Home wasn’t built in a day

Wednesday, 22 February, 2012

A very harsh fact of reality is that no one is indispensable. Life goes on, with or without us, and nothing illustrates this better than the experience of leaving home and then returning. Umberto Eco illustrates the point with the following story:

“At the age of twenty Salvatore leaves his native town and emigrates to Australia, where he lives as an exile for forty years. Then at sixty, having saved his money, he comes home. And as the train approaches the station Salvatore daydreams: Will he find his old friends, the comrades of the past, in the cafe of his youth? Will they recognize him? Will they make a fuss over him, ask him with eager curiosity to tell them his adventures among the kangaroos and the aboriginals. And that girl who once… And the shopkeeper on the corner… And so on.

The train pulls into the deserted station, Salvatore steps onto the platform under the blazing noonday sun. In the distance there is a hunched little man, a railway worker. Salvatore takes a better look; he recognizes that man, despite the bent shoulders, the face lined with forty years of wrinkles: why, of course, it’s Giovanni, his friend, his schoolmate! He waves to him, anxiously approaches, and with trembling hand points to his own face, as if to say; it’s me. Giovanni looks at him, shown no sign of recognition, then thrusts out his chin in a greeting: ‘Hey there, Salvatore where are you off to’?”

That’s one of the “Po Valley Epiphanies” in “The Miracle of San Baudolino” by Umberto Eco, which appears in “How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays.”

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