Bandini and his unrequited love for Camilla

il Centro
Cultura & Società
2 march 2006

The clash of poor Hispanics in America against the background of "Ask the Dust"
by Paolo Di Vincenzo

"Camilla Lopez has gone, the desert swallowed her. Someone may have picked her up and taken her to Mexico. She may have gone back to Los Angeles and died in a dusty room. What I know is that she disappeared, the dog disappeared, and nothing is left of her but her story that I want to tell you ". That's how John Fante concluded his prologue to "Ask the dust" (included in the collection "The big hunger", edited by Steve Cooper and translated into Italian for Marcos y Marcos by Francesco Durante), his most beloved book, now finally, after long troubled years (just like the author's own life), has been made into a movie thanks to scriptwriter and director Robert Towne (see the piece written by John's son, Dan Fante, exclusively for ilCentro).

John Fante is a great American writer, son of a mason from Torricella Peligna, Nicholas (Nick) that left Abruzzi in 1901. John Fante was born in Denver (Colorado) in 1909 but the stories he heard from his father of his native homeland influenced his writing so much that in nearly all his books (though not in "Ask the dust") there are references to Abruzzi or Torcelli (as he often misspelt the name of the small village of the Chieti hinterland). His books have all been published in Italy, after Fazi and Marcos y Marcos (the publishers that re-issued the works after the writer died in 1983 at the age of 74) also Einaudi is working on a new big wave of reprints in the collection Stile Libero.

"Ask the dust" is a partly crazy book, with wide autobiographical sections, as in the largest part of the writer's late production. The story is hard, a clash between poor immigrants, a prospective Italian American writer, Arturo Bandini, and a gorgeous Mexican maid, Camilla Lopez. Bandini meets with alternating fortunes, has just written a story published on a review, "The small dog laughed ", and already dreams of a coming Nobel Literature Award. Meanwhile, he meets Camilla in a bar, the Columbia Buffet. She is a maid in an ill-famed place and wears a pair of huarachas (typical Mexican shoes, without heels and made of leather laces).

Camilla, like a "Maya Queen ", does not think much of him, since deep down she is in love with the bartender, Sammy, another aspiring writer, that however rejects the love of his beautiful workmate. But Sammy is American. Bandini takes revenge of Camilla's indifference scorning her aggressively for those shoes. A war between poor people in the America of the Thirties, just out of the deep depression of 1929. Bandini succeeds also in taking a nightly bath with his Mexican Queen but then he cannot drive things to their natural conclusion, which makes her indifference grow.

Bandini's misfortune is a bit like Fante's misfortune. The writer's greatness is today finally established all over the world. In the United States, in France (where his rediscovery started), in Italy. But it happened over 20 years after his death. Throughout his life, after a remarkable debut with "Wait for spring, Bandini" (1938), "Ask the Dust " (1939), "Dago Red" (1940) - which "Time" called "the best collection of the year", Fante almost gave up writing and delivered his mind to the Americans majors.

He was richly paid to write scripts that hardly ever saw the light. But the fiction demon never abandoned him, till the very end, when he, blind and legless (in consequence of diabetes, diagnosed already in 1959 but never treated seriously), would dictate "Dreams of Bunker Hill". But the appreciation of the literary community returned, almost an echo of that same misfortune that accompanies Bandini, after Fante's death. After 1983. Now here is finally the film that hopefully can give a new impulse to Fante's literature and his masterpieces.

Also Dan Fante, John's second son, is a writer. Among the many positive appreciations John Fowles, who authored "The French Lieutenant's Woman", says: "the Fantes, father and son, have been a new great discovery for me in the last few years". Dan has written beautiful works. The first, "Chump change" (published in Italy by Marcos y Marcos as Angeli a pezzi) is, as in the family tradition, greatly autobiographical. It tells about the son of a famous writer who assists his father at his deathbed. "Mooch" (Agganci, Marcos) is its sequel, while "Spitting off tall buildings" is the third in the series, with Bruno Dante as its central character, but has not yet been published in Italy, as also his last work, "Corksucker".