(But why? well, a twisting story, like the river itself. I got to Magris through an exhibition we saw with MC in Barcelona already seven years ago (!!!) – it was one of those strange exhibitions on a city and an author – in that case it was about Trieste and Magris. We were so intrigued, so taken in, that we bought several books by Magris, in Spanish and Catalan then and later in Italian, like my edition of Danubio. And we were engrossed by the idea of visiting Trieste and a bit of Istria and that amazing (now) border region – something we could finally do for a few days in 2015.
Three years after that, I was in Warsaw for a few days with Roman and Wanda, and during that visit full of conversations, of exchanges, of walks, of visits to galleries and museums, of mathematics and art, somehow I felt immersed in another side of the same world described by Magris. I mentioned him, I mentioned his books – and oddly enough, Roman and Wanda hadn’t read him. Oddly but fortunately, and synchronically: right after talking about him, I saw on a stall of the bookshop of a museum the words Dunaj and Magris. I immediately gave it to them, knowing it would help continue many conversations.)
Danube is not an easy book to read. At least in my case: it meanders, it makes me pause, it makes me remember and write, it makes me dream and continue long-forgotten conversations, some from decades ago. The book in itself changes quickly enough that it is not really an essay – although many parts could constitute many excellent essays, it is not a story – although it is full of short stories, it is not gossip of course – although it contains a delightful dose of insider gossip, it is not a travelogue – although in a way the whole book presents itself as a huge travelogue.
Roman mentioned he had been reading the Hungarian part of Danubio these past days – exactly at the time of that very short but very intense visit to Hungary, to Budapest. Reading it now myself, it has been like reliving (through unrealized possibilities) many aspects of my own visit. I cannot quite explain it. An example: I took a photograph of a “random station” where the train stopped for a few seconds. Then it turned out that that name (Mosonmagyaróvár) is prominent in Magris’s book – for an intense paragraph. Many other parts of Danubio read like a priori/a posteriori representations of what my eyes, what my camera (whose memory is greater than mine – for I would have forgotten a name like Mosonmagyaróvár were it not for the fact my lens, my camera recorded it, and then I saw it in Magris’s book) registered!
Every now and then, you reach a paragraph like this one:
«Delle ottocento famiglie giunte col patriarca, ora restano sessanta o settanta. Un viaggio è sempre anche una spedizione di salvataggio, la documentazione e la raccolta di qualcosa che sta estinguendosi e fra poco sparirà, l’ultimo approdo a un’isola che le acque stanno sommergendo.»
(“Of the eight hundred families arrived with the patriarch, now sixty or seventy remain. A trip is always a kind of saving expedition; the documentation and the collection of something on the way to extinction that will soon disappear, the last landing on an island that is sinking in the waters.”)
How true. Any time we travel we are in some sense visiting a place that is disappearing, sinking in the waters.