There is an ancient wise saying – almost a secret of the pharaohs – “The man whose name is spoken remains alive.”
Twice upon a time there was an exceedingly elderly gentleman named Baron Lamberto, who lived in the villa on his private island of San Giulio in the middle of Lake Orta. Baron Lamberto had the greatest chamomile collection on our planet. He had chamomiles from the Alps and the Caucasus, the Sierras and the Andes, and even from the Himalayas. In addition, he had collections of umbrellas, seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, banks, mansions and two dozen life-threatening maladies. Only his trusted manservant, Anselmo, could remember all his illnesses, as he had catalogued them in alphabetical order. But alas…“Years will pass and centuries will go by before the light-blue waters of Lake Orta will see another funeral like Baron Lamberto’s – it was prettier than a color movie.” Finita la commedia? Look, Baron Lamberto’s trusted manservant is crying. Poor Anselmo! But softly, the coffin lid all of a sudden flips open and who springs out from it? Baron Lamberto!
Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto is the English title of this unusual and magical book by Gianni Rodari. Weaving together humor, fantasy, fairy-tale, opera, mystery and a plethora of bold imagination, this novella will immensely amuse readers of all ages – whether thirteen or ninety-three. In fact, these numbers accompany Baron Lamberto at the end and at the beginning of the story respectively, because as the story unfolds, Baron Lamberto grows younger and younger. The secret? It is carefully woven into the interactions of characters and the unpredictable plot twists, as well as the historical/geographical peculiarity of Nigoglia – a rebellious river that marches to a different drummer – it runs uphill! It truly does so! If it ever happens that you find yourself in Omegna, Italy, where Lake Orta, the island of San Giulio and Baron Lamberto are located, stand for a moment in the Piazza del Municipio – the town hall – and you will see a river flowing out of Lake Orta that runs north towards the high Alps. And while the “mountains are still enveloped in a delicate blue haze,” you may even find an inscription on the town hall, which the people of Omegna have fished up as a motto for themselves. In their local dialect, it says: La Nigoja la va in su e la legg la fouma nu, which of course means: La Nigoglia runs uphill and we make our own laws.
But, quietly, can you hear the sounds of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, echoing throughout the island of San Giulio? That’s Baron Lamberto playing the piano! Just a few weeks ago, he was an elderly gentleman, held up only “by his medicines and by his gold-pommeled walking sticks, and now look at him: a man in the prime of his life, almost a youngster.”And all this time, in the attic of his villa, a team of employees, day and night, continue repeating his name without knowing why: “Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto…”
Time will pass, events will take place – events, worthy of a cinematic spectacle that will attract the attention of bankers and bandits, tourists and international media. Baron Lamberto’s age will drop from that of young man who has a “college degree to high school diploma,” and even further back. And there will come a day, when he will receive a special gift from one of his name chanters - signora Delfina – a gift that neither his personal bankers can give, nor his demanding bandits can take away. Reader, imagine Baron Lamberto becoming a trapeze artist, an acrobat, a juggler, a tightrope dancer, a lion tamer, an elephant trainer, a clown, a trumpeter, and a drummer. He’ll train seals, dogs, fleas, and dromedaries.“He’ll do this. He’ll do that. What will he do? No one can say yet.” But look, Delfina is smiling – she is happy for the gift she dreamed up for him.
“Certain things happen only once,” writes Rodari in the epilogue. “And to tell the truth, certain things happen only in fairy tales.” Or, do they? “Always think with your own mind,” adds the author. And “never allow yourself to be frightened by the words: The End.”