Home Bookend - Where reading meets review Last Summer in the City – Gianfranco Calligarich

Last Summer in the City – Gianfranco Calligarich

by Venky

(Image credit: Marlowbooksuk.com)

Reading Last Summer in the City is akin to driving blindfolded and at a speed that is positively indiscreet. One does not know whether they would end up in a mangled heap of metal and flesh or turn out to be the most artful dodger ever, deceiving death and meeting their date with destiny. Decadent, drifting and delectable, Gianfranco Calligarich’ s book is a small conveyance of love which like its protagonists has no clue about the direction towards which it is heading, or rather, hurtling.

It is the late 1960s in Rome. Leo Garazza, along with his friend Graziano Castelvecchio lurches from one drinking hole to the next with drab jobs, parlour rooms of eclectic celebrities, modest hotel rooms and bedrooms of not so modest women, being temporary and welcome pitstops. This precarious sway of life comes to a lurching existential fork in the road when at a party, a hungry, drenched and impoverished Leo meets the dazzlingly beautiful, extroverted, and witty Arianna. The day also happens to be Leo’s thirtieth birthday. Leo and Arianna drive through the streets of Rome the whole night, drink through the dawn, drive to the sea and back before consuming brioches for breakfast and parting with a promise to meet again, which they do.

Arianna’s eccentricities both amuse and anger Leo. For example, she keeps one of her fists clenched for four hours after seeing a yellow car pass by when they are driving. In a game, akin to solitaire without cards, which begins only when one sees a yellow car in motion, the person viewing the car needed to make a wish and keep a fist clenched until she saw washing hung out to dry, a young man with a beard, a dog with a short tail, and an old man with a stick. Amazingly, Arianna spots all of these harbingers of good tidings but it takes four hours for to do so, much to Leo’s chagrin and exasperation.

Carigallich’s Leo and Arianna are not the stereotypical, restrained and well-behaved couple incorrigibly in love with one another. On the contrary they are two souls abandoned and cast adrift by the twist of fate. As they meet, greet, eat, scream and then refrain from seeing one another for days altogether, they are like two lost ships desperately searching for that one beam of light emanating from a light house or the sight of a sliver of land. When Leo raises a toast on their first nightly sojourn, he unwittingly remarks, “to all the things we haven’t done, the things we should have done, and the things we won’t do.” This one toast exemplifies Calligarich’ s gripping story as both Leo and Arianna end up doing all the things they shouldn’t do and refrain from doing things which they ought to have actually done.

Graziano is the endearing element in the story. A bridge between the lovers as well as their wishes and woes, Graziano, – himself tormented by his uber rich American wife Sandy, on whose largesse he leads life – is the epitome of exuberance and effervescence. A beacon of light that lights up any darkness, Graziano is always by Leo’s side, when not perpetually drunk and dining on avanzi in restaurants. Known impediments and unknown threats convulse the desire which Leo and Arianna nurse for one another taking both of them to a precipice from which the only way is down. Challenged fate, tested nerves, suspected loyalties and unsuspected human interventions snare Leo and Arianna and the reader charting the couple’s chosen mode of navigation and risk mitigation is left in a nail-biting state of suspended animation. Calligarich finishes his masterpiece with a tumultuous ending that would leave the reader……….

First issued in 1973, Last Summer in the City was perfunctorily rejected by publishers. It was Natalia Ginzburg, who after being sufficiently enamoured by a reading of a translation by Howard Curtis, worked her charms upon the publisher Garzanti to print the book. The result was an immediate success. 17,000 copies were sold in double quick time, the book collected a prize only to fade away into obscurity! Shades of F. Scott Fitzgerald threads through many a page of Calligarich’ s work. The drunken revelries, taking place in the midst of unabashed profligacy, reminds one of the lavish parties hosted by Jay Gatsby to his charmed bunch of Bohemian admirers. In fact, amongst the set of precious books Leo keeps with him in his flat, is his “cheap edition of Gatsby, yellowed, but still intact.”

Last Summer in the City – a year of hope and dashed hopes.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: