Showing posts with label 1956. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1956. Show all posts

4 December 2018

Costantino Rocca - golfer

Italian whose success inspired Open champion

Costantino Rocca finished runner-up in the Open championship at St Andrews in 1995
Costantino Rocca finished runner-up in the Open
championship at St Andrews in 1995
Costantino Rocca, who until this year was the most successful Italian in the history of international golf, was born on this day in 1956 in Almenno San Bartolomeo, near Bergamo in northern Italy.

Rocca, who turned professional at the age of 24 in 1981, enjoyed his best years in the mid-1990s, peaking with second place in the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1995.

He was beaten by the American John Daly in a four-hole play-off but was perhaps as popular a runner-up as there has been in the history of the tournament after the incredible putt he sank on the final green to deny Daly victory inside the regulation 72 holes.

Needing a birdie to be level with Daly at the top of the leaderboard after the American finished six under par, Rocca appeared to have blown his chance when his poorly executed second shot - a chipped approach that was meant to leave him in easy putting distance of the hole - did not even make it safely on to the green, coming to rest in an area known colloquially as ‘the Valley of Sin’.

It left him 65ft - almost 20m - short of the hole, needing somehow to hole a putt that had first to go uphill and then break sharply to the right.

Watch Rocca's 'miracle putt' at St Andrews

Extraordinarily, he pulled it off, to the delight of the gallery and the astonishment of Daly, who was watching on a TV monitor. Rocca flung his arms back in sheer joy before dropping to the ground and lay flat on his stomach with his face buried in the grass, drumming the turf with his fists, his whole body shaking with emotion.

It was described as a ‘miracle’ putt and when Rocca returned to the east Scotland course in April of this year, he had more than 20 attempts to reprise the shot but could not make it even once.

Costantino Rocca's first job in professional golf was caddying at his local club in Bergamo
Costantino Rocca's first job in professional golf was
caddying at his local club in Bergamo
The 1995 was jointly his best season with 1996, in each of which he finished fourth in the Order of Merit for the European tour.

He won five tour titles in total, the first of which was the 1993 Open de Lyon and the most prestigious of which was the 1996 Volvo PGA Championship.

Rocca's second-best finish in a major was a tie for fifth place in the 1997 US Masters tournament, in which he began the final round in second place, nine shots behind the 21-year-old rising star, Tiger Woods.

He might have expected nerves to affect his young opponent, who stood on the brink of a first major in only his second season on the PGA tour as he and Rocca took to the course as the final pair out of the clubhouse.

Yet Woods remained calm and it was Rocca who struggled under pressure, eventually finishing 15 shots behind the precocious new champion.

Francesco Molinari became the first  Italian to win a major in 2018
Francesco Molinari became the first
Italian to win a major in 2018
Rocca’s position as the greatest Italian golfer remained until this year, when Francesco Molinari not only drew level with and then passed his tally of five European tour wins, but also became the first Italian actually to win a major when he triumphed in the Open at Carnoustie.

For 17 years, Rocca had the proud distinction of being the only Italian to play for Europe in the Ryder Cup, having been selected in 1993, 1995 and 1997.

Rocca had a 6-5-0 win-loss-half record in the Ryder cup, at 53% one of the best winning records in the history of the European team. During the 1995 Ryder Cup, Rocca made a hole-in-one at Oak Hill's sixth hole, only the third ace in Ryder Cup history.

He had a record of 1 win and 2 losses in singles matches.  The singles win came in a crucial match against Tiger Woods in the 1997 event at Valderrama, in Spain, which Rocca avenged his Masters defeat by winning 4 & 2 to help Europe claim the trophy.

Again, it was when Francesco Molinari came on the scene that he lost his unique status among Italian golfers. Molinari qualified for the 2010 Ryder Cup held at Celtic Manor in Wales, with his brother Edoardo Molinari selected as a captain's pick.

Rocca, who worked in a factory in Almenna that produced polystyrene before he took up golf professionally, initially worked as a caddy and then as a caddy master at the Bergamo L'Albenza Golf Club.

He has been married since 1981 to Antonella and they have two children, 33-year-old Chiara, and Francesco, who is 27.  Both work for his Bergamo-based company, Rocca Golf Ambition, which encompasses a golf academy for aspiring players, a clinic for established players looking to improve their game, and support for young professionals.

Rocca played his last tour event in 2015, when he contested the Italian Open, an event which, extraordinarily, he never won in 33 attempts. He still plays on the European Seniors tour, so far winning two titles.

The Rotonda di San Tomè at Almenno San Bartlomeo is a fine example of Romanesque architecture
The Rotonda di San Tomè at Almenno San Bartlomeo
is a fine example of Romanesque architecture
Travel tip:

The town of Almenno San Bartolomeo, which is situated about 9km (6 miles) northwest of Bergamo along the valley of the Brembo river, is well known as the home of the Rotonda di San Tomè, an unusual circular church which is one of the most notable examples of Romanesque architecture in northern Italy. It has been speculated that the church could have been built in the Lombard era, as long ago as the 7th-8th centuries. What is known is that it was rebuilt in around the late 11th or early 12th centuries on the instruction of the Bishop of Bergamo. The building has a central plan with a pyramidal composition, with three cylindrical sections placed one above the other.  Almenna is also the home of L’Albenza Golf Club, where Rocca began his career.

The enchanting Città Alta in Bergamo is a big draw for tourists, although the Città Bassa is also worth visiting
The enchanting Città Alta in Bergamo is a big draw for
tourists, although the Città Bassa is also worth visiting
Travel tip:

Bergamo in Lombardy is a beautiful city with an upper and lower town that are separated by impressive fortifications. The magical upper town - the Città Alta - has gems of medieval and Renaissance architecture surrounded by the impressive 16th century walls, which were built by the Venetians who ruled at the time. Outside the walls, the elegant Città Bassa, which grew up on the plain below, has some buildings that date back to the 15th century as well as imposing architecture added in the 19th and 20th centuries. While the Città Alta is the draw for many tourists, the lower town also has art galleries, churches and theatres and a wealth of good restaurants and smart shops to enjoy.

More reading:

How Francesco Molinari made golf history in Monza

The former coach of Bergamo football club Atalanta who won Serie A glory with Napoli

Bergamo's world motorcycling champion Carlo Ubbiali

Also on this day:

1154: Nicholas Breakspear becomes the first and only English pope

1798: The death of physicist and biologist Luigi Galvani

1927: The birth of renowned architect Gae Aulenti


27 May 2018

Giuseppe Tornatore - writer and director

Oscar winner for Cinema Paradiso

Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films in his native Sicily
Giuseppe Tornatore set many of his films
in his native Sicily
The screenwriter and director Giuseppe Tornatore, the creator of the Oscar-winning classic movie Cinema Paradiso, was born on this day in 1956 in Bagheria, a small town a few kilometres along the coast from the Sicilian capital Palermo.

Known as Nuovo Cinema Paradiso in Italy, Tornatore’s best-known work won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards following its release in 1988.

The movie, written by Tornatore, tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director based in Rome who returns to his native Sicily after hearing of the death of the man who kindled his love of the cinema, the projectionist at the picture house in his local village, who became a father figure to him after his own father was killed on wartime national service.

Much of the film consists of flashbacks to Salvatore’s life as a child in the immediate post-war years and there is a memorable performance by Salvatore Cascio as the director’s six-year-old self, when he was known as Toto, as he develops an unlikely yet enduring friendship with Alfredo, the projectionist, played by the French actor Philippe Noiret.

The movie is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack by the composer Ennio Morricone, whose haunting theme captures the beautiful poignancy of the movie.

Morricone worked with Tornatore on many of his films, including two other magically crafted works in Baarìa, set in his home town of Bagheria, and Malèna, which has the model and actress Monica Bellucci in the title role, another Sicilian story of a 12-year-old boy’s obsessive love for a beautiful young woman.

Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in one of the most
famous screenshots from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
Tornatore initially worked as a photographer, seeing his efforts published in various photographic magazines. By the age of 16, he staged had staged two plays, by Luigi Pirandello and Eduardo De Filippo, and then began making documentary films for TV, beginning a long association with Rai in his early 20s.

In 1986 he made his debut in feature films with Il camorrista, starring the American actor Ben Gazzara, taken from a book by Giuseppe Marrazzo about a petty criminal in Naples, Raffaele Cutolo, who uses a spell in the Poggioreale prison to form the mafia organisation Nuova Camorra Organizzata, which would go on to become one of the most powerful criminal groups in Italy.  The movie earned him a Silver Ribbon as best new director from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists.

Cinema Paradiso was only his second film, confirming the arrival of a new talent to rival some of the greats of the post-War era of Italian cinema, although the movie was almost written off as a flop.  When it was released in Italy in 1988, it did little to excite Italian audiences and takings were poor.

Yet the manager of a small cinema in Sicily, who had warmed to its theme, kept it on, inviting cinema-goers to watch it for nothing and then pay at the end if they liked it.  The offer was taken up in increasing numbers and gradually the film acquired almost a cult following. It won the Grand Jury Special Prize at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival, which gave it the springboard that would eventually lead to the Oscars the following year.

Tornatore’s body of work is not huge, amounting to only a dozen feature films in more than 30 years. The love of his native Sicily is a recurring theme and inevitably his movies are beautifully crafted.

In addition to the Oscar and Golden Globe for Cinema Paradiso, Tornatore has won four Best Director awards at the David di Donatellos - the premier awards ceremony in Italy - for L’uomo delle stelle (The Star Maker, 1986), La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano (The Legend of 1900, 1998), La sconoscuita (The Unknown Woman, 2006) and his English language film The Best Offer (2013).

The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
The Villa Cattolica is one of Bagheria's characteristic
Baroque villas. It now houses a museum.
Travel tip:

Just 15km from Palermo in a southeast direction along the coast, Bagheria, which occupies an elevated position a short distance from the sea, has an atmosphere of a traditional Sicilian town and as well as featuring both in Cinema Paradiso and Baarìa - which is its Sicilian dialect name - it was also used for some scenes in The Godfather Part III. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a favoured by the aristocracy of Palermo as somewhere to spend the summer, the legacy of which is some 20 or more Baroque villas that add to the town’s charm.

The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for open-air concerts in the summer months
The Greek Theatre in Taormina is a regular venue for
open-air concerts in the summer months
Travel tip:

Very much mimicking the Oscars, the David di Donatello awards were conceived in 1955 as a way to recognise the best of Italian cinema and promote the movie industry. Like the Oscars, the award itself is a gold-plated statuette, in this case a replica of the statue of David sculpted by Donatello, probably in around 1430-40, and currently housed in the Bargello museum in Florence. Between 1957 and 1980, the awards were presented at the open air Greek Teatre in Taormina.

Also on this day:

1508: The death of Lucrezia Crivelli, the 'mystery' woman of a Da Vinci painting

1944: The birth of Bruno Vespa, the face of Italy's long-running late night politics show Porta a Porta


19 October 2017

Carlo Urbani – microbiologist

Infectious disease expert who identified SARS

 Carlo Urbani was a World Health Organisation specialist in infectious diseases
 Carlo Urbani was a World Health Organisation
specialist in infectious diseases
The doctor and microbiologist Carlo Urbani, whose decisive action after discovering the deadly SARS virus saved millions of lives, was born on this day in 1956 in Castelplanio, near Ancona.

Dr Urbani himself died after contracting the condition, which had been given the name severe acute respiratory syndrome.

He identified it in an American businessman who had been taken ill in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, with suspected influenza.

Recognising quickly that what he was dealing with was not a straightforward case of ‘flu, Urbani, who was working in Vietnam as an infectious diseases specialist for the World Health Organisation, immediately alerted WHO headquarters in Geneva.

He convinced them that what he had discovered posed a grave threat to life and thus sparked the most effective response to a major epidemic in the history of medicine.

At a local level, be persuaded the Vietnamese health authorities to introduce a raft of preventative measures, including large-scale screening and prompt, secure isolation of suspected victims, that slowed the spread of the disease.

At its peak, people in the areas affected by the SARS virus were encouraged to wear surgical masks in public places
At its peak, people in the areas affected by the SARS virus
were encouraged to wear surgical masks in public places
It was as a result of Urbani’s actions that the epidemic was largely contained, almost all deaths from the disease occurring in territories surrounding the South China Sea, namely southeast China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines.

Some 775 people died in the epidemic, two thirds of them prior to Urbani’s intervention.

The only significant outbreak beyond this area was in Canada, where 44 people died following the import of the disease into the country by a tourist who had stayed at the same hotel in Hong Kong as Urbani’s patient, who probably contracted the disease from a Chinese doctor who was a guest at a wedding there. 

This doctor had been treating patients suffering from the disease in Guangdong Province, just across the border from Hong Kong, where the virus is thought to have originated.

Urbani, whose parents were a teacher at the Ancona Commercial Navy Institute and a primary school headmistress, gained a degree in medicine from the University of Ancona and a postgraduate degree in tropical parasitology from the University of Messina in Sicily.  He began voluntary work in Africa while he was still at university.

Urbani contracted the virus after treating a sick businessman in Vietnam
Urbani contracted the virus after treating a
sick businessman in Vietnam
After a period of academic research, he went to work at a hospital in Macerata, about 55km (34 miles) from his home town of Castelplanio in the Marche region.  In 1993 he began to accept temporary assignments from the WHO in places such as the Maldives, Mauritania and Guinea.

In 1997, on a recommendation from the WHO, he joined Médicins San Frontières to work in Cambodia and Vietnam. He was elected president of the Italian section of MSF in 1999 and travelled to Oslo in the same year to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the organisation.

A year later he was recruited by the WHO to be their infectious diseases specialist in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, based in Hanoi. He achieved success in reducing the health impact of parasitic flatworms.

Urbani was summoned to Hanoi’s French Hospital following the admission on February 23, 2003 of a 47-year old Chinese-American businessman called Johnny Chen, resident in Shanghai, who had begun to feel unwell with 'flu-like symptoms soon after arriving on a flight from Hong Kong.

He became suspicious that Mr Chen had something different from normal influenza when several hospital workers who had been in contact with him quickly developed similar symptoms, some rapidly becoming seriously ill.

Sadly, the story has a tragic postscript.  After treating a number of sick patients, Urbani left Hanoi on March 11, bound for a conference in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was to give a talk on the subject of childhood parasites.

During the flight he became feverish. He realised straightaway what had happened and when he arrived at the airport in Bangkok told a colleague sent to meet him that he should call an ambulance immediately and inform the operator that he had almost certainly contracted the SARS virus.  While they awaited the ambulance, Urbani insisted his to his colleague that he was to allow no one within eight feet of him.

Urbani was in intensive care for 18 days but died on March 29, having ultimately suffered a heart attack.  He was only 46 and left behind a wife and three children.

The Arena Sferisterio in Macerata
The Arena Sferisterio in Macerata
Travel tip:

The walled city of Macerata in Marche, where Carlo Urbani worked in the local hospital, is a charming historic city of cobbled streets perched on a hill between the Potenza and Chienti rivers.  At the heart of the city, in the pretty Piazza della Libertà, is the Loggia dei Mercanti with its two-tier arcades, dating from the Renaissance. Macerata’s university is among the oldest it Italy, established in 1290.  Each July and August the city hosts the Sferisterio Opera Festival, which is held in the 2,500 seat open-air Arena Sferisterio, a huge neoclassical arena built in the 1820s.

The Arch of Trajan still stands guard over Ancona's harbour
The Arch of Trajan still stands guard over Ancona's harbour
Travel tip:

The coastal city of Ancona, where Urbani attended university, is a bustling port with a population of almost 102,000. Although the area around the port has an industrial feel, there are some notable beaches nearby and a good deal of history in the older part of the city, bearing witness to its Greek and Roman past. The 18m-high Arch of Trajan, built in honour of the emperor who built the city’s harbour, is regarded as one of the finest Roman monuments in the Marche region. Urbani may have been inspired to follow his chosen direction in life by the presence in Ancona’s harbour of the Lazzaretto, the pentagonal building constructed on an artificial island in the 18th century as a quarantine station designed to protect Ancona from diseases carried by infected travellers.

23 September 2017

Paolo Rossi - World Cup hero

Goalscorer who bounced back from two-year ban

(This article was written in 2017; sadly, Paolo Rossi passed away in 2020 at the age of 64)

Paolo Rossi celebrates his goal in the 1982 World Cup final in Spain
Paolo Rossi celebrates his goal in the 1982
World Cup final in Spain
The footballer Paolo Rossi, whose goals steered Italy to World Cup glory in 1982, was born on this day in 1956 in Prato in Tuscany.

At the peak of his career in club football, in which his best years were with Juventus and Vicenza, Rossi scored almost 100 Serie A and Serie B goals in seven seasons.

Yet for many his exploits with the Italian national team define his career. In 48 appearances he scored 20 goals, including six in the 1982 finals in Spain, when he won the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer and the Golden Ball as the best player.

In 1982 he also won the Ballon D’Or, the prestigious award given to the player of the season across all the European leagues, following in the footsteps of Omar Sivori and Gianni Rivera to become the third Italian player to win the vote, in which company he has since been joined by Roberto Baggio and Fabio Cannavaro.

His success story is all the more remarkable for the fact that he scaled so many personal peaks after being banned from football for two years in a match-fixing scandal, although he denied the accusations levelled at him.

The 1982 World Cup saved his career and his reputation, although the fairytale would never have happened but for the faith shown in him by the national coach, Enzo Bearzot.

Italy's coach, Enzo Bearzot, stood by Rossi
Italy's coach, Enzo Bearzot, stood by Rossi
Bearzot’s selection of Rossi for the squad he took to Spain came barely a month after his suspension was lifted and sparked an outcry in Italy. Apart from those who thought he was unworthy of wearing the Azzurri shirt, others argued he would be too lacking in fitness to make an effective contribution.

Yet Bearzot not only believed in Rossi’s innocence, he also recalled the three goals the striker had scored in the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina and was convinced he could make an impact again.

His faith was borne out totally.  Rossi looked off the pace at the start of the tournament but found his feet memorably in the second phase, scoring all three of Italy’s goals in a 3-2 win against a superior Brazil team that still ranks as one of the greatest matches in World Cup history.

He went on to score both Italy’s goals as they defeated Poland in the semi-finals and opened the scoring in Italy’s 3-1 victory over West Germany in the final.

As a boy, Rossi played his first football with an amateur team in the Santa Lucia area of Prato. At the age of 12, he was spotted by a scout from Juventus, who had also been interested in his brother, Rossano, but had sent him home after a year.

His mother, who had always been worried about Rossano having to fend for himself in Turin, was reluctant to suffer a similarly anxious time with Paolo, especially since Rossano’s dreams ultimately came to nothing.

Paolo Rossi in action for Juventus
Paolo Rossi in action for Juventus
But Juventus were persuasive, offering substantial inducements for him to sign, and ultimately in 1972 a deal was agreed.

It took a long time for his career to take off, however. He suffered a series of serious knee injuries and apart from a handful of Coppa Italia games he did not make any real progress towards a regular place in the first team at Juventus.

A spell on loan with Como did not change his fortunes and he might have been told to seek an alternative career had Lanerossi Vicenza, the Serie B club, not stepped in with another loan deal.

Rossi had, until then, been seen as a winger, slight in build but with the speed to beat defenders. Vicenza’s coach, Giovan Battista Fabbri, had other ideas, reckoning that Rossi’s pace could be deployed in the middle, despite his lack of physical stature. 

It proved a masterstroke.  Rossi scored 21 goals to help Vicenza win promotion to Serie A and followed it with 24 in the top flight as Vicenza finished second, a remarkable performance.  Rossi became the first player to be top scorer in Serie B and Serie A in consecutive seasons.

In the event, Vicenza’s flame went out as quickly as it had ignited. They paid 2.612 million lire to make Rossi their own player, making him the world’s most expensive footballer, which he rewarded with another 15 goals, despite missing many games through injury. Yet Vicenza were relegated.

Rossi (right) with Giovan Battista Fabbri, the coach of Vicenza, who turned him into a striker
Rossi (right) with Giovan Battista Fabbri, the
coach of Vicenza, who turned him into a striker
Had they stayed up, Rossi might never have been embroiled in the match-fixing allegations.  Instead, in order to continue playing in Serie A and continue his international career, he went on loan to Perugia, who were heavily implicated in what became known as the Totonero scandal after a match against Avellino, in which Rossi scored twice, was found to have been rigged to end in a draw.

Rossi admitted he had been approached by a third party interested in fixing the result but said he had agreed to nothing.  Nonetheless, he was found guilty and banned for three years, reduced on appeal to two.

Disillusioned, he threatened to leave Italy for a new life elsewhere but Juventus bought him back from Vicenza and the bianconeri finally saw the real Rossi.  He helped them win the Serie A title – the ‘Scudetto’ - the UEFA Cup and the European Cup during a period when his very presence in a team seemed to guarantee their winning a trophy.

Since retiring, Rossi has run a real estate company, opened an agritourism complex in Bucine, near Arezzo, taken part in Ballando con le Stelle – the Italian version of Strictly Come Dancing – and worked for several newspapers and television stations as a columnist and pundit.

He has also run for election to the European Parliament and worked on behalf of a number of charities.  Married to journalist Federica Cappelletti, he has three children.

The Castello dell'Imperatore in Prato
The Castello dell'Imperatore in Prato
Travel tip:

Paolo Rossi’s home city of Prato is the second largest in Tuscany after Florence and has a considerable number of historic churches and palaces and two castles, yet is rarely part of anyone’s tourist itinerary.  Attractions include beautiful frescoes by Filippo Lippi inside the Duomo and the external pulpit by Michelozzo and Donatello, the beautiful Palazzo Pretorio and Piazza del Comune where it sits.  The remains of Castello dell’Imperatore are also worth exploring.  Prato’s traditional textile industry, which today employs many of the city’s large Chinese population, once saw it described as ‘the Manchester of Italy.’

Palladio's Villa Capra, known as La Rotonda
Palladio's Villa Capra, known as La Rotonda
Travel tip:

Known as both the city of Palladio and, on account of its historical trade in precious metals, the ‘city of gold’, Vicenza is one of the gems of the Veneto, with a centre rich in beautiful architecture, much of which has been built or influenced by the 16th century architect Andrea Palladio, who also left his mark on the area by building many impressive villas in the countryside around Vicenza, the most famous of which, the symmetrically four-sided Villa Almerico Capra, commonly known as La Rotonda. There are some 23 buildings in the city itself that were designed by Palladio, including perhaps the city’s most popular attraction, the Teatro Olimpico, which was his last work.


7 August 2017

Gerry Scotti - television show host

One-time politician who presented Chi vuol essere milionario?

Gerry Scotti
Gerry Scotti
Gerry Scotti, the host of Italy’s equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and one of the most familiar faces on Italian television, was born on this day in 1956 in Camporinaldo, an agricultural village in Lombardy.

The presenter, whose career in television began in the 1980s, was also a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies between 1987 and 1992, having won the Lombardy 1 district in the Milan college for Bettino Craxi’s Italian Socialist Party.

But he is best known as the face of Chi vuol essere milionario?, which he fronted when it launched in Italy in 2000 and continued in the role after Italy’s entry into the single currency in 2002 required the show to make a subtle change of name.

Originally Chi vuol essere miliardario – billionaire – the title was changed to milionario – millionaire – with a new top prize of 1,000,000 euro replacing the 1,000,000,000 lire of the original.

Scotti continued to host the show until it aired for the last time in Italy in 2011, at which time he held a Guinness World Record for the number of editions presented of the show, which was created for the British network ITV in 1998 and was subsequently exported to 160 countries worldwide.

The son of a printworker at Corriere della Sera in Milan, Scotti – whose real first name is Virginio - studied law at university but dropped out to pursue a career as a radio DJ, working for a number of stations in Milan before being hired as a launch presenter for Radio Deejay, a national network based in Milan.

Scotti is nicknamed Uncle Gerry by his fans
Scotti is nicknamed Uncle Gerry by his fans
He fronted Deejay Television, the first music video programme on Italian television, before moving into full-time TV work with the commercial Mediaset networks, working mainly for Canale 5.

Apart from Millionaire, Scotti has been the host of a number of other popular quiz shows, notably the word game Passaparola. He also fronted The Money Drop and Avanti un altro.

In the entertainment category, his credits include La sai l'ultima?, La Corrida, Paperissima and Buona Domenica. 

He also co-hosted the satirical current affairs programme, Striscia la Notizia, and has been on the judging panels of the talent shows Italia’s Got Talent and Tú sí que vales.

The winner of 10 Telegatto awards – the prize sponsored by the Italian TV listings magazine TV Sorrisi e Canzoni – and a Telegatto Platinum prize for career achievement, Scotti has presented almost 100 different TV shows, appearing in almost 600 prime time editions and more than 6,000 daytime slots.

Known as Uncle Gerry by his fans, he has also acted in around a dozen films, mainly for television, and two sitcoms. He has made commercials on behalf of around a dozen companies.

He was married for 18 years to Patrizia Grosso, with whom he has a son, 25-year-old Eduardo, and has for several years been the companion of Gabriella Perino, a divorcee who is the mother of one of Eduardo’s former schoolfriends.

In 2009, Scotti wrote a letter published in Corriere della Sera supporting a proposal that the Catholic Church soften its position towards divorce, which traditionally it does not recognise.

The Palazzo Pubblico in Piacenza dominates the  central Piazza dei Cavalli
The Palazzo Pubblico in Piacenza dominates the
central Piazza dei Cavalli
Travel tip:

Camporinaldo is an agricultural hamlet, part of the municipality of Miradolo Terme, a small town of 3,500 people about 25km (16 miles) east of Pavia and 55km (34 miles) south-east of Milan, on the way to Piacenza, which was given its name – meaning ‘pleasant place’ – by the Romans.  Piacenza’s industrial suburbs may bely that description but its well-preserved historical centre includes an imposing Gothic town hall – the Palazzo Pubblico, which dominates the central Piazza dei Cavalli, also notable for its equestrian statues.

The elaborately carved tomb of St Augustine in the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia
The elaborately carved tomb of St Augustine in the
Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia
Travel tip:

The city of Pavia once rivalled Milan as the regional capital and was the seat of the Kings of Lombardy for more than 200 years from 572 to 774.  It was once also known as the ‘city of 100 towers’ although only a few remain.  Among the attractions of this historic university city is the Romanesque basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, which contains an elaborately carved ark housing the remains of St Augustine, a convert to Christianity who became one of the religion’s most influential theologians.

11 June 2017

Corrado Alvaro - writer and journalist

Novelist from Calabria won Italy's most prestigious literary prize

Corrado Alvaro
Corrado Alvaro
The award-winning writer and journalist Corrado Alvaro died on this day in 1956 at the age of 61.

Alvaro won the Premio Strega, Italy’s most prestigious literary prize, in 1951 with his novel Quasi una vita – Almost a Life.

The Premio Strega – the Strega Prize – has been awarded to such illustrious names as Alberto Moravia, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Elsa Morante, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco and Dacia Maraini since its inception in 1947.

Alvaro made his debut as a novelist in 1926 but for much of his life his literary career ran parallel with his work as a journalist.

He was born in San Luca, a small village in Calabria at the foot of the Aspromonte massif in the southern Apennines. His father Antonio was a primary school teacher who also set up classes for illiterate shepherds.

Corrado was sent away to Jesuit boarding schools in Rome and Umbria before graduating with a degree in literature in 1919 at the University of Milan.

He began his newspaper career writing for Il Resto di Carlino of Bologna and Milan’s Corriere della Sera, both daily newspapers, for whom he combined reporting with literary criticism.

Gente in Aspromonte was Alvaro's breakthrough novel in 1931
Gente in Aspromonte was Alvaro's
breakthrough novel in 1931
After serving in the Italian army during the First World War, in which he was wounded in both arms and spent a long time in hospital, he resumed his journalistic career as a correspondent in Paris (France) for the anti-Fascist paper Il Mondo. In 1925, he supported Benedetto Croce’s Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals.

Alvaro’s debut novel L’uomo nel labirintothe Man in the labyrinth, published in 1926, explored the growth of Fascism in Italy in the 1920s, when his politics made him the target of surveillance by Mussolini's Fascist regime. Worried about the possibility of arrest, he moved to Berlin in 1928, and subsequently spent time in the Middle East and the Soviet Union.

On his return to Italy, having had little success with his early novels, he made a breakthrough in 1931 when Gente in Aspromonte, his 1930 novel about an uprising in the area around his home village, won a 50,000 lira prize sponsored by the newspaper La Stampa after impressing a judging panel including the novelist and playwright Luigi Pirandello.

Ironically, given that he was previously under scrutiny as an anti-Fascist, his 1938 novel L’uomo è forte – Man is strong – led him to be accused of being a Fascist sympathiser because its content was strongly critical of communist totalitarianism. Nonetheless, the book won the literary prize of the Accademia d’Italia in 1940.

Alvaro lost his father in 1941 but retained his connection with Calabria through his mother, who had moved from San Luca to nearby Caraffa del Bianco, where his brother, Massimo, was parish priest.

The monument to Corrado Alvaro in Reggio Calabria
The monument to Corrado Alvaro in Reggio Calabria
During the Second World War, Alvaro was briefly editor of the Rome newspaper Il Popolo but he was forced to flee Rome in the later years of the war to escape the Nazi occupation, taking refuge in Chieti, where he assumed a false name, Guido Giorgi, and made a living by giving English lessons.

In 1945 he was co-founder of the Italian Association of Writers, of which he became secretary two years later, a position he retained until his death.  He continued to write for prominent Italian newspapers and penned several more novels and a number of screenplays.

His Strega Prize in 1951 came in a vintage year for Italian literature, coinciding with the publication of L'orologio – the Clock – by Carlo Levi , Il conformista – the Conformist – by Alberto Moravia , A cena col commendatore – Dinner with the commander – by Mario Soldati and Gesù, fate luce – Jesus, make light – by Domenico Rea.

Alvaro died in Rome from lung cancer, having previously undergone surgery for an abdominal tumour. He is buried in the small cemetery of Vallerano in the province of Viterbo in Lazio, about 80km (50 miles) north-west of Rome, where he had bought a large country house in 1939.

His memory is celebrated both in Lazio and Calabria.

In Vallerano, a street, a library and an elementary school are named in his honour, with a statue at the entrance to the library.  The city also established a Corrado Alvaro literary prize in 2015.

In Calabria, the Aspromonte National Park contains a cultural itinerary that includes San Luca and a ‘literary park’ in his name. The regional capital, Reggio Calabria, honoured him with a monument in Piazza Indipendenza.

San Luca is on the eastern slope of Aspromonte
San Luca is on the eastern slope of Aspromonte
Travel tip:

That Alvaro’s home town of San Luca, situated on the eastern slopes of Aspromonte, could produce a literary giant of his standing is remarkable given its history as a stronghold of the N’drangheta – the Calabrian mafia – and the fact that in 1900, when Alvaro was five, it had no drinking water and a 100 per cent illiteracy rate. The only way to reach the village during his childhood was on foot. The convent known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi, founded in 1144 by Roger II of Sicily, is situated in a spectacular setting at the foot of a deep gorge just outside the town.

The Loggia del Palazzo dei Papi in Viterbo
The Loggia del Palazzo dei Papi in Viterbo
Travel tip:

Viterbo in Lazio is regarded as one of the best preserved medieval towns in Italy, with the historic San Pellegrino quarter, which features an abundance of typical external staircases, at its centre.  The Palazzo dei Papi, which was the papal palace for about 20 years in the 13th century, and the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, which dates back to the 12th century, has a 14th century Gothic belfry and was largely rebuilt in the 16th century, are among a number of impressive buildings.

26 December 2016

Beppe Severgnini - journalist and author

Books observing national mores have been best sellers

Journalist Beppe Severgnini: respected commentator and witty observer of his fellow human beings
Journalist Beppe Severgnini: respected commentator
and witty observer of his fellow human beings

The author and journalist Giuseppe Severgnini was born on this day in 1956 in Crema in northern Italy.

Better known as Beppe Severgnini, he is a respected commentator on politics and social affairs, about which he has written for some of the most influential journals and newspapers in Italy and the wider world.

Severgnini is equally well known for his humorous writing, in particular his gently satirical observations of the English and the Americans as well as Italians, about whom he has written many books.

His biggest selling titles include An Italian in America, which has also been published as Hello America. He has also enjoyed success with La Bella Figura: An Insider's Guide to the Italian Mind, Mamma Mia! Berlusconi's Italy Explained for Posterity and Friends Abroad, and An Italian in Britain.

Severgnini is currently a columnist for Corriere della Sera in Italy and the International New York Times in the United States.  A former correspondent for the British journal The Economist, he writes in both Italian and English, having spent a number of years living in London, Washington and New York.

The son of a notary in Crema, Severgnini graduated in law at the University of Pavia.  For a brief period he worked at the European Community headquarters in Brussels before beginning his career in journalism at the age of 27, when he joined the Milan daily newspaper Il Giornale, headed by veteran Italian journalist Indro Montanelli.

It was soon evident he was a talented writer and he became the paper's London correspondent.  Subsequently, during the years of the fall of communism, he became a special correspondent in Eastern Europe, Russia and China.

Beppe Severgnini's books have been bestsellers in Italy, Great Britain and the United States
Beppe Severgnini's books have been bestsellers in
Italy, Great Britain and the United States
When Montanelli set up a new venture, La Voce, Severgnini became its Washington correspondent in 1994 before returning to Italy the following year and beginning his long association with Corriere della Sera, for whom as well as writing opinion pieces he moderates a popular forum, simply called 'Italians', originally aimed at Italian expatriates, which has become one of the most read regular features of the newspaper's website.

Severgnini was Italian correspondent for The Economist between 1996 and 2003 and still writes for the magazine from time to time.  He has also contributed to the Sunday Times and The Financial Times in the UK and occasionally writes about football for Gazzetta dello Sport.

Away from newspapers and books, he has taught at the Walter Tobagi graduate School of Journalism at the University of Milan, been writer in residence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a visiting fellow at Ca’ Foscari Venezia. 

One of his books, Signori, si cambia: In viaggio sui treni della vita (All Change: Travelling on the Train of Life), has been turned into a play, Life is a Journey, in which he also stars.

The Piazza del Duomo in Severgnini's home town of Crema in Lombardy
The Piazza del Duomo in Severgnini's home
town of Crema in Lombardy
He presents a television show on RAI TRE entitled The Grass is Greener, which compares Italy with other European countries and America.

He was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 2001 and a Commendatore of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 2011.

A keen supporter of Internazionale and the owner of a 1954 Vespa motor scooter, Severgnini lives near Milan with his wife and their son Antonio.

Travel tip:

The small city of Crema, which sits on the banks of the Serio river about 50km east of Milan, has an attractive historic centre built around the Piazza del Duomo.  Apart from the cathedral itself, which has a tall bell tower completed in 1604, the area includes the Santa Maria della Croce basilica, built around a 35km high circular central structure, the Palazzo Pretorio and the Palazzo Comunale.

The covered bridge over the Ticino river in Pavia was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Second World War
The covered bridge over the Ticino river in Pavia was
rebuilt after being destroyed in the Second World War
Travel tip:

Pavia was once the most important town in northern Italy, the legacy of which is evident in its many fine buildings. These include a cathedral boasting one of the largest domes in Italy, a beautiful Romanesque Basilica, San Michele, and the well preserved Visconti Castle, surrounded by a large moat, which is home to the Civic Museum. The covered bridge across the Ticino River is a faithful reproduction of a 13th-century bridge destroyed during Allied bombing raids in the Second World War.

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(picture credits: main Beppe Severgnini by Davide Schenette; second Beppe Severgnini by Alessio Jacona; Piazza del Duomo by MarkusMark; Bridge at Pavia by Konki; all via Wikimedia Commons)