The Renaissance charm of Mantua is the perfect setting for a 5 day literature festival: palatial buildings, cobble stoned streets, elegant porticos and spacious piazzas. It becomes a abuzz during the festival with people attracted worldwide to listen to words of wisdom, heated discussions, poetic readings and relaxing music.
There is something for everyone; bookworms meeting their favourite writers expounding the virtues of their latest book, to seminars discussing more current issues like immigration, the sharing economy, world hunger, and climate change to name just a few. Even something for the kids!
As my godfather said recently, “Curiosity is the Noblest form of Intellect, and the best way to keep the brain stimulated.” My 5 days at Mantua were a constant stimulation, a teasing out of ideas, a confrontation of opinions, a dialogue between experts and the public and a marvellous opportunity to meet one of my old time favourite writers – Richard Flanagan. The program was extensive, and interpreters translated with artistic perfection, giving due emphasis even to the asides. Beautiful palazzi, churches and courtyards for the presentations, regular book readings in the garden and crooning music in the piazzas to relax to at the end of the day.
Standing in the queue for the presentation on the ‘System of Corruption’ a fellow ticket holder politely asked me in English if I was in the ‘right’ queue as the presentation was very much an ‘in-house’ argument! When I responded in Italian and explained my years of stay in Italy, he added “Well then, you know we have some real experts here!”
Nonetheless I was not deterred nor disappointed. Each of the various socio – political – economic presentations that I had selected gave food for thought on a positive note, rather than wallowing and going nowhere with problems that seem unresolvable. And a varied international and well informed audience had their own questions and contributions to share at each workshop.
The power of the African voice came from Okey Ndibe talking of the stories that must be told. Wole Soyinka Nigerian playwright, poet, and political activist spoke of the need for global policies which recognise the ‘Dignity of Existence’ to avoid the tragic deaths during immigration.
A revered Stefano Rodota`, University professor, jurist and politician with Luigi Zoja, psychoanalyst and writer, discussed ‘Solidariety’ which Europe appears to have put aside, and how the new social networks have anaesthetised our sensitivity to the current dramas in the world.
Acclaimed scientists and researchers on atmospheric changes, debated the increasing efficiency of renewable energy and the need for the decarbonisation of society. Naomi Klein and Jeremy Rifkin had been here in 2014 to present their new books (both of whom I follow with great interest) and some of their protégés were present, continuing their line of thought.
But it was not all intellectual stuff, although I crave that sort of intelligent debate, I was also very entertained by a sleazy crime book reading by author Massimo Carlotta accompanied by a blues guitarist/vocalist and jazz saxophonist/flautist. Carlotta had made good use of his time in prison to write florid accounts of eccentric characters using ‘The Alligator’ private detective to delve into rather dodgy stories.
And then there was Mantua to explore: a theatrical tour of the old and new theatres, and a must do visit to the Ducal palace, the prestigious residence of the Gonzaga family.
And Prince Gonzaga’s ‘playhouse‘ ,Palazzo del Te, where he found ‘intellectual restoration’ offering lavish banquets and recreational activities! And last but not least, a personal tour by the Gallery Director of the Ligabue exhibition.
I came home from Mantua with a stack of treasured books with personal dedications and a new yearly appointment to pursue so I never lose my curiosity.