Encountering me so often, she is perhaps expecting me to address her one day. The motives that constitute an obstacle to a possible meeting between the two of us are several. In the first place, Miss Zwida collects and draws seashells; I had a beautiful collections of shells, years ago, when I was a boy, but then I gave it up and have forgotten everything: classifications, morphology, geographical distribution of the various species. A conversation with Miss Zwida would lead me inevitably to talk about seashells, and I cannot decide what attitude to take, whether to pretend absolute ignorance or to call on a remote experience now vague; it is my relationship with my life, consisting of things never concluded and half erased, that the subject of seashells forces me to contemplate; hence the uneasiness that finally puts me to flight.
In addition there is the fact that this girl’s application in drawing seashells denotes in her a search for formal perfection which the world can and therefore must attain; I, on the contrary, have been convinced for some time that perfection is not produced except marginally and by chance; therefore it deserves no interest at all, the true nature of things being revealed only in disintegration. If I were to approach Miss Zwida, I would have to express some appreciation of her drawings – which are of highly refined quality, for that matter, as far as I have been able to see – and therefore, at least at first, I would have to pretend to agree with an aesthetic and moral ideal that I reject, or else declare my feelings at the very start, with the risk of wounding her.
If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino