If you want to buy a book, first the dog has to approve you. If you smell okay, this little store in Lucca, Italy, might sell you a copy of Panchine: Come Uscire dal Mondo senza Uscirne by Beppe Sebaste, a lovely book of meditations on the subject of park benches (panchine) and how to exit the world without really leaving. Beppe looks like your grandfather and is the kind of guy you want to sit down and have a beer with - on a park bench, perhaps, while playing a game of chess.
The epigraph at the front of the book is a quote from Richard Brautigan:
Why is a short story short?
Ask that man sitting on a bench
in the park, any park, but be prepared, for he might
tell you a story longer
than you would want to listen to.
Beppe did me the honor of reading a passage from my Le Famose Patate to an audience in Piacenza, Italy. It was a passage about hitchhiking in an old pickup truck banging across the fields of Illinois. Maybe thoughts on the bench seats in old pickups are an American equivalent to meditating on a park bench in Italy. The last lines of the passage were:
"You got kids? How many?"
"Eleven! Wow! How do you feed them all?"
"With a spoon. Haw haw."
Haw haw. A good answer to an impertinent question. Of course the children would be fed. As we bounced between the fields of America in a dirty old farm truck, I had no doubt that the children of this land would always be fed.
But he used these words:
"Hai figli? Quanti?"
"Undici! Cacchio! E come fai a dargli da mangiare?"
"Col cucchiaio. Ah-ah."
Ah-ah. La giusta risposta a una domanda impertinente. Certo, vuoi che non desse loro da mangiare? A mano a mano che avanzavamo sobbalzando tra i campi d'America nel vecchio camioncino sidicio, mi si stemperava ogni dubbio: i gigli di questa terra avrebbero avuto sempre qualcosa da mangiare.