Tuesday 20 January 2015

A Weakness for almost Everything and Journey to the Land of the Flies by Aldo Buzzi
Reflections and Shadows by Saul Steinberg
Villa Triste by Patrick Modiano

I was thinking of writing a story based on a dream a friend told me about an Italian pop singer called Mina, and thought I'd read something Italian. I passed by Moravia, Calvino, C. Levi, P. Levi and Dante before stopping at Aldo Buzzi: here was a sensibility of place, travel and food, beginning in Italy then rapidly over the Alps to Switzerland, France, England, America and Djakarta, full of grounded glances and unusual information or advice, for example that toothpicks seem to have been invented for the Japanese, that before travel a Russian will spend time in his room with a pair of shoes, and that you shouldn't trust a writer who doesn't mention food.

With his friend Saul Steinberg, Aldo Buzzi went to architecture school in Milan in the 1930s. I like to imagine them there, and in New York, two stick figures, stock figures, wearing hats and carrying umbrellas, looking out across a short perspective down the avenue to their younger selves. Aldo Buzzi didn't start writing till he was 70, and Saul Steinberg was an artist, so their writings are refreshingly non-determinate, dry, willing: you can take it on from here yourself.
This is my paradise: a road along the sea without traffic, a wide, irregular walkway along the beach, paved with tiles, on which one can walk comfortably even with bare feet. A low wall on the beach side, where one can sit.
A winter's day soon after Christmas in Ireland, which Buzzi as far as I know, did not visit, the sea running shallow and wide with tiny ripples. No traffic. Low wall. My friend behind a table in front of his house by the sea, facing southwest, offering free rum punch to passers-by. Among whom Mina, the Italian pop singer, tax exile in Switzerland, where I would place her in Nabokov's hotel, the Montreux-Palace, with views over the lake to the Alps, like the narrator of Modiano's Villa Triste, but the other way around: she is on her balcony looking across the lake to distant insecurities.
Mina, my friend said, she was here. He pointed at the ground under the table. Over a rum punch or two, Mina meets a local farmer, and, abandoning pop and tax and exile and luxury, settles with him. So that is why, just after Christmas each year since that dream, I give free punch to anyone who is passing by. 
Aldo Buzzi, who in Journey to the Land of the Flies returns frequently to the waitress he once saw in Crescenzago, where he had lunch on the way to Gorgonzola, would understand.

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