Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Dinner with Petrarch at Salvo's Salumeria

Una serata piena di vecchia poesia

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Chiara Sbordoni and Richard Wilcocks
For me, this annual event in the delightful Salumeria with a focus on Italian literature has become one of the highlights of the LitFest, and now that the three cornerstones have been covered - Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch - thoughts should turn to what happens in the future. The comments below show that there is an appetite for a next course. I was chatting with Chiara yesterday evening about this, after our performance. Should it be an evening of modern Italian short stories, or extracts from novels? Alberto Moravia? What about Andrea Camilleri, who wrote the Inspector Montalbano stories? Umberto Eco? Grazia Verasani, who wrote the book of the film Quo Vadis, Baby? Do tell us what you might prefer, blog readers!

All the poems by Petrarch heard last night were originally written in Italian vernacular and they all belong to the same book, the Canzoniere (literally Song Book) upon which the poet lavished forty years of his life, ever since he first started gathering in his scattered poems in around 1335. There are 366 poems in the collection, as many as the days in a year plus one - the introductory poem - and it is mainly devoted to the poet's love for a French woman, Laura, whom he had met on 6 April 1327 in the church of St Claire in Avignon, and who had died on 6 April 1348, when she became a victim of the Black Death. Petrarch was a frequent traveller throughout Europe, especially between France and Italy, usually as part of his work on various diplomatic and political missions, and found the opportunities to visit some of the major libraries, where he made important discoveries, as when in Verona he found some of Cicero's letters. He was proud of his achievements: a central event in his life was his coronation as a poet laureate on the Capitol hill in Rome by the King of Naples in 1341. His friends included Boccaccio, and he put a great deal of energy into constructing an ideal image of himself, for posterity. All of this information and more was conveyed crisply by Chiara, backed up by a handout on every table. The diners loved it. Read their comments.

All fourteen lines of some sonnets were read in Italian by Chiara before I read the English versions, but we decided to just give tastes of others - the first four lines in Italian to precede the whole thing in English. This was because we knew there would be a few present who understood every word of the Italian, a few more who got the general drift and a majority who liked to listen to the music of the language. As it turned out, several people said they would have liked more of the Italian. Poems by English admirers of Petrarch came at the end of the main performance - Love that doth reign and live within my thought, a translation by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, beautifully read by Chiara, Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind by Sir Thomas Wyatt, credited with introducing the sonnet into England and Milton! thou should'st be living at this hour by William Wordsworth, both read by myself.

Audience comments
More please! Not only was the pairing with food very attractive, but I really learned something about Petrarch's influence on Shakespeare's sonnets. Good to hear the Italian spoken and the English translation. Excellent event!

A splendid concept, combining the best of Italian poetry with Italian cuisine. I am visiting from South Wales, and will return for more!

Very entertaining. Grazie per questo momento di cultura.

I thought it was very well presented - the small explanations before the sonnets were very useful! Maybe a bit more Italian reading would have been nice.

I really enjoyed the event and I found it very interesting & full of vivacity & passion. I enjoyed the mixture of Italian and English readings and the selection of sonnets.

Ben presentato. Essendo un autore/poeta italiano aurei dato piu spazio alla lingua originale.

I thoroughly enjoyed the event, especially as it is not something I would usually attend. As an English Literature graduate, I thought the poetry was well presented and communicated. Overall, the event was of high quality and created a great atmosphere for the restaurant.

Not the usual night, it was very nice and intellectually stimulating. As an Italian, I really appreciated having a taste of my culture served to me in such a thoroughly well-executed way.

A very useful intro to this poet, clear and well-prepared. A most pleasant evening at a lovely venue. I will undertake further study after this introduction.

- informative  - enjoyable  -well-presented  - brilliant venue  - lovely to hear an Italian voice & some romance. Thankyou!

Lovely evening, thankyou. Wonderful poetry, wonderful food. I really liked having the Italian and English texts to follow but would enjoy hearing slightly more Italian. Looking forward to the next one...

Very enjoyable, mixing poetry reading in both languages with lovely food and atmosphere. It would have been nice to have more read in Italian. The sonnets would lend themselves to this as they're short? Having parallel texts (Italian/translation) was very helpful.

Great food, excellent wine, good poetry. What more could one ask for?

A delightful evening. Petrarch a joy to hear. So romantic, calming.

Great! I would have preferred more Italian and more commentary, but I did enjoy it and thought it was good value.

GREAT! Well organised, engaging and great food! Relaxed atmosphere (emoji) More please!

A very enjoyable evening.

Delightful. Such a lovely way of spending an evening. Good food, good company.

Very relaxing evening and interesting to learn more about Italian poetry.

Love the exposure to Italian language + literature as previous student if Italian renaissance.

Perfect setting and accompaniment to a wonderful evening. Very good to have Italian and English renditions to get the flavour and tone as well as meaning.

For me, this was a very relaxed and informative introduction to Petrarch.

We went to an exhibition of Petrarch's life when we visited Padua some years ago and we were interested to hear more about his poetry.

Excellent combination of food and poetry - would definitely come again to a similar event.

A very interesting event. Having readings in 2 languages was specially apt. A most entertaining and informative evening.

I have been studying Italian and love listening to it, even if I don't understand it all! I think the balance of Italian and English this evening was about right.

A thoroughly enjoyable event, only regret was that I would have enjoyed hearing each sonnet in Italian as well as English (totally)  - perhaps 4 lines by 4 - it was excellent to give examples of P.S. in later works - Wyatt and Wordsworth.

A very pleasant evening with good balance of readings + informative chat + a lovely meal. I enjoyed the Italian/English reading - thanks for the print-outs. I have learnt a lot from these - Dante, Decameron + this. I googled Petrarch today, knowing little - + learnt lots. These are great educational + social events.


  1. That would have been a wonderful start to a very well balanced programme. Wishing you all the best for another successful festival

  2. Quando si eseguirà in altri ristoranti?