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Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

The Professor and the Siren

August 9, 2014 | by

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s groundbreaking mermaid.

The-Mermaid

Howard Pyle, The Mermaid, 1910

By the side of the path around the circular, volcanic crater of Lake Pergusa, near the town of Enna in the center of Sicily, a carved stone marks the spot where Proserpina, the goddess of the spring, was seized and carried off by Pluto into the underworld. “Qui, in questo luogo,” proclaims the inscription. “Proserpina fù rapita.” This is the very place:

                                          ...that fair field
Of Enna, where Proserpin gath’ring flow’rs
Herself a fairer Flow’r by gloomy Dis
Was gather’d, which cost Ceres all that pain
To seek her through the world.
(Milton, Paradise Lost, IV)

I was giving a lecture in Palermo in 2011 and asked to see the entrance to Hades. My hosts from the university kindly drove me; it was early summer, the lush undergrowth was starred with flowers, and the tapestry of orchids, campion, arum, acanthus, clover, wild hyacinth, thyme, and marjoram was still green, tender, and damp. Next to the monument I found another sign, which pointed beyond the chain-link fence toward “the cave from which the god issued forth in his chariot.” Again, the use of the past historic declared the event’s definite reality. In a tangle of bushes and fruit trees, some rocks were visible, but the mouth opening on the infernal regions now stands in private grounds.

Ovid tells us, in his Metamorphoses, that the young girls who were gathering flowers with Proserpina that fatal day were turned into the Sirens—the bird-bodied golden-feathered singers with female faces of the Homeric tradition—and then went wandering about over land and sea, crying out in search of their vanished playmate. In “The Professor and the Siren,” Giuseppe Tomasi, Prince of Lampedusa, picks up these echoes when he evokes a passionate love affair unfolding by the sea in the ferocious heat of the dog days in 1887. However, in this late story, which was written in January 1957, a few months before his death, Lampedusa gives his immortal heroine the body of a fish from the waist down; in this he is following the more familiar northern folklore tradition of fish-tailed mermaids; of Mélusine, seal women or selkies; and of water spirits, called undines by the alchemist and philosopher Paracelsus. But both species share the special charm of an irresistible voice. In the case of Lampedusa’s mermaid, hers is “a bit guttural, husky, resounding with countless harmonics; behind the words could be discerned the sluggish undertow of summer seas, the whisper of receding beach foam, the wind passing over lunar tides. The song of the Sirens ... does not exist; the music that cannot be escaped is their voice alone.” Read More »

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Alfabeto Pittorico

August 5, 2014 | by

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Sploid, “a new blog about awesome stuff” (as opposed to the many blogs about unawesome stuff), drew my attention to Antonio Basoli’s Alfabeto Pittorico, a series of architectural-alphabetical engravings from 1839—twenty-four letters and an ampersand. (Sorry, J and W.) These are works of pure fabulism—Basoli, a painter and designer from Bologna, created sets and curtains for the theater, and his alphabet has a lot of stagecraft to it. Every letter looks like a scene from another play. Part of the fun is in wondering what compelled him to make these engravings at all: Was he on some kind of precursor to LSD? Had he been dissed by an illiterate architect, against whom he sought fanciful revenge? Did he need a novel pedagogical device to teach the ABC’s to his distracted children? Whatever his motive, he brought an impressive imagination to the table. His G, for instance, is built on a Viking ship with a rabbit at its bow; K appears to be in some sort of mosque, with people in prayer all around; S is carved into a treacherous cliff, at the foot of which is a grave with a mourner. S—the cruelest letter.

You can see the whole series here; if you’re thinking there’s an Alphabet City joke to be made, I regret to inform you that the editors at Sploid have beat you to it. I thought about closing this post by spelling out PARIS REVIEW in Basoli’s letters, but life is short, and I, like you, tire of clicking. So here’s TPR: Read More »

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Reality Bites

June 25, 2014 | by

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One of the many memes to reemerge after Luis Suárez’s latest biting incident.

When Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi during the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy, he more or less blew any chance France had of winning the game. Materazzi is believed to have made some provocative suggestions about Zidane’s sister, and what’s winning the World Cup next to defending one’s sister’s reputation?

Luis Suárez’s action yesterday—he left an impression of his teeth in Giorgio Chiellini’s left shoulder—will, after his inevitable ban, have the same effect of terminally harming his country’s chances of victory. But unfortunately for him, Suárez doesn’t have a chivalric excuse.

Human beings frequently act against their own self-interest. Think of the highly successful British pop group KLF, two of whose members, self-described as the K Foundation, withdrew a million pounds of their own money from the bank back in 1994 and ceremonially burned it. It seemed like a good guerrilla art–type idea at the time, and then later it didn’t. But, like Zidane, K Foundation had a reason for acting as they did, more obscure but no less real. Read More »

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Kissing and Biting

June 20, 2014 | by

Italy puckers up; unhinged American exuberance; infamous teeth.

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Luis Suárez in 2011. Photo: Jacoplane, via Flickr

Italy’s Mario Balotelli, he of the “why always me?” undershirt, wants a kiss from the “the UK queen”—yes, that one—if he secures a victory against Costa Rica. The domino effect of that result would go like this: Italy will go on to beat Uruguay while England crushes Costa Rica by some outlandish score and, miracle of miracles, England qualifies for the next round on goal difference. From my brooding vantage—looking out at the low dark clouds gathered over the sceptred isle this morning—a little royal peck on the cheek doesn’t seem too much to ask for Mario’s compliance. He should go for more—but maybe not from the queen.

All sports aficionados are historiographers. Fans of, say, the Chicago Cubs or the Boston Red Sox before 2004 “remember” failures and disappointments that occurred decades before they were born. Sports talk and commentary worldwide is a litany of reference and record: great names from the past, statistics, moments of triumph and disaster. No game is an island.

Does this explain why the USA’s supporters in Brazil seem to have reached a level of euphoria unmatched by the fans of any other country? I mean, they’re really going bonkers over there, and there’s something entirely unhinged about it. What the crowd is unhinged from, of course, is the past, the dead Wrigley Field weight of history that tells you, “Don’t even think about it.” Read More »

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Sketches of Spain; England Acquits Itself Well

June 16, 2014 | by

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A still from video of Italy’s victory over England.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips, from New York:

Thursday has turned to Monday. The World Cup has blossomed. The opening game seemed intent on mocking any potential pleasure or faith you may have had in this tournament—but now it’s become so good, so quickly, that some people are already calling it the best World Cup they’ve ever seen. Eleven games thus far and not a single draw; the matches have been, for the most part, tightly contested. The Swiss threw in a last-gasp winner against an extremely naïve Ecuador; teams have sought to be positive, to attack, sometimes without thinking before rushing forward. But enough of that, Jonathan will no doubt be writing about England; his memoir is called Kick and Run, after all.

Almost all the big players have played up to their lofty status. Almost.

Spain, as you likely know by now, was atomized by the Netherlands to the tune of 5-1. The score flattered Spain: Holland could have, and really should have, scored a few more. To put into proper context, remember: Spain is the two-time defending European Champion and allowed a total of two goals (two!) in the last World Cup, which they also won, beating a Holland team so intimidated that instead of playing the osmotic football for which they’re famed, they played like the Steven Segal All-Stars, bastardizing themselves among the long line of great and balletic Dutch teams.

Four years later, the main actors were the same (including these two), but Holland was deadly and Spain soporific. What changed? Read More »

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Recapping Dante: Canto 29, or Don’t Trust the Midas Touch

May 12, 2014 | by

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William Blake, Canto XXIX

We’re recapping the Inferno. Read along! This week: The price you pay for turning stuff into gold.

Having read the incandescent poetry of cantos 26-28, it’s difficult not to feel as though Dante really phoned it in with canto 29. In fact, canto 28 is so hard to shake that Dante dwells on it for the first thirty or so lines of canto 29, weeping at the thought of the mangled sinners he’d met. Virgil rebukes him for his compassion, as always, and emphasizes the importance of moving on: he tells Dante they’re running out of time to complete their quest, which must have been Dante’s way of upping the stakes. Will our heroes beat the clock?

Virgil also points out that this is the first time Dante has wept for sinners in such a way. Dante has an explanation—he isn’t weeping for all the sinners, but for his cousin, Geri del Bello, who was among those undergoing tortured back in canto 28. Geri was killed but never avenged, and for this Dante weeps. Virgil, ever quick with the quips, suggests that Dante doesn’t really care all that much about his cousin—instead of talking to him when he had the chance, Dante instead decided to chat with Bertran de Born.

As Dante and Virgil proceed over the last bridge of this circle, Dante describes the foul smell of the following ditch—rotting limbs, putrid skin, and all the stench of dead patients in plague-stricken hospitals. It is a powerful image, especially since one can imagine that by now, Dante is very familiar with the smell of rotting body parts. What Dante smells are the falsifiers, the corpse-like shades under punishment for forgery. Dante will speak with the alchemists, who are afflicted with a sort of super-leprosy.Read More »

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