Remember the Nazis?
Everyone does, of course.
Who could forget the lederhosen-clad Nasties?
Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, bringing German democracy to an end. Within six months, the National Socialist German Workers’ party was the only political party in Germany. You could vote for anyone you wanted, but only so long as they were Nazis…
Yesterday, proposals were made in Italy which promise a similar totalitarianism.
The February elections brought a number of ‘anomalies’ to light. The Partito Democratico (the remnants of the old Italian Partito Communista) ‘won’ the elections by a slender 0.5% majority. Berlusconi and the PdL (Popolo della Libertà) were just half a point behind. And only 4% in the rear came the Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S). In real terms, though, the M5S obtained the largest single party vote…
“Aye, there’s the rub,” says Anna Finocchiaro, President of the Commission for Parliamentary Affairs. Ironically, she served as Minister for Equal Opportunities in the cabinet of Romano Prodi back in 1996. “The M5S is not a party.”
In a legal sense, she is right. The Movimento Cinque Stelle is a political ‘movement’ (which won 26.5% of the electoral vote), but it is not a political ‘party’ with a written manifesto and a legally constituted administration. As such, Ms. Finocchiaro believes that M5S is not entitled to claim any reimbursement for its electoral expenses. It’s a moot point, as M5S has already refused €40 million in reimbursement. But then the lady went one dangerous step further, proposing that ONLY signed-up members of registered political parties should be eligible for election.
In other words, the Movimento Cinque Stelle would be excluded from the ballot!
At the same time, Luigi Zanda, leader of the PD in the Senate, rejected the possibility that Silvio Berlusconi might one day be nominated as a Life Senator. A left-wing bloc is forming behind the notion that Berlusconi is ‘not presentable.’ The argument goes that ‘No-one has ever been elected a Life Senator who has conducted such a scandalous private life as Silvio Berlusconi.”
Is this 1933 or 2013?
Two prominent PD figures (30%) propose the technical elimination of their right-wing rivals (PdL, 29.5%) and the unaligned M5S (26.5%), two parties they were unable to beat in a fair, democratic vote.
It just goes to show.
I had always thought that ex-Communists wore red knickers beneath their pinstripe grey.
Then again, everyone swears that black is sexier.
But black leather underpants…
Just think of it!
An interview with Rupert Morgan (Paper Planes, France).
Your Money Or Your Life takes place in Renaissance Italy, Michael. Is this a period you are particularly drawn to?
I love art and I live in Italy, so the Renaissance is right there on my doorstep. Giotto painted the Life of St. Francis in Assisi, just twenty miles away. Perugino worked close by in Perugia. Filippo Lippi frescoed the cathedral of Spoleto, the town in which we live. But every town and village has its secret store of treasures, and we have been to visit most of them. On one of these outings, I came across the work of a little-known painter named Giovanni di Pietro, who was nicknamed ‘Giovanni Lo Spagna’ on account of his Spanish family origins. Giovanni Lo Spagna… Spanish John… I was fascinated by the name, and I became so curious about his life and achievements that I made a point of going to see every church that he had painted in the area.
Where did the idea for the story originally come from?
One day Daniela and I drove up to Gavelli, a tiny fortified town on the top of a mountain. Spanish John worked up there in the winter of 1522. I was enthralled by the beauty of the place. But how in heaven’s name had he ended up working in such a remote spot? We visited the church of St. Michael the Archangel, and we saw the frescoes that he had painted. One painting in particular caught my eye. I’d never seen anything like it in a church before. What was the story behind it? And what was the story of the artist? Clearly, he was a gifted professional, though he would never become famous like Raphael, another pupil of Perugino’s that he must have known well. How had Spanish John become a decorator of village churches, an illustrator of local legends and minor miracles? While we were inside the tiny church, admiring the frescoes, there was a sudden rumble and the earth began to quake. What must Gavelli have been like in 1523, I asked myself. There was no gas, no electricity, no central heating, just lots of snow and earthquakes… I knew straight away that I had the material for an unusual short story – a down-at-heel painter, a mysterious commission, wild Nature, earthquakes. All I had to do was write it.
Is the story based on true events in the painter’s life?
Not at all! I invented everything, including the miracle which John eventually paints. The real Spanish John was much more successful than my character. Giovanni lo Spagna was nominated Captain of the Arts in Spoleto in 1517, and he married a noble lady from Spoleto, too. I just tried to imagine what Umbria was like in that period, the sort of life a poor painter might have led, the kind of adventures he may have had. Historical fiction fascinates me. You use facts to enhance the story, but the story belongs to you, and you dress it up – or down – with historical detail. You want the reader to ask questions about life in the past, but you mustn’t be pedantic.
The men who paint the church frescoes in the story are nothing like the idea we have of 'artists' today, nor are they treated the same way. Do you think the respect that artists command today is a recent phenomenon?
Life was hard for everyone in the Renaissance, but it was especially hard for painters. They were workmen paid by the square metre. Can you imagine laying flat on your back in a freezing church year after year, painting something as immense as the Sistine Chapel, while the Pope kept urging you to get a move on and finish the job? We have a ‘Romantic’ notion of the artist as a privileged ‘creator’ of fine things, working in splendid isolation in his ivory tower, making lots of money and enjoying himself, but the achievements of people like Spanish John tell a very different story. They were struggling to survive for a crust of bread in a world where nobody would pay them if they didn’t produce the goods on time. We have worked under similar conditions while writing novels to meet a deadline, and there is nothing remotely ‘Romantic’ about it, I can tell you! Maybe Spanish John and I have something in common…
How do you organise your working day as a writer?
I get up early, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, then I sit down and start writing. My wife and I write historical crime fiction together. We have published four novels in English, and a mafia-noir novel in Italian. Daniela doesn’t like short stories, while I love them, so I write all the shorter fiction that we are able to publish. Sometimes stories are commissioned for anthologies like Venice Noir (Akashic Books, USA), other times they’re just ideas that attract me. Please, don’t ask where the ideas come from, because I couldn’t tell you! I began to write as a hobby many years ago and I have never lost my passion for it. I write the blogs for our website, too, so I’m never short of something to work on.
Who are the writers you admire most/who inspired you to become a writer?
I have always been a voracious reader. I read most of the great novels when I was young – Cervantes, Melville, Fielding, Dostoevsky – and I studied Eng Lit at university. My all-time favourite novel is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, which I have re-read at least thirty times. The richness of the language, the twists and turns of the plot, the sparkling humour, the amazing variety of characters, both good and bad – it’s a mystery story that I would love to have written! I soon discovered other books to fall in love with – Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, the Raymond Chandler novels, James L. Cain’s, the great noir writers of twentieth century America. Then Le Carré, Elmore Leonard, Bill James, Robert Goddard. Nowadays, I’m a keen fan of writers like Alan Furst and Hilary Mantel, who work within an historical context. They are doing what Daniela and I set out to do when we began to write about the magistrate, Hanno Stiffeniis, who features in our crime and mystery novels set in Prussia at the beginning of the nineteenth century. If you like to read, I think, then one day you will want to write. That’s what happened to me, anyway.
Your Money Or Your Life (available from 15th May).
In Italia è disponibile anche come e-book: http://www.amazon.it/Your-money-your-life-ebook/dp/B00CQ20WNA/ref=sr_1_1?s=english-books&ie=UTF8&qid=1368431271&sr=1-1&keywords=michael+gregorio
I have a theory...
Maybe I’d better qualify it with a few facts.
The NO TAV movement is opposed to the devastation of the Italian alps to accommodate a high-speed railway link between Turin and Lyon which is totally unnecessary.
Doesn’t that make sense in these troubled financial times?
Why spend zillions of euros on a new railway line and transalpine tunnel, following a route that’s no longer commercial, and which duplicates existing transport services (Val di Susa already has a railway line, a tunnel, and an under-used motorway connecting Italy to France)?
So, the NO TAV movement says NO to the TAV (treni ad alta velocità, or high-speed trains).
We have been to Val di Susa where the work is taking place. We have met the organisers and the NO TAV activists. We’ve been invited to their homes, and we’ve eaten dinner with them. We have walked together up the valley to Chiomonte and we have seen the devastating-work-in-progress.
We also saw masked men there… policemen!
Which makes what happened yesterday seem very strange, indeed.
This is how the news was reported today by the ANSA news agency:
“This is an act of war,” said Roberto Cota, President of Piedmont.
“Attempted murder,” according to the Procurators’ Office of Turin.
“The use of explosives constitutes an act of terrorism,” said the Committee for Public Safety.
Government spokesmen, including Angelino Alfano, Italian vice-premier, announced that the building work will go, and that the State will not be intimidated by NO TAV protestors…
As I said above, I have a theory.
ANSA reported that “the attack [on the Chiomonte work site] last night was carried out by a group of about thirty individuals wearing masks [my italics]. Some of them launched a diversionary attack using fireworks and rockets, while others locked the workers inside the building site by chaining the gates to prevent the [permanent] police guard from counter-attacking. Molotov cocktails were then fired on the police and the workers who were closed inside the compound. [Interestingly] No-one was injured, but damage was caused to a [plastic] work-hut and a[n unspecified]vehicle…”
And, of course, the attackers were not identified, because they were wearing masks.
Who were these people wearing masks, I wonder.
As I said before, the only masked men that we saw in Val di Susa were policemen…
Everyone knows the quote.
Everybody knows the film.
I checked on Internet, and all the answers came back pat.
A site called The Phrase Finder identified the famous quote as coming from “Gone With The Wind,” the 1939 film which was based on Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 bestselling novel. Well, I hate to tell you, but The Phrase Finder and all the other pundits got it wrong! I know where the original quote came from, i.e., where Margaret Mitchell stole it from. It came from a short story published in 1930 by…
But hang on, let me tell you why I started looking through my books.
Yesterday, I was reading advance reviews of Dan Brown’s new earthshaking blockbuster. The critics, A. N. Wilson (The Daily Mail) and Jake Kerridge (The Guardian), did not have good things to say about Mister Brown and the art of good writing. Inferno, the brand new Dan Brown novel will, of course, go viral, global, interplanetary, etc., it may even save the struggling publishing industry for yet another year, but…
I started thinking back to the awful book that started all the Brown kerfuffle.
Remember The Da Vinci Code?
Everyone bought it, everyone read it, but no-one thought to mention where the plot came from. It was not a Brown original, and I remember wincing as I read the final weak Disneyish chapters of the novel, fully convinced that the world had just been taken for a ride. As Robert Langdon homes in on the last vital clue which leads him to Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland (the Holy Grail must be buried there, says Dan), we learn the heart-stopping news that Langdon’s helper, Sophie, is a descendant of the red-hot love affair between the resurrected Jesus Christ and long-haired Mary Magdalene. Pow! Wow! The revelation was so explosive that poor old Dan got into publicity-reaping trouble with the Vatican authorities. All over the world Christians were in an uproar, and, no doubt, millions of them bought the novel, too.
Well, that unholy revelation was another rip-off, and it came from the same short story which was published in 1930 by the same literary giant who has faded quite recently into Literary Limbo.
Has anyone else in the world – myself apart – read The Man Who Died by D. H. Lawrence? The resurrected Jesus meets the blushingly unashamed and sensual Mary Magdalene, and they go off to live in sin on a Mediterranean island… Corfu, perhaps, or was it Crete? The story is pure bunk, the usual DHL crap – DHL is not the international courier company, I insist, as I don’t want to be sued (again) for slander! – but it contains the tale of another love that dare not speak its name… As Jesus skips town after inseminating the “choice woman of this day,” he sails off into the sunset with these famous words on his lips: “So let the boat carry me. Tomorrow is another day.”
Has anyone read the last line of Inferno yet?
I have a strange, strange feeling…
BUNGA BUNGA PIE
1 pickled politician
1 red-haired Milanese prosecutor
1 judge fresh from the orchard
A selection of juicy showgirls
A large pinch of exotic ‘Ruby’ spice
Salt, pepper and a knob of butter
Roll out the well-seasoned politician on a judge’s bench. You need to use a wooden rolling-pin, and give the dough a thorough bashing, turning the politician this way and that, squeezing out all the air, and adding just enough butter to make him rise.
Place in a baking-tray and prepare the filling. Juicy showgirls should always be purchased fresh from the local flesh-market the day before. Remember the rule: give them a squeeze – not too hard, not too soft. Let them simmer for a while in a scandalous broth of name-and-cat-calling, then drain them off carefully before exposing them to the atmosphere. It is always advisable to cook juicy showgirls slowly over a very low flame, and for as long as is humanly possible. Otherwise, as every cook knows, they tend to remain tough and gritty and get stuck between your teeth.
Add one abundant pinch of exotic ‘Ruby’ spice. The Egyptian ‘Mubarak’s niece’ blend is highly recommended. It’s sharp, but sweet, and it adds a delicate piquancy to the pie. Ruby, as everyone knows, is an exotic spice which grows wild and free on the banks of the River Nile. The fruit ripens quickly, and it sometimes seems older than it is. However, a tender nip between finger and thumb will tell whether it is ripe and ready for use.
Finally, throw in one sour, red-headed prosecutor from Milan, bandying ancient cookery terms such as ‘prostitute’ and ‘lying foreigner’ – descriptions like this are often used about the delicate ‘Ruby’ variety of spice, though the just-married, mother-of-a-young-child species of ‘Ruby’ are equally palatable to prosecutors cooking up a case. They tend to throw in lots of Ruby to balance out the toughness of the meat. As much as a delicate stomach can take, in fact.
Place the baking-tray in a hot oven (minimum 200° C) and bake for as many days, weeks or months as it takes for the politician to soften up, and for the crust to turn a rich golden-brown colour.
Remove from the oven, then show it to the judge. He’ll tell you how long it will take for the pie to cool off. As a rule, a dark, enclosed space with iron bars is recommended. The cooling-off time could be as long as six years (without remission), and permanent removal from public office.
At that point, the politician is well and truly ‘cooked’ and you can digest him slowly for the rest of his natural days out of office, cutting off a slice at a time as required. Like a cheese which has been matured for years and years, the aroma persists and the salty flavour intensifies over time.
As I was saying to Jamie just the other day, “Grab a slice a that, mate!”
I was a bit surprised by his reply.
“Nah, fanks. No’ my cuppa tea. ’Sbeen in the cooker way too long…”