Bizzarro Bazar Web Series: Episode 10

In the 10th episode of Bizzarro Bazar Web Series: the psychedelic story of crainal trepanation advocates; the african fetish hiding a dark secret; the Club that has the most macabre initiation ritual in the whole world.
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And so we came to the conclusion … at least for this first season.
Will there be another one? Who knows?

For the moment, enjoy this last episode and consider subscribing to the channel if you haven’t yet. Cheers!

Written & Hosted by Ivan Cenzi
Directed by Francesco Erba
Produced by Ivan Cenzi, Francesco Erba, Theatrum Mundi & Onda Videoproduzioni

Links, curiosities & mixed wonders – 9

Let’s start with some quick updates.

Just three days left till the end of the Bizzarro Bazar Contest. I received so many fantastic entries, which you will discover next week when the winners are announced. So if you’re among the procrastinators, hurry up and don’t forget to review the guidelines: this blog has to be explicitly mentioned/portrayed within your work.

On October 1st I will be at Teatro Bonci in Cesena for the CICAP Fest 2017 [CICAP is a skeptical educational organization.]
As this year’s edition will focus on fake news, hoaxes and post-truth, I was asked to bring along some wonders from my wunderkammer — particularly a bunch of objects that lie between truth and lies, between reality and imagination. And, just to be a bit of a rebel, I will talk about creative hoaxes and fruitful conspiracies.

As we are mentioning my collection, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for one of the last arrivals: this extraordinary work of art.

I hear you say “Well, what’s so special about it?“. Oh, you really don’t understand modern art, do you?
This picture, dated 2008, was painted by the famous artist Jomo.

Here’s Jomo:

Here’s Jomo as a bronze statuette, acquired along with the painting.

Exactly, you guessed it: from now on I will be able to pull  the good old Pierre Brassau prank on my house guests.
I was also glad the auction proceeds for the gorilla painting went to the Toronto Zoo personnel, who daily look after these wonderful primates. By the way, the Toronto Zoo is an active member of the North American Gorilla Species Survival Plan and also works in Africa to save endangered gorillas (who I was surprised to find are facing extinction because of our cellphones).

And now let’s start with our usual selection of goodies:

She’d given me rendez-vous in a graveyard / At midnight – and I went: / Wind was howling, dark was the sky / The crosses stood white before the churchyard; / And to this pale young girl I asked: / – Why did you give me rendez-vous in a graveyard? / – I am dead, she answered, and you do not know: / Would you lay down beside me in this grave? / Many years ago I loved you, alive, / For many a year the merciless tomb sealed me off… / Cold is the ground, my beloved youth! / I am dead, she answered, and you do not know.

  • This is a poem by Igino Ugo Tarchetti, one of the leading figures in the Scapigliatura, the most bizarre, gothic and “maudit” of all Italian literary movements. (My new upcoming book for the Bizzarro Bazar Collection will also deal, although marginally, with the Scapigliati.)

  • And let’s move onto shrikes, these adorable little birds of the order of the Passeriformes.
    Adorable, yet carnivore: their family name, Laniidae, comes from the Latin word for “butcher” and as a matter of fact, being so small, they need to resort to a rather cruel ploy. After attacking a prey (insects but also small vertebrates), a shrike proceeds to impale it on thorns, small branches, brambles or barbed wire, in order to immobilize it and then comfortably tear it to pieces, little by little, while often still alive — making Vlad Tepes look like a newbie.

  • Talking about animals, whales (like many other mammals) mourn their dead. Here’s a National Geographic article on cetacean grief.
  • Let’s change the subject and talk a bit about sex toys. Sexpert Ayzad compiled the definitive list of erotic novelties you should definitely NOT buy: these ultra-kitsch, completely demented and even disturbing accessories are so many that he had to break them into three articles, one, two and three. Buckle up for a descent into the most schizoid and abnormal part of sexual consumerism (obviously some pics are NSFW).
  • Up next, culture fetishists: people who describe themselves as “sapiosexuals”, sexually attracted by intelligence and erudition, are every nerd’s dream, every introverted bookworm’s mirage.
    But, as this article suggests, choosing an intelligent partner is not really such a new idea: it has been a part of evolution strategies for millions of years. Therefore those who label themselves as sapiosexual on social networks just seem pretentious and eventually end up looking stupid. Thus chasing away anyone with even a modicum of intelligence. Ah, the irony.

  • Meanwhile The LondoNerD, the Italian blog on London’s secrets, has discovered a small, eccentric museum dedicated to Sir Richard Francis Burton, the adventurer whose life would be enough to fill a dozen Indiana Jones movies. [Sorry, the post is in Italian only]

Someone fixed giraffes, at last.

The witch girl of Albenga

And maybe it is for revenge, maybe out of fear
Or just plain madness, but all along
You are the one who suffers the most
If you want to fly, they drag you down
And if a witch hunt begins,
Then you are the witch.

(Edoardo Bennato, La fata, 1977)

Saint Calocero, Albenga. 15th Century.
A 13-year-old girl was being buried near the church. But the men who were lowering her down decided to arrange her face down, so that her features were sealed by dirt. They did so to prevent her from getting up, and raising back to life. So that her soul could not sneak off her mouth and haunt those places. They did so, ultimately, because that little girl scared them to death.
Not far from there, another woman’s body was lying in a deep pit. Her skeleton was completely burned, and over her grave, the men placed a huge quantity of heavy stones, so she could not climb out of her tomb. Because women like her, everybody knew, were bound to wake up from the dead.

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The “witch girl of Albenga”, and a second female skeleton showing deep signs of burning, are two exceptional findings brought to light last year by a team from the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology, directed by Professor Philippe Pergola and coordinated by archeologist Stefano Roascio and Elena Dellù. Scholars were particularly puzzled by the proximity of these two anomalous burials to the ancient church which hosted the relics of martyr Saint Calocero: if these two women were considered “dangerous” or “damned”, why were they inhumed in a privileged burial ground, surely coveted by many?

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One explanation could be that burying them there was a “sign of submission to the Church”. But there is still extensive analysis to be conducted on the remains, and already skeletons are revealing some clues which could shine a light on this completely forgotten story. Why would a child, not even 60 inches tall, instill such a deep fear in her fellow citizens?
Researchers found out small holes in her skull, which could show she suffered from severe anemia and scurvy. These pathologies could involve fainting, sudden bleeding and epileptic fits; all symptoms that, at the time, could have been easily interpreted as demonic possession.
A possible kinship between the two women has still to be confirmed, but both skeletons seem to show signs of metopism, a genetic condition affecting the suture of the frontal bones.
According to radiocarbon dating, the burials date back to a period between 1440 and 1530 AD – when the infamous witch hunts had already begun.

english-witches-making-a-spell-1489-engraving-b-w-photoIn 1326, the papal bull Super illius specula by Pope John XXII set the basis for witch hunts: as incredible as it may sound, until then intellctuals and theologists had dismissed the idea of a “commerce with the Devil” as a mere superstition, that had to be eradicated.

Therefore in those churches they are given custody of priests have to constantly predicate to God’s people that these things are completely false. […] Who has never experienced going out of one’s body during his sleep, or to have night visions and to see, while sleeping, things he had never seen while wide awake? Who could be so dull or foolish as to believe that all these things which happen in the spirit, could also happen in the body?

(Canon episcopi, X Century)

Instead, starting from the XIV Century, even the intelligentsia was convinced that witches were real, and thus began the fight not just against heresy, but also against witchcraft, a persecution the Church entrusted to mendicant orders (Dominicans and Franciscans) and which would last over four centuries. Following the publishing of Malleus Maleficarum (1487), an actual handbook about witchcraft repression, the trials increased, ironically in conjunction with the Renaissance, up until the Age of Enlightenment. The destiny of the “witch girl” of Albenga has to be framed in this complex historical period: it is not a real mystery, as some newspapers have claimed, but rather another tragic human story, its details vanishing in time. Hopefully at least a small part of it will be reconstructed, little by little, by the international team of researchers who are now working on the San Calocero excavations.

(Thanks, Silvano!)

Mors pretiosa

Mors Pretiosa

Here comes the third volume in the Bizzarro Bazar Collection, Mors pretiosa – Italian religious ossuaries, already on pre-sale at the Logos bookshop.

This book, closing an ideal trilogy about those Italian sacred spaces where a direct contact with the dead is still possible, explores three exceptional locations: the Capuchin Crypt in Via Veneto, Rome, the hypogeum of Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte in via Giulia, also in Rome, and the chapel of San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan.
Our journey through these three wonderful examples of decorated charnel houses, confronts us with a question that might seems almost outrageous today: can death possess a kind of peculiar, terrible beauty?

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From the press kit:

There is a crack, a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in” sings Leonard Cohen, and this is ultimately the message brought by the bones that can be admired in this book; death is an eternal wound and at the same time a way out. A long way from the idea of cemetery, its atmosphere of peace and the emotions it instils, the term “ossuary” usually evokes an impression of gloomy coldness but the three places in this book are very different. The subjects in question are Italy’s most important religious ossuaries in which bones have been used with decorative ends: the Capuchin Crypt and Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte in Rome, and San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan. Thick with the sensation of mortality and vanitas, these ossuaries are capable of performing a completely unexpected role: on the one hand they embody the memento mori as an exhortation to trust in an afterlife for which the earthly life is a mere preparation and test, on the other they represent shining examples of macabre art. They are the suggestive and emotional expression – which is at the same time compassionate – of a “high” feeling: that of the transitory, of the inexorability of detachment and the hope of Resurrection. Decorated with the same bones they are charged with safeguarding, they pursue the Greek concept of kalokagathìa, namely to make the “good death” even aesthetically beautiful, disassembling the physical body to recompose it in pleasant and splendid arrangements and thereby transcend it. The clear and in-depth texts of the book set these places in the context of the fideistic attitudes of their time and Christian theological traditions whereas the images immerse us in these sacred places charged with fear and fascination. Page after page, the patterns of skulls and bones show us death in all of its splendour, they make it mirabilis, worthy of being admired.

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In the text are recounted some fascinating stories about these places, from sacred representations in which human remains were used as props, to the misadventures of corpse seekers; but mainly we discover that these bone arabesques were much more than a mere attempt to impress the viewer, while in fact they represented a sort of death encyclopedia, which was meant to be read and interpreted as a real eschatological itinerary.

As usual, the book is extensively illustrated by Carlo Vannini‘s evocative photographs.

You can pre-order your copy of Mors Pretiosa on this page, and in the Bookshop you can purchase the previous two books in the series.

De profundis

The second title of the Bizzarro Bazar Series is now available for pre-order.

After exploring the Palermo Capuchin Catacombs in the first volume, now we enter another unique place, the Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples, where one of the most peculiar and fascinating devotional cults has developed.

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Buried in the heart of the city, the Sanità quarter is an authentic borderland between the world of the living and the world of the dead. You only need to distance yourself from the hustle and bustle, from the megaphones of the fruit and vegetable stalls, the mopeds ridden by fearless street urchins darting between the cars, and reach the top of the area: here on the right of the church of Maria Santissima del Carmine, is the Fontanelle cemetery.

Situated within an ancient tuff quarry, the cemetery is an imposing underground cathedral, hovering between darkness and the swathes of light cutting through it.

Thousands of bones and skulls are piled up for all to see, the remains of at least 40,000 anonymous human beings. In this evocative and peaceful place, death is no longer insurmountable: the living and the souls of the deceased communicate with each other by means of the so-called capuzzelle, which embody the ancestral obsession with the skull as an icon of transcendence and the promise of eternal life.

 

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Here the skulls are spoken to, touched, and cleaned. They are taken care of. Candles are lit, offerings are given and favours asked for in a do ut des of worship.

This is the cult of the anime pezzentelle, abandoned and anonymous souls, in need of the compassion of the living to alleviate their suffering in Purgatory. In return, they promise to be kind to the devout believer, helping out with health problems, finding a husband for young unmarried girls, solving financial issues or providing the winning lottery numbers. Although the cult is now almost completely abandoned, it still resists, and its traces are well visible in the Cemetery.

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There are countless ossuaries around the world, but the suggestion of the Fontanelle Cemetery is quite specific. On one hand, the compassionate and sober disposition of the human remains shows no sign of macabre or baroque taste, introducing the visitor to a suspended quiet as if he was entering a real sanctuary; on the other hand, the devotion of the people has somewhat mitigated the memento mori effect – not just on the account of those colorful, often ironic legends and myths surrounding the skulls, but also by elaborating the cult of the souls of Purgatory in a peculiar way, through unprecedented rules and rituals. Thus, adding to the wonder of thousands of piled up bones under the immense vault, one can feel a palpable devotion, transforming the skulls from figurations of mortality to symbols of transcendence.

Carlo Vannini‘s photographs plunge us into the enchanted atmosphere of the underground cathedral, revealing its gloomy charm and bringing us so close to the capuzzelle – bare or adorned with various votive offerings such as handkerchieves, little holy pictures, coloured rosary beads etc. – that their eyeholes seem to meet our eyes with a glance which is not less alive.

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De profundis, with texts in Italian and English, will be available in Italian bookstores (and online retailers worldwide) from May 18th and will be officially launched at the Turin International Book Fair, with book signing sessions on May 16 th and 17 th.

If you are not going to attend the book fair, you can order your signed copy here, which will be shipped after the book fair is over, by May 25th.

For further info, please check out the official bookstore for the Bizzarro Bazar series and our Facebook page.

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Musica a cranio aperto

corsia-ospedale

Mentre cammina lungo il corridoio dell’ospedale, una lontana melodia raggiunge l’orecchio di un infermiere. Da dove proviene?
Un violinista sta suonando il suo strumento, ma non si tratta di un paziente in un letto di corsia che ammazza la noia con un concertino improvvisato: in realtà, il musicista è bloccato su una poltroncina operatoria, la testa richiusa in una specie di morsa che ricorda vagamente una versione steampunk della Cura Ludovico di Arancia Meccanica… e mentre il suo archetto si muove sinuoso avanti e indietro carezzando le corde, e liberando le note, alcuni chirurghi stanno infilando dei lunghi spilloni di metallo attraverso un buco nel suo cranio, fino nel profondo del suo cervello esposto.

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Il violinista si chiama Roger Frisch, ed ha alle spalle quarant’anni di carriera come musicista da camera, pedagogo e suonatore d’orchestra. Il 1992 vide il suo debutto come solista al Carnegie Hall, e da allora egli è stato spesso primo violino.

Roger-Frisch

Ma nel 2009 Frisch scoprì di non riuscire più a muovere correttamente l’archetto: la sua mano destra era affetta da un leggero tremolio. Per qualsiasi altra persona l’entità del tremore sarebbe stata trascurabile, ma per Frisch si trattava di un problema che metteva a repentaglio la sua intera professione.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3QQOQAILZw]

La procedura chirurgica a cui Roger Frisch ha deciso di sottoporsi è la Stimolazione Cerebrale Profonda (SCP). Il cranio viene trapanato, degli elettrodi sono impiantati nel subtalamo e collegati poi con un pacemaker che verrà posizionato sottocute a livello della clavicola oppure nell’addome.

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Utilizzata come sostegno esclusivamente sintomatologico (la malattia rimane, ma i suoi effetti vengono alleviati) per tremori essenziali, distonia, Parkinson, e molte altre patologie motorie, la SCP è una terapia integrativa a quella farmaceutica, e si basa sulla stimolazione elettrica delle zone danneggiate del cervello. Sulla rete si possono trovare dei video che elogiano gli effetti all’apparenza “miracolosi” di questa tecnica, come ad esempio quello qui sotto.

[youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uohp7luuwJI&start=53]

Questi filmati, per quanto impressionanti, vanno comunque presi con le pinze: nonostante la Stimolazione Cerebrale Profonda sia praticata ormai da vent’anni con effetti spesso benefici, i medici non hanno ancora compreso con precisione come essa agisca sul tessuto nervoso stimolato. La procedura è lunga e difficoltosa per il paziente, che deve rimanere sveglio durante l’intera operazione e sottoporsi a continui test affinché i neurochirurghi possano “aggiustare il tiro” e posizionare gli elettrodi nel punto esatto in cui saranno davvero efficaci. Inoltre gli effetti collaterali che possono insorgere sono i più imprevedibili e vari, molto spesso perfino complicati da diagnosticare: alcuni pazienti, ad esempio, mostrano una decisa modificazione della personalità (che però potrebbe anche essere conseguenza della ritrovata libertà); altri un’ipersessualità che in alcuni casi incrina perfino le dinamiche coniugali, oppure alterazioni del linguaggio, o ancora allucinazioni ed inedite tendenze suicide. Insomma, il rapporto benefici/effetti collaterali a lungo termine può variare, e deve essere discusso a fondo anche con i congiunti del paziente. Nel caso di Frisch, oltre alle verifiche “classiche” a cui vengono sottoposti i pazienti durante l’operazione (disegnare spirali, ripetere scioglilingua, svolgere semplici compiti con le mani), è essenziale che lui suoni il suo violino. Soltanto così medici e paziente si possono rendere conto di quale esatta posizione dell’elettrodo riduca effettivamente il tremore.

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Ma Frisch non è il solo, né il più noto personaggio ad aver suonato in sala operatoria in queste strane condizioni.

Chi ha seguito la celebre serie televisiva True Detective, prodotta da HBO, si ricorderà certamente il personaggio del carcerato Charlie Lang, e magari ha già visto l’attore in questione, Brad Carter, in alcune puntate di CSI, Bones, The Mentalist, Justified o Dexter.

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Oltre a condurre una fortunata carriera d’attore, Brad Carter è però anche un musicista country. Da diversi anni ormai soffre di tremore essenziale, una patologia degenerativa che potrebbe tramutarsi in breve tempo in una forma di Parkinson. Brad ha subìto ben due interventi di Stimolazione Cerebrale Profonda, che descrive come “la cosa peggiore che abbia mai provato in vita mia“. L’operazione principale, della durata di sette ore, prevedeva che Brad ne passasse sei rimanendo sveglio: “il talamo controlla anche il linguaggio e c’erano momenti in cui ho completamente perduto la mia capacità di parlare. È stata la cosa più surreale di cui io abbia mai fatto esperienza“.

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Essendo il cinquecentesimo paziente a subire l’intervento all’UCLA, l’ospedale ha chiesto a Brad di poter filmare l’operazione; la performance eseguita sulla sua chitarra artigianale è stata postata live su Twitter e nel giro di poco tempo è diventata virale, venendo vista da 30 milioni di persone soltanto il primo giorno e facendo velocemente il giro del pianeta. Ne hanno parlato i telegiornali di tutto il mondo, da Hong Kong all’Australia all’Iran.

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Grazie a questa inaspettata pubblicità, Brad Carter ha potuto finanziare su Kickstarter quello che sarà, presumibilmente, il suo primo e unico album professionale. Se la SCP ha infatti rallentato il tremore alla mano destra, le sue condizioni si stanno inesorabilmente aggravando, e la registrazione di questo lavoro è stata una vera e propria lotta contro il tempo. Oggi il disco, intitolato semplicemente Carter, è in prevendita sul sito ufficiale dell’artista. Una piccola rivincita sulla malattia che gli sta portando via la cosa per lui più preziosa: “Sono un chitarrista dal 1988, la musica è il mio primo amore. Faccio l’attore per vivere, ma ho sempre la musica a cui ritornare, è una parte della mia anima. […] D’un tratto guardi tutte le tue abilità, e ciò che sei veramente, svanire di fronte ai tuoi occhi. È dura,  quando lo vedi succedere. E non puoi farci nulla. [… ] Quello che mi è stato offerto è la speranza, che prima non avevo.

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wejrPcnhmA8]

(Grazie, Ipnosarcoma!)

Very Heavy Metal

Compressorhead

Ecco a voi la band di heavy metal più pesante del mondo: i Compressorhead, che tutti assieme vengono stimati attorno alle 6 tonnellate.

Stickboy, il batterista, ha calcato le scene per la prima volta nel 2007. Come recita il sito ufficiale, “ha 4 braccia, 2 gambe, 1 testa e nessun cervello”. Nel 2009 ha conosciuto Fingers, il chitarrista, che con le sue 78 dita meccaniche è in grado di suonare qualsiasi nota sul manico della sua chitarra elettrica. Ma la band l’anno scorso si è arricchita di un altro elemento fondamentale, Bones – il bassista più preciso del pianeta. Eccoli nella loro sala prove, durante la preparazione di un nuovo pezzo.

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I Compressorhead sono essenzialmente una cover band, e ripropongono brani celebri dell’hard rock e dell’heavy metal, riarrangiati secondo le loro strabilianti doti di esecuzione e, soprattutto, di spettacolarità sul palco. Ecco Stickboy e Fingers (Bones non era ancora nato!) durante una loro esibizione televisiva.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qKAWBNl4MeA]

I Compressorhead, che nel 2013 saranno in tour in Australia, sono stati realizzati dalla casa tedesca Robocross. Ecco il sito ufficiale della band.