Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Foro Italico, Roma - its fascist history

The venue for the recent World Swimming Championships, the Foro Italico has a fascinating history. The following article published on Deutsche Welle, tells the story.

" 27.07.2009
Diving with the Duce

The World Championships for swimming, diving and other water sports have transformed Rome into Waterworld. The ancient city's major sports venue is sparkling after an extensive upgrade.

The Foro Italico is lauded as a masterpiece of 1930s architecture. However, the sports venue generates mixed feelings among Italians. The Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, was the visionary behind the art and architecture.

Athletes and spectators entering the venue of this year's swimming World Championships walk right by Italy's dark past. Poking into the sky is a restored, blindingly white marble monument that rises to a gold point.

The Fascist dictator wanted to create a forum that would surpass those of Caesar and Augustus.

"This is the obelisk, Mussolini's obelisk," said Context Travel docent Sarah Morgan with a nervous laugh, knowing she's stating the obvious. "Mussolini Dux," or Mussolini Leader, is carved into the marble in gigantic letters.

"They haven't made any attempt to erase his name," said the fascist era scholar.

Mussolini's Forum

The obelisk fronts the sprawling sporting center built mostly in the 1930s. Originally called Foro Mussolini, or Mussolini's Forum, the center was renamed Foro Italico after the regime's fall.

Il Duce wanted to create a forum that would surpass those of Caesar and Augustus. He enlisted the help of the architect Enrico Del Debbio, who used the same building materials as the ancient Romans. The marble came from Carrara, a Tuscan town famous for providing the pristine marble in many of the eternal city's monuments. The Roman Empire influenced nearly every aspect of Mussolini's forum.

"It was really the era that they could hark back to show Rome's greatness and also when Rome had this empire," said Morgan, who wrote her doctoral thesis on gender and sport in fascist Italy.

She said Mussolini tapped into the symbolism to create national pride among modern Italians. But he also wanted to use history for "justifying what they were doing."

Spelling it out

A stark, rectangular piazza stretches from Mussolini's obelisk to the stadium. The fascist leader took advantage of this space to spread his message through black and white mosaics. Louder than any fan, the artwork screams that sports and fascism are linked.

"Duce, Duce, Duce" is spelled out along the piazza's edge. Also written is "Molti Nemici, Molto Onore," which translates into "Many Enemies, Much Honor."

Alongside the propaganda, the mosaics show athletes in action. A muscular man hurls the discus. Swimmers churn through the water. An ice hockey player shoots at the goal. Nearly all are male and they're competing in Mussolini-approved sports. Cycling, for instance, isn't depicted. Why? Il Duce considered it a communist sport. The fascists ran their own sports leagues and banned all others.

"The Fascists wanted to use sport to make Italians fitter," Morgan said. Athletics were a pillar in the party's platform that projected "an image of a stronger, more virile Italy, as well as preparing them for war."

The piazza was inaugurated in 1937 to celebrate the conquest of Ethiopia, Il Duce's first - and only - colony in his attempt to create a new Roman Empire. Morgan points to the mosaics that she considers the most revealing: 20th century tanks, airplanes and soldiers decorate a mosaic done in an ancient Roman style. The past and the present meet with a message written in the mosaics.

"It's saying, 'Finally, Italy has its empire,'" Morgan said.

Fascism falls, Foro stands

In Rome's Stadio dei Marmi, Italians sing the national anthem during the swimming championships' opening ceremonies. The Allies liberated Rome in 1944, yet the city was left with this reminder. The track is rimmed with 60 white marble statues of sportsmen, from boxers to basketball players. They look like Roman or Greek gods with the buffed bodies of gladiators. All are naked, a little odd for the statue depicting a skier.

Different artists created the sculptures, each of which represents an Italian province. Sports fans usually have a favorite.

The Fascist era stadium only features athletes Mussolini approved of .

"It's Hercules at the entrance, the symbol of Rome," said Valerio Raschiatore. "It's the most handsome of all," the Roman added, chuckling. It's an unconventional choice. His statue sits apart from the other 60.

During the Fascist regime, young men about Raschiatore's age attended the attached Fascist Party-run physical education academy. They marched on this field for visiting dignitaries, including Hitler. It's a history that the city may want to hide but can't.

"Rome and its people are linked more than other Italians to fascism because the city was its power center," Raschiatore said. He says this stadium is beautiful but it isn't a place that Romans are proud of. Fascism colored it.

"The regime is looked at on one hand for the positive things accomplished but above all for its negatives," Raschiatore said.

Dive with the Duce

Foro Italico's 50-meter indoor pool is awash with fascist art and architecture, even though it was completed decades after the dictator's execution in 1945.

The neoclassical wonder was built in preparation for the 1960 Olympics, using designs created during the years of fascism and by the same architect. During the World Championships, swimmers warm up in this pool, which resembles an ancient Roman bath. Mosaics of seahorses and lobsters cover the deck and the walls explode with blue prancing horses and tanned runners.

Retired Italian swimmer Novella Calligaris trained in the pool en route to Olympic medals at the 1972 Olympics. This Fascist facility leaves her conflicted.

"I don't justify the period – I want to be very clear about that," Calligaris said. "But I think for the history and the art, it is a very good example."

Novella Calligaris is now a painter with a keen understanding of art. Yet she was a teenager when she was churning up and down the pool and far more interested in swimming fast than taking a museum tour. She adds that the pool wasn't well suited for her discipline.

"It's very dark. It's very deep," Calligaris said. "We used to say it's like a tomb."

She admits that the shimmering mosaics didn't color her workouts. "When you swim, your head is in the water and you can't look around."

Mussolini put particular emphasis on the sport of swimming. But much to his dismay, Italians didn't take the plunge. It's still not a nation of swimmers. Some scholars say Italians remain wary of the sport because of its ties to fascism.

Mussolini considered himself a swimmer, even though he wasn't particularly talented. A barrel-chested, short man, he put in his laps in his own column-lined pool at Foro Italico, which was recently opened for a rare tour. The brutal dictator swam near whimsical mosaics of dancing bears and walruses.

"Fortunately, it's now a swimming school for kids," said Piero Mei of the World Championships' organizing committee. "The world has changed, thank God."

The pool won't be used during the championships. Mei says for years this pool and the other facilities were neglected and threatened with destruction due to their symbolism of Mussolini's Fascist regime.

"Then the Foro Italico was rediscovered apart from its ideology, the beauty of its architecture and its modernity, apart from the era in which it was constructed," Mei said. "There's no other sporting complex in the world like Foro Italico."

Former swimmer Novella Calligaris says 70 years is enough time for Rome to separate the Foro Italico from its dark history. The Eternal City has done it before with the Colosseum.

Right: Mussolini's private swimming pool inside Foro Italico

"Inside the Colosseum, the Romans gave Christians to the lions," Calligaris said. "But we'd never cover up the Colosseum."

The World Swimming Championships won't wash away Foro Italico's history but may provide some new, positive memories for this sporting and art wonder.

Author: Nancy Greenleese in Rome (hs)

Editor: Rob Turner

Monday, 8 June 2009

Swimming in fiction: Andrea Camilleri's detective Salvo Montalbano

Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian detective, Salvo Montalbano often works out his existential angst by having a long swim off the beach his gorgeous little beach house, situated just outside the fictional town of Vigità.

Vigità is based on Camilleri’s home town, Porto Empedocle in the province of Agrigento. The TV series is filmed mainly in and around Ragusa.

I’m a dedicated Montalbano fan, both books and TV. I love to know what decided Camilleri to make his hero a swimmer. Does Camilleri like swimming himself?

In Montalbano’s seventh outing, Rounding The Mark, Montalbano’s swimming is an essential plot device such that it is while swimming the body is found….

“He began swimming in slow, broad strokes. The sea smelled harsh, stinging his nostrils like champagne, and he nearly got drunk on it. Montalbano kept swimming and swimming, his head finally free of all thought, happy to have turned into a kind of mechanical doll. He was jolted back to human reality when a cramp suddenly bit into his left calf. Cursing the saints, he flipped onto his back and did the dead man’s float. The pain was so sharp that it made him grit his teeth. Sooner or later it would pass. These damned cramps had become more frequent in the last two or three years. Signs of old age lurking round the corner? The current carried him lazily along. The pain was starting to abate, and this allowed him to take two armstrokes backwards. At the end of the second stroke, his hand struck something.

In a fraction of a second, Montalbano realized he’d struck a human foot. Somebody else was floating right beside him, and he hadn’t noticed.

“Excuse me,” he said hastily, flipping back onto his belly and looking over at the other.

The person beside him didn’t answer, however, because he wasn’t doing the dead man’s float. He was actually dead. And, to judge from the way he looked, he’d been so for quite a while.”
(p 15)

Montalbano's television "house" and beach in Ragusa, Sicily. Looks like a fair few tourists manage to find their way there:

Monday, 27 April 2009

My cards - swimming theme

I really enjoy making Artist Trading Cards, mostly using rubber stamps and inks.
These are 2.5 inch x 3.5 inch cards, the size of the old swap cards we used to trade as kids.

The principle is simple - they can't be sold, they must be swapped. I belong to a few groups.

After swimming in a few ocean pools this summer, I was inspired to make a card combining my love of stamping, photography and swimming.

I used one of my photos of Bronte Baths to make this one. I used part of a rubber stamp (Swim) and stamped it on acetate. I overlaid it on the resized photo and scanned. With the result I then used a photo manipulation program, ULead Photo Express to turn it into a watercolour effect, and add the bubbles.

Below are some more ATCs I've made with a swimming or beach theme.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Cabarita Pool

I was tooling around the Inner West of Sydney recently, and decided to take a peek at Cabarita Pool. Fortunately there was a great viewing area on the outside, cos I didn't have my swimming stuff with me (no, I don't ALWAYS carry it around....note to self: point to consider!)

There was one lone lap swimmer, and it's true it was a fairly windy day, but the board at the entrance said the water temp was 26 deg. Not bad at all.

To get to the pool, you need to enter through Cabarita Park, on Hen and Chicken Bay, part of Sydney Harbour/Parramatta River.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Two recent pieces from newspapers

First, from the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader on Thursday April 9, 2009: "The Sunrise Jellybean Mermaids are a happy bunch of early-morning swimmers, aged from 55 to 86, who have been meeting for more than 40 years at Oak park Pool for a traditional sunrise start to the day. The name Jellybeans stems from the colours of their bathing caps resembling jellybeans bobbing in the pool. The group is known to belt out a song or two to the amusement of passers-by. In this picture “King Neptune” appeared with the mermaids to mark the change of daylight saving. " Long may you swim, Jellybeans! ***

The following humorous piece is by Mark Dapin, a regular columnist in the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Weekend Magazine.

It made me laugh.

Pool Resources by Mark Dapin. Good Weekend April 18, 2009 "I come from a land up over, where swimming in the sea is an eccentric minority pastime and most of the beaches could double as roughcast plasterwork. I learned to swim when I was about nine years old at the “municipal baths”, which was every bit as glamorous and modern as it sounds. In England, all the swimming pools used to be called “baths”, which served to remind people not to go there too often or stay in too long. I could not see the point of swimming. I lived in the north of England, where nobody ever swam anywhere. Public-service announcements on TV warned that a child could drown in two inches of water, so what sort of nutter would jump into a whole metre of liquid death? When I was 12, I moved to the south of England, where water sports are slightly more popular. At school, they asked if I could swim, and I told them I could not, so I was consigned to the shallow beginners’ pool and ignored by the PE “teachers”, who had a furious contempt for anyone who might need to be taught PE. The other kids in the non-swimmers’ group were not the brightest nor the most robust boys in the school, and I started surreptitiously swimming, out of boredom. A PE teacher spotted me, and that was the end of that. I had to move up to the swimmers’ group. But I was useless. I never managed to progress further than 25 metres, or master a style more complicated than breaststroke. I had barely ever swum in open water until I went travelling to South-East Asia and discovered snorkelling. To my mild surprise, I noticed the seabed was not sealed with neatly grouted tiling, and was home to various forms of life apart from other boys’ feet. In fact, it was a teeming dream world of brightly coloured domestic refuse, including plastic bags, Singha beer bottles and car tyres. Among the cheerful detritus of Thailand’s modernisation, I saw poised, gaudy fish and outrageous ears of coral, and these combined to awaken in me the swimmer who had been asleep since cheesecloth shirts were fashionable (or, at least, my mum told me they were fashionable). When I arrived in Australia, 20 years ago, I began to visit the coast, but my beach-going – like my hair – dropped off with the years. I became a naturalised Australian, but felt slightly fraudulent, since I had rarely even owned a pair of Speedos. Then a swimming pool opened in my apartment complex. One day, out of curiosity, I climbed into the pool and decided to test how far I could swim. After a couple of attempts, I discovered I could swim any distance at all. As long as I stuck to breaststroke (which is easy, because I still can’t do any other stroke), I never got tired. Everyone else who swam in the pool wore goggles to keep water out of their eyes, so I went and bought some, too. I immediately lost them, and bought some more, but this did not satisfy my sudden desire for swimming equipment, so I purchased putty plugs to keep water out of my ears, and considered shelling out for a special peg to keep water out of my nose, but worried it might make me look like a gimp from a bondage and discipline show. Many pool users also wore caps to keep the water off their heads, but if you’re that wary of getting wet, you should probably stay out of the pool. I abandoned the goggles and the plugs, but I have stuck with the swimming. It is relaxing and rewarding, if a bit boring. The natural-born swimmers in the lanes on either side of me go much faster, and I won’t even try to go into my ridiculous attempts to master freestyle (there is a reason it is not called the “Pommy crawl”), but the whole pool experience makes me feel strangely and satisfyingly Australia, as if I do belong in a land down under after all. "

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Swimming in fiction: The Famous Five

The Famous Five adventure series features a few swimming scenes, as the super-slueths take off in their school hols fighting crime and evil-doing the length and breadth of England - well the West Country part of it, really.

Here's bossy Julian, wimpy Ann, tomboy George and gormless Dick (not to forget Timmy the Dog) and all the Blyton sexist and class-based stereotypes played out in some swimming secnes.

Extract from Five Get Into Trouble (first pub Nov 1949):
"Now for the lake," said Julian, folding up the map which he had just been examining. "It's only about five miles away. It's called the Green Pool, but looks a good bit bigger than a pool. Gosh, I could do with a bathe. I'm so hot and sticky."

They came to the lake at about half-past seven. It was in a lovely place, and had beside it a small hut which was obviously used in summer-time for bathers to change into bathing suits. Now it was locked, and curtains were drawn across the windows.

"I suppose we can go in for a dip if we like?" said Dick, rather doubtfully. "We shan't be trespassing or anything, shall we?"

"No. It doesn't say anything about being private," said Julian. "The water won't be very warm, you know, because it's only mid-April! But after all, we're used to cold baths every morning, and I daresay the sun has taken the chill off the lake. Come on - let's get into bathing-things."

They changed behind the bushes and then ran down to the lake. The water was certainly very cold indeed. Anne skipped in and out, and wouldn't do any more than that.

George joined the boys in a swim, and they all came out glowing and laughing. "Gosh, that was cold!" said Dick. "Come on - let's have a sharp run. Look at Anne dressed already. Timmy, where are you? You don't mind the cold water, so you?"
The next day was fair and bright. It was lovely to wake up and feel the warm sun on their cheeks, and hear a thrush singing his heart out....

"I'm going for a bathe," said Julian. "Anyone else coming?"

"I won't," said Anne. "It will be too cold for me this morning. George doesn't seem to want to either. You two boys go by yourselves. I'll have breakfast ready for when you come back. Sorry I won't be able to have anything hot for you to drink - but we didn;t bring a kettle or anything like that."

Julian and Dick went off to the Green Pool, still looking sleepy. The two boys were almost at the pool. Ah, now they could see it between the trees, shining a bright emerald green. It looked very inviting indeed.

They suddenly saw a bicycle standing beside a tree. They looked at it in astonishment. It wasn't one of theirs. It must belong to someone else.

Then they heard splashings from the pool, and they hurried down to it. Was someone else bathing?

A boy was in the pool, his golden head shining wet and smooth in the morning sun. He was swimmign powerfully across the pool, leaving long ripples behind him as he went. He suddenly saw Dick and Julian and swam over to them.

"Hallo," he said, wading out of the water. "You come for a swim too? Nice pool of mine, isn't it?"

"What do you mean? It isn't really your pool, is it?" said Julian.

"Well - it belongs to my father, Thurlow Kent," said the boy.

Both Julian and Dick had heard of Thurlow Kent, one of the richest men in the country. Julian looked doubtfully at the boy.

"If it is a private pool we won't use it," he said.

"Oh, come on!" cried the boy, and splashed cold water all over them. "Race you to the other side!"

And of all three of them went, cleaving the green waters with their strong brown arms - what a fine beginning to a sunny day!

The marvellous website Enid provides a plot summary of each of the books, and some reproductions of illustrations.

In Five Go To Billycock Hill, "Toby takes the Five down to a pool for a swim, but Julian is concerned about the sign that informs them the area is restricted. Toby tells them it's been there ages and doesn't mean anything, so they all plunge in—but soon an officer arrives from the RAF base and tells them to clear off. So swimming is out. But Julian sets things right by apologizing in a most grown up way that impresses the officer no end. Good old thirteen-year-old Ju! "

In Five Have Plenty of Time, "The Five are once more staying at Kirrin Cottage and enjoying the sunshine and swimming in the bay."

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Malabar Pool

Probably my last rock pool of this summer. Malabar is a very quiet pool, thoroughly local. No glamour here, no cafes full of "beautiful people", just families enjoying themselves.

Photos taken 23 January 2009

A rock pool has existed here since the 1890s.

Unfortunatley Malabar has had a bad name since an outfall carrying abattois waste from Homebush was built in 1916. By the 1970s the pool and bay were declared off-limits due to pollution from what was now a sewerage outfall.

In the early 1990s, a deep ocean outfall was constructed, emptying 4.2 kilometres offshore (I still think it's outrageous Sydney tips its sewerage into the ocean at all, even though it is treated to a certain degree - but not fully, but that's another story).

Local schools requested that the pool be re-opened and the local state Member of Parliament and incoming Premier, Bob Carr, promised funds for it. The restored baths were opened in 1997. Monitoring shows that it is now perfectly clean, and it was certainly looking gorgeous the day I went for a swim there.

Each of the ocan baths has a different character. This one was very quiet, and family-oriented. There are no cafes, and none of the glamour of beaches and pools a little further north...I liked it very much.

See more at the NSW Ocean Baths site.