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Reading & Writing the Mediterranean

Reading & Writing the Mediterranean: Essays by Vincenzo Consolo

Essays by Vincenzo Consolo
Norma Bouchard
Massimo Lollini
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 352
  • Book Info
    Reading & Writing the Mediterranean
    Book Description:

    Vincenzo Consolo is counted by many critics among the most significant voices in contemporary world literature. This volume makes available for the first in English an edited and annotated volume of Consolo's short stories, essays, and other writings pertaining to the diverse cultures and histories of Sicily and the Mediterranean basin.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8473-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Maps
    (pp. x-2)
  5. Introduction: Vincenzo Consolo and His Mediterranean Paradigm
    (pp. 3-48)

    Vincenzo Consolo was born in 1933 in Sant’Agata di Militello, a small town in the province of Messina, located on the northern Sicilian coast of the Thyrennian sea. The sixth of eight children of a small merchant, Consolo spent his childhood and youth in the Val Demone, an area rich in the cultural heritage of Sicily’s Arabic, Spanish, and Greek civilizations. In the years that witnessed the consolidation of the Fascist regime, Italy’s entrance into the Second World War, and the landing of the Allied forces, Consolo attended the local elementary school. One of his relatives, the progressive and anti-Fascist...

  6. Part One. Odysseus’s Journey:: War and Exile

    • Conversation between Vincenzo Consolo and Mario Nicolao
      (pp. 51-75)
      Vincenzo Consolo and Mario Nicolao

      NICOLAO: Vincenzo Consolo will agree that in this conversation we will discussThe Odysseyas students, not ‘scholars,’² because one can never cease to study it, and every time one does, s/he realizes that with each successive reading one knows less, not more about it.

      The Odyssey, as we studied it in school, narrates the journey of a hero who is unable to return home from the Trojan War and of a faithful wife who waits for him. For starters, I should observe that, while Odysseus attempts to condense time as much as possible to return quickly, Penelope, even if...

    • Olive and Wild Olive
      (pp. 76-80)

      The terrible waves push him, almost dashing him against the high basalt coast. The shipwrecked man succeeds in grabbing onto the spike of a rock, but the strong eddy of the water immediately pulled him away. With injured hands, once again at the mercy of the sea’s fury, he swims desperately down the coast until he finds himself in front of a flat inlet, at the mouth of a river. He implores the divinity to arrest the rapid flow of the waters, to allow him to touch the earth, to be saved from the tempest, to reach a safe end....

    • The Ruin of Syracuse
      (pp. 81-92)

      From the stone path in the garden overlooking the sea – walnut, vanilla orange trees, pomegranate, bifer fig and Messinese fig, palm and banana, mandarin and citron, portugal orange, prickly pear and agave plants, ivy and grapevine on the wall of the stable, jasmine around the arch, bushes of asparagus, of myrtle, the rattling water-wheel, the blind donkey circling infinitely – the islands can be seen from the path. Now remote, faint, diaphanous like paper or linen, still or drifting in the sea, suspended in the sky, now invisible in columns of clouds or vapours, now advancing, close to the coast, rugged...

    • Algiers: Tradition and New Cultures; Those ‘Parabolic Dishers’ Who Dream of Italy
      (pp. 93-96)

      The streets’ blanket of asphalt bulges as a result of the bumps, the so-calledralentisseurs, that have little effect in slowing down the frenzied traffic of Algiers, a mazelike city whose foul smell of gas resembles that found in our own cities.

      The variety of colours and design has made the road bumps particularly noticeable. ‘They come in all styles,’ quips ironically my tour guide Mr Bouneb, ‘abstract, cubist, surrealist ...’ Ahmed Bouneb, the editor of Rachid Mimouni,¹ is among the most interesting writers living in Algiers today. I met him at the inauguration of the new headquarters of the...

    • But Is This Sarajevo or Assisi?
      (pp. 97-103)

      The meeting is at 1:00, Lungotevere della Vittoria, at the Alberto Moravia Association and Foundation, the late writer’s former home. I had been to that sunny and ordered apartment a couple of times, in its study that contained only the classics, the collections of thePleiadeandRicciardianain its bookshelves, along with a few paintings and African masks on the walls. The writer once explained to me in his typical, didactic way, the difference between rationalists and illuminists, between himself and writers like Calvino and Sciascia: ‘If they see a pot that boils, they say: it is a pot...

    • The International Parliament of Writers: Journey to Israel/Palestine
      (pp. 104-109)

      She is crouched down on the uneven pavement, her legs crossed under the large colourful skirt, her head covered by a white scarf. In front of her is a basket full of little bunches of calamint, the mint that grows naturally in the wild. With a fast movement of her rough hand, she hides under her skirt a tiny sickle. She used it, at who knows what time before dawn, to go up into the desert and rocky hills around Ramallah to pick that aromatic herb, whose infusion refreshes the bowels, keeps away different illnesses, soothes the nerves, and gets...

    • Report of Basilio Archita
      (pp. 110-116)

      I know what it means to be torn to pieces; I once felt the teeth of three dogs as ferocious as hyenas tear into my thigh and ribs. The nails on their paws ripped my shorts and T-shirt and cut my flesh. I squeezed one by its throat, keeping it away from my face, and I hit the other two with a rod as they barked and attacked my leg and side. I wanted to give up, throw myself on the ground, and had the taste of potash in my mouth. It was summer, in front of Camarina. I was...

    • Men in the Sun
      (pp. 117-120)

      If times passed have been times of Siberias, of labour and concentration camps, of places in which three-quarters of humanity have been held by totalitarian regimes, occupations, and colonial powers, as prisoners, shackled to unhappiness – and the Siberias of this world have made it so that the remaining one-fourth of humanity, on this side of the wall and barbed wire, live happily, alienating itself in the carefree joy of consumption – the times in which we live, the idolatries and utopias having crumbled, the walls having collapsed and the wires having been cut, are times of escapes and exoduses from countries...

    • Diary of Two Journeys to America
      (pp. 121-126)

      America. America! It was the first time, and at my age, that I left the Old World, Europe, and my Mediterranean, to fly over the Atlantic and disembark in the New World, New York. In the plane I thought about all the travellers of the past who had time to read books during the passage, big weighty books likeDon Quixote. I thought about Thomas Jefferson, who, while on board ship, during a crossing of nineteen days, not only read Cervantes’ masterwork, but also claimed to have learned to speak Spanish. And I thought about Thomas Mann who, while leaving...

  7. Part Two. Sicilian Travels:: Land, Cities, and Sea

    • People and Land of Sulphur
      (pp. 129-152)

      Twenty-five thousand four hundred and sixty square kilometres in surface, one thousand thirty-nine kilometres of coastline, Sicily, this triangle, this island in the middle of the Mediterranean contains within itself as much variety as any small land can. A vast sample of lands, clays, lavas, tuffs, rocks, chalks, minerals ... and also mountains, volcanoes, Karstic uplands, basins, hills, quarries, plains, depressions. And thus a variety of crops, woods, gardens, olive groves, vineyards, sowable lands, pastures, sands, desert expanses. In this land it seems as if the evolution of nature has come to a halt, as if it has crystallized in...

    • For a Bit of Grass on the Edge of the Feudal Estate
      (pp. 153-158)

      Via del Sole descends tight between the lateral wall of the palace and an iron railing on the precipice. It was in the shade at that time. The sun instead was beating on the rocks of via Murorotto and on the embroidered sandstone² doorway of the palace. The iron railing of via del Sole appeared to be that of a suspended, moving terrace.

      The old man with the shawl extended his arm and with his hornlike index finger³ followed the undulating line that the surrounding mountains traced in the clear sky, from behind the town down to the sea.


    • Tuna Fishing
      (pp. 159-187)

      ‘Tuna having been caught in the fishing of Ponto ... I could also speak of fishing in Sicily: that is, of what Sophron meant to say when he wrote the pleasantPescatore di tonno[Tuna Fisher].¹

      Lost in words, rhythm, and plot, thepleasantmime of Sophron of Syracuse that is quoted in the above fragment by Elian seems to have been saved, in essence and in flavour, in an image: the scene of the tuna vendor painted on that famous ancient Greek Sicilian crater,² theTonnaio Vase, found in Lipari by the Baron of Mandralisca and brought to his...

    • Views of the Strait of Messina
      (pp. 188-209)

      ‘[She] was not born for death: she is an undying fiend. She is a thing of terror, intractable, ferocious, and impossible to fight. No, against her there is no defence, and the best course of action is flight,’¹ so says Circe of Scylla, of that monster with twelve feet, six long necks, six grisly heads with triple rows of fangs ‘darkly menacing death.’ The deadly monster lies half immersed in its dark cavern, and sticks out its head searching its prey in the sea. Scylla and Charybdis, in the multiplication of their monstrosity, in their hiding, in the concealment of...

    • The Eruption of Mount Etna
      (pp. 210-213)

      Once again Mount Etna has ‘bust,’ split, as the inhabitants of the towns on the volcano’s slopes say. Today Mount Etna, after the last eruption of July 2001, has again opened its terrible mouths, its craters, and has begun to vomit fire and lapilli, lava and ash. The lava has begun inexorably to flow, threatening to the north the town of Linguaglossa, to the south, the town of Nicolosi. The ash has obscured the sun as in a total eclipse, and has fallen in the form of a black rain on the city of Catania, the wind pushing it as...

    • The Rebirth of the Val di Noto
      (pp. 214-224)

      Under a leaden sky, the plains, the hills, the mountains are devoid of shadow, without variations in shading, unbearably evident; a motionless weather is suspended. The howling of dogs, the screeching of birds, the whinnying of horses is breaking the dumbfounded silence. The world seems to expect its end from one moment to the next. Man is giving himself ineluctably to the final certainty, that same man whose panic Michelangelo represented in a character ofThe Last Judgment(at the bottom, on the side of the damned, one eye rendered blind by a hand, the other, wide open, full of...

  8. Part Three. Mediterranean Crossroads

    • Sicily and Arab Culture
      (pp. 227-232)

      It is widely known that, with the end of Latin, in the Middle Ages, the dialect from Tuscany came to dominate other regional languages in Italian literature. This happened thanks to the three great fathers of Italian literature: Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. However, it is also widely known that the first nucleus of the Italian language, orvolgare,¹ as it was called, took shape in Sicily, that the first poets in Italian were Sicilians, those poets of the so-called Sicilian school of poetry who had gathered at the Palermitan court of the Emperor Frederick II or who rotated around it....

    • Ibn Jubayr
      (pp. 233-236)

      The journey of Ibn Jubayr is a holy pilgrimage, a ritual, a spiritual experience, but it is also a descent into memory, a return to the sources of Muslim religion and culture, a passage through the light of rapture and abandonment, a repatriation, an entrance into the Palace of Muslim dominion. And it is also a discovery of the unknown, an odyssey on a sea of enchantment and disaster, a process of knowledge and enrichment, risk and joyful fulfilment of identity and certainty once in the motherland again. It is a journey in space and time, across the present, across...

    • Palermo, Most Beautiful and Defeated
      (pp. 237-240)

      Cities have a name, but they also have a colour, a gender, and an age.

      Palermo is red. Palermo is a child. Red as were Tyre and Sidon,¹ as was Carthage; red as the purple of the Phoenicians who colonized it. Land of rich red soil from which the palm tree rises, tall and slender royal symbol, echo and nostalgia of the desert; land in which orange trees, legacy of the mythical garden of the Hesperides,² stand thickly with their dark green sheen and piercing red. A child, because it has always been dominated throughout history, especially by her mother,...

    • The Bridge over the Channel of Sicily
      (pp. 241-245)

      Gostanza, of a noble and rich family of Lipari, loves and is loved by the poor fisherman Martuccio. For this impossible love, the young man abandons the island and becomes a corsair in the Mediterranean. Gostanza, hearing that Martuccio is dead, deprived of hope, abandons herself to the whim of fortune alone on a boat in the sea, prepared to die, but the winds drive the boat to the Barbary Coast, near Susa. On the beach, the young lady encounters a woman who speaks Latin and is in the service of Christian fishermen. This is the subject of the second...

    • Porta Venezia
      (pp. 246-250)

      ‘They inscribe the space that surrounds them,’ I said to myself. ‘They are a peremptory affirmation of existence.’

      And I observed them, with their clear lines, in their darkcloisonnage¹ that made them stand out against the lighter background, with their hair hard and sculpted, the strong colours that illuminated their faces. By contrast, the others appeared weak, fleeting, indistinct; their uncertain contours vanished in the light grey of the background; the pallor of their faces was like a cloud slowly dissipating towards indeterminacy. And I concluded, in synthesis: ‘Black and white: existence and inexistence; life and death. What happens...

  9. Part Four. Writing as Poetic Memory

    • A Day Like Any Other
      (pp. 253-262)

      Turi knows my curiosity for papers and documents, and when he happens to have some, he brings them to me. He brings me flyers, brochures, notices. He has come to me this morning with a copy of a search warrant for a friend of his, from there, from Porta Venezia. While I read it, Turi tells – with his way of speaking slowly, with that allusive language, with those words where, who knows why,d’s becomet’s (toing,Tigos, Gottamn it, he says) – of what happened in his friend’s house, at four in the morning, with the police on the...

    • For a Metric of Memory
      (pp. 263-270)

      These verses, stanzas, or phrases are taken from the Prologue of my drama entitledCatarsi[Catharsis], which stages the suicide on Mount Aetna of a modern Empedocles.¹ I wanted to begin with these lines because tragedy represents the final outcome of my literary ideology, the ultimate expression of my stylistic quest. An expression, inCatarsi, in dramatic and poetic form, in which it is assumed that writing, the word, through the extreme gesture of the character, is placed at the limit of vocal articulation, in a tension towards pure sound and silence.

      ... Empedocles:

      Tragedy begins in the deepest fire...

    • The Languages of the Forest
      (pp. 271-276)

      ‘He must get a change of air,’ Doctor Liotta, the family medic prescribed. ‘Mountain air. In the forest, in the Miraglia forest!’ The verdict referred to me, just recovering from pneumonia, which had left me weakened, small and thin, with a bird’s chest. Birdy was the nickname my brothers gave me: tweety and pipit. And I should be grateful to that old paternal doctor who had treated all of us eight kids (malaria, measles, rubella, mumps, wounds, fractured bones), because he gave me the opportunity to go ‘get a change of air’ in the Miraglia forest.¹

      It was the summer...

    • The Disappearance of the Fireflies
      (pp. 277-284)

      Accipe!was a peremptory, harsh Latin imperative that used to ruin our childhood games during recess at a priest-run school.Accipe!or ‘you take it’: the abstractness of the term solidified into an object – a marble, a rock, a chestnut – that became a token to be passed to a student if he was caught red-handed, that is to say, speaking in dialect. At the ring of the bell that marked the end of recess, whoever was stuck with thatàccipe, with that token in hand, was punished. Punishment consisted of an afternoon detention at school, being shut in a classroom...

    • The Smile, Twenty Years Later
      (pp. 285-292)

      I cannot write, as Calvino did, in his 1964 preface toSentiero dei nidi di ragno[The Path to the Spider’s Nests] that ‘this novel is the first one that I have written’ becauseThe Smile of the Ancient Marineris my second novel. I have already published, years ago, something like my ownSentiero[Path]; a book entitledLa ferita dell’aprile[The Wound of April].

      Undoubtedly born in a very different context and in an even more different climate (and with results that are certainly not comparable to those of Calvino),La ferita dell’aprileis a first novel of...

  10. Notes on Sources of the Text
    (pp. 293-294)
  11. Selected Bibliography of Vincenzo Consolo’s Works
    (pp. 295-302)
  12. Selected Critical Bibliography
    (pp. 303-306)
  13. Contributors
    (pp. 307-310)