30 November 2016

Simonetta Stefanelli – actress

Godfather star now designs bags and shoes

Simonetta Stefanelli, in a scene from Dino Risi's 1971 movie, In the Name of the Italian People
Simonetta Stefanelli, in a scene from Dino Risi's 1971
movie, In the Name of the Italian People
Simonetta Stefanelli, the actress and fashion designer, was born on this day in 1954 in Rome.

Stefanelli is perhaps best-known for her performance as Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone in the 1972 film The Godfather directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

She also made several films with her former husband, the actor and director Michele Placido.

The couple had three children together, Michelangelo, Brenno and Violante Placido, who is also an actress.

They divorced in 1994 and Stefanelli and her three children went to live in London for a short time.

Before appearing in The Godfather, Stefanelli had small roles in films guided by some of the top Italian directors, such as Gian Luigi Polidoro, Giulio Petroni, Marco Vicario and Dino Risi.

In 1972 she appeared in a German film for television, Di Sonne angreifen, 'The Sun Attack'.

Then came her role in The Godfather alongside Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Diane Keaton.  Her character is the first wife of Pacino's character, Michael Corleone, a local girl Michael marries while in hiding in Sicily, but is then murdered in a bomb attack of which her husband was the intended victim.

Apollonia also featured in the 1977 mini series The Godfather: A Novel for Television.

Stefanelli with her then-husband Michele Placido in a scene from the 1975 film Scandal in the Family
Stefanelli with her then-husband Michele Placido
in a scene from the 1975 film Scandal in the Family
Stefanelli once explained during an interview that she had refused a career in Hollywood to avoid being typecast and chose instead to continue her career in Italy.

She appeared in Peccati in famiglia ('Scandal in the Family'), an erotic drama in which she starred opposite her husband Michele Placido, and in Francesco Rosi’s Tre Fratelli ('Three Brothers).

She made her final appearance in Michele Placido’s film Le Amiche del cuore, ('Close friends') before ending her acting career in 1992.

Stefanelli continues to live in Rome and now owns a fashion store in the city, Simo Bloom, for which she designs bags and shoes.

Michele Placido, who is now 70, is well-known for playing the role of Corrado Cattani in the TV series La Piovra, which means 'The Octopus' in English, a reference to the many tentacles of the Mafia.

The actress Violante Placido, who is now 40, has many film and television credits to her name and is also a singer and song writer.

The 18th century Temple of Aesculapius is an attraction in the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome
The 18th century Temple of Aesculapius is an attraction
in the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome
Travel tip:

Stefanelli’s shop, Simo Bloom, is in Via Chiana in Rome to the north east of the Villa Borghese and its gardens on the Pincian Hill. The beautiful gardens were developed for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V, starting in 1605. They were bought by the city of Rome and opened to the public in 1903.

Travel tip:

The Godfather's location scenes in Sicily were filmed in the towns of Savoca and Forza d’Agro near Taormina because the town of Corleone was considered too developed to be suitable. In Savoca you can see the church in which Michael and Apollonia (played by Stefanelli) were married and walk the route they took to the Bar Vitelli in the village’s main square where they went to celebrate afterwards in the film.

More reading:

How playing an anti-Mafia police inspector Michele Placido into a TV star

Nino Rota - the brilliant composer behind the music of The Godfather

The wonderful cinema legacy of Francesco Rosi

Also on this day:

1466: The birth of navy commander Andrea Doria

1485: The birth of writer and stateswoman Veronica Gambara

1957: The death of the great tenor Beniamino Gigli

(Picture credits: Simonetta Stefanelli by Cavarrone; Temple of Aesculapius by Jean-Christophe Benoist; via Wikimedia Commons)


29 November 2016

Agostino Richelmy – Cardinal

Former soldier sent priests to say mass for troops

A photograph of Richelmy  as Archbishop of Turin
A photograph of Richelmy
as Archbishop of Turin
Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, who fought for Garibaldi as a teenager, was born on this day in 1850 in Turin.

He joined the Garibaldi Volunteers during the war of 1866 and is said to have worn his red shirt under his cassock for years afterwards.

When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, Richelmy organised priests to serve as army chaplains in the mountains of Trentino, where they had to carve altars out of snow and say mass in temperatures below zero.

Richelmy was born into an ancient, noble family and his father, Prospero was a hydraulic engineer.

He was educated at the Liceo Classico Cavour and the Archiepiscopal Seminary in Turin and gained a doctorate in theology in 1876. He became a professor of moral and dogmatic theology and then a professor in the faculty of canon law.

Richelmy was elected Bishop of Ivrea in 1886 and named as the Archbishop of Turin in 1897.

He was created cardinal priest of Sant’Eusebio in Rome in 1899 and was then transferred to Santa Maria in Via in Rome in 1911.

The marble sarcophagus in the Santuario della Consolata in Turin, containing the remains of Cardinal Richelmy
The marble sarcophagus in the Santuario della Consolata
in Turin, containing the remains of Cardinal Richelmy
Richelmy supported all the social directives of Pope Leo XIII, who worked to encourage understanding between the Church and the modern world during his papacy.

The Cardinal then participated in the papal conclaves of 1903, 1914 and 1922.

During the First World War Richelmy dedicated himself to organising assistance for the people most affected, after more than 300,000 Italian soldiers had been killed in the early battles.

He died after surgical intervention for kidney stones in Turin in 1923 at the age of 72 and his funeral was attended by the Duke of Aosta, representing the King of Italy.

The Cardinal was initially buried at the chapel for the clergy in the cemetery in Turin but his remains were transferred in 1927 to the Santuario della Consolata, where they now lie in a pink marble sarcophagus.

Travel tip:

The Santuario della Consolata in Turin, the final resting place of Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, is a minor basilica in the centre of the city known to locals as La Consia. A church has stood on the site from Roman times and by the 12th century it was claimed that a blind pilgrim had his sight restored by an icon of the Virgin in the church. Construction of the present church building was commissioned in 1678 to be designed by architect Guarino Guarini and it now serves as a burial place for several saints connected with Turin. A procession of the icon of the Virgin passes through the streets of Turin every year on 20 June.

Santa Maria in Via, Richelmy's second church in Rome
Santa Maria in Via, Richelmy's
second church in Rome
Travel tip:

Santa Maria in Via, Cardinal Richelmy’s second church in Rome, has existed since the ninth century. The words ‘in Via’ mean ‘on the way’ and are a reference to nearby Via Flaminia. It is claimed that in the 13th century a well in the stables of a Cardinal’s house overflowed and a picture of Our Lady was seen floating on the waters. Pope Alexander IV declared it a miracle and ordered the construction of a chapel on the site. The chapel is the first on the right in the current church and still houses the well of the miracle. The current church building was erected in 1491 and now serves as the national church in Rome for the Ecuadorian community.

More reading:

How the ideology of Giuseppe Mazzini inspired the battle for Italian unification

Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour - Italy's first prime minister

How the capture of Rome completed Italian unification

Also on this day:

1797: The birth of Gaetano Donizetti

(Picture credit: Richelmy sarcophagus by Geobia via Wikimedia Commons)


28 November 2016

Fabio Grosso - World Cup hero

Unspectacular career illuminated by unforgettable goal

Fabio Grosso at the 2006 World Cup finals
Fabio Grosso at the 2006
World Cup finals
Fabio Grosso, the unlikely hero of Italy's victory in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, was born on this day in 1977 in Rome.

Selected for Marcello Lippi's squad for the Finals as cover for first-choice left-back Gianluca Zambrotta, Grosso eventually secured a place in Lippi's team and went on to score one of the most important goals in Italy's World Cup history as they beat the hosts, Germany, to reach the final.

He then secured his place in Azzurri folklore by scoring the winning penalty in the final against France as Italy lifted the trophy for the fourth time, equalling Brazil's record.

Yet Grosso arrived at the finals as a player who, if not an unknown, seldom attracted attention and had enjoyed a career that was respectable but certainly not eye-catching.

Five years before 2006,  he was playing in Serie C for Chieti, in the town in Abruzzo where he grew up, and only two and a half years before the tournament he left Serie A side Perugia to play for Palermo in Serie B.

Nonetheless, Palermo did win promotion to Serie A soon after Grosso arrived and at the same time he quietly established himself as Lippi's first choice at left back in the 2006 World Cup qualifying competition.

Yet his solid performances seldom making headlines.  Commentators have speculated that some Italian fans might not have even recognised him before 2006.

Even after the finals, when he earned a €5 million move to Internazionale, his career was notable for its fits and starts.

Marcello Lippi, Italy's coach
Marcello Lippi, Italy's coach
He won championships with Inter under Roberto Mancini and then in France with Olympique Lyon but at both clubs he quickly fell out of favour.  Inter sold him after one season, Lyon after two.

At international level, he retained Lippi's loyalty in the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup but was not selected in the final squad for South Africa.

After Lyon, he joined Juventus, where he enjoyed a respectable first season but figured in fewer matches in his second campaign and was rarely selected after Antonio Conte took charge in the summer of 2011.  After making just two appearances in the 2011-12 campaign, he announced his retirement.

Yet thanks to the 2006 World Cup, his career will never be forgotten.  Picked for the opening group match after Zambrotta had been injured in training, he then benefited from right-back Cristian Zaccardo's poor form, which persuaded Lippi to switch Zambrotta from his normal position and play Grosso at left-back.

His first important contribution came in the round-of-16 match against Australia, when he won a disputed penalty in stoppage time that enabled Italy to scrape into the quarter-finals.

Relieve Fabio Grosso's goal against Germany and Italy's second moments later

The semi-final goal in Dortmund that made him a star came with a penalty shoot-out just two minutes away after a match that had been goalless but full of dramatic excitement, with Germany desperate to reach the Final in their own country.

It stemmed from a corner on the right that found its way to playmaker Andrea Pirlo on the edge of the penalty area.  Pirlo kept the ball at his feet before he spotted Grosso in a yard of space inside the box to the right, threading the ball to him between two defenders.

Grosso admitted to half closing his eyes as he swung his left foot, aiming at where he hoped the far corner of the goal might be.  His guesswork and delivery could not have been better, the ball curling inside the post just out of the reach of goalkeeper Jens Lehmann's dive.

Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo
Grosso ran away, repeatedly shouting 'Non ci credo' - 'I don't believe it' - in a celebration reminiscent of Marco Tardelli after his goal in the 1982 final in Spain, before teammates piled on top of him.  Moments later, Alessandro Del Piero scored Italy's second goal on a break from defence as Germany threw all their players forward in search of an equaliser.

The quality of Grosso's shot took some fans by surprise but he had been a goalscoring winger in his early career, scoring 47 times in 108 games for Renato Curi Angolana in regional football in Abruzzo.  Only when he had joined Perugia was he converted to a full back.

It impressed Lippi enough to name him as the man to take the often crucial fifth penalty, and after David Trezeguet's miss for France gave Grosso the chance to win the match and the trophy for Italy, he kept his cool and duly scored, to be the man of the moment for the second time.

Married with two children, Grosso returned to Juventus in 2014 to join the coaching staff.  He is currently in charge of the Primavera (Under-20s) team, having turned down the chance to coach Crotone in Serie A earlier this year.

Travel tip:

Chieti is among the most historic Italian cities, supposedly founded in 1181BC by the Homeric Greek hero Achilles. Among its main sights are a Gothic Cathedral, rebuilt after earthquake damage in the 18th century on the sight of a church that dates back to the 11th century, and the Villa Comunale, a neo-classical palace of the 19th century that is home to the National Archaeological Museum of Abruzzo.

The Fontana Maggiore in Perugia's Piazza IV Novembre
The Fontana Maggiore in Perugia's Piazza IV Novembre
Travel tip:

Perugia, an ancient city that sits on a high hilltop midway between Rome and Florence, has a history that goes back to the Etruscan times, when it was one of the most powerful cities of the period.  It is also a university town with a long history, the University of Perugia having been founded in 1308.  The presence of the University for Foreigners and a number of smaller colleges gives Perugia a student population of more than 40,000.  The centre of the city, Piazza IV Novembre, has an interesting medieval fountain, the Fontana Maggiore, which was sculpted by Nicolo and Giovanni Pisano.

More reading:

1990 World Cup: Italy's semi-final heartbreak on home soil

1982 World Cup: Paolo Rossi's hat-trick in classic victory over Brazil

1970 World Cup: Gianni Rivera - the midfield maestro who became a politician

Also on this day:

1907: The birth of novelist Alberto Moravia

27 November 2016

Jacopo Sansovino – architect

Death of the designer praised by Palladio

A portrait of Sansovino by Tintoretto, currently  housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
A portrait of Sansovino by Tintoretto, currently
 housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
Jacopo d’Antonio Sansovino, the sculptor and architect renowned for his works around Piazza San Marco, died on this day in 1570 in Venice.

He designed the Libreria Sansoviniana in the Piazzetta, which was later praised by the architect Andrea Palladio as ‘the finest building erected since antiquity’.

Sansovino had been born Jacopo Tatti in 1486 in Florence and was apprenticed to the sculptor Andrea Sansovino, whose surname he subsequently adopted.

He was commissioned to make a marble sculpture of St James for the Duomo and a Bacchus, which is now in the Bargello in Florence.

However, his designs for sculptures to adorn the façade of the Church of San Lorenzo were rejected by Michelangelo, who was in charge of the scheme.

In 1529 Sansovino became chief architect to the Procurators of San Marco, making him one of the most influential artists in Venice.

The Palazzo Corner della Ca'Grande was the first building in Venice designed by Sansovino
The Palazzo Corner della Ca'Grande was the first
building in Venice designed by Sansovino
His first Venetian building was the Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande, a huge classical palace for one of the richest families in Venice.

Sansovino designed the Loggetta and its sculptures adjoining the Campanile and statues for the Basilica of San Marco. He also helped rebuild many of the churches and palaces in Venice.

His masterpiece is considered to be the library building in the Piazzetta, which houses the national library of San Marco, the Biblioteca Marciana.

Construction began in 1537 opposite the Doge’s palace and it became one of the most richly decorated Renaissance structures in Venice, surmounted by statues of mythological gods.

During the construction, the roof vaulting collapsed and at the time Sansovino was blamed and imprisoned. He was freed only after appeals from eminent people in Venice, including the artist Titian.

After Sansovino’s death in Venice in 1570 he was buried in St Mark’s Basilica.

The Libreria Sansoviniana, which houses the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, is considered Sansovino's masterpiece
The Libreria Sansoviniana, which houses the Biblioteca
Nazionale Marciana, is considered Sansovino's masterpiece
Travel tip:

The National Library of St Mark’s, the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, is housed in the Renaissance building designed by Sansovino opposite the Doge’s Palace in the Piazzetta. It is one of the earliest surviving public manuscript depositories in the country holding one of the greatest collections of classical texts in the world. The library is named after Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice. One of the first librarians was poet and scholar Pietro Bembo, who had earlier written beautiful love letters to Lucrezia Borgia while they were having an affair.

Travel tip:

Sansovino was buried in the beautifully decorated Baptistery of Saint Mark’s near the altar. The Baptistery was built on to the southern end of the church in the first half of the 14th century. In the centre of the room stands a baptismal font in marble and bronze, which was designed by Sansovino.

More reading:

The worldwide influence of the Renaissance giant Titian

Andrea Palladio - the world's favourite architect

The day the Campanile of St Mark's collapsed

Also on this day:

1964: The birth of footballer and manager Roberto Mancini

(Picture credits: Palazzo Corner della Ca'Grande and Libreria Sansoviniana both by Wolfgang Moroder via Wikimedia Commons)


26 November 2016

Charles Forte - businessman and hotelier

Multi-billion pound empire started with a single café

Baron Forte of Ripley
Baron Forte of Ripley
Businessman Charles Forte - later Sir Charles and then Baron Forte of Ripley - was born Carmine Forte in the hamlet of Mortale in the Frosinone province of southern Lazio on this day in 1908.

Forte was most famous for his hotels empire, which once numbered more than 800 properties ranging from Travelodge motels to the high-end luxury of the Grosvenor House in London and the George V in Paris.

Starting with a single milk bar in London, opened in 1935, he grew a business that became so vast that, when it changed hands 61 years later, it was valued at £3.9 billion.

Charles Forte was brought up largely in Scotland, where his family emigrated in 1911 after his father, Rocco, decided to follow the lead of his brother by abandoning farming in his impoverished homeland to try his luck in the catering business abroad.

Rocco ran a café and ice cream parlour in Alloa, a town in central Scotland about an hour's drive north-east of Glasgow and a similar distance to the north-west of Edinburgh.

Charles went to school in Alloa and nearby Dumfries before completing his education at the Mamiani High School in Rome.  When he returned, the family had relocated to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset.

The famous Forte logo
The famous Forte logo
He cut his catering teeth managing The Venetian Lounge, a café in Brighton owned by a cousin, before setting up a first business of his own, the Meadow Milk Bar, in Upper Regent Street, in central London, in 1935.  Forte broke new ground by serving meals as well as the usual coffee bar fare,.

Ambitious to expand, his fledgling company Strand Milk Bars had seven outlets by the outbreak of the Second World War, which presented Forte with a problem when Italy joined in on the side of Germany.  Although he had applied to become a British citizen, the process had not been completed and he found himself arrested and taken to an internment camp in the Isle of Man as a foreign national.

Happily, he was released after only three months and was co-opted on to a Ministry of Food committee to advise on rationing.

His cafés remained open throughout the War, during which he married Irene Chierico, an English girl with Venetian roots who would be his partner for life.  They had a son, Rocco, in 1945, and went on to have six children, all girls apart from the first.

The Café Royal in London's Regent Street was acquired by Charles Forte in the 1950s
The Café Royal in London's Regent Street
was acquired by Charles Forte in the 1950s
Adding more properties to his café-restaurant chain, including the Rainbow Corner, a former US servicemen's centre in Shaftesbury Avenue, and the Criterion in Piccadilly Circus, Forte became so successful he was able to buy two adjoining houses in Hampstead in the early 1950s, which enabled his extended family to join him in London.

The business was now operating as Forte Holdings Ltd and seemed to be moving in an upmarket direction when he added the prestigious Café Royal and Quaglino's to his portfolio.

But he saw more opportunities in diversifying his interests, acquiring the rights to open the first catering facility at Heathrow Airport and giving Britain its first motorway service station at Newport Pagnall on the M1 in 1959.

In the meantime, he had moved into the luxury hotel market by buying the historic Waldorf Hotel in London's Aldwych, the first of more than 800 hotels his business would own over the next 30 years, including the exclusive Hôtel George V, just off the Champs Élysees in Paris.

It was the merger of Forte Holdings with the Trust Houses Group in 1970 that turned Forte's business empire into a multi-million pound concern, creating the Trust House Forte brand, which owned the Little Chef and Happy Eater roadside restaurants, the Crest, Forte Grand, Travelodge and Posthouse hotels and numerous other retail and leisure concerns.

London's iconic Waldorf Hotel in Aldwych was the first of more than 800 hotels ultimately owned by Forte
London's iconic Waldorf Hotel in Aldwych was the first
of more than 800 hotels ultimately owned by Forte
Forte had a self-deprecating sense of humour, joking that he should be called "the shortest Knight of the year" when he became Sir Charles Forte in 1970, making reference to his diminutive stature - he was only 5ft 4ins tall.

Yet he was sensitive about how British society viewed him.  Sir Hugh Wontner, who held firm against Forte's long battle to buy the Savoy Hotel in the 1980s, publicly cast doubt on his suitability to run such an institution and the City never stopped referring to him as "the milk bar king." The restaurant guru Egon Ronay lambasted him for the quality of the food at his motorway service areas.

However, the string of high-end hotels his Forte Group ran under the Forte Grand and Exclusive Hotels by Forte brands meant he could play host to the richest and best-connected clients and he was delighted to accept a peerage offered to him in 1982 by prime minister Margaret Thatcher, whom he idolised.

With a house in Belgravia, London and a mansion at Ripley in Surrey, Forte retired in 1993 and was dismayed when his son, Rocco, whom he placed in control of his company, was unable to resist a £3.9 billion hostile takeover bid from the media and leisure company Granada, which effectively meant his life's work had been lost.

However, he lived to see Rocco build up a new luxury hotel business with the help of his sister Olga - Charles and Irene's second child - who is known as Olga Polizzi, having been married to the late Count Alessandro Polizzi.  She is now married to the author William Shawcross.

Charles Forte would periodically return to his roots in Mortale, which was subsequently renamed Monforte in his family's honour, and restored the house where his family once lived. He died in 2007 at his Belgravia home, aged 98, and was laid to rest in West Hampstead Cemetery.

The landscape around Forte's home village of Monforte
The landscape around Forte's home village of Monforte
Travel tip:

Casalattico, the municipality of which Monforte is part, is home to an Irish festival each summer, celebrating the significant number of local families that moved to Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is thought that up to 8,000 Irish-Italians have ancestors from Casalattico and nearby Picinisco.

Travel tip:

Frosinone is part of the area known as Ciociaria, which took its name from the primitive footwear - cioce - once favoured by local people, which consisted of a large leather sole and long straps that were tied around the legs up to the knee.  It first appeared on maps at the time of the Papal States.  Today it stages numerous food fairs, entertainment and music events and celebrates many rural, religious and country traditions.

More reading:

How Ferrero and Nutella grew from a small bakery in Alba

Salvatore Ferragamo - the humble Neapolitan shoemaker who became the favourite of the stars

Battista Pininfarina - the 'smallest brother' who became Italy's greatest car designer

Also on this day:

1963: The death of coloratura soprano Amelita Galli-Curci

(Pictures: Café Royal by Christine Matthews; Waldorf Hotel by Edward; Area around Monforte by Andicat; all via Wikimedia Commons)


25 November 2016

Bruno Tonioli - dance show judge

Dancer and choreographer is star of Strictly Come Dancing

Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli
Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli
Dancer, choreographer and television dance show judge Bruno Tonioli was born on this day in 1955 in Ferrara in north-east Italy.

Tonioli is one of the judging panel of Strictly Come Dancing on British TV and on its US equivalent Dancing With the Stars, which requires him to divide his time between London and New York when seasons overlap.

He began his showbusiness career in the 1980s as a member of the Paris-based dance company La Grande Eugène before moving into the music industry as a choreographer.

Among the artists he has worked with are Tina Turner, Sting, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Freddie Mercury, Sinitta, Boy George, Dead or Alive, and Duran Duran.

Tonioli has also worked on numerous films and television shows including Little Voice, The Gathering Storm, Dancin' thru the Dark and Enigma.

He also has a number of acting credits, including the role of Peppino, manservant to Michael Gambon's Oscar Wilde in the BBC production Oscar.  Tonioli appeared as himself in the movie version of the BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous.

Renowned for his flamboyantly wild gestures and amusingly extravagant comments, Tonioli has been a member of the Strictly Come Dancing team since the show's launch in 2004 and is now into his 14th series alongside fellow ever-presents Len Goodman and Craig Revel-Horwood.  He was hired to judge on Dancing With the Stars when that show launched in 2005.

Bruno Tonioli is renowned for his wild gestures
Bruno Tonioli is renowned for his wild gestures
The son of a bus driver, Werther Tonioli, and a seamstress mother, Fulvia, Tonioli was 12 before the family could afford their own apartment in Ferrara. Until then they had lived with his father's parents.

He knew from an early age that he was gay, although he said in a newspaper interview in 2005 that the subject of his sexuality was never discussed at home.  He believes his parents, who were strict Catholics, would not have wanted to contemplate the possibility at the time, although not out of shame but for fear of how others might judge him.

He said he was bullied and threatened at school but fought back by growing his hair long, smoking expensive cigarettes, wearing the latest in cool clothes and becoming friends with the best-looking girls among his peer group, after which he became popular and acceptable.

Tonioli's love of the theatre began when he the film version of the musical Cabaret, starring Liza Minnelli, came to Ferrara in 1972.  He saw it eight times and realised he wanted dance to be his career. Others boys of his age wanted to play football but he was much more interested in theatre and the arts.

His parents were keen for him to find a steady job, perhaps in a bank.  Instead, he left for Rome to enrol at ballet school, leaving Italy for Paris at the age of 18.  Both his parents are now dead but he says he was reconciled with them long before they passed away.

From Paris he moved to London, joining another dance company and finding work in television and the West End as a choreographer.  The English capital has been his home almost ever since.

The Palazzo dei Diamante in Ferrara
The Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara
Travel tip:

Apart from the impressively well preserved Castello Estense right at the heart of the city, Ferrara - situated midway between Bologna and Venice in Emilia-Romagna - has many notable architectural gems, including many palaces from the 14th and 15th centuries.  Among them is the striking Palazzo dei Diamanti, so-called because the stone blocks of its facade are cut into the shape of diamonds. The palace holds the National Picture Gallery, which houses many works from the  masters of the 16th-century School of Ferrara, including Lorenzo Costa, Dosso Dossi, Girolamo da Carpi and Benvenuto Tisi.

Travel tip:

Rome's prestigious ballet school of the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma was established in 1928 and is one of the oldest and most respected vocational schools in Italy. It can be found in Via Ozieri in a charming cottage set in a secluded and quiet street in the San Giovanni neighbourhood to the south-east of the city, near the ruins of the Felice Aqueduct. Director Luchino Visconti in 1951 chose it as the location for shooting some scenes of his film Beautiful, starring the Roman actress Anna Magnani.

Books: Bruno: My Story, by Bruno Tonioli (Headline)

More reading:

(Picture credits: Bruno Tonioli pictures from YouTube; Palazzo dei Diamante by Sansa55 via Wikimedia Commons)

24 November 2016

Lucky Luciano - Mafia boss

Sicilian who brought order among warring clans

Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured in Italy in 1948, after he had been deported by the American authorities
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, pictured in Italy in 1948, after
he had been deported by the American authorities
Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, the mobster best known for shaping the structure of Italian-dominated organized crime in the United States, was born Salvatore Lucania on this day in 1897 in Lercara Friddi, a town about 70km (44 miles) south-east of the Sicilian capital, Palermo.

Raised in New York's Lower East Side after his family emigrated in 1906, it was Luciano who famously put the New York underworld into the control of the so-called Five Families and also set up The Commission, which served as a governing body for organized crime nationwide.

After he was jailed in 1936 on extortion and prostitution charges, Luciano is said to have struck a deal with the American authorities to use his criminal connections to help the Allies in their invasion of Sicily, a vital first step in driving the German forces and their supporters out of the Italian peninsula.

In return he was given parole and allowed to return to Sicily at the end of the Second World War.

Luciano, whose father, Antonio, had worked in a sulphur mine in Lercara Friddi, began his life in crime as a teenager, when he set up his own gang and became friends with Jewish gang members Meyer Lansky and his associate Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, who would become two of his most important allies.

He grew powerful during the prohibition era of the 1920s, which created opportunities for criminals to make a lot of money. By 1925, he was grossing $12 million dollars a year and had met many of New York's future Mafia leaders, including Vito Genovese and Frank Costello.  He had also begun working for another big hitter, the Lower Manhattan gang boss Joe Masseria.

Vito Genovese, an ally of Luciano
Vito Genovese, an ally of Luciano
Caught up in the Castellammarese war - so-called because it involved Mafia bosses from the Castellammare del Golfo area of Sicily - he assumed control of one of the Five Families by eliminating both main protagonists, Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, after both tried to have him killed.

In doing so he took his place alongside such infamous figures as Joseph Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, Tommy Gagliano and Vincent Mangano - but it was Luciano whose 'family', later known as the Genovese family, had the greater reach.

Yet rather than seeking to make himself still more powerful, he was keen that the gangs stopped fighting among themselves and concentrated on maximising profits. To that end, Luciano sought to create a national organized-crime network to settle disputes and establish demarcation lines between the different operations.

He forged links with crime bosses in other cities, including Chicago's Al Capone, in what became known as The Commission.

Luciano's wealth enabled him to live at New York's luxurious Waldorf Towers, part of the Waldorf Astoria hotel, under the name Charles Ross.

But his luck ran out in 1936 when he was convicted on extortion and prostitution charges, sentenced to 30 to 50 years in jail and sent to a correctional facility in New York State which was known as "Siberia" because of its remote location near the Canadian border.

His appeals against conviction were rejected and it seemed he was destined to spend the rest of his life behind bars, but then came the opportunity to use his influence in New York and Sicily to help the Allied war effort in Europe.

He was contacted by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, who used Meyer Lansky as an intermediary, for help in stopping German and Italian agents entering the United States through the New York waterfront, which the mobs controlled.

Then, as the Allies prepared for the 1943 invasion of Sicily, Luciano is also said to have provided the Americans with Sicilian Mafia contacts.  In return, he was given parole and deported back to Sicily.

Carlo Gambino, the gang boss who delivered the eulogy at Luciano's funeral in New York
Carlo Gambino, the gang boss who delivered
the eulogy at Luciano's funeral in New York
It was not the end of his career in crime.  Although he remained in Sicily in the immediate post-war months, he secretly moved to Havana in Cuba in 1946, meeting up again with Lansky and Siegel in the hope that he could resume control of his operations in New York from a base closer to the United States.

By 1947, however, his presence in Cuba had been discovered by U.S. agents, who alerted the Cuban government, after which he was sent back to Italy.

He was thereafter kept under close surveillance, although still maintaining his criminal activities in New York via his lieutenant, Frank Costello, eventually helping Carlo Gambino, a fellow Sicilian and a longtime friend, to become the most powerful gang boss in New York.

Luciano died in January 1962 at Naples Airport, suffering a heart attack shortly after meeting an American producer to discuss a film about his life.

After a relatively small funeral in Naples, Luciano's body was returned to the United States. After a second funeral, attended by 2,000 mourners, at which Gambino delivered the eulogy, he was buried in the family's vault at St. John's Cemetery in Queens, New York, under his birth name of Salvatore Lucania.

Travel tip:

Lercara Friddi, which features some remains of a Greek colony dating back to the eighth century BC, was once notable for its sulphur mine, the only one in the province of Palermo.  As well as being the home town of Salvatore Lucania, it was the birthplace five years earlier of Saverio Antonio Martino Sinatra, who emigrated to the United States in 1903 and married Natalie Garaventa, from Liguria.  They settled in New Jersey where, in 1915, Natalie gave birth to their only child, Francis Albert Sinatra.

Hotels in Palermo by Hotels.com

The harbour at Castellamare del Golfo
The harbour at Castellammare del Golfo
Travel tip:

Castellammare del Golfo is a fishing town and tourist resort in the province of Trapani on the northern coast of Sicily, west of Palermo.  It is also noted for having been the birthplace of many American Mafia figures, including Salvatore Maranzano, Stefano Magaddino, Vito Bonventre, John Tartamella, and Joseph Bonanno.

More reading:

Carlo Gambino, the Sicilian mob boss thought to be the model for 'The Godfather' Vito Corleone in Mario Puzo's novel

Paolo di Lauro - Camorra boss captured in Carabinieri swoop

Joe Petrosino - Calabrian who became crime-fighting New York cop

Also on this day:

1826: Birth of Carlo Collodi, creator of Pinocchio


23 November 2016

Ludovico Einaudi – composer

Musician world famous for his unique blend of sounds

Ludovico Einaudi takes the applause after a  performance at the Palazzo del Quirinale
Ludovico Einaudi takes the applause after a
performance at the Palazzo del Quirinale 

Pianist and film music composer Ludovico Maria Enrico Einaudi was born on this day in 1955 in Turin.

Einaudi has composed the music for films such as The Intouchables and I’m Still Here and has released many solo albums for piano and orchestra.

His distinctive music, which mixes classical with contemporary rhythms of rock and electronic, is now played all over the world and has been used as background music and in television commercials.

Einaudi’s mother, Renata Aldrovandi, played the piano to him as a child and her father, Waldo Aldrovandi, was a pianist, opera conductor and composer, who went to live in Australia after the Second World War.

Einaudi's grandfather, Luigi Einaudi, was President of Italy from 1948 to 1955
Einaudi's grandfather, Luigi Einaudi, was
President of Italy from 1948 to 1955
His father, Giulio Einaudi, was a publisher, who worked with authors Italo Calvino and Primo Levi, and his grandfather, Luigi Einaudi, was President of Italy between 1948 and 1955.

Einaudi started composing his own music and playing it on a folk guitar when he was a teenager.

He began his musical training at the Conservatorio Verdi in Milan, obtaining a diploma in composition in 1982. He took an orchestration class with the composer Luciano Berio, in which, according to Einaudi himself, he learnt to have a very open way of thinking about music.

He started by composing in traditional forms and some of his music was performed at Teatro alla Scala and the Arena in Verona.

Listen to Einaudi's beautiful Due Tramonti from his album Eden Roc

By the mid 1980s, Einaudi had begun to express himself more personally in the music he created for theatre, video, dance and film. 

He composed the music for Acquario in 1996, for which he won the Grolla D’Oro, an Italian film award, for the best sound track.

In 2000 his sound track for the film Fuori del mondo was nominated for an Oscar and he won the Echo Klassic award for it in Germany in 2002. Einaudi also won the award for best soundtrack at the 2002 Italian Music Awards for the film Luce dei miei occhi.

In 2004, his soundtrack for Sotto falso nome won a prize at the Avignon Film Festival. Einaudi has written the scores for, or had his music included, in many other films.

Le Onde, Ludovico Einaudi's first solo piano album
Le Onde, Ludovico Einaudi's first solo piano album

His first solo piano album, Le Onde was released in 1996 and has been followed by a string of successes. Divenire, in 2007, considered the most musically ambitious, has been his greatest commercial success to date. The latest, Elements, featuring piano, electronic and orchestral music was released in 2015.

Einaudi has travelled all over the world performing his own music. His concerts in Birmingham last night and in Glasgow tonight, the evening of his birthday, have both sold out in advance of the performance and his concerts in Milan from December 8 to13 are already sell-outs.

In 2005, Einaudi was awarded the Ordine al Merito della Repubblic Italiana (OMRI), a senior order bestowed by the Italian Republic, which is the equivalent of a Knighthood.

Turin's Piazza Castello
Turin's Piazza Castello
Travel tip:

Turin, where Einaudi was born, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont in the north of Italy. It is an important business centre, particularly for the car industry, and has a rich history linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of royal Turin.

Travel tip:

Einaudi followed in the footsteps of many famous Italian composers by receiving a musical education at Milan’s Conservatory of Music (Conservatorio di Musica ‘Giuseppe Verdi’), which is in Via Conservatorio, just off Via Pietro Mascagni, behind the Duomo. It is just a short walk from there to Teatro alla Scala in Piazza della Scala, with its fascinating museum focusing on the history of opera. 

More reading:

Ennio Morricone - the maestro of the film soundtrack

How The Godfather turned Nino Rota into a household name

Eros Ramazotti - bestselling singer-songwriter

Also on this day:

1553: Born: Prospero Alpini - the botanist who told Europe about coffee 

(Picture credits: pictures of Ludovico Einaudi and Luigi Einaudi courtesy of Presidenza della Repubblica; Piazza Castello by cheniyuan; all via Wikimedia Commons)

22 November 2016

Nevio Scala - footballer and coach

Led Parma to success in golden era of 1990s

Nevio Scala led Parma to unprecedented success after taking charge in 1989
Nevio Scala led Parma to unprecedented
success after taking charge in 1989
Nevio Scala, a European Cup winner with AC Milan as a player and the most successful coach of Parma's golden era in the 1990s, was born on this day in 1947 in Lozzo Atestino, a small town in the Euganean Hills, just south of Padua.

A midfielder who also played for Roma, Vicenza and Internazionale at the top level of Italian football, Scala was never picked for his country but won a Serie A title and a European Cup-Winners' Cup in addition to the European Cup with AC Milan.

But his achievements with Parma as coach arguably exceeded even that, given that they were a small provincial club that had never played in Serie A when Scala was appointed.

He had given notice of his ability by almost taking the tiny Calabrian club Reggina to Serie A in 1989 only a year after winning promotion from Serie C, and needed only one season to take Parma to the top flight for the first time.

With the massive financial backing of Calisto Tanzi, the founder and chairman of the local dairy giants Parmalat, Scala then led Parma into a period of sustained success no one could have predicted.

With a galaxy of top international players at his disposal, including Tomas Brolin, Antonio Benarrivo, Gianfranco Zola and Faustino Asprilla, Scala coached his side to play a swashbuckling brand of football that took the established big hitters by surprise.

Gianfranco Zola, one of the stars of the  Parma team of the 1990s
Gianfranco Zola, one of the stars of the
Parma team of the 1990s
Between 1991 and 1995, Parma won the Coppa Italia, the European Cup-Winners' Cup, the European Super Cup and the UEFA Cup and the team Scala handed over when he was replaced by Carlo Ancelotti in 1996 went on to finish runners-up in Serie A in 1997.

He went on to enjoy more success as a coach, but outside Italy, winning trophies in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, in the Ukraine with Shakhtar Donetsk and in Russia with Spartak Moscow.

Scala returned to live in his home town of Lozzo Atestino, where he served on the local council and ran unsuccessfully as mayor in 2007.

He moved into football punditry on radio and TV with state broadcaster Rai, making regular appearances on the Sunday evening TV review of the Serie A programme, Domenica Sportiva. 

He was linked with a return to coaching, first at the Scottish club Motherwell and later with AS. Roma.  When he did return to football in 2015 it was as president of Parma, although a very different Parma from the one he coached.

Since he left the Stadio Ennio Tardini, Parma has twice been made bankrupt, first in 2004 in the wake of the catastrophic collapse of Calisto Tanzi's Parmalat empire, which saw the business tycoon jailed for fraud and criminal association, and again in 2015, when the relaunched club folded with debts of €218 million.

In July 2015, with the support of pasta makers Barilla, the club made another fresh start as SSD Parma Calcio 1913, taking its name from the year of foundation of the original club and was granted entry to Serie D.

Scala was appointed president and former player Luigi Apolloni as head coach.  The new club sold more than 9,000 season tickets, more than doubling the Serie D record and won promotion at the first attempt into professional football league Lega Pro.

The 13th century Valbona Castle at Lozzo Atestino
The 13th century Valbona Castle at Lozzo Atestino
Travel tip:

The Colli Euganei, to give the Euganean Hills their Italian name, was the first regional park to be established in the Veneto when it was mapped out in 1989, enclosing 15 towns, including Lozzo Atestino, and the 81 hills - rising to between 300 and 600m - that make up the area, a volcanic outcrop in an otherwise flat terrain. Lozzo Atestino is situated at the foot of Monte Lozzo.  Of particular interest to visitors is the 13th century Valbona Castle, an imposing fort that now houses a restaurant.

Travel tip:

Despite the damage done to its economy by the Parmalat collapse, one of the biggest financial scandals in Italian history, Parma remains an elegant city with the air of prosperity common to much of Emilia-Romagna, famous for Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and boasting some outstanding architecture, including the 11th century Romanesque cathedral and the octagonal 12th century baptistery that adjoins it.

More reading:

Antonio Conte - former Juventus coach now in charge at Chelsea

The birth of Italy's first football club

The story of Italy's World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi

Also on this day:

1710: The death of composer Bernardo Pasquini

(Picture of Nevio Scala by Anastasiya Fedorenko; Gianfranco Zola by Hilton1949; Valbona Castle by Milazzi; all via Wikimedia Commons)


21 November 2016

Festival of Madonna della Salute

Venetians celebrate their deliverance from the plague

The church of Santa Maria della Salute stands at the entrance to the Grand Canal
The church of Santa Maria della Salute
stands at the entrance to the Grand Canal
Venice has held a festival on this day every year since 1681 to give thanks to Santa Maria della Salute for delivering the city from the plague.

A terrible epidemic hit Venice in 1630 during the war against Austria and in just 15 months 46,000 people died from the disease.

The epidemic was so bad that all the gondolas were painted black as a sign of mourning and they have remained like that ever since.

The Doge had called for people to pray to the Madonna to release the city from the grip of the plague and had vowed to dedicate a church to her if their prayers were answered.

When the plague ceased, in order to thank the Virgin Mary, the Senate commissioned Baldassare Longhena to design Santa Maria della Salute, a splendid baroque church on Punta della Dogana, a narrow finger of land between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal.

Venice's gondolas were painted black to mourn the victims of the plague and have remained black ever since
Venice's gondolas were painted black to mourn the victims
of the plague and have remained black ever since
Construction of the magnificent church began in 1631 and took 50 years to complete.

On the occasion of the inauguration in 1681, a bridge of galleys and ships was formed across the Grand Canal to allow a mass procession of the faithful to the Church.

It was decided that the Senate would visit the church each year on November 21, the date of the feast of the presentation of the Virgin in the Catholic calendar.

For the Festa of Madonna della Salute, the city’s officials parade from San Marco to Santa Maria della Salute for a service over a temporary pontoon bridge formed across the Grand Canal. The solemn procession crosses it to reach the Church, where in the presence of the icon of the Virgin, thousands of votive candles are lit.

The pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal constructed each year to mark the Festa of Madonna della Salute
The pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal constructed
each year to mark the Festival of Madonna della Salute
The candles are sold to the local people by stalls surrounding the Campo della Salute, along with balloons, cakes, sweets and hot food to contribute to the festive fun.

Several thousand Venetians will make the pilgrimage across the temporary bridge today to light a candle to thank the Virgin Mary and pray to her for continued good health.

On the day of the festa it is also traditional for Venetians to eat a special soup known as Castradina, which is made from cabbage, dried spiced mutton and rosemary.

Travel tip:

The great baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute standing at the entrance to the Grand Canal is supported by more than a million timber piles. It is one of the most imposing architectural landmarks in Venice and has inspired painters such as Canaletto, Turner and Guardi. The interior consists of a large octagonal space below a cupola with eight side chapels. There are paintings by Titian and Tintoretto and a group of statues depicting the Virgin and Child expelling the plague by the Flemish sculptor, Josse de Corte.

The Grand Canal, looking towards Santa Maria della Salute
The Grand Canal, looking towards Santa Maria della Salute
Travel tip:

The Grand Canal - Canal Grande - sweeps through the heart of Venice, following the course of an ancient river bed. Since the founding days of the Venetian empire it has served as the city’s main thoroughfare. It was once used by great galleys and trading vessels but nowadays is teeming with vaporetti, water taxis, private boats and gondolas. The palaces bordering the winding waterway bear the names of the old Venetian aristocratic families and represent the finest architecture designed for the republic over its many centuries of history. The ambassador to Charles VIII of France visited Venice in 1495 and called the Grand Canal ‘the most beautiful street in the world.’

More reading:

Also on this day:

(Picture credits: Santa Maria della Salute main picture by Higinoa; pontoon bridge by Unofeld781 via Wikimedia Commons)