Category Archives: General

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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Amuleti nella Valle del Lambro

Edda Orlandi   Istituto Europeo di Design, Milano


Eloheh Mason, Torino

Avevo immaginato che la forza con cui la pandemia ha colpito queste terre e le sue tragiche conseguenze avrebbero costituito un elemento di rottura dirompente nel sottile equilibrio tra malmostosità e festosità tipico dell’antica civiltà brumosa della valle del Lambro. La straordinaria capacità di adattamento e l’inventiva di questo popolo forgiato dalle punture di zanzara e dalle nebbie quasi eterne mi hanno invece sorpreso ancora una volta. La particolare combinazione di passione per i rituali collettivi e grande valore attribuito alla capacità di condurre un’esistenza solitaria – che avevo interpretato nei miei primi studi come un elemento potenzialmente problematico nella vita psichica di questi selvaggi – si sta infatti rivelando un elemento centrale nella capacità di resistenza e riorganizzazione sociale dei Milanesiani. Continue reading

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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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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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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Nella nebbia di Milano: uno studio ciclo-etnografico – Note del 09/03/2018

Edda Orlandi   Università degli Studi di Milano

Qui in Milanesia la stagione delle nebbie è quasi giunta al termine, e presto si celebrerà l’inizio della stagione delle zanzare (che coincide più o meno con l’inizio della nostra primavera). Durante questa stagione si intensificano i viaggi rituali in bicicletta (noti come La Biciclettata Della Domenica) verso i più remoti confini dell’arcipelago milanesiano. IMG-20170404-WA0003L’inizio della stagione delle zanzare segna però, ahimé, la scadenza per inviare il mio primo report al comitato finanziatore, seccante ma necessaria incombenza al fine di ottenere i necessari contributi economici per proseguire la mia ricerca. Contributi economici tanto più necessari per il mio aver incautamente reclutato un assistente di ricerca sindacalizzato, che, appena assunto, ha subito proclamato uno sciopero della ricerca precaria per ottenere un aumento della preventivata retribuzione di mezza michetta al giorno, con minestra di verze domenicale.

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Nella nebbia di Milano: uno studio ciclo-etnografico – Note del 19/09/2017

Edda Orlandi   Università degli Studi di Milano

Dopo i lunghi anni passati nella mia spietatamente, tediosamente e perennemente assolata patria a insegnare le noiose lezioni propedeutiche di “Antropologia milanesiana” agli studenti del corso di laurea in “Culture delle società brumose” sono finalmente riuscita a vincere un grant per IMG_20170919_151726continuare le mie ricerche. Sto partendo per la dolcemente nebbiosa Milanesia, mia mai dimenticata terra d’elezione e culla della mia tesi di dottorato “Malmostosità e festosità tra i nativi milanesiani: uno studio etnografico”. Ancora non mi capacito di come il comitato si sia finalmente deciso ad allentare i cordoni della borsa e concedermi un finanziamento per intraprendere questa nuova esplorazione della cultura milanesiana! Finanziamento ancora più sorprendente se considero che nel comitato siedono tre importanti capi tribù i cui figli e nipoti sono tra i numerosi studenti che non sono ancora riusciti a superare, dopo una dozzina di tentativi, l’esame del mio corso propedeutico… Bontà loro. Continue reading


Un altro panettone!

Edda Orlandi   Università degli Studi di Milano

Qui in Milanesia ci si appresta a celebrare le tradizionali festività del reciproco scambio rituale di panettoni (Orlandi 2012), conosciuto nella letteratura come il Circuito Kula Natalizio.Panettone for EO post Come ogni anno, fervono i preparativi della tradizionale competizione per diventare la famiglia che riesce a rifilare più lievitati, arrivando al contempo a rimanere dopo Capodanno con un solo panettone (non uno di più, ma neanche senza panettoni, cfr. Orlandi 2014). Pur costatando un sostanziale rispetto delle tradizioni secolari già descritte da numerosi antropologi, durante il mio attuale soggiorno in Milanesia ho potuto notare alcune innovazioni, che rendono conto dei processi di globalizzazione che hanno recentemente investito anche queste terre remote.

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