Photographer Vincenzo Pietropaolo and author Mark Frutkin have collaborated on a book that is a reminder of what Italians must miss during the Coronavirus shut-down of public places: Where Angels Come to Earth: An Evocation of the Italian Piazza (Montreal: Longbridge Books, 2020, 160 pages).
Frutkin’s text accompanying the piazza photos is sometimes narrative, at times dreamlike, and often a hybrid of fiction and poetry. For example, his text for a photograph that shows two girls and has three touches of red against a sombre background (Piazza del Popolo, Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche, 2003), starts off with Frutkin chatting to a church custodian. Then Frutkin extends the comparison of a photographer to a fisherman, and in doing so, hooks the reader on his own role in the book:
The photographer must have the same patience as the fisherman, ever alert to the precise moment when the shutter must be pressed, the rod lifted, the line pulled tight. The photographer must have perfect timing to catch a fish of light glistening in air. For the moment passes in an instant, the scene has changed, the two girls walking arm in arm have crossed the piazza, turned a corner, disappeared into the rest of their lives. (Where Angels, p. 115)
Mark Frutkin’s first stay in Italy was in 1967-1968, when he went to Rome as a third-year student in Loyola University’s study abroad program. During the school’s three generous holidays, he travelled all over Italy. During a recent conversation, I asked if this early immersion influenced his work. The short answer is Yes, four of his eight novels are set in Italy. But he also talked about how this kind of education, learning a different culture, learning Italian, opens you up to the world, expands the mind.
Frutkin has returned to Italy often. For this book alone, he went three times in 2003-2004. He has been back since. His passion for Cremona, Lombardy, and its violin makers, shows up not only in Where Angels Come to Earth but also in his novel Fabrizio’s Return (Knopf 2006). Location research took him many times to Venice, for the novels, The Rising Tide (Porcupine’s Quill, 2018), and The Lion of Venice (Beach Holme, 1997). For his first published novel, The Growing Dawn (Quadrant 1983), which is documentary fiction based on the life of Marconi, he went to Bologna, Rome, and London. Mark Frutkin’s forthcoming novel, The Artist and the Assassin (Porcupine’s Quill, 2021), based on the life of the painter Caravaggio, is set in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily.
Frutkin wrote about his youthful time abroad in Italy in his nonfiction book, Walking Backwards: Grand Tours, Minor Visitations, Miraculous Journeys and a Few Good Meals (Dundurn, 2011). On the road to Assisi, he writes,
The sky, the trees, the nearby fields and distant hills all glow with a luminosity and a radiance I have never experienced anywhere before. The sky is the deepest blue imaginable, at the edge of indigo. It is as if the light itself is lifting me, refreshing me, washing me clean, flowing through my heart. (Walking Backwards, p. 52)
Let’s hope that light soon returns to the hearts of Italy.
Mark Frutkin’s Italy Books
- The Rising Tide (Erin, Ontario: Porcupine’s Quill, 2018). Shortlisted for the City of Ottawa Book Award and a finalist for the Foreword Indies Award (US).
- Walking Backwards: Grand Tours, Minor Visitations, Miraculous Journeys and a Few Good Meals (Toronto: Dundurn, 2011).
- Fabrizio’s Return (Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2006). Winner of the Trillium Book Award (2006); shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize; translated and published in Quebec, Russia, Poland, South Korea and Turkey.
- The Lion of Venice (Vancouver: Beach Holme, 1997; rpt. Dundurn Books, 2010). Based on the life of Marco Polo.
- Atmospheres Apollinaire (as in the poet Guillaume Apollinaire) (Erin: Porcupine’s Quill, 1988; revised Vancouver: Beach Holme, 1998).
- The Growing Dawn (Montreal: Quadrant Editions, 1983). Based on the life of Guglielmo Marconi.
- Mark Frutkin’s website
- Dundurn Press
- Excerpt from The Rising Tide at The Porcupine’s Quill
- Interviewed on Open Book
- Mark Frutkin talks about Walking Backwards on All in a Day
- Frutkin talks more about all things Italy in this interview with Accenti.