A little while ago, I got an assignment for Dutch. It included reading an international novel and then design your own cover for the book you had read.
I wandered about on which book I should read. I was thinking about reading ‘The Black and the Silver‘ by Paolo Giordano, but then I remembered an episode I had seen on Flemish television of the series ‘In Italy’, presented by Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon.
In this episode, they visited Matera in Basilicata and talked about a book ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’, in which the author apparently described the poor situation there so well that it became internationally known.
Triggered by the book’s history and subject, I changed my mind and went to the city library to fetch it. And what I read, I had never read before.
Carlo Levi, the author, lived as an exile in Basilicata (then still Lucania) in the fascist regime of Mussolini. Levi, a G.P. turned into painter, finds a creative way to pass his time: he paints the people, the views of the rough landscape, cures the ill (although he is at one point in the story not allowed to) and critises, in his book, the regime and the way the state governs.
He calls the locals ‘earthly people‘, they have not taken part in any “grand philosophy” that has ever passed their teritories; the Greek, the Romans, christianity… they just didn’t engage; they were always forgotten. The town priest complains they do not go to church or let their children be baptised, the tax collector complains the farmers cannot pay their taxes and that there is nothing of any value to confiscate. Some families only possess one bed, one table, a plate, a fork and one glass. Confiscating a goat does not fill the gap of the not payed taxes. (People even have to slaughter their goats because taxes have risen so high).
Malaria triumphs in these regions, because of poor medical care and lack of infrastructure to canalise watercourses, the musquitos infect the villagers time after time, so that eventually the people’s faces turn slightly yellow. This is shown in Levi’s paintings and is for me the characteristic of these people. They endure everything. They seem to be bound by a fatalist philosophy which tells them that nothing will change after all. They even have given up on ‘the American dream’, which was popular idea at the time. And you see it in their faces; the malaria, the worries, the poverty…
Even after Levi’s book was published, it took a while before investments in the region have been made. Cities like Matera and Aliano still have their small homes, in Matera even cave-like, but living standards have seriously improved. I hope to travel there to see it for my own.
The region and the story it holds have grabbed me and I just can’t let it go. That’s why I decided to make a drawing of one of his paintings. I called her Giulia. (‘Julia’ in English).
When I picked up the pencils, I was not sure if Giulia would come out well. I had never really drawn before. But I am very pleased with the result, if I may say so O:) .
If you have ever read the book or will after reading this post, please let me know! I would find it lovely to discuss it with you!
PS1: For those who want to know more about Carlo Levi:
PS2: “Looking back at Copenhagen” is coming up soon!