What Toni Servillo Teaches Me About Italy and Life

What Toni Servillo Teaches Me About Italy and Life

I’m a half-bred Italian, meaning my parents are Italian but I grew up in the Hudson Valley, in New York, and even if I spent every summer in Napoli visiting family and lived in Rome for two years, I can never claim Italy as my own. I have the name and the looks and the Italian husband, but I don’t have the ease of language and dialect, the sense of history, and the cultural references. Growing up, I knew that there was much more than the post-war Neapolitan traditions that my parents exported to the New York and since I was a teenager, I’ve been trying to educate myself with Italian lovers, history books, music, film, novels, newspapers, radio, to get to some closer sense of a country and culture that I love.

Luckily, there is Toni Servillo to help me with my identity crisis and through him, I (and you!) can navigate the densely woven intricacies of Italian society with a dose of contemporary history.

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This isn’t a gush about a celebrity crush, even though I do think he’s sexy and want to jump his bones. Every film I watch with Toni, I learn something new about the things that my parents hid from me because they didn’t know how to explain it.

Maybe it’s because he’s from Napoli too that makes me stare at him on the screen like he’s a prophet. He’s most recently known as the star of the Oscar-winning La Grande Bellezza, but he’s also a prominent stage actor as well as a film actor. Google him. His characters hide a world inside of them that gets revealed in gestures, tones, and at times epic monologues. I want to hang out with them, even if they’re boring, cruel, and misogynistic because they all seem to show me something that I want to know.

Let me try to show you what I mean:

luomodipiu copyL’uomo in più (2001):

The film tells the story of two men both named Tony Pisapia – one a football player and the other a ballad singer – fall just at the height of their careers. Toni plays Tony the lounge singer who has had his successful career ruined by scandal. Despite his loss of fame, friends and family he continues his life with pride and willpower. You can see he’s an arrogant, selfish asshole, but that perseverance and strength is admirable.

What it teaches me: You can own your fuck-ups instead of feeling sorry for yourself. It also teaches me how to go on t.v. and not let the presenter make you a victim.

Example:

 

toniconsequenze dellamore copyLe conseguenze dell’amore (2004):

Toni plays the solitary, secretive man that lives in a Swiss hotel. Punished by the mafia for some past transgression, Toni spends his life in the hotel making bank deposits with money delivered to him in a suitcase twice a week. Despite avoiding most contact with people, but starts a romantic and non-sexual relationship with the young barista in the hotel. This ends in a slow-moving, sad disaster at the end.

What it teaches me: Most people have something to hide. Most people are sad and lonely. The mafia is scary.

Example:

“Project for the Future: Don’t underestimate the consequences of love.”

toni il divo copyIl Divo (2008):

This bio-pic is about Giulio Andreotti, who’s political career spanned over five decades who served as prime minister of Italy for some time in the 70s and early 90s. The film charts the scandals, murders, and corruption that surrounded his career and what he did to remain at the top. Toni transforms himself completely in this film to become Andreotii – short, high voice, and incredibly composed. He’s mesmerizing and seeing him walk across the screen freaks me out. The end of the film shows the start of the ‘Clean Hands’ investigation of the political dealings between the mafia and government officials signalling the end of the Christian Democratic party.

What I teaches me: 1970s political history, the Brigate Rosse and the murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro. The power that the Christian Democratic party held for decades. Some of the reasons why my parents chose not to move back to Italy.

Example:

toni gioiellino copyIl Gioiellino (2011):

 This tells the story of the fall of Leda, a fictionalised account of Parmalat, the giant milk and soft-drink company, Italy’s version of the Enron story. For 10 years, the company covered up their debts through fake bank accounts. When it finally fell, it was revealed that the company was 14 billion euros in debt and thousands of investors including middle-class Italians who had bought stock had lost their money. Toni plays Ernesto Botta, the financial director of the company and mastermind behind the cover-up. Rather than playing Botta as a greedy, sleezy, financial guy, he portrays him as a solitary man with whose only passion is for figures and the company and eschews any type of flashy lifestyle.

What it teaches me: A little bit more about the story of Parmalat and how many problems arise in Italy from an unwillingness to let go of a small-business mentality and modernise. And also how easy it is to lie to the public and paint a stable and happy picture when everything is rotting underneath.

Example:

toni bellezza copyLa Grande Bellezza (2012):

Jep Giambardelli is an aging theatre critic and socialite and likes to throw parties in Rome. Through a growing sense of ennui and boredom, he reflects on his life and past. As Jep, Toni plays a person comfortable with life that views his friends with distance and irony. He seems to think there is little substance below the hypocritical night life of the Roman social elite, but he doesn’t want anything different, or doesn’t think it is worth trying to find something different. It is a languid, sensuous film and one of my favourites.

What it teaches me: That I still love Rome despite its defects and that I don’t want to live like Jep even though he has an amazing wardrobe.

Example:

toni liberta copyViva La Liberta’ (2013):

An unpopular Italian party secretary escapes and disappears just before a general election. His twin brother, Giovanni, a reclusive philosopher who is recovering after a stay in the mental hospital, steps in. Toni is again so fun as the twin who enjoys greatly the game of impersonating his brother. Through poetic language, banter and eccentric behaviour, Giovanni adds freshness and relevance and turns public opinion. It has a mysterious ending when the brother comes back.

What I learned: Does it only take an outsider unafraid of risks to speak through the political circus machine? Italian politics is frustrating and complicated, but reading the newspapers and commentary and watching films like this, I can almost, almost, almost get a bit of what’s going on.

Example:

 

Five Books on Food Writing to Make You Love Life

Five Books on Food Writing to Make You Love Life

Food is the centre of my life. Being hypoglycaemic, I have to eat proper meals with timed snacks so I don’t function like a turd. Basically, when my blood sugar level goes down, all my years of social conditioning from infancy to adulthood disintegrate and I turn into a rabid animal. I can’t listen, I can’t hear, I feel nauseous, I hate people standing too close to me, and it takes a lot of control and awareness that I’m still part of society to not bite them.

It’s not nice when it happens, but it’s really easy to control if I can just have a snack. This means that my day is planned around food and I have to carry nuts with me in order to talk to people.

So food is always on my mind and I’m always eating and on top of that, I also love reading about food. No, let me try that again. I LOVE reading about food, especially food memoirs.

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They show you the kitchen as the nucleus for human life. It’s stimulating to read about what people are cooking and eating and what’s going on in their lives. I want to know what they’re thinking about while they’re cooking, why they chose to make veal medallions and green beans on a snowy night all alone in the house. I want to know how hungry they are after having sex with a new lover and what they’re going to do with the onion and lardons in the fridge. Tell me about how much you love baked beans and the first time you tried them. Let me hear about how you got chestnuts with your mom in the farmers market on Christmas Eve. I want to know how your memories are filled with eating, what someone fed you when you found out your father was going to die, how colourful the oranges were on the streets of Rome in February 2005, how good that bowl of French onion soup was when you got off the boat on that cold, rainy day.

Food makes people’s lives tangible, relatable and close. In the end, we are all doing the same thing, filling up our stomachs in order to survive.

So here are 5 books on food writing that I go back to again and again. The more I read them, the more inspired I am to live, eat and write about life:

     1.     Alone in the Kitchen with an Egglant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone (2007) – ed. Jenni Ferrari-Adler

–       a collection of essays about cooking for one including essays by MFK Fisher, Colin Harrison, Nora Ephron, and Laurie Colwin. What do these people eat when they are alone? Here you can get a sense of all these different voices and different styles in food writing.

 

how to cook a wolf2.     How to Cook a Wolf  (1942) by MFK Fisher

–       This is written like a how-to manual for keeping a joyful kitchen during WWII. But it’s quite subversive and modern and today it’s like reading a DIY book on dissident home cooking against a homegenized food culture. Very modern for America in 1942.

 

 

FullSizeRender 23.     Home Cooking (1988) and More Home Cooking (1993) by Laurie Colwin

–       Colwin’s essays on home cuisine are loved by many readers and convey a sense of a well-loved time spent with yourself. You get the feeling of the author’s home and writing life and how food and her writing practice went hand in hand. It’s straightforward cooking and straightforward writing and you come away enthusiastic for some basic ingredients that you want to try in your own kitchen.

 

cooking for mr latte4.     Cooking for Mr. Latte (2004) by Amanda Hesser

–       The former NY Times food critic chronicles her courtship with Tad Friend, staff writer for The New Yorker alongside recipes of the meals they shared. Don’t be fooled by the stylized chick-lit cover, this is good writing and moments of humour and depth are woven into the chapters. It also makes you feel like you can recreate sensuality in your own life with these recipes.

 

lunch in paris5.     Lunch in Paris (2010) by Elizabeth Bard

–       Another story about the successful love affair between an American writer and a French grad student with fun and easy recipes. I loved this one in particular since I could identify with her struggles and joys as an ex-pat in Europe. I’m excited to find out that she has another book, Picnic in Provence, scheduled to come out in April 2015.

 

 

YAY It’s Time to Make an Advent Calendar

YAY It’s Time to Make an Advent Calendar

Let’s count down the days to the end of the year with an advent calendar! Let’s get ready for Christmas and winter with a bang! Thinking about it is raising up my adrenaline and I’m gagging with excitement!

Advent calendars made me so happy when I was little. I loved those 2D dollhouses that you opened up the windows and got to see what was going on inside. Everyday was special when you had a window to open.

The fun thing about making your own advent calendar is that you can put anything you want behind the windows. What are you thinking about, what do you want to have happen, what do you want to see?  I wanted to make mine a home and contain all of the best memories of this year, all of me and D’s secret desires and dreams for the futre.

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Let me show you how I made it.

10 Ways to Have a Beautiful, Crazy, and Colourful Christmas

10 Ways to Have a Beautiful, Crazy, and Colourful Christmas

This will be our second Christmas away from family, so I want to make home feel like something exciting and important is about to happen. The end of the year is going to be about dreams, colour, light and scented hallucinogenic wonder.

So here I am wearing flannel, listening to Pink Martini’s holiday album and thinking about the ways I’m going to make this happen.

Here are TEN projects so far:

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1. This literal and sensorial orange garland

Orange Garland
From Free People

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. These advent calendar ideas on Oh Happy Day. I especially like this one:

From Straße Adventskalender

3. Look at these Christmas trees made out of pasta!

Handmade vintage inspired craft tutorial by ismoyo: pasta Christmas trees
From Ismoyo

 

4. Love these colourful candles and psychedelic reindeer.

From Nicety

5. You can make an easy peace wreath and help combat gloval upheaval with benevolent brain waves from the doorway.

peace wreath on a red door
From The Iowa Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Send out cards like these! Watch Out Card Set

 

 

6. All you need is some melted white chocolate and green sprinkes for this one. Is this what Christmas in Italy looks like?

Christmas Strawberries!

 

7. You can make these kickass paper roses and go crazy decorating your Christmas presents.

Eco Friendly Holiday Ornament Upcycled Book Pages

8. If you hoard empty jars like I do, these Christmas snowglobes would be a cinch to make using trinkets from the charity shops.

From Dandy von Nutzen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Lovers of exotic animals might want to try this project on for size.

From Curbly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Old fashioned bird ornaments with tinsel and cupcake liners from the lovely Aunt Peaches.

From Aunt Peaches