The Bears’ Invasion, seven decades later

In 1945, Dino Buzzati wrote and illustrated The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily. It was a children’s book. Yet like The Little Prince, by Saint-Exupéry, it makes for thoughtful adult reading. Buzzati’s work will soon become a feature film, quite belatedly.

Buzzati’s book was almost an afterthought. He wrote it to entertain his nephews and had forgotten about it, when in 1947 Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera asked him if he had any material for a kids’ supplement. That’s how he submitted it. What was only for family consumption became available for a universal readership.

The plot is simple. Bears are starving on the mountains, so they descend into the city in search for food. They also want to rescue the son of Leonzio, their king. After putting a brave fight and a thousand adventures, they beat back the soldiers of the evil Grand Duke.

In the process, however, the comforts and vices of men rub off on the bears, corrupting them. Worried, King Leonzio tells the bears: “Go back to the mountains. Leave this city where you have found wealth, but not peace of mind. Take off those ridiculous clothes. Throw away the gold. Throw away the cannons, rifles, and all the devilish things that men have taught you. Go back to what you were before.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it resembles a plainer summary than Orwell’s Animal Farm of what was wrong with mankind in the first half of the 20th century. Other things were also eerily predictive. Only three years ago, your correspondent saw an army of hungry bears descending over a garbage dump to scavenge for food.

It’s remarkable that after so much pain and loss in the Second World War, Buzzati was farsighted about men destroying more than other men (by the millions, as it happened). They were destroying the Earth.

“The more the dominion of man spreads over the virgin land, the more his possibilities of salvation diminish, and, at some point, he will become prisoner of himself, they will barely able to breathe and for a corner of authentic forest he will be willing to give away all its evil cities, but it will be too late, the ancient forests will no longer have a leaflet left.”

Italian policemen cook pasta for elderly couple

 

Police in Rome some weeks ago were alerted to cries and screams coming from an apartment. When they arrived they found 84 year old Jole and her 94 year old husband Michele upset over news of violence and evil in the world. The four policemen took pity on the elderly couple. They asked for permission to enter their kitchen and engaged in that splendid Italian ritual: cooking pasta. “They improvised dinner,” said the police report shared on a Facebook post. “A dish of pasta with butter and cheese. Nothing special. But with a precious ingredient: in it, there was all their humanity.” So, an officer called Andrea did the cooking, while Alessandro, Ernesto, and Mirko entertained their new friends, who had been alone and unvisited for many months. “Life is not always easy. Especially when the city is empty and neighbors are gone away on vacation. Sometimes loneliness dissolves into tears.” No, life is not easy, but Italians keep solving it one problem at a time, with a lot of sun, a lot of flavors, and a lot of love. And they give us a lesson, too, in the art of writing a police report.

Banksy Goes to the Museum

 

The ever changing boundaries of aesthetic and art may be acting paradoxically to turn a self-denying artist like Banksy into a celebrity. A museum in Rome, Palazzo Cipolla, has organized the largest exhibition of Banksy’s works to date. The Bristol-born street artist, has managed to remain unknown in a career that spans almost two decades. We say “unknown” for lack of a better word. Anonymous he is not, for he has become a cult artist, known by his brush name. His graffiti paintings and other works denounce the very system that has catapulted him to fame. The foundation that has organized the exhibition in Italy has made clear that the event is not for profit, and that Banksy is not involved with it. So far, so good, as is consistent with his principles. Yet the show also includes works lent by celebrities that own them, so Banksy is not alien to a market logic in his endeavors. At the same time, it is refreshing to see someone choosing secretiveness rather than personal glory, even though this very trait has turned him into a celebrity himself.