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This article is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

Visiting Leopardi Patrick Worsnip
Recanati, Italy. As provincial towns go, you could do worse – a lot worse – than Recanati in the east-central Italian region of Marche. Its warm pink and buff brickwork recalls that gem of the Marche, Urbino, birthplace of Raphael. Its location, decorously draped along a ridge, affords splendid views of the Adriatic Sea to the east and the Apennine spine to the west. With some 20,000 residents, it promotes itself as a ‘city of good living’ and is certainly not to be sniffed at by north European and American second-homers. On Piazza Leopardi, between the statue of the town’s most famous son and the Café de la Paix, there is free wi-fi, putting the world within your reach. But this is now. Two centuries ago, it was an isolated backwater, cold in winter and uncultured at any time of year. Or so at least it seemed to the melancholic Giacomo Leopardi (1798–1837), arguably Italy’s greatest poet since Dante, who saw his native town as a prison. He describes it in his prose works variously as ‘ignoble’, ‘wretched’ and the ‘centre of European barbarism and ignorance’.

The feeling is not mutual, at least not nowadays. Since the poet died in reduced circumstances in Naples, Recanati has sought to give him the recognition it withheld during his lifetime. From the Giacomo Leopardi high school, to the ‘To Silvia’ newsagents – named after one of his most famous poems – to the Via del Passero Solitario (echoing his soliloquy in another masterpiece to a ‘solitary thrush’), ...

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