Listening time: 5 minutes.
A long and touching quote from a story by Italo Calvino, concerning a laboratory rabbit who escapes, albeit not necessarily by its own choice.
Its newfound freedom, unsought but tentatively explored, is overshadowed by the hungry interest of surrounding humans to lure it to their kitchens. Then, in a surprising twist to the tale, the rabbit, used to being trapped and hurt by people, suddenly finds their windows slamming shut to keep it out. The cause of this about turn? The authorities warning people that the lab-rabbit was deliberately infected with a dangerous illness and they shouldn’t touch it, let alone eat it.
The full text of the quote can be seen below and the podcast can also be heard on Spotify, here.
This account, attempting to take the perspective of an animal, reminds me of a quotation by Vasily Grossman, concerning a mule and a mare.
Source: Italo Calvino, Marcovaldo, trans. by William Weaver (London: Picador, 1985), pp. 57-58
Photo credit: Janan Lagerwall at unsplash
When it was alone, the rabbit began moving. It ventured a few steps, looked around, changed direction, turned, then, in little hops and skips, it started over the roofs. It was an animal born prisoner: its yearning for liberty did not have broad horizons. The greatest gift it had known in life was the ability to have a few moments free of fear. Now, now it could move, with nothing around to frighten it, perhaps for the first time in its life. … And so it went onto the roofs; and the cats that saw it hopping didn’t understand what it was and they drew back, in awe.
Meanwhile, from skylights, from dormer windows, from flat decks, the rabbit’s itinerary had not gone unremarked. Some people began to display basins of salad on their sills, peeking then from behind the curtains, others threw a pear core on the rooftiles and spread a string lasso around it, someone else arranged a row of bits of carrot along the parapet, leading to his own window. And a rallying-cry ran through all the families living in the garrets. “Stewed rabbit today” – or “fricasseed rabbit” – or “roast rabbit”.
The animal had noticed these lures, these silent offers of food. And though it was hungry, it didn’t trust them. It knew that every time humans tried to attract it with offers of food, something obscure and painful happened: either they stuck a syringe into its flesh, or a scalpel, or they forced it into a buttoned up jacket, or they dragged it along with a ribbon around its neck … And the memory of these misfortunes merged with the pain it felt inside, with the slow change of organs that it sensed, with the prescience of death. And hunger. But as if it knew that, of all these discomforts, only hunger could be allayed, and recognized that these treacherous human beings could provide, in addition to cruel sufferings, a sense – which it also needed – of protection, of domestic warmth, it decided to surrender, to play the humans’ game: then whatever had to happen, would happen. So, it began to eat the bits of carrot, following the trail that, as the rabbit well knew, would make it prisoner and martyr again, but savoring once more, and perhaps for the last time, the good earthy flavor of vegetables. Now it was approaching the garret window, now a hand would stretch out to catch it: instead, all of a sudden, the window slammed and closed it out. This was an event alien to its experience: a trap that refused to snap shut…