Posts Tagged ‘Italy’
April 3, 2013 | by Jesse Barron
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 »
March 12, 2013 | by Adam Thirlwell
Francesco 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 »
January 29, 2013 | by Nathan Deuel
In Rome, I was cocky and competitive and altogether my usual self because the apartment we’d rented for the night was completely white—sheets, pillows, towels—and much bigger than expected, with a cow’s head mounted on a wall and great, familiar coffee and I might as well have been in Istanbul or Moscow or New York or the many other places I had lived and worked, and I was thinking, after all that, how hard could Italy be? What’s the big deal? Yet that concern about experience or mastery or difficulty was to miss an essential point. That a good thing doesn’t have to be hard.
At the pub downstairs, the guy my wife knew knew from Baghdad was telling my wife how to get into Syria. I sighed, feeling everything retighten. A light rain fell as we passed through the piazza, and I saw cops and I stared at their guns. Under heat lamps, we hefted tall glasses of blood-dark wine and when we ordered the final carafe, all this big talk about the usual terrible things, there was nothing to do but float home on a red river. Read More »
January 7, 2011 | by Gregory Crewdson
A photograph of the Cinecittà studios, in Rome, on display at the White Cube in London. The studio was founded in 1937 by Benito Mussolini, and has served as the backdrop for films such as La dolce vita, Ben Hur, and more recently, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Crewdson first found Cinecittà devoid of human presence, in a state suspended between grandeur and ruin. He drew “upon the inherent quietness and uncanny aspects of the empty sets” and said that he “looked at the blurred lines between reality and fiction, nature and artifice, and beauty and decay.” Click to enlarge. The series appears in the book Sanctuary, published by Abrams this September. —Alexandra Zukerman
August 24, 2010 | by Angus Trumble
The lost language of Italian parasols and the men who made them.
Last month, on a visit to Piedmont in northern Italy, I chanced upon a small museum in the hill town of Gignese that is devoted to the local craft of umbrella-making. At first, I wondered how this particular region along the west shore of Lago Maggiore became associated with the production—through the past few centuries—of quality umbrellas and parasols, but the reason is not hard to find. Every year more than thirty-three inches of rain falls over the neighborhood of Turin, and more than thirty-nine around Milan. That’s at least a third more than what London gets. Meanwhile the northern Italian summers are hot and sunny. The word umbrella descends from the Latin umbraculum, which means a convenient device for providing shade.
The ancient Romans were very fond of umbrellas, and regularly exchanged them as gifts. Yet umbrellas were virtually unknown in England and America before the 1780s, and the traveler Jonas Hanway, who acquired a Piedmontese umbrella in Leghorn (Livorno), was for many years held up to ridicule when, in about 1750, he returned to London with one. The problem before the mid-nineteenth century was that Regency umbrellas were oily, not necessarily reliably waterproof, and tended to run—and the harder it rained, the worse it was. Oil and dye in roughly equal measure dribbled and spattered onto silk or muslin dresses. Gloves, bonnets, and satin slippers were maculated by nasty black spots. So at first umbrellas were used in England much more as shelter from the sun than the rain, and exclusively by women. It took several early Victorian decades for the English umbrella to shed its reputation for effeminacy, and more than a century and a half for it to burrow its way into the national character, and take up its dignified position in the crook of Neville Chamberlain’s elbow.
In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the ombrellai of Piedmont were a relatively closed community of highly specialist craftsmen. They engaged child-apprentices from among the poorest families of the region. Upon signing up, the apprenticed ombrellaio received a pair of shoes, somewhere to sleep, two square meals a day, and, of course, an umbrella. He said goodbye to his family for at least a period of four or five years—effectively, for good—and as well as learning to make umbrellas, he hiked from town to town selling braces of them to wholesalers, agents, and traders for export, mostly through Genoa.
As with so many other northern Italian industries (most famously the glass factories of Venice) the relevant production techniques, recipes, and other trade secrets were jealously guarded and protected with much paranoia, even ruthlessness. To that end the ombrellai used an in-house language known as Tarùsc, which seems to have existed in one form or another among the hill-dwelling people of Piedmont and the southern cantons of Switzerland since at least pre-Roman times. And while it came to be associated almost exclusively with the ombrellai, it was also used for related purposes by smugglers, thieves, spies—indeed a comparatively large proportion of the population whose occupations were covert. Read More »
July 28, 2010 | by Angus Trumble
4:45 A.M. Reviewing two new books about Caravaggio—books that are about as different from each other as it is possible to be: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, by Andrew Graham-Dixon, and The Moment of Caravaggio, a series of illustrated lectures by Michael Fried. Almost everything we know about the man himself comes from evidence meticulously transcribed by hugely diligent notaries attached to the Roman civil and criminal courts: a litany of threats, assault, battery, and, ultimately, cold-blooded murder.
6:00 A.M. Until two years ago it was axiomatic that Caravaggio did not draw. Thanks to a new infra-red camera, however, we may now observe what was previously thought not to exist, namely short choppy lines in ink—unmistakable evidence of fairly extensive under-drawing by which the artist set down on the primed canvas his principal points of reference. There is also evidence of scored lines and even tracing, à la carbon paper. None of this overturns the basic fact that draftsmanship was not very important to him. But at least we now know Caravaggio certainly practiced it when he needed to, the crafty devil.
12:30 P.M. I am re-reading My Memories of Six Reigns, by H. H. Princess Marie-Louise, having some months ago suggested it as an ideal summer book for readers of the Yale Alumni Magazine, especially connoisseurs of that neglected subgenre of dotty royal memoir. “Cousin Louie,” as she was known, was the fourth child of Queen Victoria’s bad-tempered middle daughter, Princess Helena. Her book is a fantastically weird combination of out-of-sequence table-rapping reminiscence; reverent reflection upon the burdens of monarchy, and innumerable flecks of interesting detail1.
1:45 P.M. Louie’s Edwardian wedding to Prince Aribert of Anhalt was the bright idea of Cousin Willie, the Kaiser, but more accurately an example of his total lack of judgment. It seems the Prince was soon afterwards caught in flagrante with an attractive young male servant in, on, or more probably beside the marital bed, and, concluding from this that her marriage was no longer viable, Louie promptly undertook an extended tour of Canada and the United States. Returning to Britain she immersed herself in charitable and artistic work, set up a Girls’ Club in Bermondsey, kept an eye on her mother’s nursing homes, and lent modest support to the imperial trade in dried fruit. Wholly guileless, Princess Marie Louise is irresistible. Read More »
- For example, during the darkest days of the Blitz, Louie and her older sister Thora (Princess Helena Victoria) were discreetly evacuated with the Polish ambassador and his family to borrowed accommodations in the attic of an old house near Ascot. She radically overstated the spartanness of the arrangement.