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03 November 2015

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I'm just begging to learn some Italian, motivated by my daughter having moved to Rome there with her partner and their little girl. It was so hard to say good-bye when I left them in October that I've booked a trip in January, and I'm determined to be able to manage a rudimentary conversation with shopkeepers, waiters, at the very least, by then.
I loved reading about your long history with the country and the language (envious!) -- I've been similarly focused on France for decades, and last summer was my very first visit to Italy (a very good introduction, through Puglia!). Since then, I've been reading books about Italy as well, and I'm now waiting for the last Ferrante book in the Neapolitan series. So absorbing, not only for a sense of the country but also of the relationship between class and gender -- and all that post-war labour and intellectual foment in Europe, that then spread across to North America. Heady times, such changes in our material fortunes, really, at least within the middle class as we are now. . . much to think about.
I'm going to peruse your Reading now for inspiration, but any other recommendations for books on Italy would be much appreciated (I really enjoyed Tim Parks' Italian Ways; Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome). Don't suppose you have a favourite on Bernini or Caravaggio, perchance?

should have been "just beginning" to learn Italian, as I've actually stopped begging and subscribed to Babbel

What a very satisfying, juicy comment, Mater! I followed your trip to Rome and am so pleased to hear that you will be back in the Eternal City again soon - to be reunited with your daughter and her family.

As to books . . . well, in terms of fiction, my daughter introduced me to the works of Natalia Ginzburg and Elsa Morante and I am so glad that she did. Highly recommended 20th century reading, Morante's 'History', in particular. (Ferrante is a great admirer of Elsa Morante.) And try Italo Calvino (his non-fiction too). I'm not sure if Alberto Moravia is still popular but I read my way through most of his work when I was in my 20s and 30s. And, for historical background, you can't do much better than Giuseppe de Lampedusa's 'The Leopard'.

In terms of non-fiction, yes, Tim Parks on contemporary Italy is very good. And I probably don't need to say anything/everything by Primo Levi. Re Bernini and Caravaggio - see if you can track down a copy of 'Bernini': Genius of the Baroque' by Charles Avery and David Finn and 'Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane' by one of my favourite art historians, Andrew Graham-Dixon. (You could also take a look at the late Derek Jarman's film, 'Caravaggio', which is on YouTube.)

Film, of course, is synonymous with Italy, so why not fill your winter evenings with Rossellini, Visconti, de Sica, Pasolini and Bertolucci? I absolutely loved Bertolucci's '1900' - all four hours of it - not sure if a DVD is available but you can find it here: part 1 in English, part 2 in Italian (no subtitles): https://artislimited.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/1900-bernardo-bertolucci-1976-full-film-uncensored-in-italian/

Happy reading, happy viewing and a happy return to Italy.

My Brilliant Friend is in my waiting-to-be-read pile but will now go to the top. My daughter read it and recommended it but felt she had some issues with the translation. I'll send her to the link you have given to perhaps clarify them.

Wouldn't it be lovely to look forward to the Spring in Italy? Like you, I'll have to settle for some atmospheric books to carry me there.
M xx

I think you will enjoy Ms Ferrante, M. And I hope that you receive plenty of lovely books for your birthday, which is any day now, of course!

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Thought for life

  • The House of Breath, William Goyen
    We are the carriers of lives and legends - who knows the unseen frescoes on the private walls of the skull?

Thinking about . . .

  • Daniel Klein, Travels with Epicurus
    I too listen to music more and more. Throughout my life, music has stirred me more than any other art form, and now, in old age, I find myself listening to it almost every evening, usually alone, for hours at a time.
  • Julia Blackburn, Thin Paths
    I began writing because I liked to write things down. I learnt foreign languages because they seemed to enter my head by a process of osmosis.
  • Joan Bakewell, Stop the Clocks
    I live contentedly alone. It's better that way and I am often thoughtful about what has been and what might have been. There are many like me.
  • Patti Smith, M Train
    Oh to be reborn within the pages of a book.
  • Patti Smith, M Train
    Why is it that we lose the things we love, and things cavalier cling to us and will be the measure of our worth after we’re gone?
  • Judith Kerr, Observer Magazine, 22 November 2015
    I don't believe in God. I find it much easier to believe in ancestors. I like to imagine they are pointing us in the right direction.

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