The Enchanted Glasses

At the age of 18 I had eye surgery, thus getting rid of the glasses I wore since I was a child.
But many years spent between books and laptops, for twelve hours a day, begin to take their toll, and now I’m back to putting on glasses again. I thus rediscovered an enchantment that I had almost forgotten.

Wearing glasses has a double advantage: you can put them on, and take them off.
You can look at things clearly when you need to. If, on the other hand, I take off my glasses and don’t try to focus, rather I relax the muscles around my eyes as much as possible, reality becomes an impressionist painting. The tiniest or most distant details merge into esoteric forms, the identity of which I delight in guessing or inventing, looking for the most implausible solutions (I know that indistinct shape looking out the window above cannot be a horse’s head, but what if it was?). While walking in the park, I can even pretend to be an explorer of an alien world, with my helmet visor fogged up!
In the twilight, then, each room becomes mysterious. My own collection — as I often change places for the various pieces — is no longer familiar to me, if I look at it from a distance. I no longer remember what I put on that shelf, but there’s an object that appears as a soft and uncertain, milky brush stroke… it would be enough to put the glasses back on to know exactly what it is, and it’s enough to not put them on in order to stay lost in the reverie.

Yet it is not just a game. Having these two senses of sight available gives access to two different sensitive realities. One is defined, and allows to be navigated in safety; the other is of an imperfect and wavering beauty, as if lit by a flickering candle. One is dry, the other soft. One is subtle and precise, the other full of nuances.
They are complementary perspectives, even on a philosophical level: seeing everything clearly is useful but sad, like always being sober; seeing blurred gives access to the particular poetry of the unfinished but it is incapacitating, like always being drunk.

In his book In Praise of Shadows, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki wrote:

Remove the lid from a ceramic bowl, and there lies the soup, every nuance of ist substance and color revealed. With lacquerware there is a beauty in that moment between removing the lid and lifting the bowl to the mouth when one gazes at the still, silent liquid in the dark depths of the bowl, its color hardly differing from that of the bowl itself. What lies within the darkness one cannot distinguish, but the palm senses the gentle movements of the liquid, vapor rises from within forming droplets on the rim, and the fragrance carried upon the vapor brings a delicate anticipation. What a world of difference there is between this moment and the moment when soup is serverd Western style, in a pale, shallow bowl. A moment of mystery, it might almost be called, a moment of trance.

And finally there is one last wonder: without glasses, I can observe my own gaze. That is, I can concentrate on the “filter”, that slight blur that stands between me and reality and makes my vision so indecipherable. I am allowed to contemplate slight changes in the way the world presents itself: according to the light, to my own tiredness, to the dispositions of my heart.

This filter is the gift that time has given me, passing over my eyelids and depositing the patina of the past.

 

The Royal Dwarf Wedding (S02E03)

In this episode of season 2 of Bizzarro Bazar, produced in collaboration with the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia: the secret behind the grotesque wedding organized by Tsar Peter the Great; the story of a sperm whale cub that beached in Italy in the 1930s; the black flood that swept a neighborhood in Boston in 1919.

Directed & Animated by Francesco Erba.

Season Two of Bizzarro Bazar is coming!

On March 21, 2021, the Bizzarro Bazar web series will be back on my YouTube channel with 10 new episodes produced in collaboration with the prestigious Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia.
The episodes, as for the first season, will be published every other week.

By now you know what to expect: strange scientific experiments, quirky characters, human wonders, stories bordering on the impossible — in short, all the classic Bizzarro Bazar repertoire.
As usual, the direction and fantastic animations have been curated by Francesco Erba, but this time we shot the live parts in the exceptional historical collections of the Palazzo dei Musei: in each episode, in the Show & Tell section, one of the museum curators will open a display case just for us, and allow us to discover the most emblematic and curious objects and pieces.

Here is a little trailer to lighten the wait, and see you soon!

Links, Curiosities & Mixed Wonders – 24

  • Quiz: which animal is portrayed in the photo? The solution at the end of the article!
  • When workers broke down a brick wall inside a convent in Leicestershire, they found a couple of skeletons. However, these are anatomical preparations, the bones are numbered and in some cases still articulated with wire. How they got behind a convent wall is still a mystery.
  • In 1968 Barbara Mackle, then 20 years old, became the victim of one of the most infamous kidnappings in history. The girl was locked up in a reinforced box equipped with two tubes for air circulation, then buried in the woods as her kidnappers awaited ransom. Here you find the letter she found upon waking up in her coffin. She spent more than three days underground before she was located and brought to safety.

  • Do you see an ox or an elephant? The one above is among the oldest optical illusions in history.
  • Something is rotten in the state of Denmark“: at least some critical voices seem to think so, as they protest against an animated series for children whose protagonist is a little man with a very long and prehensile penis. Given the contemporary efforts to change the macho/phallocentric mentality, this concept does not strike as very thoughtful, but others claim the cartoon is actually harmless, free from sexual references, respectful towards women and kindly goliardic. A good article (in Italian) on Il Post summarizes the scandal and the different opinions, also embedding some episodes that you can see to get an idea. (Thanks, Massimiliano!)

  • Italy is the country that boasts the largest number of mummies in the world, a unique historical and anthropological heritage (as I explained in this video). Still we are not capable of giving value to this heritage.  In May 1999, two more mummies were found in an excellent state of natural conservation and still dressed in period clothing and jewels, under the Church of the Santissima Annunziata in Siena. And what happened following this exceptional discovery? “We regret the mummified bodies are once again hidden under the floor of the church; as for the ancient  clothes, the jewels, medals and coins found on them, we do not know where they are, nor if they have ever been restored”, a researcher said. Meh.
  • You are stupid. And not only are you stupid, but you are nasty. ” So said one of the letters that arrived in the editorial office of the French magazine Hara-Kiri, founded in 1960. From that moment on, the subtitle of the magazine became “A stupid and nasty newspaper”. A strange editorial case, Hara-Kiri was a satirical, incorrect and in many cases openly obscene magazine, so much so that in the course of its 29 years of activity it went through various judicial troubles (it was after one of these interdictions that the team gave birth to the collateral project Charlie Hebdo, now sadly famous for the terrorist attack of 2015). But perhaps the most distinctive elements of Hara-Kiri remain its covers: shocking, extreme, vulgar, deliberately unpleasant, designed with the intent of épater les bourgeois. Here is a collection of 45 covers that are even today an example of explosive, unhinged and unrestrained punk graphics. (Thanks Marco!)
  • By the way, in Greek mythology even obscenity had its own goddess.
  • Mariano Tomatis gave me a heads-up about a curious text, available for free online, detailing the method devised in the late nineteenth century by the Swedish physiotherapist Thure Brandt to treat numerous female genital pathologies through massages, stretching, lifting. Mariano tells me that “the curious figures employed in the book are an attempt to de-sexualize the subjects’ appearance”; too bad the result looks like a manual of esoteric rituals for aliens.

  • The representation of death often relies on euphemization or symbolic rendering, in order to avoid the “scandal” of the corpse, that is, to avoid being obscene. The approach is different for the kind photography which is aimed at social criticism, where shock is an essential element in order to convey a moral position. This is the case of the series Grief by Hungarian photographer Peter Timar, who between 1980 and 1983 documented the disrespectful and questionable treatment of bodies at the Funeral Institute in Budapest: the corpses piled on top of each other, the collapsed coffins on the floor, the bodies stretched in pairs on the autopsy tables caused a huge controversy when the Mucsamok gallery in Budapest exhibited Timar’s photographs. The exhibition was closed by the authorities a few days after it opened. You can see the Grief series at this link (warning: graphic images).
  • The hangovers of Ancient Egpyptians.
  • The effects of the torture on Guy Fawkes emerge from his writing: above, his signature (“Guido”) just after being tortured at the Tower of London; below, the same signature a week later, when he had regained his strength.

  • Lee Harper is an Oxford-based artist passionate about the darkest side of history; in her works she decided to revisit those bizarre episodes that most struck her imagination, by creating detailed dioramas. “All of the pieces — says the artist’s statement — are about real people, events or customs from some point in this crazy world.” Those range from Countess Bathory’s bloodbaths to sin-eaters, from Freeman’s Lobotomobile to body snatchers. But, as if the events represented weren’t enough to make you shiver with morbid delight, Lee Harper’s grotesque miniature scenes are all played out by little skeleton actors. You can see her creations on History Bones and on her Instagram profile.

  • In this tweet, I joked about COVID-19 killing off one of the most picturesque sideshow routines. Here’s an old post (Italian only) I wrote on Melvin Burkhardt, the legendary inventor of the performance in question.
  • But COVID also took away Kim Ki-Duk, one of the major Korean directors. If many remember him for 3-Iron, Pietà or Spring Summer…, here on these pages it seems just right to remember him for his most disturbing and extreme film, The Isle (2000). One of the best Italian reviews, written by Giuseppe Zucco, called it a “powder-keg film”: a cruel and moving representation of incommunicability between human beings, which can be overcome only at the cost of hurting each other, tearing the flesh to the point of erasing oneself into the Other.

  • Sturgeons smashing doors, candles that “sulk”, rotting cats under the bed, panthers exhumed and tasted… This article (in Italian) on the larger-than-life figure of Frank Buckland is a true riot of oddities.
  • The Taus is an Indian chordophone musical instrument, originating from Punjab. Created, according to tradition, by the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind (1595-1644), it is composed of a 20-fret neck and a body sculpted in the shape of a peacock. Real peacock feathers were often added to the instrument to complete the illusion.

Quiz solution: The animal pictured at the beginning of the post is a moth that’s been parasitized by a Cordyceps fungus. And that’s all for now!

Happy 2021!

There is always an unexpected point in a celebration where an embarrassed silence falls for a moment.
Then a tiny crack of uncertainty opens, in which the diners seem to realize the futility of the party itself. It’s just a small treacherous blow, under the belt of smiles and jokes, an imperceptible hesitation from which we recover immediately.
But as a boy I hated parties and secretly enjoyed those moments of estrangement: “Human beings have been partying for centuries, for millennia, but what the hell is there to celebrate? Don’t they see the cosmos out there, how scary and cold and terrible it is? ”
Perhaps, I said to myself – with the classic haughtiness of the adolescent who thinks he’s the first to notice certain things – perhaps it is precisely in order not to see the void, to dispel the thought of nonsense, that these pathetic fools dance and they shout and laugh like madmen!

It took me a shamefully long time, and a lot of effort, to get over this thought. To admit the colossal courage necessary for the affirmation of joy; to understand the mystery, still alive today, of the ancient Dionysian fury; to recognize that the urgency of dance is just as powerful as the need for poetry.

This year that we are denied any kind of partying, its cardinal importance is even more evident: the flesh itself seems to claim its right to be unleashed, released.
My wish, therefore, for anyone who is reading, is to soon go back to dancing together, each following their own rhythm – unique, funny, deviant, rambling, capricious, clumsy or irregular … in the face of convention, but also in the face of that universe we imagine to be cold and inhospitable.

Perhaps, dancing for no reason is just what the stars have always been doing.

KEEP THE WORLD WEIRD!

 

Happy holidays!

I haven’t been updating the blog lately, because it has been an intense period. Together with director Francesco Erba we completed the filming of the second season of the Bizzarro Bazar web series inside the spectacular Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia, and now post-production has begun.

However, I did not miss the opportunity to have a little chat with The Thinker’s Garden, one of the most stimulating spaces on the web: during the interview we talked about my relationship with Padua (and in particular about an autobiographical episode that ties me to the Morgagni Museum), about the Master in Death Studies organized by prof. Ines Testoni, and about the latest news regarding the series.

And with this little update, I wish you happy holidays!

 

Two écorchés: a brief consideration

This image is perhaps my favorite anatomical plate ever, from Valverde‘s Historia de la composicion del cuerpo humano, 1556. From a philological point of view it is one of those images that demonstrate how sacred iconography influenced anatomical illustration (the reference here is San Bartolomeo), but my love for this figure is motivated by another aspect.
Not only is it a refined, metaphysical, surreal, grotesque and disturbing plate, but above all it is philosophically programmatic. The man is holding the dagger in his hand, so he just skinned himself: this is an autopsy not only in the etymological sense of seeing for oneself, looking with one’s own eyes, but above all autopsy as seeing oneself.

The famous warning of the temple of Delphi, “Know Thyself”, involves an act of cruelty: every introspection implies stripping away from appearances (the superficial skin) and making a scorched earth of one’s own certainties. To look “inside” in a honest way you have to flay yourself, a process that is anything but pleasant.
The mosaic of San Gregorio in Rome, in the second image, bears the inscription gnōthi sautón, know thyself: and it is no coincidence that it represents another écorché ante litteram, this time used as a memento mori.

Knowing oneself means considering one’s own mortality, but each of us has to decide: is accepting impermanence the end of any quest, or just the beginning?

The Ouija Sessions: Paul Grappe

In the sixth and final episode of The Ouija Sessions, you will hear the exceptional story of Paul Grappe, who fled from war using an unsuspected disguise.

If you liked the series, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel… soon there’ll be more surprises!

The Ouija Sessions Ep.4: Joseph Pujol

In the new video of The Ouija Sessions I tell you about the amazing career of Joseph Pujol aka Le Pétomane, fart artist at the Moulin Rouge.

(Turn on Eng Subs!)

The Ouija Sessions Ep.3: LoBagola

At the beginning of the 20th century a famous “savage” bewitched the West: in the third episode of The Ouija Sessions, his spirit tells us about the incredible way he stayed afloat in a world that made the Exotic a circus attraction.

[Turn on English subtitles!]