Today’s topics are: Magic in Rome March 2023 (and lots of sub-subjects…)
These are The Magic Memories 117, gone online Sunday, March 26th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.
All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020 can be found HERE.
Magic in Rome
Rome, the “Eternal City”, is one of the mythical cities on this planet. I had the good fortune of having been there several times in the past, almost always performing and teaching magic in some way. Before going into the details of my most recent visit, I have to tell you two little anecdotes related to Rome.
My First Time in Rome (ca. 1980)
My very first visit to Rome with my wife-to-be Barbara, was purely as a tourist when we both were in our early twenties, and I was still a student of linguistics and literature. Two curious things happened that I remember to this very day.
One evening we were strolling through the historical center of Rome, and came to Piazza Navona, the famous square (which in reality is neither square nor round, but oval, as it was formerly used for horse races). At the time there were lots of artists offering to paint your portrait sitting in various spots on the plaza. One of them was an older man offering to read your future, can’t remember what “technique” (palmistry, tarot cards etc.).
Anyway, believe it or not, in a mix of curiosity, ignorance, naïveté, after-dinner-mood (wine?), or what-have-you, I decided to pay whatever it cost (certainly not much, since still students we didn’t have much money) and get his “advice” on my future.
From what he said I only remember this: “You have a great career as a writer in front of you, it will take a little time, and if you were gay the success would come earlier.” That’s what I remember – funny, eh?
Of course I didn’t believe what he said, but still, it somehow happened. Which reminds me of Nils Bohr who used to keep a horseshoe on the door of his house, which is believed to be an object that guards the house against the evil spirits. A friend, upon seeing the horseshoe on the door of Bohr’s house, asked Bohr as to whether he subscribed to the relevant superstitions. Bohr replied that he didn’t believe in them but he was told that the horseshoe works whether or not one believes in their power.
The other event I remember from that time is that for dinner we went into a Trattoria located on a small street behind the famous Spanish Steps. Barbara and I had a very simple but succulent dinner with Roman specialties. It turned out that this place was a favorite of local artists and intellectuals. As we were the only tourists, we somehow got into a conversation with a few journalists at the next table, and inevitably the conversation turned to what we were doing, which then led to telling them about my passion for magic, especially card magic (I was still an amateur then).
They were immediately full of enthusiasm and asked me to do something for them. As incredible as it sounds, having been quite hot during the day, I did not have anything with me, let alone a deck of cards.
Not to be deterred from this, one of the journalists got up and offered to buy a deck from a shop nearby. However, it was already about 10 pm or so, and most shops were closed. In spite of this, the journalist rushed out, and we waited at least half an hour before he came back with a used deck he had found somewhere. This in itself I will never forget!
And then I started an hour-long session, doing magic with the borrowed deck. Can’t remember what I did, of course, probably all the “classics” I knew, and I also did “Cannibal Cards” (see Card College Volume 3, and for an updated version Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction).
But the punchline to the story is yet to come! One of the journalists liked us so much, that he offered us to use his flat in Rome while he was abroad on a professional assignment for his newspaper. So, the next day we checked out of the B&B we had, to the dismay of the Italian landlady to whom we offered to pay an extra night, and spend the rest of the week in the beautifully chaotic flat of a Roman journalist, located in downtown Rome.
That’s something you can’t buy with money, only with magic 🙂
How “Il giardino dei giochi segreti” happened
And another one related to Rome:
Most among my readership will be aware of the documentary Il giardino dei giochi segreti, sub-titled in English as The Secret World of Magic (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can see it HERE).
It is the year 2003: Matteo Bellinelli, who then was a director with Swiss-Italian Television, had just finished a documentary on a heavy subject, and was looking for a new topic on a “lighter” vein. As he was walking through Rome he came to Eclectica, a lovely magic shop in the historical center of Rome.
He entered, started to chat with the owner and manifested his interest in the subject, saying he might want to do a documentary on magic and an interesting magician. Whereupon the owner pointed out my Card College books in Italian, saying that I live in Switzerland. Well, Matteo bought the books, came back to Switzerland, called me over the phone, and then one thing led to the other, and in 2004 the 50-minute documentary was produced and aired. Talk about the butterfly effect.
Masterclass on Deck Switches
The main reason for my trip to Rome was a full-day Masterclass on the subject of deck switches. From 10 am to 7 pm, with a few coffee breaks (Italian coffee, of course, which doesn’t compare to anything else in the world, least of all to Starbucks…), and a three-course lunch with local wine… anything below this is considered a sin in Italy, and so close to the Vatican you have to respect religion, and Gastronomy in Italy is a Religion!
A full-day session, such as a Masterclass provides, is by far my favorite teaching format: I only get interested people, because they have to invest money (very little, compared to other disciplines, and somehow you can get that back) and time (much more precious, as you never get that back).
The eleven students and I performed, practiced, discussed techniques, tricks, presentations and theories, all turning around the deck switch and what you can do with it. But obviously a lot of the material taught and many of the ideas were polyvalent, applicably to all of magic, and therefore went far beyond the mere topic of “deck switches”.
Everyone was more than happy, including myself, and I’m the most difficult to satisfy. But there is no doubt that besides private coaching this is the format one learns most. I wish I could do such an event once or twice a month…
For all who couldn’t attend, the next best thing is my book The Art of Switching Decks, that also includes the video lecture I gave at the Genii Convention in Orlando in 2012. The book has seen an unusual success and is now in its fourth printing (instead of the DVD you now receive a download link for the video, making it practical for modern requirements).
Lecture for IBM Ring
On Monday night I gave a lecture for members only of the IBM Ring 204 in Rome.
The lecture’s title was “Excursus magicus” (in Latin to honor Rome, of course…), sub-title, “A roundtrip in the world of magic”. I assembled three topics for which I have three other lectures: One, how to find your own presentation for magic tricks; two, how to study a technique taking Controls as an example; three, criteria and staging of professional magic. I had planned two hours, I did three and a half. Everyone stayed awake and survived 🙂
In my personal opinion lectures should not be misused to sell things (although I perfectly understand the necessity of doing so for my colleagues who do lecture tours and accept to do so at dishonorable fees), but to share knowledge and insights gained by someone who has studied the matter, very much like professors impart lectures and workshops at universities. As a result of this, a lecture needs a specific focus that should be communicated so as to have only interested people in the audience. I have a lecture on “How to Give a Magic Lecture” (what else did you expect?), and the more I think about it, the more I’m led to believe that it could interest more than just a few. We’ll have to leave it for another time, though…
To my great surprise, and as an unforgettable moment of the evening, Silvan attended, yes, the one and only… When entered the room to greet me, he whispered into my ear, “I came only to see you…” And in the break I overheard him saying to President Andrea Turchi, “Giobbi é un grande.” Made my day.
It should not be necessary for me to do so, but if there are newcomers to the magic world who are reading these memories, I should add that Silvan is arguably Italy’s most famous conjuror, I mean of all times, including Giuseppe Pinetti and Bartolomeo Bosco.
In Italy, if you do magic well, people will say to you, “Sei proprio un Silvan – you are really a Silvan.” The name “Silvan” has entered the urban vocabulary, and that’s a feat to behold. This man justifies a big book, and as a matter of fact he has written several, all for the public, most out of print, unfortunately, including an autobiography that is still available (Silvan – La magia della vita. La mia storia.) If you read Italian or want to practice it, you can get it HERE.
In the photo-montage below you can see the two organizers Prof. Dr. Andrea Turchi (bottom left) and Norbert Fazio (center right) who were responsible for bringing me to Rome for these two wonderful events.
Luca d’Agostini on Marked Cards
A participant to both the masterclass and the lecture was Luca d’Agostini, a man of many talents. Among other things he’s quite an expert with playing cards and also a collector. See more HERE.
He gave me his latest offering, a set of lecture notes, which is about to be turned into a book, on the subject of marked cards, “readers” to be more precise. Readers, as opposed to other marking systems, are marked with letters and numbers, e.g., 7D (Seven of Diamonds), so that upon seeing the mark, you instantly know the card’s identity without having to learn an obscure symbolic system.
The notes have only some 30 pages, but are packed with historical, technical and other information, plus feature some really good tricks using readers. The notes come with several transfer sheets that will allow you to make up your own reader deck, an excellent idea.
We hope that Luca will make this publication available in English soon for all of us to enjoy and learn from it.
Alea Jacta Est
Since we’re talking marked cards and Rome, an obvious association are dice, as well as one of the most popular Latin sayings, “alea jacta est – the die has been cast”. Which brings me to my friend Gianfranco Preverino from Varese, Italy.
Gianfranco is not only an accomplished magician, but also quite an expert in gambling matters. He’s currently writing a large book about dice and magic which will hopefully be available also in English soon.
I met Gianfranco for the first time when he came to an event sponsored by the “Silvan Magic Academy” and where I taught for three consecutive days, a total of 16 different lectures, workshops, sessions – never have done anything similar before or after, and it deserves an entire blog (might do sometime in the future…).
Anyway, I fine friendship developed since, and Gianfranco, who had then started magic quite recently, made an exponential career and is today a household name of Italian magic. In May he will be performing for the second time in the Close-up Gallery of the Magic Castle, and if you have a chance you should try to see and meet him.
You can see him do some interesting dice moves HERE – enjoy!
As much as I would like to, neither space nor time allow me to tell you about my touristic and gastronomical adventures around the magic events. With one exception: There is a tourist attraction that is off the beaten path and reminds me of a trick I used to do years ago.
On one of the seven hills of Rome, the Aventine Hill, resides the Villa del Priorato di Malta, and looking through its key-hole from outside you can see the dome of St. Peters’ Basilica, through three states, namely, Malty, Italy and the Vatican. Find all info HERE.
Many years ago I used a Two of Hearts with a blank back, into which I had cut a key-hole that fits nicely between the two pips of the 2H.
Using the Carlyle Business Card Move you can show it on both sides blank. Force the 2H from the deck in use, and have all see the card, except one person whom you ask to stand beside you.
Now show the “Key-hole Card” with its blank side to the audience and ask what they see through the key-hole. They will say nothing, or simply what they see (you, someone else, etc.). Now you could tell the story of the key-hole on the Roman hill, and maintain that similarly some people have the ability to see further than others. Hold the gimmicked card in front of the spectator standing beside you, with the 2H facing him, and ask what he sees through the key-hole. If he’s at all a good sport, he’ll name “The Two of Hearts”!
You could later switch the card for a double-blank card with a key-hole, or the commercially oriented among my readership might even want to make it up as a business card…
I’m also reminded of the following stunt I’ve read about, but have only done once, if memory serves me well: Force three known cards on three spectators (I would force the 4C, 2H and 7D, the first three of Mnemonica, because I can’t remember three cards… but I can remember 52, which some might find is a paradox… but it isn’t, it’s just practical).
Ask the spectators to put their respective cards face up on a chair and to sit on it. Then ask them to open their mouth. Yes, you can see it come, can^t you? You look into each person’s mouth and announce the name of the cards!
To be done after midnight, and in male company only.
Wish you all a very successful week!