Fante Festival

Tuesday 28th August 2007


Sacco and Vanzetti in Torricella Peligna

Giovanni Lamanna

 Torricella Peligna is a little village of 1,500 inhabitants. As I draw nearer, by car from the South, I convince myself more and more that it is impossible for a Literary Festival to be successful there, on those mountains reached with difficulty by little roads that climb steeply amongst the curves. I arrive during the siesta hour on a sweltering Saturday and it seems to me to be a tranquil spot, almost asleep under the boiling, end-of-August sun, I almost forget about the Literary Festival “Il Dio di mio padre” (My Father’s God) dedicated to John Fante, that has been in progress there already for some days… Then, suddenly, as if in response to some silent call, the square comes alive, the places hosting the Festival take on life.

 The organisation is at work for the next appointment. The technicians are getting the room ready where at 16:00 hours there is in programme a homage to Sacco and Vanetti, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of their deaths: first a documentary film by Peter Miller will be shown, then a presentation of “Davanti alla sedia elettrica” (Before the Electric Chair), the leaflet (published by the Edition Spartaco) that John Dos Passos wrote when the two anarchic Italians were still alive, in a last desperate attempt to save them.

 The documentary is very good, well constructed, faithful and detached to the right degree: in it are interviews with Howard Zinn and Giuliano Montaldo, the testimonies of those who at that time were children and their parents took part in events to protest about the death penalties, listen to the songs and the music which have accompanied the stories about Sacco and Vanetti for so many years. It is a film in English with Italian subtitles. The only defect – just for the sake of finding one – is the translation of the term “comrades” with “camerati” (colleagues) instead of “compagni” (friends)…

Emotion reaches a peak, when – at the end of the film – the very famous letter is cited, which Nicola Sacco wrote to his son, Dante, just a few hours before he went to the electric chair: “I would never have thought that our inseparable love could end so tragically”; “Never forget yourself, Dante, every time that you are happy in life, don’t be egotistical: always share your joys with those less happy, poorer and weaker than you are and never be deaf to those who ask for assistance. Help the persecuted and people who are victims because they will be your best friends, they are the companions who fight and fall, like your father and Bartolomeo fought and fell for having proclaimed happiness and liberty for all the poor ragged people maddened by work. In this fight for life you will find joy and satisfaction and you will be loved by people like you”; “And don’t forget to save a little of your love for me, son, because I love you so very much… My very best brotherly love to all the good friends and companions, affectionate kisses for little Ines and for Mummy, and to you a hug from the heart from you father and friend”. Those are the words – with the rhetoric of the worst occasions – that are defined as “the last words of one condemned to death”. But above all, they are the words of a man who faces sacrifice with courage and the strength of his own ideas…

The projection is over and now it is my turn, as editor of Dos Passos’s book, I must speak. I do so with some emotion, with the images of the film bright in my eyes and the words of Sacco still in my ears. I talk about the book, I quote Vonnegut, and explain the position of Dos Passo, I recall the songs and the films, and I end by reading – with an impeccable Neapolitan accent! – the text of a Neapolitan song written a few months before the deaths of the two anarchic Italians… The interview with Alain Goussot, Professor of Pedagogy at the University of Bologna, analyses how the anniversary has been abused by Italian newspapers, whilst in France L’Humanité even put the news on its front page… And then I examine the numerous parallels between the Sacco and Vanzetti affair and the boorish forms of intolerance and prejudice that still today are a part of daily experiences in Italy and in the United States.

I leave the hall for a citron juice drink with Goussot, we begin to talk about many things that we have in common, about Flora Tristan and Louise Michel. And then of his experience at Charleroi and the places of the Marcinelle tragedy. The Festival continues… On the evening of Saturday 25th, in the freshness of a magnificent pinewood, is a stage with five chairs and a black background with Andrea Brambilla as the guest (for most people he is known as Zuzzurro, of the famous duo on television) and his monologue taken from “Il mio cane stupido” (My Stupid Dog) by John Fante. The text – we know – is amusing, the he gives a good recitation, a pleasant surprise… the atmosphere is right.

And that atmosphere – laden with energy and cultural vitality, things which I never would have thought of finding in Torricella Peligna when I was coming there – is found again the next evening, at the Serranella Reserve, run by the WWF (that is carrying out an interesting project of reclamation of horticultural cultivation and is also trying to bring back to life a medieval orchard): a buffet of traditional Sangro-Aventino products, people chatting, a stroll in the pale full moonlight amongst orchards and pathways, the water flowing in the background. Then there is the conference-show of Luca Scarlini on D’Annunzio, “il Vate a Little Italy” (The Priest in Little Italy), which does not disappoint like it usually does, followed by a musical reading with the band “Dago Red” (the name borrowed from one of the most famous collections of stories by Fante) who play the Blues and close the show, with a salute from the Artistic Director Giovanna Do Lello and an appointment for next year…

Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca

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