When I was a teenager I was re-introduced to my father. He is Italian and much to his horror I didn’t speak the language of Dante. Not surprising really as he and my mother split up when I was three and since then I had lived in Stockhom and Berkshire. “All you need to speak Italian is Dante,” he announced and from then on would recite the fifth canto of the Inferno to me every few minutes.
The fifth canto is the story of Paolo and Francesca. It is one of the most moving in the Inferno and also the most romantic. One of the lines drummed into me was “la bocca mi bacio tutto tremante” – he kissed my lips all trembling. All very well but I was in love with John Travolta at the time and found Dante a bit of a chore.
As I write, my Dante-quoting father (he actually does know everything Dante ever wrote off by heart as well as every other Italian poet and much more, but then again the man has never had a job so he’s had plenty of time to learn) is on his way here to spend a week with me and my family. This may seem perfectly normal, it being Christmas and all that, but my father and I have been estranged more than we have been together. He was out of my life for ten years when I was a child, then he came back in, then he stormed out of my wedding nine years ago and it was only when I wrote Ciao Bella that I went to find him again. He met Leonardo then but has yet to get to know the girls. He seems very excited about the prospect. “Tell them I will teach them the whole of the fifth canto a memoria,” he told me on the phone yesterday. Some things never change…..