Aug 4, 2008

Camilla Trinchieri: Reflecting on Italy, Finding Alice

Camilla writes:

I’ve been home for a month, still in the glow of those wonderful two weeks in Florence and Rome to launch the Italian version of The Price of Silence. Every day I’ve wanted to write about those weeks, but first it was jet lag and then my new novel, which I thought I had finished before leaving, needed a good sweep of the broom.

This new one, Finding Alice, a fictionalized version of my mother’s life in Prague and Rome during WWII, is the story that started me writing in the first place many years ago. The story which turned into my MFA thesis at Columbia. The story that required years of research. The story into which I poured my heart. Now it’s done (unless an editor says otherwise). I’m proud of it. Last week I sent it to my Italian publisher. They had asked to read it as soon as I was finished. After treating me like a literary queen with Price, I was only too happy to have them as my first official readers.

Now that I’m waiting to hear from them, waiting to hear from an agent, (first requirement to be a writer-Patience), I console myself by traveling back to my two weeks of glory.

I’m in a whirlwind of emotions. I’m reading, speaking, breathing Italian, trying to conquer the fear that I will stumble over words during an interview, give a stupid answer to an intelligent question, simply because the Italian words don’t come to me. I end up getting lots of intelligent questions—I am being treated as a serious writer—which allows me to entertain the thought that my novel inspired them.

It’s a good thing I’ve gone over a week ahead of time. I always stay with an Italian friend when I go to Rome and we sit at her kitchen table and chat and chat and my vowels open up, my r’s trill, the vocabulary comes rolling back. When I face a room full of prospective readers in the Florence bookstore, the words come pouring out for an hour and a half. I even tear a little because I’m so happy that Price is in both of my languages. I tell them that ever since I left Rome for New York, I have felt split in half. Now I feel whole.

Between the media buzz, I reconnect with friends, family. I walk the streets of Rome and go back in time. I see the street corner with the flower vendor from whom I bought lilies once for my sister, who has since died, the restaurant where I used to gobble down pizza on Sunday nights with the man I thought was the love of my life, the palazzo that used to be the Foreign Ministry where my father worked.

But the Rome that for years stood still for me is changing. Many reference points are gone. Stores, restaurants no longer there. Life moves on even in the Eternal City. I don’t like it much. I know, letting go of the past is a good thing, but the past is where my writing heart lives. The past looms heavily in all my novels. But I do look forward to what’s ahead. A possible “it’s a go,” from the Italian publisher, a “gripping from beginning to end,” from an American agent. And maybe this time it will be something in the future that will give me an idea for my next novel.

Well, to tell the truth, I’ve been thinking of a historical, something from way back, say, 4000 B.C.

I almost forgot- during my visit to Florence I was asked by the head of The Institute at Palazzo Rucellai to teach six creative writing classes the last two weeks of November. Turkeys are readily available, but I’ve already asked my friend and translator, Erika, to scout out where we’ll be able to buy sweet potatoes. I’ll bring the marshmallows.

Why do I need a translator if I’m boasting that I was spewing out Italian with no trouble at all? Well, the only Italian school I went to was kindergarten with the nuns. About the only Italian writing I could manage is a book for two year-olds. As for speaking, if you shake your hands around a lot with a smile you can get away with murder.