Thursday, December 8, 2016

Train from Mantova to Rome

The new Trenitalia timetable dropped the direct Mantova–Roma Termini Frecciargento high speed train. Replacing it with slow regional options to Bologna or Milan to connect with the mainline Frecciarossa services.

Italo Treno, the private competitor on just a few lines offers better than Trenitalia from Bologna to Rome on the day in question, Friday 7 April.

So we will travel regionale  to Bologna, as at left (the price is for two). Then we will leave our bags safely at the station and briefly visit downtown Bologna before taking Italo to Rome. I bought two of the low cost first class (Prima) seats on advice of the Man in Seat 61, because there is
in each carriage, one set up with two seats facing each other across a table. Replacing arguments about window seat with arguments about riding forward or riding backwards. I think if you get the facing forward seat you have clear obligation to be the one to say 'look at that' and point, because at 250km/hr there's not much point in the person looking backwards saying 'look at that'.

This is the wonderful Man in Seat 61 [link] and this below is a screenshot of the two-to-a-table arrangement he recommends.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Referendum and Renzi context.

A referendum to amend the Italian constitution was lost on Sunday and the young prime minister Matteo Renzi who had, unlike all before him, gotten reform that far, resigned in the face of dinosaurs on all sides wanting him gone.

There is an excellent review of the situation here, by the Australian born, Italian citizen, head of the Brussels managing editor of MLex, James Panichi.

The Italian constitution vests significant powers in the president and President Mattarella is a very experienced politician who entered politics when his brother, at the time President of Sicily was assassinated by the mafia. Asked then to clean up the Sicilian branch of the Christian Democratic Party (DC). He was a member of the left in the DC, a concept difficult for those coming from countries where a catholic party would be expected to be deeply conservative. But the Democristiani were working in a different kind of world, where it as the confessional party contained within itself everyone from monarchists, fascists, conservatives to socialists and anarchists. The old DC regularly securing 40% of the vote to the Communist Party's 30%. Mattarella's faction favoured the 'apertura alla sinistra', opening to the left, and dealing with the communist party.  He seems held in warm regard. He has told Renzi to stay in his seat and sort out budget and electoral laws. Mattarella is not rolling over for the right and populists calling for an election straight away.


For non-Australians seeking the meaning of the "Renzi’s Keatingesque strut" this is a reference to the wonder-modernist spit-on-fools former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, who also took on too many people at once, including a conservative electorate.


I think the Oxford Dictionary is wrong in saying this is a seventeenth century word, right in contrast to other sources in not limiting meaning to moral or religious grounds.

There are valuable texts, links here and here (and in the right column) for discussion of sumptuary laws in medieval and renaissance Italy.

These also make the interesting point that Italian cities and towns (Italy just a notion and a bit of geography back then) differed from other places in Europe; they saw the development of a middle class earlier than other parts of Europe. In referring to cities I note that at the time of the renaissance Florence had the same kind of population as my small town in Australia (30,000 - 40,000).

In that situation, sumptuary laws evolved to limit wicked expenditure on non-necessities and especially imported goods, trading cities having a rather Trumpian notion of trade, push it out, stop it coming in. Already a bit upper class people who would prefer to kick away the ladder than help others up to their elevated level. Dr Seuss wrote a book, King Looie Katz, and more about it.

There was church-tut about décolletage and more of course.

At the beginning of her honours thesis, Amanda Facelle writes:
Fashion and luxury were very important in Italian Renaissance society.
One’s appearance indicated more than whether one was simply attractive, it also
indicated one’s social standing. It was commonly believed that if one could acquire
the wealth and means through which to buy beautiful clothing and host bountiful
feasts, one could rise in status and prestige. Since most of the societies of
Renaissance Italy were relatively fluid, at least compared to other societies of the
time, the prospect of upward status mobility by the middle classes through
luxurious clothing and opulent public behavior was troubling to the upper echelons
of society. The more people infiltrated their ranks, the more their power would
become diluted. They would not have this, if they could help it. How was this
problem to be solved? The answer, in part, lay in the adoption of sumptuary laws.
There follows a very interesting account, worth the read but long and thesis-style, including of the velocity of new laws to catch up with new efforts to beat existing laws.

Facelle [p 24] writes
Numerous cities also imposed fines upon those who acted contrary to the established law. Often times, ladies would simply wear what they wanted and expect to pay the fines that they knew they could afford. This phenomenon was so prevalent that it was even given its own term by the Venetians,“pagare le pompe,” or “to pay the luxury fine.”
In those times, according to such reports, women wore impractical shoes to make clear that they did not have to work.

But now we read in the Medical Daily that academics claim that certain shoes are worn to manipulate men. They probably did not expect to have an accompanying photo of so much more than shoes. People are apparently paid for this research:
According to a recent study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, women who wear high heels are found to be significantly sexier to men. ... The first three studies involved a woman confederate wearing black shoes with no heel, a 2-inch heel, or black pumps with a 3.5-inch heel asking men for help in various circumstances. The woman switched shoes after soliciting every 10 people.
I am distracted.

Nancy Lamb Roider writes:
The Italian noble class was a highly fluid group. Nobles in other parts of Europe were easily identified, as they lived off rents and other feudal incomes, and fought based on the requirements of knight service, rather than for money. The lifestyle of Italian nobles resembled that of their counterparts only in passing, for the Italians were frequently only glorified merchants [or successful gangsters according to Templeton, see earlier blog entry]. Most of the people who will be discussed in this paper come from the merchant stock; they or their immediate forefathers worked for a living for at least some part of their lives. This history of work led new Italian nobles of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance to feel somewhat illegitimate. These feelings of illegitimacy were manifested in the perceived need to proclaim their status whenever possible. These feelings gave rise to the ostentatious fashions...
Aha, you say, I know those people, they are all around me in the modern gossip magazine, with also some efforts just to have fun. But underneath all, the desire to be sumptuous. Or cheerfully ludicrous.

We have, at minimum, subconscious rules about where people should wear such.

It is possible to observe class differences (real or imagined) in assessing those photos from this link.  ... acceptable on a racecourse in spring, in Australia.

People write to TripAdvisor asking what is the dress code for Italy in April. To which the reply generally is "there is none, but be respectful in churches, some have rules."

Morality and politics come into play in modern times too.  As these images indicate:

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Communication, syphilis, Este and culture.

Some years ago at the Porta Portese market in Rome (though not quite as long ago as the engraving here might suggest) I bought a version of Ptolemy's map of 'Southeast' Asia which had been a fold out frontispiece of the French edition of this history by the Scots historian William Robertson, name too long to type. The original published in Edinburgh in 1791, the French edition in 1792. I liked the map, for itself, but also found it intriguing that in a moment when France was busy with the guillotine and Britain and France were going to war knowledge, wisdom, academic literature moved so swiftly.
We don't hear about Robertson but "Robertson was a founder member of Edinburgh’s Select Society in 1754 along with David Hume, Adam Smith and Allan Ramsay and supported the establishment of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783." [source]

source Amazon

Now, in reading Rita Castagna Mantua, History and Art, Firenze 1979 pages 24 and 26, I read that Francisco II and his son Federico II Gonzaga, Marquesses of Mantova, both died of syphilis.

Wikipedia reports that too, alleging also that the entirely philanderous Francesco contracted it from prostitutes while the son 'inherited it from his father'. [source] [source]  Were Francesco here he would probably sue Wikipedia for suggesting he had to pay.

Lucrezia Borgia, blamed for everything in those years that could not be precisely pinned on her brother Cesare and her dad Pope Alex 6, died aged 39, also in 1519, the record showing death caused by childbirth difficulties. But the record also shows that inter alia Francesco and Lucrezia had a long term raging affair.

Come back to them in a moment. First I want to note that the dominant theory is that syphilis entered Europe with the return of Columbus in March 1493 from his first voyage to the Caribbean.

Then, quick as you can publish a French translation of a history published in Scotland three hundred years later, the armies of Charles VIII of France carried syphilis to Italy and most notoriously to Naples. But as that last link indicates he stopped along the way with quite a bit of customary rape and pillage. That link also brings into focus all the families of the period in Rome and northern Italy. There is mention in particular of the Sforza family, ruling in Milan. I wrote earlier of Caterina Sforza of Forli, bastard child of her role model the dreaded Gian Galleazo Sforza.

source wikipedia
His younger brother Ludovico Sforza was in charge by the time Charles VIII came by, ally in one direction, not in the other, check how the wind blows from Rome. Interesting how these families alternate raging monsters with cultured people with imagination. Ludovico and his sister married a brother and sister Este, from Ferrara, in a joint ceremony orchestrated by Leonardo da Vinci. Leo also splashed some fresco on the wall adjacent to Ludo's dad Francesco's tomb. Not many people go to see Frank's tomb but a crush of people go to see the Ultima Cena - Last Supper. The historical context is often lost in the tourist rush for Big Things.

Easily distracted ... my point was to draw attention to the turmoil of the times and this other dimension of the times, not only a proliferation of printing presses in Italy but also of syphilis. But it seems ridiculous to pin the rampaging, soldiering Francesco Gonzaga's syphilis on the sex industry when he was an archetype of the rape and pillage industry. Nobody of course (or that I've seen) writes about same sex lifestyles of the armies of the renaissance. Though at court there must have been a bit and one suspects that the great idealised poet Torquato Tasso, tolerated especially in Ferrara, may have been a bit queer.

For more on sex in the renaissance try this search.

source wikipedia
Francesco Gonzaga married Isabella d'Este, the Ferrara family of culture and style. I mentioned the Este court in Ferrara before as an end note to discussing the Gonzagas at Mantova. Now I realise that in both courts, the great civilising and artistic patrons were Alfonso II and his sister Isabella, the Estes. Though I earlier suggested that Alfonso's wife Lucrezia Borgia may have been influential in the shaping of Italian language, not least as while known for her affair with Frank Gonzaga, she also carried on some horizontal correspondence with the towering figure of Italian literature Pietro Bembo an owned administrator at the Este court of Ferrara.

Isabella outlived Francesco II Gonzaga by twenty years, dying the same year as her beloved, sensitive, artistic and not-very-good-at-obligatory-war-stuff son Federico. Of whose death wikipedia claims he 'inherited' syphilis from his father. It's not genetic, of course, it's sexually transmitted. Isabella showed no signs. Dad must have introduced his son to it some other ways, perhaps in shared experience, perhaps more directly? I have no background as a historian, but if people are going to leave around such nonsenses as the prostitute and inherited claims, surely I can raise questions.

I commend to you Rita Castagna's book Mantua, History and Art which led me on this expedition through the wild side of the renaissance.

Makes you realise how tame Shakespeare's take on Italy is. Perhaps he had to keep it tame to stay out of prison in fusty England. I note Anthony Burgess's speculations on Shakespeare's syphilis.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Italian referendum 4 December 2016.

We blithely plan for March but Italy heads towards a possible cliff edge on 4 December with a referendum to alter the constitution to end the capacity of the upper house of the parliament to bring down governments:   Italy has had 64 governments since the republic was established after World War II. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said he will resign if the vote is 'no'. He comes from the left. Today The Economist  which does not come from the left says people should vote no including because the proposed changes to the upper house would make it less representative — a bit thick coming from an establishment journal in the UK with its House of Lords! Otherwise there is a widespread apprehension that an anti-government vote in Italy, on the heels of Brexit and Trump, and with the EU destabilised, could have very wide repercussions, given the state of the Italian banks. One wonders who within the world of The Economist is shorting Italian stocks. See this review of The Big Short on the last great American crash; the review expresses concern about Italy.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Trumps and the Borgias

screenshot images from Foreign Policy
I wrote two blog entries recently on this, here and here — go down to the end of the second link for discussion of Lucrezia Borgia, the House of Este and the history of the Italian language.

Now comes Foreign Policy magazine with "A Working Theory: the Trumps are the Borgias of the 21st Century".

Whether this comparison holds up in detail is not the issue, comparisons never hold up when exposed to scepticism.

screenshot from Foreign Policy
The piece in Foreign Policy dwells on comparison of Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso d'Este with Ivanka and Jared Kuschner. Given that we are living in the Era of the Unexpected, it may, just may, be possible to imagine Jared assembling a court of finest painters and musicians and presiding over some equivalent of the foundations of modern Italian language, as happened under the Estes. Please consider in light of the decision by the Oxford Dictioaries to award the word of the year title for 2016 to 'post-truth'.
Here begins the future of language? We should also note that Foreign Policy relies on fiction for images of the Borgias...

Trump and literature and culture, I hear you smile... Cop this

With the day by day stories of the Trumps, we have a return to the conventionalism of scholars, in putting the women in the story in ancillary roles, as well may be the actuality of their lives, but who would know if it were different?

I ventured at the end of this blog entry (link as above) that we might consider whether Lucrezia Borgia had a role in the foundation years of Italian language. I look forward to seeing a feminist revisionist perspective of the Once and Future Trumps. There are many fairy tale elements already, if we survive long enough for more to be written. On the male side the great grandfather changing his name from Drumpf to Trump and the grandfather apprenticed as a hairdresser before running away to Seattle to escape military service: surely the present was on the cards.

But the future, what do the cards say about that? I know who thinks he holds the cards but people have to play to make it a game. The other great gangster houses of the renaissance begin to form alliances. See this and this and this. Just a start. Trump-Putin-Assad-Netanyahu against the world of multinational business?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

San Severino Marche

We have been in happy contact with our airbnb host in San Severino Marche and all will be well for our visit in March.

Monday, October 31, 2016

earthquakes head north, grow stronger, envelope San Severino Marche

It is a curious thing that a booking with airbnb, a booking in the sharing economy is, at least for us in our experiences, a more personal connection than other accommodation booking.

And so we feel a sense of connection with the family who will be our hosts in San Severino Marche, or such is our plan, from 15-20 March next.

Ls Quercia Blu, San Severino
We wrote last week to express concern and support in the wake of the earthquake of 26 October. The situation has now deteriorated at San Severino with the earthquake on 30 October.

The headline below reads:
Earthquake: houses collapse at San Severino, a supermarket crumbles.
The report indicates the whole town was in the street or in the refuge at 7.40am, and preparations had been made for accepting 1500 in the refuge.

The report indicates greatest damage in Via Mazzini, where apartments had been evacuated from 26 October. There have been no deaths but on 30 October 'tens of people' attending first aid (pronto soccorso) centres. A significant number of residents in these towns in the Appenines, shaken for two months so far, have packed up and moved to the coast.

San Severino's physical damage seems thus far to be less than in the hill towns of Tolentino and Camerino, on either side, places more famous for their history, with an ancient university at Camerino and Tolentino as a place of pilgrimage. But throughout the region, damage to industry, agriculture, education and services is very great. In the region of Le Marche alone:
“There are between 10,000 and 100,000 people who will need to be assisted,” said Luca Ceriscioli, the president of the Marche region, adding that if the seismic activity does not stop, “you are likely to get to 100 thousand displaced people.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016


see the embedded video below

We are in Vasanello from Sunday 12 March 2017 to Wednesday 15 March, 2017.

It began as a convenient location, not too far from the airport at Rome. Then we found a delightful apartment.

On the way to Le Marche. With an opportunity to travel over two days in areas where we stayed for a month in 2010.

That was when we only knew that we had rushed through Vasanello on the bus hastening to the station in Orte, on a grey morning.

Now we begin to discover Vasanello. And good grief, having just finished writing about Lucrezia Borgia in Ferrara, earlier about Cesare Borgia in taking on Catherine Sforza in Forli, here's the Renaissance news from Vasanello. Pope Alex 6 as below was father of Lucrezia and Cesare...small world in Rome.
"In 1489 Orsino Orsini, Duke of Vasanello (or Bassanello as it was called at the time) married Giulia Farnese, a 
beautiful young woman who shortly after her marriage (or perhaps even before) became the mistress of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (from 1492 Pope Alexander VI). Giulia Farnese ensured her husband had some compensation for his silent tolerance of her affaire and she favoured the ecclesiastical career of her brother Alessandro, the future Pope Paul III. She lost her husband in 1500 and her lover in 1503. At that point she thought it wise to establish good relations with the new pope (Pope Julius II Della Rovere) and in 1505 she arranged the marriage of Laura, her only daughter, to Nicolò Della Rovere, nephew of the pope, who became the new duke of Vasanello."
This is not, reports Wikipedia the Orsino Orsini, husband of another Giulia Farnese, who years later, just a few miles up the Tiber established his monster garden for the entertainment of ladies at Bomarzo.

A couple of young bloggers who would like people to be more interesting, more creative and capable of dealing with change in the world ahead, have published an interesting piece on an argument  over land in the centre of the town with the Orsini castle owners in Vasanello which has been a source of resentment for 150 years. Because they write in a creative style, Google's translation is not good, but try translation of the page at link.
This, favourable to the castle and owners, is a video on the glories of Vasanello with some nice history.
But there's more than such to contemporary Vasanello.
Usually when you search youtube for towns away from the Tourist Tramp, you get videos of bike and motor bike trails in the mountains. But in Vasanello, there's this fun:

On wealth: Gonzaga, Este, Borgia, Medici... and Trump

I wrote yesterday of the enormous wealth of the Gonzagas of Mantova,  also mention of the Este family in Ferrara and connections with other gigantically rich families, the Borgias, the Medici and the grasping of those especially for the papacy and expenditure on art and fame which lost them, in several cases, all their wealth.. and in the case of the papacy, half the church to Luther and the Germans generally, resentful, hateful of taxes and 'indulgences' sold by the popes to finance the art of Rome.

Edith Templeton, calling them Renaissance gangsters, questioned their happiness amid their wealth.

Today, reading James Fallows's invaluable political blog at The Atlantic I find a link to a reflection on wealth and Citizen Kane by Donald Trump. Which surely the Gonzagas, Russian kleptocrats of the present, the Koch brothers might do well to have watched at some time. The clip is from a never finished film by Errol Mark Morris, known mostly for his film The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S McNamara.

Fallows describes that as 'astonishly introspective' for Trump.
True, but one also sees in it Trump likening himself to Kane.

Here is Orson Welles, including with chorus line,
doing a bit of a Trump in the original promotion for Kane.

It would be sensible of both Clinton and Trump (and Putin)
to watch the Eleven Lessons of Robert McNamara,
not believing all the argument but understanding the tragedy involved in being 'right.'

Also spare a thought for the Gonzagas and Estes and Medicis
persistently at war, for evil or duty or right?
Right/s (diritto/diritti) a word with all its ambiguity, in English and Italian.
In Latin far apart:
iustum: justice, justness, formality, uprightness.
fas: divine law, divine command, Destiny, sacred duty, Right.
— in current times too, there is surely a lot of slippage in crisis or vision from iustum to fas
or rather there is insufficient common understanding of what may be our nations, tribes, states
to avoid conflict in which fas and iustum is confoundedly confused.

McNamara added ten more after seeing the film, see wikipedia

Saturday, October 29, 2016


Ravenna is somewhat neglected by tourists – except for those who tumble out of gigantic cruise ships, but I think we will be there before the season. Check later and avoid. We will be 30km away in Forli 20-27 March. 

Ravenna is the outstanding example of mosaic work in the ancient world. It seems unlikely that any photos I might take when there will be less failing to capture them,
"Italy has the richest concentration of Late Antique and medieval mosaics in the world." [Wikipedia]

"In 402 A.D., the Roman Emperor Honorius transferred the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna as a security measure. The city thus abandoned its more provincial appearance and took on all the pomp and circumstance of an Imperial residence. From that time on, Ravenna was thrice a capital (later of the Ostrogothic Kingdom and Byzantine Empire)." Discover Italy: there are eight UNESCO heritage buildings in Ravenna from those times.

My mentor, the late Mrs Templeman, wrote:
"I will not give any reproductions of [mosaics of Ravenna] in this book. This is the greatest compliment I can pay them."

  • p 223, The Surprise of Cremona, Autralian Readers Book Club edition 1955 

In a conversation between herself and the mosaics and a professor, we learn (as I did not learn from any tourist info) that the buildings in Ravenna were decorated with mosaics not to imitate paint, but to imitate carpets, the court having come to Ravenna under byzantine authority, and the habit and pride in the east being to decorate walls with carpet.
There follows at p 226ff a discussion of the design, organisation and colour balance in the mosaics which is such that I can happily say hunt down a copy of the book, we will be taking ours along.

Hilary's review of the book, with focus on Ravenna, is amusing but misses this most important bit. is good on the symbolism in the mosaics.


Mantova according to Edith, part 2 plus a bit more

Ludovico III Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua and Barbara of Brandenburg
with their children, fresco by 
Andrea Mantegna at San Giorgio Castle, Mantua, around 1470
source wikipedia

I had in mind drawing substantially on Edith Templeton's The Surprise of Cremona to discuss Mantova here, but have decided to be brief — and bring you a movie, albeit in Italian, but remember one picture is worth a thousand words. 

Nonetheless, Edith's book is an excellent reflective guide, though 60 years old. We will carry it to Mantova.

Descriptive of art and artists, it also dwells with some puzzlement on the Gonzaga family who seized the city in 1328 or so, built the castle to end all castles with fifteen courtyards, churches etc, etc and went bankrupt from extravagance of a wedding in 1608, whereafter most of their pictures sold to Charles I in England, more works seized and taken away by Napoleon and others. This wedding spared no expense, including one of Monteverdi's most notable operas. (The city was devastated by the Thirty Years' War, plague and sacking. It now has an elegance and charm and an integrity from being away from the main tracks of tourist tramping.)

Discussion of the Gonzaga mind, the persistent search for happiness in the art and construction, in Mantova and Sabbioneta. A fear of death on preoccupation with which she quotes Lorenzo de' Medici, another 'gangster' of the renaissance:
"Fair is youth and free of sorrow
Yet how soon its joys we bury.
Let who would be now be merry:
Sure is no-one of tomorrow."
  • quoted at page 161, Readers Book Club edition (Australia) 1955

As elsewhere Edith finds a professor, this time to discuss the Gonzaga extravagance and in response to her perspective that the Gonzaga's creations were just folie de grandeur  the professor responds that this was not so, the immense wealth of the Gonzaga was acquired by plunder in war, that they had no way of sharing the wealth as in modern times building industry, their construction works and commissioning of art enabled sharing of their wealth. And against her observation that Venice, even richer, built dainty palaces compared with the Gonzaga monster, the professor points out that Venice had an entirely different and trade oriented economy. [pp183-4].

We shall go see, Templeton in hand.

I wrote also in an earlier blog entry regarding those times.

The map at right in this text (link also in right column) shows the Po delta in 1570, before effects of an earthquake that year. Note the great lake in front of Bologna, Mantova in a lake and Ravenna out to sea. Chioggia is in the northeastern corner of the map. Venice off the map just north of that. 
Note Ferrara - pointer from the bottom. Ferrara a great rival of the Venetian Republic and hostile to Venetian desires to muck around with the delta and block off their lagoon from floods. 

But then the Este family who had made Ferrara great (their works are what people go to Ferrara to see) ran out of legitimate heirs—and so Pope Clem 8 in 1598, [declaring them a pack of bastards] sent in his army and grabbed the city. But then the same Clem 8 declared a Holy Year in 1600, meaning he would do no warring. The Venetians quickly upped spades and in four years diverted much of the flow away from their lagoon. And then in the south the land grew and the delta marched out to sea (continuing)

source wikipedia
Lucrezia Borgia had died
after difficult pregnancy and childbirth
in 1519
These cities on the north of Italy went through extraordinary times in the Renaissance, the arrival of the printing press, many of them in Venice in particular, altered possession of and entitlement to information (compare with the Shock of the Internet since 2000) and also altered language, enthusiasm for an 'Italian' language, a shift from Latin. The great foundation literary work of Italian language, Orlando Furioso, which draws on Arthurian legend as well as that of Rowland, was written by Ludovico Ariosto who was an administrator for the House of Este. He produced three editions of Orlando Furioso, changes reflecting the 'great argument' about how an Italian language should be, in those years.

Portrait of a Woman by Bartolomeo Veneto,
traditionally assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia.
 Dominant figure in literary direction and music and the popularisation of the madrigal, at the time, was Pietro Bembo.

It was probably a contributing consideration Ariosto's responses to Bembo's advice on his text that Bembo was senior to him in the court of the Este family, indeed senior to the point of carrying on with the wife of the duke of Ferrara, a certain Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alex 6.

And, and, we are back to the point, just a bit, inasmuch as also Lucrezia was carrying on with her husband's sister's husband, Francisco II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantova.

Herewith let me venture, if none has before, that Lucrezia Borgia was surely thus a major influence on the form of the Italian language—and the popularisation of the madrigal.
Look at those two, sound out the word 'popularisation'  and ask yourself...or ask Rupert Murdoch!

Alfonso deserves credit too, having brought an array of painters and musicians to Ferrara. While Alfonso 'acquired' Ariosto when he inherited Ferrara, in the shining pages of history the visual artists and musicians are way ahead.

The National Gallery of Victoria claims this on the right is the only true painting of Lucrezia Borgia: "We have the only known portrait of the most famous and notorious woman in Renaissance history."

Were a man so described he could certainly be a major figure in literary history...

Hey look, what's she been writing?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Earthquakes in Le Marche

We will be in San Severino Marche in March.

With new earthquakes closer to San Severino than those in August, We wrote today to our hosts in San Severino to say:
Arriviamo in Marzo. Adesso stiamo attento alla situazione con terremoti, leggendo Il Resto del Carlino. 
Mandiamo la nostra sincera simpatia e preoccupazione per la sicurezza della vostra famiglia e communitå. 
A presto
Helen and Dennis
Translating: "We are arriving in March, we are aware of the earthquake situation and we are reading Il Resto del Carlino. We send our sincere sympathy and concern for the security of your family and community. See you soon."
Link to government response to latest earthquakes
A Prime Ministerial visit to Camerino safer than to
Ussita (link, second link)
or Visso (four earthquakes on 27 October),
one of the club of most beautiful towns in Italy.

Il Resto del Carlino is a newspaper from the 1800s, based in Bologna, with a number of local editions. Literally 'il resto del carlino' means the change you would get from the smallest coin of papal currency, the sheet of news you would be given as change from buying a cigar.

The major national La Corriera della Sera, based in Milan, has a little video to show earthquake vulnerable regions, from which this below is a still image. And from these one can see that though there are troubles currently in Le Marche, the bigger risks are theoretically to the west and south.

These risks, like those of plane travel and fairground death are surely much smaller than the risks in crossing the road in the city or driving the car in the country. We choose where we go every day. The unexpected shocks, the frequent numbs. Those who said 'nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition' weren't there at the time. Galileo expected the Inquisition. Giordano Bruno suffered it with greater obstinacy than Galileo, but tourists often don't even see the big black figure over there, surrounded as it is by food and frolic. Descartes, doubtless trembling a bit in his boots in Belgium reading the news of Galileo, defended himself with a bizarre scientific explanation of the existence of god and left western science with twin swords on which it continues to fall, reductionism and mind-body separation notions, which have surely killed many more people than earthquakes.

From La Corriera della Sera, source the national vulcanology institute

Saturday, October 22, 2016

To Mantova with Edith, part 1: Edith, Virgil, Aeneas, ... and Dido.

Before this contextual diversion, I should refer the reader who would like something more practical to this piece in The Guardian.    :-)
The rest of this drawing on Edith Templeton, 
The Surprise of Cremona, 
page references to the 
[Australian] Readers Book Club edition, 1955 

In preparing for a visit to Mantova, I have been preoccupied by a history of development of the city by one family: by the extent to which the city is presented in many photos as fortress walls, moats, riches, art, beauty, complexity,  accumulated by a few for themselves — on the backs of bleeding many.
Such is tourism: Who built the pyramids, did the emperor really also bury the potters along with the terracotta warriors (well Qin Shi Huangdi buried scholars anyway)? Is this where the Red Guards marched? Don't tell me about the genocide of Aborigines, that's old, I'm here and I'm going to climb that rock because it belongs to all Australians. And after that I'll go to see the Roman Forum, where was it that Caesar was stabbed? Ah touropia, wherefore art thou touropia, let me make a selfie with you.

"Eating cheese in Mantua is a thoughtful business, 
made for pondering over Virgil."
photo from
Edith Templeton is an excellent cicerone though not dull or dry pseudo-professorial, rather a worldly woman with a fine sense of sizing up men, art and other preposterations.
In part I enjoy her writing because she asks questions I have been asking myself, in part because she takes one on adventures in her head to unimagined places.

By Mantova she has warmed again to Dante, so scoffed at in Cremona. But here she focuses on the Roman poet, Virgil, child of the peasant soil outside Mantova, made godly in Mantova a thousand years ago, placed on pillars and posters around Mantova, forever influential in European poetry.

Edith discusses at length Virgil's Aeneid. Wikipedia tells you it is the story of Aeneas, Templeton tells you it is the measuring of Aeneas alongside Dido, queen of Carthage.
From Wikipedia.
I note that as recounted by a classical scholar
Aeneas cannot 'tell' he must 'recount'. 
"The creation of Dido is revolutionary because Dido is the first ill-used woman in literature. A woman who has loved for thirty years and not been ill-used has not lived at all. Therefore Dido is as universally important as Hamlet, Faust and Don Juan.... [T]he heart of Dido's tragedy does not lie in the fact that Aeneas left her. It lies in his unworthiness."
Pages of erudite reinterpretation and relating to the modern (pages 146-157) lead us here:
"I now put her on the scales and see what happens... I put Dido on her funeral pyre, with the sword in her breast, bleeding to death.... I see her rising again in the light of our own times... a fine beautiful woman, not very bright, not very distinguished... Although this time he has not left her for the Italian shore, she knows just as surely that his love for her has died... I see her placing her red bag beside herself and laying herself on the rails and I hear the roar of the approaching train. I have witnessed the end of Anna Karenina."
But, um, yes, Mantova is mainly about the city, the river Mincio and the Gonzagas. For part 2!

From Radio Prague
Another thing that we should say at this stage is that this [quotation at link] is not a translation. Edith Templeton does write in English. How is it that she came to write in English?"She left the country and married an Englishman. In the 30s she worked in London. She worked first in the office of the US Army chief surgeon and then she became a captain of the British Army, working as an interpreter. Later on she moved to India, because her second husband was a doctor. In fact he was physician to the King of Nepal. So she lived in many different countries - later on Portugal and now she's living on the Italian Riviera, so she's a very, very cosmopolitan writer.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The surprise of Cremona

I am seduced by Edith Templeton, or at least by her amazing The Surprise of Cremona which I secured from ebay Australia, in local bookshops I guess because it was a Readers Book Club selection in 1955. A racy selection at the time.

I value this book because it is fun and intelligent, but especially because its sharpness offers points of irreverent entry into the mythologies of Italy. So much tourism in Italy slides on a deep, overdone lacquer of tritely trotted guidebook patter. It's nice to get a fingernail under the shellac. You plainly don't have to agree with everything she says ... and she would find you beyond boring if you did.

Templeton has a razor wit and sense of irony and the naughty haughty of Czech background, reminiscent of I Served the King of England and other wonders of Czech cinema.

But her life of aristocratic origin, French education and marriages to Englishmen giving her a different trajectory from the central figure of that film and a capacity to arrive in Cremona in the early 1950s with a gigantic knowledge – and immediate experience, born in Prague in 1919 – of history and philosophy and outrageous confidence and self-protective sarcasm, plus a world-weary warmth. 

With a local history professor as real or notional source she places Frederick II, who for a time headquartered his Holy Roman Empire in Cremona, on a pedestal (yanks him off when she gets to Parma); takes wonderful potshots at Virgil, Goethe and Dante and admires Pontius Pilate, miscast in a cathedral performance on Good Friday..

Of Virgil
His famous gentle melancholy, which lends itself superbly to pastoral elegaic poems, and which was imitated by all Europe in all ages, was not the picturesque which one might think it to be
but rather a pent up anger at the Roman army's confiscation of his peasant parents' farm between Cremona and Mantova. He ate his heart out in his writing, then
During his last days he went to live in the country near Naples... Why didn't he go and live on the banks of his native Mincio instead, among the barren stones, the slimy marshes and the bitter willows, over which he had shed his heart-blood...
On Good Friday she is appalled that a angelic young tenor is cast as Pontius Pilate in a performance in the cathedral with "three hundred yards of choir boys"
This was quite wrong of course, Pilate was an impeccable high Civil Servant, nothing unearthly about him. ... he could not afford another uprising, all because of a new religion. New religions were two-a-penny in those days. I think he retired to the south, when he was pensioned off, to Naples or Sicily... Pilate is my favourite figure in the New Testament. He is the model of a detached, fair, and judicious colonial governor who hesitates before making a move and prefers tact and negotiation to violence.
Of the pope's triple excommunication of Frederick II she writes:
I think this reckless excommunicating is silly. It is bound to lose its effects after the first time.
She reports of Dante's visit to Cremona and his finding sufficient time there to quarrel with a nobleman Cavalcabo. Having earlier admired greatly the traditional buildings of Cremona and disparaged buildings with added-on baroque facades she notes that
The Cavalcabo Palace still stands. It is one of those well-bred buildings whose beauty derives from superb craftsmanship and proportions, with no trimmings, substantial and discreet, like a well-tailored suit. The Cavalcabo family still live there. 
Cavalcabo was 'black', that is, he was Guelf and supported the Pope, whereas Dante was 'white' and supported the Emperor. This is, of course, just what one would have expected of Dante. He would quarrel with anybody if he possibly could. It was merely a matter of giving him enough time.
... and then a wonderful summation of history and its writing:
The professor tells me that Dante's faction, the Whites, were called in Dante's time, the 'accursed faction'.
"Was it true?" I ask. "Did very nasty people belong to it? Or was it called Accursed because it was against the Pope?"
The professor regards me with astonishment. "Oh, no. It was only called Accursed because it lost."
Then an account of how Dante fell out with the Whites, concluding (and this may have been a novel expression then):
If [Dante] had lived today, he could have held his Annual Party Meeting in a phone box.
This is such a cut across the conventional weaving of Dante into so much hortatory carry-on in Italy. We have a glimpse of the Cremona mind, albeit through a turbulent Czech mind.

Whereafter the professor begins the most interesting part of Cremona's history: the story of the Surprise of Cremona, for which you must find your way to page 45 of my edition.
St Sigismondo
I have a book hard to put down. And very hard to quote in brief.  I note two things:
• we could go to Cremona one hour by train from Mantova to see a stylish town whose best buildings by this account are pre-baroque, some much older.
• and then 15 minutes by bus to the edge of Cremona we could see St Sigismondo. Templeton is enraptured on entering.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Ah Chioggia, Chioggia

the walk from our apartment to the fish market.
If the market is on the little finger, the wharf
for the ferry to Venice is marked Porto
on the thumb where the nail is missing.
The railway station is on the wrist,
on the mainland.
Click any image to enlarge
Largely ignored is the old town of Chioggia, in the southern corner of the Venice lagoon.
[Chioggia pronounced key-ODJ-uh]

Hard to get to, no Pokemon-go-for-adults-with-inadequate-tech as abundant in Venice, Florence, Rome and as they refer to them at Tripadvisor CT and AC and want to visit them all in a week. Or more.

But hoards, if that's the right word for folk from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, go to the adjacent district of Sottomarina, which despite its name is not currently underwater but has beaches under thousands of umbrellas in summer.

The old town. where we will stay, is where the history resides.

This is a link to a google translation of a wonderful local presentation of the history of Chioggia. Even if you have no plans to go to Chioggia, if you have ever felt life is tough, if you have ever thought your community has had a trouble or two, please go and read the link. The difficulties in presenting lively proud local expression in a computer translation (or any other) adds to the telling of a history of clinging to life against adversities of the sea, of diseases and the bastards who come calling from land and sea, century by century.

We look forward to meeting people who have come through such and write about it without bad words, as I just did.

Perhaps the biggest pride is in the seafood.

If you search the web for Chioggia fish market you are taken to the 'Mercato Ittico'. Ittico translates into English as Ichthyal. And from a web search for ichthyal you get such as:

Is ichthyal a word in the scrabble dictionary? | Definition and Meaning
Ichthyologists know about this word:

Ichthyology (from Greek: ἰχθύς, ikhthus, "fish"; and λόγος, logos, "study"), also known as fish science, is the branch of biology devoted to the study of fish. This includes bony fishes (Osteichthyes), cartilaginous fish (Chondrichthyes), and jawless fish (Agnatha).

Ms Google translates the 'who we are' (Chi siamo - pronounced 'key see-AR-mo') part of the Mercato Ittico web site thus:
Chioggia Fishing is a project born from the Fisheries Foundation for the enhancement of Chioggia local fish product, for its marketing and introduce it in the full possession of his peculiarities. Our fish is able to satisfy the most refined palates, in many varieties of species. Many species are unknown to most people because of this, our goal is not just to talk about the most famous species, but to know the genuineness of the smaller species.
Within the section "The Fish Market" the user can find the contacts of wholesale and retail dealers: the relationship between those who sell and those who want to buy will be so simple and effective.
In addition to this, we will get you in the culture of Chioggia fishing, with traditional recipes and explanation of fishing techniques. In this portal you will feel an active part of the vein of the city: the sea, the lagoon ... .l'acqua.
Wonderful, proud: "we will get you in the culture"! Italians at their determined best: wanting to get everyone, especially the rest of modern bloody Italy, to understand the real.

Note for readers. If you don't eat seafood perhaps stay in Bologna.