Articles by: Marina Melchionda

  • Art & Culture

    Music & Words. Prose & Poetry. Two Days in New York with Gianmaria Testa

    With these words, on these notes, Gianmaria Testa begins his concert at Joe's Pub, on the first, fresh night of a New York April.

    The atmosphere is intimate, the lights are dim, the public is composed of people from France, America and Italy. They surround the small stage of a historic NoHo club. He is alone on the stage, at the center, with his guitar. Alone, like the title of his latest album [Da Solo] he has come to town to present which was recorded at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome in May 2008.

    We sneak into his pocket as well and accompany him in a journey that lasts almost two hours, taking a walk along the most important stages his long singer-songwriter career. 

    From Gli amanti di Roma [The lovers of Rome] to Lucciola d'Agosto [August Glow-Warm], from Comete [Comets] to Un aeroplano a vela [A Sailing Plane] , moonlights give way to starlights, to time slipping away; the sound of footsteps on the street, panoramas and sights filled with memories and sighs; the amazement of passing seasons, of new encounters, of sudden discoveries. It is a build-up of experiences, emotions, observations and introspections.

    Via da quest'avventura [Away from this adventure], maybe not by chance, closes the first part of the concert. Sardinian trumpet player Luca Fadda – who lives in New York and is a good friend of Gianmaria's – joins him on stage. Two duets, Extra-muros and Nient'altro che fiori [Nothing Else But Flowers] , an unexpected gift received with a warm silence.

    Another hour of music awaits us, the second part of the concert, dedicated to the main theme of the evening: travel, migrations. The attention with which our singer-songwriter stops to explain the stories and the meaning behind the songs change direction. Gianmaria knows that he is in front of a public of immigrants, knows we can understand, or at least try to understand, the difficult and painful experiences of those who sought the American dream in Italy and often did not find it.

    “There is in island in the Mediterranean which is the new Ellis Island. It's called Lampedusa”: with these words he introduces Seminatori di grano [Cultivators of Grain ], Al mercato di Porta Palazzo [In the Market of Porta Palazzo], Polvere di gesso [Chalk Dust], Il Passo e l'incanto [The Step and The Enchant], lyrics extracted from Da questa parte del mare [On this Side of the Sea] , a monographic album about immigration released in 2006, which not only won him the important Tenco Prize, but also international critical acclaim. The songs guide us through a world different from our own, where sacrifice and tiredness for hard work and the constant daily challenges go side by side to a pride that never yields to contempt, determination and hope.

    The same pride that he sings about in Miniera [Mine], a song from 1927 that still has a strong meaning today: 
    From afar comes a song so sorrowful

    it's the emigrated dark miner down there

    his song is the song of an exile.

    A felt homage to De Andrè with Hotel Supramonte precedes Gianmaria's last song, Come al cielo gli aeroplani [Like the Planes to the Sky], the only unpublished piece from his album Da Solo.

    The lights fade out; microphones, speakers and instruments are taken away. 

    We say goodbye to Gianmaria, calmy, without rushing to go away. 
    A breath of fresh air in front of Joe's Pub brings us back to the previous day, when we met for a long chat and a glass of wine at Epistrophy, a small Sardinian restaurant in SoHo, owned by Luca Fadda...

    Starting from the end, from America, what does this country mean to you? 

    There are two Americas for me. The first one is relatable to a typical expression from Piedmont: when someone suddenly gains a fortune, he is asked if he discovered America. Or else we say “you were lucky, you discovered America”... Because America is synonymous to emigration, fortune seeking... 

    The other one, namely the United States, is the one I saw when I came here for the first time in 2005. I went on tour and played in Chicago, Cleveland and Los Angeles. I was strongly prejudiced about everything America represents: imperialism, capitalism... then when I got to New York I had to change my mind. I took in its beauty: I would never have imagined, beyond scenes from movies that I knew, that a series of huge boxes apparently randomly placed in Manhattan, could touch me like that. It's the fourth time I return here and I'm always bewildered. 

    What made you decide to do your album launching here?

    Curiosity. A good part of my musical education derives from the American musical culture. From Leonard Cohen to Bob Dylan: I had trouble understanding the lyrics, but the emotional charge of their music pushed me to reflect upon them and understand their message. You could feel that those songs were deep just by hearing the music.

    In spite of this great passion for American music, though, your songs found their first public in France...

    Yes, my first three albums were made there, although I sang in Italian. But it was by chance: in 1994, the song form was “culture” in France, while in Italy it only existed as a private initiative... Which helped for my Parisian debut. My first album, Montgolfieres, was very well received by the critics and, since Paris is a much more international center than Rome or Milan, it allowed me to make myself known quickly throughout Europe, and also in the whole French-speaking world. 

    You wrote a song, Joking Lady, dedicated to Paris and its many facets, its frenetic life, its different neighborhoods. Do you feel very tied to Paris?

    I love Paris but I wouldn't live there. I would define it a “pointy” city, different from the other European cities where you can fit in, be lost in a crowd, become part of the city. Paris is in its own rush, nervousness, in which I don't feel at ease. I don't know why it is that when I perform in Paris I always feel a sense of urgency, maybe exaggerated.

    In spite of this, I always return there with pleasure, and I translated many of my lyrics for my French public. I translated them, but without singing them. I felt the urgency to do it to “reward” those that buy my albums without understanding my songs. It cost me, though... some of them are really difficult to translate. 

    Why did you choose to rarely appear on TV in a country, Italy, where it is obligatory to participate on Television shows to achieve success?

    The answer is obvious, it's enough to turn on the television. It's not a difficult choice, it's quite easy, in fact. Spaces for dignity on Italian television are very rare if not completely missing. It's not a militancy issue, but simply normal personal ethics. 

    Weren't you scared to remain confined in a certain niche? Or did you do it on purpose?

    I believe I write popular songs, but I'm not interested in mass success. For 25 years I worked for the railroad so I would never be forced to say 'yes', and my songs hide this same concept. I carefully try to never reach that friction point in which the purposes of my work as a singer must give in to the market. It's two different languages, two very different worlds, that inevitably touch. But when the market wins over creativity, the latter loses its freedom, which is my guideline when I write.

    I'm not Mozart, I'm not an artist, I'm someone who narrates using an alternative method to the spoken word. If I allowed the market to win I wouldn't be able to tell my small truth and instead I would adopt the one that others want to hear and buy.  

    But how did you become a singer-songwriter? What made you decide to leave the railroad?

    I decided to leave the railroad and dedicate me completely to music very late. But I have sung and written for ever. When I was 14 years old, since I had good grades, my father decided to give me a gift. For a farmer like him it was a great sacrifice. I would have wanted to ask him for a piano, but he wouldn't have been able to afford one... So we bought a guitar for 25.000 Lira's.

    After three months I wrote a song. I can't tell you why, it just came to me, but I had never thought of the guitar as an instrument to play by itself, without lyrics. This is why I'm not a guitarist, but someone who accompanies himself when singing. 

    Among Italian singer-songwriters, who influenced your growth the most?

    Fabrizio De Andrè. No doubt about it. I'll tell you a story...

    It was the early Sixties. We lived in the country, in the poor Piedmontese planes, and in the house we had a radio around which we sat, the whole family, to listen to “Lascia o Raddoppia” (Leave or Double) , or the boxing matches that my father loved, or the rankings of songs by Rita Pavone or the Festival of Sanremo, which were always being played.

    Then one day a friend of mine, almost in secret, played for me Gorilla by De Andrè, a song translated from Brassens about a judge raped by a gorilla. In France it had been censored, and even in Italy it was considered scandalous. But it was an easy song to play, only two chords... so I picked up the guitar and learned it. That moment opened my eyes: I realized that there were people who put everything in their songs, not only love and heart, but actualy told things. Used them cleverly. This was the effect De Andrè had on me, opening a world previously unknown to me. After him, Nancy by Leonard Cohen influenced my approach to music definitely, as well as my way to be a singer-songwriter. 

    Singer-songwriter, poet, or artist?

    I'm not an artist, who is able to look at the world and narrate it to people. An artist is someone like Van Gogh who paints sunflowers. When you look at them, you find them exactly how you always imagined them. But he is the one who is giving shape to your fantasy: without him, you would never have seen them like that.

    Today the word “artist”  is strongly misunderstood... and devaluated. Today, anyone who goes on television is defined as “artist”, while maybe he is only doing correct communication or, worse, saying what he is told to say, lies. Artists, on the contrary, usually disregard any kind of rule and follow an impulse that is almost a disease. That is why they are usually poor and sad, because they aren't similar to anyone, they are outside of their own time, are already “beyond” present. 

    Speaking about artists, how do you think the Italian musical panorama is changing, even considering the latest Sanremos?

    Music has become the mirror of the disastrous Italian situation. This was confirmed by the latest regional elections. It's as if people have lost contact with idealism and – for example – turn to realities such as the Lega Nord. I don't know why all this is happening, but luckily there are still a few who resist and manifest their ideas.

    Sanremo is a mirror of this decadence, although it isn't masquerades like this that worry me. They are only the reflection of an existing stagnant situation. The music known in Italy is the one that appears, that goes on television and on the radio and surely it's a victim of a market force which is much stronger than the idea of creativity and communication. If my pieces aren't played often on the radio it's because they aren't radio-friendly. But it doesn't worry me, because often the radio-friendliness of a song is inversely proportional to its quality.

    Luckily there are still Italian singers and musicians that express quality and sincerity. I'm thinking, for example, of Vinicio Capossela who often surprises me. He is one of those who have brought back dignity into Italian music. 

    Piracy is damaging the recording industry in Italy and abroad. There's no doubt about the fact that this phenomenon is hurting this slice of the market, but what effects does this have on the actual music?

    To begin with, I want to make it clear that I cannot have anything against piracy. I'm convinced that if you like a piece or an album, even if you have downloaded it, you will then go out and buy it. On the contrary, I might even say that it would be terrific if piracy could help the listener to skim through what is available, giving him the opportunity to download, before buying only the discs he actually likes.

    I've been insulted by many people in the industry who accused me of biting the hand that was feeding me, but I believe that if something is possible and accessible, a person will do it and do it well. I don't see why I should spend 20 Euros to buy an album, when I can download it, especially if I then discover I don't like it.

    The first album I bought, I bought only because I liked the cover. But the relationship between my life-style of the time which was very low, and the cost of the disc, still made it accessible. Today this isn't so. You cannot expect that 16- or 17-year-olds spend 20 Euros every time they want to buy a CD. At the most they can buy one a month, but only if it's a work of art.

    I would like to talk about one last thing, immigration, a theme which is very present in your music and the subject of a whole album of yours, Da questa parte del mare. To begin with, you have been traveling with your music for years. Would you define yourself as a migrant?

    There is no possible comparison between myself and the people I write about in my music. To move about is a choice of mine, while for them it's an imposition.

    I wrote an album about this theme to remind Italians about their past as immigrants during now that Italy has become a country that receives migratory flows.

    Between 1870 and 1960 fifty million Italians left the country. This means that there is another Italy outside of Italy and that there is more Italian blood in Toronto than in Bologna, more in Sau Paulo in Brazil than in Cremona. And this is not because Italians were great navigators, but simply because they were hungry, had to feed their children, and went where this was possible.

    We all know that they had to suffer insults and abuses practically everywhere and this is exactly why I expected that Italians themselves would behave differently than they are in fact behaving.

    Of course I'm not so naïve to think that such a massive immigration doesn't create problems, but I thought that these people would have been welcomed with open arms, without prejudices and discriminatory behaviors. I imagined that they would have been treated as decent people, which they are, until told otherwise.

    What many people fear is that the new immigrants impose a different culture upon the Italians. I don't want this to happen either, but I certainly don't think they want to rob me of something. Italy must understand that it needs the ones it calls “day laborers”, these foreigners that do the jobs Italians don't want to do. It must understand that if we went along with the Lega Nord and sent them home, the country would suddenly stop. 
    This fear of those that are “different” has made parties like the Lega grow and gain consent, but has also led to victory politicians, mayors and ministers, that were once Fascist goons who walked along the streets holding a truncheon.

    Having said this, I'll ask you a question that possibly has no answer. Simply, how can we get out of this situation? 
    The situation in which Italy finds itself today is one of dramatic stupidity. I was very touched by Mario Monicelli's interview which was aired a few days ago on TV, in which he said that Italy “for me, is truly is shitty country and the only possible solution is a revolution”. Not that I'm a supporter of it, but a revolution always comes with consequences... let's say it brings a dramatic contingency... 

    Come to think of it, there has never been a revolution in our history: we went directly from Mussolini to the Liberation, so quickly as to forget the Fascist chapter and sanctify the Resistance as if it had been a revolution, but it was actually carried out by very few. 
    The result is that Italy has never actually come to terms with the absurdity of Fascism and Italians have convinced themselves that they are not a xenophobic people, but it's enough to walk out in the streets of our cities to witness shameful acts of racism.

    The theme of travel is often present in your songs. But what is a travel for you? Is it the rush to leave or the wish to arrive somewhere?

    Do you remember the farmhouse from the film 900? With a central farmyard surrounded by porticos... My father had rented such a farmhouse. And that farmyard, that little space of Earth in which I was born, for me enclosed everything, represented all that I knew. We were two families, 20 people, such a closed world that made me want to travel. 

    Then one day I was seated at the Trocadero Bar in Paris, a beautiful sight in front of me, the Eiffel Tower in the background. At that moment I felt part of the world, and realized that all I had learned, I had learned in my home's courtyard. In the town where I was born. It's not the most beautiful place in the world, but it's the only one I recognize, where everything resembles me, even the ugly things. Even the things I hate I find upon me. Respect, work, fatigue, tenderness, anything, everything came from there. My traveling only confirmed that, and also that humanity is much more alike than we would think – at any latitude – with some overall quite small shades of difference. 

    It was at that exact moment at the Trocadero that I completed the song Il Valzer di un Giorno (The Waltz of A Day)

    All is here that we can't see

    All is here hidden in the folds

    and if it will amaze us it will be just

    like certain news we already knew...

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Herbs, Spices & Magic. Strega Bewitches New York after 150 Years

    A big lunch, friends, coffee, and a digestivo.

    It's been 150 years since the time Italy was unified, and the Sundays of most of the Italian families are characterized by these 4 elements. It's 150 years that the digestive in question is Strega. In its century and a half of history, the popularity of this liqueur has spread well beyond the hundreds of thousands of households located throughout the Peninsula, having been brought by Italian immigrants all over the world, to the United States first of all.

    So what better city to celebrate this important anniversary from its creation than New York? It's the place where we can not only find one of the largest Italian-American communities in the US, but also where Italian culture and food is more appreciated than anywhere else in the country!

    On April 28, the newly opened Roman Testaccio Ristorante located in Long Island City will host a huge "Strega Party" where all those passionate and curious about this Italian "elixir" will have a chance to taste a Strega-based buffet of cocktails and desserts for only 15$. The delightful experience will feature coffee "corretto" with Strega liqueur, Strega on the Rocks, Strega-flavored chocolates, and other delicacies of the kind. Strega will also enrich classic Italian desserts such as tiramisu, sponge cake with cream, the almond and chocolate-based Caprese Cake, and other popular cocktails like the Valentino made of Orange Juice, Sparkling Wine and Strega.

    A bit of jazz music and a table shared with good friends will perfectly match the unique flavor of this full-Italian product, an experience that will be crowned by the homage of tasteful goody bags to all the guests attending.

    On this important milestone in its centenary history, we could not miss the occasion to interview one of the heirs of the Alberti family, Carmine Savarese, a young creative designer and photographer who has been living in New York for about two years.

    Six generations after Giuseppe Alberti founded this family-run company based in Benevento, Campania, Carmine guided us through the legends, the stories, and myths that have shaped not only the destiny of his family, but also the one of the local community of Benevento, transformed by the company in one of the main centers for the production of distillates in Italy.

    In which circumstances your ancestor Giuseppe Alberti founded Strega?
    In 1860 Giuseppe was a wine merchant living in the province of Caserta that at that time was part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. He moved to Benevento, a territory submitted to the Papal administration, when his father Carmine Vincenzo Alberti, a revolutionary spice man very much disliked by the Borboni Regal Family, was jailed in the Monte Sacro prison, located in the surrounding area.

    The city was an important railway center, so he decided to rent a deposit and start selling and exporting to France wine produced in the Apulia Region. This gave him enough money to open two bars in the heart of the city, one in the main square, the other in the station.
    When his father was released from prison, they worked together on what then became the Strega Liqueur, a mixture of about 70 different spices and herbs distilled in three phases and colored with saffron.
    Those who stopped by at the bar of the station before taking their trip to buy the "lunch basket" were offered a complimentary small bottle of the liqueur...

    The Strega soon became so famous among the commuters that all of those who stopped in Benevento ran to the bar to buy a bottle to bring home, a success that soon induced my progenitors to stop selling wines and transform the deposit they had rented for that purpose into a manufacturing center for the production of the liqueur.

    Why did they name it "Strega"?
    First of all, let's remember that Benevento has been known as the "city of the witches" since the time of the Longobards: when the center was invaded by the barbarians, the local peasants thought that they had magical powers, and thus they became, in their eyes, sort of witches. From that period on, the territory was said to be inhabited by witches that, hidden by the surrounding mountains, performed magical rites such as the Sabba. This might be a reason why the river that crosses Benevento is called "Sabato".

    What I recounted to you before was the official story of the product, but there are many legends surrounding its creation. The most famous, the one handed down from a generation to the other of the family, tells about the encounter of Carmine and Giuseppe with a group of witches who were doing the Sabba in the woods near Benevento. The two were walking around searching for spices for their elixirs, when all of the sudden thunder and lightening started, and a branch fell from a tree hitting one of the witches. Since they saved her, the others decided to give the two men a gift: the recipe of a special elixir that could not be divulged, nor to the other members of the family, nor to anybody else: only when its keeper would be close to death, could he give it to his closest heir, the one who would take over its production. 

    Today we still follow this "dictate" as only the head of the labourers (whose father and grandfather also worked with us), and only one member of our family knows the exact composition of the liqueur. Only the two of them are authorized to enter the "room of the herbs", where all the spices and herbs that compose the Strega liqueur are kept in encrypted draws that only they are able to decode. They go there once a month to get the different doses of herbs to prepare our distillate.

    What other alcoholic beverages does the Alberti family produce?
    We make limoncello, grappa, sambuca... And, some time ago, also another product named SG1945. Its story traces back to World War II, when the Americans bombed the factory by mistake and killed my great-grandma. When the US became allies, my great-grandpa started making gin for the American troops, as they helped him rebuild the factory. They soon came out with the SG1945, a mixture of Strega and Gin sold in bottles and labelled with this kind of a army number. The soldiers liked it so much that by 1947 the factory was running again.

    Who buys the Strega liqueur today?
    We have a hard core of customers who love and buy the distillate, and have been doing so for  decades. In Italy, 93% of people know our label and have tried our products.
    However, although about 80% of the bottles produced every year are sold in Italy, we still have a consistent market abroad. We sell in over 50 countries, especially in those with big Italian communities, such as Argentina, Mexico, the United States, and Canada... In the United States, in particular, you can find bottles of Strega in wine shops and speciality stores in almost every state, together with our chocolates and torroni.

    Among those who buy Strega more frequently, we find the housewives who use it to prepare cakes, cookies and pies. Some of them also make pasta with it, and when the recipe turns out particularly good, it becomes a family tradition. Some time ago we received a letter from a woman who had made pasta with large shrimps sauteed in Strega. She loved it.
    Personally, I love pouring a few spoons of the liqueur over my ice cream; or, in the wintertime, I enjoy a full cup of Strega-flavored Hot Chocolate... sublime.

    Your family has a true passion for chocolate, doesn't it?
    Actually we recently found out that Giuseppe Alberti started a modest production of chocolate already at the end of the 19th century. In particular, he made torroni, a typical sweet of the province of Benevento that he flavored with Strega liqueur. Although he soon gave that up, the business was carried on by his four children that, after completing their studies in Switzerland, each emigrated to different areas of the world. One of them landed in the United States, where he sold the Strega torroni already in the 1910s.

    In Italy, only when the factory re-opened in 1947, did we start a large production of torroni, goccioloni, chocolate candies filled with Strega, magie, chocolate truffles filled with chocolate cream and liqueur, and finally Easter Eggs.

    Chocolate, in other words, has the merit to have boosted the internationalization of the brand...
    Yes, from the beginning of the 20th century on we became a stable presence in many countries, America first and foremost. This is in spite of Prohibition, which we survived thanks to the creation of a non-alcoholic Strega-flavored syrup.
    Although we were expanding enormously, however, we remained a family-run company and mantained our largest production in Benevento, even if the area was isolated from the industrial center of Italy and the infrastructure was poor. This is what charms me the most of the story of my family: we competed with very large brands, such as Martini and Campari that had all the advantages of being settled in industrial areas such as Milan; and we also won international medals and prizes counting only on our inner strength and the quality of our products. Our label, indeed, is shaped as a medal, and is dedicated to to this international, almost unexpected success.

    The launch of the company corresponded also to a re-wakening of the cultural life of Benevento, where Strega founded its museum, visited today by tourists and school children from the surrounding areas and behind. How is it structured?
    The museum has a particular meaning for me, since it was the first task I was assigned in the family business. At that time I was 24 and I took the job very seriously. I researched our archives of pictures, video, ads, and commercials and put together a multimedia exhibit, that still today is its main focus. Visitors can admire advertisement campaigns and posters signed by renowned graphics such as Marcello Dudovich and Fortunato Depero, or watch excerpts from movies like "La Ciociara" and "Ieri, Oggi, e Domani" by Vittorio de Sica, "Ossesione" by Luchino Visconti, or "Pane e Tulipani" by Silvio Soldini where the Strega liquer appears as part of the every-day costumes of the Italians.

    From movies to books, the "Premio Strega" is one of the most prestigious Italian awards in the field of literature. Have you ever thought about organizing an American edition of it?
    This is actually one of my personal dreams. Given that New York is and has been a true crossroad of authors from every corner of the world, an American edition of the Award could help contemporary Italian authors conquer a new public of passionate readers on this side of the ocean.Just as with our liqueur and chocolates, there is a very charming story behind the Premio Strega. Guido Alberti, my grandma's uncle, was an important actor in the 20th century.

    Among his friends there were Maria and Goffredo Bellonci,  Alberto Moravia, and Paolo Pasolini, that with another 150 people or so all together constituted the group of the "Amici della Domenica" (Sunday Friends). When the war was over in 1946, they decided to found a literary prize as a new cultural initiative for the country destroyed by the war. As Guido contributed to the project with a million lire, a great sum for those time, the Association decided to name it "Premio Strega", as the company and the family Alberti had always been very active in the country's cultural life.

    The first winner, in 1947, was Ennio Flaiano with his "Il tempo di uccidere", a book that has now become part of the history of Italian literature. After him, also renowned authors such as Alberto Moravia, Umberto Eco, Elsa Morante, Cesare Pavese, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Aldo Palazzeschi, Ignazio Silone, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, all won the award, and with it the favors of a very large public of readers.

    As we could understand from Carmine's words, the Strega label does not only represent the story of a family originating from the small province of Benevento; is is also the fruit of an infinite number of legends and anecdotes that has accompanied the story of Italy since its very unification in 1860.

    What else can we say but... HAPPY 150th BIRTHDAY Strega!
    Of course, we will be blowing out the candles with Carmine at Testaccio Ristorante on April 28. We hope you can make it too!

    The 150th Anniversary

    April 28 2010, 5-10 pm

    Testaccio Ristorante
    47-30 Vernon Boulevard
    Long Island City, NY 11101
    (718) 937-2900

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  • Terremoto d'Abruzzo. Uno "Stato d'Emergenza" tutto italiano

    E' il 6 Aprile 2010 e  anche New York non ha dimenticato il terremoto che esattamente un anno fa ha distrutto l'Abruzzo ed il suo centro più importante, l'Aquila.

    Alla New School un folto pubblico di italiani ed americani si sono riuniti nel tardo pomeriggio -  su invito del Circolo del Partito Democratico italiano di New York - per ricordare insieme la terribile tragedia, e discutere di come è stata gestita l'emergenza.
    L'occasione è stata la proiezione del documentario "Comando e Controllo. Lo Stato di Eccezione" di Alberto Puliafito e prodotto da Fulvio Nebbia.

    Trovato l'unico posto libero, ci sediamo insieme al pubblico già in silenzio alle prime scene del film che non ha avuto distribuzione in Italia.

    Una telecamera  attenta ci guida attraverso l'unico tra i 170 campi di rifugiati aperto alla stampa, e poi per le strade de L'Aquila, dove ad immagini di monumenti distrutti e in rovina, si alternano quelle di numerosi uomini in divisa, che sia militare o dell'agenzia governativa della Protezione Civile.

    Le voci si alternano, voci di persone la cui vita si è fermata in quei "pochi", circa 40, secondi in cui la terra si è mossa violentemente un anno fa, e ne hanno distrutto la casa, le scuole, i luoghi di lavoro; e ucciso parenti, madri, figli, amici, 308 morti in tutto.

    Nelle loro voci un misto di paura e rabbia, speranza e rassegnazione. Testimonianze che non sono passate alla TV, non alla RAI almeno, non al grande colosso Mediaset di proprietà del premier Silvio Berlusconi. Voci mute, se non in questo documentario.

    Quello che colpisce delle persone che raccontano, e ci mostrano la miseria delle loro condizioni, è che a questa rabbia e rancore si somma anche un senso di contradditoria gratitudine, "per quel che è stato fatto per noi, che comunque siamo stati soccorsi più velocemente dei terremotati di Umbria e Campania anni fa".

    Gratitudine...molti di loro hanno un tetto sotto cui ripararsi dopo mesi e mesi di vita in tenda, hanno una casa container o un posto letto in albergo dove mettere bambini e vecchi al caldo.

    Non devono  fare le file per lavarsi i panni sotto il gelo dell'inverno che incombe, hanno un bagno in casa ed una cucina. "Non ti rendi conto di quanto siano essenziali alcune cose semplici che sei sempre stata abituata ad avere, come dei panni puliti nel cassetto, o una cena sul fuoco, fino a che non li hai più, e devi far finta che tutto è normale", suggerisce una delle vittime. Lo dice con asprezza, con il bisogno di far sapere la verità, ma chiede poi al regista di non mostrare il suo volto in video, perchè ha paura che se parla troppo non le ridaranno più la sua casa. Gratitudine dunque, almeno in parte, ma basta tutto questo?

    E' questa l'aria che si vede respirare nei campi che accolgono gli sfollati, o almeno in questo raccontato nel documentario, l'unico che la Protezione Civile, ai tempi della produzione del documentario, era disposto ad aprire al "pubblico" di giornalisti, accompagnati da una guida, si intende. Gli altri, ci dice il regista, erano chiusi "per motivi di sicurezza".

    Viene da chiedersi certo: ma cosa si doveva mettere al sicuro, cosa custodire? Forse la realtà dei fatti?

    "Ancora oggi, le cose non appaiono molto migliori", dice il regista.  Riportiamo e riflettiamo sui toni, a dir poco trionfalistici di Guido Bertolaso al Senato nel Febbraio 2010:
    Avrete sicuramente visto quale incredibile lavoro abbiamo realizzato, costruendo le case antisismiche in 80-90 giorni, in 19 aree della città dell'Aquila, dando così la possibilità di entrare in una casa a oltre 18.000 aquilani che l'avevano completamente persa.

    Secondo i dati ufficiali della Protezione Civile (fermi al 29 gennaio), gli aquilani entrati nelle case del piano C.A.S.E. e nei Moduli Abitativi Provvisori sono invece 12.803.

    Se i numeri parlano, siamo ancora lontani dai 18.000 promessi. Che, per inciso, secondo le promesse avrebbero dovuto essere alloggiati prima entro settembre (erano poco più di 4.000), poi entro novembre.

    E come dimenticare i 10mila ancora assistiti fra alberghi (6.462), appartamenti sulla costa abruzzese (2.376) e caserme (1.191)?

    Da qui lo scopo ultimo del documentario: denunciare gli strumenti ed i modi utilizzati dal governo per fronteggiare la sfida della ricostruzione. Tutti basati su eccezioni. Il primo provvedimento stanziato in merito, ad esempio, fu un decreto legge, che "è un provvedimento provvisorio avente forza di legge, adottato in casi straordinari di necessità ed urgenza dal Governo", secondo l'art. 77 della Costituzione della Repubblica italiana. Con esso si stanziavano 8 miliardi di euro per l'Abruzzo, di cui 1.5 per l'emergenza e 6.5 per la ricostruzione. Con il decreto si inaugurava "Lo Stato d'Emergenza", che successivamente legittimava il governo ad una serie di misure che trovarono il disaccordo dell'opinione pubblica nazionale ed internazionale, nonchè dell'oppisizione parlamentare.

     Tra queste, la trasformazione della Protezione Civile in Società per Azioni.
    Fabrizio Gatti aveva scritto al riguardo sull'Espresso che si tratterebbe di  "Una scorciatoia che unita alle ordinanze di urgenza e ai poteri di emergenza di cui gode la Protezione civile, trasformerà Bertolaso, 60 anni il 20 marzo prossimo, in un vicerè dalle mani d'oro a completo servizio del presidente del Consiglio di turno. Come già succede ora, ma con meno obblighi da rispettare".

    All'emergenza del terremoto, se ne sommerebbe dunque un'altra: quella del progressivo indebolimento della prassi di governo democratica.  "Non volevo che il mio film passasse per il solito prodotto cinematografico anti-Berlusconiano. Il caso dell'Abruzzo è soltanto l'ultimo: negli anni precedenti, altri governi hanno utilizzato simili strumenti e mezzi ai confini di ogni logica democratica, scavalcando il parlamento e l'opinione pubblica e centralizzando il potere nelle mani dell'esecutivo", ci dice il regista.

    Il dibattito che si è aperto dopo la proiezione  tra i presenti in sala e gli speakers Anna di Lellio, professoressa alla New School, il giornalista Alexander Stille, e il regista Alberto Puliafito si focalizza subito sull "interpretazione del potere" quasi legittimata dall'abuso dello strumento "Stato di Emergenza", sui possibili rimedi e risposte alla deriva democratica italiana che il caso abruzzese mette in luce.

    Abbiamo avuto modo di chiedere un'opinione al giornalista Alexander Stille, autore di diverse opere ed articoli sull'Italia e sulla sua politica. Tra questi, The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country with a Fabled History and a Storied Culture Was Taken Over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi, pubblicato nel 2006 dopo un lungo periodo di residenza a Milano. "Credo che in Italia lo 'Stato d'Emergenza' sia uno strumento così facilmente applicabile perchè ormai è venuto a mancare uno dei pilastri fondamentali che legittimano un governo, quello della rappresentatività. Questi non rappresenta più l'opinione pubblica, sia perchè i poteri del parlamentano si stanno progressivamente deteriorando a favore dell'esecutivo; sia perchè una comunicazione trasparente non è più possibile, dato che i media principali sono monopolizzati dal governo stesso. Se manca questo, non c'è possibilità di controllo, nè in Abruzzo nè in altri ambiti".

    La soluzione secondo Stille sarebe quella di promuovere lo sviluppo e l'utilizzo di nuovi mezzi di comunicazione, soprattutto Internet, per agire "dal basso", ed in maniera risolutiva.

    "Bisogna smettere di prestarsi al gioco di Berlusconi. - dice Stille  - Se vuole controllare le TV e comparire su tutti i canali 10 volte in più ai suoi oppositori, ben venga, noi utilizzeremo altri mezzi. Come giornalista e scrittore sono sempre stato abituato a guardare alla realtà dei fatti. Berlusconi intende invece come 'reale' solo quello che si può vedere, e appare in TV. Ma questo documentario ci dimostra che c'è ben altro oltre quello, c'è la gente de L'Aquila sfiduciata e impaurita".

  • Musica e parole. Prosa e poesia. Due giorni a New York con Gianmaria Testa

    Dentro la tasca di un qualunque mattino, dentro la tasca ti porterei, e con la mano che non veda nessuno, con questa mano ti accarezzerei...

    Con queste parole, su queste note, Gianmaria Testa inizia il suo concerto al Joe's Pub, nella prima, fresca, notte dell'Aprile newyorkese.

    L'atmosfera è intima, le luci basse e soffuse, un pubblico misto di francesi, americani, ed italiani circondano il piccolo palco di un club che ha fatto storia a Noho. Un palco dove c'è solo lui, al centro, con la sua chitarra. Da Solo, come il titolo dell'album che è venuto a presentare qui in città e registrato all'Auditorium Parco delle Musica di Roma nel maggio 2008.

    Ci infiliamo anche noi nella sua tasca, e lo accompagnamo in un percorso che dura quasi due ore, in una passeggiata tra le tappe più importanti della sua lunga carriera di cantautore.

    Da Gli amanti di Roma a Lucciola d'Agosto, da Comete a Un aeroplano a vela, si susseguono luci di luna, scintille di stelle, il tempo che va e che viene; rumori di passi sulla strada, panorami e paesaggi carichi di ricordi e sospiri; la meraviglia delle stagioni che passano, dei nuovi incontri, delle scoperte fatte di passaggio. E' un crescendo di esperienze, e di emozioni, di osservazioni, di introspezioni.

    Via da quest'avventura, forse non per caso, chiude la prima parte del concerto. Sale sul palco Luca Fadda, trombettista sardo residente a New York e grande amico di Gianmaria. Due duetti, Extra-muros e Nient’altro che fiori, un regalo inaspettato accolto da un caldo silenzio.

    Ci aspetta ancora un'ora di musica, la seconda parte del concerto, dedicata al tema portante della serata: il viaggio, le migrazioni. Cambia l'attenzione con cui il nostro cantautore si sofferma a spiegarci le storie, il significato dietro i pezzi che canta. Gianmaria sa che è davanti a un pubblico di immigrati, sa che noi possiamo capire, o almeno provare a farlo, le esperienze difficili e sofferte di chi ha cercato il suo sogno americano in Italia, e spesso non l'ha trovato

    "C'è un'isola nel Mediterraneo che è la nuova Ellis Island. Si chiama Lampedusa": con queste parole  introduce Seminatori di grano, Al mercato di Porta Palazzo, Polvere di gesso, Il Passo e l'incanto, testi tratti da Da questa parte del mare, un disco monografico sul tema dell'emigrazione uscito nel 2006, che gli è valso non solo un riconoscimento importante quale il Premio Tenco, ma anche i plausi della critica internazionale. I pezzi ci guidano in un mondo diverso dal nostro, dove il sacrificio e la stanchezza per il duro lavoro e per le continue sfide quotidiane da affrontare si accompagnano ad un orgoglio che non cede mai al disprezzo, alla determinazione, alla speranza.

    La stessa che infine racconta in Miniera, una canzone del 1927 che scopriamo ancora di straordinaria attualita'r che in ogni bettola messicana
    Vien di lontano un canto così accorato,
    è il minatore bruno laggiù emigrato
    la sua canzone è il canto di un esiliato.

    Un sentito omaggio a De Andrè con Hotel Supramonte precede l'ultima canzone che ci suona Gianmaria Come al cielo gli aeroplani, l'unico inedito dell'album Da Solo.

    Le luci si spengono, via i microfoni, gli altoparlanti, gli strumenti.

    Salutiamo Gianmaria, con calma, senza fretta di andare via.

    Una boccata d'aria fuori al Joe's ci riporta al giorno prima, quando ci siamo incontrati per una lunga chiacchierata ed un bicchiere di vino da Epistrophy, il piccolo ristorante sardo di Luca Fadda situato nel cuore di Soho...

    Iniziamo dalla fine, dall'America. Che cosa e' per te questo Paese?

     Ci sono due Americhe per me. La prima è quella di un' espressione tipicamente piemontese: quando qualcuno ha una repentina fortuna, gli si chiede se ha trovato l'America. Oppure gli si dice “ti è andata bene, hai trovato l'America”… Perchè America è sinonimo d'emigrazione, di andare in cerca di fortuna...

    L'altra, intesa come Stati Uniti, è quella che ho visto quando sono venuto qui per la prima volta nel 2005. Feci una tourné che toccò Chicago, Cleveland e Los Angeles. Ero fortemente prevenuto per tutto quello che rappresentava per me l'America: l’imperialismo, il capitalismo.... Poi quando sono venuto qui a  New York mi sono dovuto ricredere. Ne ho apprezzato la bellezza, non mi sarei mai immaginato, aldilà delle immagini cinematografiche che conoscevo, che una serie di parallepipedi messi insieme sembra quasi a caso a Manhattan, potessero colpirmi così. E' la quarta volta che ci torno e sempre con lo stesso stupore.

    Cosa ti ha spinto a lanciare il tuo ultimo album qui?

     La curiosità. Una buona parte della mia formazione musicale deriva dalla cultura musicale americana. Da Leonard Cohen a Bob Dylan: avevo difficoltà a capire i testi ma la carica emotiva della loro musica  mi spingeva a soffermarmici e a comprendere i contenuti. Già dalla musica si percepiva che quelle canzoni avevano uno spessore.

    Nonostante questa grande passione per la musica americana, però, le tue canzoni trovano il primo pubblico in Francia…

    Si, i primi 3 dischi li ho fatti lì pur cantando in italiano. Ma è stato casuale: nel ‘94 la canzone in Francia era “cultura” mentre in Italia viaggiava su iniziativa di privati… Cosa che ha beneficiato il mio debutto parigino. Il primo disco, Montgolfieres, è stato accolto benissimo dalla stampa e, dato che Parigi è un centro molto più internazionalizzato di Roma o Milano, questo mi ha permesso di farmi conoscere velocemente in Europa, e anche nel grande mondo francofono.

    Hai scritto una canzone, Joking Lady, dedicata a Parigi e alle sue mille sfaccettature, alla sua vita frenetica, ai suoi quartieri così diversi tra loro. Ti ci senti molto legato?

    Amo Parigi ma non ci vivrei. La definirei una città “appuntita”, a differenza delle altre città europee in cui ti confondi, ti mescoli alla folla, e diventi parte della città. Parigi ha una fretta e un nervosismo suo, in cui non mi ritrovo. Non so perché, quando faccio un concerto a Parigi sento sempre un senso di urgenza, forse esagerata.

    Nonostante questo, ci ritorno sempre con piacere, e ho tradotto anche molti dei miei testi per il mio pubblico francese. Li ho tradotti, ma senza cantarli però. Ho sentito l’urgenza di farlo quasi per “premiare” coloro che comprano i miei dischi senza capire le mie canzoni. Spesso però mi è costato… ce ne sono alcune difficilissime da tradurre.

    Perchè hai scelto di apparire poco in TV in un Paese come l’Italia dove la partecipazione a programmi televisivi è una via obbligata per il successo?

     La risposta è evidente, basta accendere la televisione. Non è una scelta difficile, anzi è facile. Non esistono o sono molto rari gli spazi di dignità nella televisione italiana. Non è una questione di militanza, ma di normale etica personale.

    Non hai avuto paura di restare confinato ad un pubblico di nicchia? O lo hai fatto di proposito?

    Credo di fare canzoni popolari, ma non m'importa il successo di massa. Per 25 anni ho lavorato in ferrovia per non essere mai costretto a dire di sì, e le mie canzoni nascono da questa stessa idea. Cerco di stare attento a non raggiungere mai quel punto di frizione in cui gli scopi della mia attività di cantante debbano cedere a quelli del mercato.  Sono due linguaggi, due mondi veramente lontanissimi, ma che inevitabilmente si toccano. Quando però il mercato prevale sulla creatività, questa perde la sua libertà, che è la mia linea guida quando scrivo.

    Io non sono Mozart, non sono un artista, sono uno che racconta in un modo alternativo alla parola parlata. Se permettessi al mercato di vincere non riuscirei più a raccontare la mia piccola verità, bensì adotterei quella che gli altri vogliono sentire e comprare.

    Ma come sei diventato cantautore? Qual'è stato il momento in cui hai deciso di lasciare le ferrovie?

    Ho deciso di lasciare le ferrovie e dedicarmi completamente alla musica molto tardi. Ma canto e scrivo da sempre. Quando avevo 14 anni, poiché andavo bene a scuola,  mio padre decise di farmi un regalo. Per lui, un contadino, era un grande sacrificio. Avrei voluto chiedergli un pianoforte,  ma non avrebbe potuto permetterselo… Quindi prendemmo una chitarra per 25mila lire

    Dopo tre mesi ho scritto una canzone. Non saprei dirti perchè, è venuta così, ma non avevo mai pensato alla chitarra come strumento da suonare da solo, senza un testo. Per questo io non sono un chitarrista, ma uno che si accompagna quando canta.

    Tra i cantautori italiani chi ha influenzato di più la tua crescita?

     Sicuramente De Andrè… ti racconto una storia…

    Erano gli inizi degli anni ’60. Vivevamo in campagna, nella povera pianura piemontese, e in casa avevamo una radio. In  casa avevamo una radio attorno alla quale ci riunivamo, tutta la famiglia, per sentire “Lascia o Raddoppia”, o gli incontri di box, di cui mio padre era un appassionato, o le classiche canzoni di Rita Pavone o di Sanremo che si passavano sempre.

    Poi un giorno  un amico, quasi di nascosto, a casa sua,  mi ha fatto sentire Gorilla di De Andrè, una canzone tradotta da Brassens che raccontava la storia di un giudice che veniva violentato da un gorilla. In Francia era stata censurata, ed anche in Italia era considerata scandalosa. Ma era una canzone facile da suonare, solo due accordi… presi la chitarra e la imparai. Quel momento mi aprì gli occhi: mi resi conto che c'era gente che nelle canzoni ci metteva di tutto, non soltanto l'amore e il cuore,ma raccontava delle cose. Le usava con inventiva. Questo è stato l’effetto che De Andrè ha avuto su di me, mi ha aperto un mondo a me sconosciuto. Dopo di lui, Nancy di Leonard Cohen ha definitivamente influenzato  il mio approccio alla musica, e quindi il mio modo di essere cantautore.

    Un cantautore, un poeta, o un artista?

    Io non sono un artista, un artista è capace di guardare il mondo e di raccontarlo alla gente. Un artista è Van Gogh  che dipinge i girasoli. Quando li guardi, li ritrovi come li hai sempre immaginati. Ma è lui che dà consistenza alla tua fantasia: se non ci fosse stato lui, non li avresti mai visti così.

    Oggi la parola "artista" è fortemente fraintesa...e svalutata. Ora chiunque vada in televisione, viene chiamato "artista", mentre magari fa semplicemente della  comunicazione corretta o, peggio, dice solo ciò che gli viene chiesto di dire, bufale.  Gli artisti, al contrario, in genere se ne fottono di qualunque tipo di regola e seguono un impulso che è quasi una malattia. . per questo sono quasi sempre poveri e tristi, perchè non assomigliano a nessuno, sono al di fuori del loro tempo, sono già "al di là" del presente.

    Parlando di artisti, come credi stia cambiando il panorama musicale italiano, anche alla luce degli ultimi Sanremo?

     La musica è diventata lo specchio di una situazione italiana disastrosa. L'hanno confermato anche le ultime elezioni regionali. E' come se la gente avesse perso il contatto con l'idealità, e – ad esempio – si rivolge a realtà come la Lega Nord. Non so perché stia succedendo tutto questo, ma per fortuna c’è ancora chi resiste e manifesta le sue idee.

     Sanremo è uno specchio di questa decadenza, anche se non mi preoccupano particolarmente mascherate di questo genere. Sono solo il riflesso di una situazione esistente, stagnante. La musica che si conosce in Italia è quella che appare, e quindi quella che passa in televisione e in radio ed  è certamente vittima di una forza del mercato che è preponderante rispetto all'idea di creatività e di comunicazione. Se i miei pezzi non passano spesso in radio è perchè non sono radiofonici. Ma non mi preoccupo, perchè spesso la radiofonicità di un pezzo è inversamente proporzionale alla sua qualità.

    Per fortuna esistono ancora cantanti e musicisti italiani che si esprimono con qualità e sincerità. Penso ad esempio a Vinicio Capossela che riesce spesso a stupirmi. Lui è uno che ha riportato dignità alla musica italiana.

    La pirateria sta mettendo in ginocchio le case discografiche italiane  e non. Non c’è dubbio che il fenomeno sta danneggiando questa fetta del mercato, ma quali effetti sta avendo secondo te sulla musica in quanto tale?

     Per cominciare, voglio chiarire che non riesco ad aver niente contro la pirateria. Sono convinto che se un pezzo o un album ti piace, anche se l’hai scaricato già, poi vai a comprarlo. Anzi mi verrebbe quasi da dire che se la pirateria potesse servire a fare una scrematura, dando l’opportunità di ascoltare e scaricare  per poi comprare solo i dischi che piacciono veramente, sarebbe ottimo.

    Mi sono fatto insultare da diversi discografici che mi hanno accusato di sputare nel piatto dove mangio ma io credo che se una cosa è possibile e accessibile, una persona la fa e fa bene . Non vedo perchè dovrei spendere venti euro per comprare un disco, quando posso scaricarmelo, soprattutto se poi scopro che non mi piace.

    Il primo album che ho comprato, l'ho comprato solo perchè mi piaceva la copertina. Ma il rapporto tra il mio standard di vita che era molto basso, e il costo di quel disco, lo rendeva ancora accessibile. Ora non è più così. Non puoi pretendere che dei ragazzi di 16/ 17 anni spendano ogni volta venti euro per comprare un cd. Al massimo puoi comprarne uno al mese, ma solo se è un’opera d’arte.

     Vorrei toccare un ultimo argomento con te, l'immigrazione, un tema così presente nella tua musica e a cui hai dedicato un intero disco, Da questa parte del mare. Tanto per cominciare, tu viaggi con la tua musica da anni. Ti definiresti un migrante?

    Non c'è nessun paragone possibile tra me e le persone di cui parlo nella mia musica. Spostarmi per me è una scelta, per i migranti a cui mi riferisco io, invece, è un obbligo.

    Ho scritto un disco su questo tema per ricordare agli italiani il loro passato d'emigranti in un momento storico in cui è l'Italia ad essere diventato Paese destinario di flussi migratori.  

    Dal 1870 al 1960 sono partiti 50 milioni d'italiani. Vuol dire che c'è un'Italia fuori dall'Italia e che ad oggi ci sono più persone di sangue italiano a Toronto che  a Bologna, più a San Paolo del Brasile che a Cremona. E ciò non perchè gli italiani fossero dei grandi navigatori, ma semplicemente perchè avevano fame, dovevano dar da mangiare ai loro figli, e sono andati dove riuscivano a farlo.

    Noi tutti sappiamo che hanno sopportato insulti e subito soprusi un pò ovunque, e proprio per questo mi aspettavo che l'atteggiamento degli italiani nei confronti degli immigrati sarebbe stato diverso da quello che in effetti è.

    Certo non sono così ingenuo da pensare che una immigrazione così massiccia non crei problemi, però credevo che queste persone sarebbero state accolte a braccia aperte, senza pregiudizi o atteggiamenti discriminatori. Immaginavo che sarebbero state trattate da persone per bene quali sono, fino a prova contraria.

    La paura di molti è che i nuovi immigrati impongano agli italiani una cultura estranea alla loro. Anche io non voglio che ciò accada, ma di certo non credo nemmeno che vengano a rubarmi qualcosa. L'Italia deve capire che ha bisogno di loro, di quelli che chiama "braccianti", di questi stranieri che fanno i lavori che gli italiani non fanno più. Deve capire che se noi assecondassimo la Lega Nord e li mandassimo indietro, il Paese si fermerebbe di colpo.

    Questa paura del "diverso" ha fatto vincere e crescere partiti come la Lega, ma anche politici eletti e nominati sindaci e ministri, ma che una volta erano dei picchiatori fascisti, camminavano per strada con il manganello in mano. 

    Detto questo, ti faccio una domanda che forse non ha risposta. Semplicemente, come ne usciamo da tutto questo?
    La situazione in cui oggi versa l'Italia è di una drammatica stupidità. Mi ha colpito molto l'intervista a Mario Monicelli passata qualche giorno fa in TV, in cui ha detto che l'Italia “secondo me, è veramente un Paese di merda e l'unica salvezza possibile sarebbe una rivoluzione". Non è che ne sia un fautore, però una rivoluzione porta sempre degli strascichi...diciamo che porta a una contingenza drammatica...

    A pensarci bene nella nostra storia non c'è mai stata una rivoluzione: siamo passati direttamente da Mussolini alla liberazione, con una tal fretta di dimenticare il capitolo fascista da beatificare la resistenza come se fosse stata una rivoluzione, ma che invece fu portata avanti da pochissimi.

    Il risultato è che in Italia non si sono mai fatti veramente i conti con l'assurdità del fascismo e quindi gli italiani si sono convinti di non essere un popolo xenofobo, e invece basta camminare per le strade delle nostre città per assistere ad episodi di razzismo vergognoso.

    Nelle tue canzoni è anche molto presente il tema del viaggio. Ma cos'è il viaggio per te? Una fretta di partire o un desiderio d'arrivare da qualche parte?

    Ricordi quella cascina dove era ambientato il film 900? Con un'aia centrale e tutto il porticato attorno... Mio padre aveva affittato una cascina così. E quell'aia, quel piccolo spazio di mondo in cui sono nato, per me racchiudeva tutto, rapresentava ogni cosa che conoscevo. Eravamo due famiglie, 20 persone, un mondo così chiuso che mi ha fatto venire una voglia pazzesca di viaggiare. 

    Poi un giorno ero seduto al bar del Trocadero a Parigi, un colpo d'occhio immenso davanti a me, la Torre Eiffel sul fondo. In quel momento mi sono sentito parte del mondo, e mi sono reso conto che tutto quello che avevo imparato, l'avevo imparato in quel cortile di casa mia. Nel paese dove sono nato. Non è il posto più bello del mondo, ma è l'unico che riconosco, dove ogni cosa mi assomiglia, anche le cose brutte. Anche le cose che odio me le ritrovo addosso. Il rispetto, il lavoro, la fatica, la tenerezza, qualsiasi cosa, tutto era venuto da lì. Il mio girare non ha fatto altro che confermare quella cosa, e anche che l'umanità si assomiglia molto di più di quanto non si pensi, a qualunque latitudine, con delle sfumature tutto sommato molto piccole. 

    E' stato in quel preciso momento, al Trogadero, che ho completato la canzone  Il Valzer di un Giorno

    Tutto è già qui anche se non si vede

    tutto è già qui nascosto tra le pieghe

    e se ci stupirà sarà soltanto come

    come certe novità che sapevamo già...

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    A Neapolitan Easter

    Since I have been living in New York for almost 2 years, I often look back at my life in Naples, my hometown. 

    I found in Easter a great moment to re-discover old traditions I used to follow before, and that now seem to be so far from me... 
    They often are a little weird, sometimes magic... but, as for everything in Naples, they are full of symbolism!!!

    According to the Church, Easter is the most important festivity for a Christian. If at Christimas we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, on Easter we commemorate his death and Resurrection.
    So, how to celebrate this special moment of the year? Church, masses, and adorations of course are not enough for Southern Italy people... We follow a full range of traditions that bring us to the stove and to the table starting from Holy Thursday.

    The feast of Maundy (or Holy) Thursday solemnly commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and is the oldest of the observances peculiar to Holy Week. If Holy Thursday was taken up with a succession of ceremonies of a joyful character (the baptism of neophytes, the reconciliation of penitents, the consecration of the holy oils, the washing of the feet, and commemoration of the Blessed Eucharist), in Naples it is characterized by the grande mangiata di zuppa di cozze: every member of the family seets before a full bowl of mussels and dry bread called fresella.

    This is the way they get themselves ready to the Good Friday's fasting...

    Looking at the face of a Neapolitan on Good Friday is an experience you can never forget. The suffering and pain from hanger mould his features; his mouth is shaped in a grimace; his hair are more uncombed than usual... He is pail, his eyes are livid, his nose red... he looks like he has not eaten for more than a year.

    After a whole day of penitence, Neapolitans generally decide that they can’t take it anymore: if they really can’t eat food, at least they want the consolation of staring at it; playing with it; working on it.

    So here thy go: they open the fridge, start the stove, and get ready to begin the long culinary process that leads to the final result of PASTIERA, the traditional local Easter cake.

    There are different stories about the origins of the Pastiera Napoletana. Some people say that this cake (or maybe I should call it "pie") derives from the pagan spring ritual of the eggs, long before the birth of Christ. Another story tells of how this pie was part of the ritual breads widely used during the period of Constantine by the Christians hidden in the catacombs.

    But the most probable is the one about some nuns in a monastery, San Gregorio Armeno, Naples. They desired to create a dish that represented the resurrection of Christ. To the white ricotta, symbolizing purity, they added wheat grains that buried in the earth grow in the coming season; the eggs, a symbol of new life; and finally the extract of wild flowers that represents the perfume of spring.

    Sometimes preparing this cake becomes an experience for the entire family, from the cooking of the grain to the preparation of the yellow cream made of eggs, milk, flour, and vanilla and orange scent. The rolling out of the dough and the stuffing process requires a lot of attention and care, because the Pastiera doesn’t rise in the oven, it doesn’t change shape. So, if it comes out ugly IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! And since it takes more than 2 hours, about 14 eggs, and more than a pound of grain to make ONE CAKE, you really want to beat the other women of the group, and make the most beautiful cake…IT’S A QUESTION OF HONOR!
    Going to bed with the Pastiera’s aroma in your nose and mind after a full day of starving is really a challenge, a penitence. But Holy Saturday is coming up, and with it… the CASATIELLO
    Casatiello is full of symbolism both religious and cultural. The dough is rolled around salami and cheeses while laces of bread embrace whole eggs. The salami represents an antique pagan ritual where pigs were sacrificed in exchange for fertility of women and the land. Pecorino cheese represents the milk of the lamb or the innocence of Christ.
    Tradition wants that people, friends, families, get together on Holy Saturday to have a meal consisting of just three elements (consumed in enormous quantities!): casatiello, fava beans, and red wine. 
    Casatiello is something VERY hard to make. If you don’t use good lard for the dough, you don’t cook it properly, or put too much salt and pepper, all you’ll come up with is a hard salty indigestible piece of stone. So, if you’re not sure about your Neapolitan culinary skills, don’t even dare to start the oven and intoxicate your guests! (I am saying this because there are people egoist enough that still do it)
    Those who are lucky enough to own a countryside villa or a beach house generally invite their friends to join them there. Their brick oven will better serve the purpose of making the “perfect casatiello”, and the terrace/garden will allow everybody to spend sometime in the fresh air, play, and get visibly drunk with that strong homemade wine…

    Casatiello is also part of the AT-LEAST-FIVE-COURSES  big (huge) Easter lunch consumed the day after. The Italian Moto “Natale con I tuoi, e Pasqua con chi vuoi” (Christmas with the family, Easter with whoever you like to spend it with) doesn’t apply to the Neapolitan way to live this holiday. Some do leave for short trips, but most of the people stay at home with the family (at least 15 people between cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and so on).

    After mass they go home where most probably the poor “mistress” of the household has already spent 5 hours cooking and cleaning… while most of us just sit and relax.

    The huge “abboffata” (the binge) is preceded by two rituals: the exchange of the Easter Chocolate Eggs, symbol of new birth (and greediness); and the blessing of the table with the Olive branches (collected at church on Palm Sunday) and the Blessed Water ( that the Church gives to the faithfuls on Easter Sunday).
    The sacred and the profane are always mixed together as you can see...

    The role that most of the families follow when organizing the Easter Lunch is the following: have everything you couldn’t eat during Lent, plus the traditional symbolic dishes that is “mandatory” to have on Easter.

    In a few words, here is an example of what people dare to eat in one only meal:
    Ricotta Salata (Salty Ricotta); Capicollo; Prosciutto; Mozzarella; Mixed Vegetables in Oil; Casatiello
    First Course:
    Pasta Primavera: Pasta with artichokes, fava beans, zucchini, and (sometimes) other fresh seasonal vaggies; Or Lasagna; Or Cannelloni; 

    Second Course:
    Lamb with Potatoes (being the lamb a symbol of new birth and innocence, this is the most symbolic and traditional part of the meal)
    2° Second Course:
    Grilled Stuffed Scamorza Cheese with Salad
     Fennels TO “CLEAN” THE MOUTH:
    Fruit Salad; Pastiera ; Colomba ( A Traditional white cake with candied fruits and raisins covered with an almond and sugar crust); Chocolate Easter Eggs
    Are you there or did you faint already??
    Wake up! I am not finished yet!
    While in America everybody is back to work on Monday, in Italy they have another holiday called “Lunedi in Albis” (Monday in White), or LittleEaster.
    On that day, people organize the first picnic of the year, and head to the most beautiful locations of the area, including Sorrento, Amalfi, and Ravello. Those who like the countryside or the mountains choose Caserta or move a little bit northern to Terni, where the famous waterfalls are.
    Needless to say that those who get ready for long walks and some sport, also make sure that they have their baskets full of goodies.
    Organizing a picnic with Neapolitan friends is never easy. Each one of the participants makes sure he brings only the best of the best of the leftovers from the Easter Lunch: he has to show that his mom, or himself, cooks better than any other in the group.
    There is only one dish that is made purposely for the occasion: the PIZZA DI MACCHERONI, two layers of spaghetti baked in the oven with mozzarella and ham. 

    So, it’s a feast again, and the enormous amount of food consumed actually prevents everybody to move a finger for at least a couple of hours after the banquet. Scenes of people laid down under a tree, with a hand on the stomach and the other of the forefront, are extremely common.
    The sunset reminds everybody that it is time to go home and jump in bed... a good rest from eating before going back to work the day after…
    Of course, a good work day starts from a good breakfast… and if that involves some leftover pastiera or colomba, what else could a genuinely Neapolitan fellow ask for??

  • Art & Culture

    Chiaroscuro. An Italian-American Album for Paolo Fresu

    On March 24 one of the greatest trumpeters of the world, the Italian Paolo Fresu, presented his latest CD at the Italian Academy of Columbia University. A product born from a collaboration with guitarist Ralph Towner and released by ECM Records, "Chiaroscuro" features songs that give the listener the same emotions of a painting by Caravaggio: the contrast among colors, tonalities, and shades, becomes a contrast among rhythms, sounds, and notes.

    The Italian and the American artist performed before a full house of enthusiasts and jazz passionates, journalists, and lovers of the genre, and were presented by the Italian Journalist Enzo Capua, one of the organizers of the internationally renowned  Umbria Jazz Festival

    ChiaroScuro features 10 pieces, played by a total of five instruments: classical, baritone, and 12 strings guitar, plus trumpet and flugelhorn. All of them are original, except for one, "Blue in Green", a tribute to Miles Davis.

    During the more than an hour performance, the two artists played the majority of them, leaving the public silent and moved. We were all like glued to our chairs, craving and asking for more. A final request for "a bis" was finally satisfied: five more minutes of pure Jazz before the CD signing and the meeting with the artists, a moment that many of us took to congrat both of them for the great duo they formed.

    Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu gave us the opportunity to sit with him for a full interview during which we talked about Italian contemporary music, his love for jazz, his travelling all around the world and, of course, his collaboration with Ralph Towner.

    When was the "Chiaroscuro" project first conceived?
    I met Ralph Towner for the first time in Sardinia, several years ago, when we were both participating to a Jazz festival. We lost track for a few years, and than met again for some performances. But we wanted to do something more together, something that would bond us to a common project. And that's when we started thinking to work on a new album together. Ralph chose this title. He compared our music to a "chiaroscuro" painting, our duo was a contrast of tones.

    New York is the mother of jazz. What kind of emotions do you feel when visiting this city?
    I played here several times already and I know the city very well. It's almost like being at home, you never feel a stranger here. I walk around and I breath, hear, see, jazz everywhere. It's a cuddle.

    What can American Jazz still teach to Italian jazzists?
    Jazz was born in America, it has its roots here, in this country. Artists here have it in their blood, they grow up with it, they will always be able to teach us something. But, still, there is something that Italian jazz has, and that can't be found in no other place of the world. It is that something that makes of our country the second capital for this genre of music: melody. Bel Canto, joyful rhythms, and "sunny" melodies are all ingredients of our own interpretation of jazz, that tells it apart from the American one, it's a "Made in Italy" jazz.
    Given the success that many Italian jazzists have here in the US, I consider it possible to export our style abroad. If you ask me what an Italian jazzist can "teach" to America, I answer "the joy and the fun of playing".

    From the international to the local level. How has the Sardinian culture influenced your music?
    I always try to keep the two things separated. In my "everyday performances" my music has nothing to do with my Sardinian origins, also because I play with international singers. At the end of the concert, however, there is always somebody who comes and says "I heard a touch of Sardinia". Those are the people who want to hear only what they wish to...
    On the other hand, there are other projects focused on Sardinian traditional music in which I participate, and in which I like to reconnect to my roots.

    You are also very popular in Corsica, another territory with a very peculiar and independent culture...
    When I am in Corsica I feel at home. I also collaborated with an extraordinary local group, the A Filetta, with whom I produced an album for ECM. That island to me is not a part of France, I understand everybody there, it's a completely different culture from the French one. Even our language is very similar. There are a lot of differences from the culture of my region, but also many similarities.

    Talking about France, you still owe a lot of your success to that country...
    France has given me a lot. Not only I became famous throughout the country in no time at all, but my music became also popular in countries related to France for historical reasons, such as the Caribbean’s.

    In Paris I had the opportunity to collaborate with musicians of international fame coming from Africa, North Africa: it was a melting pot of different languages and cultures that has shaped my career in the deepest way. Things have somehow changed now, though. I can’t find the vitality and the enthusiasm towards some genres of music that I felt once when visiting Paris. There is a sort of cultural flattening, musicians are less adventurous. Maybe it’s also because there is less money on the market, and you kind of have to play safe. 
    So, paradoxically, if at the end of the 1980s I tried to cross the Italian borders in search of new life blood for my music, now I think that the most interesting jazz produced today in Europe comes from Italy.
    How has the crisis of the record market affected your music?
    The crisis has very little affected jazz music in general. This is probably because jazz amateurs like to buy original copies of the cds, they like to read the booklet that comes with them, have them showcased on the shelves of their houses. Jazz musicians are kind of artisans, they make every product from scratch. Unlike most of the rock or pop musicians, they have a strong relationship with their public, they play to donate them emotions, memorable moments, and the latter knows it.
    You also write and play for theatrical and cinema productions…
     I love both cinema and theatre, and I like thinking of my music as an object that I can shape in whichever way I wish. I always liked experimenting: even as a jazz musician my music is a mixture of different genres and languages, as I am always open to new discoveries and I am never static. The more you learn, the better the result gets.
    From Europe to the US. What is your “American dream”?
    I don’t really believe in the idea of an American Dream. Music is my dream, and is something unique that you can find both in Europe and America. I love coming to the US, but I also collaborate with many American musicians in Europe. It’s a constant exchange, a direct communication among artists that, to me,  has changed the idea of the American dream itself.
    I have one only dream: to  always play for my public at the highest level possible. If this happens in Europe or in the US it does not matter. The only thing that counts is the final result.

  • Life & People

    Mind the Bridge. Americans Invest in Italy

    Culture, food, music, and fashion are not the only bridges that connect Italy to the United States. Advanced technology,finance, and research are important links between the two countries as well.

    The final event of the 2010 edition of "Mind the Bridge" was hosted at the Consulate General of Italy in New York on March 25. It was an important occasion for five young Italian companies and its founders and CEOs to present their latest projects and initiatives to a wide public of journalists and mostly American investors, explain their potential start and initiate new contacts with local enterpreuners.

    The event took its name from the homonym Mind the Bridge, a non-for-profit organization born in 2007 and based in California, aimed at helping young Italians with talent to find capital and funding needed in order to found their own enterprises and develop their projects and ideas. "The foundation was born with the dream of helping young Italians to find in their own country the right conditions to transform a hope, a desire, in something real", said its president Marco Marinucci.

    As the public crowded the large hall at the second floor of the Consulate, Deputy Consul Marco Alberti started the event by underscoring the role that Italy has played in boosting techonological progress, with inventions such as the telephone and the radio. "Without Italian inventors such as Meucci, for example, the Internet might have been invented later, or not at all. In 1845 Meucci came to the U.S. in search of venture capitalists who believed in his startup. He tried to submit his invention, but its potential was not understood. The same goes for Marconi's radio. Even today Italians come to the U.S. in search of their American dream, because they know that here they can find people interested in their talent and ideas. This is the occasion they have to inform American investors and interpreuners of their creations and projects, and have them appreciated".

    As Valentina Petricciuolo from the Italian Trade Commission, sponsor of the event together with the Consulate General, defined Italy as a country of "technological and scientific excellence",  Professor Alberto Onetti from Insubria University and Chairman of the Foundation, guided us into a journey through the Italian industrial and finance world, showing us its pluses and minuses. As 98% of the companies in Italy are small and medium enterprises, mostly operating in the field of services, innovative industries play a minor role, comprising just 2.5% of the total, and are not sufficiently boosted by the influx of capital. In the last year, in fact, only 70M Euro were destined to early-stage investments, while approximately only 186 companies were able to get started. The stock market capitalization is also quite low as compared to other industrialized countries, with an avarage of 60% of the GDP in Italy, 140% in the US and 170% in the United Kingdom.

    This trend openly contrasts with the quality research programs started in Italy, where 4% of the GDP is invested in R&D, and 400k scientific publications were published in 1998-2008, ranking the country 8th in the global classification.

    As a metter of fact, one of the main purposes of Mind the Bridge, as President Marco Marinucci explained to us, is to shrink this gap through a number of initiatives that include discovering and nurturing Italian talent through the MtB Road Shows; by providing training and education to the new generations of enterpreuners with MtB Start-up Schools; and by hosting and mentoring the most promising startups in Silicon Valley with the MtB Gym.

    The five companies participating in the Gran Finale on that evening were the evidence that the Foundation is actually managing to fulfill its goals. Operating in different sectors of the High-Tech fields, they presented themselves with their new products and ideas to a group of American investors, ready to question them on the specifics and marketing potential of their patents.

    We are listing them below for the convenience of our readers:
    Fluidmesh Newtwork is the worldwide leader in outdoor wireless networks. The company is focused on the development of top-quality wireless products for carrier-grade broadcast wireless infrastructure, video-surveillance, condition monitoring, and smart grid applications.

    Whereisnow produces software that allows users to instantly and transparently access digital information such as documents, contacts, and links. The document management system (DMS) that they use is expected to grow in value to 2.5 billion dollars by 2012.

    TripShake is a social marketplace for travel. Travelers and travel professionals are engaged in it through a question and answer system by which they will be able to obtain trusted information from experts and travel professionals, as well as first-hand advice from other travelers and their experiences. TripShake also allows travel agents to advertise and sell their products and services to an audience of highly profiled target costumers who will not only be able to compare and choose by price, but also between services, in order to find the planning option that fits them best.

    Adant develops and markets novel and revolutionary antenna for the next generation of wireless communication systems. The total addressable market size is currently $200M and is expected to grow by $2B by 2014.

    Vrmedia is an university spin-off company developing innovative hardware and software products to exploit the potential of Virtual and Augmented Reality technology outside the world of research. The addressed market is mobile remote assistence, an emerging component of the broader remote assistance market, estimated to be worth more than $500M in 2010.

    As the presentations ended, both the group of Italian talents and American investors were invited to join the audience for a Cocktail that gave all of them a chance to network and further talk about their projects and intentions.

    Deputy-Consul Marco Alberti was visibly satisfied with the outcome of the initiative. "As the principal Italian institution in New York we find it our duty to boost and support Italian excellency at every possible level. The presence here of so many young, talented people encourages us to keep following this path, and look toward Italy's bright future".

  • Aniello Musella
    Life & People

    Italian Eye-ware. A Centenary Tradition

    In case some of you don't know, and I bet you all do, Italy is synonymous of fashion, quality , and design. Whether it's clothes, handbags, accessories, shoes, we are at the top. This is true for the optical field as well, where our eyeglasses and sunglasses are among the most looked for and trendy of the world, in both the most recent times and in the past.

    In order to honor the antique Italian tradition of eye-ware manifacturing and designing, the Italian Trade Commission in North America directed by Dr. Aniello Musella and the President of the  Italian Optical Goods Manufacturers Association Vittorio Tabacchi organized the exhibition Eyewear from the Beginning to the Future: the History of eyeglesses from their invention in Italy to the latest trends opened to the public until March 24 at Vanderbit Hall, Grand Central Terminal, NYC.

    The display, designed by award-winning Italian Architect Giorgio Borruso and curated by Alessandra Albarello, was inaugurated on March 18 at the presence of both Italian and International media.

    "It is many years that the ITC collaborates with ANFAO, but this is the first time that we decided to organize something open to the public. The current economic crisis, indeed, requires a major attention towards the public, the consumers, and a a greater dialogue and exchange with them", said Dr. Musella.

    A collection of hundreds of models, the exhibit featured a chronological journey through the tradition of Italian eye-wear design from its invention in Italy in the 13th Century to the present day and beyond.

    The best and most renowned modern brands were accompanied by old eyeglasses models, brases and ivory cases carved with precious designs and materials. "Through this initiative, the American consumer can actually realize how this fashion field has accompanied the history of the Italian society, and has dictated canons of beauty at an international level", affirmed President Tabacchi.

    As people crossing the Vanderbit Hall stopped by to admire the models on display, Director Musella explained us how well this market sector is doing in spite of the harsh economic crisis: " Italy is the second exporter to the United States after China. While the latter produces low-quality merchandise, we are the Americans' favorite manufacturers of luxury eyeglasses, that are both fashionable but that also feature high quality lenses for protecting from sun rays and for correcting sight problems.

    Today even foreign brands choose to produce in our country, use our materials and collaborate with our research centers. This proves that the Italian know-how in the field is incomparable, making our country the top produces of high-standard eyeware throughout the world.

    The exhibit accompanied the partecipation of the two gratest Italian Optical groups to the International Vision Expo at the Javits Center, Luxottica and Safilo, that include Italian, American, and other internationally renowned brands.

  • Life & People

    NJ Italian and Italian-American Heritage Commission. A Meeting at the Coccia Institute

    On March 11 the New Jersey Italian and Italian-American American Heritage Commission gathered in the headquarters of the Coccia Institute in Montclair University to discuss plans and cultural activities to organize for the community in the near future.
    It was a very significant day for the Italian-American Institute created by Cav. Joseph Coccia and his wife, given that the Commission expressly called the meeting to be held at its Dickson Hall instead of the New Jersey State House, where it usually gathers. By making this choice they recognized in the Coccia Institute a corner stone in the promulgation and promotion of the Italian heritage in the State.

    The director of the Coccia Institute, Mary Ann Re, PhD, introduced Chairman Gilda Rorro Baldassarri, who proceeded to present to the audience the other members of the commission attending, among which were Executive Director Michael Genevrino, Vice Chair Bob Rafano, Commissioners Frank Gargione (Community Outreach); Richard Bilotti (Website); Tina Segali (Public Relations); Joseph Alessi (Community Outreach). In a laid back and informative panel, each of them described the main projects to enhance in their different fields of competence, and informed on the different plans of action designed to meet the Commissioner's goals.

    According to its statute, the Italian and Italian American Heritage Commission was founded to "build and strengthen the cultural identity of Italians and Italian Americans through public educational programs that preserve and promote an accurate, bias free and non stereotyped understanding and awareness of historical and current contributions and accomplishments of people of Italian heritage". Today the State of New Jersey is home of one of the largest Italian-American communities in the United States, with an average number of two million, who are all potentially involved in the educational programs, forums, seminars, and exchanges that the Commission organizes with both private and public sponsors. 

    "The main goals we set for this year are to enlarge and develop a new website in order to reach the whole community of New Jersey, and interact with it in a more active way; build coalitions of support with Italian-American Organizations; upgrade and expand our programs aimed to support the spreading of Italian culture within our territories of competence; build on and enhance the existing relationship with the trade council; and enhance our relationships with the Italian consulates of New York, Newark, and Philadelphia", announced Vice Chair Baldassarri at the beginning of the seating before passing the floor to the other commissioners participating.

    We soon learned that the Commission, in spite of a quite small budget, is deeply active in fields that are considered to be of vital importance for the survival and expansion of Italian culture in the US. In particular, it is involved in the effort to promote the teaching of the Italian language in  schools: "We will go on presenting our teaching programs to schools, universities and colleges located in the different counties in which the State of New Jersey is subdivided. It is also very important to start new partnership relations with Italian schools, just as we did with those of Umbria and Sicily through the 'Amicizia Program'. This way our students can have a better clou of how Italian culture is evolving nowadays, and approach it in the smoothest way possible", continued Mrs. Baldassarri.

    The development of a new website (Italian Life in New Jersey) can fairly serve this goal, and can also improve the Commissioner's relationsionship with the community, as the Commissioner responsible for Media Communications, Richard Bilotti, suggested. "We will not only explore new ways to use social networking sites for promoting the commission among the audience, but we will also use our own website to communicate with the public directly, listening and responding to their requests. The platform could also serve as an instrument for them to address their representatives at a political level, and as a tool for us to advertise and promote the events we organize."

    The Commission, as the Commissioner for Public Relations, Tina Segali, concluded, is indeed organizing a number of educational activities that will take place by the end of this year. Among them, a teacher training session to be held at the Department of Education of the State of New Jersey (October 4, 2010) and a conference scheduled for November and focused on Immigration.

    The first meeting at the Coccia Institute was a success under many points of view for the Commission. Not only did all members of the panel find themselves deeply sathisfied with this year's programs and projects, they were also joined by quite a large public that included Cav. Joseph Coccia and his wife Elda, and by the Consul General of Italy in New Jersey, Andrea Barbaria.

    After a brief coffee break, they all gathered again in the conference room to greet Professor Nancy Carnevale, who presented for the occasion her new book "A New Language, a new World", in which she described how Italian immigrants approached the English language and adapted to the American way of life when they first arrived in the U.S.

  • Cav. Joseph Sciame and Cav. Mario Fratti
    Life & People

    Nine of These Prizes!

    While the general public sees journalist and scriptwriter Cav. Mario Fratti as the author of the musical “Nine”, a sold-out show in Broadway for several years and readapted in 2009 in the movie format by Rob Marshall, the Italian-American community views him as a true roquefort of Italian culture in New York.

    On March 4, the Italian Heritage and Culture Committee in New York, represented by its President Cavalier Joseph Sciame, awarded Fratti with a special prize in recognition of his outstanding efforts in the promotion of Italian heritage at the Headquarters of the Columbus Citizen Foundation in the Upper East Side. The occasion was also taken to award the former President of the Columbus Citizen Foundation Louis Tallarini with the "Da Vinci" Prize 2009, for his commitment to the spreading of the Italian Language in the US and his support to the Italian AP Program. Astronaut Michael Massimino was also supposed to be awarded on that night, but he could not attend the cerimony due to previous commitments with NASA

    In this elegant framework, some of the major representatives of the community and of its most prominent institutions, foundations, and organizations, gathered to greet their common friend. Among them were the Consul General of Italy in New York Francesco Maria Talò, Consul Laura Anghillare, the founder of the National Organization of Italian American Women Dr. Aileen Riotto Sirey, and its Executive Director, Maria Tamburri; the Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, Anthony J. Tamburri; the President of the Italian American Committee on Education  Berardo Paradiso, and many others.

    The award ceremony, well covered by the major Italian and Italian-American media operating in the area, was preceded by a rich cocktail hour, during which the new President of the Columbus Foundation, Frank Fusaro, joined his numerous guests. Ment to be also an occasion to collect funds to devolve to community activities and Italian-American students in need, the evening also featured a lucky dip, in which the first prize was a purse by Braccialini, one of the sponsors of the event.

    Cav. Mario Fratti was visibly emotional, and, with humilty, claimed to our microphones to be humbled by such a huge attention to his career. “What I love the most of this evening is to see so many smiley faces gathered in one room”, he said with eyes as bright as the handkerchief sticking out of his breast pocket. “I can’t believe how many friends are here, both Italians and Italian-Americans, this shows me that I did something I can be proud of”.

    Mario became a naturilezed American a few years ago, but has always felt like an Italian, defending the lifestyle and habits he carried on from L’Aquila into his cosmopolitan city of residence, New York. “I never felt the necessity to become an American; instead I always tried to hand down to my new friends my cultural baggage, to ‘educate them’”, he added laughing.

    Mario has written more than 90 theatrical works, which have been translated in 19 languages and represented in over 24 countries of the world. With works such as "Suicide", "The Bridge" , "The Return", "The Academy", The Cage", and "Race",  he has gained international popularity, as his career has been crowned by the assignment of three Outer Critics Circle Awards, eight Drama Desk Awards, and five Tony Awards. The recent readaptation of his "Nine"  to the wide screen had several nominations at the Oscar 2010.

    As he was called to the stage to receive his prize, Cav. Fratti spoke about his musical and the movie based on it. "It's a wonderful film, and everybody should see it. The cast is outstanding, and I find that the director did a great job. But still, it is not my musical. Marshall missed some of the most hilarious moments of the musical, and most of all, he changed its end. The scene featured a kid telling to a 40-year-old guy that he has the maturity of a 9-year-old. That scene explains the title of the musical, its deep meaning, but you can't find it in the movie".

    As  Professor Emeritus of Italian Literature at Hunter College, Mario was very touched to see some of his students among the audience. "The fact that some of them have become great professors themselves makes me proud. Looking at them, I know that I accomplished the most important goal: I handed down the love for Italian culture, so that it could be further spread now and in the future".

    Mario is not only a man of theatre, but has often used his talents for social and political purposes.  He carried on his personal values and beliefs with extraordinay tenacity, sometimes  taking the risk of ruining his career for his political vews. “I always fought for liberty and democracy, even in this country, where they have been in serious danger for a number of years. I wrote poems against the Vietnam War and the Gulf War: I had to speak up in spite of the possible consequences”.  

    As Cav. Sciame explained to the public, it was not easy to decide which shape to give to Fratti’s award. A big star, finally, looked like the most natural solution, an Italian star shining in the Hollywood firmament.

    After a final performance by soprano Cristina Fontanelli, Mario received the compliments of the guests, who lingered for a while to continue enjoying this special Italian-American event together.