‘Eleganza’ (‘Elegance’) by Goffredo Parise, translated by James Marcus

In the early 1970s, Goffredo Parise wrote a series of brief stories/vignettes for Il Corriere della Sera, later collected in two books titled ‘Sillabari’. Each of the stories depicts a human feeling and has a one-word title; the stories are in alphabetical order: ‘Affetto’ (‘Affection’), ‘Amore’ (‘Love’), and so on. The atmosphere is highly enigmatic. The dialogues are reduced to a minimum, the characters tend to aphasia, while their gaze takes on a central importance. Parise’s prose reads as if it came from another world, and this otherworldly, meditative touch is  even more surprising considering that he was a war correspondent. 
‘Eleganza’ (‘Elegance’) is a masterpiece of subtle intimate perceptions. The main character meets an old friend for dinner in an elegant palace. The two have grown apart over the years, they don’t share much anymore, and their conversation is stiff. But the old friend is with his new girlfriend; the main character is fascinated with the elegance of the couple, and with the sophisticated atmosphere of the place where they are. This seems just enough for him to ignore the feeling of awkwardness for the situation. But then two other strangers enter the room, breaking the fragile atmosphere, and “elegance flew away in the Roman sky.”

First published in Sillabario No.1, Einaudi, 1972 / Abecedary, Northwestern University Press, 1999