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  • Self-Presentation
  • Cesare Zavattini
    Translated by Giorgio Bertellini and Courtney Ritter

In the morning I did not know that by mixing white with red you would get pink; that afternoon in 1939 chance put a brush in my hand: it must have been my guardian angel, with the only purpose of gently keeping me in the world that I then considered almost lost. Where some senses were dying, others were coming to life. When I managed to depict even childishly what I had before me, my wonder was so great that I had to stop. Tomorrow, I told myself, tomorrow, just like a groom delays making love to his bride out of too much love. But the union never materialized. I kept copying the model inside my head and even closed my eyes in order to do a good job despite my poor skills.

The exercise of painting, however, has not been useless: the black caps of the boatmen of the Po River, which once I viewed as all alike, appear to me now as different from one another: if one of them were to hang his cap on a hook, I would be able to tell whose boatman that cap belonged to.

I shall mention other great advantages that I have been enjoying since that day in 1939: less fear of poverty and of solitude (even though I am afraid that something might happen to my eyes and hands) and [End Page 5] more faith that the revolution will only be possible through eyesight. … We will never agree about God, or other urgent matters, with those who do not believe or ignore that in their own time, while they dream or realize things, the spirit of painting continues to unfold, imperturbably. We think that on the front lines we are fighting for the good old reasons. Ah, ah: what is at stake are antagonisms about lines and colors.

At Boville … I was painting for many hours a day and as soon as the light disappeared behind the hills on the side of Formia I was thinking: it is over, dawn won’t ever come back.1 I would open my eyes wide in vain, fixing objects to protect them from the impending darkness. The shadow would come from inside the object and I thought that if I even got slightly distracted, they would get darker. I wanted to enjoy that day until its end, but no prayer would have secured an extra glow. I was forced to interrupt my work, and the tubes of paint fell into the box sounding like bones. …

At the end of one day in April, a few locals saw a bird coming out of the clouds that seemed to abandon its own wings out of laziness. They obviously realized that it was a piece of paper, but they thought that it had been thrown from one of the airplanes flying high. While stretching their necks, they followed its windy and ever-changing flight. It finally landed on a grassy field after a few jumps. … The first one to reach it, near the small chapel of Santa Liberata about one kilometer outside the village, was a boy who threw himself on top of the paper to stop its slight attempt to take off again.

Then about thirty boys appeared, arriving through, I don’t know, probably swirls of dust. From the village you could see that they were almost dancing, maybe even singing, around the prey. Even old people decided to rush to the holy scene, their slippers clapping in the narrow streets of Boville. The news of the extraordinary landing spread everywhere, to the point that the local women left their fountains and washing basins empty and unattended. My son Marco got there with his mouth hanging open. People were talking about a forthcoming end of the hostility, and a woman even shouted that it was nothing less than a message from Santa Liberata.

People were passing it from one another: devoid of any writing, just a white paper with some blots of yellow, green, and blue. My son managed to find his way in between the legs of the officers who had barely...


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