THE GINZBURG GEOGRAPHY
Old Ones Remain
Revolution on Borgo San Constanzo
Guerra di Popolo
Winter in Abruzzo
Corso Re Umberto
These 3 Friends
Texts as cited.
All music by Jewlia Eisenberg except when cited.
O the grasshopper sings on the prongs of the rake
There are reapers that count for nothing
O the grasshopper sings on the blade of the sickle
There are rakers that count for nothing
OLD ONES REMAIN
Natalia Ginzburg, Portrait of a Friend, 1957
The city that was dear to our friend is the same as ever. There’s been some change, but nothing much: they’ve added trolleys, built some subways. There are no new movie houses. The old ones still remain with their long-ago names, names whose syllables, when repeated, reawaken our childhood and youth. We live elsewhere now, in a larger and altogether different city, and if we meet and talk about our city, it is with no regret at having left; we say we couldn’t possibly live there now. But when we return, no sooner do we cross the entrance hall of the railway station and stroll through the mist of the avenues, than we feel right at home. And the sadness the city inspires each time we return is precisely in this feeling at home and feeling at the same time that we no longer have any reason to be there. For here at home in our own city, the city where we spent our youth, few things are still alive for us—we’re greeted by a cluster of memories and shadows.
REVOLUTION IN BORGO SAN CONSTANZO
Natalia Ginzburg, All Our Yesterdays, 1952
Cenzo Rena explained to Anna that these were not among the most wretched of the villages, the truly wretched villages were further south, villages of utterly poor contadini without either schools or pharmacies or doctors. At Borgo San Constanzo there was a doctor and there was a school, but the doctor took no interest in illness and the schoolmistress took no interest in teaching, with the years they became more and more depressed and more and more cynical, allowing their work to crumble away in their hands. And so even that was a fairly wretched village so after the war there would have to be a revolution. Anna, at the mention of revolution, woke up and asked if he would allow her ti take part in the revolution with him. But to Cenzo Rena, starting a revolution meant going to the municipal office and pulling out all the old deeds crumbling in the drawers, and making the Marchesa disgorge money for improving the drainage and setting up a dispensary, with an active doctor who would not let himself crumble away. All these were things that at present seemed like a dream, because fascism was in power and fascism wanted people to let themselves crumble away. This kind of revolution did not please Anna, revolution to her meant shooting and escaping over rooftops, and she felt sad at the thought of Cenzo Rena’s dull revolution, just a few deeds thrown away and a quarrel with the old Marchesa…They were quite contented together but only like an insect and a leaf, very quiet and contented in their home, far removed from both good and evil. But what ought they to do, asked Anna, what ought they to do so as not to be outside good and evil?
Under the blazing sun, the partisan walks with a quick step and an overstuffed backpack. The partisan walks, now tired, now cheerfully with joy and ardor. March, march. The heartbeats kindle the flame, the flame of love, when you see a partisan pass by. There is no lieutenant, nor captain, no colonel, nor general: This is the march of an ideal. I would like to marry a partisan!
GUERRA DI POPOLO
Leone Ginzburg, The Volunteers of Freedom, 1943
Allied Forces radio gave the news that in Naples a corps of volunteers is forming to fight against the Germans–not under the king’s authority, but under the auspices of Benedetto Croce…The people’s war will have open agitation as its animating center; full intransigence, its revolutionary banner…This is the first nucleus of a popular Italian army not at the service of dynastic interests, nor to safeguard social privilege, but to seal, at the price of sacrifice and blood, the rebirth of a free Italy in a free Europe.
WINTER IN ABRUZZO
Natalia Ginzburg, Winter in Abruzzo, 1944
God has given us this respite. (Virgil, Eclogues) In the Abruzzi there are just two seasons: summer and winter…As the first snows began to fall, a slow sadness took hold of us. Our lot was exile: our city was far away, our books, our friends, the shifting ups and downs of a real existence, all far away. We would light our green stove with the long pipe running across the ceiling; we used to gather in the room with the stove—we cooked and ate there, my husband wrote at the big oval table and the children scattered their toys on the floor. A picture of an eagle was painted on the ceiling, and I would stare at the eagle, thinking that that was exile. Exile was the eagle, it was the humming green stove, it was the vast, silent countryside and the motionless snow…Every evening my husband and I took a walk, every evening arm in arm, our feet plunged in snow. The people on our street were all friendly and familiar, and would come to their doors to greet us: “A good evening to you.” Now and then someone would ask: “Well, when are you going back home?” My husband would say, “When the war is over.” “And when will this war be over? You’re a professor, you know everything—when will it be over?” …I took my children out every morning. People were shocked and scolded me for exposing them to the cold and snow. “What sin did these poor creatures commit?” they would say. “This is no weather for walking, Signora. Go back home.” We took long walks through the deserted white countryside, while the rare people we met up with looked pityingly at the children. “What sin did they commit?”
A little bit here and a little bit there
My mother makes dinner and feeds us
She wants me to spin but I don’t know how to spin!
My mother wants me to spin…
But on Tuesday I put on my shoes
On Wednesday I go to Berto’s
On Thursday I go out on the balcony
On Friday I take out the ashes
On Saturday I get my wages
On Sunday I wear my dress
CORSO RE UMBERTO
Natalia Ginzburg, Family Sayings, 1963
One day my father met Mario in Corso Re Umberto with a man he knew by sight, called Ginzburg.
“What is Mario up to with that man Ginzburg? What has Mario got to do with Ginzburg?” he asked my mother. Some time before she had begun to learn Russian, “so as not to get bored.” She and Frances were having lessons from Ginzburg’s sister.
“He is a very cultivated, intelligent man, who does very fine translations from Russian.”
“But he is very ugly,” said my father. “We know Jews are all ugly.”
“And what about you?” said my mother. “Aren’t you a Jew?”
“Well yes, I am ugly too,” said my father…
In those days we had a game at home which Paola had invented…consisting of dividing the people we know into animal, vegetable and mineral. Adriano was a mineral-vegetable and Paola an animal-vegetable…My father was an animal vegetable and so was my mother…There were very few vegetables in the world—people of pure imagination; probably only a few great poets had been pure vegetable. Search as we might, we could not find a single vegetable among our aquaintances. Paola said that this game was her own invention. But someone told her later that a classification of this sort had already been made by Dante in De Vulgari Eloquentia. I do not know whether this is true.
Natalia Ginzburg, Memory, 1944
Men come and go through the city’s streets
They buy food and newpapers they have their jobs to do
They have rosy faces, rich full lips
You lifted the sheet to see his face
You leaned down to kiss him in the same old way
But it was the last time. It was the same face,
Just a little more tired. And the suit was the same.
And the shoes were the same. And the hands were those
That would break the bread and pour the wine.
Today with the time moved on, you still lift the sheet
To see his face for the last time
If you walk along the street nobody is beside you
If you’re afraid, nobody takes your hand
And it isn’t your street, it isn’t your city
It isn’t your city which is all lit up; the city all lit up belongs to others,
To the men who come and go buying food and newspapers
You can look out for a while from the quiet window
And look in silence at the garden in the dark.
Then when you cried there was his calming voice
Then when you laughed there was his obliging smile
But the gate that would be opened at night will be shut forever;
And your youth is gone, the fire is out, the house is empty.
THESE THREE FRIENDS (THE FLIXIES)
Natalia Ginzburg, Family Sayings, 1963
For various reasons, these three friends lived in open opposition to society. In their eyes, society meant an easy, well-ordered bourgeois life, based on regular time-tables, recreation, and systematic pursuits arranged by the family. This was the life I led before my marriage and I enjoyed its many privileges. But I did not like it and I aspired to get out of it, so with my friends I sought out the dreariest places in the city for our meetings; the most desolate public gardens, the most squalid milk-bars, the grubbiest cinemas, abd the barest and emptiest cafes, and in the dingy gloom of these places, sitting on cold benches, we felt as though we were on a ship which had broken from its moorings and was drifting.
Natalia Ginzburg, A Place to Live, 1965; Such is Rome 1970
1. I loved the area around Piazza Quadrata because I had lived there many years back, before I met my husband or even knew he existed; the Germans ere occupying Rome and I was hiding in a convent in that neighborhood. It felt as if all the places I loved in Rome were where I had suffered and considered suicide, and walked the streets not knowing which way to turn.
2. In Rome during the war, I lived in hiding in a convent on Via Nomentana, sharing a room with an old Jewish woman from Vienna whom I made friends with. She was very kind, and when I went out she would mind my infant daughter. I had a small electric stove, and now and then this little old lady would ask if she could use it. Although I had told her many times she could use it whenever she liked, still she would announce every time she was about to use it. On cold afternoons, she would get up from the bed and say, “My dear Signora, I make myself the tea.” One might well ask how in the world this little old woman in exile, whom I haven’t seen since and who must be long dead, enters into my feelings for the city. But for me, Via Nomentana and the dark corridor of the convent and its high windows grazed by trees are inseparable from the memory of that very tiny old woman in a brown shawl, and I think I began to love Rome while seeking some kind of maternal protection in that little old woman, who in turn wanted my protection, and my stove…“My dear Signora, I make myself the tea.”
Although we are women, we are not afraid. For the sake of our children, we place ourselves in union. Lalala the union will grow! All of us socialists want freedom! Freedom doesn’t come because we are not united. The scabs with the boss—they should all be killed. Although we are women, we are not afraid. We have big mouths, and can defend ourselves well!