Sunday, 18 December 2016

Journey to Naples

Visiting Naples is just a unique experience. You'll never forget it. Guaranteed.

However, in order to understand Naples, its regality combined with decay, we must quickly review the history.

In 1861, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (Palermo and Naples) unified the country after having conquered Florence, Milan and finally Turin.

The backward Savoia crown, which set his capital in Turin, was rejected beyond the Alpes…

No, that's not true.

The events occurred in the opposite way.

The Savoia crown conquered the prosperous South of Italy, supported by the UK who aimed to tear apart the 2nd largest fleet in Europe, just behind the English one.

The first move the Savoia army made once arrived in Naples was stealing all the gold from the Banca di Sicilia. In fact the Savoia had incurred in a huge debt to finance the wars previously undertaken.

Additionally, the Savoia appointed Liborio Romano as prefetto di polizia of Naples because he was well connected with local mafia (camorra). Savoia had used camorra to preserve the precarious status quo. 

As result of this, camorra got institutionalised.

This premise is fundamental to understand Naples today.

Visiting Naples will reveal you its massive cultural heritage.

I have spent there three days. Nevertheless, one week is not enough to view all the jewels that Naples conserves.

Let me just mention the Certosa di San Martino (pictured).

I have rarely seen anything as astonishing as this.

A visit to Naples is also worth because there are three Caravaggio's paints (pictured), in the order shown below: Le sette opera di Misericordia, Martirio di Sant'Orsola and ultimately La flagellazione di Cristo.

The first one was commissioned by the Pio Monte della Misericordia, a charity institution who paid 400 ducati to secure the Michelangelo Merisi's paint.

This paint is so plenty of life, so rich of elements. Probably, the most suggestive one is the lady breastfeeding his father. Caravaggio has even painted white drops of milk on the man's beard. 

The second one, Martirio di Sant'Orsola, was painted one month before he died. It's his last work.

If you carefully look at the paint, you'll notice that the Caravaggio's self portrait (his head) seems inserted into the Sant'Orsola body, or at least, I have such feeling. 

In other words, it's like if Caravaggio had prefigured his imminent end.   

This paint, bought by Banca Commerciale Italiana in 1972, was initially thought to be a Mattia Preti's paint.

In 1980, researchers have once for all clarified that it must be ascribed to Michelangelo Merisi.

This paint is part of a fantastic collection owned by Banca Intesa-San Paolo, exhibited in the historical location of palazzo Zevallos-Stigliano, where currently is shown the exhibition Fergola, lo splendore di un Regno.

Intesa-San Paolo promotes arts throughout the country by a triennial project called progetto cultura

Concerning the third Caravaggio's paint, La flagellazione di Cristo, it's located in the Capodimonte museum.

Capodimonte is an awesome museum, where you'll enjoy paints depicted by Tiziano, Raffaello, Botticelli, Mantegna, Masaccio, Artemisia Gentileschi and so on.

Additionally, Capodimonte museum exhibits several paints of the so-called scuola napoletana, a movement profoundly inspired by Caravaggio since he arrived in Naples. His presence, his style had a tremendous impact on the local painters. 

Keeping talking about art, I cannot refrain from mentioning the Stendhal syndrome I felt for the first time in my life when I entered the Cappella San Severo.

Cappella San Severo is the mausoleum which the Prince Raimondo di Sangro conceived for his family in the middle of 17th century. 

This place is magic. It reflects the esoteric knowledge practised by the eclectic Prince.

I consider the Cristo velato as well as the disinganno (pictured) among the most beautiful things I have ever seen. 

Cristo velato was sculptured by the Neapolitan sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino. 

Instead, Disinganno was made by Francesco Queirolo

Naples is not only one of the main European capital in terms of art and culture. This city is also special because of his people.

People struggle here to carry on. A high unemployment rate lashes the city. Despite that, Neapolitans haven't lost their humanity.

And what about their language? It's so musical, so melodic. 

Making coffee is an art in Naples.

I have experienced it by ordering a coffee in Caffe delle Muse.

Aldo (pictured) asks me "Shall I put sugar into the cup?"

I am used to put sugar into it on my own. So the question sounded me pretty wired.

Aldo feels my concerns, so he adds "You know, if you put sugar before pouring coffee into the cup, they get mixed better"

He was right.

Additionally, the art of drinking coffee expects that you clean your mouth with a glass of sparkling water.

So, without asking, Aldo serves me a glass of water before coffee is ready.

That's class, gentlemen. 

And what about via Pignasecca, where thousands of people walk up and down buying food? 

The elders sit around a table and  play cards along Via Toledo.

It seems to me unnecessary to point out that I have been eating pizza almost every day.

On the other hand, if you have enough of pizza and wish to eat proper meal with little money, I strongly recommend you to go to Nennella, located at Quartieri Spagnoli, right beside the Toledo underground station.

What incredible place is this one.

The waiters make fun of you, but it's just a joke, a nonsense.

The waiter who served at my table got irritated after I asked him twice half litre of wine "mate, do you speak Italian? Do you understand me? I have already told you that we serve just entire bottle, no half litre!".

A table beside me asked for additional serviette, and the owner replied "Nun mi scassare o' cazz" (don't break my bollocks). 

In other words, you eat and get entertained. You are actor and audience at the same time. 

Another magic place in which I have been walking several times is Via San Gregorio Armeno.

That's the street of presepi. Presepio represents the scenario in which Nativity takes place. Edoardo De Filippo have celebrated it in his comedy Natale in casa Cuppiello

I prefer to avoid to narrate further about my trip to Naples. It's up to you to put aside stereotypes and experience it.

I wish just to add something in terms of my feelings. After having left Naples, I feel like I'm missing Naples and its people. 

So, I started to watch over and over again Massimo Troisi' sketches and movies.

Massimo Troisi was a talented Neapolitan artist as well as an humble man.

The soundtracks of the Troisi's movies were played by another Neapolitan artist, Pino Daniele.  

Pino Daniele and Massimo Troisi, what a magic combination. Check this out voglio 'o mare

Both Pino and Massimo have passed away. 

Yesterday night I dreamed of Massimo Troisi cheering me up. This morning I woke up with my earth upside-down because of such a dream.

Massimo, Pino, this article is dedicated to you. 

Rest in peace

Monday, 12 December 2016

Campagna Amica in Altamura

La settimana scorsa ho conosciuto Giovanni Ragone della Coldiretti in Altamura.

Ero andato in sede per informarmi sugli strumenti disponibili per chi, come me, ama la terra e vorrebbe vivere dei suoi frutti.

"Sai Giovanni" gli dico "seguo con estrema attenzione le campagne Coldiretti di azione diretta contro le importazioni di cibi esteri di dubbia qualità a discapito delle produzione italiane. Pertanto tienimi aggiornato su eventuali eventi da voi promossi".

Giovanni mi risponde: "Se vuoi puoi venire a trovarci domenica 11 dicembre, festa del ringraziamento, in occasione della quale si terrà un sit-in di Campagna Amica, con stands di produttori locali".

Quale occasione migliore per conoscere da vicino questa realtà, e documentarne le dinamiche, le storie, le passioni?

Mi imbatto in Giovanni Petruzzi e Giovanni Pugliesi dell'azienda agricola "La Buona terra" di Turi.

"Noi produciamo solo frutta ed ortaggi di stagione" esordiscono gli affiatati contadini di Turi,  cittadina famosa per le ciliegie e per aver dato i natali al tarantolato allenatore di calcio Oronzo Pugliese.

"Il futuro appartiene all'agricoltura. La gente dovrà mangiare. Se la campagna gira, gira tutta l'economia" affermano con fede. 

Domenico Ginefra ha una azienda agricola a Santo Spirito, ed un negozio dove rivende i suoi prodotti a Giovinazzo: "I cavolfiori, come tutte le crocifere sono dei fantastici antitumorali. Più son colorati (verdi, violacei), più contengono vitamine".

Si respira una bella aria qui. Una aria gioviale. 

Chiedo ad un signore che mi osserva silente: "anche lei fa parte della Coldiretti?" 
"Si" mi risponde. 
"Cosa produce?" Gli domando. 
E Lui: "ho prodotto mia figlia che lavora per Coldiretti". 

Davanti alla chiesa di San Domenico attendono pazienti gli associati Coldiretti. A breve comincia la messa del ringraziamento.

"La Coldiretti ha sempre nutrito un sentimento di profonda religiosità" puntualizza Marino Pilati, direttore provinciale Coldiretti.

Francesco Rella, agricoltore di Grumo e delegato Coldiretti Giovani Impresa spiega come i giovani si stiano sempre più orientando su produzioni biologiche.

Tra i vari stands c'è l'azienda agricola Tafuni, specializzata nella produzione di legumi, olio extravergine, mandorle e grano. 

Ho assaggiato la loro pasta fatta di semola di grano duro e posso testimoniarne l'eccezionale qualità. 

Vito Tafuni, amministratore della medesima azienda, mi spiega: "il nostro grano non contiene glisofati ne' microtossine. Il nostro clima asciuga il grano, a differenza di paesi come il Canada (da cui importiamo grandi quantità) che trebbiano con climi
ben più rigidi e son costretti ad usare quello che noi chiamiamo 'u siccatutt".

L'intolleranza al glutine (celiachia) sta diventando una malattia di massa qui in Italia.

Qualche nesso con la violenza che facciamo al cibo che mangiamo ci sarà pure.

Roberto Anzivino, apicoltore di Orsara di Puglia (Monti Dauni) centra il nocciolo della questione: "Noi consumatori abbiamo delle forti responsabilità. Siam disposti a spendere 200 euri per un paio di scarpe, ma non più di un pugno di euri per 1 kg. di miele del supermercato che in realtà di miele italiano ha ben poco."

Sarebbe il caso che cominciassimo a chiederci che cosa vuol dire dieta mediterranea, perché l'abbiamo abbandonata ed in nome di cosa.

Il cibo può essere la medicina od il veleno del nostro corpo. 

Sta a te scegliere!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Nicola Piovani and his dangerous music

"I'm just back from a quick tour in Altamura. I'm impressed by the square nearby the cathedral" Nicola Piovani begins.

It's Saturday 3 December, 5 pm. At the conference room within the Mercadante theatre in Altamura, Nicola Piovani is presenting his book La musica e' pericolosa

Nicola Piovani, the composer of the soundtrack of La vita è  bella says "Thanks to my work, I have chance to travel around Italy. A while ago I've discovered a theatre in Novi Ligure so beautiful that if it had been in California, they would have done everything to let people visit it".

Talking about what's the mission of theatres, Piovani states that what makes a theatre interesting is not only the theatre season, but also the connections established with the local community.

"Theatre is the only place left, with church probably, where people get concentrated to receive what artists have to say" Piovani continues.  

Music and beauty are the two things which still derange Nicola Piovani "I remember in Vigevano, being there in Piazza Ducale. Oh what a feeling, I felt shivers down the spine".

Piovani was good friend of Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone, Federico Fellini, Mario Monicelli and many others composers and directors. 

"The title of my book is a Federico Fellini's quote. We were together one day, I was at the piano. As soon I started playing the Amarcord soundtrack, suddenly I saw Federico crying, leaving the room" Piovani recalls.

Nicola Piovani takes this opportunity to openly acknowledge the uniqueness of Apulia in terms of wind bands (bande musicali) such as the Squinzano and Conversano ones.

He pays homage to such Apulian customs, which sees so many Apulian cities having their own banda musicale.

"Many years ago I was in the province of Taranto. It was the first time I came across the maestro Gennaro Abbate, orchestrating the banda of Squinzano. He was amazing" Piovani states.

Indeed, Gennaro Abbate inherited the conduction of the banda di Squinzano from his dying brother, Ernesto Abbate, famous for having composed la sagra dei fiori.

Gennaro Abbate had already achieved great success directing bands in theatres of all around the world (Russia, Uk). 

However, he decided to stay in Squinzano till the end of his days, leading the banda composed by 70 musicians to the top.  

It's a great pleasure to listen to Sir Nicola Piovani. 

His memories, his thoughts, his opinions are tremendously fascinating. He brings to mind glorious times gone forever. The times in which Italian directors and composers gathered together to create unforgettable movies.

Later on Sir Piovani will be performing on stage at the Mercadante theatre.

Long life to Nicola Piovani.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Lina Sastri, the gold of Naples

Lina Sastri, one of the greatest Italian actress, has performed yesterday at the Mercadante theather, in Altamura.

Io mi chiamo Lina Sastri titles her show.

Accompanied by great musicians, Lina Sastri revisits her long professional carrier, alternating songs to thoughts and memories.

Born in Neaples, she was very young when she begun acting for the Eduardo De Filippo's acting company, who actually soon recognised her talent.

"Acting is a vocation, you are called to do that. In other words, you cannot do anything else than that" Lina states.

"Every time I played Filomena Marturano, a tear came out of my eyes" Lina recalls "And I remember Edoardo disapproving that by saying that the audience would get distracted by my tears. So, Edoardo used to recommend me to work on transmitting such a feeling to the audience and make them crying. I have not succeeded yet in doing that" Lina confesses. 

After theatre, cinema knocked on my door. My first movie was Il prefetto di ferro shot by Pasquale Squittieri. Then, I acted for Nanny Moretti in Ecce Bombo

However the "red carpet" arrived with the Nanny Loy's cult movie Mi manda Picone in which I starred with Giancarlo Giannini, a great actor. 

Lina has a fantastic voice. 

She sings songs not only of the classical Neapolitan repertoire, but also few Pino Daniele's ones such as Chi tene o'mare and Napul'e.

She adores the sea, and what it implies.

"I don't distinguish people in southern and northern, but in those who live on the sea and in the upcountry". 

"People mixing up and cultural contamination generates very interesting things" Lina says.

She seems inviting us on getting rid of fears concerning the massive immigration of people escaping war and starvation. Because as she says "the sea doesn't have barrier nor borders"

Please let me spend few words on the Mercadante theatre, and its  role in propelling the cultural life of Altamura.

Refurbished a couple of years ago after decades of decadence, this wonderful theatre, as stressed by Lina Sastri, hosts great events on weekly basis.

You are highly invited to experience such elegant, tiny theatre. 


Thursday, 17 November 2016

Journey to Tuscany

Michele, my beloved cousin, lives in Pisa since almost 20 years. 

He is a lovely person, married, with two pretty daughters.

A couple of weeks ago I went to visit him in Tuscany. I spent two days in Florence too, where we've been hosted by Katia, a good friend of Lucia.

It was a major pleasure for me to spend with Michele some time together, creating with him a sort of complicity, exchanging each other memories of our family. 

As my chief at work says "life is too short". I agree 100% with him.

Michele lives in the countryside, few miles from Pisa.

Michele takes us to visit Pisa, this fantastic city, famous all around the world because of piazza dei Miracoli, where like a flower, it's set the Torre di Pisa (pictured).

"When I first arrived in Pisa, almost 20 years ago, foggiano (born in Foggia, Apulia), was synonymous of being rough" My cousin says.

He continues "Once, I went in a shop in Pisa to buy a shirt. After having dressed one of them, I asked the shop assistant how it looked like. She replied: It makes you looking foggiano. But I'm foggiano, I addressed her. She turned purple, of course".

I burst laughing, and kept laughing for a while. Actually, I still do it when I recall such story.

This was due to the shock caused at the time by the immigration flow in Tuscany from Foggia, as my cousin soon after explained.

Pisa is really cool, I have to say.

With Genova, Amalfi and Venice, Pisa was one of the four Repubbliche marinare which dominated the Mediterranean sea in the Middle Age.

Michele leads us to see the Keith Haring's murales, called Tuttomondo.

This murales was painted on the wall of a church. 

It took Keith four days to complete it. The paint was donated to the New Yorker artist by a local company.

Early in the 80ies, Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat expressed themselves by painting all around the "big apple", covering public spaces of their paintings, mostly the underground.

Tuttomondo, the murales in Pisa was painted in 1989. Keith would have died few months later of AIDS.

His messages of love, hope and peace are nowadays perpetuated by the Keith Haring Foundation .

Michele and Anna, his wife, bring us to visit Lucca, very close to Pisa.

Lucca is a well preserved Medieval town.

What really strikes me is viewing the Roman theatre being incorporated by Medieval urbanisation (pictured).

The day is sunny.

This gentleman takes the opportunity of being cheered up by the sun in the afternoon.

A slow walk within the walls of Lucca is something I definitely recommend of .

You'll discovery so many interesting places and corners, like the one nearby the conservatory.  

On Monday, we leave Michele and his fantastic family, heading to Florence, capital of Renaissance.

Florence is undoubtedly an open air museum, as we have realised by just getting out the train station.

I have seen so many tourists around here. 

From an art perspective, the climax of this journey is the visit at Galleria degli Uffizi.

We'll be spending at Galleria a whole afternoon, admiring the paintings collection made up by the Medici family along centuries.

Caravaggio, Piero della Francesca, Tiziano, Canaletto, Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli are just some of the artists exposed there.

Once in the life, you must come to Tuscany.

By the way, concerning Michelangelo Merisi, also called Caravaggio, the National Gallery in London is currently hosting an exhibition called Beyond Caravaggio dedicated to this revolutionary artist.

It will be on till the 15th January 2017.  

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Botromagno, the art of making wine

“Dear Sir, I'd be pleased to interview you in regard of your activity of wine making...”. 

10 days ago I’ve e-mailed to Botromagno, a cantina located in Gravina in Puglia (Murgia). 

A couple of days later, I get the reply “Hi Antonio, I'm currently in London. I'll call you back once in Italy. Beniamino”.

Beniamino is the owner of Botromagno. We arrange an appointment on the 5th of Saturday morning.

Equipped with my camera, I arrive there in advance.

So, I have chance to talk with Matteo De Rosa, the enologist of Botromagno.

Bear in mind that Gravina in Puglia is famous all around the world because of Verdeca, a fantastic sweet white wine.

“Verdeca dates back to the Middle Age (1200). This wine comes from the combination of Greco, Malvasia and Bianco d'Alessano.” Matteo says.

He continues “In 1973 we applied to obtain the DOC for our Verdeca wine. However, we got the certification only in 1983. Additionally, we had to change its name from Verdeca to Gravina. Since 5 years, we only combine Greco and Malvasia as the Bianco d'Alessano is almost disappeared here in Gravina”.

The enologist seems to me very competent, so I take the opportunity to question him more "I'd like to know your opinion about how the Apulian wines are performing so far. I mean, are they appreciated in Italy as well as abroad?” I enquiry.

“Well, since 20/25 years ago, the Apulian wines were mainly bought by Northern Italy wine makers to adjust their own wines. Since then, things have radically changed.” Matteo De Rosa says.

Indeed, in the last two decades a new wave of Apulian wine entrepreneurs, with the right mindset, have worked hard to promoting their wine by attending international markets.

Meantime Beniamino is arrived. We shake our hands. He takes me in his factory, meanwhile he narrates me his story.

“Since 2009, the Italian wine market has been gradually shrinking due to the ongoing crisis. So, we have been forced to sell abroad an increasing number of bottles” Beniamino says.

“Before the crisis there were so many buyers on worldwide basis. Most of them managed a business on small scale, for clients who wished to find out more about cultura enoica

Nowadays, few buyers have remained. They are tremendously sensitive to the price.” Beniamino adds.

Competition in the wine market is getting higher and higher.
“Concerning the new markets such as India and China, things are not easy from a wine-business perspective. First of all, richness is not well distributed in those countries, despite their galloping GDP. Secondly, such countries have a strong food identity. So, it won't be easy to combine our wines with their food” Beniamino states.

Talking about the Italian wines, our strengthen is the tremendous variety of vines, which represents an unicum in the world.

In fact there're 1000 different kind of vitigni (vine variety), 600 of them certified, 300 which are being evaluated and 100 brought to life again.

None like Italy has such richness in terms of vine variety. And Apulia may rightly be considered as a typical example of such fantastic kaleidoscope.

"Would you like to see my nicest vineyard?" Beniamino asks. "Yes, I'd love to" I reply.

He drives me with his car on the bottom of the hill called Botromagno, where the ancient Silvium (now Gravina) was located. 

At the bottom of that hill there is his vineyard.

Wine making is carried out over here since the 8th century BC, as testified by archaelogical evidences.

In fact, via Appia passed by Silvium. As result of this, a busy trading of vine plants coming from the Hellenistic world took place here. 

“We in Apulia should develop more and more the wine-tourism” Beniamino suggests. I fully get his precious tips.

It’s 12 o’clock. Time just flies away.

“Thanks Beniamino, your narration was really interesting. Your inputs very much appreciated. I’m going to write the article and send you the link by e-mail.” I say.

“Thanks” He says. “Hold on a moment” he adds. He fetches a bottle of rosè and hands it over me. “This is for you. It’s made by a Nero di Troia vineyard old 50 years”. Beniamino says. I have dedicated to Lucia, my daughter. 

Beniamino, this rosè is marvellous. Blessing Lucia

Ps. has just launched a wine contest #Raccontaciiltuovino Please, narrate your story/wine with pics, words etc..