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Articles by: Roberta Cutillo

  • Art & Culture

    COPOMAIO, a Hub for Italian American Organizations

    As the Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, can you tell us about this coalition? What are some of the services and activities it carries out?  

                                                                             

    The Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations (COPOMAIO) is in its 44th year! We enroll Italian and Italian American organizations and provide a clearinghouse for centralized thinking and unified directional guidance on matters advanced by our member organizations. We encourage, support and lend coordinative assistance to efforts and activities of common interest and concern of our members.  

     

    What does your appointment as Chair mean to you after so many years serving the Italian American community?  

     

    As I approach our 40th Anniversary and my tenure as Founder, first President and Chair of the National Organization of Italian Women, I have always enjoyed being a representative at COPOMAIO meetings. I particularly  enjoyed the opportunity to learn about other organizations in our community and listen to the struggles that ensued in achieving of some measure unified thinking among all members .            

                                                                                                                       

    As a child I had only 2 siblings, but I grew up surrounded by my mother’s family where she had 7 siblings and my father’s family and he also had 7 siblings. Each of their siblings married… and multiplied!  As I grew older and family moved away from the old neighborhood, and the elders died, my years serving Italian American community became a replacement for MY BIG ITALIAN FAMILY!  

     

    What does it mean to be the first woman to serve this role?

     

    I’m pleased and honored and wonder why it took 44 years! Hopefully in the future more leaders will emerge with XX chromosome!!

     

    You just had a meeting on November 2nd in DC, can you tell us about it? What were some of the points discussed?

     

    Our meeting was consumed by several important topics. First was a well received and extensive report by Angelo Vivolo and his efforts on behalf of Columbus and Mother Cabrini through his Columbus Heritage Coalition. We approved funds for the Bellini Fellowship for a doctoral student dissertation sponsored by Calandra Institute and we voted three more organizations into membership, bringing our membership close to 50 organizations. 

    Our biggest discussion/problem has been raising $25,000 to match a challenge grant of the same amount offered by Basil Russo’s organization the American Sons and Daughters of Italy. We will keep at it! 

     

    Are there any other major plans you have for the future?

                       

    Having served just one year as Chair, my focus has been twofold. First I have worked to build the rudiments to institutionalize COPOMAIO  by developing an email address, a Facebook Page, and a website (where you can make a donation if you wish!  My second approach is to build a truly national Conference of Presidents. Our member organizations are primarily based on the east coast with a few other groups located around the country. I have traveled to Chicago a few weeks ago, I will be going to New Orleans in March and hope to get to the West Coast before our next meeting in June to broaden our membership. 

  • Facts & Stories

    Italian Paralympic Swim Team Honored by the President

    “Our country grows with you. You are sending out a great message to all of Italy, thank you for your activity and for your efforts: you are a magnificent representation of Italy.” These are the words with which Italian President Sergio Mattarella addressed the Italian National Paralympic Swim Team, after the team’s remarkable performance in the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in London. 

     

    The Italian team came in first place, totaling 50 medals: 20 gold, 18 silver and 2 bronze. An incredible achievement, especially considering that the Federazione Italiana Nuoto Paralimpico (FINP) was only born in 2010 from the initiative of the President of the Italian Paralympic Committee, Luca Pancalli. 

     

    The strides taken by the team over the last 9 years are quite remarkable: they went from taking home 5 medals in Eindhoven in 2010 to this year’s 50 under the guidance of the coach Riccardo Vernole. Today FINP counts around 900 athletes, a number that keeps growing each year.

     

    “I still remember as if it were today the emotion I felt 50 years ago, when we still spoke of “handicapped,” not paralympic sports,” said the President of FINP, Roberto Valori. “My father took me to the pool to give me an opportunity. I remeber the emotion, the pain, the pride in his joyful eyes when he looked at me. It’s a strong feeling that has to be passed on. Seeing a disabled kid swim for me is more than a satisfaction, it’s a mission.”

     

    And in fact, also present were the young athletes of the under 18 Italian paralympic swim team, who won 23 medals in the 2019 European Para Youth Games, held in Helsinki, Finland. A great sign for the future of the sport.

     

    26-year-old paralympic swimming champion Federico Morlacchi also spoke. “Yes, it is with pride that we can say that we are world champions,” he stated, adding however that “the value of our athletic endeavors goes beyond medals and records. I believe that as paralympic athletes we also bring with us a message of social inclusion to diffuse the values of equality, respect for diversity, acceptance of the other. Sports become a way of diffusing culture, helping society to understand that disability is not a negative word.”

     

    Now the athletes are already getting ready to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, where we know they will inspire us and make the country proud.

  • Art & Culture

    A Wine Journey from New York to Valpolicella

    On a particularly frigid November morning, Consorzio per la tutela vini Valpolicella welcomed a select group of wine writers and conoisseurs inside the newly opened Di Palo Wine Bar to discover Valpolicella wines, produced in the province of Verona, Italy, during an event organized by Forwinesake

     

    The event consisted in a masterclass held by Filippo Bartolotta, an experienced sommelier from Florence, also known as the “sommelier of the stars,” who specializes in introducing people - including celebrities such as Emma Thompson and the Obamas - to the incredible world of Italian food and wine. He conducts various lectures, masterclasses, and training programs across Italy and the world.

     

    On this occasion, he discussed the still little known wines produced in the geographically designated area of Valpolicella, located in the province of Verona, in Northern Italy. With incredible passion and an abundance of hand gestures, he began by describing the territory, which he called an “amphitheatre” surrounded by Lake Garda on one side, the Alps on another, and finally the Adriatic Sea. This characteristic makes this rather small area truly unique in terms of climate, altitude and soil, all fundamental aspects of winemaking.

     

    We then learned that inside the Valpolicella region there are two subregions, Valpolicella Classica, which includes the valleys of Fumane, Marano and Negrar as well as the areas around Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella and San Pietro in Cariano, and Valpolicella Valpantena, which is centered around the Valpantena valley. 

     

    Bartolotta then went on to explain how when it comes to Valpolicella wines, the process is of the utmost importance, more than grape variety and even soil. The grapes - usually a blend of Corvina, Corvinella, Rondinone, Molinara and other grape varieties - are put out to dry for 100 days after they are harvested. This process, which dates back to Roman times, makes the sugar levels rise significantly.

     

    Spit cups in hand, we began our journey through Valpolicella as our sommelier walked us through the tasting of six wines: Corte Cavedini, Valpolicella DOC 2018; Albino Armani, Valpolicella DOC Classico Superiore 2017 Egle; Secondo Marco, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2011; Villa San Carlo, Amarone Della Valpolicella DOCG 2012; a 2015 Ripasso from Boscaini Carlo; and Ca’ dei Maghi, Recioto Della Valpolicella DOCG Classico, 2011.

     

    They tasted unique, complex, each bursting with several distinct flavors. The first, as usual, was lighter, smoother, extremly drinkable, while the second one was already noticeably richer, darker. The taste was more acidic with hints of cherries, citrus, but also tobacco. You could also taste the minerality, present in most Valpolicella wines due to the volcanic components present in the soil. 

     

    Then we got to the Amaroni, which are among the most renowned Valpolicella wines. They are strong, rich wines, again herby and/or fuity but also mineral, almost salty. For this reason our guide suggests pairing them with slow cooked meat or dry cheese (though the flavors vary with each wine, for example the first Amarone was much more mineral than the second, which left a more pronounced fruity, sugary taste in the mouth and teeth.)

     

    The fifth wine was a Ripasso, which means that it is produced by remixing matured Amarone wine with newer and lighter wine. “Some consider this cheating,” Bartolotta says, then explaining that this is actually a procedure that dates back to Ancient times. 

     

    The name Amarone roughly translates to “very bitter” but that is only because it is an evolution of Recioto, a sweet wine and therefore the sixth and final one of our tasting. “Recioto is what put Valpolicella on the map,” Bartolotto explains, adding that it is however often wrongfully dismissed nowadays, since the consensus is that people today tend to drink less sweet wine. I am personally not a fan of sweet wines, but I have to say I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the Recioto, which felt velvety, fruity, floral, and also somewhat minty, giving it a nicer, fresher after-taste.

     

    After the class, we were invited to linger in the stylish and cozy Di Palo Wine Bar - the latest venture by the Little Italy staple Di Palo's Fine Foods store, known by all New Yorkers as the "purveyor of the city's best mozarella" - to try more Valpolicella wines, over 20 from 10 different producers across the region, this time served alongside a delicious mushroom risotto from Risotteria Melotti and of course some mouthwatering salumi and cheeses from Di Palo’s.

     

    Overall, a fascinating learning experience, a glimpse into the wonderful world of Italian wine, a quick trip across the unique region of Valpolicella, all rendered easily accessible in the heart of New York City, inside this Italian pocket, one of the few still left in Little Italy.

  • Marco Bertorello via Getty Images
    Facts & Stories

    The Highest Tide in 50 Years Hits Venice

    On Tuesday night, the high-water mark hit 187cm (74 inches) in Venice, just short of the 194cm (76 inches) reached in the infamous 1966 flood. A second peak was recorded this morning (Wednesday) when water levels hit the 160cm (63 inches) mark.

     

    Over 85% of the city was submerged. "Venice is on its knees," tweeted the city’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, who called for a state of emergency. At the moment, the entire city is shut down. Schools, museums, and offices closed.

     

    Two people have died on the island of Pellestrina, which forms a barrier between the southern Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. The first among them, an elderly man, was reportedly struck by lightning while using an electric water pump.

     

    Regional governor Luca Zaia called this event “an apocalyptic disaster." 

     

    Several fires broke out throughout the night, including one at the International Gallery of Modern Art Ca' Pesaro. Even the mural depicting a migrant child, painted last Spring by the famous street artist Banksy, was submerged.

     

    Homes, museums, hotels, churches, and all sorts of structures suffered damage. Authorities are particularly worried about the famed St Mark’s Square, which was submerged under more than one metre (3.3ft) of water, while St Mark’s Basilica was flooded and risks “irreparable harm.” This is the sixth time the basilica has been flooded in 1,200 years and, most allarmingly, four of those inundations happened within the last 20 years, the most recent one occuring in October 2018. 

     

    Venice is no stranger to “Acqua alta” (high tides, ed.), but the situation has been escalating of late, making it especially dangerous when combined with the gradual sinking of the city. “Acqua alta has always been normal,” said Lorenzo Bonometto, an expert on lagoon ecology. “But the combined high tide and strong winds made the result an exceptional event,” he said, adding that Sea levels are rising “at a faster rate” than experts had expected, with a greater impact on the lagoon.

     

    Mayor Brugnaro blames these exceptionally high tides on climate change. “We are asking for support from the government,” he tweeted. “Costs will be high. These are the effects of climate change.”

     

    The financial cost of the severe flooding is in fact expected to run to hundreds of millions of euros and this latest disaster reopened the debate surrounding the MOSE (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettrotecnico) project, ideated in the 80s and begun in 2003 to protect Venice from the ever-present threat of Acqua alta.

     

    Construction for the project, which consists in installing 78 flap gates to separate the lagoon from the sea in the event of high tides, began in 2003 but was halted in 2014 when members of Consorzio Venezia Nuova (CVN), which was charged by the ministry of infrastructure to carry out construction, were accused of using illicit funds.

     

    In july 2018, in response to requests of progress updates, Francesco Ossola of CVN declared that “today, 93% of the work has been completed and all dams will be installed by the end of the year.” The project reamains however incomplete to this day.

     

    “We need resources and clear ideas,” Mayor Brugnaro said. “For now, MOSE is a ghost. We want to see it finished.”

     

    On the project’s website it reads that MOSE “can protect Venice and the laguna from floods up to 3 meters and from a rise in sea level of up to 60 cm for the coming 100 years.” However Venitians have expressed skepticism on whether the barriers would have indeed been enough to prevent this disaster had they been completed and functional.

     

    Many argue that the project, which cost over 7 billion euro and remains unfinished after decades, is inadequate, an enormous waste of public funds.

     

    But something has to be done. Because high tides will continue to hit Venice and its surrounding areas, and as a result of rising sea levels, they will likely be increasingly violent and impredictable. 

     

    "We are not just talking about calculating the damages, but of the very future of the city" Mr Brugnaro told reporters. 

  • Art & Culture

    A Closer Look Inside Da Vinci’s Studio

    In occasion of “Leonardo and the Madonna Litta,” a new exhibition held at Milan’s Poldi Pezzoli Museum to close the “Year of Leonardo,” five artworks created in the master’s studio were analysed by researchers using new technology to unravel details invisible to the naked eye that can inform on how Leonardo and his studio operated, what their process was, which materials they used, and so on.

     

    The exhibit, curated by Pietro C. Marani and Andrea Di Lorenzo, features 17 selected paintings and drawings belonging to a variety of public and private collections across the world, all created in Leonardo’s Milan workshop, by both the master himself and his most prominent students between 1482 and 1499. Some of the works included are the newly rediscovered Madonna del Fiore (1487-1488) attributed to one of Leonardo’s best students, Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, as well as the Madonna con Bambino by Francesco Napoletano, and the Bust of the Christ Child by Marco D’Oggiono.

     

    The show is centered around the famed Madonna Litta (ca. 1494), a painting sold to the St. Petersburg State Hermitage Museum in 1865 by Milanese nobleman Antonio Litta. As is often the case with the work of Old Masters such as Leonardo Da Vinci, the authorship of the Madonna Litta is somewhat uncertain and the painting has sometimes been attributed to Leonardo’s studio rather than to the painter himself. 

     

    Organizers therefore took the opportunity to have experts from the Institute of molecular bioimaging and physiology (IBFM) conduct in-depth analyses on five works displayed. These analyses were documented and are displayed on multimedia screens throughout the exhibition, giving viewers the opportunity to learn about the research process that goes into the attribuition of artworks.

     

    The data gathered also allows us to learn more about what it was like to work in one of the Renaissance’s most famous studios, to discover the backstage procedures that went into the creation of Leonardo’s masterpieces.

     

    Isabella Castiglioni of IBFM explains the different levels of analyses conducted. “We used optical techniques to examine the painting surfaces and spectroscopic techniques to study materials such as varnishes and binding substances,” she says. “Then we went deeper using reflectography, which allows us to see the preparatory drawing, and radiography, which reveals the preparation of the background, the support, the canvas, and the wooden boards.”

    The results allowed researchers to determine the painters’ color palettes, which shared many commonalities and uncover traces of ocre, azzurrite, and even precious materials such as lapis lazuli and gold in the color pigments they used. 

     

    They also uncovered traces of “pentimenti” in underlying preparatory drawings - mid-process changes, corrections such as modified facial expressions, covered up windows, etc - which give insight into the artists’ creative practices, into their minds. 

     

    All of this sheds some light into the dynamics that took place in the studio, it brings us inside of it. For instance, as Pietro Marani, a docent at Milan’s Politechinic Institute explains, we know that the master used to work on the preparatory drawings and then pass them on to his assistants who would create the actual paintings, which he would then adjust and correct, giving them his final touch.

     

    Learning about these procedures really takes us into the history of artworks and their makers. It’s something that continues to fascinate most of us. Just think of all the books, films, documentaries dedicated to exploring the work and life of history’s great artists. 

    Everyone loves a little behind the scenes action and this exhibition, which will run through February 10, 2020, provides just that, on multiple levels. 

  • Art & Culture

    Elena Ferrante’s New Book Hits Italian Shelves

    12 million copies sold in over 50 countries and an acclaimed television series produced by HBO with Rai later, Elena Ferrante - whose true identity remains unknown - is back with a new book, “The Lying Life of Adults” (“La vita bugiarda degli adulti”), set to hit Italian bookshelves on November 7.

     

    The novel follows Giovanna, the only child of a well-to-do liberal intellectual family, whose pleasant sheltered life becomes unsettled as she begins to uncover the secrets and lies harbored by the adults in her life, particularly her father. 

     

    From the moment the young protagonist overhears a conversation during which her beloved father calls her “very ugly” - a scene supposedly inspired by a line in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, in which upon looking at her daughter the protagonist Emma thinks “what an ugly child she is” - her world begins to crumble, revealing a completely different reality underneath it.

     

    Giovanna learns that along with the upper middle class Naples of professors and intellectuals she has grown up in, there exists another desperate, vulgar and lively Naples and that the two are intertwined, even within her family history through the enigmatic figure of her aunt Vittoria.

     

    The main story is set in the 90s, but in describing her parent’s youth Ferrante manages to also convey the atmosphere of the late 70s, its illusions and myths, with the remarkable clarity and sensibility for which she is known.

     

    It’s a coming of age tale that spans Giovanna’s tumultuous teenage years, between the ages of 12 and 16, a time of inner and outer discovery, when convictions are challenged and myths debunked. Children learn that adults aren’t perfect, that they do bad things, they lie.

     

    Once again the author creates a story that is both explicitly Neapolitan yet so universal that it resonates with millions worldwide.

    English speakers will however have to wait seven more months for the US release with Europa Editions, scheduled for June 9, 2020.

     

  • Art & Culture

    Culture Spending is on the Rise in Italy

    Federculture - the Italian national association of public and private entities operating in the fields of culture, tourism, sports and leisure - presented the 15th annual culture spending report at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Rome.

    The report revealed that Italians spent 72.5 billion euros on culture over the course of 2018, averaging 127 euros per household each month. This marks a 2.4% increase from the previous year.

    Household spending on culture has in fact been rising since 2013, after a period of decline between 2008 and 2013, during which culture spending dropped by 4.6% as the country’s GDP dropped 1.6% and overall consumer spending rose 1%. Then the trend was reversed so that over the last five years, culture spending rose 13.4% while GDP increased 9.9% and overall consumer spending 8.8%.

    Researchers also found that museum visitors went up 10% between 2017 and 2018 and so did the number of children discovering art and culture by visiting museums and archaeological sites and attending shows. During the presentation, culture minister Dario Franceschini spoke to the importance of “investing in young people and the contemporary.”

    However, though the trend is certainly encouraging, not all of the report’s findings were so positive. For example, it also shows that Italians are reading less and less, with only 40% reading one or more books per year. A problem Federculture proposes to address by developing legislation aimed at consolidating the habit of reading and laws to support bookselling activities.

    The report also highlights strong regional imbalances: culture spending is significantly higher in the North of Italy and lower in Southern regions and islands. In Trentino Alto Adige, a family spends on average 178.8 euro in culture each month, while in Calabria that number is down to 64.3 euro.

    It also appears that autonomous museums perform better, especially with regards to customer service and satisfaction (accessibility, visitor services, etc.) Autonomously managed museums saw a larger increase in visitors (+14.8% compared to +10.2% in total public museum visits) and in income (+22.5% compared to +18.4%.)

    As Minister Franceschini stated, “Culture is strategic to the sustainable growth of Italy, who has always made beauty, art and creativity fundamental traits of its identity.” And for this reason, in sharing the data gathered, Federculture also argues in favor of implementing public policies that will help continue to increase culture spending and diffusion throughout the country. 

    The association in fact found that spending rose in sectors in which such policies had been implemented, such as museums and archaeological and monumental sites, which did much better than in those where no such policies exist, including cinema and theatre.

    The report therefore calls for the formulation of a cultural policy agenda to increment cultural consumption, incentivate programming and innovation, and favor collaborations between the public and private sector. 

    “Growth, which we all care about, passes through culture,” notes the President of Federculture Andrea Cancellato, “with it we can contribute to the overall betterment of Italy.”

  • Art & Culture

    World’s Oldest Shipwreck Awarded in Paestum

    The 22nd edition of the Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism (BMTA) awards the 2019 International Archaelogical Discovery Award - named after Khaled al-Asaad, the Syrian director of the Palmyra Archaeological Area and Museum from 1963 to 2003 publicly executed by ISIS on August 18, 2015 - to the world’s oldest intact shipwreck. 

     

    The awarding jury is comprised of Archeo, Italy's leading archaeological publication, as well as BMTA’s other media partners: Antike Welt (Germany), Archéologia (France), Archaologie der Schweiz (Switzerland), Current Archaeology (UK), and Dossiers d'Archéologie (France.)

     

    The wreck, a wooden ship dating back 2,400 years ago, was found 2 km (aprox. 1.2 miles, ed.) down in the Black Sea off the Bulgarian coast by the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (MAP) in 2018.

     

    Researchers believe these to be the remains of an ancient Greek trading ship of a type that had previously only been seen depicted in pottery, for example in the British Museum’s “Siren Vase,” an object dating back to the same period, which displays Odysseus’ encounter with the dangerous mythical creatures. 

     

    Though older Egyptian ritual boats have been found in excavations, this one was named the oldest complete shipwreck found at sea. It features intact structural elements including the mast and the planks for the rowers, which had never before been found on such an ancient vessel. It measures about 23 meters (75 feet, ed.) in length and has been kept intact by the unusual chemical composition of the water and the lack of oxygen below 180 meters (590 feet, ed.)

     

    The exploration lasted 3 years and led to the discovery of over 60 historic finds. MAP researchers “inspected” the submerged ship using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with video cameras. They also extracted a fragment of the relic and analysed using carbon dating techniques in order to date it back to the fifth century BCE.

     

    Jonathan Adams, the head of MAP, will accept the award on November 15 in the presence of Fayrouz, the daughter of Asaad, herself an archaeologist.

     

    Additionally, a special award for the discovery with the biggest Facebook support will go out to the ''oldest bread in the world,'' (dating back to about 14,000 years ago) found in Jordan's Black Desert by a group of researchers from the universities of Copenhagen, Cambridge, and University College of London (UCL.)

     

    Other contendants included an ancient mummification workshop in Saqqara, Egypt, inscriptions and luxury homes in Pompeii, and Europe’s oldest metallic hand found in Switzerland.

  • Liliana Segre (1938) http://www.memorialeshoah.it/liliana-segre/
    Facts & Stories

    Anti-Hate Motion Passes Amidst Many Abstentions. What Does This Mean for Italy?

    On Wedesday, the motion to form an extraordinary commission against hate, racism and anti-semitism proposed by Holocaust survivor and life Senator Liliana Segre, was approved by the Upper House. However, to the surprise and alarm of many, out of 249 votes, there were 98 abstentions.

     

    This result caused many to speak out, all sharing the concern that by not voting in favor of a commission to regulate hate crimes, parties such as Lega, the rightwing League of Brothers of Italy (FdI) and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) are expressing their tolerance if not their support of such acts.

     

    "The commission is a great institutional result for our country, it has great value," stated Ruth Dureghello, the president of Rome's Jewish Community on Thursday, then adding that "the abstention of some parties is disconcerting. It's a decision that we consider wrong and dangerous.”

     

    The President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella echoed her, reminding everyone that “We must never let our guard down, underestimate attempts at denying or rewriting history against evidence, with the goal to feed egoism, personal interests, discrimination and hate.”

     

    Even the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin expressed apprehension regarding the abstentions. "I'm worried in the sense that, some things, some fundamental values, should be felt by all of us," he said.

     

    Senator Segre was born into a Milanese Jewish family in 1930. As a child, she was expelled from her school, subjected to racial laws, and ultimately deported to Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of 13. She has been speaking to the public, particularly focusing on younger audiences to talk about her experience, to make sure history isn’t erased or forgotten.

     

    "At the moment there is a need for unity,” she commented. “There should be no room for ambiguity." 

     

    All sound words it would seem, and yet, somehow, there does appear to be quite a bit of ambiguity on the subject. While members of the current Movimento 5 Stelle-Democratic Party-Liberi e Uguali government, from the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Roberto Fico, to the Secretary of the Democratic Party, Nicola Zingaretti all agreed that establishing the commission should be a no-brainer, representaives of Lega, FI, and FDI defended their position against it, citing the need to protect freedom of opinion.

     

    Silvio Berlusconi responded by saying “I must reject with force all exploitation of the vote expressed by Forza Italia.” The four times Prime Minister and founder of the center-right party claims that the left is instrumentalizing his party’s position.

     

    "As liberals we are against an excess of legislation on crimes of opinion and the motion put to the Senate yesterday, on which Forza Italian abstained, outlined, at the request of the Left, the institution of a new crime of opinion," he stated.

     

    However, Forza Italia is itself divided on the issue. “We are betraying our values and changing skin,” commented former minister Mara Carfagna, who last year helped pass a motion against antisemitism. 

     

    While the fact that the motion passed is certainly a victory for Italy - an important step in establishing the necessary legal framework to deal with the atmosphere of violence and hate that seems to be spreading across the country - the resistance to something seemingly so obvious as a law to provide protection against racism, antisemitism and hate is indeed cause for concern. 

     

    For the moment, the majority of Italian politicians and representatives claim to share this concern, but one can’t help but wonder whether the balance will shift. And if so, when? And what do the Italian people think of all of this? It becomes hard to gage public opinion when we start to see people opposing what up until yesterday were considered to be universally shared values.

  • Facts & Stories

    Making Wine From Pompeii’s Ashes

    Back in 1996, winemaker Piero Mastroberardino had the idea to plant and harvest vineyards in the archeological site of Pompeii, to give new life to the area’s ancient wine-making tradition. Initially covering a limited area, the vineyard has grown over the years and now encapsulates 1.5 acres of the UNESCO world heritage site, divided into 15 areas.

     

    This year marks the 20th edition of the harvest, which has now become a beloved tradition. The general director of the archeological area Massimo Osanna and Piero Mastroberardino of Mastroberardino wines, one of Campania’s oldest and most important wineries, recently presented the latest vintage, Villa dei Misteri 2012, and opened the doors to the newly renovated wine cellar.

     

    The idea behind this pioneering project was to “resuscitate” the land’s native wine combining ancient and modern techniques.  

     

    When the infamous 79 C.E. eruption of Mount Vesuvius obliterated the city of Pompeii, it also covered it in ash, thus preserving to this day the shells of its houses, people, and even parts of its vineyards. 

     

    Mastroberardino had experts scour the area in search of marks left by ancient grapes and vines, which they then used to study and reconstruct the species and varieties used 2000 years ago. They then replanted them in their original plots and harvested them usung ancient Pompeian techniques gathered through the study of the site, as well as depictions and texts by Pliny the Elder. 

     

    The historian who died under the volcano’s ashes, listed the grape varieties in use at the time, eight of which were planted in the site’s first experimental vineyard: Greco, Fiano, Aglianico, Piedirosso (the dominant grape in Villa dei Misteri), Sciascinoso (or Olivella), Coda di Volpe, Caprettona, and Falanghina. Some of these, such as Sciascinoso, had almost dissppeared so this project is a way to give them new life, according to Mastroberardino.

     

    The vines were planted following the old techniques, with a density of eight thousand plants per hectare (about three acres). In other words, Pompeii's urban vineyards are jam-packed.

    Which enologists are just now realizing is actually positive since the competition for water and nutrients stresses the vines to yield better grapes.

     

    The Romans would then mix their wine with such things as pine resin to make them withstand traveling inside terracotta containers. Mastroberardino found that this practice alters the wine’s flavor rendering it “undrinkable” according to today’s standards. After some experimentation, the wine-makers made some alterations to turn it into something more palatable to modern consumers. 

     

    This new/ancient red wine was named “Villa dei Misteri” (villa of the mysteries) after the eponymous roman dwelling, known for its beautifully preserved red frescoes, which are believed to depict the initiation of a young woman into a Greco-Roman mystery cult. It features hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and plum.

     

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