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The Magic Memories (152)

Hello everyone!

Today’s topics are: The Samelson Reunion; Museo della magia in Cherasco; Tre Re Castellamonte; Thoughts on FISM; Firenze magica

These are The Magic Memories 152, gone online Sunday, November 26th, 2023, at 0:07h sharp.

All The Magic Memories from 2021, 2022, including the Magic Advent Calendar from 2020, can be found HERE.

I’m back from my extensive “Giro d’Italia”, my yearly Italian magic-truffle-tour, and have lots to tell you 🙂

The Samelson Reunion

My first stop on my travel from Basel to Italy, across the Swiss Alps, was in Brissago, on the shore of Lago Maggiore, still in Switzerland but just a few minutes from the Italian border.

Peter Samelson, of Monday Night Magic fame, had invited me along with P. G. Varola, his wife Helen, and Mauro Massironi to visit with him for a week-end in his aunt’s beautiful house on Lake Maggiore. The photo below gives you an idea of the inspirational setting our meeting took place.


View from the house on Swiss-Italian Alps


a view from my bedroom

So, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, we discussed magic in many of its aspects, each one of the participants giving talks on several subjects. The photo below shows the truly inspirational living room, with books in the shelves, and a Steinway grand piano in the front.

a magical room

This reminds me of one of the advertisings Steinway, also called “the instrument of the immortals”, used in the past (I’m quoting from memory):

“Since 1950 our craftsmen couldn’t find a way to improve our pianos.”

Wonder if we could say the same things about anything in magic… If anyone can find the precise quote, please let me know via the webshop contact – thank you.

Peter Samelson, whom I only knew from fame and from his writings, performed and discussed one of his battle-horses, the burned and restored handkerchief, truly a Masterpiece in his hands.

There is plenty about Peter on the Internet, of course, but you may start with an interview that also has some performance pieces HERE.

Helen, G.P., RG, Peter, Mauro – taking a break

P.G. Varola will only be known to the insiders of magic, or maybe those who live in NYC, and of course he’s a household name in Italy, now retired. He’s certainly a most eccentric individual with a great knowledge of magic in all its facets, and his presentations where quite provocative and caused some interesting discussions.

P. G. Varola giving a passionate talk

Helen, P.G.’s wife, not a performer herself, an art historian, curator of art exhibitions (with P. G.) etc., in her talk gave some interesting insights into magic and the fine arts.

Mauro, possibly less known in the magic community at large, gave an insightful talk on the Italian Horatio Galasso, who should be known to all historians from his Giochi di carte, published in Venice in 1593.

Until recently this was known to be the first source of what later became known as the Si Stebbins Stack.

More recent research by Preverino and Kalush, however, have uncovered an even earlier source, namely Giovanni Battista Verini’s Lo specchio del mercatante, published in Milan in 1542, where “Si Stebbins”, or at least the principle at its base, is exposed.

Cards having been documented since 1370 in Italy, I have no doubt that the principle of the stacked deck – be it mathematical, rosary, or mnemonic – goes back even further than 1542 – the question is just to find a written record of it…

Mauro wrote about Galasso, about whom we knew only little, in Bill Kalush’s Gibecière (Summer 2016, Vol. 11 No. 2), and is now researching if Galasso ever met Caravaggio.

Yes, this may sound as crazy and unnecessary as coming up with seventeen variations of the Multiple Shift (Marlo!), but without these people and their research we would not move magic toward being recognized as an art and science…

Mauro floating over Galasso…

We talked a lot about history and theory, so, in order to complement and balance the event, I performed quite a few of my own pieces, and then discussed them, with emphasis on the concepts set forth in Sharing Secrets. I was glad to notice that even experts found this interesting.

I also showed some of the Collector Sets of my Card College Playing Cards, which were new to the participants, and caused a different kind of astonishment…

Card College Playing Cards Collector Set

Originally, Stephen Minch, of Hermetic Press fame, and one of magic’s iconic writers and publishers, should have joined the group, but circumstances prevented him from being with us live.

However, through the magic of modern technology, we managed to bring him in anyway, and he gave a most informative talk on his career and how his Hermetic Press came about, with lots of inside information not even known to us. This is particularly topical in view of Micky Hades’ recent disappearance.

Stephen Minch joins in via Skype

I cannot praise such meetings high enough, especially in a time were lots of “communication” takes place virtually. There is in my opinion absolutely nothing that can cause so much happiness and have such an influence on one’s life and magic as to meet face-to-face with people who have a similar interest.

… in an interval of relief

You see, all my travels, professional or not, have but one goal: To meet up with other people, most of them inspired magicians, and to talk and do magic together, to see them and listen to them, and thereby broaden my horizons. I recommend this, particularly to the younger members of our fraternity, but to all others, too.

you have to enjoy in order to learn…

Museo della Magia in Cherasco

Sunday early afternoon we bid each other good-bye, with the promise to meet again next year in a similar setting.

I drove leisurely along the shores of Lake Maggiore, passed Torino, one of my favorite cities, and drove down to Don Silvio Mantelli’s “Museo della Magia” in Cherasco, a village at the south end of the Langhe, one of Piedmont’s most spectacular landscapes (and near Alba, with its yearly truffle market).

I have reported about Don Silvio and his amazing “magic empire” before in my The Magic Memories, so will just remind you that the main reason for my regular visits is Don Silvio’s incredible library with over 20’000 volumes of magic, plus thousands of magic magazines, lectures notes, pamphlets etc.

I took several hours to peruse the Chavez Course in Magic, which only very few have in their libraries. At some point I need to tell you more about it…

trying to understand a Swedish magic magazine

The museum also boasts a theater, which is an extension of the museum, and can seat about eighty spectators.

Don Silvio himself introducing the next performer

At the end of the museum tour the visitors are treated to a 25-minute magic show by professional magician and President of the CADM Marco Aimone.

Marco Aimone in action at the Museo della Magia

Nowhere does Confucius’ credo apply as much as in Cherasco: “Live as if it was the last day, learn as if it was the first.”

food for thought – Gnudi with truffles
after a hard day of study and shows (Silvana, Roberto, Don Silvio, Marco)

Tre Re in Castellamonte

Meeting at “Tre Re”, the “Three Kings Restaurant” in Castellamonte, located between Aosta and Torino, has become a tradition, and this was our 10th yearly gathering!

Originally, this was the gastronomical extension of the “Symposiomagia”, a one-day mini-magic-convention I had initiated ten years ago with the help of my friends Aurelio Paviato, FISM 1982 winner, and Marco Aimone, the latter being the President of “Circolo Amici della Magia” (CADM), Italy’s biggest private magic club, with close to 300 members, and who put their premises at our disposal.

After four years the gathering “died”, but the gastro-magical “lunch” survived, mainly because it was always held in “truffle season” (OCT-NOV). This, of course, makes sense, since you can live without magic (although that would be a sad life…), but you cannot live without food… and that’s what gastronomy is about 🙂

Thoughts on FISM

Fabio Rossello, who is the head of the Italian National Magic Team, told us about some extraordinary talents we can expect to see (and win?) the upcoming European FISM competition in 2024 in St. Vincent, and then hopefully at the FISM World Convention in 2025 in Torino.

The official title of these FISM events is “Championship of Magic”, preceded by either “European-North American-Asian” or “World”.

Personally – and I’ve said this before and will repeat it here – I do not think that it does the Art of Magic a service by reducing such an important event to a competition. All arts have competitions, that’s fine, especially to discover and encourage (young) talent. However, in no other art is the idea of “competing” in the sense of a competition the central idea. Neither magic nor any other art is like a sport that can be measured. To call the most important gathering of professional magicians and those interested in magic a “World Championship” reduces it to sport level. Rather it should be called something along the lines of “World Convention of the Art of Magic”, and as a part of it, but only a part, host a championship of magic. The main focus should be Talks, Exhibitions, Workshops, innovation etc.. Instead, in practically all documentaries on magic conventions what do they do? They show the dealer room, as if magic could be bought (!!!), and they hype the competition and the “World Champions”. Does painting, theater, literature have “World Champions”?

The day we stop hyping magic as an activity the essence of which is “to win a competition” or “to fool” the audience (meaning that people who don’t know how magic is done are fools…), well, that will be the day the intelligentsia of this world will start to perceive magic as an art and science, and with them the public.

Anyway, back to our modest lunch, with lots of magic talk and performance between the courses: Roberto Marchello, the chef, once again excelled himself, and served some of his signature dishes, some of them topped by the sought-after “white gold”, as white truffles are sometimes called.

Tajarin (Tagliatelle in Piedmontese)

(BTW: 3 kilos – ca. 6 pounds – of flour are mixed with seventy-two egg yolks PLUS twenty-four whole eggs to obtain the Tajarin, yes, all figures are correct!).

I feel incredibly privileged, that thanks to Roberto Marchello being a fan of magic, and his cousin an amateur magician who greatly exaggerates the merits of my books in Italy, we get that meal for less of what a steak and a bottle of wine would cost in NYC (including tax and tip!). If you want the same privilege, simply write nineteen magic books that are translated into up to eight languages… it will take a lot of time, you won’t make much money, but you’ll get a yummy twelve-course lunch with truffles and top Piedmontese wines, not to speak of the welcome drinks, the Grappa, coffees, cigars…

This year’s group was an intimate one, but you can see the happy faces in the photo below, taken after long magic talks and a most satisfying lunch (over four hours…).

Gianfranco Preverino, Marco Aimone, Fabio & Lorena Rossello, RG

Firenze Magica

I decided to leave my car in Torino in a parking garage, which cost me almost as much as taking the fast train Business Class to Florence, over 400 km in less than three hours, and back.

Without disrespect to Italian railways, the “Freccia Rossa”, the “Red Arrow”, is the only train I recommend taking in this country, a country which is otherwise overwhelming in beauty, innovation and creativity (not so much in politics, and practical things of life, though…).

View on Ponte Vecchio in Florence

This time I had the good luck of staying in an airbnb-apartment owned by a member of the Magic Club of Firenze.

view over the roofs of Florence from my flat

The drawback is that the flat, being located in the historical center of Florence, cannot be reached by car, only taxis have a permit to enter the area.

However, this far outweighs the privilege of living in the “heart” of one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, and, arguably, in the world, I may add.

Florence by night ready for Xmas
impression from Florence

On each of my visits I make it a point to invite my friend and publisher Francesco Mugnai to Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the signature dish of the city of Florence.

If you ever go there, take note of Trattoria Baldini, where you won’t see any tourists, but get real folk comfort food with seasonal products from the territory, prepared in the original Florentine way, and best of all at a reasonable price.

the real Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Francesco also took me to the spectacular Biblioteca Marucelliana, which did not have as many magic books as Don Silvio’s library, but a few others…

Biblioteca Marucelliana

I should also mention that the magic club of Florence, of whom Francesco is the president, on Friday night put on their monthly show for the public in a small theater that took about sixty seats, sold out, and did a very decent show with various performers displaying their skills in front of a more than just appreciative audience. I was even introduced as the guest of honor and given a center front seat, which made a few performers nervous. This was not necessary, as they all gave their best and performed with much panache and likeability.

Highlights where Francesco Mugnai aka Francesco Meraviglia, who very capably and professionally led through the program, and René Luden, an internationally successful professional ventriloquist who for years played the most important cruise ships, speaking about a dozen languages!

Like all stories of Asterix and Obelix, the adventure ends around a festive table, which you can see below, after a great dinner in San Miniato, the equivalent of Alba in Tuscany, with more truffles and wines, in the best of companies.

See if you recognize Giacomo Bertini, Francesco di Luciano (attorney by day, translator of Erdnase by night), Simone Venturi (attorney & prolific translator of Tamariz, Burger, Giobbi etc.),  Franceso Mugnai (Italy’s most important publisher and performer), Gianluca aka Mago Sander (one of Italy’s most successful international professionals), Alessandro Daloiso (inspired amateur and truffle expert).

(not) the last supper…

On the morning of Sunday, 19th November 2023, I took my train back to Torino, and then drove back to Switzerland to home sweet home, always my favorite place after only ten days travel, but which seemed like a month of joyful encounters, magic and pleasant learning.

Wish you all an excellent week!

Roberto Giobbi

1 thought on “The Magic Memories (152)

  1. The day we stop hyping magic as an activity the essence of which is “to win a competition” or “to fool” the audience (meaning that people who don’t know how magic is done are fools…), well, that will be the day the intelligentsia of this world will start to perceive magic as an art and science, and with them the public.

    What a great quote, and at the looks of it, a great journey

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