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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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Art: Albrecht Dürer
“Virgin and Child With Pear,” at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  Heritage fruit archaeologist Isabella Dalla Ragione says it’s not a pear.

I loved reading about this side effect of an Italian woman’s work to preserve heritage fruits: she discovered that a fruit in a famous painting was mislabeled.

Elisabetta Povoledo writes at the NY Times, “On her farm, Isabella Dalla Ragione pursues a personal mission — saving ancient fruit trees from extinction — with a strong sense of urgency. Rescuing vanishing varieties is a race, she says, ‘and lots of times we arrived late.’ …

“To find and collect their forgotten varieties, for decades she and her father chatted up farmers and motley locals in the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside. They gathered branches, and with them the traditions and chronicles tied to the fruits. …

“But because fruit was not always described in detail in written records, she also began to examine the works of Renaissance and Baroque painters working in Umbria and Tuscany at a time when ‘artists had close relations to agriculture’ and were sensitive to the seasons and local varieties, she said. …

“A closer look at Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Virgin and Child With Pear,’ at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, for example, reveals a clear misnomer, Ms. Dalla Ragione said.

“ ‘If it were a pear, it would show a stalk on top,’ she said. ‘Mary is clearly holding a muso di bue apple.’ …

“Ms. Dalla Ragione created a nonprofit foundation, the Arboreal Archaeology Foundation, in 2014 ‘because it made it easier to give a future to all this,’ she said.”

Read more about her quixotic but intriguing work here.

Photo: Francesco Lastrucci for The New York Times
Isabella Dalla Ragione picking apples on her farmstead in San Lorenzo di Lerchi, Italy.

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Roma families (also called gypsies, tinkers or travelers) have a hard life in Europe. Recently, Elisabetta Povoledo wrote at the New York Times about some Roma women who are hoping to build a better life for their families by starting food businesses.

“On a muggy July evening, a handful of Italian hipsters milled around a food stand at an alternative music festival in Rome, trying to decipher some of the exotic offerings: mici, sarmale and dolma.

“These Balkan delicacies — barbecued meatballs, cabbage wraps and stuffed peppers — are the basic ingredients of an entrepreneurial scheme cooked up by a group of Roma women looking to better their lives and leave the overcrowded and insalubrious camp in Rome where they currently live.

“They call themselves the Gipsy Queens.

“ ‘Cooking? I’ve been cooking practically since I was born,’ said one of the chefs, Florentina Darmas, 33, a mother of three, who is originally from Romania. …

“Nowadays she is trying to break down some of the barriers faced by her traditionally marginalized group using the universal language of food. …

“ ‘We realized there was unexpressed potential in the community, especially on the part of women,’ said Mariangela De Blasi, a social worker with Arci Solidarietà Onlus, a Rome-based nonprofit organization that works with marginalized people and manages the burgeoning catering business. …

“If their entrepreneurial plans pan out, the Gipsy Queens hope to buy a food truck or rent a kitchen on a more permanent basis — foundations for steady work that will bring in rent money.

“ ‘Getting out [of the camp] is my first priority,’ said Hanifa Hokic, 31, a divorced mother of five children between 8 and 12 years old, who is originally from Bosnia. …

“Maria Miclescu, a 20-year-old mother of two, agreed that to give her children ‘a better future,’ she had to leave. Her husband is trying to establish a small-appliance repair business …

“The oldest member of the group, Mihaela Miclescu, 49, who is a grandmother, was happy to join the Gipsy Queens.

‘I wanted to show Italians that we are not bad people, that we want to work, not to beg.’

More here.

Photo: Gianni Cipriano for the New York Times
Maria Miclescu, left, and Codruca Balteanu at a food stand run by the Gipsy Queens during a music festival in Rome. 

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Christo is known for making impossible-seeming public art, and just recently, he made some again. Margaret Rhodes reported the story at Wired magazine.

“It takes serious engineering to let 640,000 people walk on water. Luckily, that’s exactly the kind of technical and creative challenge that Christo — the artist who wrapped the Reichstag and dotted Central Park with 7,503 orange panels of fabric—excels at. …

“The new project, the ‘Floating Piers,’ comprises two miles of marigold-yellow walkways gently bobbing on top of Lake Iseo, a small lake in northern Italy, connecting the waterside town of Sulzano with two small islands. …

“Making them work was tricky. Marinas often use temporary, floating piers; a common technique involves propping them atop styrofoam cubes. ‘We discovered very soon that this cube system was perfect for us,’ says Wolfgang Volz, Christo’s project manager. So in the fall of 2014, Christo’s team ran a secret simulation of the Floating Piers in Germany. But the styrofoam blocks were too small and too dense.

“So they built their own blocks—220,000 in total. They’re about 20 percent bigger than the ones marinas use, and more buoyant. A Bulgarian company supplied the materials, and Christo hired four different manufacturing companies to ensure they’d have enough.

“Once Christo had his blocks, he, Volz, and a few dozen workers started connecting the cubes into 50- by 330-foot sections. They attached the cubes with giant screws, right on the water, in a corralled section of Lake Iseo.

“One by one, workers pushed the white styrofoam rafts out into the lake and anchored them to 5.5-ton concrete slabs arranged on the lake floor in a configuration conceived by Christo. ‘Very tedious work,’ Volz says. ‘Every day the same.’

“It took four months, with workers doing shifts of two weeks on, two weeks off the job. ‘The same as an oil rig schedule,’ Volz says.’ ” More here.

Temporary, like most of Christo’s work, the walkway was scheduled to come down early this month and get recycled. But it lives on in photographs — and the memories of those who visited and got a chance to walk on water.

Photo: Wolfgang Volz
Christo’s project the “Floating Piers” comprised two miles of marigold-yellow walkways on Lake Iseo in northern Italy. Visitors walked the path without handrails.

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Maybe this is the way cities are meant to operate — with residents taking charge to make sure the work gets done.

In April, Frances D’Emilio wrote at the Associated Press that the people of Rome, fed up with their dysfunctional government, had started filling potholes and tackling other maintenance chores themselves.

“Armed with shovels and sacks of cold asphalt, Rome’s residents fill potholes. Defying rats, they yank weeds and bag trash along the Tiber’s banks and in urban parks. Tired of waiting years for the city to replace distressed trees, neighbors dig into their own pockets to pay for new ones for their block.

“Romans are starting to take back their city, which for years was neglected and even plundered by City Hall officials and cronies so conniving that some of them are on trial as alleged mobsters.

“In doing the work, Romans are experimenting with what for many Italians is a novel and alien concept: a sense of civic duty.

“One recent windy Sunday morning, Manuela Di Santo slathered paint over graffiti defacing a wall on Via Ludovico di Monreale, a residential block in Rome’s middle-class Monteverde neighborhood. …

” ‘Either I help the city, or we’re all brought to our knees,” said Di Santo.

“Splotches of paint stained a blue bib identifying her as a volunteer for Retake Roma, a pioneer in an expanding array of citizen-created organizations in the past few years aimed at encouraging Romans to take the initiative in cleaning and repairing their city. …

“Calls and text messages pour into Cristiano Davoli’s cellphone from citizens alerting him to ominously widening potholes on their block or routes to work. On weekends, Davoli and four helpers – an off-duty doorman, a graphic artist, a government worker and a retiree – who call themselves ‘Tappami’ (Fill Me Up) load their car trunks with donated bags of cold asphalt and fan out.

” ‘Sometimes it’s the municipal traffic police who call me,’ said Davoli, a shopkeeper.” Imagine that!

Read more here.

Photo: Alessandra Tarantino
Retake Roma volunteers do the jobs that a dysfunctional government has failed to do.

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Gaia Pianigiani wrote recently at the NY Times about an effort by new residents of a town in Italy to get to know neighbors through social media.

“When Laurell Boyers, 34, and her husband, Federico Bastiani, 37, moved in together in Bologna in 2012, they did not know any of their neighbors. It was a lonely feeling. …

“So Mr. Bastiani took a chance and posted a flier along his street, Via Fondazza, explaining that he had created a closed group on Facebook just for the people who lived there. He was merely looking to make some new friends.

“In three or four days, the group had about 20 followers. Almost two years later, the residents say, walking along Via Fondazza does not feel like strolling in a big city neighborhood anymore. Rather, it is more like exploring a small town, where everyone knows one another, as the group now has 1,100 members.

“The idea, Italy’s first ‘social street,’ has been such a success that it has caught on beyond Bologna and the narrow confines of Via Fondazza. There are 393 social streets in Europe, Brazil and New Zealand, inspired by Mr. Bastiani’s idea, according to the Social Street Italia website, which was created out of the Facebook group to help others replicate the project.”

The original meet-and-greet concept has evolved into neighbors helping neighbors in many ways.

“A few months back, Caterina Salvadori, a screenwriter and filmmaker who moved to Via Fondazza last March, posted on Facebook that her sink was clogged. Within five minutes, she said, she had three different messages.

“One neighbor offered a plunger, then another a more efficient plunger, and a third offered to unblock the sink himself. …

“Nothing comes at a cost in the Via Fondazza group. Some of the community’s facilities are donated, but most of the benefits stem from the members’ willingness to help, share and live better.” More here.

Photo: Nadia Shira Cohen/New York Times
Residents of Via Fondazza in Bologna, Italy, at a neighborhood bar. The street’s Facebook page has grown to 1,100 members.

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I liked this story about a 91-year-old artist having his first solo show. John sent it to me. I hope the Arlington Advocate leaves it up for a while. (I know that all the profiles I wrote for the newspaper chain of which the Advocate is a part — and all my theater reviews — are long gone.)

A solo exhibition called ‘Umberto Centofante: A Life’s Work” was featured at the Arlington Center for the Arts (ACA) until last week and highlighted 40 years of still lifes, portraits and landscapes.

Heather Beasley Doyle writes, “When Umberto Centofante tells a story about his life or talks about his art, a distinct, almost palpable energy underscores his words. His eyes light up, his body springs lightly and a hearty laugh punctuates his paragraphs. …

“Centofante’s life began in Pontecorvo, Italy, where he grew up on his family’s farm. When he was eight years old, he says, his teacher gave him a sketchbook to take home with him.

“ ‘All of a sudden some ideas came into my head,’ Centofante recalled, and he filled the book with drawings of farm life. …

“The drawings earned him a prize and the opportunity to receive professional art instruction — a chance he had to pass up so he could help work the farm. Eventually, Centofante became a police officer and worked in Rome. After World War Two ended, he emigrated from Italy, bound for the Boston area and a job as a truck mechanic at Garwood Industries in Brighton he secured with help from an uncle who lived in Milton. Centofante had never been a mechanic, but he learned with the same intuition that had enabled him to fill the sketchbook.

“Centofante is ‘self-taught in everything,’ including painting, according to the oldest of his four children, Elaine Gleason. …

“In the Gibbs Gallery, Centofante’s paintings of boats ferrying passengers through white-capped brilliant blue seas share space with glowing, color-soaked portraits of children and exacting, nearly monochromatic nature scenes such as ‘High Moon.’ …

“Centofante says he never sketches out a project ahead of time — that he spends more time thinking and planning a painting than setting paint to canvas.

“ ‘I don’t design; I just start. I find the resolution very quickly,’ he explained. …

“Asked why he paints, he replied simply: ‘It makes me feel good.’ ”

Read more of the story at the Arlington Advocate.

Photo: Arlington.Wicked.Local.com

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The concept of paying it forward has been flourishing in Naples, at least with regard to buying a cup of coffee for someone who can’t afford one.

Recently, reporter Gaia Pianigiani interviewed Neapolitans about the “suspended coffee practice. Coffee shop customer Laura Cozzolino explained, “ ‘As a Neapolitan who tries to restrict herself to four coffees a day, I understand that coffee is important. It’s a small treat that no one should miss.’

“The suspended coffee is a Neapolitan tradition that boomed during World War II and has found a revival in recent years during hard economic times.

“From Naples, by word of mouth and via the Internet, the gesture has spread throughout Italy and around the world, to coffee bars as far-flung as Sweden and Brazil. In some places in Italy, the generosity now extends to the suspended pizza or sandwich, or even books. …

“In a time of hardship, Italians can lack many things, but their coffee is not one of them. So it may be the most common item left at many cafes, as a gift, for people too poor to pay.”

More at the NY Times.

Photo: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
Receipts are left to be claimed by those who are unable to afford a cup of coffee. 

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Back in the day, I was a great fan of Mary Renault. I took her every word as gospel, down to the conversations Theseus had with Ariadne, because the stories generally meshed with what I knew from studying ancient Greek.

The Bull from the Sea was about the sea god Poseidon, who also is the god of earthquakes. I remember Renault’s description of the eerie stillness in the air before an earthquake and the strange behavior of the creatures.

So I am not at all surprised to read in the Washington Post that animals at the National Zoo knew before this week’s earthquake actually quaked that something was about to happen.

“The zoo documented a broad range of animal behavior before, during and after the tremor … . For example, a gorilla, Mandara, shrieked and grabbed her baby, Kibibi, racing to the top of a climbing structure just seconds before the ground began to shake dramatically. Two other apes — an orangutan, Kyle, and a gorilla, Kojo — already had dropped their food and skedaddled to higher turf. The 64 flamingos seemed to sense the tumult a number of seconds in advance as well, clustering together in a nervous huddle before the quake hit. One of the zoo’s elephants made a low-pitched noise as if to communicate with two other elephants. And red-ruffed lemurs emitted an alarm cry a full 15 minutes before the temblor, the zoo said.

“During the quake, the zoo grounds were filled with howls and cries. The snakes, normally inert in the middle of the day, writhed and slithered. Beavers stood on their hind legs and then jumped into a pond. Murphy the Komodo dragon ran for cover. Lions resting outside suddenly stood up and stared at their building as the walls shook. Damai, a Sumatran tiger, leaped as if startled but quickly settled down. Some animals remained agitated for the rest of the day, wouldn’t eat and didn’t go to sleep on their usual schedule.” Read the full story.

And while we’re on the subject, please read about 96 percent of a certain kind of male toad abandoning their breeding ground five days before the 2009 L’Aquila, Italy, earthquake! (That lead came via Andrew Sullivan’s blog.)

 

 

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