header i-Italy

Articles by: Juidith Harris

  • Facts & Stories

    Stolen Christopher Columbus Letter Sails Home to Italy


    ROME -- Thanks to remarkable cooperation between investigators in Italy and the United States, a stolen copy of a letter Christopher Columbus wrote in 1493 describing his discovery of America was returned from the United States to Italy on May 18. Restitution of the extremely rare letter, stolen from a Florence library, was made at a ceremony in Rome attended by Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, U.S Ambassador John Phillips, and General B. Marino Mossa, head of Italy's paramilitary art squad, the Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale.
     
    After Columbus's return from his 1492 voyage, he wrote to the King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, describing his impressions of both the landscape and the native dwellers he had encountered in the New World. "Interestingly, this letter, written 500 years ago, has now made the same trip to and from America," said Minister Franceschini. After Columbus wrote it the letter was translated into Latin, and no more than 24 copies (and perhaps only a dozen) were printed and circulated in the next eight years. This, printed in Rome by Stephan Plannck in 1493, was one of the earliest copies. Proof that it came from the Riccardiana was on the page: the library's stamp, carefully deleted, but visible in modern scanning technology.
     
    The investigation into the theft continues, but officials at the restitution ceremony said that the copy may have been replaced with a fake as long ago as 1950, when the letter was put on loan for an exhibition in Rome. In 1990 a Swiss collector apparently sold the letter to an American buyer, who resold it. Following a further sale at an auction for $400,000, it ended up in 2004 in the Library of Congress as a donation. However, in 2012 the director of the national library in Rome, the Biblioteca Nazionale, told Carabinieri police of the theft from their archives of several valuable books. 
     
    Working with the Italian police, investigators from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were  tipped off that one of the rare Latin copies had been removed from the Biblioteca Riccardiana archives in Florence and replaced with a forgery. The Homeland Security investigators informed the Italian Carabinieri art squad, and a joint investigation was launched. 
     
    Today thieves can replace the originals with high-res photographed copy printed on antique paper. The Italian inquiry (and there is almost surely more than one cleverly made forgery) has been coordinated by Rome prosecutor Tiziana Cugini. In the U.S. Prof. Paul Needham of Princeton University's Department of Ancient Books and Manuscripts contributed to the investigation.

  • Art & Culture

    Surge in Cultural Tourism to Italy

    ROME -- Good news on the tourism front: cultural tourism is on the rise in Italy, in a trend that contradicts what's happening elsewhere in Europe. In 2015, the number of visitors to Italian museums rose by 6% over 2014, resulting in an income boost for the museums of no less than 14%. The 30 best-known Italian museums remained tops in popularity, showing a 7.5% increase during the same period. 

    In a novelty, a number of little known and relatively out-of-the-way museums also showed a surge in visitors. "This clearly demonstrates that both Italian citizens and tourists are attracted also to less well known in mass tourism," said a visibly pleased Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, speaking at a three-day conference on tourism at Pietrarsa near Naples on April 9. "The Italian museum system is a key attraction for tourism."

    The government's project of banking on cultural tourism, as opposed to beach tourism, is important because it is year round, and, no matter how beautiful, the  beaches can take only so much wear and tear. The surge reflects the fact that tourism to Italy showed a healthy increase of 3.2% in 2015 over 2014, with spending by the visitors rising by 4.7%.

    Pietrarsa is itself one of these as yet little known destinations. Home of the National Railway Museum between Naples and Portici, the town was virtually destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 1631, but reborn as a factory town in 1830. As a result, King Ferdinand then had what was Italy's very first railway line built there, linking Naples to Portici in 1839. The line utilized two locomotives imported from England. In the museum collection are 26 steam locomotives, on view in what are now antique factories. Also on show: one of the 11 cars of the Royal Train which Fiat built for the honeymoon of King Umberto II of Savoia.

    The conference at Pietrarsa is a step toward approval of a national strategic plan for promotion of tourism, and in particular cultural tourism, slated for formal approval in July. The 400 conference participants took part in dozens of workshops on themes like "What is brand Italy," how to market a destination, and innovations in promotional campaigns.

    While the meeting confirmed that the traditional venues continue to top tour itineraries, lesser known destinations are growing in popularity. At the Ducal Palazzo at Sassuolo, near Modena in North Italy, visitors to this Baroque villa rose by no less than 70% over the previous year. The National Museum of Siritide at Policoro, in the Basilicata, showed an increase of 32%; and during the same period the fine archeological museum at Sperlonga in Lazio also saw a dramatic surge of almost 25%.

    Conference organizers also arranged a competitive "hackathon," in which nine teams, each of ten students, were asked to develop and present ideas they thought would help to foster sustainable tourism. Winners in this 24-hour competition were the teams dubbed Pienza, whose project was intended to encourage family tourism; the Tivoli team, which urged personalizing traveler and his or her destination; and the Venaria team, which suggested "alternative" destinations for fresh experiences.

    In the meantime Italian treasures are on view outside the country, where they serve as cultural ambassadors while inviting future tourists to come see the works in situ. "The Glory of Light and Color" on view in the National Museum of China in Tienanmen Square in Beijing through October this year illustrates four centuries of Venetian art. On view are paintings from the early Renaissance by Mantegna, Carpaccio, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini and Cima da Conegliano, proceeding into the 1500s with works by Giorgione, Titian and Lorenzo Lotto. From the Baroque era are works by Tiepolo, Canaletto and Guardi.

    In Tokyo a long-lost painting by Caravaggio is on public view for the first time ever, "Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy." The painting is one of 11 original works by the innovative Baroque master in the exhibition "Caravaggio and His Time: Friends, Rivals and Enemies" at the National Museum of Western Art through June 12. With the originals are 40 paintings by other artists whom he influenced. The exhibition is part of a series of cultural exchange programs between Italy and Japan, which brings art works,  music, movies, books, photo and cookery exhibitions and events to Milan, Florence, Vicenza, Venice and Rome this year. Not least, the Puccini Festival this year will include performances of "Madame Butterfly" at Lucca with sets by Japanese sculptor Kan Yasuda.

    In a curious footnote, the widow of a recently deceased German art collector sent from Berlin to Athens, by mail, a rare fragment of a Greek terra cotta relief which had, shall we say, disappeared from the Antiquarium of the Roman Forum in 1961. In a formal ceremony the Greek Culture Minister Aristides Baltas returned to fragment to Minister Franceschini this week.

     

  • Italy Celebrates Easter

    ROME -- This Easter Holy Week is marked by sorrow for the deaths in Spain of young students, including seven young Italian women, in a tragic bus accident, and by the wanton terrorist violence in Brussels. But the positive traditions continue with,  first and foremost, religious celebrations that honor the past but also reflect changing times. 

    Italy's Easter week began on Palm Sunday last week with the benediction of leafy sprigs fromolive trees, more customary here than palm leaves, in memory of the faithful hailing the entry of  Jesus into Jerusalem. The sprigs given to the faithful in church are kept throughout the year. If that is unchanged, Holy Thursday ritual now reflects today's crisis of the thousands of refugees arriving, not only onto Greek shores, but also onto Italy's. 

    These refugees include the four-year-old boy from Congo who arrived, after a perilous journey across Libya and then in a rubber boat across the Mediterranean to Catania, elegantly outfitted in jacket and bow tie. His mother had been assured that they would be greeted with a party on arrival (they did not know where), and so her son was to be "elegant." His picture went viral; in fact, they are now in a refugee camp, just two more among the altogether 5,000 migrants who landed on Italian shores in just the past week.

     Drawing attention to the drama of  this historic migration, with its turbulent dimensions, on Holy Thursday Pope Francis will respect ancient ritual by washing the feet of 12 people. This year all will be refugees. Three years ago Francis, in his first Easter as pope, broke the tradition that the 12 would all be men, and he has now introduced a new rule that henceforth both sexes will be admitted to the age old ceremony. Not all will necessarily be Catholic, moreover;  already in 2013 he had washed the feet of Muslims as well as of Orthodox Christians in a juvenile detention center in Rome. Last year he washed the feet of 12 detainees in Rome's Rebibbia Prison. The importance of the symbolism this year is the Pope's continuing intention to foster understanding among persons of diverse religions and ethnicities, particularly important at this time of conflict. 

    Good Friday brings the sorrowing Via Crucis processions, beginning with that of the pontiff inside the Colosseum in Rome at 9:15 pm. In our little village in the north of Lazio the procession is on Lake Bracciano, where the local scuba divers' school has mounted, on its boat afloat in the water, a huge Christian cross. 

    In St. Peter's Basilica on Easter Sunday after Pope Francis celebrates Mass, he gives the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" benediction. Easter Day is a joyful family celebration which is, almost needless to say, accompanied by special foods, as I-italy has already reported. The midday family feast of roast lamb with artichokes often concludes with the "colomba pasquale" (Easter dove), a vaguely bird-shaped cake, born in Northern Lombardy, that is a kissing-cousin modeled upon that region's beloved Christmas panettone. The Easter celebrations conclude on Monday with "Pasquetta" (Little Easter),  a nationwide holiday that traditionally means a day-long trek into the countryside, with a picnic in the mountains or by the shore.

    In Milan the Cascina Sant'Ambrogio agritourism association is organizing a mega-picnic in its vast park, where visitors can not only eat on the grass, but grill foods. Preparations have lasted literally months with the creation of a sprawling edible sculpture described as a "food forest."  The goal is also to raise funds for restoration of an abbey within the Cascina park area. In Turin visitors can drop into the Masino Castle where Piedmontese picnic baskets will be available for enjoying within the adjacent park. Youngsters can participate in a treasure hunt.

    Florence will present, for the 300th year in succession, the "Scoppio del Carro," a float almost 30 feet tall, which will be drawn through the streets by oxen until a dove-shaped rocket, dispatched by the Archbishop of Florence, will touch off its fireworks. Museums there, including the Uffizi, plus the Boboli Gardens will remain open. Similarly, Rome's museums will also remain open, some offering free entry (these include the Napoleonic Museum, the Barracco Museum of ancient sculptures, the Museum of the Walls). Villa Gregoriana, near Tivoli, will allow picnics inside that sprawling park, with guided visits into the villa itself and a special villa fee, E 17, for whole families.

    Naples is offering culture to its visitors. At its sciences center, Citta' della Scienza, a special art laboratory for children has been mounted called Laboracovado, where youngsters can decorate Easter eggs, plus a treasure hunt, games and a show, see >>>.

     At the Castel dell'Ovo a ballet called Peter Gabriel, performed by Carla Fracci and George Iancu, will be projected upon a castle wall. There too, museums will remain open.

     

  • Life & People

    Italy Celebrates Easter

    ROME -- This Easter Holy Week is marked by sorrow for the deaths in Spain of young students, including seven young Italian women, in a tragic bus accident, and by the wanton terrorist violence in Brussels. But the positive traditions continue with,  first and foremost, religious celebrations that honor the past but also reflect changing times. 

    Italy's Easter week began on Palm Sunday last week with the benediction of leafy sprigs fromolive trees, more customary here than palm leaves, in memory of the faithful hailing the entry of  Jesus into Jerusalem. The sprigs given to the faithful in church are kept throughout the year. If that is unchanged, Holy Thursday ritual now reflects today's crisis of the thousands of refugees arriving, not only onto Greek shores, but also onto Italy's. 

    These refugees include the four-year-old boy from Congo who arrived, after a perilous journey across Libya and then in a rubber boat across the Mediterranean to Catania, elegantly outfitted in jacket and bow tie. His mother had been assured that they would be greeted with a party on arrival (they did not know where), and so her son was to be "elegant." His picture went viral; in fact, they are now in a refugee camp, just two more among the altogether 5,000 migrants who landed on Italian shores in just the past week.

     Drawing attention to the drama of  this historic migration, with its turbulent dimensions, on Holy Thursday Pope Francis will respect ancient ritual by washing the feet of 12 people. This year all will be refugees. Three years ago Francis, in his first Easter as pope, broke the tradition that the 12 would all be men, and he has now introduced a new rule that henceforth both sexes will be admitted to the age old ceremony. Not all will necessarily be Catholic, moreover;  already in 2013 he had washed the feet of Muslims as well as of Orthodox Christians in a juvenile detention center in Rome. Last year he washed the feet of 12 detainees in Rome's Rebibbia Prison. The importance of the symbolism this year is the Pope's continuing intention to foster understanding among persons of diverse religions and ethnicities, particularly important at this time of conflict. 

    Good Friday brings the sorrowing Via Crucis processions, beginning with that of the pontiff inside the Colosseum in Rome at 9:15 pm. In our little village in the north of Lazio the procession is on Lake Bracciano, where the local scuba divers' school has mounted, on its boat afloat in the water, a huge Christian cross. 

    In St. Peter's Basilica on Easter Sunday after Pope Francis celebrates Mass, he gives the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" benediction. Easter Day is a joyful family celebration which is, almost needless to say, accompanied by special foods, as I-italy has already reported. The midday family feast of roast lamb with artichokes often concludes with the "colomba pasquale" (Easter dove), a vaguely bird-shaped cake, born in Northern Lombardy, that is a kissing-cousin modeled upon that region's beloved Christmas panettone. The Easter celebrations conclude on Monday with "Pasquetta" (Little Easter),  a nationwide holiday that traditionally means a day-long trek into the countryside, with a picnic in the mountains or by the shore.

    In Milan the Cascina Sant'Ambrogio agritourism association is organizing a mega-picnic in its vast park, where visitors can not only eat on the grass, but grill foods. Preparations have lasted literally months with the creation of a sprawling edible sculpture described as a "food forest."  The goal is also to raise funds for restoration of an abbey within the Cascina park area. In Turin visitors can drop into the Masino Castle where Piedmontese picnic baskets will be available for enjoying within the adjacent park. Youngsters can participate in a treasure hunt.

    Florence will present, for the 300th year in succession, the "Scoppio del Carro," a float almost 30 feet tall, which will be drawn through the streets by oxen until a dove-shaped rocket, dispatched by the Archbishop of Florence, will touch off its fireworks. Museums there, including the Uffizi, plus the Boboli Gardens will remain open. Similarly, Rome's museums will also remain open, some offering free entry (these include the Napoleonic Museum, the Barracco Museum of ancient sculptures, the Museum of the Walls). Villa Gregoriana, near Tivoli, will allow picnics inside that sprawling park, with guided visits into the villa itself and a special villa fee, E 17, for whole families.

    Naples is offering culture to its visitors. At its sciences center, Citta' della Scienza, a special art laboratory for children has been mounted called Laboracovado, where youngsters can decorate Easter eggs, plus a treasure hunt, games and a show, see >>>.

     At the Castel dell'Ovo a ballet called Peter Gabriel, performed by Carla Fracci and George Iancu, will be projected upon a castle wall. There too, museums will remain open.

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Italy's Worldwide Ambassadors: Fine Cuisine and Top Chefs

    ROME -- Fundamental within the deep-rooted and multi-faceted Italian culture, its cuisine is also an ambassador whose role is to put Italy's best foot forward. In recognition of this, on March 15 the Foreign Ministry in Rome hosted a meeting at which a worldwide campaign to promote fine Italian cuisine and wines was launched. The meeting brought a hundred or so international diplomats and cultural figures together with, among others, Italian chefs and sports authorities. Presenting the campaign were three cabinet ministers: Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, and Education Minister Stefania Giannini.

    Launching the “Italian Cuisine Week” 
    Events within the promotional campaign are to begin with organization of an annual ItalianCuisine Week, to be held every November. "The Foreign Ministry will coordinate promotion of our country's haute cuisine and its quality enogastronomic products worldwide through our network of cultural, consular and diplomatic posts," said Minister Gentiloni. "The top Italian chefs will be on hand to help us. Our goal is to promote the real 'Made in Italy' abroad so as to reinforce in coming years our position among consumers on foreign markets, and to win new ones."

    Secondly, selected foreign chefs will be enabled to attend master classes teaching the subtleties of Italian haute cuisine and its finest wines. The aim is also to make better known the benefits of the Mediterranean diet itself. Third, foreign chefs under 30 years of age will be able to apply for scholarships to attend cooking schools in Italy. Not least, Italian Cuisine Days will feature prominently at international sports events, including the Olympic Games to be held this year at Rio De Janeiro. Countries to be featured during the first phase of this ambitious program include the U.S.A., China, Russia, Brazil, and the Emirates. Promotions will then be extended to Australia, Turkey and elsewhere in Europe.

    The initiative is partly a continuation of the success at Expo 2015 in Milan enjoyed by quality Italian foods and wines. The government of Premier Matteo Renzi credits Expo for helping to boost Italy's agro-alimentary sector foreign earnings to $41 billion, up 7.5% over the previous year. "This extraordinary result," said Minister Martina, "signifies that our objective of raising foreign earnings from the sector to $55 billion by 2020 is absolutely within our reach." Important for a nation where youth unemployment is an aggravating problem, the number of young people working in the sector has increased during the same period by 16%, he said, representing 20,000 newly employed.

    With 280 foods and 523 products officially certified for quality, Italy ranks foremost in Europe. It stands tops in world wine production, with almost 50 million hectoliters (1,320.8 million gallons) annually. While promoting this, at the same time the new campaign goals will include reduction of food waste, fostering school education in healthy eating for young Italians, continuing to guarantee protection of consumers, and development of programs for feeding the indigent.

    The rich history of Italian food
    Behind the novelties is Italy's culinary sophistication with its deep background. The ancient Roman banquet, which featured such delicacies as flamingo tongues and spit-roasted rare birds, was mythical, but ended with the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. After a lengthy gastronomic hiatus during the barbarian invasions, around the 9th C the Arab colonizers of Sicily introduced new manners of cooking which included dried pasta, in use by nomad peoples because easy to transport. From Genoa and Naples its use spread to France and Spain.

    Monasteries kept meat off the menu, but in the l3th century foods improved, with the revival of ancient traditions and with innovations such as spices and cane sugar. Fairly wealthy by the 14th century, Tuscany moved into the gastronomic forefront. A bread enriched with honey, spices, dried figs and raisins was developed in Prato, and is believed to have been a precursor of the Milanese panettone and the panforte of Siena.

    Italian Renaissance banquets are thoroughly documented, like that in Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome in 1593. A gastronomic writer named Vincenzo Cervio reported that it was attended by 1,000 people, who dined on pheasants whose feathers were shimmering with gold leaf. Three lions were made of pasta reale, and there were cold dishes in molds of lions, tigers and eagles. At the end of the meal a model of the Castel Sant'Angelo itself appeared, and out of it flew live birds. (Those who read Italian will enjoy reading "Cibo che Passione, La storia della cucina Italiana," from which I am quoting, see >>)

    Pasta on the rise worldwide
    Today’s hungry world is ever more eager to devour that traditional Italian resource, pasta, as statistics demonstrate. In 2005 Italy produced some 3.2 million tons of pasta, but by 2014 the figure had surged to almost 3.7 million tons, with a further boost in production and in exports last year. Pasta sales figures reflect this renewed popularity worldwide. Dried pasta remains the biggest money earner, but egg-laced pastas, such as fettuccine, and "pasta farcita" (that is, with a filling, as in ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, mushrooms or cheese), are also ever more popular, both in Italy and abroad.

    Along with industrial production, today's best-selling pastas abroad reflect an upsurge in the pasta cottage industry, particularly in the Campania and Puglie. What could be called craft pastas have become a favorite of chefs everywhere who cater to gourmet clients. The slow drying process, which requires up to four days, requires time, patience and space, along with equipment that keeps air moving and the heat at the regulation temperature of around 40 to 45 C degrees.

    "We have sold our craft pasta even to the Fiji Islands," proud producer Nicola Russo, founder of the Pastificio Artigianale Nicola Russo, who comes from Cicciano near Naples, told a reporter for La Repubblica daily. His family firm dates from the 19th century, but he struck out on his own in 2011. "Our secret: top quality ingredients to begin with, and then slow, slow drying."

    Giovanni Assante, head of the Gerardo Di Nola Pastificio, says that his company exports some 60% of its production, primarily to the U.S.A., Europe, Brazil and Peru. His is another cottage industry pasta from near Naples, but even in the north of Italy, craft pasta production is on the rise.

    Italy as an “integrated system”
    Educating the world to the quality of Italian cuisine and its gastronomic as well as historical and cultural roots has thus become imperative for Italy’s government, food producers and top chefs. This is part of a broader effort to make Italy work “as an integrated system” abroad—the main goal indeed of the Foreign Ministry’s Direzione Generale Sistema Paese, a department specifically dedicated to the promotion of what is called “Sistema Italia,” now headed by Ambassador Vincenzo De Luca. Everyone at the meeting agreed on this admittedly difficult but ambitious and long-needed goal. "Until now too little has been done to let people know what our top cuisine is all about," the noted icon-chef Carlo Cracco commented. "But together we are winners, and that is why we are here today."
     

  • However the Debate Ends, Italian Family is Changed

    ROME -- The changes in attitude toward the family continue to top the Italian political agenda this week, with Parliament being forced to decide upon legalization of civil unions including same-sex unions. As the Senate debate on the Cirinnà bill on civil unions reopened today, it showed that no political deal has yet been made, and there are reports that Senate President Pietro Grasso may turn his back on his decision to disallow a secret ballot.

    What do Italians think? One survey made in January showed that 74% of Italians are in favor of heterosexual civil unions (IPR Marketing survey, Jan 10, 2016). The same survey also indicated that 23% of Catholics queried support recognition of same-sex civil unions, by comparison with 70% of non-Catholics, for a total of 46% in favor, 40% against and 14% who would or could not respond.

    Still, times and attitudes change, and Italy's official statistics-gathering agency Istat results show that 555,000 civil unions, heterosexual and other, already exist without benefit of the marriage law, or twice the number of ten years ago. At the same time, 1,200 Italian families are in de facto same-sex civil unions (not all of these involve love or sexual affairs, however; some are elderly individuals sharing households or students).

    Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming vote, it is a fact that the Italian family has changed drastically in recent years. Istat -- the acroynm, dry as dust, stands for Istituto Centrale di Statistica, or Central Statistics Institute -- is one of Italy's most successful public agencies, which has rigorously studied Italian economic and social development for the scientific community for exactly 90 years. Most importantly, what experts call Istat "data production" also acts as a prime mover behind the decisions of policy makers, including upon the issues concerning the family.

    Istat began functioning in 1926, bringing together a handful of agencies that had actually begun studying the country back in 1861, even before Italy was unified. Headquartered in Rome, Istat has a network of regional offices throughout the country. Governing it is a council and president; a committee which meets to decide upon focus; and an auditing branch that oversees the reliability of the statistics gathered. Results are available, free, via the media and Internet, to the press, politicians and scholars. Paid statistical compilations are also periodically available.

    One of its periodic reports concerns the nation's Benessere Equo e Sostenibile (BES, for Equitable and Sustainable Well-being), which is a social variation on GNP. A crucial role, if sometimes underestimated by the general public, is the agency's studies of the impact which political decisions wreak over time upon Italian society. This makes it all the more important that the agency be independent, and that the evidence it presents be as objective as possible.

    About half of its data production is information about the economy. Other aspects under systematic study are social change, the environment and the Italian territory itself, in order to encourage understanding of the productive structure of the country and its social reality: consumer attitudes and consumption, gender issues, poverty, and so on. Study of whither the Italian family is obviously high on the Istat agenda.

    As Istat itself wrote in it recent report, "Farewell to the traditional Italian family, father-mother-at least two children: the family nucleus is shrinking ever more, and today the national median is 2.4 persons. Partly because of the aging population, almost one out of three families is now composed of a single person (31.2%), against the tiny 5.7% of families of at least five individuals. Confirmation that there exists a new Italian family and now ex-family Italy emerges from the definitive data of the most recent population census." (For results of this census of the Italian family, published in 2014, see Istat at >>)

    Another novelty, according to Istat: The new Italians, and in particular migrants from Maldavia and the Ukraine, rose by 135% in ten years, with two-thirds of these female. At least 7.4% of Italy's families include at least one foreigner, for an increase of 172% in the decade 2001 - 2011, the latest available statistic.

    One of the country's foremost experts on sociology of the family is Professor Chiara Saracena of the Universities of Berlin and Turin. Saracena considers the traditional family unit in crisis in Italy as elsewhere in Europe. As she has said in interviews, the family is a space of diversity and complexity, inhabited by diverse individuals, who are constantly in a dialogue with each other. "They inhabit this space, and must confront themselves with another diversity, society outside the family." For this reason relations between family and society often lack balance, and so, "Every society develops laws and its own ways of sustaining the family."

    "Today different kinds of couples are taking shape, which have a family dynamic that does not fit into the classic form. The problem is that the family is not immutable in time and space," Saracena told Corona Perer for the newspaper "Sentire." She was ahead of her time, as that interview back in 2008 shows.

  • However the Debate Ends, Italian Family is Changed

    ROME -- The changes in attitude toward the family continue to top the Italian political agenda this week, with Parliament being forced to decide upon legalization of civil unions including same-sex unions. As the Senate debate on the Cirinnà bill on civil unions reopened today, it showed that no political deal has yet been made, and there are reports that Senate President Pietro Grasso may turn his back on his decision to disallow a secret ballot.

    What do Italians think? One survey made in January showed that 74% of Italians are in favor of heterosexual civil unions (IPR Marketing survey, Jan 10, 2016). The same survey also indicated that 23% of Catholics queried support recognition of same-sex civil unions, by comparison with 70% of non-Catholics, for a total of 46% in favor, 40% against and 14% who would or could not respond.

    Still, times and attitudes change, and Italy's official statistics-gathering agency Istat results show that 555,000 civil unions, heterosexual and other, already exist without benefit of the marriage law, or twice the number of ten years ago. At the same time, 1,200 Italian families are in de facto same-sex civil unions (not all of these involve love or sexual affairs, however; some are elderly individuals sharing households or students).

    Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming vote, it is a fact that the Italian family has changed drastically in recent years. Istat -- the acroynm, dry as dust, stands for Istituto Centrale di Statistica, or Central Statistics Institute -- is one of Italy's most successful public agencies, which has rigorously studied Italian economic and social development for the scientific community for exactly 90 years. Most importantly, what experts call Istat "data production" also acts as a prime mover behind the decisions of policy makers, including upon the issues concerning the family.

    Istat began functioning in 1926, bringing together a handful of agencies that had actually begun studying the country back in 1861, even before Italy was unified. Headquartered in Rome, Istat has a network of regional offices throughout the country. Governing it is a council and president; a committee which meets to decide upon focus; and an auditing branch that oversees the reliability of the statistics gathered. Results are available, free, via the media and Internet, to the press, politicians and scholars. Paid statistical compilations are also periodically available.

    One of its periodic reports concerns the nation's Benessere Equo e Sostenibile (BES, for Equitable and Sustainable Well-being), which is a social variation on GNP. A crucial role, if sometimes underestimated by the general public, is the agency's studies of the impact which political decisions wreak over time upon Italian society. This makes it all the more important that the agency be independent, and that the evidence it presents be as objective as possible.

    About half of its data production is information about the economy. Other aspects under systematic study are social change, the environment and the Italian territory itself, in order to encourage understanding of the productive structure of the country and its social reality: consumer attitudes and consumption, gender issues, poverty, and so on. Study of whither the Italian family is obviously high on the Istat agenda.

    As Istat itself wrote in it recent report, "Farewell to the traditional Italian family, father-mother-at least two children: the family nucleus is shrinking ever more, and today the national median is 2.4 persons. Partly because of the aging population, almost one out of three families is now composed of a single person (31.2%), against the tiny 5.7% of families of at least five individuals. Confirmation that there exists a new Italian family and now ex-family Italy emerges from the definitive data of the most recent population census." (For results of this census of the Italian family, published in 2014, see Istat at >>)

    Another novelty, according to Istat: The new Italians, and in particular migrants from Maldavia and the Ukraine, rose by 135% in ten years, with two-thirds of these female. At least 7.4% of Italy's families include at least one foreigner, for an increase of 172% in the decade 2001 - 2011, the latest available statistic.

    One of the country's foremost experts on sociology of the family is Professor Chiara Saracena of the Universities of Berlin and Turin. Saracena considers the traditional family unit in crisis in Italy as elsewhere in Europe. As she has said in interviews, the family is a space of diversity and complexity, inhabited by diverse individuals, who are constantly in a dialogue with each other. "They inhabit this space, and must confront themselves with another diversity, society outside the family." For this reason relations between family and society often lack balance, and so, "Every society develops laws and its own ways of sustaining the family."

    "Today different kinds of couples are taking shape, which have a family dynamic that does not fit into the classic form. The problem is that the family is not immutable in time and space," Saracena told Corona Perer for the newspaper "Sentire." She was ahead of her time, as that interview back in 2008 shows.

  • However the Debate Ends, Italian Family is Changed

    ROME -- The changes in attitude toward the family continue to top the Italian political agenda this week, with Parliament being forced to decide upon legalization of civil unions including same-sex unions. As the Senate debate on the Cirinnà bill on civil unions reopened today, it showed that no political deal has yet been made, and there are reports that Senate President Pietro Grasso may turn his back on his decision to disallow a secret ballot.

    What do Italians think? One survey made in January showed that 74% of Italians are in favor of heterosexual civil unions (IPR Marketing survey, Jan 10, 2016). The same survey also indicated that 23% of Catholics queried support recognition of same-sex civil unions, by comparison with 70% of non-Catholics, for a total of 46% in favor, 40% against and 14% who would or could not respond.

    Still, times and attitudes change, and Italy's official statistics-gathering agency Istat results show that 555,000 civil unions, heterosexual and other, already exist without benefit of the marriage law, or twice the number of ten years ago. At the same time, 1,200 Italian families are in de facto same-sex civil unions (not all of these involve love or sexual affairs, however; some are elderly individuals sharing households or students).

    Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming vote, it is a fact that the Italian family has changed drastically in recent years. Istat -- the acroynm, dry as dust, stands for Istituto Centrale di Statistica, or Central Statistics Institute -- is one of Italy's most successful public agencies, which has rigorously studied Italian economic and social development for the scientific community for exactly 90 years. Most importantly, what experts call Istat "data production" also acts as a prime mover behind the decisions of policy makers, including upon the issues concerning the family.

    Istat began functioning in 1926, bringing together a handful of agencies that had actually begun studying the country back in 1861, even before Italy was unified. Headquartered in Rome, Istat has a network of regional offices throughout the country. Governing it is a council and president; a committee which meets to decide upon focus; and an auditing branch that oversees the reliability of the statistics gathered. Results are available, free, via the media and Internet, to the press, politicians and scholars. Paid statistical compilations are also periodically available.

    One of its periodic reports concerns the nation's Benessere Equo e Sostenibile (BES, for Equitable and Sustainable Well-being), which is a social variation on GNP. A crucial role, if sometimes underestimated by the general public, is the agency's studies of the impact which political decisions wreak over time upon Italian society. This makes it all the more important that the agency be independent, and that the evidence it presents be as objective as possible.

    About half of its data production is information about the economy. Other aspects under systematic study are social change, the environment and the Italian territory itself, in order to encourage understanding of the productive structure of the country and its social reality: consumer attitudes and consumption, gender issues, poverty, and so on. Study of whither the Italian family is obviously high on the Istat agenda.

    As Istat itself wrote in it recent report, "Farewell to the traditional Italian family, father-mother-at least two children: the family nucleus is shrinking ever more, and today the national median is 2.4 persons. Partly because of the aging population, almost one out of three families is now composed of a single person (31.2%), against the tiny 5.7% of families of at least five individuals. Confirmation that there exists a new Italian family and now ex-family Italy emerges from the definitive data of the most recent population census." (For results of this census of the Italian family, published in 2014, see Istat at >>)

    Another novelty, according to Istat: The new Italians, and in particular migrants from Maldavia and the Ukraine, rose by 135% in ten years, with two-thirds of these female. At least 7.4% of Italy's families include at least one foreigner, for an increase of 172% in the decade 2001 - 2011, the latest available statistic.

    One of the country's foremost experts on sociology of the family is Professor Chiara Saracena of the Universities of Berlin and Turin. Saracena considers the traditional family unit in crisis in Italy as elsewhere in Europe. As she has said in interviews, the family is a space of diversity and complexity, inhabited by diverse individuals, who are constantly in a dialogue with each other. "They inhabit this space, and must confront themselves with another diversity, society outside the family." For this reason relations between family and society often lack balance, and so, "Every society develops laws and its own ways of sustaining the family."

    "Today different kinds of couples are taking shape, which have a family dynamic that does not fit into the classic form. The problem is that the family is not immutable in time and space," Saracena told Corona Perer for the newspaper "Sentire." She was ahead of her time, as that interview back in 2008 shows.

  • Op-Eds

    However the Debate Ends, Italian Family is Changed

    ROME -- The changes in attitude toward the family continue to top the Italian political agenda this week, with Parliament being forced to decide upon legalization of civil unions including same-sex unions. As the Senate debate on the Cirinnà bill on civil unions reopened today, it showed that no political deal has yet been made, and there are reports that Senate President Pietro Grasso may turn his back on his decision to disallow a secret ballot.

    What do Italians think? One survey made in January showed that 74% of Italians are in favor of heterosexual civil unions (IPR Marketing survey, Jan 10, 2016). The same survey also indicated that 23% of Catholics queried support recognition of same-sex civil unions, by comparison with 70% of non-Catholics, for a total of 46% in favor, 40% against and 14% who would or could not respond.

    Still, times and attitudes change, and Italy's official statistics-gathering agency Istat results show that 555,000 civil unions, heterosexual and other, already exist without benefit of the marriage law, or twice the number of ten years ago. At the same time, 1,200 Italian families are in de facto same-sex civil unions (not all of these involve love or sexual affairs, however; some are elderly individuals sharing households or students).

    Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming vote, it is a fact that the Italian family has changed drastically in recent years. Istat -- the acroynm, dry as dust, stands for Istituto Centrale di Statistica, or Central Statistics Institute -- is one of Italy's most successful public agencies, which has rigorously studied Italian economic and social development for the scientific community for exactly 90 years. Most importantly, what experts call Istat "data production" also acts as a prime mover behind the decisions of policy makers, including upon the issues concerning the family.

    Istat began functioning in 1926, bringing together a handful of agencies that had actually begun studying the country back in 1861, even before Italy was unified. Headquartered in Rome, Istat has a network of regional offices throughout the country. Governing it is a council and president; a committee which meets to decide upon focus; and an auditing branch that oversees the reliability of the statistics gathered. Results are available, free, via the media and Internet, to the press, politicians and scholars. Paid statistical compilations are also periodically available.

    One of its periodic reports concerns the nation's Benessere Equo e Sostenibile (BES, for Equitable and Sustainable Well-being), which is a social variation on GNP. A crucial role, if sometimes underestimated by the general public, is the agency's studies of the impact which political decisions wreak over time upon Italian society. This makes it all the more important that the agency be independent, and that the evidence it presents be as objective as possible.

    About half of its data production is information about the economy. Other aspects under systematic study are social change, the environment and the Italian territory itself, in order to encourage understanding of the productive structure of the country and its social reality: consumer attitudes and consumption, gender issues, poverty, and so on. Study of whither the Italian family is obviously high on the Istat agenda.

    As Istat itself wrote in it recent report, "Farewell to the traditional Italian family, father-mother-at least two children: the family nucleus is shrinking ever more, and today the national median is 2.4 persons. Partly because of the aging population, almost one out of three families is now composed of a single person (31.2%), against the tiny 5.7% of families of at least five individuals. Confirmation that there exists a new Italian family and now ex-family Italy emerges from the definitive data of the most recent population census." (For results of this census of the Italian family, published in 2014, see Istat at >>)

    Another novelty, according to Istat: The new Italians, and in particular migrants from Maldavia and the Ukraine, rose by 135% in ten years, with two-thirds of these female. At least 7.4% of Italy's families include at least one foreigner, for an increase of 172% in the decade 2001 - 2011, the latest available statistic.

    One of the country's foremost experts on sociology of the family is Professor Chiara Saracena of the Universities of Berlin and Turin. Saracena considers the traditional family unit in crisis in Italy as elsewhere in Europe. As she has said in interviews, the family is a space of diversity and complexity, inhabited by diverse individuals, who are constantly in a dialogue with each other. "They inhabit this space, and must confront themselves with another diversity, society outside the family." For this reason relations between family and society often lack balance, and so, "Every society develops laws and its own ways of sustaining the family."

    "Today different kinds of couples are taking shape, which have a family dynamic that does not fit into the classic form. The problem is that the family is not immutable in time and space," Saracena told Corona Perer for the newspaper "Sentire." She was ahead of her time, as that interview back in 2008 shows.

  • However the Debate Ends, Italian Family is Changed

    ROME -- The changes in attitude toward the family continue to top the Italian political agenda this week, with Parliament being forced to decide upon legalization of civil unions including same-sex unions. As the Senate debate on the Cirinnà bill on civil unions reopened today, it showed that no political deal has yet been made, and there are reports that Senate President Pietro Grasso may turn his back on his decision to disallow a secret ballot.

    What do Italians think? One survey made in January showed that 74% of Italians are in favor of heterosexual civil unions (IPR Marketing survey, Jan 10, 2016). The same survey also indicated that 23% of Catholics queried support recognition of same-sex civil unions, by comparison with 70% of non-Catholics, for a total of 46% in favor, 40% against and 14% who would or could not respond.

    Still, times and attitudes change, and Italy's official statistics-gathering agency Istat results show that 555,000 civil unions, heterosexual and other, already exist without benefit of the marriage law, or twice the number of ten years ago. At the same time, 1,200 Italian families are in de facto same-sex civil unions (not all of these involve love or sexual affairs, however; some are elderly individuals sharing households or students).

    Whatever the outcome of the forthcoming vote, it is a fact that the Italian family has changed drastically in recent years. Istat -- the acroynm, dry as dust, stands for Istituto Centrale di Statistica, or Central Statistics Institute -- is one of Italy's most successful public agencies, which has rigorously studied Italian economic and social development for the scientific community for exactly 90 years. Most importantly, what experts call Istat "data production" also acts as a prime mover behind the decisions of policy makers, including upon the issues concerning the family.

    Istat began functioning in 1926, bringing together a handful of agencies that had actually begun studying the country back in 1861, even before Italy was unified. Headquartered in Rome, Istat has a network of regional offices throughout the country. Governing it is a council and president; a committee which meets to decide upon focus; and an auditing branch that oversees the reliability of the statistics gathered. Results are available, free, via the media and Internet, to the press, politicians and scholars. Paid statistical compilations are also periodically available.

    One of its periodic reports concerns the nation's Benessere Equo e Sostenibile (BES, for Equitable and Sustainable Well-being), which is a social variation on GNP. A crucial role, if sometimes underestimated by the general public, is the agency's studies of the impact which political decisions wreak over time upon Italian society. This makes it all the more important that the agency be independent, and that the evidence it presents be as objective as possible.

    About half of its data production is information about the economy. Other aspects under systematic study are social change, the environment and the Italian territory itself, in order to encourage understanding of the productive structure of the country and its social reality: consumer attitudes and consumption, gender issues, poverty, and so on. Study of whither the Italian family is obviously high on the Istat agenda.

    As Istat itself wrote in it recent report, "Farewell to the traditional Italian family, father-mother-at least two children: the family nucleus is shrinking ever more, and today the national median is 2.4 persons. Partly because of the aging population, almost one out of three families is now composed of a single person (31.2%), against the tiny 5.7% of families of at least five individuals. Confirmation that there exists a new Italian family and now ex-family Italy emerges from the definitive data of the most recent population census." (For results of this census of the Italian family, published in 2014, see Istat at >>)

    Another novelty, according to Istat: The new Italians, and in particular migrants from Maldavia and the Ukraine, rose by 135% in ten years, with two-thirds of these female. At least 7.4% of Italy's families include at least one foreigner, for an increase of 172% in the decade 2001 - 2011, the latest available statistic.

    One of the country's foremost experts on sociology of the family is Professor Chiara Saracena of the Universities of Berlin and Turin. Saracena considers the traditional family unit in crisis in Italy as elsewhere in Europe. As she has said in interviews, the family is a space of diversity and complexity, inhabited by diverse individuals, who are constantly in a dialogue with each other. "They inhabit this space, and must confront themselves with another diversity, society outside the family." For this reason relations between family and society often lack balance, and so, "Every society develops laws and its own ways of sustaining the family."

    "Today different kinds of couples are taking shape, which have a family dynamic that does not fit into the classic form. The problem is that the family is not immutable in time and space," Saracena told Corona Perer for the newspaper "Sentire." She was ahead of her time, as that interview back in 2008 shows.

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