Italian Journalist Oscar Pantalone Interviews John Palcewski:
Q. Tell me, John, what brought you to Forio?
A. I came to the island of Ischia in November, 1999, to gather material for an “imagenovel trilogy” I’m writing, based on the life of Maria, my girlfriend, who grew up in Buonopane. I believed that in order to fully understand her, I should spend some time studying the culture of the island that shaped her character.
Q. What do you mean by imagenovel?
A. It’s a new literary form I’ve created, in which my photographic images are used not merely as illustrations, but rather as an essential part of the novel’s narrative structure. In other words, the pictures convey as much information as the text itself.
Q. How far have you come in the project?
A. Books I and II of “Vittoria’s Island” are complete and in the hands of my literary agent in America, who is showing them to major publishers. Book III is in progress. Meanwhile, I’ve put Book II on a website, here.
Q. Am I correct in presuming that you’ve named your main character after the famous Vittoria Colonna?
A. Correct. I think that extremely talented Renaissance figure serves as an excellent model, one that my Maria would be happy to emulate.
Q. In an earlier conversation with me, John, you mentioned that in the course of writing this trilogy you came across some rather surprising information. Can you elaborate on this?
A. Yes. Originally Maria’s story was that of a conventional love triangle. A married woman meets another man and falls in love, which sets up a struggle between husband, wife, and lover. But things took a wholly unexpected turn that made it a much more compelling story.
Q. So this story is basically a biography?
A. It is a true story cast in a fictional form, yes.
Q. Go on, please.
A. As I describe near the end of Book I, Maria learned that she needed to undergo an operation to remove a growth on her cervix. Her surgeon said it would be a good idea for her to obtain a supply of her rare blood type, as a precaution. The doctor suggested she ask her parents to give their blood. But when she asked her father, he refused. And he said also that her mother could not give blood either. This stunned Maria. She could not understand why her father would refuse such a request.
Q. What was the reason? Did he have medical problems?
A. No. He finally explained that he was not in fact Maria’s biological father. Rather, she was adopted in Naples, shortly after her birth on January 14, 1964.
Q. So who was her biological mother?
A. That was the first question she asked her adoptive father. At first he was reluctant to answer because he had intended to keep it a secret forever. But he finally admitted that her mother was a famous Italian movie star, who had been making a film in Naples entitled “Ieri, oggi, e domani.” Sophia Loren. Her co-star and lover was Marcello Mastroianni.
Q. That must have been quite a surprise.
A. Indeed it was. And it put Maria into considerable conflict. On the one hand, she was deeply hurt that she had been abandoned. On the other she was curious to know if Sophia had ever expressed any interest in learning what had happened to her daughter. But then Maria did not know if she could handle Sophia denying that she was her biological mother. A very complex situation.
Q. Did you have any doubts about the veracity of the story?
A. Of course. As a journalist I immediately began to investigate it. After several weeks of effort I came up with what American lawyers call a “compelling circumstantial case,” which strongly suggests it’s true. In any event, there is nothing that I uncovered that contradicts the story.
Q. What are some of the things that lead you to believe it is true?
A. Maria’s birth date is one that coincides with Sophia being in Naples making a movie. Another fact concerns the name Maria. In Maria’s family in Buonopane there are no women by that name. Sophia, on the other hand, has a sister named Maria.
Q. Please go on.
A. Sophia’s latest TV movie, “Among Strangers,” is one that she co-wrote with her director son, Edouardo. In it she plays the role of a woman with a dark secret—that many years ago she had given up a daughter for adoption.
Q. This suggests that in the role she drew from her own personal experience, doesn’t it?
A. Yes. But to my mind the most persuasive thing that makes the case is that Maria does not look like anyone in her family. But she does have a strong resemblance to both Sophia and Marcello.
Q. Have you taken photographs of Maria?
A. Yes, and I’ve put them on a website, here. Now, as I said before, all this does not add up to absolute proof. But it strongly backs up Maria’s father’s assertion.
Q. What does Maria plan to do next?
A. Maria remains very conflicted. She realizes that it would be extremely difficult to confront Sophia directly on such a delicate matter. But then she feels that if Sophia has never been able to find her, she ought to be given the opportunity. Perhaps Sophia might read this interview and then decide to make contact. Or not. It’s entirely her choice.
Q. Thank you, John, for sharing this fascinating story. I hope everything works out well for Maria.
A. You’re welcome, Oscar. I, too, hope this tale has a happy ending.