Interview to Guareschi's
PORTRAIT OF A PLAIN WOMAN
Article by Giovanna Togliatti from «Corriere Mercantile»
of Genova, 22nd December 1954
Interview to Ennia in Roncole while Giovannino, in San Francesco prison
in Parma, prepares himself for Christmas.
I found someone willing to drive me to Roncole di Busseto. The waiter
of the hotel to whom I asked about the means of communication between
Parma and Busseto immediately became enthusiastic over the idea of acting
as a guide for me during my visit to those villages. «I live in
those parts, in Ponte Taro. I go over there every evening, as soon as
I’m free. But tomorrow, if you want, we can leave at about ten.
I have to handle an estimate. Because, you know, I have also a small piece
of ground some kilometres away from home, and I take care of it. Now it
is a bad period, we have to balance accounts, pay taxes, and there are
the contracts to be renewed».
I began to think that, this is the result, in the half-an-hour travel
we would have spent together in the car, I would have been informed not
only of his business, but maybe also of the one of all his fellow villagers.
However I could no longer draw back, all the more that he had already
begun listing all the difficulties and bothers I would have headed if
I had refused to go with him: coaches at impossible hours, a small Far
West-like train that stops everywhere, and so on.
«See you tomorrow, then, and please call my room when you’re
going». And at seven o’clock, punctually, he phoned me. «There
was a frost last night» he told me, when we were in the country.
I was realizing it. A cold that seemed to have paralysed even the plain.
But it was beautiful, with that layer of frost that succeeded in softening
all the colours, even the dark brown of the fields just ploughed and the
even darker one of the trunks of the mulberry-trees: while the farthest
chimneys, veiled by the mist, almost blended with the smoky grey of the
Apennines on the horizon.
I happened to wonder how many colours could be used to paint them, the
mulberry-trees, the Apennines, the Taro bed and those big farms scattered
here and there: some silver brush-stroke and various shades of white.
«Where do you want me to leave you? We are nearly there ».
I suddenly reminded the reason why I was there. Passing from Parma, I
wanted to see where Giovannino Guareschi lived and, if possible, to meet
his wife. I was told about her in Milan; I knew she used to avoid every
kind of publicity and that, many times, she refused to meet journalists.
But I hoped that, should I be able to talk to her, I could explain her
that I wouldn’t try to wring her any opinion about the events that
hit her, and that, paradoxically, I was more interested in her than in
her husband. Her slightly rough character, and the deepness of her feeling
that, if corresponding to what I was told, should make her a person worth
being met, one of the few persons with whom you can reach an understanding
above a base of human comprehension, even when there’s no previous
tie of common life, or common friends or interests.
«Please leave me in Roncole, in the centre of the village».
The centre of the village consists of the crossing between the main street
and a small road leading towards the country. «Look there, that
is Verdi’s house». In fact there was a sign: «Towards
Master Verdi’s house», with an arrow indicating a small house
with a sloping roof, and surrounded by a hedge, with a small well, two
cypresses, and a bronze head of the Master on a high pedestal in front
of it. «Many people believe that Verdi was born in Busseto, but
it’s not true, this one is his very native house».
I didn’t confess him that up to then I didn’t know such detail.
Then I understood, after listening to the same story told by the postman,
the baker and a farmer met in the fields, that if I wanted to antagonize
everybody there, I should only call into question, for a single moment,
that Busseto had more right than them to tell every details concerning
the childhood of the Master.
And I also understood that there was another glory of the village, about
which nobody would have given up telling me, even if in that moment I
wasn’t interested in it more than I was in the Verdi relics: Guareschi’s
villa, a two-storied house, very asymmetrical, that can be noted from
a distance, because the green blobs of the shutters and the white walls
strangely contrast with all the other houses of the plain.
«Mrs Guareschi lives down there: she has been living here for two
or three years already. Believe me, miss: she has changed a lot since
she came to Roncole. Sha cannot be recognized any longer: she has
got fat, she’s well. Of course in Milan life is completely different,
more people, more things to do, but Mr. Guareschi liked this plain, he
bought a piece of ground and then built the villa. He designed it by himself,
and also those two sheds near. They are for his friends, when they come
to visit him. And they are still coming, even now that he is dead: they
are the only persons that the lady meets».
Should it be true, the situation was taking a turn for the worse. All
this information was being given to me by a woman farmer who, step by
step, brought me to the villa. The lady was not at home. «She has
gone to Busseto, will be back for breakfast. If you want to come in...».
Very good; maybe the only way not to be treated like many other journalists,
was to make friend, firstly, with the servant and, then, with the dog,
Amleto, a black mongrel thoroughbred, that seemed not to realize that
if you go walking in the fields while the frost is melting, then it is
not good to lay the paws on people.
I availed myself of the spare time to have a stroll in the village. Maybe
I was hoping to see a scene between two possible don Camillo and Peppone.
But I was disappointed: the first one, if there was one, should be shut
up in the shade of the church that, in the stillness of the near churchyard,
all protected by bare trees almost until its roof, reminded me of the
peace of a convent and of a silence that could only be disturbed by the
sacred melodies of the young Verdi.
I really couldn’t imagine to hear shots, crackers and bells ringing
in that atmosphere. As for Peppone, poor man, I wasn’t even able
to find the council house. That is, on an old peeling house there must
have been an inscription of that kind, in the past, but due to unknown
reasons, now there was the name of a cooperative, «La Proletaria»,
On the other side of the building, instead, there was the «Entrance
to the salon». I would have liked to know the origin of that definition
of salon: and, personally, maybe because of that dreary place and the
desert that surrounded me, I thought of all those signs «Saloon»
that I had seen in the secluded villages of Nevada, similarly asleep in
the silence of the plain, but able to burst at any moment into furious
Ennia Pallini "Margherita" and Fernandel: