a true anecdote from my forthcoming book, My Life Without Me
Dario Fo honoring his wife and lifelong collaborater Franca
It is a literary party, in Iowa, inside a big house which resembles a barn. It is an event for foreign writers thrown by the sponsors of the Writers Program at the Iowa University, in 1997. I am one of these foreign writers, and our hosts have prepared such a huge amount of food and drink that I am expecting a crowd from the streets to show up and join us.
But no, it is all our business, and it is actually businesslike. Very “what’s in it for me.”
– So, you are a writer! A huge American woman, dressed with Midwestern bad taste, approaches me in her wheelchair.
- No, no, I am a woman who sometimes writes.
A Polish poetess intervenes. – Oh come on, don’t be so modest, this is our hostess! The Polish poetess beams violently at our benefactor.
- Where do you come from, asks the hostess, edging her wheelchair closer to me.
- Serbia, I say, apologetically.
She stares at me blankly. Gosh, I dote on Americans, because they just don’t know so many embarrassing things. Such as where Serbia is, and what it means to be Serb.
- Europe, bounces in my lively Polish translator. ( She was married to a much older Polish poet, and during the Cold War she had learned all the survival tricks of the East-West literary life).
– And you write poetry? relentlessly goes on the hostess.
– No, no, I just write whatever comes to me, God forbid poetry, I say modestly.
– My ex husband was a poet. I add.
- He said that Tolstoy and Dostoevsky could not live under the same roof.
Why is this hostess picking on me? There are 11 other foreign writers with their spouses from the same program in this house. Did I dress badly? Am I not eating enough of her food, or drinking enough?
- My friend is very modest! crows the Polish poet. She writes incredible stuff! She is a Nobel prize winner.
- Oh my God! my hostess exclaims startled and puts her hand over her mouth.
- Oh my God, I cry, startled too.
The Polish poet takes another glass of wine, looking at me ready to kill if I stop her performance.
- She is a feminist writer.
I feel relieved: at least that part was true.
My hostess seems relieved too. Her face lightens up and she spreads her arms up towards me.
- I am so glad to hear this! I want you to give a speech to this crowd here. I worked all day to make this feast happen, and not only me, all the women from the family worked while the men played cards.
I look at the idle men of the family, who are not in wheelchairs. More