Crazy Italia as told by John Fante

il Centro
Cultura & Società
1 april 1999

Published by Fazi the letters from 1957 to 1960
by Paolo Di Vincenzo

book cover "Tesoro, qui è tutto una follia" (=Darling, here everything is crazy) is the striking title chosen by publisher Fazi for the collection of John Fante's letters from Europe (1957-1960) (87 pages, 12,000 lire). The writer, originally from Abruzzo, tells in 42 letters, most of which are addressed to his beloved wife Joyce, about "his" Italy and Paris. Fante lived for long periods in Rome and Naples.

The folly, needless to say, refers to the Italian way of life. But in this evaluation, though there are some quite heavy passages for an "American", there is no negative judgement of his country of origin. Just the opposite. If, for example, in a letter written at the beginning of his stay in Naples he writes his wife that "The women in Naples are like pigs. They are fat pigs with worn-out clothes, mostly black, stained with tomato sauce, urine, lard, or a baby's shit..." immediately afterwards he adds "But I must also say they are wonderful, each one with a face like God's own mother and the deformed, hardened with work, but tender hands, of women who spent their lives caring after their children and men".

Fante is in Italy and in Paris, for some movie projects, also with De Laurentiis. he writes scripts and tells his wife what he sees. A recurring issue is his fear of the Italian traffic, with all "those small Fiat cars" driving fast everywhere and seemingly relishing in frightening pedestrians. Fante however, who knows what poverty, sacrifice and hardships mean, writes extremely tender, moving pages when he tells of the misery of neapolitan children (a tragedy still present today, just imagine what it was like in the late Fifties). He also has praise for the superb Italian cuisine.

In the restaurants and trattorie people can eat remarkably well, he writes to his wife, with just a few dollars: "pasta is like heaven. I don't know why - they say it's the water - you cannot even imagine how good it is". As a good "American" he worries about the reds: "there are six million Communists in Italy. The whole cinema industry, with a very few exceptions, belongs to the red intelligentsia just like it was in Hollywood (...) Of course all homosexuals are red". Only a few hints about his Abruzzo, but all are most positive. "...Rome city of thieves ", but "in the province" it is different, "I am told Abruzzese are nice people". He did not however visit the land of his father. This was explained by Baldo Fiorentino, to whom Fante gave an interview (in the Appendix) in August 1957 for the "Roma" of Naples, as "...restraint, maybe fearing he would find a coarse reality, a Torcello la Peligna (sic) which would not resemble the village he saw in the drawings made from memory by his homesick father and that he kindled in his imagination".

English text edited by Albert Porreca