14 February 2020

14 February

Valentina Vezzali – fencer


Police officer is Italy’s most successful female athlete

The fencer Valentina Vezzali, whose three Olympic and six World Championship individual gold medals make her Italy’s most decorated female athlete of all time, was born on this day in 1974 in the town of Iesi in Marche.  A police officer who sat in the Italian Chamber of Deputies as a representative for Marche until 2018, Vezzali retired from competition after the 2016 World Championships.  Her haul of six Olympics golds in total – three individual and three from the team event – has not been bettered by any Italian athlete, male or female.  Two other Italian fencers from different eras – Edoardo Mangiarotti and Nedo Nadi – also finished their careers with six golds. Fencing has far and away been Italy’s most successful Olympic discipline, accruing 49 gold medals and 125 medals in total, more than twice the number for any other sport.  Alongside the German shooter Ralf Schumann, the Slovak slalom canoeist Michal Martik├ín and the Japanese judo player Ryoko Tani, Vezzali is one of only four athletes in the history of the Summer Olympics to have won five medals in the same individual event.  Read more…

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The Feast of the Lovers


A day for flowers, chocolates and padlocks

Today is called La festa degli innamorati (The Feast of the Lovers) in Italy when couples celebrate their love for each other.  Italian lovers give each other flowers and chocolates and celebrate with romantic dinners just like the rest of the world.  Chocolatiers Perugina make a special version of their Baci chocolate for the occasion in a shiny, red wrapper with a red cherry in the centre rather than the traditional hazelnut.  Florence and Venice are traditionally considered to be the most romantic places in Italy, but Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, puts on several days of celebration for the festival each year, featuring a programme of poetry, music and events, including a Romeo and Juliet half-marathon.  The streets around Piazza Bra and Juliet’s house and balcony are illuminated along with the tallest building in the city, the Lamberti tower.  The recent fashion for locking padlocks - lucchetti dell’amore - to bridges, railings and lamp posts to demonstrate never-ending love was started in Italy after the publication of the novel Ho voglio di te (I want you) by Federico Moccia in 2006.  Read more…

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Otto e mezzo - Fellini's masterpiece


Creative crisis spawned director's tour de force

The film Otto e mezzo (8½), regarded by some critics as the director Federico Fellini's greatest work, was released in Italy on this day in 1963.  It was categorised as an avant-garde comedy drama but the description hardly does it justice given its extraordinary individuality, evolving from conception to completion as an interweaving of fantasy and reality in which life not so much imitates art as becomes one and the same thing.  By the early 60s, Fellini was already a three-times Oscar winner following the success of La Strada, Nights in Cabiria and La Dolce Vita, the last-named having also won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.  La Dolce Vita had signalled Fellini's move away from the neo-realism that characterised cinema in Italy in the immediate post-war years towards the surreal interpretations of life and human nature that became popular with later directors and came to define Fellini's art.  While that movie was generating millions of dollars at the box office and turning Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg into international stars, Fellini was under pressure from his producers to come up with a sequel.   Read more…

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San Valentino and Sant’Antonino


Celebrations for two different Italian saints

Saint Valentine, a third century Roman martyr, is commemorated with a feast day on this day every year.  His name has become associated with the tradition of courtly love but all that is really known about him is that he was martyred and buried at a cemetery on the Via Flaminia in Rome on 14 February.  His feast day was first established in 496 by a Pope who revered him. It is thought he was imprisoned and tortured and then hastily buried, but that his disciples later retrieved his body.  During the Middle Ages it was believed that birds paired in mid-February and this is probably why Saint Valentine’s Day became associated with romance.  But while lovers all over the world raise a glass to Saint Valentine on this day, residents and visitors in Sorrento celebrate the festival of Sant’Antonino, the city’s patron saint.  Sant’Antonino Abate died on 14 February, 626. He is credited with saving the life of a child swallowed by a whale and also protecting Sorrento against plague and invasion.  Each year on the anniversary of his death, a silver statue of Sant’Antonino is carried in a procession through the streets of Sorrento.  Read more…


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