Enzensberger makes a witty and knowledgeable traveling companion, delving into surprising corners and byways—from the back alleys of Budapest to the halls of the Italian mint—and striking up conversations with everyone from bankers to revolutionaries, astrologers to apparatchiks. In the process, he suggests that Europe's strength lies increasingly in embracing diversity and improvisation, not bigness and regimentation. He enables us to see with fresh eyes one of the most exciting parts of the world today.
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|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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In the Hades of Milan, beneath the cathedral, in the endless, dark-brown corridors of the subway station, in this limbo of mass transportation, I learned of the existence of a German educational establishment previously unknown to me: The High International Academy of Artists of the Occult Sciences of Berlin.
Right next to a dazzlingly bright window display of pajamas and underpants in every possible color, I had noticed one dusty glass showcase. The following objects were laid up in the dim pink light of a flickering neon tube: a red devil’s cap pulled over a white polystyrene skull . . . an aluminum teapot with a black plastic handle, which could, if desired, give birth to a crowd of little foam-rubber animals (90,000 lire—or 54 dollars) . . . a sad bunch of flowers made of lollipop colored feathers . . . a mysterious little box with whose help any number of doves could be conjured up (100,000 lore—60 dollars) . . . a death’s-head and a small pile of bright-colored play bank notes with a face value of 100,000 lire. Issued by the “Banca d’Amore,” they were adorned with the portrait of a bearded gentleman who vividly reminded me of the sociology students of the early seventies. A hand-painted poster hanging over this wide selection of articles read as follows:
Warning: Italian certificates and diplomas are not recognized by the state. Anyone who wishes to obtain internationally recognized diploma must call 059-685323. SILVA THE MAGICIAN is authorized by the High International Academy of Artists of the Occult Sciences of Berlin to confer diplomas on professional and amateur practitioners of the occult arts.
I hesitated. Tempting though the prospect of a conversation with Silva the Magician might be, the area code puzzled me: 059 . . . that must be somewhere in the mountains, past Reggio Emilia, probably near Canossa. But I didn’t want to go so far. It wasn’t necessary anyway, as I learned from the telephone books. Every large town in Italy has dozens of magicians listed in the yellow pages.
Unfortunately, I have space here to mention only a few of them: the Magician of Florence, Joseph Cervino (National Chairman of the Magicians of Italy, A.N.D.D.I. Association) . . . the Sorcerers of the Seven Rings . . . Dr. Marco Belelli (President of CISA, the International Center for Astrological Studies, Grand Master of the Theurgical Order of Elios) . . . the Magician Pharaoh Tutankhamen . . . and Professor Joseph, the Magician, who was blessed by His Holiness Pope John XXIII for his humanity and great kindness (Honorary Member of the National Association of Magicians and Spiritual Healers of Italy and holder of the Honorary Diploma of the Venerable Institute of Metaphysical Sciences in Paris).
For further information I must refer the reader to the appropriate trade press, especially to Astra (the astrological monthly published by Corriere della Sera), whose classified pages are a mine of information on the occult. The number of practicing maghi in Italy is estimated at a hundred thousand. The range of specialization is wide. Exorcists and pendulum-healers, astrologists and palmists, clairvoyants and pranotherapists, hypnotists and parapsychologists, readers of coffee grounds and experts in extrasensory perception, demonologists and radium healers, card-readers, and those gifted with second sight earn many hundreds of billions of lire every year and in return “solve any problem, whatever the distance.”
A few years ago, workers in the supernatural professions began to unionize to overcome the one problem that still defeated them: the integration of magicians into the welfare state.
The magicians’ trade union, Uaodi (Union astrologico-occultistica d’Italia), has already set up an official register and placed before Parliament a draft law that even provides for a state-approved examination for magicians. “We demand,” states Mario Davano, the union’s secretary-general, “that the following titles finally be given state recognition: Chartered Astrologist, Chartered Occultist, Consultant in Bioplasmology and in the Occult . . . Anyone abusing these titles must be subject to disciplinary proceedings. Yes, and in particularly serious cases may even be struck from the professional register to deduct value-added tax at the legal rate . . . In return we demand equal sums with other professions, especially with regard to pensions and health care.”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to get at with your magicians . . . Or rather, I know only two well . . . I can already see him before me, the superstitious Southerner who pulls out a piece of coral the moment he encounters someone with the evil eye . . . the pilgrim who believes in miracles, in quest of the blood of some saint . . . the Mafia boss who bursts into tears because he’s lost his amulet. But these are the clichés of folklore! Italy isn’t the Third World! We’re not some tribe of wild Indians! Try to remember that . . . A pocket edition of the savage mind—Lévi-Strauss in the pizza bar—that would just suit you down to the ground! In fact, superstition is about as Italian as IBM or Coca-Cola. Or do you really think Germans don’t read horoscopes?”
There was little I could say to counter the reproaches of my friend from Turin. It was in vain that I quoted Camilla Cederna’s book Cosa Nostra to her. In the first chapter, entitled “Satan in Turin,” Cederna makes the astonishing claim that the city’s magicians earn more than the Fiat factories.
“So what? What do you think that proves? That Piedmont’s part of New Guinea?”
“I don’t want to prove anything . . . I board my plane in Frankfurt, and an hour later I disembark in a quite fantastic region, in a country swarming with mythomaniacs. I page through the very first Italian newspaper I come across and immediately find myself at a giant fairground . . . I pay 500 lire at the turnstile and I’m riding a ghost train! Conspiracies, wire-pullers, secret lodges, melodramatic gang wars, incomprehensible palace intrigues . . . Facts simply evaporate. Reality becomes a comic strip. I only need to turn on the TV and what do I see? The deserted hallway of an apartment building in Geneva. The camera zooms in on an empty elevator door. The door opens. The elevator is empty. Upstairs, sinister shadows along the corridors, just like in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari . . . A perplexed cleaning woman is interviewed . . . That’s how the evening news begins, with a scene from a thriller that makes no sense at all. It’s episode 100 of a pulp novel whose invisible hero is a mattress manufacturer from Arezzo. A shadowy demon, a paranormal personality—and the most powerful man in Italy. Grand Master of the mysterious lodge to whose tune ministers, generals, party chairmen, and secret services dance. A mattress manufacturer! Surely one is at least permitted to ask what’s going on here. Melodrama or paranoia? TV series or black magic?”
“So you think we’re out of our minds?”
“Let’s say rather that madness is your daily bread.”
“In other words, we’re subnormal.”
“Not at all, quite the opposite,”
“What does ‘quite the opposite’ mean?”
“I don’t know exactly. Perhaps the same as paranormal. That’s why I’m interested in your maghi.”
“And you think you can find them in the phone book? I feel sorry for you! I really good magician isn’t listed in the yellow pages.”
“Where do you find one, then?”
“I’ll give you a couple of addresses. But on no account mention my name.”
“Because it’s bad luck.”
Table of ContentsSwedish Autumn • 3
Italian Extravagances • 36
Hungarian Confusions • 87
Portuguese Reveries • 133
Polish Incidents • 178
Spanish Shards • 230
Epilogue: The Seacoast of Bohemia, 2006 • 283
Afterword • 325