Monday, June 9, 2008

Antonio de Curtis and 'A livella

Antonio de Curtis, better known under the name of Totò, is one of the most beloved Italian artists of all time and the greatest of the last century. Totò was born in Naples (my home city!); he is best known for his comic roles but he was also a great poet. The best-known of his poems is 'A Livella, in which an arrogant rich man and a humble poor man meet after their deaths and discuss their differences.

Yesterday something happened at tidbit that made me think about Totò’s poem. A man with a walking disability came to tidbit for dinner when we were about to close. Since he was not able to walk well, I offered him to pick any seat, anywhere he felt more comfortable. He picked the most accessible seat: a booth with a table plenty of light from which he could also see the TV. Unfortunately that table was not too far away from another table where four other guests were about to finish their dinner. I had no idea that that was going to be a problem: the four guests were annoyed by having another person close to them. One of them told the server that his tips were lowered because I had let somebody sitting next to them: that was diminishing their privacy (!).

This episode made me think of Totò’s A' livella in which the death become the great equalizer. Once we are dead then we are all equal and it will not matter if in life we were poor, disabled, or diverse. I am translating below some lines from Neapolitan dialect into English and I invite anybody to read the full poem.

Ma chi te cride d' ddio?

Ccà dinto,'o vvuo capi, ca simmo eguale?...
...Muorto si'tu e muorto so' pur'io;
ognuno comme a 'na'ato è tale e quale.
Who do you think you are….a god?
Do you understand that now we are all equal?
…you are dead, and I am dead also;
everybody now is the same.

…'A morte 'o ssaje ched''e?...è una livella….

Do you want to know what the death is?…it is the equalizer, una livella...

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