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Articles by: Judith Harris

  • Capri. Certosa
    Art & Culture

    Citizens at Work to Save the Italian Heritage

    ROME - Last Sunday volunteers in Rome turned out to clean up the mess of what had once been a sacred river, the Almone. Rome's third most important after the Tiber and the Aniene, this small river flows from the Alban Hills toward Rome, passing the Basilica of St. John Lateran and the Colosseum, to disgorge into the Tiber itself. So clean was the Almone in antiquity that, as Ovid relates, this was where the priests of Cybele came on the "Lavatio Matris" every March 27 so as "to wash the goddess and the sacred objects of her cult." For the Romans, Cybele was the Magna Mater or Great Mother, and considered an ancestral goddess whose cult spread throughout the Mediterranean.


    In recent years, however, the Amone, despite its passing through the great park of the ancient Appian Way, became a rubbish dump. For the past few years citizens have collected signatures for petitions of protest; this year they took action. Among the causes of the pollution of the Almone, which lies at the heart of the Caffarella Park on the Appian Way, is that nearby businesses were dumping industrial as well as household waste, with the result that they were literally polluting the Appian parkland, according to prosecutor Maria Bice Barborini this summer. Investigators found the river polluted with mercury, zinc, copper and beryl as well as human excrement from latrines.


    Bearing in mind that little is more important in Italy than the conservation of its vast and multi-layered cultural heritage, the contributions made by ordinary citizens is all the more important. That heritage is so rich on so many levels that it is extremely difficult to maintain, as was shown last week when a 6-inch stone chunk that dropped from a cornice in the ancient Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence fell unexpectedly, striking a Spanish visitor on the head and killing him. Could that have been avoided? It is hard to say: the basilica was inspected just the previous week, but to inspect a column decoration 60 feet overhead, while necessary for safety, is not part of ordinary administration.


    The truth is that the government, even if with the best intentions, cannot handle the totality of the Italian heritage. And this is where ordinary citizens and volunteers, like those who turned out Oct. 22 to clean the river flowing through the Appian parkland, can do their part, and are doing it. For instance, the non-profit association  LoveItaly, founded by Gloria Ardi and financed through crowd-funding, has just launched a campaign called "Adotta una Colonna" (Adopt a Column) to support tending the cloister of the medieval Certosa di San Giacomo at Capri. (See >> )


    Testifying to the contributions made by other private citizens in Italy is the excellent work of the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI). This non-profit was born in 1975 from an idea of Elena Croce, the daughter of the great philosopher born in the Abruzzo, Benedetto Croce (1866 - 1952). Her  inspiration was the British National Trust, which dates from 1895. For FAI's founders, who included Giulia Maria Crespi, the goal of the association was for the "conservation, protection and valorization of the Italian heritage of art, nature and landscape." Among its first donors was Emanuela Castelbarco, niece of Arturo Toscanini, with a contribution in 1977 for restoration of the Castle at Avio near Trento.


    Among its 36 other protected sites are churches, parks, mills, palaces, monasteries and even a saline and a shop or two. President since 2013 is archaeologist Andrea Carandini, who most recently gave a book-length interview with Paolo Conti published by Laterza, with the evocative (and true) title "Il nuovo dell'Italia è nel passato" (Italy's New Is from the Past).


    Membership in FAI can cost a student as little as E10 a year and, for an ordinary member, E29. (See: http://sostienici.fondoambiente.it/iscriviti). And of course sustaining members are welcome. FAI membership brings special visiting privileges. In Milan in November members are offered two private tours of the exhibition "Dentro Caravaggio" (Within Caravaggio), in which no less than 18 masterpieces from Italian and foreign museums are on view at the Palazzo Reale.


    Other FAI visits are often to sites that are not open to the general public and, on the contrary, introduce the unusual; FAI visitors in Milan this month will see an outstanding art decò villa, normally private. Villa Necchi Campiglio was built in 1935, not for the traditional Italian nobility, but for the family of one of Italy's then new industrial aristocrats. On the property in the heart of Milan architect Piero Portaluppi placed one of the city's first private swimming pools. Its art collection includes works by Tiepolo and Canaletto but also by modernists like Giorgio De Chirico and Mario Sironi

  • Gigantic stage curtain, Picasso, for "Parade" ballet
    Art & Culture

    Picasso in Rome: Between Cubism and Neo-classicism 1915 - 1925

    He was just another tourist in Rome, and  he did what the others did. He found a place to stay near Piazza di Spagna on Via Margutta. He toured the Sistine Chapel and became enamoured of the paintings by Michelangelo and Raphael. He hung out with friends in the Hotel della Minerva by the Pantheon and took photos from its lofty terrace. He noticed the pretty girls of Rome and admired even their shoes. He toured Pompeii and Naples and was deeply impressed by Vesuvius. And then he met a beautiful young woman -- a fellow foreigner -- fell rapturously in love, and married her.

    This was Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), 36 years old and in Rome for just ten weeks in the winter of 1917; from there he would go on to Florence and Milan. Born in Spain and more recently living in Paris, the Rome period was his first great introduction to the art of the Renaissance and the Baroque. It had a decisive influence upon upon his work, as is evident in the stunning exhibition, "Picasso between Cubism and Neo-Classicism: 1915 - 1925." The exhibit, through January 21 at the Scuderie of the Quirinale in Rome, celebrates that visit just 100 years ago. On view are 100 of his paintings, drawings, costumes and documents that reflect the artist's Grand Tour of Rome and its enduring impact upon his creativity

    Picasso came to Rome on Feb. 17, 1917, to work with Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes, in preparing the sets, stage curtain and costumes for "Parade," an avantgarde ballet that was to have its debut in Paris but was being put together in Rome. It was wartime, and many of Picasso's friends (though not the artist himself) were soldiers. "He was sad and had little work," said chief exhibition curator Olivier Berggruen, of the Musée Picasso in Paris.

    The new project brightened the artist's life. It was further brightened when,  meeting with the dance troupe at the Hotel Minerva, he also met the Russian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova. Olga became his muse and his wife, the mother of his little boy Paulo. Three photos he took of Olga seated on the rooftop of the Hotel Minerva are on view in the exhibition along with stunning paintings of her. Other friends in Rome were composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer Leonide Massine.  

    In a letter to Gertrude Stein he wrote, "I am working all day on the sets and on making the costumes... I've also done many sketches and caricatures of Diaghilev, of [Russian artist Leon] Bakst, of Massine and of some ballerinas, [as if] amid the ruins of Pompeii." This was Picasso's cubist period, but nevertheless the influence of Michelangelo and Raphael are distinctly visible within the paintings in the exhibition.

    Besides inspired by classical sculpture, "Picasso relished the lively atmosphere of the streets of Rome and Naples," said Berggruen. In Naples, where the Ballets Russes was performing, he was impressed by the figure of Pulcinella, whom he chanced to see in a puppet theater performance on the street. Pulcinella evolved gradually into a mainstay of Picasso's later work, the harlequin, which demonstrated Picasso's theory that the popular arts are worthy. In 1920 the team of Picasso, Stravinski and Massine would produce the ballet "Pulcinella," with music inspired by that of the 18th century Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. And in one painting he depicted the young son Paulo as a harlequin.

    With music by Eric Satie, "Parade" was first performed at the Theatre Chatelet in Paris the following May, to praise and jeers in equal parts. Its gigantic stage curtain painted by Picasso, which measures 52.5 by 33.8 feet, is contemporaneously on view in Rome's Palazzo Barberini. It is Picasso's largest painting, and is decidedly romantic; as one art historian here put it, "That curtain is the opposite of 'Guernica.'"

    Associate curator of the exhibition, a coproduction by Ales SpA and MondoMostre Skira, and Anunciata von Liechtenstein. Paintings are on loan from 38 museums including the Musée Picasso, the Tate in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Berggruen Museum in Berlin, the Fundacio Museu Picasso of Barcellona, the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of New York. 

  • Facts & Stories

    Olive Harvest Time, and the News is Good!

    ROME -- The olive harvest has come to Italy early this year. Even so, despite the overheated summer and scant rain from June through early September, the good news is that quality and production are both excellent. Typically production surges every two years, and this looks to being the good year. The experts here remind us that the year 2016 was the worst in a quarter century, especially in Central Italy, but that this year's production is expected to surge by 18.8%, for a total of 288,600 tons. Puglia seems to be leading the pack.


    This is terrific, but still lagging far behind Spain, whose production is enormous. The quantity of Spanish oil is expected to have a minimal increase (1.8%) but even so the country is expected to produce a whopping 1.3 million tons.  


    Also ahead of Italy is Greece, whose expected production is of 294,100 tons, or up 13.1% over last year. Tunis is also faring well, with its  production soaring up by a record 201%, for 202,900 tons; on the other hand that upsurge reflects the last year's disastroub produciton of barely 80,000 tons.


    We personally care deeply about this, and not only because we use far more olive oil than butter, and never anything but cold-pressed extra-virgin oil -- a luxury but important. This is relatively easy for us because we have 30 cherished olive trees, which we havest for our own oil.


    Fifteen of those trees were already on our little acre of land 25 miles north of Rome when we bought it a quarter century ago. Among the first things we did was to plant another 15 trees, which are now regularly producing.


    Our British acquaintance in Tuscany does things on somewhat a grander scale (understatement). He has 1,000 olive trees, and every autumn, at just the right picking time, he convokes his relatives from afar. Every year they converge for a week of picking olives and enjoying a wonderful annual autumn festive holiday.


    To return to our modest production, every two years the trees must be pruned, preferably in late January or February. Pruning is an art, and our friend Anselmo, who supervises our pruning as well as the picking, took a special course in pruning, offered by our little town's serious agriculture experts. Picking the olives today is easier than in the past, when people climbed up on ladders and picked them one by one. Today, after nets are spread below each tree, a hand-held machine plucks the olives, which fall into the nets and are then gathered up and put into baskets or, these days, plastic crates.

  • Campari ad - swinging soda

    "Ciao Italia!" Paris Remembers Immigrants from Italy

    ROME -- First came 420,000 immigrants into France in just four years and then, in the next two decades, a horde of another 800,000. This was not all that long ago: their home country was the Italy of the First World War and then of the two decades of Mussolini Fascism. Writing in L'Espresso magazine, architect Cesare de Seta, who teaches at Naples University, reminds us of the fascinating exhibition "Ciao Italia! A century of Immigration and Italian culture 1860 - 1960," held in Paris's Museum of Immigration in the Palais de la Porte Dorée.

    Curator Dominque Paini opened the exhibition, which just closed after three months, with an installation by Moataz Nasr of eight white Piaggio Vespas set into a circle, entitled "Vacanze Romane", as in the 1953 movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, "Roman Holiday". (Nasr's challenging short film "The Mountain," shot in Egypt, was featured this summer in the Egyptian Pavillion at the Venice Biennale.)

    The Italian migrants arriving in France, beginning in the second half of the 19th century, were "so numerous that their immigration remains, even today, the most important in France," said a review in the Paris edition of Time Out. "The cultures of the French and of our Italian neighbors, or rather, our Latin cousins, are sometimes near but different. They are not always comparable, but complementary."

    Not all went smoothly. In 1851, when some 63,000 arrived in France in a single year, resentment brought a number of violent incidents including in Marseilles. At the medieval town of Aigues-Mortes in Southern France eight Italians who had come to seek work in the ancient salt mines were murdered. But at the same time  numerous Italians living in France were celebrated, among them musicians and artists like Giovanni Boldini, Amedeo Modigliani, and Futurist Gino Severini.

    From the exhibition French President Emmanuel Macron could learn a lesson or two, sentenced de Seta. "President Macron should consider taking a kindly look at  'Ciao Italia!', especially since it contradicts some of his unfortunate phrases." And not only words: last July Italian resentment of Macron burgeoned when he decided to nationalize a major shipyard owned by South Korea over which Italy's Fincantieri was bidding. Some in Italy complained that Macron's decision to nationalize the shipyard ignored EU rules on free movement of capital, with the result that a Corriere della Sera cartoon showed Macron head-butting Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni. Already a number of big French companies had gained large stakes or even control over such Italian companies as Parmalat.

    Today's immigrants arriving into Italy remain top news. On Tuesday the Washington Post ran an analysis of Italy's claim to have found a solution to the migrant problem facing Europe. As I was writing this Fox News reported that Italian neo-Fascists are getting a boost from anti-migrant sentiment. It also made international headlines that Interior Minister Marco Minniti has proposed erasing the word "emergency" when applied to immigration. Speaking in Rome Sept. 27, Minniti proposed that the government make deals with Libya and other African countries that will develop a "welcoming policy" and that Italy foster integration for those holding refugee or "subsidiary protection" status. Integration, said Minniti, requires a "mutual renegotiation."

    Those migrants accepted into the program will be expected to adhere to Italian values, know and respect the Italian constitution,  respect freedom on religion and will be encouraged to be active citizens through local volunteering. Italy will be expected to help with the socialization of minors. For details, see the interesting article >>


  • Art & Culture

    Summering it Up in the Forum: ISAR and Sustainable Archeology

    ROME -- "Come along and see what we did this summer," said old acquaintance Tom Rankin. "Our cultural heritage team has been working on a portion of the Palatine Hill." Rankin, Rome-based American architect with a master's from Harvard, teaches at the prestigious University "La Sapienza" and at two American universities with programs here. By "working on" the Palatine he meant excavating and sifting through 2,000 or so years of Roman Forum history under the auspices of the International Society for the Art, Architecture and Archaeology of Rome (ISAR), of which he is a co-founder, see >>

    ISAR calls Rome "an ideal laboratory for the sustainable cultural heritage." The organization's focus is to promote sustainability of that heritage through excavations, surveying, archiving and conservation of cultural sites and their artifacts. In addition to its work in the Roman Forum, its projects have involved analysis and assessment of vulnerability and the risk to heritage sites under the guidance of veteran Italian archaeologist Dora Cirone. Another ISAR mainstay is Alessio De Cristofaro, whose chief interests include preventive archaeology, the topography of ancient Rome, and Roman and Etruscan archaeology. Marzia Di Mento is a classical archaeologist specialized in social museology. Among other places she has worked in the Jewish catacombs of Rome and the synagogue of Ostia Antica.

    The ISAR project at the northwest end of the Horrea Agrippiana has now completed its first full season. The goal is to document the traces of ancient human settlement between the Palatine Hill and the Tiber River. This summer's dig was at the base of a steep section of the Palatine that had literally crumbled but was originally swampy. As the ISAR team has pointed out, despite its association with Romulus and Remus, the area is particularly ancient and has yet to be thoroughly investigated.  "It has been largely unknown," said Rankin.

    Already, however, during a previous excavation of the area at the bottom of the Palatine Hill traces had been found of cabins dating from the 7th century BCE, or to the time of Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of Rome on April 21 of 753 BCE, according to Livy. "That original village extended to here," said Dora Cirone, veteran archaeologist with 30 years experience of work and study in the Roman Forum. Vestiges of the subsequent 6th century BCE Etruscan village, built in the same place, have also been uncovered, despite the fact that 19th century archaeologists actually damaged some of those early structures (!)

    Another important find was an enormous 2d century BCE domus that was several stories tall, with terraces jutting from the hillside, and with fragments of a mosaic floor. It was constructed atop remnants of far older buildings. In this many-layered area the team also excavated tombs in which the bodies were covered with typically ancient roman large flat rooftiles of terra cotta. Fascinating for the archeologists specialized in brickmarks, a number of these tiles showed the brickmarks that permitted the tomb to be dated; one, a child's tomb, showed a brickmark from the 6th Century AD while others were dated to the 7th and 8th Centuries AD.

    The project is made possible by concession from the Special Superintendency for the Colosseum, the National Roman Museum and the Archaeological Area of Rome. Crowd-funding helps make the dig possible, and donations are most welcome. The area is not accessible to visitors, but a contribution of at least E 50 includes an invitation to visit the dig site. Generous patrons will enjoy VIP treatment. For how to donate, see >>

    And to see videos of the team at work, go to >>

  • Op-Eds

    Immigrants in the Mediterranean: Italy, Libya and Politics

    ROME -- In 2016 the brilliant Italian film director Gianfranco Rosi produced a superb movie, "Fuocoammare" (in English, "Fire at Sea"). "Fuocoammare" is a documentary which also involves an element of fiction. It describes life at Lampedusa, the Sicilian island besieged by migrants arriving by boat from all over the Mediterranean or, as is also the case, not arriving because they have drowned en route. At the 2016 Berlin film festival Rosi was awarded the Golden Bear; in 2017 "Fuocoammare" was Italy's selection for an Oscar.


    Rosi's film is all the more important today, when all of Italy is en route to becoming a Lampedusa. The government is struggling to find a way to manage those migrants already here, while begging help from all quarters in managing the continuing flood of arrivals and seeking ways to avoid more arrivals.


    This is no easy task. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR, by the end of 2016, conflict and persecution had uprooted 65.6 million people from their homes -- that is, 20 people uprooted every minute last year. Those already in Italy make up 8.3% of the population; of these, over half (55%) are women. Twelve percent have university degrees but one out of three (34%) performs manual labor tasks like picking fruit and vegetables on farms.


    In Italy, over 95,000 migrants arrived between Jan. 1 and July 31 this year. Nevertheless, slightly fewer arrived than during the same period in 2016, even though a headline in the daily "Il Giornale" proclaimed that "Italy is invaded by migrants." The greatest number, 18%, came from Nigeria while the arrivals from Bangladesh were 10.4% of the total; from Guinea, 10%; and from the Ivory Coast, 9.3%. Their landing points were, first, Sicily, with 61% (down from the previous 90%), followed by Calabria, 23%: Campania, 7%, and Puglia and Sardinia, 5% each. (See: http://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2017/6/5941561f4/forced-displacement-worldwide-its-highest-decades.html)


    Italian President Sergo Mattarella has denounced the situation as becoming unmanageable. "A country on its own simply cannot handle this," he said in June. "Even a country as great and open as ours needs international cooperation, but some European countries are insensitive... The migration phenomenon must be managed while at the same time citizens' security be ensured." For Premier Paolo Gentiloni, "We don't want to aggravate the situation but we do ask other European countries to stop just looking the other way. This is no longer tolerable."


    As their words show, Italy is essentially humanitarian-oriented, but is caught between a rock and a hard place, or between the desire to help the migrants and to stop the migrating. One way being urged is to stop at source the migrants and the human traffickers who run the rickety boats. This depends upon the unproven premise that some organizations which have been stepping in to save the refugees from drowning have aided and abetted the traffickers. Even if untrue, some argue that their saving of lives encourages still more migration.


    As a result, the recent goal, ratified by the two countries signing an agreement, has been to halt the flow between eLibya and Italy. Seeking further results, European and sub-Saharan foreign ministry representatives met to try to block the migrants for screening before they leave their home countries like Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Chad and Sudan.


    Has this so-called the diplomatic approach worked? Not very well, as the testimonials of imprisonment and photographs of ghastly, over-crowded "holding centers" in Libya show. The Libyans show faint respect for human rights, among other things, and although Italian authorities say they are asking "guarantees" from Libya on this, no one expects such guarantees to arrive soon.


    In July Italy also tacked on a controversial "code of conduct" accord with Libya that permitted armed guards to be aboard rescue boats. Medici Senza Frontiere refused to sign this agreement. See:http://www.medicisenzafrontiere.it/notizie/video/5-motivi-non-bloccare-migranti-e-rifugiati-libia


    The recent reduction of departures from the Libyan coast is being celebrated as if a great success to avoid drownings at sea and to fight against the traffickers. "But we know very well what is happening in Libya," said Medici Senza Frontiera in an open letter Sept. 7 to Premier Gentiloni. Their view is that the EU politicies and financing are contributing to a reduction in boats parting from Libya, but in practice, "This only increases a criminal system of abuses.... People [confined in Libya] are treated like merchandise to be exploited.... The women are abused and than obliged to call their families to beg for money to be freed."


    The problems of immigration continue to grow as a useful political tool, especially in the Northern League, which campaigns noisily against immigrants. In the words of Tony Iwobi, Nigerian in Italy for 38 years, who heads the Northern League's deparment of  Security and Immigration, "Ten thousand fake refugees arriving in just a few days -- our president Matteo Salvini is right once more. The Partito Democratico has transformed Italy into an immense refugee camp, with a trite litany that Europe is going to help us, but in fact does not give a damn. Basta! [Enough.] What is needed is a popular revolt to get rid of this government, even using rough methods." Iwobe was among those demonstrating against Operation Mare Nostrum in Milan in October 2104.

  • Op-Eds

    Venice Architecture: "Paradox of Stone And Air"

    Just when you think there is nothing new under the old Italian sun, you come upon a book like "Dream of Venice Architecture," whose photographs of Venice by Riccardo De Cal can only be described as sublime. De Cal has elected a subject so notoriously over-photographed that it is hard to imagine discovering something new. And yet each of his photographs is new --, absorbing, contemplative, timeless, abstract, stunning.


    With an introduction by architecture historian Richard J. Goy, and a preface by editor JoAnn Locktov, "Dream" is the product of Bella Figura Publications. As Locktov reminds us, Venice is a "contemplative paradox of stone and air." The 1,500-year-old city is also extraordinarily fragile, for it was "built where no land ever existed. Water runs through her veins," writes Locktov. "Bridges, palaces, churches, every structure is a testament to the resiliency of imagination."


    Accompanying each of the book's 45 more-than-full page photos is a short and tightly focussed essay with a personal note. The authors are outstanding architects, urban designers, art historians and specialized academics from all over the world. To mention only a few, they include Massimiliano Fuksas of Italy, Tadao Ando of Japan, Rocco Yim of Hong Kong, Louise Noelle of Mexico, and, from the U.S., James Biber, Ann-Catrin Schultz and Constantin Boym.


    Photographer De Cal, born in Asolo in the north of Italy, brings special preparation to his task. After earning a degree in architecture from the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV) in Venice, he went on to photography and to creating award-winning documentary films, among them three on Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa. One of these, "Memoriae Causa," of 2005, was presented in London at Sir John Soane's Museum in collaboration with the Royal Institute of British Architects, as well as at the Milan Architecture Triennale. The other two devoted to Scarpa, which date from 2014, were shown in the prestigious Rome museum MAXXI and at Palazzo Grassi in Venice.


    The essayists were encouraged to mention their personal relationship to the city, and to analyze how they see it. Frank Harmon, the author of NativePlaces.org, is a veteran architect who works in the American Southeast. In his essay, Harmon reminds us that the most important buildings of Venice are the ordinary houses, workshops and trattorias flanking the canals -- the fabric that holds Venice together. "The facade of a Venetian house resembles a carpet stretched out to dry. Its windows form a geometric pattern on walls washing in Venetian red and burnt sienna." They often have no cornices or overhangs because "sunlight is as likely to be reflected from the water as from the sky," which enhances their appearance as "planes of pure color"


    Among Venetian treasures is the 16th century Palazzo Querini Stampalia, bequeathed to the city in 1868 by the heir of that ancient Venetian family, and today a library specialized in art history and architecture whose archives, manuscripts and books date back to the 1500s. Its restoration was the work of Scarpa, Valeriano Pastor and Mario Botta. A portion of the proceeds from each book will be donated to the Foundation Querini Stampalia to support teir architecture programming in Venice, see >>>.

    In order to buy a copy of the book click here

  • Op-Eds

    Italian Youth: On the Hunt for Jobs

    The Italian government was meeting today to discuss a plan to give a helping hand to the vast numbers of jobless or precariously employed Italian youth through concession of a "youth pension." The point would be to compensate for the high rate of youth unemployment, which stands at 40%. This is worse only in Greece (47.3%) and Spain (44.4%), according to European Commission statistics issued in a new, 260-page report, "Employment and social developments in Europe (ESDE)" covering the 28 member countries of the European Union.


    "On average, in Italy a person younger than age 30 earns 60% less than those whose are over 60," the report continues. Employment is particularly precarious due to short and badly written contracts which bring terrible insecurity to the young people. As the report also points out, young people with parents (and grandparents) willing and able to support them are bankrolled by the older generations, but this causes "a distortion" in family relations. According to Eurostat, two out of three live at home by comparison with one out of two in the rest of Europe and one out of three in the UK. As a result, a new poll shows that six out of ten have scant hope of achieving their parents' standard of living.


    Another distortion comes from the trade unions in Italy, whose membership is made up primarily of those who are pensioners: attend any union organization, and this fact is instantly visible. The left-leaning CGIL, for instance, is composed of 3 million pensioners, or 50% of its membership, whereas in Germany, Austria, Finland and the Low Countries pensioners make up only 15% of the trade union members.


    Other studies show that almost 20% of Italy's youth between 15 and 24, or one out of five -- that is, 2.5 million young people -- are classified as NEET: neither working, studying or in training programs. This is double the percentage of young NEETs in the rest of Europe, where the median is 11.5%, and higher than in Greece, Spain or Bulgaria, countries considered less economically secure than Italy.


    As economist Tito Boeri told the Commission of Constitutional Affairs of the Chamber of Deputies on July 17, "There is a very strong generational problem, in the way our social security [system] is dealing with the problem of youth." Boeri, a graduate of Milan's prestigious Bocconi University and post-graduate studies at New York University, is president of Italy's national social security institute, the Istituto Nazionale Previdenza Sociale (INPS).


    Today's cabinet debate is over whether or not to give unemployed youth a subsistance grant, or "youth pension," in the new phrasing. The question is complicated by the varieties of experience and training which young people have: should all have the same "youth pension"? Don't count your youth pension until it is hatched, however. Analysts here say that to concede this is unrealistic at this point -- but realistic in terms of future electioneering.


    One out of three Italian young people seek out their own remedy: migration abroad. Over half are from the South of Italy and its islands. Among the migrants is Olivia, 30, born in Rome. She had previously left Italy to work in Spain, but has since moved on to join the 630,000 Italians working in Germany. Visiting her family in Rome this month, she said, "Yes, the work conditions are better there, but it is close enough that I can leave Berlin once a month to come home to see my family."


    Olivia is among the 4.2 million Italians living abroad, of whom almost half are female. A report by the Fondazione Migrantes in 2011 showed that Italian emigration was concentrated in Europe (55.8%) and in the U.S. (38.8%). The greatest number of emigres came from Rome itself. Perhaps surprisingly, this isb double the number of emigres from Naples.


    On the slightly more positive side, the state statistics agency ISTAT points out that the negative percentages for youth employment also reflect a decline of 2% in the numbers of those between 35 and 49 in just one year, due to the lowered birth rate in their time. The figures tend to be further skewed by the longevity of the older citizens and hence their demographic effects.

  • Op-Eds

    Igiaba Scego's "Adua": Linking Italy's Past and Present

    Adua is a solitary woman, born in Mogadiscio but living since her late teens in today's Rome. She has no one better to whom she can bare her soul than the marble statue in front of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. To Bernini's sculpted elephant, upon whose shoulders rises a tiny obelisque, Adua whispers her most intimate and painful thoughts about identity, which are the warp and weave of this novel by Igiaba Scego. Among these painful memories are her relations with her difficult father, Zoppe, whom she sees as compromised for having worked as a translator in Somalia for Mussolini's Fascists, but who was himself a victim of Fascist violence.


    In Italy, the novel "Adua" was published by Giunti in 2015, and by New Vessel Press this June. with a translation into English by Jamie Richards. The author, Igiaba Scego, is often described as a "transcultural" journalist. She interweaves time, people, and tragedies, including today's: her character Adua is wed to a considerably younger husband. He was one of the desperate migrants who had landed at Lampedusa, and she met him when he was drunk at the train station in Rome. Ambiguity is the name of the game: she treats him kindly at times but then loses her temper. While fearing that sooner or later he will leave her for a younger woman, she knows that he needs her.

    Despite the past between the two countries, for both Adua and her father Italy loomed as a mythical state. Now, however, her father dead, she inherited the family home and daydreams of returning to the "brand-new, peacetime" Somalia. Still, as she writes with elegance:

    I love Rome in the summer, especially the light in the evening when the sun is setting. It’s hot, even the seagulls seem nicer and make you want to hug them.

    They dominate the piazzas, but here you are, my little elephant, and they don’t dare. Shoo, away from Piazza della Minerva! I feel safe when I’m around you. Here,

    I’m in Magalo—at home. My father had big ears too, but he was never good at listening, and I was never able to talk to him. It’s different with you. That’s why I’m

    grateful to Bernini for having made you. A little marble elephant holding up the smallest obelisk in the world. A toothpick.

    The character's name, Adua, was her Somali father's choice and recalls the famous Victory of Adwa of 1896, celebrated every March 1 in Ethiopia as a public holiday. At that time Italy had colonized two African territories, Eritrea and Somalia, and was keen to expand its African empire by invading and conquering Ethiopia. It failed, and the battle, in which 7,000 Italians and over 4,000 Ethiopians died, was the first ever decisive victory of a African army over a European army. Its outcome was Italy's signing the Treaty of Addis Abeba, which recognized Ethiopia as an independent state. In 1991 Somalia then saw a civil war, in which half a million people died.


    Carlo Lucarelli described her book as "a sweet sorrow that made me wish it were much longer," whereas a critic for the Huffington Post called it a "punch in the stomach." And acritic for Blog.Graphe.it wrote that the novel "provokes a disturbing sensation in the stomach for its harshness -- a contemporary story that we do not really want to know about because it is uncomfortable and capable of removing our easy sense of being extraneous to certain arguments."


    As this suggests, Igiaba Scego is a strong, intense writer, and this reader admits difficulty in grasping her account of the horrid racism inflicted upon black Africans. Having been raised in the North of the U.S., and indeed upon what was called during the American Civil War the Underground Railroad Freedom Trail, I knew little of the degree of racism Scego describes. But then, recalling the savage violence of Mississippi's Freedom Summer of 1964, in which friends were among the 700 Northern volunteers participating along with Southern activists, I was obliged to rethink.

    Until that time in what was the most racist and retrograde part of the American South complete segregation existed. During that year dozens of protesters were murdered, tortured, castrated and beaten, and there were 50 explosions. As later was shown, fully half the Mississippi police were members of the Ku Klux Klan; one of the murderers was a county sheriff, another a state legislator, according to a memoir by Nikole Hannah-Jones, published in The Atlantic.

    To order a copy of the book click here

  • Op-Eds

    Summer in Italy: Time to Celebrate a Sagra

    Mid-summer Italy is sagra time, when even the smallest town enjoys celebrating itself and its local identity, especially but not only through its culinary specialties, from wine to chestnuts, cheese, honey and even pumpkins. Visitors are welcome, and many will come as guests in agritourism farmhouses.


    The word sagra derives from the Latin word sacrum for "sacred." In antiquity the townspeople gathered together to celebrate, with the foods of the earth, important moments of communal life, with offerings to the gods in recognition of the abundance of a harvest. In Christian times the sagra was generally associated with the feast day of a patron saint and often included a solemn procession. Its religious character survives primarily in the word itself, and most of today's sagre involve foods as well as entertainment and sometimes a fair.


    Research shows that today the sagra is ever more popular. A poll conducted by Coldiretti, Italy's foremost national organization of farming with almost 10,000 affililiates, showed that six out of every ten Italians participate in the sagre.

    "This is a rediscovery -- the result of people's need to have a more direct relationship with the foods and the cultural traditions of their territory," the Coldiretti pollsters reported. "The lion's share of the events are the typical local and seasonal products, prepared strictly according to custom."


    Italy has an abundance of these local products identified with the territory. Wine labels, for instance, boast the territory by carrying three different designations, all guaranteed by strict Italian laws and certified by the European Union. The most rigorous to be found on your wine label -- and there are only a handful of these, the elite of the wine market -- carry the initials DOCG, for Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed by dint of geographic authenticity. The quality is guaranteed regarding the type of grape, alcohol content and the aging of the wine.


    Next on the label listing comes DOC, or Denomination of Origin Controlled, shared by some 505 types of wine. Another 331 Italian wines are recognized as typical of a certain region, and show on the label IGT for Indicazione Geografica Tipica (Typical Geographic Indication). For details, click here.


    Besides wines, also certified as regional specialities are 4,606 recognized traditional foods, from hams and sausages to cheeses. DOP or Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Denomination of Protected Origin) is the certified label for such guaranteed regional specialties as Prosciutto crudo San Daniele, or air died prosciutto from San Daniele near Udine, and for Parmigiano Reggiano, produced only in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua.


    These are among the types of specialties offered in stands in the local sagre, which now tend to include interesting events as well as the foods. This mid-July, for instance, the town of Canale, near Serino in Avellino, fetes, along with local foods, artists whose works line the narrow streets, piazzas and palazzo courtyards. At Mandas in the mountainous Sardinian Barbagia, the Sagra del formaggio -- a cheese feast -- begins July 16 and continues with local music, dancing, lectures on whither the pastoral culture, guided visits to cheese-making establishments and introductions to other traditional local foodstuffs such as breads,cookies and desserts.


    Moving toward the center-north of Italy, from August 10 - 20, the Sagra della Zucca (pumpkin) takes place at San Carlo in Emilia Romagna. A star attraction (and a personal favorite) are the area's fabulous home-made pumpkin-stuffed ravioli.


    Near Rome, Allumiere celebrates its Sagra del Cinghiale (wild boar) festival beginning July 7. Also on offer as part of the sagra are tours of the famous local woodland, the Faggeto, where the ancient mines of aluminium sulfate are located. Another Sagra del Cinghiale begins July 7 at Tarquinia, site of the ancient Etruscan city as well as today's modern town. Boar is a typical local dish, popular for a pasta ragù as well as for sausage.


    Also north of Rome on July 8 and 9 is Formello's sagra, with folk dancing, a demonstration of acrobatics, games for youngsters, a literary prize award and a parade of locals in Etruscan dress, besides stands with local foods. And at Fabrica di Roma, near Viterba, from July 14 - 16 the Sagra della Pecora (Sheep sagra) takes place. Besides live bands -- marching bands and funky music from the 70s and 80s, demonstrations of the art of making sheeps milk cheese, or pecorino, and ricotta are presented. Needless to say, perhaps, the menu begins with the antipasto del pastore, the shepherd's first course, and ends with a cake made of sheeps milke ricotta and pears.


    (For a full rundown of sagre in every Italian region, with dates and details, click here