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Articles by: Letizia Airos soria

  • Art & Culture

    When Italian American Theater Becomes Universal




    Whoever is expecting to see a regular play about the relationship between a mother and daughter, even according to the gap between cultures and generations, will be amazed. Even from the opening seconds of the monologue, you can tell that the woman standing in the middle of the stage wants to give all of herself to her audience. She is engaged, excited, unpredictable, and even melancholic at times, but she is always full of subtle irony. In this piece, the Italian-American actress and writer, Antoinette LaVecchia, relates the lack of communication between an Italian-American mother and her Americanized daughter while showing their diverse levels of communication.

     

    Mother-daughter relationships are often confusing and commanding, as well as distant yet close thanks to a mysterious chain of conflict and harmony. Every minute of this show, even its most hilarious moments, hides a nagging desire for understanding.

     

    At the beginning of the show, we find Antoinette describing her birth. The psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung once said that every woman contains her own mother and her own daughter within her inner self. The irreverent, instinctive, and, at times, profane gestures that the actress uses to simulate her birth question us about the mystery of this blessed event. The audience is not just watching a birth; Antoinette, in her movements and through her voice, allows us to enter the uterus of her mother while she is giving birth. We watch and live the first moments of the newborn who is about to make her initial contact with the outside world and who literally has to detach herself from her mother's umbilical cord. We follow Antoinette until the moment of her "birth". At the same time, we watch the contractions, the pain, and the fear of her mother; we also hear her internal cry of "Go back inside". The act of b! irth is there in front of our eyes in its purest and crudest form.

     


    From this point on, mother and daughter confront their own unique identities by following a path that constantly shifts between moments of attraction and repulsion. The entire monologue is a brilliantly improvised crescendo during which the Italian-American experience transcends ethnic boundaries and assumed universal characteristics.

     

    An instinctive actress: Antoinette LaVecchia tells us about her autobiographical monologue IN SPITE OF MYSELF.

     


    "My mother hasn't seen it yet... Even non Italian-American women will see themselves in it..."

     

    There is irony and anger but also tenderness, distance, and reflection: two women tell their life stories in an unsuspecting show of similarities. The crucial moments of family life are relived across a series of flashbacks and therapeutic self-evaluation where the mother figure is often found to be at fault, "There's a monster under my bed! I can't sleep! Mom, can I sleep with you?" "Pray to the Blessed Virgin... You be fine!" It is easy to set aside this faithfulness lived through superstition and devotion, resignation and defense, and justification of the existence of God to understand this Italian-American working mother who immigrated to the United States from Southern Italy and the rebellion of her daughter. "Figlia mia, do you go to church? No?! If you don't go to church that means you do! n't believe in God. You'll have bad luck. Do you take an image of Padre Pio with you wherever you go?... My daughter is divorced! Good people don't do those kinds of things! Once you get married you're stuck for life. Why do people always need to be so happy?"



    This sense of constant guilt where it seems obligatory to feel condemned to a certain lifestyle clashes with the daughter's determination to control her own destiny. She believes in God but she doesn't go to church. She sells her wedding gown to a second-hand clothing store and she is divorced. She wants to be an actress. Because she is tormented by the constant uninvited phone calls from her mother, she looks for satisfaction not just as a daughter but also as a woman.



    The mother-daughter voices are striking; they look for each other, even if they don't always understand each other. The levels of communication between them are contradictory but they frantically attempt to meet each other at times so they could find a possible compromise. For example, the mother insists on sewing curtains for her daughter but she wants nothing to do with them at first. Eventually the daughter gives in; she will have curtains on her window (a symbol of her mother's skill as a parent "There can't be windows without curtains!"). But, the daughter's curtains will not be decorated with purple lines and polka dots. They will be white...



    We met the writer-actress at the end of her performance. From the second she opened her mouth, it was easy to understand that her involvement in this show is not only professional but also personal.



    "My mother has never seen this show, she might see it sometime next week. I am a little nervous but I think it will do her good to see it. I am very sure that my way of life, especially my divorce, has made her reflect on her own lifestyle and, as a result, she has become more independent as a person. She is now 57 years old and thanks to her interactions with other people, she is getting stronger. It took her 10 years to learn English and she lived an isolated life which she devoted to the needs of her family."

     

    Antoinette, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you were able to write this very personal piece.

     


    "My family is originally from Salerno; we came to America when I was 3 years old. My mother worked but was very much a loner. This show really helped me to understand her as well as to overcome the sense of oppression that II felt because of her constant attempts to control my life. She wanted me to be more like her but she couldn_t communicate with me: we didn't speak the same language. Thanks to this show, I have been able to understand her as well as find her. I rediscovered her story, her origins; I think I have understood why she always wants to control meit is an attempt to communicate..."



    When did you write this monologue?

     

    "I didn't really write it. In Spite Of Myself is a work in progress, much like my relationship with my mother. It is not a scripted piece; it is improvisation."

     

    The story that you portray is found within the Italian-American culture. Do you think the message it contains goes beyond cultural boundaries?

     

    "Certainly. The mother-daughter relationship that I describe has a universal appeal. Many women have seen themselves in what they have seen on stage and they were not Italian-American."

     

    How do you think that women in American cinema and theater are portrayed?

     

    "They are often portrayed badly. The representations are not true to life: the female voice has not yet been heard as it deserves to he."

     

    Let's use a modern example, what do you think of the character of Carmela Soprano?

     

    "I like her strength, there are women out there who are like that. But the character herself is exaggerated: she is too masculine. Also, the representation of the Mafia is overdone and unrealistic. There is too much fiction..."

     

    Do you have any projects for the future?

     

    "I would like to talk more about families and relationships. I enjoy acting; I am an actressbut this experience of being a writer has been amazing."

     

    Is there an actress that influences your work?

     

    "Without a doubt Anna Magani. She has a very instinctive acting style."

     

    It is true, the most striking part of In Spite Of Myself is Antoinette's use of her body and of her voice as well as the added pauses: Antoinette, the woman, is visceral, precise, and motherly. The image of the solitary actress at the middle of the stage that reminds us so much of the middle of a mother's womb will most assuredly remain engraved in your minds after having seen this performance.

  • 'Pane Amaro'. Quella storia che ancora non si conosce

    Il “caso”  degli italo/americani in 105 minuti? Una bella scomessa quella che si è posta il regista-giornalisa Gianfranco Norelli. E la sala dell’Auditorium del Graduate Center della City University of New York era gremita l’altra sera per “Pano Amaro”,  film documentario,  raro omaggio alla storia italoamericana. Prodotto dalla Rai,  e destinato prima di tutto al pubblico televisivo italiano,  il lungometraggio ha  catturato gli sguardi di almeno tre generazioni italo-americane e anche molti italiani presenti.

    Il film rievoca, con grande attenzione documentaria, momenti salienti e spesso drammatici della vicenda italoamericana,  dal 1880 fino alla fine della seconda guerra mondiale. Un arco di storia vastissimo ed intenso è raccolto con cura in quasi due ore di proiezione che presentano rari documenti storici, fotografici e filmati, testimonianze dirette e commenti di esperti e studiosi.

    Norelli, grazie al ‘mestiere’ di attento cronista, intraprende un percorso narrativo asciutto, senza lasciarsi andare a sentimentalismi, inutili retoriche. Il risultato è un contributo denso di spunti di riflessione, di informazioni, vicende.  Si percepisce nel corso della proiezione quasi l’ansia del regista di raccogliere più elementi possibile, consapevole di raccontare tanta storia poco conosciuta. Soprattutto ad un pubblico italiano.

    Certo, non solo. Anche per molti italiani americani, questi 150 di storia risultano spesso oscuri. Ci sono vicende che  non fanno ancora davvero parte del patrimonio culturale e dunque dall’identità di molti italo/americani.  A questo si aggiunge il vero e proprio gap culturale che si è aperto negli anni tra l’esperienza italiana e quella italo/americana. Il risultato è che un complesso alternarsi di amore-odio-indifferenza nei contronti del proprio passato pesa sugli italiani da entrambe le sponde dell’oceano.

    Ma visto da New York il film-documentario di Norelli ci ha fatto sorgere innanzitutto domande che riguardano gli italiani in Italia. Quanti di loro sanno che le vittime del più grande linciaggio degli Stati Uniti, nella New orleans del 1891, erano italiani? Quanti sanno che gli italiani, alla fine dell’ottocento, per così dire rimpiazzarono nelle piantagioni gli schiavi neri emancipatisi? E che venivano definiti “un popolo di mezzo” – insomma né bianchi né neri? Quanti italiani conoscono l’ondata di razzismo anti-italiano che si era diffusa anche tra gli opinionisti americani? Si raccontavano gli italiani come un’incontrollabile orda... Quanti sanno delle vicende degli operai italiani che lavoravano in condizioni durissime, dei loro scioperi e delle loro lotte, della ventata anarchica, e del complesso impegno sindacale – sia tra gli operai che, segnatamente, tra le operaie? E poi, cosa si sa o si studia, degli italiani dichiarati “stranieri nemici” durante la seconda Guerra mondiale, internati e separati dai componenti americani delle loro famiglie?

    Proprio perché pochi sanno, è importante che questo film presenti i commenti di studiosi come Nunzio Pernicone, Fred Gardaphè, Gerald Meyer, Mary Ann Trasciatti, Peter Vellon. I linciaggi, gli attentati anarchici, la tragedia del Triangle Strike in cui morirono 150 operaie, la vicenda di Sacco e Vanzetti, i campi di internamento durante la seconda guerra mondiale, le condizioni di vita, la religiosità, la lingua, l’americanzzazione. E poi le figure di Fiorello La Guardia, Vito Marcantonio, Carlo Tresca, Generoso Pope, Leonard Covello – tra i tanti italiani americani ricordati nel film.
     

    Questi interrogativi sono già importanti in sé, ma lo diventano ancor di più alla luce delle nuove ondate migratorie, sia In America che in Italia. La consapevolezza del fatto che l’esperienza migratoria, direttamente o indirettamente, ha riguadato nel secolo scorso milioni di famiglie italiane è cruciale in un momento in cui flussi migratori si intrecciano su tutta la terra e l’Italia diventa per la prima volta un paese-meta.

    E “Pane Amaro” dà un contributo in questa direzione, andando anche al di là del percorso storico che compie. È un invito a conoscere e riflettere per gli italiani in qualsiasi parte del mondo. Nel pubblico italiano/americano presente abbiamo colto una grande attenzione, commozione in certi momenti. In alcuni loro commenti e riflessioni si avvertiva il caro prezzo che hanno dovuto pagare gli italiani per integrarsi, evidente anche dopo generazioni. Il fatto che molti parlino solo inglese ha in questo caso un valore simbolico. Si ripercorre così la storia in pochi istanti. Prima di tutto la paura di parlare il dialetto dei loro nonni, poi l’ “ordine” di parlare solo inglese per non farsi riconoscere come enemy aliens, poi la perdita del contatto con l’Italia. Infine il ritrovamento e la ricerca sulle proprie radici.

    Molti del pubblico hanno preso in mano il microfono per parlare. Si sono presentati così: Nome Cognome, seconda generazione. Nome Cognome, terza generazione… E sono soprattutto le giovani generazioni che oggi riscoprono la cultura, ed anche la lingua, italiana con grande curiosità.  Ma capita ancora  che, proprio come i loro coetanei italiani, pochi di loro conoscono la storia dell’emigrazione italiana in America. È paradossale, ma è così. Un vero e proprio lavoro di autocoscienza e riconoscimento delle proprie radici è ancora da compiere.

    Trentanni fa lo scrittore Pietro di Donato, l’autore di Christ in Concrete, aveva pronosticato  un “rinascimento” degli scrittori italoamericani. “Il nostro momento è ora. Lo vedo perchè non siete più i figli dei muratori, andate a scuola e siete bambini con dei cervelli”. Sono parole che, insieme alle immagini e ai racconti del film di Norelli, non possono che far riflettere nel 2008.

    Suggerimenti di lettura:

    Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno (ed), Are Italians White?: How Race is Made in America, Routledge, 2003.

    Thomas A. Guglielmo, White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945, Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Jerre Mangione and Ben Morrale, La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience, Harper Collins, 1992.

  • Facts & Stories

    A New Wing of Agusta-Westland Helicopter Factory in Philadelphia


    AW 139 helicopters  - “custom made”. For the Aga Khan who requested it multimedia center, lounging couches and much more inside. But more importantly helicopters for international and government organizations, for emergency medical care, for companies from all over the world, for military clients. All built with the latest technology.


    Last Tuesday, I was at the inauguration of the new Augusta Westland plant in Philadelphia, where about 30 AW139 a year will be built. It’s a 30 million dollar investment for 10 thousand square meters of the most advanced machinery. By the end of the years 500 people will be working here to assist the Vergiate (Varese) plant and to fill the world market request – particularly the American market, third in the world of helicopters.


    The AW139 is a multi use aircraft: relief operations, transportation, surveillance. Already 300 have been ordered around the world and 110 have been delivered.


    It takes about 24 months and between 10 and 15 million dollars, depending on the specifications, to own an AW 139. The “customization” work, the process by which the aircraft is made to order for the client, is one of the things the plant takes most pride in.



    Very advanced technology and a smart system that puts online the resources and materials to assemble an aircraft with great attention to details.


    Visitors to the plan are sure to be surprised. A vast and modern, almost “artistically” minimalist area, in which different components are prepared for assembly. A long and wide corridor to walk through where we observed how the best of technology is researched and worked on to reach a market that is so difficult and competitive.


     Motors, transmissions, rotors, metallic and composite material constructions and much more, ready to be put together in the completed “helicopter system”. A real museum pending on the present. We were taken by the enthusiasm of a child accompanying another guest. In a space so large with different parts of an aircraft spread around like you would have with a model helicopter, it would be impossible not to capture the imagination of a young visitor. And fortunately this time we see the reality of a product created thanks to the resources of our country, which needs to show reasons to be proud, particularly to the younger generations. Finmeccanica is certainly a working Italian reality at the global level, which can be admired on many levels.


    At the ribbon cutting ceremony, next to the president and CEO of Finmeccanica Pier Francesco Guargaglini, other high executives of the company was the Italian Ambassador in Washington, Carlo Castellaneta and members of Congress as well as politicians and local authorities.


    In the speeches by the American speakers the enthusiasm for this new source of jobs and for the opening that can be created for American companies in the area was evident. Best technology and long-lasting jobs were the key words. "This is a celebration both of the work of AugustaWestland in Philadelphia – noted Senator Robert Casey – and of the creation of hundreds of jobs” and  “We are very proud of this plant – said representative Allyson Schwarz – we thank AugustaWestland for having invested in advanced technology”.


        As far as jobs are concerned AugustaWestland employs ten thousand people in plants all over the world, particularly in Italy, Great Britain and the United States.


    The managing director Giuseppe Orsi said the company is involved “in USA programs worth 13 billion dollars over the next five years”, “America represents the world’s third largest market for helicopters, - he added – we have been in Philadelphia for 25 years where we have created a plant that is a model for others – with highly specialized technologies and jobs”. All of this despite the impact of the appreciation of the Euro over the dollar. 


    AugustaWestland has been in Philadelphia since 1980. Created in 1986 as a 7.000 square meter area dedicated to the maintenance of commercial helicopters in the United States. In 2004 the assembly line for the AW 119 Koala helicopter is housed here.


    The growing importance of this plant is also thanks to the training and maintenance services provided. This allows AugustaWestland to provide operating solutions to almost 400 civilian helicopters in US as well.

     

    The Italian Ambassador in Washington, Gianni Castellaneta, in his speech, placed the focus on how the success of AugustaWestland is “a further confirmation of the importance of international cooperation especially during periods of economic difficulty.”

    Pier Francesco Guarguaglini said “ the next step will be to increase commercial operation in the United States and improve performance in the sector of electronic defense, where we are weakest.” The assembly line for the smallest helicopter, the single turbine AW119 Ke is already up and running in Philadelphia. Guarguaglini continues: “The decision to build a second line shows how much Finmeccanica and AugustaWestland are committed to investing in the US where today we have more than 2,000 employees”. At the end of his speech he added: “The US remains an important market but we are also looking at other places, like India and Japan.”


    It’s worth reminding that in the US, the Charleston (South Carolina) plant for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner program is also where the final assembly for the C-27J for the US Army will take place. Finmeccanica-Augusta is also a partner in the program for the presidential helicopter VH-71 and for the BA609 (New York-Texas).


    In the report on the various activities of the company we notice one piece of data among many: Finmeccanica invests resources equal to 14% of profits in Research and Development. Something that many still don't do in Italy.

     



     

  • AugustaWestland a Filadelfia. L'Italia al top della tecnologia


    Elicotteri AW 139 “su misura”. Per l’Aga Khan che ha chiesto di realizzare dentro un vero e proprio centro mutlimediale, poltrone relax, e molto di più. Ma soprattutto elicotteri per organizzazioni internazionali, governative, per il soccorso sanitario, per aziende in tutto il mondo, clienti sia civili che militari. Tutto realizzato con altissima tecnologia.

    Siamo stati, martedì scorso, è stato all’inagurazione del nuovo stabilimento di AugustaWestland a Filadelfia in cui verranno assemblati circa 30 AW39 all’anno. Si tratta di un investimento di 30 milioni di dollari per 10 mila quadrati di area con le più moderne attrezzature. Qui lavoreranno, entro la fine dell’anno, 500 persone per affiancare lo stabilimento di Vergiate (Varese) e soddisfare la domanda da parte del mercato mondiale e soprattutto statunitense, al terzo posto nel mondo per gli elicotteri.



    L’AW139 è un velivolo che si presta a molteplici usi: operazioni di soccorso, trasporto, di sorveglianza. Ne sono già stati ordinati oltre 300 esemplari da tutto il mondo. Ne sono stati consegnati 110.

    Ci vogliono circa 24 mesi e tra 10 e i 15 milioni di dollari, a seconda delle necessità,  per possedere un W 139.  Il lavoro di  “costomizzazione”, ossia il processo tramite cui si fornisce un prodotto realizzato su misura per un cliente, è uno dei punti di orgoglio dello stabilimento.

    Tecnologia avanzatissima dunque e ricorso ad un sistema intelligente che mette in rete risorse e materiali per assemblare un velicolo con grande attenzione ai particolari.

    Il colpo d’occhio di chi visita lo stabilimento è assicurato. Un’area vastissima e moderna, quasi “artisticamente” minimalista, in cui i diversi componenti vengono preparati per essere assemblati. Un lungo largo immenso corridoio da percorrere dove abbiamo osservato come il meglio della tecnologia viene raccolto e lavorato per raggiungere un mercato così difficile e competitivo.

    Motori, trasmissioni, rotori, stutture metalliche e materiale composito e altro ancora, pronti per essere integrati nel “sistema elicottero” completo. Un vero museo in fieri del presente. Siamo rimasti colpiti anche dall’entusiasmo di un bambino che accompagnava un ospite. In uno spazio così vasto con i diversi moduli di un velivolo, sparsi cosi come si fa per un modellino di elicottero da comporre. Impossibile non attirare la fantasia di un giovane visitatore.  E per fortuna questa volta la realtà di un prodotto realizzato grazie ad energie del nostro Paese che ha tanto bisogno di dare, soprattutto alle giovani generazioni, motivi di orgoglio costruttivo in questo momento. Finmeccanica è sicuramente una realtà italiana operante a livello globale a cui si può far riferimento su diversi aspetti.

     Al taglio del nastro di inaugurazione hanno partecipato, oltre al presidente e amministatore delegato di Finmeccanica Pier Francesco Guarguaglini, alti dirigenti della compagnia, l’Ambasciatore italiano a Washington Giovanni Castellaneta  e membri del Congresso Americano, politici e autorità locali.



    Evidente negli interventi dei relatori americani presenti l’entusiasmo soprattutto per questa nuova fonte di occupazione e per l’indotto che si può creare per altre compagnie americane nell’area. Best technology and long-lasting jobs, sono state le parole chiave. “Questa è una celebrazione sia del lavoro dell’AgustaWestland a Filadelfia - ha osservato il senatore Robert Casey - sia della creazione di centinaia di posti di lavoro” e  “siamo orgogliosi di questo stabilimento - ha detto la deputata Allyson Schwarz - ringraziamo la AgustaWestland per avere investito nell’alta tecnologia”.

    AgustaWestland per quanto riguarda l’occupazione,  raggiunge 10 mila dipendenti in tutto il mondo con stabilimenti in Italia, Gran Bretagna e Stati Uniti.



    L’amministratore delegato Giuseppe Orsi ha detto che la società è impegnata “in programmi USA del valore di 13 miliardi di dollari che si concretizzeranno nei prossimi cinque anni”, “L’America rappresenta un terzo del mercato mondiale degli elicotteri, - ha aggiunto - Siamo presenti da 25 anni a Filadelfia dove abbiamo creato uno stabilimento che è un modello. Con tecnologie e posti di lavoro di alta specializzazione”. Tutto questo nonostante l’impatto dell’apprezzamento dell’euro sul dollaro.

    AgustaWestland è presente a Filadelfia dal 1980. Nasce nel 1986 con un’area  di 7.000 metri quadri dedicata alla manutenzione della flotta di elicotteri commerciali negli Stati Uniti. Nel 2004 viene realizzata una linea di assemblaggio per l’elicottero AW119 Koala.

    L’importanza di questo stabilimento cresce grazie anche alla fornitura di  servizi di addestramento e manutenzione. Questo consente alla AgustaWestland di offrire soluzioni operative anche a quasi 400 elicotteri civili negli USA.



    L’ambasciatore d’Italia a Washington Castellaneta,  nel suo intervento ha posto l’accento su come il successo di AugustaWestland sia “una ulteriore conferma della grande importanza della cooperazione internazionale, soprattutto in periodo di difficoltà economica”.

    Pier Francesco Guarguaglini ha detto che  “Il prossimo passo sarà quello di incrementare le operazioni commerciali negli Stati Uniti e migliorare le performance nel settore della difesa elettronica, in cui siamo più deboli”. Sempre a Filadelfia è già operativa la linea di assemblaggio del più piccolo elicottero monoturbina AW119 Ke.  Ancora Guarguaglini: “La decisione di costruire una seconda linea dimostra quanto Finmeccanica e AugustaWestland siano impegnate ad investire negli USA, dove oggi lavorano per noi oltre 2.000 persone”. Poi alla fine del suo intervento ha aggiunto: “Gli Usa rimangono sempre una piazza  importante, ma guardiamo anche ad altri mercati, come India e Giappone”.



    Va ricordato negli USA,  lo stabilimento a Charleston (Sud Carolina) per il programma Boeing 787 Dreamliner dove si farà anche l’assemblaggio finale dei C-27J per l’Esercito statunitense. Finmeccanica-Augusta è poi anche partner nel  programma dell’elicottero presidenziale VH-71 e per il BA609 (New York – Texas)

    Nel rapporto che leggiamo sull’attività svolta raccogliamo fra le tante un’informazione: Finmeccanica impegna in Ricerca e Sviluppo risorse pari al 14% dei ricavi. Va notato che, in Italia, lo fanno ancora in pochi.

     

    (Pubblcato su Oggi7 il 24/2/2008)

     

  • Art & Culture

    'Pane Amaro': The Bitter World of Italian Americans

    The Auditorium of the Graduate Center at CUNY was overflowing with people few days ago for the screening of Gianfranco Norelli's “Pane Amaro.”  A production of RAI (the Italian public television), the film captures the attention and gazes of at least three generations of Italian Americans present at the screening. 

    With great documentary precision, the film conjures up salient and often dramatic moments of the Italian/American saga from 1880 until the end of the Second World War. A vast and intense arch of history is carefully organized into a two hour projection presenting rare historical photographs and film segments commented on by experts.

    Thanks to his expertise as a reporter, Norelli embarks on a path of ‘dry’ narration, not allowing himself to surrender to sentimentalism and futile rhetoric. He shoots straight with images, film segments and carefully selected and organized testimonials.  The result is a contribution dense with moments of reflection as well as information. One may even sense the eagerness of the director to gather as many elements as possible, fully aware of the fact that he is recounting a little known history, which is especially true for the Italian viewing audience.

    The Italian/American odyssey, in fact, is still relatively unexplored in Italy – and a vast cultural gap has been created in the past decades between Italians and Italian Americans. True, the same rift is oftentimes found here in the States, due to the difficulty today’s Italian sAmericans encounter when looking back upon their very roots. 
     

    But during the screening on this side of the pond, the first questions that came to my mind regarded the Italians in Italy. How many Italians are aware that, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the First World War, the victims of the largest mass lynching in United States history were in fact Italians? How many know that in the late 18th century, Italian immigrants ‘replaced’ (for lack of a better word) the emancipated black slaves on the southern plantations and were considered to be a sort of half-breed of people – neither white nor black? Are Italians conscious of the anti-Italian racism that had become widespread amongst the American newspaper columnists during the mass migration period? That inhuman and uncontrollable horde… And how many know about the plight of the Italian immigrant workers, their strikes and struggles, the rise of anarchism, and the complex undertakings of trade-unions amongst Italian men and, significantly, women? Furthermore, what is known about the Italians who were interned during the Second World War, declared by the U.S. government to be enemy aliens?      

    These are important questions in themselves, but they become even more relevant when one thinks of today’s new waves of immigration – both to America and to Italy. It’s crucial to be aware of the migratory experience that affected so many Italian families during the past century, and this story needs to be told today as new migratory influxes intertwine themselves with the country of immigration, and now Italy too has become a crucial destination for immigrants.      

    In the film scholars Nunzio Pernicone, Fred Gardaphè, Gerald Meyer, Mary Ann Trasciatti, and Peter Vellon comment on a century and a half of history, following a string of historical episodes. The lynchings, the Triangle Fire tragedy in which 150 workers lost their lives, the assassinations attempts carried out by the anarchists, the Sacco and Vanzetti saga, the Second World War internment camps, the poor living conditions, religion, language, and the quest to Americanize are only but a few of the many topics that are addressed in the documentary. Fiorello La Guardia, Vito Marcantonio, Carlo Tresca, Generoso Pope, and Leonard Covello are among the many names mentioned.

    But “Pane Amaro” goes beyond the historic period it recounts. It’s an invitation to understanding for Italians, Italian Americans, and Americans. There was great attention from the audience at the screening and in certain moments there was even a sense of commotion. The high price Italians had to pay to integrate was clearly evident in comments and reflections expressed during the open discussion that developed after the film. And the fact that most of the Italian Americans present only spoke English did have a symbolic meaning. As Norelli recounts in his film, first came the fear to speak their grandparent’s dialects, then the “obligation/order” to speak only American so as not to be recognized as ‘enemies,’ then complete loss of contact with Italy. The renewed interest and the search for their family’s roots is a recent phenomenon for Italian Americans. 
    Many in the audience took the microphones in their hands to speak and introduced themselves by first and last name, second generation. First and last name, third generation… Today they rediscover the potential of their language looking at the Italian culture with great curiosity.

    In 1978 writer Pietro di Donato in his Christ in Concrete, predicted a ‘renaissance’ for Italian-American writers. “Our time is now. I see it because we are no longer figli di muratori (children of construction workers); you go to school  and you are children with brains.” His words, together with Gianfranco Norelli’s film, help us reflect thirthy years later.

    Further readings:

    Jennifer Guglielmo and Salvatore Salerno (ed), Are Italians White?: How Race is Made in America, Routledge, 2003.

    Thomas A. Guglielmo, White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945, Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Jerre Mangione and Ben Morrale, La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience, Harper Collins, 1992.

     (Translated by Robert Cavanna)

  • Art & Culture

    Mary Reveals Her Secrets


    The filmmaker does not use stealthy methods to portray his grandmother. He enters her life with a bang and with the affectionate irreverence that only an unruly grandson can pull off. This dynamic is ultimately at the heart of their happy relationship, one that often exists and spans dissimilar but intimate generations.

     

    It is the extremely personal history of his family which fascinates the young filmmaker, and one that asks various questions about our relationship to the past and about the women in the context of an Italian/American family. Halpern has the ability to bring to the screen the story of a strong and independent woman, who in her own way is the family’s hinge and point of reference; she deviates from many female stereotypes but at the same time she is wholly integrated in telling parts of the past that no longer exist.

    Halpern documents Mary’s story with film, photographs, and parts of a large family archive that paint important moments in the lives of immigrants to the USA. It is the story of many families: from Stromboli to New York to Brooklyn with joy, pain, dreams, and illusions.



    Why did the filmmaker choose to make this film?

    “I began the journey into my grandmother’s life at 18, when I saw family photos and home movies my father took,” recalls the filmmaker. “Then during a trip to Stromboli, the island where we are from, a fortuneteller predicted that Mary would die at 96 years of age…” So the documentary begins with a superstition, and grandson and grandmother begin an adventure.  They are incredulous as they film one scene after another. Magically a film of great artistic value and human interest develops, and Mary’s life proceeds from the accomplishment of the feature film into ninety-six years.



    The film withdraws into the routine of daily life, showing us those details that grandchildren often spy from the threshold of a door, picking up on the most irreverent elements of the habits of the old people they love. We see Mary in the bathroom and in the kitchen while she puts in her dentures, proud that she still has some of her own teeth. We pick up on her vanity, so sweet that it makes us smile.  We see all of her determination, her youthful wisdom, and her powerful personality.

    We see gestures from everyday life, and many who have lived with the elderly will recognize them. Here these gestures take on a symbolic value thanks to the irony of the protagonist. They become a lesson. We notice Mary’s energy and her big secret: to know how to downplay drama, beginning with herself.


    The family revolves around her and her decades of family history. The filmmaker delves into the most controversial aspects of his family’s immigrant history through a female member’s point of view. And the secrets drip out slowly by force of their irreverent truth. The secrets revealed tell of extramarital affairs, illicit loves, conflicts, quarrels, mourning. They are heard or seen through the voices of other family members and friends and they are seen in Mary’s intense eyes, half-closed with age. The portrait of Mary is highly individual. She is certainly not a traditional mother (for example, her daughter reveals a youthful love affair that Mary had with the writer Jack Kerouac), nor a classic wife, and she had a very difficult relationship with her sister (her refusal to meet her until the end is symbolic). There are different problems that are revealed in the film, sad events that are experienced in all families, internal battles that are difficult to discuss.


    But Mary has incredible energy to experience it all, thanks always to her straightforward humor. Despite all of her grandson’s nosey questions, she is never annoyed; she even declares: why can’t I have an orgasm at my age!  

    Mary Mirabito Livornese Cavalieri lived a vibrant life. After the death of her first husband, she married an old boyfriend who she had not seen in forty years. She listens to old vinyl records as she did when she dreamed of becoming a singer. There are many moments that remain after having seen the film. Mary likes to make fun of herself and to laugh. She carries with her wisdom that comes from experience and the ability to look at reality through the detached eyes of someone who knows how to live.

     

    ““She was the repository of more than one hundred years of family secrets,” recounts the filmmaker-grandson in a short interview with Edvige Giunta (New Jersey City University) at the end of the screening. “I was fascinated by her archive when I was 18 years old, by her things, her photos, her letters that were part of her intimate story but also a public one as a daughter and the second of thirteen children in a Sicilian family who immigrated to America.”

    “For me it was important to view her in her totality; there are intimate parts in the film but my responsibility as a filmmaker was to tell the truth in the best way possible,” says Alex Halperm as he described his approach at the same time as necessarily invasive in order to understand his family’s secrets.

    “I knew that she was the subject of the film: matriarch, grandmother, mother, wife, lover, and daughter.” And we have seen her courageous candor, her irreverence, and her perhaps unconscious conflict with traditional roles frequently assigned to first-generation Italian/American women.

    While Giunta responds, we gather in the filmmaker’s eyes a placid sadness. His grandmother Mary passed away only three weeks before at the age of 108. “It is the first time that I have seen the film since her death,” he confesses, overcome with emotion.

    He also admits: “In telling her story, I realized that our heroes are ordinary people.” He has told the story of his own special grandmother, but she is like other women in that her story had not been previously told. The documentary is significant for this reason in addition to being artistically very interesting.

    His grandmother lived a full life and Halpern wisely knew to catch it on film, disarming the passage of time. He made Mary well-known in her no-nonsense approach to reality, scene after scene. Using other voices, he was successful in paying tribute to her and making us reflect on the commonplace.

    “Nana” Mary Mirabito Livornese Cavaliere   (1899 – 2008)

    ----

    Nine Good Teeth by Alex Halpern was presented last Wednesday at the Graduate School of Journalism of the  City University of New York (CUNY) as part of the film and video series “Documented Italians” sponsored by the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute of Queens College, CUNY.

    (Translated by Giulia Prestia)

     

  • Art & Culture

    "Nine Good Teeth". L'energia di Mary


    Non sono passi felpati quelli che utilizza il regista Alex Halpern nel raccontare sua nonna.  Entra nella vita della centenaria italo/americana Mary Mirabito Livornese Cavalieri quasi con clamore. Con quell’affettuosa irriverenza che solo un nipote “discolo” può permettersi e che è la ragione intima del rapporto felice che spesso intercorre tra due generazioni, così lontane e al tempo stesso cosi vicine.

     

    E il percorso che compie il giovane regista ha un’intensità che travalica la storia personale della sua famiglia, pone diversi interrogativi sul rapporto con le nostre radici e sulla figura femminile nel contesto italo/americano e non. Halpern ha l’abilità di portare sullo schermo la storia di una donna forte, indipendente, a modo suo cardine di una  famiglia, viva presenza e punto di riferimento, così lontana da alcuni stereotipi femminili ma al tempo stesso così integra nel tramandare elementi di un passato che non c’è più.



    Ed il suo racconto della storia di Mary viene documentato da filmati, fotografie, tratti da un prodigioso archivio di famiglia, che ritraggono momenti importanti di emigrati negli Usa e non solo. Di una famiglia come tante. Da Stromboli a New York, a Brooklyn. Con gioie, dolori, sogni, illusioni.



    Ma perchè il regista ha deciso di realizzare un film?

    “Ho inziato il viaggio nella vita di mia nonna a 18 anni, quando ho visto le foto di famiglia, i filmati realizzati da mio padre,” racconta il regista “poi nel corso di un viaggio a Stromboli, isola d’origine, a Mary viene predetto da una zingara che sarebbe morta novantasei anni…”.  Nasce così, sul filo di una superstizione, un documentario.  Nipote e  nonna cominciano un’avventura. Increduli a loro volta realizzano scena su scena.  Magicamente cresce un film di grande valore umano e artistico e la vita della signora Mary va ben al di là della realizzazione del lungometraggio e dei novantasei anni.


    La ritrae nella routine di tutti i giorni, in quei particolari che spesso i nipoti spiano dalla soglia di una porta, cogliendo gli elementi più irriverenti delle abitudini dei vecchi che amano.  Vediamo Maria nel bagno, in cucina, mentre si mette la sua dentiera, orgogliosa di avere ancora dei denti. Cogliamo la sua vanità, così dolce da far sorridere. La vediamo con tutta la sua grinta, la sua sua saggezza bambina, la sua intensa personalità.


    Spiamo gesti che sono nella vita di tutti i giorni e che molti, che vivono affianco a delle persone anziane, conoscono. Questi gesti qui assumono un valore emblematico grazie all’autoironia della protagonista. Diventano un insegnamento. Ci accorgiamo della grande energia e del grande segreto di Maria: saper sdrammatizzare partendo proprio da se stessa.



    Intorno a lei ruota la sua famiglia che percorre decenni di storia. Il regista affronta anche gli aspetti più controversi del suo heritage come membro femminile di un nucleo di emigranti. Ed i segreti vengono snocciolati piano piano, con la forza della loro irriverente verità.  Si raccontano relazioni exraconiugali, amori 'Illeciti", conflitti familiari, litigi, lutti. Si sentono o intravedono nelle voci di altri membri della sua famiglia e amici, si colgono negli occhi intensi, ma semichiusi dagli anni, della vecchia Mary. Il ritratto che ne esce di Mary è molto particolare. Non è certo una madre tradizionale  (per esempio quando la figlia le rivela una storia d’amore giovanile avuta con lo scrittore Jack Kerouac) , nè una moglie classica, con sua sorella ha una relazione molto difficile  (il rifiuto di incontrarla fino alla fine è emblematico). Sono diversi i problemi che escono fuori nel film, vicende e tristezze che si vivono spesso nelle famiglie, scontri interni difficili da rivelare e da ammettere.




    Ma Mary ha un’energia che attraversa tutto, grazie sempre alla sua schietta ironia. Per nulla indispettita dalle domande intriganti del nipote rivela anche: perchè no si può provare un orgasmo anche alla mia età!                



    Mary Mirabito Livornese Cavalieri ha vissuto una vita intensa. Dopo la morte del primo marito si risposa con un antico spasimante che non vedeva da quaranta anni e che era poco gradito al marito. Ascolta vecchi dischi di vinile e ricorda come sognava di diventare cantante. Sono diversi i momenti che rimangono impressi dopo aver visto il film. A Mary piace prendersi in giro, ridere. Porta con se quella saggezza fatta di esperienza, quel guardare la realtà attraverso gli occhi distaccati di chi sa vivere.




    “Per me era depositaria di più di cento anni di segreti familiari” racconta il nipote-regista in una breve intervista con Edwige Giunta (New Jersey City Univesity) alla fine della proiezione. Era rimasto affascinato quando aveva 18 anni dal suo archivio, dai suoi oggetti, dalle foto, dalle lettere che facevano parte della storia intima ma anche pubblica di una donna che era seconda di tredici figli di una famiglia siciliana immigrata in America.



     

    “Per me era importante vederla nella sua totalità, ci sono parti intime nel film, ma la responsabilità come regista era dire la verità nel miglior modo possibile” dice Alex Halpern, mentre descrive il suo percorso delicato, ma al tempo stesso necessariamente invadente, per carpire i segreti della sua famiglia.

    “Sapevo che lei era un soggetto per un film: matriarca, nonna, madre, moglie, amante e figlia, nonna.” E noi abbiamo visto il suo candore ed il coraggio, la sua irriverenza, il suo forse inconscio conflitto con i tradizionali ruoli spesso assegnati alle donne di prima generazone italo/americana.

    Mentre risponde alla Giunta cogliamo negli occhi del regista il velo di una tristezza serena. Sua nonna Mary è venuta a mancare solo tre settimane fa, a 108 anni. “E’ la prima volta che vedo il film dopo la sua morte” confessa commosso.




    E fra l’altro dice: “Raccontando la sua storia mi sono reso conto che i nostri eroi sono persone ordinarie”.  Ha narrato la storia della propria nonna. Una nonna speciale, ma speciale proprio perché come altre donne che non sono state raccontate. Il suo documentario ha un grande valore per questo motivo oltre ad essere artisticamente molto interessante.



    Sua nonna ha vissuto una storia intensa e Halpern ha saputo sapientemente intrecciarla nel film con altre testimonianze, superando il banale passaggio generazionale. Ha fatto conoscere Mary, smitizzando con la realtà scena dopo scena. Ulizzando più voci è riuscito ad esaltarne la personalità e a far riflettere anche su alcuni luoghi comuni.

     

    "Nana" Mary Mirabito LIvornese Cavaliere   (1899 - 2008)

    ----

    Nine Good Teeth, di Alex Halpern è stato presentato lo scorso mercoledì presso la Graduate School of Journalism della City University di New York nel corso del programma  “Documented Italians” Film and Video Series, John D. Calandra Italian American Institute del Queens College, CUNY


     

  • "Nine Good Teeth". L'energia di Mary


    Non sono passi felpati quelli che utilizza il regista Alex Halpern nel raccontare sua nonna.  Entra nella vita della centenaria italo/americana Mary Mirabito Livornese Cavalieri quasi con clamore. Con quell’affettuosa irriverenza che solo un nipote “discolo” può permettersi e che è la ragione intima del rapporto felice che spesso intercorre tra due generazioni, così lontane e al tempo stesso cosi vicine.

     

    E il percorso che compie il giovane regista ha un’intensità che travalica la storia personale della sua famiglia, pone diversi interrogativi sul rapporto con le nostre radici e sulla figura femminile nel contesto italo/americano e non. Halpern ha l’abilità di portare sullo schermo la storia di una donna forte, indipendente, a modo suo cardine di una  famiglia, viva presenza e punto di riferimento, così lontana da alcuni stereotipi femminili ma al tempo stesso così integra nel tramandare elementi di un passato che non c’è più.



    Ed il suo racconto della storia di Mary viene documentato da filmati, fotografie, tratti da un prodigioso archivio di famiglia, che ritraggono momenti importanti di emigrati negli Usa e non solo. Di una famiglia come tante. Da Stromboli a New York, a Brooklyn. Con gioie, dolori, sogni, illusioni.



    Ma perchè il regista ha deciso di realizzare un film?

    “Ho inziato il viaggio nella vita di mia nonna a 18 anni, quando ho visto le foto di famiglia, i filmati realizzati da mio padre,” racconta il regista “poi nel corso di un viaggio a Stromboli, isola d’origine, a Mary viene predetto da una zingara che sarebbe morta novantasei anni…”.  Nasce così, sul filo di una superstizione, un documentario.  Nipote e  nonna cominciano un’avventura. Increduli a loro volta realizzano scena su scena.  Magicamente cresce un film di grande valore umano e artistico e la vita della signora Mary va ben al di là della realizzazione del lungometraggio e dei novantasei anni.


    La ritrae nella routine di tutti i giorni, in quei particolari che spesso i nipoti spiano dalla soglia di una porta, cogliendo gli elementi più irriverenti delle abitudini dei vecchi che amano.  Vediamo Maria nel bagno, in cucina, mentre si mette la sua dentiera, orgogliosa di avere ancora dei denti. Cogliamo la sua vanità, così dolce da far sorridere. La vediamo con tutta la sua grinta, la sua sua saggezza bambina, la sua intensa personalità.


    Spiamo gesti che sono nella vita di tutti i giorni e che molti, che vivono affianco a delle persone anziane, conoscono. Questi gesti qui assumono un valore emblematico grazie all’autoironia della protagonista. Diventano un insegnamento. Ci accorgiamo della grande energia e del grande segreto di Maria: saper sdrammatizzare partendo proprio da se stessa.



    Intorno a lei ruota la sua famiglia che percorre decenni di storia. Il regista affronta anche gli aspetti più controversi del suo heritage come membro femminile di un nucleo di emigranti. Ed i segreti vengono snocciolati piano piano, con la forza della loro irriverente verità.  Si raccontano relazioni exraconiugali, amori 'Illeciti", conflitti familiari, litigi, lutti. Si sentono o intravedono nelle voci di altri membri della sua famiglia e amici, si colgono negli occhi intensi, ma semichiusi dagli anni, della vecchia Mary. Il ritratto che ne esce di Mary è molto particolare. Non è certo una madre tradizionale  (per esempio quando la figlia le rivela una storia d’amore giovanile avuta con lo scrittore Jack Kerouac) , nè una moglie classica, con sua sorella ha una relazione molto difficile  (il rifiuto di incontrarla fino alla fine è emblematico). Sono diversi i problemi che escono fuori nel film, vicende e tristezze che si vivono spesso nelle famiglie, scontri interni difficili da rivelare e da ammettere.




    Ma Mary ha un’energia che attraversa tutto, grazie sempre alla sua schietta ironia. Per nulla indispettita dalle domande intriganti del nipote rivela anche: perchè no si può provare un orgasmo anche alla mia età!                



    Mary Mirabito Livornese Cavalieri ha vissuto una vita intensa. Dopo la morte del primo marito si risposa con un antico spasimante che non vedeva da quaranta anni e che era poco gradito al marito. Ascolta vecchi dischi di vinile e ricorda come sognava di diventare cantante. Sono diversi i momenti che rimangono impressi dopo aver visto il film. A Mary piace prendersi in giro, ridere. Porta con se quella saggezza fatta di esperienza, quel guardare la realtà attraverso gli occhi distaccati di chi sa vivere.




    “Per me era depositaria di più di cento anni di segreti familiari” racconta il nipote-regista in una breve intervista con Edwige Giunta (New Jersey City Univesity) alla fine della proiezione. Era rimasto affascinato quando aveva 18 anni dal suo archivio, dai suoi oggetti, dalle foto, dalle lettere che facevano parte della storia intima ma anche pubblica di una donna che era seconda di tredici figli di una famiglia siciliana immigrata in America.



     

    “Per me era importante vederla nella sua totalità, ci sono parti intime nel film, ma la responsabilità come regista era dire la verità nel miglior modo possibile” dice Alex Halpern, mentre descrive il suo percorso delicato, ma al tempo stesso necessariamente invadente, per carpire i segreti della sua famiglia.

    “Sapevo che lei era un soggetto per un film: matriarca, nonna, madre, moglie, amante e figlia, nonna.” E noi abbiamo visto il suo candore ed il coraggio, la sua irriverenza, il suo forse inconscio conflitto con i tradizionali ruoli spesso assegnati alle donne di prima generazone italo/americana.

    Mentre risponde alla Giunta cogliamo negli occhi del regista il velo di una tristezza serena. Sua nonna Mary è venuta a mancare solo tre settimane fa, a 108 anni. “E’ la prima volta che vedo il film dopo la sua morte” confessa commosso.




    E fra l’altro dice: “Raccontando la sua storia mi sono reso conto che i nostri eroi sono persone ordinarie”.  Ha narrato la storia della propria nonna. Una nonna speciale, ma speciale proprio perché come altre donne che non sono state raccontate. Il suo documentario ha un grande valore per questo motivo oltre ad essere artisticamente molto interessante.



    Sua nonna ha vissuto una storia intensa e Halpern ha saputo sapientemente intrecciarla nel film con altre testimonianze, superando il banale passaggio generazionale. Ha fatto conoscere Mary, smitizzando con la realtà scena dopo scena. Ulizzando più voci è riuscito ad esaltarne la personalità e a far riflettere anche su alcuni luoghi comuni.

     

    "Nana" Mary Mirabito LIvornese Cavaliere   (1899 - 2008)

    ----

    Nine Good Teeth, di Alex Halpern è stato presentato lo scorso mercoledì presso la Graduate School of Journalism della City University di New York nel corso del programma  “Documented Italians” Film and Video Series, John D. Calandra Italian American Institute del Queens College, CUNY


     

  • Facts & Stories

    “You Who Live Securely in Your Warm Homes…”


    The auditorium of the Centro Primo Levi is packed. The entire audience is moved, emotional, reflective, and at times incredulous.


    “You who live securely in your warm homes, when you return in the evening find hot food and friends, consider that if this is a man…,” these lines by Primo Levi along with others by the author, stick in my mind throughout the evening.


    January 27, 2008. The screening of the film L’isola delle rose: La tragedia di un paradiso (Island of Roses: The Tragedy of a Paradise) written and directed by Rebecca Samonà was accompanied by a brief but intense interview by journalist Andrea Fiano with Stella Levi, a former resident of Rhodes who survived Auschwitz. The film reconstructs the annihilation of the Jews of Rhodes who were deported after September 8, 1938. The events come to life through the first-hand account of someone who lived them.


    Before the interview, we watch 52 intense minutes of a story that is not often found in history books: the details of daily life interrupted. The true force of the documentary lies in its narration of everyday life which is completely wiped out in a short time. Over the course of the screening a silent invitation becomes a responsibility: to reflect on our own daily lives, especially on our seemingly insignificant actions.


    Rebecca Samonà’s work is important for this reason. It confronts and questions our own way of life: the small gestures, our relationships with others.


    “In every group, there exists a predetermined victim: one who carries pain, who everyone mocks, on whom they heap malevolent rumors, and with mysterious agreement everyone unloads their negative feelings and their desire to harm,” wrote Primo Levi in The Truce (1962). This is a description of a social dynamic that is seemingly banal yet insidious and not to be forgotten.

    L’isola delle rose: La tragedia di un paradiso recalls history through personal black and white images, similar to our own home movies. They are that familiar. On the screen we see the narration of a time gone by, one that no longer exists but that could very well still be with us.


    The main theme is autobiographical. It is a journey (both physically and in memory) to Rhodes by the director/author, pregnant with her second child, along with her own mother who is the daughter of an Italian serviceman interned in Germany (1944-45) and of a Jewish woman from Rhodes, who after a pleasant life there was deported. Her life ends in Auschwitz, as did hundreds of others from the island.


    The film traces the director’s maternal Jewish line through a trip that passes from physical places to hidden places in the human mind.


    Slowly we realize that we are discovering pages of forgotten history. Individual life histories lived in first person, mostly female, are revealed through rare archival highlights and become entwined.


    At a certain point, the film passes from light to darkness. A nearly idyllic atmosphere is introduced at the beginning of the film. Clips of advertising from the period depict Rhodes as a real paradise of happiness and harmony. And it is in this tranquility that the director’s grandmother is raised and lives her incongruent love story with a Sicilian official. In 1936, against the wishes of her parents, she decides to run away and marry him. Her family’s subsequent acceptance of the marriage would seem to further the young woman into a life of considerable security and prosperity. But that did not occur. “Consider that this is a woman. Without hair and without a name, with no more strength to remember, empty eyes and cold womb, like a branch in winter,” wrote Primo Levi.


    Rebecca and her mother, some sixty years later, visit the places hungry for answers. They question friends of the family, read diaries of the father interned in Germany; they examine every square foot of the places that were settings for both happy times and heinous memories. And in their path of memory, an absurd witness appeared: disbelief.


    Snapshots of everyday life: lunches with family members, parties, set tables with food, the long shores of Rhodes full of healthy and beautiful people, young people poised for prosperous futures. And afterwards, a family, many families, an entire community, completely exterminated.


    The director seems to suggest that any one of us could have been in Rhodes at that time. When we get up, when we go to work, when we take the sun at the beach, when we play with our children, when we fall in love, when we celebrate, we do so without ever imagining that one day the folly of other human beings can destroy everything.


    Memories, especially female memories, take on a symbolic value: it is through the transmission of memories from the grandmother to the mother, to the director herself and to her daughter in her womb that we learn never to forget.


    The sighs of an elderly woman seated next to me signal the entire vision of the film that ends in front of a captivated audience. After a few minutes, there is the steady but fragile voice of another woman, Stella Levi. An emotional Andrea Fiano conducts the interview. Levi’s memories gives voice to the past but also looks to the present so the same mistakes are not committed in the future.


    Visiting the island only once, in 1967, Stella Levi recalls: “I have lived with the ghosts of Rhodes, I still hear the voices of the people I knew. Ghosts that vanish but that I would like to take with me.”


    “Before ’38 we were all the same. Before you were a human being and then you were not. The humiliation of being dragged out of your own home, and no one stopped them!”


    With Mrs. Levi’s first words one senses the same, nearly child-like disbelief that accompanied the film. “Sometimes I ask myself: I lived through all of this? At Auschwitz you smell death even during the brightest and warmest days in August. The sky becomes gray. Auschwitz was death.”


     “This is not an easy interview for me because I am the son of a Jewish survivor. I have so many questions, but at the same time I am afraid of invading her privacy.” And so begins Andrea Fiano with great sensitivity. “Why were more women able to survive?” he asks. Mrs. Levi responds, “I don’t know why women seem to be stronger in this case. Perhaps it is because they protect life. They carry it inside.”


    “My memories are in Italian and I have to translate them into English in order to speak to you. When I returned to Rhodes I knew that I would find only ghosts there. The colors, the scent of that city are no longer the same. There are no Jews now. Today the entire community is gone. There is a synagogue, a museum…. but it is difficult to associate the memories. Places of happy, ordinary life can become brutal horrors…silent witnesses of the worst human atrocities. Radiant Rhodes, the emerald sea, full of oranges, its houses, offices, schools…”


    Mrs. Levi shares in a loud voice a paradoxical question: “How could they be so elegant and commit these crimes? In the evening, after giving the gas, they dressed up and played the most beautiful music.”


     “I remember that when we arrived at Auschwitz they didn’t think that we were Jews because we didn’t speak Yiddish. They understood only when they saw us pray. Since we spoke French, we were placed with the French women. This was my salvation. The French women spoke German and this was the only way we could follow orders …”


    She says with great certainty: “Can it happen today? Dafur, Bosnia… It is happening… ‘Remember, you were a slave in Egypt.’ This is one of the most important precepts in Judaism, but it should apply to all of humanity.”


    And to the question of whether she feels hatred, she responds: “No. Hatred is a disease and I do not want to hate.”


    Primo Levi wrote: “He who has been tortured remains tortured. He who has been tormented can no longer acclimate himself in the world, the revulsion for the annihilation can never be extinguished.” (The Drowned and the Saved, 1986)


    In Stella Levi’s words, in addition to the courage and the need-want to tell, there is internal burden of a marked existence.


    “You who live securely, in your warm homes…”

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Italy Under Scrutiny


    It was the New York Times that started it all, with an article that weeks after publication still has people talking. It was December 13th and seemingly out of the blue the well-respected and powerful New York paper published an article from the Rome correspondent Ian Fisher that spoke of a stagnant Italy that was in “a collective funk regarding economics, politics and society”.  


    Actually, it wasn’t out of the blue at all. In fact on that same day Repubblica published a long article by sociologist Ilvo Diamanti entitled “Italians Prisoners of Distrust”. The article referenced a study by the Demos, which stated that “distrust has surpassed all previous levels. Distrust of institutions in particular has reached levels that hadn’t been seen since 2000”. And the 41st “Report on the social state of the country” had just been released (on December 8th), in which the president of CENSIS, Giuseppe De Rita, coined the famous phrase “mucilage society”: “We no longer have any trust in the development of a country that gave life to the economic boom of the fifties, to the mass industrialization of the seventies, to the fight against terrorism.”


    So why then, with all these precedents – certainly not unknown to foreign correspondents – did Fisher’s article attract so much attention? Maybe because it was published at the same time that the Italian President was visiting New York? Or maybe because it was a foreigner that aired out our dirty laundry in public, an American to boot? A few days later (December 23rd) it was the Times of London’s turn, with an entire page dedicated to Italy which stated that “the living standards are behind those of Spain and that politicians are old and tired” and that Italians “think their future is horrible”. According to the British daily, people in Italy live with “a sense of national agony”. Of course it would be wise to reflect on the fast spreading effect that certain well-amplified news stories can have.


    And then came the reactions. From the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who brought up “malevolent” foreign observers even in his New Year’s message, to the Minister of the Interior Giuliano Amato, to the leader of the new Partito Democratico Italiano (Italian Democratic Party) Walter Veltroni – quoted by Fisher as having said that in Italy “there is more fear than hope” – to the Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who commented from the ski slopes while on vacation: “Spain did not surpass us!”. From the correspondent Vittorio Zucconi who from the pages of Repubblica accused the United States of being a “mucilage”, to the comedian Luciana Littizzetto, who ironically declared on TV that Italians may be depressed, but at least they don’t go on shooting sprees in schools like the Americans.


    And so the debate grows. On one side are those offended by Fisher’s article, on the other those who agree with him – we can see it on the web: Italians, Americans living in Italy, Italians living abroad, have decided to give their opinion. On the New York Times website there is still a blog with dozens of messages, but the same has happened in many other virtual communities.


    We would like to present "Italy Under Scrutiny" our own reportage on the topic, open for discussions, comments, suggestions…please continue to visit our site and share your opinions with us.

     

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