This year 2016 is definitely taking a great death toll. Umberto Eco died last Friday at 84. Today his secular funeral took place in Milan. He was definitely one of the most finely versatile intellectuals of our age.

I admit I’ve always had kind of a soft spot for intellectuals, particularly when I was younger… 

  
First time I read Eco it was his Diario Minimo (translated under the title of “misreadings” in 1996) and I was 16. I used to attend a catholic high school that – at the time – was for girls only and on our third year we had a new history and philosophy professor, Eugenio Randi, who was a man, was barely in his 30s, had a PhD in Medieval philosophy and definitely was used to thinking out of the box. He was amazing, kind of a Robin Williams in “The dead poets’ society”, if you know what I mean. Well, professor Randi thought that nothing was better for children than learning directly from the authors, reading their very work, so he made us read all the philosophers and historians and all the books that he thought could enrich us. It goes without saying that there was a lot of Umberto Eco in his selection. And I loved every bit of his work. Like many incredibly gifted and uncommon people, Randi suddenly died at only 33 leaving us in despair, but I still cherish his cultural legacy.

At the time my best friend B. was a shambling young man, very sensitive and charming, who had incredibly finished his high school some 2 or 3 years well in advance, had picked up philosophy and (as almost everybody expected) was kind of the star of his department (he’s still my best friend but no longer that shambling fortunately). Actually he was the first one to put me through the difference among semiotics, semiology and semantics and made me appreciate it. He couldn’t sleep well at night and the only thing that helped him sleep was reading the Faucault’s Pendulum  that – in a few weeks – he knew by heart. I could open the book at any page and start reading and on he went. Wicked…

I’ve always thought that the most amazing thing about Eco was that he was incredibly witty. No matter what he spoke about, you couldn’t help listening in bliss. He made you smile. Even if you didn’t really catch 100% of what he was speaking about (and I admit that many times I didn’t), he was kind of spellbinding.

 

moaners at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan

 
The Cortile della Rocchetta at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan was literally packed with people today for the last farewell to Umberto Eco. Many important people such as the Italian Minister of culture and the minister of University, but also characters such as Roberto Benigni spoke today and I thought that – except for Eco’s 15 yo grandson, who was very short and dignified, Furio Colombo and Moni Ovadia – none of them really succeeded in saying anything witty or however appropriate. He should have written something himself. Hope they’ll make friends with professor Randi eventually.