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from the October 2008 issue

Maag & Minetti: City Stories

Dreams Minetti One morning Maag wakes up with the idea to develop a search engine with which one finds what does not yet exist, dreams Minetti.

Thinks Maag Minetti would say the problem was solely the optimizing of proximity and distance, thinks Maag.

Clouds Minetti observes the drifting clouds during his stroll. Every now and then he pauses. Curious, he traces with the tip of his walking stick the contours of cloudbirds of every genus and species, small cloudephants, flying cloudodiles, even a group of cloudelopes galloping off at great speed hunted by a cloudolion; and, way over to the right, above a high-rise and as if tethered to the PANASONIC roof advertisement, a cloudoceros, expelled from the herd and sad. He is aware that all his gesticulating is providing onlookers at some distance with a strange spectacle. What, however—do we know?—if these cloud creatures were likewise making observations? In this case, they would see a confused man, who, cast out in turn by his own herd, was trying in vain to catch hold of an invisible piece of air?

Caught, he withdraws his stick, watches once more as the sketchy contours of a cloud animal are on the verge of turning into something else, and stops short. Can it be that Maag could be in a position to manipulate clouds? For what was now emerging before him in the ever more cloudless sky amounted to the initial M in perfect English cursive.

"M for Maag," mutters Minetti. "Or does M stand for Minetti?" Warily he looks up and down the street, but it is empty.

Human Beings "Doctors," Maag says, flicking a beetle off the sleeve of his jacket, "are human beings like you and me. For instance, just think of Joseph Ignace Guillotin, inventor of the guillotine."

Willi whisks a few unruly leaves from the main path of City Park onto his dustpan.

"Guillotin was a doctor? Are you sure?"

"Exactly!" Maag says triumphantly. "Of all possible professions this would be the last you'd think of."

As if lending support to his argument, the wind sweeps the leaves from the dustpan.

"Hard to believe!" Willi is amazed. "A doctor inventing something so hostile to human life as the guillotine?" He observes the swirling foliage thoughtfully. Suddenly, he stands up straight and shouts into the park, his voice ringing out: "In honor of the occasion I decree a leaf amnesty, applicable to all of City Park."

"Occasion?" Maag asks, surprised by this unexpected outburst.

"Isn't today July 14th?"

As if in defiance, the wind blows a few amnestied leaves back onto the dustpan.

"You're right," Maag says astounded. "Just imagine: Guillotin, the doctor, invents the guillotine in order to more humanely execute, using mechanical means, the supporters—or the opponents, I don't know anymore—of the French Revolution."

"At least more efficiently," reckons Willi, placing the dustpan on his cart and walking away.

"Chop—and off with your head" Maag hears Willi muttering to himself. All of a sudden, the park seems dead to him.

Predecessors The first takes possession of the park's middle path like an emperor, each step more assertive than the last; the second pauses in front of the concert pavilion and, rocking on the balls of his feet, surveys the iron structure with an inspector's eye; the fourth's oafish grin turns out to be his normal facial expression; the sixth, headphoned and oblivious to his surroundings, practices dance steps—two forward, one back, sidestep left, sidestep right; the seventh noisily whistles a current hit parade number, unconcerned that he's getting it wrong; an eighth gives his sex a good long scratching, lifting it from one side to the other, thereby considerably slowing his progress; the eleventh, with his obnoxious air of patient suffering, is nearly jostled by the tenth–

Minetti rises from his bench and, troubled by a persistent rheumatic pain caused by the high humidity, sets off with a limp, certain to distinguish himself clearly and favorably from his predecessors.

La-la-la-la "Mmm!" His eyes closed, Minetti puts one of Lelli's lozenges in his mouth.

"You're not trying to make me believe you really like these bitter-tasting things," Lelli mocks, "I take them simply to keep my voice supple." To reinforce his words with action, he hurls, with the airs and graces of a heroic tenor, a resounding ascending la-la-la-la across Parade Square.

Police assistant Coltorti, who is standing in the middle of the square, and, with her hands behind her back, is inspecting the flow of traffic, turns around and raises her hand in admiration.

"We know each other," Lelli says modestly.

"We do too," Minetti replies, listening to his own voice. Has the lozenge likewise started to work for him?

I'm Over Here Maag walks intently along the rows of graves at the cemetery. The social intermixing, both regarding those laid to rest as well as their visitors, is ideal. It can only be a matter of time before he manages to come into contact with one or two of the dead. But all he hears on this rainy late afternoon is the voice of a small girl calling for her father. What sort of man leaves his child alone in a cemetery? Or has the girl lost her father and thus lingers here with an intention similar to his own, albeit with more urgency? Should he give her courage? With which words? Courage for what? As he considers this, he hears someone shout I'm over here, and spins around only to see the girl disappear, arms outstretched, down a distant path.

River As paradoxical as it sounds: dayflies can have—adolescent stages and numerous molts included—a lifespan of well over a year. Minetti holds his closed hand to his ear and listens to the buzzing of the captured fly. The world is mysterious, isn't it! Although of all mammals humans grow the oldest, and are forever wanting to grow even older, they are still a far cry from beard worms and giant tortoises, which reach an age of two hundred years. If the instability and manipulability of human intelligence are taken into account, humility and modesty would be more apropos, however, than longevity. He observes the river in which he is cooling his feet. With continual rains it changes color, swells, laps high up bridges, banks, and walls, becomes faster, imperiously floods the foreshore with nearly uncontrollable force, and flows around obstacles of towered driftwood without losing strength until it retreats to its normal bed, or to a narrower one when dry seasons are long. Timeless, silent, tireless, cyclical. As he opens his hand the buzzing of the fly becomes lost in the sound of the water and at this moment he is certain the river listened to him just as he listened to the fly.

Maag, Quick Thinker When Minetti hears that Maag has recently been identifying himself on his business card as Maag, Quick Thinker, without providing more precise details, he has his own card printed, which simply reads Minetti. Should Maag ever happen to see it, he'll be able to prove how quickly he is capable of thinking.

Leporello "Imagine, Willi," Maag says, pulling on the ends of a strip of paper that had been folded accordionlike and on which several stick figures were cavorting about, "that Don Giovanni's servant, who compiled a long list for his master's mistress, hadn't been named Leporello but . . . but . . . "

Maag begins to falter.

"But?" Willi helps.

But not a single name would occur to him off the top of his head that he could substitute for one like Leporello.

"But what?" Willi presses.

"Nothing," Maag says, folding up his paper accordion again and turning away.

If we at least knew what was on that list, Willi thinks gazing after Maag angrily.

Advisory Mandates Imagine how expedient it would be for David Beckham, who some consider a soccer god and others take for an androgynous fool, were he to have a dependable advisor like him, Maag, at his side! It could likewise be of benefit to provide George W. Bush and il cavaliere Berlusconi—the many-sidedness of the latter being as undisputed as the one-sidedness of his American colleague—with such support. Luciano Pavarotti, whose corpulence is even more impressive than the volume of his voice, and Queen Elizabeth II, who in the meantime can be thought capable of an entire century at the head of the English royal house—they, among others, also fall into this category. But try as he might, he keeps coming to the same conclusion: taking advice assumes an ability to accept advice. Which leaves him with no choice but to give up a corresponding mandate regardless of how persistent the attempts to persuade him will be.

From Maag & Minetti. Stadtgeschichten. Copyright Keller + Kuhn. By arrangement with the authors. Translation copyright 2008 by Alison Gallup. All rights reserved.

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