Il 16 ottobre è uscito l'ultimo album di Ludovico Einaudi, Elements, disponibile su iTunes e composto da 12 brani inediti, assolutamente bellissimi. In basso, il video "ufficiale" che accompagna uno dei brani, Night, seguito dall'interpretazione dal vivo dello stesso brano per il programma della BBC, Radio 1's Piano Sessions; da un "Minimix" dei dodici brani; e infine da due video: il primo in italiano, il secondo in inglese, in cui Einaudi descrive la genesi dell'album. Eccoli:
Ecco un'altro video molto bello, pubblicato pochi giorni fa su Youtube, in cui Einaudi spiega il suo processo compositivo prendendo come esempio una delle sue composizioni più note, Fly, del 2007.
In aprile invece è uscito, un po' in sordina, un'altro album davvero davvero davvero straordinario di Einaudi, molto diverso dal minimalismo melodico del compositore torinese a cui siamo abituati. L'album si chiama Taranta Project, anch'essa disponibile su iTunes, ed è frutto dell'esperienza di Einaudi come "maestro concertatore", ossia direttore musicale, del festival Notte della Taranta. Nell'album Einaudi si avvale di musicisti straordinari tra cui spiccano Mercan Dede, Ballaké Sissoko, Mauro Durante, e Justin Adams, e il risultato è una fusione straordinaria di suoni salentini, africani, mediorientali ed "einaudiani": davvero impossibile trattenersi dal ballare! In basso, la voce di Wikipedia dedicata a la Notte della Taranta; un video molto interessante pubblicato sul sito di The Guardian nel 2012, dedicato a la Notte della Taranta; due video, il primo in italiano, il secondo in inglese, in cui Einaudi parla appunto della sua esperienza come "maestro concertatore" e dell'album; e infine il video "ufficiale" del secondo brano del disco: Taranta, seguito dall'ottava traccia dell'album, Mamma la Rondinella, con le voci bellissime di Alessia Tondo e di Enza Pagliara, e dalla nona traccia dell'album, Preludio / Nar-i Seher di Mercan Dede, che vi faranno assolutamente venire la pelle d'oca!!!
La Notte della Taranta è un festival di musica popolare che mira a valorizzare la musica tradizionale salentina attraverso la sua riproposta e la contaminazione con altri linguaggi musicali. Si svolge nel mese di agosto, in forma itinerante in varie piazze del Salento, culminando nel concertone di Melpignano che vede la partecipazione di musicisti di fama nazionale ed internazionale. Il festival registra una partecipazione di oltre centomila spettatori. Ogni edizione del concertone finale è affidata a un "maestro concertatore" che ha il compito di arrangiare le musiche tradizionali del Salento fondendone i ritmi con quelli di altre tradizioni musicali. (Wikipedia Italia)
Nel video di The Guardian: A festival with bite: Night of the Taranta in Salento, Italy, pubblicato in alto, Pierfrancesco Pacoda e Maristella Martella parlano del fenomeno del tarantismo che oggigiorno non esiste più, almeno "in termini classici", come spiega Luigi Chiriatti in una bella intervista pubblicata su DolceVita online. Il tema però rimane assolutamente affascinante ed è molto complesso quindi è impossibile trattarlo in maniera adeguata qui, ma vale la pena accennare a qualche aspetto del fenomeno. Nel brano in basso, tratto dall'introduzione del bel libro Ritual, Rapture and Remorse: A Study of Tarantism and Pizzica in Salento, Jerri Daboo, l'autrice, ci spiega che cos'è il tarantismo.
The well known British travel writer H. V. Morton published his book A Traveller in Southern Italy in 1969. In this volume, he gives the following account of an event he says he witnessed on his way up the Ionian coast to Taranto, in the Southern Italian region of Apulia (Puglia):
On the way to Taranto I stopped in a small town to look at a church, and on my way back to the car I heard the sound of music. It was a quick kind of jig tune played on a fiddle, a guitar, a drum, and, I think, a tambourine. Looking round for the source of this sound, I saw a crowd standing in a side street. Glancing over the heads of the spectators, I saw a countrywoman dancing alone with a curiously entranced expression on her face, her eyes closed. She held a red cotton handkerchief in her hand which she waved as she undulated round the circle with more grace than I should have expected. I was surprised by the gravity of the crowd. There was not a smile. There was something strange about this. I wondered whether the dancer was mad, or perhaps – unusual as this would be – drunk. Glancing round at the set faces, I did not like to ask any questions, and, not wishing to intrude upon what was obviously a rather painful scene, I turned away. I shall always regret having done so.
Some days later, I recollected the dancer and happened to mention her to a friend in Taranto. ‘Do you realize what you have seen? The woman had been “taken” by a tarantula spider and she was dancing, and might dance for days until completely exhausted, to expel the poison. I have only seen this twice myself and I have lived in Salentino all my life. It is a matter of luck. Sometimes you will come across the tarantolati in village streets, at crossroads, but generally in the houses, and though most people imagine that the tarantella ceased to be danced for serious reasons long ago, it is still danced by hundreds of peasants in the region of Lecce who believe themselves to have been poisoned by the spider.’
‘When you say the woman was “taken” by the tarantula, what do you mean?’
‘Simply that she was bitten. [...] Women are particularly exposed to tarantula bites because they work in the harvest fields after the corn has been cut, when these spiders are common.’
‘But I have read that the tarantula is not poisonous, or that it is no more dangerous than a beesting.’
My friend lifted his shoulders.
‘Perhaps’, he conceded. ‘This has been going on for centuries. Who can say what is at the back of it?’ (Morton, 1969: 180–1)
Morton was later informed that the woman had danced all that night and the next day, before sleeping. When she awoke, she said that she felt well again.
What Morton is describing is an example of the ritual known as tarantism, or tarantismo in Italian. This ritual has been performed over many centuries as a cure for someone bitten by the tarantula spider (la taranta in the Salentine dialect, or la taràntola in standard Italian). The person who is bitten, known as a tarantato (or taràntolato) if male, and tarantata (or taràntolata) if female, falls into a state of illness as a result of the poison from the bite. Symptoms can include nausea, paralysis, lethargy, spasms, headaches, irregular pulse and breathing, and fainting. If this happens, the family or friends of the tarantata will call for musicians who are skilled in playing an indigenous form of music called the pizzica. When the musicians arrive, they try out different melodies, rhythms, and types of songs until they begin to see a response from the ill person, such as the hand begin ning to move in time to the music. Sometimes they will also respond to certain colours such as red, green or yellow. The particular melodies and rhythms, as well as the specific colours which affect the tarantato, are supposedly connected to the type and nature of the spider which bit them, so that in this way the symbol and embodiment of the spider becomes the agent of both the illness and the cure. The musicians continue to play in a crescendo, as the tarantato gradually becomes more and more active, seeming to ‘wake up’ from a state of trance, crawling along the floor, beating the ground in time to the rhythm of the tamburello (tambourine), sometimes arching into a bridge position, imitating the movements of a spider. As the music rises, the tarantato gets up from the floor, and begins to dance in hopping, skipping and circling movements, the musicians encouraging them to keep going. They may continue this for many hours before resting, and then beginning the dance again. The ritual can last for three days, until the tarantato feels well again, and does not need to dance any longer. The bite led to the tarantato being ‘possessed’ by the spider, and the cure is one of a fight with this possession which leads to the expelling of the spirit of the spider from the body. If this does not happen, or if the music and dance cure is not undertaken, then the tarantato may die from the effects of the bite. In this way, the ritual is often described as being one of both possession and exorcism.
As well as this private ritual, there was a more public and collective display caused by the symptoms of the condition reoccurring, usually during the summer months, and often around the period of the festival of St Paul on 29 June. [...] St Paul is associated with the ritual of tarantism. The chapel dedicated to him in Galatina became the focus for the annual repetition of the cure, where the tarantati (male and collective plural) would be brought by their families from surrounding areas to relive the dance of the ritual cure within the chapel. Oral, written and film records give examples of tarantate (female plural) dressed in white, symbolically becoming the brides of St Paul, dancing in the chapel, climbing over the altar, crawling on the ground, and sometimes attacking the crowds who gathered to witness the spectacle during the annual repetition. In the same way as the spider is the cause and cure of the condition, so St Paul also becomes a magical religious symbol who both curses and heals the tarantata. [...]
Throughout its history, there have been questions as to whether the condition of tarantism is ‘real’ or not, and if the tarantata is ‘faking’ rather than being genuinely ill, or even in a state of madness or hysteria. Although there is often no evidence of an actual bite from a spider, the ‘bite’ and subsequent illness and cure can be seen as a culture specific means of coping with sociocultural and economic difficulties found within Salento. As Horden states,
the spider’s symbolism is more potent than its bite [...]. We are dealing with a culture bound syndrome, or folk illness; with social and psychological ‘poisoning’ rather than a biological threat. (Horden, 2000: 250)
In this way, it is important to frame tarantism as being a culture specific phenomenon.
There have been records of the use of music to cure the poison from the bite of a tarantula dating back to the fourteenth century. These records [...] are written by an array of doctors, scientists, ecclesiastical figures and curious visitors, each imposing their own viewpoint on the condition, defining the ritual and those who undertake it according to their own paradigm of seeing and understanding the world. As such, what these records offer is a fascinating debate on the shifting discourses of the body, medicine, science, religion and philosophy over a period of seven hundred years. What is not heard are the voices of the tarantati themselves. Their own stories, and their personal experiences of the performance of the ritual, are not overtly visible, but they are rather appropriated and debated by the writers as a means for expounding their own framework of thought. The ritual itself began to decline during the nineteenth century, and by the middle of the twentieth century, and at the time that Morton was writing, there were only a few instances of performances of the ritual. According to anthropologist Karen Lüdtke, who has undertaken a long term ethnographic study of contemporary Salento, there were only five or six former tarantati still alive in 2006 (Lüdtke, 2009: 12), though these are not seen publicly performing the ritual any longer. However, the occasional glimpses of one of these prior tarantati can recall a past into the present, offering a glimpse of a vestige from older times that has a strong resonance for the younger generation of Salentines today [...].
Although the ritual as such no longer takes place, there was a revival of interest in pizzica music and dance beginning in the 1970s, and gaining momentum through the 1980s and 1990s. This, along with an increasing amount of research and publications on tarantism, has led to a growth in both tourists and researchers visiting the region, as well as the development of music and dance festivals, sometimes under the label of the socalled ‘neotarantism’ movement. This resurgence [...] offers an example of the revival or reinvigoration of a form of ‘folk’ or ‘traditional’ music and dance, which raises questions of authenticity, ownership, and performance forms as cultural products.
Ritual, Rapture and Remorse: A Study of Tarantism and Pizzica in Salento - Jerri Daboo (Peter Lang; 2010)
Ed ecco due brani tratti dalla traduzione in inglese dello straordinario studio sul tarantismo La terra del rimorso: Contributo a una storia religiosa del Sud, di Ernesto De Martino pubblicato originariamente nel 1961. Nel primo brano De Martino prende in esame il rapporto tra il tarantismo e la stagione estiva; nel secondo, il rapporto tra il tarantismo ed il cristianesimo.
The symbolism of Season
[...} Thus the connection between tarantism and the summer season must essentially be considered on the symbolic level. This season to which we are referring is not a set of bare astronomical and meteorological data, of changes in the animal or vegetable kingdom, of mere work opportunities. Rather, this season is the existential reality of the Apulian summer during the period between the Middle Ages and the eighteenth century, in the corresponding socio-economic frameworks which were dominant in the region and differentiated by place and period. It is the summer of the Tavoliere, crossed by east winds and north winds, hardly mitigated in the Salento by the blowing of the west wind around midday. It is the summer which forced inhabitants to breathe an air which seemed quasi ab ardenti clibano afflantem [as if it blew from a blazing furnace], the summer experienced by Alessandro D' Alessandro when he travelled at the beginning of the sixteenth century per loea diutino situ squalida [through places long left abandoned], encountering groups of musicians who went through the Lands and Hamlets to treat tarantati. But above all, it is the season of the harvest, when the laborious epilogue to the agricultural year took place in the wheat fields of the Tavoliere and the Terra di Bari, in the gardens and orchards of Brindisi, in the vineyards of Taranto - and the anxious expectation of "bread" and "wine" received a favorable or unfavorable response. It was in this season that the destiny of the year was decided, granaries and wine cellars filled, debts paid off. People's hearts entered into a period of dramatic suspension; they measured the strength and limits of human effort, and at the least sign they readily devoted themselves to the supernatural, as happened in Venosa in the summer of 1596, when tarantism - as we will see - arose in the midst of a collective crisis of existential horror. It is precisely within this framework that a series of experiences connected to the harvest was articulated: to fell spikes of wheat with sickle strokes, pluck fruit from trees, trample on grapes in a vat, meant becoming agents of anguish and death in the realm of food plants, facing the void in vegetation and labor in the wake of harvest time, running up against the insecurity of the new agricultural year, braving the perils of the sun's rays - as piercing as arrows - and those of crafty little animals whose poisonous bite slipped a mortal languor into the veins and a desperate anxiety into the soul.
A period of such high social tension was in and of itself predisposed to spilling over into a symbolic time of existential frustrations, transforming itself into a period in which all unresolved conflicts blossomed. This was a season in which the antinomies of human destiny in a peasant society imposed themselves upon the consciousness with exceptional energy, and in which the power and limit of transforming labor were tested in the most significant way. Thus the summer had, so to speak, a preferential claim to becoming the seasonal frame for the evocation and release of a wretched past. The period of the year when productive forces were measured through the harvest of the land's most precious fruits in turn opened up the horizon of another harvest, to be carried out in invisible fields with a symbolic sickle. The period which signified the possibility of paying debts on an economic level, was transformed on the symbolic level into a period in which existential debts, too, could be paid - debts which had accumulated in the depths of the soul. And finally, since it sometimes did happen that a bite by a more or less poisonous spider took place while harvesting, gleaning, plucking fruit from a branch or gathering legumes in gardens, the images of the bite and the spider avoided the requirements of a logic oriented toward the "observation of nature"; instead, they operated as a shuttle in an autonomous weaving whose warp followed the coherence of symbolic logic. Thus instead of horizonless individual crises, in which the frustrations caused by life in society were able to crop back up at any moment of the year in the form of neurotic symptoms, the seasonal symbolism of tarantism offered above all a means of anchoring such crises to the time limits of a certain period; it modeled the crisis according to the behavior of the poisoned victim, and it presented a mythical-ritual plan of evocation and release through the symbolism of music, dance and colors, in an adequate ceremonial setting. By virtue of the seasonal symbolism, the individual crises potentially scattered in time in a random fashion tended to gather and concentrate in an elective period of onset, where they found an entire symbolic system ready to enter into action and operate its efficacy as resolution, with the society's consensus and assistance. In this way, the periods "out of season" were advantageously freed of the risk of the crisis, and a deferred payment was instituted for existential debts incurred. Another advantage accrued was the division of the payment into installments in subsequent summers, through the symbol of the bite which "re-bit" every year with the return of the period of "first bite," and which could be exorcised every year in the "green" paradise of lost loves, in the "red" paradise of unachieved glory and power, and in everything else offered by the dream apparatus of tarantism in action. (pp. 112 - 114)
The Land of Remorse: A Study of Southern Italian Tarantism - Ernesto De Martino (Translated by Dorothy Louise Zinn; Free Association Books; 2005)
The Medieval Origins of Tarantism
[...] The Pauline polemic against the spiritual anarchy of the church of Corinth, in favor of a God who is not a god of disorder, but serenity, struck at the heart of the orgiastic cults, which appeared to the Apostle as chaos, a ruckus of sonorous bells and tambourines vibrating in the face of the interior moral power of Christian agape. And if for present-day historiographic consciousness those cults contained their own order, their telestic madness, for the combatant Apostle's consciousness they necessarily formed an absolute negativity, like demonic temptation. Moreover, the new "goad" experienced by the Apostle on the road to Damascus was opposed to the older one in another respect, too: it belonged to the male world, and to the female one only in a subordinate and mediated form. During the polemic so vigorously carried out in the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul establishes a well-known hierarchy: if God is the leader of Christ, and Christ is the leader of man, then man is the leader of woman; therefore woman reflects God through the mediation of man. This theorization is not gratuitous, but serves the Apostle in order to justify a precise prescription regarding the behavior of women in liturgical assemblies: while man, the image and glory of God, can sit in church with his head uncovered, woman - who is the glory of man and his private treasure - must instead be covered as a sign of her subjection to God through her subjection to man. The cultural image of the maenad, as Greek tragedy and iconography have passed it down to us, was thus refused by the Christian order: the requirement of the veiled head during the liturgical assembly in fact founded a model of behavior in antithesis with that of tresses that flowed freely in the rhythm of a frenetic dance, in the same way that, in the Gospel of John, the silent, interior pain of Maria at the foot of the Cross founded a model of behavior in antithesis to that of the pagan lamentresses. It is in this wider perspective that we should consider the so-called choreutic epidemics of the Middle Ages, whose trunk received the grafting of Apulian tarantism. In general, the fight waged against the pagan cults by expanding Christianity and the substitution of the dates and places where pagan holidays were celebrated with corresponding Christian ones, contributed in a first period and especially in rural areas to aggravate the psychic disorders for which the pagan holidays were an organic horizon of control and reintegration. The religious life of the pagan agrarian community had concentrated the treatment of these disorders - manifest or latent - on holiday dates connected to critical moments of particular importance for individual and collective life, such as the winter solstice, the spring reawakening of the vegetation, the summer solstice and the period of the harvest. But now the Christian holidays which had taken the place of the pagan ones risked being unsettled by the sudden insurgence of psychic disorders, rendered all the more serious by the fact that Christian civilization had declared war on the ancient pagan forms of cultural discipline. In particular, the feast-days of St. John (June 24) and St. Vitus (June 15) - both connected to the harvest period - were, on a European-wide scale, subject to the subversive and relapsing temptations of the crisis. This forced the Church to consider the problem of readapting these two feast-days in such a way as to put new horizons of control into action which substituted the ancient ones: canonical exorcism and the penitential reshaping of the crisis were the means ordinarily employed by the Church to deal with the situation. But at the same time, the Church could not avoid the fact that in one way or another, either through spontaneous rebirth, the regulatory intervention of civil authorities, or even by compromises and tolerance of the clergy itself, the old forms of choreutic-musical discipline reemerged together with other legacies of the pagan cults.
In the earliest accounts of the choreutic epidemics of Northern Europe, the phenomenon is presented as mere psychic disorder, seasonally conditioned, which suddenly exploded and infected entire collectivities. One example of this type must have been the agitation which took hold of the faithful who, on Christmas of 1021, attended Mass in" the church of Kolbig. A substantially analogous character is displayed in the famous choreutic epidemic which began in Aachen in 1347 on the occasion of the feast-day of St. John, and which then spread throughout the entire Rhine basin, reaching Liege, Utrecht, Tongern, Koln and Metz. There were throngs of possessed people, regardless of age and sex, whose frenzied agitation had nothing of the ritual dance. The chronicles, moreover, do not give importance to the intervention of a musical discipline, but dwell instead on the subversive character of this daemonica pestis, which struck men and women, maxime paupers et levis opinionis, ad magnum omnium terrorem! It even appeared that the entire social and cultural order was at stake when the possessed of Liege were seen assembled in tightly-knit groups, spewing insults on the priests who had gathered for the exorcisms; and during an exorcism, one of the possessed let his demon say that the evil spirits planned to pass from the bodies of the poor to those of the wealthy, and then to those of the princes, to overturn the clergy and take possession of its goods: a plan which anticipated in a sinister manner by nearly two centuries what would take place, through quite different means, in the period of the Reformation. [...]
Subsequently the musical catharsis began to acquire special importance, for example in the choreutic epidemic which broke out in Strasbourg in 1518. Many people danced to the sound of pipes and drums; to deal with the disorder, the municipal council of the city instituted places for dance on the premises of the corporations and merchants, procuring musicians and dancers in sufficient number to take turns in the difficult task of making the agitated and the possessed dance until they fell unconscious. The dance was even performed in a cave transformed into a chapel of St. Vitus, near Zabern, and took place around the altar until the dancers (male or female) fell to the ground at the base of the Saint's image. The crisis of St. Vitus was considered a sort of bewitchment or black magic, and by 1485, curses like Gott geb dir Sankt Veit (God send you Saint Vitus) or Dass dich Sankt Veit ankiime (may St. Vitus come to you) were punishable, as we learn from the legislation of the city of Rottweil. A subsequent account by the physician Gregorio Horstius of UIm tells us that the crisis of St. Vitus was ceremonially shaped so that it was repeated annually with the approach of the feast-day, and each year it involved a choreutic-musical cure in the Chapel:
I remember speaking last spring with some women who each year visit the chapel of St. Vitus located in Drefelhausen, not far from Geislingen, near Weissenstein, in the territory of Ulm. These women dance day and night with their senses altered, until they fall into ecstasy; in this way it seems that they are cured, so that they hardly have any disturbances the entire year, until the following May, the month in which they are afflicted by an agitation of their limbs, as they say, and are thus compelled anew to go to the temple of the feast of St. Vitus, the said place of dance. One of these women had to dance every year in the Chapel of St. Vitus for twenty years and more, another for thirty-two years ...
This last account renders the affinities with Apulian tarantism particularly evident. Nonetheless, the choreutic forms of Northern Europe are completely lacking in the musical symbolism of the taranta that bites and poisons, inducing corresponding melodic aversions or inclinations in the poisoned victim. As we read here and there in the chronicles, even when chromatic repulsions appeared in the crisis, especially to red, they remained mere impulses and did not have anything to do with the chromatic symbolism of the taranta. Also lacking is the order of a musical exploration from within a traditionalized repertory of music and song, nor is there any trace of the symbolism of the tree, the swing, the mirror, at least from what the chronicles tell us. Moreover, the curing efficacy of the rhythm of dance and melody must have been relatively scant, and from what we are able to gather from the documents, the behavior of those called "dancers" of St. John or St. Vitus must not have differed substantially from the uncontrolled paroxysm of the crisis itself. On this, we have the account of the physician Hermann Gruber of Lubeck, who observed that while the tarantati danced only at the call of the music and ceased to do so as soon as the music was interrupted, the dancers of St. John and St. Vitus abandoned themselves to prodigious runs and jumps "independently of the music": that is, they were prey to a psychomotor agitation upon which the music was unable to impose the order of rhythm and proper choreutic figures. In other words, from the comparison of the two accounts we find that tarantism possessed a wider cultural autonomy, its own specific symbolic elaboration and a more stable reintegrating efficacy. In this way, tarantism appeared as a regularly functioning institution, while the "dance" of St. John and St. Vitus seemed much poorer in institutional significance, and much closer to the character of single memorable episodes of terrifying collective psychic disorders, whatever their nature was. (pp. 218 - 221)
The Land of Remorse: A Study of Southern Italian Tarantism - Ernesto De Martino (Translated by Dorothy Louise Zinn; Free Association Books; 2005)
Per finire, a proposito delle epidemie "coreutiche" che esplosero nel Medioevo, ecco un brano davvero interessantissimo tratto dalla traduzione in inglese del libro di Piero Camporesi, Il pane selvaggio, del 1980:
[...] A society so profoundly involved in close and inextricable contact with herbs, berries, roots and tainted grains - on which, in addition to the abundant libations, fell lasting alcoholic balms - constituted a world in precarious mental equilibrium especially for those groups devoted to these drugs, for whom the night-mare of schizophrenia was always lying in wait. In this visionary society, the quality of the visions was not subject to liturgical control, as occurred by contrast among those populations who made ritual use of hallucinogenics, but - on the contrary - could explode into sudden and furious crises: excesses induced by collective intoxications and the deliria provoked by hunger. Lysergic acid, a narcotic derived from ergot, was probably the agent responsible for the motor crises and neuroses known by the name of 'St Vitus's dance'. And it is known that the chemical composition of this acid is related to mescaline, the narcotic which the Indians of the New World extracted from peyotl, derived from a cactus root.
It is difficult for us to understand what profound changes of consciousness struck the undernourished populations of the past. But if one considers that hunger, like mescaline, produces hallucinations and the tremors of dementia, by inhibiting the formation of enzymes which serve to co-ordinate the ordered working of the brain and by reducing the level of glucose necessary to this organ which absolutely needs it in order to be able to function, we can make some assumptions - even without bearing in mind the poisons of vegetable origin: that a huge stratum of the poorest part of the population, suffering from a profound deterioration of will, socially demoralized and without interest in the highest and most human 'causes', lived in a world of squalid intellectual and moral apathy, altered in the relations of time and space: a universe of completely unreal extrasensory perceptions. 'When the brain runs out of sugar,' wrote an intellectual who had a deep knowledge of drugs, 'the undernourished ego grows weak, can't be bothered to undertake the necessary chores, and loses all interest in those temporal and spatial relationships which mean so much to an organism bent on getting on in the world. '
The popular riots, in fact, represented the convulsive jerks of an epileptic kind that had not the slightest probability of organizing themselves into revolutions, existing as they did outside of time and space, and beyond any social or political strategy.
Oscillating between narcosis and neurosis, the poverty-stricken society of the past sunk into a fantastic universe of high potential. The nocturnal deliria were piled together with the daytime intoxications and obsessions in order to build a particularly adaptable dream machine, which still awaits a visit from social psychoanalysis in order to penetrate a bit more lucidly into the ancien regime's intricate labyrinth of dreams. (pp. 127 - 128)
Bread of Dreams - Piero Camporesi (Translated by David Gentilcore; Polity Press; 1989)
A former student of Italia 500, Chris Harrison, has written a wonderful book, full of humour and poignant insights into Italy, called Head Over Heel (available here), about his experience of falling in love with an Italian woman from Puglia - the heel of the boot. Here is a synopsis:
A whitewashed fishing village, a shapely signorina, and an infatuated Aussie – head over heels on the heel of the boot. Head Over Heel is the autobiographical account of the fortunes, comic and shambolic, which befall an unlikely Australian resident in an eccentric Mediterranean outpost, whose love affair with a southern Italian provides a window on her world. Where olive groves slope to the coast and the aromas of cooking wander cobblestone lanes, Sydneysider Chris Harrison encounters a cast of curious characters who show him generosity, friendship, affection, but above all, the real Italy. There’s a policeman who rearranges crimes to suit the necessary forms, a driving instructor who sits exams for his pupils, a Fascist vet whose practice is a shrine to Mussolini, a doctor who prescribes patients his homemade lemon liqueur…
During his whimsical journey from tongue-tied outsider to local villager, Il Canguro – as Chris becomes known – abandons his country, language and culture, his comfortable modern life, to live amongst people of ancient traditions. But perhaps his biggest challenge is his lover’s squat Sicilian mother, determined to convert him to the Catholic faith, to supervise his choice of underwear, and build a second storey on her stucco home where the precarious couple might live happily ever after. Can their relationship possibly survive or will the sweet life turn sour?
And here is a very funny excerpt from Head Over Heel in which Chris talks about the Italian language (our very own Giacomo is mentioned!):
A contestant on an Italian quiz show is stuck on a multiple choice question regarding marble. He has narrowed down the answer to either marmo bianco - white marble, or marmo nero - black marble, but is undecided between the two. Giving him a clue, the host asks which one sounds better and encourages the contestant to articulate both. He complies, slowly, unearthing the music in mundane words. 'Marmo bianco, marmo nero. Marmo bianco, marmo nero.' The man's eyes light up. 'Marmo bianco sounds better,' he replies confidently.
'Is that your final answer?' asks the host. 'Si.'
The Italian rule of thumb is: if it sounds good, stick to it. Bear that in mind if you're ever learning the language. Italian grammar adheres to complex principles, until those principles make a phrase discordant and can be swept aside in the name of beauty. At my Italian course in Sydney, Giacomo had dismissed questions regarding grammar rules with an answer I found unsatisfactory at the time - 'Because it sounds better, basta.' Several years on, I realise there is no better explanation.
Italian is widely considered the most melodic of the Romance languages. King Charles V of Spain said:
When I'm talking to my horse I speak German,
When I'm talking to diplomats I speak French,
When I'm talking to God I speak Spanish,
But when I'm talking to women I speak Italian.
If you want to upset an Italian ear, subject it to the angular tongue of the Germans or the cold, efficient, sterile talk of the Swiss. To an Italian, rhythm and melody are far more important than efficiency, precision and perhaps even meaning. Italians enjoy speaking their language and view it as a pastime rather than a means to an end. In their eyes, or mouths rather, it's a dynamic organism, an instrument with which to make music, a brush with which to paint.
Energised and harmonised by vowels and double consonants, Italian words massage the mouth of the speaker and tickle the ear of the listener. Saying the word stuzzicadenti (toothpick), for example, will do more for your mouth than actually using one. Likewise, 'taste buds' in English sounds somewhat bland, while pupille gustative goes close to satisfying them.
Italian sentences are like symphonies, composed with the onomatopoeia in words like zanzara (mosquito). There is harmony in humdrum words like pipistrello (bat), schizzinoso (fussy), malavventurato (unlucky), like pipistrello (bat), or inoperosamente (idly). Even place names are fun to say, like Squinzano, Poggibonsi, Domodossola, or people's names, like Baldo Bologna and Marco Magnifico. Bob Matthews in English equates to Roberto di Matteo in Italian. And Joe Green is Giuseppe Verdi. Who would you rather be?
There is, unfortunately, an ugly side to this beautiful banter. Speaking Italian is addictive and most Italians would prefer to talk to themselves rather than stop. But verbosity inhibits clarity, with frustrating results. Ask a German where the bank is and they'll either tell you or say they don't know. Ask an Italian and they'll tell you regardless of whether they know or not. Their tongues are far too hyperactive for terse replies like 'I don't know'.
The other downside is that Italians dislike listening almost as much as they love speaking. Community service announcements on Italian TV don't aim to stop people smoking, littering or drink-driving, instead they try to stop them babbling. 'Chi ascolta cresce' is their catchphrase-'Whoever listens, learns'. Errico the bank manager told me that if you don't shout in Italy you won't be heard, something conversations with Francesco duly confirmed. Raising one's voice to speak Italian is a form of social Darwinism, a fight for survival in a conversation. As a result, learning Italian also means learning how to interrupt, to bellow, to dismiss and to shout down.
For the newcomer, there is a danger that the enthusiasm required to converse in Italian can influence the composure with which they speak their native tongue. After a short time in Italy, the undesirable habits that came with Italian had crept into my English, alienating friends and family who mistook passion for aggression. Cut off the Italians mid-sentence, swat your hand at them, call them fools; they'll still be your friends and will have done worse to you. Do it in Australia and you'll be drinking on your own.
Unaware of the pitfalls, I fell in love with Italian and began talking so much I almost got stretch marks on my tongue. Giacomo knew his language was addictive when he planned his course. By first teaching us colourful expressions, he ensured I became so excited by what Italian did to my mouth that I was prepared to tolerate what its intricate grammar did to my head. My first French lesson at university was grammar based, meaning I could take or leave my second. But after Giacomo's first lesson I had the audacious ability to ask a woman to my bed, ensuring my attendance at lesson two on the off-chance she accepted.
If you would like to find out more about the book, and Chris himself, visit Chris' website at www.chrisharrisonwriting.com. Click here to read a very very funny article by Chris about la Puglia in general and about eating horse meat in Puglia! Below, we've posted Tony Tardio's excellent interview with Chris which was broadcast on Rete Italia in December, 2008. Buon ascolto!
At Italia 500 we've been offering Italian courses, in Sydney, since 1995 and one of the most beautiful aspects of learning Italian is that it opens the door to a culture of unrivalled richness and diversity. In this blog we'll be sharing some of our favourite books, movies, places in Italy to visit, music, links to podcasts, information about local and international Italian themed events, and the odd "personal" view, in the hope that it will encourage you to delve further into a culture which continues to inspire us and millions of people all over the world.