Da costa a costa

Sorry, at the moment there are only these few pages, translateds by Alastair McEwen. For the States He also translated “History of Beauty” and “Kant and the Platypus: Essays on on Language and Cognition” by Umberto Eco, “Land of Glass” and “Ocean Sea” by Alessandro Baricco, “The Force of the Past” by Sandro Veronesi, “Senior Service” by Carlo Feltrinelli and “It’s Getting Later All the Time” by Antonio Tabucchi.

If you want to know more about the italian edition, click here.

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Laughing is good for our health

Laughing is good for our health

Lorenzo Bracco and Dario Voltolini




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© copyright Lorenzo Bracco and Dario Voltolini

All rights reserved to the authors. No part of this book shall be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording or otherwise without the authors’ permission.

Translated by Alastair McEwen



L and D are hanging on to the funnel, which is the highest point of the ship, in emergency mode, lifejackets on, whistles, electric torches and, for L, a crutch as well. All the open decks are full of people. From the mainland, Ottavia Piccolo is talking to them over the mobile telephone – even though there is no real need because L has a metallic voice easily borne by the breeze – asking “why are you the only ones wearing lifejackets?” The pair feel like two kids caught with their fingers in the cookie jar.

“It’s simple, we’ve just finished emergency drill”.

Let’s take a step backwards to understand what led our heroes to hang on to the funnel on this sea voyage from Venice to Livorno, from coast to coast, that’s to say from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian.

     Flash back

One night L was suffering from insomnia and set to navigating with his iPad, something you shouldn’t do if you’re not prepared to encounter the unknown. The iPad is a strange, incredible instrument; you want to see one thing and another pops up, as in fairy tales when, thanks to the magic wand, something appears in a twinkling.

Just so, on the iPad, after a sparkle, suddenly, who knows why, he came across an offer for incredibly cheap cruises. For less than four hundred euro it was possible to travel for eight days, seven nights, from coast to coast, from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian, no less, thousands of nautical miles, just like Ulysses. His curiosity aroused, L visited the shipping company’s site and discovered that the vessel was a luxury craft, calculated to satisfy all requirements, from gluten-free food to a gym, which was really important for L because of a demanding problem he had with his leg. L’s wife, saint that she is, had to work in that period and could not get time off; what’s more she suffered from seasickness and, enthusiastically, she told L “it’ll certainly do you a lot of good, you’ll have fun and it’ll be an excellent way for you to lick your wounds. Why don’t you go with D? It would do him good, too”.

D has already been in therapy with L for a certain time and the path they have taken together has been considerable in terms of interest and development.

D, too, has his wounds to lick.

He is a youthful fifty-three-year-old with greying hair and a paunch that gets bigger or smaller, depending on circumstances. His appearance, and not only that, changes according to the context in which he finds himself; he is a mirror that reflects people’s own real expectations; saints when saints are expected, drunks when drunks are expected, and so on.

Upon closer examination, he would be a reason for development for everyone, because thanks to the sublime art of his chameleonic talents he makes everybody see the expectation that until then they had concealed from themselves. His commitment to identification is such that D needs a certain time to come out of one face-to-face context and enter another but, as we know, even great psychoanalysts need a break between one session and another. For our man this commitment becomes an enormous effort when the situation is created by several people at the same time, people whose existential profiles are different or even in direct conflict among themselves, among which D risks getting caught in the middle. Here D changes into a superlative chess player, no less, who skips from one board to the next playing up to twenty-five chess matches simultaneously. But the results are not always exceptional, above all on the level of private life and, moreover, amid all this effort D wonders where his own life lies.

That said, we might say that D is kind, with nice looks and nice hopes, too. On the other hand why not hope for nice things? Have you ever met anyone who hopes to fail, to be ill, to be without friends, and so on? Like all of us, his behaviour is not necessarily perfectly in accordance with the realization of these hopeful hopes, but this too is perfectly normal.

D has a problem with cow’s milk and dairy products. If he eats them he gives off the smell of dead rat, especially from his mouth and, as usually happens, the person in question is unaware of this, and hence D is too. Initially, instead of solving the problem by not eating the incriminated dairy products anymore, an initially that lasted years, D had solved it in an apparently astute manner by surrounding himself with anosmatic persons, in other words people totally devoid of a sense of smell, so that nobody would say anything to him.

Finally, D understood the importance of nutrition for him and stopped eating dairy products made from cow’s milk. He took his time getting that far, certainly because occasionally he would come home and eat whatever he found in his refrigerator, which held the most bizarre things, dairy products included, thus inviting the question as to who had done the shopping.

“Do you have a home help from Uzbekistan who doesn’t speak Italian?”

“No, why?”

“So who does the shopping in your house?”

“I do, why?”

The time had been necessary because the part of D who did not want to eat dairy communicated to the part of D who was going to do the shopping not to buy them anymore, on account of which the fridge was full of them. But, as we know, problems of communication need time before they can be solved.

Now D is absolutely rigorous about abstaining from milk and cow’s milk derivatives, and so far so good. The problem is that recently, a bit at a time, but increasingly, his breath – compared to that caused by cheese – would make a cat laugh. As it is logical for all of us not to smell our own odour, he doesn’t smell it either. L advised him to go to a dental hygienist, which D did, but to no avail. Then L began to insist that D had a gastroscopy. For a long time the reply was always the same, firm and resolute “Certainly, I’ll do it tomorrow”. Until L, having to undergo a gastroscopy himself, said to D “My wife’s busy tomorrow, do you want to come with me?” D, who is a kind and understanding soul, immediately said yes. Then L said that as they were both going it would be a good thing if they both went with a medical authorization for a gastroscopy. Perhaps D wondered why he had to do this, too, but he procured one anyway.

Once they got there, both of them signed the consent form. L underwent the gastroscopy but the tube did not go exactly smoothly down his throat and, to judge by his words, he was going to die of suffocation and then the surgeon said to D “It’s your turn now”. Swallowing noisily, as if he had to get down a large toad, D agreed. L commented “Well, well, there wasn’t even the need for four of you to hold him in order to get that tube down”.

Trembling, D stretched out on the trolley with eyes gaping so much they seemed to be popping out of their sockets. Perhaps he remembered when, as a child, they had taken his tonsils out and so he opened his mouth like a hippopotamus and swallowed mightily, and consequently the instrument went down well, not as it had done in L’s case.

Surprise! They found Barrett’s oesophagus, something classified as pre-cancerous. Then, having been a heavy smoker whose breath also smelled bad, L advised him to have a spiral chest CT scan done by a well-known radiologist in the city. Luckily, they didn’t find anything tumoural but, on the right side of the trachea, they did find reactive lymph nodes measuring fifteen centimetres. Reactive to what? He hadn’t had either bronchitis or pneumonia, and so the hypothesis began to gain ground that he had small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, in other words bacteria from the innermost parts of the intestine were spreading through the abdomen and the oesophagus to the point that they caused a reaction in the lymph nodes near the trachea.

A nice dose of antibiotics and he didn’t stink anymore. But he was tired, physically and morally, he had sent out signals for help; for example, he resorted to extreme strategies in order to alarm – with his state of health – a person he had known for thirty years by not even going to a football match to which the other had invited him. And so the bracing air of the open sea, a bit of healthy nutrition and work in the gym allied to medical treatment, both chemical and natural, which he was doing across the board, as well as a break from his tangle of human commitments in competition among themselves, would certainly have been suitable, and an aid to getting back in touch, at least momentarily, with his own vital impulses.

So it was that L and D, chancing to pass by a travel agency, found themselves signed up for a cruise in a cabin with a sea view. The ways of destiny, as we know, are infinite. At this point D writes an e-mail to the shipping company to convince them that the second most serious thing after shipwreck is to give gluten to someone who has to eat gluten-free foods. In reality, our two heroes were to realize that attention to a gluten-free diet on board is perfect and total and there is really no need for L to worry about this. Even L’s wife, saint that she is, was very concerned about her husband’s gluten-free diet before the departure and about how he, once isolated on a ship, would have managed any gluten crisis, given that there was no chance, as there would be anywhere else, of going out to buy, at worst, a tin of sardines in the corner shop. In fact, she is well aware of how, in unclear situations of this kind, her husband may rightly leave with a series of questions aimed at understanding whether he can trust a certain foodstuff or not. For example, rice is gluten free, but isn’t there a risk that it may been stirred with the same spoon used to stir the spaghetti, a food full of gluten? This would be enough to contaminate the rice, too. In case of doubt, L’s questions are many and steadily more detailed in order to get to the point, namely to define whether there is a risk of gluten contamination, interspersed with precautionary complaints about the ills that would strike him in the event of contamination, which could be authentic health emergencies.

Jokingly, and not only for that reason, L’s wife says he is humanity’s new representative of Homo Sapiens Lagnosus, or Complaining Homo Sapiens. The discourse becomes anthropological and to understand it you need to take a moment to go into paleoanthropology, the study of the origin of Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

In a very distant period, between two hundred thousand and three hundred thousand years ago, the Earth was inhabited by Neanderthal man. He is called Neanderthal because the first bone finds were made in the Neander valley, in Germany, in August 1856. This man walked erect and had a markedly prominent supraorbital brow ridge, useful for protecting the eyes from blows, and the light, too, small cheekbones, and accentuated maxillary prognathism with a slightly receding chin. His brow was low, but the cranium was very elongated and, parbleu!, the cerebral volume was 1,500 cubic centimetres, that’s to say ten percent bigger than ours. It makes you wonder what he did with all that brain; maybe he used it for thinking, to generate thoughts in a pure state and precisely because they were in a pure state, they left no material evidence and so the scientists did not confer upon him the dignity of Homo Sapiens, which was instantly granted to Cro-Magnon man, from whom we ourselves descend and whose cerebral volume is ten percent less. Cro-Magnon man is far more recent, and perhaps appeared around forty thousand years ago; in fact we have finds, for example those discovered by the French geologist Louis Lartet, which have been dated at over 30,000 years ago.

Neanderthal man – who apparently did not wish to expand like Cro-Magnon man, and in fact finds regarding him are limited to the ancient world alone – and Cro-Magnon coexisted together for a certain period, after which Neanderthal disappeared in a relatively short time, an enigma that has the scientific community wondering to this day. Was he “made redundant” because he didn’t know how to use the computer? No, because computers didn’t exist at the time. Then the scientists, upon closer examination, realized that Neanderthal man was already using fire, tools, and practiced ritual burial. So, out of the goodness of their hearts, some scientists decided to give him the title of Sapiens, and consequently Cro-Magnon, in order to be distinguished from Neanderthal, became Sapiens Sapiens. We are all descendants of Cro-Magnon man, and so we are all Sapiens Sapiens.

L, according to his wife, saint that she is, is supposedly a successive evolution of Homo Sapiens Sapiens and has thus become Homo Sapiens Lagnosus. And since today there are theories, whose credibility is gaining ground, according to which nutrition could even interfere with DNA, might eating gluten – in the case of L, whose wife has already classified him as Homo Sapiens Lagnosus – not cause him to risk a modification of his DNA and thus turn him into Homo Lagnosus Lagnosus? L’s wife is very worried that even the chance ingestion of the slightest trace of gluten might lead to a modification of L’s DNA.

D, being an eminent man of letters, lends dignity to the Complaint and says that it is a wholly respectable literary genre, and to do this he invokes nothing less than the Renaissance period, with the rediscovery of Aristotle’s Poetics in the original edition, as well as the Romantic period with Hegel’s Aesthetics. If we can distinguish literary genres in theatre, poetry and prose (and this last in the novel), romances, essays, chronicles, biographies and so on, the Complaint is something all-embracing, since it can be portrayed in theatre, or declaimed in verse, or simply recounted.


But let’s get back to L’s wounds that required licking, as his wife said to him. L is convinced that all things in life that occur can be – and it’s good that they can be experienced as such – a cause of development and experience and that all things, especially those whose existential price has been very high, can open up new perspectives from which to look at the world; but in order to get to the point where you can see them, sometimes you have to give it everything you’ve got.

In this regard there is the story of a Chinaman who had one horse and one son. One day the horse escaped and all the neighbours came to commiserate with him. “Poor thing, your only horse, what bad luck!”

“You never know, it could be bad luck or good luck.”

Two days later the horse returned with a wild mare. And all the neighbours said “What luck, now you have two horses.”

“You never know, it could be bad luck or good luck.”

The son asked for the mare and, while breaking it in, he fell and hurt his leg.

“What bad luck, your only son with a broken leg”.

“You never know, it could be bad luck or good luck.”

Couriers from the emperor came to the village and took away all the young men able to bear arms for one of those wars that lasted for centuries, all except the young man with a broken leg. And the tale goes on and on and on…

It’s probably a coincidence, but L has his own story about a leg.

Some time ago, when he was on holiday at the seaside, one evening, on returning from a dinner with friends, he stumbled on a stone step and fell, barking his left leg right on the shin. More than an injury it was a graze, nothing serious, only the place where he fell was very dusty and a bit evil smelling. Back in his room he realized that he had no disinfectant and it was so late that even his friend the pharmacist was closed, and so he washed the graze with soap and water and went to bed. The following morning, with no worries, he had a swim in the sea and then he got ready to leave and go back home as the holiday was over. During the night he awoke as if from a nightmare saying “my leg is infected!” and, shrewdly, he took an antibiotic right away.

Despite this, the graze became a wound that seemed to have no intention of healing. He went to have himself examined at the plastic surgery hospital and there they began to scrape the wound, medicate it, and sprinkle a power over it twice a week. It had already been going on for a month and a half without a hint of improvement when a turning point came thanks to a dinner.

In Italy everyone has an MMG, maybe even the President of the Republic, but what is an MMG? An old-style English sports car? The rental of multimedia equipment? Or is it an acronym for Medium Machine Gun? None of all these, but much better: MMG stands for Medico di Medicina Generale, the family doctor who looks after you and takes care of you in every one of life’s difficulties, the general practitioner every Italian has chosen freely. Free choice depends on everyone’s own way of choosing: some do this on the basis of a precise assessment, some on the advice of a wife, mother, or another relative or friend, others choose at random from a list, and so on…

Anyway, all Italians have a general practitioner freely chosen by themselves, of whom they are very fond, with their own way of showing and expressing affection and who listen with the aptitude for listening they are capable of. The quality of listening confers quality on the response, and this was also known to the ancients when they went to hear what the oracle had to say.

L’s lunch was with his own GP; they have a warm friendship and as soon as they possibly can they have lunch together. The friend in question is more than a hearty eater, he is not fat and one wonders how he can stay that way with what he eats, and he doesn’t seem to realize his good luck. Once, for example, in the presence of another colleague who, a soul in torment, was on a desperate diet aimed at getting down from the 130 kilos he had arrived at, L’s friend was calmly eating a lovely bread roll abundantly filled with bacon that he would avidly suck when the meat, at every bite of the roll, would unravel into long spirals and he didn’t realize that when the poor soul on the draconian diet saw this he literally risked drowning in an attempt to swallow all that water in his mouth.

It’s always a pleasure for L to eat with his friend. Between one mouthful and the next, in their amiable conversation, at a certain point L seriously asked his friend to advise him as a doctor what to do about his leg, and here his friend was invested in his role as L’s doctor. Investiture, and the ancients knew this, too, is a very important matter and confers full powers on the person, ensuring that his words can be inspired by something that transcends human understanding. Here his friend, becoming serious, said “I would go for a full-dosage cure of antibiotic injections…” For the sake of correctness we shall not give the name of this antibiotic, but in terms of its power to wipe out bacteria it falls short only of the atomic bomb. L took the cure and in two weeks his wound healed.

Two months to think about the wound, then L had two tranquil weeks in which he even took a few swims in the sea before the leg problem cropped up again.

L had got into the habit of going to book fairs, at first for a book he had written. Book fairs are an incredible world for those who have never seen one and go well beyond the collective imagination. There are some, in fact, who on thinking about books imagine a fine English-style library in polished mahogany with a vague smell of paper and in which you’re afraid you might make too much noise if you take notes with a pencil whose lead is too hard. There are some who remember invigorating struggles in the school library, where you always find another person vying for the same adventure story, the only book amid a plethora of deadly dull manuals, until, when you fail to get it on loan because your adversary was too strong, or when you win it after a bitter struggle but are unable to enjoy it out of a sense of duty to put it up for grabs again, you ask for it as a Christmas present. There are also some who recall the atmosphere of warm intimacy in reading books under a beach umbrella at the seaside or in the mountains in the shade of a pine tree. Well, L had all these notions and many others again when, for the first time, he opened the door of a book fair.

Whatever the book fair in question, you come to understand a line from Dante: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, because the description is that of a hell-pit, but from which circle it is not known. An incredible number of vociferous people moving in all directions, piles of books already dangerous in themselves, never mind in a seismic zone; right, how do they handle this in Japanese book fairs? What a dilemma! Could it be that they lay out all the books flat on the floor and then walk over them? Or do they have piles of empty books , where the volumes are glued together, as in the shift from the dry-stone walls of Sardinian nuraghs to walls in which the stones are stuck together with cement? The first time L opened that door he was seized by a feeling of alarm and literally felt he was drowning, suffocating in the midst of all this.

When L questioned him about this, D, who is an eminent man of letters whose personal involvement is hoped for by all book fair organizers, said that he had a purely physical reaction before so many millions of books on show: his hands swell until they hurt and he can’t bend his fingers. Why this physical reaction? Perhaps it is that of a healthy worker: a worker faced with all that work feels his hands swelling; what’s more books are written with the hands and not the feet. D is very empathic and to him his hands feel like those of a dishwasher who has just finished washing three railway wagons full of dirty dishes.

But L, on closer observation, as when, from looking at the ant hill as a whole, you move on to observe every single ant, realized that that bedlam was also pullulating with life. For example, at the junction of two aisles among the stands, corridors in which rivers of people simultaneously passed and collided, thereby creating eddies, once, right on the confluence of these two floods of people, a woman dressed in odd clothes sat on a small chair with a karaoke loudspeaker in her arms, because if not some passing elephant might have tripped over it and broken it, as she sang some pseudo-Oriental dirges. Had she brought everything from home and sat down there, or was she part of some stand involved in an organized event?

Another thing worthy of note, but one that requires a great deal of attention to be noted, is that the place is swarming with simultaneous conferences. To notice this, sight has to be used rather than hearing because the background noise in the surroundings is such that every person of sound mind tends to switch off their auditory sense. Inside many stands there are people sitting down wearing stunned expressions, all staring in the same direction and one person standing up nervously and moving about with a microphone in hand. Then, by moving your head from one side to the other the way donkeys do with their ears, perhaps you may catch a few of the speaker’s words as he tries, with the volume amplified to around 3.5 million decibels, to drown out the background noise in the room, whose intensity goes beyond the assessment capacity of all known seismographs. And this is where you realize the reason for the apparently stunned looks: they are attempts to lip read, something that befits a book fair aimed at encouraging reading.

Some stands, those with a little extra compared to the others, have tried to shield their own virtual conference room with a kind of screen to serve as a barrier to noise, which no longer strikes directly but, like a wave, sweeps over the dyke to crash down on those below. This is interspersed with sales of sandwiches, wraps, and hot dogs in which perhaps you can choose between ketchup and mustard or whether to have them wrapped in a sonnet by Petrarch or page ripped out of Kerouac. Not to mention the vernissages organized by the publishing houses, in which the fundamental element is represented by people elbowing one another to get to the buffet only to scatter crumbs on the books while talking over one another.

Amid all this bedlam what amused L the most was the part devoted to music. He was already well aware that today most pianos and organs are electronic and make no sound if not connected to a loudspeaker. He was already well aware of the existence of the Theremin, the oldest electronic musical instrument, invented in 1919 by the Soviet physicist Theremin, which would produce music, from the human voice to the violin, without touching it, but by using a simple movement of the hands, vertically for the frequency of the sound and horizontally for the amplitude. But even this instrument is soundless without a loudspeaker. L, however, did not know that there also exist electronic drum sets. To see a man, dripping with sweat, with earphones on, ecstatic and deafened by the music he produces, thumping furiously on the most ear-splitting drums in existence without making any sound, was a source of compete hilarity for L. He misses no chance at every book show to beat out the wildest rock on the electronic drums without making the slightest sound beyond himself and the drum set, and he imagines an entire orchestra complete with lots of singers belting out the aria from Aida, “Se quel guerriero io fossi” at full volume in total silence. Maybe goldfish do this, too.

Goldfish are very likeable and would deserve greater observation on L’s part.

L had found a very cheap last-minute flight for the Buchmesse, the Frankfurt Book Fair, where he had already been on other occasions, and there the show is certainly worth the effort, all you need do is think that there are even buses available to go from one part to another inside the event.

In making this journey L made a mistake: not listening to the advice of his wife, saint that she is. Wives are specialized in giving advice to husbands, who, one doesn’t know why, perhaps out of sheer contrariness, tend not to follow it, only to realize, alas poor things, when it’s too late, that they were right. The wives, that is, not the husbands.

L’s wife had been in the shoe business for many years; it had been her father’s trade before her, and she’s a native of a small town on a hilltop in the Marche, Monte San Giusto, where everybody made shoes. During the last millennium, L had gone there on a visit with her: it’s a pleasant town with a Renaissance palazzo and an altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto on the main altar of the church of Santa Maria in Telusiano. The locals are very hospitable and their cuisine is proverbially, absolutely “light”, sausages, vincisgrassi, a kind of local lasagne, trifle with sweet alchermes liqueur, etcetera, perfect for maintaining an exceptional ideal weight. L, who is rather portly, was considered by everyone there to be a little “undernourished” and couldn’t believe his luck as he immediately fell into line with the new standards, eating and drinking to his heart’s content.

At that time, village life still went according to tradition; in the mornings all the streets resounded with the “tap tap” of little hammers driving nails into the hides to form the uppers of the shoes; at noon all you could hear was the “yum yum” of lunch; then the “zzz zzz” of the siesta; and then “tap tap” again until evening. In short, all of this would make one think that in L’s wife’s DNA one of the genes was of the high resonance shoemaking variety; on the other hand it’s well known that the finest shoes are made in Italy.

Yet, despite these preliminaries, L was foolhardy enough to say “Oh, yes, yes, you’re right” and then carried on as before without listening to her. The advice in question concerned L’s shoes.

L had bought himself a pair of shoes conceived not only to increase energy consumption, not of petrol but of the calories burnt by the wearer, but also to stimulate healthy gymnastics for the legs and the lumbar muscles. These shoes have an unstable equilibrium, which augments the movements of the muscles as you try to keep your balance.

To make things clearer, they are those shoes we have all seen in TV adverts. Their soles, from the toe to the heel, are not level, but look a little like a half moon, or that part of a rocking chair that touches the floor. Undoubtedly they can be useful at home or in the office, to make the few steps we take in everyday life a little more gymnastic. They are expressly not recommended for walking in the mountains or in difficult terrain, where you need all the balance you can get and not a shoe whose equilibrium is unstable.

Rightly, L’s wife had advised him not to go off on a journey with these shoes, because travelling can notoriously involve unforeseen circumstances, for example highly irregular terrain, even in a big modern city and, apart from that “on this trip you will already be walking a lot and so it’s unadvisable to tire yourself even more”.

Having replied “Yes, yes, you’re right”, L, foolish as you like, left for Frankfurt wearing those shoes.

At the Buchmesse he got drunk on books and then, having gone out, he dropped in on a therapist friend in Lieges, in Belgium. Yes, because thanks to the high velocity trains, Frankfurt and Lieges are little more than a stone’s throw away.

Here he tripped and fell.

Things that happen even to thoroughbred horses that by no accident often have their ankles bound up before a race. The only thing was that L’s ankles were not bound up, and so he sprained his right ankle, suffered a nasty fracture of the left ankle and leg and tumbled face down, like someone diving off a trampoline. Nonetheless his reflexes were quick enough to let him turn his face, thus avoiding damaging that, too. The pain on his left hand side filled all of L’s capacity to perceive pain and overflowed into other feelings, such as a nausea that immediately began to spread through his entire body.

L turned to take a look and saw the sole of his own foot looking him in the face and thought “My God, my foot’s come off, I’d better take it and put it in my pocket before some dog runs off with it, and this way I’ll have them stick it back on in hospital”. He began to pull on his foot with one hand, but he realized that it was still attached to his leg. To a kind lady who was passing by, who had bent over to ask him how he felt, he said “Terrible thanks, would you please call an ambulance”.

The place was very crowded, because at that time of year in Lieges there is a kind of local fair with lots of stands and roundabouts, and in no time at all a group of policemen on duty cordoned him off to protect him from the crowd of passers-by until the ambulance arrived. It arrived and one of the paramedics, despite L’s protests, decided to try to straighten his foot, causing L unspeakable pain.

Once in the hospital, L was joined by a friend he had called on the telephone. After the X-ray the matter proved to be far more complicated than foreseen, because not only had he broken the internal malleolus, but he had also torn the ligament that joins the tibia to the fibula near the ankle and between the two bones you could see a big gap, like the leaves of an artichoke that have opened up too much. Just above the torn ligament, the fibula had snapped like a bread stick. Apart from all this, the foot was completely dislocated . They stuffed L full of morphine in order to reset the ankle and heroically L’s friend translated, for L too, the impulse they both felt: he took to his heels.

Two strong doctors tried to pull L’s foot, but the fact is that, together with the foot, L came too. So they strapped L tightly to the surgical trolley so that this would not happen again, then they set to pulling the foot with all their might, working up a terrific sweat and bracing their feet against the trolley so that it wouldn’t move either.

L was sweating, too.

In the end the foot returned more or less to its correct place, but it was necessary to put in a few little screws and a plate to keep the malleoli in place plus a couple of screws to bring the tibia and the fibula together, but the orthopaedic surgeon would see to that the next day. And they carried on pumping L full of morphine, like a cream puff. The fact is that the following day L felt really ill, you could have used his belly as a drum but not the electronic variety, he was itching like a chimpanzee infested with fleas and his body was covered with spots. Simple. He was allergic to morphine.

Here we must briefly interrupt the account of L’s story, in order to give D, who is very empathic, some to time to have a scratch, because for the time being he has neither hands nor fingers to devote to the computer keyboard.

Conclusion. Treatment with morphine was suspended and the orthopaedic surgeon examined L. In the meantime, L’s friend had thought that perhaps it might have been better for L to go to a renowned clinic and not to remain in the local hospital. And so, that afternoon L was transferred by ambulance to a clinic where, who knows why, the gluten emergency was not foreseen. Eating was the least of L’s worries, because you can always survive on bananas like monkeys. The trouble is that gluten can be present not only in foodstuffs, but also in the excipients of loads of medicines taken orally, whereas these are absent in all medications given by injection. L had his work cut out to explain that only medication via injection was required, because it was better not to risk oral medication if there was no certainty that the excipients did not contain gluten. That would have been all he needed!

Sorry, at the moment there are only these few pages, translateds by Alastair McEwen. For the States He also translated “History of Beauty” and “Kant and the Platypus: Essays on on Language and Cognition” by Umberto Eco, “Land of Glass” and “Ocean Sea” by Alessandro Baricco, “The Force of the Past” by Sandro Veronesi, “Senior Service” by Carlo Feltrinelli and “It’s Getting Later All the Time” by Antonio Tabucchi.

If you want to know more about the italian edition, click here.