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A really unusual coincidence

     “But where?” Carmelo, a quick-witted man, had flipped through the pages of the calendar until he had found the month of December, and now was moving his finger on the paper, uncertain where to position it. Alfredo had told him to put a note there, towards mid-month, “Otherwise, later on – he used a mocking tone – will be Christmas, and the Italians are too busy because of the holidays, and that would bother them”.

   Alfredo Cocuzza, a retired professor in German Philology, had come across that story in mid-September 2009 when, after having bought some daily newspapers, decided to have a coffee in a local branch of a Christian workers movement club. He had recalled, while crossing the entrance, that the organization had come into being in the early seventies as a result of the merging of two minority opposing currents within the Italian Catholic Workers Association, because they hadn’t appreciated their swing towards social democracy, as they were instead in favour of capitalism with a human face.

   Carmelo, who was the manager of the bar within that humble community centre set in an old Milanese farmhouse, had also a poetic streak and boasted the same Sicilian origins as Alfredo. The two had started talking while he was tasting his weak black brew and the bartender had shown him his book of aphorisms and poems, “Towards North, towards South: migrant poems” where two odes stood out, one of which was in the Milanese dialect and dedicated to the Gran Milan, and so Alfredo asked him for a copy. It was then, that Pier Ferdinando, President of the club – after having first checked the correct functioning of the bar’s glittering slot machines – had approached Alfredo and introduced himself. Talking with a voice made hoarse by too many cigarettes and gurgling in his broad and stocky build, Pier had smiled teasingly: “We are anxiously awaiting Carmelo’s next work of art: Towards West, towards East …”.

   They had also talked for a while about the weather, especially the excessive heat in the city, even in September. But more importantly, Alfredo had considered that if the Italians had been reduced to mull even more over the meteorological forecasts, as did the British, who for centuries had been subjected to harassment by the Atlantic front, it meant that his fears were further confirmed. Therefore he had acquainted Carmelo with his belief, which stemmed both from the position of many scientists, but also from his personal considerations, namely, that since mid-twentieth century industrial activities had been so extensive as to produce such a quantity of heat and various gases so as to tilt the planet’s temperature balance, causing disastrous consequences. For Alfredo, winters in the North would have heavy snowfalls closely followed by rising temperatures able to trig flash floods and avalanches, and then early springs. In Summer, early equatorial heat and incredibly mild Autumns with occasional fleeting torrential downpours, all of them characterized by unpredictability, would have been the norm. Not to mention, regarding the greenhouse effect, the methane gas fumes that in the future would have been released by the decomposition of thawed permafrost in Siberia’s boundless spaces and from methane hydride deposits, held for the time being, in the solid state, in deep cold seas.

   “Now, Carmelo, do you remember the winters here in Milan forty years ago when the thick fog wouldn’t let you see beyond your nose?” Yes, he remembered and had agreed that something had broken the mould.
   “Well – he had resumed his tirade, as if the bartender were his only attentive spectator at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park in London – we got almost completely rid of fog because, because due to the extreme moisture generated by the oceans increased evaporation, in turn spurred by the quicker input of freshwater from melting glaciers, we can witness more cumulo-nimbus formations that are able to reach an altitude of up to eight thousand meters, thus easily crossing the Alps and randomly sweeping over the river Po Valley, reducing, for a few days, the deadly fine particles generated from car exhausts and heating systems: this is the only advantage. In conclusion, it is now evident that there is a persistence of a number of physical parameters that lead us to consider well-established the upsurge of these phenomena at global level.

   At that point the Professor paused to straighten his glasses, smooth his hair and, soon after, waving his forefinger, resumed his harangue. “But I’ll tell you more Carmelo, though this is only my personal belief; that is, that the cause of some recent earthquakes and their resultant tsunamis – apart from the clearly established theory of the tectonic plate movements – could lie in the greenhouse effect. I mean, if you take a ball of clay still fresh and put it into the sun, for sure, after a couple of hours you will see cracks, which in theory must necessarily become manifest in expansions, though proportionately reduced, also on Earth”.

   The bartender nodded and – after having filled two fluted glasses of Prosecco, a sparkling extra-dry North-East Italy white wine, for two old natives – wiped up some spills on the grey granite counter.

    “How can we forget, just to mention Lombardy – he had concluded – the widespread damage to land and infrastructure caused by the tornado of July 2001 in Arcore? The temperature dropped in just a few hours from over thirty degrees Celsius to seven and was followed by hailstones as big as walnuts”.

   The evocation of the small town, where the incumbent Italian Presidente del Consiglio (The Prime Minister) had one of his countless sumptuous villas, had shifted in a blink of an eye the conversation to politics, to Silvio Berlusconi, fervently supported by Carmelo.
   “Look – said the professor, cutting him short – I will tell it in Milanese: Il Silvio, le bele che andà, namely, he is done! In the sense, that as with the changing climate, Italian politics is in turmoil because of too many tensions between the majority party and the opposition and also because of some atypical and odd behaviours of our President that generate disharmony in the country. There you are: lack of harmony will cause his downfall which could also be induced by external factors, or by his own, albeit diverse, broad coalition, or even by non-linear choices in foreign policy. In conclusion, for me, in December, Berlusconi will fall!”

   Carmelo had stopped, holding a bottle of brandy in mid-air, while he was filling a glass to another bar frequenter. Alfredo was also made aware by the great shuffle of the elderly members’ feet, sitting at the tables, that almost nobody was believing his prediction.
“In December? I will have to make a note of that!” exclaimed the bartender while he was approaching a calendar pinned on the wall; then with a pencil he wrote on the December page: In three months, Silvio Berlusconi. Even Pier Ferdinando, with his lips tightened into a sly grin, had carefully noted the date on his BlackBerry calendar. Soon after, Alfredo bade them farewell, and left.

   Then the wicked deed happened, an event which hadn’t remotely been predicted or wished for by the professor. However, it had immediately occurred to him – although his “Berlusconi will fall” meant “Berlusconi’s government will fall” – that the President would have really collapsed to the ground after being hit in the face with a miniature marble replica of Milan cathedral thrown at him by that Tartaglia, if he hadn’t been promptly held up by his bodyguards.

   For days Alfredo hadn’t felt much like visiting that bar, but his curiosity to see again that calendar was irresistible, therefore he had shown up before Christmas, hailed the bartender and asked, as usual, for a weak black coffee. “Even two!” had been Carmelo’s instant and euphoric reply. He had also noticed that the club President – who, in the meantime, had switched from Blackberry to iPhone – was watching him, with his eyes opened wide, in amazement, giving him the creeps. Alfredo had expressed his desire to take a picture of that calendar and the bartender had readily and proudly agreed, holding the paper firm in his hands for the shot; Alfredo had also asked to set it aside for future reference: it was, after all, a really unusual coincidence.

   He had subsequently gone there to discuss with Carmelo about his aphorisms and poems and to have another coffee, but he found the club closed; he had asked about this at the newsstand opposite: “They are doing renovation work inside” he was told. He would wait – he told himself – he was a patient man.