Italo Calvino: A daughter’s reminiscences

For the daughter of the popular Italian author, every day is Father’s Day

Italo Calvino and his daughter, Giovanna, in their house in Paris in 1973
Courtesy Giovanna Calvino

Some fathers never die. It is the case with mine, a writer, whose sudden death almost 30 years ago propelled him into immortality, and left me awkwardly straddling two realities; one from which he was irreversibly gone and another where he is forever present. It proved impossible to spend any solid block of time in that first, heartbreaking reality and mourn him in peace — assuming there is such a thing as peaceful mourning — without being interrupted by regular and impetuous demands from the other one, where he was being read, published, reprinted, quoted, taught. 

Every day I deal with matters pertaining to my father’s literary estate, his writing, his voice. Every day I imagine his skeptical gaze upon me as I try to make decisions in keeping with his wishes (or, more accurately, as I procrastinate about these decisions).  If Father’s Day is a day when you remember your father, appreciate him and assess his importance in your life, then for me every day is Father’s Day.

This year, in order to do things differently, I will make a conscious effort to separate the man from his writing. One of my favorite stories by my father (from the Mr. Palomar series) evokes a vivid memory of him sitting at the top of the sloping lawn beside our summer home in Tuscany. The Palomar character and my father are so similar that I tend to conflate them. The story is titled “Dialogue with a Turtle,” and the mental image it conjures up is of my father, in espadrilles, sitting cross-legged in a washed-out butterfly folding chair, his brow simultaneously knitted and raised, making him look 80 percent concentrated and 20 percent perplexed. But this image is a fake, as many memories are: It is a composite of various moments, of photos, of other people’s recollections.   

Giovanna Calvino with her father, Italo, in their summer home in Tuscany in Italy when she was 16.
Courtesy Giovanna Calvino

Another memory, truer and burned into my consciousness because it is associated with feelings of guilt and regret, is free of any literary superimpositions. I was perhaps 17; the two of us were outside the door of our apartment in Rome, descending the steep and narrow marble staircase that leads to the street. He was carrying his heavy typewriter, on his way to the repair shop. He slipped and was propelled forward, where the stairs made a sharp turn. He hit his head on the corner and cut it open. Recovering from the fall, he lifted himself up and looked at me with the air of a child who has been caught doing something stupid. There was blood on his forehead. My first impulse was to rush down and embrace him, but I didn’t. That face he made stopped me cold, and I found myself glaring at him angrily instead. This missed opportunity to express my love and my concern for him is all the harder to forgive as it foreshadowed his death of a ruptured brain aneurysm just a couple of years later. 

Even though I’ve figured out since then why it was that I reacted in anger instead of love, this scene stays crisp and raw; I just can’t fold it up and shelve it neatly in the cupboard of the past. This is something I have never understood about the mourning process: how you are supposed to go through it and come out a changed person at the other end.  For me, at the very best, only four-fifths made it through. The rest of me is trapped in a space-time loop where I am forever reeling from the loss of my father. 

He, of course, would disapprove of these reminiscences. He did not care for the airing of personal matters or for sentimental introspection. Yet 29 years after your death, I will allow myself the disobedience and write for all to see that I love you and I miss you, on this Father’s Day.

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter