“Mr. Palomar’s soul oscillates between two contrasting impulses: the one that aims for complete, exhaustive knowledge and is only satisfied when he has sampled all of the different flavors; and the one that tends towards an absolute choice, the identification of a cheese that is his and his alone, a cheese that most certainly exists even if he has not yet found it (or cannot see himself in it). Or else, it is not a question of choosing the cheese, but of being chosen. There is a mutual relationship between cheese and customer: each cheese awaits its customer, poses so as to attract him, expressing a firmness or somewhat haughty granularity, or instead melting in submissive abandon. There is a shade of complicity in the air: his tasteful refinement, in particular that of the olfactory organ, has its moments of weakness, of baseness, when the cheeses seem to offer themselves on their platters like the divans of a brothel. A perverse laugh flickers in the satisfaction of debasing the object of one’s own gluttony with degrading names: crottin, boule de moine, bouton de culotte. This is not the type of acquaintance that Mr. Palomar is most inclined to pursue: he would be content to establish the simplicity of a direct physical relationship between man and cheese. But if, in the place of cheeses, he sees the names of cheeses, the concepts of cheeses, the meanings of cheeses, the stories of cheeses, the contexts of cheeses, the psychology of cheeses, if he does not so much know as sense that behind each cheese there is all of this, his relationship becomes more complicated. The cheese shop is to Palomar as an encyclopedia is to an autodidact; he could memorize all of the names, venture a classification according to the form – a bar of soap, cylinder, dome, ball -, according to the consistency – dry, buttery, creamy, veined, firm -, according to the other ingredients integrated into the rind or the centre – raisins, pepper, walnuts, sesame seeds, herbs, mould -, yet this would not bring him one step closer to true knowledge, which lies in the experience of the flavors, composed of both memory and imagination. Only on the basis of this may he establish a scale of flavors and preferences, of curiosities and exclusions. Behind each cheese is a pasture of a different green under a different sky: meadows caked with salt deposited each evening by the Normandy tides; meadows scented with the fragrance of sunny breeze of Provence; there are different herds with their stalls and migrations; there are secret processes handed down through the centuries. This shop is a museum; Mr. Palomar feels as he visits, as in the Louvre, that behind each exhibited object is the presence of a civilization that has both given it shape and taken shape from it. This shop is a dictionary; the language is the system of cheeses as a whole: a language whose morphology demonstrates innumerable declensions and conjugations, whose lexicon provides an inexhaustible wealth of synonyms, idiomatic uses, connotations and nuances of meaning, like all languages nourished by the contribution of a hundred different dialects. It is a language composed of things: its nomenclature is only one external aspect – instrumental; but for Mr. Palomar, learning a little nomenclature is only the first step to be taken if he wants to stop for one moment the things that are unfolding before his eyes. He takes from his pocket a notebook and a pen, and begins to write down some of the names, marking beside each one some characteristic which will help him to recall the image to his mind; trying to make a rough sketch of the shape”.
Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar