Recording a different story of wartime
Last year I was matched with a man.
I had signed up to interview people who remembered wartime and editor Alison Brown had been tipped off — in World War II this man had been in Italy — enemy territory — an interesting candidate for a prospective book of real-life war histories.
I arrived at the rest home with prepared questions and discovered Romolo Bertoldi, aged 94.
He was lucid, his voice a husked whisper, thick with accent — Slavicitalian — English his sixth or so language.
Clearly, I hadn’t anticipated the difficulty of my commissioned task.
It was an exercise in concentrated listening, to hear and interpret.
I learned not to interrupt. When I sought clarification, it would disrupt his flow and we’d lose the thread.
It turned out Romolo was introduced to war brutally, during adolescence. He later served then left. And never returned to Europe.
The last time I saw him, he admitted he wasn’t interested in telling memories.
“Those times are best forgotten.” He’d agreed to talk with a writer hoping to offer creative inspiration.
So it was with some deflation that I pieced together Romolo’s wartime story.
Though I did my best interpreting his memories, I felt my submission couldn’t do justice to the fullness of his early agonies and adventures. However, Romolo Bertoldi was also a writer, an avid book collector and a romantic who certainly inspired.
We admired paintings and books, I delivered peonies and at Christmastime a panettone from Italy.
“At last, a cake I can eat!” The RSA book, Touched by War launches officially this Saturday, celebrating Armistice; lest we forget.
Angela Frank is a local writer.