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Still from Fellini’s movie Amarcord portraying the SS Rex (edited by author)

Hurray for the Rex! The greatest thing the regime ever built!”

In Fellini’s Oscar-winning 1973 movie Amarcord, the SS Rex comes out of the darkness, glistening with lights like a giant Christmas tree. The crowd awaiting her passage cheers wildly, claps, waves hats and handkerchiefs— some even shed a tear — at the sight of the elegant, almost mythical ship sailing through the summer night.

The SS Rex was impressive for several reasons: for one, she was the largest Italian ocean liner ever built up until 1991, when the Grand Classica stole the title. The Rex also held the westbound…


An act of spite turned two invaluable historical artifacts to ashes

Black and white photograph of a man standing in front of a giant wooden hull
Black and white photograph of a man standing in front of a giant wooden hull
The hull of one of the ships (Wikimedia Commons)

I guess that anything we manage to save from history is a miracle,” Donna Tartt wrote in her 2014 Pulitzer winning novel The Goldfinch.
I suppose it must be true, considering how many historical and artistic treasures we managed to destroy — out of malice, bad judgment, political or religious zeal, or simply plain, sheer stupidity.

The botched restoration of Martínez’s Ecce Homo and the 17th-century painting of the Virgin Mary irreparably damaged by an incompetent restorer are some examples of this, but at least those were done in…


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1934 cover of Italian magazine “La Tribuna Illustrata”

It’s March 1934 and Anna Monaro, a patient at Pirano hospital in Italy (now on Slovenian territory) is sound asleep. Nothing seems out of the ordinary until a fellow patient sees an intense blue flame-like light emanating from her body, strong enough to light up the entire room.

Several nurses and a doctor witness the bizarre event, and Anna is transferred to a much larger hospital in Rome, where the perplexing phenomenon can be studied. The story of the “luminous woman” is too juicy to remain a secret for long: soon the account of Anna’s strange glow is all over…


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The nameless “Collegno amnesiac” (Wikimedia Commons)

If you often miss appointments, forget birthdays and anniversaries, or lose your car keys all the time, your Italian friends could jokingly ask you if you are the smemorato di Collegno.

The expression, meaning “the amnesiac man from Collegno” is still used in Italy to mean a muddle-headed, forgetful person or somebody who feigns ignorance about something: its origin dates all the way back to 1926, when a man who appeared to have lost all his memories spent nearly a year in the Collegno Asylum, near Turin, without a name.

Two very different women recognized him as their long-lost husband…


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Lake Como — Photo by Bruce Meier on Unsplash

Mary Scott Castle was 39 and a divorcée when she met 21-years-old Porter Charlton in New York. Despite the age gap and different social backgrounds (she was a failed actress from the Bay Area, he the scion of an upper-middle-class Washington family), the attraction between them was mutual, immediate, and irresistible: in March 1910, just a month after they met, Porter and Mary took a train to Delaware, where they clandestinely got married.

Less than 90 days later, Mary’s lifeless body was found stuffed into a wooden trunk floating on the surface of Lake Como.


Napoleon Bonaparte on his horse holding a jar of Nutella
Napoleon Bonaparte on his horse holding a jar of Nutella
Picture by author

Have you ever decided to make yourself a bread-and-Nutella snack and ended up eating the thick, velvety cream straight off the spoon? And did you know that every 2.5 seconds, a jar of Nutella is sold somewhere in the world?

What you might not know is that Nutella’s predecessor, a chocolate-hazelnut cream named Gianduja, dates back to the early 1800s and its history intertwines with that of Napoleon Bonaparte.

By the early 1800s, Turin had established itself as Europe’s chocolate capital, and its confectionery products were known and appreciated across the continent.

Cocoa plants are not native to Europe, though…


Two women sit at a Parisian café tablein the 1920s
Two women sit at a Parisian café tablein the 1920s
Au Café — Solita Solano and Djuna Barnes (1922). Photo by Maurice Brange. Edited by author

“Thirty-year-old lady looking for a female travel companion.”

When Elisa Merclin reads this short advertisement in May 1930, she thinks: this is the chance of a lifetime.

She replies as fast as she can and soon finds herself sitting for a job interview with Maria Bonvecchiato, the woman who put the ad in the paper.
And Elisa is pleasantly surprised: Maria is not the frail old lady in knitted gloves she expected to be looking for a paid companion.

As it turns out, Maria is one year younger than Elisa: she tells her she is a very wealthy young widow…


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I do like dramatic poses, don’t I?

Now, let me preface this by saying that I never physically killed anyone — which, I know, is not a suspicious thing to say at all.
I also do not own a demonic notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in its pages — which is exactly what somebody owning a demonic notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in its pages would say, now that I think of it.

But I digress, as I always do.

What I mean is that I register people’s deaths. And births. And also marriages, divorces, citizenships and also a lot of…


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By Johannes Munz — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76959381

Is there a right age to get married or to begin a long-term relationship?
Today, the answer might be something along the line of when you feel ready, or when you are mentally and emotionally prepared for the commitment, or even there is no such thing as a ‘right age’.

In the past, it would have been more like “why aren’t you married already?”

For most of history, being single has been frowned upon — and I don’t mean the way your mother keeps asking when you’re finally going to settle down and give her a couple of grandchildren.

With…


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Picture scanned from 1936 “The Fifty Most Amazing Crimes Of The Last 100 Years”

Harriet Staunton, (née Richardson), was not a very pretty woman. At 35 years old she was large and ungainly, with droopy black eyes and a coarse complexion. In contrast to her dull appearance — or maybe because of it — Harriet liked brightly-colored clothes and large, extravagant jewelry.

She was also, as her mother put it, ‘simple-minded’: despite her parents’ best efforts (they spent a lot of time and quite a lot of money to give her an education), Harriet could barely read and write.

Her mother, Mrs. Butterfield, loved Harriet dearly and always made sure she was healthy, clean…

Giulia Montanari

Thirty-something public registrar in Italy. Not the glamorous part of Italy, though.

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