In questo mio squinternato e quarantinato passaggio di fine settembre a Trento ho scattato una foto che gli apprezzatori di David Lynch sapranno sicuramente ricollegare immediatamente alla sequenza iniziale di Blue Velvet.
A few weeks ago I visited the Polka Gallery in Paris with Arianna. This picture of Marc Riboud stuck with me. The original can be found here.
I tried to reconstruct its story. There is not much information available, other than the title of the picture: Nigeria, 1960. This is when Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom. The Guardian reported on 2 October 1960 that “Nigeria is independent and Lagos is at last en fête“. High-society celebrations took place at Lagos’s new Palace Hotel. It remains unclear how Riboud created this photo: is this a play of mirrors?
Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (1826–1900) was a French photographer. In 1860, together with his brother Louis-François, he attempted to take pictures from the summit of Mont Blanc. The expedition failed.
One year later, in 1861, Auguste-Rosalie Bisson went back to the Month Blanc, taking with him 25 porters to carry his equipment. The team reached the 15,781-foot summit on July 25, 1861. It was only during the descent that Bisson set up the tent and cameras, pose the figures in positions emblematic of their climb, and make pictures of the “ascent” (though the team’s tracks are visible on the high snowy slope in the background).
These, and the other photos of Auguste-Rosalie Bisson, are difficult to find. Some of them are exposed at MoMa and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Go and see them, if you have a chance.
I remember reading Annie Ernaux’s Memoria di ragazza on the train during a long, romantic night ride between Stockholm and Kiruna. Outside it was snowing. I felt like I was part of a Swedish noir movie. Next to me, Giallu, and Nicco were muttering indistinct phrases while Jasper was listening to Bubble Butt. We had decided to split two beds and two seats. It all went smoothly until Giallu was locked out of his cabin. The thought of that still makes me smile. The book, which I had bought together with Anna in a little library of Rovereto that we had previously discovered thanks to Martina, is honestly not great. I like its reflexivity and the way in which you can reconsider your own past. It is a bit too depressing for my taste, though.
Between January and February I read one book that had been given to me as a present by Martina during 2016: Jimmy Nelson’s Before they pass away. I remember seeing it in Iris and Erik’s apartment in Rotterdam when I was there six months earlier. Big book. Around the same time I also devoured Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography. I am going to read more books on geopolitics in the next few years.
Between February and March I listened to Emmanuel Carrére’s Limonov through Radio Rai’s podcast Ad Alta Voce. Boy, what a good experience this was. Credit goes to Martina, who had recommended me the podcast – and the book: I remember I first saw it in her house, when she gave it to Fabio. I spent two weeks listening to it. Most vivid in my memory is the four hour non-stop session on my way to Zinal with Jean-Thomas and Elie. I also remember I stopped going to the office by bike around that time so that I could walk down slowly and listen to Limonov. This book left a trace.
Definitely less impactful was Jack London’s Martin Eden. I wanted to read a big, classic book again after my entertaining experience with Il Conte di Montecristo. This has not matched my expectations, though. My second weekend in Zinal, this time with Annique and Eva, I read William Boyd’s Sweet Caress. I had previously bought the book in Zurich. Another book by William Body, Any human heart, is definitely one of the best reads I have ever had. Not this one, though. I should have seen it coming: the name of the author is written in way bigger characters than the title of the book on the cover page.
Back in Neuchatel I started a new audiobook, courtesy of Radio Rai: Umberto Eco’s Il nome della rosa. I had read this great piece of art as a kid but I had forgotten everything. When Pedro hosted me for the second time in Madrid in 2017, I remember buying a Spanish copy of the book for him that I found in a second-hand market in El Retiro. It was a beautiful sunny day. This is an extraordinary book that everybody should read twice in their life.
I like to think of my spring in Paris together with Robert Doisneau’s Paris. When the first sun started to kick in in Neuchatel, I followed Francesca’s advice and I read Primo Levi’s, Il sistema periodico. My image of this book is that of the little cabins in Neuchatel’s harbor.
On my way to Cuba I decided to bring two books only: Eduardo Galeano’s Bocas del tiempo (strongly suggested by Jean-Thomas, who had loved the book when he read it in Argentina) and Alessandro Raveggi’s Panamericana (I had read about it somewhere and got curious). When I ran out of books, because we spent too much time reading due to the rain, Thomoose passed me his copy of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Oh what a pleasure to read it under the sun in El Varadero like a capitalist tourist.
In June I read Daniele del Giudice’s Staccando l’ombra da terra. This was a present by Giulia. Yes, yes, yes – a very good book.
In July I celebrated the Tour de France by reading two books by Bidon: Il Centogiro and Se qualcuno viene mi fa piacere. Leonardo Piccione’s career as a writer is quickly taking off and I will forever pride myself with the discovery of his talent before he became known to the big public.
In August I read Emmanuel Carrére’s Il Regno. I remember going through it on the Lake of Molveno, together with my dad who had read it a few months earlier. Two other books I read in July: Paolo Soglia’s Hanno deciso gli episodi, and Augusto Pieroni’s Leggere la fotografia. Not quintessential.
In Croatia I read Emmanuel Carrére, D’Autres vies que la mienne. This is the second book in French I completed after Albert Camus’ L’Etranger, which I read last year. I was proud. This book is way too long though and I would only recommend the first one hundred pages of it. I also read a comic book by Vladimir Grigorieff and Abdel de Bruxelles, Le conflit insraeélo-palestinien, which I had bought in Brussels with Anna.
In early October I read Robert Capa’s Slightly Out of Focus. It was good to read it on the boat with Giallu, Nicco, and Jonas. I told Thomoose to read it. It is entertaining. You read Capa and you can never tell whether he is for real. He just goes like – hei, let’s have a good time. In late October, on my way to Kenya, I read Desmond Morris’ La scimmia nuda. This was a present by Eliana. Nailed it. It was a good coincidence to read it in the country that really is the cradle of humanity.
Between November and December I read Giuseppe Sciortino’s Rebus immigrazione. He was my professor at the bachelor’s in sociology. This is a small and lean book that I read during one train ride from Trento to Neuchatel. Finally, in December I read Mary Ellen Mark’s On the Portrait and the Moment. This was my graduation present by Iris and Erik. They know how to make their pick. The most charming part of photography, for me, is portraits – of humans, rhinos and elephants. Landscapes are boring.
And this is the end. Reading back the post I realise that my book choices are closely tied to the people I know and the place I visit. I do not do this on purpose. But it feels right.
January. Cold, grey, busy Torino. After celebrating NYE with my dear Canadian friends, I fall sick. Marco, Leila and Etta come to my rescue. On Sunday January 6 I move into my new apartment where I will soon be rejoined by Niels. The place is full of books and I profit from it. I read The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, To the heart of the storm by Will Eisner, The hundred-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, and Novecento by Alessandro Baricco. The first is the subtly humorous story of concierge Renée Michel and her strategies to conceal her intelligence. I am not really fond of it; and I am not hooked by Jonasson’s book either. In the end, I drag along with the former and I leave the latter unfinished. Of these four, I would therefore highly recommend only Will Eisner’s comic novel on 1920s Germany and Alessandro Baricco’s short piece on Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon Novecento. Good stuff.
In February I am often on the move. There are two books, in particular, whose memory remains inescapably linked to the rail-tracks. The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian tells the story of the individuals behind the commercialisation of citizenship by a global business elite. I spend most of my time writing about citizenship as part of my research, so it is not a surprise that I find this story a compelling read. However, it is probably the other book I read while train-spotting that I would recommend to you, my friends: The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza, and the Fate of God in the Modern World by Matthew Stewart. What an amazing story this is! When I read a manuscript, I have the habit of underlining the sentences that strike a chord with me; but with this book it does not make sense, for I find myself underlining everything. It is a bit of a heavy story to read, but it talks about philosophy through the virtues, vices and ideas of two opposite characters.
In the rare moments I am in Torino with some spare time away from my monstrous Ph.D. thesis, I volunteer to read at the Mauriziano Public Hospital. This is possible thanks to a fantastic association. Initially I am a bit lost: I stopped reading short novels when I was a child. So in the first week I only include in my repertoire two books by Stefano Benni: Baol and La Grammatica di Dio. The following week I add a series of books that I collect through life’s best strategy for survival: asking around. Our coordinator Sara puts me on the right track with Francesco Piccolo’s Momenti di trascurabile felicità; the unconventional librarian of the café where I go to write together with Teresa sells me Andrej Longo’s Dieci; and the infallible librarians of my favourite place in the city give me Julio Cortazar’s Historias de cronopios y de famas and Daniil Kharms’s I am a Phenomenon Quite out of the Ordinary. All these books are extraordinary, in their own way.
Already quite a bit of reading, eh? Keep in mind that I am finishing my Ph.D. thesis and I am lonely. Reading is a way to keep my brain going.
In March I leave the apartment. I am officially homeless. In the mountains of Trento I read Martina’s present: Le otto montagne by Paolo Cognetti. This is a simple, fetching book about silence, loneliness, and wilderness. In the same period I read another book that was given to me as a present from Dani, although it had arrived to me through the outlandish hands of Giallu: Tim Krabbé’s The rider. Here again, my friends, what an amazing book this is! If you want to understand how I felt when I was racing my bike back in 2016 you have to read this story. Let me transcribe the incipit here.
Meyrueis, Lozère, June 26, 1977. Hot and overcast. I take my gear out of the car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafés. Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.
In April I hail to Spain for a series of interviews that are part of my Ph.D. thesis in Madrid and Andalusia. In those pre-depression day I read another book courtesy of Martina: Joshua Foer’s L’arte di ricordare tutto. I finish it, but, for once, I would rather have not.
In May I fall into a depressive anxiety. June, too, is a ghastly month. Giallu, who sacrifices much of his well-being to stay close to me, lends me Cormac McCarthy’s All the pretty horses. I dig into it. I read the book sitting on Ponte Santa Trinita unbothered by the gallivant tourists wandering around me. If you do not care about getting this book, try at least to listen Calexico’s homonymous song.
In July, again, I am unable to read. But August is the month when I rebound. During some of the most beautiful days of my life high on the mountains I read Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Back home, I read another book from Martina (La casa, written by an old acquaintance of this blog: Paco Roca). She, and he, nail it. Then, on the shores of the lake of Caldonazzo I read a book that will have important consequences my way of living. Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History. The reason why I read this book is that during the last few months I have visited two Magnum exhibitions: one in Torino, together with Guillaume, upon my very last day before moving out (a sunny day, dawn of Spring time, an yet a feeling of twilight as I bid farewell to the place); and another in Cremona, alone, after interviewing a doctor in the historical city centre. These were remarkable exhibitions that made me think of how photography can be an extraordinary tool to decipher certain customs and conducts that we take for granted. So I read this book and now I just cannot stop. (Note: since August 2017 I visited more than ten photo exhibitions and read countless photography works).
September. I move to Neuchâtel. Fall is coming and I find it fitting to read another book from Martina (You & a Bike & a Road, a comic book by Eleanor Davis), one from J.H.H. Weiler (Un’Europa cristiana), and, as I said, many classics of photography. In my trips to Paris I read Astérix chez les Helvètes, Astérix en Hispanie, and Concita de Gregorio’s Cosa pensano le ragazze. I also read Albert Camus’ L’Etranger – in French! I am rushing through now: I realise this post is already too long. Mercifully the best books of the year are already behind us.
In December I spend a few days in London with Francesca, Marco, Camilla and Isabella. In the occasional breaks from baby-sitting I read Darina al Joundi’s Le Jour où Nina Simone a cessé de chanter. Wonderful present from Giulia. If you want to read about undaunted women in Lebanon, this story would make. I also read 101 Things to Learn in Art School, finally succumbing to a book I have seen in all the bookshops of the exhibitions I visited during the year. (This was The Photography Gallery‘s one: I spent three hours reading in their cafeteria). Not amazing.
My year comes to an end with an eclectic dab, combining Banksy’s Wall and Piece and Hergé’s Tintin in Tibet. Okay, this is really it. You might have expected a grand finale for this post, but I have used all my creativity and spare time to write it. Let us wrap it up and go.
Update, March 2 2018.
Grazie Lore, un gustoso viaggio nel passato recente.
Ecco qui un simpatico aneddoto:
Il libro del Krabbé non era inteso al principio come un regalo, ma come un prestito.
Tuttavia, io sono ancora in possesso del “cavalli selvaggi” di gianlu che considero ormai come un ostaggio.
Si tratta quindi di un chiaro caso di stallo alla messicana letterario.