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Articles by: Emily Hayes

  • Facts & Stories

    Conte Pushes for Albania and North Macedonia to Join EU

    Leaders in Europe failed to reach a decision on whether to allow Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia to join the European Union for the third time last night, resulting in discontent from leaders in those countries as well as Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte.

    “I am very close to the Albanian community of North Macedonia, and they have made great efforts,” Conte said.

    President of the European Council Donald Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also supported negotiations for the inclusion of Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia. 

    The country changed its name from Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia last year after a 27-year-long dispute with Greece. The deal was made to stifle Macedonia’s claims on a northern Greek territory of the same name. 

    Leaders also pointed out that the Republic of North Macedonia was instrumental for the European Union member states in handling the migration crisis of 2015. The neighboring country reduced the number of asylum seekers crossing the Balkans into Europe, according to an exchange between a European Union minister of Austria, Alexander Schallenberg, and a reporter at Politico. 

    However, President of France Emmanuel Macron led the opposition to negotiation and accession talks at the European Union Council Summit last night, claiming changes to the process are needed before any country should start going through it, and that Albania and North Macedonia also may not be ready. 

    Conte said the failure to start negotiating entrance into the European Union with Albania and North Macedonia was a “historic mistake, for which I am very sorry.” 

    The prime minister was in the Albanian capital of Tirana earlier this week to reaffirm Italy’s support for Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama. 

    Conte said it was not just about the accession process, but about keeping an “open mind” with more opportunities for investment, trade and partnerships with neighboring countries that have strong historical ties.  

    Chinese and Russian influence in the Balkan countries continues to build, causing concern for the European Union and a need to maintain beneficial relationships, according to a report by Euronews. 

    Tusk put the issue on the agenda for another upcoming summit of European leaders. On Twitter, he shared a message for Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia: “Don’t give up! You did your share and we didn’t. But I have absolutely no doubt that you will become full members of the European Union.”

  • Art & Culture

    Expanding Italian Language Programs in the United States

    Despite a steep decline in foreign language studies in the United States, the number of Italian language students is growing. A report on the “General States of the Italian Language,” presented in October 2018 by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, revealed that the number of university students studying Italian in the United States increased from 64,449 in 2016 to 73,479 in 2018. The number of Italian language students at all levels and grades increased by 14% nationally. As more universities forgo foreign language requirements and government funding cuts international education, what is causing this rise in Italian language programs?

     

    A relatively small country, Italy has a population of 60 million inhabitants. Meanwhile, American and British power in the global economy has propelled English as one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. Students in the United States are therefore less compelled to learn another language, particularly one they feel will not help them directly in their chosen career.

     

    However, Italy is the most popular non-English speaking destination abroad for American university students, according to a report from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Italy has always played an alluring, fantastical role in the foreign imagination, dating back centuries to the traditional “Grand Tours” of upper-class European men traveling there as a rite of passage. A vibrant country pulsing with ancient and Renaissance history, priceless artworks, breathtaking landscape, and rich, fertile soil that produces one of the healthiest diets in the world, Italy is the home of an enriching lifestyle.

     

    Maria Fusco left her native Rome in September of 2016 to become Director of the Education Office at the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC. She wanted to promote her beloved country’s language and culture overseas, in a place that would make a significant difference.

     

    “It is time to consider learning a foreign language as one of the most important aspects – and assets – of education. When we learn another language, we embrace the cultural heritage of the country – and are enriched by it. We become more open-minded,” Fusco wrote, addressing the importance of foreign language programs in American schools.

     

    With almost thirty years of experience teaching foreign languages and literatures at all levels in Italy, Fusco used education to inspire change in her students, in her community, and within the education system.

     

    In Rome, Fusco became the first female principal at I.I.S. de Pinedo-Colonna, a technical institute that prepares future pilots and sailors.

     

    It was a “natural turning point” in her career to become a school principal in 2008, and guide other teachers in improving education. Her current role is an extension of that work globally, as she advocates for teachers and students of Italian language and culture in the United States.

     

    “I strongly believe in the need to motivate and encourage teachers and students. Thanks to the close collaboration between the Embassy of Italy and Eduitalia, an association that includes 94 Italian schools and universities, several scholarships for study trips to Italy are annually assigned to the most deserving teachers and students of Italian,” Fusco shared. This is a novel idea and an opportunity for American teachers and students to learn how to accommodate different cultures, work with a diverse group of colleagues, and gain a global perspective in an increasingly globalized world.

     

    And perhaps no one else is more qualified to direct the implementation of programs like these than Fusco. She has previously served as principal of Aldo Moro, an Italian school in Bucharest, Romania that accepts students of any nationality. The experience, according to Fusco, “widened my cultural horizons and set me on a course to seeking working experiences outside of Italy.”

     

    The different socio-cultural reality she lived as an educator and advisor in Bucharest after the anti-Communist revolution provided a new perspective on “the positive and negative aspects of the Italian school system.”

     

    Foreign language skills, however, remained a priority.

     

    Fusco’s experience extends beyond working with children and young adults. As principal of the Provincial Centers for Adult Education, she developed foreign language teaching activities and methodology for foreign adults working in Italy.

     

    “I learned that teaching Italian to non-native speakers is very different because, beyond grammar, the communicative approach is crucial. And it is very challenging,” Fusco added.

     

    With the number of American expats residing in Rome, Fusco views her position in the United States as “the symbolic completion of my professional career. Each step has prepared me for this job.”

     

    The culmination of her impressive résumé, tied with a deep devotion to her native Italian language, led her to the Italian Embassy, where she coordinates seven education offices in the United States network, including Washington, DC, New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, San Francisco, and their surrounding areas.

     

    Thanks to the approval of Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) between the Embassy of Italy and the state and county school authorities in the United States, Fusco is involved in organizing training for teachers of the Italian language, and advocates for the need of Italian courses in local schools.

     

    “The Memoranda are institutional frameworks in which both the Embassy – or the Italian Consulates – and the Department of Education of the United States take responsibility for the expansion of Italian language and cultural education. Thus, we were able to include Italian courses in the curricula of designated elementary and middle schools, with a view to taking the Italian AP exam,” Fusco explained.

     

    “The whole course is a certification of sorts of the Italian language program,” she continued, referring to the opportunity to earn college credit for a course before American students even graduate from high school.

     

    Students who pursue Italian language study through the AP exam will “have access to the competitive and affordable Italian university system.” In Italy, the maximum expense for a state or public university does not exceed three thousand euros, for the students who are adventurous enough to move there for a degree. If students take Italian language courses in middle and high schools, they are more apt to take them in college, where most Italian language programs have been cut.

     

    Data from College Board, the organization that administers the SAT and AP exams, has shown a growth in Italian language AP test takers by 14% compared to last year, demonstrating the program’s success in embracing the American trend of standardized testing. This percentage of growth is higher than other common foreign language programs offered, including Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and German. The number of schools offering the test in the United States also increased from 460 to 487.

     

    The Italian government allocates funds annually to "enti gestori", or nonprofit organizations committed to fostering the growth of Italian language courses in both public and private schools in the United States. These funds, along with an annual strategic plan approved by the Ambassador of Italy to the United States, Armando Varricchio, will “help keep the positive growth trend in Italian AP exams.”

     

    Italian and Italian-American Associations also play a major role in this work, including the Italian Institutes of Culture found in major American cities. Fusco emphasized the importance of these organizations working together under a common goal: “So, as you can see, behind all these outstanding results and numbers there is incredible teamwork – 'un gioco di squadra vincente.'” 

     

    Through a new Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and the District of Columbia, finalized on February 13, 2019, the two entities agreed to collaborate to provide new opportunities for students and teachers to increase understanding of the Italian language and culture. This includes methods American students will find appealing, such as professional development, virtual and in-person exchanges between students in the two countries, and curricular resources.

     

    “Another important step for the development of Italian language programs at all levels here in the United States,” emphasized Armando Varricchio, Ambassador of Italy to the United States.

     

    “More and more American students are now interested in learning our beautiful language and we need more agreements like the one signed with the DC Public Schools Administration to reach out to them and train new teachers.”

     

    According to the Strategic Plan approved by the National Observatory of the Italian Language in the United States, the increase in the number of Italian language students is linked to appropriate training for qualified teachers. The Embassy of Italy organizes two training days each year in cooperation with participating universities, and creates targeted handbooks for principals, superintendents, and counselors, also key players in the American school system.

     

    “I am convinced that the key to the academic success of students is the teacher. 'I bravi maestri', good teachers, are those who truly motivate students to learn Italian, and teach it as a 'lingua viva', an idiom that is very much alive and used in different fields, including by the business community. This overcomes stereotypes or commonplaces regarding Italy and Italians,” Fusco said of her work at the Embassy.

     

    There are many Italian Americans in the United States – they make up about 5% of the total population. Their ancestors immigrated to the country searching for better living conditions. But their grandchildren and great-grandchildren often choose to learn Italian in school to connect with their heritage and culture. Communicating in the native language allows students to embrace their family and homeland in a deeper, more valuable way than translations in English allow.

     

    Budget cuts to foreign language education reflect a larger reluctance in Americans to learn a foreign language, since English is steadily rising as the global language. Yet Fusco’s experience in the United States has revealed an undying reverence of Italian art, history, and culture, along with a willingness to protect the language in school systems. This strong admiration and regard derives from immigrants maintaining their Italian family traditions, communities, and food. It is also supported by stories passed down through generations.

     

    “I was able to touch, firsthand, the love this great country bears toward all things Italian and our ‘way of life.’ I have been privileged to see how Italian heritage is intrinsically intertwined with US culture. I am deeply moved by the overwhelming generosity. Associations almost seem to be in competition as to who gives the most to best testify, through their help, their strong and enduring bond for their far away, yet so near, Bella Italia.”

     

    With this support, and all the “brave maestre” like Maria Fusco, the Embassy of Italy is promoting Italian language programs across the country.

     
  • Dining in & out

    Officina. The Evolution is Happening Every Day

    The tall, dark-tinted windows of Officina on a cloudy day do not reveal what is held within the massive three-story building on Washington, DC’s The Wharf. Gray walls of stone and an unassuming exterior suggest that Officina is its English translation – a “workshop.” This title isn’t wrong. Inside, waiters are rubbing down glasses and countertops, butchers are slicing prosciutto, cooks are shaping delicate ravioli, bartenders are mixing amaro cocktails, and barristas are brewing rich Italian coffee.

    A One-Stop Italian Shop

    At the center of all this activity is Nick Stefanelli, a Michelin-starred chef who had a vision of creating a one-stop Italian shop. And a café. And a bar. And a trattoria. Officina offers all of these things to its guests.

    The first level is big and open, with the sun streaming in through the tall windows and onto the glasses and bottles behind the counter of the café bar. Large, comfortable barstool chairs of navy blue line the pristine marble countertops, and intimate booths wrap around the wall. Freshly baked cornetti and crisp sfogliatelle are on display in the morning, and thick Roman pizza appears around noon. Later in the afternoon and evening, the coffee and espresso cups give way to slim wine and cocktail glasses.

    Slightly below and directly serving the café area is an Italian market and butcher shop. Full cuts of beef, lamb, and pork hang behind glass, and slices of salumi are presented for sale or used in the panini going to the café bar. Stefanelli sources his meat from a small collection of farmers in West Virginia. The lamb comes from a nearby co-op, and the beef comes from the local Rosetta Farm.

    Specialty cheeses imported from Italy are showcased in the luminous display counter. Jars of potted foie gras, artichokes, mushrooms, peperoncini, olives, and olive oil fill up the surrounding shelves. The smell of freshly baked bread is refreshingly different from the surrounding grocery store chains in DC. Linguine, chestnut tortellini, bucatini, and paccheri, handmade by Officina sit plentifully in wooden boxes and copper trays, ready for what Nick Stefanelli calls the “weekend chef” to bring home. And there is, of course, an ample selection of Italian wine.

    Stefanelli drew from memories of childhood visits to small Italian stores and family-owned delis in Baltimore to build the market in Officina. Following the announcement of its opening on DC’s The Wharf, Italian Americans in the community put in requests for items they wanted to see included that they couldn’t find anywhere else nearby, like Mulino Bianco cookies. In this way, Officina is, according to Stefanelli, “filling a gap in DC by providing a market for people who want to cook authentic Italian food at home.”

    Quality, Versatility, and Transparency

    For Stefanelli, the most important aspect of the market is transparency. As guests work their way up from the café and market area on the winding grand staircase to the trattoria, “they see exactly where the ingredients in their dishes come from.” Stefanelli developed an appreciation for transparency and sourcing locally when he joined Roberto Donna at his Italian restaurant Galileo in Washington, DC.

    “With Roberto, we were always buying from local farms. It wasn’t to follow a trend, it was just the style we were taught to cook in,” Stefanelli said of the James Beard Award-winning chef. Born in the Piedmont region of Italy, Donna is committed to promoting authentic Italian food and flavors in the United States. A large part of that is using high quality, locally-sourced ingredients and meat, tending to a garden in or near the restaurant, and producing items within the restaurant itself. This is the way it is done in Italy, and chefs like Roberto Donna have molded younger chefs like Stefanelli to use this style in America.

    The flow of the market to the café to the trattoria not only induces transparency, it creates an all-day center for meeting with family and friends over flavorful, warm Italian food, wine, and cocktails. Officina becomes the Italian piazza, with the first floor as the early morning espresso and cornetto, followed by evening aperitivi. As guests climb the staircase under the yellow light of the modern chandelier, they spend the remaining hours of daylight in the trattoria overlooking the glittering Washington Channel and Potomac River. After dinner, the final stop of the night is the cozy, five-seat amaro bar and the terrazza’s seasonal cocktails with an exceptional rooftop view of Washington, DC. Each floor is a different time of day in the piazza.

    Originally, Officina was meant to be only a market, with a few tables and chairs on the sidewalk. “We were already baking our own bread in Masseria, and making fresh pasta. I wanted to have a place where people could take that home to make it themselves,” Stefanelli began as he shared the story of Officina.

    “When we looked at the compartmentalized layout of this building, all the pieces came together naturally. And I fell in love with the rooftop,” he added.

    “Each individual person sees it and experiences it differently. People come in from The Wharf, buy bread in the market, and go home. Others come in with their girlfriends for a drink at the café bar. Everyone takes a different piece of it.” Stefanelli gestured to a family with two young boys running around the lobby, as their parents guided them to the café counter.

    “This family will come in at half past eleven on a Saturday morning for coffee and arancini, but Tuesday night at eight the parents could come back for a celebration dinner with friends.”

    Getting Ready For Summer

    Officina only just opened in October 2018, and the staff has not seen a crowded Spring or Summer season on The Wharf yet. Aperitivi and dinner on the rooftop of the restaurant are sure to be the first stop before summer concerts at the nearby venue The Anthem. Although the coming season is daunting for the new restaurant, Stefanelli is excited to see the growth that will take place over the next couple of months.  

    “It takes a while for things to settle. A new restaurant is like a newborn baby. At first, you are still trying to figure out what your arms and legs are. But I’m excited to watch it mature into what it is going to be. We just opened, so we are still flexible to change what we want to. This space should turn into something that lasts for the next twenty-five years, but it will change and evolve over time. There was an explosion of people when we first opened, but this summer there will be a new explosion as people start figuring out what we are trying to do,” Stefanelli predicted.

    In addition to Officina, Stefanelli owns the Michelin-star Italian restaurant Masseria, a favorite of high-profile people like Michelle Obama. Located in Washington, DC as well, Masseria showcases refined Italian cooking through tasting menus that delicately capture the unique coastal culture of Puglia, the region of Italy where Stefanelli’s family immigrated from. Officina will complement Masseria by introducing a wider audience of DC residents and tourists to region-specific cuisines of Italy.

    “Food is a major social and familial focal point in Italy. Italian gastronomy ranges from simple pastas to luxurious ingredients like truffles, but all taste great. The menu in the trattoria brings out the simple and luxurious things from different regions across Italy, particularly Emilia-Romagna, which is just so rich with pasta dishes and wine. I like to drive and get lost in Italy, and discover things that way. My goal for Officina is to refine the classics, but maintain the heart and soul of it. I want people to come here for a great bowl of pasta and a great glass of wine, the simple things,” Stefanelli explained.

    “The way we look at the dishes is different. We aren’t trying to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in how we make Italian food.

    Wine and Amaro

    Another distinctive cornerstone of Officina is the impressive and alluring walls of wine that fold around the grand staircase in the center of the building. Stefanelli’s major focus is wine, and he has collected 4,900 bottles from all over Italy to serve in his restaurants.

    “I collect the wine so that I am able to tell the stories. On Saturdays, we have wine tastings in the market,” so guests can learn “the story of wine and what wine is,” especially to Italians.

    Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has documented over 350 grape varieties, which explains why there are so many stories Stefanelli and his staff can share with guests of Officina.

    Roberto Donna was also a major influence on Stefanelli when it came to wine. Being from Piedmont, he introduced Stefanelli to the Barolos that were coming out of that region in the 1990s.

    When Stefanelli went to work for Fabio Trabocchi at his restaurant Maestro, Vincent Feraud was the sommelier. From a spacious wine cellar crowded with over 800 wines from Italy, France, and the United States, Feraud would pull out a bottle for Stefanelli to try: “He would just hand me a glass of wine and say here, try this.”

    He developed “likes and dislikes,” and a taste for high-quality, well-made wine. This informal education continued under the wine director at Bibiana, Francesco “Ciccio” Amodeo. Amodeo is from the picturesque Amalfi Coast, where he began his work in the hospitality industry in the small town of Furore. The majority of his family members served as winemakers and artisanal liqueur purveyors in the area, and he brought this training, history, and wealth of family knowledge to Washington, DC. Stefanelli discovered the many sweet and savory flavors of "rosolio" and "amaro" through working with Amodeo at Bibiana.

    Now President and Master Distiller of Don Ciccio & Figli, an Italian herbal liqueur distillery in Washington, DC, Amodeo “opened [Stefanelli’s] eyes to the South of Italy when Sicily was gaining notoriety” for its wine.  

    “I’m still delving into the diversity of Southern Italian wine. There is exciting stuff coming out of Sicily and Sardinia. It’s an expensive habit,” laughed Stefanelli.

    “I go to wineries in Italy to learn the philosophy behind their winemaking, learn why they came into it. Food and wine pairings, and why they go together, are interesting to me. At Masseria, everyone goes through pairing class and training, so they understand and can explain why certain wine and food go together. Once Officina is settled, we will do a cheese, salumi, and wine pairing class series for kitchen staff here. I want to open their eyes up to this world, too.”

    The café bar will transform into a place where guests come to learn about wine, cheese, and salumi pairings, layering on another educational piece to Officina. Guests can even purchase the wine, cheeses, and salumi to take home and enjoy.

    Like Francesco Amodeo, Stefanelli sees amaro as another way to explore the history of Italian gastronomy. Although not quite as big as the wine library, the amaro selection at Officina is also substantial.

    “You see amaro everywhere now, but it has always been there, in Italy. There are more people inquisitive about it in Officina now. At first, we only had a couple of bottles of amaro that were less bitter, but people’s flavor profiles have surprised me. The bitter amaro has actually been popular. A lot of people will ask questions about it and want to understand,” Stefanelli said.

    Stefanelli's Other Heritage

    The next step in advancing his Italian heritage and cuisine in the United States consists in exploring the other, often overlooked side of his heritage, because of his Italian last name. He hopes to revolutionize Greek food in America by preparing it in a regionally specific way.

    “My Italian family is from Puglia, which was at one point a part of Greece. I expect there to be cultural bleeding between Italian and Greek food. There are great people who have told the Italian food story in the United States. Just think about how Italian food was perceived in the 1960s compared to now.” Stefanelli conjures up images of simple, bland spaghetti and meatballs.

    “I want to tell a new story of Greek food in the United States.”

    As for Officina, guests can expect nothing but improved knowledge of wine pairings from staff, and even more fresh products made in-house to become available in the market. For Stefanelli, the evolution is happening every day. The overall warmth, color, the vibrant energy of the staff, and joyful voices echoing through the floors have made Officina a Mediterranean haven throughout the snowy DC winter. Sunset over the Southwest waterfront with Stefanelli’s authentic collection of wine, aperitivi, and simply genuine Italian plates is sure to be a rare taste of an Italian summer for residents and tourists in Washington, DC over the coming months.  

     
  • Facts & Stories

    1938: Diversi Premiers in the US on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

     Eighty years after the fascist regime’s promulgation of racial laws, the film sets out to examine through the voices of witnesses and historians what the implementation of these laws meant for Italian Jews and how the population, both Jewish and non-Jewish, reacted to one of the most tragic examples of racial persecution in human history.

     

    Most importantly, director Giorgio Treves unearths Italy’s culpability in the persecution like a stubborn weed, and reminds us of the need for education and reconciliation in order to point out intolerance and injustice in the future, and develop institutions that protect human rights against prejudice. Otherwise, as philosopher George Santayana wrote, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

     

    Touching upon International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and 1938: Diversi, the Ambassador called it “a vivid and painful reminder” of the “blinding darkness of stereotypes ready to strike. When social discrimination and violence emerge, we must be ready to act swiftly to avoid these threats. As a European, I have a special responsibility to this.”

     

    Although Italy is, and should be, “proud of our history, we need to be engaged now. We are the heir of a great past, but we have a responsibility to pass on to future generations what we have to do, and keep history books open on their shelves.”

     

    After the Ambassador’s powerful words, and the screening of the documentary, Treves quietly took his place on the small stage. He was accompanied by Dr. Elizabeth White and Lindsay Zarwell, Senior Historian and Film Archivist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, respectively.

     

    Moderated by Susan Barocas, former Director of the Jewish Film Festival in Washington, DC, the conversation revealed how the film stemmed from a deep need to understand the truth of the past in the context of personal stories. For Treves, premiering 1938: Diversi in the United States helped him travel “back to the past of my family, and things left unsaid.” In 1940, his parents fled Turin and the fascist racial laws on the last ship to sail for America, the George Washington.

     

    “This is where I was born, and where we were welcomed as refugees,” Treves shared. His cousin, who just turned 90 a few weeks ago, was one of the witnesses included in the documentary.

     

    “I wanted each witness to speak about a different angle, and he represented those who did leave the country.”

     

    However, the film does not begin its story with the rise of antisemitism in Italy. Instead, cartoons, comic strips, and short films of the Italian-Ethiopian war in 1935 illuminate the decisive role played by the media in promoting racism, and establishing dangerous stereotypes. The seeds of hatred for the “other,” or diversi, were planted, along with a nationalism that supported the idea of the so-called “Aryan race.” The archival footage also reveals a part of Italian history that is not well-known abroad, and needed to be examined more deeply.

     

    In a country that had not traditionally been anti-Semitic, fascist propaganda promoted in movies, songs, and even children’s books came as a shock to the Jewish population. In the early 1930s, many prominent politicians, leading businessmen, and successful doctors were Jewish. But the fascist media and propaganda had created a new Italy controlled by fear and insecurity, still suffering from the trauma of World War I.

     

    Treves was able to capture this transformation in old footage from the Istituto Luce, a propoganda machine originally created by Benito Mussolini in 1924 to create racist messaging for movies. Frantic black and white images of soldiers moving in sync in fascist uniforms through Piazza San Marco made the American audience uncomfortable; stern gray jackets, boots, and men amid the sun-soaked, jovial colors of Venice we are all familiar with was an ugly awakening to Italy’s role in World War II.

     

    The director wanted to use archival footage, voices of witnesses, and actors to read the words of Mussolini to make the perspectives in the documentary “pure.”

     

    “Their voices couldn’t be manipulated. If actors read the lines of Mussolini, they couldn’t be manipulated by the personal charisma of the person reading them,” Treves said. Reconstructions of discrimination and humiliation in animated sequences also keep the audience engaged throughout the documentary, with the voices of witnesses narrating over images of their past.

     

    “The animations do a remarkable job of driving the point of the documentary and capturing visually the stories the witnesses shared,” Zarwell noted.

     

    “The story of the boy banned from school is nothing without the historical context, but at the same time, you can’t understand historical context without looking at the perspective of the people involved,” Dr. White added.

     

    “Who and what was lost, ‘choice-less choices’, and harassment are better understood through stories, and their stories continue to motive me in my work at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.”

     

    “The movie is not an answer, but it is a reflection of what happened, so we can avoid falling into a similar place,” Treves stated at the end of the discussion. “Students are my audience – I want them thinking critically about what is going on in the world right now. Each one of us has to determine how we behave now, based on what we know from history.”

     

    1938: Diversi ends with a famous quote from Umberto Eco: “We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at every one of its new instances – every day, in every part of the world. Freedom and liberation are an unending task.”

     

  • Art & Culture

    Stolen Works of Art Recovered in the United States and Returned to Italy

    The evening was also a celebration of a seventeen-year long collaboration between the Italy and the United States to protect Italian art, antiquities, and cultural objects as a means to preserve our common heritage for future generations.

     

    Leaders from Italy and the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2001, providing for joint law enforcement efforts, as well as exhibition and academic programs to combat the illicit removal of cultural objects. Since this landmark cultural agreement was signed, both countries have recovered more than 200 artifacts, some of which were on display at the Embassy. The works were illicitly imported into the United States as a result of theft and illegal excavation of archeological sites in Italy.

     

    Some of the artifacts recovered over the last seventeen years include books from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, frescoes from Pompeii, and fragments of Roman marble mosaic.

     

    “Global collaboration is essential – without public access to these artworks our children lose the ability to see firsthand how the world has evolved,” remarked Robert Johnson, Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division, before unveiling the newly recovered artifacts to the Minister.

     

    The newly published catalog “Saving Art Preserving Heritage,” conceived by the Embassy of Italy and available at the repatriation ceremony, brings together the hundreds of art and antiques the United States has returned to Italy since the Memorandum of Understanding was signed. Dr. Catherine P. Foster of the Cultural Heritage Center at the U.S. State Department and Renato Miracco, Curator, Critic, and Cultural Attaché of the Embassy of Italy, edited the catalog.

     

    In his opening remarks, the Ambassador of Italy to the United States, Armando Varricchio, regarded the catalog as a measure of the value of the work “to heal an open wound and reconstruct a historic memory that risked being lost forever, or remaining the prerogative of the few, rather than being universally available to all.” The catalog is a reminder of what is lost through illegal looting and trafficking of artwork.

     

    “This catalog is a testimony of what can be accomplished when we work together,” added Alysa D. Erichs, the Deputy Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations. The federal agency works with specially trained border officers on how to identify and handle cultural property.

     

    Robert Johnson also touched on the Art Crime Team of the FBI, composed of 22 special agents who have received specialized training in art and cultural property investigations. The Team works with other law enforcement agencies across the globe to reduce the incentive for crimes such as the theft and selling of illegally acquired art.

     

    “This anti-trafficking training builds respect and mutual understanding between our two great nations,” believes Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the United States. Cultural cooperation has been the source of a thriving friendship between the United States and Italy, as museums, universities, artists, researchers, and archeologists contribute to an enriching exchange across the Atlantic.

     

    “A cultural object cannot be enjoyed if it has a criminal origin. A sensitivity to the cultural objects makes the fight to protect them more effective, and this sensitivity is stronger today more than ever,” Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli explained to the large audience gathered in the open expanse at the center of the Embassy.

     

    The exhibit behind the speakers, ancient vases and statuettes encased in glass under dazzling blue lights, was acclaimed and enjoyed by everyone there.

     

    “Heritage is a fundamental part of our relationship. Walking down the streets of Washington, DC, it is clear the architecture of the buildings was derived and inspired by Italian architecture,” the Minister reflected before the reveal of three small artifacts, symbolizing the return of stolen pieces of culture.

     

    A Campanian lekanis vase, an Attic white-ground vase, and an Eastern Mediterranean core-formed glass oinochoe were under the black cover, unveiled by Robert Johnson to the Minister with great applause from the crowd.

     

    Afterwards, people gathered around the exhibit for wine and antipasti while admiring the magnificent and ancient works, finally and rightfully returned to the Italian public.

     

     

     

     

     

  • Art & Culture

    An All-Female Cast Revitalizes The Worth of Women

    Stark white cloth covered seven chairs set in a semi-circle around the stage. Front and center stood a small stand, which was also covered in white cloth. The audience anxiously chatted in anticipation of a rare, intimate performance at the Embassy of Italy. Normally, a bright screen would be pulled down or a panel for speakers squared along the edges of the stage, for a discussion of something abstract and intangible to the audience. The evening of October 25, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura brought to Washington, DC an all too real and relevant performance.

     

    Voices emerged from the back of the small room, as if the women arising and speaking were audience members themselves. But as people turned to glance behind them, it was clear the voices were emanating from another era. Seven women in simple, floor-length dresses of various modest colors wound towards the stage. Their cheeks had a celestial glow as the distinct characters came alive around the room. Eyes glued on one another, they cast an invisible web of connection over the audience. Once they had reached their respective positions, they began to pound a beat in unison with their hands, crying out in song: “the heart that dwells within my breast is free, I belong to only me.”

     

    These exact words were originally written over 400 years ago by Modesta Pozzo, under the pseudonym Moderata Fonte. A Venetian woman who was something of an anomaly, Pozzo was a married mother who produced literature in genres that were commonly considered “masculine” – the chivalric romance and the literary dialogue. As is not surprising for a woman writer of that time, her work was not well known during her lifetime, most likely due to the progressive and modern nature of her work. It was only after she died of childbirth in 1592 that her book The Worth of Women: Wherein is Clearly Revealed Their Nobility and Superiority to Men became popular in an ironic way.

     

    In 1595, Italian writer Giuseppe Passi published his work The Defects of Women, which became such a sensation in Italy that other writers expanded on it with more nonsensical slanders against women. Pozzo’s The Worth of Women was published as a response and an alternative voice to the sexist dialogues that arose from The Defects of Women. In this book, Pozzo created a conversation among seven Venetian noblewomen. Their dialogue explored every aspect of women’s existence in both theoretical and practical terms, as mothers, wives, daughters, and lovers. As the play version of the book unfolded, it was clear many of Pozzo’s arguments could still inform discussions of gender equality today.

     

    “Men boast about things that bring women shame… you have to consider that history is written by men… we are only subject to men the way we are subject to natural disasters, they are something you tolerate…” Each of the seven characters, differing in age and experience, took turns debating adultery, jealousy, sex, gender equality, and the responsibility of husbands, fathers, sons, and lovers with a striking contemporary accuracy. As they hurtled passionate statements and frequently refilled on wine, the scene on stage seemed more like any woman’s happy hour simultaneously happening across the city than an English translation of Renaissance vernacular literature.

     

    Co-directors Laura Caparrotti and Jay Stern realized, after sifting through pages of the hefty text translated into English by Virginia Cox, that a re-contextualization and revitalizing of the vocabulary was not necessary. The quotes they drew and the lively council of characters they spun into a vibrant, witty play had women in the audience chuckling and nodding their heads fervently in agreement.

     

    The unrestrained, enthralling performances of the actresses were testimonies to their talent as well as their dedication to the topic. It is no surprise, given that The Worth of Women is a production of the Kairos Theater Company (KIT). The mission of this unique group is to create a cultural exchange program between Italy and the United States “to unveil the artistic and creative sides of each country.”

     

    The cast did include a mix of Italian, American, and Italian-American women: Carlotta Brentan, Tali Custer, Marta Mondelli, Caterina Nonis, Irene Turri, Annie Watkins, and the co-director, Laura Caparrotti, who introduced all of them at the end.

     

    Caparrotti was born in Rome and earned a degree in the Performing Arts from the Sapienza University. She has also studied independently with Dario Fo, Annie Girardot, and Elsa Wolliaston. In Italy she performed with Giancarlo Cobelli, Mario Carotenuto, and The Teatro Stabile di Torino. In addition to her impressive career as an actress and director, she is also a voice over artist, a teacher, and President and Artistic Director of KIT. As the mother of the youngest woman in the play, Caparrotti acts as judge in the debate and gives “wise council” on marriage to the fiery younger characters who have renounced it: “flatter them and spoil them, earn his trust, and at a certain point you can do what you like.”

     

    Most importantly, she is a mentor for the young women in The Worth of Women production. Both on and off stage, their bond was apparent. Caparrotti beamed with pride as the women gathered together for a photo in the grand center of the Embassy, posing like Rosie the Riveter. Murmurs of “sono bravissime” echoed in the lobby.

     

    “We began working on this project when the Women’s March was happening right outside our window. This was written 400 years ago and it is still so relevant,” Carlotta Brentan remarked after the show. Her spirited, rebellious rendition of a woman standing firm in her social and financial freedom from a male counterpart, alongside the commanding, satisfying declamations of Annie Watkins as Leonora, gave the audience an arsenal of valuable feminist arguments, and the words of Modesta Pozzo shone in a vivid light in their expressive eyes.

     

    Marta Mondelli’s sparkling wit and at times deeply vulnerable performance as the married Lucrezia captivated the audience. She poses the question: “If men are so horrible, what is it about them that makes us love them so?” Her delivery arrested the other characters, and caught the audience in the same web of confusion, as Mondelli steered the momentum of emotion building in the Embassy in a new direction.

     

    Their performances were so genuine, their characters so distinct and well conceived. Caterina Nonis and Tali Custer, the young, naïve bride and lover who are still optimistic about the idea of marriage, delivered a faultless candor of innocence as the audience witnessed their slow acceptance of the imprisoning reality for married women.

     

    Irene Turri, in her elegant, contemplative portrayal of pregnant and disenchanted Cornelia made the evening all the more real and applicable when Caparrotti introduced the actresses, and revealed Turri was actually pregnant.

     

    “This thing is fake,” Turri pulled slightly at the fake pregnancy bump strapped around her torso, “but there is a real one under here,” she gushed with happiness.

     

    Perhaps just as moving were the two songs that bookended the play, and the theatrical song and dance about loving men halfway through. The lyrics to the songs were taken from poems by Pozzo, which were not included in the first English translation of The Worth of Women done by Virginia Cox, but were included in the newer translation, The Merits of Women. Erato Kremmida composed the music, and Maggie-Kate Coleman compiled the lyrics.

     

    The women urge Leonora (Annie Watkins) to give an oration pleading men to answer the simple question of “why?”

     

    “What possible cause do you have for not loving us?” she asks, for to love is to see another as equal, and as capable of the same talents and drive for ambition.

     

    The women’s voices grew stronger with each address made directly to the audience, as they formed a row across the stage, a choir for equality.

     

    One line in particular stands out, Watkins still addressing an audience of men: “We have made you judges in the case when you are one of the parties.”

     

    In Washington, DC, always in the background, but more recently in the forefront, are the political and cultural events shaping our country. In the aftermath of the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, in the rise of the #MeToo movement, and as reproductive freedom for women is threatened, the cast of The Worth of Women proves: “The world cannot shine without women; woman is heart, and breath, and light, and men cannot live without women…”

     

    The final lines of the play were raised in song, celebrated with stomps, and chanted freely. The all-female cast drew from the same fire that ignited Modesta Pozzo’s written words centuries ago to proclaim loudly in the capital of the United States: “the heart that dwells within my breast is free, I belong only to me.”

     
  • Facts & Stories

    ISSNAF 2018 Annual Event Highlights the Longevity of Italian Innovation and Life

    In today’s globalized world, scientific innovation and research is not confined by national boundaries or language. With new technology, scientists can easily share information with the rest of the world with just the press of a button. On Monday, October 22, the Italian Scientists and Scholars of North America Foundation (ISSNAF), hosted by the Embassy of Italy, led revealing discussions on the future of longevity for human life. That evening, ISSNAF honored an Italian who has influenced the field of neuroscience across the Atlantic with the 2018 Life Achievement Award, Emilio Bizzi, Emeritus Investigator at the McGovern Institute and Emeritus Institute Professor at MIT.

     

    From Galileo Galilei’s legendary experiments with falling objects at the Leaning Towers of Pisa to Guglielmo Marconi’s co-invention of the radio antenna, Italy has contributed knowledge, creativity, and ingenuity to scientific study. While the Embassy of Italy often showcases, in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute, excellence in Italian art, music, and film, the ISSNAF Annual Event was a platform for esteemed Italian researchers in the scientific community to share their work.

     

    “Their prestigious successes and the contributions they generate in the world are testimonies to the high level of our educational system. Italian students are a credit and an asset to our country. They represent in an excellent way to the world the spirit of our peninsula,” the Italian Minister of Education Marco Bussetti penned in a letter to attendees of the ISSNAF Annual Event.

     

    Italian scientists who are building quantum computers, scholars who have discovered the origin of mysterious cosmic subatomic particles, and outstanding individuals who are experimenting with treatments to cure cancer and leukemia filled the Embassy auditorium, and were recognized by ISSNAF for their contributions that help us live longer, better lives.

     

    A panel chaired by journalist and author Maria Teresa Cometto offered an opportunity to discuss the role of technology in the longevity of human life. The discussion included experts like Alessandro Bartolomucci, Associate Professor of Physiology at the University of Minnesota, Fabrizio Renzi, Director of Research Initiatives at IBM Italia, and Sarah Holland, the Public Policy Manager of Google.

     

    The recipient of the 2018 Life Achievement Award, Emilio Bizzi, touched upon the explosion of new technology and what that means for new discoveries in neuroscience in his acceptance speech.

     

    After introductions from Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, Vice President of ISSNAF, and Alberto di Mauro, ISSNAF Representative for Italy, Emilio Bizzi made his way to the front of the room to accept the elegant 2018 Life Achievement Award. Designed by artist Oliviero Rainaldi, the glass square with a bright white circular center holds an ambiguous human figure resembling Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The result is the “essence of the scientific proportion of the human body,” said di Mauro.

     

    Bizzi began his speech in Italian, touching upon the growing need for mentorship in recent years. He addressed the large number of young people interested in neuroscience because of the many ways technology has improved analyzing behavior. With brain imaging techniques, we can delve into the brain’s secrets.

     

    “The complexity of the current integration of various technologies,” Bizzi continued in English, “is a daunting phenomenon” and a "big problem,” as students need to figure out where they fit in the grand scheme of things.

     

    “What is needed now for people from a culture like the one in Italy is mentoring, and a little reorientation. I am glad to see that ISSNAF has a [mentoring] program. An engineer is very well trained in engineering” in Italy. But, according to Bizzi, the engineer has no contact with other areas of research and their professionals.

     

    “There are engineers who want to study the brain, it is a big problem to solve. We need to match the personality of the students with the kind of research they should do.”

     

    Born in Rome in 1933, Bizzi himself originally studied medicine at the University of Pisa before deciding that the brain was his area of interest. Yet he wondered if he would ever “make a dent” in neuroscience. Bizzi then joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty in 1968. He served as director of the Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology from 1983, and became chair of the MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences for over a decade. In 2001, he was appointed Investigator at the McGovern Institute.

     

    During this time, he did make a dent in neuroscience. By examining how the brain translates our general intentions into detailed commands, he discovered that groups of muscles are activated synergistically by circuits of neurons in the spinal cord. Bizzi believes that these synergies represent the fundamental building blocks for assembling a repertoire of complex movements.

     

    Despite his many honors, including the President of Italy’s Gold Medal for Scientific Contributions in 2005 and his service as President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 2006 to 2010, Bizzi believes that we have only “nibbled at the edges” of neuroscience. But with a new “powerful convergence of techniques” from fields like engineering and genetics, neuroscience can “move forward in a deep way.”

     

    “With the addition of all these technologies, there is a sophistication of thinking about the brain, which is important for new experiments. Let’s not forget the purpose of neuroscience, which is to cure diseases of the brain.”

     

    As ISSNAF celebrates its tenth anniversary with over 4,000 members, Dr. Emilio Bizzi is an invaluable role model for the many Italians who decide to carry out research in North America. His work has strengthened the ties between the two sides of the Atlantic in the field of science, and highlights the longevity of the role Italians have played in scientific innovation.

     

     

    ISSNAF is a 501©(3) not-for-profit organization, whose mission is to promote scientific, academic, and technological cooperation among Italian researchers and scholars active in North America, and research institutions and industry in Italy.

     

    ISSNAF is grateful to its membership for their active participation, and to its volunteers, sponsors, and donors for their essential and generous support. It’s only with their contribution that ISSNAF can fulfil and grow its mission.

     

    To join ISSNAF as an affiliate, become a volunteer or donate, please visit www.issnaf.org.

     

    For additional information, please email Monica Veronesi, ISSNAF Executive Director, veronesi@issnaf.org.

     
  • Art & Culture

    “Ferrante Fever”: A Documentary on the Success of the Pseudonymous Author, Directed by Giacomo Durzi

    Across Italy and the United States, a broad readership has devoured Elena Ferrante’s lengthy novels. More than five million copies have sold worldwide. The documentary “Ferrante Fever” was sparked by director Giacomo Durzi’s own passion for the novels. He also sought an opportunity to shift the focus away from uncovering the identity of the “faceless writer,” and toward the nature of the fever that spread rapidly from Italy to the rest of the world. The Institute of Italian Culture in Washington, DC held a special screening of the documentary for overflowing rooms at the Embassy of Italy on October 15, followed by a discussion with Durzi and Ann Goldstein, the American translator of Ferrante’s novels. Laura Benedetti, professor of Italian at Georgetown University, moderated the panel.

    “I could not stop reading it or thinking about it… I’m rationing myself”. The opening lines of the documentary are spoken by a familiar voice, the first female candidate for president nominated by a major political party in the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the case of an unknown writer, Giacomo Durzi turns to other well-known witnesses of the experience that is reading a Ferrante novel.

    Durzi begins in the United States because he wanted to “recreate a journey that goes back and forth, like her books, to capture the addiction that became so great and acquired by a huge number of people around the world,” he explained.

    “She took your hand and dragged you into the story,” said Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, Lisa Lucas. “She wanted to show you something…” Ferrante digs to get at the heart and truth of emotion, and her books are “a gift to anyone who has ever felt they were crazy.”

    Roberto Faenza, director of the movie adaption of “The Days of Abandonment”, believes that Ferrante “depicts the best of the female heart.” The role of women in society is center stage in her work, and the books have become a way for people across different generations, classes, and races to frame the conversation.

    Interviewees in the documentary include prominent Italian writers like Roberto Saviano, author of “Gomorra”, who called Ferrante’s choice to remain anonymous “elegant,” and “art in its own right.” She doesn’t need to publicly represent her work because it does not deal with civic action or engagement, like his. In fact, his investigative reporting into the Camorra crime syndicate, and organized crime more generally, caused Saviano to receive numerous death threats. Now he must live under constant police protection. Saviano envies Ferrante’s ability to remain, as Laura Benedetti put it in the panel discussion following the screening, “under Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.”

    “The literary conversation in Italy was stale before Elena Ferrante,” Saviano argues.

    In her letters, Ferrante writes: “I refuse to tell you who I am,” and “I believe that books, once written, have no need of their authors.” Although this has of course created curiosity, Durzi posits through his documentary it is not the reason she is a worldwide literary phenomenon.

    Nicola Lagioia, another famous Italian writer and author of the Strega Prize winner “La ferocia”, or “The Ferocity”, wanted to interview Ferrante. He told the publisher he would not ask about her identity, and only focus on the literature, because it deserved to be talked about. Ferrante agreed, but shortly afterwards both authors were nominated for the Strega Prize, and she said “let’s wait for this Strega storm to pass.” Lagioia won the prize, he admitted, because “how would she receive it?” Elena Ferrante did not attend the award ceremony, and people wanted the winner to be a celebrity. 

    American novelist and author of the critically acclaimed “Amy and Isabelle”, Elizabeth Strout, was introduced to Elena Ferrante through a written interview, in which Ferrante said about concealing her identity: “I wrote the books, isn’t that enough?” Strout was hooked.

    Every interviewee began with how quickly they read the books, and the grief they felt when they had finished. There was a sense of “well, what now?” at the turn of the last page.

    No one felt this more strongly than Ann Goldstein, who has translated all of Ferrante’s works: “I feel like I was born to translate Elena Ferrante.”

    Ann Goldstein has also translated works by Primo Levi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Italo Calvino, and is the editor of “The Complete Works of Primo Levi” in English. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and awards from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her translation of Ferrante’s “The Story of the Lost Child” was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.

    Goldstein became the representative face of Ferrante, but she shared during the panel discussion that she could not represent the author, only the books she has translated. Goldstein had no contact with the author, the publisher served as the liaison between the two. As a former editor and copyeditor for The New Yorker, she was actually “used to being invisible” to the reader.

    “But if people need a person to attribute the books to, I will be that person, because [the Ferrante books] are good books and should be read,” Goldstein urged the audience. The conversation then turned to the arduous work of translating a novel into a different language, one with different connotations and meanings behind certain words, as well as its own idioms.

    According to Goldstein, “translators should not be invisible,” and readers should know “there is someone else between you and the author,” making painstaking word and interpretation choices that could, if not done correctly, change the meaning or the emotional shading of the novel. There is also the danger of “domesticating” the text, or draining it of foreign themes and styles.

    “Translation is a constant battle, a constant choice,” admitted Goldstein. It is often difficult to find words in English that will hold the same meaning as the Italian original. For example, the title “La figlia oscura” literally translated is “The obscure daughter”, but this doesn’t hold much meaning in English, “except a bad translation, which is not ideal,” Goldstein joked. She chose “The Lost Daughter” for the English version of the novel.

    L’amore molesto” was also a difficult title to translate, as molesting in English has such a specific meaning. “I try to find a balance between the meaning and requirements of the original,” she said in response to Benedetti, who questioned Goldstein’s choice of “Troubling Love” as a translation. This title doesn’t have the same disturbing shading as “molested,” but other words such as “bothersome” or “nasty” don’t fit either, underscoring Goldstein’s point about painstaking choices with each word. Benedetti did compliment the pace at which Goldstein produced the translations despite the challenging process, as the English editions were always released a year after the Italian editions.

    “Elena made changes right up until the end, so I was translating in real time,” meaning Goldstein was reading the book for the first time as she translated. “Maybe there were things I would have done differently had I read all of them before translating, but I’m always making adjustments,” she admitted. It is part of the internal battle that comes with translating a foreign work.

  • Giorgio Spanu, Nancy Olnick, Ilaria Bernardi, Massimo Bartolini
    Art & Culture

    Celebrating the International Day of Italian Contemporary Art in DC

    Bright, desperate eyes scan the sea, waiting for guidance. Finally, a moment of courage washes over the shore, and a new generation ventures out across the ocean. So begins the story contemporary art historian, critic, and curator Ilaria Bernardi unfolds during a panel discussion on the state of contemporary Italian art at the Embassy of Italy. Arranged by the Italian Cultural Institute to celebrate the International Day of Italian Contemporary Art, Bernardi was joined by artist Massimo Bartolini and Magazzino Italian Art Foundation co-founders Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu to raise awareness of emerging trends and accomplishments in contemporary Italian art.

    Most Americans envision massive, prodigious columns and coliseums when they think of Italian architecture. The abundant museums in Florence covered wall to wall in celestial Renaissance paintings come to mind when they think of Italian art. Despite the fact that creative innovation is still alive today as it was in previous centuries, young Italian artists are left with little space to express themselves.

    Although Bernardi’s group exhibition at the Italian Cultural Institute in New York is entitled Young Italians, it does not draw a line between classic and contemporary Italian art. Rather, reflections of Italian culture clearly influence the work of the twelve Italian artists under the age of 40 chosen to display their pieces. The key to understanding contemporary Italian art is to go back, Bernardi posits, to the story of Telemachus and its ties to current Italian culture, an idea originally put forth in the book Il Complesso di Telemaco, or The Complex of Telemachus, by Massimo Recalcati.

    In Greek mythology, Telemachus is the son of the hero Odysseus and his wife, Penelope. He would gaze out on the sea waiting for his father to return from his epic journey, and for guidance into adulthood. Finally, Telemachus is brave and restless enough to venture out to Pylos and Sparta in search of his wandering father. On his return, he found that Odysseus had reached home before him.

    Italy is in crisis, and the new generation feels this crisis strongly, without the guidance of the “father,” or stability of its institutions. The young artists gaze at the sea waiting for something, until they realize they must recover their own future and legacy. Bernardi’s exhibition identifies the Telemachuses of Italian art, the ones who take action.

    Massimo Bartolini is one of those artists. At a young age he left his small town of Cecina in the countryside of Livorno to seek the “new energies of art” in Milan. Working in restaurants, he realized he could do the same to support himself in New York City, and have the opportunity to “understand something” about art. His time abroad made him realize the importance of always learning new things while simultaneously cultivating the origin, as “those who stay are necessary for those who go.”

    For the new Telemachuses, Bartolini conjures up a brighter future in Italy. Grants and residencies are now becoming the norm for young artists, allowing them a space to showcase their work amid a country replete with ancient and medieval wonders. The studios and other small independent spaces have raised awareness of the vibrant contemporary art available to the public. Bartolini is optimistic for the future of young contemporary artists in Italy.

    Meanwhile, Giorgio Spanu and Nancy Olnick have made it the mission of their newly opened museum, Magazzino Italian Art, to provide a space for these artists to raise consciousness of their ideas on American soil. It serves as a “temporary guardian” of postwar and contemporary Italian art in Cold Spring, New York, and a cultural hub for the Hudson Valley community. Under the guidance of Director Vittorio Calabrese, also present at the panel discussion, the museum bridges collaborations with American and Italian institutions to spark discussions of Italian art in the United States, and educate young artists on advances in the art movement.

    From New York and Sardinia, Italy, respectively, Olnick and Spanu began their collection by acquiring works by Modern Art masters and American Pop artists, a movement contemporary but juxtaposed to Arte Povera. Inspired by gallerists like Margherita Stein, they furthered their commitment to the arts through the Olnick Spanu Art Program, a one-year artist residency program that invites contemporary Italian artists to create site-specific installations on the couple’s property in Garrison, New York. Through this program, they have premiered to American audiences work by ten emerging Italian artists, such as Giorgio Vigna, Domenico Bianchi, and of course, Massimo Bartolini. When the contemporary pieces were too large to fit in their home, Olnick and Spanu commissioned New York-based architect Miguel Quismondo in 2014 to construct the 20,000 square-foot Magazzino, or warehouse in Italian. Quismondo won the 2018 AIA New York Design Award in architecture for the building.

    Olnick and Spanu have become the guide, the guardian, for Italian Telemachuses traveling across the sea to build a home for their art.

    Admission to Magazzino Italian Art is free and open to the public. The Young Italians group exhibit is open at the Italian Cultural Institute in New York from September 25 to Thursday, November 1, 2018, and free to enter.

     

               

     

               

  • Life & People

    What a Weekend with NIAF!

    At first entry, the large hotel is unassuming. The grand lobby, at once welcoming and stately, gave no indication that a vibrant culture’s excellence was on display a floor below at the Expo Italiana, with live music, film screenings, wine and olive oil samples, and a gelato-making demonstration. More than 60 exhibitors, including Alitalia flights, Ferrero’s Nutella hazelnut spread, and Italian American painters displayed their products and craft in a crowded exhibit hall open to the public.

     

    Intimate, black tables with navy blue umbrellas formed a café and transformed the hotel exhibit hall into an Italian piazza. Parents and grandparents sat around steaming cups of illy coffee while children danced around the tables and small stage featuring live traditional Italian music. It is impossible, even outdoors, to recreate the warmth of the Italian sun or the echo of voices speaking in dialect on ancient walls, especially on a crisp fall day in Washington, DC. But the devotion to quality food, admiration of sublime Italian art, and love of family were all present this past Saturday.

     

    Late in the afternoon, visitors began to dissipate from the exhibit hall to prepare for the main event, the famous evening gala, a black-tie event of more than 2,000 attendees. Italian style and pride were on display as groups of women in elegant and dazzling dresses whirled through the mezzanine and descended the staircase to the ballroom, where the lights in the magnificent space glowed warmly. Even those who are not Italian were Italian that night, as being Italian is more than just an ethnicity or a culture, it is also a feeling.

     

    Puglia was the most eye-catching attendee, and center stage of the gala as the 2018 Region of Honor. Behind the honorees was a backdrop image of delightfully rounded, dry stone huts, or trulli, with conical roofs. The trulli are traditional to the Apulian region of Italy and served as temporary field shelters and storehouses, mostly in the nineteenth century. The edges of the image were adorned with brightly colored flowers of pink, orange, and yellow.

     

    In this Italian paradise setting, guests greeted friends around tables with wine and antipasti while NIAF Chairs Patricia de Stacy Harrison and Gabriel A. Battista, members of the Government of Italy, and the honorees took to the stage. This year, the six honorees included Chef Lidia Bastianich; President of Confindustria, Vincenzo Boccia; Chairman and CEO of Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Giovanni Caforio; CEO of Kiton, Antonio De Matteis; Founder of the Angel Group, Cav. Lav. Vito Pertosa; and economist and entrepreneur Carl Schramm. The Master of Ceremonies was Mark DeCarlo, three-time Emmy Award winner, comedian, and travel expert.

     

    Each honoree had moving words of reverence for their families and their heritage. Their stories of overcoming obstacles were truly inspiring. The first person to accept an award was Dr. Giovanni Caforio, M.D., CEO and Chairman of the Board of Bristol-Meyers Squibb, whom NIAF awarded the Leonardo Da Vinci Award in Science and Medicine. Speaking about the two countries he calls home, he said: “the relationship between the United States and Italy grows stronger and more meaningful.”

     

    Vincent Boccia, CEO of Arti Grafiche Boccia and President of Confindustria, was awarded the NIAF Leonardo da Vinci Award in International Business. “When beauty… and technology come into play, Italia is foremost,” he said.

     

    As CEO of the luxury clothing company called Kiton, headquartered in Naples, Italy, Antonio De Matteis attributed the brand’s success to the “importance of family and obsession for quality.” He was honored with the NIAF Leonardo da Vinci Award in Business.

     

    Next, Honoree Vito Pertosa, a native Pugliese born in Monopoli and founder of Angel, an industrial and high technology holding company, received the NIAF Leonardo da Vinci Award in Technology. He thanked his colleagues and family for his remarkable success in a brief but touching speech.

     

    An entranced silence fell over the packed ballroom when Lidia Bastianich went to the podium to speak and accepted the One America Award for Entrepreneurship: “Everyone knows me as a chef, TV host, restauranteur and author. But I am also a refugee who has lived the American dream.”

     

    Bastianich grew up behind the Iron Curtain in Pola, a small city on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula. Eventually, communists changed their last name, took their religion, and forced them out of speaking their Italian language, “so we were forced to flee,” Bastianich explained.

     

    The family escaped across the border to Trieste, Italy, where they spent two years in a refugee camp. Bastianich helped the nuns of the school she attended by cooking in the kitchen. Finally, in 1958, sponsored by Catholic Charities, the family boarded a plane to New York.

     

    “It is impossible to talk about Italian Americans without talking about immigration,” Bastianich stated. The centerpiece of NIAF’s celebration is the ability and the freedom to immigrate to America, to nurture a better life. “In this world today, more than ever, sitting together to connect with family and friends is so important,” she adds. “We may have hundreds of friends on social media, but our real friends are the ones we share meals with. Sharing food is a way to connect and nurture others with something you made.” The NIAF Gala brought together Italian Americans from all over the country to do just that.

     

    The final of the evening’s honorees, Carl Schramm, received the One America Award for Entrepreneurship for his world-renowned expertise in entrepreneurship and philanthropy. As someone of half-Irish and half-German descent, he thanked NIAF for not just embracing Italian immigrants, but “all of us who came from all the various nations…”

     

    An Italian-themed auction after the speeches featured a large selection of high-end offerings, including a signed Inter Milan jersey, a trip to Sorrento, and an Italian-made purse signed by none other than Andrea Bocelli.

     

    The formal ceremony concluded with traditional Pugliese music and dancing. Guests abandoned their tables to crowd around the stage up front as women beat tambourines and a band played the violins and the drums.

     

    The annual after-party continued to shake the mezzanine of the hotel, as some 2,000 Italian Americans fueled by a sense of pride and deep red wine danced the night away to karaoke with both American and Italian songs. The repertoire of the crowd ranged from “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor to “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra. A rainbow of neon lights sparkled over the dance floor, illuminating the multitude of people who owed this night and their life in America to brave ancestors who crossed an unforgiving sea and arrived at Ellis Island decades ago.

     

    The following Sunday morning, those who could muster it trickled into the Holy Rosary Church, the Italian National Parish of Washington, at 10:30 am for a mass in Italian. The Holy Rosary Church was established in 1913 to serve the Italian immigrants who first lived in its immediate neighborhood. It is truly fitting that the NIAF Anniversary Gala weekend ended there, in a space of remembrance and gratitude for those who came before us.

     

     

    The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to preserving, promoting, and protecting the Italian American heritage and culture. To learn more about NIAF and become a member, please visit www.niaf.org.

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