27 April 2024

27 April

Antonio Gramsci - left-wing intellectual

Communist leader who Mussolini could not gag

Antonio Gramsci, one of the more remarkable intellectuals of left-wing Italian politics in the early 20th century, died on this day in 1937 in Rome, aged only 46.  A founding member and ultimately leader of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), he was arrested by Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime in November 1926 and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.   In failing health, he was granted his release after a campaign by friends and supporters but died without leaving the clinic in which he spent his final two years.  The conditions he encountered in jail led him to develop high blood pressure, angina, tuberculosis and acute gastric disorders.  Yet he found sufficient energy while imprisoned  to study the social and political history of Italy in extensive detail and to record his thoughts and theories in notebooks and around 500 letters to friends and supporters.  Many of his propositions heavily influenced the political strategy of communist parties in the West after the Second World War following the publication of his Prison Notebooks.  Gramsci was born in January 1891 in the small town of Ales, in a mountainous inland part of Sardinia.  Read more…


Cesare Bianchi - head chef

From shores of Lake Como to London’s Café Royal

Cesare Bianchi, who rose from humble beginnings to become head chef at London’s prestigious Café Royal in the 1930s, was born on this day in 1897 in Cernobbio, a village on Lake Como in northern Italy.  He moved to England when he was only 16, hoping to build a career in catering and soon found work doing odd jobs in a London kitchen. However, he had been in the city barely a year when the outbreak of the First World War meant he had to return to his homeland for national service.  In his case, it was with the Alpini, Italy’s mountain brigades, with whom he was an interpreter.  Eager to resume his career in England, once the war was over Cesare took a job at the Palace Hotel in Aberdeen.  It was there he met Martha Gall, the woman who would become his wife.  They were married in 1921 and Martha soon gave birth to their daughter, Patricia.  Ambitious, Cesare persuaded his wife to leave Scotland behind so that he could make another attempt to establish himself in London.  His culinary talents took him a long way as he worked his way up from modest beginnings to land a place in the kitchen at the Café Royal in Regent Street.  Read more…


Vittorio Cecchi Gori - entrepreneur

Ex-president of Fiorentina who produced two of Italy’s greatest films

Vittorio Cecchi Gori, whose chequered career in business saw him produce more than 300 films and own Fiorentina’s football club but also saw him jailed for fraudulent bankruptcy, was born on this day in 1942 in Florence.  The son of Mario Cecchi Gori, whose production company he inherited, he provided the financial muscle behind two of Italy’s greatest films of recent years, Il Postino (1994), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful (1997), which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.  He was also involved with the 1992 Oscar winner Mediterraneo, directed by Gabriele Salvatores, which also won in the Best Foreign Language film category.  Vittorio’s legacy from his father also included Fiorentina football club, of which he was president from 1993 to 2002.   With Cecchi Gori’s backing, while his involvement with the movie business was generating such huge profits, Fiorentina enjoyed great times.  He invested heavily in new players and persuaded the club’s icon, the Argentine forward Gabriel Batistuta, to stay after the viola were relegated in 1993.  Read more…


Renato Rascel - actor, singer and songwriter

Film and TV star who wrote the iconic song Arrivederci Roma

Renato Rascel, whose remarkable career encompassed more than 60 movies, a hit 1970s TV series, representing Italy at the Eurovision Song Contest and writing one of the most famous Italian songs of all time, was born on this day in 1912 in Turin.  Rascel was Italy’s entry at Eurovision 1960 in London, singing Romantica, with which he had won the Sanremo Music Festival earlier in the year. Romantica finished eighth overall in London.  He is arguably most famous, however, for the song Arrivederci Roma, which he wrote for the 1955 film of the same name, in which he starred with the Italian-American tenor and actor Mario Lanza, which was subsequently released for English and American cinema audiences with the title Seven Hills of Rome.  Arrivederci Roma quickly became a favourite Italian song and scores of big-name singers recorded cover versions, including Bing Crosby, Connie Francis, Dean Martin, Dionne Warwick, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and Vic Damone.  Only a year earlier, Rascel had written the best-selling Italian song of 1954 in Te voglio bene tanto tanto (I Love You So Much).  Read more…


Popes John XXIII and John Paul II made saints

Crowd of 800,000 in St Peter's Square for joint canonisation

Pope Francis declared Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints at a ceremony during Mass in Rome’s St Peter’s Square on this day in 2014.  Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world converged on the Vatican to attend the ceremony, which celebrated two popes recognised as giants of the Catholic Church in the 20th century.  There was scarcely room to move in St Peter's Square, the Via della Conciliazione and the adjoining streets.  The crowd, probably the biggest since John Paul II’s beatification three years earlier, was estimated at around 800,000, of which by far the largest contingent had made the pilgrimage from John Paul’s native Poland to see their most famous compatriot become a saint.  Thousands of red and white Polish flags filled the square.  In his homily, Pope Francis said Saints John XXIII and John Paul II were “priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them God was more powerful, faith was more powerful”.  He added that the two popes had “co-operated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating” the Catholic Church.  Read more…


Book of the Day: An Introduction to Antonio Gramsci: His Life, Thought and Legacy, by George Hoare and Nathan Sperber

This is a concise introduction to the life and work of the Italian militant and political thinker, Antonio Gramsci. As head of the Italian Communist Party in the 1920s, Gramsci was arrested and condemned to 20 years' imprisonment by Mussolini's fascist regime. It was during this imprisonment that Gramsci wrote his famous Prison Notebooks – over 2,000 pages of profound and influential reflections on history, culture, politics, philosophy and revolution.  An Introduction to Antonio Gramsci retraces the trajectory of Gramsci's life, before examining his conceptions of culture, politics and philosophy. Gramsci's writings are then interpreted through the lens of his most famous concept, that of 'hegemony'; Gramsci's thought is then extended and applied to 'think through' contemporary problems to illustrate his distinctive historical methodology. The book concludes with a valuable examination of Gramsci's legacy today and useful tips for further reading.  George Hoare and Nathan Sperber make Gramsci accessible for students of history, politics and philosophy keen to understand this seminal figure in 20th-century intellectual history.

George Hoare is an independent researcher and co-host of the Bungacast podcast. His books include The End of the End of History: Politics in the Twenty-First Century and Taking Control: Sovereignty and Democracy after Brexit (with Philip Cunliffe, Lee Jones, and Peter Ramsay).  Nathan Sperber is a sociologist based in Paris and an associate of the European Centre of Sociology and Political Science of the Sorbonne, France.

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