Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Una Notta In Bianco

How do you lose sleep in Italian? I just learned (from a book I'm reading called The Family That Couldn't Sleep about an Italian family with a rare neurological disorder) that suffering through a sleepless night in Italy is referred to as "passer una notta in biano," literally "spending a white night." The origin of this phrase has something to do with summer solstice and polar latitudes and midnight sun. I don't know, I'm not a scientist. The French have a similar expression, "faire une nuit blanche."

Wikipedia informs me that all-night arts festivals (which borrow their names from this expression) are popular in Europe. In America, we don't really support the arts per se, but we do have our own proud tradition of drunken co-eds flocking to our beaches every year during the popular "Spring Break" celebrations, occasionally documented by independent filmmaker Joe Francis (currently serving time in prison for getting a little too "enthusiastic" in the making of his art films). What? Don't you like art?:

"Nuit Blanche (literally White Night or All-Nighter in French) is an annual all-night arts festival. Its exact beginning is disputed between Paris, St Petersburg, and Berlin, but, taking elements from all of these, the idea of a night-time festival of the arts has spread around the world since 1997, taking hold from Montreal to Madrid and Lima to Leeds. A Nuit Blanche will typically have museums, private and public art galleries, and other cultural institutions open and free of charge, with the centre of the city itself being turned into a de facto art gallery, providing space for art installations, performances (music, film, dance, performance art), themed social gatherings, and other activities.

"Some cities use the French phrase Nuit blanche (or Nuits blanches, if the event is spread over more than one night). Some use the same words in their language: White Nights, La Notte Bianca (Italian), La Noche en Blanco (Spanish), Noaptea alba (Romanian), Nata e Bardhe (Albanian), Baltā Nakts in Latvian. Others invent their own names, such as Lejl Imdawwal ("Lit Night") in Maltese, Virada Cultural in São Paulo, Taiteiden yö ("Night of the arts") in Finland, and Kulturnatten ("Night of Culture") in Copenhagen.

"The current all-night festivals have their roots in several cities. St Petersburg, for two hundred years capital of the Russian Empire and still a major European cultural centre, is one of the world's most northerly cities, and as such has long summer days broken only by a brief period of twilight from mid-May to mid-July, the celebrated phenomenon known as the white nights. This led to the annual celebrations known as the White Nights Festival, which features months of pop culture (e.g. the Rolling Stones in the open air at Palace Square) and high culture events ("Stars of the White Nights Festival" at the Mariinsky Theatre), street carnivals, and the Scarlet Sails celebration, known for its fireworks. So "white nights" in the Russian context is both a natural phenomenon of the summer, and a long-standing cultural festival that spreads over weeks or months in midsummer.

"Another similar festival that contributed to the White Nights came out of Germany. The first Long Night of Museums took place in the newly re-united Berlin in 1997 with a dozen participating institutions and exhibitions; the number has risen to 125, with over 150,000 people taking part in the January 2005 night. The idea has spread to other cities: in addition to the Langen Nacht der Museen in Berlin, there is a museums-n8 event in Amsterdam. The third strand that has contributed to the international Nuit Blanche concept is the event of that name launched by the Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë in 2002.

"Wherever the idea originated from, and whatever names are used, the White Nights have expanded dramatically, with events in over 120 cities."


  1. Seems like a neat idea--too bad Beebo can't stay awake past 10 pm!

  2. Yes--I prefer black nights!