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Articles by: Benedetta Grasso

  • Facts & Stories

    Angelo Vasta: The Dance Filmmaker of the 21st Century

    Dance in movies has always even a popular tradition on the American silver screen. Compared to Italy, musicals in the US are widely loved and in some cases revered or they are staples of pop culture like West Side Story. We see dancers everywhere, in commercial phenomenons like Step Up, to Oscar winners like Black Swan or documentaries like Mr. Gaga, kids learn dance moves constantly from their first steps, dance is at the heart of school talent shows and TV ones, live events , narrative stories, documentaries  certain dance sequences in music videos are engrained in our brain, but how exactly do you film dance? Who films dance?

     

    Of course in some cases the director of a movie himself, can be passionate about that subject, but filming dancers requires a lot of specific skills and the development of an aesthetic of movement, a flexibility, both literal and figurative. 

    In a way it doesn’t differ too much from how sports-watching has evolved. Technology, cameras and swift turns are required to get shots of a goal or a home-run no one could have ever imagined before.

     

    In dance it’s not quite at that stage yet, especially because one has to respect the really hard work of the dancers and not interrupt them or get in their way, but it’s becoming a niche form of film-making, one that requires a technical knowledge and a love for the arts, a full immersive identification with the dancer.

     

    Angelo Vasta was one of those people who, when they went to see Wenders’ Pina at the theaters, came out changed. 

    “I watched it on December 25th 2011, I was in the city for Christmas.”

    Angelo was born in Milan and he moved to New York over six years ago with a passion for photography and cinematography, fields where he had displayed already a lot of talent, aiming at the most perfectionist and experimentally creative aesthetic approach.

    “I came here because there weren’t really possibilities to go further in this field in Italy. In NYC dance is literally everywhere, you meet dancers at Starbucks. I wasn’t immediately focused exclusively on dance but I quickly realized that if I specialized in it I could discover a field few had explored: dance filmmaking. Dance gives the possibility to express yourself solely through images to a filmmaker, and film is one of the most apt medium for it. it’s a cinematographer’s dream ”

     

    Angelo has worked with several companies, all different in terms of musical style and creative approaches, but his moment of epiphany came with his first assignment.

    “I met with a dancer of the corps du ballet from the NY City Ballet and decided to film the “day in the life” of a dancer, behind the scenes. I was very attracted by the visual impact of a professional dancer on camera, it felt almost voyeuristic. It wasn’t about filming him on stage, but seeing what he went through from dawn to sunset. 

     

    One of the ironic aspects of a country like Italy, so devoted to the arts with the most important theater in the world for opera and dance in Milan “La Scala”, is that the arts are often taught more privately and not necessarily combined with the school curriculum. 

    Kids get a lot of training or are exposed to artistic beauty since childhood, but even in the best school the approach is more academic and theoretical. Same goes for sports, for a country so obsessed with soccer, PE in school is often a “Joke-hour”.

     

    Angelo was exposed to dancing thanks to some Italian variety shows on TV that were very popular in the 90s: “They had a huge cast of ensemble dancers, I would memorize their steps one by one, after recording them on my VCR”

     

    As a teenager he attended a Classical High School, the most intellectually challenging kind of high-school in Italy specialized in Humanities and being immersed in studies that examined philosophy, beauty and complex thoughts, definitely reinforced the theoretical mindset behind his art.

    “I was working with an amazing queer company here in NY and I decided to film them naked and I wasn’t given many directions. I did it and when I showed it to some of my closest friends they all said there were elements of the composition or the image itself that reminded them of classic art or Greek Theatre.

    A man’s body is the manifestation of the Greek concept “kalos kai agathos” (Beautiful and good) an essential concept of the ancient world. 

     

    “In general though I didn’t fully explore being a dancer. In middle school we did some musicals in way smaller productions than in a US school, but I felt I would be bullied by my family or those I knew if I told them I wanted to dance. In NY everyone who wants to be a dancer is pragmatic about it, they want to be full-time artists” 

     

    Dance film-making is in high-demand recently both for practical and purely creative reasons. In the past dancers used to have portfolios with printed photos, now reels are the norm. And in terms of creativity there is a wide spectrum, it’s a blank canvas, it’s a privileged space for film-making because it allows the camera to sneak between the bodies, follow them around, whether it’s a highly choreographed musical, or someone rehearsing. 

    In the Youtube era also it’s not so rare for a dance video to go viral, or to serve an artistic purpose to spread a message or become a phenomenon like SIA’s music videos. 

     

    “I have always thought through images” says Angelo “and movement is a form of communication in itself. Every company I worked with has a different vision, different needs. Some have asked me more of a straightforward documentary on a production,working alongside the choreographer; some want me to film live-events; some are more focused on the backstage; some on promotion videos and ads; finally some want a very artistic, conceptual and staged project”

     

    For a dance film-maker there has to be an identification with the subject, they have to become one thing. 

    “It obviously triggered in me the desire I had since I was a kid to be a dancer, but I also realized that today I wouldn’t fully go into that field. It requires too many sacrifices. I concentrate on the movement and the body and let them talk.

    One time at Gallim Dance I was working closely with the choreographer, yet observing, and they were still in the initial production phase of a project and I saw the dancers do different exercise. One required them to interpret some themes like ‘your relationship with your family’, another involved some sort of techno beat and they had to keep up with the beat until they looked almost mad, or possessed and I had to film them. The choreographer then asked me if I wanted to join in…” 

     

    “There are moments when the dancing becomes so moving or engaging that I get lost int he creative process, I find it hard to detach myself and to shoot, I get too involved. Or others where I was honestly overwhelmed by the space I was in. The Symphony Space felt huge. It looked like a theater where they film award shows in Hollywood. I had to film a performance and I was a little nervous”

     

    Like many Italians moving to NYC, as a millennial, even if coming from an open-minded and incredibly International city like Milan, it also means being exposed to a bigger world, without rules and boundaries, to learn about modernity and its canons. “The modern aesthetic for males has changed, dancers don’t usually have statuary bodies like Nureyev, but their movement is still perfect. It ties in with how the themes of “gender” nowadays have become blurrier”

     

    The particularity of Italy with dance and certain arts is its sense of “elite”. Of course anyone’s ultimate dream is La Scala but a passion and a dream have also to turn into a profitable job.

     

    Angelo adds in fact “If I had to do this job in Italy it would be radically different. It’s something I’ve researched and talked about with people who dance here even from Italy or work in the field. I would be missing the hands-on, on the ground aspect of it. There is technical term in dancing ‘Marking it’ , it’s going through the steps without fully doing them, preparing, almost like a first draft when you can’t perform the same movement over and over in its complete form, it helps memorize them. When I’m flying dancers I always tell them I’ll turn the camera on when they are ready and not waste the movements. When someone tells me ‘I’m marking it’, I wait until they do it for real.

     

    Angelo is now a “real” newyorker, who planted his roots here and established deep ties through his work giving opportunities to American companies to shine but he has still bigger dreams for the future: “I want to continue what Im doing now for important clients or freelancing, but my ultimate dream is to make a movie where dance is the protagonist, it carries the narrative story, collaborating with choreographers and dancers. I could say right now I’m marking it…”

    Angelo Vasta's reel >>>

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    The Count of Cavour & the Barolo Langa's Pralina

    In July 1845 in Turin, Piedmont (italy) the Italian statesman Cavour - the man who had a huge impact on Italy’s unification - wrote a letter to his dear friend Giacomo Giovannetti. He was boasting about the wines from his region, claiming that these grapes - at the time unknown and looked down on - “could compete with the hills of Burgundy”. 

    He wanted his people to be proud of them and make them “rich, elegant and indulgent”, adding, “I hope to take part in this enological crusade and I will do what I can to achieve this in the circles that I frequent.” 

    He then promised to send these wines as a gift to every diplomat, something he did, especially with Barolo, on of his favorites.

     
    Cavour was taking something considered marginal and small at the time and trying to bring it to the surface, to make the mainstream world discover a gem that then became a huge International market. An “enological crusade”, born out of the same entrepreneurial instinct some family businesses have about their traditions, unique products or ideas, when they present them to the world. 
     

    The current new wave of Italian products in the US, has gone hand in hand with a universal search for authenticity, especially for the millenials’ “foodies” generation. Having Italian products isn’t about having just an Italian night out any more, but like for any other immigrant culture, regional dishes are now part of typical vernacular when clicking on a delivery menu, stores feature products only found in obscure Italian towns. 

     
    Nowadays you can also find Barolo wine in lots of restaurants, stores across the States. 
     
    One place where you still might not expect it though…: chocolate. Like a golden ticket inside a delicate dark ,but not too bitter, chocolate praline, filled with chocolate mousse and Barolo, produced by the De martini Cioccolato company, based in Turin. La Pralina di Cavour. 

     
    Ironically wine and chocolate, now considered the perfect pairing for anything from sophisticated  fashion buffets, to suburban books clubs, to intimate romantic dates, weren’t once quite made for each other. Chocolate-makers were rightfully worried about the acidity of the wine, different from the more common liquors, but like for any perfect couple, the secret is chemistry…and la Pralina di Cavour has captured it.
     
    Any story connected to the chocolate business has a bit of childlike wonder or a ‘Wes Andersonian’ colorful beauty and attention to detail at its core. In movies like “Chocolat” or “Like Water for Chocolate” it goes hand in hand with secret family histories, instincts, almost magical journeys. 
     
    Stefano De Martini, a young entrepreneur from Turin, has continued one of these journeys…and he has recently launched his family company in the United States. 

     
    He thinks back to his great-grandfather, who went to Switzerland to learn the art of pastry, at a time where his training seemed straight out of the pastry-shop scene in “Gran Budapest Hotel”. 

    Then he went back to Turin and started working for a pastry shop. “After that he opened his own workshop and store, in true Italian fashion” says Stefano, since it was common to have old ‘mom and pop store’ with a sales’ area in the front and the family making the product in the back. 

     

    “It then expanded into a biscottificio (small cookies/biscuits factory) when my grandpa came of age, but he was very ill, his health suffered. My grandfather had small children and he was working very hard, for a big company famous for making Panettone who would rely on small artisan shops and he gave all he could. 

    He was sleeping in the factory, he couldn’t see his kids, and sometimes he had to stay there for 48 hours straight to let the panettone dough rise properly”

     
    In a more modern age, where small is big (think of our technology), less is more (think of new trendy restaurants, re-interpreting traditions from all over the world) ,  and specificity is key (think how well we all know the world at large now, in a modern authentic way)  high-quality products became crucial. 

     

    Stefano’s father Ettore, then decides to focus all of their energy on the chocolate business, unique chocolates, and passes his passion on to his son who as a “millenial” sees beyond borders. “Wen I was a kid I ate so much chocolate, of course; I almost fainted once but what fascinated me was being at the store, interacting with people. I was already thinking about new ways to sell it”

    Nowadays it is well known that different combinations of chocolate have actually powerful effects on mood, antioxidants and your overall wellbeing (in moderation) and it’s therefore even more interesting to find something unique, specific. In the movie “Chocolat” Juliette Binoche spins a plate in front of her customers, who then project themselves onto it whatever they see in the colorful images moving: a poetic Rorschach test. In the animated cartoon “Ratatouille” it’s the simplest dish that takes you back to a feeling, to childhood, to a picture. Like, for example, one of Stefano’s grandfather where he stands, in black and white, in the original pastry shop. “I hold that picture very dear and it was one of the first photos I posted on our social media page” 

     
    The chocolate stays close to its roots in Piedmont. “We want to keep the original recipes from the region, like the cuneesi al rum, we use the historical recipe where the mousse inside is laid over a “pan di spagna”.

     
    In Italy their candy bars, truffles, bassinati, chocolate eggs, cuunesi al rum, amaretti, gianduiotti, and more, and their unmistakable praline di cavour (with barolo) are found in some small and big stores from Piedmont to Naples, in airport’s Duty Frees and since two years ago De martini has become the official supplier of the Reggia di Venaria. The Palace is a breathtaking royal residence in Turin which belonged to the Savoy dynasty: a 17th century fairy-tale like palace, whose gardens are out of a painting. 
     
    With orders coming in from NY stores, restaurants and venues, events, it seems like this family company is expanding its horizons, it’s on its own “crusade” and it has found its “hills of the Burgundy” to put it in Cavour’s terms.

     

    “My grandpa always wanted me to go to NY. I never really understood why. He was the typical Piedmontese man, he never left Turin, he would go from his house, to work, to his garden, from the garden, to work, to his house. I would tell him that I couldn’t afford it so he would go to the supermarket every day to buy these scotch-off lottery tickets that offered a free trip to NY. He never won. The year that he died Id decided to go to NY adventure there. Actually, by some sort of coincidence, I met this young fellow who was opening a gelato store in NY, and from then on I could introduce myself into the network here even more” 

    So if one day you are walking around  NYC and taste Barolo in a chocolate praline, you might be transported from Murray Hill to the beautiful hills of Langhe.

    Visit: www.demartiniusa.com

     

  • Art & Culture

    Il Segreto di Majorana: a Graphic Novel on the Elusive Life of the Sicilian Scientist

    These are some of the unanswered questions in the mysterious life of Ettore Majorana, one of the most important physicists in history, a man from Catania who along with other talented individuals such as Enrico Fermi, revolutionized the field of Science forever. His discoveries, theories and studies, along with his life are undeniably fascinating and it makes sense that they would inspire narrative adaptations. 

    “Il Segreto di Majorana” is a very unique and creative book, a graphic novel, penned by
    Francesca Riccioni with Silvia Rocchi, the illustrator, that takes on the complex task of capturing this man. Thanks to her scientific background in Physics and her love for the arts, Francesca Riccioni has managed to bring those passions together in her work.  
     

    This book also becomes an opportunity to show the brilliance of the young creative and scientific minds of Italy, as well as learn about some of his prominent figures of the past such as Ettore Majorana. I interviewed Francesca on her wonderful new graphic novel which has been published in Italy by Rizzoli and will hopefully cross the ocean soon. 
     

    Some people still look down at graphic novels as something specifically for kids or teenagers, or as a genre focused on fantasy or exaggerated characters and themes, but more and more often it has become the vehicle for basically any powerful adult story, artist or idea.

    From “the Fith Beatlle” , a Brian Epstein biography that panders to the baby-boomers, to the famous “Persepolis” which details the turmoil and coming of age of a young gifted girl in Iran and so on: there is something for every taste and with literary complexity both in form and content.
     

    “Il Segreto di Majorana” examines this physicist through a narrative and creative eye and it’s not looking to dumbing things down. 

    A central theme in the book (Il segreto di Majorana) is Elusiveness. The elusiveness of a man, Majorana,  who avoided definitions, who mysteriously disappeared and who literally tried to find the "elusive side" of matter: anti-matter. He also lived a bit of an elusive life, abstract, never fully satisfied and grounded. Do you agree? When did you encounter the figure of Majorana first in your life  and when and how did you decide to focus on this aspect?
    I completely agree. In my books, I often try to explore the human side of scientists linking that with their work later; this allows me to bring out and deliver scientific facts to the reader through a new channel: the empathy with the scientist’s life.  I like to think that scientific creativity is every bit as powerful as artistic creativity.

    The metaphoric parallel between Ettore and his particle model, Majorana’s fermion, is so self-evident that I realized that was the perfect key to communicate his core concepts in a narrative story.

    The particle shares the same defining traits with its “creator”; among all of them, the fact that it’s the one that has the least interactions out of all the particles of the standard model. 
     

    His elusiveness, his being unattainable,  is a kind of existence that becomes paradoxical, that drives someone towards delusional worlds, towards exaggerated theoretical structures in one’s research, sometimes even a waste of one’s energy, towards the kind of life Majorana lived, the never-ending search for him after his disappearance and his all-consuming research on the particle that still affects all of the scientific community today.

    With “Il Segreto di Majorana” I wanted to focus on a more intimate and personal dimension, and even Leo’s results and intuitions (*Leo is the modern protagonist of the graphic novel, a young researcher in California) in the fields of nano-technology mirror this intention, because it’s a field specialized in minuscule elements instead of, for example, something like the particles’ big accelerators. 
     

    I can’t recall the exact moment when I encountered Ettore Majorana and his life-story. It was probably during my childhood... I think. My mother is a mathematician and has always told us stories about scientists.
     

    On a similar note, there is a quote in the book : “The concept of existence within absence, forgive this play on words, has defined the hidden life of Ettore Majorana after his disappearance, and that’s what has lead me to identify his particle, the most evanescent one”.
    And I noticed that  - compared to most graphic novels - the drawing style (watercolors, sketches and storyboard-type of scenes) reflects that “absence”, that unclear but sometimes almost dreamy quality you project on the character. The pictures seem restless, like they don’t want to stay still and tell you notions, simple facts.

    How did this translate into the aesthetics of the book? Was that done on purpose? 
    I have always been intrigued by this concept, this process, very similar to how our memory works  - but that then goes even beyond that - it’s a strange process that prompts us to re-play or re-situate in the present people or situations from the past, that brings them back to life, craving them, re-contextualizing them: I called it “presence within absence” and, to me, what comes the closest to describe it, is the Quantum state of a particle that is 50% there, but it’s also 50% not there.
     

    And it does reflect what happened to Ettore Majorana, who disappeared in 1938, but who left a mark, with people (at least in Italy) still talking about him to this day, still searching for him after years everywhere; he undeniably still exists even if he’s not here with us. In a much more down to earth way, this process has become more tangible with modern social networks: people are not able to fully experience the actual absence of a person anymore, who then becomes a more symbolic and illusory presence. 
     

    We all take part, some more some less, in a collective culture to which “Il segreto di Majorana” responds to, in a way, with a veiled criticism, trying to invite the readers to respect such a difficult and personal choice of not wanting to speak, to say what hasn’t been said, of wanting to unchain oneself from a certain kind of unhealthy behavior. 
     

    That’s why an illustrator like Silvia Rocchi is, in my opinion, perfect to fully immerse us in this kind of atmosphere. Her style is tormented, emotional and yet dry. The “shots” are framed through a private and intimate point of view, honest and direct at the same time. Silvia also often uses experimental printing techniques in her books that help the narration. I found her idea of using calcographic engravings as an abstract way to interpret the invisible world of particles, very fascinating. 

    I really liked the idea  (in the graphic novel) of going back and forth between the present and the past, in an original way, especially because the protagonists of the parts set in modern times, Leo and Amanda, are Italians abroad.
    Young researchers, students, globe-trotters, people who have lives, jobs, brains and relationships “in-between”. Not necessarily split in two halves, or experiencing weaker links between them, but with more of a borderless and wireless approach to life. What was your thought process in creating this narrative framework? How does this connect with Majorana’s life or your life? 

    I actually never thought about it this way, but thank you for making me realize this connection. Technically the part of the book set in modern times has a precise narrative goal, since i decided I didn’t want to get into all the investigations following the disappearance of the theoretical physicist, because, as I mentioned before, I wanted to respect his wishes for “privacy” when he decided to run away. Leo and Amanda are also important to underline how every figure of the past, every 20th century’s idol, every historical idea, goes through an array of interpretations and that any reflection nowadays is merely a subjective impression, a thought, a personal projection or identification.
     

    But when you think about it, yes the two protagonists, who are not completely in sync with their daily routine, while talking about Ettore, they experiment on each other and they both entertain the idea of an escape, or fiddle with its nuances. 
     

    There is something to be said about how, nowadays, people are used to travel, move constantly,  and try to understand how they see their roots, or the various ways they actually plant them at some point, somewhere, without feeling trapped. 
     

    I think this goes hand in hand with how many more possibilities we have now, depending on one’s life and circumstances or country of origin, to build, to make new choices, to feel in control of our decisions. 

    Do you think Italian graphic novels are becoming more and more successful in Italy? Why now?
    I’m not 100% sure I can give a conclusive answer on this. I do think though that, compared to a few years ago, there is a far more specific and structured response to this genre, in terms of publishing, more attention.

    For example this year graphic novels had a pretty important role and were finally accepted as a legitimate genre at the Salone del Libro in Turin (Turin’s annual Book fair, a prestigious event in Italy) with a big section of the fair dedicated to them and many events and presentations. There is still a bit of a “niche” audience that usually likes comic books, but I think that the interest of the general public is growing, who is starting to fully enjoy an illustrated story with the same satisfaction, if not more, of a traditional novel. I hope this is a trend that continues! 

    This book is about Ettore Majorana, but you also published another graphic novel  about a different scientist, Alan Turing, "ENIGMA. La strana vita di Alan Turing” in 2012.
    Numerous aspects of Turing’s life have made it to the silver screen. The most successful is obviously  ’The Imitation Game” (2014) with Benedict Cumberbatch, a movie that I liked because, much like your  graphic novel, it brought central theoretical concepts to the surface through dramatic moments and crucial “winks” to the way we perceive technology today, in a deeper sense. 

    “Il Segreto di Majorana” feels somewhat like a movie script in terms of structure too. Do you ever get inspired by cinema? Could Majorana or any other scientist have a movie today that is less biopic and more structured around their ideas? 
    Thank you so much for this comparison but actually movies are not necessarily my first source of inspiration. I prefer to start from reality, my travels, those I met, the feelings I had, the photos I took, the kind of themes that are relevant to today’s world: ideas that I start to question, to criticize, or that I’m never too sure if they are ready to be shared with an audience, if they will interest other people, and maybe even enrich their point of view.

    I don’t really love the kind of works of art that stem solely from an individual’s “ego” or stylize everything, or even sometimes I don’t adore pure entertainment, but I like the trigger, the invitation to think about something in new ways, to experiment with new feelings. The structure of “Il Segreto di Majorana” doesn’t simply follow the biopic genre, but, as you pointed out, the scientific ideas of the man in question, his research that has arrived to us intact and influences today’s discoveries.

    Obviously a movie that could capture this “red thread” would seem more interesting to me and I would feel more involved because it would challenge the way I think, or make me think about today’s world.
     

    You often combined your scientific background with your creative work. And I think it’s important to mention that while these are not educational books per se, one learns a great deal reading them. The lesson doesn’t come off as exposition, but you do get a bit of a didactic reenactment of themes, ideas, and even historical elements. Can you tell us about the moment that these two passions converged for you? Do you think that this approach would teach more about science to people? 
    This was always the case, as far as my life is concerned. In my family, my mother is a mathematician, my grandfather collected paintings of early 20th century Italian artists, my father loves fashion and design and I always received inputs from both the scientific and the artistic world.

    Then I was lucky enough to work on my doctoral thesis  (*Francesca has a degree in Physics obtained in Pisa)  at an MRI lab where I could see extremely detailed images of the brain. Those NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) pictures are wonderful, in my opinion, and the techniques needed to capture them fascinated me: they are also full of data and useful information but that doesn’t make them any less intriguing.

    That’s exactly how I would like my books to be,hard work! Albert Einstein used to say that creativity is nothing but intelligence having fun. I love contemporary art, electronic music, other creative fields that combine scientific/technological elements.
     

    I also obtained a master in Science Communications at ISSAS (International superior school of advanced studies) in Trieste, Italy and I believe that everything we learn, not just through an educational ‘top-down’ approach, depends on the needs of who’s receiving that knowledge, but also on the intentions of those passing it on, communicating: when these two needs meet it’s when there is an interaction at the same level (peer-to-peer). 
     

    The intention behind the way I write is not necessarily to teach Science, but to make people more aware by opening some pre-existing files in their head, that while living our modern lives we also “live” Science on a daily basis. 

    What was special about this collaboration?  Can you tell me more about Silvia Rocchi?
    Working with Silvia was magical! I was already writing the book about Majorana, but I was still looking for an illustrator. During the BilBOlbul, a Comic Book Festival in Bologna, I attended the presentation of her first major graphic novel, "Ci sono notti che non accadono mai", a book inspired by the poetry of Alda Merini, an Italian poetess, and I fell in love with her drawings. 
     

    The theoretical connection between her style and the story I was working on was perfect. Without thinking twice about it, I asked her if she wanted to collaborate on a story that was about matter and anti-matter and she immediately said yes.

    In Italy we are still far from the idea that a comic book artist can actually be considered an Artist, but I think she’s far more of a full artist than someone who simply draws comic books; she’s an artist who loves books so much to the point that she decided to become an author and let her drawings speak for her.

    We were in agreement about everything we worked on, without any creative fight, and we always trusted each other’s instincts. We were transparent about sharing our different views, when needed, in order to come to a mutual solution. Silvia usually works by herself and her style is very personal, but I felt that the story fit her completely and none of us would have lost any kind of authenticity. I was curious about working with her. The book came out exactly the way we wanted. Quiet and intimate, restless and unique, just like Ettore!

    When I reviewed and analyzed your previous graphic novel I mentioned that it brought "attention to the scientific side of Italy, a side that is often a bit overlooked.” Just recently there was an exhibit in NYC about Italian technological excellence iacelanguage. It’s incredible to think how many things we use today that  weren’t actually invented or developed, for example, in Northern California in the Silicon Valley... but in Piedmont, Italy thanks to, among many, Olivetti; or how complex technologies, designs and systems we use today come from various over-looked Italians of the past or geniuses. What are ways to emphasize the scientific side of Italy to let its most brilliant mind emerge? Are you proud that your graphic novel could do that?
    This is a pretty hard question. There are lots of ways to promote scientific culture abroad and the so called “Italian genius”. Even a graphic novel can do that of course, and I am definitely proud of that. In my opinion I don’t think that talent is necessarily connected to a geographic location, not just in the scientific world.

    I’m not a sociologist but I think, if anything, one could look at the social and political forces at play: how does one place value certain resources and recognize the talents that were born and grew within one’s national borders? And once they are out in the open, how does a state help in providing and protecting said talent and promote them in the world? I can only answer this question with more questions, so sorry!! 

    What would you ask Majorana if you could meet him today? Or what would you talk about? Would it be in Sicily or on the coasts of California (where part of the book is set), or nowhere in particular?

    Wow, I think I’d probably spend at least 10 minutes in pure awe, starstruck, in total silence and then I don’t know if I would be able to even think about one specific question...
     

    I would love to meet him in America, in New York, at the Guggenheim, on a day when they are setting up a new exhibit, in an empty museum, early afternoon as daylight shines through the windows. I would talk, as I usually do, about links between the past and the present and I would lose myself in the moment, letting the conversation take its course to actually observe how a brilliant mind looks at simple things. 

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Ready for a Brand New Taste of Kosher Pizza Roman Style?

    It’s cold and dark outside, and a large group of Orthodox Jews wrapped up in black coats has lined up on 46th street and is waiting patiently for the bus to take them home. A prayer book in one hand, an iPhone in the other.

    Around the corner is the Diamond District, New York’s “Jewish Fifth Avenue.” At the same time, in Rome’s historic Jewish Quarter (the Ghetto) it’s early morning. A feeble light illuminates the ancient ruins, the tall palms in front of the synagogue, the narrow stone streets lined with old houses and cafes. The neighborhood is mainly inhabited by Jewish shop-owners and historic families engaged in preserving the Judeo- Roman dialect, the small-town feel of a close-knit community, their cultural institutions, their religious life. 

    One of the most popular restaurants in the neighborhood is La Taverna del Ghetto, the first to introduce the kosher culinary tradition to the world, a cuisine older than Roman cuisine itself. A few months ago, the owner of Rome’s La Taverna del Ghetto, Raffaello Fadlun, opened Raffaello Kosher Pizza in the hopes the tradition might gain traction in New York.


    A unique Italian-Jewish- American mix

    The venue is a portal between two worlds. Like Rome’s Ghetto, the midtown Manhattan street where Raffaello Kosher Pizza is located has a distinct Jewish flavor. Only this time it’s New York-style.

    An extraordinary concentration of Jews works here: in shops, jewelry stores, Judaica stores. True, in NYC there are plenty of restaurants that “kosherize” American cuisine, and you can find tons of kosher ingredients or seasonal specialties like latkes, sufganiot (Hannukah doughnuts), and matzah – but Raffaello offers a unique Italian-Jewish-American mix. At Raffaello Kosher Pizza you’ll find American families happy to give their kids a different kosher option, Roman Jews who work or study here, mixed Italian and Jewish-American couples, as well as anyone who just wants a good slice of pizza or a meal that reflects traditional Italian kosher cuisine.


    Kosher Roman Style

    Necessity is the mother of invention, and for Italian Jews the most delicious, creative gourmet dishes were born out of poverty or discrimination. People willing to stick to certain ingredients and recipes often had to do it in secret, keeping their storied recipes in the family. The food had to be kosher, and pork was often replaced with fish. But traditional local cuisine had to be respected too.

    So several kosher versions of Roman classics (like the ubiquitous amatriciana) were invented. However, the irony with Roman Jewish cuisine is that it worked the other way around too, and plenty of traditional Jewish dishes have become Roman staples and are served everywhere in the Eternal City.

    Now we’ll see how Raffaello fares in The City That Never Sleeps, serving pizza and other traditional Italian and Italian American favorites that are certified Kosher. 

  • New York: Born Back Into The Past. The Hopeful Power of Nostalgia

    "This book is a beautiful assortment of previously unknown photographs. Though each picture evokes a different aspect of the city, the collection as a whole reflects New York s endless creative energies and aspirations" Gay Talese
    ---

    Pictures have an un-surpassed power. Especially when they are not trying to be “new” or purposely artistic. Not to say that artistic contemporary  pictures are not inventive or powerful, or even subversive or emotional - they can be all of these things - but there are some photos, we sometimes find in a dusty drawer, in a book, or a family album, that convey all of these feelings and more without showing off... in quite a mysterious way.

    They convey a “mystery in plain sight”. You can see everything, nothing is hidden or between the lines like in a text, it’s bare, naked, yet it’s a strange pleasure, like peeking into someone else’s mind, into their secrets.

     

     There is a famous speech by Don Draper in the TV show Mad Men as he’s pitching and introducing the invention of the Kodak carousel: this technological wheel is more than a coherent narrative, it’s nostalgia; the wheel is not just moving backward, it gives “a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone”, of peeking into something physical, that catapults you into a scene that you might have never even imagined but where you immediately “ache to go again”.

    It’s in this way of looking at Memory that, even in everyday life, the discovery of something mysterious belonging to a dead relative, a family member, a stranger that once lived where we lived, will always tap into something deeper.
     

    Stefano Lucchini ( among many other titles, the Senior vice president of public affairs and corporate communication for the Eni Group) and Silvia Lucchini found an old album they purchased at an auction, an album by an anonymous photographer who took black and white pictures of NYC in the 1940s. In the age of the web and after asking the most prominent services it was still impossible to establish his identity.
     

    They decided to organize this album in a collection and an exhibit at the Italian Cultural Institute which opened on June 5th 2013 and will run until July 3rd, featuring various pictures of landscapes, building and scenes from (mostly) Manhattan.

    They defined the album “charming but most of all eternal”. Eternal might seem one of those cheesy generic words, but for NY eternal means paradoxically something constantly changing but imprinted unconsciously, that will eternally feel “like the first time” . In the Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald wrote that “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” Even jaded New-yorkers know that.

    New York is narrative city. The city, like most metropolis offers characters, unaware protagonists, women that stop to catch their hat or defy the snow, children that play with water in a fountain, but the most important character remains the city itself.

    It has a personality - or more than one - with its neighborhoods and facades, it escapes the poised picture-perfect suburban portrait, it’s made of stolen shots. Of course there is something for every taste, the romantic, the gritty, the realist, but overall it maintains an iconic blend that mixes this nostalgic nonchalant beauty with the need of perfection and glamour of a an exciting indescribable power.

    It also changed drastically through the years - architectonically - but somehow is now an old city, some things like the Upper East Side are eerily similar to these 1940s pictures.
     

    Don Draper also talks about a sentimental bond with the product. For those who live these streets everyday it’s almost surreal - as it would be in any city or place - to see the same views frozen in time, to think of similar pictures snapped with an iPhone. But the sentimental bond comes from the feeling of deja vu that goes along with most of all....the movies. And it’s not a simple iconic fame, like seeing the Empire State Building after King Kong. It’s more than that. I’s feeling like you’ve walked in these streets because of the inherently magical cinematic deja vu. Especially through the eye of the directors of the 1940s and 50s that shaped the aesthetics and dreams of many generations.
     

    This is not a historical exhibit, more of a universal take, it uses photos to establish an identity. Today ironically we can find more similar photos everywhere...than, let’s say a decade ago: we have so many ways of doing that the city has come back as a recurring character, it’s everywhere around us and it helps to explain a mood, an idea or capture a fun night or moment. When people used film over digital, there was a limited number of photos and the carelessness was not always there.

    That’s why the freshness of the 40s feels very contemporary.

    In the book that collects all of these photos, published by Alinari and accompanied by famous quotes from literature and essays, NY is often compared to Babylon, more in the sense of a chaotic blend of contradictions, bustling energy, a vertigo of beauty a constant regeneration of hope, most recently after 9/11.
     

    It’s fascinating that the actual legend tells that the gardens of Babylon were built by Nebuchadnezzar II as a gesture of love for his wife Amytis who was homesick, basically for nostalgia, a nostalgia filled with possibilities, if such thing exists.
     

    Who knows maybe behind this mysterious photographer lies a secret gift to someone else too? Or perhaps -through this exhibit - to someone in the future that had yet to come....

    ---
    On view at the Italian Cultural Institute (NY)
    June 05, 2013 - Friday, July 05, 2013

    Buy book  New York: Born Back into the Past
    Stefano & Silvia Lucchini (Author), Geminello Alvi (Author), Gianni Riotta (Author)
     

  • Life & People

    Francesca, Tuono and "The Strange Life of Alan Turing"

    Although not an unknown art form, comics and graphic novels are not highly popular in Italy. There are but a few comics that managed to cross borders and be read and appreciated by an American reader. 


    The two most famous Italian comic writers, whom were able to reach the American audience are Guido Crepax and Hugo Pratt (pseudonym). They created the iconic characters of Valentina (a photographer from Milan in love with a super-hero, symbol of the progressive spirit of the 1960s in regards to sex, politics, sci-fi) and Corto Maltese (a sailor who goes on adventures, with historical figures and on symbolic Gulliver-like travels).

    Other, maybe less known writers are Francesca Riccioni and Tuono Pettinato who created Enigma. La strana Vita di Alan Turing. These two very young Italian artists, without important connections and in spite of the difficulties of making it in today’s job market- got together, wrote, illustrated and published a book with Rizzoli, one of the most prominent publishing houses in the country. The book is currently selling very well and it will be translated into different languages.

    Francesca Riccioni has a Bachelor degree in Physics and a Master degree in Communications: the right combination to be able to explain, share and ultimately creatively narrate even the most obscure scientific ideas. 
Tuono Pettinato (aka Andrea Paggiaro) is a well-established comic artist with a comic strip on Repubblica XL.

    This graphic novel brings attention to the scientific side of Italy, a side that from abroad, except maybe recently with the enormous loss of Rita Levi Montalcini, the Nobel Prize winner-scientist, is not often associated with scientific topics and technological advancement.

    Moreover, the philosophical implications of technology, its cultural revolution, the history of International figures such as Alan Turing (who - in a nutshell - created the main algorithms and patterns that make him the “father of the computer”) are not as well taught and spread, as they should be.

    It’s a topic that speaks to different generations but particularly captures today’s “Zeitgeist” linked to our technological consumption, a technology that has literally become artificial intelligence (Siri, Google, etc), that is an extension of our personalities and emotions, with all its pros and cons, something that Alan Turing foreshadowed not just with his inventions but with his own life.

    The book takes us through Alan Turing’s life in a creative way, starting from a quick glimpse of his childhood, transfering from school to school. The book reminds us of movies such as “The Social Network” or the 1980’s “War Games.” In both, the characters don’t necessarily need to be taken literally, but more within their human realm, as they explain the bigger ideas that lie within a technological invention. Their coming of age coincides with a bigger coming of age that the world will go through. 
 Alongside Turing we learn a few key mathematical ideas explained in a witty, brief manner already implying or foreshadowing the bigger cultural and historical consequences they will have. 


    Turing’s life was far from being idyllic. Turing, a loner, attended the most prestigious schools and colleges in the United Kingdom that in the 1930s were also known to be places of harsh punishments and humiliation. Without spoiling the story (although it’s based on his life), after he suffers a tragic loss of one of the people he cared about, something is triggered in him: the idea of not just thinking of a machine as something outside of you, something that replaces human interaction, but of a machine that can replicate human thought.

    The book balances well the pros and cons of this concept: on one side it’s brilliant to put oneself in the shoes of a machine, think like one to understand how something works, on the other it leads to a refusal of life itself. The story intertwines history, the rise of Nazism and a particular obsession that Turing had as a young man: the Disney’s version of Snow White. That movie had a shocking effect on him, on his thoughts and imagery. The poisoned apple, which will come to haunt Turing to the point that it will be connected to his actual death, reminds us of something very popular today. Steve Jobs’ products: the iPhones, iPods, etc with their iconic symbol, are probably not inspired at all by Turing but one cannot help but tie everything together while reading this passionate re-telling of how the dichotomy and connection between emotions and technology began. 


    Snow-White’s evil Queen comes into the story in the shape of Hitler, showing a man who actually thinks like a machine and dehumanizes the world. Yet, Turinig’s response to these dark times is a sort of search of something scientific, which creates human connection. 
 Enigma. La strana Vita di Alan Turing is not a story for children nor a scientific essay for adults. It makes us understand that technology is not magic, but the process of rational thought of geniuses like Turing. Yet, the idea of magic is in some way linked with technology and science, for magic, in its good or evil form, is about changing the elements inside someone or something, reprogramming a person or changing the course of the world forever.

  • Art & Culture

    Ferzan Ozpetek. Magnifica Presenza Whether in Reality or Fiction

    It’s quite ironic that the year the director of the dream-like Midnight in Paris tries to capture the “essence” of Rome (To Rome With Love, Allen) he fails by lining up a series of poorly structured sketches and stereotypes, while an Italian movie set in Rome, Magnifica Presenza (Ferzan Ozpetek) enters proudly in the International realm of imagination, the blurry lines between Art and life, daydream and delusion, theatre and creativity and human needs.

    No director likes to be compared so closely to another, and Magnifica Presenza is something entirely different, an outburst of unexpected beautifully human characters a catalog of Ozpetek’s themes and images already prominent in other movies (like auteurs  often do)  but it helps –especially keeping an American audience in mind – to look at this movie thinking about that crave, that inspiration for a story that answers that ultimate “what if”: what if we could speak to our artistic idols of the past whether they are an idealized theatre company - from a time when acting was glamorous and more stylized, a Roman golden age destroyed by WW2 – or Hemingway and Salvador Dali? What if the artistic journey one is pursuing in their everyday modern life can only be achieved by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes? As movies always teach us is it true that by figuring out someone else’s life one always learns more about their own? Can surrealism sometimes be more realistic than what it seems?

    Ferzan Ozpetek takes this artistic need literally and blends it with the perfectly constructed psychology of his character like he does in many other movies.
     

    The movie opened the annual NY Film festival Open Roads organized by Antonio Monda and Richard Pena at Lincoln Center – which brings from Italy a series of contemporary movies, directors and actors to the US market and critics. Perhaps to start with an “understated” and clever hymn to theatre, art, imagination is always a good choice for a festival.

    In Magnifica Presenza, the protagonist, Pietro (Elio Germano) is a unique 28 years old man. He’s kind and loving, he dreams of becoming an actor in Rome with a purity that is humorously undermined by his more cynical and comical female cousin, Maria (Paola Minaccioni) a somewhat serious lawyer who’s trying to help him settle in Rome, especially with the process of renting a house.
     

    They find the perfect one and after paying a unusually high deposit for the first four months, Pietro moves in, enthusiastic about the place, eagerly waiting for jobs, auditions to go well to come his way and somewhat passively tries to build or fix some relationships. Basically he needs to “learn” how to act and how to live and love maturely themes that intertwine but that luckily don’t keep the movie from going in other places. Suddenly interesting “presences” come to visit, give advices, dress elegantly and extravagantly and they act, sing, recite monologues…A mystery must be solved about these presences…and the space in between this life and something that goes beyond it… Through glimpses of a beautifully shot sequence that shows a night at a theatre in the 40s we know something happened…but what?

    Beware, this is not a parody of a haunted house, nor takes the genre that lightly.

    There’s still that real tension, very psychological of a character left alone in a strange house, of what can be considered fear, then confusion, then possibly (especially by others) madness, but then comedy creeps in, the director’s self-awareness creeps in.

    This is not even Play It Again Sam, but more of a Purple Rose of Cairo type of vibe. Whereas Allen used a sort of neurotic self-deprecation and irony Ozpetek takes from his deepest themes: friendship without labels, the need of a “second family”, very different from the one you’re born in, made of characters that interact with each other in their eccentricity and unconditional affection (Like in Saturn in Opposition and The Ignorant Fairies) and the social political commentary is not intellectual but lived. It makes sense that the quote an American can respond the most is the Tennessee Williams’ one, spoken by one of the characters in Magnifica Presenza: “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” And it’s all about the interactions with strangers, presences that are nosy but never invasive.

    Even the theme of homosexuality, which obviously plays a role in the theatrical world (make-up, costumes becoming something you’re not) is more Shakesperian than a “manifesto”. You learn more about yourself, wearing a mask, believing in what is not necessarily defined by the rules of reality, can make your life more real. It’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2012 Rome.  

    The concept goes beyond boundaries and could take place anywhere, much like the Allen’s movie could have been made in Manhattan and the door to his imaginary Parisian world could have been a Jazz bar in Harlem, yet it is a very Italian movie, and shows a lesser known side of Italy.
     

    I was curious - as some people in the audience were as well - why the director insisted a lot on a collection of cards from the Italian Risorgimento, the “revolution” that lead to the Unity of Italy. There is an emphasis on Italian heroes and “founding fathers” like Garibaldi, Mazzini, Cavour and Ozpetek - born in Istanbul but who has lived in Italy since he was in his 20s - has explained that it was an explicit homage to the 150th anniversary of the Unity, and that he wanted to juxtapose that unity to the division, chaos and issues that his country faces nowadays.
     

    If you really know Italy you can also catch glimpses of references to Italian theatre history. The main flashback scenes are shot in the Teatro La Valle where the playwright Pirandello played his shows. Pirandello’s writing that embodied the spirit of this movie, characters escaping the writer’s mind, others taking o fictional identity or always going from reality to fantasy. There’s also the specter of a real History of Fascism and Nazism, the toll it took on the common people in Rome, the outsiders, and a bit of modern pop culture.
     

    The setting of course is as beautiful as the city itself, but definitely stays away from the touristy spots.

    At a first look I almost feared that certain lines are so blurry that you don’t get that “satisfaction” of a character actually learning something (which he still does but in a less defined way) but then thinking about it again I appreciated this aspect a lot more.

    Yes he does learn about acting and love but the movie doesn’t take those two plotlines seriously. I wondered why and then I thought about Ozpetek. In his movies it’s not just the actors who act but often every characters goes through a physical or mental transformation, and Love is never just a traditional relationship whether heterosexual or homosexual. Love is between these unique groups, these unexpected connections between people who are not the same age (children and adults), the same gender, who don’t have the same background. It’s ever in a couple, never between two people, but always as a “company”, a group, a small settlement.

    As the director said at the end during the Q & A the conflict in the ending becomes less about reality and fiction and more about the fact that the character of Livia Morosini, the older actress, “feels superior artistically and in many other ways but she’s living alone. Pietro in his confusion is not alone. Nor are the other members of the theatre company, they are young – ageless - and all together” and being young means recognizing the potential for connections whether in reality or fiction.

    More info:  OPEN ROADS WEB SITE

  • Life & People

    Giants Parade: A Small Town Affair. Behind the Scenes in Battery Park

    There is not a hectic metropolis in the world that boasts the small-town spirit of the NY neighborhoods…

    How else would have I been able to climb up on one of the official NY Giants festive floats and play football with children before the parade even started?

    Only this morning I realized that as a Battery Park resident I could be a much more active  participant of this event. Also,I could tell from the relaxed faces of those surrounding me that this enormous celebration had turned everyone in a child who gets a snow day. “The traffic is blocked…I have to get to work later,” "There are thousands of people and I can’t reach the subway I really can’t come..."

    After celebrating the Giants’ winning the Super Bowl on Sunday I had a choice: to watch the parade lining up in the streets under my house or to quickly leave avoiding the crowd…but I could also cross and get to the river, a quieter area from where I thought I could evaluate things better.

    Doing that, almost by chance, I ended up being behind the scenes of the parade, where all the trucks and the main performers were waiting before marching.

    It was early morning and everything was buzzing in the Spring-like air, but it was a quiet confusion, a happy one. Moms were fixing the decorations with duct tape, parents let their children skip school to take part in the preparation, adults took a day off and used their skills to contribute to the construction of colorful banners, costumes, floats.

    The whole Battery Park area flooded to the streets.

    The West Side Highway separates this idyllic scenario by the river from the street barricades where drunk fans emerged from the subway. On the one side it was impossible to reach the subway, or to find a good spot from where to get a glimpse of the players; on the other, not only people seemed to have come out of the Truman Show, but you could actually go and sit on the empty trucks, play around with the decorations and even greet the players.

    All the organizers had passes, but the area was so big and green compared to most of the public spaces in Manhattan that it was hard to tell who was an organizer from who was a resident. More importantly, it was a moral obligation for the residents to be there at 8 in the morning and share a slice of cheese-cake with the people they usually only hastily run into before getting into the subway.

    Blue and white were the dominating clothing choices, and the chalk drawings on the streets and the floats were blue and white as well. Everything looked home-made, far less glamorous than it would look on TV.
    It felt like a school recital, where the principal is trying to figure out jokingly how to plug in something. It felt like a street-fair where instead of ice-cream trucks were the shop owners eagerly offering something to drink to those who had been up since dawn to help them staying awake.

    The policemen took pictures and shares them with their relatives, and they were happy that people were coming up to them and cheering. The policemen on the other side were nervously looking at the fans, almost as if they were protesters.

    Sports are an interesting aspect of life. They have been with men for centuries, they have always brought people together and even defined nations, symbolizing something way more universal than just the competition on the field.
     

    I always preferred Arts and Humanities and sometimes looked down on over-fanatic sports fans, but lately I have started to thoroughly understand what this excitement can be about. There's a lot more to it than sheer pride and childish obsessions: the world of sports has its own set of canons, and they are equally important as the artistic ones. Athletes and artists are often on two opposite grounds, especially when we consider the different types of fans the two categories have, but there isn’t anything quite spectacular and movie-like such as a sports game.
     

    And there’s nothing like this city that gives that sense of spectacle to sports.

    The Super Bowl game this year, between the Patriots and the Giants, seemed to have been written by a Hollywood screenwriter, to the point that if it were an actual movie scene, I'm sure it'd be one of those of which critics would point out the forced twist at the end. I watched the game sitting on the edge of my seat, nervous for the entire second-half and terrified that the Giants would lose, fearing for them like for the fate of my favorite literary protagonists.
     

    For the first time I looked at sports as something with a dramatic narrative, the players much like on a stage performing the role of a life-time, but like the best actors shining when they can finally improvise, add something to a set of rules.
     

    The hopeful opening, the sudden set back, the side-characters to Eli Manning and Tom Brady, clear antagonists coming together and parting ways and finally the last touchdown…

    Two days later, a few minutes before the parade started, two kids were wrestling to catch a football on a float, proving that every generation starts fresh, and every generation will always enjoy playing, no matter how "digital" we might become.
     

    One of them tried to catch the ball that another kid threw at them from the street. Suddenly the float moved and the ball fell on the sidewalk. The kids laughed and quickly jumped down while the policemen and the players cheered for them.

    The floats left one by one. I didn’t need to actually see the parade, here it still goes before my eyes: the pride of common citizens loving their home-team to pieces and showing their love through hard work.

  • Life & People

    9-11 Ten Years After – A Neighborhood Waits

    9-11 ten years after – A Neighborhood Waits

    It was a matter of a few hours and just like that the towers were gone.

    As New York changed shape physically, the whole country and the whole world felt something missing and acquired a new awareness: a cynical moment of self-revaluation mixed with patriotic love, pride and a concrete new energy of change, that only those who rise from the ashes have.

    Greenwich Street - where I live - Trinity Church, Liberty Street, Cedar Street, Vesey Street and obviously the World Trade Center were completely covered in grey dust, the smell of corpses filled the air, the entire world stopped breathing for a moment, as we caught a glimpse of the desperation of those who even went as far as jumping out of the towers.

    Everything was so dirty, heavy, and it felt as if the sky was pressing downwards with all its strength, making you feel as if walking down a never-ending subway stair crowded with people.

    Ten years later those same streets are the heart of a renewed neighborhood, where sometimes it’s easier to see more strollers than men in suits; where Battery park in the summer looks like a Mediterranean sea-town, with cafes, beach volley and tanned young people; where the real estate market has invested in more fun-loving tenants and owners; where the buildings and historical streets leading up to City Hall look are more institutional but never lose that New York pulse and are always surrounded by people who walk fast, excited with that typical Manhattanite sense of purpose; where the stores surrounding Ground 0 have managed to preserve that typically American sense of remembrance and overwhelming idolization of the recent past and yet have never crossed the line. Everything - even the little souvenirs store - that sells American flags looks respectful, not like the Hard Rock café of 9/11.

    Everything is so clean, bright and the light breeze lifts you up and brings the smell of the Ocean, leads to the wooden bridges near the North Cove where fishermen, couples, preppy sailing instructors and children stare at the sunset.

    Monday September 5th

    “Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?”

    The slow guitar riff, the smooth deep voice fill my head through my i-Pod as I walk down Cedar Street and turn right where Ground 0 stands. This country melody filled with melancholic sadness gives me chill. Especially now, especially here.

    Nothing seems to have changed that much from last year. A few things have grown but the overall sense of emptiness and restlessness of the place is the same.

    I keep looking. The news, the web everyone says that the reconstruction is almost complete and yet behind that wooden barrier I see the same workers with their orange and yellow helmets I saw last year; I hear the same noise of trucks and cranes I hear all day and all I see is that empty whole that I cannot help but fill with music and images that are only in my head.

    Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor Or did you just sit down and cry?

    I found this Alan Jackson’s song somewhat randomly on i-Tunes a few months ago. At first I was surprised, a little taken back by some of its message but then I could not stop listening to it, over and over, in the same way ten years ago, I would sit home with my remote watching those planes crashing in a loop…

    Rarely there are songs that speak of an event happened in my generation’s time.  I know it’s no The Times they are a’ changing, no Sunday Bloody Sunday, no We shall Overcome, it’s no anthem, but it’s something that perfectly captured what all of us had thought and felt that day, when History actually changed.

    I suddenly realize that all the tourists peeking at that same corner or trying to figure out why there isn’t much commotion or many people around the Memorial or at the Museum yet have those images imprinted in their minds and like Alan Jackson are silently or loudly asking to each other: Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke Risin' against that blue sky?

    And yet nothing is really happening and we all literally have to stop turning, because you still can’t go across the construction.

    What’s going to happen in a week? How can you commemorate or relive what is now an emptiness filled by music and images?

    Tuesday September 6th

    Did you feel guilty 'cause you're a survivor? In a crowded room did you feel alone?

    For the past days the recurring “game”, the recurring journalistic idea has been “where were you that day? What was your experience?”

    It seems like most people who watched the event on TV remember being in a crowd of people, either at school, at work, at an event, in the subway and in those stories everything is amplified by the collectiveness of the shared experience. We were all there. We all jumped, shouted, screamed, cried. Like for JFK’s funeral, like for Diana’s.

    And then there were none. Or better there were those who were left completely alone: the widows, the orphans, the relatives, the New Yorkers living in the area paralyzed by fear.

    And then there was a smaller crowd: the loved ones, the family, the only place to turn to.

    I was in a crowd too…a crowd of kids. And there’s one line in the song that stands out for me.

    I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran.

    My first day of high-school was September 11 2001.

    I was 13 years old and truly, CNN, Iraq, Iran were just words without a meaning. Before 9/11 I watched and discussed the news as a child relaxing with my parents at home, after I felt like had lived the news and I had grown; my world imploded and exploded at the same time, teaching me new things about foreign cultures, politics, the power of media…

    My first day of high school divided a generation in two and made us feel like we were part of history, in a passive and yet heartfelt way. We were escorted out of school in silence while the PA announced what just happened in New York. We were told to go home, watch the news, call everyone we knew in the Big Apple, lay low to see what was going to happen in the next days, if a war was about to start.

    I felt defeated, as if my entire world had been turned upside down. Maybe it was because that’s the closest to which, in the most indirect way (but we are a virtual generation) my generation has come to a war, but it was also about something else.

    It wasn’t a political statement, but a state of mind, and even when some of my own friends started to spread theories and ideas about how 9/11 might have been an inside job or seeking for the terrorists motifs, I didn’t know how to fully criticize their views but I was hurt. I knew they could think whatever they wanted, even if I disagreed as long as they defended their ideas rationally. Critical thinking for me was an essential factor and I didn’t want to be as superficial as some of their slogans. I suddenly started, in fact, to be bothered by the shallowness of certain judgments that came from general assumptions of people who confused all Americans with Bush and shouted that it was the worst country in the world because everyone supported war and it was an imperialistic super power. Or claiming that every American was ignorant and they didn’t know where Iraq was (but try to ask an Italian high-schooler where Kansas is or South Korea and most of them would probably be a little confused too...)

    And when I discovered prejudices, conspiracies, different point of views and mortality, just like that… on 9/11/2001… I was no longer a child.

    Wednesday September 7th

    Suddenly I look closer at Ground 0. Was I blind for the past two days? There are changes! The area has been bustling and developing non-stop…and somehow the rhythm is picking up.

    I notice that there are even trees and objects of every kind being slowly lifted by cranes and placed inside.

    The workers keep passing things to one another and piece by piece in a matter of hours have completely changed the space surrounding them. I notice for the first time that the Liberty Tower, the skyscraper that a few weeks ago I thought it would take years to build is done. It’s even lit up.

    For some reason it makes me think of a movie-set. Not to say that anything is fake, the opposite. It actually reinforces my feeling that Manhattan and the cinematic image we have of it are one and the same thing.

    And it’s a movie-set built by the entire neighborhood. It seems almost like the end of an uplifting Hollywood movie, where there is the final grand gesture and some big plan unfolds in front of our eyes and it’s set in motion.

    And this larger than life Lego-model gets more and more new parts, patiently placed by a team of diligent Play-mobiles. And no one stops. And then someone goes and gets a sandwich and then some faces change…and then it’s night…and it’s already 3am, then 4, then 5 and then at sunrise the movement has never ceased for a second.

    Thursday September 8th

    The giant blue beams of light cut through the clouds like an alien space-ship in a 70s movie. They are surrounded by a halo and they spread their light all over downtown.

    I live too close to them to see their entirety. I just see the ends against the grey night.

    From Soho or the Village you can clearly see the entire picture. Or if you go up on the terrace, they are an exciting pyrotechnic novelty. It’s like the 4th of July in September.

    Lights are New York. New York is its lights. If one closes his eyes and thinks of the skyline, the first image is going to be of indefinite spots of lights, like a modern impressionistic painting made through electrical wires.

    Did you burst out in pride for the red, white and blue And the heroes who died just doin' what they do?

    The giant skyscraper now at the center of the so-called Ground 0 is red, white and blue.

    Patriotism has always been a factor that made me love America. Being part of a club, living things with the same intensity. Yet …while I watched my neighbors argue over a mosque, cheering for the death of men far away, debating on The Freedom tower or if there really needs to be a celebration…I thought of  something: personally speaking, I find that everybody should just forget everything about monuments, towers or mosques and look up to those beams of light. On that day my generation has learned what a cultural shock is, what a tragedy can mean. I can’t speak for everyone but we are not a generation who likes monuments. We like things like the web, that are less tangible but that have the power to reach everyone in the world. These beams of light are something like that.

    They also remind me of stars, of constellations that can be seen from everywhere in the planet, no matter where you are. They represent our history and make of the universe an open air museum, an explosion of memories glimpsing right above us.

    Friday September 9th

    Did you open your eyes, hope it never happened, Close your eyes and not go to sleep?

    It’s a bright sunny day. This oxymoronic peaceful restlessness of the past days continues. The thuds, the vibrations, the constant rumbling of the constructions are not even noise anymore.

    On Broadway and on every sidewalk around the area, big white blocks of concrete have appeared. They are piled up on the sides and the NYPD logo is stamped on them. Next to them dozens of grey street barriers seem to be waiting patiently in line at the corners, not ready for the action yet.

    Planning is about seeing what it’s not there yet, visualizing in one’s head preventive measures, thinking of what could happen, closing your eyes in order to actually see the things that the normal passerby doesn’t notice, like a corner where the crowd could get too crammed, or traffic intersection that could potentially be dangerous or how far the speakers will be heard.

    Every color seems to be brighter today, emphasized, heightened. That’s why maybe for the first time in days I notice a flash of white blinding me. The sun beats on the thousands of white ribbons, tied at the gates of Saint Paul’s chapel. Blown by the wind, they are like small little flags, with messages on them.

    It reminds me of the Kottel, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and every written note becomes a prayer. It reminds me of a wall filled with pinpoints, and every note becomes a mark, a physical way of saying: “I was there too, I feel like I was there, I wanna be part of this too because it makes me feel something.”

    It reminds me of a door with a ribbon for a newborn baby, and the fact that they are so small and light give an impression of happiness and not despair.

    I see another white sea of flags, this time taller than me, at Battery Park. All the greenery is completely covered by a cemetery of Flags of Honor, American flags that instead of the stripes have the names of the victims. There is one for every victim, so there are thousands of them.

    Somehow this looks much more like an actual graveyard than the famous Trinity church’s one. The latter is a masterpiece, a romanticized Spoon-river like group of ancient, spooky looking graves, with old-timey language engraved on it in a funny Gothic font.

    This sea of flags instead is much more real, bleak and hopeless. You can’t see where it ends and from afar it almost feels as if the American flags have lost their color, like after a bad washing or after decades of being in the garage, ruined by time…

    Saturday September 10th

    Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin' And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns?

    We don’t want to think about it anymore. We are ready to move on. Everyone is eager to get it over with because the anxiety is replacing the amazement.

    In the morning Broadway after Canal Street started to look more and more like a suburban town: street fairs, cake-baking stands, smiling women and children selling cookies, preachers and street singers.

    In the afternoon, though, it has suddenly turned into Eastern Berlin, as if Houston street and Soho are the checkpoint after which everything becomes a war-zone…

    At night the Police blocks every corner, to walk past Tribeca is like going through a Kafkian maze, answering questions, sometimes showing ID papers to prove your residence.

    Under my house there are more than a hundred Policemen. Above, dozens of helicopters go round and round and round…

    As I enter my building in the middle of night, I feel suddenly safer. I didn’t want to be on the street.

    What is the sense of this celebration? Because in a way it’s not only about remembering those who died, but trying to make us relive some of that ordeal.

    Should we be happy or sad? 10 years ago in the months after the events everyone felt guilty.

    Even movies had to “change” to edit parts, shots with the Twin Towers, or censor what seemed too violent, inciting more violence. Like the Great Depression brought us the Wizard of Oz, 9/11 brought us Up or Avatar.

    These things coexisted, in the same way today a need to celebrate and yet we don’t.

    I can hear in my head the voice of a rabbi who in a famous synagogue of the Upper East Side this morning gave a d’var Torah, a comment, a sermon about the word “oxymoron” . The deepest moments in life are oxymorons.

    “Remember in order to obliterate” he said. “Remember in order to obliterate”

    Sunday September 11th

    Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages or speak to some stranger on the street?

    There we go. The walls have come down.  The sound of water is as loud as the sound of the people standing all together in the crowd.

    Then silence. The first moment of silence after a week of noise, in the loudest city in the world.

    Everyone stares at each other. The open space with all this green and water is unreal. It wasn’t there seven days ago. I swear it wasn’t there.

    It’s unreal to think we will be able to walk where we haven’t been able even to look for years.

    The stories of the relatives of the victims are moving. The fact that people are so quiet and collected is moving.

    People “freaking out” all over the world forgot what this is: a memorial. Not a concert, not a rally, not a celebration. This is for the families, not the tourist, not the passerby. The families are close and allowed inside, not the crowd who wants to say “I was there”.

    Yes, it’s very American and very media-age to turn this into an event, a ritual; yet the speeches are so real, the people are real. The anthem, the music are all part of a pace, a rhythm that we must give to our lives when things get so irrational.

    In 2001 celebrities came together to organize a concert that played in my house for years and years. All the “gods” of music were there from Eric Clapton, to Bruce Springsteen to Paul McCartney.

    When these things are organized controversy follows. Yet as Paul McCartney said, the world wouldn’t be what it is today if after the despair of War World II a few men didn’t meet and started playing the guitar or the piano and creativity became not only a response, a celebration of life, but a state of mind.

    Paul Simon plays.

    Six moments of silence and on every TV, in every country “it echoes the sound of silence…”

    Then some awkward stares and warm smiles.

    Then New York keeps moving. As usual, with purpose.

  • Facts & Stories

    A Jewish Farewell to Consul General Talò

    It’s a well-known fact that in New York City’s mythical yet very real melting pot of immigrants, it’s impossible to ignore the city’s Jewish presence. Doing so would mean missing out on a deeper New York “state of mind” – connections between different countries, understanding local history, cultural references, typical humor, and joyful religious celebrations throughout every neighborhood and season.

    Italian-Americans and Jews have always been mutually supportive although in the U.S. they are groups with well-defined, separate identities. The same cannot be said about Italy where Italian Jews blend these two identities and allow them to co-exist in their everyday lives.

    If you’re an Italian Jew and you’ve visited New York City recently, you might have felt more at home than you would have expected. Thanks to the work of the Centro Primo Levi and Consul General of Italy Francesco Maria Talò, there is a profound awareness of the Italian Jewish identity in New York City and this facet of Italian culture has become much more relevant.

    There are those politicians and diplomats who arrive at a place and examine it from their ivory towers, there are those who bring only their background to the table, and then there are those like Consul General Talò who, to quote a Jewish adage, approach their positions knowing that “one who is wise is one who learns from all.”

    In honor of Consul  General Talò’s term which came to an end on July 12 2011, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations presented him with a shofar (a horn used in Jewish religious rituals). Each of the speakers underscored how this particular celebration of an Italian Consul General isn’t a routine event, but rather it is a special occasion to express their gratitude for Consul General Talò since he has always gone above and beyond to support the Italian Jewish community.

    Talò, a law graduate of La Sapienza, has served as the Consul General of Italy in New York since 2007 and has had a long and honorable career based in New York City. He spent several years working at the U.N. and was living in New York City at time of the September 11 attacks. Throughout his professional career he has completely immersed himself in the life of the city that he knows and loves.

    He was celebrated by the Conference as an “important person for the Jewish community” and as a “good friend from the moment he arrived” who has helped both the Italian and international Jewish community.

    Two important contributions stood out. The Remembrance Day event takes place outside the Italian Consulate every year in the cold, freezing January air. The name of each and every Italian Jew who died in the Holocaust is read aloud, and the reading spans from dawn to sunset with various speakers taking turns to read the names on the list. It is a somber and powerful ritual, especially as the names echo along Park Avenue as passersby look on.

    In 2009 Consul General  Talò also helped organize a visit, a mission to Rome for prominent members of the Jewish community in New York for the historic meeting between the pope and the chief rabbi of Rome, which addressed many pressing and complex issues and was very significant for both groups.  

    The most striking memory from the trip was seeing Rome in a new and very special light. Through in-depth tours of Jewish landmarks, attendees came away with the impression that “the city has always belonged to the Jews and the Romans were a minor presence.”

    Deputy Consul General of Israel Shlomi Kofman reminded the audience of how important it is for Israel to know that it has friends in Italy.

    From Chairman Richard Stone to Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, from former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Richard Gardner to Deputy Consul General of Israel Shlomi Kofman and Past Chair of the Conference of Presidents Harold Tanner, everyone emphasized that Talò’s accomplishments will be remembered and that they are even more meaningful because they were not required, and that in Judaism it is important to recognize those who go out of their way to do good.

    Senior Rabbi Schneier at Park East Synagogue attended the event and congratulated the Italian Consul General as well.

    “You represent the city I love so much. I feel like a New Yorker,” Talò said in his final speech. “The Jewish community gave me the sense of being in a city of welcoming people, ever able to welcome new immigrants.”

    He recalled how after only a few days on the job he got in touch with Richard Gardner through his wife and he soon became his mentor. He was the one “who made all of the suggestions.” It wasn’t long before he was celebrating Sukkot for the first time with Rabbi Schneier, immersed in the city’s cultural life and in the holiday’s cheerful festivities.

    “I learned more about Italy through this experience. I had several meetings with the Jewish community in Rome. I have to say that if you want to meet a true Roman, you have to meet a Jewish one.”

    In collaboration with Centro Primo Levi there are several events planned every year including concerts, exhibits, lectures, movie screenings, and celebrations such as this year’s commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel. There are too many initiatives to name and hopefully they won’t end with Consul General Talò’s departure.

    So…kol hakavod! Good job!

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