Italy

Venice threatened by rising tide

Sunday, 12 May, 2019

The rising tide of tourism, that is. The current inflow is 25 million tourists a year and this number is projected to reach 38 million by 2025. Still Venice is remarkably resilient. The city has lasted a millennium and what makes it all the more extraordinary is that a lagoon is a temporary natural phenomenon, but the reason Venice’s lagoon hasn’t silted is centuries of careful management, technical innovation and commercial regulation.

The same solutions can be applied to tourism. Take accommodation. Since 2015, Airbnb rentals in Venice have tripled from 2,441 to 8,320, according to Airdna. Eighty percent of those are entire home rentals, many of which are owned by agencies or international investors. With the launch of Fairbnb, a not-for-profit home-sharing site that only accepts resident hosts and stipulates one home per host, an alternative is available.

Nicolò Scibilia says, “Venice is not just a stage set. It is also a city with a resident population, which has productive activities, transportation and services. But how does the ‘Venice system’ work? How do the tides in the lagoon behave? How are the canals formed? And the embankments? What’s under the buildings?” The canals, sewers, buildings and bridges have been designed to cope with an environment that’s constantly challenged by salt water, but Venice survives. It can survive tourism, too.


Giovanni Bellini: Pietà di Brera

Wednesday, 17 April, 2019

One of the most elegant parts of Milan’s Centro Storico district is Brera. The streets are lined with upmarket food shops and hip fashion boutiques, and the cobbled alleys fill up at night with people enjoying fine Milanese dining at sidewalk restaurants and cafés. A must-visit is the fresco-filled, 15th-century Santa Maria del Carmine church and, soul saved, the next stop has to be the Pinacoteca di Brera, with its magnificent collection of Italian art spanning the centuries.

One of the great treasures of the Pinacoteca di Brera is the Pietà di Brera by Giovanni Bellini, which dates from around 1460. When it was first revealed, the pietà was accompanied by verses composed by Propertius, the great poet of the Augustan age. He speaks of the capacity of an image to provoke tears — and anyone looking at the faces of Mary and Christ here cannot be unaffected by the the mother and son drama being played out. The pain depicted by Bellini reflects all human suffering and solitude.

Pietà di Brera


Venice goes there. Is Barcelona next?

Wednesday, 27 February, 2019

We’re talking about an entry fee for day tourists entering the lagoon city. Initial plans aim at charging them €3 ($4.75) for a single-day trip from May. In the coming year the fee would double and can be raised to as much as €10 ($15.83) on heavy tourism days.

In 2016, heritage group Italia Nostra estimated that 30 million people visit Venice every year, with a daily influx of more than 82,000. Under the entry fee scheme, visitors staying in hostels will be exempt from the payment, while hotel guests already have to pay a local tax for their stay.

Will Barcelona follow? The city has been groaning under the weight of “over-tourism” for years now and the pressure is on the municipal authorities to reduce the flow or turn into a revenue source that be deployed to deal with the problem. Talking of Barcelona, Márton Mogyorósy takes an overhead view of the city and his photos only confirm why the world wants to go there. Says Mogyorósy, somewhat cryptically:

“A series of aerial photographs from the capital of Catalonia, which captures the city’s abstract and architectural wonders from a bird’s eye view. As the former fishermen’s quarter which is characterized by its narrow and lively streets. As well as one of Barcelona’s lesser-known masterpiece, Ricardo Bofill’s utopian vision for social living that found form in the cubist heights and halls of Walden 7.”

Barca

Barcelona


And life slips by like a field mouse

Tuesday, 19 February, 2019

Ezra Pound Ezra Pound was one of the founding members of the imagist movement in the early 20th century. Imagism relied on the impact of concrete images presented in exact, everyday language rather than traditional poetic metre. This is imagism:

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass

Ezra Pound (1885 — 1972)

Note: Ezra Pound was born in Idaho in 1885 and moved to Italy in 1924. He admired Mussolini and when World War II broke out he stayed in Rapallo from where he broadcast a series of radio talks attacking President Roosevelt and the “Jewish bankers” he deemed responsible for the war. The US regarded the broadcasts as treasonous and Pound was arrested at war’s end and imprisoned in an outdoor compound near Pisa.

While jailed, Pound completed the “The Pisan Cantos,” a group of poems that Paul L. Montgomery of the New York Times called “among the masterpieces of this century.” Eventually judged to be mentally incompetent to stand trial, Pound was transferred to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he remained incarcerated until 1958 when Robert Frost led a successful effort to free the poet. Ezra Pound was awarded The Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1949 and he died in his beloved Venice in 1972.

Many writers have made disastrous personal and political choices but few have faced up to their failings as clearly as Pound did during his final years of catatonic depression. His acknowledgement here of his failure is honest and poignant and tragic:

I have tried to write Paradise.
Do not move.
Let the wind speak.
That is Paradise.
May the gods forgive what I have made.
May those I have loved try to forgive
what I have made.


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.