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Snapshots from Milano Centrale
Plus, nationalist video gaming and Nanni Moretti's latest film
I don’t often start this newsletter with a photo story but this time I had to make an exception. Last week VICE Italy published a new collection of shots by Niccolò Berretta, the Rome-based photographer, who specialises in portraits - usually in and around stations - and it’s absolutely stunning. This latest selection focuses on characters passing through the gargantuan strucure of Milano Cenrale; one of the biggest stations in Italy, and one that is also constantly in the news for controversies regarding crime, policing and the awful homelessness that so many that dwell in the vicinity face. It’s also, for all the bad press, a wonderful place. Friendships, fashion displays, performance art and flaneurish beauty are all abundant among the platforms and bars and cafes. You’ll find old folks flicking though the Corriere della Sera with a cappucino right next to drag performers and nightclub dancers. All these pleasant, striking, juxtapositions and just as importantly, harmonies, make this station what it is. As Niccolò puts it: “One of the goals I set myself [was] to go beyond the news and the controversies that cyclically arrive to try to give a realistic image, without prejudice, and this seems to me the right time to do it.” Check out the [Italian] blurb here, and scroll down for many, many enigmatic shots taken from what seems, to me, one of the most exciting photography projects of 2023 so far.
There's a piece from the FT doing the rounds at the moment about the myths of Italian food culture: and it is, as the commissioning editors will I'm sure be pleased, attracting quite a lot of social media attention. Nevertheless, Marianna Giusti's much-shared article "Everything I, an Italian, thought I knew about Italian food is wrong" is, I’m afraid, to my mind, overhyped at best. The piece promises “great revelations” that are far from it. Yes, the first pizzeria was in America not Italy! But given pizza in Naples was a street food for centuries beforehand anyway, who actually cares? Likewise: Tiramisu is a modern dish, and so is carbonara! OMG! Well duh?! What Italian doesn’t know that? Then there’s the more manipulative wording. A random Roman man is quoted saying his parents and grandparents “only ate pasta on a Sunday” (and not everyday). Fine once again! But pasta has had a long, deep and diverse history in everything from clerical cooking to folk festivals that has little to do with modern eating. So none of it really matters? All of this is, in other words, a lot of hot air. Don't get me wrong, the theme of culinary nationalism in Italy is absolutely fascinating, and so is the invented tradition that underpins it. John Dickie’s book, Delizia! which looks at the industrial realities of so much ‘rural’ Italian food, is one example of good research on the topic, and there are many others. Marianna, by contrast, forces her thesis beyond reason, she tries too hard to provoke, extrapolates too much, and decontextualises unforgivably thereby creating a polemical but ultimately superficial analysis. You have been warned…
Thanks to reader Jack S for bringing the above clip to my attention: a couple of weeks ago the magazine Kotaku published a fascinating piece about the Italian video games industry. At the core of the story is a bizarre tale from 2011 when Giorgio Meloni helped bring a sovereignist title into being called Gioventù Ribelle a nationalist propaganda game in which the player takes on the role of Risorgimento heroes like Garibaldi while seeking to unify the divided country. It was, by universal admission, “an unmitigated disaster, a half-baked game running in a development build littered with historical inaccuracies.” In the piece, the author Damiano Gerli chases up the writers, programmers, coders and students who worked on the title and gets the full lowdown on what is surely one of the most bizarre culture war propaganda stories of recent years. Blighted by lost funds, labour exploitation and corruption, this is a game that’s “mostly gone, trapped in the dark corners of the internet, where only the truly determined can find remnants.” Here’s the link, for all such determined readers.
Arts and culture: perplexed musings
The first trailer for Nanni Moretti’s new film ‘Il sole dell’avvenire’ has just surfaced on the internet and, based on the short footage available so far, it looks great. The themes are everything you’d expect from Moretti. A plot about a struggling marriage and couples’ therapy, meta/reflections on the film d’autore genre, perplexed musings on mass consumer culture, politics, sex, music and even… Netflix’s business model. Moretti’s co-stars this time round include Silvio Orlando, Barbora Bobulova, Elena Lietti and Valentina Romani, a line-up which is all but guaranteed to get critics in a frenzy. The film will be released on 20 April, just in time for the Cannes festival - and it’s hotly tipped to storm the next award season. I for one, cannot wait.
One for Tuscan readers: if you happen to be in or around Florence this weekend make sure to get yourself down to the new festival of working class literature which will take place in Campi Bisenzio, at the occupied section of the ex-GKN factory, between 31 March and 2 April. The line up, organised by Edizioni Alegre together with ARCI Firenze, is astounding. Day one kicks off with young authors Alberto Prunetti and Claudia Durastanti among others, talking about the novel and narrative fiction as spaces for collective self-realisation as well as the articulation of new subjectivities. Brilliant! The other days and events, however, sound almost as intriguing. There will be music, film screenings and a theatre performance, not to mention a presentation from WuMing1. What else can I say here but congratulations to the organisers - and their 300 crowdfunded supporters - for making this one happen! Check out the full programme here.
Recipe of the week: Spaghetti with monk's beard
Agretti (salsola soda), known in English by the peculiar name of ‘monk’s beard’, are a staple on Italian tables at the end of March. These long stringy greens, similar to samphire or ‘sea fennel’, have an exceptionally short season; they grow for just a few weeks along the coast of the Mediterranean - in the sweet spot of primavera when the days start to heat up and the frosts are over but before the sun starts baking down too hard. The vegetable is best served simply: dressed in lemon juice olive oil, perhaps with a bit of garlic or chili. Generally, whatever the toppings, Italians treat agretti as an admittedly wonderful side dish to meat or fish. This primo piatto by Emiko Davies, on the other hand, is a more substantial lunch - a bright fragrant and lightly emulsified, creamy pasta to mark the true arrival of spring. If you can find the ingredients, this is the link for you.
My name is Jamie Mackay (@JacMackay) and I’m an author, editor and translator based in Florence. I’ve been writing about Italy for a decade for international media including The Guardian, The Economist, Frieze, and Art Review. I launched ‘The Week in Italy’ to share a more direct and regular overview of the debates and dilemmas, innovations and crises that sometimes pass under the radar of our overcrowded news feeds.
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