Your Stories: Friendship at a distance

Is life worth living? It all depends on the liver! 

Translate this pun. Is loss inevitable? This is how it all started in Michaelmas Term 2007: an ML graduate and a visiting student from Italy at a translation event in London’s Italian Institute of Culture. We pondered this and more back at Holywell Manor, Balliol’s graduate centre. In discussing translation loss, we gained a lifelong friendship and research partnership devoted to the preservation of the lesser spoken languages of Europe (and their associated cultures!), through the lens of nineteenth-century poetry. 13 years on, babies and jobs have taken us in other directions in the meantime, but we continue as academics on opposite sides of the globe (Bristol UK, Sydney Australia).

In these times of physical isolation, this intercontinental friendship under the guiding star of poetry reminds us how social interactions and the arts in general are basic human needs. It has reaffirmed the importance of an area of study that we started to explore in depth when graduates in Modern Languages at Oxford. In fact, we deemed it so important that we decided to embark on academic careers to spread the message even further and to carry with us the fascinating conversations, encounters, life changing tutorials, lectures, workshops, and supervisions that we had the privilege to experience while students among the dreaming spires. Along the way it gave us the chance to live in Rome and Paris, to marvel at the wonders of the Vatican library and intern at the headquarters of UNESCO. It equipped us with the resilience to persist in a more and more competitive academic environment, even to win major research grants and prizes. But what it instilled in us especially is to be true to ourselves, to keep expanding knowledge of what we deem important while promoting humanity within the humanities, so badly needed in trying times like these. It is no surprise that Italians have felt the need to sing from balconies, that people read Dante on Dantedì, that others are streaming themselves reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets. This is what make us human and studying our shared cultural inheritance offers us a key to understanding the universality of our feelings through space and history. This is what brings us together, beyond distances of any kind. We still can’t translate the pun from the conference 13 years ago, but we’re getting closer all the time. 


Valentina Gosetti is Senior Lecturer in French at the University of New England 




Paul Howard is Lecturer in Italian at the University of Bristol 


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