Friday, 29 June 2007

Cremona in four movements

Cremona is a music town; likes to think of itself as the centre for the greatest violin making in history. A hundred metres from its cathedral is a museum with examples from Stradivari, Guaraneri dei Gesû; as well as violins made by members of the Amati family, beginning with Andrea Amati, born in 1566.

Tom doesn’t mention the violins, but today, as in 1608, workshops are found all over the town; in the violin museum it is easy to look at the instruments - in glass boxes, under controlled temperatures, with guards strolling and no photography whatsoever – and imagine Amati’s instruments being played in churches here, or in nearby Venice – where Tom does witness, and thoroughly describes, a concert.

Cremona has a musical rhythm: a four movement day, each with themes, developed over time. Mornings are about shopping, markets that arrive with daylight, a blur of colours; of mercantile sounds. Cafés are for breaks in the process, full of men – who will not be moving – sitting over the football papers, and joined sometimes by women in mid-process acquisition (old-school, but true). On Saturday it is the fair of St Anthony, which brings markets to all three of the main squares: get up late though and it will be missed. By one all that is left are white vans taking the unsold clothes and foods away.

The first movement is about bustle and noise, as is the third and some parts of the fourth. Often in these towns, in Lodi, Vercelli, Mantua and Pizzighetonne – merely the ones I’ve seen – the question of where food is bought comes up. Lodi might display its 5000 Euro sofas with some discrete pleasure, where its grocery store is, who knows? Only the local people seem to know, and they keep such secrets with a conspiracist’s joy; often they shop outside, in hypermarkets that we tourist/travellers never see, I suspect.

The open markets change this: an obvious variation. Suddenly cheeses and meats, vegetables and oils are centre stage, along with the shoes and dresses and sunglasses. The result is a Saturday morning of worship, re-acquaintance and bargains. And as the last notes are played, and paid, it isn’t clear, to the uninitiated, what kind of second movement is to come.

In fact what comes is a giant conjuring trick: the market stalls vanish within twenty minutes and so do the inhabitants of Cremona. A few are to be seen having a late lunch, but really the only people on the streets are strangers. Tourists, travellers; and a coach party from America.

To say American tourists are soft targets is a little like saying Stockhausen’s music isn’t particularly easy to consume. In this case horror after horror is perpetrated, said, done: at least the entire “visit” to Cremona only takes 45 minutes, most of which is taken up in an argument about whether “gelato” is ice-cream. The basis of the discussion being that several of the party were sick last night after “gelato”, and they are never sick in the States with ice-cream (do the math yourself). The whole episode is like one of Shakespeare’s vaguely annoying interludes when the clowns come onstage for some audience participation. The group is a kind of base street theatre where despite the appearance of individual and collective confidence and volume everyone – tour leaders, reluctant dads (there are a couple), “chaperones”, “chaperone-groups” [there being a ‘war of terror], texting I-pod kids, the bored, the hungry and the sick – everyone, is nervous. Fearful of difference. “I’ve walked around the entire cathedral [i.e. the central square, a three minute adventure] and there are no take-outs, so if you are hungry: ice cream. Good news is that its food in the hotel tonight in Verona, so we don’t have to worry.”

Young girl: “He said: ‘just find something to eat in one of the streets. But like, does he know where we are?” A question made doubly ironic by the response from a Chinese-american girl. “I want to do something really exotic in Italy, maybe yoghurt and cherry mix with ice cream.”

Americans have become the new “Roma”; gypsies with Gold Cards, welcome because they pay without thinking. “The smaller coin is a ‘one’.” A group leader explains to a 16 year old boy. But scratch the surface in Italy or France and the goodwill that Americans received as a mater of fact in the 1990s, even post 9/11, has eviscerated. It is a great shame; a domino effect. Indifference to and outright displeasure with an American presence leads to a corresponding “siege” mentality, a: “so what, we’re the most powerful?” sense.

I mention them because like me, they are the only ones stupid enough to be out in the blinding heat and sun in early afternoon. Everywhere else, places that in the first, third and fourth movements are a complex arrangement of wind and strings and percussion are now just a fading echo of: “Please join your chaperone group now, please join your chaperone group…”

In the Municipal museum there are more violins, and a great deal of religious art. I am holding fire on art quite deliberately: art and architecture are Tom’s domain, the “principal” concerns of the Grand Tourists, I am trying to only mention these when they are revolutionary. Mantegna is revolutionary; but he doesn’t enter the story until Mantua.

Between 1.30 and five the streets are almost entirely deserted; the large Municipal museum I have to myself – two dogs and five administrators loll about listlessly. Outside the porticoes and the shaded streets are vital; and most shops are closed.

With the reds and greens and oranges (a browny-orange) of pre-supper drinks the town revives. Each of the three main squares has its vibe: the cathedral square, Piazza dei Comune, is older, quieter, content to watch the world wander, rather than pose. Ice cream rules. The piazza Pace is very young; off its exits the children play at sophistication on their bikes, here at the cafés the rituals of the cathedral square and the square are utterly drowned by a street disco, playing Madness, Boy George – an 80s panoply. These are the people who will drink – very slowly, often soft drinks – all evening; whereas in the Piazza Stradivari dinner is part of the process. This is the to-be-looked-at square, a counterpoint of flesh and pouting and cocktails. Woman look like Dominique Sanda; men like Paulo Maldini: a “retro-is-chic”, feel (for a small northern town in Italy – though Italy does have that retro thing everywhere; I think it always has since the 80s). Here the music is “Jamiroquai”: not new, not ancient; danceable yet not techno, neither fashionable not unfashionable. For all those things there are discos, presumably.

By eleven the kids’ square, the Piazza Pace, is a sea of youth-club mixed with high street fashion; Cremona is not the centre of bohemian Italy; it’s only obvious centre is a pub behind the cathedral where students and their teachers argue about Dante, and Capello.

It’s hard to describe the sensation of viewing this shift from almost deserted town to musical riot. I suppose the experience of crossing Italy has acclimatised me to siesta culture, but this is the largest yet: Milan and Turin are different kinds of locations. As with Lodi there is not a seat in any of the squares by eleven, and many just walk around: what was food and clothes market is now meat market, though I don’t see the “market forces” working here, I sense a series of well-scripted family sagas being played out, generation after generation. The themes are much the same as a hundred years ago, perhaps - as Donatella and Milena suggest - things have changed a little, but not so much. By one the kids have vanished, to home, “chez maman” or to the discos; in Cremona’s fourth movement there are twin tracks: the youthful locked in cellars; and the rest of us, lingering, wandering, catching a very late bite somewhere, drinking to watch, to be watched, to talk or to listen. Nowhere does anyone seem to be drinking à la Anglaise. Drinking for Drinking’s Sake seems further away than England or Germany; it is a lifetime away. It occurs to me that Tom might even have found Italy “civilized” in comparison to London. I’ll have to think about that.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Travelling art, finding a space

A collector phones from somewhere – Asia, actually – saying the money is sent. Ulrich Rückriem sits in his braces and yellow shirt, laughs, and then chats some more. We meet by complete chance in the piazza facing Mantua’s cathedral: Ulrich is in town looking at a space where he’s been invited to exhibit in a group show. In an hour and half we cover a lot of ground (some of the ideas will wait for their moment on my journey).

Ulrich is a sculptor, largely, with huge minimal pieces in famous galleries around the world, and exterior installations. As he talks the list goes on: Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilboa. The Reichstag building in Berlin, Dusseldorf, Manchester, Hensca in the Pyrenees…

Of this last piece Ulrich says: “People look at the work and they don’t know where it has come from, you don’t know who did it, if it is old or new. From a distance it looks like a wall, when you come close you realize it is a series of walls, and there is a maze, a path around it. I like the idea of its being anonymous.”

“I don’t have a studio, I am a “quarry artist” he says, “I have a fantastic life: I am free to go.” He lives for the stone, and the precise location in which the art he makes from it will exist. It is the relationship between the stone and the place that makes the art. “I am collected, but they must really love the work because it is all about its site. When you take it away from that, which collectors do, then it is devalued: so they must really love my work to buy it. Everything depends on the space.”

Invited to show at Mantua with other artists, including Alan Charlton and Neile Toroni, he is considering the offer. “Toroni, he is a ‘travel’ artist. He lives in Paris, but he has no studio, he always carries his paints, and where he goes: drip, flick, he creates work on walls. He doesn’t need a space either.”

He remembers first seeing the red “stone” in Verona. “When I was young, just starting. I loved the way it fades in the sun, how it becomes something else. Inside the buildings, that is where you see the pure red, out of the sun. You know there’s a marble and stone shop in Verona, the biggest in the world, huge blocks sometimes three metres by one by one. Well, let me tell you about the stone. Now it all comes from China, they are taking over. The European stone industry is dying out, it is so much cheaper to bring it from China. And the shipping? They use the marble to weigh down the tankers, the ships. It goes at the bottom of the boat, it’s easy.”

So whilst globalisation brings Apple and Dell computers to Europe and America from factories in China on the upper decks, marble hitches a ride down below. Sometimes it is easy to think that China has thought of everything. The fork and the umbrella, for example: Tom’s discoveries that Marco Polo must have seen centuries before out East. Already the nature of my journey is such that the sense that “everything” has been done before is very powerful. Including the replacing of one dominant imperial power with another. I’ve seen Bourbons, British heroes, revolutionaries, Chou-Enlai’s recruiting grounds in the Paris hinterlands; hotbeds of modern dissent, allegedly, in the “banlieu”. Here in Italy the war “on terror” suggests that every internet café is a potential Tora Bora; I’ve crossed the mountains that Hannibal and Napoleon have; today I am at the birthplace of Virgil, the author of the Roman Empire’s “foundation myth”. Everything fades eventually, defeated by hubris or declining economy, or just the next big idea.

And sitting at the next table an artist, and his wife, who takes such palpable pleasure in his art, described simply but clearly a bureaucratic minefield of quarries, locations; creation itself. Sculpture takes us right back to origins, through its very materiality it can survive intact (though its meaning may change) in a way that stories cannot: they change, are always Chinese whispers of narrative. Virgil’s myth used characters from Homer, but re-worked in conscious effort to create Roman “identity”, and national identity at that. Ulrich takes us back to something more liberated than “state” and all of the collected assumptions, stereotypes and assumed realities of being from one country, or another. Even Ulrich falls foul outside art.

“Meet a German abroad, in the jungle, or the desert, and they will be from Saxony,” Ulrich says. “They have to do something. Everybody from the East has to be doing something. Everyone from the Rhine, the Rhineland, have grown cosy, too sloppy.”

I ask about his fellow German artist, Anselm Kiefer. I’ve recently seen two exhibitions, one in Berlin, one in London. I find them very powerful, humanist, full of Geman history, haunting; yet infused with a thick layer of visceral modernity that is universal. Kiefer is interesting, Ulrich suggests, but it all goes back to Joseph Beuys, “and it is never as good as Beuys.” History, its resonance and haunting is surely crucial to the German aesthetic? “For me history just is there, it has nothing to tell us – in itself. Art for me has to be ‘of itself’, ‘in itself’. It is the stone, and it is the place; the place is 50 per cent of the art.”

We have both been to the Palazzo Te here in Mantua, with its huge wall frescos commissioned by the architect Romano from local decorative painters such as Benedetto Pagni and Rinaldo Mantovano: the Room of the Giants, Cupid and Psyche (I’ll write separately about interior space soon), and are taken with the power of the effects. These aren't Premier League Painters, but in this Gonzaga palace the impact is profound; the messages (‘sex is fun’; ‘don’t mess with the leadership’; ‘we are closer to god than you’; ‘yes, we will win the Epsom Derby and the Prix de L’arc de Triomphe this year’; “my phallus is big”) are clear to all - and far more important than the artists. “It is the space,” Ulrich says. “Show me the space and I can say ‘yes’.

Ulrich and his partner live in Cologne with their son. They want to move, to England – where they have a place in Spittlefields, though this isn’t near a German school, and they need this for their son. Perhaps Richmond, on the Thames: that has a school. He says he will retire in 18 months when he is 70. “My last piece will be based on work I do with ‘seven’ points. Connect them in different ways, there are so many combinations, and often you get what I call ‘birds’. It will be on a window. It will be free.”

“The problem with new galleries is that they are all about the vanity of their architects,” Ulrich says. People like Gehry, they make architecture so wild, so difficult to find your way about.” When invited to exhibit at Bilbao, Ulrich created a work “in” the floor, dug down. He told the curators. “I don’t like the space, I create my own.”

Which brings us back to modernity, to the technological “Second Life”, where “MySpace” is all. I rather like the fact Ulrich is not too taken with computers, though he likes some of the possibilities it brings for “planning”. Ulrich’s work is public, grand, and “for itself”. Soon in Venice there will be another kind of art, I suspect: art that is less about “itself” than its artists.

Tom and Mantua

My observations of Mantua…

“The Citie of Mantua I take to be one of the auncientest cities of Italy, auncienter then Rome by foure hundred and thirty yeares….Truly it is neither the long genealogie of the Tuscan Kings, nor the magnificence of the ancient buildings nor the sweetnesse of the situation, nor any other ornament whatsoever that hath halfe so much enobled this delicate Citie, as the birth of that peerelesse and incomparable Poet Virgil, in respect of whom the Mantuans have reason to bee as proude as the Colophonians or Smyrnians in Greece were of their Homer. I saw indeed the statue of Virgill made in stone as farre as the girdle, which was erected in one of their market places, but had I not beene brought into such a narrow compasse of time…I would have seene the house at a paces called Andes, a little mile from Mantua, wherein he was borned and lived….

This Citie is marveilous strong, and walled round about with faire bricke wals, wherein there are eight gates, and is thought to be foure miles in compasse: the buildings both publique and private are very sumptuous and magnificent: their streets straite and very spacious. Also I saw many stately Pallaces of a goodly height: it is most sweetly seated in respect of the marvailous sweete ayre thereof, the abundance of good meadows, pastures, vineyards, orchards, and gardens about it. For they have such store of gardens about the citie, that I thinke London which both for frequencie of people, and multitude of howses doth thrise exceed it, is not better furnished with gardens…

…Truely the view of this most sweet Paradise, this domicilium Venerum & Charitum did ever so ravish my senses, and tickle my spirits with such inward delight, that I said unto my selfe, this is the Citie which of all other places in the world, I would wish to make my habitation in, and spend the remainder of my dayes in some divine Meditations amongst the sacred muses, were it not for their grosse idolotory and superstitious ceremonies which I detest, and the love of Odcombe in Somersetshire, which is do deare to me that I preferred the very smoke thereof before the fire of all other places under the Sunne.

…I observed a very stately bricke bridge at Mantua over the river Mincius, the longest that I ever saw till then (saving our famous bridge of London) which is covered and fairely vaulted over head, and inclosed with two faire bricke walls by the sides that are extended in length as farre as the bridge, in each of which wals there are many open places to looke forth in to the Mincius instead of windowes..."

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Mantua has a lot

A decptive town, Mantua. Mantegna, Virgil, Tom, Street theatres, Palazzos. And a world famous artist interviewd. Too much for one day: Padua tomorrow.

Making hay Betwixt Cremona and Mantua

Tom's Cremona

My observations on Cremona.

“Cremona is a very beautifull citie, seated under a very pleasant and holesome climate, built with bricke, and walled with bricke wals, wherein are five gates; and it is invironed with trenches and rampiers, and pleasantly watered by the river Abdua. There is a pretty bricke citadel at the entrance to the towne, a little without the wall, even at the west end. It seemeth to be very auncient, but it is exceeding low: it is guarded by a Garison of Spaniards in the behalfe of the King of Spaine, to whom it belongeth as being a member of the Dukedom of Milan. In the citie I saw many faire and sumptuous buildings and some stately places. The principal Church hath the highest Tower in all Italy…This Tower is easily to be seene to Milan in a cleare day, being full fiftie miles off. [not as tall as Salisbury, taller than Strazbourg…story about Governor Gabrinus Fundulius wanted to have Pope John 22 and Emperor Sigismundus thrown down from top, but his “heart failed him.”

…In this citie are made passing good swords as in most places of Italy….I did eate fried Frogges in this citie, which is a dish much used in many cities of Italy: they were so curiously dressed, that they did exceedingly delight my palat, the head and the forepart being cut off. [in suburbs outside the Pulsella gate is a well, “which when it had once very foule water, and unwholesome to drinke, was so purged of the impurity by certaine signes of the crosse…[war history..] [ends by mentioning Virgil, “whom in my youth I reverenced as my master: and therefore I will ever till the fatall day of my life honour the memorie of that incomparable man. In this city did that famous Poet consecrate himselfe to the Muses, and spent some time on the study of good letters, according as hee did in Milan, as I have before mentioned. Thus much of Cremona.

I rode from Cremona about five of the clocke in the morning of the eighteenth day of June being Saturday, and came to a solitary post-house twenty miles off, by a little brooke about noone. The first wheat that I saw cut this yeare was at that posthouse, which was about sixe weekes sooner than we use to cut our wheat in England….came to Mantua, which was twenty miles beyond it, about halfe an houre after seven of the clocke in the evening.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Woman: An Old Story

“I observed a great multitude of country clownes that came the Sunday morning to Mantua that I was there, with strawen hats and feathers in them, and every one had his sithe and hooke in his hand; belikie they came to put themselves out to hire for harvest worke.

The first Mountebanke that ever I saw, was at Mantua the eighteenth day of June, being Saturday, where he played his part upon a scaffold. Of these Mountebankes I will write more at large in my observations of Venice.”


Mantua has the goodies, the cathedral, Christ’s blood (handy for the conspiracy tourist, and right next door to Emporio Armani), and bountiful festivals. It doesn’t have the gravitation grace of Cremona though. (That long piece is taking time).

I confess I’ve been hankering for a Michelangelo Antonioni moment and twice it comes: walking into town I see the most photogenic police interrogation since “Basic Instinct”:

"Trammell, Katherine Trammell, officer..."

and in the Piazza Delle Erbe it arrives in Panavision.

Flecked around the largely empty square are people sitting or standing on their own, one reads sitting in an alley between two courtyards: pale, not Italian; not a tourist. Shirtless men look up to the sky. Women in white bikini tops and thin skirts climb a gantry. The backdrop is huge courtyards and squares, their finer details eviscerated by the white light of the sun. And close, on the only other table at the Pizzeria Delle Erbe with people, one of those “The Passenger”, “Zabriske Point” conversations: in English, but neither party, brooding “director” and red-lipsticked “actor”, are native speakers.

Woman: “The script, I could work with you on the script.”
- one of those lost Antonioni silences.
Woman, looking up: “Of fuck, it’s shit on me.” Above a swift or a swallow looks on, then flies away. Woman calls the waiter over: I’d like to explain this is good luck in Hungary, but the dynamic is a little intense.
Man: mumbled something.
Woman: “Then I am sorry. Sorry I drank the apple juice. What the fuck? Why shouldn’t I drink the apple juice?”
Man: shrugs.
Woman: So the film is financed? Is ready: then I can work with it?”
Man: shrugs. Sends his salad back, something is wrong.
Woman: “You have to understand this writer, he will not just say:’yes, yes’ because it is you.”
Man: “Let’s try and make this a happy day, all day.” Laughs, “But when I….”
Woman: “When you’re happy, you’re sad?”
A key grip or something like that: less good looking, clutching something important hovers over the table then moves away.
The couple get up, leaving their salads.
Woman: “So you are saying…” The three disappear past the Baptistry.

Jacob and Kate are two Polish actors, they’re in Mantua for a few days with their troupe, “Theatre a Apart”, which is performing two street pieces: last night they were in “El Nino”; today they are resting whilst others perform “Femina v.2”.

“In Poland I don’t have a permanent theatre job, so I travel with this, it’s good experience. Before Italy we were in Germany. The thing about touring is that it’s a two day drive through Austria and the Czech Republic from our home, Tychy, near Katowice: you probably know it from the beer. It is a big beer town. And then it is construction of the set, perform: you don’t get much time to see a place, or to meet any of the other performers who are around.”

Street theatre has its own season: when it’s warm, naturally. Finding an entire festival in Mantua feels very like a link back past Tom to Middle Age Passion Plays, and market pageants. But I also think of some of comments from Lodi, how festivals are “boring”, are for the old, for tourists, not really connected to the “style” of the town.

Jacob and Kate have worked in several touring companies. “Theatre is developing in Poland, it is establishing again,” Jacob says, “but Poland is a mess. We spent three years touring in Dubai and Quatar with an Italian based group, but it had people from all over the world. Africa, Asia – even English people. It wasn’t art. There isn’t a market in these countries, and the Emirates, for ‘theatre’ it was more like children’s theatre, magic, the things you might see at a circus. Juggling.”

So you like to get away from Poland. “No, we love Poland,” says Kate. “But it is in a bad way. The politics. The people leaving.”

“But theatre is developing, moving in a good direction. But very slowly. You know the EU has helped, there is more funds for the regions, not just big money in the capital, and groups have got much closer to local government, sponsorships. I think that’s good.”

We think of Polish cinema, the cinema of Zanussi, Wadja, Kieslowski. “Well cinema is stagnant,” Jacob says. “There are a few films about our situation but they’re not mainstream, they’re “D” stream. You can’t see them in the cinemas. In fact we don’t see them, we read about them. You have to go to festivals, or international events to catch them.”

“The pleasure is seeing how different audiences react to your piece, it really is different everywhere. It is a reciprocal thing: you give, and they give. I really like this element to street theatre, it is so close, you can watch the faces.”

“Of the people we knew at high school we are the only ones still left in Poland. Most are in London or Dublin, somewhere. It’s much easier to be outside where the living is better. Clean dishes and you earn as much as a Polish teacher. And you don’t have to worry, you’re away from your responsibilities. You don’t have many needs. It’s not that is was better before [with communism] it’s just that what we have right now isn’t democracy, it is politics as business. I was saying I like the reciprocal nature of theatre, well right now in Poland everything is about “The Shield” [the new American missile defence system against “terror” in the middle-east, or maybe Russia] and we ask, ok, what do we get back in return for housing these missiles? “

“One of Poland’s greatest ‘things’ is its history, it’s a really interesting history. And one of the facts is 500 years of bad governments. You know we are taught that we – we and the other allies – won the Second World War. But we are the victims of that war, the biggest victim I think if you look at the rest of Europe now.”

Kate says: “The politicians don’t care about our opinions.” Jacob laughs: “I can accept corruption, corrupt government, but it has to do some good. I don’t see that. There’s a new education minister, he is the leader of a party that’s part of the coalition in power. He has a mandate from 3 per cent of the electorate, and yet he is pushing through these crazy new ideas. Anything that is controversial about Polish history, about Poland, cannot be taught.”

Like Norman Davies? “No, he is taught, it’s a honour we think that others should write about Poland,” Kate says.

You won’t leave, like all your friends? “This is a catholic country, remember,” Kate says. “No, we love it, Poland.”

“Only for economic reasons, if it gets too bad.”

Above and around the offices of the Festival the rest of Theatre a Part are preparing. In the square they are building two gantries for lighting and performing; upstairs a woman is ironing the costumes. All of the troupe have the vaguely Antonioni feel; or perhaps it is Fellini. The women still sit around in bikini tops and shorts, the men smoke quietly. All are wiry, strong you sense.

“We have been performing these pieces for ten years now,” says the Director and Auteur, Marcin Herich. “We’ve been all over the world, many times. Brasil three times. Croatia, Holland, Sweden. England too – to Stockton, Stockton-on-Tees, it’s the biggest street festival in England. Location is vital for our work, we began twenty years ago indoors in factories and small theatres, played in an industrial aesthetic. But soon we realized the shows needed to be outside. Not in an open space, the best space is a courtyard, tonight is a little too big. We love to be in different places, the whole process is a journey, from starting out in the cars and vans to seeing the reaction. These are adventures, using an international language – the visual. I like to hear about the different ways of thinking in these countries.

Kasia is an actor and assistant to Marcin. “Countries never have the same emotions. We are especially well received in ‘southern’ places, like Brasil. They are every emotional there and in Sweden…it’s different. We’ve been to Brasil three times and Sweden once, and it is much easier to get to Sweden.”

Tonight there is a problem: “Femina v.2” is the story of “woman”. “An international story, women can recognise these things anywhere, they have something in common.” Kasia says. The local authorities (and here it is perhaps worth remembering that “Femina v.2” is Marcin’s baby, written and directed and choreographed out of his “emotions and experiences”) have decided that the performance must be put back an hour, and lingerie purchased. There is to be no nudity in Mantua. “It is strange,” Kasia says. “There is a scene of birth, how are you supposed to be born wearing La Perla?”

Work proceeds through the afternoon, most of the group climbing the scaffolding to ensure the wiring works, the music, the “effects”. By nine they are having a final cigarette hunched by one the White Vans that has brought them here. At dinner in the Pizzeria Delle Erbe, a restaurant with an American Jazz theme, unexplained and seemingly unexplainable, other than Mantua has many big concerts - Lou Reed, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Joe Cocker, the Gotan Project – perhaps a few years back the jazz greats all came. This year it is Michael Bublé.

There is an air of utter disregard for the performance to come; perhaps this is part of the down-side of festivals. After a fortnight of all this, why not stick to the pasta and keep talking until the time? Around ten the artists vanish to their changing room and music, the soundtrack it transpires, begins to play across the square. Synthesised film soundtrack style, Duane Eddy guitar, Rick Wakeman keyboards, a little light David Holmes percussion; a classical track – is it Debussy? – that gets broken up by wails of feedback.

The local censorship seems a little harsh: Italian television is a late night fiesta of disrobed women of “all” ages explaining their own love of this and that, mostly that. Or other women. Anyway, this is art. Let’s see.

“Femina v.2” begins with three men and a woman throwing buckets of water over themselves. Then they take their shirts off. High on a gantry behind a plastic sheet a woman in white La Perla briefs (only: compromise, I guess) is wrapped in clingfilm and bathed in a red light. Eventually she bursts out of the clingfilm and water soaks her as she writhes into birth.

Opening shot for a Brian De Palma film?

Slipping on a little black dress she learns to walk (in high heeled black boots) through the other performers placing buckets on the ground that she traverses, when she has stepped off a bucket it is picked up and thrown over her head where another performer catches it and sets it down. Eventually walking is learnt.

A man turns up, Woman falls over a lot. Two new actors appear on either side of the gantry having a fully clothed shower. Then they undress. I’m not sure what the thigh high stockings were all about, but the new actors certainly got clean in their tiny briefs. “Woman” learns to dance, but the dancing is discordant, she keeps falling down. Some “Grand Inquisitors” on stilts rush around and scare us with flaming torches, then they light a fire and the two actors who were nicely clean are strung up in their La Perla and Calvin Kleins for a good roasting.

The audience is quite quiet. Not very emotional at all. Indoors this would be $85 a ticket and Hedge Fund managers would be calling for Krystal.

When the roasting is done and the briefs gently singed, “Woman” changes on stage into a wedding dress. There is much thinking. Then the stage is set on fire and we all get a little roasted. Finally a stilted man in white leads “Woman” away. There are four curtain calls.

Soon afterwards the gantries are being taken down whilst Mantua’s boho crowd retires to the next square to check their cameras and see if they can sell anything to “Playboy”. Theatre a Part’s next show is called “Tsunami”. Very wet Tsunamis.

Despite the rather silly soft-core nature of the show, there is nevertheless a link back to medieval communal theatre, I think. The themes of men and women, the “state” and “burning forever in hell” are commonplace enough – particularly in a Catholic country, of course. Tom would have gone for Theatre a Part. Probably written at length about its shocking nature, but like the family audience tonight, he wouldn’t have left.

“Did you like it?” Jacob asks. Before I can answer, he says: “It was better than last night. This piece has a better structure, a better rhythm.” I nod: Jacob has shaved his head since I last saw him.

After a little sitting on the balcony looking cool, Marcin is having a cigarette by the gantries. Was he pleased? “The acting yes. The location, no. It is too light, some of the shops were still open. This piece needs to explode in contrast, to burst out of the night.” But it was ok? “Oh yes, the actors did very well. One thing though: usually they are naked. It would have been nice if they were naked.”