Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Invisible Buildings

Cambridge, March 20, 2013

A while ago I wrote a little note about the Barolo Palace, a building in Buenos Aires allegedly built to house Dante's ashes and designed based on the Divine Comedy 

Dietrich Neumann--the architecture historian at Brown University, who's writing a book about Mario Palanti (the architect of the Barolo)--tells me that there's absolutely no truth to the Dante story, only to add "... but such fun that it has found its way into countless guidebooks and even into the guided tours of the building."

Now I really want to know how the story came about.  It must have started somehow, and somebody must have "read" the building with painstaking care in order to map the poem onto it.  Almost as good a story, don't you think?  Maybe even better.  As the Italians like to say, "si non e vero e ben trovato" (if it's not truth, it's well made up.)  And it this case the story would be true, I mean, the story of making up the story of Barolo and Dante's ashes, and how it got to be accepted as a true story.

But why stop there?  Think about the possibilities.  One could take a building and tell how it originated in this or that book.  You could even do it the other way around, with buildings giving origin to books...  Well, yes, of course, Borges, always Borges, isn't that exactly what he does when he goes to see the Aleph in the basement under the dining room of Beatriz Viterbo's house on Garay Street?

The book begetting the building.  The building begetting the book.  Take that one, Victor Hugo...

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