I met Emanuele Pettener back in 2009, and it’s safe to say that the meeting changed my life in many ways. I was enrolled in the Italian Studies program at F.A.U. in Boca Raton, Florida where he teaches. The class was Italian Literature from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, taught entirely in Italian, which at the time strained the very limits of my linguistic skills, to say the least. But the class was fantastic, made even more engaging by our professor’s affection for the subject matter. In the process, I discovered my own interest for the works of Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarca, Ariosto, and Machiavelli. Perhaps it was the last little push that I needed to convince myself to make the long-term leap across the ocean.
In fact, it was during that fall semester of ’09 when Ema suggested that I join the group of students going to his hometown of Venice the following spring to study Venetian literature in situ. There, we read works by Veronica Franco, Carlo Goldoni, and Giacomo Casanova in the morning, and then visited the actual locations where their stories happened in the afternoon. Literature brought to life by direct experience. (I wrote another post about my Venetian experience a couple of years ago.)
What’s more, our professor is a very accomplished writer in his own right. In 2009, he released the novel “È sabato, mi hai lasciato, e sono bellissimo,” (“It’s Saturday, you’ve left me, and I’m so beautiful”) to much acclaim by the Italian critics. Last year, he published his first book in English called, “A Season in Florida,” a collection of short stories that on some level, unites the two cultures that he now inhabits.
An Italian in America
He was kind enough to send me a signed copy of this recent book, and it was such a pleasure to read this diverse collection of short fiction. The stories are all very different in structure, style, voice, and subject matter. They really shows his flexibility as a writer. Some are straight-up story telling, like the hilarious “The Incredible Story of John Cavallaro,” about mafioso who is also a Masters candidate in literature, which may remind my fellow Floridians of our own Carl Hiaasen’s style of writing. Other pieces are more avant garde, like “Portrait in Green with Proust,” where the famous Proust tends bar and offers his pearls of wisdom to patrons, like when he observes, “The cities that we long to be in take up much more relevant space in our lives than those where we actually end up.”
Like me, Ema has one foot in Florida and one foot in Italy, even if we obviously have arrived from opposite directions. As someone who has spent most of his life in Florida, I was impressed when I read these stories by the accuracy of his descriptions of my home state. In this excerpt, he perfectly describes the ambiance of any given small beach-side town on Florida’s Coast:
It was one of those cafés and one of those mornings from a bygone Florida, both suspended in the opalescent heat of the sun, in the azure-blue incandescence of the sky, with the sound of the ocean breathing calmly across the street, a half mile further away, the shrill delightfully ear-splitting droning of the cicadas and the indistinct squawking of the seagulls. On those mornings the smell of sausages and eggs drifts out of busy restaurant kitchens and blends in with the aroma of suntan lotion and gasoline and everything, cars, human beings, iguanas, don’t seem to be in a hurry, they seem like part of the scenery, like the asphalt cracked from the sun or the shrubbery.
I would like to give a big “grazie” (or GRASSIE in Venetian dialect) to my professore, Emanuele Pettener, for taking time away from his busy teaching and Spritz schedule in Venice to chat with me.
And if you’re near Siena next week, go chat with him in person on June 24th at 6:00 pm at “Cacio e Pere,” located at Via Termini 70.
Please check out his book on these sites:
“A Season in Florida” on Amazon
Read the review on “Publishers Weekly”
The YouTube Review on i-ItalyTV
His Professor Profile at F.A.U.
Click the link to check out other episodes and see my list of the best podcasts about Italy.