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The thousand and one ideas of Count Vanni to celebrate great grand-uncle Giacomo Leopardi

by Chiara Beghelli

The Christmas lights of Recanati, to be switched on by the end of the month, are for sure going to be the most poetic of the world: in the streets of this town of about 21,000 residents in the heart of Marche region, people will walk under rows and rows of light bulbs, arranged to reproduce the lines of the poem “L’Infinito” (“The Infinite”), written in 1819 by the most popular citizen of Recanati, the count and poet Giacomo Leopardi.

A literary giant in Italy, Leopardi was not very famous abroad, except in universities and among Italian literature experts and lovers, who consider him one of the most influential thinkers of the 19th century. Maybe also because of the complexity and richness of his writing, since he wasn’t “just” a poet, but also a scientist, a philosopher, a philologist, a linguist, a precocious genius, who wrote a translation of the “Odes” by Latin poet Horatius when he was 10 years old and a treaty on astronomy when he was 15.

For Arthur Schopenhauer he was a “spiritual brother,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote many meditations about Leopardi’s poetic and for Albert Camus he was a primary source of inspiration. But only in 2013, was his main work, the “Zibaldone di pensieri ” (“Hodgepodge of thoughts”) published for the first time in English, after a seven-year long translation, promoted by the Leopardi Centre at Birmingham University, UK.

“Leopardi’s Zibaldone deserves a whole cosmos of stars,” wrote a British customer as a review of the book on Amazon. And Recanati is going to be even more popular.

The ancient 13th-century “palazzo” of the Leopardi family, in the heart of the town, today is a museum, where the showpiece is the 20,000-book library where young Giacomo spent long years of “crazy studies” as he described his adolescence, and also the house of the poet’s descendants, involved in preserving and transmitting his legacy, especially now that Leopardi is a global, rising star.

Count Vanni Leopardi, age 73, is currently the most involved in this multifaceted activity. Great grandson of the poet’s youngest brother Pierfrancesco (Giacomo died at 39, in 1837, with no children), wearing athe gray hair ponytail of a bohemian artist and the charisma of the heir of a 28-generation noble family, he travelled the world to make the poet known: “I’ve been to Burning Man festival in Nevada, US, last September, and I began to declaim ’L’Infinito.’ After a little while many people shouted at me ’Say it in English!’ So, definitely, the translation of Giacomo’s works is a precious thing,” he said.

By the way, Vanni Leopardi always refers to the poet-ancestor simply as “Giacomo.”

We met him in the Palazzo Leopardi’s winecellar, opened between the 17th and the 18th centuries, surrounded by ancient barrels, tasting a glass of a white “Valdicia” wine, one of the wines produced by his family in the Recanati countryside.

“The Leopardi family’s wealth has been generated mostly from the production of wine and oil since the 16th century,” he began. “Giacomo was a deep connoisseur of wines, he saw the making of wine in this cellar. His father, Monaldo, gave him and his siblings an education based on Enlightenment principles and he wanted to restore the ancient palazzo’s winecellar according to the “scientific” discoveries of that age.”

“ Giacomo loved the wine: he wrote many times about the pleasure of drinking a good wine in the Zibaldone, and with a letter to his father from Bologna he tried to convince him to sell their wines in that area,” he said.

Today, the Leopardi family owns about 7 hectares of vineyards and produces about 60,000-70,000 bottles per year, always sold out. Maybe, also thanks to the picture of Giacomo on the labels.

In 2014, Italian filmmaker Mario Martone made the first-ever movie about Giacomo Leopardi’s life, and presented it at the Venice Film Festival. Shot in Recanati and at palazzo Leopardi, it was a huge success, also thanks to his original description of the poet as a young, passionate man, struggling to live intensely his whole life despite the illnesses that wracked his body, the ignorance of many obscurantist intellectuals and a consuming lack of love.

“Since the launch of the movie visitors in Recanati increased by 10-15%, many come from abroad and they are mostly young,” added Vanni Leopardi. And since the translation in English of the poet’s works, tourist arrivals in Recanati rose by 23.77%, according to the local tourist statistics agency.

“Since Giacomo is going to be more and more world-known, we are working on new projects, as the launch of the “Osservatorio per la ricerca della felicità” (Observatory to search for happiness), where philosophers and writers will help people to find their way, as Giacomo himself wanted to,” said Vanni. “Then, we will restore the ancient stables of the palazzo, where the father of Silvia, one of the muses of Giacomo, worked. And to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of poem ’L’Infinito,’ we are working with the neighboring administrations of the Recanati area on the first ever ’landscape restoration,’ that of the view that inspired the poem, now crowded by too many ugly buildings.”

Count Vanni is bursting with ideas, since he also plans to launch a program to adopt a book of the library, since the maintenance of 20,000 ancient volumes is really demanding, and the virtual visit to the museum through the web. Good wines and the museum entrance’s tickets are not enough to support these projects. Investors, also private, are welcome. And also from abroad, where Giacomo Leopardi is finally a new protagonist of the cultural scene, even if 200 years later.