For Francesca Valente, an Italian cultural mediator, and Branko Gorjup, a Croatian scholar of Canadian literature, shared passions have resulted in a truly international love affair
Francesca (MA 1977): After graduating with a BA from Ca’Foscari University in Venice, I earned a scholarship to U of T where I studied with Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan. During my first week, I met Branko in Robarts Library when I asked him where my class was and he offered to show me. It’s challenging when you come from a different university and different country, and Branko helped me figure everything out – from directions to academic concerns. I wouldn’t say that he’s eager to please, because he has a very strong personality, but he has a very generous nature. Also, he was always smiling. After earning an MA in Canadian literature, I went back to Italy, changed my suitcase, and returned to Toronto to be assistant director of the Italian Cultural Institute. I’ve been promoting Italian contemporary art for 30 years, in Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Although Branko is Croatian, we come from the same Mitteleuropean matrix – which includes meeting in cafés and the cult of the aperitivo. Our mothers even cooked the same Sunday soup when we were children.
Branko (MA 1977): Francesca and I started working together when we came up with the idea for a poetry series in the early ’90s. I selected the Canadian poets and wrote introductions, and Francesca translated and chose contemporary Italian artists to provide the images. We pursued this work for almost 20 years. We also organized trips of Canadian poets and writers, including Northrop Frye, to our home countries. We’ve always worked in the same sphere and it’s wonderful. I consider her one of the best translators of English into Italian. She has incredible confidence and attention to detail, and she is a great second pair of eyes and ears. We’re often apart – we have homes in both Italy and Canada – and it’s been that way for the last 40 years. We also have a son in Switzerland who graduated from Victoria College at U of T and is working as an architect and designer. I think the reason we’re still together might be because we’ve created these overlapping and separate spaces.