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1: Upon Arriving in Amsterdam

The Cruelty of the Sea

3 October 2013

I stroll along the canal under the scrutiny of Amsterdam’s thousand-eyed houses. News of the Lampedusa tragedy has just arrived. The number of bodies still being recovered on the high seas is extremely high; a pitiless figure that keeps on rising, never yielding a final tally.

The sky is reflected in the water, shifting constantly. The bridge that cuts the canal in two offers a chance to admire a paradox: the heavens tremble while human constructions remain stable – the banks of the canal, the glass in the windows, the irregular geometry of the houses, propped up against each other like brothers who have just surmounted a challenge.

A pair of lovers embrace in front of a boat in the mild air of early October. The sky offers itself, clear and blue. It is reflected in the water, where rays of light flicker like fireflies before they are swallowed up by something so serene and distant it cannot fully comprehend the joys and sorrows of those who inhabit on this side of life.

Here in the heart of Europe the cruelty of the sea is a vivid memory; it writes itself into the city’s skin, lines its face with salty wrinkles.
A city inhabited by sailors knows the rules.
The sea breathes, unlike the sky.
The sea gives and takes life at will, exactly like the sky.
And now the sea – the very sea that I have come to, following the canals; the sea that bathes every coast of Europe – is full of dead bodies, of migrants shipwrecked in the course of their desperate odyssey.
Fish will feed once more on human flesh.
A cat watches me; two youngsters pedal along on bicycles, holding hands.

I think of a poem by Ungaretti. Its context is totally different. And yet I feel that, at this moment, it describes the very soul of those who are snuffing it at sea after trying to flee poverty, separating themselves from life through death by water.

Now the wind has fallen silent
And silent is the sea;
All is hushed; but I cry,
Alone, my heart’s lament,
I cry of love, I cry of shame
For my heart that burns…
…I cry out and my heart burns unceasing
Since I became
But a ravaged thing abandoned.

Translation of the Ungaretti-poem by Diego Bastianutti (1997); Enia’s blogs are translated from Italian by Lakshmi Ramakrishnan Iyer.

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Writer

Davide Enia

David Enia (b. Palermo, 1974) presently lives and works as writer in residence in Amsterdam, on invitation by the Amsterdam Fund for the Art and the Dutch Foundation for Literature. Enia is an actor and one of todays most important Italian playwrights. His plays were brought on stage internationally and have been awarded with various prizes. Così in terra (On Earth as it is in Heaven), written originally in Palermian dialect, was Enia’s debut in novel writing.

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