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The City and the Writer: In Rome with Stefano Benni

By Nathalie Handal

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Can you describe the mood of Rome as you feel/see it?

Rome changes every day. Sometimes it is two thousand years old, sometimes it is young. Sometimes it is a dead city. It has a time of its own.

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

When I was out all night, walking, the first time I visited it.

What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

Its hidden gardens.

What writer(s) from here should we read?

Writers belong to the world, not to a city. In any case, I would say Gadda and Pasolini. One might also read, if curious, Hoffman’s Princess Brambilla, and wonder how he could have described Rome so well without ever having been there.

Is there a place here you return to often?

I live in Trastevere. I like to get lost in its alleys.

Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

The Protestant Cemetery, in the neighborhood of Testaccio.

Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

The catacombs. There are kilometers and kilometers of galleries, rooms, and crypts underneath Rome.

Where does passion live here?

I believe that, for some time now, Rome has lost much of its eros and warmth. The strongest passion is football (soccer).

What is the title of one of your works about Rome and what inspired it exactly?

I’ve never set one of my books exclusively in Rome.

Inspired by Levi, “Outside Rome does an outside exist?”

All of Italy is beautiful, diverse, unexpected. Rome is the most famous city, but there are others that are just as beautiful, like Venice or Palermo or Urbino

Translated from the Italian by Víctor Xavier Zarour Zarzar.

Stefano Benni was born in Bologna in 1947. He is one of the best-known Italian novelists and one of the best-loved political satirists. Benni is also a poet, journalist, and director. He’s been a best-selling author since the publication of his science fiction novel, Terra!, in 1983, which sold more than 2.5 million copies in Italy. He has written twenty books in a variety of genres—including political thrillers and fairytales—which have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Stefano Benni’s poetry is forthcoming in Migrazioni/Migrations (66theand2nd, Rome), an anthology of African and Italian poetry edited by Wole Soyinka and curated and prefaced by Alessandra Di Maio. Alessandra Di Maio and Maaza Mengiste will discuss the book in NYC on February 27 at NYU’s Casa Italiana.

Read WWB’s September 2016 issue: There Is No Map: The New Italian(s)

Published Feb 14, 2017   Copyright 2017 Nathalie Handal

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