Rome-Paris Dispute Is Enough to Make Mona Lisa Weep 義大利民粹主義者 為達文西跳腳
In a small showroom filled with replicas of Leonardo da Vinci masterpieces, Lucia Borgonzoni, Italy's undersecretary for culture and a member of the right-wing League party, attested to the authenticity of her disgust with the French.
She accused France of trying to culturally appropriate Leonardo for a 2019 exhibition at the Louvre celebrating the 500th anniversary of his death. And that was just the beginning.France had treated Italy with "a lack of respect" and like a cultural "supermarket" by "sending a shopping list" of the works it wanted to borrow — essentially everything.
"Probably no other country would dare" to behave as France had, she said, warming to the topic as she faced a fake Mona Lisa in the Leonardo da Vinci Experience museum near the Vatican. She perused reproductions of Vitruvian Man and the Annunciation. "Let's give them these," she said with a laugh.
Not much has been off limits as Borgonzoni's hard-right League party pushes its "Italians First" agenda. Italian women are encouraged to have more babies. Migrants are shown the door. Matteo Salvini, the party leader, fills his social media feeds with posts about Italian pasta and wine.
Nationalism — taboo for half a century following World War II and the fall of Mussolini — is suddenly in, as every possible political dispute is cast in chauvinist hues. Culture had long been a relatively neutral terrain. Not anymore. And deliberately so.
When it comes to Leonardo, the result is either an inelegant and amateurish faux pas, as her critics contend, or a political masterstroke before European Parliament elections in May. Either way, Borgonzoni has helped her party escalate tensions with France at a moment when Europe is already undergoing a dramatic political realignment.
Along with the bureaucrats in Brussels, pro-European French President Emmanuel Macron has been the target par excellence of an Italian populist government that has repeatedly picked, and won, political fights on everything from migration to trade.
"Surely our states are having a moment, not only in culture, of friction," said Borgonzoni, "Surely the fact that Europe is going to vote next year has raised the tension" on a range of issues including, now, Leonardo.
Born in 1452 outside Vinci, centuries before the creation of the Italian state, Leonardo grew up in Florence, lived in Milan and stopped off in Rome before moving to France, where he died and was buried.
Together, the new studies suggest that whales are not just whistling in the water, but constantly evolving a form of communication that we are only beginning to understand.
Most whales and dolphins vocalize, but dolphins and toothed whales mostly make clicking and whistling sounds. Humpbacks, and possibly bowheads, sing complex songs with repeated patterns, said Michael Noad, an associate professor in the Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Birds may broadcast their social hierarchy among song-sharing populations by allowing the dominant bird to pick the playlist and patterns. But how and why whales pass song fragments across hundreds of miles, and to thousands of animals, is far more mysterious.
"The thing that always gets me out of bed in the morning is the function of the song," Noad said. "I find humpback song fascinating from the point of view of how it's evolved."
The leading hypothesis is that male humpbacks — only the males sing — are trying to attract females. But they may also switch tunes when another male is nearby, apparently to assess a rival's size and fitness, said Noad, who was the senior author of one of four new papers on whale songs.
Early humpbacks with complex songs were so much more successful at mating that they gained a substantial evolutionary advantage over their brethren with simpler vocalizations. This led to some very large, sometimes very noisy animals.
In one of the new studies, led by scientists at the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, researchers tracked humpbacks singing along the east and west coasts of Africa, comparing songs sung by those off the coast of Gabon to those near Madagascar.
The study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, confirmed that the two populations interact, noting overlap in their vocalizations. The researchers recorded songs annually from 2001 to 2005 using hand-held hydrophones aboard boats.
"Male humpback whales within a population tend to sing the same song type, but it's continuously changing and evolving over time," said Melinda Rekdahl, the study's first author and a marine conservation scientist with the wildlife society.