Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Son of the She-Wolf

For the readers who don’t know, during the Fascist era Italian boys ages six to eight were enlisted in an organization called the “Children of the She-Wolf,” from Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, who according to the myth were suckled by a she-wolf. 
Italian artist Hugo Pratt, the creator of Corto Maltese, was one of them, and followed his father to Africa, as a very young member of the colonial police. 
The link between the Italian Right and the ink heroes like Corto Maltese and Tex Willer (the most widely read comics in the world), created by Italian artists, is explored very well by a book by Roberto Alfatti Appetiti, All’armi siam fumetti (To arms! We’re comics!), edited by Italian writer Miro Renzaglia and published by I Libri de "Il Fondo." The book is a collection of articles and interviews published  by Alfatti Appetiti between 2006 and 2010. As far as I know, this aspect of the Italian graphic novels production was never dealt with before, by a non-Italian author. I hope you'll find the article as interesting as I did. 
I'd like to thank J.J.P. for reviewing the English text. Your comments will be very appreciated.
Thank you, 
L. Pavese

Hugo Pratt. The Child of the She-Wolf with the suitcase always packed.
By Roberto Alfatti Appetiti
Translated by L. Pavese

Flatterers in life and braggarts after death. Every great man attracts to himself this invisible yet threatening army. They are all ready to swear: I was there! Friends (presumed), eyewitnesses (by hearsay), marginal figures who reinvent themselves as main characters. Shadows in search of reflected light. Professional biographers. Therefore, when I heard that a new book about Hugo Pratt was on its way, I thought: another one? Is there anything else to know about the creator of Corto Maltese that hasn’t already been amply told or sounded out in those so-called in-depth media programs or, moreover, anything that hasn’t already been told by Pratt himself, with his extraordinary affable character?
The answer, after reading Con Hugo (With Hugo, published by Marsilio) is yes; because the author is Silvina Pratt, the daughter of the master. Silvina has been translating his work since the age of eighteen. Not for her father’s favoritism, but because certain expressions in Venetian dialect would have been incomprehensible to anyone else. Because the book is an authentic witness account from someone who knew (very well) and loved (very much) the other Hugo Pratt, the man.
Hugo?  “One who leaves, one belongs  to others - literally, one might say, since the copyright of his work  was taken away from his children - , nevertheless, someone who, after all, will always be your parent.
“Loving, for sure, but also restless. Brusque, but his cheerfulness could be as infectious as his sadness. A person of bursting vitality, alternating with sudden gloom.
“With him it was like being on a roller-coaster. With his steely blue eyes, as sharp as chisels, he was able to make anyone lower theirs. He was aware of his power over others - writes Silvina - and he was not happy about it; actually, at times, he was furious and sad, because of it.”
Pratt was less slender and not as elegant as Corto Maltese, his “spiritual” alter-ego; that paper child of his, whom he had sent out in the world at the beginning of the 20th century; but, if it’s  possible, he was even more charismatic.

“ On the left palm of his hand,” wrote Alberto Ongaro in the preface of the book, talking about Corto, “he still bears the scar that marks a false luck line. In reality, he hasn’t had much luck. The things that he conquers slip away through his fingers, so regularly, that one can’t help but suspect that Corto is the one who lets them slip away. Truly, the only thing that matters to him is to play a part in the world of adventure.” And what could be a better definition for Hugo Pratt.  Always with his suitcase packed, running from himself, allergic to ties; not at all venal and, basically, enamored only of adventure.
“My father was always ready to embellish the truth. He always wanted to transform and correct everything. His name, his past, his family. Reality must have looked too dull to him.”
Too often Pratt was distant; when he was far away, but also when he was around but immersed in his dreams. Even in the family home of Malamocco, a fishing village at the tip of the Lido of Venice, he could sit for hours watching the play of the waves breaking on the rocks. To the point that Silvina wrote: “The most painful memory is his absence.”
But there is no trace of bitterness towards Hugo, as she always called him. Never dad. “No one of his children ever called him dad. I tried when I was about four or five. He didn’t say a word, but he jumped around as he had received an electric shock.  
“For a child of the she-wolf like him, the nephew of one of the founders of the Fascist party of Venice, it had probably been better to toughen up very early. Hugo was an only child, and he felt great admiration for the men in his family. As a teenage soldier,  he left for the war in Africa and witnessed his father Rolando, a Fascist, being imprisoned and later die, sick, in a prisoners of war camp under the African sun.”
Silvina also tells of his grandmother Lina, Hugo’s mother: “She preserved many mementos of “her Africa,” of “her Italy.” A black and white picture of her husband in uniform hung to be admired above her bed.  After all, even little Hugo, who had been enlisted by his father in the colonial police at the age of fourteen, would be totally fascinated by those Italian uniforms.

“It was the military that gave him his forma mentis.” explains Silvina. “ Those years spent in a miserable and dirty camp. At about seven in the evening, the African trumpets would sound. While the colors of the French flag were being lowered from the mast, he felt like crying. He would have liked to see the green, on that flag, instead of that blue.”
In any case, Hugo felt no yearning for war. “It destroyed my family, how could I love it?” Recounted Pratt himself. “I saw my mother’s pain. I lost friends, like Sandro Gerardi, who had sided with the Fascists, and was killed by the partisans.
“The war forced me to mature and to understand what’s behind ideologies and politics, the nonsense of patriotism and imperialism.”
With the end of hostilities, “finally peace came,” recalled Pratt with ferocious irony. “And with the new generation came mandatory political engagement. The word adventure was banned. It had never been well received anyway, either by Catholic or by Socialist culture. After all, adventure is an element of disturbance of the family and of work. It brings confusion and disorder. The adventurer, like Corto Maltese, is a stateless individualist; he lacks the sense of the collective.
“One had to brush up his Marx and his Engels - two authors who bored me immediately. I was accused of hedonism, of being childish, of being a Fascist; but above all of escapism, of being pointless. Like all those writers that I loved, and I was supposed to forget. But I could not do that, and I realized that there was a lot of other people who read the authors in question. Eventually, we came to identify ourselves as an élite whose aim was to be pointless.”
But that label of Fascist had stuck. Not that he cared.
Back in Italy from Africa, Hugo joined the Repubblica Sociale. As a kid, he witnessed the epic deeds of the X M.A.S. - and he even considered joining it, in the “Lupo” battalion, just as an adventure - as well as the the anti-German resistance and the arrival of the Allies. Then he had followed his true vocation: the art of the comics.
At the young age of eighteen, Hugo Pratt was among the founders of the Asso di Picche (the Ace of Spades). At the age of twenty-two he was in Argentina, where he would remain for thirteen years, cooperating with - among others - Hector G. Oesterheld, the future writer of the science fiction work, El Eternauta.

In Argentina he met the very young Anne Frognier, of Belgian origin, whom he married. Anne was the mother of Silvina and the inspiration for Pratt’s Anna della Giungla, Anne of the Jungle, the main character of the serial graphic novel by the same name.
Afterwards, a second marriage with Gucky Wogerer, the mother of Lucas and Marina. Then Brazil, San Paolo, London, the return to Italy and the cooperation with the Corriere dei Piccoli; and at the end of 1960’s the move to Paris, after the closure of Sgt. Kirk, the magazine that he had started in 1967 with the Genoese Florenzo Ivaldi, on which he had published the Argentine work, the series Gli Scorpioni del Deserto, set in Africa during WWII, and the first story of Corto Maltese, Una Ballata del Mare Salato, A Ballad of the Salt Sea.
On the very popular French weekly comics magazine Pif Gadget, Pratt would publish twenty-one short stories, but the cooperation was interrupted suddenly in 1973 because, writes Silvina, “the libertarian tendencies of my father did not coincide with the directives that steered the magazine towards Communist obedience.”
Hugo preferred to quit Pif and to accept the proposal of the competition, Casterman, the editor of Hergé and the weekly TinTin (for more information on Hergé, take a look at this post on this blog. Thanks).
Finally success arrived. The legend of Corto Maltese grew from France as well as many other places, and even Hugo Pratt himself became a charismatic figure. Milo Manara, who was a friend and a student of the Venetian artist, transformed him into the main character of the serial H.P. e Giuseppe Bergman.
Manara had this to say about Pratt: “His evocative capacity is so enthralling that his continuous search for graphic essentiality actually adds to the drawing, instead of taking away from it. From one of Pratt’s pictures, one can actually establish the time of day of the action, the intensity of the light, the force of the sun, if it was hot or cold.”

The last Corto’s story, Mu, is from 1988. “Corto would not die,” said Pratt. “He would just go away. Because in a world where everything is electronics, engineered and industrialized, there’s no room for a man like Corto Maltese.” A bit like Pratt did, when in the mid 1980’s he retired to Grandvaux, near Lausanne, in a house large enough to house his vast library, with a view on Lake Geneva.
Shortly before dying, Hugo Pratt, with colorist Patrizia Zanotti, founded the publishing house Lizard, which publishes all the works of the master, including non-fiction works about him, Corto Maltese and the places dear to Pratt’s literature.
Luckily, so far we have been spared a movie. A while ago, a film version of Corto Maltese was proposed to Renato Salvatores, the author of Mediterraneo, who declined.
“I said no,” said the Neapolitan director, “because the producer wanted to turn Corto Maltese into a sort of Indiana Jones. I’d rather let him sail on that thin line of ink, and dream about a movie written by Hugo Pratt and directed by Sergio Leone. Maybe those two are already working on it, somewhere.” 


Sunday, August 10, 2014

One Hand Always Points to the Truth

The Clock of Palazzo Vecchio
and the Florentine Detective.
By Roberto Vacca.

To everyone he was VP, not as in Vice President, but as in Vice Padrino. He was very self-confident. He was feared from Vegas to Miami, from Como to Capo Passero. Everyone obeyed him. He said:
“Special agent Patrick O’Cuillenain followed me all the way here to Italy. That Irish son-of-a-bitch is going around saying he’s here just as a tourist. But he’s really sticking his nose where he’s not supposed to. I am gonna waste him myself.”
His cousin objected:
“VP, no. Do not expose yourself. We can send one of the boys.”
“No, I’m gonna do it myself. This is personal.”
Agent O’Cuillenain was pleased with his escort. Jack Ryan was an old friend. He was also Irish and spoke Italian well. O’Cuillenain had also hit it off with the Italian Florentine Carabinier Carlo Guarducci. He had sized the Italian up right away as smart, confident and reliable.
The three of them had eaten in a very good restaurant in Trastevere, then Ryan and Guarducci had taken O’Cuillenain to Saint Peter’s Square.
The Irish detective’s eyes panned over the vast colonnade. He was looking for the spot from which all the pillars appeared to be lined up, as if there was only one of them. He froze. VP was standing in front of the colonnade, smiling at him from thirty feet away.
The huge hand of the gangster was wrapped around a large .45 caliber semi-automatic gun. The grips of prized wood had been carved especially for him. VP fired two shots in rapid sequence. The 154 grains of each slug pierced O’Cuillenain’s chest, killing him on the spot.

Ryan and Guarducci stared at VP’s face for a moment. They were about to return fire, but a large grey SUV drove up at high speed and stopped in front of them, blocking their view. Then the car bolted, taking away VP who had jumped aboard.
Ryan and Guarducci shot at the car, but it quickly disappeared in the direction of the Aurelia. Then they saw that the Irish agent was dead. Guarducci called headquarters, relayed what had just happened and reported the SUV’s license plate number.
While they were running to their Alfa Romeo service car, Guarducci asked:
“Did you recognize him?”
“Sure!” answered Ryan, “VP is very well known. Patrick had chased him all the way here. I have his picture. Circulate it, and let’s block airports, train stations and border crossings.”
Guarducci took the American’s cell-phone and transmitted the photograph. Then he turned on the siren and, with a screech of tires, he and Ryan took off in the Alfa Romeo.
“Let’s go to Fiumicino!. We’ve got to catch him!”
“This time he’s got no defense. We caught him red-handed, with the smoking gun. He’s going to be extradited to Texas, where they’ve still got capital punishment. With our testimony, he’s finished. Fix this time in your memory: 3:50 PM. What do you say in Italy? 15:50, on June 21.
But VP did not show up at any airport or railroad station. He was arrested several hours later in a nice Florence hotel in Santa Maria Novella Square. He was in the company of his famous attorney.
Ryan got to the Florence prison first and gave his testimony. Guarducci’s train was late. When the Carabinier arrived at the Sollicciano detention center, Ryan ran towards him before he got in.  
“Carlo! This is not possible! VP’s lawyer’s here. He testified that yesterday afternoon VP was in Florence with him. He even has a picture of the two of them, in front of Palazzo Vecchio. The clock is visible, and it’s marking the exact time VP shot O’Cuillenain, at three fifty. There’s even a lady going by with yesterday’s paper in her hands. What’s going on? Did they find a double of VP, here in Italy?” Ryan was overcome with grief.
Guarducci took the large photograph, and looked at it carefully. Then he smiled.
“These gangsters of yours are really dumb! How did they think they could get away with it here in Florence? Don’t you know the story?
“What story? It seems to me VP’s got an ironclad alibi.”
Guarducci shook his head.
“Not at all! Read your Michelin guide! The clock in this picture is marking ten in the morning! It’s one of those rare ancient clocks with only one hand: the long one; and it’s marking the hours. To figure out the minutes you have to estimate tehm, based on where the hand is, between one hour and the next.
“The short hand is just a counterweight, and it stays always opposite the long one, on the same diameter. Every foreigner believes the clock is broken. Not so. In this case the short hand is indicating four, but it doesn’t count.
“That idiot VP took his picture yesterday morning at 10, and he was sure he was going to fool us; but he didn’t take into account that there could be a Florentine in the Italian police.”
Ryan smiled too, he was relieved.
“Good. He’s not getting away now. But what kind of clocks do you make here? Aren’t you embarrassed?” 
“Maybe we should change it; but change here happens at a very slow pace. However,  the clock was built in the 1600’s by a German.”

This short story was written for the June 2014 issue of the Italian magazine L'Orologio
Roberto Vacca by training is an engineer and a computer scientist. He has taught at universities in Rome and Milan, but has achieved fame in Italy and abroad as a science writer and as a fiction author. Probably his most famous novel is "Death of Megalopolis" (1974), and it can be found (with most of his other very interesting and very readable books), both in Italian and in English, on Dr. Vacca's site:
On this blog there are several other articles by Dr. Vacca, which I translated into English. This is about total war. This one is about the mechanics of free falling, and this is about writing and blogging, basically. Check them out, I'm sure you will find them interesting. 
The picture of the clock tower, reflecting in the puddle, is by Miguel Duarte.
I'd like to thank J.J.P. for reviewing the English text, and to thank you in advance for your comments.
Leonardo Pavese

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Maggiolino nel senso di Bolide

Tanto per sdrammatizzare un po' (dopo guerre e maomettani), parliamo di automobili, design e marketing. O meglio, lasciamo parlare Eric Peters , che lo fa di professione, ed è più al corrente di me, per quel che riguarda il mercato dell'auto. Per quanto mi riguarda, è solo un'occasione per guardare vecchie foto e belle illustrazioni, ma spero che il pezzo che ho tradotto vi interesserà. I vostri commenti saranno molto graditi. Grazie,
L. Pavese

The Beetle as a Speedster.
di Eric Peters.
(Tradotto da Leonardo Pavese)

Negli Stati Uniti, la Volkswagen ha cambiato di nuovo il nome del Maggiolino, da New Beetle a semplicemente Beetle. Ma un appellativo molto più adatto sarebbe stato Speedster. ( In Italia si direbbe Spider, da speeder, se non volesse ormai dire decapottabile; anche se, io ho una mia teoria, qualche sapientone lo ha mutato in spyder credendo che fosse scritto male ndt ). Magari anche New Speedster. Ma non Beetle, per piacere, che sia nuovo o no. E questa non intende essere una critica del nuovo Maggiolino; solo una chiarificazione. Mi è venuta in mente mentre contemplavo la Turbo Beetle S che la VW mi ha inviato da guidare per una settimana. Quest’auto, negli Stati Uniti, ha un motore a quattro cilindri da 200 hp (kW 149), a iniezione diretta e raffreddato a liquido, che aziona l’avantreno. È molto rapida: da 0 a 60 miglia orarie (circa km/h 95) in poco più di 6 secondi. E veloce: è in grado di viaggiare tutto il giorno a più di km/h 160. Gli sbirri potrebbero causarvi dei problemi, ma l’auto di sicuro no.

Molto bene, anzi fantastico, direte voi. Ma che cosa ha in comune con il Maggiolino? Cioè con la volkswagen, l’auto delle masse? La parentela è molto remota, tenue, a essere generosi. Il Maggiolino originale era soprattutto un mezzo molto semplice di viaggiare da A a B. Era tutt’altro che una spider, ma era molto economica, nell’acquisto e nel mantenimento. Il prezzo base negli Stati Uniti, nel 1970, era di $ 1980, equivalente a poco più di 12000 Baracks di valuta inflazionata corrente, e a circa la metà del prezzo di una Beetle turbo-compressa del 2014. Il motore raffreddato ad aria, nel bagagliaio del Maggiolino originale (che un bagagliaio non lo aveva), sedeva sopra le ruote posteriori e le azionava. Il motore aveva un solo accessorio: l’alternatore, trascinato da una cinghia. Niente servo-sterzo. Non ne aveva bisogno, perché la parte anteriore dell’auto era leggerissima. Se è per quello, l’intera auto pesava solo circa 1600 libbre ( kg 725 ).

La Beetle del 2014 pesa il doppio, e del servo-sterzo ne ha proprio bisogno. E anche dei servo-freni. La nuova Beetle dispone anche di controllo climatico ad aria condizionata. Anche alcune delle vecchie Beetle (negli Stati Uniti) avevano l’aria condizionata, installata dalla concessionaria; ma era un’idea antitetica rispetto al concetto originario dell’auto; e una stupidaggine in tutti i sensi. Lo stesso vale per il cambio automatico (anche se nel caso della vecchia Beetle si dovrebbe parlare di cambio semi-automatico). La quasi totalità dei vecchi Maggiolini avevano il cambio manuale, naturalmente; e senza la frizione ad azionamento idraulico; non era necessaria: un cavetto funzionava benissimo.

Il classico motore boxer del Maggiolino originario poteva essere mantenuto e riparato da chiunque (be’, quasi chiunque), con qualche cacciavite, una chiave inglese e un po’ di pazienza. E il Maggiolino classico era pure “carino”, naturalmente. Ma per puro caso. Il designer (Ferdinando Porsche) aveva voluto massimizzare lo spazio interiore di un’auto che dal di fuori era relativamente molto piccola. Ora, questo Nuovo Maggiolino è un’auto molto più grande, molto più costosa  e di gran lunga più complessa. La sua “graziosità” (viene in mente l’antigrazioso di Umberto Boccioni), e la “sportività” sono le sue principali e intenzionali attrattive. Il che la rende molto diversa dalla sua progenitrice, e ci riporta indietro alla faccenda della Speedster. La primogenita della famiglia Porsche era di profilo ribassato, con una linea del tettuccio “tagliata” e fatta, per l’appunto, per correre.


Era anche molto attraente. La vita e la morte di James Dean sarebbero state meno affascinanti, se si fosse ammazzato su un Maggiolino invece che con la sua Porsche, battezzata Little Bastard. Anzi, probabilmente, non sarebbe neanche morto; perché se fosse stato alla guida di una Beetle non sarebbe mai riuscito a far andare l’auto abbastanza veloce da farsi male: i Maggiolini originari impiegavano circa trenta secondi a raggiungere i km/h 95, e non andavano oltre i km/h 120, con un po’ di vento in coda. Ma date un’occhiata alla Beetle del 2014, e paragonatela all’immortale Porsche 356, e poi ditemi, a chi assomiglia ‘sto bambino? La Volkswagen dovrebbe meditarci un po’.

Le Porsche odierne sono giocattoli per ricconi, ma quelle del passato non lo erano. Infatti, una volta, (per “una volta” s’intende gli anni 1950, ‘60 e anche gli inizi degli anni 70) vi era persino una certa sovrapposizione di segmenti fra le Porsche e le Volkswagen; anche se quelli della Porsche, oggi, preferirebbero non parlarne. Un acquirente medio, che poteva permettersi un Maggiolino (negli Stati Uniti) poteva anche permettersi una Porsche. Erano auto diverse, ovviamente: una ideata per la guida sportiva, l’altra per la guida economica.

Il Maggiolino dei giorni nostri è velocissimo, ma non è un’auto a buon mercato. Detto questo, rimane pur sempre molto meno costoso della più economica delle Porsche (la Boxster, nella sua versione base, costa $51400). Ma (consiglio alla Volkswagen), immaginatevi una VW Speedster Turbo. Prezzo sempre nell’orbita del Signor Rossi (l’acquirente medio, tanto per capirci). Accentuatene l’aspetto delle prestazioni, l’attrattiva. Battete sul prezzo la Porsche. O meglio, riconducete la Porsche alle sue radici. Basta non chiamarla Porsche. Toglietevi dalla testa quest’idea di legare il Maggiolino del 2014 con quello di una volta. Non ha senso, e non funziona. In un certo senso, la Volkswagen lo ha già riconosciuto, dando un taglio più "mascolino" alla nuova Beetle; la quale non assomiglia affatto all'innocuo Maggiolino dell'antichità; ma assomiglia moltissimo a una classica Porsche 356, anche nella guida. E allora perché non renderlo ufficiale?

356 by Alain Levesque

Eric Peters scrive su un popolarissimo blog (, di auto, motociclette e questioni di libertà individuale. Su questo blog ci sono altri interessanti articoli di Eric che ho tradotto in italiano: uno è sull'eliminazione del motore a otto cilindri a V, decretata dal governo statunitense. Un altro è sui problemi che i cuscini salvavita (le airbag), e l'obbligo d'installarle, potrebbero causarvi; e infine uno sui sussidi del governo degli Stati Uniti alle auto elettriche.
Sono stati tutti tradotti e pubblicati qui col suo permesso.
Leonardo Pavese