Letter from Venice – Marcel Proust’s Woman, Calle dei Preti
A Proustian in Italy.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
She has read the entire Proust, all the seven volumes of À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. We the English-speakers, of course, know the French novel as In Search of Lost Time. To Enrica Pasquinucci, it is Alla Ricerca Del Tempo Perduto, the Italian title.
The Delhi Walla meets Ms Pasquinucci one mildly warm afternoon on the Bridge of the Three Arches. I’m in Venice, making a hajj to this watery land of churches and bridges that was dear to Marcel Proust. Ms Pasquinucci walks me to her home on Cannaregio. Her apartment is on the first landing of an oldish building. The drawing room is filled with books and family photographs. One wall is covered with a large painting by her artist husband. The kitchen window opens to a private courtyard below.
Taking out her thick single-volume edition of Alla Ricerca, Ms Pasquinucci says, “I started Proust when I was 16.”
Ms Pasquinucci is in her 50s.
“We then lived in Naples,” she says. “I was in high school and was going around with Gino, who was my first great love. I met him recently. He has become a doctor. He was in Venice with his wife.”
Ms Pasquinucci did not read the many volumes of Proust’s novel in their proper sequence. She says she first got done with Swann in Love, which is a section in the first volume, but is distinctive enough to be read as a separate novel. Eventually she finished the first three volumes, but didn’t pick up the rest for some time. She finished the entire Proust when she was 25.
“I think you should be at least 18 (years) for Proust,” she says. “He is more comprehensible for readers with some experience of life.”
As a teen-ager, Ms Pasquinucci was definitely riper than most adolescents to take in Marcel. “My father was an admiral in the Italian navy. We were changing towns after every few years, sometimes every year. When I was 8, I was in Naples. When I was 7, I was in Rome. The only two places that stayed constant in my childhood were the two seaside towns in Tuscany where I spent my annual holidays with my grandparents and aunt… in a way, to trace the many places I lived in as a child was similar to trace time. I recognized this on reading Proust.”
Even Ms Pasquinucci’s apartment shares an affinity for Proustian preoccupations with time and space. “The entrance door is on Calle dei Preti but most of the windows are on Calle del Cristo,” she says. “The facade on Calle dei Preti dates to the final years of the 15th century and the part on Calle del Cristo was rebuilt and modified more than one time between 16th and 18th centuries. The building received substantial alterations around 1920. Most of my floor is from that period.”
Lying down on her long sofa, Ms Pasquinucci closes her eyes and, with her hands clasped over her heart, says, “I’m not a person for poetry where a few words could elicit a whole landscape of feeling. I prefer rich prose like Proust’s that evokes that same landscape in many many little details. Proust’s extraordinary sensorial way of writing tells you vividly what he sees, smells, touches and feels. He makes me recall how I felt about myself at particular periods in my life. He helps me to re-imagine my private past.”
To be sure, Proust is not the only man in Ms Pasquinucci’s life. She is perhaps a greater devotee of Italian poets Dante and Giacomo Leopardi. “My father always left his home with a copy each of Dante and Leopardi. Babbo died two years ago. My Lavinia (her daughter) declaimed Leopardi’s L’infinito at his funeral. That was his wish.”
Soon Ms Pasquinucci falls silent. Her eyes are closed.
Living with Proust