This journal will be home to essays, articles, reviews, reminiscences, and other thoughts on the life and work of 20th-C. writer and artist Giovannino Guareschi (aka Giovanni Guareschi) by a long-time fan of his books (or at least of the books that were released in English translation between 1950 and 1970). Guareschi, of course, is best remembered for his series of humorous stories about the on-going conflict between the Catholic priest and Communist mayor of a small village in Italy’s Po River Valley in the years just following the Second World War. Don Camillo, the big cleric with fists of steel and heart of gold, converses frequently (and colorfully) with the Lord, Who continually challenges him to take the higher path in his dealings with his Marxist adversary, Peppone. The feisty priest, alas, isn’t quite able to confine his methods to the purely spiritual … but neither is Peppone always able to toe his Party’s line. Thus, even as the two do battle for the allegiance of the local populace, they find themselves at times seeing disconcertingly eye-to-eye.
The stories’ universal message of the possibility of “man’s humanity to man” is conveyed with a disarming simplicity which has survived translation into almost all of the world’s languages (!), and in the over 60 years since their debut in Guareschi’s periodical Candido, the characters of Don Camillo and Peppone have become beloved icons. The Cold War that provided their original context has ended; however, on the plane of ideas, Guareschi’s two combatants continue to vigorously champion their respective worldviews.
But there was more to Guareschi than his most well-known creations. You may also be acquainted with the famously mustachio’d author via his satirical political cartoons, his charming accounts of middle-class family life in post-war Italy, his prison-camp memoir, or even his Wodehousian comedies of manners. Journalist, painter, propagandist, poet, designer, screenwriter, architect, philanthropist … as his son Alberto once put it, “Don Camillo is only the tip of the iceberg” where Giovannino Guareschi was concerned.
Me? I’m a 50-ish American homemaker and teacher who has loved the Don Camillo books since discovering them as an adolescent in the early 1970s. I’m not Catholic, I don’t read or speak Italian, and, though I do remember the Cold War quite well, I was born far too late to experience the World War that preceded it. Yet somehow the Don Camillo stories touched me personally and caught my imagination as few other works of literature have done (and I’m an avid reader!).
More? Very well. I live in the vicinity of Baltimore, MD, and am in my third decade of a de facto career as an adjunct instructor of philosophy to reluctant undergraduates at several local colleges. A Protestant Evangelical Christian, I obtained most of my post-secondary education at Catholic institutions, and I like to think of myself an ecumenist. My politics are so confused as to defy labeling (a fellow American might call them “liberal”), and I’d really much rather talk about art anyway. I have three sons.
These pages are ultimately the result of my unsuccessful attempts in January of 1998 to locate any online material in English about Giovanni Guareschi. I wasn’t doing serious research at the time: no, it was the beginning of the era of widespread home Internet access, and I (like many people with too little to say and too much time on their hands) was just putting together a vanity homepage. Thinking it would be nice to link to a Guareschi site or two as a way of indicating my (then) quarter-century’s interest in the Don Camillo stories, I unfortunately didn’t find any appropriate webpages in languages I could read (those pre-Google search engines missed the one that did exist). In the process of looking for them, however, I learned a lot more about Guareschi than I’d previously known.
Among my finds were the so-called “non-Camillo” books (six of which, it turned out, were obtainable in English), as well as the Fernandel-Cervi Don Camillo films (alas, virtually unknown — not to mention unavailable — in English… so I obtained and watched them in French!). But the happiest discovery of all was that the author’s children were still living in Italy and were eager to exchange information with anyone interested in preserving the memory of their father and his work.
I intend to generate “new” content here, of course, but a lot of what I’ll post at first are things that previously appeared online as part of a comprehensive Guareschi & Don Camillo website that I tried to maintain — or, more accurately failed to maintain — in the early 2000s. (Perhaps you remember “The Little World-Wide-Web Homepage of Don Camillo”?) A few other items that I’ll be sharing here initially saw the light as messages to a now-defunct e-mail list devoted to the author and his Little World. Seeing as how I spent several years researching and assembling all this eventually orphaned material, I am understandably committed to getting it back online in a format that better serves it.
Whether a blog is the answer remains to be seen, but even if the fruits of my efforts were destined to languish on my hard-drive, I could never regret them. The Guareschi project was a labor of love which taught me a lot and which became the occasion of my encountering (both via email and in person) many lovely fellow fans of Don Camillo. It even inspired me to make an unforgettable little trip to Northern Italy in August of 1998, to meet Guareschi’s son and daughter and to see some of the places that were part of their father’s enchanting world. That experience remains one of the highlights of my life.
Interested in Giovannino Guareschi and Don Camillo? Please comment, on this page or on one of my posts. I’d love to hear from you.