Il Gattopardo and me
My love for Sicily -- a place I have never been until this trip --
began at The Thirsty Mind, a coffee shop across the street from
Mount Holyoke College. My wife Indira and I were sipping cappuccino
when she noticed a book in Italian, Il Gattopardo, among the
used books for sale. She remembered reading it long ago in translation,
and I wanted something to read in Italian, because I was becoming
seriously interested in the Italian language. I bought it, of course.
After that I would take it on plane trips whenever I traveled,
and attempt to read it. At first I understood very little, but
I liked it anyway. On each re-reading of a passage -- and this went
on for years -- I understood more. A good book like Il Gattopardo
rewards re-reading, but in my case the reward for re-reading
was quite elementary: my Italian was improving, and I literally
understood new things on every new attempt.
I am ashamed to say, for instance, how long it took me to understand
fully what Concetta said to Tancredi at the little convent in Donnafugata.
The politics of the story and what the Risorgimento meant to Sicily
were things I had no notion of whatever, but gradually it came through.
I cannot sufficiently say how pleasurable and exciting it was to discover all this
so slowly. The very slowness made it exquisitely rewarding. Perhaps
the sentences I find so beautiful are quite ordinary in Italian, and
they only seem extraordinary to me because they are constructions that I am
seeing for the first time (I don't think that this is it, though). I had
thought of quoting some of my favorite sentences here, but there are
too many of them. Before I knew about the film
version of Il Gattopardo I had already imagined the childlike explorations of
Tancredi and Angelica through the enigmatic and deserted rooms of the
palazzo in cinematic terms, but even the Visconti film could not
approach -- the reality, I had almost said. And the sentence that ends this
episode could not even be hinted at in the film, the one beginning
"Quei giorni furono la preparazione a quel loro matrimonio...,"
so compressed and shocking, so ironically compassionate.
I know that Donnafugata is a real place, but not the place in the novel,
and I don't want to see the inspiration for the Donnafugata
of the novel, because it would be even less real than the film.
Let us see what else there is in Sicily!