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Francesco D’Episcopo’s slow journey along the Amalfi Coast

The gentleman professor tells of his intimate, sensual and animalistic relationship with the Divina

By Vito Pinto

He is a nomad of literature, residing in Salerno because he has physically traveled through Italy as a speaker at conferences, sworn in literary prizes, and presenting books and authors. But above all, he has crossed the beautiful country probing that land of a minor god populated by writers, poets, painters, artists of various arts who have not entered, for various and well-known reasons, in the merry-go-round of mass media vanities. Francesco D’Episcopo, professor emeritus of the Federico II University of Naples (where he taught Italian literature, literary criticism, and comparative literature), who respects the canons of official programming, guided the young students in the “cultural province,” “Strictly from the South,” he stresses. This southern culture gave birth to the inventiveness of the novelists, the imagination of the poets, the scientific preparation of the essayists.  The language’s knowledge, the sensitivity towards a territory in which the various Mediterranean cultures have constantly confronted each other, and incense have been burned on different religions.

The sense of a place

He arrived with his family in Salerno in 1971 and had the painter Gabriele D’Alma and his wife, the poet Maria D’Alma Talento as neighbors. Molise’s mother and Neapolitan father, Francesco D’ Episcopo, embody that essence of mountains and sea that he found, with literary instinct, on the Amalfi Coast: mountainously marine. “It is an important point of reference – he says speaking of the Diva Costa – especially for someone like me who has always looked at this territory carefully and has often looked at it with the eyes of the poet: Alfonso Gatto; no poetic animal has managed, like Gatto, to trace the outline of the Amalfi Coast. This coast is the synthesis of my existence. The maternal mountains of Molise and my father’s Neapolitan sea ». A Coast that is physically frequented because “literature – he says – is made up of senses and feelings, so the physical relationship is more important than spirituality, made up of ‘places’ and characters. The sense of ‘place’ is important because it gives a sense of physicality; so I always went to the ‘places’ of writers “.

The animal instinct

But this bend of the Salerno coast, an Apennine offshoot of Monti called Lattari, is scrutinized by D’Episcopo with that “animalistic” instinct which is sometimes privileged human able to smell the origins of emotion, of beauty, a talk to communicate feelings. Qualities belong to that particular category of writers and frequenters of various arts who look straight at the road ahead without lingering over the deceptive (often) surrounding landscape. Wandering gentleman, D ‘Episcopo scrutinizes men, establishes friendships that he does not frequent (except for some) because he cannot get on the “joust” of appearing. Very reserved, even if better known than he imagines, he has always been “on his behalf” to him: he just did things without thoughts deviating from pure love for literature and knowledge. He says: «I mainly dealt with the South. My university courses were focused above all on minor characters, authentic southern geniuses of great stature, but who were not lucky enough to have great publishers: illustrious strangers. It certainly created some disturbances, but I also had a lot of affection from my students ».

An image of Positano

The architecture of the soul

To want to analyze his works and his publications is practically impossible without a sterile listing. However, some books on the Amalfi Coast remain significant. The ones that denote a deep relationship that D’Episcopo had with this territory where “architecture of the soul that follows the rhythm of the mountain, in its carnally loving relationship with the sea is rooted. And it is a discovery and secret harmony, which man has managed to re-create, between stones and plants, in an intimate and intense embrace, which does not cause or suffer violence “. The professor almost whispers of profound intimacy, fearing that we can take possession of a person, almost sensual relationship with this peninsula where he luxuriates in orange blossom and green in broom. And what John Steinbeck wrote about his “Positano” for Harper’s Bazar comes to mind: “When you happen to discover a beautiful place like Positano, the first impulse is almost always to keep the discovery to yourself.” Positano, refuge from history for many exiled artists, a vertical town, recalling Sergej Pavlovič Djagilev, founder of the legendary “Russian Ballets”! Here is how Francesco D’Episcopo describes it in the little book “Positano in prose”: “A cluster of houses suspended and wide open on the sea, on a throne of the sun, which here on the Amalfi Coast concentrates, like a glare of light, a miracle, a prodigy of nature, which is exposed and expands, as far as it can, in that mountainous marine dimension, typical of a mossy coast of rocks and greedy for infinity.» Pages that help the reader approach a daily chronicle’s complexity, which no story has officially recorded.

The metamorphosis of memory

In a brief afternoon conversation, D’Episcopo recalled: “Traveling and experiencing these places means touching the heart of things, feeling them throbbing within oneself, in a surprising concentration of apparently contrasting landscapes, which here find a synthesis, a miraculous opportunity for coexistence. ” Already the opposites, the oxymorons that D’Episcopo uses with wisdom and clarity of thought. And so we find the silence of words or the words of silence. “The metamorphosis of memory” fits well, borrowing the title of one of his works on Salvatore Quasimodo and Alfonso Gatto, both poets and for various reasons linked to this coast where the alluring call of the Sirens persists, the charm of millennia. The Italian professor remembers: “Poetry rather than discovering the truth is intent on suggesting mysteries.”

From the left: Antonio Baglivo, Vito Pinto, Francesco D’Episcopo

The crucial meetings along the way

And it is the friendship with Tonino Masullo with whom he begins a literary journey starting from Vietri Sul Mare. Then it is Cetara, where he meets Gennaro Forcellino, a poet who is part of that original list of “illustrious unknowns.” Maiori represents the intense relationship with “La Feluca,” an association for cultural promotion. Amalfi, “the Republic of Letters,” brings the professor back to “A provisional man: Francesco Jovine,” writer from Molise, and to Gaetano Afeltra, a genuine Amalfitan and brilliant Italian journalist. But above all, for D’Episcopo la Costiera are those cultural evenings consumed under the banner of meetings promoted by the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies “Gerardo Marotta” and then with the “Sun, sea, culture” event by Enzo D’Elia. “I was there with Gaetano Afeltra and Giovannino Russo,” D’Episcopo recalls. And they are the interviews with Franco Zeffirelli, Sergio Zavoli, Piero Angela, Giuseppe Tornatore, with final raids on the Colli di Fontanelle, in S. Agata sui due Golfi, in the legendary restaurant “Don Alfonso 1890”. Because if there is one thing that D’Episcopo appreciates as literature is good food.

The writer’s eyes

Almost returning to the origin of a journey that began some time ago, D’Episcopo recalls: “I had my first relationship with the Amalfi Coast investigating Alfonso Gatto, who was going to spend his holidays in Conca Dei Marini. And I began to love the Amalfi Coast because I am also a coast animal like him. He taught me the relationship between mountains and the sea. Here the water that comes down from the mountains is spring water. And I remember that at Marmorada I took a shower under mountain water, which came directly to the sea ». The writer’s eyes are lost in the distance. They mingle with those of poets, writers, painters, artisans who day after day write a verse, create a work, be it small or large; perhaps, to the appeal of a poet, it is “the smoke of one who lives with his nothing / a day of air.”

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