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The Fine Art of Italian Hand Gestures: A Vintage Visual Dictionary by Bruno Munari

A pocket guide to Neapolitan nonverbal communication.

Somewhere between his seminal manifestos on design as art and his timelessly delightful children’s books, legendary Italian artist and graphic designer Bruno Munari made time for a number of idiosyncratic side projects. Among them is Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture (UK; public library) — a charming, quirky, minimalist guide to Italians’ expressive nonverbal communication originally published in 1958 as a supplement to the Italian dictionary, inspired by The Ancients’ Mimic Through the Neapolitan Gestures, the first collection of gestures made by Canon Andrea de Jorio in 1832. Unlike the hefty and sparsely illustrated 380-page original tome, however, Munari’s pocket-sized version features frugally descriptive text and ample, elegant black-and-white photographs of hand-gestures for everything from mundane activities like reading and writing to emotive expressions of praise and criticism.

In the short preface, Munari notes the globalization of nonverbal vernacular, as Neapolitan gestures begin being recognized worldwide and American imports like “OK” permeate Italian culture, then promises:

We have collected a good many gestures, leaving aside vulgar ones, in order to give an idea of their meaning to foreigners visiting Italy and as a supplement to an Italian dictionary.

Old Neapolitan gestures, from left to right: money, past times, affirmation, stupid, good, wait a moment, to walk backward, to steal, horns, to ask for.
Another illustrated page of the book of Canon Andrea de Jorio. Meaning of the gestures: silence, no, beauty, hunger, to mock, weariness, stupid, squint, to deceive, cunning.
Gestures of drinking and eating (from an old Neapolitan print)
‘You make a mockery of the ‘madam’!’ (from an old Neapolitan print)

For a naughty twist, complement Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture with the surrealist chart of erotic hand signaling.


Remembering the Godfather of World Music: Ravi Shankar + Philip Glass, 1990

East meets West in an exquisite meeting of the minds, hearts, and strings.

Legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar passed away this week at the age of 92. (Coincidentally, the same age at which we lost Ray Bradbury earlier this year.) Celebrated as “the godfather of world music,” Shankar not only brought a new appreciation of Indian sound to the West but also influenced generations of eclectic musicians around the globe. In 1990, he partnered with Philip Glass, one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, on an uncommon six-track collaboration: Passages unfolds into 55 minutes and 21 seconds of exquisite melodic fusion, blending the Eastern tradition with Glass’s classicism as the mesmerism of Shankar’s sitar and the magic of the saxophone, cello, and the rest of Glass’s signature instrumentation flow seamlessly into and out of one another. The result is the musical equivalent of when Einstein met Tagore.

My favorite track on the album is the beautifully restless “Meetings Along The Edge,” but the record is sublime in its entirety:


More Than Human: Tim Flach’s Striking Portraits of Animals

Sentient beings like you’ve never seen them before.

“Erasing the awe-inspiring variety of sentient life impoverishes all our lives,” historian Joanna Bourke wrote in her poignant meditation on what it means to be human. And yet our relationship with animals and our understanding of their inner lives remain inadequate at best.

In 2010, photographer Tim Flach gave us his extraordinary dog portraits. This year, he’s back with More Than Human (UK; public library) — a collection of striking, expressive portraits of our non-human fellow beings, captured with equal parts tenderness and aesthetic elegance.

Despite the sciency sterility of his words, perhaps Darwin was ultimately right in a broader philosophical sense when he reflected in The Descent of Man:

The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, is certainly one of degree and not of kind. We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals.

See more of Flach’s breathtaking work on his site and treat yourself to the full glory of More Than Human, for the screen hardly does it justice.


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