By Maxim Jakubowski (Guest Blogger)
I sadly was unable to attend the recent EAA conference held in Las Vegas (I'd only heard of it a couple of days after prebooking -and paying- for a family holiday for the same week...), so when the opportunity arose to travel to its European equivalent, I jumped at the occasion.
The first ever Un Po di Eros Festival was held in Zibello in Italy over the week-end of the 8th and 9th October. Zibello is a beautiful, if somewhat sleepy little town, on the Po River, just a half hour from Parma. The event was organised by local author Rosalba Scaglioni whose writes her erotica as Liviana Rose and who, with her parents, owns and runs one of the most famous restaurants in the region, the Leon d'Oro.
The restaurant is sited on Piazza Garibaldi, at the heart of the town, in a sprawling terraced building that goes back to the 15th century and was once an old palace, and now also houses the Teatro Pallavicino, a beautifully-restorated old theater, whose architecture reminds one of London's Globe on a smaller scale. An admirable setting to hold a conference devoted to erotic art and literature. I was the foreign guest of honor, with Italian author Francesca Mazzucato and artist Fausto Brozzi (straight from a major exhibition in Venice) sharing the headline with me. In addition, there were countless other Italian erotic writers in attendance, some of whomn I had read previously and many of which were new to me.
Sadly, Francesca was badly mugged in Milan a few days before the Festival and had to cancel her appearance at the last minute, which was sad as I have known her for some years (and published some of her stories in my Rome Noir and the forthcoming Venice Noir collections from Akashic Books) but we've never actually met. The author of twelve novels, most of whom are intensely erotic and personal, she, I think, is a major talent. Fausto, on the other hand, was ubiquitously present, a jovial character who reminded me of the similarly ebullient crime writer Giorgio Faletti. His art adorned the walls of the both the theatre and the grandiose steps leading to the auditorium, a subtle combination of painting, photography and objets trouvés, quite unlike any other.
Zibello, as I found out, is known throughout Italy for its 'culatello', a much sought after variety of smoked ham, the slightly sweet flavour of which is very different from the traditional Parma ham. Needless to say, culatello was on every menu and part of every meal we were treated to at the Leon d'Oro and elsewhere. Sadly, the outstanding local wines which flowed throughout the week-end, were lost on me, as I don't drink!
Other writers present included the pseudonymous Alemar and Amelia Gatti, whose stories have featured in many anthologies in recent years, the somewhat spectacular model-turned-writer Claudia Rossi, who launched a new magazine 'Baciami' (Kiss Me) at the festival, a luxury publication featuring short stories and photography on glossy paper, another artist who has turned to writing, Marc o Lugli, who was presenting his first novel L'UOMO TATUATO (The Tattoed Man), and one of Italy's most popular sex bloggers Sofia Natella (who blogs as Sophie Boop, in hommage to Betty Boop, which she even resembles...) who has just published her first novel LA DISPOSIZIONE DEGLI ORGANI INTERNI (How Internal Organs Are Laid Out). Grazia Scanavini, whose novel LA RAGIONE DEI SENSI (The Reason of the Senses), which won this year's award for best erotic novel of the year, was another author present. In addition, Rosalba was launching her first short story collection as Liviana Rose, LENZUOLA ROSSE IN UN POMERIGGIO D'ESTATE (Red Sheets on a Summer Afternoon), published by Massimo Casarini's Damster Editions, who had a stand in the auditorium and have a major catalogue of Italian erotic authors (www.damster.it)
One of the highlights of the week-end (in addition to the lively 'aphrodisiac' banquet on the Saturday evening) was the annual presentation of the Oxe Awards. These have been going since 2005 and are an extension of the main Italian erotica site eroxe.com which is run by, amongst others, the ever present Dante Bernamonti who writes and edits as Faber Zerotre and acted as Master of Ceremonies, with awards being given out to best short story of the year, best male and female characters, etc... One of the more striking winners was a lady who calls herself Heathcliff, whose stories invariably feature male characters only!
Like so many European events, this was not just about literature but much free time between events to encourage the mingling of writers and readers, conversation, drinking and a lot of eating! And a lot of lasting friendships were made.
The festival will be an annual event and I can encourage all of you to bear it in mind for the future. Even though I do speak and understand Italian, my own event/reading was in English (there were interpreters) and anyway almost all the Italian writers and fans present could understand English.
Parma Airport is served by mostly budget air companies and the hotel/B&B prices in Zibello are well under $50 a night.
As part of my own event, I read the second half of my Molly Bloom story from the Sex in the City: Dublin anthology, with a specially selected backing music score. It went down well; so well that, the following day, halfway through the final closing outdoor party with tables full of thin slices of culatello and the wine flowing, I was taken aside by a woman who had been in the audience the day before, who, red-cheeked, confessed that she had had a vivid and abominably erotic dreams that night in which I featured prominently! Taken by surprise, I fear I did not come up with the right words or response, and queried whether it was in fact my story or me as a person who had elicited such thoughts! We were then separated by the busy crowd before I could gather myself and matters did not go further. Did I behave badly in that erotic dream of hers? I will never know. But then, the lady in question, albeit Italian, was so different from Ekaterina, the bittersweet heroine of my new novel Ekaterina and the Night that it was easy for me to hold back. You see, when it comes to falling in love I am sort of monogamous, and can only love one Italian woman at a time!
You wait your whole writing career for a bona fide groupie and she appears at the wrong time!
But at least the food at Un Po di Eros was sublime!Blurb for Ekaterina and the Night
When Ekaterina meets Alexander a shockingly sexy but tender romance develops.
She is a young Italian trainee journalist, who dreams of wild sexual adventures. He is the older Englishman who she believes can fulfill her fantasies. When Ekaterina is sent to interview the aging writer Alexander in London, she is blinded by his charm and experience. Their relationship explodes in a sensual orgy, which defies society’s acceptance.
When a mysterious angel of death who calls herself Emma enters their lives, Ekaterina and Alexander know their days together are numbered.
A shocking climax set in Venice in winter brings the three protagonists together.
A tale of sex and tenderness that ranks alongside Jakubowski classic The State of Montana.
You can buy Ekaterina and the Night from your favorite online booksellers:
Paperback (available in the US slightly later than the UK)Barnes and Noble
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Courtesy of Xcite Books, during my blog tour, three lucky winners will receive a copy of Ekaterina and the Night in their choice of paperback or digital format. (International entries welcome)
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BIO: MAXIM JAKUBOWSKI worked for many years in book publishing as an editor (including titles by William Golding, Peter Ackroyd, Oliver Stone, Michael Moorcock, Peter Ustinov, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Paul Ableman, Sophie Grigson, Marc Behm, Cornell Woolrich, etc...) and launched the Murder One Bookshop, which he owned and ran for over 20 years. He now writes, edits and translates full-time in London.