Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Delicious Dante and Boccaccio

Dinner with Dante on Monday 17 March
Readers Gigliola Sulis and Richard Wilcocks

Conrad writes:
You don't get the chance very often to hear both the original Italian and good English translations of two of the greatest works of Italian (and world) literature performed on the same stage. It might not have been the whole of the two works (we'd still be listening now if it had been) but the brief extracts were obviously chosen with care. We were served Canto 5 and Canto 26 of Dante's Inferno, and we heard Boccaccio's story of Lisabetta and her murdered lover Lorenzo, whose head ended up in a large pot of basil (the best, from Salerno) which grew luxuriantly after it was watered by her tears.

The explanations given by Gigliola Sulis (Director of Italian at the University of Leeds) were succinct and helpful: it was good to see things in context and to know just enough about the background, especially in relation to the Dante, which was written seven centuries ago when attitudes to life, death and much else were shall we say similar but different. The great man seems to have been pretty broad-ranging in his choice of people to hurl into the various circles of Hell. I now know that he included six popes and a host of pagan and legendary characters: Cleopatra was (sorry is - we are talking forever) down there for what she did in life, and so are the two lovers Francesca and Paolo, who committed the sin of lust. They listened to too many stories about Lancelot - fatal! The lines concerning them are, in Italian, the equivalent of "To be or not to be" in English. It was so thrilling to hear them in both languages.

I was reminded strongly of Paradise Lost by John Milton, who was one of the many influenced by Dante (and his guide Virgil) and who used the same style involving epic similes. I was also reminded of John Keats in the story of Lisabetta, whose lover Lorenzo was secretly murdered by her three brothers and who discovered his body after he appeared to her in a dream. Keats was very taken by this pleasantly lurid tale by Boccaccio, which appealed to his romantic sensibilities, but he changed the poor girl's name to Isabella for some reason. I shall now take it down from my bookshelf and read it again.

Something like this must happen again soon in the Salumeria, something with an Italian slant, something to go with all that wonderful, authentic food!

Sally adds: 
Salvo’s Salumeria had an audience not with Il Papa but waiting agog to eat the delicious Sicilian-inspired antipasti and the pasta segundo.  And to hear more about Dante’s Divine Comedy as well as Boccaccio’s Decameron.  They were not disappointed. Mellifluous Italian tones flowed into the waiting pairs of ears as wine flowed into glasses. Intoxicating to listen to, even if they were about the flames of Hell, or love and murder. 

English translations (Dowling version for the Dante, Rebhorn for the Boccaccio) were read in troubadour style by Richard Wilcocks, Secretary of Headingley LitFest, who also sang the two lines which the author added at the end of the story, to the tune of Caro Mio Ben.  A delightful ‘digestivo’ on which to finish.

Audience comments were very appreciative of this venture, organised by Gip and John Dammone to raise support towards their goal of restoring some of the Italian collection of classic but neglected tomes held at the Leeds Library, creating a shelf of them dedicated to their father Salvo Dammone.

Customer reactions:

I loved listening to the music of Gigliola's Italian. I understood more than I was expecting, too!

Enjoyable evening; I’d love to go to a lecture on the Divine Comedy!

My first LitFest event.  Most enjoyable.  Great food and company.  Lovely readings.  Thank you.

Very enjoyable evening.  Community-based, mix of literature and culture (i.e. nice food and wine.)  Let’s have some more.

Loved Richard’s readings – felt like a child listening to a story.

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