Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Zeno’s Conscience

by Italo Svevo

My friend, colleague and bandmate Sergio presented me with this book when we last met on occasion of my leaving for Fuerteventura. He said that it is kind of classic and it comes from Trieste. Trieste!

I had an uneasy relationship with this place. Until 1993, the only thing I knew about Trieste was that it was the name of bathyscaphe that reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench. I was not even sure in which country Trieste the city was. The history of Trieste suggests that I was not alone in that. Then I spent most of 1994 right there. During that year, I discovered Italian food, Italian coffee, proper gelato, Jovanotti, Cab Calloway, the World Wide Web, the naturist beach, Dolomiti, Venice, Milan, Sardinia, Hungary and, finally, Leeds. That’s right: as soon as I set my foot in Trieste, I was trying to get away from there. And as soon as I left it for good, I started missing it. The phrases I brought from my time in Trieste include piccoli problemi and pozor na psa. Where were we, anyway?

Ah, forget that. No special Triestine connection is actually needed to enjoy Zeno’s Conscience. The style reminds me of Kharms. The (anti)hero is a really lovable type. And who would have thought that sixty tons of copper sulphate could be made into a running gag?

I have never suffered from miserliness, and Giovanna immediately had her glass filled, to the brim. Before she could finish saying thanks, she had drained it, and she immediately cast her bright eyes on the bottle. So it was she herself who gave me the idea of getting her drunk. But that was no easy undertaking!

I couldn’t repeat exactly everything she said to me, in her pure Triestine dialect, after she had drained all those glasses, but I had the profound impression of being with a person to whom, if I hadn’t been distracted by my own concerns, I could have listened with pleasure.

First of all, she confided to me that this was precisely the way she liked to work. Everybody in this world should be entitled to spend a couple of hours every day in just such a comfortable chair, facing a bottle of good brandy, the kind that doesn’t cause any ill effects.

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