The Ends Of Reality
15 July 1990, Sunday
It is 2.30 pm on a quiet afternoon in the middle of July, an afternoon marked
by the characteristic and overwhelming heat of our beautiful city. It is in these
silent and drowsy moments that I start my new experience: writing. Writing is
not easy; not everyone can represent faithfully sensations and thoughts on a
piece of paper. But I have an urge to let my pen wander as I try to give a
voice to this strange idea of writing, an urge born partly from a bet and partly
from a dare.
I don‟t want to create a masterpiece, nor write a novel. Neither do I want to
talk about problems. My intention is merely to describe a person who, a few
years ago, became a constant presence in my life. It is very hard to know
oneself and thus I do not confess to know completely another person, even
when the person in question is known better to me than to others. Therefore
what I will recount is simply my impression of the friendship that binds me to
this person. Of course I could be wrong.
His name is Umby and he is someone capable of giving a different impression
to each different person. That this makes him so difficult to describe is, in
fact, one of his strong points. He has many friends, very many. So many that
I would call him a man of the world, because everywhere he goes everyone
knows him. I don‟t know how many of these people would call him a friend, in
a far more profound sense of the word than is implied here, or how many
would just look to profit from his openness, and his kind and altruistic nature.
I am, though, certain of one thing: he is no-one‟s fool. He will always know
immediately who around him is genuine and who is a user. It is my steadfast
conviction that he will always know who to trust despite, in the end, being a
person who tolerates everyone. He doesn‟t just possess good qualities of
course; he has his faults like every one of us. These will emerge little by little
in this story, even if none of them really seem to me to be big faults worthy of
Our long and at times difficult friendship began some time ago. I don‟t know
when exactly but I soon realised that, unlike many others, he could be a
friend, a real one, with a capital F. And not an ordinary friend, not an
acquaintance you might meet in a bar or in the streets.
The first time I saw him was long ago in the September of 1983. I was about
to hit thirteen years of age and he fifteen. We met across school desks, as is
often the case in profound meetings. But our friendship wasn‟t a school
friendship. On the contrary it is fair to say that for the whole five years of
school we neither spoke to each other nor greeted each other when we
passed in the corridors. The English teacher had given us some kind of
assignment together, I don‟t remember what exactly, and so we found
ourselves sitting on the same desk. I was immediately taken by his eccentric
manner and near incomprehensible pronunciation and I remember thinking
„what a strange guy with his kind of lost boy quality and blue and white
We had no time to get to know each other, as around twenty days later I was
to change class. Thus Umby became merely a familiar face, like a lot of
people in the famous Class 1B. Umby was this to everyone, given that he
was the year representative and without doubt the most eccentric person in
the whole school. I often saw him in the corridors, in the toilets or in the
classes attaining signatures or money or support for the various school
initiatives, marches, protestations. You should have seen how unintentionally
amusing he was. It was a sight not to be missed
To be sincere I would never have believed that we were going to become
such good friends, especially as he had to transfer to another school which
meant I lost all contact with him. I, like everybody else, judged him very
superficially and thought no deeper than that he was a strange guy who did
not really interest me. In fact I was always very diffident in general towards
other people and never considered friendships a good thing with just anyone
who happened to come along. I was happy enough to walk around school
with my three best friends with whom I had formed a perfect little clique. I
didn‟t need anything else. We were not very sociable; we kept away from
others, almost with an air of superiority, and never let anyone join in our
discussions. It was understandable that given my behaviour, Umby seemed
no more interesting than the two thousand other people in our school, who
were all to me merely extras in a film.
Times were soon to change. The school protests began, parents were alerted
to the escalating behavioural problems and the tensions between teachers
and pupils rose dramatically. It was a difficult time. At the end of the 86/87
academic year I had failed two subjects, following on from an argument with
the teacher. Yet none of this was to prevent me from passing away a
I had of course lost all contact with Umby by this stage, but I didn‟t care. He
was not yet a friend, simply an acquaintance. Yet one sunny morning I was
walking between the umbrellas on the local beach where I spent my holidays.
With me were my usual friends, all the young people between fourteen and
seventeen from the area where I lived, with whom I habitually hung out during
the summer. I noticed that everyone was looking at someone who was
walking rather quickly towards our group. They were all wondering who this
was, walking under the hot sun in long trousers, a long sleeved shirt, socks
and shoes, carrying posters and leaflets. I recognised immediately his
unmistakable figure and from that day we all began to know Umby.
In no time all the walls of the surrounding area were filled with his posters and
thus he decided to go for a swim. Off he went to get changed. We all waited
for him outside the beach-hut, with not a little curiosity. I realised that already
he had put everyone in a good mood. We all were expecting him to come out
wearing a normal swimming costume, but he did in fact appear, all smiley and
breezy, in a very peculiar pair of blue briefs. A rear view of said briefs
revealed a gaping hole and something better left unmentioned. He ran across
the beach between the umbrellas and threw himself into the water with an
unforgettable belly flop. Among the general comings and goings and noise of
the beach we all looked at each other, smiling. Umby had left his indelible
mark on the place.
After this we started to see each other regularly. We would all wait for him in
the mornings and even if we weren‟t saying it, we were looking forward to see
him coming to the beach. Not only for the fun he represented but also his
strange conversations, during which someone would often make fun of him. It
was always good humoured and he would pretend not to understand but
through his half smile there was a person thinking: “let them have their say, I
won‟t let it bother me”.
That summer he worked as a handy man in a famous castle in the Salerno
area, close to Naples. He had found something which was making him
enough money to render him economically independent from his family.
Umby was never one to idle, he always looked for something to do, ways to
move forward. And this time we were all to profit as this castle was holding
nightly shows across the whole summer. Our group went there almost every
night always entering free, courtesy of Umby. I‟m sure we lowered the tone of
the place, sitting eating popcorn between the sophisticated and the uppity,
with their prim and proper rituals.
It was around this time that people began saying that Umby was in love with
me. My group would tease me about this so much that I became intolerant
towards him. He, on the contrary, was really kind with me. The fact that he
could feel something more than friendship irritated me. I couldn‟t see my
friendship returned from the only person I really wanted as a friend. I began
reacting to him in childish ways. And Umby himself was not exactly behaving
normally. One night he arrived under my balcony with a torch and whilst
trying to send some kind of signal to me, he accidentally alerted the attentions
of my grandmother. She responded by „unintentionally‟ throwing several
litres of water over him, cooling him down. Strangely enough, he never tried
the torch technique on my window ever again.
The new-found ambiguity between Umby and I bothered me more than a little
at the time. Now I like to talk about it and I do so with a certain nostalgia.
Memories that stay with you become really precious as the years pass. And
hopefully I am more mature now than three years ago. And even if I have far
from a good interior balance, time is on my side as I am nineteen years old.
After that eventful summer I returned to school and my usual routine, which
meant I saw Umby only very rarely. There were in fact long periods where I
did not see him at all. Despite this he would appear randomly from time to
time to bring gifts at during festive periods. This generosity is another side of
Umby‟s character I always liked. It is an effortless generosity, something
within his soul that never has to be forced. This is something that young
people of today have lost. It is almost as if Umby is from another era, an
anachronism casually tossed into this time, but still able to maintain his innate
Thus our friendship eventually resumed. Others would come and go, parking
up by us for a while and eventually passing. These were seasonal friends, bit
part players who would disappear, taking away a little part of us. Sometimes
others would try and come between Umby and I. They would stalk our time,
our days, our hours with their flattery, deceit and lies, distracting us from our
friendship. But in the end, when all other friendships had finished, still mine
and Umby‟s survived.
I never have to try very hard to know what he was thinking or what he was
feeling. I can often predict his thoughts even if I can only confess to knowing
a small part of him. Umby, like everyone of us, has a personality of a
thousand layers and what others understand is only ever the tip of the
Lately I have been seeing a lot of Umby. We go out nearly every evening to
the radio station where we do our programme together. While we are there
we will always laugh and joke and discuss so many things. His opinions are
so often the opposite of my own. We both have strong convictions inside of
us and neither is willing to renounce these easily, which creates long heated
discussions without either party knowing how valid their own point of view.
We will usually turn to religion, a subject we discuss from all angles. Umby
believes unflinchingly in God whilst my beliefs lie solely in the temporal.
Religion is a contentious subject, so having strong opposed opinions means
Umby and I often find reasons to argue hotly. He says he feels the presence
of small things throughout the day. I will interrogate him unfailingly on this. I
have formed a less than favourable opinion of Christianity that people who
have read Nietzsche will understand.
Another area of contention between us is superstition. On this subject Umby
is more willing to wave the white flag, in the knowledge that his standpoint is
not necessarily mainstream. He was going around with amulets and looking
to them in moments of difficulty. This drove me crazy. I could not accept
what to me is a huge refusal to deal with things. This part of Umby, I‟m happy
to say, is in the past.
Among the many facets of Umby‟s personality there are ones which
unfortunately are present in most men. There is an expression in Italian
„anche l‟occhio vuole la sua parte‟ which means „also the eye wants its part‟.
In other words the eye wishes to be pleased when it sees another person.
Umby follows this to the letter. He never tires of gawking at the women that
pass him by, commenting freely on their appearance and the way they hold
themselves. I think it is so rude when men do this, especially when the guy in
question is with another woman. Sometimes I see a good-looking guy, or
even if he is not good-looking, and he attracts my attention but I always avoid
blatant reactions that could cause offence to others. I know that most of the
time Umby is joking, but unfortunately he doesn‟t know where to draw the line
and can take the joke too far. I have often pointed out that this behaviour
needs toning down and that it irritates me but with Umby it is impossible to
play the part of the angry person. He will begin laughing without stopping and
his laugh is so contagious that you cannot be angry for more than ten
seconds. Unfortunately because of that all my attempts come to nothing and
he continues to behave how he wishes, assured that he can count on his
biggest power; his laugh.
Our first few months at the radio station he would make me angry from time to
time when we were doing a programme. He could spend several minutes
preparing a disc, putting on the headphones, listening to it, putting it
anywhere, and eventually deciding it was perfect. Then came the moment.
He would start the disc, sending it out on air. Oh so often this would be
embarrassing. I don‟t remember a disc starting smoothly. A thirty-three
would start at forty-five and vice versa. Red with embarrassment I would go
to scold him, he would laugh and thus I would forget what I wanted to say.
One of the best qualities of Umby is his patience and his self control. I have
never seen him angry with anyone for anything they did. I don‟t remember
him fighting or raising his voice, even when he was right. I myself am a good
test of Umby‟s patience. I sometimes ask myself how he can put up with me.
My moods are not consistent, I am one extreme or another, positive, negative,
nervous, sad, in the clouds, rarely happy but when I am, I‟m euphoric to the
point of being annoying. It is in these moments that I understand that there
are not many people like Umby and perhaps they don‟t even exist. Umby
never told me that I am annoying, that I hindered him or that I am strange or
incomprehensible like many others have said. He has always sought to
understand me. He is anything but superficial and that more than anything is
why I am proud to say that he is my best friend.
Umby can always find the positive side of things. He never jumps to rapid
conclusions and thinks hard about his choices. It is a sign of a head that
studies things calmly and never too quickly. He is a really adaptable person,
and he never feels outside of things. These are some of the reasons why he
is always well respected.
I was always sceptical about the word friendship and I never really believed
fully in it. I always believed in a certain camaraderie, but never in real
friendship. I always felt envious of friendship as it is displayed in books and
films. To me it was only ever an overused and abstract word, that everyone
looked for and talked about without ever actually finding. But thanks to Umby,
I understand that I was wrong and perhaps the only occasion where I am
happy to wrong. He is someone in whom one can have great faith, because
he‟ll never betray the trust of others. He is always ready to help in difficulty.
When I think of Umby, I always think of the word friendship and how no-one
can represent it like he does.
Friendship, this strange lady who comes and when it is time to face death she
is still there saying „No problem‟.
Second part, written by Umby
One beautiful day long ago I met a young lady. She was like a flash of
lightening with her golden hair and lovely blue eyes, sending out incredible
light. That day was my first day of school, Santa Caterina da Siena middle
school for fourteen to eighteen year olds. I was studying languages and
working towards a diploma. A few days after this meeting we went our
separate ways. Her name was Romy. One year later I became acquainted
with her sister, and through her I was re-introduced to Romy. We began to
get to know each other and thus took the first steps to becoming friends.
Soon I would feel something more than friendship for Romy. These feelings
were not reciprocated and it caused me to withdraw into myself for a while
and effectively disappear from circulation. But eventually Romy and I
resumed where we had left off and so our relationship grew stronger. I had
such a huge crush on her. But in my opinion two good friends cannot become
lovers and despite the conclusions others would naturally draw, she became
like a sister to me.
The process of understanding another person is not a difficult one, it is simply
a matter of understanding how to know a person. Discovering the truth of
another can be a challenge as big as the universe, but something that
becomes more and more extraordinary as time goes on. It is like finding the
solution to a riddle, or following a road that often has no end.
Describing Romy is like describing the red curtains of a theatrical playhouse
which hide behind them a grand spectacle, whose stage-lights shine up all its
colours. It is a show that wishes to question the boundaries of one‟s own
reality. This is the key to Romy. She basks in the immense joy of really
discovering the truth of all aspects of existence. To her it is an adventure, to
reach the ends of her reality, to find the knowledge she craves. This
knowledge will in turn give her a sense of security in this world. A desire is
born out of the disease of not knowing why she exists. She is looking for that
purpose in life. She does this without any belief at all in the divine. I guess
you could say she is searching for a system of beliefs for this world. She
wants to knock down the door of universal knowledge…..
She is no ordinary friend. She is a rare gem, with a very big soul, someone
faithful in whose hands you can always place yourself. She, like everyone
else, has had her fair share of people willing to say derogatory things about
her; none of them are half of what she is.
When she turned eighteen, Romy held a party in a night club. In her birthday
card I wrote the following:
“Now is the time to ask yourself how did you spend the last 6570 days. From
this moment onwards the true walk of life begins. I hope the next 36500 days
(one hundred years) you will live well, in happiness, in peace, helping others.
You have to think twice before you do something as not to be conditioned by
others. Don‟t fall into this net….”
So Romy became an adult. Like everyone she has faults. Her main vice is
she says yes too often, even when she is sure she cannot adhere to the yes.
She is a very proud and believes she never does anything wrong, thinking
herself to be strong, where in fact she is fragile. Her fight against life often
leads to her giving in at the first hurdle. Sometimes she gets locked into her
own world, with no way out….
But I have learned so much from her, as she has from me. She accepts that
a friend can give advice and accept advice. And so I asked her what life
meant to her. Below is an entry in my diary by Romy on the 22 nd January
1990, as she seeks to answer this question:
1405pm “I begin with the fear of someone who, faced with a blank piece of
paper, does not want to write something banal or without substance. To
capture a momentary thought on a piece of paper is easier said than done.
You (Umby) asked me to write what I thought about life. My reply to you was
to explain how difficult that is to answer. George Clemenceau, famous
French politician of the early 20th century once said on this subject „life is a
fantastic show but everybody is seated in the wrong place and they don‟t
really understand what they see‟. This for me is an excellent summation. I
myself cannot give a precise definition of life except to say that for me it is a
big let down, a cruel game, a succession of events and situations that end in
nothing. Jim Morrison, who I admire greatly, once told us that life is wasted in
the sweat of chasing money as we seek to build our own tombs. He, though,
was lucky and crazy enough to believe in something superior than life. I
believe only in what I can see, in the material. Nature, as I see it, has an
energy that walks in this universe, manoeuvring at its own will and following a
law I don‟t understand. Our life is an abeyance to these laws of nature, laws
that see life not in spiritual but in a practical way.
Rules of course can be very dangerous. Everyone in a given society has to
respect rules; if they don‟t, they are considered not „normal‟. If ten people
behave in a certain way and one other in a different way, this one is
considered different, not normal. Why not the other ten? In the end, what is
normality? The crazy person is the one who rejects the rule but I‟m
wondering who decided the rule. A „normal‟ person respecting a rule decided
by another „normal‟ person respecting another rule.
I want to finish this entry into Umby‟s diary with two quotes
„A State is where everyone accepts the poison, good people and bad people.
A State is where everybody loses themselves, good people and bad people.
State is where the slow suicide of everything is called life… Friederich
„A human flock is growing in the streets. They come out of bars, out of shops
and from front doors of houses. Human beings graze in groups or in couples
or alone. Same clothes, same hairstyles, same handbags, same hair, same
smiles and same brain...‟ Jim Morrison
For Umby. Not a friend but the friend………‟
In her search to understand her own existence Romy is often alone. I see her
laughing and joking with her friends but at the same time she is very closed
within herself. I myself understand that feeling of being alone in the middle of
friends. To Romy, it is her brain that is her closest friend. She uses it to go
over every little thing. She projects herself to another dimension, distracted
from this world, finding refuge in another, where she thinks. By analysing the
little things you can often find the big. But I do not like to see all these
thoughts and emotions hidden away, it can make life such a hardship.
But this year Romy and I have found another friend, a radio station where we
go and we have fun together. We do a programme together called Big. It is a
way for Romy to be free from all the complex thoughts that are inside her, and
the problems from which it is often difficult to escape….
In summation, Romy
is afraid to confront life
is always looking for solutions
is always sure that what she says is right
hides in others
alone even when surrounded by others
loves a lot but that love doesn‟t always love her
considers music her best friend
does not like, and refuses to be, provoked
will joke, but she has her limit
has as her principal goal to know why she exists
These are ten key aspects of Romy. Seen by myself, which makes it a view
and not necessarily the view.
I‟m nearly at the end of what I want you to know. I of course haven‟t told
everything. Even Romy and I have our secrets. Like everyone we are
embedded in this wall of life. In our existence together and separately we
have to find a way beyond the confines of this wall.
This book wishes to make the reader understand the pleasure of knowing and
understanding others, and to support the edict that ignorance is the worst
illness of the world. For Romy and I it was our first experience of writing. We
hope you enjoyed it…….