Humidity always Surprises, the Way it is a Combination of Thick
The park in Milano is bright and green. There is an opening by the trees for blue sky and shadows, where they have chosen to spread branches and leaves. There are none of the thunderous runners that stampede through New York’s Central Park. I meander around, dust on my sneakers and legs from the drying sun, and engage the small pleasures: a breeze in a nearby museum, the Gallery of Contemporary Art, that had as a centerpiece a Basquiat painting of dirty yellows and reds, with a black anthropocentric figure made of thick lines, an abstraction, a negation of the plump oil-rich bodies of the classic Italian paintings of the main gallery. The only black figure in the building seemed to leap like a jazz fugue note in an orchestra. I deliberately sat in the sun, direct with no censoring clouds, and people-watched: how people sat on the grass, some sleeping, some reading. It is quiet, almost clichéd in how the trees blow and children yell at each other to throw the ball higher. I don’t feel stark like the Basquiat black lines making a person; instead I am brown and feel subtle, almost like the yellow background. I wonder if I lay down whether I will blend in with the sandy dried grass.
The park is so still that it feels almost dreamlike; the gradually moving trees, the earth’s remaining giants, whose leaves confirm the existence of air, only maintain the realness. I feel silly for wondering why park benches are always painted green, to blend in with nature I realize, in a way that humans cannot…perhaps it is our skin, so smooth and modern that even when naked we stand out from leaf and soil. Now we seem to litter the landscape we created, even the one we appreciate for tranquility and respite from the hectic world of progress.
I decide to walk as I feel myself falling deeper into thought. I walk further into the park and feel various glances upon me, some brief, some lingering. On park benches there are African men. Most of the men are alone, some sleeping, some eating. I wonder where they fit me into their schema of understanding. Do they see me as a Black Italian, who if spoken to would utter ‘ciao’, not ‘hey what’s up’, or if they see a Black foreigner, someone ambivalent and implacable. I wondered if they were living in the park, landed without anchor beyond a park with a sense of constant transience, flows coming and going laced with interludes, repeating notes of migration and dark. I wondered about the reception of our bodies by the Milanese; was I another African migrant informed by American hip-hop culture in my dress, or was I a black European? With no understanding of Black Italians, I questioned what my body meant; although we may feel like floating consciousness, thinking and interpreting what we see through our ceaseless visions, we remain bodies constantly categorized and truths mangled together, despite our different flows, despite the divergent trajectories we took to arrive in the park.
I continue walking. In the dusty, rocky road cast with leaves and cigarettes and thin sticks stripped away of their bark and sustenance, I approach a statue, large with a square base and tiered; a man on a horse rests on top, gazing down in triumph at his immortality. It is the type of statue that a visitor like myself might photograph simply because of its intensity, despite not knowing this man’s deeds…. In the grass surrounding the statue is a man, an African man, sitting right in the center of the grass staring directly at the statue, staring, silent, transfixed at this concrete indication of what we have chosen to remember.
Much of the conversation about African migration into Europe focuses on its fugitive nature, the attempts at escape and refuge of a seemingly better life. There is no question of wanderlust, of the existential desire for escape that seems to pervade Black thought. Black movement is constantly reduced to the material, a search for jobs, for safety from violence.
There is a global simultaneity that I and the migrant force to converge in the park, the planes of existence, of experiences that cast down and spread with the appearances of our bodies; it is in how we bring a liminality, a place less placed, a neither here nor there. Black is an apposition, a repositioning, a verb rather than noun, it is to be in Italy but not of it, a contradiction that requires one of my roommates at the hipster residence I somehow stumbled upon—composed of a Spaniard, an Italian, Honduran, Brit, and me the American—to assure us that Italy is a multicultural society, yet migration is a problem that Italy feels alone in addressing… Multiculturalism doesn’t square with how migrants are peppered throughout the park with blankets that suggest their residence has been more than brief, that perhaps they have set up lodgings in a green zone of indeterminacy, the state’s allocation of residence, and as he stares at the statue, I question his allegiances, his national allegiances, his familial ties; do they steer straight onto his country, onto the family, the friends he left behind or are those streams too in the zone of indeterminacy, somewhere still in water somewhere between floating back and forth passively with the tides? I think about obligation because I am thinking about what my obligations are to him because is he only legible to me, or am I legible to him, of how he processes my simultaneous existence in the park, processes this convergence and contradiction of planes, how perhaps I am not supposed to be there, how perhaps our streams were not meant to intersect? I am used to situations all in white, where the appearance of another Black figure brings either joy or anger, like Baldwin at the all- white party with one other Negro—both wondering how the other got there.
I did not admit it to anyone, but I wasn’t interested in seeing the Duomo, the intricate and massive cathedral in the center of Milano. It is one of the most popular tourists attractions, and rightly so just for the complexity and nuance of the structure, yet I wasn’t drawn by it, turned off even more by the long queues and Italian police strapped with military-grade weapons. Visitors had to be patted down upon entering and I sought to avoid the security procedures of my home country. I instead choose to go to the Museum of the 20th century, such an homage to modern art that it was incorporated even in its architecture of glass, blues and grays, brightly lit and metal; I thought what the gallery space would be like as a home, radically minimal and cold to touch, yet unobstructed and free of clutter, leaving room for small thought and feelings, the white making the turn to natural textures and color… browns, whites, blacks, silvers even more poignant.
The art in the museum seemed to come out of the industrial mechanic-ness that motored through the 20th century, with metal machines literally rushing around with conveyor belt-like wheels, leaving the ground with streaks and amalgamations of green, dirt brown, red from the bloody remains. Much of the art seemed deliberately primitive, intended to seem natural; one painting wanted to show what paint dripping looked like and others had crumbs of sand and dirt smeared into the painting as if in a gust of passion the artist had picked up green and smeared to mess up what was otherwise too linear and controlled. In this silver blue gray, this thing of glass and smooth tile, color seemed washed out and surprised, like vitality turned inwards and away from order.
The museum was relatively empty. There seemed to be more proctors than guests. I quietly walked through, reading the descriptions of the art that sought to locate it, for the viewer, into some context of meaning, to render abstract legible. I found myself glancing between the painting and the small descriptions trying to locate the provided meaning with the mess of color and sand on the canvas.