header i-Italy

Articles by: Maria teresa Cometto

  • Federico Faggin
    Fatti e Storie

    Federico Faggin, genio dei nostri tempi

    Federico Faggin è uno dei più grandi inventori dell’ultimo secolo – così lo definiscono gli storici della Silicon Valley, fra cui Michael Malone, autore del libro “The Intel Trinity” -, perché disegnando l’Intel 4004 ovvero “il computer su un chip” ha avviato la rivoluzione digitale che ha cambiato la nostra vita.

    I microchip discendenti da Intel 4004 sono infatti il “cervello” grazie a cui lo smartphone che teniamo nel palmo della mano è più potente e meno caro dei vecchi, giganteschi computer; e sono presenti in mille altri apparecchi “intelligenti” dei quali non possiamo più fare a meno.

    Faggin e’ stato il secondo ospite della serie “Italian Creators of our Time”, il programma di conversazioni condotto dalla giornalista e autrice Maria Teresa Cometto all’Istituto italiano di cultura di New York. Prossimamente uscirà in Italia l’autobiografia di Faggin (Mondadori editore) e lui ha anticipato il racconto di alcune tappe fondamentali della sua vita durante l’incontro, che si e’ tenuto la sera del 21 febbraio scorso.

    Gli inizi

    “Mi sono appassionato alla tecnologia guardando volare un modellino di aeroplano - ha ricordato Faggin -. Avevo 11 anni e stavo giocando in un campo a Vicenza, la mia città natale, quando ho visto un ventenne che faceva volare un aeroplanino. Sono rimasto stupefatto a vedere che puoi costruire un giocattolo capace di volare".

    "Tornato a casa, ho cercato di farmelo da solo: l’ho progettato, ho comprato i materiali, l’ho fabbricato e infine lanciato. Un flop: l’aereo non si e’ alzato da terra. Dopo altri tentativi fallimentari, ho capito che dovevo studiare: ho comprato un libro sui modelli di aeroplani, ho seguito le istruzioni e alla fine sono riuscito a far volare il mio apparecchio”.

    “Da allora ho sempre desiderato costruire cose - ha continuato Faggin -. Per questo, contro il desiderio di mio padre professore di filosofia, non sono andato al liceo e invece ho scelto di frequentare l'Istituto Tecnico Industriale Statale di Vicenza per diventare perito industriale”.

    L'esperienza alla Olivetti

    Appena diplomato, Faggin ha trovato lavoro all’Olivetti, nel laboratorio di ricerca & sviluppo (R&D) sull’elettronica a Borgolombardo (Milano). Lì, a 19 anni, ha disegnato e costruito da solo un computer. Ma ha anche capito che il diploma da perito non bastava: per costruirsi le fondamenta teoriche necessarie nel mondo dell’elettronica si e’ iscritto a Fisica, all’Università di Padova, laureandosi “summa cum laude” nel 1965.

    Per un anno ha poi insegnato Elettronica nella stessa università. “Ma la vita accademica era troppo lenta per me!”, ha spiegato Faggin.

    E cosi’ a metà del ’66 ha lasciato l’accademia per l’industria, andando a lavorare in una startup, fondata dal suo ex boss all’Olivetti e rappresentante in Italia di GMe, General Micro electronics. Da li’ e’ passato alla attuale STMicroelectronics ad Agrate Brianza e nel febbraio ’68 si e’ trasferito a Palo Alto nel laboratorio di ricerca di Fairchild, l’azienda “madre” della Silicon Valley.

    Il trasferimento in Usa

    Alla Fairchild Faggin ha inventato la Silicon Gate Technology (“tecnica della porta al silicio auto-allineante”), che per la prima volta al mondo usava come conduttore il silicio policristallino drogato anziché l’alluminio, per fabbricare circuiti integrati, rendendoli più piccoli ed efficienti.

    Ma anche Fairchild non era abbastanza pronta e veloce a sfruttare le invenzioni di Faggin, che nel ’70 e’ passato a Intel, oggi un gigante dei semiconduttori, ma all’epoca solo ai primi passi. E’ li che ha creato il primo microprocessore, l’Intel 4004: grande 3x4 millimetri quadrati, offriva una potenza di calcolo superiore a quella dello storico ENIAC, il primo calcolatore elettronico al mondo costruito nel 1946, che occupava lo spazio di un largo appartamento.

    I dirigenti di Intel pero’ non avevano capito subito la portata della novità del microprocessore. “Dopo qualche anno mi sono stufato di tutto il tempo ed energia che sprecavo a convincerli delle sue potenzialità e nel ’74 me ne sono andato per fondare la mia prima startup - ha raccontato Faggin -. Il fatto e’ che l’ambiente migliore per innovare e’ proprio quello di una startup. Non a caso le grandi aziende comprano le startup per acquisirne le nuove tecnologie”.

    Quindi il suo consiglio ai giovani che hanno nuove idee e voglia di fare e’ di fondare la propria startup; andare nella Silicon Valley a vedere come si fa, come funziona il suo ecosistema e’ ancora una esperienza utile per tutti, anche per i giovani italiani. 

    Una nuova sfida: lo studio scientifico della coscienza

    Di startup Faggin ne ha fondate tre e ne ha gestita un’altra. Ora, da qualche anno si sta dedicando con la sua Fondazione lo studio della consapevolezza: “Quella capacità umana, ma anche animale e di tutti gli esseri viventi, di avere sensazioni - ha spiegato Faggin -. È una proprietà fondamentale della natura non ancora apprezzata abbastanza dalla scienza.

    "Ci hanno abituato a pensare che siamo solo macchine. Non sono d'accordo. L'uomo ha immaginazione, intuizione, fantasia: l'idea che le macchine possano riprodurre queste facoltà è fasulla. Le macchine sono una forma di schiavitù se non sono domate. L'uomo deve capirlo se vuole riprendersi il futuro”.

    “Le macchine/i robot funzionanti con l’Intelligenza artificiale (Ai, Artificial intelligence) possono imitare gli esseri umani - ha aggiunto Faggin -. Possono processare le informazioni ricevute, trovare correlazioni sulla base degli esempi loro forniti, ma non possono capire, interpretare le informazioni come solo noi siamo capaci di fare”.

    La discussione su questi temi e’ stata molto vivace, con Faggin che ha spiegato come la sua idea di consapevolezza si collega ai principi della fisica quantistica e vuole risolvere la classica dicotomia materia-spirito proponendo una unita’ olistica fra i due aspetti della natura di cui e’ fatto l’universo. Per saperne di più: www.fagginfoundation.org

    Il prossimo appuntamento della serie “Italian Creators of our Time” sarà il 28 marzo con Brian Pallas, fondatore della piattaforma digitale Opportunity Network, “la Facebook degli imprenditori”.

  • Fabrizio Frieda
    Art & Culture

    Fabrizio Freda. Inventing the Unexpected for the Selfie Generation

     
    You are the first non-family member to run Estée Lauder—a fmily company founded in 1846 by Ms. Estée Lauder, and always managed by members of the family until 2008. What did the family see in you that made them trust you enough to be the new leader of their company?
     
     
    My specific characteristic is that I manage the business from the strategic standpoint, and I am a brand builder with the ability to manage change. However, I believe that the most important thing to manage a family-controlled company is to share the values and principles of both the family and the company – and that is true for Estée Lauder and, in my opinion, for any family business. I did share their values, from the quality of product and services to the respect for creativity and entrepreneurship, to the ability of leading and preceding change, along with the long term orientation of the company. 
     
    Do you think that being Italian is a plus for you working in the beauty industry?
     
    I think so. I believe that being Italian teaches you a lot about culture, beauty, and the values of conviviality and understanding each other. And all of these are a valuable assets to excel in any kind of field and in particular in the beauty industry. I would say that also being Neapolitan, like I am, helps. Naples’ culture is about creativity and the so-called ‘art of getting by’ (l’arte di arrangiarsi). Naples is a very tough city, people who grow up there are put up with many different challenges to get through life and achieve success. There is a beautiful song, that I am sure all of you know, that says “if you make it in New York, you can make it anywhere” and I always say that this is too easy. “If you make it in Napoli, You can make it anywhere!”
     
    In these 10 years, the digital revolution has affected the beauty industry. Today, for example, the most popular videos on Youtube are make-up tutorials. How do you deal with this phenomenon?
     
    Every company, including ours, had to change a lot of their business models to adapt to these new ways. You need talents in the organization that are able to work in this new way, create the resources by moving past investments to these new areas and, lastly, you need to create the right support and alliances outside the company to get access to the best external resources. A lot of people asked me why the make-up consumption is exploding. I call it the “selfie generation,” when young millennials have to always be ‘selfie ready’ and can’t afford to have a down moment during the day. This new generation wants results immediately, and the make-up or skincare for insta-benefits are products that fit this desire, and this is very much linked to the social media. 
     
    You hired millennials to be reverse mentors to all the top managers, including you. How does it work?
     
    We meet these brilliant young employees and we just ask some of them to mentor us and keep us updated on everything that is happening that we don’t see. I also have the help of my children. Today we have 270 senior managers in the company each with their reversed mentors under 30. So when you have this huge influence of the young generation over the senior generation you accelerate the transformation. 
     
    Can you give us few examples of differences in women’s approach to beauty between cultures? 
     
    Sure. The age you are expected to start using beauty products, for instance, changes from culture to culture. So do products. Skincare is 70% of the market in Asia, make up is 25% and fragrances are 5%. But in Latin America, fragrances are 70% of the market. Asians are the ideal skincare consumers, the Americans are the ideal make-up consumers, whereas the Europeans, Latin Americans and Middle Easterns are the biggest fragrance consumers of the world. For a Chinese woman, skin is extremely important because it epitomizes who she is; for an Italian woman it’s more about limiting the aging effects. 
     
    Talking about Italy, I recently discovered that Italy makes 60% of all the make-up products of the world for global brands including Estee Lauder. Is it true that Italy is very strong in innovation and technology for the beauty industry?
     
    Italian companies have this unique ability to bring together technology and creativity to create the unexpected. In cosmetics, you need to be able to create the unexpected because you need to surprise the consumer. Mr. Ford, [founder of the Ford Motor Company], once said: “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for faster horses.” The point is you can’t just ask your customers what they want, you need to invent something they don’t expect, but will like; and Italian companies are very good at this.
     
    ---

    * Maria Teresa Cometto is an Italian journalist and award-winning author based in New York City. Since 2000, she has been covering business, finance, and high-tech for Corriere della Sera, the leading 
    Italian newspaper.

     

    From the series, “Managers: from Italy to Top Global Businesses,” held at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York. The complete conversations, filmed by i-ItalyTV, are available on our youtube channel at www.youtube.com/iitaly. The following excerpts have been edited for publication.
  • Art & Culture

    Claudio Del Vecchio: The Key to Success is in Learning How to Listen

    You were born in Borgo Valsugana, a village of 7,000 people in Trentino-Alto Adige. How was it growing up in such a small place?
     
    Actually, I was born there because that was the closest hospital to my home village, Pieve Tesino, where there are less than 1,000 people! My grandfather had a little hotel there. But I didn’t really spend much time in Pieve Tesino because my parents were very busy, and moved around a lot. Agordo, in Veneto, is the town where I really grew up. I was four years old when my father opened Luxottica there. So, I actualy grew up in a town of 3,000 people, where you know everybody… it’s like a family. And Luxottica was of course the biggest employer. The town now still has less than 5,000 people, and our factory there employs over 6,000 people there. Basically it’s Luxottica, the hospital, and 50 bars… 
     
    Luxottica is the world’s largest eyewear company and its foundr – your father, Leonardo – is the second-richest person in Italy, with almost $19 billion net worth, according to Forbes. What is like to be the son of such a famous father?
     
    When people ask that question it’s always about the money, but for us it’s never been that. When we grew up, there was no money. And I don’t think my father has ever done anything for the money. It was always about making something beautiful and sell it and to be successful at that. Before Luxottica my father worked in a garage making tools for other companies. A frame manufacturer was one of his customers. At a certain point he thought, “well I think I can do that job better than they are.” So he started making frames and partnered with them. Then he bought them out. He did the same with distributors in and outside of Italy. The greatest lesson my father taught me is, “see the challenge, and make it an opportunity.”
     
    You came to the US in 1982 to help develop Luxottica’s business here. You were 25. What struck you the most about New York City?
     
    I remember how tough it was to eat good food!
     
    Actually I’ve read that when you were living in Connecticut you opened your own restaurant just because you couldn’t find a good restaurant in the area, right?
     
    Yes, I opened an Italian restaurant, Trevisan cuisine.
     
    You anticipated a trend…
     
    I lost money for 10 years… but I ate very well!
     
    In 1997, after much success, you resigned from Luxottica and became your own entrepreneur by buying Casual Corner, a chain of women’s apparel stores. Then you bought Brooks Brothers in 2001, just after 9/11. How did you find the courage to go on with your plan to buy the company in that difficult year?
     
    Actually I was trying to buy it a year before that. As I was trying to fix Casual Corner, which wasn’t goig well, I realized we were paying too much in rent. One solution would be to buy a business with good logistics and take advantage of that. Brooks Brothers came to mind. As a longtime customer I felt they weren’t doing a great job, and I thought I could do better. In fact the company was put up for auction, it was supposed to close on Sept. 13, 2001. I didn’t think I had much chance, to be true, but  two days before the deadline the attack came and the auction fell apart. Months later, when they decided to continue the process, I felt that, for the right price , I would buy it. I loved how New Yorkers were reacting and I felt, “if New Yorkers come back, Brooks Brothers will come back.”
     
    Why Brooks Brothers anyway? You told me that the first store you went to when you got to New York was a Brooks Brothers store. Why and wen had you become a fan of  Brooks Brothers?
     
    Well, when I was in Italy it was a very well known fact that Gianni Agnelli [a major Italian industrialist, owner of FIAT] used to wear Brooks Brothers shrts. I was a teen ager and Gianni Angnelli was like royalty for many of us, we knew what kind of shoes he wore, what kind of jackets, the taylors he used. And I wondered, “Why a guy who could buy anything and who is Italian – and definitely a lot of great shirts are made in Italy – why would he buy Brooks Brothers shirts? You coundn’t find Brooks Brothers’s products in Italy a that time, so when I came here and saw a Brooks Brothers store I went in. I liked what I saw and I became a customer. Even before buying it, ten years before, I worked with them: I got the license for Luxottica to make Brooks Brothers glasses.
     
    Coming back to food for a moment, I heard you’re planning something about food and Brooks Brothers… 
     
    I believe in retail. So many changes are happening in this field and I do believe food is going to be part of the solution. First of all food has always been in my blood. You know, in my grandfather’s hotel I used to serve at the bar and at the dining table while he was playing the piano. Also, my grandmother was the chef there and I was trying to help sometimes. So I guess food is in my genes. This said, as consumers go more and more online today there are less and less reasons for them to go out and shop at regular stores. Traffic in the stores has been decreasing dramatically in the past two years and in order to attract and keep people you need to innovate: on the product, the process, the experience. That’s where food comes in. In retail you have to deliver more of an experience—and food is one experience you can’t get online. You can buy great food online, but you can’t have the experience. So if we can associate a food experience with retail maybe we can be more successful. 
     
    Besides food, are you bringing an “Italian taste” to the brand, in some way?
     
    Well, my opinion does count at Brooks Brothers, of course, but I am not a fashion  designer, though I like a certain kind of aestetic. Most of all I am a customer and I am pretty good in feeling what a customer may like or not. But we do have Italian fashion designers – not just because they are Italian, but because they’re good. As for materials, definitely the vast majority of fabric and row materials we use here in our factory we buy in Italy. Even for stuff we make in Asia most of the fabric comes from Italy. 
     
    What do you think are the weeknesses and strengths of the italian fashion industry?
     
    Well, first of all we understand beauty in Italy. I think we have a better sensibility about beauty than probably any other country. You walk around and you see history, architecture … beauty becomes part of your genes. This is the reason why we have an opportunity in this business. The reason why we don’t always take advantage of that opportnity—there are many, but one is that we tend to be a little arrogant at times. We come from Italy, you know, and we think we know evwrything just because we grew up surrounded by beauty. So at times we speak too much and we listen too little. They say we have two ears and one mouth for a reason … but while we do remember that we have a mouth, we tend to forget that we have ears. Especially when you go abroad you’ve got to listen, to learn, to integrate. There are many Italians who do, of course, and they are successful everywhere in the world and in all sectors: in fahion and style, in hospitaly, in mechanics. But those who are not successful, very often it’s because they don’t listen. You have to leave your arrogance behind.
     
    How much has the attitude of New Yorkers and Americans toward Italians changed in the 35 years you have been here?
     
    I don’t think the attitude changed. I think the kind of Italians that are here changed. We represent and bring different things now. When we first got here we were probably one of the few cultures not to keep their language. Back then, immigrants didn’t want their children to speak Italian because they were discriminated against; they really wanted their children to become American. The Italians who come here today hold on to their language as much as they can. And not only language. Take food. The Italians who came 80-100 years ago knew how to cook, but they didn’t have the right ingredients. So what became known as Italian cuisine was not actual Italian cuisine at all, at best it was American cusine made the Italian way. But the new people, the new Italians who came later brought new food and new cuisine.  Italian cuisine is very different in New York today than it was when I arrived. And now the Americans and visitors to the city get to know what Italian food is really like, what being Italian really means. Today you can be Italian everywhere in the world. 
     
    ---

    * Maria Teresa Cometto is an Italian journalist and award-winning author based in New York City. Since 2000, she has been covering business, finance, and high-tech for Corriere della Sera, the leading 
    Italian newspaper.

     

    From the series, “Managers: from Italy to Top Global Businesses,” held at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York. The complete conversations, filmed by i-ItalyTV, are available on our youtube channel at www.youtube.com/iitaly. The following excerpts have been edited for publication.
  • Life & People

    Outstanding Italian Women in the US: Ilaria Capua

    From Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie, near Padua, Ilaria was able to convince European authorities to adopt vaccination to prevent avian flu killing thousands of chickens - a practice considered “crazy” in 2000, but now a common practice -, and she launched the open-source science in 2006, a big deal then, now a standard among researchers.

    All you need is to be good at your job, stubborn and not afraid to pursue your vision, as Ilaria is. She is also a survivor of a kafkian trial, where she was accused of “trafficking in viruses” (see her bestseller “Io Trafficante di Virus”, 2017). She was totally cleared in July 2016 (because the crimes didn’t exist!), but in the meantime she had decided to accept a prestigious position at the University of Florida - which has one of the most powerful super computers in the US - as the Director of the One Health Center of Excellence for Research and Training.

    “Here there is no fear of making mistakes. If you have an idea, they say ‘go for it’. Instead in Italy, they say ‘wait a moment…’.” That is what she appreciates the most in her new environment. Besides, one big difference between research in Europe and in the US, she says, is that in the US there is much more diversity, researchers coming from all over the world, and that’s a plus, compared to Europe where institutions tend to have mostly European teams.

    “Yes, sexual harassment happens in research labs too”, says Ilaria and she told a story that she wrote on her previous book, published in 2012. During a meeting with (old) male professors, one of them looked at her and said: “I had never noticed you have beautiful tits!”. She snapped back saying she would not hit him only because she was well mannered. It’s interesting that at that time, only five years ago, nobody found that an outrageous act of sexual harassment.

    But the #MeToo movement must move on, added Ilaria: “We have to put merit and talent back into the careers of women” and focus on getting the same treatment and pay of males with same skills. Ilaria is also dedicated on promoting female leadership in sciences: she organizes monthly meeting with women colleagues at the University of Florida, “Ladies for Ladies”. “We don’t talk about careers, but about practical problems that only we women have - she stresses - because it’s important to share our experiences and not feeling alone on facing problems we have as daughters, wives, mothers…”. 

    From 2013 to 2016, Ilaria was also a member of the Italian House of Representatives with Mario Monti’s Scelta Civica party. She felt she could make a difference, bringing her scientific knowledge into the Parliament. But she said she would not try and go back to politics, and if asked to become the secretary of Health in a future Italian cabinet, she wouldn’t accept. “I’ve realized I simply don’t have the skills to be a politician”, she said.

    In the end, no matter what happened to her, the Kafkian trial and everything else, Ilaria is of course always proud to be Italian and to show her Italian pride where she lives and works now, in Gainesville, Florida. She loves cooking and hosts Italian dinners at her home, inviting fellow Italian researchers with their spouses who typically are from all over the world.  
    --

    Maria Teresa Cometto is an Italian journalist with more than 25 years in the media industry. Since 2000 she has been based in New York, covering business, financial markets and high-tech, and writing for some of the most important Italian papers such as Corriere della Sera, which is the daily with the largest circulation in Italy, and Il Mondo, the most authoritative Italian business magazine. She is well known for her articles on the US technology industry and for her many interviews with leading economists, including 14 Nobel Laureates. Maria is also the author of several books, among which Figli & Soldi (“Kids & Money”, 2008). Twitter: @mtcometto

  • Opinioni

    ‘Donna di ferro’ Italian Style

    Era arrivata in un momento molto difficile per l’immagine dell’Italia in America. Nell’estate 2011 del nostro Paese si parlava per la sua crisi finanziaria e il rischio di uscire dall’euro oppure per gli scandali sessuali legati all’allora primo ministro Silvio Berlusconi. 

    Sulla TV americana, specchio del sentire popolare, imperversava il reality show “Jersey Shore” con protagonisti i giovani “tamarri” italoamericani e per la serie di telefilm “Law & Order: special victims unit” era andato in onda un episodio in cui un (fittizio) console italiano a New York cercava di far scarcerare un importante politico italiano accusato di stupro. L’episodio era chiaramente ispirato alla vera vicenda del francese Dominique Strauss-Kahn, ed era significativo che gli autori TV avessero deciso invece di mettere alla gogna un italiano.

     “L’italiano macho e’ ancora vivo e vegeto nell’immaginario collettivo degli americani, ma non e’ più la realtà del nostro Paese. Dimostrarlo sara’ in cima alle mie priorità”, mi aveva detto Natalia. E lei, la prima donna a capo di un consolato italiano  cosi’ importante come quello newyorkese, c’e’ riuscita. “Natalia Quintavalle e’ il simbolo del nuovo ruolo delle donne italiane  che, come quelle italoamericane, ormai sono in grado di affrontare qualunque responsabilità”, ha detto di lei la più famosa italoamericana di New York, Matilda Cuomo, vedova del governatore Mario Cuomo (in carica dal 1983 al ’94, scomparso un anno fa) e mamma dell’attuale governatore Andrew.

    Per una fortunata coincidenza, l’intero consolato sotto Natalia e’ stato “in rosa”, all’insegna delle donne: al suo arrivo due dei tre viceconsoli erano pure donne, Laura Aghilarre e Lucia Pasqualini; e ora altre due viceconsoli la stanno aiutando, Isabella Periotto e Chiara Saulle. Un enorme passo avanti rispetto a 25 anni fa quando Natalia comincio’ la sua carriera diplomatica. “Allora - mi ha spiegato - il mondo diplomatico era maschile, ma stava cominciando ad aprirsi e a diventare più interdisciplinare, con più attenzione, oltre che alla politica, anche all’economia. La mia materia preferita. Sono entrata in diplomazia proprio per occuparmi di relazioni economiche internazionali”.

    L’impronta femminile Natalia l’ha subito data decidendo di dare “una bella rinfrescata” agli edifici su Park Avenue che ospitano il Consolato e l’Istituto di cultura (Ici), come lei stessa ha raccontato su i-Italy. Cosi’ con l’occhio della saggia padrona di casa ha lanciato il progetto “Apriamo il Consolato e facciamo entrare aria fresca!”: ha “spolverato e tirato a lucido” le due palazzine e vi ha organizzato la Festa della Repubblica dal 2 giugno 2012 in poi, con una formula tutta nuova che ha coinvolto nella sua organizzazione anche gli altri “pezzi” del Sistema Italia a New York - dall’Ici all’Ice (promozione commerciale) e all’Enit (promozione turistica) - e ha ottenuto il supporto di tutta la collettività italiana e italoamericana.

    Ecco, una delle caratteristiche di Natalia e’ stata il capire che il patrimonio storico e culturale degli italoamericani a New York - oltre un milione di persone - e’ un asset da valorizzare e non da snobbare, come qualche suo predecessore ha avuto la tentazione di fare. E cosi’ e’ riuscita a coinvolgerli a favore di molte iniziative, la più importante delle quali forse e’ stata la campagna per inserire i sottotitoli in italiano sul display delle poltrone  alla Metropolitan Opera House: dalla stagione iniziata nel settembre 2012, tutte le opere italiane possono essere seguite anche nella loro lingua originale, oltre che in inglese, spagnolo e tedesco. Grande appassionata di opera lei stessa, Natalia ha ottenuto i fondi necessari per convincere il Met dalle maggiori associazioni italoamericane come la NIAF (National Italian American Foundation), la Columbus Citizen Foundation, l’OSIA (Order Sons of Italy in America) e la Noiaw (National Organization of Italian American Women) e da numerosi esponenti della comunità italoamericana come Steve Acunto, Frank Bisignano, Jason DeSena-Trennert, Frank Guarini, Joseph Perella, oltre che dalla griffe Dolce & Gabbana e da “newyorker italiani” di successo come Alberto Cribiore (top manager di Citi e Marshall dell’ultima Columbus Parade), Massimo Ferragamo e la scomparsa baronessa Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo’.  

    Far debuttare l’italiano nel tempio della lirica newyorkese e’ stato uno dei successi nella promozione della nostra lingua che sotto la guida di Natalia e con il contributo fondamentale dello IACE - l’Italian American Committee on Education, di cui e’ presidente Berardo Paradiso e, full disclosure, io sono vicepresidente - ha contribuito a ottenere il reinserimento dell’italiano fra le materie degli esami AP (Advance placement) nelle scuole medie superiori americane.

    Attenta ai temi economici e con le antenne ritte a captare le nuove tendenze, Natalia e’ stata anche una supporter entusiasta dei giovani che dall’Italia vengono a New York per sviluppare le loro startup (nuove imprese innovative), avanguardie high-tech delle nuove generazioni di italiani che conquistano il successo nella Big Apple nei campi più diversi, dall’arte alla finanza, dalla moda all’industria.

    Confesso di essere orgogliosa per aver stimolato Natalia a seguire questo fenomeno: in più occasioni lei ha citato il libro “Tech and the City”, che ho scritto con Alessandro Piol e pubblicato nel 2013, come la sua “bibbia” per navigare il nuovo mondo delle startup newyorkesi. Per questo mi ha chiesto nel maggio 2014 di organizzare il primo incontro al Consolato con i nuovi imprenditori italiani che hanno creato startup a New York, a cui ha partecipato anche la Presidente della Camera Laura Bordini per ascoltare le loro storie, i loro problemi e capire che cosa le autorità italiane possono fare per loro. E l’anno scorso  il sostegno di Natalia e’ stato fondamentale per realizzare la mostra “Make in Italy - 50 years of Italian breakthroughs from the first pc to the first space bound espresso machine”, che si e’ tenuta in novembre all’Istituto di cultura diretto da Giorgio van Straten per far conoscere l’aspetto meno noto delle eccellenze italiane, il nostro contributo al progresso tecnologico mondiale.

    Natalia se ne va in aprile, dopo aver fatto gli onori di casa per la visita a New York del Presidente Sergio Mattarella, lasciando in eredita’ fra l’altro un bel programma di mentorship, messo a punto con l’aiuto delle sue colleghe Periotto e Saulle: “Meet the new Italians of New York”, una serie di incontri mensili dove chi ha ottenuto successo in un campo - dalla medicina alla musica, da Wall Street allo sport - da’ consigli ai giovani che iniziano la carriera nello stesso settore. 

    Sara’ per me particolarmente difficile salutare Natalia alla sua partenza. Con lei condivido altre caratteristiche non secondarie: abbiamo la stessa eta’ (top secret!), siamo mamme di ragazze quasi coetanee (sua figlia Roberta ha 25 anni, la mia Francesca ne ha 23), amiamo le lunghe camminate in montagna (lei sulle Dolomiti, io sul Monte Rosa) e ci piacciono i cani (lei ha Zazie, io Sweety). Ma soprattutto we don’t take no for an answer. Ci mancherà la sua determinazione di ferro, “ammorbidita” solo dall’elegante look Made in Italy.

     

  • Life & People

    ‘Iron Lady’ Italian Style

    Her landing wasn’t easy. In the summer of 2011, the only thing people talked about when they talked about Italy was either the financial crisis and the country’s risk of exiting the euro zone, or Silvio Berlusconi’s sex scandals. 

    American TV mirrored public sentiment; “Jersey Shore” and its bevy of young Italian-American “tamarri” were all the rage, and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” aired an episode in which a (fictional) Italian consul in New York tried to exonerate an important Italian politician accused of rape.

    Though the episode was clearly inspired by the real-life scandal surrounding Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it’s significant that the show’s writers took aim at an Italian instead. “Italian machismo is still alive and well in the collective imagination of Americans, but that’s not the reality of our country anymore, and demonstrating that will be a top priority,” Quintavalle told me at the time. 

    As the first woman to head up an Italian consulate as important as that of New York, she did just that. “Natalia Quintavalle symbolizes the new role Italian women play,” said Matilda Cuomo, the most famous Italian-American woman in New York. “Like Italian-American women, they are now capable of taking on any responsibility.” 

    The Pink Consulate
    When Quintavalle landed in New York, two of three vice-consuls—Laura Aghilarre and Lucia Pasqualini—were women, and now two additional vice-consuls assist her, Isabella Periotto and Chiara Saulle. 

    That is a major breakthrough with respect to 25 years ago when Quintavalle was starting out. “Back then,” she explains, “the diplomatic world was male, but it was beginning to open up and become more interdisciplinary. It began paying more attention to things outside of politics, like economics. My favorite subject.”

    Quintavalle immediately set about giving a woman’s touch to her office by “freshening up” the buildings on Park Avenue where the Consulate and Italian Cultural Institute (ICI) are housed. And, like any smart homeowner, she launched “Open the Consulate Doors and Let the Air In,” a project that “dusted off” both buildings for the Festa della Repubblica in 2012. Her completely new approach got other “pieces” of New York’s Italian network involved—from ICI to ICE (the Italian Trade Commission) to Enit (the Italian tourism agency)—and garnered widespread support from Italians and Italian Americans. 
     

    Holding Cultural Heritage in High Esteem
    Unlike some of her predecessors, Quintavalle understood that the historical and cultural heritage of the million-plus Italian Americans in New York is an asset to be cherished rather than snubbed. That’s how she managed to rally their support for many initiatives, the most important of which may have been the campaign to include Italian subtitles at the Metropolitan Opera House. 

    Since the start of the fall 2012 season, theatergoers can follow all of the Italian operas in the original language. A great opera buff herself, Quintavalle obtained the funds to do so from major Italian-American organizations like the National Italian American Foundation, the Columbus Citizen Foundation, the Order Sons of Italy in America and the National Organization of Italian American Women; leaders in the Italian-American community like Steve Acunto, Frank Bisignano, Jason DeSena-Trennert, Frank Guarini, Joseph Perella; Dolce & Gabbana; and successful “Italian New Yorkers” like Alberto Cribiore, Massimo Ferragamo and the late Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò.
     

    Under Quintavalle’s guidance and with the contribution of IACE, the Italian American Committee on Education (full disclosure—I am its vice president), introducing Italian into New York’s lyric temple helped lead to the reinstatement of an AP Italian exam in American high schools. 
     

    Alert to Economics and Italian Start-ups
    Her antennae always poised to intercept new trends, Quintavalle has also been an enthusiastic supporter of young Italians who come to New York to develop startups, the new generation of high-tech avant- gardists looking to make it big in the Big Apple.

    I confess I’m proud of having inspired Quintavalle’s interest in this phenomenon. On more than one occasion she has referred to the book Tech and the City, which I co-wrote with Alessandro Piol and published in 2013, as her “bible” for navigating the new world of New York startups. She asked me to organize the first meeting at the Consulate with new Italian entrepreneurs who had created startups in New York. Speaker of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies Laura Bordini also participated in the event, where she got to listen to their stories and hear how Italian authorities can help them. Last November Quintavalle lent her crucial support to putting on the exhibit, “Make in Italy – 50 Years of Italian Breakthroughs from the First PC to the First Space-Bound Espresso Machine,” about Italy’s best-kept secret: its contribution to technological progress. 
     

    A Special Addio
    Quintavalle leaves in April, after welcoming President Sergio Mattarella to New York. She leaves behind a legacy that includes a wonderful mentorship program, organized with the help of Periotto and Saulle. “Meet the New Italians of New York” is a series of monthly meetings where successful Italians—from doctors to musicians to athletes—advise young people trying to get their start (see the artcile in the Events section of this issue of i-ItalyNY).  

    For me, it will be particularly hard to bid Natalia goodbye. She and I have a lot in common: we’re the same age (top secret!); our daughters are almost the same age; and we love long walks in the mountains and dogs (hers is Zazie, mine Sweety). But most importantly, neither of us takes no for an answer. We’ll miss her iron will, ‘softened’ only by her elegant made-in-Italy look. 

    * Maria Teresa Cometto is a journalist and writer who has lived in New York since 2000. She is a US contributor to the Italian daily “Corriere della Sera,” the weekly magazine “Grazia,” and the blog StartupItalia! She is the co-author of Tech and the City with Alessandro Piol, and curator of the exhibition “Make in Italy” with Riccardo Luna. 

  • Events: Reports

    “Make in Italy” Arrives in the Big Apple

    Fifty years after its extraordinary debut in New York during the World’s Fair, Programma 101 (P101) is returning to the city. In October 1965, the machine was hailed by the American press as the “first desktop computer in the world.” Now you can admire it in the exhibition “Make in Italy - 50 Years of Italian Breakthroughs: from the First PC to the First Space-Bound Espresso Machine,” on display at the Italian Cultural Institute (ICI) in New York.
     

    The exhibition kicks off with the celebration of P101, a computer created by a small group of “crazy” young Italian engineers led by Pier Giorgio Perotto at Olivetti, the Ivrea company then famous for its mechanical typewriters. In the 1960s the few computers in existence were cumbersome and accessible to experts alone. P101, on the other hand, fit on a desk and could be operated by a secretary. It was so successful that the US space agency NASA purchased one for the first mission to the moon in 1969. At ICI the public can watch a documentary about the history of the machine, “Programma 101: Memory of the Future,” directed by Alessandro Bernard and Paolo Ceretto.

    But there’s more. The exhibition also showcases other cutting-edge products created and developed in Italy or by Italians over the last half century. Technological acumen is a little known offshoot of Italian creativity. Besides P101, four other objects serve as examples of Italian technological innovation.

    The Intel 4004 was the first commercially available microprocessor in the history of computing. The “computer on a chip” was developed by Federico Faggin, a physicist who moved to Silicon Valley in 1968 to work at Fairchild Semiconductor, and later worked at Intel. Today, microprocessors are used in everything from smartphones to supercomputers.

    Arduino is an open-source prototyping platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards read inputs (light on a sensor, a finger on a button, a tweet, etc.) and turn them into outputs (activating a motor, turning on an LED, publishing something online). Its easy-to-use philosophy and smart design was inspired by the P101. It was such a beautiful object that in 2014 Arduino was acquired by MoMA. Credit for  creating Arduino goes to Massimo Banzi and four partners. Arduino was conceived of as an easy tool for fast prototyping for students from the Interaction Design Institute at Olivetti’s “Casa Blu” without a background in electronics and programming. Now Arduino is used by a worldwide community of makers: students, hobbyists, artists, programmers, and professionals.

    The third object, ISSpresso, is the first-ever system for brewing espresso in outer space. ISSpresso was created by two Turin-based companies, Argotec and Lavazza. David Avino founded Argotec, an engineering and aerospace software company specializing in astronauts’ training, in 2008. Argotec’s research on nutritional food for astronauts has led to the creation of healthy and tasty products available to consumers worldwide. “The idea for the space-bound coffee machine was the natural conclusion of the space meal,” explained Avino. Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut with the European Space Agency (ESA), tasted the first “made-for-space coffee” on May 3, 2015 while docked on the International Space Station (ISS).

    Finally, the company that gave us the first personal computer has now brought its first 3D printer to NYC. Olivetti’s printer is targeted toward small to medium sized companies that need a faster and cheaper way to make prototypes and develop new products. Olivetti continues to reinvent itself, embracing the revolution of digital manufacturing and the digital philosophy of sharing and collaboration.

    The exhibition also features a timeline on panels organized by decades  (from the 1960s to the 2010s). Each timeline highlights contributions to technological progress made by Italians. Did you know, for example, that it was the Italian mathematician Massimo Marchiori who inspired Larry Page and Sergey Brin to found Google? In 1995, Marchiori developed Hyper Search, the first algorithm for running an online search that used the concept of hyper-information, which selects results on the basis of their relevance by looking at their relation to the entire web. Marchiori presented his idea at an international convention in 1997 that Page attended. (Google was founded one year later.)

    The “Make in Italy” installation in Rome and Milan is sponsored by the nonprofit foundation Make in Italy, chaired by Carlo de Benedetti, Massimo Banzi and the Italian “Digital Champion” Riccardo Luna. The NYC leg was made possible thanks to the commitment of the Italian Consul General Natalia Quintavalle, the new ICI director Giorgio van Straten and the President/Chair of the Italian Heritage & Culture Committee of New York Joseph Sciame, as well as the generosity of Commendatore in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic Peter S. Kalikow, with additional support by Lavazza and Olivetti. The designers are Sara Matiz and Simone Polga of MAD Matiz Architecture & Design.

    American high school students who have studied Italian as a foreign language will have the opportunity to visit the exhibition with special tours, thanks to the Italian American Committee on Education (IACE), a nonprofit organization chaired by Bernardo Paradiso, which promotes the study of Italian language and culture within the tri-state area. It’s nice to think that they learn to love Italy not only for our country’s food, fashion and art, but also for its technology.

    The exhibition “MAKE IN ITALY - 50 Years of Italian Breakthroughs: from the First PC to the First Space-Bound Espresso Machine” opened November 12 at 6pm. at the Italian Cultural Institute in New York, 686 Park Avenue, from November 13-25, Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm.

    ……………….

    Journalist and writer Maria Teresa Cometto curated the exhibition with Riccardo Luna. She is a US contributor to the Italian daily “Corriere della Sera” and co-author of “Tech and the City: The Making of New York’s Startup Community” (with Alessandro Piol).

  • Fatti e Storie

    "Nonna's Birthday Surprise": Lidia Bastianich alla Saint Raymond School

    L'evento è stato organizzato dall'Italian-American Council on Education (IACE), l'ente che sotto il patrocinio del Consolato italiano a New York promuove lo studio dell'italiano nelle scuole sia pubbliche sia private dei tre stati di New York, Connecticut e New Jersey.

     

    Lidia Bastianich è la mamma di Joe, il severissimo giudice della versione "per adulti" di Master Chef, ma in America è lei la celebrity chef più famosa in TV, pluripremiata dagli Emmy Awards, titolare di alcuni dei più rinomati ristoranti italiani nella Grande Mela - come Felidia, Del Posto, Becco - e socia con Mario Batali e Oscar Farinetti di Eataly, il grande emporio del Made in Italy culinario sulla Quinta Avenue, diventato la terza destinazione più visitata a New York.

    Proprio per la sua grande attenzione ai ragazzi, all'importanza dell'educazione e della tradizione, Lidia Bastianich è da tempo una preziosa partner delle iniziative dello IACE: oltre a parlare nelle scuole americane dove si studia italiano, ha ideato insieme allo stesso IACE una serie di lezioni (quest'anno alla seconda edizione) che si svolgono presso Eataly, dove gli studenti imparano a fare la spesa, osservano come vengono prodotti i cibi freschi come mozzarella, pasta, gelato, imparano a cucinare piatti semplici e sani - come le tagliatelle al pomodoro - e arricchiscono il loro vocabolario di italiano.

    Alla scuola Saint Raymond Lidia è stata accolta dall'inno "Fratelli d'Italia" cantato dai bambini e ha risposto alle domande che avevano preparato insieme all’insegnante d’italiano Silvia D’Arco.

    Il suo piatto preferito? "Spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino, il più semplice, veloce e appetitoso da fare". A proposito di veloce, che dire del fast food? "Si può preparare un ottimo piatto in pochi minuti, per esempio le uova strapazzate con gli asparagi. Non è vietato mangiare hamburger, ma bisogna preferire ingredienti stagionali, più sani e meno costosi". Ha avuto momenti difficili nella sua infanzia? "Certo, mi ricordo un giorno, a scuola, quando ero appena arrivata a New York. Avevo 12 anni e con la mia famiglia avevo dovuto lasciare l'Istria, la terra dove ero nata e che era passata sotto il regime della Jugoslavia. La maestra mi ha mandato fuori dalla classe perché non parlavo inglese e io mi sono sentita non desiderata. Ma è stata anche una sfida per imparare il più in fretta possibile, l'ho superata e sono diventata più forte. È l’approccio da avere di fronte alle difficoltà".

    Monsignor John Graham, presente all’evento insieme alla vice console italiana Lucia Pasqualini, ha ricordato come Lidia Bastianich abbia cucinato anche per Papa Benedetto XVI, durante la sua visita a New York nel 2008. "È stato emozionante e indimenticabile! – ha detto Lidia -. Una nota buffa: quando mia mamma l'ha saputo, mi ha chiesto 'E la prossima volta per chi cucinerai? Per il Padreterno?'. Non ancora!, ho risposto".
     
    La preside della Saint Raymond School, Suor Patricia Brito, ha rivelato che sta aumentando il numero di allievi che studiano italiano: molti dei 900 studenti (dalle elementari al liceo) della sua scuola sono latino-americani e parlano anche spagnolo a casa. "L'italiano è facile per loro e apre nuove opportunità per il loro futuro", ha aggiunto. In tutto sono più di 100 le scuole dei tre stati NY-NJ-CT dove oltre 19 mila studenti americani studiano l'italiano con corsi promossi e supportati dallo IACE.