Interview with Aldo Villagrossi Crotti, Writer and Poet
by Maria Teresa De Donato
As an article for this month I have chosen to interview my dear friend, writer, and poet Aldo Villagrossi Crotti—one man of a kind. When I think of Aldo, two prominent figures come right to my mind: Albert Einstein and Woody Allen. And there is a reason for that…
Versatile, unpredictable, gifted with a no-nonsense attitude, pragmatic as well as idealistic, endowed with an intellectual acumen and a sharp sense of humor, talents of a few… you can like Aldo or not, find him to be nice or unpleasant, agree with his thought or not but one thing is sure: he will not go unnoticed at all, but, on the contrary, will leave an indelebile mark on your life.
In my humble view, one of the professions that suits him best is that of a stand-up comedian. For the time being, not being most likely fully aware of it or simply not having been discovered by some eminent insider of the entertainment industry yet, he opted to work as a writer and as a poet.
T: Aldo, Welcome to my blog and thank you for having accepted to take part to this interview.
A: Thank you to you and to our readers.
T: Let’s start right away with a question as simple as it is profound: Who is Aldo?
A: To be honest, I am still trying to figure it out. Most likely I am a human being who is trying to unravel a complicated relational skein, given that I love all living beings and all that is needed to their wellness, with this being something that gives me great satisfactions but, every once in a while, also too much to think about. After years spent trying to express my feelings artistically and in different forms I eventually discovered poetry. This doesn’t mean that I had not considered poetry before that time… in fact my first poem dates back to the end of 1990, when I was just 22. At that time, I used to write without having a specific poetic technique behind me, nor a source for technical inspiration. Contrary to what I do today, I didn’t like to read other poems and I am fully aware that at that time I was not even able to fully understand them. We can say that that door, I mean that to the comprehension [of poetry] had not been opened to me yet. Then one day I met Craig Czury, whom I can define in no uncertain terms as my mentor. In those days Czury was practicing what he had defined the “Creative non-poetry”, that is, a poetic style that had been partially considered by Pier Paolo Pasolini and other poets but that in Czury took a more consistent form with current issues, and which appeared extraordinarily attractive to my eyes. Czury used to write poems that were composed by phrases used by people he would meet while hitchhiking on the Pennsylvania’s highways. He talked about social unrest, fracking, physical illness, environmental damage, and of poor people living in a country that strives to appear rich to its own eyes. It was a revelation. I understood that that technique well represented the true meaning of my very existence, that is, to speak up also for the last of the last and to transform their words into poetry.
T: Very interesting. You totally nailed one of the themes of the perpetual cultural debate, that is, whether Art should be considered more as free expression of one’s own individuality or rather as an instrument of social and political commitment. In my view it can be both; the most important thing is to always have the possibility to freely choose.What is your personal opinion on the matter?
A: I met artist of different kinds and levels. Sometimes people fall victims to a strange demon, and they convince themselves to be able to produce works of art. The main problem is that they actually act as they were really able to reach that goal! I mean, that happens also to me after spending two hours on the Milan’s freeway, while listening to the Leoncavallo. I start singing like Pavarotti, but it’s just me. There are people who truly believe they are both Pavarotti and D’Annunzio, and they sometimes take advantage of their political and social connections to try and take off to reach stardom. Obviously, these individuals remain always at the ground level, but they might still have in place a certain substrate of notoriety that gives them the minimum dose of cheers for as long as they remain connected to their sponsors, after that limbo is assured to them. Art is just like that, it’s difficult to take off when you are alive. Souls are much lighter and maybe the artist’s death increases the chance for their credibility, so that the artist is seen as such only once they have died. I could give you thousands of examples, Alda Merini is one of them. Here we enter an area wher I have many enemies: I firmly believe that Art is not necessarily supposed to be a career. I met people who had written a book and were dreaming of making money out of it even before having their first draft reviewed, can you imagine? Maybe the truth is the following: the higher the artistic level the lower the possibility to be understood by the crowd. In fact, for that matter, it is the crowd that makes stardom possible along with the pursuing of its consequent and potential wealth. In the 70s being poetes maudits (=cursed poets) with no money was ok, it was trendy. Today it is difficult to sustain it even socially. If Art is used, on the contrary, as a form of social commitment, and it is true art indeed, then why not. I would like, however, to talk about those who do not have the financial resources to express their own art outside of themselves, and again I can use the examples of Alda Merini or Cesare Pavese. Do you remember Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi? (=Death Will Come and Have Your Eyes). I mean, How many worlds are in that sentence… one, two, ten? Are those eyes mine or Pavese’s? Maybe they are the eyes of all of us. Pavese was, in reality, referring to the eyes of his beloved one, and yet you can see how in this case Pavese is speaking about himself as if there were no other human being in the world, and he speaks in a fraction of time which is the very instant of death. Through La pioggia nel pineto (The Rain in the Pinewood) what D’Annunzio truly describes are ten minutes of his life with another person who is just vagly mentioned; ten minutes in a square meter of ground while it’s raining. This is true art! In the end, if I carefully think about it, receiving money for this… is quite humiliating for a poet. I know, I shall end up dying as a poor man.
T: Since you are also an extremely versatile person, who is interested in a great variety of topics, many are going to be the themes we shall be considering. Let’s start, therefore, with one which we do have in common: writing as a form of art, hence, of free expression, but also as a demonstration of a social and political commitment, as a therapeutic method, as an instrument of self-knowledge, self-analysis and self-criticism.Could you explain to us how you ended up writing and why?
A: Writing is for me a necessity, although it’s not a way to give play to my personal imagination. I rather act as an antenna. I pick up, process and transmit emotional information. I end up knowing myself while writing? Thank you for this input, I never thought about it. It’s true that every time I write using the “creative non-poetry” technique I find myself discovering parts of me I didn’t know. Therefore, yes, it is about self-knowledge, self-analysis, and self-criticism. As for the self-criticism I would like to say a few things: I am terrifying when it comes to me while I have the tendency to justify everybody else. My wife says that if Hitler came tomorrow, a figure that hurts me the most at 360°, if he came, as I said, crying and asked me to help him, I would probably do so. And I fear she [my wife] is right. Furthermore, poetry is not discriminatory, consequently, I would be inclined to help, through poetry, everybody who would read it, thus including Hitler. I am not sure if what I am saying makes sense.
T: I believe it does it very well. This is an aspect related to the human nature, which is as beautiful as it is rare and that I would really like to discuss with you further… maybe in another occasion…
A: Whenever you wish. Since we want to believe in the transmigration of souls, the very day we will be two whales we shall be talking in the shadow of an iceberg while eating shrimps and drinking an aperitif. You know, something else that amazes me is that art has undergone a sort of classification from which specific categories of it have been excluded a priori from being defined “works of art.” Do you know that when I bring my daughter to the cinema to watch an animated movie I need to have my sun glasses with me for I shall be leaving with tears in my eyes? Nothing causes me to get emotional as much as an animated movie does. There are thousands of people who have worked on that movie, and their emotions, their lives are all there, inside of it. Really moving. I can’t help myself.
T: Aldo, in 1992 you published your first work Appunti, per l’appunto (Notes, precisely). Could you tell us what motivated you to write it, about its contents, and its themes?
A: It was on the occasion of a collective art exhibit. Everybody brought graphics, paintings, sculptures. I showed up with a couple of paintings and a book that I gave away for free. I had something to say and something to show. I published on that book some of my first poems, and one in particular, which was an interesting game (I am still amused today even though I never applied that technique anymore): I had chosen a text, a song by Jimi Hendrix, Little Wing, which was a sort of text in between the lysergic and the nonsense that had impressed me for the contrast it created between its harmonious part, of an extraordinary beauty, and the part of its text that said almost nothing in terms of profound poetic significance. I took that text and alternated Hendrix’s text to the verses of my poem that, contrary to those of Little Wing did have a very coherent meaning, lesser “airy” than those of Hendrix. The result was that I ended up having a poem that created a sort of emotional swing, where the tension of my words was tempered by the relaxing atmosphere of Hendrix’s words. Absolutely fantastic, maybe even vaguely ironic. I didn’t have to wait that long for the result: at that time to pay for my studies, I used to work as a school bus driver for children with disabilities (a job I still regret today for the richness that has conveyed to me) and people used to stop me outside the school to tell me how much they appreciated that text.
T: Hence, what was orginally intended as a simple experimentation ended up being followed, completely unexpectedly, by a “social” success, so to speak. I am very happy for you and glad that, since that time, your creativity has been rewarding you in terms of heart and emotions, as well as also with a sense of being useful as a human being and as a part of the whole.
A: As I mentioned before, the financial recognition for a work of art is an aspect I personally consider a Renaissance one. We cannot assume that the public might acknowledge the beauty of an artist’s work only by giving them some money. I would rather prefer someone like my insurance agent who one day said: “You know something, I need to thank you.” I asked him: “What for?” He said: “Because you need to know I never read a book in my life except yours.”
T: This too has been, therefore, a wonderful experience that has left its mark not only in your life, but also in that of someone’s else, at least in your insurance agent’s.In 2012 your book Le False Verità (The Fake Truths) followed. In describing it you say: “In 1974 my family and I got involved in an international spy-story. At the center of it there was the embalmed body of Evita Perón, the famous Evita. Everybody knows she was embalmed; very few know that she was hidden at Milan’s cemetery… ”I know that after her death, Evita Perón, wife of Juan Perón, President of the Argentinean people for two terms (1946-1955 and 1973-1974), was embalmed, most likely due to her husband’s wishes, and that everything was organized so that her body might not only find the right location, but also be visited by and visible to the public. From the news I read, it looks like her premature death, though, along with the various relocations her body underwent, and the overthrow of the regime performed by the Colonels, through which Juan Perón lost his power, determined a time of great turmoil in the country which probably caused the displacement of Evita’s body.From the latter’s death, therefore, how do we end up to your personal involvement in this matter and to the publication of your book?
A: This is the most amazing thing that ever happened to me. It was 1973 and my father had just become a contractor for a great steel mill in Northern Italy. Before we permanently relocated as a family, my father rented a room by a landlord, a room which was next to the entrance of this big plant. Along with him, there were other people, among whom an Argentinian technician who, since start, became my father’s friend. This person insisted my father accompany him to the abandoned cemetery where whole day long they searched for a tomb the Argentinian maintained it was to be found there for sure. They found it and repolished it from the brushwoods. On the tomb there were a name and a date: Maria Maggi De Magistris’ widow and the date was something like 23-02-1956, though we are not sure about that. For a whole year this Argentinian gentleman went to the cemetery each and every single day, bringing flowers and candles to the tomb, very often in our company. When asked who that lady was he simply replied: “An acquaintance of mine who lived in Argentina but wished to be buried here.” In July 1974 this person called us from Milan saying he absolutely needed to go back to Argentina and asked to meet us for one last time. Somewhat woozy and confused, we left to go and say him goodbye. That happened to be the very last time we saw him despite he had given us his address. The letters we sent him they all came back with a stamp stating “Unknown to the postman.”We spoke about him for years, each year a little less. Then on Christmas 2008 my father and I were at home sitting on the sofa and watching a documentary related to the story ofMrs. Perón. All of a sudden we hear that in 1956, for security reasons, her mummified body was moved to Italy and buried in Milan under the fake name of Maria Maggi De Magistris’ widow who, according to Milan’s public records, was born in the same town where the other tomb with the same name was located, that is, the one we used to visit with the Argentinian. Picture the scene. My father and I were looking in each other’s eyes as we had just seen a ghost. The book was published after a four year reasearch.
T: Absolutely fascinating! It sounds like reading Indiana Jones or even The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown…June 10th, 2014 the Italian online journal Valseriana News in an article dedicated to your book defined it “a kaleidoscopic work” and, according to the analysis they made of it, the book is presented as a thriller that, from start to finish, keeps us holding our breath …Could you better explain that by giving us a few details?
A: It’s very difficult to do so. This story is complicated on the grandest imaginable scale. We could easily say that “reality overcomes fantasy,” but here all elements seem to pinpoint the fact that the mind behind the organization of the body’s relocation must have been a superior one. We cannot even exclude the possibility that the corpse actually buried at the Recoleta’s cemetery might be not that of Mrs. Perón. You must have probably been wondering why I don’t call her “Evita” as everybody else does: that was a nickname she used to accept only from children and from the crowds of the Plaza de Mayo. Even her husband used to call her not Evita but rather “chinita”, that is, “peasant girl”. Nobody could call her directly “Evita” without provoking her negative reaction. I believe I checked all that has been written, said and recorded about Mrs. Perón’s personal story. I reached my own conclusions, wrote a novel but her story is constantly evolving. Maybe one day the end of it will come, but only when the Vatican will make its secret archives public. Otherwise… all are going to remain just hypothesis, however fair the assumpions might be.
T: Let’s sincerely hope that the Vatican sooner or later decides to do so. I wonder how many new or different truths might emerge and what part of history might end up being completely rewritten…Now back to us… In 2013 you published La ragazza di Sighet – Da Auschwitz alla California: Una storia di speranza (Edizioni Paoline) (The Girl from Sighet: A Memoir). What kind of feelings, thoughts and emotions did you experience while writing this work? When it comes to it, was your experience somehow different from the one you had while working on your other books, and if yes, how?
A: I still get emotional. The Girl from Sighet is one of those things that fell from the sky. One day I misspelled my name while searching it on Google, and the latter suggested my uncle’s name, Adolf, who had taken part to the Russian campaign and whose name appeared on a book published in the US by a lady who survived the massacre at Auschwitz, a girl coming from Sighet, the very town of Elie Wiesel. Some 10,000 people were deported from Sighet among them the author of this book who, in her memoir, had wanted to remember my uncle. I got in touch with the author and, with her permission, I translated her work. I submitted my translation to the Edizioni Paoline which replied to me within the following two or three days saying: “Wonderful. This is going to be the 2013 Memorial Day Book.” The Forward was written by the Italian historical novel prince Marco Buticchi. It has been one of my greatest accomplishments.
T: Congratulations! This has been, therefore, an amazing and well deserved success too. Personally, I do not believe that things happen by chance… and your experiences seem to confirm that “Someone” (you may call Him/Her/It G-d, Adonai, Universal Consciousness or as you like the most) might have been opening doors to you that would have otherwise been kept closed, hence that He/She/It might have been using you as an instrument to spread this knowledge to Mankind… something that who knows where it might lead you in the future…
A: I have a funny relationship with G-d. Simply stated: we are collaborating.
T: Aldo, throughout our lives we meet people of all sorts, walks of life, etnicities, cultural backgrounds. Some will be just passing by… some others will stay for shorter or longer periods, some forever. Each one of us is for the other an enrichment, a life lesson. With some people, however, something really magic happens: we tuned in together, perfectly and from start, thus regardless of age, sex, of being born and raised in faraway, very different from each other countries and from all the rest. I know this happened to you with Lu Xsun (Lu Xun) and with others…Would you like to tell us about it?
A: Now this is a very interesting topic. I am not sure whether we should believe in the transmigration of souls or just rely upon a more coherent and realistic line of thought; there are, however, objectively some times in life when you meet a person, or simply you see them sitting at the table of a restaurant, a few meters away from you, and you already know how their face looks like when they are happy, when they are sad. You simply already know them. And when you finally do meet them, it’s absolutely amazing to discover that the impressions you had about them before really meeting them, are confirmed. When this happens by means of a book, a poem, a phone call, there you have it, everything is even more magical. Lu Xun or Craig Czury, Mois Benarroch or my wife Fatma, they are all positive and enlightening loves at first sight. The only person who came into my life and is my very reason of it still remains, however, my daughter Claudia.
T: Yes, you are right. There are things that happen and experiences we live that are beyond our understanding and that, despite our attempts to explain them, they do remain nonotheless shrouded in mystery…Going back to your works… In 2017 you got involved in the five continent anthology Oír Ese Río: Antologia para los rios del Mundo (Listen to this River: Anthology for the World’s Rivers), a collection of poems dedicated to the rivers, to which contemporary poets from all over the World have contributed with poems written both in their original languages and with their translations into Spanish and English. To what extent this work is important to you as a Man and as a Poet and to what extent it is so for Planet Earth? What motivated you to work on this anthology and how this book has enriched you from a human, professional and cultural perspective?
A: In December 2015 Craig Czury got in touch with me and said: “Listen, we need to go out for a walk along the river since Esteban Charpentier said that he wants a poem from each one of us with the river as a topic.” I happily accepted Craig’s invitation and on the morning of January 1st, 2016 we were both walking by the river surrounded by an athmosphere I couldn’t but define ghostly yet wonderful. At that time Craig was undergoing an excruciating gout attack which invalidated him seriously, making it very hard for him to land on his right foot, this compelling him to help himself with a stick he had named “Uncle Louis”, a nickname that, in harmony with his style, reminded of the Italian expression “Anche lui?” (Him too?). In short, you can easily imagine how difficult it must have been for Craig on the first day of the new year, to walk by the river along its mired and damp banks. Even so, we have to understand here the eroic and poetic side of Master Craig: when confronted with the possibility of a source of inspiration nothing can stop him.We went back home, each one with a different idea. He wrote his poem, I wrote mine. I wrote a poem that specifically spoke about the vision of a river, a river that has been raped by man and a nature that has also been abused as much as the river by the very man who today goes to him, the river, and begs to be inspired by him in order to write a poem. “How dare you’ nature seems to say ‘to come with such an insolence and ask me this?” and even the insects and the frogs of my poem seem not to be paying much attention to my words. I find myself being indirectly guilty, and look at the river under a different perspective. I describe him as it wouldn’t be him to move but rather the earth, and everything that we throw into the river doesn’t go anywhere, it stays there waiting for the next man, who will become aware of the havoc we have caused.I wrote all of this in a poetic form and sent it to the publisher.The book got published and started to be distributed on a continental scale in Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Venezuela. One day Charpentier called me and said: “You know something? There is a young girl in Cartagena, Colombia who recorded a video where she reads your poem by the bank of the river.” Later an article on a Colombian magazine appeared, where my poem on the river was defined as “universal.” I was surprised, amazed, touched and proud of myself.
T: Another big and well deserved success, therefore. When what we write is read and appreciated by somebody – whoever that somebody might be, whatever their profession is, wherever they live or whatever they might believe in – we cannot be but happy. As you yourself noticed, in these cases a sort of “Universal Love” ends up being born between the other person and us; we feel them close to us, as if they belonged to us, almost as they were members of our family…Can you tell us about this experience of yours as a Man and as an Author?
A: It’s a strange mechanism. There are two kinds of intimacy: the objective one (in my case the restroom is one among the places I love the most for an objective intimacy) and the induced one. In the case of an author the induced intimacy is almost always compromised, but in the case of a poet it is definitely lost. As soon as I write a poem I declare to the world at the top of my lungs my idea of life. And the very moment I give away my induced intimacy to the reader, if by any chance the reader tunes in with the author, a mechanism is triggered that transforms these two elements in two opposite poles that attract each other. I am aware tha you like what I write, as well as you look forward for me to write it so that you can read it. Imagine what a deadly attraction that is!
T: Very true. This is another as wonderful as profound a thought which would require more time to be explored and elaborated and which we need, however, to postpone to another time… How, especially this last book of yours, could be of help not only to the public at large but also to organizations working in the Environment or alike fields?
A: When I went to Chile I asked a friend of mine how it was possible to democratically depose the dictator Augusto Pinochet and his regime. He looked me in the eyes and said: “By using metaphors.”
T: Thank you, Aldo, for having been here with us today. I wish with all my heart that you may continue to have much success as man, father, husband, as well as as author.
A: Thank you so much, Teresa, it has been my greatest pleasure and I hope that all that you wish to me may multiply in your life thousands times.
T: Aldo, What if our readers wished to get in touch with you to gather more information about your activities or to buy some of your books, how can they do so?
A: email@example.com is my email. I usually reply to everybody and I am very happy to do so.