Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Dinner with Montalbano at Salvo's Salumeria #Sicilia #Montalbano #crimefiction

Richard Wilcocks writes
Richard Wilcocks and Gigliola Sulis
Yesterday evening’s event in the Salumeria felt more like an indulgence than a performance. There we were again – myself with Gigliola Sulis from the university Italian department – in the fourth successive year paying tribute to the greats of Italian literature – Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch (Chiara Sbordoni did that one while Gigliola was back in her native Sardinia) and now Andrea Camilleri. There was brilliant food, a brilliant, supportive audience, and a terrific atmosphere. There was, as they say, nothing not to like.

Gigliola is a great expert on Camilleri, who became his country’s leading crime writer after retiring from a successful career as a stage and television director. He will be known for his twenty-three Montalbano novels for a long time into the future, when much else about him has faded into the mists. Most of the people there were pleased to find out about him, as they were primarily fans of the RAI television series starring Luca Zingaretti, and Michele Riondino as the Young Montalbano.

Gigliola spoke about Camilleri’s background and beliefs, and the social commentary in the novels Apparently it is normal for crime fiction to incorporate the author’s observations on the current state of affairs in Italy. The crimes in the novels are nothing if not topical: illegal immigrants, drug-dealing, prostitution, fraud, money-laundering. The Mafia does not feature every time, but it is definitely present. One villain is a doctor controlled by the Mafia, who provides them with human hearts, livers and kidneys. In the small town of Vigata, the nastiest things can happen. Real-life murders are sometimes referred to, like that of leading anti-Mafia campaigners, the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were both murdered by the mob in 1993, causing widespread outrage in Italy and an increased determination to stand up to the Mafia in Sicily.

We looked at all the characters which have become familiar – Mimi Augello, Fazio, Catarella, long-distance girlfriend Livia, Swedish Ingrid, Adelina the cook and so on, and I remarked that some of them seemed distinctly Dickensian – Agatino Catarella for example. Gigliola remarked on how Camilleri managed to incorporate references to many of the authors and academics with whom he was acquainted into the stories, some from Italy and some from elsewhere: Umberto Eco, Dylan Thomas, William Faulkner and of course the Spanish writer (and gastronome) Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, who started Camilleri on the right path.

Most of the extracts were from The Terracotta Dog (Il cane di terracotta), but the final one was from The Snack Thief (Il ladro di merendine) and it was about Montalbano’s food preferences: the inspector watches in horror as Augello spoons great quantities of parmesan over his meal of spaghetti with clams. How can anyone do that! So now, because the event could have been sold out three times over, we are thinking of a Montalbano Part Two. Wait and see.



Audience reactions

Great evening of laidback entertainment and fantastic food!

I live in Sicily for 7 months each year and enjoy Montalbano on RAI TV. The evening was very enjoyable.

Lovely food. Great opportunity to hear spoken Italian! Great opportunity to hear interesting extracts and enjoy food in context.

An excellent and educational evening.

Very interesting – I had seen all of the TV shows but not read the books. It was great to hear the Italian version. I had no idea the author was so old and had only started writing once he retired. Fascinating stuff and lovely food.

Very well presented – a nice balance between the Italian and English readings to get the flavour. Also, an extremely appropriate selection for the occasion.

Great talk, made me want to read the books, having watched TV series with pleasure already.

It has made me want to read the novels.

Very interesting recital, plus good food, good atmosphere, a great evening.

A very well formulated presentation, with incidents from the Montalbano stories told in Sicilian and then in English. Being a fan of the series I was enchanted to relive some of the incidents in Montalbano’s life and particularly his meals!

Very informative evening. Some interesting readings. At times, unfortunately, background noise from fridges etc was quite intrusive and restricted some of the passages, but both speakers were excellent.

Avid fan of Montalbano. Have read all the books and seen the programmes on TV. This event has reinvigorated me to read all the books again. Just waiting for the last series on TV. Thoroughly enjoyed the event. Both speakers very good.

Wonderful to hear extracts read out in Italian, by an Italian and expertly translated simultaneously the importance of food to the central character, the misogyny or otherwise of the author, contextualised. The understanding of Montalbano as a beautiful partner to Livia, his political sympathies and relationship with both the media and the mafia. Bravissimo! A truly enjoyable event for fans and new.

Great to hear about the author and books from someone that had a deep understanding of the subject. Also liked the multilingual descriptions.

Really enjoyed it with my wife (teacher of French, German and Spanish, and learning Italian) and son teacher of German and French, his partner head of languages in Yorks school. Excellent reading.

An excellent evening – very enjoyable! Crazi!

Really enjoyed the readings in both English and Italian. Really brought the books to life. Thankyou.

A superb evening that I was really looking forward to and which did not disappoint. Great readings and anecdotes – most enjoyable and entertaining. Thankyou!

A wonderful evening, something a bit different. Great to showcase less well-known authors, and a lovely touch to combine it with tasty food in a restaurant.

Really enjoyed it. Great food and atmosphere. Thankyou.

Really enjoyed the evening. More Italian events please!

A very enjoyable and entertaining evening, especially as I knew nothing of the topic, just brought my friend as a treat.

Interesting to hear more from the books and about the author as I’ve always watched the TV shows. Tried to read one book and struggled, tempted now to revisit.

A very interesting evening. Pasta was sensational.

A really good, simple overview of significant features of Montalbano series and events, plus details of Camilleri author (matched to delightful food!)

Obviously well prepared, well suited to audience. Something different (ie welcome). Ben fatto!

A lovely Sicilian evening bringing Montalbano to life and learning more about his creator – Andrea Camilleri. Accompanied by food which I am sure Montalbano would have approved of.

Fantastic flashback to my Sicilian holiday. Pasta and pistol shooting are a potent combination!

Wonderful insight about Montalbano. I loved the readings and the personal insights. Thankyou!

It added to the flavour of the novels – the food doesn’t come across as well on TV! Extracts from the novels well chosen. Excellent value.

Sheer Genius! On balance however please consider mic-ing up in future. Hearing no longer 20/20!

Really enjoyed the event – loved food and readings from Montalbano. Good value – long may it continue.

Nice to hear more about Camilleri and Montalbano especially about the food!


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It was difficult to hear the speakers as our table was at the far end of the room. Talk was interesting to readers of the books – readings were well thought-out.

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