Showing posts with label Umberto Eco. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Umberto Eco. Show all posts

12 December 2018

Susanna Tamaro - bestselling author

Writer’s third published novel was international hit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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and it was not until 1989, when the Marsilio publishing house began a project aimed at launching a series of young unpublished writers, that she managed to make her literary debut with La testa tra le nuvole - Head in the Clouds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More reading:

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

The broad intellectual talents of Umberto Eco

How screen siren Virna Lisi turned back on glamour roles

Also on this day:

1685: The birth of composer Lodovico Giustini

1901: Marconi receives first transatlantic radio signal

1969: The Piazza Fontana bombing


9 December 2018

Teofilo Folengo – poet

Style of writer’s verses took its name from the dumpling

A portrait of Teofilo Folengo by Girolamo Romanino, owned by the Uffizi museum in Florence
A portrait of Teofilo Folengo by Girolamo Romanino,
owned by the Uffizi museum in Florence
Teofilo Folengo, who is remembered as one of the principal Italian ‘macaronic’ poets, died on this day in 1544 in the monastery of Santa Croce in Campese, a district of Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto.

Folengo published, under the pseudonym Merlin Cocaio, a macaronic narrative poem entitled Baldo, which was a humorous send up of ancient epic and Renaissance chivalric romance.

Writing in verse that mixed vernacular language with Latin became known as macaronic verse, the word deriving from the Latin macaronicus and the Italian maccarone, which meant dumpling, fare mixed crudely from different ingredients that at the time was regarded as a coarse, peasant food. It is presumed to be the origin of the modern Italian word maccheroni.

Folengo was a runaway Benedictine monk who satirised the monastic life using an invented, comic language that blended Latin with various Italian dialects.

Born Girolamo Folengo in 1491 in Cipada, a village near Mantua, he entered the Benedictine order as a young man taking the name Teofilo. He lived in monasteries in Brescia, Mantua and Padua, where he produced Latin verse written in the Virgilian style.

The cover of a book of macaronic verse by Folengo under his pseudonym
The cover of a book of macaronic verse
by Folengo under his pseudonym 
But he left the order to travel around the country with a young woman, Girolama Dieda. They often experienced great poverty as Folengo had no money apart from what he earned through writing.

For a few years he lived as a hermit near Sorrento, but he was readmitted to the Benedictine order in 1534 and remained in it, continuing to write, until his death.

Out of all his poetry, Baldo is considered to be his masterpiece and it has been republished five times. Full of satire and humour it describes the adventures of Baldo, who is supposed to be a descendant of the cousin of the medieval epic hero Roland. Baldo suffers imprisonment, battles with authority, pirates, witches and demons, and goes on a journey to the underworld.

The poem blended Latin with various Italian dialects in hexameter verse. The first English version, translated by Ann Mullaney, was published in 2007.

The term macaronic is still used to describe literature where the mixing of languages has a humorous or satirical effect. It is believed to have originated in Padua in the late 15th century, after the comic poem, Macaronea, by Tifi Odasi was published in about 1488, satirising the broken Latin used by doctors and officials to communicate with ordinary people.

Folengo once described his own verses as ‘a gross, rude and rustic mixture of flour, cheese and butter.’

Many modern Italian authors, including Umberto Eco and Dario Fo, have continued to use macaronic text.

The Palazzo Ducale in Mantua was the seat of the Gonzagas
The Palazzo Ducale in Mantua was the seat of the Gonzagas
Travel tip:

Cipada near Mantua, where Teofilo Folengo was born, was a village on the banks of a lake, but it no longer exists, having become part of the industrial area of Mantua. A main street, Strada Cipata, is the only reference to it that remains. On the other side of the lake is the historic area of Mantua, where the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of the Gonzaga family between 1328 and 1707, can be found.

The former monastery of Santa Croce in Campese, where Folengo died
The former monastery of Santa Croce
in Campese, where Folengo died
Travel tip:

The monastery of Santa Croce, where Teofilo Folengo died, is in Via IV Novembre in Campese, a district of Bassano del Grappa on the banks of the Brenta Canal. The monastery dates back to 1124 and for centuries was the most important religious centre in the area around the Brenta. There is a monument to Teofilo Folengo in the monastery, which is now used as a church. Close by is a square named after the poet, Piazza Teofilo Folengo.

More reading:

Giosuè Carducci - the poet who became the first Italian to win a Nobel Prize in literature

Why Torquato Tasso is known as Italy's greatest Renaissance poet

How Dario Fo's work denounced crime, corruption and racism

Also on this day:

1920: The birth of politician Carlo Azeglio Ciampi

1920: The birth of Bruno Ruffo, Italy's first motorcycling world champion

1946: The birth - near Vicenza - of Indian politician Sonia Gandhi


16 August 2018

Tonino Delli Colli – cinematographer

Craftsman who shot Life is Beautiful and Italy's first colour film

Tonino Delli Colli worked with some of the leading  directors in Italian movie history
Tonino Delli Colli worked with some of the leading
directors in Italian movie history
Antonio (Tonino) Delli Colli, the cinematographer who shot the first Italian film in colour, died on this day in 2005 in Rome.

The last film he made was Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, shot on location in Arezzo in Tuscany, for which he won his fourth David di Donatello Award for Best Cinematography.

Delli Colli was born in Rome and started work at the city’s Cinecittà studio in 1938, shortly after it opened, when he was just 16.

By the mid 1940s he was working as a cinematographer, or director of photography, who is the person in charge of the camera and light crews working on a film. He was responsible for making artistic and technical decisions related to the image and selected the camera, film stock, lenses and filters. Directors often conveyed to him what was wanted from a scene visually and then allowed him complete latitude to achieve that effect.

Delli Colli was credited as director of photography for the first time in 1943 on Finalmente Si (Finally Yes), directed by László Kish.

Toto a colori was the first Italian movie to be filmed in colour
Totò a colori was the first Italian movie
to be filmed in colour
In 1952 Delli Colli shot the first Italian film to be made in colour, Totò a colori. He had been reluctant to do it but was given no choice by his bosses.

The cinematographer once recalled in an interview that he had to make do with lighting for black and white films as colour lamps didn’t exist at that time and that he felt sorry for Totò, the comic actor, who was being constantly showered with light.

The arrival of colour changed everything and Delli Colli had to study each new product carefully. He became infuriated with Kodak as whenever a new product came out he had to start again from scratch.

He went on to work with acclaimed directors such as Sergio Leone, Roman Polanski, Louis Malle, Jean-Jacques Annaud and Federico Fellini. Annaud's The Name of the Rose (1986), based on the book by Umberto Eco, is regarded as among Delli Colli's best work.

Delli Colli shot three of Leone's biggest triumphs -  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America.

Delli Colli received a number of awards for his achievements
Delli Colli received a number
of awards for his achievements
He worked particularly well with Pier Paolo Pasolini, with whom he made 12 films and formed a close bond.  The two teamed up on Pasolini’s first film as a director, Accattone (1961), and remained together throughout the director’s career, culminating with Salò (1976), which he helped restore after Pasolini’s death.

In 2005, at the age of 81, Delli Colli was awarded the American Society of Cinematographers’ International Achievement award.

Later that same year he suffered a heart attack and died at his home in Rome on August 16.

Delli Colli was posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 13th annual Camerimage Film Festival in Poland.

The Cinecittà complex in Rome, situated about 12km (8 miles) southeast of the city centre
The Cinecittà complex in Rome, situated about
12km (8 miles) southeast of the city centre
Travel tip:

Cinecittà in Rome, the hub of the Italian film industry, is a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. Delli Colli began working there just a few months after it opened for business. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there and it has its own dedicated Metro stop.

The Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla in Arezzo
The Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla in Arezzo
Travel tip:

Life is Beautiful, for which Delli Colli won a David di Donatello Award in 1998, was shot in the centro storico of Arezzo, an interesting old town in eastern Tuscany. One of the scenes was filmed in front of the Badia delle Sante Flora e Lucilla, a medieval abbey. Right in the centre of the town, the 13th century Basilica di San Francesco is the most famous tourist attraction, as it contains Piero della Francesco’s cycle of frescoes, The Legend of the True Cross, painted between 1452 and 1466 and considered to be his finest work.

More reading:

The actress who stood by Pier Paolo Pasolini

The distinctive style of Sergio Leone

How Roberto Benigni became the first Italian male actor to win an Oscar

Also on this day:

1650: The birth of globe maker Vincenzo Coronelli

2006: The death of Umberto Baldini, who saved hundreds of artworks damaged in Florence floods


21 August 2017

Emilio Salgari – adventure novelist

Author’s heroes and stories are still part of popular culture

The novelist Emilio Salgari, photographed  in the early 20th century
The novelist Emilio Salgari, photographed
 in the early 20th century
Emilio Salgari, who is considered the father of Italian adventure fiction, was born on this day in 1862 in Verona.

Despite producing a long list of novels that were widely read in Italy, many of which were turned into films, Salgari never earned much money from his work. His life was blighted by depression and he committed suicide in 1911.

But he is still among the 40 most translated Italian authors and his most popular novels have been adapted as comics, animated series and films. Although he was not given the credit at the time, he is now considered the grandfather of the Spaghetti Western.

Salgari was born into a family of modest means and from a young age wanted to go to sea. He studied seamanship at a naval academy in Venice but was considered not good enough academically and never graduated.

He started writing as a reporter on the Verona daily newspaper La Nuova Arena, which published some of his fiction as serials. He developed a reputation for having lived a life of adventure and claimed to have explored the Sudan, met Buffalo Bill in Nebraska and sailed the Seven Seas. He actually met Buffalo Bill during his Wild West Show tour of Italy and never ventured further than the Adriatic.

He turned his passion for exploration and discovery into adventure fiction, signing his stories, Captain Salgari.

The cover of Salgari's 1900 novel, Le Tigri di Mompracem (The Tigers of Monpracem
The cover of Salgari's 1900 novel, Le Tigri
di Mompracem (The Tigers of Monpracem)
He once had to defend his pen name by fighting a duel, after his claim to the title was questioned.

Salgari married Ida Peruzzi, with whom he had four children, but despite his popularity in Italy and many countries abroad, he earned little money from his books and the family had to live hand to mouth.

In 1889 Salgari’s father committed suicide, then in 1903 Ida became ill and Salgari struggled to pay her medical bills. He became increasingly depressed and attempted suicide in 1910.

After Ida was committed to a mental hospital in 1911, Salgari took his own life by imitating the Japanese ritual of seppuku, disemboweling himself in the style of a samurai warrior.

He left a letter for his publisher, saying: ‘To you that have grown rich from the sweat of my brow while keeping myself and my family in misery, I ask only that from those profits you find the funds to pay for my funeral. I salute you while I break my pen. Emilio Salgari.’ One of his sons was also to commit suicide in 1933.

By the time he died, Salgari had written more than 200 adventure stories and novels set in exotic locations, inspired by reading foreign literature, travel magazines and encyclopediae.

His major series were The Pirates of Malaysia, The Black Corsair Saga and the The Pirates of Bermuda. He also wrote adventures set in the west of America. His heroes were pirates and outlaws fighting against greed and corruption.

Sergio Leone is said to have been a fan of Salgari's books, said to have been the inspiration for his Spaghetti Westerns
Sergio Leone is said to have been a fan of Salgari's books,
said to have been the inspiration for his Spaghetti Westerns
He opposed colonisation and his legendary hero, the pirate Sandokan, led his men in attacks against the Dutch and British fleets.

His books had been so popular that his publisher hired other writers to produce stories in Salgari’s name after his death, but no other Italian adventure writer was ever as successful as Salgari.

His style spread to films and television, with Sergio Leone’s outlaw heroes in his Spaghetti Westerns being inspired by Salgari’s characters.

Among the 50 film adaptations of Salgari’s novels is Morgan the Pirate, starring Steve Reeves.
His books were enjoyed by celebrities such as Federico Fellini, Pietro Mascagni, Umberto Eco and Che Guevara.

In the late 1990s, new translations of his novels began to be published and in 2001 the National Salgari Association was founded in Italy to celebrate his work.

It has been suggested that the first film adaptation of a Salgari novel was Cabiria, directed by Giovanni Pastrone, which bears many similarities to Salgari’s 1908 adventure novel, Carthage is Burning.

Federico Fellini was another fan
Federico Fellini was another fan
Gabriele D’Annunzio was billed as the official screenwriter but he came on board only after the film had been shot to change some of the names and captions.

Vitale di Stefano then brought Salgari’s pirates to the big screen in the early 1920s with a series of films that included The Black Corsair and The Queen of the Caribbean.

Salgari’s popular character, Sandokan, was played by Steve Reeves in Sandokan the Great and The Pirates of Malaysia. A Sandokan television miniseries later appeared throughout Europe starring Kabir Bedi in the title role.

Earlier this year, Neapolitan anti-mafia investigators announced plans to indict Francesco 'Sandokan' Schiavone, for the killing of a policeman in 1989. The gangster’s nickname shows Salgari’s character still has influence today, more than a century after his creator’s death.

The Arena at Verona, the city's most famous landmark
The Arena at Verona, the city's most famous landmark
Travel tip:

Emilio Salgari was born in Verona, which was made famous by another writer as the city of Romeo and Juliet. He began his writing career on the daily Nuova Arena newspaper, now called 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 L’Arena, the Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra that hosts concerts and operas, the newspaper is now based in San Martino Buon Albergo, a small town just outside Verona.

The imposing entrance to the Cimitero Monumentale
The imposing entrance to the Cimitero Monumentale
Travel tip:

After his dramatic death, Emilio Salgari was laid to rest in the Cimitero Monumentale just outside the city walls of Verona in Piazzale del Cimitero. Designed by Giuseppe Barbieri in 1829, the cemetery has an impressive neo-classical façade with two carved lions on each side of the steps. These have prompted the Veronese to refer to the cemetery as Hotel dei Leoni, the hotel of the lions.

11 June 2017

Corrado Alvaro - writer and journalist

Novelist from Calabria won Italy's most prestigious literary prize

Corrado Alvaro
Corrado Alvaro
The award-winning writer and journalist Corrado Alvaro died on this day in 1956 at the age of 61.

Alvaro won the Premio Strega, Italy’s most prestigious literary prize, in 1951 with his novel Quasi una vita – Almost a Life.

The Premio Strega – the Strega Prize – has been awarded to such illustrious names as Alberto Moravia, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Elsa Morante, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco and Dacia Maraini since its inception in 1947.

Alvaro made his debut as a novelist in 1926 but for much of his life his literary career ran parallel with his work as a journalist.

He was born in San Luca, a small village in Calabria at the foot of the Aspromonte massif in the southern Apennines. His father Antonio was a primary school teacher who also set up classes for illiterate shepherds.

Corrado was sent away to Jesuit boarding schools in Rome and Umbria before graduating with a degree in literature in 1919 at the University of Milan.

He began his newspaper career writing for Il Resto di Carlino of Bologna and Milan’s Corriere della Sera, both daily newspapers, for whom he combined reporting with literary criticism.

Gente in Aspromonte was Alvaro's breakthrough novel in 1931
Gente in Aspromonte was Alvaro's
breakthrough novel in 1931
After serving in the Italian army during the First World War, in which he was wounded in both arms and spent a long time in hospital, he resumed his journalistic career as a correspondent in Paris (France) for the anti-Fascist paper Il Mondo. In 1925, he supported Benedetto Croce’s Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals.

Alvaro’s debut novel L’uomo nel labirintothe Man in the labyrinth, published in 1926, explored the growth of Fascism in Italy in the 1920s, when his politics made him the target of surveillance by Mussolini's Fascist regime. Worried about the possibility of arrest, he moved to Berlin in 1928, and subsequently spent time in the Middle East and the Soviet Union.

On his return to Italy, having had little success with his early novels, he made a breakthrough in 1931 when Gente in Aspromonte, his 1930 novel about an uprising in the area around his home village, won a 50,000 lira prize sponsored by the newspaper La Stampa after impressing a judging panel including the novelist and playwright Luigi Pirandello.

Ironically, given that he was previously under scrutiny as an anti-Fascist, his 1938 novel L’uomo è forte – Man is strong – led him to be accused of being a Fascist sympathiser because its content was strongly critical of communist totalitarianism. Nonetheless, the book won the literary prize of the Accademia d’Italia in 1940.

Alvaro lost his father in 1941 but retained his connection with Calabria through his mother, who had moved from San Luca to nearby Caraffa del Bianco, where his brother, Massimo, was parish priest.

The monument to Corrado Alvaro in Reggio Calabria
The monument to Corrado Alvaro in Reggio Calabria
During the Second World War, Alvaro was briefly editor of the Rome newspaper Il Popolo but he was forced to flee Rome in the later years of the war to escape the Nazi occupation, taking refuge in Chieti, where he assumed a false name, Guido Giorgi, and made a living by giving English lessons.

In 1945 he was co-founder of the Italian Association of Writers, of which he became secretary two years later, a position he retained until his death.  He continued to write for prominent Italian newspapers and penned several more novels and a number of screenplays.

His Strega Prize in 1951 came in a vintage year for Italian literature, coinciding with the publication of L'orologio – the Clock – by Carlo Levi , Il conformista – the Conformist – by Alberto Moravia , A cena col commendatore – Dinner with the commander – by Mario Soldati and Gesù, fate luce – Jesus, make light – by Domenico Rea.

Alvaro died in Rome from lung cancer, having previously undergone surgery for an abdominal tumour. He is buried in the small cemetery of Vallerano in the province of Viterbo in Lazio, about 80km (50 miles) north-west of Rome, where he had bought a large country house in 1939.

His memory is celebrated both in Lazio and Calabria.

In Vallerano, a street, a library and an elementary school are named in his honour, with a statue at the entrance to the library.  The city also established a Corrado Alvaro literary prize in 2015.

In Calabria, the Aspromonte National Park contains a cultural itinerary that includes San Luca and a ‘literary park’ in his name. The regional capital, Reggio Calabria, honoured him with a monument in Piazza Indipendenza.

San Luca is on the eastern slope of Aspromonte
San Luca is on the eastern slope of Aspromonte
Travel tip:

That Alvaro’s home town of San Luca, situated on the eastern slopes of Aspromonte, could produce a literary giant of his standing is remarkable given its history as a stronghold of the N’drangheta – the Calabrian mafia – and the fact that in 1900, when Alvaro was five, it had no drinking water and a 100 per cent illiteracy rate. The only way to reach the village during his childhood was on foot. The convent known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi, founded in 1144 by Roger II of Sicily, is situated in a spectacular setting at the foot of a deep gorge just outside the town.

The Loggia del Palazzo dei Papi in Viterbo
The Loggia del Palazzo dei Papi in Viterbo
Travel tip:

Viterbo in Lazio is regarded as one of the best preserved medieval towns in Italy, with the historic San Pellegrino quarter, which features an abundance of typical external staircases, at its centre.  The Palazzo dei Papi, which was the papal palace for about 20 years in the 13th century, and the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, which dates back to the 12th century, has a 14th century Gothic belfry and was largely rebuilt in the 16th century, are among a number of impressive buildings.

5 January 2016

Umberto Eco – novelist and semiotician

Prolific author became fascinated with signs and symbols

Academic and writer Umberto Eco was born on this day in 1932 in Alessandria in Piedmont.
Umberto Eco's novels, The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, were worldwide bestsellers
Umberto Eco
He is best known for his mystery novel, The Name of the Rose - Il Nome della Rosa, which was first published in Italian in 1980, but he is also a respected expert on semiotics, the branch of linguistics concerned with signs and symbols.

Eco studied medieval literature and philosophy at the University of Turin and after graduating worked in television as well returning to lecture at the University of Turin.

He has since been a visiting professor at a number of American universities and has received honorary doctorates from universities in America and Serbia.

As well as producing fiction, he has published books on medieval aesthetics, literary criticism, media culture, anthropology and philosophy. He has also helped to found an important new approach in contemporary semiotics and to launch a journal on semiotics.

Eco set his first novel, The Name of the Rose, in a 14th century monastery with a Franciscan friar as the detective. The book has been described as ‘an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory’. In 1986 it was made into a film starring Sean Connery.

Buy The Name Of The RoseFoucault's Pendulum and Numero Zero.

His novel Foucault’s Pendulum, published in 1988, is about three book editors who decide to have a bit of fun with what they think is a fictional plot to take over the world by a secret order descended from the Knights Templar. But when the story takes over and the deaths start mounting up they are forced to make a frantic search for the truth.

Eco’s most recent novel, Numero Zero, has now been translated from the original Italian by Richard Dixon. First published in English in November 2015, it has been described as being about ‘Mussolini, media hoaxes, gossip and murder’.

Now 84, Eco divides his time between living in his apartment in Milan and his holiday home near Urbino.

UPDATE - Umberto Eco died in Milan in February 2016.

Travel tip:

Alessandria is an historic city about 90 km south east of Turin in Piedmont. It is easy to reach as it is on the Turin–Genoa railway line and is a hub for six other railway lines. It has 14th and 15th century churches in the centre to look round as well as a museum devoted to the Battle of Marengo, which was fought near the town in 1800 between Austrian and French forces.

Umberto Eco has a home in Urbino in the Marche region
A view over the walled city of Urbino
Photo: Zyance (CC BY-SA 2.5)
Travel tip:

Urbino is a walled city in the Marche region with a remarkable legacy of Renaissance architecture. One of the highlights is the Palazzo Ducale, built in the 15th century for Federico II da Montefeltro and now home to one of the most important collections of Renaissance paintings in the world.