Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fernanda Pivano: somebody up there likes us

Out of the shabby, depressing panorama of European (and Italian) anti-Americanism, one not-so-little star shines because of its stubborn refusal to buy into the view that the United States is a cultural wasteland with nothing to teach the Europeans, with their self-proclaimed intellectual and moral superiority.

This little star has now gone out, 92 years young. I'm talking about cool cat Fernanda Pivano, one of the most important forces in the Italian intellectual world, whose death was mourned in a statement by Italian President Napolitano yesterday. Nanda, as she liked to be called, had a life-long love affair with America, and was instrumental in advocating and supporting our culture for decades aftre World War II.

Born in 1917, she was a student of Cesare Pavese's in Turin. Pavese, another admirer of American lit and translator of Moby Dick (my favorite novel, I've always wanted to get my hands on his translation), turned her on to the riches of our writers. She did her thesis on Moby Dick in the early '40's, when Fascism was still in power, with its abhorrence of all things American and English. Among her first efforts was a translation of Edgar Lee Masters' great Spoon River Anthology, which she made very popular among Italians.

Following this was a career as journalist, translator, and writer, with an extraordinary list of friendships ranging from that "old Veneto boy" (as he called himself), "Ernesto" Hemingway (shown with her above in 1954), through her beloved Jack Kerouac (can you believe I haven't read him and I'm from Massachusetts- for shame!), to Bob Dylan. Right through more recent times, with Fabrizio De Andre' (who made an album based on Spoon River), to singers Jovanotti and Ligabue, and writers Chuck Palahniuk, Jay McInerney, and Jonathan Safran Foer.

Pivano is an inspiring example of my idea that strong, even passionate (but not fanatical!) interests are the mainstay of life, and the only real way to confront aging. Ciao Nanda!