Monday, May 11, 2009

School in Paris

At the age of 12, I started secondary school in my native town of Grafton, Australia, and I left for Sydney at the age of 16. Aged 23, on the other side of the planet, I spent two months working as a sailor, first on the Greek cargo Persian Cyrus from London to Kuwait, then back to Rotterdam on the BP tanker British Glory. My basic schooling then took off once again in a totally different context, in Paris, as an assistant teacher of English in one of the most celebrated secondary schools of France: the Lycée Henri IV in the Latin Quarter of Paris. I spent some two academic years there, from November 1963 up until my marriage with a girl from Brittany in May 1965.

Truly, my destiny as a future resident and citizen of France was sealed when I set foot at Henri IV. It was the school of Guy de Maupassant, André Gide, Jean-Paul Sartre, Georges Pompidou... In such a high-powered historic and intellectual context, it was unthinkable that a young Australian, fascinated by existentialism and all things French, could resist the attraction of being adopted by this great nation and people. The catalyst was an exceptional individual: Christine. And the rest is the story of our life...

I've spoken already, in this blog, of high points in my life at that time. In a roundabout way, my post entitled Concept "bling-bling" [display] evoked a precious encounter of that epoch with a splendid young man named Benito Italiani, who was my Italian-language counterpart at the Lycée Henri IV. Benito was far more than a colleague. In his subtle Adriatic style, he taught me the meaning of European culture.

Considering Benito as one of my most marvelous friends in those formative days in the City of Light, I was stupefied to be informed by his American wife, in the winter of 1964-1965, that my former colleague at the Lycée Henri IV was no longer in the land of the living. He had been frozen to death in an Abruzzo skiing accident.

Yesterday, I was overjoyed to receive a blog comment [display] from Michael Italiani, Benito's son. Soon, maybe, I hope we shall meet up with one another and become friends...

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