Her movement aroused the attention of all of the onlookers as she descended the remaining steps to the waters edge where a boat was waiting to take her out to sea, or when, Nicola – La Schimia, the monkey, the son of Lucibello, the oldest and most robust of the former fishermen of Positano, who, like all of the others, had taken to renting out sun shades and deck chairs – helped her to step from the boat, and followed her with a dumbstruck gaze as she crossed the wooden boardwalk that transformed the ancient rocky creek into a cozy lounge.***
Goliarda Sapienza’s novel describing her friendship with Erica has been reviewed here for the ‘Roman de Rochefort’. I’ll start unusually with a short description of the context of this book. first of all Goliarda was born into a famous anarchist socialist family, with her father leading the socialist movement in Sicily until the arrival of facism. Goliarda was involved in the theatre before becoming a full time writer. Her works did not really become well known until after her death. This book written after the death of the central character, Erica, (the names have been changed) tells of a friendship over many years of Goliarda with Erica and a place, Positano. The opening quote, the first lines of the book, illustrate the magnetic attraction of Erica and Goliarda’s writing style.
The story begins in 1948 with the meeting of the two women in Positano where Erica has a Villa and Goliarda is on reconnaissance for a film setting where we immediately understand the magic of the village from the following quote:
It was precisely because of its reputation that we had come to Positano, along with the director Maselli and his screenwriter, Pradino Visconti, to see if the location could be used as the background for the film ‘gli sbandati’ which we were writing . But a few hours were sufficient to convince us that the location was too beautiful and infused with magic for a story such as ours.***
Erica comes from an aristocratic family and is well known by all of the permanent residents of Positano and in truth a little lonely and although Goliarda, with her very different background, is fascinated by her it is one of the permanent residents of the village that suggest to Erica that they could be good for each other and thus, so begins their long friendship meeting each summer in Positano for a period of ten years, from a period of relative anonymity for the village unto the period of mass tourism as the approach road is widened. The cover picture shown at the beginning of the article typifies the idea of the two women that Goliarda manages to portray at this beginning of the 50’s. The following quote helps us to understand the level of confidence that the two friends are able to build up, sharing with each other deeply buried secrets about their lives including the truly dark secrets of Erica’s life told on ‘that famous night’:
At the start of the summer of 58, exactly ten years after our first encounter and three years after that famous night intoxicated by confessions, by silences and by fragrances, I received an enormous post card from New York with a night view of Manhattan (we had begun a bad taste competition, who could dig up the worst, either new or old, of this means of communication), where the small precise handwriting, a little pretentious, even posh of Erica announcing “I’ll be expecting you in July at Positano, I’m happy! and I’d like you to know why. I feel like a new woman, consider me a new woman.***
Erica’s family life from her childhood through to her present day life was filled with tragedy as slowly delivered in the nights spent together during this period, and as if mirrored Positano sinks into the less authentic world of mass tourism whilst Erica’s relatively stable life slips back into tragedy. A final point about the writing style; written by Goliarda mostly in the first person but occasionally stepping back to an overall narrator that refers to her as Goliarda as illustrated in this final quote:
“I would like you to accompany Olivia on the boat. Try to understand where all of her frustration, that has been tormenting me for almost two years, stems from…..”
This task would have vexed almost anyone. But Goliarda likes to get to the bottom of things…..
At least I’ll know why I find her so disagreeable, I told myself…***
I found this book to be a profound and moving book about the story of these two unexpected friends, Castagné’s translation renders a very carefully constructed story the wording it deserves, I could feel Goliarda’s screenwriting in the wonderful descriptions of an already bygone age.
First Published in Italian as “Appuntamento a Positano” in 2015 by Einaudi
Translated into French by Nathalie Castagné and published as “Rendez-vous à Positano” by Le Tripode in 2017
*** my translation