Farewell to Mario Casalini: Our Friend and Inspiration

By Assunta Pisani

WESS Newsletter

Fall 1998, Vol. 22, no. 1

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

Anyone who has dealt with Italian publishing and the Italian book trade sometime in the course of the last forty years cannot have failed to come to love and bear the deepest admiration and respect for Mario Casalini, a man of exquisite distinction, impeccable demeanor, and great culture. The Western European Specialist Section claims Mario as its good and devoted friend and the representation of the best of Italian culture and its manifestations. Most of us also deeply regret the loss of a luminous and inspiring presence in our professional as well as personal lives. Mario died on May 20 of this year in his home "La Torrossa" on the hillside near Fiesole, after a long and valiant struggle with cancer.

Mario Casalini was the quintessential man of books and for books, and was a deeply respected leader in the Italian cultural scene and its promotion abroad. Mario made it his mission since the late 1950s to provide comprehensive bibliographic coverage of the Italian publishing output and to establish the best possible program for the supply of books and periodicals worldwide. He realized early on, during one of his frequent trips to North America, that information about Italian publishing was scarce, and that there was serious need to promote its dissemination to institutions of learning. He thus organized to fill such a need.

In this endeavor he first hosted for a good number of years the Italian bibliographic services of the Library of Congress in his "Torrossa," and later supplied records and cataloging data to all libraries wishing to receive them, as well as to the North American bibliographic utilities. Casalini's bibliographic coverage was so comprehensive and accurate that it soon became the source for the Italian National Bibliography listings. Mario's contribution to making Italian letters and all other publishing in the Italian language more widely known and more easily accessible to all of us has been enormous, and as the admirable product of his shaping, he leaves a Casalini Libri that has no equals in Italy for its dedication and ability to secure Italian imprints for its clientele worldwide.

Publishing was for Mario also an innate and abiding interest. He entered the Nuova Italia publishing firm in his early twenties and eventually became its president. When he left it, only a few years ago, he knew it would not be long before he engaged in another publishing activity, as he admitted he would soon miss this aspect of his professional involvement. It was only a matter of months, in fact, before he took over Cadmo, a small but prestigious publishing house which produces mostly new contributions to Italian literature and literary criticism, and was once again greatly stimulated by the old, new, and renewed contacts with the literary world. He was very happy with the new publishing venture and proudly showed his new titles, handsome productions, and obvious products of a labor of love.

Through both his publishing and bookselling missions Mario remained inspiringly unshaken in his belief that he played a crucial role in the dissemination of knowledge and of other cultural products of Italy, even as he listened to discussions and various concerns expressed about the relatively low interest in Italian studies abroad.

Nor was he ever limited by parochial views : a man of all of cultures, he was deeply interested in learning about all people and places, all cultures and ideas, and in keeping contact with them. Mario pursued these interests both through very frequent travels, which represented opportunities rather than business-driven chores, and through extensive reading. He underscored the genuine nature of his interest in foreign places and people with a commitment to perfecting their various languages. Aside from his impeccable Florentine Italian, he spoke with amazing fluency the most polished of English, German, and French. He read many other languages as well, including Russian, for which he admitted to having a particular attachment. For his unflagging desire to explore new horizons, some of us who knew him well would not infrequently and affectionately evoke the image of a modern-day Ulysses, as we talked with him or about him.

Mario did not conceal the fact that of all the foreign lands his great love was America. The intense pleasure he derived from being in the States led him ultimately to secure an apartment in Manhattan, where he would settle happily for a few days as frequently as his busy schedule could possibly allow him. As Michael Keller pointed out in his eulogy last June, Mario frequently spoke of the openness of Americans, their energy and purpose, their great institutions, their way of life.

To his Odyssean quest, however, he juxtaposed in perfect balance a very deep love for his wife, Gerda, his three children and their families, and was most happy to be at home surrounded by them. He had assured that they settle each with a house on the Casalini estate. Very long ago, Mario also began following with fatherly care and enlightened guidance the preparation for the business of his two children, Michele and Barbara. Indeed, when only in his teens Michele was visiting the Widener Library to inquire about the adequacy of Casalini services, and Barbara was delivering a message from her father to an audience of hundreds in the Boston Public Library auditorium, at a slightly more advanced, though still rather tender age. Mario was a proud father and the most affectionate and devoted of family men.

Mario's interest in and knowledge of classical and chamber music engaged him in the management of a number of associations for music lovers in Florence and in the organization of a number of concerts and other cultural events. He was a founding member of Musicus Concentus, and also directed the Associazione degli Amici della Musica di Firenze which promotes some of the most important programs in chamber music in the city. He was also instrumental in the founding of the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole, now considered one of the most prestigious music schools in Italy.

Other civic concerns also absorbed his attention, such as important struggles for the protection and conservation of the environment which he led both personally and through the associations Italia Nostra and Firenze Viva. Most striking was his advocacy for the protection of animals, poignantly articulated through his forty-year long definitive refusal to make any meat or fish part of his diet.

Mario was our generous communal friend. He was never so happy as when he was able to host the WESS Conference in Florence ten years ago, with enormous enthusiasm, generosity, and flair. He would have liked to see that event repeated and had shared many of his thoughts on the matter as recently as a few months before his death. But Mario was also generous with his time, regularly accepting to speak at our conferences and meetings on issues related to Italian publishing and the provision of Italian books, as well as with his resources, offering to deliver any data he could on publishing and pricing trends.

More importantly still, he was our very generous personal friend, the invariably available and attentive listener, the warm and enlightened advisor, imparting his counsel, if solicited. All this Mario did with the utmost discretion and deepest level of human understanding.

Barbara and Michele stated in their sad announcement last May that Mario "treasured friendship and refused the impersonal in business as in private life. He believed very firmly in integrity and fair play and in the worth and warmth of personal contacts." For all of us who were fortunate to know Mario, these words resonate with painful vividness as we mourn with his departure the loss of his exquisite person, his great spirit, his friendship, his magnificence.

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