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Articles by: Marina Melchionda

  • Arte e Cultura

    Il Presepio napoletano a New York

    Versione Inglese

    "Ma a te...te piace 'o presepe??" "No. Nun me piace. Voglio 'a zuppa 'e latte!"
    Nella famosa commedia teatrale "Natale in Casa Cupiello" il figlio di Edoardo de Filippo, inizialmente completamente disinteressato al presepio, per cui il padre invece dimostra un rispetto quasi reverenziale,  impara infine ad apprezzarne pian piano la simbologia, la tradizione, e la storia che esso rappresenta agli occhi di ogni napoletano.

    Il presepio, cui nome deriva dal latino presepium, che vuol dire "mangiatoia",  è IL simbolo per eccellenza del Natale per le famiglie napoletane, da decine di generazioni, perlomeno da dieci secoli. L'albero di Natale, introdotto molto più recentemente,  con i suoi decori festosi e sontuosi, non gli ruba alcun primato, ma trova il suo posto al suo fianco, forse anche in un angolo più buio delle case di questa città.
    Il presepio è infatti considerato dai napoletani un vero e proprio atto di devozione nei contronti del Bambin Gesù nel giorno della sua nascita, e nei confronti della cultura locale.

    Al centro della scena è posta (ovviamente) la grotta in cui nacque il Bambino, circondato dalla Madonna, sua madre, San Giuseppe, il bue e l'asinello. Tutto intorno, angeli e pastori; nel fondo il villaggio con il mercato; e su, in un cielo notturno, la stella cometa, che illumina l'intera scena. 

    Ogni famiglia a Napoli, che sia abbiente o meno, ha la sua interpretazione del Presepio, grande o piccolo, di terracotta o di legno. Quasi tutti gli elementi che lo compongono sono fatti a mano: alcuni fanno fontane o cascatelle con la carta argentata, o case, negozi ed edifici con cartoni o pastelli.

    Tutti i personaggi che popolano la scena sono fatti di legno, terracosta, o anche plastica, nelle versioni più moderne. E tutti vengono dallo stesso luogo, dallo stesso quartiere, dalla stessa strada di Napoli, Via San Gregorio Armeno, nel cuore del centro storico della città.

    Circondata da edifici vecchi e mal tenuti, brulincante di pasticcerie e pizzerie, questa strada ha un proprio cuore che pulsa, tutto l'anno. Ogni giorno migliaia di persone la atraversano; non c'è turista che passi per Napoli senza farci un giro veloce, senza perdere l'opportunità di una passeggiata tra le decine di presepi artigianali esposti fuori alle botteghe dei mastri artigiani, magari gustando nel percorso una sfogliatella o una pizza a portafoglio. Questo che sia estate, primavera, autunno, inverno...

    Chiedono informazioni ai bottegai, "cosa rappresenta quella statuina?", ad esempio. E loro rispondono raccontando aneddoti, leggende, storie di una tradizione troppo spesso persa negli archivi del tempo.
    I mastri presepai sono i veri custodi viventi di questa tradizione, di cui abbiamo scoperto "fatti e miti" qualche anno fa, durante una chiacchierata con uno di loro, all'angolo tra San Gregorio Armeno e Via dei Tribunali. Così ci ha raccontato che il primo esempleare di presepio fu creato all'inizio dell'XI secolo per la Chiesa di Santa Maria. Fu da quel momento che le chiese della città diedero inizio all'usanza di allestire  una riproduzione della scena della Natività durante il periodo di Natale. Ognuna aveva il suo presepio, ma il più ricco, di cui rimangono ancora dei resti, fu donato nel 134o dalla regina Sancia d'Aragona alle Suore Clarisse.

    Il XV secolo vide la nascita delle prime botteghe artigiane dedite alla produzione di statuine da presepio in legno e in terracotta. Nel XVI secolo i fratelli Giovanni e Pietro Alemanno crearono il primo presepio interamente in legno,  mentre all'inizio del XVII secolo lo scultore Pietro Belverte usò per la prima volta pietre vere per il presepio della Chiesa di San Domenico Maggiore.  created the first presepio with real stones for the San Domenico Maggiore church.

    Nel XVII secolo poi, il presepio subì la sua più grossa evoluzione quando, aderendo allo stile barocco in voga al tempo, gli artigiani iniziarono ad introdurvi elementi "popolari", quali il mercato con le botteghe, e persone "comuni", come contadini, pastori, pescatori, macellai, ma anche nani, mendicanti, osti. Persone umili che popolavano il luogo in cui Gesù era nato. 

    L'età d'oro del presepio fu comunque il XVIII secolo, quando diventò finalmente una tradizione "popolare", adottata prima dalle famiglie aristocratiche e poi dal "volgo". Fu allora che Giuseppe Sammartino, forse il più grande scultore napoletano del tempo, fondò il primo laboratorio professionale per l'insegnamento dell'arte presepiale ai suoi discepoli aspiranti artigiani.  La scena della Natività diventava nel frattempo sempre pià ricca di nuovi ambienti  e personaggi, alcuni dei quali sono oggigiorno considerati dei veri e propri "pilastri" di qualsiasi presepio "che si rispetti":

    Benino o Benito: Nelle Sacre Scritture questo personaggio rappresenta "il popolo dormiente a cui gli angeli annunciarono l'arrivo del Cristo". Nella tradizione napoletana costui è anche chi sognò la futura invenzione del presepio.

     L'enoteca e Cicci Bacco: il vino rappresenta il sangue di Cristo, dato per la salvezza per l'umanità. La divinità Cicci Bacco simboleggia le ultime tracce di paganesimo rimaste nella cultura popolare.

      Il pescatore: Il pesce fu il primo simbolo adottato dai cristiani ai tempi delle persecuzioni durante l'impero romano. Il pescatore in questo caso è "pescatore di anime". 

    I due compari: Zio Vincenzo e Zio Pasquale rappresentano il Carnevale e la Morte, i due momenti che aprono e chiudono la Quaresima, il periodo di penitenza precedente alla Pasqua e quindi alla Resurrezione del Cristo.

    I tre Re Magi: originariamente rappresentati in groppa a tre diversi animali (il cammello, il cavallo e l'elefante) rappresentano i tre continenti Asia, Europa e Africa in cerca del Messia, che una volta trovato lo onorano.

    L'arte del presepio toccò infine il suo apice nel XIX secolo, l'epoca in cui fu creato il famoso presepio of Cucuniello was made (1887 - 1889), esposto poi nella Chiesa di San Martino.

    Da quel momento in poi il presepio fu considerato un pezzo da esposizione. Il  Banco di Napoli, la Certosa di San Martino, e la Reggia di Caserta ospitano sicuramente i più importanti, e rappresentano una tappa imperdibile per gli appassionati di qeusta tradizione.

    Chi invece è in costante ricerca di novità potrà trovare a San Gregorio Armeno degli spunti interessanti: oggigiorno, infatti, gli artigiani non si limitano ad onorare la storia e la simbologia del presepio, ma vi introducono ogni anno delle novità. e in particolare nuovi personaggi. Accanto ai classici pastori, pecorelle, galline, mercanti, e quant'altro, dunque, vengono sistemate riproduzioni e caricature di personalità del mondo contemporaneo. Tra queste, il Sindaco di Napoli, star del calibro di Michael Jackson e Marylin Monroe, e personaggi del mondo dello sport... primo tra tutti Diego Maradona, un vero e proprio idolo per i tifosi di calcio di Napoli. 

    L'anno scorso, ad esempio, furono proposte la stuatuetta del neo-eletto presidente degli USA Barack Obama e quella del Premier Berlusconi, ferito in viso a seguito del lancio di un souvenir da parte di un manifestante a Milano.

    Le novità sono così tante ogni anno che persino i napoletani doc non perdono l'occasione di una "gita" in questo antico quartiere della città.  Anche i turisti capiscono la magia di questa tradizione, che si espande ben al di là dei confini della città di Napoli e della regione Campania, o dell'Italia, o dell'Europa..

    Anche in America infatti, la cultura del presepio sta suscitando interessi sempre maggiori, sia dal punto di vista antropologico che religioso. Negozi online dediti al commercio di pezzi del presepio brulicano sulla rete e le spedixioni intercontinentali in questo settore diventano sempre più frequenti in questo periodo dell'anno.

    Per capire però il significato e lo spirito intrinseco alla tradizione presepiale, però, acquistare online non basta: è necessaria infatti una visita a San Gregorio Armeno, una chiacchierata con gli artigiani che "danno via ogni statuina come se fosse un figlio", come dicono loro, per portare a casa un pò del Natale napoletano.

    Se però quest'anno non vi è possibile fare questo viaggio, e vi trovate a New York o nei pressi, potrete comunque trovare un angolo di San Gregorio Armeno all'Istituto Italiano di Cultura che dal 14 Dicembre al 18 Gennaio ospiterà la mostra “Nativity in the World”.

    L'inaugurazione avrà luogo il 14 Dicembre, ore 16, presso i locali dell'Istituto alla presenza del Direttore Riccardo Viale, Mons. Gennaro Matino, Vicario del Cardinale, e Dr. Filomena Sardella, dell'ufficio regionale dell'Assessorato alla Cultura della Regione Campania. 

    La mostra chiuderà il 18 Gennaio, alla presenza di Sua Eminenza il Cardinale di Napoli Crescenzio Sepe.

  • Facts & Stories

    The Neapolitan Presepio in New York

    "Ma a te...te piace 'o presepe??" "No. Nun me piace. Voglio 'a zuppa 'e latte!"  (Do you like the Presepio? No, I don’t like it! I want my milk&cookies!)
    In the well-known Neapolitan theatre comedy “Natale in Casa Cupiello” the son of famous Neapolitan comedian and author Edoardo de Filippo, starting from an approach of total refuse towards this bulwark of the local culture,  slowly comes to appreciate the tradition of presepio, influenced by his father that reserves to it full and fierce respect.

    The presepio, derived from the Latin word presepium, meaning manger, has been THE symbol of Christmas for Neapolitan families for dozens of generations, since at least ten centuries. The introduction of the tradition of luminous and sumptuous Christmas trees, that are today set up in almost every household in this period, has not reduced its importance, being the presepio commonly considered almost an act of devotion that people pay to Baby Jesus on the day of His Birth and to the culture of their native city.

    The focus of the Nativity scene is obviously the cave where Baby Jesus was born, where St. Mary, St. Joseph, the ox and the donkey are placed. All around there are pastors and angels, with the market and the village in the background, and the comet enlightening the whole scene.

    Large or small, rich or poor, every Neapolitan family has its own version of the presepio. Its components are mostly handmade: some make small waterfalls or fountains using aluminum foil, or houses, buildings, and boutiques with cardboard and crayons. The pastors and all the other characters populating the scene are usually made of wood, terracotta, or sometimes plastic (in the most modern versions) and are all (or almost) handmade in the famous San Gregorio Armeno, right in the historic center of Naples.

    Surrounded by old and scruffy buildings, this street  has its own soul and heart. Every day thousands of people walk across it, there is no tourist that gets to Naples without taking a quick tour to admire the artisanal presepios displayed outside the dozens of workshops that literally decor the side-walks with their latest creations. Not only the local craftsmen sell ALL you need to make your customized, personal, as big-and-rich-as-you-wish presepio, but they are also the custodians of the history of the presepio, and are always ready to share it with all of those who might ask them about it.

    A few years ago we did the same, and that’s how we found out about the origins of this tradition.
    An artisan who was standing right outside his workshop at the corner between San Gregorio and Via dei Tribunali, told us that the first prototype was made at the beginning of the XI century for the Santa Maria Church. From that time on local churches inaugurated the tradition to set up a presepio during the Christmas period. The richest one, of which we still have some remainings, was donated by the queen Sancia d’Aragona to the Clarisse nuns in 1340.

    It was in the XV century that the first artisans started designing and making  wood and terracotta statuettes for the presepio. While at the end of the XVI century brothers Giovanni and Pietro Alemanno made the first wood representation of the Nativity scene, at the beginning of the XVII century sculptor Pietro Belverte created the first presepio with real stones for the San Domenico Maggiore church. It was in the XVII century that the presepio underwent its first evolution when, following the baroque current, artisans started introducing the first “prophane” elements, such as the market with its boutiques, and common people such as peasants, fishermen, butchers, but also dwarfs, mendicants, hosts, humble and poor people who populated the place of birth of Baby Jesus.

    The golden epoque of the presepio, however,was the XVIII century, when it finally become a popular tradition in all ways, first among aristocrats.  It was then that Giuseppe Sanmartino, maybe the greatest Neapolitan sculptor of the time, founded the first vocational school for presepio artists.
    The scene was more and more enriched with new figurines, some of which are still today considerated “pillars” of every “respectful” presepio:

    Benino or Benito: In the Holy Scriptures this character represents the “sleeping people to whom the angels announce the coming of the Christ”. In the Neapolitan tradition he is the person the foresees in his dreams the invention of the presepio. 

    The wine cellar and Cicci Bacco: the wine represents the blood of Christ, given to the people for their salvation, while Cicci Bacco is a heirloom of antique pagan divinities.  

    The fisherman: Fish is the first symbol of the christians persecuted during the Roman empire. The character is a “fisherman of souls”

    The two comrades: Uncle Vincenzo and Uncle Pasquale represent Fat Tuesday and the Death, the two moments that open and close the period of commemoration of the death of Jesus before Easter time.

    The Three Wise Men: originally represented on the back of three different animals, the horse, the dromedary and the elefant, they symbolize Asia, Africa, and Europe, that find Baby Jesus after a long journey and honor him..

    The art of the presepio touched its apex in the XIX century, when the famous and acclaimed presepio of Cucuniello was made (1887 - 1889) and displayed in the church of San Martino.

    From them on the presepio was considered an exhibitory item. The Banco di Napoli, the Certosa di San Martino, and the Royal Palace of Caserta, are with no doubts the to-be-visited” places for those passionated of the tradition of presepio.

    Those looking for “something more” to add to the tradition, instead, will most probably find in San Gregorio Armeno what they are looking for: craftsmen come out every year with something new and funny to add to every family’s creation. So, besides the traditional figurines of pastors, sheeps, chickens, merchants, and so on, you will find characters inspired to the real, contemporary world, such as the Major of Naples, stars as Michael Jackson and Marylin Monroe, and sport people... and one above all, obsviously, Diego Maradona, the former soccer player that is venerated as a saint in Naples.
    Last year, just to give you an example, we had the statuettes of the newly elected President Obama and of Berlusconi with a wounded face, after he was hit by a demonstrator in Milan with a souvenir.

    The novelties are so many, every year, that even Neapolitan people never miss their one-day-tour in this small neighborhood of Naples. Even tourists understand the magic of this tradition, that has spread well behind the borders of Naples and of the Campania Region, well behind Italy, and/or Europe.
    Even in America, in fact, it has become object of deep interest, both from an anthropological and religious point of view. Online shops selling statuettes of San Gregorio swarm about the web and intercontinental shippings of the different components of the presepio are very frequent in this period of the year.

    However, in our opinion, in order to understand the true spirit behind the tradition of the presepio, a trip to Naples and a tour around San Gregorio Armeno is a must: only if you walk through those tiny and poor workshops and have a chance to talk to the craftsmen selling each statuette, each creation, as they were giving away their own baby, as they say, you can have a bit of Neapolitan Christmas in your own household.

    If taking a trip at this time of the year is kind of difficult for you, however, you will still find your corner of San Gregorio Armeno at the exhibit “Nativity in the World” hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute. The exibit will be inaugurated on Tuesday, December 14, 6pm, by the Director of the Italian Cultural Institute prof Riccardo Viale, Mons. Gennaro Matino, Vicar of the Cardinal, and Dr. Filomena Sardella – from the Regional office of the Minstry of Culture for Campania. It will be concluded on January 18, at the presence of His Eminence the Cardinal of Naples Crescenzio Sepe.

  • Aniello Musella, Director of the Italian Trade Commission USA
    Facts & Stories

    Opening the US Market to Lombardy’s High Tech Excellence. An Economic and Institutional Joined Effort

    On September 27, the NYC headquarters of the Italian Trade Commission hosted the conference “USA: La Sfida Lombarda per competere. Le opportunità di sviluppo e di investimento nel mercato statunitense” (USA: the Lombardy Challenge to Compete. Development and Investment opportunities in the US market).

    The event, organized with the support of the Consulate General of Italy in New York and the Italian Embassy in Washington, was aimed to give the representatives of  sixteen companies headquartered in Lombardy and operating in the sectors of Aerospace (Aerea, All Data, Argo, Assireva, E-Level Communication, Ely-Fly, Gemelli, Logic Sistemi Avionici, M.A.G., O.V.S., Lombardy’s Aerospace Cluster) Renewable Energies (Stemma, Energy Cluster); Machinery (Elettrotec, Finox, Kompass Technology Europe), and Home Furnishing (Besana, G Style), the necessary financial, economical, and legal instruments to establish economic relationships or to invest in the US market. “Despite the recent economic crisis, the Unisted States still represent the most attractive economy where to invest, given its vocation to innovation and liberalization”, stated the  Director of the Italian Trade Commission in North America  Dott. Aniello Musella starting the works of the reunion.
     

    As he pointed out, the event was the apex of a wider economical/institutional mission born from the common efforts of the Italian Trade Commission, the Region of Lombardy, and Confindustria Lombardy. Started on September 22 in Canada and today in the US, its aim is to give the representatives of the companies involved the opportunity to meet valid counterparts in different cities of the two countries during meetings organized by the ITC network,  and to explore real possibilities of establishing business relationships with them, or of proceeding with direct or indirect investments in the sectors of interest.

    “All of this would not have been possible if we did not act as an organic and integrated system that involves both the private and public sector, that reciprocally contribute to the growth of the other,” continued Consul General Francesco Maria Talò taking the microphone. “As Italian institutions based in the US, we feel it our duty to support the accomplishment of your vocation of “glocal” companies: middle and small sized enterprises open to export your local know how on a global scale”, he continued.

    The successful outcome of this original collaboration between the private and public sector is rooted back in 2008-2009 when, under the auspices of Confindustria Lombardy, the Italian Trade Commission started the project “USA: Approccio Integrato all’Internazionalizzazione” (USA: Integrated Approach to Internationalization) with the Region of Lombardy. “At first there were over 200 companies involved in the initiative. After a series of encounters and analysis, the group was narrowed to 16 enterprises that we effectively thought could find a niche in the US and Canadian market”, said Dott. Francesco Baroni, General Director of the General Direction of the Industrial, Construction, Craftsmanship and Cooperation Sectors of the Region of Lombardy.

    With the recent economic downturn there is a much greater need of collaboration between the business and institutional sector, as stated by Lorenzo Galanti, Head of the Commercial Office at the Italian Embassy in Washington, who represented for the occasion Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata. “The office that I represent sees in this mission a preliminary workshop of a greater project that we could organize on a national scale in collaboration with Confindustria. Due to the recent crisis, supporting Italian companies willing to enter the US market  is today on top of our diplomatic agenda. Our efforts alone, however, are not sufficient. We need to cooperate on a large scale with other Italian institutions operating in the country, and with you and for you. We must exploit every chance to work together to reach this common goal”.

    The history of Italy-US economic relationships is probably studded with economic missions with the same exact aim of entering the US market. This one, however, is unique and original in its own way: the sixteen companies participating, in fact, all operate in high tech sectors, an excellence of the Italian industrial system that is very little known abroad.
    “For many Italy is the homeland of fashion, food&wine products, luxury cars... But we have a lot to show even in the high tech sector, a sector in which we are among the first in the world. The other strong innovation at the base of this project relays on the common intent of the companies participating to invest in a receptive and rich market as the US is, inverting the by now common tendency to bring capitals in poor economies with low-cost labour”, said Adriana Sartor Cremaschi, representative of Confindustria Lombardy.

    These brief but effective institutional remarks were followed by a rich sequence of panels, during each one of which the audience of entrepreneurs were enlightened on the different financial, economical, and legal aspects one should take in consideration when deciding to invest in the US market.

    The first speaker was Christian Menegatti, Director of Global Research -Roubini Global Economics, who gave a long and exhaustive overview of the current status of the US economy and its perspectives of recovery after the crisis. According to his theory, the U.S. economy is approaching a “stall speed”: “With growth at a stall speed of 1 percent or below, the stock markets could sharply correct, and credit spreads and interbank spreads widen while global risk aversion sharply increases. A negative feedback loop between the real economy and the risky asset prices can easily then tip the economy into a formal double-dip,” he said, referring to two recessions in a quick succession. Putting the odds of a renewed recession at 40 percent, Mr. Menegatti also mentioned the possibility of a deflation or a realistic possibility of a considerable decline of the investment rate in the real economy.

    This quite pessimistic scenario was somehow obscured by the presentation given by Christopher Clement, International Investment Specialist for Invest in America (U.S. Department of Commerce), a governmental office whose aim is to promote Foreign Direct Investments within the country’s borders. A country that is center of global innovations and entrepreneurship; offers a strong protection of Intellectual Property Rights; is a leader in Higher Education; and offers a productive workforce, the US is the ideal country where to invest, as he suggested. Citing a number of recent success cases of FDI in the country, he invited the audience to read the “Guide to Federal Incentives and Programs Available to Investors” produced by his Office, to find more appealing reasons to make a greenfield investment in the United States.

    From the national to the local level, Mr. Kunimasa Akasaka of Empire State Development, New York State’s lead economic development agency, dwelt on the positive economic status of the State of New York, a fertile territory for FDI. With a GDP of $1.1 trillion in 2008 and 94 of the world’s Fortune 500 companies located within its territories, New York State seem to be the perfect area where to invest for the companies represented at the conference today, being its strategic sectors Life Science, Nanotechnology, Clean Technology, Photovoltaic, Electric Vehicles, Timber.

    Adhering to the mission of the International Division of Empire State Development, Mr. Akasaka claim to be available to guide potential investors in the identification of potential sites and real estate availabilities, in accessing New York’s incentive programs, and in networking with local government officials and private business people.

    A brief coffee break Milanese Style, catered by Restaurant and Pastry Shop “Saint Ambroeus”, brought us to the second part of the event, that gave the entrepreneurs a brief overview on the many legal and fiscal questions involved in making or opening a business in the US.

    Attorney Annie B. Fiorilla di Santa Croce of Fox Horan & Camerini LLP focused the first part of her speech on the different kind of businesses one can decide to start in the US. “Although many Italian entrepreneurs usually prefer to open a branch of their own company abroad considering it the less expensive option, my studio - and I in first person - always suggest to opt for the creation of a subsidiary, a company under its control, giving birth to a Corporation or to a Limited Liability Company, depending on case by case necessities”. The subsidiary option, according to Mrs. Fiorilla di Santa Croce, allows in fact the protection of the assets of the head company; greater protection of the owners’ privacy, and fiscal benefits, resulting all things considered less expensive that the usually preferred myopic choice of the branch.

    She then gave a number of tips to the new possible investors, first making a close examination of the different kinds of Business Visa available in the US, then offering a brief overview on the possible patterns to choose to found a subsidiary, and finally suggesting strategies for obtaining partial exemptions from taxes such as the Withholding Tax, or taxes on distribution.
     

    The fiscal question was farther delved into by  Sal Salibello and Ross Rizzo of Salibello & Broder LLP, a leading business advisory firm that specializes in foreign owned U.S. companies. They guided the audience into the intricate labyrinth of the US tax system, defined by them themselves one of the most complicated worldwide. Focusing on income taxes, they explained how they are structured on the federal, state, and local taxation, giving the audience a general idea of how to calculate them for both personal and business purposes.

    The lunch brake finally gave the participants and speakers a moment to relax together enjoying the outstanding dishes, desserts, and wine prepared once again by Saint Ambroeus. Farther room for discussion was also given afterwards when the members of the mission took the opportunity to have a one by one confrontation with the panelists, a precious moments to have the last doubts cleared out.

    The “USA. Approccio Integrato all’Internazionalizzazione” project is unique in its genre both because it involves public and private entities at the same time, and both because it focuses on the high tech sector, a Made in Italy excellence that is still very little known abroad.  Hopefully this experiment will turn out to be successful,  so that we will soon see its uniqueness being reproduced on a national scale, as we were anticipated today.

  • Life & People

    Franco Frattini Met the Community and Announced the Upcoming Re-establishment of the AP Program in Italian

    On September 24th, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Franco Fattini met a selected group of members of the Italian and Italian-American community in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

    Keeping up with a very intense schedule, he first  stopped at the Italian Cultural Institute where an international conference  on the protection of women rights was being held at the presence of the Italian Minister for Equal Opportunities Mara Carfagna and the Vice President of the Senate and co-founder of  “No Peace Without Justice” Emma Bonino.

    At the exclusive event that followed he was welcomed by a number of people who crowded the beautiful conference room of the Consulate General, next door from the Italian Cultural Institute on Park Avenue.

    Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata had praising words for the minister, recognizing his merits in bringing new energy and dynamism to Italy's foreign policy. "It is undeniable that Italy has recently undertaken a preeminent and key role on the international scene," he stated.

    Mr Frattini is not new to New York. Having already been Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2002-2004, during one of the previous Berlusconi governments, it is not the first time that he participates in the General Assembly of the UN and comes to New York.  During his visits, he always found time to meet the community, which he finds every year more close knit thanks to the commitment of Consul General Francesco Maria Taló to establish an integrated Italian network in the city, a network  that he likes to call Sistema Italia.

    His speech was an occasion for him to give two important announcements.

    The first concerned the re-establishment of the AP Program in Italian Language and Culture, a University level course of instruction that students can take while still in high school.  Founded in 2005/2006 and offered by the American College Board as part of the Advanced Placement Program, it was discontinued after the 2008-2009.  This year the government, a number of private entities, and a few Italian and Italian-American organizations and foundations joined forces and collected about 3,200,000 dollars, the funds necessary to restart the program: “The government alone allocated a million dollars, a sum that together with the donations of private entities such as MSC, Luxottica, Fiat, Eni, Unicredit, Finmeccanica, and of Italian and Italian-American organizations, first among which NIAF and the Columbus Citizens Foundation, allowed the successful outcome of this common initiative.”

    In giving his second announcement, the minister showed us a brochure designed as an Italian flag and featuring a full calendar of events dedicated to the 150th anniversary from the unification of Italy. “Thanks to the collaboration among Ambassador Terzi, the Italian Cultural Institute and Consul General Talò there will be huge celebrations in the US in honor of this important milestone for the history of Italy. The President of the Italian Republic has officially backed this initiative, that will further enhance the image of our country in the US.” Among the events being planned, there is also an exhibit dedicated to the correspondence (in Italian) between “one of the fathers of Italian language” Gaetano Filangier,i and Benjamin Franklin, one of the pioneers of the constitutional history of the United States.

    The celebrations are an homage to the deep and rich historical roots on which Italy was founded, but are also an occasion to show that the country  is capable to modernize and continuously reinvent itself. “We must find a balanced compromise between the historical heritage that our fathers handed down to us, and our modern role on the world stage.”

     On September 25th Mr.Frattini will deliver a speech through which he will draw the general lines of Italy’s new foreign policy: “We believe in a global governance  that puts the rights of people at the center of its focus. There can not be democracy or economic progress if we first do not make so that the social, political, and civil rights of each individual are respected worldwide.”

    Mr. Frattini finally left the podium complimenting his co-citizens for being such active representatives of the Italian culture abroad: “Italy is proud of you, of what you are doing, and of what we are sure you will do. You are and have been key to the growth of this country with your genius and entrepreneurial spirit. Since I love Italy so deeply, let me thank you all for this”, he said as his voice was finally covered by loud and thunderous applauses.

  • Life & People

    A Nobel Peace Prize for Internet? It's About Time!

    Who will be the next Nobel Peace Prize? In 2009 the President of the United States Barack Obama was awarded this recognition for the "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Last November Wired Italia Magazine, in the person of his Editor in Chief Riccardo Luna, launched the proposal that this year the Prize will be given to Internet. The manifesto of the Internet for Peace Project, that was first presented in Milan, was inspired  by a recent assertion by Italian scientist Rita Levi Montalcini who, on the eve of her 100th birthday, said that “Internet is the most important invention of the last century”, underlining how it strongly affected and shaped our relationship with the outside world, and our approach to “diversity”

    Well welcomed in Italy, with about 160 Parliament representatives signing the mission statement of the Project, the international success of Internet for Peace was celebrated on September 21 at the Paley Center for Media in New York at the presence of the Consul General of Italy Francesco Maria Talò, and Riccardo Viale, director of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York, one of the main sponsors of the event.
     

    “We are here to celebrate the great outcome of our initiative, that is backed by over 200 countries worldwide. This is already a victory to us, whatever will be the final decision of the Nobel jury”, said Mr. Luna before the screening of a collection of supportive videos produced for the official YouTube channel of the Project by people of every race, color, and lineage.

    The Nobel Prize for Peace has traditionally been awarded to personalities that are now part of our contemporary history such as Theodore Roosevelt (1906); Martin Luther King (1964) or Michail Sergeevič Gorbačëv (1990).  After more than 40 years from its invention, Mr. Luna thinks that time has come for Internet to be awarded as well, “because its contribution to peace should be taken in strong consideration.  It is a weapon of mass construction”. Given that it is the favorite mean of communication of new and future generations, in fact, it allows people from every corner of the world to talk, confront, and understand each other better. “Communication leads to dialogue, and dialogue ultimately leads to peace”, he continued.

    The ceremony was enriched by the presence of two of the three ambassadors of the project: the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Shirin Ebadi, an  Iranian lawyer, former judge and human rights activist, founder of  the  Centre for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran; and Nicholas Negroponte, founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, first inventor of Wired Magazine, and founder of the One Laptop per Child Association (OLPC), a US non-for-profit organization whose purpose is “to stimulate local grassroots initiatives designed to enhance and sustain over time the effectiveness of laptops as learning tools for children living in lesser-developed countries,” as written in its mission statement.

    Mrs. Ebadi underlined how Internet has been a great help to her country after the the 2009 elections, when people rebelled against the falsification of the results and four journalists were arrested. Demontrators  were killed, injured, arrested.  On that occasion “ordinary” people used their cell phones and other wireless devices to post videos and pictures on the web so that all the world knew what was going on. “Fifteen years before nobody would have known about those killings and tortures. Internet can be a menace to government oppression”.   

    Nicholas Negroponte took his time on stage to praise the educational merits of Internet as a mean for peace. His One Laptop per Child Association distributes low-cost, low-power, connected XO laptops featuring contents and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning to children of less-advantaged countries. “Where does peace come from? Peace comes from understanding, which itself comes from education and from the possibility to share your point of view with others. Internet means eliminating distances: it is a window that has by now reached over 2 million of children in poor countries putting an end to their isolation, and thus to the lack of dialogue”.

    The third ambassador of the campaign, the Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, could not attend the ceremony because she was not given the permission to leave her country to come to the US on time for the ceremony. In a letter she sent us for the occasion, however, she explained the reasons why she accepted to become a testimonial of Internet for Peace: “The world has become a brotherly place now that someone in Mubai can chat and exchange experiences with someone in Buenos Aires. Thanks to the existence of cyberspace, censors are finding it ever more difficult to limit freedom of expression. The Internet consequently serves as a loudspeaker for those whose voices are least heard, and as a hammer breaking down the wall of control for those who live their lives surrounded by authoritarianism and intolerance”.
    This was the second time this year that Yoani Sanchez was denied the permission to leave Cuba: the first was at the beginning of the year when she had to travel to Vienna to receive her World Press Freedom Hero Award in Vienna.

    The director of the Italian Cultural Institute Riccardo Viale warned the public about the risks of an incorrect use of Internet: “we must avoid its balkanization, the creation of many different InternetS - web platforms that do not inter-communicate - and we must make so that  institutions and governments can not exercise their power and control over it. Internet must remain an opened space, a common place where people can communicate with no borders.”

    Finally Mr. Luna introduced us to the winner of Wired Italy’s Internet for Peace Competition, the Korean group Miyoomo represented by its executive director Sean Kim. The video, featuring the hunting melody “The best Tool for Peace” was selected among other 600 videos that were sent to the official YouTube Channel of the magazine. The video is a documentary based on a peace project that was centered on the 2010 World Cup period this past summer. By use of the Internet, the Myoomo group was able to complete this project within three weeks, in collaboration with volunteers from America, South Korea, Qatar, and China. “Our common goal for global peace is what connected us idealistically, but the Internet was the pathway from which our ideas could be connected physically,” said Mr. Kim.

    We still don’t know whether Internet will win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, but the great support the idea has had at both an institutional and social level is already a great victory for its promoters. Just to mention a few figures, more than 14,500,000 viewers have visited Wired’s Youtube Channel in this time period; 20,000 tweets have been exchanged about the Nobel for Peace Internet candidacy, and results in Google with the keywords “Internet for peace” are listed in several millions of pages.

    “Since my second child Ferdinando was born just a few days later we presented the manifesto of our project in Milan, I want to dedicate this important achievement we feel we have accomplished to all the children of the world: we are working for them, for a peaceful future. And that passes through Internet,” concluded Mr. Luna.

    Showing all our support to the project, we’ll be waiting for December 10-11 finger crossed, hoping to see him and the other promoters of the Internet for Peace Project attending the official Nobel Ceremony in Oslo.

  • Life & People

    Feast of Saint Gennaro. What it Is, and What it Should Be

    Walking around Soho today I met a couple of tourists who asked me directions to Mulberry Street, where the Feast of San Gennaro was taking place. I asked them why they were so curious about it - being them English - and they answered that friends had told them to go there “to have a nice Italian sausage and zeppole at one of the kiosks set up for the occasion”.
    At this point I asked them if they knew anything about the feast and the reason why September 19 is celebrated so glamorously down in Manhattan’s Little Italy.
    Their... silence... encouraged me to give them a brief but essential “history lesson”.

    I have some reasons to believe that my tourists are not the only people who do not know much on the matter. Might them be 2, 3, hundreds, or thousands, I feel it to be my duty to fulfill this little gap.

    Most Italian-Americans or Italians living in the city lament that the Feast of San Gennaro is everything but what the “authentic one” used to be, or what it should be. I must say that as a “Neapolitan-American” I agree with them. I challenge you to find one only Italian, or American with Italian ancestries, cooking and selling food and souvenirs along Mulberry Street during the celebrations. Fried Oreos, candied apples, and meters-long sausages... you could never find this stuff in Naples. People taking pictures with a portrait of Marlon Brando playing in the Godfather show how this feast has kind of become a hymn to commercialism and stereotypes.
    However, regardless of these few and obvious considerations on what has now come to be a sort of Luna Park for tourists, it is still true that the San Gennaro Feast is the biggest, most famous and longest running religious festival in the history of the city of New York.
     

    Today at its 84th edition, the Feast was instituted in September 19, 1926 when newly arrived immigrants from Naples settled in Mulberry Street in the Little Italy section of New York City and brought with them the tradition to celebrate the day when Saint Gennaro was martyred for his faith, September 19 305 A.D. The feast goes on for 11 days - this year in particular it started on September 16 and will end on the 26th. The death of the martyr is commemorated with a procession that brings the statue of the Saint all around Little Italy. On the other days, the statue is exposed at the entrance of the main church of the neighborhood, as faithfuls make donations in money or jewels - as a sign of devotion.

    Saint Gennaro is the “greatest” saint patron of the city of Naples, and is venerated together with other 51 co-patrons. There is not any historic documentation on his life and death: all we know about him has been handed down to us by hagiographies written between the VI and the XIX century AD.

    The circumstances in which he was killed, and the consequences of his death, are so peculiar and interesting that I think it is worth it for you readers to take five minutes of your time and read what I am about to write.

    According to the sources I just cited, Saint Gennaro, bishop of Benevento, decided to leave for Pozzuoli and visit the local faithfuls.  As he was arriving to destination a friend of him, the deacon of Miseno Ossio - a small town nearby, - who had decided to join him, was arrested by the soldiers of the governor of Campania, Dragonzio, famous for his hatred against Christians. As he was paying visit to his friend in prison, Gennaro was arrested too and the two of them were condemned to be tiered to pieces by bears in the amphitheatre of Pozzuoli. The sentence was then changed to decapitation.  

    According to the tradition,  after the beheading a woman called Eusebia kept some of the bishop’s blood.
    That blood is today preserved in two cruets in the Cathedral of Naples. The bones of the Saint are kept there since the XVII century, when Neapolitans built the Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro (Chapel of the Treasury of Saint Gennaro) as a tribute to their patron saint who had freed them from the plague.

    From that time on and still nowadays, while in Mulberry Street the feast goes on starting several days before the anniversary of the martyrdom, the city and the residences of Naples wait for "Saint Gennaro to make the miracle" on September 19 bated breath. No street fair takes place, nothing glamorous happens. It is just a religious moment.

    If San Gennaro “makes the miracle”, or in other words, if his blood melts, it is a good omen. Otherwise, it means that the Saint is "upset" with/for the city.
    Saint Gennaro’s first miracle happened in 1389, and now it repeats three times a year: the Saturday before the first Sunday of May or in the following eight days, on September 19, and on December 16, on the anniversary of a catastrophic eruption of the volcano Vesuvio.

    Science has been trying to give an explanation to such an event since centuries. Astro-physich Margherita Hack has recently declared "The miracle of the blood of Saint Gennaro is only a chemical reaction.” Many were the researchers who echoed her, including those of the CICAP (Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Affermazioni sul Paranormali - Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims on the Paranormal) who demonstrated that melting of the blood was something science could analyze and explain.
     

    After Council Vatican II, moreover, the Church decided to “delete” some saints from the calendar. Among them was Saint Gennaro. It was the harsh reaction of the people of Naples that stopped the de-sanctification of Gennaro. Their faith is so strong that they have no eyes or ears for the claims of scientists and researchers; they just fill the cathedral on the appointed date and pray the saint to make the miracle.

    Today, September 19 2010, the miracle happened at 9:22 am Italian time. It is a bad moment for Naples: poverty and crime dominate the city like a permanent fog. Despite of the joy of the worshippers at the sight of the melted blood, Archbishop Sepe gave a very pessimistic speech. “Naples has always lived of bread and hope. We are now at a turning point: nothing must be given for granted, nor the bread or the hope. How could this happen?”. The miracle of Saint Gennaro was not a good omen this time. Sepe himself tried to send a message: the patron alone cannot change the situation.

    My English tourists left me knowing a bit more of the Feast they were going to take part to. I am sure that they had their sausage, cannoli, and zeppole, but at least when they saw the statue of the Saint, they KNEW what they were looking at.

    The feast of Mulberry Street is what it is today, but it represents a huge act of faith of a group of Neapolitan immigrants who came here at the beginning of the XX century. Even if the Church itself has some doubts in defining the melting of the blood of Saint Gennaro a miracle, the faith and devotion showed by  Naples and its citizens towards its saint patron is admirable in one way.

    If you stop by Mulberry Street during these days of celebrations, just think about it. Remember that there is a “almost hidden” side of this feast that deserves huge respect, for its historical, sociological, and anthropological meaning

  • Events: Reports

    Arts & Tannery 2010. Americans Prefer Italian Leather

    On September 1-2, ten Italian leather, fabric, accessories and component manufacturers exposed their collections for Fall/Winter 2011 during the annual “Arts & Tannery” event, organized by the Italian Leather System Consortium in partnership with the Italian Trade Commission.

    Set in Midtown Loft and Terrace, in the hearth of glamorous Fifth Avenue, the exposition was inaugurated on Sept. 1 at the presence of the Director of the Italian Trade Commission Aniello Musella, the Deputy Consul Marco Alberti, and welcomed American designers, stylists, and fashion specialists who could have a first insight on the new trends for the upcoming season.

    Each of the ten companies represented for the occasion, Ausonia Conceria, BCN Concerie, MB3 Conceria, M2 Conceria, Pellegrini International, Gemini, Prodotti Alfa, San Lorenzo, Tuscania Industria Conciaria, Valvibrata Ornaments, exposed their new proposals in terms of materials and accessories in the areas they were assigned. Specifically researched and designed for the US market, the leather pieces stood out in the white hall with their bright colors and richness, a true experience for both the sight and the touch.
     

    "The Italian tanning process is centuries old and its tradition and innovation is revered worldwide.  The Italian Leather System showcases the best of Italian leathers, alongside components for footwear, handbags and leather apparel.  It is indeed a successful way of exhibiting and highlighting the strength, richness and complexity of the Italian production system and all of its subcategories. A great number of International renowned designers, among them many Americans, look to Italy for the raw materials, whether leathers, textiles or components", told us Aniello Musella, Executive Director of the Italian Trade Commission network for North America”.

    There is a continued growing demand of Italian leather and component parts in the US. Just in the first semester of 2010, as Mr. Musella explained us:,“Italian companies operating in the sector have exported to the US market for a value of 60 million dollars”. In spite of the global economic crisis and the disadvantageous Euro/dollar exchange rate, in fact, US imports of leathers registered a 31.54% increase over the same period in 2009 with Italy as the  primary supplier to the market, with Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico following behind.
     

    As Mr.Lorenzo Cotrozzi of the Italian Leather System showed through a brief video presentation, this year the style and research teams of the Italian Leather System Consortium have pinpointed four key trends for the Fall/Winter 2011 season:1) Eco Hi-Tech 2) Steam Freaks 3) Volcanic Genius and 4) Ghost Breath.
     

    Metallic colours and materials are those favorite, pointed out Mr. Francesco Giannoni, who represented for the occasion his company Tuscania Industria Conciaria and the entire Consortium. “The real strength of Made in Italy products relies in its inner outstanding quality and in the passion and fantasy that guide the work of our manufacturers and researches. Even those stylists who in the recent past started buying from the Far East Markets have finally changed their mind and realized that the constant innovation and the growing quality of our products find no comparison in the world. Our industry, moreover, was one of the few that did not undergo a significant drop in terms of sells during the crisis. Now that the economy is recovering, we are some of the first who are enjoying the positive effects of the upturn”.

    The words of Mr. Giannoni find confirmation in the outcome of last year’s Arts&Tannery, as the edition was attended by representativesfrom some of the most important American fashion names. Among them DKNY, Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs, Kenneth Cole, Saks Fifth Avenue, Banana Republic, Polo Ralph Lauren, Coach, Brooks Brothers, Cole Haan, Liz Claiborne, Club Monaco, Kate Spade, Andrew Marc, Tommy Hilfiger, Oscar de la Renta, Jimmy Choo.

    The future can not be more promising for the Italian leather system, that continues to be a standard-bearer of Made in Italy in the world with its outstanding quality and constant innovation in styles and materials

    The Italian Leather System is a consortium that brings together the best of Italian companies working in leather manufacturing. The Consortium was formed to serve as a platform for the exchange of ideas and experiences.  The primary objective of the Italian Leather System is to present the excellence of Italian products, thanks to the contribution of the diverse companies that make up the consortium.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Lidia Stops the Clock: Eataly is Opening Around the Block!

    We are finally there. Eataly, a  70,000 sqf fully Italian food&wine shopping mall is ready to welcome thousands of New Yorkers

    Local media and the general public have supported Oscar Farinetti’s project to bring his Eataly to New York right from when it was first conceived and announced, and now they are showing deep enthusiasm and expectations towards it.

    The same for Lidia Bastianich, whom we reached on the phone to talk about her emotions on the eve of the ribbon cutting event. Lidia, together with her son Joe and chef Mario Batali, is in fact Eataly’s main partner in this new US adventure.

    For all those who know her it is no wonder that she embraced the ‘Eataly challenge’ from the very first moment she was told about it. As she explained us, she sees it as a fabulous opportunity to educate the American public on authentic Italian cuisine and the traditions and values on which it relies.

    What got you involved in the Eataly project?
    I first met Oscar Farinetti, the creator and founder of Eataly through the Slow Food Association during one of my trips to Italy. I had heard about Piedmont’s Eataly before, and I was curious about it. I was very impressed by Mr. Farinetti: our relationship begun and developed very quickly. We had dinners together and we met several times before he asked me how I felt about Eataly coming to New York. I thought that the concept on which the whole project relayed  was great, but I needed to ask my partners, my son Joe and chef Mario Batali, with whom I run the B&B Hospitality Group, what they thought about it. They liked the idea, and we started working on it right away

    How will you be involved with Eataly’s management and growth?
    The three of us will take care of different sectors. My son Joe will be the CEO, and will run the entire business; Mario Batali will supervise the restaurants, the menus, and the chefs, making sure that the food will represent us and the Italian tradition properly; my court will be education and catering.

    I want to make of Eataly a forum where people have the opportunity to learn more about Italian tradition, and can get more conscious and aware about the products that they buy.  My collaborators and I will hold a number of classes every year, in which not only we will teach our students about Italian recipes and the ways to prepare them, but will also invite Italian wine makers, artisans and producers. They will talk about their businesses, hold tastings, or dinners based on their products.

    We will also host several lectures every year embracing the many different aspects related to food: we will talk about its nutritional aspects, focusing on the Mediterranean Diet as a delicious, healthy way of eating and drinking; the historic ones, focusing on how the different cultures and populations that occupied Italy throughout history--from the Arabs to the Spanish and the French -- changed and shaped local culinary traditions; and finally we will touch the sociological aspects of eating the Italian way. Think about it: everybody admires and appreciates the Italian habit to sit around the table with our family and enjoy a good meal. It is part of our daily life, it is a must to which we should not renounce. It helps keeping our families together, and I think that Americans should learn a lot from this tradition.

    Finally, let me anticipate that we will also organize both local and international trips. We will visit local producers but we will also invite folks to fly to Italy with us, and learn more about the products that they are buying at Eataly in New York.

    As a matter of fact Eataly could become a real booster for the Italian food & wine tourism industry...
    Our clients will find in Eataly also high-quality, niche products coming from areas of which they probably had never heard about. This will certainly stimulate them to visit places that are generally not interested by mass tourism and learn about the many fascinating aspects of their culture, starting from the food & wine one.

    A question to Lidia in her capacity capacity as chef. Why is it so important to use authentic Italian ingredients to cook Italian?
    I opened my first restaurant, Buonavia, in 1971, as my first effort to communicate the traditional Italian culinary culture to the American public. I must say that it was very difficult: at that time, for example, I didn’t even have the proper rice to make a risotto. There was no Carnaroli or Arborio rice available in the States, and I had to use locally grown long grain rice to cook. The results were very far from what they should have been.

    It soon became clear to me that in order to export Italian cuisine to the US I first needed traditional ingredients to be available. If you can make an antipasto with Prosciutto San Daniele, Mozzarella di Bufala, Grana Padano, and use good olive oil, you’re half the way through. You put them on the table, close your eyes, and feel like being back in Italy....

    If you want to cook Italian, however, the ingredients alone are not enough. You need to learn the technique, the Italian way to cook and make a dish out of them. How do you cook osso buco, or pasta e fagioli? You need to get the skills for it.. that’s why I am betting so much on the educational aspect of my commitment with Eataly.

    You decided to sell also local products, beside those imported from Italy. This choice reflects the “Italian spirit” -- for Italians cook only with what is in season and they can find “in their backyard.” This is also sustainable from an ecological point of view. But how do you respond to those who criticize it, especially when it comes to products such as as mozzarella, that you buy from local producers?
    If you asked a Neapolitan how long the mozzarella stays fresh, he will answer that it should be eaten within two hours of its shaping, which is not possible when you have to import it from Italy. I find it true that buffalo mozzarella can not be substituted adequately with any other US product, but I would not say the same for regular mozzarella: if you have good milk, and you get a good curdle, knowing the temperature and the right techniques, you can make a product that is very similar to the Italian one. It is still not 100% the same, but it is getting closer and closer, and personally I use it for my dishes.

    The same with fish. Why should I import scampi from the Italian Riviera, and have them frozen to get all the way here, when I can easily get local and fresh ones? If I have a good Italian olive oil and I cook them the Italian way, I can still get very close to the original taste.

    New Yorkers seem very enthusiastic about the opening of Eataly. Why is Italian cuisine so popular in the US?

    Italian cuisine is much more than a sterile collection of recipes: it reflects the people with their way of living, their habits, the hundreds of different cultures characterizing the different areas of the country. In the 40 years that I have been working in this business, I have seen the interest of people towards it and its history growing exponentially. They are curious about the different traditions, and like to experience them at the table. The same phenomenon is happening with Chinese cuisine, that is also very rich from the cultural point of view. In my opinion, however, the one thing that makes of the Italian cuisine the most popular in this country is that it is associated with the idea of family, with the pleasure of making something special out of the ingredients you have available and sharing it with your dear ones.

    Talking about family, it’s several years by now that you are partner with your son Joe. How is it working out?
    In my family we like to follow the Italian tradition also when it comes to business. Italy is the only power in Europe whose economy relies on medium and small family-run businesses, and I find it very healthy, both for the business and for the family.We discuss, confront our ideas, and try to do our best to make things work out properly in the interest of everybody. Of course we argue sometime, but we always find a way out, and that’s because we are bonded together in a double way.

    I also work with my daughter Tanya, a Ph.D. in Renaissance History from Oxford University, who helps me with my books doing research, that is her field of expertise.

    I have been fortunate enough to be a mother of two children who share her same passions, and work to make them flourish every day. It’s one of the greatest rewards that I could have hoped for.

    We concluded our phone call wishing Lidia and her partners the best success in their new adventure. As she anticipated to us, the project could expand throughout the US, depending on the outcome of this first New York experiment. In the meantime, New-yorkers, be them  of Italian origins, or just Americans who love Italy  will from now on have a place to shop, dine, and experience even if just for a few hours the sweet flavor of the Italian dolce vita.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Can You Imagine a World Without Nutella?

    If you asked an Italian what “Nutella” is, he will probably come up with a number of different answers, according to his age, genre, social extraction, and life style.
    “It’s the perfect pairing with a warm slice of bread in the morning”, a mother of a child would probably answer. Or, it’s a midnight “relief” for the deepest heartaches for young teenagers that would eat the whole jar with the help of a teaspoon... or also is a mid-afternoon snack for children who need energy to play sports or with their pals.
    Sure enough, its inventor Pietro Ferrero would have never imagined that this product he invented in the 1940s would have conquered first the entire country and then Europe... and now finally the US!

    Believe it or not, in fact, Nutella is finally becoming popular in the country where peanut butter has always dominated the kitchen cabinets of every household and the taste of every kid from Massachusetts all the way to Alabama.

    If you asked today the average American if he would rather have a Nutella or a peanut butter sandwich, he would have to think about it, while just ten years ago he would have definitely chosen the second option.
    There could not have been a better moment for Italian journalist Gigi Padovani and his wife Clara, writer and expert on culinary history,  to come up with the new, updated version of their book “Passione Nutella”, that was first released in Italy in 2006.

    The first edition of the book features a full catalogue of recipes, including 30 provided by prestigious names of the Italian food industry such as Massimo Bottura and Moreno Cedroni and 40 revisited by Clara herself, a collection that makes this manual a precious guide for all those who view Nutella not only as a spread, but as a potentially precious additional ingredient to traditional and modern, local and national Italian dishes and desserts. “I included recipes that come from every single part of Italy: there are the cantucci from Tuscany, tegole from Val D’Aosta, and amaretti from Piedmont.... There are also more internationally famous recipes such as plum cakes, muffins, or Bavarian cakes. They all have that hint of Nutella that makes them different,”  said Clara when she came to visit us this summer at our headquarters, together with her husband Gigi.

    “The new edition of the book, which will also be published in English, will have a large introduction focused on the history of Nutella, an updated ‘Nutella dictionary’, and will be the result of a rich collaboration with New York chefs who are very well known both in Italy and the US, among whom are Tony May, Cesare Casella, Lidia Bastianich, Jimmy Bradley, and Jonathan Waxman”.
    The book published in 2006 was not the first Nutella book for the couple.  Mr. Padovani had already talked about the social and cultural role that Nutella has had in these last decades of Italian history in “Nutella. Un mito italiano”, released in 2004, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of its first creation.

    If Nutella is becoming popular only in these recent years in the US, the label Ferrero is not new to the US market. It was in 1969 when Ferrero U.S.A., Inc. first opened for business in New York City. To introduce the Ferrero story in the vast and unique U.S. market, Ferrero U.S.A., Inc. chose as its lead product, not the enormous Nutella brand or one of the hugely successful Ferrero chocolates, but rather the smallest Ferrero wonder of all - Tic Tac!

    The distinctive Tic Tac green was followed by the dazzling gold of Ferrero Rocher, the fine chocolate and hazelnut "praline." Now that Rocher is rapidly becoming a mainstay of increasingly-sophisticated American tastes, consumers are now beginning to enjoy the distinctive taste of Nutella spread. As it rapidly gains distribution and awareness across the U.S., it's destined to become as big a success here as it already is in Europe.

    Ferrero today produces about 25,000 miles of jars of Nutella a year, a length that is equal to the entire circumference of the earth! However, despite having become a multinational company, Ferrero, now at its third generation, is still growing under the guidance of the heads of the family: Pietro and Giovanni Ferrero, the grandchildren of founder Pietro, head the Group as its Managing Directors. That gives the company a “glocal” approach (think globally, act locally) to business, being that it focuses on international development, yet adapts to local traditions and needs while giving back to the local community.

    The “family structure” is also one of the reasons that brought the Directors not to be part of the Padovanis’ project, “that is not aimed to increase Nutella’s sales, but to offer our consumers a number of ideas of how to use the popular product. The publishing house that commissioned the work, Giunti, obtained the authorization to use the label and pictures that the Ferrero family itself provided us with, but none of the recipes written in the book come from their laboratories. They will give us other, more recent images for the new edition of the book, but once again they will not be involved”, pointed out Clara.

    Both Clara and Gigi Padovani come from Alba, the small town in the Piedmont region were the Ferrero company produces Nutella. “All of the residents of Alba breath Nutella right from their first whimper: the perfume of toasted hazelnuts and cocoa fills the air of the entire small town. When you wake up in the morning and open the window, your house gets completely invaded by this aroma, that accompanies you throughout the day. I remember that when I was a junior-high student, I started my days with a cup of warm whole milk and a piece of focaccia with Nutella”, told us Gigi.

    Piedmont is the historical capital of chocolate in Italy. It was there that the crema gianduia, the ancestor of Nutella, was first invented in 1866 when Napoleon was defeated by the English Army in Trafalgar and the “Block of Berlin” impeded the arrival of American products in Europe, among which included cocoa. Turin confectioners found out that the aroma of toasted hazelnuts was similar to the one of pure cocoa and invented a new spread, the crema gianduia, to compensate the lack of chocolate in the country. Nutella was invented by Pietro Ferrero following the same principle, when after-WWII Italy was poor and economically destroyed, and there was a consistent demand for something sweet and affordable. La merenda dei bambini ("the kids’ snack", as Pietro Ferrero loved to call it) became a huge success in no time: children of all parts of Italy could get a smear of “Super Crema” on their piece of bread for just 2 liras, and they fell so much in love with it that the ritual of going to the corner store to get their treat became a daily habit.

    When in 1964 Pietro’s son, Michele, named the cream “Nutella” from “nut”, he consecrated the product’s international success: “Already in the 1950s he opened factories in different countries of Northern Europe, France and England first of all, and invented a name that could be appealing to those people giving birth to a great marketing strategy in a time when marketing was not even in existence as a practice”.

    It’s been about 20 years since Ferrero began producing Nutella in Canada, but only in these last couple years has the product been gaining the favor of American consumers. The advertisement campaign presents it as a breakfast item, underlining its health and nutritional values. As one of the most active members of the Italian branch of the Slow Food movement, Gigi Padovani explained to us that the recent initiative adopted by the European Union Parliament to forbid the Ferrero company to advertise Nutella because it favors obesity and is unhealthy is arguable: “A breakfast with a limited amount of spread on a piece of bread with a glass of juice or milk is balanced and helps you start the day with energy”.

    “Nutella will win its battle against peanut butter in America because it is greedier. People need chocolate, are fond of it, and associate great life memories to it. I have never heard of anybody recounting stories related to peanut butter...”, says Clara, whose goal with the new edition of “Passione Nutella” is to teach people the innumerable ways one can use Nutella: that it can become a basic ingredient for both sweet and savory recipes.

    Wishing all the best success to the Padovanis and their soon-to-be-published works, we end this piece by quoting Andrea Lee, a journalist for the New Yorker who wrote in an article appearing in 1995 that “defining Nutella as a hazelnut and chocolate spread is like saying that Michelangelo’s David is a huge block of marble”.

  • Events: Reports

    The Sicilian Girl. An Italian World Success at the Film Forum, NYC

    Movies about the Mafia? We have seen so many of them… In America it has become a cinematographic genre, and characters such as Vito Corleone or Tony Montana have become real icons. Fascinated, we learned their code of honor, supported their lust for revenge, suffered for their pains of love and for their losses… Sometimes we almost forget they are criminals, murderers, we just feel close to them and (often) quote their expressions, copy their looks, imitate some of their behavior. 
     

    But what about those who are victims of the Mafia system? Those who have grown up in areas where organized crime is the real ruling power and have learned to deal with it in their daily life? For many decades or, let’s say, centuries, almost nobody in Italy had the strength, or the will, to denounce the pathological situation of a large part of Southern Italy, where Camorra, Ndrangheta, Mafia and Sacra Corona govern the economical, political, and social life of the area. And many of those who did, paid. 

    Today something is changing. Movies like “Gomorrah”, “Il Divo”, show a new trend. They give testimony to a renewed refusal to live in a present and a future under the shadow of organized crime. People are committing themselves to a new denuncia, and cinema is becoming the mirror of their growing protest.
     

    Director Marco Amenta presented his latest movie, “The Sicilian Girl”, during this year’s edition of

    “Open Roads” (June 4 – 11, 2009). The production received nominations for two prestigious awards : the “Nastri d’Argento” and the "David di Donatello". The film is inspired by a true story, the protagonist being Rita Atria, a member of a Mafia family in Sicily.

    She rebels against organized crime when her brother and father are killed under orders from the boss of a rival family. She finds in judge Borsellino and legal prosecution the only way to revenge the deaths of her dear ones.  Her diaries become the evidence police need to arrest dozens of Mafia bosses and criminals. They are also, however, her death sentence. A few months after her “denuncia”, and a short period of life hidden in Rome, persecutions, menaces, intimidations, and murders  induce Rita to end her life, committing suicide.

    Director Amenta told this story already once before, in 1998. The 56 minute-long documentary, “Diario di una Siciliana Ribelle” (One Girl Against the Mafia), received awards at several Italian and foreign movie Festivals, among which the Mostra del Cinema di Venezia; the  "Prix Italia”; the “Prix Europa”; and was also presented at the Docfest in New York.
     

    We interviewed director Amenta and asked him about his movie, his life in Sicily, his commitment in the battle against organized crime, and his future projects.

    You produced the documentary “Diario di una siciliana ribelle”  more than 10 years ago. Your new movie, “The Sicilian Girl”, is also based on the story of young Rita, a member and, at the same time, a victim of the Mafia system. Why does this story touch you so deeply?

    The two productions are completely different. In 1998 I told the story portraying the real characters. I used images from photographic archives and I also used the authentic diary of this young girl. That was a documentary. I presented it throughout the world, also here in the United States. I wanted people to know this story. But something was still missing, and that was the psychological description of the character, her inner feelings. It was important to me to give full value to her path of emancipation. She is raised in a Mafia family and considers her brother and father as real heroes, to her eyes they are almost modern Robin Hoods. She lives in her own fairy tail, and feels like a princess.

    When both are killed she finds revenge collaborating with an anti-mafia judge, with whom she understands that her beloved ones were nothing but murderers. That is when she begins a very hard inner journey, a psychological path that will allow her to look at the Mafia world from a new point of view, and to destroy the heroic image she used to have of her brother and father.  She becomes the counterpart of another female character of the movie, her mother. The latter is a typical Sicilian Mafia woman, that abandons and disowns her own daughter to remain faithful to a belief she has adhered to for all her life. Rita rebels against two types of tyrannies: the Mafia; and a violent, sexist and patriarchal system. This second form of rebellion can make a universal story of her experience, one that we could find in any place or time.
     
    How attached do you feel to Sicily?
    I lived there during my childhood and adolescent years. Then I moved to France where I lived for several years, but I always maintained important ties with my homeland. My job as a photo-reporter allowed me to have  direct contact with organized crime in Sicily, as I was asked to photograph murders, witnesses, those responsible for terrible massacres. I was also threatened.

     As a Sicilian man, I know this world perfectly. It is unavoidable when you grow up there. I imagine this is the reason why it is so important for me to tell my audience about what still happens in my homeland. Yes, because Italy has never been emancipated from organized crime. And if it still wants to consider itself a “modern democracy”, just as other European countries,  it has to get read of his huge curse.
     

    In which way does the Mafia affect democracy in Italy?

    Organized crime, being Camorra, Mafia, or Ndrangheta, controls parts of the national economy. It controls politics, institutions - civil society. Italy is not a “sane democracy”. The victims of this system are not only those who fight against the Mafia but also ordinary people. In the universities, in the hospitals, doctors and professors are hired only because they have important friendships, or maybe because they can do some kind of “favors”. We are all victims of this system, even if we do not want to admit it. We must not be afraid, we shall face this problem.
     

    How do you portray the Mafia in your movies?

    Just the way it is. I do not want my movies to be classified in the “Mafia gendre”, neither do I want to copy from other directors that have told about this issue using all kinds of stereotypes. They tell grotesque stories. I want to recount reality, so I take inspiration from it. This is what Saviano did too, with his “Gomorrah”: he worked with the Camorra for three months to write his book. As a photo reporter I was infiltrated too. I showed in my movie how the criminals look, how the nervousness of the anti-mafia judge caused his hands to tremble so much that  he could not sign documents… This is what makes the difference in my movies, they are a sort of  hybrid between a documentary and a movie production …
     

    Is this also the case of “The Sicilian Girl”?

    Yes, I chose actors that could communicate directly with the public, and give an introspective image of what was happening.

    First of all, most of them were Sicilian, except for the judge who was French and a few others. Many were not professional actors, and came from “risky” environments. As an example, the actor that plays Rita’s boyfriend, Vito, comes from a slum in Palermo, called “Zen”. Just like the character, he had to choose between a “legal” and a “criminal” life. He opted for the first choice, but today his childhood pals still try to convince him to follow the other path. You can see how he fits that role just perfectly.
     

    I also allowed the actors to speak in dialect pretty often, and this gives great realism to the movie and the characters. The cast is made with actors that play in an instinctive and visceral way. “Rita” only performed in two movies before, and never studied recitation. But she has a wild side, and a naive one too. I liked her, and I felt I needed her for my movie…
     

    Do you face any kind of obstructionism against the making of a movie of this kind in Italy?

    Fortunately, there aren’t so many taboos anymore. Things are changing. But it is still difficult to produce politically or socially committed movies. Comedies of course are more remunerative, since they attract a greater audience. Today the trend, also and especially in TV, is to hide reality and its problems. They want people to dream and forget about history and politics. Italy is imposing on itself a sort of self censure. Look at what is happening with the reality shows. What are they all about? A group of VIPs pretending to be farmers, survivors on desert islands… They portray the exact opposite of real life, they are absolute fiction. I would call Italian TV’s present era as the era of “Berlusconiism”, where people are offered a sort of never-ending and ethereal reproduction of reality. This is why I prefer cinema, which is the place where you can recount reality. But we have our difficulties too, because the tendency is to produce fictional stories. But Sorrentino made it with “Il Divo” and Garrone with “Gomorrah”. And thanks to all those who financed my project and believed in it, “The Sicilian Girl” came out too.
     

    Are you working on new projects?

    My company, Eurofilm, bought the rights of “The Banker to the Poor”, the autobiographical book of Muhammad Yumus, before he became a Nobel prize. My sister Simonetta Amenta is the producer of this new movie, and I wrote the screenplay together with Sergio Donati, who already collaborated with us for “The Sicilian Girl”.  The screenplay, indeed, won a prize at this year’s edition of the Tribeca Film Festival. The movie will be shot in Bangladesh and in the United States, and will be released in English. It is the story of a man that invents a new kind of bank. He lends small sums of money to the poor, to widows,  to ill women with children. He does not ask for any kind of guarantee, breaching this way one of the fundamental rules of the

    modern financial and banking system. Everybody believes he is fool, crazy, nobody trusts him or believes in his idea. Thus he starts his “new business” alone.

    He opens it up in a hovel in a village in Bangladesh. Contrary to all predictions, the beneficiaries of his business returned the loans as soon as they could and with no foreign or international assistance. He had been the first one to give them dignity, and they did not want to delude him. Very soon Mohammed opens new branches of his bank, multiplying them throughout the world. As a result he helped millions of poor, and in 2006 he received the Nobel prize for Peace.
     

    This movie, just like “The Sicilian Girl”, wants to show people that there is always an alternative way, we always have a choice. The prize at the Tribeca shows that Italians can recount universal stories too. Bertolucci recounted life in China in “L’Ultimo Imperatore”, Sergio Leone narrated about America to the Americans… my movie is about an ethical bank in Bangladesh. It was important for me to present it in the city of Wall Street. The banking system was created to help people, now it has become an abstract and cold entity that stands far from the every-day problems of the people. Given the current economic crisis, my movie could suggest a change…
     

    What is the ultimate goal of your movies?

    I want to introduce my audience to a whole new world, make it live new emotional experiences. Of course I don’t think that my movies can change the world, but at least I want to light sparks in my spectators. Some of them can become true fires. When and if I will realize I am not able to do it anymore, I will quit my job. 

    The Sicilian Girl
    Film Forum, NYC
    Wednesday, August 4 – Tuesday, August 17
    1:00, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10:00

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