There was a town where everything was forbidden
A little story by Italo Calvino, a 3-minute read
There was a town where everything was forbidden.
Now, since the only thing that wasn’t forbidden was the game tip-cat, the town’s subjects used to assemble on meadows behind the town and spend the day there playing tip-cat.
And as the laws forbidding things had been introduced one at a time and always with good reason, no one found any cause for complaint or had any trouble getting used to them.
Years passed. One day the constables saw that there was no longer any reason why everything should be forbidden and they sent messengers to inform their subjects that they could do whatever they wanted.
The messengers went to those places where the subjects were wont to assemble.
‘Hear ye, hear ye,’ they announced, ‘nothing is forbidden anymore.’
The people went on playing tip-cat.
‘Understand?’ the messengers insisted. ‘You are free to do what you want.’
‘Good,’ replied the subjects. ‘We're playing tip-cat.’
The messengers busily reminded them of the many wonderful and useful occupations they had once engaged in and could now engage in once again. But the subjects wouldn’t listen and just went on playing, stroke after stroke, without even stopping for a breather.
Seeing that their efforts were in vain, the messengers went to tell the constables.
‘Easy’, the constables said. ‘Let’s forbid the game of tipcat.’
That was when the people rebelled and killed the lot of them.
Then without wasting time, they got back to playing tip-cat.
“Making Do”, by Italo Calvino, from a manuscript penned on 17 May 1943, was published for the first time in La Repubblica, 17 September 1986. I excerpted that short story from the collection titled Numbers in the Dark, (1995), translated from the Italian by Tim Parks.
The text is one of Italo Calvino’s raccontini—as he called them—‘little stories’. In a note, dated 1943, Calvino wrote:
One writes fables in periods of oppression. When a man cannot give clear form to his thinking, he expresses it in fables. When the times were right—with the end of the war and Fascism, that is—the fable would no longer be necessary and the writer would be able to move on to other things.
Italo Calvino continued to write fables for many years thereafter.
The painting, which I modified in photoshop, is by Lucian Freud.
Thanks for reading “The Flying Fish”. I kiss you on the mouth.
25 April, AD 2022