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Articles by: Gabrielle Pati

  • Art & Culture

    Although History is Made, New Directions and Perspectives on Italy Still Form


    The lens through which we view history is ever changing, and at times it takes a scholar to unravel the hidden intricacies of the past. Sometimes historiographies are limited by those who write them, but on the other hand, new generations of historians are eager to examine old topics in innovative ways.

    On November 5, 2011 the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute of CUNY hosted “New Directions in Italian & Italian- American History: A Conference in Honor of Philip V. Cannistraro” in which scholars and historians enlightened the public on the ongoing re-examination of historical events and epochs relating to the Italian diaspora. Held in honor of the late Professor Cannistraro—Italian historian, beloved mentor, teacher, researcher and brilliant thinker—the conference offered a glimpse into the recent scholarship, research and reconsideration of generally accepted history many taught to many students of Italian.

     

    CUNY Professor Marcella Bencivenni spoke about radicalism as a distinctive frame of reference in Italian-American history, challenging the perception of this group as being conservative. She posed important questions, such as: what did Italian immigrant radicals do and hope to accomplish? Well, to begin they had their own publications, printing presses, unions and schools in the US and were generally a tight-knit and community oriented faction. Bencivenni also asked how the conservative image of Italian-Americans came to dominate the historiography, and how this misconception can be changed. These radicals—some socialists, others communists and even anarchists—lived more than political ideologies; their way of life reflected their convictions. Hence the way to move the debate away from the old stereotypes is to examine the many layers of this history in order to really understand the complexity of early 20th century migration from Italy to the US.

     

    Charles Killinger, Professor of History at the University of Central Florida, spoke of Renato Poggioli and Gaetano Salvemini, two figures of Italian history that represent a commitment to the ideology in support of Italy as a secular state during its early stages of unification in the late 19th century. The anti-clericalism and radical shifting of ideals created distance between Salvemini and Poggioli, and the ‘conservative’ or Mussolini supportive Italian American community in the US; in a sense these brilliant individuals assumed roles as passive observers and critics of the political workings in Italy.

     

    The topic of Italian futurism was discussed in the presentation by CUNY Professor Ernest Ialongo. Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, the movement’s founder, is inextricably linked to fascism, but can we reconcile his connection to this disgraceful movement without stripping the artist of all his convictions and dignity? Marinetti was a radical; this is certain. So one might ask: how could he have ever supported Mussolini and fascism when he was fighting for artistic innovation and freedom to destroy and re-create a new Italian patrimony? Ialongo suggested that Marinetti’s “descent into fascism had its roots in futurism,” and ultimately Marinetti’s nationalist goals could be realized through some of fascism’s scopes, while his radical tendencies were left to the wayside and were unattainable under the pressure of Mussolini ruled nation. Essentially, Ialongo contended, Marinetti abandoned his radical political goals to embrace the Nationalistic objectives that fascism offered.

     

    Marta Petrusewicz, who teaches modern history at the Universita’ della Calabria, spoke about the fascinating phenomenon of art collection in 19th century Rome, and how the Eternal City changed drastically from a “sleepy town” to the bustling and vibrant capital of Italy in a matter of decades after Italy’s unification. The “obsession” with collecting ancient Roman art, and the many new excavations that manifested this craze, was all part of an attempt to use art for the construction of a national Italian past—a “patrimonio nazionale”—that Italians could be proud of, and conversely, collectors could possess and show off in their extravagant homes. Art collector and philanthropist Henrietta Hertz, who founded the Bibliotheca Hertziana in the center of Rome, was mentioned by Petrusewicz as a significant female (and Jewish) figure in this Roman art collector’s movement. There was also a large homosexual and foreign presence among collectors and in this way Roman art became internationally dispersed and admired.

     

    David Aliano spoke of Italian immigration to Argentina and the issue of constructing a national Italian identity in this South American country in which at least 40% of the population boasts some Italian ancestry. What did it mean to be an Italian abroad after the unification of Italy? How did Italy project its image on its descendants abroad? Aliano revealed the ways in which Italians were encouraged to retain their Italian identity and feel proud to represent Italy in the new world. This contrasts with the process of assimilation Italian immigrants underwent when they came to the US and were encouraged to assimilate as quickly as possible.

     

    One of the most evocative presentations was given by Stanislao Pugliese, Professor at Hostra University on Long Island. He spoke about the challenge of constructing a “popular history of Naples” at a time when the world is inundated by stereotypes and images of the citta’ partenopea as a locus of contradictions: the violence and heaps of trash contrast with the sentimental troubadours and pleasant images of pizza and pulcinella, and the romantic view of Mount Vesuvio and Capri. Pugliese suggested that Naples is an untranslatable city for Americans, and perhaps even for Italians; he holds that it is the city of the neo-baroque, of saints and cults, calcio and gangs. But most of all Naples if the city in which appearance is of the utmost importance, where fare una bella figura, whether or not one is rich or poor, counts for a lot. Pugliese stressed that the tenacity and resiliency of Neapolitans is striking. He also spoke of Naples’ third world poverty yet cosmopolitan city sophistication, the theatricality on the streets and the joy of receiving a “caffe’ sospesso”, an espresso offered by one patron to the next, almost an offering of this delightful energy to humanity.

     

    There are just a few of the myriad presentations at the conference. Many were evocative and interesting, and forged paths and opened doors in the mind of new modes of interpreting the past—always a refreshing thing to see, no matter which generation one belongs to.

  • Art & Culture

    2 Cities of Spontaneity, 1 Exhibit: Delirious Naples and Manic New York

    By walking through either New York or Naples on any given day, certain common traits assault the pedestrian’s senses. The chaos and rapidity that circulates through these metropolitan centers is indelible, even during quiet moments, even at night. Art is everywhere—whether it is graffiti, painted murals, stunning yet decaying architecture, the fashion of the folk or the food itself. Music also pervades these cities’ veins, as spontaneous pleas to lovers or back alley karaoke cacophony, and the honking horns or subway cars of NYC seem to echo the shouting merchants or moto steering napoletani.
     

    On the occasion of the conference “Delirious Naples: For a Cultural, Intellectual and Urban History of the City of the Sun”, which will be held at the Hofstra University Cultural Center in Long Island this November, dynamic artist B. Amore was invited to create an exhibition that celebrates the bond between Naples and NYC. She gladly embraced the challenge, and her exhibit, B. Amore: Naples—New York, will be on view from now until December 4th at Hofstra University Museum’s David Filderman Gallery, featuring two site-specific installations and over 18 other mixed media works that contemplate and evoke the essences of these notorious yet lovable cities.
     

    Amore uses mixed media to compose the pieces in this atypical and evocative exhibit. She combines physical items, such as subway and circumvesuviana maps, Neapolitan sheet music from early 20th century New York, take-away espresso cups, mini shrines to the Madonna, keys, fabrics, and gloves in order to create stunning and original artwork that falls within the realm of 2D multimedia and sculpture. The artist integrates image, text, and sculptural elements to depict the multi-faceted lives of New Yorkers and Neapolitans. The congenial lifestyles of both cities are expressed through ‘found’ and ‘unearthed’ objects, depicting the scars of wounds that “refused” items often indicate. For as Amore asks “what tells more stories about a populace than what it throws away?”
     

    The influence of Naples on New York culture still resonates today—from our style of ‘Italian’ food, to the communities of Italian Americans of Campanian origin. Whether we visit the Bronx’ Arthur Ave, Kesté Pizzeria in the West Village, or Graham Avenue in Italian Williamsburg (also known as Little Salerno), the sights and tastes of Naples resonate with us, sometimes in unexpected ways.
     

    The origins of the exhibit have an interesting twist that demonstrate the kind of spontaneity that walking through the streets of Naples and New York offer the casual stroller. As Amore was walking through Spaccanapoli in 2009, she came upon some objects that one might also find randomly left behind on the streets of neighborhoods like SoHo or Chelsea in Manhattan: gloves. She envisioned that a glove from one city had its complement in the other, and in this way she facilitated the stretching of arms across the Atlantic in order to allow the gloves to metaphorically touch, celebrating the common spirit between these two cities.
     

    Almost as a precursor to this exhibit, Amore created a multimedia exhibition based on a century of Italian immigration and the personal history of her family’s emigration to the US. The exhibit, Life line—filo della vita, premiered at the Ellis Island Museum in 2000-2001. Now Amore has masterfully interwoven the themes of immigration with the cultural backlash that visibly remains even after an ethnic group has supposedly integrated into the culture of its adopted city/country.
     

    In connection to Amore’s exhibit, the concert Bella Notte: A Beautiful Night of Italian Song will take place at the Rochelle and Irwin Lowenfeld Conference and Exhibition Hall on November 5th at 8pm, featuring Hofstra University Department of Music faculty member Marilyn Lehman and others performing selections of Neapolitan standards and favorite Italian arias.
     

    Discussing the artwork in her present exhibit, Amore said that: “Each piece is very individual in composition, color, and feeling. There is always something revealed and hidden—so that the pieces evoke questions and hopefully engage the viewer. This sense of questions in these pieces is an essential element: they do not fully explain themselves. The disparate materials [used] are really representative of life on the streets of both Naples and New York. So many pieces of reality rubbing up against each other. So many half-told stories intimated.”
     

    The past and present links between Naples and New York live today in Amore’s work, and even the intangible energy of these cities becomes tactile in this unique exhibit.

  • Life & People

    A Sicilian mechanic, a New York Legacy

    This year celebrates the 50th anniversary of, yes, a mechanic shop. This is no ordinary shop: do not let the greasy floor, piles of metallic parts, or guys in dark blue outfits with wrenches in their hands deceive. European Car Repair of White Plains, NY has a particular legacy as a locus of fine work, complemented by an amicable Sicilian American atmosphere and the Spadaro mechanics skilled to fix cars as fancy or down home as they come.

    Opened by the late Domenico (“Dominick”) Spadaro of Sicily, European Car Repair opened in 1961, making it half a century old and still running. Mr. Spadaro, a successful mechanic in his youth in Roccalumera, a coastal town in between Messina and Catania, left the Mezzogiorno to come to New York where he opened his shop and provided impeccable auto service all’italiana to the New York Tri state motor community for decades.

    When Mr. Spadaro passed away in 2009, his funeral was a standing room only affair. A father of three, he was not only well loved but has been described as a gifted machinist who was determined to repair, not simply replace, auto parts. He also showed respect and patience for each machine he worked on, whether it was a Ferrari or Hyundai. Interestingly, Mr. Spadaro had an almost holistic view of the car as a machine with many parts that interacted together.

    Mr. Spadaro, Sicilian born but American resident for most of his life, was a specialist in Italian autos, facilitating his reputation as a go-to man for rare and vintage Italian automobiles. New York Times correspondent in a 2002 article referred to Domenick and his sons as “more artisans than mechanics” and that their attention to detail and quality makes it so that the cars they fix not only run well but “look beautiful.”
    Very personable with costumers, Mr. Spadaro allowed his repair shop to be more than a business: it was, and still is, a place of social interaction, almost like a European bar where people convene to chat, drink espresso, and conduct casual business. However, the social atmosphere does not detract from fine work being done at fair prices. The shop is filled with old and obscure parts, and the mechanics are capable of fixing high-end vehicles like Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and of course other less exotic cars driven by most of the masses.
    Domenick’s sons, Frank and Santo Spadaro, keep the shop running, and his daughter, Vera, assists in running the business as well. The Second Annual Memorial Drive commemorates the life of Domenick Spadaro, whose hard work as an Italian American garagiste positively contributed to so many drivers and car enthusiasts, and whose strong ethic of quality auto work lives on today at European Car Repair.
    On Saturday, August 13, 2011, customers who own vintage European cars gathered at a private estate in Armonk, NY. The day began with breakfast, followed by a scenic drive just under 70 miles returning to a lunch that included homemade meatballs, pasta and unique racing cupcakes for dessert. All net proceeds (participation costs $45) are donated to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
     

  • Art & Culture

    Citizen Rosi, a Film Retrospective of Political Modernism

    From August 3-21 theBrooklyn Academy of Music Rose Cinemas is hosting a retrospective of Francesco Rosi's work for New York film appassionati, highlighting both the gems and lesser known works of Italy's master of political cinema.

    The films of Neapolitan Francesco Rosi span over the course of half a century, yet are not overwhelmingly known, even by Italians. Rosi is one of the last living legends of Italian cinema, and BAM, in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute of New York and Cinecittà Luce, is bringing to the public a comprehensive 16 film retrospective that exudes politically charged messages and touches the common human spirit with compassion, humor, drama and stunning cinematography, all’italiana. All of the films are 35mm prints and vary in theme, style and content. All films are in Italian with English subtitles.

    On August 3, quite a muggy summer evening, fans of director Francesco Rosi (and fans of John Turturro) packed into one of BAM’s theaters to view the screening of La tregua (The Truce, 1997), which stars John Turturro, who was present during the film and participated in an evoking Q&A afterward. The film is based on Primo Levi’s book Survival in Auschwitz: the Nazi Assault on Humanity, and recounted the story of Levi’s return to Turin from the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945. Released in 1997, La tregua has had little exposure to the American public before this screening, and although is set in 1945, it is the most recently made film of the Citizen Rosi series.

    Turturro described La tregua as indeed a “journey of survival”, and that making the film gave him “great experience in life as a human being”, not just from playing the role of Primo as a survivor of atrocities, but from a cinema-graphic viewpoint. Director Visconti also worked closely with Rosi on La tregua and both capi (established directors) exposed Turturro to ways of visually composing cinema which influenced his sensibilities behind the camera as a director.

    Turturro mentioned that Rosi assisted him in editing the new film Passione (2011), being that Rosi is Neapolitan, hence the element of music is so vital in his films.

    “Rosi does not aim to please, but takes you to another world and enriches you,” Turturro said during the Q&A, in referring to the kind of experience Rosi’s viewers undergo while watching his films. La tregua has elements of humor, action, drama and compassion: love and fear mixed with the longing for stability of normality to emerge out of a realm of chaos that Nazi Germany created for millions of Jews and Italians, Jews or not, pining to survive those gruesome years. Most of the film takes place in the Soviet Union, and offers myriad landscapes, some bucolic and some serene, but many depict the hardship and of the journey that the Italians presume will take them ‘home’. The element of music comes alive in scenes of Soviet women singing, a burlesque dancing, and Italian prisoners’ makeshift songs after being liberated and trying to find a route out of Russia.

    Other familiar titles in BAM’s Citizen Rosi showcase are: Salvatore Giuliano (1961, screening Aug. 6), Hands Over the City (1963, Aug. 7), Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979, Aug. 21), and Lucky Luciano (1973, Aug. 14). The film Christ Stopped at Eboli tells the story of Carlo Levi’s exile from Piedmont to the Mezzogiorno, the deep Italian south, where he encounters a people that seem to him more human and pagan than was he considers ‘Italians’, and realizes that although they share the same peninsula, northern and the southern Italians live in very different worlds and realities. With Lucky Luciano, Rosi adapted a real-life scenario of an elusive man involved in both the CIA and mafia.

    In Hands Over the City, Rosi portrays a ruthless politician (played by Rod Steiger) in Naples, and investigates the connections between the physical and political power structures of this metropolis and the shoddy foundation both structures are laid upon. It is an expose` of corrupt construction plans and politicians’ roles in pursuing their interests instead of those of the citizens of a war torn city. The film won the Golden Lion, the Venice Film Festival’s top prize.

    Rosi has been continuously inspired by Neorealism, and has collaborated with tons of talented writers and actors during his career, which began more or less in the early 1960s. His experiences as a witness to the forces of corruption and poverty in southern Italy during and after WWII absolutely affected his cinematic vision: his work is politically charged, but it is also visually experimental, complex and beautiful from an artistic point of view. At age 88, Francesco Rosi is one of the last living legends of 20th century Italian cinema, and the messages that his films deal with still reverberate in the political spectrum of the 21st century—even more reason to check out BAM’s retrospection and experience Rosi’s films.

  • Life & People

    Garnishing the Image of Italian American Women. The NOIAW 2011 Gala Luncheon

    Some may wonder who comes to mind when Americans think of Italian American women. Is it Snooky the ‘guidette’ star from MTV’s The Jersey Shore? Or characters from yet another degrading and absurd reality show, Mob Wives? Hopefully not. Or is it the kind of woman like the late Geraldine Ferraro, the active politician from Queens who was the first woman (and first Italian American) to run for vice president, and who defiantly contested the demeaning attitude of George Bush Sr. in a 1984 debate? The question is open to discussion, but one thing is certain: the reputation of Italian American women can always be improved from its current status, characterized by myriad stereotypes and expectations, some with hints of truth, others the furthest thing from a mass-media projected ‘reality’.

    The National Organization of Italian American Women is committed to preserving the Italian heritage, language and culture by promoting and supporting the advancement of Italian American women: it aims to foster relations and support among distinguished Italian American women in all fields and those prospective women of this new generation who also defy stereotypes and follow their own unique and ambitious destinies.

    However, NOIAW does much more than this. It inspired young Italian American women to think of themselves beyond any socially constructed notion of what it means to be Italian in America today. NOIAW promotes a much needed positive image of American women of Italian descent by recognizing the hard work, dedication and merits of individual women who have contributed something to society; women who have studied and worked relentlessly; founded and organized a supportive network of contacts; achieved their goals despite often growing up underprivileged by today’s standards of living. These and much more are recognizable qualities of the women in NOIAW. They include doctors, lawyers, artists, teachers, politicians, entrepreneurs and much more. Some of them are also dedicated mothers.

    Today NOIAW has an extensive network of members that span across the U.S., and enjoys the honor of bestowing yearly scholarships to deserving American women of Italian origin. This year’s recipients were Gianna Bove of New Jersey, who is studying justice at the American University in Washington; Clara Flebus, who studied at the University of Trieste and is studying law at New York University; Christina Scelfo of Howard Beach, NY who will be attending Hoftra LIJ School of Medicine; history major Rebekah Pastorello ; and Alexandra Calistri, recent graduate of the Georgetown Law Center as Juris Doctor, who received the Hon. Geraldine Ferraro Scholarship.

    Besides scholarships, NOIAW also has a cultural exchange program in Italy, mentoring youth programs and member cultural programs. In the cultural exchange program, American students are given an educational and cultural experience during their visit to Italy in which they meet distinguished Italian women and develop relations on an international scale relating to their specific fields of interest.

  • Events: Reports

    Food, Fashion and Film Explored at the Calandra Institute

    Thursday, April 28. The Calandra Institute held the opening reception for conference with opening remarks by Katherine Cobb, VP for Finance and Administration of Queens College, CUNY; Matthew Goldstein, CUNY Chancellor; and food and travel correspondent for Esquire magazine John Mariani, who presented on “How Italian Food conquered the World”, followed by food and refreshments, of course.

    On Friday Anthony J. Tamburri, Dean of the Calandra Institute, presented his work within the panel called “Fashioning Style in Reel/Real Life”, chaired by Dennis Barone of St. Joseph College. The title of this panel indicates the themes of Italian fashion as underlying cultural signifiers in film and beyond the reel. Dean Tamburri’s presentation, “Micheal Corleone’s Tie: Signifying Ambiguities in Coppola’s The Godfather”, explored how a seemingly simple stylistic choice, like a film character’s tie, can render meaning in the context of the film and for Italian American culture portrayed on the big screen. He pointed out that in one scene of the film in which Don Corleone meet’s with businessmen who are professionally dressed, the Don is sporting a green tie with a red shirt. This tie-and-shirt combo symbolizes his role as the Italian American grandfather, and is juxtaposed with the standard American business attire of white shirts, black ties and jackets. Hence the choices directors make about the fashion in their films are purposeful are open to critical interpretation.
     

    Another fascinating panel on Friday entitled “Food and Its Discontent” was chaired by author George De Stefano, who gave a provocative talk about the cinema of Ferzan Ozpetek the following day. The three extraordinary panelists discussed how food played pivotal roles in their lives as Italian American young women.
     

    Lulu Lolo, a performance artist, vividly recounted in “Growing up Italian American in a ‘Wonder Bread’ World” how food served as a connection to her heritage, especially to her grandmother. Lolo verbally re-enacted her early life in East Harlem’s little Italy, and how she forged a bond with her grandmother who knew little English, while Lolo herself knew no Italian. The inability to communicate with her nonna from Potenza was assuaged by the act of eating; they had lunches together in which Lolo was introduced to ‘exotic’ foods like persimmons, taralli, and fresh pasta. These foods contrasted with the bland American peanut butter and jelly sandwiches she encountered outside her family eating experience. Lolo also explained that she learned to become an artist by watching the ‘sculptures’ of fresh pasta made by her grandmother.
     

    In Maria Terrone’s presentation, “Food for Survival: A Memoir”, we learned how the exploration of new foods and cooking helped her steer away from the anxiety and despair that she was confronted with when she was young and unemployed, living in New York in a time, like today, when finding work was a daunting task. The daughter of Italian immigrants from Sicily who shunned away from strong ties to the old country through rebelling against food traditions, Terrone re-established her heritage as Italian American by exploring and mastering new recipes. As 23, unemployed and living in the Bronx (because of the cheap rent) with her husband, Terrone attained self-affirmation by ‘roaming the culinary maps’ that charted her back to a centered self with a purpose. Not only did cooking bring her joy, it helped her survive a difficult time and reclaim her identity.
     

    Rosangela Briscese’s memoir, “Sliced Thin: Anorexia in an Italian-American Adolescence,” recounted her struggle with food as a young woman. Beginning her presentation with a quote said during her teenage years in which a classmate says, “it must be impossible for Italians to be anorexic”, Briscese took the audience to a time when she was more than a little obsessed with food, caloric intake, and the ingredients in her mother’s cooking. She explained the ‘cycle of control and results’ that she went through as an adolescent who struggled to be in control of something. Food was something that she tried to control in her life, and with Italian parents who ate wholesome food and found it very difficult to understand why their daughter wanted low-fat mozzarella, she found herself taking her obsession with food to higher levels until it became dangerous. A battle over controlling her own diet escalated into a disease which led her to being hospitalized, although over time, she took control of the disorder. She reacquainted herself with being able to eat again the Italian food that she always loved, as well as include new and exotic ones into her diet.

    Dozens other presentations from the conference can be found here.

  • Art & Culture

    Reinventing La Strada: an Italian Classic in Spanish Speaking New York

    Many Italian film fans recall La Strada with a sense of playful melancholy. The story represents the search for one’s path, or ‘road’, in life. The portrayal of the lives of Italy’s traveling performers crosses boundaries, and makes its way to New York with the Spanish language theater group, La Strada Company.

    La Strada Company is a theater group based in New York City that utilizes the power of the Spanish language to bring together diverse people with incredible talent. The company produced a stage adaptation of Federico Fellini’s 1954 classic film La Strada, which debuted on February 23, 2011 at IATI Theatre Todo Vanguardia in the heart of the East 4th street cultural district, where a number of small theaters operate.

    Acclaimed director René Buch (Artistic Director of Spanish Repertory in New York), with the collaboration of Jorge Merced (Artistic Director of Pregones Theatre), directed this production of “La Strada”. Using a Catalan interpretation of the original story, the directors made artistic decisions about elements from the film that would be emphasized and/or omitted in order to reinvent the story of traveling artists and their journeys, challenges, triumphs and the devastating experience of living ‘on the road’ while trying to use their talents to survive.
     

    The ‘compania artistica’ performed its version of La Strada with its own vision of comedic life. The character around which the whirlwind of action occurs is not Gelsomina, but the Fool (El Loco), who appears at the beginning of the play as trying to understand and capture a beam of light. He is joined by two clown comrades, Abrigo and Sombrero, and all three of them decide that mundane objects, such as a trumpet, a stone, or a linked chain, can tell stories. Thus the story of Gelsomina and Zampano` ensues from this idea.
     

    The original film starred Anthony Quinn as the brutish Zampano`, Richard Baseheart as the Fool, and Fellini’s own wife, Giulietta Masina, as Gelsomina, a girl who is purchased from an impoverished family to be the feigned wife/assistant of Zampano`. In the company’s modern interpretation, the plot remains the same; we see the way Zampano` does not think, and the way Gelsomina longs for love and acceptance in her new life as a traveling artist. We also see how El Loco helps Gelsomina understand that she is good for something, that we all have a purpose, but that Zampano`’s nature does not allow him to think or give love to others. He only knows struggle and survival, and feelings do not matter much in his world. As in the film, Zampano` and the fool fight on stage and represent opposing forces. Although Gelsomina is attracted to both men, she finds herself fulfilling her loyalty to Zampano`, who hits and belittles her, because El Loco reminds her that if she does not stay with Zampano`, who will?
     

    The play focuses on the same themes present in Fellini’s film: the life of poor artists and circus misfits, living precariously and at times like vagabonds, roaming through towns without much except their talents and the hope of bringing laughter to ‘plazas’ (piazza/town squares). During the performance, two women play music offstage — violin and trumpet — which adds a sense of joy to the show, and indicates an homage to the original film which makes great use of music, as is always the case in Fellini’s films. The slapstick comedic elements contrast with the cathartic ending of the play, when Zampano` realizes he has caused the death of Gelsomina and is left alone. We also learn in the play that the father of Zampano` was a performer, a man of strength whose greatness his son could never equal. Zampano`, like the other characters, must find his own path and cannot be constrained by the past.
     

    The members of La Strada Company include Irene Aguilar (Spain) as Gelsomina, Luis Carlos de La Lombana (Spain) as Zampano`, Israel Ruiz (Spain) as the Fool, or El Loco, Nanda Abella (Argentina) as Abrigo, and Winston Estévez (IATI company member from the Domincan Republic) as Sombrero, both clowns; and Adela Maria Bolet (Cuba) as the woman who tells Zampano` at the end that Gelsomina has died. Eduardo Aguilar and Nacho Blanco are both executive producers of the show.
     

    The array of accents and words in Spanish dialects evoked laughter among the audience and created a pleasant sense of diversity, mirroring the variety of Spanish heard today in New York. El Loco was particularly hilarious and at times sagacious, while the brute force of Zampano` translated very well in La Lombana’s role. Irene Aguilar also captured the fragile simplicity of Gelsomina, and was wonderful, but of course it is difficult for anyone to come close to Giulietta Masina.
     

    After a magnificent string of performances in New York, La Strada Company plans to take a subsequent tour of this production to Washington D.C. and Miami in 2011. The group also intends to take the show to Spain and Italy this summer. It will be interesting to see the Italian audience’s reception of the production.
     

    The play was co-produced by IATI (International Theater Arts Institute) and Todo Vanguardia, and was sponsored by the Consulate General of Spain in New York, and the Italian Cultural Institute. Luis Carlos de la Lombana, the director of La Strada Company, in describing this production on the playbill, says profoundly that, “there is a path drawn for each one of us based on our will and our needs…remember that once you are on it, there is no going back”, summing up the message of the story of La Strada that lives on and reinvents itself today.
     

    La Strada the film is still celebrated and screened worldwide, and its interpretation into a play in Spanish signifies its lasting impact on this generation of performers, artists and spectators alike.

  • Life & People

    Reaching into ‘The Italian Pantry’ with The 'Nonne' of Old Brooklyn

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    Fran Claro is an Italian American writer/editor who grew up in Brooklyn. We interviewed her about her blog, “The Italian Pantry,” which presents to its readers semi-fictional stories about the nonne of Fran’s childhood, the Italian women who were the backbone of the family and communities, whose legacy lives on in her elegantly crafted and entertaining prose and accompanying recipes.
     

    Please tell me about your blog “The Italian Pantry.”
    My blog is a reflection of my life as a child surrounded by strong, feisty women who made their presences known and got everyone in line, including their husbands. The nonne were a tight knit group, but very jealous about their cooking. They would share recipes, but leave ingredients out; only pregnant women were given an entire recipe. Each nonna considered herself the best cook in the neighborhood, and they constantly tried to outdo one another in the kitchen. They ran nice homes, immaculately clean, and were loving but very stern with the grandchildren. With their own children, the nonne had a kind of ambivalence in how they regarded their futures. They wanted their children to succeed, but didn’t consider education that important. Of course that attitude changed throughout time and from the oldest to the youngest child.


    Where did the inspiration to create your website come from?

    Well, my kids were interested in knowing about ‘the old days’(growing up in Italian-American Brooklyn in the early/mid 20th century). Our family legends and recipes came from my mother and nonna. I wanted to pass on this knowledge to my family.


    Can you describe the nonne that you write about?

    The nonne were lovable, rigid, feisty, and stubborn; they didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, worked from home, were ambitious, and contributed to the family. Many of them were seamstresses. Their homes were always filled with music. To each other they spoke Italian, but they wanted the grandchildren to learn English. The nonne had painful feelings about not being included in American society, and this translated to us (the grandchildren) not growing up learning Italian.

    How did being Italian-American affect the way you grew up into a woman, wife, nonna, writer, etc.?
    I was the first Italian in my high school of Irish girls. I didn’t look like them and felt the cultural differences. I was also the first person in my family to go to college. I taught cooking at a community college, worked for Stonybrook University, Scholastic, was an editor of Scope, and went to Italy to do some catering. I was always writing and went back to editing. I would say that I show more affection than the nonne of my childhood did.


    How do you feel as a nonna?   

    I love being a nonna because I can give my grandchildren everything they want. We have great relationships, and I am even on Facebook with them. We share interests, like cinema, and there is always a lot of talk around the table. We still sit around the table during report card time. My grandchildren see the Italian-American culture in food, our vast collections of music and recipes.


    Why is it important to cherish and preserve the experience of the Italian-American nonne?

    Those of us who were lucky enough to know the nonne know how they influenced us an made the home a place you want to be, somewhere that is safe, comforting, and open. The nonne loved to make people laugh and had a great sense of humor. The men worked hard, but inside the homes, they didn’t have much say. The nonne ran the homes.

    Visit “The Italian Pantry” for stories and recipes that transport one back to the time when the nonne ruled the hearts and homes of their families.

  • Life & People

    Seven Fishes for Young Italian Americans

    In Bushwick, the feast of the seven fishes turned into an all out cooking marathon, staring live eels, goods from Italian Williamsburg, and the colorful faces of family and friends.

    We killed the eels the night before Christmas Eve. As they slithered around my sink, we got the hammer and cutting board ready. Some friends cringed while others watched in awe as the brains behind the operation, musician Feral Foster, lathered the live eels in salt in a ritualistic-like procession leading to their sacrifice. Meanwhile, in the refrigerator, mussels fought to stay alive, and whole sardines rested on ice awaiting the shock of hot oil the next day. The preparation of the feast of the seven fishes took brain power and dedication to detail. One mistake and a whole dish could be ruined.

     

    My idea for Christmas Eve was to bring my family to my new place, modest but cozy, and tackle the feat of the Feast for the first time. What better way to lure people to your home than with the promise of lots of food, including fresh seafood from Arthur Avenue’s Little Italy, Chinatown and Howard Beach, and locally purchased goods?
     
    On the menu: calamari and shrimp breaded and fried dangerously in extravagant amounts of olive oil, in-season flounder baked with the crumbs of day old semolina bread and lemon, octopus crock-pot simmered in lemon juice and herbs, savory breaded and fried sardines and fresh eels, home-made pasta from Savino’s Quality Pasta in Williamsburg’s “Little Salerno”, complimented with marinara source from DOP San Marzano tomatoes and basil, an assortment of antipasti, ranging from olive, carciofi in olio to provolone, caciocavallo filled with butter, and fresh mozzarella, bottles of wine, Campari, rum, and Mexican ponche made with fresh fruit and an entire sugar cane. Nothing was lacking that night, except my mother, who had to work.
     
    Italian Williamsburg is spread between the Lorimer and Graham Ave. L trains stops. In this area you can find fresh pasta from Savino’s, imported cheeses and meats from Emily’s Pork Store, bread from Napoli Bakery, pastries from Fortunato Brother’s, and more. For a slice of great pizza and an espresso, there’s Carmine’s Pizzeria, whose owners are from the Province of Salerno, like many of the Italians in this neighborhood. Within a ten block to fifteen block radius it is possible to find all one needs for a perfect and diverse Feast.
     
    Trying to fit all that food and about a dozen guests into a Bushwick rail-road apartment is no small task. In fact, we had to eat in shifts. The process of cooking the food, shockingly enough, came more or less naturally. My parents had schooled my sisters and me about frying the shrimp and calamari since we were old enough to look over the stove. Chef Foster, on the other hand, incessantly took de-stressing cigarette breaks, and a few times I found him collapsed in my bedroom, lamenting like an exhausted nonna.
     
    For my entire life I have eaten fish on Christmas Eve, as do many Italian Americans of southern origin. The meal is also known as La Vigilia, and each family has its own traditional selection of dishes. Baccala’ is a general staple of the meal, along with fried calamari and shrimp, some variation of octopus, cod, mussels, lobster, crabs, scallops, etc. There is no formula for the perfect meal, which is good for young Italian Americans who want to innovate on past traditions, and perhaps begin new ones, even if they involve killing eels and terrifying non Italian-Americans who may not understand how seriously we take the word “fresh.”
     

  • Life & People

    Setting Children Free: Movement in Montessori’s Theory of Eduaction


    On November 12th La Scuola D’Italia held a symposium on “The importance of motor activity of the child in the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori”, exploring an unconventional idea that ensures children develop to their full potential: never confine them.
    This past October Dr. Maria Montessori was the first woman honored for Italian Heritage Month. All across New York events were held celebrating this revolutionary thinker, one of the first Italian women to become a physician.
     
    At the symposium -organized and financed by Coni Representative in the US Mico Delianova Licastro- Headmistress Anna Fiore of La Scuola D’Italia welcomed speakers and Montessori enthusiasts which included Dr. Richard Ungerer Executive Director of the American Montessori Society, Dr. Lucio Lombardi, Director of the Chiaravalle Montessori Foundation, Daniela Montali the mayor of Chiaravalle, Italy, General Consul Franceso Maria Talò, Riccardo Viale, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in New York, and Joseph Sciame, President of the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee of NY.
     
    Mrs. Rita Kramer, who wrote the revered biography "Maria Montessori: A Woman for all Seasons", spoke about Montessori’s innovative approaches to caring for children who were regarded as ‘idiots’ by the majority of society. Kramer explained how Montessori “set free their personalities in a marvelous way” by emphasizing child-centered learning that included adequate intellectual and physical stimulation, prompting cognitive development in the most seemingly hopeless cases. Many times Montessori’s ‘idiots’ became better students than children considered to be normal learners, and thus Montessori “was hailed as the woman who would change the world by changing its children,” said Kramer.
     
    Dr. Maria Montessori, the revolutionary 20th century Italian female physician, stressed in her educational philosophy the element of movement as a positive factor in the cognitive development of children. Before society was sensitive to the needs of special children, they were often isolated and confined in rooms with little nourishment for the mind or soul, muscles atrophying, labeled as hopeless and regarded with little attention and care from doctors or teachers. Montessori’s dedication to the study of children with special needs turned the world of education upside down in a time when there were barely any women even daring to enter the world of medicine. From a small town in Le Marche (Chiaravalle) with a feminist sentiment embedded in its gentry, Montessori traveled the world helping children and communities regain their dignity and re-evaluate standard, and often faulty, approaches of caring for children.
     
     
    Maria Montessori grew up in Le Marche in a town called Chiaravalle in the province of Ancona. This town facilitated women’s self-reliance and independence in the early 20th century due to the fact that it had a tobacco factory in which women worked. Montessori grew up in this environment in which the coming of age women had more opportunities for advancement and careers, compared to women others part of Italy. She was audacious and brilliant, motivated to pursue a life of study, research, intellectual and humanitarian work, and never let anything hold her back, even Fascism.
     
     Montessori got her degree in medicine and opened a school in Rome called the Casa Dei Bambini, in which she studied children that were considered ‘idiots’, incapable of learning. Her research led her to realize the importance of sensory and motor activity within the child, and arrived at the theory that any child could learn with effective support and care from educators and doctors.
     
    Interestingly, the mayor of Chiaravalle introduced at the symposium a movement called “Slow Look”, which is an organization in Montessori’s home town that encourages people to step back and “gustare lentamente” the world around them, including nature, special places and food and solitary moments that can be cherished in today’s spinning world. 
     
    Montessori enthusiast ended the evening by honoring the children in CONI (Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano) who recently traveled to Italy to compete in sports events. These children exemplify today what Dr. Montessori envisioned years ago: that motor activity, and exercise above all, in children can promote well-being and happiness. From the looks at the kids at La Scuola D’Italia it seems Montessori was indeed right.


     




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