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Articles by: Chiara Basso

  • Life & People

    Simone Barlaam, a Fighting Fish in Search of Tokyo 2020

    IN LINGUA ITALIANA >>

    Simone Barlaam lives in Milan with his mother and younger sister, but often comes to New York to visit his father, the journalist Riccardo Barlaam, correspondent of Il Sole 24 Ore. Simone, world champion in charge in the 50 and 100 meters freestyle (category S9), confesses that in this city it is not easy to find an Olympic pool to keep up with his training. Because he cannot stop, otherwise "it's like shootin on your own foot: it's harder to get back".

     

    "Twice world champion, four tim es European champion, world record holder in 50 free style and European record in the 100 free style S9 category ..." his very detailed page on Wikipedia reads.

     

    But did you write it? We ask. "No! In fact I do not know who created it "he mocks. On that page, there are listed his problems and his successes. We asked Simone what's in the middle, what force of will is necessary to win a destiny that has been to him more like a strong upstream since the very first hours of his life.

     

    A destiny "against the tide"

     

    Simone was born with a deformation of the hip, a coxa vara in medical terms, and a congenital hypoplasia of the right femur that prevents the limb from developing like the other. But problems starter even before he arrived into the world when the doctors, in a pre-birth maneuver to turn it from the podalic position in which he was in utero, broke the femur that, still nobody knew, was very fragile.

     

    During Simone's childhood, thirteen surgical operations followed and so an infectionfor which he could have lost his leg. Professor Raphael Seringe and Professor Philippe Wicart from the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Children's Hospital in Paris saved it. "They really did a miracle," he says.

     

    Meanwhile, Simone swims. It is the only sport that he can do to maintain muscle tone without risking fractures because practiced in the absence of body weight. "I always swam to stay in shape. I had also tried paratriathlon, but I was too short in running and biking ". Actually, Simone in 2014 participates in the FITRI Paratriatlon Italian Championships in Riccione and gets off with a nice bronze medal. "For me it was above all my first contact with the Paralympic sport" he recalls.

     

    He understands that his strength is swimming. He starts looking online and finds the site of the FINP, the Italian Paralytic Swimming Federation. "I contacted them and started training with the national FINP trainer Massimiliano "Max" Tosin and other Paralympic athletes".

     

    The competitive turning point

     

    That meeting with Max and his team took place at the right time because Simone was almost tired of swimming. "At the age of ten I thought about quitting, I no longer felt any motivation to continue in my provincial team. On the other side, Max and especially the other guys, including some who were already world champions, inspired me. I thought: then you can also go fast, even with disability."

     

    Simone begins to train seriously. Now he can swim up to 18 hours a week, when he is close to important races. How important is your mindset? "Very important, especially in swimming where you have to starr at a line at the bottom of the pool for 5 or 6 hours a day. It helps me thinking about my goals because if you don't have the right motivation you do not get up at 4 in the morning to swim. And this applies to everyone. "

     

    But has Simone ever dreamed of going to the Olympics? To overcome that line that separates a para-atleths from athletes? "For now my goal is to go to the Paralympics and do them well, then for the Olympics it's a question of timing. If I ever get to make competitive times with Olympic athletes then I could go. "

     

    Among the athletes whom Simone admires the most is the former Australian Paralympic Swimming Champion Matthew Cowdrey, "I recently broke the world record he had at the London Olympics" Simone adds with pride. "Then Michael Phelps, even if it is obvious to name him because he is the idol of all the swimmers. And I also admire Federico Morlacchi, one of the strongest Italian Paralympic athletes. He's in my same team and he was for me like a big brother: he took me under his wing and taught me to train well. "

     

    Paratleti, a world to discover

     

    Simone then talks about the cultural barriers that should be overcome when it comes to athletes and disabilities. For the young swimmer, Australia, Great Britain and Holland are the "coolest" countries when it comes to disability and the Paralympic world. "For example, in Australia, where I spent one year while in high school, at the Commonwealth games, able-bodied and disabled athletes compete together: same competition, same crowd, same pools. So the public can see all of us. "

     

    In Milan, Simone trains with both able-bodied and disabled athletes. "The relationship with all of them is excellent, in the end it is about the human aspect, not about disability." Simone also notes that since London 2012, also in Italy, there are signs of broader awareness towards disabled athletes. "But they don't have to be seen with pity.' Simone would like people to see first of all the athlete, his efforts and determination to reach certain levels even with a disability. In short, he wants people to see beyond the disability. "There are many beautiful stories among Paralympic athletes and it is a shame that they don't get to be known. Paralympic sport is a normal sport with additions ". His father Riccardo in part did it by portraying Simone and his teammates in the documentary I Pesci Combattenti, The Fighting Fish".

     

    The support of the family matters a lot, obviously, "but also to surround itself in general with positive people. And then the commitment: if you really want something you have to work hard and this is not only true in sport "explains Simone who already thinks of enrolling in the university and studying mechanical engineering to design race prosthetics.

     

    "I know that not even in their best dreams my parents would have imagined that this chubby boy, who broke his femur every two steps, would become a world champion".

  • Fatti e Storie

    Simone Barlaam, pesce combattente in cerca di Tokyo 2020

    IN ENGLISH >>

    Simone Barlaam vive a Milano con mamma e sorella più piccola, ma viene spesso a New York per trovare il padre, il giornalista Riccardo Barlaam, corrispondente del Sole 24 Ore. Simone, campione mondiale in carica nei 50 e 100 metri stile libero (categoria S9), confessa che qui non è facile trovare una piscina olimpionica in cui continuare ad allenarsi. Perché lui non si può fermare, altrimenti “è come tirarsi una zappa sui piedi, poi si fa più fatica a riprendere”.

     

    “Due volte campione del mondo, quattro volte campione europeo, primatista mondiale nei 50 stile libero e primatista europeo nei 100 stile libero categoria S9…” recita la sua dettagliatissima pagina su Wikipedia.

     

    Ma l’hai scritta tu? Chiediamo. “No! Anzi non so chi l’ha creata” si schernisce lui. Lì ci sono elencati i suoi problemi e i suoi successi. Noi gli chiediamo cosa c’è in mezzo, ossia quale forza di volontà sia necessaria per vincere un destino che gli si è presentato come una forte corrente contraria fin dalle prime ore di vita.

    Un destino contro corrente

    Simone è infatti nato con una deformazione dell’anca, una coxa vara in termini medici, e una ipoplasia congenita del femore destro che impedisce all’arto di svilupparsi come l’altro. Ma i guai erano iniziati anche prima che venisse al mondo quando i medici, in una manovra pre-parto per girarlo dalla posizione podalica in cui si trovava in utero, gli rompono quel femore che, ancora nessuno lo sa, è fragilissimo.

     

    Seguono tredici operazioni chirurgiche durante l’infanzia e un’infezione per cui rischia di perdere la gamba. Gliela salvano il professor Raphael Seringe e il professor Philippe Wicart dell’Ospedale pediatrico Saint-Vincent-de-Paul di Parigi. “Hanno fatto davvero un miracolo perché rischiavo di perdere la gamba” dice.

     

    Intanto, Simone nuota. È l’unico sport che può fare per mantenere il tono muscolare senza rischiare fratture perché praticato in assenza di peso corporeo. “Ho sempre nuotato per stare un po’ informa. Avevo anche provato con il paratriathlon, ma ero troppo scarso nella corsa e la bicicletta”. In realtà Simone nel 2014 partecipa ai Campionati Italiani di Paratriatlon FITRI di Riccione e se la cava con un bel bronzo. “Per me è stato soprattutto il mio primo contatto con lo sport paraolimpico”.

     

    Capisce che la sua forza è il nuoto. Si mette a cercare online e trova il sito della FINP, la Federazione italiana nuoto paralitico. “Li contattai e incominciai ad allenarmii con l’ allenatore nazionale FINP Massimiliano “Max” Tosin e altri atleti paraolimpici”.

    La svolta agonistica

    L’incontro è avvenuto al momento giusto perché Simone si era quasi stufato di nuotare. “A dieci anni avevo pensato di smettere, non sentivo più alcuna motivazione a continuare nella mia squadretta di provincia. Ma Max e soprattutto gli altri ragazzi, tra cui alcuni erano già campioni del mondo, mi hanno ispirato. Ho pensato: allora si può anche andare forte, anche con la disabilità.”

     

    Simone inizia quindi ad allenarsi seriamente. Ora può nuotare fino a 18 ore a settimana, quando è vicino a gare importanti. Quanto è importante la testa in quello che sta affrontando? “Molto, soprattutto nel nuoto dove devi fissare una linea sul fondo della piscina per 5 o 6 ore al giorno. A me aiuta pensare agli obiettivi che mi sono dato perché se non hai delle motivazioni non ti alzi alle 4 del mattino per andare a nuotare. E questo vale per tutti.”

     

    Ma Simone ha mai sognato di andare alle olimpiadi? Di superare quella linea per cui anche un paratleta può competere con atleti normodotati? “Per ora il mio obiettivo è andare alle Paraolimpiadi e farle bene, poi per le Olimpiadi è una questione di tempi. Se mai arriverò a fare tempi competitivi con gli atleti olimpici allora potrei andare”.

     

    Tra gli atleti che ammira di più c’è l’ex campione australiano di nuoto paraolimpico Matthew Cowdrey, “di cui recentemente ho battuto il record mondiale che aveva alle Olimpiadi di Londra” aggiunge Simone con orgoglio. “Poi Michael Phelps, anche se è scontato nominarlo perché è l’idolo di tutti i nuotatori. E poi stimo molto anche Federico Morlacchi, uno degli atleti paraolimpici italiani più forti. È nella mia stessa squadra e mi ha fatto un po’ da fratellone in questo mio percorso: mi ha preso sotto la sua ala ed mi ha insegnato ad allenarmi bene.”

    Paratleti, un mondo da scoprire

    Simone parla poi delle barriere culturali che bisognerebbe superare quando si parla di atleti e disabilità. Per il giovane nuotatore l’Australia, la Gran Bretagna e l’Olanda sono i paesi “più fighi” quando si parla di disabilità e mondo paraolimpico. “Ad esempio in Australia, dove ho fatto il quarto anno delle Superiori,a i giochi del Commonwealth, che sono tipo i giochi europei per noi, gli atleti normodotati e con disabilità gareggiano insieme: stessa competizione, stessa folla, stesse vasche. Quindi il pubblico può vedere gli uni e gli altri.”

     

    A Milano, Simone si allena sia con atleti normodotati che con disabilità. “Il rapporto con tutti loro è ottimo, alla fine è una questione umana non di disabilità o meno.” Simone nota anche che da dopo Londra 2012 si notano segnali di maggior consapevolezza anche in Italia verso gli atleti disabili. “Ma non per vederci e pensare ‘poverini’”. Simone vorrebbe che le persone vedano soprattutto l’atleta, i suoi sforzi e determinazione a raggiungere certi livelli anche con una disabilità. Insomma, vuole che vedano oltre la disabilità. “Ci sono tante storie belle tra gli atleti paraolimpici ed è un peccato che non si conoscano. Lo sport paraolimpico è uno sport normale con delle aggiunte”. E suo padre ha anche raccontato di Simone e dei suoi compagni di quadra nel documentario “I pesci combattenti”.

     

    Il sostegno della famiglia conta tanto, ovviamente, “ma anche circondarsi in generale di persone positive. E poi l’impegno, se vuoi veramente qualcosa devi lavorarci duramente e questo non vale solo nello sport” spiega Simone che già pensa di iscriversi all’univeristà e studiare ingegneria meccanica per progettare protesi da corsa.

     

    “Io lo so che nemmeno nei loro sogni migliori i miei genitori si sarebbero immaginati che quel bambino cicciottello, che ogni due passi si fratturava il femore, sarebbe diventato campione del mondo”.

  • In "Roman Holidays" Gregory Peck plays the role of an American reporter who falls in love with a European princess (Audrey Hepburn)
    Life & People

    Moving To Italy For Love, The Stories of Three Male Expats

    Rick Zullo and l’arte di arrangiarsi “until you become a father”

     

    Rick Zullo lived for four years in Italy, mainly in Rome, where he first moved by himself “with two suitcases full of ugly American clothes, a few books, a laptop computer...and some dreams. I moved to Italy for love, both for Italy and an Italian. As to what I did, I tried to scramble together an income anyway that I could -- l’arte d’arrangiarsi. I mostly taught English, and eventually did some freelance writing.” He decided to move back to Florida after is half Italian daughter was born.

     

    Eventually, he says, “I moved back because while transitioning from a single guy with just a suitcase to father full of responsibilities, I panicked.” Besides being back in West Palm Beach, Florida, Rick Zullo, who is now the marketing manager for Palm Beach Opera, keeps updating his website about Italy (www.rickzullo.com) as he goes back fairly often to visit, and he also keeps in touch with friends in Italy on a regular basis: “It's not easy, but it helps me feel connected.”

     

    Here are his suggestions for other wannabe expats: “We move for the romanticized lifestyle; la dolce vita. But in short, do NOT move to Italy in hopes of advancing your career. Highly-qualified Italians have a hard time finding a job, so why should they give a job to a foreigner who barely speaks the language? And there are deeper, systemic problems with the Italian economy that affect everyone. But again, I wouldn’t let that be your determining factor. Come for the lifestyle, not the economic opportunity. Unless you’re soccer star or supermodel."

     

    “Just know that moving to Italy is rarely easy, but usually doable if you’re willing to be incredibly stubborn, persistent, and patient. If you’re older, retired, and fairly well-off, the obstacles are less. And perhaps if you’re quite young (under 25) you can ignore the obstacles and just wing it. However, for most people, it requires a great deal of effort to get the needed paperwork, find affordable housing, and get a job. And that only gets your foot in the door. After the romance wears off (and it does, but hopefully not entirely), then you’re faced with the task of figuring out almost every detail of daily life, as if you’re entering adulthood for the first time, regardless of your age. A new language, new ways of doing things, and maybe the most challenging thing to re-learn, the accepted cultural norms. But on this last point, it’s great fun!”
     

    John Henderson waited 11 years before being reunited with his great love, Rome

     

    John Henderson, a former sportswriter for The Denver Post, moved to Italy five years ago after he had dreamt about it for many years. “I lived in Rome on a year's sabbatical from 2001-03. I fell in love with the place and my newspaper in Denver gave me two extensions to 16 months. Once you fall in love with Rome it's like having the greatest weekend in the world with the most beautiful woman in the world and you spend your whole life trying to find her again. It took me 11 years but I finally found her. I had to return to live here full time.” He now writes about his adventures in travel and food in his blog Dog-Eared Passport.

     

    John came to Italy by himself, but he now has an Italian partner, Marina, and many Italian friends. We asked him the best ways to socialize in Italy: “I've been to 100 countries and the Italians are the nicest I've ever met. It's not just in Rome. It's from Sicily to the Alps. Romans love to go out and socialize but you don't meet people as you do in the U.S. You don't go to bars here. You go out in groups and meet other groups or meet friends of friends in your group. Internet dating isn't nearly as popular here as in the U.S. It's frustrating for a lot of expat men as they actually have to meet people face to face here. Many Italians join Meetup groups which meet regularly for similar interests. I belong to Expats Living in Rome, Internations, Rome Food and Wine Lovers, Language Exchange. I could go out every night of the week if I wanted.”

    According to John, expats must leave their value system back home. “It's different here. Free time is more valued than work. Also, be patient. Everything doesn't work as smoothly as in the States which, has the most efficient public services in the world. Waiting in line for 30 minutes to pay an electric bill is part of the charm of Italy.

    John thinks that Italians have the right priorities: spare time, food, family and friends take precedence over work. “Now that does label them as somewhat less ambitious as in other countries, a criticism I'd probably confirm, but their stress level is so much lower than Americans'.”

     

    Yet, Rome has a lot of problems, he admits. “The three main ones: first, terrible public services. The post office is the worst in the world. Internet service is right out of 16th century Persia. The public transportation is the worst in Europe. However, you don't need a car in Rome. You just need patience; two, it's the filthiest capital in Europe. It's not because Romans don't throw garbage in the bins. It's because the bins are usually packed; three, the local government is rife with corruption problems. The roads remain potholed although those are beginning to get repaired. However, I don't miss much about my previous home in Denver. I miss college football and my Jacuzzi. Soccer has replaced football. I make sure I frequent spas in Italy. So I've managed.”

    Bruce Edelstein, in Florence by destiny

    Bruce Edelstein, Coordinator for Graduate Programs and Advanced Research at New York University Florence, has been living in Italy for almost 24 years. He first arrived as an undergraduate student and at that time he would have never imagined that he could have lived permanently in Florence. “I loved it but felt that had exhausted that experience at the end of that year”. But when he was a graduate student and had to write his dissertation he kept going back to Florentine topics. Then, he met many Americans who end up choosing to live in Italy and “eventually I met my Italian partner who is now my husband.”

     

    Among the things that Bruce loves about Italy, there is the fact of living in a country that knows history and respect culture. “As a historian, what impressed me when I moved here, it was not only the amazing cultural patrimony but also a defuse respect for that cultural patrimony by part of a significant percentage of the Italian population. I had a strong sense that my peers in Italy had a greater sense of history than my peers in America, even of American history. The education system here has invested enormously in teaching history and ensuring that even Italians who don’t reach a university level of education have a great understanding and respect of history.”

     

    His biggest advice is about job search and language: “If you come for work, you need to study the situation very well and find an employer before you arrive. Many friends who tried to find a job here ultimately had given up. Also, learn the language. In a city like Florence, you can get by without speaking Italian but you will lose part of the experience without interacting with many locals, understanding the sense of humor, making long-lasting friendships, or travel more out of the beaten paths.”

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Elena Favilli, Rebel Girl With a Mission

    Writer and entrepreneur Elena Favilli's dream was creating unique editorial experiences, she wanted to have her own media enterprise, and lately, she found a precise mission to accomplish: teaching young girls that they can do and be whatever they want. She achieved all her goals with a very traditional medium, a book, but also with the strategy that comes from having navigated for years the difficult tech-world of Silicon Valley - a tough environment, especially for women.

     

    "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is not only a celebration of success, which sometimes can arrive late in life, but also of the path that gets you there," said Favilli while talking on February 7 in front of a crowded room at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York. Interviewed by journalist Maria Teresa Cometto, Favilli was the first guest of “Italian Creators of our Time,” a series of conversations with Italian professionals and creative talents in collaboration with the Consulate of Italy.

     

    The event was also attended by Consul general Francesco Genuardi, his wife Isabel Achaval Genuardi and one of their two daughters, Thea, one of Favilli’s fans. Among the public, other young readers who looked at the author with eager eyes and without losing one of her words, in their laps one or more copies of their Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, the first book of the series published in 2016 by Favilli with the co-creator Francesca Cavallo.

     

    However, Favilli, based in Los Angeles but born in Tuscany, the only child in the small village of Loro Ciuffenna, is more than a writer. Even before becoming a literary phenomenon, her global bestseller had broken records on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter: over 29 days Favilli and Cavallo raised $675,614 on Kickstarter and then using Indiegogo's InDemand platform that grew to one million dollars. They had started with the goal of raising $40,000.

     

    These records are part of the author-entrepreneur’s magic fairy tale. Like every hero, she was struggling before finding her success: "The crowdfunding campaign was really our last resource," she said, "When we launched it at the beginning of 2016, our startup Timbuktu, the media company that we founded in 2012, was not doing well."

    Yet, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls was not an overnight success. Before this book, the co-authors had launched 12 other apps and six other books. Plus, for about one year they had built their community and tried to understand its taste: “Before launching the crowdfunding campaign, we were able to find our audience online with a newsletter for customer and product research, a lesson that we had learned along the way in the startup scene of Silicon Valley” where Favilli used to live before moving to LA.

    “Every week, we were sending out a short story about some extraordinary woman from the past or the present, testing different formats, different stories, and recording how the readers were responding to these stories.”

     

    While remembering her days in Silicon Valley, Favilli also recalls the discrimination against women in this world where venture capitalists trust only young, male creators in hoodies and jeans à la Mark Zuckerberg rather than anybody else who doesn’t fit this stereotype. “Silicon Valley people are very rigid, they invest in what they can recognize,” Favilli said. She then decided to move to the more laid back Venice, in Los Angeles.

     

    Could she ever move to the now start-up friendly New York? “I am in love with California and really tried everything before leaving it for another coast. It feels home to me now because it is wild and with large spaces, but it is also a big city. Anyway, we just opened a Timbuktu office in a WeWork in Astoria, so I will come here more often.” Favilli’s company has indeed grown a lot in the last two years and now counts full-time employees.

     

    But the young entrepreneur cannot just enjoy the present success. She has to keep her eyes on the future and continue on the path that she opened for so many girls, as one of her readers reminded her: "How many more books will you write?" asked this seven-year-old girl sitting in the front row. "Many more" promised Favilli. And talking about her young fans, she confessed: “One of the best feedbacks I had so far came from a girl who told me: one day I will be in one of your books too.”

     

  • "Mozzarella Mamma" Trisha Thomas (Credit: Nicolee Drake)
    Life & People

    Can You Still Be in Love With Italy After 20 or More Years?

    Patricia “Trisha” Thomas has lived in Rome for about 25 years, raising her three children while working for Associated Press TV. She has witnessed many changes in the Italian culture over those years and, as the culture has shifted, she has experienced her own transformation of becoming “a good Italian mamma” without losing her American-ness. Alexandra Korey moved to Florence to study the Renaissance as a student and decided to stay for her Italian husband but also for her appreciation of “the quality of life.” In Italy, she found new opportunities, which led her to change her career. Even after many years, as these women have grown accustomed to the shiny object that Italy was to them, they are still in love with Il Bel Paese and they explain why.

    Trisha, the Mozzarella Mamma

    For Trisha Thomas, it hasn’t always been easy to adapt and change to meet the demands of Italian society. In her blog Mozzarella Mamma, she describes the feeling that accompanies that challenge: “How does a young American woman brought up on field hockey, frozen vegetables, washing machines, takeout Chinese food and backpacking become transformed into a functioning Italian mamma with perfect pasta and luscious legs? Impossible. My own answer to this question has always been, ‘with good friends, humility and a sense of humor’.”

    Originally from Boston, Trisha was living in Washington DC working for the CNN before moving to Rome with her Italian husband. Her experience in Italy has been positive: “I love the people, the food, the climate, the art, the history and geography of Italy. The quality of life is very high in Italy although lately Rome and been going through a bad period. It is very easy to meet people and make friends. Italians are wonderful people.”

     

    Despite the positives, Trisha has also experienced a disenchantment with the Dolce Vita: “Over my 25 years in Italy, many things have improved, but I think there is little sense of civic pride. Italians have more of a sense of family than of community. So, they will keep their homes beautiful and spotless but not pick up their dog poop or throw their trash on the ground and then complain about the Mayor of Rome for letting the city get so dirty. Although this is changing, when I first moved to Rome, as an American I found the population and culture lacking in diversity.  Everyone seemed to me to be white, Catholic and tended to follow the same habits. They go to the beach in the summer, don’t swim for two hours after lunch, where undershirts in the winter...”

     

    Thumbs up for the Italian healthcare, although for Trisha there is plenty of room for improvement: “I have a lot of say about the healthcare in Italy but there is not enough space here. With three children I have had tons of experience with it. Bottom line is that it is FREE for EVERYONE.  Everyone has their general practitioner in their neighborhood that they can drop by during open hours any day of the week. The hospitals are free and have many good doctors.”

     

    Being married to an Italian and having a staff job with Associated Press, being granted a work permit was not an issue for Trisha, but she warns other Americans who dream of a life in Italy: “The economic situation in Italy is not good. Youth unemployment is very high, and it is not easy for the young to find jobs. As a result, many talented young Italians are seeking work outside the country. There is a real brain drain. It is not easy for foreigners to find jobs either although there are possibilities for earning. As long as I have been in Italy, people have been asking me to teach English lessons, something I do not have time for, but if I needed to earn some money it would be an easy option.”

    The bottom line: “I think the most wonderful thing about coming to Italy has been learning about its incredible history and art. It was not something I had studied or known much about before I arrived. In Rome, you are living in the midst of the most amazing historic monuments in the world – the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill, the Diocletian Baths, the Palatine Hill, the Circus Maximus. I would suggest to anyone – study them, visit them, learn about Roman history. After 25 years I am still exploring and learning, and I love it.”

     

    Alexandra: from academic researcher to digital consultant

    Alexandra Korey arrived in Italy as an art student. Now she is a blogger and digital consultant. She was born in Toronto, Canada, but she graduated in New York State (and Florence) and lived in Chicago for graduate school before moving to Italy permanently. “I moved to Florence in 1999, so am celebrating 20 years right now. Why this city? I did my masters through an American program in Florence; I was studying Italian Renaissance art history, my first love. In graduate school, while others struggled to get travel grants to do research here, I was already living here, so had access to all the material I needed. Then I met my second love, an Italian man, whom I married.”

     

    Alexandra started a career in academia, but for economical reasons, she had to transition into communications. And that’s how she found a job in Italy: “I was starting a career at the height of the crisis in America. The economic crisis in Italy didn’t help much either, but the American one is what impacted the availability of good jobs in the American colleges. While teaching, I was also continuing a blog that I’d started in 2004, during grad school. Blogging wasn’t a reputable thing to do as a serious scholar, but, PhD in hand, I decided to put my name and face on it, and I started getting recognition for the quality of my content. Being early to the blogging and social media scene, I received an offer to work for the Region of Tuscany’s new tourism promotion campaign, and after that contract was over, moved to an agency that also owns the English language newspaper in town, The Florentine.”

     

    Alexandra is one of the few expats who finally sees the myth of La Dolce Vita for what it is, a myth: “I’m here for the quality of life! I do work really hard, and everyone does. The myth of the dolce vita and people lounging around enjoying the sun all day is really just a myth, but I find that it’s a great place to be both for work environment and for time off. There are so many reasons. First and foremost, being centrally located and mobile means lots of opportunities for travel. Walk 15 minutes from my house and I’m in the hills of Florence, drive half an hour and I’m in wine country, two hours to the cost (or less). I have continued my blog, arrttrav.com, about art and travel in Italy and beyond, and this spurs us to go out on adventures to explore our territory. Tuscany has so much to offer, ever kind of landscape you’d ever want. And while not a foodie, the quality of food is a big factor for me. Good quality, fresh foods are inexpensive and widely available. I enjoy buying from local producers year round. Of course, moving here required adjusting to heretofore unknown levels of bureaucracy and developing a more laid-back attitude. It took years!”

     

    IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

    Living the Italian Dream - Part I: Is Is Never Too Late For Your New, Italian Life

  • Art & Culture

    Redemption Blues and the Legacy of the Holocaust

    Peter Stastny knows that moving away from the past, the Holocaust, but also from the present with the situation in the Middle East, is not an option because it might help him and others understand better the present and the future. Therefore, to dig deeper into the meaning of the past, the director starts a deep, emotional journey, his Redemption Blues. Stastny interviews the last survivors of the Holocaust, people who dealt with the past in different ways.

     

    One of them Walter Feiden, the most colorful character in the film, is so attached to life that he would like to live other six or seven or more lives. He is a die-hard and for the future, he hopes two things: a world without religions, "which can cause only troubles to humanity," and a new planet where to transfer and live. Walter is not really interested in talking about what happened, he looks forward and feels younger than his son, he says.

     

    After all, Stastny doesn’t want to know what happened in the camps either, he wants to understand the legacy left behind.

     

    Also Stella Levi, 96 years old, who attended the event yesterday night despite the cold weather and who is one of the movie’s protagonists, is not interested in talking about what happened during the Shoah. “I prefer to talk about what happened before and after,” she told us, “ as I did recently in a school where I met 13-year-old kids. I told them how I felt when I was 15 and couldn’t go to high school because of the new racial laws in Italy.”

     

    She then told us that she was taken to Auschwitz from Rhodes, where she was living with her family, after a 21-day journey, eight days via sea and 13 days on a train through Europe. “How could other European countries not see us? Of course, they did!” she says.

     

    Yet, she has a contagious smile and incredible energy that she spreads all around her. We asked her how is it possible to keep irradiating such a positive vibe after what she went through. She has no doubt: “We all need to do our part, although a small one, to make this world a better place.”

    This event is part of Giorno della Memoria under the auspices of the Consulate General of Italy and in collaboration with Centro Primo Levi. The screening At Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo' was followed by a discussion between director Peter Statsny and Paola Mieli (Après-coup Psychoanalytic Association).

  • Lisa Condie
    Life & People

    It Is Never Too Late For a New, Italian Life

    To quote her memoir and website Find Yourself in Tuscany, Lisa Condie found herself in Florence at age 56 after a painful break-up with her husband of 23 years and father of her two children. “I moved there in 2012 by myself. I didn’t know a word of Italian or a single person there,” says Lisa who, after six years of living in Florence, she now divides her time between Salt Lake City, where she was born, and Italy.

     

    Lisa: It all started with a trip she couldn’t cancel

    This new chapter in her life began almost by chance. In 2012, Lisa had already planned a cruise from Italy to Greece and Turkey with her then husband. A few days before the departure, they split and, as it was too late to cancel the trip, Lisa decided to travel with her daughter. Her vacation in Italy turned into a life changing experience: “I chose Florence after a vacation with my daughter that ended with a three day stay in Rome. Over breakfast at our B&B, a couple of expats said that if one wanted to learn Italian, they should do so in Florence. Less than 24 hours after hearing that comment, I made the decision to come back to live in Italy…and decided I had best learn Italian!”

     

    The idea of moving to Italy came almost as an epiphany: “I made the decision while standing outside a bar in Rome drinking my coffee and waiting for a taxi to take me to the airport. I didn’t want to go home…I’d felt such joy in Italy! I returned to the USA and sold my home, fitness business, car and most of my possessions—three months later I was on a flight to Italy…and a new life.”

     

    Lisa started to write about her new life for a few websites such as the Huffington Post that in 2014 named her one of Huffington Post's 50 Over 50. It was a tribute to 50 people over 50 years old who had reinvented themselves. “Two of those were spotlighted on the Today Show, and I was one of them. After that segment, my life really ramped up! People from all over--but especially women from the USA--wrote to me to ask if I'd show them the Tuscany I'd fallen in love with. To answer that, my company was born. Find Yourself In Tuscany is a tour company that offers 8 day/7 night tours of Tuscany and the Cinque Terre. It has given me great joy to share my love of the people and the beauty of this region with other travelers.”

     

    Lisa is definitely happy about her choice to live in Italy for the following reasons: “I think the sheer beauty of Italy is overwhelming! There are times when I walk over the Ponte Vecchio, watch a sunset, or walk through the Bardini Garden that I can’t believe this is my life. The country is small, but so diverse, and I love how easy it is to travel all through it as well as into other parts of Europe.”

     

    Here are Lisa’s suggestions to make the most out of living in Italy: “I live in a small but nice apartment right in the center of town and have learned to be frugal with utilities, which are much more expensive in Italy. I shop at the local markets and find the cost of food is lower and the quality much better than the US.” Any negatives? “I take my status as a guest in Italy pretty seriously and don’t dwell on the negatives. The Italians share their country and culture with me, and I am so grateful. However, the bureaucracy and post office would be high on the list! Also, I miss my children the most when I am in Italy and that is why I have begun to divide my time between countries.”

     

    Valencia: “I don’t think Italy lacks anything that the US has”

     

    Valencia Wolf spends her time between Tuscany and the US too. After retirement, she wanted to travel the world with her husband but things went in a different way: “I was 62 when I stopped working for a food manufacturer in Washington State in 2015, and we left for Italy to begin our journey exploring the world. We began in Lucca and after three months, my husband decided it wasn’t for him. There is a deeper story there, but suffice it to say, he left after five months back to the States and I stayed. So I have been living in Italy as a single, retired female. I am going into my fourth year in Italy.”

     

    Valencia, who was born in South Dakota but spent 30 years of her life in Washington State, was not looking for a job in Italy, although she is a spiritual teacher and sometimes consults and assists where needed. “I worked all my life, big business, high stress and at my age, I just wanted to enjoy life” she says, that’s why she loves “the more relaxed environment, slower way of life.”

     

    Like Lisa Condie, she also think that the cost of life is cheaper in Italy: “I find renting a beautiful furnished apartment with all utilities in Florence less expensive than I would pay in the US. everything I need is a short walk away. In Italy, the food is better, medications are better and more accessible (less prescriptions) and of course, the shopping is great. In comparison, I don’t think it lacks anything that the US has, as far as needs.”

     

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Remembrance Day and the Fear of the "Others"

    The names of Jewish men, women and children deported from Italy to concentration camps during World War II fly in the gelid air in front of the Italian Consulate. Sometimes those names get lost in the noise of traffic on Park Avenue. “We want to demonstrate how Italians in New York cares about remembering what happened. This year, we are particularly proud of having shared this day with the New York City Commissioner and Italian deputy minister of Foreign Affairs,” says Francesco Genuardi, Consul general of Italy in New York and “host” of this special day.

     

    “It is not something that we should remember only today but every day. And it’s important not only for New Yorkers but for everybody in the world to remember the Holocaust. If we remember, we can make sure that those things won’t get repeated,” comments James O’Neill, New York City Commissioner and one of the first readers, before disappearing in his black car.

     

    A similar thought is shared by the other special guest, Italian deputy minister of Foreign Affairs Emanuela Del Re, who read the names often breaking into tears. “I am very honored and deeply moved to be here because each of these vctims represents in itself a great shame for humanity. I believe that this initiative has a deeper meaning than just being a mere commemoration. This is a warning to remember that we shouldn’t repeat what happened,” says the deputy minister. “There are many other groups that today suffer discrimination, and the danger is not in great proclamations against them but in the small daily gestures that transmit subtle signals of intolerance towards people who are considered misfits. In social media, small comments often turn into hate that can then lead to horrible episodes in History, such as the Holocaust.”

     

    Deputy minister Del Re describes Italy as “a country that having experienced and known this horror from within, having seen its own people suffering this type of discrimination, today is a bulwark of respect for everybody and for the application of human rights.” For the record, we feel compelled to ask her then why Italy is now stopping the 47 migrants on the humanitarian ship Sea Watch 3 to enter Italian ports. Del Re, a member of the 5-Stars movement, commented only: “Let’s focus on Remembrance Day.”

     

    Yet, we just heard that it is important to remember not to repeat and that indifference can kill too. Jack Sal, artist and author of the exhibition “Deportees” first presented at the Italian Cultural Institute in 2010, seems to indirectly answer to our doubts - the child of a Holocaust survivor, he is waiting in line to read the names. “I think that in Italy there is this mentality of the ‘others:’ it is happening to them and not to us.” Sal says, “it is extremely important that we exercise the memory of the deportees especially in Italy because in general in New York and in the world people don’t really know what happened to the Jews in Italy. For example, the number of deportees in this country was much bigger than in other parts. Also important is the idea of creating subcamps in Italian cities happened throughout Italy and not just in a single city. So this idea of the “campo sotto casa” was real. If you were living in a little city in Tuscany or in Milan or in Rome, you knew about people who were gathered.” But nobody, or very few, dared to say anything because after all, it was happening to the ‘others’.

     

    This dangerous attitude should be corrected since childhood and the best way to do so is called identification. Maria Palandra, the principal of La Scuola d'Italia Guglielmo Marconi, tells us that at La Scuola the students worked on a short video in which fascism and Nazism were compared to bullyism. “A reality that they can live every day. Only in this way could they really understand the feelings of those who get excluded,” says Palandra.

     

    Journalist, contributing writer at Corriere della SeraMaria Teresa Cometto, who has been participating to these commemorations from the beginning in 2009, has indeed seen the presence of youngsters growing over the years: “I remember that ten years ago there were very few people, nobody really knew what this event was about. Now, it has grown and with it the presence of young people. It is only by remembering these names and their stories that we can preserve the memory through generations.”

     

    Natalia Indrimi, Executive director at Centro Primo Levi in New York, warns against the risk of indifference and lack of awareness. She believes that we can learn from the mistakes of the past: "We need to think of how people behaved. They knew but they didn't foresee what would have happened. They had all the information to understand, yet they decided to be impenetrable."

     

     

  • Art & Culture

    New York Rediscovers Lucio Fontana

    The exhibition “Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold,” at the MET Breuer and the MET Museum on Fifth Avenue through April 14, is the first retrospective in the U.S. in 40 years, while “Spatial Explorations - Lucio Fontana and the Avant-garde in Milan in the 50’s and 60’s,” at the Italian Cultural Institute in Park Avenue through March 6. showcases four works painted by Fontana in Milan after World War II along with other avant-garde masterpieces by artists who were part of the so-called “Spatialism,” an Italian movement started by Fontana in 1947 with the idea that art should embrace science and technology, as he stated in his Manifiesto Spaziale (spatialist manifesto). 

     

    All paintings from “Spatial Explorations,” curated by Francesco Tedeschi, belong to the Intesa Sanpaolo art collection that also borrowed two of Fontana’s works to the Met Museum for its retrospective: Spatial Concept, The Moon in Venice (Concetto Spaziale, La Luna a Venezia, 1961) and Spatial Concept, Expectations (Concetto Spaziale, Attese, 1967).

     

    The exhibit's inauguration on January 23 was attended by a large public as well as the Italian Ambassador in the US Armando Varricchio, Consulate General of Italy in New York Francesco Genuardi, Giorgio Van Straten, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute and Michele Coppola, Head Officer of the Art, Culture and Historical Heritage Department at Intesa Sanpaolo.

     

    For ambassador Varricchio “this exhibition of works by Fontana and other important Italian artists of the twentieth century in New York confirms the extraordinary vitality of cultural relations between Italy and the United States. The works exhibited at the MET and at the Italian cultural Institute represent at best the strong Italian yearning for discovery, experimentation, and the call to explore the unknown and to go beyond borders. In the arts, Italy is synonymous with excellence, avant-garde and the ability to project ancient traditions and culture into the future.”

    For a broader understanding of this artist though, it is worth visiting “Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold,” at the MET. This retrospective explores Fontana’s beginnings as a sculptor and his pioneering work with environments, contextualizing the radical nature of the Cuts within the artist’s practice. It showcases about 100 objects, including sculptures, ceramics, paintings, drawings, and environments made between 1931 and 1968. It is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in collaboration with Fondazione Lucio Fontana.

  • View of Sambuca in Sicily (Simon Padovani | Shutterstock)
    Facts & Stories

    Living in Sambuca where Houses Cost Like an Espresso

    The possibility of buying a house in the scenic Sicilian town of Sambuca for about $1 made headlines in many different outlets, from CNN Travel, which broke the news, to The New York Post and The Guardian. Indeed, local officials decided to sell dozens of homes for a symbolic price in the hope of repopulating and reviving this rural town whose residents have fled to larger cities in recent years. Within 48 hours of the story being spread, Sambuca has been inundated with tens of thousands of inquiries from people hoping to buy their piece of rural Italy.

     

    The properties are quite small - they range in size from about 430 to 1,610 square feet - and must be renovated over the course of three years with an investment of at least about $17,000 since many of these houses had been abandoned for years (you can see how they look like here). You must also put down a security deposit of $5,700 USD. Still, that’s not a bad deal considering also the fact that Sambuca, also known as the City of Splendor, in 2016 won Italy’s Most Beautiful Towns contest.

     

    However, you might like to hear the experience of somebody who was not born in Sicily but decided to move to Sambuca about 10 years ago. Journalist and author, Paola Caridi, was born in Rome and spend over a decade in the Middle East before relocating to Italy again with her husband.
     

    How did you decide to move to Sambuca and why this town?

     

    If I had to summarize what happened, I would say that we have always seized the opportunities of life. It was 2008, and nobody spoke of Sambuca at that time. After our first vacation in western Sicily, we decided to come back for a second summer and we were offered a house to buy in Sambuca, with a wide and beautiful view over the entire Belice valley. From my terrace, I see the greatest land artwork ever made, the Grande Cretto di Gibellina made by Alberto Burri. We were the first, ten years ago, like trailblazers. We were considered some rather bizarre people.

     

    What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in Sambuca?

     

    The advantages: silence, the intimate dimension, the relationship with the slow time and with the wide space of the countryside. The disadvantages: provincialism, fortunately not by everyone. Like all small realities, it is a mix of closure, and also a great discovery. I directed the theater for two years, in Sambuca, with artists of national level and a large, attentive and sensitive audience. I am also part of a wonderful book club which has hosted large Italian and international writers, an experience considered to be a flagship in Sicily.

     

    For outsiders like you coming from a big city such as Rome, how is it possible to adjust to such a circumscribed reality?

     

    I do not come only from Rome. I come from the Middle East, where I spent 12 years of my life. Sicily is the most similar place to the Middle East that can be found in Italy. As a daughter of a big city, I had to adapt to the social code, in the sense that I had to learn the language and grammar of a small town. I also believe, however, that I have made my contribution as a citizen of the world. Living in one place means being ready to exchange, not just integration.

     

    Did you feel immediately accepted by the community? How are human relationships?

     

    Yes, I felt immediately accepted, despite the fact that over the years there have also been disappointments in human relations. But this is part of life too. I have my circle of friends, my habits, my escapes to Palermo, an extraordinary city, now more than before. Within an hour's drive, you are in a city - Palermo - which is still the heart of the Mediterranean, the protagonist of an impressive artistic and cultural renaissance.

     

    What do you think about this initiative of houses sold at one euro?

     

    I think it is necessary to come in person, see the conditions of the buildings, and then decide.

     

    What should anybody know before deciding to buy a house in Sambuca?

     

    First of all, a buyer must understand the costs of renovation. I am talking from direct experience because in Sambuca I bought and renovated two buildings, which have become two very beautiful and warm houses. If you restructure a property here, you should respect the landscape and cultural context, and at the same time invest money and passion for the recovery of materials. Renovating is an economic, family and cultural commitment.

     

    Do you think that even foreigners, who may not know Italian well, might find themselves at home here?

     

    I have lived for many years in places apparently far from my way of life in the Middle East and I found myself at home. When you move, the important thing is to have the right perspective.

     

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