Pinocchio and Tuscany

Our involvement with Pinocchio began when searching for my roots, I returned with my husband and children to Italy, my grandparent's home. I was also looking for a way to recapture my youth since I had spent a year studying in Florence. Would the magic still be there? It was. We visited an old friend, Roberto Ciabani, one of the leading contemporary artists in Florence, who showed us a series of paintings he had created for the Pinocchio centennial in Italy. When we saw Roberto's art we wanted to share the beauty of those Tuscan hills and the painting of the wooden puppet getting his nose pecked off by birds. We were so struck by the vibrancy of the art, that soon he was introducing us to his Italian publisher who took us to the National Institute of Carlo Collodi in the Tuscan hillside village of Collodi, the home of the author of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi. We met with Danielle Narducci of the Collodi Institute in a beautiful room with frescos on the walls and views of the hillside village. During our visit, he took us into the archives. Along two full walls were bookcases filled with translations of Pinocchio in every language imaginable from the past 100 years. We found the magic in Collodi's original handwritten notes of Pinocchio, shared with us by Narducci. As we sensed his energy and joy combined with Roberto's wondrous art, the Tuscan tale began to take on a new vibrancy for us.

The spirit of Tuscany is expressed through Collodi, who spent his childhood in the hillside village of Collodi and his adult life in Florence; through the poet M. L. Rosenthal, whose translation of the original text maintains the humor and brilliance of the Italian original, and is the only English translation in print approved by the National Foundation of Carlo Collodi of Tuscany; and through the collection of art for the Pinocchio centennial by Roberto Ciabani, declared "Magnificent Master" of Florence, Italy (1999) for his artistic work and teaching. This was the magic we uncovered amid the lush green rolling hills of Tuscany: a transatlantic collaboration bringing Italian literature and painting to the American reader.

We learned that Carlo Lorenzini was 55 years old when he took the pen name of Collodi, his childhood home in Tuscany, and wrote a children's newspaper serial about a puppet. After being a famous journalist in Florence, he wrote what was considered his finest work. He had never married or had children, yet in Pinocchio he shares the wisdom and love of a wise old man through the adventures of a puppet. Pinocchio wants to become a real boy, not pulled by puppet strings of whims. Pinocchio is still the most widely published book in the world after the Bible, perhaps because Collodi so wonderfully and imaginatively portrays the challenge each one of us faces to resolve the conflict between contradictory passions: to be a free spirit pulled by unbridled pleasures and fantasies or to become the ideal of a responsible, caring human.

As M. L. Rosenthal, an American poet and the translator of this text, put it, "Pinocchio starts out as a purely free, independent, impersonal spirit, but is forced by the most painful kind of experience to accept responsibility. The change takes place partly because he sees, though only sporadically, that those he cares for are suffering because of him. (The transformation of Geppetto from a comic figure scrapping with his equally comic old pal Mr. Cherry to a grieving, put-upon 'papa' is dazzlingly rapid—though possibly no more so than that of many a parent from carefree childlessness to care-fraught fatherhood or motherhood!)"

It's amazing, over 100 years later, how much Pinocchio speaks to us of our struggles with human passions and fantasies and how they affect not only ourselves but others as well. Collodi's words relate to the universal difficulties of growing up and parenting as we see our children at risk of uncaring manipulation in a complex world. Through Geppetto, the puppet maker, and the Blue Fairy, he reminds us of the importance of ever-present love and patience for the child, reflecting the roots of his Italian culture. The underlying message of Pinocchio and Italian culture is just to keep loving, cherishing and helping until, as Rosenthal says, the child "becomes his best self of his own accord."