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Articles by: Natasha Lardera

  • Tourism

    Tourism: The Uniqueness of Unique Hotels of Italy

    Against the splendid backdrop of Rome, there is a place where luxury and feeling at home come together in a new hospitality experience: The First Luxury Art Hotel Roma. Located in the very heart of the eternal city, this 5-star luxury hotel is just a short walk from Piazza del Popolo, Via del Corso, and the famous Spanish Steps. It is the ideal base for exploring the beautiful Capital while enjoying top-notch accommodations: truly, a unique experience.

    A thorough restoration has turned this 19th century nobleman’s palace into an elegant and edgy hotel with impressive pieces of artwork and designer furnishings throughout the common areas and suites... with its permanent and temporary exhibits, each of the 29 elegant and stylish rooms becomes a small private gallery, “yours” for a few days. The First, ranked #10 of 1,259 hotels in Rome, offers a rooftop garden where guests can admire the charms of the city while enjoying a tasty meal, Michelin Star Restaurant All’Oro, the kingdom of Chef Riccardo di Giacinto who is known for his unique talent to revive the authentic flavors of roman culinary traditions and reintroducing them with dazzling mastery into modern palate, 24 hrs. personalized service by a native speaker completely dedicated to customer needs, a spa, a running track and even art gallery consultation services.

    Not too far, overlooking Bernini's Triton Fountain, in the historical center, there is another hidden gem, an ancient noble dwelling right in the heart of Rome, a rare luxury indeed. Hotel Barocco is a four star luxurious palazzo offering guests superior standards of comfort and style. Stucco ceilings and elegant drapes suggest an atmosphere from times past, while 21st-century technology gives all the comforts of modernity. Hotel Barocco, rated # 5 of 1262 hotels in Rome on TripAdvisor, is known for its attention to detail, absolute cleanliness, unique and highly sought-after rooms that make any guest's stay a warm Italian experience full of magic.

    Carefully refurbished in 2010 and 2012, Hotel Barocco features 41 rooms and a staff of 22 people at your client service, thus offering guaranteed luxury five-star attention. In the evening, for example, after a long, leisurely stroll, guests can treat themselves to a glass of Italian wine or a cocktail paired with a little taste of the best local cuisine as they listen to the tales the sommelier has to tell at the hotel's bar “Barolo.” The breakfast buffet offers the highest quality Italian food, mostly featuring the prestigious Protected Denomination of Origin quality label.

    The rare and unique beauty of Italy can be enjoyed in another favorite destination of world travelers, Tuscany. Cortona is the Tuscan hill town in Under the Tuscan Sun , and it is home to Villa di Piazzano, a family run manor house dating back to 1464. Right in the midst of the idyllic countryside on the border between Tuscany and Umbria, this exclusive historical residence is surrounded by 1 hectare of gardens, protected by the Environmental Authorities, and has traveled through time. It was initially the hunting manor of Cardinal Silvio Passerini, a protegè of the Medici Family, and later became a convent for nuns. In the last two centuries it was operating as a tobacco and vine growing estate. Today it is owned by the Wimpole family who bought the villa in 1998, as it had been abandoned for a number of years.

    Villa di Piazzano, winner of Travelers' Choice 2013 on TripAdvisor as one of the Top 25 small hotels in Italy, is not just a hotel but a home away from home of warm hospitality, reminiscent of an old world country estate where the Italian ritual of welcoming guests is maintained to the highest level. The hotel features original antique furniture, each of the 17 rooms is different from the other, outdoor facilities, including a terrace in the garden for open-air dining and a unique view of the fields of tobacco, vines, sunflowers and olive groves, a spectacular swimming pool, L'Antica Casina di Caccia restaurant, a foodie heaven specialized in Tuscan cuisine and homemade pasta, a cooking school and an ancient wine cellar.

    A stay at the villa means being part of enchanting panoramas and precious traces of history.

    Those who want to travel back in time can do so at the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa, an historic venue located in a green park in the Tuscan Serchio Valley overlooking the Apuan Alps. Because of its abundant amenities and its perfect location it gives guests the opportunity to either enjoy a private stay savoring the beauty of Tuscany or a group gathering, either for business (think of a corporate networking retreat ) or pleasure (soccer training or dream wedding come immediately to mind). Indeed Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa features 180 rooms, 11 meeting rooms, 2 restaurants, a lounge bar and 1 ballroom... ideal for small or larger groups.

    A stay at the hotel also means pampering, the Beauty Spa and Wellness Area provide dozens of luxury treatments and health conscious choices. The spa's philosophy is based on attention to details and maximum regard for each and every guest's wishes. All treatments are rendered to enhance natural beauty with products by Austrian specialist Daniela Steiner aligned to individual skin needs. The Wellness Area is the perfect place to work out or relax. It features a totally functional gym, indoor swimming pool, soft sauna, shower with color therapy, ice fall and Turkish bath. Lovers of the outdoors can also enjoy hiking trails, horseback riding or other sporting facilities, including tennis, basketball and soccer fields.

    Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa is at a close distance to Barga, one of Italy's most loved walled medieval towns known for its historic monuments, artistic richness and breathtaking views. The ideal spot to discover Tuscany with connections to Lucca, Pisa and Florence.

    These four unique locations are the hotels of Unique Hotels of Italy (UHI), a network of one of a kind hotels that offer the traveler exclusive access to luxurious dwellings and noble palaces of historical and architectural interest. The program has just been launched on the American market.

    “People are increasingly in pursuit of something completely unique,” Luigi Nappo of the Rome Office has said, “the ability to tell a story is what encourages consumers to travel and determines the final choice of a specific location or hotel.”

    Not all hotels can be part of UHI; the ones that are grouped under the UHI brand offer a unique experience that cannot be matched by any other competitor. It is not the quantity of amenities of a hotel that makes the difference but the benefits and advantages it offers. The goal of UHI is to represent Italy as an exceptional country through the proposal of accommodations that fulfill superior, non negotiable criteria.

    People are familiar with the terms “boutique hotels,” but her we are talking about “unique hotels.” “Boutique hotel” is a term used to describe hotels which often contain luxury facilities of varying size in intimate settings with full service accommodations. Typically boutique hotels are furnished in a themed, stylish and/or aspirational manner. “Unique hotels” are the only ones of their kind. There is only one Villa di Piazzano with its underground wine cellar dating back to the 1400s... the ancient building techniques used to construct the underground wine cellar ensure a constant temperature of 16 degrees C, thus providing a perfect micro climate for some of the finest Italian wines... one Barga, one Spanish Steps...

    Italy is a country rich in unique realities that visitors are always on the lookout for. The Independent European Daily Express reported on January 31st, 2013 “Italy was ranked fifth by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in terms of inbound tourist arrivals and international tourist receipts. Italy remains a year-round tourist destination. International travelers visit Italy in winter for skiing in the Alps and to visit Rome during Christmas. Around Spring and Easter time, tourists visit the country for religious reasons and to visit cities. In the summer, inbound tourists head for the country's Mediterranean beaches, lakes and historical cities. Owing to its popularity among international travelers, Italy is able to charge its tourists premium rates, which has made it an expensive destination for its unique offerings.”

  • Art & Culture

    Working on A Special Day: The Theatrical Retelling of an Italian Masterpiece

    “A for effort.” It is a saying, right? A way to acknowledge someone for having tried to do something, even if it was not successful. It is used quite often to give a positive spin to something that was a bit iffy, as is the case with this story.

    “The story revolves around two characters, Antonietta and Gabriele, neighbors in the same apartment complex, but strangers until they meet accidentally on May 8, 1938, the day when Hitler visited Rome to meet premier Mussolini. She is an overworked housewife, mother of six children, and married to a dedicated fascist party official who takes her for granted. Although she has a devotion to Mussolini, Antonietta elects to stay home in order to catch up on her chores. Gabriele is a former radio broadcaster who was fired by the regime when it was discovered he was a homosexual. They are worlds apart but get to know each other during the course of the day when the rest of the building’s residents are at the rally. She doesn’t know about his sexuality and assumes that he is pursuing her. He, on the other hand, is simply waiting for the inevitable; a knock on the door from the Italian police who will take him to the confino or internal exile—the fate of those opposed to the regime or an embarrassment to it. Despite some incomprehension a close friendship and an understanding develops between them.

    The story is a private drama played out against the backdrop of a great public event that marked a high point of fascist propaganda. It was a day in which Rome was adorned with swastikas and fasces and thousands of Romans turned out to witness the parade of military and party organizations. For one day at least, it appeared as if all of Rome was united behind its Duce in greeting the visitor from Germany.” (Dr. Paul Baxa)

    The film is Una Giornata Particolare, A Special Day, by Italian director Ettore Scola. It starred Sophia Loren in the role of Antonietta and Marcello Mastroianni in that of Gabriele. The film, released in 1977, won a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Language Film, was nominated to two Academy Awards (Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Foreign Language Film), in Italy it won 3 Nastro D'Argento for Best Actress, Music and Script and 2 Davide di Donatello for Best Actress and Best Director and in France it was nominated for the Golden Palm at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. Is this enough recognition to prove that the film was a masterpiece?

    So as it often happens to masterpieces they are revisited, reworked, told in a different key, and A Special Day is no exception. A Mexican theater company Por Piedad Teatro, in collaboration with the American The Play Company presented Working on A Special Day, a theatrical adaptation of the film that has had a pretty successful run at 59E59 Theaters. The adaptation was completed by Gigliola Fantoni.

    Working on A Special Day was first developed and adapted for the stage in Spanish by two of Mexico’s most prominent theater artists, Laura Almela and Daniel Giménez Cacho, then The Play Company/Por Piedad Teatro developed the actual English language production, directed and performed by Ana Graham and Antonio Vega.

    “If you haven't seen the movie,” the play's stars said in a public statement “we suggest you add it to your Netflix queue. We think you'll like it. We did, to the point of wanting to do an English-language version here in New York. A Mexican/American collaboration on an Italian story might seem a bit odd if not for the fact that theater is all about imagination. Let's pretend we are Italians and that we're speaking Italian. Let's pretend 59E59 Theaters is an apartment building in Rome. Let's pretend it's May 8, 1938; Mussolini is in power and Hitler is visiting Rome today. Let's pretend we are happy about it. And then let us put some questions into your mind: is fascism over? Is it a political regime or a state of mind?”

    With the house lights still on, the two actors, a man and a woman begin to undress and trade their regular clothes for costumes. They are surrounded by black walls and barely any furniture. So they go about creating a world for themselves. They pull props from a shopping cart and start to draw on the walls with chalk: they create windows, a bird cage, a portrait, a hanging lamp. The empty space becomes a Roman apartment in 1938. Yes, you have to use your imagination which is a rule of theater but sometimes the process becomes a bit too cartoonish (Gabriele smokes by the window so the actor draws smoke on the blackboard) which seems a bit out of tune with the tone of Antonietta and Gabriele's story.

    “Watching the play, with its fast pace, crack timing and almost whimsical inventiveness, you’re more likely to think of farce than of fascism. I’d love to see what Mr. Vega and Ms. Graham could do with a comedy,” Rachel Salts writes in her review for the New York Times. Not just the drawing alone, but other elements as well tend to translate the dramatic story of Antonietta and Gabriele into a comedy. The forced Italian accent, already stained by a thick Mexican one, is at times painful as is the expected presence of the usual Italian stereotypes. These might have worked in a different type of story, while they tend to ridicule this one. This is a story set during the heyday of the fascist regime, and while Mussolini attempted to create a totalitarian society, alternative private worlds continued to exist and were effected by the regime.

    “It is always great to see that international theater groups are interested in Italian theatrical texts. And this specific one is simply amazing,” Laura Caparrotti, founder and artistic director of KIT, Kairos Italy Theater said. “The only thing that perplexes me every single time is that the English translation always seems a bit too superficial. It should not be hard in this moment of globalization. Falling into stereotypes is something worth trying to avoid. Our company, and others just like us, always try to escape that but by watching things out there unfortunately we see that stereotypes abound and they even are pretty popular.”

    This explains the “A for effort;” great story, good acting and an admirable attempt to tell an Italian story that may have gotten a bit lost in translation.

  • Events: Reports

    The 63rd Festival of Sanremo: a Recap

    Marco Mengoni has won the 63rd edition of Sanremo, Italy's leading music festival/competition, with his song “L'Essenziale,” a modern love song. Mengoni, who was discovered by the talent show X factor, had already participated to the festival in 2010, and ended in the third place. He is a favorite of Italian audiences who appreciate his voice that is characterized by a soul tonality with pop rock accents. He has been applauded by Mina and Lucio Dalla described him as “an extraordinary artist, one of the best in the last few years. He has an international personality and reminds me of Prince.” Mengoni himself has declared that his strongest influences are David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Renato Zero.


    This year, the voting system at the festival was revolutionized. Indeed during the previous year the winner was nominated through televoting but this year a new element was added: the Giuria di Qualità, a jury made up of composer Nicola Piovani (the jury's president), dancer & actress Eleonora Abbagnato, journalist Stefano Bartezzaghi, musician Cecilia Chailly, dj Claudio Coccoluto, TV personality Serena Dandini, writer Paolo Giordano, producer Nicoletta Mantovani, pianist Rita Marcotulli and actor Neri Marcorè.

    This year's winner was nominated 50% by the Jury and the other 50% by the audience. During the development of the festival, televoting influence will be lowered to 25% and the 25% left over will be decided by the points earned during the different days of the festival. Each singer had to present two songs, during the festival one of them would be eliminated and the artist continued with the one chosen song, up to the final.

    The group Elio e le Storie Tese came second with “La canzone mononota.” The “one note song” is everything but linear or monotonous. A note can change the tempo, the pathos, the singer, the interpretation, the story, the language of a song. The song is about itself, of how a note can be represented in all its different forms. The group, who is known for being irreverent and always original, last appeared at the festival seventeen years ago. Jokingly they had reserved for themselves the fourth spot, yet they also won the critic's award Mia Martini and the best musical arrangement.

    The group Modà ended up in third place with the song “Se si potesse non morire,” a piece that is rumored to have been stolen by a less famous singer. The similarities between this song and the song by Andrea Papazzoni, aka Andrea Noel, are quite striking so now the case is in the hands of the authorities.

    Sanremo would not be Sanremo without any of these controversies. Something always happens. “Sanremo is strange,” Fabio Fazio, the show's host, confessed to Ansa, “the first and the final episodes are geological eras apart. Everything you have worked on in the previous months to be prepared is literally thrown out the window.” Fazio, who was accompanied on stage by his partner in crime, comedian Luciana Littizzetto, sums things up and considers his Sanremo a real success. “I wanted people to see that popular does not mean trivial.”So the Ariston Theater, the theater that has hosted the festival all these years, welcomed great performances of classic music, like “Va Pensiero,” and international stars, like Caetano Veloso, the best of contemporary pop music and Bollani, the satirical parodies of comedian Crozza and the political monologue by actor Claudio Bisio.

    Italian media lauded Fazio and Littizzetto's light touch, irony and respectful approach, claiming they had revolutionised presentational styles which in the past ranged from starchy to corny and sometimes flirted with outright vulgarity. But in trying to point out a favorite moment, Fazio recalls the emotion of seen maestro Harding conduct Wagner and Verdi on stage at only 37 years of age: “the important message is that passion for good music gives you a very interesting life.”

    Fazio is happy with all the musical choices that were made: “We wanted to represent the contemporary musical scene. The winner embodies all that. The history of the festival teaches us that what really counts is the quality of music. We had 28 songs that were interpretations of the contemporaneity that is the distinctive trait of this edition of the festival. I strongly believe that the songs presented this year will live on.” Mauro Pagani, musician and artistic director of the festival said “the quality of the song writing was in average pretty high, Among the new talents I would have added ten additional spots. Some rejections were pretty unfair.”

    Among the show's favorite moments there is the monologue by actor Claudio Bisio that started as an innocent, and at moments lame, monologue on Micky Mouse but evolved into a monologue where voters were accused of things politicians are usually accused of. Bisio was able to talk politics without any turmoil, differently from Crozza who, when first appeared as Silvio Berlusconi, was heavily insulted and booed off stage. After the intervention of Fazio, the comedian was allowed to continue, but the monologue did not go as planned.

    Many thought it was just too much and that the Sanremo stage should only deal with music and shut the door on politics. Needless to say, the number of viewers rose to 17 million during the monologue. (The five-evening pop-song competition and extravaganza captured an average audience of more than 11.9 million viewers, the best achieved since 2001). “I preferred to watch a soccer match,” Silvio Berlusconi said at the TV Show, Mattino 5, “I watched Juventus play against Celtic. I have already criticized the fact that Sanremo is taking place now (a short time before the elections). I have already said all there is to say.”

    Among the other guests of the festival Andrea Bocelli, whose career started at Sanremo, sang with his 18 year old son Amos, a couple of pop songs (“Love me tender” and “Quizas Quizas Quizas”); Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso sang “Come Prima” by Tony Dallara along on the notes played by Stefano Bollani; the ex premiere dame, Claudia Bruni; soccer superstar Roberto Baggio who, after being interviewed by Fazio, read a personal letter written to the young generations of Italians who are jobless and unsatisfied with life. “Today I have white hair and many old scars. But my dreams remain the same,” Baggio concluded, “Those who always try hard are those who are full of hope. Embrace your dreams and follow them. Every day heroes are those who always give it all.” This thought is embodied by the winner of the festival himself, Marco Mengoni (24), who has fought hard to have his dream of becoming a singer and now as the winner of the festival he is an important player in the history of Italian music.

  • Life & People

    Little Opera, Family, Immigration & the Power of Music

    Along with their suitcases, immigrants in the 1900's brought to America a passion for Opera, and this helped them adjust in a new country but also to introduce this special art form in a foreign place.

    This is the premise of Little Opera, a charming documentary by French director Louis Wallecan produced by Bel Air Media and France Television. The US premiere of the 55 min. film, held at the Di Menna Performing Arts Center, was followed by a round table discussion featuring conductor and artistic director of New York Grand Opera, Vincent La Selva, editor in chief of Opera News, F. Paul Driscoll, opera director, Thaddeus Stressberger, film director, Louis Wallecan and Midge Woolsey, WQXR midday host. The program included Neapolitan musical interludes by acclaimed tenor Luigi Boccia, who was also featured in the documentary, and pianist Dan Saunders. The juxtaposition of film, conversation, song, and interpretive readings made for an unexpected, considered, and intellectually stimulating evening.

    Little Opera “is the tale of the voyage from Sicily to New York of four renowned families for whom opera has always been a source of pride and an essential component of their cultural heritage. In this documentary the Coppolas, Alagnas, Marianis and Amatos speak of the way opera intertwined with their journey, giving a fascinating account of the story of many Italians in New York throughout the early 20th century. This film's subject has three universal themes: family, immigration and the power of music.

    “I grew up in France,” the film's director said at the screening, “and I was surrounded by Italian music and the influence of Italian culture was pretty strong. At first I was really interested in Giuseppe Verdi, the subject of my first film, and then I wanted to work on something that portrayed the influence of music and Italy on people's lives. In this film I show how culture helped immigrants build their own identity in a foreign country, a country where they could somehow feel at home if they brought back something from home with them.”

    “Opera has always been a source of pride for Italians living abroad,” tenor Luigi Boccia said to i-Italy, “Many always have considered Opera the most complex art form because of the combination of music, history, language, singing, acting, dancing, scenes, costumes etc. It always has been refreshing for immigrants of the first migratory wave, often labeled as simple and uneducated, to refer to Opera as a manifestation of what their native country has been able to produce over the centuries in the artistic field.

    Furthermore, especially at the turn of the 20th century, Opera had a much broader popular appeal, and the audience was much larger than it is these days. The fact the most of the best singers in the world were Italian or had to sing in Italian was again another 'little moral revenge' for millions of immigrants making their way up the ladder in foreign countries. Artists like Enrico Caruso, who reached a level of world-wide fame and success that has been equaled in modern days only by a fellow Italian, Luciano Pavarotti, were considered national heroes. I recall a conversation with Maestro Coppola where he recounted his trips to the MET with his uncle Mario, a barber from Brooklyn. Sometimes - Coppola recalls - people would make discriminatory comments about Italians or Italian-Americans, and they would hear a reply to their comments: "We have Caruso, who do you have?" I always thought that this punchline summarizes better than 10 books how much Opera meant and means to Italians and Italians abroad and how this art form is engrained in our flesh, blood and way of living our lives. In my personal opinion, there is no art form that has shaped more decisively the cultural identity of Italian communities abroad than Opera, at least for the first half of the 21st century.” Tenor Luigi Boccia hails from Serino, Italy, and began his vocal studies with legendary tenor Gianni Raimondi. He recently completed his artist-in-residence at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. The recepient of several prestigious awards, Luigi as a versatile recitalist at home in repertoire ranging from florid Handel arias to the romantic outpourings of Italian and Neapolitan songs.

    “Played on gramophones throughout the urban working-class areas of the City, the melodies of La Traviata, I Pagliacci, Cavalleria Rusticana and the legendary voice of Enrico Caruso carried the fragrance of Italy into their homes of Italian-American immigrants. In a country where Italian was forbidden in school, Opera was the art form that brought this displaced community together, through its stories, imagery, and melodies, allowing Italy's glorious past to be celebrated and dreamed through its song.”

    “When I was nine years old, I heard for the first time Vesti la Giubba from I Pagliacci,” Tony Amato, founder and artistic director of Amato Opera Theater said in the documentary, “that's when I realized I wanted Opera to be in my life.” Anthony Amato was born in 1920 in Minori, Campania, immigrated to the US when he was a small child and met his future wife, Sally Amato, while performing in a musical comedy production at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey. Together, in 1948, they opened the Amato Opera Theater “with two goals in mind: to perform entertaining opera at a reasonable price; and to give promising singers experience with full-length productions. From artistic director, to conductor, to performing in their own productions, through the years Tony and Sally wore numerous hats to keep the show on the road, or at least in the theater.” (www.pbs.org)

    “When I was about nine,” Maestro Anton Coppola said in the documentary, “I heard Faust and that's when I knew I wanted to be involved with Opera.” A celebrated conductor and composer, Maestro Coppola, among other things, has composed Sacco and Vanzetti, an opera in both Italian and English about immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti, has worked as the musical director of six Broadway musicals and conducted two film scores, 1992's The Godfather Part III and 1992's Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola is a member of the family). He appeared in the former, shown conducting Cavalleria Rusticana in the Teatro Massimo of Palermo.

    “I was born on Mott Street,” Lorenzo Mariani, then artistic director of the Teatro Massimo of Palermo, “and I was the typical Italian-American kid growing up. I lived above a restaurant and Franco Corelli and other singers would stop there and sing for hours... every night. That's when I decided music was going to be in my life.”

    Tenor Roberto Alagna's love story with Opera started at a really young age too, not in the States directly for him but for his family. “Influenced primarily by the films of Mario Lanza, but also from recordings of many historic tenors, he then switched to opera, but remained largely self-taught.” In recent years Alagna has been an advocate of restoring to prominence neglected French operas. Alagna is portrayed giving a really touching interpretation of Vesti La Giubba in Little Opera, that touched the audience viscerally. Vesti La Giubba is the conclusion of the opera's first act, when Canio discovers his wife's infidelity, but must nevertheless prepare for his performance as clown because the show must go on. “I really relate to the character,” Alagna says, “because when you do this job, no matter how you feel, no matter what has just happened to you, you must walk on that stage and perform.”

    Everyone in the audience, including Maestro Anton Coppola himself, felt privileged to be part of such an exclusive event. “On Jan. 30th at the Di Menna Center, except for Amato's absence who died a few years ago,” Luigi Boccia concludes, “if felt like a reunion of friends who worked with passion and enthusiasm on a project that turned out to be very fruitful for the Italian-American Community and for Italian Opera lovers.”

    And there could be a Little Opera follow up, as some reputable cultural institutions have expressed interest last night in repeating the same format at different venues in NY and other places in the U.S.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Restaurant Royalty, Marisa May

    Her playground growing up was an iconic place by the name the Rainbow Room, and we're not talking about a room with walls painted in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet but the upscale restaurant and nightclub on the 65th floor of the GE Building in Rockfeller Center. Indeed, her father, iconic Italian restaurateur Tony May, was for years (1968-1986), first as General Manager and then owner, running the show for the elite and influential of New York could gather to socialize over cocktails, dine on fine cuisine, and dance to the strains of legendary jazz big bands on a revolving floor.

    Little Marisa May, born and raised a true New Yorker, 1st generation Italian-American, would sit at the table, or sometimes even fall asleep, by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra or Luciano Pavarotti, completely unaware of their fame and fortune. Those were her friends, her play dates basically, and without even knowing it that playground became the place where she learned first hand, mostly from her dad, the restaurant business.

    “My father was an immigrant from Torre del Greco who came here to build a life,” Marisa explains to i-Italy, “He was poor, and he was the oldest of eight children who basically had to take care of his brothers and parents. He started working on cruise ships at 12 years of age to send money back home. His hard work paid off and his dedication to bringing real Italian food in American restaurants was often challenged but definitely successful. I could not imagine not following in his steps.”

    Today, Marisa as the co-owner of SD26 with her father Tony May, brings her experience, charm and unique combination of attentive New York service and traditional Italian courtesy to reignite the New York City restaurant scene.

    Marisa is a brunette during the winter months and a blonde in the summer time, she is an only child whose godmother is Mrs. Maccioni (wife of Sirio Maccioni, one of Manhattan's most celebrated restaurateurs), an hopeless romantic who foresees the future of the countless couples who sit at the tables of her restaurant and who is waiting to meet her true love, a strong believer in astrology, a real entertainer and restaurant royalty.

    “I went to NYU and I studied Musical Theater, although I knew it was not going to be my career. I did take some electives in Hotel and Restaurant Management because I knew that was my calling. Working in a restaurant you get the best of both worlds: I love people, I love food and I love the theatrics of a restaurant. Every night you are part of a show, but we do it in a genuine way. I was always a natural in the business. When you walk into our restaurant you basically walk into our home. We spend more time here than we do in the actual places where we live. I was always the hostess in my home growing up. We always entertained in our house and had great chefs, restaurateurs and celebrities coming from Italy and other corners of the world. In our restaurant things don't change, I am still the hostess and our guests are still our friends.”

    Marisa first began answering phones and taking reservations at the Rainbow Room and later at Il Palio, “My father did not pay me, but my reward where my summers in Italy getting to know different areas of the country and being exposed to the varied authentic cuisine and service of each region. “When I was in college I was in a sorority but if my father called because the restaurant was swamped I had to leave the party I was at right away.”

    After graduating from NYU, Marisa May took on the full-time role of General Manager at San Domenico NY at Central Park South. There she earned the nickname “Bossina” or “little boss” for her strong involvement in the restaurant and its management.

    “At first I spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping to make the bread and pasta, or on the floor taking care of table, but then I realized, like the front of the house was where I really belonged.” For over twenty years, San Domenico New York at Central Park South set the standards for contemporary Italian cuisine in America, offering dishes inspired by what is served in Italy's fine kitchens. “I like to believe that we touch our guests' lives in some way... and not just with our delicious Italian food. I, just like my father, am old fashioned this way. We go to the tables to greet and get to know everyone. There are millions of chefs, restaurants and great recipes around and you need to stand out. Our service, our personal touch, definitely makes us stand out.”

    The father-daughter team is simply unique, one of a kind, “Very different from the father-son relationships out there. There is no competition among us, I don't want to be my father, I am my own person, I have a different eye, a different touch and this creates a balance between the two generations that is simply successful.”

    “Being a woman in the business is very challenging,” Marisa continues, “The restaurant business is still a man's world. I think a lot of it is because of the physical and mental work, all the demanding hours. It's very hard to balance life, especially if you want to be married and have children, if you want time for yourself or to spend with friends. Time management is crucial but because I was basically born into it, it was, and still is, all natural to me.”

    After the closing of San Domenico New York at Central Park South, the “May team” moved on to a new venue, a place Marisa calls “my baby.” Since 2009 the legacy of Tony and Marisa May continues at a new address, 19 Madison Square Park, at SD26 where the next generation of Italian fine dining is achieved through “the essence of the Italian designed space, the contemporary interpretation of Italian cuisine, and a 750 labels Wine List.”

    “I thought of the name SD26,” Marisa May “we wanted customers to remember the old San Domenico and enjoy a new, more approachable San Domenico that is right with today and is projected into the future, without forgetting the past. We are on 26th street on Madison Square Park... yes another park, that has to mean something.”

    SD26 is the first American restaurant designed by internationally acclaimed Italian designer Massimo Vignelli, who took the 14,000 square foot raw space and created a tri-level restaurant featuring rich colors of gold an red and artwork from renowned fiber artist Sheila Hicks (the “star ceiling” is also known as “Marisa's ceiling,” as she is a strong believer in astrology). Offering guests multiple dining and drinking settings, SD26 features a 70-seat wine bar and lounge, a 138-seat dining room featuring an exhibition kitchen with a Chef's Table for up to 8 guests (this is one of Marisa's wishes come true), a 65-seat private dining mezzanine and a Salumeria (this is Tony May's wish come true) in the main dining room. A 14-seat wine cellar downstairs features an esteemed collection of vintage ad special format bottles.

    The food is definitely one of the main characters of the show and Executive Chef Matteo Bergamini has created a one of a kind menu of contemporary Italian cuisine that includes historic dishes such as Egg-Yolk filled Ravioli with Truffled Butter and innovative delicacies such as Linguine di Gragnano with Clams, Grape Tomatoes & Parsley, smoked with Applewood.

    “The restaurant life is a real challenge,” Marisa concludes, “You must be willing to sacrifice a lot but it is also very rewarding. If this is your calling, just answer to it. You will not regret it.”

  • Facts & Stories

    Invest in Torino, the Intelligent Location for your Business

    Among the several promotional events on Torino that have taken place in New York during the month of December, the Italian Trade Commission hosted a seminar called Why Invest in Torino Piemonte, the intelligent location for your business.

    Aniello Musella, the Director of the Italian Trade Commission, welcomed Natalia Quintavalle, the Consul General of Italy in New York, Massimo Giordano, Councillor for Economic Development, Research and Innovation, Giuliana Tedesco, Deputy Mayor for Trade and Economic development, Federico Zardi, Project Manager at Piemonte Agency for Investments, Export and Tourism and Marina Meliga, Managing Director at Avago Technologies, a foreign company that has opened a branch in Piemonte.

    “Italy has a strong presence on the American market,” Mr. Musella remarked, “but it must work hard to become more attractive for American investments on Italian territory. Piemonte has been able to establish and maintain close commercial and trade links with neighboring countries and with others further away. It continues to be one of the Italian regions with the highest rate of internationalization of its economy, with exports accounting for about 28% of the regional GDP.”

    “Piemonte is one of the most dynamic and innovative regions of Italy,” Hon. Consul Natalia Quintavalle added, “the region has been a hub for major technical innovations from the electric engine in the 19th century, to the MP3 file format, and the common rail for diesel engines.” The region boasts 460,000 companies organized in innovative, flexible and efficient clusters

    “Piemonte has an important history and a unique position, right at the center f the system of European development,” Massimo Giordano said, “it is the first Italian region to have established a regional agency dedicated to inward and outward investments and the first to have created a dedicated financial tool for attracting and supporting FDI (Foreign Direct Investment). Over 650 foreign companies (145 of the are American) have chosen to invest in Piemonte which ranks second in Italy in terms of direct investments by foreign companies.”

    “In recent decades, Piemonte traditionally the center of the automotive industry, has diversified its own economic structure, directing itself more and more towards sectors tied to the knowledge economy,” Giuliana Tedesco added, “It focuses on R&D activities and invests in strategic sectors such as renewable energy, sustainable mobility, ICT, life sciences, pharmaceutics and healthcare and logistics. In research as in education and training, there are centers and competencies of international standing that underpin the consolidation of an increasingly knowledge-based economy and society. 20% of the entire R&D expenditure of Italian companies is concentrated in Piemonte, fueling innovation and enabling the commercial system to leave its mark on the world market of cutting-edge products.”

    Among the major players in the worldwide economy we find companies, all founded in Piemonte, such as Ferrero, Fiat, Giugiaro Design, Iveco, Lavazza, L'Oreal, Loro Piana, Martini & Rossi, Pininfarina, Pirelli, Primaindustrie, Telecom Italia and more. These all are companies known for continuous innovation, efficient research, reliable funding and impeccable timing and Piemonte is working hard to attract more.

    “Piemonte is the first and only region in Italy to have created and implemented an innovative tool, the Regional Investment Contract, Zardi added, “that gives foreign companies locating in Piemonte guarantees in terms of financial support and time scheduling for the investment and location project, it aims to encourage the arrival and development in Piemonte of new investments from abroad in industry, services and research, to create synergies with the local fabric, and to favor the growth of opportunities for human resources in terms of employment and increase in knowledge, as well as collaboration in the development of positive externalities in the local areas.”

    The Regional Investment Contract is managed by Piemonte Agency and is stipulated between the region and the Company, it provides the drafting and implementation of the Contract, and assists the foreign company through the entire negotiation phase. Piemonte Agency is a one-stop shop for companies that have an investment in Piemonte. It gives the investor guarantees in terms of financial support and time scheduling for the project.

    For more information: www.investintorinopiemonte.org

  • Tourism

    Torino, a City to Discover

    It was the capital of Italy in 1861, and since then it has been considered Italy's capital of industry, mostly based on the automotive. Yet, the City of Torino has developed a lot since then, and has turned into a city of multiple vocations... a city of culture, art, science, food and wine, tourism, and innovation. A city with a constant eye on the future, and therefore in continuous development.

    This city, the capital of Piemonte, has been very active in promoting, here in New York City, what it has to offer and has organized a series of events that comprise a Program called “Torino, a City to Discover.” The program has been put together by the City of Torino, the Torino Chamber of Commerce Industry Craft and Agriculture, Torino's Tourist Board, Enit, the Italian Trade Commission, The Italian Consulate in New York and the Italian Cultural Institute.

     The main force behind it is the city's mayor Piero Fassino, who, unfortunately, could not participate to the events in person, but only via video.
    “My Torino has evolved from a manufacturing city into a city of the world,” Fassino said in the recording, “a point of excellence with a higher quality of living.”

    The goal is a simple one: promotion. At Eataly, the giant food emporium of Italian specialties opened by Oscar Farinetti (who originally is from Alba, inPiemonte), representatives of the city's economy, art and tourism opened the dances with speeches, glasses of Barolo and delicious specialties, such as Agnolotti del plin con sugo d'arrosto (homemade meat-filled pasta served with a veal reduction).

    “We are working hard on the internationalization process our mayor has started” Giuliana Tedesco, Deputy Mayor for Trade and Economic Development said, although the tie between Torino and the United States is already strong. One example is enough, the automotive industry which is known for its high quality and impeccable design.

    The Consul General of Italy in New York, Hon. Natalia Quintavalle stressed how major the contribution of Torino and the region it is the capital of, Piemonte, to the promotion of all good things Italian is. A few examples were provided by Mr. Farinetti: Lavazza coffee, the Slow Food Movement, Cirio, Bic, Einaudi and much much more.

    There are some of the offerings of Torino which should be even more available overseas... lets use music as an example. At the lunch, the musical director of Teatro Regio, Gianandrea Noseda expressed his wish to have the theater tour the US. Teatro Regio is a prominent opera house and opera company. Its season runs from October to June with the presentation of eight or nine operas given from five to twelve performances of each.

    And let's talk about art. Torino has conquered a leading role in terms of making the most of contemporary art. Like few others in Italy, the city stands out for the variety and wealth of art on offer during the year, thanks to the work of public and private centers committed to promoting art. These include Castello di Rivoli – Museo d'Arte Contemporanea and the GAM, the Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea which have become internationally recognized institutions, equipped with programs that unit retrospectives on the great masters, information on new trends, great thematic exhibitions on artistic evolution in the 20th century and permanent collections, which are constantly growing thanks to purchases and gifts.

    GAM was in New York to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Guido and Ettore De Fornaris Foundation and present two different shows.

    The Guido ed Ettore De Fornaris Foundation was created in Torino in 1982 according to the will and thanks to the bequest of the patron of the arts and art collector Ettore De Fornaris. Since then it has operated by means of personal financial resources in the field of the arts; in particular it buys paintings, sculpture, installations, graphic folios that are held and exhibited by GAM.

    GAM's Director, Danilo Eccher, introduced the shows at a symposium held at the Guggenheim Museum: the Morandi and Casorati exhibit will be at the Italian Cultural Institute until January 11th, 2013, while Italian Art: Contemporary Protagonists is held ad Industria Superstudio (this is also ending on the 11th). “We are here in New York not just because it is the world capital of art but because we want to create a strong relationship with it based on cultural and artistic exchange and dialogue.,” Eccher said, “we want to to present an image of Italy that is enviable and admired.”

  • Life & People

    Keeping tradition alive with the Men of the Cloth

    This is the story of three men: “three humble and accomplished master tailors who create masterpieces of elegance and style to clothe the human body,” fashion editor turned documentary director Vicki Vasilopolous writes of her project Men of the Cloth. Their names are Nino Corvato, Checchino Fonticoli and Joe Centofanti and they are survivors in the 21st century, the last representatives of an art from the past.

    Men of the Cloth unravels the complexity of the tailor's artistry and how he crafts a garment

    in such a way that it moves and breathes with the person who's wearing it,” the director told i-Italy in an interview. “The film highlights the experiences of these master tailors as immigrant artisans in the U.S. and their challenging roles in the twilight of their career. My goal is to honor the legacy of these master tailors for a younger generation.”

    This film is a labor of love that has taken over ten years to make and it contrasts the lives of Nino Corvato in New York and Joe Centofanti in Ardmore, PA, who work as traditional small-scale custom tailors, and Checchino Fonticoli, who spent his entire career at the luxury clothing firm Brioni, based in Abruzzo, Italy.

    Nino Corvato is originally from Palermo, and moved to the US searching for a better future when he was 20 years old. “Nino worked for many years as a production manager at Brooks Brothers, and even managed a clothing factory in South Korea. But he never lets go of his dream of having his own label, even turning down a lucrative offer to work for designer Donna Karan after helping her launch her menswear line.” He then opened his own shop in Manhattan and today “artisans from six different countries stitch garments for hours on end. Each suit — which requires three fittings and over 60 hours of labor — is as beautiful inside as it is outside, and is invested with pride, dedication and 250 years of collective work experience.”

    Cecchino Fonticoli is originally from Penne, in the province of Pescara. He learned his craft in Rome yet when he was 20 he returned to Penne to join the newly opened Brioni clothing factory founded by his cousin, Nazareno Fonticoli. His creations were worn by famous clients “ Luciano Pavarotti, Nelson Mandela, and Pierce Brosnan, as well as countless kings and heads of state.” Cecchino officially retired several years ago, but he continues to consult for Brioni.

    Joe Centofanti is a master tailor whose shop is in Ardmore, PA. Joe was always reluctant to retire (he actually sold his business once, but then realized his mistake, and took it back)  because there was no one to take over his craft and clientele. Yet, he took on a young college-educated apprentice, who approached him out of the blue and who learned to make custom suits by hand, thus keeping tradition alive.

    Now Vicki is in the final stages of production. She is trying to raise $20,000 for the sound mix, color correction and mastering to HDCAM. To do so she launched a Kickstarter campaign. I-Italy had a chance to ask her a few questions and learn more about the project.

    How did you decide to shoot a documentary on this topic and how did you chose the tailors portrayed in it?

    I never planned on being a documentary filmmaker. But I always loved movies. I met one of my characters, Checchino Fonticoli, when I traveled to Italy on a reporting trip during my tenure as a fashion editor for DNR, the men’s news magazine that’s now part of Women’s Wear Daily.  Checchino was the head designer and master tailor at Brioni in Penne, Italy – and that sowed the seeds for the idea of the film. About a year later I started doing research and I paid a visit to master tailor Nino Corvato in New York and Joe Centofanti in Ardmore, PA. Both had a reputation as masters of their trade. But the critical aspect for me was their personal background and life story, along with the unwavering passion for their craft. They were also articulate about describing their craft, so people can relate easily to them when they’re on screen. In addition, I saw that there was both contrast (in their career paths and generational outlook) as well as important similarities that I could underscore in the film.

    I was intrigued with the challenge of documenting a disappearing craft that is part of the cultural DNA of Italians. 

    What compelled you to tell their stories? Do you have any interesting anecdotes you can share?

    Men of the Cloth is essentially a human story – it’s about finding your true calling in life -- and that's what makes it universal. As a fashion editor, I saw how our consumer culture promoted so-called “status” clothing. By contrast, my characters embody a tradition that exalts the individual, and values artistry above financial gain.

    Making a documentary is full of twists and turns. I thought I was done filming several years ago when I learned that Joe Centofanti had taken on an apprentice. I essentially had to start the film over again: I had to raise more money for production, and making this film turned into a ten-year odyssey. But real life is like that: you have to follow the story where it leads you. And ultimately, I realized that this turn of events would make for a richer, more nuanced film. The lack of apprentices is the central crisis for the perpetuation of this trade, and the reasons for this are complicated, as I explore in the film.

    Who is the typical customer of these tailors?

    There’s no one type of customer – it could be someone who’s hard to fit anatomically, someone with very discerning taste, someone who loves personalized handmade things – or all of the above. Of course, it’s usually someone with financial means, but it may also be an individual who wants to invest in a suit or jacket that will last him a lifetime and get better with wear.

    Do you have an Italian background? What brought you to tell a story with Italian roots?

    In my former career as a men’s fashion editor I traveled to Italy on a biannual basis to cover the runway shows in Milan and the Pitti Uomo trade fair in Florence. I fell in love with the culture, which places a premium on an esthetic value system, on artisanship and making things with incredible passion and pride. This soulful approach is compelling, to say the least, and has seduced centuries of travelers to Italy! And, as someone who was born in Greece, and whose father was a craftsman, I discovered a particular affinity that made me feel at home there.

    Tell me about the challenges of making this documentary and the decision/need to start a kickstarter campaign.

    NIAF provided a few small grants for production in the beginning, but most of the funds have come in the form of small contributions from individuals around the world who love this craft and would like to see these tailors' stories preserved. As a first-time producer/director, it’s been a constant struggle to raise enough funding to properly tell the story and ensure good production values.

    On the plus side, I’m thankful for the enormous grass-roots interest in the film that has sustained me and encouraged me to bring this project to fruition.

    We spent the last year editing and composing the score, and we now have a completed 96-minute feature film that I’m very proud of. I launched the Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign because we still have to do post-production (the sound mix, color correction and mastering) to get the film ready for film festivals and screening events this spring. It’s an all-or-nothing funding platform, so we have to raise our entire funding goal of $20,000 by December 21st – otherwise we receive none of the pledges made and the campaign will not be funded. We’re offering some special rewards to contributors – DVD’s and posters of the film, VIP invitations to the premiere, and custom-made clothing from our sponsors: http://kck.st/RZGT69

  • Events: Reports

    The Walker's Auto-Da-Fè: The Words of Arturo Giovannitti on Stage

    In 1920 two Italian immigrants living in Massachusetts, Nicola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish peddler, were arrested for murdering two men during the armed robbery of a shoe factory in South Braintree, MA. The two had no criminal records, but were known as outspoken anarchists and antiwar activists. Both men had good alibis: at the moment of the crime Vanzetti was selling fish in Plymouth, while Sacco was in Boston with his wife having his photograph taken. Yet several eyewitnesses identified them as the culprits.

    Their arrest had coincided with the period of the most intense political repression in Americanhistory, the “Red Scare” and their case became a matter of national public attention.

    During the trial Sacco and Vanzetti were disadvantaged by not having a full grasp of the English language and their witnesses were Italians who spoke English poorly, and their trial testimony, given largely in translation, failed to convince the American jury. The two were sentenced to death. (Fifty years later, on 23rd August, 1977, Michael Dukakis, the Governor of Massachusetts, issued a proclamation, effectively absolving the two men of the crime).

    Just a few years earlier, in 1912 to be exact, Sacco helped with the defense of Arturo Giovannitti, an Italian immigrant who had been arrested on a dubious murder charge. His trial had a totally different outcome. It created quite a stir and attracted international interest, yet it is now forgotten while everybody knows who Sacco and Vanzetti were.

    Arturo Giovannitti, the son of a pharmacist, was born in Ripabottoni, in Molise, on January 7th, 1884. After finishing his education and developing ideals of Liberty and Democracy, he emigrated to Canada. At the time he was deeply religious and he studied in several theological seminaries near Montreal. In 1904 he moved to New York City where he attended Columbia University.

    Giovannitti did a variety of different jobs after arriving in America. He was also an active trade unionist and became the leader of the Italian Socialist Federation of North America. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and in 1911 he became the editor of Il Proletario, a radical Italian-language weekly.

    So how did this young man, poet and trade unionist who emigrated to the New World full of hope get in trouble with the law? We must go back to the Bread and Roses strike in Laurence, MA, of 1912.

    Using the words of Giovannitti's grandson, David Giovannitti, we can say that “The Laurence strike started spontaneously in response to a cut in the piece rate that workers earned and activists in the area quickly realized they would need assistance to fight the powerfull mill owners. The IWW were involved and various organizers were contacted. My grandfather was asked to come due to his English/Italian fluency and reputation as a rousing speaker – family lore has it that he was somewhat reluctant due to the risk involved, but my grandmother made it clear that he had no choice... as it turned out there was reason to be afraid. During the strike a woman, Anna Lo Pizzo, was killed and my grandfather and his fellow strike leader, Jospeh Ettor, were arrested for murder even though they were miles away at the time. They subsequently spent 10 months in jail under threat of execution but were finally acquitted when it became clear the entire case against them was a fabrication; my grandfather's speech to the jury became a much reprinted and celebrated document and even today his eloquence, both humble and defiant, is striking.”

    Today, one hundred years after the trial, Italian director Stefano Sabelli of Teatro del Loto di Ferrazzano presents to international audiences the dramatic rendition of Giovannitti's Address to the Jury and of The Walker (a touching ballad written while he was in prison awaiting the final verdict). They have been combined in one piece by the title The Walker's Auto-Da-Fè.

    Sponsored by Regione Molise and the province of Campobasso, the play has toured the east Coast during the month of November to have its final performance, organized by the Bread and Roses Centennial Committee, on November 23 in Lawrence, to celebrate the very day in which Arturo Giovannitti pronounced his self-defense speech one hundred years ago. “The Address to the Jury, which Giovannitti pronounced – and did not write,” Sabelli said “contains in itself all the elements of a grand theatrical play. A defense/monologue of so intense nobility that any important dramatist would like to write one just like it and any great actor would love to play it.”

    Starring Diego Florio, The Walker's Auto-Da-Fè, forces the audience to relieve “that same event through stage fiction, and to put themselves somehow in the shoes of the Jury, which was selected to judge Arturo Giovannitti,” Stefano Sabelli stated in his notes to the play. The audience is indeed sitting in a cage with the protagonist and living with him every word, every glance, every single drop of sweat. Arturo/Diego walks around the spectators with no peace, like “a wounded, untamed lion.”

    “I thought of an intimate set, capable to give some discomfort to the audience, surprising them,” Sabelli continued. “A traditional stage would have implied too much distance with the audience and a comfortable sitting would not have afforded the needed suspense to relive a fact belonging to history, not a work of fiction.”

    “To stage this incredible trial and the verse of a man of such quality, moreover a fellow countryman from Molise, together with his extraordinary human and poetic vicissitudes, perhaps too early fallen into oblivion (especially in Italy) seemed to me both a duty and a necessity since the very first time I read it,” Sabelli concluded. It is time, one hundred years later, to get acquainted with Giovannitti again.

  • Life & People

    The Gift of a Smile: Pizza Class at Mount Sinai Medical Center

    “Let me introduce myself: my name is Angela, I am an oncologist from Salerno. I have lived in Paris for 8 years where I worked in an important Oncology Center. I specialize in rare tumors (sarcomas) afflicting young adults. I moved to New York two years ago through an exchange program held at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Then I decided to stay, because the doctor I was working with, Dr. Robert G Maki. was offered a job as Chief of the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Mount Sinai Medical Center and he needed experts in rare tumors to coordinate research projects as he had to re-organize the entire pediatrics department and possibly open an Adult Sarcoma Unit.

    Dr. Maki is one of those doctors that is human with his patients and who is greatly respected in the scientific community because of his great knowledge and relationships with his colleagues. He is not competitive, he actually is open to international exchanges, indeed we are working on projects in collaboration with Istituto Tumori in Milan. He is a great teacher, always willing to share what he knows. He asked me to contribute with my expertise in the creation of his Sarcoma Unit and I could not say no.

    At Mount Sinai what immediately struck me was that the situation was really peculiar: although it is known to be a hospital for rich people the little patients of the Oncology Department are about 80% from Harlem, the Bronx and Queens with no insurance, they only have Medicare. They come for a day long chemotherapy session yet they cannot even afford to eat a decent meal... often the social workers have to buy them food with their own money.

    Food is one of my weaknesses, I particularly enjoy going out to the different restaurants and pizzerias in the city and through the years I got to know many cool and generous people. I wanted to put the two things, work and food, together, to make something special. Once I was talking to Michele (owner of Luzzo's, Ovest and Mikele) and he suggested we organized a pizza class for the kids. This way they could get a distraction during their day-long chemo session and, at the same time, enjoy a free meal that is also nutritious and tasty. Michele had already taken part in similar events for autistic kids and he knew how to organize things.

    I had to pitch the idea to the department head, the manager and the social workers and together we decided to give it a try with about ten kids. The idea is to make it a weekly, or bi-weekly, appointment and to welcome all kids, not just oncology patients. Of course other Italian restaurants will participate some have already confirmed their participation. We are using the cooking class idea as a way to give these kids a free meal while they are in the hospital. Then later on, during the spring time, I will coordinate, it is a way to make an even more effective impact with my work, other events with the participation of artists and photographers and restaurants (Michele has already agreed to participate). This is not a way to promote Luzzo's or whoever... this is a way to stimulate the community so that these little treasures will continue to get the best possible care but in a serene and familiar environment even though they actually are in a hospital.”

    How can anybody not be familiar with the wonderful work of doctor Angela Cioffi, the Mout Sinai staff and Michele Luzzo? As the holidays approach, there is room for some serious thinking. In a moment of giving it is important to understand that giving is not simply buying a cashmere scarf or a mini i-Pad... giving is much more, it's bringing hope, it's partaking knowledge, it's waking up a smile.

    This is what happened at the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Unit at Mount Sinai Medical Center during a pizza class organized by Angela Cioffi and held by Michele Luzzo.

    “I was so emotional the night before the class,” Michele explained, “that I could not sleep. I was terrified I would say something wrong to the kids. Then my wonderful daughter and Angela were able to calm me down and I understood I simply had to be myself. I went to the hospital with the material, 15 individual doses of flour, yeast, salt, sugar, all other necessary ingredients and a smile!”

    “Michele showed up with a smile able to melt everybody,” Angela explained, “He is the typical Neapolitan father. He was talking to the kids with a simplicity that was just... disarming. Even the social workers were speechless.”

    Everybody, not just the social workers but also parents, family members, volunteers, staff and simple passers by were captivated by Michele's ability to speak to the kids, involve them in the pizza making process and, mostly, to get the attention (and cause laughter) of those who, because sad or shy, rarely speak.

    “There was an Italian-American child, M. age 10,” Michele says, “who was sitting beside me and he was looking intensely at me. I could almost read his thoughts... 'what does this man want from us?' he seemed to be asking... I reminded him of his Sicilian grandfather, he was emotional at seeing I was doing some things he used to do... He was asking lots of questions and even gave me advice on how to make spaghetti ai frutti di mare. Two other kids were really melancholy and reticent. The social workers told me they never saw them laugh, BUT after a few jokes in my broken English, they could not resist... they burst out laughing as we were preparing the dough, mixing the ingredients and let the pizzas fly... it was general happiness. In the end, when I asked them to put the mozzarella on the pizza, J., a sweet 7 year old girl, drew the peace symbol. It was really emotional to see that such a young child could be so wise.”

    As they were checking everything was going according to hospital rules, volunteers, social workers and doctors alike wanted to join in and make their own pizza. They knew the class was for the kids but Michele was simply irresistible. “It was supposed to be a test,” Angela explained, “we wanted to see the children's reaction and the feasibility of the event in the department but the outcome was so positive that Michele was immediately asked to do more. Maybe not just pizza but even pasta or other Italian specialties.”

    “Everything that can be done by the department for the kids is welcome,” Angela continued, “especially if it is free and raises awareness on the needs of the patients. Pictures of the event will be posted on the hospital's site to raise awareness and motivate possible donors.” 

    “I am so enthusiastic and proud,” Michele concludes, “As a human being you strive to live a dignified life, you work hard yet this is what fulfills your spirit and makes you feel alive, you realize you are really worthwhile.”