Prior to making my dream of going to Italy a reality, I tried to order Umberto Eco’s novel, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana online from Italy. The purpose was to give this gift to my Nonna for Christmas, but for whatever reason, it would not ship to Canada (or the order was not properly processed). I read this novel in my fourth year during my undergraduate degree at Carleton University. The story was about a man, suffering from amnesia (or memory loss) because of a stroke. He returned to his childhood home with his wife, a farm in the south of Italy, to recall his lost memories. My version of the novel was a translation into English, so it would be neat to get my Nonna this novel that was originally written in Italian by and Italian author.
On our way to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, I asked a local where I could find an Italian bookstore. It had occurred to me that, “hey, we’re in ITALY. I could buy the book here!” They pointed in the direction we were headed, and I was thrilled! Once we stepped inside, however, I came to the realization that there were books, but the audience was intended to be tourists. These were guides to the city. Soon I noticed that this part of Roma is a very touristy location, so there were no authentic Italian bookstores in the surrounding area. Disheartened, Andrew and I continued towards the fountain.
Sorrento, located beside or close to the Amalfi Coast, was our next destination. Here, we got to explore the city-centre at night and walk leisurely through the streets during our free time on the tour. While walking I realized that Sorrento was full of locals, and local stores unlike Rome. Literally, stopping in my tracks, I turned to see a bookstore. Full of novels and literature in Italian!! I asked Andrew if we could separate from the others in our tour group to go inside, and he said, “yes”.
There I asked if they had Umberto Eco novels, and the store owner led me to a specific location within the store. He shifted some books around on the shelf, and moved the cabinet aside – because they were on hinges and were similar to sliding doors – and there it was. Umberto Eco novels. Yes, more than one, so now I had a problem. It was my job to recall the novel’s title by looking at the Italian covers, which differed from my version both in language and images. Then, I began to recognize the pictures inside the novel as well as the name Loana. I knew that was the one.
Bringing home this novel was one of my favourite moments on this trip. I gave my Nonna the book the night I arrived back in Canada, and she didn’t really understand or appreciate it at first. Though she loves to read, the image of the naked woman on the cover deeply disturbed her conservative-ness. Although, once she began reading, she became very nostalgic. Umberto Eco was born one year before her, and his fictional tale highlights everything she loves and misses about her home, Naples, Italy. The traditions, so the songs sung in the novel and the farmhouse he returns to, touches on my Nonna’s memories of her childhood as well as adolescence. This book truly brought a piece of Italy – her home – back to her. That is greater than anything I could have hoped for and surpasses the basic fact that it’s a good read. Now, we both talk about the book together.