Farinelli – 3

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy fifthgroup.com

Moving to the next stall, the warm, crowded scent of fresh baked bread embraces you.  And in the back of the stall, on a marble slab, a roly-poly fat-faced man massages a thin sheet of pasta.  His fingers mesmerize you as he deftly cuts and molds perfect little shells, dropping them on a baking foil.  This is true alchemy, but instead of turning lead into gold, he transforms water, eggs and flour into delicious pearls.

No wonder Bologna is called la grassa, ‘the fat one,’ a term which refers to its cuisine.  I can imagine Farinelli striding long-leggedly through a light rain along Via Clavatura, humming a tune as he carries a bag of pasta and a loaf of bread.

Although he never achieved any worthwhile girth, from his journals we know that Farinelli enjoyed bread with a thin, crisp crust surrounding a soft, flaky interior.  And even in Farinelli’s day, good bread was hard to find. 

In today’s world, people just want their bread to be white.  Not Farinelli.  Il castrato sought out bakers who used only natural yeast, which makes the best bread.  And the dough must have been kneaded at least three times.  Farinelli knew that Egyptian bakers of yore, in their quest for perfection, kneaded the dough with their feet. 

Another highly desirable adjunct to good bread was the wood-burning oven.  The coals imbued the rising dough with a certain taste and a distinctive smell.  And the crust firmed up slower, allowing it to be crackley and thin.  In that manner, when bitten into, it was like a delicate pastry.  If you look hard, you can still find such bread in one or two of the bakeries in Bologna.  In these shops they eschew gas or electric ovens, which are popular because wood is difficult to come by.  Not only that, it’s expensive because woodcutting is not a popular career track. 

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Farinelli – 2

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy of rhsrebellion.com

“Castration for music” was practiced primarily by the Italians.  Under the Roman Catholic Church’s Canon Law castration was prohibited; it was considered to be mutilation and its practice resulted in ex-communication.  Unofficially, however, the Church supported “castration for music.”  For one simple reason:  it made their choirs better, especially since women were banned from choirs.

The choirs were important, for they sang the music that praised and glorified God. 

So the practice continued, with as many as 4000 to 5000 boys per year undergoing the bloody ministrations of the knife.  Most of these were from destitute families, and were sold by their parents to a singing master.  In most cases, they were not asked if they desired to be castrated.  There was no choice.  They just were.

At the end of the eighteenth century, castrati lost their appeal to the masses.  Musical tastes were changing, and mutilation by castration came to be considered obscene as well as cruel.  In 1870 the Italian government outlawed deliberate mutilation of another human being.  And Pope Leo the XIII banned the use of castrati in church choirs.   

Farinelli, aka Carlo Boschi, the exception to the rule in many ways, was not poor.  He was born into a musical Italian family; his father was the governor of Maratea and Cisternino.  His father decided the boy’s voice was too pure and precious to suffer the stain of hormones, so a plan was concocted.  Supposedly Carlo fell while riding his horse.  His testicles were crushed in the fall, and castration had to be performed for medical reasons.

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Farinelli – 1

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy bernardgordillo.com

He died a lonely old man.  He was seventy-seven years old.

His first grave was in the cemetery of the Capuchin monastery of Santa Croce in Bologna, Italy.  He was interred wearing the mantle of the Order of Calatrava.

Santa Croce Cemetery itself is unruly:  too much of everything, and messy.  Monuments stand here, there and everywhere, as do floor slabs.  And fifty percent of them are memorials for dead people who aren’t buried there.  The vast church, flat and gray, like something from a Hollywood set, surveys the hodgepodge before it.  Begun in 1294, consecration of the church took place in 1433.  The biographer, Giorgio Vasari, added to the clutter when, in 1565, he was hired to revamp the interior of the church.  He whitewashed the frescoed walls, then erected ugly altars.

Wrecked further by cannon balls, the pounding hooves of sweaty horses, and the tramping of thousands of soldiers during the Napoleonic wars, Santa Croce cemetery descended into total chaos.  So his body was moved to its second grave.  His niece, Maria Carlotta Pisani, transferred him to the cemetery of La Certosa in Bologna.  Forty years later, she was interred beside him.

La Certosa

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