Goliarda, who works for a film company, is in Positano, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, to scout out locations for a future project. Wherever she goes, whomever she meets, she hears about “The Princess,” a beautiful, young widow who lives in a large house overlooking the sea. What Goliarda doesn’t know is that The Princess, Erica, is enthralled with the young filmmaker and wants to meet her. That meeting does happen and over the course of many years, Erica tells Goliarda the story of her life, including several incidents that are truly shocking.
Goliarda Sapienza finished writing Meeting in Positano in 1984, but the novel, which bears more than a passing resemblance to her own life, is being published now. She died on August 30, 1996. Sapienza, like the character in the book, was also a filmmaker whose work brought her to Positano. Born in Sicily, Sapienza was drawn to the sea and found the waters around Positano particularly inviting. She had a fascinating, albeit tortured, life, attempting suicide twice and spending time in prison. But her writing is beautiful and Meeting in Positano will most likely afford her the attention she didn’t receive during her lifetime.
While the novel is about Goliarda and Erica, there’s a universality about this story that reflects the importance and the sanctity of friendship. Erica has two sisters and other friends, both male and female, but just from watching Goliarda, she has a gut feeling that this is someone she can trust with her deepest and darkest secrets. Goliarda shares little about her own background, but she proves to be the confessor that Erica desperately needs. (Many women – dare I say, every woman – has a friend like Goliarda, someone who can truly listen and then lock away what she’s heard never to be repeated.)
On the surface Erica fits the role of The Princess, an ethereal creature whose wealth burnishes rather than tarnishes her reputation among the locals who treat her with a deference bordering on awe. They assume she’s always been rich, but as Goliarda soon discovers, Erica and her two sisters, Fiore and Olivia, were once destitute. Erica worked for a time in a department store before seeking out an uncle who would help them financially. Erica’s beauty also doesn’t guarantee happiness in romantic relationships. Her husband, Leopoldo, proves to be cold and cruel, and after his death, Erica’s first true love, Riccardo comes back into her life and she’s briefly very happy. That doesn’t last, however, and leads to more tragedy.
An index lays out the “Life of Goliarda Sapienza,” illustrating how the author’s life reflected not only what Erica suffered, but what the character Goliarda experienced. Sapienza was passionate about political causes. During World War II, she joined the Vespi Brigade that had been set up by her father. “She is hunted down by the German police and hides in a convent. This is one of the most difficult periods in Goliarda’s life; she suffers the strains of war, Nazi persecution, hunger, and a violent bout of tuberculosis.” In 1958, she stops working in film and theater and devotes herself to writing. In 1983, L’università di Rebibbia is published by Rizzoli, but the company refuses to publish L’arte della gioia. By 2006, Sapienza was rediscovered in Italy, possibly because of the efforts of her husband Angelo Pellegrino, and several of her books are being published posthumously, including Meeting in Positano.
In an afterword at the end of the novel, Pellegrino, talks about Sapienza’s life, career, and love of Positano. He notes that Positano has changed – “many gardens disappeared and cement took their place.” But a young person visiting Positano today would still be able to form a bond as Goliarda did in the early 1950s. He notes, “A place’s spirit when it has one, does not disappear easily – it withdraws and hides, but it’s always there, and can still jump out suddenly when you least expect it.”
Meeting in Positano
Top Bigstock Photo: Positano, Amalfi Coast, Campania, Italy.