Patti Chiari - How books brought me to Sicily - part 2

Mon, 08/30/2010 - 03:49

Words by Pat Eggleton

The A level student became a university student and there she studied Italian and fell in love with Italy on a first trip to Bergamo in 1969.

One of the authors I studied was Luigi Pirandello [1867 – 1936] and, although or perhaps because his works were complex and posed questions rather than answering them, they immediately appealed to me. A recurring theme in the works of Pirandello is the nature of truth, probably most famously explored, for British and American audiences, in the play, “Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore” [“Six Characters in Search of an Author”] but if you have never read any Pirandello before and are interested in him, I would like to recommend that you begin with a less well-known play of his, “Enrico IV” [“Henry IV”]. The title refers to Henry IV of Germany, Holy Roman Emperor and the plot centres around an actor who believes himself to be Henry in “real” life – or does he?

Pirandello is another author who supported fascism, although he declared himself apolitical. In 1927 he tore up his party membership card in front of fascist leaders and was thereafter watched closely by the régime’s police.
As a student I knew that Pirandello had been born in Kaos, a suburb of Agrigento, but I never thought I would visit his birthplace or dreamt that Agrigento would become one of my favourite cities.

However, on one hot, October day in 1992, I found myself standing outside the Casa Natale di Luigi Pirandello [Pirandello Birthplace] – at 12.55 pm., five minutes before it was due to close! It had taken all morning to find the way, via a circuitous bus trip that seemed to call in on every housing estate in the Agrigento suburbs, but here I was. I explained what had happened to the custodian and she kindly let me in and went out of her way to explain the interesting exhibits. Then I walked down to the author’s grave under a pine tree, from which you can see the sea and, on a clear day, the coast of Africa.

“Take my urn to Sicily and place it under a stone in the Girgenti [Agrigento] countryside, where I was born”, wrote Pirandello.

I, less eloquently, said, “Luigi, I’ve come to see you. It’s taken me a long time and you weren’t always easy to study. Nor were you easy to find today. But you taught me a lot about life and I’m here to thank you.”
“Six Characters in Search of an Author” on Amazon UK.
“Six Characters in Search of an Author” on Amazon US.

"Three Plays: The Rules of the Game, Henry IV, Six Characters in Search of an Author" on Amazon UK.
"Henry IV" on Amazon US.

A few months before that first trip to Sicily, I had added another book to my Italian cookery collection. It was “Southern Italian Cooking” by Valentina Harris. I see that I bought it in April, when I had no plans to visit the South. In cold, rainy Cardiff, Wales, I cooked my way through that book.
Thus in October, when fate brought me to the island that I would make my home, I recognised dishes like focaccia, arancini and cucciadatu [chocolate and nut pastries]. And, because I recognised them, my hosts realised that I had more than a passing interest in their cooking so every day, they taught me the preparation, history and traditions of a new, culinary surprise. I want to say a big thank you to Valentina Harris, who sometimes contributes to this magazine, as well.

“Southern Italian Cooking” on Amazon UK.
“Southern Italian Cooking” on Amazon US.

At some point between April and October, at the school where I taught in Cardiff, I was glancing through a list of Italian schools that were looking for exchange partner schools in the UK. For some reason my index finger came to a rest upon the name of a school in Modica, Sicily and tentatively, I picked up the phone. And the rest, as they say, is history….

Topic:Culture Books