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The Salamander

I love this story from The Autobiography of Cellini.

salamander_black_crop

When I was about five my father was sitting alone in one of our rooms, singing and playing his viol. A log fire was burning; as he was looking at the flames, his eyes fell on a little animal, like a lizard, that was running around in the hottest part of the fire. Suddenly realizing what it was, he called my sister and me and showed it to us. And then he gave me such a violent hit on the ears that I screamed and burst into tears. At this he calmed me as kindly as he could and said: “My son, I didn’t hurt you for any harm that you had done, but only so that you would remember that the lizard in the fire is a salamander, which has never been seen by anyone creditable before.”

Salamander here means a legendary creature of fire. According to Wikipedia, “the salamander became a symbol of enduring faith which triumphs over the fires of passion.”

I like this story because of its roughness. It’s tender and domestic on the one hand, but the author, as a young child, is crying, on the other. It has the bittersweet truth that, for me, in broad form, is childhood. One day its great, another day its terrible; often, as here, it’s both at once. There’s so much potential, but too much potential can be crushing. And then, like the salamander, after a brief interlude, it’s gone.

Incidentally, I also like the lesson implicit here: sometimes pain is better than pleasure, for our memories, to push us forward. The story is as much about his father’s memory-teaching as it is about the salamander (which, you know, is also cool).

Also, although I haven’t written in it much, I’ve had this blog for over a year now. I’m constantly editing it and changing past entries (such as this one) to read more smoothly.

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