Articles by: Letizia Airos

  • Life & People

    Erri De Luca: Naples is the Center of My Entire Nervous System

    Poetry lives in his daily life. He has experienced it, especially during the most difficult times. Erri De Luca – writer, translator, poet – is originally from Naples and has lived a very intense life.

    He has been a laborer, truck driver, warehouse worker, bricklayer. He has worked in politics and for humanitarian causes. These experiences provided him with important life lessons and have inspired his poetry.

    Carrying Naples inside of him, as do many Neapolitans who no longer live there, he lives in contrasts. He left Naples at 18. He returns, physically, every now and then. Even when he is far away, his mind and heart remain there.

    “My senses were created in Naples. That place is my center; it’s the center of my nervous system. My nervous system was formed there, as well the education of my emotions. I don’t mean walking arm-in-arm with a young lady. For me, it’s about fundamental feelings of compassion, anger, and even shame. They’re feelings that crop up every time I think of Naples. I hear them inside my head when I react to news coming from the city, every time they call me to comment on some distasteful piece of news from Naples.”

    As he describes his childhood, the story emerges of a city to hear as well as see. “I grew up in avery narrow alley. There was not much of a view, but the sounds worked miracles. You could hear everything that was going on beyond the walls and the streets. The city was very acoustic.” 

    It was an education that took place through listening, especially in dialect. “Voices, cries, prayers, lamentations of my mother. All in Neapolitan.

    Italian is my second language. It’s difficult to explain to non-Italians, because in their experience dialects don’t really exist – only the inflections of pronunciations that distinguish one place from another. It’s rarely found outside of Italy, this radical differences in vocabulary and phonetics among our dialects. We come from a country of ‘multiple languages.’ In Naples, we speak one of these languages.”

    Leaving Naples.
    So what does Erri recall of his departure from Naples? He was young, he left suddenly, and never went back there to live. “I had built up a lot of drive to get out, and the drive at a certain point materialized. I opened the door to my house…and I closed it slowly behind me, not letting it slam. I disappeared. I went down the stairs, I went to the station and I took a train. I separated myself from the future that had been set for me. I immediately threw myself into the fray. I remember precisely the emptiness of the descent; it was a deep void. For me, those stairs were an abyss, and I would never go up them again.” 

    For Erri De Luca, New York City, America, and Naples are linked by a personal red thread. The United States entered his life even before he visited. His grandmother was Ruby Hammond and she was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. His name, Erri, comes from Harry, even though he dropped the “H.” 

    “Neapolitan America”

    But America didn’t just exist in family stories. He had lived it and seen it while he was still a boy in Naples. “The U.S. Sixth Fleet is headquartered in Naples. There were aircraft carriers and whole squadrons. Entire neighborhoods in Naples were inhabited by American soldiers and officers. America was all around me.”

    This “Neapolitan” America joined the America that was already inside him. He looked very much like those young Americans, those soldiers who descended from ships and were seen wandering around Naples while on leave.

    “My body resembled theirs. Once I was even taken in by the American police since they had mistaken me for one of their soldiers. Physically, America fit me; it was my calling card. I was an American in Naples. “

    At last — New York

    But Erri visited New York City for the first time just two years ago, and did so as a famous writer on tour to present his book. We asked him to describe some of feelings upon his first “return” to America.

    “I had just read a travelogue written by my father, who had been in New York after the war. He had longed for America and had read a lot of American literature. So I tried to see New York through his eyes, looking for what he had seen him in the 1950s. Of course I made it up; I completely imagined the stories hidden inside of my father’s diary. I followed him as he went to Ellis Island, the terminus of the journey for emigrants, and I went to the top of the Empire State building, again because he had been there….”

    A city that is unique

    Our conversation seemed to be a relay between Naples and New York. We went back to Naples and asked Erri for some tips to tourists who want to visit. “Naples is not a touristic city in the classic sense. It’s not like Rome or Florence. Naples must be visited alongside a Neapolitan, someone who will take you by the hand, not because you need to be protected but because only a Neapolitan can open up the city to you. Otherwise, you won’t see anything. You need a friend in Naples. It’s a secret city. For however beautiful it is, for as much as it seems completely open with its wonderful bay, it’s actually impenetrable.” Perhaps an intrinsic aspect of this city is its impenetrability and its religiosity.

    “It’s a religious city, even superstitious. In particular, there is an intimate worship of the dead, who are never erased or excluded, but continue to be with us. There is great adoration of the relics. Neapolitans have entrusted themselves to the intercession of the patron saint Gennaro who saved them from the plague, the lava from Vesuvius, and earthquakes. The city has its own ‘holiness’ which is neither in heaven nor on earth.”

    An earthquake within. As in so many of Erri De Luca’s books, there lives and seethes a tension that feeds his research and transforms it into poetry. In this way, he exorcises the interior earthquake that is so often within us. And he allows something sacred to grow in its place, something which takes us back to Naples, where his senses were constructed.


  • Events: Reports

    IACF’s Annual Benefit Dinner & Auction

    We discussed with Cristina Aibino the importance of collaborative research between Italy and the US regarding breast cancer, a very significant and pressing topic in the lives of many.

    This year the benefit is celebrating its 35th anniversary.You’ve been putting so much effort into research for so long – what do all these years of hard work mean to you?

    These 35 years represent the consolidation of our fight against cancer. We have given over 419 scholarships to young Italian researchers who have come to the US to contribute to excellent research projects and we have offered over 90,000 screening tests to New York residents to guard against cancer.  Our programs allow us to invest in research and in the American community in which we reside. We’re proud of the results we’ve achieved over the last 35 years and look forward to the next 35 years.

    The American-Italian Cancer Foundation supports cancer research, a very sensitive topic of great importance. What is the difference between the manner in which research is conducted and work is carried out in the US as opposed to Italy?

    The technical and scientific preparation of Italian researchers ranks among the best in the world. With this solid background, the recipients of our scholarships have ample opportunity for professional development. In the US, Italian researchers will have access to exceptional laboratories, international research teams, and both financial and creative freedom to develop research projects.

    During the benefit, prizes will be given to two world- renowned scientists: Fredrick W. Alt. and Carlos L. Arteaga. What are the criteria for being selected for these prestigious awards?

    Our Prize for Scientific Excellence in Medicine is awarded annually to two doctors who have made significant contributions to the field of oncology, one in research and the other in applied medicine.

    Frederick W. Alt is the Director of the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and a Professor of Pediatrics and Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Carlos T. Arteaga is the Clinical Research Director of the Breast Cancer Research Program, Professor of Cancer Biology, and Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University.

    They were chosen by our Scientific Advisory Board, a group of select Italian and American doctors who have collaborated with us for many years to further our work in the field of oncology.

    The chairs of the charity gala will be Laudomia Pucci, CEO of Pucci, and Alessandro Castellano, CEO of SACE. Lamberto Andreotti, Chairman of the Board of Bristol-Myers Squibb, will receive the Alessandro di Montezemolo Lifetime Achievement Award. Why did you choose these specific honorees?

    The honorees of our annual gala are professionals who have distinguished themselves via exceptional accomplishments in Italy and around the world.

    What projects are you working on at the moment?

    We are working on promoting the Foundation via a new website and a social networking effort to raise public awareness of our programs. We want to give a voice to our fellows, tell their stories, and follow them until the end of our scholarships so that others can travel the same road in the future.

    With regards to our screening against breast cancer, we are constantly searching for centers in the region in order to expand our screening and admit more women into our clinics.

    To support the IACF: >>>

  • Opinioni

    Baronessa Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, sei con noi

    Ci sono volute diverse ore prima di poter mettere le mani sul mio computer e scrivere dell’improvvisa scomparsa di una persona a cui la cultura italiana deve molto e che ho avuto l’onore di conoscere e frequentare.

    L’ho saputo mentre ero a Washington per il Gala 40mo anniversario della Niaf (Italian American Foundation), istituzione che come molte altre deve tanto alla Baronessa Zerilli-Marimò, icona della promozione della cultura italiana in America.   Subito un grande vuoto dentro di me, e poi la voce rotta per telefono di quello che forse è stato il suo più grande amico, oltre che collaboratore, Stefano Albertini direttore della sua Casa Italiana da diciassette anni.   Sarà una perdita difficile da realizzare, tanto era viva la sua presenza, anche se negli ultimi anni passava più tempo a Montecarlo che negli Stati Uniti.   Ma “La Baronessa”, come tutti la chiamavamo, ci è stata vicina egualmente, attraverso email, commenti al nostro lavoro, incoraggiamenti, incontri quando veniva a New York e voleva sapere come procedeva il nostro progetto. Era consapevole che stavamo portando avanti un lavoro non facile, e voleva sapere tutto.   La ricordo nel nostro ultimo incontro, ferma e materna al tempo stesso, pronta a fare le sue critiche come i suoi apprezzamenti. Lì nella sua stanza d’albergo, dopo aver venduto la sua splendida casa davanti al Central Park—luogo straordinario, dove sono passati tanti nomi che fanno parte della storia americana e italiana.    I suoi occhi scrutavano tutto con dolcezza, pieni di curiosità. E quel giorno sono andata via sempre più grata per i consigli ricevuti da una donna che mi appariva non solo lucida e razionale ma giovane dentro, costruttiva, piena di vita. E soprattutto una persona che sapeva ascoltare, virtù oggi sempre più rara. Devo molto a lei come donna, e non parlo di donazioni o finanziamenti. E’ stata per me  un vero “mentor”.   Era la sua fiducia, il suo ottimismo, nonostante la profonda consapevolezza delle difficoltà di un’impresa editoriale a New York, che me la faceva sentire vicina e mi rendeva indispensabile vederla. Il nostro è stato un rispettoso rapporto da donna a donna, tra due persone molto diverse, ma che condividevano una grande passione per la trasmissione della cultura italiana.   Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò. Una signora d’altri tempi, ma così “contemporanea”, attenta a tutto ciò che di nuovo nasceva intorno a lei, si è sempre dedicata con grande generosità e senza risparmiarsi alla diffusione della cultura italiana negli Stati Uniti.   Non solo attraverso contributi finanziari ma partecipando personalmente ai progetti che sceglieva di seguire. E’ così che è entrata a far parte, direi con estrema dolcezza, del tessuto culturale profondo del mondo italiano di New York e degli Stati Uniti.   Abbiamo parlato tante volte del suo passato, di quel marito che l’ha lasciata cosi presto e che lei ha voluto far rivivere attraverso un impegno vastissimo di promozione culturale.   Ne abbiamo parlato in privato, come davanti ad una telecamera. E lei era sempre coerente, una persona vera, che certo conosceva bene le regole dell’alta società, ma sapeva rimanere se stessa, sempre. Donna elegante e sofisticata, era anche capace di una semplicità disarmante.   Era vicina ai giovani con una dolcezza ed intensità rare, e per questo soprattutto la nostra redazione sotto i trentanni amava lavorare con lei, come del resto tutti i collaboratori, gli interns e lo staff della Casa Italiana che la ricorderanno per sempre. E due tra i tanti, i più vicini credo: Julian Sachs ed Elsa de Giovanni.   E che dire del mondo accademico? I nomi di Ruth Ben Ghiat e di Antonio Monda vengono subito alla mente per la loro assidua frequentazione della Casa. E poi la fondazione Tiro a Segno, importante risorsa da lei voluta come liason con mondo italo-americano. Per lei infatti promuovere la cultura italiana ha sempre significato anche avvicinarsi alla cultura italo-americana, scongiurando quella cesura tra i due mondi che, soprattutto anni fa, rischiava di approfondirsi.   Tra i suoi amici e collaboratori di una vita infatti, tantissimi americani, italiani ed italo-americani. Come anche nel Board della Casa, alla cui ultima riunione  avevo assistito la scorsa primavera, per filmarne una parte. La Baronessa si muoveva sempre a suo agio tra i suoi amici e collaboratori di una vita, come Matilda Cuomo, Katherine LaGuardia, Dominic Massaro, Steve Acunto, tra gli altri...   Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò ha contribuito a realizzare tanti progetti importanti, ma la Casa Italiana della NYU era certo la sua creatura speciale. Fondata nel 1990, per ricordare ed onorare il marito Guido, industriale farmaceutico, diplomatico e raffinato intellettuale, utilizzando il patrimonio ereditato per cause benefiche, è diventata, negli anni, uno straordinario centro della cultura italiana. E Stefano Albertini, suo storico direttore, ha lavorato con lei in maniera esemplare, contribuendo a valorizzare un impegno filantropico che non ha uguali nel mondo per profondità e competenza.   Una magica vicinanza che lasciava già far intendere che il suo lascito, un giorno, non sarebbero state solo le mura di un luogo stupendo, le sue mille attività, le borse di studio, ma anche una direzione culturale e organizzativa in grado di perpetuare la sua missione.   Grazie a tutto questo la sua presenza continuerà ad essere viva, perché la cultura è fatta di passione e di libertà che lei, prima di tutto, ha trasmesso a tutti.   Il suo mecenatismo è stato tanto tanto piu’ prezioso perche portato avanti senza preconcetti e condizionamenti, e sempre nel rispetto della diversità.   Un modello certo per molti e un invito a seguire le sue orme.   Baronessa Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, sei con tutti noi.

  • Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, Always With Us

    It took me some time before I was able to sit down and write about the sudden passing of someone to whom Italian culture owes so much and whom I had the honor to  meet  in person and spend time with.

    I found out about it while in Washington for the Gala celebrating the NIAF 40th anniversary,

    an institution that, like many others, owes so much to  Baroness Zerilli-Marimo', an icon for the promotion of the Italian culture in America.

    I felt a sudden void, and then the broken voice, on the phone, of Stefano Albertini , the director of 'her' Casa Italiana for the last seventeen years, and maybe her best friend.


    It's a loss that's going to be hard to accept, since  so vivid was her presence,  even though in the last few years she used to spend more time in Montecarlo than in the US. But "The Baroness", as she was known, was never too far from us: she would make her presence felt through her emails, her comments on our work, her encouragement, her meetings while she was in New York and her interest in our projects. She was well aware that the endeavor undertaken was not a simple one, and she wanted to know everything.

    I remember her in our last meeting, firm and maternal at the same time, as ready to criticize as she was to compliment you. We were in her hotel room, after she had sold her magnificent home across from  Central Park, an extraordinary place that had been visited by so many illustrious names of Italian and American history.  Her eyes would scan everything, with curiosity and tenderness.

    That day I left feeling even more grateful for the advice received by a person who not only seemed alert and rational, but also young, constructive and full of life. And someone who could listen, a rare virtue today. As a woman I owe her a lot, and I'm not talking about donations or financial support. She has been a true mentor. Her confidence and optimism, regardless of the difficulties an editorial enterprise in New York would face, made me feel close to her and needy of her support. Ours was a relationship of respect, woman to woman, between two very different people who shared the common goal of wanting to promote Italian culture.

    Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo' , a woman from another era, yet a very 'contemporary' one, aware of everything new that was happening around her. With dedication,  generosity  and without sparing herself she contributed to the diffusion of  Italian culture in the United States. Not only through financial support but also personally participating in some of the projects. And this is how,  very delicately, she became at one with the deeper cultural fabric of the Italian world in New York and in the US.

    We often talked about her past, about that husband that left her side too early and that she tried to keep alive through her immense commitment to cultural promotion . We talked about it privately. She was being her true self, a genuine  person, someone who knew too well the rules of high society but that could still remain herself, always. Elegant and sophisticated, but also capable of disarming simplicity.

    She was understanding of young people, with rare compassion and intensity, reason why our staff loved working with her, and the same can be said about the collaborators, the interns and the staff of Casa Italiana who will never forget her. Two among many, maybe the closest: Julian Sachs and Elsa de Giovanni.

    And what about the Academic world? The first names that come to mind are Ruth Ben Ghiat and Antonio Monda, as they used to often spend time at the Casa. Then the Foundation 'Tiro a segno', an important association wanted by her as a liason with the italian-american world.

    For the Baroness promoting Italian culture also meant getting closer to Italian-American culture, preventing the gap between to two worlds to widen. Among her lifetime friends and collaborators there are in fact  many Americans, Italian-Americans and Italians. This past summer I participated in and filmed the last meeting of the Casa's Board: the baroness  always moved confidently among hher friends and collaborators, Matilda Cuomo, Katherina la Guardia, Dominic Massaro, Steve Acunto...

    The Baroness contributed to numerous important projects, but NYU's Casa Italiana certainly was her crowning glory.  Casa Italiana, established in 1990 to commemorate and honor her late husband Guido, pharmaceutical industrialist, diplomat and notable intellectual, over the years has become an extraordinary center representing italian culture. Stefano Albertini, its historical director, has worked with her in an exemplary fashion, adding value to a philantropic commitment unmatched for depth and competence. A shared sense of purpose which implied that its legacy would go beyond the walls of this marvellous place, its various activities and scholarships, to become a cultural and organizational movement able to perpetuate its mission.


    Thanks to all of this she will live on, because culture is made of passion and freedom,  which she has passed on. Her patronage was especially precious since she applied it without prejudices, and with the utmost respect of diversity. A role model for many , an example to follow.

    Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, you are with us, always.


  • Opinioni

    “Il papa siamo noi”

    Ma chi sono io per scrivere su Papa Francesco? Me lo sono chiesto fino a questa sera. Premevo i tasti del mio computer e una voce interna mi bloccava. E mi veniva da pensare ancora: ho  letto già fiumi di parole su di lui e resoconti sulla sua visita in America, cosa posso aggiungere?

    Sono stati infatti giorni permeati dalla presenza del Pontefice qui. E’ stato il primo Papa nella storia a parlare davanti al Congresso di Washington, prima di recarsi a New York, alle Nazioni Unite, e poi a Filadelfia per la giornata mondiale delle famiglie.

    Le parole di Francesco, le sue azioni, anche alcuni suoi semplici gesti, sono arrivati questa volta dove nessuno è forse mai arrivato.

    Rimarranno sicuramente nei palazzi del potere, incideranno sulla campagna elettorale degli USA, toccheranno le decisioni alle Nazioni Unite. E speriamo che chi ha la possibilità, la responsabilità ed la possibilità, sia abbastanza coraggioso da seguire i consigli del Pontefice.

    La sua voce incredibilmente ferma, dietro la dolcezza, ha toccato temi scomodi, addirittura impronunciabili per alcuni.  Il suo modo di parlare descrive, rende partecipi, rimane dentro. In certi casi spiazza.

    Questo  con la semplicità della verità, tenendo sempre virtualmente per mano tutti coloro che sono deboli, che hanno bisogno. Gente come lui. “Siamo stati tutti stranieri”, dice.

    Cosa posso aggiungere io dunque su Papa Francesco ora?  Oggi pomeriggio l’ho incontrato in qualche modo da vicino. Ancora prima di vederlo fisicamente. Ho trovato infatti il Pontefice tra le gente, dopo aver passato ore nella folla aspettandolo. Questo scegliendo di fare la persona comune e non la giornalista, senza usare un permesso stampa. 

    In un bellissimo pomeriggio di fine settembre ho così ascoltato la speranza, mi sono fatta contagiare dai sorrisi, ho sopportato l’odore del sudore di chi è scappato dal lavoro per vedere il Papa, ho sentito le urla dei bambini, il loro pianto insofferente, ho provocato il sorriso di un vigile del servizio d’ordine, ho diviso l’acqua, ho provato a cantare insieme in spagnolo, non preghiere, ma melodie per festeggiare.

    Tutto questo a New York, sotto le vetrine dell’opulenta quinta strada. Stare insieme alla gente è  stato come toccare la presenza di Papa Francesco, ancora prima di vederlo. La semplicità del messaggio del pontefice, figlio di emigrati, passava attraverso le storie, gli sguardi, i gesti della gente che avevo intorno. Famiglie intere. Giovani dai vestiti più strani. Molti erano orogliosamente latino-americani. Ma tante le nazionalità di origine sulla Quinta strada. Donne, uomini e bambini che insieme lo hanno atteso per ore, in piedi. Questo per vederlo poi passare solo 30 secondi e andarsene via felici, con il sorriso.

    Queste ore mi hanno reso consapevole di cosa  mi ha colpito in questi giorni di Papa Francesco, cosa penso possa aver coinvolto la maggior parte delle gente qui: la semplicità di fondo del suo messaggio diretto a tutti, senza mai cambiare linguaggio. Con parole di facile comprensione.

    Perchè c’è  qualcosa che tutti possono capire. E questo qualcosa è il punto di partenza di tutto quello che dice.  Si chiama amore. Un amore che vuol dire cura dell’altro, cura del creato,  che esula da ogni appartenenza religiosa.

    Un sentimento che potrebbe essere la chiave per risolvere tutti i problemi che con coraggio e non senza provocazione, Papa Francesco sta affrontando di fronte ai potenti del mondo. E non dimentichiamolo, anche di fronte alla Chiesa, a sua volta una potenza.

    C’era molta gente per la strada, essere in tanti faceva sentire certo molto piccoli. Ma il desiderio di riconoscersi nel messaggio di Francesco, più uomo simile a loro che pontefice, e di poterne incontrare lo sguardo anche per pochi secondi, sembrava dare tanta forza ed in un certo senso grandezza.

    Molti saranno riusciti a vederlo pochissimo, molti forse non lo hanno visto,  ma l’attesa ha creato un senso di vicinanza che io non avrei mai immaginato. 

    Chi sono io per scrivere di Papa Francesco? Non lo so, ma ho provato a sentire sulla mia pelle il mistero di quell filo rosso che lega la sua esistenza ad un’umanità che crede in lui.

    Perchè “il Papa è come noi”, mi ha detto un ragazzo sotto un grande cappello, che si è tolto non appena ha visto arrivare la papamobile. 

  • Op-Eds

    ​"The Pope is Like Us"

    ​Who am I to write about Pope Francis?! I kept on asking myself this question, until yesterday. I was typing, but an internal voice was blocking me. I would think... what can I add to the rivers of words and reports already written about his Us visit?

    These have​
     been days dominated by the  Pontiff 's presence. The first Pope in history to talk before the Congress in Washington, prior to going to New York, the United Nations and Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Conference. Francis' words, his actions, even some of his simplest gestures, have this time reached places maybe never touched before.​

    ​His words will no doubt resound inside the palaces of the powerful, have a bearing on the US electoral campaign and influence the United Nations future decisions.​

    ​ Let's hope that those who have the ability, the responsibility and the opportunity, will be brave enough to follow the Pope's suggestions.

    His  voice, incredibly firm behind its genuine gentleness, stirred inconvenient truths, some even unpronounceable for many. His words of inclusions often catch you off guard and their echo is  long lasting.

    ​And all this with the simplicity of the truth, always virtually holding hands with the poor and the needy. People like himself. "We were once foreigners" he says.​

    ​So what can I add about Pope Francis...
     Yesterday afternoon I've somehow met him, close up. Even before seeing him in person. I have met him among the people, after having waited for him in the crowd for hours. Choosing to be one of the many and not the journalist with a press pass.

    So it happens that in a beautiful September afternoon I listened to hope, I allowed myself  to be  infected by the smiles, I endured the body odor of those who had sneaked out of work early  to see the Pope, I heard the screams of the children, their annoyed cries, I elicited the smile of the security staff, I shared water, I tried to sing along in Spanish... not prayers, but melodies of celebration.

    ​This was happening in New York, not far from the opulent shop windows of the 5th Avenue. Being among people has meant feeling the Pope's presence even before seeing him. The simplicity of the Pope's  message​, 'a son of immigrants', was being shared through the stories, the looks, the body language of the people around me. Entire families. Youth dressed in the oddest fashion. Many of them proudly South American. But many more were the nationalities represented on the 5th Avenue. Women, men and children that together waited, standing for hours, to see him only for thirty seconds, passing by, and then go home, happy.

    ​The last few hours have made me aware of what really is that strikes you about Pope Francis and captivates everybody: the simplicity of his message that is directed to all, a message always delivered with the same direct and comprehensible language.

    ​Because there is something that we can all understand and that is the starting point of everything we can say: love. That love that inspires you to look after one another, love for the planet, love that is above any religious faith .​

    ​A feeling that could be the answer to all those problems that Pope Francis, with courage not free  from provocation, is addressing in front of the most powerful world leaders. And why not, even in front of the Church itself, a super powerful institution.

    ​There were so many people on the streets, and that made you somehow feel very small. But the desire to identify yourself in Francis' message, more a man like you  than a  Pontiff, and the hope to meet his gaze even if for a few seconds, seemed to convey strength and somehow greatness.

    ​Many would have seen him only for a split second, many others not even that.​ But the wait created a sense of closeness that I wouldn't have imagined.

    ​Again, who am I to write about Pope Francis? Not sure, but I tried to feel on my skin the mystery of that red thread that connects his existence with the humanity that has faith in him.​

     ​Because the Pope is like us, said a guy hiding under a big hat that he quickly removed as he saw the papa-mobile approaching.


  • Life & People

    Living (with an) Italian in NYC

    What does italianità (or “Italian-ness”) mean to a non-native? How do you explain it? There are certainly abstract stereotypes associated with italianità. We say, for example, that Italians are kind, friendly, beautiful and passionate. We say they know a thing or two about love and having a good time.

    Then there are those images that immediately call Italy to mind: Ferrari and Prada, Venice and Florence, the Trevi Fountain and Mount Vesuvius, pizza and pasta. There are also, we know, negative stereotypes. Italians are often considered loud, quarrelsome and hotheaded. And some people still stress the “M-word”...

    But I wanted to try to tackle the concept head-on, not dwell on the usual stereotypes. Why not talk to a non-native who lives with an Italian, I thought. What does “living Jaqueline Greaves Monda in Capri Italian” mean for a non-Italian? Better yet: What’s it like to live with an Italian, in an Italian context, even outside of Italy?

    I decided to seek help from a couple that is beloved by this city, not the transient New York gossip variety, but one with a firm foothold in the city’s cultural milieu, one with ties to literature, film, art. So I decided to pay a visit to Jacqueline Graves, a Jamaican, and her husband Antonio Monda, an Italian writer, film studies professor at NYU and acting director of the Festa del Cinema in Rome.

    In New York Jacqueline and Antonio play an active role, often side by side, in various cultural institutions, including, to name a few, the Morgan Library, NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, the Tribeca Film Festival, Lincoln Center and MoMA.

    Yet they are also widely known for hosting Italian and American writers, journalists, actors, critics and artists at their home on the Upper East Side. Their house is a “laboratory of ideas,” as Antonio himself calls it, where people gather round the dining room table. Who better than Jacqueline Graves Monda to guide us on this tour of italianità, of family, food, a sense of religion and the virtues of hospitality. Not to mention the vice/virtue of talk, talk, talk – never ending and all consuming.

    A lot in common
    Let’s start with how they met. In New York, through friends. It was 1985. Antonio was scouting a location for a documentary. Jacqueline was in the city with family. She didn’t know much about Italy then, but, like a lot of people, she did know about its art, music and opera.They immediately warmed to one another. He didn’t speak much English then. “I learned Italian first, starting from scratch,” she says, smiling, “thanks to a full immersion with his family in Italy. He was away at the time!” Beautiful, sunny, Jacqueline’s personal – though with-it – fashion sense enhances her Jamaican features. Her native land shines through in an unpremeditated, gentle way. It’s easy to understand how she enchanted the young Italian.

    But what do they have in common? “That’s too easy,” she offers, not batting an eye. “Respect for tradition, for family, for real values, for hospitality.” And then there’s religion, even if the road was a bit circuitous. “My family is Protestant and Protestantism is a lot more rigid than Catholicism,” says Jacqueline. “One of my aunts married an Anglican priest who later became bishop of the capital of Jamaica.

    I went to a religious school. I became a Catholic with Antonio, because I think it’s very important to raise children in the same faith.” And yet another factor in their marriage is their shared interest in culture, music, literature and art: “I come from a very cultured family. I grew up around books. My grandfather read ancient Greek. Classical music was in the air...”

    Hospitality as a way of life
    But the couple’s real – perhaps fatal – area of agreement is in their ability to “host parties,” a mainstay of their life in New York. “Italians are similar to Jamaicans. Thanks to my grandparents and mother, I was used to keeping our doors open to people from around the world. I remember my grandmother’s beautiful garden parties, the tables topped with seasonal fruit. When Antonio brought me to Calabria for the first time, I found the very same thing. Even if I didn’t speak Italian at the time.”

    As the New York Times has reported, luminaries like Philip Roth, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and Zadie Smith flock to the Monda household. Paying them a visit is a special experience. But making such big names “feel at home” can’t be easy. Or can it? “I’m myself,” Jacqueline confesses, “hosting all kinds of people comes naturally to me.” Indeed, this splendid lady of the house attends to both her kitchen and her guests with great ease.

    On occasion, you might even catch a glimpse of Antonio’s mother by the stove. And so, as our talk drifts toward kitchen matters, I discover the secret to Italian- Jamaican hospitality: food. Jacqueline’s food has become famous for its seamless blend of Italian-Jamaican cultures and is the subject of a forthcoming book.

    Blending cultures through food
    “Yes, a cookbook done my way. I make a note of what I like around. I always find the right ingredients to strike a good balance, and slowly but surely I’ve created my own type of cooking. But I don’t call it ‘fusion’ – I hate that!” But where does this passion for cooking come from? “You’ll laugh. I must admit that as a girl I didn’t know how to cook. I lived with my mother, who was a good cook, so I didn’t have to. Then everyone in my Italian family started asking me, ‘What? You really don’t know how to cook?’ Antonio’s family placed a lot of importance on the subject. So I slowly began to cook.

    My mother-in-law Marilù and my sister-in-law Elvira were a fabulous help.” As an Italian, I might have guessed. But cooking for Italians must be grueling for someone not Italian. “In fact for many years I was afraid to cook pasta for Italians!” Jaqueline recalls, “That’s not the case today. Everyone asks me to cook pasta now. I like to invent. The flavors I create are based on memories. Much of my cooking is inspired by my memories of the time I spent with my grandmother. After that it’s easy. I try to make dishes with a few, simple products. Now it’s easier to find quality ingredients. When I began cooking back in ’94, you couldn’t even find decent basil in New York.”

    NYC makes it easier
    And her family? What is it like to raise children in a bicultural family? The couple has three kids, and their house has that unmistakable family feel. Jacqueline couldn’t be more straightforward on this matter: “New York is the best place to raise children with two different cultural backgrounds. Our children go to Italy every summer and have always heard Italian spoken. In New York, they’re close to my mother and other relatives of mine. They have experienced my culture, even if we haven’t been to Jamaica often. There are many Jamaican events here: concerts, folk dances, shows. We always go. New York is a special city. It let’s you remain who you are. It’s the essence of hospitality.”

    Italianness is — talking freely
    I try, fiendishly, to provoke her a little. “What can’t you stand about Italians?” “You’re going to get me in trouble...” she laughs. “The Italians talk all the time! About everything, a lot. Especially about politics. That’s not how it worked in my world.

    My grandfather would say, ‘Don’t talk about religion or politics with anyone.’ Think of the difference! I remember how astonished I was those first few years. And my mother was perplexed. She didn’t understand the language and was hearing all this talk, talk, talk...But, now that you ask, I realize that I love this way of talking freely. My mother says I’ve changed. She doesn’t recognize me anymore. But I love the way you Italians have of freely expressing yourselves.”

    And when does Jacqueline feel most Italian? “Maybe when talking with my daughter Caterina. She really is Italian. She always wants to speak Italian and speaks so quickly that sometimes on the phone I can’t even understand her!” One last question. Getting back to Antonio, what’s your secret? How do you live so happily together? “By working every day with a constant need for one another. You have to take as well as give. And be generous...”

  • Op-Eds

    What's Hiding Behind the Bend?

    The road is a child running up ahead of me and hiding behind a bend – perhaps he’s waiting to surprise me when I get there. 

    — Pascal D’Angelo, Mezzoggiorno
    Pascal D’Angelo was a shepherd and poet from Abruzzo. An autodidact, he immigrated to the US in 1910 and was fascinated by the dynamism of his adopted country, despite the occasional hardship he encountered there. His simple yet eloquent verse was published in various American journals, and the fresh air of discovery that permeated his work seems a fitting way to greet autumn in New York. 

    Although our cover pays tribute to Italian discoveries of another kind—to major Italian contributions to science and technology—an immigrant’s voyage is a similarly courageous excursion into the unknown, one that also requires invention, so we feel justified in introducing this issue of i-ItalyNY with our shepherd poet.  

    ● ● ● ●

    This special issue features an insert by the Italian Heritage
    & Culture Committee presenting all of the Italian and Italian-American events happening in this city of immigrants during the fall. And because Italy and Italians are so poorly represented by current stereotypes, we have dedicated this issue to differences and diversity by entitling it “A Different Italy, Diverse Italians.” 

    ● ● ● ●

    The “Different Italy” described in Maria Teresa Cometto’s cover story is a country that goes beyond fashion, art and good cooking, a country that gave birth to some of the most important scientific and technological innovations of the last fifty years. 

    The stories of “diverse Italians” that you will find in the following pages speak to a concept of Italianness that transcends ethnic labels and “hyphenated” identities, as reflected upon by Anthony Tamburri. Gennaro Matino talks about the best-known hyphenated Italian, the Italian-Argentine Pope who, in recent weeks, has borne his message of peace and social equality to the Americas. We also introduce you to Afro-Italian director Fred Kuwornu,
    a noted champion of dual citizenship in Italy, and Jaqueline Greeves Monda, a sophisticated Jamaican whose marriage to one of New York’s noted Italian intellectuals has led to her “Italianization.” And two multi-hyphenated college professors—a Slavic Sicilian American and a German Jewish Italian American—travel to uncover the Italian side of their respective ancestries, with differing fortunes.  

    We then profile three very different but equally successful Italian Americans. John Viola, the youngest president in the history of the National Italian American Foundation, talks about the organization’s 40th anniversary and how he intends to transform NIAF into a global ambassador of Italianness in the world. Lucia Pasqualini continues her column on Italian-American mentors and role models, this time discussing how anchorwoman Maria Bartiromo helped her understand her own family’s history. And Peter Vallone, the good old guy of Italian-American politics in New York, talks about his Sicilian origins and how he served as NYC Council Speaker for roughly twenty years.  

    Finally we attend to some of Italy’s “adopted” citizens—or “Italici,” as Piero Bassetti would define them. They include American architect Dan Meis, who is currently at work on the new soccer stadium in Rome; Italian studies professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who talks with Stefano Albertini about her latest book Empire Cinema; and French writer Dominique Fernandez—member of the Académie française, award-winning Pasolini scholar and author of several important essays about Italy— who takes us on a unique tour of Baroque Sicily. 

    ● ● ● ●

    Sicily and its particular relationship to difference and diversity is in fact the subject of much of this issue. Previously the region from which Italians emigrated, Sicily now finds itself on the receiving end of immigrants coming into Italy. Here, you’ll also discover a Sicily that is home to art—not just beaches and beachcombers—and get a taste of its cuisine at New York’s best Sicilian restaurants. 

    ● ● ● ●

    Through this issue of i-ItalyNY we hope to show you that Italy’s true capital goes by the name “diversity.” Not only is its history a continuous overlapping of cultures, but a steady stream of emigrants has carried that cultural patrimony around the world, opening it up to further transformations. And today’s Italianness is the result of this long, complex process.
    So, even if you’re staying in NY this fall, let yourself wander with us—with our magazine and our television show, website and social media—in search of Italianness. Wander like the shepherd poet. What’s hidden behind that bend? You’ll be surprised to find out when you get there.

  • Op-Eds

    Beyond Borders

    “Destiny, by definition, is a

    predetermined path. In the Spanish

    language it simply means arrival. For

    one born in Naples, destiny is over one’s

    shoulder, is to come from there. Being

    born and raised there depletes destiny:

    wherever you go, you’ve long borne it,

    half dead weight and half shield.”

    — Erri De Luca

    I always begin with the words of a poet. And these few words of Erri de Luca capture the sense of what goes by the name of napoletanità, which continues to be passed on and kept alive, even for those who have left Naples. Even, say, for those who have lived for years in

    New York.

    On the occasion of Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris’ visit to New York, i-Italy has dedicated a lot of room in this issue to the city that, despite its many contradictions, has captivated the world’s imagination for centuries. People who know it well, like me, might say that Naples and New York have a lot in common, but I’ll leave that fascinating discussion to the

    following pages. In particular, be sure to check out the important “Naples in the World” project that Gennaro Matino has chosen to launch in this issue.

    ● ● ● ●

    If Naples is “beyond borders,” the same goes for the rest of Italy described in this issue. In

    Dino Borri’s interview with Carlo Petrini, for one, the Slow Food founder discusses the new lifestyle his movement is championing around the world. And Judith Harris and Piero Galli shed light on how Expo Milan 2015, despite its several controversies, is raising issues of fundamental importance for the fate of our planet. On a slightly different note, the recently

    deceased “Jewelry King” Gianmaria Buccellati demonstrates how one family can singlehandedly bring the art of Italian goldsmithing to the world’s attention. And—last but

    not least—what does Renzo Piano have to say about his architectural

    gems scattered around the world, including his new masterpiece, the Whitney Museum? Enjoy Stefano Albertini’s interview with the


    Likewise, Fred Plotkin and Florence Mayor Dario Nardella’s conversation travels beyond the

    usual confines, ranging from music to opera to the city. And Lucia Pasqualini dedicates her column on mentoring to Lucio Noto. Known in America for his business successes,

    Noto is a model of leadership for young people, says Pasqualini.

    Speaking of young people, we attended the annual gala at Scuola fd’Italia, where there’s something special cooking for the future of Italy in New York. And while I’m

    looking forward and back, another gala worth mentioning was held by the NIAF, whose increasingly freshfaced leadership established an award this year in honor of Mario

    Cuomo. His son, Governor Andrew Cuomo, gave a touching and unforgettable speech that night.

    ● ● ● ●

    Take a look at the table of contents, there’s a lot more. As for me, I will end my brief summary of what’s inside by pointing out our report on the first conference regarding the Mediterranean diet as well as our backstage look at the Sofi Awards held at the headquarters of Specialty Food with Francine Segan.

    As always, the Summer Fancy Food Show will take place in June in New York, but this year’s main sponsor is Italy.

    Dulcis in fundo, have a happy 2nd of June—Republic Day in Italy! Our Consul General Natalia Quintavalle tells us what to expect in our “Events” section, which includes— as usual—a calendar with a complete list of Italian happenings in the city.

    ● ● ● ●

    Many of the articles inside have a QR code you can scan to watch videos on your smartphone, but don’t forget that i-Italy is also on television (every Saturday @ 11.30pm and Sundays @1pm on NYC Life - Ch 25), online (i-italy. org)—and on Twitter and Facebook!

    ([email protected])

  • Op-Eds

    What i-Italy Could do With Those Subsidies…

    Articolo in lingua italiana >>>

    I’ll start with two facts. Though apparently unrelated, they are tied to the topic I want to discuss.

    The first is the “unemployment” announcement of the journalists at America Oggi, the historical Italian language newspaper in the United States. The second is the Bruno Vespa’s interview of us, which took place last Sunday and will be aired on Porta a Porta.


    What I want to talk about is the possibility that the economic crisis, in which the whole world is involved, will transform itself into a new opportunity for information. I’m talking about this because i-Italy was born in 2008, right when the crisis was exploding.

    Initially we were only present online but then, with great passion and many difficulties, we have consolidated, becoming an important multichannel presence: online, in print, on television, and on social networks.

    It’s an ambitious format, for its innovative characteristics, its independence from big editorial groups, and for the choice of not only using the Italian language, but mainly English in order to reach a vast audience: Italian Americans, especially young ones, and Americans who love our country, of whom there are many.

    These have been and continue to be difficult years, but also full of great satisfactions: from having the New York Times call us to know more about Italian events in New York we had written about (in English, it goes without saying), to getting an important Italian TV critic to point to us as a model for RAI!

    So we are perceived under many aspects as a “best practice”. And we owe it to two things: to he voluntary contribution of part of the journalists, writers and intellectuals, both Italian and American, and to an editorial staff that’s very young but with a knack for quality and the desire to distinguish themselves from the many amateur bloggers who go around with their little digital camera. Not to mention the precious support given to us by two important American academic institutions: the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute (CUNY) and la Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò (NYU).

    And that’s how we stubbornly go on, without any contributions from the state, constantly searching for funds in the midst of a devastating economic crisis.

    America Oggi: A newspaper that didn’t manage to adapt

    But let’s get to America Oggi. The newspaper was born in 1988 as another historical italian emigration newspaper was shutting down, Il Progresso ItaloAmericano. Directed by a cooperative made up of ex Il Progresso workers, it represented a true jump for Italian information in America. Thanks to the foresight of using computers and the new technology of the time; and later on thanks to the generous subsidies received from the office of the prime minister, of the order of millions of dollars.

    That’s how for years America Oggi was able to act as an important reference point for the community. But unfortunately, this newspaper wasn’t able to keep up with the times and with the transformation of its own readers, and especially of their children who no longer speak Italian – even though they love Italy. The number of copies sold is slowly dropping, the original stories are increasingly rare compared to the ones built on pre-existing press releases, and the destiny of the newspaper tied itself to the natural exhaustion of the old generation of Italian Emigration.

    Then the crisis came and the contributions from the office of the prime minister have been reduced over the last few years. Although today they continue to cover what I believe to be a conspicuous amount. A sum that, if well distributed, could provide enough tranquility to get through daily work, unrushed by the struggle to gather funds. And it could above all guarantee the compensation of collaborators.

    There’s a need for a different reality, a true calling that America Oggi seems to have lost. A different mindset is required, the ability to capture the innovative essence of modern technology. Just like the newspaper born after Il Progresso had at its inception, twenty years ago. But instead, they’ve decided to fire all their journalists…

    Bruno Vespa, Il Volo, and us…

    But what does Bruno Vespa have to do with this discussion? I’ll explain. He interviewed me during an American tour organized for a special episode of Porta a Porta dedicated to the members of Il Volo. A great example of teamwork coming from Rai Uno. It has been interesting to watch them operate here in New York. The success of the popular journalist and that of the young singers certainly justifies the project’s share of investments. But as I watched them work – for example in the restaurant Ribalta, which was transformed into a TV studio for the occasion – I couldn’t help but reflect on my experience.

    As I looked at their cameras, the lights they were using, their staff, I thought: “How did i-Italy get so far? How did we manage to produce quality work with such fewer resources?” Passion is indispensable but it certainly isn’t enough. The secret lies in using the available resources creatively and exercising good judgment.

    Fundamental is the contact with our readers both online and on paper, with our viewers, with the real life of the territory. With the youth. And I remembered how we conducted our first interview three years ago, on paper and on video with the guys from Il Volo, which was a huge success. It’s a good example to show what I’m trying to say.

    Il Volo came to our office for an interview during one of their first American tours. It was conducted in English, which was important for them. We didn’t yet have an appropriate studio for it. I’ll even say that in that moment we only had one “lavalier” microphone (the small clip-on ones). It wasn’t even wireless…and we only had one camera! (we’re better equipped now, don’t worry).

    But how could we get all three of them to talk all while creating something different, not too boring? We decided to have them sit close together on three chairs, with a white screen behind them. Only one microphone, and only one camera, but the three of them close, amused, and on screen. Fast pace, dynamic atmosphere. There we had it. The eloquence and likeability of Il Volo did the rest. This is only one of the many insights, the little sparks of genius of my collaborators.

    Realizing an original half-hour of television each week is pretty challenging. Even now that we have more full HD cameras, some spare microphones, sometimes we rent out equipment to obtain true cinematographic quality. We chose to enrich the program with different segments and various reports from different locations. And we always give it all we’ve got. But it can’t cost a fortune. And it’s doable!

    We carry the camera on our shoulders, we take the subway, we ask our friends involved in New York’s Italian intellectual scene to participate. And then everyone on our team knows they’ll have to take on the most diverse roles, to deal with - and resolve – all sorts of unforeseen events. We also have a tricolor fiat 500 designed by Massimo Vignelli to move around, but we don’t get to use it too much. Parking is hard to find in New York.

    It’s like going back to the origins of Television. With limited resources but fortunately with technology on our side today. Each upgrade in equipment has been a small victory for us. The same goes for our print magazine. The costs are there, but they are alleviated by the integration of content produced for the web and for video. We edit it ourselves, based on a template set up by a great graphic designer from Rome. And in the end an expert makes corrections and adds her artistic touch. Because quality and elegance are a priority, especially for Italians.

    Translating, creating subtitles for our show, explaining and “translating” our culture, these are other challenges that our primarily Italian staff faces. Challenges that naturally come with their costs. For this we must thank our Italian-American collaborators, who are fundamental for this cultural – not only linguistic – mediation.

    And finally, social networks, particularly Facebook, which best fits the way we communicate, accompanies our lives and follows us everywhere with photos and videos. We take care of each one of our Facebook “friends”, and in a very short time they became almost 125,000 and they post thousands of comments every day, they intervene, and they interact.

    So then the question naturally pops up: What could we do with those contributions that for some don’t suffice? I’ve asked myself that and now I’m asking you. I think we would…fly (like Il Volo). And I’m certain that after a few years, we would even stop needing that money. Because Italy, with all its culture, is the best product to sell, in America and throughout the world, it’s the best story to tell.

    You just need to know how to do it. And want to do it.

    We hope to make it and to grow in the coming years. I say “hope”, the first thing I’m aware of is the uncertainty with which nowadays we must have the humility to live with.