Author Archives: ckovesi

A Scholarship Cut Short: Donna Storey reflects on her time in Rome during COVID-19

At the beginning of March this year, I travelled to Italy to undertake research for my PhD thesis as a recipient of the ACIS/Cassamarca Dino De Poli Scholarship for 2020. My intention was initially to spend two weeks at the British School at Rome (BSR), before travelling north for around nine weeks to undertake archival research in Salò, Trento/Bolzano, and Trieste, before returning home in May. Little did I know upon my arrival at the BSR on Monday 2 March that, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, not only would I not be able to leave Rome and travel north, but that I would in fact have to leave Italy by the end of the month. 

When I arrived at the BSR, the virus had already been detected in Italy (primarily in Lombardy and Veneto), but infection numbers were still reasonably low, and I didn’t really think at this point that my travel would be impeded. Given that the outbreak was in the well-resourced north of Italy, I assumed that the virus would be contained reasonably quickly and there would be no ongoing major interruptions. How naïve and wrong I would turn out to be! Before I knew it, not only were the northern regions locked down, but so too was the entire country. All schools, libraries, universities and businesses were closed, with the exception of essential services (supermarkets, pharmacies, health professionals etc.). Social distancing measures were quickly introduced, both internally at the BSR, and if we were to venture outside. Permission slips were required to go out of the BSR, for example to the supermarket. Police could, and would, stop and check to ensure that anyone outside was there for a legitimate reason, and would readily issue fines if not. These measures seem standard procedure now; however, at the time, they were new, and a little unsettling. Continue reading

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Solo l’eco – ‘just a thought’ from filmmaker Carlo Limonta

From his village near Lake Como, Lombard filmmaker Carlo Limonta has created this sobering reflection on life during COVID 19.

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In anxious times a Venetian-based soprano makes her Melbourne debut

Catherine Kovesi   University of Melbourne

Anna Sanachina, by a canal in Venice, Credit: Diana Litvinova

For twenty years I have been teaching first year students at the University of Melbourne about the Black Death and its social, cultural, economic and political knock-on effects. In these two decades I have been struck consistently by the continuing relevance of this most gruesome and visceral of topics, but never more so than in this present iteration of my subject. Whilst in previous years I have made comparisons with AIDS, SARS, H1N1, Ebola – the list goes on – never before have students had a virus affect them all personally and dramatically. As students read the vivid accounts of Giovanni Boccaccio, Marchionne di Coppo Stefani and Agnolo di Tura of an Italy in crisis in 1348, their nightly news showed them the unfolding horror in Bergamo and nearby towns in 2020.

The point was brought home even more forcefully when the very week in which I had to talk about the Black Death, our University suspended all face-to-face classes and notified us that there were three confirmed cases on campus. And so I sat at home, preparing to record the lecture in which I recount the contingent fragility of civil life and the multiple ways in which this broke down in 1348, and I spliced a depressing succession of images from 1348 with current examples.

Taking a break from the task, my social media feed showed me instead the glorious Russian-born soprano Anna Sanachina singing a prayer to her adopted city from her Venetian window. On the bridge below stood an audience of two –  transfixed, whilst scrupulously observing Social Distancing protocols.

Although we have seen a succession of moving clips of Italians singing from their balconies in recent days, all of which provide the most poignant of reminders that even midst extreme crisis civil society does not always break down, Anna’s voice was a singular one. I asked Anna whether I could show the video of her singing to my students. She generously agreed but told me to emphasise to the students the words of her chosen aria, ‘La mamma morta’ from Act 3, of Umberto Giordano’s 1896 opera Andrea Chénier, in particular its final four lines:
Tu non sei sola!
Le lacrime tue io le raccolgo!
Io sto sul tuo cammino e ti sorreggo!
Sorridi e spera! Io son l’amore!

Powerpoint slide for students in Europe: From Black Death to New Worlds, by Catherine Kovesi.

In subsequent days, Anna has continued to sing her glorious sonic prayers and she has gained an increasing worldwide audience. The BBC interviewed her and then, most stunningly of all, a video montage by Andrea Rizzo, shot in black and white, of an exquisitely beautiful yet eerily deserted Venice in these days of lockdown, concludes in vivid technicolour with Anna singing her prayer (see 2’33”) as the camera scans across a city swathed in banners declaring ‘Andrà tutto bene’ – ‘All shall be well’.  

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Cassamarca lecturer Luciana D’Arcangeli opens the SAGA Adelaide Film Festival

Luciana D'Arcangeli with Mona Khazim

Luciana D’Arcangeli, Cassamarca Lecturer at Flinders University, was recently invited to open the second SAGA Adelaide Women’s International Film Festival. Inaugurated in Stockholm, and dedicated to showcasing the work of amateur as well as professional female film makers, this year’s Adelaide SAGA showed a selection of 36 films. SBS’s Magica Fossati recorded this interview with Dr D’Arcangeli (pictured at left together with Mona Khazim the founder of SAGA).

 

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Celebrating 90 years of Italian Studies at the University of Western Australia

On 20 March, Professor John Kinder will launch a special lecture series to celebrate 90 years of Italian Studies at the University of Western Australia. It was a Venetian, Francesco Vanzetti, who offered the first courses of Italian at the University back in 1929. It should be noted that his was the first appointment of a lecturer in Italian at any university anywhere in Australia. Supported by the Institute of Advanced Studies and by Italian Studies at UWA, the full programme of lectures is available here. Professor Kinder’s lecture is entitled ‘Italians in Nineteenth-Century Western Australia, and how a Venetian Industrial Chemist Came from Kalgoorlie to Teach Italian at the University of Western Australia’. It will be held in the Fox Lecture Theatre, UWA Arts Building, 18:00-19:00 pm.

Professor John Kinder at the University of Western Australia
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Inaugural ACIS Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Dr Laura Lori as the inaugural ACIS Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne. By creating and co-funding this position, ACIS is affirming its commitment to new PhD graduates in Italian Studies, recognising the difficulties they face in the current national and international academic climate. Laura completed her PhD in Italian Studies at La Trobe University, and has recently concluded a period as a non-stipendiary Honorary Research Associate of ACIS. In that role she worked productively under the mentorship of Luciana d’Arcangeli at Flinders University, as evidenced by her research achievements outlined here. Laura describes her new two-year fellowship research proposal on Afro-Italian storytelling as follows: “My research aims to analyse how artists and migrants from the African Diaspora use theatre and literature to create a new transcultural identity in Italy. Specifically, I intend to work on how the collective or individual re-writing and mise en scène of theatrical plays by theatre companies and young migrants reshapes the idea of Italianness and challenges the nationalist and sovereignty discourse. I intend to work on three case studies in Italy creating a pilot project potentially applicable to similar realities in Australia.” We wish Laura all the very best with her Fellowship, and look forward to reporting on her research outcomes over the coming two years.
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ACIS Wellington 2019

ACIS Conference Wellington 2019 delegates at the Te Herenga Waka Marae, Victoria University Kelburn campus (this and all photos of the Pōwhiri are by Colin McDiarmid, Victoria University of Wellington)

Despite Wellington being touted as the windiest city in the world, the elements were gentle on the 80 participants who flew in from across the world to take part in the 10th biennial ACIS Conference, Navigazioni possibili: Italies Lost and Found at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. Many congratulations to Sally Hill and Claudia Bernardi for hosting a delightful, stimulating, and welcoming ACIS conference. It was a conference which witnessed several firsts: our first ACIS group photograph; our first traditional Maori pōwhiri at the Te Herenga Waka Marae on the university’s Kelburn campus; and the first ACIS keynote lecture delivered barefoot within a marae. Being greeted individually with the hongi set the tone for what was to follow – stimulating conversations, keynotes, and individual papers delivered in an atmosphere of great collegiality which demonstrated quite clearly that Italian Studies in Australasia are flourishing. It was also announced that ACIS 2021, the celebration of twenty years of ACIS’s foundation, will be held in the location of its inaugural conference at the Australian National University, Canberra and will be hosted by Susanna Scarparo and Josh Brown – watch this space.

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Return to the Fold – Yasmin Haskell

ACIS is delighted to announce that Professorial Fellow Yasmin Haskell (foundation Cassamarca Chair in Latin Humanism) is returning to the University of Western Australia after two years at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom. In Bristol she was Chair of Latin in the Department of Classics and Ancient History and served as Director of the Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition. Some highlights of her time in Europe were commissioning an historically-informed concert performance of the Viennese baroque Jesuit musical drama, Mulier Fortis (Strong Woman) in collaboration with her former UWA PhD student, Dr Makoto Harris Takao (Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin); and several invited talks on Latin humanist topics, for instance at the Accademia Vivarium Novum (Frascati), European University Institute, Florence; University of Bologna; Catholic University of Milan; and most recently, to the Virgil Society, London. In November 2018 she gave the 39th annual Erasmus lecture at the Royal Academy of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, on ‘Erasmus and the Health of Scholars: Physical, Emotional, Spiritual’, and an associated masterclass for selected graduate students on ‘Passions for and of Learning in the Early Modern Period’. We wish Prof. Haskell a gentle landing on Australian soil, and look forward to hearing about her further activities in the coming year.

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Of Coffee, Cakes, and an Obligatory Saint

Catherine Kovesi  University of Melbourne

Bassrelief of San Martino on the Oratory of the Scuola of San Martino

Bassrelief of San Martino on the Oratory of the Scuola of San Martino

Throughout most of the westernised world we have just celebrated the festival of Halloween. Each year many protest the intrusion of what they see as an Americanised festival into their indigenous traditions, and it did look a little anachronistic here in Venice to see Halloween paraphernalia in many shop windows. But now, barely a fortnight later, the windows are full of paraphernalia for a different and delightful festival here in the city, one with many similarities to Halloween in the ways in which it is celebrated by the children of Venice, but which is completely enmeshed in Venetian tradition. This is the Feast of San Martino, celebrated on 11 November for at least three centuries now.

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