Read Marcovaldo: Or the Seasons in the City by Italo Calvino Free Online
Book Title: Marcovaldo: Or the Seasons in the City|
The author of the book: Italo Calvino
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 18.83 MB
Edition: Pan Books Limited
Date of issue: February 8th 1985
ISBN 13: 9780330285612
Read full description of the books Marcovaldo: Or the Seasons in the City:Calvino has been on my radar for a long time, and I think I made a good choice in picking Marcovaldo for a first try. This is a small book, but it has a big heart. The stories are set in the poverty ridden early 1950's and follow up to the relative abundance of the 1960's. The immediate connections that spring to mind are the grand masters of Italian neo-realism: de Sica in "The Bycicle Thieves", Fellini in "Amarcord" and "Roma - Citta Apperta", Visconti in "Rocco and his Brothers" or "White Nights". Going further afield, similar explorations of the condition of the less fortunates members of society, I could mention Truffaut or Kurosawa in their contemporary films. What they share with Italo Calvino is the poetry angle, "diamonds in the rust" and all that jazz, the hope that springs eternal when you are down and the only way is up. If we take the quote by Thoreau about "the mass of men that live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them" , it becomes clear that Calvino has taken this singing responsibility upon his shoulders, as he follows his Marcovaldo in his ordinary dreams of improving his life by outsmarting the system and in his stubborn perseverence to keep trying despite countless defeats. The book could be classed as comedy, the kind that made Chaplin famous for getting us to laugh and cry at the same time at the tragic clown who walks into the sunset with his too short, patched pants and his oversized shoes.
Subtitled "Seasons in the City", this collection of 20 short stories is tied together by the protagonists and the setting: Marcovaldo is a handyman (unskilled worker) in a big city, burdened by low pay, a querulous wife and six children. His background is not explicitly given, but he must have been born somewhere in the countryside and transplanted to the concrete jungle of big city. Witness his eternal fascination with nature:
This Marcovaldo possessed an eye ill-suited to city life: billboards, traffic-lights, shop-windows, neon signs, posters, no matter how carefully devised to catch the attention, never arrested his gaze, which might have been running over the desert sands. Instead, he would never miss a leaf yellowing on a branch, a feather trapped by a roof tile; there was no horsefly on a horse's back, no worm-hole in a plank, or fig-peel squashed on the sidewalk that Marcovaldo didn't remark and ponder over, discovering the changes of season, the yearnings of his heart, and the woes of his existence.
The first story sets the tone and the format for all the rest: the alienation of living in the big city, the poverty, the sudden glimpse of an opportunity for improvement (in this case a row of mushrooms appearing in the gutters of a tramway station), the enthusiasm and the impulsive action ( To Marcovaldo the gray and wretched world surrounding him seemed suddenly generous with hidden riches; something could still be expected of life, beyond the hourly wage of his stipulated salary, with inflation index, family grant and cost-of-living allowance.), followed by the Irony of Fate when his plans are crushed by the steamroller of Reality. From free-of-charge mushrooms, to a quiet night sleeping on a park bench, trapping birds on rooftops or stealing rabbits from a hospital, bee venom or sand baths treatments for arthritic pains, excursions in search of clean air or clean fish - everything poor Marcovaldo plans turns to dust in his hands. His children are not excluded from the family curse, I especially liked the one story when his older boy runs from home to spend a summer in the mountains with a herd of cattle. For all his poverty and bad luck, Marcovaldo is not a revolutionary, he doesn't plan to overturn the social order and he doesn't rant about the general injustice of life. Mostly he is sad and tired, his dreams mostly trivial and his moments of happiness cheap and fleeting. Here's an example:
He is sitted on a bench by an avenue, near the place where he works; since his house is far away and to go there at noon costs time and tram tickets, he brings his lunch in the box, bought for the purpose, and he eats in the open air, watching the people go by, and then refreshes himself at a drinking fountain. If it's autumn and the sun is out, he chooses places where an occasional ray strikes; the shiny red leaves that fall from the trees serve him as napkins; the salami skins go to stray dogs, who are quick to become his friends; and the sparrows collect the bread crumbs, at a moment when no one is going past in the avenue.
As he eats, he thinks: "Why am I so happy to taste the flavor of my wife's cooking here, when at home, among the quarells and tears, the debts that crop up in every conversation, I can't enjoy it?"
I found it easy to identify with the main character, not only because I'm a big fan of the Italian school of cinema: I grew up in a big industrial town, playing around construction sites and unfinished appartment blocks, craving a green park or a holiday by the seaside, alternatively freezing in winter and stifling hot in summer: In every human presence Marcovaldo recognized sadly a brother, stuck like him, even in vacation time, to that oven of cooked and dusty cement, by debts, by the burden of the family, by the meagerness of his wages. . Like him, I sought refuge from reality in the magic of the silver screen : For anyone who dislikes his home and finds it inhospitable, the favorite refuge on cold evenings is the movies. . As an Easter Egg for filmgoers, Calvino inserts in one of his stories a homage to one of the most famous cuts from La Dolce Vita , making Marcovaldo hold the lights for the filming of a scene with a diva splashing in a fountain at night.
As summer follows spring and winter follows autumn and Italian economy slowly gathers steam, Marcovaldo moves from a basement room to a rooftop one, acquires a motorcycle and starts going to the movies or to the supermarkets. The tone of the stories changes slightly, to a more overt condemnation of consummerism, city alienation and inequality: billboard signs that hide the stars and keep the family from sleeping, supermarkets full of products they can't afford and yet couldn't help coveting, Christmas holidays marketed to death, free samples of shady products that they don't really need, luxury restaurants with restricted access, and so on. But through all these stories of woe and sadness, Calvino manages to find a glimpse of beauty, a lyrical touch, a good word or a kind gesture. His development as a writer was also evident as I progressed through these seasons in the city, starting with stark, elegant neo-realism and later flirting with magical realism, supra-realism, urban fables and a few closing paragraphs that are an allegorical poem of the fight between light and darkness, life and death. Simply beautiful.
I guess I'll have to read now my other two books by him that are waiting on my shelves : Cosmicomiche and If On a Winter Night a Traveller.
[edit for spelling - 2016]
Read information about the authorItalo Calvino was born in Cuba and grew up in Italy. He was a journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952-1959), the Cosmicomics collection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If On a Winter's Night a Traveler (1979).
His style is not easily classified; much of his writing has an air of the fantastic reminiscent of fairy tales (Our Ancestors, Cosmicomics), although sometimes his writing is more "realistic" and in the scenic mode of observation (Difficult Loves, for example). Some of his writing has been called postmodern, reflecting on literature and the act of reading, while some has been labeled magical realist, others fables, others simply "modern". He wrote: "My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language."
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