On the Hunt for Elusive Literary Game: the Premio Bagutta, Italy’s Oldest Literary Prize
by Natalia Sarkissian
Last Friday night my husband and I took a cab to downtown Milan. I’d invited him out to dinner at Il Bagutta, but it was a working dinner. Once again I had my Numéro Cinq press tags clinking around my neck and was hot on the trail of Italian literati. Because Il Bagutta is where the Premio Bagutta, the oldest Italian literary prize was established in 1926 (and first awarded in 1927) and ever since, Il Bagutta has been frequented by the crème de la crème de la crème.
“Please hurry,” I said to the driver, checking my watch. We were already late for our 9 pm reservation. What if the maitre gave our table away and we couldn’t get in and observe the literati wining and dining? What would I say to my editor at Numéro Cinq who was waiting with bated breath for this insider’s view?
“It’s on Via Bagutta, off San Babila,” I added when the cabbie began thumbing through his map of Milan. “Between Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone.”
“Relax,” said Mauro, grabbing my hand. “We’ll get there when we get there.”
I sighed and sank back into the plaid seating. Mauro can be so Italian about being on time at times.
As we sat in a traffic jam on flashy Corso Buenos Aires and then inched along stately Corso Venezia, I inhaled and told him about Paris and compared it to Milan.
Back in the twenties and thirties famous Parisian cafés like Le Dome, La Rotonde and La Coupole had seen literary giants—Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir—come and go. In his memoir, a Moveable Feast, Hemingway describes the atmosphere, when he was young and penniless, drinking in the company of Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Maddox Ford. Likewise, Milan’s Il Bagutta, established at approximately the same time as its Parisian counterparts, offered good food, good wine and attracted home-grown Italian talents of stature; one of its first artistic patrons was Riccardo Bacchelli (a prolific novelist, essayist, playwright and librettist) who, in 1926, rounded up a group of gifted friends one night for dinner. Together they started the Bagutta literary prize at the spur of the moment. Later, Dino Buzzati, Mario Soldati, Ingrid Bergman, Lucia Bosé (Miss Italia 1947), Arturo Toscanini, Sandro Pertini (President of the Italian Republic 1978-1985) and other legends flocked to the restaurant.