Lost and confined in an equal solitude

The post-war period was a time when everyone imagined themselves to be poets and everyone imagined themselvesto be politicians; everyone supposed that one could, and indeed should, make poems out of everything, after so many years in which it had seemed that the world had been paralysed and struck dumb and reality lay on the far side of a sheet of glass, in a vitreous, crystalline and wordless stasis.  Novelists and poets had fasted during the fascist years, there not being many words around that they were permitted to use, and the few that had gone on using words had picked them with the greatest possible care from the meagre lexicon of crumbs that still remained.  During the fascist era, poets found themselves reduced to expressing only the arid, enclosed and sibylline world of dreams.  Now there were many words in circulation once again, and once again reality seemed within reach, and those who had fasted for so long threw themselves joyfully in the harvest.  And the harvest was universal because everyone decided to join in, and this caused a confusion between the language of poetry and the language of politics which seemed to have become mixed together.  But then reality turned out to be no less complex and hidden and indecipherable and enigmatic than the world of dreams, and it proved still to li on the far side of a sheet of glass, and the illusion of having shattered that glass turned out to be ephemeral.  Then many people turned away, disheartened and dejected, and fell back again into a bitter fast and a deep silence.  So the post-war period was gloomy and full of dejection after the joyful harvest of the early days.  Many withdrew and cut themselves off once more, either in the world of their dreams or in any work that would earn them enough to live on, work undertaken at random and in haste and that seemed petty and grey after so much excitement; and in any case, everyone forgot about that brief, illusory involvement in the life of their neighbour.  Undoubtedly for many years no one practised their own trade any more, but everyone thought that they must and should take on a thousand others at the same time, and some years went by before everyone took up their own trade and accepted the weight of it and the daily toil and the daily solitude, which is the only way that we have of participating in the life of our neighbour, lost and confined in an equal solitude.

Today I read two lira

[Lucio] had learnt to read at the same time as me, but I had read heaps of books and he had only read a few because he read slowly and got bored; all the same when he was at our house he used to read, because every now and then I would get tired of playing and throw myself down on the lawn with a book.  Then Lucio would go and boast to my brothers that he had read a whole book, because they always teased him about reading so little.  “Today I read two lira.” “Today I read five lira,” he would say proudly, showing them the price written on the flyleaf.

Natalia Ginzburg, The Things We Used to Say, tr. Judith Woolf.