2 Oct 1942 - The First Page / La Prima Pagina
The First Page / La Prima Pagina
The real diary is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s preserved in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts, located in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library of the University of Pennsylvania. The diary is over 70 years old, and I had never seen it in person before.
In July 2015, I flew from my home in Los Angeles to Philadelphia to visit my sister and her family. I also planned to visit the university and examine the diary for the first time.
All my life I wanted to learn Italian. I tried to teach myself at 10 years old, without much success. Finally in my 40’s, I decided it was time, and I enrolled in classes in 2013. After two and a half years, I found myself drawn to this diary, and the desire to see it, to read it, became overwhelming.
The diary was written by a ten year old Italian boy, living in Rovigno d’Istria, in 1942. The boy wasn’t just any boy, however. He was my father.
I couldn’t find the reading room once I reached the top floor of the library. It took me a moment to locate the room within a room, and to deposit my belongings in a small locker. Once inside, I was presented with a white box, in which were several numbered portfolios. I pulled out folder number 53, and the small book inside. I opened its pages and began to read . . .
Rovigno, 2 October 1942 – XX
“Finally the holidays are over. I enjoyed myself a lot and I also read a little every day, but now I’m happy to go to this beautiful school, full of cheerful light and plants. My class is on the third floor. The corridors are so smooth they make me want to slide. How bad was it, on the other hand, last year, the school De Amicis! [Edmondo de Amicis] The last day of the holidays, I spent cheerfully, happy to return the next day to school and find my friends. This, perhaps, was the best day of the now spent holidays. I was very cheerful, so much so, I turned on the radio, and I started to dance a tarantella with my little brother Roger.”
Rovigno, 2 ottobre 1942 – XX
“Finalmente le vacanze sono finite. Mi sono tanto divertito e ho anche letto ogni giorno un poco, ma ora sono felice di andare in questa bellissima scuola, tutta allegra di luce e di piante. La mia classe è situata al terzo piano. I corridoi sono così lisci che fanno venire la voglia di sdrucciolare. Come era brutta, invece, l’altro anno, la scuola De Amicis! L’ultimo giorno delle vacanze, lo ho trascorso allegramente, contento di ritornare, l’indomani a Scuola e di ritrovare i miei amici. Questo, forse, è stato il giorno più bello delle ormai trascorse vacanze. Ero allegrissimo, tanto che, acceso la radio, mi misi a ballare una tarantella, con il mio fratellino Ruggero.”
To be honest, I couldn't read all of it, but I understood a great deal. I smiled when I looked up sdrucciolar in my Italian-English dictionary. My father wanted to slide down those corridors in his sock feet like a young Italian Tom Cruise in Risky Business.
“Yesterday morning was the start of the school year with a Mass celebrated by our chaplain Don Pavan. I prayed fervently to God for me and for my brother Roger who this year attends the first elementary class. After Mass, we went to school where the Headmaster speaks to the mothers and pupils. I like it a lot when the Dean speaks. I know well, because I’ve already attended five years of his lectures and from him I learned many things. He recalled a glorious figure of Silvano Abba, fallen on the Russian front. His luminous figure seemed to smile through the words of our headmaster. Silvano Abba was a champion in many sports, awarded several times with silver and gold medals for sports championships, third in the Berlin Olympics. He died heroically in a cavalry charge against the Bolsheviks, the enemy of Family and Religion.”
“Ieri mattina si è iniziato l’anno scolastico con una Santa Messa celebrata dal nostro cappellano Don Pavan. Io ho pregato fervidamente. Iddio per me e per il mio fratellino Ruggero chi quest’anno frequenta la I classe elementare. Dopo la Santa Messa, siamo andati a scuola, dove il Signor Preside parla alle mamme e agli alunni. Mi piace tanto quando parla il signor Preside. Io ho conosco bene, perché sono già cinque anni che frequento le sue conferenze e da lui ho imparato molte cose. Egli ha rievocato una gloriosa figura di Silvano Abbà, caduto sul fronte russo. La sua figura luminosa sembrava sorridere attraverso le parole del nostro Preside. Silvano Abbà fu campione in molti sport, premiato diverse volte con medaglie d’oro e d’argento per campionato sportivo, terzo nelle Olimpiadi di Berlino. Morto eroicamente in una carica di cavalleria, contro i Bolscevichi, nemica della Famiglia e della Religione.”
When I see ideas or themes in capital letters, I tend to worry. For the first time, I realize I don’t know the political preferences of my grandparents, or of my father, for that matter. But then he quickly returned back to the topic of school . . .
“Today, the first day of school, we had a nice surprise: our teacher is young and pretty and everyone thought her nice. We, however, were accustomed to four years in a row with a good teacher, but old and grumpy, without a smile. Three hours of lessons passed like a flash. How beautiful.”
“Oggi, primo giorno di scuola, abbiamo avuto una gradita sorpresa: la nostra professoressa è giovane e carina e tutti l’abbiamo trovata simpatica. Noi, invece, eravamo abituati da quattro anni di seguito con un maestro buono ma vecchio e burbero, senza un sorriso. Tre ore di lezioni sono trascorse come un lampo. Com’è bello.”
There, at the end of the day’s entry, was his first sketch. A little boy, looking upward at his father or perhaps the headmaster, happy to be back at school once more.