Tag Archives: Aldo Buzzi

Marginalia, no.218

Lichtenberg wrote of a man who “was working on a system of natural history in which he had classified the animals according to the shape of their excrement.” He singled out three categories: cylindrical, spherical, and cake-shaped.

~ Aldo Buzzi, Journey to the Land of the Flies

Rather than deciding once and for all what separates one species from another, Darwin emptied the word ‘species’ of much sense at all. A dividing-line ratio of genetic variation could be settled upon, I suppose, but if the boundaries between species are going to be arbitrary, then we might as well keep the taxonomy simple. Why burden ourselves with eight million species when we can have three instead? I can think of at least two recommendations for Lichtenberg’s friend’s scheme: by placing them in the same category it accounts for the similarities (speed, long legs, ear shape) between jackrabbits and horses; it also explains why people look so much like their dogs.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Marginalia

Marginalia, no.182

Adam’s happiness lacked only the navel of Eve.

~ Aldo Buzzi, Journey to the Land of the Flies

St. Valentinus was removed from the Catholic liturgical calendar fifty years ago because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove he had ever existed. Something similar happened to Cupid 1,600 years earlier. No one, I think, ever seriously doubted the existence of the bellybutton.

2 Comments

Filed under Marginalia

Marginalia, no.175

In 1617, the Maréchal d’Ancre, much hated by the people, was assassinated. The day after the assassination, his body was exhumed and cut in pieces by a savage crowd, which the day before had not been able to vent its hatred thoroughly. One of these “posthumous executioners” tore the heart out of the Maréchal’s chest, intending to devour it in front of everyone. But before he brought it to his mouth he had it cooked a point over a charcoal fire, and sprinkled it with aromatic vinegar.

~ Aldo Buzzi, Journey to the Land of the Flies

In Midnight Oil, the young V.S. Pritchett (then an ex-pat in Paris) is warned by a strict-minded old crone that the French “are mesmerized by sensuality” and that “their food is the cause of it – cooking in butter, the sauces, aperitifs,” etc. There’s a passage in Sentimental Education to back her up. Moreau is at a party, enjoying himself immensely, when Flaubert informs us with a wink that “the political verbiage and the good food began to dull his sense of morality.” No doubt the Maréchal’s cannibal was similarly inspired. It would make a nice dissertation topic: the shared history of political violence and barbecue.

Leave a comment

Filed under Marginalia

Marginalia, no.171

It was the hour in which authoresses dip their pens in the inkwell and the howler monkeys, moving in herds through the treetops, roar like lions.

~ Aldo Buzzi, Journey to the Land of the Flies

Now that it’s become fashionable to swap out bits from literary classics, I’d like to propose the above as an alternate opening to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Leave a comment

Filed under Marginalia

Marginalia, no.170

63. Death of Chekhov: The touching description of Chekhov’s end – reported by two of his biographers, Natalia Ginzburg (Vita Attraverso le Lettere, Torino, 1989) and Troyat (Chekhov), neither of whom provides notes on its origin – should surely be attributed to Olga Knipper, the beloved cockroach, who was the only witness, aside from Dr. Schworer, of that death.

~ Aldo Buzzi, note to ‘Chekhov in Sondrio’

Chekhov’s final words were, ‘It’s been such a long time since I drank champagne.’ He drank it, laid himself down, and died. Every death, I suppose, is witnessed by multitudes if we consider the insects and microscopic creatures in attendance. But Olga Knipper was Chekhov’s wife. According to Buzzi, terms of endearment employed by Anton in letters to Olga include: my little cockroach, my little mosquito, my little turkey, my little bug, my dear little dog, my lovely dachshund.

2 Comments

Filed under Marginalia

Notes on New Year’s Eve

The year closes with unexpected guests, unexpected gifts, and snapshots from a sixty-year-old funeral.

We found a grasshopper in the kitchen. I don’t know what usually happens to grasshoppers in winter time, whether they go into hibernation or simply die when it gets cold. I like to think that this one heard rumors of my daughter’s affection for all insects, snails and slugs, and so made a desperate trek through storm and hazard (he’s missing a leg) in hope of adoption. Which he’s now found. ‘Salty’ (from the Spanish saltamontes) is nicely set up in a little mesh insect cage on the counter, fattening on leaves of romaine and producing remarkable amounts of excrement. Really, you have no idea.

In the mail today I received a gift from Patrick Kurp of Anecdotal Evidence: a hardbound copy of Aldo Buzzi’s Journey to the Land of the Flies. I’ve been searching for this book more than a year. Mr Kurp recently mentioned picking up a copy, and I knew he’d written about it before. No wonder I can never find it, I joked, since you keep snatching up all available copies. A few days later I had an email to say that he was sending me one. ‘Merry Christmas,’ he wrote. Like a good many readers online and off, I was already in Mr Kurp’s debt. But for him and his blog, I might never have discovered Peter De Vries or L.E. Sissman or Eric Hoffer; without his encouragement, I might never have got round to reading Anthony Powell’s Music of Time or Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children. But this is the happiest sort of debt.

In The Way of the World, which I’m presently reading, Nicolas Bouvier describes an Armenian funeral in Tabriz (Iran) that he attended in the 1950s. It was December. A young Christian girl had poisoned herself for love of a Muslim Romeo. At the end of the service, after the whole congregation had filed past the deceased, the doors of the church were thrown open and the girl’s jewelry and shoes were publicly removed. Grim old women with scissors cut her dress to ribbons. This was no judgment on her suicide, but rather, according to Bouvier, “it was winter, season of dearth and grave-robbers: it was hoped that by these gestures profanation would be avoided.”

We had a wind storm the other day. The leaves that had collected on our porch and sidewalk and that still clung to the sycamores like stubborn memories of summer were caught up into the air (along with everything else not bolted down) and blown to God-knows-where. Next day the world out of doors was bare and clean. How right, I thought, that New Year’s should come to us in winter rather than spring. Laying the year to rest in a world stripped of  adornments, we’re better taught, I think, that sentimentality only steals from the past, that only empty hands are open to receive new gifts.

3 Comments

Filed under Misc.