Wednesday, December 30, 2009

“La Vita è Affanno”

he title of this post is another quote from Wallis Wilde-Menozzi’s Mother Tongue. It was the favorite saying of the grandmother of the author’s husband. Translated, it means “Life is troubling.”


I finished reading Mother Tongue the other day and can now add it to my “Reading through the Lull” list. What started slowly finally captivated me with tales of loss, discussions of politics and philosophy, and descriptions of Italian history I knew nothing about.

A third of the way into the book is this passage detailing Wilde-Menozzi’s preparation to move to Italy from the States:

“What is that pile on the lawn? … There is your bed. Children’s toys. Everything that wouldn’t work on the 220 current. A stereo as big as a 1950s car. …

I couldn’t bear to sell those things or any of the rest. …

The idea of dispersal, of setting a price—a nickel, a quarter, seven-fifty—for the intimate rubbed objects, the things hidden in drawers, the use of cups and saucers, nauseated me and made me nervous. I didn’t want to see people snooping and bargaining over my things. I gave them away. The morning the Goodwill scheduled the pickup, I left the house, as if I could put a bandage on those years.”

And here she describes her connection to books (in both excerpts, the italics are hers):

“Books, whose weight has broken the backs of all your suitcases, were the main physical objects carried across. You kept most of them. They are the unavoidable Sisyphean premise to any suitcase you pack. Their numbers and variety … are an awareness that you question but cannot imagine living without. Paid for in calluses, regrets, an itinerant attitude toward any possession except those arranged in hard-won patterns of discovered orders—you never leave a place without an intense load. In honoring books, you feel you are what you contain and carry and hope to keep alive.”

In another time and place, these passages may not have resonated so deeply with me. But The Lull has heightened my awareness of loss and memory and baggage and identity. I understand not wanting to know or see what happens next to my possessions, but rather to harbor them in my imagination for all time. I have felt and paid for the weight of my books and still they hold their place in my heart.

I’m glad I waited all these years to try reading Mother Tongue again; it turned out to be just the right time.

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