Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Io speriamo che me la cavo

book coverOne of the most popular books in Italy in recent years was written by an elementary school teacher, Marcello D'Orto, in the small town of Arzano near Naples. It was published in 1990 by Arnoldo Mondadori and is entitled Io speriamo che me la cavo. The title is, one, ungrammatical Italian and, two, the heartfelt wish of the schoolchild who wrote the essay from which the title of the book is taken. It says (in incorrect Italian): "I hope I pass". The entire book, in fact, is a collection of 60 such essays written by Mr. D'Orto's charges in the 10 years he was a teacher at the school.

In presenting the children's essays about, among other things, their favorite films, their dreams (real and metaphorical), where they would go if they could travel, their home lives, and what they would do if they were millionaires, D'Orto says, in the introduction, that he tried to avoid falling into the trap of "Eduardoism" (in reference to Eduardo de Filippo) —that is, to avoid an overly staged presentation of every poor schoolchild from Naples as if that child were a scugnizzo, a street urchin, trying out for a film. They're not, he says. They're just kids who write with the simple honesty and insight that children bring to their observations. The teacher left the ungrammatical title in its original form and, by and large, left most of the errors in the short essays intact. (In a translation, of course, that element is almost impossible to render, and, in what follows, I have not tried to do so.)

One sample:

Your teacher talked about Switzerland. Can you summarize the most important points?

Switzerland is a small country in Europe that borders on Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. There are a lot of lakes and mountains, but there isn't any ocean, especially in Bern.

Switzerland sells arms to the whole world so they can kill each other, but Switzerland doesn't ever have even a small war. They build banks with all their money. But not good banks. The banks are for bad persons, especially drug addicts. Criminals from Sicily and China put their money in these banks. The police go and ask, Whose money is this? and they say I don't know, I'm not going to tell you, it's none of your damn business, the bank is closed. But the bank is really open!!

In Naples, if you get cancer, you die, but in Switzerland you die later or maybe you live. Because the hospitals are beautiful. They have carpets, flowers, the stairs are clean and there are no rats. But you pay a lot of money. Unless you sell stuff on the black market, you can't afford to go.

Is this long enough?

In 1992, Italian film director, Lina Wertmüller, made the book into a film with the same title as the book. The English rendering of the title is as good as possible—"Ciao, Professore." Actually, the term "ciao" is probably too informal and not an appropriate way for a pupil to greet a teacher, which fact might make the title not bad since it is inappropriate language, just like the title of the book. The film stars the great comic Paolo Villaggio as the teacher and centers on his character, a teacher from the north of Italy who winds up, through a computer error, in just such a small school in the Neapolitan outback. He e can barely understand the native Neapolitan dialect of his pupils. His learning to understand them and their problems at home (descriptions of which are taken directly from the book) is the charm of the film.

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