Saturday, 1 November 2008

Occhiali di Bragia

The school run on Thursdays is always a treat. On the way home I can listen to Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4 with In Our Time which every week covers a cutural item.

The other week it was Dante and the Inferno.

I perked up at that one - Something I had actually read!And it all came back to me, studying the first 12 chapters of the Divine Comedy for Italian A level back in the 1970s, in a small cramped room in Stockwell with a bunch of disparate teenagers.

Our first teacher was a loony Roman woman who made it clear thathought it beneath her to be teaching the children of Italian immigrants -she had been led to understand that her pupils would be the children of Embassy staff. The second didn't mind teaching us, but only on condition that she could smoke throughout the proceedings. Pupils who also smoked joined in too. In those days, even mentioning that perhaps smoking in a confined space was not wonderful was greeted with derision, especially from teenage boys whose mothers didn't even know they smoked. Being the most tedious teenager going, the derision was dispensed with relish, and there was no danger of anyone supporting me. The stock answer was always "Oh, I don't mind".

Sometimes the derision was quite witty. When we came to the part where Dante and his guide Virgil are taken across the river Styx to the Underworld by Caronte, he is described has having glowing eyes - Occhi di bragia. One wag, who got meaner to me the more he realised I adored him, came out with "Yeah, like Sylvia - occhiali di bragia - look at those glasses."

I was rather proud of my glasses - they were large clear plastic with the word vogue written on the side in neon writing which made vogue look like vague. Yes, I spent my teens in glasses with vague written on the side. If the cap fits.....

Anyway, I have digressed. Dante. Hmm. Actually, I have a t shirt with the first canto written on it. Benetton, of course, or Ben Elton as my cousin's friends called it for years. Don't think anyone's ever put them right.

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi trovai per una selva oscura ove la via diritta era smarrita. Or something like that. A rough translation would be In the middle years of my life I found myself wandering through a dark forest the path through which had become obscured. Told you it was rough.... An anthem for all of us of a certain age.....

During the programme, Melvyn and his guests referred to the ill fated lovers Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. There's one line I always remember about there being no greater pain than remembering times of joy during times of sorrow. Pity I can't remember the original Italian.

Dante populated Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell with many of the celebrities of his day. I wonder if anyone could rewrite the Divine Comedy to reflect the present day. There's a thought.

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