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The mythological birth of Attilio Dabini occurred on a yellow tram that linked the cobblestones of the port of Buenos Aires with the center of the city. He tells it. Actually, he had just got off a huge ship, after crossing the ocean with his mom. They came from Italy and he was five years old, so later, as an adult, he considered that tram ride to have been his “second birth”: the new century installed him in a continent where life was different. But at the age of 22, the craft of writing (which he would never abandon) was going to return him to his original “homeland”, Milan, where he had been born, the “first time”, in 1902.

That return was decisive; encrypted, as expected, the internal alchemy of that intellectual in training “to foster in me -he said- a certain duality”, a trait that weighed on his destiny in more than one uncomfortable sense: a writer from two countries and, above all, , of two languages.

If you think about it, his reunion with Italy brought him an overwhelming European contemporaneity: Proust, Puccini, D’Annunzio, Ravel, De Chirico, Respighi, Kafka, Modigliani. And also Italo Svevo, of whom he left the best translation into Spanish of the founding The conscience of Mr. Zeno. But his close contemporaries, those of the unbeatable literary armata of the Twentieth century, they were Silone (1900), Vittorini (1908), Pavese (1908), Moravia (1907; and in its “Romanity”, perhaps the closest to Attilio), Piovene (1907), Pratolini (1913), Flaiano (1910) and, already from another generation, Italo Calvino (1923). All, translated by him: a titanic challenge that favored the diffusion in Spanish of more than two hundred novels and volumes of stories of Italian literature.

“Serene as Socrates before the Tribunal, he provoked an irresistible empathy”

It was, one would say, a path inverse to that of his doubly compatriot Juan Rodolfo Wilcock (1919-1978), who was born in Argentina and wrote in Spanish until he settled in Italy, where he opted for the language of Dante and, finally, had his final resting place in a Protestant cemetery in Lubriano, a town of a thousand inhabitants from the Lazio region. dabini, However, at first he published in Italian, but the coming and going from one continent to another made him an Internet user before the letter by connecting diverse peninsular cultures – that of Syracuse, that of Abruzzo, that of Calabria, that of Veneto – with that of Argentina: the most salient of half-century Italian narrative, translated into Spanish. His ending also refers him to Wilcock’s opposites: he, a writer from Italy, is buried in Argentina. In San Justo, more precisely, where he died in 1981.

“But do you need to work?” That’s what Dabini told me, astonished, when we met in Bahía Blanca; I was 19 years old, I was studying Literature at the UNS and I lived with just enough. He sat at the desk of the Institute of Humanities, where he had given a couple of talks, and wrote a letter to Saúl Aronson, who ran the book-magazine Fiction, the historical rival of On. And I began to review books: I was not going to receive a great payment for those trades, but his rapture of generosity was touching.

Over the years, that invaluable teacher of adolescence allowed some of us to become familiar with his work and his life. Dabini lived then in Villa Pueyrredón, in the Capital, in a simple house with a large tree-lined patio. “How I enjoyed narrating, sitting under those trees, at night, the tricks of the cunning Taffari”, he would evoke years later, already installed with Teresa, his wife, in an apartment near the Congress; he was referring to “Taffari”, an account of a threesome with a dog, worthy of Nabokov’s sly perversity, which was published in 1966.

“It was hard to believe that this kind of Zen monk would have participated, in the middle of the war, in the Anti-Fascist Resistance”

By then he was already recognized for his countless articles in LA NACION, for his stories (Two dead in a car, 1956) and for his translations, mostly published by Losada. However, his novel Some distance had already established the professional translator as a translated narrator: published by Mondadori (Verona, 1945), HA Murena translated it for Sudamericana (a certain distance, 1958). In that distance the narrator condensed the nostalgia and the discoveries that assailed the émigré, a forced emergent of post-war geopolitics.

But the Dabini case was exceptional: he “emigrated” over and over again from territories that were sometimes origin and sometimes destination. The Tuscan Bull, for its part, originally published in Buenos Aires in 1958 (Losada), was rescued in Italian fifteen years later (Vallecchi, 1974). Some of his stories vividly eternalize the atmosphere of a post-war Rome, poor but exultant with hopeful, even joyous, life in squares and warm trattorias popular, as in a film by Luciano Emmer. Or Scola.

Serene as Socrates before the Court, bald and with a blue gaze that seemed exorbitant due to the effect of the glass of his glasses, Dabini provoked an irresistible empathy in the spheres of culture, starting with the Sur group, in whose proverbial magazine he published for years. When he arranged a meeting with a stranger by telephone, in order to be identified he made an emblematic reference to his figure: “I smoke a pipe”. It was hard to believe that this kind of Zen monk had participated, in the middle of the war, in the Resistence antifascist, during his stay in Verona, in a house attended by some of his imponderable friends from youth: Giuseppe De Santis, Michelangelo Antonioni, Gianni Puccini; all budding filmmakers.

So much turbulence of travel, struggle and literature, however, seems doomed to the karma of so many writers from two countries, that is, silence. Or, worse, to black-out: none of the media encyclopedias includes a bio-bibliographical site dedicated to him; Ricardo Piglia, a fervent reader of his work, recognized him as a guide in his own discovery of the most essential Pavese; moreover, he had proposed a comprehensive rescue of his presence in Italian-Argentine literature, but his progressive and fatal condition left him no room to execute it.

Who will decipher the enigma of that omission, that indifference before one of the promoters of the Italian-Argentine culture of the 20th century? It seems to me that he, on the other hand, did not forget us; one would have to trust that one day Attilio will descend from a ghostly yellow tram and, with his deep and calm voice, announce his third birth. And he will reveal to us what other stories he ventured into after his departure, exactly forty years ago.


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