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Saturday, 20 June 2009

New Cultural Venue for Ponzano

When you think of Italy’s cultural heritage sites, you usually picture Roman ruins such as the Forum Romanum in Rome or locally to us the former Roman port of Luni, from where the marble was shipped (until it got silted up and is now 1 km inland, which is inconvenient for a harbour). Or you may think of the many Medieval cities with their historical buildings, such as Lucca or Florence or numerous others. But you never think of the more recent past. It seems Italy skipped several hundred years of history and an Industrial Revolution, which was taking place all over northern Europe, to arrive directly from the Middle Ages in the modern age.

However, Ponzano Magra (as opposed to Ponzano Superiore, where we live. Superiore, because it’s in the hills above, and Magra, because it lies in the valley by the river Magra) has one of the few sites bearing witness that an Industrial Revolution did take place in Italy. In fact it’s the largest site of its kind: the Ceramica Vaccari.

Around 1880 a ceramics manufactory was established in what at the time was in the middle of nowhere. Carlo Vaccari took over the site 10 years later. He had obviously seen and decided to copy industrial villages in England, such as the textile mills of Yorkshire, where forward thinking factory owners not only supplied a place to work for the local population, but provided them with everything from housing, medical care, a school, shops, a social centre and even a chapel. This was the birth of the village of Ponzano Magra. After World War II the site fell into increasing decline. The site still produces ceramic tiles, but due to modern machinery needing a smaller workforce and less space, a lot of the old buildings now stand empty and the former workers houses are now not exclusively inhabited by employees of the works.

I have always been fascinated by old industrial buildings. I visited the gasworks in Belfast shortly before they turned them into trendy housing and a hotel. The walls of the gasworks were immortalised in the song “Dirty Old Town”: “I kissed my love by the gasworks wall. Dirty Old Town…” And it was dirty there in those days. A canal carried the most solid water I’ve ever seen through the site, and it stank to high heaven.

Anyway I digress. I always felt that leaving this site mostly unused was a shame and I feared, they’d probably turn them into yuppy flats too, when they would be so much better as a venue for cultural events. So imagine my delight when this is exactly what they’ve now done. Currently there is a series of concerts being held there under the heading “Bella Canzone”, featuring Italian singer-songwriters as well as an arts exhibition being held under the title “Emergenze7”.

Yesterday we had a chance to go for the first time. The theme of the art exhibition was loosely based on the impact of industrialisation on humans, which was a fitting subject for the surroundings of the derelict factory halls. Works included “Amazzonica by Stefano Tedesco. It consisted of a large, black, cylindrical tent that you could enter. Inside you realised that there were actually different shapes of black and you were surrounded by 8 speakers giving out jungle cicada type noises, which also may have been noises of some kind of machinery. Another exhibit by Aurora Pornin and Daniela Spaletra called “M16: mondo sommerso” was put together mostly from materials actually found on the premises. A mosaic, partially from old tiles, partially from old tools, rusty tins and engine parts is to show the set roles each man woman and child has within the confines of a workers village. Next to it these overalls are hung up, like the ghosts of the workers who formerly occupied this space, above a hopscotch game drawn on the floor.

Very original were also the works of Matteo Ratti collectively under the heading of “Cermobil”, who has created giant insects and humanoids out of old machine parts, incorporating the odd skull. Very dark, but impressive. Below is what looks like a heavy metal guitarist.
And a spooky spider and insect arrangement

The concert we saw there last night featured Francesco Tricarico. He was obviously known to the audience, but I hadn’t heard about him before. I wasn’t too keen on the music either. His accompanying band consisted of 2 guitars (presumably because he had 2 friends who could play the guitar), a bass, which was turned on too heavy, throbbing my bladder (in fact I think the bassist himself needed to go for a wee himself, the way he was prancing cross-leggedly over the stage), a keyboard and an over-enthusiastic drummer. All that background noise distracted from the singing in my opinion, mind you the singing wasn’t all that great either. He was being interviewed before the start of the concert and the interviewer suggested he was influenced by Bob Dylan. I’d agree insofar that like Dylan, he couldn’t sing either, but Dylan unlike Tricarico could write songs

Well it was a free concert, and hopefully not the last time an event like this is organised. The exhibition is on until the end of the month, if you are in the area. The last of the concerts is tonight, so you’ve gotta get your socks on to make it.

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