To talk about Nicola Abbagnano means in a certain way to talk about Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, the cities he chose as his second home and for which he demonstrated his love to the point of leaving in writing his wish to be buried there.
Abbagnano was a swallow who returned to this city every summer from the fog of Padania to rejoice over the sea, the green of the hills, the climate and perhaps even of that unforgettable sunset of Portofino that Andrè Gide called I’heure bleu (the blue hour).
A magic moment, it lasts only a few moments in which the whole environment, including the air, turns a tender blue, a poetic atmosphere that Abbagnano certainly enjoyed. He, who vibrated with a gentleness that was expressed in his clear eyes full of light, and a smile sketched on his lips. Observing him, with his refined and good natured countenance, he seemed a poet, a dreamer more than a philosopher, immersed in the severity of his discipline. And yet, a poetic vein runs through all his work.
In an interview published ten years ago in Santa Margherita Portofino, he was asked if he fit more optimistic or more pessimistic. To which he responded, Like everyone with good sense I make an effort to be a realist and I say to myself ‘Let’s try to see where the dangers are and where the good things are. Let’s direct our efforts towards the positive elements in life. I don’t want to discuss the merits of his argument, others have already done it and will continue to do it with more scientific and cultural reasoning. But in his conception of life there was a hidden vein of religiosity that distinguished his existentialism that he called positive, from the scientific and purely technical one that finds no logical dialectical connections in philosophy.
But of the character of the man I wish to point out two aspects that are for me fundamental (and I believe I can interpret in this, the sentiments of the Santa Margheritans who knew him, admired him, and loved him.)
His simplicity and his modesty.
That simplicity that enabled him to communicate philosophy to a broader public, as his numerous texts demonstrate such as “Philosophic Dictionary” or “The History of Philosophy” or his last book “The Wisdom of Philosophy” which, like his next-to-last, became a bestseller. Of his modesty, we tasted its benefits many times. Like when he stopped to chat with the fishermen or with the simple common people or when he compared the character of the Ligurian in his twisted and complex nature, which however he understand, to the olive tree that is the symbol of the region. He chose Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino in the Spring of many years ago and acquired what he called his “good retreat” on April 1st 1959. It was, as he said in the above quoted interview, a welcome “April Fool’s Day” because Santa Margherita Ligure counted heavily in his destiny for the next thirty years.
There he met, on the beach of the Continental, Gigliola whom he married in 1972.
Her arrival brought a new and propitious light. Secretary and collaborator with the same ideals of life, Gigliola was happy to type the articles that he sent to the “Giornale” of Indro Montanelli and to the magazines that he assiduously collaborated with. For eighteen years their relationship was always tight and affectionate. He loved the sea, Nicola Abbagnano: To go swimming in the sea of Tigullio was for him a moment of great joy and hap- piness. His last summer I was able to see him for only a few days. He passed away at dawn of September 9, 1990. He was eighty nine years old, being born in Salerno on July 15, 1901. He wrote this message to his wife. “I want to be buried in Santa Margherita Ligure, it has been so dear to me, it filled my life with joy, it helped me …
1901 – 1990
Portofino, a World apart.