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Articles by: Eleonora Mazzucchi

  • Art & Culture

    Mario Fratti's Award-Winning "Nine" is Re-Imagined by Hollywood

    Almost thirty years ago playwright Mario Fratti spun 8 ½ into Nine. Inspired by Fellini’s iconic work, Nine is a multi Tony Award-winning musical that starred Antonio Banderas and became a Broadway mainstay at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre during the 80’s. Now the story of protagonist Guido Contini, a successful filmmaker whose life is an amusing circus of women, from mistress, to mother, to wife, is being adapted into a film by Rob Marshall.

    With a budget of over $80 million Marshall’s Nine is one of the most ambitious and anticipated movies of 2009. The eclectic, star-studded cast reads like a who’s who of actors from both sides of the Atlantic: Daniel Day-Lewis (in the title role of Guido), Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Martina Stella, Elio Germano and Ricky Tognazzi. The film is currently in post-production and shooting is being completed along the Lazio coast.

    It is difficult to know whether Nine’s original creator imagined an outcome of such Hollywood-like proportions. Mario Fratti began his career at only 22, when his controversial work Il nastro, a drama about Communist partisans’ confessions obtained under torture, won the RAI award. His writings would continue to be considered subversive in Italy, until in 1962 Lee Strasberg, singularly impressed with Fratti’s submission to the Spoleto Festival, encouraged him to join the Actor’s Studio. A year later he moved to New York, where he felt at home in the city’s avant-garde theater world. He would go on to write several plays, a large majority of which politically-tinged, with such self-explanatory titles as Chile, 1973; Leningrad Euthanasia; AIDS; the biographical Eleonora Duse (on the life of the legendary Italian actress) and Che Guevara. In all he has produced over 80 plays, translated into 20 languages. Nine remains his most well-known work to date.

    His awards and achievements are many, including eight Drama Desk awards and seven Tony’s. Along with praise for his “strong, cogent and tightly knit plays” (The Washington Post), most notably, Fratti has been called a “Pirandello of our time”. 

  • Life & People

    A Skeptic's Inauguration Diary



    Full Disclosure: I was not, and am not to this day, an Obamista, as it is understood in the context of earnest yet bordering-on-fanatical Obama supporters. My Italian mother, however, is. And were it not for her and her single-minded idealism (she has been at one time or another, a Communist, a Buddhist, a Freudian, a power-mom) I might not have decided that attending the Inauguration was a priority. If you ask my mother, it was mandatory, and in the run-up to our trip to Washington not a moment passed when she didn’t wonder aloud, in the reproachful tone reserved for child molesters and whale poachers, how anyone could have stayed home. Those, she said, who thought making the hike to the capital was grueling or uncomfortable or inconvenient were sissies. So thank you, Mom, for getting me up at 4 in the morning and sparing me from the class of people you termed lazy and cynical. It was worth it.   

     
     

    In her usual fretful way my mother kept on reminding me to use a bathroom. She started this chant Tuesday morning when were an hour early for the train out of Penn Station, as the pamphlet she clutched warned, perhaps too alarmingly, once in D.C. there might not be anywhere to relieve oneself. As it turned out, the city abounded with port-a-potties, a skyline of them conjoined with the Capitol and Jefferson Monument. For an instant, taking in the blindingly bright, cold day, I had the impression of having landed in a bizarre political-themed amusement park. The effect was disorienting. Droves of people, uncertain of which road to take, moved away from the station, each covered in at least twelve layers of clothing—having evidently heeded the recommendation to keep warm—while vendors hawking Inauguration paraphernalia pushed through with their carts. They were, in terms of gleaning any information as to where to position oneself for an optimal view of the proceedings, utterly useless. In fact, when I asked one which direction the Mall was in he scratched his head in all sincerity and asked, “The closest shopping mall?” Another, selling dubious slangy t-shirts (“A Black President! Wutchu Think About Dat!?”), portly and in need of a good dentist, responded in a gruff Southern accent that he wasn’t from the area. It is difficult to say whether this is heartening news for our economy or not, but apparently some came from far and wide for the sole purpose of making a buck.

                               

    We made our way toward a 7th street shortcut, off a tip from an overwhelmed and enervated police officer. When he gave directions he didn’t fail to add “Yeah, if you make it there”. He was visibly pained by the civil disorder that encircled him and something in his distracted, tortured eyes suggested he couldn’t wait to get back to writing up parking tickets.

     

    As we followed the tide of roaming flocks up E street, a wide thoroughfare that yielded entrance to the event, a couple of things struck me: the first, a sizeable majority of our fellow Inauguration watchers, if not three quarters, were black. I had to ask myself why. Was this not a moment that belonged to all of us, did white people feel it was less important? Second was that Washington, an unattractive city that outside of its monuments offers no more than a sprawl of drably colored monoliths, looked far more appealing in its new topsy-turvy guise, with roads closed off to cars, red-white-and-blue banners and Obama’s image ubiquitous at every turn. The formerly solemn and powerful capital had become a populist one. A spirit of good will took hold, a common pulse, a sense of anticipation stirring within the people who, squinting toward the sky, followed the echo of helicopters. They knew they were on the cusp of something significant—dare I say change?

     

    As it were, access to the Inauguration was all but refused to anyone who hadn’t camped out on the Mall in the middle of the night. But oddly invigorated by the cold, my mother and I were not discouraged. We stood behind one of the many gates that sealed off the Mall and contented ourselves with an audio version of the program, as did others—except for a nimble teenage boy, who, in a flash, jumped the gate and walked away casually, as though he had been on the other side the entire time. I watched him go and for a moment wished I had had the courage to do the same (naturally, if I'd been endowed with superhero high-jumping skills). Yet there was something to be said about those like us who watched through the grid: a mother feeding her boy a cold slice of pizza, a man and his elderly father. They were appropriately Norman Rockwell-like, ideal for the picture of America we no longer recognized in ourselves. It was part of the image Obama sought to resurrect, though in his Inaugural address he was saved not so much by use of compelling imagery as the orotund quality of his voice. The familiar, almost liturgical sound effaced the words it was meant to deliver—perhaps a blessing given the unusually clichéd historical references that were made. But a few phrases rose above the tangled speech: “To all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more. […]Our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.” It was the instance of definitive rupture with our all-too recent past, the closest we have heard to a promise of peace.

     

    There were funnier moments too, ones worth relishing for their sheer displays of glee. In a hot crowded bar televising the passing of the torch from Bushes to Obamas, spectators laughed at a helpless, and clearly disgruntled, wheelchair-bound Cheney. They yelled “sayonara!” and waved goodbye to the former first couple, speedily flown away from their seat of power. Joy and relief had their place again.

     

    As I remember walking away from this scene with my mother, rubbing our hands for warmth with the weather chillier and the sunlight dwindling, a silly story I heard through the grapevine comes to mind. A New York high society girl, fortunate enough to have had a ticket to the Inauguration, overslept that morning, ran her shower too long, and as a result, missed her seat outside. Instead she was invited to watch from the Senate, an exclusive perch reserved for tycoons and their political allies, not unsimilar to box seats at a stadium. When she returned to meet her friends at a luncheon she burst into tears, bemoaning the discomfort of the whole situation, the crowds, the attention singularly and devotionally paid to a black man who had become the first President of the United States. Her wails carried through the hall, all of this much to the horror of Obama wonks and supporters piling cold cheese and ham onto their plates. It made me grateful I had been outside in the crowd, and that even if I hadn’t been afforded the privilege of seeing the new President sworn in, I had felt his presence in the renewed, tenuous hope of those around me. I had been skeptical of this idea of change, and only a week has passed since Obama has been at the helm, but he is proving himself to be a man of swift and unswerving action, a man who makes good on his rousing proclamations.  

     
     
     
     
     

     

  • Facts & Stories

    A Triad of Women to Look Up To

    On January 9th the National Organization of Italian American Women (NOIAW) honored three women who represent excellence in their fields. The annual “Three Wise Women” event takes inspiration from the Epiphany, in Western culture the commemoration of the Magi, or three Wise Men. It is fitting that the organization, a necessary counterweight to male-dominated clubs, should take advantage of the holiday to underline the achievements of three outstanding Italian American women. This year’s honorees, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Angelina Fiordellisi and Dr. Silvia C. Formenti, were greeted at the Upper East Side headquarters of the Columbus Citizens Foundation.

    Within the light wainscoted rooms that are the signature of Fifth Avenue townhouses, and an opulent Oak Room of elaborately carved wood, one hundred or so guests were invited to eat, drink and partake in a NOIAW auction. The space lit by chandeliers, and adorned with lights, garlands, frosted branches and a towering Christmas tree--helped along by the presence of some vocal children in little blazers and red sweaters--exuded a distinctly Epiphany-like ambience. A few preliminary speakers, introduced by President Carol Silvagni Macleod, shared stories reflective of the organization’s mission. Linda R. Carlozzi was in NOIAW’s mentorship program and is now a lawyer, Matilde Leo, a mirthful story-teller, former jazz singer and probation officer, was able to go to law school through a NOIAW scholarship, and NYU student Lisa Bonarrigo sentimentally recounted her cultural exchange in Italy, sponsored by NOIAW. The women’s personal accounts also provided insight into whom the organization attracts, what their common history is: Carlozzi’s mother was a seamstress, as was NOIAW founder Aileen Riotto Sirey’s and Rosa DeLauro’s. Matilde Leo humorously mimicked an Italian-immigrant accent when she told that her mother’s greatest ambition for her was to become a bank teller: “Tilde, go work in a bank, it’s air-conditioned!” It is with this background in mind that NOIAW emphasized its dedication to scholarship, mentorship and cultural exchange programs

    The three wise women took to the podium, introduced by Founder and Chairwoman Aileen Riotto Sirey. Angelina Fiordellisi, an accomplished actress, was bestowed NOIAW’s honor for her artistic contributions. As founder of the New Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, she has created a venue for budding playwrights and performers and helps to preserve the integrity of the downtown arts milieu. A native of Detroit, she is also married to director/ producer Matt Williams. Her gifts as an actress were apparent; her perfectly articulate voice and moving words painted the picture of an Italian American upbringing shared with many sisters (some of whom were present, prompting one person to joke that growing up they were probably known as “the Fiordellisi girls”) and a mother who taught her the “importance of love, marriage and family.” The subject of matriarchy would pervade the speeches of the other honorees too. Dr. Silvia Formenti, who is the first Sandra and Edward H. Meyer Professor of Radiation Oncology at NYU and Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology (she is also the only senior leader of the NYU Cancer Institute who is a female chair), spoke of the strength of the Italian women she grew up with. As an oncologist who treats many women with breast cancer, she said she sees that strength mirrored every day in her patients. Their seeming “smiles of resignation” are really”smiles of tenacity,” from which she draws inspiration.

    Rosa DeLauro, Democratic Congresswoman from the 3rd district of Connecticut, who, incidentally, is a survivor of ovarian cancer, gave what was perhaps the most vivid of orations. This event, she began, “is about remembering and reflecting on the people who came before us; people like my mother who worked in a sweatshop”. She recalled that her mother would bring her to see the sweatshop after school, to show her what it was like “the lesson was clear: work hard, make something of yourself.” Her mother would go on to forge her own path in politics, becoming the longest serving alderwoman in New Haven. She also told of her grandmother who ran a pastry shop, an example from a hard-working class who “did what they needed to do.” To the many women in the room her diction was riveting, particularly to those from Connecticut, where she founded a NOIAW branch. One audience member murmured “She’s amazing;” Ms. DeLauro’s career is equally deserving of praise. She is one of the foremost members on the House Budget Committee, chairwoman of the Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee and serves on the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Subcommittees. She has been called a “hero for working families” and was short listed for the post of Labor Secretary in the Obama administration. Most recently, along with former Senator Hillary Clinton, she led the passing of the Paycheck Fairness Act which will end the unfair salary disparity between men and women performing the same jobs

    Ms. DeLauro’s words couldn’t have been truer: “We live in a matriarchal society, ladies.” With the inspired selection of DeLauro, Fiordellisi and Formenti, NOIAW showcased paragons not just of female leadership, but of leadership period.

  • Life & People

    Fashion Forward: High-End Italian Brands Self-Promote on Madison Avenue



    In the midst of economic turmoil and the repetitive, droning terminology that accompanies it—“credit crunch”, “layoffs”, “consumer morale”—the Italian Trade Commission is taking a proactive stance. Collaborating with the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District, the Commission (ICE) has organized an event whose aim is to emphasize the quality and uniqueness of Italian trademarks on Madison Avenue. Timed with the holiday gift-gift-giving season, a select group of attendees are given a tour through the fashion thoroughfare’s Italian retailers and doted on by the stores’ managers. The dual engagements, on December 13th and December 20th, are hosted in the lush Holiday Suite at the Hotel Plaza Athénée, at walking distance from all participating locations, including Armani, Beretta, Gucci, Paul & Shark and Zanotti. Maserati and Piaggio, maker of the signature Vespa moped, are also displaying some of their newest models outside the Italian fashion houses.

     

    It is a bittersweet moment for buyers, one of financial concern but also willingness to restore hope during the holidays, and it is in this context that Aniello Musella, the Italian Trade Commission’s director, hopes to reach out to them. He underlines the reliability of Italian products, saying “It is important to create an opportunity to communicate with the consumer on the excellence of ‘Made in Italy’ brands. Even in this time of economic recession, quality, research and innovation continue to be the strong suits of Italian production.”

     

    This couldn’t have been clearer when we participated in the initiative last Saturday. Not only did it cheer the spirit to amble along Madison Avenue, with its lights and oversized wreaths, walking into stores like Beretta and Paul & Shark, in full view of Maserati’s exquisitely curved cars and Vespa’s pastel-colored mopeds, struck a note of deep aesthetic pleasure. There was something soothing, one may remark with a trace of guilt, of being in the presence of goods of the highest order. Indeed Beretta, the renowned gun manufacturer and outdoors wear label (founded in the 1500’s, possibly the world’s oldest family-owned business), exuded old-world opulence with a store filled with high mahogany shelves, soft lighting, stacks of cashmere apparel and display cases, one of which contained Ernest Hemingway’s original Beretta rifle. Robert Booz, the International Director of Beretta Galleries, remarked that his company was able to weather the recession because of its base of highly loyal customers. He added, “With manufacturing now diversified across the globe, like in the Far East and other parts of Europe, the ‘Made in Italy’ label is more important than ever, because customers know and trust that.”

     

    We spoke with a few more of the event’s organizers and participants, beginning with Aniello Musella, to get a diagnosis on the state of Italian luxury brands. We got a glimpse into what the damage has been and how in many cases, major Italian industries are hopeful.

     

    Mr. Musella, are Italian high-end industries suffering just as much as the rest?

     

    “Everyone from Gucci to Louis Vuitton is suffering. The demand for mid to high-end products has decreased. The big handbag boom that fashion industries were enjoying in the last four of five years has come to a halt because buyers just aren’t able to sustain the same purchasing capability.”

     

    This is obviously a moment of economic paralysis for the consumer. What’s needed to get people buying again, to help them feel motivated?

     

    “Certainly in the U.S. the issue is credit availability. The American consumer has always done his or her buying with credit cards, with credit lines that had been made more and more open, and allowing for a diverse range of purchases. This credit is no longer available, and that’s the most critical element. The consumer also needs to have faith in the prospect of economic growth, the stability of the job market and of salaries.”

     
    Do you think an Obama presidency will renew this faith?
     

    “From a psychological standpoint, Obama’s election has generated many expectations for a better future. The government staff that the president-elect is putting together is of the highest level. There are plans for strong economic intervention and stimulus, and with these a way out of this negative economic cycle is in sight.”

     

    Simonluca Dettori, ICE’s Deputy Trade Commissioner who was instrumental in the event’s organization, also weighed in. 

     
    How did this initiative come to fruition?
     

    “It started through our contact with the Madison Avenue association, with whom we’ve worked in the past, in 2003 and 2004. We wanted to focus attention on sales during the Christmas period. After a quick discussion we involved Maserati and Piaggio so as to synergize our efforts, emphasize Italian brands and what in the U.S. is seen as ‘Italian lifestyle’. We managed to pull it off in a few weeks. ICE was not actually involved in the selection of which specific Italian stores to involve, that was an internal Madison Avenue question.”

     

    So what have been the major difficulties for Italian brands in the U.S. during this time?

     

    “More than anything, naturally, people are buying less than in the past. There was a slight purchase increase during Thanksgiving, which was unexpectedly positive, but in light of major discount sales that have been going on— of up to 60 or 70%—we’re afraid that doesn’t mean much in terms of revenue. We won’t really know how bad things are until a couple of months from now, when the whole season will be financially assessed, but in general we fear that profit margins have pretty much been slashed.”

     

    What do you think is the ray of light in all this, the hopefulness in these difficult economic times?

     

    “Recent actions taken on the American economy, and the upcoming Obama presidency, should have a positive psychological effect. These could really help with a certain group of consumers that quite frankly have the means to spend but are suffering from low morale and need to be psychologically uplifted.”

     

    We also spoke with Andrea Soriani, the Director of Brand Marketing for Maserati in North America, to understand how his business is coping with tough times.

     

    Why did Maserati feel it was important to partake in today’s event?

     

    “For us it’s a great opportunity to take our products out of what is primarily a showroom context. Our clientele loves Italian products; they have a thorough appreciation of Italian design, so putting our cars on Madison Avenue, where a majority of the stores are Italian, is like having the perfect store window. This also a great application of—a concept that is often talked about but rarely practiced—an “Italian system”, a concrete marketing technique.”

     

    Do you think consumers still have faith in the Italian product?

     

    “They certainly do. The problem is really this economic crisis, and let’s call it what it is, this recession—a term we fear but that we have to confront. Even a buyer who’s in the market for one of our products delays his decisive purchasing moment, so our challenge is really in presenting the product, in making him fall in love with it.”

     

    In some of the latest news, several Lamborghini dealerships have been forced to close in the Los Angeles area, so more specifically, the problem probably lies less with the Italian-made product than with the ultra-luxury product.

     

    “I can’t really comment on my competitors’ affairs, but I think the issue in L.A. had more to do with the dealerships’ owners than with the brand as a whole. That being said, this crisis is widespread. Even low-end distributors like Target and Wal-Mart have seen some sharp sales declines. A niche product, like a Maserati, in a way adheres to different rules and standards. But many of our clients are people who worked in finance, in banks and insurance companies, and those are the sectors that have been hit the hardest. I also have to add though, that because a Maserati is such a specific item, a product that entails heavy customization in advance, we’ve done better than our competitors because our clients, so far, have ultimately not reneged on the purchase.”

     
    What do you think will come about once the crisis clears?
     

    “I think the consumer will be wiser, more mature. But also the products will have had the opportunity to improve in terms of quality and appeal, especially Italian products, which have never skimmed on quality. In the long-term I think this a strategy will be vindicated.”

     

    Our final encounter was at Paul & Shark, the nautical brand we were frankly surprised to hear was of Italian origin. The Sales Associate we spoke with there, Jessica Capurro, emphatically said that if all the Italian stores on Madison Avenue were better organized and united in a common front, engaged in common advertising, they would all have a better chance of overcoming the economic crisis. So perhaps the key to surviving a brutal American market is sticking together. ICE’s one-of-a-kind effort to galvanize Italian industries is a good first step.

     
     
     ---
     
    Italian  Stores in Madison Ave
     
    Beretta     718 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Bulgari     783 Madison Avenue     jewelry & watches        

    Cesare Paciotti     833 Madison Avenue     shoes        

    Claudia Ciuti     955 Madison Avenue     shoes        

    Damiani     796 Madison Avenue     Jewelry & Watches        

    Davide Cenci     801 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Dolce & Gabbana     825 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Domenico Vacca     702 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Emilio Pucci     24 East 64th Street     fashion & accessories        

    Emporio Armani     601 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Etro     720 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Francesca Romana     957 Madison Avenue     jewelry        

    Fratelli Rossetti     625 Madison Avenue     shoes        

    Frette     799 Madison Avenue     linens        

    Furla     727 Madison Avenue     leather goods        

    Galo Shoes     895 Madison Avenue     shoes        

    Giorgio Armani     760 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Giuseppe Zanotti     806 Madison Avenue     Shoes        

    Gucci     840 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Krizia     769 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    La Perla     803 Madison Avenue     lingerie & hosiery        

    Loro Piana     821 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Luca Luca     1011 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Malo     814  Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Manrico Cashmere     922 Madison Avenue     Fashion & Accessories        

    Marina Rinaldi     800 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    MaxMara     813 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Michele Negri     1015 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Missoni     1009 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Paul & Shark     772 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Pilar Rossi     784 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Pomellato     741 Madison Avenue     jewelry        

    Prada     841 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Prada     45 East 57th Street     Fashion & Accessories        

    Pratesi     829 Madison Avenue     linens        

    Santoni     864 Madison Avenue     shoes        

    Sermoneta Gloves     609 Madison Avenue     Fashion & Accessories        

    Signoria Firenze     764 Madison Avenue     linens        

    Silvio Lattazani     905 Madison Avenue     Shoes        

    Tanino Crisci     795 Madison Avenue     Shoes        

    Valentino     747 Madison Avenue     fashion & accessories        

    Varda     786 Madison Avenue     shoes        

    VBH     940 Madison Avenue     jewelry        


             

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

     

  • Art & Culture

    Unhurried Steps in the Marches & De Dominicis at MoMA



    The Italian vacation has tended to follow a predictable itinerary: Rome, Florence, Venice. Indeed, if anyone had five seconds to name three Italian cities, these would easily spring to mind. But as my parents have always said, in their more sentimental recollections of their native land, all of Italy is beautiful and so much of its beauty has yet to be discovered—in other words, to be discovered on the road least traveled by those unsightly coach buses. The Marches region of Italy (in Italian, “le Marche”) is just as, or more exquisite than any of its better-known counterparts. It’s a scenic land steeped in nature and seascapes, lacking only the recognition of a big-name city. Its capital, Ancona, was more recently the backdrop for “La stanza del figlio”, a film by Nanni Moretti, in which it was made the subject of a study in atmospheric serenity. Ancona’s port of glistening white hulls, tangle of masts and lulling mélange of seagulls and stevedores provided the idyllic setting for Moretti’s early-morning, contemplative jogs, a place upheld as an exemplary of the real Italy. And keeping in mind the hordes of summer tourists that descend on Italy every year, the city and the region’s relative anonymity is ultimately one of its greatest advantages.  

     

    Patrizia Casagrande, President of the province of Ancona, said to a gathering at the Italian Tourism Board (ENIT) in New York that “the Marches may not be a region you know very well but that nevertheless has a lot of ambition”. Its ambition was made clear in a presentation rich with images, persuasive of the region’s natural and urban beauties. Perched high above the sea many of the Marches’ small, picturesque towns, like Fano, overlook the Adriatic, along with the entire panoramic area of the Monte Conero. Gradara, a medieval gem, holds special significance for literati: its stunningly preserved castle was the site for Dante’s protagonist lovers, Paolo and Francesca. Places like Urbino, the repository for one of Italy’s greatest collections of Renaissance art, and Corinaldo in the province of Ancona, also stand out as unique and unspoiled representations of medieval architecture. Other lovely destinations of note include Pesaro, Ascoli and Urbisaglio. As Casagrande and her colleague Anna Rita Nicoletti would go on to explain, the Marches is preparing to welcome visitors with an infrastructure, in keeping with the region’s philosophy, that seamlessly blends into the land.

     

    The region has enjoyed a steady flow of tourists hailing from Holland, Germany and the UK, but hopes to attract from overseas. Most of its accommodations are suited to providing (hard to achieve elsewhere) a unique, local experience: villas, high-end bed and breakfasts and converted farmhouses, which Nicoletti adds, allows one “to live like the farmers do”. Spas, wellness centers, a 49-hole golf course and chateaus-turned-resorts are among the offerings of a more luxurious sort. And the Marches feeds its inhabitants well. White wine, truffles and salamis are some of its specialties, and thanks to a lengthy coastline, exquisite varieties of seafood. The latter is also the land’s lifeblood: Marchigiani are the Italians that live the longest, a fortune surely attributable to their hearty Mediterranean diet. Perhaps long walks along the sea, and hilly panoramas easy on the eyes, don’t hurt either.

     

    For those who may feel trapped in the crowded resorts of the neighboring Romagna region, as I did last summer, an excursion into the Marches will feel more than welcome. Much as I love my grandmother’s house in Riccione, a seaside town in Romagna best known for garish nightclubs, water parks, and shrieking mothers who chide their wailing children at all hours of the afternoon, a trip to the Marches hamlet of Fiorenzuola di Focara was the remedy for my woes. A sloping, airy town with breathtaking views and architectonic splendor (it’s no accident Pavarotti’s villa is located here) I wondered why I hadn’t slipped away to the Marches more often.

     

    To get further insight on this dark horse of Italian regions, at the end of the presentation we spoke to Casagrande and ENIT’s director, Riccardo Strano, also a native of Ancona. Their event was timed with an exhibit of fellow Anconan (and famously reclusive artist) Gino de Dominicis at the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center (on view until February 9, 2009).

     
    For starters, how would you describe Gino de Dominicis?
     

    Casagrande: “He’s an extraordinarily unique artist that defies classification… an absolute original. He doesn’t belong to any particular movement. He’s unpredictable. He works in a humorous vein and with complete freedom from established paradigms.”

     

    Strano: “I remember him walking in the streets of Ancona. I was fascinated and intimidated by him!”

     

    This is probably de Dominicis’ first big exhibit stateside, what accounts for the timing?

     

    Casagrande: “We were lucky enough to procure many of his major works from Naples.”

     

    How will the Marches step up its campaign to attract tourism?

     

    Casagrande: “We promote ourselves through culture and music. But of course we want to go beyond that. With natural parks, and young tourists traveling along the coast, we’re also involved in green tourism. What we offer is a vacation that isn’t intended for those attracted to mass tourism.”

     
    What can one expect to do in the off-season?
     

    Casagrande: “The opera season opens and there’s a great deal of religious tourism. Visitors have the chance to stay in one of many beautiful abbeys. There’s also a winter-time agricultural tourism to meditation and yoga centers.”

     
    What else should one know about the Marches?
     

    Strano: “Well, the Marches isn’t attached to a famous city name, like Venice or Florence, but it is certainly economically thriving. What people don’t know is that many of Italy’s major fashion manufacturers are located there, like Prada and Tod’s. The region is also renowned for its yachting industry. And when it comes to tourism, there’s a trend of 'togethering' going on—that is, taking a vacation to get close to your loved ones—and what better place to do that than in a 17th century farmhouse?”

     

    Strano proceeded to show us a thick, Rizzoli-edition tome highlighting Italy’s most spectacular towns. He proudly pointed to the cover: a glossy photograph of Gradara by night, chosen from several cities to represent Italy’s beauty as a whole. We would be remiss in forgetting to mention Giacomelli’s work. The artist is also from the Marches and Strano had his photographs on hand. The black-and-white images of neatly ploughed fields are iconic, but they filled one with a sense of longing, like a call to stay and linger there, in a less harried and simple bucolic setting.

     

    Gino De Dominicis - On view October 19, 2008 - February 9, 2009 more on: PS1 MOMA
     
                        
                                                                           Un'opera di Gino De Dominicis

     

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

     

  • Art & Culture

    Florence's Renaissance: Part 2


    The Cambridge professor W.R. Inge once remarked that “the nations which have put mankind and posterity in their debt have been small states: Israel, Athens, Florence, Elizabethan England.” Indeed there is some small debt, or at least homage, to be paid to Florence for its contributions—it gave us the Renaissance, a blueprint for modern banking, the Italian language. It is difficult for a city of such copious historic accomplishments not to simply rest on its laurels, to offer its visitors something that piques interest anew and to become once again, in some measure, the voice of Italian progress. But leaders of Florentine institutions attempted to do just that when they gathered at New York’s Italian Cultural Institute this past week to reveal upcoming and ongoing initiatives, a presentation they called “Florence: A New Renaissance”.  

     

    Nicoletta Maraschio, the Director of the Accademia della Crusca (a leading establishment for research and promotion of Italian based, appropriately enough, in Florence), placed much-needed emphasis on the importance of the Italian language. She stirred the audience’s collective sentiment when she called for greater efforts to “invest in the knowledge of Italian”, as is done across Europe with German, Spanish, and of course, English. Her dose of hard reality, a reminder that Italy is not meeting the high demand for Italian in the world, not allocating enough resources to that end, prompted some listeners to yell “brava!”. Among some of her most interesting proposals to put Florence, and Italian, back on the map was “Lingue in piazza” (“Languages in the Piazza”), an open-air event for the exchange of world languages, with readings and discussions between academics. The Italian Cultural Institute’s director, Renato Miracco, would echo her concerns, saying we had to find “new ways of discovering and teaching Italian”.

     

    Florence’s major cultural venues are also revamping their image with exhibits that offer fresh perspectives on age-old themes. The Palazzo Strozzi Foundation is putting on a show entitled “Women in Power: Caterina and Maria de’Medici”, while the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Theater (Florence’s opera house) opens every season with a progressive theme—last year’s was “Rebel Women”, this year’s is “The Dark Side”. Paolo Caretti, Vice President of the Maggio Musicale Foundation, was present to announce his institute’s program, including the world premiere of a new opera by Matteo D’Amico called “Patto di sangue”.

     

    A few of the conference’s most unexpected guests were American sculptor Greg Wyatt, who has had a long-standing relationship with Florence and whose work will be shown there again in 2009, and a couple of his Italian students. Wyatt (his magnificent sculpture is prominently displayed outside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where he is also sculptor-in-residence) has spearheaded an exchange program out of Florence for distinguished art students, both from the U.S. and Italy. A beneficiary of this relatively new and fruitful exchange was Wyatt’s young Florentine student, who called his experience in the U.S. “awesome”, and gave a spirited shout-out to one of his professors.

     

    And further illustrating that Florence's gifted contemporary artists can also be experienced from here, it was announced that the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park has an exhibition of Antonio Lo Pinto underway (Ocotber 5th-17th). The Catania-born sculptor, who has transitioned from minimalism to his own avant-garde styles, studied at l’Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze and is a professor at l’Istituto d’Arte di Porta Romana in Florence.

     

    The “New Renaissance” speakers were brought together by Dario Nardella, President of the Commission of Cultural Affairs. He began his speech by expressing pride and joy in the interest Americans have shown for Florence—it is in point of fact the Italian destination American tourists visit most. Implicit in his words was the hope that this conference would prove that his city was still one of innovation, still capable of sparking intellectual debate, producing great art, and of inspiring those who pass through it.

     
     

     

     

  • Life & People

    Finance and Ruins: Italy's Treasured Sites in Peril


    Owning a beautiful home is pointless if you haven’t got the means or will to maintain it. What you’re left with is weeds and decay—the sort of situation Dickens imagined for his deranged Ms. Havisham. And it must truly be madness that Italy’s regional administrations are suffering from for their own cherished properties are in a woeful state of disrepair. Both Pompeii—the impressively preserved 2,000-year-old city south of Naples—and Sicily’s Valley of the Temples, have been singled out as victims of looting, neglect and mismanagement.

     

    Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but thus far that coveted title hasn’t served towards protecting it. As the Roman city that was found virtually intact, buried under ash from the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., it is a rare find that warrants careful safeguarding. But now its iconic frescoes (many of them in a bold, blood red, hence the term “Pompeian red”), found within the villas of what was once the city’s wealthiest inhabitants, and that represent unique examples of Ancient Roman art, are crumbling away at an estimated 150 square meters a year. Annually some 3,000 pieces of stone ruin at the site end up disintegrating. As if this futile evisceration weren’t sufficiently demoralizing, as a tourist destination Pompeii is ill-equipped. There are only three bathrooms in its 440, 000 square meter area and many of the villas, by far the city’s most spectacular offerings, have been sealed off for restoration—some of them for as long as 20 years. This writer has visited Pompeii more than once, and can personally attest that it is nothing short of a miracle if you find that the villa of your choice is open. Still one of the most visited places in Italy, Pompeii generates approximately 20 million Euros a year (2007 figure), so the nagging question is, where does it all go? Seeing as the site itself doesn’t benefit from any maintenance work, and that the area surrounding Pompeii, where Campania natives hawk trinkets, is nothing more than a depressed, arid wasteland, it is safe to say that revenues aren’t being properly invested.

     

    Negative media reports on the state of Pompeii have finally spurred the Italian cabinet to action. They have called a state of emergency, with Culture Minister Sandro Bondi saying he will appoint a special commissioner to oversee the situation. Claudio Velardi, Campania’s tourism chief, welcomed the move. His proposal to redress Pompeii’s problems, however, included limiting the number of tourists per year and allowing entrepreneurs to hold events among the ruins—a widely unpopular decision. Is this the best politicians can do, disburden themselves of their clearly-appointed tasks by inviting the private sector to supplement the money they should have been properly administering in the first place?

     

    Apparently, yes. It is also the case for the Valley of the Temples and a handful of other ancient landmarks in Sicily. The Valley is another one of Italy’s prized treasures, a swath of elevated land on which seven Greek temples sit. The Doric-style wonders, dating back to the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., are some of the best preserved temples outside of Greece and are also listed as a World Heritage site. Sicily, referred to sometimes as “Magna Grecia” , contains several terrifically preserved Greek monuments.

     

    Antonello Antinoro, Sicily’s regional counselor for culture, has recommended entrusting the Valley to a private tour operator for a period of 30 years, “in order to make it more profitable.” Filippo Panarello, deputy chairman of Sicily’s culture committee, shot back that it would be a “paradox if the region with the highest number of public employees decided to entrust the management of public assets to private parties.” Indeed the Valley of the Temples and comparable Sicilian attractions are part of the region’s artistic and historical patrimony, and as such, should remain in public hands—albeit with a serious re-evaluation of their management.

     

    A first step could be to expand the days in which the Valley is open to tourists. Eager travelers to Sicily often find themselves locked out of their guide book’s “must see!” destinations because they happened to have showed up on a Sunday or a holiday (usually an arbitrarily selected weekday). Last year the site suffered embarrassment in the press when its guards, highly bureaucratic appointees, turned down a large group of school children because their free passes didn’t extend to non-E.U. citizens.

     

    These are issues that can’t be pawned off to the first businessman who decides he wants to host his very own authentic toga party. Local and state politicians have to embrace the privilege they were given and act as stewards of their country’s rare artistic fortunes.

     
     
     
     

  • A Case of the Bad Boys, No Known Cure




    One of these days, the phenomenon of the Italian bad boy will have to be thoroughly studied and elucidated. His appeal, plainly irresistible to so many women, eludes me. The only “bad” Italian I ever dated turned out to be gay—and that was by way of Proust, 70’s folk singers and homo-erotic fantasies of the Socratic kind—but never was I intoxicated by the smell of a leather jacket or the throttle of a moped. Which brings us to what may be the most important question this week: how could Anne Hathaway, a darling of the silver screen, have fallen so hard for the recently arrested Raffaello Follieri?

     

    On paper Follieri seems highly respectable. As a developer and chairman of the Follieri Group, the company he runs with his father, he isn’t exactly the bad seed your mother told you to steer clear of. Ever since his arrival in the U.S. in 2003 he has made a name for himself, both in the business world and society pages. But because his financial dealings revealed themselves to be nothing but an embarrassing series of empty promises, notably the ones for which he was carted off to jail, his biggest success to date has been bagging the milky-complexioned Ms. Hathaway.

     

    Follieri might have presented himself well, always in a suit and exuding the confidence of an Italian Mr. Big. Not quite what one would call handsome (despite looking a bit like a cross between David Duchovny and Zach Braff, a flaccid neck, rotund frame and unremarkable features do not handsome make), he had managed to charm a pretty actress who became his permanent arm candy. When mumblings of his shady business practices surfaced a year and a half ago, Hathaway, who was long the smiling, virginal face of a Disney franchise, also helped lend him an air of legitimacy. The skeptic in me was temporarily appeased when I thought, if Anne Hathaway wants to be seen with this sleazebag, he must have some redeeming qualities… Right?

     

    As it turns out, not so much. He was arrested for fraud and money laundering last week, the culmination of a complicated web of lies he told over many years. Follieri had parlayed supposed Vatican connections into profitable business relationships with, among others, the California billionaire Ron Burkle. They turned out to be profitable only for Mr. Follieri. He squandered funds from investors, including over $1 million from Burkle, for personal use—or more specifically for a lavish lifestyle complete with, as the court complaint stated, private jets, gifts for Hathaway, a nearly $40, 000 a month apartment in Manhattan, vacations and “dog-walking services”. Those must have been some Grade A, trained-in-the-Dr.Doolittle-school-of-animal-psychology dog-walkers (what did they offer, to escort pets on fur-lined, diamond-studded rick shaws?).   

     

    Originally, Follieri ingratiated himself into the inner-circles of powers through Doug Band, a close aide to Bill Clinton. Clinton in turn, is a personal friend of Burkle’s and an adviser to his Yucaipa investment company. The Italian entrpreneur befriended both Clinton and Burkle, even pledging $50 million to the Clinton Global Initiative (the pledge money never materialized). Yucaipa would later put down $55 million for an investment venture with Follieri, on the grounds that he could secure church properties on the cheap. Follieri had led all his American investors to believe that he was the Vatcian’s financial officer, with an inside track to its affairs, when in fact his ties to the institution were flimsy and contrived. He had paid some Vatican administrators, and the relative of a former Vatican official, to create the appearance of connections. This is the most significant charge against him.

     

    All of this makes me wonder if this isn’t perhaps the same road Follieri took, at least in part, to his now ex-girlfriend’s heart. Seeing as Anne Hathaway could have had her pick of the glietterati litter and instead chose our man Follieri, settling down with a nice Catholic boy might have been exactly what drew her to the native of San Giovanni Rotondo. Unusual as it may seem to pick a significant other for his “Catholic-ness”, the actress has always wanted to be close to the Church. Raised in a stringently Catholic family, up until she was fifteen she dreamed of being a nun. She didn’t abandon her aspirations to the ascetic life for lack of devotion, but because when she discovered her older brother was gay, she wanted to dissociate herself from a gay-bashing institution—which she is, however, still loath to speak ill of. When she recently stated that most of her friends are gay men, she was asked if it made her uncomfortable that her fiancé was closely linked to the Vatican. She responded by saying that she’d “rather not comment on the Church. They’ve done wonderful deeds all over the world”.

     

    As for her romantic life, she once spoke in a tone that betrayed a certain girlishness and wide-eyed naiveté: “Kindness is really important to me in finding my own prince—so are patience and a sense of humor. Without those qualities he’s no Prince Charming!” Hathaway had always spoken gushingly about Follieri, even up until a month ago, and was often pictured clinging to him and looking very much in love, but there is no amount of sense of humor, or willful blindness, she could muster to get over the scandals that riddled his professional life. And she was no quitter: she plodded through months of humiliation, not least from cast mate Kate Hudson who, according to Star magazine, called Follieri a “loser” back in April when he was arrested for bouncing a $215, 000 check. Hathaway finally chucked her Princess Diary niceties, faced reality and dumped him three weeks ago.

     

    Anne Hathaway wasn’t the first girl, and won’t be the last, to be beguiled by a naughty Italian. But Hathaway was duped. My question is, what’s their excuse?

     
     
     
     

    Maybe if you asked them, they’d say it was well worth the wild ride.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    A Case of the Bad Boys, No Known Cure




    One of these days, the phenomenon of the Italian bad boy will have to be thoroughly studied and elucidated. His appeal, plainly irresistible to so many women, eludes me. The only “bad” Italian I ever dated turned out to be gay—and that was by way of Proust, 70’s folk singers and homo-erotic fantasies of the Socratic kind—but never was I intoxicated by the smell of a leather jacket or the throttle of a moped. Which brings us to what may be the most important question this week: how could Anne Hathaway, who became a darling of the silver screen with "The Devil Wears Prada", have fallen so hard for the recently arrested Raffaello Follieri?

     

    On paper Follieri seems highly respectable. As a developer and chairman of the Follieri Group, the company he runs with his father, he isn’t exactly the bad seed your mother told you to steer clear of. Ever since his arrival in the U.S. in 2003 he has made a name for himself, both in the business world and society pages. But because his financial dealings revealed themselves to be nothing but an embarrassing series of empty promises, notably the ones for which he was carted off to jail, his biggest success to date has been bagging the milky-complexioned Ms. Hathaway.

     

    Follieri might have presented himself well, always in a suit and exuding the confidence of an Italian Mr. Big of sorts. Not quite what one would call handsome (despite looking a bit like a cross between David Duchovny and Zach Braff, a flaccid neck, rotund frame and unremarkable features do not handsome make), he had managed to charm a pretty actress who became his permanent arm candy. When mumblings of his shady business practices surfaced a year and a half ago, Hathaway, who was long the smiling, virginal face of a Disney franchise, also helped lend him an air of legitimacy. The skeptic in me was temporarily appeased when I thought, if Anne Hathaway wants to be seen with this sleazebag, he must have some redeeming qualities… Right?

     

    As it turns out, not so much. He was arrested for fraud and money laundering last week, the culmination of a complicated web of lies he told over many years. Follieri had parlayed supposed Vatican connections into profitable business relationships with, among others, the California billionaire Ron Burkle. They turned out to be profitable only for Mr. Follieri. He squandered funds from investors, including over $1 million from Burkle, for personal use—or more specifically for a lavish lifestyle complete with, as the court complaint stated, private jets, gifts for Hathaway, a nearly $40, 000 a month apartment in Manhattan, vacations and “dog-walking services”. Those must have been some Grade A, trained-in-the-Dr.Doolittle-school-of-animal-psychology dog-walkers (did they also offer to escort pets on velvet-lined sedan chairs?).   

     

    Originally, Follieri ingratiated himself into the inner-circles of power through Doug Band, a close aide to Bill Clinton. Clinton in turn, is a personal friend of Burkle’s and an adviser to his Yucaipa investment company. The Italian entrpreneur befriended both Clinton and Burkle, even pledging $50 million to the Clinton Global Initiative (the pledge money never materialized). Yucaipa would later put down $55 million for an investment venture with Follieri, on the grounds that he could secure church properties on the cheap. Follieri had led all his American investors to believe that he was the Vatcian’s financial officer, with an inside track to its affairs, when in fact his ties to the institution were flimsy and contrived. He had paid certain Vatican administrators, and the relative of a former Vatican official, to create the appearance of connections. This is the most significant charge against him.

     

    All of this makes me wonder if this isn’t perhaps the same road Follieri took, at least in part, to his now ex-girlfriend’s heart. Seeing as Anne Hathaway could have had her pick of the glitterati litter and instead chose our man Follieri, settling down with a nice Catholic boy might have been exactly what drew her to the native of San Giovanni Rotondo (Puglia). The Follieri Group has always been a strong supporter of Catholic organizations, stating its intention was to redevelop church properties for "socially responsible purposes". Unusual as it may seem to pick a significant other for his “Catholic-ness”, the actress has always wanted to be close to the Church. Raised in a stringently Catholic family, until she was fifteen she dreamed of being a nun. She didn’t abandon her aspirations to the ascetic life for lack of devotion, but because upon discovering her older brother was gay, she wanted to dissociate herself from a gay-bashing institution—which she is, however, still loath to speak ill of. When she recently stated that most of her friends are gay men, she was asked if it made her uncomfortable that her fiancé was closely linked to the Vatican. She responded by saying that she’d “rather not comment on the Church. They’ve done wonderful deeds all over the world."

     

    As for her romantic life, she once spoke in a tone that betrayed a certain girlishness and wide-eyed naiveté: "Kindness is really important to me in finding my own prince—so are patience and a sense of humor. Without those qualities he’s no Prince Charming!" Hathaway had always spoken gushingly about Follieri, even up until a month ago, and was often pictured clinging to him and looking very much in love, but there is no amount of sense of humor, or willful blindness, she could muster to overcome the scandals that riddled his professional life. And she was no quitter: she plodded through months of humiliation, not least from cast-mate Kate Hudson who, according to Star magazine, called Follieri a “loser” back in April when he was arrested for bouncing a $215, 000 check. Hathaway finally chucked her Princess Diary niceties, faced reality and dumped him two weeks ago.

     

    Anne Hathaway wasn’t the first girl, and won’t be the last, to be beguiled by a naughty Italian. But Hathaway was duped. My question is, what’s their excuse?

     

    Mary Kate Olsen had a fling with international playboy and Fiat scion Lapo Elkann, grandson of Gianni Agnelli. Elkann is best known for having had a near-fatal cocaine overdose, in the apartment of a transsexual, in 2005.

     

    Actor Dario Faiello enabled Lindsay Lohan to partying and drinking, just as she was trying to clean up her act.

     

    Even though the doe-eyed baker boy is a much safer bet, there is something to be said for playing with fire. The temptations for the intrinsically dark, Italian bad boy always run strong--he's a cocksure epicurean, and he'll almost certainly break your heart. But if you asked these starlets, they’d probably say it was well worth the wild ride.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Berlusconi and the Season of Love and Tolerance




    Chalk it up to the season, but it seems as though, along with the homeless and increasingly flashy baby carriages, spring brings out protesters and activists. Italy in particular has various groups itching to get a word in, fighting “the Man”, the government and the forces of conventional wisdom. The latest: a sit-in of breast-feeding mothers in Rome, the staging of the Gay Pride Bash in Bologna and—here’s the kicker—Silvio Berlusconi lobbying the Pope to let divorcees like himself take communion. Anyone who thought the old-fashioned row with a conservative institution was the province of radicals, may be surprised to see the Prime Minister lodging his petition with what is perhaps the only authority that stands in his way.

     

    Berlusconi is divorced and remarried, and as such, forbidden from taking part in the Catholic rite of communion. In a trip to Sardinia on Sunday he asked a bishop there when the Church planned to change the rules. The bishop’s response was he “should turn to a higher power”. But a higher power, in the form of Pope Benedict XVI, confirmed at a recent Canadian conference that communion could only be received “in a pure heart”, by those without major sin. Ever since the Prime Minister, never one to quit or become demoralized (as evidenced by his ever-persistent political campaigns), has made it his mission to persuade the Church to change its policy.

     

    Meanwhile in Rome, the Salvamamme (Save the mothers) association organized a mass breast-feeding on Tuesday. Some 1000 mothers bore their breasts and fed their babies to send out the message that breast-feeding in public shouldn't be taboo, especially when over-the-waist nudity is the norm in Italian ads and magazines. Salvamamme aims to fight the unpleasantness and squeamishness nursing mothers face from gawkers. The organization’s President, Grazia Passeri, said “It's ridiculous that showgirls can show theirs but mothers can’t”. Her statement spoke to a prevailing Italian attitude that accepts nudity only when sexualized, and not as a natural expression of the body. Liberating breasts is an act of women's emancipation--begging the question, have we learned nothing from the bra-burning movement?

     

    More difficult is the objective set by Arcigay, Italy’s foremost gay rights organization. In the lead-up to its Gay Pride festival on Saturday, it announced a future event to promote the legalization of gay marriage. In the fall same-sex couples in 50 Italian cities will exchange vows in the hopes that their ceremonies will one day be recognized by the state—represented, ironically, by the same man struggling to have his own marriage blessed by the Church. Arcigay’s leader, Aurelio Mancuso, added that the unofficial weddings would be called “public pledges of union” and that they would also afford in- the-closet-couples the opportunity to come out. Saturday’s festivities, for the time being, will be hosted in Bologna by the Italy’s first and only transgender MP, the flamboyant Vladimir Luxuria. They are expected to create a potent surge of activism, drawing gays and lesbians from all over Italy.

     

    These may be the seasons of free love, re-conceptualization of the naked body, and a Church laxing its archaic standards. If all of these were achieved or accepted, Italy could herald a revival of the summer of ’68. But then again, what would there be left to protest?

     

     
     
     

     

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