I read this book when I was around 12 and I felt it matched my thoughts so exactly that it was almost scary. I have kept re-reading it, partly because I still like it a lot, and partly because it makes me remember the first time I read it.
Mr. Palomar is portrayed as a careful observator of the world, determined to analyse it in its smallest details. The book is made of short reports of specific situations (Palomar’s attempt to count the waves of the sea; an afternoon in his garden, whistling with blackbirds; the observation of the Moon during the day; shopping at a French cheese shop…), that he dissects, with the solid scientific intention to understand them fully, but with the often awkward result of losing focus on the rest of the world, or discovering the meaningless abyss of matter underneath familiar and reassuring scenes.
I feel respect and admiration for Mr. Palomar, as I see him fully absorbed by his quest. The simplicity of the subjects of his study could hide the grandiosity of his attempt, and make it accessible to everyone – as long as one keeps questioning and describing every detail of what one sees. It was my scientific approach when I was doing research, and is the likewise curious approach of nature journaling.
This novel is a favourite of mine. What I love most is the atmosphere, in that medieval castle in the Eastern Alps.
Laura Mancinelli wrote in a style that evocates troubadors, storytelling and human society in a time that none of us can directly remember, but strongly resonate as our common past. The many characters appear like in a theatre play, each with a defining characteristic. Some pages sound like poetry, or songs, with repetitions and rhymes. Here and there are life lessons, cooking recipes, drama, melancholy, deep thoughts.
I like this story because it feels close to me, even if so many details definitely belong to a distant past. Sometime I spot the contemporary thinking in the words of a character, or maybe that thought was common in those times already…
The other two stories included in Einaudi’s edition are set in different times and places, but the atmosphere and the way of writing are similar. I liked Il miracolo di Sant’Odilia a lot, but not as much as I dodici abati di Challant, my first and unforgettable encounter with Mancinelli’s prose.
Today I wish to write about an iconic Italian cookbook: La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, from Pellegrino Artusi. It is so famous that people call it simply “l’Artusi”. The book is the collection of hundreds of regional and family recipes from all around Italy, sampled by Artusi during his business travels and published, with significant difficulties, in 1891. No editor dared to publish such a book, considering it too trivial, so he resolved to publish the first edition at his own expenses and risk. After a short time, with great surprise, he became so popular that it sold over 1 million copies and reached 111 editions!
I bought a copy of it on a street market in Mantua, not suspecting its value, and after a closer inspection, not understanding why someone would sell it. Each recipe starts with a paragraph about how and where he first knew about the dish, a careful explanation of the cooking steps and special attention to the quality of ingredients. It is nowadays not easy to put into practice, because tools, ingredients and quantities have changed so much: he often mentions the large ovens that were common in farms (forni da campagna), meat cuts that I have never seen, and suggests to cook for 8-12 people. It is more an overview of the Italian society than a cookbook, with its rich descriptions, hints on ingredients availability, perils of travelling, funny anecdotes, common ailments, even the final section with menu suggestions for the common holidays you find “Festa dello Statuto”, that was the anniversary of the first Constitution approved by the king.
I have read it in Italian, the rich, musical, aged Italian of the book’s last edition of 1911. There are translations in multiple languages, that I hope keep its peculiar atmosphere. Enjoy!