Out of the blue (is there really such a thing?), an email from Davide Maione, a photographer who last contacted me in 2005 after reading my review of Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted.
The review mentions in passing his friend Claudio Galuzzi. I was not to know when writing this that Claudio had not seen in the millenium, having died in 1998 just a year past 40.
When I met Claudio, I didn’t speak enough Italian to talk sensibly to him about any of the subjects that interested the two of us (literature, music). His English was variable, to say the least. God knows how he’d managed to interview the Glaswegian Teenage Fanclub the year before was one of my unvoiced thoughts.
I was nineteen. He was thirty-three. I had dropped out of Cambridge after two years of banging my head against ways of learning and being that estranged me to the point of some sort of mental breakdown. It was all too much.
So I ended up living on a farm just outside Casalpusterlengo, which was itself just outside Milan, which was just outside the UK where I felt too ashamed to still be. I had been offered accomodation and set up with a teaching job by Fiorangela, a widow in her late 50s (I can’t remember her surname). She herself was an English teacher, who still lived on the farm which had belonged to her husband’s family. She had two teenage sons: Giovanni, a Guns N’ Roses fanatic (and conveniently for him, Slash-lookalike), and Stefano, also into G&R, but with the appearance of a sound engineer rather than a rock star.
I’d met Fiorangela the summer before in Verwood. She had given up a week or two of her holiday to accompany a class of rowdy youngsters to Dorset for their so-called “full immersion” into English culture and language. They were mainly immersed in each other and anything Italian that they could find in Hardy country (coffee, pasta, Superga shoes, Italian-sounding cinema names).
I was meant to be teaching them English. When I banged on about my own linguistic shortcomings to Fiorangela (I spoke no European languages apart from English and the odd sentence of bastardized Dutch, A.K.A Afrikaans) she offered me a place to stay in Casalpusterlengo, and found me a teaching job.
There was nothing in it for her. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted a nineteen year old me slouching around my house, listening to execrable music (though not Guns N’ Roses, much to the chagrin of Giovanni), smoking execrable cigarettes (Marlboro Reds), trying to learn my Italian from Teach Yourself books and comics.
She charged me a pittance for full board and lodging. So I had a good amount of cash to spend on music and books. I would go to Claudio Galuzzi’s tiny record shop in Casalpusterlengo and while away an afternoon practising my pigeon-Italian on Claudio and listening to the latest CDs he was into.
And Claudio, unlike about 95% of the inhabitants of Casalpusterlengo, was into the good shit. Sure he stocked the latest Europop pap and all the stadium filling rockers like U2 and Bon Jovi. But that’s not what he listened to.
From Claudio I first got to hear, and might have even have purchased the first Tindersticks album, the first Pavement album, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, PJ Harvey’s Dry, Big Star, Nirvana, and of course his beloved Fabrizio D’Andre.
Sadly, I could only come up with monosyllabic platitudes when he played this incredible music to me. But that was OK for Galuzzi. He was a very cool, well-read, somewhat highbrow poet and musician, but he was also a very kind man. And in many ways I was surrounded, nurtured, and healed by kindness from all quarters during those six months I lived in Casalpusterlengo. A kindness I almost took for granted then, maybe only now am able to fully acknowledge; a kindness I’d found in such short supply at Cambridge.
I only ramble on like this, because serendipitously, love and kindness, and where the two merge, is what this episode of Read Me Something You Love turns out to be about.
It is read by the ebullient Bernadette Russell, who at this very moment is boarding the circle line wearing a tutu, and armed with cards, cake, balloons, and her wonderful self. It’s all in aid of her 366 Days of Kindness project which we also reflect on whilst reading Oscar at his allegorical best.
May your February 14th be full of kindess (both to yourself, and others).