"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 132
You might have noticed that last meeting ended with some confusion over whether or not we had a proper English translation of Italo Calvino's retelling of Naso d'Argento. Well, we did. What we didn't have was the original Italian text. (!!!) And so this meeting begins with an apology. To Bat and anyone else who read the story at the link, I'm sorry, but it wasn't another dip into Calvino, but another sort of language exercise. =( The elusive text itself is available online, but not for reading. If you like, you can listen to it on YouTube.
For those who are more skilled at mining the Internet than I am and who would like to try finding a written copy anyway, the text you are looking for should begin this way:
C'era una lavandaia che era rimasta vedova con tre figliole. S'ingegnavano tutte quattro a lavar roba piu che potevano, ma pativano la fame lo stesso. Un giorno la figlia maggiore disse alla madre: "Dovessi anche andare a servire il Diavolo, voglio andarmene via di casa."
"Non dire cosi figlia mia," fece la madre. "Non sai cosa ti puo succedere."
Non passarono molti giorni e a casa loro si presentò un sigmore vestito di nero, tutto compito, e con il naso d'argento.
Now, isn't that better? I had wondered why the text I was studying was so much harder than last week's L'Amore delle tre melagrane, and before I realised my mistake, I decided it had to do with all those verbs in the subjunctive tense. Having figured things out, I have a new hypothesis, which is that style matters. Calvino just wrote better. Even if your Italian is as bad as mine, those paragraphs trip off the tongue.
This example of his writing includes another significant change from his source story. The original had three bouquets; his version has three very specific flowers. And since they're important to the story, I've made them important to this post.
Le pose tra i capelli una rosa
Naso d'Argento is the Italian version of the more famous French faerie tale Blaubart. (And my languages collide again.) Don't they make fascinating separated-at-birth identical twins? Blaubart, the bloodthirsty serial husband, is merely a foreigner who fools the girl and her family into thinking he is one of them; but Naso d'Argento is actually the devil . . . who, come to think of it, is also a foreigner who wants to fool us into thinking that his home wouldn't be a bad place to live. But while Blaubart had to woo his reluctant bride through extravagant "dates," Naso d'Argento simply takes advantage of one girl's remark that she'd rather serve the devil than keep working as a laundress. Both stories have worthwhile morals, but the second definitely carries more weight.
Another similarity is that there is something immediately off-putting about the two villains: a beard that is an unnatural colour and a clearly unnatural nose. I'm reminded of Father Malachi Martin bringing up the Irish warning that you can always tell the devil by his feet: he cannot hide his cloven hooves. Perhaps the closest thing in Filipino folklore is the way to identify an aswang when it is in its human form: you will see that your reflection in its eyes is upside-down. Good luck to anyone who gets that close! =P
Le mise tra i capelli una garofano
In Blaubart, the wife's disobedience is revealed by the blood on the key that she was ordered never to use--a plot point that has brought out many a reader's inner Sigmund Freud. In Naso d'Argento, the first two sisters are outed by the flowers they hadn't even known were in their hair. I vastly prefer the Italian version. The withering of something that was once fresh and beautiful reminds us that virtue can be very delicate.
It's also interesting that all three sisters disobey Naso d'Argento, but he can act only against the first two because so much hinges on the flowers.
Even the reader's ability to get the most out of this story hinges on these blooms, as I saw only when I decided to accent this post with images of a rosa, a garofano, and a gelsomino. Now, I knew all along that roses are often red and might have also remembered that jasmine is white . . . but I couldn't have told you that carnations are usually pink. Which made me think of the following humbling graphic that you may also have seen on your social media haunt of choice . . .
Perhaps one day someone will write a Fiabe Moderne, in which brands get to have the mythic value that we've mentally assigned them.
Anche a lei mentr'era addornamentata mise un fiore nei capelli: un fior de gelsomino
We see why Calvino chose the flowers he did, but what is the logic that guides Naso d'Argento in making the same choices in the story? Is there something in the reckless character of the first sister that suggested a bold red rose to him? And something in the third sister's concern for her two older siblings that moved him to give her a pure white jasmine? Perhaps, but this implies that the second sister gets a pink carnation just because she comes between the other two. If the insult against the proverbial "middle child" weren't bad enough, there's also a plot hole to contend with: Naso d'Argento wouldn't have known that the third sister would turn out to be so virtuous, so how could he have anticipated the white with some pink?
I was loving everything about this story until the third sister put her plan into action. For if Naso d'Argento truly is the devil, then you really shouldn't try to outwit him. Isn't this the very mistake the first two sisters make? I'm just being consistent here, but I'm likely also being too literal. Inspired by a Twitter friend who suggested that Aesop's fable of the crow and the pitcher can be an allegory for the rosary, I've tried to find a pious practice in the three supposed bags of laundry. The Three Hail Marys, perhaps? . . . Okay, probably not . . . The sacrament of Confession, by which the prodigal daughters return to Holy Mother Church and are washed clean--the number three being both merely what the plot demands and an allusion to the Holy Trinity? . . . Yeah, I think I'll stick with that for now. =)
Totally Optional Discussion Questions for Naso d'Argento:
1. If you wrote your own version of this story, which body part would serve as your main giveaway that something is not right about its owner?
2. How do you think Naso d'Argento chose flowers for each of the sisters?
3. Do you see a moral or applicable takeaway in the third sister's escape plan? If so, do share!
Our next story is Principe Granchio. This time, I am very sure that I have found Calvino's own retelling. (If I haven't, please correct me as soon as possible!) I have no idea who translated the available English version, but I've checked random paragraphs in the former text against their counterparts in the latter and find that they fulfill the important condition of matching.
Image Sources: a) Naso d'Argento, b) Rose, c) Carnation, d) Brands vs. Plants, e) Jasmine