Why play the intellectual when you recite Dante by 9

Not trying to be cute, I have seen Italians recite Dante by the age of 9, even earlier. It makes sense as Dante did create modern Italian, as much as it makes sense these people continue to communicate within their own labyrinth of dialects.

Which makes me wonder why I don’t run into many ‘intellectuals‘. Actually I met one and now I understand why; I think most Italians like to keep it au naturale.

Actually. There’s Milan, but when it poses and plays the snob, it wears it lightly, like their religion. Feels harmless for the most part.

Their impulse doesn’t lean towards anger any more than a need to impress. I write about this notion in my next book called, “The Legends of Piemonte”. Although it’s not just a Piemontese thing.

It’s a country full of artisans and they quite like method. For example, yesterday morning over the phone, a fellow American friend talked about taking her child to swimming lessons in Rome. This happened long ago but it still runs around in her mind, and she’s lived in Italy for a long time. She said it was surreal, so methodical, this elaborate procedure, even before the kids were allowed in the pool.

This rings right to me. They really relish the process. Or maybe they just surrender to the idea it will help. They like to know how stuff works. Like when they talk about food, which is allot, quite like their chatty French cultural cousins, but in a different way; after-all, not everything need be hidden beneath a sauce. No. Not here. Italians discuss which vegetables have the most vitamins, how to cook it to maximise this benefit, which oil or how hot the water, etc, this sort of thing.

This brings us to Calvino, a writer who truly inspected things for a long time, up close, studying his subject for hours, only then describing it meticulously for his readers. I think his parents were both scientists, don’t quote me, but something along those lines. His observations about grass in Mr. Palomar still have the same impact it did the first time I read it. Had no idea such a jungle existed beneath my feet.

Italo Calvino was discovered by Gore Vidal in the way Gore Vidal used to read a writer’s entire oeuvre and then writes a lengthy essay in the New York Review of Books, and voila! discovered by Americans! Gore did this for Dawn Powell and others and when he wrote about Italo Calvino – this greatly pleased the Italians so for awhile he was at the center of Italian culture. But you wouldn’t say intellectual culture because, well, Italians don’t seem to get caught up in that.

I think I’m going to try and revisit Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” in Italian, again. I must try and hope to fail better as Samuel Beckett once said.

It’s a beautiful book. I’ve lived in a lotta cities and wrote about them in “A European Odyssey”, I too perceive cities as personalities. But the way Calvino wrote about it…. and here is Gore Vidal writing about reading Calvino:

Invisible Cities, is perhaps his most beautiful work. In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo — Tartar emperor and Venetian traveler. The mood is sunset. Prospero is holding up for the last time his magic wand: Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire, of his cities, of himself.

Marco Polo, however, diverts the emperor with tales of cities that he has seen within the empire and Kublai Khan listens, searches for a pattern in Marco Polo’s Cities and memory, Cities and desire, Cities and signs, Thin Cities, Trading Cities, Cities and eyes, Cities and names, Cities and the dead, Cities and the sky, Continuous Cities, Hidden Cities. The emperor soon determines that each of these fantastic places is really the same place.

Marco Polo agrees: “‘Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,’ Polo said.” (So does Borges, repeatedly!) “‘Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.'” Again the theme of multiplicity and wholeness, “when every city,” as Calvino wrote at the end of “The Watcher,” “is the City.”

Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous creation like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant. I shall spare myself the labor; noting, however, that something new and wise has begun to enter the Calvino canon. The artist seems to have made a peace with the tension between man’s idea of the many and of the one. He could now, if he wanted, stop.

Gore goes on but really, you should read it, but I’ll finish it with this:

During the last quarter century Italo Calvino has advanced far beyond his American and English contemporaries. As they continue to look for the place where the spiders make their nests, Calvino has not only found that special place but learned how himself to make fantastic webs of prose to which all things adhere. In fact, reading Calvino, I had the unnerving sense that I was also writing what he had written; thus does his art prove his case as writer and reader become one, or One

Published by baileyalexander

An American living in Piemonte. Sailed across the Atlantic aboard our 43 Nauticat in 2002 and spent over a decade living in Rome, Paris, Prague, Malta, Venice and Bucharest before settling in Piemonte, Italia.

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