Marcello Piazza, a life for medicine and a passion for art

“ONE life, one great love”. This is the title of a book by Marcello Piazza, an internationally renowned Neapolitan infectious disease specialist. The book arrived with a beautiful dedication. In which my great teacher Carlo Miranda is also remembered. Of which Marcello Piazza had married a niece. In reality, the title of the beautiful book is, perhaps deliberately, a lie. Because it should have been “One life, three great loves”. The mother (more generally the family), medicine and art.

The narrative idea is characterized by simplicity. Both in the use of a very communicative language, “able to express and make the reader understand moods and judgments in the different contexts narrated” observes Francesco Casavola in the introduction. Both for the choice to tell ideas and feelings through single short pictures. Arranged to achieve almost a small impressionistic effect. Ever since he saved the life of the footballer Alemão. When he had to run to Sicily to cure a “mammasantissima”. To his very special relationship with Neapolitan taxi drivers.

The thing that struck me most in this time of pandemic and no Vax is the bitter story of the hesitation of the staff of his clinic to undergo the hepatitis B vaccine, as a precaution. We worked in an environment with a high risk of contagion. This confirms that the diffidence towards the vaccine certainly does not arise today or with Covid 19. But that unlike forty years ago it is only amplified by the network. Piazza deserves the credit for having identified and, in a certain sense imposed, the adoption of the “Piazza scheme” on the basis of which in 1991 the law that made the vaccine against hepatitis B compulsory was approved.

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The final passage in which the author claims that the therapy he developed against hepatitis C was blocked by the defense of the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical companies is very hard. Accusation of great significance.
As far as his academic life is concerned, the book is full of acts of love for his teacher Fernando De Ritis and for his numerous students. I mention only one that he mentions with particular pride: Ivan Gentile.

The text narrates with great melancholy the unspeakable sufferings of the mother who, from a good Czechoslovakian family, witnessed at a distance the wretched and suffering life of family members oppressed at home by an authoritarian regime. In particular, he suffered from being separated from a beloved sister. With which even correspondence relations were difficult because they were forced to be examined by the censors.

Finally, Marcello Piazza’s relationship with art. Which was born when a boy took delight in taking pictures with his Leica. And it becomes an irresistible passion when he forms strong friendships with two great Neapolitan antique dealers: Bowinkel and Amelio.
Piazza became such a well-known engraving expert that he was often called upon to express an opinion on the authenticity of etchings by Pitloo and Rembrandt, his great loves.

“The importance that art had in my life as a doctor and scholar: beauty, its proximity … the time spent admiring and studying it were the things that reassured me” from the sufferings I had to witness .
On the other hand, more generally, beauty is often and for various reasons brought up by scientists. I will limit myself to remembering that Einstein stated that the ultimate criterion for judging the validity of a scientific theory is its beauty.

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