Record­ing a dif­fer­ent story of war­time

Rotorua Weekender - - News - An­gela Frank

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.

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