Alessandro Francini-Bruni, ‘Joyce Stripped Naked in the Piazza’ (Trieste 1922)

[ Bibliographical note: Extract from Joyce intimo spogliato in Piazza (Trieste: La Editorale Libraria 1922) - first given as a lecture for the Triestino Press Association on 22 Feb. 1922; rep. as ‘Joyce Stripped Naked in the Piazza’ [trans. Camilla Rudolph, et al.], in Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, ed. Willard Potts (Dublin: Wolfhound Press 1979), pp.7-39. The extract begins with the Joyces arriving in Pola, where Francini - a native of Florence - was already teaching in the Berlitz School. See further, Francini’s rendering of Joyce’s classroom caricature of Ireland under Quotations, ‘Jeu d’esprit’, supra.]

[...]

Joyce’s arrival left only two possible solutions for the assistant, [10] suicide or assassination. No other solutions existed. A moment’s weakness would have compromised everything, turning the tragedy into farce and covering the protagonists with ridicule. If only someone would die to distract everyone’s attention. But no one did. There they were, three shamed dogs. Joyce didn’t think for even a minute about the state of his clothing. The problem of sartorial harmony never crossed his mind. On the contrary, Joyce in his greatness was so aloof, so aware of his role, that he waited motionlessly for the others to approach and welcome him on behalf of the city. When they were face to face they began to measure one another, each trying to spy in the other’s eyes what he was thinking. The clear-eyed, poised Joyce stared into the puffy eyes of Mr. B.’s factotum, as if he really were Charles V surveying his realm.
 Ragged and tattered as a beggar, he dragged along nonchalantly a hyena of a suitcase that had lost its fur but not its vice of laughing immoderately at the distress of its owner and master. From every rent in it things hung dangling in the breeze, but he did not trouble himself to tuck them in. On the contrary he dragged it behind him with absolute poise, hobbling along as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Mrs. Joyce, a little to one side, almost lost in a wide-brimmed straw hat and a man’s overcoat that hung below her knees, looked like a pile of rags. Erect and motionless, she shifted her glance from one man to the other, without a trace of expression on her face.
 The assistant was beside himself. He looked like an angry Jupiter emitting thunder and lightning. Unfortunately he was dressed incongruously in a boater and a light overcoat. At first he was pale and dismayed, but little by little became scarlet, like a cooked lobster.
 He didn’t dare make a scene. He was seething with rage; however, he didn’t want it noticed for fear of ridicule. He wanted to remain still, but he couldn’t. (pp.10-11.)

[...]

At that time Joyce talked a strange species of Italian. It is better to say archaic than strange, a crippled Italian full of ulcers. It was, if you can imagine such a thing, like an only-child language, and that child the deformed daughter of a buxom wet nurse and a diseased old dwarf. At any rate, it was a dead language, which joined the babble of living languages coming out of that pit of poor devils at the school.
 Joyce was not aware of the ulcerations but, on the contrary, spoke them with great naturalness. The beautiful thing was the confidence with which he uttered those heresies. He came out with certain abortions that, as God is true, could not be allowed either in heaven or on earth. In heaven God in all his mercy could not have accepted them. On earth they existed only because Joyce did and because he kept them alive. He spoke them with brazen indifference to people’s opinions. This virtue was not lacking in that spirited man. It is true that five years later the Italian language—the real language—was much more familiar to him than to me. He was a valuable and powerful contributor to our newspapers. And even though Benco, with false humility, exaggerated in saying that Joyce had taught him Italian, it is certain that many of us would have been happy to write Italian as skillfully as that Irishman did. But at first, I assure you, it was another story.
 Then, in order to ingratiate himself with this bear, the assistant decided to ask him a question. Trying to recall all the English he knew, he inquired with graceful unctuousness,
 “Do you speak Italian, Mr. Joyce?”
Joyce replied, “Tu dici [you are saying it].” And not a word more.
(“What kind of Italian does this tramp speak?”) “Did you have a good trip, Mr. Joyce?”
 “Tu dici.” And nothing more. Pause and bewilderment of the questioner.
(“What a hell of a way this Lutheran has of expressing himself! Bah! Let’s ask him another question.”)
 “How do you like Italy, Mr. Joyce?”
 “Che è quel ch’ i’ odo. Sere, issa vegg’io. Pola oppo del Carnaro. [What do I hear? M’Lord, what do I see? Pola on the Carnaro].” Spoken in a tone as if to say, give me time to breathe, you fool.
The situation, as one can see, was highly dramatic. Mr. B.’s factotum was at the pitch of desperation. He didn’t know what to do. [...] (pp.12.)

[...]

So that you don’t get the wrong idea, you should know that Joyce is a great gentleman, a born gentleman. He comes from a very noble family in the West of Ireland, a region that bears the name of his ancestors - the Joyce Country. He stinks of the gentleman a mile away, even when he is stinking drunk. He is proud of his origins, as you can see by the family portraits on the walls of his apartment. Excesses are one thing: true nature is another. Spiritus quidem promptus car autem infirma. [Matt. 26: 41.)]

Notes
Vide Dante, Inferno, Canto 3, line 32 [ “Che è quel ch’ i’ odo”].

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