Mestri di Mont – memories of a mountain teacher

Those children who looked at me smiling cheerfully… they were beautiful because they radiated from their carefully patched clothes and shoes a kind of absorbed dignity that sparkled from their eyes and spread like an aura around their person.” – Tito Maniacco

I had the good fortune to be present at a conversation between an author, Valentina Maniacco, and Stephanie Green at the Dante Alighieri Society in Brisbane on Friday 29 July 2022.  This conversation was introduced by Claire Kennedy who was one of Valentina’s PhD supervisors and who is President of the Dante Society in Brisbane.

I remember in 2015 or 2016 attending a meeting in the back of the Avid Reader bookshop in West End where the proprietor, Fiona Stager, had tables arranged, cafe style on a verandah. There were two women engrossed in conversation on one side of an informal meeting place, adorned by pot plants, in this, one of Brisbane’s leading independent bookshops. I knew one of the women, Claire Kennedy. As my meeting had not yet begun, I called out to Claire from our table across the room asking what she and her friend were up to. Claire, as always, was polite but made it clear that she did not wish to be interrupted. It turns out that this was a conversation between a supervisor and her PhD student (Valentina) and the following story is the subject of their serious discussion. In a way, it is the product of their labour of love. – Ian Curr, Ed., 31 July 2022.

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In July 1956 Tito Maniacco trekked into the mountains near the Dolomites In Italy. He was taking up his first posting as a teacher in a small village, Moggessa di Là. Born in 1932, Tito had spent the war as the child of a partisan who carried messages for the resistance against German occupation and the fascist government of Benito Mussolini.

Tito was a precocious child taking himself out of school at an early age and becoming self-taught in the local library. Apart from his native tongue, he knew Latin and French and was a keen observer of history such that a local politician said it was impossible to defeat him in debate. For, on just about any issue, Tito was so well read.

The new teacher liked his school in the mountains and it’s children and they liked him. He would walk back down the mountains to collect his pay and visit his family twice a week.

In his memoir, Mestri di mont, of his time in Moggessa di Là, written in Italian with smatterings of French and Latin, Tito introduces his reader to the books, authors, stories, poems and events that were instrumental in developing his ideas as a young man in post-war Italy.

By coincidence his Australian niece, Valentina Maniacco, embarked on a PhD thesis at Griffith university after she discovered her deceased uncle’s stories on a visit to the region.

Dr Valentina Maniacco translated Mestri di Mont as part of her doctoral degree, which took the form of her own memoir (Mestri di mont: Memories of a Mountain Teacher). Her book reflects on the serendipity of discovering her uncle and how she transitioned from translator to writer as she wrote about him and the challenges of translating this work.

Tito Maniacco (Udine, 1932–2010) was a teacher, historian, writer and poet, visual artist and curator of exhibitions. He was deeply connected to his homeland, Friuli, the subject of much of his writing.

In 2003 Tito was awarded the Premio Epifania and in 2008 the Caterina Percoto literary prize for Mestri di mont. The same year he received the sigillo della città, equivalent to the keys to the city, presented by the Municipality of Udine. Mestri di mont tells the story of his first teaching experience in a remote mountain village high in the mountains of Friuli.

Some pictures and slides of Valentina’s book launch are shown below.

I thank the Dante for this excellent event and lovely supper.

Ian Curr
1 August 2022

Valentina has previously translated a short story by Wu Ming called American Parmigiano; it can be found on the author’s website @ https://www.valentinasweb.com.au/biografia/ .

Valentina in conversation with Stephanie at the Dante (her uncle Tito is in the background slide).

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