Thanks to one of our coordinators Hanna, I had a wonderful opportunity to lend a hand in English classes for older people.

I was amazed by the motivation and willingness to improve their English level. Another great opportunity is to be able to participate in the project Vita Diaies by interviewing a really kind and always smiley Maria Grazia (61 years old). I knew that she is interested in literature and embroidery, so I was really excited to interview her because I am also quite a big reader myself.


Pille and Maria Grazia

1) What’s your favorite childhood memory?

The best memory of my childhood is the magic of summers spent in the countryside: the smells, the flowers, the fireflies along the boulevard at sunset, also the bike rides, the outdoor games and the feeling of total freedom.

2) What was it like growing up in Italy?

Growing up in Italy was like living in a country full of opportunities: Universities open to everybody and with differentiated tax systems based on income. Also a country where healthcare was public.

A country with a wonderful artistic, historical and cultural heritage, which I’m really proud of. Italy is a country where the climate, food, traditions and culture makes it really welcoming and fantastic.

3) How has technology shaped the world you live in? How it helps in daily life, like cooking…?

The advent and diffusion of technology has brought up epochal changes, which have affected every context, both for the individuals and society. Technology has radically transformed personal relationships, lifestyle, the dissemination of knowledge and the working world. Very significant, in my opinion, is the change brought to the working world, in which the introduction of technology has led to a drastic increase in production with the robotic replacement of humans. In my daily life technology is an absolutely indispensable tool, first of all for my work. It allows me to cultivate my interest, to access information, documents and photos. It allows me to see films, documentaries, read newspapers, download books out of print (online books) and, in these pandemic times, I have my English course online. I also use the internet on a daily basis for online shopping, banking and travel bookings.

4) What genre books do you prefer reading?

My favorite literary genre is fiction, most especially in novel format. I love especially classic writers, but I also like contemporary writers, e.g. Melania Mazzucco, Niccolò Ammaniti, Murakami Haruki, Simona Vinci, Margaret Mazzantini, Orhan Pamuk and many others.

For me, novels are like my second life. When I read a novel, I immerse myself in the story being told and that fictional world sometimes seems very real to me. I feel like a dreamer who knows she is dreaming and, as happens in some dreams, I wish the novel would not end.

To conclude, I would like to quote the words of a great Italian writer, Umberto Eco: “Those who don’t read, at the age of 70 will have lived only one life: their own! Those who read will have lived 5000 years: they were there when Cain killed Abel, when Renzo married Lucia, when Leopardi admired the infinite…because literature is an immortality backwards “.

5) Have you noticed any changes in writings/books from years ago and now?

Yes, profound changes have certainly taken place.

With 20th century a new type of novel was born that modifies the coordinates of the traditional 19th century novel that had established itself with Alessandro Manzoni, Giovanni Verga, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Antonio Fogazzaro:

  • The character: we pass from the 19th century Ego-World conflict (e.g. Manzoni’s “I Promessi Sposi” and Verga’s “Mastro Don Gesualdo”) to the Ego-Id conflict, according to Freud’s model, with the appearance of characters which live with a strong identity crisis, often inepts and neurotics (e.g. Italo Svevo’s “La coscienza di Zeno”).
  • The time: we pass from the chronological time of the traditional novel to the psychological, interior time (e.g. Cesare Pavese’s “La luna e i falò” and Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”).
  • The space: the traditional notion of space also changes. It’s often an interior space with a psychological function.
  • The narrator: we pass from the omniscient narrator typical of 19th century novels (e.g. Manzoni’s “I Promessi Sposi”) to the internal narrator, who is often the protagonist (e.g. Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”).
  • The plot and the expressive techniques: the 20th century novel disestablishes the plot and alters the chronological succession. There are often prolepsis and flashbacks, associated with techniques such as the interior monologue (e.g. Svevo’s “La coscienza di Zeno”) and, at times, the flow of conscience (James Joyce’s “Ulysses”).

Over the years literature has changed adapting to the events that have characterized history and society up to the present day.

6) How has Italian (European) literature changed over the years?

The profound changes that have taken place over the centuries, have led literature to appear in different forms and talk about different themes. Throughout history, events have been followed by various literary currents giving voice to various writers.

In the first half of the 19th century, the novel acquired a prominent place among literary genres, in Italy and in Europe; it’s an expression of the rise of the middle class with its aspirations and contradictions.

Various narrative genres develop in European literature:

  • Sentimental novel: Jane Austen, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
  • Historical novel. Especially in Great Britain with Walter Scott (“Ivanhoe”).
  • Social novel: Stendhal, Honor de Balzac, Charles Dickens.

In Italy, the supremacy belongs to the historical novel, with Alessandro Manzoni’s “I Promessi Sposi”.

In the second half of 19th century Italy, inspired by the French Naturalism and Realism, emerged Giovanni Verga and Luigi Capuana. The realist novels offered a brutal and cruel analysis of the conflict between man and society (e.g. Verga’s “I Malavoglia” and “Mastro Don Gesualdo”, Capuana’s “Il marchese di Roccaverdina”).

The turning point occurred at the end of the 19th century, when some authors sensed that, beyond reality, there was an unexplored region: our inner self.

Modern psychological novels were born (e.g. Fogazzaro’s “Malombra”, Lev Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”, Fedor Dostoevsky “Crime and Punishment” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s (“The strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”).

Many 20th century characters are children of Sigmund Freud ‘s new psychoanalytic science.

The novel’s focus shifts from outside to the inside of the character: from society (the passion of Dickens and Balzac) to the individual psyche.

At the center of the new novel there is the conscience of the character, accompanied with the disintegration of the personality, with neurotic or inept characters.

In Italy, the prototypes of the new novel are Pirandello’s “Il fu Mattia Pascal” and Svevo’s “La coscienza di Zeno”.

The European prototypes are Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” and James Joyce’s “Ulysses”.

The literary current of Neorealism reflects the crisis caused by the Second World War and the post war period.

The main themes of the new literature were:

  • the partisan war (Elio Vittorini, Beppe Fenoglio, Italo Calvino, Carlo Cassola).
  • the testimony of the extermination camps (Primo Levi)
  • the disorientation that intellectuals experienced during the war and immediately after (Cesare Pavese and Alberto Moravia).

From the 70s to the present day, the literature was influenced by the advent of mass media and the technology revolution. Literature began to interact with cinema and then new forms of books (e-books) made their appearance.

7) What do you think about non-formal education as in education outside traditional schools?

I believe that the pedagogical methods alternative to the classical method are an excellent educational opportunity, because they put the child and his choices first. Leaving free expression to the will of the child, the school becomes the places where he can express and develop his skills. The traditional Italian school is based on ministerial programs and the method consists of imparting notions without any freedom of choice of the child.

Alternative educational methods on the other hand, are much more respectful of children, focusing not only on traditional notions, but giving the right attention to the joy of learning, artistic creativity, music, contact with nature, to know how to decide and develop critical thinking.

The main non-formal educational methods present in Italy are Montessori’s Schools, Steiner’s School, Democratic School, Outdoor School and Home School.

They are, in my opinion, valid educational methods as an alternative to traditional education.

8) What’s your biggest regret?

My biggest regret is not having traveled as much as I would have liked, but I’m optimistic: I still feel young and full of energy and I have so many projects that I hope to realize as soon as possible.

9) Where did you learn embroidery and what inspires you to embroider?

My first approach to embroidery took place at school. Then I perfected the technique by following a specific course on cross stitch. From here my passion for embroidery was born, especially for the 19th century models with their repertoire of floral motifs, garlands, bouquets, ribbons and for some Victorian-style objects.

Later my interest was focused on Samplers, from the 16th to 20th century. They originally were simple “embroidery exercises” executed by very young girls and then they became an expression of moral values, dreams and desires.

For me embroidering is a way of expressing myself through that search for beauty and perfection that had so much importance in the past centuries.

10) How are you dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone to suddenly and drastically change thoughts, emotions and relationships in the social, work and sentimental spheres. It forced us to reshape our habits and redefine our everyday life. Personally, after the initial disorientation, I believe I reacted positively, adapting to the new health and social situation. I managed to create an emotional closeness with the people I love. I also discovered the pleasure of small things that I can do in my house, like gardening and cooking. Now I have more time to devote myself to my interests such as reading books and watching movies.

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed working on it! Thanks to this opportunity I was able to get to know Maria Grazia and life in Italy with the exchanges of technology over the years. Thank you  for giving me this opportunity to take part in such an inspiring and interesting project and to Maria Grazia for her participation! 

Pille Kuus, ESC volunteer from Estonia at VulcanicaMente, Lecce