Books for (Italian) Dummies #5

In America with Oriana Fallaci III.

Oriana Fallaci, Se il sole muore (‘If the Sun Dies’), Milano, Rizzoli, 1965.

Just a few words. It was the time of Space Race, people believed we would have established our first colony on Mars by 1996. To an Italian eye, everything in America looked brand new, strong, unbreakable. But Fallaci noticed how everything looks hopelessly fake.

This is a report, but also a journal, but written like the most captivating a novel. And between the portray of an astronaut and the other, among many picture of places and situations, you can find a lot about America.

Oriana Fallaci, Viaggio in America, Milano, RCS, 2014

As the editor says in his intro, in 1965 Fallaci was already a prominent journalist, everyone read her interview to Hollywood celebrities, her books were best-sellers. I sette peccati di Hollywood (‘The Seven Sins of Hollywood’), 1958; Il sesso inutile (‘The Useless Sex: Voyage around the Woman’), 1961; Penelope alla guerra (‘Penelope at war’), 1962; Gli antipatici (‘Limelighters’), 1962. Between 1963 and 1964 Fallaci conducted an investigative report on NASA; she spent weeks with the astronauts (the novel Se il sole muore, ‘If the Sun Dies’, was the result of that experience), in the meanwhile she writes for the newspaper L’Europeo a series of articles on the United States, published between 1965 and 1967. Viaggio in America (‘Journey around America’) is a choice of those articles, that the editor divided into sections, posthumously published in 2014. Fallaci has a mordacious style. She depicts a cruel, dangerous, New York, very distant from stereotype. A place in which one can die for a taxi ride, where the most common sports is sneaking in a woman’s flat and kill her for no reason, where woman regularly fleece their ex-husbands. Old ladies with pretty hats, apple-pie scented, embodiment of pre-war bon-ton that suddenly swear as soon as they see a photo of Kennedy. Fallaci talks about Liz Taylor’s and Eddie Fisher’s divorce from the husband’s and the daughter’s perspective, explaining how poor Liza changes her surname everytime, and I imagine Italian 1960s ladies’ scandalized expressions. She talks about the first generation astronauts and I remember my mother quoting my great-grandmother saying “OMG they are going up there and they will mess everything”.

There’s nothing much to say about it. Just read it.

Books for Italian Dummies #4

In America with Oriana Fallaci II

Penelope alla guerra (‘Penelope at war’), Milano, Rizzoli, 1962.

And finally a beautiful novel, in which America is the co-star. The protagonist, Gio’, a scriptwriter, is sent to the States to create a terrific screenplay. At that time America was synonym of new, modern, as much as Europe, and Italy in particular, meant old, antique. Americans appeared as rich, powerful, almost omnipotent; convinced that happyness means wealth. Gio’ leaves Italy “con la con la fiducia di chi debba trovarci un miracolo”, full of faith, convinced she will find a miracle over there; and in fact she finds it. She is “hungry” of concrete, skyscrapers. She loves the States for their modernity and for her romantic idea of the Americans liberating heroes, constructed as a child, during WW2, when she fell for the American soldier Richard. In NYC Gio’ finds Martine, the quintessence of the city, gorgeous, gaudy, divorced and busy squeezing her ex-husband, well introduced in the glamourous life of New York, not use to meet working class people. A sort of Carrie Bradshaw ante litteram.

Gio’s boss instructs her: money is the new God, banks his cathedrals, Wall Street employees his priests.

New York is depicted as a magical realm where you can run away on a ferry boat over the ocean, and right after taking a cab to the Empire State Building and fly in the sky on an elevator, with the eyes wide open in amazement, like a child in never never land.

On the other land NYC is the city in which homeless people are kicked while lying down in the street, the city is full of the unheard cry of drunkards and insanes.

In conclusion a beatutiful portray of 1960 America, documentary, intertwined in a novel.

Books for Italian Dummies #3

America with Oriana Fallaci I

The Seven Sins of Hollywood preface by Orson Welles (I sette peccati di Hollywood, Milano, Longanesi, 1958).

As a young journalist in a sexist Country, Oriana Fallaci was forced to write about “women stuff” such as fashion and show business reporter. But suddenly she become a personality, her interviews to Holliwood stars become much more than gossip. I sette peccati di Hollywood, ‘The Seven Sins of Hollywood’, is the result of Fallaci’s journalistic writing activiti in the 50s. It is not a book on the United States, it’s about Hollywood, but the narration of Hollywood fabulous lives comes with a several snapshots of American life in the 50s.

After the prelude on Marylin Monroe’s myth, the first chapter provides a disenchanted portrayal of Hollywood stars, in a typical Fallaci style. The first picture shows American roads, and the complicated relationship between Americans and their cars. Terms and concepts like freeway, 100 km/h, drive through, were science fiction for 1950s Italy, but Fallaci’s observations are extremely accurate, she is able to identify cultural differences and social categories that are still there now, 50 years later. Chapter two tells about cemetery lots for sale, garden-like cemeteries, grave lots like parking lots, or apartments for Eternity, celebrites’ names written in concrete like the names of deceased on headstones. “This mania to turn life and dead in a show”. Fallaci’s writing keeps you glued to the page, if you want to learn more on America through Italian eyes, this will be an interesting reading.

Books for Italian Dummies #2

Arthur Asa Berger, Understanding American Icons: An Introduction to Semiotics, Left Coast Press, 2011.

The Italian title might be misleading: American icons. Viaggio tra i luoghi più significativi della cultura Americana (Milano, Franco Angeli, 2014): ‘Journey through  the most significant Places of American Culture’.

The word “semiotic” is not mentioned (carefully avoided?), so the curious reader looking for some pleasant book to learn more about life in the US or the traveller looking for something entertaining to read on the plane and prepare for hit visit in the Land of Freedom, might think “this is the right one”.

The table of contents will surely attract this kind of audience: Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Coney Island, Alcatraz, Mount Rushmore.

But this is not a light reading. Not a tourist guide, definitely not “America for Dummies”. An good essay, of course, but an essay indeed, written by a Professor, not a dictionary or a novel.

I would say a very interesting reading for ambitious Italian, scholars, or Americans who want to learn more about their own culture.

Books for (Italian) dummies #1.

There is this big fat volume that surely will answer a lot of questions about The States

Americana. Storie e culture degli Stati Uniti dalla A alla Z (Milano, Il Saggiatore, 2012), edited by Mario Maffi, professor of Anglo-American Literatures and other researchers of the University of Milan: Cinzia Scarpino, Cinzia Schiavini, Sostene Massimo Zangari.

Pros and Cons.

Pros: variety, there’s un po’ di tutto, ‘a little bit of everything’. Completeness: any concept described, any definition, always includes an historical explanation, examples, and a complete bibliography.

Cons: it’s a dictionary. As a consequence not the kind of book you can read from the fist to the last page.

But excellent for reference or to satisky your curiosity