Monday, November 2, 2009

Giovannino Guareschi--Italian Politcal Satirist

My dad introduced me to The Little World of Don Camillo when I was a teenager. I then went to Italy and discovered that Guareschi was quite a prolific writer. His most famous work is short stories about a small, fictional town in northcentral Italy on the plains of the broad, Po river valley. Don Camillo is the parish priest, and his arch rival and sometimes friend is Peppone, the communist mayor of the town. Guareschi spent two years in a prisoner of war camp in Germany during the last part of World War II. He later published the things he wrote to entertain his fellow prisoners during their time in the camp. There is usually a morbid bent to this humor, unlike his political satire, which can be serious or even sad, but is fundamentally positive. I read one of his brief journal entries, and found it very funny. It took me three readings to get the last line, though. I hope my English translation makes it easier for the rest of you. I've asked an Italian about the meaning of a couple of cultural references. He'll see if he can figure them out for me, but didn't know off the top of his head. I'll edit it when he gets back to me.

The Father
Once upon a time there was a father: a lordly man of notable dignity, two important mustachios, and formidable experience.

This father would say, scandalized, that the youth of his day never smoked, drank alcohol, danced, or stayed out late, never asked for money, never asked for new clothes, didn’t wear out the toes or heels of their shoes, never ate junk from pastry shop, never cruised around in cars, or wasted their lives at the movies, never lit matches and left the sticks lying around, never read the idiocies published in the newspapers, didn’t leave dirty water in the bathroom, didn’t murder all of their socks in the heels, never went without a hat, never planted themselves in front of the radiator, didn’t leave the lights on until two in the morning, never wasted time in frivolous pursuits like skiing, biking, playing tennis, or listening to various Semprini(?), never wasted money on mail(?), never tracked mud in the house, never asked what was for dinner, etc.

A most authoritative figure who made it his duty to teach that the serious minded man must never get involved in politics, but must only follow the masses and respect his superiors and the institutions of the State, and obey orders without ever questioning, thus avoiding, assuredly, any responsibility or trouble.

And the children treasured his fatherly teachings and, in this way, found themselves—surrounded by safe fences—the wisdom of the youth of their father’s day. And they didn’t smoke any more, they didn’t dance, didn’t stay out late, didn’t waste their lives at the movies, didn’t eat junk from the pastry shops, etc. etc.

But Papa, if we ever get home! . . .

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