Monday, February 22, 2010

Nuvolari - the legend lives on

Tazio Nuvolari once sent a bundle of straw bales to Scuderia Ferrari, ("scuderia" having the literal meaning of "stable" in Italian), enclosing a note to Enzo Ferrari which read:

"For your horses."

Now that's style. In contrast, to the best of our knowledge, Michael Schumacher did not send a box of woolly jumpers to Flavio Briatore after leaving Benetton.

The straw bale story comes from Cesare de Agostini's book, Nuvolari - The Legend Lives on. It certainly can't be described as a dull book, for de Agostini seems to have intended this to be an impressionistic, lyrical work, rather than a comprehensive biography. In fact, some of the similes are quite brilliant. Defying all rational expectation in the 1935 German Grand Prix, to beat nine technologically superior Mercedes and Auto Unions, driven by Caracciola and Rosemeyer, amongst others, "Nuvolari drove with a slight twisting of the upper body and dramatic movements of his arms, as if they were swinging trapezes...As he took the chequered flag, Tazio grimaced and uncovered his long teeth, strong as a constellation of gears."

One thus has the sense of a talent expressed with the acrobatic grace of the trapezist, but driven by a will as implacable as the interlocking grind of steel gears.

Elsewhere, however, the metaphors and similes appear forced, and sometimes quite bizarre, at least in translation from the original Italian: "While just about all cars consumed space, the Auto Union created it. A seductive and mysterious car, because skirting science fiction, it knew how to remain untouched by time. The long tail, fascinating with those sharp and shaped air vents at its 12-cylinder lungs, seemed like the fin of a cetacean, immersed in a heaving marine abyss."

There's an excellent collection of photographs, however, including one of the start of the 1936 Monaco Grand Prix, which makes the principality look rather like Torquay on a damp Sunday. Overall, though, a little less contrived poetry, and a little more information and explanation, would have gone a long way to making this a better book.

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