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Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Recapping Dante: Canto 24, or Serpent, Ashes, Rinse, Repeat

April 7, 2014 | by

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Gustave Doré, Canto 24

We’re recapping the Inferno. Read along! This week: a swarm of snakes and a sinner with a sense of privacy.

Let’s begin by addressing the fact that these similes are getting out of hand. In the early parts of his poem, Dante’s similes were often only three lines long. Now—just as he did in the beginning of canto 22, when he describes battlefield scenes while traveling with the demons—he presents us with a long, roving simile about a peasant who sees the snow melt and knows it is time to herd his sheep again.

At the end of canto 23, Virgil realized there was no longer a way to pass from the realm of the lead-cloaked sinners to the next ditch—the bridge is out. This is one of the few indications (like the sinner crucified to the ground in 23) that the geography of hell changes over time. But soon, seeing that Dante is anxious and scared, Virgil devises a plan to get them over to the next area by scaling a few boulders. Dante, daunted and exhausted, admits that “were it not that on this side of the dike the slope were shorter—I cannot speak for him—I would have given up.” This is the sort of phrase that translators and scholars will laugh at, because it’s an example of Dante’s subtle, ironic sense of humor: he announces that he cannot speak for Virgil, and yet has done so for the entire length of the poem so far. Read More »

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This Is Growing Up

December 26, 2013 | by

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A panel of Adam and Eve in Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise.

All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

I had only been in Europe for two weeks when I started to feel homesick.

I’d decided to study in Florence on a whim, after having vaguely planned my entire sophomore year on traveling to Prague to study film at the famed FAMU. But while for FAMU there was a separate application I would have had to fill out, Florence was a simple checkbox on the registration website. And student housing in Florence was even cheaper than at my university in New York.

The general idea was to get a handful of my general education requirements out of the way and maybe even try to pick up some Italian while I was at it. I flew over to Italy with my mother, who was looking for a few days away from Chicago to take in, as she called it, la dolce vita. “I want a gondolier to sing to me, like in the movies,” she said. The gondolier spoke on his cell phone the entire time.

We arrived at the Florence Airport mid-morning. On the cab ride into the city, the driver informed us that one of the city’s time-honored traditions was complaining about the tourists, and, even worse than the general run of tourists, the hordes of visiting college students. I soon found myself in a large apartment off via Guelfa introducing my mother to ten other college students and an Italian RA. My mother quickly pulled me aside. “Please don’t get into any trouble. You know what the driver said.”

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With Profound Admiration: Grazia Deledda, Nobel Laureate

October 10, 2013 | by

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The morning Grazia Deledda won the 1926 Nobel Prize in Literature was like any other. Or rather, she attempted to make that day in Rome indistinguishable from the last. She simply exclaimed Già! (Already!), and fled to her office. She was protective of her daily writing routine, already threatened by sharing a crowded house with her husband, adult sons, and niece. Deledda maintained the same schedule seven days a week: a late breakfast, a couple of hours of reading, lunch followed by la pausa (a nap), and, finally, a few hours of writing in the afternoon. By dinner, she had four handwritten pages.

But there were expectations of the first Italian women to receive the prize, and she understood what was at stake. It had been a year since Benito Mussolini dropped the charade of constitutional rule in favor of Fascism. Deledda had never been to northern Europe, but Il Duce made it known that, upon her return from Stockholm, he expected her to attend an official state ceremony in her honor. Mussolini, who had imprisoned several of her friends and many countrymen, wished to give her a portrait of himself, signed “with profound admiration.”

And so the writer allowed throngs of journalists and photographers and notable well-wishers into her home the next day. By all accounts, the diminutive writer was calm and graciouss, or at least tolerant of the fuss, which is more than can be said for Checcha. Her beloved pet crow was visibly irritated by the commotion, and thrashed wildly above the crowd, searching for an empty room. After an open window sufficed, Deledda hurried everyone out, insisting, “If Checcha has had enough, so have I.”  

She was a fatalist, to be sure, but by the time Deledda received the prize, at fifty-six years old, she understood attention made people vulnerable, and had the potential to devastate. People who dealt in extremes, whether by volition or chance, made it into her stories, and from the very beginning, her stories had a way of getting her in trouble.

Deledda (1871–1936) grew up in Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean, although she would be a teenager before she rode a horse all the way up to Monte Bardia, a peak from which she could finally glimpse the sea. Her birth coincided with the first anniversary of the unification of Italy, but she was very much of Nuoro, what she called “a bronze-age village.” Her first language was sardo logudorese, the spoken idiom of Sardinia; Italian, the language she would write in, was a foreign one. Read More »

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Taiye Selasi, Rome, Italy

October 4, 2013 | by

A series on what writers from around the world see from their windows.

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This summer I wrote my first ever article in Italian, considering why the Eternal City lures so many expat authors. In my limited Italian, I proposed three reasons—the beauty, the warmth, the un-ambitiousness—all of which come to mind when gazing at this view. When the sun begins to slip behind the gilded greens of the Janiculum, I’ll stare at the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, breathless every time. The sheer beauty of this ancient city—the scale of its churches, the density of its trees, the pastels of its facades, the voluptuousness of its clouds—is on full display from here.

My watch is the clock atop the Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere, adding its chimes to the cheerful din of chatter, car horns, laughter. There’s never a dull moment in the Piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere; one can sense as much as hear the joy of social gathering. But it is Rome’s imperfection that I find so beguiling, an invitation to play: seagulls squawking, nonne bickering, paint chipping from the walls. —Taiye Selasi

 

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Insurrection: An Interview with Rachel Kushner

April 3, 2013 | by

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I filled up half a notebook preparing for my interview with Rachel Kushner, whose second novel, The Flamethrowers, arrives this week. [It was excerpted and served as the inspiration for the portfolio in our last issue.] The notes are wide-ranging and imprecise, a record of the experience of reading this intellectually voracious book and trying to keep up with it. There are descriptions of American land art, scraps of World War I history, digressions on Italian counterculture in the late seventies. There are facts about those same years in New York, sometimes appreciating a particularly lovely observation, sometimes just noting what has changed (“on the Manhattan side, the Williamsburg Bridge had steps”). There are names, so many names: Aldo Moro, Virginia Tusi, Grifi and Sarchielli, Robert Smithson, and a hundred more. There are isolated flashes of pop-culture ephemera, like an otherwise blank page with “Jane Fonda wins an Oscar” written in the middle. That these elements, incoherent in my notebook, not only connect in Flamethrowers but create a dense and beautiful and polyphonic Bolaño-esque harmony meant that Ms. Kushner, by the time our interview rolled around, had started to seem somewhat miraculous.

Perhaps appropriately for an author concerned with the self-conscious production of ideas and images, Ms. Kushner spoke to me on Skype from LA, where she lives, as she put it, “incognito.” Her disguise on this particular day consisted of a black sweater and a few auburn highlights in her brown hair. When she answers questions, she has a habit of looking down past the camera, and her elaborate, delicate responses—complete with qualifications and footnotes—make it seem that she must be consulting a notebook propped open in the corner of the room. She isn’t.

The Flamethrowers spans a hundred years and follows multiple sets of characters across two countries, but I think it can be separated into three strands. Reno moves from Nevada to New York in the late seventies to be an artist, Italy is upended during the Years of Lead, Italian motorcyclists form a gang in World War I. Did you start out looking for a large and polyphonic book?

I like the way you divide up the three strands.

Is that not how you would divide them?

Well, at first there were two spheres—New York in the seventies and Italy in the seventies. And I knew they may have had some kind of en-tissuing or overlap, but I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t want to reduce it by linking them in forced or artificial ways. The only viable manner of figuring out how they were connected—and weren’t—was to write the novel. Read More »

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Underwear Life: An Interview with Francesco Pacifico

March 12, 2013 | by

9780374270445_p0_v1_s260x420Francesco Pacifico’s novel The Story of My Purity is narrated by Piero Rosini. This Piero seems like most other modern schlubs—thirty, overweight, bourgeois, in a sexless marriage, you know it—but the thing that makes him unusual is his deep belief in Christ. This is the most Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. He is also the funniest Catholic narrator in contemporary literature. And what happens to Piero is some kind of picaresque adventure that takes him from Rome to Paris and beyond, into all the problems of his innocence. What else do you need to know about Piero’s creator? Francesco Pacifico is also a translator from English into Italian, and translation is something we talk about a lot. In fact, he has almost definitely read more fiction in English than you have. And if an inglese italianato is the devil incarnate, then what does that make an italiano americano? I just mean that Francesco Pacifico is one of the least innocent novelists I know.

There’s a moment where Piero says “nobody’s Roman,” and this setting of Rome is crucial to the book’s opening. So my first question is, are you Roman?

I am, and I’m not. I was born in Rome and have lived there all my life. But I don’t know how to cook trippa and pajata, I know nothing of Rome’s cuisine pauvre, my family’s half-assed culinary traditions are half abbruzzese and half everything. My father’s side comes from L’Aquila, Abbruzzio, where my granddad’s family was big during the Fascist era, or so I’m told. My mother’s side is from everywhere, the hills of Sabina, and remotely Spain and France, and they travelled the country as my granddad was an engineer for the electric company—Milan, Genoa, Terni. I don’t feel Roman. You can spot a real Roman from miles. Savvy, gritty, ironic. I’m not.

And now—to keep with first things first—could you talk a little about this theme of purity? It seems such a gorgeously perverse subject for a contemporary novel. What’s the beauty of purity?

I experimented with not having sex for years. And I am a renowned lover of women. There was a time in my midtwenties where I thought of my life as an ongoing piece of performance art, and I realized the big thing I should try was to stop having sex. I had this romantic view of my love for my girlfriend being exalted and enhanced by abstinence. I became impotent. Read More »

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