The “Italian Odyssey”: Ex Aurora, Livorno, with Giampaolo Simi
After a terrific time at the Pisa Book Festival, I made my way to Livorno by car, in the company of some good friends. It’s a short journey, and there was no time pressure. It was good to relax after the hectic, and thoroughly enjoyable days of the Festival.
I love taking part in festivals : I always have.
Most of my life is a solitary one, and being able to meet readers and other writers is one of the huge pleasures of this writing life.
All literary events are different from each other in so many ways – but I always know to expect the stimulation of chatting with audiences, making new writing friends and experiencing new places.
On the other hand, I really didn’t know what to expect in Livorno.
I had never been there before, and I was interested in seeing the city, of course: writers are nothing if not terminally curious animals, particularly about new people and unfamiliar places.
I enjoyed being introduced to the harbour and to the area known as ‘Venice’ because of its canals.
And I also enjoyed strolling around the city centre the afternoon of my arrival, observing what was different from Dublin – and what was similar. People going about their daily business. Children returning home from school. Shoppers intent on finding a bargain.
At Ex – Cinema Aurora with Giampaolo Simi
I was very curious: I’d no idea how an old cinema could be transformed into a restaurant cum bar, and also double up as a quirky, original and inviting venue for music and literary events.
The Aurora was one of the nicest surprises I have ever had.
The Irish flavour was certainly intense – with road signs from Irish towns displayed on the walls, Guinness on draught and a terrific welcome from all the staff.
We had a wonderful evening – and night – there. In true Irish fashion, nobody wanted to leave. I was reminded of that barman’s cry from so many years ago:
‘Have yiz no homes to go to!’
There was a real sense of fun and informality – an atmosphere I enjoyed so much.
The owners, Giacomo and Annalisa, and the entire staff pulled out all the stops for us that night.
There were about thirty people who turned up for a dinner that was superb: wonderful cured meats, risotto, bread – and wine, of course.
The quality was astonishing – what we would expect in a top-class restaurant: a meal that would be accompanied by all the frills of linen tablecloths and professionally remote waiters.
Here, though, in the Aurora, we had food of the best quality while we sat easily and informally at polished tables, chatting with everyone in the room and being looked after as though we were family. It was a truly magical experience.
And the rest of the evening, with the audience, was great fun, too: light and friendly and lively.
Giampaolo Simi and I discussed the similarities and the differences between Irish and Italian ways of being in the world.
We discussed food and music and the phenomenon of the ‘fish and chipper’ which the Italians brought to Ireland in the forties and fifties.
Not from Italy – no such institution as the chipper exists there – but probably from the North of England, where many Italian immigrants had first arrived, before making their way to Ireland.
Even their initial language difficulties gave us the expression of a ‘one and one’ for fish and chips, an expression that still exists today. And all of those families who ran the fish and chip shops in Ireland came from the one village in Casalattico in Lazio.
Apparently, there are about 8,000 Irish-Italians who have ancestors from this area.
The audience was attentive and engaged and we had a lively question and answer session afterwards, ably translated by Massimiliano Roveri, who also acted as MC.
Giacomo gave me a gift of an Aurora apron, which I wore with pride last weekend while preparing dinner for family and friends after the Ireland-All Blacks rugby match.
If only the result of that match had been different…
And if only my food had been as good as Giacomo’s.
Ah well, here’s to the next visit to the Aurora. If you’re in the area, go there. It’s well worth it.
Thanks to all involved!