The notes of Franco Beltrametti

Note sul Condor, by the Swiss-Italian Franco Beltrametti, was published in 1975 (Caos). The title translates from Italian as Condor Notes. This little book is an amalgamation of material concerned with or apparently inspired by the California condor, which Beltrametti saw while travelling in California in the 1960s.

Note sul Condor is a rarity. I have been trying to locate a copy to purchase for several years, without success. I have located only one copy in a library in the USA.

This blog post is based on a scan that I found online (consequently, I don’t present any images here). The English-language quotations below are based on computer translation of the original text.

The cover of the 40-page book shows a black and white drawing of a condor in flight. The book’s text is typed and interspersed with a few line drawings.

The text begins:

I began to collect these notes in the autumn of 1974 because I realized I knew little about the condors, even though I had at the time entitled a collection of poems “Uno di Quella Gente Condor”, from a verse written after having met one in the mountains of Santa Ynez, California in January 1968.

The “introduction” also includes an untitled poem that begins …

+++++“Before vanishing into vague
++++++++++someone else’s memories
+++++++++++++++from the Pleistocene or seventies
++++++++++I want to declare my presence
+++++my having been there” …

(The quotation marks are in the original.)

Beltrametti’s notes include the important point that the California condor has long lived in the shadow of the Andean condor. He quotes the definition of condor from Webster’s dictionary, a definition that refers only to the Andean species, and then writes:

There are two condors. The Gymnogyps californianus of which thirty or forty adults survive around the last group of nests in the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, Los Padres National Forest, California. The Sarcorhamphus gryphus of the peaceful coasts of South America, also in danger of extinction.

The distinction is supported by a simple map of the Western Hemisphere that shows the ranges of the 2 species.

An example of the rather cryptic content of the book is this page, translated in its entirety:

– Who am I? –

– A large black bird resting crucified on the great tree with wings so wide that it obscures the light; the captain calls us to see him, says: “I will not shoot the eagle, or whatever it is, I never kill anything, however-” “Shoot him! I damn well hope not!” says Primrose … A kind of super-xopilote or vulture by Thomas Wolfe; after a while he disappeared, just as mysteriously as he had arrived.

One page is devoted to Peter Warshall’s response to Beltrametti’s question “So you were on a glider?” Warshall was an environmental scientist and environmentalist. Warshall’s response to the question was, in part:

A friend was putting together a piece about gliders for TV … They gave me the job of identifying what the condor was…. The glider makes no noise, but you can hear the eagles and vultures. We were going faster than the condor. We passed him. Then the condor would flip, look over its shoulder, lift the feathers on its wingtips and dive. You could hear him issuing a “SKUAAAAAAC!” like in a Japanese science fiction movie. Maybe a pterodactyl.

The above conversation is labelled “Bolinas, 5/9/74”.

Here is another page, translated in its entirety:

Sheila: – Tim wanted a bird embroidered on the back of his denim jacket and I pulled out my threads and embroidered a condor in flight. He didn’t think it would come like this, he thought of a perched condor, not in flight, but by now it was done …

Me: – Does he like it now?

Sheila: – He loves it, has always loved it.

Bolinas, 6/9/74

There’s a paragraph-long description of a protest against Japanese whaling in San Francisco. The paragraph is titled “Condors and Whales” but the only direct connection to condors is this:

We waited for Joel listening to a pissed-off Japanese man in tennis shoes with a condor head stamped on his yellow shirt.

A page is devoted to

Words adopted in European languages from the Inca or its linear descendant Quecha

Those words include condor, of course, plus chinchilla, puma, and more.

A sketch shows a man with the body of a door. The head wears a hat and sunglasses, the body/door has a knob and keyhole, and at the end of short legs are shoes. This is titled, in English, “The Con Door”. Below the sketch, Beltrametti explains the visual joke to his Italian-speaking audience:

to con = imbrogliare
con man = profittatore
door = porta

About a third of the book is devoted to the author’s bulleted notes drawn from several books. These reading notes are interspersed among the other pages. Sources, which are all cited, include Carl Koford’s The California Condor and A L Kroeber’s Handbook of the Indians of California. Among the notes are sketches, such as that of a California condor’s flight silhouette from a Golden Field Guide and a California condor’s footprint from a Peterson Field Guide. The latter notes that it was drawn to a scale of 1:1.

The book ends with a bibliography that again lists the sources and an index. The index gives a few words about the contents of each page.

All in all, this is a curious piece of work. To me, this book says something about the “power” of the California condor. An Italian poet and artist who travelled in California a half century ago was clearly enchanted by the bird. Fortunately, the traces of that enchantment are still available to us in printed form.

For more about Beltrametti and the California condor, including the poem referred to above, see Franco Beltrametti’s grande uccello and Steve Lacy Sextet – Franco Beltrametti. The Disney film about the condor mentioned above is considered in Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.