Cover art: Olga Gritsenko “Mirror lake” 2021, courtesy of Ukrainian painters’ exhibit in Padua
One year ago I moved house again.
Last stop, High Barnet. On the edge of London’s. Suburb. Village. Maybe it won’t be that way in a few years. It is now. It is nice to live here now. Mirko Kovač notes that only two flats are really important: the first one, where we grow up, and the last, where we end our lives. I remember the first one; I got used to this new one very quickly.
Richard III. He fought his first battle here, in Barnet, in 1471, up there, beyond the church. He was only eighteen years old. He won. Later, in his famous play, the great writer denigrated him; many thought Richard was just like that. I saw this play by Shakespeare for the first time at the movies. Richard was played by the unsurpassed Sir Laurence Olivier. “And now the winter of our discontent…” Richard was the last of the House of York, the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, the last English king to die in the battlefield, in 1485, at the age of thirty-two. His body was found only a few years ago, under a parking lot where a church had been located, then he was buried again, this time with due piety and funeral ceremonies, in Leicester Cathedral. The football team representing that town, the eternal underdog, won the championship that year. A madwoman claimed that she sometimes heard King Richard. I don’t hear him, he is quiet now; he rides toward his battlefield secretly, like a ghost at night when no one is around.
A famous man lived hither, a well-known woman thither. Trevor Howard lived here, nearby, and made movies nearby. They say he was best in Ryan’s Daughter. I loved him in every movie, especially in The Third Man. “My students wouldn’t know who he is,” Mladen, who has been teaching music for movie scores at a prestigious American university for years, tells me. Fame is fickle. Nowadays people remember only the immediate, the past is no concern to them, the future is far away, and perhaps, there won’t be any.
John the Baptist Church is located at the highest geographical point in the city of London. A beautiful stone church. Its door was once set on fire by a local madwoman. Then she disappeared. Perhaps together with Richard III, one night.
I get off the bus at the stop near the church. In front of the church is the local museum, behind the church is a small park where, once a year, on the day of the Battle of Barnet, knights and soldiers appear, wearing the uniforms of different armies, led by three kings and two families they fought for a crown. So it is written at the entrance of the local museum.
Across the main street I reach the library, always full of old people still reading newspapers and appreciate the “classics.” Not far away, shops next to each other, and on weekends stalls with “real honey,” Indian curry, Italian “original pizza” (I have tried it, it i really is better than others), expensive French cheeses, sausages and wines. I prefer to go to a nearby shop where the shopkeeper is constantly on the phone, and, every Friday, without me asking, immediately puts the wine I am going to buy on the counter. I also go to a bar where the waitress can’t serve me because she is talking to an acquaintance, then suddenly smiles at me, “How are you today?”; on the bus I greet everyone, not caring to get actually acquainted with them. There are no “countrymen” of mine in this neighbourhood. It did not take me long to memorise the faces of the vendors, bus passengers, local policemen. I avoid youngsters as much as possible. I don’t go to the local pub very often any more, but when I do, if I overstay, overdrink, I even eat a bit, spending a good amount of money, so they remember me and find me a table even when the place is at its most crowded.
I start down the street from the church, I could also take the bus, but I prefer to walk. A small building, my little flat in it. On the left, a view of the garden, on the right the muffled sound of the church bell. In the end, what we recognise in everything are the signs of what we know, the signs of the life we ourselves have had. Where I live now with my beloved is near a large, excellent hospital, that little church, whose bell can barely be heard, and a little cemetery with a path leading into the woods. Everything I need is near and very far from the glistening lights if advertisements and the howling of police sirens. I greet my neighbours, some very cordially, ask them about their pets, What a lovely dog, what a beautiful cat. Through the window I see a neighbour coming out of the front door at night, smoking. We have never met, I only see him from the window. His loneliness is relatable. So is his sense of privacy.
A long time ago, I saw the movie Shake the Devil’s Hand. The leading role of the Irish terrorist was played by James Cagney. The images of sky in that movie have stuck in my memory. (Where does the unknown future begin?) I often observed clouds, but they were not like the ones I saw in that movie. The famous English film studio Elstree is near my home. A large number of movies were shot here. Maybe even the images of the sky in some old films, of the sky I was looking for.
When I moved here, I immediately recognized the sky from that movie. Near the end of my life I was rewarded: the sky I loved and dreamed of. I can see it from my window. The sky of my movies, dreams, wanderings my sky. I found it. Out of my country I came to my sky. Literally. This is not about symbols and metaphors. Life is much more serious than this.
One day an elderly gentleman in a dark suit appeared in the street. He walked slowly, unhurriedly, as a serene man walks in a broad daylight. He also glanced at my window, then walked on, determined, knowing where he was going. I never saw him again.
Sometimes, at night, a breeze. At times it rains. Sometimes there is nothing. Silence, and the world passing in it silently, as if being embarrassed for of its vanishing. On the night of the full moon, from the nearby cemetery, the spirits of the dead make the rounds of the places where they once lived, inspect them, but no longer enter them, even though their new inhabitants are in a deep sleep. They also run away from lost foxes and cries of night birds, because they want nothing more to do with the world of the living. Before dawn all is silent, not a sound is heard. Then, from afar, the light and a bird announce the beginning of a new day.
Biographical note and translation into Italian from Croatian by Božidar Stanišić, translation from Italian into English by Pina Piccolo, edited by author.
Predrag Finci (Sarajevo, 1946), a writer and professor of philosophy was briefly an actor. He graduated in dramaturgy (1969), then studied philosophy in Sarajevo and Paris (with Mikel Dufrenne) and Freiburg (with Werner Marx). He received his master’s degree in 1977 and his doctorate in 1981. He was a professor at the Philosophy Department in Sarajevo until 1992. he He has been living in London since 1993, where he has worked as a freelance writer and visiting researcher at UCL (University College London) until his retirement in 2011. He is a member of the Society of Writers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the PEN of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo), the organization Exile Writers Ink (London), and the Croatian Philosophical Society (Zagreb). His books and texts have been translated and have received awards. His twenty-eight published titles include: The Discourse (1980), Art and the Experience of Existence (1986); A Source of Questions (1987); On Some Secondary Things (Sarajevo, 1990); Sentimental Introduction to Aesthetics (2004); The Nature of Art (2006); Action and Crime: Art, Ethics, and Politics (2008); Imagination (2009); A Short and Sad History of the Mind (2016); The Benefit of Philosophy (2017); The Emigration Picture Book (2022). His works The People of the Flood (2018) and The Station and the Traveller (2022) are published in Italian. His book Until (2021), in which he sharply, lucidly, and at times mercilessly traces his life in Sarajevo and London, still arouses great reader interest in Croatia and Region (one of the synonyms for the former Yugoslavia).