Articles by: From italy by maria rita Latto

  • Life & People

    Buon Anno a Tutti! New Italian Year in an Auspicius Way...

     Following a particularly disheartening period in Italy, what could be better than celebrating the end of the old year and the start of the new year (in Italian il Capodanno) in an auspicious way?

    Families and friends usually gather to await the new year and have a merry feast all together. Of course food plays an important role. Lentils are always present in the traditional Italian Cenone di Capodanno; in fact they symbolize money and good fortune for the coming year. In many parts of Italy, dinner also includes a cotechino, a large spiced pork sausage, or a zampone, a stuffed pig’s foot. Pork symbolizes the richness of life in the coming year. Italian tradition also dictates that in order to avoid a boring year it is necessary to celebrate all night long. In the past, mainly in Naples but in many Italian cities as well, old dresses, furniture, and pottery were thrown from windows as a way to symbolically discard the negative aspects of the old year. In Naples, even bathtubs and washing machines have been discovered the next day. This custom is still alive in many parts of Italy, and as in the past, it causes damage not only to parked cars but has injured passersby as well. Another questionable tradition is to fire guns into the air to chase away evil spirits and to express joy for the arrival of the new year.



    In several Italian villages during New Year’s Eve, groups of young people sing the strenna in the streets, a typical song wishing everyone a happy new year and asking for gifts. In Naples the tradition of the sciuscio continues: groups of amateur musicians sing and play music in the streets using instruments they crafted. Chasing these musicians away is interpreted as a bad sign. Today these groups are comprised mainly of children; after their performance they expect a small gift, usually money or treats. Predictions are also very popular: it is important to notice the first person one encounters on the street in the new year. An old person or a hunchback represents a good sign, while a child or a priest is a misfortune. Such forecasts are based on analogy: an old person stands for a long life, a hunchback has always been seen as a good sign, a priest represents a funeral, and a child refers to an early death.


    At midnight, the new year is welcomed with huge fireworks displays in the main squares but private parties also include firecrackers and sparklers. Naples is famous for the best and biggest New Year’s fireworks display in Italy. It is a real gift for the onlookers who can finally forget their daily problems and wait for a magical midnight toast followed by an unforgettable fireworks show. In some smaller towns there are bonfires in the central square around which people gather until dawn. In places near the coasts, lakes, or rivers there is the tradition of boats and ships blowing their horns to ring in the new year.


    In Bologna, New Year’s Eve is celebrated with the traditional Fiera del Bue Grasso (Feast of the Fat Ox). The ox is decorated from horns to tail with flowers and ribbons. The bells of the churches ring, people all around light candles, and of course, fireworks are set off. At the end there is a lottery and the winner receives a special prize: the ox, of course. There is also a procession that ends just before midnight in Piazza San Petronio.



    On New Year’s Eve dancing is a must: in many towns there are exhibitions in the main squares with music and dancing before and after the fireworks, until the first light of the New Year. In Rome, Milan, Bologna, Palermo, and Naples it is possible to see huge outdoor shows with pop and rock bands. The most important events are sometimes even televised. In Rome the traditional New Year’s Eve celebration takes place in Piazza del Popolo. Huge crowds celebrate with rock and classical music concerts, dancing, and of course, fireworks. There is also a very popular concert in front of the Quirinale, the residence of the Italian president; the president attends the concert and at midnight he toasts and welcomes the new year with all of the Romans gathered in the square. The celebrations continue through the night and on New Year’s Day there are special shows for children performed by acrobats in the main squares.



    In the meantime, all those who decide to remain at home spend the last hours of the year playing a very popular game called tombola, similar to bingo. The peculiarity of this game is that every number is associated with a symbol, according to the Neapolitan smorfia. So, instead of calling the numbers aloud, players act out the symbol that the number represents. For example, 90 is “fear,” 47 is “a dead man talking,” 13 is “Saint Anthony,” 1 is “Italy,” 28 is “a half-naked woman,” and so on.



     The New Year is also celebrated with spumante or prosecco, the famous Italian sparkling wine.

    In Rome the celebration continues on the 1st of January with an unusual ritual: brave men and women of various ages welcome the new year by diving off the Cavour Bridge into the cold waters of the Tiber River. This tradition was started in the 1960s by a Belgian named Rick De Sonay who introduced this dive and caused consternation among the authorities but inspired incredible enthusiasm in the Romans. When he emerged from the cold waters after minutes of suspense he indicated with a gesture of the hand that all was OK: this simple act immortalized him as “Mr. OK.”



    And, as one last but not least tradition, an important piece of advice: don’t forget to wear your red underwear on New Year’s Eve! They say it will bring you good luck in the coming year. So…Tanti Auguri e Buon Anno a Tutti!


    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)

  • Life & People

    Halloween Italian Style

    Just a few decades ago Halloween in Italy was merely the name of an American holiday, a sort of Carnevale. Little by little Halloween’s popularity has grown, probably due to the influence of American movies and the arrival of American fast food chains like McDonald’s, and it has become a real celebrated holiday, even though it doesn’t have a real connection to Italy, apart from the fact that All Saints Day (November 1st) is celebrated here – a holiday when people typically have the day off. The 2nd of November is the day dedicated to the remembrance of the dead, a holy day during which people visit cemeteries bringing flowers and candles to dead relatives and friends – a day dedicated to special celebrations by the Church as well. In some parts of Italy children find presents brought during the night by the dead. This day of remembrance can be found in other parts of the world: for example, in Japan in August there is the “Obon Festival”, one of the most important traditions for Japanese people who pray for the peace of the souls of their ancestors during this time.  The Japanese believe that their ancestors’ spirits come back to their homes to be reunited with their family during Obon.



    In all the Italian regions in the days between October 31st and the day of Saint Martin (November 11th) there has been – from time immemorial – the folkloristic custom to celebrate the juxtaposition of life and death with traditions expressing the strong link between those still alive and those who are no longer on this earth. All these customs have the expression of the strong link with life and with families in common, and the fact that these traditions often involve children, is a clear way of marking the idea of continuity, of regeneration, of hope.



    Until the first half of the 20th Century, this period of the year was the only occasion for children to receive presents, toys, sweets, that were usually brought by “the dead”. Over time new traditions arrived, such as Christmas and the Epiphany, which became more widespread and more popular among the younger generations. Even though I’m in my forties, I still remember when, as a child in Sicily, my parents told me to behave well, so the good souls of the dead would bring me many presents. On the night between the 1st and the 2nd of November I went to bed hoping that the dead relatives would remember me, while my parents and other members of my traditional Sicilian family were hiding toys and sweets in secret places around the house. There was a sort of rigmarole sang by Sicilian children in dialect: “Armi santi, armi santi, jo sugnu unu e vuautri siti tanti. Mentri sugnu ‘nta stu munnu di guai, cosi di morti mittitimminni assai.” (Holy souls, holy souls, I am one, and you are many. While I am in this world of troubles, bring me lots of presents from dead people). And the morning after, once I had found the presents, the whole family prepared to visit the cemetery: it was not a sad day, after all there was the joy of the “contact” never lost, going beyond death, the consciousness that there was a strong connection between the worlds of the dead and the living, two world united by the power of love.



    Apart from my own memories, in every Italian region there are celebrations to remember the dead. The tradition of the pumpkin is not only typically Anglo-Saxon: in fact it can also be found in the Italian tradition. In Veneto, for example, pumpkins are emptied, painted and a candle symbolizing resurrection is pit inside them. In Friuli, especially in the area near Pordenone, the pumpkins prepared in this way are put along the roads to light the path for the dead. In Puglia every family adorns their own pumpkin and puts it on display in the windows of their house. In Lombardia pumpkins are filled with wine, so that the dead can drink it during the night between the 31st October and the 1st of November, before returning to the kingdom of afterlife.



    The traditions also include typical dishes prepared during this time and handed down from generation to generation. In Romagna, a region well known for its cooking, the “piada dei morti”, a very tasty round flatbread filled with nuts, almonds, raisins and the red wine of Romagna, the Sangiovese, is prepared. Another sweet prepared during this time in Romagna is the “fava dei morti”, a little biscuit made of almonds.




    In Sicily the typical dishes for this time of year is the “pupi ‘i zuccuru”, a sweet bread shaped like little dolls, and the “dead bones”, biscuits having the shape of bones that are particularly hard to bite. Very peculiar is the “frutta marturana”, which is marzipan shaped into real fruits with an inviting scent.    



    The rituals all over Italy are almost the same: in Puglia the families prepare the “cavazette di murte” (socks of the dead) and, during the night the dead, relatives fill them with special sweets. In Sicily, near Siracusa, children prepare the table for the dead and leave a shoe to be filled with presents and sweets. The “trick or treat” question seems another tradition in common between Italy and the USA. In fact, in Abruzzo there was the habit of going from house to house asking for offers for the souls of the dead and generally sweets and dried fruits were handed out. In general these are all traditions that give an almost friendly idea of death: the dead bring presents, walk for a night in the roads of villages or cities, enter into the house to have a dinner during this special night, and are felt closer than ever.  

    All these Italian traditions are unfortunately disappearing, substituted by Halloween, a holiday far from Italy, even while sharing characteristics in common with these traditions. Why not bring back our important past customs, instead of adopting those of other countries, just to follow foreign fashions that lack our soul? 


  • Art & Culture

    Rome Cinema Fest. A Positive Balance

    After ten days in which Rome was transformed into a little Hollywood, the Rome Cinema Fest ended its second edition with c: 600,000 visitors, 110,000 tickets sold, 102 films, 32 special events, 170 sponsors. An event strongly supported by Walter Veltroni, the mayor with a passion for cinema who succeeded in his dream of a festival devoted not only to movies but also offering a long list of cultural events. The challenge to create culture without being boring is the main success of the Rome Cinema Fest, and the public responded positively to the many “treats” on the menu proposed by the organizing committee.


    Among the prizes, it is worth noting the one given by a jury composed of youngsters from Italian schools in the section Alice in the City, which brought together an international selection of works dedicated to cinema made for and by young people. The winner of this section was the Italian American director Joseph Greco who received the award for his film, Canvas. The motivation of the jury was rather clear: "This is a film you cannot watch and forget right away. It goes right to your heart with its portrait of the strength and determination of a family fighting against the mother's illness. The courage of the director, who has based the film on his own childhood, is simply unbelievable". The autobiographic story of the schizophrenia of Greco's mother had already moved the audience the day of the screening, giving a message of hope that families can survive mental illness. The role of the father was played by Italian American actor Joe Pantoliano, who is well known for his role as Ralphie Cifaretto on HBO's hit series, The Sopranos. The day of the award ceremony Joseph Greco thanked the jury and expressed his personal satisfaction: "Being an Italian American, winning this prize in Rome, my favorite city, is the best thing that could ever happen to me. This Fest is an experience I will never forget. An incredible emotion."

    In this edition the quality of the films presented was decidedly good, with interesting attempts to experiment with new languages and with considerable space devoted to committed cinema. Though, the winner of the golden Marco Aurelio was the American film Juno by Jason Reitman, a film that could be defined as “popular” – not reserved to an elitarian public. The jury’s motivation, composed by regular people, not showbiz professionals, shows that the film created a wave of emotions in the jurors and in the public too. Juno is the story of an adolescent who has to deal with an unwanted pregnancy that she will have to face on her own. Juno is played by Ellen Page, a young actress who, together with an excellent cast, presents a convincing story full of humor.

    The special jury prize was assigned to the Iranian film Hafez by Abolfazl Jalili: a film narrating the love story between Hafez, the greatest love poet of Persian culture and one of his Coran students. This film was appreciated for the innovative narration and the ability to show the force of man against religious fanatism. The prize for the best actor went to Rade Sherbedgia for Fugitive Pieces by Jeremy Podeswa, a film telling the story of the friendship between a Polish child, whose family was exterminated by the Nazis, and a Greek archaeologist. The Best actress prize went to Chinese actress Jiang Wenli, for Li-Chun (And the spring comes) – directed by her husband Wei Gu – the story of a singing-mistress who dreams of moving to Beijing and singing at the Opera, despite the difficulties created by people and by the official prohibitions.


    Among the many events it is impossible not to remember the meeting of Sophia Loren with the public at the Auditorium, where, in front of people of all ages, “the myth” of Italian cinema remembered the milestones of her unique career, marked by unforgettable figures of the history of world cinema, such as Vittorio De Sica, Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando, Cary Grant and Marcello Mastroianni. A meeting in which the great Sophia also spoke of her anxieties as an actress, and her torments as a diva. The climax of her journey through memory was the moment in which she candidly admitted to have “hated” Meryl Streep because she “stole” a role she deeply felt as hers: Francesca, the Italian American protagonist of The Bridges of Madison County, having Clint Eastwood as the charming leading man.

    Another memorable moment of the Rome Cinema Fest was the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Novecento, the unforgettable film by Oscar winner Bernardo Bertolucci. The director, together with one of the protagonists of the film, the French actor Gerard Depardieu, introduced this masterpiece giving a real lesson in the history of the cinema, offering lots of anecdotes, stating the importance of remembering old films that are classics and not letting them fade away. Depardieu got applause and laughs from the public as he reminisced about the atmosphere on the set during the making of Novecento: he was nostalgic remembering his typical Emilian breakfasts such six eggs and lambrusco wine. The French actor noted the different approach to the film of Robert De Niro, who preferred not to eat, like he did, and took notes on every aspect of his role. Bertolucci interrupted to say that although they had different working methods, both actors were great in creating a memorable film that stayed in the hearts of the public all over the world.

    And, inevitably, in the memory of all those who followed the daily chronicles of this second edition of the Rome Cinema Fest, will remain the gossip regarding the whims of the celebrities who descended on the Eternal City. For example, many curious fans learned that Tom Cruise usually brings his own pillow during his trips. It Robert Redford’s wish to have dinner in a good Italian restaurant seems simple enough, especially if compared to Tim Robbins’ request to use a hydrogen car to avoid polluting. Sharon Stone’s needs are rather clear: in the suite of her hotel she wants to find a computer, a list of tourist spots to visit and her favorite brand of American coffee. Halle Berry’s request of a hotel having a swimming pool was due to her pregnancy: in fact, she had to follow her doctor’s recommendion of pool gym for the maternity fitness.


    Well, looking back on the past ten days of the Rome Cinema Fest, we have to admit that it really was a success, a sort of cocktail made with many ingredients, some apparently disparate, each of them, though, having the aim to attract as many people as possible, trying to accomodate all. This mix of culture, gossip, cheers, music, glamour, memories, stars, created in the Eternal City ten magic days to honor that fantastic dream that has always been the Cinema.


  • Life & People

    Rome. A Cinema Feast, not a Festival

    More and more a Feast and not a Festival. This is the main impression going around Rome, noticing that many parts of the Eternal City are deeply involved in the second edition of the Rome Cinema Fest (18-27 October) that will bring 167 titles including films, documentaries and retrospectives, 24 tributes and meetings with directors, authors and writers, 15 videos, 12 international projects and 14 movies by debutant directors in the New Cinema Network section. And more: there will be a contest involving 14 films, examined by a jury of 50 spectators chaired by the Oscar winner, Bosniac director Danis Tanovi; 9 official prizes; 18 represented nationalities; 15 world wide previews, 8 concerts, 5 exhibitions. And the Italian superstar Sophia Loren, as the godmother.

    Among the international titles are: Into the Wild by Sean Penn, Things We Lost in Fire with Benicio Del Toro and Halle Berry, Silk by François Girard (taken from the best seller by the Italian writer Alessandro Baricco), Elizabeth - The Golden Age with Cate Blanchett and Samantha Morton, and Youth Without Youth, Francis Ford Coppola’s comeback after ten years. There are two more important returns to art direction: Robert Redford and Sydney Lumet. The first one with Lions for Lambs with Tom Cruise as actor and producer, the second one with Before the Devil Knows You Are Dead.

    Every day the red carpet at the Auditorium della Musica hosts parades of international stars: the first day lots of people waited for hours the arrival of Monica Bellucci and the Italian diva did not delude them, appearing in a very elegant black dress with a breathtaking neckline and arising an enthusiasm typical of the final match in the World Cup! (“’Anvedi quanta robba llà davanti!”… “Monica evvai!!!”).

    In the very same moment, at the Teatro Sistina, an incredibly thrilled Sophia Loren, escorted by the mayor Walter Veltroni, received the Acting Award. The evening continued with a great concert dedicated to the cinema at the Teatro Sistina where the Maestro Lü Jia directed the National Orchestra of Santa Cecilia, with the contribution of the unique voice of Andrea Bocelli and the evergreen music by Ennio Morricone, a milestone in the history of world soundtracks. Maestro Morricone will conduct the orchestra during the prizegiving ceremony, the last day of the Fest.

    The evening ended with an exclusive party in honor of the magnificent Sophia at the roofgarden of the Bernini Bristol Hotel.

    Nine days full of cinema, cultural events, but also dinners from places that offer a panorama unique in the world. There was the special dinner reserved to 500 exclusive guests at Castel Sant’Angelo in honor of Cate Blanchett: the perfect scenario for the actress playing Queen Elizabeth I in The Golden Age.

    Another glamorous event was the dinner on the charming Terrazza Caffarelli, the most panoramic part of the Campidoglio offering an unforgettable vista on the Roman Foro: the guest star was Francis Ford Coppola, whose special gift created the most appropriate atmosphere and a perfect match with the tasty food offered by mayor Veltroni: 96 bottles of the wine from his land in California, the Francis Ford Coppola’s Director’s Cut.

    More events are planned for the next days: the red carpet at the Auditorium della Musica is ready to an ideal twinning with Hollywood, the tickets to some of the most interesting previews are already sold and, in these frantic cinema days, the main sports here in Rome have become “vip-watching” and “chase to the exclusive invitation”…   

  • Life & People

    Veronica. Mission Impossible

    Mission impossible (apparently) for Walter Veltroni, future leader of the newborn Italian Democratic Party. He courts, politically of course, Veronica Lario, wife of Silvio Berlusconi, the well-known leader of the Center Right alliance. In fact, during an interview to a weekly magazine, Veltroni, reaching the highest level of his specialty that in Italian is called “inciucio” (that is: ecumenism at any cost), stated that the DP needs a female element like Mrs Berlusconi, having, in his words, “cultural curiosities, an open mind and a great intellectual autonomy”. Such a statement inevitably aroused a number of furious responses from many women belonging to the Center-Left alliance, who felt neglected by Mr Veltroni, amd saw in his statement an unscrupulous marketing operation, a way to increase his visibility in the Italian political panorama at the expenses of his fellow female militants, not able, at his eyes, to fill the gap. A dangerous move made by Veltroni a few days before the primaries.

    Silvio Berlusconi’s reaction was to thank his opponent, even if he is sure that his wife will refuse such a proposal, due to her well-known restrained style.

    And Veronica? Well, she has not yet replied to Veltroni’s offer, but some of her close friends bet that she will give an answer in a not well specified future.

    A mysterious figure, Mrs Berlusconi, rarely seen at her husband’s side in official and also unofficial occasions. A reserved person who, to her regret, was often under the spotlight. In 2002, for example, when Berlusconi was still the Italian Prime Minister, he replied in a playful (not too much indeed) way to the rumors of a flirt between his wife and Massimo Cacciari, the philosopher mayor of Venice, asking the Danish Prime Minister, Rasmussen, if it would be appropriate to introduce that “poor woman” (Veronica) to him, since after all he is a “handsome man, even better than Mr Cacciari”. Apart from the usual Berlusconian gaffe, one of the many, indeed, there is the fact that Mrs. Berlusconi can be defined in many ways, but not a “poor woman”. In fact, in many occasions she showed that she is able to walk on her own legs and that she has clear ideas on where she wants to go. For example, when her husband as Prime Minister wanted to convince the Italians that the war in Iraq was right, she agreed the same day to giving an interview to a magazine that belongs to that part of the opposition that is strongly against her husband. That interview had the form of a dialogue between mothers “against the war of Bush”. A clear act of a not “pacifist” attitude towards her husband and his “dear American friend”. The “poor woman”’s personality came out again when, while her husband, still as the Italian Prime Minister, was defending himself against a satiric play of the Nobel prize Dario Fo that harshly attacked him, she declared that the satire is “only a game” and that “censorship is horribile and unjust”. Till the last episode, perhaps the worst, when her husband was openly courting some attractive female parliamentarians and in front of the journalists was trying to imagine his life if he had not been married. A clear example of male vanity that unfortunately is still very spread among the Italian men. Luckily, Veronica’s personality came out again, and a public letter addressed to her husband published by one of the major national papers, revenged the honor of Italian women, too many times humiliated by their men, whose main sport is still the same: playing the part of the irresistible playboy or, as they say in Naples, “spararsi le pose”. In that letter Veronica was asking respect and expecting the excuses, that punctually arrived with a reply on the same paper in the form of a letter written by rather embarrassed husband.

    Now the union between Veronica and Silvio seems to be facing a new obstacle: the public esteem statement by Walter Veltroni. Will Veronica agree in giving her contribution to the Democratic Party?

    Another doubt is if Veltroni, after all this, will obtain the expected strong victory as the future leader of the Democratic Party during the primaries that will take place the next 14 October.

    All the rumors around Walter and Veronica shifted the attention from the contents, the proposals the ideas of the candidates of the new Party and made many militants of it rather upset. In fact, it is impossible not to notice a contrast between the slogan of the Democratics, “New Ideas for the Primaries” and the question rising spontaneously: “Hey, Walter, would Veronica Berlusconi be a new idea?”



    New... Italy, oct. 8

    …and Veronica said "no" to Walter Veltroni's proposal. After needing a few days to "think it over," her answer arrived during an interview with "Corriere della Sera", where she stated that on October 14th she

    will not vote in the Democratic Party primaries. "As the wife of "the opposition leader," she said, "I have a role, and I respect it.

    There are limits and it is impossible to go beyond them." Of course Veronica appreciated Veltroni's "courtesy." Then, she noticed that in Italy we've been living in a "wall against wall" climate for years

    that needs to end as soon as possible. Mrs. Berlusconi's opinion is that this situation damaged Italy, and that there is fortunatley a person like Walter Veltroni, who is animated by a true political

    passion and the idea that dialogue is fundamental in politics. Well, after declaring total agreement with and admiration for the mayor of Rome, words indeed never expressed towards her own husband, it appears clear that, at this point, Veronica's vote in the primaries is absolutely superfluous…