AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Thursday, 7 December 2017


Mozart and Beethoven
The Struggle of Faith (📢 soundcloud)
by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

There are Mozarts and there are Beethovens. Which are you?

I have only the most amateur knowledge of music, but the impression one gets about Mozart is that, from him, music flowed. There is something effortless and effervescent about his compositions. They are not “sicklied o’er by the pale cast of thought.” He wrote at speed. He carried the worries of the world lightly.

Not so Beethoven, for whom it sometimes took years for an idea to crystallise into its final form, with countless drafts and revisions and crossings-out. This was a man who could be angry with himself and with the world, for whom creativity was a struggle from which he emerged triumphant with work that is rarely less than strenuous and full of conflict until its final majestic resolution. The ethereal, mystical, almost other-worldly quality of his last compositions, the sublime late piano sonatas and string quartets, are the creation of one who has finally found peace after a life of wrestling with his own angels and demons.

All of this is, for me, a way of coming to understand Jacob, the man who became Israel, our father in faith. Jacob is not the most obvious choice of religious hero. He does not appear – at least on the surface of the biblical text – as a man with Abraham’s courage or kindness, Isaac’s faithfulness and self-restraint, Moses’ vigour and passion, David’s politics and poetry, or Isaiah’s lyricism and hope.

He was a man surrounded by conflict: with his brother Esau, his father-in-law Laban, his wives, Leah and Rachel, and his children, whose sibling rivalry eventually brought the whole family into exile in Egypt. His life seems to have been a field of tensions.

Then there were his transactions: the way he purchased Esau’s birthright, took his blessing, and eventually outwitted his wily father-in-law Laban. In each case he seems to have won, but then his situation deteriorates. The episode in which, at Rebekah’s request, he dressed up as Esau and deceived his blind father, forced him to leave home and – as we see in this week’s parsha – left him traumatised with fear at the prospect of meeting Esau again. Almost the same deception he practised on Isaac, he suffered at the hand of Laban. Even his escape from Laban might have ended in tragedy, had God not warned him not to harm Jacob (Hence the passage in the Haggada: “Go and learn what Laban the Aramean sought to do to our father Jacob”). His life as portrayed in the Torah seems to be a constant series of escapes from one trouble to the next.

So who and what was Jacob?

To this there are two radically different answers. There is the Jacob of midrash who even in the womb longed for a synagogue,[1] who spent his years as a young man studying in the bet midrash,[2] who looked like Abraham[3] and whose arms were like pillars of marble.[4] His motives were always pure. He bought Esau’s birthright because he could not bear to see Esau offering sacrifices (the privilege of the firstborn) to idols.[5] As for his father’s blessing, the very reason Isaac became blind in old age was so that this could be possible.[6] Esau was the opposite, a violent and mercurial character who had deceived his father into thinking he was ultra-pious,[7] but who had – on the day he came in “tired” from the field – committed a whole series of crimes including murder.[8]

This is an extreme portrayal, but not without scriptural basis. Jacob is called an ish tam, which conveys the sense of simplicity, integrity and single-mindedness. The plain sense of the oracle Rebekah received before the twins were born was that “the elder will serve the younger.”[9] She knew Jacob was the son destined to prevail. Besides which, as Maharatz Chajes says in his Introduction to the Aggadic Literature,[10] midrash paints biblical characters in moral black-and-white for obvious moral and educational reasons. It is difficult to teach children how to behave if all you have to offer is a series of studies in ambiguity, complexity and shades-of-grey.

The other Jacob, though, is the one we read in the plain sense of the text. The obvious question is: why did the Torah choose to portray the third of the patriarchs in this way? The Torah is highly selective in the details it chooses to relate. Why not paint Jacob in more attractive colours?

It seems to me that the Torah is delivering, here as elsewhere, an extraordinary message: that if we can truly relate to God as God, in His full transcendence and majesty, then we can relate to humans as humans in all their fallibility. In every other religious literature known to me, heroes are idealised until they no longer seem human at all. They are Divine or semi-Divine, perfect and infallible. There is no one like that in the whole of Tanakh. Even Noah (righteous, perfect) is seen drunk and dishevelled. Even Job (blameless, upright) eventually curses his fate. The man who, more than any other, epitomises fallibility is Jacob.

And perhaps that is the point. Jacob was a Beethoven, not a Mozart. His life was a series of struggles. Nothing came easily to him. He, alone of the patriarchs, was a man who chose to be chosen. Abraham was called by God. Isaac was chosen before his birth. Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah: these were all singled out by God for their mission. Not so Jacob. It was he who bought the birthright and took the blessing, he who chose to carry Abraham’s destiny into the future.
Not until he was running away from home did God appear to him. Not until years later, alone, at night, terrified at the prospect of meeting Esau, did God or an angel wrestle with him. He alone was given, by God or the angel, a completely new name, not an enhancement of his old one but a completely new identity: “Israel.” Even more strikingly, despite the fact that he was told “Your name shall no more be called Jacob,”[11] the Torah continues to call him Jacob, suggesting that his struggle was lifelong – as, often, is ours.

Were I to choose a soundtrack for the Jacob I have come to know, it would be Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata or his Grosse Fugue, music of such overwhelming tension that it seems on the verge of bursting through all form and structure. Yet it was through these epic struggles that Beethoven eventually reached his own version of serenity, and it was through Jacob’s extended wrestling-match with destiny that he eventually achieved what neither Abraham nor Isaac accomplished: all his children stayed within the faith. “According to the pain is the reward,” said the sages.[12] That is Jacob.

There are saintly people for whom spirituality comes as easily as did music to Mozart. But God does not reach out only to saints. He reaches out to all of us. That is why He gave us Abraham for those who love, Isaac for those who fear, and Jacob/Israel for those who struggle.

Hence this week’s life-changing idea: if you find yourself struggling with faith, you are in the company of Jacob-who-became-Israel, the father-in-faith of us all.

The Sisyphus Myth - painting by Sergey Kolesnikov
[1] Bereishit Rabbah 63:6.
[2] Bereishit Rabbah 63:10.
[3] Midrash Lekach Tov, Bereishit 47:18.
[4] Bereishit Rabbah 65:17.
[5] Bereishit Rabbah 63:13.
[6] Bereishit Rabbah 65:8.
[7] See Rashi to Gen. 25:27.
[8] Baba Batra 16b.
[9] Elsewhere in past ‘C&C’s on Toldot, I have pointed out that this text is freighted with ambiguity.
[10] R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes, Mavo ha-Aggadot (printed at the beginning of standard editions of Ein Yaakov).
[11] He is told this twice, first by the angel, then by God Himself: Gen. 32:29; 35:10.
[12] Mishnah, Avot 5:23.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017


Every day is a "Jerusalem Day"
And now, at last, they stood before Jerusalem.
Passion, greed, ambition,
Even their chivalric pride,
They cast from their hearts at once.

For now, they stood before Jerusalem.
In their ecstasy and their fervor,
They forgot their squabbles with the Greeks,
They forgot their hatred for the Turks.

For now, they stood before Jerusalem.
And the bold, invincible Crusaders,
Impetuous in all their other attacks and campaigns,
Are nervous and faint-hearted, unable
To go forward. They tremble like small children.
And like small children they sob, all of them sob,
As they behold the walls of Jerusalem.
                                                                                                                  (C.P. Cavafy)
View of the Old Jerusalem
In vain you will look for the fences of barbed wire.
You know that such things
don’t disappear. A different city perhaps
is now being cut in two; two lovers
separated; a different flesh is tormenting itself now
with these thorns, refusing to be stone.

In vain you will look. You lift up your eyes unto the hills,
perhaps there? Not these hills, accidents of geology,
but The Hills. You ask
questions without a rise in your voice, without a question-mark,
only because you’re supposed to ask them; and they
don’t exist. But a great weariness wants you with all your might
and gets you. Like death.

Jerusalem, the only city in the world
where the right to vote is granted even to the dead.
                                                                                                             (Yehuda Amichai)
View of the Old Jerusalem and the Western Wall
If I forget thee, Jerusalem,
Let my blood be forgotten. 
I shall touch your forehead, 
Forget my own, 
My voice change
For the second and last time
To the most terrible of voices --
Or silence.
                                                                                                         (Yehuda Amichai)
View of the Old Jerusalem and the Western Wall at night
...I shall not forget Jerusalem

     which is always threatened

and more alone than ever.

     I am also alone.
                                                                                                          (Elaine Feinstein)
David's Tower, Jerusalem
Oh Jerusalem, oh Jerusalem, no longer shall I wait; 
Now, stand back and see what I shall do! 
I am bringing your children Home, 
they shall again possess their land; 
Watch them build Your cities strong, 
Taste their new sweet wine, 
Listen to their voices shouting My Song, 
'This is the City of God.'

Again, their music will fill your ears,
their dancing will make you glad, 
My People shall remain there forever, Jerusalem, 
For I have restored their land.
                                                                                                                        (Nell Zier)
Woman praying at the Western Wall
A crowd gathered in front of the kotel this morning
like a peaceful protest.

God hurled a canister of tear gas at them
but the weeping wailing women did not disperse.

I watched a woman with closed eyes
and open hands
brush her fingers over the ancient stone
as if God were braille
as if you could read him just by touching the surface

But we
had never meant to go blind
on purpose.
                                                                                                              (Rachel Stomel)Panoramic view of the Old Jerusalem
Jerusalem is a carousel spinning round and round
from the Old City through every neighborhood and back to the Old.
And you can’t get off. If you jump you’re risking your life
and if you step off when it stops you must pay again
to get back on for more turns that never will end.
Instead of painted elephants and horses to ride
religions go up, down and around on their axes
to unctuous melodies from the houses of prayer.

Jerusalem is a seesaw: Sometimes I go down,
to past generations and sometimes up, into the sky,
then like a child dangling on high, legs swinging, I cry
I want to get down, Daddy, Daddy, I want to get down,
Daddy, get me down.
And like that, all the saints go up into the sky.
They’re like children screaming, Daddy, I want to stay high,
Daddy don’t bring me down, Our Father Our King,
leave me on high, Our Father Our King!
                                                                                            (Yehuda Amichai)

Monday, 4 December 2017


The Kabbalah

or, The Religious Philosophy of the Hebrews

by Adolphe Franck

translated by I. Sossnitz

[1926, not renewed]

This is a scholarly study of the origin and evolution of the Kabbalah. Originally published in French in 1843, with a second French edition in 1889, this book traces the origins of the philosophical concepts of the Kabbalah to the ancient Zoroastrians. Franck goes into fascinating detail about the doctrine of the Kabbalah, as expressed in the Sepher Yetzirah and the Zohar. He uses internal evidence to trace the origins of these texts many centuries prior to their first known publication in the thirteenth century C.E.

Franck carefully compares the philosophy of the Kabbalah with Greek philosophy, the Alexandrians, Philo, and the Gnostics, and concludes that, although there are similarities, none of them can claim to be the source of the Kabbalah. However, he does find many more similarities with the ancient Zoroastrian beliefs. By this process of elimination, he comes to the conclusion that the doctrines of the Kabbalah had their origin during the Babylonian exile circa 500 B.C.E., which was also the time when Zoroaster was active in the same geographical region. This thesis is worth considering, and potentially adds more weight to the already numerous contributions of Zoroastrianism to world culture.

PRODUCTION NOTES: This text has extensive quotes in Hebrew and Greek. Viewing the Hebrew and Greek text requires that your browser be set up correctly to view Unicode: for more information, please refer to the Unicode instruction page. In particular, please follow the instructions on that page before firing off an email to me that the file is defective: it isn't, if you can't see the Hebrew or Greek text, the problem is your browser.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Saturday, 2 December 2017


Commentary Magazine
Commentary is a monthly American magazine on religion, Judaism, and politics, as well as social and cultural issues.
Founded by the American Jewish Committee in 1945, it was edited by Norman Podhoretz from 1960 to 1995. Besides its strong coverage of cultural issues, Commentary provided a strong voice for the anti-Stalinist left. Podhoretz, originally a liberal Democrat turned neoconservative, moved the magazine to the right and toward the Republican Party in the 1970s and 1980s.
Commentary has been described by Benjamin Balint as the "contentious magazine that transformed the Jewish left into the neoconservative right", while, according to historian and literary critic Richard Pells, "no other journal of the past half century has been so consistently influential, or so central to the major debates that have transformed the political and intellectual life of the United States." (Wikipedia)

Friday, 1 December 2017

SOGNANDO AVVENTURE CON SALGARI / Italy’s enduring love affair with Emilio Salgari

Francobollo commemorativo delle Poste italiane

I suoi romanzi storici e d'avventura hanno affollato i sogni di migliaia di ragazzi in mezzo mondo. Il suo più accanito lettore, Che Guevara, si vantava di averne letti ben sessantadue. Emilio Salgàri nasce a Verona nel 1862, muore suicida a Torino nel 1911. Scrive più di 80 romanzi e un centinaio di racconti ambientati in ogni angolo del pianeta e immagina viaggi nelle località più remote anche se non si sposta mai dall’Italia. Salgàri è il primo autore italiano di best sellers, ma muore in miseria e ignorato dal mondo letterario.

Lo scrittore vive in un’epoca in cui i traffici si intensificano, i viaggi diventano più rapidi e le comunicazioni più veloci, fatti che influenzano Emilio Salgàri. I suoi romanzi sono una chiave per leggere il suo tempo. “Andava di moda l’esoterismo – spiega Luciano Curreri, docente di Lingua e Letteratura Italiana all’Università di Liegi – era il boom dell’editoria popolare, dei giornali illustrati, e lui, che lavorava come giornalista, trae ispirazione per i suoi romanzi dagli eventi che segue per i suoi articoli. Era uno scrittore bistrattato dalla critica e dagli ambienti letterari", aggiunge Curreri. "L’unico attestato di stima riconosciutogli ufficialmente fu quello della regina Margherita di Savoia che, nel 1897, gli conferì la Croce di Gran Cavaliere”.
Mini documentario sulla vita di questo straordinario autore

~ * ~

...e ora un interessante articolo in inglese, pubblicato da Prospero su THE ECONOMIST (2017)
An original cover of Salgari's novel
Italy’s enduring love affair with Emilio Salgari — A century after his death, the author and his creations still occupy a prominent place in the cultural imagination

LAST month, Neapolitan anti-mafia investigators announced plans to indict Francesco “Sandokan” Schiavone, a local gangster, for the killing of a policeman in 1989. Naples has long been used to Mr Schiavone and his ilk: he is already in jail for murder, along with dozens of his colleagues. What distinguishes Mr Schiavone is his nickname. “Sandokan” was first conjured by Emilio Salgari, a writer who died over a century ago. That his most famous character is still considered relevant hints
at his influence.

Born in Verona in 1862, Salgari led a sad and quietly dramatic life. Although he was prodigious—writing more than 200 novels and stories in his short life—and popular, Salgari struggled with poverty. He was also crippled by personal tragedy: his wife was sent to an asylum, and his father committed suicide. Salgari eventually took his own life, disembowelling himself in the style of a Japanese samurai. “You have kept me and my family in semi-penury,” he wrote to his publisher. “I salute you as I break my pen.”

Far removed from his bleak personal circumstances, Salgari’s stories pant with life. He never travelled far, but deployed his frantic imagination to render faraway places like the American West or the golden beaches of the Caribbean. Whatever the setting, Salgari filled his stories with swordfights, hidden treasure and beautiful maidens. His descriptions are heady. Clouds rush through the sky like
“unbridled horses” while “gigantic crocodiles, always desperate for human flesh” stalk the forest floor. In The Tigers of Mompracem (1900)—his most famous novel —pirates wait “like a legion of demons” to attack the enemy.

Salgari statue in Verona
Salgari’s characters hum with adventure, too. Hiram, the hero of Carthage in Flames (1908) is a dashing warrior. Afza, a stunning Tuareg princess, is at the heart of On The Atlas Mountains (1908). But in terms of fame and glamour, none of Salgari’s heroes can match Sandokan. A Malay pirate, he has the kind of charisma that can turn ten men into “an army”. With his sidekick, a Portuguese buccaneer named Yanez de Gomera, Sandokan ranges the Indian Ocean looking for trouble. At one point he fights a gang of Indian bandits; elsewhere, he hacks through the jungle on a tiger hunt.

Although Salgari romanticised his protagonists, he tried not to patronise them. A strong anti-imperialist living at a time of rampant Italian expansionism, he often cast his “native” characters as heroes. In The Massacre in the Philippines (1898), Salgari strongly sides with the locals against Spanish oppression. The villain in Sandokan’s adventures is James Brooke, a British official and pirate “exterminator” who chases Sandokan from his homeland. The respect Salgari had for his
indigenous characters is also evident in his careful research. He scoured books, maps and journals to craft believable settings for his tales. It shows: in The Tigers of Mompracem Chinese sailors sport traditional bianzi haircuts, and the rigging on Sandokan’s ship is made from rattan, a type of South East Asian palm.

This mix of swashbuckling drama and period detail has intoxicated generations of Italians. Salgari’s books have not been out of print since his death, and a new Sandokan comic is due for release later this year. Several novels have been turned into children’s shows. A television version of Sandokan from 1976, starring Indian actor Kabir Bedi, remains a cult favourite (Mr Schiavone got his nickname from the scraggly beard he shared with Mr Bedi).

Unsurprisingly, Salgari has also influenced dozens of Italian writers. “Tex Willer”— a wildly successful Italian comic published in the 1940s and 1950s—was based on Salgari’s energetic style. More recently, he can be seen in Sergio Leone’s “Spaghetti Western” series, while Umberto Eco admired Salgari for his ability to craft a sense of place. He has been hammered into new forms, too: David Van De Sfroos, a singer, has released a track about Yanez de Gomera in Lombard dialect. The Tigers of Mompracem has just been published in Sardinian. Even recent arrivals have taken
on Salgari. In March, asylum seekers in Florence put on a play linking Sandokan to their own travels.

But if Salgari has burrowed deep into Italian life, he remains almost unknown in English (though he is popular in the Spanish-speaking world: he has been read by everyone from Pablo Neruda to Gabriel García Márquez). Only a few of his books have been translated. A pity: a century after his death, Salgari can still yank readers into his magical world. Hopefully one day an English audience will discover him too—if only so they can meet Sandokan, with his “long hair that drops to his shoulders” and his “black eyes, which burn, and make whoever’s looking drop their gaze.” With features like this, it’s hardly surprising that Sandokan lives on—and that tough guys like Mr Schiavone seek to emulate him.

Emilio Salgari

~ For the extensive Salgarian bibliography, see Wikipedia under:

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


Amo Totò, l'ho sempre amato, sin da piccolo: le risate che mi ha fatto fare lui, nussun altro c'è riuscito. Risate a crepapelle, risate ironiche, risate sotto i baffi, risate scoppiettanti, risate a singhiozzo, risate ghignanti, risate diaboliche, risate lacrimanti, insomma risate in tutti i modi, perfino risate tristi. Ho la collezione completa di tutti i suoi film (e sono tanti) e, quando ho voglia di rilassarmi e voglio dimenticare per un po' i problemi della vita, me ne rivedo uno e godo...
        Ecco un bell'articolo di Francesca Divella, pubblicato in luglio 2017 su

in occasione della proiezione di I DUE MARESCIALLI alla Cineteca di Bologna:

Fisica e naturale: la comicità di Totò
di Francesca Divella

La recitazione di Totò era molto spontanea, l'improvvisazione vi aveva una grande parte. Per dare il meglio, Totò aveva bisogno di un compagno con cui l'accordo fosse immediato, e che spesso lo seguiva di film in film. Nei Due marescialli per esempio, Totò recitava per la seconda volta con Vittorio De Sica. Al suo fianco quasi si esaltava, dimostrava il classico piacere del comico che sa di recitare capito e lo fa in modo eccezionale. Le sue doti naturali di improvvisazione, le sue straordinarie doti di comico, venivano messe in enorme risalto. Credo che questo avvenisse, in quel film, principalmente per la presenza di un partner molto importante. Totò diceva sempre: "Io posso far ridere, ma se ho vicino a me uno che fa ridere più di me, anch'io faccio ridere di più". Con De Sica ritrovava una verve nuova, e il senso di divertire un artista che oltre che essere un vecchio collega, un compagno napoletano, era nello stesso tempo un grande regista. Da parte sua c'era un certo gusto a far risaltare la sua bravura, una certa eccitazione nel recitare, far ridere, tirar fuori tutti i suoi lazzi e le sue fantastiche trovate, che rendevano difficile perfino al regista assistere alla scena senza ridere. (Sergio Corbucci)

Riparliamo ora di Totò in occasione della detta proiezione di I due marescialli ...
“Macchè artista: venditore di chiacchiere. Un falegname vale più di noi artisti: almeno fabbrica un tavolino che rimane nei secoli. Ma noi, dica, che facciamo? Quanto duriamo? Al massimo se abbiamo successo, una generazione. Se chiedo al mio nipotino chi era Petrolini, chi era Zacconi, risponde boh! Lo scritto rimane, il quadro rimane, il lavandino rimane: ma di ciò che facciamo noi non rimane un bel nulla.” (tratto da Antonio De Curtis “Totò si nasce” a cura di Marco  Giusti, Mondadori, 2000). Partiamo da un’affermazione inconfutabile: Totò fu un fenomeno di cinema popolare, e come tale ha sempre riscosso un gran successo al botteghino, collezionando numeri e quantità in termini di pubblico di spettatori appassionati, da fare invidia a chiunque.
Nato e cresciuto in un tempo e tra generazioni per cui il cinema non era ancora considerato una forma d’arte necessariamente aulica, bensì una forma di intrattenimento, un passatempo da fiera o da baracconi, per comprendere la sua comicità, bisognerebbe prima di tutto ricontestualizzarla nel suo tempo. E dopo aver tirato una linea di demarcazione tra il suo tempo e il nostro, notando le differenze e le somiglianze tra le due epoche, potremo comprendere quali sono le ragioni per cui ancora oggi ci fa così gustosamente ridere Totò.
Oppure potremmo appellarci a una caterva di teorie generali del comico da quelle bergsoniane (il riso ha una sua precisa utilità sociale) a quelle pirandelliane (umorismo come forma di percezione della realtà, il senso del contrario), ma una cosa resterebbe sempre invariata, il riso che provoca Totò è un riso fragoroso e dilagante, un riso collettivo, come quello generato simultaneamente nella platea di spettatori a teatro o nelle troupe che assistevano ai suoi film.
La comicità di Totò è fisica e naturale, è come una musica, basata sul tempo: nasce da gesti, movimenti, suoni che inducono il sorriso, capitomboli, starnuti, balbettii, smorfie, occhi strabuzzati, strisciate di piedi e tutto ciò che conduce all’idea della maschera sovrapposta al corpo vivente dell’attore. La risata scaturisce dal fatto che la materialità del gesto o del suono si svincola dal senso che dovrebbe animarlo. E’ come se Totò solleticasse di continuo il carattere equivoco del comico, il piacere del ridere non è mai del tutto disinteressato ad esso si mescola, indicibilmente, l’intenzione di umiliare e quindi di correggere qualcosa che non funziona, il riso è la risposta ad una imperfezione, sottolinea la comparsa di qualcosa di inammissibile. E spesso è come se le sue battute ci facessero la morale:  “Era un uomo così antipatico che dopo la sua morte i parenti chiedevano il bis”,“Non dividerei mai una donna con un altro uomo, in amore non mi piacciono i condomini”.
il Pinocchio di "Totò a colori"
il Pinocchio di "Totò a colori"
La comicità di Totò nasce a volte dalla ripetizione, ma non da una ripetizione pura e semplice, bensì dalla ripetizione di ciò che non dovrebbe ripetersi: un uomo che simula la ripetitività della macchina, proprio come il Chaplin di Tempi Moderni, ecco il Totò di Totò cerca casa nella scena dei timbri: l’impiegato che comincia a timbrare freneticamente tutto ciò che gli capita sottomano con una smorfia diabolica sul viso, fino alla imprevedibile “caduta nella follia”, che lo porta a timbrare inconsapevolmente il deretano del sindaco di bianco vestito. Più spesso la comicità di Totò affonda in gran parte nella pantomima, ossia nel parossismo quasi surreale, di scene in cui la parola diventa superflua e Lui si esprime solo visivamente, come la scena degli spaghetti in Miseria e Nobiltà, il Pinocchio di Totò a colori o la scena esilarante della gallina che fa l’uovo in Totò cerca casa.
Eppure sulla questione di ciò che fa o non fa ridere pesano sempre indubbiamente le esperienze del soggetto e quello che ognuno di noi trova per proprio conto ridicolo. E’ per questo che il comico è un fatto che ha sicuramente tre aspetti: uno sociale, uno psicologico e soggettivo e l’ultimo di linguaggio. Ebbene la grandezza di Totò stava probabilmente nella sua capacità unica di coinvolgere contemporaneamente questi tre aspetti.
L’aspetto sociale era alla base del suo personaggio, Totò aveva conosciuto la miseria, e la fame. E, come lui stesso affermò più volte “Io so a memoria la miseria, e la miseria è il copione della vera comicità. Non si può far ridere se non si conoscono bene il dolore e la fame, il freddo, l’amore senza speranza, la disperazione della solitudine di certe squallide camerette ammobiliate alla fine di una recita in un teatrucolo di provincia; e la vergogna dei pantaloni sfondati, il desiderio di un caffellatte, la prepotenza esosa degli impresari, la cattiveria del pubblico senza educazione. Insomma, non si può essere un vero attore comico senza aver fatto la guerra con la vita”.
L’aspetto psicologico e soggettivo, invece, Totò lo chiama in causa ogni volta che mette in scena la sua (fiera) origine partenopea, un vizio condiviso (l’impiegato fannullone, l’imbroglione, il truffaldino, l’infedele), l’amore per il cibo o per le donne, la paura della morte, prestandosi in tal modo alla rappresentazione di un italiano tipico (pusillanime per lo più) che viene al contempo criticato e perciò stesso quasi assolto dai suoi peccati di bassa umanità (fame, paura, appetito sessuale): Sono un uomo della foresta, nel mangiare mi contento di poco. A me mi bastano due banane, qualche nocciolina, un’aragosta, ma piccola, un pollo lesso, un pollo alla cacciatora con qualche animella e tartufi. Dolce, vino, formaggio e caffè. Mi creda, caro Micozzi, io sono vegetariano”. (Tototarzan); “Cara, di cognome ti chiami Ranocchia? Vieni, andiamo a fare un girino” (Tototarzan) ; “Oh io nella vita ho fornicato sempre. Mi chiamavano il fornichiero.” (Totò all’inferno).
Infine, non da ultimo, Totò costruisce le sue battute giocando consapevolmente con la lingua italiana, che nelle sue collaterali attività di poeta/paroliere/compositore ha dato prova di conoscere a menadito, facendoci ridere mentre si beffa della nostra ignoranza, invertendo parole e significati, utilizzando equivoci e giochi di parole: “Parlo solo la lingua madre perché mio padre morì quando ero bambino; Sono finito sul banco degli amputati; Signora, i suoi modi sono interurbani; Io c’ho le coliche apatiche; Ho fatto una gaffe, una grossa gaffe….ho fatto un gaffone; Io c’ho l’occhio policlinico…..nulla mi sfugge”.
La lingua italiana sarà al tempo stesso matrice della sua comicità e suo limite: perchè proprio a causa del suo essere così legato alla lingua d’espressione Totò purtroppo non valicò mai le frontiere d’oltremare, ma esistette solo entro i confini del nostro Paese. Non ebbe la possibilità di imporsi anche all’estero, perchè non era facile esportare e soprattutto doppiare i suoi film. Totò raccontava ad Age di aver visto a Marsiglia Totò sceicco in francese e di come la celebre battuta “Guarda Omàr quant’è bello” tradotta in francese non facesse ridere per niente. Resta tutt’oggi questo grande rimpianto, che il genio di un così grande uomo sia rimasto all’estero quasi sconosciuto a causa di una supposta intraducibilità della sua comicità. A tal proposito Age lanciò un invito anni orsono, a provarci, a trovare la chiave di volta per esportare Totò anche al di fuori dell’Italia. Probabilmente questo invito andrebbe accolto, anche solo per la constatazione che, se Totò è capace di far ridere così tanto noi che lo conosciamo bene, chissà quante risate potrebbe regalare a chi lo scoprisse per la prima volta.
Totò e Peppino De Filippo nel film LA BANDA DEGLI ONESTI