20 December 2016

Gigliola Cinquetti - singer and TV presenter

Eurovision win at 16 launched successful career

Gigliola Cinquetti was only 16 when she won Eurovision in 1964
Gigliola Cinquetti was only 16
when she won Eurovision in 1964
Gigliola Cinquetti, who was the first Italian to win the Eurovision Song Contest, was born on this day in 1947 in Verona.

She took the prize in Copenhagen in 1964 with Non ho l'età (I'm Not Old Enough), with music composed by Nicola Salerno and lyrics by Mario Panzeri.

Just 16 years old at the time, she scored an overwhelming victory, gaining 49 points from the judges. The next best song among 16 contenders, which was the United Kingdom entry I Love the Little Things, sung by Matt Monro, polled just 17 points.

Non ho l'età became a big hit, selling more than four million copies and even spending 17 weeks in the UK singles chart, where songs in foreign languages did not traditionally do well. It had already won Italy's prestigious Sanremo Music Festival, which served as the qualifying competition for Eurovision at that time.

Italy had finished third on two occasions previously at Eurovision, which had been launched in 1956. Domenico Modugno, singing Nel blu, dipinto di blu (later renamed Volare) was third in 1958, as was Emilio Pericoli in 1963, singing Uno per tutte.

Watch Gigliola Cinquetti's performance at Eurovision 1964

None of the country's entries went so close until Cinquetti herself finished runner-up 10 years later with Sì, which was a creditable effort given that it was the 1974 contest, staged in Brighton, that introduced the world to ABBA, whose song Waterloo went on to become one of the best-selling singles of all time.

Abba, the Swedish pop phenomenon whose emergence at  Eurovision in 1974 denied Cinquetti a second win
Abba, the Swedish pop phenomenon whose emergence at
Eurovision in 1974 denied Cinquetti a second win
Encouraged by her success in the UK with No ho l'età, Cinquetti released an English version of Sì, entitled Go (Before You Break My Heart).  The move paid off when the single climbed to No 8 in the UK singles chart.

Sales suffered at home in Italy, however, because of the decision by state broadcaster RAI to ban the song from being played on TV and radio for a month out of fears that it would influence the upcoming referendum on the divorce law.  The electorate were being asked to vote 'sì' or 'no' on whether to repeal legislation passed three years earlier that lifted the ban on divorce and RAI were worried that the repetition of the word 'sì' in the song would subliminally influence the vote.

Cinquetti had been born into a wealthy family in Verona.  After attending art school, she began to study architecture and philosophy at university but her success in 1964 led her to concentrate more and more on her music career, in which she enjoyed considerable success.

She won Sanremo again in 1966, accompanied by Domenico Modugno in a duet, Dio come ti Amo - God how I love you - and had a series of hits in Italy before reinforced her fame outside Italy.

In the 1990s, Cinquetti's career took a different direction.  She co-hosted the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest, staged in Rome, alongside Toto Cutugno, who had become Italy's second winner in Zagreb the year before, and performed so impressively she was encouraged to pursue an interest she had already expressed in becoming a television presenter.

Gigliola Cinquetti pictured with her husband, the journalist, writer and director Luciano Teodori
Gigliola Cinquetti pictured with her husband, the
journalist, writer and director Luciano Teodori
She subsequently revealed a talent for TV journalism and presented a number of current affairs programmes for RAI.  She was awarded the Premio Giulietta alla Donna alla Carriera in 2008 in recognition of her diverse career.

More recently, Cinquetti has revived her singing career, embarking on a number of concert tours and recording new material.  One year ago today she released 20:12, her first studio album for 20 years, which included a hit single, Teardrops in an ocean, and a cover of the Rolling Stones 1966 single, Lady Jane.

She has been married since 1979 to the journalist, writer and director Luciano Teodori.  They have two children, Costantino and Giovanni.

Travel tip:

Verona's famous Roman amphitheatre, the Arena, stages an annual Opera Festival, which came into being in 1913 when a local tenor, Giovanni Zenatello, suggested to Ottone Rovato, a theatre manager in the city, that the 100th anniversary of the birth of the composer Giuseppe Verdi be commemorated with an open-air performance of Aida within the setting of the Arena.  It was such a popular and successful production that the venue soon became an established fixture on the opera calendar with stars queuing up to appear there.

Terracina's Duomo in Piazza del Municipio
Terracina's Duomo in Piazza del Municipio
Travel tip:

Gigliola Cinquetta says she met the man who would become her husband, Luciano Teodori, on the beach at Terracina, on the Tyrrhenian coast between Rome and Naples.  A pleasant resort town notable for a long sweep of sandy beach, it also has an interesting historic centre notable for an 11th Doumo in Piazza del Municipio, built on the site of a Roman temple to Augustus. The cathedral has a broad 18-step staircase leading to an entrance sheltered by a vestibule supported by columns resting on recumbent lions, and a Gothic-Romanesque campanile featuring small columns that echo the design of the vestibule.

More reading:

How Sanremo helped launch the career of Italian superstar Eros Ramazotti

Sixties star Rita Pavone conquered America

How a girl from an intellectual background in Venice became pop sensation Patty Pravo

Also on this day:

1856: Death of Sicilian patriot Francesco Bentivegna

(Photo of Terracina Duomo by MM via Wikimedia Commons)


19 December 2016

Gianni Brera - football journalist

Outspoken writer who embellished Italian language

Football journalist Gianni Brera
Football journalist Gianni Brera
Italy's football world lost one of its most influential personalities on this day in 1992 when a car crash near the town of Codogno in Lombardy claimed the life of the journalist Gianni Brera.

Brera, who was 73, had enjoyed a long and often controversial career in which his writing was famous not only for its literary quality but for his outspoken views.

He could be savage in his criticisms of players and allowed reputations to count for nothing.  His long-running feud with Gianni Rivera, the AC Milan midfielder regarded by many as one of Italian football's all-time greats, in some ways defined his career.

Yet the positions he occupied in Italian football journalism gained him enormous respect.  He rose to be editor-in-chief of La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy's biggest sports newspaper, before he was 30 and went on to write for Il Giorno, Il Giornale and La Repubblica among the country's heavyweight news dailies.

The intellectual La Repubblica for many years considered sport to be too trivial to be worthy of coverage, an attitude that persisted even through the 1970s. But the style and innovative brilliance of Brera's writing was a major factor in persuading them to drop their stance.

Famously, Brera introduced new words to the Italian language in his efforts to convey to his readers the things that he saw on the field in front of him and pass on his own interpretation of the game.

AC Milan star Gianni Rivera had a long-running feud with Brera
AC Milan star Gianni Rivera had a
long-running feud with Brera
For example, it was Brera who coined the term libero for the player designated as "sweeper" in the catenaccio defensive formation that dominated Italian football in the 1950s and 60s, and deemed that the players who could no longer be described as half-backs or inside forwards as the game moved away from the traditional 2-3-5 formation would be known in future as centrocampisti - midfielders.

Brera would also invent nicknames for players to amuse his readers.  He dubbed Rivera Abatino - the "little abbot" - and hailed the old-fashioned centre forward Luigi 'Gigi' Riva as Rombo di tuono - the "rumble of thunder".

He was a lifelong advocate of the ultra-defensive tactics characterised by the catenaccio system, and part of his antipathy towards Rivera stemmed from his belief that creative talents such as his were luxuries the game could do without.

Most of Brera's heroes were defenders and where many writers would enthuse about goals scored as moments of beauty in a match, Brera tended to see them as aberrations, the unwanted consequence of flawed defending.  His idea of perfection was a match in which the forwards were players of a manly vigour that constantly tested the defenders but which ultimately ended 0-0.

His spats with other journalists were also legend, most notably with the Neapolitan writer Gino Palumbo, a proponent of attacking play and therefore philosophically at odds with Brera.  The two once engaged in a punch-up in the press box before a match in Brescia.

The Arena Civica in Milan was renamed Arena Gianni Brera
The Arena Civica in Milan was renamed Arena Gianni Brera
At the same time, though, he enjoyed playing host to fellow journalists, players and coaches at his 'Thursday club' at a restaurant in central Milan, where he lived for much of his working life.

To avoid accusations of bias in debates about Milan's rival clubs, Brera always claimed he was a supporter of Genoa, Italy's oldest football club.

Born in 1919 in the village of San Zenone al Po, which sits on the banks of the River Po around 25km south-east of Pavia, Brera was the son of a tailor and barber, but his humble stock belied a considerable intellect, which he demonstrated in obtaining a degree in political sciences from the University of Pavia while simultaneously serving with a parachute division of the Italian army.

He regarded himself as Padanian rather than Italian and was vehemently anti-Fascist, fighting on the side of the Italian resistance towards the end of the Second World War, although proudly proclaiming later that he never fired a shot at a fellow human being.

After his death, Milan's monumental Arena Civica, the stadium conceived as the city's Colosseum by Napoleon I in the early 19th century, was renamed Arena Gianni Brera.

The Castello Visconteo is an attraction for visitors to Pavia
The Castello Visconteo is an attraction for visitors to Pavia
Travel tip:

The elegant Lombardy city of Pavia is renowned for its university, which is regarded as one of the best in Italy and numbers among its alumni the explorer Christopher Columbus and the poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo.  Among its important historic buildings are the well preserved 14th century Castello Visconteo, a Duomo dating back to the 15th century and the impressive Lombard-Romanesque church of San Michele Maggiore, which was completed in 1155.

Travel tip:

The Arena Gianni Brera in Milan, formerly known as the Arena Civica, can be found in the Parco Sempione behind the Castello Sforzesco. It is one of Milan's main examples of neoclassical architecture, an elliptical amphitheatre commissioned by Napoleon soon after he became King of Italy in 1805. At one time the home of the Milan football club Internazionale, it is nowadays a venue for international athletics and rugby union as well as being the home of Milan's third football team, Brera Calcio FC.

More reading:

18 December 2016

Camillo Castiglioni - business entrepreneur

Young man from Trieste who reached for the skies

Camillo Castiglioni - a rare portrait
Camillo Castiglioni
- a rare portrait
Camillo Castiglioni, a financier and aviation pioneer once reputed to be the wealthiest man in Central Europe, died on this day in 1957 in Rome.

Castiglioni was an Italian-Austrian banker who played a big part in the early days of aviation and also invested his wealth in the arts.

He was born in Trieste in 1879, when the port on the Adriatic, now firmly established as part of Italy, fell within the boundaries of Austria-Hungary.

His father, Vittorio, was a prominent figure in the large Jewish community in Trieste, where he was vice-rabbi, and there were hopes that Camillo might also become a rabbi. But after being educated in the law and working as an attorney and legal officer in a bank in Padua, where he quickly learnt about international finance and how to manage capital, it was clear his focus would be business.

Vittorio had been a rubber manufacturer and his son soon enjoyed financial success working as an agent in Vienna for a tyre maker in Constantinople.  He made good contacts both in business circles and the imperial court in Vienna, becoming a personal friend of the young Archduke Charles.

Enthused by the invention of the aeroplane, Castiglioni helped start the Viennese Aero Club and was appointed its general director. He recognised that the birth of aviation would give rise to a new industry and saw its financial potential, establishing his own ballooning and aviation company. He took the balloon driver examination successfully in 1909.

An early aircraft produced by Castiglioni's Hansa-Brandenburg company, from a design by Ernst Heinkel
An early aircraft produced by Castiglioni's Hansa-Brandenburg
company, from a design by Ernst Heinkel
During the First World War, Castiglioni became one of the richest and most influential financiers in Central Europe.  He was the first major investor in the production of aircraft. He bought a German aircraft company, employing Ernst Heinkel as chief designer, and supplied aircraft for the German military.

Foreseeing also the opportunities presented by the growth of the car industry, he also acquired a majority holding in the Austro-Daimler vehicle company and was a significant influence in the development of the car maker BMW during its early years, employing Ferdinand Porsche as chief engineer.

But Castiglioni suffered a series of business setbacks and his financial empire broke up in 1926.

He lost millions in particular when he became involved in speculation on the devaluation of the French franc and in 1924 an Austrian bank, of which he had been president, collapsed. A warrant for his arrest was issued, but Castiglioni had taken care to acquire Italian citizenship and was safely outside the reach of the Austrian authorities.

He retired to Switzerland initially, but then moved to live in Milan, where he set up a private bank and built up a fortune again.  Although he developed a close working relationship with Mussolini, the race laws introduced by the Fascist government somewhat complicated his position. Castiglioni went back to Switzerland and later spent some time in the United States.

Josip Broz Tito, the future leader of Yugoslavia, for whom Castiglioni arranged a loan
Josip Broz Tito, the future leader of Yugoslavia,
for whom Castiglioni arranged a loan
After the Second World War, through contacts made in the US, he returned to Italy and negotiated a large loan for his friend Josip Broz Tito, who would become the leader of communist Yugoslavia. When Tito refused to pay his commission, Castiglioni had his assets in Italy, which were worth millions, sequestered.

Away from his business activities, Castiglioni also built up a large art collection, including works by Donatello and some of the Venetian grand masters, although he had to sell much of it to refinance his business activities after his setbacks in the 1920s. He also established a theatre in Vienna.

Renowned for his dislike of publicity, he managed largely to avoid having his picture taken and few people recognised him in the street.  When he died in Rome at the age of 78, having been suffering from pneumonia, even the city's newspaper, Il Messaggero, devoted only a small space to his obituary.

He was at times accused of dubious practices in his banking activities and his life was documented in a an unflattering film in 1988, entitled ‘Camillo Castiglioni, or the morality of sharks’.

Travel tip:

The beautiful seaport of Trieste, where Camillo Castiglioni was born, officially became part of the Italian Republic in 1954. It is now the capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and one of the most prosperous areas of Italy. The city lies towards the end of a narrow strip of land situated between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia and it is also just 30 kilometres north of Croatia. Trieste has been disputed territory for thousands of years and throughout its history has been influenced by its location at the crossroads of the Latin, Slavic and Germanic cultures.

Hotels in Trieste by Hotels.com

The Piazza Unità d'Italia in Trieste
The Piazza Unità d'Italia in Trieste
Travel tip:

Trieste is lively and cosmopolitan and a major centre for trade and ship building. In 2012, Lonely Planet called Trieste ‘the world’s most underrated travel destination’. It is a fascinating place to visit because of the Venetian, Slovenian, Austrian and Hungarian influences in the architecture, culture and cuisine. As well as Italian, the local dialect, Triestino, is spoken along with Slovenian, German and Hungarian. Along the sea front, there are many excellent fish restaurants to try. Away from the sea, there are restaurants serving Italian, Friulian, Slovenian, Hungarian and Austrian dishes, and elegant bars line Canal Grande. Visitors can discover why Irish writer James Joyce enjoyed living in Trieste by visiting the Museo Joyce e Svevo, or what was believed to have been his favourite bar, Caffe Pirona.

More reading:

How designer Battista 'Pinin' Farina became a giant of the car industry

Vittorio Jano - engineer from Hungarian background behind Italy's motor racing success

How industrialist Enrico Piaggio created Italy's iconic Vespa scooter

Also on this day:

1737: The death of violin maker Antonio Stradivari


17 December 2016

NATO boss seized by Red Brigades

Brigadier-General James L Dozier held for 42 days

General James L Dozier pictured when he returned to Italy in  2012 for a reunion with the special forces team who freed him
General James L Dozier pictured when he returned to Italy in
2012 for a reunion with the special forces team who freed him
Three years after the kidnap and murder of the former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro shocked Italy and the wider world, terrorists representing the ultra-left group Brigate Rosse - the Red Brigades - returned to the headlines on this day in 1981 with the abduction of the high-ranking United States Army officer James L Dozier.

Brigadier-General Dozier, who was serving in Italy as deputy Chief of Staff of NATO's Southern European land forces, was seized and taken from his apartment in Verona and held for 42 days before being rescued by Italian special forces.

The kidnap took place at between 5.30 and 6pm when four men turned up at the door of the apartment posing as plumbers.  The general was overpowered and then struck over the head before his wife, Judith, who was initially held at gunpoint, was tied up with chains and plastic tape.

According to his wife, 50-year-old General Dozier was then bundled into what she described as a "steamship trunk", which the men carried out to a waiting van.  Mrs Dozier was left in the apartment, alerting neighbours later by banging on the walls.

It was the first time the Red Brigades had held a member of the American military, or any foreign national, although kidnappings were a major element of their strategy, either for  political objectives to raise funds via ransom demands, during the so-called "Years of Lead".

The Italian authorities were hampered in their search for General Dozier by a succession of calls by people purporting to know where he was being held, including one from an Arabic-speaking caller in Beirut.  Police carried out numerous searches of premises in Verona, Venice and Trento, but all the supposed tip-offs turned out to be hoaxes.

However, they eventually received information that was genuine and an apartment in Padua became the focus of the search.

The front page headline in the Rome newspaper Il  Messaggero the day after General Dozier was freed
The front page headline in the Rome newspaper Il
Messaggero the day after General Dozier was freed
The apartment was kept under surveillance for three days before a team of 13 officers from the Nucleo Operativo Centrale Sicurezza, led by Major Eduardo Perna, captured the building on the morning of January 28, 1982.

Six officers secured the perimeter of the apartment block before Major Perna led six others in forcing their way in.

Inside, they found General Dozier chained by his right wrist and left ankle to the central pole of a small tent.  He was barefoot, gagged and wearing a tracksuit but was otherwise unhurt, although he had lost some weight.

There were five Red Brigade members in the apartment, including one who pointed a gun at their captive's head as soon as the raid began.  It later transpired that he had been instructed to kill General Dozier in the event of a rescue attempt but failed to do so.

In fact, all five of his captors - three men and two women - surrendered with little resistance and no shots were fired.  During the 42 days the American was held, the Red Brigades issued a number of messages outlining their complaints but none contained any ransom demand.

The objective of the terrorists seemed to be to extract information from General Dozier, in particular with relation to NATO plans to deploy nuclear missiles in Western Europe, including in Sicily, to counter the threat of Soviet missiles aimed at European cities.

In between interrogation sessions, General Dozier was exposed to constant artificial light and forced to endure loud music played through headphones for hours at a time, which left him with permanent hearing damage.

Eduardo Perna pictured at his reunion with  General Dozier in 2012
Eduardo Perna pictured at his reunion with
General Dozier in 2012
The Red Brigades gang was led by Antonio Savasta, the head of the terror group's operations in Venice, and included his girlfriend, Emilia Libera.  Police also seized guns, hand grenades, explosives and ammunition in the apartment.  Savasta, who had also played a role in the Aldo Moro abduction, was later sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Using intelligence obtained from the five arrested in the raid, the Italians launched a crackdown on Red Brigades activity soon after General Dozier's release and early the following year 59 of the group's members stood trial for the murders of Aldo Moro and 16 others, with a number of those convicted receiving life sentences.

General Dozier returned to Italy in 2012 for an emotional reunion with Major Eduardo Perna and the other members of his NOCS team.

Travel tip:

The former NATO headquarters in Verona, Caserma Passalacqua, was situated on land between the city's Monumental Cemetery and the University of Verona, less than one kilometre from Piazza Bra and the Arena di Verona.  There are plans to redevelop the Caserma Passalacqua site, which was abandoned in 2004, to include social housing and market housing and to provide the city with its largest park.

Hotels in Verona from Hotels.com

The Arena di Verona undergoes preparation for a concert
The Arena di Verona undergoes preparation for a concert
Travel tip:

Verona, a city in the Veneto region, has a medieval city centre built alongside the winding Adige River. Famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the 14th-century building on Via Cappello, with a tiny balcony overlooking a courtyard, which is said to have been Juliet’s house. The city's other major attraction is the Arena di Verona, the vast Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra that stages music concerts and large-scale opera performances.

More reading:

Aldo Moro - Italy's tragic former prime minister

How Moro death and Operation Gladio haunted career of former president Francesco Cossiga

A bombing in Milan and the accidental death of an anarchist

Also on this day:

1749: Birth of 'comic opera' composer Domenico Cimarosa