At a scant 157 pages, Petros Maneos’ self-styled “novella in letters” entitled, The Italian Pleasures of Gabriele Paterkallos, is brief—but far from effortless—reading. The premise appears to be that the narrating character, Gabriele, is a student of literature and classical antiquity on a tour of Italy in advance of his publication of his first book of poetry. The author describes Gabriele as an “arch-romantic to the core, positioning himself against the prevailing mores of the modern world.” The time-frame is about 7 months from 2001 to 2002, during which time he resides in Rome with visits to other parts of Italy.
In this book, Gabriele is in correspondence with another American artist called Odysseus, who is self-exiled in Paris and more mature and successful than Gabriele. Odysseus’s letters are not included and are unseen and basically unimportant. It is a device that serves the author’s purpose to present his own views and opinions. The best parts of the book are the most over-the-top passages, where we can laugh at Gabriele’s youthful intensity and seriousness. Very earnest in his views for someone so young, he struggles and suffers with the disparities between his high-minded philosophies and intentions, and the nitty-gritty realities of life.
“In America, one must be something, but in Italy, one can simply be. Do you understand this distinction? In America, one must constantly be scurrying about like a wounded rat on amphetamines trying to acquire as many ducats as one is able by becoming a dedicated careerist.” And “I would sooner die than work a menial job…”
The character is frequently ridiculous, but funny. He spends his time bedding women (a lot of women), fighting (always heroically), talking about gold (he hasn’t any), viewing the sights, and relating his sincere but somewhat immature opinions on art and society.
His philosophy is captured in this excerpt from a letter Gabriele writes to an admiring fellow poet seeking his advice:
“The only genuine advice that I can offer you in regard to writing is to cultivate a beautiful soul—become an ardent student of The Beautiful in all of its diverse and wondrous forms. For me, the creation of poetry is not an aim unto itself, but rather, the petals blossoming from this noble endeavor. In fact, I am always a moment away from renouncing literature entirely to become a common gardener in Arcady.”
It is best Gabriele speaks for himself as he delineates the opposition to his Romantic/ Hellenistic position to elevate The Beautiful. Speaking of his disappointment in the American Cultural Institute in Rome he complains to Odysseus “I had thought they would position themselves as an oasis of aestheticism, a sanctuary of beauty in modernity, but they have succumbed to the sophistry of The Age, longing to appear contemporary (one may as well just say ‘temporary’), avant-garde (what a disgusting little word!), and progressive (or more accurately ‘ugly’).
Gabriele, as befitting a Romantic, always expresses himself in the most effusive and sensuous language: For instance, about Rome, where all of his aesthetic ideals are realized: “Here—the fallen ruins of antiquity and the passion of the people inscribe themselves into one’s soul like a meticulously crafted mosaic immune to aging and decay: forever beautiful, forever eternal.”
Similarly he is given to overwrought emotions that are in actuality, quite humorous: “While I was walking near the periphery, I contemplated throwing myself to my death à la Tosca.” Then it is resolved: “I refrained from hurling myself from the summit since I realized that the world would be losing too much beauty should I perish at the tender age of 21.”
Gabriele rails against many things, which are frequently funny for their absurdity, such as the English, who come under frequent ridicule: “…I escaped from the Castel Sant’Angelo since it was becoming infested with British expats, and as you well know, I despise the English living in Italy.”
Most of the poetry on display leaves one wanting. At one point, the author asks, I assume quoting Keats and given the context, “Isn’t it better to live a poetic life than to spend one’s life writing poetry?” One might assume that if one had Gabriel’s experiences, one would probably prefer living life to writing poetry.
The character of Gabriele is somewhat of an alter-ego for the author, Pietros Manos. He has written two books of poetry and a third book satirizing the modern art he detests.
He seems to have had little commercial success with his work (some of it has been self-published), but like Gabriele, remains undeterred from his ethos of beauty. Like Gabriele, the author believes himself to be beautiful (it is a significant trait for the character); Maneos worked as a professional model when he was younger, appearing in an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog.
The Italian Pleasures of Gabriele Paterkallos by Pietros Maneos is published by Aesthete Press.