02 January 2015

Italy In the Dark

Alongside hot yoga, In the Dark Radio has been one of my great passions of 2014. 

In the Dark Radio is a mini-revolution in radio, in listening - we curate themed listening events, creating audio programmes of the world's most innovative radio makers & producers. 

It started out as a group in London. Late last year, a friend and I started running it in Manchester - and early this year, when he left to try out great big London for himself, I had a choice: run In the Dark Manchester on my own, or let Manchester, this brilliant city, continue existing without it.

I kept it going on my own and ran 6 events through the year. It was a lot of work, but now, it's changing & growing & getting even more exciting. In the Dark Manchester is now a proper group, with, you know, more than one member.

And In the Dark has been kind to me, as well - not only did I get to go to my first ever British music festival (Latitude), but I also got to attend & present some of our favourite international audio pieces at the Internazionale Festival in Italy - an incredible treat. 

I hadn't been to Italy since I was a child - back when you bought things in lira. The festival was from 2nd-5th October - since the last day coincided with our first wedding anniversary, he decided to come join me in Italy - and we made it into a week-long celebration! (That part will be in another post, coming soon...this post is just about the festival.)

The Internazionale festival was in Ferrara, a little town I'd never heard of before, with a blocky domineering castle in the middle of it. The festival was in this strange castle (note the actual moat!) and our In the Dark events were held in the dungeon!

This was the dungeon, where we held our listening events. The water in the moat was just visible through the gated, arched windows. 

The pieces we played out were perfect for the event - both involved multiple languages, both involved the tricky am-I-being-understood feeling that takes over when you're in a new country, with new people. My favourite was by Katarina Smets, Senza Parole.

The only downside to Ferrara - the only thing that stops me moving there just about now - are the mosquitoes. I'm not even sure they are mosquitoes. They are giant flying bugs, possibly military drones, that bite you (me) with all the righteously true aim of the vengeful. They hate you (me). They keep you (ME) up at night, flying at you (ME ME ME oh god ME), like some kamikaze mote of dust, and bite, over and over and over again. 

Needless to say, I spent my days in Ferrara slightly tired, scratching my ankles & I spent my evenings... not getting great sleep. 

FUN FACT: Enzo Ferrari, the guy who, you know, invented the Ferrari or something, is actually from Northern Italy, very near Ferrara.

The festival treated us really well & I made some new friends in Italy. They put us up at a little church-turned-hotel, with this view every morning.  

The Internazionale Festival is a journalism festival, run by a magazine of the same name. In the English speaking world, we often feel like our media is half-baked, whether it's 24 hour news always chasing the bloodied victims of some horrific event, or it's local news, proclaiming the newest excellent thing to happen to our lovely town.In Italy, though, the newspapers almost exclusively cover Italian politics. As in, front page - Matteo Renzi (Italian Prime Minister). Pages 2-8? Italian Parliament. Meanwhile, stories about international issues, like say, ISIS  - flounder in page 9, if they get covered at all.Internazionale, the magazine, was founded partly to fill this gap in Italian journalism - and the festival is largely about bringing Italy's journalists together with the international experts - to try to give these other stories some room, some awareness. It was a little bit shocking for me to realise that in this Western European country, even many journalists wouldn't have seen a documentary about Rwanda. Jonathan Zenti, one of the festival organisers, told me that he just reads the Guardian, rather than even looking at Italian news sources - which is fine for him, as he speaks/comprehends English really well. He didn't seem to think all Italians got their news elsewhere, though.
Given the choice between watching documentaries on human rights tragedies or wandering around a warm Italian city in the sun, I think you can guess that I spent nearly every day just wandering around Ferrara's gorgeous little alleyways. Occasionally, I stumbled on a park. 

As I wandered, I listened to Lea Thau's 'Love Hurts' series on the Strangers podcast, an intimate peeling and prodding and untangling of love & relationships. (Go listen now).This is the Palazzo Dei Diamante, which I read about one morning, before heading out to find it. I translated with my non-existent Italian, in my head: "Palace of Diamonds! Covered with marble & 8500 diamonds - sparkly!"When I found it, I realised that actually, it is an entire facade of pink & white marble, carved into 8500 diamond shapes.

It is actually a breathtaking and impressive building - it can only be a disappointment if you, like me, thought there would be 8500 diamonds stuck to a building, which had somehow evaded pillaging. It can only be a disappointment if you, like me, are a little bit dim when you're in a new place, slightly tired from nightly bloodletting by  mosquitoes that might well be weaponised military insects full of vengeance. 

Some friends of Jonathan's made sure to show me & Nina (director of In the Dark) a good time. Ferrara is very proud of its local food. Martina (a resident of Rome) insisted we try a Ferrarese delicacy - pizza with a chickpea flour crust, called pizza ceci in Italian. It was decadent & luxurious. Chickpea flour has an amazing capacity to take in oil & butter & become crisper and more delicious. 

I'm still looking for a decent chickpea flour crust recipe - it would be the perfect experiment for Jonti (whose sourdough pizzas are brilliant already). I also enjoyed some other Ferrarese seasonal delicacies: capellacci di zucca, which are little pasta 'hats' stuffed with butternut pumpkin. More stuffing than ravioli, due to the hat shape & more delicious than most stuffed pastas, due to the pumpkin! Now that Jonti and I are finally getting the hang of our new pasta machine, I think these will become a staple round ours.

Ferrara is surrounded by rambling Italian countryside, dotted with crumbling farmhouses. Jonathan and Martina told me that in 2012, there were earthquakes in Northern Italy that caused a lot of damage - the region is still recovering.

It really is a lovely place. Once you get only 10 minutes from the castle, the whole place feels like a ghost town - quiet, narrow, warm streets, with shuttered windows & a yellowy, old-feeling stillness. 

I think these were the city walls. 

I really liked Ferrara. And, listening to Lea Thau's gentle examination of what it means for us to be strangers and try to connect with each other, I couldn't help thinking that there is something similarly gentle about these empty streets where I, too, was a stranger. 

No comments:

Post a Comment