Articles by: Letizia Airos

  • World-renowned chef Lidia Matticchio Bastianich during i-Italy's interview
    Life & People

    Lidia Matticchio Bastianich: Nostalgia and Success

    The name Lidia Bastianich is synonymous with exquisite Italian cuisine. Many people know the talented chef from her fine Italian restaurants and her various television programs throughout the years. However, Ms. Bastianich’s professional accomplishments are only one component of her intriguing and significant personal history. As a child, Lidia grew up between three different worlds–each one having a significant impact on her and her future. i-Italy had the pleasure of sitting down with the world-renowned chef in order to better understand her roots and to help share her story.

    Beginnings in Istria

    It was February 1947; World War II had ended, and the Paris Peace Treaties were about to be signed. Until that point, the Istrian peninsula was primarily under Italy’s control following World War I. Despite having Italian governance, Italians living in Istria had a very difficult existence; many of them faced violence or death during the Foibe massacres occurring near the end of World War II. The Paris Peace Treaties, however, were a final nail in the coffin for many of those individuals as the treaties granted control of the Istria to Yugoslavia. Istrian-Italians knew they either needed to adapt to a new way of life or to emigrate from the peninsula. Many chose the latter option, so many, in fact, that the time period was known as the “Istrian Exodus.”

    That same month, February 1947, Lidia Matticchio (later Bastianich) was born in the middle of the political unrest. Her family resided in Pola, and she would live there for the first nine years of her life along with her parents and her older brother–three years her superior. Lidia recalled that life in Pola during that time meant change for many of its residents. People were changing their names, changing the language they spoke, and even changing religion. She shared with an anecdote about her grandmother: “My grandmother would discreetly take me to church, and she would discreetly speak to me in Italian. All of these things, you really felt them as a young girl. It was difficult to exist in this uncertainty.”

    Moving Across the Border

    When Lidia was approximately ten years old, her parents decided that they could no longer raise their two children in that environment. During that time, it was not possible to simply leave Istria as a refugee; those looking to escape had to truly run away. Fortunately, the Matticchio family had relatives in Trieste, Italy. Lidia’s parents decided that she, her brother, and her mother would go to Italy to visit their family. Her father, however, had to stay behind in Istria. Lidia recalls, “They didn’t let the whole family go. They always held one as a hostage.” This system was enacted to ensure that those who went abroad would always return for the family member left behind. However, two weeks later, Lidia’s father fled Istria and arrived safely in Trieste.

    The events of this tumultuous time stuck with young Lidia. She remembers her aunt who lived in Italy and who brought her son into the woods to avoid the Foibe massacres, but he never returned. Work in Italy was scarce and did not provide a secure life; Lidia’s father worked as a chauffeur for a the Rossetti family, and her mother cleaned houses. Again, Lidia’s parents felt compelled to make a change.

    Crossing the Atlantic

    Anyone who was interested in emigrating from Italy needed to enter into a refugee camp. Lidia’s parents had been contemplating entering the camp in Trieste, San Saba, for a few months before they finally decided to sign up. Lidia shared with us a bit of her experience there: “I remember that as soon as we entered, they put us in quarantine. Quaratine meant that they stripped you of your clothes; they took everything from you, and they looked to see if you were healthy. Then they put us in a rather dark room, and they put my father in another because they separated the men. Even now I remember it because there was this small window, and I was looking between the bars to see if I could see my father coming. After 40 hours, they reunited us, and we were all much more relaxed.” Lidia and her family stayed in this camp for two years. She recalls waiting in line for food every day with her small plate and living in a big room divided into small sections. The family left the camp’s grounds from time to time in order to visit Lidia’s aunts and uncles; however, in order to remain in line for emigration, the Matticchio family needed to continue to reside in the camp.

    Finally, in 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower opened up immigration to America, and the Matticchios were among the first to arrive in the United States. They first entered the United States through Idlewild Airport in New York City, which is known today as John F. Kennedy International Airport. Their journey was assisted by both Caritas and the Red Cross. Lidia recalls that as young children, she and her brother felt the United States was a place with beautiful music, beautiful homes, and artists. However, her parents found the experience to be a bit more frightening as they did not know anyone in their new country, and they did not speak the language. After living in New York City for two months, Lidia’s family found a job for her father as a mechanic, and they relocated to North Bergen, New Jersey.

    The Foundation of a Culinary Career

    After Lidia’s family finally felt some stability, her own career began to take off. Her roots, however, always remained fundamental to her success. Lidia remembers that when she was a child, her mother would often leave her in the care of her grandmother. Lidia told us: “I was her little helper; I went behind her, and I would cook with her. I remember when the goats were milked, she made me ricotta with a bit of honey on it, and that was my breakfast. It’s great! When arrived in Trieste, I knew we wouldn’t be going back. I felt like something was ripped away from me because I didn’t say goodbye to my grandmother or my friends, nothing. We just left, and that was it. I believe food remained as my connection and my tie to my grandmother. The scents, the flavors, everything. I continued cooking in order to keep her close to me.” Lidia’s also stated that father was very nostalgic, and he loved to make traditional baccalà mantecato from Veneto. To this day, Lidia still makes this dish on Christmas Eve because it feels as if her father is there with her.

    Lidia first began cooking at home. When she was in school, she started working part time at a bakery; she enjoyed the work, and it gave her a chance to develop her skills. Subsequently, when she was attending Hunter College, she began working in restaurants and she felt that she was on the right path. Lidia’s husband, Felice, was also another important part of her successful culinary career. Felice was already involved in the restaurant industry. The two met when Lidia went to visit a distant cousin in Astoria, Queens. They married, had their first child, Joseph, and opened their first restaurant, which was in Queens. They hired a chef, and Lidia worked closely alongside him for ten years as a sous-chef.

    In 1981, after making several trips back and forth to Italy, Felice and Lidia opened Felidia in Manhattan. Lidia became the chef, and she made the switch from preparing Italian-American cuisine to cooking genuine Italian regional cuisine. Today, the head chef of this East Side gem is Fortunato Nicotra, and the menu is as eclectic as ever.

    Words of Wisdom

    We asked Lidia if she had any advice or perhaps a positive message for those who are going through difficult times. She told us, “I would give strength and opportunity to someone who is looking to restart his or her life and looking to find a stable place to live. If you give that helping hand, once you’re gone, those people are then able to help themselves, assuming they have the desire to. You need to give someone the opportunity when he/she needs it, just like my family and me were given. We’re a perfect example of what can happen when someone seizes this opportunity. Naturally, yes, we worked very hard; yes, we made sacrifices along the way. Yes, my grandmother, my mother, and my father cried on several occasions. Yes, to all of these things, but in the end, you make something beautiful for yourself, a great opportunity.”
     

    Don't forget to tune in to NYC Life (Channel 25) on Sunday, Febraury 26th for our exclusive conversation between Letizia Airos and Lidia Bastianich.

  • Marianna Pizzolato nel ruolo di Isabella per "L'Italiana in Algeri" di G. Rossini.
    Arte e Cultura

    Canta la diva più antidiva. E che voce!

    IN ENGLISH

    Entra nella stanza dove la stiamo aspettando e subito sembra riempirla di luce. I camerini del Metropolitan non sono come ci si potrebbe aspettare. Sono piuttosto scarni, essenziali nell'arredamento. La solarità di Marianna Pizzolato cambia subito tutto. Lo spazio si riempie di colore, calore, personalità.

    Intervistiamo la mezzo-soprano, che piano piano scopriamo essere la diva più anti-diva. Lo facciamo in un momento molto speciale: poco prima di una delle entrate in scena, come interprete principale al Metropolitan Opera.

    Un successo inaspettato il suo, che l'ha resa principessa di una favola che diventa realtà. Inaspettato non perchè lei non sia conosciuta e brava, Marianna Pizzolato è una star in Europa. Capita che, mentre era al Metropolitan per un ruolo di secondo piano, viene scelta a sorpresa per interpretare Isabella, protagonista de l'Italiana in Algeri.

     

    Mentre si racconta diventa Isabella

    Ci mettiamo quindi d'accordo con lei per un'intervista video. La prima cosa che ci colpisce è la scelta del luogo dove farla. Non in un salotto, in uno studio televisivo, nella hall di un albergo ma prima di una sua serata importante: dentro il suo camerino, davanti allo specchio, mentre la truccano...

     

    Una scelta insolita per un attore o un cantante. Assistiamo quindi alla preparazione, al suo trucco, e Marianna Pizzolato si racconta con chiarezza e anche tanta ironia. Lo fa con generosità e alla fine, con il vestito della scena, si mette al pianoforte e canta.

     

    Comincia a parlare con il volto complemente struccato: “Mentre sono davanti allo specchio, mi preparano, i pensieri vanno soprattutto alla scena. Dove si troverà Isabella, dove vuole andare questa sera. E' un lavoro di fantasia no?”.

     

    Metropolitan Opera. Un'esperienza unica

    Emozionata certo lo è, ma ne parla con estrema semplicità.

    “Il Metropolitan ti fa vivere un’esperienza unica. E' diverso dal resto dei teatri del mondo. Il più grande in assoluto, il più importante. E' molto esigente. Sono consapevole di questa cosa. Ma la felicita di essere qui è più grande, ci si sente veramente carichi. È chiaro che nei teatri europei sei più nel tuo ambiente, si parla forse una un linguaggio più comune, ma devo dire che anche qui mi sento come se fossi veramente a casa.”

    E le facciamo subito raccontare come è stata scelta.

    “Cosa ho provato quando ho saputo di fare questo ruolo? Mi chiamano per una prova dell’Italiana in Algeri che conoscevo bene. Comincio e uno dei responsabili mi chiede: “Marianna saresti disponibile a fare tutta la recita? Mi sono messa a piangere. Non immaginavo una cosa così bella, così importante. L'emozione è stata enorme. La prova ovviamente si è interrotta, è scoppiato anche un grande applauso. Il maestro James Levain mi ha abbracciato e mi ha detto delle parole bellissime.”

     

    Una favola. Ma Marianna rimane sempre la stessa

    E da quel giorno sono cambiate diverse cose, ma ci tiene a dirlo:

    “Sono sempre la Marianna di tutti i giorni. Con la stessa spontaneità, felicità, passione. Questo lavoro va al di la, la musica è una cosa che va al di la di tutto.”

    Gioachino Rossini. La facciamo parlare del grande compositore.

    “Rossini ha scelto me? No, non è stato Rossini che ha scelto Marianna Pizzolato. Quando ha scritto quest'opera ha pensato ad una vocalità che fortunatamente mi appartiene. Quello di Isabella poi è un personaggio straordinario, uno dei più affascinanti delle donne della storia operistica. Isabella va fino ad Algeri per salvare il suo amore Lindoro e usa tutte le sue armi di donna. Usa la seduzione e fa di tutto per portare a casa il suo amato”.

     

    La sua Sicilia. La sua Palermo

    Insieme alla musica c'è un altro tema di cui parla con grande passione: la Sicilia. Nata a Parlermo, da bambina ha vissiuto nella cittadina Chiusa Sclafani. Studia poi nel conservatorio Bellini di Palermo. Oggi naturalmente viaggia molto per lavoro, ma il suo punto di ritorno è sempre Palermo.

     

    “La Sicilia è un modo di essere, mi appartiene perché è un connubio di culture, di chiaroscuri. Come la mia personalità. Tanti colori, espressioni, tutto insieme, sole, mare, terra, montagna, vulcano. Mi piace essere siciliana, non potrei pensarmi diversamente.”

     

    “Ritornare a casa è importantissimo. È come tornare dentro se stessi. E' una terra accogliente. Viviamo a Palermo. C'e' una canzone siciliana che amo molto. Dice “l’oduri di la zagara si senti” vuol dire l’odore di zagara si sente. Con questi versi, anche se sono lontana, mi vengono in mente tanti profumi siciliani, l’odore appunto della zagara, del mandorlo in fiore, del fico in estate che è una cosa inebriante, dei ciclamini, dei fiori in estate, l’odore del mare, l’odore del pesce. Dunque viaggio, canto nel mondo e poi, a un certo punto, non posso farne a meno. Devo tornare.”

     

    E la Sicilia è dentro la sua voce, canta nella sua voce.
 “La mia voce rappresenta rappresenta la Sicilia in qualche modo. Essendo mezzosoprano ovviamente mi avvalgo dei colori chiaroscuri della voce proprio perché il mezzosoprano va giù con il registro ma va anche su. Dunque la terra ma anche il sole, la spontaneità, l’istinto, e forse un po di genialità.”

    Genialità certo ma anche tanto studio.

    “Per usare una frase di Gioachino Rossini: è soprattutto studio. Perché l’arte, l’arte stessa è studio. Dunque la pratica del canto è direttamente proporzionale al successo, alla base diciamo del successo. Quanto sia importante studiare lo possono dire veramente i grandi che ci hanno dimostrato quanto sia fondamentale per arrivare in alto. E' un messaggio per giovani che vogliono cominciare, senza una seria base di studio si dura poco, qualche anno e poi finisce tutto.”

     

    Studio, tante emozioni, ricorda ancora:

    “Io vengo da una famiglia modesta che non ha mai potuto diciamo finanziare i miei studi. E' stata dura e ho lavorato tantissimo. Mi ricordo quando vinsi al master comunale di Piacenza. Mio padre mi disse: 'Bene adesso se vuoi puoi cominciare ma devi farlo da sola perché io non posso aiutarti, posso darti il mio sorriso, la mia gioia, ma non posso darti altro".

     

    Duro lavoro e caparbietà.

    “Ho lavorato tanto, ho avuto tante persone che mi hanno aiutato, ci tengo a dirlo. Non ho mai pagato una lezione di canto perché la mia insegnante, che oggi ha 92 anni, non non ha mai voluto niente da me. Ha creduto nel mio talento. Così come tante altre altre persone che mi hanno sempre aiutato ad andare avanti sostenendomi anche economicamente.”

    La sua denuncia: è un mondo che non da spazio al talento puro

    E c'è una cosa speciale di cui vuole parlare:

    "Un’altra sfida grande che ho affrontato, che mi tocca affrontare spesso. Questo mondo superficiale, che si basa su l'immagine e a volte non da spazio al talento puro. Io mi sono trovata tante volte a disagio perchè mi hanno per esempio giudicato per la mia forma fisica.

     

    È una sfida con me stessa, ma anche con tutto il mondo dell'opera che mi circonda. Arrivare dove sono per quella che sono e non per quella che gli altri vogliono. Questa per me è una cosa molto importante. Dimostrare che il talento, la voce, e di sapermi muovere in scena con la mia fisicità, con la mia rotondità.”

     

    Le facciamo ripercorrere il suo debutto al Metropolitan. Cosa ha provato dopo la prima?

    “Dopo gli applausi ero li ancora dietro le quinte, mi sono guardata dentro e ho detto 'I made it! Ok! L’ho fatto! Ho cantato al Metropolitan Opera ed era vero!'. Fino a quel momento ero come in un sogno. E succede tuttora mentre parlo. Questa di Jean-Pierre Ponnelle è' una produzione classica estremamente bella, elegante come quasi tutte le sue produzioni. I costumi sono deliziosi, raffinati. Mi piacciono molto questi colori come il verde, il blu il rosso il fucsia, questi pennacchi, tutto un po' orientale. Ho lavorato con il maestro James Levain, che dire! Tutto è avvenuto in una cornice speciale.”

    Noi siamo pagati per vendere sogni.

    Sembra una favola nella a favola...

    “Di fatto è una favola. Perché bisogna vivere come in una favola per fare teatro. Noi siamo pagati per vendere sogni, È questo la gente lo vuole sentire a teatro. Che sia un’opera, un pezzo di musica classica o una sinfonia o altro... vuole sognare e noi vendiamo sogni.”

    E le chiediamo cosa si prova ad indossare una favola per 4 ore.

    “Ti fa evadere completamente dal mondo. Fin da qui, in camerino. Ti prepari ti trucchi, conosci il truccatore, le sarte e cominci piano piano ad entrare in una dimensione diversa.”

    Marianna da bambina

    E continuamo a parlare di favole, ci racconta la storia di lei una bambina senza grilli per la testa.

    “Da bambina sono stata un po' diversa. Vivevo in un paese piccolo. La mia vita era molto semplice. Ho cominciato a sognare solo quando ho capito che ero stata scelta dalla musica. Mi ha scelto, non sono stata io a scegliere la musica. Allora ho cominciato a realizzare che forse la vita stava cambiando. Ero già più grande, lavoravo nel comune del mio paese. Tutto sembrava predisposto per una vita calma, stabile. Invece no. E' stato un cambiamento totale, uno shock per i miei genitori quando ho detto che lasciavo il lavoro per intraprendere lo studio del canto. Insomma per diventare una cantante lirica.”

    Torna a New York presto

    La sua presenza al Metropolitan è durata solo qualche settimana. Eccola di nuovo in giro per il mondo tra un teatro e l'altro. Eppure questa volta, New York sembra volerle dire: torna, torna presto. E l'affetto è sicuramente corrisposto da Marianna.

     

    'Cosa rappresenta per me New York? Non vorrei cadere sul banale ma è veramente il centro del mondo. Qui le cose possono veramente accadere. Io ne sono la prova. Poi qui ho tantissimi amici a cui sono legatissima, italiani e non solo. Ecco quando vengo qui incontro il mondo, questo ti da una carica incredibile ed e' per questo che amo New York”

     

    E noi l'aspettiamo. Con quella sua voce preziosa, elegante, avvolgente, piena di vita. Con tutta la simpatia che trasmette al primo sguardo. Con il suo amore infinito per la musica.

    Per vedere l'intervista realizzata da Letizia Airos al Metropolitan Opera >>>

  • Dining in & out

    Nonno Rana’s Story: Family, Intuitions and Little Secrets

     

    For Italians, Giovanni Rana is not just an entrepreneur, the founder of Pastificio Rana, and a world leader in the market for fresh pasta. For many generations, especially for children, he represents so much more. He’s a popular television personality who, through his advertisements that were particularly effective in their spontaneity, was able to not only promote his products but also to bring them into Italian households. He’s the image of the grandfather you always wished for. We met with him at his restaurant in New York City’s Chelsea Market. Upon speaking to him, we were transported back in time to Italy. We realized we were not only speaking with the businessman, but also with a bright, cheerful grandfather figure.

    Need for a change

    Giovanni Rana is man who is proud of his origins in Cologna Veneta, in the lower portion of the Province of Verona. After he lost his father Gaetano when he was 11, Giovanni continued to go to school for a couple of years before starting practice in his older brothers’ bakery, where he learned how to make bread.

    “I was the youngest of three boys,” Giovanni recalls, “We used to make great bread. But by the time I turned 22, I knew that I had to do something else. My mom Teresa always said, ‘Why change careers? You already learned to make bread. You’re ready to get yourself your own oven!’ But I knew I needed a change, and I would tell her, ‘I’m going to make fresh pasta and tortellini!’”

    A great intuition and a close family
    Around the late 1950s, Giovanni realized that Italy’s lifestyle was undergoing tremendous change. “Most women started to go out to work and they didn’t have much time to cook,” he tells us. “So I created a fresh pasta that could be made quickly but that maintained the quality of a homemade product. It was much appreciated; it became a great success.” And this is how his adventure began. It was the 1960s, and a fresh pasta industry was a novelty. It started in Italy and then it expanded.

    But there was one fundamental ingredient in his success, a typical Italian ingredient—a close family. “First, my wife helped me, and we were pretty successful. Afterwards, my son, who had just finished his studies, took charge of the business. With his help, we were able to grow our business abroad, especially in America. It’s all thanks to him.” Here is how the story went. Twenty years after they started, Giovanni and his wife were leading their market. “We had a 

    beautiful little factory, and there were always more and more studies saying that Italians were eating fresh pasta. All of the big- named business owners, starting with Pietro Barilla, came to visit my business to see if I intended to sell it. Many multinational corporations came to me, and I always told them, ‘I’m absolutely never selling my business.’ My accountant used to say, ‘You’re insane! You could make so much money...’”

    Giovanni was right once again, for in those years his son Gianluca, who was just finishing school, realized he had a great passion for his father’s work. And he would turn out to be his family’s ace in the hole. “We held on to the business, and it was a great success!”

    Making his own commercials
    Another peculiar intuition of Giovanni’s was to create his own advertising campaign and to star in it. “I wanted to make my own commercials. I didn’t necessarily want to be an actor,” the businessman says with a smile, “But I firmly believed in my product, so I was the one who had to promote it. I went on TV myself, and I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen look! Eat and relax because I am the one responsible for this product!’” And so a new character was born, one who was to be beloved by generations of TV viewers—Nonno Rana, or Grandpa Rana—a charming grandfather known for his sweetness and his attention to his grandchildren.

    If you watch some of his first ads, as well as the more recent ones, you’ll see that Govanni had another stroke of genius: the use of irony. “Look, food is joy; it’s happiness. Therefore, a food commercial needs to be happy. Here, in the United States, I found a great director in my daughter-in-law Antonella. She is a master of irony. She likes liveliness, so we made very ironic commercials.”

    Family again. Let’s talk about Antonella, who is the cornerstone of their success in New York. “Antonella – Gianluca’s wife – became part of the Rana family 14 years ago, and she is a blessing  for us because she comes from a family of hoteliers. She already had experience in catering, which was extremely helpful with the launch of our store here in New York.”

    “But she also became your art director?” we ask. “Yes, Antonella has great sensibility. She understands me because I’m not an actor; she knows my limits and knows what I am capable of... She says I’m a great actor, and I say that she’s a great director.”

    Some other little secrets

    But let’s return to the Rana products that are distributed all over the United States and the world. “Today we make 180 different types of fillings, something for everyone: the Americans, the Spanish, the English, etc... It’s important to understand your consumer because not everybody has the same taste. Inside this package...” says Giovanni holding a package of tortellini Rana in his hand, “there is our best work, our passion. You need to be a gourmand to appreciate this. My 100kg are 100kg of great quality.” One wonders how important it is, for a leader of the food industry, to eat well himeself. And here is what Nonno Rana has to say: “I always say that I eat with pleasure. I know how to eat and to determine foods of high quality, and I want it to be this way. It’s a great joy because food, like I said before, is joy. But above all the consumer needs to be respected, in America like in Italy. They need to know and understand what they’re eating, and we are the ones responsible for explaining it to them.”

    But when testing a new type of pasta, who tastes it first? And who decides? “I have a qualified staff that does it before the launch, young experts. Next they have the old boss taste it: ‘let’s see what he says,’ and then I give my verdict.” In other words, Giovanni is always right? Not necessarily, he admits. “Sometimes I have my doubts about certain products, but they end up working out fine. I always said that my taste is not representative of everyone’s.”

    Discovering (and conquering) America
    What does America represent for Grandpa Rana? “Well, in America I discovered a truly new world. I never thought I would have this kind of success here. My son Gianluca always said, ‘Look, in America they don’t have products like ours.’ Almost everyone else was skeptical, ‘Americans eat hamburgers,’ they said. But a few years later we were selling like crazy!” So your ultimate secret is—good and genuine, yet fast to prepare? “Abslolutely! At last, Italian food can be eaten quickly every day, without spending too much time in the kitchen. We have a product that cooks in a few minutes. Once upon a time, ravioli used to take 20 minutes to cook; today they can be ready in 2-3 minutes. We make a very light dough. What’s good for the Italians is good for the Americans!” 

    Click here to see the interview made at Giovanni Rana Pastifico & Cucina by i-Italy.

  • Op-Eds

    Addio Lella Vignelli. Legendary Designer

    This book is dedicated to Lella Vignelli, an inspiration to all women designers who forcefully stand on the power of their merits.” So begins this excellent book just published in electronic format (You may download it at www.vignelli.com).

    Massimo Vignelli’s tender and intimate dedication carries through the entire book, which takes you into the world of the couple and immerses you in their work, their way of thinking, not only in the story of the designs they have been creating over the last half- century, but also in a lifestyle and ethic of great discipline and responsibility. Page by page, the book becomes a manifesto of style, full of intellectual honesty and intelligence.

    A call to arms

    The intensity of Vignelli’s dedication is important for one to understand the book fully; it contains a fierce yet coolheaded call to arms. For years, writes Massimo Vignelli, the collaboration between female architects and designers and their partners has been underappreciated. The creativity and influence of women was not accepted, and often their contribution was ndervalued if not completely ignored. This was the case even with the most famous partnerships: Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, Alvar and Aino Aalto, and Charles and Ray Eames.

    “Female architects have often been relegated—by assumptions, by the media, by ignorance or arrogance—to supporting roles, even when they shared the position of partner,” says Vignelli. Little seems to have changed to this day. A recent article in Architectural Record noted that even though women make up 40% of all architecture majors in America today, they represent only 17% of the work force in major architectural firms.

    Of course there have been multiple recognitions for women in recent years. In 2013 the Museum of Modern Art held the exhibition “Designing Modern Women: 1890-1990” in which they noted “modern design of the twentieth century was profoundly shaped and enhanced by the creativity of women.”

    Macho attitudes

    “The supporting role of the woman architect has often been created by the macho attitudes of her male partner” writes Massimo Vignelli. “Most of the glory went to the men (not accidentally) while the women, as partner architects, found that their role was dismissed or totally ignored.” He has always wanted to create a brand that presented the couple together. But it wasn’t always easy: “For years our office sent our work to magazines properly credited. For years they only gave me the credit.”

    Many projects in the book were begun and completed by Lella herself, and she collaborated closely on others. Lella often said, “Massimo is the dreamer, I am the realist. He flies high, and sometimes I have to pull him down....”

    Their collaboration, their similar understanding and approach to design, has been extraordinary. But it hasn’t been without its hiccups. “We had complete trust in each other’s judgment, even if sometimes the discussions were quite animated,” says Vignelli of Lella. In our opinion, such openness reveals their humanity.

    “Both of us despise obsolescence in design; we consider it an irresponsible attitude toward the user and toward society. We detest a wasteful culture based on greed, we detest the exploitation of the consumer and of resources; we see this as an immoral attitude,” continues Vignelli. “Lella’s sensibility toward natural materials, textures, and colors is quite apparent in her work: Linen, wool, silk, woods, silver are often the foundation of her creative palette. Her clothing design also reflected the same approach, based on sober values and thoughtful intelligence. Lella’s work, as her life, has been a fantastic blend of logic and playfulness, spirit and pragmatism, down-to-earth logic and idealistic vision.”

    The book provides a dense, yet minimalist portrait of their story, with pictures of their work dating from 1964 till today. The book divides their work, in Italy and America, into several chapters: “Furniture Design,” “Interior Design,” “Exhibition and Showroom Design,” “Product Design: Glass, China, Silver,” and “Clothing Design.” There you have it: Lella and Massimo Vignelli, partners, lovers, and husband and wife for over half a century.

    A role model for all women

    “Her personality has made her a role model for all women,” writes Massimo. On the last page, with a black background, is a close-up of Lella wearing a 17th century inspired necklace she designed. “Here, Lella is modeling her necklace. We have often said that the problem with some designers is that they play with the appearance of things rather than getting at their essence. Lella has been consistent throughout her career: she is unfailingly intelligent; rigorous, not arbitrary; timeless, not trendy. She is an inspiration.”

    Her inspiration has infected contemporary design and united this singular couple. “Design is one,” says one of their slogans. “If one knows how to design one thing, one can design everything.” But in their book design also takes two.   

  • 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

    IN ENGLISH >>

     

    TRUMP: LE REAZIONI DELL'EUROPA

    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.

    POPULISMI. EUROPEO. AMERICANO. DI DESTRA. DI SINISTRA

    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.”

    PUTIN E LA GRANDE RUSSIA

    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.

    PUTIN, GLI STATI UNITI E L’EUROPA

    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.

    UNO SCRITTORE CHIARO GRAZIE AL PADRE

    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

    IN ITALIANO >>

    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 >>>

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