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Best Wishes.

Antonio Tabucchi is well known for his postmodern narratives framed through multiple paratexts, verging on different genres, and teeming with intertextual references, recurring characters, and self-quotations. Although they usually revolve around a central mystery, question, or dilemma, Tabucchi's texts often lack closure and defer resolution. Isabel, the presumably dead (gone, missing) wife of Taddeo, the protagonist in "Best Wishes," is first introduced in the novel Indian Nocturne. Isabel and Taddeo reappear in several short stories and in Tabucchi's novel Requiem, but their story remains fragmentary, tangled, mysterious. "Best Wishes" is the opening story in the collection Racconti con figure (Stories with figures), and as such it articulates some of the volume's key themes--nostalgia, travel, and visual images as well as reality and its artistic representation.

Who knows to whom he would have written the postcards. He thought about it and asked himself whether it wouldn't be a good idea to make a list, perhaps, because otherwise one arrives in those places and forgets. He took a piece of paper from the desk, sat down, and began writing names and addresses. He lit a cigarette. He would write a name, reflect on it, take a puff of smoke, and then write another name. When he finished, he copied the names onto a notepad and tore off the sheet. He arranged the notepad on top of the shirts in the still-open suitcase. He looked around, spanned the room with his eyes as if he were trying to remember something he had forgotten, because the trip was going to be a long one. Then he remembered the postcards he had bought in an art gallery and had left on a bookshelf. He took to looking at them, one by one, to see if they were in line with the trip he was preparing to take. Not really, he said to himself, they don't fit well; what does a postcard from the Marche region of Italy have to do with my trip if I send it from South America? But then he thought that its beauty would lie in the stamps he would affix to the postcard; for example, in Peru, he would buy stamps with parrots, there surely must be stamps with parrots in that country, and also ones with the faces of pre-Columbian deities, smiling and inscrutable masks, all made of gold and of enamel--once he had seen such an exhibit at Palazzo Reale-certainly those objects appeared on stamps. In fact, the idea amused him because the banal picture postcards, those for tourists, were so ugly, always garishly colored, a bit false, and besides, they were all the same, whether they came from Mexico or from Germany. This way it was much more original: a postcard that says "From Ascoli" but comes from Oaxaca or from Yucatan or from Chapultepec (was it called that?), from places with these names where he would go.

Places he should have gone with Isabel if she were still here. But now Isabel was no more, she had gone first. For fifteen years they had thought about this trip, but it was not a trip you could take just like that, as if it were nothing, especially for two people with a profession like theirs. Time, availability, and money were needed--all things that had been lacking before. Now they were all there, but there was no more Isabel. He went to the desk, took a photograph of Isabel, and placed it in the suitcase, next to the notepad and the postcards. It was a photo that showed them both standing arm-in-arm in Piazza San Marco in Venice with a flock of pigeons, their faces smiling and looking a bit silly, the way you look when you stare at the camera lens. Were we happy? he thought. And he remembered a phrase that Isabel had whispered to him on the boat, squeezing his hand: "For now, we can't go to South America, but at least we are in Venice."

Photographs lying flat are funny: he and Isabel were there among the pigeons, with San Marco underneath them, and were looking upward. It bothered him that their eyes in that photograph were looking up, so he turned it over and said, "Isabel, I am taking you with me, you are going on this trip, too; we are going to many places--Mexico, Colombia, Peru--and we'll have fun writing postcards, and I will sign them for both of us; I will put down your name, too, it will be as if you were with me, no, in fact you will be with me, because you know I always take you with me."

He quickly went over the things that remained to be done; the last things, he thought, with the awareness of someone who was not going to return. And then, suddenly, he knew with certainty that he would not return, that he would not place a foot again in this house in which he had spent most of his life desiring to be in exotic places with mysterious names such as Yucatan or Oaxaca. He turned off the gas tap, then the central one for the water, disconnected the light switch, and closed the blinds. While he was facing the windows, he realized that it was terribly hot outside. Of course, it was the fifteenth of August. And he thought that he had chosen the ideal day to go away, a day on which everyone was on vacation crowding the beaches, everyone was far away, out of the city, pushing one another like ants in order to conquer a scrap of sand.

It was almost one in the afternoon, but he wasn't hungry. Even if he had gotten up at seven and had only had a cup of coffee. His train was not until two-thirty, he had plenty of time. He chose a postcard from the stack, a postcard that said "Robinson's Island," and on the back he wrote: "We are in Timultopec, a small island where Robinson could have crashed, happy as never before. Yours, Taddeo and Isabel." He wrote "Taddeo," a name no one had called him but which was his baptismal name, it just came to him that way. And then he considered to whom he would send this postcard. But there was time for that. Then he took another one on which you could see some towers, and on the back he wrote: "This is the mountain range of Machu Picchu, the air here is exquisite. Best wishes, Taddeo and Isabel." Then he picked up one that was all blue and on the back he wrote: "This azure is what we are living, an azure ocean, an azure sky, an azure life." Then he found another one with a church on it that looked like Santa Maria Novella, and on the back he wrote: "This is what South American baroque is like, a copy of what we have in Europe, but more nuanced, more dreamy. Kisses, Taddeo and Isabel."

He considered whether it was worth calling a taxi or better to take the bus. The train station was only three stops away, and since it was a holiday, he would probably have to wait on the phone for twenty minutes if he ordered a cab. It was not the right day for a taxi; he couldn't see any around. In fact, you couldn't even see a car; the city was completely deserted. He closed the suitcase, spreading a handkerchief on top of the photograph and the postcards. He looked around again. He closed the shutters, felt the back pocket of his trousers to check if he had his wallet, and walked down the corridor to the entryway. When he was by the door, he rested the suitcase on the ground for a moment and said aloud: "Goodbye, house. In fact, farewell."

Standing in the shade underneath the bus-stop shelter was not that bad, even if the asphalt was melting all around him, creating shiny puddles. And there was a very slight breeze that provided some minimal relief. When he got off in front of the train station, however, he worried he was feeling unwell. But it was only a moment, his head reeled just for a moment; of course it was because of the blasting heat that emanated from the stones and the blazing light--a light without shadows because the sun was at its peak. The station clock showed it was two. The waiting hall was deserted. There was only one ticket office open; he bought a ticket and looked around in search of the newsstand, but it was closed. The suitcase was light, after all. For a journey this long, he had brought only the bare minimum, the rest he would buy gradually in the countries he visited according to need and opportunity. He took a peek inside the first-class lounge; it was deserted, too, so he stood there for a moment, indecisive, but the heat was unbearable. Maybe it's cooler in the underpass, he told himself, or under the platform shelter, at least there's some wind there. He walked very slowly through the underpass, mentally congratulating himself on the lightness of the suitcase, and then went up the stairs to platform three. It was completely deserted. In fact, the entire train station was deserted; there was not even a single passenger. On a bench, he saw a little boy in a white jacket with an ice cream box hanging from his neck. The boy saw him, too, and arranging the box in front, approached him wearily. When he came close to him, he asked, "Would you like an ice cream, Sir?" He said no, thank you, and the boy took off his white hat, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

"It would've been better if I hadn't come today," he said.

"You haven't sold anything?"

"Three cones and one cassata, to the passengers from the one o'clock train. But no other trains will pass now, except for yours; there's a three-hour strike, which doesn't affect the fast trains, though." He placed the box on the ground and drew a pack of picture cards out of his pocket. He arranged them on the edge of the bench and then, hitting them slightly with the back of a finger, he sent them flying down. He collected the ones that fell on top of others and put them aside in a pile. "These are the winners," he said, explaining the game.

"How old are you?" asked the man.

"I'll be twelve soon," responded the boy. "This is the second summer I'm selling ice cream at the train station; my father has a stall in Piazza Santa Caterina."

"And your father's stall is not enough?"

"Well, no, sir, we are three brothers, nowadays life is expensive, you know." Then he changed the topic and asked, "Are you going to Rome?"

The man nodded and let some time pass before he answered. "I am going to Fiumicino," he said, "to the Fiumicino airport."

The boy took a card and held it delicately between thumb and index finger, as if it were a paper airplane, imitating with his lips the rumble of an engine.

"What's your name?" asked the man.

"Taddeo. And yours?"

"Taddeo."

"It's funny," said the boy. "We have the same name; it's difficult to find other Taddeos, it's not a common name."

"And what do you plan to do later?"

"Later when?"

"When you grow up."

The boy thought about it for a moment. His eyes were very lively, you could see he was daydreaming. "I'll take many trips," he said. "I'll go to all parts of the world, and there I'll have many jobs--one thing here, another thing there, always on the go."

The station bell began ringing, and the boy gathered his cards. "The fast train is about to arrive," he said. "I have to get ready to do my vending."

He hadn't finished speaking when the loudspeaker announced the train's arrival. "Have a good trip," said the boy, walking away and adjusting the ice cream box. He moved to the front of the platform, obviously so that he could walk down the sidewalk, against the train's movement, and this way make more sales. In that instant the train emerged from the thick curtain of heat that veiled the buildings in the outskirts. The man took the suitcase and got up.

It was a very long train; the train cars were of the new construction, in which you cannot open the windows in the corridors, so some passengers were appearing at the doors to buy ice cream. The man noted with pleasure that the boy was doing good business. The two train conductors who had gotten off the train took a look down the platform, then one of them whistled and the train doors closed. In a moment the train took off. The man watched it dissolve in the air, rippling from the heat, then sat back down and opened the suitcase. The boy came toward him, putting away his money in a pouch he was carrying around his waist.

"You didn't leave?"

"As you can see."

"And Fiumicino?" asked the boy. "You'll miss your plane."

"Oh, there will be other planes," answered the man, smiling. He took the pack of postcards from the suitcase and showed them to the boy. "These are my cards," he said. "Do you want to take a look?"

The boy took them and began looking at them one by one. "I really like this one from the island of Elba," he said. "I've been there, too. And this one from Venice, with all these birds." "They are pigeons," said the man. "Venice

is full of pigeons; there are pigeons of all species and colors, they look like parrots from Peru."

"Really?" asked the boy, not quite convinced, "You're not pulling my leg, are you?"

"No, no, it's true. Look at this one, it's all yellow, it's from Ascoli, a city completely yellow, and a bit gold, too, full of light effects."

"Beautiful," said the boy, now convinced. And then he asked, "How many are there?"

"Thirty."

"Listen," said the little boy, assuming the air of someone who wants to close a deal. "Would you like to trade?"

The man remained lost in thought.

"Trade with my cards," said the boy. "For example, for the one with the parrots, I will give you one Strongman and two Formula One Ferraris. And then I also have ten singers."

The man seemed to consider it for a moment, then said, "Listen, I am giving them to you, I don't need them after all." He put the postcards on top of the ice cream box, took his suitcase, and headed toward the underpass.

When he began to descend, the boy called after him. "It's not fair, though ..." he yelled, "But thank you, thank you so much!"

The man waved. "Best wishes," he said to himself.

Translation from the Italian

By Stiliana Milkova

Antonio Tabucchi (1943-2012) was an Italian writer, translator, and scholar of Portuguese literature. He wrote in both Italian and Portuguese and translated into Italian the works of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa.

Stiliana Milkova is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Oberlin College. Her scholarly interests Include Italian, Russian, and Bulgarian literatures, literature and the visual arts, travel writing, and literary translation. She is currently translating from Italian into English short stories by Antonio Tabucchi and from Italian into Bulgarian Elena Ferrante's novel La figlia oscura.
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Title Annotation:FICTION
Author:Tabucchi, Antonio
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Short story
Geographic Code:30SOU
Date:Sep 1, 2014
Words:2939
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