mercoledì 30 marzo 2011

9 eyes in Italy

(Italian Google Streetview images from the art project 9 Eyes by Jon Rafman)

lunedì 28 marzo 2011

la festa di piadena

This weekend we went to the annual cultural festival in Piadena, a small town in southern Lombardy. At a big house in the countryside, choral groups, bands, and merrymaking leftists gather for three days of wine-drenched folk music.

This year we stayed mostly outside nel bosco and watched the groups rehearsing for their performances. My favorite group was the Suonatori Terra Terra, the same Tuscan group I saw play in la piazza della Signoria in Florence all those years ago that made me fall in love with folk music. I took some video of their prove, or rehearsal. This is one song that unfortunately is split into two parts because I ran out of space on my little point-and-shoot.

The structure of the song is a fixed chorus, written by Giuseppe Miriello and made famous by the great folk artist Giovanna Marini, followed by "improvised" verses, or stornelli. When the song was first written in the 1960s, it was directed against the Christian Democrat minister, Emilio Colombo. I Suonatori Terra Terra have updated the song by writing verses for today's Italian ministers.

The chorus of the song is:
Statevi attenti, voi della popolazione/Imparatevi a leggere e scrivere/Per difendervi dal padrone.

Which means: Pay attention, you the people, learn how to read and write to defend yourself from the boss (in the leftist sense). What the people need to defend themselves from changes depending on the verse they sing.

One of my favorite verses is the second in the first video. First the woman singing announces, "Arrivano le femminucce, here come the ladies!" Then she sings,
Ehi Ministra Gelmini, fa tagli sulla scuola
Li mette quarant'alunni con una maestra sola.
Hey Minister Gelmini, who makes cuts on education
She puts forty students in one class with just one teacher.

Another verse, and the most cutting, comes at the end of the second video and the song. The woman announces, "Who will there be for the finale?" and begins to sing,
Ehi primo ministro, si fa le leggi su misura
Difende i suoi privelegi, pare una dittatura (pare!)
Hey Prime Minister, who makes laws to measure
He defends his privileges, it seems like a dictatorship (it seems!).

The verses are teasing and comic, but when the singers arrive at the chorus, the joke evaporates into the urgency and seriousness of their call.

The day was full of choral groups and protest songs, but those of the Suonatori were my favorite. Maybe it's because they are mostly women singing and playing typically masculine instruments like the bass drum and the trombone. Maybe it's because they smile and raise an eyebrow, twisting the sadness or anger of their songs into something playful and subversive. Or maybe it's the music rising together with their human, wonderful voices. What I know is that it is a vital form of protest, both ancient and relevant, a rebel yawp accompanied by accordian.

Ma statevi attenti, voi della popolazione,
imaparatevi a leggere e scrivere per difendervi dal padrone.

martedì 15 marzo 2011

the brain of the Italian adolescent male

[Setting: A fifth year lesson on the Road in the poetry of Walt Whitman.]
Me: A, what do you think about the Whitman poetry we've read?
A: Boh.
[I smile at him expectantly, waiting for him to elaborate.]
A: Non mi dice niente.
Me: Can you try to say that in English?
A: Erhhmm...
Girl sitting near to A, whispering: It doesn't give you emotion.
A: Eh, I don't know, it doesn't give me emotion. It doesn't say nothing to me.
Me: Mhmm. It doesn't speak to you. And what does speak to you?
A: What?
Me: What does speak to you? Other poetry, songs, hip hop?
A, sitting back in his seat with a smirk: L'Inter.
Me: Inter, the soccer team?
A: Yes. È ovvio. Obviously.
Me: Thank you, A.