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Thursday, January 08, 2009


What's in a year? What makes it so special, so different from any other years? Scattered pictures of vacations with friends, dinner parties, children birthdays, ends of schools, Christmas days, give to each year an unforgettable touch, as in a vintage selection, that filters what we will keep in memory for the rest of our life. The value of these precious pictures, lost in some drawers that sometimes we open in the boring winter evenings, is that they produce a selection of instants worth remembering, a ranking of what must be kept in memory and what will be lost in the magmatic confusion of our unconscious past.
Here I'll provide another way of making an year unforgettable, just by giving grades, ranking the days and the experiences in a way that makes it distinguishable in my memory from any other year forever. Ranking is a form of visualization of reality, a way of illustrating a special configuration of the world worth remembering.

Best lunch: Restaurante Porto Santa Maria, on the beach of Cascais, Portugal, with Ariel in a sunny day of January. After a freezing bath in the Ocean, I was incredibly hungry and we ate a giant lobster.

Best dinner: At Gusto restaurant, Rome, piazza Augusto imperatore, end of November, with some friends and my elegant Italian publisher Andrea Gessner after the presentation of my book at the Libreria Fannucci. Lot of laughter about one of my best tirade on the functioning of horn-pipes.

Best friend of the year: Catherine Legallais, a discrete and auratic Paris-based poet and critic, with an outstanding capacity of listening and understanding. I think she's the only person who really understood my way of looking at my childhood in my Italian book, La Figlia della Gallina Nera.

Best philosopher: Akeel Bilgrami. His talks in Paris on liberalism and relativism and, especially, on Gandhi, in March, were a breath of fresh air in the stifling philosophical world.

Best philosophical paper: Akeel Bilgrami's on Gandhi's philosophy of nature.

Best academic talk: Steven Shapin on science as a vocation given at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris on June 2nd. Perfect voice, timing, rhetoric, facial mimicry, a piece of performance art, sadly neglected by a distracted audience.

Best philosophical conference: Third International Conference on Wine and Philosophy, organized by Nicola Perullo, myself and Barry Smith at the university of Pollenzo, in Southern Piedmont, Italy. Not really for the contents of the conference, but for a special childish atmosphere that reminded me my years in high school, like a delirious conversation about the name of a fellow philosopher while driving from a wine taste to another, almost drunk in a very crowded car.

Best place: St. Jacut de la Mer, in Bretagne, discovered by Dan and Bruno, a beautiful peninsula surrounded by marvelous and colored beaches. Leo, Matteo and myself had also the priviledge of a bath with a seal, a nice seal with big, dark, round eyes and long whiskers, a sort of epiphany from nowhere that gave all of us strange, magic dreams during the night.

Best blog: Ricardo Bloch's Amphibious Andromeda, at, an image and a sound per day. An essential, elegant, soft and deep zen exercise of precision.

Best website and webby idea: a citizen journalism site run by the genius of geniuses Turi Munthe

Best day: November 4th, my son's 8th birthday and Obama's victory. Sleepless all night watching three computer screens with Dan, then the dinner party for Leo with Yotam and his family, lot of music, laughter, affection and a shy optimism in our gazes.

Best song: Alba Arikha Dans une impasse

Best movie: There will be blood, by Paul Thomas Anderson

Best documentary movie: Nurith Aviv D'une langue à l'autre

Best opera: Actually, the choice is very limited, given that I saw just two, a Wozzeck at La Scala in Milano where I slept almost all the time, and another one in Paris in November. This latter is one of the most beautiful mise-en-scènes I've ever seen in my life: Wagner's Tristan und Isolde illustrated by enourmous yet ephemeral Bill Viola's videos.

Best museum: Louisiane museum, just outside Copenhagen, where I saw the best Bill Viola's video of my life: a variation on the theme of Géricault's Le radeau de la Meduse (The raft).

Best exhibition: Richard Serra at the Grand Palais, June.

Best non-fiction book: Margareth Mead's autobiography, Blackberry winter.

Best fiction book: Well, I know I shouldn't, but, actually, it's true: it's mine: La figlia della gallina nera, 2008, Nottetempo.

Best discovered etymology: Thanks to Guglielmo Brayda, who found it somewhere in one of Pascal Quignard's books, I discovered the special etymology of "desire" which comes from desiderium in Latin, which, itself, is made by the prefix de and sidera, star. Desiderium is thus a deprivation of stars, a feeling of absence of light, a craving for aura.

Best culinary invention: My entrée of carpaccio of coquilles st. jacques slightly cooked in a fry pan just for 10 seconds with butter and lemon and served on a hot trevisana salad, cooked in a pan with oil, garlic, soja sauce, sugar and balsamic vinegar. I've added some sesame seeds on the coquilles in the end and decorated with a leaf of peppermint. Delicious. Served as entrée at a dinner in my place at the Passage on December 31st.

Best hotel: Hotel Locarno in Rome, via della Penna, an "as it should be" old, charming hotel in my favorite block in Rome, a few steps away from Elsa Morante's apartment in via dell'Oca. I've spent a febrile night reading Rilke, Canetti and Sebald and smoking cigarettes - because I had to present 5 books of my choice at the Italian radio the morning after - and feeling for the first time of my life of being a "real" intellectual!


QUASAR9 said...

"Best discovered etymology: Thanks to Guglielmo Brayda, who found it somewhere in one of Pascal Quignard's books, I discovered the special etymology of "desire" which comes from desiderium in Latin, which, itself, is made by the prefix de and sidera, star. Desiderium is thus a deprivation of stars, a feeling of absence of light, a craving for aura."

Cool, and yet odd sort of strange

Leon Basin said...

Hey, how are you doing? I liked this post. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I love the etymology of desire. When you look at the roots of some words, the poetry of them is revealed. Wonderful.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Laura James and I am currently studying Museum and Gallery Studies at Kingston University, London. I am writing me dissertation entitled: Looking at Skin: Art, Realism and Technology. Through this I am to take a philosophical, cognitive and art historical look at the representation of skin though the last 100 years.

I came across the virtual conference on art and cognition and I was wondering if perhaps I could email you a few questions to use in my dissertation? I would love to get some primary research on this topic.

Please let me know if you are interested.

Awaiting your reply,

Laura James

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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