Remembrance of Things Past
by Anna Battista
1998. It must have been 1998. It WAS 1998 and it was in Glasgow.
Six shades of green in the botanical gardens and I am the seventh shade, all clad in green in my army clothes. Walking through the gardens searching for the right climate which would reproduce the suffocating temperature of my own Italian home town in a sticky July day. I circle the round perimeter of Kibble Palace and then pass to visit the proper Botanic Gardens with their tropical plants section where I feel finally at home. After half an hour exploring the world and colours of desert plants and breathing my own sweat, I decide I've done enough for my nostalgia and I head towards Byres Road. I find a record shop and get inside. Behind the counter there's a punk in black T-shirt and trousers, scattered piercing rings adorn his face and tattoos mark his knuckles. Compared to my mean stature he's a proper giant out of a fantasy book. He statuesquely sits near the cash register surveying the customers. I smile, trying to make an 'Hey-you're-cool-man'-expression, but I can clearly perceive that what is stamped on my face is an 'I-hope-you're-not-going-to-suddenly-produce-a-gun-and-kill-us-all' look. I start rummaging through the racks looking for something which will uplift me and my battered soul. I go through tons of useless singles by new useless bands which will end on the cover of the NME and will then split up in six months' time.
Browse. Browse. Browse. Wait a minute, what's this? Hold on, I think I've just found the light, it's called "Fried for Blue Material" and it's by The Nectarine No.9. I didn't even know they had released some new stuff. Being the band somehow connected to the Postcard Records label, and being Postcard Records the reason why I started getting interested in Scotland when I was younger, I know that I have to buy it. I grab the empty CD box and march to the counter. The guy tries to scare me by looking at me with blood injected eyes, eyes as wide as flying saucers, but then his lips crack into a smile, he winks and says £ 10.99, puts the CD in a tiny bag and swirls its edges around his index fingers as if to seal it. I smile back, say thank you and get out. It's a nice day, a nice sunny Sunday and since I don't have a portable CD player and will have to wait till I go back home to listen to my purchase, I decide to wander along Byres Road. For a moment I toy with the idea of going to the city centre and have a look at the Gallery of Modern Art. But I don't feel arty at all. I feel angry, that's generally my mood. I go to the university library and look for something to read. I choose a book about Francis Bacon's paintings and Arthur Miller's play "After the fall", because it makes me think of the band, The Fall, and of fierce and furious Mark E Smith. I'm angry and pissed off about too many things, but above all I'm perennially pissed off also because I'd like to kill one (just one, come on, pleeeeease!) of my roommates.
Then I go back home, or to what I consider my home, the local fucking student village. By the way, how could you call a decadent place like this "Murano Street Student Village", just like the dreamy Murano, near Venice in Italy, city of glass and magic? The great mysteries of life. I get in my room and slam the door behind me. I put on the CD while I have a look at the deranged cut-up like art of its booklet. Pretty sure I will never be able to remember title tracks such as "Stacey Keach Dada Message Bag" or "Strychnine Vinaigrette", but who cares, as the album starts I'm in heaven and there aren't anymore clouds in my personal sky. I'm plunging into the nerve crunching distorted guitars of "Blue Material", into the sampled world of "Central Deli Davis Jnr." and then delving down into the raw "Boneless Chows". It sounds like getting lost in Francis Bacon's nightmares. When I get to "Port of Mars" and "South of an Imaginary Line" I'm practically lost into a maze of enthralling guitars and I turn up the volume because this stuff deserves being heard in all its glorious shades and nuances. But then somebody breaks the spell banging on my door with the temper of a deranged Viking. I open the door and find the guy I want to kill. Fucking cunt. He comes from England and claims he's studying to become an engineer, but I guess he'll never be one, at least he might do the effort of trying to find the button to start up his computer. Might be of some use, you know. Cunt, cunt, cunt. He says I'm being a pain in the arse with my music. It dawns on me this is why they call it Murano Street Student Village: it's because the walls are as thin as fragile crystal. I smile, tell him I'm sorry, but this is the stuff dreams are made of, hence it has got to be heard at this kind of volume. He blurbs something in an unintelligibly voice then repeats to turn down the volume and leaves mumbling along the way to his room his usual threats. I slam the door behind him and plug my headphones in the stereo and start recording the CD onto a tape while I start leafing through Bacon's book. But the stereo is somehow stuck on repeat mode and while moving around the room I don't realise that it keeps on playing the same track, "South of an Imaginary Line" which ends up in being recorded on the tape four times. Who cares, I will never get tired to listen to it. More days pass while the tape sits steadily in my walkman and the CD on my stereo. Days in which I do nothing but getting used to this town which little by little is becoming like an old friend. Then arrives the day in which I get to see The Nectarine No.9 playing on the Renfrew Ferry. Poet Jock Scot introduces us to "groovy" Nectarine No.9 and it's here that I realise how much the actual bands own to the legends of the past. Former Fire Engines Davy Henderson is in full form with his jagged, fuzzy and sawn guitars. He shrieks, shouts or sadly sings, going through the anthemic "South of an Imaginary Line" the legendary "Port of Mars" or a sensually lascivious version of "Soon Be Over". Funnily I met a man with my same army jacket and we smile and laugh at each other, feeling we're among friends. I manage to see again The Nectarine No.9 playing after a few days at the 13th Note: at some point Jock Scot reads two or three of his poems, he's wearing a Celtic T-shirt to celebrate the fact that they've just won another match. A barefoot girl starts dancing next to him. All the girls are dreaming, dreaming about him. A guy sitting next to me is dabbing his index finger at some kind of white powder preserved in a white square of paper. I wish I didn't have to go back to my home country. Soon be over. But.
2001. It must have been 2001. It WAS 2001 and it was in Italy.
Thirty degrees outside and it is not even June. Things will soon be boiling here and I will soon be in the deep shit as in two weeks' time the kids I teach English to will go on holiday and the contract with the person (that tax evading bitch of a headmistress of a local private school of language) I work for will expire. And I still haven't found another job. Hmmm, I might try and apply to one of those agencies who look for guides to accompany some rich spoilt kids to Great Britain to improve their English. No, it wouldn't work, in the end I would end up in having to accompany them to a punk hairdresser or a piercing parlour somewhere in London and their parents would kill me once the kids are back. Have to find something else. Meanwhile I can pretend I'm rich and splash the last of the money I have earned. Clad in an original sari I bought a while back from an Indian who emigrated two years ago here and now holds his own stall, I wander through the local market in search of something which might make me happy. I spot a pair of earrings at my Indian friend's stall and stop to try them on. He says that the stone that adorns them is called tiger's-eye and I'm feeling feline and aggressive. Besides, he adds, the stone gives the power to those who wear it to solve any kind of problem, so I HAVE to buy them. Now there's something else I need, a new album to listen to. I go and get to the usual record shop. Ask the guy behind the counter if he has got something new that might interest me and he picks up a cardboard box which is lying half open half closed near his feet and with pointless and disinterested eyes looks at me, shrugs and says that he still hasn't listened to that stuff since it has just arrived. I flick through the package quickly, but then through the mass of useless bands and average pop icons I find something I was looking for, The Nectarine No.9's new album "Received, Transgressed & Transmitted". I pay for it and leave. I have a portable CD player. The first track, "Pong Fat" starts and, while walking, I feel like a new heroine out of some cool rebel movie or like the latest representative in a line of matriarchal Mafia women. I feel powerful and I finally feel like winning the battles of my life. When I've finished listening the second track, "Susan Identifier", for the third time, I'm in a bar and I've spotted him. He's from Scotland, we talk about this and that, it turns out he knows one or two people I know up there. It's funny being so far from there and finding someone who's into the same things that you like. God if I miss the place. We leave with a kiss and a hug even though I'm just dying to go to bed with him and I fantasise of fucking him properly while Nectarine No.9's "Foundthings" plays in the background. The next day I decide to go down the beach. Sunglasses and headphones firmly on, I can clearly see in the sun a figure approaching to the spot where I'm lying. From a distance I can't distinguish who's the guy, but then I realise it's a friend of mine.
- There might be a job in storage for you, he claims, taking off his sunglasses and pretending to be Tom Cruise. By the way, I hate Tom Cruise.
- The last time you said that, the job involved the two of us: you wanted to play at being the pimp and I had to play at being the bitch along the Adriatic coast during the summer months, I remind him. It turns out that the job consists in stashing some dope for a dealer for a few days. I tell him I will do it only if the quality is good, I can't give shelter to crappy stuff, it would be like giving shelter to an impostor, let's say just like hiding away the Italian right wing prime minister during the next left wing revolution, whenever the latter will happen, that is.
- It's excellent stuff, he promises winking at me, putting back on his sunglasses, saying he will call me by the end of the week and going away. God, I must be desperate to do this stuff, I mumble, while I go for a swim. Gorgeous spires of music ramble through my head and the waves breaking against my body bring me back to my mind the guitar riff on "(Sic)". I guess I was wrong in letting the Scottish guy go. If only he could have stayed. But he told me he had to leave early in the morning and then I was also getting drunk and when I get drunk I get political. Last time I did it was last December, the only thing I remember was getting terrifically pissed in a seedy bar and pronouncing the terrible words "The times are ripen for terrorism to come back" to the watery eyes of a drunken man. I was referring to a second coming of red terrorism in Italy, because I still firmly think it's the only way to defeat this fucking government. Here I am getting political once again, even while swimming. And what if there aren't anymore chances of finding another job for the next months? Might as well start writing that novel about an iconoclastic young woman who can quote by heart Mao Tse-tung's post-revolutionary writings and collects first editions of '60s French porn books. I get out of the water and go back to my spot. Shit if it's hot. I put the headphones back and The Nectarine No.9 are swinging again.
I know what to do. I'll look for a parallel universe.