In Taormina, the land that looks like a sea, on the way to Greece, I asked Nuccio Ordine three years ago what the destination was, where it was taking us. He took us to the sea of Cavafis, he said, and then began to recite, walking, the verses of the Greek poet. I was behind, as if those verses about the island that we all are ultimately fell to him from his black pants, from his well-shaved head, from his soliloquies. At the end of his poet's speech he looked back and took a few steps until he asked me: "Doesn't it seem that Cavafis is with us?"
When I met him, in Malaga, with Fernando Aramburu, he was already the author of La utilidad de lo inútil, he was preparing other books, he was always preparing other books. He seemed to live with passions that belonged to others, from the classics, but that he had made his own, one by one. These books are underlined that he gave to a society that was surprised not so much by his erudition but by his love for what others knew before and that today served him to tell how the conscience of the world was enclosed in words that were already written.
When he walked through Taormina, as if Cavafis spoke through his tongue, the poet was there, telling him words that were then on the shelves, carried by him, encouraged by him, arranged by him like carpets of stone polished by the waves. He was himself a poet transmitting, like a boy, what he had just learned. His brief journey through this life is full of love for what has already been written, but without him, as animator of the classical world, he would not have reached the actuality that he gave to what is now part of a collection that bears his name and surname.
Here I have, next to him, as if he were bringing them by the hand, some of his books:Men are not islands, Three crowns for a king, Classics for life, The usefulness of the useless ... Acantilado has been his publishing house, Sandra Ollo picked up the baton of Jaume Vallcorba, that editorial is part of the furrows that the writer from Calabria was opening to explain to the world, from his land to the confines of the oceans that he also sailed, from Spain to Latin America, to explain to what extent the classics are not memory but clarity, They are not memory but topicality.
The prize he has just won in Asturias was for him much more than an award, something that was found in the middle of a race through Taormina or the beaches of Calabria. It was the consequence of a trip that took him, editorially, to the Spain of Acantilado, perhaps the publisher that best understood the cadence of his philosophical and literary productions, and from there to all the countries of Latin America. He was now a philosopher in our language, attracted by punctual translations that made him speak clearly, transmitting philosophy, in the whole scope of our culture.
When that news broke, the last big news Nuccio received before the fatal news that already found him voiceless and lifeless, he was the happiest person in the world. He read on the phone to his friends what he intended to say to the journalists when they called him to know what he thought of the current moment of letters and sciences, because he thought he said that governments and countries, the whole world, had to look back at the teaching of the classics so that young people would embrace another way. Not so urgent, not so banal, to see life.
He was happy as a boy. Then he had to go to Milan, for an unimportant intervention, he said he was in the best hands. I told him, because he went to one of those who called to give him that news of hospitalization, which years ago I saw there, returning from the hospital, to his teacher Leonardo Sciascia, his countryman, and we were talking about that Sicilian and himself, as Italian parts of a life of geniuses, among which were Pavese, Calvin, and he added proper names, such as Natalia Ginzburg, Pasolini or others that came from older. And then he assured us that everything was going well, everything would be fine, and he gave us memories for the great friends and the great masters that he had, that he had, in the Spain to which he owed gratitude, for the prize and for the publisher and for life. Don Emilio Lledó was the main light of that firmament of friendship that he loved most.
For those reasons that only become evident when the bad news comes rolling like black stones on turbulent seas, after that call of waiting, and of hope, he sent a spoken message, already without conversation, as if it were an embrace of words. In this last message of friendship he spelled out experiences we had had, recent gestures of one or the other, and ended, as if he were starting a premature farewell that would later freeze my blood. He thanked, with those pomegranate words, everyone who came to his memory at that moment what each one has done to make his life so happy. It seems now a farewell amplified by the sadness that always returns, a wave without mercy, reality.
He was a singular character, a person of an enthusiasm that can only be narrated by referring to his books. Outside his books, in everyday life, he exercised a quiet, youthful teaching, he told what he was knowing, without pedantry, with the conviction that he was learning as he delved into books. He was a progressive citizen, aware that "neoliberal policy has neglected the pillars of human dignity", convinced that "it is necessary to look at history to understand the present and foresee the future"...
Under the dome of the Palace Hotel, in Madrid, he met at the end of the pandemic with his teacher Lledó. He brought Don Emilio chocolates for his granddaughters, he brought him words to express his admiration. The two had come together to talk about the philosophy that brings them together, and they seemed to be Nuccio dressed in his sneakers, Don Emilio resting his face in his teaching hands, disciple and teacher on the stairs of a university, sharing a light that has gone out to the man who from Calabria told the world the essence with which the classics taught him to spread enthusiasm. The root of his work, the foundation of his joy.
Joy is what he gave us. Years ago I introduced him in Madrid to a friend who was already common, Monica Margarit, the daughter of the poet Joan Margarit. She was the one who a few days ago transmitted a news that seemed like a stone thrown against the heart of life. Nuccio is sick, a stroke, after the operation he suffered in Milan, has him between life and death. As it is said in the poem Requiem by José Hierro, as happened when it began to be true that Javier Marías was about to die, this time the news conspires so that crying is the only possible underlining to sadness. Writing about Nuccio Ordine in the past is like breaking the drum in which he kept the future essence of his talent.