When Malaparte used to show up in “Piazzetta”

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text Lucy de Forcade Cannon

In “Piazzetta” of Capri, always crowded in the summertime, around noon, all of a sudden you could notice a new interest in the onlookers, because all eyes were looking the same direction, which was the arch of “Caffè Tiberio”, where the tall and elegant figure (even though in shorts) of Curzio Malaparte would appear, surrounded by his loyals, two or three local people who used to work for him at his villa. Curzio, aware of the interest he aroused, used to stop in the square to chat with someone. I believe I never saw him sitting at one of the bars.
The story of his great love for a woman and its epilogue were well known, but was it really a great love? Definitely Malaparte caused jealousy in men because all women admired him and maybe someone felt something more. For young girls like us, we were sixteen years old back then, he was simply handsome, elegant and a centre of gossip and we all looked at him with curiosity. In our conversations we used to call him, jokingly, “Apollo Musagete” (even without his muses) and maybe him too thought so about himself, considering that he named his beloved dog, a greyhound with the colours of the moon, after “Febo” and entitled the chapter of one of his books: “Dog like me”.
201407-11mMalaparte had black hair and full of cream so it was resistant to the wind of Capri and it shined with the sun; his black eyes showed a look that was amused but pungent at the same time. He provokes likes and dislikes, these last one especially in men, both because of his “look” and also his conflicting opinion with the general idea. I think that one of his biggest entertainment, in his books, was shocking the reader as much as he could and he succeeded with cynicism mixed with fantasy. He loved to be different and expressed his identity through his journalism and his books.
His personality was twisted and contrasting. He had been confined because he was antifascist, then he came back as a writer and correspondent during fascism. He could change his ideas and make others accept them, according to the trains of thought, always successfully. Definitely a great political-diplomatic ability!
I met him in person when I went to visit his villa, just finished, with my parents and a couple of friends of theirs Everybody told him not build in that inaccessible location both because of the distance from the centre and the difficulty to bring the material, but he was inflexible and he won: so that place, which had always been known as “Punta Masullo”, soon became “Capo Malaparte”.
The house painted in red seemed like it was only placed there and in fact it was laid on the long rocky protrusion overlooking the sea. The roof is was only a long terrace of bricks and you could access to it through a staircase made of the same bricks which started from ground floor and then became wider until it could reach the top covering the entire length and width of the house.
Malaparte asked for a white wall with a shape of a snake to be built on the terrace, with didn’t match with the armony of the rest of the house (but was it really armony?!). Nobody could understand what that was about until he confessed that he loved to be in the sun under that little wall, hidden from the sight of those walking in Pizzolungo. He also loved to ride his bicycle on his long terrace, but always in danger of falling in the sea or crashing to the rocks.
The villa, like the owner, was strange and captivating. No furniture in a huge hall, only a thick marble plate held by two small Roman columns and nothing else but the sea, thanks to the wide glass wall on the blue infinity. His office, where he had tea, served by his governess, had small bookcases full of books all around it, but above them there was only huge glass walls and a breathtaking view: on one side, rocks of the mountain above the house, on the other side, the “Monacone”, a little far from it the “Faraglioni” and on the background, towards East, the small islands “Li Galli” and the Amalfi coast. The impression was stunning!
In the office there was a big desk covered in papers and some chairs. It seemed like we were on a ferry. It was the first time that I saw Malaparte so close and what captured my attention about him was his long eyelashes so thick, like a brush, which cast a shadow in his eyes, always a bit teasing.
We didn’t visit the upper floor of the villa, but in the atrium, from which a wooden stairway led to the second floor, there was no furniture, the floor was tiled while, in the hall the floor was made of big pieces of untreated rock. From the house you could reach the sea through a long and very narrow staircase of bricks: a clear and unique sea which seemed to belong to him only.
Sometimes I would meet him along the way to the “Pizzolungo” when I would leave Villa Romita where the Silvaneschi’s lived and where I used to go often, so we walked together. I told him that Silvaneschi’s “Consolazioni” was beautiful, but Malaparte enjoyed teasing me with his opinion: “That one is not a writer!”. I tried to change his mind, but what could a sixteen-year-old girl do against one Malaparte? He rewarded me, I believe because he teased me, giving me his book “Donna come me” (Woman like me) with this dedication: “I’m better off like this, my dear Lucia, than like they want me to be”.
When the Allies arrived, he was first arrested, because he was fascist, but soon he joined them as mediator and correspondent, so he became big friend with generals and colonels from the American High Command (he even invited them in his villa) until the conquest of Rome. Right after the end of the war his book “La pelle” (The skin) was published, a sad story of war and deprivation with the expected horrifying consequences. The book provoked anger in people from Naples and also people from Capri were so disappointed that rumors said there might have been revenge if had gone back to the villa.
Reading “La pelle”, also translated in English, I wondered if those American generals and colonels had ever realized that Malaparte’s analysis of them, through the pages of the book, had restored in us Italian people, after all, that feeling of superiority that has been fairly gripping us with more than just an indulgent smile towards them.
When I returned to Capri after nine years in America, we met him one day in “Piazzetta” and there he met my husband, we spoke for a while and he said he was leaving to China. After some time there were rumors about his severe illness and his desire of going back to his homeland. One day in 1957 I opened a newspaper and I was shocked cause I saw the picture of his arrival in the airport in Rome. He was on a gurney, he had a mask on his face and in his eyes he had the look of those at the end of their journey. A few days after they announced his death. I couldn’t believe it! The handsome Curzio, so strong, charming and self-confident that I had always had in my mind, under the sun of Capri, was no more.
The last surprise: that man, who proclaimed himself atheist, had converted before he died.
Sic transit Gloria mundi!

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