For the entire duration of the Premio Strega tour, and then during the final evening, I had the distinct and growing feeling that there were seven of us fighting for first place. I say this because Pia Pera and Rocco Carbone, the protagonists of my book, have always been there with me, since the adventure began in that unforgettable place that is the Roman amphitheater of Benevento.
The embrace between Emanuele Trevi and Sandro Veronesi after the victory (photo shoot by Musacchio, Ianniello, Pasqualini)
You need to make me understand more precisely on this point, so as not to immediately plunge my words into harmless rhetorical insignificance. Because many times we say, of someone who is no longer there, that we have felt his presence, in this or that relevant moment of our life. It’s a nice way to honor the dead, but I’m talking about a different, vaguely spiritistic and Pirandellian phenomenon. I want to say that Rocco and Pia, probably amused by the idea of participating in such an important prize, which is still a game, have decided to settle permanently inside me, just as you can share a house with dear friends to spend a holiday period. And the idea of living with those two people whose company I regret so much, transforming myself, so to speak, into their metaphysical chauffeur, immediately seemed exciting to me.
Friends Niccolò Ammaniti, Emanuele Trevi and Francesco Piccolo at the Ninfeo (photo shoot by Musacchio, Ianniello, Pasqualini)
I immediately understood, while we were heading from Benevento to Puglia, two unequivocal indications of their presence. Let’s start with Rocco. It should be known that Rocco was one of those people who not only love to win, but try to turn every aspect of life into a race. And if there really wasn’t a deck of cards at hand (he loved sweep and trump), or a ping-pong table, or a rock from which to dive (he always had to do it from the highest point of all), well Rocco in spite of his advancing age, he was capable of resorting to the most childish, archaic, mythological of challenges: let’s say who gets there first. We couldn’t believe it. Did you take a train with him? At the head of the platform, he began to walk very fast, and turning you would say: let’s do it to whoever gets to carriage 3 first. He did it to keep fit. At what? I don’t know, men are precious beings precisely because they cultivate something fundamentally incomprehensible to others. However, Rocco could have appeared as the first definition in the dictionary under the heading “competitive”. I can say that I spent a good part of my youth giving it to him. Sometimes I avoided being primera on purpose to see him happy. He loved all those game scores that end in eleven, twenty-one. Imagine taking Rocco to the Strega Award.
Stefano Petrocchi, director of the Maria e Goffredo Bellonci Foundation which promotes the Strega Prize
A night like any other, when the tour had already reached the Amalfi coast, I wake up in excruciating pain. As if a donkey had been walking on my side for hours. Call it herpes, call it shingles, it takes your breath away, but most of all it involves an extra torture: the business of stress. Because everyone begins to tell you, with a slightly guilty air: you have this pain because you are stressed. If you stop stressing yourself it will pass. But how do you stop stressing yourself? Once (we were now on the shores of Lake Maggiore) I tried, out of pure desperation, to do a meditation exercise explained by Emmanuel Carrère in Yoga. The problem is that I live in a state of perennial meditation, as Carrère sees it: I have no faith in my thoughts, I am aware that I only think irrelevant nonsense, and I do not even have great confidence in the consistency of reality. So meditating is of no use to me, it doesn’t make me any happier and above all it doesn’t take away the pain. And finally, I understood it clearly: nothing but stress, it’s Rocco, he arrived, with a cigarette hanging from his lips, and in his hand a notebook in which he began to write down how many votes Bajani gets, how many Giulia Caminito has.
I want to say one thing: Rocco was a fundamentally good man (much more than me, so to speak), and if he manifests himself with shingles he does it because he is like that, it is his way of loving you (a similar phenomenon, for those who was interested, I describe it in my book). But this story doesn’t end with Rocco’s acknowledgment in the form of herpes. The fact is that in order to somehow get back on my feet and reach the tour that in the meantime I had to abandon because I can’t move anymore, they stuff me with medicines. I love taking medicines, of all kinds, pharmacies make me the effect that a pastry shop window has on a sweet tooth, and therefore I swallow all those tablets that actually make me feel better for a few hours of the day by allowing me to participate in evenings of the Premio Strega.
Alas, Rocco makes himself heard at night, but these medicines, and one in particular called (I couldn’t believe it) Lyrica have a powerful effect on mood, especially when accompanied by a few glasses of white wine. In other words, the drug puts me in harmony with the surrounding world, so intensely that it is unusual and surprising. At certain moments, the beneficial power of the present moment spreads in me as an effective relief from all my futile worries; I feel the enormous amount of beauty that emanates from things like the smell of flowers at dusk.
One night (we are in Turin) I study the leaflet of this drug with such an evocative name to look for some clue about this state of temporary bliss that invades me. And a new insight asserts itself within me. But no, it’s not the active ingredient in Lyrica! Pia has arrived too! Only she knows how to spread such a gentle and delicate veil of understanding and profound empathy on the surrounding things.
Here we are again gathered, therefore, all three: like in my book. Until the day of the final: started in the painful company of Rocco and finished with a flourish, thanks to a couple of pills from Pia, as I now call them. There was a particular moment of the tour, which was perhaps the best of our coexistence. One morning, we were in Pallanza on Lake Maggiore, the pain was unbearable and for better or worse I was already on my feet at seven in the morning, a completely unusual time for me in a vertical position. I don’t know how, because in practice I was limping, I decide to take a walk to take advantage of the coolness, and I head towards a certain Romanesque hermitage, recommended by the hotel concierge, somewhere on the hills behind the town. When I reached the goal, I already felt better, and in fact the hermitage was very beautiful, it possessed both solidity and gentleness of forms, like an architectural hybrid of my two friends. But the best part came later, because I got lost on my way back to the town. But that’s not right: at that moment, at a certain crossroads, all three of us got lost. And after a moment of disappointment, we decided to give a damn. We faced the blue lake and the steep mountains that surround it, and somewhere we would also arrive, someone to ask for directions sooner or later we would meet him. And so, we set off happily, enjoying that lost time, which in the end is still the best time in life.
In the end, I hope Rocco and Pia enjoyed participating in the Strega Award, and I hope to have hosted them worthily. In confidence, but I know they will understand me, I also hope that sooner or later they will go back to where they came from, and leave me in peace: I was not born to suffer or to be wise, and for this I had the point of better sight to tell in a book what wonderful people they have been.