The Italian Resistance Dinner Party

If there is a time for stories, it is after dinner. That’s when Odysseus told the story of his journey at the court of the Phaeacians, when Socrates discussed love and desire, when Medieval bards sang of brave knights, when people all over place and time have been coming together for conversation and entertainment. I’ve started to invite friends for dinner with a certain theme in mind – something to think about together, to react to, to play with. Everybody is asked to think of a contribution and send it in advance or bring it along. Music, texts, poems, parts of speeches, stories.

The theme of our last dinner party was “resistance”. More specifically, “Italian resistance” – the spirit of resistance encapsulated by 1970s Italian pop music, by songs like “Ma il cielo è sempre più blu” by Rino Gaetano or “Ricominciamo” by Adriano Pappalardo. My friend Musab had sent me the second song in response to the first one, and explained that it had been adopted by a recent citizens movement in Rome, who wanted to do something about the terrible transportation system in the city. The lyrics to the song are about love and conclude with “Let’s start again”, high-pitched female background chorus twittering along. It’s fantastic. A very practical problem and a very emotional anthem that displays an amount of humour, what a good approach to protest.

At the dinner, Iante had brought along two Italian friends who happened to be visiting London. We played Ricominciamo, and afterwards Stefano started to speak. He was gentle and quiet when he entered, a man in his fifties, with a look of slight, pleasant surprise on his face. “I want to thank you for this theme,” he started, “because in the 70s in Italy I was an activist and this was my life. And I brought you some slogans from the times that we were shouting then.” He unrolled a silver scroll, on the inside of which were written slogans in capital letters:

IL CORPO È MIO E ME LO GESTISCO IO!

THE BODY IS MINE AND I’M THE ONLY ONE TO DECIDE ABOUT IT!

VOGLIAMO TUTTO E LO VOGLIAMO SUBITO!

WE WANT EVERYTHING AND WE WANT IT RIGHT NOW!

SIAMO LA LUNA CHE MUOVE LE MAREE, CAMBIEREMO IL MONDO CON LE NOSTRE IDEE

LETS BE THE MOON THAT MOVES THE SEA, LETS CHANGE THE WORLD WITH OUR IDEAS

TREMATE TREMATE LE STREGHE SON TORNATE

TREMBLE TREMBLE THE WITCHES ARE BACK

I was taken by surprise by this gift and the coincidence of a stranger turning up on that evening, like a strange kind of time traveller, a physical embodiment of a vague longing for another time.

What was it like, resistance in the 70s in Italy? “It was full of emotion,” Stefano said. They were meeting all the time to go for protests, every time something would be in the news, they would be out in the streets, shouting. There was little information back then, he said, so they would also shout things like Ho-Ho-Ho-Chi-Min, not knowing that the Vietnamese independence fighter had also been involved with mass persecution and oppression of political opponents of the Communist movement. They would meet and they would recognize each other in the streets, just by the way they looked – the long hair, the clothes, the attitude. Strangers would be allies immediately in that way, because you knew you were in the same struggle.

Are outward symbols important in a resistance? Is it necessary to have an ‘us’ and ‘them’? I am reluctant to think in these categories because they are in many ways the starting point for unnecessary divisions. But then, there is also something inspiring and vitalizing in recognizing people who are like-minded to you. And we are not all like-minded, that is a fact. Can we build on what unites rather than in opposition? Is the answer maybe to do with a kind of style?

“Style?,” writes John Berger, “A certain lightness. A sense of shame excluding certain actions or reactions. A certain proposition of elegance. The supposition that, despite everything, a melody can be looked for and sometimes found. Style is tenuous, however. It comes from within. You can’t go out and acquire it. Style and fashion may share a dream, but they are created differently. Style is about an invisible promise. This is why it requires and encourages a talent for endurance and an ease with time. Style is very close to music. “

In the 70s, Stefano tells us, we are always together. We lived together, we went to protest, we went to parties. Today we are all so connected but we are not related. We are so connected but we are not related. What is missing? What are the conditions necessary for collaboration? Ritual, Stefano says, we had a lot of rituals that we created together, the protests, the slogans. The clothes, the parties, the music, too, probably. But also spontaneity. At one point, he tells us, this bus passed by, which had started in England and was collected people all across Europe on the way to India. The bus came to Milano and they drove it around for some days, for fun, and picked up people they met on the streets. He went to India, too, where he took of his shoes and walked barefoot for a year.

But this was later. Before, a lot of his friends were lost to drug addiction. “We didn’t realize it back then,” he says, “ but the drugs were a weapon. Pushed by the CIA. These chemical drugs were completely different to natural drugs. We lost many friends to them. To addiction.” Another thought. Those easy ways out of an existence too hard to bear. How many people are taking drugs, bankers, marketing professionals, advertisers, homeless people, office workers, so many heart-broken unhappy people who need this as a coping mechanism. To keep functioning under these circumstances, not to think too much. What would happen if they would stop taking drugs? Would something have to change?

Back then, Stefano says, we didn’t have much information but we had a lot of feeling. Now we know so much, about so many things that are happening around the world, but we feel we cannot do anything. It makes us depressed. It benumbs us. We feel alone and small and helpless. But it’s not true. Together we can do so much.

What do we do with knowledge? How can we use it as a tool, an inspiration, rather than a weight? A lot of art and activism seems to be about drawing attention to things, creating knowledge. But then what? Not being able to do anything in the face of atrocity increases the feeling of helplessness, and one way of avoiding this is not to know. Many people don’t want to know more about terrible things because they have enough problems in their own lives. Adding more weight to the burden could crush them. This is a problematic mechanism. There must be a way of turning knowledge into inspiration, into power.

The songs we listen to are full of feeling. Ricominciamo, the love song from Puglia, Genevieve’s performance of Ho Capito Che Ti Amo – there is a lot of sadness in these songs and a lot of despair. The speech Musab chose from the film The Working Class Goes to Heaven is made by a factory worker who is at the end, he cannot go on any longer without destroying himself, becoming part of a machine himself, crushed. “We have to stop working now!,” he looks like a wounded animal when he cries this. The poem I’m reading from Ted Hughes’ collection Crow, which he wrote to save himself from despair after his first and second wife both committed suicide. It’s a poem about how death owns everything – “all this messy blood”, “this occasional wakefulness”, “the whole rainy, stoney earth” – how death is stronger than hope, stronger than love, stronger than life – but who is stronger than death? “Me, evidently,” Crow replies and passes the examination. Crow’s animal arrogance, his cunning and utter conviction in his survival is one way to overcome despair. Music, emotion, coming together and feeling related might be another. Eating, drinking, laughing, listening.

IMG_5787

Rino Gaetano – Ma il cielo è sempre più blu:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8ioOG-PaxQ

Adriano Pappalardo – Ricominciamo:

Bella Ciao:

– Contribuzioni-

Stefano:

IL CORPO È MIO E ME LO GESTISCO IO!
THE BODY IS MINE AND I’M THE ONLY ONE TO DECIDE ABOUT IT!

VOGLIAMO TUTTO E LO VOGLIAMO SUBITO!
WE WANT EVERYTHING AND WE WANT IT RIGHT NOW!

SIAMO LA LUNA CHE MUOVE LE MAREE, CAMBIEREMO IL MONDO CON LE NOSTRE IDEE
LETS BE THE MOON THAT MOVES THE SEA, LETS CHANGE THE WORLD WITH OUR IDEAS

SON BRUTTI BRUTTI BRUTTI SON NERI NERI NERI
NON SONO IMMIGRANTI MA CARABINIERI

TREMATE TREMATE LE STREGHE SON TORNATE
TREMBLE TREMBLE THE WITCHES ARE BACK

Ollie: Zimbaria – Baciu ‘nvelenatu:

Genevieve: Luigi Tenco – Ho Capito Che Ti Amo:

Sophie: The Parting Glass

Rosa: Miriam Makeba – A Luta Continue

The Jam – Town Called Malice

Eleanor: Khaled – C’est la vie

Toto Cutugno – L’Italiano

Les Rita Mitsouko – Marcia Baila

Musab: Lulu’s Speech from The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971)

Iante: From Roberto Bolano, ‘Nazi Literature in the Americas’ – Forerunners and Figures of the Anti-Enlightenment

Silvio Salvático

  1. Buenos Aires, 1901-d.Buenos Aires, 1994

As a young man Salvático advocated, among other things, the re-establishment of the Inquisition; corporal punishment in public; a permanent war against the Chileans, the Paraguayans, or the Bolivians as a kind of gymnastics for the nation; polygamy; the extermination of the Indians to prevent the further contamination of the Argentinean race; curtailing the rights of any citizen with Jewish blood; a massive influx of migrants from the Scandinavian countries in order to effect a progressive lightening of the national skin color, darkened by years of promiscuity with the indigenous population; life-long writer’s grants; the abolition of tax on artists’ incomes, the creation of the largest air force in South America; the colonization of Antarctica; and the buildings of new cities in Patagonia.

He was a soccer player and a Futurist.

From 1920 to 1929, in addition to frequenting the literary salons and fashionable cafes, he wrote and published more than twelve collections of poems, some of which won municipal and provincial prizes. From 1930 on, burdened by a disastrous marriage and numerous offspring, he worked as a gossip columnist and copy-editor for various newspapers in the capital, hung out in dives, and practices the art of the novel, which stubbornly declined to yield its secrets to him. Three titles resulted: Fields of Honor (1936), about semi-secret challenges and duels in a spectral Buenos Aires; The French Lady (1949), a story of prostitutes with hearts of gold, tango singers and detectives and The Eyes of the Assassin (1962), a curious precursor to the psycho-killer movies of the seventies and eighties.

He did in an old-age home in Villa Luro, his worldly possessions consisting of a single suitcase full of books and unpublished manuscripts.

His books were never republished. His manuscripts were probably thrown out with the trash or burned by the orderlies.

Annina: John Berger in an essay on Rembrandt, from ‘Portraits’

For different reasons, the two of us believed that style was indispensable for living with a little hope, and either you lived with hope or in despair. There was no middle way.

Style? A certain lightness. A sense of shame excluding certain actions or reactions. A certain proposition of elegance. The supposition that, despite everything, a melody can be looked for and sometimes found. Style is tenuous, however. It comes from within. You can’t go out and acquire it. Style and fashion may share a dream, but they are created differently. Style is about an invisible promise. This is why it requires and encourages a talent for endurance and an ease with time. Style is very close to music.

Ted Hughes – ‘Examination at the Womb-door’ from ‘Crow’

Who owns these scrawny little feet? Death.
Who owns this bristly scorched-looking face? Death.
Who owns these still-working lungs? Death.
Who owns this utility coat of muscles? Death.
Who owns these unspeakable guts? Death.
Who owns these questionable brains? Death.
All this messy blood? Death.
These minimum efficiency eyes? Death.
This wicked little tongue? Death.
This occasional wakefulness? Death.

Given, stolen, or held pending trial?
Held.

Who owns the whole rainy, stoney earth? Death.
Who owns all of space? Death.
Who is stronger than hope? Death.
Who is stronger than the will? Death.
Stronger than love? Death.
Stronger than life? Death.

But who is stronger than death?
Me, evidently.

Pass, Crow.

Melanzane alla parmigiana
Ingredients:
6 aubergines
800g tinned tomatoes
1 onion
4-6 cloves of garlic
rosemary
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper
125 g parmigiano
2-3 packs of mozzarella
breadcrumbs

Avanti:

  1. Slice the aubergine lengthwise into thin slices, sprinkle them with salt and leave for half an hour.
  2. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a pan, fry finely chopped onion at low heat. After a little while, add finely chopped garlic, a teaspoon of rosemary and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Leave to bubble at low heat until it thickens a bit.
  3. Then add two cans of tinned tomatoes, salt, pepper and maybe a little sugar. Leave to simmer for a good 45 mins. You can put a lid on it.
  4. When the aubergines are sweating, wipe away the water with kitchen towel or squeeze them a bit. Line up as many as you can on a baking tray and trickle olive oil over them, then put them in the oven at about 180 degrees for 20-30 mins.
  5. I fried the remaining aubergine slices in a pan with olive oil, which makes them more oily but possibly also more flavoursome. In the oven they get more dry and crisp. I think a mix works quite well.
  6. Grate the parmigiano.
  7. When aubergines and tomato sauce are ready, take a baking dish and grease it a bit. Start with a thin layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of aubergine slices, then torn pieces of mozzarella, then a sprinkled layer of parmigiano. Tomato sauce again, aubergines, mozzarella… etc. until you are done. Finish with a layer of tomato sauce and then parmigiano. You can also sprinkle some toasted breadcrumbs on top.
  8. Put in the oven at 180 degrees for about 40 mins.
  9. Finito! All’arrembaggio!

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