Book recommendation: “Palomar” by Italo Calvino

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.

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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.

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Double book recommendation: “Kobane calling” by Zerocalcare and “D’autres vies que la mienne” by Emmanuel Carrère

Yesterday I finished reading “D’autres vies que la mienne” and took a moment to let the feelings sink. It was a moving book, that I read page by page as if I were listening to someone, letting their words decide the speed of narration. Carrère talks about the stories of members of his close family and of dear friends, as he wanted to portrait “other lives but his” in a direct and simple style. While reading, I felt taken very close to the people in the book, as if they were old friends. Carrère has a way of describing facts and perceptions that made me feel respectful while learning of very personal, often tragic, life events.

When I talked about the book to a friend, I realised that my feelings while reading looked much like the ones I had when reading “Kobane calling”, a comic book about Zerocalcare’s non-reportages in Rojava. Despite the apparent lightness of the chosen medium, the stories of the people he meets are portrayed as life-like as possible, hard and uncertain.

I felt that both authors opened me a direct connection to other people, in a way that these very people were the centre of attention – not the authors, nor me the reader. It would have been easy to bend these lives to make them more cinema-like, more appealing to my reader’s eyes; or to let the author show off their drawing/writing skills, or even to make use of the facts to squeeze out some general morals; I felt none of that. Both authors wanted to mention that their point of view was unescapably partial, and that they were humans as much as the people they portray in their narrations. I felt, together with them, the most sincere respect and admiration for people who bravely and modestly deal with the difficulties of their lives.

 

Book recommendation: “I dodici abati di Challant” by Laura Mancinelli

This novel is a favourite of mine. What I love most is the atmosphere, in that medieval castle in the Eastern Alps.

I Dodici Abati di Challant

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.

Multilingual birthday!

Today is my birthday! I wish to share three funny birthday songs I am fond of, one in Italian, one in French and one in Berlinese. First, Elio’s “Al mercato di Bonn”, about the unlikely discovery of “Happy Birthday”‘s verses, written no less than by Beethoven:

The second is “l’Anniversaire”, from a group of musicians from Toulouse, the Fabulous Trobadors:

and last, “Jeburtstach”, in Berlin dialect, from Rotz’n’roll Radio:

Happy birthday to me! 😀

From the kitchen: Pellegrino Artusi’s cookbook

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!

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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!