Like many Sound of Music fans, I tuned into the Sound of Music Live on NBC the other night and was deeply traumatized. Of course, there is no matching the movie and coming even close is a tall order. So kudos to the cast of the TV broadcast for trying and at least providing three hours of entertainment that wasn't full of swearing and violence and that had a positive moral message. Yes, I am an old coot.
One thing I did love in this week's broadcast was the use of this song from the original Broadway score -- a wonderful, intelligent song about cynicism and abandoning one's moral compass. In it, the Baroness and Uncle Max are trying to talk the Captain into co-operating with the Nazis. This version is from 1956. Theodore Bikel was the Captain.
This is a terrific book -- I bought it after conversations with some of my Chinese class-mates in Italy. Many were upset at what they viewed as their forgotten role as a valuable and courageous ally during World War II. And if the book weren't excellent and informative, in and of itself, which it is, it turns out the author is a hunk. What more do you want?
I'm not sure what it says about my life that when I first saw this (on a friend's Twitter feed or Facebook page, can't recall exactly) I laughed so hard I had to clean mascara stains off my cheeks. I just love this, though I strongly suspect that when we talk baby talk to animals, they think much harsher things than this fellow is thinking.
This year, on my second lengthy trip (over two months) to Italy in as many years, I began to notice what are called ‘lastre’ in Italian: commemorative plaques, in this case, all having to do with World War II or the struggle against the Fascist regime within Italy. Every picture here is of something noticed on my way to school or the student cafeteria or while visiting places in Italy other than Perugia – Gubbio, Florence, Spoleto, Rome. I did not do any research in advance to find out the location of each of these plaques. One is located more or less exactly across the street from my preferred grocery store; I realized, when I finally noticed it, that I had walked by it probably over fifty times, between last year and this year, before it caught my eye.
I carried my camera with me most days and tried to notice what was around me so that I could create this album, which seems fitting for November 11th. I’ve provided explanations/translations though I did not do a word-for-word account, as Italian – especially on a memorial site – can be much more flowery than even formal English and I thought it was wiser to omit some of that language and stick to what was pertinent and always deeply touching.
The story of young partisan Mario Grecchi, for example, who died shortly before his eighteenth birthday, is to me simply heart-wrenching. All of it is heart-wrenching: children killed and wounded by bombs left behind; people tortured to death or tortured so horribly they prefer suicide; people slaughtered as part of a Nazi reprisal; people sent to death camps.
Hard to believe there are small bits of humour, though there are. My personal favourite is the plaque which refers to ‘Teutono Bestiale’ or ‘the beastly/bestial Teuton’. Indeed, the Nazis were beastly, but I can’t imagine such language being used in our part of the world today. Possibly, it might still be used in Italy (where the threshold for politically incorrect blunt-speaking is rather higher than in the Anglosphere).
Above all, I hope anyone who looks at this collection will remember to notice what is around them everywhere, at home and abroad. Palaces can teach you history, but plaques that are often ignored or simply unseen, and street signs that we take for granted can tell quite a story, too. How much history gets lost in the daily grind? It’s easy, when walking on a 2000-year-old aqueduct or under a 2000-year-old arch, to forget the tragic and important things that happened only 70 years ago on the street where you now live. History has layers and you can miss the top ones while being mesmerized by the grandeur of the foundation (and vice versa).
Please keep in mind that they are 'organized' only in the order in which I took them (with the exception of the last one -- explanation provided under the photo) to underscore the notion of history showing itself to us randomly, not in a tidy and chronological order. Further, please keep in mind that I am incompetent at setting the time stamp on my camera. These pictures were all taken between September 2nd, 2013 and November 6h, 2013, though the time stamp insists otherwise.
Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my brother's death. I wanted to post about it yesterday but my connection to the internets went wonky. My brother was a computer guy, so I partly wondered if he wasn't messing with me from above!
To mark the day I thought I'd post a scene from The Searchers, one of his favourite movies. I have selected the scene with 'Shall we Gather at the River' because he was a big fan also of Norm Geras, and Norm loved to do lists and polls about Westerns. One of his last, posted shortly before his recent death, can be found here.
Folks, I went to a Serie A match! I went to Fiorentina-Juve! The final score sucked (4-2) but being there was a thrill. Here's a picture I took during the match. It's the second sexiest man alive. (I live with the sexiest man alive.)
Such a loss. Like Christopher Hitchens, Geras was a consistent leftist, hence his support for the war in Iraq, but perhaps unlike Hitchens, he was always accessible and gracious. (That is not a criticism of Hitchens; only that I don't think patience was his strong point and I can't imagine one having been able to engage with him on social media as one could with Geras.) I only knew Geras through the blogosphere, but I was always impressed by his willingness to make time for nobodies like me. I was profiled, as was my brother, in his blogger series and I participated in some of his online polls, most recently about which Westerns were readers' favourites. Speaking of my brother, when Alan died, Geras took the time to send me a very kind note. I believe that was an example not only of his strong moral compass, but of his affection for his own family, of whom he always wrote so lovingly and proudly.
For me, the most meaningful blogging of Norm Geras was his series on the Holocaust, Figures from a Dark Time. It is difficult to read, but I was pleased to discover it, because after 9/11 I began to notice how many people I had previously thought to be sane (including some of my relatives) were actually anti-Semites. It was deeply disturbing, of course, and I think one of the first red flags in this regard is -- as Geras pointed out -- when people say we 'bang on too much about the Holocaust'.
Pretty busy with classes and events and short trips within Italy and even some work of my own but wanted to check in and let y'all know I'm still here.
See below a plaque on the wall of a municipal building in Perugia. It commemorates the 500 'sons in arms' of Umbria who died in Nazi death and concentration camps. Very relevant for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the death yesterday of crazy old unrepentant Nazi and Holocaust denier Erich Priebke. Priebke was responsible for the Fosse Ardeatine massacre in Rome. Please look that up because putting links on this website is an ordeal. At any rate, his death is big news here, as well it should be.
I find it interesting that Italians use the German word for death camp -- 'lager' -- in spite of having perfectly good words of their own for those godforsaken places. They also use the word 'Nazifascisti' a lot to refer to the Axis. I wonder if both choices are attempts to detach from a certain amount of responsibility for what happened. On the other hand, Italy, like France, uses the word 'Shoah' -- the Hebrew word -- for the Holocaust. I find that preferable.
Sorry for my absence -- attending courses here and then my boyfriend came for a visit! Yay. He is still here but doing some business in Milan and Lugano. Will meet up again in Rome later this week. We had a great time together in Umbria. Rented a car and he braved Italian driving; mind you, he is Italian so it came naturally to him, including the swearing and gestures. We went, among other places, to Spoleto and let me tell you, seeing that aqueduct at the top of the town is worth the mighty and exhausting trek up there. We also saw an expensive hotel, basically built into the side of one of the Appenines, which overlooks the aqueduct and the valley below. The beau stayed there years ago when he was leading bicycle tours through Italy.
This weekend I moved from my previous little (I stress the "little") flat -- which I had long referred to as 'Van Gogh's Room at Arles' -- to 'Van Gogh's Slightly Bigger and Nicer Room at Arles'. It's in the same palazzo but up a floor, so I'm movin' on up, a la George and Weezie Jefferson, I guess. It is actually very nice, spacious bright with two windows facing the street. My previous place, the one downstairs, was fine, but it had only one window and it faced...the side of another palazzo. That was the main problem. After a month I was starting to feel like the incredible mole lady. That feeling was aggravated by the fact that when the beau was here we stayed at a five-star hotel together! Coming back to my little natural-lightless place -- after saunas and swims and great huge windows bringing in natural light and changed linen each day and not having to lift a finger -- felt a bit like slumming, though' tis hardly a slum where I live. I am quite lucky.
Speaking of that five-star hotel, staying there got me in the habit of wine and tasty appetizers every night at 7. Much is pricey in Italy but much isn't. We were ordering white wine by the glass and it was 5 euros a glass. In Toronto, in a not-five-star place, a glass of white wine would cost a heck of lot more than 5 euros and it wouldn't come with so many tasty treats, or the beautiful pink-roofed, cobblestone-streeted view. Ah well, life back in Canuckistan ain't so bad. In fact, it has its moments.
Been phoning mum as regularly as I can manage and was surprised to hear her admit, the other day, that she missed my brother. I'm not surprised that she misses him. I am surprised she said it out loud. That was very touching. I miss him, too, enormously. We are coming up to a year since his death and I suspect that is what brought that admission from my mother. I know that one of the reasons I wanted to be in Italy this autumn was that I did not want to be in Toronto on the anniversary of my brother's death. Not sure why, because it makes no difference in terms of pain. If anything, being away from my man on that day is counterintuitive (he will be back in Canada by then).
Did not mean to be depressing. Sorry, dear readers. Having a great time here, eating more than I should. It will be back to quasi-veganism when I return, but for now, bring on the cheese and gelato, yes? I love my classes. I got put in the second highest level of Italian -- last year I was in intermediate. I really feel that I am improving. I have no (or very little) difficulty understanding when Italians speak to me, though sometimes I can't come up with a speedy response. When I'm totally lost for a word I use the French one and stick a vowel at the end. Six times out of ten it is correct, nine times out of ten I manage to make myself understood.
Thus endeth the update. I've got a couple of stories to plug -- will do so tomorrow. Something has gone wonky on my html here so I'm reluctant to post pictures. But what I will do is make Flickr albums and link to them from here. In the meantime, you can check my Twitter feed (link on the index bar above) because I post a fair number of pictures there. And no, you don't need to tweet or have a Twitter account to see them.
I did not post about 9/11, not because any of my feelings and thoughts about its importance have changed. I'm just busy here in Italia. If interested, go back on this site and have a look at previous 9/11 posts. Not unrelated, I have found this video that sums up Syria perfectly. If you feel confused about the situation, take a few minutes and listen.
A plaque from not too far from my temporary home and my temporary university. It says that in medieval times there were two synagogues and a vibrant Jewish community, rich in faith and culture, in this location. It then says that due to the "vicissitudes of history" or the "happenings/events of history" this community no longer exists in Perugia. Talk about euphemisms: those "vicissitudes" include the expulsion of Jews from Perugia in the 16th century -- I think, in 1569 -- and, should any of them have managed to return, the racial laws of 1938 and the deportation of 20% -- or approximately 7500 -- of Italy's Jews to death camps during the Second World War. Those are some serious vicissitudes.