Looking Back

Why did Franco stay away from Pontito for so long? The answer isn't simple. Franco says he wanted to go back, but then quotes an Italian proverb: "Between saying something and doing it lies an ocean." He gestures at a wall covered with his paintings. "Besides, I don't need to go to Pontito. I can see it any time." In fact, the Pontito Franco has so recently visited clashes painfully with the Pontito of memory.

A close comparison of Franco's paintings with Susan Schwartzenberg's photographs reveals a similar contrast between the place Franco remembers and the town as it actually is. The paintings are often uncannily accurate: Franco has an extraordinary visual memory, and buildings and streets appear much as they are.

The remarkable correspondence between this drawing and the photo shows Magnani's visual memory at its best. When Magnani saw the photo, he was surprised at the number of windows in the house. But the roof lines and retaining wall match the photo with extraordinary accuracy.

But the differences between the paintings and photos are telling. The photographs of Pontito show narrower streets, squatter buildings. Franco's paintings seem to add regularity, symmetry, to the scenes of the town. Sometimes a painting shows steps or a wall or archway that could not be seen from that particular vantage point, but which Franco knows are there. (Some of these distortions are intentional, some are not.)

Sacks comments on the painting and the photograph.

In certain cases, Franco seems to have combined into one composition several different views of an area so that the painting (and, presumably, the memory) is a kind of composite. He clearly uses not only his memory, but a kind of projective imagination, to move his mind's eye through the town.


This painting of the view from Magnani's bedroom shows more of what is outside the window than a person in the room could actually see. Magnani's memory of this scene incorporates his experiences of looking outside from many different points in the room, including scenery he could have seen only by leaning out.

  14.4/28.8/RealAudio Sacks describes the "creative composite" of the bedroom window painting.

A Memory Artist


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