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Articles by: Letizia Airos

  • Fatti e Storie

    Un Consolato Generale tra Umanesimo e Tecnologia

    Lo incontriamo appena arrivato. Nella suo secondo giorno presso la sede di New York come Console Generale. Seduto vicino alle bandiere d’Italia e dell'Unione Europea, Francesco Genuardi, si racconta incalzato dalla nostra curiosità.

    E cominciamo proprio dall'inizio, dal luogo dove è nato: Bruxelles.

     “I miei genitori lavoravano lì,in particolare mio padre presso la Comunità Europea. Di origine palermitana, è stato uno degli esponenti della prima ondata di funzionari italiani che hanno lasciato l'Italia per contribuire a costruire l’ideale europeo a Bruxelles.”

    Lei ha l’Europa in famiglia quindi, nel sangue per così dire. Ma Bruxelles è anche una luogo che ha visto storiche ondate migratorie italiane. Cosa ricorda di quella città?

    Ho passato lì i primi otto anni di vita, decisivi per la formazione ma che certo non mi hanno permesso di avere conoscenze approfondite della realtà belga e italo-belga. Però sono rimasto molto legato a Bruxelles che ho servito come tappa, sede della mia carriera diplomatica tra il 2002 e il 2005 alla Nato. Fu in questa occasione che ho potuto approfondire la ricchezza e la varietà delle componenti sociali, della popolazione del Belgio e, in particolare, questa grandissima storica comunità italiana che c’è a Bruxelles.

    Un po' di ricordi del suo percorso da diplomatico...

    Sono entrato in diplomazia con il concorso del 1993. Fino al 1998 sono stato a Roma, anni di formazione iniziale, un bellissimo periodo, anche prolungato rispetto alla media, in cui mi sono occupato di questioni economiche e multilaterali, in particolare di protezione dell’ambiente. Ricordo con grandissimo piacere quell’esperienza, anche perché mi ha permesso di conoscere abbastanza bene New York dove sono andato spesso per partecipare alle riunioni alle Nazioni Unite sullo sviluppo sostenibile. Erano gli anni della famosa conferenza di Rio del 1992 sulla protezione dell’ambiente e si stava strutturando sempre di più il negoziato ambientale, ovvero il concetto che la diplomazia doveva essere capace anche di prevenire le crisi internazionali attraverso la protezione più rafforzata dell’ambiente. Poi, tra i tanti bei ricordi un periodo al servizio stampa del portavoce del ministero degli Esteri, curando uno degli aspetti più belli che è quello mediatico che non nascondo che sia una mia passione.

    Parliamo di questa sua nuova sede ...

    New York… Da un lato la conosco da un lato abbastanza bene, dall’altro no, visto che è cambiata così tanto in questi anni. Essere qui come Console Generale è un grande privilegio. E' una delle capitali del mondo, se non la capitale del mondo. E’ poi una città profondamente italiana, dove a ogni angolo si respira la forza e la presenza italiana sotto tanti aspetti: economici, culturali, sociali. Quindi per me è un onore e una grandissima responsabilità.

    New York ed il suo sindaco di origini italiane. Nell’attesa di venire a New York lei è andato in visita nella terra d’origine di Bill de Blasio, come mai?

    Sì sono stato a Sant’Agata de’ Goti, terra di origine dei nonni del sindaco di New York. In questa rapida fase di preparazione a Roma ho sentito, oltre che il dovere, la curiosità di visitare un paese così bello e oggi così legato a New York. Ho incontrato il sindaco del paese, varie autorità e alcuni cugini della famiglia di De Blasio. È stata un’esperienza bellissima, ho avvertito un legame, un’emozione, una specie di linea diretta tra Sant’Agata de’ Goti e New York. Ho potuto toccare con mano il calore della gente e l’orgoglio di avere un proprio discendente alla guida della città più importante degli Stati Uniti. E tutto questo nel solco di una tradizione di grandi sindaci italo-americani.

    C'è un altro Paese che ha avuto un ruolo importante nella carriera – e non solo nella carriera – di Francesco Genuardi: l'Argentina.

    "È stata la mia prima sede diplomatica all’estero, come vice console tra il 1998 e il 2002. Un’esperienza straordinaria che mi ha segnato dal punto di vista professionale, perché mi ha fatto conoscere la forza e la presenza delle comunità italiane all’estero. Gli italiani hanno dato tanto alla nascita e alla crescita di Stati importanti come l’Argentina e come gli Stati Uniti. È stato anche un luogo cruciale dal punto di vista personale: ho avuto la fortuna di conoscere mia moglie che è di Buenos Aires.
     
    Definire gli italiani in Argentina è molto difficile in poche parole. Hanno una storia intensissima, di grande passione argentina e di grande passione italiana. Ci sono delle persone che combinano dentro di se queste due eredità culturali in maniera molto naturale, molto forte e credo ci sia un sentire comune. E’ molto affascinante."

    Veniamo alla comunità italiana degli Stati Uniti: cosa pensa che possa dare l'Italia agli Italo-Americani e viceversa gli Italo-Americani all'Italia?

    "Questa vastissima fetta di popolazione statunitense, che ha origini italiane, rappresenta una forza e l’asse centrale della relazione tra due Paesi così strettamente alleati come l’Italia e gli Stati Uniti. Vorrei sottolineare anche l’importanza del recente incontro a Washington tra il presidente Obama e il nostro nuovo Ambasciatore Armando Varricchio, in occasione della presentazione delle credenziali.

    Lì si è avuta una forte testimonianza del rapporto bilaterale così stretto tra Italia e Stati Uniti; e la nostra comunità italo-americana, gli americani di origine italiana, sono i veri protagonisti di questo legame tra due Paesi. Il nostro compito, come rappresentanti delle istituzioni italiane, al servizio dell’ambasciata a Washington è di rafforzare ogni giorno di più questo legame e di proiettare l’Italia di oggi nella realtà americana. La comunità è l’espressione del rapporto tra Italia e Stat Uniti."

    E c’è poi un'emigrazione nuova. E’ possibile avvicinare di più le istituzioni a queste persone? Ricordo l'iniziativa, Meet the New Italians appena partita in Consolato. Incontri di giovani con i diversi rappresentanti del mondo del lavoro degli italiani di New York.

    "Questo è uno dei punti cruciali di come deve operare un Consolato d’Italia in una realtà come gli Stati Uniti. Abbiamo una parte della comunità italiana rappresentata da giovani che sfruttando la grandissima mobilità che caratterizza l’era contemporanea hanno deciso di trasferirsi qui. Il Consolato deve essere in grado di avre un rapporto con queste realtà, anche tramite iniziative interessanti e positive come Meet the New Italians, che intendo continuare e rafforzare. Vorrei dare a questa nuova generazione il senso dell’appoggio delle istituzioni italiane, dell’ascolto, anche per capire e intercettare i loro problemi e le loro aspirazioni.

    Occorre mettere a disposizione le competenze del Consolato e magari anche l’apporto delle altre generazioni della comunità italiana che sono radicate qui da più tempo. E’ questo un lavoro che il Consolato Generale d’Italia ha iniziato, secondo il quadro delle strategie delineate dall’Ambasciata, e penso che sia un percorso da seguire sempre di più.

    E' anche una maniera per dire agli italiani di nuova emigrazione - o potremmo chiamarla di “nuova mobilità” - che siamo qui e pronti ad ascoltarli, ad aiutare e a cercare di far dialogare e interagire tutte le parti della presenza italiana. Noi dobbiamo mettere a sistema tutte queste presenze, cercare di offrire tutti i nostri servizi e sfruttarne la ricchezza. Sono convinto che molti di loro torneranno in Italia. L’Italia è il nostro Paese, il Paese al quale siamo legati. Ma se qualcuno non tornerà in Italia noi non lo consideriamo un “cervello in fuga”, ma in un mondo sempre più globale, un asset da valorizzare qui a New York con grande impegno e intensità.

    Parliamo degli americani  "italofili”, degli “italici” come li chiama qualcuno. C’è un grande amore per l’Italia qui...

    E' un amore straordinario che ci riempie di maggiori responsabilità nel nostro lavoro di rappresentanti delle istituzioni italiane qui a New York perché dobbiamo essere all’altezza di questa straordinaria “domanda d’Italia” che avvertiamo: umana, lavorativa, creativa. Non solo di intercettarla ma anche di farla fruttare e metterla a sistema. Una proiezione rafforzata e corale dell’Italia a New York e’ fondamentale. Tengo a sottolineare come durante il mio mandato vorrò sottolineare il gioco di squadra tra le istituzioni italiane presenti a New York, sempre sotto la direzione dell’Ambasciata. Così il Consolato Generale, l’Istituto d’Italiano di Cultura, l’Ice, la Banca d’Italia, la Camera di commercio, sono tutte componenti di un’orchestra che devono saper suonare insieme, saper valorizzare e moltiplicare l’amore per l’Italia rinsaldando ancora di più le relazioni a cascata, economiche e culturali, tra Italia e Stati Uniti. Penso al turismo, al food, alla moda, alla cultura, al cinema…"

    La lingua italiana. L’amore degli americani passa anche attraverso il crescente desiderio di apprendere questa lingua straordinaria. Una porta aperta non solo alla diffusione della nostra cultura ma anche ad investimenti nel nostro Paese, al mondo del commercio, degli affari.

    "La lingua italiana è uno snodo essenziale. Non solo ti permette di riscoprire le tue origini, la tua identità, il tuo orgoglio. E' anche veicolo per rafforzare la nostra presenza economica, il turismo americano che è già elevatissimo in Italia. È il veicolo per avere una presenza nel campo dell’alimentazione ancora più forte a New York. Credo sia una priorità assoluta e l’ha ribadito, pur tra i mille problemi e le mille priorità di politica estera, il ministro degli esteri Paolo Gentiloni in una seduta di question time alla Camera. Rispondendo a un’interrogazione parlamentare, ha detto che una delle priorità dell’Italia è l’insegnamento e il rafforzamento della lingua."

    Ci sono diverse realtà universitarie legate al mondo della cultura italiana, piccole e meno piccole. Poi strutture come la la Zerilli-Marimò della NYU, Calandra Institute delle Cuny, l'Italian Academy della Columbia, il Centro Primo Levi … Tutti centri che, anche se in maniera indiretta, svolgono un ruolo importante per quello che chiamiamo “Sistema Italia”. Quanto è importante coinvolgere anche questi centri di studio nelle iniziative?

    Questo è un altro punto strategico, la relazione con l’università è cruciale. Qui stiamo parlando di come prepariamo il futuro, il futuro delle prossime generazioni, di come prepariamo il mondo che avremo tra non molti anni. So che c’è una presenza elevatissima e significativa di professori italiani nelle grandi università newyorkesi e negli Stati limitrofi. So che ci sono queste realtà di integrazione tra le grandi università americane e istituzioni italiane. Penso all’Italian Academy della Columbia, alla Casa Italiana della NYU, al Calandra Institute, anche al Centro Primo Levi con il suo lavoro legato alla presenza ebraica italiana. Sono realtà vive, vitali e prestigiosissime che servono a mantenere e a far crescere questo legame tra i due mondi culturali universitari americani e italiani. Dovremo puntare ancora di più su questa integrazione e contare anche sull’enorme quantità di studenti americani che vengono in Italia a passare una parte dei loro studi. Le strutture menzionate sono una ricchezza enorme, dei veri e propri “pozzi di petrolio” del soft power italiano.

    Parliamo dei servizi consolari, forse dovevo cominciare a da qui, da quello che è il primo compito di un Consolato ma ho preferito far conoscere prima un po' il nuovo Console Generale. I consolati sono molto cambiati negli anni; quanto è importante questo cambiamento anche dal punto di vista tecnologico?

    La ringrazio per questa domanda perché mi dà l’opportunità di ribadire quello che ho detto qui a tutto lo staff in queste primissime ore. E ne approfitto anche per sottolineare che ho ereditato un consolato generale che è stato gestito da Natalia Quintavalle in maniera superlativa, con uno staff di eccellenza sia a livello di vice consoli che di altri impiegati. La bussola, la priorità del mio mandato consolare sono i servizi consolari, il loro rafforzamento e miglioramento per arrivare a una sempre maggiore soddisfazione dell’utenza del Consolato, che è il nostro obiettivo. Tutto questo lo facciamo e lo faremo cercando di rafforzare la componente tecnologica dell’erogazione dei servizi consolari che è essenziale. Bisogna adeguarsi, stare al passo con i tempi, ci sono ancora dei margini di miglioramento e ci stiamo già lavorando in queste prime ore e ci lavoreremo in questo periodo. Allo stesso tempo, dobbiamo trovare un punto di equilibrio tra la crescita tecnologica e la dimensione umana perché non dobbiamo dimenticarci che siamo italiani, e noi italiani giustamente abbiamo bisogno non solo di vedere un computer, un terminale e una stampante ma vogliamo vedere una persona con cui ci possiamo confrontare per risolvere le nostre problematiche. Il Consolato continuerà ed incrementerà le missioni – soprannominate “Consolato fuori le Mura” – dirette a incontrare tutti i cittadini della circoscrizione consolare, dal New Jersey (ad esempio a Newark, dove purtroppo è stata chiusa la sede) al Connecticut."

    L’Italia dunque non è solo cibo e vino, arte, moda, design, ma anche tecnologia. Punto di forza poco conosciuto a volte del nostro Paese. La recente mostra “Make in Italy” all'Istituto di Cultura ha raccontato anche tutto questo, ricordandone sempre anche la componente fortemente umana. Tecnologia quindi, ma anche vicinanza alle persone, alle loro vicende. Un modo di lavorare insieme che arricchisce un Consolato Generale.

    "Credo che possiamo lavorare serenamente tutti i giorni per cercare un punto di equilibrio sempre migliore tra la componente tecnologica e quella umana, però non penso che possiamo dirigerci, come altri Paesi, in particolare quelli nordici, che esternalizzano di più, a rendere meno visibile il volto umano dell’erogazione dei servizi. Siamo il Paese di Olivetti, ma anche dell’Umanesimo e del Rinascimento e dobbiamo combinare le due cose."

    Buon lavoro Console Generale, da tutto lo Staff di i-Italy e dai lettori che ci seguono.

  • Life & People

    Maria Teresa Sansalone & Grandpa Salvatore’s Tool Kit

    She has her homeland’s (Calabria’s) features. Pronounced yet at the same time soft. She may look glamorous, but you only see the dazzling side of her personality when you watch her work. I chatted with Maria Teresa Sansalone between a cut and color and I discovered a great story. 

    It All Started with Grandpa Salvatore
    Born in Sidarno, in the province of Reggio Calabria, Maria Teresa Sansalone has led a life both
    unique and emblematic.

    Hers is the story of a tenacious woman from the South who made her own way in the world thanks to a passion for her profession. But it all began with Nonno Salvatore. “He was a barber in Palermo and in the summer he’d vacation with us. He’d bring with him his tool kit for cutting hair.” And Maria Teresa, who was hardly three feet tall, followed him around and learned the secrets of his profession—and, most of all, his passion for his work.
     

    It wasn’t long before she’d slip into Grandpa’s shoes. At just twelve, despite her parents’ misgivings, she went to apprentice with an American hairstylist. “As long as your grades are good enough you can go!” her parents told her. “I’d study at night. In the afternoon
    I was learning to do the job I  loved. After six months I began to work as a hairstylist. I liked changing the look of people who trusted me.”

    At just 13 she won a contest in Calabria. A second victory followed in Northern Italy, in Pistoia. At 16 she began entering her rst international competitions. “It was tough. But it was what I loved doing. I was young and my mom accompanied me and cheered me on. My family wasn’t what you’d call rich; my father laid tiles and my mother was a seamstress. My grandfather was super happy and pushed me to keep at it. He was very old and didn’t speak much, but we were close. One day he gave me his famous little barber kit. It became my good luck charm. I take it everywhere with me.” Her grandfather taught her another lesson. “I never tried to beat the clock. The more you rush, the more likely you are to hit a wall you can’t get past. I go with the wind.” 
     

    European Tour 
    As with everybody, life threw her a few curveballs. After getting married, she became a private hairstylist. She used to ride around in a white car. Then her marriage ended and Maria Teresa had to change her life. She left Calabria to work with the famous hairstylist Roberto D’Antonio.

    “He was a wonderful teacher. Sometimes I’d leave crying. He treated me severely. But he made me get over my shyness, trained me and made me stronger. I learned how to relate to people and he gave me the de nitive courage to change people's look. [I worked with him] for 7 years. From 7 in the morning to 8 at night. Sometimes later. I worked with actors and models all over Europe. Traveling with D’Antonio gave Maria Teresa the idea to work abroad. “It was exciting to go places where no one knows you, to hear people speaking other languages... so I began sending my CV across the ocean. And here I am in New York.”

    NYC: Begin Italian Helps!
    In New York, Maria Teresa has had experiences both good and bad. “It’s a city that helps you dream,” she says, “but it can also crush you. At first I didn’t speak the language, but I’d show people photos of the colors I wanted to give them and clients trusted me.” Something about being Italian helped too... “In our line of work being Italian definitely helps. Americans love our culture, our art, our fashion sense. They admire us. They’re very willing to put themselves in the hands of an Italian. They feel safe. It was a huge advantage.” 

    Her first American experience was important, but Maria Teresa felt restless. She went back to Rome where she opened her own shop. But she wasn’t happy. She kept thinking about America. This time, her family came to her aid. They bought her a one-way ticket to New  York and supported her new endeavor to open a shop in the Big Apple.

    “They invested in me. They  believed in me. My sister, my brother, my parents... I  worked hard. I started having Italian ‘aperitivi’ in  the evenings to get the word out. People could have a glass  of prosecco and listen to music while getting their hair done. My life seemed to be normalizing: I had a business partner, the shop was doing well. But at a certain point I realized I was bored. I’m not  looking for stability but creative opportunities. So I sold it!” 

    Inside The Fashion World
    She still works in the shop but by appointment only. She takes on clients as an independent contractor. “That way I can work where and how I want. And I’ve also gone back to my great love: fashion.”

    So she works with different people, regular people, as well as actors, stylists, models. What is it like to work in that kind of an environment? “In the fashion world, the stakes are, to all appearances, higher. You’re working with people con dent in front of the camera but totally insecure backstage. It’s a huge responsibility. Sometimes the interactions with stylists can be diffcult, but there’s also a lot on the line. That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot on the line with regular people too. I know what a new haircut means for anyone. Change! In order to gain their trust you have to be ready for all kinds of hair. You have to be humble and take training courses. You have to be open to learning and starting over.” Wonder what Salvatore the barber would think...

    “I think that my grandfather would look at me with that silent but eloquent smile I loved. And then he’d go back to boast about me in the piazza... Like him, I still have an artisanal instinct. Even in New York I didn’t want to work with other equipment. All I need is a pair of scissors and a brush.”

    Any new dreams in Maria Teresa’s tool kit? “I sold the shop because I realized it wasn’t my dream. More and more, I’d like to work in the fashion world. At runway shows. As I did in the beginning. I love the adrenaline of those moments, of being backstage.”

    Indeed she got her start years ago working with names like Gattinoni, Rocco Barocco, Valentino and Renato Balestra. And she now has several Italian, American and Italian-American celebrities in her portfolio too. She has worked for Sabrina Ferilli, Monica Bellucci, Laura Morante and Lucrezia della Rovere, among others. She was Brooke Shields’ hairstylist for Tom Cruise’s wedding in Rome, Sofia Milos’ at the Academy Awards in 2012 and Alessandra Mastronardi’s when she came to the US for the premier of Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love.

    She has also worked for Jo Champa and Susan Rockefeller, as well as Jill Stuart during a fashion show in New York. “But going back to fashion doesn’t mean abandoning regular clients,” Maria Teresa assures me. “They’re fundamental for staying in touch with reality. They’re life!” 

  • Forget Silicon Valley, Come to New York City!

    Alessandro Piol’s table/desk is inviting. Behind him, windows with views of skyscrapers jutting into the Manhattan skyline. Piol greets me, as does a colleague seated next to his desk, intently working on a MacBook Air. The atmosphere suddenly turns extremely pleasant. While sipping a coffee I converse with the cofounder and partner of Vedanta Capital and AlphaPrime Ventures, dubbed “the smart money behind smart software,” a major player in the scene of East Coast startups.

    Technology is in his DNA. His father, Elserino Piol, was known as the “Italian hi-tech guru” and the founder of venture capitalism in Italy. Some suggest that in the U.S. “Piol would be a cross between Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs.”

    The strategic mastermind at Olivetti for forty years, Piol Sr. attended Harvard and maintained a lifelong connection with the U.S. He used to come here frequently, for example when Olivetti was looking for young companies to invest in, consequently becoming one of the first corporate venture capital groups in the world.

    Having left Olivetti in the ‘90s, Piol Sr. continued to work in venture capitalism as an advisor for 4C Ventures and later became Chairman and Partner of Pino Venture.

    Again, the whole time he kept up relations with the US. Technology, venture capitalism, America: those are the three passions Alessandro inherited from his father, which are ostensibly one thing, given that investing risk capital in tech is a typically American phenomenon. 

    “I have lived in a world that revolves around business and technology since I was little,” he tells me. “Back then, Olivetti was transforming from electro-mechanics to information technology. At home we talked about major changes and about technology.”

    Those discussions would have a decisive influence on him, so that, after he finished high school in the United States, his choice of what to pursue in college came almost naturally: “I liked math, physics and electronics. I immediately chose to enroll in computer engineering at Columbia University.”

    Next came business. As Piol tells it, “I attended college in New York. My father would often meet entrepreneurs and venture capitalists at the Carlyle Hotel (it’s not there anymore), and I would listen to what they said.

    I was developing a passion for it and beginning to understand that that was what I wanted to do. The idea of working with young people on new technology projects excited me. I wanted to facilitate them and follow the evolution.” Piol would go on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business. The young man was now ready to launch.
     

    Or rather, he was ready because deep down he had absorbed his father’s real lesson: work hard and with passion. “My father was always traveling and working on weekends. He set an important example of work ethic combined with great passion for what he was doing. You have to be passionate and take an interest in what you do. Nothing good will come if you don’t immerse yourself in the field in which you operate.”
     

    But, I hazard, ultimately his work consists of making and making others make investments. You have to know how to manage capital. Does passion really count in that kind of work?
    Of course!” he says, smiling. “Because in order to understand what’s happening in the tech world and where you should invest, you have to get inside that world. You have to understand the trends. You have to intuit what will happen in the future. If you don’t love it, it becomes trying and difficult. In a certain sense, you have to have fun.”

    Indeed, his passion for work and deep knowledge of that world shine through in a book that he co-wrote a few years ago with the journalist Maria Teresa Cometto, Tech and the City: The Making of New York’s Startup Community, a small bible of New York’s entrepreneurial ecosystem with a preface by Olivetti’s patron, Carlo De Benedetti. The book is full of useful advice for young businessmen culled from the stories of 50 key figures in the field of technology. 
     

    What is it about a project that piques your interest in financing it?

    That depends on how developed the company is. If we’re talking about startups, the numbers don’t count; often they show you the wrong numbers. What’s more important is figuring out what kind of person is the entrepreneur showing you them. If you’re betting on the right person. People count even more than the idea they submit to you.

    Meaning, it’s one thing to have a good idea and a whole other thing to put it into practice, succeed in growing a company based on that idea, raising it up from nothing and successfully driving it forward. You have to be confident you’re dealing with people who know what they’re doing, who understand what they’re trying to do. In fact, when a financed project fails, 80% of the time the reasons have to do with the people. With management. Of course the problem may be with the market; it may not even be ready. Niche markets in early stages, for example, often aren’t a good idea.
     

    What distinguishes New York as a home for startups from the wildly popular Silicon Valley?

    Silicon Valley lives off of a system that grew up around Stanford, thanks to the governor who focused on technology investments. There was nothing but farmland and fields. It grew from nothing. Then there were the great visionaries; they certainly helped a lot. And finally technology became the main industry. However, because of that history, Silicon Valley is a mono-cultural area; all they talk about is technology. Which is fine. But in my opinion, in the long run it ends up limiting creativity.
     

    Does that mean that to create a successful tech company you need to have a multidisciplinary ambience?

    Yes. And that’s what you find in New York, which guarantees that nexus of different levels of knowledge: in manufacturing, finance, media, advertising, the financial industry, fashion... This city is international. There’s a lot of movement. It’s the center of traffic between Europe and America, open to influences from all over the world. This allows for the circulation of knowledge needed to realize projects that hang in that whitespace between various disciplines.

    An ode to creativity that comes from a high tech businessman...
     

    It’s not enough to just be technological today. You need to be very creative. Remember what Steve Jobs said and did. He aspired to bring technology and art together. He was very attentive to detail. That’s true innovation... Apple in America—like Olivetti in Italy—realized important changes by focusing on design. And that brings us back to New York, since this city gives you the opportunity to bring together ideas from different worlds, with people who understand other disciplines. People who aren’t just into tech, but who look for solutions using technology. New York is a real melting pot of ideas. And the same goes for London and Berlin, I think. Cities with a very strong cultural foundation, international cities where innovative ideas are more easily born.

    And Italy? It’s a country that produces really state of the art technology. Why is that so little known in the world?

    We’re to blame, in large part. We have had a lot of success in fashion because our entrepreneurs had the intelligence to go global before anyone else. They had an international vision. We barely even tried to do the same with technology. It should be said, however, that there’s a lot of competition with different market dynamics and real giants to face. But it should also be said that it may have led to a dangerous attitude among Italians. Ultimately, you need to know how to celebrate certain things. In America, for example, celebrating success works great. It creates a sense of optimism that permeates the whole society, which has, with respect to Europe, a positive way of thinking. It’s a virtuous cycle that helps. If we celebrate someone’s success in Italy, people immediately suspect that it was achieved by sketchy means. And if you say that the success was thieved...

    If you could send a message in a bottle to those in Italy who want to come to New York with a dream in their back pocket, what would you say?

    First of all, to really believe in yourself. That’s not a cliché; it’s important to believe that your project can be realized. Next you have to know what has been achieved in your field. I know it can be difficult to find that out sometimes, but it’s important. Check out the competition and see if there are similar things out there. If you can introduce something that is definitely better into your field, there’s no doubt you’ll be successful.

    Yet there are young people who will come and present you ideas based on things they’ve already seen. That’s not okay! If you want to compete on the global technological market, you really have to be innovative. Then you have to identify important trends. The VCs watch certain macro trends and if you fit into that framework, it’s easier to raise funds. And finally, you need to assess not only if you risk arriving too late but if, paradoxically, your project could come out too soon! 

    To see the episode “Make in Italy with Alessandro Piol and Maria Teresa Cometto >>>

  • Facts & Stories

    Forget Silicon Valley, Come to New York City!

    Alessandro Piol’s table/desk is inviting. Behind him, windows with views of skyscrapers jutting into the Manhattan skyline. Piol greets me, as does a colleague seated next to his desk, intently working on a MacBook Air. The atmosphere suddenly turns extremely pleasant. While sipping a coffee I converse with the cofounder and partner of Vedanta Capital and AlphaPrime Ventures, dubbed “the smart money behind smart software,” a major player in the scene of East Coast startups.

    Technology is in his DNA. His father, Elserino Piol, was known as the “Italian hi-tech guru” and the founder of venture capitalism in Italy. Some suggest that in the U.S. “Piol would be a cross between Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs.”

    The strategic mastermind at Olivetti for forty years, Piol Sr. attended Harvard and maintained a lifelong connection with the U.S. He used to come here frequently, for example when Olivetti was looking for young companies to invest in, consequently becoming one of the first corporate venture capital groups in the world.

    Having left Olivetti in the ‘90s, Piol Sr. continued to work in venture capitalism as an advisor for 4C Ventures and later became Chairman and Partner of Pino Venture.

    Again, the whole time he kept up relations with the US. Technology, venture capitalism, America: those are the three passions Alessandro inherited from his father, which are ostensibly one thing, given that investing risk capital in tech is a typically American phenomenon. 

    “I have lived in a world that revolves around business and technology since I was little,” he tells me. “Back then, Olivetti was transforming from electro-mechanics to information technology. At home we talked about major changes and about technology.”

    Those discussions would have a decisive influence on him, so that, after he finished high school in the United States, his choice of what to pursue in college came almost naturally: “I liked math, physics and electronics. I immediately chose to enroll in computer engineering at Columbia University.”

    Next came business. As Piol tells it, “I attended college in New York. My father would often meet entrepreneurs and venture capitalists at the Carlyle Hotel (it’s not there anymore), and I would listen to what they said.

    I was developing a passion for it and beginning to understand that that was what I wanted to do. The idea of working with young people on new technology projects excited me. I wanted to facilitate them and follow the evolution.” Piol would go on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business. The young man was now ready to launch.
     

    Or rather, he was ready because deep down he had absorbed his father’s real lesson: work hard and with passion. “My father was always traveling and working on weekends. He set an important example of work ethic combined with great passion for what he was doing. You have to be passionate and take an interest in what you do. Nothing good will come if you don’t immerse yourself in the field in which you operate.”
     

    But, I hazard, ultimately his work consists of making and making others make investments. You have to know how to manage capital. Does passion really count in that kind of work?
    Of course!” he says, smiling. “Because in order to understand what’s happening in the tech world and where you should invest, you have to get inside that world. You have to understand the trends. You have to intuit what will happen in the future. If you don’t love it, it becomes trying and difficult. In a certain sense, you have to have fun.”

    Indeed, his passion for work and deep knowledge of that world shine through in a book that he co-wrote a few years ago with the journalist Maria Teresa Cometto, Tech and the City: The Making of New York’s Startup Community, a small bible of New York’s entrepreneurial ecosystem with a preface by Olivetti’s patron, Carlo De Benedetti. The book is full of useful advice for young businessmen culled from the stories of 50 key figures in the field of technology. 
     

    What is it about a project that piques your interest in financing it?

    That depends on how developed the company is. If we’re talking about startups, the numbers don’t count; often they show you the wrong numbers. What’s more important is figuring out what kind of person is the entrepreneur showing you them. If you’re betting on the right person. People count even more than the idea they submit to you.

    Meaning, it’s one thing to have a good idea and a whole other thing to put it into practice, succeed in growing a company based on that idea, raising it up from nothing and successfully driving it forward. You have to be confident you’re dealing with people who know what they’re doing, who understand what they’re trying to do. In fact, when a financed project fails, 80% of the time the reasons have to do with the people. With management. Of course the problem may be with the market; it may not even be ready. Niche markets in early stages, for example, often aren’t a good idea.
     

    What distinguishes New York as a home for startups from the wildly popular Silicon Valley?

    Silicon Valley lives off of a system that grew up around Stanford, thanks to the governor who focused on technology investments. There was nothing but farmland and fields. It grew from nothing. Then there were the great visionaries; they certainly helped a lot. And finally technology became the main industry. However, because of that history, Silicon Valley is a mono-cultural area; all they talk about is technology. Which is fine. But in my opinion, in the long run it ends up limiting creativity.
     

    Does that mean that to create a successful tech company you need to have a multidisciplinary ambience?

    Yes. And that’s what you find in New York, which guarantees that nexus of different levels of knowledge: in manufacturing, finance, media, advertising, the financial industry, fashion... This city is international. There’s a lot of movement. It’s the center of traffic between Europe and America, open to influences from all over the world. This allows for the circulation of knowledge needed to realize projects that hang in that whitespace between various disciplines.

    An ode to creativity that comes from a high tech businessman...
     

    It’s not enough to just be technological today. You need to be very creative. Remember what Steve Jobs said and did. He aspired to bring technology and art together. He was very attentive to detail. That’s true innovation... Apple in America—like Olivetti in Italy—realized important changes by focusing on design. And that brings us back to New York, since this city gives you the opportunity to bring together ideas from different worlds, with people who understand other disciplines. People who aren’t just into tech, but who look for solutions using technology. New York is a real melting pot of ideas. And the same goes for London and Berlin, I think. Cities with a very strong cultural foundation, international cities where innovative ideas are more easily born.

    And Italy? It’s a country that produces really state of the art technology. Why is that so little known in the world?

    We’re to blame, in large part. We have had a lot of success in fashion because our entrepreneurs had the intelligence to go global before anyone else. They had an international vision. We barely even tried to do the same with technology. It should be said, however, that there’s a lot of competition with different market dynamics and real giants to face. But it should also be said that it may have led to a dangerous attitude among Italians. Ultimately, you need to know how to celebrate certain things. In America, for example, celebrating success works great. It creates a sense of optimism that permeates the whole society, which has, with respect to Europe, a positive way of thinking. It’s a virtuous cycle that helps. If we celebrate someone’s success in Italy, people immediately suspect that it was achieved by sketchy means. And if you say that the success was thieved...

    If you could send a message in a bottle to those in Italy who want to come to New York with a dream in their back pocket, what would you say?

    First of all, to really believe in yourself. That’s not a cliché; it’s important to believe that your project can be realized. Next you have to know what has been achieved in your field. I know it can be difficult to find that out sometimes, but it’s important. Check out the competition and see if there are similar things out there. If you can introduce something that is definitely better into your field, there’s no doubt you’ll be successful.

    Yet there are young people who will come and present you ideas based on things they’ve already seen. That’s not okay! If you want to compete on the global technological market, you really have to be innovative. Then you have to identify important trends. The VCs watch certain macro trends and if you fit into that framework, it’s easier to raise funds. And finally, you need to assess not only if you risk arriving too late but if, paradoxically, your project could come out too soon! 

    To see the episode “Make in Italy with Alessandro Piol and Maria Teresa Cometto >>>

  • Life & People

    Italian and American. The Magic of Dual Identity

    Both of Linda’s parents are from Campodipietra, a small village in the Province of Campobasso, Molise. Her mother and all of her siblings were born in the United States but the family returned to Campodipietra when her mother was just 11 months old. Linda’s dad instead was born and raised there and that’s where he were to meet her mom. He left his entire family in Italy to marry her and they came back to the US in 1953 to build their family here.

    But the family split didn’t last too long. In the late 1960’s her father’s brother, sister-in-law and
    their two children came and joined them in the US. This is how the Carlozzis’ American journey begun. “Ours was a very tight knit family,” Linda tells me. “Our holidays, baptisms, communions and graduations were all celebrated ‘Italian-style,’ surrounded by family and delicious Italian food—homemade, of course!”

    You grew up in New Britain, CT. Did you live in an Italian neighborhood?
    Absolutely! New Britain was heavily populated with Italians and Polish immigrants. Many immigrants from Campo di pietra moved to New Britain and neighboring towns, and our neighbors were paesani too! Our neighbor’s mother was a woman named Angela Maria.

    Because my mother worked as a seamstress andI was the last of three children, Angela Maria would take care of me after school. She was very much like my nonna and spoke only dialect. As you can imagine,

    I quickly learned to speak Italian dialect from Campodipietra. In fact I think I may have spoken dialect before I spoke English. I learned so much about Italy and our family from Angela Maria. She lived to be 102 years old; she looked like the most beautiful befana and told me the most wonderful stories about Campodipietra. She also taught me to crochet, something I still enjoy today.

    And when you went to college, didn’t you risk losing that connection to your roots?
    Not really. Actually, it wasn’t until my college years that I really connected with my Italian family! I went to Fordham University, and there I met so many friends who grew up as I did—first generation Italian Americans.

    I felt very much at home at Fordham. I decided to major in communications and minor in Italian studies. My father told me, “If you think you know the Italian language and this will be easy for you—you are wrong. You speak dialect, not Italian, and the language is not an easy one.” My father was right, of course, but I set out to prove to him that I could do it. And I managed to convince my parents that I should take the Fordham
     

    Language course in Italy over the summer. It was 1983 and that trip changed the trajectory of my life. Meeting my family in Italy for the first time and seeing Rome, Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast and Campobasso left an indelible mark on me. I devoured every square foot of this magnificent country, my parent’s patria. After that, I went back to Italy as often as I could.
     

    So that’s when you ‘became’ Italian. But you are also American of course. What is it like to have a dual identity? And how much does this affect your daily life?
    Well, being Italian American affects every fiber of my being. My parents were fiercely proud of their Italian heritage. When the laws changed, allowing dual citizenship, my father was quick to regain his Italian citizenship. I suspect to an Italian, there is no question that I am American.

    Yet to my friends and me, there is no question that I am Italian. Being Italian American is 99% of my daily life. So much of what I do has been influenced by my ethnicity, from my interests to my friends to my involvement in the Italian American community and even to my clients, many of whom are Italian. I feel truly blessed to bridge both worlds and to understand the cultural differences and the nuances of both worlds.
     

    You currently sit on NIAF’s board of directors. When did you first find out about the organization and how did it become so important to you?
    Soon after my trip to Italy, I became very involved in Italian American organizations. At Fordham University, I was a founding member of a young Italian-American organization called FIERI. I also became involved in the National Organization of Italian American Women (“NOIAW”).

    Then I went to Catholic University Law School in Washington, DC, where NIAF is headquartered. I was one of the first recipients of an NIAF Law Scholarship and I worked as an intern in the NIAF offices. But it wasn’t until I moved to Philadelphia in 1991 that things really took off. There, I was fortunate to meet Matthew DiDomenico, a successful businessman who was on the Board of NIAF; he became my mentor and sponsor and remains my friend to this day. He is largely responsible for my nomination to the NIAF Board of Directors.
     

    The world of Italian-American organizations has long been dominated by men. At least in the past. What was it like to be a woman at NIAF?
    It has been a challenge for women in many Italian American organizations and I am not sure how to explain that. But I think NIAF was at the forefront early on. Very influential women sat on its board, beginning with Geraldine Ferraro, Matilda Cuomo, Nancy Pelosi, Patricia de Stacy Harrison and Maria Bartiromo. One of my mentors on the NIAF Board was Judge Marie Garibaldi, who recently passed away, sadly. She was the first woman named to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
     

    Official Italian-American organizations have had an increasingly difficult time reaching out to young people. Do you think your children, grandchildren or other young Italian Americans in your family are interested in cultivating their dual identity? What can NIAF do to get closer to them, to get them more involved?
    It’s true. The children of second and third generation Italian Americans are more removed from their Italian heritage. But I think NIAF has some wonderful programs to cultivate young people. NIAF’s “Voyage of Discovery” program seeks to strengthen young Italian Americans sense of identity by creating bonds between them and the culture and heritage of Italy.

    Students selected are offered the opportunity to visit Italy for two weeks. I have met some ofthe students who have traveled to Italy on this program. They are excited to visit the country and energized by all that Italy offers.
     

    In your opinion, has Americans’ perceptions of Italian-American culture changed over the years? How is it seen today with respect to the past?
    Stereotypes persist; I experienced them firsthand as a student and a young lawyer. However, as a community we have made great strides in presenting positive images of our culture, and NIAF has been at the forefront of that effort. But I believe there is still much work to be done.

    The recent attacks on the Columbus Day celebrations are one glaring example of the erosion of our culture. Italo-American organizations need to work together to promote a positive image of Italian-American culture.
     

    Neither have Italians in Italy always had an easy relationship with Italian Americans. What do we need to do to get these two Italian worlds separated by an ocean to better engage one another?
    I think stereotypes of Italian Americans play a significant role in the perceptions Italians have of Italian Americans. The many Italians who immigrated to the US in the 1940s-60s brought the Italy they knew with them.

    Yet Italy is a very different country today. We grew up with parents who held onto the older culture and my cousins in Italy grew up very differently. Therein lies the difference. We need to work harder to promote dialogue between these “two Italian nations” and, once again, promote a positive image of Italian Americans. I think the media plays a large role in bridging such divides.
     

    What’s in store for NIAF? Are there projects you’re particularly attached to?
    NIAF is on the precipice of big change. Our President, John Viola, brings passion, energy and youth to NIAF. He has bold new ideas and he is steadfastly committed to ushering NIAF into the next generation.

    We are already seeing the impact of his changes. Like John, I am committed to bringing young people into the fold, to share with them my love and passion for our rich culture and history. Personally, I am especially committed to the scholarship program that I myself benefited from as a student.
     

    Any dreams in your pocket?
    I want to see the first woman (not me!) elected to Chair of NIAF. I believe that day is right around the corner.

  • Op-Eds

    A Woman’s Touch


    Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare
    la donna mia, quand’ella altrui saluta,
    ch’ogne lingua devèn, tremando, muta,
    e li occhi no l’ardiscon di guardare
     
    We’ll entrust Joseph Tusiani to translate these lines from Dante Alighieri’s La Vita Nuova, for generations ingrained in the memory of all Italian students:  
     
    So winsome and so worthy seems to me
    my lady, when she greets a passer-by
    that every tongue con only babble shy
    and eager glances lose temerity.
     
    Women, the past, and the importance of translation
    Why begin with a translation of a medieval poet talking about women and love?  Women and love because these are ripe topics for an issue covering February, considered the month of love (Valentine’s Day), and March, which is Women’s History Month. In Europe they celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 and in New York they commemorate the tragic Triangle Fire of 1911, in which dozens of immigrants, mostly Italian and Jewish women, died in a fire at their workplace. A poet of the past because now more than ever we believe that looking back is the best way to interpret our present. As Anthony Tamburri lovingly recalls Felix Stefanile’s motto, “There is no ontology without archeology!” 
    A translation because the world of a translator symbolizes the challenge we all face in bridging different worlds.  And it’s not for nothing that the translator we chose, Joseph Tusiani, is known as “The Poet of Two Lands”
     
    Different Italies in search of a common language
    Tusiani is always bound for elsewhere, not only physically but intellectually. His poems and many translations—from and into Latin, English, Italian, and Apulian dialect—capture the mystery of traveling from one world to another, the deprivations and rewards of a diaspora felt from within. This past January Tusiani was named Poet Laureate Emeritus of the State of New York by Governor Andrew Cuomo. 
     
    The son of a Pugliese carpenter who emigrated to the United States of America a few months prior to his birth, Tusiani didn’t meet his father until after he had graduated from college and came to New York with his mother. His story seems to belong to “another world,” a world in which distances had yet to be erased by the Internet. But Tusiani’s dedication to his craft—translation in particular—is a more powerful tool for breaking down distances as well as those socio-cultural barriers that cut people off. 
     
    In our small way, we at i-Italy are working toward a similar end. It’s true we talk about Italy—the Italy of New York—but you’ll also have noticed within that story there exist different worlds, universes seemingly apart, distant ways of seeing. There are many Italies—in the motherland and abroad—and in our opinion that diversity is the country’s real promise as long as it can be translated into a common language that retains complexities and surmounts stereotypes. 
     
    Encouraged by many and frustrated by a few, we will forge ahead with our mission of cultural translation and mutual understanding through our integrated web/print/TV platform that is still the only one of its kind in the Italian diaspora. 
     
    An (almost) all-fem issue
    But getting back to the subject of women: As you’ll notice, this is an all-fem issue. Maria Teresa Cometto authors a profile of Natalia Quintavalle (our outgoing Consul General who brought a woman’s touch to her office and to whom we bid a fond farewell!); Francine Segan writes on Lidia Bastianich; Lucia Pasqualini on Elisabetta ‘Lisa’ Calello; and myself on Linda Carlozzi.
     
    Furthermore, the illustration on the left-hand side of our cover was designed by Olimpia Zagnoli, featured in our cover story along with her colleague Emiliano Ponzi, who designed the other side of the illustration—who was it that said “women hold up half the sky”? Our Style section features a story on hairstylist Maria Teresa Sansalone, and on our Bookshelf sits Judith Harris’ review of “literary sensation” Elena Ferrante. The Tourism section dedicated to Venice has a woman’s touch too: Dominique Fernandez’s defines the city as “feminine” and we chat with Enrica Rocca, the “Contessa of Venetian Cuisine.” 
     
    That isn’t to say that there are no men; they’re just in the minority. We talk with the highly original artist Marco Gallotta and highlight our good friend Fred Plotkin, recently honored with the Cavaliere della Repubblica Italiana, as he prepares for his new installment of Adventures in Italian Opera. Plus our special feature on wine is exclusively male, with Eric Asimov, Luciano Pignataro, Dan Amatuzzi and Charles Scicolone.
     
    Last but not least, the most famous Italian venture capitalist in New York, Alessandro Piol, reminds us in his feature interview that Italian excellence is not limited to bel canto and la moda…It also applies to technology, particularly to that innovative approach that weds technology, design and even art. Do we dare call it technology with a woman’s touch?
     

    ([email protected]

  • Life & People

    Flavia and Roberta. Women, Rivals, Friends

     “Canadian doubles.”Three women sit down for an interview. Two of the women made history for Italian sports last September at the US OPEN. As the year comes to a close, we wanted to celebrate sports, especially women in sports. Women, in our opinion, make all the difference. Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci’s style of competing was truly a sight to see.

    They battled one another like women, with elegance, and sent a positive message: that rivals 
    can be friends. Remember their prolonged embrace at the end of the match at Arthur Ashe Stadium?

    That was spontaneous. No one was posing for the cameras. Indeed, they appeared to be two friends hugging it out. Look at the photos again. Can you tell which won and which lost? It may have been a “tricolor derby”—“a historic day,” as Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who flew down to watch the game, put it— but most of all it was a celebration of female sportsmanship.


    A Historic Match
    That the tournament was shaping up to be an unprecedented match between two Italians only dawned on champion Flavia Pennetta gradually. “It’s happened at other WTA tournaments; I’d see fellow Italians moving up in the draw alongside me, and I’d played against Roberta several times when I was younger.

    This time, however, as I was moving ahead in the tournament, any coincidences and situations eluded my attention, so that I arrived at the final match having hardly realized what we were both accomplishing.” One curious, little-known piece of information: not only did two Italians meet in the final, but two women from Puglia, the “heel of the boot.”

    Flavia and Roberta hail from Taranto and Brindisi, respectively, two cities, it goes without saying, whose citizens celebrated till sunup. Flavia happily recalls how she has carried her roots and sense of community with her wherever she has been in the world, and how special it was to cast a spotlight on Puglia in the final match. An equally proud Roberta adds, “I was really glad two people from Puglia made it so far.”
     

    Roberta: Taking Down the Myth
    For Roberta, the first thrilling moment came before the final. Her victory over Serena Williams, another unforgettable moment, stunned everyone. Beating the great American player appeared impossible. But Roberta managed to give us—Italians, certainly—a moment to remember.

    “I experienced the greatest thrill after winning the last point Roberta Vinci defeated America’s champion Serena Williams but lost the final to Flavia Pennetta against Serena Williams,” she says. “I will never forget that moment. It was enormously satisfying and the fact that I am Italian made it all the more special. It was a moment that made the whole Italian tennis world proud.”
     

    Flavia: Winning the US Open
    But back to Flavia. As soon as victory was hers, all the toil and tension vanished from her radiant face. She was pure happiness. But what was going through her mind as she played? How did she feeling during the match?

    Her answer comes as a surprise. “It sounds farfetched,” she says, “but when I’m on the court I know exactly what’s happening in the stands. I know where my team and family are sitting, and if they get up and move around. That way I can share with them the anger of defeat and the joy of victory.”

    And how do you feel about it now that a few months have passed, we ask, avoiding the subject of her shocking announcement to retire from tennis (superstitiously, perhaps, holding out a sliver of hope...). “For the first few days what I had done didn’t really register, then slowly, as the adrenaline wore off, a positive feeling came over me.

    I became aware of having brought to completion a lifelong goal, and giving a sense of satisfaction to everyone who has helped me along the way, including my family!” Boyfriend and colleague Fabio Fognini was in attendance that day, and a lot of cameras zoomed in on him none too discreetly. So, we ask with a smile, who’s going to teach their kids tennis?
     

    The Importance of Family
    La famiglia. How important is family to success? “My family has always supported me, and being away from them has never caused problems or divisions,” says Flavia, adding, “it’s a big, rowdy, joyful family, with a serious sense of morality and great feeling. Like all women, I have reached the point of dreaming about having a family of my own, and I couldn’t have asked for a better example.” Roberta feels the same way. “If my family hadn’t encouraged and counseled me, if they hadn’t shared in my disappointments, I would never have achieved what I have.”
     

    The Secret to Success?
    But what does playing sports mean for Flavia and Roberta? What is the secret to their success? “For me,” says Flavia, “tennis has always been a source of fun as well as a passion. Like all sports, it takes a lot of sacrifice and determination, especially when you’re down on your luck. But the values of sports have always impacted my life, and there’s nothing else to attribute my success to.” “Sports,” says Roberta, “have played a fundamental role in my life and I’m happy about that choice. There’s no secret to my success. To achieve it, you have to make a lot of sacrifices.”
     

    Women in Sports
    Do women sacrifice more than men? Is it still difficult for a woman to reach Flavia and Roberta’s level in a country like Italy? And if so, why? Flaviaisalittlemoreoptimistic.“There have been a lot of breakthroughs in women’s sports in the last few years,” she says. “It’s no longer so easy to say that gaining access to particular levels is difficult.

    Unlike a lot of other normal social environments, regulating agencies, organizers and international sports institutions have worked together to create more balance between the two categories (men’s and women’s).” Roberta’s experience, however, felt more fraught. “Practicing competitive sports is very hard if you don’t have the complete support of your family.

    Sometimes, as in my case, you’re forced to leave your hometown in order to look for adequate frameworks elsewhere. So you can only reach top levels if you’re aware of the many costs involved. It takes a ton of determination.”
     

    Sports and Friendship
    Flavia and Roberta have played together since they were 9 years old. What is it like to play against an old friend in a final this important? How do you balance competition and friendship? “Friendship is the basis of all human relationships,” says Roberta, “and that includes those who play sports.

    Flavia and I have been through a lot together; a large part of my tennis-playing life involves meeting Flavia in the underage tournaments. Of course, competition requires the drive and desire to win, but that can’t cancel out friendship. Even if it involves an adversary.”

    Flavia jumps in. “Fortunately, we’re back to talking about values! Healthy values. Friendship and virtues—we tend to talk about them superficially, not realizing how much more difficult it is to practice them rather than ignore them. If you make a habit of holding them in high esteem and investing in them, you can convey them naturally and spontaneously in very different kinds of situations, even while competing.”
     

    Role Models
    It’s clear that their “mission impossible” has led many young people to regard them as role models. How aware of that are they? “I hope I am,” says Flavia. “I would like to dedicate more time to young people and the less fortunate. I must admit that I never had much time to explore such issues and I consider myself a very fortunate person.

    It would be nice to convey to young people on the outskirts of society just how much will power, determination and passion can positively affect your life choices.” “I have one bit of advice for young people,” says Roberta. “Think of tennis—and sports in general—first and foremost as a source of fun Don’t be so obsessed with winning. If you take it seriously, you’ll see the results.”
     

    Long Live new york
    And New York? What is your relationship to the city and the people who crowned you? It turns out New York is one of Flavia’s favorite cities. “I always feel at home here. New York has always had an influence on my performance in the tournament. I’d be remiss not to thank the city and its people.

    They have always supported and appreciated me.” Roberta also considers the spectators in America “marvelous.” “They had a lot of fun. They applauded me even after I beat their goddess! That shows a lot of sportsmanship. I’d like to say to them, ‘Thanks, there will always be a special place for you in my best memories. In my heart.”
     

    Plans for the new year?
    We’re coming to the end of our conversation. As well as to the end of a special year to raise a glass to. What will our two stars think of the year looking back at it on December 31st? What will they wish for the coming year? Roberta would like “a year without injuries, so she can experience moments as thrilling as her recent experience in New York.”

    Flavia agrees, adding that she would like to help others. “I’ll try to take into consideration everything that’s going on around me, the major humanitarian crises and the dramatic effects they have on children. I adore children. I would like to give them a hand.”

  • Op-Eds

    Before wishing you happy holidays...


    I’ll start with the last few lines of a poem written by Giuseppe Ungaretti at Campo di Mailly in May 1918, during the First World War:


    To enjoy

    but a minute of life's

    first life

    I look for an innocent

    country


    In these few words the great 

    twentieth-century Italian poet conveys 

    all the anxiety of finding no country 

    untouched by the destruction and 

    suffering of the war. Unfortunately, 

    not much has changed. We wanted 

    nothing else but to begin this editor’s 

    note with a simple “happy holiday” 

    but couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. Instead we suggest taking a moment 

    to reflect before the celebrations. 


    From New York to Paris 

    and the World 

    We hope that the celebratory 

    atmosphere, especially among families 

    and regardless of ethnicity or religious 

    affiliation, does not make us forget 

    what humanity is going through in 

    this historic moment. Many will not be 

    able to celebrate, and post-9/11 New 

    York continues to nurse a wound that 

    no Freedom Tower can heal.


     

    On the Cover 
    As you can see from the cover, this issue celebrates creativity on the streets of Harlem, spotlighting three 

    Italian artists’ contributions to the 

    wonderful Audubon Project. And, as 

    we do for every end-of-year issue,

    we’ve also nominated a “Person of 

    the Year.” Two people, actually, two 

    women from Puglia, two rivals on the 

    court and friends in real life—tennis 

    players Flavia Pennetta and Roberta  Vinci, stars of the all-Italian US  Open women’s final. In our opinion, as people around the world tuned in to watch them play, the fact that these two female competitors were  also (and remain) friends bore an  important message. You’ll recall their spontaneous embrace, which may have trumped their sense of national pride at having “conquered America.” 

     



    The most important message of their embrace, which takes on new meaning in these times of war, is that of friendship. 

     


    Arrivederci Baronessa!
     

    Speaking of women, we would like to take this occasion to bid a final  farewell to an extraordinary person, a model of cultural and philanthropic industry. This special woman has dedicated her own time and energy to the Italian culture she only recently 
    departed.


    Baronessa Zerilli-Marimò was that rare figure, a benefactress, a patron of the full spectrum of Italian culture and founder of NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò. The Casa, a  center of Italian cultural and academic events in the West Village, was her pet project. Mariuccia founded the center in 1990 to honor the memory of her husband Guido, a pharmaceutical industrialist, diplomat and refined intellectual, using her inheritance to 
    help charity causes.


    Over the years  it became an amazing, unique place. Mariuccia’s patronage was special indeed, all the more precious for being  carried out without preconceptions or conditions and with the utmost respect for diversity. We all wish her farewell. Rest assured, she will always be with us. She left behind passion and love and a daughter:  her—and our—Casa Zerilli-Marimò.

     

    Support i-Italy! 
    Like many of us at the end of the year, we at i-Italy are taking a moment to look back—and forward. After creating a website way back in 2008, three years ago we made  our print and TV debut under the multimedia rubric “i-ItalyNY.” We took a chance. Despite some snags,  it has been a solid win. Given our current level of operation, we badly need to consolidate and grow even more.


    And we want to take that step with you, our readers. Our choice is to offer our content free of charge, not only on the web but in print (with this free-press magazine) and on TV (our show airs on the prestigious Public Broadcasting Station of the City of New York—NYC Life). Choosing to not have a commercial publisher cover our costs and influence our editorial decisions was hard. And if we are to continue in this fashion, we need your help. We exist thanks to those who appreciate our work and support us through sponsorships and donations. Now it is easier than ever to lend your support thanks to the “Friends of i-Italy 2016” program.

    As you may know, i-Italy is partly- sustained by the Italian American Digital Project, Inc., a 501(c)3 not for profit company whose mission is to facilitate cultural exchange between Italy and the United States via new information and communication technologies. IADP, Inc., will be collecting donations for us through the “Friends of i-Italy 2016” program.


    Donations may be made by individuals, corporations and other nonprofit organizations. In compliance with the laws established by the Internal Revenue Code, the gifts are tax-deductible. You may contact us directly or visit our website. And remember that we are always open to suggestions and will be sure to keep you informed of all our future endeavors.



    And now, at long last...
    Happy Christmas-New Year’s Eve. And a happy 2016 to all. Let’s hope next year brings peace. 

  • Fatti e Storie

    Jaqueline Greaves Monda. Vivere (con un) italiano a New York

    Che cos'è l'italianità per uno straniero? Come l’avverte?
    Ci sono certo degli stereotipi astratti. Si dice per esempio che gli italiani siano simpatici, amiconi, belli, passionali, mammoni, che sanno amare e divertirsi.

    Poi ci sono delle immagini che automaticamente riportano all’Italia, come la Ferrari e Prada, Venezia e Firenze, la Fontana di Trevi e il Vesuvio di Napoli, la pizza, e la pasta …

    E ci sono, si sa, anche stereotipi negativi: gli italiani sono spesso considerati rumorosi, disordinati,  rissosi e collerici, e c’è ancora chi sottolinea la “M-word” magari, aiutato da fatti di cronaca…
    Ho così pensato, per affrontare il tema più nel concreto,  di parlarne  direttamente con uno straniero che vive il suo quotidiano con un italiano.

    Cosa vuol dire per un non-italiano “vivere italiano” tutti giorni? Farlo con un italiano e in un contesto italiano, anche se fuori dall’Italia?

    Parlo di Jacqueline Graves, Jamaicana, e Antonio Monda, italiano, scrittore, professore di cinema alla NYU, e direttore della Festa del Cinema di Roma.

    Una coppia presente e attiva, spesso insieme, in diversi luoghi vivi culturalmente: dalla Morgan Library alla Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò della NYU, dal TriBeKa Film Festival  al Lincon Center, al MoMA e tanti altri.

    Ma Jacqueline e Antonio sono anche noti per l’ospitalità nella loro casa nell’Upper west Side, dove si incontrano spesso scrittori, giornalisti, attori, critici, artisti americani e italiani. Il loro appartamento è  diventato un vero  “laboratorio di  idée ”.

    Jacqueline Graves Monda, dunque, ci farà da guida in questo viaggio nell’italianità vista da uno straniero. Famiglia, cibo, senso della religiosità e la grande virtù dell’ospitalità. E poi il ‘vizio-virtù di parlare, parlare, parlare—sempre e di tutto.

    Avere tanto in comune
    L’incontro innanzitutto. A New York grazie ad amici. Era il 1985, lui era in giro in cerca di location per un documentario. Lei in città con la famiglia. Sapeva poco dell’Italia, Jacqueline, ne conosceva però l’arte, l’opera, la musica, come tanti.

    Si sentono subito vicini. Lui parla ancora poco l’inglese. “Ho imparato prima io l’italiano partendo da zero – ci dice sorridendo – grazie ad una full immersion con la sua famiglia in Italia, mentre lui era in viaggio!”

    Bella, solare, i tratti jamaicani esaltati da un modo di vestire molto personale, ma sempre al passo con tempi. Porta con se la sua terra sempre,  in ogni movimento, sguardo, gesto e lo fa con una naturale gentilezza. E' facile intuire il fascino che deve avere avuto sul quel giovane ragazzo italiano.
     

    Ma cosa hanno in comune? “Domanda fin troppo facile”, mi risponde senza esitazione. “Il rispetto della tradizione, della famiglia, dei valori che contano, dell’ospitalità.”
    E poi la religiosità, anche se il percorso non è stato lineare.

    “La mia famiglia è protestante, una religiosità rigida rispetto a quella cattolica”, dice Jacqueline. “Una mia zia ha sposato un prete anglicano che è diventato  vescovo della capitale della Jamaica. Ho frequentato un scuola religiosa. Vicino ad Antonio sono diventata cattolica, anche perchè credo che sia importantissimo crescere insieme i figli con lo stesso credo.”

    E un altro elemento che li unisce è stato certo l’interesse per la cultura, la musica, la letteratura, l’arte. “Vengo da una famiglia molto colta, ho vissuto tra i libri, mio nonno leggeva il greco antico, a casa si sentiva tanta musica classica…”

    Ospitalità come stile di vita,  'a way of life'
    Ma il vero, potremmo dire fatale,  punto d’incontro con Antonio è stato in quel “saper accogliere”, così legato poi alla loro vita qui a New York.

    “Gli italiani sono simili ai jamaicani. Ero abituata con miei nonni, mia mamma, ad aver sempre la casa aperta a gente di tutto il mondo. Ricordo le feste bellissime che faceva mia nonna in giardino, le tavolate con le frutta di stagione. Quando Antonio mi ha portato per la prima volta in Calabria ho ritrovato subito tutto questo. Anche se ancora non parlavo italiano.”

    Come racconta anche il New York Times, la casa dei Monda è frequentata da personaggi illustri: Philip Roth, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Zadie Smith e tanti altri ... Essere ospitati da loro è un'esperienza sempre speciale. Ma riuscire a far “sentire a casa propria” personaggi così diversi non deve essere facile. “Sono me stessa – dice Jaqueline – mi viene naturale accogliere chiunque.” E da splendida padrona di casa si divide tra cucina e ospiti con grande semplicità. E a volte, se siete fortunati, può capitare anche di vederla ai fornelli con mamma di Antonio. Sono momenti di una visibile e calda intesa.
     
    E, parlando di fornelli,   viene fuori un importante segreto di questa ospitalità giamaico-italiana. 
La cucina con cui Jaqueline è diventata famosa, una vera sintesi  italo-jamaicana che presto troveremo raccontata anche in un suo libro. “Sì, un libro di cucina ‘a modo mio" ci dice "Osservo quello che mi piace intorno. Trovo sempre degli ingredienti che creano un equilibrio. Piano piano ho inventato una mia cucina. Ma ci tengo a dire che la mia non è cucina Fusion – la odio!”

    Unire le culture usando il cibo
    Ma come nasce qusta passione? Non a caso viene dall’ambiente italiano… “Ti faccio ridere. Devo dirti che da ragazza non sapevo cucinare. Vivevo con mia mamma, una brava cuoca, e così non ne avevo bisogno. Poi tutti gli italiani in famiglia hanno cominciato a chiedermi ‘Ma come, davvero tu non sai cucinare?’ Nella famiglia di Antonio si dava una grande importanza a questo aspetto. E così piano piano mi sono messa ai fornelli. Marilù, mia  suocera, ed Elvira mia cognata sono state favolose nell’aiutarmi.”

    Cucinare per degli italiani… deve essere una sfida ardua per una non-italiana…
    "Infatti per molti  anni ho avuto paura di cucinare la pasta agli italiani!” ci confessa. “Oggi non è più così, tutti mi chiedono di cucinare la pasta. Mi piace inventare. I sapori che creo sono basati sui ricordi. Molto della mia cucina viene dalla memoria, dal tempo passato con mia nonna. E poi è semplice, cerco di crearla con pochi e naturalii prodotti. Ora è più facile trovare ingrendienti di qualità a New York,  ma ricordo che nel ‘94,  quando ho cominicato a cucinare, non c’era neanche un mazzetto di basilico decente.”
     

    NYC rende tutto più facile
    E la famiglia? Cosa vuol dire crescere dei figli in una famiglia bi-cuturale? Jacqueline e Antonio ne hanno tre e a casa loro si respira un senso della famiglia inconfondibile.

    “New York è  il posto migliore per crescere i figli di due culture. I nostri figli sono andati ogni estate in Italia, hanno sempre sentito parlare italiano. A New York sono stati vicino a mia madre e ad altri miei parenti: hanno vissuto la mia cultura anche se non siamo andati spesso in Jamaica. Qui ci sono poi tanti eventi jamaicani, concerti, balli folkloristici, mostre, e ci andiamo sempre. New York è una città speciale, permette di rimanere quello che si è. E’ un concentrato di accoglienza.”

    Italianità = "free" speech. Gli italiani parlano sempre di tutto!
     Mi diverto un pò a provocarla. “Cosa non sopporti degli italiani?”
    “Mi metti nei guai… gli italiani parlano sempre: di tutto, tanto. Sopratutto di politica. Nel mio mondo non si faceva. Mio nonno diceva: ‘Non si deve parlare con nessuno di religione e di politica’. Pensa che differenza! Ricordo che impressione i primi anni... e mia mamma perplessa che non capiva la lingua e sentiva sempre parlare, parlare, parlare...
    Ma poi rispondendo alla tua domanda mi accorgo che amo questa libertà di parlare. Mia madre dice che sono cambiata e che non mi riconosce più in questo. Ma amo questa libertà di espressione che voi italiani avete.”

    Ed in quale momento si sente più italiana, Jaqueline?
    “Forse quando parlo con mia figlia Caterina. Lei si sente proprio italiana. Vuole parlare sempre italiano e lo fa così velocemente che a volte al telefono non riesco a capirla!”

    L’ultima domanda ritorna al suo Antonio. Le chiedo quale è il segreto alla base del loro stare insieme oggi,  “Lavorare ogni giorno con un costante bisogno l’uno dell’altra. Si deve dare ma anche prendere, essere generosi …”
     

  • Life & People

    Erri De Luca: Naples is the Center of My Entire Nervous System

    Poetry lives in his daily life. He has experienced it, especially during the most difficult times. Erri De Luca – writer, translator, poet – is originally from Naples and has lived a very intense life.

    He has been a laborer, truck driver, warehouse worker, bricklayer. He has worked in politics and for humanitarian causes. These experiences provided him with important life lessons and have inspired his poetry.

    Carrying Naples inside of him, as do many Neapolitans who no longer live there, he lives in contrasts. He left Naples at 18. He returns, physically, every now and then. Even when he is far away, his mind and heart remain there.
     

    “My senses were created in Naples. That place is my center; it’s the center of my nervous system. My nervous system was formed there, as well the education of my emotions. I don’t mean walking arm-in-arm with a young lady. For me, it’s about fundamental feelings of compassion, anger, and even shame. They’re feelings that crop up every time I think of Naples. I hear them inside my head when I react to news coming from the city, every time they call me to comment on some distasteful piece of news from Naples.”

    As he describes his childhood, the story emerges of a city to hear as well as see. “I grew up in avery narrow alley. There was not much of a view, but the sounds worked miracles. You could hear everything that was going on beyond the walls and the streets. The city was very acoustic.” 
     

    It was an education that took place through listening, especially in dialect. “Voices, cries, prayers, lamentations of my mother. All in Neapolitan.

    Italian is my second language. It’s difficult to explain to non-Italians, because in their experience dialects don’t really exist – only the inflections of pronunciations that distinguish one place from another. It’s rarely found outside of Italy, this radical differences in vocabulary and phonetics among our dialects. We come from a country of ‘multiple languages.’ In Naples, we speak one of these languages.”

    Leaving Naples.
    So what does Erri recall of his departure from Naples? He was young, he left suddenly, and never went back there to live. “I had built up a lot of drive to get out, and the drive at a certain point materialized. I opened the door to my house…and I closed it slowly behind me, not letting it slam. I disappeared. I went down the stairs, I went to the station and I took a train. I separated myself from the future that had been set for me. I immediately threw myself into the fray. I remember precisely the emptiness of the descent; it was a deep void. For me, those stairs were an abyss, and I would never go up them again.” 
     

    For Erri De Luca, New York City, America, and Naples are linked by a personal red thread. The United States entered his life even before he visited. His grandmother was Ruby Hammond and she was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. His name, Erri, comes from Harry, even though he dropped the “H.” 
     

    “Neapolitan America”

    But America didn’t just exist in family stories. He had lived it and seen it while he was still a boy in Naples. “The U.S. Sixth Fleet is headquartered in Naples. There were aircraft carriers and whole squadrons. Entire neighborhoods in Naples were inhabited by American soldiers and officers. America was all around me.”
     

    This “Neapolitan” America joined the America that was already inside him. He looked very much like those young Americans, those soldiers who descended from ships and were seen wandering around Naples while on leave.

    “My body resembled theirs. Once I was even taken in by the American police since they had mistaken me for one of their soldiers. Physically, America fit me; it was my calling card. I was an American in Naples. “
     

    At last — New York

    But Erri visited New York City for the first time just two years ago, and did so as a famous writer on tour to present his book. We asked him to describe some of feelings upon his first “return” to America.
     

    “I had just read a travelogue written by my father, who had been in New York after the war. He had longed for America and had read a lot of American literature. So I tried to see New York through his eyes, looking for what he had seen him in the 1950s. Of course I made it up; I completely imagined the stories hidden inside of my father’s diary. I followed him as he went to Ellis Island, the terminus of the journey for emigrants, and I went to the top of the Empire State building, again because he had been there….”
     

    A city that is unique

    Our conversation seemed to be a relay between Naples and New York. We went back to Naples and asked Erri for some tips to tourists who want to visit. “Naples is not a touristic city in the classic sense. It’s not like Rome or Florence. Naples must be visited alongside a Neapolitan, someone who will take you by the hand, not because you need to be protected but because only a Neapolitan can open up the city to you. Otherwise, you won’t see anything. You need a friend in Naples. It’s a secret city. For however beautiful it is, for as much as it seems completely open with its wonderful bay, it’s actually impenetrable.” Perhaps an intrinsic aspect of this city is its impenetrability and its religiosity.

    “It’s a religious city, even superstitious. In particular, there is an intimate worship of the dead, who are never erased or excluded, but continue to be with us. There is great adoration of the relics. Neapolitans have entrusted themselves to the intercession of the patron saint Gennaro who saved them from the plague, the lava from Vesuvius, and earthquakes. The city has its own ‘holiness’ which is neither in heaven nor on earth.”
     

    An earthquake within. As in so many of Erri De Luca’s books, there lives and seethes a tension that feeds his research and transforms it into poetry. In this way, he exorcises the interior earthquake that is so often within us. And he allows something sacred to grow in its place, something which takes us back to Naples, where his senses were constructed.

     

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