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Myth, Meaning and Coffee

4 January, 2018 (16:07) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

When I was a student the first time round, a significant figure in my life was Gianfranco Tellini, the college Vice Principal. I don’t honestly remember much about that period in my life, though I get flashbacks now and then, but getting to know Gian and his family was a delight. In my final years at University, 1980-82, I took Gian’s classes in Liturgy for two years, and my Honours dissertation was on Baptism considered anthropologically as an initiation rite, with him as my tutor.

Gian was originally from Trieste, and was a Roman Catholic priest before converting to Anglicanism and marrying Clare. He was many things in his life, including (if my memory is correct) a Vatican adviser on Eastern liturgies; but, my lasting memories are of friendship, discussing science fiction, his lessons on how to drink vodka in the Polish style, playing the devil’s music on an old guitar he had in his apartment, and a way of thinking about myth and ritual that has never left me.

I’ve also never forgotten, but never managed to replicate, the ferocious coffee brewed in the traditional Turkish style in a small copper pot over a calor gas burner in his small study, the grounds being settled by adding a touch of rose water (or the afternoon we beat a hasty exit from his office when the calor gas container started leaking.)

The last time I was in touch with Gian was 5 years ago when we had a brief email exchange touching on patterns in Celtic Christianity, and how the communion rail in the 4th century church (ecclesia plebana) of Old Muggia near his native Trieste is decorated with a frieze that could have been taken from the Book of Kells.

I’m currently writing a story that has deep origins in my memory of elements of Gian’s teaching, and I was looking through my old class notes just this week. I decided to drop him another line to keep in touch and pick up on a half-remembered theme, but I found out yesterday that Gian died on 23 November 2017, aged 81.

Although we had been only in sporadic contact, I will treasure his final words to me in his last email: So glad to have heard from you. It is nice to hear again from a friend.