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Posts Tagged ‘italy’

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Photo: Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane
Italy formally recognizes that newspapers are essential services.

The demise of newsprint has been exaggerated. Newspapers are still needed. Not only did one in Australia — partly as a joke — print some blank pages with dotted lines for making your own toilet paper, but in Italy newspapers have now been characterized as “essential” services.

Luiz Romero reports at Quartz: “As it became increasingly clear earlier this week that the Italian government would announce even more stringent measures to combat coronavirus, in a country that already faces extraordinary restrictions, a debate began to brew over what should be left open and what should be forced to closed. Places that sell food and medicine would have to keep functioning, but what about the edicole—the small shops that sell newspapers and magazines, and that still exist in the thousands in Italy?

“On Wednesday (March 11), Carlo Verdelli, the director of Repubblica, one of the two largest newspapers in the country, alongside Corriere, published a note arguing that newsstands should be added to the list of essential services that was being prepared by the government. …

“Here, like everywhere else, newsstands are disappearing. They went from 18,400 to 14,300 during the 2010s—a number that  includes those that also sell souvenirs for tourists. Excluding them, the real number of newsstands in Italy is estimated to be around 5,000. Still, Italians like to read newspapers. Almost a third of the population gets its daily news in print. …

“After some debate, and as the number of cases continued to spike, the government finally took a decision. Everything had to close except what it deemed essential services—food stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and factories. … Newsstands were also allowed to keep going. …

“In Milan, newspaper vendors are proud of what they do. Rosi Varezza, who operates a small but busy newsstand, explained that papers are essential for elderly readers, who are most at risk from the outbreak. Clients buy newspapers for habit, but also to get information they deem more trustworthy; to go deep into subjects they consider important; and to hear the news delivered from specific voices—columnists that have informed them for decades. …

“Newsstands are even registering a small bump in sales. That was clear in Milan. In a busier newsstand, near a major shopping street here, I had to wait to pay for the newspaper. And when my turn came, I had to ask my questions quickly. The newsagent was impatient, answering with short sentences, and insistently looking over my shoulder. A line was forming.” More at Quartz, here.

In my own case, I have always read articles more deeply if they are in print. And in my semi-isolation, I look forward to the paper delivery every day and read more sections than usual. You?

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Photo: Alessandro Grassani for the New York Times
This woman in Milan is part of Italy’s spontaneous self-isolation music scene. I love the look on her face. For all I know she may be thinking about making dinner or washing the bathtub, but it sure looks like she’s conscious of performing a sacrament.

If you’re on social media or following the news in some other way — and who isn’t? — you probably already know about this lovely aspect of the Italian spirit, but I thought the piece by Jason Horowitz at the New York Times was especially good.

“It started with the national anthem. Then came the piano chords, trumpet blasts, violin serenades and even the clanging of pots and pans — all of it spilling from people’s homes, out of windows and from balconies, and rippling across rooftops.

“Finally, on Saturday afternoon, a nationwide round of applause broke out for the doctors on the medical front lines fighting the spread of Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak. …

“Italians remain essentially under house arrest as the nation, the European front in the global fight against the coronavirus, has ordered extraordinary restrictions on their movement to prevent contagions. … But the cacophony erupting over the streets, from people stuck in their homes, reflects the spirit, resilience and humor of a nation facing its worst national emergency since the Second World War.

“Like any national crisis, the virus has exposed the flaws of those countries it has struck the hardest, whether it be the reflex for secrecy in China, the downplaying of the crisis in Iran or the initial confusion and fragmentation in the Italian response.

“But to the extent that this is a virus that tries people’s souls, it has also demonstrated the strengths of those national characters.

In China, patriotic truck drivers risked infection to bring desperately needed food to the people of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. In Iran, videos show doctors in full scrubs and masks dancing to keep spirits up.

“And in Italy, the gestures of gratitude and music ring out above the country’s vacated streets, while social media feeds fill with encouraging, sentimental and humorous web videos.

“On Friday evening, at the exact hour that health officials normally update the daily numbers of the country’s increasing infected and dead, Italians from the southern islands to the Alps sang the national anthem and played instruments. … On Saturday, one image circulating widely showed a nurse cradling the Italian peninsula in her arms. …

“The duress also seemed to stir patriotism in a country that has a deep suspicion of nationalism. The Italian media reported a spike in sales of the Italian flag. The national anthem, usually limited to the start of soccer matches, reverberated off palazzo walls at 6 p.m. on Friday. …

“At noon in Verona on Saturday, the peal of church bells gave way to the clapping of hands as Cristina Del Fabbro, 53, stood on her balcony applauding with her daughter Elisa, 21.

“ ‘We want to thank doctors and nurses,’ she said. ‘They can’t stay safe at home as we do, they are tired and worried but they stay there, for those who get sick and need them.’ …

“A reporter working at home in the Chinatown section of Milan for the online newspaper Il Post, stuck his head out the window on Friday and added to the concert with refrains from ‘Nessun Dorma.’ He considered the sudden symphony ‘a small brick in nation building.’

‘We showed that in this hard time we can stick together,’ he said. ‘We were a community, not just a bunch of individuals.’

Lots of other lovely examples at the New York Times, here.

PS. Don’t you find that your perceptions of how you should behave change on a daily, almost hourly, basis? When I woke up Thursday, I thought I’d be going for my annual physical Friday — on the subway. Nope. Rescheduled. Now I don’t even meet my grandchildren unless it’s outdoors. And I’m ordering home delivery of milk in bottles from a dairy. It won’t be delivered by horse, but it’s still kind of cool.

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Photo: Chris Livesay for NPR
A security guard blocks off the recording area outside the Violin Museum in Cremona, Italy, for a project to preserve every note of the Stradivarius violin.

When a whole town — or almost a whole town — gets on board to support an artistic project, the results can be impressive. I imagine that the key is to tap what matters to people. In this case, violins.

Christopher Livesay reported about the unusual preservation project at National Public Radio (NPR) in February.

“Inside the concert hall of the Violin Museum in Cremona, Italy, Antonio de Lorenzi plays the prelude from Bach’s Partita No. 3 on a Stradivarius violin. Cremona is the town where master luthier Antonio Stradivari crafted his storied instruments three centuries ago.

“But there’s no guarantee that his instrument’s inimitable sound will survive for centuries more, says Fausto Cacciatori, the museum’s chief conservator.

” ‘What will these instruments sound like in 200 years? I hope they can still be played,’ he says. ‘But you never know. All it takes is one unfortunate event. An earthquake, for instance. Think about what happened to so much art during World War II.’

“Cacciatori says Stradivarius instruments need a 21st century failsafe — and someone who understands music as well as technology to pull it off. Enter deejay Leonardo Tedeschi. …

“When he’s not spinning records, Tedeschi runs Audiozone, a northern Italian sound engineering firm. And he had an idea: ‘To bring the sound of Stradivari and make it accessible around the world,’ he says.

“The idea came to him in 2014, when he wanted to mix the analog sounds of Stradivarius violins in some of his own electronic recordings, but discovered the elements he needed were lacking. That’s when he reached out to the Violin Museum in Cremona, just a 45-minute drive from his native Piacenza, with a proposal.

“First, they would need to record Stradivarius instruments, and while they were at it, those of other master luthiers. Then they would have to save the recordings in a database that future composers could use to make their own music electronically.

“The Violin Museum, which was already concerned about preserving these sounds for future generations, agreed. … They would have to painstakingly record every possible note that can be played on each instrument.

” ‘Every possible note, and even more difficult, every note transition,’ explains Tedeschi. ‘From one note to all the other ones in the same string.’ …

“In the concert hall, Lorenzi, who is with the Italian Symphony Orchestra and has performed in the world’s top concert halls, plucks the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C — ‘do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do’ — on the Stradivarius violin. Then down the scale, until the engineers say they’ve got it. …

“He says, ‘It takes a lot of mental and physical concentration. It’s one of the most demanding things I’ve ever done.’

“But that meditative concentration is hard-won. Outside the museum, Tedeschi points out the thorn in his side.

“A rumble passes as a woman drags a suitcase across cobblestones. Then, the hiss of a street-sweeper machine. It’s what you’d expect in a city of 70,000 people, with a bustling open-air market and a population of typically boisterous Italians. …

” ‘Every time we hear this sound, the sound will mix with the frequency of our instruments, so we cannot use that sound in our product,’ Tedeschi laments.

“At the end of December, just before recording was set to begin, he went to the mayor of Cremona, Gianluca Galimberti, and asked for help. … The mayor asked the people of Cremona to please keep it down, and blocked traffic around the concert hall during recordings from Jan. 7 to Feb. 9.”

Did it work? Read more here.

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Photo: Diego Rinaldi/Casa di riposo per musicisti, Fondazione Giuseppe Verdi
The exterior of Casa Verdi, founded by famed Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi in the late 1890s.

Facebook has decided I like stories about kind people because I linger over some with spooling captions. It keeps showing me items that are “Similar to Posts You’ve Interacted With.” It may be that I like such stories, but I never click on Facebook’s suggested links because I definitely don’t want Facebook knowing anything about what I like. (OK, I admit that’s a lost cause.) If the site weren’t the best way for me to connect with Carole, who I have known since nursery school and who has Parkinson’s now, I don’t think I’d be there at all.

The following post on the kindness of Giuseppe Verdi didn’t come from Facebook. It came from a site that gives me loads of other ideas for blog posts, ArtsJournal.com.

It’s where I learned about Rebecca Rosman’s National Public Radio [NPR] report on “Casa Verdi, a retirement home for opera singers and musicians founded by the famed Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi more than 100 years ago.

“Soprano Lina Vasta spent her career performing in Italian operas around the world. Twenty years ago, she settled at Casa Verdi. The tiny singer, who uses a cane to get around, won’t reveal her age (through a translator she admits to being ‘over 65’), but she still enjoys singing bits of The Barber of Seville around the home.

“Vasta came to Casa Verdi with her husband when they both retired from singing. Since he died, this is all she has. But with ‘a beautiful house, a piano, a very nice garden, nothing is missing here — it’s perfect. Grazie, Verdi,’ she says. …

” ‘In Italy, Verdi isn’t considered only a composer, only a musician, but kind of a national hero,’ [Biancamaria Longoni, the assistant director of Casa Verdi], says. ‘He used his operas to give voice to people — to humble people, to modest people, to poor people.’

“Many of Verdi’s own former colleagues found themselves living in poverty toward the end of their lives. At that time, there were no pensions for musicians in Italy. …

“Using his own fortune, Verdi built the retirement home for opera singers and musicians, a neo-Gothic structure that opened in 1899. The composer died less than two years later, but he made sure the profits from his music copyrights kept the home running until the early 1960s, when they expired. Today guests pay a portion of their monthly pension to cover basic costs – food and lodging — while the rest comes from donations. …

“Casa Verdi has an extra 20 rooms set aside for conservatory students aged 18 to 24. … Armando Ariostini, a baritone in his early 60s, comes to Casa Verdi every Wednesday to visit the guests, some of whom are his former colleagues. And while Ariostini himself is still several years away from retirement, he says he knows exactly where he’ll be hanging up his hat once he leaves the opera stage for good.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities
A trove of ancient gold coins hidden in a soapstone jar was recently unearthed in Como, Italy.

When you were a kid, you believed in the possibility of finding buried treasure. I, for one, believed so thoroughly, I could be easily taken in. My neighbor Kenneth Jukes was a great one for tall tales, and I remember distinctly being persuaded by him that some charcoal refuse in a stream was actually gold. I took it to my parents who were annoyingly skeptical. My grandmother said to my father, “But what if it is … ?” Kenneth looked sheepish.

Nevertheless, people do find gold in unexpected places. Kids may know things grownups have forgotten.

As Amanda Jackson and Gianluca Mezzofiore report at CNN, “Archaeologists are studying a valuable trove of old Roman coins found on the site of a former theater in northern Italy. The coins, at least 300 of them, date back to the late Roman imperial era and were found in a soapstone jar unearthed in the basement of the Cressoni Theater in Como, north of Milan.

” ‘We do not yet know in detail the historical and cultural significance of the find,’ said Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli in a press release. ‘But that area is proving to be a real treasure for our archeology. A discovery that fills me with pride.’

“Whoever placed the jar in that place ‘buried it in such a way that in case of danger they could go and retrieve it,’ said Maria Grazia Facchinetti, a numismatist. … ‘They were stacked in rolls similar to those seen in the bank today. … They don’t go beyond 474 AD.’ …

“The ministry did not place a value on the coins. But reports in the Italian media suggest they could be worth millions of dollars.

“The historic Cressoni Theater opened in 1807 before transitioning into a cinema and eventually closing in 1997. The site is not far from the Novum Comum forum area, where other important Roman artifacts were discovered, according to the ministry.”

More at CNN.

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Photo: Elisa Coltro/Facebook
Nonna Irma, of Noventa Vicentian, Italy, poses with some of the children in the Kenyan orphanage she supports.

News outlets around the world reposted this story about a 93-year-old’s outreach work as described by her granddaughter on Facebook. But I found that BrightSide dug for additional details.

The website reports, “This charming woman from Noventa Vicentina, Italy is Irma, and she is 93 years old. Despite her age, she’s full of energy and desire to change the world for the better. She decided to fly to Kenya to help children in the orphanage there. Her granddaughter shared her grandma’s photos on her Facebook page, which took over the Internet. …

” ‘Irma has always loved life and was never stopped by life’s obstacles,’ her granddaughter [Elisa Coltro] wrote. She knows what difficulties are like and has always tried to help others. Irma lost her husband at 26 and later one of her three children. Her life has not been easy, and she has always relied on her own strength to make it through.

“Many years ago she met Father Remigio, a [missionary] who has spent his life helping the people of Kenya. Irma has supported him for many years. Once she heard that Father Remigio was hospitalized, she made a decision to visit him and all the places he had built during his lifetime, such as hospitals, orphanages and kindergartens.

“Now being in Kenya, Irma helps children as much as she can. She teaches English and Math in the school of Malindi. … Her age never stops her from taking motorcycle rides. Despite all the difficulties she’s faced, she continues to enjoy life. Irma plans to stay in Africa for a few weeks, but there is a possibility that she will want to stay there for good.

“She has always taught her children and grandchildren to help others. Her granddaughter Elisa did volunteer work in refugee camps in Greece in 2016 and 2017.” More here.

One of the things I like best about the story is the sense of a network of fellow travelers. Irma’s daughter went to Kenya with her. Her granddaughter volunteers. And zillions of people loved what Irma is doing enough to share the news on social media. One and one and 50 …

Photo: Elisa Coltro / facebook   

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Photo: Sara Miller Llana/Christian Science Monitor
The annual Festival Verdi in Parma, Italy, brings opera to the people by performing in private homes. Just like the old days.

I love the idea of having arts performances in one’s living room, whether it’s a cabaret duo, jazz, opera, drama, or anything similar. It’s partly because I used to write and perform plays as a kid, especially at Christmas in the living room.

Sara Miller Llana has a cool story about living-room concerts at the Christian Science Monitor, a really interesting newspaper with an international focus, in case you’re interested.

She writes, “A young tenor’s voice, in his rendition of ‘La donna e mobile,’ fills the palatial living room with one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most famous canzones from ‘Rigoletto.’

“It’s a late Thursday afternoon and the sun is setting, as guests seated around the piano begin to clap. The hostess is suddenly in the center of the circle for a short waltz.

“For a moment, it feels as though we are transported back to the 19th century, when Verdi, among the world’s most famous composers, created 27 operas, some of them the most-loved in the world.

“But it’s 2017, and this is the sidelines of the month-long Festival Verdi held each year in Parma, Italy. If any region can call itself a heartland of opera, it’s this one.

“The festival … aims to bring opera off the stages into the community in a series of events – from Verdi sung in rap, to the staging of ‘Nabucco’ by inmates at the local jail, to these living room performances for aspiring opera stars. And at least with the latter, the festival brings an ancient custom of private home performances that started in mid-18th century Europe to 21st century Italy.

“Accompanist Claudia Zucconi, who is studying for her masters and wants to specialize in opera, says that playing these antique keys in such a living room ‘was very emotional.’

“ ‘The piano was very ancient, so it was special for a pianist to play it. I felt like it was another epoch, in another time, like I could be dressed liked a princess playing in a room like this.’

“Opera – and specifically local hero Verdi – are so central to the town’s identity and culture that people debate it at locales the way they might discuss the latest soccer match. …

“The director general of Parma’s Teatro Regio, Anna Maria Meo, says the responsibility she feels is nothing short of enormous. Only a few nights ago, after a performance that had only one intermission, theatergoers stopped her on her way down from her office and asked why there weren’t two. She replied that the opera was already long. ‘ “But you can’t cut the space for us to discuss what we are watching, we need at least two,” they said,’ she recounts over a cappuccino in the theater’s baroque café.”

More here.

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