Gina and the sense of life

gina-menegazzi-1The senses of the human person are five: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. Where and how do they express better these “senses” up to make the “sense” of life? Gina Menegazzi has asked the question many years ago and gave her answer with her life choice. I met her on a Sunday in November on the pier that connects the village of Ischia Ponte, the ancient Borgo of Celsa, with the Aragonese Castle, the most important monument of the island of Ischia, which contains all its thousand-year history.

This pier has its ancient history. It has a length of 225 meters and was built in 1423 by Alfonso of Aragon. We sit on a bench stone for our interview while young and elderly walk in this sunny day. In Ischia the sun is at home, so that to spend winter.

Gina Menegazzi today is 61 years old. She was born in Milan by Venetian father and Friulian mother and here she lived and worked until a few years ago. Graduated in foreign languages and literature and is parliamentary interpreter. After much work in Milan - a city which has always felt alien - the separation from her husband, older children now , Silvia, 31 years old, graduated in conservation of cultural heritage in Venice who lives in Florence and Alessandro, 29, information technology, who lives in Genoa - her lifestyle choice was that one to live in Ischia, to buy an apartment of 70 square meters with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a balcony right here in Borgo of Celsa in an ancient palace of the XIII century building that was part of the convent of the Augustinian Fathers. She called it the home of the “five senses” because they are tickled by the sea, awakened by the sea. From the house one can see the Aragonese Castle, the harbor fishermen, Vivara and Procida. A room made it a romantic Bed and Breakfast for connoisseurs tourists who come from all the nations of the world, from Australia to South Africa, from March to October.

“In Milan I worked as a freelance interpreter and translator from English and French, which I prefer, and my parents took me on holiday in Ischia since I was two. Then we always come back every year because my father was a cousin of Vera Menegazzi, wife of Piero Malcovati, the doctor who brought Angelo Rizzoli Ischia in the 50s to make the big hotels and spas in Lacco Ameno. We were guests of Malcovati in their old house called “Lo scuopolo” in Ischia Ponte”, he says at the beginning of the interview.

“So Ischia has become part of me and I began to study its great story and I was fascinated. I wrote my first impressions on Ischia when I was in elementary school because the teacher made us take a search on the place of our holidays”, she says.

It was inside the beautiful Malcovati home that Gina found the rich library, over thirty years ago, a book in English about Ischia. It was titled “Island in the Sun” and was written by Geoffrey and Kit Bret Harte and published in London by the publisher Hodder and Stougton in 1937.

“I started to read more and more and I remained fascinated by the story so much that I began the translation in Italian, but I could never complete it. It took 12 years to finish the translation, perhaps because I needed to immerse myself in the same places of the book, to capture the same feelings of the authors. The translation profession requires to get into the mindset of the author, to be “faithful but in the infidelity of the author” because the translation cannot be literal”, she says.

She has applied the letter of the lesson of Fausto Malcovati, son of Piero and professor at the University of Milan: “if you want to know a people you need to study both the language – at the Interpreter School - and the culture - at the University; one of the two is not enough”.

So after seventy-six years of neglect, she has brought to light, translating it in Italian, “L’Isola del sole”, the touching story of a year spent in Ischia, from May 1930 to the spring of 1931, by Geoffrey and Kit Bret Harte, a young English couple, wealthy enough, that despite the negative advice of the porter of Capri, then already famous, where the newlyweds spent the first few days, decided to spend the first year of marriage in this Mediterranean island at that time poorly known.

Geoffrey and Kit write down all of their stay. Geoffrey has a notebook and Kit a diary. Geoffrey is 35 years old and Kit 25. Only seven years after their stay they decide to make a book . A very special book of a particularly happy union between a man and a woman extraordinarily happy. This happiness is powered by the world around them, not only by the beauty of the island where the sun is always there and no house has a fireplace but at most a “grate” for winter, but the friendliness of the people. A happy people while toiling in the fields or fishing where there are no beggars, the electricity only comes at night, the liquor of the few coffee is the vermouth, there are no fixed prices in the few “emporiums” but on a daily bargaining.

Geoffrey and Kit do not write a guide for travelers but a book that tells their year in one “gorgeous”, “happy” and “wonderful” place (the superlatives that abound in the book) not only by the natural beauty - the beaches, thermal water to cure, landscapes - but the friendliness of the islanders, their availability, their sense of respect and generosity. Describe with emotion, almost disbelief, the gifts of Christmas that bring them Giovangiuseppe and Dominica – to the “Gentlemen” in the house that rent - the “Villa Buonocuore” now (the “Araucaria”) and remain without words when the old owner, Colonel Buonocuore comes from Naples to greet them and not to establish an inventory, that is, as they leave after a year the house.

“It’s been the reading of this book, its translation, which made me fall in love even more the island of Ischia. That island, my friend, is still there. The people of today are like that of a century ago. It has not changed. Just he do not realize it”, she tells me.

And in the book is poignant the story of the departure on April 6, 1931 with the two fishermen who stop the ship “Principessa Mafalda di Savoia” to deliver the package with two bottles of wine given by their friend Amedeo Giusto from Barano .

Their friend Amedeo had written on a piece of paper “in English with his neat handwriting , the words: “Good friends. A happy journey, a speedy return”.

They never returned. The time of life would not allow them. They lived in the United States of America and had two children one of whom, John Bret Harte, born in Rome in 1932, has died at 80 in Arizona.

But how was the long life of Geoffrey and Kit we do not know. Gina is doing researches.

It is certainly that this happy year has accompanied them throughout their lives.

P.S. The book “L’isola del sole – racconto di un anno particolarmente felice” is published by Imagaenaria (2013)

- € 12,90.


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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
  • Coasts: 51.2 Km
  • Cities: 6
  • Inhabitants: 58.029


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