How to Travel With a Salmon & Other Essays

  How to Travel with a Salmon

  And Other Essays

  Umberto Eco

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  © 1992 Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, Bompiani, Sonzogno, Etas S.p.A.

  English translation copyright © 1994 by Harcourt, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may

  be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,

  electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or

  any information storage and retrieval system, without

  permission in writing from the publisher.

  Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work

  should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,

  Harcourt. Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

  This is a translation of II Secondo Diario Minimo.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Eco, Umberto.

  [Secondo diario minimo. English]

  How to travel with a salmon & other essays/Umberto Eco;

  translated from the Italian by William Weaver,

  p. cm.—(A Harvest book)

  "A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book."

  ISBN 0-15-600125X

  I. Weaver, William, 1923– II. Title.

  PQ4865.C6A28 1995

  854'.912—dc20 95-16885

  Designed by Lori J. McThomas

  Display type set in Spectrum and Alternative Gothic

  Printed in the United States of America

  First Harvest edition 1995

  M O Q P N L

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  Preface • [>]

  How to Travel with a Salmon • [>]

  How to Replace a Driver's License • [>]

  How to Eat in Flight • [>]

  How to Go Through Customs • [>]

  How to Travel on American Trains • [>]

  How to Take Intelligent Vacations • [>]

  How to Use the Taxi Driver • [>]

  How Not to Talk about Soccer • [>]

  How to Use the Coffeepot from Hell • [>]

  How to React to Familiar Faces • [>]

  How to Be a TV Host • [>]

  How Not to Know the Time • [>]

  Stars and Stripes • [>]

  Conversation in Babylon • [>]

  On the Impossibility of Drawing a Map of the Empire on a Scale of 1 to 1 • [>]

  How to Eat Ice Cream • [>]

  How It Begins, and How It Ends • [>]

  How to Justify a Private Library • [>]

  How to Compile an Inventory • [>]

  How to Spend Time • [>]

  How to Buy Gadgets • [>]

  How to Follow Instructions • [>]

  How to Become a Knight of Malta • [>]

  How to Deal with Telegrams • [>]

  How Not to Use the Fax Machine • [>]

  How Not to Use the Cellular Phone • [>]

  Three Owls on a Chest of Drawers • [>]

  Editorial Revision • [>]

  Sequels • [>]

  How to Use Suspension Points • [>]

  How to Write an Introduction • [>]

  How to Write an Introduction to an Art Catalogue • [>]

  How to Set the Record Straight • [>]

  How to Watch Out for Widows • [>]

  How to Organize a Public Library • [>]

  How to Speak of Animals • [>]

  How to Play Indians • [>]

  How to Recognize a Porn Movie • [>]

  How to Avoid Contagious Diseases • [>]

  How to Choose a Remunerative Profession • [>]

  The Miracle of San Baudolino • [>]

  * * *


  Between 1959 and 1961 I was responsible for a regular column entitled "Diario minimo" in the literary magazine II Verri, edited by Luciano Anceschi. The very existence of the column represented an act of courage on Anceschi's part, because cultural reviews in those days took themselves very seriously indeed, and the "Diario," on the other hand, consisted of droll observations on contemporary life, bookish parodies, fantasies, and various lunacies by a number of contributors, among them many of Italy's most gifted younger poets, critics, philosophers, and novelists. We also ran clippings from newspapers, eccentric quotations, and so on, which, as I recall, various contributors to the magazine turned in occasionally, to enrich the column. Since I was in charge, I contributed more than anyone else: at first, moralities, then, increasingly, literary pastiches.

  Around 1962 the editor and poet Vittorio Sereni asked me to collect these pieces of mine in a volume for the publisher Mondadori, and as the column no longer existed and "Diario minimo" had become virtually a generic term, I used this title for the book that came out first in 1963 and was reprinted in 1975. For this later edition, which eliminated many of the moralities (some of them were too closely linked to transitory events), I favored the pastiches, including several more recent pieces. Some years afterwards, the volume was adapted into English and entitled Misreadings.

  That first Diario has had quite a history; it has gone through several editions, and I know that the students of several architecture departments are required to ponder the "Paradox of Porta Ludovica," and a department of classical philology created a seminar to discuss whether scholars of the ancient world look on the Greek lyric poets in the way my Eskimos of the next millennium looked on the contents of a tattered collection of popular song texts. Parisian friends, founders of Transcultura, an organization that imports African and Asian anthropologists to study European cities, say that their program was inspired by my "Industry and Sexual Repression in a Po Valley Society," in which Melanesian anthropologists analyzed the primitive Milanese by sophisticated phenomenological parameters.

  But, that little volume aside, I have written other "minimal diaries." They appeared in other guises or remained in a desk drawer after I subjected friends to them, frequently co-authors or, at least, prompters. Indeed, after almost apologizing for the first little volume, as if it were less than serious to pursue the pathways of parody, I have since continued with righteous boldness, convinced that it was not only a legitimate procedure but actually a sacred duty.

  Almost thirty years went by, the desk drawers became crammed with abandoned manuscripts, and friends kept asking me what had become of certain pieces that only an oral tradition had kept alive. So now I have published a second Diario minimo, still convinced of what I wrote in concluding the preface to the first, in 1975: "For such is the fate of parody: it must never fear exaggerating. If it strikes home, it will only prefigure something that others will then do without a smile—and without a blush—in steadfast, virile seriousness."

  I should add only that not all the pieces here are in the vein of parody. I have included also pure divertissements, with no critical or moralistic intentions. But I feel no need for ideological justification.

  This introduction does not include any acknowledgments: I refer the reader to the piece entitled "How to Write an Introduction" on [>].

  Milan, 5 January 1992

  How to Travel with a Salmon

  According to the newspapers, there are two main problems besetting the modern world: the invasion of the computer, and the alarming expansion of the Third World. The newspapers are right, and I know it.

  My recent journey was brief: one day in Stockholm and thr
ee in London. In Stockholm, taking advantage of a free hour, I bought a smoked salmon, an enormous one, dirt cheap. It was carefully packaged in plastic, but I was told that, if I was traveling, I would be well advised to keep it refrigerated. Ha. Just try.

  Happily, in London, my publisher made me a reservation in a deluxe hotel: a room equipped with minibar. But on arriving at the hotel, I had the impression I was entering a foreign legation in Peking during the Boxer rebellion: whole families camping out in the lobby, travelers wrapped in blankets sleeping amid their luggage. I questioned the staff, all of them Indians except for a few Malayans, and I was told that just the previous day, in this grand hotel, a computerized system had been installed and, before all the kinks could be eliminated, had broken down for two hours. There was no way of telling which rooms were occupied and which were free. I would have to wait.

  Towards evening the system was back up, and I managed to get into my room. Worried about my salmon, I removed it from the suitcase and looked for the minibar.

  As a rule, in normal hotels, the minibar is a small refrigerator containing two beers, some miniature bottles of hard liquor, a few cans of fruit juice, and two packets of peanuts. In my hotel, the refrigerator was family size and contained fifty bottles of whisky, gin, Drambuie, Courvoisier, eight large Perriers, two Vitelloises, and two Evians, three half-bottles of champagne, various cans of Guinness, pale ale, Dutch beer, German beer, bottles of white wine both French and Italian, and, besides peanuts, also cocktail crackers, almonds, chocolates, and Alka-Seltzer. There was no room for the salmon. I pulled out two roomy drawers of the dresser and emptied the contents of the bar into them, then refrigerated the salmon, and thought no more about it. The next day, when I came back into the room at four in the afternoon, the salmon was on the desk, and the bar was again crammed almost solid with gourmet products. I opened the drawers, only to discover that everything I had hidden there the day before was still in place. I called the desk and told the clerk to inform the chambermaids that if they found the bar empty it wasn't because I had consumed all its contents, but because of the salmon. He replied that all such requests had to be entered in the central computer, but—a further complication—because most of the staff spoke no English, verbal instructions were not accepted: Everything had to be translated into Basic. Meanwhile, I pulled out another two drawers and filled them with the new contents of the bar, where I then replaced my salmon.

  The next day at 4 P.M., the salmon was back on the desk, and it was already emanating a suspect odor. The bar was crammed with bottles large and small, and the four drawers of the dresser suggested the back room of a speakeasy at the height of Prohibition. I called the desk again and was told that they were having more trouble with the computer. I rang the bell for room service and tried to explain my situation to a youth with a pony tail; he could speak nothing but a dialect that, as an anthropologist colleague explained later, had been current only in Kefiristan at about the time Alexander the Great was wooing Roxana.

  The next morning I went down to sign the bill. It was astronomical. It indicated that in two and a half days I had consumed several hectoliters of Veuve Clicquot, ten liters of various whiskies, including some very rare single malts, eight liters of gin, twenty-five liters of mineral water (both Perrier and Evian, plus some bottles of San Pellegrino), enough fruit juice to protect from scurvy all the children in UNICEF's care, and enough almonds, walnuts, and peanuts to induce vomiting in Dr. Kay Scarpetta. I tried to explain, but the clerk, with a betel-blackened smile, assured me that this was what the computer said. I asked for a lawyer, and they brought me an avocado.

  Now my publisher is furious and thinks I'm a chronic freeloader. The salmon is inedible. My children insist I cut down on my drinking.


  How to Replace a Driver's License

  In May of 1981, as I was passing through Amsterdam, I lost my wallet (or it was stolen: there are thieves even in Holland). It contained only a small amount of money, but a number of documents and cards. I didn't become aware of the loss until, at the airport, about to leave the country, I realized my credit card was missing. In the half an hour remaining before takeoff I conducted a desperate search for a place to report the loss (or theft). Within five minutes I was received by an airport police sergeant who, in good English, explained that the matter was not within the airport's jurisdiction, as the wallet had been lost in the city; nevertheless, he agreed to type out a report and assured me that, at nine, when the office opened, he would personally telephone American Express. And so, within ten minutes, the Dutch part of my case was dealt with.

  Back in Milan, I telephone American Express and ascertain that my card number has been circulated worldwide, and the following day a new card arrives. What a great thing civilization is, I say to myself.

  Then I tally the other lost documents, and I make a report at the police station. Another ten minutes. How wonderful, I say to myself: our police are just like the Dutch. Among the lost items is my press card; I am able to obtain a duplicate in three days. Better and better.

  Alas, I have also lost my driver's license. But this seems the least of my worries. We live in a capital of the automobile industry, there's a Ford in our future, our country's famous superhighways are the envy of the world. I call the Italian Automobile Club and am told that I have only to give them the number of the lost license. I realize I don't have it written it down anywhere, except, of course, on the lost license itself, and I try to find out if they can look up my name in their files and find the number. Apparently this is impossible.

  I cannot live without driving: it's a life-or-death matter, and I decide to do what as a rule I don't do: find a shortcut, use connections. As a rule, I say, I don't do this, because I dislike putting friends or acquaintances to any trouble, and I hate it when people use such tactics with me. And besides, I live in Milan, where, if you need a certificate from a city office, you don't have to call the mayor; it's quicker to join the line at the window, where they're fairly efficient. But, the fact is, anything involving our car makes all of us a bit nervous, so I call Rome and speak with a Highly Placed Person at the Automobile Club there, who puts me in touch with a Highly Placed Person at the Automobile Club of Milan, who tells his secretary to do everything that can be done. Everything, in this case, unfortunately amounts to very little, despite the secretary's politeness.

  She teaches me a few tricks; she urges me to track down an old receipt from Avis or Hertz, where the number of my license should appear on the carbon copy. In one day she helps me fill out the preliminary forms, then she tells me where I have to go, namely the license office of the prefecture, an immense hall, teeming with a desperate and malodorous crowd, reminiscent of the station of New Delhi in the movies about the revolt of the sepoys; and here the postulants, telling horrible tales ("I've been here since the first invasion of Libya"), are encamped with thermoses and sandwiches, and when you reach the head of the line—as I personally discover—the window is closing.

  In any case, I have to admit, it adds up to a few days of standing in line, during which every time you reach the window you learn that you should have filled out a different form or should have bought a different denomination of tax stamp, and you are sent back to the end of the line. But, as everyone knows, this is the way things are. All is in order, I'm finally told: come back in about two weeks. Meanwhile, I take taxis.

  Two weeks later, after climbing over some postulants who have by now gone into irreversible coma, I discover at the window that the number I had copied from the Avis receipt, whether through an error at the source or through defective carbon paper or through deterioration of the ancient document, is not correct. Nothing can be done if you give them the wrong number. "Very well," I say, "you obviously can't look for a number that I'm unable to tell you, but you can look under Eco and find the number."

  No. Maybe it's ill will, or stress, or maybe licenses are listed only by number. In any case, what I ask is beyond their capabili
ties. Try at the office where you first got the license, they say: the city of Alessandria, many years ago. There they should be able to reveal your number to you.

  I don't have time to go to Alessandria, especially now that I can't drive, so I fall back on a second shortcut: I telephone an old school friend, now a Highly Placed Person in local financial circles, and ask him to telephone the city's Bureau of Motor Vehicles. He makes an equally dishonest decision and, instead, privately calls a Highly Placed Person at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, who tells him that data of that sort cannot be given out, except to the police. I'm sure the reader will realize the risks the State would run if my license number were to be given out right and left: Qaddafi and the KGB would desire nothing more. So it must remain Top Secret.

  Another stroll down memory lane and I come up with another schoolmate, who is now a Highly Placed Person in a division of the government, but I warn him immediately not to get in touch with any important officials of the Motor Vehicles Bureau, because the matter is dangerous and he could end up being summoned before a parliamentary investigating committee. My suggestion, on the contrary, is to find a Lowly Placed Person, perhaps a night watchman, who can be bribed to take a peek at the files under cover of darkness. The Highly Placed Person in government is lucky enough to find a Medium Placed Person at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, who doesn't even have to be bribed, because he is a regular reader of L'Espresso and decides, out of his devotion to culture, to risk this dangerous favor for his favorite columnist (me). I don't know exactly what feats this daring figure performs, but the fact is that, the following day, I have the number of the license. My readers will forgive me if I refuse to reveal it: I have a wife and children to consider.

  With this number (which I now copy down everywhere and conceal in secret drawers against the next theft or loss) I pass through other lines at the Milan license office. I wave it triumphantly before the suspicious eyes of the clerk—who, with a smile that has nothing human about it, tells me that I must also display the number of the document with which, in the far-off 1950s, the Alessandrian authorities communicated the number of my license to the authorities of Milan.

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