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Tag: Italy

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.”


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


Last Suppers

Thursday, 29 March, 2018 0 Comments

Today, Holy Thursday, commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. That simple meal of bread and wine was to be the last time he dined with his disciples.

The English journalist A. A. Gill set out to write about “Last Suppers” in September 2009, but he abandoned the project on the grounds that it was one of those things like “Make a list of the 10 sexiest women ever.” He said: “You have all the anxiety of choice but none of the pleasure of execution.” So, in the middle of the project he switched from last suppers to the challenge of picking the food he would choose for the rest of his life, if he had to live with other people’s national cuisine. Gill couldn’t settle on one, so he picked four regional cuisines:

South-west France: “Foie gras and cassoulet, all sorts of duck, figs and Roquefort… This is the food of old Gascony, of Cyrano de Bergerac: a cuisine for the last leg of life, of post-prandial naps, of meals that soak into each other, of a languid, replete and easy life. I could live with that.”

Northern Italy: “Piedmont and the Po Valley, where they grow rice, make risottos, collect truffles, cook with butters, lard and the light olive oil of Genoa and have the youngest veal. I’d have to stretch it a bit to Parma, to take in hams, cheese and ice-cream, but that would do me.”

The North-West Frontier: “The mountainous, tribal lands of Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan: the very best lamb curries, biryanis, pilaus, apricots and quail, Peshawari naan, yoghurt and pomegranate juice eaten with gusto and arguments.”

Vietnam: “I love the food of Vietnam. It is an ideal combination of delicacy and panache. It has enormous variety of flavours and textures without being irredeemably twee. It’s refined but it’s also assertive. It has tiny little finger food and dog.”

In the end, Gill came to the following conclusion: “If you’re going to have a perfect food retirement, it would be Vietnam for breakfast, northern Italy for lunch and then alternately south-west France and the North-West Frontier for dinner.”

Background: A. A. Gill died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and he followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel.

The Last Supper


Autumn in the Alps

Saturday, 18 November, 2017 0 Comments

Specializing in what it calls “Aerial solutions for film production,” 5kdigitalfilm is a production facility based in Austria and the UK. Its clip, “Perpetual Change — Autumn in the Alps,” captures the beauty and solitude we experience amidst the great mountains.

“But if there was something roguish and fantastic about the immediate vicinity through which you laboriously made your way, the towering statues of snow-clad Alps, gazing down from the distance, awakened in you feelings of the sublime and holy.” — Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain


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.


Walking 3

Monday, 29 May, 2017 0 Comments

The American naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, author of such classics as Walden, was also a walker. His most famous essay, Walking, which celebrates the virtues of immersing oneself in nature, was published in May 1862 following his death from tuberculosis. It’s our guide for the next week or so.

“I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do: first along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the woodside. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant. From many a hill I can see civilization and the abodes of man afar. The farmers and their works are scarcely more obvious than woodchucks and their burrows. Man and his affairs, church and state and school, trade and commerce, and manufactures and agriculture even politics, the most alarming of them all — I am pleased to see how little space they occupy in the landscape. Politics is but a narrow field, and that still narrower highway yonder leads to it. I sometimes direct the traveler thither.”

Walking


Walking 1

Thursday, 25 May, 2017 0 Comments

The American naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, author of such classics as Walden, was also a walker. His most famous essay, Walking, which celebrates the virtues of immersing oneself in nature, was published in May 1862 following his death from tuberculosis. It’s our guide for the next 10 days or so.

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la SainteTerre,’ to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes aSainte-Terrer,’ a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander.

They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.”

Walking


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.


#Brexit: History is in the making

Thursday, 23 June, 2016 0 Comments

History will be made today in Great Britain. Regardless of result of the referendum, we will witness the slow-motion crumbling of two Unions: the UK and the EU. If the British vote to leave, the EU will begin to crumble because the audacious act of departure will mortally wound the “project” and will encourage others to hold similar referendums. If the British vote to remain and England’s desire for independence is defeated by an alliance of multicultural Londoners and Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Union will be gravely damaged.

UK_EU A European Union without Great Britain would be forced to confront its founding fallacy of Germany pretending to be weak and France pretending to be strong. Neither Paris nor Berlin wants to face this embarrassing reality, but the absence of London as a diversion will lead to sobriety. Then, there’s the fragility of the eurozone. It may be possible to keep Greece on life support indefinitely, but not so Italy. Its debts are alarming, the unemployment rate is frightening and there’s no growth. As well, Italy straddles that other great EU fault line: immigration. Italy is the country of choice for African migrants and their numbers will keep on growing for the rest of this century.

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” So says a character in that great Anglo-Irish-European novel Ulysses, by James Joyce, and the nightmare of history will return with a vengeance if the “Leave” side wins. Ireland’s borders, internally and externally, will take on new significance and the country may have to rethink its political relationships. The same goes for the Scots, whose nationalists would demand another referendum that might take them out of a non-European Britain. And the Welsh? They play Northern Ireland in Parc des Princes in Paris on Saturday, with a quarter-final place in Euro 2016 at stake.

History is in the making.