Bats are everywhere in Italy according to Italian playwright Dario Fo. But near Varese on the eastern bank of Lago Maggiore they take on human shape.
Some weeks ago I went to see Italian playwright Dario Fo talk about climate change, theatre and entertainment, and he also gave a short improvised performance in the universal gibberish, grammelot, language, originating from commedia dell’arte. Anyway, the event led me to re-read ‘My First Seven Years (Plus a Few More)’, which in Italian (and in the Danish translation) is called ‘Il paese dei mezarat’, mezarat being a lombardian dialect word for half-mouse or bat, more commonly known as the pipistrelli in Italy.
According to Fo, Gotham City can be found on the eastern bank of Lago Maggiore in the province of Varese. He is referring to Porto Valtravaglia, where people worked all night to keep the glassworks’ furnaces going, just like the fishermen, the lime burners and the smugglers. In an interview with l’Unita, Dario Fo explains:
“In lombardo, soprattutto sul lago Maggiore, “mezaràt” significa mezzo-topo, quindi il paese dei mezaràt sarebbe il paese dei pipistrelli. Ad ogni modo è un termine che si riferisce alla gente di Porto Valtravaglia che lavorava soprattutto di notte, perché erano soffiatori di vetro, pescatori e contrabbandieri. Insomma, Porto Valtravaglia è un paese in cui i bar e le osterie non chiudevano mai, non avevano neanche le porte, non avevano un ingresso principale. Io sono cresciuto lì, in un paese dove c’erano persone che provenivano da tutta Europa, dalla Francia, dalla Germania, dalla Spagna, perfino dall’Oriente, ognuno con una tecnica diversa di soffiatura del vetro”.
In my village at the other end of Italy, there are no glassworks but plenty of bats. Just after sundown on hot summer evenings, when weeks have passed since the last rainfall, you feel them brush by under the pine trees, hunting for mosquitoes. They are so fast, they are virtually invisible, and it can be really scary to feel this winged mammal close to your head, but still they have to be forgiven. After all they are able to eliminate up to 500 zanzare in one night, which makes them considerably more efficient than mosquito candles. And sometimes – or at least once – one of the small caped crusaders continued working so long after it had become light, that it had to pass the day exposed on one of the boundary walls in the garden.
So even if we don’t have workers staying up like bats all night, we do have bats working all day, and this should also qualify as an Italian Gotham City or at least ‘un altro paese dei pipistrelli’.
Italian playwright Dario Fo is not the only writer to comment on Italy. There are more quotes here: