On Titles

It took more than I realized to come up with a suitable title for this blog. I came very close to “Chimes at Midnight,” and “Vagabond Thoughts,” but in the end I came to “C’era una volta.”

My favorite phrase in any language is “Once upon a time.” The Italian, c’era una volta, at least for me, rolls off the tongue in a way that the English does not.  The Italian also makes me think of Collodi’s Pinocchio. The phrase is loaded with wonder and possibility in a way that no other phrase is.  It’s ambiguous enough to elude a specific time, and it holds the promise of something terrifyingly magical.  Every good story should be repetitive enough for the listener to catch certain fundamental points.  In a way, a blog has, or should have, just the hint of unpolished thought attached to it.  Anything else we should publish elsewhere.  Oral tales are extremely repetitive, and with good reason.

In addition to repetition, “once upon a time” (again for me) does not necessarily promise an ending.  The expectation is that the tale will go on late into the night.  Shahrazad singing us to sleep with her 1001 tales.  Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading to my brother and me.  We began with stories from the Bible, and the one I loved the most was the story of Samson.  After that we moved onto stories whose content has become archived in some unreachable place in my memory.  Nevertheless, it wasn’t just the stories, but spending time with my mother, listening to her voice as she read.  I’ve always associated storytelling with a woman’s voice.  I’ve asked my wife to let me do most of the reading to our children before bed.  I now wonder if my son and daughter will have the same experience as I had, only that they might associate storytelling with a male voice.  I’ll have to ask them in 20 or 30 years.

Before bed I always read fiction.  I tell myself that I read enough scholarly material during the day.  Before bed I like to lose myself in a book.  Quite often I awake in the middle of the night or early in the morning and try to read a few pages of the book I read just before going to bed.  It’s my way of dusting off the residue of sleep.

C’era una volta is partially an attempt to think out loud and tell some stories.  It’s also my attempt to find something that I may have misplaced in the process of getting a Ph.D..  I’ve touched on this subject a few years ago in an article I wrote on children’s literature for the Chronicle Review.

Our understanding of ourselves is entangled with the games that language plays with us.  Each time we hear or read the phrase, “once upon a time” we know what it means, but it also means something slightly different as it is translated from language to language.  C’era una volta is my attempt to reconcile my heritage with my love for storytelling, which is just as much a part of my heritage as my nationality.  That reconciliation begins and ends in language.

C’era una volta, then, or once upon a time there was a man who read so much he slipped Quixote-like onto the page.

C’era una volta…

ll e’tait une fois…

Es war einmal…

Er was eens…


A fosta odata, ca niciodata…

Hapo zumani za kale…

Once upon a time…




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