Showing posts with label 1957. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1957. Show all posts

1 May 2019

Uberto Pasolini - film producer and director

Roman count who found unexpected fame with The Full Monty

Uberto Pasolini worked for 12 years as a banker before finding work in the film industry
Uberto Pasolini worked for 12 years as a banker
before finding work in the film industry
The film director and producer Uberto Pasolini, who gained international recognition when his British comedy The Full Monty became a one of UK cinema’s biggest commercial success stories in 1997, was born on this day in 1957 in Rome.

A nephew of the great Italian director Luchino Visconti, Pasolini worked for 12 years as an investment banker in England before following his dream to work in the film industry, abandoning his career to work, initially without pay, on the set of the David Puttnam-Roland Joffé film, The Killing Fields, in Thailand.

Puttnam took him on, at first as a location scout, before Pasolini moved to America to become part of Puttnam’s production team in Los Angeles. He set up his own company in London in 1994 and went on to direct some of his own productions, including the critically acclaimed 2008 movie Machan, based on a true story about a group of would-be immigrants from Sri Lanka who overcome visa problems stopping them from moving to the West by pretending to be their country’s national handball team.

Like Luchino Visconti, who was a descendant of the same Visconti family that ruled Milan between the 13th and 15th centuries, Pasolini was from a noble background. Indeed, he was born Count Uberto Pasolini dell’Onda.

Pasolini had always dreamed of emulating his uncle, the director Luchino Visconti
Pasolini had always dreamed of emulating his uncle,
the director Luchino Visconti
He met Visconti on only a handful of occasions but admits he was to a degree inspired by his uncle’s films, particularly the early ones, made in the era of neorealism, which provided a window into a world and social circumstances very different from his own life of privilege, which he ultimately found uninspiring.

Pasolini left Italy as a teenager, first to attend an obscure college in Wales and then the London School of Economics, where he embraced the 1970s punk movement, but in time followed a natural progression into the City of London, where his talent enabled him quickly to climb the banking ladder.

After 12 years, however, his desire to emulate his uncle Luchino became too powerful. He obtained an interview with Puttnam, who was recruiting candidates to work on his production team for The Killing Fields. He was rejected but travelled to Bangkok anyway, at his own expense, and turned up on the set, willing to do nothing more testing than make tea if it meant being involved. In the event, Puttnam was impressed with Pasolini’s persistence and took him on as a runner.

It was not long before he was working as a location scout, which he did not only on The Killing Fields but on two others Joffé films, The Frog Prince and his 1986 hit The Mission, starring Robert De Niro, for which he was also named as assistant producer.

The unexpected success of The Full Monty made Pasolini's name in the movie business
The unexpected success of The Full Monty made
Pasolini's name in the movie business
After following Puttnam to Colombia Pictures in Los Angeles, where he worked on a number of productions, Pasolini returned to London in 1988, first to work for Enigma Films, before launching his own production company, Redwave Films.

He threw himself into learning all he could about working class Britain, drawing on the fascination instilled in him by Luchino Visconti’s early films about the less privileged levels of society.  After receiving some acclaim for Palookaville, a comedy caper about three burglars, he came up with the idea for The Full Monty, about six unemployed men in Sheffield, four of them former steelworkers, who decide to form a striptease act.

The comedy, directed by Peter Cattaneo, explored subjects such as unemployment, fathers' rights, homosexuality, body image and working class culture, even suicide. It was a major success with the critics and at the box office, grossing more than $250 million from a budget of only $3.5 million and for a time was the highest-grossing film in UK history. It won the BAFTA Award for Best Film, and was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, winning the last.

Pasolini went on to have more success with The Closer You Get (2000) and The Emperor’s New Clothes (2001) before throwing himself into another major project, a story inspired by a real event in 2004, when 23 Sri Lankan men convinced immigration authorities in Germany that they were members of the non-existent Sri Lanka national handball team, were granted visas, played in a tournament, in which unsurprisingly they lost every match, and then disappeared.

The result was a 2008 movie, Machan, which he directed as well as produced. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it received a 10-minute standing ovation.

Pasolini, married to the film music composer Rachel Portman, enjoyed further acclaim for his 2013 movie Still Life, his second as director, which won him a best director award at the Venice Film Festival and a number of other awards.

Luchino Visconti's family lived in the 16th century  Palazzo Visconti di Modrone in Milan
Luchino Visconti's family lived in the 16th century
Palazzo Visconti di Modrone in Milan 
Travel tip:

Pasolini’s uncle, Luchino Visconti, grew up in the Palazzo Visconti di Modrone, a 16th century palace that can be found in Via Cino del Duca, about one kilometre from the centre of Milan.  It came into the possession of the modern Visconti family in the 19th century, when it changed hands for 750,000 lire Milanese.  The building, spread over three floors, is one of the richest examples of Milanese rococo.

The elegant Palazzo Santacroce in Rome, which  became the Pasolini dall'Onda residence
The elegant Palazzo Santacroce in Rome, which
became the Pasolini dall'Onda residence
Travel tip:

The family seat of the Pasolini dall’Onda family in Rome was at one stage the monumental Palazzo Santacroce in Piazza Benedetto Cairoli. Commissioned by Onofrio Santacroce and designed by Carlo Maderno between 1598 and 1602, it was modified by Francesco Peparelli in 1630 and underwent further changes during the 19th century. Once the home of a valuable paintings collection, Palazzo Santacroce is nowadays home to the Italian Latin American Institute. A beautiful fountain featuring Venus, winged angels and dolphins embellishes the former garden.

More reading:

Luchino Visconti, the aristocrat of Italian cinema

The enigma that was Michelangelo Antonioni

How pasta seller Dino De Laurentiis put Italian cinema on the map worldwide

Also on this day:

1908: The birth of writer Giovanni Guareschi

1927: The birth of actress and jazz singer Laura Betti

1947: The Portella della Ginestra massacre


12 December 2018

Susanna Tamaro - bestselling author

Writer’s third published novel was international hit

Susanna Tamaro's novel is one of the biggest selling fiction titles in Italian literary history
Susanna Tamaro's novel is one of the biggest selling
fiction titles in Italian literary history
The writer Susanna Tamaro, whose novel Va' dove ti porta il cuore - published in English as Follow your Heart - was one of the biggest selling Italian novels of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1957 in Trieste.

Va' dove ti porta il cuore - in which the main character, an elderly woman, reflects on her life while writing a long letter to her estranged granddaughter - has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1994.

Only Umberto Eco’s historical novel Il Nome della Rosa  - The Name of the Rose - has enjoyed bigger sales among books by Italian authors written in the 20th century.

Tamaro has gone on to write more than 25 novels, winning several awards, as well as contributing a column for a number of years in the weekly magazine Famiglia Cristiana and even co-writing a song that reached the final of the Sanremo Music Festival.

Born into a middle-class family in Trieste, Tamaro is a distant relative of the writer Italo Svevo on her mother’s side. Her great-grandfather was the historian Attilio Tamaro.

Margherita Buy and Virna Lisi in a scene from Cristina
Comencini's 1996 movie version of Va' dove ti porta il cuore
In 1976, after obtaining a teaching diploma, Tamaro received a scholarship to study at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, the Italian school of cinema in Rome.

She was awarded a diploma in direction after making a short animation film entitled The Origin of Day and Night, taken from an Incas myth. After returning briefly to Trieste to work as assistant director on a feature film, she settled in Rome, where she would from time to time work for the Italian state television network, Rai. 

She completed her first novel, Illmitz, in 1981 but it was rejected by every publisher she approached (it was eventually published in 2014) and it was not until 1989, when the Marsilio publishing house began a project aimed at launching a series of young unpublished writers, that she managed to make her literary debut with La testa tra le nuvole - Head in the Clouds.

The novel won two awards - the Italo Calvino Award and the Elsa Morante Award - which encouraged Tamaro to keep up her writing.

Susanna Tamaro is related through her mother to the Trieste-born novelist Italo Svevo
Susanna Tamaro is related through her mother
to the Trieste-born novelist Italo Svevo
Her second novel Per voce sola - For Solo Voice - published in 1991 won the PEN International prize and was praised by film director Federico Fellini and the novelist Alberto Moravia, although sales were not spectacular.

However, when Va' dove ti porta il cuore appeared in 1994, Tamaro became the toast of the Italian literary world, hailed as “a unique voice” whose story, while rooted in her native Italy, displayed “an understanding of human lives that is universal”.

The book was turned into a film in 1996, directed by Cristina Comencini and starring Virna Lisi and Margherita Buy. At the Turin Book Fair of 2011, it was named as one of the 150 most important books in the history of Italian literature. It has been translated into more than 35 languages.

Subsequently, Tamaro has written several bestsellers, including Anima Mundi, Rispondimi (Answer Me), Ascolta la mia voce (Listen to My Voice), Fuori (Outside) and her memoir, Verso Casa (Towards Home), many of which have been published in English.

In 1997 she collaborated with the songwriter Ron (artistic name of Rosalino Cellamare) to write a Sanremo entry for the singer Tiziana Tosca Donati.

Tamaro revealed recently that she suffered from Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism, as a child
Tamaro revealed recently that she suffered from Asperger
Syndrome, a form of autism, as a child
She directed her first film, Nel mio amore (In My Love) in 2005, based on one of the stories in Rispondimi.

Since 1988 Tamaro has lived with the crime novelist Roberta Mazzoni, who invited her to stay in her home in Orvieto after she suffered a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, exacerbated by the smog and pollution of Rome.  The two subsequently shared a cottage in Porano, a nearby village. Tamaro has insisted that their relationship has always been platonic, describing it as “a loving friendship.” Tamaro recently revealed that she suffered from Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism, as a child.

Tamaro’s novels have often conveyed her political views, including her opposition to abortion, surrogacy and euthanasia, but she declined an invitation to stand in the 2008 Italian elections on an anti-abortion ticket.

The Canal Grande is one of the attractions of Trieste, a port city with a great literary tradition
The Canal Grande is one of the attractions of Trieste, a
port city with a great literary tradition
Travel tip:

The coastal city of Trieste, where Tamaro was born, is the main town of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Officially, it became part of the Italian Republic only in 1954, having been disputed territory for thousands of years. It was granted to Italy in 1920 after the First World War, after which thousands of the resident Slovenians left. The final border with Yugoslavia was settled in 1975 with the Treaty of Osimo. The area today is one of the most prosperous in Italy and Trieste is a lively, cosmopolitan city and a major centre for trade and ship building. It has a strong literary tradition, having been the home of the Irish author James Joyce for more than a decade, during which he wrote A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, most of Dubliners and the outline of Ulysses.  Joyce’s close friend, Italo Svevo, was one of several prominent writers born in the city, including the poet Umberto Saba and the essayist Claudio Magris.  The 19th century French writer Stendhal and the English novelist DH Lawrence also spent time there.

Orvieto's beautiful Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria  Assunta - is one of the finest cathedrals in Italy
Orvieto's beautiful Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria
Assunta - is one of the finest cathedrals in Italy
Travel tip:

The small city of Orvieto in Umbria, with a population of only 20,000, has a dramatic appearance, built on the top of a cliff of volcanic tuff stone, its elevated position further emphasised by the defensive walls built by the Etruscans. Situated about 120km (75 miles) north of Rome, it boasts one of Italy’s finest cathedrals in Italy - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - with a stunningly beautiful Romanesque Gothic facade inlaid with gold mosaics fronting a building constructed from alternate layers of black and white marble.  The city’s medieval streets are a cultural paradise - busy with cafés and restaurants, bookshops, artisans' workshops and antique emporia.

More reading:

Why Alberto Moravia is recognised as a major figure in 20th century literature

The broad intellectual talents of Umberto Eco

How screen siren Virna Lisi turned back on glamour roles

Also on this day:

1685: The birth of composer Lodovico Giustini

1901: Marconi receives first transatlantic radio signal

1969: The Piazza Fontana bombing


2 June 2018

Roberto Visentini - cyclist

One half of the Giro d’Italia’s most controversial duel

Roberto Visentini had the reputation of a  playboy in a working-class sport
Roberto Visentini had the reputation of a
playboy in a working-class sport
Roberto Visentini, the Italian road racing cyclist who won the 1986 Giro d’Italia but the following year was a central figure in the most controversial race since the historic tour of Italy began, was born on this day in 1957 in Gardone Riviera.

The son of a wealthy undertaker from Brescia, Visentini had been an Italian and a world champion at junior level in 1975 and won the Italian national time-trial championship in 1977 as an amateur, before turning professional in 1978. Despite his success, he was not universally respected by his peers, some of whom felt his penchant for fast cars and a playboy lifestyle were not in keeping with what was traditionally a working-class sport.

The Giro was always his focus. Riding for the Inoxpran team, he was runner-up in the 1983 edition behind his fellow countryman Giuseppe Saronni and looked set to win the event two years later, holding the race leader’s pink jersey for nine consecutive stages to the half-way point, only to become unwell, dropping back to finish 49th overall behind the Frenchman Bernard Hinault.

In 1986, now with the Carrera team, Visentini finally claimed the prize as his own, taking the lead at stage 16 as he turned the tables on Saronni, with the 1984 winner Francesco Moser, another Italian, in third place.

Visentini was the 1986 Giro d'Italia champion
Visentini was the 1986
Giro d'Italia champion
Come 1987, he felt he should begin the Giro, naturally, as team leader, and if he found himself positioned in the race well enough to have a chance of defending his title successfully, expected his teammates to do all they could to support him, as did the team management.

But one member of the team, the ambitious Irishman Stephen Roche, had other ideas. A high-profile signing in 1986, he had endured a wretched first year wrecked by a knee injury. He arrived at the Giro fresh from winning the Tour de Romandie in Switzerland and was in great form. He felt he also had a claim to be team leader.

Much to Visentini’s chagrin, Davide Boifava, the Carrera team manager, was reluctant to name a team leader when the race began in San Remo, announcing that “the road would decide”.

In the event, Visentini won the prologue but Roche claimed the overall lead on the third stage, a time trial between Lerici on the Ligurian coast and Camaiore, just over the border in Tuscany, and defended it for the next nine stages until the race reached Rimini, on the Adriatic coast.

Yet Visentini was never far behind and as the pair prepared for the uphill time trial from Rimini to San Marino, Roche’s lead over the defending champion was just 25 seconds. What’s more, he was suffering some pain after a crash a couple of days earlier.

Stephen Roche was an ambitious rider who failed to see why he should not try to win the Giro in his own right
Stephen Roche was an ambitious rider who failed to see
why he should not try to win the Giro in his own right
Now Visentini made his move and beat Roche decisively in the 46km climb, finishing 2 min 47 sec ahead of his teammate, taking the pink jersey as race leader in the process. He reasoned that with that the road had ‘decided’ and that the Giro was as good as his.

However, Roche was having none of it. There had been an assumption among the journalists reporting the race and the fans watching that an agreement had been reached where Roche would support Visentini in the Giro and the Italian would return the favour in the Tour de France the following month.

But Roche says he saw Visentini give an interview on the night of the San Marino stage in which he said he was not planning to ride in the Tour, something the Italian later denied.

Either way, on stage 15, which took the riders through the Dolomites, Roche broke away from the Carrera group, forming a new leading group with two other riders on the descent of Monte Rest. Despite Boifava sending his second-in-command to drive alongside Roche and tell him to abandon the move, he continued with the move, scrambling down the hill at speeds he admitted later were too fast.

The upshot was that though he did not win the stage his 12th place was enough for him to reclaim the pink jersey.  Encouraged by his Italian supporters, some of whom spat at or attempted to strike Roche as he went past them, Visentini tried to fight back on stage 16, between Sappada in the province of Belluno and Canazei, in Trento, but could not pass Roche. He ultimately faded and abandoned his race after a crash on the penultimate lap.

By the end, despite the opprobrium of the Italian newspapers, many supporters were applauding the Irishman as the stronger rider. Indeed, he went on to win the Tour de France and the road race at the World Championships, the first rider to win all three in the same year.

The career of Visentini, by contrast, went the other way. He never won another significant race and retired in 1990 to take over the running of the family firm, and thereafter had little to do with the sport, pointedly staying away from Carrera team reunions.

Sappada enjoys a picturesque setting in the foothills of the Alps, developed largely by Germans.
Sappada enjoys a picturesque setting in the foothills of
the Alps, developed largely by Germans 
Travel tip:

The small town of Sappada, also known as Bladen, is in an area of rich natural beauty in the Dolomites located at 1,245m (4,085ft) above sea level at the northeastern end of the range, on the border between Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Austria.  A tourist destination in winter and summer, despite being only 130km (81 miles) north of Venice it is largely German-speaking, with a Bavarian dialect known as Sappadino in Italian or Plodarsich in the local vernacular.

Gardone Riviera is an elegant resort on Lake Garda
Gardone Riviera is an elegant resort on Lake Garda
Travel tip:

Gardone Riviera is a small resort about one third of the way along the western shore of Lake Garda, in the province of Brescia. Several hotels can be found along the waterfront, as well as a small piazza providing a peaceful lakeside setting to eat lunch or dinner or enjoy an ice cream at an outdoor table. The town was the home of the poet, soldier and revolutionary Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938), who built the extravagant monument named Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, an estate in the hills above Gardone Riviera, which he planned with the help of Giancarlo Maroni. It now houses a military museum and library.

More reading:

The launch of the Giro d'Italia

How Attilio Pavesi became Italy's first Olympic cycling champion on the road

The cycling champion who was a secret war hero

Also on this day:

1882: The death of unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi

The Festa della Repubblica, commemorating Italy becoming a republic in 1946


6 April 2018

Maurizio and Giorgio Damilano – race walkers

Maurizio won Olympic gold in Moscow

Maurizio celebrates after his victory in the 1987 World Championships in Rotterdam
Maurizio celebrates after his victory in the 1987 World
Championships in Rotterdam
Twins Maurizio and Giorgio Damilano celebrate their 61st birthdays today. 

The former race walkers were born on this day in 1957 in Scarnafigi in the province of Cuneo in Piedmont.

Maurizio won the gold medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics in the 20km race walk, while his brother, Giorgio, finished 11th.

In sympathy with the American-led boycott of the Moscow Games following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Italian athletes competed under the Olympic flag rather than the Italian tricolore.

Damilano was one of eight Italians to win gold medals in Moscow.

Giorgio was less successful than Maurizio, but did win the 20km race walk at the 1979 Italian Athletics Championships.

The brothers - Maurizio is wearing number one in this picture - often raced each other
The brothers - Maurizio is wearing number
one in this picture - often raced each other
Maurizio was also the 1987 and 1991 World Champion in the 20km race walk. He had 60 caps for representing the national team between 1977 and 1992. He was supported through much of his career by the Italian car manufacturer, Fiat.

He also achieved a world record for the 30km race walk in 1992 with a time of 2:01:44.1, which he set in Cuneo.

Maurizio won two more Olympic medals, picking up the bronze medal for the 20km race walk at both the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

After retiring from competition, Maurizio and Giorgio became coaches at the Saluzzo Race Walking School, created by the town of Saluzzo in Piedmont in 2002.

In 2001, they founded Fitwalking, a programme that focuses on the physical and psychological benefits of walking for an improvement in the quality of life.

Maurizio and Giorgio’s older brother, Sandro, who is 68, was coach to Italy’s national athletics team until 2011. He has also coached Chinese athletes in race walking.

Cuneo in wintertime with Monte
Bisalta in the background
Travel tip:

Scarnafigi, where the Damilano brothers were born, is a village in the province of Cuneo, about 25km (16 miles) south of Turin. Between 1943 and 1945 the city of Cuneo was one of the main centres for partisan resistance against the German occupation of Italy.

The Piazza Risorgimento in Saluzzo
The Piazza Risorgimento in Saluzzo

Travel tip:

Saluzzo, where the Damilano brothers have established a race walking school, is a town built on a hill in the province of Cuneo. One of the most important sights is the Duomo, a late Gothic building constructed at the end of the 15th century. Saluzzo was the birthplace of typographer Giambattista Bodoni and Carla Alberto Dalla Chiesa, a military commander assassinated by the Sicilian mafia in Palermo in 1982.


19 August 2017

Cesare Prandelli – football coach

Led Italy to the final of Euro 2012

Cesare Prandelli
Cesare Prandelli
The former head coach of the Italian national football team, Cesare Prandelli, was born on this day in 1957 in Orzinuovi, near Brescia.

Under Prandelli’s guidance, the Azzurri finished runners-up in the European Championships final of 2012 and qualified for the finals of the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

Despite winning a two-year extension to his contract, he quit after Italy’s elimination at the group stage in Brazil, which he considered was the honourable course of action after a very  disappointing tournament in which the Azzurri beat England in their opening match but then lost to Costa Rica and Uruguay.

As a player, Prandelli had been a member of a highly successful Juventus team in the early 1980s, winning Serie A three times and the European Cup in 1985 – albeit on a night overshadowed by tragedy at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. 

After beginning his coaching career as youth team coach with Atalanta in Bergamo, his last club as a player, he twice achieved promotion from Serie B, with Hellas Verona in 1999 and Venezia in 2001.

But it was his achievements in Serie A with Fiorentina that impressed the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).

Prandelli guided Italy to the semi-finals of the Euro 2012 tournament
Prandelli guided Italy to the semi-finals
of the Euro 2012 tournament
Appointed in the summer of 2005, he had immediate success, transforming the team from relegation strugglers to finish in fourth place, winning qualification for the Champions League, although the prize was then snatched away from them after the investigation into the Calciopoli bribes scandal found the Tuscan club to be heavily involved.

Prandelli himself was not party to any wrongdoing but had to deal with the consequences as Fiorentina began the following season with a 15-point penalty. Remarkably, despite the handicap, they qualified for the UEFA Cup by finishing sixth. Had they started level with the rest of the field they would have been third. Prandelli was named Serie A’s Coach of the Year.

In each of the following two seasons, the viola did qualify for the Champions League, achieving a last 16 place for the first time in their history in the 2009-10 season, on the back of which he was approached by the FIGC in May 2010 and appointed as Marcello Lippi’s successor in charge of the national team.

Prandelli was head coach of the Azzurri for 56 matches, winning 25 of them and losing 14. The high spots came in Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, when Italy qualified unbeaten from their group before beating England in a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals and knocking out Germany in the semis, when Prandelli’s protégé, Mario Balotelli, scored both goals.

They lost the final 4-0 to Spain but Prandelli’s team won popular approval and on their return to Italy were invited to meet the president, Giorgio Napolitano, at a reception at the Palazzo Quirinale.

Prandelli (centre) introduces striker Mario Balotelli to the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano
Prandelli (centre) introduces striker Mario Balotelli to
the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano
Since resigning from the Italy job, Prandelli has had unhappy spells in Turkey with Galatasaray, where he was sacked after just 147 days in charge, and in Spain with Valencia, where he resigned after 10 matches.  He is currently working in Dubai with the Emirates Arabian Gulf League club Al-Nasr.

Off the field, Prandelli suffered the tragedy of losing his wife Manuela to cancer in 2007, after 25 years of marriage.  They had met in Orzinuovi as teenagers.  They had a daughter, Carolina, and a son, Nicolò, who worked for the Italian national team as a fitness coach in the build-up to Euro 2012.

The Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II in Orzinuovi
The Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II in Orzinuovi
Travel tip:

Orzinuovi, a town of 12,500 people situated about 32km (20 miles) south-east of Brescia, is typical of many municipalities in Lombardy in that it is clean, orderly and understatedly elegant. The attractive Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II is a long, wide thoroughfare at the heart of the town lined with porticos on each side.

The Stadio Artemio Franchi, with the Torre del Maratona
away to the left, in Florence
Travel tip:

Fiorentina’s home ground, the Stadio Artemio Franchi, is one of Italy’s most historic football venues, constructed entirely from reinforced concrete to a design by the celebrated architect Pier Luigi Nervi, who included a 70-metre (230ft) tower – La Torre del Maratona – that is a landmark on the Florence skyline. The stadium hosted matches at the 1934 and the 1990 World Cups. It is likely to be the club’s home for only a short while longer, however, with plans approved for a now 40,000-seater stadium as part of the redevelopment of north-west Florence, to be completed in time for the 2021-22 season.

18 December 2016

Camillo Castiglioni - business entrepreneur

Young man from Trieste who reached for the skies

Camillo Castiglioni - a rare portrait
Camillo Castiglioni
- a rare portrait
Camillo Castiglioni, a financier and aviation pioneer once reputed to be the wealthiest man in Central Europe, died on this day in 1957 in Rome.

Castiglioni was an Italian-Austrian banker who played a big part in the early days of aviation and also invested his wealth in the arts.

He was born in Trieste in 1879, when the port on the Adriatic, now firmly established as part of Italy, fell within the boundaries of Austria-Hungary.

His father, Vittorio, was a prominent figure in the large Jewish community in Trieste, where he was vice-rabbi, and there were hopes that Camillo might also become a rabbi. But after being educated in the law and working as an attorney and legal officer in a bank in Padua, where he quickly learnt about international finance and how to manage capital, it was clear his focus would be business.

Vittorio had been a rubber manufacturer and his son soon enjoyed financial success working as an agent in Vienna for a tyre maker in Constantinople.  He made good contacts both in business circles and the imperial court in Vienna, becoming a personal friend of the young Archduke Charles.

Enthused by the invention of the aeroplane, Castiglioni helped start the Viennese Aero Club and was appointed its general director. He recognised that the birth of aviation would give rise to a new industry and saw its financial potential, establishing his own ballooning and aviation company. He took the balloon driver examination successfully in 1909.

An early aircraft produced by Castiglioni's Hansa-Brandenburg company, from a design by Ernst Heinkel
An early aircraft produced by Castiglioni's Hansa-Brandenburg
company, from a design by Ernst Heinkel
During the First World War, Castiglioni became one of the richest and most influential financiers in Central Europe.  He was the first major investor in the production of aircraft. He bought a German aircraft company, employing Ernst Heinkel as chief designer, and supplied aircraft for the German military.

Foreseeing also the opportunities presented by the growth of the car industry, he also acquired a majority holding in the Austro-Daimler vehicle company and was a significant influence in the development of the car maker BMW during its early years, employing Ferdinand Porsche as chief engineer.

But Castiglioni suffered a series of business setbacks and his financial empire broke up in 1926.

He lost millions in particular when he became involved in speculation on the devaluation of the French franc and in 1924 an Austrian bank, of which he had been president, collapsed. A warrant for his arrest was issued, but Castiglioni had taken care to acquire Italian citizenship and was safely outside the reach of the Austrian authorities.

He retired to Switzerland initially, but then moved to live in Milan, where he set up a private bank and built up a fortune again.  Although he developed a close working relationship with Mussolini, the race laws introduced by the Fascist government somewhat complicated his position. Castiglioni went back to Switzerland and later spent some time in the United States.

Josip Broz Tito, the future leader of Yugoslavia, for whom Castiglioni arranged a loan
Josip Broz Tito, the future leader of Yugoslavia,
for whom Castiglioni arranged a loan
After the Second World War, through contacts made in the US, he returned to Italy and negotiated a large loan for his friend Josip Broz Tito, who would become the leader of communist Yugoslavia. When Tito refused to pay his commission, Castiglioni had his assets in Italy, which were worth millions, sequestered.

Away from his business activities, Castiglioni also built up a large art collection, including works by Donatello and some of the Venetian grand masters, although he had to sell much of it to refinance his business activities after his setbacks in the 1920s. He also established a theatre in Vienna.

Renowned for his dislike of publicity, he managed largely to avoid having his picture taken and few people recognised him in the street.  When he died in Rome at the age of 78, having been suffering from pneumonia, even the city's newspaper, Il Messaggero, devoted only a small space to his obituary.

He was at times accused of dubious practices in his banking activities and his life was documented in a an unflattering film in 1988, entitled ‘Camillo Castiglioni, or the morality of sharks’.

Travel tip:

The beautiful seaport of Trieste, where Camillo Castiglioni was born, officially became part of the Italian Republic in 1954. It is now the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and one of the most prosperous areas of Italy. The city lies towards the end of a narrow strip of land situated between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia and it is also just 30 kilometres north of Croatia. Trieste has been disputed territory for thousands of years and throughout its history has been influenced by its location at the crossroads of the Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures.

Hotels in Trieste by

The Piazza Unità d'Italia in Trieste
The Piazza Unità d'Italia in Trieste
Travel tip:

Trieste is lively and cosmopolitan and a major centre for trade and ship building. In 2012, Lonely Planet called Trieste ‘the world’s most underrated travel destination’. It is a fascinating place to visit because of the Venetian, Slovenian, Austrian and Hungarian influences in the architecture, culture and cuisine. As well as Italian, the local dialect, Triestino, is spoken along with Slovenian, German and Hungarian. Along the sea front, there are many excellent fish restaurants to try. Away from the sea, there are restaurants serving Italian, Friulian, Slovenian, Hungarian and Austrian dishes, and elegant bars line Canal Grande. Visitors can discover why Irish writer James Joyce enjoyed living in Trieste by visiting the Museo Joyce e Svevo, or what was believed to have been his favourite bar, Caffe Pirona.

More reading:

How designer Battista 'Pinin' Farina became a giant of the car industry

Vittorio Jano - engineer from Hungarian background behind Italy's motor racing success

How industrialist Enrico Piaggio created Italy's iconic Vespa scooter

Also on this day:

1737: The death of violin maker Antonio Stradivari


8 October 2016

Antonio Cabrini - World Cup winner

Star of 1982 became coach of Italy's women

Antonio Cabrini starred in the bianconeri strip of Juventus
Antonio Cabrini starred in the
bianconeri strip of Juventus
World Cup winner and former Juventus defender Antonio Cabrini celebrates his 59th birthday today.

Cabrini, who went on to becone head coach of the Italian women's national team, was born on October 8, 1957 in Cremona.

He took his first steps in professional football with his local team, Cremonese, and moved from there to Atalanta of Bergamo, but it was with the Turin club Juventus that he made his mark, forming part of a formidable defence that included goalkeeper Dino Zoff plus the centre-back Claudio Gentile and the sweeper Gaetano Scirea.

During Cabrini's 13 seasons in Turin, the Bianconeri won the Serie A title six times, as well as the 1985 European Cup, plus the Coppa Italia twice, the UEFA Cup and the European Super Cup, and the Intercontinental Cup.

Milan's Paolo Maldini tends to be recognised as the greatest defensive player produced by Italy but Cabrini's abilities put him only just behind.

Known by his fans as Bell'Antonio for his good looks and the elegance of his football, Cabrini's game possessed all the qualities required of a left-back.  His positional sense and speed of thought served him well in defensive duties and he was also exceptional going forward.

He was a key figure in the defeat of Liverpool in the 1985 European Cup final, although the memories of the Juventus victory in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels will forever be tarnished because of the deaths of 39 supporters - mainly Italians - when a wall collapsed during disturbances before the match began.

Antonio Cabrini starred in the bianconeri strip of Juventus
Italy's team to play Argentina at the 1982 World Cup. Back
 row (l-r): Zoff, Antognoni, Scirea, Graziani, Collovati,
Gentile; Front: Rossi, Conti, Cabrini, Oriali, Tardelli.
Cabrini scored 33 goals for Juventus and his tally of nine for the national team is the most by any defender for the Azzurri.

One of these came in the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, when he scored the winner in a 2-1 victory over holders Argentina in the second group round, in which the Azzurri also beat Brazil to emerge as a force to be reckoned with.

Cabrini missed a first-half penalty in the final, but it was forgotten when second-half goals by Paolo Rossi, Marco Tardelli and Alessandro Altobelli enabled Italy to defeat West Germany and win the trophy for the third time.

In all Cabrini won 73 caps for the national side.  He made his debut aged only 20 in the opening match of the 1978 World Cup finals in Argentina, at the end of which he was named Best Young Player of the Tournament after Italy reached the semi-finals.

He also played in the 1986 finals in Mexico, finishing his career with the distinction of having been picked in the starting line-up for every match played by the Azzurri in three consecutive World Cup tournaments.

Cabrini, who captained Italy on 10 occasions, played his last international match in 1987 but continued in club football for another four years, eventually leaving Juventus for Bologna, where he spent his final two seasons.

He did not begin his coaching career for almost 10 years.  Starting out in Serie C1 with the Tuscan club Arezzo, he almost won a promotion in his first season, his team losing in the play-offs.  Yet subsequent spells in charge at Crotone, Pisa and Navaro brought no success.

Antonio Cabrini today
Antonio Cabrini today
In 2007 he accepted the position of head coach of Syria's national team only for the contract to be cancelled amid the fall-out from a row between the Syrian FA and the national team's sponsors.

Therefore his appointment in 2012 to coach the women's Italian national team came as a surprise to many but Cabrini's record so far has been good.

The Azzurri women reached the quarter-finals of the 2013 European Championships and were considered unlucky not to qualify for the 2015 World Cup, finishing second in the qualifying group but losing 3-2 on aggregate to the Netherlands in the final of a play-off involving the four best runners-up.

Italy's women have never won an international tournament but Cabrini will have another chance to put that right at Euro 2017, which is being hosted by the Netherlands next summer.

Italy qualified by finishing runners-up to Switzerland in their qualifying group, in which they lost at home and away to the group winners but won at home and away against the Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and Georgia, scoring 26 goals and conceding only eight.

Away from football, Cabrini has been politically active as a member of the centre-left Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values) party founded by the former anti-corruption magistrate, Antonio di Pietro.

He was married in 1983 and has two children, 32-year-old Martina and Edoardo, 28, but has now separated from his wife, Consuelo.  He has been with his current partner, fashion manager Marta Sannito, for seven years.

UPDATE: Cabrini spent five years as coach of Italy's national women's team before being replaced by Milena Bertolini in 2017.

A statue of the violin-maker Stradivari in Cremona
A statue of the violin-maker
Stradivari in Cremona
Travel tip:

Although Antonio Cabrini is not the only notable footballer to be born in Cremona - the former Italy, Juventus and Chelsea striker Gianluca Vialli is another - the northern Italian city is more famous for its long association with music.  It hosts a number of important music festivals and has been a centre for the manufacture of musical instruments since the 16th century.  The great violin makers of the Amati family, as well as Andrea Guarneri and Antonio Stradivari, both of whom learned the craft from Nicolò Amati, established Cremona's reputation for producing the best violins in the world.  Violins are still made in the city to this day.

Travel tip:

Juventus is one of the two major football clubs in Turin, the other being Torino.  Although Juventus now play at a stadium on the northern perimeter of the city in the Vallette district, the club's roots are in the city centre.  Their original ground was in what is now known as the Parco Cavalieri di Vittorio Veneto, a large green space between Corso IV Novembre and Corso Galileo Ferraris just south of the city centre, which in the late 19th century was Piazza d'Armi, an army parade ground.  Nearby is the Stadio Olimpico, now the home of Torino, which was formerly called Stadio Comunale, where the two clubs co-habited until 1990.

More reading:


16 January 2016

Arturo Toscanini - conductor

Talented musician had unexpected career change

World famous orchestra conductor Arturo Toscanini died on this day in 1957.

Arturo Toscanini was in his lifetime musical director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the New York Philamonic Orchestra.
Arturo Toscanini
He served as music director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Toscanini was a well-known musician in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, respected for his amazing musical ear and his photographic memory.

Towards the end of his career he became a household name as director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra because of the radio and television broadcasts and recordings he made.

Toscanini was born in Parma in 1867 and won a scholarship to his local music conservatory where he studied the cello.

He joined the orchestra of an opera company and while they were presenting Aida on tour in Rio de Janeiro the singers went on strike.  They were protesting against their conductor and demanded a substitute. They suggested Toscanini, who they were aware knew the whole opera from memory.

Although he had no previous conducting experience, he was eventually persuaded to take up the baton late in the evening. He led a performance of the long Verdi opera, entirely relying on his memory, and received great acclaim for it. He carried on conducting successfully for the rest of that season, at the age of just 19.

On returning to Italy, Toscanini continued to conduct but also carried on playing the cello in orchestras.

Gradually his success as a conductor began to take over his career. Even the great composer Verdi was impressed with the way Toscanini could interpret his scores.

He was also trusted to conduct at the world premieres of Puccini’s La Boheme and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

By 1898 Toscanini was principal conductor at La Scala. He toured America with the company in 1920 and made his first recordings there.

He conducted the Metropolitan Opera in New York as well as the New York Philharmonic orchestra.

He conducted his first NBC Symphony Orchestra broadcast in 1937 and continued to tour with the orchestra and make recordings with them until he retired.

Toscanini died on 16 January 1957 at the age of 89 at his home in New York. His body was returned to Italy and he was buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan.

Toscanini became principal conductor at La Scala in 1898
Teatro alla Scala, better known simply as La Scala
Travel tip:

La Scala in Milan, where Toscanini was musical director, has a fascinating museum that displays costumes and memorabilia from the history of opera. The entrance is in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza Scala. It is open every day except the Italian Bank Holidays and a few days in December. Opening hours are from 9.00 to 12.30 and 1.30 to 5.30 pm.

Parmigano-Reggiano cheese is one of the culinary products for which Parma is famous
Parmigano-Reggiano cheese is one of the
culinary products for which Parma is famous
Travel tip:

Parma, the birthplace of Arturo Toscanini, is one of Italy’s great art cities with a wealth of churches and palaces full of masterpieces. The city in Emilia-Romagna is also famous for its food and culinary specialities. Parmigiano–Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma, as well as many dishes cooked alla parmigiana, all originated here.