Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Italo Calvino in Utero

On Saturday night, after eating at the wonderful Myers and Chang for my 32nd birthday, Em and I were strolling around the South End when we bumped into my friend Marco and his wife Rachel. I had met them late last year when I was serving at L'Espalier, and after talking about Chantenay carrot puree or Skip's Island Creek Oysters or whatever it was they ordered, we struck up a conversation about art and literature. When I learned Marco is Italian, I confessed that one of my favorite books is Italo Calvino's The Baron in the Trees, of which he highly approved. About a month later, a fellow server said that someone had dropped off a present for me at the host's stand. It was Calvino's The Non-Existent Knight and The Cloven Discount, and it was a gift from Marco and Rachel.

I sent them a thank you note but hadn't seen them again until Saturday night. I told Marco how much I had enjoyed The Non-Existent Knight and that I had moved on to a collection of Calvino's short stories called Cosmicomics. He informed me that school kids in Italy read and love these tales, despite the fact that Ph.D candidates spend years poring over them when writing their dissertations and despite the fact that they feature non-human (but very human-like) creatures all living on a single point before the Big Bang or smushed together on a nebula or orbiting the universe at light speed or back in the good ol' days when the moon was so close you could row a boat out to sea and climb up a ladder and onto it. Despite these things, Calvino's prose is clear, precise, and compelling, and at their core, his stories are just fables--and what child doesn't love a good fable!

When we returned home that night, I began to read one of these stories--"A Sign In Space"--out loud with my head resting lightly on Em's belly when--knock, knock--the baby started moving, kicking, somersaulting! The baby seemed to enjoy being read to! So I read another story the next night, part of another one the next, which I then finished last night. Each time, we could feel the baby moving as I read, though it's fair to say that we are the ones who are truly moved.

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