The most wonderful memory of my trip to Italy this summer is from a party that my mother had. She billed it “an evening of poetry and magic” and it was held at a friend’s house next to a river in Umbria. The magic was the atmosphere, as well as a charming man making animals out of balloons, and the poetry was provided by my father.
He sat on a rock (and this is a man who is 86 years old) and recited Dante from memory. Not just the odd line from Dante, but great chunks on the Inferno. Including of course my favourite Paolo and Francesca. He was accompanied by musicians, whom he conducted, rather like he used to ‘air-conduct’ the orchestra when we went to La Scala. They strummed their guitars and played their pipes to increase the drama, or the romance, or the suspense of what he was reciting.Here he is entertaining the children before his recital.
Then last week my mother rang to tell me my father was in hospital. He has a kidney infection. At the age of 86 that is not a good thing. I called and spoke to a lady who I think was in the next bed. All was not well with the “dottore” she told me. We had two days of utter panic and I wondered whether I should just get on a plane to Italy. I didn’t go. I know he would have told me not to, and if the end was near, he would have preferred me to remember him reciting Dante than lying in a hospital bed. Eventually I managed to speak to him.
“What is important is not my health, but the book you are going to write about living in the desert, in an utterly fake world,” were his first words. I told him that right now, his health was more important to me than anything. He laughed and said “OK, just for now.”
Thankfully he is pulling through. My superhero mother drove four hours yesterday to be with him and the reports are all good. He is going to have an operation, and he will need to have more help at home. But he should be fine.
And I am hoping to get on a plane before the end of the year, so that I can film him reciting Dante and keep it forever.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011