marina_bonomi: (cooking)
Today my mother and I started the family's batch of sourdough.

Up to now our home-baked bread was made using brewer's yeast, that's the most common and,possibly, easier way over here. Given the shared passion for baking  we decided it was high time to try the oldest method and start what we both hope will become a family heirloom (seriously, there are sourdough batches that go back multiple generations).

I love the idea of something alive that has to be cared for ('freshened' or 'fed' as home-bakers say over here) and that links together generations of women, and at the same time can be shared as a strongly symbolic gift and brought to a new house to 'warm it up' linking it to the previous home.

That said, 'sourdough' while descriptive and accurate, makes me think of something with a sour temperament, I much rather like the name we give to it in Italian: lievito madre, that is, more or less, mother-yeast.

If you speak languages different from English and your country/family has a tradition of bread-baking, how do you call sourdough?
Today the postman brought me a little treasure, a paperback copy of The Assisi Underground by Alex Ramati, the book was published  originally in 1978 in the UK under the title Why the Pope Kept Silent, it is a non fiction work telling how a network of people in Assisi among which Father Rufino Niccacci hid and protected hundreds of Jews.

I was familiar with mr. Ramati through his And the Violins Stopped Playing an haunting, heart-breaking book on the Rom and Sinti genocide. I had seen the TV movie based on The Assisi Underground but didn't remember the book until I found it by chance, I ordered it on the spot.

This afternoon I was browsing the epilogue (more of an Author's Note, really), and found these words:

 The Yad Vashem  (...) had arranged a ceremony to honour the poor peasant monk (sic) who became the hero of a wartime rescue operation. A forgotten hero. His file was only number 876 and he was only the 300th person to be honored in Israel and only the twenty-fifth Italian. For, in spite of their love for the dramatic, the Italians showed great restraint in telling of their actions which had resulted in saving 80 per cent of Italian Jewry, the opposite of what happened in the rest of Europe, where, except for Denmark with its 8000 Jews spirited away to Sweden, 80 per cent of the Jews perished. All in all, 32000 Italian Jews and several thousands foreign Jews were hidden successfully by the Italian people, most of them in monasteries and religious institutions. Monsignore Montini, who headed the Holy See's Aid Service to Refugees during the war and who in 1955 was to become a Cardinal and later Pope Paul VI turned down the gold medal offered him by the Jewish Community of Italy. 'I acted in the line of duty' he answered, 'and for that I am not entitled to a medal'. 

marina_bonomi: (sad)
Yesterday I had a rather instructive experience.

I had driven to the mall for a quick run of grocery shopping, that done I went to the parking lot with my cart, I was moving between two cars to reach my own when I realized that the cart was too big to go through (I am very short sighted and I have trouble gauging distances, for that reason I always move slowly when pushing a cart or driving in a parking), as soon as I realized, I backed off and moved to go around the car, just then someone from the inside honked and started yelling someting I didn't catch.

A woman came out of the car and assaulted me verbally : " Where do you live, we are in Italy! If I hadn't caught you you'd have pushed through, scratched three or four cars and driven off!!"

I tried to calm her down: " Madam, there are no damages, as soon as I saw the space was too narrow I went the other way".

" Only because I caught you! but I'll write down the license plate, I'll call the police and we'll see what they say".

" Madam, there is no damage whatsoever"

" If I hadn't caught you there would have been, and you'd driven away, but I'll tell the owners of the other cars. And I've your license plate, I'll call the police, you'll hear from me again!"

" Madam, there is no damage and you can't say what I would have done if there had been some."

" Are you telling me that you'll have left a card? But it doesn't end here, I'll call the police, I have witnesses!".

It went on like this for about ten minutes, I trying to defuse this absurd situation staying calm and polite and she repeating over and over " I'll call the police, I have witnesses, this doesn't end here". At some point she and her cohorts entered the mall, I snapped a photo of her undamaged car with my cell-phone just in case and drove home. It took a while to stop shaking,

I couldn't understand her obsession with calling the police. Afterwards, thinking of some other things she had said, it dawned on me: she had classified me as  immigrant- likely paperless and was threathening to call the police to cower me.
I was breaking the pattern by not being intimidated, I was denying her her power trip and she went in a loop, trying the same approach over and over because it had to work.

A rather graphic demonstration of hidden privilege. I doubt she would have reacted in quite the same virulent way if she hadn't  mislabeled me.


 
marina_bonomi: (facepalm)
Before leaving I loaded my kindle with books, not a few Roman-themed, among these was The Forgotten Legion, set in  late Republican Rome. Characters end up fighting the Parthians with Crassus and being marooned in Central Asia after his defeat, very likely ending up in Liqian, China according to the author's note. I was very curious to see how someone else had treated the subject.

I didn't make it halfway through the book.

I could more or less tolerate two Gauls discussing a wolf-hunt and speaking of the 'alpha male' (time-travelling ethologists, maybe?), I could stomach late-empire typologies of gladiators thrown in to 'enliven' the arena scenes (it won't be either the first or the last time), the description of life in slavery felt more like Roots that the first century BC, but that is nothing new either (although, come on, slaves rarely allowed out of the house on their own for fear they'll escape? People kept in shackles all the time in a city house? ), one of the main characters being referred to as a 'rookie' in the gladiator school, though, was almost too much, and when I reached the scene where street urchins pelt Crassus' bodyguards with overripe tomatoes of all things, I couldn't take it anymore.

This is one of those times I miss reading paper books, throwing The Forgotten Legion against a wall and, this winter, using it as kindling would have been really satisfactory.

I need to cleanse my brain, De Bello Gallico sounds just about right. 

I'm back

Aug. 14th, 2012 10:29 pm
And I admit it in public: I fell head over heels for Rome, that city gets her hands on you and doesn't let go.

It's incredible. Not only the museums (statues everywhere, and mosaics, and paintings, and all those bronzes, oh, Lord! All those ancient bronzes!), but the stratification of history everywhere within the 'old' quarters, knowing that while one walks around one is threading in the footsteps of Caesar, Cicero, Horace, Gregory VII, Michelangelo, Raphael, Cellini; saints and sinners, artists, poets, musicians, princes and agitators, artisans and imperators.

One reads about her (forgive me, but Rome is, without any doubt, female), learns her history; the language of her citizens spread through alliances and conquests, one can well hate the rethoric sourrounding her, the ruthlessness of her wars, the appropriation of everything Greek and Egyptian (not a single philosophical school was originally Roman, for instance), and then this sorceress of a city unleash her charms...and that's it. Just like countless others who went there through the centuries, one fells in love in the space of a single afternoon.
The Vatican Museums are beyond description (we felt somewhat sorry for the modern art collection, sadwiched between the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel), as are the Capitoline Museums, but simply walking around one can be surprised, turning a corner, by Pasquino  , or the Temple of Hercules Victor or the Column of Trajan...

I naively believed that Rome would be somewhat just a bigger Verona (there are a lot of similarities between the two, honestly), but she disabused me of the notion immediately, I think I've a fair idea, now, how Vergilius and Catullus felt when they first set eyes on the Caput Mundi .

Capitoline museums







Thinking of Home While on a Mission in the West (1)

This morning, wild geese went East,

At dawn they broke my sleep.

Restless, I can’t dream again,

Alone, I think of Chang’an (2).

(1) Anonymous poem found in the archives of the Chinese embassy in Italy.

(2) Chang’an ( ‘Perpetual peace’, modern day Xi’an 西安 ‘Western peace’), was the capital of more than 10 Chinese dynasties, during its heyday it was one of the most populous cities in the world, this poem dates from the mid-eight century AD, when Chang’an counted a population between 800,000 and 1,000,000 within city walls.


________________________________________________________________________________



This is an apocryphal piece 'in the style of Tang translations', if you wish, that I wrote for the Silk Road Allies alternate history project. While no Tang poem was found in the archives of the Chinese embassy in Italy, the information on Chang'an is true.



If you like my work  and want to contribute, tips are appreciated: they'll go into funding my research for this project and some art commissions to illustrate it.

had been close allies for about 2000 years, how would world history be different?

A few days ago [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith left a prompt to [livejournal.com profile] thesilentpoet:

In 97 AD, Chinese General Pan Chao sent an embassy to the Roman empire, but little came of it. Suppose China and Italy had united, how would that change things?

This poem was the result, outlining a whole timeline. If you know me you can imagine the rest, I wanted more and wanted to see what [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith herself would do with a few prompts related to this alternate-history universe, [livejournal.com profile] thesilentpoet agreed as well.
The result were The Treasures of Marco Polo based on a couple of items listed in an inventory after Marco's death he never spoke about; The Lost and Found Legion about the idea of the embassy and the identity of the ambassador and the , as yet unpublished The Tea Tempest.
I was reading about the real embassy sent by general Ban Chao and how in Chinese documents it is said that ambassador Gan Ying turned back because of the info he got from some Parthian sailors about the lenght of the remaining leg of his trip to Rome and the dangers involved. Fact is that Parthians and Scythians were the middlemen of the silk trade and wouldn't have been too happy if the two empires started dealing with each other directly.

I couldn't help but imagine a pair of Parthians trying the same stunt on a very different ambassador, [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith 's Cai Luoma, the result was:

Cai Luoma and the Parthians

They tried it on him, the two Parthian brothers.

The older spoke first, in sorrowful tones:

“This sea, o my friend, is so vast and large,

With terrible storms, and many hidden dangers;

It may take years  to cross it at all”.

Then spoke the younger, with honeyed words:

“ This we say to you  in token of friendship,

Your faraway lord, no matter how wise,

Could not have known  the dangers you face”.

Insisted the brothers, concern in their voices:

“Providing for many, your friends and retainers,

Will tax your resources, will leave you stranded,

Turn back while you can, we speak out of care”.


But in truth... )
'Amara Terra Mia' ('Oh Bitter Land of Mine') is an Italian song written by Enrica Bonaccorti and Domenico Modugno, a poignant lament of a Southern Italian emigrant forced to leave his land and his love to find the means to survive.

Here is the text, with English translation.

Under the cut )

Italian group Radiodervish sings a bilingual version of the song in Italian and Arabic in this video



marina_bonomi: (book)
Today I had my last encounter with students taking part in my 'Mille Gru' (senbatsuru) school activity.
The thing is split in two two-hour 'labs', as we call them. In the first I introduce the life of Sasaki Sadako and a bit of origami history, then teach them how to fold origami cranes, with the aim to send a senbatsuru (a garland composed of 1000 paper cranes) to the Peace Museum in Hiroshima.

A couple of months later we have an haiku lab. First I introduce the haiku as a poetry form (with examples, of course), then the students, with my input and assistence, build their own lists of kigo, based on season-relevant elements for our part of the country. The students then experiment with writing haiku and, in the last part of the excercise, they read their works and I suggest revisions.The students will keep working on haiku with the help of their Literature or English teachers and some haiku will be 'incorporated' in the senbatsuru  .

Often there are very lively discussions, today's group (a 'seconda media' class, seventh graders for my American friends), were very creative and bold, not already constricted, as has happened with others, by the frames of European 'classical' poetry (which I love, but may be an hindrance in experiencing haiku if you believe that 'poetry has to rhyme'). Here is an example of today's kigo list (interestingly, in each and every group I worked with someone suggested 'Halloween' for autumn)



Today's discussion made me think about how much seasonal associations depend on one's activities and obligations.

'freedom' is a summer kigo
for students


marina_bonomi: (sad)
On May the 20th Italy was hit by a 6.0 Richter earthquake centered between Ferrara and Modena, there were 7 dead and heavy losses both of monuments of historical relevance and of farms and factories (as usual here, often small and medium-sized family owned businnesses), the seismic swarm has been going on for the whole week.
Yesterday there was the burial of the last two victims, damages had been checked, people had started coming back to take what belongings they could and assess what rebuilding and repairing needs to be done, some went back to their houses after they had been certified safe, most people this morning went back to work.

And at 9.03 this morning the quake hit again, at an intensity of 5.8 on the Richter scale, the first shock has been felt as far away as Vienna, then we had two more shocks around 1 PM, one of those went on for 30 seconds.
Ten people are known to have died, seven more are unaccounted for or are being dug out from the rubble (one worker under the rubble of an industrial building was alive and talking to the rescuers over his cell-phone).

 Experts are speculating that this series of quakes is due to the formation of a new fault, most of us are just frightened.
marina_bonomi: (book)
Is a very interesting fantasy/alternate history novel by a three-writer team, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer.

I'm often wary of collaborations, but in this case as I was reading I kept forgetting that the book has more than one author, no mean feat, in my opinion.

I picked The Shadow of the Lion from the Baen Free Library, I was intrigued by the premise, a fantasy set in 16th century Venice, and I figured that, it being free, at worst I would just lose a couple of hours before deciding it wasn't for me (I'm past the phase in which I forced myself to finish each and every book I started).

In that couple of hours, or even less, I was hooked. The alternate history is intriguing (also 'alternate theology' if you wish, thanks to the conversion of Saint Hypatia), the characters are nuanced and three dimensional, there are as many intriguing and strong females as males, and it manages to completely sidestep one of my biggest turn-offs in fantasy (the 'big, bad, fanatic church' and 'poor, persecuted magic users/pagans' trope) here there is bad and good on both sides. I loved equally the dottor Marina (a family name here) the strega, and father Eneko Lopez, a Basque former soldier of venture turned priest who, I believe, is the fictional alter ego of Íñigo López Loiola

The plot is complex, many of the major players on the European checkerboard of the time are there (but for France, the rival of the Empire is different in this story), it may not be your cup of tea if you don't like politics in your fantasy but the politics is neatly balanced by the action, in my opinion, and neither feels overdone.

And, most of all, Venice feels real. That in the book is the city were I studied, with its pride, its history, its special mix of sea and island that sets it apart from any other city in Italy, the strong esprit de corps of the workers at the arsenal, the strenght and world-view of the canalers, the pomp and sense of duty of the best of the aristocracy... I could go on for hours. Venice is a character in the novel, and not a minor one.

This is not to say that the book is perfect, but my problems with it (if that's even the right word), are definitely minor.

I did a couple of double-takes reading of the Swiss guard of the Doge and of the Scaliger of Verona as an enemy of Venice in 1538 (in this world the Scaligers were thrown out of Verona in 1387 and Verona gave itself to Venice in 1405), but I think it likely that these aren't mistakes but points of divergence (note to writers of alternate history: please, please put a note on historical matters somewhere in your book spelling out what is intentionally different , this reader, for one, would be grateful) .

All through the narrative there are Italian words for flavor, I've no doubt they work fairly well for readers that don't know Italian, for me... the mis-spelled words were like a constant itch I could not scratch.
Giaccomo for Giacomo, Polestine for Polesine, Caesare for Cesare, Fruili for Friuli, Veneze for Veneziani, capi (a plural word) used also as a singular, in one instance slices of prosecco on a platter (prosecco is a wine, neither cheese nor salame) and why should Kat, a scion of one of the 'old houses' of Venice bear the definitely non-Venetian family name Montescue ?

They are all small, silly things, but an Italian beta-reader would have weeded them out, and I believe an already good book would have been made even better by it.

BTW, if any of my writer-friends on Live Journal needs an hand with Italian words or details, I'm happy to officially volunteer.
Some time ago, following a link by [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith I found myself reading a call for prompts by [livejournal.com profile] kajones_writing, I left one of mine but was really intrigued by the one Elizabeth had left, about a vampire who could speak only a specific dialect of Chinese.

That prompt ended up sparking a few ideas of my own (of course without any of the specifics that were in it about [livejournal.com profile] kajones_writing 's  setting), and here is the result, in a world of my own.






This was the place, the alley behind the old cinema, Gloria could feel the call that had drawn her: a buzz in her ears just below hearing range, a suggestion, a sudden idea that it may be worth checking the alley for that bracelet she had lost yesterday. Except she never wore bracelets.

The link to her domina gave Gloria some protection, her turning allowed her to recognize the suggestion for what it was: the lure of one of her kind looking for prey. She tensed, this was her domina’s territory, and Violante had clout enough among the Kin of Venice that none of the locals would dare to intrude in her preserve, she had no guests at the moment either, so this new one must be a  poacher.

A poacher meant trouble.

The Kin had their rules, they were a necessity for survival. If people kept disappearing and turning up in the canals drained of blood the Herd was bound to notice, no matter the level of denial most had for the strangeness that lived under their noses. A stampede could easily turn into a mass-hunting, it must be prevented at all costs.

Gloria approached the mouth of the alley, melding with the shadows while she concentrated, freshly turned as she was, extending her senses still took effort. No breathing, no heart-beat, utter stillness, just the mind-lure; it was stronger, now an Elder would have been able to pick it up at a distance without even trying. The poacher must be really hungry, hungry enough that it would not mind the risk of broadcasting its presence. Hungry enough to drain a fledging of the Kin? The thought was almost enough to make Gloria shudder, she wasn’t about to go in  blind, she needed a lure of her own.

As always they answered her call: the ubiquitous pigeons of Venice: pests, nuisances, the city council had tried to deal with them multiple times with no success at all… but they had their uses.

A small flock landed just outside the alley and started pecking as if it were full day and not the deep of the night.

Walking stomachs and no brains

To the rustle and the cooing Gloria added a call of her own:  Food, come out, there is food here. Blood, warm blood. Nourishing, rich, yours for the taking… Blood.

Something pounced out, the birds took wings, one of their numbers missing, neck torn before it could feel it, body squeezed to pulp by thin, shaking hands, the last drops of blood oozing into a mouth stretched wide, fangs in full view. Gloria moved before thinking, tackling the interloper, keeping it prone on the cobblestones, ready to break its neck.

The poacher slumped.

 Did you really think I’d fall for it?  Gloria kept her hold on her prey, the physical contact allowing her to feel  the intruder: weak with hunger; female; so freshly turned that she almost reeked of Herd.

What’s happening here?

She forced the woman upright, held her against the wall.

“ Who are you?”

The only answer was a blank stare from dark, almond-shaped eyes.

“ Do you understand me?”

Silence.

Maybe English would work, everybody spoke English nowadays.

What is your name?

Nothing, but the same flat,  resigned stare.

Gloria fished  her cellphone out of a pocket, speed-dialing Violante one-handed, her domina answered on the second ring.

“What is it, filia ?”

“ I caught a poacher, Domina. she's just turned, no more than one week”

“ There should be no fledglings so young around, what does she say? Who turned her?”

“ She doesn’t say anything, I think she doesn’t speak Italian. She looks Chinese to me.”

“ Bring her in”.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

“You were right” said Violante, coming in from what her familia called ‘the guestroom’, “She is Chinese”.

“ Then you were able to speak with her?”

The elder  woman shook her head: “Looks like the wretch never went to school and learned a proper language, she bleats a dialect I don’t understand. I’ll have to arrange an appointment with Luigi Wang, if he doesn’t understand her either he might know someone who does”.

The domina was pacing, a sure sign of trouble.

“We must get to the bottom of this, turning without permission is a crime, turning somebody who cannot speak, or write” she added with a sneer “and abandon the fledging half-crazed with hunger, ready to kill at random, is a provocation and an act of war from someone who tried to cover his tracks. The Serenissimo must be informed immediately”.

Gloria nodded, only by sheer luck they had avoided a disaster.

“ She is secured in the guest room but she needs food, will you take care of it while I’m at the palace, dear? She is likely to be a messy feeder, but my herd needs culling anyway and I know I can trust you to do things as I like them.”

“ Yes, Domina”.

Gloria turned and went, some chores were better done and forgotten. She hated mopping floors.




marina_bonomi: (book)
The other day, February the 7th, was Charles Dickens' birthday, While I was driving to work, listening to the radio as usual, this quote from Pictures of Italy was read. It is still relevant as it was back then.

(...)let us part from Italy, with all its miseries and wrongs, affectionately, in our admiration of the beauties, natural and artificial, of which it is full to overflowing, and in our tenderness towards a people, naturally well-disposed, and patient, and sweet-tempered. Years of neglect, oppression, and misrule, have been at work, to change their nature and reduce their spirit; miserable jealousies, fomented by petty Princes to whom union was destruction, and division strength, have been a canker at their root of nationality, and have barbarized their language; but the good that was in them ever, is in them yet, and a noble people may be, one day, raised up from these ashes. Let us entertain that hope!

These days I found myself with an old, half-remembered lullaby in the back of my mind.
It's the one my maternal grand-mother used to sing to me, the soundtrack of my days in that old house in Valeggio.
As lullabies go, it was a failure, since the topic of the song was the tale of a cursed prince and I strove to stay awake to be able to hear the end of the story and know whether the prince would be freed from the curse.

On a whim, I googled what I remembered and...found a single result that matched my lullaby, it's here  (the link opens a pdf file), together with many other rhymes and tongue-twisters (as far as I know, all are traditional ones).

The version Grandma sang was slightly different, I don't know whether she got it from a different source or the differences are due to word-of-mouth transmission, here, based on what I and my mother remember is her version:

C’era una volta un re e una regina

E con loro anche un principin.
Bussa alla porta un giorno una vecchina:
Dice:“Datemi qualche soldin!”

Il re comanda: “Tosto sia scacciata!”

E la vecchina triste se ne andò.
“Perchè cattivi tanto vi mostrate,
Il reuccio la pagherà!”

Volle il reuccio trovarsi una sposa,

Cerca, cerca trovarla non può;
Tutte le belle chiede senza posa,
Tutte quante gli dicon: “No!”

Ecco al castello un giorno giunse un mago,
E svelò questo grande mister:
“In quel castello al di là dal lago,
Sta la bella dei tuoi pensier.”

Monta in barchetta, passa all’altra riva,
E s’inoltra nel grande salon;
Ma la sua bella da tanto che dormiva,
A svegliarla nessuno è buon.

Per risvegliarla intona una canzone,

Che dura un anno e forse anche di più.
Sveglia è la bella, oh che consolazione,
Parla e dice: “Il mio ben, sei tu!”

Translation and more )

November the 11th, Saint Martin's day.
It is likely it doesn't tell anything to you, but over here, in my part of Italy, it is an important day in countryside tradition.

The chestnuts are dropping. Today it is costumary to eat them for the first time in the year, usually in the evening (today is a work day, not an holiday) roasted on a fire in a special iron skillet with holes, like this one (the caldarroste) or boiled in water with sage leaves (ballotte), or, at the very least, to eat a cake made with chestnut flour, the castagnaccio , or the Montebianco a confection of boiled mashed chestnuts, cocoa, sugar, rum and whipped cream (handle with care).

No matter what  your choice is, there is no doubt on what to drink: on Saint Martin's day the first  new wine, the Novello, is brought out  to be opened and tasted, and then discussion breaks: is it better this year? Did the last year ones have more 'body'? How good is this year's vintage going to be? The debate can go on well into the night.

Today was also the day on which the farm-year accounts were closed,  mezzadria  contracts ended and had to be renewed or closed, if the contract wasn't renewed the mezzadro farmer and his family had to move out of the house and property, that's the reason why in vernacular Northern Italian fare San Martino (to do Saint Martin) means 'to move house'.

From the weather we are having today, windy and cold, the onset of Saint Martin's Summer (...that lasts three days and a little bit according to a folk saying) seems in doubt, we'll see how tomorrow goes.




Note: the Wikipedia article on métayage says 'The system was once universal in certain provinces of Italy and France, and survived there in places until the end of the nineteenth century.'
In fact according to Italian law the stipulation of new mezzadria contracts was forbidden in September 1974.

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