We've all done papier maché in grade school. Take some newspaper, add some flour and glue and smooth it all out over a balloon and we made masks. A fun kid craft, right? But how many of you know that in some parts of the world papier maché is considered a fine art? And some of the best of this art is created in Puglia, in Southern Italy...
Some Historic Notes on Paper... Mache, that is...
The roots of papier maché techniques are in both the Middle and Far East. In French, papier maché literally translates as chewed paper. Paper was invented in China in the second century AD, and papier maché was developed as a way to re-use the new material which at the time was very rare and costly. Papier maché it can be very strong but also very lightweight. With strengthening layers of varnish, it was used to make soldiers' helmets and lacquered boxes... and even furniture. With the advent of trade with the Orient, Papier Mache spread from Samarkand and Morocco until about 900 AD it spread to Spain, Germany, France and Italy. The French craftsmen made cups and snuff boxes from it, with serving platters, pots, vases and furniture being made in other countries. A very strong board could be produced by baking layered sheets or shredded paper. For even stronger products, papier maché was mixed with linseed oil before being baked.In the 17th century, successful trade between the Republic of Venice and merchants from the Salento peninsula in Puglia spurred the development of papier maché techniques in the beautiful baroque town of Lecce. The high art of Cartapesta was born...
Cartepesta as High Art
The construction of many new churches and monuments, Lecce developed a demand for religious statues, but marble for statues is only available in the northern part of Italy--not in the South. Statues needed to be created quickly and needed to be built from a lightweight material so they could easily be carried in a festival procession, or Sagra.
The Lecce craftsmen didn't possess any valuable materials, but with the help of straw, rags, plaster and a few tools, developed their craft using Cartapesta. As it turns out, Cartapesta when finished can be made to look exactly like a marble statue. Cresche scenes of the birth of Christ also became popular. Oddly enough, many of the best craftsmen were also barbers, perhaps because they already had some of the tools needed for the craft.
Today the production of Cartapesta is concentrated around Lecce. Its craftsman produce statues (many life sized) of holy subjects with particular attention paid to their flowing garments. The studio shelves are also full of peasants in charming village scenes and represent various professions like shepherds, cheese-makers, bakers and farmers. Creche scenes of the birth of Christ and angels are also popular. Puppets and marionettes are also produced using Cartapesta. Hands, feet and heads are often made from clay and married to the metal and straw armatures used in creating the Cartapesta figurines. Younger artists are producing more and more modern art with Cartapesta, some of it being very avant-garde. The best artisans even make their own paper using traditional methods which is then used on their creations.
Traditionally Cartapesta is pulp paper macerated in a solution of water and flour glue, tamped into a mold and boiled. The mass is then pressed to remove excess water and mixed with a solution of animal glue, pasta starch and resin. The resulting compound is applied onto a roughly shaped figure made from a wooden armature... the shape made by wrapping straw around the armature with thin wire. Then the work is left to slowly dry outdoors or in heated rooms and then hot irons tools are used to mark the folds and create the expressive details. Once coated with substances to protect it from moisture the model is ready for painting, which adds the real magic to some of these pieces.
Many Cartapesta masterpieces are displayed in numerous churches of Puglia and all around the world. For example, the Church of Santa Chiara in Lecce is remarkable for the Cartapesta decorations of its ceiling.
As one wanders through the streets of Lecce it’s common to come across several Cartapesta workshops showing their ready to sell statues and puppets or working on upcoming pieces of art. It’s also possible to take a Cartapesta class in several artisan studios and learn the complex process of creating your own masterpieces.
A few minutes’ walk from Piazza Sant’Oronzo in Lecce, the Castle of Charles V is home to the Cartapesta Museum (Museo della Cartapesta). The museum displays an exhibition of the papier-mâché handicrafts along with a history of the most famous Cartapesta artists.
If you want to see an amazing display of Cartapesta artwork, you can visit the town of Massafra in Taranto where every January begins their Carnevale di Massafra, with giant papier-mâché masks and structures being paraded through town on Thursdays and Sundays until the beginning of Lent.
So, the next time you get out the glue, flour and old newspapers, think creative... think like Michelangelo... think Cartapesta!
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From a story in Panaram Italia:
UNESCO recently declared that the Neapolitan dialect should be considered a language on its own. Spoken across Italy, Neapolitan is most dominant in Lazio, Abruzzo and Molise, Puglia and Calabria. Its origins go as far back as the time of Pompei. It then thrived under Federico II up until the reign of the Aragonesi. Under the Spanish domination, it used to be the State’s official administrative language. Neapolitan experienced many changes and influences throughout its evolution, but it always remained close to its original roots. That’s up until the Savoia’s reign.
With the arrival of Garibaldi and the end of the Regno delle due Sicilie, Neapolitan was officially substituted with Italian, even though French used to be the administrative language of Piemonte in the early 1800s. Parliament had even suggested officially abolishing the Neapolitan dialect, which was considered to be prevalently spoken by second-class citizens.
Throughout time, the Neapolitan language has experienced many variations, which purists would define as “vulgar influences,” yet it inspired many great poets and writers. According to historians and linguists, the Neapolitan dialect can easily be considered Italy’s second official language, thanks in part to popular songs that have contributed to spreading its influence across the world. No other dialect is as popular and yet, UNESCO has declared Neapolitan as a language to be preserved and protected.
According to the international body, it is an easy shortcut to classify Neapolitan as a dialect. This declaration gives pride to all of those that express themselves using this colourful language, not only in Italy, but all around the world.
Here's my take on it. Everywhere in Italy--North or South, Sicily, and Sardinia--there are dialects. Often the dialects change and evolve into sub-dialects from village to village within a single region. Is the Neapolitan dialect a separate and distinct language? I don't think so. He's my reasoning... My Dad spoke Molfetese dialect and my Mother spoke Neapolitan--her family was from Naples. She could understand him, he could understand her. Most people who speak dialect also speak Italian, but of course, they cherish and speak their own dialect as well. I applaud that attitude. But they are all speaking various forms of Italian that evolved and morphed differently in the various regions in Italy. Once you've been to Italy you can understand why... the amazingly rugged landscape itself must have made it very difficult to go from one region to another, so the language evolved differently from hill town to hilltown, from valley to valley.
Think of it this way... It's like someone from Texas saying "y'all" instead of "you all", along with the odd ways they use the expression in conversation. We all have regional differences in American English and though it might be difficult to understand ever word we Americans say to each other at times (remind me to tell you about a country auction in West Virginia I attended once...) we still are speaking the same language. Just think of how French has evolved differently in various parts of the world. The French in La Belle France is the purest, but there are dialects within that country too. The French spoken in Haiti or Quebec or in Cajon-Zydeco country in East Texas and Lousiana are all very different from the French spoken in France simply because they evolved separately from the Mother Tongue. But in the end, in a pinch, all of them could have a basic conversation with each other.
High Italian is "the" Italian and but the dialects from various regions are valid too. Each has its place. It makes Italian all the more textured and colorful. I'm glad UNESCO wants the Neapolitan dialect to be preserved, but to declare it as its own language is a stretch. Italy is a mish-mosh of regions--it always was and perhaps always will be. The one outstanding truth I learned from traveling in Italy is... There is no one single "Italy".
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"The Pastry is Closed", "Strong of Olives" and Other Difficulties with Understanding The Italian Language
An article by Phyllis Macchioni, from her blog, This Italian Life
...You can laugh, but those of us who struggle with a foreign language on a daily basis can well appreciate the obvious difficulties the translator had with the structure of the English language, not to mention the idioms.
One of the persistent problems I have with Italian is trying to decipher the sex of things – is it masculine or feminine – something I seem to have trouble doing with some of the people I see on the streets these days too. But unfortunately for me Italian is not androgynous, like some of my fellow citizens....
(Click for more of this great, funny story...)
"In your country, the waiters and waitresses keep coming over, interrupting your dinner and conversation, asking if you are OK, do you need more bread or drinks. We Italians prefer more formality, and respect for the privacy of the tavola--the table. I cannot stand when an American waitress sits at my table or kneels down as if talking to her child. I like servers that have to be called to the table rather than popping in every five minutes to refill the water. And we certainly don't like the waiter to bring the check over before we ask for it. It feels like we are being pushed out of the restaurant. In Italy we are the restaurant's guest for the entire evening."
Just came back from a week up on the Hudson River Valley... lake swimming, canoing & kayaking with Lucas (he won a kayak to canoe race!), Aerodrome show (vintage early 20th century flying machines) in Rhinebeck, Woodstock (and the great Bethel museum at the festival site), FDR's home, and a great day boating on the Hudson.
Anyway, we're back and so is Grand Voyage Italy...
"Italians don't understand why Americans feel the need to have large screen TVs in their restaurants and bars. This is just obnoxious and so indicative of the two cultures. Americans can hardly sit down to a meal without some additional stimulus of the TV or cell phones. In Italy, you enjoy the food and the company you are with--exclusively--without needing additional entertainment. Sadly, though, we have seen a few large TVs appearing at airport restaurants and some local bars here in Italy. American TV culture is influencing the Italian life far too much."
(ANSA) - Rome, June 30 - Italy is sweltering after a heat wave hit the peninsula on Tuesday.
The temperature is forecast to climb to up to 37° celsius (98 F ) in parts of Sardinia and the city of Bolzano, although the perceived heat will be as much as 40° (104 F) because of high levels of humidity. The worst-hit areas are predicted to have temperatures around 6° higher than the average for the time of year.
For Thursday the health ministry has put the cities of Bolzano, Brescia, Milan and Turin on orange alert for the heat, the second-highest on a scale of three, especially for the elderly, children and people suffering certain illnesses.
Basilicata in the south remains a bit cooler than the rest of the country, with some rain expected to give relief from the high temperatures.
Italy’s main zoo in Rome offered gelato to its orangutans with a choice of flavors, including fresh fruit and vegetables, or dried figs topped with eggs and insects.
The last major hot spell in 2003 caused an estimated 70,000 deaths in Europe, and Portugal has already recorded around 100 deaths over the normal mortality rate since temperatures rose at the weekend, its health authority said.
Ancient Rome and Heat Waves:
The Romans were no strangers to the summer heat. In fact, the modern term: "the dog days of summer”" actually comes from the Latin 'dies canincula', the Roman term used to describe the stuffy, hot period of weather between July and mid-August. The name comes from the fact that Sirius (the dog star) rises with the sun at this time of year, –and Romans thought it was responsible for the increase in temperature.
Romans had a secret weapon to beat the heat... The frigidarium. This was a large cold pool at the Roman baths where Romans went to cool down. For the Romans, a daily visit to the baths was an essential social event as much as it was an exercise in personal hygiene.
The cold water of the frigidarium was a great place to freshen up after a hard day's toil and was also considered a good way to close your pores after bathing. The waters of the frigidarium were kept chilly in the summer months thanks to the addition of snow and ice that had been imported from the Alps.
Romans had another trick up their sleeve that continues in modern Italian culture today... The Ancient Romans did not do a nine-to-five day. In fact, the average Roman only had a six-hour workday, from sunrise until noon. This stopped them from having to labor during the hottest part of the day and left them with plenty of time to go to and sit in the frigidarium with their friends. Sound familiar? The Italians call it riposa... the Italian siesta... the three hour lunch.
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