Review: The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo CalvinoItalo Calvino’s brilliant, ludic stories show a writer far ahead of his time, says Ursula K Le. Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino Translated from Italian by William Weaver First published in Translation first published in Contents The Distance of the. At the end of this past September, I happened to find myself in Salerno on the Amalfi coast of Italy. (This is the kind of sentence I’ve waited half a.
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Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. Darwin, the Moon was very close to the Earth.
Then the tides gradually pushed her far away: How well I know! We had her on top of us all the time, that enormous Moon: But the whole business of the Moon’s phases worked in a different way then: Oh, elliptical, of course: The tides, when the Moon swung closer, rose so high nobody could hold them back. Climb up on the Moon? Of course we did. All you had to do was row out to it in a boat and, when you were underneath, prop a ladder against her and scramble up.
The spot where the Moon was lowest, as she went by, was off the Zinc Cliffs. We used to go out with those little rowboats they had in those days, round and flat, made of cork.
They held quite a few of us: On those nights the water was very calm, so silvery it looked like mercury, and the fish in it, violet-colored, unable to resist the Moon’s attraction, cos,icomics to the ca,vino, all of them, and so did the octopuses and the saffron medusas. There was always a flight of tiny creatures — little crabs, squid, and even some weeds, light and filmy, and cosmiocmics plants — that broke from the sea and ended up on the Moon, hanging down from that lime-white ceiling, or else they stayed in midair, a phosphorescent swarm we had to drive off, waving banana leaves at them.
This is how we did the job: The man at the top of the ladder, as the boat approached the Moon, would become scared and start shouting: I’m going to bang my head! It may be different now, but then the Moon, or rather the bottom, the underbelly of the Moon, the part that passed closest to the Earth and almost scraped it, was covered with a crust of sharp scales.
Review: The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino | Books | The Guardian
It had come to resemble the belly of a fish, and the smell too, as I recall, if not downright fishy, was faintly similar, like smoked salmon. In reality, from the top of the ladder, standing erect on the last rung, you could just touch the Moon if you held your arms up. We had taken the measurements carefully we didn’t yet suspect that she was moving away from us ; the only thing you had to be very careful about was where you put your hands.
I always chose a scale that seemed fast we climbed up in groups of five or six at a timethen I would cling first with one hand, then with both, and immediately I would feel ladder and boat drifting away from below me, and the motion of the Moon would tear me from the Earth’s attraction. Yes, the Moon was so strong that she pulled you up; you realized this the moment you passed from one to the other: Seen from the Earth, you looked as if you were hanging there with your head down, but for you, it was the normal position, and the only odd thing was that when you raised your eyes you saw the sea above you, glistening, with the boat and the others upside down, hanging like a bunch of grapes from the vine.
My cousin, the Deaf One, showed a special talent for making those leaps. His clumsy hands, as soon as they touched the lunar surface he was always the first to jump up from the laddersuddenly became deft and sensitive. They found immediately the spot where he could hoist himself up; in fact just the pressure of his palms seemed enough to make him stick to the satellite’s crust. Once I even thought I saw the Moon come toward him, as he held out his hands.
He was just as dextrous in coming back down to Earth, an operation still more difficult. For us, it consisted in jumping, as high as we could, our arms upraised seen from the Moon, that is, because seen from the Earth it looked more like a dive, or like swimming downwards, arms at our sideslike jumping up from the Earth in other words, only now we were without the ladder, because there was nothing to prop it against on the Moon.
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But instead of cqlvino with his arms out, my cousin bent toward the Moon’s surface, his head down as if for a somersault, then made a leap, pushing with his hands. From the boat we cosmicomifs him, erect in the air as if he were supporting the Moon’s enormous ball and were tossing it, striking it with his palms; then, when his legs came within reach, we managed to grab his ankles and pull him down on board.
Now, you will ask me what in the world we went up on the Moon for; I’ll explain it to you. We went to collect the milk, with a big spoon and a bucket. Moon-milk was very thick, like a kind of cream cheese. It formed in the crevices between one scale and the next, through the fermentation of various bodies and substances of terrestrial origin which had flown up from the prairies and forests and lakes, as the Moon sailed over them.
It was composed chiefly of vegetal juices, tadpoles, bitumen, lentils, honey, starch crystals, sturgeon eggs, molds, pollens, gelatinous matter, worms, resins, pepper, mineral salts, combustion residue. You had only to dip the spoon under the scales that covered the Moon’s scabby terrain, and you brought it out filled with that precious muck.
Not in the pure state, obviously; there was a lot of refuse. In the fermentation which took place as the Moon passed over the expanses of hot air above the deserts not all the bodies melted; some remained stuck in it: So this paste, after it was collected, had to be refined, filtered. But that wasn’t the difficulty: Calvinoo is how we did it: The cheese flew, and if we had thrown it hard enough, it stuck to the ceiling, I mean the surface of the sea.
Once there, it floated, and it was easy enough to pull it into the boat. In this operation, too, my deaf cousin displayed a special gift; he had strength cosnicomics a good aim; with a single, sharp throw, he could send the cheese straight into a bucket we held up to him from the boat.
As for me, I occasionally misfired; the contents of the spoon would fail to overcome the Moon’s attraction and they would fall back into my eye. I still haven’t told you everything, about the things my cousin was good at. And wherever he put his hand, the milk spurted out as if from a nanny goat’s teats. So the rest of us had only to follow him and collect with our spoons the substance that he was pressing out, first here, then there, but always as if by chance, since the Deaf One’s movements seemed to have no clear, practical sense.
There were places, for example, that he touched merely for the fun of touching them: At times my cousin pressed not only his fingers but — in a carefully gauged leap — his big toe he climbed onto the Moon barefoot and this seemed to be the height of amusement for him, if we could judge by the chirping sounds that came from his throat as he went on leaping.
The soil of the Moon was not uniformly scaly, cosmicomjcs revealed irregular bare patches of pale, slippery clay. These soft areas inspired the Deaf One to turn somersaults or to fly almost like a bird, as if he wanted to impress his whole calvkno into the Moon’s pulp.
As he ventured farther in this way, we lost sight of him at one point. On the Moon there were vast areas we had never had any reason or curiosity to explore, and that was where my cousin vanished; I had suspected that all those somersaults and nudges he indulged in before our eyes were only a preparation, a prelude to something secret meant to take place in the hidden zones.
We fell into a special mood on those nights off the Zinc Cliffs: And so we navigated, playing and singing. The Captain’s wife played the harp; she had very long arms, silvery as eels on those nights, and armpits as dark and mysterious as sea urchins; and the sound of the harp was sweet and piercing, so sweet cosmmicomics piercing it was almost unbearable, and we were forced to let out long cries, not so much to accompany the music as to protect our hearing from it Transparent medusas rose to the sea’s cosmicomucs, throbbed there a moment, then flew off, swaying toward the Moon.
Little Xlthlx amused herself by catching them in midair, though it wasn’t easy. Once, as she stretched her little arms out to catch one, she jumped up slightly and was also set free.
Thin as she was, she was an ounce or two short of the weight necessary for the Earth’s gravity to overcome the Moon’s attraction and bring her back: She took fright, cried, then laughed and started playing, catching shellfish and minnows as they flew, sticking some into her mouth and chewing them. We rowed hard, to keep up with the child: Her two wispy braids seemed to be flying on their own, outstretched toward the Moon; but all the while she kept wriggling and kicking at the air, as if she wanted to fight that influence, and her socks — she had lost her shoes in the flight — slipped off her feet and swayed, attracted by the Earth’s force.
On the ladder, we tried to grab them. The idea of eating the little animals in the air had been a good one; the more weight Xlthlx gained, the more she sank toward the Earth; in fact, since among those hovering bodies hers was the largest, mollusks and seaweeds and plankton began to gravitate about her, and soon the child was covered with siliceous little shells, chitinous carapaces, and fibers of sea plants.
And the farther she vanished into that tangle, the more she was freed of the Moon’s influence, until she grazed the surface of the water and sank into the sea. We rowed quickly, to pull her out and save her: Tender corals were wound about her head, and every time we ran the comb through her hair there was a shower of crayfish and sardines; her eyes were sealed shut by limpets clinging to the lids with their suckers; squids’ tentacles were coiled around her arms and her neck; and her little dress now seemed woven only of weeds and sponges.
We got the worst of it off her, but for weeks afterwards she went on pulling out fins and shells, and her skin, dotted with little diatoms, remained affected forever, looking — to someone who didn’t observe her carefully — as if it were faintly dusted with freckles. This should give you an idea of how the influences of Earth and Moon, practically equal, fought over the space between them.
I’ll tell you something else: Even I, big and heavy as I was: Hold on to us! This is how the story of my love for the Captain’s wife began, and my suffering.
Because it didn’t take me cosmkcomics to realize whom the lady kept looking at insistently: Vhd Vhd, and in capvino eyes I could read the thoughts that the deaf man’s familiarity with the Moon were arousing in her; and when he disappeared in his mysterious lunar explorations, I saw her become restless, as if on pins and needles, and then it was all clear to me, how Mrs.
Vhd Vhd was becoming jealous of the Moon and I was jealous of my cousin.
Her eyes were made of diamonds, Mrs. Vhd Vhd’s; they flared when she looked at the Moon, almost challengingly, as if she were saying: The one who least understood all of this was my deaf cousin. When we helped him down, pulling him — as I explained to you — by his legs, Mrs. Vhd Vhd lost all her self-control, doing everything she could to take his weight against her own body, folding her long silvery arms around him; I felt a pang in my heart the times I clung to her, her body was soft and kind, but not thrust forward, the way it was with my cousinwhile he was indifferent, still lost in his lunar bliss.
I looked at the Captain, wondering if he also noticed his wife’s behavior; but there was never a trace of any expression on that face of his, eaten by brine, marked with tarry wrinkles.
Since the Deaf One was always the last to break away from the Moon, his retum was the signal for the boats to move off. Then, with an unusually polite gesture, Vhd Vhd picked up the harp from the bottom of the boat and handed it to his wife. She was obliged to take it and play a few notes. Nothing could separate her more from the Deaf One than the sound of the harp. I took to singing in a low voice that sad song that goes: Every month, once the satellite had moved on, the Deaf One retumed to his solitary detachment from the things of the world; only the approach of the full Moon aroused him again.
That time I had arranged things so it wasn’t my tum to go up, I could stay in the boat with the Captain’s wife. But then, as soon as my cousin had climbed the ladder, Mrs. But Vhd Vhd made no objection, in fact he alrnost pushed her up the ladder bodily, exclaiming: At that moment each one’s intentions were already clear.
Certainly the Captain’s wife had for a long time been cherishing the desire to go off privately with my cousin up there or at least to prevent him from going off alone with the Moonbut probably she had a still more ambitious plan, one that would have to be carried out in agreement with the Deaf One: But perhaps my cousin, deaf as he was, hadn’t understood anything of what she had tried to explain to him, or perhaps he hadn’t even realized that he was the object of the lady’s desires.