Articles by: Marina Melchionda

  • Life & People

    Want to Cook Italian? Ask a Nonna!

    Rossella Rago is young, beautiful, and talented. And she loves cooking with her Nonna.

    As in the best Italian tradition, the grandmas that she invites to her show “Cooking with Nonna”, teach their audience how to cook traditional Italian recipes from their land of origin. They prepare their dishes live, and while preparing the different ingredients talk with Rossella about the origins of the dish, and they also tell funny stories about their Italian and Italian-American families.

    The show is in its second season, and has become in a very short time a great success on the web. We invited Rossella and her father Vito at the Calandra Italian/American institute where i-Italy is hosted. We talked with her about the show, and of course about her unconditioned love for food that she inherited from her Italian-American family, and her nonna of course.

    When did you first come up with the idea of “Cooking with Nonna?”

    It was about three years ago. I was living with my grandma in Brooklyn while attending college. When my father asked me what I wanted to do in life, I realized that I wanted to continue in the entertainment field since I started acting when I was 11. I thought that a cooking show would be the best opportunity for me because I love working around the kitchen and I started creating one of my own. That’s when I realized that the best guest “par excellence” on a cooking show whould be a “nonna” and not those famous people that really don’t know anything about food and participate just to be in front of the camera.  Nonnes are the best cooks in the family.
    Everybody usually remembers them as fantastic cooks. So why not bring them to the forefront?

    As a woman, moreover, I thought that it was important to show that women don’t have an expiration date. Just because you’re older, it does not mean that you don’t have anything to share with new generations. That’s why I really thought it was important to show the dynamics between a granddaughter and a grandmother, which have also influenced my personal life as an Italian-American girl living with her Italian nonna.

    Where does your grandma come from?

    She is from Mola di Bari, a small town in the Apulia region. She came here 45 years ago and settled down in New York with her whole family.

    What is the difference between an Italian and an American nonna?

    The Italian nonnas have their own way of doing things, whether it is measuring, cutting, chopping, they have their own tools… My nonna, as an example, uses an espresso cup or an American coffee cup to measure everything. She doesn’t even have professional knives on her shelves, she would only buy those coming from the mercato in Italy, the ones that usually have a brown handle…she says that they are the best to cut everything. Also, she does almost everything with her hands, she doesn’t have any particular appliance. When we used to make taralli, we would do the dough by hand and roll them up ourselves without using any specific tool. I am carrying on this habit now that I live alone as well. I do not have a microwave, as an example. I am maybe the only person my age heats something on the stove. That’s because I believe that not everything should be done for convenience, but you should take care of yourself and have your food taste its best.

    Have you ever  been to Italy?

    Yes, of course. I usually go there every summer for at least a month. I strongly maintain my connections with my family there, and I guess that is also because Italian is my mother tongue, - I started speaking it before English. In fact, both my parents were born in Italy, and came here at a very mature age. My mother was 22, my father 18. During my whole childhood, I was always very connected to the Italian-American culture. When I was around 15, for example, I did the Italian-American beauty pages and also wrote for some Italian-American magazines such as “L’Idea”.

    Let’s talk more about your show. It is really a  “homemade” production, like the best Italian tradition wants…

    Yes, it is set at my parents’ house in New Jersey. We bought the set and movable stoves with an island, but it is still our kitchen.

    How many nonnas have you had already so far?

    During the first season we had seven nonnas, each one of which presented two recipes from the region they come from. So there were 14 episodes, streamed every Monday night at 8 pm on our Website. Of course once it airs it is available all that time, so that our audience can watch their favorite nonnas over and over again, and perhaps write their comment on our blog section.  In the last episode of the first season I also had my nonna on the set!

    How do you select your nonnas?

    We try to have nonnas from different regions of Italy, so that they can prepare completely different kinds of food. We had two nonnas from Nola di Bari, because that’s where we came from and we wanted to celebrate our origins. It is also true that Apulia food is not so popular in the United States, and we wanted to kind of promote it and open people’s horizons to it. Our nonnas are asked to make a dish that they are especially good at, and explain its history to the audience.

    We also try to select recipes that are not very common in Italian-American cuisine. In fact, we would never make chicken parmigiana on the set, but instead we would go for cicoria and fave, polpo arrostito, which are very good recipes and very easy to make, but that usually people have never heard about here.

    What was your favorite recipe in the first season?

    Well, I think the focaccia barese that I made with my nonna. That’s probably because when I lived with her I used to wake up every Sunday with the smell of warm focaccia coming from the kitchen.

    And you said you would never make chicken parmigiana…. I imagine your opinion about Italian-American food must be very bad…

    Well, I think that dishes like chicken or veal parmigiana or spaghetti with meatballs are actually good. They taste good and make people happy. But I just think it is such a small sample of the wonderful things you can make with Italian products that can not be proposed as a “cuisine” by themselves. They basically took everything that has chicken and cheese, and transformed it into an Italian dish. They forgot about so many things, like vegetables…Americans think that minestrone is boring, in Italy it is “a must”, everybody eats it. However, I do think that Italian and Italian-American cuisine can live together here in the US. Hopefully, as people become more and more educated they can really start telling the difference. They can also learn through the Internet, where you can find thousands of original Italian recipes.

    I imagine that it is not by chance that you decided to broadcast your show on the web.
    What is your target audience?

    Well, we had an original idea, and it consisted of having nonnas on the show. If we proposed it to a food channel, they would probably have criticized it, and tried to convince us to base the show on the same, traditional format everybody is using on TV, where you have many VIPs that can’t tell you anything about food. We realized, on the other hand, that internet is a “global” tool; there is space for everybody and for every project or initiative, so we thought it was perfect for us. I especially wanted to reach people my own age, to really appeal to them. That’s because people who are older probably already watch cooking shows so we tried to propose something to them that they would appreciate. With us you can learn something, but also have fun. Our nonnas are all great sports, they have been cooking for 30-40 years but they are not professional chefs. Our food does not come out “perfect”, the dishes are not decorated, they are really “homemade goodies”, thus people feel that they can try to make them themselves. I think that’s the real secret to approach a young audience.

    I imagine it is also a fun thing for you to do…

    Yes, because during the show I talk a lot with my nonnas. Almost every one of them has a particular story to share, something related to the food she is preparing with me.

    They were not born knowing how to cook, so they always have a fun episode to tell, perhaps of when they burned something, or of when they got married and their husbands wouldn’t eat what they made… Almost all of them say that when they started to cook and they didn’t know anything about cuisine, they would call their mother and grandmother asking “How do I make this, how do I make that”…and for a person my age it is a great encouragement to see that I am not the only person in the world  that found it difficult to cook at the beginning!

    How is the second season different from the first one?

    Well, first of all the casting is different. The first nonna we had was from Tuscany, and we found her because she sent us a video of herself. We had this casting call, and she could not come all the way to New Jersey or New York to meet us. We appreciated the spirit of the initiative, and when we saw the video we called her right away! So, as you can see, now it’s more the nonnas that propose themselves because they want to try this experience. Before, instead, we had to look for them among our public and connections.

    Everything this season seems to be easier and we are building a strong relationship with our public. We know that our nonnas are great, they prepare excellent food, and we have the greatest time on the set, and our audience can see it. Sometimes, when we finish shooting the episode, we just jump on the pots and pans and everything is s so good… I really wish that all those who watch us could be there at that moment. But they can make it at their own place! After all, isn’t Italian cuisine the easiest and best of the world?

     “Cooking with Nonna” is not only a Web TV Show, but has also become a true promoter of traditional Italian food in the Tri-State Area. On the occasion of the upcoming winter holidays, Rossella and her father Vito have organized two big events in two different Italian venues in New Jersey and New York, Manhattan.

    The first, that will take place on November 30, will see Rossella cooking the traditional Puglia Christmas Eve dinner assisted by the two nonnas Romana Sciddurlo  and Anna Buonsante,  both with origins in Puglia.  Organized in collaboration with Slow Food NYC, Rossella will recreate the Puglia Christmas Eve experience by preparing a four course demonstration and tasting following the old traditions of the Nonnas of Puglia garnished by local storytelling. All the courses will be accompanied by wines exclusively selected by Marco Borghese and produced by his winery on the North Fork of Long Island: Castello di Borghese
    The second event, “Italy on the Orient Express”, will take place at the Madison Hotel in Morristown on December 2, in the famous restaurant Rod’s Steakhouse. The main dining room of the restaurant is attached to two train wagons that are more than 100 years old. Modernized to the last detail, they will become the background of a virtual journey through Italy from Apulia, Campania and Lazio up to Tuscany. While on the train, the clients will enjoy typical dishes from the regions they are crossing.

    Second Season, Webisode n.3 - Rossella Rago and Nonna Carmen Romeo from Lombardy prepare Risotto alla Milanese

  • Life & People

    From Guardiagrele to New York, from Nazism to Freedom. Meeting Doris Schecter

    Sometimes sad stories have a happy ending. It’s the case of Doris Schecter,the owner of the restaurant “My most favorite food” in Midtown Manhattan. Between 1940 and 1943 she and her family escaped from Nazi Austria and found refuge in the small town of Guardiagrele, in the region of Abruzzo, where she hid together with 130 dissidents, partisans, and Jews.

    On October 19, 2009 she met the major of Guardiagrele Mario Palmerio and Councilwoman Mariella Naccarella in a small ceremony held at her restaurant and organized in collaboration with journalist Andrea Fiano, Chairman of the Primo Levi Center in NYC. Also with them were, the Director of the Italian Tourism Board, Riccardo Strano (who in a few days would host a presentation of the Abruzzo region at the institution’s headquarters), the director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan David Marwell, and the Deputy Consul of Italy in New York Maurizio Antonini. 

    It was an occasion for Doris to remember the past and recall the people who during

    that long period of time while in hiding in Abruzzo assisted her as if she were part of one big, united family.

     “We are here to remember and celebrate, to fulfill the duty to testify in line with the mission of the Primo Levi Center and of Primo Levi himself. We must remember what happened and celebrate the courage of the many in Guardiagrele who protected and hid the refugees. The more we know about the history of those tragic days, the more chances we have of not repeating them anywhere in the world”, said Andrea Fiano introducing mayor Mario Palmerio. “A former teacher, mayor Palmerio has researched and written about the history of the refugees in the town he governs. Even before the Italian parliament officially instituted it, he decided to celebrate the Day of Memory in Guardiagrele in January 2000.

    Taking the microphone, a moved Doris immediately showed us a copy of the picture from her mother’s passport that mayor Palmerio found while doing his research. While we were enjoying the nice Kosher dinner she offered us on the second floor of her restaurant, she shared with us the most significant memories of her period in Abruzzo. Made an honorary citizen of Guardiagrele, Doris remembers one woman in particular, Rosalia, to whom she “owns the most beautiful memories of her period in Abruzzo”, a woman that took care of her as her own child, offering her family all kinds of material and spiritual support.

    Doris told us about the circumstances which made her family move to Guardiagrele: “We were still in Vienna in 1938, but my father realized that it was not a place for a Jew to be any more. So he went from Embassy to Embassy to find out how he could get a VISA to move to any other country in Europe. The only open door he found was to Italy. When we arrived in Guardiagrele, those people had never seen Jews before, but they knew we were not there because we wore a stigma, but because we were human beings. And for that we had to be respected. Rosalia respected and loved my family and me. The incredible affection she showed us was really the basis of who I am today. Because of her, I am a person who celebrates all religions and I feel that she thaught us all the most important lessons of life, those of love, tolerance, understanding and humanity”.

    Mayor Palmerio took the microphone right after her, and gave a long and in-depth speech about the history of Guardiagrele, both before and during the era of Fascism in Italy. He was extremely grateful for the occasion he had to meet Doris, who had left Italy with her family to move to the US the same year in which he was born. After he presented Doris and some of the distinguished guests attending with gifts from his town, we had a chance to talk to her in private and ask her more about her experience in Italy. 

    She told us that after moving to America, she went to Tuscany several times throughout the years. During one of those trips she finally decided to write a letter to Mario Palmerio to tell him about her experience. When he called her back, just four days after receiving her letter, she decided to go back to Guardiagrele to visit the places that welcomed her during her stay in Italy and, most of all, to visit Rosalia, who passed away just a few years ago. “I went back three times in one year, once with my husband and once also with my daughter and my grandchildren. That’s because Mayor Palmerio knew everything about the time my family spent in Guardiagrele. You would never think that somebody would still be interested in that small fraction of the town’s history, but he was.”

    “When I go there, I feel very much as if I were living my past again. My entire emotional life is very much tied up to the experience I had in Guardiagrele, and I am proud to be an honorary citizen of that small town where, as I was lucky enough to experience, people have a strong, rare sense of humanity”.


  • Facts & Stories

    Documenting Joe Petrosino to Keep His Memory Alive

    Who killed Joe Petrosino? What were the circumstances of his murder? For a century or so these questions were left with no answers. All the documents concerning the investigations on the homicide had been kept secret in the State Archives. Today they were revealed thanks to the efforts of the Province of Palermo and if justice can not be done anymore, at least a due homage can be offered to the Italian-American policeman who was gunned down in Palermo in 1909 while investigating the connections between the Italian and the Italian-American Mafia and Public Institutions.

    Just this summer an exhibit featuring unpublished documents, reports and testimonials was held in Palermo during the whole month of August. It received huge attention by the local population and the media. On the occasion of the Italian Cultural and Heritage Month, it was brought here and will be hosted at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute throughout the middle of November. 

    The exhibit documents Petrosino’s visit to Palermo and the complex investigations following his homicide. It opens with a series of documents describing the moment in which his body was found and continues with a collection of evidence, as it was assembled by the Italian Carabinieri and Police, that fully describes his journey from New York to Palermo.


    The display goes on to show documents concerning his funeral and the transportation of his body from Palermo to New York. Finally, the consistent correspondence between the NY Police Authorities and the local police in Palermo informs us about how the complex unsuccessful investigation, which was archived shortly after, evolved.

    The exhibit “Joe Petrosino, a 20th Century Hero - A documented account of his assassination in Palermo” was inaugurated on October 16 at the Calandra, together with the presentation of the book “Documenta Joe Petrosino” by Anna Maria Corradini, 800 copies of which will be available for free for the visitors to the exhibit.

    The event was one of great success, and received great public attention. The Dean of the Calandra Institute Prof. Anthony J. Tamburri introduced the distinguished guests who were present and who followed each other onto the podium to give their speeches and greetings.

    Consul General Francesco Maria Talò talked about Petrosino as of a hero of our century. “It is important to understand the figure of Petrosino and realize how he was perceived at that time. When he was still alive, he was already a hero for his people. He started his career in the Sanitation Department and became lieutenant in a very short time. This is also a demonstration that the NYPD, which was led by the President of the United States to be Theodore Roosevelt, was working well and gave the right responsibilities to the people who deserved them. Shame on Italy and Sicily for what happened to him”.

    The Province of Palermo was represented by its President Giovanni Avanti and a good number of the members of the City Council. By defining Petrosino the “first martyr of the Mafia”, Hon. Avanti explained to us that the idea for the exhibition was first conceived during the Columbus Celebrations of 2008 in New York.  “When we got back to Palermo we realized that in Italy very few people knew about this person who was very important for the relationship between the United States and Italy. He came to our country to die, so we felt we had to do something to praise his efforts to defeat the Mafia. That’s when we started collecting all the documents from the Regional Public Library and the National Archives in Palermo. Nobody had done it before and we decided to organize them in this important display.”

    Petrosino was not only the first of a long number of Public representatives to be killed by the Mafia, but most of all he was an Italian, who like many other Italians and even more, contributed to the growth of American society, as Mr. Avanti continued. “He represents in the eyes of Americans the people of Italy, which is one, unique, and unified. And that’s why the Province of Palermo has found strong support in the city of Padula, his birth town, for the organization of this exhibit”.

    The mayor of Padula, Giovanni Allegria, was also there : “I am here to pay homage not only to Petrosino, but also to the Province of Palermo that is doing so much to keep his memory alive. This book and the exhibit displayed here are only two examples of a major effort that has been carried on in the last period that aims to spread the principles and values of legality well outside the mere borders of Sicily.”

    After the official remarks delivered by the Chief of the New York Police Department George Grasso and the director of the Central Library of the Sicilian Region Gaetano Gullo, “the institution called to preserve and spread the culture of the region”, Joe Petrosino’s great-nephew Nino Melito gave his very personal speech, and told us how important the presence of such a figure in his family has been to him.  He is proud to live in Padula, where the only House / Museum in Italy dedicated to a policeman, his ancestor, is located. He personally collaborates with the museum, and openly invited all of us to visit it. He usually accompanies the tourists through the rooms of the house, telling the story of his family to all those interested.

    The conference was also enriched by the speeches of two eminent representatives of the Italian-American academic world, the Vice-President of Saint John’s University Prof. Cav. Joseph Sciame and Professor Fred Gardaphe.

    Himself a Sicilian, Cav. Sciame insisted on the role Petrosino should have to unite Italian and American people. Saint John’s University, as he told us, is strongly committed to the preservation of the memory of Petrosino and to the teaching of the basic principles of law to its students. As the President of the Italian Heritage and Cultural Committee, Cav. Sciame also showed us the poster portraying Petrosino that has been widely diffused throughout the city of New York in all those venues in which  Italian culture is studied and promoted at different levels, and in all the centers directly committed to the promotion of legality.

    Prof. Fred Gardaphe, finally, gave us a retrospective on the representation of the Italian Mafiosi in the history of Italian-American cinema. He reconstructed the historical and social circumstances in which the stereotype of the Italian man as “gangster” was first created, and the way it has evolved in decades of Hollywood cinema. He finally wondered what direction this path will take: “Will Italian American culture develop to the point where Mafia men will be buried for good?  Up until this point, Italian America has often been defined by the  mafia, but in the face of contrary evidence, what we do in response to the myth of Mafia men will define us and determine the future of our community and identity as Italian Americans.  If we seriously invest in education and the arts this could be the end of Mafia men, and the beginning of a renaissance of Italian American culture.”, he concluded.

    The conference at that point was about to be end. But there was a final surprise, a moment of great joy for the small town of Marineo (Sicily), represented on this occasion by its former mayor Ciro Spataro. Cosimo Sanicola, who emigrated from Marineo at the age of 13 when his father died and settled in New York, was given by the Consul General Francesco Maria Talò the title of Knight of the “Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana”.

    A short time after his arrival in the US, Cosimo bought and ran a bakery, and quickly became a very successful business man. But he never forgot his hometown and he financed with great generosity the reconstruction and modernization of some of its landmarks, such as the Church of Saint Anna. Besides assisting the poorest families of Marineo, this year he also financed the “Dimostranza”, the four-yearly festival organized by the town in honor of its patron Saint Ciro. With a very touching speech in which he expressed all his gratitude towards the President of the Italian Republic represented by Consul Talò and his hometown, Cosimo ended the conference allowing all of us to take a tour in the exhibition gallery.

    While enjoying a full and satisfying Italian banquet, we had a chance to take a look at the incredible number of  documents displayed and, of course, to grab a copy of Anna Maria Corridini’s book “Documenta Joe Petrosino”.

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  • Life & People

    Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli Marimò. An Italian Landmark in New York

    On November 4, 2009 the Italian Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli Marimò will be awarded The New York Landmarks Conservancy 2009 “Living Landmarks” Award during a gala hosted at Cipriani on 42nd Street, Manhattan. “Here in America we say that the best comes from abroad”, President Peg Breen told us while commenting on the award. The Baroness is indeed the first Italian to receive this special recognition from the Conservancy, an association committed to the preservation and revitalization of New York’s historical and most significant buildings.  

    Baroness Marimò is commonly referred to as a philanthropist, a woman of extraordinary generosity committed to the diffusion and promotion of Italian culture in New York.

    The Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, which she founded, is hosted in a building built in 1853  at 24 West 12nd Street, commonly referred to as the Winfield Scott House. It is where General and unsuccessful Whig Presidential candidate Winfield Scott lived from 1853 to 1855. Situated right in the heart of Greenwich Village, the building was proclaimed a US National Historic Landmark in 1973 and was reopened on November 10, 1990 after two years of intense restructuring.

    The Casa has in no time at all  become an important meeting point between Italianand American cultures, an open environment where everybody is welcome especially researchers and young students interested in studying the Italian geniuses Dante Alighieri, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and others. The Casa’s activities are closely interconnected to those of many other departments of New York University and to various Italian Institutions in New York City and it has become a fundamental place to meet, exchange ideas, and debate for all of those who share a deep passion for Italian cultural in all its facets.  

    The cultural buzz at the Casa, home of the Department of Italian Studies at New York University, is enriched by the consistent series of events, from concerts to exhibitions, debates, lectures and movie screenings that it regularly hosts. The director of the foundation, Prof. Stefano Albertini, selects the events of interest according to very strict quality criteria following also the precious advice of the Baroness and the rest of the Board of Directors.   

    According to the Baroness’ desire, the Casa is named after her beloved husband, Guido Zerilli Marimò, an intellectual and businessman.

    She and her husband shared a deep love and sense of gratitude for the United States and she wished to donate a cultural bridge that would link her new homeland to her country of origin. 

    One of the main activities aimed at this purpose is without doubt the Premio ZerilliMarimò, organized in collaboration with the Casa delle Letterature in Roma. The award is given every two years to a book considered especially worthy for publication and diffusion on the US market. It consists in a grant given to its author and a contribution for the diffusion of the work in the United States which generally requires its translation into English. 

    "The Baroness is very modest. She does not think that she should receive this award for her personal merits, but only as recognition for being a representative of the Italian community in New York that has done so much for the growth and the beauty of this city.  We at the New York Landmarks Conservancy, instead, value her contribution immensely. She has done great things for the enrichment of New York, from both the cultural and the architectural point of view." 

    The Casa, in fact, is only one example of the Baroness' commitment towards the spread of the Italian culture in New York.  IBLA, which she co-founded in 1992, is another one. This New York-based Foundation organizes an annual music competition for pianists, singers, instrumentalists and composers which takes place in Ragusa Ibla, Italy. Among the participants at the competition there usually are several young Italian virtuosi. The winners, who are invited to perform at such venues as the Lincoln Center and the Carnegie Hall, and in other major foreign theatres and stages, become both vehicles and symbols of Italian contemporary excellence on a broader international level.  

    On November 4, the Baroness will be awarded the "2009 New York Landmarks Conservancy" recognition together with other winners that have also contributed to the renovation and modernization of the architectural beauty of the city. They are the legendary New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau; Tony-Award winning prolific theatre man, Tommy Tune; noted playwright, author, screenwriter and “Newman’s Own” co-creator, A.E. Hotchner; real estate developer and film studio chief, George Kaufman; and the renowned New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. 

    Since the Conservancy also marks the “sweet sixteen” anniversary for the “Living Landmarks Awards” program, the ceremony will also be enriched by the presence of past winners. Among them, artists and philanthropists such as Charlie Rose, Lauren Bacall, Oscar de la Renta, Harry Belafonte, Tom & Meredith Brokaw, Pat & William F. Buckley Jr., Walter Cronkite, Diane von Furstenberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Jennings, Edward I. Koch, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jerry Orbach & Sam Waterston, Joan Rivers, George Steinbrenner, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Walters, Mario Cuomo, and Harvey and Bob Weinstein. 


    The New York Landmarks Conservancy is dedicated to preserving, revitalizing, and reusing New York’s architecturally significant buildings. Through pragmatic leadership, financial and technical assistance, advocacy, and public education, the Conservancy ensures that New York’s historically and culturally significant buildings, streetscapes, and neighborhoods continue to contribute to New York’s economy, tourism, and quality of life.

    The Landmarks Conservancy has succeeded in preserving and protecting New York’s extraordinary historic buildings and neighborhoods through the generosity of our loyal annual donors – people who care about New York as much as we do. We depend on private contributions for almost 75 percent of our annual operating budget, and your contribution allows the Landmarks Conservancy to sustain programs and develop initiatives that address the needs of New York’s historic buildings.  


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  • Facts & Stories

    Don Ciotti. For a Land "Libera" from the Mafia

     From Gruppo Abele to Libera, from CNCA (Coordinamento Nazionale Comunità di Accoglienza - National Network of Welcoming Centers) to LILA (Lega italiana per la lotta contro l'Aids-Italian League for the Fight Against HIV) your movement has become a vehicle for civil and social mobilization. Why put so much at stake, both as a man and as a priest?

    I want to clarify that the movement is not “mine,” but that it belongs to all those who have and continue to contribute their ideas, energy, and passion. Only “we” counts in social causes, not “I.” Secondly, these efforts began in northern Italy, in Turin where Gruppo Abele took its first steps in 1965. It spread on a national level as a result and that which “we” had always believed in came to fruition: “we” as in collaboration, the relationship between public and private, between institutions and citizens. It started in the early 1980s with CNCA (an association of communities committed to helping drug addicts), then with LILA when it came to time to address to the AIDS epidemic, and with Libera in the mid-1990s.

    Why get involved? Because it’s the very same freedom that allows us to ask why. One cannot be free by oneself: one is free along with others in a collective effort and involves many people who are still denied freedom and dignity. Certain places and people in my life have obviously played a decisive role in this choice. I was lucky enough to have parents who loved each other very much and who loved me and my sisters very much, friends with whom I shared many life experiences, joys, and difficult times and with whom I learned to listen and appreciate the value of relationships. Of course faith has been fundamental in my life, a precious gift from meeting people like the cardinal of Turin, Michele Pellegrino.

    When I was ordained a priest in 1972, Pellegrino, who simply called himself

    “Father,” assigned “the road” to me as my parish with a warning: go on the road to learn, not to teach. The road, with its faces and its stories, its struggles and its vulnerabilities, its needs and hopes has remained my point of reference, a compass of faith that seeks to unite the heavens and the earth, to recognize the figure of Jesus in the many faces of human frailty.

    If you could quote a biblical passage that explains the “why” of your work, what would it be?

    I am a priest; my life is Christ, the gospel, the proclamation of his word. To seek God is to meet people. At the same time, my experiences allow me to say that you can seek man to find God. I speak of “seeking God” because you cannot obtain it automatically. God, for me, is the goal, the objective that puts me to the test everyday; it is research into the concrete articulation of life, in earthly choices.

    I’m fearful of anyone who has understood everything and knows everything, who takes everything for granted. In this sense, the episode recounted in chapter 22 in the gospel according to Matthew remains crucial for me. Some people come to Jesus asking whether it is permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not. They don’t go to meet with him, to talk to him; they want to pose a trick question. We know how the meeting goes. Jesus does not allow himself to be made fun of, he recognizes their wickedness, he makes them give him the money, and he asks the image and the inscription to go back to its rightful owner. But if the saying is clear, “Render onto Caesar that what is Caesar’s” what does “Render onto God what is God’s” mean? What is the image of God? Man is created – as we read in Genesis – in his image and likeness. And so it is our duty to give the money back to Caesar, but it is also our duty to give man, God’s creation, back to God.

    Here’s the catch: we cannot return half-people or desperate people to God, or people who are used up, enslaved by poverty, loneliness, marginalization.... We must bring back whole persons who are free. This is the great challenge that I feel as a Christian: to bring about the right conditions so that all are free. And I’m not thinking solely of people who are rejected, exploited, crushed, those who are poor inside. In our society there are forms of immaterial poverty that are undermining the social body from the inside: indifference, resignation, the race for power, success, and money. The poor are also those who have lost a sense of life though they are able to live comfortably on this earth.

    Can you talk about an incident that struck you as concrete proof of the practical effectiveness of your work that has encouraged so many... and the sort of obstacles you have encountered?

    I don’t like to talk about “my” work. At the risk of repeating myself, I reiterate that only by working together can we ensure that people may live in freedome and with dignity. There are certainly many obstacles. Any change takes effort, and it also brings with it resistance, prejudice, and selfishness. Perhaps the most direct and explicit barriers, such as those posed by organized crime, is the corruption and intimidation they use to let us know that our commitment to confiscated assests is a nuisance. A great judge who coordinated the team for Falcone and Borsellino, Nino Caponnetto, once said that “the mafia fears the school of justice most of all; education cuts the grass from under the feet of the mafia culture.”

    Libera is active in schools all over Italy, promoting education and training young people. Its mission is also to administer those assests that once belonged to mafia gangs, and it manages the cooperatives brought together under the consortium “Libera Terra.” It offers real jobs and life opportunities to many young people, and in this way it demonstrates that change is possible and eradicates the resignation and fatalism on which the mafia bases its power. 

    At the end of the film “I Cento Passi,” Peppino Impastato’s best friend says: “We Sicilians want the mafia because we are the mafia.” Thirty years after this young man’s death, do you believe that this phrase still reflects the mentality of the average Sicilian citizen?  

    In Sicily, as in other parts of the South, there are situations and opportunities that were unimaginable up until 15 to 20 years ago. There are many who like Peppino Impastato spread hope and found other people willing to get together and continue on his path. But it is a serious mistake to associate the mafia only with Sicily.

    Certainly there are more marks of mafia oppression on our land than on others, but criminal organizations no longer operate on a local or national level but rather on an international level, one that is closely linked to the dynamics of economic and financial globalization and the expansion and deregulation of the markets. Libera was born out of our experience with FLARE (Freedom, Legality, and Rights in Europe), a network of associations that currently has a membership of more than thirty countries. 

    On May 9, 1993 in Siracusa John Paul II was the first pope to speak out against the mafia, calling it a “civilization of death.” Do you think this helped to awaken the public’s awareness of this issue?

    The Pope’s condemnation remains a remarkable page in history that has certainly shaken the public’s conscience and marked a turning point within the Church, bringing to light some excessively cautious policies. It was a turning point foreshadowed by the document prepared for the Italian Bishops’ Conference in 1991 on Educating Lawfulness. “A Christian,” reads the document, “cannot be content to state the ideal and to affirm general principles. He must enter into history and deal with it in its complexity, promoting the gospel and human values of freedom and justice.”

    Unfortunately, the mafia’s retaliation came quickly: the murderers of Father Puglisi first and then Don Giuseppe Diana, in Palermo and at Casa di Principe, soon followed John Paul II’s condemnation, one that arose from a breach of protocol. The Pope “surrendered” to the cry for justice after meeting the parents of Rosario Livatino, the judge killed by the Cosa Nostra in 1990 at only 38 years of age. Livatino was a believer who lived his faith in a radical way, combining the spiritual dimension with a commitment to social justice. These beautiful words were found in his notebook: “It would not have been asked if we had been faithful believers.”

    You have written books dedicated to various social and civil issues, from drugs and prostitution to the mafia. You are still a journalist and columnist for several newspapers, including the monthly “Narcomafie” which you founded. Going beyond print media and facing the growing phenomenon of digital information, are you using the web and the tools it offers (such as social networks) to expand the promotion of your initiatives?  

    As with print media, even the ‘net is an excellent method that is recognized for its potential as well as its limitations. We should, however, look between the lines at the large numbers: quantity does not always mean quality, and as such, accessibility can be synonymous with superficiality.

    The quality of content remains a key point. We must learn to use technology not be used by it. For this reason, technological progress must be focused on the cultural and ethical growth of mankind, to help us to become a stronger community in terms of proximity and justice, to compel us to better understand situations so that we can improve them. If such awareness is lacking, there is the risk that navigation in the virtual world becomes an escape and an opportunity has been lost.

    I still firmly believe in this new frontier, and as with Gruppo Abele and Libera we feel the importance of having a presence there with a three-fold mission. The first: to help a user who is familiar with technology to ward off the illusion that telecommunication can replace face-to-face contact. The second: to promote and practice a culture that involves the discipline of research and depth. The third: to broaden interest in and passion for causes that are currently ignored, obscured, or understood superficially through trivializing stereotypes.

  • Events: Reports

    The Struggle Against the Mafia in Sicily and in the US After Petrosino

    What is Sicily 100 years after the murder of the Joe Petrosino? Is it still the land of the Mafia par excellence? Has something changed? If so, in what way?

    Italian and Italian-American politicians, academics, representatives of the police forces of both the US and Italy were asked to answer these and many more questions at the conference organized by the Associazione Nazionale Famiglie Emigranti (National Association of Emigrant Families) at the John Jay College for Criminal Justice on October 15.

    If the Italian-American policeman Joseph Petrosino, gunned down in Palermo in 1909 as he investigated extortionists preying on New York's Italian immigrants, was considered a hero of his time, today he is regarded as an example for all those committed to this goal on both sides of the ocean.

    The crowded auditorium in which the conference was held testified to the extraordinary actuality of the theme, and the curiosity of the many young people attending proved that new generations are  (maybe unexpectedly) interested in the history of their Italian ancestors in New York and consider the issue of Mafia one that closely interests their present and future.

    Together with many journalists and TV reporters, many illustrious representatives of the Italian-American community in New York attended the 3-hour long debate. Among them, the Vice President for Community Relations at St. John's University Joseph Sciame; the Dean of the Calandra Italian American Institute Anthony J. Tamburri; the President of the Coccia Foundation Mary Ann Re; the Consul General and the Deputy Consul of Italy in New York Francesco Maria Talò and Maurizio Antonini; the President of the Province of Palermo Giovanni Allegria; and Joe Petrosino’s great-nephew Nino Melito with his family and his own son Joseph Petrosino Junior, a police officer.

     The conference, moderated by Gerardo Greco , a journalist at Rai International Television, started with introductory remarks delivered by the Director of Immigration Policies of ANFE Sicilia Gaetano Calà, the President of the John Jay College Jeremy Travis and Consul Talò, who said: “The memory of tragic episodes of the past should encourage a major effort to change things in the future. 100 years after the death of Petrosino, today we have a strong anti-mafia movement, a constant condemning of organized crime coming from all fields and sectors of the civil society. This new and enhanced commitment is also carried on through the collaboration of our friends the United States, a partnership that Petrosino himself had started a century ago when researching connections between the Sicilian and the Italian-American Mafia, the so called ‘Mano Nera’. We must not be afraid to pronounce the word “Mafia”: it does not only exist in Italy, but now it has become a transnational phenomenon that must be fought and defeated at an international level.”

    Prof. Tamburri took the microphone right after him: “This is a wonderful gathering for two reasons: first of all, because it recalls someone who lived a long time ago and whose memory has been put aside for too much time; and because it highlights the renaissance of Sicily. Unfortunately here in the USA many people are not aware of that and hopefully this event will give them a new image of the Region and its people”.

    The screening of a video on the life of Petrosino produced by RAI TV formally opened the conference.

    The first speaker, the Professor of History at the University of  Messina Marcello Saja, was asked to put Petrosino in context in the New York of  a century ago. As he explained to us, this Italian-American policeman was called to fill a great void in the city’s police force, since before him Italian immigrants had no one in the NYPD who could speak their language, most of the times the only one they knew. “Petrosino had a lot of experience with the Italian-American Mafia. He knew much about it and its secrets, and could easily deal with the different families and Mafiosi in the areas he covered, Brooklyn and Little Italy. He did not find the “rule of silence” among the Sicilians who lived in these neighborhoods and was considered a hero there. People in New York respected and lauded him,  and he could count on cooperation from most of them. When he went to Sicily he expected the same environment and refused to travel with escorts. But “the rule of silence” and clientelism finally killed him in Palermo.”

    Things have changed in Sicily today, at least a bit. Although given the murders of people such as Judges Paolo Borsellino e Giovanni Falcone in 1992 it might be hard to believe. But the National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Pietro Grasso helped us understand the dynamics of this change: “The strategy we use to fight the Mafia allowed us to prevent and eliminate its infiltration in the national and local public administration. We also promoted laws aimed at defending and protecting  victims of the racket and other threats of various nature, and not only in Sicily. We must not forget that the Mafia is radicated everywhere in Italy, in Europe and the world. From this consciousness, and with the memory of our martyrs Borsellino, Falcone, Dalla Chiesa, Mattarella…we built up a system that has without a doubt enhanced the quality of life of  the people living in Sicily at every possible level, and started a new chapter in the fight against organized crime. According to the statistics, nowadays every 8 days a criminal is arrested, and 4 billion euros of property has been confiscated from the Mafia. Progress has been made, but we still have a lot to do.”

    First Deputy Police Commissioner George Grasso echoed him by starting his speech saying: “Two nations, one rule of law”, a sentence that alone can summarize the common and parallel efforts that Italy and the United States are carrying on in the field. “From the perspective of the NYPD, one of the best things we have done recently was to create joint task forces among the nations: organized crime can not be geographically defined, but must be considered a circle that includes the whole world, just as organized terrorism. If we look at it under this perspective, at the end, we might win our personal and professional battle.”

    Don Ciotti, president and founder of Libera, represented all of those who are committed to the cause and who fight “from the bottom”. Libera, a network of more than 700 associations and groups,  promotes the confiscation of lands, goods, and territories from the Mafia in Italy and in 33 other countries in Europe. By assigning them to benefit and fulfill social interests and causes, Libera gives work to the unemployed and educates people to legality. “Judge Chinnici, who was killed by Cosa Nostra in 1983, once said to a group of young kids ‘We can’t make it alone, we can’t make it without you’. With these words, he openly declared that the work carried on by the judiciary system cannot defeat the disease of the mafia alone without civil society backing it. The real Mafia is the mafia of words, the ones said by those that do not actually act against organized crime, but limit their contribution to the cause to declarations of disdain. Volatile words can’t do anything by themselves.”

    Joseph Guccione, US Marshal, Department of Justice, concluded the conference with an speech concerning the efforts of the US federal government to collaborate with Italy against the Mafia.

    Director of Anfe Sicilia Gaetano Calà gave his farewell remarks to all those present, not forgetting to bestow on the speakers and the Consul General a special gift: a “coppola” or berret that is traditionally associated with the mafia. Produced by “San Giuseppe S.p.A.”, a company based in San Giuseppe Jato in Sicily that employs only women, it was considered for the occasion to be a symbol of the renaissance of Sicily : The “coppola” is taken away from the Mafiosi to be put on the heads of those who have devoted their lives to fight organized crime.

    Find more photos like this on i-Italy

  • Don Ciotti. Per una terra "Libera" dalla Mafia

    Dal “Gruppo Abele” a “Libera”, dal CNCA alla LILA, il suo è diventato un vero e proprio movimento di mobilitazione civile e sociale che dal Sud oggi abbraccia tutta l’Italia. Perché mettersi così tanto in gioco, come uomo e come sacerdote?

    Voglio precisare che il movimento non è “mio”, ma di tutti quelli che ci hanno messo e continuano a metterci idee, energie, passione. Nell’impegno sociale è il “noi”, non l’ “io”, a contare. In secondo luogo queste realtà sono nate nel nord Italia, a Torino, la città dove il Gruppo Abele nel 1965 ha cominciato a muovere i suoi primi passi. La diffusione nazionale è però venuta di conseguenza, frutto di proprio di quel “noi” in cui il Gruppo ha sempre creduto: “noi” come collaborazione, come relazione tra pubblico e privato, tra istituzioni e cittadini. E’ avvenuto all’inizio degli anni 80 col Cnca (Coordinamento delle comunità di accoglienza impegnate per le persone tossicodipendenti), poi con la Lila quando si trattò di dare risposte alla tragedia dell’Aids e poi con Libera a metà degli anni 90. Perché mettersi in gioco? Perché è la nostra stessa libertà a chiedercelo. Non si può essere liberi da soli: si è liberi insieme agli altri, in uno sforzo collettivo e rivolto ai tanti a cui la libertà e la dignità è ancora negata. In questa scelta una parte determinante la giocano ovviamente i luoghi e le persone con cui sei vissuto. Io ho avuto la fortuna di avere genitori che si sono amati e hanno molto amato me e le mie sorelle; amici con cui ho condiviso tante esperienze, gioie e momenti difficili, con i quali ho discusso e dai quali ho imparato l’ascolto e il valore della relazione.

    Poi certo nel mio percorso è stata fondamentale la fede, un dono impreziosito dall’incontro con persone come il cardinale di Torino, Michele Pellegrino. Quando mi ordinò sacerdote, nel 1972, Pellegrino, che si faceva chiamare semplicemente “Padre”, mi assegnò come parrocchia la strada con un avvertimento: andrai sulla strada ad imparare, non a insegnare. La strada, i suoi volti e le sue storie, le fatiche e le sue fragilità, i suoi bisogni e le sue speranze, è rimasta il mio riferimento, bussola di una fede che cerca di saldare il cielo e la terra, di riconoscere la figura di Gesù nei tanti volti della fragilità umana.    

    Se dovesse citare un riferimento biblico che spieghi il “perché” di quanto sta facendo quale sarebbe?
    Sono un sacerdote: la mia vita è Cristo, il Vangelo, l’annuncio della Sua Parola. È cercare Dio per incontrare le persone. Allo stesso tempo, le esperienze vissute mi permettono di dire che è possibile cercare l’uomo per incontrare Dio. Parlo di “cercare Dio” perché non Lo si possiede in modo automatico. Dio, per me, è meta, obiettivo, è mettermi in gioco tutti i giorni, è ricerca nell’articolarsi concreto della vita, nelle scelte terrene. Ho paura di chi ha capito tutto e sa tutto, dà tutto per scontato. In questo senso l’episodio narrato nel capitolo 22 del Vangelo secondo Matteo resta per me fondamentale. Alcune persone si recano da Gesù chiedendogli se sia lecito pagare il tributo a Cesare oppure no. Non vanno da Lui per incontrarlo, vogliono coglierlo in fallo. Sappiamo come prosegue l’incontro: Gesù non si fa prendere in giro, conosce la loro malizia, si fa dare la moneta e domanda di risalire dall’immagine e dall’iscrizione al suo legittimo proprietario. Ma se è chiaro il dire  “date a Cesare quel che è di Cesare” cosa significa “date a Dio quel che è di Dio”? Qual è l’immagine di Dio? È l’uomo, creato – come si legge nella Genesi – a Sua immagine e somiglianza. E allora è un dovere restituire a Cesare la moneta, ma lo è anche restituire a Dio l’uomo, la sua creatura. Ecco il punto: non possiamo restituire a Dio delle mezze persone, ossia persone disperate, usate, rese schiave dalla povertà, dalla solitudine, dall’emarginazione… Dobbiamo restituirGli persone intere, libere. È questa la grande provocazione che sento come cristiano: creare le condizioni perché tutti siano liberi. E non penso solo alle persone respinte, sfruttate, schiacciate, a chi è povero dentro. Nella nostra società esistono forme di povertà immateriale che stanno minando il corpo sociale dall’interno: l’indifferenza, la rassegnazione, la corsa al potere, al successo, al denaro. Povero è anche chi ha smarrito il senso del vivere pur disponendo di tutti i mezzi materiali per vivere comodamente su questa terra. 

    Ci parli anche di un episodio che l’ha colpita, una dimostrazione 
    concreta dell’efficacia del suo operato che l’ha incoraggiata… E di ostacoli ne ha incontrati? E di quale tipo?
    Non mi piace parlare di “mio” operato. A costo di ripetermi, ribadisco che solo insieme possiamo far sì che la vita delle persone sia più libera e dignitosa. Ostacoli certo non ne mancano. Ogni cambiamento porta fatiche ma anche resistenze, pregiudizi, egoismi. E magari ostacoli più diretti ed espliciti, come quelli posti dalle organizzazioni criminali, le intimidazioni e i danneggiamenti con cui ci avvertono che il nostro impegno sui beni confiscati dà fastidio. Un grande magistrato che coordinò il pool di Falcone e Borsellino, Nino Caponnetto, disse un giorno che “la mafia teme più la scuola della giustizia, l’istruzione taglia l’erba sotto i piedi della cultura mafiosa”. Libera è attiva nelle scuole di tutta Italia, promuove percorsi educativi e formativi, anima strumenti d’informazione, ma anche l’impegno in quei beni appartenuti alle cosche mafiose, le cooperative riunite  nel consorzio “libera Terra”, è cultura: offre lavoro vero e opportunità di vita a tanti giovani e così dimostra che un cambiamento è possibile, sradica la rassegnazione e il fatalismo su cui le mafie fondano il loro potere.
     Alla fine del film “I Cento Passi”,  il migliore amico di Peppino 
    Impastato dice: “noi Siciliani la mafia la vogliamo, perché la mafia siamo noi”. A distanza di 30 anni dalla morte del giovane, crede che questa frase rispecchi ancora la mentalità del comune cittadino siciliano?
    In Sicilia come in altre zone del Sud, ci sono realtà ed esperienze impensabili fino a 15-20 anni fa. Esperienze nate anche da chi, come Peppino Impastato, ha seminato speranza e trovato persone pronte a raccogliere e proseguire il suo cammino. Ma è un grave errore associare le mafie alla sola Sicilia. Certo ci sono nel nostro paese terre segnate più delle altre dall’oppressione mafiosa, ma le organizzazioni criminali non sono più un fatto né locale né nazionale ma internazionale, strettamente connesso alle dinamiche della globalizzazione economica e finanziaria, all’espansione e deregolamentazione dei mercati. Anche per questo da Libera è nata l’esperienza di Flare (Freedom, legality and rights in Eurpe), una rete di associazioni che attualmente conta l’adesione di realtà di trenta paesi diversi.
    Il 9 maggio 1993, a Siracusa, Giovanni Paolo II è stato il primo Papa a denunciare apertamente la mafia, definendola “civiltà della morte”. Crede che abbia contribuito a risvegliare la coscienza popolare sulla questione? 
    La denuncia del Papa resta una pagina memorabile che ha certamente scosso le coscienze e segnato un punto di svolta anche all’interno della Chiesa, sgombrando il campo da qualche precedente eccesso di prudenza. Una svolta che era stata preparata dal documento della Conferenza episcopale italiana Educare alla legalità del 1991. «Il cristiano» recita il documento «non può accontentarsi di enunciare l’ideale e di affermare i principi generali. Deve entrare nella storia e affrontarla nella sua complessità, promuovendo tutte le realizzazioni possibili dei valori evangelici e umani della libertà e della giustizia». Purtroppo la risposta delle mafie non sarebbe tardata: gli assassini di Padre Puglisi prima e di don Giuseppe Diana poi, a Palermo e a Casal di Principe, avvengono a ridosso della denuncia di Giovanni Paolo II, una denuncia che nacque da una rottura del “protocollo”. Il Papa si “arrese” a quel grido di giustizia dopo aver incontrato i genitori di Rosario Livatino, giudice ucciso da Cosa Nostra nel 1990, a soli 38 anni. Livatino era un credente che viveva la fede in modo radicale, coniugando la dimensione spirituale all’impegno civile per la giustizia. In suo quaderno furono ritrovate queste bellissime parole: «Non ci sarà chiesto se siamo stati credenti ma credibili». 

    Lei ha scritto libri dedicati alle più varie problematiche sociali e  civili, dalla droga alla prostituzione, alla mafia. Ancora oggi è 
    giornalista ed editorialista per diversi giornali, tra cui il mensile  “Narcomafie”, fondato da lei stesso. Al di là della carta stampata e di  fronte al crescere del fenomeno della digitalizzazione dell’informazione, che utilizzo fa e/o intende fare del web e degli strumenti che offre (ad esempio i social network) per ampliare promuovere le sue iniziative?
    Come la carta stampata, anche la rete è un mezzo formidabile che va conosciuto nelle sue potenzialità ma anche nei suoi limiti. I grandi numeri vanno letti in controluce: non sempre quantità significa qualità, così come accessibilità può essere sinonimo di superficialità. La qualità dei contenuti resta un punto fondamentale.

    Dobbiamo saper usare la tecnologia, non farci usare da lei. Per questo il progresso tecnologico deve essere finalizzato alla crescita culturale e etica dell’uomo, aiutarci a essere comunità nel segno della prossimità e della giustizia, spingerci a capire meglio la realtà per migliorarla. Se manca questa consapevolezza c’è il rischio che la navigazione nel “virtuale” diventi una fuga, un’occasione persa.

    Credo tuttavia molto nell’importanza di questa nuova “frontiera”, e come Gruppo Abele e Libera sentiamo l’importanza di esserci con un impegno a tre livelli. Il primo: accompagnare a un uso consapevole delle tecnologie, scongiurare l’illusione che la telecomunicazione possa sostituire la relazione faccia a faccia, la fatica del confronto e del reciproco riconoscersi. Il secondo: promuovere e praticare una cultura che implichi la disciplina della ricerca e della profondità. Il terzo: allargare il campo degli interessi e delle passioni, parlando di pezzi di realtà ignoti o oscurati o conosciuti solo attraverso stereotipi banalizzanti. 

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Accademia Italiana della Cucina’s Monthly Dinner. Searching for True Italian Spots in NYC

     Do you need to know where to eat “real” Italian food in New York? Ask Accademia Italiana della Cucina!

    Every month the Soho Delegation of this cultural institution of the Republic of Italy, led by its President Berardo Paradiso, organizes a dinner in a different Italian restaurant in the city and its members, the “Accademici”, are invited to judge on all different aspects of the meal, from the dishes, to the environment and service. In other words, they are asked to express their opinion on the “italianità” of the venue, a verdict that can actually mark its “destiny”.

    Every “Accademico” is selected according to very strict criteria,  he must have “a gastronomical background constructed through personal experience, love for his own roots, and through the participation, investigation and curiosity for the different traditions. (…)His distinct education in taste allows him to appreciate and practice the rules which make the table pleasant”, recites the statutes of the institution. Being recognized as real experts in Italian food, the Accademia considers their judgment worth publication in a monthly magazine that is distributed worldwide and becomes a real vademecum for those looking for Italian food in whatever nation they might be.

    Curious about the Accademia’s activities, i-Italy participatedat the event organized at one of the restaurants of the Serafina Chain on September 21. We must say that the first thing that really surprised us was the atmosphere of conviviality we could feel as soon as we walked into the dining room on the third floor of the brownstone building on Madison Avenue(& 79th St.), Upper East Side, Manhattan.

    We recognized some familiar faces right away, Italians in New York that represent our country in every possible field. The table just beside ours was occupied by several representatives of various institutions, among which Andrea Fiano, Chairman of the Primo Levi Center; the Deputy Consul Maurizio Antonini; the Director of the Italian Tourism Board in North America Riccardo Strano; and of course Berardo Paradiso, director of IACE and of the Soho Delegation of the Italian Academy itself. Sitting at our table were RAI journalist Giulio Borrelli, Mediaset anchor Didi Leoni, the Dean of the Calandra Italian American Institute Anthony J. Tamburri with his wife Maria, Executive Director of the National Organization of Italian/American Women, and Alessandra Rotondi, journalist and wine consultant for Serafina.

    “I have been working with Serafina Group for two years, I am their wine consultant. All kinds of celebrities come to our venues to enjoy true Italian cuisine, and every dish is accompanied by a particular wine which I believe espouses it perfectly. My collaboration with the Accademia Italiana della Cucina and its director Berardo Paradiso has finally brought its members here for their monthly event, and tonight we are going to serve a four course dinner accompanied by four types of wines I personally chose. After each dish, I will tell interesting stories about the wines tasted, their origins, and the land where they come from. My aim is not to provide my guests with mere technical information about the wine, but to make them laugh and enjoy themselves in this convivial atmosphere”.

    The first wine on the list was a sparkling one, Prosecco Zonin.

    It accompanied bites of focaccia with figs and prosciutto, a recipe invented purposely by Chef Paqui for the occasion. All of our table mates liked it very much…they just could not stop themselves from having a second, third helping…

    While still sipping our Prosecco, we were served the first course of the dinner, an antipasto of sautéed shrimp on a bed of artichoke hearts. This was possibly the dish the diners preferred the least, as all the tables agreed that the savory shrimps somehow covered the delicate vegetables. But, still, it was a moment to enjoy since Director Paradiso captured our attention with an informative dissertation on the history of artichokes in Italian cuisine and on their use in different regions. 

    We just could not wait to try the pasta on the menu,  “trenette al pesto”, pesto being a traditional condiment from the Liguria region prepared with basil, garlic, pine nuts, and extra virgin olive oil. Even though we were served linguine instead of trenette (tradition calls foreither one or the other

    of these two shapes of pasta), all the guests were particularly satisfied with the dish which deserved an average vote of 8. As Mr. Fiano said, “Pesto is the nearest thing to religion in Liguria”, and we all agreed with that. Wine consultant Rotondi chose a Vermentino di Sardegna, Sella& Mosca to go with it, a wine that can also be found in Liguria, she explained to us.

    After having savored the whole plate up to the last linguina, we were served the third course: grilled tuna fish with candied ginger sauce accompanied by a side dish of mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. We agreed with the somehow unconventional choice made by Ms. Rotondi who picked a red wine for this fish course. “When the tuna is grilled it releases a rich juice that can be perfectly matched to a red wine. This is why I chose a very hearty one,  a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Zonin, she told us. Although the dish had an amazing taste, and the quality and tenderness of the tuna fish was just outstanding, the guests agreed in giving it quite a low rating, since “it was not a typically Italian recipe”. Ginger indeed is not a traditional Italian spice, and our co-citizens, moreover, love to eat their fish as naturally as possible, the only condiments in most cases being garlic and olive oil and sometimes tomatoes. The owner of the restaurant Vittorio Assaf could easily defend himself  by stating that it is one of the most appreciated dishes on the restaurant’s menu, but the Accademici took the occasion to show how uncompromising they are when it comes to Italian food!

    No worries at all because the best part of the dinner for many of us was just about to start. The dessert was not only a very abundant portion, but most of all it was simply exquisite: a scoop of delicious Italian tiramisu and two slices of white pizza topped with chopped green apples and powdered sugar gave a sweet aftertaste to the last wine of the dinner, a Moscato d’Asti Strev, Marenco. “I never serve sparkling wine at the end of a dinner, the prosecco or the champagne are too dry for a dessert. We need a sweet wine, and Moscato d’Asti is just the right one for this unusual sweet and sour pizza”, finally said Ms. Rotondi.

    It was she who introduced us to the owner of the restaurant, Vittorio Assaf, who has been running the five Serafina Italian restaurants of the chain for 15 years with his partner Fabio Granato “I am satisfied with the outcome of this dinner with the Accademia Italiana. I am especially proud of the ‘9’ we had on environment and service. These qualities always make our restaurant a welcoming place to return to”.

    There is no doubt about this, we thought. The wooden tables and the warm light had made us feel at home the whole evening and the joyous atmosphere did the rest for our wellbeing . “I wanted this dinner to be hosted here, in this particular restaurant of our chain, because it was the first one I founded with my partner. There is a sentimental bond with this place, and it was my desire to see it appear in the monthly magazine and the annual book published by the Accademia della Cucina”.

    At the end of our meal, it was also a pleasure to finally meet Chef Paqui, the Spanish chef that has studied Italian cuisine in Milan for over 10 years. She should be considered the real “heroine” of the evening, having prepared a four-course meal for over 60 people in a 10x10  foot kitchen. “The number of people I had to feed influenced my choices on the menu. What is more important, in any case, is that these true Italian gourmets agreed that most of the recipes prepared were to be considered ‘authentically Italian’. Even though I am Spanish, I respect and deeply know Italian traditions in terms of food, and I would never mix its cuisine with any other”, she stated.

    Chef Paqui has been working for Serafina for several years now, and she has no intention of leaving her position there. “I will never find in any other place such a warm environment. Here I feel like I am part of a family, everybody helps everybody in case of need. And this is also part of Italian culture”.

    …And it’s certainly one of the reasons why we shall return to Serafina, and maybe tour the other venues too, since every restaurant of the chain has a different menu. There are of course things that won’t change in any of them: the fabulous pizza, the articulate wine list chosen by Alessandra Rotondi and the hospitality of owner Vittorio Assaf. Bon Appetit!

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  • Facts & Stories

    Promoting “Made in Italy” on a Global Level

     The outstanding quality of “Made in Italy” makes  it a “brand” that can easily sell itself. The most talented fashion stylists, the most popular foods, the fastest race cars, and a huge number of other excellent goods are produced and exported from Italy throughout the world.

    But the government still feels that more can be done to internationally promote Italy’s exports and, more important, to fight the expansion of counterfeit products that financially damage Italian exports in the order of millions of euro.

    On September 28 the Italian Minister of Economic Development Claudio Scajola gave a press conference at the Hearst Tower in New York City right a cocktail reception organized by the Italian Trade Commission and Hearst Magazines  to announce their joint upcoming promotional campaign dedicated to Italian fashion.

     Sitting with dozens of Italian reporters and journalists, he talked about the current status of Italian exports and foreign commerce, and announced the principal measures taken or to be adopted by the government to promote “Made in Italy” abroad, and in particular, in the United States. The General Director of the Italian Trade Commission Umberto Vattani, the Director of its North American Branch, Aniello Musella, and the Consul General Francesco Maria Talò, accompanied the Minister.

    A good promotion of “Made in Italy” abroad, according to Minister Scajola, depends on an efficient advertising campaign that must be planned on a national level. “I have heard of promotional campaigns organized by regional or local governments that have often done nothing but damage our image abroad. In fact, sometimes when delegations are sent abroad on a smaller level than the national one, it can happen that no one fluently speaks the host’s language or they don’t have the capacity of providing accurate and correct information on what they are promoting.

    Foreign entrepreneurs are often disoriented by such disorganization and do not know who they are dealing with…and why should they? The government I represent is taking measures to act against local initiatives of this kind. Personally I am going to ask our Embassies and Consulates throughout the world to somehow obstruct the organization of commercial events in their areas that are not backed by a government agency or channeled into a broader and wider national initiative”.

    From words to facts: the Italian government is supporting a huge advertising campaign throughout the world, focused on “traditional” sectors, such as the food and fashion ones, but also on “new” (less popular) fields of excellence, such as technology and chemistry.” “In the current global economic crisis situation, the amount of Italian goods being exported has not significantly changed, at least when compared to the other countries’ export levels. Given their exceptional quality, in fact, our products are generally more expensive, thus targeting wealthier consumers that have not been excessively influenced by the current negative financial trend.(…) Nonetheless, Italian exports in the US have  dropped about 15% in the last semester. That’s why we have decided to spend more than 10 million euro for a huge advertising campaign in the United States, being that Americans are still our principal customers.”

    Minister Scajola suggested that the government is also committed on another front which in a more indirect way can help enhance of our production, both in terms of quality and quantity - by attracting a greater amount of Foreign Direct Investments in the country. “Many do not even know that in Italy we have a government agency created specifically to fulfill this mission. The efforts made by Sviluppo Italia, indeed, are sometimes nullified by our slow and lengthy bureaucratic procedures that discourage most foreign entrepreneurs interested in the Italian market being used as they are in their home countries to a slim and fast public administration”.

    In order to help and encourage foreign investors, the government is  redesigning the structure of the Italian Trade Commission, transforming it into an organization that not only is committed to the promotion of Italian products abroad, but which can also become a channel of communication between foreign and Italian entrepreneurs and private and public institutions operating in the economic field.

    On the Foreign Direct Investments front, much must also be done to induce Italian companies to produce abroad and to start joint ventures with foreign partners. “The Fiat-Chrysler deal can become a good example for our entrepreneurs. Not only has this transaction allowed us to export some Fiat models in the US, the Cinquecento first of all, but it has also opened our borders to Chrysler production facilities. The former, in fact, is going to open three new manufacturing plants in our country, giving work to thousands of our citizens.”

    Before leaving the press conference, Minister Scajola finally made his point on an issue that has been engaging the Italian governments for decades: the fight against the expansion of counterfeit products, a phenomenon that more than anything else is damaging Italy’s international commerce and interests. “My government is pushing the European Union to promote a law that enforces the protection of property rights and certificates of origin throughout the countries within the economic region. Since many of our fellow members in the Union are obstructing the enhancement of this legislation, we decided to start introducing the measure within our borders. The policy of “labeling” our products protects both the consumer and the producer: it is important to provide the consumer with the most possible correct and complete information on the product chosen, and it is equally fundamental to protect the producers from fake imitations”.

    Given the current phenomenon of “delocalization of production”, Minister Scajola, finally stated that “Made In Italy” will be transformed into “Made By Italy” in many different fields. This will make it even easier to promote our exports and protect our national Excellencies from “savage” imitations. This, he suggested, can not prevent imitations from being made but it encourages us to defend our original products better.

  • Events: Reports

    NOIAW Annual Luncheon. What it Means to be an Italian-American Woman

    “If you educate a man, you educate one person; if you educate a woman, you educate a family”.

    This was the crowning moment of Geraldine Ferraro’s speech when she received, her Lifetime Achievement Award during the Annual Luncheon organized at Waldorf Astoria on September 26.

    “When I graduated, I gave my diploma to my mother and told her ‘this is both mine and yours’. I owe my political career, my life’s work to her.  Being a widow, she raised me and my brothers alone, and from a very early age she asked us to work towards only one goal: getting an education. When I ran for the Vice-Presidency in 1984 my mother was pretty much the only one who thought that my entrance into the White House depended entirely on my education!”, said Geraldine to a public of  young and not so young Italian-American women that crowded the dining room of one of the most elegant hotels in Manhattan, on Park Avenue.

    That’s why, on that day, the NOIAW awarded five 2.500 $ scholarships to 5 very young Italian-American women bearing her name. Of them, the only one who could attend the ceremony was Teresa Principe, who is currently studying law at  Saint John’s University. Geraldine had a request for her and asked her to pass it on to the other four: “When you finish your studies, do not forget the kind of support you received. Look back and find a young woman that, just like you, needs a hand, an encouragement to pursue her dream and become an active part of this society. Help her out, however you can. This is what my mother taught me to do, and what she would ask you.”

    The other winners were: Theresa Brown (Human Resource Development and Public Administration, Northern Illinois University); Sarah Evans (Italian Culinary Arts, Italian Culinary Academy); Tatiana D’Ambola (Journalism, Boston University); Valene Bummara (Sociology and Business, Texas State University, San Marcos).

    It is not easy to say what an Italian-American woman is, and the role she typically has or should have in both her family and the society she lives in.

    During the luncheon, officials, politicians, members of many different Italian-American/Italian Organizations in America and guests followed one another onto the stage, praising the winners for following Geraldine’s path.

    After the two national anthems sung by Michael Amante and the blessing given to all those attending by sister Marian Defeis, NOIAW Vice Chair Kim Azzarelli passed the microphone to the Consul General Francesco Maria Talò, who was the first honorary guest stepping onto the stage. “It’s an honor to be here today. The dream of all Italians coming to America was first of all greeted by the first lady they met, the Statue of Liberty. Her welcoming face exemplifies that of all Italian-American women. We are living in a time of false values, no values, but there are strong ideals that are still kept alive. And their best guardians are our Italian-American women represented by NOIAW. They keep our traditions alive, and hand down to their children all their knowledge in terms of traditions and culture. They are the ambassadors of Italy’s ‘soft power’ in the United States”.

    He was followed by Vincenzo Scotti, the Undersecretary of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “My government and my citizens are all thankful for the work that NOIAW has done in this country which Geraldine Ferraro’s social and political commitment so well represents. Since you did not forget the land from which your ancestors came, you have contributed both to the growth of this country, and of Italy. Geraldine Ferarro is also a symbol for Italian women; they look at her as a mother”.

    Consul Talò and Minister Scotti occupied the central table just in front of the stage. Sitting with them were also the Consul’s wife Ornella Romano Talò, the Italian Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli Marimò, Steven Acunto, Honorary Vice Consul of the Republic of Italy in New Jersey, and the Luncheon Chairwoman Vivian Cardia.

    Their table was right at the center of the dining room, side by side to Geraldine Ferraro’s. At her table was her husband John, Dr. Aileen Riotto Sirey (the chairwoman and founder of NOIAW), the former governor of the State of New York City Mario Cuomo, his wife Matilda and their son, the Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

    Soon after their speeches, actors Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna lead a live auction with the purpose of collecting extra funds for NOIAW’s activities which  include cultural events, cultural exchanges, and of course the annual project of granting scholarships to young Italian-American women. “We know that students need a great deal of money to pursue their studies. Our goal is to grant at least 5 scholarships of 5.000$ each next year”, said Renee. Many of those attending the celebrations showed their generosity by bidding to buy trips to Italy and beautiful jewels. Among the hundreds of people interested and actively participating at this part of the event, were Cav. Uff. Joseph Sciame, President of the Italian Heritage
    and Culture Committee of New York, and Vincenzo Marra, Director of the Italian Language Inter-Cultural Alliance, accompanied by his wife Susi and their children.

    In turn there was a silent auction held from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm, organized and chaired by Joann Sicoli, CMP.

    By the time the luncheon was about to end, the atmosphere in this elegant and extremely fancy restaurant was warm and familiar, hundreds of guest chatting with each other in the best Italian tradition. It was soon time for the moment everyone was waiting for: the presentation of the award to Geraldine Ferraro.  Mario Cuomo had been asked to introduce the moment with a brief speech.

    Mario Cuomo and Geraldine Ferraro have been friends for more than 40 years. His speech gave us a better idea of what she must have meant for all Italian-American women back in the 1980s. “When I first met her, Geraldine was married to John, she had two children to raise, a household to run. Nobody could understand why she had decided to become involved in social and political activities that would take her so far away from her “traditional duties”. (…) But no matter how long this world will last and how many governments we have seen in our past and will see in the future, one thing is for sure and will always remain true: Geraldine is the first woman who has run for the Vice-Presidency of this country and the fact that she is Italian-American makes us particularly proud. She was courageous, and found a way to overcome the prejudices we used to face back in our days when people like us were called “degos”, “waps”, and so on, and became an example for women of all ethnicities and for Italian-Americans in general, both women and men.”

    As he later added to our microphones: “Italian-American people must still work a lot to defeat those prejudices. And NOIAW is a good place to start working on this. They must get into positions of influence and power and be excellent at it. All the women in this room who are encouraging education are all being like Geraldine Ferraro. They are becoming productive for their community, and thanks to them the image of all Italians improves.

    When Dr. Aileen Riotto Sirey gave Geraldine Ferraro her award, she gave the most touching speech for an Italian-American woman of any generation. With her words “If you educate a man, you educate one person; if you educate a woman, you educate a family”, she resumed in a few words the real role of an Italian-American woman: a mother, a wife, but also a mind and a body that can greatly improve the lives of those surrounding her, her society, her country.

    People were just overwhelmed by her words. As Matilda Cuomo told us, “She covered a very touching point that means a lot to women, all women…not just Italian-American. She is right when she addresses the girls and advises them to get an education. If you stay in school, you will be responsible in the future for the education of your family. What better gift than the gift of education could you give your children? Look at the tribute she always gives her mother. I do that with my mother as well. Even though my mother was illiterate in English, she understood that in this country a girl has to go to college just like a boy. Today, we are all professionals, and I know that’s thanks to her.  I encouraged all my children in the same direction”.

    Her speech touched many of the men attending also. John Marino, President of the National Italian American Foundation, told us he feels a great amount of gratitude towards Geraldine, “she has smoothed the way for all of us Italian-Americans”.

    Andrew Cuomo echoed him: “It’s not just about women. She must be an example for all of us, and she is especially for me since I have grown up looking at her as my personal mentor. Things have changed for all Italian-American people over the past decades, we must thank her for what she has encouraged us to pursue, for helping us in giving our contribution to the enrichment of this country”. 

    The National Organization of Italian American Women is a sisterhood of diverse women from varied professional backgrounds. Members include doctors, lawyers, artists, scientists, nurses, businesswomen, educators, writers, judges, and women working in the home. It is the only national membership organization for women of Italian ancestry.  
    NOIAW sponsored events are educational, cultural and social in nature and focus on issues of interest to Italian American women. The programs recognize and promote the accomplishments and contributions of women of Italian ancestry as well as acknowledge women as keepers of the culture