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Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The interview (in Italian) with Lorenzo de Tomasi presented in nine video segments -- the first one posted here -- was conducted in February 2007 at the LinuxClub in Rome. Lorenzo graduated from Polytechnic Institute of Milan and is a graphic designer by profession. He now works for a studio that specializes in website design.
In the interview Lorenzo tells the story of how Creative Commons came to Italy ( It's a subject he knows especially well as he played a key role in the saga.
Lorenzo also talks about Richard Stallman and the free software movement, Lawrence Lessig (the American founder of Creative Commons), and some of the important differences between Europe and the United States in the areas of copyright and patents.
Part 1
Previous Blogs
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
In Italy a road that leads to Rome In Italy a road that leads to Rome
Not long ago we were in Rome in the theater auditorium of a university there listening to a panel discussion open to the public. The topic was an issue of international news coverage and the four guests on the panel were journalists and scholars. All were from countries outside Europe.
As the discussion began, each panel member introduced himself to the audience of, perhaps, three to four hundred people.
The most western of the panel members, educated in the U.S. and England, is fluent in English. On this occasion, however, he spoke in his native language and a translator rendered his words into Italian for the primarily Rome-area audience. The man is a university professor, and author of several books on international affairs.
After running through this brief bio, he mentioned that he had visited Italy several times. Often he had come to Rome, he said, but he also had traveled to other Italian cities. He mentioned Milan and Florence, and then added, "and the most beautiful of all, Venice."
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
As anyone knows who read the much discussed article article in the New York Times last month, Italians are in a funk. I would have known this even without the Times. Mauro, our neighborhood grocer, recently offered a grumbling commentary on the current state of things Italian as I was paying for a quart of milk and some bread.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
Is it an injustice to disappoint a child? If so, then one of the supreme bummers, as they say, of present day, ordinary life, is that so many millions of children in foreign language countries always have had to wait several months after the English language publication date for translations of the Harry Potter books.
Friday, December 7, 2007
It was the worst mining disaster in the history of the U.S. More than 500 were killed, according to a new book by Davitt McAteer on the event. No one knows the exact number because many of the bodies were never recovered and identified. The victims were mostly immigrants, largely young adult men but also boys as young as ten.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Seating by Bernini
Bernini's colonnade Tourists ornamenting the base of Bernini's colonnade at St. Peter's in Rome
On a sunny, early November day, tourists, and their feathered friends, visiting St. Peter's in Rome, make use of the ample steps at the base of Bernini's colonnade.
The colonnade's four rows of columns -- 300 in all -- create an oval space 650 feet across and form a spectacular setting for the renown basilica. When he designed the colonnade, Bernini himself described it as "the motherly arms of the church," according to the website Google map view here.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Chinese character Chinese character
Cultures are still divided, but they are populated with people who want to overcome these differences, with people who want to understand what the "others" understand, according to a recent article by Umberto Eco in L'espresso, an Italian weekly magazine.
Eco comes to this conclusion writing in one of his recent regular columns for L'espresso. The November 9 essay is titled Ma che capirà il cinese? (But what will the Chinese understand?). What caused the world renown Italian scholar to arrive at this hopeful perspective? A recent decision by his Chinese editor to translate an old collection of Eco's columns into Chinese.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
This week in La Repubblica, an article featured the results of a recent survey rating the most popular Italian song recording in other countries. In the number one spot is "Azzurro," performed (1969) by Adriano Celentano. The song squeaked in less than one percent above the second place Volare performed by Domenico Modugno (1958).
The survey is one in a series of monthly polls conducted online by the Società Dante Alighieri, an organization that presents and promotes the Italian culture and language throughout the world.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
The Last Supper The Last Supper (detail), Leonardo da Vinci
When Leonardo da Vinci was painting The Last Supper back around 1494, the prior at the convent in Milan where the huge work was being created kept bugging the artist to work faster.
In his classic work written in 1550, Lives Of The Artists, Giorgio Vasari, gives an account of the prior's frustration:
...he was puzzled by Leonardo's habit of sometimes spending half a day at a time contemplating what he had done so far...
Leonardo ignored the nagging and continued to proceed at his own pace. The prior then went and complained to the duke who was Leonardo's patron for the project. The duke sent for the artist and "very tactfully" ask him how things were going.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Leonardo da Vinci Self-portrait (fragment) Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper can be found in the refectory of the Dominican church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The theme, perhaps at the suggestion of the Dominicans themselves, represents the Eucharist. The moment that Leonardo chooses is the most dramatic in the Gospels, the one in which Christ utters the sentence: "One of you will betray me." It is with these words that what Leonardo called "the motions of the soul" began: the apostles are dramatically alive, their gestures indicate amazement and wonder; there is one (apostle) who rises because he doesn't understand the words of Christ, one who approaches him, one who is horrified, one who pulls back, as Judas does, immediately feeling himself called to account.
(translated from "Leonardo, La vita e l'arte, I capolavori" by Lucia Aquino*)
The lines are long and the stay is short, I've read, for the thousands of tourists showing up at the Dominican church in Milan to see Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece firsthand.
Only twenty-five people are allowed in at a time every fifteen minutes during opening hours, to look at the approximately 15' x 29' painting, according to a recent article in USA Today. Museum officials are quoted as estimating demand to be three to four times the 320,000 visitors a year who succeed in being admitted.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
First time users enjoy Negroponte's $100 laptop First time users enjoy Negroponte's $100 laptop
Nicholas Negroponte stopped off in Rome yesterday, bringing a progress report about his brainchild, the One Laptop Per Child program. Negroponte is crisscrossing the world these days in advocacy of the philanthropic project that aims to provide $100 laptops to millions of poor children around the globe. He is currently on leave from MIT, where he was co-founder and director of the MIT Media Laboratory, and a professor of media technology.
"Mass production begins on Friday morning, Shanghai time," ...
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Italian Duo Scores A World Hit
The music video of the single "Back in town," written by Italian musicians Enrico Giaretta and Olen Cesari, is featured this week in the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica online. Performed by Canadian singer Matt Dusk, the song is a hit worldwide, according to the newspaper.
Originally titled Tutta la vita in un momento (A whole life in a moment), the song was one of the singles from the first album of Giaretta.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Fresh Italian bread and Pizzutello grapes Fresh Italian bread and Pizzutello grapes
Pizzutello is the name of a white table grape that our neighborhood fruit and vegetable vendor, Felice, describes as un po' particolare (a little special). A basket full of the grapes was placed next to his cash register. A few days ago, as he was weighing the produce I had selected, he plucked some of the grapes off one of the clumps and handed them to me to taste.
"Fifty years ago, it was the custom of farm workers to hold a fistful of these grapes in one hand, and a piece of bread in the other, and eat them together," Felice said. He smiled at my look of disbelief. "Really, they did," he repeated, "you should try it."
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Power To The People
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Wednesday, October 3, 2007
For immigrants, Italy's appeal endures For immigrants, Italy's appeal endures
Yesterday a report came out here on the facts and figures of foreign residents in Italy. The number is continuing to climb, which is no surprise given the ease of cross border flow among Europe Union countries these days. As of January this year, Italian officials set the registered number of foreigners living in Italy at 2,938,922. That's up ten percent from the previous year, they say.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Starry Night (on the Rhone) by Van Gogh Starry Night (on the Rhone) by Van Gogh
Today in the La Repubblica daily newspaper, based in Rome, an article by Andrea Bettini begins (translation):
One evening at the end of September 1888, around 10:30, Vincent Van Gogh was on the banks of the Rhone, near the French city of Arles. He had just recently finished a painting of the countryside to the southwest, a view of the river with the lights of the village in the background, and at that moment decided to change the position of his easel.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Fall beauty as usual along the Tiber Fall beauty as usual along the Tiber
It isn't possible to separate the history of the bridges of Rome from that of their city or, for that matter, from the history of Italy itself. So I read recently when I discovered some special web pages on the official City of Rome website (main site text, Italian only – for English section, go here).
The section of pages is titled I Ponti di Roma (The Bridges of Rome), and here is a translation of the introduction.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Birds gather at sunset among grasses near the Tiber's Vittorio Emanuele II bridge in Rome Birds gather at sunset among grasses near the Tiber's Vittorio Emanuele II bridge in Rome

It was outcast, isolated from view, circumscribed and contained between massive walls and high embankments, and polluted with every imaginable type of rubbish. Nevertheless, the Tiber is alive, full of life and with a very ancient history still not completely told. (translation)
This is the current assessment of Marevivo, an Italian environmental association with its Rome-based, head office literally afloat on a pontoon in the Tiber (photo here). The river, il Tevere in Italian, originates in the northern Apennines mountains in the Emilia Romagna region and flows approximately 240 miles before winding into Rome and ending at the Mediterranean coast nearby.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Often when I am preparing a post involving history or antiquities, my misgivings about writing on subjects of which I know so little bring to mind a long ago reading of Mark Twain's How I Edited An Agricultural Paper. Twain's short story is a satire on newspaper writing (Interestingly, it is as scathingly critical of the typical credentials of journalists then as some in the MSM are of the blogosphere today). So this week, something a little different.
A Fiction

The idea of writing a blog about Italy made me a little anxious at first, it is true. But now that the thing seems to be coming along nicely, I am ready to reveal how I found the courage to go forward. I recalled my earlier astounding success as a guest blogger on a friend's geography website. My friend was getting married and needed someone to fill in while she was away on her honeymoon. Though it was asking the colorblind to describe the rainbow, I felt I must rise to the responsibility.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Pavarotti at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, his final performance
Good-bye to Pavarotti, an Italian legend “Remember me as an opera singer”
Pavarotti, the world loses his voice
Maestro Pavarotti is dead
Luciano Pavarotti is dead
The world cries for Luciano Pavarotti
The front pages of Italian newspapers are dominated today by headlines of mourning, these above translated from some of the country's largest daily publications, respectively La Repubblica, Corriere della Sera, La Stampa, Il Messaggero, and Il Sole 24 Ore (online editions).
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Ripening grapes on a Tuscany vine Ripening grapes on a Tuscany vine
Just before we went to Tuscany last weekend, a neighbor mentioned that he'd heard the grape harvest would be early this year. We heard more mentions about the early grape harvest while we were in Tuscany. When we returned home, in my e-mail inbox I found a press release about this year's early grape harvest from a Tuscany website.
So I suspect I'm on fairly solid ground in reporting that the Italian grape harvest will be early this year. In the area outside Florence where we stayed, I myself saw vineyards all around us, with clumps of deep purple grapes hanging heavily, ready and ripe.
Still, it's best to doublecheck these things. Going online, I quickly found some recent reports from various excellent sources confirming the early harvest, and offering the whys and whereofs.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Not long ago, I wandered into the kitchen and, opening the door to the refrigerator, meditated on the contents. Gazing at the carrots and bell peppers, I ruminated on life's injustices. It was a Sunday night and in our shared schedule of kitchen duty, Franco usually cooks on weekends. But he was busy working on something. I realized that if we were going to eat before the wee hours, I would have to do the cooking.
Earlier in the day we talked about making a pasta with Franco's special anchovy sauce, one of his favorites. It's a dish with a subtle, mellow flavor, without any of the overpowering punch this tiny pungent fish usually delivers. The thing was, I hadn't a clue how to make the sauce.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Ilaria Ilaria, 7 and a half, posing for her mom and enjoying her past-bedtime tour of Rome. Ilaria was the unofficial photographer for the evening
This week I saw the place where Julius Caesar was killed.
“Et tu, Brute?” Remember? Shakespeare, junior high English Lit class?
This is something I had never contemplated seeing. I am one of those people who have shown scant interest in history. My world has existed mostly in the single dimension of the present. Of late, though, I've seen my error. As if I've been as blockheaded as a flat earther. Which I have been. Regrets and ruing are setting in.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Sunset in Gallipoli, Apulia Sunset in Gallipoli, Apulia
As a waiter set the plates of antipasto in front of us, I felt the happy curiosity of discovering a new dish. We had ordered a regional specialty called friselle pugliesi. It is a round, rock hard bread a little bigger than an English muffin. Each serving comes with side dishes of toppings of grilled and fresh vegetables, and with an individual bowl of water, and metal tongs.
Spotting the last two, my eagerness ebbed an inch or so. I ignored this inner advisory, ...
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Time to make some more (green walnuts for nocino) Time to make some more (green walnuts for nocino)
“Would you ask Pina if I could have some noci?” Franco called to me as I picked up the phone.
He was using the Italian word for nuts, and referring specifically to green, unripened walnuts. Pina and her husband Romano, are friends from the small country town where we lived until recently. When we visit, they often give us fruits and vegetables from their usually overflowing gardens and various orchards.
“Oh, you're going to make some more nocino,” I said, pleased.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Richard Stallman waits to speak at university in Rome Richard Stallman waits to speak at university in Rome
At the invitation of some friends who work in informatica (computers and information technology), I joined them on a trip into Rome on Thursday of last week to go and listen to Richard Stallman. In the world of computers and software development, Stallman is a living American legend.
Friday, June 1, 2007
Pino Daniele's single Back Home from his new CD released in February
In a review on (Radiotelevisione Italiana) last February of Pino Daniele's latest album, he was called the standard bearer of the “Neapolitan Sound” -- described as a mix of blues, rock, jazz, and traditional Naples music. The album, Il mio nome è Pino Daniele e vivo qui (My name is Pino Daniele and I live here), is the 27th in a career spanning thirty years. The song Back Home was the first single released from the album.
One of Italy's most famous and respected contemporary musicians, Daniele also is highly regarded on the music scene worldwide. Among the non-Italian performers he has collaborated with, are the legendary Richie Havens and Chick Corea, and the rock band Simple Minds.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
For the past three weeks, we have been living in temporary quarters in a nearby town. The reason for the dislocation was some much needed renovation work on our apartment. We moved back home yesterday.
The vacation rental where we stayed is just outside the village of Rocca di Papa. This is the place sometimes mistakenly reported to be the location of the Pope’s summer palace. The error may arise from the town’s name which, translated, is Rock of the Pope. The Pope’s vacation pad, however, is in the neighboring village of Castel Gandolfo, about 1200 feet down the mountain from Rocca di Papa which is perched close to the summit.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Orange salad

The Sicilian Orange Salad. So simple. So nutritious. So good. The following two recipes are equally delicious.
Franco's Orange Salad (one serving)

1 orange (any type)
½ tbs extra virgin olive oil

Wash the orange well. Do NOT peel. Cut the orange in half. Slice very thinly, about 1/8th of an inch. Arrange slices in a loose mound on a salad plate. Salt lightly. Drizzle with olive oil.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
“Do you believe in angels?”
“Why not?” Franco replied, with the curious way he has sometimes of referring to his beliefs.
“What are they,” I asked. “What do the Roman Catholics say they are?”
“Spirits of God. Emanations. Messengers,” he said following a thread of thought.
“What are the messages?”
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Standing on the sidewalk in the center of the small Italian town where we live, I was speaking to Franco on the cellphone. Unable to find parking, he was waiting for me in the car. He also was double parked. In that moment I wasn't privy to either of these details.
“What?” he repeated, the decibel level alerting me that he wasn't as joyful as I prefer him to be. “What are you saying?”
“I forgot a part of my glasses,” I repeated, covering my free ear to shut out the din of traffic. “The thing that goes over your ears. The handle,” I finally mumbled without conviction.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
There are more than one million “old” generation robots, the ones working in industry around the world: 350,000 in Japan alone, 326,000 in Europe. In Italy for every 10,000 people working in industrial jobs, there are more than 100 robots, a number that makes Italy a world leader in this sector. And the prices of robots continue to fall. A robot bought in 2007 can cost only a fourth of what the same robot sold for in 1990.
This is a summary of the lead paragraph in a La Repubblica...
Thursday, April 5, 2007
A few years ago, I read an article by a woman writing about her travels in Italy. She mentioned, of course, the excellence of the food, but then added that even Italians will agree that when it comes to desserts, the country sadly falls short.
Had I read the article in the first year or so after I arrived...
Thursday, March 29, 2007
In search of an idea for an appetizer or a snack? Consider the anchovy.
No? With a determined shake of the head, definitely no. At least that was my response recently when Franco offered me one of the concoctions he was putting together.
On the wooden cutting board in front of him on the table were a couple of slices of freshly baked Italian bread, a small jar of salt cured anchovies in olive oil, and a dish of cold butter. I watched with scorn as he cut the bread neatly into small sections, about two inches by two inches. Next, he very precisely shaved a thin layer off the block of butter and placed it atop one of the bread sections. Then he removed an anchovy from the jar, cut off an inch long section and put it on the top of butter shaving.
“Here,” he said, offering the strange stuff to me. “It's very sweet.”
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I suppose it's rude to stare rabidly at someone else's food, especially when your own plate is full of something warm, something equally delicious. But, was it? This was my quandary. What was that luscious looking pasta in Fiore's dish? Oh, how I wished I had ordered that!
“Would you like to taste this?” Fiore asked me, holding the dish up and extending it toward me. We had bumped into Fiore and her companion Romeo, Franco's work colleague, while wandering around Rome one Saturday evening last year. Inviting us to join them for dinner, they had brought us to a small restaurant that specializes in La Cucina Romana, near Piazza Navona.
“Oh yes,” I said, and immediately speared a small portion onto my fork. A moment later my quandary was no more. Whatever this was, it was one of the best things I'd ever tasted.
“What is that?” I asked.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Published posthumously in 1958, Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) is a novel by an unknown, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The author himself had submitted the manuscript while he was alive but was told by an Italian editor that it was unpublishable, according to the About the Author note at the end of the English translation edition.
Discovered and published shortly after Lampedusa's death, Il Gattopardo became the top-selling novel in Italian history. It has been highly praised by critics. Daniel Mendelsohn, a contributor to The New York Review of Books has placed it on the list of his ten favorite books, alongside works by authors including Homer, Dickens, Austin, Tolstoy and Proust.
Thursday, March 8, 2007
The song Se bastasse un canzone (If A Song Were Enough) was written and recorded by Eros Ramazzotti, known simply as Eros. Here he performs it with Pavarotti at the tenor's famous 1998 concert Pavarotti and Friends, (later released as a CD). The event in Milan, drawing an audience of 80,000, was a benefit for the children of Liberia.
The song is a serenade to those who dream of changing the world. Roughly translated, the first stanza says -- If a beautiful song would be enough to cause love to rain down, you could sing it a million times, if it were enough, then you wouldn't need much to learn how to love more. The final stanzas dedicate the song to all those who are wandering confused, without homes or countries, those who still have nothing, who are always waiting, always dreaming of a better world.
Thursday, March 1, 2007
The big news story coming out of Italy last week was the resignation of Prime Minister Romano Prodi who offered to step down after losing an important vote in Parliament. Only a week later, the hurly-burly has died down. Yesterday, Mr. Prodi won a vote of confidence from the Parliament and now has climbed happily back into place.
In several of the news stories about this latest loud burp in Italy's political affairs, one telling detail in particular kept popping up. It was that Italy is now in its 61st government since the late 1940s. Roughly speaking, this averages out to more than one new government a year. And a general opinion outside Italy seems to be that this number is a little on the high side.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
“Beppe!” I called to the man several yards in front of us, “do you have a favorite tree?” We were making our way across ground cover of thick grass and wild flowers underneath the 400 olive trees of Beppe's grove high on the side of an Apennine mountain.
He stopped and pointed behind us to a thriving, wide branched specimen fifteen-feet high.
“Why?” I asked.
Like someone standing before a wise man finally ready to spill the beans about the true meaning of life, I waited. I was certain the words to come would reflect the mystical aura of the age old, pure panorama surrounding us, snow peaked mountain ranges filling the horizon, a blue, clear sky above.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
When I first moved to Italy, I lived in the small farm town of Lariano (which I have written about here). One of the interviews I did while there was with our family physician, Dottoressa Marcella Caporello. It was a good interview, too good to keep all to myself. So I am presenting it below in this blog.
Dr. Caporello was born and grew up in Rome. This sophisticated urbanite, who is fluent in English, has now lived in Lariano for almost three decades. In her position of close and privileged proximity to its citizenry she knows the town in a special way. She is warm and friendly with her patients and has a sense of confidence and air of self-possession that immediately inspires trust.
Although she has an office assistant to help with the usually overflowing waiting room, Dr. Caporello answers her own phone and, at times, still even makes house calls. Patients do not make appointments but simply arrive during office hours and are seen on a first come, first serve basis. The order is maintained informally by the patients themselves. When someone arrives they ask the room at large, Chi è l'ultimo? (Who is the last?), thereby learning their place in line.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
This week I am devoting this blog space to present an essay, Market of Dreams, by Spartaco Mencaroni. Spartaco is a young MD who is now working for the Italian Public Health Department. A few years ago, his family invited us to come see Spartaco graduate with top honors from the University of Perugia School of Medicine. It was only later that I learned how much this new doc also enjoys writing. He began while still in medical school and has finished manuscripts for three novels. At present, he is at work on another. When I asked him recently how he manages to do it all, he laughed and said for him writing is simply pleasure.
Just in passing, the second of the completed trio is a historical fiction manuscript about Spartaco's famous hometown of Cortona, Tuscany. (And yes, that is a plug in case anyone has the ear of a publisher who knows how popular this Under The Tuscan Sun town is with American tourists.)
I spotted Market of Dreams on Spartaco's website and I liked it so much I asked permission to translate it. Coming clean, I have to admit my skills at Italian are still inadequate to independent translation of literary text. But having an Italian in the house to provide the expert touch saved the day, and Spartaco has given his approval of the end result.
As something extra for those who speak Italian, I am placing the original version alongside the translation. Without doubt, I've fallen short in capturing the lyricism of the Italian, so perhaps this will compensate a little.
Market of Dreams
by Spartaco Mencaroni
There are days in which it seems incredible to have to be alone. In the city I drive around in my car and watch the people through the windshield as I am passing, as if I'm watching a film. Only now do I understand how far away people we are passing by can be...
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Two teenage boys wearing identical green polo shirts step forward from their casual sentry pose beside a small truck with a Greve in Chianti municipal logo on the side. They wave our car to a stop as we turn into a side street leading down a short hill into a public parking lot. Two euro for the day, one says politely.
At primary traffic hubs near the center of the small Tuscany town, others wearing the green shirts also direct cars maneuvering through the streets. This traffic control activity is a mundane but important sign of one of the elements that qualify Greve (pronounced Grev-eh) to be a Slow City. Or as it's christened in Italian, Città Slow.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Immediately after I tripped over the Yorkshire Terrier, who quite understandably squealed in protest, the woman holding the leash exclaimed, Ooh la la!
(For those interested, I offer this as evidence that Parisians do, in real life as in the movies, say Ooh la la – just as I have discovered that many Italians actually often do use the expression Mamma Mia!).
Like a deeply traumatized rabbit in a hole, my brain trapped among three languages – my high school French, my present, daily Italian, and my native English – simply punched the mute button and I, mutely, helplessly, stared back at the mildly distressed woman staring at me.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Today I want to tell a story I heard recently while having a conversation about women and politics. It's about one particular woman in Italian politics and the day she cried.
The woman is Stefania Prestigiacomo and for those who like to visualize the heroine she is undeniably a beautiful blond. The key subject of the story is something known here as the quote rosa. Translated this means pink quota. It refers to a proposal that by law would require a certain percentage, at minimum, of the candidates on political party election tickets be women.
Thursday, January 4, 2007
A short clip of Roberto Benigni talking about his 2005 film The Tiger and The Snow
Yesterday, while skipping around the Internet in search of one thing, I came across another even better. It was a 1998 interview with Italian actor-writer-director Roberto Benigni, published in the UK newspaper The Guardian (interview online here). The previous year Benigni's film Life is Beautiful had won three Oscars.
Benigni did the interview, which was in front of an audience, entirely in English. At one point in the lengthy and complex discussion, he mentioned that he thought he was being brave in doing the thing in English. Only someone who has never faced such a challenge would disagree with him. And only someone who has never heard (and even partially understood) this astoundingly intelligent man, who speaks so wittily and brilliantly in his own native Italian language, can understand what a humble and courageous thing this was for him to do.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Tis the Season, Ready or Not
Several years ago I lost the spirit of Christmas. A special feeling for this special time had always arrived for me in early December. Promptly. No matter the circumstances of my life, happy or sad, my mood lifted in the magic atmosphere of the holiday season. Perhaps the feeling had ebbed a little each year without my awareness. Then one year, nothing. The carols, the tree, the decorations, the big feast, all of the traditional symbols were lifeless to me. If I had encountered the Ebenezer Scrooge of the first part of Dickens' story, we would have been simpatico.
I mentioned this to a friend who lived a much more contemplative life than I. May I make a suggestion, she said to the gloomy figure I was. Over these holidays, why not pose the question to yourself -- what is the meaning of Christmas for me personally? The suggestion surprised me. I had never before thought to do such a thing. And so I did. And in this way I rediscovered the spirit of the season, not as the spontaneous response I had in earlier times but as an intimate, quieter influence.
Thinking back on this experience, I appreciate the question especially because of its democratic nature – it serves believer and non-believer. It may not be possible in Western society, whatever a person's creed or culture, to avoid encountering the celebration of Christmas and all the imperatives it brings with it. So having a helpful elf all your own in the form of a personal meditation can be a very good thing.
Happy holidays!
Thursday, December 14, 2006
A young man wearing a baseball cap squats on his heels measuring the length of a desk. He's talking on his cell phone and describing his findings to someone on the other end. A young couple walk by so engrossed in each other and their conversation, they don't see anything or anyone. A thirtyish mom with her dark red hair cut short is browsing the shelves in a corner of the housewares department. She seems oblivious to the toddler on her hip who is screaming loud enough to wake Socrates. No one else takes much notice either – it's a temper tantrum friendly kind of place.
I'm standing in the office furniture department, scrutinizing a small computer stand on rollers that seems to me just the right size to place next to my desk at home, I loosen the belt on my coat and unbutton it. It's warm. Unlike many stores in Italy in wintertime where the clerks sometimes stand hugging themselves and shivering – energy costs are so high – it's never cold in this one.
Thursday, December 7, 2006
In mid-November, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi was invited to speak on the opening day of a large anti-mafia weekend conference in Rome. It was a first-of-its-kind event – a gathering of several groups working against the country's organized crime network – and several prominent members of Parliament and other Italian politicians were in attendance.
The prime minister arrived about 4:30pm, and took a seat in the first row of the huge auditorium. The afternoon session had kicked off at 2:30 and a dozen other VIPS of various distinction were scheduled to speak before Mr. Prodi would get his turn. A couple of the speakers were brief and perfunctory but most were impassioned and inclined to be longwinded. A few were so eloquent they brought the approximately two thousand members of the audience to their feet with loud cries of Bravo! and prolonged applause.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
The young Italian university professor Arturo is holding up his right hand to emphasize his statement. His index finger punches the air as accent to his anger.
“America is a cancer in the world,” he says. “Un cancro,” he repeats in Italian.
The subject is Iraq.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
On Thursday, two days after the November 9th midterm elections, curious about reaction within the Italian political community, I hopped on a train and went into Rome to listen to a panel discussion on the subject. Titled U.S. Midterm Elections: Results and Consequences, the event was sponsored by the Center for American Studies, a non-profit Italian institute founded post-WWII.
Five political scholars made up the panel, three of them Italian and two American. The room was packed, all chairs full and several people standing along the wall in the rear. As was pointed out by the panel's moderator and the Center's Executive Director Kazim Mezran, such a large turn-out, approximately 200, was unusual for a discussion about a midterm election.