Something on my father

I lost my father so early, you know, before he had time to know me, even to meet me, almost. I’ve learnt something about him, much later; he was a bit like you himself; you had in common a certain amount of vulnerability intensified by events, the empty space that remains in the soul when one doesn’t surrender to the cruelty of the world, and yet cannot evade it, and faces it in one’s own way. No doubt, your way has given more to you and to many others, but the root of the suffering was not so distant.

What impressed me about you was the exceptional way in which you managed to make points of strength and resilience of all that might have been, and perhaps had been, the exact opposite. Reasons for defensiveness became a motive to deeply connect with others, of what risked to be a constriction, you’ve made material to build stronger wings and fly more freely. You turned your shyness into the ability to give yourself up entirely, with no defenses or reservations; your loneliness and need for affection into the ability to love beyond measure; the need for the approval of others into an urge always to give your best and never to settle for less than that; the pain into understanding of the suffering of others. And into a desire to laugh and make others laugh, not like a clown, not at all. Not in the least. Never a clown, always a man, through and through.

My father used to write, like myself. This similarity, which goes beyond the fact that I never spoke to him, that I don’t even remember seeing him, although it happened, at an age of which, unfortunately, memory is later lost without remedy, took me by surprise, and moved me deeply.

I thought of his pictures, in which his face looks so sweet, after all he’d been through. Not so long ago, thinking of you, I was talking of mildness, of how it is conquered at the cost of fighting harshly against ourselves, in order not to give in to the temptation of seeing only the worst aspects of the world and of the people as “reality”. Mildness demands greater sacrifice and an infinitely stronger character than the prevailing “hard-core” approach, for which the human race may as well die out, which sees everywhere cities to be destroyed and sowed with salt, and enemies to be made responsible for our own barbarism, and for which anything that brings joy is an evil to be rooted out at all costs.
My father fought in the Indochina war.
My father always remained the sweet person he was. Was this true? In the pictures, his face is sweet. There are only a few, because it was him who took pictures, usually. Especially of my mother, a lot, she has not wanted to be photographed that way anymore, since then. At most, you can manage to snitch a few shots, while he photographed her always and she smiles in all of those pictures.
Yes, I think he remained sweet, in spite of it all. In spite of his “monsters”, which he tried to defeat as he could, because nobody knew how to treat certain diseases at the time. Not even now, maybe. And they were not even “his”monsters. They had sneaked into him, burnt into his skin like the wounds and blights he’d surely seen, in the people he was fighting against as well as in his mates.
I’ve little more than this, of him. Images of a few serene moments, of him looking tenderly at me. And a few details I had almost to force out of my mother’s mouth, one by one, ruthlessly. Was it necessary?
Yes, it was.
Because she was afraid, for me. Afraid that the disease that tormented him was not just due to the war, and that I had it in myself as well: she trembled every time I “stepped out of line” a little, resented even the slightest rebellion, and I didn’t know why.
She has not done that for a long time, now. Now we are both aware that whatever his monsters may have been, he has taken them with himself, and has left to me only the joy of being alive, the determination to fight and be happy and spread smile around, as far as I can. With a constant and yet almost gentle pain, like a shadow that makes light softer, gives it volume and substance and meaning.

When I hear someone listing the reasons why giving birth to a child should be a mistake, in today’s world or in the world of fifty, a hundred or a thousand years ago, it doesn’t matter, I smile,  and think that life to me has been an opportunity that my father decided to give me, knowing that it would be no bed of roses, but he strongly wanted me. He gave me a name reminding of the Country he came from, although he had at least a reason to hate it, and yet he still loved it, even against himself, who knows, seeing as it was him who had decided to leave. Maybe it’s because of him, of my father, that I’ve learnt to love English as if it was another home. It has given me my job, has become part of my life, and later a way to get closer to you, to your voice, in all meanings of the word. It’s because of him that I decided I would be a translator, to connect two worlds, two languages, two cultures, both of which belong to me. I don’t need to feel divided, I’m lucky enough to believe only in the kind of boundaries that can be freely crossed using words and memories.

But if I’ve kept pursuing the dream of giving, through words, a part of myself, it’s because of you.

This is an extract from the English version of my book on Robin Williams. He is the “you” I’m writing to, as I’ve always felt so close to him and he has influenced my life and thoughts like no one else.

Di sciarpe e berretti e lupi e altre cose / Of scarves and caps and wolves and other things

Wolf-shaped cap

Wolf-shaped cap

Tre giorni fa, lezione d’inglese coi bambini di terza/quarta elementare (ma ce n’è anche uno di seconda). Ogni volta un rebus, cerca attività adatte ai vari livelli, cerca di farli divertire, cerca di farli lavorare, parla solo inglese, anche se non capiscono pazienza, non parlare solo inglese altrimenti non capiscono…

Poi, agli ultimi quindici-venti minuti, il lampo di genio, o piuttosto, il colpo di fortuna (e meno male che non era quello della strega, che un po’ qualcuno forse già mi vede in quella veste). Uno dei bambini, che già non vedeva l’ora di prepararsi per andare via, s’infila un berretto di lana a forma di lupo. E’ fatta! Glielo chiedo in prestito e comincio a portarlo in giro, infilato a mo’ di marionetta mostrandolo agli altri. Hai paura del lupo? Ti piacciono i lupi? Conosci Cappuccetto Rosso? E intanto Qualche ruggito ci scappa, anche se in realtà, gli ululati sarebbero stati più in carattere. Così riesco a salvare capra, cavoli e anche il lupo e la lezione: inglese, divertimento, risate, parole e strutture nuove…

Così ho ripensato a quella volta in cui hai creato, con la sciarpa chiesta a una ragazza tra il pubblico, uno dei tuoi momenti straordinari fatti di piccole cose ordinarie e quella sciarpa è diventata tutto, improvvisazione, magia, libertà totale di espressione della mente e del corpo. E’ quella magia, quella libertà che voglio, e l’avrò, e saprò trasmetterla, da insegnante, a tutti quelli che vorranno sentirla e capirla e viverla.

Three days ago, English lesson with the third/fourth-graders (and one is a second-grader). inspired guesswork is needed every time: look for activities that may be suitable for each level, try to make them have fun, try to make them work, speak only in English, never mind if they don’t understand, don’t speak only in English, otherwise they don’t understand…

And then, there were just 15-20 minutes left, a sudden stroke of genius! (A stroke of luck, more likely, and it was just as well that it wasn’t that back strain we call colpo della strega, or witch’s stroke, as “my” kids probably already see me as one): one of the kids, who couldn’t wait to get ready to go, apparently, put on a woollen wolf-shaped cap. That was it! I borrowed it, put it on my hand puppet-like and began to show it around: ‘are you afraid of wolves?’ ‘Do you like wolves?’ ‘Have you ever heard of “Red-Riding Hood?’ And some roars came out too, even though howls would have been more appropriate, I suppose. So I’ve run with the hares, hunted with the hounds, and brought all of them safely home 🙂 I mean everything was there, the lesson, English language, fun, laughs, new words and structures…

Then I’ve thought of that time when you created, with the scarf of a girl among the public, one of your extraordinary moments made of very little, ordinary things and that scarf became everything: magic, improvisation, total freedom of expression, mind and body. It’s that magic, that liberty I want, and I’ll have it and I’ll learn how to pass it on, as a teacher, to everyone that wants to feel it and understand it.

Impressioni di una neomaestra di inglese

E’ tutta la vita che voglio insegnare. E adesso eccomi qui. La caparbietà non è un difetto che mi manca, grazie al cielo. E contro ogni pronostico, consiglio e ragionevolezza, sono qui a insegnare inglese ai bambini, divertendomi come loro con le nursery rhymes, i giochi con la palla, la preparazione dei cartoncini con le figure, i cartoni animati in inglese… alla mia età! Come altre cose, in questi ultimi tempi, accudire questa mia parte “piccola” (e trasmettere qualcosa che adoro a questi altri “piccoli”) mi serve ad alimentare certi ricordi, ad onorare a modo mio la memoria di chi mi ha “insegnato”, chi, senza neanche saperlo, ha dato forma e vita a tanti miei desideri, e addolcire al tempo stesso la nostalgia. E’ stato bello sentirmi dire che per la prima volta i bambini sono usciti sorridenti da una lezione di inglese. Ancora meglio vedere uno di quelli considerati “pestiferi” mostrarmi tutto orgoglioso le parole scritte con tanta cura sul foglio che si era fatto dare da un compagno perché non aveva il quaderno. E poi c’è quello che addirittura ti corre incontro a braccia aperte con un sorriso fino alle orecchie… Poi la stanchezza, il tempo, l’impegno di essere sempre preparati, la difficoltà di trovare la giusta “chiave” per coinvolgere tutti… Tutto questo c’è. Ma siccome sono matta, quasi quasi un po’ mi dispiace che lunedì sia festa. aspetto le prossime lezioni con un’impazienza che, se me lo avessero detto prima, forse non ci avrei creduto. Divido il mio cuore tra le mie due attività (l’altra è tradurre), le amo entrambe e so che è una grande fortuna. La traduzione è comunicazione, costruzione di ponti, apertura di strade. e in un certo senso, anche l’insegnamento lo è. In modo diverso. E’ come se avessi completato un cerchio. Caparbietà e quel pizzico di pazzia sono un mix tosto. Aiuta molto, a volte.

The absurdity of distances

I used to be beautiful
– it still happens, now and then –
– and I surely do like your eyes,
but there’s a difference between looking at beauty
and this bosom love
that comes into me from far away
like a nut kernel
and breaks the pain in my shell.
I am a warrior, maybe
a rebel out of curiosity
without so much noise;
I fight by silently laughing,
to myself,
of the absurdity of distances
of the colors of the paradise I’m still looking for
between your wrinkles and your young thoughts,
and I write as I don’t know what to say,
I hide life within a folded sheet,
You understand more quickly
by walking on the wrong paths
it costs a laceration in your flesh
in your soul, perhaps,
but still it’s better than taking the right way
to follow it all along
without even thinking twice;
it still is better than opening sad umbrellas
to shelter from the sun and the rain
better than changing over your wardrobe
every time a season ends.
‘Cause you see, my season
has always just begun
and I don’t turn my eyes away to shirk the pain
Poetry is not to take the memory from my body,
but so that your presence will be sweeter,
like a gentle caress, the shadow of a promise:
the past will come,
when we re-live every day
the charm of the first time we never had
and you’ll be able to sleep in my hug.
With you I’d come beyond the stars
and wouldn’t even be afraid to fall down
after all, as you said, up or down
it’s hard to say in hyperspace
I’d come on the roller coaster, to a country at war
or riding a bike on the asphalt
of the roads of San Francisco
and you’ll teach me to love you as one should
with eyes and mouth and legs and night and day
with that love that doesn’t remain on the threshold
but enters your room, down to the very end,
and sees you.