Category: Italy


Ferragosto

People having fun at Ferragosto.

Most of the time, as an Englishman in Italy, and Brexit notwithstanding, I generally feel like an integrated European. However, there are still times when I feel I stick out like a sore Johnny Foreigner.

Depending on whether you’re a half empty or half full kind of person, Ferragosto is either the point at which Summer is just getting started or marks the date (August 15th) when it is nearly over.

Back in the day when people made things, paternalistic factory owners conceded this mid-August holiday to the workers. Since it coincides with the Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary, it is also a good excuse to stuff yourself stupid. Old habits die hard, especially when you get to enjoy a day off work (unless, of course, your job is in the service sector attending to the needs of the thrill seekers).

So, traditionally, this state endorsed vacation is a day when traffic is severely jammed, restaurants are booked solid and beaches are ridiculously overcrowded.

What could possibly spoil your enjoyment? Continue reading

brainThe final section of case studies in Oliver Sacks’ ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’ is called ‘The World of the Simple’.

The first of the four essays examines the case of a young woman called Rebecca who, because of a number of physical and neurological handicaps, had spent her life being branded as a moron.

Sacks admits that he also initially regarded her as little more than a “broken creature” and something of a hopeless case. The neurological tests he carried out only served to confirm her retarded state. But when he saw her outside the clinic, he formed an entirely different impression.

He witnessed her instinctive and serene response to nature then later observed that when she danced or performed in theatre workshops she exhibited none of the awkwardness and clumsiness he had assumed was her permanent condition.

All this forced him to question how such subjects are judged; he wrote: “I thought, as I watched her on the bench – enjoying not just a simple but a sacred view of nature – our approach, our ‘evaluations’, are ridiculously inadequate”.

Reading this chapter made me reflect how the same inadequacies Sacks described can routinely be found in our educational institutions. For instance, standardized testing in schools is,at best, only a measure of one aspect of a young child’s intelligence. Continue reading

9e1294e6fcdbbaf68ecdf171bd269f81651a92e2“Kill yr idols” advocated Sonic Youth back in the day, an extreme strategy that is not actually an invitation to murder but a warning against putting faith in heroes. Bob Dylan meant something similar when he sang (in Subterranean Homesick Blues) “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters”.

Be your own person is the implicit message. While it’s ok to admire and respect others, it’s always worth remembering that people have a nasty habit of letting you down. Keeping a healthy sense of detachment avoids being disillusioned. Far safer to set your own goals, maintain your own standards and generally search for the hero inside yourself.

Devendra Banhart is a case in point. I was a huge fan of his when he burst upon the scene under the wing of head Swan Michael Gira. 2004’s Rejoicing In The Hands remains one of my all time favorite albums and I had the good fortune to see him play songs from this and its immediate follow ups – Nino Rojo and Cripple Crow. For a while he could do no wrong in my eyes. His charm, wit and good looks added to his appeal. In short , though not quite an idol , he used to be a hero. Continue reading

Shellac on the beach

shellac

Shellac at Beaches Brew Festival

Beaches Brew – Ravenna’s annual four-day musical extravaganza at Hani-Bi beachside club/bar is a cool free festival which helps launch Italy’s summer outdoor concert season in style.

The friendly, relaxed mood is enhanced by a lack of any visible policing. The only sign of any security is a bag check at the entrance to make sure you have no glass bottles (or bombs). Continue reading

The two faces of Zu

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Zu – skronking at the Bronson club, Ravenna, Italy

When it comes to live music I’ve never been much interested in seeing artists who look slick and sound just like they do on their studio recordings.

Performances to me should be an audio-visual experience that takes the listener/viewer into a more spontaneous zone; in other words, to be a one-off event.

But the case of Zu, a band from Rome, is an odd one. They have a new album called Jhator out on the splendidly named House of Mythology label and their tour dates are ostensibly to promote this fact. Or at least they would be in the normal order of things. The sticking point though is that the new album sounds nothing like they did on stage at the Bronson club near Ravenna last night. Continue reading

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