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Articles by: Roberta Cutillo

  • Art & Culture

    Celebrating Manhattan’s First Italian Dual Language Program

    Parents, students, institutions, companies, and various supporters of the initiative gathered this morning in Harlem’s Public School 242, to celebrate and officialize a new Italian Dual Language program, the first in Manhattan.

     

    “This is a very important day, it means so much. It reinforces the message that the Italian language is present in American public schools,” commented the Consul General of Italy, Francesco Genuardi, who, along with Consuls Silvia Limoncini and Irene Asquini, delivered an Italian flag to mark the official launch of the program. “We owe this accomplishment to all of the Italian community, who organized itself spontaneously.”

     

    The project to bring this program to PS 242 came from InItaliano, a grassroots initiative that promotes Italian language and culture in various public and private educational settings, conceived by three Italian parents with the aim of filling the lack of resources for Italian speakers within the school system.

     

    “We are excited that our students will be learning Italian,” said Denise Gomez, the Principal of PS 242. “It’s extremely important. We are an IB authorized school so one of the expectations is that we teach our students a second language so that they become global-minded citizens and respect other cultures and beliefs.”

     

    Some of the students are already taking part in an unofficial Italian program launched by the school, where they are learning, amongst other things, Italian songs, such as the one performed by a group of kindergarten students (none of them native Italian speakers) during the ceremony.

     

    A significant aspect of these Dual Language programs is that they also expose non-Italian students to the Italian language. “It’s not only important for the Italian American community but for society in general,” remarks Jack Spatola, Principal of PS 112, a school in Lefferts Park, Brooklyn, where the city’s first Italian Dual Language Program was launched in September 2015.

     

    “We’re on to our third edition in Brooklyn, there’s a great demand from parents who want their children to learn Italian,” he explains “The problem there is space.”

     

    Various organizations and companies attended the ceremony to show their support for this initiative. “It was a true team effort,” said the Consul General, explaining how New York Italian institutions, companies, and media came together to accompany and facilitate the hard work undertaken by the dedicated parents at InItaliano.

     

    One of those supporters was the Italian American Committee on Education (IACE), a non-profit organization founded in 1975 for the purpose of promoting the study of the Italian language and culture within the tri-state area.

     

    “The strategy we use to promote language is to bring the kids outside of the classroom and have them experience ‘made in Italy’ first-hand,” explained Ilaria Costa, the Executive Director of IACE. “We bring them to Eataly, to the Ferrari showroom, to the Coney Island Luna Park because it was designed by the Italian Zamperla, to PepsiCo, where the major designer is Mauro Porcini. This way the kids become passionate about ‘Italianity’ and go back to their school saying ‘Italian is cool.’”

    Livia Senic-Matuglia from Rizzoli was present as well. “As an Italian bookstore with an important history in New York we thought it was important to be here to support such an important project for the families that are trying to maintain the Italian language,” she explained.

     

    “The next step is to spread awareness, not only to Italian families but to anyone wishing for their children to experience the Italian language and culture,” remarked Francesco Fadda of the InItaliano association, adding that the program will start officially this coming September “so if there are any families with children aged pre-k to first grade they can come here and enroll their children to experience the Italian language.”

     

    The demand for Italian language programs is growing in New York and more schools are starting to offer the opportunity to study in the language. Another Public School in District 14 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is working to start an Early Immersion Italian program.

     

    For more information and updates you can visit InItaliano’s website.

     

  • Regalbuto, Sicily. Historic centre of the town. All photos by Serge Tesker.
    Facts & Stories

    One-Euro Homes: Repopulating Italian Towns

    Back in 2008, the prominent Italian art critic, cultural commentator, politician, and TV personality, Vittorio Sgarbi, began promoting the initiative to sell houses for one euro in the Sicilian town of Salemi, of which he was then Mayor. The objective was to favor the restoration of abandoned homes in order to repopulate the town, whose population had been steadily decreasing.

     

    The project faced some issues relating to the state of some of the buildings, which were deemed unsafe. Sgarbi faced charges but was ultimately absolved in 2016. Meanwhile, the idea was taken up in other municipalities across Italy since many towns face problems similar to those of Salemi.

     

    The project doesn’t appear to be very organized, with different actors acting independently and disparately. An estimated 20 municipalities are carrying out the initiative, though not all of them have released official public bans. The idea is that those wishing to inhabit the houses year-round are prioritized in the selection process compared to those only wishing to use them as vacation homes, but it isn’t quite clear whether or how this rule is enforced. In some towns, only a few houses are available, while in others the offer is broader.

     

    However, the initiative is garnering a lot of enthusiasm and was taken up in other countries as well, including France and the United Kingdom. A one-euro house in the town of Gangi was featured in an episode of the popular TV show House Hunters International and the Canadian photographer Serge Tesker realized a photo series featuring a few of the Italian towns adhering to the initiative.

     

    The series, which was exhibited in Toronto in 2018, captures the beauty and melancholy of these lonely “borghi,” shaped and marked by the numerous lives spent there, generation after generation, throughout the centuries.

     

    A much-needed and inspiring initiative with the potential to bring new life to beautiful yet neglected corners of Italy, the one-euro project is ongoing and expanding. You can find more information on the dedicated website.

  • Facts & Stories

    A Tiramisù Fit for a King

    Born in Feltre, near Treviso in Northern Italy, Andrea Ciccolella is not a professional chef, nor baker, he's a factory worker at the prominent Italian eyewear company Luxottica. In 2017, his friends convinced him to take part in the first edition of the Tiramisù World Cup. Despite some initial reluctance, Andrea finally accepted and was awarded Best Original Recipe, officially becoming the World Champion of Tiramisù.

     

    The competition takes place in Treviso, which many consider to be the birthplace of tiramisu. There is however much controversy over the origins of the popular dessert. Many towns and regions claim it as their own, but the two most credible and fierce contenders are Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia. Andrea is, of course, on the Treviso team.

     

    For him, the secret to making the best tiramisu consists in using high-quality ingredients and very rich mascarpone but also requires lots of passion and training. He trained rigorously in the months leading up to the competition, eating vast amounts of tiramisù and “forcing” his friends and family to help him out.

     

    Now, Andrea hopes to turn his passion into his career and open his own bakery. He continues to work on his baking and recently came up with a beautiful new creation: a golden tiramisu. This delicate dish is made following his original recipe and adding 24-carat gold leaves on top, which Andrea assures are 100% edible. Additionally, he mixed gold dust into the cocoa powder to make it even shinier.

     

    This new version was conceived as an homage to the beloved dessert, which holds a special place in Andrea’s heart for having helped him open up this new chapter of his life. It is golden just like the medal it awarded its creator.  

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Seeing the Unseeable: The First Image of a Black Hole

    The groundbreaking image, realized with “a telescope the size of the Earth,” shows a black hole located in the Messier 87 Galaxy, inside the constellation Virgo, about 55 million light years from us. It is the result of two years of computer analysis of data gathered from eight radio observatories located across the globe, which form part of a network that constitutes the Event Horizon Telescope or EHT, the international project that rendered this image possible.

     

    An “event horizon,” the term from which the network takes its name, designates the edge of a black hole, the final point at which light and matter can still be observed before disappearing into it. Black holes, which were first theorized by Albert Einstein, are in fact abysses that completely absorb everything that gets sucked into them, including light. For this reason, they are by definition unseeable.

     

    How then were EHT astronomers able to obtain this image? Combining data coming from eight radio observatories located on six mountains across four continents, the international team (which included Italians from INAF and INFN) was able to capture the "accretion disk" surrounding the event horizon, that is a swirl of matter and energy which pulls in photons (light particles.) 

     

    That’s why the image looks like a ring of light. Think of it as a negative, the black hole is actually the dark spot in the center. "Now we can finally observe them," commented Luciano Rezzolla, a member of the EHT Collaboration Board. "Today we are opening the first page of a book in which it is possible to make increasingly accurate observations of these objects, whose existence Albert Einstein predicted a century ago.”

     

    Einstein himself was reluctant to accept what his very own equations revealed, which is that when too much energy or matter is concentrated into one place it causes matter to collapse, thus forming what we call a black hole. Their existence is now however widely accepted within the field.

     

    This image shows how far we’ve come in such a relatively short time: in the 64 years since Einstein’s death, we went from refuting the existence of black holes to being able to “see” the unseeable. The EHT project is also a shining example of global teamwork. By bringing together researchers from around the world, it showed how this type of international collaboration truly is the way of the future.

     

  • Life & People

    Celebrating Past And Future Accomplishments at the NIAF 2019 NY GALA

    The annual National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) 2019 New York Gala took place last night at Cipriani 42nd Street to celebrate and promote Italian American excellence across various fields. This year’s honorees were Judge Frank M. Ciuffani, Lorenzo Zurino, and Marylou Delfino Berk. The event was presented by NIAF's Celebrity Ambassador and radio host Joe Piscopo and entertainment was provided by the talented Romina Perri, a ten-year-old singer from New Jersey.

     

    The evening began with a cocktail reception, during which guests had the chance to meet with celebrities and honorees, mingle, sip on Cipriani’s famous Bellinis, and bid on a selection of items included in the Gala’s silent auction, which is organized every year to raise funds for the Foundation's initiatives, mainly the awarding of scholarships to Italian American students.

    "It's a fantastic moment, very anticipated here in New York," commented the Counsul General of Italy Francesco Genuardi, "A further demonstration that the New York chapter of NIAF is alive and kicking, full of vitality and awareness of how much this organization contributes to the city."

     

    It was then time for the seated award ceremony, introduced by a video dedicated to the region of Molise in Southern Italy, which was selected as the NIAF 2019 Region of Honor.

     

    The ceremony was presented by show business performer and TV personality Joe Piscopo, who enthusiastically introduced the special guests and honorees of the night, and entertained the guests with a heartfelt interpretation of the classic song New York, New York.

     

    Further entertainment was provided by the adorable ten-year-old Italian American singer Romina Perri, whose remarkable voice stunned the audience as she sang the Italian and American national anthems and later moved the crowd with her interpretation of the classic 1940 Italian song by Cesare Andrea Bixio “Mamma Son Tanto Felice” (Mom, I’m so happy).

     

    The first honoree to take the stage, Senior Managing Director and Head of Commercial Real Estate at LeFrak, Marylou Delfino Berk, gave an inspiring speech as she accepted her award, sharing with the audience her most important word: determination, which she had printed out on paper cards placed at each seat.

     

    She was followed by Judge Frank M. Ciuffani, General Counsel at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A. and Chair of the firm’s Alternative Dispute Resolution practice, who amongst numerous accomplishments served as a judge on the New Jersey Superior Court on several occasions and presided over various key cases in the regions of New York and New Jersey.

     

    Finally, came the turn of Lorenzo Zurino, founder and CEO of The One Company, one of the first Italian companies specialized in the internationalization of businesses, which has become a special reference point for many of the largest Italian industrial companies in the Food sector. Zurino, who is also Director of Import at Nastasi Foods, humbly accepted his award, in a moving speech in which he expressed his gratitude and pride in receiving such recognition and acceptance from the Italian American community.

     

    It was overall a heartwarming and inspiring evening, an occasion for Italian Americans to come together and celebrate their traditions as well as their accomplishments, past and future, all while doing, as presenter Joe Piscopo put it “what Italians do best: eat.”

     

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    The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes Italian American culture and heritage. NIAF serves as a resource for all things related to the Italian American community, offering educational and youth programs such as scholarships, grants, heritage travel, and mentoring.

    NIAF is also the voice for Italian Americans in Washington, DC, working closely with the Italian American Congressional Delegation and the White House. NIAF’s mission includes advancing US-Italy cultural, political, and economic relations, complete with a business council that encourages networking among corporate leaders.

     

  • Bolzano (Image via Lonely Planet)
    Facts & Stories

    A Ranking of the Best Italian Cities to Live In

    The factors to consider and numerous and “Avvenire”, who realized the study in collaboration with the Scuola di Economia Civile (School of Civil Economy) and with the support of Federcasse (the Italian Federation of Cooperative Banks), adopted a multi-layered approach to determine the best Italian cities to live in.

     

    They began by organizing focus groups to identify the factors that influence people’s well-being and the situations in which citizens are better able to express themselves, reach their potential, and influence the lives of others.

     

    The results of these focus groups were then integrated with a more traditional measure of well-being realized by researchers from Roma Tor Vergata and Lumsa Universities, under the supervision of docents Leonardo Becchetti, Luigino Bruni and Vittorio Pelligra, based on specific  indicators such as demographics and family, health, civic engagement, environmental factors, tourism and culture, personal services, lawfulness and security, employment, economic inclusion, human capital, and hospitality.

     

    Using a point system, they calculated an average for each indicator. They then produced an overall score for each city by giving more weight to the categories identified as more significant during the focus groups.

     

    The (not entirely unexpected) results revealed that the autonomous provinces of Bolzano and Trento, in Northern Italy are apparently the best places to live, followed by Pordenone (in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Florence, Parma, Pisa, Milan, Bologna, Gorizia (near the border with Slovenia), and Udine.

     

    Some of the key points to emerge are, first of all, that all top 10 cities are located in the septentrional part of Italy, while the cities that scored to lowest (Reggio Calabria, Vibo Valentia, Naples, and Crotone) are all Southern, confirming an imbalance that Italians are all too familiar with.

     

    Another element that comes out of this list is that medium-sized towns tend to score higher, whereas larger cities, though richer in opportunities, lose standing due to factors such as lower environmental quality and the lack of interpersonal relations.

     

    However, “Avvenire” itself acknowledges that there are some elements that would appear to contradict these findings, such as the fact that cities like Trento, Bolzano, and Milano have higher rates of alcohol dependency, psychic disorders, and suicide.  

     

    Rankings such as this one, whether they are done on a local or global scale, are always controversial, people often disagree and sometimes take offense. Italian cities rarely obtain high scores on global and European scales (northern cities such as Copenhagen or Vienna usually come out on top), in response to which Italians tend to argue that these rankings are incomplete because they don’t give enough weight to factors such as the weather and beauty of cities.   

     

    The truth is that identifying the best city to live in remains a challenge, in Italy and elsewhere, mainly because the factors that are more important in determining well-being vary from person to person and even throughout one’s lifetime. With this in mind, “Avvenire” gives readers the opportunity to see a breakdown of their ranking and adjust the weight of each indicator in order to try and determine their own personal ideal city.

    You can find it here. (currently only available in Italian)

     

  • Dining in & out

    The Two young Women Behind San Matteo Pizza and Pizza Quadrata Romana

    In 2010, Ciro and Fabio Casella moved to New York from Salerno and opened San Matteo Pizza Espresso Bar, a homey and authentic pizzeria serving Neapolitan-style pizza, panuozzi and other specialties from the Salerno region. They then opened a second larger location in 2016, San Matteo Pizza e Cucina, just a few blocks down.

    The latest addition to their NYC venues introduces a concept that is extremely diffused in Italy but virtually unknown in the US: Roman pizza “al taglio” or “in teglia”. They named it PQR, which stands for Pizza Quadrata Romana (literally “roman square pizza”) because this format is originally from Rome, though the pizza they serve follows a unique recipe invented by Roman pizzaiolo and president of API (Associazione Pizzerie Italiane) Angelo Iezzi, who devised a new method of making dough for a  lighter, easier to digest pizza that is lower in carbs and remains fresh longer.   

    Located on 2nd Avenue in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, as are all the venues owned by the two brothers, PQR looks and feels exactly like any pizza “forno” (oven) you would find in Rome: the front room is quite small, with just three seats and a tray holder, the pizzas are baked in rectangular iron pans and placed on the counter as they come out of the oven.

    Ciro’s 28-year-old daughter, Marika Casella, welcomes us in from behind the glass as she cuts two generously-sized square slices and hands them to us: one serving of prosciutto and fig and one of truffle and potato. We eat them as Radio Italia plays songs by Vasco Rossi and Gianna Nannini before moving to the slightly larger back room.

    Marika arrived in New York in 2015 to join her father. She started working at San Matteo Pizza Espresso Bar a few blocks up and now alternates between working there and at PQR. She tells us she didn’t want to come to New York at first:

    Marika Casella: I really didn’t imagine I would end up here. I wanted to stay in Salerno with my friends. Then, as I started to get older, and with my father being here, I finally decided to come.

    I-I: Had you worked in a pizzeria before?

    MC: No, never. I had done several jobs but never in the restaurant business. It was all new, everything changed.

    I-I: What was your first impression?

    MC: The rhythm is frenetic.

    I was used to working on a schedule. Italians are creatures of habit, they’re more regular, they do things at certain times. Here, people come in at all times. Every day is different, you never know what it’s going to be like.

    I-I: What’s it like working with your father?

    MC: It’s good. Sure, sometimes we see each other all day (laughs) but ultimately we get along well.

    I-I: How do you find yourself here? Do you think you want to stay here?

    MC: Lately, I started thinking that I do want to stay here. But that’s very recent. The first years I always thought about going back home. I often go back. Home always calls.

    Last year, I spent the year back in Italy. And after that, I came back and now I see New York differently. Now I think I want to stay for a while, I feel more stable here.

    I-I: What do you think is the key to the success of your father’s businesses?

    MC: It's genuine.

    It’s a simple concept, pizza al taglio, it’s something that exists everywhere in Italy.

    Americans are already familiar with it, it’s very much like grabbing a slice. It’s already in their culture.

    But it’s a different type of pizza, more sophisticated, with different ingredients, many toppings, richer, and more expensive. It’s interesting, people here are intrigued by it. And when they try it, they like it. The dough is made in a unique way, by a Roman pizzaiolo, Angelo Iezzi, it's very light and it goes well with all sorts of toppings. I try a few slices every day.

    Somehow there’s nothing else quite like it here and it’s really catching on.

    I-I: What are some of the most popular flavors here?

    MC: Pizza "alla diavola", with spicy salami. The ones with bufala. The truffle pizza as well, and the burrata. Also some of the specials like the prosciutto and fig you had.

    People come in at all times, for lunch, maybe a little less in the afternoon, and then for dinner, but quite early during the week.

    We do a lot of deliveries, they’re great for groups because you can try out many different toppings, it’s easier than with round pizzas.

    I-I: What did you miss about America when you were back to Italy last year?

    MC: I actually missed the rhythm, the work.

    At first, when you’re back in Italy, everything is beautiful, relaxing but then eventually you do miss the rhythm, the frenzy.

    I-I: Once you get into this rhythm then you have to come back.

    MC: And you know what? You get right back into it. I was in Italy for a year and after two days here, I was already back in the system.

    It’s strange to think about because I always thought that the frenetic New York lifestyle really wasn’t for me. I’m a creature of habit, back in Italy I always go to the same bar, see the same people.

    When I came here, all my plans changed. But you get used to it. Like I said, I came here initially to join my dad but then I became passionate about this job myself. I didn’t expect it.

    I-I: Are you a soccer fan?

    MC: Yes. I’m a “tifosa” of the Salernitana. It’s not a major team though so I can’t see the games here.

    I-I: Maybe you could screen them here, there are a lot of people from Salerno in New York.

    MC: Maybe, we still have to get the TV though. And the rights.

     

    Letting Marika get back to her customers, we leave PQR and walk a few blocks over to San Matteo Pizza Espresso Bar, a cozy and welcoming pizzeria with walls covered in all sorts of adornments, from “vedute” of the gulf of Naples, to pictures of Totò, red Salernitana scarves, reviews, certificates, lucky horns, and a vintage neon Peroni sign. You can see the small but beautiful mosaicked wood oven in the back, depicting a yellow sun against a light blue background. In front of it are a tiny wooden counter and, amidst the numerous wine bottles, a shiny espresso maker that looks exactly like the ones you would find in any old Italian bar.

    We sit and sip our espresso as we wait for Imma Liguri, a pizzaiola from Naples, where, as she tells us, the concept of a female pizza maker is still hard to accept:

    Imma Liguri: I started working in Naples, it was hard as a woman there because the figure of the pizzaiolo is strictly male. There’s a very hectic rhythm to it, lots of arm movements, weights to lift...but I’m very stubborn.

    I come from a family of pizzaioli. I’ve always been interested in both pizza and cuisine. I focused on pizza because, with just two ingredients, water and flour, you can create a base for everything, even cuisine.

    I-I: And how did you get here?

    IL: I was working in pizzerias in Naples and surrounding towns and then I lost my mother 6 years ago.

    At that point, a friend told me about a man from Salerno who was looking for pizzaioli in New York. So I met with Ciro in Salerno. To be honest, he didn’t want me at first, but then he asked to see me again and I’ll always remember how he told me “I believe in you.”

    I had never left Naples but I came here, stayed with him and his family at first. Lovely people, they treated me like their daughter. It took me a while to get used to the city, to the rhythm.

    I-I: But you don’t spend all your time here, you take part in competitions too.

    IL: Yes, I do competitions, I’ve won several prizes, all over the country. I was just in Las Vegas. I do competitions in Naples too. I’m only 26 years old but I’ve been keeping myself busy! (laughs)

    I-I: In the last couple of years Neapolitan pizza has become very popular here in New York, but when you first got here, it was only starting to gain recognition. How did you “explain” it to Americans?

    IL: I had some trouble making Americans get that the pizza we make is cooked, not raw. Because for them if the dough sinks in it means it’s raw, but it’s not, it’s how Neapolitan pizza is. It’s a type of pizza that has to be eaten at the table, you can’t eat it with your hands.

    I did adapt a bit. Here, I try to make a pizza that’s easy to digest, that’s well cooked but not too much like American pizza. I use semolina on the table, to make it a little crispier.

    I-I: What makes Neapolitan pizza different?

    IL: It’s the hand of the pizzaiolo. It’s the person who makes the pizza that makes the difference. Or else we’d all be making the same pizza.

    I-I: You don’t have to be from Naples to know how to make though?

    IL: Of course not, Fausto here is the only person who makes the same pizza as me, I taught him. He can make it exactly the same, and he’s Mexican.

    Every time you put your hands on the dough, you have to understand if in that moment it’s hard, soft, if too much water could come out. You have to feel it, like when you touch a man and you can tell if he doesn’t take care of himself, if he’s delicate.

    I-I: I imagine you don’t get to interact with the clients too often…

    IL: No, listen, that’s why I love this venue. Since it’s so small, I always see the clients, often on their way to the bathroom. (laughs)

    They often come in to pay compliments, to ask for information about the oven, the flour I use.

    The greatest thing is when clients ask for me. When I leave to go on vacation, clients message me on facebook, asking where I am. I think it’s important to show that there still are people out there, especially young people, who want to do things well, with passion.

    I-I: So you like being here.

    IL: When I first got here, the restaurant was small, the pizzaiolo was from Salerno and I felt quite at home.

    And I loved how nobody looks at you here! Women can do any job, drive a truck, a bus. Nobody questions it. In Italy, more in the South, women are still supposed to clean, cook for their husband, take care of the children.

    I-I: Do you think you’ll go back to Italy?

    IL: I want to go back home eventually, I love home. I’m like that.

    I was afraid to come here. But the night before leaving, I dreamt my mother saying she wanted to see New York, and, since I’m a bit superstitious, I did it. I came here and it’s been a good experience. I understood that Italians do so much abroad that they don’t do in their own city.

    I-I: Why do you think that is?

    IL: I think that Italians want to exalt Italy abroad but don’t value themselves at home.

     

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    Their websites

    San Matteo >>

    Pizza Quadrata Romana >>

     

     

  • Art & Culture

    Leonardo’s St. Jerome on View in Saint Peter’s Square

    Though it is shrouded in mystery, as are most things concerning Leonardo, “St. Jerome in the Wilderness” (believed to have been painted between 1486 and 1490) has been unequivocally attributed to the Great Renaissance Master. It is the sole Leonardo painting in the Vatican Museum’s collection and in the city of Rome, making this exhibit, which will be open until June 22nd all the more significant.

     

    This unfinished oil on wood painting depicts St. Jerome as a modest elderly hermit longingly looking towards the heavens, unbothered by the roaring lion at his feet. The precise anatomical details, the saint’s deeply expressive features, and the mountainous background are all distinctively Leonardesque elements.

     

    The painting is displayed in the Braccio di Carlo Magno in St. Peter's Square, protected by a nearly undetectable temperature-controlled display case. The exhibition also features a video explaining the painting’s history.

     

    According to ANSA, the painting is set to travel to New York City in July, where it will be featured in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It should then be part of the much anticipated Leonardo exhibition hosted by the Louvre in Paris starting October 2019, a show which has already been at the center of diplomatic disputes between France and Italy.

     

    This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death and several institutions across the world are carrying out initiatives to celebrate one of the world’s most acclaimed artists. Leonardo’s appeal is practically universal, he is undeniably one of the most fascinating and mysterious artists in the western canon. That’s probably why discussions surrounding him often become heated, particularly between France and Italy.

     

    Because of their incredible value, works by Leonardo, particularly his paintings, rarely travel. When the Louvre announced that it would be hosting the largest exhibition ever devoted to the Renaissance master, featuring 14 to 17 paintings and multiple drawings, it garnered great excitement and anticipation within the art world.

     

    However, in November, the Italian culture minister Alberto Bonisoli (of the right-wing party Lega), announced that he intended to back out of the agreement his predecessor Dario Franceschini had made with the French government in 2017, in which Italy was to loan all of its Leonardo paintings including the Uffizi Gallery’s “Annunciation” (around 1472), “Adoration of the Magi” (around 1482), and “The Baptism of Christ” (around 1475), as well as the Vatican Museums’ “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness” (1480).

     

    In line with his party’s nationalist approach, Bonisoli argued that Leonardo was Italian and that his paintings should therefore remain in Italy, that letting France host such an exhibit would “put Italy on the margins of a major cultural event.” For months, the two nations argued and tried to negotiate new terms, including loans of Raphael paintings from France to Italy in occasion of the artist’s own 500th anniversary in 2020.

     

    Finally, in early March, both sides announced that the issue had been resolved and that the loans would indeed take place. Bonisoli backtracked on his previous statements, now stating that he was “happy that France should celebrate the greatness of Leonardo.” We should therefore expect to see the Italian Leonardos, and amongst them "St. Jerome in the Wilderness" in Paris starting October but, given the complicated diplomatic relations between France and Italy lately, who knows.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Italian Confections Company Ferrero Buys Kellogg’s Cookie Brands

    Initially, it might be surprising to hear that an Italian company is buying an American brand (and from none other than Kellogg, one of the world’s most well-known brands, practically an emblem of western consumerist culture) rather than the other way around. However, given how the Ferrero group has been significantly expanding in the past years under the chairmanship of 54-year-old billionaire Giovanni Ferrero, this sale isn’t all that strange.

     

    The company has come a long way since Giovanni’s grandfather, Pietro Ferrero opened the first pastry shop in Alba, a northwestern Italian town south of Turin, in 1923. Since 2011, when Giovanni was left alone in charge of the company following his brother’s untimely death, he began focusing on increasing the sales of Ferrero’s original products (such as the famous golden Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Nutella, and Kinder chocolate snacks) while also garnering more revenue through acquisitions.

     

    The company has in fact purchased several international brands, from the British Thortons, which it acquired in 2013 through a 170 million deal, to Nestle’s American candy business, bought for $2.8 billion in 2018. It now generates over $12 billion in annual sales across more than 170 countries. However, Ferrero is looking to expand further, particularly on the US market.

     

    So far, it has been doing so by acquiring well-established brands such as these, which were being neglected within larger companies, and reinvesting and remarketing them. It did so with Butterfinger candy bars by making a version with larger peanuts, more cocoa and milk and no hydrogenated oils, which was launched in February with the “Better Butterfinger” campaign. This latest acquisition is therefore an occasion for the company to diversify its offerings and compete in the world’s largest cookie market.

     

    Kellogg, on the other hand, had been trying to sell some of its brands since the past November, in an attempt to move towards more targeted investment approaches. The company hopes that by divesting from the brands acquired by Ferrero, which it claims weren’t a good fit with the other offerings and difficult to maintain due to the competitiveness of the cookie market, it will be able to devote more attention and capital towards its “power brands”, such as Pringles, Cheez-Its, Rice Krispies Treats, and Pop-Tarts, as well as on its trademark cereal brands, whose sales have been more difficult lately.  

     

    The $1.3 billion deal would then appear to be a win-win situation for both Ferrero and Kellogg, who, by implementing different strategies, are both looking to grow and increase their revenue in the years to come.  

  • Facts & Stories

    Dogman Dominates the David di Donatello Italian Film Awards

    The award ceremony for the 2019 David di Donatello, referred to as the “Italian Oscar’s”, was held last night in Rome’s Studios and live-broadcasted by RAI. Piera Detassis, the first female president and artistic director of the Italian Film Academy, gave the awards a makeover this year, trimming down the number of Academy members from 2,148 members to 1,559 in an attempt to filter out some of the eldest amongst them, who no longer work in the industry.

    A new category was also introduced, the David of The Spectator, recognizing the biggest box office success. This year the prize went to “A Casa Tutti Bene” (“There Is No Place Like Home”), a dramedy by Gabriele Muccino about a family that gets stranded on a desert island where they were meant to celebrate the grandparents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.

    Most of the awards went to Matteo Garrone’s gritty crime drama about a mild-mannered Neapolitan dog breeder: “Dogman.” The film had been nominated for 15 awards and took home 9, including Best Film, Best Direction, and Best Original Screenplay. To the surprise of many, its lead actor Marcello Fonte, who won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, lost that award to Alessandro Borghi, who interpreted Stefano Cucchi in Alessio Cremonini’s “Sulla Mia Pelle” (“On My Skin.”)

    This moving Netflix-produced true-crime film about the last days of Stefano Cucchi, the young man from Rome who died under police custody in 2009 after having been severly beaten up, garnered 4 awards in total, a success that came as somewhat of a surprise since Netflix films are quite controversial amongst Italian exhibitors.

    Another Netflix film, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, won Best Foreign Film beating “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Phantom Thread”, “Cold War” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” The Mexican director was there to accept the award in person.

    Other illustrious international figures awarded were Tim Burton, who received the David for Cinematic Excellence, as well as Dario Argento, Francesca Lo Schiavo and Uma Thurman, who won special Davids. In her acceptance speech, Thurman recalled working on Terry Gilliam’s “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” (1988) in Rome’s very own Cinecitta’ Studios at the very start of her career.

    Luca Guadagnino’s acclaimed 2017 “Chiamami Col Tuo Nome” (“Call Me By Your Name”)  re-emerged, winning a couple of awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Song: “Mystery of Love,” by Sufjan Stevens.

    For the first time in the show’s history, two women were nominated for Best Director: Alice Rohrwacher for “Lazzaro Felice” (“Happy as Lazarus”) and Valeria Golino for “Euphoria.” A good sign that maybe things are starting to change within the industry, despite the fact that neither of them won.

    Detassis, in fact, declared that she sees the awards as an “educational tool and a driver for promoting our cinema and our production.” For this very reason, some consider the ceremony to have been very “political” or safe, a point which is tied to the ongoing debate of whether these type of award shows should concern themselves with sending social messages or if they should focus exclusively on artistic and technical merits.

    What do you think?

     

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