Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Amin Maalouf at Ca' Dolfin, Yesterday

Amin Maalouf (center) speaks in the 16th-century Aula Magna Silvio Trentin of Ca' Dolfin yesterday; at right is the interviewer Marie-Christine Jamet; at left, the interpreter Lidia Bogo

Having missed, unfortunately, last week's Incroci di Civilità International Literary Festival (http://www.incrocidicivilta.org/), I made sure to at least attend yesterday's talk by the Lebanese-born French author Amin Maalouf at Ca' Dolfin, part of Venice's Ca' Foscari University. The author of fiction (including the Goncourt Prize-winning Le Rocher de Tanios), non-fiction, and a number of opera librettos, Maalouf was in Venice not only as part of last week's literary festival but as a resident writer in the Waterlines Project: Residenze letterarie e artistiche a Venezia.

Twice a year, in winter or spring and fall, Waterlines invites an internationally-known writer and an artist to take up residence in Venice for three or four weeks. While here, the writer and artist are encouraged and given the opportunity to engage with students at Ca' Foscari, local artists and writers, and with the general public in conversations or presentations open to all. The aim of the project, now completing its second year, is to "reaffirm the role of Venice as a place of artistic and cultural production (ribadire il ruolo di Venezia come luogo di produzione artistica e culturale )". To reaffirm it as a place in which art is still made, rather than simply shown.

Few writers seem better suited to last week's Incroci di Civilità (Crossroads of Civilization) Literary Festival than Maalouf, a Lebanese Christian whose mother tongue is (as he discusses in his non-fiction book On Identity) Arabic, the language of Islam, and who has written extensively in both fiction and non-fiction on the rich, complex cultural history of the Mediterranean. Not to mention the fact that his work as a young Arab-language journalist took him to more than 60 countries (http://www.theguardian.com/music/2002/malouf.interview). Yesterday, his conversation (in French and Italian) with Prof. Marie-Christine Jamet provided an excellent overview of his career, including his relationship with the three primary languages in his life (Arabic, French, and English), and the inspirations and aims of specific works, which have been translated into over 20 languages.

The Waterlines Project itself is an extremely interesting one, and gives visitors to Venice in the autumn and winter the chance to attend (at no cost) presentations by writers and artists of the high caliber typical of the annual Incroci di Civilità in the spring.

To find out more about the Waterlines Project, its past participants, and future programs visit: http://waterlinesproject.com/ 

Some of the still-arriving audience before the start of yesterday's Amin Maalouf event in the Aula Magna Silvio Trentin, whose walls and ceilings are frescoed in the style of Tiepolo and which once held ten historical canvases by Giambattsita Tiepolo that are now in the Hermitage Museum.

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