Tag Archives | books

The Monumental Trees of Italy



Have you seen this book?

Many years ago, I found this book while browsing the clearance stacks at a used bookstore in Washington, DC. Published in 1990, Gli Alberi Monumentali d’Italia is a beautiful coffee table book full of color photos of legendary trees from Italy’s islands and central/southern regions. Roman pines, Holm oaks, olive, cypress, sycamore, lime, beech, poplar, carob, and other trees from Sardinia, Sicily, Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, Campania, Molise, Abruzzo, Lazio, and the Marches are given biographical treatment with descriptions in Italian and English.

The curious thing about this book is that the spine has a “I” indicating that there are other volumes. But I’ve never been able to find volume II or even an online reference to it.

If you have a tip on where I can find a copy of other books in this series, let me know at iloveitalia at gmail dot com.

Smoking in Italy

Smoke break, Milan (Flickr/vanz

Smoke break, Milan (Flickr/vanz

A lot of Italians still smoke.

This is hardly a newsflash for many. I have always known that Italians are more relaxed (than Americans, for example) about smoking. But it is still a surprise coming from a culture where smoking is stigmatized to where it is not necessarily expected but accepted across many generations.

Italy imposed a national smoking ban in public places in 2005–the fourth country in the world to do so–but that still hasn’t done much to curb tobacco consumption. While the insides of buildings, restaurants, and workplaces are smoke-free, Italy’s outdoor public spaces are rarely without a whiff of smoke. Bus stops, flea markets, parking lots, courtyards, balconies, and sidewalk cafes are all prime spots for sneaking a smoke.

Italy also makes it easy to smoke and keep smoking. The Tabacchi shops are still necessary for everyday errands, e.g., paying utility bills and buying bus tickets and passes. Paying your phone bill? Why not buy some cigarettes while you’re at it? No one will bat an eye.

When I walk around Rome, I still think it’s weird to see well-to-do couples sitting at an outdoor cafe, each with a pack of cigarettes on the table. Also odd (and unfortunate) is seeing several generations of one family sitting around an outdoor table smoking together. I cringe when I see parents smoking around their young children and babies.

Even though the air is smokier here, there is something refreshing about Italy’s nonchalance towards adults who smoke. There is very little social shame associated with smoking.

I was thinking about all of this the other day when I happened upon an appropriate passage from an Umberto Eco short story. In the 1991 story “How to Travel on American Trains,” one of many essays in How to Travel with a Salmon, Eco describes how, in America, those who smoke are social outcasts. And yet, when Italians smoke in America, they (and their habit) are treated differently.

Among the poor, too, there are those who cannot manage to abandon the ultimate symbol of marginalization: they smoke. If you try to climb into the one smoking car, you suddenly find yourself in the Dreigroschenoper. I was the only one wearing a tie. For the rest, catatonic freaks, sleeping tramps snoring with their mouths open, comatose zombies. As the smoker was the last car of the train, on arrival, this collection of outcasts had to walk a hundred yards or so, slouching along the platform like Jerry Lewis.

Having escaped from this railway hell and changed into uncontaminated clothes, I found myself having supper in the private dining room of a faculty club, among well dressed professors with educated accents. At the end, I asked if there was somewhere I could go and smoke. A moment of silence and embarrassed smiles followed, then someone closed the doors, a lady extracted a pack of cigarettes from her purse, others looked at my own pack. Furtive glances of complicity, stifled laughter, as in a striptease theater. There followed ten minutes of delightful, thrilling transgression. I was Lucifer, arrived from the world of shadows, and I illuminated everyone with the blazing torch of sin.

From Veronese to Futurism: Italian Art in the NYRB

The Family of Darius before Alexander by Paolo Veronese

The Family of Darius before Alexander by Paolo Veronese

I recently re-subscribed to the New York Review of Books and I’m glad I did. Besides providing some of the world’s most comprehensive and engaging book reviews, the NYRB often reviews art exhibits. In the latest Art Issue of the magazine, Andrew Butterfield reviews Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice, an exhibition running in London’s National Gallery through June 15, 2014; Julian Bell looks at two new books about Piero della Francesca in The Mystery of the Great Piero (subscription required); and Jonathan Galassi writes Speed in Life and Death (subscription), a piece that deals with Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe, an exhibition on view at NYC’s Guggenheim Museum through September 1, 2014.

There is also a poem by Michelangelo. Michelangelo’s note To Giovanni da Pistoia has appeared in many publications over the years, I’m not sure why it is being reprinted here. But the poem is always an illuminating read about the difficulties Michelangelo had in creating his most famous work.

Prodigious Veronese

A review of Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice at the National Gallery, London

“For much of the twentieth century Veronese was regarded more as a skilled purveyor of decorative finishes than as a profound master, and his reputation was in decline, but of late there are signs of renewed interest, which this show and its catalog will certainly do much to advance. Perhaps more than any other picture in the show, The Family of Darius before Alexander [part of the National Gallery’s permanent collection] reveals his great strengths as a painter; it also makes clear why he can seem so foreign to common modern ideals of art and of the artist.” –Andrew Butterfield

Speed in Life and Death

A review of Italian Futurism, 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City

“The Futurists wanted to sweep away what the poet Guido Gozzano called “le buone cose di pessimo gusto,” good things in the worst of taste, and replace them with an insolent, steely, polluting Machine Age. “Time and space ended yesterday,” Marinetti intoned. “We already live in the absolute”—that is, in a state of perpetual youth menaced only by death. “In every young man Marinetti’s gunpowder,” Vladimir Mayakovsky wrote. Marinetti not only wanted to end the monarchy and “de-Vaticanize”; he also argued for replacing the senate with an assembly of the young.” –Jonathan Galassi

The Mystery of the Great Piero

Reviews of the books Piero della Francesca: Artist and Man and Piero’s Light: In Search of Piero della Francesca: A Renaissance Painter and the Revolution in Art, Science, and Religion

“What more can we know about the artist, who died the day that Columbus landed in the New World and who for most of four centuries was nearly forgotten, only to reemerge as an indispensable fixture in modern schemes of art? The Met’s catalog ushers in Piero in the manner we have come to expect: he painted “magical pictures” that combine ‘intimacy and gravity,’ inspiring ‘a sacral awe.’ It points to his ‘almost primitive’ qualities and cites Aldous Huxley’s essay [PDF] of 1925 that names the Resurrection fresco in Sansepolcro as ‘the best picture in the world.’

“All this fits the occasion, but it mystifies. It makes it harder to imagine a human painter at work. Banker has been intent to reverse that process. To do so he has scoured the archives of Tuscany, Umbria, and the Marches. (Sansepolcro lies near the border of the three regions.) If, just possibly, he has been overzealous about tying up loose ends, he can nonetheless boast of personally discovering “over one hundred previously unknown documents specifically relating to Piero.” His methodology is sober and his inferences are toughly argued, and the result must surely count as a vitally important contribution to Piero studies.” –Julian Bell

Check out the New York Review of Books’s Art Issue for these and more reviews.

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