Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Interview with Tommaso Giartosio


Ciao a tutti! My friend and colleague, Francesco Marzano, interviewed the writer, Tommaso Giartosio, about his book, L'O di Roma, (also available as an ebook) last Friday.  This book is part of Laterza's Contromano series, one of my favorite Italian series currently published. I finally got around to tinkering with the video and making some improvements to the audio.

This was our first ever video interview.  I hope to do more of these in the future while I am living in Italy, and I learned a lot from the experience.  I know that the sound is a bit low so it might be helpful to turn up the volume and listen with earphones.  The interview is pretty good and not too long.  There will be a review of this fascinating book in the coming days!

In the meantime, check out the interview!

(For those interested in how the video was shot, I used the YouTube Capture app for my iPad 3.  The video quality was better than I expected.)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Giuseppe Culicchia's Torino è casa mia

Giuseppe Culicchia's "Torino è casa mia"
Describing a city is not something that you can do easily. Imagine you have to talk about the place where you live, where you go to work, the streets, the shops, the sites and everything around you that you encounter in your daily life.  It isn't easy, right?  The author of this book, Torino è casa mia, manages it quite well.  Not only does Culicchia describe his city in terms of how it is structured and layed out, but he also does it making use of a tone that gives the book a certain lightness and freedom.

Giuseppe Culicchia describes his city with all its merits and defects, adding one particular things:  Culicchia really makes his city his home and he "organizes" it as if it were his domestic environment, connecting different "parts" of the city with various rooms in the home:  Ingresso (Stazione Porta Nuova), Corridoio (Via Roma), Cucina (Porta Palazzo), Salotto (Piazza San Carlo), Sala da pranzo (Quadrilatero Romano), Camera da letto (Le Vallette), Studio (Palazzo Nuovo), Ripostiglio (Balon), Bagno (Murazzi del Po), Terrazzo (Parco del Valentino), Cantina (Via Barbaroux) and il Garage (Piazza Castello).

Each room is described with reference to nostalgia, hopes and playfulness that reflects the semi-serious tone of the author.  And if, while reading the book, you might have forgotten the various "parts" of the city, the author has taken this into account by including a map of the city with a peculiar legend that shows one where to buy drugs in the city, where prositution takes place and where one can get themselves into "trouble."

Passing through the streets together with the author, visiting sites and above all the inhabits of this former city of the Savoy, one has the sensation of discovering memories and emotions of a place that seems to conceal much more than what it shows:  many times more, in fact!  It is Culicchia himself who defines Torino as the "City of Records" ( in other words, a lot of things happened for the first time in Torino that didn't happen elsewhere in Italy) and, reading these pages, you will also understand why.  The book seems to be a sort of declaration of love on the part of the author for his city, loved and hated, as the best of the lovers.

This book represents a guidebook to the city of Torino, but how we might write about it, from the point of view of someone who lives there, breathes it, and observes it.  If you have never been to Torino, surely reading this book will make the desire to go there grow within you.  If you already have been there or live there, reading this book will make you love and appreciate Torino even more.

In short, Torino is a city to visit and to read about!
(For those who might want to practice their listening comprehension or listen to a reading of the book, you can purchase an audiobook version here!)

written by Francesco Marzano
translated to English by Keith Preble

Monday, April 15, 2013


Reality is a film by Matteo Garrone, an Italian director most famous for his adaption of Roberto Saviano’s book, Gomorra.

Reality explores the effects of the mass media on today’s world. In a way, both films, Gomorra and Reality depict a valueless and hopeless society, albeit in different ways.

Reality is the story of Luciano, a Neapolitan fishmonger who one day, encouraged by his family, has an audition for the “Grande Fratello” (Big Brother). This leads him to become tortured by his own fantasies created by the illusion of TV.

The director uses bitter irony to depict this world of Luciano’s, a world inhabited by people who prefer to find consolation and escape in the mediocrity and squalor of TV where everybody can be famous without having any special talent or quality.

The acting is superb, in particular that of the protagonist personified by Aniello Arena (who is still serving his murder sentence in prison -- see the link below from PRI's The World). Many other actors were taken from the street. I recommend watching the film using Italian subtitles due to the high amount of Neapolitan used in the film. This might be difficult for students of Italian (and even some Italians not from Naples!).

The film was nominated for the Palme d'Or and won the Grand Prix at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. English speakers:

Check out this story on PRI’s The World about the film.
Also, check out this interview in Time magazine (in English).

written by Marcello Gammella

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Viva il congiuntivo!

Update 4 April 2013:  I get lots of questions about the subjunctive and how to use it and when to use it.  It's a complex aspect of Italian grammar, but this book really makes it a lot easier to use and to understand.  Check it out!

It's not often that a book on Italian grammar sells so well in Italian bookstores, but this book, Viva il congiuntivo : come e quando usarlo senza sbagliare, has been selling well on several book indexes, at least within its category. This is because the subjunctive is also complicated and difficult even for Italians!

I recommend this book for two reasons:

1) It's simply very well-written, and it presents the subjunctive and its uses in a very well organized and easy to follow manner.

2) It clears up a lot of the confusion on what the subjunctive is and how to use it -- after reading this book, I'm sure that it will dispel any confusion you may have.

People have scoffed at my recommending a book on Italian grammar for those learning Italian. I know that a resource in English that explained the language (in translation) might be easy to grasp for English speakers, but I would argue that this book is so well-written that even a student with advanced beginner skills could follow this. While the prose sections of the book are interesting, "the meat and potatoes" of the book are the chapters on the rules and usage -- from pages 71 onward. Here the authors, Valeria della Valle and Giuseppe Patota (both of whom also wrote Il nuovo salvalingua -- read my review of that book here), present a common sense, no nonsense appraoch to using the subjunctive with excellent examples.

If you're not sure of how to use the subjunctive, you have to read this book. English texts that explain Italian grammar do poorly at explaining this aspect of Italian grammar, but with this wonderful resource, all your questions and confusion will disappear!

Little Free Library

One of the greatest thing about reading is that one can enjoy on one's own - in bed, in the park on a bench or on one’s favourite chair by the fireplace -- or with other's -- telling stories is one of the most oldest forms of passing down information.

Reading is also sharing one’s emotion and feelings with your friends and colleague. Todd Bol and Rick Brooks’ initiative is based on this principle. In 2009 they created a non-profit organization which spreads these small and gracious libraries – letterbox shaped - all over the world.  There are dozens of various shapes and sizes for these small letterbox sized libraries.

The only rule: take one book and give one back.

This initiative is enjoying a lot of success as witnessed on their website: “Our conservative estimate of Little Free Libraries in the world is between 5,000 and 6,000 in 36 countries. We estimate than at least 1,650,000 books were donated and borrowed between January, 2010 and today”.

For further information or to order one of these small libraries, consult their website:


by Marcello Gammella

Sunday, December 16, 2012

La leggenda del buon cibo italiano

UPDATE 12/16/2012:  Paolo Conti's book is now available in English as a Kindle e-book from Amazon!  Check it out!

This weekend I read Paolo Conti's La leggenda del buon cibo italiano e altri miti alimentari contemporanei. I have just one word: startling!

I have to say that many of the things he discusses in his book do not surprise me because I do not believe that they are events and practices that are isolated only in Italy. Whether my lack of surprise is a good or a bad thing, who can really say? And yet I found the book to be surprisingly nonetheless.

Paolo Conti's introduction is well written and sets the tone for the book. While Italy has for decades been renowned for its cuisine, food and natural ingredients, can Italians still make such a claim? As he says in his book:
I miei amici stranieri criticano quasi ogni aspetto dell'Italia, tranne il cilbo...Dicono che cuciniamo come nessun altro al mondo. E hanno ragione. Ma aggiungono che gli ingredienti che usiamo sono i migliori. E in questo sbagliano.... (7)

My foreign friends criticize almost every aspect of Italy, except the food...They say that we cook like no other in the world. And they are right. But they add that the ingredients we use are the best. And in this they are wrong...
And so Mr. Conti has set the tone of his work and brings to the attention of the reader important developments in Italian market that has been going on for the past few decades -- that more of the food Italians eat is processed and less "natural". Is the sauce that you buy in the store healthy or safe to eat? Does the label tell you where all of those ingredients came from? Tomatoes? Garlic? Oil?

Mr. Conti highlights specific "episodes" in European and Italian food safety history that should give us cause for alarm, but more importantly, Mr. Conti sees the damage to the Italian food industry as a damage to Italy's future, as fewer Italians are cooking their own meals. As he says in his book, his parents and the parents of his generation taught them how to cook, but who is going to teach the next generation about cooking.

The author threads and weaves various issues into the book, and it is clearly not a problem that is easily solved. The last chapter of the book is by far my favorite, because it is where I think that the author is the most candid and most honest, entitled Prima di chiudere (Before closing). He talks of friends and family who call him while out to dinner or at the supermarket looking for advice. He also describes how he tries to prepare his own meals and other ways that his research has affected his life.

Other links:

*all translation from Itailan to English are my own
** this post was originally published on July 10, 2008