Tuesday, May 05, 2009


"Che si fa per un momento di gloria" ["What we do for a moment of glory"], observed my poet friend and travelling companion, Antonio Lonardo, as we stood on a windy platform at Firenze Campo di Marte Station [where the staff had helpfully closed the loos] awaiting our 22.52 train home to Sicily on Sunday. At that moment, I couldn't have agreed more with him.

The epic journey had begun with the 14.30 Modica - Catania bus on Saturday and from Catania we took the overnight train direct to Florence via Messina. I had seen Messina and the Stretto before, but this was to be my first experience of crossing the Strait, as I had always flown to the mainland previously.

Our compartment of four couchettes was comfortable and clean enough but I do have to say that the train's sanitary facilities were inadequate. [What's new about that, in Italy? I cannot for the life of me work out why a nation obsessed with cleanliness fails to provide decent public toilets and washing facilities in places where they are obviously going to be needed.] After only about half an hour the compartment's three occupants were deep in philosophical conversation - no burying your head in your newspaper or book and being left to it here! - and when a fourth intrepid traveller joined us at Messina it took him just five minutes to pick up the thread. It all got a bit heated when his political views turned out to be contrary to the Italian Constitution and at that point your normally equally intrepid blogger decided to keep her mouth shut! At around midnight we all tucked ourselves into our couchettes and I had quite a good night's sleep [unsurprisingly, as I can sleep anywhere!]

We were woken by a lively school party at 6 am and arrived in Florence on time, at 09.10. I can't begin to tell you what that lovely city means to me: When I first saw it, many years ago, its beauty literally took my breath away. [The only place that has done so since is Agrigento.] That first time, quite alone, I walked its streets day after day until I had ticked every paragraph in my guidebook and felt as if I were meeting in person the writers I had studied for so long. And I began to truly understand the miracle of the Renaissance. I stood transfixed in front of the Primavera in the Uffizi and cried when it was time to leave . I felt ambiguous, and still do, about the Nascita di Venere, for that figure has a lot to answer for, representing, as she does, the modern ideal of feminine beauty. Some years later, I revisited the city with a man I nearly married and later still, I returned in the hope of healing a broken heart - and I did, or rather, that wonderful city and the kindness of the Italian people healed me. And every now and then, whenever I could, I would go back to make sure that my bellissima città was still there...

And she was still there, in all her Renaissance magnificence, last Sunday morning. My dear facebook friend, Luciano, met us at the station and took us straight to Piazzale Michelangelo, whence I gazed once again at loveliness, at perfection, at what man can achieve. I don't suppose there will ever, again, be a "Renaissance man" because it is impossible, now, to be an expert in every known cultural field, so much has available knowledge increased. Thus I believe that what I looked upon that morning was the culmination [rather than the beginning] of a unique, marvellous "moment" in the history of our species.

One more loving glance, then round the corner for a delicious ice cream and on to the Ponte Vecchio, passing Elizabeth Barrett Browning's beloved Casa Guidi on the way. So crowded was this favourite haunt of mine that we didn't have time to go all the way across but at least I said "Buongiorno" to it and the ghost of Dante [although that was, of course, a different bridge]. Yes, I know it was all for the sake of allegory but the romantic in me likes to imagine his first sight of Beatrice Portinari as a thirteenth century "brief encounter" and that the bridge, without the tourists, looked much as it does today.

Suddenly it was nearly one o'clock and we were whisked away to the Tuscan hills where Luciano's wife had prepared a lovely "light lunch" of salmon mousse, lasagne and strawberries so sweet that they needed no accompaniment, to follow.

Time to put our glad rags on and it was off to Buggiano for the poetry prize ceremony, Luciano and his wife having arranged to take us there [much to my relief as I had been dreading negotiating the train - the steps are very high - in those heels!]

Many excellent poems were read out and Antonio was one of the prize-winners, for Esistenziale Itinerario [which will appear on this blog shortly]. Here Antonio is onstage while his prize-winning poem is read by an actress:

There was a very emotional moment when the overall winner, Floredana De Felicibus [for Tu Sei Memoria] dedicated her success to the people affected by the earthquake in her region of Abruzzo.

Later I was called up to the stage and interviewed about translation. Antonio came onstage with me afterwards and read his Il Poeta in Italian and then I read it in English. I was delighted when Romano Battaglia said I had preserved the musicality in the translation and delighted and surprised when organiser Sileno Lavorini presented me with an engraved plaque, which I shall always treasure:

Antonio started to cry from the emotion of it all and of course, that started me off, too!

Here is Antonio at the end of the ceremony with fellow-prize-winners Aikaterini Tzouvadaki, from Greece, and Alessandro Bertolino from Turin [and me]:

Our friends kindly took us back to Campo di Marte [which I shall always remember as a looless station] our train arrived and we quickly settled into our couchettes. By morning the train loos were disgusting and yet another philosophical colloquy commenced.

Here the ferry is leaving a rainy Calabria. [The first shot is from the window, then I risked life, limb and hairdo on the slippery deck to get the others!]

As you see, I bought the T-shirt:

I started to cry again as we arrived at Messina!

The train was delayed for an hour at Messina as tomatoes were loaded. Nevertheless, we made good time and caught the 13.30 bus from Catania, arriving back in Modica at 15.15. And then - would you believe it? - a 90-minute wait to get a local bus home! Pazienza!

The Sicilian countryside from the train:

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Antonio Lonardo for offering me the opportunity to translate his work and Sileno Lavorini for inviting me to the ceremony and honouring me with an award.


Cat said...

Wonderful stuff! Thanks for the descriptions and the photos! I'm now torn between wanting to fly back to Florence or coming straight over to Sicily!

Mopsa said...

What a wonderful trip, beautifully described. Utterly romantic (apart from the loos!).

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Hi WL....wow what a fabulous story....you paint a very beautiful picture of Florence...I think I must visit too!!!!

I never knew that you could get from Sciliy to Italy by train...!!

I think I might go to writing classes...to improve my blog!

Fabulous :-) :-)

Sally said...

Che si fa indeed - Marco Polo has nothing on you and I loved reading all about the epic trip. You look impossibly elegant up on stage ( oh those legs) and I can think of no-one who deserves such an award more. Thank you for sharing it with us, and so happy you had a glimpse of Florence.

Trubes said...

What an interesting and informative article Welshcakes and what a wonderful time you had, (apart from the toilets).
I have spent a good 40 mins reading this, marvellous stuff and beautifully written...I felt as if I was with you on the trip...Thankyou.


flutterby said...

What an absolutely wonderful experience for you and what an honor. Miss Simi must be bursting with pride.

I'm with Ann in Oxfordshire, I didn't know you could from Sicily to Florence by train.

Florence is a beautiful city and I would love to go there again. The art is sublime (I'm running out of superlatives).

James Higham said...

Talk about a meaty post - that was more than interesting.

sally in norfolk said...

sounds like a great adventure to me :-)

Lucia said...

Great post! Romantic and full of life.

CherryPie said...

Thank you for sharing that :-) It sounds like you had a wonderful time.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thank you, cb. Could you manage both?! Thank you, Mopsa. You are very kind. Anne, you must visit Florence! Your blog is lovely. Thank you so much, Sally. I chose my sheer tights carefully! Thank you, Trubes. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Hi, Flutterby. Thank you . It's a very long journey but worthwhile. I agree about the art. Thank you, James. That is a compliment indeed. It was, Sally! Thank you, Lucia. Very kind of you to say so.

jmb said...

What a wonderful experience for you Welshcakes and congratulations on your plaque. Well deserved I know.

A visit to Florence is truly balm for the soul, or at least for those who love the Renaissance period as I do too. I don't have the emotional memories of Florence that you do, although I have been there half a dozen times. But it was there that I first did a home stay/course in Italy and where my level of Italian took a huge jump.

Sadly it is no longer at a high level.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Cherie. I did! Hi, jmb. Thank you. "Balm for the soul" it certainly was. I'm sure your Italian's still fine!

Ardent said...

What a wonderful and enjoyable post. Your trip was so interesting. How did you feel on stage? Were you nervous reciting to such a large audience?

I wish I could read what is written on the plaque. It was so well deserved.

Bravo Welshcakes. If Simi knew what you had accomplished I am sure she would not mind being in the doggy home.

BeeWild said...

Fabulous, pat!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Very kind of you to say so, Neil.

PinkAcorn said...

How wonderful and deserving you both are! Lovd the pictures and details of your trip.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Many thanks, Ardent. I wasn't nervous onstage - I just convinced myself it was a school assembly! I was terrified, though, of falling over in those heels, as I still have balance problems from time to time. Luckily, I didn't. The plaque reads, "In gratitude for honouring us with your presence" - Italians are very good at this sort of thing. I've told Simi all about it and she says she's quite proud, really!
Hi, pink. Many thanks.


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