The final exam of any Italian high school consists of some written tests and an oral examination in front of a panel of teachers unknown to the students, who are quizzed on a number of subjects. The exams always take place in the Summer, when it’s already hot and sticky, adding to the overall dread every student experiences.
Like at university, all exams are public and anyone can sit in and listen and most students do, to get an idea of what these unknown teachers, often hailing from other parts of the country, are looking for. Which is exactly what my classmates did when it was my turn that July so long ago, as I was one of the first to be picked in the random selection. Italian Literature was my first subject and the stern teacher in front of me asked me a seemingly impossible question which involved comparing two very different poets, one of them Eugenio Montale. I heard the class behind me gasp. But I was actually itching to be asked about Montale. At 18, I already felt a kinship with the sparse and hermetic verses of this poet who embodied the rocky and unyielding traits of his native Liguria coast.
As another year draws to a close, with the inevitable looking back and hopes for the future, it was a Montale poem that came to mind. Despite its deceptive bleak outlook on life, when youth has long gone, it’s the “shot” of the last line that, to me, represents the surprises and the unexpected twists and turns that life is bound to offer at any age.
May your coming year be full of pleasant surprises and may you welcome them all.
Thank you for reading, for sticking with it despite your clogged in-boxes, for finding me during the course of your days and, above all, for keeping me company.
What I ask, my life, is not firm
outlines, plausible looks, possessions.
Now, in your restless running, wormwood
and honey taste the same.
The heart that loathes all motion
is seldom jolted by shocks.
So, at times, the country hush
is shattered by a shot.
Eugenio Montale – Cuttlefish Bones
Will be back on January 2, 2012. Happy Holidays!