Showing posts with label 1960. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1960. Show all posts

29 October 2018

Fabiola Gianotti - particle physicist

First woman to be director-general of CERN

Fabiola Gianotti - the would-be concert pianist who instead became a brilliant physicist
Fabiola Gianotti - the would-be concert pianist
who instead became a brilliant physicist
The particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti, who in 2016 became the first woman to be made director-general in the 64-year history of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, was born on this day in 1960 in Rome.

She led one of the two teams of physicists working for the organisation - general known as CERN after its title in French - whose experiments in 2012 resulted in the discovery of the Higgs boson, the particle that explains why some other elementary particles have mass.

The discovery was regarded as so significant in the advancement of scientific knowledge that it was nicknamed the “God particle.”

As the project leader and spokesperson of the ATLAS project at CERN, which involved a collaboration of around 3,000 physicists from 38 countries, Dr. Gianotti announced the discovery of the particle.

Their work involved the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest and most powerful particle collider and the largest machine of any kind on the planet, which lies in a tunnel 27km (17 miles) in circumference, 175 metres (574 ft) beneath the France–Switzerland border near Geneva.

Fabiola Gianotti at the Large Hadron Collider site deep underground on the France-Switzerland border
Fabiola Gianotti at the Large Hadron Collider site deep
underground on the France-Switzerland border
Her team were awarded science’s most lucrative award, a special Fundamental Physics Prize worth $3 million. Time magazine named her among its people of the year; Forbes placed her in its top 100 influential women list.

Brought up in Milan the daughter of a geologist from Piedmont who taught her to love nature, and a mother from Sicily who was passionate about music and art, Dr. Gianotti had ambitions to become a prima ballerina as a child, when she dreamt of becoming a dancer with the Bolshoi at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

She also considered becoming a classical pianist, such was her talent for music. She spent two years at the Milan Conservatory, but after earning a PhD in physics at the University of Milan, she began her career at CERN with a graduate fellowship in 1994.

Fabiola Gianotti was inspired to break the traditional male  domination of particle science by a biography of Marie Curie
Fabiola Gianotti was inspired to break the traditional male
domination of particle science by a biography of Marie Curie
Dr. Gianotti was inspired to devote herself to scientific research after reading a biography of Marie Curie, who developed the theory of radioactivity, techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and discovered the elements polonium and radium as well as being the mother of two children.

Even though particle physics has traditionally been a male-dominated domain - even now only 12 percent of the 2,500 physicists and engineers at CERN are women and only 20 per cent of the team that worked on the ATLAS project were women - Dr. Gianotti claims that she has never had a sense that she was discriminated against for being female.

However, she has argued that women in particle physics should be given more support when having children, claiming that a lack of support made it difficult for her to marry and start a family, a decision for which she has expressed regret.

Gianotti on the cover of Time magazine
Gianotti on the cover of Time magazine
The author or co-author of more than 500 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals, Dr. Gianotti is is a promoter of the “Open Science” movement, in particular the publication of scientific works in open access journals and the development of open access hardware and software in order to spread scientific knowledge to less-privileged countries.

Brought up a Catholic, Gianotti insists that religion and science are not in competition with each other, saying that while science cannot demonstrate or disprove the existence of God, religion has to respect science, and they should co-exist in a climate of tolerance.

She lives in in Switzerland in an apartment with a view of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc, plays music by her favourite composers on a Yamaha upright piano, has a passion for cooking and Italian culture.

The Milan Conservatory, Italy's largest music college, has a star-studded list of alumni
The Milan Conservatory, Italy's largest music college, has
a star-studded list of alumni
Travel tip:

The Milan Conservatory - also known as Conservatorio di musica “Giuseppe Verdi” di Milano - was established by a royal decree of 1807 in Milan, capital of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. It opened the following year with premises in the cloisters of the Baroque church of Santa Maria della Passione in Via Conservatorio. The largest institute of musical education in Italy, its alumni include Giacomo Puccini, Amilcare Ponchielli, Arrigo Boito, Pietro Mascagni, Riccardo Muti and Ludovico Einaudi.

Da Vinci's The Last Supper is one of the many reasons to visit Milan
Da Vinci's The Last Supper is one of the many
reasons to visit Milan
Travel tip:

Milan, where Gianotti grew up, is a global capital of fashion and design but also a financial hub, the home of the Italian stock exchange. Its historical monuments include the Gothic Duomo di Milano, the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent, which houses Leonardo da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper,  the Sforza Castle, the Teatro alla Scala and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

More reading:

The scientist from Rome who created the world's first nuclear reactor

How Laura Bassi broke new ground for women in science - 240 years ago

Margherita Hack - astrophysicist who helped make science popular

Also on this day:

1922: Mussolini is appointed Prime Minister

2003: The death of tenor Franco Corelli


21 September 2017

Maurizio Cattelan - conceptual artist

Controversial work softened by irreverent humour

Maurizio Cattelan once said that he aimed to be "as  open and as incomprehensible as possible."
Maurizio Cattelan once said that he aimed to be "as
open and as incomprehensible as possible."
The conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, known for the dark humour and irreverence of much of his work, was born on this day in 1960 in Padua.

Cattelan, probably best known for his controversial waxwork sculptures of Pope John Paul II and Adolf Hitler, has been described at different times as a satirist, a prankster, a subversive and a poet, although it seems to have been his aim to defy any attempt at categorisation.

His works are often interpreted as critiques of the art world and of society in general and while death and mortality are recurring themes there is more willingness among modern audiences to see how even tragic circumstances can give rise to comedic absurdities.

Although some of his work has provoked outrage, more viewers have been enthralled than angered by what he has presented, and some of his creations have changed hands for millions of dollars.

Cattelan has said that his memories of growing up in Padua are of economic hardship, punishments at school and a series of unfulfilling menial jobs.  His artistic skills were entirely self-taught. He was designing and making wooden furniture in Forlì, in Emilia-Romagna, when he began his first experiments with sculpture and conceptual art.

Cattelan's controversial waxwork of Pope John Paul II felled by a meteorite
Cattelan's controversial waxwork of Pope John
Paul II felled by a meteorite
At the start, he set out to produce work that expressed his own insecurities and anxiety about not succeeding. What was meant to be his first solo exhibition in 1989, for example, consisted simply of a sign hanging from the locked door of the gallery with the words Torno subito or “Be right back,” while his contribution to a group exhibition was a ‘rope’ from a window made of bed sheets knotted together, signifying a hurried escape from his obligations.

On another occasion, in Amsterdam, again to create a metaphor for fear of failure, he stole the entire contents of another artist’s show from a neighbouring gallery to pass off as his own, although he was forced to return it under threat of arrest.

He used taxidermy in several notable creations in the 1990s, including The Ballad of Trotsky (1996) and Novecento (1997), both of which consisted of an embalmed horse suspended from the ceiling, its neck bent downwards and its hooves stretched out as if reaching for the floor, widely interpreted as symbolic of energy destined to find no outlet.

Cattelan sold the Ballad of Trotsky for $5,000 (€4,200). In 2004, it changed hands for $2.1 million (€1.7 million).

Cattelan's work is often humorous, as in this sculpture of himself
 peering at paintings by Dutch masters from a hole in the floor 
At the Venice Biennale in 1997 he assembled 200 taxidermied pigeons perched on the air conditioning pipes in the Italian pavilion, with droppings spattered on the floor below, in an exhibit entitled Turisti.

Towards the end of the 1990s he turned to waxwork and caused considerable controversy with La Nona Ora – “The Ninth Hour” – which depicted a prone Pope John Paul II, dressed in his robes and clutching the Papal Cross, having been felled by a lump of meteoric rock that has crashed through a skylight.

The sculpture provoked a lively debate as to its meaning but met with hostility when it went on display at the Zacheta Gallery of Contemporary Art in Warsaw – in John Paul II’s home country – where two members of the Polish parliament not only raised a petition, signed by 90 members, calling for the dismissal of the gallery’s director, but physically removed the rock and tried to stand the figure upright.

Nonetheless, Christie’s sold the piece for $886,000 (€745,000) in 2001. When a second version was auctioned by Phillips, de Pury & Company in 2004, it fetched $3 million (€2.52 million).

Cattelan's model of Hitler as a schoolboy kneeling
in prayer, on display in an alley in Warsaw
Similarly, not everyone appreciated his 2001 sculpture Him, in which a head clearly that of Hitler was mounted on the body of a schoolboy kneeling in prayer. The sculpture was frequently displayed at the end of a long hallway or at the opposite end of a white room, turned away from the viewer, so as to maximise the sense of surprise or shock when they advanced close enough to recognise the face.

Other waxwork sculptures included one of himself, or at least his head, created for a museum in Rotterdam, in which he is seen peering up through a hole in the floor at an exhibition of 17th century Dutch masters.

After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, Cattelan sculpted Frank and Jamie (2002), in which two New York City policemen are turned upside down and propped against a wall in a posture that has been seen to convey the unfamiliar sense of vulnerability that permeated the United States in the wake of the terrorist outrage.

Cattelan, who today earns at least $200,000 (€168,000) for every new piece, claims there is no difference between his more recent work and his older pieces, but that he used to be “treated as an idiot” where now he is appreciated. He claims he doesn't know what his work means, but says his aim is to be “as open and as incomprehensible as possible.”

The artist, who divides his time between homes in Milan and New York, announced his retirement after a 2011 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where his work was displayed hanging from the ceiling of the rotunda as if wilfully and randomly discarded.

He came out of retirement for another show at the Guggenheim in 2016, in which one exhibit was a fully functioning toilet in 18-carat gold.

Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel are one of the major attractions for visitors to Padua
Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel are one of the
major attractions for visitors to Padua
Travel tip:

Padua, where Cattelan was born, is city of some 210,000 people in the Veneto, about 40 minutes from Venice by train. It has much to see for the visitor, with the frescoes by Giotto that illuminate the Scrovegni Chapel undoubtedly the biggest attraction, so much so that booking ahead is now almost essential. Well worth a visit too are the substantial Basilica di Sant’Antonio – known in English as St Anthony of Padua – and the Abbazia di Santa Giustina, both close to the beautiful elliptical open space, Prato della Valle, which was once the site of a Roman amphitheatre.  The city has a large student population yet on the whole Padua is a fairly quiet city, a good base for exploring the area and a better-value alternative to staying Venice.

Piazza Aurelio Saffi is at the heart of the city of Forlì
Piazza Aurelio Saffi is at the heart of the city of Forlì
Travel tip:

Founded by the Romans 200 years before Christ as Forum Livii, Forlì is located between Faenza and Cesena in the eastern part of the Po Valley, no more than 30-35km (18-22 miles) from the Adriatic coast. The centrepiece of the town is Piazza Aurelio Saffi, which features notable buildings from different eras: the Romanesque Basilica of San Mercuriale with its 12th century bell tower, the 14th century Palazzo Comunale and Torre Civica clock tower, the 15th century Palazzo del Podestà and 20th century Palazzo delle Poste, an example of architecture of the Fascist era, also evident in the buildings of Viale della Libertà and Piazzale della Vittoria. Forlì’s older history is represented in the palaces along Corso Garibaldi and Via Maroncelli.

25 June 2017

Aldo Serena - footballer

Azzurri striker left field in tears after penalty miss

Aldo Serena places the ball on the spot before his fateful penalty kick against Argentina
Aldo Serena places the ball on the spot before
his fateful penalty kick against Argentina
Aldo Serena, one of the two Italian players who most felt the agony of defeat after the Azzurri suffered the pain of losing at the semi-final stage when the football World Cup last took place on home soil, was born on this day in 1960 in Montebelluna, a town in the Veneto.

The match that ended the host nation's participation in the Italia '90 tournament took place in Naples against an Argentina side that included the local hero, Diego Maradona. It was decided on penalties after finishing 1-1 over 120 minutes. 

Italy converted their opening three penalties, as did Argentina.  Then Roberto Donadoni’s shot was saved by the Argentina goalkeeper, Sergio Goycochea.  Up stepped Maradona, who scored, to the delight of many in the crowd who had divided loyalties.

Suddenly, everything was down to Aldo Serena, who could not afford to miss if Italy were to stay alive in a tournament in which they had played football at times that deserved to win.

Serena, the Internazionale striker, had been a fringe player for Italy throughout the tournament, picked only as a substitute, although he had scored in that capacity against Uruguay in the round of 16 – on his 30th birthday.

Roberto Baggio consoles Aldo Serena (left) after  Italy's defeat in the semi-final
Roberto Baggio consoles Aldo Serena (left) after
Italy's defeat in the semi-final
He had said since that he never wanted such responsibility, but Azeglio Vicini, the Italy coach, said there was no choice.  Gianluca Vialli and Giuseppe Giannini, who would have been chosen ahead of Serena, had both been substituted, while Toto Schillaci, who had emerged as Italy’s talisman during the tournament, had finished extra time with a groin injury, which Vicini felt might be too big an impediment. Serena had scored more than 100 goals during his Serie A career. He knew what it took to put the ball in the net.

Yet though hit a firm enough shot Goycochea read his intentions, diving to his left to smother the ball. Unlike Donadoni, who had dropped to his knees, head in hands, Serena remained upright.  Hands on hips, he tipped his head back and looked towards the heavens.  Goycochea ran past him, eager to join his team-mates as they celebrated their passage to the final.

Serena had not done too much wrong throughout the tournament so to be held responsible in some ways for the Azzurri demise was unfair. Twenty-four hours later, it would be the turn of Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle to be Donadoni and Serena as England were knocked out by West Germany, also on penalties.

Serena with the trophy he won as Serie A's top scorer in 1988-89
Serena with the trophy he won as
Serie A's top scorer in 1988-89
Yet at that moment it must have seemed there was no consolation or comfort available. The hopes of a nation had rested on his shoulders and he had not been able to deliver. No wonder he left the field in tears.

The moment should not have defined his career but it has tended to overshadow his achievements, which were not inconsiderable.  He won the Serie A title no fewer than four times, with Juventus (1985-86), Inter (88-89), and AC Milan (91-92 and 92-93), although his contribution to the two Milan championships was minimal because of injuries.

A powerful, athletic centre forward with good aerial ability and a fierce shot in his left foot, his best years were at Inter, where he was Serie A’s leading scorer in 1988-89 with 22 goals.  Yet fans of the nerazzurri found it hard to forgive him for joining their arch rivals AC Milan under Fabio Capello.

He retired in 1993 as the only player to have played for both Milan clubs and both Turin clubs, having spent part of the 1984-85 season on loan with Torino.  Nowadays he works as a TV pundit.

The church of Santa Maria in Colle in Montebelluna
The church of Santa Maria in Colle
in Montebelluna
Travel tip:

Montebelluna is situated about 22km (14m) northwest of Treviso and about 67km (42m) from Venice on the way to the Valdobbiadene wine growing region famous for prosecco. A pleasant, orderly town, it is best known for its long tradition in the footwear industry, particularly the production of sports footwear, from ski boots to football boots.  There is a museum dedicated to the industry in Vicolo Zuccareda, not far from the church of Santa Maria in Colle. The international sportswear giant Nike has a factory nearby, while another, Fila, has a research facility based at Montebelluna.

Inside the Stadio San Paolo
Inside the Stadio San Paolo
Travel tip:

The football stadium in Naples, where the 1990 semi-final took, place is the Stadio San Paolo, built in the Fuorigrotta neighbourhood on the north side of the city and completed in 1959, more than 10 years after work began.  It is the third largest football ground in Italy with a capacity of 60,240. Diego Maradona played there for SC Napoli between 1984 and 1991, helping the club to the most successful period in their history, in which they won the Serie A title twice, the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. The local council wanted to rename the ground Stadio Diego Maradona but Italian law prohibits the naming of a public building after any person who has not been dead at least 10 years.

8 May 2017

Franco Baresi - AC Milan great

Defender voted club's 'player of the century'

Franco Baresi made 719 appearances for AC Milan
Franco Baresi made 719 appearances for AC Milan
The great AC Milan and Italy footballer Franco Baresi was born on this day in 1960 in Travagliato, a town in Lombardy about 13km (8 miles) south-west of Brescia.

Baresi, a central defender who was at his most effective playing in the libero – sweeper – role, made 719 competitive appearances for the rossoneri, with whom he spent his entire playing career, spanning 20 years.

During that time he won the Italian championship – the Scudetto – six times and the European Cup three times, as well as many other trophies. He was made captain of the team at just 22 years old.

At Milan he was part of one of the most formidable defences of all time, alongside Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Mauro Tassotti, and later Christian Panucci, with Giovanni Galli in goal.  He and Maldini shared the extraordinary record that in 196 matches they played together, AC Milan conceded only 23 goals.

Baresi also won 81 caps for the Azzurri in an international career in which he went to three World Cups. 

Although he did not make an appearance, he was part of the Azzurri squad that won the competition in Spain in 1982, was an integral member of the team that finished third on home soil in Italia ’90 and captained the side in the United States in 1994. There he heroically battled back from a meniscus injury to lead the team in the final in Pasadena, where he suffered the cruel misfortune, in common with another Azzurri legend, Roberto Baggio, of missing a penalty in a shoot-out won by Brazil.

Franco Baresi with his brother Giuseppe (left), who played for Milan's city rivals Internazionale
Franco Baresi with his brother Giuseppe (left), who played
for Milan's city rivals Internazionale
At his peak, Baresi earned the right to be considered the equal of some of the greatest defensive players in the history of football.  Although he was not a giant physically – he stood only 1.76m (5ft 9ins) and weighed just 70kg (11st 4lb) – he tackled ferociously and headed powerfully. The gifts that made him stand out, however, were his ability to read the game, to anticipate trouble and to launch attacks with his accurate passing. In that respect, he was spoken of in the same breath as the sweeper of the West German team of the 1960s and 70s, the redoubtable Franz Beckenbauer.

Baresi lost both his parents by the age of 16, which meant that he and his older brother, Giuseppe, had to grow up quickly. Both were determined to make their careers in football. Giuseppe was taken on by AC Milan’s rivals, Internazionale, at the age of 14. Franco tried to follow the same path but was rejected as too small.  Undaunted, he went for trials with the rossoneri and won a contract, claiming that he was “always a Milanista” as a fan and was therefore fulfilling his dream.

His potential was recognised almost immediately and Nils Liedholm, Milan’s legendary Swedish player and then coach, gave him his debut towards the end of the 1977-78 season, in the same team as Fabio Capello and Gianni Rivera.  His nickname in the Milan dressing room was Piscinin, a Milanese dialect word meaning ‘the little one’, yet he quickly established himself as one of the key members of the team, winning the Scudetto in his first full season.

Franco Baresi as he is today
Franco Baresi as he is today
Milan subsequently went through some tough times, which included relegation from Serie A in a match-fixing scandal, but Baresi stuck with them and became a vital component in some of the finest Milan teams of all time, notably the squad coached by Arrigo Sacchi to win the 1989 European Cup, beating Real Madrid 6-1 on aggregate in the semi-final before thumping Steaua Bucharest 4-0 on the final.  Apart from the aforementioned defensive combination of Baresi, Costacurta, Tassotti and Maldini, the team included the great midfielders Roberto Donadoni and Carlo Ancelotti and the brilliant Dutch trio of Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.

In 1999, he was voted Milan's Player of the Century. He was named by Pelé one of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers at the FIFA centenary awards ceremony in 2004, and inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2013.  After his final season at Milan in 1997, the club retired Baresi's number six shirt in his honour.

His coaching career included a short spell working in England as director of football at Fulham and he has worked for AC Milan in various capacities, as executive, youth team coach and in the club’s marketing department.. The father of a 16-year-old son, Eduardo, and the uncle of Inter women’s star Regina Baresi, his opinion nowadays is regularly sort by the Italian media as he remains a high-profile figure. 

The Piazza Libertà in Travagliato
The Piazza Libertà in Travagliato
Travel tip:

Baresi’s hometown, Travagliato, just outside Brescia, is sometimes called the Citadel of Horses on account of the equestrian festivals hosted there every April and May, which feature polo matches, harness racing and show jumping events among other things. The town also has a number of fine churches, including the church of Our Lady of Lourdes and the church of Santa Maria dei Campi.

Travel tip:

Brescia is a rich industrial city not on the main tourist track but has numerous things to see, including the old and new Duomos, one built in the 12th century, one in the 19th century, which are next door to one another.  It is also famous for its museums, one of which is dedicated to the Mille Miglia, the former car race from Brescia to Rome and back.

13 February 2017

Pierluigi Collina - football referee

Italian arbiter seen as the best in game's history

Pierluigi Collina
Pierluigi Collina 
Pierluigi Collina, arguably the best and certainly the most recognisable football referee in the history of the game, was born on this day in 1960 in Bologna.

Collina, who was in charge of the 1999 Champions League final and the 2002 World Cup final, was named FIFA's referee of the year for six consecutive seasons.

He was renowned for his athleticism, his knowledge of the laws of the game and for applying them with even-handedness and respect for the players, while using his distinctive appearance to reinforce his authority on the field.

Standing 1.88m (6ft 2ins) tall and with piercing blue eyes, Collina is also completely hairless as a result of suffering a severe form of alopecia in his early 20s, giving him an intimidating presence on the field.

Growing up in Bologna, the son of a civil servant and a schoolteacher, Collina shared the dream of many Italian boys in that he wanted to become a professional footballer.  In reality, he was not quite good enough, although he was a decent central defender who played amateur football to a good standard.

Pierluigi Collina is now UEFA's  chief  refereeing officer
Pierluigi Collina is now UEFA's
 chief  refereeing officer
When he was 17 and at college, he was persuaded to take a referee's course and displayed a natural aptitude. Soon, he was taking charge of matches in regional football and, after graduating with a degree in economics at the University of Bologna and completing his compulsory military service, began to contemplate that instead of playing he might one day referee at the highest level.

In the meantime, though, he had to work.  His first job was in the marketing department of a newspaper group based in Milan, from which he then moved to Viareggio in Tuscany to work for a bank, where he would later establish himself as a financial consultant.

He began to officiate in Serie D and Serie C matches in 1988 and within just three years had been promoted to Serie B and Serie A.

Bu 1995, with only 43 Serie A matches to his name, he was co-opted to the FIFA list for international matches, winning his first major appointment in 1996, when he was allocated five matches at the Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, including the final between Argentina and Nigeria.

Named Serie A's referee of the year in 1997 and 1998 and FIFA's best in 1998, he was put in charge of the Champions League final in Barcelona in 1999, which turned out to be one of most dramatic of all finals when Manchester United scored twice during the three minutes of stoppage time added on by Collina to beat Bayern Munich 2-1.

He described the match, in which Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer scored for United to overturn Mario Basler's goal for Bayern, as the most memorable of his career, likening the noise generated by United fans at the end to the "roar of a lion."

Pierluigi Collina was never easily intimidated on the field and earned the respect of players
Pierluigi Collina was never easily intimidated on the
field and earned the respect of players
The players and supporters of the German side remembered the occasion less fondly and came to regard Collina as bringing them bad luck.  He was also in charge when the German national team lost 5-1 at home to England in a World Cup qualification match in 2001 and officiated in the World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan the following summer, when Germany were beaten 2-0 by Brazil.

Collina published his autobiography, My Rules of the Game (published in English as The Rules of the Game) in 2003, and took charge of another showpiece occasion in 2004 when Valencia met Marseille in the UEFA Cup final before his career ended in regrettable circumstances the following year in a row with the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) over sponsorship.

He had agreed to a substantial contract to advertise for Opel cars (Vauxhall Motors in the United Kingdom) but as Opel were already sponsors of AC Milan the deal was seen as presenting a conflict of interest.  The FIGC felt they had no option but to bar Collina from top-level matches in Italy, to which he responded by tendering his resignation.

Despite attempts by the Italian Referees Association to find a compromise that would enable Collina to continue, he decided he would stick by his decision to resign and never officiated at a competitive professional match again, although he has refereed a number of charity matches since and serves the administration of the game as UEFA's chief refereeing officer.

Away from football, Collina has been married since 1991 to Gianna, with whom he established the coastal resort of Viareggio as his home. He has two daughters and is a lifelong supporter of Fortitudo Bologna basketball club.

Tagliatelle bolognese, one of Bologna's most famous dishes
Tagliatelle bolognese, one of Bologna's most famous dishes
Travel tip:

Famed for its culinary tradition, Bologna is known as La Grassa - the Fat One - and with good reason. The home of the world's most famous pasta dish - although bolognese sauce is always served with tagliatelle rather than spaghetti in the city of its birth - Bologna is also famed for its mortadella sausage, which is also a key ingredient of the city's second most well-known pasta, tortellini, the little twists of pasta that are also stuffed with pork loin and proscuitto crudo (raw ham), parmesan cheese, egg and nutmeg. The best traditional food shops in Bologna can be found in the area known as the Quadrilatero, bordered by Piazza Maggiore, Via Rizzoli, Via Castiglione and Via Farini.

Choose where to stay in Bologna with

Viareggio's seafront promenade is lined with Art Nouveau buildings from the 1920s and 1930s
Viareggio's seafront promenade is lined with
Art Nouveau buildings from the 1920s and 1930s
Travel tip:

Viareggio is a seaside resort in Tuscany that has an air of faded grandeur, its seafront notable for the Art Nouveau architecture that reminds visitors of the town's heyday in the 1920s and '30s. Nonetheless, with wide sandy beaches it remains hugely popular, especially with Italians, and the flamboyant Carnevale, featuring a wonderful parade of elaborate and often outrageous floats, is second only to the Venice carnival among Mardi Gras celebrations.

10 September 2016

Historic victory at Rome Olympics

Bikila's golden moment for African athletics

Abebe Bikila (left) during the opening stages of the  marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics
Abebe Bikila (left) during the opening stages of the
marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics
History was made on this day at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome when Ethiopia's Abebe Bikila won the marathon.

Not only did he run the whole 26 mile 385 yards (42.195km) barefoot, he also became the first athlete from sub-Saharan Africa to win an Olympic gold medal.

Bikila retained the marathon title at Tokyo in 1964.  Subsequently, the middle and long-distance running events have become increasingly dominated by sub-Saharan runners, particularly Kenyans and Ethiopians.

The British runner Mo Farah - born in Somalia - continued that domination by winning both the 5,000m and 10,000m gold medals at consecutive summer Olympics in London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro this year.

In total, more than 40 gold medals at distances from 800m to the marathon have been won by sub-Saharan runners since Bikila's breakthrough.

Bikila competed in Rome only after a late call-up to the Ethiopia squad to fill a place vacated when a colleague became ill.

Bikila on the podium with runner-up Rhadi Ben Abdesselam
Bikila on the podium with runner-up Rhadi Ben Abdesselam
He arrived with no running shoes but hoped to be supplied with some by adidas, one of the Games sponsors.  However, by the time Bikila went to see their representatives in Rome, they had only a few pairs left and none would fit him comfortably, so he decided to run barefoot.

It was no real inconvenience in any event because he rarely trained in running shoes.

The starting point for the marathon was the foot of the wide staircase leading up to the Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill and the finish line was at the Arch of Constantine, just outside the Colosseum.

Bikila came home first in a time of two hours 15 minutes 16.2 seconds, which at the time was an Olympic record.  He crossed the line 25 seconds ahead of the Moroccan runner, Rhadi Ben Abdesselam, from whom he had sprinted away in the last 500m.

The beautiful Piazza del Campidoglio on the Capitoline Hill in the centre of Rome
The beautiful Piazza del Campidoglio on the
Capitoline Hill in the centre of Rome
According to accounts of the race, Bikila had been told before the race that Rhadi was his most dangerous rival but expected him to be wearing the number 26 on his vest.  In fact, Rhadi wore 185. The two ran side by side for more than half the distance with Bikila still believing there was another runner ahead of them, wearing 26.

Later in 1960, Bikila was briefly detained following an attempted coup in Ethiopia but was soon able to resume his career.  His winning time at Tokyo in 1964 was a world record 2 hours 12 minutes 11.2 seconds.

Travel tips:

The Capitoline is one of the Seven Hills of Rome.  It was the site of an ancient Roman citadel but few ruins exist.  The area was redeveloped in the 16th century in line with an urban plan drawn up by the artist and architect Michelangelo Buonarotti as a central square - the Piazza del Campidoglio - surrounded by palaces.

The parade of athletes at the opening ceremony of the 1960 Olympics at the Stadio Olimpico
The parade of athletes at the opening ceremony
of the 1960 Olympics at the Stadio Olimpico
Travel tips:

Rome's Olympic Stadium - the Stadio Olimpico - was built between 1928 and 1938 as part of the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico), a sports complex Mussolini hoped would enable Rome to host the 1944 Olympics had they taken place.  Originally named Stadio dei Cipressi and later Stadio dei Centomila, it was renamed when Rome won the bidding process for the 1960 Games, pipping the Swiss city of Lausanne.  Rebuilt for the 1990 football World Cup, it is now home to the Roma and Lazio football clubs and has hosted four European Cup/Champions League finals.

(Photo of Piazza del Campidoglio by Prasenberg CC BY 2.0)
(Photo of Stadio Olimpico by Alex Dawson (Flickr) CC BY-SA 2.0)


4 April 2016

Daniela Riccardi - leading Italian businesswoman

Head of luxury glassware company trained as a ballet dancer

Daniela Riccardi is CEO of luxury glassware manufacturer Baccarat
Daniela Riccardi
Born on this day in 1960, Daniela Riccardi in 2013 became chief executive of Baccarat, the luxury glass and crystal manufacturer that originated in the town of the same name in the Lorraine region of France in the 18th century.

Formerly CEO of the Italian clothing company Diesel, she is one of Italy's most successful businesswomen, yet might easily have forged alternative careers as a dancer or a diplomat.

Born in Rome, she began dancing when she was five and studied ballet for 12 years at the National Dance Academy in Rome, with the aim of becoming a professional dancer.

When it became clear that she would not quite be good enough to grace the world's great stages, she remained determined to have a career that would satisfy her desire to experience many countries and cultures and went to Rome University to study political science and international studies, with the aim of working in diplomacy.

However, during a postgraduate year at Yale University in the United States, she spent a brief period as an intern at Pepsi, where she was so impressed by the energy and leadership of the company's management she realised that this was the career she really wanted.

Back in Italy, she applied to number of multinational companies and was hired by Procter & Gamble, where she stayed for 25 years.  She worked in senior management positions in Europe, South America, Russia and Asia, eventually becoming president of P&G Greater China.  The Financial Times named her as one of the top 50 emerging female managers in the world.

The palazzo near Piazza Navona used to house Rome University
Palazzo della Sapienza, near Piazza Navona,
used to be the home of Rome University
Riccardi left Procter & Gamble in 2010 after turning 50, deciding it was an appropriate moment to make a change.  She considered returning to ballet and putting her money into an international dance academy, or perhaps running an institution such as the New York City Ballet.

Then came an invitation to become CEO at Diesel, the company based just outside Vicenza that founder and president Renzo Rosso began by stitching jeans on his mother's sewing machine. She remained there for three years until the appeal of taking an historic brand and equipping it to survive in the modern world attracted her to Baccarat.

The company, with its headquarters now in Paris, has a 250-year history.  Its products are unashamedly at the luxury end of the market and the precision of the craftsmanship that goes into each piece appealed to Riccardi's tastes.  Her father was a jeweller in Rome and she developed an eye for quality at a young age.

She retains a love of dance, giving private lessons in her spare time, often to employees of the company.

Fluent in French, Spanish and English as well as Italian, Riccardi is married to Juan Pablo, a Colombian she met in Brussels. They have two children, Matteo and Cecilia, and share five homes - apartments in Florida, New York and Rome, a farmhouse in Colombia and a house they are renovating on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples.

UPDATE: In 2020, Riccardi became chief executive of Moleskine, the Italian company that specialises in high-end stationery products and travel accessories. 

Travel tip:

Rome University, often known simply as La Sapienza - the wisdom - is one of the oldest in the world, its origins traceable to 1303, when it was opened by Pope Boniface VIII as the first pontifical university.  It was intended to be a place of ecclesiastical studies, a status it retained until 1870, when it broadened its outlook and was adopted as the university of the Italian capital.  A new campus was built near the Termini railway station in 1935 and now caters for more than 112,000 students. Previously, it had been housed in much smaller buildings close to Piazza Navona in Rome's historic centre.

The Castello Aragonese is one of
Ischia's most popular sights
Travel tip:

Ischia is a volcanic island at the northern end of the Bay of Naples, less well known than its neighbour, Capri, but equally beautiful and with a population of around 60,000.  It is famous for its thermal spas, around which much tourism is based.  Among the most popular attractions is the Castello Aragonese, a castle built on rock near the island in 474 BC, to defend the island against pirates.  On the south side of the island, the long sandy beach of Maronti and the picturesque fishing village of Sant'Angelo are well worth visiting.


13 March 2016

Ligabue - record-breaking rock star

Musician and writer once dubbed 'Italy's Springsteen'

Luciano Ligabue is known simply as Ligabue
Luciano Ligabue
 (Photo: Elena Torre CC BY-SA 2.0)
Unlike his contemporary, Eros Ramazzotti, the Italian rock musician Luciano Ligabue - born on this day in 1960 - has had to content himself with fame limited largely to his home country. 

Although popular in France, the singer-songwriter from Correggio, near Reggio Emilia, generally known as simply Ligabue, never managed to achieve true international recognition.

Yet such is his popularity in Italy that a Ligabue concert held on a stage erected on Reggio Emilia's airfield in 2005 attracted an audience of 180,000, a European record for a paid-for event headlined by a single artist.

The artist, who has also enjoyed success as a film director and a writer, has played before audiences of more than 110,000 at the Giuseppe Meazza football stadium in Milan -- the home of Internazionale and AC Milan -- and has twice repeated the so-called Campovolo event in Reggio Emilia.

Watch a video clip of Ligabue's popular song 'Certe Notti'

A concert there in 2011, limited for security reasons to 110,000, was a sell-out, and a third concert, staged in September last year to celebrate Ligabue's 25 years in the music business, sold 150,000 tickets, setting another record as the most lucrative single music concert in Italian history, with proceeds of around €7 million.

Although he grew up with a love of music, it was some years before Ligabue was able to make a living from his passion. As a young man, he flitted from one job to another.  At different times he worked in agriculture and the steel industry, hosted a radio show, kept a shop and was a trainee accountant, but never saw himself settling for a career in anything but music.

Ligabue on stage at the Arena di Verona in 2008
Ligabue performing at a concert at the Arena di Verona
in September 2008 (Photo: Lo Scaligero CC BY-SA 3.0)
He took his first steps when he founded the amateur band Orazero in 1987. A break came when his fellow Emilian singer-songwriter, Pierangelo Bertoli, included one of Ligabue's songs, Sogni di Rock 'n' Roll (Rock 'n' Roll Dreams), in a new album.   The following year, Bertoli introduced him to producer Angelo Carrara, and he completed an album of his own, entitled Ligabue, which was released in May 1990.

The most recent album, Giro del Mondo, was released in 2015, bringing his total so far to 18.  His most famous songs include Balliamo sul mondo (Let's Dance on the World), Ho Perso le Parole (I've Lost the Words) and the most successful of all, Certe Notti (Certain Nights), which was voted as "Italian song of the 1990s" by the readers of a popular music magazine.

He displayed his versatility as an artist by venturing into cinema in 1998. His first movie, Radiofreccia, a semi-autobiographical story of a local radio station, was well received by the critics and won a number of awards. Ligabue also composed the soundtrack, which was released as an album.

Ligabue's short story collection, Fuori e Dentro il Borgo (Outside and Inside the Village) also won awards, and he has written a science fiction novel La Neve se ne Frega (The Snow Doesn't Give a Damn) and a collections of poems Lettere d'Amore nel Frigo (Love Letters in the Fridge).

A new collection of short stories, Scusate il Disordine (Excuse the Mess), is due out in May.

He once had the reputation as Italy's equivalent of Bruce Springsteen, a musician interested in human rights and with strong political ideals.  In the late 1990s he was elected to the communal council in his home town of Correggio, standing for the Italian Communist Party, although he is no longer actively involved in politics.  In 1999, he joined with fellow rock musicians Jovanotti and Piero Pelu in recording a protest song against the war in Kosovo.

The Palazzo dei Principi was built in the 15th century
The inner courtyard of the Palazzo dei Principi
in Correggio (Photo: Paolo Picciati CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

The town of Correggio, situated a little over 20km to the north-east of Reggio Emilia, has its origins in the Middle Ages.  It began to grow in the 11th century, when a castle was built and later, within its walls, the impressive Palazzo dei Principi. Controlled by the same feudal family for 600 years, it fell into the hands of the Dukes of Modena and many new buildings in neoclassical style were built during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Some beautiful palaces and churches can be seen in Corso Mazzini and Piazza Quirino, one example being the Collegiate Church of Saints Michael and Quirino.  Correggio was also home to the Renaissance artist Antonio Allegri (1489-1534), widely known as Correggio. There is a monument dedicated to him in Piazza Quirino.

Correggio hotels by

Wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, which is thought to originate in Reggio Emilia
Wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, which
is thought to originate in Reggio Emilia
Travel tip:

The city of Reggio Emilia is reckoned to be the home of Italy's world famous hard cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, which is thought to have originated in the commune of Bibbiano, in the Reggio Emilia province.  It is also credited with being the area of Italy from which the country adopted the tricolore as the national flag, with evidence that a short-lived 18th century republic, the Repubblica Cispadana, had a flag of red, white and green.  There are a number of notable buildings, including the Basilica della Ghiara and the 10th century Basilica di San Prospero.