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Articles by: Letizia Airos

  • Editor in Chief Letizia Airos and Mezzo Soprano Marianna Pizzolato in the dressing room of Metropolitan Opera
    Facts & Stories

    Editorial: The Year to Come

    Picking a person of the year is a time-honored tradition in the magazine industry. Sometimes the man or woman who best represents the times we live in now, though important, is controversial. Other times their story suggests hope for the future. We opted for the latter.

    Dear friend, my writing you is a means of diversion, and because you’re far away I’ll write you with more fervor. Since you’ve gone something new is going on. It’s over now, the old year, yet something doesn’t sit right here.

    Thus sings Lucio Dalla in “The Year to Come,” a popular song that has entered the collective imagination of multiple generations in Italy. I recommend looking it up on YouTube. In his letter to a friend, the great singer-songwriter from Bologna touches on an array of subjects, imparting most of all his sense of what “doesn’t sit right” and the importance of not losing hope in the possibility for change.

    This year we placed our continued hope in a woman, opera singer Marianna Pizzolato. Not only for the dream that, by persistence, she was able to realize, but for her self-mockery, her perceptiveness, her courage to be herself, her anti-diva diva ways in a world where everyone puts on (imagined more than not) airs. You’ll understand once you’ve read the cover story and watched the interview conducted in her dressing room at the Metropolitan Opera.

    Other women featured here include the extraordinary photographer Lisetta Carmi, who has drawn comparison to Henri Cartier-Bresson, and the board members of the Italian Welfare League under the wonderful direction of Linda Carlozzi, who volunteer to help children affected by serious illnesses and their families.

    This issue, which takes you into the new year, gathers together a number of subjects regarding current events in America as seen in “an Italian key.” On the eve of the President-Elect taking office, we assembled a few commentaries and, of particular note, an interview with noted Italian intellectual Sergio Romano, who provides a European view of American politics and considers future steps that Vladimir Putin might take.

    What else you ask? In 2017 we’ll be continuing our series “Grandparents and Grandchildren in Italian America.” Here you’ll find a conversation between John P. Calvelli and his brilliant grandson John D. The magic meeting of minds between seemingly distant generations is fascinating.

    Our foodie section includes an interview with another well-known “grandfather” in Italy, Giovanni Rana, who has made a name for himself in the restaurant industry thanks to his creative genius—a matter of passion rather than business. Another uncanny story is that of young Roberto Scarcella Perino, a modern (and Sicilian) version of a Renaissance Man who has profitably yoked his two passions: music and cuisine. One of the leitmotifs of this issue (and i-Italy in general!) is how

    the combination of passion and work can be an antidote to the cold logic of business. As Salvatore Ambrosino puts it in his article on maestros of Italian artisanship, the secret lies in detecting a “Heart Beyond Spreadsheets.”

    As usual, there’s not enough room here to cover everything, but I cannot neglect to mention Anna Lawton’s interview with writer Domenico Starnone and Fred Gardaphe’s review of Joseph Sciorra’s acclaimed book “Builth with Faith.” Neither should you miss Goffredo Palmerini’s travels through Lago di Garda, accompanied by gastronomic recommendations by our food editors Michele and Charles Scicolone. 

    I’ll leave off by saying that 2017 will be a special year for i-Italy. You’ll know what I mean when you see the next issue. For now I’ll keep you in a bit of suspense. The changes will be many and we’ll need your help to see them through.

    i-Italy was founded in New York eight years ago with the stated mission of bringing together three similar yet historically isolated groups of Italophiles: Italians living in the United States, Americans of Italian heritage, and all Americans who love Italy. Our plan was ambitious; we wanted to tell the story of Italian life in America by producing quality content for television, print, and web media whose powerful message would spark lively discussions and debates—that were, most importantly, in English.

    Since then, with few resources and lots of enthusiasm, we’ve achieved miraculous results. Our website now has over a million hits and, between Facebook and other social media, we have almost 200,000 followers. Moreover, our print magazine is in its fourth year of production, as is our television program, which airs weekly on NYCTV, the Public Broadcasting Station of the City of New York (Channel 25).

    We’re pleased and proud of our work, but remember that i-Italy exists thanks to you and your donations. In other words, you are the ones who can help us keep the dream going! We accept any contribution. Every dollar counts!

    On behalf of the entire staff of i-Italy, I wish you happiness and success for every year to come. 

    Letizia Airos

  • Rene Barbera as Lindoro and Marianna Pizzolatto as Isabella in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri. All Photos by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.
    Art & Culture

    The Anti-Diva Diva Sings And Boy, What a Voice!

    The dressing rooms at the Metropolitan Opera aren’t what you’d expect. They’re rather bare, furnished with just the basics. But Marianna Pizzolato’s bright star changes all that. The minute she enters she brightens the room with her warmth and personality. Over the course of our interview with the mezzo-soprano, it gradually dawns on us that she is the most anti-diva of divas. Our chat takes place, oddly enough, just before she jumps on stage to play the lead at the Metropolitan Opera. Pizzolato’s unexpected success made her a princess in a real-life fairytale. Unexpected not because she is unknown or untalented. On the contrary, she’s a star in Europe. Yet she had come to the Metropolitan to play a minor role. Then, out of the blue, she was tapped to play Isabella, the lead in L’Italiana in Algeri.

    Becoming Isabella

    The rst thing that took us by surprise was her decision on where to conduct the interview, which we had agreed to videotape for i-ItalyTV. Rather than in a television studio or hotel lobby, she’d chosen to sit down with us in her dressing room, in front of the mirror, while having her makeup done before going onstage. A rare choice for any performer. So we helped her prepare and put on her makeup while she talked about herself with candidness and a healthy dose of irony. She was generous with her time and, in the end, costume on, sat down at the piano and sang. But before that, at the start the interview, she wore no makeup at all. “I warm up when I look in the mirror. My thoughts are especially taken up with the action. Where will Isabella nd herself, where does she want to go tonight? It’s a work of the imagination, no?”

    The Metropolitan Opera: A Rare Experience

    Despite her obvious excitement, Marianna appears at total ease when she talks about the Met.

    “The Metropolitan provides you with a rare experience. It’s different from all the other theaters in the world. It’s the biggest, the most important. It’s very demanding. I’m aware of that. But my happiness about being here trumps that. We feel very motivated. Obviously you’re more in your element in European theaters. Perhaps you speak the same language there. But I have to say that I really feel at home here, too.” 

    We waste no time inquiring about her being chosen to play the lead.

    “How did I feel when I found out I’d be playing this role? They call me in to audition for L’Italiana in Algeri, which I know well. When I get there one of the managers
    says, ‘Marianna, would you be willing to recite the whole thing?’ I started to cry. I’d never dreamed something so beautiful, so important. I was enormously moved. The audition was interrupted, obviously. People broke out in applause. Maestro James Levine hugged me and said some really wonderful things.”

    Marianna Post-Fairytale Is Still Marianna

    Many things changed after that day, but she makes a point of saying: “I’m still plain old Marianna. I’ve got the same spunk, joyfulness, passion. There’s much more to this work... there’s much more to music.”

    It’s almost like Gioachino Rossini had chosen you for the role...

    “Rossini chose me? No, Rossini didn’t choose Marianna Pizzolato! But when he wrote this opera he imagined a vocal range that, fortunately, I happen to possess. Isabella is an extraordinary character, one of the most fascinating women in the history of opera. Isabella travels all the way to Algeria to save her beloved, Lindoro, and uses every womanly weapon at her disposal. Including seduction. She does everything in her power to bring home the man she loves.”

    Her Sicily, Her Palermo

    Another subject beside music about which Marianna speaks with equal passion is Sicily. Born in Palermo, she grew up in the small city of Chiusa Sclafani and went on to study at the Bellini Conservatory in Palermo. Naturally, these days she travels a lot for work. But her compass still points to Palermo.

    “Sicily is a way of being. I feel close to it because it embodies a marriage of cultures and contrasts. It blends together all sorts of colors and sensations: sun, sea, earth, mountain, volcano. I like being Sicilian. I couldn’t imagine myself otherwise. And it’s very important to return home. It’s like regaining a sense of yourself... There’s a Sicilian song that I really love that goes, ‘L’oduri di la zagari si senti.’ It means ‘You can smell the orange blossom.’ Even when I’m far away that verse calls up all sorts of Sicilian fragrances for me: the aforementioned orange blossom, almond ower, the dizzying smell of g trees in the summer, cyclamens, summer owers, the sea, the smell of sh. Which is to say, I travel, I sing all over the world, and then at a certain point I can’t help it, I have to go back.” 

    You can hear the island in her voice, singing through her.

    “In a way, my voice represents Sicily. As a mezzo-soprano, I avail myself of great vocal range, for the very fact that mezzo-sopranos can go down as well as up in register. So there’s the earth and the air, spontaneity and instinct, and maybe a hint of genius.”

    Genius Takes Practice, Practice, Practice

    “To borrow a phrase of Gioachino Rossini: above all things, study. Art itself is study. Practicing singing is in direct proportion to success—it forms the basis of success. All the greats tell us how important studying is. They’ve shown us how fundamental it is in order to rise to the top. It’s a message for young people who want to get their break without seriously studying. They don’t last long. A year or two and it’s all over.”

    Marianna becomes emotional on this point. She recalls:

    “I come from a modest background. My family could never afford to pay for my schooling. It was hard. I had to work a lot. When I won a master’s in Piacenza, my father said, ‘If this is what you want, go ahead. But you’ll have to do it alone because I can’t help you. My smile and joy I can give. But that’s all.”

    Hard work and determination.

    “I did work hard. But I also have to say there were a lot of people along the way who gave me a hand. I never paid for singing lessons because my teacher, now 92, never charged me. She believed in my talent. Likewise, many others helped me continue and supported me economically.”

    A Rebuke: It’s A World That Fails To Fully Reward Pure Talent

    And there’s something else she’d like to talk about:
    “Another great challenge that I faced—that I have to face often—is that this super cial world can place a premium on image and sometimes fails to fully reward pure talent. How many times have I found myself in the uncomfortable position of being judged for my physical appearance! It’s a personal challenge, sure, but I come up against it with the whole opera world. To get where I am for who I am and not what others want me to be. It is fundamental for me to demonstrate that I have talent, a voice, and that I can move onstage despite my physicality, my curviness.”

    We ask her about debuting at the Metropolitan. How did she feel after the premiere? 

    “After taking my bow, I stood behind the curtains and thought to myself, ‘I did it! I sang at the Metropolitan Opera! That really happened!’ Up until that moment I’d felt like it was a dream. I still feel that way when I talk about it. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production is a classic. Like all of his productions, it’s extraordinarily beautiful and elegant. The costumes are delicious. I love the greens, blues, reds, fuchsias, these Orientalish feathers. They’re very re ned. What can I say? I got to work with James Levine! And it all happened in a special place.”

    The Business Of Selling Dreams

    It’s like a fairytale within a fairytale...

    “As a matter of fact it is a fairytale. In order to do theater you have to live in a fairytale. We’re paid to sell dreams. That’s what people want from the theater. Whether it’s opera, classical music, a symphony or something else. They want to dream and we’re in the business of selling dreams.”

    So what’s it like to act out a fairytale for four hours?

    “It totally frees you from this world. Starting here, in the dressing room. You get ready, put on your makeup, meet the makeup artist and costume designers, and gradually you enter another dimension.” 

    Marianna In Her Youth

    Our talk of fairytales continues, but Marianna paints a portrait of herself as a child not given to ights of fancy.

    “I was a bit different growing up. I lived in a small town. My life was very simple. I didn’t begin to dream big until I realized I’d been chosen by music. Music chose me, not the other way around. That’s when it dawned on me that my life might be changing. I was already a grownup. I was working for the local municipality. There was every indication I’d lead a normal life. But that turned out not to be the case. It was a complete reversal and came as a shock to my parents when I told them I was leaving my job to study music, to become, you know, a lyric singer.”

    Come Back Soon

    Her stay at the Metropolitan lasted but a few weeks. Now she’s back on the road, traveling from one theater to another. Only this time New York seems to be saying: come back soon. The feeling is mutual.

    “What does New York mean to me? I hate to rehash a bunch of clichés, but it really is the center of the world. Things do happen here. I’m living proof of that. Plus I have a lot of very close friends in the city, some but not all Italians. When I come here I come face to face with the world, and that can be an incredible boost of energy. That’s what I love about New York.”

    And those of us here look forward to her return. We look forward to the return of her elegant, entrancing, animated voice; the kindness she conveys with a look; her boundless love for music. 

    Click here to see the interview >>>

  • Sergio Romano, storico, scrittore, giornalista e diplomatico italiano
    Fatti e Storie

    L’America di Trump tra Europa e Russia. Populismi, paure e occasioni da cogliere. Conversazione con Sergio Romano




    Ambasciatore, potrebbe descrivere per i nostri lettori americani le reazioni europee all'elezione di Trump? Questo risultato era inatteso anche in Europa? Perchè?

    “Naturalmente gli europei leggono la stampa americana e hanno avuto l’impressione che la vittoria di Hillary Clinton fosse scontata. Abbiamo sbagliato, ma sulla base di analisi che arrivavano dagli Stati Uniti. Quanto alle reazioni europee alla vittoria di Trump, penso che siano di due tipi. Anzitutto gli europei si chiedono cosa accadrà alle relazioni con gli Stati Uniti. Questa domanda è legittima e giustificata, direi anche inevitabile. L’altra preoccupazione è piuttosto irrazionale, ma per certi aspetti anch’essa giustificata, cioè che l’elezione di Trump possa in qualche modo giovare a tutti i movimenti populisti europei. Perché? Non mi sembra che ci sia un collegamento necessario, però è un dato di fatto che tutti i movimenti populisti europei hanno salutato la vittoria di Trump come se fosse un incoraggiamento alla loro causa.”

    E’ possibile che in Europa  ci si nascondesse questa paura? Insomma, chi temeva la vittoria di Trump ha rafforzato in modo più o meno inconsapevole la convinzione che Hillary Clinton avrebbe vinto? 

    “Per la verità, molti analisti sapevano che Hillary Clinton era un candidato abbastanza debole, o quantomeno abbastanza vulnerabile. Lo si sapeva perché lei appartiene all’establishment e non c’è dubbio che la società americana, come tutte le società occidentali in questo momento, hanno nei confronti dell’establishment un sentimento di stanchezza se non di ripulsa. Inoltre, questa faccenda delle email gli europei non l’hanno capita molto bene. Però hanno avuto l’impressione che Clinton avesse qualcosa da nascondere. E quindi ci siamo tutti chiesti se questo avesse potuto avere una influenza sul voto degli americani.

    Il fatto è che Hillary Clinton ha vinto la maggioranza del voto popolare, quindi non si può dire che sia andata male. Certamente ha perso il voto elettorale, computato su base geografica, che in uno stato federale è fondamentale. Forse questo gli europei non l’avevano capito abbastanza bene. La meccanica e soprattutto la “filosofia” del collegio elettorale, tipica degli stati federali, appare poco compresibile in Europa.


    Lei ha accennato all’effetto dei movimenti populisti europei. L'Europa sembra al momento in crisi anche per l'effetto di movimenti "populisti" che spesso vengono associati allo stesso fenomeno di cui Trump sarebbe espressione in USA: una reazione populista agli effetti negativi della globalizzazione. Puo' aiutarci a mettere ordine in questi concetti?

    “Le ricadute negative della globalizzazione hanno avuto certamente  una influenza sull’esito del voto sia negli Stati Uniti che in Europa. Da questo punto di vista i due fenomeni sono abbastanza paralleli. Ma credo che nel malumore europeo ci siano dei motivi diversi rispetto a quelli che giustificano il malumore americano. Noi attraversiamo effettivamente una fase difficile nel percorso dell’Euro e dell’Unione Europea. Questo è un problema che gli Stati Uniti non hanno. Però la vittoria di Trump è stata strumentalmente utilizzata dai leader populisti europei per fare un po’ di tutta l’erba un fascio e cercare di presentare la vittoria dell’imprenditore americano come l’annuncio di un loro imminente trionfo.

    Negli Stati Uniti sta succedendo qualcosa anche sul fronte opposto a Trump. Penso ad esempio agli interventi pubblici del Sindaco di New York Bill de Blasio e del Governatore Andrew Cuomo, che sembrano voler bilanciare la retorica populista “di destra” di Trump con una retorica populista “di sinistra”, soprattutto sul tema dell’immigrazione. Anche qui, puo' aiutarci a mettere un po’ d’ordine?

    “Penso che il problema americano dell’immigrazione clandestina e quello europeo abbiano caratteristiche diverse. Gli Stati Uniti hanno un problema soprattutto con gli stati dell’America Latina e certamente la frontiera col Messico è uno dei punti più caldi. Si tratta però di una immigrazione sociale. Questi immigrati non hanno motivazioni politiche come invece sta accadendo in Europa; non stanno fuggendo da situazioni politiche eccezionali, di emergenza, dovute guerre, ad esempio, e a guerre civili. Noi non sappiamo quanti dei nostri immigrati abbiano motivazioni sociali ed economiche, ma di sicuro si presentano con un profilo umanitario molto più scioccante. Queste navi che attraversano il mediterraneo, che bisogna assolutamente salvare!

    In Europa non abbiamo ancora deciso come risolvere il  problema anche perchè, a differenza degli Stati Uniti, noi non abbiamo degli interlocutori di riferimento. Gli Stati Uniti possono sempre parlare al Messico, le conversazioni saranno più o meno soddisfacenti da un punto di vista americano, però la possibilità di dialogare con il governo messicano, costaricano o dell’Honduras ci sono. Sono stati che esistono e coi quali si possono fare degli accordi. Noi con chi parliamo? I nostri immigrati provengono in gran parte dalla Libia, dove non abbiamo interlocutori. Possiamo cercare di restituirli al paese d’origine, ma qual è il paese d’origine? Rischieremmo di essere colpevoli di una situazione umanitaria. Se gli USA respingessero degli immigrati oltre la frontiera messicana non accadrebbe niente sotto il profilo umanitario.

    C’è forse anche un’altra differenza, non sempre detta. L’immigrazione, anche quella clandestina, fa ormai parte del tessuto economico del paese. Molti lavorano, anche se al nero, come camerieri, facchini, collaboratori domestici e autisti per le famiglie più ricche, i bambini vanno a scuola, i giovani in alcuni stati prendono la patente, si sposano e i loro figli sono cittadini americani. La città di New York ha istituito negli ultimi anni una sorta di carta d’identità, disponibile anche per queste persone che non hanno in realtà un permesso regolare. E il Sindaco rifiuta di fornire le liste al governo federale. Quindi la realtà di questo paese è veramente variegata e mi chiedo se ce se ne renda conto in Europa.

    “Non credo. E’ ancora un’altra differenza questa. Bisogna capire di più.”


    Lei ha appena pubblicato il suo libro con Longanesi EditorePutin e la ricostruzione della Grande Russia”, in cui parla della ascesa del premier russo, ci riassume la sua tesi?

    Innanzitutto ho cercato di spiegare le motivazioni di Putin. Lui appartiene a una istituzione, il Kgb, che ha avuto e che ha tuttora, attraverso la struttura che gli è succeduta, un ruolo importante nella politica nazionale. Non credo che Putin sia stato un comunista di stretta osservanza, ideologicamente marchiato, credo piuttosto che sia stato marchiato dall’appartenenza a quella casa, che è una casa dalle caratteristiche particolari.

    È stata indubbiamente il braccio armato di una politica molto spregiudicata e repressiva, ma è anche una casa in cui si imparano molte cose. Con un certo realismo conoscono il mondo, e sanno perfettamente quali sono i vizi del loro paese. Quindi hanno sempre avuto un ruolo segreto, misterioso, pieno di malizie e di pericoli, ma anche per certi aspetti anche un ruolo educativo. E credo che quella sia un po’ la caratteristica di Putin.

    Lui è arrivato in politica dopo una esperienza negativa, che era stata quella di Dresda, dove aveva avuto l’impressione che lo stato russo si stesse sfaldando, e l’aveva vissuta come un’umiliazione, una sofferenza. Per cui non è sorprendente che abbia dedicato la sua politica alla restaurazione dell’autorevolezza dello stato russo. È questo il suo obiettivo e lo persegue coi mezzi di cui dispone. Non mi pare che questo sia stato sufficientemente capito dalle democrazie occidentali.

    Come non hanno capito che la Nato, allargata nel modo in cui è stata allargata, non poteva non essere percepita a Mosca come una minaccia. La Nato non è una qualsiasi alleanza storica, è un’ alleanza costituita per combattere, per fare la guerra e per farla in funzione di un nemico identificabile geograficamente come aldilà della cortina di ferro. 
Se Mosca vede la Nato espandersi a oriente, superando addirittura i confini dell’ex Unione Sovietica, ne trae delle conclusioni. Non si è capito che l’Ucraina poteva avere un ruolo europeo importante se fosse stato un paese neutrale. E invece sostenendo quella parte dell’Ucraina, a mio avviso minoritaria, che voleva a tutti i costi divorziare totalmente dalla Russia, hanno finito per fare dell’Ucraina un paese conteso. E a questo punto è accaduto quello che tutti sappiamo. Ho cercato di spiegarlo.

    Così come ho cercato di spiegare che Putin può essere molto utile alla politica europea e anche agli Stati Uniti, alle democrazie occidentali in generale. Il problema con l’Islam, ad esempio, che noi credevamo di essere i soli ad avere, i russi lo hanno avuto in modo per certi aspetti più drammatico, basti vedere quale rischio ha rappresentato l’islamismo ceceno radicale, fanatico, dalla scuola di Beslan al teatro di Mosca occupato dai terroristi, gli aerei che esplodevano in cielo. Noi ci siamo limitati a dire “Tutte queste cose le ha organizzate il Kgb”. Sono supposizioni non documentabili e non hanno nessuna importanza. Ho cercato quindi di spiegare dove avevamo sbagliato.


    Torniamo a Trump. Con questo presidente alla Casa Bianca, cambierà il rapporto tra Stati Uniti e Russia? È troppo presto per immaginare degli scenari?

    In questo racconto dei rapporti Putin-Trump si sono dette cose non giustificate, che ad esempio Putin desiderasse entusiasticamente la vittoria di Trump. Non credo che le cose stessero in questo modo, credo piuttosto che i russi, così come i sovietici ieri, hanno sempre preferito i candidati repubblicani ai candidati democratici. E questo perché, sulla base della loro esperienza, il rapporto con un presidente repubblicano (come Reagan o Nixon ad esempio) è sempre stato più costruttivo, più positivo, meno ideologico. Un presidente democratico rischia invece di essere ideologico, come di sentirsi investito di una sorta di missionariato, cosa che a qualsiasi dirigente russo, non solo a Putin, dà fastidio.

    La stessa politica repressiva di Putin nei confronti della società civile russa, le manifestazioni proibite, gli arresti, le violenze della polizia—cose che tutti noi che conosciamo e amiamo quel paese non possiamo non constatare con grande disappunto—si spiega in parte in questo modo. Non dico certo che si giustifica, ma si spiega anche con il fatto che in queste manifestazioni i russi come Putin ci vedono lo zampino dell’occidente, lo zampino degli Stati Uniti, che finanziano le organizzazioni non governative, che hanno una carattere democratico, umanitario ma fondamentalmente ostile al regime. Tutte queste cose non ci devono certo impedire di fare il possibile perché la Russia diventi un paese più democratico, ma sono cose che dobbiamo sapere, che dobbiamo capire. Perché se non le capiamo rischiamo di prendere la strada sbagliata.”

    Secondo lei, le politiche di stampo “isolazionista” che Trump propone, se attuate, potrebbero avere un effetto negativo per l’Europa?

    Se davvero Trump dovesse mantenere la linea che ha prospettato—una linea molto restrittiva in cui si dice all’Europa provvedere a proprie spese alla sua difesa—a me sembra un’occasione da cogliere! Il momento per fare a meno degli Stati Uniti. Se gli Stati Uniti sono governati da un presidente che non sembra avere interesse a difenderci, allora tocca a noi.

    L’ Alto Rappresentante dell'UE per gli affari esteri e la politica di sicurezza, l’italiana Federica Mogherini, si sta muovendo nella direzione giusta in questo rapporto a quattro tra Spagna, Francia, Germania e Italia per il rilancio di una politica europea di difesa. Se davvero la politica americana sarà, diciamo così, isolazionista (tanto per dargli un’etichetta), questa può essere una occasione per noi.


    Un’ultima domanda, più personale. Come si fa a mettere insieme la storia in modo così dettagliato e preciso e uno stile narrativo scorrevole come fa lei? Se dovesse spiegarlo a uno studente cosa direbbe?

    [Ride] La risposta che le darò è banale, ma è anche la sola che riesco a dare a me stesso. Quando io ho cominciato a scrivere – come può accadere ai ragazzi a cui piace scrivere, cominciai presto – mi accadeva di far vedere a mio padre quelle cose, che fossero analisi o racconti. Lui leggeva e diceva “Non capisco, non ho capito”. Questo ha avuto un grande effetto sulla mia formazione, mi ha educato ad essere comprensibile.

  • Sergio Romano, Italian writer, journalist, and historian Photo: TV 2000 Ufficio stampa
    Facts & Stories

    Sergio Romano: Populism, Panic and Opportunity


    Trump: Europe’s Reactions

    Ambassador, would you describe for our American readers Europe’s reaction to Trump’s election? Did the outcome come as a surprise to Europe too? Europeans follow the American press, so they had the impression that Hillary Clinton’s victory was a foregone conclusion. We got it wrong, but our mistake was based on projections from the United States.

    I think the reactions in Europe take two forms. First, Europeans are wondering how it will affect their relationship with the United States. That is a legitimate question. I’d almost call it an inevitable one. The second worry is rather irrational, though in certain respects it too is justified. I’m referring to the election of Trump somehow bene ting populist movements in Europe. Why should it? I don’t think there’s necessarily a connection between them, though it is a fact that the populist movements in Europe have hailed Trump’s victory as if it boosted their own cause.

    Do you think in Europe the fear is being kept covert? I mean, might those afraid of Trump have tended to reinforce—more or less unconsciously—their hope that Clinton would win with some sort of wishful thinking?

    Honestly, a lot of analysts knew Hillary Clinton was a pretty weak candidate, or at the very least a vulnerable one. She belongs to the establishment and without a doubt American society, like all western societies right now, is tired if not sick of the establishment. In addition, Europeans didn’t quite get this email business, but they did get the impression Clinton was hiding something, and therefore everyone wondered how that would in uence the American vote. The fact is that Hillary Clinton won the majority of the popular vote, so you can’t say things went all that badly. Sure, she lost the electoral vote, calculated geographically, which is fundamental to a federation. Maybe that’s another thing Europeans haven’t quite understood. The mechanism and especially the “philosophy” of the Electoral College typical of federations appear to be little comprehended in Europe.

    Populism: Europe/America, Le /Right

    You alluded to the effect of “populist” European movements. Europe appears to have fallen into a crisis in part due to the effect of these movements often associated with the same phenomenon that Trump embodies in the US: a populist reaction to the negative effects of globalization. Can you help us sort these concepts out?

    The negative repercussions of globalization have clearly in uenced the voting results in both the US and Europe. From that standpoint the two phenomena are fairly comparable. But I think the motives driving European discontent differ. The Euro and the European Union are at a difficult stage. The US has no such problem. But Trump’s win was strategically used by populist European leaders to place everyone in the same basket and present the American tycoon’s win as an indication of their imminent triumph.

    In the US there is also movement on the side opposed to Trump, a desire to counter Trump’s rightwing populist rhetoric with leftwing populist rhetoric, especially regarding immigration. Could you help clarify that situation for us too?

    The problem of illegal immigration in America and the problem in Europe are different in kind. The United States has a problem with Latin America in particular, and the Mexican border is de nitely one of the major hot spots. But that concerns a socio-economic type of immigration: immigrants who, unlike those in Europe, are not politically motivated. They’re not escaping extreme political situations triggered by wars, for example. We don’t know how many of our immigrants come over for social and economic reasons, but there is no question that they fit a much more shocking humanitarian prole. These ships crossing the Mediterranean that we absolutely must save! 

    In Europe we have yet to decide how to solve the problem, in part because, unlike the United States, we have no representative mediators. The US can always talk to the governments of Mexico or Costa Rica or Honduras. Those are states with which you can make a deal. Who is there for us to talk to? A large number of our immigrants come from Libya, where we do not have mediators. We might look to send them back to their country of origin, but what country would that be? We’d risk being culpable of crimes against humanity.

    There may also be another difference, one not always mentioned. Immigration, illegal or not, has become part of the economic fabric of the country. Many work as waiters, laborers, housekeepers and drivers for the wealthy. Their kids go to school. In some states young immigrants can obtain a driving license. They marry and their children become American. Recently New York City created an ID that can be used by people who are here without permission. The mayor has refused to provide registries to the federal government. So the situation in this country is truly diverse, and I wonder if people in Europe are aware of that.

    I don’t think so. That is yet another difference. It needs to be better understood. 

    Putin and the Great Russia

    You have a new book out, Putin and the Reconstruction of Great Russia, in which you talk about the rise of the Russian president. Could you tell us more?

    First and foremost I tried to explain Putin’s motives. He belongs to an institution—the KGB—that continues to play, an important role in domestic politics. I don’t think Putin was ever a strict communist of an ideological bent but instead someone branded by his association with a very particular organization. No doubt it was the military arm of a repressive government. But it is also an organization where one learns a lot. They view the world with a certain realism and know perfectly well what their country’s aws are. So they have always played a secret, mysterious role, one of real malice, but also in certain ways an instructive role. And I think that kind of describes Putin. He entered politics after his negative experience in Dresden, where he had the impression that the Russian state was falling apart. To him that was humiliating, painful. It’s no surprise he dedicated his political life to restoring Russian authority. That’s his goal and he pursues it by the means at his disposal. I don’t think western democracies sufficiently appreciate that.

    Just as they didn’t understand that NATO, having expanded the way it did, could not have been seen by Moscow as anything but a threat. NATO isn’t just any historic alliance. It’s an alliance designed to make war with an enemy which lies identi ably beyond what used to be called the iron curtain. If Moscow sees NATO expanding to the east, it’s going to draw certain conclusions. The West didn’t understand that Ukraine could have been important for Europe had it remained neutral. Instead, by backing the—minor, in my opinion—part of Ukraine that wanted to definitely break with Russia, they ended up turning Ukraine into a contested country. And we all know how that turned out.

    The book also tries to explain how Putin can be quite useful for European and American policy and for western democracies in general.The Islamic problem, for example: we think it is our problem exclusively, but the Russians have had to deal with it in ways that are, in a certain light, more dramatic. Just look at the perils of radical Islam in Chechnya, from the Beslan school siege to the occupation of the theater in Moscow. We merely said, “It was all staged by the KGB.” Those claims hold no water and are beside the point. So I try to explain where we went wrong.

    Putin, the US and Europe

    Getting back to Trump, will the new president change the relationship between the United States and Russia? Is it too soon to tell? 

    Claims about Putin’s eagerness to see Trump win are unjustified. Russians, like the Soviets before them, have always preferred Republicans to Democrats. Based on their experience, they have always had more constructive, less ideological relations with Republican presidents. (Take Reagan and Nixon, for example.) Democratic presidents risk being ideological, as if they felt invested with a missionary mandate, something that all Russian leaders—and not only Putin—can’t stand. The same repressive policies of Putin in the face of Russia’s civil society—bans on protests, arrests, police violence—things anyone who knows and loves the country cannot learn of without great dismay—can be partially explained in this way. I’m not justifying it, but it does explain how Russians like Putin see the hallmarks of the west and the United States in these protests, countries that finance non-governing organizations and whose democratic humanitarian character is fundamentally hostile to the regime. These things should not stop us from trying to make Russia a more democratic country, but we must be aware of them—otherwise we risk taking the wrong course of action.

    In your opinion, could Trump’s “isolationist” policies, if acted upon, have a negative effect on Europe?

    If Trump really does take the hard line he has proposed and tells Europe it has to pay for its own defense—to me that seems like an opportunity to seize! If the US president has no interest in defending us, then it’s up to us. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is taking the right course of action in pursuing a four-way effort between Spain, France, Germany and Italy to re-launch a European defense policy. If American policy is really going to be, shall we say, isolationist (to give it a label) that could be an opportunity for us.

    A Lesson in Clarity

    On a more personal note, how do you combine recounting history with such detail and specifity and your effortless narrative style? How would you explain it to a student?

    [Laughs.] My answer is banal but it’s the only one I’m able to tell myself. When I started writing—like a lot of kids who like to write,
    I started early—I would give my father what I wrote, essays and stories, for him to read. And he’d say, “I don’t understand this. I don’t understand that.” That had a great impact on my education. It taught me to be accessible. 

  • Gianfranco Rosi
    Art & Culture

    Gianfranco Rosi: a Citizen of the World with a Migrant Heart

    Eritrea. Italy. Turkey. US. The life’s journey of Gianfranco Rosi has always been the one of a traveller, a citizen of the world with a migrant heart.

    Born in Asmara, Eritrea, during the War of Independence, at age 13 he escaped his country on a military plane to find refugee in Italy. He lived his youth between Rome and Instanbul before moving to New York City to attend the New York University Film School.

    His life story sounds like a movie, and it sets the cultural background with which Rosi always approaches story-telling. He has a distinctive aesthetical style, telling the stories of real people, told from their points of view: stories of migration, alienation, social struggles. These narratives are witness and reported with such honesty that they almost seem surreal.

    Critically acclaimed all over the world, Gianfranco Rosi’s documentaries have always received international attention and won prestigious prizes like the Golden Lion Award at the 70th Venice International Film Festivals with 'Sacro GRA'.

    His last effort, ‘Fire at Sea’ (Fuocoammare), recently won the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film FestivalFestiaval, and it was selected as the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 89th Academy Awards.

    Shot on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, the documentary chronicles the European migrants crisis and the travelers’ dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. In the background the ordinary life of the islanders is depicted through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy from a local fishing family and a doctor who treats the migrants on their arrival.

    The movie already received rave reviews from the American press like The Guardian: “a distinctive, human cinematic style, a collection of tiny details that morph, against osmosis, into a shocking excavation of the mechanics of crisis”. Meryl Streep, chair of the Berlin jury this year, called the film “a daring hybrid of captured footage and deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do. It is urgent, imaginative and necessary filmmaking”.

    Recently screened and previewed at the New York Film Festival, the documentary is gaining large attention from North American audiences and thanks to the film distributor ‘Kino Lorber,’ the film will be screened in all major American theaters.

    We met Gianfranco Rosi during the Columbus Day celebration, and we had the chance to interview him about the movie and its reception here in the US.

    You presented your film here for the first time in New York. How did it go? What feeling did you get?

    It was a fantastic welcoming. It couldn’t have went better! Today there were two beautiful screenings, and they were both packed-out! The reaction of the press and the public was fantastic. And now there’s another preview set for October 16th. It was such an amazing reception, above anything I could have imagined before.

    How would you briefly present your film?

    In a few words, it’s a cry for help against a tragedy, which the film is trying to highlight. It’s a tragedy that thousands of people are living every day as they try to escape from Africa, and many are faced with death. The movie is a story about the island of Lampedusa, but it’s also a cry for help to make people realize that we can’t just turn a blind eye to the tragedy that is occurring right now.

    We are all crossing our fingers for the Oscar. Presenting a documentary is very courageous.

    It’s definitely courageous, and it had been born courageously from the jury that picked it. It has seen some controversy in Italy, but it was received very well here both by ‘Variety’, by the big named people, and by the public. Now we’re beginning a very long road. It is nominated in two categories, for best documentary and for best foreign film. That’s why I’m here; the journey has already begun.

    Is there anything in particular that struck you about Americans’ reactions? Clearly they are also dealing with the important concept of immigration at this point in time.

    I was struck by the point that the film is a collection and a microcosm of a universal message that is arriving in Lampedusa. People are often dying in the desert and out at sea because of their attempts to break free and their desire to escape from tragedies. The people who died in the desert are like the people who died at sea. The Mediterranean sea has become a tomb for 25,000 people who were trying to reach Lampedusa, and the same thing is happening in the desert at the border between the United States and Mexico, so the film was seen as a very moving piece.


  • As seen on i-Italy | TV. Chief Operating Officer John Viola
    Facts & Stories

    Rebuilding NIAF Anew

    Let’s make an appraisal of your first term as the President of NIAF. What did you want to achieve when you started, and what have been your major accomplishments so far?

    We don’t necessarily have term limits with this position. My seat as President of the Board is ex officio to my job as Chief Operating Officer, so I’m not necessarily looking at my work here in the same way as others in term-limited positions might. When I came here, the Foundation was clearly going through significant changes, and I wanted to make sure we started at the bottom by rebuilding how the Foundation did things. So far, our major accomplishments may not be glamorous ones, but we needed to spend these years doing things that would make the bones of the organization truly sound. We were able to create our first ever 3-year plan, and we actually executed it over the past 3 years. For example, for the first time in the Foundation’s history, we were able to successfully publish our first 3 annual reports so that our members and the general public can be kept abreast of all aspects of our operations. We have been able to give more large educational grants and high dollar grants to projects in Italy that are very important both to me and to the Board of Directors. 

    Are you satisfied with your tenure thus far? Is there anything that you wanted to accomplish but still haven’t?

    I guess I could say I’m never going to be satisfied with my tenure here. I came to the Foundation because I really believe that our community can do so much more together, and while we’ve accomplished great things in building our organization, there are still so many things that I see down the road that will be imperative for the Italian American community. The one thing I think we can do better is reaching out to other groups. It’s my hope that people in the community see me acting on my promise to make NIAF into an ego-free leader of the community, but there are still hesitations when it comes to working together among the many groups in our community, and I really want to focus on bridging those gaps and tearing down those walls in the coming years. I believe if we don’t, our community is going to lose valuable institutions that cannot only survive but thrive and grow stronger together.

    Some people out there may not fully grasp what it is that NIAF does on a daily basis. In a few words, please describe the day-to-day challenges you and your staff face. Day-to-day operations at NIAF are incredibly diverse, particularly at a time like now where we are in the heart of what we call “Gala Season,” which is the late summer through October when every spare moment is spent focusing on the massive Gala Weekend that we put on here in Washington. But operations in the Headquarters are a mix between incredibly buttoned up and business oriented, and incredibly casual and family-like. We have to be able to do a lot with a little, and sometimes I don’t think people realize exactly how much it is that we’re doing out there in the community. We have hundreds and hundreds of scholarships; we have programs both here and in Italy, events around the country, our magazine, our web resources, and the list goes on and on. And of course we have to be ready to react to events like the recent earthquake. So while there is a lot of fun to being part of our team day to day, it’s also, in many cases, a very frantic work place.

    What have you specifically done to rejuvenate NIAF and to reach out to younger generations?

    Our strategy on reaching out to younger generations has been to acknowledge that it’s not enough to simply have a young person at the helm of the organization, and it’s not enough to simply go out and try to create programs that will draw young  people. We must bring young people into our organization, give them a voice in where this place is going, and show them how we serve our community. Something I’m really proud of is that we’ve been able to create multiple series of fellowships that have allowed us to integrate, at many different levels, young people into NIAF’s operations. For example, our Italian American Leadership Fellows come from 8 – 10 universities around the country and are selected to participate in a yearlong fellowship in which they attend our Gala Weekend.

    The Leadership Fellows will participate in meetings with mentors and faculty from their own home universities, so they can work with leaders of our organization in order to develop better strategies and systems to integrate Italian American clubs with NIAF, which will act as a central place for those clubs. We’ve also done a lot of work to convert our stately DC Headquarters, the Ambassador Peter F. Secchia building, into a publicly accessible museum and learning center so that Italian Americans from all over the nation can find a resource for the preservation and propagation of our history and culture here in the nation’s capital. We’re really proud that we were able to do that with the program for museum fellows.

    We’ve got 3 incredibly intelligent young women working 3 days a week in our Headquarters on not only preserving and categorizing the entire collection of artifacts of the Italian American experience, but also deciding, under the tutelage of a mentor-curator, how they would tell the Italian American story in our inaugural exhibit. We brought these young people in and gave them real responsibility to make decisions that will effect what NIAF is for the community. We’ve also really worked hard to go back and create an alumni network for all of the students who’ve received scholarships or been a part of our “Voyage of Discovery” program; by rebuilding those ties that we had neglected for so many years, we’ve been able to bring them out to participate in our New York Gala and our Washington, DC Gala Weekend. We’ve created a much more multigenerational experience from what we used to have at the Gala Weekend.

    Forgive us for tooting our own horn, but we at i-Italy are proud of the fact that, thanks to you, we’re entering the second year of a fruitful partnership with NIAF.

    We’re so proud of the relationship we’ve been able to build together as well. I think beyond the fact that we share so many goals and visions for the Italian American community and the Italian diaspora everywhere, the specific projects have been really amazing.

    We are particularly happy with our joint internship program in “Journalism and Italian-American Affairs.” Four wonderful interns selected by you have just begun working at our headquarters this year.

    This is a great example of a program that, while it may have taken us a while to develop the specifics, ended up being so incredibly useful for our community and useful for the Italian diaspora. As you know, when we were faced with the incredible amount of exceptional applicants, I made the decision to change the program from 2 to 4 people! I feel these programs are not just about investing in making young Italians and Italian Americans better, but investing in making them active parts of the community. When a young person leaves an internship like this, there’s no way he or she is not going to want to participate in what we do, both at i-Italy and NIAF. And when these great young kids come our way, it’s our responsibility to make sure we are engaging as many of them as we can.

    Second, and most importantly, we began co-producing a series of televised interviews entitled “Italian Leadership in America.” And we started at the very top with a long, deep conversation with Justice Alito.

    This is a great project other than the fact that I look kind of goofy introducing such luminaries at the beginning of each video!
    I must say this is really a project that I think has a bright future. Often times people forget that Washington, DC is home to some incredibly accomplished Italian Americans and how much our community has achieved in so many different halls of power here in the nation’s capital. Sitting down with someone like Justice Alito, in such a humbling and special environment like the Supreme Court offices, really makes me feel great about our efforts because I know that each and every one of these interviewees said “yes” immediately to our requests.

    They did so because they felt good about sharing their Italian story, and that makes me feel like everything we do is for the right reasons. Even these incredibly accomplished individuals remember that their Italian heritage is at the core of who they are, and

    I think that is something that will work to encourage in future generations as well.  

    To see the video of i-Italy at the NIAF's headquarters >>>

  • Letizia Airos in a pause during the shooting of the video "Design Speaks Italian" at Ferrari Store in Manhattan
    Facts & Stories

    Editorial: Viva la lingua italiana in America!

    Buon Autunno

    They may belong to a sociolinguist, rather than to a poet as I normally prefer for this opening piece, but the words above sure sound like poetry! Talk about truth!
    My intention in quoting them is to encourage everyone to consider learning Italian, especially people’s children and grandchildren. In our latest issue we address the importance of learning the language of Dante. Obviously Italians no longer speak like the Florentine poet, yet the language still retains the history of an extraordinary culture. It’s the key to understanding the country.

    To prove our point, we asked various people to comment on their relationship to the language, like Jhumpa Lahiri, the Indian-American author who wrote her latest book in Italian; Lucio Noto, an accomplished businessman of Italian extraction whose career owes a debt to his knowledge of Italian; and Dacia Maraini, a true ambassador of Italian culture worldwide. Their special stories provide food for thought.

    As I write, an important event is under preparation in Italy. The States General of the Italian Language in the World is going to be held in Florence in October to kick off the XVI installment of the Italian Language Week. This year’s theme is “Italian and Creativity: Brands and Customs; Fashion and Design.” I-Italy had the honor of collaborating with the Italian Cultural Institute of New York on a promotional video that takes you on a journey through the streets of New York in search of Italian design, as seen through the eyes of a group of curious, spellbound kids. Stay tuned!

    We also pay a visit to Washington to get to know Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito a little better. Our exclusive interview is part of an ambitious

    new video project co-produced with NIAF entitled “Italian Leadership in America.” We’ll be telling you more about that project in the future.

    Ditto the television series we’re particularly proud of, “Grandparents and Grandchildren in Italian America.” Following our rst conversation between Matilda Cuomo and her granddaughter Amanda Cole, next up is a conversation between New York State Poet Laureate Emeritus Joseph Tusiani and Paula Tusiani. Theirs is a story of emigration, reunion, poetry and culture.

    October in New York is “Italian month,” which centers around the famous Columbus Day Parade on 5th Avenue organized by the Columbus Citizens Foundation. (We’ll be there in our tricolor FIAT 500 designed by Massimo Vignelli!) This year i-Italy has consolidated its special partnership with the Columbus Citizens Foundation to produce an exclusive insert in our Events section featuring articles and interviews with President Angelo Vivolo, Grand Marshal Robert LaPenta and this year’s two honorees, Federica Marchionni and Mario Batali.

    This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee of New York, which traditionally puts on many Italian events in the fall. Its president, Joseph Sciame, tells us all about them.

    As always, after Columbus Day i-Italy will head to Washington to participate in the annual NIAF convention. Thanks to our interview with president John M. Viola, you can come along for the ride.

    These are tricky times in the US, politically speaking, what with the election in full swing. So we decided to present the two candidates “our way,” entrusting the task to a pair of American columnists with Italian roots. Founder and President Emerita of NOIAW Aileen Riotto Sirey covers Hillary Clinton while Chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee John Jay LaValle gives us his take on Donald Trump.

    Of course we couldn’t do without our political commentator Jerry Krase’s analysis of how Italian Americans have voted in presidential elections over the last two decades. Read on. There are tons of stories on tons of topics. In particular I’d like to thank my friend Fred Gardaphe for collaborating on our reviews section and his original take on the controversial Italian television series Gomorrah upon its release in the US. I’d also like to thank all of our collaborators for providing us with a cross section of the Italian presence in New York. This time their ranks include 4 new interns chosen from dozens of applications for the NIAF/i-Italy Joint internship program in “Journalism and Italian-American Affairs.” We warmly welcome them all. We’re looking forward to a splendid year together!

    Last but not least, in our nal pages we journey to an extraordinary land and one- of-a-kind city, Matera, recently nominated the European Capital of Culture. What are you waiting for? We know you’ll be planning a visit in no time!

    In conclusion, let me thank all our followers on the web, on TV, and in print. We now have almost 200,000 friends on Facebook alone! You’ll also nd i-ItalyNY on Instagram. We are building our audience! Americans love Italy. It stands to reason they’d love i-Italy, too. 

  • Francesca and Ferruccio
    Fatti e Storie

    A Clifton, un nuovo passaporto per Spaccanapoli

    Ho voluto scriverlo io il racconto di un pomeriggio che ritengo molto speciale per la comunità italiana del New Jersey.

    Ho infatti accompagnato il console generale Francesco Genuardi, il sottosegretario agli Affari Esteri, Enzo Amendola, il  vicesegretario generale per i paesi anglofoni extra europei del Cgie, Silvana Mangione, i consoli Roberto Frangione ed Isabella Periotto.

    Destinazione: Consolato Onorario di Clifton.

    Occasione: la consegna della postazione mobile per la rivelazione delle impronte biometriche per ottenere il passaporto italiano.

    La notizia è questa: gli italiani residenti in New Jersey non dovranno più recarsi a Manhattan per ottenere il loro documento di espatrio italiano. I dati verranno infatti trasmessi direttamenet al Consolato Generale che spedirà il passaporto agli utenti.

    Si tratta di una risposta importante da parte delle istituzioni italiane, dopo la chiusura del Consolato di Newark avvenuta due anni fa. Una chiusura che aveva visto le proteste della comunità. Sono infatti 19 mila gli iscritti all'AIRE nella circoscrizione del New Jersey, molti di questi, soprattuto anziani, hanno difficoltà a raggiungere Manhattan.


    E' dunque un compito oneroso quello di Dominic Caruso - in carica da soli 8 mesi come console onorario - che ci ha accolto nel suo ufficio adibito a Consolato Onorario.

    Con il suo compiuter ha messo in azione la postazione per raccogliere le impronte del primo connazionale.  il sottosegreario Amendola, ha accompagnato l'evento con i suoi commenti e soprattutto una promessa: “Questo è solo l’inizio, dobbiamo costruire servizi ai cittadini italiani che sono qui.  Si tratta del primo passo. Torneremo presto.”

    E un  augurio viene anche dal  Senatore Turano, rappresentante in parlamento dei cittadini italiani della Circoscrizione America del Nord, in un comunicato diramato subito dopo l'evento “ la postazione mobile attivata a Clifton è una prima e bella risposta da parte del Ministero degli Affari Esteri. Spero che la stessa soluzione sia adottata al più presto anche per altri importanti consolati onorari”


    Dominic Caruso, visibilmente emozionato ha escalmato: "Con questa valigetta, la comunità italiana del New Jersey comincia ad avere i servizi consolari che ben merita. Io sono molto contento. Ringrazio il Console Generale Francesco Genuardi, i consili  Isabella Periotto e Roberto Frangione. Spero di meritare la fiducia che mi hanno dato”


    E le prime impronte, con grande emozione, le ha messe una persona di cui ho subito voluto sapere di più: il signor Ferruccio Milani. Come tanti italiani in giro per il mondo ha una lunga e affascinante storia di emigrazione.  Cosi' mi sono fermata piacevolmente te a parlare con lui e la moglie Francesca. Naturalmente davanti ad un vassoio di dolcetti, questa volta siciliani della pasticceria del signor Di Piazza.

    Dimentichiamo troppo spesso che nei passaporti, rilasciati in tutti i consolati del mondo,  contengono certo fotografie, dati, timbri - oggi occorrono impronte biometriche per rilasciarli - ma  soprattutto persone con storie che attraversano oceani e vite.

    Una coppia dolcissima. Lei di un paese che si chiama Fossano in provincia di Cuneo, lui di Milano. Cominciamo a parlare.  Entro nel loro mondo, fatto di difficoltà ma anche tante sfide, successi.


    Lei conosce il marito quando aveva 28 anni. Lui fino ad allora aveva lavorato alla Necchi Corporation, era executive vice-president. Le Necchi, macchine per cucire. Aveva cominciato con il venderle porta a porta quelle macchine, per poi diventare un dirigente in giro per il mondo. Francia, Belgio, Messico: New York. Ma un certo punto, nel 73, decide di tornare in Italia. Cambia azienda e diventa executive vice-president della Omega Orologi a Torino. Qui va per lavorare con Francesca. “Abbiamo lavorato assieme due anni, tre, all’Omega Orologi a Torino.” Ma il loro destino è all'estero: “ Poi siamo partiti per il Canada. Era il 31 Dicembre del ‘76, a Montreal, per lavorare in una fabbrica italiana, La Bontempi”.


    Era in Canada, ma rappresentava anche gli Stati Uniti: “dividevamo il nostro tempo fra la fabbrica, l’ufficio di Montreal, l’ufficio di Toronto, l'ufficio di New York. La nostra vita e’ sempre stata con la valigia in mano. Poi dopo un po’ di anni, siccome siamo delle anime sempre alla ricerca di nuovi challenge, abbiamo detto all’azienda: cosa fate in centro e sud America? Niente? Allora noi andiamo a svilupparlo, e siamo partiti. Abbiamo fatto un viaggio per 45 giorni in tutta l’America latina, centro e sud. Deciso di mettere la nostra base a Panama, gli uffici e … poi sempre in viaggio. Da Panama, dopo 4 anni ci siamo trasferiti negli Stati Uniti...” Una vita difficile da sintetizzare, ma di cui vorrei solo riuscire a trasmettere a chi legge l'energia.

    “ Siamo arrivati negli Stati Uniti nei primi mesi del ‘83. Qui abbiamo deciso di restare. Nel New Jersey perche c’era l’ufficio della Bontempi a Edison”

    La vita sembra aver preso il suo corso per questa coppia, ma riserva un imprevisto. 

    “Mio marito ha avuto 'lo stroke', la fabbrica ci ha licenziati. Lui voleva tornare in italia e io invece ho detto 'no'. Io qui voglio restare. Ho così creato la nuova societa’, Interbusiness USA Food, broker per 12 grandi societa’ italiane. Abbiamo creato questo mercato per loro. Sono 30 anni che facciamo questo lavoro.”

    “Abbiamo costruito la nostra casa a Warren, e’ 31 anni che viviamo li’, con un intermezzo di un anno che siamo andati a vivere in citta’”.

    Le manca  la sua terra d'origine ma ...

    “Si, mi viene nostalgia dell’Italia che ho lasciato nel 1976. Ma ho conosciuto altre realta’, altre culture, altre cose. Ho capito che l’Italia mi andava molto stretta. Io ho bisogno di grandi spazi. Come mio marito, che nonostante avesse raggiunto delle vette incredibili alla Necchi, alla Bontempi, all’Omega, cercava cose nuove.. conoscere il mondo conoscere altre culture...”


    Francesca ha un'energia speciale. Continua a parlare e lui l'ascolta affascinato. Ha il suo nuovo passporto, la domanda viene spontanea. Quale è il primo posto dove andrete in Italia?

    “Napoli! “ E dove a Napoli?

    Ferruccio risponde: “:Spaccanapoli.”

    “Perche’ Spaccanapoli?”

    “ Perchè una mattina alle 7:30 mi trovavo a passeggiare dentro la Spaccanapoli quando vedo una bella ragazza!”

    Francesca, per la prima volta sembra perdere la sua sicurezza, arrossisce e mi regala un grande momento di amore.

  • Stefania Giannini, the Italian Minister of Education, at the Italian Consulate in NYC
    Life & People

    “Openness, Inclusion, Equality. For a Better Society”

    I asked her for a simple conversation, an interview to reveal the work that she is doing, without entering into specific details. Stefania Giannini – the Minister of Education, Universities, and Research since February 2014 – accepted with enthusiasm.

    She was born in Lucca, studied at the University of Pisa and University of Pavia, taught as a professor of glottology and linguistics, and became chancellor of the University for Foreigners of Perugia. Those who live abroad may be particularly interested to know that she was a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ national commission for the promotion of the Italian culture abroad.

    I met with the Minister, in the guest room of the Italian General Consulate, during a break in the course of her recent trip to New York.

    First, I asked her to “introduce herself” to our readers. This is how she did it:

    “Professionally, I am a linguist. Since I was young, I have been interested in classic culture, the relationship between languages and places, and their development in the history of western culture. I was chancellor of an important and prestigious university with a strong international duty, and in that position, up until a few years ago, I was very involved in relationship between the United States and Italy.”

    What are the fundamental principles of your reform efforts as Minister?

    “I believe that now more than ever the key words of the education and school systems–as well as society as a whole–are openness, inclusion, and equality. Through my political action, inspired by what I would call a liberal vision of the world, I’m trying to affirm these principles. I fought for school reform, which was highly debated; maybe some of that echoed here, at least in Italian-American communities that are interested in our country. I am proud that, after its approval, we are enacting those principles. Those are the key words for a better society, more than egalitarianism or merit.”

    Your visit in America is brief but extensive. Can you describe it for us?

    “It’s my first trip as Minister, but it’s not my first institutional trip. In the previous positions that I was speaking about with you, I had many opportunities to visit this country and to be involved directly in bettering the Americans’ knowledge of the Italian language and culture. Now I’m here with two specific goals.

    The first is in Washington, and it’s participating in an important international conference on Arctic research. It’s a topic that Italy knows extremely well, from the CNR (Consiglio Nazionale di Ricerca) to the other sectors of the Italian academy that are physically involved in those areas. Next year Italy will host the G7 Summit; this is an important step.

    Then, in order to associate this trip with other institutions, I thought about accepting Boston’s invite to MIT and New York’s invite. It was my desire to be in contact directly with an environment made of innovations, young people, research, digital ventures, and to measure the potential for greater collaboration with both with us and with our system.

    You also met many young Italians with successful startups and measured what the government is doing for them in these sectors. This opened a truthful discussion about the critical situation that we have in Italy.

    I had a very packed day in New York. First, I went to the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University, an institution that I have known well from prior years. Next I went to Fordham University to assist – as the minister – with an agreement between Fordham and a group of Italian universities that are performing well in America. Finally, I visited NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò to discuss reforms with the director, Stefano Albertini. December 4th [the date of the referendum on the constitutional reform, n.d.r.] represents an important day both for Italy and for Europe. Those of us involved in the government believe that the reaction will be positive, and it will allow us to proceed with changes that we deem necessary.

    Let’s talk about the Italian presence abroad, mainly regarding the world of research. A term is sometimes used in Italy, a term that I find absurd, in part because of how it sounds: “cervelli in fuga” ‘the brain drain.’

    “It’s definitely an outdated term at this point.”

    How about intellectual mobility? A circular mobility that brings Italians to America and Americans to Italy. It’s a constantly changing world. What are the new borders? How can we attract both Italian and foreign students and experts to Italy? What is the government doing, and what would it like to do?

    “We have a very clear idea that we can be summed up very simply, as you’re asking me to do. Up until a few years ago many countries were playing games and competing over the possession of raw materials and the presence of big businesses able to stimulate industry. Today, they’re also playing the game regarding the attractiveness of each country to talented individuals. Human capital is a fundamental factor.

    Today we need educational systems that teach us to learn, and to learn more. We need an environment of innovation that attracts young people and attracts, not those who are running away, but those who are moving around.

    The government is very aware of this, and we already began to implement some very specific measures. I’ll give you two examples.

    An international call is opening to scholars and researchers, both young and old alike. These individuals do not need to be Italian; they can be current residents in Italy, or they could be residents of another country.They will all be people that set the bar high in regards to their merits and their scientific excellence. In the coming months we will be introducing 500 positions for both full professors and associate professors.

    But this will not be enough if there are no top-down operations that target specific areas of the country, concentrate on specific subjects, have a strategic financial plan from the government, and that give life to – what we in Europe call – research infrastructure. That is, systems with high concentrations of businesses, research centers, and universities that work on the same projects.

    We’re doing it in Milan. It’s an important project, and it’s called “Human Technopole” because it will combine computer science, genomics, and biomedical work on diseases that affect the aging population. An aging society is one of the biggest global challenges, affecting more than just the western world. One billion Euros were publically invested in ten years, and there’s a great outlook for also attracting private resources. We’re expecting to create 1600 research and scholar jobs here for academics who view Milan as others already see Boston: a beautiful, attractive, and sustainable place for research, a city one would choose to live in.

    All in all these are two simple actions, but they also break an Italian inclination of trying to distribute a little to everyone, to finance as much as possible no matter how small, as to not displease anyone.”

    Those who live in New York know that many young researchers leave the south especially, where we have a big infrastructure problem. Funds for research are scarce, and working outside academia is difficult. However, many people say that staying in it is even harder.

    “I was talking about Milan because it’s an area post-Expo. Milan objectively has a fertile and fertilizable area. On October 6th together with the University of Napoli Federico II, we will launch an important center for Apple in Naples in the ex area of Bagnoli. I will personally be there. It’s an investment that Apple spontaneously made without special request. They chose Naples because it’s a vibrant, intellectual city and because there are important universities that form the ecosystem of the higher education. It’s an example of how this is happening in places other than the north.

    I’ll tell you sincerely, talking about a “southern question” in the university, in a global society such as ours, where we need to push for a higher quality all over the country, seems like an old topic to me. There must be other solutions.

    We need to make sure that in both northern and southern Italy there are opportunities for all those young people who see their future in scientific research. It will definitely be great when and if a student from Milan decides to move to Palermo to study a subject that perhaps isn’t as developed in Milan or in Turin. Or maybe instead of Paris, or Berlin, or New York, he chooses an Italian city.

    But from my point of view, it’s the national system that needs to be made effective. Often in the south – I don’t think I’m saying anything too controversial – it’s not the university system that’s weak; it’s the social, political, and cultural infrastructure that create the most difficulty for establishment, for life, and for quality of life. And these are other things the government is working on.

    In short, I don’t feel I can say the south has a disadvantage in the field of academics. It suffers here from the same problems it has in other fields; therefore, a wide-scale treatment needs to be done, not just one focused on universities.

    Let’s enter into the heart of your work. Can you tell us how schools are changing alongside the university system right now?

    “Schools need to change in general, not only in Italy, because there are no longer educational certainties that existed in the last century. A school that doesn’t teach a continuous way of learning and doesn’t change its teaching and learning model is a school that’s destined to be the caboose of the train and not the locomotive of society. School, by definition, is the locomotive of society.

    Thanks to large investments in the construction of schools and laboratories, Italy is innovating both its teaching methods and the places where teaching is done. The “Buona Scuola” law introduces standards that, until now, were absent in the world of Italian schools. Frankly, some reforms were not very well accepted, like the evaluation system. I’m the seventh minister that’s tried to introduce them, and the first the succeeded in doing so, despite the reaction of one part of the scholastic world – not of everyone, but of a loud, cohesive, and strongly union-supported group – which was very prohibiting. But I continue to believe that this new method of evaluation is right because if a system is not able to self-evaluate and to be evaluated, it’s hard to see what’s working well and what’s not working. It’s imperitive to introduce modifications that not only transform the weak points into strong points but also further reinforce the strong points.

    All this is important, especially in a country that, as the Arabs said, is too long and therefore has enormous differences between the cities and the outskirts, or longitudinally, between the extreme south and the extreme north.

    Therefore, we have evaluation, merit, and scholastic autonomy, which is another magic word that we recovered from Italian tradition and that used to be part of Italy’s genetic code. Let’s not forget that Italy is Maria Montessori’s country; it’s not the country of fat bureaucrats behind a desk. Nevertheless, an education system that never opened itself to innovation has frozen this great scholastic tradition.”

    Bringing the schools up to speed, not only with the times, but also with real life, is one of the most difficult challenges. However, this is in fact, what Maria Montessori did.

    “Absolutely. And with a lot of work, we have surpassed yet another taboo here, the combination of school and work. This integration consists of students gaining experience in business or cultural institutions during the three-year period of high school. Last year it became mandatory for all students in technical schools, professional schools, and high schools. A million and a half students will be involved in the courses over the next three years. This means we are breaking the notion of “First you study, then you put into practice what you studied.”

    This is a very “American” approach…

    “I’ll tell you of something that happened in the United States in the first professional development course that I held for Italian teachers here at Queens College. It was for Italian teachers and American teachers that teach Italian. I taught an applied linguistics lesson, and it seemed that the teachers really appreciated it. However, one of these very nice teachers sent me a card and wrote something like “Oh, Stefania, wonderful lecture, everything was great, but if you want to catch the heart of Americans you must be more pragmatic.”

    I had done a great lesson on theory, but the approach was the same one that we use in Italy: I will give you the principles, and I will also give you the rules. Certainly this is the product of an extraordinary European culture, and I don’t believe we should dismantle it, but that’s a whole other argument. There are other approaches out there, and this is what makes intellectuals that are in Boston, New York, or at Michigan University so strong.”

    Taking school outside of school and universities outside of universities is definitely a great challenge…

    “And so is bringing the outside world into the schools. It’s significant, and I believe it’s of upmost importance.”

    Let’s discuss the Italian language. As a professor of Glottology and Linguistics, you’re not a bureaucrat-minister that faces problems from behind your desk. Why do you think the Italian language in the world, starting with the United States, is important? What can the Italian language mean for a foreigner?

    “For now a promise: to know and to learn a language that’s not your native language is not only a way to communicate for work, but it’s also a unique and incredible way to lead people to another vision of the world. With Italian this vision of the world matches with a country that is a giant in terms of humanistic culture of the western world. This is an objective statistic; we didn’t discover it, and it remains largely unknown. Clearly, it has a unique and incredible richness for a person that comes from other cultural and linguistic experiences.

    I wish that we could reinforce the results that we had in the United States over the past 10-15 years of work: the insertion of Italian as a language for the Advanced Placement Program in colleges and the possibility of Italian as a major or specialization. This is possible thanks to two factors: one of them is in our hands, and the other is in their hands.

    The responsibility in our hands is to continue to support the promotion of the Italian language and to continue to finance it as much as possible. We also have to modify the old teaching methods; now we will teach the language as part of a project of cultural promotion. From my knowledge of this country, the language & culture pairing should be inverted in order of importance, that is culture & language.

    Americans’ cultural interests inspire them, and that then becomes linguistic competence. In America this is more common than the opposite, which is what happens in other countries.”

    This is the guiding principle behind our work at i-Italy! First presenting our culture in English, then inviting our readers to study Italian. It’s impossible to reach an American simply by saying, “study Italian.”

    “No doubt! This is our duty, and it needs to continue this way, with clarity of mind.

    There’s also another thing that Americans need to do. I feel they’re making several cuts, not only Italian, but also other foreign languages in the Humanities departments of important universities. This is a cultural-political choice that I feel is very dangerous. If a country that is rigidly monolingual closes its doors at a time when being as open as possible is necessary, it needs to be aware of the consequences that will result for the next generations.”

    History teaches this subject in America. Many generations of Italian Americans lost their original language, “obligated” by society to integrate and speak only English.

    “This doesn’t only apply to Italian; it was a policy regarding all languages. Therefore, we will do what we need to do, but we are also calling for a bit of courage and responsibility on their part because it’s as if they are stealing from the cultural endowment left for their children and grandchildren."

    Is there anything that you think is important, that you want to say, and that I didn’t already ask you?

    “In general, to the United States, to the Italians who are here, but also to those interested in our country… I think that today the connection between Europe and America, specifically between Italy and America, is very strong. There is a high-conductivity steel thread of scientific and cultural diplomacy that links us. Therefore, it’s of extreme importance to continuously invest in these partnerships, in these contacts, and to focus ourselves on more than just our output for the next day and for the next year, even if it’s scientific output. It’s a great idea to invest in innovation — provided it is understood as it should, as technology transfer, as the creation of start-ups  — and it should always be accompanied by a growing sensibility for the broader cultural dimension of innovation."

    At the beginning I asked you to present yourself to the readers. Behind a minister, a person that has an institutional duty, there’s always a person with her own story. We often forget about this because speaking about institutions makes the individual person seem distant. You’re also a woman and a mother. What crosses your mind first thing in the morning when you wake up and begin your duty as Minister?

    “That’s one heck of a question! I don’t deny that my first thoughts are always related to what I’m expecting that day (which is fitting for a person with such a gigantic responsibility) so I can manage it as well as possible. But personally I have a particularly strong attention to the “sentimental” side of life: kids and love. And I always reflect on the fact that for a career woman – in Italy mainly, but perhaps also here from what I see – the price to pay is still extremely high. I wish that for the next generations (she said with a smile directed at Consuls Isabella Periotto and Chiara Saulle, who were present at the time of the conversation) there coud be some lighter thoughts for a change.”


  • Fatti e Storie

    “Apertura, inclusione, uguaglianza. Per una società migliore”

    Le chiedo una conversazione semplice, un'intervista realizzata per divulgare il lavoro che sta svolgendo, senza entrare in dettagli troppo specifici. E Stefania Giannini, Ministro dell'Università, Istruzione e Ricerca da febbraio 2014, accetta con entusiasmo.

    È nata a Lucca,  ha studiato presso le Università di Pisa e di Pavia, è una professoressa ordinaria di Glottologia e Linguistica, ed è stata Rettore dell'Università per Stranieri di Perugia. E, cosa di particolare interesse per chi vive all'estero, è stata membro della Commissione nazionale per la Promozione della Cultura Italiana all'Estero del Ministero degli Affari Esteri.

    Incontro la Ministra nella sala degli ospiti del Consolato Generale d’Italia, durante una pausa della sua recente visita a New York.

    Le chiedo subito di “presentarsi” ai nostri lettori. Lei lo fa così:

    “Di professione sono linguista, quindi mi sono occupata fin da giovane di cultura classica, di rapporti tra le lingue e i luoghi, del loro sviluppo nella storia  della cultura occidentale. Ho fatto il Rettore di una importante e prestigiosa università con una forte vocazione internazionale e in quel ruolo, fino a pochi anni fa, mi sono molto occupata anche del rapporto bilaterale con gli Stati Uniti.”

    Quali sono i punti cardine della sua attività riformatrice, da Ministra?

    “Credo che oggi più che mai le parole chiave fondamentali dei sistemi educativi, dei sistemi scolastici e dell’intera società siano apertura, inclusione, uguaglianza. Nella mia azione politica, ispirata ad una visione direi liberale del mondo, sto cercando di affermare questi principi. Ho combattuto per una riforma della scuola molto discussa, forse qualche eco è arrivato anche qui, almeno in quella comunità italiana che guarda con interesse al nostro Paese.  Sono orgogliosa che dopo l’approvazione stiamo attuando quei principi. Sono quelle le parole chiave per una società migliore, più che egualitarismo o merito.”

    La sua visita  in America è breve ma intensa. Ce la riassume?

    “È la mia prima missione da Ministro, ma non è certo la mia prima missione istituzionale. Nei ruoli che le dicevo ho avuto molte occasioni di visitare questo paese e di occuparmi anche direttamente di una migliore conoscenza della lingua, della cultura italiana. Adesso sono qui con due obiettivi molto precisi.

    Il primo a Washington, ed è la partecipazione a un’importante conferenza internazionale sulla ricerca artica. È un tema su cui l’Italia ha eccellenze riconosciute, dal CNR (Consiglio Nazionale per le ricerche)  ad altri settori dell’accademia italiana che sono fisicamente impegnati in quelle aree. Il prossimo anno l'Italia ospiterà il G7, quindi questa è una tappa importante.

    Poi ho pensato di accettare l’invito di Boston, in particolare del MIT, e di New York per associare a questa occasione istituzionale altre tappe. Era mio desiderio di entrare in contatto diretto con quell’ambiente fatto di innovazione, giovani, ricerca, imprese digitali e per misurare le potenzialità di maggiore collaborazione con noi, col nostro sistema.

    Lo ha fatto anche incontrando molti ragazzi italiani con startup di successo, misurando con loro quello che il Governo sta facendo in questi settori. Aprendo anche una discussione franca sulle criticità che ancora abbiamo in Italia.

    A New York ho avuto una giornata di incontri abbastanza fitti. Dall’Italian Academy for Advanced Studies della Columbia University, istituzione che conoscevo già molto bene dagli anni scorsi, alla Fordham University—per assistere come ministro ad un accordo tra la Fordham e un consorzio di università italiane che sta operando molto bene in America). Poi alla Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò della NYU, per parlare di riforme insieme al direttore Stefano Albertini. E anche del perchè il 4 di dicembre [data del referendum sulla riforma costituzionale, n.d.r.] si giocherà una partita importante per l’Italia e per l’Europa. Noi del Governo crediamo che la risposta sarà positiva, e ci consentirà di procedere ad una svolta di cambiamento che riteniamo necessaria.”

    Parliamo della presenza italiana all’estero. Soprattutto di quel mondo della ricerca che ha incontrato. A volte in Italia lo si indica con un termine che io trovo balordo, anche nel suono:  “cervelli in fuga”…

    “Certo, è un termine ormai superato.”

    Allora di mobilità intellettuale?  Una mobilità circolare, che porta italiani in America, americani in Italia.  In un mondo in continua evoluzione.  Quali sono le nuove frontiere. Come si fa ad attrarre in Italia giovani studiosi ed esperti italiani e stranieri Cosa sta facendo il Governo e cosa vorreste fare?

    “Noi abbiamo un’idea molto chiara che riassumo con semplicità, come giustamente lei mi chiede di fare. Se fino a pochi anni fa i paesi giocavano la carta della la competitività sul possesso delle materie prime, sulla presenza di grandi aziende in grado di stimolare la produttività industriale, oggi la partita si gioca anche sulla presenza e sula capacità di attrazione di talenti. Il capitale umano è un fattore fondamentale.

    Oggi abbiamo bisogno di sistemi educativi che insegnino ad imparare, ad imparare più, e abbiamo bisogno di un ecosistema dell’innovazione che attiri i giovani e attragga appunto non quelli che scappano, ma quelli che circolano.

    Il Governo è molto consapevole di questo e abbiamo già cominciato ad attuare alcune misure molto precise.  Gliene cito almeno due.

    Una call internazionale aperta a studiosi, ricercatori, giovani o meno giovani, che siano italiani o meno, che vivano in Italia o in altri paesi, o stranieri che vivono in Italia … persone che si vogliono far valutare con un’asticella più alta per i loro meriti e la loro eccellenza scientifica. Si tratta di 500 cattedre da full professor e associate professor che lanceremo nei prossimi mesi.

    Ma questo non basterebbe se non ci fossero anche operazioni top-down che si concentrano su aree precise del Paese, su discipline precise, con un piano di finanziamento strategico del governo e che diano appunto vita a quelle che noi in Europa chiamiamo le infrastrutture della ricerca, cioè sistemi ad alta concentrazione di aziende, centri di ricerca, università che lavorano sullo stesso tema.

    Lo facciamo a Milano. È un progetto importante e il titolo è 'Human Technopole' perchè metterà insieme informatica, genomica e lavoro biomedico sulle malattie della società che invecchia. L’aging society è una delle grandi sfide che abbiamo in tutto il mondo occidentale, ma non solo. Un miliardo di euro di investimenti pubblici in 10 anni, con una forte prospettiva di attrarre anche risorse private. Qui ci aspettiamo 1600 posti per ricercatori e studiosi che guardino a Milano come si guarda oggi a Boston: un luogo bello, attrattivo, ecosostenibile per il sistema della ricerca, una città in cui scegliere di vivere.

    Sono due azioni semplici tutto sommato, semplici nel senso che hanno una loro concretezza ma che spezzano una abitudine, questo sì, tutta italiana, di dare un po’ a tutti per non scontentare nessuno e finanziare, magari poco, ma il più possibile.”

    Chi vive a New York sa che molti giovani ricercatori lasciano soprattutto il Sud, dove abbiamo un grande problema con le infrastrutture. I fondi di ricerca spesso sono scarsi, lavorare fuori dall'accademia è difficile.  Ma molti dicono che restare all'interno è ancora più difficile.

    “Parlavo di Milano perchè è un’area post Expo, perchè Milano oggettivamente ha un territorio fertilizzato e fertilizzabile. Ma il 6 ottobre inauguriamo un importante centro di Apple a Napoli, nell’ex area di Bagnoli, insieme all’Università di Napoli Federico II. Ci sarò io personalmente. È un investimento che Apple ha fatto di sua sponte senza particolari sollecitazioni. Ha scelto Napoli perchè è una città vivace intellettualmente, perchè ci sono importanti università che costituiscono l’ecosistema dell’educazione superiore. È un esempio di come questo non avvenga solo al Nord.

    Le dico sinceramente, parlare di una “questione meridionale” nell’università in un mondo globale, in cui si deve spingere per una qualià più alta e il più possibile diffusa nel paese, mi sembra un tema antico. Le soluzioni devono essere altre.

    Bisogna far si che anche in Italia, al sud come al nord, ci siano delle opportunità per tutti quei giovani che vedono nella ricerca scientifica il loro orizzonte di vita. Sarebbe sicuramente un grande risultato - quando e se - un ragazzo da Milano scegliesse di trasferirsi a Palermo per studiare una disciplina che magari a Milano o a Torino non è così sviluppata. Oppure da Parigi, o Berlino, o New York scegliesse una città italiana.

    Ma dal mio punto di vista è il sistema nazionale che deve essere reso efficiente. Spesso nel Sud—non credo di dire nulla di scandaloso—non è il sistema universitario ad essere debole, è l’infrastruttura sociale, politica, culturale che crea maggiori difficoltà di insediamento, di vita, anche di qualità della vita. E queste sono altre cose su cui il governo sta lavorando.

    Insomma, io non mi sentirei di dire che il sud à svantaggiato in campo accademico. Soffre dei mali di cui soffre quella parte del paese e quindi è una terapia che deve essere fatta con antibiotico a largo spettro, non mirato all’università.”

    Entriamo nel cuore del suo lavoro. Ci racconta come sta cambiando la scuola in questo momento, insieme a tutto il sistema universitario?

    “In generale la scuola deve cambiare, non solo in Italia, perchè non ci sono più le certezze educative che potevano esserci nel secolo scorso. Una scuola che non insegna una forma di apprendimento continuo e non cambia il modello di insegnamento e di apprendimento, è una scuola destinata a rimanere vagone di coda e non locomotiva della società.  Ma la scuola per definizione è la locomotiva della società.

    In Italia si sta cambiando in direzione dell’innovazione didattica, anche dei luoghi dell’apprendimento, grazie a grandi investimenti sull’edilizia scolastica e sui laboratori. La legge sulla “Buona Scuola” introduce criteri che finora erano assenti nel mondo della scuola italiana.  Alcuni non sono stati molto graditi, lo dico schiettamente, come il sistema di valutazione. Io sono il settimo ministro che prova ad introdurlo, e il primo che ci riesce. Anche se la reazione di una parte del mondo della scuola—non di tutto, ma di una parte anche rumorosa, coalizzata, e direi anche molto sostenuta dalle forze sindacali della scuola—è stata molto ostativa. Ma io continuo a credere che questo nuovo metodo di valutazione sia giusto,  perchè se un sistema non è in grado di autovalutarsi, di essere valutato, è difficile che possa capire dove funziona e dove non funziona. Serve per introdurre quelle modifiche che sono necessarie per trasformare i punti di debolezza in punti di forza e potenziare quelli che sono già punti di forza.

    Tutto questo è importante soprattutto in un Paese che, come dicevano gli arabi, è troppo lungo, e quindi ha differenze molto vistose tra i centri e le periferie oppure, longitudinalmente, tra l’estremo sud e l’estremo nord.

    Quindi valutazione, merito e autonomia scolastica, che è un’altra parola magica che abbiamo recuperato da una tradizione italiana che l’aveva nel suo codice genetico. Non ci dimentichiamo che l’Italia è il paese di Maria Montessori, non è il paese di burocrati ingessati dietro una scrivania. Tuttavia, un sistema educativo che non si è mai aperto all’innovazione ha finito per congelare questa grande tradizione educativa.

    È questa una delle sfide più difficili. Quella di riportare la scuola al passo con non solo con i tempi ma nella vita reale.  Ecco appunto lo ha fatto Maria Montessori


    “Assolutamente. E qui abbiamo superato con fatica anche un altro tabù, quello dell’alternanza scuola/lavoro, cioè l’esperienza in azienda o in istituzioni culturali durante il triennio della scuola superiore. Dall’anno scorso è obbligatoria per tutti gli studenti, sia negli istituti tecnici e professionali che nei licei. Coinvolgerà un milione e mezzo di ragazzi nel corso dei prossimi 3 anni. Significa spezzare il tabà del “prima si studia e poi si applica, in pratica, quello che si è studiato.”.

    È un approccio molto “americano”…

    “Le racconto un episodio avvenuto negli Stati Uniti, nel primo corso di aggiornamento che ho tenuto per gli insegnanti di italiano come seconda lingua qui al Queens College.  Era per italiani, ma era anche per docenti americani che insegnavano italiano. Feci una lezione di linguistica applicata, apprezzata devo dire. Però una di queste professoresse, simpaticissima, mi mandò un bigliettino dove scrisse questo più o meno ‘Oh, Stefania, wonderful lecture, everything was great, but if you want to catch the heart of Americans you must be more pragmatic.’

    Avevo fatto una bellissima lezione di teoria, ma l’approccio era quello che abbiamo noi: ti do i principi, ti do le regole.  Certo questo è frutto di una straordinaria tradizione culturale europea che io non credo si debba smantellare, tutt’altro. Perchè c'è dell’altro ed è nella forza di questi intellettuali che troviamo a Boston, a New York o alla Michigan University.”

    Portare la scuola fuori dalla scuola, l’università fuori dall’università... Una grande sfida...

    “E il mondo esterno dentro la scuola. Non è banale! Credo sia importantissimo.”

    Parliamo della lingua italiana. Come professoressa di Glottologia e Linguistica, lei non è un ministro-burocrate che affronta un problema da dietro la sua scrivania. La lingua italiana nel mondo, partendo dagli Stati Uniti, secondo lei perchè è importante? Cosa può rappresentare per uno straniero la lingua italiana?

    “Intanto una premessa:  conoscere e imparare una lingua che non sia la tua lingua madre, non è solo avere un mezzo di comunicazione in più per lavorare, ma è un viaggio straordinario e insostituibile in un’altra visione del mondo. Con l'italiano questa visione del mondo si abbina a un Paese che è un gigante della cultura umanistica nel mondo occidentale. È un dato oggettivo, non lo scopriamo noi e ci viene largamente riconosciuto. Chiaramente è un arricchimento incredibile, direi insostituibile, per una persona che viene da altre esperienze culturali e linguistiche.

    Negli Stati Uniti mi auguro che si possano consolidare i risultati che abbiamo ottenuto—uso il plurale volutamente—nel corso di oltre 10-15 anni di impegno per l’inserimento e l’affermazione dell’italiano come lingua dell’Advanced Program nei college, quindi poi come lingua di major o di specializzazione,. Questo è possibile grazie a due fattori: uno è nelle nostre mani, l’altro è nelle loro mani.

    Quello nelle nostre mani, è continuare a sostenere la promozione della lingua, continuare a finanziarla al meglio possibile, anche modificando un po’ i vecchi schemi, insegnando la lingua in un più ampio progetto di promozione culturale. Per la mia conoscenza di questo Paese, il binomio language & culture qui lo invertirei in ordine di gerarchia di importanza, cioè culture & language.

    Un americano lo avvicini attraverso l’interesse culturale che poi passa anche dal veicolo della competenza linguistica, più che il contrario, come avviene altrove”.

    Questo è l’assunto centrale del nostro lavoro, con i-Italy! Presentare la nostra cultura in inglese, prima, e poi invitare a studiare l'italiano... È impossibile raggiungere un americano dicendo solo “studia l’italiano”…

    “Non c’è dubbio! Quindi questo è il nostro dovere, e bisogna continuare così, con lucidità.

    Un’altra cosa però la devono fare loro. Sento che stanno facendo doversi tagli non solo per l’italiano, ma per le lingue straniere nei dipartimenti di humanities delle più importanti accademie. Questa è una scelta politico-culturale che vedo molto pericolosa. Un paese già cosi rigidamente monolingue, se chiude le porte e le finestre nel momento in cui quello che serve è massima apertura, è massima, deve avere la consapevolezza di quali possano essere le conseguenze sulle prossime generazioni.”

    È la storia che insegna su questo tema in America.  Più generazioni di italo-americani hanno perso la loro lingua originaria 'obbligati' dalla necessità di integrarsi e parlare solo inglese.

    “Questo forse non riguarda solo l’italiano, era una policy che riguardava tutte le lingue. Quindi, come dire, noi facciamo il nostro però richiamiamo anche con un po’ di coraggio le responsabilità loro, perchè è come se sottraessero dal conto corrente culturale dei loro figli e dei loro nipoti un vero e proprio patrimonio.”

    C'è un messaggio.  Qualcosa che lei pensa sia importante in questo momento, che vuole dire e che io non le ho chiesto?

    “In generale, rivolto agli Stati Uniti,  agli italiani che sono qua ma anche forse  ad qualche appassionato del nostro Paese… Penso che mai come oggi quel collegamento stretto tra Europa e America, e particolarmente tra Italia e America, sia  solido.   C'è il filo d’acciaio ad alta conduttività della diplomazia scientifica, della diplomazia culturale che ci lega.  È quindi di straordinaria importanza investire sempre di più in queste collaborazioni, in questi contatti, non focalizzarsi solo sul rendimento, anche scientifico, del giorno dopo, dell’anno dopo. Va benissimo quindi investire sull’innovazione, intesa come deve essere intesa, cioè trasferimento tecnologico, start-up, e questo deve sempre essere accompagnato ad una sensibilità crescente per la dimensione culturale”.

    All'inizio le ho chiesto di presentarsi.  Dietro un ministro, chi occupa una carica istituzionale,  c'è sempre una persona con la propria storia. Spesso si dimentica quest'aspetto. Si parla con l’istituzione... Si rimane distanti. Ma lei è anche una donna e una mamma...  Quali sono i primi pensieri che l’attraversano la mattina quando si sveglia e intraprende il suo lavoro di Ministrro?

    “Questa è una domandona! Non nego che i primi pensieri sono quasi sempre legati a quello che mi aspetta nella giornata, come credo sia doveroso per una responsabilità gigantesca, per gestirla al meglio. Però personalmente io ho una fortissima attenzione anche all’aspetto diciamo affettivo della vita: i figli, l’amore. E rifletto di continuo sul fatto che per una donna in carriera—in Italia sicuramente, ma forse anche qui da quel che vedo—i prezzi da pagare sono ancora veramente sempre molto molto alti. Mi auguro che per le nuove generazioni (dice rivolgendosi con uno sguardo dolce ai consoli Isabella Periotto e Chiara Saulle, presenti alla conversazione) i pensieri siano un po’ più leggeri, ecco.”