Thursday, July 17, 2014

Case Study No. 1448: Signorina Paglietta

AUDIOBOOK The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (Chapter Nine: "Phosphorous")

AUDIOBOOK The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (Chapter Nine: "Phosphorous")
AUDIOBOOK The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (Chapter Nine: "Phosphorous")
AUDIOBOOK The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (Chapter Nine: "Phosphorous")
AUDIOBOOK The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (Chapter Nine: "Phosphorous")
AUDIOBOOK The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (Chapter Nine: "Phosphorous")
Tags: The Librarian Suprise sex! with cupcake
Added: 3 months ago
From: ??? ?????
Views: 2


The Periodic Table (Italian: Il Sistema Periodico) is a collection of short stories by Primo Levi, published in 1975, named after the periodic table in chemistry. In 2006, the Royal Institution of Great Britain named it the best science book ever.

The stories are autobiographical episodes of the author's experiences as a Jewish-Italian doctoral-level chemist under the Fascist regime and afterwards. They include various themes following a chronological sequence: his ancestry, his study of chemistry and practising the profession in wartime Italy, a pair of imaginative tales he wrote at that time,[2] and his subsequent experiences as an anti-Fascist partisan, his arrest and imprisonment, interrogation, and internment in the Fossoli di Carpi and Auschwitz camps, and postwar life as an industrial chemist. Every story, 21 in total, has the name of a chemical element and is connected to it in some way.

"Argon" – infancy of the author, the community of Piedmontese Jews and their language
"Hydrogen" – two kids experiment with electrolysis
"Zinc" – laboratory experiments in a university
"Iron" – the adolescence of the author, between the racial laws and the Alps
"Potassium" – an experience in the laboratory with unexpected effects
"Nickel" – in the chemical laboratories of a mine
"Lead" – the narrative of a primitive metallurgist (fiction)[3]
"Mercury" – a tale of the populating of a remote and desolate island (fiction)[4]
"Phosphorus" – an experience from a job in the chemical industry
"Gold" – a story of imprisonment
"Cerium" – in order to survive in the Lager
"Chromium" – a recovery of livered varnishes
"Sulfur" – an experience from a job in the chemical industry
"Titanium" – a scene of daily life
"Arsenic" – consultation about a sugar sample
"Nitrogen" – trying to manufacture cosmetics by scratching the floor of a hen-house
"Tin" – a domestic chemical laboratory
"Uranium" – consultation about a piece of metal
"Silver" – the story of some unsuitable photographic plates
"Vanadium" – to find a German chemist after the war
"Carbon" – the history of a carbon atom



The commendatore asked only a few questions, responded evasively to my many questions, and proved to be a very down-to-earth person on two fundamental points: the starting salary that he offered me came to a sum that I would never have dared ask for, and left me dumbfounded; his industry was Swiss, indeed he himself was a Swiss (he pronounced it "Sviss"), so for my possible hiring there was no difficulty. I found strange - in fact, frankly comic - his Swiss-ism expressed in such a virulent Milanese accent; I found, however, his many reticences quite justifiable.

The factory of which he was the owner and director was on the outskirts of Milan, and I would have to move to Milan. It produced hormonal extracts: I, however, would have to deal with a very precise problem, that is, research into a new cure for diabetes which would be effective if taken orally. Did I know anything about diabetes? Not much, I replied, but my maternal grandfather had died of diabetes, and also on my paternal side several of my uncles, legendary devourers of pasta, had shown symptoms of the disease in their old age. Hearing this, the commendatore became more attentive and his eyes smaller: I realized later that, since the tendency to diabetes is hereditary, it would not have displeased him to have at his disposal an authentic diabetic, of a basically human race, on whom he could test certain of his ideas and preparations. He told me that the offered salary was subject to rapid raises; that the laboratory was modern, well equipped, and spacious; that in the factory there was a library with more than ten thousand volumes; and, finally, like a magician extracting a rabbit from his tall silk hat, he added that, perhaps I did not know it (and indeed I didn't), but already working in his laboratory, and on the same problem, was a person I knew well, a classmate of mine and a friend, who in fact had spoken of me: Giulia Vineis. I should decide with calm: I would find him at the HOtel Suisse two Sundays from today.

The very next day I quit the mine and moved to Milan with the few things I felt were indispensable: my bike, Rabelais, the Macaronaeae, Moby Dick translated by Pavese, a few other books, my pickax, climbing rope, logarithmic ruler, and recorder.

The commendatore's lab was not inferior to his description of it: a palace in comparison to the mine's lab. I found already set out for my arrival a workbench, a ventilation hood, a desk, a closet filled with glassware, and an inhuman silence and orderliness. "My" glassware was countersigned with a small dot in blue enamel glaze, so taht it would not be confused with glassware from other closets, and also because "here with us breakages have to be paid for." This, at any event, was only one of the many regulations that the commendatore had transmitted to me on the day of my arrival: he passed them off to me as examples of "Swiss precision," the soul of the laboratory and the entire factory, but to me they seemed a collection of witless impediments bordering on persecution mania.

The commendator explained to me that the factory's work, particulary the problem he had entrusted to me, had to be attentively protected from possible industrial spies. These spies could be outsiders but also clerks and workers in the factory itself, despite all the precautions he used in hiring. Therefore I must not talk with anyone about the subject that had been proposed to me, nor of its possible developments: not even with my colleagues, in fact with them even less than with others. For this reason, every clerk had his particular schedule of hours, which coincided with a single pair of tram runs coming from the city: A had to come in at 8, B at 8:04, C at 8:08, and so on, and the same for quitting times, in such a manner that never would two colleagues have the opportunity to travel in the same tramcar. For people who came to work late and for those who left before quitting time there were heavy fines.

The last hour of the day, even if the world came to an end, must be dedicated to dismantling, washing, and putting away the glassware, so that no one entering outside the lab hours could reconstruct what work had been done during the day. Every evening a daily report must be compiled and handed in in a sealed envelope to him personally or to Signora Loredana, who was his secretary.

I could eat lunch where I wished; it was not his intention to sequester the clerks in the factory during the midday break. However, he told me (and here his mouth twisted more than usual and became even thiner) there were no good cheap trattorie thereabouts, and his advice was to equip myself for luncing in the lab; if I brough the raw materials from home, a worker there would see to cooking it for me.

As for the library, the regulations that had to be followed were singularly severe. Books could not be taken out of the factory under any circumstances; they could be consulted only with the consent of the librarian, Signorina Paglietta. Underlining a word, or just making a mark with pen or pencil, was a very serious offense: Paglietta was expected to check every book, page by page, when returned, and if she found a mark, the book, had to be destroyed and replaced at the expense of the culprit. it was forbidden even to elave between the sheets a bookmark, or turn down the corner of a page: "someone" could have drawn clues from this about the factory's interests and activities - in short, violate its secret. Within this system, it is logical that keys were fundamental: in the evening, everything had to be locked up, even the analytical balance, and the keys then deposited with the custodian. The commendatore had a key that opened all the locks.


A few days after I was hired, the commendatore summoned me to the main office, and on that occasion I noticed that the photos of the sailboat - actually very chaste - were really there. He told me that the moment had come to begin the real work. The first thing I had to do was go to the library, ask Paglietta for the Kerrn, a treatise on diabetes. I knew German, didn't I? Good, so I could read it in the original text and not in a very poor French translation which the people in Basel had commissioned. He, he admitted, had read only the latter, wihout understanding much of it, but nevertheless gaining from it the conviction that Dr. Kerrn was a fellow who knew plenty and that it would be wonderful to be the first to translate his ideas into practice; certainly, he wrote in a rather involuted manner, but the people in Basel were very keen on this business of an oral anti-diabetic, especially the mummified consultant, so I should get Kerrn, read him attentively, and then we would discuss it. But meanwhile, so as not to waste time, I could begin work.


The librarian, whom I had never seen before, presided over the library like a watchdog, one of those poor dogs who are deliberately made vicious by being chained up and given little to eat; or better, like the old, toothless cobra, pale because of centuries of darkness, who guards the king's treasure in the Jungle Book. Paglietta, poor woman, was little less than a lusus naturae: she was small, without breasts or hips, waxen, wilted, and monstrously myopic: she wore glasses so thick and concave that, looking at her head-on, her eyes, light blue, almost white, seemed very far away, stuck at the back of her cranium. She gave the impression of never having been young, although she was certainly not more than thirty, and of having been born there, in the shadows, in that vague odor of mildew and stale air. Nobody knew anything about her, the commendatore himself talked about her with irritated impatience, and Giulia admitted that she hated her instinctively, without knowing why, without pity, as a fox hates a dog. She said that she stank of mothballs and looked constipated. Paglietta asked me why I wanted the Kerrn in particular, insisted on seeing my identity card, inspected it with a malevolent air, made me sign a register, and reluctantly surrendered the book.

It was a strange book: it would be hard to think of its being written and published in any other place than the Third Reich. The author was not without a certain ability, but every one of his pages gave off the arrogance of someone who knows that his statements will not be disputed. He wrote, indeed harangued, like a possessed prophet, as though the metabolism of glucose, in the diabetic and the healthy person, had been revealed to him by Jehovah on Sinai or, rather, by Wotan on Valhalla. Perhaps wrongly, I immediately conceived for Kerrn's theories a resentful distrust; but I have not heard that the thirty years that have passed since then have led to their reevaluation.

No comments:

Post a Comment