Whom Italian literature lost in 2019

December 31, 2019

Italy has lost some important personalities along the way, this 2019. It’s a perfect time – right before the farewell to the year – for due commemorations. Among all, I want to do honours to two very beloved and popular men who left a hollow in our modern culture: Andrea Camilleri and Luciano De Crescenzo. Camilleri is the renowned father of Montalbano, the majority of you knows him very well at least by name, but who’s the second man? I praise two interesting characters for what they left and what I learnt (and you might learn) from their example.


 [source: ilgiornale.it]


Camilleri and De Crescenzo share several traits in common and own the merit of having entertained the country in a light, yet very educational way. Both authors published best sellers still at the top of charts and personal favourite lists. 



- are authors (if it wasn't clear)

- were born in Southern Italy

- lived a long life

- launched their careers late in their years

- diverted from their original work or academic paths

- contributed to export Italian culture and literature internationally



Andrea Camilleri


I remember Andrea Camilleri as an old man, with a funny face and deep, husky voice. His voice and his cigarettes being his signature; undoubtedly, his voice came from this smoking habit. He loved his life, his cigarettes and his wife. I first remember him from an impression heard at the radio from a very talented Sicilian showman and actor – Rosario Fiorello – too realistic to be true… but Camilleri played the game, he should have had - and indeed, he had – a great sense of humour! My sister gave me ‘La vampa d’Agosto’ as a present, and it was my first real encounter with Andrea. My reading miserably lasted about 10 minutes… the first impact with his style earnt me a massive headache. He minted a new language – the so-called vigatese – to depict people and places. These are too good to be real and, in fact, they don’t really exist. Everything looks perfect, credible and familiar: you could teleport yourself to Vigata, and spot Salvo and Catarella on their way to the commissariato. It’s from a truly gifted person: an imaginary language for a fictitious place that feeds on memories and sensations. Imaginative and ironic. 



[source: vanityfair.it]


Andrea was born in 1925 in Porto Empedocle, and his full name was Andrea Calogero Camilleri. With such a typical name (Calogero), nobody would tell you are from Milan, for sure. He had quite a long and fruitful career in the entertainment world as a playwriter, director, actor and cinema professor. A factotum able to use several media to bring stories to life. Writing about his whole life isn’t in my intentions, so I won’t. I’ll just note he stepped into the theatre in 1942 and started to write at a very young age while enrolling at the university. He didn’t complete his studies but joined RAI (the National Italian television) as a production officer, later as a man and not without difficulties (being a communist himself). Good karma came to him as RAI made his name and his creations everlasting. Camilleri published several works before 1994, when Montalbano was officially born, and the first novel with him as the protagonist (La forma dell’acqua) arrived on the market. It’s the start of a loved and long story. 

Stubborn, creative, true: blindness couldn’t even stop him. Like Tiresias and Homer, Camilleri foresaw Salvo’s adventures and found an honourable conclusion for him with the last chapter closed in a drawer for a while. He made millions of loyal readers around the world falling in love with his Sicily that’s authentic and dreamy at the same time.


 [source: oggi]

Mr Camilleri left us on 17th July in Rome. I praise him for his wilfulness and his rational aversion to the mafia: he denied it a prominent space in his Sicily. People easily connect Sicily – therefore Italy - with mafia and some would heroise higher forms of criminality just because seen on the screen. We don’t need this, we don’t need this wrong myth of power. So please, stop pointing at me and labelling me ‘mafia’ if I wear my leather jacket, you stupid donkeys! (Sorry for this diversion)



Luciano De Crescenzo


Luciano De Crescenzo is the epitome of the acculturated Neapolitan who doses with the same respect dashes of high culture and sprinkles of popular humour. He described himself as ‘those three steps which allow you to rich those books on the higher shelves at the library.’ [1]. His inked words made Greek philosophy and heroic deeds edible for all; he cleared culture and made it summer reading-sized. I’m not sure when and how I met him, but I guess it was on TV, maybe during a talk-show or the transposition of his most famous novel: Così parlò Bellavista. As one may love or hate Naples, one may like or dislike De Crescenzo, but his life is an example for those coming from the bottom of society.

 - Luciano De Crescenzo visiting the Archaeological Musuem of Paestum (Salerno, Campania) -
[source: twitter @SalvoIacono]


Mr De Crescenzo was born in 1928 in Naples, his father being a humble leather craftsman. His first passion brought him to study hydraulic engineering at my University – Federico II of Naples - where he graduated with top marks. As many young people still experience in the South, including myself – he lived out of small jobs until he moved up north to Milan, where he got hired by IBM. A good place, a safe job with real opportunities for a serene life. Everything sounded fabulous, even better when Luciano became director. But when his second passion called for attention, he quitted his job for writing in 1977. His first work is Così parlò Bellavista, indeed! A literary case, a bestseller which crossed the ‘oceans’ to land to … Japan! Popularity knocked at his door instantly, and several, countless appearances on the screen started from that year onwards. Writer, playwriter for cinema and tv, director, actor: it’s the Neapolitan histrionics, that natural ability to enchant with acting and talks. The more you listen to, the more you want. Many other novels and especially deep and amusing essays on Greek philosophy and mythology got published with success: his bubbly, down-to-earth, hilarious style is contagious. 


 - the engineer-philosopher -
[source: ilgiornale.it]


Così parlò Bellavista (So Bellavista Said) is a light novel set in Naples with a mixture of brief stories and dialogues. Dialogues occupy the even chapters of the book and take place mainly in an apartment. Here, professor Bellavista meets and chitchats with some picturesque friends of him (e.g. Salvatore, the ‘deputy janitor’, and professor Palluotto, a Neapolitan relocated in Milan). He gives very practical socio-philosophical lessons about life, society and humankind. Bellavista sees humanity split in half, North and South is more a matter of preferences: freedom vs love, rush vs tranquillity, shower vs bath. Mr De Crescenzo left us on 18th July in Rome, where he was living. Naples was still in his heart, and he once said ‘I always miss Naples, even when I am there’ [2]. Indeed, Naples isn’t the one told by Bellavista anymore and will never be the same. I think: too many students and fewer Neapolitans (the real one from central Naples), too many ethnic shops and international fashion stores… Some may criticise De Crescenzo as a simple corroboration of clichés about Naples and its people. But Luciano succeeded in protecting the memory of historical Naples. Feeling nostalgic for this evocative past isn’t that hard if you think, because you know you want to get lost in this illusion.



I remember these two extravagant and creative men hoping to give you the input to pick up one of their books and maybe love them. I wish you to reveil what I learnt from Andrea and Luciano: success isn’t a matter of age but passion. Everyone flourishes at different pace, so nobody can set your limits based on your age or social background. You’re still on time to create something memorable out of your life.



Valentina Chirico (an old chicken)





[1] A self-description from De Crescenzo L., 2002, Storia della Filosofia Medievale, Milano, 10-11.
liberally translated in English from the citation in https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luciano_De_Crescenzo
[2] A quote by De Crescenzo directly translated into English, originally published on Corriere.it




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