Meet Giuseppe Mannino, artist and lawyer, politician and poet, and president of Rome city council. He occupies one of the top offices literally and figuratively of the Campidoglio, and as I ask my way there late one afternoon, the uniformed attendants actually smile as they give directions: up the steps guarded by the she-wolf suckling her human babies, follow a series of long, shaded corridors and then take the lift.
Mannino doesnt keep me waiting very long, and as Im ushered into his office he is in the act of unwrapping a torrone candy. He explains that he hasnt had time for lunch, and even though I have lunched very well, I get my share of torrone candies too, as does his staff, called in from surrounding offices. He points to the view from his window, and there is the Colosseum as I have never seen it before. Inspiring stuff, but Manninos eyes trace deeper and further beyond all this ancient grandeur as he sits down at his piled-up desk backed by a Veronese on the wall, and talks about his latest work, a collection of love poems. Love, hackneyed and perhaps even old hat, his expression seems to say as he allows me a glimpse of the galley proofs of Giocatore di sogni, soon to be published. But its all there, the bliss and the longing, the hope and the delusion, the innocence and the cynicism. And feelings that sometimes are buried too deep even to think about.
Which came first, poetry or politics? It is difficult to say. Born in Graniti, a small village overshadowed by Mount Etna in the province of Messina, in 1939, Mannino grew up in the arid war and post-war times and life was inevitably tough. In his poem Non era tempo di carezze from his debut collection, Insalata darancia (Edizioni dB) for which he received the Il Grappolo award, he is a young boy being careful to lose his buttons; because a button sewn back onto his shirt and the thread bitten off by his mothers teeth against his breast were interpreted as a kiss, as a gesture of affection. Being Sicilian is important to Mannino. In an excerpt from the introduction of Noi Siciliani (Arion Edizioni), he says: We (Sicilians) become leopards, ironical and disenchanted, but at the same time lyrical and moving. This seems to be a good, if partial, description of this man.
Mannino moved to Rome, where he took his law degree at La Sapienza University. He frequented La casa rossa, the literary salon of sculptor Peppino Mazzullo, also a native of Graniti and a strong artistic influence on his young protg. For years Mannino conducted research on thoughts and the colours of thoughts, and in 2001 published Pensieri dipinti, a collection of poems and paintings. His most recent exhibition in Rome, New York ground zero e I dipinti dellanima displays his increasing skill at expressing his thoughts pictorially in colour.
But all through the years of his artistic development, Manninos civic conscience was also at work. He was among the founders of Unione Piccoli Proprietari Immobiliari (the small house owners union) in 1975, and his numerous governmental appointments included membership of the ministerial commission for the reform of the equo canone (fair rent) in the 1980s. His election as municipal councillor and vice president of Romes municipal council came in the mid 1990s. In May 2001 Mannino was again elected to the city council on the Lista Civica for Walter Veltroni, whom he strongly supported, and in June he was called to his present position.
Manninos working days are busy. He is either chairing the city council assemblies, receiving visiting dignitaries, being a visiting dignitary himself or keeping a watchful eye on cultural aspects of Rome, to mention just a few of his varied official duties.
Pride is not a word to be found very often in his vocabulary, but of his artistic works he is particularly pleased to have written, together with Pope John Paul II, the words of the Mass for peace which was celebrated at the church of S. Maria degli Angeli during the concert for the closure of the Jubilee year. Peace is the dream that has eluded man since he first began to understand the concept, and it is good to know that Mannino is politician, poet and dreamer enough to go on hoping.
Picture: Giuseppe Mannino: prolific poet and conscientious citizen.