Showing posts with label 1896. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1896. Show all posts

6 June 2019

Italo Balbo - Fascist commander

Blackshirt thug turned air commander was Mussolini’s ‘heir apparent’


Italo Balbo was the commander of Italy's air force in the 1930s
Italo Balbo was the commander of
Italy's air force in the 1930s
Italo Balbo, who rose to such a position of seniority in the hierarchy of the Italian Fascists that he was considered the man most likely to succeed Benito Mussolini as leader, was born on this day in 1896 in Quartesana, a village on the outskirts of Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna.

After active service in the First World War, Balbo became the leading Fascist organizer in his home region of Ferrara, leading a gang of Blackshirt thugs who became notorious for their attacks on rival political groups and for carrying out vicious reprisals against striking rural workers on behalf of wealthy landlords.

Later, he was one of the leaders of the March on Rome that brought Mussolini and the Fascists to power in 1922.

As Maresciallo dell'Aria - Marshal of the Air Force - he rebuilt Italy’s aerial warfare capability. At the height of his influence, however, he was sent by Mussolini to be Governor of Italian Libya.

Many believed that Mussolini saw Balbo as a threat and when, early in the Second World War, Balbo was killed when the plane in which he was travelling was shot down - seemingly accidentally - by Italian anti-aircraft guns over Tobruk, there were immediately those among Balbo’s supporters who believed the incident was not an accident.

Balbo (second right), with Mussolini and other Blackshirt leaders of the March on Rome in 1922
Balbo (second right), with Mussolini and other Blackshirt
leaders of the March on Rome in 1922
Balbo had been at odds with Mussolini over the dictator’s race laws, which he deeply opposed. He was also the only leading Fascist to speak out against the alliance with Nazi Germany, on the basis that Italy, he felt, would merely be Hitler’s lackeys in the partnership.  He advocated that Italy should side with the British.

Balbo was politically active from a young age. After Italy initially declared itself as neutral in the First World War, Balbo joined in several pro-war rallies. Once Italy entered the war in 1915, he served with the Italian Royal Army.

He enlisted in the Alpini mountain infantry and won two silver medals for military valour, rising to the rank of captain. Later, after obtaining a degree in Social Sciences in Florence, Balbo went back to Ferrara and joined the Fascist Party, quitting his job as a bank clerk to be branch secretary.

Party members increasingly formed gangs and would behave aggressively towards opponents.  Balbo proved himself as an adept gang commander. For several years, he led a unit called the Celibanisti, named after the squad’s ritual of ordering a specific cherry brandy in the afternoons at Caffè Mozzi in Piazza del Duomo.

An illustration from an American newspaper showing Balbo's squadron
An illustration from an American
newspaper showing Balbo's squadron 
The Celibanisti directed their violence towards Socialist, Communist, and Democratic party members. Balbo was implicated in the murder of a parish priest in Argenta, another town in the Ferrara province, and left the area to move to Rome.

Balbo held a number of senior positions in the Fascist hierarchy under Mussolini, including Commander in Chief of the Militia (1922), Secretary of State for National Economy (1925), Undersecretary of the Air Force (1926), General of the Air Fleet (1928) and Air Minister (1929).

As commander of the air forces, he organised many spectacular displays of air power, often involving formation flying.  His prestige soared after a visit to America in 1933 when, having made it his business to learn to fly, he commanded a squadron of sea planes that flew to Chicago to take part in the Century of Progress Fair.  He was welcomed as a hero and President Roosevelt awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Just as his popularity was growing at home, however, Balbo was ordered to Libya as Governor-General of the Italian colony.

The appointment was an effective exile from politics in Rome, however. Mussolini was wary of Balbo’s close relationship with the suspected anti-Fascist Prince Umberto, the king’s son. Mussolini became so paranoid that he ordered that Italian newspapers could not mention Balbo's name more than once a month.

The site of the crash, including a makeshift grave, in which Balbo died when his place was shot down over Libya
The site of the crash, including a makeshift grave, in which
Balbo died when his place was shot down over Libya
He was an effective leader in Libya. He bolstered the economy by improving railways and roads, including the Litoranea Libica coastal highway which stretched across the Libyan coast.  He was a major supporter of colonising Libya with Italian peasants.  By 1940, approximately 110,000 Italians were living in Libya. Ultimately, 12 per cent of the Libyan population was of Italian origin.

Balbo died on June 28, 1940. He was a passenger on a plane that attempted to land at Tobruk airfield shortly after an attack by British aircraft. Italian anti-aircraft batteries defending the airfield misidentified his aircraft as a British fighter and opened fire. 

His remains were buried outside Tripoli and later moved to the cemetery at Orbetello in Tuscany, close to the airfield from which he flew his sea plane squadron to the United States in 1933, by Balbo's family.  He is buried with many other airmen associated with the base.

The Este Castle at Ferrara in winter snow
The Este Castle at Ferrara in winter snow
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. Ferrara was ruled by the Este family between 1240 and 1598 and it was they who built the magnificent castle, work on which began in 1385.

The entrance to what remains of the  seaplane base at Orbetello
The entrance to what remains of the
seaplane base at Orbetello
Travel tip:

The remains of the Orbetello seaplane base, the military structure built at the beginning of the century and best known for its links to the squadrons commanded by Italo Balbo, are still visible in the town of Orbetello, which occupies a narrow peninsula surrounded by a natural lagoon on the coast of Tuscany, about 44km (27 miles) south of Grosseto.  The field was used by the German Luftwaffe during the Second World War and the town was therefore hit by frequent air attacks. By the end of the war it was being used as an American base.  Nowadays, it is in a state of semi-abandonment. The western area that was in charge of housing the officers' families is now called Parco delle Crociere and is used as a playground. Some structures are still standing, including the entrance, which bears the name of Agostino Brunetta, a seaplane pilot.

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11 May 2019

Filippo De Pisis - painter and poet

Artist known for extravagant lifestyle


A 1923 painting by Filippo De Pisis entitled Still Life with a Bottle
A 1923 painting by Filippo De Pisis
entitled Still Life with a Bottle
The painter and poet Filippo De Pisis, whose works grace the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and the Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome among other galleries, was born Luigi Filippo Tibertelli De Pisis in Ferrara on this day in 1896.

A close associate for a while of Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, De Pisis is best known for his cityscapes, metaphysically-inspired maritime scenes, and still life pictures, especially depicting flowers.  De Pisis, who was homosexual, also made many homoerotic sketches of the male nude. Later in life, he lived in Venice and became somewhat eccentric, travelling everywhere in his personal gondola.

Born into a noble family, as a boy he was known as Gigi. He was educated at home and was strongly influenced by his sister, Ernesta Tibertelli, who was a distinguished illustrator with libertarian views, and who probably introduced De Pisis to mystical writings.

De Pisis spent his childhood reading, drawing, collecting butterflies and wildflowers and writing poetry. He studied literature and philosophy at the University of Bologna, and published a volume of poems, Canti della Croara, in 1916. That same year, he met Carrà, De Chirico and his brother Alberto Savinio and and was attracted to metaphysical painting.

De Pisis spent 14 of his most productive years as a painter living in Paris
De Pisis spent 14 of his most productive years as
a painter living in Paris
In 1919, he moved to Rome, living in Via di Monserrato, near the Palazzo Farnese. He met more artists, including Armando Spadini, and began to paint in earnest. He still wrote, publishing a collection of essays, La città dalle 100 meraviglie - The City of 100 Wonders - in 1920.

He had been criticised for the overly-sentimentality of some of his poetry, yet his emotional nature worked in his favour in his painting, which received early acclaim.

Seeking new adventures and subjects, in 1925 he moved to Paris, which would be his base for the next 14 years, with only brief interruptions. He met and became friends with Édouard Manet, Camille Corot, Henri Matisse and members of the avant-garde fauve movement.

After holding a personal exhibition, presented by Carrà, in the Lidel room in Milan, he returned to Paris and began an intense relationship with the painter Onofrio Martinelli, who he had met in Rome. They shared a house-studio in the Rue Bonaparte in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter.

He became part of a group of artists known as the Italians in Paris, which included De Chirico, Savinio, Massimo Campigli, Mario Tozzi, Renato Paresce and Severo Pozzati.  During his Parisian period he also visited London several times, forming friendships with the British painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

De Pisis was probably best known for his cityscapes. This one, painted in Venice in 1942, is Rio della Torricella
De Pisis was probably best known for his cityscapes. This
one, painted in Venice in 1942, is Rio della Torricella 
De Pisis returned to Italy in 1939, anticipating the outbreak of the Second World War.  He settled in Vicenza for a few weeks before moving to Milan, taking up residence at the Hotel Vittoria in Via Durini.  He might have remained in Milan, but in 1943 his studio in Via Rugabella was destroyed in a bombing raid.

He moved again to Venice, where he was inspired by the paintings of Francesco Guardi and other Venetian masters of the 18th century, and began to live a rather extravagant lifestyle, travelling to and from his house on the Rio de San Sebastian canal in the Dorsoduro district by gondola. He maintained two gondoliers on 24-hour duty, who wore black-and-gold livery.

His health began to decline after the war and in 1948 he was treated in a clinic for neurological disorders in Bologna. From 1949 until his death in 1956 he lived mainly in a nursing home for sufferers from nervous diseases in Brugherio, a town north of Milan.  As well as the collections in New York, Venice and Rome, there are a large number of his paintings at the Museo Filippo De Pisis in his home city of Ferrara.

After moving to Venice permanently in 1943, De Pisis lived in a house on Rio de San Sebastian in Dorsoduro
After moving to Venice permanently in 1943, De Pisis lived
in a house on Rio de San Sebastian in Dorsoduro
Travel tip:

Dorsoduro, where De Pisis lived after leaving Milan in 1943, is one of the six sestieri - municipal areas - of Venice, and sits between the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal.  It is regarded as a good place to get a feel for the more traditional Venice, without the huge crowds and tourist trappings associated with the areas around St Mark's and the Rialto.  There are many traditional bacari, the small bars that sell inexpensive small snacks - cicchetti - along with glasses of wine - known locally as ombre, as well as squares where local people meet during the day and students gather at night.  It is also home to some fine churches, such as San Sebastiano, close to Casa De Pisis, which is full of works by Veronese. Nearby are two of the city's most prestigious galleries, the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim.


The Villa Fiorita in Brugherio used to house the nursing home where De Pisis was cared for in his later years
The Villa Fiorita in Brugherio used to house the nursing
home where De Pisis was cared for in his later years
Travel tip:

The nursing home in which De Pisis spent the last few years of his life was housed in the Villa Fiorita, an historic aristocratic urban mansion in Brugherio that was built in 1721 for the Scotti family. After being bought and sold a number of times, it was given over for use as a nursing home in 1938. De Pisis spent much of his time in the mansion’s vast greenhouse, which is situated in its large landscape gardens, which he chose because of its optimal exposure to sunlight and relaxing parkland setting. The mansion now houses Brugherio’s municipal offices. The greenhouse has been renamed Serra De Pisis.



More reading:

Giorgio de Chirico, founder of the scuola metafisica movement

How Carlo Carrà captured violence and speed on canvas

Vittorio Miele, the artist of the metaphysical school who lost his family in World War II battle

Also on this day:

1715: The birth of opera composer Ignazio Fiorillo

1817: The birth of ballet star Fanny Cerrito

1932: The birth of fashion icon Valentino





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24 February 2018

Cesare “Caesar” Cardini – restaurateur

Italian emigrant who invented Caesar salad


Cesare 'Caesar' Cardini with the ingredients for his famous salad
Cesare 'Caesar' Cardini with the
ingredients for his famous salad
The restaurateur who history credits with inventing the Caesar salad was born on this day in 1896 in Baveno, a small town on the shore of Lake Maggiore.

Cesare Cardini was one of a large family, with four brothers and two sisters.  In common with many Italians in the early part of the 20th century, his brothers Nereo, Alessandro and Gaudenzio emigrated to the United States, hoping there would be more opportunities to make a living.

Nereo is said to have opened a small hotel in Santa Cruz, California, south of San Francisco, while Alessandro and Guadenzio went to Mexico City.

Cesare left Italy for America in 1913. Records indicate he disembarked at Ellis Island, New York on May 1, having endured the transatlantic voyage as a steerage passenger, sleeping in a cargo hold equipped with dozens of bunk beds, which was the cheapest way to travel but came with few comforts.

He is thought then to have returned to Italy for a few years, working in restaurants in Milan, but ventured back to the United States in 1919.  This time he settled, first in Sacramento, then in San Diego, on the Pacific Ocean and close to the border with Mexico.

During the Prohibition Era, from 1920 to 1933, when alcoholic drinks were illegal in the US, many restaurateurs in San Diego crossed the border in Tijuana, where there were no restrictions, and attracted streams of American diners.

Cardini had many thriving restaurants in California and, for a while, in Tijuana, just over the Mexican border
Cardini had many thriving restaurants in California and, for
a while, in Tijuana, just over the Mexican border
The story is that Cesare – by now known as Caesar – opened a business in Tijuana, probably with his brother, Alessandro, who was calling himself Alex.  They were always busy on the major public holidays and Cesare’s daughter, Rosa, claimed that Caesar salad came into being on Independence Day, 1924. With a packed restaurant, her father suddenly found himself running short of ingredients.

Whenever a diner found his choice of dish was no longer available, Cesare is said to have offered to make them a special salad, made with such a mouthwatering combination of ingredients they would be delighted they opted to try it.

In fact, the only salad ingredient he had left was some romaine lettuces. Yet with great theatre, he is said to have arrived at the table with a bowl of lettuce leaves, into which he tossed raw eggs, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese and Worcestershire sauce, mixed them all together and invited diners to savour the flavour by eating the coated leaves by holding the stem with their fingers.

Needless to say, the combination of sweet lettuce and the creamy, tangy dressing proved a big hit. The restaurant became even more popular and over the next few years the recipe rapidly spread across America.

The Cardini brand is still on sale today
The Cardini brand is still on sale today
Wallis Simpson, the Socialite for whom the English king, Edward VIII, so controversially gave up the throne in 1936, is said to have introduced the salad to Europe by insisting that her French chef learned how to make it.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico, a change in the gambling laws caused tourism to Tijuana to go into decline, and Cesare Cardini, with wife, Camille, and daughter Rosa, moved back to the United States, first to San Diego in 1935, and then to Los Angeles in 1938.

Demand for the salad dressing continued, and friends began asking for bottles and jars to be filled with it so they might enjoy it at home.  In time, Rosa began to sell bottles of the dressing on a market stall and was so successful her father decided it was worth producing on a commercial scale.

In 1948, he patented the recipe and established Caesar Cardini Foods, which gradually expanded its range of dressings and became an established name on tables across America and beyond.

Cardini died in 1956 after suffering a stroke at his Los Angeles home but Rosa took over the running of the company and developed the business to the extent that, at its peak, one in every four bottles of dressing on US tables had Cardini’s name on it.

She retired in 1988, although the name lives on. The licence to use the brand name is currently held by T Marzetti and Company, a business also founded by Italian emigrants, Teresa and Giuseppe Marzetti.

Rosa Cardini’s version of the origins of Caesar salad is not universally accepted.  Paul Maggiora, a partner of the Cardinis, claimed to have tossed the first Caesar salad in 1927 for American airmen from San Diego and called it Aviator's Salad.

Alessandro Cardini also claimed ownership of the recipe, which he also called Aviator's Salad, while Livio Santini, who worked in the kitchen at Cesare’s Tijuana restaurant, said that he made the salad from a recipe of his mother, and that Cesare borrowed the recipe from him.

The waterfront at Baveno, Cardini's home town on the western shore of Lake Maggiore
The waterfront at Baveno, Cardini's home town on the
western shore of Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

The lakeside town of Baveno, where Cesare Cardini was born, lies on the western shore of Lake Maggiore, just a few kilometres from its better known neighbour, Stresa. Both look out over the Borromean Islands, famous for their beautiful cultivated gardens.  The attractions of Baveno include its mineral water springs, the pink granite that is quarried nearby and a series of opulent villas dotted along the nearby coastline, including the Villa Henfrey-Branca, noticeable for its castle-like turrets, where Queen Victoria was a regular visitor from Britain as a guest of the engineer Charles Henfrey.






The island of Isola Bella is a major tourist attraction
The island of Isola Bella is a major tourist attraction
Travel tip:

Although smaller in area than Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore is the longest of the Italian lakes, stretching for 65km (40 miles) from Arona in Lombardy to its northern extreme in Locarno in Switzerland.  It is also extremely deep, plunging 179m (587ft) at its deepest.  Because of its length, it has a different character at the Swiss end, where the scenery has an alpine feel, compared with the southern tip, which is at the edge of the Lombardy plain. The Borromean islands are the lake's biggest draw for tourists, with three of them - Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori are accessible to the public.


More reading:




Also on this day: 





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30 October 2017

Antonino Votto – conductor

Outstanding operatic conductor made recordings with Callas


Antonino Votto was regarded as one of the finest conductors of his era
Antonino Votto was regarded as one of the finest
conductors of his era
Operatic conductor Antonino Votto was born on this day in 1896 in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna.

He became famous in the 1950s because he conducted the orchestra for the acclaimed recordings made by soprano Maria Callas for EMI.

Votto was also considered one of the leading operatic conductors of his time on account of his performances at La Scala in Milan, where he worked regularly for nearly 20 years.

After Votto had attended the Naples conservatory for his music studies he went to work at La Scala, where he became an assistant conductor to Arturo Toscanini.

He made his official debut there in 1923, leading a performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.

Votto went on to build a reputation as one of the most outstanding conductors of Italian opera, appearing at many other operatic venues in Italy and abroad.

Votto taught at the Giuseppe Verdi conservatory in Milan
Votto taught at the Giuseppe Verdi
conservatory in Milan
In 1941 he began teaching at the Giuseppe Verdi conservatory in Milan as the war limited operatic activity in Italy and in most parts of Europe.

One of his students was the present day Italian orchestra conductor, Riccardo Muti.

Recordings of Votto conducting opera live in the theatre were a great success. He conducted Bellini’s Norma in 1955 with Callas at La Scala and La Sonnambula in 1957 with Callas in Cologne. These are both considered to be great performances.

Votto also made a series of highly successful studio recordings in the 1950s with Callas, based on productions that had been staged at La Scala. Their collaborations for EMI on Puccini’s La Bohème and Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera in 1956 and Bellini’s La Sonnambula in 1957 were enthusiastically received by both the critics and the public.

Votto made his debut at Covent Garden in 1924 with performances of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci.

His American debut came in 1960 when he appeared at the Chicago Opera House conducting Verdi’s Aida and Don Carlo.

Votto continued conducting at La Scala until 1967 and died in Milan in 1985.

The bronze statue of Ranuccio II Farnese by Francesco Mochi is a feature of Piazza Cavalli in Piacenza
The bronze statue of Ranuccio II Farnese by Francesco
Mochi is a feature of Piazza Cavalli in Piacenza
Travel tip:

Piacenza, where Votto was born, is a city in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy. The main square is named Piazza Cavalli because of its two bronze equestrian monuments featuring Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma and his son Ranuccio II Farnese, Duke of Parma, who succeeded him. The statues are masterpieces by the sculptor Francesco Mochi.

Teatro alla Scala is Italy's most prestigious opera house
Teatro alla Scala is Italy's most prestigious opera house
Travel tip:

Teatro alla Scala, where Votto conducted for 20 years, is in Piazza della Scala in the centre of Milan across the road from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, an elegant arcade lined with cafes, shops and restaurants. It was built to link Piazza della Scala with Piazza del Duomo, Milan’s cathedral square. La Scala has a fascinating museum that displays costumes and memorabilia from the history of opera. The entrance is in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza della Scala. It is open every day except the Italian Bank Holidays and the days when it is closed in December. Opening hours are from 9.00 to 12.30 and 1.30 to 5.30 pm.



23 December 2015

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – writer



Sicilian prince whose novel achieved recognition after his death


The Sicilian writer, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, was born on this day in 1896 in Palermo in Sicily.

Tomasi's only novel, The Leopard, became the best selling novel in the history of Italian literature
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
He became the last Prince of Lampedusa after the death of his father and his only novel, Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), was published in 1958 after his death, soon becoming recognised as a great work of Italian literature.

The novel, which is set in his native Sicily during the Risorgimento, won the Strega prize in 1959 for him posthumously.
.
After starting to study jurisprudence at university in Rome he was drafted into the army in 1915.

He fought in the battle of Caporetto and was taken prisoner by The Austro-Hungarian army. He was held in a prisoner of war camp for a while in Hungary but eventually managed to escape and return to Italy.

Giuseppe inherited his father’s title in 1934 and eventually settled down to write his novel. He completed Il Gattopardo in 1956, but it was rejected by the first two publishers he submitted it to.

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa died in Rome in 1957 at the age of 60. His novel was published a year after his death. It became the best selling novel in Italian history and was made into a film in 1963 by the director Lucchino Visconti.

The novel is celebrated at the Museo del Gattorpardo in the town of Santa Margherita di Belice, in the Sicilian province of Agrigento, where Tomasi had a palace.


Travel tip:

Palermo, the birthplace of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, is the capital city of Sicily, the biggest Italian island, which is situated at the toe of the peninsula of Italy out in the Mediterranean Sea.

Rabbit Beach has been described as among the best beaches in the world for the quality of its sand and its clear water.
Rabbit Beach in Lampedusa is said to be among
the finest beaches in the world
Photo: Figiu (CC BY 3.0)

Travel tip:

Lampedusa, home to about 6,000 people is an island situated 205 kilometres (127 miles) south-west of Sicily. The southernmost part of Italy, it is part of the Sicilian province of Agrigento but is actually just 113 kilometres (70 miles) off the cost of Tunisia.  Rabbit Beach, on the south side of the island, is renowned as one of the finest beaches in the world, combining soft white sand with crystal clear water.

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