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Articles by: Marina Melchionda

  • Life & People

    A Starlit Journey

    The day before I was leaving for the US, I went to the bank to get money, but I found out that my account was closed by my father... When I asked him to give me my savings back, he answered that I was going to have all I needed before I took the plane...All I got, instead, was 500 $! I couldn't survive in New York just with that! Worried, I asked my mother why he was doing that to me... She looked at me and said: 'You know how much we suffer from the idea of you moving to the other side of the world. But it's your decision, and we can't do anything about it. Now go, and show yourself and us how much you are worth, show that you can make it on your own'. What my mother said not only gave me courage, but challenged me and my pride.

    With these words Federico starts telling us his story. Going back to those moments visibly moves him. It is his attachment to his origins that brought us to share with you his personal walk through life. His story is of a particular kind, very different from the ones we've told you before. Yes, because his path is paved with gold, he's friend with some of the most renowned Hollywood and Italian stars, he is part of an environment that many of us only have heard about. But still he remains a normal man who puts his family and his roots in first place in his life.

    He talks about them with a genuineness, a simplicity, that leaves us no doubt about the authentic attachment to these truly Italian values.

    Federico is an enjoyable person to talk to who makes you feel at ease and laugh. He is is open to whatever question or curiosity to which you would like to find an answer. No wonder we ended up talking to him for more than 2 hours, and found out things about his life that we could never imagine...

    It was June 13 1983 and  he was 21 when he took that plane for New York with one of his best pals to follow his "American dream". It was a need so strongly felt that he couldn't put it aside anymore. He was leaving behind a succesful life, his school sweetheart, his huge family with six brothers and sisters, and an already long career as a hair designer. But it was still not enough for him. He had to start all over again, leave Milan, and become a renowned hair stylist in New York. And he made it.

    We meet Federico in a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, with the windows overlooking his huge salon. He stares at it every once in a while, his eyes filled with pride. "I've been working in this field since the age of 13. My brother Rolando is a name in Italy, and has been partecipating in all the editions of the Sanremo Festival for more than 20 years as the official hair dresser of the event. I used to go with him and had the occasion to work with several Italian show and music stars, as we were also called for music videos, fashion shows, and movies. When I myself became recognized in the field for my talent and capacities, I understood that in Italy there was room for only one of us. That's when I decided to move to New York, and start all over again. But I still went back to Italy for Sanremo every year to help my brother. This is the first edition that I did not attend and that is only because I was called as the official hair dresser of the New York Fashion Week that took place at the same time."

    Federico's first steps in New York were very similar to thousands of people his age. He didn't speak the language ("When we took the cab outside of the airport, we couldn't explain to the driver that we wanted to reach Manhattan. We described it as the place with tall buildings, as we didn't know the word skyscrapers. He must have thought that we were nuts but fortunately an Italian-American walking by helped us out!"); he didn't have a place to live ("We stayed in a pension between Lexington and 45th Street for a couple of days. It was not great at all, but that was all I could afford"); and, of course, he didn't have a job. With the small amount of money his father gave him, he couldn't survive that long so he started looking for something to do on the very first day he arrived in New York.

    A hair dresser on 55th Street immediately recognized his capacities, and hired him in the blink of an eye. As he knew some Italian-Americans in the Bronx, he moved to Little Italy on Arthur Avenue and gave "official start" to his life in New York.

    That was, however only the first step of his social and professional climb. His career had a decisive turning point when he met actress Isabella Rossellini's grandmother. "She introduced me to the city's fashion world, starting with the Gucci people, and to Sergio Valente, who worked at Berdof Goodman, and who hired me right away. I became artistic director, and started working in many fashion shows, among which those organized by Oscar de LaRenta and the Fendi sisters. It was after 4-5 years of experience there that I decided to finally open my own business".

    AS Federico's deep and strong voice
    recounted his first years in the city, he never forgot to mention how deep his bonds with Italy remained. He went back there every year, in the summer he stayed in Positano, the famous sea town on the bay of Naples where his parents come from. After having earned enough  money, he proposed to his sweetheart, married her, and brought her here to America.

    Federico opened his first Salon at 10 west 55th Street and ran it for 12 years. It was in that period that his career got a definite boost, when he became artistic director of several popular comedies and movies, and started traveling between New York and Hollywood. Among the productions he’s proud to have participated in, there are Batman, and one of the best comedies of all times,  When Harry Met Sally. “In Batman, I was asked to work on Michelle Pfeiffer’s hair. There was a scene with penguins, who have to be kept in a temperature close to zero, otherwise, as you know, they die. Michelle happens to have curly hair, but not enough to remain perfect in that kind of cold. Did you know that it was from this circumstance that the first “spray mousse” was invented? It was called “Hollywood Backstage” and was created at first just for us, because we needed something that could maintain hairdos  in extreme temperatures”. 

    Federico talks about his “adventures” in the Hollywood world with pleasure, his stories confirm to us that everything can really happen there. Downin California he became stylist of choice for celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Sigourney Weaver, Alec Baldwin and Mel Gibson, while as celebrity stylist at New York's Fashion Week shows, he has worked on many stars including Eva Longoria, Nicole Richie, Jessie Metcalfe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Rosario Dawson, Sarah Ferguson, Katie Couric, Betsey Johnson, and Rachel Hunter.

    His brillant US career, however, didn't make him forget his years in Italy. “I met  Renato Zero, Iva Zanicchi, Ricchi e Poveri, Matia Bazar and many others when I worked at the Sanremo Festival. They are still great friends of mine”. With the Matia Bazar, in particular, he shares an important moment of his career: “I had to work on the hairdo of their first voice, Antonella Ruggiero. We wanted to do a ponytail with a wet effect. Today we would use gel to have it, but at that time, in the early ‘80s, you couldn’t find a product of that kind in Italy. So we decided to make one on our own, mixing water with a lot of sugar. The result was just what we were looking for, as we invented the first gel in Italy, which was baptized ‘gommina’”.

    One thing that strikes you about Federico, is his innate simplicity, his easiness.  In spite of a  long career of successes, of his famous friends, and his beautiful life, he enjoys spending his time in his beauty salon on 57th street  with his “normal” clients. Mostly American and Jewish, they are “usual clients” that go to visit him sometimes every day, sometimes once a week, but never less than once a month.

    The reason must be the joyful atmosphere they can find everyday within the sparkling white walls of the beauty salon, the exquisite espresso they can have while enjoying the very few relaxing moments the crazy New York life stle concedes to them, the warm welcoming smile he and his assistant, hair designer Massimo, give you the moment you step in the door.

    “From the general experience I have as a hairdresser in the US,  I did notice differences from Italy. First of all, Italian women trust their hairdresser, and put their look in his hands. Here the women are more extravagant, they come here with a page from a magazine and want you to reproduce it exactly. The ‘show biz dream’ kind of enchants some of them, who want to become just like Hollywood stars. Also, a good percentage of the people here go to the hairdresser less frequently than in Italy, but that’s because of the different lifestyle they carry on. Young New Yorkers go to the gym, sweat, and wash their hair everyday. So they ask for a haircut that they can take care of alone and come less often. However, that’s not my case. I never lose track of my clients for more than a very few days!”

    As our lunch comes to an end, Federico’s risotto is getting cold. He is so involved telling us about his life, his business, and his passions, that he almost forgot to eat. Food, as he stated, is one of the strongest bonds he maintains with Italy. “I eat out very rarely, and at home we only cook Italian. My wife Patrizia and my children love sitting at the table and enjoy the recipes our parents and grandparents passed down to us. I raised my two daughters and son as Italian children, and the daughter in particular could cook when she was only 13. She just loves baking”, he says with pride.  “Family” is the Italian value Federico believes in the most and he didn’t forget to teach it to his own children.

    Although two of them go to college far away from home, they always come back  for the holidays and would never even think about having the “big Sunday lunch” somewhere else. “My children call me ‘Fede’ , they look at me as a friend, but they never forget where they belong. They come on vacation with me, and dump their friends, because Patrizia and I are ‘crazier’ and are more fun to be with!”.
    We leave the restaurant at 2:30, after talking for more than an hour. Federico has a full afternoon of appointments ahead, we walk towards the office ready to write about another successful story in New York. The story of a man who fulfilled his American Dream and embellished hundreds of people with a delicate, sapient Italian touch.
     

                                           

  • Life & People

    At the Olympics with Francesco Renga

    The Vancouver Winter Olympics not only gave Italian athletes a gold, a silver, and three bronze medals to bring back home, but was also an occasion to export the best of the country's musical tradition through the voice of one of its most talented and expressive interpreters.

    On Saturday February 27 Italian singer Francesco Renga gave a concert to present his latest work, "Orchestra e Voce" (Universal Music), "a collection of songs from my childhood memories, the pieces that shaped my career", as he told us when we spoke with him. The performance was the result of a collaboration between CONI (Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano - Italian National Olympics Committee) and Radio Italia Solo Musica Italiana., its official partner, and was held at Casa Italia, headquarters of the Italian athletes participating to the Winter Games.

    Released in 2009 and first presented at the Teatro Quinto in Madrid, "Orchestra e Voce"  is a collection of pieces by  Domenico Modugno, Mina, Don Backy, Pino Domaggio, Gianni Bella, Patty Pravo, Mario Del Monaco, and others. Reinterpreted in a modern key and adapted to Francesco's almost lyrical voice, the album features the partnership of Maestro Celso Valli, famous also for his collaborations with some of the greatest names of the Italian music panorama, such as Mina, Ornella Vanoni, Renato Zero, Adriano Celentano, Jovanotti, Andrea Bocelli, Giorgia, Laura Pausini, Eros Ramazzotti, and Vasco Rossi.

    "I feel attached to all of the pieces collected in the album", Francesco told us. "Since they all represent a moment of my private or professional life, I feel a deep sense of pride when I perform them. If you ask me which one is my favorite, however, I would say 'L 'Immensità' by Don Backy. It kind of mirrors my own walk of life".
     
    Sì, io lo so, tutta la vita sempre solo non sarò e un giorno io saprò d'essere un piccolo pensiero nella più grande immensità.....di quel cielo (Yes, I know, I won't be alone all my life, and one day I will know that I am just a small thought in the greatest immensity of the sky). As Francesco quotes a strophe of the song with his typically upbeat voice, we ask him about his concert in Vancouver. "It's one of the first times that I bring my album abroad. After my tour in Italy, I will start travelling throughout the world to bring these pieces of history of Italian music to our co-citizens living in other countries, to those who love Italian music, and also to all of the people who don't know much about it, but are open to new discoveries. Vancouver is a starting point in this big project, and I am fully satisfied with it".

    In this freezing Canadian city, Francesco found a warm and enthusiast welcome that reawakened  his pride for his country of origin, and his roots: "Wherever I go in the world, I feel glad to be an Italian. People of any nationality look at us with admiration; they think we are one step forward in every field of art, and love to spend time in our company. Sometimes we Italians forget how lucky we are from this point of view. In Italy, the problems are many, and life sometimes is so difficult that it ends up overwhelming our spirits. But then you get fresh air abroad, and come back with new energy and inspiration".

    Among the pieces collected in the album there are "Meravigliosa" and "Angelo", the song winner of the 2005 edition of the Sanremo Festival, the greatest music competition in Italy. Francesco debuted on the stage of Teatro Ariston in 2000 with "Raccontami", a piece that gave him notoriety and made of him one of the most successful and loved Italian contemporary singers, especially among new generations. His participation in the Festival's 2002 edition with "Tracce di Te" (Traces of you) and in 2009 with "Uomo senza età" (Man with no age), confirmed this trend.

    He participated to Sanremo also this year,  but this time as a "guest of honor". Aside of "Angelo", dedicated to his daughter Iolanda, he also performed "La Voce del Silenzio" from "Orchestra e Voce", for an affectioned public.

    "As in every edition, I hear pieces and voices that I like, and others that I don't. The Festival remains an important opportunity for all of those in search of a niche in the Italian musical panorama. My only concern is that it is becoming more and more a TV show than a music competition. The fact itself that the winner of this year's edition had participated in a talent show before, and is mostly known by the big public because of this, worries me in a double way.

    Not only, in fact, am I concerned that not everybody is given the same opportunities, but I also think that this kind of popularity could keep young talents from studying and putting effort in improving themselves and their music. They might think that they have already arrived somewhere without having even started".

    According to Francesco, challenge, practice, and study are the keys to becoming a good and sophisticated singer. "Since music has always been my first and greatest passion, I never payed much attention to the world of sport. Being here in Vancouver, however, taught me a very important lesson: from athletics you can learn the values of sacrifice, conquering, and self-discipline. I recognize the important role that sport can play in the life of people, especially for the youth of today's world, that in many cases take too much for granted and are not willing to work as the should to reach their goals".

    Francesco was also impressed on how the Italian community of Vancouver "united under one flag" to support its athletes. "I will never forget the emotions I felt when we celebrated Giuliano Razzoli, who won the golden medal after the second run of the Men's slalom. It was so similar to what happens in Italy when the national soccer team plays, and people crowd the streets and squares of the whole country to share their joy in an explosion of flags and colors".

    Francesco went back home with a suitcase full of memories and energy, ready to present to his Italian fans an album in which "he is not only accompanied by an outstanding orchestra, but his voice becomes an orchestra itself", as critics recently stated. After touching the main Italian music stages, "Orchestra e Voce 2010" tour will move abroad, accompanying Francesco's wonderlust throughout the world.

    We couldn't leave him without the promise of a date in New York. "I only came there a few times and for very quick stops. But I am craving to live and discover much more of this city, and meet its flourishing and rich Italian and Italian-American communities. My international tour won't miss that stop, I promise!".

  • Life & People

    Brescia. A Mediterranean Spot in Mittel Europe

    A Mediterranean Spot in Continental Europe: that's how we could define Brescia and its surrounding areas. Lakes, mountains, excellent food and wine, cultural and sport events,  historical sites: all kinds of attractions that can fulfill the needs and desires of tourists of all ages, social classes, and inclinations.

    Together with the Director of the Italian Government Tourism Board in North America Riccardo Strano, the President of Bresciatourism, Paolo Rossi, presented this eclectic and quite unknown area to our fellow Americans at the headquarters of the Italian Government Tourism Board on February 25. "Situated in an ideal position, between Milan, Verona and Venice, it can become the perfect jumping-off point for visiting these cities, go to the Arena di Verona for some Opera, and do some shopping in Milan. We offer the tourist an up-scale vacation where amusement, relax, and fun are the rallying cry", he started.

    Listing the activities you could organize and experience in the area is almost impossible, but let's try to look at the region through a closer lens...

    Most of the territory is hilly, since Brescia is surrounded by the Alps, making it a traditional destination for ski and winter sport lovers. In this period of the year, tourists crowd the typical village mountains of Ponte di Legno, Montecampione, Corteo Golgi, Borno, and Gaver, where they can find well-equipped facilities, and slops for both experts and novices. Trekking, rafting, and other extreme sports are also practiced during the spring and the summer, while in the natural parks of Stelvio and Andamello curious can find, watch and photograph the typical fauna of the area.

    At the base of the mountains lies the largest lake of Italy, Lake Garda. Called "the sea" of Brescia, it is surrounded by Mediterranean vegetation, including lemon trees, olive trees, vineyards and cypresses.

    "The lake is the flagship of the region", Mr. Rossi said to our microphones. As he farther explained to us, the area is characterized by a very particular and contrasting landscape, where Roman palaces, Liberty-style villas and modern international resorts contrast with the green and flourishing nature. On the lake is the villa of the famous Italian Poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, "Il Vittoriale", that has now become a museum hosting the unusual and eccentric furnishings and antiques he owned.

    Besides the villas, the medieval castles on the lake's shores and the numerous Spring Spas, can farther enrich the visitor's staying with cultural sight-seeings and relaxing moments to share with a partner, friend, or in intimate solitude.

    Lake Idro and Lake Iseo are the two other major lakes of the region, the last one of which being of particular interest for those people coming from large metropolitan areas like Milan or New York. In fact, right in the middle of the lake, one can find the isle of Montisola, a place where no automobiles are allowed, and the rhythms are those of ancient times, when the life of the inhabitants was based on fishing, net making, and wooden boat building. It is a Paradise on earth for those who look for tranquillity and rest.

    As the presentation went on, Mr. Rossi focused on the numerous attractions the city of Brescia itself can offer to tourists. Every year the municipality hosts a number of events, exhibits, and programs that can really meet the tastes of a wide range of fellows. "The most beautiful race of the world, as they call it, the 'Mille Miglia car race', takes off every year in May from Piazza Vittoria, located right in the heart of the city. Antique cars built between 1927 and 1957, with their both Italian and foreign owners, participate in the contest. They cover 1000 miles of Italian territory, from Rome to Brescia and back, passing through the cities of Ferrara, Ravenna, Bologna, Urbino, and Florence. It's an incomparable experience for them, and for us it is an honor to continue hosting what up until a half of a century ago was the world automobile championship race par excellance". 

    Mr. Rossi listed the other major events characterizing life in the city of Brescia. The International Contemporary Circus Festival takes place every June and July. Involving artists from around the world, it is set in some of the most evocative and enchanting spots of the cities, among which piazzas and theatres, but also courtyards and spaces open to the public just for the occasion.

    While from April to June the International Piano Festival brings acclaimed musicians to the city to compete and perform in 30 concerts, in June the Dieci Giornate (Ten Days) swamps the streets and the houses of the center of Brescia with concerts, meetings with artists, shows, art, and music from morning to late at night.

    In September, the Centomiglia regatta race brings you back to the river of Lago di Garda, and also becomes a great occasion to enjoy the countryside at the beginning of the fall, particularly the area of Franciacorta.

    As Mr. Rossi told us, Franciacorta is "the" place for a high-standard, inclusive, and introspective trip in the savors and flavors of the area's food and wine. "Its wine was the first product in Italy to be granted the Denominazione di Origine Controllata - D.O.C. (Denomination of Controlled Origins). In America, this wine is gradually substituting Champagne. We re-baptized it 'Bollicine' (Sparkles), and is today largely recognized for beating its French competitor in both price and aroma", he continued with pride.

    In Franciacorta the high-quality standard of the local products and the cuisine of some of the most famous chefs of Italy espouse the natural elegance of the area. With the greatest number of first-class restaurants of the country, it is without a doubt the ideal destination for the gourmet traveler.

    We had the opportunity to taste some of the exquisite products and the traditional and genuine recipes offered by the culinary culture of the province of Brescia during a buffet dinner set in the hall following the presentation. Before that, however, there was time left for an interesting Q&A section, a moment taken by the numerous Italian and American journalists and travel agents to learn more about Brescia and its area.

    Did we learn everything we needed to? We tested our knowledge about the province through "the Brescia Questionnaire", a fun moment for all in which eleven of us, chosen at random, were awarded prices if we gave the correct answer.  Books, plaques, and stamps preceded the last, rich price: a six-night trip for two to Brescia was won by Nancy Kay Streiter (Travel Consultant, Protravel International). She was asked two questions, a double test for a price ten times as rich. Suggestions from the public and from "the jury" accompanied laughs and good spirits in this convivial moment.

    Fully satisfied with the final outcome of the event, the Director of the Italian Government Tourism Board, Riccardo Strano, left us with a final comment on the initiative: "Our aim is to introduce and acknowledge Americans working in the field and potential tourists on the beauties and attractions that areas of Italy which are less known to the great public can offer. Brescia is a perfect target, being also very close to sites of relevant interest to the American traveler such as Verona, Milan, and Venice. It's a multifaceted location, where culture, fun, sport, music and art live in perfect balance with the area's magnificent nature".

  • Life & People

    A Spring Break in Italy with NOIAW

    Do you need to get away from your busy life for a few days? Are you tired of snow, rain, and cold days? Are you an Italian-American who wants to reconnect with your heritage and culture of origins? If your answer to one of these questions is "Yes", it's time for you to plan a trip to Italy.  
     
     The National Organization of Italian-American Women might have the solution you are looking for: from April 19 to April 28 you can join members and friends of the Italian-American community on a marvelous trip to Sicily and Rome, where you'll have the opportunity to see, visit, and enjoy two of the most beautiful areas of the country.  The trip was planned by the Sicilian Branch of ANFE (Associazione Nazionale Famiglie Emigranti - National Association of Emigrant Families) Sicilian Branch of ANFE (Associazione Nazionale Famiglie Emigranti - National Association of Emigrant Families), which also contributed to the planning of the itinerary.

    Fun will be ensured thanks to the participation of two famous show-biz stars, Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor, that will accompany the participants throughout the trip.  Meetings with local politicians, institutional, regional and local representatives, and members of public and private organizations, will give you a hint of the social and political life of the region of Sicily, while the former governor of the State of New York Mario Cuomo with his wife Matilda will join the group to share some of the scheduled activities.  

     

    Since Sicily is the region where many of NOIAW's members come from, the organization decided to spend the greatest part of the trip there.  Three days in Palermo and three in Catania, will be just enough for you to realize why this is one of the favorite destinations for both Italian and foreign tourists. The limpid, dark blue sea surrounds the whole island and its   monuments, ruins and historical sites, that have been witness to a millenary history of colonization and cultural contamination.

    Both in Palermo and Catania you'll find Arabian, Greek, Roman, French and Spanish architecture, a mixture that confers a rare charm on both the cities. In Palermo, the capital of the region, sites of particular interest are the Palazzo dei Normanni (Palace of the Normans), the antique building hosting the Sicilian Parliament, and the Palatina Chapel, all monuments that you'll have a chance to visit.  
     
    The accomodation at the five-star Grand Hotel Wagner, right in the heart of the city, will allow you to spend your leisure time shopping and walking around, enjoying the warm hospitality that characterizes the local inhabitants.  
     
    Palermo, as most of you know, is also renowned for its Teatro Massimo, the biggest Opera House in Italy and one of the largest in Europe. You'll spend the second evening of your arrival there enjoying an outstanding theatrical representation, before delighting your palate in an up-scale restaurant close by.  
     
    As NOIAW finds it of great importance to help you reconnect to your land of origins and learn as much as possible of your background and traditions, you will be invited to take local one-day trips to the surrounding areas, as many of the participants will also have an opportunity to meet majors and/or high representatives of the towns their ancestors came from.  
     
    A sightseeing trip to the Greek town of Segesta and a visit to its Temple will precede a tour of the province of Trapani with its National Archeological Museum. From there, you'll have some time for walking and shopping around in Erice, a Medieval mountaintop fortress.
     
    A visit to Palermo and its surrounding area cannot be complete without a full gourmet experience. On that day you won't only have lunch in the beautiful wine cellar Fazio Wine, where the "Erice D.O.C" red wine is produced, but you'll also enjoy the experience of a dinner at the luxurious Gattopardo Restaurant, named after Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel and Luchino Visconti's movie. Tradition and seasonal products combine in the delicate dishes they serve. 
     
    Even if you won't want to leave Palermo after these three magic days, on April 23 Catania and its surrounding areas will be ready to give you a taste of their unique beauty. Before arriving at the four-star hotel "Grand Hotel Baia Verde", you'll visit two sites of extraordinary beauty : Villarosa, a charming agricultural center, outstanding for the rich cultivation of wheat, olives, almonds, and grapes and Villa Romana del Casale, situated just a few miles from the small town of Piazza Armerina. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has the richest, largest and most complex collection of late Roman mosaics in the world.  
     
    Before leaving Sicily, a final tour of Caltagirone and Taormina is due. While the first, that takes its name from the Arabic qal'at-al-ganom ("Castle of the Genies"), is mainly famous for the production of pottery, ceramics and terracotta wares, the second has remnants of its Greek and Roman ancestry, a fine medieval quarter and the ruins of a castle, and modern shops and restaurants. Perched on the side of Monte Tauro, it also offers fantastic views of the coast and Mt. Etna volcano. 

    On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, is where you will find Rome, the "eternal city", where tourists look for and find the  "Dolce Vita" they saw at the movies. On April 25 you'll get your share of it, starting from the beautiful accommodations offered at the "Rose Garden Palace", a four-star hotel located right in the heart of Via Veneto, where the famous movie by Federico Fellini was set.  
     

     

    Cocktails, walks, a Vatican tour, and a Tiber River cruise will make it even harder to go back home, but will leave you as glad as ever to have grabbed the opportunity to take this exciting, fulfilling spring trip with the National Organization of Italian-American Women. 
     
    If you feel you can't miss it, and can't wait to pack your suitcases, don't wait! Very few places are left.  
    Call 212 642 2003;  email [email protected]; or visit NOIAW's website for all the info you need.  
     
    Have a nice trip!

    The trip is partially funded by  the Sicilian Branch of ANFE (Associazione Nazionale Famiglie Emigranti - National Association of Emigrant Families), the Region of Sicily, and others...

  • “Salonicco 1943”. Un capitolo di storia da ricordare

    Con “Salonicco 1943” al Centro Primo Levi di New York si chiude il ciclo di eventi dedicato al Giorno della Memoria. Il 27 gennaio 1945 venivano chiusi per mano sovietica i cancelli di Auschwitz, l’Italia (insieme ad altri Paesi europei) ha scelto questo giorno per commemorare il genocidio nazi-fascista ai danni del popolo ebraico. La New York italiana ricorda questo tragico periodo della storia europea con una serie di eventi che ruotano intorno a questa data (trovate approfondimenti negli speciali di i-Italy 2009 e 2010).
     

    “Salonicco 1943” racconta una pagina di quell’epoca dimenticata per molti anni, persa nella coscienza collettiva italiana e non solo. I protagonisti della rappresentazione sono la comunità ebraica della città di Salonicco, che contava più di 50.000 membri, oltre la metà dei quali italiani, e il Console italiano Guelfo Zamboni, distintosi nello sforzo di salvare più di 500 vittime dall’efferata persecuzione nazista.  
     

    Presentato dal giornalista e ricercatore presso il Centro, Alessandro Cassin, il regista Alan Andelson ha guidato con sapienza un cast d’eccezione nella prima rappresentazione in lingua inglese dell’opera che ha registrato il tutto esaurito. Applausi e commozione per  i protagonisti Robert Zukerman e Lily Bansen, accompagnati dalla magistrale interpretazione di Galeet Dardashti e Brandon Terzic di canti e musiche di tradizione sefardita.

     
    I maggiori media italiani a New York, ed eminenti rappresentati delle comunità italiana, italo-americana, greca, ed israeliana locali, occupavano le prime file della sala. Con loro, il Console Generale d’Italia a New York Francesco Maria Talò con sua moglie Ornella; il Vice-Console Maurizio Antonini; il nuovo direttore dell’Istituto Italiano di Cultura Riccardo Viale; e Stella Levi, membro del Board del Centro Primo Levi. Quest’ultima in particolare, nativa di Rodi, è una dei sopravvissuti all’Olocausto. Come  ha raccontato in altre occasioni, ha sperimentato sulla sua pelle, e visto con i suoi occhi, i fatti raccontati nell’opera. 

    L’evento, reso possibile anche grazie alla sponsorizzazione dell’Alexandre Bodini Foundation, e di Joseph Mattone Jr, era sicuramente tra i più attesi del Calendario della Memoria.

    Quest’ultimo, in particolare, ha detto ad  i-Italy con emozione di essere molto orgoglioso di aver dato un contributo alla sua realizzazione: “Ero solo un bambino quando lessi sul giornale delle stragi di Salonicco.
    Nel mio quartiere di Brooklyn avevo moltissimi amici ebrei… lessi nei loro occhi, nell’espressione dei loro visi, il profondo dolore che quelle notizie davano. Decisi da allora che avrei fatto qualcosa per la mia comunità perché non dimenticasse mai quei momenti d’angoscia. Il teatro, come qualsiasi forma d’arte, può essere uno “strumento di memoria”. Ed oggi, in modo particolare, rimane forse tra i migliori mezzi che abbiamo per insegnare alle nuove generazioni la nostra storia, fare in modo che determinati crimini non accadano più, ed aprire noi stessi gli occhi su stermini che si compiono ancora oggi in diverse parti del mondo”.
     

    Accanto a lui, poche poltrone vicine, sedeva l’ospite d’onore della serata, Gian Paolo Cavarai, l’ex Ambasciatore italiano in Grecia ed Israele, e attuale Consigliere Diplomatico del Senatore a Vita Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, ex Presidente della Repubblica Italiana. Insieme a Ferdinando Ceriani, regista teatrale e professore all’Università Luiss di Roma, e Antonio Ferrari, corrispondente del Corriere della Sera nel Mediterraneo e Medio-Oriente, ha ideato, scritto e strutturato quest’opera, promuovendola non solo in Italia, ma anche nei territori dove è stato in missione diplomatica, ed altrove.
     

    Una delle caratteristiche principali di “Salonicco 1943” è sicuramente la semplicità, la quasi nudità della scenografia. Gli attori, con i loro movimenti, le loro parole, i loro visi, lasciano poco spazio a qualsiasi ingombro o suppellettile decorativo scenico che non sia funzionale alla storia.

    Per buona parte della rappresentazione, il console Zamboni, interpretato da Robert Zukerman, rimane seduto alla sua scrivania illuminata solo da un fioco lume. L’attrice Lily Balsen, che rappresenta diversi membri della comunità ebraica di Salonicco, si muove invece frenetica, cambiando ruolo continuamente, ma mantenendo sempre sul viso le piaghe e le rughe tipiche dell’angoscia, della paura. Quelle che vengono anche a un bambino… quando sa di essere in pericolo.
     

    L’alternarsi tra i due personaggi è scandito dai suoni e dalle musiche sefardite intonate da Galeet Dardashti. Risuonano ai nostri orecchi in tutta la loro profondità, acutezza, melodramma dei ritmi, mentre davanti ai nostri occhi si parano immagini d’epoca, foto che negano ogni spazio alla fantasia, e ci mettono davanti alla cruda realtà. Madri, anziani, neonati e bambini, insieme ai loro padri, mariti e figli, aspettano con il resto della famiglia di essere mandati al loro destino: Auschwitz, la Polonia, la morte quasi certa.
     

    Immagini sempre più forti, crude, si accompagnano sul palco alle emozionanti interpretazioni dei due attori, presi da due tormenti paralleli tra loro, ma uniti dalla stessa fonte. Da una parte il Console Zamboni, che di fronte a quanto gli accade intorno, reagisce con forza, perseveranza, e disgusto, utilizzando ogni strumento a sua disposizione per salvare le vite delle migliaia di ebrei italiani residenti a Salonicco. Le numerosissime lettere al commando SS, all’”Ambasciata Reale d’Italia ad Atene”, al Ministero degli Affari Esteri a Roma, si rivelano spesso tentativi senza successo, ma non motivi di rinuncia alla sua missione personale.
     

    Dall’altra parte, la comunità ebraica interpretata dall’esile attrice vestita di nero, testimonia con voci, grida, e parole tormentate le crescenti violenze psicologiche e fisiche di cui, in misura sempre maggiore, è vittima.
     

    Nell’auditorium del Centro Primo Levi, un silenzio raro: nessuno muove un muscolo, tutti sono coinvolti, catturati, dallo spettacolo, dimostrando empatia verso le vittime, e un profondo senso di colpa che fa sentire anche loro un pò carnefici.

     
    "Siamo tutti colpevoli. In misura maggiore o minore, nessuno di noi è estraneo a questa terribile tragedia”. Con queste parole, il Console Zamboni lascia Salonicco e il palco. Mentre cala il sipario, poche scritte sullo schermo sul fondo ci informano che il successore nel suo incarico continuò nella sua opera, riuscendo a salvare altre 300 vite. Li mandò ad Atene, ma purtroppo anche lì, per molti di loro, c’era un treno che li aspettava…

    Un lungo applauso, di nuovo silenzio, poi un altro applauso. In sala alcuni testimoni dell’accaduto, alcuni discendenti della comunità di Salonicco, esprimono all’ambasciatore Cavarai tutta la loro stima ed il loro apprezzamento per l’enorme lavoro di ricerca svolto. “Avrò visto la rappresentazione di quest’opera una decina di volte almeno, ma questa è la prima volta che ho pianto”, risponde lui commosso.

    Lo avevamo incontrato pochi giorni prima in consolato, avevamo capito quanto per lui fosse importante questo evento, e quanto si sentisse anche emotivamente coinvolto in questo lavoro. Riportiamo qui alcuni passaggi salienti della nostra intervista, un lungo incontro durato quasi due ore in cui l’Ambasciatore ci ha raccontato con minuzia di particolari il percorso compiuto da “Salonicco 1943” fino ad oggi. 

    Da dove nasce l’idea di “Salonicco 1943”?  
    Ai tempi in cui ero ambasciatore in Israele, organizzai una conferenza di presentazione di un saggio di uno storico di origine italiana, Daniel Carpi, allora professore all’Università di Tel Aviv. Nel suo "A New Approach to Some Episodes in the History of the Jews in Salonicco during the Holocaust. Memory, Myth, Documentation", aveva ripercorso la storia della comunità ebraica di Salonicco durante l’occupazione nazista, raccogliendo rapporti e documentazioni presso gli archivi del Ministero degli Esteri di Roma. Particolare risalto aveva nel suo libro la figura del Console Guelfo Zamboni, dipinto come un eroe, un diplomatico che approfittando della vicinanza del governo italiano a quello tedesco, si era speso e messo in gioco per salvare la vita di centinaia di connazionali (e non) ebrei.

    Rimasi molto colpito dai fatti raccontati, e mi ci imbattei di nuovo quando fui trasferito ad Atene. Lì incontrai Antonio Ferrari, corrispondente del quotidiano “Il Corriere della Sera” per il Mediterraneo e il Medio-Oriente. Conosceva molto bene questa storia e la figura del Console Zamboni, e aveva deciso già da qualche tempo di scriverne. Era un momento in cui in Italia ancora poche persone econoscevano queste vicende. Succede spesso, infatti, che per dimenticare un capitolo vergognoso della storia di un Paese, si finisce per cancellarne anche le pagine buone. E senz’altro quella del console Zamboni era una di queste…
     

    Fu così che decidemmo di organizzare un simposio dedicato al tema. In quell’occasione, incontrammo il regista teatrale Ferdinando Ceriani che lesse durante i lavori della conferenza alcuni passi dal libro di Carpi. La sua interpretazione drammatica, teatrale, ci diede la spinta necessaria per avviare il progetto di “Salonicco ‘43”.  La Professoressa Alessandra Coppola, lo scrittore Jannis Chrisafis e Antonio Ferrari si dedicarono subito alla stesura di un libro"Salonicco's Jews 1943 – Italian humanity documented", sponsorizzato e regalato come strenna natalizia da Impregilo, un gruppo di imprese con sede in Grecia cui presidente era Italo Coscione. 

    Quando poi divenni consigliere diplomatico per l’ex Presidente della Repubblica, il Senatore a Vita Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, decisi finalmente di dedicarmi alla stesura del lavoro teatrale insieme al Dr. Ferrari e al Prof Ceriani. Ci sono voluti due anni di ricerca e lavoro…

    Da come ne parla sembra un grande appassionato di teatro…

    Si, la mia passione nacque quando avevo 18 anni. I professori portarono tutta la mia classe a vedere l’ “Otello” di Shakespeare al Quirino di Roma. Non avrei mai potuto avere un’iniziazione migliore al mondo del teatro, dato che gli interpreti principali erano Vittorio Gassman e Salvo Randone. Decisi di iscrivermi all’Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica “Silvo d’Amico” ed iniziai alcuni corsi di regia.

    Gli impegni universitari mi costrinsero però ad abbandonare questo “studio per passione” e a dedicarmi completamente alla carriera diplomatica. Ho sempre comunque tentato di portare avanti questo mio interesse, ed anzi di promuoverlo nei territori in cui sono stato in missione chiamando dall’Italia artisti, attori, ed interpreti, ed organizzando diverse rappresentazioni e rassegne volte a valorizzare il teatro italiano nei Paesi in cui risiedevo di volta in volta

     
    Quando ha presentato per la prima volta “Salonicco 43” al grande pubblico?

    Era il 23 settembre 2008, Università di Tel Aviv. Sapevamo che non era né il momento né il luogo migliore per un’opera di questo genere, che affronta argomenti così delicati ancora oggi, ma da qualche parte dovevamo iniziare. Inoltre, non abbiamo mai concepito “Salonicco 43” come un lavoro indirizzato esclusivamente alla comunità ebraica. Anzi, riteniamo l’Olocausto un tema universale con cui tutti dovrebbero confrontarsi, un momento della storia da non dimenticare.
     

    Non posso certo dimenticare con quanta attiva partecipazione fummo sostenuti a Tel Aviv. Avevamo ottenuto i finanziamenti necessari da tre sponsor: una delle banche più importanti di Israele, la Bank Hapoalim; la famiglia Recanati, essa stessa originaria di Salonicco, e il businessman Buno Lansperg.
     

    Ancora reduci dal successo del debutto, dopo quattro giorni ci spostammo a Salonicco…
     

    Come ha reagito la cittadinanza di Salonicco alla messinscena dell’opera? 
    Fummo molto fortunati in quel caso, perché il nostro evento era inserito in uno di più ampio respiro, il Festival “Demetria”, organizzato dal Comune. Così, mentre beneficiavamo del loro ufficio stampa e dei centinaia di manifesti che annunciavano lo spettacolo per l’intera città, ricevemmo i finanziamenti necessari da Impregilo, Italgas, e dalla comunità ebraica di Salonicco. Sebbene ben più piccola rispetto al passato, riesce a mantenere vivo il ricordo del console Zamboni tra i suoi membri ed eredi, dedicandogli addirittura un’ala del Museo ebraico della città.  
     
    Ha mai portato lo spettacolo in Italia? 
    Si, il 22 Novembre del 2008 ci fu il debutto italiano alla Biennale di Venezia, Sezione Teatro. L’auditorium che ci era stato messo a disposizione era molto più piccolo di quello di Salonicco e Tel Aviv, dato che contava solo circa 240 posti. Ma fu un’ottima cassa di risonanza per far conoscere “Salonicco 43” alla critica teatrale.
     

    Subito dopo portai l’opera a Torino, dove avevo già molti contatti. Grazie alla mediazione di Dario Di Segni, beneficiammo del generoso sostegno della Compagnia San Paolo, mentre Evangelina Christillin, Presidente della Fondazione Teatro Stabile di Torino, ci mise a disposizione il Teatro Gobbetti, un gioiello dell’800 da 280 posti situato nel cuore della città. Anche in questo caso la rappresentazione dello spettacolo fu inserita nell’ambito di un festival “Il Festival delle Colline Torinesi”, un evento nato per iniziativa locale ma divenuto subito famoso su scala nazionale.
     

    Anche per questioni di vicinanze geografiche, decisi di tentare anche la strada di Genova. Dario di Segni mi aveva assicurato il finanziamento della Compagnia San Paolo anche per un’eventuale performance lì, dovevo solo trovare il teatro. Mi rivolti al Teatro Stabile di Genova e decidemmo insieme che il luogo ideale sarebbe stato il Teatro della Corte, con più di 1000 posti. Fu una serata indimenticabile, le critiche positive furono innumerevoli e significative, un motivo d’orgoglio per me e tutto il cast.

    Da chi era composto il cast italiano?

    Guelfo Zamboni era interpretato da Massimo Wertmüller, nipote della regista Lisa Wertmüller, e attore di cinema, teatro e TV.  
     
    La cantante era Evelina Meghnagi un’ebrea italiana di origine tripolina, della cui voce mi innamorai ai tempi in cui ero Ambasciatore ad Atene. La incontrai la prima volta al Festival Ellenico, lei recitava in una rivisitazione de “Le Memorie di Adriano”, e la sua voce non mi lasciò più. Quando quindi mi trovai a cercare una cantante per “Salonicco ‘43” non poteva che essere lei la mia prima scelta…
     

    L’attrice che rappresentava invece la comunità ebraica era Carla Ferraro.  
     
    Perché è importante presentare “Salonicco ’43” a New York, ed in particolare per il Giorno della Memoria?
     
    Ci sono diverse ragioni per cui ho deciso di portare l’opera in questa città, ma ne voglio citare due in particolare.  La prima risiede nel fatto che New York ospita tre comunità importanti, sia dal punto di vista numerico che culturale, che potrebbero essere interessate al lavoro: l’italiana, la greca e l’ebraica. La seconda sta nel ruolo stesso che esercita questa città come polo teatrale internazionale. È sicuramente un’ottima vetrina ed il migliore punto da cui iniziare ad ipotizzare un tour in tutti gli Stati Uniti 
     
    Quale è la prossima città dove vorrebbe presentare lo spettacolo?

      Vorrei senza dubbio portare lo spettacolo a Washington entro Aprile. Se qui ho trovato l’entusiasmo del Console Generale Francesco Maria Talò e del direttore del Centro Primo Levi Natalia Indrimi, nella capitale ho un accorato sostenitore nell’Ambasciatore Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, che mi ha manifestato tutto il suo appoggio e mi ha offerto l’assistenza sua e dei suoi più stretti collaboratori affinché il mio progetto vada a buon fine.

  • Art & Culture

    Salonika 1943. Dusting Off a Forgotten Chapter of History

    The representation of "Salonika 43" at the Primo Levi Center in New York on February 18 wrapped up this year's celebrations for Remembrance Day, the date the Italian government (and most of the European governments) chose to remember the  victims of the Holocaust. The date marks the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. For the occasion, the theatrical play "Salonika 43", which was dedicated to the extermination of the Jewish community of Salonika by German hands in 1943, and to the heroic Consul General of Italy Guelfo Zamboni that managed to save more than 500 victims, was represented for the first time in English with an American Cast directed by Alan Andelson.

    Before the main Italian media operating in the area, Alessandro Cassin, journalist and research consultant for the Primo Levi Center,  presented to a full house the outstanding interpreters Robert Zukerman and Lily Bansen, accompanied by the music and chants of Galeet Dardashti and Brandon Terzic.

    In the first rows, eminent representatives of the Italian,  Italian-American, Greek, and Israeli communities in New York sat together with the Consul General of Italy in New York, Francesco Maria Talò, and his wife, Ornella; Deputy Consul Maurizio Antonini; the new director of the Italian Cultural Institute Riccardo Viale. With them was also Stella Levi, Board Member of the Primo Levi Center and a survivor of Nazi persecution. Born in the Island of Rhodes, Mrs. Levi has experienced many of the situations narrated in the play.

    The event enjoyed the sponsorship of the Alexandre Bodini Foundation and of the Italian-American Joseph Mattone Jr, who shared with us all his pride for supporting the initiative: " As a child living in Brooklyn, I had many friends of Jewish heritage. I could see the effect the news from Salonika had on their lives, I looked at their worried, anguished faces, and knew that I had to do something. I believe that theater, as every form of art, should be considered a means to teach history to new generations. And, also, by putting on stage a play like this one, we should also remind ourselves of what we have gone through, so that we act today to prevent and put an end to contemporary genocides."

    Special guest of the evening was Gian Paolo Cavarai, former Ambassador to Greece and Israel, and Diplomatic Advisor to the former President of the Italian Republic, Life Senator Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

    Co-author of the play, for the occasion he also represented Ferdinando Ceriani, Theatre Director and Professor at the Luiss University of Rome, and Antonio Ferrari, correspondent for the Mediterranean Area and the Middle East for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, who together with him gave birth to this moving and dramatic representation.

    A very simple scenography gave great prominence to the movements, words, and facial expressions of the characters.

    For most of the representation, Consul Zamboni was sitting at a desk illuminated by a soft light, positioned on the left inside of the stage. Actress Lily Balsen, who represented the anguished Jewish community, continuously changed roles and personalities, although her voice and expression never left her anguished features...

    Their interpretation was alternated and overlapped by the deep and vibrant voice of singer Galeet Dardashti, who hummed ancient Sephardic hymns.  They resounded in our ears and souls just as much as the repertoire, while images of the 1940s Salonika and its Jewish community forced us  to see the dreadful truth right before our eyes. In the pictures, mothers, elders, children,and those injured and physically challenged stood beside the rest of their friends and families, as they were all sent to the same destiny: Auschwitz, Poland.

    On the stage there were two parallel, growing torments. One was Mr. Zamboni's who, with strength, perseverance, and disgust for what was happening around him, used every possible means to save the lives of the Jewish citizens of Salonika, whether Italian or not. Letters to the SS command, to the "Royal Embassy of Italy in Athens", to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were written with frustration and vacuous, uncertain hope. The other one was the Jewish community's that, as the play went on,  became victim of ever growing abuse, both physical and psychological.

    The interpreters were surrounded by silence: nobody in the audience moved a muscle, everybody was completely into the show, their faces covered by a thick shadow of pain, sorrow, and sense of guilt.

    "Everybody is guilty, to a larger or lesser extent": words of anger with which Consul Zamboni left Salonika and the stage. The curtain closed on the representation as we were given the info that his successor continued in his efforts and saved another three hundred Jews by sending them to Athens. Unfortunately, that was not the final destination for most of them, as a train was waiting for them even there.

    Heirs and testimonies, and many of those sitting among the audience expressed praise towards the actors, directors, and authors of the play. "It must have been the tenth time that I assisted to this representation, but it's the first that I cried", claimed a touched and moved Ambassador Cavarai.

    We had had the opportunity to meet him a few days before the event at the Consulate General of Italy. The interview we had with him, that lasted almost two hours, gave us the opportunity to understand and feel how attached he is to "Salonika 43".

    When did the project of "Salonika 43" come to light?
    When I was Ambassador in Israel, I organized a conference to present the book of an historian of Italian origin, Daniel Carpi, who at that time was Professor of History at the University of Tel Aviv. In "A New Approach to Some Episodes in the History of the Jews in Salonika during the Holocaust. Memory, Myth, Documentation" he retraced the history of the Jewish community of Salonika during the Nazi Occupation through reports and documentations he found in the archives of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    I was very interested in the book, but it wasn't before I was nominated Ambassador to Athens that I started thinking to set up a theatre production based on it. The idea came to light when I met Antonio Ferrari, correspondent of the daily Corriere della Sera in the Mediterranean Area and Middle East. He knew much about the story of Consul General Guelfo Zamboni and felt that he had to write something about it. In Italy, very few knew his story... sometimes it happens that the need to forget a bad chapter of history brings a people to forget also the positive aspects of it. And one of them was without a doubt Consul Zamboni.

    We immediately organized a symposium on the issue. On that occasion, we met Theatre Director Ferdinando Ceriani who read some of the documents collected in Carpi's book. His dramatic, theatrical interpretation inspired us to set up the play, the three of us together, Mr. Ceriani, Mr. Ferrari, and I. First, we published a book, "Salonika's Jews 1943 – Italian humanity documented", edited by Mr. Ferrari, Prof. Alessandra Coppola, and Jannis Chrisafis. The book enjoyed the sponsorship of Intergilo, a group of companies based in Greece. Italo Coscione, its president, had already sponsored several events I organized in Athens, and decided to make  the book a Christmas present for all of his contacts.

    It was when I became Diplomatic Advisor to the former President of the Italian Republic, Life Senator Carlo Azelio Ciampi, that we decided to finally set up the theatre work. It took us two years to do it...

    You seem to be really passionate about theatre...
    Yes, I discovered my passion for theatre when I was 18. I was a high school senior when they took my class to see Othello by William Shakespeare at the Quirino Theatre in Rome. With Vittorio Gassman and Salvo Randone as the main interpreters, I couldn't have had a better first experience with theatre. I was admitted in the National Academy for Dramatic Arts "Silvio D'Amico" and attended a directing class. Although I finally abandoned that path to embrace the diplomatic one, I always tried to nourish my personal passion and promote Italian dramatic arts by organizing a considerable number of representations in the territories where I was stationed.

    When was "Salonika 43" first performed?
    We had our world premiere on September 23, 2008 at the University of Tel Aviv. We knew that it was not an easy show to present in that context; the issues it faces and analyzes are not the easiest to confront. We knew we had to start from there, although it is not a play dedicated or addressed only to the Jewish community. It must be looked at as a "universal story", one that regards everyone of us, especially today, when too much seems to have been forgotten.
    The representation was sponsored by one of the most important financial institutions in Israel, Bank Hapoalim; the Recanati family, originary of Salonika; and Bruno Lansperg, a 85-year-old business man.

    After four days, we had another very succesful performance in Salonika...

    How did the citizens of Salonika react to the show?
    We were lucky enough to present the show as part of a bigger festival, "Demetria", organized by the Town Hall of Salonika. The city was covered with manifestos announcing the show, which in that case was financed by Impregilo, Italgas, and the Jewish community of Salonika. It was a good opportunity to hand down the story of Consul Zamboni to the heirs of those who benefited from his actions. The local Jewish community is decimated as compared to what it was before 1943, but they still keep an area of their Museum dedicated to his memory.

    Was the show ever brought to Italy?
    Yes, on November 22, 2008 we presented it at the Biennal of Venice, Theatre Section. It was a very different venue from the two where we had hosted the show before. The auditorium had only 240 seets or so, but the context in which we performed gave the show great resonance.

    Thanks to some contacts I had in Turin, I also managed to bring it there. In that case we enjoyed the sponsorship of the Compagnia San Paolo, obtained also through the mediation of Dario Di Segni, who promoted "Salonika 43" in first person. Evelina Christillin, President of the Fondazione Teatro Stabile di Torino, offered us the Gobbetti Theatre, a 18th century jewel with 280 seats. We performed within the "Festival delle colline torinesi" (Festival of Turin Hills), an important local event with national relevance.

    Finally, also thanks to Compagnia San Paolo e Mr. Di Segni, we arrived in Genoa. There we had the support of the Primo Levi Center and the Teatro Stabile of Genoa. We performed at the Teatro della Corte, which has more than 1000 seats. It was a great success, with the two institutions renting buses to take the people to see the show. It was a source of pride both for me and the whole cast.

    Before this representation in New York, the play has always been performed in Italian. Who were the actors starring in it?
    Guelfo Zamboni was interpreted by Massimo Wertmüller, nephew of director Lina Wertmüller, and theatre, cinema, and TV actor.

    The singer is Italian and belongs to the Jewish Italian community originating from Tripoli. I fell in love with Evelina Meghnagi's voice in 2003 when I was Ambassador in Athens. On the  occasion of the Festival Ellenico, we held a representation of "Le memorie di Adriano", and she was the singer for that. I absolutely wanted her for my play...

    The Italian actress representing the Jewish community is Carla Ferraro.

    Why is it so important to bring "Salonika 1943" to New York, on the occasion of Remembrance Day?
    It is important for a number of reasons. First, because in the United States, and in New York in particular, there are three important communities that are directly involved in the facts we recount in "Salonika 1943": the Jewish, the Italian, and the Greek. Second, because this city is an important "window" for all of those operating in the theatre field. It is thus the best starting point from which to plan a wider tour in the US.

    Which city are you planning on bringing the show to next?
    Washington, without a doubt. If here I found the enthusiasm of the Consul General of Italy Francesco Maria Talò, and the director of the Primo Levi Center, Natalia Indrimi, in Washington I can find a huge supporter in the Italian Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata. Hopefully we will perform there in April.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    A Family Store in Bensonhurst

    Stepping into D. Coluccio & Sons Italian Specialty Store, located right in the heart of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, really makes you feel as if you're back in Italy. If this Italian-American neighborhood par excellence has been changing quite a bit during the last few years with the influx of Chinese, Korean, and Russian immigrants, Coluccio's still remains a point of reference for all of those who are fond of Italian food.  
     

    As we are constantly looking for charming Italian stories to recount our readers, we decide to spend an hour or so in the shop, and talk to the son and grandson of its founders, Louis Coluccio Jr. 

    A nice cup of Italian espresso at the back of the store, a long pleasent chat, and we learn a lot about the fascinating story of this family business.

    Louis is an Italian-American young adult in his mid-20s that strikes us from the very first thing he tells us: "I went to school in Boston and got a degree in Marketing and International Business. Although I could find an "indipendent" job somewhere else, I decided to come back to my relatives here in Bensonhurst and take care of the family business. I grew up with it and in it, I spent my summers here... To me it just made sense. It fitted me and I am fully satisfied with my choice and with my life now. I could not conceive it far from here". 
     

    A young adult that feels so attached to the Italian value of family, tells also a lot about the kind of environment where he comes from. We just can't help to ask him  more about the story of his family...

    Where does your family come from?
    All my relatives come from Calabria. My grandfather was a greengrocer back there, but he was looking for a different future for his family, new opportunities. When he came here at first, he found a potential market for Italian specialties. That's when he started importing  products such as provolone, Calabrese olives, and finally opened the shop in 1964. This is our third location. Before we were between 59 st. and 13th Avenue, then next door, and then we finally moved here.

    I am sure that the business has changed a lot from how it was at the beginning...
    Of course, although we still strongly sell and promote "traditional products", we also adapted our offer to what has become popular expecially among Americans. People are getting more and more educated on Italian food, and are willing to try new flavors and recipes. They follow food shows, research on internet, and come here with pretty much a clear idea of what they are looking for. If you think about it, years ago nobody knew what mortadella or panettone were; today, we sell the first every single day, and we simply seem not to have enough in stock of the second during the Christmas season!

    We also have people who come here demanding for a product, but do not exatcly have a clear idea on how to prepare it. As we are more than happy to give them recipes and advices, sometimes they also come back with something they have cooked and ask us to taste it to "check if it's the way it is supposed to be".

    As a metter of fact, I saw many Americans walking around the shop...
    We have all kinds of people coming over. They live in the neighborhood, but also far away. There are some who moved out to Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island and when they are around visiting their families in the weekend, they still come here for their grocery shopping

    And for you, how is it to work with your family every day?
    It's fun! As in every other job, we have good moments and bad moments. But when it's good, it's great. There are a lot of us working here: there is me and my father, my aunt Kathy and  my uncle Rocco, my cousin Sal that works in sales; and still others. Of course, we also have non-related employees, but they work here from so long that we consider them as part of the family.

    What is your dearest memory related to the shop?
    I remember when I was a kid and my grandpa was still around. After school I used to come here, and do my homework in the back shop. His strong but warm presence made of this place a second home for me. Everybody loved my grandfather, and we were all here to help him out during busy moments as the holiday season.

    Sometimes you don't realize how precious some moments are until you lose them. Fortunately we did and do, as we still carry on his memory by taking the best care of the business he founded with greatest sacrifices.

    What do you do exactly in the shop?
    I am mainly responsable for the retail sector, but I am also trying to transform the store in a meeting point between old and new generations here in Bensonhurst. I opened our Facebook page, and more and more young people are coming. For the first time, we will also host some "community events", both in and out of the store. I want Coluccio's to be not only a place where you can buy Italian products, but where you can also learn more about Italian culinary culture and tradition.

    What is the next event coming up?
    Famous Italian-American chef and writer Michele Scicolone will meet our costumers and visitors and sign copies of her new book "The Italian Slow-Cooker" on March 6.

    We will also sponsor a "All You Can Eat Pasta Dinner" at Locanda Verde in Tribeca, Manhattan, on Feb. 22 and March 2. Chef Andrew Carmellini will prepare his specialties using our tomatoes, oil of olive, and...pasta, of course...

    As we finish our coffee, Louis leaves me for a bit to go to talk to some costumers. I take the opportunity to tour around...
     

    Isles and isles of cookies, canned tomatoes, oil of olive, an unbelievable assortment of pasta of different shapes, manifacture, region of origins, taralli, and so farth: everything is Italian, from the first to the very last shelf.

    On the right inside, at the back of the store, a huge fridge keeps mozzarella, ricotta, heavy cream, and fior di latte, just as fresh as they should be. As you let them fill your nose with their aroma, your eyes are captured by the "vision" of the counter, on which huge salamis, prosciuttos, and provolones, are henged, waiting to be sliced and served to the gourmet costumer. Behind the counter's glasses, bowls and bowls of Italian olives of different varieties are divided by seasoning.

    It's a Saturday morning, and families are buying all they need for the upcoming week. Carriages full of groceries run back and forth, long listes of items to buy, children asking for their favorite chocolates, moms happy to spoil them a bit. Many Italians, many Italian-Americans, but also many Americans  come here to buy something they saw on a food magazine and "can't find in many other places", as Mary Ann, a young woman in her 30s, explains us. "I am curious about soppressata. I read an article about it a few days ago, and I am craving to taste it, it sounds so good!".

    As we run into Concetta, a grandma accompanied by her daughter and grandson Thomas, we discover that some old Italian habits never ever die... "What am I looking for? Good Italian oil of olive. This little one eats over every single day at lunch, when his mother is at work... I prepare for him homemade bean soups, lentils, cutlets, ragù sauce...The child must grow up healthy and strong, I would never buy shoddy oil when I cook for him", she tells us mixing English and Italian words with a very strong Sicilian accent.

    While we are talking, her old friend Maria comes by. A nice little, short lady, dressed in dark colors that brighten up her white shiny air. As many people in the neighborhood, she comes here almost every day: "Of course I can't buy bread for a week and throw it in the freezer. I stop by and get a nice loaf, and if something inspires me, I'll buy it for my son that comes to visit me every day". As it is evident from the very long chat she has with Concetta, she doesn't come at Coluccio's just for shopping, but also to meet her friends, and have some company for a bit. 

    We leave Coluccio's at 1 pm or so. With us, many others are going back home. In the Italian-American neighborhood lunch is still the main meal of the day. Families and kids are waiting for their piatto di pasta...

  • Events: Reports

    CineCucina. Celebrating Italian Food and Cinema in San Diego

    On May 20-22 the Birch North Park Theatre will host "CineCucina" a celebration of Italian film (Cine-) and food (Cucina) presented in its first edition by the San Diego Italian Film Festival.

    The two-day event will open with an "Aperitivo" on Thursday, May 20, 7 pm, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. The evening will feature the screening of shorts and documentaries about food, as seen from an Italian perspective: its origins, use, and myths.

    The "First Course" will be served on May 22, from 11 am to 6 pm. The lot behind the Birch North Park Theatre will be transformed in Piazza CineCucina, an outdoor fair featuring local farm fresh produce, artisanal foods and Italian specialties vendors offering certified produce from San Diego farms, demonstrations, cook-offs and other events that will involve local producers and attendees.

    “Finally, the “Main Course”, the screening of "Focaccia Blues” by Nico Cerasola will be served by the San Diego Italian Film Festival and Slow Food Urban San Diegoat the Birch North Park Theatre (6:30 pm). The Slow Food movement, which began in Rome 24 years ago, celebrates the core values of Italian cuisine: local, seasonal, healthy, sustainable and flavorful. For the occasion,  Slow Food Urban San Diego will provide an entertaining interlude based on the Italian roots of the  movement.

    "Focaccia Blues" is a movie about a local breadmaker located in Altamura, a small city in the region of Apulia, that challenges the international food corporation Mc Donald's. In Italy, where the David stands as a monument to Italian passion and courage, this mythic story of a local hero standing up to an out of town giant affirms the importance of community and local enterprise.

    We interviewed the organizers of CineCucina Pasquale Verdicchio and Victor Laruccia on the origins, meanings, and scopes of the initiative.

    The San Diego Italian Film Festival aims to promote Italian Culture in California. Why have you organized this very original event, CineCucina, specifically dedicated to "shorts and documentaries about food from an Italian perspective". Why is the Italians' relationship with food so interesting to the American audience?

    PASQUALE VERDICCHIO:In the popular imaginary what most people commonly associate with Italy (we'll keep to the positive things) are food, film and fashion to name but three. But even in these there is a fairly limited sense of what that might include. Since we have had such a great success over the last few years in attracting an ever-growing audience to our film screenings, which tend to fall outside of the more conventional sense of "commercial" films, we thought to put into action an idea that we've been considering for quite a long time. Putting film and food together is almost a natural, and it is also a way of expanding the notion and vocabulary most people have available to them regarding food just as we have done with film.

    The features and shorts we plan to show foreground a relationship with food that intimately tied to people's lives in every sense and not only at certain times of the day or only to fill one's stomach. And, since Italians too feel more and more the impositions of "fast" and processed foods as they crowd the shelves of markets, this marriage of film and food also serves as a reminder to all of us of the necessary aspects of a slower and more attentive relationship with what we put into our bodies. Of course we are not the first to do this, but we are the first to do it in San Diego and so we are breaking ground and making connections with local restaurants, food establishments and slow food enthusiasts that we hope will continue to grow over the years to entertain and inform our communities.

    VICTOR LARUCCIA: Joining film and food may be original, but for the SDIFF it really is essential. At every movie we’ve shown our audiences want to tell their own stories in the most congenial way they know – sitting down with friends to drink and eat something. The SDIFF sees this impulse as key to its own objectives: making culture, not consuming it, and making it in the stories we tell and in the relationships we nourish. But for the board of the SDIFF there is a stronger impulse than simply encouraging our visitors to tell stories. Almost each member of the board derives from an Italian family, and everyone on the board has Mediterranean roots. And each of us knows how key to our own histories and our own sense of culture is the food that has tied us together as families and given us that part of our identities which are the most important to us. In my case my mother’s family was from Lazio, my father was from Puglia, and they both loved to cook.

    Their styles and recipes were completely different, one heavier, one lighter, one full of brio the other full of light, one from the farm, the other from the sea, but they and all my family found the most sublime pleasures in each other’s cooking and in sharing that with their families and friends. That’s something most of our audience would like to share in. And as we find more reasons to rush life, take shortcuts, twitter rather than converse, we as Americans also find the routines of daily life to be generally unrewarding. When our American friends come to the movies, they see that Italy is changing, yet even so the importance of human relationships and of pleasures in the fundamental aspects of life comes across very clearly. We hope to make the point even more forcefully in our CineCucina events
     

    The festival is organized in collaboration with Slow Food. When did this partnership start, and why? Is there a "shared worldview" between SDIFF and Slow Food Urban San Diego?

    P.V.: Slow Food now has become a global movement. The fact that it began in Italy and that these sorts of food and film events are already organized there was of course in part the inspiration. But, while the fact of Slow Food being Italian is very important for us, it also gives us the opportunity to highlight how this influence has helped generate an interest in locally produced food stuffs. So, while an Italian emphasis is obvious in the content of the overall event what we wish to emphasize is also the Italian "influence" on certain current trends in food culture.

    V.L.: The SDIFF has been considering this project for several years. And because so many of the core values of Slow Food and of Italian culture are similar if not the same, the pairing is natural. Almost all the Italians on our board come from southern Italy, all of them have been raised inside La cucina povera. When I was a little boy, my grandmother, aunts and all the grandchildren would go to the local baseball field and pick the dandelions out of left field. And while my mother and aunts would laugh at the delicious absurdity of the moment (this was just at the end of WW II), they also spent a lot of time discussing how they would cook these greens and what would go best with them. There was a strong sense among these Italian women that the earth was a dear friend, and that it provided its goodness with love and generosity, even if it was only weeds, and all that was required was work.

    To us the Slow Food movement is rooted in that notion of both a good earth and a small earth, one which can provide delicious treats but only if treated well. Of course, this is a notion that now is threatened by the needs of rapidly expanding post-industrial demand, even in Italy, but it is a notion that offers at worst some mitigation and at the best a more satisfying and sustainable life. My grandfather, even though blind, grew enough food in his garden to provide the majority of his family’s sustenance, except, of course, for the main holidays. We do not advocate any back to the earth philosophy but rather wish to hold out the basic principles of food culture that are important to both the roots of Italian culture and to Slow Food. Those principles are an important tool for increasing the beauty of life.

    The "Main Course" of the event will be dedicated to the screening of "Focaccia Blues", the movie about a small focaccia shop that forced a local Mc Donald's to close. ?Are you aware that the Italian Ministry of Agriculture is now partnering with McDonald's to promote the new "McItaly burger"? Slow Food, among others, has been very critical of this partnership. What’s your opinion and how, in your mind, is this going to affect the message launched by the movie to the eyes of the Americans?

    P.V.: Yes, we are painfully aware of the Italian Ministry's endorsement of McItaly. However, since the Slow Food movement began as an alternative, an opposition to what have become conventions in the food industry (such as MacDonalds or other fast food places), we don't believe that it takes any of the impact out of the meaning of films such as Focaccia Blues. In fact, it gives them that much more relevance and continues to represent the struggle of small producers, businesses and individuals against the more faceless and enormous manufacturers for whom not the product but the profit is important.

    V.L.: First, there is something completely ridiculous about the Minister of Agriculture flipping burgers, but there is nothing ridiculous about the ensuing debate. At a superficial level, the brand of Italy has been used for a host of conflicting purposes, not all benign. And no matter what the name is or the burger type, that will not change any of the realities we all confront regarding alienation and various forms of cultural degradation. Again, our Festival isn’t taking up a position for or against any Italian minister flipping burgers; the pay flipping burgers isn’t all that good anyway. What we are trying to do is underline the basic roots of Italian values in food culture as we see them and experienced them. If someone wants a hamburger with a little Parmesan cheese, so what? But ultimately someone who wants only that won’t be interested in our movies or our perspective.

    Our audience is both inquisitive and yearning for something beyond a McDonald’s burger, no matter how it’s labeled and anyone who mistakes a hamburger, even with Parmesan cheese, for an Italian dish is probably not going to care very much about where his food comes from or what’s in it, and he’s certainly not going to care very much about learning what goes into a great Italian meal. On the other hand, if you come to our event, you may begin to question your own food culture, or you may be tempted to try something besides a hamburger of any kind. I like hamburgers. I prefer my wife’s pasta. The world can contain both, but to the extent any industrialized process makes it more difficult to create a wonderful Italian meal, the less likely it is that any wonder in the world will survive.

    What place does Italian food have and is destined to have in Americans' everyday life? What can be done to enhance and mantain its popularity?

    P.V.: Italian food has a very central place in American life. It may be a limited notion of what Italian food is. It might be limited to pizza and pasta, and even then to very narrow notions of those things, but it is already present and it is on the increase. Food is also a wonderful way to introduce culture indirectly. So many people now speak Italian words without even realizing it when they order a cappuccino, a latte or an espresso; not to speak of tiramisu, gelato and of course pizza and pasta. By expanding the horizon of what Italian food is and stands for through an association with film means also expanding these very simple ways by which people slowly come to know and hopefully understand another culture. Some of our partners in this venture are very proud of their Italian products even though they might not be Italian themselves. Their pride comes from representing and making available something that stands for cultural and social value, something that gives them a connection to long-standing traditions that they then pass on to those who frequent their establishments and businesses.

    V.L.: All cuisines are important because each expresses an important and unique way to fulfill a fundamental necessity to life. But Italian cuisine has some peculiar aspects that make it ever more attractive in America. Of course, there are probably more Italian restaurants or ones that purport to serve Italian than any other type. And they are popular, and they endure, so at a surface level, it’s possible to say that to the extent that these restaurants represent Italian food they will have a very important place in everyday American life. But beyond that, many of the principles of Italian cuisine (local, fresh, simple, basic ingredients that are perfect in their own way, and combinations that express a specific locale with flair) have now become rooted in many other cuisines. The idea of the freshest ingredients, the most local produce, the learned ability to judge the quality of the produce and meat, and the demand for rich combinations that present themselves without other complications, these are becoming much more dominant in the work of most major chefs.

    Enhancing and maintaining that popularity means becoming involved with your local community to help your friends, neighbors and fellow citizens learn how to make those judgments, how to distinguish flavors and textures as they come out of the earth, roaster or barrel.

    Slow Food does this very well. The SDIFF is attempting to create a specific event dedicated to these principles in the hopes that we can help orient our paesani (who share our town with us) to the joys to be found in learning about our cuisine. We expect to make this into an annual event that everyone looks forward to, learns from, and finds ways to use that learning joyfully.

    The show at MoPA is open to all, suggested donations of $5.


    Vendors and sponsors interested in participating in Piazza CineCucina can visit  the website or call 619.233.3901


    Advance tickets for the movie and Slow Food presentation can be purchased beginning in April at the San Diego Film Festival's Official Website 


    A limited number of tickets will be available at the Birch North Park Theatre’s door the day of the show.  Cost of theater ticket also includes a special Restaurant promotion program designed especially for this celebration.


    The San Diego Italian Film Festival is a non-profit 501c(3) organization dedicated to sharing Italian culture through film with San Diego Audiences. Italian films with English subtitles are screened throughout the year in a variety of venues. All films are open to the public. Please visit the website for full details, including addresses, start times, complete movie schedule and movie reviews.

  • President of the Accademia Giovanni Ballarini
    Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Fifty Years Of Accademia Italiana della Cucina in NY. Evergreen Authenticity in the City

    On February 9 the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its New York delegation in one of the most exclusive venues of the city, the Metropolitan Club. All of us guests were warmly  welcomed in the Club’s hall were we could enjoy an exquisite cocktail hour featuring delicacies prepared with authentic Italian products. As the bells rang, elegant gentlemen in black tie accompanied ladies in long dresses into the shiny dining room, where tables covered with satin table cloths were waiting for them to be seated.

    The memorable event, organized with the support of the Italian Trade Commission, directed by Mr. Aniello Musella, and the Italian Government Tourism Bord/North America, directed by Dr. Riccardo Strano, enjoyed the sponsorship of well-known Italian labels such as Ferrero SpA.; Monte Schiavo Vini; Toma Industria Abbigliamento Professionale; Velenosi Vini; Umani Ronchi; Vigne Di Leo; Sferiterio Opera Festival; Garofoli; Varnelli; Cartechini.

    The most eminent representatives of the Italian Community in New York were present to join the President of the Accademia Giovanni Ballarini and the Director of the New York Delegation Francesca Baldeschi Balleani in celebrating this important milestone for the oldest foreign branch of the Institution.

     Diplomats, journalists, businessmen and “Accademici” - those entitled to be members of the Accademia for their renowned expertise in the field or for their outstanding contribution to the preservation and spread of the Italian Culinary tradition -  found their table in the sumptuous dining room decorated with golden stuccos and crystal chandeliers.   Among them, the Consul General of Italy in New York Francesco Maria Talò with his wife Ornella, the Deputy Consul Marco Alberti; Federal Judge Dominic Massaro; President of CINN Group, Inc. Steve Acunto; President and CEO of Fiat New York Gianfranco Cuda; and many others.
     

    A special guest at the event was the delegation of the Province of Macerata, led by its President Franco Capponi, accompanied by the director of the Italian Government Tourism Board/North America Mr. Riccardo Strano. The delegation is in New York to present the beauties of the Marche region and this Medieval town to the American public.
     

    Their famous chef Lucio Pompili from the “Symposium” restaurant  in Serraungarina (Province of Pesaro) prepared the sophisticated dinner for all of us. It was a perfect blend of the best of Italian tradition and some of the most modern techniques and trends now spreading throughout Italy.
     

    As we were served the Appetizer, Parmenter con uovo fritto al tartufo nero d’inverno – (Parmenter with fried egg flavored with black winter truffle) – the cerimony started with the intonation of the two National anthems, the Italian and the American one, and the introductory remarks of Mr. Ballarini and Mrs. Balleani, both visibly moved. “I am not usually emotional, but in this case I just can’t avoid it. The Academy represents not only a job to me, but a personal mission. As I continue directing the New York branch and see how Italians who immigrated to this country are becoming  more and more committed to the preservation of our cuisine, I feel ever more proud to serve such a cause”, started Mrs. Balleani, as tears filled her eyes.

    “I came right from Italy just to celebrate this special occasion”, continued Mr. Ballarini, President of the Accademia. “I believe in the particular relevance of the New York delegation for the purposes of our mission. It is particularly important for us, indeed, to protect our traditional cuisine from the growth of the globalized fast-food market in this country. Without a doubt, New York is the right city to start working on this particular issue”.

    A strenuous defender of the authenticity of Italian products and recipes, President Ballarini is also famous for his book Il falso in tavola – Una mistificazione da conoscere e contrastare (Fakes at the table – A mystification to know and contrast), published by the Accademia Italiana in 2009. Dedicated to the promotion of the “Made in Italy” against counterfeiting, it is only one of the President’s personal initiatives towards a wider spread of the “Italian food culture both in Italy and the world”.
     

    As he told us during the Cocktail Hour preceding the Dinner, in fact, he is personally responsible for the upcoming publication of an online magazine on the website of the Accademia. “Visitors will be invited to read the latest about Italian cuisine, information on Italian products, and learn more about our centenary tradition. We at the Accademia know that Internet has become the most effective media to communicate -especially with the new generations. We have to look at the future if we want our tradition to remain alive. We have to look at them”.
     

    It was the Consul General Francesco Maria Talò that stepped on the podium to further underline the role of the Accademia as a cultural institution, both in the world and in the United States. “Italy has a remarkable fame in this country for a number of fields in which it excels. Among them, there is of course the culinary one. The only way, or at least the main one, by which we can keep this primate is to educate people about the importance of a healthy, responsible, genuine diet. The Accademia is here in New York, and in another dozen cities throughout the United States, to accomplish this goal. Its tasks are in constant evolution, just as Italian cuisine is transforming, but it, as an institution, remains a tenet for all of those who dedicate their efforts to the spread of the Italian culinary culture”.
     

    The link between past and future that the Accademia represents was symbolized very well by the first course we were served. The Pasta artigianale Marchigiana con Beccaccino pettinata di caffè e cacao, riduzione a goccia di lacrima di Morro d’Alba was brought to us in a jar that we were asked to “shake” just as you would do with a cocktail. A layer of tomato sauce, one of heavy cream, one of green beans and bacon, were topped with a sort of Tubettoni. Mixed together and poured in the plate, they became a traditional, fully Italian Piatto di Pasta.
     

    As we were served the second course, Tagliata di lombo con olio di rosmarino e bandiera di vendure (flank steak with Rosemary-flavored olive oil with a side of vegetables), Italian singer Giada Valenti intoned famous Italian and Italian-American pieces accompanied by her Orchestra. Among them, “Quando” and “Caruso” perfectly matched the strong and at the same time delicate flavor of the dishes we were served, making all of us feel as if we had been brought back to Italy for an evening.
     

    Awards were presented during dessert. “This is not something that the Academia usually does, but we feel it is appropriate to recognize the efforts of some of our co-citizens in promoting our cuisine in such as an important occasion as the 50th anniversary of the New York delegation”, said Mr. Ballarini calling one by one all the honorees onto the podium. Ten recognitions were awarded to ten businesses and/or personalities who were considered to be outstanding in promoting Italian products and cuisine in New York: Restaurant Owners Laura Maloglio (Barbetta 1906), Iacopo Falai (Falai), Michele e Salvatore Doria (Gino 1945), Sirio Maccioni (Le Cirque), Gianfranco Sorrentino (Il Gattopardo); Journalists Pamela Fiori, Mimmi Sheraton, and Luisianna Messeri; Writer Giuliano Bugialli; and Grocer Lou di Palo from Di Palo Italian Grocery Store in Little Italy.
     

    Coffee was served with a very special dessert dedicated to Delegate Francesca Baldeschi Balleani, Carota sottoterra dolce-salato (Underground sweet and sour carrot), a pastry covered with orange glaze and shaped as a carrot accompanied by cocoa powder.
     

    A drop of exquisite Anice liquor from the Marche Region finally warmed all of us up, as we were getting ready to end our Italian evening and step out in the freezing New York night.

     The Accademia is the sole Italian institution who,  for more than fifty years, is dedicated to fighting for the pre-eminence of gastronomic culture over the depressing commercialization of food and all forms of ignorance about it.

    In 2003, the Minister for Cultural Affairs recognized the well documented cultural merits of the Accademia by granting it the denomination, “Cultural Institution”, thus placing it amongst the largest and most important Italian cultural organizations, often laden with over a century of experience, rich in past and present glories, bearers of experience and wisdom in the cultural arena.

    Until today, the Accademia's intense and qualified efforts have engendered an ever growing sensibility among bodies of information and public opinion towards the themes connected with safeguarding the values of the civilization of the Italian table, and of that patrimony of history, culture and custom, which has been taking shape over time in every part of Italy, also because of  a specific philosophy of taste.

  • Life & People

    Valentine’s Day. Instructions for Use (For Men!)

    You don’t need me to tell you that Valentine’s Day is coming along. I mean, WHEREVER we are, all we can see is heart-shaped balloons, chocolate cakes, and cafes and diners advertising their “surprise your loved one with the sweetest breakfast”. And so on…
     

    Are you getting ready? Did you get your fiancé a nice gift? are you taking her out for dinner? will you buy her flowers? No? Well, maybe you don't need to do all of that. But you better do SOMETHING!
     

    This piece is to give you a couple of advises, “instructions for use”, on how to behave and what to do on this “special day”. Don’t come and tell me that you are cool with that, ‘cause your “girlfriend does not believe in this 'consumerist--American-holiday'”, because believe me… you’ll pay the consequences of your non-celebrating. Women DO care.
     

    Sometimes I hear of people that don’t even call their partner on Valentine’s Day, just to show her that “Nothing is different”, it’s a day just like the other. Well, that should mean that you love her just like yesterday and the day before that… not that you hate her, and just don’t care for 24hours!
     

    Do you at least know why Feb. 14 is the day of love?
     

    You can decide if you care or not about this day, but first you have to understand the FULL meaning of it. First of all, VALENTINE’S DAY IS NOT AN AMERICAN HOLIDAY. Celebrated almost all over the world, its origins trace back to the II century AD, Valentine being an Archbishop  who lived in a small little town in Umbria, Italy. Oh yes, Italy.
     

    Valentine was a sort of revolutionary, being the only priest throughout the peninsula that accepted to marry a “mixed couple”, a Pagan and a Catholic. It was the first mixed marriage in the history of Catholicism, and Valentine celebrate it “in the name of love that overcomes all barriers” (Yes, you’re right. We do need another Valentine today).
     

    When he passed away, he was proclaimed “the saint protector of love”. He is now the patron of Terni, where every year on February 14 they organize a huge festival in his honor. Couples come from other areas of Italy and abroad to get married here on this particular day, or to renovate their vows, or to promise one another “eternal love”, and receive the blessing of the Archbishop of Terni, the town of St. Valentine.
     

    Now that you know the story… don’t you look at this holiday from a different point of view?!
     

    Well, if you do (and if you still don’t) here are some tips to surprise (and please) your partner (she is ALWAYS expecting something).
     

    “Little things mean a lot”, said a popular song written by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz, published in 1953. So, don’t worry if you can’t buy her diamonds and pearls… it is not what she is looking for (in most cases…). If you want it to remain the holiday of love, and not the one of consumerism, you can make her just the happiest person of the world with very small "attentions". Do you live together? Cuddle her with breakfast in bed. Squeeze your own oranges, don’t open the can. Arrange the sweeties and fruits in an elegant manner; don’t just throw them on the tray… you are not playing baseball!
     

    It’s not necessary to buy a gift or a full bouquet of red roses. What for? Most probably they are not even their favorite flowers! Women prefer much more a “customized present”. My favorite flower, as an example, is the daisy. Don’t you think they are the friendliest flowers ever? A single daisy picked up just for me would make me much happier than 2 dozens red roses.

    The same for Valentine’s Day cards. Don’t look for a romantic quote on the web; don’t go to Hallmark to buy the first American Greetings card you find. Just sit down and write something yourself. You don’t need to promise eternal love (don’t cheat!), just write what you feel you want to tell her (after all if you are going out with her, and you’re sharing a piece of your life, you should have enough to write about…).
     

    Chocolates? Yes, it could be a good idea…if they are her favorite sweets… Otherwise pick what she likes! Hershey’s doesn’t own the holiday!

    You can’t afford to take her to the movies, or out for dinner? Well, that’s perfectly understandable given the harsh economic times… of course she wouldn’t (shouldn’t) ask you to donate blood or to sell your wristwatch to get the money! If you can’t afford it, however, it doesn’t mean that you just can stay home with the excuse of “too much traffic on the road; it will take forever to get to your place” (it did happen to me once, and I was going to throw away the home-baked chocolate ganache cake I had made for the idiot, before my sister saved it!); or that you can go with your pals to watch the soccer/football/baseball/whatever game in a bar (not going is certainly one of the best ways you can show her your love!!!). So, rent your favorite movie, go to her place, and prepare her favorite dinner… that’s something that has no price.

    In conclusion, this is my message to you, my friend: whether you’re rich or poor; you’re married or not; you’re romantic or naturally rude as a brown bear, Valentine’s Day is your moment to do something special, something “customized” to your feelings and to the special woman you have on your side.
     

    And if you want to keep spoiling her on Feb. 15, go for it! It might take some time to oil the gear, but you know…. practice makes perfect! (you are not yet!)

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