Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered

 

bookshelves: art-forms, summer-2014, published-2014, nonfiction, italy, radio-4

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from August 11 to 15, 2014

 

BOTW

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04d1c48

Description: A genius immortalised her. A French king paid a fortune for her. An emperor coveted her. Every year more than 9 million visitors trek to view her portrait in the Louvre. Yet while everyone recognizes her smile, hardly anyone knows her story.

Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered – a blend of biography, history, and memoir – truly is a book of discovery about the world’s most recognised face, most revered artist, and most praised and parodied painting.

Who was she, this ordinary woman who rose to such extraordinary fame? Why did the most renowned painter of her time choose her as his model? What became of her? And why does her smile enchant us still?

The author, Dianne Hales, is a prize-winning, widely published journalist and author. The President of Italy awarded her an honorary knighthood in recognition of her internationally bestselling book, La Bella Lingua.

Abridged by Eileen Horne
Reader: Nancy Crane
Producer: Clive Brill
A Brill production for BBC Radio 4.

1/5 Who was the real Mona Lisa? And why did Leonardo paint her? Dianne Hales investigates.

2/5 Dianne Hales delves into the history of Mona Lisa’s ancestors to understand her character.

3/5 Mona Lisa is born into a turbulent era, just as an artistic star from Vinci is on the rise

4/5 As Leonardo delights the court of Milan, Florence is changing beyond all recognition

5/5 Leonardo returns to Florence and Francesco del Giocondo commissions a portrait of his wife

Nothing new to the table yet adequate as a primer.

Why Read the Classics? by Italo Calvino, Martin L. McLaughlin (translator)

 

Description: From the internationally-acclaimed author of some of this century’s most breathtakingly original novels comes this posthumous collection of thirty-six literary essays that will make any fortunate reader view the old classics in a dazzling new light.

Learn why Lara, not Zhivago, is the center of Pasternak’s masterpiece, Dr. Zhivago, and why Cyrano de Bergerac is the forerunner of modern-day science-fiction writers. Learn how many odysseys The Odyssey contains, and why Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories are a pinnacle of twentieth-century literature. From Ovid to Pavese, Xenophon to Dickens, Galileo to Gadda, Calvino covers the classics he has loved most with essays that are fresh, accessible, and wise. Why Read the Classics? firmly establishes Calvino among the rare likes of Nabokov, Borges, and Lawrence–writers whose criticism is as vibrant and unique as their groundbreaking fiction.

Opening: “In France they start to read Balzac at school, and judging by the number of editions in circulation people apparently continue to read him long after the end of their schooldays. But if there were an official survey on Balzac’s popularity in Italy, I am afraid he would figure very low down the list”

Calvino has some interesting points in each of the thirty-six essays, however this is really more for the serious lit-lovers. No doubt I shall reach for the relevent chapters when I get around to the books he discusses.So it’s a keeper for the reference library

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace

bookshelves: e-book, shortstory-shortstories-novellas, summer-2014, historical-fiction, love, published-2010, nutty-nuut, italy, debut, newtome-author

Recommended for: Laura, Wanda, Dagny, Karen Legge, Joy, Susanna
Read from March 03 to August 05, 2014

 

Description: An iridescent jewel of a novel that proves love is the mother of invention
In the early 1800s, a young Italian contessa, Carolina Fantoni, realizes she is going blind shortly before she marries the town’s most sought-after bachelor. Her parents don’t believe her, nor does her fiancé. The only one who understands is the eccentric local inventor and her longtime companion, Turri.

When her eyesight dims forever, Carolina can no longer see her beloved lake or the rich hues of her own dresses. But as darkness erases her world, she discovers one place she can still see-in her dreams. Carolina creates a vivid dreaming life, in which she can not only see, but also fly, exploring lands she had never known.

Desperate to communicate with Carolina, Turri invents a peculiar machine for her: the world’s first typewriter. His gift ignites a passionate love affair that will change both of their lives forever.

Dedication:

  for my mother: your trip to Italy

Opening quote:

‘Until morning comes say of the blind bird: His feet are netted with darkness, or he flies His heart’s distance in the darkness of his eyes.’

 — Wendell Berry, “Elegy”

Opening: ON THE DAY Contessa Carolina Fantoni was married, only one other living person knew that she was going blind, and he was not her groom.
This was not because she had failed to warn them.
“I am going blind,” she had blurted to her mother, in the welcome dimness of the family coach, her eyes still bright with tears from the searing winter sun. By this time, her peripheral vision was already gone. Carolina could feel her mother take her hand, but she had to turn to see her face. When she did, her mother kissed her, her own eyes full of pity.
“I have been in love, too,” she said, and looked away.

A tale as pure as the driven snow, and do you know what is even better? – The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is a fictionalised account of a real breakthrough in the printed word. From A Brief History of Typewriters:

‘But the first typewriter proven to have worked was built by the Italian Pellegrino Turri in 1808 for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano; unfortunately, we do not know what the machine looked like, but we do have specimens of letters written by the Countess on it. (For details, see Michael Adler’s excellent 1973 book The Writing Machine. Carey Wallace’s 2010 novel The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is based on the relationship between the Countess and Turri.)’

Loc 24/129: ‘The summer that Turri began to visit her lake, when she was sixteen, Carolina had no reason to believe that she was a favorite with Pietro. But she had several well-worn bits of hope.’

Charmingly envisaged without playing to heavy romantic conjecture, this is a lovely short read. Three prototype typewriters that aid the blind.

Eve by James Hadley Chase

bookshelves: film-only, noir, published-1945, under-500-ratings, italy, venice, rome

Recommended to ☯Bettie☯ by: Andrey Kurkov
Recommended for: Laura, Wanda et al
Read on June 24, 2014


Watch the full film here

Description: Clive Thurston was a hard, ruthless Hollywood writer. But his fame and reputation rested on the work of another man – a brilliant playwright who had conveniently died. Clive thought his secret was safe – but then he met Eve. Eve was on the game. To Clive she was an enigma – bold, shy, wanton, and childlike by turn. Clive was a pushover, from the moment he saw her he was a man possessed – possessed by a woman who was beautiful to look at but lethal to love..

How quiet is was at night in Rome in 1948.

From the Venice bath scene: Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra – Willow Weep For Me

Gironimo!: Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy by Tim Moore

bookshelves: spring-2014, nonfiction, published-2014, radio-4, history, sport, autobiography-memoir, italy

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from May 10 to 16, 2014

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b042zb4t

Description: It is twelve years since Tim Moore, the ultimate amateur, slogged around the route of the Tour de France. At forty-eight years old, and distraught by those riders who are despoiling the heroic image of cycling, he decides it’s time to reacquaint his feet with cleats and show these soft modern-day cyclists what a real challenge is.

A brief internet search later, he discovers the 1914 Giro d’Italia, the hardest bike race in history. Eighty-one riders started and only eight finished, after enduring cataclysmic storms, roads strewn with nails and even the loss of an eye by one competitor.

Undeterred, Tim sets off to cycle all 3,200km of it. For authenticity, he decides to do it on a 100-year-old bike, which, unburdened by relevant experience, he opts to build himself. Wearing period leather goggles, a woollen jersey, and with an account of the 1914 Giro as his trusty companion, Tim sets off to tell the story of this historic race, as well as the travails of a middle-aged man cycling up a lot of large mountains on a mainly wooden bicycle.

A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

Episode 1: Tim sets off to tell the story of this historic race, as well as the travails of a middle-aged man cycling up a lot of large mountains on a mainly wooden bicycle.

Episode 2: Milan, and searching for the start line.

Episode 3: Approaching Genoa

Episode 4: Rome

Episode 5: reat every sat-nav as a serial killer.

Not being much of a cyclist was no deterrent to the enjoyment factor of this upbeat memoir.

Pompeii by Robert Harris

bookshelves: ancient-history, published-2003, spring-2010, italy, roman-civilisation, historical-fiction, conflagration

Read from April 26 to 29, 2010

 

** spoiler alert **

Description: Ancient Rome is the setting for the superb new novel from Robert Harris, author of the number one bestsellers Fatherland, Enigma and Archangel.

Where else to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples. All along the coast, the Roman Empire’s richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas. The world’s largest navy lies peacefully at anchor in Misenum. The tourists are spending their money in the seaside resorts of Baiae, Herculaneum and Pompeii.

Only one man is worried. The engineer Marius Primus has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a quarter of a million people in nine towns around the Bay. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. His predecessor has disappeared. And now there is a crisis on the Augusta’s sixty-mile main line — somewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Marius — decent, practical, incorruptible — promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. But as he heads out towards Vesuvius he is about to discover there are forces that even the world’s only superpower can’t control.

Bought at Rome airport March 2010 for M’s birthday. Discussion points that raised their heads during reading:

– plot spoilers for this story are everywhere
– when those plot spoilers are ignored, Iceland is reminding us very subtlety.
– M is getting frustrated at the countdown method of layout
– ‘Who in their right mind would climb up to look at what’s happening’

A pal sent through a jokey email on Friday written in pidgin swedish/icelandic.

Put 30 billion euros in the bin outside the Icelandic Embassy and we will turn off volcano. Not call Polis.

M’s verdict – he thought the facts about the volcanoes and the aqueducts were stunning, and the story surrounding the historical facts, exciting. He would give the overall result somewhere between a 3 and 4 star.

My Verdict – I liked it a little more and the descriptions of the eruption were staggering.

4* Fatherland
4* Pompeii
3* Imperium
2* The Ghost
4* Lustrum
3* Selling Hitler

The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Atlee

bookshelves: spring-2014, nonfiction, published-2013, radio-4, travel, italy, history, newtome-author, food-glorious-food

Read from April 22 to 25, 2014


BOTW

Description: A celebration of the Italian love affair with citrus fruit.

Mixing travel writing, history and horticulture, author Helena Attlee sets out to meet Italy’s dedicated gardeners and farmers – whose passion for their life’s work is as intoxicating as the sweet scent of zagara (citrus blossom).

Episode 1: The elaborate naming systems of Renaissance botanists for the myriad varieties of citrus; and a journey to the Gulf of Naples to experience the mild yet intensely flavoured juice of the Amalfi lemon.

Episode 2: Scicily, the mafia, and blood oranges. Citrus first arrived on the island in the ninth century, brought by the Arabs whose sophisticated irrigation systems made it viable there as a crop. The island is still renowned for the quality of its fruit, particularly the arancia rossa, the blood orange, hailed as the ‘prince among oranges’, which is grown in the shadow of Mount Etna.

Episode 3: The extraordinary story of the Lake Garda lemon. In spite of the coolness of its northern latitude, Lake Garda was once the centre of a thriving citrus industry, producing extremely bitter lemons that were exported all over northern Europe. It was a feat only made possible by dogged determination and a lot of hard work.

Episode 4: Uncovering the origins of the fantastically violent and messy Battle of the Oranges – an annual event that marks the end of carnival in the Northern Italian town of Ivrea.

Episode 5: A journey to Calabria, in the deep south of Italy, to discover one of the rarest and most precious of citrus fruits: the bergamot.

Bergamot is the product of a natural cross-pollination between a lemon tree and a sour orange that occurred in Calabria in the mid-seventeenth century. It’s very particular about its environment and fruits successfully only on a thin strip of land that runs for seventy-five kilometres from the Tyrrhenian coast to the shores of the Ionian Sea.

Reader … Francesca Dymond
Writer … Helena Attlee
Abridger … Laurence Wareing
Producer … Kirsteen Cameron.

This fed my odd-obsession streak. Isn’t it amazing the reads that look so average in subject matter can turn out to be so, well, zingy and zesty, and infuse a breath of fresh air into life. Citric acid was just what I needed to cut through the greasy sludge of those last days of winter. Come to think of it, ‘Driving over Lemons’ did the same job for me over a decade ago, however that lent more to the amusement side of the spectrum, whilst this is solid fact, beautifully read by Francesca Dymond.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams

bookshelves: under-1000-ratings, spring-2014, play-dramatisation, ipad, published-1950, film-only, italy, rome, debut

Read from April 07 to 08, 2014


Description: It is the story of a wealthy, fiftyish American widow, recently a famous stage beauty, but now “drifting.” The novel opens soon after her husband’s death and her retirement from the theatre, as Mrs. Stone tries to adjust to her aimless new life in Rome. She is adjusting, too, to aging (“The knowledge that her beauty was lost had come upon her recently and it was still occasionally forgotten.”)

With poignant wit and his own particular brand of relish, Williams charts her drift into an affair with a cruel young gigolo: “As compelling, as fascinating, and as technically skilled as his plays.” (Publishers Weekly)

This is the 2003 TV version with Mirren; the 1961 film starred Warren Beatty and Vivien Leigh, which may be worth a looksee.

4* A Streetcar Named Desire
3.5* The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
3* The Glass Menagerie
3* Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

bookshelves: booker-longlist, gr-library, vatican-city, italy, winter-20132014, published-1980, lit-richer, those-autumn-years, books-about-books-and-book-shops, glbt, religion, christian, catholic, malta, art-forms, dodgy-narrator, historical-masturbation, historical-fiction

Recommended to ☯Bettie☯ by: Laura
Read from February 02 to 10, 2014

Dedication: To Liana

Opening: It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.

William Foster Harpsichord

Chapter Four: ‘On the walls of my study I had a Willelm de Kooning female in mostly red crayon and one of the first sketches Picass had done for Les Demoseilles d’Avignon…’

Flaunt out O sea your separate flags of nations!
Flaunt out visible as ever the various ship-signals!
But do you reserve especially for yourself and for the soul of man one flag above all the rest,
A spiritual woven signal for all nations, emblem of man elate above death,
Token of all brave captains and all intrepid sailors and mates,
And all that went down doing their duty,
Reminiscent of them, twined from all intrepid captains young or old,
A pennant universal, subtly waving all time, o’er all brave sailors,
All seas, all ships.

Walt Whitman: I. A Song for all Seas, all Ships. Book XIII: Song of the Exposition

The fictional Pope Gregory XVII bears a certain resemblance to Pope Paul VI, what with the dates and the inclusion of Mussolini, that said however, all dates, and the characters peopling events, must be taken with a pinch of salt. One could go nuts trying to pin down a definitive, trust me. All further investigations either to blind alleys or to loose fits that are so baggy that one could be accused of making the scant facts fit the way this reader wants it to evolve.

Excellent language, as one would expect; this is one hell of a class act, however if you simply must have someone in a story to like, there will be disappointment. For all his arrogance, name-dropping and snobbery I came to have a soft spot for Mr Toomey in the same way the selfish, arrogant Charles Arrowby of Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Sea, The Sea’ got under my skin by the end.

✮✮✮✮½

The Borgias by G.J. Meyer The Borgias: The Hidden History by G.J. Meyer

bookshelves: tbr-busting-2014, winter-20132014, nonfiction, lifestyles-deathstyles, italy, history, fraudio, politics, biography, under-500-ratings, catholic, christian, incest-agameforallthefamily, poison, published-2013, gr-library

Read from January 27 to February 07, 2014

 

From the description: Forget everything you think you know about the most infamous family of the Italian Renaissance-here in every colorful detail is the real story of the Borgias and their indelible, tumultuous world, written by the gifted author of the acclaimed A World Undone and The Tudors and timed to coincide with the upcoming new season of the celebrated Showtime series, The Borgias.

Meet Rodrigo Borgia-Pope Alexander VI; Cesare Borgia-the reputed model for Machiavelli’s The Prince; Lucrezia; and Juan-the members of one of the most notorious families in European history. Epic in scope and set against the beautifully rendered backdrop of Renaissance Italy, The Borgias is a thrilling new depiction of these celebrated personalities and an era unsurpassed in beauty, terror, and intrigue.

The taunt is on right from the introduction: ‘If you feel that I have gone too far then let that lead to a discussion.’ So one gleans from this that The Hidden History plans to be revisionist in nature. I hope that I am not going to have to swallow the Borgias as lily-white saints!

On with the show…

Part One Alfonso: From out of nowhere.

Pope Callixtus III wasin office 1455 – 1458. From wiki: He is viewed by historians as being extremely pious, a firm believer in the authority of the Holy See and, like the second Borgia pope, he went to great lengths to advance his immediate family.

@25% ‘History is a trickster, though, it mocks the best laid plans’

Okay – that introduction, which reads as if a ‘common, if you think you’re hard enough’ taunt, is followed up through the main body with nothing more than pointing out the lack of concrete evidence of any of the misdemeanors applied to the clan. Meyer posits that the slurs are a case of ‘history is written by the winners’.

However, this was also the case for Richard III and Richardians thought they had such a hold on the ‘true’ nature of the maligned person that they have, over the years, not even shown him on the silver screen with a limp or hump (I’m looking at you, The Cousins’ War). How wonderful that his bones were found to vindicate Holinshed’s depiction of the physical Richard at least.

Is this a compelling read? Very much so. IMHO, the best yet on the Borgias and he doesn’t try to sway you one way or another, just points out the lack of evidence as and when appropriate, so we are not fed a whitewash, just given places to stop and mull, and investigate further on our own.