Prendendo come osservatorio la propria famiglia per metà italiana e i propri figli radicati e cresciuti in Italia - ma anche prendendo le mosse da un suo precedente volume dal titolo "Italiani" (in lingua originale: Italian Neighbours, Bompiani, 1995) - Tim Parks in "Un'educazione Italiana" (titolo inglese: An Italian Education, sempre per i tipi di Bompiani, 1996) ha provato a tracciare un panorama dei vizi, virtù e manie tipici della nazione italiana: l'approssimazione, il bigottismo, la calciomania, l'incomprensione tra Nord e Sud, i difetti del sistema educativo. Ne è nata è nata una mappa completa e spiritosa del costume degli italiani di oggi attraverso i bambini, seguiti passo per passo nel loro percorso educativo e nella vicenda della loro esistenza. Il libro si chiude sul panorama di una vacanza adriatica, la vacanza esemplare dell'adolescente italiano: mare, sole, spiaggia. L'Italia: luogo ideale per crescere. O, forse, per non crescere mai.
Quello che segue è il commento di Maureen Simson al libro di Tim Parks. Inutile dire che le è piaciuto e che lo ha letteralmente divorato, dispiacendosi poi di essere arrivata alla fine. Ma è uno di quei libri che si può sempre rileggere, every now and then, magari a saltare o aprendolo a caso.
(Maureen L. Simpson) Most fortuitously and with precisely perfectly magical timing, I was recently given, by the great Book Eater himself, Mauri Crispi, a copy of 'An Italian Education' by Tim Parks. Tim Parks is an English writer who moved to Italy when he was 26 and subsequently embarked on raising a family in Verona. I was born and grew up in South Africa, moved to England when I was 27 where I have been living for 15 years. Since September, myself, Mauri (a true multi-generational Palermonite) and our little boy have all been together in Palermo, Sicily making a true rainbow family, perhaps a tiny bit like Tim Parks's family. And so, I am going to try and write a little bit about my experience or reflections of this book, which I absolutely could not put down!
The book is set in Verona, and is written in little thematic chapters, where Tim writes about his immediate family experience spanning several years, starting with the birth of his first child. Each experience is a vivid description of - to some extent - universal family life, but also a unique reflection of bringing up an Italian family in Italy but with his English cultural background thrown in. So in a sense Tim is writing partly as an 'outsider' because one can never entirely leave behind the culture that 'grows us up', and partly as a 'sort of' naturalised Italian, given that he speaks Italian, lives in Italy and has an Italian family. Tim states in the introduction to his book that he did not want to write a travelogue, or to try to write about ALL of Italy, or even to try to encapsulate the Italian culture as a whole, if that is even possible. What he does is he takes all sorts of colourful and idiosyncratic and unique aspects of Italian Culture, and mixes them into the family experiences within his Italian community and broader family. At the same time he humourously links in little recollections of his own familial experiences of growing up in England. So there is always this little dance or play going on, of describing growing up in these two cultures, which I could really relate to having lived in both South Africa and England for quite signifcant periods of my life, and now we have the privilage of living in Italy! What I also like about it, is that Tim does not over romanticise Italy (or England for that matter) nor does he try to compare in a like for like manner (which would be impossible anyway), he just places them near enough to each other for us to muse over or be curious about, and often just to be simply amused by.
Throughout the book, he uses little Italian phrases or words, to explain and enrich the stories he is telling . Or, perhaps more accurately, the stories explain the words! He says in the beginning of the book, that he did question himself as to whether to use so many Italian words in the book, and also whether to include a glossary of meanings. In the end he decides not to 'translate' the words in the traditional sense. He says in his introduction: "On translating a word... you have offered only a tiny fraction of it's meaning, only an empty semantic shell, since so often surface meaning is nothing more than the stony outcrop of a great mass of cultural bedrock beneath" (from "the Author's Note", p. V)*. He further elaborates, pertinent to the Italian language, and in keeping with his decision not to offer one definitive translation for each word or phrase, but rather to let the words and phrases be puzzle pieces or images or objects within the story. In this way, their meaning unfolds, through the described experience: "This is language that has to be savoured, discovered, enjoyed..." (ib.)*.
Another thing I love about the book and perhaps found to be the most educative (in the context of my own experience so far in Italy) was the way he makes words and phrases anchors so to speak in the 'Italian education. In my own personal context, this gave me an almost instantaneous understanding (at least at some level) of some of the words or phrases I had already heard and encountered since being in Italy. And these of course then lead to providing a valuable 'in' into the culture. Of course, I am now listening out for the ones I have not yet heard!
I think language is obviously pivotal in beginning to understand a culture. Even moving from an English speaking community in South Africa to England, it took me some time to understand the nuances and affects of English spoken in England (not to mention further differences between counties) as opposed to our South African English.
Tim says that an experience of another country is also an experience of it's language, and in his stories and reflections, you can definitely see his love of the Italian language, with, even at a first glance, it's very expressive, tactile, and playful aspects.
I had to chuckle to myself a few times in reading this book. There were quite a few things he describes as having been an enigma to him, in understanding the ways of the culture. Indeed many of these were the exact things I had encountered and had been really curious and inquisitive about. For example, our little boy was about 3 months old when we arrived in Italy from the UK, where he was born, and I was completely taken aback and astounded (in a most happy way) to find that the Italians absolutely love and adore babies. In fact the whole culture seems to celebrate children. Everywhere we have been, so many people have come up to us, and with great enthusiasm and congratulated us on our little boy and then immediately start asking about him and with great animation engaging and playing with him. It almost feels like being a minor celebrity! Tim explains similar sentiments in regard to his own children, in his quirky humorous way. He explains about the typical one child family and also linking into concepts such as the "sacrifici" which I had not yet heard of as such, but had definitely picked up on some of the sentiments expressed symbolically in the culture. Having three of his own children born in Italy, his story of his experience is totally authentic and lively.
Another one I had wondered about was how in English we have the words 'house' and 'home' but in Italian, there is 'casa' to mean both things, which he explains. There is also a thread running through the book where he talks with great fondness of his Italian in-laws, not so much as in a 'typically Italian' sense, but as individuals who are. Throughout the course of the book, you get to know these real life imperfect but lovable characters, through their relations with Tim and his family.
I also particularly enjoyed the humorous element of this book, where he is able to laugh at the absurdity of some of his own (English) culture and also to laugh at elements of the Italian culture, in the context of his own family (and in both cases completely without malice or one-upmanship). For example, he explains the pivotal role of the mother (la mama) in the Italian family and culture and explains how his children always ask his wife for the final word or the ultimate answer to, for example, school homework questions, as opposed to Papa. He describes various stories and anecdotes around this way of life.
Again, for a foreigner this is fascinating and breaks down any cliche's or myths about the culture, which we typically derive from movies or popular culture, where Italy is a prime target to be romanticised and therefore often quite inaccurately portrayed or understood. Another example is where he describes his own childhood holidays in Blackpool England alongside his children's holidays in and Italian coastal resort, making them both sound totally individual and quirky in their own way, but in a sense, both are also totally appealing.
And to end, I include a quote from the book and I won't say where it is in the book. It's a little piece of the relationship between Tim, his father in law and Italy and I think epitomises his humour in the writing of this book, his love of family (definitely something we hook onto Italy, and which is certainly not a myth!) and his love of Italy: "'No better place to grow up than Italy', I tease him. Spooning foam into his mouth like a big baby, the crumbs of a second brioche on his lips, my father-in-law is quick to correct me: 'No better place', he says, 'not to grow up!" (ib., p.388)*.
For me, I would say, Italy is the perfect place for our little boy to grow and not grow up in!
* The quotations are from the english edition by Vintage, 2000.
About Tim Parks. Born in Manchester in 1954, Tim Parks grew up in London and studied at Cambridge and Harvard. In 1981 he moved to Italy where he has lived ever since, raising a family of three children. He has written fourteen novels including Europa (shortlisted for the Booker prize), Destiny, Cleaver and, most recently, Sex is Forbidden, all of them published in half a dozen countries.
During the nineties he wrote two, personal non-fiction accounts of life in northern Italy, Italian Neighbours and An Italian Education, books that won him acclaim and popularity for their anthropological wryness. These were complemented, perhaps completed, in 2002 by A Season with Verona, at once a comic microcosm of provincial fandom and a grand overview of Italian life as seen through the business and passion of football. Other non-fiction works include a history of the Medici bank in 15th century Florence, Medici Money and, most recently, a profound narrative reflection on health, illness and meditation, Teach Us to Sit Still. In June 2013, Tim will be publishing a new non-fiction work on Italy, Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo.
During his years in Italy, Tim has translated works by Moravia, Calvino, Calasso and Machiavelli and written widely on the subject; his book, Translating Style, which analyses Italian translations of the English modernists, is considered a classic in its field and he currently runs a post-graduate degree in translation at IULM university in Milan.
A regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books, his many essays are collected in Hell and Back and The Fighter. For the last year or so he has been publishing a series of blogs on writing, reading, translation and the like in the New York Review online. For a more complete list of publications, check the Bibliography.
Tim Parks parla del suo "Un'Educazione Italiana".