On Witches and Socks

According to a Christian legend, while the Three Wise Men were on their way to Bethlehem to bring gifts to the Infant Jesus, they bumped into a very old woman and asked her if she knew were the Son of God was, as they seemed to be quite disoriented. Unfortunately she didn’t know. Nevertheless, she offered them accommodation for a night, after all, she was the best housekeeper in the village, with the most comfortable home. The following day, the Three Magi tried to convince the old lady to join them to the visit to the baby Jesus, but despite their insistence, she refused, as did not feel like leaving the house, she was too busy with her housework after all.

Yet, very soon she repented for not having gone with them. She quickly prepared a basket of sweets and left the house in search for the Three Wise Men, but in vain. She stopped at every house she found along the way, giving candies to the children she met, in the hope that one of them was the baby Jesus. Since then, she goes around the world, giving presents to all children, so that she might be forgiven.The good ones will have toys, candies or fruit, while the bad ones get only coal, onions or garlic. That’s why it is tradition here in Italy to leave empty socks next to beds of children the night of the Epiphany, so that the old lady, that is actually called Befana, may fill them with presents. Befana’s iconography is a little scary, however, as she wears a dark and wide skirt, an apron with pockets, a shawl, a handkerchief or broad black hat on his head, a pair of worn slippers, all enlivened by numerous colored patches and she travels around the world flying on a broom.

🤔🤔🤔

Wait, wait, wait, but if Jesus was not born on Christmas day, even the date of his revelation to the Magi cannot be that certain. Why was it fixed on the 6th of January? Even in this case a Christian tradition actually overlapped a pagan one. We have go back to Roman Mithraic rites, again. If you remember, we have already stated that originally on the 25 th of December the winter solstice was celebrated along with Mithras, the Sol Invictus. On the twelfth night after the winter solstice, that is the day of the Epiphany, the death and rebirth of nature through Mother Nature was solemnized. But why after 12 days? Because the twelve days represented the twelve months of the years, therefore, the entire natural cycle. It seems that on those days, female figures flew over the cultivated fields, to propitiate the fertility of future crops, hence the myth of the “flying” figure, the so-called Befana.

Now, I cannot but go and look for a capacious sock, and advice you to do the same, you’ll never know.😜

“The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long live the Befana!”

 

 

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“Spelacchio”, a Farewell.

It is now official: “Spelacchio” is dead. He couldn’t make it for Christmas, and now it has become a long, slender, bare, dry , lifeless tree dressed up with lights and balls which, let me say,  make  “Spelacchio” even more pathetic, if possible. What did it kill it ? Well, it seems it was the cool wind from the North which has blown over the capital for a couple of days – I have to say that it has been unusually cold these days here – that stroke the last mortal blow. Strange indeed, however, as firs don’t grow at tropical latitudes as far as I know, unless this one was of a peculiar kind.

However, if “Spelacchio” aimed at becoming a celeb, somehow it did it, even if for the wrong reasons. Lots of articles from all over the world have narrated its slow agony, and if “Spelacchio” (mangy) has sounded so pejorative, a newspaper from Moscow , Russia Today, has even been less genteel defining it “toiled brush“. Even the “Ghana News Agency” had something to say about it with an article entitled: “No Christmas Joy in Rome“.

However, the reason why this story has enraged all Roman citizens lies in its symbolism. “Spelacchio” represents, in fact, “the eternal city’s eternal decay” as The Guardian defined it. And there is no sign of any improvement. The capital has been in a state of chronic stagnation since Virginia Raggi, the bright star of the anti-establishment 5-star movement, has become Mayor of Rome. The streets are full of pot holes, there are piles of garbage everywhere, public gardens are often unkempt with weeds that grow as tall as a person. Even the Pope himself has decried the state of the city in a public celebration before the Mayor. Words unheard, of course.

So, farewell “Spelacchio”. I am sorry we have not been more welcoming with you, but try to understand us if you can. You were to be that ephemeral beauty, that sparkling illusion that lasts only few weeks . A childish illusion, indeed, which would have made us forget for a while the ugliness that surrounds us every day, giving a little hope. Maybe next year? Maybe.

“Spelacchio”: A Christmas Story


Once upon a time a beauty contest was held among the snowy valleys of Trentino Alto
Adige in order to spot the most, luxurious, beautiful fir worthy to represent the
Christmas spirit in the capital: Rome. The prize was very high: the fir would have
been placed in the middle of Piazza Venezia and would have been adorned with
hundreds of fabulous silver balls and kilometers of lights bulbs. For almost a month
it would have reigned over that ancient city, close to the Coliseum and the majestic
Roman Forum . It would have been admired by millions of people, thus
becoming a celeb. The administrators of the city had in mind to create something
memorable that year, hoping people would forget the shabby organization of the previous Christmas setup. They were so confident that they didn’t even look for a sponsor
to share the expense, as it should have been crystal clear that the merits were to be all
their own .

The winner was a tall, elegant, rich sort of fir and as it had always been very admired and envied in the entire valley, nobody objected that choice. A party to celebrate the victory was given, then, band and scepter in hand, the Fir was accurately prepared and delicately placed on a lorry on a bed of cushions and tied, so that the 700 and more kilometers to the capital might be not too tiring. It should have been at its best once in the capital. However, when the snowy cliffs of Trentino Alto Adige were no longer in sight, a sort of melancholy took possession of its heart. The air was no longer clear and sparkling, but humid and polluted. It seemed as if it could not breathe.
Furthermore, it had started to notice in horror that some pine needles were falling
off prematurely. Surely, it was the stress of the long journey, but fortunately they were very close to the final destination. Nobody would have noticed few pine needles missing, the Fir was sure.

Only when it was eventually crucified in the middle of Piazza Venezia, the most deserving of all firs, understood the tragedy that was about to overwhelm it. It was not only for the few
needles that had fallen off, but it had lost almost a half of his green coat. It
stood there, defenceless, tired, mortified at its own ugly nakedness. Was really this tall
and huge scarecrow the “elegant”, “sober” tree promised by the administrators? When the children gathered around the tree they were, of course, disappointed and soon named it sneeringly: “Spelacchio“( the closest word in English I might think about  is “mangy”) The tons of lights that weighted on its humbled spirit and the hundreds of silver
balls that wounded its bare branches were not enough to hide the shabbiness of the
entire effect. Giving a look around from where it had been placed,  however, the Fir felt just a little relieved: that capital was not exactly what it had imagined. Dirt and garbage could be seen almost everywhere, the city seemed chaotic and noisy. Somehow, its presence perfectly fitted that place, it thought bitterly.

Sunset was the happiest moment of the day. The lights were turned on, so the Fir felt safely hidden behind the magic wonder that covered it all and imagined to be admired as it used to be, but the mornings were hideous and the Fir couldn’t bear to read in the disappointed eyes of passers-by its own failure any longer. So there it stands now, barer and barer day after day, waiting for Christmas to come, hoping  to be set free as soon as possible from its misery and humiliation . Much better to end up as a log in some warm fireplace that exposed in that cold square.

The moral of the story? Well, if your city administrators cannot even make a decent Christmas tree, it is very unlikely they will be able to bring the place you live to the standards it deserves. Think twice before giving your vote next time.

In the meanwhile, Merry Christmas everyone!

 

Foolocracy in Rome

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Every time it was the fool’s turn to go on stage there was great expectation in the audience. The most important actors wanted to play that role, actually. Portraying the fool did not only mean juggling or making people laugh with trivial jokes or puns, it was much more. He was charismatic, witty, shrewd, sometimes cynical, but above all, the fool was the only character who was allowed the privilege to say whatever he liked. He was a fool after all. He could target whoever he considered worthy of contempt exposing him to ridicule (with a certain prudence obviously), for example. People laughed with him, people were with him, because after all he was one of them, one who could understand their frustrations, misery, rage, disappointed hopes. With a laugh he could exorcise all that. It was a great power indeed and he knew it. But I’m sure, that not even in his wildest dreams, he would have ever imagined one day to use this power to become a politician and, why not, rule a country or become the mayor of a town. People would have died from laughing. Yes, but that was the Middle Age, the dark age. Nowadays, in the modern age, we have smashed these prejudices and we have allowed fools of any kind to be part of the active political life. Even those who were not really born fool, try clumsily to imitate them, because this seems to be what people want.

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Beppe Grillo, leader of “Movimento 5 stelle”

The point is that, when fools leave the familiar setting of the fictitious reality of theatres, they seem to suffer from a curious disease: the “all world is a stage” syndrome. Its symptoms are easily recognizable: they keep on acting or speaking  freely, always in search for masses to postulate, without realizing that in the real world, actions and words have consequences on people.  Problems arise when one of these fools surprisingly happens to become in charge of a political office. Making or sharing political projects with the other elected non-fools inevitably causes him to face an identity crisis, because his job has been for years that of ridiculing, attacking those he is supposed to work with. A fool is very good at destroying, but once he is demanded to reconstruct and co-operate, his mocking laugh fades away and he starts to display a certain agitation, becoming often even aggressive, because all of a sudden he realizes that he just cannot keep on playing his favourite game off stage.

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Virginia Raggi, newly elected mayor

But now here in Italy, the land of creativity and imagination, fools have found their fertile ground. There is a party, which has gained in importance in recent years, whose leader is a true-born fool and only yesterday that party conquered the highest political office in Rome: the bench of mayor. Will his inflaming words, captivating slogans be enough to elevate Rome from the present state of degradation? His mates, mostly recruited on the web thanks to a bunch of votes, fully inexperienced for what concerns administration and political life, will be able to understand and face the many problems of the capital? Can the “honest inexperience” of the new elected, mayor included, represent that revolution that the citizens have been expecting for years? I have my doubts, of course. However, if it worked, this kind of foolocracy could be a brand we might export abroad and it wouldn’t be a first after all, would it?

 

The Twin Globe

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glo8In the heart of the Villa Borghese park, hidden among the trees and surrounded by a lavish vegetation, you may find one of the most unexpected sights, for sure: the Globe theatre. Yes, that Globe: a full-scale reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, copied from the original designs, and almost identical to the one that now stands on London’s South Bank. Rome’s version of the Globe was built over the course of three months and inaugurated in 2003 to celebrate the centenary of Villa Borghese. The theatre is designed in a circular shape with a stage that juts out into the middle of the audience, and an open roof (that’s why the theatre is open in the summer and early autumn seasons). It’s built of oak and has a capacity of 1250, including the standing space in front of the stage, which are, of course the cheapest places.The entire project was financed by the Silvano Toti foundation – the late Silvano Toti was a builder and patron of the arts.

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20150924_104215Gigi Proietti, one of the most outstanding Italian actors, has been the artistic director of the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre since 2003, but he has never acted in any of the plays. Of course, Elizabethan comedies and tragedies are mostly represented, in fact the special architectural features and the essentiality of the scenes allow a cathartic relationship with the works of the English Renaissance drama. I can say that for sure, as,  only few days ago I went to the Globe with some of my students and colleagues to see the morning representation of Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” directed by Chris Pickels.

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When the old Bard wrote “All world is a stage“, he had not considered one little detail: in the world many languages are spoken. This edition of “The Comedy of Errors”, in fact, was the first English-speaking production at the beautiful Globe theatre in Rome, only, the public was not exactly made of native English speakers and the plot of this play not so easy to follow. The story of two pairs of twins  – masters and servants –  who not only had the same features but also the same names, Antophilus and Dromio, led to many misunderstandings not only on stage but also among the public. Tell me, who is he? Antipholus of Syracuse or Ephesus?Mah?? However, the language of art won eventually, so that everybody was able to enjoy the many very funny moments of the show. The Bard is always right, after all. 20150924_11225620150924_131812

I did love the company of actors, all of them. The Bedouin Shakespeare Company, is a touring company founded in 2012 by two enthusiastic young actors, Edward Andrews and Mark Brewer, with the patronage of the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi. Their main aim is to bring the universal themes and language of Shakespeare in the countries around the world, that’s why they were not at all uncomfortable with a non native English-speaking public. Their “Comedy of Errors”  premiered at the Silvano Toti Globe in Rome to fly out to the UAE and then finishing in London at the Arcola Theatre, November 1st. Therefore, you are still in time to enjoy a great show and don’t forget to visit the Globe, next time you come to Rome!!! 🙂
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Valentine’s lovebirds

 

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Saint Valentine ‘s day is the sweetest feast of the year, as we celebrate love on this day, or sort of. Valentine, actually, was a bishop and martyr of the Christianity, so, how could he be associated to love? As far as we know, Saint Valentine came from a patrician family and was consecrated bishop of Terni ( a town of Umbria, in central Italy) in 197 a.d. when he was only 21. In the year 270 Valentinus (his latin name) was invited by the orator Cratone to come to Rome, to preach the Gospel and convert the pagans. Valentinus was arrested and was sent to the prefect of Rome, to the emperor Claudius II himself. Not at all intimidated, Valentinus tried to convince Claudius to embrace Christianity, whereupon Claudius not only refused, but condemned Valentinus to death. However, Claudius eventually pardoned him and entrusted him to the family of Judge Asterius. Valentinus was arrested a second time under Aurelian, who had succeeded Claudius II. The empire continued to persecute the Christians, and as the popularity of Valentinus was growing, the Roman soldiers captured him and took him out of town along the Via Flaminia to scourge him, fearing that the population could rise to his defense. He  was beheaded on the 14th of February 273, at the good age of 97, by the hand of a Roman soldier: Furius Placidus.

val4So, where is love? If we want to find a connection to love, we have to narrate some episodes of his life, which are surrounded by an aura of mystery and legend. One of them refers to the period when Valentine was under house arrest of Judge Asterius. There he performed for the first time the miracle of restoring sight to his blind adopted daughter. When Valentino was about to be beheaded, he performed this miracle a second time. Through his prayers, he succeeded in healing the jailer’s daughter who was suffering from blindness. On the day of his execution he left her a note that was signed “Your Valentine”.

According to another story, Valentine, former bishop of Terni, united in marriage the young Christian Serapio and the Roman centurion Sabino: the union was hampered by her parents, but once overcome their resistance, it was soon discovered that the young woman was seriously ill . The centurion called Valentino to the bedside of the dying woman and asked him never to be separated from his beloved: the holy bishop baptized him and then joined him in marriage to Serapio, after which, they both died.

val2Another legend tells that one day the bishop  saw a young couple, who were fighting. He went towards them holding a rose and invited them to hold it together in their hands: the couple departed reconciled. In another version of this story, the saint was able to inspire love in the two young people by making several pairs of pigeons fly around them. Those birds were so sweet as they seemed to exchange tender signs of affection; the word “lovebirds” has its origin from this episode. “Lovebirds“, in fact, is translated in Italian with the word “piccioncini” (little pigeons) and if we see somebody showing affection in public, we commonly say that they “tubano” (coo).

Therefore, “lovebirds” from all over the world, how are you going to spend your Saint Valentine’s day? .

The Great Beauty

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Here we are,15 years after Benigni’s “Beautiful Life“, another Italian movie, ” The Great Beauty” won the Oscar for the best foreign language film. It was a very much expected award, at least outside these borders, as the movie is the rare product of the combination of an extremely talented director Paolo Sorrentino, a masterly interpretation of Tony Servillo as Jep Gambardella and the most amazing actress ever: Rome.

elfilm-com-the-great-beauty-261997Rome has a double symbology here: it’s the breathtaking  “great beauty” with its architecture, churches, fountains, cloisters, squares that Sorrentino skillfully uses as a never-ending sequence of postcards to enthrall the spectators; but Rome is also the capital, the centre of power and the Vatican, the higher expression of moral degradation and spiritual decay, which attracts and deceives the vast multitudes of gross people who come here with the hope to find that something that may give sense to their hollowness. Beauty and vulgarity, dream and bitter realism overlap, and Rome is there, indifferent and beautiful.

partThis double symbology is soon introduced by Sorrentino. In fact the movie opens on a group of Japanese holidaymakers who are listening to their guide’s explanations. One of them leaves his friends to admire in silence the stunning view of the town and he is so overwhelmed by its beauty to die. Soon after Sorrentino takes us to the crowded, opulent  party which celebrates Jep Gambardella‘s 65th birthday, the central character of the movie . Like the Great Gatsby he makes his appearance after several minutes of frantic dances with the hypnotizing soundtrack of the famous Italian icon Raffaella CarrĂ . Jep had arrived in Rome in his late twenties and he had been soon absorbed by the jet-set party life. Jep is a journalist and writer of only one novel, which had become a best seller. Even if in some aspects he seems to evoke the character of Marcello Mastroianni in “la Dolce Vita“, his approach to life is more disenchanted and detached. He is the impassive spectator of the vacuous depressive humanity who surrounds him and finds in amusement, the only way to forget the failures and the senselessness of their lives.

ferilliIn my opinion Sorrentino is largely indebted  toTony Servillo, who took part in almost all of his movies and is a sort of “fetish actor” for him. Charismatic and touching at the same time, Servillo ranges from a sarcastic to an introspective tone with his snobbish Neapolitan accent, with the result that you cannot but hang on every word he says as if hypnotized. The cast is particularly rich, as many famous Italian actors wanted to be part of the movie even only for a “cameo”, a short appearance. However two of them, Sabrina Ferilli e Carlo Verdone, who are very popular here,seem to have been quite disappointed when they knew that hadn’t been invited to the Oscar night. I can understand them.

I have to say that “The Great Beauty” has been more appreciated by the critics abroad than here. The dreamlike narrative tone, the nonsensical characters and the homage to the Eternal City have seemed nothing but a revival of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita“, “Roma“, “Otto e Mezzo” and many others. Even after the victory, criticism hasn’t stopped. Ah, envy!

If you want to see of the locations of the Great Beauty click on the link.