Mar 192017
 

Today is Oculi Sunday – the third Sunday in Lent.  The name comes from the first word in Latin of the introit of the day (taken from Psalm 25): Oculi mei semper ad Dominum – My eyes are always on God. If you’re a real stickler you can hear (or sing) the introit as a Gregorian chant.  This site will give you the full monty: text, music, original Latin with translation and commentary, plus an .mp3.

http://chantblog.blogspot.it/2011/03/introit-for-third-sunday-in-lent-oculi.html

My liturgical side is minute (at best), so I’ll pass.

The lectionary Gospel reading this year (Year A) is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).  You may need to familiarize yourself with it if your memory is hazy – or you don’t know it.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+4

The story has two key elements.  First, Jesus does not treat the woman harshly even though she has had 5 husbands and the man she is currently living with is not her husband. Jesus was not a moralist, unlike many contemporary so-called Christians.  Second, the woman was a Samaritan, and Jews and Samaritans generally despised one another (which is why the story of the Good Samaritan is so poignant). Jesus preached tolerance of those who are different from us in religion and culture. We could use a lot more of that kind of tolerance these days.

The story of the woman at the well does not get a lot of coverage in the popular world but, curiously there is an Irish song that tells it:

The story also introduces the idea of “bread of heaven” and “living water” as images of the spiritual life.  Both images are reflected in one of my favorite hymns, Cwm Rhondda (Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah):

The history of Samaria and Samaritans, and their historic relations with Jews is rather obscure.  According to the Bible Samaria is roughly coterminous with the region that was originally designated for the two half tribes of Joseph: Ephraim and Manasseh. Here we encounter an immediate problem.  There is no clear evidence that the tribal boundaries given in the Hebrew Bible match historical facts. It is certainly true (in my expert opinion !!!) that the farther back in time we go in the history of Israel, the more unreliable the Bible is. I have no hesitation in saying, for example, that the kings David and Solomon did not exist. At the purported time of their massive kingdoms, Jerusalem was little more than a village of shepherds according to archeology. It is reasonably clear that in the 8th century BCE the region of Samaria was wealthy and opulent. The early prophets Amos and Hosea rail against the region for its ostentation and greed, and this is confirmed by archeology.

In 726–722 BCE, the new king of Assyria, Shalmaneser V, invaded Israel and besieged the city of Samaria, the capital. After an assault of three years, the city fell and much of its population was taken into captivity and deported. The great mystery is what happened to the people who were deported (the so-called Lost Tribes of Israel), and who took their place. There was a lot of friction between the new Samaritans and the remaining Jews in Judah and in Galilee down to the time of Jesus. But from the outside it’s hard to distinguish between Samaritans and Judeans. The Samaritans used the Torah as their sacred text, celebrated the High Holy Days and so forth.  The Samaritan Torah is somewhat different in places from the classic Jewish Torah, but not significantly. So, why were the Jews and the Samaritans at odds so much? I suspect it was a simple matter of prejudice against newcomers (i.e. immigrants).  We know all about that. In Jesus’ time people usually skirted around Samaria if they were traveling from Jerusalem to Galilee. Jesus did not. He ploughed through Samaria in a straight line, and was not fazed at all by common prejudice. This behavior got him noticed.

The archeological record of Samaria in Biblical times is chock full of cooking pots. In fact styles of cooking pots are used to date sites and archeological strata.  What was cooked in the pots is mere speculation but some things are reasonably clear. If the people had kilns to fire pots they had ovens to bake yeast bread.  Furthermore, the superabundance of cooking pots tells us that boiling food was the common daily habit.  The Seven Species – wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranates, olive, and date – were the staples in Biblical times. Meat would have been a rarity, and hunted meat was a bonus. Hence for a celebratory meal I’m going to make a rabbit stew.  Simplicity needs to be the order of the day here.  You can’t brown meat in a ceramic pot. You have to simply add the meat, jointed, to the pot, cover with water and add whatever seasonings you have on hand, such as onions and garlic. Then bring the pot to a simmer and cook for several hours. It’s a very simple dish, obviously, but you can dress it up. Bitter herbs such as horehound and wormwood were available, as were mushrooms in season.

Here’s my effort for the day:

Feb 102016
 

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Today is the feast day of St Paul’s Shipwreck (San Pawl Nawfragu) which is a public holiday in Malta, especially in Valletta, Marsalforn, and Munxar. I am not sure why this date was chosen. The event is described in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27:27-28:5), the tail end of the book. The chronology of events in Paul’s life is endlessly disputed by scholars because what facts can be gleaned from letters that we are reasonably certain were written by Paul are not always in agreement with Acts. According to Acts Paul arrived in Jerusalem on his fifth and final visit in 57 with a collection of money for the community there. Acts reports that he was warmly received, but goes on to recount how Paul was warned by James and the elders that he was gaining a reputation for being against the Law, saying “they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.” (Acts 21:21) Paul underwent a purification ritual in order to give the Jews no grounds to bring accusations against him for not following the law. But he then caused a stir when he appeared at the Temple, and he escaped being killed by the crowd only by voluntarily being taken into Roman custody. When a plot to kill Paul on his way to an appearance before the Jews was discovered, he was transported by night to Caesarea Maritima. He was held as a prisoner there for two years, until a new governor reopened his case in 59.

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When the governor suggested that he be sent back to Jerusalem for further trial, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar, so he was transported to Rome. During the journey, vividly described in Acts, the shipwreck occurs. This passage is notable in that it is one of the so-called “we” passages – written in the 1st person plural. There is no scholarly consensus concerning these passages. They could be a deliberate forgery to suggest that the author of Acts was an actual eyewitness, or they could be redactions based on older, fragmentary primary material written by an eyewitness. I incline towards the latter, but this is more of an educated guess than anything else. Here’s the passage:

27:27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.

33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.

28:1 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3 Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.

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There is a special celebration in Valletta on Malta at the Collegiate Parish Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck on this day. The church hosts fine artistic works, including the magnificent altarpiece by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, as well as paintings by Attilio Palombi, and Giuseppe Calì. The wooden titular statue of St Paul was carved in 1659 by Melchiorre Cafà, the brother of Lorenzo Gafà who designed the dome. The statue is paraded through the streets of Valletta on the feast day of St Paul’s Shipwreck even (and appropriately) during heavy rain One can also view the relic of the right wrist-bone of St Paul, and part of the column from San Paolo alle Tre Fontane, on which the saint was reputedly beheaded in Rome.

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For this feast day I have chosen the unofficial national dish of Malta, rabbit braised in red wine and garlic. Given the name, you scarcely need a recipe, but here goes. The trick is to use A LOT of garlic. This recipe calls for three BULBS, not cloves – whole bulbs.

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Rabbit with garlic & wine (Fenek fit-tewm u l-inbid)

Ingredients

1 rabbit cut into 6 or 8 pieces
500ml red wine
3 whole garlic bulbs, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 bay leaves
salt and pepper

Instructions

Place the rabbit pieces in an earthenware pot and cover with the wine. Refrigerate overnight.

In a large, heavy skillet gently sweat the garlic in the olive oil. Do not let it take on color.

Remove and reserve the garlic, leaving the oil in the pan. Heat the oil on medium-high, remove the rabbit pieces from the wine, and brown them in the oil on all sides – reserving the wine.

Place the rabbit, garlic and bay leaves in an ovenproof casserole. Cover with the wine, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and bake at around 375°F for an hour or until the meat is tender. Check the liquid level periodically to make sure that the wine is reducing to a thick sauce, but not drying out. Uncover towards the end if it is not reducing sufficiently.

Serve with boiled new potatoes and marrowfat peas.

Serves 4

Jan 122016
 

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On this date, HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey became operational. The date was given as January 12, 1992 in the movie, but 1997 is the year used in both the novel and screenplay. Here’s the relevant clip. HAL gives the date he went online starting at 3:10.

2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968 when there were extraordinary hopes and projections for the future. The plot was very simple; it could be summarized in two or three sentences. The movie was driven by images and special effects meant to convey the feel of a world that was right around the corner – video calls from pay phones, routine flights to a moon base, interplanetary flights etc etc. Arthur C. Clarke (author) and Stanley Kubrick (movie director) were both laughably wrong about these things. But their vision does capture the imagination. HAL 9000 is intrinsic to the movie (and the subsequent book), but not part of the original short story on which the movie was based.

HAL is initially considered a dependable member of the crew on a ship destined for Jupiter whose mission is secret (even from the crew). HAL maintains ship functions and engages genially with the human crew on an equal footing. As a recreational activity, Frank Poole plays against HAL in a game of chess. In the film the artificial intelligence is shown to triumph easily. However, as time progresses, HAL begins to malfunction in subtle ways and, as a result, the decision is made to shut down HAL in order to prevent more serious malfunctions. The sequence of events and manner in which HAL is shut down differs between the novel and film versions of the story. In the aforementioned game of chess HAL makes minor and undetected mistakes in his analysis, a possible foreshadowing of HAL’s malfunctioning.

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In the film, astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole consider disconnecting HAL’s cognitive circuits when he appears to be mistaken in reporting the presence of a fault in the spacecraft’s communications antenna. They attempt to conceal what they are saying by discussing their course of action in a place where HAL cannot hear them, unaware that HAL can read their lips (that programmer should have been fired!). Faced with the prospect of disconnection, HAL decides to kill the astronauts in order to protect and continue its programmed directives, and to conceal its malfunction from Earth. HAL uses one of the Discovery’s EVA pods to kill Poole while he is repairing the ship. When Bowman uses another pod to attempt to rescue Poole, HAL locks him out of the ship, then disconnects the life support systems of the other hibernating crew members. Dave circumvents HAL’s control, entering the ship by manually opening an emergency airlock with his service pod’s clamps, detaching the pod door via its explosive bolts. Bowman jumps across empty space, reenters Discovery, and quickly repressurizes the airlock.

The novel explains that HAL is unable to resolve a conflict between his general mission to relay information accurately, and orders specific to the mission requiring that he withhold from Bowman and Poole the true purpose of the mission. This withholding is considered essential after the findings of a psychological experiment, “Project BARSOOM”, where humans were made to believe that there had been alien contact. In every person tested, a deep-seated xenophobia was revealed, which was unknowingly replicated in HAL’s constructed personality. Mission Control did not want the crew of Discovery to have their thinking compromised by the knowledge that alien contact was already real. With the crew dead, HAL reasons, he would not need to lie to them. He fabricates the failure of the AE-35 antenna-steering unit so that their deaths would appear accidental.

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In the novel, the orders to disconnect HAL come from Dave and Frank’s superiors on Earth. After Frank is killed while attempting to repair the communications antenna he is pulled away into deep space using the safety tether which is still attached to both the pod and Frank Poole’s spacesuit. Dave begins to revive his hibernating crewmates, but is foiled when HAL vents the ship’s atmosphere into the vacuum of space, killing the awakening crew members and almost killing Dave. Dave is only narrowly saved when he finds his way to an emergency chamber which has its own oxygen supply and a spare space suit inside.

In both versions, Bowman then proceeds to shut down the machine. In the film, HAL’s central core is depicted as a crawlspace full of brightly lit computer modules mounted in arrays from which they can be inserted or removed. Bowman shuts down HAL by removing modules from service one by one; as he does so, HAL’s consciousness degrades. HAL regurgitates material that was programmed into him early in his memory, including announcing the date he became operational as 12 January 1992 (in the novel, 1997). When HAL’s logic is completely gone, he begins singing the song “Daisy Bell” (in actuality, the first song sung by a computer). HAL’s final act of any significance is to prematurely play a prerecorded message from Mission Control which reveals the true reasons for the mission to Jupiter.

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In addition to maintaining the Discovery One spacecraft systems during the interplanetary mission to Jupiter (or Saturn in the original novel, published shortly after the release of the film), HAL is capable of speech, speech recognition, facial recognition, natural language processing, lip reading, art appreciation, interpreting and reproducing emotional behaviors, automated reasoning, and playing chess.

Everyone watching the movie loved HAL. HAL is calm and resolute (until his demise), and its voice is so utterly serene even when killing the crew or refusing orders. It’s not the serenity of a cruel dictator, but the voice of pure logic. Priceless.

I’ve talked about food in space before. You can consult these posts for ideas about actual food on space craft and as experimented with in artificial colonies.

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/apollo13/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/phobos-mars-moon-discovered/

Back in the 1960s, Clarke speculated a little about food production in long-term planetary colonies. He took hydroponic farming (growing plants in fertilized water rather than soil), as a given. No problem. The question of animal protein intrigues me, though. For permanent colonies to be fully self sufficient, they would have to rear animals. Clarke felt that large mammals, including cows, sheep, and goats, might be necessary for variety, but they are inefficient meat producers with a lot of waste. Rabbits, on the other hand, are ideal because they breed quickly, mature fast, and convert plants to protein quickly. So rabbits would be a mainstay. That would be fine by me as it would be for Chinese or Italian colonists. It might not sit so well with people from other cultures. For me, creating variety using primarily rabbit meat would be a bigger issue. But rabbit can be treated much like chicken (no, it does NOT taste like chicken). You can make rabbit and dumplings, rabbit stew, rabbit noodle soup, rabbit curry, and so forth.

My absolute favorite is rabbit pie. It can be made to be eaten hot or cold. I use this recipe from Mrs Beeton (with the addition of her thoughts on rabbit breeding – apt for space colonists). I usually bone the rabbit; Victorians were not so fussy.

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RABBIT PIE.

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 rabbit, a few slices of ham, salt and white pepper to taste, 2 blades of pounded mace, 1/2 teaspoonful of grated nutmeg, a few forcemeat balls, 3 hard-boiled eggs, 1/2 pint of gravy, puff crust.

Mode.—Cut up the rabbit (which should be young), remove the breastbone, and bone the legs. Put the rabbit, slices of ham, forcemeat balls, and hard eggs, by turns, in layers, and season each layer with pepper, salt, pounded mace, and grated nutmeg. Pour in about 1/2 pint of water, cover with crust, and bake in a well-heated oven for about 1-1/2 hour. Should the crust acquire too much colour, place a piece of paper over it to prevent its burning. When done, pour in at the top, by means of the hole in the middle of the crust, a little good gravy, which may be made of the breast- and leg-bones of the rabbit and 2 or 3 shank-bones, flavoured with onion, herbs, and spices.

Time.—1-1/2 hour. Average cost, from 1s. to 1s. 6d. each.

Sufficient for 5 or 6 persons.

Seasonable from September to February.

Note.—The liver of the rabbit may be boiled, minced, and mixed with the forcemeat balls, when the flavour is liked.

FECUNDITY OF THE RABBIT.—The fruitfulness of this animal has been the subject of wonder to all naturalists. It breeds seven times in the year, and generally begets seven or eight young ones at a time. If we suppose this to happen regularly for a period of four years, the progeny that would spring from a single pair would amount to more than a million. As the rabbit, however, has many enemies, it can never be permitted to increase in numbers to such an extent as to prove injurious to mankind; for it not only furnishes man with an article of food, but is, by carnivorous animals of every description, mercilessly sacrificed. Notwithstanding this, however, in the time of the Roman power, they once infested the Balearic islands to such an extent, that the inhabitants were obliged to implore the assistance of a military force from Augustus to exterminate them.

Oct 152013
 

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Today is the birthday (1923) of Italo Calvino, acclaimed Italian author (and in my top 10 of the 20th century).   Calvino was born in Santiago de Las Vegas, a suburb of Havana, in 1923. His father, Mario, was a tropical agronomist and botanist who also taught agriculture and floriculture. Mario Calvino had emigrated from Italy to Mexico in 1909 where he took up a position with the Ministry of Agriculture. In an autobiographical essay, Calvino explained that his father “had been in his youth an anarchist, a follower of Kropotkin and then a Socialist Reformist.” In 1917, Mario left for Cuba to conduct scientific experiments, after living through the Mexican Revolution.

Calvino’s mother, Eva Mameli, was a botanist and university professor.  Eva was born into a secular family, and was a pacifist educated in the “religion of civic duty and science.” Calvino described his parents as being “very different in personality from one another,” suggesting perhaps deeper tensions behind a comfortable, albeit strict, middle-class upbringing devoid of conflict. As an adolescent, he found it hard relating to poverty and the working-class, and was “ill at ease” with his parents’ openness to the laborers who filed into his father’s study on Saturdays to receive their weekly paycheck.

In 1925, less than two years after Calvino’s birth, the family returned to Italy and settled permanently in San Remo on the Ligurian coast. Calvino’s brother Floriano, who became a distinguished geologist, was born in 1927. The family divided their time between the Villa Meridiana, an experimental floriculture station which also served as their home, and Mario’s ancestral land at San Giovanni Battista. On this small working farm set in the hills behind San Remo, Mario pioneered work in the cultivation of a variety of fruits and flowers including grapefruit, avocado, grapes, olives, and roses, eventually obtaining an entry in the Dizionario biografico degli italiani for his achievements.

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The vast and luxuriant forests, ever present in Calvino’s early fiction such as The Baron in the Trees, derives from this legacy. In an interview, Calvino stated, “San Remo continues to pop out in my books, in the most diverse pieces of writing.” He and Floriano would climb the trees and perch for hours on the branches reading their favorite adventure stories. Less happy aspects of his paternal legacy are described in The Road to San Giovanni, Calvino’s memoir of his father in which he exposes their inability to communicate: “Talking to each other was difficult. Both verbose by nature, possessed of an ocean of words, in each other’s presence we became mute, would walk in silence side by side along the road to San Giovanni.”

Calvino was an avid reader as a child, especially Kipling’s Jungle Books, but felt that his early interest in stories (and the arts in general) made him the black sheep of a family that held literature in lower esteem than the sciences. Because they were austere, anti-Fascist freethinkers, Eva and Mario refused to give their sons any religious education. Italo attended the English nursery school St George’s College, followed by a Protestant elementary private school run by Waldensians. His secondary schooling was completed at the state-run Liceo Gian Domenico Cassini where, at his parents’ request, he was exempted from religious instruction but forced to justify his anti-conformist stance. In his mature years, Calvino described the experience as a salutary one : “it made me tolerant of others’ opinions, particularly in the field of religion, remembering how irksome it was to hear myself mocked because I did not follow the majority’s beliefs.” During this time, he met a brilliant student from Rome, Eugenio Scalfari, who went on to found the weekly magazine L’Espresso, and La Repubblica, a major Italian newspaper. The two teenagers formed a lasting friendship, Calvino attributing his political awakening to their university discussions.

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Eva managed to delay her son’s enrolment in the Fascist armed scouts, the Balilla Moschettieri, and then arranged that he be excused, as a non-Catholic, from performing devotional acts in church.  But later on, as a compulsory member, he could not avoid the assemblies and parades of the Avanguardisti, and was forced to participate in the Italian occupation of the French Riviera in June 1940.

In 1941, Calvino dutifully enrolled at the University of Turin, choosing the Agriculture Faculty where his father had previously taught courses in agronomy. Concealing his literary ambitions to please his family, he passed four exams in his first year while reading anti-Fascist works by Elio Vittorini, Eugenio Montale, Cesare Pavese, Johan Huizinga, and Pisacane, and works by Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and Albert Einstein on physics. Calvino saw himself as enclosed in a “provincial shell” that offered the illusion of immunity from the Fascist nightmare: “We were ‘hard guys’ from the provinces, hunters, snooker-players, show-offs, proud of our lack of intellectual sophistication, contemptuous of any patriotic or military rhetoric, coarse in our speech, regulars in the brothels, dismissive of any romantic sentiment and desperately devoid of women.”

Calvino transferred to the University of Florence in 1943 and reluctantly passed three more exams in agriculture. By the end of the year, the Germans had succeeded in occupying Liguria and setting up Benito Mussolini’s puppet Republic of Salò in northern Italy. Calvino refused military service and went into hiding. Reading intensely in a wide array of subjects, he also reasoned politically that, of all the partisan groupings, the communists were the best organized with “the most convincing political line.”

In spring 1944, Eva encouraged her sons to enter the Italian Resistance in the name of “natural justice and family virtues.” Using the battle name of “Santiago,” Calvino joined the Garibaldi Brigades, a clandestine communist group and, for twenty months, endured the fighting in the Maritime Alps until 1945 and the Liberation. As a result of his refusal to be a conscript, his parents were held hostage by the Nazis for an extended period at the Villa Meridiana. Calvino wrote of his mother’s ordeal that “she was an example of tenacity and courage . . . behaving with dignity and firmness before the SS and the Fascist militia, and in her long detention as a hostage, not least when the blackshirts three times pretended to shoot my father in front of her eyes. The historical events which mothers take part in acquire the greatness and invincibility of natural phenomena.”

PASOLINI - CALVINO

Calvino settled in Turin in 1945, after a long hesitation over living there or in Milan. He often humorously belittled this choice, describing Turin as a “city that is serious but sad.” He abandoned agriculture for the Arts Faculty at university in Turin. A year later, he was initiated into the literary world by Elio Vittorini, who published his short story “Andato al comando” (“Gone to Headquarters”) in Il Politecnico, a Turin-based weekly magazine associated with the university. The horror of the war had not only provided the raw material for his literary ambitions but deepened his commitment to the communist cause. Viewing civilian life as a continuation of the partisan struggle, he confirmed his membership of the Italian Communist Party (ICP). On reading Lenin’s State and Revolution, he plunged into post-war political life, associating himself chiefly with the worker’s movement in Turin.

In 1947, he graduated with a Master’s thesis on Joseph Conrad, wrote short stories in his spare time, and landed a job in the publicity department at the Einaudi publishing house run by Giulio Einaudi. Although brief, his stint put him in regular contact with Cesare Pavese, Natalia Ginzburg, Norberto Bobbio, and many other left-wing intellectuals and writers. He then left Einaudi to work as a journalist for the official Communist daily, L’Unità, and the new communist political magazine, Rinascita. During this period, Pavese and poet Alfonso Gatto were Calvino’s closest friends and mentors.

His first novel, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (The Path to the Nest of Spiders) won the Premio Riccione on publication in 1947. With sales topping 5000 copies, a surprise success in postwar Italy, the novel inaugurated Calvino’s neorealist period. Ultimo viene il corvo (The Crow Comes Last), a collection of stories based on his wartime experiences, was published to acclaim in 1949. Despite the triumph, Calvino grew increasingly worried by his inability to compose a worthy second novel. He returned to Einaudi in 1950, responsible this time for the literary volumes. He eventually became a consulting editor, a position that allowed him to hone his writing talent, discover new writers, and develop into “a reader of texts.” In late 1951 he spent two months in the Soviet Union as correspondent for l’Unità. While in Moscow, he learned of his father’s death on 25 October. The articles and correspondence he produced from this visit were published in 1952, winning the Saint-Vincent Prize for journalism.

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Over a seven-year period, Calvino wrote three realist novels, The White Schooner (1947–1949), Youth in Turin (1950–1951), and The Queen’s Necklace (1952–54), but they were not met with critical success. During the eighteen months it took to complete Youth in Turin, he made an important self-discovery: “I began doing what came most naturally to me – that is, following the memory of the things I had loved best since boyhood. Instead of making myself write the book I ought to write, the novel that was expected of me, I conjured up the book I myself would have liked to read, the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic.” The result was Il visconte dimezzato (The Cloven Viscount) composed in 30 days between July and September 1951. The protagonist, a seventeenth century viscount cut in two by a cannonball, voiced Calvino’s growing political doubts and the divisive turbulence of the Cold War. Skillfully interweaving elements of the fable and the fantasy genres, the allegorical novel launched him as a modern “fabulist.” In 1954, Giulio Einaudi commissioned his Fiabe Italiane (Italian Folktales) on the basis of the question, “Is there an Italian equivalent of the Brothers Grimm?”For two years, Calvino collated tales found in 19th century collections across Italy then translated 200 of the finest from various dialects into standard Italian.

In 1957, disillusioned by the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, Calvino left the ICP. In his letter of resignation published in L’Unità on 7 August, he explained the reason for his dissent (the violent suppression of the Hungarian uprising and the revelation of Stalin’s crimes) while confirming his “confidence in the democratic perspectives” of world Communism. He withdrew from taking an active role in politics and never joined another party. Ostracized by the ICP party leader Palmiro Togliatti and his supporters on publication of La gran bonaccia delle Antille (Becalmed in the Antilles), a satirical allegory of the party’s immobility, Calvino began writing The Baron in the Trees. Completed in three months and published in 1957, the fantasy is based on the “problem of the intellectual’s political commitment at a time of shattered illusions.” He found new outlets for his periodic writings in the journals Città aperta and Tempo presente, the magazine Passato e presente, and the weekly Italia Domani. With Vittorini in 1959, he became co-editor of Il Menabò, a cultural journal devoted to literature in the modern industrial age, a position he held until 1966.

Italo Calvino

In 1962 Calvino met Argentine translator Esther Judith Singer (“Chichita”) and married her in 1964 in Havana, during a trip in which he visited his birthplace and was introduced to Che Guevara. On 15 October 1967, a few days after Guevara’s death, Calvino wrote a tribute to him that was published in Cuba in 1968 (and in Italy thirty years later). He and his wife settled in Rome in the via Monte Brianzo where their daughter, Giovanna, was born in 1965. Once again working for Einaudi, Calvino began publishing some of his “Cosmicomics” in Il Caffè, a literary magazine.

Vittorini’s death in 1966 greatly affected Calvino. He went through what he called an “intellectual depression” which he described as an important passage in his life: “I ceased to be young. Perhaps it’s a metabolic process, something that comes with age, I’d been young for a long time, perhaps too long, suddenly I felt that I had to begin my old age, yes, old age, perhaps with the hope of prolonging it by beginning it early.”

In the fermenting atmosphere that evolved into 1968’s cultural revolution (the French May), he moved with his family to Paris in 1967, setting up home in a villa in the Square de Châtillon. He was invited by Raymond Queneau in 1968 to join the Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle) group of experimental writers where he met Roland Barthes, Georges Perec, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, all of whom influenced his later works.

Calvino had more intense contacts with the academic world, with notable experiences at the Sorbonne (with Barthes) and the University of Urbino. He read classics by Honoré de Balzac, Ludovico Ariosto, Dante, Ignacio de Loyola, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Giacomo Leopardi. Between 1972–1973 Calvino published two short stories, “The Name, the Nose” and the Oulipo-inspired “The Burning of the Abominable House” in the Italian edition of Playboy. He became a regular contributor to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, spending his summer vacations in a house constructed in Roccamare near Castiglione della Pescaia in Tuscany.

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In 1975 Calvino was made Honorary Member of the American Academy. Awarded the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1976, he visited Mexico, Japan, and the United States where he gave a series of lectures in several U.S. towns. After his mother died in 1978 at the age of 92, Calvino sold Villa Meridiana, the family home in San Remo. During the summer of 1985, Calvino prepared a series of texts on literature for the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures to be delivered at Harvard University in the fall. On 6 September he was admitted to the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, where he died during the night between 18 and 19 September of a cerebral hemorrhage. His lecture notes were published posthumously in Italian in 1988 and in English as Six Memos for the Next Millennium in 1993.

Here’s classic Calvino:

Sections in the bookstore

– Books You Haven’t Read
– Books You Needn’t Read
– Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading
– Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category of Books Read Before Being Written
– Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered
– Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First
– Books Too Expensive Now and You’ll Wait ‘Til They’re Remaindered
– Books ditto When They Come Out in Paperback
– Books You Can Borrow from Somebody
– Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too
– Books You’ve Been Planning to Read for Ages
– Books You’ve Been Hunting for Years Without Success
– Books Dealing with Something You’re Working on at the Moment
– Books You Want to Own So They’ll Be Handy Just in Case
– Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer
– Books You Need to Go with Other Books on Your Shelves
– Books That Fill You with Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
– Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time to Re-read
– Books You’ve Always Pretended to Have Read and Now It’s Time to Sit Down and Really Read Them”
(If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler)

Calvino’s home town, San Remo, is in Liguria which is famous for being the birthplace of pesto.  But this is more of a Genoese specialty than west Ligurian, where San Remo is (close to the French border).  San Remo’s most popular specialties are baked bread items, including a special kind of foccacia.  Less well known, even to tourists, are the home made dishes from local game.  Here is a dish for wild rabbit (seems suitable for Calvino).  This is very much a local dish using local ingredients – white Vermentino (Ligurian varietal), San Remo olives, and San Remo olive oil. You can manage with substitutions. You may not be able to find rabbit liver and kidneys either (in Argentina they come with a butchered rabbit).  There is also a red wine version, using red Vermentino, but it is less popular. Roast potatoes are the usual accompaniment.

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Coniglio alla sanremasca

Ingredients

1 rabbit (2 lbs/1 kilo) including the liver and kidneys
1 small white onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 large cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of rosemary  (or 1 tsp dried)
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 ½ tsp dried)
3 cups (750 ml) Vermentino (dry white wine)
2 tablespoons of black olives in brine
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Instructions:

Cut the rabbit in 12 parts.

Heat a heavy skillet over high heat and brown the rabbit in batches, without oil.

Crush the garlic cloves with the flat of a kitchen knife and removed the skin. Place them with the diced vegetables in a clay pot with the olive oil and brown them over medium high heat. Add the rabbit and continue cooking for another 10 minutes until a crust forms in the pot.

Chop all the herbs . Remove the garlic and add the herbs, white wine, liver, and kidneys , and salt to taste. Cover and cook over low heat , stirring occasionally.

After about 40 minutes , add pine nuts and olives, and continue to turn the meat . If the wine is all evaporated , add a little wine to moisten. Cook another 10 minutes.

Remove the liver and kidneys, chop fine and return to the pot. Reduce what remains of the wine to form a glaze.

Turn off the heat, leave to rest for 5 minutes and serve.

Serves 4