Articles by: Marina Melchionda

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Italian-American Food. Is it That Bad?

    Chicken Parmigiana, Fettuccine Alfredo, Chicken Vesuvio, Spaghetti with Meatballs….Most Americans believe that these are some of the most typical Italian dishes, and they actually love them. But, are they really Italian?

    Experts generally agree that Italian-American cuisine is damaging the image of the real Italian culinary tradition in the United States. After all, who in Italy has ever eaten Veal Parmigiana or Pizza with pineapple? If you aked an Italian, most likely he would think you are teasing him. We would tell him that, indeed, this is what is considered to be “typically Italian” in America.

    All of us know that this “deviation” was (generally speaking) first born from the need to substitute the ingredients required by the original recipe with those available locally, back when Italians first emigrated to the United States. If at first the “game” was played by Sicilian, Neapolitan, Calabrese massaie who maintained a strong sentimental and cultural connection with their hometowns (and thus knew pretty much what they were doing), it was then left to others, mainly people who had never been to Italy in their lives (including second and third generation Italians) and adapted Italian recipes to the “American taste”.

    The issue now is: is this food any

    good or not? In other words: even though they often have nothing to do with the original recipes, are the dishes mentioned above still to be considered “delicacies”? And, moreover, can “real” Italian restaurants in American coexist with the Italian-American ones?

    Most experts would answer NO to both questions. They don’t even accept the idea of an “istitutionalized” Italian-American cuisine.

    But we found one who does. Fred Plotkin is not only a real gourmet, but he is also considered one of the major experts of Italian cuisine in America. Author of best-selling books such as “Italy for the Gourmet Traveler”, “The Authentic Pasta Book, Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera”, “La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia” and “Italy Today: The Beautiful Cookbook”, and writer for the trade reviews “Bon Appetit” and “Gourmet”, he confessed to us that he fell in love with Italian cuisine when he first tasted a panini with meatballs in a salumeria near the school he used to go to. “I love Italian food, but I eat Chicken Parmigiana too. Who couldn’t like a dish with tomato sauce, chicken cutlets and cheese?”, he told us in a mid-summer afternoon.

    Could we refrain from interviewing him on the issue? 

    So you the accept the idea of an Italian-American cuisine…

    Well, there is Italian, and there is Italian-American cuisine. Those are two completely different topics. Italian cuisine in America is the attempt to bring what Italians eat now to the United States. Italian-American cuisine is a rich cultural tradition that has been evolving for more than a hundred years. I grew up in New York and in my neighborhood there were many Italian families. I was not of Italian background as far as I know, but I remember these people’s food and also the spirit that went with it, the one of sharing with the others what you had.  We have to remember that almost every Italian-American has a background of poverty, and therefore almost every Italian-American represents a success story.

    This is something wonderful to think about. Certainly Jews and Italians have been among the peoples who have prospered through hard work and solidarity with one another, Jews emphasizing education, Italians emphasizing hard work and family structure. This has resulted in the passing down of traditions.  

    Have you ever written a book on Italian-American cuisine?

    Well, when I write my Italian cookbooks about regions of Italy, what I often do is to visit Italian immigrant communities all around the world to see how the Friulani or the Liguri or the Marchiggiani, who arrived in the United States or Argentina or Canada fifty years ago, prepare their food today.  


    We must recognize that Italian American cuisine is memory plus ingredients. I’ll give you a famous example. In Liguria where I live part of the time, there’s a little soup—it’s a broth—called Ciuppino, which means soup. And it’s really just a fish broth with a few tiny pieces of poor fish in it. When Ligurians got to San Francisco in 1849, and they started getting a little more money, the soup turned into this massive seafood stew that a Ligurian would never know. Often what I think of as Italian-American food is really original Italian recipes on steroids; with the arrival of wealth people desire not show off, but to share and to be generous, and push away the memory of miseria. Another example: the food of Campania and Naples: spaghetti, macaroni, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce…they are divine in Italy, I love them. Somehow here they have turned into something much heavier. 

    What do you mean by “heavier”?

    The portions are bigger, the flavorings are more extravagant, and they’re not subtle here. They are delicious; I don’t ever want to give the wrong impression, everyone loves chicken parmigiana. And not because it’s Italian…it’s not Italian food. Veal parmigiana is not Italian either; an Italian would never bread veal and fry and cover it with sauce and cheese. But it tastes great.
    When I was a kid and I went to high school, on the corner there was an Italian American grocery store that had the most wonderful meatballs, and I would stop there every day to buy my lunch. The people who sold me the food were so nice, that was the other thing. They recognized that here was this little Jewish boy who loved and respected what they did, and so much so that I’ve made it my life to study that tradition.  
    But I think that what we have to respect, is that Italian American food is a separate tradition and a separate reality from Italian food, and Americans who go to Italy and expect to find what they eat here, will never find it.  

    As an example? Has somebody ever complained for what they COULD NOT eat in Italy?

    A good example is chicken parmigiana…Italians don’t eat that much chicken. The reason goes back to an old Piemontese proverb Quando un uomo mangia una gallina, è malato lui o è malata lei.  In other words, when a man eats a chicken, either he’s sick or she’s sick. A chicken provides eggs, an ongoing protein source, much as cattle provide milk. So if you have something giving you a protein source, you don’t kill it unless you really have to. Therefore chicken has never been a major thing in Italian food, eggs are, absolutely, but not chicken. But, still, most people do not know this and often complain they can’t eat chicken parmigiana in Italy….  

    What makes a good, “original” Italian restaurant here in the US?

    I think it’s very difficult to define a restaurant as “Italian” here. I would maybe say Italian style restaurant, or I would say “Bolognese cuisine” or Venetian cuisine”, so that you understand where the chef is from. When I enter an Italian restaurant in the United States or France or England or Japan, that’s the first thing I ask. With regards to Italian cuisine, in fact, it is very important to know from which region, tradition, the chef comes. I would never order a Veal dish from Milan in a place where the chef is Sicilian… I would rather order Caponata, or something with oranges or Pasta alla Norma…

    What I’m saying is that, even if a chef lives abroad and learns how to cook different kinds of food, he will always prepare the traditional dishes of his hometown, or region, much better. Because they are part of his culture, his education.  

    Another example. There’s a restaurant in London where the chef is from Genoa… I eat pesto and foccaccia there, but I probably wouldn’t eat steak--it wouldn’t make sense. That’s the secret that I give people.  

    I never use the word ‘authentic’ when I talk about food, because food cannot be authentic. Food can come from a tradition and a style, but every cook has his or her own way to make it. And that’s also because he/she cooks with love, and tries to please the ones he/she cares for by preparing the dish just the way they like it better...


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    2000 Pounds of Italian Fish. “Eatalian Style” at ILICA’s 5th Annual Conference

    If you happen to hit “Cellar 58” in the next few days, most probably you will find a consistent stack of papers and notes forgotten by Chef Andrea Tiberi on one of the tables of his wine bar. They contain recipes, ideas, and even culinary inventions that he needs to put down black on white in view of ILICA’s 5th Annual Conference.

    On the 25th of September, in fact, something like 2000 pounds of seven different varieties of fish will be flown directly from the Adriatic Sea to his kitchen. “The two Italian chefs coming to join me in New York and I are considering a long list of dishes we could prepare for the occasion. I think we narrowed it down to ten by now, and they will all be inspired by the Venetian culinary tradition”.

    This is what he feels he needs to point out right away, when we meet him on a late afternoon in early September. He came to greet us at the entrance of his restaurant, where at 5 pm the staff is already cleaning up and arranging the tables for a private party that will start in a couple of hours.

    Never having been at Cellar 58 before, we were quite surprised to find such a welcoming place right in the middle of the busy and buzzing East Village. Opened only in July, it looks almost like an “Italian nest” of the warmest kind.

    The walls surrounding the two main dining rooms are covered with Italian (but also foreign) bottles of well and less well known wine, selected according to strict and severe criteria. Soft flames of tiny candles are the main source of light in this wooden den where wrought iron chairs invite the guests to sit at the round tables while sipping from their goblets, and waiting for their order.

    Andrea makes us feel at home right away, offering us a bite of fresh, homemade mozzarella twisted around a thin slice of authentic, sweet, prosciutto crudo. Wearing an apron, he seats at a corner table to talk with us about his participation at ILICA’s conference, “SAVING VENEZIA & PROTECTING NEW ORLEANS - The  MOSE Project. The Debate Surrounding Italy’s Most Innovative Technology”.

    “This is not the first time that I collaborate with the Association: actually I first met its president, Cavalier Vincenzo Marra, in 2005 and we were in tune with each other right away. After all, we have the same mission of promoting Italian culture in the United States: he does it in the literature and language field, I do it in the culinary one. But the goal is the same:  to enlighten Americans about the original, authentic culture of our country.”

    Andrea has been living in New York since 2005 after having traveled throughout the world with his Eatalian Style Association. “After 9/11, the request for our catering services greatly diminished. Less people traveled and were willing to organize conferences and meetings thousands of miles away. They were just much more careful, both in safety and financial terms, with consequential bad effects on our business. However, after a short period of relative crisis, Americans returned to be the hugest fans of genuine Italian cuisine. In 2005 I started traveling throughout this country, from San Francisco to Chicago and Los Angeles. That’s when I decided to move here with my family, and I founded the Eatalian Style Corporation.”

    From Queens to Connecticut, his life in America has always been characterized by a full commitment in spreading and sharing his passion for Italian flavors and tastes with normal, ordinary people that approach the world of cuisine more for necessity than for “vocation”.

    “I have been teaching both in New York, where I rent a loft in Soho with my partners, and in Connecticut, at home. Often collaborating with the Italian Culinary Academy, at first I was surprised to see how many “normal” people were interested in following my lessons. New Yorkers are generally used to eating out, but I found they were looking forward to learning to cook homemade dishes. And this is the first lesson people actually learn with Eatalian Style: you have to learn to eat at home, since Italians very rarely go to restaurants…twice a year maybe?”

    According to Andrea, indeed, Americans (or maybe especially those who live in multi-cultural environments like New York) are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to foreign food, and they are starting to look for “the original flavors”.

    So, what should we expect to happen in the upcoming future? No more fusions, mixes, and other (often not healthy or good at all) culinary inventions? In other words, what will happen to Italian-American cuisine? “You know what? I believe it is destined to disappear within 50 years.  Young people in their 20s and 30s are actually starting to be more knowledgeable about the different and most popular culinary traditions in this country. They know now that Chicken or Veal Parmigiana does not even exist in Italy, while Pizza Margherita is not made with Marinara Sauce but with fresh tomato sauce instead. They know it, and can tell an original recipe from a 'fake one'. Moreover, they are more used to traveling than their parents and grandparents. Most probably, they have been to Italy and can recognize the flavors of a true Italian recipe. I remember an event I catered at a couple of years ago. The guests had not been to Italy for more than 10 years and they thanked me because after so much time they felt as if they were sitting at an Italian table again, even though they were in Westchester! This is because I think it is a sort of responsibility that I have to remain as faithful as possible to the original flavors of the Italian tradition”.

    Well, after such a statement, we could not help but asking if this is possible when you can’t use the original ingredients required by the recipe, and are forced to find a local substitute. After all, for ILICA’s conference he’s using 2000 pounds of fish coming from the Adriatic… Isn’t this a little too much? “Well, of course ILICA’s event is special, thus we need to get the finest ingredients for our guests. In some cases I believe it is possible to substitute some ingredients with local products. For example, when I cook porchetta, of course I cannot import the pig from Italy but the cooking techniques and methods remain the same. For other products, on the other hand, there are no possible substitutes. Just consider mozzarella - I can’t find any product here that deserves this name, so I produce my own.”

     And what about seasoned cheeses, olive oil, coffee? You can be sure that at Cellar 58 you will find only original Italian brands. Andrea, who “obliges his suppliers to buy only from Italy”, combines these goods with local fresh products to offer his clients only the best every day. “We don’t have a fixed menu here. There is a selection of dishes that you will always find, and most of them are American, but every day we have three main Italian specialties, depending on what I find at the market. Aside from the fish and meat-based ones, I always offer my guests a taste of risotto, made Eatalian Style.”

    Risotto is actually one of Andrea’s war horses, and he cooks it only with Italian rice that he “purposely imports from Italy”. Every day he proposes a new variety  (on the day we met the blackboard hanging over the bar of the restaurant announced a delicate “risotto with shrimp and basil") and he introduces American costumers to new, unexplored flavors.  Risotto al radicchio and Asiago as an example, is actually one of the recipes he will prepare for the ILICA event on September 25, where Venetian dishes will be alternated with Piedmont and other regions’ specialties.

    “Regional recipes were invented according to the ingredients the housewives, massaie, had on hand. Italian culinary traditions are so various because of this, and we like to introduce them giving each their own visibility. People must understand why a Neapolitan, as an example, does not use truffles in his kitchen. In Assisi, the town where I was born, on the other hand, we have more truffles than anything else, that’s why you’ll always find it in whichever restaurant you visit in the area!”

    This is one of reasons why Andrea and his Italian partners Antonio Petruzzi and Moreno Tiberi invented the foodilosophy, the motto of the Eatalian Style Corporation. Their website states: “With the term ‘foodilosophy’, Eatalian Style Corp. makes a firm decision not to abandon old habits and ideas used in food preparation, but rather to look at them again in a new light, adopting new techniques and new tendencies while at the same time staying with our culinary, cultural and social roots”.

    It is also a manifesto against the “everything goes philosophy”, by which every recipe can be “internationalized” with a (often savage) substitution of ingredients. “There are some ‘cult dishes’, such as risotto, pizza, and mozzarella, that have become ‘global’ today, because people are just fond of them. But you can bet the gourmet can tell the difference when a risotto with radicchio e Asiago is prepared with real Piedmont’s cheese.  At the same time, my clients are free to ask me for some cheese to spread on their fish salad. I won’t be the person who will stop them from doing it, of course, but at least I will know that I respected my foodilosophy and put on their plate what tradition (and Italian taste) requires.”

    The conversation then takes a more confidential turn, when Andrea remembers to cook dinner for his staff, “before the place gets too crowded”. The steel frying-pans and pots start sizzling with extra virgin olive oil  and some spiedini di pollo e maiale (chicken and pork shish kebabs) are ready to jump in. The water starts boilimg for some Penne al sugo fresco and basilico (Penne pasta with fresh tomato sauce and basil), when he reveals to us his favorite dish: Frascarelli al tartufo, small drops of pasta dough made with eggs and flour dressed with a delicate and consistent truffle cream. “They remind me of my home, the place where I saw my mom and grandma cooking for the whole family, and when I first decided to become a chef. If you want to I can make them from scratch just for you, give me ten minutes…”, he says enthusiastically.

    The staff and I opt instead to share a pizza that he makes right away with fresh tomato sauce, after having arranged for us a beautiful tray of fruit and cheeses and shrimp shish kebabs, one of the most popular dishes at Cellar 58.

    It is soon time to leave him to his party and his (often habitual) clients. But first, after having agreed to meet him on September 25 at ILICA’s 5th Annual conference, we can’t help stealing from him the promise of an invitation for dinner, as soon as possible of course!

  • Life & People

    Valentina Caniglia. A Young Italian Director of Photography in America

    As i–Italy is costantly looking for outstanding stories to share with its readers, we recently met with a Neapolitan director who came to the United States in search of recognition and the opportunity to express her artistic vision. Valentina caught our attention for two reasons: first, she is one of very few female cinematographers in the male-dominated world of cinematography. Coming from a disadvantaged city like Naples, in our eyes she is a living example of where passion and determination can lead. Second, her latest work highlights the similarities between people living in Mediterranean countries and embodies the possibility for peace in the area.

    We met Valentina at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute and talked about her past as a Neapolitan dreamer, her present as a director, and her aspirations for the future.

    Being a Neapolitan and a dreamer at the same time is not always easy, she explained. “After getting my diploma at the Istituto Tecnico ‘Padre Pio’ in Naples, I decided to persue my dream of becoming a director of photography even though I didn’t know much about that kind of job. I was passionate about film, especially American movies, and I soon started ‘studying’ them, paying more attention to the images on the screen than to the plot itself. The intensity of the lights, the position of the camera, the background setting of the story, that’s what interested me the most. I wanted to become the ‘creator’ of all that, I wanted to be a director of photography. But very few people back in Naples knew what I was talking about…”

    Valentina’s parents, however, decided to support her. Her father went with her to visit the Centro Sperimentale del Cinema – back then the only place in Italy where she could be initiated into the world of film. But they soon realized that the path would be harder than they had anticipated. “Unless you have a family member, a friend, or any other personal contact in film production, you won’t get far. You need ‘help’ to become someone,” she was told.

    Discouraged about her Italian prospects, but determined to go on, Valentina started to look for alternatives. “I can’t hide it: I felt rejected, undervalued by my own country.”

    She then moved to London, where she was offered various opportunites to start working on dramas, comedies, music videos, commercials, television episodes, web segments, and documentaries. This gave her confidence in her talent and she started experimenting with new techniques in high speed photography, stop motion, and special effects. But she never did forget her roots. “I used to go back to Naples, my hometown, to visit my family and friends often. I rediscovered the city through the lense of my camera and I found a new passion in portraying the everyday life of Neapolitans. I also went to the ‘most dangerous’ neighborhoods, fascinated by what I had considered ‘normal’ and not particularly interesting years before.”

    Valentina’s future would unfold far from Italy. She came to the US on a fellowship, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Film Production at New York University. With her degree finally in her hands, Valentina took the first steps towards realizing her professional dream. From that moment on, in fact, opportunities came pouring in and she has been living and working in both New York and Los Angeles since then.

    She started in both television and film, collaborating on projects that earned her prestigious awards. Her work as a director of photography has been recognized worldwide and many of her projects have been released in international movie theaters and broadcast on HBO, MTV, Channel Plus, Voyage TV, and ShowTime. Valentina was hired to shoot commercials for international companies such as Ford, British Airways, Nike, GBX shoes, and My Space, with the last two receiving Telly Awards. She also directed music videos for Italian and American singers including Articolo 31, The Roots, The Stein, and the Neapolitan artist Enzo Gragnaniello. Her video for Aesop Rock’s “Fast Cars” took first place on MTV’s top 10 chart in 2005.

    Valentina’s talent is not only recognized in the film industry, but it has also allowed her to travel and develop her skills in still photography while working with other well-known directors.

    After many films that Valentina  previously shot which influenced her career, Pomegranates and Myrrh (which was screened at the 2009 Sundance, Cannes, Berlin, and Dubai Film Festivals) marked an important experience in her life.

    Directed by Najwa Najjar and starring Hiam Abbas, Ali Suliman (nominated for a 2005 Oscar for Paradise Now) and Yasmine Al Masri, Pomegranates and Myrrh was shot in the Palestinian territories and gave Valentina the opportunity to encounter a culture that was compeletly new to her. “That experience was amazing. I used to travel alone, visiting different towns in the area even though people told me it was too dangerous for a woman. I felt that it was the only way I could really experience the life of everyday people.” Valentina also made an unexpected discovery: the Palestinian land, towns, and backstreets bore a striking resemblance to her hometown Naples. “The people I met were very similar to my fellow citizens: I found Arab scuginizzi, massaie, and nonni outside the doors to their houses. They had the same features, and, most of all, the same behavior and appearance. I took pictures of them and compared them to those I took in Naples. If I mixed them up, I couldn’t tell them apart! So I decided that I had to do something with them, and out came the idea of the Naples–Palestine exhibit.”

    The Italian consulate in Jerusalem encouraged Valentina to organize a solo exhibit of her still photography, and in 2008 the pictures were on display at the Al Quds Center in Jerusalem and at the Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah, Palestine. “I was very proud of this project so I decided to bring the exhibit to New York, a city full of people with Neapolitan and Arab ancestry. In February, 2009 the Contemporary Art Gallery in Chelsea hosted the exhibit.”

    Valentina plans to publish a photo book dedicated to her experience. In the meantime her curiosity about Palestine takes her on new adventures in the Middle East. We praise her courage for demonstratng the similarities between peoples from such disparate areas within the Mediterranean basin; a very valuable contribution to the fight for mutual acceptance among all peoples across ethnic and cultural barriers.

  • Facts & Stories

    “Bounce the Illegal Immigrant”. The Lega Nord’s Discriminatory Propaganda Becomes a Game on Facebook

    If you write “Lega Nord” in the research bar of Facebook, you will come up with 260 results. Besides the official page of the Northern political party, you will find supporting groups founded by students, organizations, and even religious groups! The official Lega Nord page has more than 25.000 supporters, many of which promptly participated in playing the game “Rimbalza il clandestino” (Bounce the Illegal Immigrant) - a game in which the player had to mouse-click on boatloads of immigrants approaching the Italian coast, in order to make them disappear. The game was launched on both the official website and the Facebook page of the party just after the terrible tragedy of the 75 Libyan immigrants who died off the coast of Lampedusa on their way to Italy. It was introduced by a very short and clear phrase: “The aim of the game is to maintain control of the number of immigrants that invade Italy”.

    If the player pushed back enough boats, he was promoted to the next level, and was proclaimed “great padano”. On the contrary, if he was not fast enough and allowed too many immigrants to board the Italian costs, a script would appear: “Try again. You will see, the next

    time you will able to prove you are a good Lega supporter”. 

    Denounced by ARCI, the Associazione Nazionale di Promozione Sociale (National Association for Social Promotion), the game was closed by Facebook’s administrators on August 23.
    “In the face of what’s happening in the Channel of Sicily where boats sink and people die for real, the fact that the Lega Nord (the party that has more influence than any other on the government’s policies concerning immigration) cynically and without any form of respect for human life jokes about the disappearance of these boats must be considered an incitement to racial hate”, explained ARCI’s president Filippo Miraglia.

    Umberto Bossi’s son, Renzo, just 21, and his friend Fabio Betti, 23, member of the political group “Giovani Padani” created the application. While the former is the web manager of the Lega Nord’s official website, the latter is nicknamed “the Facebook man”, the guy who updates the official page of the party on Facebook with links, news, articles…and games.

    Renzo Bossi is truly his father’s pride and joy, and his father defended him by by stating during a party organized by Lega Nord: “It was not my son who invented the game. This summer he was in France, to take his little brother to Euro Disney. When my son heard about the scandal, he wanted to denounce those who sullied his name and mine but I told him: ‘Justice in Italy is very poor (said the Minister of Institutional Reforms). Leave them alone, they would be acquitted”.

    Many of the supporters of Lega Nord enthusiastically played the game on Facebook (and we wonder if THIS is the scandal!), but fortunately,  three groups were also created by those “disturbed” by the initiative, who invited Facebook users to share their disgust and disdain. On Friday, the first group “Delete the Leghist game” had more than 4.700 subscribers in just a couple of hours (and is still growing). Aside from the explicit comments against Renzo Bossi, many subscribers denounced those who downloaded the game and “shared” it on their Facebook page. “They are overstepping the limit of decency’, “This initiative is ignoble”, “ The game is the symbol of their ignorance”, some of them said. One of the users also proposed: “Let’s start denouncing Lega supporters for their own crimes: violation of the Constitution, inciting to racial hate, crimes against humanity”.

    Obviously, the representatives of the main leftist-oriented Italian political parties released their own declaration of disdain in no time at all.  Massimo Donadi, representative of Italia dei

    Valori said: “Lega Nord should apologize before the whole nation and our immigrants as well” while Dario Franceschini, leader of Partito Democratico, defined the government as “xenophobe and racist”. The group leader of Udc in the Senate, Giampiero D'Alia, urged the “intervention of judiciary authorities and the Interior Department”. Finally Giuseppe Fioroni of Partito Democratico defined “Rimbalza il clandestino” as the “transformation of human sufferings in a game”.

    The case also attracted the curiosity of Italian and foreign media. Those who more actively denounced the fact were with no doubts at all the so called “left-oriented newspapers”, such as La Repubblica and La Stampa. The Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo also dedicated a column to the game: “Italian Lega Nord plays at sinking rafts loaded with immigrants”.   On the other side, it is almost needless to say, neither RAI, the National Italian Broadcasting System, and Mediaset, the media group owned by the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, mentioned the episode.

    Protests were often not only verbal, but were also followed by concrete initiatives. As an example, the director of the website “Articoli 21” Stefano Corradino, in a sign of protest, invented the game “Bounce the immature one” (the immature one being Bossi’s son),

    downloadable from the magazine’s website. Here is what he satirically said  in his editorial about Renzo Bossi and his game “He could promote a more sophisticated game. However, since he finally passed his high school “maturity” exam, after having failed it three times, I am sure that next time he will not delude us. The Encyclopedia Treccani defines maturity as an ‘advanced level of social and civil development’. But…Does Renzo fit this definition?” 

    In any case we must point out, unfortunately, that reactions to the game among the population were not always negative. “Rimbalza il clandestino”, indeed,  soon become the source of a wider debate in Italy, involving both citizens of the North and the South of the country. When an article on the issue appeared on the website “Clandestinoweb”, comments to the initiative came as hard and fast as rain and showed how discrimination has grown widely in the country, also involving those who do not traditionally support the Lega party.

    Scrolling down the webpage, we could read the comments of people defining immigrants as the “trash of humanity”, “dirty clandestines”, “invaders”. One of the readers, as an example, wrote: “The best immigrant is the one who is buried 4 meters underground”. Another one wrote: “Leftist prissiness disgusts me. I guess they never invited an immigrant for to their home. After having them in your living room, you should call the public hygiene services and ask them to eliminate their terrible smell from your furniture”. Finally, a fervent nationalist said “Don’t even dare to compare that trash to our emigrants of the past. We went away to give our contribution to the well-being of our new country. They are coming here to invade and


    It’s easy to see how simple and coarse the tone of their language is. It is the same linguistic style used by Lega representatives, a trick they have employed to reach a wider (uneducated/less literate) public in the past elections and “conquer” a new electorate with “hot issues” such as national security and immigration. Obviously, in fact, this is not their first initiative of this kind. The history of the political party’s propaganda is full of cases like the one mentioned above. Let’s just briefly mention the posters affixed throughout Italy during the last political elections : they showed a Native American and the script “They were subject to immigration. Now they live in reservations”. 

    Even now that the game has been canceled from Facebook, Fabio Betti (maybe unconsciously) confirms his party’s populist strategy by defending his and Renzo’s invention: “Facebook is a tool to reach a very wide audience. With these kind of games people can easily understand our principles and beliefs”, he stated.

    Today the link to “Rimbalza il clandestino” has officially “expired”. We just have to figure out to which extent the game is really over and which is the real scandal, to invent the game or to play it?

  • Life & People

    SOLELUNA NY LAB. To be continued...

    As most of our readers know, the Italian singer Lorenzo Cherubini has been playing in small clubs in Manhattan for the last three months. The aim of the “Soleluna NY Lab” was to introduce his music to the American public, as well as to meet and collaborate with American singers and musicians of both national and international fame.

    During the first performance held in Brooklyn  at the Zebulon Club, on June 15, he introduced before a mostly Italian audience his “adventure pals.” Some of them were already well known to most of us, having played with Jovanotti for years and years by now. Among the others, Bassist Saturnino and guitarist Riccardo Onori played with the Brasilian drummer Gil Oliveira, pianist Charles Blanding and percussionists Media Noite and Gilmar Gomez.

    On that night he started his performance by saying: “This tour means a lot to me. When I was just a kid I used to listen to American music of all kinds, without understanding most of the lyrics. Now I am taking a sort of revenge, since many of you don’t know Italian. By the way, I named this tour “SoleLuna NY Lab” because it represents a sort of experiment to me: when I first imagined this project I asked myself if a foreign public could enjoy my music, also if people didn’t know Italian.” And they did. As time passed by, we could see the number of English-speaking people in the audience increase. The “passaparola” was quick, and many found themselves jumping and dancing at the rhythm of “Tanto”, “Mezzogiorno” or “L’Ombelico del Mondo”, the pieces we felt the Americans appreciated the most, maybe for their overwhelming rhythms.

    The three performances we attended at Nublu, Joe’s Pub, and Zebulon were completely different one from the other. And not only for the outline. The feeling with his musicians was tangible: together they could adapt his songs and music to the atmosphere and the environment of the venue, spacing from funky to jazzy or pop arrangements.  Although the concerts were scheduled to last an hour and a half or so, Lorenzo never stopped playing until late at night. He was generous with old and new fans, trying to please most of their requests.

    Thus, he never left the stage without having sung his historic successes, from “Ragazzo Fortunato”, to “Penso Positivo”, and “Serenata Rap”. Needless to say, all of his 20 or so concerts were sold out well ahead, and many people kept coming back for a further share of fun.

    Jovanotti’s popularity increased during these three months also thanks to the consistent media coverage he enjoyed. American newspapers, magazines and TV and Radio shows have talked about him, and his music. The legendary New York magazine “The Village Voice” perfectly described the atmosphere felt during his performances: “Wreathed in tobacco fumes, the crowd speaks a subdued Babel of languages: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and even a smidgen of Japanese. The men, especially the younger ones, are trees in a boho forest of stingy-brim fedoras and pork-pie hats, sidling up to curvy blonde and brunette ladies done up in elegant cocktail-party drag. Once inside, revelers squeezed into the standing-room-only section do tiny dances in the tiny aisles”.

    During the National Public Radio’s show “All things considered”, Guy Raz introduced Jovanotti as "the Italian Bruce Springsteen," quoting the magazine Time Out. The interview with Ruy gave Lorenzo the occasion to reach a wide English-speaking public and to talk about his New York experience and his love for this city: “NY Soleluna Lab was a big thing to me. I discovered music, and maybe I discovered also to be a human being here. When I was a small boy I used to listen to the music coming from this city, to bands like Afrika Bambaataa, the Zulu Nation…”.

    During these three months, he was among the protagonists of several important events taking place here in the city, including the presentation of the documentary dedicated to the Italian songwriter Fabrio De Andrè “Effedià” during the Italian Film Festival “Open Roads” (June 7, Lincoln Center) and “Cinema Jam-Live Music over Italian Films” (July 25).

    Jovanotti also caught the attention of the Italian-American public, which attended his concerts with participation and much curiosity for someone who is considered  in Italy the most influential pop star the country has produced in years.

    Recently Joseph Sciorra, Associate Director of Academic and Cultural Programs at the Calandra Italian American Institute/Queens College, interviewed him for i-Italy and  Italics, the Calandra Institute’s TV Magazine broadcasted on CUNY TV.

    “I feel like a farmer who is planting good seeds hoping to have a good harvest soon. Certainly I

    don’t think I will find my success in the US with this short 'laboratory'. I consider this as an opportunity to meet other musicians from around the world, and America of course. Singing in New York can also give me an idea of what this public likes, and what it doesn’t. This is essential in view of a possible future more lasting experience here”, Jovanotti said during his meeting with Mr. Sciorra.

    They also spoke about his concerts, and how much he enjoyed playing in such little venues: “When I think of ‘music’ I imagine a small group of people playing and singing together, maybe near a fireplace. Intimacy: this is what I wanted to have here in New York. I could have much more contact with my public; build a strong bond in minutes. This is something you can easily lose in big stadiums”, Lorenzo also added during a long conversation that lasted more than an hour.  The interview will be aired in October during a special episode of Italics entirely dedicated to Italian music and artists; the episode will also feature Carmen Consoli and Vinicio Capossela.

    While media attention increased during these months, an American production house got interested in this original Italian songwriter who has been known in Italy for more than 27 years. They proposed him to release a new album featuring recordings from this NY Soleluna Lab.

    While this project is still just an idea, Jovanotti is already working on songs and lyrics for a new album expected to come out early next year. In the meantime, he promised us that he will come back to New York soon. After all, this city is his ombelico del mondo (bellybutton of the world)...

  • Life & People

    The Mysterious Case of 315 Johns

    The work of art “315 Johns” is at the center of a legal battle involving Mr. Gerard Malanga, photographer and former collaborator of Andy Warhol, and the famous sculptor Mr. John Chamberlain. The picture, composed of 315 canvases portraying Mr. Chamberlain, has been sold by him in person for 5 million dollars, after he had authenticated it as an Andy Warhol.
    Mr Malanga claims to be the co-author of the work of art, the other one being Jim Jakers, photographer and former assistant to Mr. Chamberlain.  In 2005, as soon as he knew that the painting had been sold as a Warhol for such a significant price, he bought his partner’s share and sued Mr. Chamberlain.

    i-Italy met the Italian-American artist Gerard Malanga and asked him to tell its readers his version of the facts.  

    “When I last saw ‘315 Johns’ it was just an unfinished piece, one on which my partner Jim and I still had to do some work. It was our first project together and Jim wanted to pay tribute to his maestro John Chamberlain by making a portrait of him.  We came up with 320 8-inch square canvases, each one representing John in different positions, with different colors and slightly different techniques. We didn’t want to use all of them: we would have rejected most of them and used just 80 or 100. We stored them in Jim’s studio in Massachusetts, the same place were we met to work on the project in 1972. When Jim moved to New York in 1975 he brought the pieces to his studio in Manhattan but then, in 1977, when he moved again, he gave some of his stuff to Mr. Chamberlain. Among these things were the paintings that were kept in his studio. From that moment on, both Jim and I lost track of the work of art, and didn’t think about it anymore ….we simply trusted John Chamberlain and thought that they would remain there where we left them”.

    The 1970s were great years for Gerard, who started his own career as a photographer in 1971, after having been assistant to Andy Warhol for several years.

    During all those years he learned his techniques, and collaborated with him on several projects, some of which became very well known to the great public: “Among them, the most famous are probably the Elvis Presley portrait and the Elizabeth Taylor Silver portrait. Together we did all his flower paintings and the “twelve most wanted men” that we showed in Paris in 1964. The last painting we worked together on was a portrait of Dominque De Menil”.

    Gerard always remembered the tricks of the trade he learned from Andy, and maintained a strong relationship with him ever after. It was Andy, in fact, that really gave him the necessary help and backing to start his career when he was only a college student, “I started working with Andy in June 1963, when I was in college. A very close friend of mine knew that I had previous experience in the art field, and he also knew that Andy was looking for an assistant since he was working o very big paintings that required a lot of work. So my friend, Charles, arranged a meeting between Andy and myself on a Sunday. The first thing Andy said was ‘When can you come and work for me?’ So I went to his studio the next Tuesday, on June 11, 1963. To me this was a summer job. I wanted to go back to school in September. But then Andy asked me to come to Los Angeles for the opening of an exhibition we had been working on during the summer. At first I kind of hesitated because I felt guilty about abandoning school. I thought,  I could leave school for a semester…but I never went back!"

    From that time on Gerard pursued his dream to become an artist and then a photographer, a dream that very few Italian-American at that time could dare have given the very poor conditions many of them lived in. Indeed, this was Gerard’s case too. Thus he always recognized the great fortune he had had, and became a faithful friend and collaborator of Andy as long as he lived:  “I am the only child of two Italian parents. My father came to the United States from a village outside of Potenza and my mother was born here but her own parents were Italian, from Salerno. I grew up in the Bronx and I lived in very poor circumstances…my parents were not rich at all. So whatever I did in my life, I did it through my imagination and my curiosity for life. Although I was very determined, I was always respectful and honest with my colleagues.  Mr. Chamberlain, on the other hand, seems to have forgotten the meaning of these values”.  

    When Gerard met Mr. Chamberlain in February 2004 he found out that he had sold the painting: “I met Mr. Chamberlain at the opening of an annual art exhibition organized by ‘The Art Dealers Association of America’ on Park Avenue. I hadn’t seen him for at least 15 or more years, so I went to greet him and ask him how he was. As we were talking somehow he changed the subject and said: “You know that painting you made of me? I sold it for 5 million dollars.” I though he was joking! I remained in a slight state of shock when I heard it because it brought back memories…. Then you know what happened? Six weeks later I was having dinner with Jim and he confirmed everything! He had met Chamberlain a month before I did and was told the same news. So obviously this was not a joke… That’s when I decided to buy Jim’s shares of the work of art and sue”.  

    The legal action is still just at the beginning, as Justice Martin Schneier rejected a summary judgment motion presented by Mr. Chamberlain, as well as his evidences in their entirety.
    “Mr. Chamberlain’s version can be easily proven as completely false. He claims that in 1968 he made an art trade with Mr. Warhol in exchange for one of his sculptures called 'Jackpot'. According to him, a broker by the name of Mr. Godfeller followed the whole transaction.  All of this is a total lie for two reasons: the painting was made in December 1971, in 1968 it did not exist; the sculpture Jackpot was already in Andy Warhol’s house in 1962. So there was no trade, at least not in 1968.  How convenient of Mr. Chamberlain to say such a thing since both Mr. Godfeller and Mr. Warhol are both deceased and cannot bear witness or defend themselves….”

    According to Gerard, Mr. Chamberlain deliberately cheated the Andy Warhol Authentication Board by taking advantage of the popularity he enjoys: “In 2000, John Chamberlain submitted the painting to the Andy Warhol Authentication Board without one piece of evidence to prove that he is telling the truth. They took his word for true because of his notoriety and I refuse to be his doormat! This is the first time that something like this happens in the history of modern art. He is risking his career and popularity with this story, having become a criminal with no credibility at all. There are so many ethical and moral questions involved in this story…”

    Not only does Gerard aims to prove that Mr. Chamberlain’s statements are false, but he is also intent on finding his painting, the new owner of which is still unknown: “We still don’t know where the painting is. The person who bought it is involved in a very serious criminal investigation and must show up. He not only bought a stolen work of art, but he bought a work of art that was sold to him as a Warhol. So he bought a forgery. This person must know what is going on here. What bothers me the most is that Mr. Chamberlain still claims that he does not remember the name of the person to whom he sold the painting! This is not possible: any artist must remember the buyer of the works he sells, especially if they are worth millions of dollars!”

    The suit has been widely watched by the art world, and has already caught the attention of the media. In an article which appeared in The New York Times on June 26, 2008, the lawsuit was defined as ‘a window onto the convoluted world of post-Warhol Warholiana(...) The case also serves as a primer of the New York art world in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when Warhol was a presiding deity (…)’.

    This case interested i-Italy not only because Gerard is an Italian-American; but mostly because we believe our readers have the right to be informed about a story where business oversteps the world of art. “315 Johns” risks being misattributed to the detriment of our art-passionate readers.

    Can you imagine if you took your children to a museum and you saw a painting on the wall that was considered an Andy Warhol and it wasn’t?

  • Life & People

    When Passion for Wine is a Family Tradition

    Just a few weeks ago New York hosted the greatest food fair of the country, Fancy Food 2009. Our readers had a chance to live the event with us, reading our articles on the different conferences organized for the occasion, and virtually meeting the exhibitors through our pictures, videos and interviews.  From porchetta to parmigiano cheese, salami and all kinds of preserved vegetables, they could almost smell and taste the delicacies presented to the American market on those three days.

    When the Jevits center closed its doors, however, our journey in the best of “Made in Italy” was far from ending. We kept in touch with many of the producers who had participated, curious about their activities, business and, why not, their personal story. In particular, we had a chance to spend a few hours with a couple of wine producers from Calabria, the region to which this year’s edition of  Fancy Food was dedicated. We decided to meet them after tasting their wines at the Gattopardo Restaurant, during a dinner with producers and public representatives from the Calabria region. Everybody at the restaurant was extremely impressed by the taste of the different kinds of the wine which they produced and that perfectly accompanied our big meal. From breaded artichokes to stuffed rigatoni, and sautéed baccalà the Senatores offered a perfectly matching wine for every course.

    The following day they welcomed  us to their sober stand, decorated only with

    elegant bottles of wine, goblets, and a table with chairs where tasters could sit to savor a red, a white, or their sweet rosé. They didn’t want to use any fancy decorations, perfectly aware that their products could present

    themselves just las they were.

    On the wall, a huge poster portraying four men represented the four generations of the Senatore family operating in the wine production field. Raffaele and Teresa took over the business just a few years ago: “I did not want this family tradition to end, my father and grandfather put so much into it that it seemed to me a real sin to abandon our lands in Cirò”, explained Raffaele.

    Cirò Marina, a medieval town located on the Ionian sea, is their hometown, but it is also the territory where, according to tradition, the best wine from Calabria is produced. This is for historic reasons, since the tradition of wine producing in those territories is proved to date back to the times of the Brettians: terracotta wine vases with production seals have been discovered in the various territories occupied by those peoples in the areas surrounding Cirò.

    The Senatores started producing their DOC and IGT wines when Raffaele’s great-great-grandfather Francesco Senatore – started cultivating his own grape in “Corfù Vecchiu”, the first piece of land owned by the family. It was just a small beginning, but it brought the following generations to enlarge their properties that now cover a total of 40 hectares of land, 28 of which planted with vineyards. “In the 1930s my great-grandpa Antonio enlarged the business with the help of his brother Raffaele. They built the old stone winery in a new piece of property,  Corfù Novu, which is still today our personal pride and joy. Now my brother and I are developing a new complex in the fraction of San Lorenzo in Cirò Marina. It, together with an other piece of land that we have named “Monaco”, constitutes the new branch of the company, allowing us to produce all together 30.000 bottles of wine a year”.

    For this quite modest production the Senatores use only state-of-the-art techniques, adopted through constantly consulting with scientific bodies and with qualified universities and specialized centers. “We can define our products almost ‘organic’ for the great care and attention we have in preserving the equilibrium of the environment that hosts and, I would say, welcomes us”., says Raffaele.  “Of course it is the viniculture itself that requires us to use ‘artificial products and techniques, but I can proudly assure you that our wines are the fruit of our great love for nature”.

    The company produces 7 kinds of wine, which have all won prizes in national and international contests for their outstanding quality and genuine taste. “Ciro’ Classico Arcano”, “Ehos” (made from Merlot and Cabernet Savignon grapes), “Ciro’ Bianco Alei”, Ciro’ Rosato Puntalice”, “Gaglioppo Merlot” (made from Gaglioppo and Merlot grapes) and “Silo’” have all received awards at the latest editions of the “Tre Bicchieri” contest by Gambero Rosso. The “Nerello”, moreover, was awarded with the “Diploma di Gran Menzione” by the Consorzio enologico internazionale (International Wine Consortium) in 2009.

     “Our passion and art is recognized all throughout Europe. That’s one of the reasons why we regularly host classes for both Italian and foreign sommeliers in our winery. They come to visit our lands, learn about our production, and of course taste our wine and discover their composition, and quality”, Raffaele told us with great pride.

    Since their wine is not yet present on the American market, Teresa and Raffaele came to the Fancy Food to meet the numerous importers participating. “We would like to see our wine on the shelves of the best specialty stores of the country, in the goblets of elegant wine-tasting shops. We are not looking for mass distribution here, our production is still too small”.

    During the Fancy Food, the stand was visited by sommeliers, gourmets, restaurant owners, and distributors. We are sure we won’t have to wait long too find this outstanding wine from Calabria in the best selected wine lists of the country! Cheers!

  • Events: Reports

    Massimo D’Orta at Più Tono. Celebrating an Anniversary with a Neapolitan Brush

    1345 Second Avenue. On July 9, the best of  Italian New York was gathered here, just a few steps away from the Italian Consulate, the Italian Cultural Institute and Central Park. Half way between the beauties of Manhattan and the Italian flag. Many Italians are frequent visitors of this venue, just as all those New Yorkers who just love Italian fashion and style. The beauty salon Più Tono was  celebrating its first anniversary by throwing a fancy Jazz party and hosting an exhibit dedicated to the Neapolitan painter Massimo d’Orta.

    During this past year, Più Tono has offered its busy clientele its exclusive facility not only for getting a new look, but to promote meetings, meet acquaintances and engage in cultural exchanges. Designed in a modern fashion, and sparkling with mirrors and brilliant lights, for its1st Anniversary it welcomed hundreds of people who joined the party to celebrate the owner of the business, the Italian hairdresser Maria Teresa Sansalone.

    Maria Teresa has gained popularity over the years, importing and also, why not, reproducing and creating in the city that typically Italian style that beauty salons throughout the world try to imitate. She has designed the hairstyle of many Italian and international top models and actresses, such as Jill Stuart, Monica Bellucci, Laura Morante, Sabrina Ferilli. Her cuts, colors, looks, are fresh, elegant and fancy just as she is, and they led her to become a symbol of  “Italian Fashion” here in Manhattan.  

    Her salon with its sparkling walls offered an interesting contrast with the exhibit “Sponde” (Shores) : the paintings hung in every corner of the long and narrow room. For the first time in the United States, the works of art of Massimo d’Orta were there to communicate to the visitors a storm of sensations, from sorrow to wonder, sadness, pain and excitement. Dark colors and elusive shapes, not neat designs,  invited the observer to explore the artist’s soul, catch his thoughts, discover his dreams, looking at the world from his Neapolitan eyes. Naples is there, the canvas hides it under a cloak of colors. You can see how it shapes the works, affects them, changes them. That city full of problems, torments, but still incomparably charming, accompanies Massimo in his daily life, and his artistic path. That is the place where he grew up roaming its backstreets and where, at 14 years of age, he decided to reveal his contrasting sentiments through artistic expression. The masters he learned from were painters bound together by a common theme, depicting suffering humanity. And among these masters, he most often copied Caravaggio, receiving commissions from overseas. 

    It is not easy to describe Massimo’s art. We might try to do it quoting the world renowned

    critic of contemporary art: “… d’Orta considers an artistic work to be in constant loss of its potential, or better yet, trapped in a kind of dead zone where it retains its potential. It is for this reason that the artist’s conception of the world is worthy of interest: his aim is to create images with a tangible need, not necessarily stemming from ideology or exclusively esthetic, but rather a real representation of the soul and of perception which can only be expressed through art.’

    It is the title of the exhibit itself, “Sponde”, and the selection of the works displayed that tells us the real aim of the artist: to introduce Naples to a wider public, a foreign one. To let people discover its secrets, those that can only be caught while walking on the “sponde”, shores, of the Gulf of Naples known the world over, while staring at Vesuvius on one side and the immense horizon on the other, with the city in the background.  

    We asked Massimo something more about his American adventure, his works, and his life as a Neapolitan artist. This is what he told us… 

    Most of your exhibitions have been organized in Italy, and in Naples in particular. What brings you to the United States?  

     The United States is the country where abstract Expressionism was created. It is the artistic current at the base of my work. I thought it was right to start  my career outside of  Italy here. 

    Why did you chose such a particular venue, a beauty spa, for your exhibition?  

    I have always loved challenges , both in my artistic and private life. Since my works portray sentiments of pain and sorrow, showing them in a location where, presumably, people try to escape from such feelings, seemed like a powerful provocation to me! 

    The title of the exhibition is “Sponde”. Why did you choose this theme and these particular works for your “debut” in the United States?   

    People are born, live, and die. Every once in a while they stop by a shore to rest, reflect, talk, dream and hope. They prepare themselves for a new journey to find love and they look for it until their sun sets… I was following this stream of consciousness while trying to find a title for my exhibit. And I thought “Sponde” would be the perfect one…  

    Is there any particular reason why you chose to start your American adventure

    from New York?  

    I consider the United States and New York in particular, a land of freedom and opportunity. For those who, just like me, never accepted clientelism and pseudo cultural behaviors, it is the ideal place for a show. 

    What does this city mean to you? Do you feel that Naples and New York are similar in some way?  

    Naples and New York are very different: under many points of view they represent opposite realities, but there is a strong bond between them. An extremely strong bond: a great vital energy that animates both cities. Neapolitans have always, with a smile on their face, been used to fight against moral death and bubonic pestilence that challenge the city; New Yorkers use it to achieve goals that become greater and greater as time passes by, and thus more difficult to attain.  

    Do you believe in the globalization of art?   

    I love diversity in all its forms. Diversity is enriching, it’s stimulating, it is a continuous confrontation: Van Gogh would have never become such a great painter if he did not know Japanese art. The same for Picasso with African art. The only borderless language that I know and that I have always been dreaming of is the one of love.  

     How much of Naples is there in your pictures? 

    A lot, or at least I hope there is. Naples represents the eternal battle between life and death, good and evil. I try to portray it abandoning the classical stereotypes that see it as the city of pizza and mandolins. I try to introduce people to the real essence of the city. 

    At the beginning of your career you defined art as a “therapy”, a shelter from a tough life. Does it still mean this to you?  

    Quoting Freud, Art is a way to escape. As in the past, I consider art as a sort of pain killer against the evil for both the artist and the audience: it easies the pain, but does not eliminate its cause. The “ Cappella Sistina”, the “ Gioconda”, the “Ronda di notte”, the “Sposalizio della Vergine”, did not prevent the creation of concentration camps, the raping of thousands of women, the death from hunger of millions of kids. And they never will, unfortunately, Nonetheless, I will keep painting. It’s the only thing that I can and want to do.   

    What is the “mission” of an artist?

     I do not think that the artist has a mission. Those who claim to have one, are fooling themselves and  others. I don’t consider myself so important as to have a mission. I just have the duty to try to do what I was born for in the best way possible.  

     What are your projects for the near future?  

    In October I will hold a solo exhibition in Castel dell’Ovo in Naples. In November, I will participate at the contemporary art fair in Padova and Brescia. Thanks to the well known art merchant Nahmad David, my works will soon enter the American market. At last , I feel the Statue of Liberty is looking right at me!

  • Events: Reports

    Patrizia Laquidera in the US. Mediterranean Rhythms on a Brazilian Background

    There is a place in the world where Brazil and Italy are neighbor countries It’s a note,  a voice, the soul of a singer, Patrizia Laquidera’s. The Italian artist mixes up traditional sounds of both countries to create a complete new rhythm, that she will present at the end of July in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City. In occasion  of her US debut, she will perform wit Brazilian singer and songwriter Céu, known to the American public since 2007.

    Born in Catania, Sicily and raised in Italy’s Veneto region, Patrizia fell in love with Brazil from a very young age, and set her artistic course through a transatlantic musical love affair, connecting Italy and the Iberian peninsula with South America.  Her writings and performs have always mirrored this long-lasting passion, being a captivating pan-Latin mix of Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.

    Patrizia’s career had a definitive boost in 2001, when she debuted in Para voce querido cae (For you dear Caetano), interpretations of Caetano Veloso songs inspired by her sojourn in Rio de Janeiro.  The great success came soon after that with Indirizzo Portoghese (Portuguese address), the singer’s second disc, that already featured collaborations with well-known Italian musicians such as Avion Travel’s Fausto Mesolella.

    Although the upcoming tour will represent her absolute debut in the United States, Patrizia is not new to this country. Her most recent album, 2007’s Funambola (Tight Rope Walker) was produced in New York City by Arto Lindsay and Patrick Dillett.  It features musicians such as Mauro Refosco (David Byrne, Forro in the Dark, Bebel Gilberto) and Smokey Hormel (Beck, Tom Waits). Funambola also includes compositions by some of Italy’s leading new-generation writers such as Pacifico and Joe Barbieri, that together with Patrizia’s originals become the essence of maybe the most eclectic and original artistic product she launched.

    Her career as a musician, however, is not limited to album reliesings. Patrizia’s voice can be heard in film and television soundtracks in Italy, Spain and Portugal.  A musician’s musician she has competed in Italy’s Premio Tenco and Sanremo Festival, Italy’s two leading events for both critics and the public.  A seasoned festival performer, Patrizia was chosen by fellow Catania native Carmen Consoli to appear on an all star-women’s tribute concert at 2007’s Etna Fest.

    Patricia’s New York debut will see the participation of two of the artists she has shown to appreciate the most. The first being CéU, the second Lorenzo Jovanotti, the most popular Italian contemporary singer, who is giving weekly concerts in the city since June.

    On the eve of her arrival, we had a chance to talk to her about this upcoming debut, her music, and her future projects and dreams.  

    How do you feel about your debut in the United States? What does this country mean to you?
    My artistic career owns much to America: I recorded my album Sonambula here, and it is quite exciting for me to sing my pieces  for such a public. I feel  like I am bringing my album back to its origins, to the place where it belongs. I actually already sung in this city ones, but it was just a very small participation to a concert. Anyway, I could still feel that the people loved what I was introducing them to,. I didn’t expect such a worm welcome, and this made me consider the opportunity to come here for a solo concert. I am very curious to see how people will react to my music.

    You are going to sing in two very small, intimate clubs. Is there any particular reason that made you choose those venues?
    It is because I love to “share” my performs with the public, I love intimate places where I can actually talk and communicate with my audience.

    How much are you known outside of Italy?
    My foreign audience has always been very generous with me. Ten years ago, at the beginning of my career, I already gave concerts in Spain and other foreign countries such as Ecuador. But I always came back to Italy, because I felt I still had to learn too much before leaving. Now I feel that the time has come, and I have the necessity to go away. Today Italy appears to me as a microscopic country, sometimes too small for a music as international as mine, where Mediterranean sounds are blended with European and South American.

    Has your music somehow changed during this years?
    Yes, before I was much more interested in exotic sounds, while nowadays I am studying and researching on Italian traditional and popular music. In my first album “Indirizzo Portogherse”, indeed, the Brasilian rhythms were predominant. In my latest pieces, instead, Italy is much more present. That is because I feel a strong sense of my nationality now, and I know I am not Brasilian. Lately, I am listening to 1950s Italian music, getting more familiar with its melody. I am quite sure that my next album will be deeply influenced by this latest…”passion”.

    Beside that, I am working to realize another album dedicated to popular music, and I will call it: “Il canto della Anguana”., the Anguana being a mythological figure in the Veneto tradition. I will sing in Veneto antique dialect, and will blend this popular music with .other traditional and local  rhythms, coming from Italy, Spain or whatever other area.  
    Patrizia Laquidara New York Tour Dates
    7/19        Zebulon Cafe (258 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211-3914)
    7/20        Nublu*  (62 Avenue C, New York, NY 10009-6916)

    7/21        Highline Ballroom (431 W 16th St New York, NY 10011)

    *Special Guest of Jovanotti & Soleluna NY LAB 



  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    “Keep a Map of Italy in your Kitchen”. Culinary Expert Fred Plotkin Comments Fancy Food 2009

    This year the 250 exhibitors hosted in the Italian Pavilion at Fancy Food 2009 saw an average increase of visitors of 4% with respect to last year’s edition. Experts in the field, gourmets and the curious came to see, sip and taste, new or traditional products from the Bel Paese, while importers and distributors were in search of new goodies to introduce to American consumers. Prosciutto hanging from the ceilings, enormous shapes of cheeses on the counters, olive oil dripping from slices of toasted crunchy bread: samples of the best of “Made in Italy” were disseminated all along the many corridors occupied by the Pavilion, constituting an irresistible temptation for all those who visited the three-day fair. 

    During this occasion, the Italian Trade Commission, the main coordinator of the event on the Italian side, offered a full program of initiatives aiming to promote the extraordinary value of Italian foods and diet, from both a health and an economic point of view.  One of the major supporters of this thesis is Fred Plotkin, who also held a seminar on the second day of the fair entitled “Why is Italian food the best during economic hard times?” 

    Worldwide, Fred is considered one of the major experts in Italian cuisine and writes for trade

    magazines such as “Bon Appetit” and Gourmet, and for other publications in Britain, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere. His definitive book on regional Italian food is Italy for the Gourmet Traveler. He is also the author of bestselling books about Italian culinary tradition and products, among which “The Authentic Pasta Book, Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera”,” La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia” and “Italy Today: The Beautiful Cookbook”. 

    We met Fred soon after  Fancy Food was over. We had a nice, long conversation about this

    year’s edition of the fair, the products which were presented and his personal tour of the Italian Pavilion. His love for Italian food dates back to his childhood, and has deeply influenced  his perception of food, life-style, and everyday home cooking.   

    How did you like this year’s edition of the Fancy Food?  

    I wrote an email last night to a friend in Puglia who asked me how Fancy Food was this year. I told him about the entire fair. I said that a couple of countries did very well, but that many countries were a little disappointing this year because of their lack of participation. But then I told him about Italy, because that’s what he cares about the most. I told him without doubt that the quality of the ingredients that the Italians presented was by far the highest of any nation. And I was very impressed and very pleased with that as an honorary Italian. But I also referred that the Italians often don’t do very much to promote their products and that’s because they feel that they are so good that they can sell themselves.  

    How has the economic crisis affected the popularity of Italian food in this


    I would say that there was a lot of discussion about the economic downturn. But I am old enough to remember other economic crises. Like it or not, the economy will always go up and down. If we complain when it goes down then we are not recognizing the reality that eventually it will go up. This time it is a little bit worse, but we still have to sell Italian products and understand that these things give us nutrition, which in turn gives us health, and they also give us pleasure, which promotes serenity and these things are all very important when dealing with bad economic times.  

    If you had to define Italian culinary tradition in three words, what would they be?  First of all, “regionalism”. There are very few national foods, everything is local and regional, which is magnificent; second, “historic”, because Italian goods are produced according to ancient agricultural traditions and in a sense belonging to a tradition; third, “clean”; when you look at products of most of the world you see that they have additives and colorings, and junk that are bad for the health. Most Italian food products even now are remarkably clean and safe. In addition to tasting great they taste pure in the mouth. I can tell the difference. I’d rather just have plain yogurt than have a yogurt that has all kinds of additives that change the sensation of the yogurt.  

    This year there was also a huge presence of Italian organic products at the fair…Do you remember any particular stand?  

    I remember a few of them. There was a carrot seller from Abruzzo who I met last year, and he only works in carrots because his soil produces really good carrots. He makes carrot juice, pasta and flour. Another I really love is a company called Sotto Bosco, which means “under the forest”. The owner’s name is Ugo Palli and he’s from Trentino. He produces the most magnificent products from berries. His blueberry juice, which was just blueberry juice, no sugar or coloring, was sublime. His strawberry juice was a funny color because we think strawberries need to be intensely red. This was a dark tomato red, because that is what you get from real strawberries. You smell the forest and the berries before you drink it, and it was just magnificent. It’s the recognition that basic foods, if treated with proper respect, can give more pleasure than any salsa or dip that some of the other countries were showing.  

    What about the differences from last year—did you find anything particularly different?  

    Well, I don’t know statistically that there were fewer people, but there were fewer types of products. Lat year I saw certain individuals come with things that were not necessarily back this year. There was someone this year, and I cannot recall her name, but she was wonderful and I remember the name of her company—Ritrovo. She’s in Seattle and she goes around Italy much the same was I do, looking for products of value, of meaning, flavor, and she brings them into the United States in small quantities. She had me taste beans that were produced by a man in Campania. He grows these beans and only he grows them. You cook them in cold water very slowly for eight hours. They were so rich, flavorful and delicate, that you don’t have to add any oil or pepper; you just eat the beans as they are, and they taste of soil and life. And I really respect the fact that this woman travels Italy to “rediscover” and invests time and energy in this. Americans tend to do this in Italy, I think, more than the Italians do. There’s a passion among certain Americans who will learn the Italian language, study the country’s history and geography, then find these products and try to save them, because often the Italians don’t recognize the patrimony that they have. These beans, once they are gone cannot be replaced.

    Now with changes in immigration and the fact that many Italians will not work the land, we see immigrants from elsewhere filling particular nations. In the Campania region, (the region where Naples is), there are shepherds from Tunisia who come in and herd the sheep and make the Pecorino cheese that the locals don’t make anymore. So the Tunisian shepherds are saving the patrimony. In Trentino there’s a similar thing being done with cheeses and products.

    Throughout the country now, when I travel in Italy I am very happy to see that “extracommunitari,” a word I don’t like, are saving products that would otherwise disappear. I’m an American “extracommunitario” as well, but it’s a globalized world and we are all equal. Therefore if someone else will save a product and save a piece of history, then I have great respect for him or her.  

    Is there a product you saw or tasted that you would like to find here in America that you cannot find now that you think Americans would really love?  

    Actually, I just mentioned it, the Sotto Bosco berry products because we know how healthful berries are, and we eat berries that are flown in from South America and South Africa in the winter that taste of nothing. I’d rather have a glass of this berry juice, which I can pour over ice cream, I can use in different ways, and it’s intensely flavorful.  

    What about the wines? There were so many stands inviting people to taste wines., There was an especially important presence from the Calabria region also. Did you taste any particular wine?  

    This particular time I didn’t do any wine tasting only because I am familiar with the wines. I love Italian wine. Italy produces more types of wine by far than any country in the world. I think it’s great that a region like Calabria, which has been forgotten by many people or thought of in a bad way, is presenting itself anew. As it happens, the week before the Fancy Food Show, I was in Calabria traveling along the coast, and they’re doing great work there. If you were to ask me to name another product that I love from Italy, it would be the Cipolla di Tropea, particular onions that come from Calabria which to me are the best I know. I cook with them. The only rival are the Vidalia onions in the U.S. which are completely different in style. And there is no reason we shouldn’t have these beautiful Calabrian onions here. About the wine—Italy produces sublime wine, and a particular wine goes with certain regional food. The only thing I would discourage a bit among Italian producers is to try to produce a Bourdeaux or some foreign wine that is not native to Italian soil, because Italy already produces great wine.  

    The Italian Trade Commission organized two seminars during the Fancy Food Show. One was dedicated to you and your topic. Let’s talk about this one first. You said that Italian food was the best to eat during economic crises. Can you please explain a little bit more about that?  

    I was very grateful that the Italian Trade Commission asked me to do this because they understand the role of selling and also of culture. I would say that Italian food is great not just during economic hard times, but also when we are all very rich. The point is—it’s about the quality of life, which does not necessarily relate to having a lot of money. People who think that they are good when they have a lot of money are not good. I believe that we have to be beautiful inside as well as outside. Being beautiful inside means connecting to a certain kind of spirit and finding beauty in small things. If I eat a perfect onion, I recognize that a perfect onion is a work of art. Italy has always understood agriculture, seasonality and flavor in ways that other countries are just beginning to understand.

    The French and Spanish and we Americans get it to some degree, but Italy is the professional in those aspects of food. Buying a sundried tomato or truffle does not make us good, we are good if we can experience pleasure in every little thing, and that’s Italian eating. So spaghetti are perfect pieces of technology—you get nutrition from them and they’re versatile. With Italian cheeses as well, the point is to savor them and experience the flavors. You can eat less, but eat well. For people who are trying to lose weight, you can eat a beautiful Italian meal instead of packaged diet foods. This is Italian cuisine and we can always learn from the model of Italy.  

    Plus Italians prepare food using only four or five ingredients…

    Yes but cooking is not necessarily easy. You know that in America we think that the more ingredients we have, the better. I believe that one ingredient is better than three, and three are better than five. Each ingredient has to stand out and be a star in the dish. My garlic has to be gorgeous, my tomato perfect and my pasta perfectly cooked. These are not necessarily expensive ingredients. The drop of oil that I add has to be just right. That makes a beautiful dish that cannot be beaten by some mixture of very fancy ingredients. Another thing I love in Italy is that, if you go to restaurants, you get a plate that will have one item on it, like your meat, it will not have vegetables all around it. You will get a side dish with greens on a simple white dish. You get a proper portion of meat, about four ounces, and a beautiful side dish.

    That’s intelligent, mature eating that makes sense. We have to unlearn the habits of eating like animals and just eating for quantity, and learn to eat with pleasure, understanding that each thing that we get is a gift. I think another important lesson of hard times is that when we are back in good times, we should still preserve, respect, and not waste food. I make a point of doing that so I tend not to buy things I do not need. When I lived in Bologna as a student, I lived near the markets and I would go twice a day. For lunch I would get 100 grams of prosciutto and a beautiful melon to go with it. For dinner I would go get a little piece of fish and cook that with some vegetables.  

    Do you still do this in New York?  

    I do go to the markets once a day. Anyone who lives in an urban environment within walking distance to a food market can do that. If they think it’s a waste of too much time, I would invite them to think about how they spend their time. I have always had the belief that if there is something you want to do, then you make the time for it. And our thinking has always been that we do not have enough time for anything, but we do not use our time well. Eating well is a priority. So I can make the time to spend ten minutes buying the right food and preparing it properly, and sit down with no telephone, no television, and the food is the focus and enjoy it.  

    Plus in Italian tradition, food is always an occasion to gather and stay with people, share thoughts and moments together.  
    It’s a wonderful thing to share food with people, and I do it all the time, but I think we have to acknowledge that many people live alone, or are working and not eating with others all the time. Just because you are not eating with others doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be eating well on your own. We always have to love and respect ourselves. Food is about health, and therefore if we don’t eat properly, we are harming ourselves.  

    President Obama and his wife Michelle have espoused their cause and are promoting healthy food here in America. The Mediterranean diet and Italian food are commonly perceived as healthy food. Do you think as an American that American people will espouse this cause and that the Mediterranean diet is going to be one of the most followed in the U.S.?  

    I think we have to be really careful about the terminology “Mediterranean Diet” because that is an extremely misused term. If you go to Tuscany, where they eat a lot of meat and a lot of chesses and animal fats, nobody would ever call that the Mediterranean Diet. But if you go to Puglia or Liguria, where they eat smaller amounts of protein and many more grains, oils and vegetables; that is the so-called Mediterranean Diet. So I would rather not use that term but use a term that underscores eating a lot of plant-related foods, whether fruits or vegetables or nuts and using good oils, like olive oil. Proteins should be present in smaller, but necessary amounts, and  food should always be pleasurable—we should never forget that. I don’t mean junk food; but if you want a really good piece of chocolate, have it. If you want ice cream, make sure it’s good ice cream as opposed to the kind with additives, and have it because it’s part of life. Now President and Mrs. Obama are doing a really good job setting an example.

    The idea of planting a garden in the White House goes back to WWII when Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden encouraging people to grow their own because the food supply was unpredictable. The chef Alice Waters from California, who I admire a lot, had proposed to Bill and Hillary Clinton to plant an organic garden in the White House. They flirted with the idea but they didn’t do it. The Obamas understand that modern times dictate that you need to eat locally, which means in your own garden, and healthfully. They are models of that. I think maybe he’s a little too extreme. I would like to see him eat something that would give him a little pleasure. She seems to enjoy her food more and you can tell. 

    They are great Italian food fans, too.  
    Yes, they are, as I am. But what I want Americans to understand that while I love Italian food more than anything else, we live in America. So I would recommend following Italian models, but sometimes the models mean eating the fish that you find in the Atlantic, Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico or in lakes or rivers; and eating vegetables that are grown here. Now there are many products such as pasta, olive oil, beautiful espresso coffee, wine and many things that come from Italy that we do not do as well. I always wanted to buy those things; but I would not encourage people to buy water from elsewhere in the world, when we can keep our own water pure and drink it locally.

    That’s just better for the environment. Anyone who loves their children, and loves other people’s children, has to respect the environment. Even though I don’t have children I understand the importance of their future. Americans understand that to some degree but they have not yet learned how to completely respect the environment in relation to our children’s future. The Obamas understand this, but they don’t have a background in this.

    Italians, who live in a densely populated country, and who have had to live on what’s nearby, have understood this for thousands of years. That’s why I love and respect the Italian model of eating. And I think what the Obamas are trying to do is emulate that. The fact that Italian food tastes so good and has so much knowledge behind it is another good thing to emulate. So Italian food, whenever possible, should also be augmented by other local products.  

    The Italian Trade Commission is doing a great deal to protect Italian products here in America. What is your opinion on counterfeit products?

    A couple of years ago I was called as an expert witness on a trial in Washington. There was a Canadian company trying to sell, in the U.S., an Italian food product with a similar name to the authentic product. It was cheaper and did not taste as good as the original product, and when I looked at the Canadian product it had food additives, nitrates, and things that the pure Italian product did not have. Because of the aging time it takes to produce certain goods in Italy, they cost more. The point is that you don’t have to eat a lot of a food to savor its flavor. Italy is a very complicated and regional country and Americans and the Italian Trade Commission must understand that Italy is a nation first and should be thought of as such first and foremost; and that Italy has regions just as we have our states here. Within these regions are provinces and local areas, and all of these things have meaning for food. If we get across to American consumers the basic facts that food does not necessarily happen in the same places, then we can understand why Prosciutto San Daniele or Mozzarella di bufala, or an onion from Tropea in Calabria or basil from Liguria, is not going to taste the same if you produce it elsewhere.

    We have to link geography to food products, and when a food has a story, you tell it, print it on a card on the food product and say that this is why it cannot be replicated anywhere else. Anyone can call something Parmesan, but it’s not Parmigiano Reggiano, which only comes from five provinces in Italy. If it’s produced somewhere else with different soil and tradition, it’s not parmigiano. Parmesan that’s made in Wisconsin, Argentina or the Netherlands can never replace the original.  

    What advice would you give to the American people on this issue?  

    Keep a map of Italy in your kitchen. Look for the regions and provinces and put pins in the map to indicate where certain foods come from, and remember that all these places give us great food.  Then when you know you’ve had a great lentil from Casteluccio, you won’t want one from any other place.  

    What are you eating tonight?  

    I haven’t planned it yet. We’ll see how hungry I am, what the weather dictates, if it’s hot or cold. I’m a living, breathing organism and I eat what instinct tells me to eat. So when I get hungry around seven o’clock I’ll start thinking about it. Chances are it will be fruit, vegetables, some dairy products, maybe a little bit of pasta if I’m hungrier.  

     What’s the Italian product that is always in your home?  

    Espresso. There is nothing in the world like Italian coffee and it is always in my house and is always consumed.  

    Do you have a message that you’d like to send to our audience after the Fancy Food Show?  

    Don’t worry—food should not be stressful. Food should not be competitive and about going to a restaurant that everyone is promoting. Food is about pleasure and health. And if you understand what is good for you and why it’s good for you, and you enjoy your food, everything else falls into line.