Il Panettone

The leavened cake made with a base of water, flour, butter, eggs plus the addition of dried fruits and nuts is a traditional staple in the Italian—and by extension the Italian-American—tables during the Christmas season. We have all watched our dear grandmothers and mothers bake it at home or in modern times accompany them to our favorite bakery to buy them.

What is the origin of this simple yet delicious accoutrement of festivities? There are two major legends and both arise from Milano in the Middle Ages.

The first legend says that the cooks preparing a big banquet hosted by Ludovico il Moro, the powerful duke of the city, had forgotten to take out the dessert from the oven, which ended up as pure carbon. A humble kitchen helper called Toni prepared an impromptu cake with the kitchen leftovers. The head cook was reluctant to present that novelty in the master’s table but he finally agreed, hiding behind a curtain to peek at the guests’ reaction. Everybody loved it including Ludovico who inquired who had prepared it. The cook came out of hiding, saying: “L’è ‘l pan del Toni”, i.e. il panettone.

The second one tells the passionate love that a young nobleman called Ulivo degli Atellani de Futi, a.k.a Toni, had for Algissa, the gorgeous daughter of a baker from the quarter of Contrada delle Grazie. Observing that the girl was permanently courted by many aspiring lovers that she invariably rejected, he devised a novel plan to seduce her. Camouflaging himself as a humble man, he was hired by her father to tend the wood oven in the early dawn, One day he mixed the best flour he could find with eggs, butter, honey and sultanina grapes and he clandestinely prepared the dough; then he baked it in the oven. When his boss came to check on his work, he was very impressed by it; he put it for sale in his stalls, becoming an instant success for the establishment.

When Algissa found out what he had done, she became infatuated with him. Except for the occasional gold-digger only interested in material goods, most women would appreciate that noble, original gesture inspired by his strong affection for her.

As the great playwright Jean Baptiste de Poquelin (Molière) sagely told us: “La grande ambition des femmes c’est d’inspirer l’amour.”

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

The first man that listened to women

Sigismund Schlomo Freud—born on May 6th 1856 in Pribor, Moravia and passed away on September 23rd 1939 in London, England—is one of the most respected and at the same time debated physicians in modern medicine. He was one of the earliest founders of Psychoanalysis and his pioneering work in the intricacies of the Unconscious mind still perturbs us all deeply.  He was definitely the first man that considered women as human beings with their own particular sexual desires and listened eagerly at what they said.

If you peek briefly at our screen presentation, you will see a depiction by Brouillet of a theatrical class by Jean-Martin Charcot in the Neurology clinical ward of the Pitié-Salpetrière hospital of Paris, where he had showed the power of the techniques of hypnosis to extract information from “hysterical” women that expressed neurological symptoms. Charcot dismissed the sexually-related complaints of women—“la chose genitale”—as not relevant to the therapy. But there was one Austrian physician in the public that, after spending time studying with Charcot, went back to Vienna and teamed up with Joseph Breuer to design the free association and interpretation of dreams. The recall of the early psychological traumas uncovered the origin of clinical neuroses.

In the puritan social atmosphere of early 20th century Vienna, Freud was considered a dangerous, rebel practitioner and he struggled to make a living. Even today he still has many ardent detractors that view him as nothing more than a clinical impostor that has been unfairly idealized by the public. Frederick Crews writes in his book “The making of an illusion” that we must strip Freud of his perennial image as “a lone explorer possessing courageous perseverance, deductive brilliance, tragic insight, and healing power.”  He even claimed that Freud had plagiarized the data of Pierre Janet, a French psychologist, in his articles, which is refuted by the fact that Freud gave due credit to his colleague in his early writings about the origin of neuroses.

Keenly trying to disparage him Crews writes about Freud’s experimentation with cocaine, a new drug then, his Victorian views of women and even his purported affair with his sister-in-law. He questions his whining about being a “lone outcast” dismissed because he was a Jew, considering that 20 % of the student body in his medical school class were Jewish, even though only 10% of the city population professed that faith. As a member of the Italian-American community, I understand how Freud wanted to assimilate while at the same time  keeping a resilient sense of “not belonging.”

What really flustered me when I was reading this book is that the author claimed that Freud had little contact with patients and that he fabricated his clinical data. In the Library of Congress, we can see Freud’s 1886-1889 patient record book where it shows that he treated almost 500 of them regularly. There is no way that Freud could have learnt so much about women and their ideation without going through the slogging task of actually listening to them. I know. I have been there. In a humble physician’s office like Freud’s inner sanctum.

What really prodded me to write about women’s emotional frustration in my novel “Madame D.C.” and in my 2nd manuscript, is that, after stoically listening to them in my office for years, something has percolated through my brain. In our male-dominated society, that caring predisposition to really listen to them can make you a lot of enemies.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.





Happy “Day of the Physician”

Dear medical colleagues of our great American continent:

Yesterday, December 3rd, we celebrated the “Day of the physician” in the Americas in honor of all the dedicated and hard-working professionals tending to the health care needs of people from Alaska in the extreme North to Ushuaia in the extreme South.

The “Panamerican Health Organization”, or “Organizacion Panamericana de la Salud” in Spanish, designated this day in honor of Carlos Juan Finlay Barres, a Cuban physician and researcher who had discovered in 1881 that the Yellow Fever was transmitted through an insect vector like Aedes aegypti; he was born on December 3, 1833 in Puerto Principe, Cuba, and studied Medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Dr. Finlay, dubbed as “the mosquito doctor” by his detractors, had a hard time to prove his hypothesis but he finally collected enough clinical data to submit to the “Yellow Fever panel” headed by Dr. Walter Reed that finally accepted his findings in 1901. That medical breakthrough prodded the Panama Canal authorities to set up the proper sanitary conditions in the workers’ camps in order to finish the humonguous project. In 1902 Dr. Finlay headed the precursor office of the present day PHO.  Dr. Remo Bergoglio, an Argentine physician acting on behalf of the “Sociedad Medica de Cordoba”, submitted a proposal to celebrate this day on the floor of the PHO congress in Dallas in 1953.

To my dear colleagues of the Americas, thank you for your devoted daily work. Cheers!

A mes collègues de l’Amérique, felicitations pour votre travail dévouée de tous les jours. Salut!

A mis queridos colegas de las Americas, gracias por su trabajo abnegado de todos los días. Salud!

75th Anniversary of “Casablanca”

For Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart time has come to a standstill. We always view and remember them in that final, excruciatingly romantic adieu. The film “Casablanca”, shot entirely in a backlot of Warner Brothers and that made its debut in the middle of World War II, turns 75 years old now. It was released on November 26th 1942 in the Hollywood Theatre and later won three Academy Oscars: best picture, best director and best screenplay.The sudden success of this melodrama surprised its producers and continues up to this day, as younger generations are bedazzled by its romanticism.

In “Everybody’s comes to Rick’s”, the theatre play that inspired the movie, Rick Blaine was a successful lawyer with a wife and children that decided to give everything up to open a gaming operation in Casablanca. Ilsa Lund, his lover, follows him to that city in order to continue their hot affair. Initially the producers wanted Ronald Reagan to play the central character. The character of Sam was supposed to be played by Ella Fitzgerald or Lena Horne, not a man who did not even know how to play the famous piano.

Ingrid Bergman complained several times to Michael Curtiz, the director, that Humphrey Bogart was not putting enough passion in the love scenes; the actor had a good reason to hold off, as his wife Mayo Methot was jealous. Well into the filming process the producers and director did not know how to end the movie. Will Ilsa and Rick come together? Will they separate? They re-wrote that scene many times until they found a credible way; the actors received the final script just a few hours before the shooting.

The famous line at the end of the movie—“I believe that this is the beginning of a great friendship”—was added in the post-production stage and Humphrey Bogart was expressly summoned to register it with his voice. There was a scandal in the Oscar awards ceremony when Jack Warner, the harsh head of the studio, sprinted out of his seat to receive the statue while Hal Wallis, the producer and rightful recipient of it, was blocked in his seat. When Humphrey Bogart stepped out of the car with his wife at the ceremony the crowd surged forward and was contained by a phalanx of police officers, The admirers clapped wildly and shouted: “here’s looking at you, kid.”

In this “modern” age of unbridled input of visual and auditory stimuli that literally overwhelm our capacity to process so much information in a hurry, a little slowing down to properly appreciate this masterpiece, affectionately cuddling with some good company and the drink of our choice, is a welcome alternative for a rainy weekend afternoon. A little romanticism can soothe our hearts and recharge our spirits for the long term survival.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Thank you Readers and Bloggers

Dear friends:

One week ago the Hurricane Irma—the largest and strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean—started to hit the South Florida shores. As there was a mandatory evacuation of Miami Beach, my son and I took refuge in an old apartment in Downtown Miami. The structure was sturdy enough to withstand the more than 150 miles-an hour winds that started howling down the streets on Sunday morning but the windows seemed to be on the verge of exploding and we took refuge for an hour in a small closet. That was only the beginning of our ordeal. In the afternoon the power went out and did not return for days. On Wednesday I had the beginning of a severe “heat stroke” syndrome and my son Gian Luca quickly took me out of that sweltering place to bring me back to Miami Beach, which certainly saved my life.

Now I am slowly, yet steadily, recovering with bed rest, anti-inflammatory medication and good hydration in a properly fitted place to stand the Florida summer’s heat. As my mother Gladys used to admonish us: ” there is nothing like a son in your life.”

Thank you my dearest son Giani for accompanying me and saving me.

As the Whatsapp and Messenger services were never discontinued, we could keep in touch with our relatives and closest friends that supported us. When the Internet service was re-established I accessed many messages from you, the readers of this page, for which I thank you from the depth of my heart.

One of the few benefits of the forced rest of the past few days has been the possibility to catch up with a lot of reading without any work/life pressures. One of the books I read was “Les vertus de l’échec”, a best-seller in France, that deals with the benefits of failure to find the right pathway to success. As I want to share this jewel with you, I decided to start a new series called “Foreign book review” that will discuss new books that have not yet being printed in English.

The solidarity of so many bloggers from the planet prodded me to consider, with the critical stimulus of some enthusiastic ladies, to start the process of forming an association of bloggers and videotubers. We are a quasi-anarchic group of independent writers and filmmakers that prize the freedom of expressing our ideas without the constraint of the cultural establishment. However we work in an imperfect, dangerous world, for which we need assistance and networking for major issues. When the time to negotiate contracts for publicity and other commercial interests comes, the professional advice of a mutual association that backs us might make the real difference. Let’s explore and discuss this initiative together in the next few months.

Thank you all my readers and fellow bloggers for so much sympathy and affection.

May God Almighty bless you and your families.

The first blogger

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in London in 1874 and passed away in Beaconsfield in 1936. During his prolific professional career, he wrote thousands of articles that were regularly published in the press and also poems, plays, novels, philosophy essays with a clear, easygoing prose. His supposedly verbose verbiage has baffled his readers and critics for decades. He gave his opinion on countless subjects of social importance, without claiming to be the ultimate expert, thus prodding civic debate amongst his readers.

Looking in retrospect at his amazing intellectual output, he can be considered as a pioneer of mass communications in the English language. A blogger. The first one.

G.K. Chesterton grew up in a middle-class family that was politically liberal but adhered to the Unitarian church as well. His happy childhood was shaken by the sudden death of his sister Beatrice, a lasting remembrance. It was the only subject his father refused to ever discuss with him, As such it taught him the value of both memory and silence in the human relationships. Two years after her death, his brother Cecil was born and they remained close throughout their lifetimes; he was the “critical audience” he needed. Cecil and Gilbert often engaged in written sparring over subjects of pressing interest but they knew how to argue them in a civilized manner in an acrimonious age.

Chesterton studied in the Slade School of Visual Art in London, for which his prose is filled with imagery and not too much classical linear argumentation. He tackled almost any subject of importance of his times in his journal articles, sometimes spreading his reach too thin. Critics said that his lack of focus prevented him from attaining a “scholarly depth” for lasting value; he did not pay any attention to them as he openly claimed the mantle of a “popular writer” and not of a haughty academician. He never trusted the persuasive power of “pure reason”, which he associated with insanity, but rather preferred a slightly less focused and more tainted rhetoric that could reach a massive audience and not only the educated elite. Reading “Heretics”, a series of personal essays that support a thesis, we have the feeling of being seated in a Piccadilly Circus café chatting with friends and not listening to a pompous professor at Oxford University.

His taste for paradox prodded him to use the power of popular journalism to make a case in his essays for abstraction; he considered that the most important thing for a man is his view of the Universe, i.e. his philosophy.  The most important thing is not to choose between “the abstract’ and “the practical” but to seize “the practicality of the abstraction” for daily usage.

G.K. Chesterton, quick witted and courageous writer, as well as an honest critic of the prevailing social prejudices, we salute you as the often disrespected pathfinder in the long-term quest for Truth that also we, the modern bloggers, have embraced. Thank you.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.