header i-Italy

Articles by: Maria rita Latto

  • Facts & Stories

    Abruzzo, the Earthquake, Hundreds of Victims...But What About the Animals?

    There are so many stories connected to an event like an earthquake. There are mostly ordinary stories showing extraordinary behavior, little miracles that often remain in obscurity. Some of them have to do with animals that, like humans, are also victims of the earthquake. For this reason veterinary aid posts are stationed in tents in order to help pets with physical injuries. Their presence is also a distraction for the homeless.

    There are many stories involving animals, especially those in the Dog Units. A few hours after the earthquake they had already been named “four-legged angels” because, thanks to their noses and stubbornness, they were able to find people still trapped in the rubble. They are heroes trained to save human lives in natural catastrophes, even though at times they themselves

    are hurt doing this hard job.

    Giorgina is an American terrier who injured her foreleg while digging, looking for survivors. At the veterinary aid posts it’s not unusual to see pets that have fractured limbs during the earthquake, or that are in a state of shock, like the cat Pallina. After the first tremor in the middle of the night, her owner took her and rushed out of the building. Both are now safe, sharing a tent. Since that horrible night, though, Pallina has refused to eat or drink. Every time her owner approaches, Pallina hisses and growls, a behavior that is unusual for a cat that was so affectionate before that horrible night.


    And there is Briciola, a small, soft ball of fur found under the rubble of the building where she lived, probably with her owners. “Probably” means that there is no information about her life before the earthquake because all the people living there were found dead. Briciola spent six days under the debris living inside a shelter created by a wardrobe. A fireman risked his life to save her, trying to reach the small dog that barked incessantly. Her small size inspired the name the firemen gave her, Briciola. Receiving a new name is a true rebirth and a baptism, the joy of being safe in a new identity and waiting for a new family. Her reactions, though, are the complete opposite of Pallina’s. In fact Briciola is so eager for caresses that she looks for tenderness from every person that approaches her at the Society for the Protection of Animals.

    There are also stories of owners desperately looking for their pets, like Pierluigi who for eleven days after the first quake had been searching for his dog Toby that fell out of the building where they lived in L’Aquila and disappeared. Luckily there’s a happy ending: Toby was found in a dog shelter in Sulmona where all of L’Aquila’s dogs without homes or owners have found refuge. This is a real miracle for Pierluigi, a young father of two daughters who considers Toby’s presence fundamental in helping his two children to recover from the shock after the earthquake.

    It seems that more than 8,000 cats and dogs have been left homeless or are missing. It is still possible to see animals wandering among the ruins in the streets of L’Aquila and the villages in that area. A huge number of pets and farm animals are believed to have died in houses and barns that collapsed during the first quake and many of them like Pallina the cat are showing clear signs of trauma. In L’Aquila, just a few days after the earthquake, the attention of some news correspondents from various parts of the world was drawn to a Yorkshire terrier walking in circles, ignoring a policeman’s offer of a sandwich. That was one of the many dogs that seem to be a pet, appearing healthy and well-fed,

    but wandering lost and frightened.

    There are stories with a happy ending, but there are also those dealing with people who have lost their animals and animals that have lost their owners. Jolanda and Sandrino Tarquini is a couple in their 70s now living in the tent city, whose 10 year old black pincher, Pisolo, died. They could not find a particular medication he needed, and the rain and chill in the tent contributed to his death. “He had a coat but he wasn’t wearing it,” the owner said, while his wife cried.

    There are also those weird stories such as a man who asked firefighters to accompany him to his apartment located in a hazardous area in the center of L’Aquila, where no is allowed without authorization, in order to feed his iguana. And many people living in the tent city are curious to know what happened to all those exotic, and in some cases dangerous, animals such as snakes and spiders that survived the earthquake but escaped from the cages they were transported in. It is easier to take care of the canaries and parrots that are present in many of the tents since they don’t require a lot of attention.

    The earthquake involved not only pets living in apartments; many sheep and other farm animals were abandoned and died of starvation because they could not be reached in time. Hundreds of cows and sheep were crushed in collapsed stalls.

    The generosity of the Italians has helped not only human beings. Trucks full of pet and farm animal food arrived in Abruzzi, along with materials to build kennels, and computer chip readers to identify pets.

    It’s one more chance to reunite pets with their owners and look for as many happy endings as possible. For further information on initiatives to help animals who survived the earthquake in Abruzzi, please visit ENPA's website.

  • Facts & Stories

    Auguri Rita! The Future After 100 Years

    An enormous cake with chocolate and strawberries: What could be a better way to celebrate my 100th birthday? This was probably Rita Levi-Montalcini’s thought as she sliced the first cake in a series of auspicious events and celebrations that started a week before April 22, the date when she will become the first Nobel laureate to reach the age of 100. The famous Italian Nobel prize winner shared her cake with the press, scientists, colleagues, and those who
    attended at aceremony held in her honor by the European Brain Research Institute (EBRI). During this event she talked about her life and also announced that on her birthday in Rome there will be a scientific conference on the brain. Levi-Montalcini, who also serves as an Italian senator appointed for life, shared the 1986 Nobel Prize for Medicine with the American Stanley Cohen for discovering mechanisms that regulate the growth of cells and organs. “At 100, I have a mind that is superior – thanks to experience – than when I was 20,” she said during the party. Italy, and quite possibly the world, has never seen a scientist and a woman like her

    Born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Turin in 1909, Levi-Montalcini fought hard for her career from the start. First, there was her domineering father who didn’t believe that women should aspire to higher education. Despite his opposition, she graduated with honors in medicine from the University of Turin just before the outbreak of World War II. Her first mentor was Giuseppe Levi, a prominent in neurohistologist at the University of Turin. (Neurohistology is a branch of neurology that deals with the minute structure of animal and plant tissues as discernible with a microscope). In her autobiography In Praise of Imperfection Levi-Montalcini refers to him as “the Master.” He was an outspoken antifascist, renowned for his alarming fits of rage. But he was also the man who introduced her to her first passion: the developing nervous system. Under Levi’s guidance, she developed a technique that represented the key to her own success, that of silver-staining nerve cells. In the late 1930s Mussolini imposed the racial laws which forced so many Jews, including Levi-Montalcini, to leave universities and go into hiding. She told the audience at the EBRI how after these anti-Jewish laws were passed, she had to quit the university and conduct research in an improvised laboratory in her bedroom at home. Food was so scarce, she said, that after experimenting on chicken embryos, she would cook and eat the remaining yolks.
    “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments,” she said. “The best always comes from them. I should thank Mussolini for having declared me part of an inferior race. This led me to the joys of working, no longer at a university, but in a bedroom,” the scientist said. Between 1941 and 1943, Levi-Montalcini lived in a country cottage in the Piedmont region, and then went into hiding in Florence. After the Allied liberation of Italy in 1944, she worked as a doctor for refugees in Florence and in 1945 she returned to the University of Turin. Two years later she moved to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, becoming associate professor in 1956 and full professor from 1958 to 1977. During that period she became an American citizen. She then went back to Italy where she was appointed director of the Institute of Cell Biology of the Italian National Research Council in Rome in 1969, a position she held until her retirement in 1978. Among the many struggles that characterize her life, there was one in particular regarding her research that stands out. Part of the scientific establishment refused to believe in the existence of nerve growth factor (NGF), the discovery of which eventually won Levi-Montalcini the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with her colleague Stanley Cohen.

    “That discovery was huge; it opened up a whole field of understanding how cells talk and listen to each other,” said neuroscientist Bill Mobley of Stanford University, an admirer for more than 30 years. Hundreds of growth factors are now known to exist and they affect almost all facets of biology.

    Despite her age, Levi-Montalcini still works every day, wearing elegant outfits, with the hair stylishly coiffed and her hands perfectly manicured. Her mornings are dedicated to her namesake European Brain Research Institute (EBRI)–Rita Levi-Montalcini in the suburbs of Rome, while in the afternoons she goes downtown to the offices of an educational foundation for African women that she created in 1992.

    Turning 100 is no reason to stop fighting. ““What I did in the past is not enough — there is only the future,” says Levi-Montalcini. She has never hesitated to use her senate position to push for better scientific research in the Italy. And today she has another important battle to fight, something very close to her heart: the survival of the EBRI, which she created in 2002, is now in financial jeopardy. During the celebration held at the EBRI, the new Nobel Hall was inaugurated and dedicated in her honor. Levi-Montalcini was asked if she felt moved by this tribute. “The only thing that still moves me is life. I am deeply moved because I was able to reach this goal after having lived a life feeling an authentic joy and continuous curiosity.” Her words addressed to an attentive audience reflected a spiritual testament to having high moral standards. “The absolute evil of our times,” she forcefully stated, “is to not believe in values.

    It does not matter whether they are religious or secular. The younger generation must believe in something positive. Life deserves to be lived only if we believe in values, because they continue on after our deaths.” Rita Levi-Montalcini’s speech ended with a desire addressed to young people: “I wish them the same luck that led me to take no interest in myself, but to always show great attention towards everything around me, towards the world of science without neglecting the values of society.”

    “And just think, I wasn’t born to be a scientist,” she added, a statement that surprised the audience. “I wanted to go to Africa to help people in need. As an adolescent, I dreamed of emulating Albert Schweitzer by helping to cure lepers. Now, in the final stage of my life, I can at last help those people who have been exploited for centuries. I can say that the only ideal I have ever worked for was to help others, and perhaps for this reason research has given me more than I could ever hope.”

    After such an impressive speech given with customary simplicity, Rita Levi-Montalcini, with her white hair elegantly coifed and wearing a smart navy blue suit, raised a glass of sparkling wine and toasted her long life.

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)

  • Facts & Stories

    Lilly Ledbetter in Italy for the Celebration of International Women’s Day

    Lilly Ledbetter, who became a symbol for gender equality in the U.S. and elsewhere, was invited to Italy by the CGIL, one of the main Italian trade unions.

    The occasion was a special celebration of International Women’s Day at the Centro Congressi in Rome where she was given the symbolic “Non solo Mimose” award. Every year the award is presented to women who have struggled for equal rights in the workplace.

    Lilly Ledbetter has distinguished herself, and her case has become a sort of a milestone for the feminist cause. In 1979, she began working at the Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden, Ala. As one of the first women working there, Ledbetter rose to management but was not paid as much as her male counterparts, some of whom ranked below her. Lilly made the decision to fight against this clear gender discrimination in court and won the case.


    The jury awarded her several hundred thousand dollars in back pay and more than three million dollars in punitive damages. However, Goodyear appealed and the case ultimately went to the Supreme Court. With a five to four decision, the court decided in favor of Goodyear. The antidiscrimination law that Lilly was using as the basis of her suit stated that a complaint had to be filed no later than 180 days after the first occurrence of discrimination. This technical issue was at the basis of the high court’s decision to rule against her. As Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion, this is an unrealistic issue because in the real world people may just not be in position to learn that they are receiving less pay than their coworkers who are doing the same job until long after the discrimination starts. And this was clearly the case with Lilly Ledbetter. As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Lilly received none of the money that the trial jury had awarded her. To this day, she bears the financial impact of gender-based pay discrimination in the form of a smaller pension and smaller social security payments. But Lilly Ledbetter didn’t give up. She kept fighting for the rights of others. She testified at congressional hearings and lobbied for new legislation that would consider the problem realistically and help to solve it. Through her efforts and those of many others, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is just the beginning of a journey toward total equality. Obama has made a strong statement by making this the first bill he signed as president, but even he has acknowledged that this is just the beginning.

    In Italy the difference in wages for females and males is among the lowest in Europe, though there is a wide gap in the overall percentage of working women and working men. According to The Economist, European Commission data in Italy shows that the gap between wages for men and women is “only” 4%. Not too much, if compared to the European average: in 2007 the hourly wage for women in Europe was 17.4% lower than men’s wages. In Italy, however, there is a wide gap between the 70.7% of working men as opposed to the 46.6% of working women. It’s a difference of 24.1% which is far from the European average at 14.2%.

    At this point, according to The Economist, it is not difficult to understand why the difference between the men’s and women’s wages is “only” at 4%: first and foremost, Italian working women are more qualified than men. Those men and women who are not working are literally outside of the job market, and are therefore not included in the overall calculation.

    And so in Italy the “almost equality” is not equal at all, and the only hope is to find our own Lilly Ledbetter who can change the rather frustrating situation for women in the Belpaese.  




  • Life & People

    “Oh, mamma mia". Nancy Pelosi's Six-Day Visit to Italy

    The first stop was at the Aviano Air Base. She was accompanied by seven other members of Congress, all Democrats, many of whom are of Italian descent like her. She met with Italian leaders, the Pope, and also visited troops in Naples. On Sunday she visited museums in Florence and paid tribute to Americans killed in Italy during World War II in a ceremony at the Anglo-American war cemetery outside the city. On Monday Pelosi met President Giorgio Napolitano, and in the afternoon she held a conference at the Chamber of Deputies entitled Strong Allies for a Secure Future. There, she said that the U.S. administration is committed to a “new era of cooperation” with its allies. She met with the Italian Chamber of Deputies Speaker Gianfranco Fini who gave her a surprise gift: the birth certificates of her grandparents. “We know how proud you are of your Italian roots,” said Fini as he handed her the certificates of Pelosi’s Abruzzo-born grandfather and her Liguria-born grandmother.


    “Oh, mamma mia, I wasn’t expecting this, it’s such a great thrill,” replied a teary-eyed Pelosi. Pelosi’s paternal grandfather, Tommaso Fedele D’Alessandro, was born on September 11, 1868 in Montenerodomo near Chieti, Abruzzo. Her grandmother, Maria Petronilla Foppiani, was born in Rovegno near Genova in 1894. Fini also gave Pelosi a photo of Montenerodomo from her grandfather’s time and a letter from the mayor of Rovegno inviting her to visit her grandmother’s birthplace. She expressed her pride as a daughter of Italian immigrants coming back to her parents’ country as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives which is the third most important position in the nation. “There have been so many comments regarding the fact that I am the first woman,” Ms. Pelosi continued, “though I am so proud of being the first Italian-American.”  


    On Tuesday she had lunch with Premier Silvio Berlusconi who once again confirmed the strong connection between Italy and the U.S. and said that “we can emerge from this crisis by working together.” Later Ms. Pelosi met Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. At a dinner at Hotel Eden in Rome, Frattini stated that Italy-U.S. relations are based on “friendship and trust” between the two nations, their governments, and institutions. He also expressed the “commitment of the Italian government to cooperating even more closely with the United States,” through NATO in areas such as Afghanistan, as well as Africa which is “increasingly important for our government.” Frattini told Pelosi that “if Italy can do something, you can count on its support.” Pelosi replied that Rome and Washington “must reinforce their ties and work together” to confront global challenges such as the economic crisis, climate change, and security. Pelosi also met Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa who stated that Italy plans to increase its troops in Afghanistan in response to a call from the United States.  


    On Wednesday Pelosi had a short audience with Pope Benedict XVI. She was the highest-ranking US official to see the Pope since President Barack Obama took office last month, and the meeting was seen as significant since the new Democratic administration is at odds with the Vatican over abortion, stem cell research, and other bio-ethical issues. In a statement, the Vatican said that Benedict XVI “briefly greeted” Ms. Pelosi and her entourage after his weekly public audience and “took the opportunity to discuss the requirements of natural moral law and the church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.” The Pope added that all Catholics, “especially legislators, jurists, and those responsible for the common good of society,” should “work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.” Apparently this was a clear message to Ms. Pelosi who, despite her declaration of being an “ardent” Catholic, is a well-known supporter of abortion rights.


    Naples was the last stop where Pelosi met with U.S. servicemen and women stationed in the area. 


    It was a hectic trip that did not leave room for any personal time. Gossip columnists, though, report that Pelosi made a special appointment with a famous hairdresser in Rome, Fabrizio Narducci, who privately opened his beauty salon on Via Sistina for the illustrious guest. The night before, Narducci received a call from the U.S. Embassy to schedule an early-morning appointment for the next day. After the customary inspection by secret service agents, the car arrived with Nancy Pelosi accompanied by Lila Castellaneta, the wife of the Italian ambassador to the U.S. After almost an hour of down-time at the hairdresser when she momentarily became a “normal” woman who wished to have her hair shampooed and set, Pelosi returned to her role as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, ready to dive into the usual and exhausting series of bureaucratic meetings.

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)

  • Life & People

    Sanremo Festival: the Mirror of Italian Customs

    This year Sanremo is in its 59th edition, an important goal for a show that was born in 1951 with among its aims, a wish to promote the use of Italian language when a good portion of the population still spoke regional dialects. In those years following World War II, the festival of Italian song was also seen as useful for helping people move on from the war period, as a distraction that could create economic developments in the field of entertainment, which had not been fully exploited in Italy as it had been abroad. At that time the city of Sanremo was still recovering from those last reverberations of war, and its Teatro Comunale had been destroyed by air bombings. There was a strong will to leave the past behind and restore the city to the center of tourism it had once been.

    The first editions of the festival aired on the radio, and then from 1955 onwards on television. In the beginning songs dealt mainly with banal, simple, familiar, somewhat anachronistic and surreal themes, such as poppies, ducklings, little houses in Canada, old boots. In 1958 Domenico Modugno’s cry “volare” represented a shake, a sort of awakening signaling that the society was changing, with a nod to rock and roll and other musical influences from around the world. The lyrics of the songs started to change too, drawing inspiration from topical facts. All this culminated in the first scandals that in every edition are a “must”, inevitable occurrences. Like in 1959, when Jula De Palma, performing a sensual song, “Tua”, spurred protests from viewers who thought her long dress too closely resembled a nightgown and that her sultry voice was too provocative. In 1960 Modugno’s song “Libero” was considered by some conventional thinkers as a threat to the unity of family. It can safely be said that since its birth there has never been a boring, uneventful edition of Sanremo! In 1967, though, the festival turned tragic: Luigi Tenco, a singer excluded from the competition for his subversive entry, a song that was a criticism of modern society, killed himself in his hotel room. There is still a dark shadow that hangs over that year of the festival, with a recurring hypothesis made by some of Tenco’s friends, who assert he was killed. The motivations behind his extreme act remain mysterious.

    The festival has been witness to the evolution of Italian generations and the influence of historic events on their society. For instance, “Proposta” by the group I Giganti, was performed at Sanremo in 1967 and represented a rejection of the war in Vietnam, with a refrain that incorporated the famous pacifist slogan “put flowers into your guns”. Another, “Chi non lavora non fa l’amore”, a 1970 song by Adriano Celentano, analyzes the difficulties of a worker on strike. From the Sixties on, many of the songs of Sanremo treated the problems of everyday life and the competition left space for gossip about the festival’s cast, not just the singers. With time it has become a customary event, snubbed by intellectuals, but avidly followed and commented during its broadcast. It may seem paradoxical, but especially in the last years, the festival tends to be commented even before it begins, because of the many rumors and gossip items propagated by agents and press reports, seeking to work up as much attention as possible. Of course, emphasis is given to everything but the songs themselves, which should be at the center of the event!

    This year, however, one song by Povia is already under the media lens for its contentious topic. The title is self-explanatory: “Luca era gay”. Generally the lyrics of song entries are released before the contest. And so it was year too, with the exception of Povia’s lyrics which were kept unknown. Naturally this built curiosity around his song, and meanwhile the title alone had the effect of mobilizing Italian gay and lesbian associations. Indeed Povia declared that in his opinion it is possible to heal from homosexuality, as he considers it an illness. Gays and lesbians prepared a series of protests in Sanremo to raise awareness on a subject “that cannot be viewed as a musical-media operation, representing an ever-present wound for all those homosexuals in Italy who are still fighting against homophobia and ignorance”.

    There are further controversies regarding the payment of Paolo Bonolis, the show’s host, who stands to make one million euros: a “scandal” according to critics who feel the sum is unwarranted during a time of economic crisis. Bonolis defends his remuneration, claiming that he has worked on the Sanremo project every day for the past year and that the sum given to Pippo Baudo for the last edition of the festival was almost the same (900.000 euros). Roberto Benigni’s paycheck for the event, 350.000 euros, has also been seen as excessive. The representative of the center-right party PDL, Maurizio Gasparri, challenged Benigni, a famously outspoken leftist, and proposed he do the right thing “as man of the left, and give the 350.000 euros to the redundancy fund beneficiaries”. 

    The appearance of contestant Mariano Apicella on Sunday February 22 is also highly anticipated. The Neapolitan, a former unlicensed park attendant who used to sing traditional songs while “at work”, was “discovered” years ago by Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi during a visit to Naples. Apicella’s life was radically reversed by the encounter: today he is rich, famous and together with Berlusconi, the co-author of three albums of romantic Neapolitan music. Paolo Bonolis dares not confess it, but the icing on the cake for his edition of the festival would be the surprise appearance of the premier during Apicella’s performance.
    The 59th edition of Sanremo is ready to provide its usual supply of scandals, gossip, distractions: an event often criticized, sometimes loathed and yet secretly and hungrily watched. Representing a sort of holy ritual before springtime, Italians have not been able to give it up ever since that fateful first show in 1951.

    Fiorello-Benigni a Sanremo 2002

  • Facts & Stories

    Inauguration According to Italian Newspapers

    Hope, fear, the economic crisis, skepticism, are just some of the sentiments expressed in our press.

    The first page of the Corriere della Sera synthesizes the new president’s speech in the title “Obama, An Era of Responsibility” and in the first eleven pages there is full coverage, from the most serious issues to the light ones: gossip, apparently, is also appreciated by readers. Included is an interview with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, who admired Obama’s words: “The moral leadership of the USA is coming back again”. The political philosopher Paul Berman noted that “It was an appeal to the spirit of the nation”. There was also news of Wall Street’s further decline, dropping 4%, an event that had never occurred on Inauguration Day 
    La Repubblica headlined with “The Hour of Responsibility” and dedicated nine pages to the event. An entire page was devoted to the first lady’s outfit and to her strong character. On that same topic Jamaican writer Zadie Smith remarked that if Michelle Obama “had been a white woman no one would have criticized her attitude”. In Vittorio Zucconi and Alexander Stille’s comments certain novelties that Obama will bring were underlined: first of all, the farewell to “the Bush ideology” and a different approach to foreign policy. Then, an analysis of Obama’s language, full of symbols, even religious ones, and references to God, Lincoln and Martin Luther King. 
    The center-right daily Il Giornale, owned by the Berlusconi family, featured a front-page title emphasizing that the new president’s “opening” towards Islam and the fall of Wall Street were conspicuously absent elements in “the crowning of the first black president”. The editor, Mario Giordano, rather sarcastically asks, after having heard the speech: “Is that all, dear Barack?” And in his editorial Giordano shares that he is unable to be moved by what happened in the United States. “I hear opinion-makers talking about a global turning point –he continues- about an epochal event, I’ve witnessed the euphoric attitude shown by ministers attending  the fashion parades, and unfortunately I am unable to feel part of all this. I am sorry. All I can see are traces of honest rhetoric, some sparks of vigor and a handful of good feelings. We can and ‘volemose bene’ (that is an exhortation to love each other in the Roman dialect, used in a sarcastic way, ndr).”       
    It is impossible not to note that Obama’s Inauguration, an amazing real-time TV show, was followed from every part of the world. Every part of the world BUT Italy. In fact two of the three official national channels, Raiuno and Raidue, did all but snub the ceremony. By law every Italian watching these channels has to pay a tax to receive their broadcasts. This should mean that all main events, especially those connected to the news and to important contemporary facts, merit full coverage and should be considered a priority. Additionally, the three free TV channels belonging to Mr. Berlusconi also decided not to show the ceremony live. The reason for such an omission is a mystery.
    Only a few minutes were dedicated to the President’s oath on Canale 5, one of the premier’s networks, then shortly afterward, supposed audience favorites such as Big Brother, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and local crime news returned to the airwaves—evidently they are a priority compared with the Inauguration of the first African-American President in the history of the United States. This attitude is rather inexplicable when other moments like, for instance, the press conferences of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, are given considerable space—and sometimes are even shown twice, at different times, to give another chance to those who had the misfortune of missing them the first time.
    The pay-tv channels such as Sky and other cable channels were connected to Washington with complete coverage. What a pity that not at all Italians could enjoy this privilege, especially those who pay for a yearly subscription to the national channels! The most cynical pundits observed that Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, lacking his own opportunity to take a televised oath, decided to ignore what was happening on the other side of the ocean, since he retains control of the national channels and his privately-owned stations. Could it be true? Indeed, when a journalist asked the Italian premier why he wouldn’t go to Washington for the Inauguration, he replied that he is a “protagonist, not an extra”!
    Italian opinion of Obama is mainly positive. I asked students, common people and relatives, and all expressed feelings of hope and faith in the capabilities of the new president. I was very surprised, for example, to hear Giovanna, 52, an elementary school teacher, declare that Obama is her president, that she “looks to him because the situation in Italy is incredibly depressing”. Giulio, 18, a student, told me that he envies the Americans “because they had the courage to change, to give power to a young man who had spent relatively little time in political office, and furthermore…is black!” Elsa, 90, a retired postal worker, is literally in love with Barack Obama, she “would marry him” and is so sure that “he will solve all problems with patience and capability”. This Obama-mania has endured for months, increasing and winning over more fans day after day. Here in Italy there is a sense of weariness because of the political class’ apparent inability to renew itself. Unfortunately, at least for now, it seems almost impossible that a miraculous Italian Obama will arrive on the political scene and finally lift our country to a mature and developed democracy.

  • Art & Culture

    Luigi Barzini. Italy, Europe & America

    “Italy has been unstable since the Visigoths sacked Rome in 456 A.D. It will remain unstable indefinitely.”


    “Italy is universally considered a particularly unpredictable and deceptive country. . . . There are no sure guides to what Italy is and what it might do next. Italians themselves are almost always baffled by their own behavior.”


    These quotations show a deep sense of humor and hide, but not too much, a sad resignation. They were written more than thirty years ago by Luigi Barzini Jr., one of the greatest Italian journalists and writers of the twentieth century. His father, Luigi Sr., was a famous journalist too, an editor of the Corriere della Sera, and an adventurer. His book, Peking to Paris, documented a 1907 legendary motor race over that route, run while he was accompanying Prince Scipione Borghese. Following his father’s path, Luigi Jr. had a really adventrous life. He worked as a journalist throughout his existence, even though he can also be considered a writer and acute thinker. Born in 1908, he studied in Italy and at Columbia University, also working for two New York newspapers. After graduating he came back to Italy in 1930 and became a correspondent for the Corriere della Sera. He returned to the U.S. to follow the events before World War II, writing keen coverage of the New Deal, the 1936 elections and America’s mood on the eve of a terrible war. Shortly after Barzini’s return to Europe, Hitler invaded Poland and he was sent as a correspondent to London. In 1940 he was jailed in Rome as an opponent of Mussolini’s regime, after which the Fascists confined him to forced residence in a village. After the Allied liberation he returned to publishing, becoming the chief editor of several newspapers and magazines, and a writer. His most famous books are Americans Are Alone in the World (1953), The Italians: A Full Length Portrait (1964), From Caesar to the Mafia (1971), O America When You and I were Young (1977), The Europeans (1984). He died in 1984. Barzini’s most famous book, The Italians (1964), is a rich cultural portrait of his people made using a unique style and a language entertaining to his readers. Barzini elegantly creates unforgettable drawings representing vices and virtues of the Bel Paese’s inhabitants and his acute analyses are so topical, with a “prophetic” characteristic typical of great intellectuals. He presents to his readers two Italies: one of them was the homeland of geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci, Dante Alighieri, St. Thomas of Aquino. This outstanding Italy is opposed to another one that is weak, unable to react, backward in political action, “invaded, ravaged, sacked, and humiliated in every century.” According to Barzini, “Italians have always excelled in all activities in which the appearance is predominant: architecture, decoration, landscape gardening, the figurative arts, pageantry, fireworks, ceremonies, opera, and now industrial design, stage jewelry, fashions, and the cinema. The paradox is that a country that gave an important contribution to the idea of modernity, the land where politics became a discipline, thanks to the writings of Machiavelli, keeps producing throughout the century politics that are more picturesque than practical, politics that care for appearances more than for serious and responsible action”. Thoughts that also describe contemporary Italy to a tee!


    In his writing he supports the theory by which Italy is more a geographical concept than a real nation and that its inhabitants live on “public lies” and “private truths”. He points out that his peers have lost their faith in any kind of government and that they may never achieve enough self-confidence to exert real control over international economic or political affairs. Barzini thinks that the only fundamental institution in the country is the family, within which Italians practice “virtues other men usually dedicate to the welfare of their country at large; the Italians’ family loyalty is their true patriotism.” However, Barzini explains, the strength of the family is not only a defense against disorder, “but one of its principal causes.” Barzini’s words show his deep turmoil of feelings, a mixture of disillusion, love, hate, sarcasm, sense of humor, words that could have been written just yesterday.


    His capacity to “read” the worlds that surround him permeates all his writings. For example in 1977, after having spent years in the U.S. both as a student and a worker, he wrote the essay O America: in it he pointed out how hard it is to present to the Americans a modern image of Italy. “I translated aloud writings by Leopardi and Dante, - Barzini wrote in O America- also to show that Italy is not only tomato sauce and cloves of garlic.” He was clearly referring to the immigrants arriving in America in miserable conditions at the end of 1800s and at the beginning of 1900s: in some way they must be considered the ancestors of those who nowadays take long boat journeys to emigrate in foreign countries. Among them, we can also include those who have fed the waves of immigration in Italy in recent years. In this case too, Barzini’s gift for anticipating events is more than evident: he recognizes the necessity for integration and cooperation, leaving no room for stereotypes. Going back to 1954, we find further evidence of the impressive gift that makes of him an acute observer.


    In fact, when in Americans Are Alone in the World he talks about the differences between Europe and America his words sound incredibly suited to modern times: “We, in Europe, know little and decide nothing . . . They, the Americans, are alone in the world and carry war and peace on their lap, and . . . nobody can really advise, help or guide them.”


    The reader approaching his writings admires him wholeheartedly but also wonders, what would his opinion be on today’s politics, the contemporary world, the U.S after 9/11, the recent economic crisis? What would Barzini have written on these matters?




  • Art & Culture

    De Andre's Music with Mauro Pagani. Interview

    This week in New York there will be an event not to be missed on November 16 at 5:30 p.m. at Christ the King High School in Queens. The Italian Consulate is sponsoring a free public concert which will introduce the U.S. to Fabrizio De Andrè, the great Italian artist who passed away nearly ten years ago. His music will be interpreted by Mauro Pagani, De Andrè’s friend and musical collaborator who is also a versatile musician in his own right, capable of playing everything from 70s rock to folk and ethnic music. Pagani, a founding member of Premiata Forneria Marconi, the legendary Italian group of the 70s, has worked with many famous names in Italian music in addition to De Andrè, the celebrated Genovese singer-song-writer. Since his career debut in 1958, De Andrè has revealed himself to be an artist focused on going deeper to discover the essence of human reality often made of sadness, fragility, and mystery. Through his ballads suspended between myth and realty, he revolutionized the canon of traditional Italian songs. De Andrè’s world was always populated by those who were cast out – derelicts, prostitutes, and lost souls. They were all losers who were fighting an unfair battle against the arrogant, the powerful, the self-righteous, and the Pharisees. His music was inspired by medieval ballads, but also by songs of Sardinian shepherds, Baudelaire, and many others. His described his universe in ironic terms, laid everything bare, and went against all conventions. Mario Luzi, one of the greater Italian poets of the twentieth century, said: “De Andrè is really the singer-song-writer par excellence, an artist who realized the inter-relationship between literary and musical texts. His music tells a story and it digs deep.” In fact, his music continued to evolve, stretching out in different directions, searching for and experimenting with the new while and never yielding to the whims of fashion.

    I asked him to share “his” De Andrè with us – how they met and how their friendship and partnership developed over time:  

    My first meeting with Fabrizio De Andrè goes back to 1970; it was fleeting and absolutely by chance. I had just joined a group of talented musicians, and a few months later we started P. F. M. At that time we frequently worked in shifts as studio musicians. It was actually in those days in 1970 when I went to find them in Recordi’s studio where they had been called to work on the recording sessions for Fabrizio’s album La Buona Novella. It was a short meeting with few words, but at the same time it was the beginning of a relationship that would develop over the years. We practically did not meet again until 1981 when we again met by chance in a recording studio. This time it was in Carimate’s Stone Castle Studios where he was recording L’ Indiano and I was recording the soundtrack for Gabriele Salvatores’ first film Sogno di una notte d’estate (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) based on the comedy by William Shakespeare. On that occasion he invited me to play on his tours: and so a relationship that was destined to last 14 years was born!  

    In 1984, De Andrè threw himself into an original project that surprised the Italian music scene: Creuza de ma. It was an album which became a cornerstone in Italian music, born out of his collaboration with Mauro Pagani.  Written completely in the Genovese dialect, “the neo-Latin language rich with Arabic sounds,” it is De Andrè’s tribute to “his” Genoa. He envisioned it as a sort of microcosm with the “flavor of Genoa’s sea, the aroma of its kitchen, but also the stench of its port and the rotten fish.” It is a Genoa that has “the face of the outcasts in the old city, the ‘charms’ of Via del Campo, the ‘flowers that bloom from manure.’” With this album De Andrè  journeyed through clear and unforgettable images accompanied by typically Mediterranean sounds with traditional North African, Greek, and Provençal instruments, from the Macedonian gaida to the Andalusian guitar, from the Turkish shannaj to the Arabic lute, all melded with electric instruments. It is an unforgettable album which was critically acclaimed as the best album of the year and of the decade. I asked Pagani the obvious question: When did you realize that Creuza de ma represented a cornerstone in Italian music?


    At least a couple of years after its release, with respect to its incredible critical success and the astonishing number of awards and recognitions that it received.

    What is Fabrizio De Andrè’s artistic and cultural legacy?  

    His ability to recount dreams with unparalleled grace and lightness, the contradictions and the profound qualities of ordinary people without making them banal or passing judgment.   

    In 2004 you created a sequel for the twentieth anniversary release of Creuza de ma. How did this idea come about?

    In 1984 when we finished the album, we had the confidence and the justifiable aspiration to be a part of that wonderful and boundless cultural basin that is the Mediterranean. For years we had listened to Turkish, Greek, North African music, we devoured its poetry and we shared our aspirations. But in reality we had very few relationships or close friendships with musicians coming from that geographic area. Therefore, we were compelled to make a record that was less than a real journey and more of a dream, a sort of romantic affair where everything was imagined and sketched in pencil on the basis of listening and reading. Twenty years later it seemed to me that the time had arrived to transform that dream into a true journey, populated with real not invented characters, with voices and percussionists of the Maghreb, and Turkish and Persian clarinet players.  

    January 11, 2009 will mark the tenth anniversary of Fabrizio De Andrè’s passing. Over the years were there moments in which you truly felt his absence?


    Through 14 years of working daily side-by-side, you become friends, accomplices, and companions on the journey. So when a friend passes on, you miss him every day in some way, you miss his remarks, his intelligence, and his affection.  

    In Milan you opened the “Officine Meccaniche” (The Machine Shops), a new label as well as a recording studio that within a few years also became a meeting place for musicians. How do you see the future of Italian music in our society that is increasingly more multicultural?  

    I wait and dream that Italian music will become more “Italian” – with an identity and a strong and unmistakable sound, one that relies less on foreign productions and at the same time reaches such a level of professionalism that it is able to compete and claim a permanent place in the world market. Because “contamination” breeds novelty and not necessarily bad copying, it is important to have the curiosity, the courage, and the personality of someone who has much to offer and not only wants to   take.  

    And so it is an event not to be missed: a proper tribute to the exceptional artist Fabrizio De Andrè and a journey through his immortal music that will enchant New York with the sounds and moods skillfully recreated by the great Mauro Pagani.


    Sunday's concert will be preceded by a preview to be held on November 14, 6 p.m. at the Italian Cultural Institute (686 Park Avenue, NYC).

    (Translated by Giulia Prestia)


  • Mauro Pagani porta "l'universo De Andrè" nel Queens. Intervista con il musicista

    Questa settimana a New York ci sarà un evento da non perdere. Il 16 novembre alle 5:30 pm, al teatro della Christ the King High School nel Queens il Consolato Italiano offrirà un concerto totalmente gratuito per ricordare e  far conoscere anche negli Stati Uniti Fabrizio De Andrè, grande artista italiano scomparso quasi dieci anni fa, l’11 gennaio 1999.


    I brani saranno interpretati da Mauro Pagani, amico e collaboratore di De Andrè, nonché musicista versatile capace di passare dal rock degli anni '70, alla musica popolare ed etnica.

    Fondatore con Franco Mussida, Franz Di Cioccio e Flavio Premoli della Premiata Forneria Marconi, “mitico” gruppo degli anni Settanta, col tempo Mauro Pagani ha lavorato per molti nomi famosi della musica italiana tra cui, appunto, il cantautore genovese.

    A dire il vero, definire De Andrè solo “cantautore” è riduttivo, dal momento che da anni ormai, sulle antologie delle scuole medie e superiori italiane vengono riportati i testi delle sue canzoni più famose, come “Via del Campo” o “Bocca di rosa”, vere e proprie poesie. Sin dagli esordi della sua carriera, nel 1958, De Andrè si è rivelato come un artista teso ad andare a fondo, alla scoperta dell’essenza della realtà umana fatta spesso di tristezza, fragilità, miseria. Nelle sue ballate sospese tra mito e realtà ha rivoluzionato quelli che erano i canoni della canzone italiana tradizionale. Il mondo di De Andrè è sempre stato un universo popolato di emarginati, derelitti, prostitute, anime perse. Tutti perdenti che si trovano a fronteggiare in una lotta impari l’arroganza del potere, i benpensanti, i farisei.

    Un universo che trova ispirazione nelle ballate medievali, ma anche nei canti dei pastori sardi, nell’Antologia di Spoon River, in Baudelaire e tanti altri. Un mondo descritto in maniera ironica, dissacrante, andando contro tutte le convenzioni. Mario Luzi, uno dei

    maggiori poeti italiani del Novecento, ha detto: “De Andrè è veramente lo chansonnier per eccellenza, un artista che si realizza proprio nell’intertestualità tra testo letterario e testo musicale. Ha una storia e morde davvero”. Ed infatti, come per il testo, anche la sua evoluzione musicale è sempre tesa alla ricerca, alla sperimentazione, al nuovo, mai disposta a cedere alle mode in voga. 

    Ho fatto alcune domande via e-mail ad un Mauro Pagani in partenza per New York e gli ho chiesto di raccontare il “suo” De Andrè, come si sono conosciuti e come si è sviluppata nel tempo la loro amicizia e collaborazione:

    "Il mio primo incontro con Fabrizio De Andrè risale al 1970 ed è stato assolutamente fugace e casuale. Mi ero appena unito professionalmente a un gruppo di bravissimi musicisti, con i quali pochi mesi più tardi avrei fondato la P.F.M.,i quali a quel tempo prestavano spesso la loro opera in qualità di turnisti di sala di registrazione. Proprio in quei giorni del 1970 andai a trovarli negli studi della Ricordi dove erano stati chiamati a partecipare alle sessioni di registrazione per il disco La Buona Novella di Fabrizio. Fu un incontro breve e di poche parole, ma allo stesso tempo l’inizio di un rapporto che si sarebbe consolidato negli anni. Fino al 1981 non ci incontrammo praticamente più, almeno fino a quando non ci trovammo di nuovo casualmente in uno studio di registrazione, questa volta agli Stone Castle Studios di Carimate, dove lui stava registrando L’Indiano e io la colonna sonora del primo film di Gabriele Salvatores, Sogno di una notte d’estate, tratto dall’omonima commedia di W. Shakespeare. In quell’occasione mi invitò a partecipare in qualità di musicista alle suetournée: nacque così un rapporto destinato a durare 14 anni!"

     Inevitabile la domanda a Pagani: quando vi siete resi conto che Creuza de ma avrebbe rappresentato una chiave di volta nella musica italiana?

     Almeno un paio di anni dopo la sua pubblicazione, di fronte all’ incredibile successo di critica e allo stupefacente numero di riconoscimenti e premi che aveva collezionato.


    Qual’è l’eredità artistica e culturale di Fabrizio De Andrè?

     La capacità di raccontare con una grazia e una leggerezza senza pari i sogni, le contraddizioni e le qualità più profonde della gente comune, senza mai banalizzare o giudicare.

     Nel 2004 lei ha realizzato una rivisitazione per il ventennale di Creuza de ma. Come è nata questa idea?

     Quando nel 1984 realizzammo il disco avevamo la certezza e la giustificata aspirazione di far parte di quel meraviglioso e sconfinato bacino culturale che è il Mediterraneo. Ascoltavamo da anni musica turca, greca, nordafricana, ne divoravamo la poesia e condividevamo le aspirazioni. Ma, in realtà con pochi musicisti provenienti da quell’area geografica avevamo scambi, rapporti o conoscenze dirette. Quindi, siamo stati costretti a realizzare un disco che più che un vero viaggio era un sogno, una sorta di romanzo d’avventure dove tutto era immaginato e tratteggiato a matita sulla base di ascolti e letture. A vent’anni di distanza mi è sembrato fosse arrivato il momento di trasformare quel sogno in un viaggio vero, popolato di personaggi reali e non inventati, di voci del magreb, di percussionisti e clarinettisti turchi e persiani.

      L’11 gennaio 2009 saranno dieci anni che Fabrizio De Andrè se n’è andato. Durante questi anni ci sono stati dei momenti in cui ha avvertito di più la sua mancanza? 

     In 14 anni di lavoro quotidiano fianco a fianco si diventa amici, complici e compagni di viaggio. Così quando un amico se ne va ti manca ogni giorno in qualche modo, ti mancano le sue battute, la sua intelligenza e il suo affetto.

     A Milano ha aperto le “Officine Meccaniche”, una nuova etichetta nonchè studio di registrazione che in pochi anni è diventato anche luogo di aggregazione per i musicisti. Come vede il futuro della musica italiana, in una società come la nostra sempre più multiculturale?


    Mi aspetto e sogno che la musica italiana diventi sempre più “italiana” con un’ identità e un suono forti e inconfondibili; che sempre meno scimmiotti le produzioni straniere e allo stesso tempo raggiunga un livello di professionalità tale da poter competere alla pari con chiunque e ritagliarsi finalmente un posto stabile nel mercato mondiale. Perché le contaminazioni generino novità e non tristi scopiazzature bisogna avere la curiosità, il coraggio e la personalità di chi ha molto da offrire e non solo molto da prendere.
    Insomma, un'occasione da non perdere, un omaggio doveroso ad un artista unico, un viaggio attraverso la musica immortale di Fabrizio De Andrè pronta ad incantare New York con suoni e atmosfere ricreati sapientemente dal grande Mauro Pagani.  

    Il concerto di domenica sara' preceduto da un'anteprima all'Istituto di Cultura Italiana (686 Park Avenue, NYC). il 14 novembre alle ore 18.

  • Facts & Stories

    Italian and American Politics: an Ocean of Differences

     A classy speech, a lesson in style. These thoughts came to mind while I was listening to John McCain’s concession speech. Words full of dignity and patriotism. His call to be united under Obama’s presidency was respectful towards the man chosen by the American people. And in Obama’s speech there were also gracious feelings for the man who, just a few hours before, was his opponent.


    Election Day came, and a night full of emotions followed: a memorable event that was watched in every part of the world.
    The American dream is contagious here in Italy, too. The joy in the faces of thousands of people in Chicago but in Phoenix as well (despite the defeat) shows that still there is hope for the future, a confidence that the economic crisis will end at last. Though, after the enthusiasm and the emotion, so many Italians woke up again…the American dream vanished and the reality appeared more miserable than ever.
    Is there in the Italian political panorama one, just one person who would behave such as John McCain and Barack Obama did? It is so hard to imagine. In the last year we witnessed fights, insults, ruthless debates. Obama was so clear in his speech: “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity.”
    The partisanship he referred to has nothing to do with partisanship in the Belpaese; it is milder in the U.S. Italian politics have always been very spirited, though after the arrival of Silvio Berlusconi almost twenty years ago, it became a never ending fight – a sort of reality show with frequent stage tricks and politicians who care more about maintaining their positions than taking the public interest into consideration. After the political elections in 2006, for example, when Romano Prodi won, Silvio Berlusconi refused to recognize his defeat and questioned the validity of the result of the elections because between there were only a few deciding votes. It was impossible for Prodi to rule the country in such a tenuous situation and with the center-right opposition refusing to communicate and boycotting every new law introduced by the majority.
    After two years in which the country was practically at a dead lock, there were the inevitable elections of 2008 and the situation reversed. Silvio Berlusconi’s victory was so huge that the defeated Walter Veltroni, leader of the center-left Democratic Party, was forced to make a concession call to his opponent. It was the only moment showing fair play after a “bloody” electoral campaign.
    Then the never ending arm wrestling started again, and it is still continuing. Even the results of the American election was cause for renewed competition and both the opponents, Silvio Berlusconi and Walter Veltroni along with their colleagues, are playing the part of the “most Obamian”

    of all.
    “Obama is ours!” states Veltroni, having the illusion that the democratic wave will reach the Belpaese. Berlusconi seems to have already forgotten “his dear friend” George W. Bush and attracts the attention of the entire world by giving the new president the most back-handed compliment.
    The scenario is discouraging here in Italy, while on the other side of the ocean there are historical moments and a new hope is rising. John McCain’s speech really impressed the Italians. One of my neighbors, Federico, an 18-year old student, is young and yet he has a pessimistic attitude: “The media showed that the Americans are a winning people mainly because they have the capability and the intelligence to reach their goal at any cost – even if it means being united, going beyond differences and grudges, and putting the common welfare first. Here, such a speech would be impossible with our politicians from either side!” Another neighbor, Paola, 52, a high school teacher gives a personal interpretation of McCain’s words: “Probably it was a speech written by a ghost writer, as is usual. Perhaps he decided to leave the political scene, after the defeat, with style, using words coming from the mind and not from the heart. Though,” she concludes, “his words are impressive and show the American spirit.” Paola’s daughter, Roberta, 27, adds: “I envy their sense of union. After the results were in, all the flags of the parties disappeared, and there were only American flags. McCain’s words seemed to come from another planet: he stated that all must stand together, united – an idea that is the opposite of Bossi’s “Padania” and Lega Nord [the Italian separatist movement allied with Silvio Berlusconi].”
    At this point there is no doubt: “America is a place where all things are possible.” And here?
    No, we can’t.

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)