Sunday, 25 November 2018

Giorgio Bassani, Oliver Sacks

I have had a slow, awkward time with a couple of books lately, author fatigue perhaps, plus reader's earlier pleasures not revived.

Book 6 of the Romanzo di Ferrara, The Smell of Hay, by Giorgio Bassani, left me unable to focus except on the eponymous haymaking episode in a graveyard–a semi-circle of scythes slowly advancing—as if these pages were for Signor Bassani the last threads of a cloth not sturdy enough to wear beyond his nostalgia—or mine. One other thing, just after the haymaking, was a list of relatives of the recently deceased Uncle Celio, including the name Ottolenghi. Having just made a recipe from the current chef of that name, involving red cabbage, grapes, juniper berries and blue cheese, inter alia, I started at that: some names you think must belong to only one person ever, and here they are, part of a tribe in a graveyard in Ferrara.

Oliver Sacks' The River of Consciousness similarly did not engage me. Not nearly as much as the red cabbage and grapes. I am not always open to the fascination of festination and aphasia, Darwin and Freud. Or only in a distant way, in honour of an earlier version of myself. Now and then I admired Oliver Sacks' ingenuity. He took twenty photographs of an almost motionless patient, who had, when asked about his frozen poses, said, what do you mean, I was just wiping my nose. The twenty photographs, when made into a flick book, clearly showed a man wiping his nose.

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