Articles by: Letizia Airos

  • Facts & Stories

    Forget Silicon Valley, Come to New York City!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Life & People

    Italian and American. The Magic of Dual Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Op-Eds

    A Woman’s Touch


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

    ([email protected]

  • Life & People

    Flavia and Roberta. Women, Rivals, Friends

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Op-Eds

    Before wishing you happy holidays...


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


    To enjoy

    but a minute of life's

    first life

    I look for an innocent

    country


    In these few words the great 

    twentieth-century Italian poet conveys 

    all the anxiety of finding no country 

    untouched by the destruction and 

    suffering of the war. Unfortunately, 

    not much has changed. We wanted 

    nothing else but to begin this editor’s 

    note with a simple “happy holiday” 

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

    to reflect before the celebrations. 


    From New York to Paris 

    and the World 

    We hope that the celebratory 

    atmosphere, especially among families 

    and regardless of ethnicity or religious 

    affiliation, does not make us forget 

    what humanity is going through in 

    this historic moment. Many will not be 

    able to celebrate, and post-9/11 New 

    York continues to nurse a wound that 

    no Freedom Tower can heal.


     

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

    Italian artists’ contributions to the 

    wonderful Audubon Project. And, as 

    we do for every end-of-year issue,

    we’ve also nominated a “Person of 

    the Year.” Two people, actually, two 

    women from Puglia, two rivals on the 

    court and friends in real life—tennis 

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

     



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

     


    Arrivederci Baronessa!
     

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


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


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

     

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


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

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


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



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

  • Fatti e Storie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Life & People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Neapolitan America”

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

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

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

    At last — New York

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

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

    A city that is unique

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

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

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

     

  • Events: Reports

    IACF’s Annual Benefit Dinner & Auction

    We discussed with Cristina Aibino the importance of collaborative research between Italy and the US regarding breast cancer, a very significant and pressing topic in the lives of many.

    This year the benefit is celebrating its 35th anniversary.You’ve been putting so much effort into research for so long – what do all these years of hard work mean to you?

    These 35 years represent the consolidation of our fight against cancer. We have given over 419 scholarships to young Italian researchers who have come to the US to contribute to excellent research projects and we have offered over 90,000 screening tests to New York residents to guard against cancer.  Our programs allow us to invest in research and in the American community in which we reside. We’re proud of the results we’ve achieved over the last 35 years and look forward to the next 35 years.

    The American-Italian Cancer Foundation supports cancer research, a very sensitive topic of great importance. What is the difference between the manner in which research is conducted and work is carried out in the US as opposed to Italy?

    The technical and scientific preparation of Italian researchers ranks among the best in the world. With this solid background, the recipients of our scholarships have ample opportunity for professional development. In the US, Italian researchers will have access to exceptional laboratories, international research teams, and both financial and creative freedom to develop research projects.

    During the benefit, prizes will be given to two world- renowned scientists: Fredrick W. Alt. and Carlos L. Arteaga. What are the criteria for being selected for these prestigious awards?

    Our Prize for Scientific Excellence in Medicine is awarded annually to two doctors who have made significant contributions to the field of oncology, one in research and the other in applied medicine.

    Frederick W. Alt is the Director of the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and a Professor of Pediatrics and Genetics at Harvard Medical School. Carlos T. Arteaga is the Clinical Research Director of the Breast Cancer Research Program, Professor of Cancer Biology, and Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University.

    They were chosen by our Scientific Advisory Board, a group of select Italian and American doctors who have collaborated with us for many years to further our work in the field of oncology.

    The chairs of the charity gala will be Laudomia Pucci, CEO of Pucci, and Alessandro Castellano, CEO of SACE. Lamberto Andreotti, Chairman of the Board of Bristol-Myers Squibb, will receive the Alessandro di Montezemolo Lifetime Achievement Award. Why did you choose these specific honorees?

    The honorees of our annual gala are professionals who have distinguished themselves via exceptional accomplishments in Italy and around the world.

    What projects are you working on at the moment?

    We are working on promoting the Foundation via a new website and a social networking effort to raise public awareness of our programs. We want to give a voice to our fellows, tell their stories, and follow them until the end of our scholarships so that others can travel the same road in the future.

    With regards to our screening against breast cancer, we are constantly searching for centers in the region in order to expand our screening and admit more women into our clinics.

    To support the IACF: >>>

  • Opinioni

    Baronessa Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, sei con noi

    Ci sono volute diverse ore prima di poter mettere le mani sul mio computer e scrivere dell’improvvisa scomparsa di una persona a cui la cultura italiana deve molto e che ho avuto l’onore di conoscere e frequentare.

    L’ho saputo mentre ero a Washington per il Gala 40mo anniversario della Niaf (Italian American Foundation), istituzione che come molte altre deve tanto alla Baronessa Zerilli-Marimò, icona della promozione della cultura italiana in America.   Subito un grande vuoto dentro di me, e poi la voce rotta per telefono di quello che forse è stato il suo più grande amico, oltre che collaboratore, Stefano Albertini direttore della sua Casa Italiana da diciassette anni.   Sarà una perdita difficile da realizzare, tanto era viva la sua presenza, anche se negli ultimi anni passava più tempo a Montecarlo che negli Stati Uniti.   Ma “La Baronessa”, come tutti la chiamavamo, ci è stata vicina egualmente, attraverso email, commenti al nostro lavoro, incoraggiamenti, incontri quando veniva a New York e voleva sapere come procedeva il nostro progetto. Era consapevole che stavamo portando avanti un lavoro non facile, e voleva sapere tutto.   La ricordo nel nostro ultimo incontro, ferma e materna al tempo stesso, pronta a fare le sue critiche come i suoi apprezzamenti. Lì nella sua stanza d’albergo, dopo aver venduto la sua splendida casa davanti al Central Park—luogo straordinario, dove sono passati tanti nomi che fanno parte della storia americana e italiana.    I suoi occhi scrutavano tutto con dolcezza, pieni di curiosità. E quel giorno sono andata via sempre più grata per i consigli ricevuti da una donna che mi appariva non solo lucida e razionale ma giovane dentro, costruttiva, piena di vita. E soprattutto una persona che sapeva ascoltare, virtù oggi sempre più rara. Devo molto a lei come donna, e non parlo di donazioni o finanziamenti. E’ stata per me  un vero “mentor”.   Era la sua fiducia, il suo ottimismo, nonostante la profonda consapevolezza delle difficoltà di un’impresa editoriale a New York, che me la faceva sentire vicina e mi rendeva indispensabile vederla. Il nostro è stato un rispettoso rapporto da donna a donna, tra due persone molto diverse, ma che condividevano una grande passione per la trasmissione della cultura italiana.   Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò. Una signora d’altri tempi, ma così “contemporanea”, attenta a tutto ciò che di nuovo nasceva intorno a lei, si è sempre dedicata con grande generosità e senza risparmiarsi alla diffusione della cultura italiana negli Stati Uniti.   Non solo attraverso contributi finanziari ma partecipando personalmente ai progetti che sceglieva di seguire. E’ così che è entrata a far parte, direi con estrema dolcezza, del tessuto culturale profondo del mondo italiano di New York e degli Stati Uniti.   Abbiamo parlato tante volte del suo passato, di quel marito che l’ha lasciata cosi presto e che lei ha voluto far rivivere attraverso un impegno vastissimo di promozione culturale.   Ne abbiamo parlato in privato, come davanti ad una telecamera. E lei era sempre coerente, una persona vera, che certo conosceva bene le regole dell’alta società, ma sapeva rimanere se stessa, sempre. Donna elegante e sofisticata, era anche capace di una semplicità disarmante.   Era vicina ai giovani con una dolcezza ed intensità rare, e per questo soprattutto la nostra redazione sotto i trentanni amava lavorare con lei, come del resto tutti i collaboratori, gli interns e lo staff della Casa Italiana che la ricorderanno per sempre. E due tra i tanti, i più vicini credo: Julian Sachs ed Elsa de Giovanni.   E che dire del mondo accademico? I nomi di Ruth Ben Ghiat e di Antonio Monda vengono subito alla mente per la loro assidua frequentazione della Casa. E poi la fondazione Tiro a Segno, importante risorsa da lei voluta come liason con mondo italo-americano. Per lei infatti promuovere la cultura italiana ha sempre significato anche avvicinarsi alla cultura italo-americana, scongiurando quella cesura tra i due mondi che, soprattutto anni fa, rischiava di approfondirsi.   Tra i suoi amici e collaboratori di una vita infatti, tantissimi americani, italiani ed italo-americani. Come anche nel Board della Casa, alla cui ultima riunione  avevo assistito la scorsa primavera, per filmarne una parte. La Baronessa si muoveva sempre a suo agio tra i suoi amici e collaboratori di una vita, come Matilda Cuomo, Katherine LaGuardia, Dominic Massaro, Steve Acunto, tra gli altri...   Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò ha contribuito a realizzare tanti progetti importanti, ma la Casa Italiana della NYU era certo la sua creatura speciale. Fondata nel 1990, per ricordare ed onorare il marito Guido, industriale farmaceutico, diplomatico e raffinato intellettuale, utilizzando il patrimonio ereditato per cause benefiche, è diventata, negli anni, uno straordinario centro della cultura italiana. E Stefano Albertini, suo storico direttore, ha lavorato con lei in maniera esemplare, contribuendo a valorizzare un impegno filantropico che non ha uguali nel mondo per profondità e competenza.   Una magica vicinanza che lasciava già far intendere che il suo lascito, un giorno, non sarebbero state solo le mura di un luogo stupendo, le sue mille attività, le borse di studio, ma anche una direzione culturale e organizzativa in grado di perpetuare la sua missione.   Grazie a tutto questo la sua presenza continuerà ad essere viva, perché la cultura è fatta di passione e di libertà che lei, prima di tutto, ha trasmesso a tutti.   Il suo mecenatismo è stato tanto tanto piu’ prezioso perche portato avanti senza preconcetti e condizionamenti, e sempre nel rispetto della diversità.   Un modello certo per molti e un invito a seguire le sue orme.   Baronessa Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, sei con tutti noi.

  • Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, Always With Us

    It took me some time before I was able to sit down and write about the sudden passing of someone to whom Italian culture owes so much and whom I had the honor to  meet  in person and spend time with.

    I found out about it while in Washington for the Gala celebrating the NIAF 40th anniversary,

    an institution that, like many others, owes so much to  Baroness Zerilli-Marimo', an icon for the promotion of the Italian culture in America.

    I felt a sudden void, and then the broken voice, on the phone, of Stefano Albertini , the director of 'her' Casa Italiana for the last seventeen years, and maybe her best friend.

     

    It's a loss that's going to be hard to accept, since  so vivid was her presence,  even though in the last few years she used to spend more time in Montecarlo than in the US. But "The Baroness", as she was known, was never too far from us: she would make her presence felt through her emails, her comments on our work, her encouragement, her meetings while she was in New York and her interest in our projects. She was well aware that the endeavor undertaken was not a simple one, and she wanted to know everything.

    I remember her in our last meeting, firm and maternal at the same time, as ready to criticize as she was to compliment you. We were in her hotel room, after she had sold her magnificent home across from  Central Park, an extraordinary place that had been visited by so many illustrious names of Italian and American history.  Her eyes would scan everything, with curiosity and tenderness.

    That day I left feeling even more grateful for the advice received by a person who not only seemed alert and rational, but also young, constructive and full of life. And someone who could listen, a rare virtue today. As a woman I owe her a lot, and I'm not talking about donations or financial support. She has been a true mentor. Her confidence and optimism, regardless of the difficulties an editorial enterprise in New York would face, made me feel close to her and needy of her support. Ours was a relationship of respect, woman to woman, between two very different people who shared the common goal of wanting to promote Italian culture.

     
    Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimo' , a woman from another era, yet a very 'contemporary' one, aware of everything new that was happening around her. With dedication,  generosity  and without sparing herself she contributed to the diffusion of  Italian culture in the United States. Not only through financial support but also personally participating in some of the projects. And this is how,  very delicately, she became at one with the deeper cultural fabric of the Italian world in New York and in the US.

    We often talked about her past, about that husband that left her side too early and that she tried to keep alive through her immense commitment to cultural promotion . We talked about it privately. She was being her true self, a genuine  person, someone who knew too well the rules of high society but that could still remain herself, always. Elegant and sophisticated, but also capable of disarming simplicity.

     
     
    She was understanding of young people, with rare compassion and intensity, reason why our staff loved working with her, and the same can be said about the collaborators, the interns and the staff of Casa Italiana who will never forget her. Two among many, maybe the closest: Julian Sachs and Elsa de Giovanni.

    And what about the Academic world? The first names that come to mind are Ruth Ben Ghiat and Antonio Monda, as they used to often spend time at the Casa. Then the Foundation 'Tiro a segno', an important association wanted by her as a liason with the italian-american world.

    For the Baroness promoting Italian culture also meant getting closer to Italian-American culture, preventing the gap between to two worlds to widen. Among her lifetime friends and collaborators there are in fact  many Americans, Italian-Americans and Italians. This past summer I participated in and filmed the last meeting of the Casa's Board: the baroness  always moved confidently among hher friends and collaborators, Matilda Cuomo, Katherina la Guardia, Dominic Massaro, Steve Acunto...

    The Baroness contributed to numerous important projects, but NYU's Casa Italiana certainly was her crowning glory.  Casa Italiana, established in 1990 to commemorate and honor her late husband Guido, pharmaceutical industrialist, diplomat and notable intellectual, over the years has become an extraordinary center representing italian culture. Stefano Albertini, its historical director, has worked with her in an exemplary fashion, adding value to a philantropic commitment unmatched for depth and competence. A shared sense of purpose which implied that its legacy would go beyond the walls of this marvellous place, its various activities and scholarships, to become a cultural and organizational movement able to perpetuate its mission.

     

    Thanks to all of this she will live on, because culture is made of passion and freedom,  which she has passed on. Her patronage was especially precious since she applied it without prejudices, and with the utmost respect of diversity. A role model for many , an example to follow.

    Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, you are with us, always.

     

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