twelve o’clock, September 17, 2021 – 08:13
Reference point of Neapolitan culture, he died at 84. Bompiani is reprinting
from Eleonora Puntillo
I was born in the heart of ancient Naples, in via Tribunali 175, the street that today they call Decumano as in Roman times but then no one thought about it, on 10 June 1937, the sixth son of Antonio Pironti called Tot and of Rosa Pensa called Rusin da my father, and Donna Rusin from the neighborhood because then it was important to be the wife of a bookseller and the mother of four boys and two girls. He liked the opening lines (then also the rest) of that story that had almost forced me to listen and write for many months, to be titled Tullio Pironti is told to Eleonora Puntillo so that both names could appear on the cover and it was immediately clear that he spoke and I “translated”.
It wasn’t easy. In vain I had protested: the third biography, books and punches and Heaven on the first floor aren’t enough for you? But the effort of translating and putting it in order was soon compensated by the pleasure felt in the recounting of many unprecedented family and professional events. Talking about it made him proud and happy. He would never stop remembering. He liked very much to tell the life of a large and modest family in the years before and after the Second World War, father and mother both married at 19, the last child pampered by everyone, special supervised daughters (also by him, an unaware but ready boy denouncing dad, they are kissing outside the door, the sister with her boyfriend at home, who later will become Trottolino, a famous actor of the Neapolitan variety), sons free to go home late and also in charge of accompanying the child to the casino, as soon as turned 18 years old.
The childhood home: A large room on the third floor of an ancient palace of three centuries that belonged to the noble family Traetta. My father had divided the room with a partition, on one side the parents slept, on the other the children, my bed was in a small loft … no bathroom in the house: the toilet was at the end of a long corridor on the balcony outside the entrance, and was shared with three or four families. I remember my mother lurking in the morning, then the cry “Tot free bathroom” and my father running. After that it was our turn. Beards, hair, more or less summary washing were done at the kitchen fountain. Many lived like this or even worse, in the ancient center…. But on the street the children could run, play, explore the territory, there were no cars and mopeds, and he grew up free and happy on the street, until the bombings of December 1942. I was five years old, when the siren sounded. alarm we all fled to slip into a narrow and steep gut in the atrium of a building opposite, we ended up in the darkness of an old quarry, all leaning against the tuff wall, the children sitting on the ground … I remember that many women carried holy cards , sacred images that they placed in the crevices and holes in the wall. At the end of the alarm we went out in the dark and we did not know if we found the house still standing. Mia made supplication “Tot take us away from here” and my father rented a room in Marianella … you rent a cart, he and the brothers loaded nets, mattresses, dishes and clothes into it and all together they pulled him on foot up via Santa Teresa all the way up. and beyond Capodimonte, in the midst of a crowd of people who, like us, were leaving the city. It was a journey that seemed to me to never end.
Childhood and youth
The mother forced to steal apples, two brothers captured by the Germans and returned from Germany three years later, a father who … every morning came down from Marianella on foot and came back in the evening, two hours of walking, he said he opened the shop in the square Dante, but the books weren’t there and then who was buying and reading…? Knowing my father better, I was convinced that he also went to Piazza Dante to meet some of his girlfriends … he was always a playboy, he was handsome and nice, he was very successful with women, but he never slept a night away from home. My mother knew everything because friends and wives reported in detail, and she comforted herself by saying that her husband always came back to her house. Handsome, nice, playboy, disputed by women… the physical link with piazza Dante- Tullio, are you talking about yourself? The late friend Francesco Durante wrote that Tullio was the king and lord of that square from which he left very few times and for a short time.
The great-grandfather minister
Perhaps because it was his great-grandfather Michele Pironti who left an indelible trace that Tullio never tired of narrating and documenting. Young lawyer from Montoro in Irpinia, participates in the constitutional uprisings of 1848, death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, over ten years detained in Nisida then in Procida chained together with Carlo Poerio, in the company of Luigi Settembrini, Silvio Spaventa; with him sixty-six others then pardoned with exile, freed in Cadiz on the ship that was to transport them to Argentina, sheltered in London, returned home with the fall of the Bourbon kingdom. Michele Pironti, whose family had ended up in misery after his arrest, becomes Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Italy, Luigi Settembrini turns to him: I remind you of the monument to Dante … could you have the Bursar give some help? You gave 17 thousand lire from the Town Hall, I got another three thousand from the Bank, the project of 25 thousand lire, private individuals do not want to know…. Tullio jealously kept the book with the letters of Settembrini, which describes the statue already carved in a single block of marble except for the arm extended forward, by Tito Angelini, famous artist and patriot … A monument to Italy depicting her masculine in the great person of Dante Alighieri, the statue made and paid for, eight thousand lire are missing for the pedestal….
Piazza Dante was always his, ever since he was a boxer (a makeshift sport, fencing was too expensive), and then he opened his bookshop in Spaccanapoli where he was able to sell new books at second-hand prices by cunningly buying out of the province with big discounts. Put the episode of the cart, I really care…. Here it is: Eve of the Befana, he sixteen year old proposes to his father to put children’s books on a cart for a street vendor; despite the refusal Tullio loads up and starts walking around, arrives at Largo Carit and a downpour breaks out. It was almost evening, many took refuge in the doors, when the rain stopped a crowd gathered around me and in a few minutes I sold everything. When I returned my father was stunned. And the collection? I kept it all myself.
The beginning as a publisher. In 1967 I found on a stall in Piazza Ferrovia the clandestine edition of Memories of Fanny Hill, a woman of pleasure written a couple of centuries ago by an Englishman that no one dared to publish fearing legal consequences. I proposed it to my father who replied that he would never publish that filth. So I went to a printer, and on the cover we wrote “Edizioni La Macchia” because I edited and distributed personally, or rather, on the spot … I also printed a booklet of Neapolitan erotic poems. I had to reprint several times, the first one and several others were snapped up on the stalls and I made a lot of money … Yet my father before me had been clever as a publisher: what a nice idea that American-Neapolitan vocabulary that he himself compiled during the occupation allied, and repeatedly reprinted and out of print. Too bad not to have kept even a copy.
The last effort
The last part of the autobiography. Reserve it for the people I met, for the friends I met, for those who still come to visit me here in the bookstore. But there are hundreds of names, I objected. Nothing to do, he sent me lists after lists, with additions handwritten by him, a handwriting already shaking. Until the last day he was in the bookshop, his face more and more tired but smiling. He was happy, and he had been repeating it for a few weeks because the publisher Bompiani is reprinting his Libri e cazzotti for his types. I was especially happy with the fact that my niece Chiara showed that she knew how to manage a bookshop and a publishing house (even better than me). Goodbye Tullio, I’m sure friends will never stop remembering you.
September 17, 2021 | 08:13