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The Abruzzo Trilogy: Fontamara, Bread and Wine, The Seed Beneath the Snow (v. 1-3)
The Abruzzo Trilogy: Fontamara, Bread and Wine, The Seed Beneath the Snow (v. 1-3)
by Ignazio Silone
Edition: Paperback
Price: $23.88
60 used & new from $5.60

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascist Italy and its discontents, March 4, 2015
This edition arrived in 2000, and finally combined in English (translation by Eric Mosbacher but revised by Ignazio's wife Darina, and for the first two novels, in their revised Italian versions) to present the full trilogy, Silone's most famous works. Alexander Stille includes as the introduction, in a piece not credited here but which appeared in earlier in The New Yorker, when "il caso Silone" emerged. Some revisionist historians claimed to have found documentation of the author's collaboration with the Fascist regime, tangled with the death at the hands of that regime of Silone's brother. There have been strong arguments made by both defenders and critics; Stille suggests some key plot elements in the second part of the trilogy may reflect Silone's guilt. But leaving that to critics and interpreters, these three novels remain as a testament to Silone's knack for getting down how the "cafoni" (laborers) felt and talked and endured. Full of biblical allusions, enriched by the conversations of the everyday people, this translation flows well, and I imagine in the original the dialogues have a lot of verve and wit.

That enables readers nearly a century after Fascism to continue to turn to these novels for insight about not only totalitarian but Christian and socialist values. Silone fought long and hard for liberty, and he like Pietro Spina his prickly protagonist (not all that easy to like as the pages accumulate; he tends to alienate some of his intimates) became disenchanted with the Stalinist party line of the Italian communists. These parallels make this narrative all the more interesting, and the lively repartee and debates on issues, to me, comprise the best parts of this epic.

However, after the choral voices of the defiant village in Fontamara, and the disguise of Pietro as the priest Don Pedro in Bread and Wine, the flight of Pietro to his native turf in the Seed Beneath the Snow does slow the pace markedly. The first two installments whir by quickly. The last takes its time, and although social issues continue, it feels less a character study and more a novel of ideas by the end. Each conclusion of these three dense novels ends rapidly, with drama. A diligent reader may find a reward for perseverance into a heady, but rewarding saga.

The Seed Beneath the Snow - First Edition - 1942
The Seed Beneath the Snow - First Edition - 1942
by Ignazio Silone
Edition: Hardcover
6 used & new from $7.40

3.0 out of 5 stars Conclusion to the Abruzzo trilogy in Fascist Italy, March 4, 2015
This concludes what is since known as the Abruzzo trilogy. Pietro Spina, who returned to hide in the Italian mountains as a Communist activist in "Bread and Wine," tried to stay low while somehow organizing the "cafoni" or humble laborers who had risen up against the Fascists in "Fontamara." His disguise as a priest blown, he fled at the end of the second novel. "The Seed Beneath the Snow" picks up where that novel left off. Pietro uses a donkey's stable, hidden by a stone, to evade the authorities.

The title of this novel provides one of its most moving scenes. Pietro narrates how he nourished a wheat sprout that pushed through the snow in front of his gaze, as he sprawled for days at the foot of the small hovel. As often in Ignazio Silone's fiction, the symbolism, borrowed from biblical sources, is apparent. But a bit of humor helps, as when he tells his grandmother: "Your true man of the left should have no nose, just as your true man of the right should have no ears." (533 in the 2000 ed. of the trilogy) This installment continues Silone's evident enjoyment in recording the conversations of the locals, as well at Acquaviva a welcome glimpse at a village pretty to behold as a needed solace.

But, the 1942 novel at 350 pp. is nearly half the trilogy. It rambles, and Pietro retreats to the sidelines often, as garrulous villagers debate. While it continues to provide readers with a depiction of life endured in the 1930s under a cruel regime and in pitiless conditions, the narrative often languishes.

Pietro later takes on the role of a John the Baptist to presage the coming of a mysterious man, this time clad in a silk shirt, who helps an old woman farm her plot. A Mystery Man floats into each of the three novels, a harbinger of the change. Faustina, a would-be lover of the hard-to-read Pietro (this weakens his appeal as a sympathetic protagonist, as he himself possesses a growing disinterest in his cause, and wearies of the commitment needed to sway those around him who prefer to stay quiet), tells him: "This is truly a classical country, Pietro, the play is still performed by the same four or five characters as before the time of Christ and in accordance with the same old rules." (845)

That lesson provides the moral of a saga about a man who entered the Abruzzo eager to change it. Like its predecessors, the ending comes suddenly. Silone to his credit knows how to close a tale with a dramatic scene rapidly. But the slow build up and the growing discomfort Pietro has with not only his antagonists but his calling weight this down, even if it is a necessary completion of the trilogy. (I also reviewed the previous two novels as well as the Abruzzo combined edition.)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Live soundtrack to a silent movie, March 4, 2015
This review is from: Fortune (Audio CD)
Their music grows more reflective as this couple mature. Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, for over two decades, explore subdued moods on their intimate songs and vocals. After the demise of Galaxie 500, this drummer and bassist continued their partnership, insisting on an organic, integral sense of music that turned inward more than their previous band.

These eleven brief tracks accompany Yang's half-hour video piece, "a silent film with a live soundtrack" of the same name, Fortune. It commemorates both her late father's passing and portraits from the middle of the last century painted by the father of Norman von Hotzendorff. Norman inherited his father's archive, as Naomi had her father's photography. Add tarot cards to the title of this album, which conveys a autumnal, contemplative series of songs.

Recorded and played entirely by the duo, this album is closely miked. Acoustic guitars and reflective keyboards play off gentle washes of snares and a steady bass. The pair had brought their talents to Galaxie 500 in Damon's jazz-based percussion and Naomi's self-taught and insistent bass patterns. many years later, these qualities merge with their voices, intertwined as on "The North Light" beautifully, and on some of the other tracks, separately.

The first few songs set the melancholy but not despairing tone. They blend together. They merge into a tapestry of introspective meditations on loss and recovery. They are dignified, and they drift along.

Halfway into the sequence, "Shadows" stands out as a fine example of the layered, meticulous pace that Krukowski and Yang have mastered. Hushed, it does not let go of emotion, but it cradles it. Damon's yearning vocals over his distant percussion and Naomi's faint backing voice carry sorrow.

"Towards Tomorrow" and "Hurt House" offer lovely instrumental interludes. Yang's "Sky Memories" and allows her a lead vocal. Her contributions to Galaxie 500 before the mike were far fewer than guitarist Dean Wareham, but her unhurried phrasing always complements her measured bass lines.

Concluding with the longest song on an album clocking in at twenty-eight minutes, "Time Won't Own Me" hearkens to Damon + Naomi's signature sound. It's slyly jaunty beneath a shy exterior. It asks for connection; its modest arrangement and hushed delivery confess a desire for closeness. Fortune, another confident expression of this couple's quiet command of music and lyrics, wins us over again.

Volutz® 6.5ft Long Premium Micro USB Cable Quick Dependable & Abuse-friendly Hi-Speed Data Transfer & Charging (up to 2.4 Amp) Cell Phone A to B Samsung Galaxy LG HTC PS4 Micro USB to USB Sturdy Nylon Jacketed & Tangle Resistant Includes Detachable Cable Tie (Orange)
Volutz® 6.5ft Long Premium Micro USB Cable Quick Dependable & Abuse-friendly Hi-Speed Data Transfer & Charging (up to 2.4 Amp) Cell Phone A to B Samsung Galaxy LG HTC PS4 Micro USB to USB Sturdy Nylon Jacketed & Tangle Resistant Includes Detachable Cable Tie (Orange)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Added length a bonus, March 4, 2015
Most cables are much shorter, so this added length on the Volutz 6.5ft. Long Premium Micro USB cable is welcome. One immediate use is in the car, where my phone charger cord cannot reach my phone from the charger port, if the phone is on the vent-mount. This cord allows enough distance and more. Excess can be wrapped up in the handy loop and velcro attached to the main cord, a thoughtful and necessary addition.

It also is nice at home if you find the three-foot cords too short to allow charging in a port and use at the same time. This gives extra length so you don't have to leave a device to charge. You can hold it and use it while it charges, and the cord enables you to keep the device nearer by.

The stress points are reinforced better than the standard Micro USB cables. The braid reinforces the wiring and protects a higher level of transmission. Finally, the orange stands out as opposed to the dull black or ubiquitous white of competing cords of smaller lengths. (I was asked to review this, and I recommend it.)

Kazu ® 100% Organic Cacao Nibs: Raw, Unsweetened and Pure, (The Finest Variety of Criollo Porcelena From Peru)
Kazu ® 100% Organic Cacao Nibs: Raw, Unsweetened and Pure, (The Finest Variety of Criollo Porcelena From Peru)

5.0 out of 5 stars Great flavor enhancer, March 4, 2015
A rather nutty taste enhances these organic cacao nibs from Kazu. I tried adding these as a test to a blondie bar-ginger mix and the chocolate brought out a balanced texture that enriched the grainy and spicy flavor of the recipe. They are a great addition, and I recommend this ingredient.

Bread and Wine (Signet Classics)
Bread and Wine (Signet Classics)
by Ignazio Silone
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.95
103 used & new from $0.21

5.0 out of 5 stars Spirited narrative about truth vs. expediency in Fascist Italy, March 1, 2015
This 1935 novel, this anti-totalitarian novelist's most famous, tries to balance an investigation of socialism with an examination of the Christian and communal beliefs held by the "cafoni" or humble laborers of Silone's native Abruzzo. Pietro Spina, a Communist activist wanted by the Fascists, hides as the priest Don Paolo Spada in a remote village. But this is no didactic rant. Silone, himself having been exiled for his own agitation, and before and after this period a formidable opponent to Fascism, knows from his upbringing in this locale how people talk, think, and resign themselves to conditions.

Against this proclivity, the protagonist rallies a few. He claims he cannot work as a priest, as he has been sent to recuperate, far from his native diocese. But the people, hearing of his unexpected eloquence and humanistic ripostes to the powers that be, flock to him. Once he has heard the "confession" as the confidences of Luigi Murica, whose story of being compromised by the regime reverberates (even more now given the 2000s controversy over Silone's own collaboration or lack), others rush to have their secrets forgiven, and out of such predicaments, Silone dramatizes the radical's own difficult choices, even if his main character tends to be gloomy. Silone knew well the price paid for subversion and disguise, after all.

As well as a novel of ideas, this is one of the everyday struggle against injustice. On pg. 201 of the combined "Abruzzo trilogy" 2000 edition, the protagonist defends truth and justice against expediency, and as the priest, he articulates the kind of Christian Socialism the later author admired. On pg. 214, he movingly acclaims the life lived not provisionally, as if waiting for it to happen, as opposed to living in the present. A familiar piece of advice now, but as of the writing of this, perhaps not so much so, and one worth remembering. On pg. 397 he tells his listeners that the spell of the dictatorship can be broken by one man, but the rest of the novel will make you wonder about this.

Fontamara,: [by] Ignazio Silone;
Fontamara,: [by] Ignazio Silone;
by Ignazio Silone
Edition: Unknown Binding
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5.0 out of 5 stars The humble rise up in Fascist Italy, March 1, 2015
This review is from: Fontamara,: [by] Ignazio Silone;
While "Bread and Wine" remains this Italian anti-totalitarian novelist-politician's most famous book, there's a reason this semi-prequel is still taught in seminars and enjoyed by those who value literature engaged with social struggle and emerging from the classes who strive to combine equality with liberty. Silone published this in Swiss exile, and it was first translated into English in 1934, when it made a wide impact as fascism rallied opponents. It documents his native Abruzzo, where peasants seek to confront the corrupt alliance of a landowner known here as the Contractor, with the authorities. The "cafoni" or common toilers of the soil have been fooled into signing blank sheets, and over them, assent to having their water split with that landowner, 3/4 one way and 3/4 the other.

Naturally, Silone with a typical combination of light irony and heavy moral shows the inability of the peasants to figure out this fractional divide of what had been their natural and ancestral right to water. The novel is mostly told by Giuvà, one of the peasants; his wife Matalè steps in to tell a crucial episode when the "black jackets" invade the village and rape women in vengeance against their protests for a fair share of the precious, and diverted water, into the estate of the landowner. Final episodes, after another crackdown scatters the men from the village, comes via their unnamed son.

This sounds didactic. But the fiery defiance of Berardo Viola, one who refuses to stand down, represents the socialist-inspired opposition of which Silone was a part, before, during, after his exile. The arguments, the touches of necessary humor, and the complicity of church, the law, and the bureaucracy with the state and its leader (both rarely referred to directly), dramatize the reality of the rural conditions and the dangerous rebellion--both of which Silone knew firsthand, and memorialized. The novel's setting also unfolds into "Bread and Wine" and "The Seed Beneath the Snow," but the freshness of the choral narrative and the lighter touch of this first novel recommend it.

Brainwavz HM5 Studio Monitor Headphones
Brainwavz HM5 Studio Monitor Headphones
Offered by MP4NATION
Price: $129.50
6 used & new from $92.99

5.0 out of 5 stars If you want a clean, unadorned sound..., March 1, 2015
Studio monitor headphones seem to often be treated with dismissal in our bass-heavy musical culture. However, Brainwavz HM5 continues the quality of this maker's line, and I am happy with these provided for testing. I've tried out various Brainwavz products, and the handsome case, two sets of cables, and spare pair of ear cups make this another reliable model from a quality maker.

It can be fun listening to well-loved songs on such a pair of studio monitor cans. The experience shifts as you may perceive a more dramatic absence of "sweetened" texture. Some note an arid sensation, but I found enough bass (as another reviewer put it, you hear it rather than feel it) to please. The difference is it's not pumped up or boosted, but remains likely on most recordings in the background. This also changes the soundstage. I hear less separation and more of a solid block, as if a "mono" feel, and this can be bracing on tracks with which I'm familiar.

You may also note a bit more hiss as these pick up the ambiance of the atmosphere. I also note halting in streaming some tracks on these, unlike other pairs--perhaps these are more sensitive to such nuances? They are a bit on the heavy side, so they may not (and probably should not) be worn continuously for long periods. I need to break these in longer for full appreciation, but so far, they meet the need for studio needs and audiophiles seeking a clean, unadorned profile.

Pretend You're In A War: The Who & the Sixties
Pretend You're In A War: The Who & the Sixties
by Mark Blake
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.42
31 used & new from $19.13

4.0 out of 5 stars In-depth review of a welcome study on the Who's birth and growth, March 1, 2015
While Mods and The Who inevitably join together in many fans' minds, the band's ties to modernism, in art and culture, have not received the in-depth attention they deserve. To address these contexts, Mark Blake incorporates many years of interviews with Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey, adding material gleaned from multimedia and previous books on the band. As an editor at Qand Mojo magazines, and a biographer of Queen and Pink Floyd, Blake fits in comfortably with rock journalism. He presents in Pretend You're in a War a solid study of the band's birth and growth during the 1960s.

While this narrative momentum is thwarted by the tendency of Townshend to tell one story to one journalist and another to another scribe a few years later, and further complicated by the reticence of Entwistle, the demise of Keith Moon and the determination of Daltrey to get his side of the record straight (all four sometimes seem at odds with other bandmates and witnesses), the members invigorate Blake's account. They were a fractious four who insisted on autonomy even as they combined their talents to make rousing music. Blake offers a readable and accessible consideration of the band's origins, its tensions early on and its struggles as fame took over.

Blake treats the emergence of the band, their early musical ambitions and their early members, especially drummer Doug Sandow, who was edged out before Moon was recruited. The detail here surpasses other treatments I have read, so those less obsessed by history may find the research too meticulous. Fans may argue for its necessity; it exposes The Who's deep London roots.

Townshend's tutelage at Ealing Art School under Gustav Metzger, known for action painting, and Roy Ascott, known for cybermetrics and confrontation, earns welcome inclusion; I wish more had been given over to these impacts on the guitarist's formative years. Townshend embraced a liberating lifestyle along with the music. He plunged into London's swirl of art, books, and films as part of this cultural upheaval. Again, his prescient immersion into home taping and mechanical recording techniques is astonishing, and deserved more depth here; Townshend mastered intricacies of production rapidly.

Despite some production oversight being left to the band's managers, the spirited pair of East End-bred Chris Stamp and Oxbridge-tutored scion and heir to a classical music pedigree, Kit Lambert, Townshend took much of the band's control away from Daltrey. Relegated to the mike, as his confidence grew, Daltrey became a powerful, more nuanced vocalist. This took years, as his wish to guide the band competed against Townshend's technical skills and formidable ego. But Daltrey by decade's end channeled Townshend's lyrical gifts and vulnerable sensibility into his own cocky, strutting and preening presence. The book's title comes from Townshend's attitude when the band, held up as Mod models, took the stage.

While their managers contended, while the guitarist and singer bickered and fought for leadership, so the stoic bassist Entwistle and the manic drummer Moon sought their share of the Who's spotlight. The band ascended quickly into the top ranks, but preceded by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks, The Who had to catch up to talented peers and rivals. The Kinks especially competed with The Who sonically and lyrically from the mid-1960s on, and Blake documents this contest well.

The mythic Mod connection was pushed more by management and media, as Townshend longed to speak to his fans from that cohort, but the Mods themselves never lasted very long. "'A powerful, aggressive little army' with its mysterious dress code, music, dances and semiotics" sums up for Blake the unity of The Who and Mods. Yet equally crucial were the art school lessons Townshend learned from modernism.

Mentors such as Ascott, Metzger and Helmut Gorden (the most eccentric of many contenders) merit mention, and Blake notes their suggestions to an eager student. Townshend merged pop art into the classical tastes of Lambert. He integrated Henry Purcell and music-hall into three-minute ditties, often singles, which conveyed in Blake's phrasing "black humour and sexual perversion" as "cameos, essays of human experience."

The "visual gimmick" accidentally invented at Harrow's Railway Hotel (Blake evokes its shabby ambiance well) when Townshend smashed his guitar led to a routine. Moon destroyed his kit, Daltrey lassoed his microphone, Entwistle stood stock still on the side. Townshend loved and hated this. His frustration at rock-star poses led to his own changes, in his lyrics, his music, and then his attire. He chose before decade's end his workmanlike white boiler suit and Doc Martens as onstage fashion, contrasting with his three colorful bandmates.

Moon, under Lambert's sway, found pills, expensive champagne and excess inviting. Entwistle succumbed to drink and drugs, if in a quiet, self-critical manner. His musical talents shone in the band, but not enough compared to the main songwriter. Entwistle longed for his ideas to be accepted more by the band, which under Townshend's dominance roused Daltrey's understandable resistance. Unlike The Beatles circa 1966, one senses The Who did not close ranks out of friendship so much as necessity, when songs had to be constructed and tours had to be endured, to pay the bills that the lavish lifestyles of the band required. Blake leaps from the band members getting by in flats or living with their parents to mansions, driving luxury autos (more than one meeting a quick demise) and indulging in conspicuous consumption with barely any transition. Perhaps the band's entry into the upper ranks of British rock happened that fast.

What wearied The Who, barely into their career, was the pace they had to keep to stay on the charts, on tour and in the studio. 1965-1966 as recounted here resembles the last stages of The Beatles. At least, unlike that foursome or the Stones, the machinations of Allen Klein to take over The Who's finances were fended off by Lambert, Stamp and Townshend. Yet, the band by the close of 1966 lacked continuity or consistency in their releases; the experimentation of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Pink Floyd signaled an era far from Mods vs. Rockers. Townshend's "story-songs" struggled at times to chart.

By then, the drug culture which consumed the Mods had soured for the lead songwriter. He distanced himself from the scene, even as he loved spending money and acting out his artistic ambitions. This bifurcation helped his music, however. The guitarist's decision to turn to Meher Baba is well-known, but it did, as Blake shows, ease Townshend's egotistical compulsion. He appreciated the awareness of the damage done by his insistence on pushing limits and refusing to listen to the wisdom of his comrades. That drive enabled Townshend to rise above his peers and to reign as a young eminence, but it also aroused his disgust with the contradictions a rock celebrity's career represented, if that star spoke for pure intentions.

Meanwhile, the bassist connived, sometimes with a drummer bent on hotel-room smashing, while the singer gave up Dippity-Do. Daltrey groomed a leonine mane atop his buckskin vest and rugged, tanned physique. Among a homely band, he stood out. Despite or due to his short stature, he grew into the role that Townshend and he had worked out, as the confident voice for the guitarist's torments and triumphs.

Blake regales readers with many familiar stories. Townshend's versions, whether set down in his 2012 autobiography or as venerable, conversational anecdotes, can differ with each other as well as with bandmates. Daltrey gets his own words in, with similar contradictions now and then. The truth of Moon's legendary Holiday Inn debacle in Flint, Michigan, or what song Jimmy Page did or did not play on, may never be known, but it is fun following the narratives as these moments enter rock star lore. Blake strives to keep straight who said what to whom and when. This accuracy enhances this book's value. (A recommended archive, although it may have appeared too late in 2014 for consultation, is not cited: Mike Segretto's The Who FAQ [see my review]. Otherwise, Blake blends smoothly many standard sources on the band into his presentation.)

The albums themselves gain short shrift; track-by-track commentary is not Blake's intent. He emphasizes the band's nature more than their recordings, although Lambert's suggestions get due credit, as does the input of Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon to what seems soon after the start Townshend's band. Blake depicts vivid scenes: touring with Herman's Hermits, sparring at Monterey with Jimi Hendrix, making money from and losing even more for Track Records. The "financial profligacy" of the Who grew as troubled, feckless Lambert gave in to the addictions which would eventually consume first the drummer and much later the bassist. This hedonism met with the singer's disdain and the guitarist's ambivalence. Amidst hippie excess, Townshend "felt like a workman in a lunatic asylum, come to fix the plumbing." But both Townshend and Daltrey celebrated the onstage energy of the band, which reached its peak, in the studio and in concert, as ornamented productions on {Tommy} warped into massive assaults, performed live.

Even muddy Woodstock worked, despite three-quarters of the band accidentally on acid. Shunted aside to open their set at 4 a.m., luck came their way. They started "See Me, Feel Me" as dawn broke.

Blake ducks out as the story gets good, for the decade ended before the band sustained or perhaps surpassed its 1969-1970 breakthroughs in albums and on tours. Blake provides a brief coda summing up the next decade, but one closes this narrative hoping for the author to return, and to follow this with a complete look at the next seven or eight years. The book ends in 1970, not 1969. But as many claim along with the author, "The Sixties" did not begin until nearly mid-decade. That counterculture period of creativity and chaos ended nearly ten years after The Who as we know them assembled, to make their unsteady climb to near or at the top of British rock. There, they won their war, amid very strong competition, during what remain the best years of that music, and arguably much more in art and culture, as this book demonstrates.

Symphonized GLXY Premium Genuine Wood In-ear Noise-isolating Headphones with Mic and Nylon Cable (Cherry)
Symphonized GLXY Premium Genuine Wood In-ear Noise-isolating Headphones with Mic and Nylon Cable (Cherry)
Offered by Symphonized
Price: $49.99
4 used & new from $21.92

4.0 out of 5 stars Very good value and wood housing, too!, February 27, 2015
Many reviews have preceded mine, so here's the basics. The Symphonized GLXY differ from competition in the In-Ear Monitors category by their wood rather than plastic housing. This provides a richer experience in listening. I did not feel the bass leap out, and that may be a plus, for it seemed more integrated. Some IEMs boost the bass and it sounds bottom-heavy or artificially enhanced. The Symphonized, as I had hoped, provide a nicely balanced soundstage.

Most cords are 36 inches but this is 48. Some may like the added length. It is a braided nylon, not as common as other materials. I favor more cord rather than less, but if a yoke had been added to keep the upper parts closer together, that would help, as the cords can wander across your chest as a result. Some may hear slight interference if the cords rub or meet resistance.

Also, if a hard case could have been provided as is common for better-quality IEMs, that might have benefited users. On the other hand, a few s/m/l flanges are given to supplement the medium default ones, with which I have no problem. (Item provided in exchange for a review.)

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