Showing posts with label 1948. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1948. Show all posts

11 February 2018

Carlo Sartori – footballer

Italian was first foreigner to play for Manchester United

Italian-born Carlo Sartori in action  for Manchester United
Italian-born Carlo Sartori in action
 for Manchester United 
Carlo Domenico Sartori, the first footballer from outside Great Britain or Ireland to play for Manchester United, was born on this day in 1948 in the mountain village of Caderzone Terme in Trentino.

The red-haired attacking midfielder made his United debut on October 9, 1968, appearing as substitute in a 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur at the London club’s White Hart Lane ground.

On the field were seven members of the United team that had won the European Cup for the first time the previous May, including George Best and Bobby Charlton, as well as his boyhood idol, Denis Law, who had missed the final against Benfica through injury.

Sartori, who made his European Cup debut against the Belgian side Anderlecht the following month, went on to make 56 appearances in four seasons as a senior United player before returning to Italy to join Bologna.

Although they dominate the Premier League today, players from abroad were a rarity in British football in Sartori’s era and United did not have another in their ranks until they signed the Yugoslav defender Nikola Jovanovic from Red Star Belgrade in 1980.

Jovanovic, in fact, was the first United player to be signed from an overseas club, Sartori having grown up in Manchester after arriving in the city with his family as a 10-month old baby.

Sartori made 56 senior appearances for  United before joining Bologna
Sartori made 56 senior appearances for
United before joining Bologna
They lived at first in the Ancoats area to the northeast of the industrial city, which at the time had a large Italian community.

Later, they would move a little further out of the city to Collyhurst, where his father established a knife-sharpening business that still thrives today, with clients in Liverpool as well as Manchester, and which would later provide Carlo with a living.

The young Sartori caught the eye as a schoolboy and a number of professional clubs began to monitor his progress.  Everton, Burnley and West Bromwich Albion all expressed an interest in signing him, and he had a trial with Manchester City, before United sent Joe Armstrong, their chief scout, to meet him and his parents at their home and offer him an apprenticeship.

His career made good progress while Matt Busby was United manager but began to wane after the legendary Scottish boss retired. In 1973 came the opportunity to play in Italy for Bologna, although in order to return to Italy he had to accept a period of compulsory national service.

Even so, Sartori was able to keep his football skills in order by turning out for the Italian Army team, with whom he won the World Military Cup.  Though he had to content himself initially with being on the fringes at Bologna, he still picked up a medal in his first season as a member of their victorious Coppa Italia squad.

He went on to play for a number of clubs in Italy, including 100 appearances for Lecce, before finishing his career, appropriately, with Trento, which meant he was able to rediscover his roots, having been born just 30km (19 miles) away.

Sartori, pictured at the time of his retirement, spent 29 years as a knife-sharpener
Sartori, pictured at the time of his retirement,
spent 29 years as a knife-sharpener
Had fate not intervened he might well have settled in the area. He qualified as a coach and was about to take up his first appointment, with the Serie C club at nearby Merano, when he learned that one of his two brothers, who had remained in England to run his father’s business, had passed away.

It meant that the surviving brother was left with more work that he could manage on his own and he asked Carlo to consider returning to England to help out.  After giving the matter some thought, he decided family came first.

So it was that Sartori, the former Manchester United star, became a familiar figure in the kitchens of the restaurants and hotels around Manchester that relied on the services of Sartori and Sons.

The business sustained him and his family for the next 29 years until he retired in 2013.  Now living near the town of Halifax in West Yorkshire, about 48km (30 miles) northeast of Manchester, he still returns to Italy from time to time and was recently honoured at a civic reception in Caderzone Terme.

The Alpine lakes at San Giugliano are one of the tourist attractions near Caderzone Terme
The Alpine lakes at San Giugliano are one of the tourist
attractions near Caderzone Terme
Travel tip:

Caderzone Terme is one of a cluster of villages in the middle of the Adamello-Brenta Nature Park in the Valle Rendena area of Trentino-Alto Adige, the autonomous region of northwest Italy that is also known as Sudtirol, with an Austrian as well as Italian heritage.  Traditionally, it was farming that provided for a population of around 5-600 inhabitants; nowadays, increasingly, the local economy is based on tourism. Nearby are the Alpine lakes of San Giugliano, Garzon and Vacarsa, while the mountains offer skiing and trekking opportunities.

Piazza Duomo in Trento, with the Palazzo Pretorio and Torre Civica on the left, and the Duomo to the right
Piazza Duomo in Trento, with the Palazzo Pretorio and Torre
Civica on the left, and the Duomo to the right
Travel tip:

The regional capital, Trento, is one of Italy’s wealthiest cities and often ranks highly in polls for quality of life, standard of living and business and job opportunities.  As well as being a modern city in terms of its strong scientific and financial sectors, Trento has a picturesque historic centre and a beautiful Alpine backdrop, with many of its suburbs retaining the feel of traditional rural or Alpine villages. At the centre of the city is the beautiful Piazza Duomo with its late Baroque Fountain of Neptune. The Duomo itself, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, sits on top of a late Roman basilica, the remains of which can be seen in the underground crypt.

20 December 2017

Giuliana Sgrena – journalist

War reporter who survived kidnapping in Iraq

The journalist Giuliana Sgrena pictured at a book signing in Rome
The journalist Giuliana Sgrena pictured
at a book signing in Rome
The journalist Giuliana Sgrena, a war correspondent for an Italian newspaper who was kidnapped by insurgents while reporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was born on this day in 1948 in Masera, a village in Piedmont.

Sgrena, who was covering the conflict for the Rome daily Il Manifesto and the weekly German news magazine Die Welt, was seized outside Baghdad University on February 4, 2005.

During her 28 days in captivity, she was forced to appear in a video pleading that the demands of her abductors – the withdrawal of the 2,400 Italian troops from the multi-national force in Iraq – be met.

Those demands were rejected but the Italian authorities allegedly negotiated a $6 million payment to secure Sgrena’s release.

She was rescued by two Italian intelligence officers on March 4 only then to come under fire from United States forces en route to Baghdad International Airport.

In one of the most controversial incidents of the conflict, Major General Nicola Calipari, from the Italian military intelligence corps, was shot dead. Sgrena and the other intelligence officer were wounded.

The US authorities apologised for the incident but claimed that the soldiers involved, whose detail was to protect an American diplomat who was travelling to the airport at the same time, were responding to reports of a bomb planted on Sgrena’s vehicle by Al-Qaeda terrorists and gave a warning before they opened fire.

Sgrena was an opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Sgrena was an opponent of the 2003
invasion of Iraq
However, Sgrena testified that the US forces had given no warning and that of 58 bullets fired at the car only one was aimed at the engine, which suggested that the primary objective was to kill the occupants of the vehicle rather than to disable it.

The incident led to a period of difficult relations between Italy and the US and led to criticism of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi for giving his support to the invasion, the impetus for which came primarily from US president George W Bush and the British prime minister, Tony Blair.

Sgrena herself had been a steadfast opponent of the invasion and her reporting of the conflict was critical of the ferocity of US bombing, in particular of Baghdad and during the second Battle of Fallujah, where she claimed the invasion force used the flammable gel napalm that was deployed to such deadly effect in Vietnam.

She insisted that working away from the embedded correspondents enabled her to report events more honestly, giving full detail of the level of destruction.

Sgrena’s background shaped her politics and her attitude to conflict. Masera, an Alpine village in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, had seen intense fighting during the Second World War between Italian partisans and German soldiers. Her father, Franco Sgrena, a noted partisan, was a communist and an activist in railway union.

Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi visited Sgrena in hospital as she recovered from gunshot wounds
Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi visited Sgrena in
hospital as she recovered from gunshot wounds
At university in Milan, Sgrena herself was involved with left-wing political causes and became a pacifist. From 1980 she wrote for the weekly magazine Guerra e Pace.

In 1988, she joined the left-leaning Il Manifesto, where she became a war correspondent, covering conflicts in Algeria, Somalia and Afghanistan. She also reported from Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and the Middle East.

A campaigner for women's rights who has also been critical of the treatment of women under Islam, her coverage of the bombing of Baghdad earned her the title of Cavaliere del Lavoro on her return to Italy. In 2005 she was awarded the Stuttgart Peace Prize.

Masera sits in the shadow of the Alps close to the Swiss border
Masera sits in the shadow of the Alps close to the Swiss border
Travel tip:

Masera, located almost on the Swiss border some 130km (81 miles) northeast of Turin, is an Alpine village of almost 1,500 inhabitants in which the economy is driven as much by agriculture as tourism and which is notable for staging a annual Grape Festival in the second week of September, which celebrates the harvest with numerous cultural events, including folk music events that attract performers from all over Piedmont.

Verbania is a large town on the shore of Lake Maggiore
Verbania is a large town on the shore of Lake Maggiore
Travel tip:

The nearest sizeable community to Masera is Verbania, situated on the shores of Lake Maggiore about 30km (19 miles) to the southeast.   A town of more than 30,000 population, it faces the city of Stresa across the lake. A small island a few metres from the shore, known as the Isolino di San Giovanni, is famous for having been the home of Arturo Toscanini, between 1927 and 1952.  Verbania is also the home town of the military general Luigi Cadorna, who was Chief of Staff of the Italian Army in the early part of the First World War.

14 July 2017

Palmiro Togliatti – politician

Communist leader gunned down near Italian parliament

The Communist leader Palmiro  Togliatti, pictured in 1950
The Communist leader Palmiro
Togliatti, pictured in 1950
The leader of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti, was shot three times on this day in 1948 near Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome.

Togliatti was seriously wounded and for several days it was not certain that he would survive, causing a political crisis in Italy.

Three months before the shooting, Togliatti had led the Communists in the first democratic election in Italy after the Second World War, which would elect the first Republican parliament.  He lost to the Christian Democrats after a confrontational campaign in which the United States played a big part, viewing Togliatti as a Cold War enemy.

On July 14, Togliatti was shot three times near the Parliament building. It was described as an assassination attempt, the perpetrator of which was named as Antonio Pallante, an anti-Communist student with mental health problems. While the Communist leader’s life hung in the balance a general strike was called.

He eventually recovered and was able to continue as head of the party until his death in 1964.

Togliatti was born in Genoa in 1893. He was named Palmiro because he was born on a Palm Sunday.

Togliatti, pictured with the surgeon, Pietro Valdoni, who saved his life, recovers in hospital after the assassination attempt.
Togliatti, pictured with the surgeon, Pietro Valdoni, who saved
his life, recovers in hospital after the assassination attempt.
His father, Antonio, was an accountant and the family had to move frequently because of his job.  When his father died of cancer in 2011, the family struggled financially, but with the help of a scholarship, Togliatti was able to graduate in law from the University of Turin in 1917.

He served as a volunteer officer during the First World War but was wounded in action and sent home.

Togliatti became part of the group that gathered around Antonio Gramsci’s L’Ordine Nuovo newspaper in Turin. He was an admirer of the Russian Revolution and helped Gramsci refocus the newspaper to be a revolutionary voice. The newspaper supported the general strike of 1921 and began to be published daily.

A member of the Communist faction within the Italian Socialist Party, Togliatti was one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party in 1921.

The young Togliatti, pictured in about 1920
The young Togliatti, pictured in about 1920
In 1922, Fascist leader Benito Mussolini took advantage of the general strike and demanded that the Government should either give political power to the Fascist Party or face a coup. The Fascists demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Luigi Facta.

King Victor Emmanuel III had to choose between the Fascists and the anti-monarchist Socialists. He picked the Fascists and appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister.

Mussolini pushed a new electoral law through parliament and, coupled with his intimidation tactics, it resulted in a landslide victory for the Fascists in the 1924 election.

In 1924, international Communists began a process of Bolshevisation, which forced each party to conform to the discipline and orders of Moscow.  Mussolini banned the Italian Communist Party in 1926 and some officials, including Gramsci, were arrested and imprisoned, but Togliatti escaped arrest because he was in Moscow at the time.

In exile abroad in the 1920s and 1930s, Togliatti organised clandestine meetings. He stayed in the Soviet Union during the Second World War, broadcasting radio messages to Italy calling for resistance against the Nazis.

In 1944 Togliatti returned to Italy and joined in a government of national unity. He served as Deputy Prime Minister and then Justice Minister.

Togliatti with his partner, Nilde Iotti, at a Communist Party conference in Russia, which they visited many times
Togliatti with his partner, Nilde Iotti, at a Communist Party
conference in Russia, which they visited many times
The writer Carlo Lucarelli gives a vivid, fictional account of the day of the shooting in his novel Via delle oche, the final book in his De Luca trilogy.

Togliatti survived the shooting to see his party become the second largest party in Italy and the largest non-ruling Communist party in Europe. The party held many municipalities and was powerful in some areas at local and regional level.

Togliatti died as a result of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1964 while on holiday with his partner in the Black Sea resort of Yalta, which was then in the Soviet Union. His favourite pupil, Enrico Berlinguer, was elected as his successor.

The Russian city of Stavropol-on-Volga, where Togliatti had helped establish a car manufacturing plant in collaboration with Fiat, was renamed Tolyatti in his honour in 1964.

The Palazzo Madama is one of the features of what is known as 'royal' Turin
The Palazzo Madama is one of the features of what is
known as 'royal' Turin
Travel tip:

Turin, where Togliatti went to University and helped launch a Communist-sympathising newspaper, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont. It is an important business centre with architecture demonstrating its rich history, which is 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.

The Palazzo Montecitorio was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for the nephew of Pope Gregory XV
The Palazzo Montecitorio was designed by Gian Lorenzo
Bernini for the nephew of Pope Gregory XV
Travel tip

Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome, which is near the spot where Togliatti was shot and seriously wounded, is the seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament. The building was originally designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for the nephew of Pope Gregory XV. The palace was chosen as the seat of the Chamber of Deputies in 1871 but the building proved inadequate for their needs. After extensive renovations had been carried out, the chamber returned to the palace in 1918.

9 March 2017

Emma Bonino – politician

Leading Radical learnt Arabic to understand Middle East press

Radical politician Emma Bonino
Radical politician Emma Bonino
Veteran politician Emma Bonino, who most recently served as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Government of Enrico Letta, was born on this day in 1948 in Bra in Piedmont.

A leading member of the Italian Radicals, Bonino has throughout her career been an activist for reform policies and a campaigner for women's and human rights.

Bonino graduated in modern languages and literature from Bocconi University in Milan in 1972. She founded the Information Centre on Sterilisation and Abortion in 1975 and promoted the referendum that led to the legalisation of abortion in Italy.

She was first elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies in 1976 and was re-elected six times afterwards.

In 1986 Bonino was among the promoters of a referendum against nuclear energy, which led to the rejection of a civil nuclear energy programme in Italy.

Emma Bonino meets British Foreign Secretary William  Hague in 2013 during her time as Minister of Foreign Affairs
Emma Bonino meets British Foreign Secretary William
Hague in 2013 during her time as Minister of Foreign Affairs
She was appointed minister for international trade in the cabinet of Romano Prodi in 2006 but resigned her post in 2008 after being elected a vice president of the Senate. She had previously been elected to a seat in the Senate on the list of the Democratic party for the Piedmont Constituency.

Bonino was elected to the European parliament in 1979 and re-elected twice afterwards. Along with the late Marco Pannella, another Radical politician, Bonino has battled for civil rights, individual liberty, and sexual and religious freedom.

She has particularly fought for an end to capital punishment, female genital mutilation and world hunger.

In 2001 Bonino moved to Cairo to learn Arabic and in 2003 she started a daily review of the Arabic press on Radical Radio. She is able to follow the Al Jazeera broadcasts and read the main Middle East daily newspapers. Bonino is a Board member of the Arab Democracy Foundation and has become an authoritative expert and commentator on problems in the Middle East.

Emma Bonino with Socialist President Sandro Pertini on the March for Peace in Rome in 1985
Emma Bonino with Socialist President Sandro Pertini
on the March for Peace in Rome in 1985
In 2004 she organised the first conference on democracy and human rights ever held in the Arab world.

Among awards she has received for protecting human rights are the North-South prize, the Open Society Prize, the Prix Femmes d’Europe and the America Award. She was named European of the Year in 1996.

Bonino is a godmother to Countess Luana, the elder daughter of her friends, the late Prince Friso and Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau.

The Corso Cottolengo in Bra, looking towards Piazza Caduti per la Libertà and the church of Andrea Apostolo
The Corso Cottolengo in Bra, looking towards Piazza
Caduti per la Libertà and the church of Andrea Apostolo

Travel tip:

The town of Bra, where Emma Bonino was born, is in the province of Cuneo in Piedmont, 50 km (31 miles) south of Turin. The Slow Food movement was founded in Bra in 1989 and every two years, Cheese, the most important international event devoted to high quality cheese, is held in Bra. A few kilometres away from Bra in the town of Pollenzo, the University of Gastronomic Sciences was founded in 2004, the first university in the world entirely dedicated to the culture of food.

Hotels in Bra by

Travel Tip:

Bocconi University in Milan, where Emma Bonino studied modern languages and literature, is a prestigious, private university founded in 1902 by Ferdinando Bocconi. The first Italian University to grant a degree in economics, Bocconi is located in Via Roberto Sarfatti, south of Milan city centre and not far from the Navigli district.

5 January 2017

Giuseppe Impastato - anti-Mafia activist

Son of mafioso was murdered for speaking out

Giuseppe 'Peppino' Impastato, pictured in Cinisi in 1977
Giuseppe 'Peppino' Impastato,
pictured in Cinisi in 1977
Giuseppe Impastato, a political activist who was murdered by the Sicilian Mafia in 1978, was born on this day in 1948 in Cinisi, a coastal resort 36km (22 miles) west of Palermo which is now home to the city's Punta Raisi airport.

Also known as Peppino, Impastato was born into a Mafia family.  His father, Luigi, had been considered a significant enough figure in the criminal organisation to be sent into internal exile during the Fascist crackdown of the 1920s and was a close friend of the local Mafia boss, Gaetano Badalamenti.

Impastato had already begun to take an interest in left-wing political ideology when his uncle, Cesare Manzella, was blown up by a car bomb in 1963, the victim of a contract killing.  The murder had a profound effect on Impastato, then only 15, who denounced all his father stood for and left home.

He began to write, founding a left-wing newsletter, L'Idea Socialista, in 1965, and soon joined the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP).  He became the regular instigator of student and workers' protests during the late 1960s and led a number of anti-Mafia demonstrations.

At that stage, he was considered more a nuisance than a threat by Badalamenti but all that changed after Impastato, pursuing a career in journalism, joined with a group of friends to launch an independent radio station in 1976.

Impastato in 1968, campaigning against a third runway at Punta Raisa airport
Impastato in 1968, campaigning against
a third runway at Punta Raisa airport
Impastato hosted a popular show that regularly mocked politicians and mafiosi and sought to expose wrongdoings.  Badalamenti, who was later shown to have bribed officials to win a construction contract for a third runway at Punta Raisa airport, was a particular target.

It was claimed by Impastato that Badalamenti had an arrangement with the local police whereby they turned a blind eye to his activities so long as he guaranteed officers a quiet life by eliminating petty crime in the town.

The police chose to ignore the claim but Badalamenti was sufficiently riled to want Impastato silenced.  He warned Luigi Impastato that if he could not persuade his son to stop making such accusations he would be killed.

Luigi himself died in suspicious circumstances in 1977, knocked down by a car.  When Badalamenti and his associates turned up at the Impastato house to offer condolences, Peppino railed against them, accusing them of being responsible for his father's death, and vowed to step up his campaigning.

He disappeared on the evening of May 8, 1978, as he was preparing to stand in Cinisi's municipal elections as a Proletarian Democracy candidate.  After friends and family began to search for him, they discovered his remains in the early hours of May 9 close to the main Palermo-Trapani railway line.

Gaetano Badalamenti
Gaetano Badalamenti
Impastato had been killed and his body tied to the railway line along with a quantity of explosive, which was then detonated. His death might have made national news but was completely overshadowed by the discovery later in the same morning of the body of the kidnapped politician Aldo Moro in the boot of a car in Rome.

With little attention from outside, the Cinisi police pursued the line that Impastato had been killed in an attempt to blow up the railway line, or had intended to take his own life in doing so.  No evidence that pointed to murder was found and no arrests were made.

It was only through a 23-year campaign pursued by Peppino's brother, Giovanni, and his mother, Felicia, with the help of an anti-Mafia documentation centre in Sicily, that justice was done and Badalamenti was convicted of ordering the killing.  It took 18 years for them to persuade the authorities even to reopen the case.

In the event, Salvatore Palazzalo, who turned state's evidence as a Mafia pentito, provided vital information that led to the arrest and trial of Badalamenti and Vito Palazzalo, his cousin and Badalamenti's right-hand man.  Vito Palazzalo was sentenced to 30 years' jail, Badalamenti to life.  Both died in custody, Badalamenti in the United States, where he was already serving a 45-year term for his part in the so-called Pizza Connection drug-trafficking ring.

At around the time of the convictions, Peppino's life was celebrated in 2000 in a film, I cento passi - 'the hundred steps' - that being the distance between the Impastato house and the home of Gaetano Badalamenti.

The beach at Cinisi
The beach at Cinisi
Travel tip:

The coastal town of Cinisi, on the eastern side of the Gulf of Castellammare, is blessed with a wide, sandy beach, which makes it an attraction for tourists, who can also enjoy visiting the Benedictine Monastery that overlooks the town, as well as a number of interesting churches.  The town is guarded by a watchtowers thought to originate in the 15th century or earlier.  There are also several nature trails in the area, which is renowned for its natural beauty and the quality of local produce.  A ricotta festival takes place in Cinisi each May.

Palermo's striking Metropolitan Cathedral of the  Assumption of Virgin Mary
Palermo's striking Metropolitan Cathedral of the
Assumption of Virgin Mary
Travel tip:

Palermo is home to some wonderful architecture, including the 9th century Palazzo dei Normanni, with its impressive neoclassical facade, the Cappella Palatina, the royal chapel of the Norman kings and famous for its mosaics, the atmospheric Teatro Massimo opera house and the magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, which was originally erected in the 12th century but which has had many additions and alterations.  It combines five distinctive architectural styles - Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and neoclassical.

More reading:

Libero Grassi - the businessman who refused to pay protection

The life and death of anti-Mafia crusader Giovanni Falcone

The kidnapping of Aldo Moro

Also on this day:

1932: The birth of novelist Umberto Eco

(Picture credits: Cinisi beach by Abrahami; Palermo cathedral by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo; via Wikimedia Commons)


21 July 2016

Beppe Grillo - comedian turned activist

Grillo's Five Star Movement gaining popularity

Beppe Grillo addresses a crowd of  supporters in Sestri Levante in Liguria
Beppe Grillo addresses a crowd of
supporters in Sestri Levante in Liguria
The comedian turned political activist Beppe Grillo was born on this day in 1948 in Genoa.

Grillo is the founder and president of the Five Star Movement - Movimento Cinque Stelle - a growing force in Italian politics that enjoyed one of its first high-profile successes when Virginia Raggi was elected Mayor of Rome in 2016.

Luigi Di Maio, who succeeded Grillo as leader, became Italy’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister between 2018 and 2019.  The party's current president, Giuseppe Conte, was prime minister of Italy from 2018 to 2021. 

The Five Star Movement - M5S - polled more than 25 per cent of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies at the 2013 elections in Italy and almost 24 per cent of the votes for the Senate, although under existing electoral rules this translated to only 109 seats among 630 Deputies and 54 of the 315 Senators.

Nonetheless, the group is seen as the biggest threat to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party at the next national elections in 2018.

Raggi won 67 per cent of the vote in Rome. Another M5S candidate, Chiara Appendino, was elected Mayor of Turin, beating the Democratic Party candidate into second place.  Overall, Five Star won 19 of 20 mayoral elections which it contested.

Grillo launched M5S as a protest group in 2009 but his ability to inspire audiences led to a rapid growth in popularity.  It has positioned itself as anti-corruption, anti-globalisation and pro transparency in the political system.  It wants a system introduced to provide universal income support for the poor and campaigns for a referendum that would give Italians the chance to ditch the euro and revert to the lira as its currency.

Having originally trained as an accountant, Grillo took up comedy in the late 1970s after being spotted by the television presenter Pippo Baudo.

Virginia Raggi, the Movimento Cinque Stelle candidate recently elected as Mayor of Rome
Virginia Raggi, the Movimento Cinque Stelle candidate
recently elected as Mayor of Rome
Despite a conviction for manslaughter after a road accident in 1980 in which three people sadly died, his own television career blossomed to the point at which he was fronting his own shows.

However, his taste for satire proved to be his downfall as a TV presenter.  Complaints from politicians offended by his jokes were common yet his audience figures were huge, attracting as many as 15 million viewers for a single show. Given that he was employed by the state-owned broadcaster RAI, he was always treading a fine line between what was acceptable and what was not and a vitriolic attack on Bettino Craxi, Italy's first socialist prime minister in the modern era, eventually led to him effectively being banned.

Ironically, Craxi was eventually disgraced after being convicted of corruption.

Grillo continued to perform in the theatre and his touring act inevitably had a political theme.  In 2005 he launched his own blog, which attracted a considerable following, and it was after he organised "V-Day" - the V stands for a well-known Italian obscenity - and garnered 300,000 signatures on a petition demanding clean politics in Italy that he had the idea for launching M5S.

His opponents have denounced him as a populist who derives support from Italian resentment of the political establishment.

He lives with his Iranian-born second wife, Parvin Tadjk, in Nervi, a former fishing village a few miles along the Ligurian coast from central Genoa.

Genoa's Via Garibaldi is lined with elegant palaces
Travel tip:

The sixth largest city in Italy, Genoa derives its wealth from shipyards and steel works, which made possible the construction of numerous marble palaces and elegant squares that earned the city the nickname of La Superba. Look out for the beautiful Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the palaces along the Via Garibaldi.

Travel tip:

Just seven miles from the centre of Genoa, Nervi has become almost a suburb of the city, although it retains many characteristics of the fishing village it once was.  Its chief attraction is the elevated Passeggiata Anita Garibaldi, a two-kilometre walkway along the cliffs offering stunning views.

More reading:

How Italy's PM Matteo Renzi was inspired by the Scout Movement

(Photo of Virginia Raggi by Movimento Cinque Stelle CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Photo of Via Garibaldi by Andrzej Otrębski CC BY-SA 3.0)


12 April 2016

Marcello Lippi - World Cup winning coach

Former Juventus manager ready to come out of retirement

Marcello Lippi won the Champions League and the World Cup as a manager
Marcello Lippi
Marcello Lippi, one of Italy's most successful football managers and a World Cup winner in 2006, celebrates his 68th birthday today but says he feels ready to reverse his decision to retire and return to the bench.

Lippi, who as Juventus coach won five Serie A titles and the Champions League before taking the reins of the national team, subsequently had a successful career in China, where his Guangzhou Evergrande team won three Chinese Super League championships and the Asian Champions League.

He is the only manager to have won both the European Champions League and the Asian Champions League.

After winning his third league title with Guangzhou in November 2015 he announced his retirement, claiming he was too old to continue coaching.  He stayed at the club as director of football but resigned from that position the following February.

He has not worked since but, after suggestions that AC Milan might part company with Serbian coach Sinisa Mihajlovic after a poor season in Serie A and turn to Lippi as a replacement, he said in January this year that he missed football and would be willing to return.  Mihajlovic has since been dismissed, with youth coach Christian Brocchi taking the reins for the remainder of this season.

Lippi was born on this day in 1948 in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast, where he still lives. He spent much of his playing career in Genoa with Sampdoria, where he played as a central defender or sweeper.

He began his coaching career at the same club in 1982, looking after the youth team, before taking on his first senior team at Pontedera, a small club in Tuscany playing in the third tier.  It is in the Italian tradition for coaches to gain a grounding in the lower divisions and Lippi did not experience Serie A until Cesena became his fifth club in 1989.

Gianluca Vialli holds aloft the European Cup after the 1996 final in Rome
Gianluca Vialli lifts the European Cup after
the 1996 Champions League final in Rome
His breakthrough came in 1994 when he achieved UEFA Cup qualification with Napoli, a club at that time in financial turmoil. That achievement attracted interest from other clubs and when Juventus decided to hire him for the following season it heralded the start of a highly successful period in the history of Italy's most famous club.

Lippi won the Serie A-Coppa Italia double in his first season, 1994-95, in which the Turin-based team also reached the final of the UEFA Cup and won the pre-season Supercoppa Italia, contested by the Serie A champions and Coppa Italia winners from the previous year.

In his second season, Juventus won the Champions League, beating holders Ajax on penalties in the final to win Europe's major prize for the first time since 1985.  Runners-up in Serie A that year, the bianconeri reclaimed the title in 1997 and defended it successfully in 1998, finishing Champions League runners-up in both of those seasons.

Juventus's star-studded team during those years included Gianluca Vialli, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Didier Deschamps, Ciro Ferrara, Antonio Conte, Zinedine Zidane, Christian Vieri and Alen Boksic.

After a brief but unsuccessful stint as coach at Internazionale, Lippi returned to Turin for a second spell in charge and won two more Serie A titles.  A new line-up that included Alessandro del Piero and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon also reached the Champions League final in 2003, losing to AC Milan on penalties in the final at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Watch: Alessandro del Piero scores against Germany in the 2006 World Cup semi-final

In all he won five Serie A titles, four Supercoppa Italias, one Coppa Italia and the Champions League with Juventus, as well as the European Supercup and the Intercontinental Cup.

But he topped all that after he was appointed Italy coach in 2004. Despite being under scrutiny when Juventus were implicated in a corruption scandal, he led Italy to unexpected World Cup success in Germany in 2006, when they defeated the hosts in a classic semi-final before beating France on penalties in the final.

This made Lippi the first coach to have won both the Champions League and the World Cup, a feat later matched by Spain's Vicente del Bosque in 2010.  Lippi stood down as coach within days of his triumph and although he returned for a second spell in charge before the 2010 World Cup, a poor showing in the finals in South Africa led him to resign.

After his success in China, it seemed Lippi would be content to return to Viareggio, take to his boat and indulge his passion for sea fishing.

"I am in love with the sea in every aspect," he once said in an interview for a British newspaper. "I like it when it is windy, when it is mild, in summer, in winter. I feel very well when I am near the sea."

"But," he added, "it would not be a problem to work in a town where there is no sea."  Milan, perhaps?

A giant-sized likeness of Marcello Lippi himself  figured in the Viareggio Carnival after Italy's World Cup triumph
A giant-sized likeness of Marcello Lippi himself  figured
in the Viareggio Carnival after Italy's World Cup triumph
(Photo: Wiki Lupetto CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip: 

Viareggio is a popular resort with excellent sandy beaches well known for its carnival, a month-long event dating back to 1873 that runs from February through to March and features parades of giant papier-mache floats designed to represent well-known public figures. The Tuscan resort is also notable for its beautiful Liberty-style architecture, much of it built in its heydey in the late 19th and early 20th century, many examples of which thankfully survived heavy bombing in World War Two when the town was a target because of its shipbuilding industry.

Travel tip:

Juventus play at the Juventus Stadium, an ultra-modern ground with a 41,000 capacity that has been their home since 2011. It is situated in a suburb in the northern part of the city, some seven kilometres from the centre, close to the Venaria exit on the city's Tangenziale ring road.  The stadium is best reached by number 72 and 72b bus from the city.  The stadium houses the Juventus museum, which highlights the history of the club, and there are guided tours of the stadium that include access to the dressing rooms, players’ tunnel and media areas on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.  For more information, visit

More reading:


9 April 2016

Patty Pravo - pop singer of enduring fame

Venetian artist's career has spanned 50 years

Patty Pravo depicted in a magazine publicity photograph from around 1970
Patty Pravo depicted in a magazine publicity
photograph from around 1970
The pop singer Patty Pravo celebrates her 68th birthday today, almost 50 years since she took her first steps on the road to fame with the release of her first single, Ragazzo Triste.

Pravo has recorded 27 albums and 52 singles, selling more than 110 million records, making her the third biggest selling Italian artist of all time.  Her latest album, Eccomi, was released in February of this year following her ninth appearance at the Sanremo Music Festival and she is currently on tour, taking a day off in between appearances in Bari last night and Rome tomorrow.

Born Nicoletta Strambelli on April 9, 1948 in Venice, she grew up in an intellectual environment. Family friends included Cardinal Angelo Roncalli - the future Pope John XXIII - the actor Cesco Baseggio, the soprano Toti dal Monte and the American poet Ezra Pound, who lived in Venice and would take the young Nicoletta for walks and buy her ice cream.  She would spend time too at the house of Peggy Guggenheim, the American socialite and art collector.

Her parents enrolled her to study music at the Conservatory Institute of Benedetto Marcello from the age of 10 but by the time she was 16 she had left Venice for London, lured by what she had heard about the rapidly evolving pop culture.  It was there that she learned about a similarly exciting scene taking hold in Rome, and in particular about a nightclub called Piper, which was where she was to make her name.

Initially taken on by the Piper as a dancer, she was asked by the club's owner, Alberigo Crocetta, if she could also sing and legend has it that he needed only to hear her voice once to recognise her potential.  He introduced her to RCA records, for whom in 1966 she recorded Ragazzo Triste, an Italian cover of the Sonny and Cher song But You're Mine. It was an immediate success and was even played on Vatican Radio, who had never previously aired a pop song.

Now performing under her stage name - she chose Patty because it was a popular American first name and Pravo because it meant 'wicked' - the next two decades were enormously successful.  Her long blond hair and natural beauty gave her a photogenic appeal and she became the feminine symbol of the Italian beat scene.

Pravo's album Eccomi was released in February 2016
The cover of Patty Pravo's latest album, Eccomi
She had her first major hit in 1968 with La Bambola, which topped the charts in Italy and five other countries.  It sold nine million copies within a short time of its release and within Italy has acquired a nostalgic resonance that has given it a lasting appeal, featuring in the soundtracks of many films and TV series set in the Italy of the late 60s and 70s. To date its sales exceed 30 million copies.

Pravo changed her musical direction somewhat in the 70s, reportedly feeling trapped by her image as "la ragazza del Piper" - the girl from the Piper club - but struck gold again with the song Pazza idea, which gave her a second Italian number one single.

The 80s and early 90s were less successful.  Her popularity at home declined when she moved to America, especially after she took the decision to pose nude for Playboy magazine, and on her return to Italy she was enveloped in a number of scandals.  She was accused of plagiarism over a song she performed at Sanremo in 1987 and in 1992 was arrested on suspicion of possessing hashish.

But she made a triumphant return to Sanremo in 1997 when her song ...e dimmi che non vuoi morire (...and Tell Me You Don't Want to Die) won the acclaim of the critics and peaked at number two in the Italian charts.

In a recent interview, she insisted she has no plans to retire.  "As long as my health is right, I don't really care how old I am," she said.

Travel tip:

The Piper Club is often described as Rome's equivalent of Studio 54 in New York, a venue that during its peak years was unrivalled as the place to go for those who wanted to be seen and photographed. Located in Via Tagliamento in the Trieste district, an area popular with students and young professionals, it is still in business today and is popular for themed party nights on Fridays with a resident DJ in action on Saturdays.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is located in a museum on the Grand Canal in Venice
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is located in a museum
on the Grand Canal in Venice (Photo: G Lanting CC BY 3.0)
Travel tip:

Peggy Guggenheim died in 1979 but her legacy to Venice remains in the collection of modern art she accumulated, much of which is on display at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a museum located on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro district, which is open to the public from 10am to 6pm.

More reading:

Ligabue - record-breaking rock star

Little Tony - 60s pop star inspired by Little Richard

How bass guitarist Pino Presti became one of the most important figures in the Italian music business

Also on this day:

1454: The Treaty of Lodi ends fighting in northern Italy

1933: The birth of the great character actor Gian Maria Volonté


12 November 2015

Umberto Giordano - opera composer

Death of the musician remembered for Andrea Chenier

Umberto Giordano was a contemporary of Mascagni and Puccini, among others
Umberto Giordano was a contemporary
of Mascagni and Puccini, among others
Composer Umberto Giordano died on this day in 1948 in Milan at the age of 81.

He is perhaps best remembered for his opera, Andrea Chenier, a dramatic work about liberty and love during the French revolution, which was based on the real life story of the romantic French poet, André Chenier.

The premiere of the opera was held at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1896. At the time, its success propelled Giordano into the front rank of up-and-coming Italian composers alongside Pietro Mascagni, to whom he is often compared, and Giacomo Puccini.

Another of Giordano’s works widely acclaimed by both the public and the critics, is the opera, Fedora.

This had its premiere in 1898 at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. A rising young tenor, Enrico Caruso, played the role of Fedora’s lover, Loris. The opera was a big success and is still performed today.

Some of Giordano’s later works are less well-known but they have achieved the respect of the critics and music experts and are occasionally revived by opera companies.

The Teatro Argentina in Rome, which staged the first production of Giordano's debut opera, Mala vita
The Teatro Argentina in Rome, which staged the first
production of Giordano's debut opera, Mala vita
Giordano was born in Foggia in Puglia in August 1867. He studied under Paolo Serrao at the Conservatoire of Naples.

He wrote his first opera, Marina, for a competition organised by the music publishers Casa Sonzogno for the best one-act opera. It was placed sixth of 73 entries. The competition, which is seen as marking the beginning of verismo movement in Italian opera, was won by Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana. 

There was much interest in Marina, nonetheless, and Sonzogno commissioned Giordano to develop the idea further. The result was Mala vita, a gritty verismo opera about a labourer who vows to reform a prostitute if he is cured of his tuberculosis. 

The audience at the Teatro Argentina in Rome were somewhat scandalised when it played there in February 1892 but it was greeted with acclaim by audiences in Vienna, Prague and Berlin.

Giordano tried a more romantic topic with his next opera, Regina Diaz, but this was a failure and was cancelled after just two performances.

He moved to Milan and it was there he returned to verismo with Andrea Chenier and Fedora.

The theatre in Piazza Cesare Battisti in Foggia, the town where Giordano was born, has been renamed Teatro Giordano in his memory. There is also a large statue of the composer in Piazza Umberto Giordano in Foggia.

Teatro alla Scala opened in 1778, having been built to replace the Teatro Regio Ducale, which had been destroyed in a fire
Teatro alla Scala opened in 1778, having been built to replace
the Teatro Regio Ducale, which had been destroyed in a fire 
Travel tip:

Opera lovers should visit Teatro alla Scala in Milan and go round the theatre’s museum to see the fantastic costumes and memorabilia from the history of opera on display. The museum in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza Scala, is open every day except the Italian Bank Holidays and certain days in December. Opening hours are from 9.00 to 12.30 and 1.30 to 5.30 pm.  The theatre opened in 1778 as the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala, having been commissioned by the Empress Maria Theresa of the House of Hapsburg, of which the Duchy of Milan was at the time a part, as replacement for the Teatro Regio Ducale following a fire in 1776.  It was built on the site of the former church of Santa Maria alla Scala.

The statue of Umberto Giordano in Piazza Umberto Giordano
The statue of Umberto Giordano in
Piazza Umberto Giordano
Travel tip:

Foggia, where Umberto Giordano was born in 1867, is an important city in Puglia in the south of Italy. As well as the Teatro Giordano and Piazza Umberto Giordano, which honour the composer, Foggia has a Cathedral dating back to the 12th century well worth visiting. The city was once known as the ‘granary of Italy’, thanks to its proximity to a large plain, known as the Tavoliere delle Puglie, which enabled the growing of wheat and other grain plants on a large scale. There are many pasta factories, although productivity in the area is not limited to grains, being a significant producer of olives, grapes and cheeses too.  The old centre of the city is a network of narrow streets, at the heart of which is the part-Romanic, part-Baroque cathedral of Santa Maria de Fovea.