Articles by: Alex Catti

  • Lidia in her teenage years. (Courtesy of Lidia Bastianich)
    Life & People

    Lidia Matticchio Bastianich: Nostalgia and Success

    The name Lidia Bastianich is synonymous with exquisite Italian cuisine. Many people know the talented chef from her fine Italian restaurants and her various television programs throughout the years. However, Ms. Bastianich’s professional accomplishments are only one component of her intriguing and significant personal history. As a child, Lidia grew up between three different worlds–each one having a significant impact on her and her future. i-Italy had the pleasure of sitting down with the world-renowned chef in order to better understand her roots and to help share her story.

    Beginnings in Istria

    It was February 1947; World War II had ended, and the Paris Peace Treaties were about to be signed. Until that point, the Istrian peninsula was primarily under Italy’s control following World War I. Despite having Italian governance, Italians living in Istria had a very difficult existence; many of them faced violence or death during the Foibe massacres occurring near the end of World War II. The Paris Peace Treaties, however, were a final nail in the coffin for many of those individuals as the treaties granted control of the Istria to Yugoslavia. Istrian-Italians knew they either needed to adapt to a new way of life or to emigrate from the peninsula. Many chose the latter option, so many, in fact, that the time period was known as the “Istrian Exodus.”

    That same month, February 1947, Lidia Matticchio (later Bastianich) was born in the middle of the political unrest. Her family resided in Pola, and she would live there for the first nine years of her life along with her parents and her older brother–three years her superior. Lidia recalled that life in Pola during that time meant change for many of its residents. People were changing their names, changing the language they spoke, and even changing religion. She shared with an anecdote about her grandmother: “My grandmother would discreetly take me to church, and she would discreetly speak to me in Italian. All of these things, you really felt them as a young girl. It was difficult to exist in this uncertainty.”

    Moving Across the Border

    When Lidia was approximately ten years old, her parents decided that they could no longer raise their two children in that environment. During that time, it was not possible to simply leave Istria as a refugee; those looking to escape had to truly run away. Fortunately, the Matticchio family had relatives in Trieste, Italy. Lidia’s parents decided that she, her brother, and her mother would go to Italy to visit their family. Her father, however, had to stay behind in Istria. Lidia recalls, “They didn’t let the whole family go. They always held one as a hostage.” This system was enacted to ensure that those who went abroad would always return for the family member left behind. However, two weeks later, Lidia’s father fled Istria and arrived safely in Trieste.

    The events of this tumultuous time stuck with young Lidia. She remembers her aunt who lived in Italy and who brought her son into the woods to avoid the Foibe massacres, but he never returned. Work in Italy was scarce and did not provide a secure life; Lidia’s father worked as a chauffeur for a the Rossetti family, and her mother cleaned houses. Again, Lidia’s parents felt compelled to make a change.

    Crossing the Atlantic

    Anyone who was interested in emigrating from Italy needed to enter into a refugee camp. Lidia’s parents had been contemplating entering the camp in Trieste, San Saba, for a few months before they finally decided to sign up. Lidia shared with us a bit of her experience there: “I remember that as soon as we entered, they put us in quarantine. Quaratine meant that they stripped you of your clothes; they took everything from you, and they looked to see if you were healthy. Then they put us in a rather dark room, and they put my father in another because they separated the men. Even now I remember it because there was this small window, and I was looking between the bars to see if I could see my father coming. After 40 hours, they reunited us, and we were all much more relaxed.” Lidia and her family stayed in this camp for two years. She recalls waiting in line for food every day with her small plate and living in a big room divided into small sections. The family left the camp’s grounds from time to time in order to visit Lidia’s aunts and uncles; however, in order to remain in line for emigration, the Matticchio family needed to continue to reside in the camp.

    Finally, in 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower opened up immigration to America, and the Matticchios were among the first to arrive in the United States. They first entered the United States through Idlewild Airport in New York City, which is known today as John F. Kennedy International Airport. Their journey was assisted by both Caritas and the Red Cross. Lidia recalls that as young children, she and her brother felt the United States was a place with beautiful music, beautiful homes, and artists. However, her parents found the experience to be a bit more frightening as they did not know anyone in their new country, and they did not speak the language. After living in New York City for two months, Lidia’s family found a job for her father as a mechanic, and they relocated to North Bergen, New Jersey.

    The Foundation of a Culinary Career

    After Lidia’s family finally felt some stability, her own career began to take off. Her roots, however, always remained fundamental to her success. Lidia remembers that when she was a child, her mother would often leave her in the care of her grandmother. Lidia told us: “I was her little helper; I went behind her, and I would cook with her. I remember when the goats were milked, she made me ricotta with a bit of honey on it, and that was my breakfast. It’s great! When arrived in Trieste, I knew we wouldn’t be going back. I felt like something was ripped away from me because I didn’t say goodbye to my grandmother or my friends, nothing. We just left, and that was it. I believe food remained as my connection and my tie to my grandmother. The scents, the flavors, everything. I continued cooking in order to keep her close to me.” Lidia’s also stated that father was very nostalgic, and he loved to make traditional baccalà mantecato from Veneto. To this day, Lidia still makes this dish on Christmas Eve because it feels as if her father is there with her.

    Lidia first began cooking at home. When she was in school, she started working part time at a bakery; she enjoyed the work, and it gave her a chance to develop her skills. Subsequently, when she was attending Hunter College, she began working in restaurants and she felt that she was on the right path. Lidia’s husband, Felice, was also another important part of her successful culinary career. Felice was already involved in the restaurant industry. The two met when Lidia went to visit a distant cousin in Astoria, Queens. They married, had their first child, Joseph, and opened their first restaurant, which was in Queens. They hired a chef, and Lidia worked closely alongside him for ten years as a sous-chef.

    In 1981, after making several trips back and forth to Italy, Felice and Lidia opened Felidia in Manhattan. Lidia became the chef, and she made the switch from preparing Italian-American cuisine to cooking genuine Italian regional cuisine. Today, the head chef of this East Side gem is Fortunato Nicotra, and the menu is as eclectic as ever.

    Words of Wisdom

    We asked Lidia if she had any advice or perhaps a positive message for those who are going through difficult times. She told us, “I would give strength and opportunity to someone who is looking to restart his or her life and looking to find a stable place to live. If you give that helping hand, once you’re gone, those people are then able to help themselves, assuming they have the desire to. You need to give someone the opportunity when he/she needs it, just like my family and me were given. We’re a perfect example of what can happen when someone seizes this opportunity. Naturally, yes, we worked very hard; yes, we made sacrifices along the way. Yes, my grandmother, my mother, and my father cried on several occasions. Yes, to all of these things, but in the end, you make something beautiful for yourself, a great opportunity.”

    Don't forget to tune in to NYC Life (Channel 25) on Sunday, Febraury 26th for our exclusive conversation between Letizia Airos and Lidia Bastianich.

  • Life & People

    Italian American Museum Hosts Seminar on the Mediterranean Diet

    The Mediterranean Diet is scientifically proven to be one of the healthiest dietary regimens in the world. In fact, as of 2010, the Diet was given UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage recognition. On Wednesday, November 15, those interested in the history, benefits, and future of the Mediterranean diet gathered at the Italian American Museum to hear a series of presentations on the topic.

    Joseph Scelsa, founder and director of the Italian American Museum, welcomed guests and spoke a bit about the Museum’s plan for a new space. Following Scelsa’s welcoming remarks, Monsignor Hilary Franco, Holy See to the United Nations, introduced himself and the speakers for the evening: Orlandino Greco–Councilor Regione Calabria, Antonino De Lorenzo–Director of the School of Specialization in Clinical Nutrition at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, Franco Salvatori–Dean of the Department of Literature and Philosophy at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and Fabio Parasecoli–Director of Food Studies at The New School and an expert on food culture and geopolitics. The gathering that evening was thanks to the hard work Alessandra Moia, who organized the seminar.

    A Discovery in Nicotera

    The Mediterranean Diet has its roots in the city of Nicotera, region of Calabria. Nicotera was the base for the “Seven Countries Study” (1957), which documented the occurrence of chronic degenerative diseases in across seven countries: the United States, Italy, Finland, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, and Japan. The data from Nicotera showed an extremely low rate of heart attacks; it also revealed a low occurrence of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. As a result, it became the Dieta Mediterranea Italiana di Riferimento–the reference point on which the Mediterranean Diet is based. The original study was subsequently confirmed by studies from the 1960s-1990s by Prof. Alberto. Fidanza and from 1990-2010 by Prof. Antonino. De Lorenzo.

    A New Law in Calabria

    On October 31, the Regional Council of Calabria approved a law for the promotion of the Mediterranean Diet. The Councilor of the Regione Calabria, Orlandino Greco, came to the Italian American Museum on Mulberry Street to talk about how such a law could positively affect the region. “From 2016 data, Calabria’s exports are 0.1%. Despite production, despite the quality of our products, despite everything, the exports are still 0.1%. This is probably because we have never had a brand that promotes these products abroad.” He went on to say that the Mediterranean Diet must be valued because it could be a unifying factor for the region with the possibility of boosting exports and, as a result, tourism.

    According to the text of the law, the Diet “promotes a lifestyle, which is universally considered as the optimal regimen for one’s health and consequently the length and quality of one’s life. It is a unique combination of social, cultural, and dietary practices.”

    The Mediterranean Diet and Your Health

    To speak about the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet was none other than Antonino De Lorenzo. He began by explaining the original study on the Mediterranean Diet conducted by Ancel Keys in Nicotera, which was part of the larger Seven Countries Study. The results revealed how the the cohort of people living in Nicotera, Calabria followed a diet, which lead to a reduction in chronic degenerative diseases. The study also revealed a correlation between certain kinds of fats, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, which are an important part of a balanced diet.

    In terms of percentages, De Lorenzo stated that the Mediterranean Diet reduces the occurrence of chronic degenerative diseases by 30%. However, to better understand what that means, it helps to look at Ancel Keys’ “Mediterranean Diet Index.” The guiding principle behind the Index is that the intake of certain foods reduces the mortality rate. For every 2.0 points on the Index, mortality is reduced by 8%.

    Over the years since the initial study, the dietary habits of residents of Calabria had shifted. The diet of the 1960s had consisted mostly of fruits, vegetables, wheats, cereal, potatoes, and nuts with limited consumption of red meats and refined sugar. The Index at that time was anywhere from 7.2 to 10.0. As the food industry continued to grow, a reverse dietary shift subsequently occurred, and by the 1990s, the Index decreased to 2.8. Calabria was previously the region with the lowest incidence of obesity, but it since became the region with the highest occurrence of obesity. This is one example of the inverse relationship between chronic degenerative diseases and the Mediterranean Diet Index.

    A Connection with the Land

    Franco Salvatori was next to speak and offered insight that was both scientific and philosophical. As the land and the society that inhabits it are inseparable, Salvatori highlighted the importance of being connected with the land.

    He stated, “The structure of a territory is functional with respect to the structure of the society. The territory is organized to guarantee the health of the society.” In the case of the Mediterranean Diet, it is evident that the territory has a positive effect on its residents. Nicotera became the reference point for the Diet, and the origins of its residents’ food choices is what proves Salvatori’s point.

    The Mediterranean Diet began as a result of frugality. People lived off the land because it was the only option they could afford. Grains, legumes, vegetables, fresh and dry fruit, extra virgin olive oil, and fish were the foods of choice by residents in Nicotera. Nicotera is a perfect example of the interaction between land and society.

    Although these ingredients are of the land, “food” is a product of culture. We choose the way in which we use these raw materials to make a finished product. These choices, in turn, influence the both agricultural landscape and the landscape as a whole. All of this serves to demonstrate the interconnectivity between the Earth and society.

    Salvatori concluded by stating how each society represents itself by the landscape it chooses to have, and despite trends towards standardization and homogenization, Italy’s landscape remains varied because its aesthetic value is considered important.

    Food in Modern Society

    In order to understand the dietary shift that occurred in Calabria, Fabio Parasecoli touched upon the reasons for and the significance of a change in dietary regimens across the globe. The shift from a plant-based to a meat-based diet began in the 20th century in the United States, but it has since been spreading across the globe. In addition to an increased amount of meat in people’s diets, we’re also seeing an increase in fat content and in the number of processed foods consumed. Shifting to this type of diet is often viewed as progress, and we’re now seeing two of the most populous nations in the world, India and China, making this shift.

    Parasecoli stated that the issue with industrial food production is that biodiversity decreases because foods cultivated, “are not chosen based on their health value but because of yields, resistance [to disease], and practicality.” However, Calabria is in a unique position to maintain its biodiversity. The market, on a global level, is calling for biodiversity. Parasecoli stated that in Calabria, “there are unique products, there are unique landscapes, there are unique stories behind them. Those are all elements that nowadays, especially in the highest segments of the market, are very important.”

    Moving forward, the challenge will be creating a language to convey to people, both in Calabria and outside of it, the richness that the region has to offer.

    Awards from the Region of Calabria

    Following the presentations, four Italian Americans were presented with awards from the region of Calabria for their work in promoting the Italian culture. The recipients were Peter Caruso, Anthony Brusco, Elisabetta Calello, and Josephine Maietta.

  • A rendering of the exterior of the new Italian American Museum
    Art & Culture

    Little Italy's Italian American Museum Looks to the Future

    Guests gathered on Sunday, November 12 at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, New York to show their support for a new Italian American Museum. Located in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood, the current Museum operates with five main goals: “To establish and maintain a museum dedicated to the struggles of Italian Americans and their achievements and contributions to American culture and society; to collect, own, hold, preserve, exhibit, and interpret a collection of appropriate objects; to gather and preserve memorabilia, reminiscences, oral histories, documents and other appropriate material in an archive and library; to sponsor lectures, symposia, musical programs, film, festivals, theater, and art exhibitions; and to raise public awareness and appreciation of the accomplishments and contributions of Italian Americans to the American way of life.”

    Recognizing Contributions

    Robert G. Fonti acted as the Master of Ceremony for the Ambasciatore Awards. The afternoon began with the Italian and American national anthems sung by soprano Cristina Fontanelli. Next, Fonti invited Uff. Cav. Joseph Sciame to the podium for the invocation. Fonti then announced the names of the dignitaries present. Two of the dignitaries, the Deputy Consul General in NY, Silvia Limoncini, and the Director of Italian American Affairs for New York State, Delores Alfieri, offered their remarks. Subsequently, Fonti invited the Founder and President of the Italian American Museum, Uff. Cav. Joseph V. Scelsa, Ed.D., to the podium; he thanked guests for coming and explained the Museum’s history and future. During the dinner, Vanessa Racci treated the audience to a musical performance. Scelsa then presented each honoree with a medal.

    The honorees were proposed by a different organization active within the Italian community. Vivian Cardia, president and owner of Vivicar LLC, was proposed by the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina; Giuliana Ridolfi Cardillo, Representative for the Maria Callas celebrations in the USA and Europe, by the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee of NY; Gina Coletti, co-founder and co-chair of the Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers, by the Lt. Det. Joseph Petrosino Association in America; Al Crecco, founder of the North Shore L.I. Chapter of UNICO, by Northshore Shore LI Chapter of UNICO National; Ciro Sarra, New Jersey Vice President of the Federazione Campania USA, by the Federazione delle Associazioni della Campania, USA; Anthony D’Urso, New York State Assembly Representative of the 16th Assembly District, by the Order Sons of Italy in America; Armando De Marino, real estate broker, realty manager, consultant and developer, by the Queensboro Chapter of UNICO National; Mary Ann Mattone, former Vice President, Treasurer, and President of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, by the Figli di San Gennaro, Inc.; Dr. Eugenia Paulicelli, Professor of Italian, Comparative Literatures and Women's Studies at Queens College and The Graduate Center, by the Italian American Women's Center; and Dr. Stanislao Pugliese, professor of modern European history and the Queensboro Unico Distinguished Professor of Italian and Italian Studies at Hofstra University, by the Association of Italian American Educators, Inc.

    According to Scelsa, “Each of our honorees has contributed to the betterment of our Italian-American community and our culture through their organizational commitment. All too often these contributions go unnoticed; it is the purpose of these award ceremonies to recognize these people who work so hard in our community, and that’s why the Italian American Museum’s Board of Directors decided to initiate the Ambasciatore Awards Program.”

    The History of the Italian American Museum

    Scelsa then went on to describe the founding of the Museum, which was the “outgrowth” of a successful exhibition at the New York Historical SocietyThe Italians of New York: Five Centuries of Struggle and Achievement (October 1999-February 2000). This exhibition was the first time that the plight of Italian Americans was outlined at a major cultural institution.

    The Italian American Museum was officially incorporated in 2001, and had a temporary home in the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute of Queens College. However, the Museum needed a permanent home, and the old Banca Stabile on the corner of Mulberry Street and Grand Street would be its new home.

    “Why go there? We’ve been so successful. We should be on Fifth Avenue. We should be on the ‘main street,’” several people told Scelsa. His reply: “Little Italy is the ‘main street.’ Those are our roots. That was our first home. That’s where we came to when we came to America. We need to remember that; we need to honor it, respect it, and make other people honor it and respect it as well.”

    Plans for the New Museum

    The Banca Stabile property, where the Museum currently sits, was purchased in 2008. In the nine years since then, the Museum has grown from 900 square feet to 1,800 square feet. Despite this expansion, the Museum continues to outgrow the space that houses it and is in need of a location that can accommodate its expansion.

    Enter the real estate development firm Nexus, which has partnered with the Italian American Museum. A plan for a new condominium building, with the museum on the lower levels, has been devised. After construction is finished, the Museum will enjoy 6,500 square feet of space inside the new building.

    Regarding the new space, Scelsa proclaimed, “This will move us towards the next 20 years. I want to be able to show not only the past but also the present and future of our community. We have to continue to do this because when we don’t show off ourselves, others forget about us. If you don’t do it yourself, it’s not going to happen.” Scelsa also told i-Italy that there are plans for a multimedia exhibition at the new Museum, helping to bring it even further into the future.

  • Robert Ferrito, NYS State Grand Lodge of New York Order Sons and Daughters of Italy of America President (left) presents Blauvelt Sons of Italy Lodge 2176 Second Vice President Bill Barbera, with a plaque for hosting the plenary session in October. Photo credit: Risa B. Hoag
    Life & People

    Blauvelt Lodge of The Order Sons of Italy Hosts Plenary Session

    The beginning of the twentieth century was a period of mass migration from Italy to the United States. Italians living in the United States realized the need for an entity that would help Italian men and women assimilate into the American society and become educated. Thus, The Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) was born in New York City on June 22, 1905 thanks to the work of Italian immigrant Dr. Vincenzo Sellaro and five other Italian immigrants: Ludovico Ferrari, Antonio Marzullo, Giuseppe Carlino, Pietro Viscardi, and Robert Merlo. Since its founding over 100 years ago, the organization has grown to represent 23 million men and women of Italian heritage in North America.

    The Grand Lodge of New York was formed on January 10, 1911, a few years after founding of OSIA. This week, Rockland Lodge #2176 located in Blauvelt, New York held a Plenary session to review various reports from the President, State Treasurer, State Principal Trustee, State Orator, State Historian as well as various committees including membership, fundraising, foundation, culture and education and more. Newly elected Grand Lodge President Robert Ferrito opened the meeting with the traditional candle lighting ceremony along with State 1st Vice President Anthony Naccarato of Long Island and State 2nd Vice President Michele Ment of Westchester. The next Plenary Session will be held on January 27 at the District 1 Lodges at Constantino Brumidi Lodge Hall in Deer Park on Long Island.

    Since its founding, OSIA’s mission has shifted from focusing on assimilation to concentrating on preserving Italian heritage among the Italian Americans in the United States. Every year, the New York Grand Lodge Foundation, Inc. and local lodges provide approximately $250,000 in scholarships. The Foundation scholarship endowment is nearly one million dollars; this amount continues to grow thanks to the individual lodges, members of OSIA, benefactors, and friends. The scholarship funds serve as a way to help support students’ collegiate studies.

    There are over 60 lodges in New York State with each lodge offering various meetings, events, fundraisers, fairs, and other activities. To find which lodge is closest to you, please visit the NY OSIA website by clicking here. >>

  • Life & People

    AIAE Celebrates the "Settimana della Lingua italiana nel mondo"

    Members of the New York’s Italian community “Dined with the Stars” on Monday at Carmela’s Ristorante Italiano in Franklin Square. This event was held during the seventeenth Settimana della Lingua italiana nel mondo thanks to the Association of Italian American Educators. The “Week of the Italian language in the world” is curated by the Ministero degli Affari Esteri and the Accademia della Crusca with the help of Italian Cultural Institutes, Italian consulates, and many other schools and organizations worldwide. Every year the Settimana della Lingua italiana has a different theme; this year’s focus is on “cinema and theater.”

    The Association of Italian American Educators

    One organization that certainly shares the goal of promoting the Italian language and culture is the Association of Italian American Educators (AIAE). The Association’s president, Cav. Josephine A. Maietta, is very well-connected in the Italian community, and she managed to bring everybody together, at Carmela’s Ristorante Italiano, for a very special evening following the theme of cinema and theater. The board of the Association of Italian American Educators is comprised of Dr. Carmela Leonardi, Prof. Irma Evangelista, Prof. Jacqueline Jill Rito, Dr. Vincenzo Milione, Prof. Joseph Leonardi, Prof. Carlo Mignano, Prof. Stan Pugliese, Ms. Elisabetta Calello, and Ms. Carolyn DeSimone.

    Entertainment for the Evening

    Guests of the evening enjoyed a variety of presentations, speeches, and entertainment. To begin the night, Marco and Giovanni Vittozzi sang beautiful renditions of “God Bless America” and “Fratelli d’Italia.” After welcoming guests, Maietta spoke about the history of the Settimana della Lingua italiana nel mondo, which began back in 2001 thanks to an initiative by the Accademia della Crusca. The theme changes every year in order to show different aspects of the Italian language and the culture that is inextricably linked to it.

    Continuing the entertainment for the evening, a friend of Maietta and avid Frank Sinatra singer, Eddie Sessa, sang “That’s America to Me.” Maietta then called American operatic tenor Daniel Rodriguez, who sang “God Bless America” over the phone from California. The whole room began singing along with him.

    Just before the evening ended, Neapolitan poet Enzo Bifulco recited two poems, “Napoli” and “Mamma.” Guests were enchanted by Bifulco’s readings in Neapolitan dialect.

    Recognizing Italian Contributions

    Following the theme of “cinema and theater,” Dr. Vincenzo Milione of AIAE and the John D. Calandra Institute enlightened the audience with some statistics about Italian Americans in the entertainment industry. Within the Italian-American presence in motion pictures and theater, 1 out of 5 (21.29%) are actors and directors, 1 out of 4 (24.55%) are authors and writers, 1 out of 2 (39.27%) are musicians and composers, 1 out of 14 (6.74%) are dancers, and 1 out of 12 (8.16%) are artist performers. The proportion of Italian-American actors and directors increased from 6.7% in 1980 to 9.3% in 2014. The proportion of Italian-American dancers, choreographers, and dance teachers drastically increased from 6.1% in 1990 to 11% in 2014. However, overall the overall presence of Italian-Americans in motion pictures has dropped from 7.9% in 1980 to 7.6% in 2014.

    Founder of Mentoring USA and First Lady of New York State (1983-1995) Matilda Raffa Cuomo also came out to the Franklin Square restaurant to show her support for the Italian community. Mrs. Cuomo awarded Mirko Notarangelo, President of the MamApulia Association and creator of the Columbus Game, with a book she edited entitled The Person Who Changed My Life. Mrs. Cuomo also told i-Italy that her mentoring program for at risk, Mentoring USA has been seeing great success, and its European counterpart, Mentoring USA Italia, has expanded “from Sicily to Venice.”

    Maietta also awarded singer Noelle Clancy with the AIAE Honorary Italian Citizen Award. The award was given to recognize Clancy’s love for Italy, the Italian language, and Italian music.

    A Perspective from Inside the Entertainment Industry

    Italian-American actor Tony Lo Bianco spoke about his experiences as an Italian American growing up in New York City. He told guests how he did not always perform well in school, and it took him some time to figure out his path. Thanks to his determination and also to people who believed in his abilities, specifically his speech and drama teacher Patricia Jacobson, he was able to get to where he is today.

    Regarding acting, Lo Bianco commented, “Entertainment to me is just stardust, just to get you interested, so that I could say something of value to you about life… I believe it’s my job as a mush, as a piece of clay, to mold myself into another human being. Those people that I portray may have something related to you, and you may see something in that character that will help you develop as a person or understand something more in your life. And that’s what the purpose of my acting and my speaking is about.”

    Lo Bianco ended his speech with the poem "Just Common Soldier" for all the veterans present. Professor Salvatore Nicosia, a 90 year old veteran, was present to hear the reading. Lo Bianco finished by listing some, but not all, of the most influential Italians in history: Michaelangelo, Marconi, Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Puccini, Verdi, Dante, Machiavelli, Marco Polo, Botticelli, Benigni, Toscanini, and Amerigo Vespucci. Following the reading, Maietta handed an American flag to the professor, and Lo Bianco gave him a hug.

    Because this year's theme is cinema and theater, guests went home with a copy of the magazine edition entitled "Cinema and Theater" and a poster produced by the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee of New York. The evening made clear just how much Italians have contributed to both American society and to the world at large.

  • Art & Culture

    The Man Behind Giuseppe Verdi on Fifth Avenue

    Spectators of this year’s Columbus Day Parade saw an unusual sight–Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi marching down the street, leading 12 of Italy’s world heritage sites. The idea was conceived by actor, director, and playwright Massimiliano Finazzer Flory, who appeared in the parade as none other than the opera composer himself. In order to get a better understanding of the public’s reception and what it was like to march on Fifth Avenue, i-Italy asked Finazzer to recount his experience.

    Can you tell us a bit about your recent trip to New York?

    Well, there are two different types of New Yorkers. Those who live there permanently and those who live there on a more temporary basis. But everyone always feels at home there. Paradoxically, the transient New Yorkers are perhaps more animated, adrenaline-filled, and full of vitality than the ones who live there permanently. In America there’s this sense of time. My life followed the rhythms of Columbus Day, the Metropolitan Club, MoMA, Pure Yoga, Barnes & Noble, and my film on Leonardo da Vinci, which is in post-production downtown.

    What did it mean to “wear” Verdi? Why him? Did people recognize him?

    “Wearing” Verdi meant wearing one of Italy’s three colors, in other words the history of opera, and as a consequence western music culture. More than ever in the next few years, Verdi will be the paradigm of reference between Europe and the United States. He’s the link between the generations that want to continue a certain idea of theater. Americans might have mistaken me for Abraham Lincoln, but that mistake is actually fitting. They were both defenders of freedom.

    What did it feel like to march? Perhaps the rain made everything feel more real.

    Reconquering Fifth Avenue with our bodies, flanked by Italian flags, means giving a human pace–and an aesthetic look on the world–back to New York, and to understand that Italy is worthy of this name when it goes beyond itself.

    What were the people’s reactions?

    There were a bunch of different feelings that came together. The ones that stood out were gratitude and, at times, affection, but you could also perceive these dreamlike thoughts toward us–as if Italy were still a place of the imagination.

    Who was part of the team you worked with in Milan?

    As a director searching for continuous creative connections, I like to put individuals together with different situations. The Fondazione Stelline and the Region of Lombardy, which both accompanied me and my assistants, found me 12 young New York artists. I taught them remotely in order to give life to a collective choreography. These artists are dancers, actors, and young directors who all have a passion for art. They make enormous sacrifices for this passion in order to survive in a cynical and egotistical world, much like the one we live in, which is stingy in recognition and resources.

    What does Columbus Day mean for an artist and intellectual like yourself? What do you think of the recent controversies, and what can a celebration like this do?

    Columbus Day is an “incomplete” event. A project with potential runs the risk of not developing completely if it looks towards the past. It doesn’t make sense to simply commemorate the past. You need to remain current and centered around a theme, which in my opinion should be “journey and discovery.” These are poetic and nonpolitical categories. This would involve transforming Columbus Day into a high-quality international mega event focused on excellence, representing it through a spectacular vision. The relationship between floats, groups, and authorities needs to be rethought, placing a serious request on the project. If I were the artistic director, I would be inspired by Fellini, and I would imagine something like Cirque du Soleil mixed with the Carnevale di Viareggio.

    Have you spoken about this with anyone in New York?

    Yes. I initiated some meetings with private partners to see how to invest in a moveable set for next year. Fifth Avenue is a set for performing arts, and this is possible thanks to the strong use of digital, creating bridges with media and cities between the United States and Italy.

    Verdi’s participation in the Columbus Day Parade was just a taste... What’s yet to come?

    Between the end of January and June, my Verdi show will have been in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, and Miami. The sense of my operation is to present all the elements of the history of opera through a miniature theatrical work narrated by Verdi’s actual biography. This all with period costumes, music, singers, and, naturally, wordbooks. Thanks to digital media, this is all enveloped in a virtual set.

    What other projects do you have going on in America?

    We’re working intensely in post-production on the film Being Leonardo, which is drawn from my show and shot in New York, Vinci, Milan, and also by the Loire river. The goal is to participate, as a short film, in the most important festivals in the US during 2018. In the meantime, I’m making agreements with theaters and museums for 2019 for the occasion of 500 years since da Vinci’s death.

    What should we expect next?

    Perhaps a futurist show on the NBA, but we’ll talk about this later.

  • Left - Consul General Francesco Genuardi, GEI President Lucio Caputo, Governator Andrew Cuomo rappresentative Dolores Alfieri, Gilberto Benetton, Ambassador Armando Varricchio and Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations in New York, Sebastiano Cardi
    Life & People

    Gilberto Benetton of Autogrill Honored at GEI Gala

    On October 5 entrepreneur Gilberto Benetton, Chairman of Autogrill, received the prestigious “Gei Award.” in the splendid Essex House of New York City.

    GEI (Gruppo Esponenti Italiani) was founded in 1974 as a non-profit association comprised of representatives from major Italian companies, organizations, and institutions.

    These “groups” are active in the United States and look to elevate Italy’s image on an international level.

    GEI is also a forum for Italian and American experts in the fields of politics, society, business, and finance to exchange ideas on the Italian image from an American perspective.

    Lead by Benetton, the Italian company Autogrill is the world’s leading operator in food and beverage services for travelers, and it's celebrating 40 lucrative years of business.

    A Well-Deserved Award

    In addition to being the chairman of Autogrill, Gilberto Benetton’s name is perhaps best known for the Italian clothing group, the Benetton Line, which Gilberto and his siblings founded in 1965. Gilberto is also the chairman of Edizione S.r.l. and is responsible for overseeing its financial and real estate investments.

    Benetton’s resume is, in fact, too long to list, but as the President of GEI, Lucio Caputo, stated in Grand Ballroom of Manhattan’s Essex House, Gilberto deserves to be honored for his commitment to improving Italy’s prestige around the world: “Gilberto Benetton is responsible for the Benetton family’s diversification over the last 20 years in the retail, infrastructure and real estate sectors since he started in 1965, with his brothers Giuliana Luciano and Carlo, the Benetton Group, a leader in the fashion industry.”

    Italian Ambassador to the US Armando Varricchio also shared a similar sentiment, stating that the Benetton name is now linked to other great Italian names, such as Gianni Agnelli, founder of Italian car manufacturer Fiat, and Sergio Pininfarina, car designer and Italian senator for life.

    Other messages of congratulations were sent by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Minister of Foreign Affairs Angelino Alfano, and Confindustria President Vincenzo Boccia.

    Regarding his businesses and the award, Benetton had this to say: “Being in New York at this time is a great source of pride for me, also because we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Autogrill.”

    He concluded with the hope that “[...] the companies we guide will develop and [...] that companies are provided with what is needed over the long term in order to successfully face the difficulties of today and the growth opportunities of tomorrow.”

    Autogrill Across the World

    Anyone who has gone to an Autogrill in Italy knows that it is a breath of fresh air for travelers who are driving the many miles of Italy’s Autostrade (highways). However, what you may not already know is that Autogrill has a large presence outside of Italy as well.

    The company HMSHost is the North American subsidiary of Autogrill S.p.A.; it employs 39,500 associates and saw revenues of over 3.1 billion dollars in 2016 between the United States and Canada.

    HMSHost restaurants can be found in 99 rest stops located along toll roads between Maine and West Virginia and as far west as Illinois.

    In Canada, HMSHost restaurants can be found from Windsor to Cornwall. And as if that’s not enough, HMSHost now has locations in 120 airports worldwide and continues to expand. Without a doubt, it’s easy to see how Benetton has been working hard at promoting Italian excellence on a global scale.






    GEI stands for “Gruppo Esponenti Italiani,” the Group of Italian Representatives. Founded in 1974, the GEI is an association of representatives from the main Italian business and financial concerns operating in the United States, and Italian leaders in the professions, in industrial design and international affairs.

    GEI aims to provide a forum for both Italian and American experts in the fields of politics, society, business and finance to exchange ideas on the Italian image from an American perspective.
    Using funds donated by its members, the Group organizes seminars, round table discussions and other events to promote Italy.  It makes financial contributions to various projects, including an Italian school in New York, and has engaged a public relations agency to publish articles on Italian industry.

    The GEI Award is a small limited-series sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro. The past recipients are: Gianni Agnelli, Biagio Agnes, Robert E.Allen, Luciano Benetton, Guido Carli, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Emilio Colombo, Mario Cuomo, Pier Francesco Guarguaglini, John E.Grettenberger, Edward M. Kennedy, Emma Marcegaglia, Vittorio Merloni, Leonardo Mondadori, Mario Monti, Gian Marco Moratti, Giorgio Napolitano, Umberto Nordio, Corrado Passera, Luciano Pavarotti, Sandro Pertini, Sergio Pininfarina, Leontyne Price, Alessandro Profumo, David Rockefeller, Renato Ruggero, Massimo Sarmi, Paolo Scaroni,  Marvin S. Traub, Marco Tronchetti Provera  and Ellen Wolff.

    A special GEI Award was presented to the President of Italy, the late Sandro Pertini, on the occasion of his visit to the United States.
    The Group also hosts working luncheons with local and visiting personalities to focus on relations between Italy and the United States. Guests-of-honor have included the American ambassadors to Italy and the Italian ambassadors to the United States, the Presidents of various Italian regions, Senators, Governors, Mayors, chairpersons of leading companies and financial institutions, renowned journalists, educators and representatives of the cultural world, as well as numerous Italian government and Parliament members during their visits to the United States.

  • Italian Ambassador Armando Varricchio at Gracie Mansion with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife
    Facts & Stories

    Columbus Day Tension Brews at Gracie Mansion

    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is of Italian descent, and he often makes reference to his Italian roots. Recently, however, Mayor de Blasio has come under fire from the Italian-American community for not protecting enough statues depicting world-renowned explorer Christopher Columbus. Columbus, who was born on the Italian peninsula but sailed for Spain, has become both a symbol and a source of pride for Italian-Americans. Italian Ambassador to the United States, Armando Varricchio attended, de Blasio’s celebration in Manhattan and offered his thoughts. The Mayor’s event highlighted the many viewpoints surrounding Christopher Columbus.

    de Blasio welcomed attendees in Italian: “Benvenuti nella casa del popolo,” “Welcome to the house of the people.” He told the crowd to be proud of their roots, and he criticized the Italian-American stereotypes that exist due to “a few bad apples.” de Blasio also listed some important Italian names like Fiorello LaGuardia, former mayor of NYC in the 1930s and 40s. The Mayor did not comment on the parade or on the Columbus statue controversy. de Blasio previously stated that a newly appointed committee will recommend which statues should or should not be removed.

    Ambassador Varricchio was next to speak. He stated that historical figures should not be judged on specific episodes, but rather, they should be judged based on what they have contributed to the world. In this particular case, Varricchio stated that Columbus was responsible for “connecting two sides of the world [and] allowing the exchange of ideas.” He also proclaimed that Italians and Italian Americans “should all be proud of this great sailor who set sail with bravery, with very poor technology at the time.”

    Varricchio’s comments came on the heels of Mayor de Blasio’s decision to appoint the Advisory Commission on City Art. The commission was a reaction to the race riots in Charlottesville, which resulted in a young woman losing her life. The Advisory Commission on City Art is currently reviewing art around New York City and will determine whether or not certain works should be removed.

    In addition to the Mayor, other prominent individuals in the Italian community also voiced their opinions.

    Angelo Vivolo, President of the Columbus Citizen’s Foundation, did not attend the celebration. He stated, “I'm in total disagreement with the mayor's position on statues around the city and Columbus Circle. I feel it would be hypocritical of me to show up at the mayor's affair tonight.”

    In an interview with ABC 7, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York also expressed a sentiment regarding Columbus: “I'm proud of our Italian people sticking up for Columbus. He's a great hero. Is he flawless? No. But I don't know of too many flawless people around. I don't know who we'd be able to name our churches after if we're looking for perfection.”

    Regarding the boycott of the Mayor’s event, de Blasio commented, “Look, it's a free country. If they choose not to come to an event honoring our heritage that's their choice.”

    The Columbus Day Parade is scheduled for Monday, October 9, and Mayor de Blasio’s Advisory Commission on City Art will issue its statue-removal recommendations by the end of the year.

    However, on the day prior to the parade, October 8, a “Wreath Laying” ceremony, performed by the National Council of Columbia Associations, will take place at Columbus Circle. According to Joseph A. Guagliardo, CEO of The Conference of Presidents of Major Italian Organizations, “now more than ever we must do two simple activities to help defend and protect Columbus Day and our historic memorial dedicated to Christopher Columbus.”

    Guagliardo urges everyone to participate in both the Wreath Laying ceremony and the Columbus Day Parade in order to send a message to elected officials and potential elected officials about “[preserving] the history of our Italian-American experience.”

  • Arte e Cultura

    Verdi tra tradizione e innovazione


    Abbiamo chiesto a Massimiliano Finazzer Flory,  attore, drammaturgo e regista teatrale italiano, qualche informazione, per capire come mai nel 2017 second lui la persona di Giuseppe Verdi, musicista dell’800, e' ancora di grande interesse. E come mai ha deciso di raccontarlo attraverso una rappresentazione teatrale in giro per il mondo.

    Verdi, perchè ha scelto Verdi questa volta?

    Perché Verdi è l’Italiano. Nel mondo il suo nome è sinonimo di opera. Ne consegue che l’Italia è un’opera. D’arte. Verdi è dunque l’uomo del teatro totale che ha saputo coniugare la nostra identità con la cultura universale.

    Cosa l’ha affascinata in maniera particolare del personaggio?

    La sua capacità di tenere insieme tradizione e innovazione avendo chiara non solo l’idea della scena ma della società. Verdi non era nato “personaggio” ma creava personaggi rimanendo un uomo. Un uomo di campagna che aveva anticipato la nascita della metropoli.

    Come lo descrivereste agli americani?

    Un regista alla Spielberg con la visionarietà di un produttore che immagini una Broadway colta. Si potrebbe osare nel dire che senza di lui non ci sarebbe stato il musical. Verdi in fondo come gli americani non aveva esclusività e il suo pragmatismo era poetico.

    In cosa consiste l'Italianita' di Verdi? 

    Nel rapporto tra l’arte che è universale l’individuo che la esercita. Nella solitudine affollata da ricordi che si trasforma in energia orgogliosa.

    Quanto ha di contemporaneo?

    Verdi non è stato ancora del tutto compreso. Nella sua opera puoi trovare folk, pop e perfino rock se guardiamo la relazione tra lui e Shakespeare che egli considerava suo padre. Ed infine una profonda umanità che fa si che i suoi personaggi siano ancora tra di noi. Ciò che Verdi chiede ancora oggi è che il pubblico giudichi con le sue impressioni, impressioni e nient’altro.

    Cosa hai provato nell'interpretarlo e su quali aspetti del suo carattere ti sei concentrato.

    Orgoglio senza retorica. Diversamente dalle sue opere Verdi è un uomo alla ricerca di un Padre e che trae la sua opera dalle leggi della natura. Interpretare Verdi significa dire agli spettatori: “come fate a seguire le mie opere se non avete letto la mia storia?”. Era un uomo tutto d’un pezzo che pensava con la sua testa e camminava con le sue gambe. Sembra banale ma a me pare che questa sia un’altra sua grandezza.

    Quali altri 'passi' fara' Verdi nel mondo con te?

     Il mio progetto e’ di portare, con la Regione Lombardia, Verdi nei Conservatori e nei grandi eventi dove si possa incidere politicamente con la nostra arte, la nostra tradizione per sottolineare l’importanza della formazione nell’ambito dell’opera lirica. Non siamo consapevoli di essere, grazie a Verdi, un’Italia vincente per sempre.

  • Art & Culture

    Verdi Between Tradition and Innovation


    In order to understand how Giuseppe Verdi is still of interest in 2017, we asked Finazzer to explain a bit more.

    Why did you choose Verdi this time?
    Because Verdi is Italian. Across the world his name is synonymous with opera. Italy itself is a work of art. Verdi is a man of the theater who knew how to combine our identity with universal culture.
    What, in particular, fascinated you about Verdi’s character?
    His ability to keep tradition and innovation together while having a clear idea of not only a scene but also of society. Verdi was not born a “character,” but he created characters while remaining a man. He was a man of the countryside who anticipated the birth of cities.
    How would you describe him to the American audience?
    A Spielberg-like director with the vision of a cultured Broadway producer. One may venture to say that without him, musicals would not exist. Deep down, Verdi, like the Americans, was not exclusive, and his pragmatism was poetic.
    Where can Verdi’s “Italian-ness” be seen?
    In the relationship between art that is universal to the individual who practices it. In the solitude crowded by memories that is transformed into prideful energy.
    How contemporary was he?
    Verdi is still not fully understood. In his work you can find folk, pop, and even rock if we look at the relationship between him and Shakespeare, who he considered to be his father. In the end, a profound humanness ensures that his characters are still relevant to us. Verdi asks that the public judges with their impressions, impressions and nothing more. Even today.
    What did you feel while playing him, and which aspects of his character did you focus on?
    Pride without rhetoric. Unlike his operas, Verdi was a man who was looking for a father and who took inspiration for his work from the laws of nature. Playing Verdi means saying to the audience: “How can you follow my operas if you haven’t read my story?” He was a stand-up guy who thought with his head and walked with his legs. It may seem ordinary, but to me this was another one of his great aspects.
    What other “steps” will Verdi take across the world with you?
    The goal of my project is to bring Verdi and region of Lombardy to conservatories and big events where a political impact can be had with our art, our history, and our traditions. This is all to underscore the importance of an education in Opera. Thanks to Verdi, we are aware that Italy will always be a winner.