‘Postoristoro’ (‘The Station Bar’) by Pier Vittorio Tondelli, translated by Emery

The 1970s were an eventful decade everywhere, but in Italy they really were a time of extremes. Student movements, counterculture, mass strikes and protests dominated especially the last part of the decade, and had their epicentre in Bologna, where in 1977 tanks where deployed to disperse student protests in the streets. Bologna was also a main centre for the Italian creative avant garde movements, and for the feminist and gay movements. It was a time of radical contradictions, full of energy but also dark sides, including political terrorism and a devastating epidemic of heroin addictions.

There, in the middle of this, was a young student named Pier Vittorio Tondelli. When he published his first collection of short stories in 1980, he didn’t know he was set to become the most iconic Italian author of his generation. His book was put on trial for “blasphemy” – one of the last cases of censorship in Italy – officially because of the too realistic dialogue, full of swearing and profanities, but more likely because of its depiction of gay sex. “Postoristoro”, the opening story of the book, culminates with a young woman injecting heroin in a friend’s erect penis: it sounds crude but in the story it comes, in fact, as a nearly-poetic act of desperation and love.

Tondelli died too soon at the age of 36, but left a mark on generations of Italian readers.

First published in Altri libertini, Feltrinelli, 1980. Collected in The Quality of Light: Modern Italian Short Stories, Serpent’s Tail, 1993, edited by Ann & Michael Caesar