On Monday evening, I went to see a lecture on Gianni Rodari at the Italian Cultural Institute (686 Park Ave.) Rodari was an Italian author, perhaps best known for his fables and stories for children. I like all that I’ve read of his work, though, admittedly, that is not very much. The first story I ever read was “L’acca in fuga”—loosely translated as the letter “h” escapes. It’s about a letter “h” (l’acca) who gets made fun of by all the other letters of the alphabet. “Don’t you know that no one pronounces you?!”—the other letters jeer. (In Italian, “h” only serves to give other letters—usually “c” —a hard sound.) Dreaming of other countries where “h” is more revered, l’acca hops on a bus, escapes and Italy falls apart. Cherubini (angels) begin to fall from the sky, chiavi (keys) no longer work, chianti begins to take on a horrible taste. And, horror of all horrors, no one can correctly pronounce the name of Dante Alighieri. Fortunately, l’acca has a good heart and returns to Italy—but not before demanding a bit more respect.
The lecture itself was more than mildly interesting and, in true Italian fashion, started 45 minutes late and not before several long-winded introductions. It felt a bit disordered, at times, because of the flip-flop from Italian to English (and there was a lot of flip-flop). After the talk, there was a film screening, which turned out to be a quite funny. Film highlights included: Gianni Rodari talking to a group of children about his stories in a setting that was not unlike Barney’s playground, the appearance of a monster at the Barney-like playground, and a graphically-designed cake floating in the sky while eerie music played in the background (Rodari wrote a book about a cake in the sky).
There was a reception afterward, with wine, cheese, and small hot dogs.