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Italy

Siracusa: home of the world’s best sandwich

Thursday, 25 October, 2018

Described by Cicero as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”, Siracusa (Syracuse) is one of Sicily’s most historic places. It’s mentioned in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles 28:12 as Saint Paul stayed there, and its patron saint is Saint Lucy, who was born there. Her feast day, Saint Lucy’s Day, is celebrated on 13 December.

Today, Siracusa is home to a street-food artist who makes the very best sandwich in the world. Watch this.

Back on 19 September, our post here was about the affordable and delicious street food sold at markets and train stations and from ‘pojangmacha’ (carts) in most of South Korea’s urban areas. The featured Korean Egg Toast was made with remarkable efficiency and an almost Confucianistic solemnity, and while we’re warned today by our PC overlords about comparing cultures, we’re still allowed to express preferences and the making of this sandwich is Siracusa wins. It’s craft and art; it’s theatre with an enthusiastic audience; it’s loving, passionate, creative and, especially noteworthy, it nourishes a community that appreciates good food prepared with local ingredients.

Talking of the ingredients, one very thoughtful YouTube commentator has listed them:

Filoncino bread, olive oil, Parmesan, dried ciliegini (sweet tomatoes) with basil, fresh salad (radicchio + lettuce + lemon juice and lemon zest), fresh tomatoes, grated Caciotta, grated sheep Ricotta (the same he serves on a plate in the meanwhile). The one in the plate has been aromatized at the moment with fresh garlic, olive oil and oregano, more Ricotta, olives, red sweet onions and some more dried ciliegini.

The filling roll: Slices of a massive Caciocavallo cheese, mashed potatoes with parsley and oil, ham, more Ricotta, more sweet onions (with a drop of lemon this time), parsley.

Divine. Sublime. The way the ham is added is magical.


Pine Wood at Montenero

Wednesday, 17 October, 2018

The photographer George Tatge was born in Istanbul and now lives in Florence. He studied English Literature at Beloit College in Wisconsin and moved to Italy in 1973 to work as a journalist in Rome before focusing on photography, which he does mostly with a 5x7in Deardorff view camera.

That mid-West study of English Literature was repaid when his Italia Metafisica won the Ernest Hemingway Award sponsored by Lignano Sabbiadoro, a town in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of north-eastern Italy. The story goes that when Hemingway was exploring the lagoons around Venice, he discovered Lignano Sabbiadoro and fell in love.

Presences – Italian Landscapes is the title of a photo series by George Tatge currently on display at the Catherine and André Hug Gallery in the heart of Saint Germain des Prés. This is the beautiful Pine Wood at Montenero and it was taken near a famous Catholic sanctuary perched on the Livorno Hills in central Italy.

Pine Wood at Montenero


The Italian Puzzle

Friday, 17 August, 2018

The decision by the Lega Serie A to postpone Sunday’s planned games between Sampdoria and Fiorentina and AC Milan and Genoa is fitting. The Ponte Morandi was the main way to drive through the city and countless football fans have used it in the six decades since it was built. Football, which offers entertaining distraction in troubled times, cannot, this time, escape from the shadow of the collapsed bridge, and only its prompt restoration or replacement will satisfy Genoa now.

The contradictions that Italy presents to the world are bewildering. On the one hand, we have the tragic crumbling of a bridge completed in 1967 and, on the other, the Colosseum, which was built 1,938 years, ago continues to stand and astonish. Videographer Kirill Neiezhmakov from Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine explores the Italian puzzle in “Milan in Motion”. As he says: “With massive urban sprawl and a reputation for being the cold Lombard capital, Milan doesn’t feel like a quintessentially Italian metropolis, with settlers from all over the country making their home here, visitors will find all of Italy in one city.”


No words needed: The Silence of The Dolomites

Monday, 6 August, 2018

“Each mountain in the Dolomites is like a piece of art. Le Corbusier called them the most beautiful buildings in the world. He said God built them; I’d say nature did. They are so vertical, and each peak is different. The Dolomites have a special face: no other range in the world has this.” — Reinhold Messner, South Tyrolian explorer

Casper Rolsted, who describes himself as a “visual artist specialized in timelapse and aerial photography”, would agree, no doubt, with every word Messer says, except that he thinks they aren’t necessary. That’s why the Dane has created The Silence Project: “If we silent listen to nature in undisturbed places without prejudices we can experience the big diversity of nature and the faintest sounds gain their original importance in the soundscape.”


Shelley in Italy

Sunday, 8 July, 2018

On this day in 1822, the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned when his boat, the Don Juan, sank during a storm in the Gulf of La Spezia off the north-west coast of Italy. He was 30. Shelley’s ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome and his gravestone bears the Latin inscription, Cor Cordium (Heart of Hearts).

Plagued by health worries and pursued by creditors, Shelley and his wife, the writer Mary Shelley, escaped from England to Italy in 1818 and there he produced some of his best work, including Ode to the West Wind. Like many before and after him, Shelley was enchanted by Italy and remained under its spell until the end of his short, dazzling life.

To Italy

As the sunrise to the night,
As the north wind to the clouds,
As the earthquake’s fiery flight,
Ruining mountain solitudes,
Everlasting Italy,
Be those hopes and fears on thee.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

Italy


Chesterton on Rome and Brussels

Tuesday, 29 May, 2018

“Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” So said the English novelist and poet G.K. Chesterton, who was born on this day in 1874. It is hard, however, to imagine a Chesterton of our era saying, “Men did not love Brussels because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

In Rome, the feeling of love that was once directed towards Brussels, the seat of the European Union, has increasingly turned to hate. This is because the two Italian populist parties that won a majority of votes in the 4 March elections were prevented from forming a government by President Sergio Mattarella because they reportedly oppose the euro, and this heresy is regarded as the most grave of sins by the currency prelates in Frankfurt, Berlin and Brussels. As a result, Italy is about to become the battleground for two fierce tribes: The people who voted for populism and the elites who have prevented the elected populists from taking power. What happens in the coming days and weeks of their conflict will affect the future not just of Italy but of Europe.

 G.K. Chesterton


Monteverdi at 450

Saturday, 12 August, 2017 0 Comments

L’incoronazione di Poppea (“The Coronation of Poppaea”) is an opera by Claudio Monteverdi, who was born 450 years ago this year. First performed at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice during the 1643 carnival season, it describes how Poppaea, a courtesan in the service of the emperor Nero, achieves her ambition to be crowned empress. The coronation scene concludes with the Pur ti miro duet performed here by the French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and the Spanish soprano Núria Rial.


Puglia: Ivanka and Donald to Monopoli?

Monday, 7 August, 2017 0 Comments

Puglia fact: Two years ago, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, and their children, visited Alberobello, famous for its cone-shaped trullo houses.

Puglia fact: Two months ago, Manuel Neuer, the Bayern Munich and Germany goalkeeper, got married to Nina Weiss in Monopoli.

Puglia rumour: US President Donald Trump might accompany his daughter, Ivanka, to a wedding rumoured to take place in Monopoli, towards the end of August.

Meanwhile, here is Oliver Astrologo’s magnificent visual tribute to the beauty of Puglia.


Renzi, Machiavelli and the public platform

Monday, 5 December, 2016 0 Comments

Niccolò Machiavelli: “The demands of a free populace, too, are very seldom harmful to liberty, for they are due either to the populace being oppressed or to the suspicious that it is going to be oppressed and, should these impressions be false, a remedy is provided in the public platform on which some man of standing can get up, appeal to the crowd, and show that it is mistaken. And though, as Tully remarks, the populace may be ignorant, it is capable of grasping the truth and readily yields when a man, worthy of confidence, lays the truth before it.” Discourses on Livy (1517), Book 1, Ch. 4 (as translated by LJ Walker and B Crick)

Whither now, Italy, after Matteo Renzi, a man of standing, appealed to the crowd, only to see his proposed reforms rejected by the public platform? The most pressing matter is the country’s banks, which have bad debts of €286 billion on their books. The third largest institution, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs a €5 billion recapitalisation, urgently. Although the situation is alarming, the can is kicked further down the road. The reason is that if the debts were written off, junior bondholders would take a massive hit, and many of these are ordinary Italians who bought useless bank debt.

Thanks to Renzi’s referendum, borrowing costs are increasing, making it very expensive to get capital for Italy’s zombie banks, and now there’s a government without a mandate. The fear is that the instability of Italy may spread from Rome to Brussels and beyond. Quoting Cicero, Machiavelli noted that the populace may be ignorant, but it is capable of grasping the truth.

Italy


Buongiorno! Amazon’s wake words in Italy

Wednesday, 27 July, 2016 0 Comments

Amazon apre un nuovo centro di sviluppo per l’intelligenza artificiale e il Machine Learning a Torino. That was the welcome news for Italy’s battered economy earlier this week. Translation: “Amazon to open a new artificial intelligence and machine learning development centre in Turin.” The charming capital of Piedmont will soon be home to a batch of software engineers and linguists developing machine learning capabilities for Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based data and analytics service. This sentence in the press release stood out:

“Alexa usa l’apprendimento automatico in campi come il rilevamento delle parole di attivazione, il riconoscimento vocale basato sul cloud e la comprensione del linguaggio naturale.”

Question: How does one translate parole di attivazione? The available online Italian-English dictionaries are not up to the job and Google Translate offers “words activation” as its best shot. Close, but no cigar. In fact, parole di attivazione are “wake words”. Eh?

Amazon Echo To understand the function of wake words, get an Amazon Echo. This hands-free speaker connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide news, sports scores and weather forecasts. When you want to use your Echo, speak the word “Alexa” and the device comes to life instantly. That’s the “wake word”. If you have more than one Echo, you can set a different wake word for each. You can pick “Amazon” or “Echo” as the wake word. And that’s it. Why the paucity of wake words? Well, according to Veton Kepuska, author of Wake-Up-Word Speech Recognition, the challenge is to:

“Detect a single word or phrase when spoken in an alerting context, while rejecting all other words, phrases, sounds, noises and other acoustic events with virtually 100% accuracy including the same word or phrase of interest spoken in a non-alerting (i.e. referential) context.”

See the problem? In its search for usable wake words, Alexa needs ones that are not only easy to pronounce and remember, but are also rare enough that they’re not even used at the start of sentences. Very tricky. As things stand, it’s doubtful Echo owners will be able to choose their own wake word for a long, long time to come. The best hope of the Turin project is that the team there will create an expanded list of words that are unlikely to lead to too many false wakes. No false dawns. No hurry, in other words.

Turin is an ideal location for this venture. It’s the home of the slow food movement.


From Italy to Ireland

Saturday, 1 August, 2015 0 Comments

Born in Brescia, Matteo Bertoli now lives in Dublin, where he works as a freelance director and cinematographer. He took a trip to the south of the country with his girlfriend and shot this video of Cork and Kinsale with a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. “Cork is built on the River Lee which divides into two channels at the western end of the city,” he writes. “The city centre is located on the island created by the channels… Kinsale is a popular holiday resort for Irish and foreign tourists… The town is compact with a quaint air of antiquity in the narrow streets.” Pieces of Ireland perfectly captures the fleeting nature of an Irish summer. Blink, and it’s gone.