The black car was hot, a furnace boiling under the canvas roof. When I had gotten between the green blades of the gate and had a moment to stop I opened the roof and let the hot air out. Before the roof was off it was a furnace but for a moment it felt good, a dry heat that toasted your body all over. Toasted bodies relieved by the chill of the slight wind. Mariana was giggling and very happy, waving at the girls sitting behind boyfriends on the motorinos at the stoplight. She would wave and say “ciao bella”, and the girl would smile, and then turn back to the boy driving and kiss him on the cheek. The girls sitting on the back of the bikes must have felt funny about this sudden stranger’s affection. They took that affection back to the familiar boys sitting in front of them. It was a hot Friday morning, and the people on the roads were smiling and baking in the sun.
I can’t remember what we were listening to. I had my iPod plugged into the system, and the treble was clean and pronounced, but the bass was weak. We drove through the late morning hum, hungover and eyes covered by sunglasses. I was to drive her to her festival, at an old occupied house in the north side of town. It was a bit of a distance but it was alright, I didn’t mind the drive, and was looking forward to eating something on my own on the way back.
“Che caldo!!” she would repeat, and flail her arms and laugh with her whole mouth. A strong, loud laugh that became annoying and was not at all contagious. But it was ok, her being happy and blabbering on in Italian words but using a structure belonging to southern Hispanic expression and lyricism. It was interesting to listen to, when understood. She spoke quickly but she was also a good listener. She asked many questions and I answered them slowly in the heat, concentrating on the road, and taking deep breaths of the warm air. She said a few times that I looked too serious, and I answered that I was concentrated and tired. We had had a good deal to drink the night before, lots of bad beer but it had been cold and tasted good in the warm night. With the heat you were thirsty, and kept drinking the little cheap bottles and they were delicious.
She then said something funny, when we were driving on the viale between the English cemetery and Piazza della Libertà. “It’s amazing,” she shouted “I put my glasses on, and suddenly feel much cooler!” She didn’t mean cooler in the groovy sense of the word, but rather that the impression of the heat went down with her blocking out the light through the shade of the lens. I thought it was funny, and half agreed with her. “It’s probably just an impression,” I said, “but not any less true.” She began speaking of the senses, the five senses, and their interconnectedness. A web of sense that all worked together to the same end.
So the senses were then surely all moving toward the eye, every sound and smell shaping a mental image through the pupil and projecting their imagination’s theatre onto the back of the brain. Like how a crash of the cymbals would form a dual picture in the mind, on one side the explosion of abstract vibrating particles, on the other the image of the actual stick hammering the brass drum. The brass shaking and shuddering and the noise visual. It is all visual, a sprig of parsley crushed under the knife and the smell of the garden path, the earthy plot where the herbs grow in plastic, perfect patches. The feeling of gravel under bear feet, walking from the kitchen door to rip the leaves from the plants and the brown dirt on the sole. The visual appears to be dominant, it umbrellas the other senses. Mariana’s sunglasses shading off the rays of June, the heat on her skin pushed through her blackened eyes and momentarily forgotten. The “Aaaah” of the cool in heat, of the sip of cold beer in the sticky, disgusting night, the “aaah” of the soft melody bouncing off the eyes and ears of the driver and his passenger.
But then feeling was important. Everything was felt, everything seen and heard directly tickling the body as a felt sensation. The physical feeling of the broken wood of a table, inseparable from the colour and the shape of the wood as seen, but the fingers dictate the thoughts that it provokes. Then on the hand of five fingers, that hand with its five fiery finger tips filled with new blood, and with the slight blades of grass growing in its palm, that hand contains all those senses. And the reigning thumb is for feeling. Yes, a sound is first heard, a flavour is first tasted, but then each of the fingers crawls over to the tip of their thumb-master and leans very slightly against its rugged texture. Then each finger in turn connects, and a song becomes feeling, the tastes on the tongue are felt.
This was what I was thinking as I was driving the last stretch toward Piazza Indipendenza, mainly to drown Mariana out as her cackles and Chilean movida had become a little irritating. They were empty thoughts, without much meaning, but it was amusing to play with them and move them through the tunnels. They were silly thoughts, perhaps provoked by the heat or the drink or the stranger. They did not last long. I dropped her off and kissed her on the cheek. I would maybe see her later, we said, at the festival. It was going on for a few days. It did not interest me much but I might have gone along, it was something new and different and that was always something, I suppose.
On the way home I went for lunch alone at the café. It was reasonably quiet, after two, but I enjoyed it this way. I was still looking at my hand and trying to make sense of those goddamn senses that paint our lives and understanding. I remembered an old friend reading Merleau-Ponty’s “L’oeil et l’esprit”, a book that had also sat on my bookshelf in Paris for a year. I had never opened it. I think it was indeed about this idea, the dominance of the eye in questions of impressions and understandings within the mind. What I then did was order a tomato pasta, with a bit of added chili, and had a Fanta. The Fanta was shite, it is an awful drink that does not match its closest orange alternatives, but I had not had it in a number of years even though it had always stood on those fridge shelves next to the coca cola. Some people must drink it.
The pasta was hot and made me cry a little. It was nice. I enjoyed sitting in that café on my own. It was maybe not the ugly décor or the stale ceramic sounds. The smell was unremarkable, it was that neutral-empty air of nothing in particular. All I could taste was the traces of the pepper on my tongue, and I ordered a coffee. It was, then, perhaps feeling, that thumbed sensation, that accounted for my pleasure. A feeling of peace and lonesome pleasure, a break from the noise of the road and the loud laughing Mariana, her happiness. It had become a nice beginning to another weekend.