I left for Prague last June with absolutely no desire to do so, because the city I live in, Rome, at the end of May is an explosion of colours and lights, and going to Trastevere from San Lorenzo on my Vespa is like being in a film, and during that time I had discovered a bar in the Pigneto district where they had foosball outside and I would go there every evening with my sister and friends and we would make new friends and drink a few beers, and we needed so little to be happy, truly happy. And because I knew nothing about Prague, and because leaving always means detaching yourself from something, even if you know you will find it again, but it will be different because you will be different, and at that point I was happy the way I was, with the way my life was, and I was scared about what I would be like after Prague.
I believe that leaving is, for a writer, a necessary exercise because it forces you to reassess everything, to keep asking yourself questions, to take stock of solitude.
I left for Prague with my mind a tabula rasa with regards what that city might hold. An ancient castle, a famous bridge, excellent food at reasonable prices and beautiful women.
I have never been a Communist because I hate the idea that someone else can decide what I must study, read, think or do.
I am a Sardinian migrant living in Rome, and if I had been a thirty-something at the time of the Communist regime, I think I would have gone mad.
Hrabal was often a coward, Letizia told me. And he had the courage to write about it.
I am a citizen of a country belonging to the European Union in whose government there is a man who says we must be nasty to illegal immigrants. I am an author from a rich, Western country in which thousands of men and women from poor countries are driven back into the sea on precarious boats. Fuck them, their thirst and their hunger, the cold and the wet, and the travelling companions who perished on the open sea and were thrown to the waves. And fuck the wars they have run from and the torture and the poverty and the lack of medical care and the dream that drove them as it has always driven human beings and always will: that of a better life.
When I was a child, half of my uncles and aunts were Christian Democrats and believed the Soviet Union was a regime that terrorised people, taking away their freedom; the other half believed that the Italian State had been infiltrated by criminals. The first half, the Christian Democrats, soon discovered that they were absolutely right. The other half, the Communists, soon discovered that they too were more or less correct.
I stayed in Prague a month, walking, reading, writing. Not one of my forefathers had ever once done anything similar throughout all the centuries, never. When someone tells me that the world used to be more human, that people used to be better off, that people used to live in harmony with the world, it irritates me, a lot.
I am a citizen of a country governed by people who think that the European Union is a useless and costly invention of the International Left, whose sole aim is to squander the money of northern Italian entrepreneurs and to suffocate the identity of that imaginary country they call Padania.
One afternoon on the underground I asked a friend of mine from Prague, whose father had been arrested on multiple occasions for being a dissident, if he and his father were now happy with how things are in their country. And he, the same age as me but with an air that was tired, happy and tired, disillusioned and tired, enthusiastic and tired, he said to me: whatever happens, now we are free; before, we were not.
Letizia told me one day, I am not at home either here or in Calabria. I do not understand how those Calabrians manage to stay there without going mad when the newspapers are saying that ships full of toxic and perhaps radioactive waste are being sunk and abandoned just off our region's coast. I no longer understand Italy at all.
The island I am from, Sardinia, is for many people nothing more than a long, white sandy beach where you can drink a cocktail watching the yachts come and go. It is agriturismi and myrtle liqueur and sunsets on an enchanting sea. For very many Italians, Prague is simply a place filled with women, beautiful ones.
In Prague I walked every day from Peace Square, where I lived, to the castle, I fell in love with the waitress in a student bar, I bought a cardboard suitcase in a memorabilia shop, I had dinner three evenings in a row in a restaurant that was traditional but not too touristy, I visited the museum of Soviet art on Kampa island, I re-read Kundera stretched out in the gardens of that same island with the sun on my face.
I thought that if I had been a thirty year-old Czech man under Communism, I would have done absolutely anything to escape. I would have lied, schemed, toiled, suffered, anything, just to move somewhere one could freely choose their own actions.
For writers, travelling is an opportunity to save for a rainy day, even when it is undertaken reluctantly. It is like saving money. It is like a little hoard of life and stories. And perhaps the fundamental duty of every writer is this: not to live in vain, not to travel in vain and always find a way of recounting life and travel, joy and suffering.