'Snapshots' ('Istantanee'), by Claudio Magris

With the holidays in view, it’s high time we recommended you some wonderful literature to make your sunny days even more spectacular…

First this collection: ‘Snapshots’, containing a series of sketches and (very) short essays by the Italian writer and philosopher Claudio Magris. The background to more than a few of these stories, written between 1999 and 2016, is Triëste, his hometown.

His account of a visit he paid to the gallery of his friend Leo Castelli, also of Triëste origins, is without any doubt a great appetizer... It takes place in October 1989, at a moment NYC galleries are in protest against the ruling of a judge who sentenced an artist on charges of obscenity. Therefore the gallery owners, as a sign of mourning, had covered the paintings on their walls with black cloth. Then this happens – and yes, sometimes reality beats the wildest fiction:

“At a certain point a young woman, a visitor, enters. Unaware of the protest, she thinks she is viewing an exhibition, perhaps the prospect of a new school of painting. She stops in front of each painting – that is, in front of each black cloth –, steps back, then moves in for a closer look, sits down and diligently takes notes; this new painting seems to please and convince her. Castelli glances at me with a hint of embarrassment for a moment, then we go back to talking about old times, while the visitor continues her discovery of a new artistic trend."

Another very funny one is his account of the divorce, after 38 years of marriage, of the German banker Hilmar Kopper, who ultimately fell for Brigitte Seebacher, widow of Willy Brandt, and who – instead of keeping a wise and discrete silence – declared: “I want to do what I want and be free at last. And if I don’t feel like eating in the evening, I don’t want to have to eat.”

Magris is an inspired storyteller, and can make a lasting impression in less than 4 pages. Which, of course, is exceptional. Highly recommended.

(Claudio Magris, 'Istantanee' (original title), edited by La nave di Teseo, Milano, 2016.)

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