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15 September 2012

'The Prague Cemetery' by Umberto Eco translated by Richard Dixon

I always mean to buy a book by Umberto Eco.  It's been years since I read one of his books. I always seem to pick up something else.  Umberto Eco is everywhere so I keep thinking I'll come back for it.  On this occasion, I was in an unfamiliar part of town waiting for my daughter.  Around the corner I discovered a book store, rather like a parched wanderer discovering an oasis.  Hurrah!  They even had a book shelf full of books in English and not all of them were "best sellers" i.e. romance and crime.  I looked and looked.  You see my ability to read long novels in German is limited; I'm just too slow, slower than in Spanish even.  Not to say that I shouldn't read in German, but I am not always in the mood to commit.  Sorry, enough about book shops, I just get so excited in the environment of book stores. Even in memory...

I bought Mr. Eco with Mr. Dixon and got to work at an ice cream parlor (eating and reading).  How exciting to read a work so well researched.  In fact it is all research.  But, I'll get back to that later.  Umberto ('cause I feel I know him) can pick up a bunch of strings, apparently tangle them, do his magic and show me a woven cloth.  Then, on top of that and most unfairly, I think other writers will agree, he is also excellent at ambiance, setting.  I love stories that not only describe a dirty soul, but the dirt on people's shoes as well without taking my attention away from the story.  Those muddy shoes are a punctuation, an accent if you will, to the action.  19th century European cities were dirty places.  Lack of sanitation, lack of sewage pipes under the whole city, slums and horse "manure" made these localities odorous and filthy.

I should add in passing that 21st century cities are not always much better.  Where I live we still have to avoid horse manure on the side walks.  Years ago I saw St. Paul's Cathedral for the first time.  It was covered in what appeared to be soot.  Moreover, I had popped into London via the Underground (Piccadilly from Heathrow, change at Holborn to the Central line, two stops to St. Paul's) so my first smell of London was at the same moment I came up from the tube. It smelled of third world cities, diesel.  On a positive note, St. Paul's has since been cleaned and London buses have cleaner engines.

Back to Piemonte and Paris... Sometimes, no, most of the time it is easy to dismiss conspiracy theories, especially if they are all-encompassing and thousands of years old.  The bigger they are the more laughable but now I am worried.  Back to that "research" statement.  When I say it is all research, I mean that there is only one thing or person made up in the whole book.  Everything else happened.  Now we call it history.  But back then, they were called conspiracies.  In addition, we learnt history in such a segregated manner that even in our books we did not connect dots.  We studied a war, a revolution, a general but very rarely how these wars, revolutions and generals affected each other across borders and time.  50 years is not so long between Napoleon and Garibaldi.  Ok.  So lesson learnt?  But which of the many conspiracy theories that I can find within seconds are worth believing?  Clearly too much literature is giving me paranoia, but as the saying goes "Just because you are paranoid, does not mean they are not out to get you".

Umberto Eco
ISBN: 9781846554919

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