“FLORENCE, DANTE AND ME” (A CANADIAN STUDENT TRIES TO BECOME ITALIAN FOR A YEAR)

BY ROBERT STUART THOMSON

Victoria, Canada:  Godwin Books, 2017. ISBN:  978-0-9958760-0-2   233 pp., illustrated.  See price below.  $25. (U.S.) or $25. (Can.)   We pay postage. To order,click here.  This book can also be ordered direct from the author:  P.O. Box 50021, Victoria, BC, V8S 5L8  Canada  Tel 250 370 7753.

WHO THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN FOR:  anyone planning on studying in Italy (Thomson was on a third year college scholarship offered by the Italian government);  people who are interested in Italy, her culture and people;  those who are curious about what it was like to be young and adventurous  in Italy way back in 1960-61. The text is taken from letters written in that time frame.

The text of this book was taken from forty-five letters which Thomson wrote from Italy to his fiancée in Vancouver.  Fifty-six years later (2016) he reorganized these letters into a book and added (a) a ten page introduction to explain his own background, the Zeitgeist of the early 1960s and the book’s genesis; (b) seventy-five graphics (including several of his own photos from 1960-1); and (c) fifteen pages of footnotes which often comment retrospectively on the significance of various experiences.  

Thomson spent August and September 1960 studying at the University of Perugia then October to June studying at the University of Florence. He also visited twelve other cities including Naples and Rome.

Academically the main purpose of the year was to study Italian literature and gain experience speaking Italian.  Thomson’s favorite writer is clearly Dante and he glosses several passages from La Divina Commedia. A close reading of Dante leads Thomson to insight into his own “selva oscura” which he attributes largely to the influence of an upbringing and education which were essentially pagan and lacking in moral awareness.  To improve his spoken Italian quickly Thomson avoids contact with English speakers (this is not without cost).  Many letters describe people e.g., Laura, a girlfriend at the university; Franco, a retired Colonel;  Gino, a violinist from Naples; and Ede, a lady who shares Thomson’s love of opera and lyric poetry.  These people welcome Thomson into their world and share their lives with him.

Thomson chronicles his discoveries in the arts:  painting (e.g. Botticelli, Caravaggio); sculpture (e.g. Michelangelo’s Brutus, Cellini’s Perseus,); ancient architecture (e.g. Rome, Pompeii);  movies (e.g. Paisa, Rocco e i suoi fratelli);  opera houses (e.g. La Pergola, San Carlo);  popular singers (e.g. Peppino di Capri, Mina);  Vittorio Gassman’s dramatic readings of Dante; bel canto lessons with an ex-diva.  Numerous pages comment on such things as Italians attitudes towards fashion, friendship, and bringing up children.  Footnotes from 2017 comment on the many ways in which this year in Italy changed his life. 

Click here to see samples (pdf) from the introduction, the table of contents and the actual text of the book.  

You can read about the author, Robert Thomson, by clicking here.

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