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Archives for Pop Culture

Proletariat “Patrons” Star in Pisa Fresco


For centuries, bigwigs have paid for paintings, having their portraits slipped in beside the saints for posterity while average locals filled in anonymously for color.
In Pisa, land of the leaning tower, the Archbishop monsignor Alessandro Plotti and Friends of Pisa Monuments and Museums Association recently decided that it was time for tax-paying citizens to participate, once again, in art.
Public casting sessions were held to find the 250 average Giovannis who will strike a pose for a fresco cycle recounting the life of Pisa’s patron saint, San Ranieri. The 160 sq. meter opus (about 1,700 square feet) will decorate the church of St. Vito, where the protector of travelers is said to have died in 1161.
Naturally, there a few roles set aside for notable locals. Newspaper editor Francesco Carrassi will star as the monk who converts a barely 19-year-old Ranieri from music-loving scamp into a penitent, hairshirt-sporting holy man, played by Pisan actor Roberto Farnesi. (A familiar face for Americans used to admiring him as the drool-producing chef in English-language Barilla ads).
Other cameos include fencing champs Salvatore Sanzo and Simone Vanni while boxer Dario Cicchello will help row a boat with the saint inside ashore; the mayor, Archbishop, culture councilor and head of the “Friends” association have already started posing.
It’d be kind of nice to see the odd bluetooth ear piece or cell phone for a touch of modernity, but artist Luca Battini has assured that he’ll produce a classical fresco, using only traditional techniques.
Locals will be wearing vintage, if not properly ancient, garb used in two Franco Zeffirelli films (loaned by costume archive Fondazione Cerratelli, headed by the director) namely Romeo and Juliet (1968) and Brother Son, Sister Moon (1972) on the early life of St. Francis of Assisi.
The painting process will take three years, the fly-on-the-wall would like to know how frenetic modern types fare in those endless, silent sittings.

Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 7:50 AM | Permalink

Milan’s Recession-Proof Designs


Even dispiriting quantities of rain couldn’t put a damper on Milan Design Week: there were a record 100,000 visitors, up 20% over last year, and news reports of traffic jams, crammed parking lots and taxi lines backed up into the fair building caused organizers to extend opening times by two hours.
Where Fashion Week mostly stumbles to get locals involved, Design Week delivers by whipping up a collective hysteria for chairs, lamps and free drinks. (A few quick photos of mine, here.)
There were 380 events and installations open to the general public about town, called Fuori Salone, I kicked off the week (which despite the title lasts five days) by viewing Peter Greenaway’s multi-media take on The Last Supper. (If you happen this way before May 4, it’s worth scratching your head at).
Economic gloom and doom seem a long way away from huge crowds fueled by free Red Bull, Nastro Azzurro and Campari. This year in the hip Tortona zone, perusers were required to get entry badges in exchange for an email address.
On Sunday afternoon, I became number 69,125 along with whole families and those cute, loved-up couples one notices then silently despises. Projects ranged from Andrea Branzi’s Living Kitchen, a compact unit with bed, bike stand, shelves, desk and fridge, to a prototype from a trio of local design students for an iron-toaster.
Still, there are some notable differences for those with a little memory of what past editions were like.
Most of the showrooms in my neighborhood played it all too safe, the space that once had design students helping anyone who walked in off the street craft cool retro toys, this year showcased just one very expensive set of Japanese bathroom fixtures.
I ducked into some other spaces to find them dedicated to carpet (as common in Italy as beef jerky) or shelves. Corso Como, mecca for fashionistas, displayed a rather tame collection of Egg chairs. My favorite venue, an ex-pelota court, was home again to Established & Sons but most of the designs looked familiar from past seasons, the real crowd-draw was the addition of a full bar instead of just free beer.
Fair organizers report that despite foreign competition, the Italian furnishing sector exported 2.3 billion euros a year, up 9% from 2007 and 19,5% from 2005.
As long as the lounging is chic, the crowds will come even if it rains copiously for almost five days in a row.

Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 12:07 PM | Permalink

And the winner is…


Italian politics — with porn-star candidates, Village People rally cries and advice on how to marry a millionaire — are never dull.
This morning, the country woke up to cappuccino, cornetti and another new government led by media mogul Silvio Berlusconi, which means the real fun and games are destined to start now.
I don’t have Italian citizenship, so my suffrage is limited to standing by and agonizing from the sidelines. It’d be great to fully understand why people, and so many people, voted for Berlusconi. Not so much for his policies (which I have a feeling most would be hard pressed to elaborate since he mostly talks in empty slogans) but for the man himself.
First, there’s overlooking the fact that his aesthetic adventures have turned him into a Pavarotti mini-me around the time of the tenor’s curtain call, with the harsh black eyebrows and hair-from-a can of the opera villain. He looks every one of his 70-odd summers and, try as he might, is undoubtedly old school.
And he’s one of the world’s richest men. That I would find hard to overlook, especially since a sizable chunk of his companies (three out of six national TV stations, two newspapers, the largest publisher, the largest advertising agency and numerous internet ventures) control so much of Italian media.
How could this man have much but his own interests at heart?
Finally, there’s his track record. His last round as leader, with a record five years controlling the country, did little for Italy but he did manage to pass a few laws that got him out of the legal hot seat, for more nefarious business dealings than one could cover a bottle of spray tan with.
Perhaps the alternative to Berlusconi, mild-mannered former Rome mayor Walter Veltroni, just wasn’t convincing enough. Even so, I find it difficult that anyone could reason that Berlusconi is the lesser of two evils.
An Italian friend tells me bewilderment at Berlusconi’s victory is misplaced. The real win is that it looks like — for the first time since WWII — the communists and the socialists didn’t gather enough votes to get into parliament.
That’s two less fractious troublemakers to stop the government from getting its business done and may mean more stability. I fear, though,that Italian politics are more like a church raffle: in the end, everyone will walk away with a little something. After all, with the highest political stipends in Europe, who can afford to be out of the game?

Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 9:57 AM | Permalink

On Italian TV Show, Wine Gets in the Act


Move over Duff beer: a red wine called “without bitterness” with a small part in a successful sitcom found a producer and debuts this week at Italy’s premier wine fair, Vinitaly.
It first had a fictional cameo on “I Cesaroni,” (The Cesaronis) a prime-time show airing on former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s flagship Canale 5.
It is one of a few modern shows about blended families with a Romeo-Juliet twist (like “Turkish for Beginners“) — just think “The Brady Bunch” with a little step-incest to spice things up.
Most of the actors are familiar faces — the kind that crop up in cell-phone ads and it shows — and while I’m not an especial fan of the rom-com there’s something to be said for what may be the first TV show with a vino tie-in.
The grape got into the act in an episode that aired mid-March where gruff uncle Cesare and patriarch Giulio team up to buy a small vineyard, after a small lottery win.
The Cesare character’s signature line is “che amarezza” (what bitterness) so it’s fitting that the once-fictional wine was given a name, “Senz’Amarezza” that means it didn’t leave a bad taste. While it’s not the first time fiction crosses the line in Italy (the Nepotism game show comes to mind), at least this is positive product placement.
Respected family-run winery Cantina Cerquetta, producers since 1793, liked the idea so much they created an IGT blend of Merlot and San Giovese and a white Frascati, proving that real life sometimes goes down even smoother than fiction.

Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 7:55 PM | Permalink

Silvio Berlusconi’s Candidate Kit


Whatever you make of his policies, spray-on hair or off-the-cuff remarks, Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi has a knack for marketing.
His entrance into politics in the early 90s was marked by a party with a soccer-slogan name: “Go Italy!” (Forza Italia). A catchy song — that most people can still sing a line or two of — accompanied it, this at a time when Italy still hadn’t properly named a national anthem. The ex-Premier, also a piano bar singer in his youth, penned the lyrics.
Italy creates governments that rise and fall like some kind of perverse carousel, leaving little time for navel gazing. (The inevitable porno-candidates are always on hand to keep things lively, too).
Although media in Italy is still doggedly following the American presidential nomination race, their own government fell and will be back up and running — possibly only to fall again — before there’s a definitive answer to the Hillary-Obama question.
To better help candidates in his new People of Freedom party in mid-April elections, he has quickly prepared a handy “candidate kit” that contains T-shirts, buttons, sample speeches — and info how to best discredit the competition.
The 71-year-old, who held on to the reins for five years making him the record holder for Italy’s longest post-WWII government, hasn’t run out of ideas yet. Some of them seem a little stale, like this season’s slogan: “Get Back Up, Italy!” (Rialzati, Italia!) which doesn’t have the ooomph of earlier incitements, sounding more like a scolding than anything else.
The kit also contains a “value chart” for the party, seven goals for the future, a range of buttons and a flag. To counter opposition, it also contains a list of the 67 new taxes the year-long Romano Prodi government voted in and a poll that shows Berlusconi’s party nearly 10 points ahead.
Berlusconi, who has prepared kits like this one since 1994, always dispenses some homegrown advice — famously monitions about not eating garlic — and his 2008 version does, too.
“Go talk to your local priest, pharmacist and doctor,” he advises would-be politicos. “I have a great relationship with pharmacists — certainly not because I buy Viagra from them.”
Words every man of politics should live by.

Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 4:45 PM | Permalink

Cannoli: Food for Thought


Salvatore Cuffaro, by most accounts, should not be a happy man. Sicily’s governor, long plagued by accusations of elbow-rubbing with the Mafia, was recently sentenced to five years in prison for misdeeds.
So why was he passing around a tray of cannoli after hearing the news?
Firstly, because it was a “meno male” (less bad) kind of sentence. If you stick to the letter of what the judges said, he was convicted of helping a Mafia boss by providing him with confidential investigator’s information. But he wasn’t nailed for ties to the Mafia or formally accused of being in cahoots with Cosa Nostra, a distinction that apparently makes some difference.
Also, Cuffaro, who looks sort of like a young Tom Bosley, has “justice” on his side. Though he was sentenced to five years in prison and banned from public office, he has denied all wrongdoing.
The Gov will be appealing, and most sentences in Italy aren’t enforced until the appeals are finished, which means he’ll likely serve out his term as governor while the case has a slow, difficult digestion in the clogged Italian court system.
In a sense, he has saved “capra e cavoli,” (goat and cabbage as the old logic puzzle goes) neither ruining his career or his reputation, which seems reason enough to pass around a fitting symbol of his region.
But since he didn’t quite get his just desserts, that tray of cannoli has come back to haunt him. The ricotta sweets have become “instrumentalized,” he told daily Corriere della Sera. Adding that he “never celebrated” and fully understands the weight of the charges brought against him.
He didn’t bring the celebratory cannoli with him, but one of his many well-wishers did.
Locals have in fact supported him through thick and thin, in part due to his avuncular charm in the face of accusations, prayer vigils were organized throughout the island the night before the sentence was read. Still, you have hope even they understand that it’s a sweet, but hollow, victory.

Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 9:30 AM | Permalink

Italians Petition for Return of “Porno-Prof”


Italian middle school teacher Anna Ciriani had a hobby the PTA was never going to like: known as Madameweb, she starred in a number of erotic videos online. She’s been suspended, but isn’t giving up — and is gaining support from those who say a teacher’s personal life shouldn’t matter.
The interesting thing about this Internet-based case: you’ll have hard time locating the offending smut. Well, at least I did. There are a few teasing frames from a performance last month at the Venus-Berlin international porn fair — she purportedly rides on the city’s metro while taking her clothes off, much to the amusement of the commuters — Cirani looking mischievous with her hands on the sides (holding up? pulling down?) of a straining white tube top.
Apparently, you have to be 14 or under to have the right kind of mad Google skills to ferret the goods out. Giving new meaning to the phrase “hot for teacher” it was her own students who outed her first, printing up nude images of her and wallpapering school bathrooms with them.
A teacher in the northeastern town of Pordenone, Cirani’s habiliment and comportment on school grounds were said to be “impeccably professional,” which makes one wonder how the kids unearthed her double life.
Youtube her nickname today and, instead of the porn, you’ll find an invitation to comment on “how the internet has changed your life,” and, for the media to constructively make use of these opinions in addition to the day’s usual “prickly” hard news.
Cirani, according to news reports, hasn’t renounced her profession, plans to contest her suspension and is now teaching Italian to foreigners. It may be, however, that her hobby takes her elsewhere.
After some search-engine fu, I found her forum (needless to say, NSFW), and it must not just be me having a hard time locating it, since the most people on it at once were 1,716 when the news broke.
In case one doubts if it’s her or not, the site title is “Porno Prof of Pordenone,” in English and the last messages on the forum express her gratitude for support — and details about upcoming erotic appearances around Italy. There have been reports of petitions to reinstate her at the school but if one had to choose between teaching literature to pre-teens or getting paid to undress, it’s easy to see where one wouldn’t mind telling the PTA to take the job and shove it.

Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 10:20 AM | Permalink

Italian Days


As the days get shorter, the chestnuts more abundant and a couple of religious holidays leave long weekends leading up to the two-week extravaganza that is Italian Christmas, the media turns its attention to 2008 calendars.


Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 9:55 AM | Permalink

True Crime: the Mafia Movie Mobsters Love


Jailed mafia bosses in Italy have been glued to their sets for a six-part fictionalized account of modern mob life in Sicily.
Not that far from where I sit on the couch watching “Il Capo dei Capi” (boss of bosses), 76-year-old uber mobster Totò Riina also watches his life pass by on the small screen in Milan’s maximum security prison Opera.


Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 10:03 AM | Permalink

Italians Try on T-Shirt Resume


Italians are often thought to wear their hearts on their sleeves, now an enterprising headhunter wants them to wear resumes emblazoned on their chests.
Massimo Rosa, who has two decades of experience in the hr biz, invented the “Curriculum T-shirt.” And patented the idea, he’s so sure of its marketability, said to already have fans outside Italy.


Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 8:57 AM | Permalink

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