Thursday, January 05, 2006

Happy Birthday Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco was born on January 5, 1932 in a small city east of Turin and 60 miles south of Milan in the northwestern province of Piedmont. The town – Alessandria – was largely centered around a company that manufactured Borsalino hats, and being a Piedmontese town meant that the residents were born into a unique culture among those found in the rest of Italy. A mountainous area, the Piedmontese are used to a certain sense of independence, and in many ways they are marked by the phlegmatic nature of the nearby French rather than the fiery passions of the southern Italians. Eco often cites his upbringing among this culture as a source of the unique temperament in his writing: “Certain elements remain as the basis for my world vision: a skepticism and an aversion to rhetoric. Never to exaggerate, never to make bombastic assertions.”His father, Giulio Eco, an accountant and a veteran of three wars, came from a family of thirteen children. Eco’s grandfather claims to be a foundling, and that he was given the name Eco by “an inventive civil servant.” Supposedly the name is an acronym for ex caelis oblatus, or “offered by the heavens.” Giulio married Giovanna Bisio, and as they went about raising a family, it was more or less decided that in order to maintain their wits they would swear off politics. Umberto remembers his grandmother fondly, and like both Borges and García Márquez, he claims that he developed his delight in the absurd from her peculiar sense of humor.

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