Pappa col Pomodoro, Wertmüller, Rota, Pavone, and REVOLUTION!

Last night, on a happy quiet Saturday evening at home, I used the leftover stale bread from Paolo’s birthday party to make one of my favorite summertime dishes, Pappa col Pomodoro — the famous tomato bread soup of Tuscany.

And what a wondrous dish this workaday dish is! A text that can be deconstructed linguistically, literarily, ideologically, and gastronomically in so many delicious ways — including the Marxist reading in the video above.

Piddling around the internets on a lazy Sunday morning (after scrambling some eggs the way Tracie P likes them and before diving into my Sunday workload), I came across this fantastic video of 60s Italian pel di carota (carrot top) Rita Pavone, the great Italian director Lina Wertmüller (the first woman to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar), and the Italian composer Nino Rota (considered by some the greatest film composer of all time).

But what’s truly remarkable about this clip — above and beyond the fact that it was created by three of the greatest names in Italian film and music — is the Marxist and Leninist rhetoric of the song lyrics, Pavone’s Bolshevik costume and choreography, and the set inspired by the Russian revolution.

I’ve translated the lyrics for you:

    Long live Pappa
    Col Pomodoro
    Love live Pappa
    It’s a masterpiece
    Long live Pappa
    Col Pomodoro

    The history of the past
    Has finally taught us
    That a hungry people
    Will make a revolution
    That’s the reason we the hungry
    Have battled
    And so buon appetito
    Let’s eat!

    A belly that grumbles
    Is the cause of the conspiracy
    It’s the cause of the struggle
    Down with the boss!
    The soup’s on!
    And so we’ll all sing
    No sooner said than done, we want
    Pappa with Pomodoro

There’s no doubt that the performance resonated with Tuscan audiences of the era, when Tuscany was one of the strongholds of the Italian Communist Party and — together with Emilia-Romagna — home to the largest Communist Party outside of the Soviet Union and China.

Berlusconi’s Italy is so ugly these days (did anyone follow the reaction to Berlusconi’s gaffe during his meeting with Obama during the G-8 gathering this week?). We often forget that there was a time in Italy not so long ago when a simple dish — one of its most proletarian — was inspiration for art and ideology by some of Italy’s greatest artists.

Veronelli “subversive” activist and editor

Click here to read the original interview in Italian at Veronelli.com.

Above: the jacket for one of the few extant exemplars of Pino Bava’s Italian translation of De Sade’s Historiettes, contes, et fabliaux with illustrations by Italian artist Alberto Manfredi, published by Veronelli in 1957. Veronelli was sentenced to prison for obscenity that same year but never served time. The book was one of the last burned publically in Italy (image courtesy of Veronelli Editore, Bergamo).

Some may remember my October post on Luigi Veronelli (1926 – 2004) and his 1982 trip to California. My translation of Veronelli’s preface to Catalogo dei vini d’Italia (1983) inspired a few other bloggers, notably Eric and Alan.

Later in the year, when I met my dissertation adviser and sometimes collaborator professor Luigi Ballerini for a holiday drink, he reminded me that he was working at Rizzoli Editor in Milan in 1964 when Rizzoli published Veronelli’s now required-reading Cocktails. Luigi (Ballerini) has many fond memories of the congenial Veronelli, including a dinner hosted by Veronelli at his home in San Siro (Milan) to thank his editorial staff. “It was the first time I tasted Château d’Yquem,” said Luigi (Ballerini), who was 24 years-old at the time of their meeting, “Veronelli held it up to the light and showed us how it turned emerald in color.”

After Veronelli’s passing in 2004, many apocryphal anecdotes regarding his life have been published on the internet. Curious to find out more about his activism and his controversial publishing career, I recently contacted Gian Arturo Rota, president of Veronelli Editore in Bergamo, and submitted the following questions (in italics). I have translated Rota’s answers below.

Beyond being the architect of the Italian food and wine renaissance, Veronelli was also an editor who published poetry and literary works. What were his principle literary interests?

He began in the 1950s publishing works by De Sade, Anatole France, philosophical works (like Giovanni Emanuele Bariè’s concept of neo-trascendentalism) and political works (like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon), and books on gastronomy (like Le ghiottornie di Gabriele d’Annunzio* and Apicius). He also published books on sports.

He published magazines as well: I problemi del socialismo (Problems of Socialism and Il gastronomo (The Gastronome).

Veronelli closed the doors of Veronelli Editore [his publishing company] in the 1960s because he wanted to devote himself exclusively to his work as a journalist and writer. His literary interests? A bit of everything, I would say, with a predilection for classical authors and for eighteenth-century France. He was a highly erudite man.

Veronelli was also politically engaged: what were the defining moments of his political life?

Inasmuch as he actively worked for a political party, his interest in politics didn’t last long. He worked for the Italian Socialist Party when – as he liked to say after the Tangentopoli scandal** – socialists were still serious. Keep in mind that he was a friend of Lelio Basso, one of the party’s founders and one of its most illustrious theoreticians, and a contributer to his magazine I problemi del socialismo.

Veronelli’s “occupation” of the train station at Santo Stefano Belbo and the translation of De Sade: on the internet, there are contradictory, apocryphal accounts. What were the facts?

September 19, 1980: Veronelli attended a rally in Asti (and not in Santo Stefano Belbo) where grape-growers and winemakers had gathered to discuss the then serious problems faced by Asti’s viticultural community. He had promised that he would speak on behalf of grape-growers only if those politicians responsible – in his view – for the situation would also attend. The politicians did attend and gave their patent answers without assuming any responsibility. The thousands of grape-growers who had gathered in the square begged him to speak. He did. In his harsh speech, he emphasized the fact that the grape-growers needed help and that their rights needed to be defended. Spurred by the crowd’s enthusiasm, the grape-growers took the stage and asked their colleagues to block the streets and occupy the Asti train station. Veronelli encouraged them to do so and he was later accused and convicted for aggravated obstruction of a public thoroughfare. He was granted amnesty four years later [and did not serve time in prison].

Above: the frontespiece of De Sade’s Storie, storielle, e raccontini.

Regarding De Sade’s Storie, storielle, e raccontini),*** I know that it was one of the last – if not the last – books burned in a public square in Italy. The court of Varese [a town north of Milan] ordered it burned because the book contained texts and images that had been deemed obscene. Veronelli attended the bonfire and to protest his sentence, he applauded and laughed the entire time. He sentence to jail-time was however commuted and he was never imprisoned.

Notes:

* Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863 – 1938) was one of Italy’s greatest poets, dramatists, and novelists. Known for his insatiable appetites (for food, women, and adventure), he often wrote about his culinary exploits and feats. Ghiottornie (from the Italian ghiotto or “insatiably hungry for”) can be loosely translated as “the oversized appetites” of Gabriele d’Annunzio.

** Tangentopoli or “bribesville,” the widespread political corruption scandal, unraveled by the Italian authorities’ Mani pulite or “clean hands” campaign in 1992.

*** Historiettes, contes, et fabliaux or “Stories, Tales, and Fables,” published in Paris as early as 1800 in Les crimes de l’amour or “Crimes of Love.”

Addendum:

See this informative obituary published in The Independent.