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The spiritual energy of a pure friendship

· ​Artists ·

Dear Friend, your letter made me sad. I too need you very much, I need to see and listen to you I mean, because speaking would have been difficult for me […]. I am not at all sorry that you are going to Belluno; you will be working, but will be elsewhere and there are some marvellous places in the vicinity. Send me your address and the one in Lausanne too. This town is like a bed of white satin (you will see yourself what is under the bed); and it has a really beautiful lake which at night is the colour of milk and moonstone. Then I will give you some commissions for Madame Weil […]. I have always thought of her when reading the medieval mystics (my only reading in these past months) and above all Meister Eckhard and Angela da Foligno […]. The absolute lucidity of their “folly of love”, and the boundless freedom of their wisdom have made any other reading unbearable to me […]: they are works of multiple infinity, there is no level of height or depth that they do not reach (1 July 1959).

Cristina Campo in an illustration by Rossella Grasso (by kind permission of the artist)

To use an adjective dear to life, however disagreeable it may be to the critics, the Lettere a Mita (letters to Mita [diminutive of Margherita Pieracci Harwell]), by Cristina Campo (Adelphi, 1999), whose name was officially registered as Vittoria Guerrini (Bologna 1923-Rome 1977), are one of the most beautiful collections of letters of 20th-century literature. They are fundamental for understanding her human message and poetry, because they offer the reader codes for deciphering texts, together with a vision of reality, an interpretation of events, the exchange of bio-bibliographic information, impressions arising from the meetings with the authors, a cross-section of the literary and cultural scene as if from behind the wings.

But what pulsates in those dazzling pages of life, despite the precarious state of health of Vittoria, affected by a sometimes incapacitating malformation of the heart, and in some way infects the reader, is that spiritual energy which sustains a pure friendship, a spiritual sisterliness corroborated by sincere and loyal affection imperishable beyond space and time.

The fact that on the part of Margherita Pieracci Harwell (born in Vitolini in 1930), the recipient and editor of the correspondence, the reader encounters only a few autobiographical notes which serve to explain otherwise incomprehensible passages of the letters may seem to make it a one-sided version of this friendship. Nonetheless we are able to reconstruct the splendid novel that was Mita’s own life from the solicitude with which Vie (this is how Victoria signs her name in the correspondence) follows her on her human and literary path to the very end, like a guardian angel,

Unlike some other friends close to Cristina who disobeyed her, Mita returned to her all the letters written before 1955, which is why the correspondence begins only in 1956 and ends two years before her death. However friendship, like love, belongs to the incorruptible regions of the spirit and goes beyond the threshold of time; thus Margherita continued tirelessly to spread her loving and faithful care over numerous Adelphi publications: the essays of Gli imperdonabili, [the unforgiveables] (1987); the poems and translations of La Tigre Assenza [the tigress absence] (1991); this personal letter (1999); the letters to Leone Traverso, Caro Bul [dear Bul] (2007); and those to her Tuscan friends, Il mio pensiero non vi lascia [my thoughts never leave you] (2011).

They rarely called each other “tu” [the Italian intimate form of “you”], but not because of their age difference; they recognized each other to be so spiritually close that they needed to seal their friendship, almost in the form of a rite, or even to dedicate it to some important date in the liturgical calendar:

The Nativity of Mary, 1970

Dear Friend,

Thanks be to God again and again for those two perfect hours which he gave us. I remember you – in that small hell of the station in Rome as if the full pure flower of your presence was opening. How strange: we have seen each other in marvellous places with the richness of time, space and silence but this meeting at the station seems to me in some way the most blessed. It was no less intense than that stroll on the other side of the Arno, when we found the cypress wood tablet and had it cut into two triangles – for ever, for life; yet this time there was the ineffable aroma of confirmation: one of those moments when the inexplicable turning over of the carpet shows something of its dazzling rightness […]. With special love I cherish in my heart what you told me of your native region, of the tradition, of death and of its terrors. I too have suffered deeply since I lost my parents. I sometimes wake at night as though lost in a desert, remembering nothing else, suffocated by anguish. I talked about this with a very mystical monk. He told me that this is natural for everyone until love produces in the soul that “brisure” [break] (that’s what he said), through which one passes – even if only for moments – from time to eternity. “And then death becomes a desire”. / Do we want to pray ad invicem [for each other] that this love is manifest in both of us?[...]. One curious detail. I wondered to which saint we should dedicate our friendship: it is time we did this, isn’t it? A verse of the Magnificat suddenly resounded in my mind and I then remembered that it was a divine conversation between two friends. Thus our mystery will be the Visitation. (Does it convince you?).

Through such an authentic spirituality, through the rare perfect correspondence of souls, their world and this affection are spread out before the reader (even if he or she doesn’t have extremely literary interests), together with testimonies to be preserved and passed on.

Anna Maria Tamburini

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