Readings — From the April 2013 issue

Visible Cities

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From Italo Calvino: Letters 1941–1985, out this month from Princeton University Press. Franco Maria Ricci, a publisher, commissioned Calvino to prepare a text for a volume containing reproductions of the fifteenth-century Visconti tarot decks; the text later became the novel The Castle of Crossed Destinies (1973). This letter is thought to have been written in Paris in the autumn of 1969. Translated from the Italian by Martin McLaughlin.

Dear Mr. Ricci,

Here is my CV. I was born in 1923 under a sky in which the radiant Sun and melancholy Saturn were housed in harmonious Libra. I spent the first twenty-five years of my life in what was in those days a still verdant San Remo, which contained cosmopolitan eccentrics amid the surly isolation of its rural, practical folk; I was marked for life by both these aspects of the place. Then I moved to industrious and rational Turin, where the risk of going mad is no less than elsewhere (as Nietzsche found out). I arrived at a time when the streets opened out deserted and endless, so few were the cars; to shorten my journeys on foot I would cross the rectilinear streets on long obliques from one angle to the other — a procedure that today is not just impossible but unthinkable — and in this way I would advance marking out invisible hypotenuses between gray right-angled sides. I got to know only barely other famous metropolises, on the Atlantic and Pacific, falling in love with all of them at first sight: I deluded myself into believing that I had understood and possessed some of them, while others remained forever ungraspable and foreign to me. For many years I suffered from a geographic neurosis: I was unable to stay three consecutive days in one city or place. In the end I chose definitive wife and dwelling in Paris, a city that is surrounded by forests and hornbeams and birches, where I walk with my daughter Abigail, and that in turn surrounds the Bibliothèque Nationale, where I go to consult rare books, using my Reader’s Ticket no. 2516. In this way, prepared for the Worst, and becoming more and more dissatisfied with the Best, I am already anticipating the incomparable joys of growing old. That’s all.

Yours sincerely,
Calvino

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