THE ROAD TO SAN GIOVANNI
Precious little unpublished Calvino (1923-85) remains, and this is some: five slender pieces. The richest is a memoir of Calvino's father's semitragic hump up and down a steep hillside to reach the family's estates each day, down from which he took the vegetables and fruits he grew there. The Calvinos were involved, as a living, with Ligurian floriculture; to harvest one's own food, on the other hand, was for Calvino's father a declaration of faith in utility vs. decoration. To make the daily climb was also a Dantesque renunciation of the lower precincts of existence. Calvino recounts his father's climb, and his own youthful impatience with it, with a perfect modulation of regret, imagery, and sense. As good, or nearly, is a brilliant appreciation of Fellini--in which Calvino talks about the necessity of distance in movies (he's no great fan therefore of Italian neo-realism) and the moral perfection of Fellini's illustrated-comic-book style, in which "he recuperates the monstrous into the human, into the indulgent complicity of the flesh." Pieces about taking out the garbage, a memory of a failed wartime Partisan engagement, and a set of variations upon metaphysical perspective are far weaker (and none of the quintet is especially well brought into English by Tim Parks; William Weaver's Calvino is missed). For the title piece and the one on Fellini, indispensable; the rest isn't memorable.