If on a winter’s night a reporter… A surprising collection of short stories written in “Ottomans on the Straits”


By John

There are stories that know how to wait for those who tell them. They wait to emerge with their characters and their colors from the suspension in which they float to then rest on paper (which also knows how to wait). He is a witness to it a delightful book right from the title, «Ottomans on the Straits. Nothing is as it seems” (Città del Sole Edizioni), right from the cover (from an original drawing by Domenico Loddo alias Bafometto) and from the paratext, starting from the name of the series that hosts it, “The shop of the useless”. Useless and necessary like everything contained in the books in which that pact between humans that is the word pushes us to open those pages that have been able to wait.

It is an exercise in freedom to write as well as to read, and this, among others, is the reason for writing shared by four writers, four professional journalists who have always made a pact of narration with words, and who, as theAnonymous who signs the introductionhave «decided to reveal their secret notebooks through stories that navigate between reality and fantasy»: they are Vinicio Leonetti, Aldo Mantineo, Davide Marchetta and Marcello Mentothe first from Catanzaro, the second from Syracuse, the third and fourth from Messina, four heads and eight… hands «which they started, in the editorial office, with the Lettera 22 to end up, after several steps, in the magical world of Xpress».

The stories are all habitable and above all they can travel together; and that happy journey that the Anonymous wishes to everyone, both to the writer and to the reader (stories know how to wait for the reader) is a journey into memory, into the memories that emerge from those notebooks, with a message-warning, because, Anonymous observes, «what Cicero claims happens in everyone’s head: “Memory is the guardian of all things” and knowing the past allows us to live the present with more awareness».

Writing, therefore, as a common territory, as a free zone in which everything that can be imagined – and remembered – is real, because when it is told everything can happen or could have happened and even fiction seems real or, on the contrary, even the real seems like a work of fiction. Indeed, nothing is as it seems.

The strong point of this book is the dynamic narration, the variety of stories, light even when they tell serious things, which seem to dance from one voice to another: and it is nice that the writing moves between Proustian madeleines and Robbe-Grillet fantasies , between varied and variously dramatic human matter and personal mythologies. Because we find everything in our memory, even impressions of memories, and as Proust taught us it “is a kind of pharmacy, a laboratory where we put our hands at random, now on a calming drug, now on a dangerous poison”.

So, in the laboratory of the «Ottomans» this literary “patchwork” took shape whose credit goes to Aldo Mantineo: an idea immediately shared by the other three with whom the journalist has in common the work of years and years between the desks and the pages of the Gazzetta del Sud, experiences of collaboration with national newspapers and the love of writing, in the form of short stories and essays, novels and poetic collections: an attitude to which all four can now dedicate themselves full time. Even words, as someone has written, take on their habits and in the two stories of each of the authors distributed alternately you can feel the specificity of each one’s pen. So, Leonetti signing «The boss’s lover» And «American mission» makes the seeds of the story germinate on two stories that, spanning over time, dialogue with each other because the main protagonists give the impossible a chance, bypassing life destinies apparently and heavily already marked and take the hope of doing something good wherever they find it, even in the reality of the ‘Ndrangheta. Because life always defends itself.
It combines minimalism rooted in everyday life and socio-anthropological analysis of how fiction that overshadows reality has more impact when watched from the small screen or through social media Aldo Mantineo in «Michele’s fear» And «Captain Zani» (from this story, a tribute to Coast Guard captain Natale De Grazia for his investigation in the 1990s on the “poison ship”, the author took the reduction with the title «Zani» with which he won the Rhegium Julii Prize 2019 unpublished stories section): two stories of concrete facts that play between memory and imagination on the final revelation of a small mystery that can be understood right from the beginning. It is truly true that memory never stops.
You can feel the bittersweet taste of melancholy (also a creature of the mysterious world of memories) in the two stories by Marcello Mento: with «Three days as long as a life» the I who writes and remembers returns to the fabulous time of childhood, with the awareness that that world remains lost forever, yet firmly in the room of memory as the incipit clearly reveals: “We would have remembered those days forever”. And in «Micio Pinto, the man who lived three times», with a memorial operation that immerses itself in a collective past, tells an ancient story of the Ionian-Pelorita province between Santa Teresa, Antillo, Valle dell’Agrò and Sant’Alessio Siculo. A story from a Heart book with the twists and turns of the destiny of a singular character, Domenico, “Micio”, Pinto.
Spy from the keyhole or from behind the slats of a shutter, the counternarration by Davide Marchetta, with two metanarrative stories in which the narrator is himself in the narrative fiction but also something else. And that incipitatory “I remember” from the first story «Boys after school in the Tuileries» (a “photographic” title from an impressionist painting), says it all about the substance of memory which here is an artificial structure aimed at expanding the reflection on the very meaning of writing, on the tightrope walker condition of those who «enter the world of words and do not comes out more.” «What you manage to tell always becomes what you experience» concludes the narrator of the second story, «The gang of journalists»where the power of the word invents a fascinating and dangerous place of action, reserved only for those who know – like the writer – that as soon as things are told they turn into facts.