Showing posts with label Newspapers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Newspapers. Show all posts

23 October 2021

Carlo Caracciolo - newspaper publisher

Left-leaning aristocrat who co-founded L’Espresso and La Repubblica 

Carlo Caracciolo set up La Repubblica in 1976
Carlo Caracciolo set up
La Repubblica in 1976
The newspaper publisher Carlo Caracciolo, who was the driving force behind the news magazine L’Espresso and the centre-left daily La Repubblica, was born on this day in 1925 in Florence.

Caracciolo aligned himself politically with the Left and spent the last two years of World War Two fighting against the Fascists as a member of a partisan unit he joined at the age of 18.

Yet he was born into Italian aristocracy, inheriting the titles Prince of Castagneto and Duke of Melito with the death of his father in 1965. After his younger sister, Marella, married the Fiat chairman, Gianni Agnelli, in 1953, he became one of the best connected individuals in Italian society. His funeral in 2008 was attended by members of five of Italy’s most powerful dynasties: Agnelli, Caracciolo, Borghese, Visconti and Pasolini.

Tall and handsome, effortlessly elegant in his dress sense and instinctively well-mannered, he could not disguise his refined roots but never flaunted them. He was at his most comfortable in the company of left-wing intellectuals and insisted he be known only as Carlo.

At the same time, however, he was a formidable businessman, pursuing his ideals of an independent free press but at the same time rebuilding his family’s fortune, which had suffered after the stock market crash of 1929 when his American mother, heir to a distilling company in Illinois, lost much of her inheritance. He was said to be the only man Gianni Agnelli, whose wealth and influence made him the most powerful person in Italy, genuinely regarded as an equal.

Caracciolo was fortunate to survive his experience of fighting with the partisans, which saw him arrested and sentenced to death. In an early indication of his talent for negotiating, however, he secured his escape from prison by striking a deal with his jailer, promising that when the Axis alliance fell to the Allies he would use his influence to return the favour.

Caracciolo (right) pictured with Eugenio Scalfari,  who helped him make L'Espresso his first success
Caracciolo (right) pictured with Eugenio Scalfari, 
who helped him make L'Espresso his first success
After the conflict ended, Caracciolo was sent to study law first in Rome and then at Harvard. It was there he met and became friends with Giorgio Agnelli, Gianni’s brother. Caraciollo remained in America for a while, working for a leading New York law firm.

He moved to Milan in 1951, where he worked at a trade publication for the packaging industry.  His business contacts soon included Adriano Olivetti, who inherited the Olivetti typewriter company from his father, Camillo, but had a progressive view of entrepreneurialism, believing that profits generated should be reinvested for the benefit of wider society.

Caracciolo likewise was a man of progressive ideas and wanted to challenge Italy’s tradition of clientelism, where so much depended on patronage, connections and favours, and which made it difficult for there to be a truly free press. He saw in Olivetti the perfect partner for his ambition to set up a genuinely independent news magazine. Together, they created the Nuove Edizioni Romane publishing company, enlisted two of Italy’s most respected journalists, Arrigo Benedetti and Eugenio Scalfari, and launched L’Espresso.

From the start, L'Espresso championed aggressive investigative journalism, seeking out the corruption and clientelism on which Caracciolo felt the Christian Democrats relied to maintain their grip on Italian politics. This had repercussions for Olivetti, who lost some major contracts as a result. Olivetti ultimately had to withdraw and handed Caracciolo his majority shareholding for a token amount.

Scalfari and Caracciolo (centre) at the launch of La Repubblica in Rome in 1976
Scalfari and Caracciolo (centre) at the launch
of La Repubblica in Rome in 1976
At that point, the magazine was losing money but, with the help of Scalfari in particular, Caracciolo transformed L’Espresso, redesigning it along the lines of Time magazine and altering Italian attitudes to the purpose and potential of a free press.

The magazine’s success gave them the platform to pursue their dream of publishing an independent daily. Seeking an investor, Caracciolo homed in on Giorgio Mondadori, who was looking for a new venture after a somewhat acrimonious split with the publishing house set up by his father, Arnoldo Mondadori, and saw their project as the right fit.

Thus, La Repubblica was launched on 14 January, 1976. Based in Rome, it was to be the first Italian daily to position itself on the centre-left, playing an important role in shifting Marxist activism in Italy towards contemporary social democracy.  Caracciolo was astute enough to see the value of arts coverage in building a strong circulation, particularly among younger readers.  He also correctly judged that adopting the Berliner format, the compact size that is slightly bigger than a tabloid but shorter and narrower than a broadsheet, would appeal to readers buying a newspaper to read on the go.

As a newspaper that was neither the voice piece of a political party nor owned by an industrial tycoon, La Repubblica was able to forge an independent path that also enabled it to recruit some of the best journalists in the country, giving them a chance to report the news without fear or favour.

Caracciolo's sister, Marella, who married Gianni Agnelli
Caracciolo's sister, Marella,
who married Gianni Agnelli
Caracciolo took his publishing activities to the Italian stock exchange in 1984 and four years later, with a circulation of 730,000 that made La Repubblica the most read newspaper in Italy, he sold his holdings in Editoriale L'Espresso to Mondadori. 

Much to his dismay, parts of the company subsequently ended up in the hands of Silvio Berlusconi, the entrepreneur whose politics were diametrically opposed to his own, but it was another Berlusconi opponent, Carlo De Benedetti, who took control of L’Espresso and La Repubblica.

With the money he made from the venture - his fortune was estimated at around $200 million (€172m; £145m) - Caracciolo acquired two country estates, one in Tuscany and the other - Torrecchia Vecchia - south of Rome, where he had a 17th-century barn converted into a villa by the architect Gae Aulenti and employed the English gardener and TV presenter Dan Pearson to design gardens that became his favourite part of the estate. He also owned an elegant apartment in the Trastevere district of central Rome. 

Caracciolo died in 2008, having survived his wife of 12 years, Violante Visconti di Modrone, a niece of the stage and film director Luchino Visconti, by eight years. He is survived by three children, Carlo, Margherita and Jacaranda.

The house on the Torrecchia Vecchia estate where Caracciolo spent much of his time when not in Rome
The house on the Torrecchia Vecchia estate where
Caracciolo spent much of his time when not in Rome
Travel tip:

Torrecchia Vecchia, one of two estates owned by Caracciolo, covers over 1500 acres just outside the town of Cisterna di Latina, some 55km (34 miles) south of Rome. Recognised as a Natural Monument in 2007, it may be visited by permission. Containing over 625 acres of woodland, the estate originally contained a medieval hilltop village and ruined castle, which was abandoned some 800 years ago.  Cisterna di Latina is acknowledged to have grown on the site of the village of Tres Tabernae, which was mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles as one of the towns where Saint Paul stopped on his way to Rome.

The Basilica of Santa Maria is one of Rome's oldest churches
The Basilica of Santa Maria is
one of Rome's oldest churches
Travel tip:

Although formerly a working class neighbourhood alongside the Tiber, the Trastevere district, where Caracciolo kept an apartment for when he was working in Rome, is regarded as one of the city's most charming areas for tourists to visit. Full of winding, cobbled streets and well preserved medieval houses, it is fashionable with Rome's young professional class as a place to live, with an abundance of restaurants and bars and a lively student music scene. It is also home to one of the oldest churches in Rome in the Basilica of Santa Maria, with a wall structure and floor plan dating back to the fourth century, although most of it was built in the first half of the 12th century. Inside, the walls and ceiling are covered with breathtakingly beautiful 13th century mosaics, by Pietro Cavallini.

Also on this day:

1457: The forced abdication of Francesco Foscari after 34 years as Doge of Venice

1966: The birth of racing driver and Paralympian Alex Zanardi

The Feast of Saint John of Capistrano


1 June 2021

Arrigo Benedetti - journalist and author

Founder and editor of three major news magazines

Arrigo Benedetti had a passion for news journalism
Arrigo Benedetti had a passion
for news journalism

Arrigo Benedetti, one of the most influential figures in postwar Italian news journalism, was born on this day in 1910 in Lucca.

Benedetti was the founding editor of three of Italy’s most important news magazines, one of which, L’Espresso, still ranks as one of the two most prominent Italian weeklies, alongside Panorama.

Of the other two, L’Europeo, which was launched in 1945, ceased publication in 1995, although the title was briefly revived in the 2000s, while Oggi continues to be published some 82 years after its inception, making it one of Italy’s oldest still-active magazines.

Arrested by the Fascist regime during World War Two, Benedetti escaped after the prison in which he was being held was bombed during an Allied air strike.

Born Giulio Benedetti, the son of a sales representative, he studied literature and philosophy at the University of Pisa and had some literary works published in the early 1930s. 

But he had ambitions to pursue a career in journalism rather than academia and in 1937 moved to Rome to join his boyhood friend, Mario Pannunzio, in working for a new weekly news magazine, Omnibus, edited by Leo Longanesi.

Omnibus was closed on the orders of prime minister Benito Mussolini in 1939, deemed to be a subversive publication. Benedetti follows Longanesi in writing for another newspaper, Tutto, which was also suppressed.

At this point, Benedetti decided to leave Rome, accepting an invitation along with Pannunzio from the publisher, Angelo Rizzoli, to go to Milan with the aim of launching a new newspaper. They decided on a weekly publication along the lines of Omnibus, inviting young intellectuals not aligned with the Fascist regime to write social commentaries, and launched Oggi on June 3, 1939.

A modern edition of L'Espresso, which was launched by Benedetti in 1955
A modern edition of L'Espresso, which
was launched by Benedetti in 1955
Oggi’s existence was tolerated until 1942 before the regime finally moved to close its offices and prevent the publication of further editions.

When Mussolini was overthrown and arrested in 1943, Benedetti celebrated. In collaboration with Pannunzio and Longanesi, he wrote a leader column in Il Messaggero, the Rome newspaper, hailing the return to freedom.

It was only a matter of weeks, however, before Mussolini was freed from his house arrest by a daring Nazi raid on the Apennine mountains ski lodge where he was being held.

Benedetti left Milan with his pregnant wife, Caterina, whom he had married in 1938, to live at her parents' home outside Reggio Emilia, reasoning that they would be safer there than in the Lombardy capital. 

Italy by then had signed an armistice with the Allies, but much of northern Italy was still under the control of the Nazis, who installed Mussolini as the leader of a new Italian Social Republic.

Benedetti was soon arrested, along with many other opponents of the regime, and detained in a prison in Reggio Emilia. He was accused of aiding and abetting the Allies and of being in possession of weapons. On the eve of his trial, however, the prison was almost destroyed in an air raid and Benedetti escaped.

Back in Milan, he joined the anti-Nazi resistance before returning to journalism as soon as he could once the German surrender was secured.

Politician Eugenio Scalfari, pictured in 2016
Politician Eugenio Scalfari,
pictured in 2016
In 1945, along with the entrepreneur Gianni Mazzocchi, he launched the news magazine L'Europeo, which quickly established a following among Italian readers thanks to the contributions of journalists such as Tommaso Besozzi, Enzo Biagi, Giorgio Bocca, Oriana Fallaci and Indro Montanelli.

In 1953 the Rizzoli publishing company bought the publication, but Benedetti’s relationship with the publisher became difficult and he left the magazine and teamed up with politician Eugenio Scalfari to launch another new weekly, L'Espresso, in October 1955, with backing from the progressive industrialist Adriano Olivetti.

Benedetti was the editor-in-chief until 1963, having uncovered major scandals in the health and housing industries. He handed over to Scalfari, who was strongly focussed on corruption and clientelism by the Christian Democrat party. 

In addition to his journalism, Benedetti wrote novels notable for their meticulous attention to detail and a narrative style that drew comparisons with Italian neorealist cinema, in particular in his last novel, Rosso al vento (Red in the Wind), describing life in Italy during World War II. 

He intended to spend his last years living in his villa outside Lucca but became increasingly ill in his later years and died of kidney failure in a Rome clinic in October, 1976. 

The oval Piazza Antifeatro is a point of interest in the Tuscan city of Lucca
The oval Piazza Antifeatro is a point of interest
in the Tuscan city of Lucca
Travel tip:

Lucca is situated in western Tuscany, just 30km (19 miles) inland from Viareggio on the coast and barely 20km (12 miles) from Pisa, with its international airport.  It is often overlooked by travellers to the area in favour of Pisa’s Leaning Tower and the art treasures of Florence, 80km (50 miles) to the east, yet has much to recommend within its majestic walls, where visitors can stroll along narrow cobbled streets into a number of beautiful squares, with lots of cafes and restaurants for those content to soak up the ambiance, but also a wealth of churches, museums and galleries for those seeking a fix of history and culture.   Of particular interest is the oval Piazza Antifeatro, which owes its shape to a second century Roman amphitheatre. The Renaissance walls, still intact, are an attraction in their own right, providing a complete 4.2km (2.6 miles) circuit of the city popular with walkers and cyclists. 

The Basilica di San Prospero in the square of the same name in Reggio Emilia
The Basilica di San Prospero in the square
of the same name in Reggio Emilia
Travel tip:

Reggio Emilia, a city in the Po Valley 28km (17 miles) southeast of Parma and 32km (20 miles) northwest of Modena, has an attractive historic centre with a number of notable buildings, including the Basilica della Ghiara and the 10th century Basilica di San Prospero, which overlooks the elegant Piazza of the same name.  The city is believed to have given Italy its tricolore national flag. There are historical records that suggest that a short-lived 18th century republic, the Repubblica Cispadana, had a flag of red, white and green that was decreed in Reggio Emilia in 1797.  The city today lacks the cultural wealth of neighbouring Parma and is consequently less visited but it Italy's world famous hard cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano - known in English as Parmesan - is thought to have originated in nearby Bibbiano, about 15km (9 miles) to the southeast.

Also on this day:

1675: The birth of playwright Francesco Scipione

1819: The birth of Francis V, the last reigning Duke of Modena

1858: The birth of mezzo-soprano Alice Barbi

1901: The birth of Princess Iolanda of Savoy, one of the Italian royals banished in 1946

(Picture credits: Piazza Antifeatro by Saverio Giusti from Pixabay; Basilica di San Prospero by RatMan1234 via Wikimedia Commons)


14 September 2018

Tiziano Terzani - journalist

Asia correspondent who covered wars in Vietnam and Cambodia

Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working as a journalist in East Asia
Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working
as a journalist in East Asia
The journalist and author Tiziano Terzani, who spent much of his working life in China, Japan and Southeast Asia and whose writing received critical acclaim both in his native Italy and elsewhere, was born on this day in 1938 in Florence.

He worked for more than 30 years for the German news magazine Der Spiegel, who took him on as Asia Correspondent in 1971, based in Singapore.

Although he wrote for other publications, including the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, it was Der Spiegel who allowed him the freedom he craved. To a large extent he created his own news agenda but in doing so offered a unique slant on the major stories.

He was one of only a handful of western journalists who remained in Vietnam after the liberation of Saigon by the Viet Cong in 1975 and two years later, despite threats to his life, he reported from Phnom Penh in Cambodia after its capture by the Khmer Rouge.

He lived at different times in Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and New Delhi. His stay in China came to an end when he was arrested and expelled in 1984 for "counter-revolutionary activities".

By chance, in the summer of 1991, Terzani was on holiday in Siberia, exploring the region's boundary with China, when news of the coup against President Gorbachev reached him.

Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an  antidote to western capitalism
Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an
 antidote to western capitalism
Realising that the Russian empire was on the brink of collapse, he decided to stay in the country, embarking on a journey westwards that took him through Central Asia to the Caucasus, speaking to people about how they felt about what was happening and what they hoped for from the future. He wrote a book based on his experiences, Buonanotte, signor Lenin (Goodnight Mr Lenin), which was a bestseller.

Another book, another hit with Italian readers in particular, described how an encounter with a fortune teller in Hongkong persuaded Terzani to spend the whole of 1993 avoiding air travel - a huge challenge in a continent the size of Asia. Despite their scepticism, Der Spiegel again indulged him and for 12 months he travelled only by rail, road, on foot or by water.  It was a decision in which he felt vindicated when a helicopter he would have travelled on did indeed crash, as foreseen by his mystic soothsayer.

Terzani was born into a working-class family in Florence, a city he loved but at the same time despaired of for having allowed itself, in his eyes, to become an open-air museum, overrun with tourists.

Exceptionally intelligent - in time, he could speak five languages fluently - his teachers encouraged him to study law at the University of Pisa, where his room-mate was Giuliano Amato, a future Italian prime minister.

Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit
to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
After graduating, he worked for Olivetti, the office equipment manufacturer, in Japan and South Africa, enjoying the experience of being abroad but quickly becoming bored with the job. Interested in trying his hand at journalism, he sent a story to an Italian newspaper while working for Olivetti in Cape Town, about the assassination of Henrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.

Terzani then decided to go to America, taking advantage of a Harkness scholarship to study Chinese at Stamford and Columbia universities, before returning to Italy and finding work with the daily newspaper, Il Giorno.  He found Italy’s news values to be too parochial, however, and after knocking on many doors in different countries across Europe at last found someone who would take him on and allow him to base himself in the part of the world he most wanted to explore.

Terzani’s fascination with Asia stemmed in part from his disillusionment with the capitalist west. Left-leaning in his politics, for a time he saw Asian communism as a kind of antidote.

He immersed himself in Asian culture, learning their languages, adopting their dress, melting into the crowd so that he could prowl about without attracting attention and grow to understand fully the countries and people about whom he was writing. In time, though, after his experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia and China, he came to realise that communism was no more an ideal than capitalism.

Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet  Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet
 Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Eventually, he decided the country and the people with whose values he would feel spiritually most at home was India, although the realisation coincided, unfortunately, with the discovery in 1997 that he was suffering from stomach cancer.

He was warned, initially, that he might have only a short time to live, but after treatment in the United States he survived, in the event, for seven years, finding the energy to carry on working and to campaign against western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he visited after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Terzani remained in India, where he drew comfort from meditation and spending periods in isolation in the Himalayas, returning to Italy only towards the end of his life and spending his final days in Orsigna, a village in the Apennines, near Pistoia.  His book, Un altro giro di giostra (One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round), which was in part about coming to terms with his illness, was another bestseller.

He died in 2004 and was survived by his wife Angela, whom he had met in Florence before moving to Singapore, and by his two children, Fulco and Saskia.

Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Travel tip:

Terzani’s description of Florence as a museum was thought to be a reference mostly to Piazza della Signoria, situated right in the heart of the city, close to the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery, which is home to a series of important sculptures, including Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women and his Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, the Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca, The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolemeo Ammannati, copies of Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes and Il Marzocco (the Lion), and the copy of Michelangelo’s David, at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.  Most days, summer and winter, will see the square thronged with tourists.

The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines above Pistoia in Tuscany
The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines
above Pistoia in Tuscany
Travel tip:

The village of Orsigna, close to the border of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna about 30km (19 miles) north of Pistoia, was once an important centre for timber cutting and sheep farming. It has been in decline in recent years, although a mill has recently been renovated, for the drying and milling of chestnuts for chestnut flour.  The village was used  for location shooting of a film about Tiziano Terzani , entitled La fine è il mio inizio (The End Is My Beginning), taken from his book of the same name. The church of Sant'Atanasio has some 19th century frescoes by the Pistoia painter Bartolomeo Valiani.

More reading:

How foreign correspondent Oriana Fallaci became one of Italy's most controversial journalists

How Enzo Biagi became the doyen of Italian political journalists

The story of pioneer war photographer Felice Beato

Also on this day:

1321: The death of the poet Dante Alighieri

1937: The birth of award-winning architect Renzo Piano


17 February 2018

Raffaele ‘Raf’ Vallone – actor

Movie star who had four careers

Raffaele Vallone, pictured in a scene from the Giuseppe de Santis neo-realist movie Bitter Rice
Raffaele Vallone, pictured in a scene from the Giuseppe
de Santis neorealist movie Bitter Rice
Raffaele Vallone, the stage and screen actor who was born on this day in 1916 in Tropea, Calabria, was remarkable for having embarked on three starkly different career paths even before he made his acting debut.

Usually known as Raf, he grew up from the age of two in Turin, where his father, an ambitious young lawyer, had relocated to set up a legal practice.  A natural athlete, he was a fine footballer – so good, in fact, that at the age of 14 he was snapped up by Torino FC, who made him an apprentice professional.

Compared with the average working man, he was handsomely paid as a footballer, and he won a medal as part of the Torino team crowned Coppa Italia winners in 1936.  Yet he quickly became bored with football and enrolled at Turin University, where he studied Law and Philosophy with a view to joining his father’s firm.

Ultimately, he baulked at the idea of becoming a lawyer, too, and instead joined the staff of the left-wing daily newspaper L’Unità, where he rose quickly to be head of the culture pages, at the same time establishing himself as a drama and film critic for the Turin daily La Stampa.

It was in his capacity as a journalist that he was invited to meet Giuseppe De Santis, the film director, who wanted him to help with background information for a new film in the growing neorealist genre called Bitter Rice, about a woman working in the rice fields in the Po Valley.

Vallone in his days as a young footballer with Torino FC
Vallone in his days as a young footballer
with Torino FC
This was a time when, partly out of budget restrictions, partly out of a desire to cast real people rather than rely solely on established stars, directors were weighing up everyone they met as a potential actor.

De Santis was immediately impressed with Vallone, who had served with the anti-Fascist resistance during the Second World War, both for his depth of knowledge but also for the passion of his views, particularly on the subject of exploitation of workers.

The director also noted Vallone’s physical stature and his rough-hewn features and decided he would be perfect for the role of a soldier from peasant roots, competing with Vittorio Gassman for the love of another relative unknown, Silvana Mangano. In fact, not only was Vallone an educated man, his mother was descended from nobility, which only illustrates how appearances can be deceptive.

The film, made in 1949, was a box office hit, commercially one of the biggest successes of the neorealist era.  Unlike some of the unknowns plucked from real life, discarded after one movie, Vallone went on to enjoy a successful career.

He worked again with De Santis in 1950 in  Non c'e Pace tra gli Ulivi (There’s No Peace Among the Olive Trees), playing a shepherd who antagonised local Mafiosi, and in Rome 11 O'Clock (1952), based on a true story of a rickety staircase that collapsed under a queue of unemployed girls hoping for a job interview.

Raf Vallone (left) in a scene from Il Cammino della Speranza, in which he starred with his future wife, Elena Varzi (right)
Raf Vallone (left) in a scene from Il Cammino della Speranza,
in which he starred with his future wife, Elena Varzi (right)
In Pietro Germi’s Il Cammino della Speranza (The Road to Hope, 1951) Vallone starred alongside Elena Varzi, whom he later married and with whom he had three children.

The popularity of neorealist films declined as Italy’s shattered post-War economy began to recover, when audiences decided they no longer wished to be reminded of the hard times they had left behind. For a while, Vallone’s career stalled.

Ever eager to try different things, however, Vallone now set his sights on the stage.  He travelled to Paris and London, where he was inspired in particular by Peter Brook’s production of the Arthur Miller play A View From the Bridge, in which he felt the role of the Italian-American longshoreman Eddie Carbone, tormented by a sexual fixation with a niece, was made for him.

He had the chance to play the character when Brook took the play on tour to Paris. Vallone’s performances at the Theatre Antoine, where the play ran for 550 nights, were frequently received with ovations from the audience, and earned him the same part in Sidney Lumet’s 1961 film version of the play, which he shot in both English and French.

That movie helped cement Vallone’s popularity with American movie-going audiences.  During that time he also gave well received supporting roles in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women (1960) and Anthony Mann’s El Cid (1961), both co-starring Sophia Loren. Other actresses he co-starred with on included Gina Lollobrigida, Anna Magnani, Melina Mercouri and Simone Signoret.

In his later years, Vallone tended to play only cameos, such as in The Italian Job (1969) and The Godfather Part III (1990). He also directed for the stage, even trying his hand at opera with a production of Bellini’s Norma, with Renata Scotto in the lead role.

Tropea in Calabria enjoys a spectacular cliff-top location
Tropea in Calabria enjoys a spectacular cliff-top location
Travel tip:

Tropea, where Vallone was born, is for obvious reasons not a resort that attracts many holidaymakers other than Italians. Situated on the western coast of Calabria, the region that occupies the toe and the instep of the Italian peninsula, it is more than 400km (250 miles) south of Naples and though relatively close to Sicily – Messina is just 112km (70 miles) away – it tends to be a place flown over en route.  Yet it has much to recommend it, from its beautiful soft sandy beaches to the spectacular cliff-top setting of its historic old town, with its maze of narrow streets and sleepy southern Italian feel.  On a stretch of scenic coastline known as the Costa degli Dei – the Coast of the Gods – it is regarded by some regular visitors as one of Italy’s hidden gems.

Submerged rice fields are a feature of the countryside around Vercelli in the Po Valley
Submerged rice fields are a feature of the countryside
around Vercelli in the Po Valley
Travel tip:

The rice fields of the Po Valley represent the largest rice production area in the whole of Europe.  The Po Valley, or Po Plain, is vast, stretching about 650km (400 miles) from the Western Alps to the Adriatic Sea, bordered by the Alps to the north and the Apennines to the south, with an area of 46,000 sq km (18,000 sq mi).  Rice production is mainly centred on the province of Vercelli, between Milan and Turin, in which the town of Vercelli is surrounded in the summer months by submerged paddy fields, for which water is supplied by a canal from the Po River.  Rice has been grown in the area since the 15th century.

More reading:

Silvana Mangano - actress whose big break came with Bitter Rice

Vittorio De Sica and the neorealist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves

The earthy beauty of Oscar-winner Anna Magnani

Also on this day:

1600: The death of  'heretic' philosopher Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake

1653: The birth of composer Arcangelo Corelli

1796: The birth of composer Giovanni Pacini

11 January 2018

The Giannini sextuplets

The multiple birth that made history

Rosanna Gemelli and her babies featured on  the cover of Gente magazine each year
Rosanna Giannini and her babies featured on
 the cover of Gente magazine each year 
History was made on this day in 1980 when a schoolteacher from the Casentino valley in Tuscany gave birth to sextuplets in a hospital in Florence.

The babies – four boys and two girls – delivered between 4.17am and 4.22am at the Careggi Hospital, on the northern outskirts of the Tuscan capital, grew to become the first sextuplets in Europe to survive beyond infancy and only the second set in the world.

Their arrival turned the Gianninis - mum Rosanna and dad Franco - into instant celebrities and their house in Soci, a village in the municipality of Bibbiena, 60km (37 miles) east of Florence, was besieged by the world’s media, seeking pictures and interviews.

In Italy, the event was celebrated with particular enthusiasm, heralded as the good news the nation craved after a particularly difficult year marked by a series of catastrophes, including the Ustica plane crash, the bombing of Bologna railway station and the Irpinia earthquake.

The family eventually signed an exclusive deal with the best-selling Italian magazine Gente for access rights.  Photographs of the children appeared around the time of their birthday for a number of years and features were written by the magazine’s leading journalist, Achille Mezzadri, who would later ghostwrite Rosanna’s autobiography, Vivere con sei gemelli – Living with sextuplets.

The couple – Rosanna was 29 and Franco 30 – faced uncharted territory in raising six babies simultaneously and faced enormous bills, too, first needing to find a house that would accommodate them all.

The sextuplets made the cover of Gente when they began to attend school
The sextuplets made the cover of Gente
when they began to attend school
They received help from the Tuscan regional government, while Rosanna’s revelation that she had to wash at least five loads of clothes every day prompted a major detergent company to propose a television advertising campaign for their products featuring the Giannini family.

The multiple pregnancy came about after Rosanna, desperate to start a family with Franco after being married in 1976, had been given hormone treatment after fearing she was entering an unnaturally early menopause.

She became pregnant in April 1979 but after feeling unwell during a particularly hot summer that year she was admitted to hospital for tests.  There she underwent an ultrasound scan and was astonished when the nurse carrying out the scan told her she was expecting twins, then spotted the third, fourth, fifth and sixth babies.

Her gynaecologist told her to keep her news a secret to avoid media attention ahead of the event but once the babies arrived there was no keeping it quiet.  By an amazing coincidence, the only other surviving sextuplets in the world at that time had been born in South Africa on January 11, 1974.

The six Giannini children – Letizia, Linda, Fabrizio, Francesco, Giorgio and Roberto – all weighed between 2lb 9oz (1.16kg) and 3lb 12oz (1.7kg) and thrived through childhood and adolescence, although Francesco came through a difficult time when he developed a serious kidney problem as a 19-year-old.

He slipped into a coma for a while and Rosanna credits the intervention of Don Alvaro, the parish priest of nearby Arezzo, who visited him in hospital and performed a blessing with the relics of Padre Pio, the much-venerated saint, for bringing about his recovery.

Rosanna pictured in 2015, aged 64, when her  famous sextuplets turned 35
Rosanna pictured in 2015, aged 64, when her
famous sextuplets turned 35
Media interest in the family naturally tailed off after a number of years but in 2015, on the occasion of the children’s 35th birthday, Rosanna gave an interview to the Italian newspaper La Stampa in which she lamented the fact that, despite four of the six obtaining degrees and the other two passing their high school exams, only Giorgio, a business economics graduate, had a permanent job, as an auditor for a company in Florence.

Of the others, Linda and Letizia, both graduates, were teaching but only on temporary contracts, Roberto had a job in a textile factory and Fabrizio, the other graduate, was working in a shopping mall with no job security.  Francesco had recently been laid off from his office job.

“In a way my children are emblematic of today’s Italy,” she said. “Four have degrees, the other two have high school certificates, and yet four do not have permanent or stable jobs.”

She and Franco had, though, become grandparents for the first time thanks to the arrival in 2014 of Letizia’s son, Tommaso.

The hilltop town of Bibbiena
The hilltop town of Bibbiena
Travel tip:

Bibbiena is an ancient town situated on a hill overlooking the Archiano river with a well-preserved medieval centre not well known to tourists but which contains a number of attractive palaces and churches, including the 14th century Chiesa di San Lorenzo and the 12th century Chiesa di Santi Ippolito e Donato. The town is surrounded by typical Tuscan countryside of rolling hills dotted with characteristic larch, beech and fir trees.  The town has a strong tradition of producing pecorino cheese.

Arezzo's sloping Piazza Grande
Arezzo's sloping Piazza Grande
Travel tip:

The city of Arezzo is well worth including in any Tuscan itinerary. Its central square, the sloping Piazza Grande, is as beautiful as any in Italy, while the city’s Duomo has painted vaulted ceilings and a 15th-century fresco of Mary Magdalene by Piero della Francesca. The Basilica di San Francesco has a chapel decorated with more Piero frescoes and inside the Basilica di San Domenico can be found a 13th-century Crucifix painted by Cimabue.  Piazza Grande hosts a large antiques fair every month and an annual medieval festival entitled the Saracen Joust, which features “knights” on horseback representing different areas of the city.

11 November 2017

Germano Mosconi – sports writer and presenter

Short-tempered journalist who became the news

Broadcaster became an unintentional internet phenomenon
Broadcaster became an unintentional
internet phenomenon
Germano Mosconi, who became a well-known television personality, was born on this day in 1932 in San Bonifacio in the Veneto.

Mosconi became notorious for his short temper and swearing on air and was regarded as a bit of a character on local television. But he became known all over Italy and throughout the world after a video of him someone posted anonymously on the internet went viral.

In the 1980s Mosconi delivered sports reports on Telenuovo in Verona and in 1982 he received the Cesare d’Oro international award for journalistic merit.

But he later became known for his excessive swearing and blaspheming. The anonymous video showed his irate reactions to various problems he encountered while broadcasting, such as people unexpectedly entering the studio, background noises and illegible writing on the news sheets he received.

His use of swearwords, blasphemy and insults in both Italian and Venetian dialect and his other humorous antics made the video compulsive viewing all over the world.

Internet forums discussing Mosconi appeared and Mosconi fan clubs were set up.

However, the sports journalist did not relish his notoriety and declined every request for an interview related to the video.

Away from television, he edited the German-language magazine Gardasee Zeitung, dedicated to tourists visiting Lake Garda, and worked for the newspapers Il Gazzettino and L’Arena in Verona.

Mosconi died in Verona in 2012 at the age of 79, following a long illness. He left a wife, Elsa, and one daughter, Margherita.

The cathedral in San Bonifacio
The cathedral in San Bonifacio
Travel tip:

San Bonifacio, where Mosconi was born, is a town in the province of Verona about 25 kilometres to the east of the city of Verona. It borders the municipality of Soave, where the famous white wine is produced. San Bonifacio’s main sights are the seventh century Abbey of St Peter with its imposing 12th century bell tower and the 12th century cathedral.

Travel tip:

Verona is famous as the city of Romeo and Juliet and for opera. Mosconi worked as a broadcaster there and also as a journalist on L’Arena, which was founded in 1866, before the Veneto became part of the Kingdom of Italy, and is one of the oldest newspapers in Italy. Named after the Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra, which hosts concerts and operas every summer, the newspaper is now based in San Martino Buon Albergo, a suburb of Verona.

22 July 2017

Indro Montanelli – journalist

Veteran writer who cast a critical eye on Italian politics and society

Indro Montanelli, in the offices of Corriere della Sera, working
from an improvised chair made from a pile of books
A writer and journalist regarded as one of the greatest of 20th century Italy, Indro Montanelli, died on this day in 2001 in Milan.

The previous year he had been named as one of 50 World Press Freedom Heroes by the International Press Institute.

Montanelli had been a witness to many of the major events of the 20th century. He was in Danzig when Hitler rejected the ultimatum from Britain and France in September 1939. He was in the streets of Budapest in 1956 when Soviet tanks rolled in and he was shot in the legs by Red Brigades terrorists on an Italian street in 1977.

Montanelli was born Indro Alessandro Raffaello Scizogene Montanelli in 1909 at Fucecchio near Florence.

He studied for a law degree at the University of Florence in the early 1920s and began his journalistic career by writing for the Fascist newspaper, Il Selvaggio.

Montanelli in Ethiopia in 1936
Montanelli in Ethiopia in 1936
He then worked as a crime reporter for Paris Soir before serving as a volunteer with Italian troops in the Eritrean Battalion in Ethiopia - Abyssinia as it was then - where he wrote war reports which later formed the basis for the first of his 40 books. 

It was a book that honestly conveyed what Montanelli had seen, some of which caused him to change his mind about Benito Mussolini, the Fascist leader. It was a little too honest for the Fascist oligarchy, however, and, after his similarly objective reporting on the Spanish civil war did not meet with Fascist approval, his press accreditation was withdrawn.

Despite this, he continued to write, the Corriere della Sera getting around the ban on his working as a journalist by hiring him as a ‘collaborator’, in which capacity he sent back reports from Scandinavia and the Baltic States, the Balkans and Greece.

After witnessing the disastrous Italian invasion of Greece, Montanelli decided to join the partisan movement against the Fascist regime.

During the Nazi occupation of Italy he was arrested and narrowly avoided being executed. His reprieve was thanks to the intervention of some influential admirers who put pressure on the Germans.

His prison experiences inspired him to write a novel, Il Generale della Rovere, based on his meeting in prison with a German spy posing as an Allied military commander, which was later filmed by Roberto Rossellini and won the Venice Golden Lion in 1959.

Montanelli pictred in Milan in 1992
Montanelli pictred in Milan in 1992
After the war, Montanelli co-edited a magazine called Il Borghese, which tried to cater for what remained of right-wing cultural tastes in a country divided between the Communists and Christian Democrats.

His increasing anger at the Communists was to eventually win the approval of media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, who backed the right-leaning newspaper, Il Giornale, which Montanelli had founded in 1973 after breaking away from Corriere following a change in the paper's political direction.

Montanelli remained as the editor until 1994 when he fell out with Berlusconi after criticising his entry into politics.

The journalist was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1995.

It was Gianni Agnelli, then proprietor, who persuaded Montanelli to return to Corriere, where he commented on prominent Italians in editorials and on a letter’s page entitled Montanelli’s Room.

He spent his last years vigorously opposing Silvio Berlusconi’s politics.

Montanelli also wrote a series of successful history books, including one about Rome, which became a regular textbook used in schools.

Towards the end of his life, Montanelli lived in an apartment overlooking Piazza Navona in Rome.

He died at the age of 92 after a prostate cancer operation at a clinic in Milan.

The day after his death, Corriere della Sera published a letter he had written on its front page, ‘Indro Montanelli’s farewell to his readers’.

The journalist had also left instructions for his ashes be placed in an urn above his mother’s tomb at Fucecchio.

Montanelli's reputation was tarnished by his admission that he bought a 12-year-old Ethiopian girl to be his wife during Mussolini’s campaign in Ethiopia, in common with other Italian soldiers, who took advantage of local laws that made such marriages legal. Asked about the marriage on a television interview in 1969, Montanelli refused to apologise. 

The house in Piazza Garibaldi in Fucecchio, near Florence, where Montanelli was born
The house in Piazza Garibaldi in Fucecchio, near
Florence, where Montanelli was born
Travel tip:

Fucecchio, where Indro Montanelli was born, is a municipality  of Florence. One of the major sights in the town is the Abbey of San Salvatore which was built in the upper part of Fucecchio in the 11th century. The town is mentioned frequently in the 1917 opera Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini.

Travel tip:

Indro Montanelli was among many distinguished Italian writers who worked for Corriere della Sera, a daily newspaper founded in 1876 in Milan. The newspaper’s headquarters have been in the same building in Via Solferino in the centre of Milan since the beginning of the 20th century.

29 June 2017

Oriana Fallaci - journalist

Writer known for exhaustively probing interviews

Oriana Fallaci interviewed politicians and leaders from around the world
Oriana Fallaci interviewed politicians and
leaders from around the world 
Oriana Fallaci, who was at different times in her career one of Italy’s most respected journalists and also one of the most controversial, was born in Florence on this day in 1929.

As a foreign correspondent, often reporting from the world’s most hazardous regions in times of war and revolution, Fallaci interviewed most of the key figures on both sides of conflicts.

Many of these were assembled in her book Interview with History, in which she published accounts of lengthy conversations, often lasting six or seven hours, with such personalities as Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Willy Brandt, Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Henry Kissinger and the presidents of both South and North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Others she interviewed included Deng Xiaoping, Lech Wałęsa, Muammar Gaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini.

She seldom held back from asking the most penetrating and awkward questions. Henry Kissinger, the diplomat and former US Secretary of State, later described his meeting with Fallaci for a piece published in Playboy magazine as "the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press".

During her interview with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 she called him a “tyrant" to his face and attacked the chador – the full-length cloak she was obliged to wear for the interview – as representing “the apartheid Iranian women have been forced into after the revolution” and described it as “a stupid, medieval rag”.

Henry Kissinger described his encounter with Fallaci as "disastrous"
Henry Kissinger described his encounter
with Fallaci as "disastrous"
Fallaci’s stance on many political issues related to her background. Her father, Edoardo Fallaci, a cabinet maker in Florence, was a political activist opposed to the dictatorship of Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Despite her youth – she was only 10 when the conflict began – she supported her father’s cause during the Second World War by joining the anti-Fascist resistance movement, Giustizia e Libertà.

One of the tasks assigned to her was to smuggle a gun concealed in a basket of food into the Pitti Palace, where the Jewish writer Carlo Levi, author of the 1945 book Christ Stopped at Eboli, was in hiding.

She later wrote: “Whether it comes from a despotic sovereign or an elected president, from a murderous general or a beloved leader, I see power as an inhuman and hateful phenomenon ... I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”

As well as a child fighter against the Fascists, Fallaci also displayed precocious talent as a journalist, becoming a special correspondent for the Italian paper Il mattino dell'Italia centrale in 1946, when she was just 16.

Her work as a war correspondent began in earnest 20 years later.  Beginning in 1967, she worked as a war correspondent for a number of newspapers and magazines, covering Vietnam, the Indo-Pakistani War, the Middle East, and South America.  During the 1968 massacre of students at Tiatelolco in Mexico, she herself was shot three times.

Fellaci in the chador she was told to wear to interview Ayatollah Khomeini
Fellaci in the chador she was told to
wear to interview Ayatollah Khomeini
Fallaci won many awards for her work and was also honoured by the Italian state, the city of Milan and the Council of Tuscany, where she kept a home even while living mostly in New York, for her contribution to Italian culture.

Later in her career, she attracted controversy for her writings on Islamic fundamentalism, which she regarded as a threat which was the equal of Fascism in her youth.  She accused European politicians of not taking the threat seriously.

Two books, The Rage and the Pride and The Force of Reason, sold more than a million copies in Italy alone but Fallaci was criticised for using language that was extreme and for appearing to demonise Muslims in general, although a number of legal actions against her failed because the state ruled that she was protected by freedom of speech laws.

Fallaci died in Florence aged 77 in 2006, having suffered from lung cancer.  Although a smoker all her life, she claimed she developed the disease after being exposed to smoke from oil wells torched on the orders of Saddam Hussein while she was reporting from Kuwait in 1991.

She was buried at the Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori in Florence alongside family members and close to a memorial to Alexandros Panagoulis, a former Greek resistance fighter with whom she formed a relationship in the 1970s but who was killed in a mysterious road accident, which Fallaci claimed was an assassination by remnants of the 1960s Greek military junta.

Fallaci's tomb at the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori
Fallaci's tomb at the Cimitero
Evangelico degli Allori
Travel tip:

The Cimitero Evangelico agli Allori is situated between Florence and Galluzzo Certosa, a town about five kilometres outside the city centre. It was in 1860 when the non-Catholic communities of Florence could no longer bury their dead in the English Cemetery in Piazzale Donatello. Apart from Fellaci, it houses the remains of the British writer and aesthete Sir Harold Acton, the American sculptor Thomas Ball and Alice Keppel, the mistress of the British monarch King Edward VII.

Travel tip:

Florence’s Palazzo Pitti – the Pitti Palace – was originally built in the second half of the 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi for Luca Pitti, but was unfinished at his death in 1472. The building was purchased in 1550 by Eleonora da Toledo, the wife of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, and became the official residence of the family. It was expanded in 1560 by Bartolomeo Ammannati. More work was carried out in the 17th century by Giulio and Alfonso Parigi, giving the building its present day look.

19 March 2017

Benito Jacovitti - cartoonist

Multiple comic characters loved by generations 

Benito Jacovitti
Benito Jacovitti

Benito Jacovitti, who would become Italy's most famous cartoonist, was born on this day in 1923 in the Adriatic coastal town of Termoli.

Jacovitti drew for a number of satirical magazines and several newspapers but also produced much work aimed at children and young adults.

His characters became the constant companions of generations of schoolchildren for more than 30 years via the pages of Diario Vitt, the school diary produced by the publishers of the Catholic comic magazine Il Vittorioso, which had a huge readership among teenagers and young adults, and for which Jacovitti drew from 1939 until it closed in 1969.

Jacovitti gave life to such characters as "the three Ps" - Pippo, Pertica and Pallo - as well as Chicchiriccì and Jack Mandolino via their cartoon adventures in Il Vittorioso, introduced Zorry Kid, a parody of Zorro, through a later association with children's journal Il Corriere del Picoli, and the cowboy Cocco Bill, who emerged during his 10-year stint as cartoonist for the daily newspaper, Il Giorno.

Cocco Bill, the character Jacovitti created during his years working for Il Giorno
Cocco Bill, the character Jacovitti created
during his years working for Il Giorno
Born Benito Franco Iacovitti, he was the son of a railway worker.  Both his parents had Albanian origins. His first names stemmed from his father's fascination with the powerful political figures of the time.

Benito showed the first evidence of his artistic talent as a small child. He would draw comic stories on pavements in Termoli at the age of six.  The family moved to Macerata in Marche, where Jacovitti attended art school from the age of 11, and then to Florence, where he enrolled at the Art Institute as a 16-year-old.

It was there that he acquired the nickname lisca di pesce (fishbone) on account of his rather scrawny physique. He adopted the nickname as his signature.

He launched his career with the Florentine satirical magazine Il Brivido, where he decided he preferred his second name to begin with a 'J' rather than an 'I'.  The work with Il Vittorioso came soon afterwards and made him a household name.

Notable for his sense of the absurd, Jacovitti drew figures that inevitably had huge noses and gigantic feet and were sometimes quite grotesque. He has cited Elzie Crisler Segar, creator of Popeye, as one of his influences.

Though he became known for the characters and storylines he invented for his young audience, Jacovitti continued to maintain his skills as a satirist, drawing for the magazine Il Travaso for much of the 1950s under the signature of 'Franz'.

The Pippo cartoons with Il Vittorioso  established Jacovitti's popularity
The Pippo cartoons with Il Vittorioso
established Jacovitti's popularity
During his time with Il Travaso, he collaborated with the film director Federico Fellini on an anti-communist strip that was very popular.

Controversially, he also worked on Kamasultra, a comic book parody of the Hindu adult text the Kamasutra, which in some eyes somewhat tarnished Jacovitti's reputation.

He began to draw for newspapers in the 1950s, first for Quotidiano and, from 1956 to 1966, for Il Giorno, the national daily based in Milan.

Jacovitti's work was published in many other periodicals in Italy and abroad and he had commercial companies queuing up to use his characters in advertising for their products. They appeared in commercials for Eldorado ice cream, Fiorucci salami, Teodoro oils and Fiat cars among others.

During his career, Jacovitti created more than 60 characters and produced around 150 books, making him one of the most prolific and original artists in comic book history.

He was a great admirer of Carlo Collodi, the creator of Pinocchio, and illustrated a number of editions of the famous story during his career.

Awarded the title of Knight Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by the President, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, in 1994, he died in Rome in 1997 at the age of 74.

Travel tip:

Termoli, once primarily a fishing port but now a popular tourist resort, particularly with Italian families who flock to its sandy beaches, is notable for the Borgo Antico, an historic old town that sits on a promontory surrounded by walls which, on one side, drop into the sea.  An 11th century castle stands guard at the entrance and many of the houses are painted in pastel colours.  The Cathedral of St Mary of the Purification, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, is an example of Apulian Romanesque design. Contained within are the remains of the town's two patron saints, Bassus of Lucera and Timothy.

Termoli hotels by  

Macerata hosts the Sferisterio Opera Festival every summer
Macerata hosts the Sferisterio Opera Festival every summer
Travel tip:

The walled city of Macerata in Marche is not among Italy's mainstream tourist destinations yet offers much to charm the visitor with its hill-town characteristics and maze of cobbled streets.  At the heart of the city, in the pretty Piazza della Libertà, is the Loggia dei Mercanti with its two-tier arcades, dating from the Renaissance. There are several beautiful palaces and a university that is among the oldest it Italy, established in 1290.  Each July and August the city hosts the Sferisterio Opera Festival, one of the most important dates on the Italian opera calendar, which is held in the 2,500 seat open-air Arena Sferisterio, a huge neoclassical arena built in the 1820s. Most of the world's great opera singers have performed there, attracted by its perfect acoustics, and it has been credited with staging some of the finest productions in the history of numerous regularly performed works, including Ken Russell's direction of Puccini's La Bohème in 1984.