Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

29 May 2017

Franca Rame – actress, writer and politician

Artistic collaborator and wife of Dario Fo

Franca Rame in a publicity shot from a brief but unsuccessful movie career
Franca Rame in a publicity shot from a
brief but unsuccessful movie career
The actress and writer Franca Rame, much of whose work was done in collaboration with her husband, the Nobel Prize-winning actor, playwright and satirist Dario Fo, died in Milan on this day in 2013 at the age of 83.

One of Italy's most admired and respected stage performers, her contribution to Dario Fo’s work was such that his 1997 Nobel prize for literature probably should have been a joint award. In the event, on receipt of the award, Fo announced he was sharing it with his wife.

Rame was also a left-wing militant. A member of the Italian Communist Party from 1967, she was elected to the Italian senate in 2006 under the banner of the Italy of Values party, a centre-left anti-corruption grouping led by Antonio di Pietro, the former prosecutor who had led the Mani Pulite (“Clean Hands”) corruption investigation in the 1990s.

Later she was an independent member of the Communist Refoundation Party.  Her political views often heavily influenced her writing, in which her targets tended to be the Italian government and the Roman Catholic Church.  She was also an outspoken champion of women’s rights.

Her politics made her some enemies, however.  In 1973, she was kidnapped at gunpoint on a Milan street by a group of neo-Fascist men who raped and tortured her. When she was released, the group said it was revenge against her and Fo for their political activism.

Franca Rame in 1952, when she began her relationship with Dario Fo after they met through work
Franca Rame in 1952, when she began her relationship
with Dario Fo after they met through work
Born in Parabiago, a town of almost 30,000 people in the north-western quarter of the Milan metropolitan area, Rame was the daughter of an actor and a militant socialist father and a strict Catholic mother. She was almost born on the stage, appearing in a performance with her mother when she was only eight days old.

At the age of 18, and with the photogenic looks of a 1950s blonde bombshell, she began a theatre career in Milan. She met Dario Fo when they were members of the same company. Fo was smitten from an early stage and to his surprise and delight the attraction was mutual. They married in 1954 and their son Jacopo, now himself a writer, was born in 1955.

Rame had a brief but only modestly successful movie career before switching her focus to the theatre. As a professional partnership, she and Fo's first hit, Gli Arcangeli non Giacano a Flipper – Archangels Don’t Play Pinball – played at the Odeon theatre in Milan in 1959, where they were subsequently invited to write and perform a new play every year. 

Subsequent successes included Isabella, Tre Caravelle e un Cacciaballe – Isabella, Three Sailing Ships and a Con Man – set in Spain in the early years of the inquisition, in which Rame played Queen Isabella.

Dario Fo with Franca Rame and their son Jacopo
Dario Fo with Franca Rame and their son Jacopo
In time, however, they gave up commercial theatre in favour of forming co-operative groups and in 1970 founded their own militant theatre group, La Comune, based at the Palazzina Liberty, an abandoned pavilion. It was there that Rame starred in Fo’s acclaimed Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga! (Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!) and that she wrote and performed in a one-woman show Tutta Casa, Letto e Chiesa (It’s All Bed, Board and Church).

Their relationship was turbulent at times and at one stage she announced their separation. Yet they patched up their differences and even sent themselves up in a play, Coppia Aperta (The Open Couple).

Rame and Fo were particularly despairing of Italy’s support for Silvio Berlusconi when the country shifted to the right in the 1990s, even more when he was granted a return to power in 2001. Their play L’Anomalo Bicefalo (The Two Headed Anomaly), a satire about a political rally in Sicily which features an assassination attempt on Berlusconi and the Russian leader Vladimir Putin, infuriated Berlusconi when Rame’s performance in a comic scene as his wife, Veronica, was praised by Veronica herself.

Her opposition to Berlusconi was part of her motivation for joining forces with Di Pietro, for whom Berlusconi’s scorn had been undisguised during the Mani Pulite trials, prior to her election to the senate.

Rame is buried at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.

The Prepositurale church in Parabiago
The Prepositurale church in Parabiago
Travel tip:

Parabiago grew as an industrial centre in the 1960s, when its footwear industry, established in the late 19th century, enjoyed a boom. It became known as The City of the Shoe. Notable churches include the Prepositurale church dedicated to saints Gervasio and Protasio, built in 1610 on the orders of the Bishop of Milan, San Carlo Borromeo. The neoclassical façade, added between 1780 and 1781, was designed by Giuseppe Piermarini. Parabiago is also home to Villa Maggi-Corvini , or simply Villa Corvini, located at the beginning of the historic Via Santa Maria. The villa is part of the Parco Corvini municipal park, which is open to the public.

The Palazzina Liberty used to be the cafeteria-restaurant at the Verziere market in Milan
The Palazzina Liberty used to be the cafeteria-restaurant
at the Verziere market in Milan
Travel tip:

The Palazzina Liberty in Milan’s Parco Vittorio Formentano, on the eastern side of the city centre, was built in 1908 to house the cafeteria-restaurant in the Verziere fruit and vegetable market but fell into disuse when the market moved to a different location. Dario Fo took it over in the 1970s and in 1980 it became home to Milan’s civic orchestra before being renovated in 1992 and opened as a cultural and recreational facility for the city, hosting orchestral concerts, film festivals and poetry events among other things.

26 December 2016

Beppe Severgnini - journalist and author

Books observing national mores have been best sellers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel tip:

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

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

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

More reading:


Buy Beppe Severgnini's books from Amazon

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


6 November 2016

Enzo Biagi - author and journalist

Much respected presenter taken off air by Berlusconi

Enzo Biagi, pictured in 2006
Enzo Biagi, pictured in 2006
Enzo Biagi, the distinguished print and television journalist and author of more than 80 books, died in Milan on this day in 2007, at the age of 87.  

A staunch defender of the freedom of the press, Biagi himself was the victim of censorship from the highest level of the Italian government in 2002 when prime minister Silvio Berlusconi effectively sacked him from the public broadcaster RAI for what he called "criminal use" of the network.

In what became known as il Editto bulgaro - the Bulgarian Edict - because he made the pronouncement during a state visit to Sofia, Berlusconi named another journalist, Michele Santoro, and the satirical comedian, Daniele Luttazzi, as guilty of similar conduct and said it was his duty to "not to allow this to happen".

It meant that the last years of Biagi's life were marred somewhat by an absence from the screen that lasted five years.  He made an emotional comeback in April 2007, seven months before his death, when Romani Prodi had begun his second stint as PM and saw to it that he was reinstated.

Berlusconi's disapproval of Biagi was thought to have related to two interviews he conducted during the run-up to the 2001 elections.

In the first, he appeared to be sympathetic to Berlusconi's opponent, Francesco Rutelli. The second - just two days before polling - was with Roberto Benigni, the actor-director and comedian, who poked fun at what he saw as a conflict between Berlusconi's political ambitions and his business interests.

Silvio Berlusconi banished Biagi from  Italian state TV network RAI
Silvio Berlusconi banished Biagi from
Italian state TV network RAI
Biagi had interviewed Berlusconi himself before he first stood for prime minister, grilling him over his relationship with Bettino Craxi at the time the former prime minister was convicted of corruption and illegal funding of the Italian Socialist Party.

Born in 1920 in Lizzano in Belvedere, an Apennine village in Emilia-Romagna, the son of a warehouse guard, he began working for the Bologna newspaper Il Resto del Carlino at the age of 18. An opponent of Fascism, he joined the Italian partisans in 1943 and was a member of an anti-Fascist political movement at the time but during his journalistic career he never adhered to any political party.

After the Second World War, he moved to Milan and between 1952 and 1960 was editor of the magazine Epoca. He started working regularly for RAI in the 1960s, while continuing to write for leading newspapers.

He hosted many magazine programmes for the station, interviewing leading political leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Muammar Gadaffi, as well as key figures from his other great love, the cinema.

Biagi published more than 80 books, many about history and current affairs, as well as a biography of his friend, the actor Marcello Mastroianni.  His 1987 book, Il boss è solo, based on interviews with the Mafia pentito (state witness) Tommaso Buscetta, won the Premio Bancarella literary prize.

The snow capped Corno alle Scale mountain is close to Biagi's home village of Lizzano in Belvedere
The snow capped Corno alle Scale mountain is close
to Biagi's home village of Lizzano in Belvedere
Travel tip:

Lizzano in Belvedere, in a mountainous area on the border between the provinces of Modena and Pistoia, offers all-year-round attractions, from skiing on the nearby Corno alle Scale peak in winter to trekking and mountain biking in the spring and summer, with the village centre well stocked with restaurants specialising in local dishes.  The ancient round church, known as 'Rotonda' or 'Delubro', is an interesting feature.

Travel tip:

Bologna is the historic capital of Emilia-Romagna, at the centre of which is the spacious Piazza Maggiore, the social hub of the city, surrounded with arched colonnades, many attractive cafes and fine medieval and Renaissance buildings, including the Palazzo Comunale, the Fountain of Neptune and the imposing Basilica di San Petronio, which dominates the square.

More reading:

How journalist Bruno Vespa opened door to late-night political debate

Maurizio Costanzo - journalist host of Italy's longest running TV show

Roberto Benigni - Oscar-winning star and director of Life is Beautiful

Also on this day:

(Picture credits: Enzo Biagi by Stefano Vesco; Berlusconi by; Corno alle Scale by Adriano Petrachi - all via Wikimedia Commons)


5 August 2016

Franco Lucentini – author

Writer was one half of a famous literary partnership

The novelist Franco Lucentini, who achieved success with Carlo Fruttero in a remarkable literary association, died on this day in 2002 in Turin.

A news correspondent and editor, Lucentini met Fruttero in 1953 in Paris and they started working together as journalists and translators.

But they were best known for the mystery thrillers they produced together, which they composed in a businesslike manner.

After choosing a subject they would take it in turns to write and then edit the material until a novel was complete.

Their most popular books were The Sunday Woman (La donna della domenica), which was later made into a film and The D Case (La verita sul caso D), which was based on an unfinished work by Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini, in a photograph taken for the Corriere della Sera newspaper
Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini, in a photograph
taken for the Corriere della Sera newspaper
Lucentini fell foul of the Fascist regime while studying Philosophy at the University of Rome because of distributing anti-war messages among his fellow students and had to spend two months in prison.

But after the Second World War he was hired by the Allies to work as a junior editor for their news agency in Naples. Lucentini then went on to work in Rome for Italy's ANSA news agency.

After Fruttero and Lucentini met, they formed a successful literary team, writing, editing and translating for the Einaudi publishing house.

They produced several novels together after the success of The Sunday Woman and F& L went on to become a well known literary trademark.

But in 2002, suffering from lung cancer and having reached the age of 81, Lucentini chose to end his own life on 5 August at his home in Turin.

The campus of the University of Rome, pictured soon after it was built in 1935
The campus of the University of Rome, pictured
soon after it was built in 1935
Travel tip:

The University of Rome, where Lucentini studied Philosophy during the Second World War, was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII.  Now known as the Sapienza University of Rome, it is one of the largest in Europe. The main campus, which was designed by Marcello Piacentini, is near Rome’s Termini railway station.

Travel tip:

Turin, where Lucentini lived in later life, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont in the north of Italy. It is an important business centre, particularly for the car industry, and has a rich history linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of royal Turin.


17 July 2016

Lady Blessington’s Neapolitan Journals

Irish aristocrat fell in love with Naples

Lady Blessington, depicted here by Thomas Lawrence, settled in Naples after touring Europe
Lady Blessington, depicted here by Thomas
Lawrence, settled in Naples after touring Europe
Marguerite, Lady Blessington, an Irish-born writer who married into the British aristocracy, arrived in Naples on this day in 1823 and began writing her Neapolitan Journals.

She was to stay in the city for nearly three years and her detailed account of what she saw and who she met has left us with a unique insight into life in Naples nearly 200 years ago.

Lady Blessington made herself at home in Naples and thoroughly embraced the culture, attending local events, making what at the time were adventurous excursions, and entertaining Neapolitan aristocrats and intellectuals at the former royal palace that became her home.

Those who know Naples today will recognise in her vivid descriptions many places that have remained unchanged for the last two centuries.

She also provides a valuable insight into what life was like at the time for ordinary people as well as for the rich and privileged.

A society beauty, she came to Naples during a long European tour after her marriage to Charles Gardiner, the first Earl of Blessington, and immediately became fascinated by the local customs, food and traditions. She also visited Ercolano, Paestum, Capri, Ischia and Sorrento and made an ascent of Vesuvius on an ass.

The Vomero hill offers spectacular views over Naples
The Vomero hill offers spectacular views over Naples
She describes her first sight of the city on her arrival on 17 July in 1823. “Naples burst upon us from the steep hill above the Campo Santo, and never did aught so bright and dazzling meet my gaze. Innumerable towers, domes and steeples, rose above palaces, intermingled with terraces and verdant foliage. The bay, with its placid waters, lay stretched before us, bounded on the left by a chain of mountains, with Vesuvius, sending up its blue incense to the Cloudless sky.”

She was so impressed with her first view of the city that she ordered the postilions to pause on the brow of the hill so that she might fully appreciate the panorama in front of her.

She recalls: “… as our eyes dwelt on it, we were ready to acknowledge that the old Neapolitan phrase of ‘Vedi Napoli e poi mori’ - 'see Naples and die' - had a meaning, for they who die without having seen Naples, have missed one of the most enchanting views in the world.”

Three days later, having looked at half the palaces in Naples, she arranges to rent the Palazzo Belvedere at Vomero, describing it as: “…one of the most beautiful residences I ever beheld, in the midst of gardens and overlooking the Bay. The view it commands is unrivalled; and the gardens boast every rare and fragrant plant and flower that this delicious climate can produce.”

In February 1826 she writes with sadness about her planned departure from Naples. “As the time approaches for quitting Naples, my regret increases. A residence of nearly three years has attached me to the country and the people by ties that cannot be rent asunder without pain.”

Lady Blessington’s Neapolitan Journals are fascinating and endearing and have inspired many people to visit the city over the years. There is an abridged version of the journals in Edith Clay’s book Lady Blessington at Naples published by Hamish Hamilton.

The Royal Palace, once home to the Kings of Naples
The Royal Palace, once home to the Kings of Naples
Travel tip:

Lady Blessington mingled in royal and aristocratic circles while in Naples and would have visited the Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale), one of the magnificent residences of the Kings of Naples. The palace is at the eastern end of Piazza del Plebiscito and dates back to 1600. It now houses a 30-room museum and the largest library in southern Italy, which are both open to the public.

Travel tip:

You can take the funicular railway up the hill to Vomero, where Lady Blessington lived for a while, to see the fine views over the city and the bay of Naples. It is well worth visiting the 14th century Castel Sant’Elmo for for what you can see from its vantage point.


20 May 2016

Pietro Bembo – poet and scholar

Lucrezia’s lover helped with the development of modern Italian

Portrait of Pietro Bembo
Titian's portrait of Pietro Bembo, painted in
around 1540, when the poet was 70 years old
Pietro Bembo, a writer who was influential in the development of the Italian language, was born on this day in 1470 in Venice.

He is probably most remembered for having an affair with Lucrezia Borgia while she was married to the Duke of Ferrara and he was living at the Este Court with them. His love letters to her were described by the English poet, Lord Byron, centuries later, as ‘the prettiest love letters in the world.’

As a boy, Bembo visited Florence with his father where he acquired a love for the Tuscan form of Italian which he was later to use as his literary medium. He later learnt Greek and went to study at the University of Padua.

He spent two years at the Este Court in Ferrara where he wrote poetry that was reminiscent of Boccaccio and Petrarch.

It was when he returned to the court at Ferrara a few years later he had an affair with Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, who was at that time the wife of Alfonso I d’Este. The love letters between the pair to which Byron referred are now in the collection of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. 

Byron greatly admired them when he saw them there in 1816 and also claimed to have managed to steal part of a lock of Lucrezia’s hair that was on display with them.

Bembo went to live in Urbino where he wrote his most influential work, a prose treatise on writing poetry in Italian, Prose della vulgar lingua. His writing was later to revive interest in the works of Petrarch.

Bembo worked as a historian and librarian in Venice for a time before going to live in Rome, where he took Holy Orders. He was made a Cardinal by Pope Paul III in 1539.

He died in Rome in 1547 at the age of 76.

Photo of The Castello Estense in Ferrara
The Castello Estense in Ferrara, where Bembo was a guest
of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia
Travel tip:

The Castello Estense in Ferrara, where Lucrezia Borgia lived after her marriage to Alfonso I d’Este and where Pietro Bembo was a guest, is a moated, brick built castle in the centre of the city. It is open to the public every day from 9.30 till 5.30 pm apart from certain times of the year when it is closed on Mondays. For more details and ticket prices visit

Travel tip:

The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Piazza Pio XI in Milan was established in 1618 to house paintings, drawing and statues that had been donated to the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the library founded in the same building a few years before. In addition to works of art, the museum keeps curiosities such as the gloves Napoleon wore at Waterloo and a lock of Lucrezia Borgia’s hair, in front of which famous poets such as Lord Byron and Gabriele D’Annunzio spent a lot of time drawing inspiration. Pietro Bembo’s letters to Lucrezia are also in the museum’s collection. Visit for more information.


3 May 2016

Niccolò Machiavelli – writer and diplomat

Political scientist came up with the idea ‘the ends justify the means’ 

Niccolò Machiavelli: detail from a
portrait by Santi di Tito
Statesman and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli, whose name has become synonymous with the idea of political cunning, was born on this day in 1469 in Florence.

The ideas he put forward in his writing were to make the word ‘machiavellian’ a regularly used pejorative adjective and the phrase ‘Old Nick’ a term to denote the devil in English.

The son of an attorney, Machiavelli was educated in grammar, rhetoric and Latin. After Florence expelled the Medici family in 1494 he went to work for the new republic in the office that produced official Florentine documents.

Machiavelli also carried out diplomatic missions to Rome on behalf of the republic where he witnessed the brutality of Cesare Borgia and his father, Pope Alexander VI, as they tried to acquire large parts of central Italy .

He later became responsible for the Florentine militia and, because of his distrust of mercenaries, used citizens in the army. Under his command, Florentine soldiers defeated Pisa in battle in 1509.

But Machiavelli’s success did not last and in 1512 the Medici, using Spanish troops, defeated the Florentines at Prato . He was dismissed from office in Florence by a written decree issued by the new Medici rulers.

Machiavelli was forced to withdraw from public life and retired to his home in the Chianti region of Tuscany, where he wrote his most famous work, ‘The Prince’, which was to give the world the political idea of ‘the ends justify the means’.

In ‘The Prince’ he was able to write with first-hand knowledge about the methods he had seen used by Cesare Borgia on behalf of his father, Pope Alexander VI.

The book put forward the idea that the aims of princes, such as glory and survival, could justify the use of immoral means. 

Machiavelli also advocated that it is safer to be feared than to be loved, if you can’t achieve both, and he recommended that if an injury has to be done to a man ‘it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared’.

His ideas were to exert a lasting, profound influence on western political thought and are still referred to today. But in modern times, people have begun to interpret them as pragmatic observations rather than as encouraging ruthlessness, cruelty and violence in people.

Machiavelli never returned to public office and died at his home in 1527 at the age of 58.

Travel Tip:

Machiavelli wrote ‘The Prince’ at his country home in Sant’Andrea in Percussina, south of Florence, in the heart of Chianti country near San Casciano Val di Pesa. The house where he is believed to have lived is now a bed-and-breakfast called La Fonte del Macchiavelli.

The Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, which
has a monument to Machiavelli
Travel Tip:

There is a monument to Machiavelli in the beautiful Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence , where many famous Florentines are buried. A marble structure by Innocenzo Spinazzi was erected in his memory in 1787. The Latin inscription on the front of the monument means: ‘No eulogy is equal to such a name’.

(Photo of the Basilica di Santa Croce by Diana Ringo CC BY-SA 4.0)

More reading:

Dismissal led Machiavelli to write seminal work The Prince


1 May 2016

Giovanni Guareschi – writer

Satirical magazine editor first used Don Camillo to fill a gap

Photo of Giovanni Guareschi
Giovanni Guareschi created the character of
Don Camillo for the satirical magazine he ran
Author Giovanni Guareschi, the creator of the fictional character, Don Camillo, was born on this day in 1908 in Roccabianca in Emilia-Romagna.

The popular stories featuring his famous comic creations, the stalwart Italian priest, Don Camillo, and the Communist mayor, Peppone, have since been made into many radio and television programmes and films.

Guareschi, who was christened Giovannino, started his career writing for the Gazzetta di Parma and then became a magazine editor.

He was called up to serve in the army in 1943 but was quickly taken prisoner, along with other Italian soldiers, by the Germans. He wrote a secret diary while he was in the prison camp, Diario Clandestino.

After the war Guareschi founded a weekly satirical magazine, Candido, where his Don Camillo stories first appeared. He had written the introductory story for another publication but lifted it to fill a gap in Candido at the last minute.

His magazine criticised and satirised the Communists but after they were beaten in the 1948 elections he turned his attentions to the Christian Democrats instead.

The magazine published a satirical cartoon poking fun at the president, Luigi Einaudi, which was judged by a court to be 'contempt of the president' and after Guareschi had subsequently been charged with libelling a former prime minister, Alcide de Gasperi, he was sent to prison.

When Guareschi was released, his health started to deteriorate and he had to spend time in Switzerland recuperating. He retired from editing Candido, although he remained a contributor until he died in 1968 after a heart attack.

Photo of Castello di Roccabianca
The Castello di Roccabianca, built in 1450
Travel tip:

Roccabianca, where Guareschi was born, is a comune to the northwest of Parma, which takes its name from the castle (rocca) built there in the 1450s by Pier Maria Rossi, which has been restored and is now open to the public.

Travel tip:

Guareschi is buried in the graveyard of the church of San Michele in Le Roncole, the village near Bussetto in Emilia-Romagna where the composer Giuseppe Verdi was born.

(Photo of the Castello di Roccabianca by Antonio Pedroni CC BY-SA 2.0)


19 April 2016

Antonio Carluccio - chef and restaurateur

TV personality and author began his career as a wine merchant

The chef, restaurateur and author Antonio Carluccio was born on this day in 1937 in Vietri-sul-Mare in Campania. 

An instantly recognisable figure due to his many television appearances, Carluccio moved to London in 1975 and built up a successful chain of restaurants bearing his name.  He wrote 21 books about Italian food, as well as his autobiography, A Recipe for Life, which was published in 2012.

Although born in Vietri, a seaside town between Amalfi and Salerno famous for ceramics, Carluccio spent most of his childhood in the north, in Borgofranco d'Ivrea in Piedmont.  His father was a station master and his earliest memories are of running home from the station where his father worked to warn his mother that the last train of the day had left and that it was time to begin cooking the evening meal.

Antonio Carluccio
(Photo: Andrew Hendo)
Carluccio would join his father in foraging for mushrooms and wild rocket in the mountainous countryside near their home and it was from those outings that his interest in food began to develop, yet his career would at first revolve around wine.  Having moved to Austria to study languages, he settled in Germany and between 1962 and 1975 was a wine merchant based in Hamburg.

The wine business then took him to London, where he specialised in importing Italian wines.  He was already acknowledged among friends as a talented cook and he was persuaded by his partner and future wife, Priscilla Conran, to enter a cookery competition promoted by a national newspaper, in which he finished second.

Carluccio and Priscilla married in 1980, after which his new brother-in-law, the designer and entrepreneur Terence Conran, made him manager of his Neal Street Restaurant in Covent Garden, which launched him on his new career.

Carluccio's logo
He bought Neal Street in 1989 and, two years later, opened a deli next door, called simply Carluccio's. The shop expanded into a mail order business and, in 1998, with Priscilla providing the business brains, he opened the first Carluccio's Caffè.  It was the first step in building a nationwide chain of restaurants, which they eventually sold for around £90 million in 2010.  He now works for the company, which has more than 80 branches in the United Kingdom alone, as a consultant.

Carluccio's television career began in 1983, when he made his first appearance in the BBC2 show Food and Drink, talking about Mediterranean food.  At the same time he was asked to write his first book, An Invitation to Italian Cooking, and soon became a familiar face as the number of cooking programmes on TV soared.  He hosted several of his own series and shared the spotlight with his former assistant at Neal Street, Gennaro Contaldo, in the hugely popular Two Greedy Italians. By coincidence, Contaldo was born in Minori, less than 20 kilometres along the Amalfi Coast from Carluccio's home town of Vietri-sul-Mare.

Carluccio was generally seen as a jolly figure with a zest for life, yet endured difficult times. Although his parents did their best to shield him, he admitted that some of his experiences growing up in wartime Italy were not pleasant. He suffered a family tragedy aged 23 when his younger brother, Enrico, 10 years' his junior, drowned while swimming in a lake. Carluccio was divorced from Priscilla Conran in 2008 and revealed in his autobiography that he had waged a long battle against depression.

In 1988, Carluccio was honoured in Italy by being made Commendatore dell'Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana, the equivalent to a knighthood in Britain, where in 2007 he was made an OBE.

Carluccio died in November 2017 at the age of 80 following a fall at home.

Photo of Church in Vietri-sul-Mare
The majolica-clad dome of the Church of St John
the Baptist in Vietri-sul-Mare, Carluccio's birthplace
Travel tip:

Vietri-sul-Mare, which is situated just 12 kilometres from Salerno in Campania, is the first or last town on the Amalfi Coast, depending on the starting point.  It is sometimes described as the first of the 13 pearls of the Amalfi Coast. A port and resort town of Etruscan origins, it has been famous for the production of ceramics since the 15th century. The Church of St. John the Baptist, built in the 17th century in late Neapolitan Renaissance style, has an eyecatching dome covered with majolica tiles.

Travel tip:

Borgofranca d'Ivrea is a village of 3,700 inhabitants situated just north of Ivrea in Piedmont, a town with a population of 23,000 people notable for its 14th century castle, a square structure that originally had a round tower in each corner, one of which was destroyed by an explosion in 1676 after lightning struck an ammunition store.  There is also a cathedral, parts of which date back to the fourth century, that now has an elegant neo-classical faҫade added in the 19th century.

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10 February 2016

Ernesto Teodoro Moneta – Nobel Prize winner

Supporter of Garibaldi was also an ‘apostle for peace’

Moneta was a supporter of Garibaldi but also a pacifist
Ernesto Teodoro Moneta
Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, who was at times both a soldier and a pacifist, died on this day in 1918.

Moneta was only 15 when he was involved in the Five Days of Milan uprising against the Austrians in 1848, but in later life he became a peace activist.

He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1907, but publicly supported Italy’s entry into the First World War in 1915. On the Nobel Prize official website he is described as ‘a militant pacifist’.

Moneta was born in 1833 to aristocratic parents in Milan. He fought next to his father to defend his family home during the revolt against the Austrians and then went on to attend the military academy in Ivrea.

In 1859 Moneta joined Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand and fought in the Italian army against the Austrians in 1866.

He then seemed to become disillusioned with the struggle for Italian unification and cut short what had been a promising military career.

For nearly 30 years Moneta was editor of the Milan democratic newspaper, Il Secolo. Through the columns of his newspaper he campaigned vigorously for reforms to the army which would strengthen it and reduce waste and inefficiency.

During this time Moneta also wrote his work Wars, Insurrection and Peace in the 19th Century, in which he describes the development of the international peace movement.

He wrote articles for pamphlets and periodicals and gave lectures campaigning for peace. In 1887 he founded the Lombard Association for Peace and Arbitration, which called for disarmament.

Alongside Louis Renault, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1907.

But Moneta’s Italian patriotism led him to support the Italian conquest of Libya in 1912 and later publicly express his agreement with Italy’s entry into the First World War.

Travel tip:

There is a monument to Moneta in the Porta Venezia Gardens in Milan. The inscription reads: ‘Ernesto Teodoro Moneta, garibaldine, thinker, journalist, apostle of peace among free people.’  The gardens are the largest public park in the city and a rare area of greenery in Milan. They are next to the Bastioni di Porta Venezia, part of the walls built to defend Milan in the 16th century.

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The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea is a carnival tradition
The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea, in which fighting
can be particularly intense. 
Travel tip:

Ivrea, where Moneta attended a military academy, is a town in the province of Turin in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. It has a 14th century castle and the ruins of a first century Roman theatre that would have been able to hold 10,000 spectators. During the annual carnival before Easter, Ivrea stages the Battle of the Oranges, where teams of locals on foot throw oranges at teams riding in carts.