California Literary Review


Daniel Barenboim at La Scala


December 11th, 2007

Drama number three was the presence on the podium of Daniel Barenboim, the child prodigy born in 1942 in Argentina to Russian parents, who moved with him to Israel when he was ten. This opera performance, which furthermore inaugurates the newly restored theater, was the first by Barenboim as conductor of the orchestra that had performed under the batons of Arturo Toscanini and, more recently, the flamboyant Riccardo Muti. Although Barenboim has performed Wagner many times elsewhere, La Scala audiences have not seen a Wagnerian opera for three decades, and his making this selection can still raise a few eyebrows.

Notes From Italy: Some Old Envoys


November 29th, 2007

Counts who stank of garlic–as did the whole country–had sponged on him for seats in his box at the opera. He was meeting diplomats who had “titles as long as a flagstaff, and heads as empty as their hearts.” These were strictly private comments, Daniel told Peticolas, and none of it should get into the papers. All of it did, in Richmond and soon in Turin. Now it was not garlic but what people called “the garlic letter” that caused a stink.

The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson


November 14th, 2007

This long, well documented book by Rick Atkinson is one of the best accounts of any war to appear in the last decade or more.

Notes From Italy: The Oversized Embassy


November 6th, 2007

Nor, it seems, do Americans get out of their diplomatic fortress the way they used to. Italians say they do not have the American friends and acquaintances that they used to. What do embassy officers do with their time? Like many professionals in this country, they spend hours in front of computer screens, busy with e-mail. That may be work, but it has little to do with representing the United States.

Notes from Italy: Romulus and Neighbors


October 17th, 2007

The next time you go to Rome, take a half-day to go to Pomezia, just south of the Alban hills, a few miles inland from the sea. The town is unlovely but the new Pomezia museum contains some of the most beautiful terracotta statues of women that I know, dating from several centuries before Christ. It also contains exhibits that trace the story of Aeneas in Italy back to at least the eighth century B.C. You may well leave Pomezia convinced that someone, whose name may have been Aeneas, landed on the nearby coast a millennium or so before Christ–and married the daughter of the king of the local Latins–and had a descendant named Romulus. Not just Virgil but Dionysius gives a detailed account of all this.

Notes From Italy: Running, Rome, and Red Brigades


September 12th, 2007

I knew what was coming but it was always a thrill. Suddenly to our left the world opened out and there was the grandest of piazzas, Piazza Navona. The name Navona and the piazza’s long oval form go back to its origin as the Circus Agonale. This was a stadium, inaugurated by the Emperor Domitian in 86 A.D., that was designed to host a Roman alternative to the Olympic games (and to the gladiators in the Colosseum, that had been built by Domitian’s father and brother, Vespasian and Titus). I never liked Domitian. He was big on public works but a terrible administrator. He may or may not have killed a lot of Christians but he was certainly a murderer of many opponents–until they murdered him in the year 96.

Notes From Italy: Looking Back at Mussolini


August 28th, 2007

Mussolini was not the only dictator of his time. In his Europe, in a time of worldwide economic depression, a whole series of governments were run by “strong men.” Besides Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, there were authoritarian regimes if not dictatorships in the 1930s in Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, and Spain. There were Blueshirts in Ireland, Blackshirts in Britain, and Vidkun Quisling’s followers in Norway. At the eastern end of Europe lay the greatest dictatorship of them all, Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Notes From Italy: Cimitero Acattolico


August 15th, 2007

In 1738 came the first burial by the Pyramid that we know of, that of a young Oxford graduate named Langton. After him a number of other non-Catholic foreigners were buried there, and not just English people; there is a record of a student from Hannover being buried there a few years later. But while the Papal authorities now tolerated the non-Catholic burials, they had to take place at night, probably to lessen the possibility that the local folk would mock if not attack the foreigners’ funeral processions. (As late as 1854 a small mob tried to assault a Protestant clergyman who had officiated at the funeral of the wife of a German diplomat.)

Notes From Italy: Dawn in the Suburra


July 24th, 2007

In early June, the best time in Rome is dawn. A little after first light the song of a neighbor blackbird wakes me in our little fifth-floor flat on the Via Urbana. I dream for a few minutes but again the blackbird wakes me and I get up. I walk to the window. High above the rooftops the swallows are already darting, soaring, plunging, on their morning quest for insects. A plump big seagull flies over, one of the many that have invaded Rome skies in recent years. I manage to shave and dress without waking my wife, and I walk down the stairs and out into our street.

Notes From Italy: Sunday With the CAI


July 10th, 2007

This is not Labrador. We are fifty miles northeast of Rome and a mile above sea level, climbing Monte Cava in the Central Apennines, on one of our Sunday jaunts with the Club Alpino Italiano, Sezione Roma. Just ahead of me is my wife, Mary Jane, and beyond her I can see Antonello the orthodontist, and beyond him Alessandro, a banker on weekdays but today our Leader.

My Father Il Duce: A Memoir by Mussolini’s Son – by Romano Mussolini


April 22nd, 2007

Benito Mussolini had more than one mistress but only one wife, whom he legally married five years after the birth of their first child, Edda.

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