ITALIAN EXPERIENCE (5)

 

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Taormina Central Square at Sunset

Easter signals the first holiday of the year for The Frozen Northerner and after the miserable winter we have endured it would nice to have a little bit of sun on my back. The last couple of Easter journeys have been fine but, at the moment I genuinely crave a place that I am madly in love which means I must return to Sicily and to my favourite place on the planet, Taormina.

I have now been to Taormina on numerous occasions and my affection for this town is showing no sign of abating. Why I am so in love with this spot is completely baffling, all I know is that when I am there, I am totally relaxed and at ease. Popular with such literary giants such as Oscar Wilde and DH Lawrence, Taormina has and still does attract a rather diverse and interesting range of characters, for example the notorious gangster Charlie “Lucky” Luciano often stayed there during the summer months after being deported back to Sicily from the United States.

My wife the Contessa Di La Proctero had laid out an itinerary for the week that was going to take us various locations such as Syracuse, Savoca and the like, but finding that the temperature was a rather pleasant 22 degrees there was no chance of me dragging the Contessa away from the pool.  Was I bothered, not in the slightest; it just left me with plenty of time just to wander around Taormina on my own. Nothing is better than just sitting outside some bar or café with a bottle of Messina wiling away the hours rather predictably people watching. Although, alternatively you could enjoy a nice glass of white wine while munching your way through a bowl of mussels at Bistro Du Monde on the Via Naumachia (which may be the best mussels I have ever had).

Having already blogged about Taormina in more depth in blog notes 49 I am not going to cover ground that has already been discussed all I am going to say is that you must at some point in your life go there because it really is very special.

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FILMS

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Miller’s Crossing

Miller’s Crossing is now widely regarded as one of the greatest gangster movies of all time, which makes its initial failure at the box office all the more perplexing. Made by the ever creative Coen Brothers, it is a sublime piece of filmmaking and is everything that you could possibly want from an outstanding gangster movie. Personally I could probably argue this my favourite gangster movie of all time, but, that is perhaps doing a disservice to the likes of The Godfather parts 1 and 2, Once Upon in a America and White Heat, which are peerless pieces of filmmaking with regard to this particular type of genre.

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Mr. O’Bannon and Friend

At the heart of the film is a plot that is slightly complex but totally absorbing movie that cannot fail to hold your attention. Basically the story revolves around a power struggle between two rival gangs, one Irish, led by Leo O’Bannon (brilliantly played the very great Albert Finney) the other led by Italian mobster Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito), caught up in the middle is Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne) right hand to O’Bannon, but now involved in a very dangerous situation which will see him play off one gang against the other.

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Tom Regan

Regan feels as if he has no option to switch sides after the Irish godfather O’Bannon offers to protect bookie Bernie Bernbaum (John Turturro) from the clutches of the murderous Caspar. Working for Caspar places Regan in very precarious situation, his every move being monitored by Caspar’s brutal first lieutenant Eddie “the Dane” Dane, who dislike of Regan is evident from their first meeting. Caspar’s first job for Regan is to find and kill the elusive Bernbaum, a task that Regan is unable to accomplish. From then on in the film ebbs and flows like a roller-coaster ride where no one can be quite sure of what the outcome will be.

It would wrong of me to reveal the ending as some of my followers may not have not yet seen this wonderful movie. The Coen brothers and all the cast have been much vaunted for their performances and rightly so, although I personally think that Albert Finney acts the pants off all of them. But have said that the late great Jon Polito giving the performance of his life as the ruthless Johnny Caspar is left to deliver one of the greatest lines in cinematic history” always put one in the brain”.

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Johnny “always put one in the brain” Caspar

 

BOOKS

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The Footballer Who Could Fly

If you are around about the same age as The Frozen Northerner (who is rather worryingly approaching 63) and are slightly interested in football then you have to read “The Footballer Who Could Fly” by Duncan Hamilton. This book has been put together rather affectionately by Hamilton who had a troubled relationship with his father, a relationship so fractured that they only really connect when discussing and watching sport and in particular football.

The reason I like the book so much is that I can easily identify with where Hamilton is coming from, like Hamilton I was also brought up in pit village and a bit like him, to say that the connection I had with my father was strained would be a major understatement. Like Hamilton, The Frozen Northerner and his father rarely spoke during his formative years, it wasn’t a problem it was just typical of the time we lived in. Very much like the author who saw football as a release, I lived for football, my father saw this as good way to overcome my shyness which gave me a slightly nervous disposition (although it didn’t stop him attempting to ban me from playing when my school work suffered badly).

All of the chapters in the book are spellbinding but perhaps the best one is where Hamilton the son listens to his father talk about Jackie Milburn. Like Hamilton’s dad my father revered J.E.T Milburn and to hear him talk of the illustrious “Wor Jackie” was like listening to man talking about a person that was no mere mortal, a man so great you would thought that he had come down from Mount Olympus transforming himself from to god to human, bringing his mythical presence to that cathedral of soccer St James Park with a humbleness and modesty that made you love him even more.

Being brought up in impoverished pit village you can see why Hamilton and his father see football as an escape from the drudgery of everyday life, the challenges faced by the younger Hamilton are there for all to see, his outlook was grim highlighted by an interview with a careers advisor who rather haughtily dismisses his plea to be journalist by telling him that should forget that newspaper nonsense and set his sights on getting a proper job meaning go down the pits or get a job in factory.

The stories in the book are wide and vivid and being of that certain age I could identify with all of them, those god like figures such as Shankly, Clough, Baxter, Charlton to name but a few, are all there, men that were touched by greatness, some would live happily ever after, some would find only tragedy awaiting them. We live in a different world now and relationships between fathers and sons have hopefully improved, but I suspect Hamilton very much like myself would kill to see the likes of Baxter and Charlton roamng majestically around the parks of hallowed turf, entertaining the vast galleries that had come to pay homage to their sublime talent. But this book and transport yourself back to a time when the word legendary meant something because that’s what these men were legends.

CLOTHES

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Pretty Green

The Frozen Northerner may not be a huge fan of Liam Gallagher but I have to admit that I have a bit of a weakness for his clothing company Pretty Green. I love their Grainger Street shop in Newcastle and although some of the stuff they produce is not for me (whose paisley shirts may have looked great on the likes of Syd Barrett but, on me no chance) having said that, I have to admit there are areas where they really excel, for example they produce some really sharp items of rainwear that I would feel very comfortable wearing but where they genuinely shine is in the knitwear department.

Some of the stuff they have produced for their SS18 collection is I would suspect heavily influenced by John Smedley. Nothing wrong with that, the legendary Derbyshire stylists have set the bar high and are the benchmark for all things good relating to knitwear. However, not to be outdone by this iconic label, Pretty Green have rose to the challenge brilliantly and I have selected the five pieces for your consideration. All of the items chosen have a very modernist feel about them and are possibly inspired by the sixties; these objects of desire could have been worn by The Who when singing “I Can’t Explain”. McQueen would have nailed this look dead, but in all honesty these mesmerising pieces of knitwear would have looked great on the golden boy of Italian football Gianni Rivera, the ever stylish 60’s midfield maestro would probably would have paired it with John Simons chinos and Clark’s desert boots whilst whizzing around the streets of Milan on a Vespa with some beautiful actress like Claudia Cardinale on the back of his scooter.

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Stone contrast tipped high necked knitted t-shirt

Although there are times when I genuinely despair of finding clothes that will really getting my juices flowing, sometimes I will just walk into a shop and think oh, that’s going to work and that’s the way it is with these tops. Buy any one of these five items and you can’t miss so lie back in your Eames classic, get The Who on the turntable look cool and whilst dreaming of Italian sunshine pretend to be Rivera hitting 30 yard passes around the San Siro.

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Stone knitted striped t-shirt
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Navy knitted striped t-shirt
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Brown striped crew neck sweater

 

UMBRELLAS

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London Undercover

I have recently purchased an umbrella, made by London Undercover, it is part of their city lux collection, beautifully packaged it features a khaki woven canopy, maple wood handle as well as leather and brass attachments, for me it appears to be the perfect accessorise to compete with the rather inclement weather that we are currently having to endure. Rather surprisingly, The Frozen Northerner has never previously owned is a quality umbrella, but now belatedly, he sees it as essential requirement in a vain attempt to stay dry. Why I have never owned a good umbrella is completely unfathomable and although I very happy with my London Undercover brolly I decided to do a little bit of research as to what is out there. 

Umbrellas come in all shapes and sizes ranging from the rather smaller compact telescopic type to the more classical solid stick style. Prices for umbrellas vary greatly and there is something for everyone, as I always try to get good value for money, I firmly believe that London Undercover fits that remit, although, I have admit that the Brighton based company Mr Stanford ( who I discovered on a trip to Fortnum and Mason)  are in all probability just as good.

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Mr. Stanford

If you have endless pot of money and are driven by a desire to stay ahead of the game then you may well be seduced by the umbrella made by famed shoemaker George Cleverly who in collaboration with noted Neapolitan umbrella maker Francesco Maglia have loving produced a solid stick umbrella for The Rake magazine which comes in a whopping £600. This may be artisan craftsmanship at its finest, but in all honesty you are going struggle to see any style warriors wandering the streets of Seaton Delaval with one of these.

As I pointed in my blog on the Italian Gentleman there are Italian umbrella makers such as Francesco Maglia  and Mario Talarico who have peerless reputations and although not as expensive as the Cleverly/Maglia piece they are also a bit on the pricey side.

 

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Cleverly / Maglia

With regard to purchasing umbrellas in the North East your options are severely limited, Jules B of Jesmond offer a nice range of Barbour umbrellas, as well as a few from Paul Smith but nothing much that’s a bit different. End Clothing do have a range by the excellent London Undercover but these objects of beauty are not available in their Grainger Street emporium, only online, which is not the way I want to shop, but in this case it was the only option. So if you are going to buy an umbrella, please choose carefully, despite the fact I chosen London Undercover don’t overlook Mr Stanford because both are fine British companies that need your support.

 

 

TV

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Oldman or Churchill?

The awards season is now upon us and whether you like it or not, at some point you are going to come across the stars of the silver screen, strutting their stuff along that sacred red carpet. Despite the fact that these people are mere mortals, they will be fawned upon by an army of sycophantic reporters who will enthusiastically tell the men how wonderful they look in their Armani Tux’s whilst joyfully expressing in their humble opinion, the ladies have made a peerless choice in selecting their Dolce and Gabbana, Dior or Stella McCartney outfit making them look more radiant than any other star could possibly look. They will then proceed to ask these so called stars a series of questions that clearly identifies these people of having the basic intelligence of five year old.

The theme of this year’s events is black, in defiance of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, whilst no one can condone the actions of the evil Weinstein; I think it is going to take a lot more than someone wearing a little black dress to get on the man on the street to understand or be bothered about the shenanigans that go on in Hollywood. The black dress may make a statement but for how long? These “stars” will eventually return to their gilded cage and life will go back to the way it was and will be, because this game is all about the money and nothing else.

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Say Cheese!

I really don’t know what I make of these “stars” anymore; while not actually watching the show, I caught a taste of this self-indulgence at the BAFA’S event recently held at the Royal Albert Hall. This gut wrenching, stomach churning occasion left me totally bewildered, these people are so far removed from reality it is unbelievable, catching Gary Oldman’s acceptance   speech for best actor, I got the impression that Gary Oldman genuinely believed he is Winston Churchill.

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That Red Carpet!

Like most people I enjoy a good movie, but these types of events really should have no place in modern society, there are a lot important issues out there than a bunch of overpaid luvvies  air kissing each other and generally brownnosing anybody that can get them on the next rung of the ladder. The little black dress may have made a statement but the power brokers in Hollywood and the stars that serve them really couldn’t care less all they care about is who is going to make them their next buck.

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Fully paid-up Luvvie

BOOKS

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The Italian Gentleman

One of the gifts I received over the Christmas was a book entitled The Italian Gentleman by Hugo Jacomet. Wei Koh, founder and editorial director of the noted men’s style magazine The Rake describes Monsieur Jacomet as an arbiter of style which in layman’s terms means that he is a bit of an authority on the subject he talks about, which in this case is clothes.

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Hugo Jacomet

Publisher of the very brilliant style blog The Parisian Gentleman, Monsieur Jacomet works tirelessly in the pursuit of improving the sartorial elegance of the male gender. Why  I like him so much, is that he is very good providing sound advice on how to build a smart wardrobe without displaying a know it all attitude, unlike a lot of style gurus to tend  be a bit pompous and full of their own self-important.

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The Italian Gentleman took Monsieur Jacomet over took three years to complete and is his second book, following on from his first offering, the rather aptly titled the Parisian Gentleman. If you are buying The Italian Gentleman in the hope that you are going to find a page upon page of global brands such as Armani, Dolce  and Gabbana, Gucci, etc, then you going to be sorely disappointed.

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A Careceni

It’s not that Monsieur Jacomet disapproves of these companies that are recognised the world over; it is just that he is just more interested in exposing the reader to the smaller, often family run businesses. He is well aware that these artisan craftsmen and women are disappearing and he is doing his damnedest to make sure that these establishments are kept alive by becoming better known

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The book covers everything from the mills of Vitale Barberis Canonico and Ermenegildo Zenga, all the way down to ties by E Marinella and umbrella makers such Francesco Maglia and Mario Talarico. In between he champions a raft of tailoring establishments such A Caraceni in Milan before heading further south to Naples to reveal such enterprises as Ambrosi, Napoli, Sartoria Formosa and Sartoria Sabino to name but three. All of the sections are brilliantly researched and highly informative, but I have to honest, the section on shoes blows the rest of the book away, reading this chapter I was positively salivating at shoemakers such as Enzo Bonafe, Paolo Scafora and Bontoni.

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Enzo Bonafe

Monsieur Jacomet leaves no stone unturned in quest in his pursuit of excellence and even if you are only slightly interested in clothes you should read this book. You will not believe how many ideas you will get,  on how to find ways and means on becoming better dressed . It doesn’t matter how old you are, there is something in here for everyone, so please buy the book.

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Francesco Maglia

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