This article was originally published in Italian on Bookavenue.
“Io Leggo Perché…”
“I Read Because…”
Last month in Rome I was attracted by a large panel in front of a bookshop. Passers-by could take a post-it, write their sentence and stick it on the panel. “I Read Because I need to dream”, “I Read Because the journey by train is too long!”, “I Read Because I want to forget my mother-in-law”…
I was overwhelmed by memories. I realized that every book I had loved was – in its own way – a proclaim on the redeeming power of imagination and words. I thought about the last one I had bought, which had been laying on my table for days. I didn’t have the courage to open it: in addition to the painful empathy for the story, I wondered how I could draw the readers’ attention. How could I convince them that they were involved? The Road by Cormac McCarthy came to my mind… that book on my table began with a couple of words that seemed stolen from the father of the novel: “I am cold. I am so cold”. But what the heck had Cormac done to convince us that The Other did not exist?! How had he persuaded us that those father and child pushing a shopping cart towards the end of the world were us all? Perhaps… with a story?
Alright, here you are the story. Once upon a time there was a princess called Sara who lived in a castle in a small town in Italy. In order to pay the bills of the castle, the princess worked as a hairdresser and had just opened a shop when – one unlucky day – a Monster knocked at her door. The princess felt she was fainting and run to the castle. Many months passed and the Monster appeared first once, then twice… then more and more often, until the princess had to close the small shop. It was a hard blow after so many sacrifices, but the princess didn’t give up. She spoke to the most famous Wizard of the reign, who revealed the Monster’s name to her and told her to hide on the Mountain. Yes, because the Mountain was so high and the air so transparent that the Monster could not reach Sara without being seen. Then a Scribe was informed that a fugitive princess was hiding on the Mountain and knocked at her door. After the meeting, Sara and the Scribe decided to write the entire story and spread it up to the borders of the reign, so that who now meets the Monster, can recognize it.
“But how is the Monster like?!”, you ask. Well, I think that Master Miyazaki would draw it like a gigantic creature with a lot of heads, a deformed dragon that emerges from a dark and viscous lake on the verge of drying out. On the lake’s shores, you should imagine the Lilliputian horde of our polluted cities: clots of houses marked by neoliberal anxiety. Do you remember The Stink Spirit waiting to be washed in Spirited Away? Well, something like that…
We need a story indeed, because in our Italian “reign” the Monster is almost unknown even if in many countries it was given a name a lot of years ago. And the name is MCS, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, “a pathology of epigenetic origin that is closely related to environmental pollution”. It is an illness more and more frequent among women and children, that appears when a genetic susceptibility – a predisposition that concerns a consistent slice of population – encounters toxic substances. It is thus linked to the thousands of chemicals we have been inserting in the environment and the food chain for decades. What chemicals?, you may ask. Everything: from medicines to anaesthetics to cosmetics to food preservatives to smog and toners and furniture imbued with formaldehyde. “And when you get worse”, writes Sara Capatti, “[…] you also become “allergic” to many natural substances […] and intolerant to almost all foods”.
But Sara Capatti’s story – written four-handed with journalist Patrizia Piolatto – also starts from a definition that scarily echoes the warnings of Rachel Carson during the Sixties. In Silent Spring, Carson wrote that the pesticides and chemicals we were pouring in the food chain already were out of our control. She said that they were designed to act on the enzymes of plants, animals… and humans. And in effect, we are speaking of an enzymatic damage caused by chemicals even at very low doses, a damage with terrible consequences: “who is affected by this illness loses the natural capacity to eliminate toxic substances, so he or she develops a hypersensitivity to the same substances and many others. In addition, a poor capacity to metabolize increases the accumulation of toxicity”. To put it simply, we concentrate on cancer as it was the real Monster to destroy, while we are not seeing that it often is the son of a greater Monster: environmental pollution.
But let’s come back to the father in Cormac McCarthy’s novel: he dies on a fetid shore, trying to breathe pure air in a world where pure air no longer exists. The only difference is that Sara Capatti’s story is true and concerns us all. Here, The Road is the path we are walking on as human species. The book concerns us all because it is the story of a young woman’s colorful life but also the story of maladies we are not able to recognize. In fact, some Strong Powers don’t want us to identify them for what they really are: the fruits of a “progress” based on the petrochemical industry. “My strange maladies”, writes the author, “the doctors used to say they were due to psychological stress”. An old story that women know too well. And it is above all a story that concerns a choice we can make every day, that choice of being “the marvel that is man” or “the dismarvellizers”, just to quote the words of great Uruguayan poet Mario Benedetti. In the end, it is just a tiny Italian book, written by a small woman… but we still cannot find much more in our language and I wanted to tell you this story in a simple way.
That day I couldn’t find a sentence for the panel in front of the bookshop. I came back home instead, turned on the TV and was assaulted by the celebrations for the Expo. Not a word on the essential reasons why food should be kept separate from the corporations of drugs, pesticides and oil. So I turned off the TV and started reading my little book written by a little patient, The Girl with the Wooden Glasses, and in that moment words came out and I started writing my love letter to books: I Read Because I want to know The Other’s thought, Because I want to know what truths are kept hidden from me but above all Because I want The Other not to exist. I Read Because I think that we need people like the father in the novel by Cormac McCarthy and like the doctor’s wife in Saramago’s Blindness. In the end, I Write Because you don’t know this story and you must know it instead, but above all I Write Because The Other could be you.
In you are interested in Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and you don’t know anything, just see:
- Dr. Claudia Miller’s simply designed website. Together with Nicholas Ashford, she is the author of weel known Chemical Exposures – Low Levels and High Stakes.
- Professor Martin Pall’s book Explaining Unexplained Illnesses. There were many free documents by Pall on the internet, but they have mysteriously disappeared during the last months…
- John McLaren Howard’s studies. I think this one is one of the most important. Just read the first two-pages summe.