The word Umarell, based on a dialect word for “Little man” in Bologna, has spread into common usage, and was even used in a Burger King TV advert in Italy in 2016 and was officially listed in the Zanichelli Italian dictionary. Whenever roadworks appear in Italy they are never far behind: elderly men who gather to observe, comment and criticise, often with their hands clasped behind their backs.
“These are men who are often told to leave home in the morning by their wives, who don’t want them in the way,” Danilo Masotti, an Italian writer who is credited with inventing the word in 2005, said.
“Their first mission is to be the first in a queue — could be the supermarket, but doesn’t it matter. And they have a passion for roadworks.” The Umarell recalls the character invented by the British comedian Harry Enfield whose catchphrase was: “You don’t want to do it like that.” Mr Masotti, 52, said that he hoped that the term remained ironic rather than pejorative. “You don’t become an Umarell, you are born one, and I was certainly born one,” he said.
(recognise this one?)
In Italy the 3rd February is dedicated to San Biagio, a devotion that finds its roots in distant times, losing itself among legends and miracles spreading everywhere in our peninsula. San Biagio is one of the most venerated saints, in both the Catholic and the Orthodox Church.
The martyr Biagio was traditionally considered bishop of Sebaste in Armenia and, according to the legend, martyred on 3 February 319 AD. He was also a physician, and had been credited with several miracles. The most well known is that of having saved a young boy who had a fish bone stuck in his throat. After this episode, he was declared protector of the throat and winter sickness as well.
It is also tradition that regional breads and desserts take center place, for example, in Milan it is customary to eat panettone leftover from Christmas.
Additionally, many places bear his name: Monte San Biagio (Lazio); San Biagio della Cima (Imperia); San Biagio di Callalta (Treviso); San Biagio Platani (Agrigento); San Biagio Saracinisco (Frosinone) and San Biase (Chieti).
In October 2020 four new towns entered this exclusive club, all of them from the southern and central areas of Italy. Beyond Italy’s famous art cities there’s a rich tapestry of smaller towns and villages to discover and enjoy at a slower and more traditional pace.
The association I Borghi più belli d’Italia, “Italy’s Most Beautiful Towns”, was created specifically to protect and promote them. Small towns with a population of up to 15,000 people can request this certification if they’re prepared to follow a long and scrupulous process that checks the artistic, historical and cultural heritage of the place as well as its local traditions, attention to sustainability and tourist infrastructure.
We remember Leonardo Sciascia on the centenary of his birth on the 8th January, the master of sophisticated detective fiction, whose novels are an extended investigation into what it means to be Sicilian. Sciascia entrusts his investigations to a series of low-ranking police officers, who find themselves crushed between criminals and corrupt servants of the state. We recommend his novels “The Day of the Owl” (Il giorno della civetta) which focuses on a local mafia in Sicily, and the later “Equal Danger” (Il contesto) which deals with a new, globalised criminal force that operates in boardrooms and inside ministries.
(both titles are available in English – also as Kindle editions)
(sent by a member)
Giovane col tondo – Young man holding a roundel – by Sandro Botticelli
This stunning portrait by Sandro Botticelli was sold for £67m at auction on 28th January, breaking a new record for the Italian renaissance painter.
Young Man Holding a Roundel is considered one of Botticelli’s finest portraits.
It is understood that the painting has been handed down through several generations of an aristocratic family in Wales for about 200 years.
It has spent much of the last 40 years on public display since its current owner acquired it in 1982 for just £810,000.
Botticelli, who lived from the 1440s to 1510, is one of the most celebrated painters of the early Renaissance period, but only about a dozen examples of his work survive today.
Botticelli was forgotten for centuries after his death, but his work was rediscovered in the 19th Century, and the artist has since become one of the biggest names in art history.
His best-known works are The Birth of Venus and Primavera.
Torta di San Biagio
A crostata tart from Mantua filled with almonds and chocolate. The story goes that a visiting party of French pastry chefs was sent to Mantua by Louis XIII to learn new recipes. They arrived during the San Biagio festivities and local women presented them with a new confection made with the local almonds from Cavriana, a town still famous today for their intensely flavoured almonds.
“The sea in winter”, a timeless song written by Enrico Ruggeri and successfully sung by Loredana Berte` in 1983.
To play the song and read the lyrics click on the link below
26th February 18:00 – Lambretta versus Vespa: two Italian scooters that took over the world. A Zoom talk by Laura Nera.
Stream an Italian film, “Mister Universo”, at home with ‘YOURSCREEN’, you will also be supporting No6 Cinema as it gets a share of every ticket sold using the promo code NO6YS. And as a thankyou for your support, you get 25% off each ticket purchase. Just enter NO6YS at checkout.
We also suggest “The invention of Italy” an older radio program on the BBC Sounds, still available, which is engaging and interesting.
The bollettino team welcomes suggestions from members and friends, even more so now in times of quarantine and lock-down, if you have watched or read anything that you would like to share, do send them to email@example.com
We hope that you are all well, staying alert and safe!