Daily Prompt All Grown Up When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?

Because being grown up is learning not to let ones interior world obscure the exterior world — in other words, knowing the difference between feeling/perception and objective reality — I’m posting another section from a novella Il Treno. I’ve posted other sections from it here, here, and here.


“In every parting there is a latent germ of madness, and one must beware not to tend it and let it ripen in one’s mind.” Goethe, Italian Journey

My last morning in Italy dawned grey, ambiguous, defeated and melancholy. I nursed the slim hope that, in the outside world, I could escape the pitfalls of my character, for the interior world was empty, tired and very, very sad.

The undulation of my moods during these two weeks had become predictable; a day up, a day down; a day of philosophy and joy, a day of stupefaction and ire. Two days before–a day of stupor–Elisabetta came home for lunch. I had done nothing, stayed writing e-mails to people at home. I wrote copiously and thoroughly, knowing I deserved sympathy and that I would get it from people to whom I had given sympathy. As we ate, I told Elisabetta that I was sad and angry, and no matter how I tried to master my emotions and forget everything, I couldn’t. “Those feelings are natural,” she said, “you can’t forget it just because you want to.” I strove hard not to talk to her about it. Dario was her brother and who, after all, was I? And so my conversation had gone into epistolary monologues. I knew the answers would not arrive until my mood had left this trough and reached the crest of the next wave. Everything was out of phase.

On this last day I had little hope for rejuvenation; there was no more Italy ahead. In the convoluted labyrinth of regret were places I’d allowed to slip past me on the Venice train; destinations I had not pursued. Why I did not leave Milan that day I do not know; we’d had plans, there was that. They fizzled out as the three of us sat over an apathetic breakfast. Discussing alternatives, I surveyed the mood of my hostesses. I wanted to leave them alone to pursue their own lives, but beyond that I did not think of anything. I could have gone to Vicenza and Verona, but instead I wandered the now familiar streets of Milan, mapless, walking to the Basilica Sant’Ambrogio in the grey of low pressure and drizzle. The church was closed; I entered instead the Museum of Torture.

In the Castello Sforza I had seen an amazing utilitarian sculpture, the head of Satan carved in wood, painted blood red, fastened in front of a machine used for sharpening knives. When the knife sharpener operated the machine with his foot pedal, wheels turned moving gears. Smoke came from his nose and his eyeballs whirled. Then, Satan’s mouth opened and he “spoke” to the people in a diabolical voice. Considering the substantiality of Satan to the people paying the knife grinder, this must have been a mesmerizing advertisement. I had been fascinated, too, though the Devil stood silent and subdued in a sanitized museum, surrounded by furniture of the period.

My last day in Milan, as I stood in the midst of three floors of Torturous Implements of the Holy Inquisition, I saw what competition my smoking, growling Satan had had on the streets of his day. Only the Devil could have distracted the crowds from these tools of hell used to punish the ungodly. Death by filth and septicemia, slow dismemberment, disemboweling or castration seemed to be the most “effective,” in other words, the slowest and most entertaining, means of torture. The appropriate devices were made of wood and painted with happy rural scenes of farmers plowing and girls on swings.

There was a rack on the top floor of the museum. “Very popular during the Spanish Inquisition,” said its description, “The rack was excruciatingly painful.” This one, as the sign to the left pointed out, was particularly cruel. As the person was stretched, his joints painfully pulled apart, a roller beneath his back, covered with knife-edged points, scraped his skin away; when the stretching stopped, his body weight pushed the points more deeply into his flesh.

The pillory, used to discipline chronically arguing spouses or neighbor women who disturbed the peace of their neighbors, left only permanent scars, assuming the wounds were cleaned and treated after the heavy wood and iron apparatus had been removed.

In the three floors of this, the most terrifying exhibits, to me, were the sepia toned reproductions of old paintings, book illustrations and drawings of the implements IN USE. Artists rendered these scenes beside the loving innocence of the Virgin Mother and her Child. In this painting was a man, his genitals weighted with lead balls as he hung, tied by the wrists, to poles shoved into the ground. This dark side was a vital part of the worlds and times I had been striving to see all week. I talked for a moment with the pierced and tattooed docent who asked me what I thought.

“They are terrible, but what is more terrible than their reality,” I said, “is that they were thought of in the first place.”

“That,” he said, “is precisely the horror. Do you think it will rain?”

7 thoughts on “Novella…

  1. And yet we have learnt nothing, it continues. We don’t need a museum, it happens next door. Otherwise my memories of Venice and North Italy are a little happier, but I was a teenager free and ready to go.

    • I was in my late 40s and had made a mistake in love…but it made a good story. I don’t think human nature has changed. There is a sadistic streak — maybe in all of us but certainly in many of us.

    • I hadn’t wanted to see that, but when I made a return trip to the Basilica Sant’Ambrogio, mass was beginning. At that point in my life, entering the church and attending mass did not enter my mind. I did that later, in 2004. 🙂

  2. The knife sharpener sounds really cool and I’d love to see it in use. The other… precisely what you said. Yes, times were different, but not all that much. I’m glad I don’t really have the talent to come up with such ideas and devices. :::shudder:::

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