceal anything about that, as you promised…
And Giuseppe? Nonna? You would do it even if I didn’t ask it, but please do read this letter to Nonna, and transmit her all my fondness.
Do you have any news of Tonino? Does he have plans to visit home soon? In my previous (and quite short) letter, I didn’t have enough time to tell you about him. I’ve seen him in August when I passed by Napoli, and he worried me… It was worse than the last time he had come home two years ago. I don’t know what we can do for him… Please, let me know if you have an idea.
Everything is going smoothly for me here. Classes have started one month ago, and I’m slowly adapting. My French has further improved, and many people are impressed by my accent and depth of vocabulary. I’m also practicing my English quite a lot. It’s very international at EPFL. Almost unimaginable. There are Scandinavians, Africans, Chinese, Indians and South Americans…
I’ve recently met two friends, Adrien, a Swiss boy, and Camila, a Portuguese girl. You would like them. They are well-educated, agreeable and simple. We do one course project together, and we have several projects of outings for the next weeks. It’s quite comforting to have some friends here! I admit that the first months were not at all easy, being in a country where you know no one, where no one asks about you, at a thousand kilometers from the persons you love…
The weather has been fair enough until now, and I’ve been swimming every day in the lake, but it’s getting colder and colder, and this last week we start to feel the progress of fall. Trees are getting yellow, red and brown and in compensation, that’s quite beautiful.
With this letter, you’ll find two drawings I’ve made of Lausanne, and the first watercolor ever I’m happy with. The first drawing is a view on the Cathedral, the second is an alley in the old part of the city, and the watercolor is by the small beach where I usually read and swim, with a view on the mountains that are partially in France. Let me know if you like them, especially the watercolor. Meanwhile, you’ll get an idea of how Lausanne looks like. I count on you for showing them to the others as well.
I was also able to do some savings, and I am sending you 600 euros for the family’s use. I hope to send you more money by Christmas. Please do not object to it, as I’m not depriving myself of anything.
My letter is drawing to an end, but I want to tell something to my sweet and tolerant sister! You will be the first one to hear it and you should not repeat it to anyone as I don’t think that it will be much appreciated… I had the idea to embody all those marvelous stories that Nonna told us in paintings and drawings. I’m still not sure of which technique I’m going to use, and I’m still hesitating between ink, oil and watercolor painting. I may try one story with each, and see where I take the most of pleasure. I will also retranscribe the stories. All what I know is that I love drawing more and more…
I will need all your support and your encouragement with this project that is not an easy one. Please don’t forget of thinking from time to time of your little brother!
Finally satisfied with the letter, Enzo signs it and closes the black pen he has been using. He puts everything – the carefully folded paper, the drawings, the watercolor, and the small envelope containing six shining-new green banknotes – in a large envelope, double-checking he has not forgotten anything, and sealing it.
There’s no time to lose. He gets up, gathers his drawing material in his backpack, makes sure not to forget the pass for the night of museums, which is a unique ticket to freely enter all the museums from midday to midnight and use public transportation for free. He’s going earlier to the city to have some time to walk through its narrow alleys and climb its cobbled paths that are bustling with animations on Saturday mornings for it is market day, and later settle down somewhere to draw the crowd and the old palaces around, maybe at Place de la Palud… Before closing the door, he starts, remembering that he has left his cellphone on the charger. It’d have been quite stupid, and typical of him, to forget it. Adrien is spending the weekend in the Valais with his family, but Camila may later join him if she makes consistent progress on a project that she needs to hand in on Monday. What doesn’t help is that she lives in the middle of the country-side at half-an-hour from EPFL, and at fifty minutes from the town center. That’s the sad outcome of attempting to find an accommodation in Lausanne for many people… Almost as difficult as deciding to live in the Vatican city!
The weather has warmed up since his morning swim, and for once, Enzo deserts his bicycle and heads toward the platform of the metro, after more than one month of abstinence. He passes by the two supermarkets where all the students make their lazy shopping, a restaurant, a tea place, and a sophisticated hairdresser, which are all at the ground floor of students’ accommodations.
There are a handful of passengers waiting on the platform. Enzo notices a pretty blond girl, with a delicate and well-drawn face, and discreet eyeglasses, sitting on a bench and engrossed in the perusal of a book. I should find a way of speaking to her, he thinks. Maybe, I’ll have a little more success than at parties… Easier thought than done.
Enzo gets out from his backpack The Count of Monte-Cristo and he starts reading. Dumas’ style is generous and grandiloquent, and his stories are vivid and full with irony, an easy and pleasant read, with the strong moments of France’s history defiling in the background. As the metro arrives with a long rasping due to the sharp curvature it takes, Enzo endeavors to settle down on the seat close to the blond girl. He plunges his gaze in his book, his head busy with blending experiences and theories about how to make his approach, giving her discreet glances from time to time.
Go toward the girl with a broad smile, brimful with self-confidence and superb, and start a conversation! Don’t hesitate a second, behave like an alpha male, not like a loser… She will immediately form a first impression on you, very hard to later shake if you give the wrong one. But with that Russian girl at the party it didn’t work out this way… No, I should be careful not to scare her. Three stops have already passed meanwhile. The girl’s book is in French.
And it shouldn’t be too awkward with all these people around… But why does it have to be so difficult for me? Why? It should be quite natural though… That’s the only way to meet new people. Fourth stop. Six to go.
Enzo closes his book unable to go over the paragraph he has started, and he brings out his notebook and a dark pen, starting to draw the interior of the metro, the seats, the windows, filling it with silhouettes. His execution is very fast and in a couple of minutes it already bears a certain resemblance with his surroundings. He manages to break the thread of his thought, emptying his mind, and muttering at once in English: “What are you reading?”
The girl looks up, appearing slightly puzzled: “The Leopard,” She gives a small smile that encourages him.
“Oh! I loved it!” Enzo exclaims. “What do you think of it?”
“I love it as well so far, it’s beautiful written!” she replies.
“I agree! The Leopard has a special place in my heart because I’m Sicilian! So you like reading?”
“I really can’t keep away from books,” she gives a brief chuckle. “To the dismay of my friends sometimes…”
“I understand you very well, I also love reading!” Enzo exclaims, feeling immediately at ease with the girl after having first spoken.
“I can see you also like drawing?” She takes a shy glance at his drawing, and Enzo hands her the notebook. “Oh! You’re skilled!”
Seventh stop. Three to go. Damn! I can’t let the occasion escape. “Thank you, it’s one of the things I like doing the most!
He catches her gaze. She has beautiful green eyes. She explains that she is French Belgian but has lived in Bruges; she studies letters at UNIL and is in Lausanne for an exchange year. She also lives in Atrium.
“Are you also planning to visit museums today?” Enzo asks.
“Yes, of course! After my piano repetitions. I play at the conservatory.”
“Oh really? So it must have been a long time you play?”
“I have been playing since I was five years old!” her eyes glow with fire.
“You seem to really like it!”
“It’s my passion!”
“Do you also compose?” Enzo asks.
She blushes. “A little bit…” It seems that she could have more to say on that topic, but it’s not the ideal place nor the ideal time to insist.
“Which museums do you plan to go to?” he asks trying to keep his tone casual.
“I’m definitely planning to see Art Brut collection… I heard it’s very peculiar and touching. Then it depends of my friends… What about you?”
“I’m going to start with the historical and the fine arts museum.” He adds: “And then, I’ll try going to the Art Brut…”
The metro is arriving at destination. Lausanne Flon, the registered voice announces.
“It was nice meeting you. I’m Hélène.”
“Enzo.” She extends her hand, and he shakes it.
“Which way are you going?” Enzo asks before she moves away.
“I’m also going this way, to stroll in the market, so we can walk together.”
They start climbing the stairs leading to Saint-Francois and le Bourg neighborhood, on of the historical hills of Lausanne. Enzo explains: “I want to find a nice spot where to draw the crowd and the market.”
“Oh that’s a really cool plan! And you’ll have some nice weather.”
“Indeed! I should make the most out of it before it gets too cold. I don’t think my drawings would gain in precision with frozen fingers…”
Enzo plucks up courage: “By the way, it would be nice to continue our discussion some other day. I think we’d have a lot to talk about…”
“You can add me on Facebook.”
“I don’t have a Facebook profile… unfortunately.”
She hesitates for an instant, seeming a bit embarrassed, but then agrees to exchange phone numbers. They are walking by Saint-Francois square, and she abruptly turns at right toward the conservatory that is in a nearby street, bidding him goodbye without giving him the time to propose walking with her till there.
Enzo walks through the Bourg’s market, his heart pounding, and his thoughts mixed up with conflicting feelings, enthusiast with Hélène’s encounter, impressed and proud to have managed so well the discussion – setting her at ease and making her reveal some elements of her personality – and disappointed not to have obtained more, not to have proposed to visit a museum together. He has quickly made the round, races down the slope, and climbs the opposite hill, heading to La Palud’s market where start the covered wooden stairs leading to the top of the hill bearing the Cathedral and the Castle.
The city is indeed bustling with animation, and the market covered with variegated fruits and vegetables, but Enzo is too distracted by his latest encounter to dwell on that, and besides Lausanne’s market has nothing to do with Palermo’s one, which is permanent, and where you can find anything, food, music, books and clothes at very interesting prices. He remembers posting Barbara’s letter close to the post. One less thing to worry about!
After walking up and down for a long time, he feels quiet enough to settle on La Palud and to start drawing the market stalls, the justice fountain, the old buildings, the piece of the steeple that appears in the background and the crowd. He executes it on a large paper to incorporate a maximum of details, which will make it later easier to paint it with watercolors. Despite the sun, sometimes veiled by white passing clouds, the weather is quite fresh, and the wind that has risen certainly doesn’t help improving the comfort of the drawer who needs to stand still. Thoughts about Hélène keep running on the back of his head, and he wonders if it wouldn’t be a good idea to send her a sms later in the day, and propose to see a museum. Yet, it wouldn’t be very practical is she has her friends with her. And what if she had a boyfriend? No, she didn’t seem the kind of girl to have a boyfriend….
[He walks the city and settles to draw. He goes to the historical museum. Chance meeting with Lucy somewhere. They will for the first time hear the legend about the underground city.]
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can try out another one about Enzo, written in French this time called la cité intérieure d’Enzo
You can also read the legend of the underground city, which is also related to this story line