Messina: The Forgotten Home of Shakespeare

21 04 2008

Tourist trap

What does Verona have that Messina doesn’t?

A fake balcony and lots of tourists

What does Stratford Upon Avon have that Messina doesn’t?

A fake house and lots of tourists

When Kenneth Branagh filmed his film version of Much Ado About Nothing in a romanticized version of Tuscany, rather than the Messina chosen by Shakespeare, he deprived the Sicilian city of yet another chance for it to cash in on its association with the bard. Verona has long shown that Shakespeare can be a powerful stimulus for tourism – especially when it is associated with starcrossed lovers and the literary pretensions of would be visitors. The northern Italian city is the profitable home of the Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s house), complete with a photo opportunity balcony added in the 1930s. For although it is hard to match the romantic appeal of Romeo and Juliet in the Shakespeare canon, surely the much perkier Messinese story of Beatrice and Benedick must come close – and, to be certain, it is much more popular than The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

There are some balconies and houses in Messina just waiting for historical significance

Indeed, there is a theory that Shakespeare was actually from Messina. The story goes that young Sicilian nobleman Michelangelo Crollalanza (Italian for shake spear) emigrated from Messina, found his way into the emerging Elizabethan theatre, and secured an English outlet for his writing by marrying a brilliant translator by the name of Anne Hathaway. Apart from the Messina connection, it is appealing to think that Mrs Shakespeare may actually be responsible for the language of the plays.

A bit of initiative from the Messina city council and a random old looking building nominated as Shakespeare’s ancestral home could change the Bard tourism biz for ever. Why go to dingy Stratford Upon Avon and eat putrid bangers on mash, when you can bask in the Sicilian sun, enjoy great pizza and pasta, and see an equally authentic Shakespearean residence? The enterprising Veronesi and Stratfordians would have done it years ago.





A Very Quiet Election

15 04 2008

Italians Vote for a Change,

but without much expectation of getting it

Decidi tu 2008 / You decide 2008

I was looking forward to enjoying my opportunity to vote in an Italian election for the first time. With memories of the hectic campaigning of the past, when every surface of the city would be covered in posters, mailboxes would be stuffed with flyers and you could not walk down the street without being assailed by passionate pleas for support from the candidates and their surrogates, I expected to spend a lot of time engaged in heated political debates before making an informed decision that would determine the fate of the entire nation. Yet the only electoral discussion I had this time around, when I could really make a difference, was about the inadvisability of bringing a videophone into the voting booth.

The anti-videophone measures were in place, complete with hefty fines for the unwary, to ensure that people engaging in voti di scambio (vote buying) did not take advantage of the latest technology to provide a live feed of their unscrupulous electoral choices. No such illicit activities were detected during my visit to the polling station on Monday. Apart from the electoral officials enjoying a picnic lunch alongside the ballot boxes, complete with an excellent selection of local wine, cheese, and particularly enticing pastries, I was the only member of the public there.

Despite the obvious importance of this election, coming at a time when Italy is undergoing a severe economic crisis accompanied by rampant inflation, what struck me is how little effort any of the parties made to gather votes. No candidate or political activist tried to speak with me – let alone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Over the course of the campaign I collected a grand total of 3 leaflets for specific candidates – 2 tucked under the windshield wipers of my Fiat and 1 from the counter of a bar. I saw few posters and didn’t notice any ads on tv. Indeed, it would have been easy to forget there was a national election going on at all.