Showing posts with label 1963. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1963. Show all posts

21 June 2018

Pope Paul VI

Former pontiff is to be made a saint by Pope Francis

Cardinal Montini was elected Pope Paul VI on June 21, 1963
Cardinal Montini was elected Pope Paul VI
on June 21, 1963
Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini was elected as Pope Paul VI on this day in 1963 in Rome.

He succeeded Pope John XXIII and immediately re-convened the Second Vatican Council which had automatically closed after Pope John’s death.

Pope Paul then implemented its various reforms and as a result had to deal with the conflicting expectations of different Catholic groups.

Following his famous predecessor Saint Ambrose of Milan, Pope Paul named Mary as the Mother of the Church.

He described himself as ‘a humble servant for a suffering humanity’ and demanded changes from the rich in North America and Europe in favour of the poor in the third world.

Pope Paul had been born in Concesio near Brescia in 1897 and was ordained a priest in Brescia in 1920. He took a doctorate in Canon Law in Milan and afterwards studied at various universities, therefore never working as a parish priest.

He had one foreign posting, to the office of the papal nuncio in Poland.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, he created an information office for prisoners of war and refugees, producing more than 11 million replies to enquiries about missing persons.

He was attacked by Mussolini’s government several times for allegedly meddling in politics.

Pope Paul VI pleaded with the Red Brigades to release the kidnapped former PM Aldo Moro
Pope Paul VI pleaded with the Red Brigades to
release the kidnapped former PM Aldo Moro
Pope Pius XII made him archbishop of Milan in 1954 and Pope John XXIII made him Cardinal Priest of SS Silvestro e Martino ai Monti in 1958.

After Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer in 1963, Cardinal Montini was elected as his successor on the sixth ballot.

He later wrote in his journal: ‘The position is unique. It brings great solitude. I was solitary before, but now my solitude becomes complete and awesome.’

Pope Paul VI became the first pope to visit six continents, earning the nickname ‘the Pilgrim Pope.’

A man tried to attack him with a knife after he had arrived at Manila in the Philippines in 1970 but one of his aides managed to push the aggressor away.

Pope Paul wrote a personal letter to the terrorist group the Red Brigades in 1978 pleading with them to free the politician Aldo Moro, who had been his friend when they were both students.

After the bullet-ridden body of Moro was found in Rome, Pope Paul personally conducted his funeral mass.

Later in 1978 Pope Paul VI died at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo after suffering a massive heart attack. According to the terms of his will he was buried beneath the floor in St Peter’s Basilica and not in an ornate sarcophagus.

Pope Paul VI has already been declared Venerable and has been Beatified, and it has recently been confirmed by the Vatican that he will be made a Saint in October this year.

The house in Concesio where Pope Paul VI was born
The house in Concesio where Pope Paul VI was born
Travel tip:

Concesio, where Pope Paul VI was born, is a town in Lombardy about 8km (5 miles) to the north of Brescia. The town is in the lower Val Trompia at the foot of Monte Spina. The footballer Mario Balotelli was placed in foster care at the age of three with Silvia and Francesco Balotelli who lived in Concesio. Eventually he was permanently fostered by the couple and took their surname.

The pontifical palace in Castel Gandolfo, with the two domes of the Vatican observatory
The pontifical palace in Castel Gandolfo, with the two
domes of the Vatican observatory
Travel tip:

Castel Gandolfo, where Pope Paul VI died, overlooks Lake Albano from its wonderful position in the hills south of Rome. The Pope spends every summer in the Apostolic Palace there. Although his villa lies within the town’s boundaries, it is one of the properties of the Holy See. The palace is not under Italian jurisdiction and is policed by the Swiss Guard. The whole area is part of the regional park of Castelli Romani, which has many places of historic and artistic interest to visit.

Also on this day:

1891: The death of architect and structural engineer Pier Luigi Nervi

1919: The birth of the architect Paolo Soleri


6 May 2018

Alessandra Ferri – ballerina

Dancing star who believes age is a matter of attitude

Alessandra Ferri made a comeback in opera six years after her 'retirement'
Alessandra Ferri made a comeback in ballet
six years after her 'retirement'
Prima ballerina assoluta Alessandra Ferri, who retired in 2007 but then made a triumphant return to ballet in 2013, celebrates her 55th birthday today.

She is scheduled to dance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York later this month, at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow at the beginning of June, at Hamburg Staatsoper at the end of June, at the Ravello Festival in Italy in July and in Tokyo in August.

In a recent newspaper interview, Ferri said she was happy to be breaking barriers as an older woman in a youth-dominated world. She said she still has full confidence in her abilities and believes ageing is largely an attitude and her advice to other women of her age is ‘to keep moving’.

Ferri was born on May 6, 1963 in Milan and began studying ballet at La Scala Theatre Ballet School. She moved to the upper school of the Royal Ballet School in London, where she won a scholarship that enabled her to continue studying there.

She joined the Royal Ballet in 1980 and won the Laurence Olivier Award for her first major role in 1982. She was promoted to the rank of principal dancer in 1983.

Ferri became principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre under the direction of Mikhail Baryshnikow in 1985.

Ferri in a production of Remeo and Juliet in 2016
Ferri in a production of Remeo and Juliet in 2016
She began a close association with La Scala Theatre Ballet in 1992, becoming recognised as prima ballerina assoluta of the company, but she remained a guest star of the American Ballet Theatre. 'Prima ballerina assoluta' is a title awarded to the most notable of female ballet dancers of their generation and is a rare honour.

Ferri has appeared at the top venues for ballet all over the world and has performed with the leading male dancers, including Rudolf Nureyev in Los Angeles on the occasion of his 50th birthday in 1988.

She married the photographer, Fabrizio Ferri, with whom she had two daughters.

Since her return from retirement, Ferri has danced roles in Italy and at the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera House in London. After her birthday celebrations today she has a packed schedule of appearances for the rest of the year.

The entrance to Villa Rufolo is off the main scare in Ravello
The entrance to Villa Rufolo is off
the main scare in Ravello
Travel tip:

Alessandra Ferri will dance on July 7 at the Belvedere di Villa Rufolo in Ravello for the town’s 2018 music and arts festival. The Villa Rufolo, dating from the 13th century, overlooks the cathedral square of Ravello, a town perched high above the dramatic Amalfi Coast.

Travel tip:

La Scala Theatre Ballet School, where Alessandra Ferri studied, was founded in 1813 in association with the international ballet company based at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. The theatre is in Piazza della Scala in the centre of the city across the road from the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, an elegant arcade lined with cafes, shops and restaurants, built to link Piazza della Scala with Piazza del Duomo, Milan’s cathedral square.


4 April 2018

Irene Pivetti – journalist and politician

From top political office to TV presenter

Irene Pivetti now works as a journalist and television presenter
Irene Pivetti now works as a journalist
and television presenter
Irene Pivetti, who was only the second woman to become president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, was born on this day in 1963 in Milan.

Once a key figure in Italy’s Lega Nord party, Pivetti has now quit politics for a career as a television presenter.

Pivetti obtained an honours degree in Italian literature from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan and afterwards worked in publishing, editing books on the Italian language. In this she was following in the footsteps of her maternal grandfather, Aldo, a renowned linguist.

While working as a journalist, she became involved with the Lega Lombardia (Lombard League), which later became the Lega Nord (Northern League) and in 1992 was elected as a deputy, the Italian equivalent of a Member of Parliament.

Two years later, after the vote had gone to a fourth ballot, Pivetti was elected President of the Chamber of Deputies. At the age of 31, she was the youngest president in the Chamber’s history. She occupied the role from 1994 to 1996.

Pivetti was re-elected as a deputy in the 1996 election but later that year was expelled from the Lega Nord because of her opposition to some of their ideas.

Pivetti pictured with the former head of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli  (right), while on official duty as Chamber of Deputies chairman
Pivetti pictured with the former head of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli
(right), while on official duty as Chamber of Deputies chairman
Since 2002, Pivetti has worked as a professional journalist, winning a television Oscar for journalism in 2004. Between 2011 and 2013 she made regular appearances on Domenica In, a popular Sunday programme on Rai Uno. Pivetti’s older sister, Veronica Pivetti, is an actress, television presenter and director.

Irene Pivetti is now president of Italia Madre, an organisation that lobbies on behalf of Italian companies to promote their reputations with international organisations.

Pivetti has been married twice. She is now divorced from her second husband, with whom she had two children, and lives in Rome.

Travel tip:

The Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, where Irene Pivetti studied literature, was founded in 1921. It originated in Largo Gemelli in Milan but now has other sites in Brescia, Piacenza, Cremona and Rome.

The Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome
The Palazzo Montecitorio in Rome
Travel tip:

The Camera dei Deputati, the Chamber of Deputies, is one of Italy’s houses of parliament, the other being the Senate of the Republic. The Camera dei Deputati meets at Palazzo Montecitorio, a palace originally designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and completed by Carlo Fontana in 1697 to the north of the Pantheon.

More reading:

Umberto Bossi - the fiery former leader of Lega Nord

The campaigning politics of Marco Panella

The political survivor Emma Bonino

Also on this day:

1951: The birth of Italy's 'Bob Dylan', the singer-songwriter Francesco de Gregori

1960: The birth of leading Italian businesswomen Daniela Riccardi


22 December 2017

Giuseppe Bergomi – footballer

World Cup winner who spent his whole career with Inter

Giuseppe Bergomi made 87  appearances for the national team
Giuseppe Bergomi made 87
appearances for the national team
The footballer Giuseppe Bergomi, renowned as one of the best defenders in the history of Italian football and a member of the World Cup-winning Azzurri side of 1982, was born on this day in 1963 in Milan.

Bergomi spent his entire club career with the Milan side Internazionale, spanning 20 years in which he made 756 appearances, including 519 in Serie A, which was a club record until it was overtaken by the Argentine-born defender Javier Zanetti, who went on to total 856 club appearances before he retired in 2014.

In international football, Bergomi played 87 times for the Italian national team, of which he was captain during the 1990 World Cup finals, in which Italy reached the semi-finals as hosts.

Alongside the brothers Franco, of AC Milan, and Giuseppe Baresi, his team-mate at Inter, and the Juventus trio Gaetano Scirea, Antonio Cabrini and Claudio Gentile, he was part of the backbone of the Italian national team for much of the 1980s.

He made his Azzurri debut in April 1982, only a couple of months before the World Cup finals in Spain, aged just 18 years and 3 months, making him the youngest player to feature in a match for Italy since the Second World War.

Not surprisingly, given his young age, he was not a first-choice in the 1982 side under coach Enzo Bearzot.

Bergomi in his early days 
But he came on as a substitute against Brazil in the memorable 3-2 second phase win and on the strength of that was named in the starting line-up against Poland in the semi-final because Gentile was suspended.

Such was his performance, displaying a maturity beyond his years, that Bearzot felt he could not drop him for the final against West Germany.

In the event, given the job of marking the dangerous Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, he was one of Italy’s best players, rendering the German star so ineffective he was substituted in the second half as Italy ran out 3-1 winners. Bergomi also played a part in the build-up to Marco Tardelli’s famous goal.

Italy did not progress beyond the last 16 in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico but under his captaincy the Azzurri to a third-place finish, losing to Argentina on penalties in the semi-final before beating England in the play-off for third place.

Bergomi’s international career seemed to be over after he was sent off against Norway in a qualifying match for the 1992 European Championships, prefacing a long period in which he was not selected.

Yet he made a surprise comeback to play in his fourth World Cup finals in France in 1998, at the age of 34.  Alongside Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini, he played in three matches as Italy reached the last eight before being eliminated on penalties by the hosts and eventual champions France.

Add caption
Versatile enough to play in any defensive role, as full back, centre back or sweeper, he was renowned for his positional strength and his ability to make surging forward runs in his favoured position of right back.

He was also a fierce tackler, although he had a short fuse at times.  Much admired as a sportsman with an innate sense of fairness, he sometimes struggled to contain his emotions and was actually sent off a total of 12 times in his career.

The highlights of his career with Inter included the Serie A title in 1988-89 and three UEFA Cup medals in the 1990s, Inter lifting the trophy in 1991, 1994 and 1998.

Affectionately referred to as Lo zio – the uncle – during his playing career, he was named as one of the 100 best players in the history of football in 2004 in a list compiled by the Brazil legend Pelé to mark the 100th anniversary of FIFA 100.

Since retiring as a player, Bergomi has done some coaching and currently works as a pundit at Sky Sports Italia. He frequently co-commentates on Serie A matches alongside Fabio Caressa, with whom he described Italy’s victory in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Inter was formed by a group of friends who met in a Milan restaurant
Inter was formed by a group of friends
who met in a Milan restaurant
Travel tip:

Bergomi’s home-town club, Internazionale, was originally established by expatriate British football enthusiasts but after a dispute over whether foreign players should be signed that a breakaway group formed following a meeting at the Ristorante L'Orologio in Via Giuseppe Mengoni in Milan, a short distance from the opera house, Teatro alla Scala.  An artist, Giorgio Muggiani, who had developed an enthusiasm for football while studying in Switzerland, was the driving force behind the new club and it was he who designed the club's famous logo, featuring the colours blue, black and gold. 

The Arena Civica was Inter's home for 37 years
The Arena Civica was Inter's home for 37 years
Travel tip:

For many years, Internazionale's home ground was the Arena Civica, in the heart of Milan. Opened in 1807 in the city's Parco Sempione, behind the Castello Sforzesco, the arena is one of Milan's main examples of neoclassical architecture, an elliptical amphitheatre commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte soon after he became King of Italy in 1805.  Napoleon wanted it to be Milan's equivalent of the Colosseum in Rome.  It was Inter’s home for 37 years until they moved to the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium in the San Siro district of Milan, which they share with AC Milan.

14 October 2017

Alessandro Safina – singer

Tenor who has blended opera and rock

Alessandro Safina has become a household name in Italy after several successful albums
Alessandro Safina has become a household name
in Italy after several successful albums
Alessandro Safina, a singer trained in opera who has expanded the so-called ‘crossover’ pop-opera genre to include rock influences, was born on this day in 1963 in Siena.

A household name in Italy, the tenor is less well known outside his own country but has recorded duets with international stars such as Sarah Brightman, South Korean soprano Sumi Jo, Rod Stewart, former Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, Scottish actor and singer Ewan McGregor and the superstar Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Safina’s biggest album to date is Insieme a Te, which has sold more than 700,000 copies.

It was written in collaboration with the Italian pianist and composer Romano Musumarra, who helped realise Safina’s ambition of creating soulful rock-inspired music for the tenor voice.  He first performed songs from the album at the Olympia theatre in Paris in 1999.

Safina was born into an opera-loving family and earned money to pay for singing lessons by working in his father’s stationery business.  Set on becoming a professional singer from the age of nine, he began attending a music academy at 12 and was accepted for a place at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence at 17.

In 1989, he won a competition – the Concorso Lirico Internazionale in Mantova, Italy – and made his opera debut the following year, appearing alongside soprano Katia Ricciarelli as Rodolfo in Puccini's La bohème.

Safina made his operatic debut in 1990 singing alongside the soprano Katia Ricciarelli
Safina made his operatic debut in 1990 singing
alongside the soprano Katia Ricciarelli
Professionally, Safina’s singing remained focussed on the classic tenor operatic roles for much of the 1990s. Privately, his musical tastes were much less confined. He was late to discover rock music, but once he had he became a fan of such bands as U2, Genesis, Depeche Mode and even punk outfit The Clash.

His collaboration with Musumarra led to his debut album, simply called Alessandro Safina, in 2001, from which the single Luna became a hit. After he had performed the song live in The Netherlands, it reached number one in the Dutch singles charts and remained there for 14 weeks.

This success sparked numerous engagements over the coming years, including a duet singing Elton John’s Your Song with Ewan McGregor for the score of Moulin Rouge, an appearance in front of Queen Elizabeth at the 73rd Royal Variety Performance in London (singing Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Music of the Night) and another rendition of Your Song, this time with Elton John, for the Sport Relief fund-raising campaign.

He made his acting debut in the role of the painter Mario Cavaradossi in a film based on Puccini’s Tosca and sang a duet with Rod Stewart on the latter’s album, As Time Goes By.

His links with South Korea began after he performed at the opening ceremony of the 2002 football World Cup.

Safina’s second album, Insieme a Te, consolidated his position as a star of the crossover genre, featuring his duet with Chrissie Hynde as well as Lloyd Webber’s classic Music of the Night.

In more recent years, Safina has recorded a duet with the British soprano Sarah Brightman for her album, Symphony, performed "O Sole Mio" with Andrea Bocelli.  He recorded his fifth album, Dedicated, in 2014.

The Palio di Siena delivers spectacular thrills
The Palio di Siena delivers spectacular thrills 
Travel tip:

The city of Siena is famous for its twice-yearly horse race, Il Palio, which brings massive crowds both to watch the spectacular action as the horses, ridden bareback by colourfully adorned jockeys from 10 of the city’s contrade (wards), career around a track that follows the perimeter of Piazza del Campo.  Generally speaking, the race takes place on July 2, when it is contested as the Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, and on August 16, when it is named the Palio dell'Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.

The Piazza del Campo is shaped like a scallop shell
The Piazza del Campo is shaped like a scallop shell
Travel tip:

The Piazza del Campo is the heart of Siena’s medieval centre, one of the largest and most beautiful squares in Italy, shaped a little like a scallop shell, with a gentle slope towards the imposing Palazzo Pubblico.  From the square, some 11 narrow streets and alleyways radiate outwards into the city, which has a sense of charm and mystery that visitors find beguiling.

17 May 2017

Luca Cadalora - motorcycle world champion

Modena rider won titles in 125cc and 250cc categories

Luca Cadalora in action in 1993
Luca Cadalora in action in 1993
Luca Cadalora, the motorcycle racer who was three times a world champion, was born on this day in 1963 in Modena, Emilia Romagna.

Currently working as coach to Italy’s seven-times world champion Valentino Rossi, Cadalora began his professional motorcycle racing career in 1984, riding an MBA in the 125cc world championship.

He picked up a respectable 27 points to finish eighth in his debut season, his best performance a second place in the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, but had a very disappointing second season, finishing only three races to collect a meagre four points.

His switch to the Garelli team, the dominant force at the time in the 125cc class, catapulted him to fame.

Cadalora and team-mate Fausto Gresini, his fellow Italian, battled it out for the title through the season, each finishing with four wins. Cadalora took the upper hand by winning four of the first seven races and it was his consistency over the campaign that clinched the title. He failed to complete only one of 11 races and finished in the top four in the other 10, finishing runner-up in his last three to pip Gresini by 114 points to 109.

Cadalora is now coach to  Valentino Rossi
Cadalora is now coach to
Valentino Rossi
That success earned him a promotion to the 250cc class with Giacomo Agostini's Marlboro Yamaha factory racing team in 1986.  Again he was competitive consistently, improving year by year, finishing seventh, sixth, fifth and third for Agostini.

But again it was a switch of team that made the difference.  With five GP wins under his belt, he switched to the Rothmans Honda factory racing team in 1991.

Winning an impressive eight races, he roared to his first 250cc world championship aboard an Erv Kanemoto-tuned Honda NSR250, collecting 237 points.  This time his closest rival was the German Helmut Bradl, who won five races, but fell 17 points short of his rival.

Cadalora successfully defended his title with Honda in 1992, claiming his third world championship.  Bradl failed to win a single GP this time and Cadalora won by a much wider margin, beating the Italian Loris Reggiani, riding for Aprilia, by 44 points.

In 1993 he graduated to the blue riband 500cc division as Wayne Rainey's team mate in the Kenny Roberts-Yamaha team.

Seven-times world MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi teamed up with Cadalora in 2016
Seven-times world MotoGP champion Valentino
Rossi teamed up with Cadalora in 2016
In three seasons on the Roberts Yamaha, he displayed flashes of brilliance and usual consistency, winning two GPs in each of those seasons and finishing as high as second to Mick Doohan in 1994.

Cadalora rejoined Kanemoto for the 1996 season racing a Honda NSR500. Despite lacking any major sponsors, he still managed to finish the season in third place aboard the Kanemoto-Honda.

For the 1997 season, he was contracted as official Yamaha rider in the new Promotor Racing team backed by an Austrian businessman.   After only a handful of races, however, the team collapsed due to financial problems. WCM rescued the team with the help of a Red Bull sponsorship and Cadalora ended the season in sixth place.

At the beginning of the 1998 season, WCM and Cadalora lost Yamaha official support. He returned to the Rainey-Yamaha works team for a few races to replace an injured Jean-Michel Bayle, then helped develop the new MuZ race bike.

Cadalora finished his career with Kenny Roberts' Modenas team in 2000, retiring with 34 Grand Prix victories in his three classes.

In 2016, Cadalora returned to the top level of motorcycle racing as trackside coach to Valentino Rossi, the all-time great among Italian riders, helping him finish second in the MotoGP class for the third year running as he strives to equal his compatriot, Giacomo Agostini’s record of eight world titles in the 500cc/Moto GP category.

He has signed on for a second year, with Rossi leading the field after the first four races.

Modena's cathedral is on Piazza Grande at the heart of the city
Modena's cathedral is on Piazza Grande
at the heart of the city
Travel tip:

Cadalora’s home city of Modena is one of Italy’s most pedestrian-friendly cities, its historic centre off limits to traffic except for residents, commercial operators and tourists staying at city centre hotels with special permits. The centre is walkable, with most of the main sights enclosed within the former city walls.  The cobbled Piazza Grande is the heart of the city and is where visitors can find the city’s cathedral, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and consecrated in 1184, and the 86-metre tall Ghirlandia Tower.

Travel tip:

During his two 250cc world title seasons,  Cadalora won the Italian GP both years, the second time at the Mugello circuit in Tuscany. The Mugello is a historic region in northern Tuscany, which takes its name from the Mugello river. Located north of Florence, the region was occupied by the Etruscans, who have left many archeological traces, and subsequently colonised by the Romans. The towns of Borgo San Lorenzo, Scarperia and San Piero a Sieve are part of the Mugello.

More reading:

The 15 world titles of Giacomo Agostini

How Valentino Rossi joined the all-time greats

14 February 2017

Otto e mezzo - Fellini's masterpiece

Creative crisis spawned director's tour de force

The original publicity poster for the Fellini movie 8½
The original publicity poster for the
Fellini movie 8½
The film Otto e mezzo (8½), regarded by some critics as the director Federico Fellini's greatest work, was released in Italy on this day in 1963.

It was categorised as an avant-garde comedy drama but the description hardly does it justice given its extraordinary individuality, evolving from conception to completion as an interweaving of fantasy and reality in which life not so much imitates art as becomes one and the same thing.

By the early 60s, Fellini was already a three-times Oscar winner following the success of La strada, Nights of Cabiria and La dolce vita, the last-named having also won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

La dolce vita had signalled Fellini's move away from the neo-realism that characterised cinema in Italy in the immediate post-war years towards the surreal interpretations of life and human nature that became popular with later directors and came to define Fellini's art.

While that movie was generating millions of dollars at the box office and turning Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg into international stars, Fellini was under pressure from his producers to come up with a sequel.

Fellini was under pressure to deliver a sequel to La Dolce Vita
Fellini was under pressure to deliver
a sequel to La dolce vita
He had an idea but it was little more than a vague outline, a story about a man suffering from creative block.  He knew it would be about the internal conflicts thrown up by artistic and marital difficulties and the opportunity to reflect brought about by a period at a health spa recovering from what might today be interpreted as nervous exhaustion, but he had no clear vision of the script, could not decide the profession of his main character and did not even have a working title.

Pressed by the producers to sign off on a deal, it is said that he chose Otto e mezzo on the basis that he had directed six feature films, worked jointly on another and made two shorts, each of which he considered to be worth 'half a feature' and that therefore his latest would be film number eight and a half in his directing career.

He had still not developed a coherent idea when he was ordered to start production in the spring of 1962 yet the wheels were in motion.  Filming dates were agreed, sets were constructed and actors were hired, including Mastroianni for the male lead, yet other than coming up with a name, Guido Anselmi, for his main character, Fellini was scarcely closer to any clarity of thought.

Claudia Cardinale played lead character Guido Anselmi's  'Ideal Woman' in Fellini's Otto e mezzo
Claudia Cardinale played lead character Guido Anselmi's
 'Ideal Woman' in Fellini's Otto e mezzo
In fact, he would have told Angelo Rizzoli, his producer, that he was abandoning the project had he not been summoned to join the crew in celebrating its launch just as he was drafting a letter to that effect.

Fellini later admitted that as he raised his glass to toast the film he "felt overwhelmed by shame" but that the moment of despair then became one of inspiration.

"I was in a no-exit situation," he said. "I was a director who wanted to make a film he no longer remembers. And lo and behold, at that very moment everything fell into place.

"I got straight to the heart of the film. I would narrate everything that had been happening to me. I would make a film telling the story of a director who no longer knows what film he wanted to make".

The result was a film that blended the storyline such as it was with fantastic dream sequences as the characters moved between reality and Guido's imagination, Fellini so often indulging in impulsive improvisations that essentially he was making up the movie as he went along.  As was the way with Italian films at the time, the dialogue was overdubbed afterwards, which from the point of view of the actors trying to keep up was probably just as well.

Marcello Mastroianni and Anouk Aimée also starred in Fellini's La Dolce Vita
Marcello Mastroianni and Anouk Aimée
also starred in Fellini's La Dolce Vita
Yet the end result, starring Mastroianni as Guido, the French actress Anouk Aimée as his wife, and two Tunisian-Italians, Sandra Milo and Claudia Cardinale, respectively as his mistress and the Ideal Woman of his fantasies, was received with almost universal acclaim.

Critics conceded that audiences might find it challenging in its complexity but generally hailed it as a triumph.  One wrote that it had advanced avant-garde cinema "by 20 years in one fell swoop because it both integrates and surpasses all the discoveries of experimental cinema".

Another praised its "fantastic liberality, total absence of precaution and hypocrisy, absolute dispassionate sincerity, artistic and financial courage".

won two Academy Awards, for best foreign language film and best costume design (black-and-white) as well as nominations for best director, best original screenplay and best art direction (black-and-white).

The New York Film Critics Circle also named best foreign language film while the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists awarded the movie seven prizes for director, producer, original story, screenplay, music - by Nino Rota - cinematography (Gianni di Vananzo) and best supporting actress (Sandra Milo).

At the Saint Vincent Film Festival, it was awarded the Grand Prize over Luchino Visconti's Il gattopardo (The Leopard) but had to be passed over for an award after its screening at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival because it had been shown outside the competition.

It also won the Grand Prize at the 3rd Moscow International Film Festival.

Travel tip:

Fellini was born in 1920 in Rimini, on the Adriatic coast, which with 15km (nine miles) of sandy beaches is the largest resort in Italy and famous across Europe as a holiday destination.  It is said to have more than 1,000 hotels.  Away from the sea front there is an older part of the town with relics that reflect its Roman origins.  Rimini is proud of its heritage and a Federico Fellini Museum can be found in Via Clementini in the historic centre, covering everything related to his life and career.

A commemorative plaque celebrating Fellini's career can be found in the Via Veneto in Rome, backcloth to La Dolce Vita
A commemorative plaque celebrating Fellini's career can be
found in the Via Veneto in Rome, backcloth to La dolce vita
Travel tip:

Although Fellini's body was returned to Rimini after his death in Rome at the age of 73, and is buried near the main entrance to the Cemetery of Rimini in a tomb designed by Arnaldo Pomodoro, Fellini is also commemorated in Rome, including a plaque on the Via Veneto celebrating the street's central role in La dolce vita.

More reading:

Also on this day:


(Picture credits: Fellini plaque by Peter Clarke via Wikmedia Commons)


28 October 2016

Eros Ramazzotti - singer-songwriter

Best-selling Italian star is 53 today

Eros Ramazzotti on stage in 2015
Eros Ramazzotti on stage in 2015

The best-selling Italian singer and songwriter Eros Ramazzotti was born on this day in 1963 in Rome.

Ramazzotti, whose style has developed from pure pop to a contemporary soft rock genre with elements of classical crossover, has sold around 65 million records in a career spanning almost 35 years, putting him among the top 12 Italian recording artists of all time.

He is popular throughout Europe and in Spanish-speaking countries in South America, so much so that he records most of his albums in Spanish as well as Italian.

Among his 13 studio albums, three compilations and six live albums, 12 have reached No 1 in the Italian charts and 10 in the Swiss charts.  In addition, Ramazzotti has had No 1s in Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Sweden.

Twice - with 9 in 2003 and e2 in 2007 – he sold more records in that year in Italy than any other artist.

Ramazzotti's distinctive voice is part of his appeal
Ramazzotti's distinctive voice is
part of his appeal
Other major selling albums have been In ogni senso, Tutte storie, Dove c'è musica, Stilelibero and Calma apparente.

His appeal is said to stem from his unique voice - a vibrant, slightly nasal tenor – his energetic delivery of catchy pop numbers and the passion he brings to often semi-autobiographical ballads, a genre very popular with Italian audiences who like songs with which they can identify.

Ramazzotti was born in Cinecittà Est, a suburb of Rome that takes its name from the huge film studio complex that was built in the area in the 1930s and subsequently became the hub of the Italian movie industry.

His parents, Rodolfo and Raffaela, named him Eros after the Greek god of love. They were not wealthy but bought him a guitar when he was seven and he began to write songs with his father, who played the piano, in his teens. 

Owing to a lack of musical background, his application to study at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the pre-eminent music conservatory in Rome, was declined and his first serious work was as a bookkeeper.

Occasionally, he appeared as an extra in films at Cinecittà, but his ambition was to be a pop star.

Listen to Eros Ramazzotti perform one of his biggest hits Più Bella Cosa

His talent became clear in 1981 when he took part in a music contest, Voci Nuove di Castrocaro (New Voices of Castrocaro Terme) with the song "Rock 80".  Although the contest was won by Zucchero and the female singer Fiordaliso, Ramazzotti reached the final and earned his first recording contract with a studio in Milan, moving to the northern city soon afterwards. 

His first single was not particularly successful but then his song "Terra promessa" (Promised Land) won the Newcomers' category at the 1984 Sanremo Festival. 

In 1985, Ramazzotti took part in the Sanremo Festival again with the song "Una storia importante" (An Important Story), taken from his debut album Cuori agitati (Troubled Hearts). He finished only sixth but the song was released as a single and became a hit in many European countries. 

Eros Ramazzotti on stage in Alicante, Spain
Eros Ramazzotti on stage in Alicante, Spain
His second album Nuovi eroi (New Heroes), released in 1986, gave him his first No 1 and the single from the album, "Adesso tu" (Now You) won Sanremo outright. 

Since then, his career has been one of almost unremitting success, with other performers eager to share the spotlight. Ramazzotti has filled large venues performing alongside such stars as Cher, Tina Turner, Andrea Bocelli, Patsy Kensit, Anastacia, Joe Cocker, Luciano Pavarotti and Laura Pausini among others. 

Away from the stage and studio, Ramazzotti has led a very public private life.

In 1998 he married the Swiss model and TV presenter, Michelle Hunziker, with whom he had already had a child, Aurora Sophie. His hit song "Più bella cosa"(The best thing) was dedicated to Michelle, the follow-up single "L’aurora" (The aurora) to his daughter. They were considered the perfect couple but their marriage ended in divorce and a custody battle that the tabloids lapped up. 

In June 2014 Ramazzotti married Italian model and actress Marica Pellegrinelli, who is 24 years’ his junior.  They have a daughter, five-year-old Raffaela Maria, and a son, Gabrio Tullio, aged 18 months. 

A football fan, despite his links with Rome and Milan he supports the Turin club, Juventus.

The Cinecittà film studio complex is near Ramazzotti's childhood home in the Rome suburbs
The Cinecittà film studio complex is near Ramazzotti's
childhood home in the Rome suburbs
Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome is the largest film studio in Europe, spreading over an area of 100 acres with  22 stages and 300 dressing rooms. Situated six miles south of the city centre, it is the hub of the Italian film industry. Built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio, the studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there.

Travel tip:

Eros Ramazzotti’s first record company was based close to the commercial heart of Milan in Via della Spiga, which forms part of the so-called Fashion Quadrilateral, bordered by Via Monte Napoleone, Via Manzoni, Via Sant'Andrea and Corso Venezia.  Via della Spiga is home to many designer stores.

More reading:
(Photo of Cinecitta by JRibaX CC BY-SA 3.0)

9 October 2016

Vajont Dam Disaster

Catastrophic flood may have killed 2,500

The Vajont Dam, pictured before the disaster of 1963, was considered a triumph of  engineering.
The Vajont Dam, pictured before the disaster of 1963, was
considered a triumph of  engineering.
Prone to earthquakes because of its unfortunate geology, Italy has suffered many natural disasters over the centuries, yet the horrific catastrophe that took place on this day 53 years ago in an Alpine valley about 100km north of Venice, killing perhaps as many as 2,500 people, was to a significant extent man-made.

The Vajont Dam Disaster of October 9, 1963 happened when a section of a mountain straddling the border of the Veneto and Fruili-Venezia Giulia regions in the Fruilian Dolomites collapsed in a massive landslide, dumping 260 million cubic metres of forest, earth and rock into a deep, narrow reservoir created to generate hydroelectric power for Italy's industrial northern cities.

The chunk of Monte Toc that came away after days of heavy rain was the size of a small town yet within moments it was moving towards the water at 100km per hour (62mph) and hit the surface of the reservoir in less than a minute.

The effect was almost unimaginable.  Within seconds, 50 million cubic metres of water was displaced, creating a tsunami that rose to 250m high.  The dam held, but the colossal volume of water had nowhere to go but over the top and into the Piave valley below.

Where the village of Longarone had stood, all that  remained was mud and debris.
Where the village of Longarone had stood, all that
 remained was mud and debris.
The landslide was timed at 10.39pm.  In the valley, dotted with villages, many residents were already in bed, others locking up, some making their way home.  They had no chance of escape.  The only warning was a rumbling in the distance, accompanied by a sudden, strengthening wind, that rapidly turned into a deafening roar.

The force behind the surge of water was such that its initial impact with the valley floor after its 250m descent through the narrow Vajont gorge left a crater 60m (200ft) deep and 80m across.

As the water rushed onwards into the Piave valley, it pushed along a pocket of air generating more energy than was created by the atomic bomb that flattened Hiroshima. It was so powerful that most of the victims were found naked, their clothes ripped off them by the blast.

Within a matter of minutes, the villages of Longarone, Pirago, Rivalta, Villanova and Faè had been wiped from the map and 80 per cent of their inhabitants were dead, accounting for around 2,000 of the fatalities.

Others died in villages further downstream, as well as on the opposite side of the reservoir to the landslide, where another huge wave swept up the hillside.

It is estimated that more than half those killed were never found, their bodies buried too deep to be recovered under the vast mud plain that the water left behind.  Others were carried for miles along the Piave River, some possibly into the Adriatic.

The collapse of the mountain filled in almost  half of the reservoir in minutes
The collapse of the mountain filled in almost
half of the reservoir in minutes
A cemetery exists at Fortogna, which commemor- ates all those known to have died, although the headstones - identical blocks of marble in uniform rows - do not necessarily correspond with the remains buried immediately underneath. In many cases there are no remains at all.  To the dismay of relatives, flowers and personal memorials are not permitted to be left.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the Italian government and the two authorities involved with the construction of the dam - the Adriatic Energy Corporation (Societa Adriatica di Elettrica) and, at a later stage, the National Entity for Electricity (Ente nazionale per l'energia elettrica) - attributed the catastrophe to natural causes. Journalists who suggested otherwise were accused of "undermining public order".

Later, however, it emerged that many warnings about the instability of the site chosen had been ignored and the project had been allowed to continue despite a number of landslides over a period of four years before the disaster.

A number of engineers eventually went on trial and some were convicted of negligence but the sentences handed out were seen by many as too lenient.  The government was urged to sue the Adriatic Energy Corporation for compensation but in the end decided against it.

Among events held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 2013, a stage of the Giro d'Italia cycle race finished in the municipality of Erto e Casso on the northern side of the reservoir, with the next stage starting in Longarone.

Longarone was completely rebuilt as a modern village
Longarone was completely rebuilt as a modern village
Travel tip:

Nowadays, the largely undamaged Vajont Dam - itself a triumph of engineering, at 262m (860ft) the tallest in the world at the time of construction - is open to the public and a small memorial chapel has been built.  The rebuilt village of Longarone contains a memorial church designed by one of Italy's most influential 20th century architects, Giovanni Michelucci.

Travel tip:

The most important city in the upper Piave valley, situated about 30km south of Longarone, is Belluno, a former Alpine Town of the Year, where there has been a settlement of some kind since around 220BC.  Subsequently it passed into the hands of the Romans.  The sarcophagus of Caius Flavius Hosilius and his wife Domitia can be found in the church of Santo Stefano, which was built on the site of a Roman cemetery.


22 May 2016

José João Altafini - footballer who made history

Forward tamed Eusebio to give Italy first European Cup

Photo of Jose Jaoa Altafini
José João Altafini
Supporters of AC Milan took to the streets to celebrate on this day in 1963 after José João Altafini's goals secured an historic victory in the European Cup.

Milan beat Benfica at Wembley Stadium in London to become the first Italian team to win the trophy.

Until then the European Cup had been dominated by Real Madrid, who were champions for five years in a row after the competition was launched in 1955-56, with the great Eusebio's Benfica winning in 1961 and 1962.

At half-time at Wembley in 1963, Milan looked set to provide another near-miss story for Italy, trailing to a Eusebio goal as Benfica closed on a third successive title.

The Rossoneri had lost to Real Madrid five years earlier, 12 months after the Spanish giants brushed aside Fiorentina in the final.

But 24-year-old Altafini, who became one of Serie A’s most prolific all-time goalscorers, refused to be cowed.

He netted in the 58th and 66th minutes, sparking joyous scenes in Milan and starting a period of European dominance for the city, with AC’s rivals Internazionale winning the next two tournaments.

The Milan team that night in London boasted two future Italy managers in Cesare Maldini and Giovanni Trapattoni, as well as the great Gianni Rivera, but Altafini was the star.

His goals had propelled Milan past England’s Ipswich Town and Scotland’s Dundee in earlier rounds and his competition tally of 14 was a record that stood for 51 years until, perhaps fittingly, it was smashed by old foes Real Madrid and their superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

His five goals against l’Union Luxembourg earlier in the tournament represent a European Cup match record equalled by a mere handful of stars, among them Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

Photo of Jose Joao Altafini
Jose Joao Altafini in his present role as
TV football pundit
Altafini, now 77, is a Brazilian-Italian whose family hailed from Trentino Alto-Adige. European Cup glory earned Milan an Intercontinental Cup clash with Pele’s legendary Santos team, in which Altafini scored again. He was later nominated for two Ballon D'Or awards.

Nowadays, he is Italy’s answer to Sky TV’s Chris Kamara. Just as the British pundit is known for his catchphrase ‘Unbelievable, Jeff’ when describing a dramatic piece of action on the Soccer Saturday show, Altafini typically reacts with “incredible, amici” or “incredible, friends”.

It was Altafini who coined the “Golazzo” goal reaction which was used on Football Italia on Channel 4 in the UK during the 1990s.

Altafini, brought up in a large Italian community in Sao Paulo, is notable for having played for two different nations at the World Cup.

He gained Italian citizenship as a teenager but launched his career at Sao Paulo side Palmeiras. He made his debut for Brazil aged 18 and scored alongside a young Pele as Brazil beat Argentina in winning the Copa Roca in 1957.

Altafini then starred for the South Americans in the following year’s World Cup, but was left out of the team in the final. Four years on, he was barred from playing for Brazil as they refused to pick players based outside the country.

Instead, Altafini played for his adopted home, and that of his antecedents, Italy. He scored five goals in six games for the Azzurri, but was not picked again after the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

During a glittering club career that spanned 24 years and also took in Napoli and Juventus after he left the San Siro, Altafini scored 334 league goals in 653 appearances.

Altafini was revered in Naples, where he scored 97 goals in little more than 200 matches in all competitions, but it is in Milan where Italy’s adopted son had his best days.

He won two Scudetti for the Rossoneri in addition to the European Cup triumph at Wembley.  A.C Milan have gone on to be Italy’s most successful side in Europe, winning the elite competition six more times.

Their tally of seven is yet another record bettered only by Altafini’s old enemy Real Madrid, who have won 10.

Travel tip:

San Siro is easily reached by the new purple M5 metro line. The nearest stations are San Siro Ippodromo and San Siro Stadio, both a short walk from the stadium. From the city centre, take Linea M1 and change at Lotto or Linea M2 and change at Garibaldi.  It takes a little under 20 minutes to get from Piazza Duomo to the stadium.  Travelling to the stadium by tram is still a popular option.  Route number 16 passes close to Piazza Duomo and terminates at the stadium. The journey takes about half an hour.

Photo of Lago di Caldonazzo
Lago di Caldonazzo
Travel tip:

Jose Joao Altafini's mother was born in the town of Caldonazzo in Trentino-Alto Adige, about 20 kilometres from Trento and close to Lago di Caldonazzo, which is the largest lake in the region. A popular centre for watersports such as windsurfing, sailing, diving, swimming and rowing, and also popular with fishermen, the lake is the source of the Brenta river.