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Articles by: Tommaso Cartia

  • The playbill of “La Grande Abbuffata” (The Grande Bouffe) an Italian-French production directed by Marco Ferreri (1973). Four longtime friends gather in a villa for the week- end with the express purpose of eating themselves to death. Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Piccoli, and Philippe Noiret
    Dining in & out

    Dining Out Special. Italian Meat Dishes in Town

    Many of the typical meat-based recipes you can savor today were born in the taverns and squares of Italy’s many cities and they mirror the diverse regional identities that shaped the country’s modern food map. Armed with bow and arrow, we’ve been haunting the jungles of the New York City restaurant scene to capture the best Italian meat dishes on offer, to make you taste all the richness of that eclectic gastronomy tradition. We ventured to the West Village and Lower Manhattan to discover the homemade grilled Sicilian meatballs and the Roman classic “Saltimbocca.” We scurried up to Midtown and all the way to the Upper East side to nd the “Milanese Veal Chop” or the “Ossobuco.”

    We hopped up to the Bronx to savor some typical Campania-style meat dishes, crossed bridges to get to Queens where we found authentic Abruzzo meat recipes, and reached all the way down to Brooklyn to catch a “Maialino da Latte.” Last but not least, we sailed on a boat to Staten Island and a er a long crossing we crashed at the Sicilian tavern of Capizzi, where we were treated with the secret recipe of “Pollo Nonna Lucia.”

    Here is the story of our journey among some of the best kept culinary secrets we discovered. 

     

    Upper East Side​

    Sette Mezzo
    969 Lexington Avenue
    ☎ (212) 472-0400
    CUISINE traditional
    AMBIENCE  sophisticated
    PRICE  $$$

    In the middle (mezzo), between 70 and 71 streets in the Park Ave Olympus, stands this legendary restaurant named like the Italian hazard card game “sette e mezzo”. And hazardous indeed was the journey of Gennaro Vertucci, when in the late 80s he moved from the southern region of Cilento, Salerno, to New York and opened one of the first authentic Italian restaurants in the city, Piccolo Vico. Legitimate heir of Piccolo Vico is “Sette Mezzo” which found two other excep- tional fathers to break through New York dining scene: Oriente Manià and Nino Esposito.

    Coming from the North of Italy, Friuli area, Manià met Vannucci again in the middle between the north and south Italian culinary tradition, and the clash of these opposites is the secret of the restaurant perfect and balanced fusion vibe.A luxury caterer for its rich and famous clientele, noto- riously Oprah Winfrey is a restaurant fan and the one who started the word of mouth between her celebrity friends, “Sette Mezzo” cuisine follows the rules of Mediterranean cooking – fresh home made prepared ingredients, never overcooked, natural flavours, herbs, olive oil, no fussy sauces – spicing it up with some stronger tastes coming from the North.The chef buys the meat on a daily basis to cook it right away and never stores it, that’s why the restaurant has a weekly routine of rotating dishes.

    On Thursday you can find “Ossobuco”, the sliced veal chunck, on Friday the mouth watering baby lamb chops, so tender you barely feel like you are eating meat. Deer cooked the Friulano style with polenta and chestnuts is a clients favourites in winter time, along with the Milanese boned veal, the most requested dish in the menu, coated with pressed breadsticks that make the breading extremely crunchy; served with salad and tomatoes. “Sette mezzo” canteen also offers a selection of rare and precious wines from Friuli.

     

    Paola’s
    1295 Madison Avenue
    ☎ (212) 794-1890
    CUISINE typical
    AMBIENCE elegant
    PRICE $$$

    If you step by Paola’s on Wednesday night you might have the chance to bump into Mr. Robert De Niro himself, a regular and affectionate client of the restaurant. And just this per se, tells a lot of how executive chef Paola Bottero and her son Stefano built a name for themselves in the ultra competitive world of NYC dining. Daughter of Alessandro Bottero, a violin virtuoso playing with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York, Paola left Rome at age 16 to follow her father, then worked as a translator for the Italian Trade Com-mision, and didn’t know at the time that destiny had other plans for her future. Her brothers worked in the food industry and opened the historical 65 Irving Place, providing the family a template for culinary achievement.

    Paola’s started helping them, and she saw how the restaurant was becoming successful and glamorous, scoring regular fans like Andy Warhol and Paul Newman. She continued on this new path by then going to work for the well known Roman family “The Lattanzis”, who at the time had the only 3 stars Italian restaurant in New York as awarded by Mimi Sheraton. The synergy between her worldly cultured background and her training in the world of top class dining is the reason for Paola’s glorious success between Upper East side ritz and glam community. The new chef Matteo Calciati and sommelier Romolo Algeni offer a menu of the most authentic “Cucina Italiana”, a various regional selection of wines and dishes with an emphasis on Roman cuisine. All organic wild Amish meat from Pensylvania, Paola’s meat dishes specialties include the “Milanese Veal Chop”, a pounded chop crusted with bread crumbs and smothered with arugula and tomatoes; the “Short Ribs” marinated in red wine with vegetables; the “Pollo alla cacciatora”, hunter style chicken with onions, tomatoes and wine and the “Scaloppine al marsala”, escalopes in Marsala wine.  Sommelier Romolo Algeni suggests a Chianti di Antinori red wine or a Barolo or a Brunello to go with the meat dishes. All biodynamic wines you can all have just by the glass. 

     

    Midtown West

    Etcetera Etcetera
    352 W 44th Street
    ☎ (212) 399-4141
    CUISINE typical
    AMBIENCE sophisticated 
    PRICE $$$

    Elegance, warmth, style and refined service are some of the adjectives that flow through your mind as soon as you step into “Etcetera Etcetera”. De- spite its beautiful interior, it is when you finally taste the food that you understand why Etcetera has become through the years one of the Broadway scene’s favourite spots for dining. This enchanting combination of good food and lovely atmoshpere is all due to the owner of the restaurant, Daniele Kucera, who brought to New York his worldly, intercontinental taste. Growing up in Trieste and Fiume on the Italian-Croatian border, Daniele had the chance to experience the stimulating melting pot of that unique corner of Italy. His passion for cooking started there during those childhood days where his favourite past time was to sit in the kitchen, listening to Beethoven and watch the women of his family work their magic in front of the old wood-burning stove. In 1992 he arrived in New York, invited by the legendary guru and ambassador of Italian food Tony May, founder of the “San Domenico” and president of GRI – Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani. After years of diligence in the food industry he finally opened Etcetera Etcetera, his own personal vision of a contemporary Italian restaurant, traditional and sophisticated at the same time, like its mouth-watering menu, truly Italian but with a cosmopolitan flare to it. For this fall Daniele recommends the “Guinea stuffed with speck and chestnuts in a sauce of pomegranate grains” to savoir with a good Cannonau Sardo red wine or a Barbera or Barolo. Another peculiar meat dish of the season is the “Lamb Shank with broccoli rabe, polenta and a reduction in red wine” to pair with a good Malbec Mendoza red wine. 

     

    West Village

    Lupa Osteria Romana
    170 Thompson Street
    ☎ (212) 982-5089
    CUISINE typical
    AMBIENCE rustic
    PRICE $$$

    Opened in 1999, a partnership be- tween Mario Batali, Joe BastianichMark Ladner and Jason Denton, this casual restaurant specialized in Ro- man trattoria fare is as rustic, friendly and yet intimate and romantic as an authentic Roman tavern should be. Highest quality products selected to maintain the visceral true flavour of Roman cuisine, cooked with not too much fuss, tasteful but simple. Chef Robert Zwirz presents his menu as guided by a Roman driving force with a spin on modernization but always in the spirit of tradition. Their selection of meats it’s particularly various and exciting. Starting with their appetizer “Lupa Made” - cured meats and cold cuts which includes tongue, fennel and black pepper cooked pork shoulder and pig head cheese. As for their second courses the menu is rich with Roman standards like “Saltimbocca” – veal, prosciutto and sage; “Coda alla vaccinara” – braised oxtail with tomato, pinenuts and golden raisins and the sinfully delicious “Pollo alla diavola” – devil style spicy and hot deboned half chicken super crispy, fully cooked into a mix of peppers infused in an oil with an intense spicy flavur, served with seasonal vegetables. Not just meats of course, Lupa is big on Roman pasta dishes, Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Bucatini all’Amatriciana, Cacio e pepe. With the special fixed price menu “Roman Tasting” one can experience all of the Roman’s delicacies accompanied by sumptuous Roman wines.

     

    Via Carota
    51 Grove Street
    ☎ (212) 255-1962
    CUISINE traditional
    AMBIENCE rustic
    PRICE $$$

    Under the Tuscan sun, in a 17th century country house in via Carota, Rita Sodi was born, a little girl with two big dreams in life: becoming a fashion designer and opening a restaurant. Drive and determination led her to accomplish both goals, moving her steps from via Carota to the fashion streets of the world and ending her journey in Christopher Street, New York, in the heart of the West Village where she first opened “I Sodi”, a lowkey, utterly traditional and perfectly executed Tuscan food restaurant. On another of her faithful travels, this time to Rome, Rita met Jody Williams, the Californian chef of the popular and critically acclaimed “Buvette”, a French bistrot also in the West Village. They clicked and become instant partners shar- ing the same vision and passion for cooking. From that fellowship came the idea to open Via Carota, an Italian gastroteca inspired in the culinary selection and in the rustic decor by Rita’s country house. The meat menu offers some tasty and flavourful dish like the “Coniglio Fritto” – fried rabbit with rosemary and garlic, cooked the way that Rita’s mother did, or the “Uccelli scappati” (escaped birds), with groves and pancetta. 

     

    East Village

    Via Della Pace
    48 East 7th Street
    ☎(212) 253-5803
    CUISINE typical
    AMBIENCE friendly
    PRICE $$ 

    Infectious, friendly and hip is the atmosphere that embraces you when you step in “Via della Pace” and you are welcomed by owner Giovanni Bartocci who exudes that kind of Roman goliardery that immediately puts you at ease. If you are waiting for a table he will likely offer you a nice aperitif, bruschette, and a good glass of wine and chew the fat with you. And if you are a true Roman you would recognize the same vibe you would feel wander- ing the center of the eternal city where via della Pace lays just a few minutes walk from Piazza Navona, and you stop by the landmark spot “Bar della pace” for dinner or more casual drinks. This trendy East Village Italian joint has become through the years a neighborhood favorite pick offering the best traditional Roman recipes at very af- fordable prizes in a warm boutique environment, perfect venue for any occasion. This Fall you can savour homely Roman meat dishes like “Straccetti di vitella alla Cicerone” – sautéed veal stripes with arugula, cherry tomato and shaved parmigiano; and more hip ones like “Bistecca al tartufo” – grilled rib eye stek with truffle oil served with mashed potatoes. 

     

    Lower Manhattan

    Piccola Cucina Osteria Siciliana
    196 Spring Street
    ☎(646) 478-7488
    CUISINE typical 
    AMBIENCE friendly 
    PRICE  $$

    The successful story of “Piccola Cucina” is, without a doubt, the story of executive chef Philip Guardione, a true Sicilian raised in the shadow of Mount Etna, who as a child used to help his grandmother prepare food for the holidays. The traditional, ancient secret recipes of true Sicilian cooking were passed down from those experienced hands to the ones of the young talented Philip; the same ones that today enchant the palate of the world with their wizardry in cooking. Recently opened in New York, this boutique doll-house size restaurant has already gained press attention and important catering engagements such as for the prestigious Consulate General of Italy. Philip promises to amaze its customers once again this Fall with an unique selection of signature Mediterranean meat dishes reinterpreted with a modern creative twist. The “Polpette della Nonna con Caponata Siciliana – home- made grilled meatballs with Siclian caponata”, is a classic and something you will hardly find anywhere else in the city. Bread, sundried tomatoes, anchovies, capers, pecorino cheese from Ragusa, lemon peel and wild fennel; a big explosion of flavours in a tiny tasty meatball. Another seasonal special is the “Wild Fennel Pork Shank” paired with “Caponatina from Palermo”, a characteristic caponata made with fried eggplants. If you feel like having a more casual night out or a quick bite and a drink you don’t want to miss “Piccola Cucina Wine Bar” on 184 Prince Street, where you can taste exquisite Sicilian wines and delightful tapas like the famous “Arancini”, fried rice balls with a ragu and mozzarella center 

     

    The Bronx

    San Gennaro
    2329 Arthur Avenue
    ☎ (718) 562-0129
    CUISINE typical 
    AMBIENCE rustic 
    PRICE $$

    If you hop on train for a quick trip to the Bronx you will save hundreds of dollars on air-fare to fly to a small cute village in Italy, because that’s exactly the atmosphere you will drink in. Specifically the Arthur’s Avenue area is as Italian as you could possibly wish with the folkloristic Arthur’s Avenue Mar- ket where you can find fresh authentic Italian foods and products, simply the best in the city. To enrich the Italian character of the Bronx here it comes “San Gennaro”, another Arthur’s avenue Italian flagship jewel. Chef Gennaro Martinelli from Capua, Caserta in the Campania region, brought to the Bronx the tradition of his family res- taurant along with his international experience. Graduated in Paris from the “French Culinary Institute” he started his carrier as Sous Chef at “Vesuvio” restaurant at the Champs- Èlysées and after that he opened restaurants all over the world as well as being engaged as Chef for the Italian Embassy in Africa, Brazil, Thailand and many other countries. He then finally arrived in New York and settled down in the Bronx offering his cooking expertise in line with the Arthur’s Avenue typical Italian restaurants but expressing his own creativity as well with many daily specials and it’s particularly evident from the traditional but inventive meat dishes he proposes. “San Gennaro” is the most distinctive one, a pan-seared chicken breast with prosciutto, spinach, fresh mozzarella in a light brown sauce. “Pollo alla francese” mix the Italian taste with the chef experience with French cooking – lightly floured chicken in a butter and white wine, lemon sauce. But with “Pollo allo Scarpariello” we go back to Campania – chicken in a white lemon sauce with rosemary and sweet sausage, vinegar and pepper.

     

    Queens

    Trattoria L’incontro
    21-76 31street
    ☎(718) 721-3532
    CUISINE traditional
    AMBIENCE friendly
    PRICE $$

    They say that behind a great man there’s always a great woman, and that’s definitely the case of chef Rocco Sacramone who learnt from his mother Tina all the secrets of Abruzzese cooking, ancestral recipes that could only survive by word of mouth from one generation to another. From 1999 that special wealth of knowledge came to light in New York thank to the opening of Trattoria L’incontro, a place where you can feel like you are guests at the Sacramones in Abruzzo. A local artist was asked to paint the walls of the restaurant with murals resembling images of Rocco and Tina hometown in Abruzzo and the interior design of the tavern recreates that ambience of a family style dining gathering. Tradition and modernity coexist in the menu selection which highlights how the chef of “La trattoria” mastered the rare ability to maintain a dish traditional adding a trendier flare which never overshadows the integrity of the recipe and the purest aromas using only the freshest and organic ingredients. As for the restaurant meat dishes, chef Rocco went haunting to offer his guests the most refined and exquisite meats. “Pollo Quattro funghi” is a best seller – chicken in a four mushrooms sauce: porcini, oyster, Portobello and Button mushrooms. The surprising “Filetto di Manzo” it’s another unique delicacy, a filet mignon topped with demiglaze, champagne and gorgonzola sauce. “Carre d’agnello” is another special dish – rack of lamb seasoned with homemade spices. 

     

    Brooklyn - Williasmburg

    Antica Pesa
    115 Berry Street
    ☎ (347) 763-2635
    CUISINE typical
    AMBIENCE rustic
    PRICE $$$

    Located in the very heart of Rome, between the intricate maze of streets of Trastevere neighborhood, Antica Pesa is a place where you can magically go back in time to the 17th century when villagers in Vatican City used scales (pesa) to portion food brought in from local farmers to give to the less fortunate. In 1992 the Panella family opened this restaurant naming it “Antica Pesa” (The Old Scales), to pay an homage to that honorable tradition. The true and rustic Roman cuisine based on seasonal and mostly organic product, which is the restaurant tradi- tional trend, can now be savoured in the hip Williamsburg neighbourhood where the Panella family decided to give a New York home to their historical spot. The young and talented executive chef Patrizia Volanti shares with Antica Pesa the same commitment to preserving the authenticity of the old recipes, adapting them to the territory with a creative nod to modern trends. The menu is seasonal, it changes every three months according to the freshness of the ingredients, some provided by local small farmers and some imported directly from Italy like parmigiano reggiano, pecorino Romano Fulvi or prosciutto di Parma. For this Fall Patrizia thought of an unique meat dish that graces the Antica Pesa menu along with the Roman classics: “Il Maialino da Latte”, D’Artagnan milkfed porchetta with roasted yellow peaches in rosemary oil, baked cherry tomatoes, grilled fennel, toasted spicy almonds and Dijon mustard sauce. 

     

    Staten Island

    Capizzi
    4126 Hylan Blvd 113 Berry Street
    ☎ (718) 569-3180
    CUISINE typical
    AMBIENCE rustic
    PRICE $$

    There is no place like home except Grandma’s” and there is no possible better food like the one that you can taste when you are invited to an everlasting holiday lunch in a Sicilian home with grandma cooking up a storm for you. This is the atmosphere you will feel at Capizzi, this lovely and cozy restaurant opened by Joe Calcagno to honour the memory of her grandmother and named after the city in Sicily where she immigrated from. Everything from the recipes to the furniture in the restaurant belonged to Joe’s grandma, with the black and white TV, the vinyl record player from the 60s and the credenza by the coffee spot. With an emphasis on pizzas, cooked in the old fashion wood burning, Capizzi’s menu is as simply rustic as simply exquisite, with home-made fresh pasta and a selection of the most typical Italian fish and meat dishes. The “Pollo di Nonna Lucia”, chicken with sweet cherry peppers and potatoes in a white wine sauce, is Capizzi’s most signature and popular dish. Another unmissable delight is the “Pollo al Martini”, panko parmigiano crusted chicken breast served with cream martini sauce and sea- sonal vegetables. 

  • Art & Culture

    If Venice Dies: A Conversation with Salvatore Settis

    A city is a living organism with its own specific urban and social DNA, the citizens are or should be one with the architecture of their city and vice versa. That’s one of the most relevant themes in Salvatore Settis' Venice case study. 

    As an internationally renowned art historian and the current chairman of the Louvre Museum’s Scientific Council as well as the previous director of the Getty Research Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in Los Angeles, Settis has plenty of thoughts on the route Venice must take if it wants to regain its position as a center of Italian cultural achievement and financial prosperity.

    The massive invasion of tourism slowly transformed “La Serenissima” into a big amusement park, plus the lagoon area is colonized on a daily basis by monster cruise ships altering the city's urban landscape and its architectural aesthetic. 

    These types of floating skyscrapers are aligned with a general phenomenon of pressing modernization on historical cities, a trend that is virally spreading all over the world not just in Italy, as if building a skyscraper in the most unusual contests makes a city look more modern. He welcomes the building of new skyscrapers if they get along harmoniously with the architecture of a city and they don’t vandalize its own identity.

    Another huge threat for Venice is the dangerous “acqua alta” season. Given the ever rising water levels, the situation is getting worse due to global warming. Also, the increasing amount of people leaving Venice on a daily basis makes the future of La Serenissima extremely troubling. 

    The statistics are staggering: there’s now only one resident in Venice for every 140 visitors. An average of 2-3 Venetians flee the city every single day, meaning that soon there might not be any full-time residents left. Currently, the total population is dwindling down to around 264,000  people when there was almost double that number just ten years ago. In addition, all of those who are fortunate enough to own secondary homes in Venice live there on an average of only two days per year. 

    The reason Venetians are leaving their hometown is not only because it’s an expensive place to live but more importantly because the city itself is deteriorating. Another complication is that even though Venice is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, their system of supply and demand is completely off balance because visitors hardly spend any money there. 

    During the meeting at Casa Italiana, Settis wanted to make it clear that “Venice is not an amusement park, we don’t accept the idea that tourism is the only source of revenue.” He believes that there is still so much potential in the city where great artistic talents like Titian and Vivaldi lived and worked. One of the most memorable statements of the afternoon is when Settis remarked that “the younger generation should not be reduced to waiters.”

    Stille then pointed to Matera, a town in Basilicata, as an example of an old city that perhaps Venice can learn from. Matera was extremely poor until about 50 years ago, before that its residents were living in caves in dismal poverty. Over time, they were able to reconstruct and transform their town into a completely functional one. Now it’s a fairly popular tourist attraction and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

    Settis reacted to this statement by saying that “Venice does not need a resurrection because it’s still alive.” Yet it is still necessary for Venetians to figure out a way to creatively construct the future of their city in their own way, just like the people of Matera had to do. 

    After his conversation with Stille, Settis sat down with our very own i-Italy reporter and went into further discussion about his thoughts on the topic.

    How can a city keep up with time and harmonize itself with new, sometimes invasive, modernizations?

    In my opinion, cities do not have to be embalmed and I am not by any means against contemporary architecture because I think it can be introduced very delicately and in a way that a city can still maintain it’s character and it’s DNA. This is why we need to find an equilibrium. If it’s looked at case by case, everything can be judged individually. 

    Given all the earthquakes that are currently happening in Italy, in your view, what can cities do to take care of their cultural goods after these catastrophic events and rebuild houses for their citizens?

    In this case I believe that we must not do what l’Aquila did, they pretty much denounced the reconstruction from going forward and displaced many people in the process. This isn’t good and I believe that cities must be reconstructed where they were. Not that every single building has to be exactly how it was before but San Benedetto in Norcia for example should be reconstructed very similarly as it was before. I believe that in certain cases the symbolic structures must be respected in their historic form. 

    And at the administrative level?

    At the administrative level I think that Italy and the officials in charge of the cultural heritage are doing heroic things but there is too few people working on the problem. It’s about 25-30 years that they don’t take on anyone new so it’s clear that they will be less efficient then if there were more people. It’s obvious that the administration has been weakened by the center right and center left government. But if everyone works together we’ll be reminded that without a good administration, Italy will deteriorate.

  • A shot from the movie
    A shot from the movie
    Art & Culture

    Gianfranco Rosi 'Fire at Sea': a Storm About to Rage in North America

    After having been screened in over 60 countries and collecting prestigious prizes, including the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival, the long journey of Gianfranco Rosi’s critically acclaimed new movie continues in some New York’s most important venues.

    Last Friday, October 21tst, the documentary was screened at the IFC center, the New York art house cinema venue par excellence, where the audience had the chance to chat with the Italian director and satisfy its curiosity about the movie during the after show Q&A. The night ended with an exclusive, elegant dinner at Dante Caffe, a delightful Italian spot down in the village.

    On Monday, October 24th, the Italian Cultural Institute on Park Avenue hosted an interesting conference with both Gianfranco Rosi and Maaza Mengiste, the Ethiopian-American writer who recently narrated the Lampedusa tragic saga in her reportage ‘The Madonna of the Sea’. The moderator of the night was Italian journalist Andrea Visconti.

    Then from October 28th to November 3rd a restrospective on Rosi's filmography will be screened at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music)

    The documentary is also Italy's Best Foreign Language entry for the upcoming Oscars - 88th Academy Awards.

    All these occasions will help to get underneath the surface of Rosi’s neorealist poetic vision, revealing not only the reason why he felt such an urgency to tell the story but also some of the movie’s most powerful metaphors and aesthetic choices.

    Rosi was asked to report on the situation in Lampedusa. This was supposed to be a short visit, but it ended up being a long journey – the urgency to tell that story possessed him.

    The director got sick with bronchitis and needed to see a doctor, and that was the turning point:

    “The crucial point for me is when I met doctor Bartolo. We talked about everything but my bronchitis: we talked for two hours about Lampedusa and the immigration situation that they have been dealing with for more then 20 years. For all that time the island was left alone, just now the situation is slowly changing. People from Lampedusa are fishermen, and fishermen welcome everything the sea delivers. I focused more on the population alongside with the immigration tragedy. Lampedusa was always told and narrated through the press, TV, and media as a place of tragedy. I needed to change the point of view; I tell the story from the point of view of the island, a place with its own identity.”

    And in fact, while watching the movie, the world of the islanders and the world of the immigrants seem distant, almost parallel. The arrival of the immigrants is felt as a sort of distant threat, like a storm that is about to rage, or as a sense of general anxiety, like the one that affects the little kid of the story. We see the island through his eyes, his games, his everyday life, his levity, and a normal kid’s preoccupation. Those two worlds colliding, that suspended proximity, is dramatically powerful but also totally realistic.

    Rosi didn’t stage anything; he didn’t even want a crew: just him, the camera, and the closeness to the islanders. He also ventured out to sea in the immigrants’ boats and witnessed their struggle through that Mediterranean escape route that too often turns into a graveyard.

    The movie was shot as a pure documentary with no indication of either a plot or a script. The idea of the storyline came later, almost naturally through the editing. The story told itself through the material he captured and through the metaphors and the symbolism within the images.

    “Another day the boy said he had anxiety, so we went to the doctor, and I had my camera. That is the kind of thing no actor could act. This is what I love about my work: reality always comes with such a strong element. Sometimes I would shoot for three weeks and then sometimes I wouldn’t shoot anything. One day I might be shooting in the migration center because I met some people that took me there; another day I might be with the military on the boat. I just let things happen naturally.” Rosi explained.

    At the beginning of the movie the boy is haunting the birds, and in one of the final scenes he rescues a bird. These two instances happened in reality, and they contributed to the ring composition of the story as a metaphor of the migrants’ pain while traversing the sea and their ultimate salvation, whether real or spiritual.

    The radio station that seems to light up the tragedy with its joyful songs is another reality the director discovered. The lightness of the Lampedusans might seem like a paradox, but that’s how this people are, and that’s how, at times, they confront tragedy, like in the song ‘Fuocoammare’ that gives the title to the movie.

    Popular in the 1940’s, the song chronicles a dramatic event - the explosion of “La Maddalena”, a military boat bombarded over night by the British during the Second World War - but with an upbeat sound.

    The Italian director encountered death many times during his stay, but he questioned if it was morally right to show it. He wondered if he should have taken the responsibility to report it, if it wasn’t too graphic for the eye or too disrespectful towards those bodies that, of course, are not just ‘bodies’ but people.

    He asked himself: “Should I shoot this?” I felt it was my responsibility to inform people what is really happening. It was horrible. The captain of one of the boats also said, ‘People need to see this. It’s a tragedy, like the holocaust.’ After that, I was done filming. It was the closing for me. That was the break. I had to take several weeks off before starting to edit. I told my amazing editor, Jacopo Quadri, ‘There is no plan B. Either it works or we start a new film.” 

    Rosi attempts to show death at the end of the movie in a long soundless scene that resonates as a sacred, respectful silence for those victims. But the images are potent, and they invade our eye that can’t be lazy, that has to be wide open in front of what is happening on that distant island, which seems like a dream world, not even shown on the Italian map.

    The lazy eye that the little Samuele has to cure, by covering the good one and training the other to better see the world, is the ultimate metaphor for our lazy sight, for our blindness, for our sloth against the dramatic situation of the immigrants in the Mediterranean, which can’t feel foreign to us anymore, which is constantly approaching like that storm in the movie about to rage and shock our vision. It has to become our business, our urgency, our preoccupation.

    Many critics and the press, like ‘The Economist’, addressed the metaphor of the lazy eye as being the lazy eye of Europe. Rosi is pleased people noticed it: “It is the metaphor of our inability to see things. Unfortunately right now, after seeing how the European community is handling the immigration problem, I think lazy eye would be a wishful thinking. We are talking about total blindness.”

  • CInisi. Photo by Vincenzo Zangara
    Life & People

    Discovering the Sicilian-Americans with the Cinisi Mayor, Giangiacomo Palazzolo

    IN ITALIANO >>

     

    An old Sicilian saying states “La lontananza ‘un abbannuna amuri, chiuttostu menti ‘na vampa ‘nto cori” (Distance doesn’t cause us to forget love. Actually, it creates a spark within the heart). Profoundly rooted in the spirit of every immigrant is this fire, the love for his homeland that distance certainly doesn’t cause him to forget. Rather, this distance actually exalts and idealizes the country. A bittersweet union between nostalgia for one’s homeland and the celebration of it live in the hearts of many Sicilian communities that have been in America for generations. The Sicilian Americans are the biggest and most important group of Italian origin in the U.S., and their story goes back to the times in which Italy wasn’t yet united. The regional folklore is strongly differentiated.

    We met Cinisi mayor Gianfranco Palazzolo during his visit to New York to hear his extraordinary experience whit the Sicilian communities abroad. Speaking with Palazzolo you get the feeling that you’re speaking with an old fashioned Sicilian intellectual, deeply enamored by his native land but also critical in regards to it. With his help, we were able to get a snapshot of aspects that represent modern Sicily. This illustration extends from socio-political subject matter to subject matter that is more cultural and way-of-life focused: for example tourism and integration of foreigners into the Sicilian culture. It also considers the phenomenon of the mafia and of the historic figure of Peppino Impastato, a Cinisi activist and journalist who was killed by the mafia in 1978.

    What is the reason for your visit to America?

    The necessity to physically embrace the immigrants that feel a strong need to have contact with their native country, and also to ask for forgiveness from our fellow countrymen because our country was not able to give them what they deserve. I also wanted to create relationships that can promote the Italian culture, and create an exchange for young American students to go to Italy and vice versa. This is a program that we are realizing here in New York. We also would like to establish relationships that are economic in nature, so we met with the presidents of the Chambers of Commerce in Chicago and New York. We believe that we have great niche products that could surely be exported and that represent the culinary culture of Italy.

    Which products are you specifically referring to?

    Above all, the Cinisara cow. In southern Italy there are two types of cows, the Modicana/Ragusana and the Cinisara. These cows have particular organoleptic characteristics and their products are very light like the milk that is used for cheese with exceptional taste. They are also used for a very particular cut of meat. In some Italian restaurants we have carpaccio made from Cinisara cows or caciocavallo cheese made from the Cinisara cows.

    Could you tell us a bit more about your trip to Chicago, Detroit, and New York?

    In Chicago I saw the first generation of Cinisari, and I was a bit sad because many of them haven’t been to Cinisi for decades. Feeling down, I spoke with many people that couldn’t go back because of economic difficulties. That said, their fondness calmed my sadness. Instead in Detroit, I saw a very rich community that decided to live without wanting to integrate into the American mainstream culture. I left my heart there; I saw Cinisari with classic values, traditions, and big hearts. The community in New York, in addition to being wealthy, is also integrated in the American culture and cosmopolitan.

    I had come to help the Cinisari remember their country, but by the end of the trip, they reminded me what Cinisi is really about, the true values, the traditions, the stories. The Cinisaris’ big hearts are easier to see here, rather than in the town itself.

    There is some kind of preservation that happens, distancing yourself makes you want to keep a snapshot of the time in which you leave, and this photo is preserved in a meticulous manner in your heart.

    A few years ago airlines had launched economical round-trip air routes from New York to Palermo’s Falcone/Borsellino airport, which is in the Cinisi area. What was the importance and the nature of this phenomenon in terms of tourism and cultural integration?

    Many people speak of Cinisi saying it is an exceptional town because it has both the sea and the mountains; I say that yes, this does make it exceptional, but it’s also unique because it has something that nobody else in Sicily (aside from Catania) has: an airport that is part of Cinisi area. It is a source of enormous wealth for my area. Investments in the airport are continuous and limitless, and the number of passengers is also increasing. At this point we have 6 million passengers every year; therefore, it is crucial for our economy. There are several ways to benefit from having an airport. It not only helps tourism, but it’s also an ingress for commerce. The movement of such important passengers is something to take advantage of. Activities in my town are growing in both quantity and quality, and this is linked to the accommodation of tourists. Cinisi has become the door to Southern Italy, an important layover.

    What changes have you seen in that sense?

    The difference can be seen right away. Given that we didn't have that much tourists, we were not used having people in the area that speak foreign languages. Now we are beginning to open ourselves up to foreigners and to the use of foreign languages.

    Let’s talk about the phenomenon of the mafia. What do you think the true face of the mafia is today, and how much does it play into the cliche collective imagination about Sicily?

    I really like the image that the that the mayor of Palermo gives about today’s organized crime. In past years we used to have a mafia that had a vertical hierarchy; there was a boss with his colonels and his soldiers. Today, the organized crime that we have in Sicily - deemed “mafia” - has different characteristics than that of the past. Now we have a horizontal organization; there are no longer singular bosses that act in an almost autonomous manner. We have various, unconnected levels in these horizontal strips. Organized crime of the old days was based on typical crimes. Now there are higher-level crimes of white collar workers who are interested in the waste sector. In my opinion this is the most dangerous part of this new Sicilian criminal context because there is a lot of money that is being taken from that sector, and therefore essential services will be undermined. The consistent interference of specific criminals is a big danger for Sicily.

    Is this influencing the Sicilian economy? What are the causes of the economic crisis that has also hit Sicily?

    The mafia has no part in this. Criminals intervene where there is wealth. This wealth is neither produced as a result of cultural reasons nor by our administrative machine to take advantage of European resources. A paradoxical inability exists at the bureaucratic level. There is no development on the rise; the problem with the managing class is that it belongs to a generation that is surpassed by facts and laws, in its way of communication, and in it’s approach to education. This generation isn’t suited for the time in which it’s living, and it’s not in a position to benefit from the many resources that it has. However, I do need to highlight the positive changes in the last two years. I am a mayor that doesn’t practice politics. I’m non-partisan, and I have civil lists, and I’m not involved with political parties. That said, with the arrival of Renzi, I noticed a major professionalism from the bureaucracies and a much greater capacity for them to use resources that then returned to my town. For example, over the course of two and a half years, we received up to 12 million Euros in public funding.

    Can you tell us anything else about Peppino Impastato, the historic figure that was a Cinisi native?

    The truth is that he was an extremely courageous person. Today it’s easy to attack mafia. Today I can say “the mafia is a mountain of shit” (a historic saying from Peppino Impastato, NdR), and sleep soundly without worry about it. Saying it in the 70’s was indicative of exceptional courage that also highlighted a moment of a “cultural break” between the old vision that the country had about certain personalities, and the new vision that was about to come. Through his courage, he embodied that moment of “breaking.”  Liberation and the cultural revolution of my region were born from him.

     

  • Cinisi. Palazzo dei Benedettini
    Fatti e Storie

    Alla scoperta dei siculoamericani con il sindaco di Cinisi, Giangiacomo Palazzolo

    ENGLISH VERSION >>

    Un vecchio detto siciliano afferma: “La lontananza 'un abbannuna amuri, chiuttostu menti 'na vampa 'nto cori” (La lontananza non fa dimenticare l'amore, anzi accende un fuoco dentro il cuore). Profondamente radicato nell’animo di ogni immigrante è quel fuoco, quell’amore per la propria patria che la lontananza certo non fa dimenticare ma che anzi esalta, sublima, innalza a mito, a simbolo, a leggenda. La forte nostalgia per la propria terra e nel contempo la sua celebrazione abitano il cuore delle tante comunità siciliane che da generazioni ormai vivono in America. I Siculoamiricani sono il più grande ed il più importante gruppo statunitense di origine italiana negli USA e la loro storia risale ai tempi in cui l’Italia non era ancora unita e le differenze folkloristiche regionali erano molto forti e ben marcate.

    Abbiamo incontrato il sindaco di Cinisi (Palermo), Giangiacomo Palazzolo in occasione della sua trasferta newyorchese per farci raccontare la straordinaria esperienza del suo viaggio alla scoperta della comunità siculoamericana. Parlando con Palazzolo si ha la sensazione di avere di fronte un intellettuale siciliano d’altri tempi, elegante, visceralmente innamorato della sua terra e nel contempo lucidamente critico. Con lui abbiamo avuto anche la possibilità di scattare una fotografia a colori di quella che è la Sicilia di oggi, spaziando da tematiche sociopolitiche a quelle più culturali e di costume, dal turismo all’integrazione in Sicilia con lo straniero, passando per il fenomeno della mafia e la storica figura di Peppino Impastato, il giornalista e attivista italiano ucciso dalla mafia nel 1978, nativo proprio di Cinisi.

    Qual’ è il motivo di questa sua trasferta americana?

    Ho sentito la necessità di abbracciare fisicamente gli immigranti che sentono così forte il bisogno di un contatto con il loro paese di origine. C’è anche la volontà di chiedere scusa ai nostri concittadini perché la nostra terra non è riuscita a dare quello che loro meritavano. È importante anche creare dei rapporti che possano valorizzare la cultura italiana attraverso l’interscambio, consentire a molti ragazzi statunitensi di venire in Italia e viceversa. C’è un programma che stiamo attuando qui a New York in tal senso. C’è anche la voglia di stabilire dei rapporti di natura economica, abbiamo incontrato il presidente delle camere di commercio di Chicago e New York perché riteniamo di avere delle eccellenze, dei prodotti di nicchia che potrebbero essere sicuramente esportati e rappresentano la cultura culinaria dell’Italia.

    A quali prodotti fa riferimento nello specifico?

    Su tutti la vacca cinisara. Nell’Italia meridionale ci sono due tipi di vacche, la modicana, ragusana e la cinisara. Questa vacca ha delle caratteristiche organolettiche particolari, è molto magra e produce un latte che dà vita a dei formaggi dai sapori eccezionali e la sua è una carne molto particolare. In alcuni ristoranti italiani viene servito un particolarissimo carpaccio di vacca cinisara, ed anche il cacio cavallo di vacca cinisara è molto buono e richiesto.

    Ci racconti un po’ del suo viaggio tra Chicago, Detroit e New York.

    A Chicago ho visto la prima generazione di cinisari ed un po’ mi ha rattristato perché loro non vengono a Cinisi da decenni. Mi è rimasto il magone in gola, ho parlato con tanta gente che non riesce a venire forse per problemi di carattere economico. Fermo restando il loro grande affetto che poi ha colmato la mia tristezza. A Detroit ho invece visto una comunità molto ricca che ha però deciso di vivere senza voler integrarsi più di tanto con il tessuto americano. Lì ho lasciato il cuore perché ho visto la Cinisi dei vecchi valori, delle tradizioni, dal cuore grande. A New York una comunità che oltre che ricca è anche integrata e cosmopolita.

    Ero venuto per ricordare ai cinisari del loro paese ma alla fine mi hanno ricordato loro cosa è Cinisi, quali sono i valori veri, le tradizioni, le storie. Il cuore grande dei cinisari è più facile riscontrarlo qui piuttosto che nel paese stesso.

    C’una sorta di conservazione, l’allontanarsi comporta una sorta di fotografia del periodo in cui si parte e questa fotografia la si conserva così in maniera parsimoniosa, meticolosa nel proprio cuore.

    Da qualche anno sono state varate delle tratte aeree più economiche andata e ritorno New York – Palermo, aeroporto Falcone/Borsellino che si estende sul territorio di Cinisi. Qual’ è l’importanza e la natura di questo fenomeno in termini di turismo e di integrazione culturale?

    Molti parlano di Cinisi dicendo che è un paese eccezionale perché ha sia il mare che la montagna, io dico che è eccezionale per questo sì ma ha qualcosa che nessun altro ha in Sicilia se non Catania, l’aeroporto che si estende sul territorio di Cinisi. È fonte di ricchezza enorme per il mio territorio, inesauribile, continui sono gli investimenti che vengono fatti nell’ambito aeroportuale e continui sono gli incrementi dei passeggeri. Ormai siamo sui 6 milioni di passeggeri l’anno, è chiaro che rappresenta tutto per la mia economia. Ci sono varie angolature per sfruttare un aeroporto. Non solo turismo, è anche uno scalo commerciale. Un flusso di passeggeri così importante è un elemento da valorizzare. Le attività nel mio paese che stanno crescendo a livello numerico e qualitativo sono legate alla ricettività dei turisti. Cinisi è diventata sotto questo profilo la porta del Meridione d’Italia. Uno scalo importante.

    Che cambiamenti ha ravvisato in tal senso?

    Si vede subito la differenza, non eravamo abituati a vivere come famigliare la presenza di persone che parlano lingue straniere, ora anche noi iniziamo ad aprirci di più allo straniero e all’uso delle lingue straniere.

    Parliamo del fenomeno della mafia, qual' è secondo lei il vero volto della mafia di oggi e quanto ancora pesa nell’immaginario collettivo come clichè legato alla Sicilia?

    A me piace molto l’immagine che dà il sindaco di Palermo (Leoluca Orlando, NdR), sull’ organizzazione criminale di oggi. Negli anni passati avevamo una mafia che era verticale, un capo con i suoi colonnelli e i suoi soldati, un’impostazione gerarchica. Oggi l’organizzazione criminale presente in Sicilia che viene denominata mafia ha delle caratteristiche diverse da quella precedente. Si parla di mafia per comodità espositiva, in realtà è qualcosa di diverso. Oggi abbiamo un’ organizzazione criminale orizzontale, non più capi ma singoli soggetti che agiscono in maniera quasi autonoma tra di loro. Abbiamo vari livelli in queste fasce orizzontali non collegate tra di loro: la criminalità organizzata di vecchio stampo basata sui reati tipici e poi abbiamo un livello molto più alto, quello dei colletti bianchi con interessi nel settore dei rifiuti che a mio avviso è la parte più pericolosa di questo nuovo contesto criminale siciliano perché è lì che si aggirano tanti soldi, è là che vengono intaccati dei servizi essenziali per la collettività e l’ingerenza di determinati personaggi di livello criminale consistente è un grosso pericolo per la Sicilia.

    Questo influenza o sta influenzando l’economia Siciliana? Quali sono i motivi della crisi economica che ha investito anche la Sicilia?

    La mafia in questo non c’entra niente. Il potere criminale interviene là dove c’è ricchezza. Ma questa ricchezza non viene prodotta per motivi culturali e per l’incapacità della nostra macchina amministrativa di sfruttare le risorse europee. A livello burocratico c’è un’incapacità paradossale. Non c’è una formazione alle spalle, il problema della classe dirigente è che appartiene ad una generazione superata nei fatti e nel diritto, nel modo di comunicare, nell’approccio allo studio. Non si presta più all’epoca che si sta vivendo e non è in grado di sfruttare le risorse che ci sono, che sono enormi. Io devo riscontrare però dei miglioramenti negli ultimi due anni. Io sono un sindaco che non fa politica, non sono schierato, sono lista civica, sono fuori dai partiti, ma con l’avvento di Renzi ho riscontrato una maggiore professionalità degli apparati burocratici e una maggiore capacità di utilizzo delle risorse che poi sono ricadute nel mio piccolo comune, dove ad esempio nell’arco di due anni e mezzo ho visto arrivare finanziamenti per dieci, dodici milioni di euro.

    Una nota sulla figura storica di Peppino Impastato che era nativo proprio di Cinisi.

    La verità è che si tratta di un personaggio coraggiosissimo. Oggi è facile attaccare la mafia, oggi io posso dire “la mafia è una montagna di merda” (frase storica di Peppino Impastato, NdR), ed andare a dormire a casa con serenità. Dirlo negli anni 70 indicava un coraggio eccezionale che ci consentiva un momento di rottura culturale tra quella che era la vecchia visione che il paese poteva avere di determinati personaggi e la nuova visione che si stava venendo a creare. Lui è il momento di rottura, attraverso il suo coraggio. Da lui nasce il riscatto e la rivoluzione culturale del mio paese.

     

  • Gianfranco Rosi
    Art & Culture

    Gianfranco Rosi: a Citizen of the World with a Migrant Heart

    Eritrea. Italy. Turkey. US. The life’s journey of Gianfranco Rosi has always been the one of a traveller, a citizen of the world with a migrant heart.

    Born in Asmara, Eritrea, during the War of Independence, at age 13 he escaped his country on a military plane to find refugee in Italy. He lived his youth between Rome and Instanbul before moving to New York City to attend the New York University Film School.

    His life story sounds like a movie, and it sets the cultural background with which Rosi always approaches story-telling. He has a distinctive aesthetical style, telling the stories of real people, told from their points of view: stories of migration, alienation, social struggles. These narratives are witness and reported with such honesty that they almost seem surreal.

    Critically acclaimed all over the world, Gianfranco Rosi’s documentaries have always received international attention and won prestigious prizes like the Golden Lion Award at the 70th Venice International Film Festivals with 'Sacro GRA'.

    His last effort, ‘Fire at Sea’ (Fuocoammare), recently won the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film FestivalFestiaval, and it was selected as the Italian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 89th Academy Awards.

    Shot on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, the documentary chronicles the European migrants crisis and the travelers’ dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. In the background the ordinary life of the islanders is depicted through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy from a local fishing family and a doctor who treats the migrants on their arrival.

    The movie already received rave reviews from the American press like The Guardian: “a distinctive, human cinematic style, a collection of tiny details that morph, against osmosis, into a shocking excavation of the mechanics of crisis”. Meryl Streep, chair of the Berlin jury this year, called the film “a daring hybrid of captured footage and deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do. It is urgent, imaginative and necessary filmmaking”.

    Recently screened and previewed at the New York Film Festival, the documentary is gaining large attention from North American audiences and thanks to the film distributor ‘Kino Lorber,’ the film will be screened in all major American theaters.

    We met Gianfranco Rosi during the Columbus Day celebration, and we had the chance to interview him about the movie and its reception here in the US.

    You presented your film here for the first time in New York. How did it go? What feeling did you get?

    It was a fantastic welcoming. It couldn’t have went better! Today there were two beautiful screenings, and they were both packed-out! The reaction of the press and the public was fantastic. And now there’s another preview set for October 16th. It was such an amazing reception, above anything I could have imagined before.

    How would you briefly present your film?

    In a few words, it’s a cry for help against a tragedy, which the film is trying to highlight. It’s a tragedy that thousands of people are living every day as they try to escape from Africa, and many are faced with death. The movie is a story about the island of Lampedusa, but it’s also a cry for help to make people realize that we can’t just turn a blind eye to the tragedy that is occurring right now.

    We are all crossing our fingers for the Oscar. Presenting a documentary is very courageous.

    It’s definitely courageous, and it had been born courageously from the jury that picked it. It has seen some controversy in Italy, but it was received very well here both by ‘Variety’, by the big named people, and by the public. Now we’re beginning a very long road. It is nominated in two categories, for best documentary and for best foreign film. That’s why I’m here; the journey has already begun.

    Is there anything in particular that struck you about Americans’ reactions? Clearly they are also dealing with the important concept of immigration at this point in time.

    I was struck by the point that the film is a collection and a microcosm of a universal message that is arriving in Lampedusa. People are often dying in the desert and out at sea because of their attempts to break free and their desire to escape from tragedies. The people who died in the desert are like the people who died at sea. The Mediterranean sea has become a tomb for 25,000 people who were trying to reach Lampedusa, and the same thing is happening in the desert at the border between the United States and Mexico, so the film was seen as a very moving piece.

     

  • Matteo Renzi and Agnese Landini with Barack and Michelle Obama
    Facts & Stories

    Italian Excellence at Obama’s “State dinner”

    “The last State dinner with Obama is, both for me and for Agnese, extremely emotional.”

    These were the words expressed by the President of the Council of Ministers, Matteo Renzi, during his meeting with the students of John Hopkins University in Washington. This represents one of the most important commitments the prime minister had during the course of his excursion to America. A luncheon with some representatives of Hillary Clinton campaign concluded his trip.

     

    The last “State dinner” of President Barack Obama met the media’s expectations; for days their pre-dinner conjectures had been filling the newspapers, TV, and the Internet. 357 people were invited to a chic and refined atmosphere that illuminated the prominent personalities of the worlds of art, Italian politics, and American politics. Guests were met with elegance, formality, and freedom from professional commitments.

     

    “Don’t worry about how we are dressed; they’re only interested in the ladies’ dresses,” Obama joked. He greeted Renzi who was wearing an Armani tuxedo, an homage to the fashion guru that Renzi invited, as one of Italy’s finest, to the dinner. However, the First Ladies were really the ones who stole the spotlight. Michelle Obama was dressed in a gold and pink Versace gown, Agnese Landini in a silver gown by Scervino, and the paralympic champion Bebe Vio in Dior, an outfit that had already been a topic of discussion on social media and had been shown off in a selfie.

     

    Among the finest in attendance during the illustrious evening was chef Mario Batali - requested by Barack and Michelle Obama for his exceptional catering: sweet-potato agnolotti with butter and sage, pumpkin salad, and beef braciole with a horseradish and turnip-green dressing. These plates paid homage to Italian dishes and were revisited thanks the ingenuity of the Italian-American chef. He prepared the dinner with vegetables from the White House vegetable garden. The star Gwen Stefani fired-up the guests with her rock performances.

     

    A few days ago Renzi announced the names of the Italian representatives that were invited to the dinner. The guests included the fashion designer Giorgio Armani, the president of the National Anti-corruption Authority Raffaele Cantone, Oscar winners Roberto Benigni and Paolo Sorrentino, the paralympic champion Bebe Vio, the director of CERN Fabiola Gianotti, the mayor of Lampedusa Giusi Nicolini, and the curator of the department of Architecture and Design of the MOMA Paola Antonelli.

     

    At the gala the ex GP champion Mario Andretti, John Elkann and his wife Lavinia, the CEO of Estee Lauder Fabrizio Freda, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Paolo Gentiloni, and the Italian ambassador in Washington Armando Varricchio also participated. On the American side Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry were present.

     

    The strong political and diplomatic charge of the evening was reduced by a light hearted atmosphere that was rich in humor. “When I came in I was the young guy -- now he’s the young guy. But from the first time we met, I could see that he represented the energy and the optimism, the vision and the values that can carry Italy, and Europe, forward.” Obama said during his toast, remembering Renzi’s adolescent beginnings on the television show ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ “Agnese recounted - and the President continued - how big his shirts and his sweaters were, an insult to Italian fashion, Giorgio Armani would be ashamed” and also, “Benigni promised to not jump on the tables.”

     

    Prime Minister Renzi also affectionately joked with Michelle Obama, referring to the First Lady’s last public speech against Donald Trump’s sexism and in support of Hillary Clinton by saying “Your speeches are better than your tomatoes!”

     

    Despite the cheerful mood of the evening, the guests did not forget the reason for this important encounter, to enjoy and to solidify the profound diplomatic ties between the United States and its historic ally, Italy, and to give maximum visibility to the important political events that both nations will be confronting shortly: the presidential election in America and the December 4th constitutional referendum, which is crucial for the future of Italy.

     

    Obama is clearly one of its supporters: “Good morning, buongiorno, this marks the final official visit and the state dinner of my presidency. We saved the best for last.” the President began before he presented the Italian Prime Minister. Matteo represents a new generation of leaders not only in Italy but in the EU and the world. I’m cheering for him, and I think he should stay in politics regardless of the outcome of the December 4th referendum.” Referring then to the UE Barack Obama expressed “Now would be a good time, I believe, to refocus attention on growth and making investments. Because one of the reasons that we've been able to cut our deficits by two-thirds is not simply because we cut spending by two-thirds. We disciplined spending, but we also grew fast enough that more revenue came in. Matteo is right, Italy has been true to its word in Europe and met its obligations -- but my hope would be the debate broadens as Europe moves forward around how to grow more quickly, put more people back to work, see incomes rise, create a greater sense of momentum and optimism.”

     

    The President of the United States paid several homages to Italy: from the role of the resistance to that of the immigrants, from his love for culture to his love for food, fashion, wine, and Sofia Loren, there’s a lot of reasons he considers himself an ‘honorary Italian.’ “Patti chiari, amicizia lunga” (Short reckonings make long friends!) with this traditional Italian saying, Barack Obama summarized the alliance between the two countries.

     

    Renzi warmly reciprocated Obama’s enthusiasm: “It's an incredible honor, it's an incredible gift, this opportunity on this solemn occasion to celebrate the relation between our two nations.” “Think about our history,” Renzi continues, “We can imagine five centuries ago when a young Italian called Amerigo Vespucci gave his name to America. And 70 years ago, so many young Americans sacrificed their lives to give freedom back to Italy.  Thank you again to these people. Italy is ready to build with United States of America a great season of new opportunities, a future -- common future -- based on strengths, civil rights, education, culture, soft power -- the real great bond between the United States and Italy.”

    The Prime Minister then closed with a grand exclamation: “viva gli Stati Uniti, viva l’Italia, viva la libertà.”

  • Matteo Renzi e Agnese Landini con Barack e Michelle Obama
    Fatti e Storie

    Eccellenza italiana allo "State dinner" di Obama

    "L'ultima cena di Stato con Obama è stata per me e Agnese una grande emozione". Queste le parole espresse dal Presidente del Consiglio Matteo Renzi durante l'incontro con gli studenti della John Hopkins University di Washington, uno dei tanti importanti impegni del premier in agenda durante questa sua trasferta americana che si e' conclusa con un 'pranzo ristretto' con alcuni rappresentanti della campagna di Hilary Clinton.

    L'ultima "State dinner" del Presidente Barack Obama ha mantenuto le aspettative dei media che da giorni hanno riempito tutti i più importanti canali di comunicazione tra web, televisione e carta stampata; 357 invitati in un'atmosfera chic e raffinata che ha illuminato una carrellata di personalità di spicco del mondo dell'arte e della politica italiana ed americana coniugando con eleganza formalità e disimpegno.

    "Non ti preoccupare come siamo vestiti, sono interessati solo agli abiti delle signore", ha subito scherzato Obama salutando Renzi, in smoking Armani, omaggio al guru della moda selezionato da Renzi tra le eccellenze italiane invitate alla cena. Sono state infatti le first ladies della serata a rubare la scena, in abito oro rosa Versace Michelle Obama, in argento lavorato da Scervino Agnese Landini, in Dior invece la campionessa paralimpica Bebe Vio, outfit che già avevo fatto discutere sui social media per un chiaccherato ed ostentato selfie.

    Tra le tante eccellenze presenti alla serata l'illustre chef Mario Batali voluto da Barack e Michelle Obama per un catering d'eccezione: agnolotti di patate dolci con burro e salvia, insalata di zucca, braciole di manzo con colatura di rafano e friarielli. Un omaggio ai piatti italiani rivisitati con la sorprendente estrosità dello chef italo-americano e cucinati con le verdure dell'orto della Casa Bianca. La star Gwen Stefani ha invece scaldato gli animi degli ospiti con le sue performance rock.

    Qualche giorno fa erano stati annunciati da Renzi i nomi della delegazione italiana invitata alla cena: oltre allo stilista Giorgio Armani, il presidente dell’Autorità nazionale anticorruzione Raffaele Cantone, i premi Oscar Roberto Benigni e Paolo Sorrentino, la campionessa paralimpica Bebe Vio, la direttrice del CERN Fabiola Gianotti, la sindaca di Lampedusa Giusi Nicolini e la curatrice del dipartimento di Architettura e Design del Moma Paola Antonelli.

    Al gala hanno anche poi partecipato l'ex campione GP Mario Andretti, John Elkann con la moglie Lavinia Mario Andretti, il CEO di Estee Lauder Fabrizio Freda, il ministro degli Esteri Paolo Gentiloni e l'ambasciatore italiano a Wahington Armando Varricchio. Sul versante invece americano si è fatta particolarmente notare la presenza del vicepresidente Joe Biden e del il segretario di Stato John Kerry.

    La carica di forte valenza politica e diplomatica della serata è stata stemperata da un'atmosfera leggera ricca anche di humor. "Una volta ero io quello giovane, ora è lui, stimo il suo ottimismo, la sua energia e la sua visione", ha detto Obama al brindisi, ricordando gli esordi di Renzi adolescente nella trasmissione televisiva  'Ruota della Fortuna'. "Agnese ha raccontato - ha continuato il Presidente - come le sue magliette e i suoi maglioni erano larghi, un affronto alla moda italiana, Giorgio Armani se ne vergognerebbe" e ancora, "Benigni ha promesso di non saltare sui tavoli".

    Anche il premier Renzi si è lasciato andare ad un affettuoso scambio di battute con Michelle Obama riferendosi all'ultimo discorso pubblico della first lady contro il sessismo di Donald Trump in sostegno di Hilary Clinton affermando "i tuoi ultimi discorsi sono migliori dei tuoi pomodori!".

    La patina allegra e colorata della serata non ha fatto dimenticare però ai suoi ospiti il motivo precipuo di questo importante incontro, manifestare e consolidare da una parte il profondo legame diplomatico che intercorre tra gli USA e la storica alleata Italia, dall'altro dare massima visibilità agli importanti eventi politici con i quali entrambe le nazioni si andranno a confrontare a breve: le elezioni presidenziali in America e l'importante referendum del 4 dicembre per l'Italia, cruciale per il futuro.

    Obama è dichiaratamente un suo supporter: "Good morning, buongiorno, è l'ultima visita e cena di Stato che faccio da presidente. Abbiamo tenuto il meglio per la fine" ha esordito infatti il Presidente presentando il Premier italiano. "Matteo rappresenta una nuova generazione di leader non solo in Italia ma in UE e nel mondo. Io tifo per lui, secondo me deve restare in politica comunque vada il referedum del 4 dicembre". Riferendosi poi all'UE Barack Obama si è così espresso: "È il momento di concentrarsi sulla crescita e fare investimenti. Noi abbiamo diminuito il deficit non solo perchè abbiamo tagliato le spese ma anche perchè abbiamo fatto in modo che ci fosse un gettito fiscale maggiore. Matteo ha ragione quando dice che l'Italia ha mantenuto la sua parola rispetto all'UE sulle riforme, e l'UE deve trovare il modo di crescere più rapidamente".

    Il presidente degli Stati Uniti ha reso ripetuti omaggi all'Italia: dal ruolo della Resistenza a quello degli immigrati, dal suo amore per la cultura a quello per il cibo, la moda, il vino e Sofia Loren, tanto da proclamarsi un 'italiano onorario'. "Patti chiari, amicizia lunga" con questo tradizionale detto italiano Barack Obama ha riassunto lo spirito di alleanza tra i due paesi.

    Renzi ha calorosamene ricambiato l'entusiasmo di Obama: "con lei, presidente, la storia si è fatta, questo è un onore incredibile, un incredibile regalo che celebra l'amicizia tra i due paesi, un rapporto mai così stretto e profondo". "Pensiamo alla nostra storia" ha proseguito Renzi, "immaginiamo cinque secoli fa quando un giovane italiano, Amerigo Vespucci, che diede il suo nome all'America; e pensiamo a 70 anni fa quando tanti giovani americani hanno sacrificato la loro vita per ridare la libertà all'Italia. Grazie a queste persone. Ora l'Italia è pronta a costruire una grande stagione di nuove opportunità con gli Stati Uniti, un grande futuro insieme".

     Il premier ha poi chiuso con una pomposa esclamazione: "viva gli Stati Uniti, viva l'Italia, viva la libertà."

  • Matteo Renzi con Barack Obama alla Casa Bianca
    Fatti e Storie

    Matteo Renzi alla ‘State dinner’ del presidente Obama

    “Il nostro paese è ospite dell’ultima cena di Stato del presidente Obama: è un fatto simbolico, non personale, è il riconoscimento da parte del nostro amato e principale alleato di quanto può essere forte un’amicizia, un rapporto”.

    Così si è espresso il presidente del Consiglio Matteo Renzi, durante il suo intervento agli Stati Generali della Lingua Italiana a Firenze, in merito al prestigioso invito all’esclusivissima ultima “State dinner” del Presidente degli Stati Uniti d’America che si terrà domani 18 ottobre.

    Prima di Renzi altri tre presidenti del consiglio italiani hanno avuto l’onore di presenziare alla cena. Il primo fu Giulio Andreotti nel 1977 invitato da Jimmy Carter. Il leader democristiano fece poi il bis il 6 maggio 1990 su richiesta di George Herbert Walker Bush. Nel 1998 fu la volta di Romano Prodi ospite di Bill Clinton. Di particolare rilievo è stata anche la partecipazione di Silvio Berlusconi, il 13 ottobre 2008, alla “Official dinner” di George W. Bush, il convivio finanziato direttamente dal presidente degli Stati Uniti.

    La “State dinner”, così come l’ “Official dinner”, sono tra gli eventi più importanti nell’ottica del simbolismo diplomatico americano. La cena che si svolge tradizionalmente nella “State dining room” della Casa Bianca, segue un protocollo formale molto rigido ed istituzionale ma Barack Obama e la first lady Michelle non hanno rinunciato allo spirito anticonformista che li ha sempre contraddistinti, invitando per esempio la rock star Gwen Stefani come ospite musicale della serata.

    La delegazione italiana scelta da Matteo Renzi (accompagnato dalla moglie Agnese Landini), per questa storica occasione non ha mancato di scatenare accese polemiche. La scelta è ricaduta su alcuni protagonisti di spicco, simboli dell’eccellenza italiana come lo stilista Giorgio Armani, il presidente dell’Autorità nazionale anticorruzione Raffaele Cantone, i premi Oscar Roberto Benigni e Paolo Sorrentino, la campionessa paralimpica Bebe Vio, la direttrice del Cern Fabiola Gianotti, la sindaca di Lampedusa Giusi Nicolini, la cui isola è recentemente sotto i riflettori internazionali grazie al documentario di Gianfranco Rosi ‘Fuocoammare’, film rappresentante l’Italia per l’Oscar al miglior film straniero 2017, e la curatrice del dipartimento di Architettura e Design del Moma Paola Antonelli.

    Incredula la reazione della campionessa di scherma Bebe Vio che tramite il suo profilo Facebook ha esternato tutta la sua meraviglia: “Quando ho ricevuto l’invito per la cena di Obama ho pensato ‘sono su scherzi a parte’! Una volta capito che era tutto vero il mio primo pensiero è stato ‘Oddio cosa mi metto?!?’ Allora ho chiesto aiuto a Maria Grazia Chiuri, la nuova boss di Dior…”.

    Particolarmente criticata è stata la scelta di invitare Benigni per il suo palesato schieramento in favore del Sì al referendum sulla Costituzione. Il capogruppo alla Camera di Forza Italia Renato Brunetta si è scagliato contro Renzi con un tweet al veleno: “Cena per il Sì al referendum. Che squallore”. Dello stesso avviso il leader del Caroccio Matteo Salvini: “Cena a base di barzellette sulla guerra contro la Russia? Chissà che risate, e chi se ne frega della Guerra Mondiale che queste menti malate ci stanno facendo rischiare, attaccando Putin e finanziando estremisti islamici, primavere arabe e immigrazioni senza precedenti. Sono preoccupato”. A favore invece della scelta di portare Benigni alla cena, la dem Laura Garavini che ha affermato: “La cena darà lustro alle eccellenze italiane: ma il capogruppo di Forza Italia Brunetta, non si sa perchè, la vede come uno spot per il Sì al referendum, e come una cosa squallida. Sara mica invidioso?”

    Un’altra eccellenza italiana è stata scelta per la serata da Barack e Michelle Obama, il rinomato chef italiano Mario Batali. Attento supervisore del menu della cena proprio la first lady che ha richiesto dei piatti che rappresentino la tipica tradizione culinaria italiana cucinata però con prodotti americani.

    “Nessun piatto che possa spiazzare qualcuno”, ha raccontato Batali. “Le pietanze sono tutte ispirate alla cucina italiana, in modo semplice e riconoscibile, ma ciascun piatto avrà qualcosa di sorprendente. E userò quasi al cento per cento prodotti americani”.

    Importanti ed attuali le tematiche che si prevede saranno al centro dell’incontro come la questione siriana, il terrorismo, i difficili rapporti tra Nato e Russia, punti di tangenza e di stretta alleanza tra i due paesi. “L’Italia è uno dei più stretti alleati degli Stati Uniti, partner fondamentale soprattutto sul fronte della politica di sicurezza”, ha infatti dichiarato il portavoce della Casa Bianca, Josh Earnest, annunciando la visita di Renzi.

    L’invito all’ultimo incontro ufficiale di Obama prima delle elezioni è una forte testimonianza del forte legame diplomatico che lega L’Italia e gli Stati Uniti e lo stesso presidente del Consiglio non ha mancato di sottolinearlo in tutte le sue recenti apparizioni pubbliche. “C’è un rapporto molto forte tra USA e Italia. Obama ha detto che questo rapporto conosce oggi il livello più alto della sua storia, cosa che ci inorgoglisce e che corrisponde a verità. Mai come in questa fase l’Italia vede gli USA come un punto di riferimento della nostra amicizia internazionale e delle possibilità di crescita dal punto di vista economico”, così si è espresso Renzi lo scorso lunedì parlando alla Camera in vista del Consiglio Europeo del 20 e 21 ottobre.

    La missione del premier a Washington ha anche lo scopo di entrare in contatto con la prossima possibile amministrazione, se Hilary Clinton dovesse risultare vincente alle elezioni di novembre. Mercoledì Renzi parteciperà ad un piccolo pranzo fuori dal programma ufficiale, con interlocutori vicini alla campagna di Hilary, organizzato in collaborazione con il Center for American Progress, think tank fondato da John Podesta, l’italo-americano un tempo a capo dello staff della Casa Bianca durante la presidenza di Bill Clinton.

    Il presidente del Consiglio ha pubblicamente preso posizione a favore della candidatura di Hilary, “Ti aspetto come first husband al G7 del prossimo anno in Italia”, aveva entusiasticamente dichiarato Renzi. L’incontro con Hilary potrebbe riportare al centro l’ipotesi di ricostituire un’alleanza tra i leader progressisti sul modello della “terza via”, per contrastare i populismi sulle due sponde dell’Atlantico, con Renzi e il premier canadese Trudeau come campioni della nuova generazione sostenuti dalla presidenza Clinton.

    Fitta l’agenda d’impegni di Matteo Renzi durante questa trasferta americana che inizierà stasera con una cena privata nella residenza dell’ambasciatore Armando Varricchio e proseguirà domani con l’incontro con Obama, la conferenza stampa congiunta, un pranzo al dipartimento di Stato offerto dal vice presidente Biden e dal segretario Kerry, e la “State dinner”. Mercoledì mattina Renzi terrà un discorso presso  la John Hopkins University, visiterà il cimitero di Arlington e prima di ripartire parteciperà al ‘pranzo ristretto’. Washington vuole sostenere il premier anche nel referendum, ma lo ha sollecitato a non dimettersi, qualunque sia il risultato. Obama spera anche di poter fare un ultimo tentativo per far passare il trattato sul commercio con L’Europa TTIP prima della fine del suo mandato e conta particolarmente sull’aiuto dell’Italia.

  • David Greco with his father Michele and his son Christian
    Life & People

    Mike’s Deli: Animating the Bronx’s “Big Italy”

    It is by listening to the passion with which David and his father Michele narrate the story of their family business and witnessing the sparkle in their eyes when they present you their products that you remember what the term genuine means. You close your eyes and you feel like somebody is reading an adventure book to you.

    1947 - Fresh off the Sobieski ship

    “I am from the Cosenza province in Calabria, and I’ve been living in the Bronx for 68 years,” Michele Greco begins. “I came here in 1947, right after the war, with my twin brother Joe. We took a Russian boat, the Sobieski, and arrived in America after 30 days of crossing. My father was an American citizen. We were eighteen and full of life, and we started working at the Cappiello’s grocery store on Arthur Avenue. I’ve always lived in this neighborhood. Now here I have my son David and my grandson with me; we are three generations. The place has always been promising.”

    In 1922, the Cappiello family, originally from Naples, carried their butcher trade on Arthur Avenue and by the time that Mayor Fiorello La Guardia built the new indoor market; they were the first original butchers. Michele started working for them, and he married their only daughter, Antonietta. Driven by a stirring passion for this job he then bought the place and called it Mike’s Deli

    “My father loved this market,” explains David. “He always said that this place is like a theater because my father wanted to be an actor, you could come here and have a show; it was like a stage to him performing for his costumers. His relationship with the clients has always been a friendly one. My parents taught me the work ethic of breaking your ass to satisfy your clients. My mother told me five F’s: Family, Food, Faith, Friends and Forever. My father three C’s (in Italian): Cervello – brain; Cuore – heart and Coglioni – balls. I live by that. If you don’t have the balls to work here, you don’t go through the day. This is not a job for dummies; in order to satisfy people you have to be able to read them even through their body language.”

    Genuine products and delightful dining

    “Supermarkets have plenty of imported products, but just because something is from Parma it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good quality,” explains David while presenting the Arthur’s market best products. 

    “They never tell you how many qualities of parmigiano exist. There’s five grades of parmigiano according to the aging. We store it for 36 months, and we keep it for another year, and we care about the crystallization. Parmigiano has to be cracked with the right knife, not randomly cut, otherwise it loses its flavor. We buy the best parmigiano from Italy, just like we buy the best provolone. We change the provolone bag four times; we put the extra effort to let the cheese dry and not cut it right away because it’s aged. Likewith our “sopressata,” it is like the one grandpa makes, the one you store in the cellar at home. I import prosciutto from the Galloni riserva. And we buy the Parma of course, but 24 months aged prosciutto, you rarely find this quality. We make homemade mozzarella here: the secret is about the curd you use to make it, there are different qualities, the cheaper the quality the more profit you make but I don’t do that.”

    Not just a simple market, Mike’s Deli also showcases chef David Greco’s cooking expertise and genius. You can stop by to have a full meal or a tantalizing panino. “I like to cook the Italian style believing in the quality, not overdoing, but I like to mix it up with a more Italian American flavor. For our kitchen we have access to the greatest quality thanks to the butcher, the fruit stand and all the other shops in the market.”

    Celebrity clients and a special mozzarella maker

    Along with other special clients like Hillary Clinton, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and many others for whom Mike’s Deli prepares sumptuous caterings; David had the privilege to be visited by the illustrious Mayor of Naples Luigi de Magistris.

    “I insisted that he made mozzarella with me. He was so excited about it because he said that everything is now made in the cheese factories; it is not personal anymore. The mayor is a very passionate man, even though he was all dressed up in his professional outfit he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. We made the charcoal mozzarella. He liked it because it showed that here we preserve and we care about Italian true traditions and heritage.”

    David’s diligence at NIAF

    David’s commitment to Italian heritage is, in fact, as visceral as the commitment to his job is. That’s why he, through the years, established a prolific relationship with NIAF (the National Italian American Foundation). “For eleven years I’ve been considered NIAF chef. I’m an honorary member and I do the catering for the gala in Washington every year. NIAF helps people like me; they help the blue collar person. They do so much to represent and value Italian culture and heritage in this country, bringing it to another level. Nobody helps the Italian community in America, Italians are not listed as ethnic, there’s no Italian welfare; to be an Italian American business man is very difficult.”

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