“I am going to change the world, or die trying”: Valerio De Simoni

M. Cristina Mauceri   University of Sydney

Valerio De Simoni was a 24-year-old Italian-Australian who was killed tragically in a road accident in March 2011 in Africa. He was travelling with two friends through three continentsbook-cover-final to raise money for Oxfam to support two African villages and to break the 
world record for the longest journey on a quad bike.  Valerio was a convinced environmentalist and activist for Greenpeace who dreamed of changing the world. To celebrate Valerio’s humanitarian and environmental commitment, at the end of 2011 his mother, Vittoria Pasquini, founded the Valerio Daniel De Simoni Association, which has branches in Sydney and in Rome, the city of his parents. The Association aims at relieving the poverty and suffering of young people. Many people are involved in its activities, which include assisting young asylum seekers in Villawood detention camp. The full range of its work in Australia and in Italy can be seen on its website.

After Valerio’s death his cousins discovered in his room the diaries that he had been keeping from 2006 until 2010 when he started his fatal trip. With the title Real love … for the turning world they were published last December in English and Italian, and launched in the same week in Sydney and in Rome. (Copies can be found here). A copy has also been sent to the Archivio Diaristico Nazionale in Pieve Santo Stefano near Arezzo. This very interesting institution has collected about 7000 diaries, autobiographies and letters written by ordinary people from the end of the 18th century to today. The travel diary that Valerio kept on his last journey, to be published in due course, has also been sent to the ADN where in 2013  it has been entered in the annual competition, the Premio Pieve, for the works received during the year.

Valerio’s diaries are interesting because they give the reader a look into the mind and world of a young, generous person who is entering adulthood, and because they are written in two languages. Although English is his main language, every now and again Valerio turns to Italian, even within a single entry. And Italian is the main language that he uses for his poems.

For Valerio, Italian is not only his mother-tongue, but – and I think that this is very important – a father language as well. Italian is the language that he uses in his poems to talk to his father Giancarlo who died when Valerio was very small.

The verses which he addresses to Giancarlo remind me of Foscolo, who described as celestial our ability to talk to the cherished dead: “una corris­pondenza d’amorosi sensi”, a lovely and a holy gift to man.

Valerio had certainly this gift:

Come faremo senza un altro incontro? Troppo tempo. Poco. Pochissimo.

Io ti voglio bene.

Sto con te sempre e viceversa.

Ti sento nel mio cuore come il sangue che pulsa

la mia mano destra; che impugna la tua

vecchia Aurora, scrivo per te. Per noi due.

The fountain pen, ‘la tua vecchia Aurora‘, that Giancarlo wrote with and Valerio now uses is the tangible means of his constant communion with his father. He is proud to share the practice of writing with him, and by writing Valerio is identifying with Giancarlo.

One theme recurs often in the diaries: his deep sense of gratitude for the life and love which were granted to him. Thanks to Vittoria, his exceptional “mother courage”, and the friends she was and is still able to gather around her, Valerio received a real sentimental education, something which is rather unusual nowadays. This education allowed him to be close to his emotions and to express them, and this can be clearly perceived by the reader of his diaries.

Having lost his father when he was two and having seen other people die too young, Valerio was particularly sensitive to death, which he often mentions in his diaries. With this delicate sentence he takes leave of Patricia, a family friend, as she was passing away: “I looked deep into her soul through her magnetically beautiful eyes as she smiled with all her wisdom, compassion, and gratitude of her life and mine”.

Valerio was particularly sensitive to the pain of loss and the sentence addressed to Diana, Giancarlo’s mother, sounds sadly prophetic:

Diana.

Che amore che hai per tuo figlio – perduto

 Quale grande dolore è perdere il proprio figlio.

These diaries bear witness to the life of a very sensitive young man who is aware that life is transient, and perhaps for this reason he is deeply in love with it.

As Gino Moliterno rightly remarks in his introduction to the diaries, Valerio savoured life as much as he savoured food, which he often mentions. Food is always associated with pleasure and he was conscious that by eating well he was respecting his body. He finds a joyous image to express the importance of healthy food: “Poi mi sono divorato la mia zuppa biologica fatta di patate, zucca, cipolle e aglio ricevendo un bell’applauso dalla mia pancia”. Food is also associated with memories of meals with his family and friends, as it belongs to the convivial Italian culture that he treasured so much.

Valerio is not with us any more, but in his diaries he left us the memory of a young man who enjoyed every moment of his life, immersing himself in nature, fighting for the environment, enjoying the company of his relatives and friends, travelling, or tasting a healthy soup, all in a simple and spontaneous way.

I will conclude with an exclamation which recurs frequently in the diaries: “Che bella la vita”. And towards the end Valerio writes: “Vita. Che bel viaggio.” This declaration sounds ironical now, but let us remember that his fatal trip was an expression of his vitality and humanitarian commitment.

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One thought on ““I am going to change the world, or die trying”: Valerio De Simoni

  1. Jane Parkes says:

    I am painting a picture called The Little Orange Tree. I hope to include it in my exhibition later this year in Newcastle. I will certainly send you a print of the image but I was wondering if I might have permission to use some of the words from the Orange Tree poem in the painting.
    Paul Jarman introduced me to your son’s story and I was so touched. Please be in touch.

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