Thursday Reads: Sophia Loren, the Zombie Brain, the War on Women, and Much More

Good Morning!!

The news has been so depressing lately that I thought I’d at least start out with something nonpolitical. Last night I read a fascinating interview with Sophia Loren from the new Vanity Fair. Loren talked about her painful childhood:

Raised in Pozzuoli, a small town of fishermen and munitions workers outside of Naples, Sophia experienced some of the worst privations of the Second World War—terror, bombing, starvation. Born in a charity ward for unwed mothers in Rome on September 20, 1934, Sofia Scicolone was taunted throughout her childhood for being illegitimate. Her mother, Romilda Villani, was a proud beauty who returned to her family home in Pozzuoli to live down her shame; in Catholic Italy then, being an unwed mother was not just a scandal, but a sin. They moved in with Romilda’s parents, an aunt, and two uncles; Romilda soon had another child with Riccardo Scicolone, who still refused to marry her and who would not even give Sophia’s younger sister, Maria, his name. Now eight people shared their apartment. Until she left Pozzuoli, Sophia never slept in a bed with fewer than three family members.

By 1942 they were starving, living on rationed bread, hiding from the air raids at night in a dark, rat-infested train tunnel, full of “sickness, laughter, drunkenness, death, and childbirth,” as she described it in A. E. Hotchner’s 1979 authorized biography of her, Sophia, Living and Loving: Her Own Story. Romilda foraged for food for herself and her two daughters, but Sophia was so skinny her school-mates called her “Sofia Stuzzicadenti”—toothpick.

Romilda was so beautiful that people mistook her on the street for Greta Garbo. She was once offered a screen test in Hollywood, but her mother wouldn’t allow her to go to Hollywood. So she became a stage mother.

Sophia Loren in 1950

At 14, Sophia blossomed. “It was as if I had burst from an egg and was born,” she often likes to say. Suddenly, she started hearing wolf whistles when she walked down the street. Romilda entered Sophia in a beauty contest—Queen of the Sea and Her Twelve Princesses. They had no gown for her to wear, so Sophia’s grandmother pulled down one of the pink curtains in the living room—like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind—and made an evening gown. Romilda took Sophia’s scuffed black shoes and applied two coats of white paint to them. When they showed up, Sophia was intimidated by the more than 200 contestants in their real gowns, jewels, and flowers, but when it came time to parade in front of the judges, she comported herself with serene dignity. She was chosen as one of the 12 princesses, winning $35, a ticket to Rome, and several rolls of wallpaper, which the family happily used to cover the cracks in the plaster of their apartment caused by the wartime bombing.

And the rest is history. Go read the article. It might make you feel more cheerful than the political news. I’ll leave it to you to read the part about Sophia and Cary Grant and why she turned down his marriage proposal to stay with her much older, shorter lover Carlo Ponti.

Next up is an article from last October that I just happened upon a couple of days ago. If you have a somewhat warped sense of human like I do, you’ll get a kick out of it: How to Survive a Zombie Attack
A fight-or-flight primer to outliving the urban undead.
Hey, it might even help us deal with the Republican presidential candidates. My favorite part is the explanation of the zombie brain by two neuroscientists.

“Zombies have attention-locking problems. When they see something, they fixate. It resembles damage to the parietal lobe (1)—a condition called Bálint’s syndrome. So a zombie will fixate on you, but if you can distract it, it might lose track of you entirely. Zombies are stiff and have balance problems because of damage to the cerebellum (2). It’s the same way you feel when you’re really drunk—you’re suppressing the cerebellum too.” —Timothy Verstynen, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

“In a human, the brain stem, at the top of the spinal cord, is responsible for the core functions of life—respiration, heartbeat. But since zombies don’t breathe or have heartbeats, the core function of the zombie’s existence is controlled by the part of the brain that controls appetite: the hypothalamus (3). If you hit a zombie right between the eyes with enough force, you can go straight back horizontally into the hypothalamus.” —Bradley Voytek

Getting back to true life horror, Dakinikat sent me this article from The American Prospect by Sally Kohn. It’s about Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York who is going be made a Cardinal soon–undoubtedly a reward for leading the war on American women. On the occasion of his promotion Dolan plans to give a speech about the need to attract lapsed Catholics back into the fold.

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