Watercolor by Hallie Cohen
Italo Svevo was the nom de plume of Ettore Schmitz, the Jewish Italian author of Confessions of Zeno, whose protagonist attempts to deal with his smoking problem by going into psychoanalysis. It is unlikely that Svevo derived his pseudonym from the Castello Svevo in Bari, an extraordinary structure with pointed arches and an escape door leading out to the sea. The Castello conjures a similarly ancient structure, the Martello Tower where Buck Mulligan gads about in Ulysses, which is curious since Joyce is said to have discovered Svevo the writer. As you negotiate the winding streets leading down to the old city of Bari, the Castello’s dramatic tower points an accusatory finger at you. Now both a museum and the site of an excavation, Castello Svevo’s varied history began with Roger the Norman, but his good work was destroyed at the hands of William the Bad in 1186. Frederick the Second presided during the Swabian period, while Isabel of Aragon reigned over the Aragonese. Her daughter, Bona Sforza of Poland, was still rehabbing the castle in 1524. Trieste and Bari both face the Adriatic and Italo Svevo lived his whole life in Trieste, where he worked in his father’s import/export business. Besides Confessions of Zeno, Svevo was also known for the novel Senilità (As a Man Grows Older).