Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Carl Ipsen's "Fumo: Italy's Love Affair with the Cigarette"

Filtered Nazionali.  We smoked
the real thing. 
Our introduction to Italian smoking habits came in the fall of 1962, when we were both students in Stanford University's study abroad program--this one in Florence.  We were pack-a-day smokers, too, and either unaware or unconcerned with the health effects of our habit; it was two years before the U.S. Surgeon General's report firmly linked smoking to lung cancer.  Marlboro was our brand of choice (it was first sold legally in Italy in 1954), but it was prohibitively expensive, and so we settled for Winstons ("taste good like a cigarette should") when we could get them, but mostly smoked Nazionali, a harsh, unfiltered smoke made with Italian dark tobacco.  At the time, Nazionali was the best-selling brand in Italy by far; despite the "boom" of the 1950s, most Italians could not afford to smoke anything else on a regular basis.  The boys described in the novels of Pier Paolo Pasolini were obsessed with cigarettes, but too poor--certainly much poorer than we Stanford students--to smoke anything but Nazionali.

Pietro Saporetti, "Emancipated Woman,"
1881.  Smoking among women
was rare at the time.  
Not wanting to get lung cancer, we quit cold turkey in 1969, and American smoking rates fell throughout the 1970s.  But Italians--as a group--did not quit.  One of the conclusions drawn by Carl Ipsen's Fumo, his new, engaging, and fascinating history of "Italy's love affair with the cigarette" (the subtitle) is that more Italian men gave up the habit in every decade after 1950 as they became more middle class and health conscious, but more Italian women smoked every decade after 1960 as they became more liberated and assertive. Overall Italian smoking rates did not decline until after 2000.

Then, in January, 2005, under the regime of Silvio Berlusconi and his anti-smoking health minister, Girolamo Sirchia, an extraordinary thing happened.  A smoking ban passed by the Italian parliament went into effect.  It was known as the Sirchia Law, and it was, by Italian standards, draconian: smoking was prohibited in all public  places and offices, but also in bars and restaurants and other shops, which were, of course, privately owned.

The Sirchia Law wasn't the first effort to regulate smoking.  In 1962, the parliament had banned all cigarette advertising; in 1975, a nationwide ban on smoking in certain public places (hospital corridors and school classrooms, for example) was instituted--neither was enforced.  In 1985, a ban on smoking in all public places and offices, including bars and restaurants, was introduced but not passed; at that time, some local jurisdictions acted to enforce the 1975 ban (as in Empoli) or enacted their own local bans (as in the leftist bastion of Bologna).

We arrived in Rome on our regular spring visit just months after the 2005 prohibition was implemented nationwide.  We were sure it would be ignored, that hardcore Italian smokers--and many fit that description--would not surrender their smoking privileges easily.  We were wrong.  The Rome courtyard ("cortile") of Montecitorio (home of the Chamber of Deputies; Italy's House of Representatives) was, Ipsen notes, renamed "cortile Sirchia."  One of the few protests took place at the Termini train station, where journalist Giordano Bruno and TV host Funari lit up in a bar.  They were arrested, taken to a police station, and fined.  The law brought new pleasures, too: Romans (and other Italians) love their restaurants and their cuisine, and the smoking ban allowed them to enjoy those spaces smoke-free and to "properly" taste their food.

What Ipsen describes as the "cigarette century" in Italy began in the late-19th century among elites and spread downward in the social structure during the Great War and after.  The brand Nazionali was introduced by the Italian tobacco monopoly--the Monopolio--in 1900.  Triestian novelist Italo Svevo
made the cigarette central to his 1923 novel Zeno's Conscience, whose protagonist, Zeno, became "Italy's most famous smoker." (Svevo is a novelist we prize highly; we went to Trieste to follow his walks, during which he smoked, but we did not.)

Smoking depicted as elitist and decadent, 1930
Unlike in Germany, where Hitler instituted an anti-smoking campaign, Mussolini's regime--he was a non-smoker and into the cult of the body---did not discourage smoking. Indeed, several Fascist brands were introduced in the interwar years: Eja, featuring the fascio littorio symbol; A.O.I., (the initials representing Italian East Africa); O.N.D. (initials representing Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro, a Fascist after-work association).  Ipsen notes n this period, as well into the late 1900s, the Italian state was profiting handsomely from its monopoly, while knowing Italians were dying from smoking.

Me ne frego brand, 1935
Italo Balbo's flights to Rio de Janeiro and Chicago were both commemorated with cigarettes.  The story goes that a new Egyptian tobacco cigarette called Me ne frego ("I don't give a damn") was handed out to Italian troops on their way to war in Ethiopia in 1935. By encouraging the cultivation of tobacco in the southern province of Puglia and the Italian colony of Libya, the Mussolini government also achieved "autarchy" (economic self sufficiency) in the cigarette business, as it wanted to do in all sectors.

The offer of a cigarette is an
invitation to "friendship." 1954.  Ipsen
comments that outdoorsy woman in the ad
promoting Eidelweiss cigarette seems
to be offering more than just friendship.

Women's smoking was minimal--yet controversial--until the 1970s; in 1965, only 8% of Italian women smoked.  A woman with a cigarette in her hand could mean almost anything, including liberation, emancipation, transgression, decadence, or modernity.  If her palm was up, the sexual innuendo was heightened.

A dominant Giovanna, cigarette in hand, bends the
weaker male to her will.  Ossessione (1943)

As late as the 1940s, a woman smoking in a film signified a healthy penchant for dominance--the femme fatale, a Lady MacBeth up to no good, as in Ossessione (1943). Even so, Eva, a cigarette for women, was introduced in 1924.

The startling rise in women smokers began in the 1970s and continued into the next decade, when some 28% of Italian women smoked.  Rates were high among educated women, too; they not only rejected Fascism's body fetish, but used smoking as a sign of gender equality and independence. According to Ipsen, Italian feminists smoked in large numbers.

Mina, 1964.

Women's smoking was also supported by celebrity smoker/advocates, including Anna Magnani,
Sophia Loren, Silvia Pampanini, and the pop singer Mina, who in 1964--the year of the Surgeon General's report--celebrated smoking with a tune called "Fumo Blu" (Blue Smoke) ["Con me tu puoi/Fumare la tua pipa quando vuoi" - "With me you can smoke your pipe whenever you want"].

Smoking kills, but you can protect yourself 
with this filter, according to this ad.  
As we have seen, Italians were roughly 20 years behind Americans in accepting the health consequences of cigarette smoking and turning away from the habit.  The rush of women to smoking in the late 20th century accounts for part of the difference.  In addition, Italians were much more likely to believe that filtered cigarettes eliminated much, if not all, of the health risk.

Finally, Ipsen argues provocatively that Italians were "less risk averse" than Americans, steeped in a culture of "menefreghismo" ("I don't give a damn-ism").  They loved their lottery, drove their motorscooters without helmets, refused to wear seat belts and--here's the clincher--used the withdrawal method to prevent pregnancy.  "Withdrawal," writes Ipsen, "resembles a game of chance."  It's "risky, but with a margin of error that might or might not seem acceptable, it does work."  And so they smoked.

Carl Ipsen Fumo: Italy's Love Affair with the Cigarette was published this year by Stanford University Press.  It is widely available.


A postscript.  The appendix to Ipsen's book includes legal material he submitted in a case brought against a tobacco company by the family of an Italian man (who went on to live in Canada and the US) who died from smoking. Ipsen analyzed the Italian media's coverage of the risks of smoking for a law firm representing the tobacco company to support the defense that the man understood those risks. In a brief preface to the appendix Ipsen describes his as a "cautionary tale for other scholars attracted by the significant fees paid for work of this sort. I was told that the law firm received a summary judgment in its [its client's] favor in the case." Perhaps this book is partly Ipsen's effort at atonement, since in the book he concludes - in contrast to the material submitted to the law firm - that Italians were given much contradictory evidence about smoking and that the media promoted the notion that the link between smoking and lung disease was not clear and that filters or 'light' cigarettes could prevent any or much harm.  Dianne
Luigi Conconi, Ebbrezza ("Inebriation"), 1888.  Conconi also titled the painting "La vita libera" ("The free life" - Ipsen
suggests "libera" may have something of a "libertine" meaning here. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Czeslaw Milosz, "Campo de' Fiori" (1943)

The Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz
A friend we toured with in Rome a couple of years ago sent us this poem, "Campo de' Fiori."  We were unfamiliar with the poet, Czeslaw Milosz, and with this poem, which is one of his better known pieces.  Milosz was born in Lithuania (1911) but lived in Poland and wrote poems and prose in Polish (the poem is translated). He spent World War II in Warsaw, then under a Nazi-imposed government.  Strongly anti-Communist, Milosz defected to the West in 1951 and became a U.S. citizen in 1970.  He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980.

As Milosz has explained, the poem was not written inside the Warsaw ghetto, but it was written in Warsaw in 1943, not long before the 1944 uprising against the Nazis and the subsequent deportation of tens of thousands of Jews to extermination camps.

In this poem, Milosz describes a moment in the history of the Campo de' Fiori in order to understand the horrific events in wartime Warsaw.  The heretic mathematician and astronomer Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Campo de' Fiori in 1600, the victim of the Catholic Church and a "mob" mentality, but in Milosz's poem it's as if the event barely happened: "Before the flames had died the taverns were full again," he writes. Something similar--something that reminds us of our inhumanity--he suggests, happened to Warsaw's Jews, who went to their deaths as "the crowds were laughing on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday."


      Campo de' Fiori

In Rome on the Campo de' Fiori
baskets of olives and lemons,
cobbles spattered with wine
and the wreckage of flowers.
Vendors cover the trestles
Statue of Giordano Bruno, Campo de' Fiori

with rose-pink fish;
armfuls of dark grapes
heaped on peach-down.

On this same square
they burned Giordano Bruno.
Henchmen kindled the pyre
close-pressed by the mob.
Before the flames had died                                
the taverns were full again,
baskets of olives and lemons
again on the vendors' shoulders.                          

I thought of the Campo de' Fiori
in Warsaw by the sky-carousel
one clear spring evening
to the strains of a carnival tune.
The bright melody drowned
the salvos from the ghetto wall,
and couples were flying
high in the cloudless sky.

At times wind from the burning
would drift dark kites along
and riders on the carousel
caught petals in midair.
That same hot wind
blew open the skirts of the girls
and the crowds were laughing
on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday.

Someone will read as moral
that the people of Rome or Warsaw
haggle, laugh, make love
as they pass by the martyrs' pyres.

Someone else will read
of the passing of things human,                                    
of the oblivion
born before the flames have died.

But that day I thought only
of the loneliness of the dying,
of how, when Giordano
climbed to his burning
he could not find
in any human tongue
words for mankind,
mankind who live on.

Already they were back at their wine
or peddled their white starfish,
baskets of olives and lemons
they had shouldered to the fair,
and he already distanced
as if centuries had passed
while they paused just a moment
for his flying in the fire.

Those dying here, the lonely
forgotten by the world,
our tongue becomes for them
the language of an ancient planet.
Until, when all is legend
and many years have passed,
on a new Campo de' Fiori
rage will kindle at a poet's word.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Finding Rome, in Washington, D.C.: The Pension Building

Rome is in our thoughts even when we're not in the city.  And so RST was surprised, and pleased, to come across a reference to the architecture of the Eternal City while in Washington, D.C. over the holidays.

The surprise took the form of what is now the National Building Museum (created by Congress in 1980).  It once housed the U.S. Pension Bureau, established after the Civil War to dispense pensions to the veterans (and their widows) of Union soldiers who had fought in that conflict.

The entrance is on the other side, off F Street

It's monumental in scope.  With grounds at each end, it occupies much of a city block (between F and G and 4th and 5th NW).  When completed in 1887, it was the largest brick building in the world--and controversial, too, because brick was an unlikely material for a major government building in Washington.

The designer was Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs.  Fortunately for RST, Meigs was familiar with Rome buildings and classical architecture.

Palazzo Farnese
The three-level classical facade, and the variations within it, mimic Rome's Palazzo Farnese (1550s), as does the cornice, said by some to be a "direct copy"of Michelangelo's epic cornice for the Farnese (our memory is that the Farnese cornice has a much larger overhang). And the cornice adapts the Farnese acanthus leaves/fleur-de-lis to a military motif, with cannons and bursting bombs.

Exterior frieze, Pension Building
The exterior frieze (above) was, perhaps, most directly inspired by the Greek Parthenon, but is also reminiscent of the designs on Rome's Trajan's column--depicting another epic military campaign, that one in the far flung province of Dacia (now Romania).

The Italian Renaissance Revival theme is also carried out inside, in one of the most impressive rooms ever created.  The Corinthian columns that dominate the interior, also constructed in brick, are 8 feet in diameter, 25 feet in circumference and, at 75 feet in height, are still some of the world's tallest.

The brick columns, under construction, early 1880s
The Great Hall, still used by Presidents for inaugural balls, is roughly the size of a football field: 316 feet long, 116 feet wide, 159 feet high.  Here, Meigs' inspirations were two, and both Roman: the Baths of Diocletian (298-306) and the Renaissance-era Palazzo della Cancelleria, just off Campo de' Fiori.  Although they have (apparently) nothing to do with Rome, the building's stone stairways are interesting; they were designed with low risers to accommodate injured and handicapped war veterans.

There's a charge (about $10) to get into the Building Museum, the carpeted Great Hall and some other locations in the building can be appreciated for free.


F Street side, frieze above the first floor 
The arcades of the Pension Building resemble those
in the Palazzo della Cancelleria, above.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

All Saints All the Time - Shopping in the Vatican Stores.

Enter here

There's something about the multiplicity in the shops across from St. Peter's that appeals to me.  I love the saints in some odd alphabetical order, above, with their traditional icons at hand.  Cristina, Chiara, Cecilia next to each other, then Benedetta and Catarina, followed by Agnese and Agata. Okay, not normal alphabetical order, but some kind of order.  The photos below provide some additional buon vistas (good viewing).  Dianne
Some prefer medallions.  These also are in alphabetical order, in bins.. 

Of course, Padre Pio always gets his own showing.

And then there are the general Roma souvenirs, even in the Vatican stores
An overall view of the store - in the Galleria S. Pietro, across from Bernini's colonnade.