4 March 2024

4 March

- Alfonso Bialetti – engineer

The genius behind one of the most quintessentially Italian style symbols

Alfonso Bialetti, who became famous for designing the aluminium Moka Express coffee maker, died on this day in 1970 in Omegna in Piedmont.  Originally designed in 1933, the Moka Express has been a style icon since the 1950s, and it remains a famous symbol of the Italian way of life to this day.  Bialetti was born in 1888 in Montebuglio, a district of the Casale Corte Cerro municipality in Cusio, Piedmont. As a young man, he is said to have alternated between assisting his father, who sold branding irons, and working as an apprentice in small workshops.  He emigrated to France while he was still young and became a foundry worker, acquiring metalworking skills by working for a decade in the French metal industry.  In 1918 he returned to Montebuglio, opened a foundry in nearby Crusinallo and began making metal products. This became the foundation of Alfonso Bialetti & Company.  He came up with the brilliant idea of the Moka Express, which was to revolutionise the process of making coffee in the home, using a process by which hot water in the pot’s lower chamber is forced by the pressure of steam to percolate through a funnel containing coffee grounds.  Read more…


Giorgio Bassani - writer and novelist

Best-known work reflected plight of wealthy Jewish Italians in 1930s

Giorgio Bassani, rated by many critics as alongside the likes of Cesare Pavese, Elsa Morante and Alberto Moravia among the great postwar Italian novelists, was born on this day in 1916 in Bologna.  Bassani’s best-known work, his 1962 novel Il giardino dei finzi-contini - The Garden of the Finzi-Continis - was turned into an Oscar-winning movie by the director Vittorio De Sica.  Like much of his fiction, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is semi-autobiographical, drawing on his upbringing as a member of an upper middle-class Jewish family in Ferrara, the city in Emilia-Romagna, during the rise of Mussolini’s Fascists and the onset of World War Two.  Bassani, who was the editor of a number of literary journals and a respected screenplay writer, had already achieved recognition for his work through his Cinque storie ferraresi - Five Stories of Ferrara - which won the prestigious Strega Prize in 1956.  But it was The Garden of the Finzi-Continis that won him international acclaim. The novel was part of a series that expanded on the same theme in presenting a picture of the world during the author's formative years, against a background of state-promoted antisemitism.  Read more…


Lucio Dalla - musician

Cantautore inspired by the great Caruso

The singer/songwriter Lucio Dalla was born on this day in 1943 in Bologna. Dalla is most famous for composing the song, Caruso, in 1986 after staying in the suite the great tenor Enrico Caruso used to occupy overlooking the sea at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria in Sorrento.  Dalla started playing the clarinet when he was young and joined the Rheno Dixieland Band in Bologna along with the future film director, Pupi Avati.  Avati was later to say that his film Ma quando arrivano le ragazze? was inspired by his friendship with Dalla.  In the 1960s the band won first prize in the traditional jazz band category at a festival in Antibes. After hearing Dalla’s voice, his fellow cantautore - the Italian word for singer/songwriter - Gino Paoli suggested he try for a solo career as a soul singer, but his first single was a failure.  Dalla had a hit with 4 Marzo 1943, originally entitled Gesù bambino, but which was changed to the singer’s birth date so as not to cause offence.  In the 1970s Dalla started a collaboration with the Bolognese poet Roberto Roversi, who wrote the lyrics for three of his albums.  Read more…


Birth of the Italian Constitution

Celebrations in Turin for historic Statute

The Albertine Statute - Statuto Albertino - which later became the Constitution of the Kingdom of Italy, was approved by Charles Albert, King of Sardinia, on this day in 1848 in Turin.  The Constitution was to last 100 years, until its abolition in 1948 when the Constitution of the new Italian republic came into effect.  The Statute was based on the French Charter of 1830. It ensured citizens were equal before the law and gave them limited rights of assembly and the right to a free press.  However, it gave voting rights to less than three per cent of the population.  The Statute established the three classic branches of government: the executive, which meant the king, the legislative, divided between the royally appointed Senate and an elected Chamber of Deputies, and a judiciary, also appointed by the king.  Originally, it was the king who possessed the widest powers, as he controlled foreign policy and had the prerogative of nominating and dismissing ministers of state.  In practice, the Statute was gradually modified to weaken the king’s power. The ministers of state became responsible to the parliament and the office of prime minister, not provided for in the Constitution, became prominent.  Read more…


Antonio Vivaldi – Baroque composer

The success and the sadness in the life of musical priest 

Violinist, teacher, composer and cleric Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born on this day in Venice in 1678.  Widely recognised as one of the greatest Baroque composers, he had an enormous influence on music throughout Europe during his own lifetime.  His best-known work is a series of beautiful violin concertos called The Four Seasons.  Vivaldi was a prolific composer who enjoyed a lot of success when his career was at its height.  As well as instrumental concertos he composed many sacred choral works and more than 40 operas.  Vivaldi’s father taught him to play the violin when he was very young and he became a brilliant performer. At the age of 15 he began studying to be a priest and he was ordained at the age of 25. He soon became nicknamed ‘Il Prete Rosso’, the red priest, because of his red hair.  He became master of violin at the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage in Venice, and composed most of his works while working there during the next 30 years.  The orphaned girls received a musical education and the most talented pupils stayed on to become members of the Ospedale’s orchestra or choir. Vivaldi wrote concertos, cantatas and sacred vocal music for them to perform.  Read more…


Book of the Day: Coffee: A Global History, by Jonathan Morris

Coffee is a global beverage: it is grown commercially on four continents, and consumed enthusiastically in all seven. There is even an Italian espresso machine on the International Space Station. Coffee's journey has taken it from the forests of Ethiopia to the fincas of Latin America, from Ottoman coffee houses to 'Third Wave' cafes, and from the simple coffee pot to the capsule machine. In Coffee: A Global History, Jonathan Morris explains how the world acquired a taste for coffee, yet why coffee tastes so different throughout the world. Morris discusses who drank coffee, as well as why and where, how it was prepared and what it tasted like. He identifies the regions and ways in which coffee was grown, who worked the farms and who owned them, and how the beans were processed, traded and transported. He also analyses the businesses behind coffee - the brokers, roasters and machine manufacturers - and dissects the geopolitics linking producers to consumers. Written in an engaging style, and featuring wonderful recipes, stories and facts, this book will fascinate foodies, food historians and the many people who regard the humble coffee bean as a staple of modern life.

Jonathan Morris is Research Professor at the University of Hertfordshire. He is a historian of consumption and consumer societies, co-editor of Coffee: The Comprehensive Guide to the Bean, the Beverage and the Industry (2013), and a judge for the Speciality Coffee Association's Best Product in Show awards.

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