The Legacy of Falcone and Borsellino

Yesterday, NIAF’s 2017 Voyage of Discovery (VOD) program – a group of Italian American college students brought to Italy by NIAF on an all-expenses-paid, two-week trip to rediscover their heritage – visited the Mayor of Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, as well as law students from the University of Palermo and the Fulbright-Fondazione Falcone-NIAF scholars in the Sicilian city of Palermo.

Our VOD students learned about the legacies of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and their impact on Sicily’s judicial system, which was especially poignant, as yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Paolo Borsellino’s death at the hands of the Mafia.

 

At the University of Palermo Law School there is a special plaque dedicated to all the people who graduated from the Law School and who were eventually killed by the mafia. Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino and Francesca Morvillo are among the names.

The Fondazione Falcone was founded in December 1992 after the assassination of Judge Giovanni Falcone, who was killed by the mafia in May 23, 1992 alongside his wife, Judge Francesca Morvillo, and three escort guards. The principal aim of the Fondazione is to promote the values of the rule of law and legality among young people, and to combat the presence of the Mafia culture in today’s society. NIAF and the Fulbright Program have partnered with the Fondazione Falcone to create the Fulbright-Fondazione Falcone-NIAF Program, which allows one Italian student and one American student to study law and criminology in each other’s countries for a full year.

Our VOD students had the opportunity to meet with one of our award recipients, as well as hear both Judge Giuseppe Ayala – a magistrate who worked alongside Judge Giovanni Falcone – and Mayor Orlando speak.  In their speeches, both men expressed the sentiment that “Palermo was once the Italian capital of the Mafia. But in 2018, Palermo will be declared the Italian capital of culture.” 

Judge Ayala spoke on the importance of collaboration with public prosecutors Rudy Giuliani, Charles Rose, and Louis Freeh back in the 1980’s and 90’s. It was with this international partnership and open line of communication that the city of Palermo – and other parts of Sicily – was able to begin deconstructing the Mafia network.  That connection was fundamental in the fight against the Mafia.  And while Sicily has not defeated the Mafia completely, they have at least given it “quattro schiaffi in faccia;” that is, they are slowly breaking the organization down.

For our VOD students, hearing the words of these incredibly brave and important local leaders in Sicily was especially important, as the purpose of the Voyage of Discovery program is to reconnect our young Italian American students with their heritage. Much of the discrimination against Italians and Italian Americans that our community struggled with (and continues to struggle with) stems from the history of the Italian Mafia. We are both vilified for its connections to our culture, but also placed on the silver screen and celebrated, in television shows like The Sopranos. Understanding the damage that the Mafia has inflicted on local communities in Sicily showed our VOD students the realities of what the Mafia is, as well as the efforts that Italians and Sicilians make in their continued fight against the organization.

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A Celebration of Shared Democracy

Italy and the United States share a long history mutual influence and support. From Filippo Mazzei, who influenced Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on liberty and democracy, to the vast influx of Italian immigrants who contributed to American culture, to modern Italy’s role as one of the U.S.’s most important allies, Italy and the U.S. have a longstanding friendship.

This month, Italy celebrated its 71st Italian National Day, also known as Republic Day, or la Festa della Repubblica, and the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) was honored to join in its celebration at the Embassy of Italy on May 30th as well as at an event at the White House on June 2nd.  This national holiday commemorates results of an institutional referendum which was held in 1946. After years of struggle with the Second World War, as well as the fall of fascism and the monarchy, the Italian people came together after the end of the war to decide on what form of government they wanted from that day forward.

Taking to the polls, 10,719,284 people voted for the monarchy, but 12,717923 people voted for a republic. As a result, the royal House of Savoy was sent into exile, and the Republic of Italy was officially established. Today, the holiday is celebrated by a grand military parade in Rome, where the President of Italy, the Prime Minister, the President of the council of Ministers, ambassadors, and military leaders are all in attendance to mark this example of democracy.

This year, in addition to the annual celebration at the Italian Embassy hosted by the Ambassador of the Italian Republic to the United States, the White House held an event in the historic Roosevelt Room in the West Wing to mark this holiday and honor the enduring relationship between our two countries.

Members of NIAF’s board and leadership council; Ambassador of the Italian Republic to the United States, Armando Varricchio; Italian embassy staff; members of the White House staff of Italian American descent; members of the Italian American Congressional Staff Association, as well as other special guests, came together in the West Wing to celebrate these deep bonds that define our two nations.

Several White House senior staff are of Italian descent including Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, who spoke about her memories of being raised by her Italian American mother and aunts and the example of hard work they instilled in her.

Assistant to the President and Director of Social Media Dan Scavino spoke about the President and First Lady’s recent trip to Italy for the G-7 Summit in Taormina and to the Vatican, and read President Trump’s statement recognizing Italian Republic Day, which highlighted how America’s founding fathers studied Italy’s earliest history when debating the form of government our new nation would take.

“We cherish the contributions of the more than 17 million Americans who claim Italian heritage,” stated President Trump. He acknowledged that our bonds “extend beyond sentimental and cultural,” but also to the protection of our two nations’ security through our military alliance and joint efforts to combat terrorism and make the world safer.

Also in attendance at the June 2nd event were Florida Attonry General Pam Bondi and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who spoke about his Italian American mother and the importance of family. Andrew Guiliani, also a member of the White House staff, introduced his father, former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, who addressed the experience he had of meeting with President Ronald Reagan in the Roosevelt Room over 30 years ago as an attorney in the Justice Department.

NIAF’s Vice Chair of Cultural Affairs, the Hon. Anita Bevacqua McBride, who assisted White House Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison (and fellow Italian American) Stephen Munisteri in the planning and execution of the event, was one of NIAF’s representatives at the White House on June 2nd. She presented two gifts to Ms. Conway for the President, including the “Make Sunday Italian Again” ball cap designed by NIAF President John Viola, and a copy of the “Italy in the White House” book published by NIAF and the White House Historical Association.

“We are honored that NIAF was asked to help organize this memorable event in the White House to celebrate Italy’s national holiday and the special and historical relationship between our two countries,” stated the Hon. Anita Bevacqua McBride. “Along with our prior  invitation in April 2017 for our Board to attend the joint press conference between Prime Minster Gentiloni and President Trump in the White House East Room, we are confident that the dialogue and partnership between NIAF and the new Administration will continue to grow even stronger.”


For many there, celebrating Italy’s Republic Day in the United States – specifically, in the White House itself – was a momentous occasion. For decades, Italian Americans struggled after immigrating to the United States. Forced to fight discrimination and lack of representation in both American culture and government, it was not too long ago that the idea of an Italian American in a high-ranking public office was nearly inconceivable.

Today, Italian Americans make up a large portion of our nation’s leadership, as we see often at our NIAF-organized Italian American Congressional Delegation events. NIAF continues to encourage and help facilitate a positive relationship between Italy and the United States, creating a community that still holds strong to our Italian values and culture. As Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson stated on June 2nd, “This deep and enduring friendship, founded on mutual respect, trust, and affection is not one we take for granted,” and NIAF is proud to help build that bridge.

When discussing the Italian American community in the United States at the Embassy of Italy’s celebration of Republic Day, Ambassador Varricchio warmly addressed the Italian Americans in the audience, stating, “I do consider you to be fellow ambassadors of Italy, here in the United States.” NIAF is proud to be ambassadors of our culture not only on the grand, national holidays of Italy, but in our daily lives and communities, celebrating our heritage and Italy’s legacy in the United States every day.

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Book Review: The Girl from Venice

In need of a good beach read this summer? Check out Martin Cruz Smith’s novel, reviewed by NIAF in our Ambassador magazine

In Martin Cruz Smith’s most recent novel, the author makes a departure from his usual mystery writing and delves into the world of historic fiction, set against the backdrop of occupied Venice in World War II. In “The Girl from Venice,” the war is ending, but Venice remains under German control, making life difficult and dangerous for its inhabitants. Cruz Smith’s story follows the life of a Venetian fisherman, Cenzo, who finds the body of a young Jewish girl named Giulia floating in Venice’s lagoon, and rescues her. Cenzo’s decision to hide Giulia from the Nazis rather than turn her in suddenly entangles him in political games between Germans, Fascists, and the Italian resistance movement. 

Cruz Smith takes the reader from the muddy shores of Venice to the palaces of Salò with captivating storytelling, but the novel’s strength comes from its excellent balance of war and character development. As Cenzo and Giulia’s relationship grows from one of happenstance to love, the stakes of their actions and of the war itself become much higher. There have been many novels set in Italy during World War II, but this one offers a refreshing read for those interested in World War II fiction that explores the effects of war on ordinary people, rather than the movement of nations.

– Review by Danielle DeSimone, NIAF’s Social Media Manager & Assistant Editor. 

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This review appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of NIAF’s Ambassador Magazine.

The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith. Simon & Schuster Publishing. 305 pages; $27.

For more information on the novel or its author, visit www.martincruzsmith.com.

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Sicilian Food: A Global Diet

What are we talking about, when we discuss “Italian food?”  It’s the age-old question: Italian vs. Italian American. We get so caught up in the details of what the difference is between the food of Italy and the food developed by Italy’s immigrants that we often forget about the behemoth of cuisine that sits just at the toe of Italy’s boot: Sicily.

Sicilian food is contradictory, just like Sicilian culture. It is an odd mixture of Italian, Greek, Arab, French, Spanish, and North African. Its dinner plates are living odes to the number of peoples that have conquered, colonized, settled, ruled, and emigrated here. Every region in Italy has its own unique culinary traditions, but to lump Sicilian food under the over-arching category of “Italian food” does a disservice to this island’s culture and proud history.

The first recorded example of Sicilian food comes from the 5th century B.C., from a cook named Mithaecus. His writing on his native land’s cuisine was the first documented cookbook in Greece – and the first cookbook in the world in which the author’s name is known and identified.  Sicily was first inhabited by an “ancient people of Italy,” with small groups from Egypt and Spain as well. However, the island was not really put on the map until it was colonized by the Greeks. They left behind grand ruins and theaters in places like Siracusa and Taormina, but also – significantly – brought olives and grapes with them, introducing some of the most important crops to the region and to what we know of Sicily and Italy today. The Greek diet – which today is so affectionately called “the Mediterranean diet” – leans heavily on fresh fish and vegetables.

From there came the Germanic tribes (hence, Sicily’s love of meat dishes), Byzantine conquests, and Arab rule. Under the Sultan, Sicily was introduced to things like oranges, lemons, pine nuts, sugarcane, eggplants, and a love of spices such as saffron and cinnamon. Arab influence on Sicilian food runs deep. Arancini, for example, are a Sicilian favorite and it’s no wonder: balls of risotto, stuffed with cheese, meat, tomatoes and peas are breaded and then fried, creating a Mediterranean dish reminiscent of fried mac’n’cheese (but infinitely better).

There are endless variations of what can be put in arancini, but the risotto is constant. And many claim that it was the Arab settlers that first introduced Sicily to durum wheat, which is crucial to making risotto and pasta. The original recipe for arancini supposedly dates back to the 10th century during the Kalbid dynasty.

Panelle – those golden slivers of fried chickpeas – are some of the best of Sicilian street food, and both its ingredients and preparation styles are very similar to Middle Eastern chickpea dishes. They let out a satisfying crunch and ooze of grease with each bite, as you stroll under the arches and domes hand-crafted by caliphates long gone.

Later came the Normans. And then the Holy Roman Empire. And then the Spanish, and with them, discoveries from the new world, such as tomatoes, peppers, and – of course – chocolate. With these new additions, famous dishes such as Pasta alla Norma (fresh tomatoes, fried eggplant, basil, and ricotta salata) became Sicilian staples.

Under the unification of Italy in 1861, Sicily technically became “Italian,” but its culture – particularly that of its food – remained steadfastly siciliana. There are countless pasta, fish, meat, vegetable, and dessert dishes that are incredible, undeniably Sicilian, and too many to mention in order to truly do justice to the Sicilian food culture. It is the chaotic combination of all of its cultures, coming together to be shared on a table with friends and family, which makes Sicilian food just that: Sicilian.

These are the culinary traditions that many Sicilian Americans still celebrate today, bonded by a sense of community at events like the Feast of Saint Joseph’s Day. Sicilians and Sicilian Americans alike still pride themselves on this unique heritage; the knowledge that they are not from the mainland of Italy, but from a place unique in its diversity.  It still elicits a kind of burning, fiery pride, and we here at the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) are proud to call Sicily our 2017 Region of Honor this year. We are excited to continue celebrating this region’s incredible culinary and cultural history!

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Stories from Sorrento

The National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) is proud to have the Sant’Anna Institute – a study abroad and language course program in Sorrento, Italy – as a corporate sponsor of our foundation. Read on for a story from one of Sant’Anna’s Italian American students, Michael Bowman from Alfred State College, who is currently enrolled in their spring semester 2017 program.

I was raised by an Italian family. My childhood memories are centered around watching my Nonna (grandmother) make fresh food from scratch, while other family members would be chatted in the kitchen, and later gathered around the dinner table as one family to share a meal. Being raised by an Italian family meant every morning waking up to my mother’s soft voice saying, “Michael, it’s time to go to Nonna and Nonno’s house” as the start to my day. At an early age, waking up at 6:30 in the morning wasn’t easy, but now looking back, I realize the importance of spending those days with my grandparents.

Every day was the same. Nonna would have a bowl of cheerios already made for myself and my grandfather; each morning with Nonno was an Italian language lesson. My Nonno hoped that teaching me some Italian would prepare me for the day that I would finally go to Italy. He somehow always knew that one day I would go. In the summer of 2013, I was granted that opportunity and went with my Nonna, Aunt, and cousin for three weeks. Who would have known that three and a half years later, I would be studying abroad in Sorrento, Italy? At the time, my mind couldn’t grasp the beautiful blessings my family had to offer, as well as the unique, rich, and genuine Italian culture I experienced. But you don’t have to be Italian to appreciate what I’ve seen while studying abroad.

When I first arrived in Sorrento, excitement and jittery feelings rushed through my veins as I wondered what would this orientation day consist of. I will always remember my first day at Sant’Anna Institute. All the students were seated in a room while the professors introduced themselves and indicated what class they taught. All the professors were genuine and welcoming with open arms, which reminded me of my family. As most of the professors proceeded to walk out the classroom door welcoming the students, I said, “Grazie, piacere di conoscerti,” meaning “Thank you, it is nice to meet you.” Immediately, all the professors’ heads swiftly turned to me and they asked if I spoke Italian. We had a brief conversation on where my family is from in Italy, and how I learned Italian. It made me happy to know that my grandfather’s lessons had paid off, and I know he would be proud.

The thing that I love most about Sant’Anna, is that it doesn’t matter if you know all the Italian in the world or if you don’t even know how to say “ciao.” The staff at Sant’Anna wants their students to have the experience of a lifetime. Every morning, when students walk up the stairs to purchase coffee, all staff members smile and say good morning, even if they don’t know the student personally. When I am inside the walls of Sant’Anna, I don’t feel as if I am in a college, I feel at home.

I love seeing professors laughing and making jokes with the students about the weekend trips. At the beginning of this semester, I only knew the fifteen students from my college in New York attending the program. As for the other students, I had no clue who they were, what state they came from, or even their names. Luckily, it only took a few days to become friends with all the other students. As time progressed, we exchanged phone numbers, connected on social media, and soon were making dinners with each other, traveling to other countries, and going to the English Inn in Sorrento to eat big meals as one school. The way I see it, we became a family.

Studying abroad is a unique, beautiful, but also privileged experience. One must come to the realization that not everyone is fortunate enough to have this opportunity. Students that can study for a whole semester in another country should make the most of it, not only for themselves, but for the ones who couldn’t go. It’s important to immerse yourself in the local culture while studying abroad. I’ve studied here in Sorrento for a semester and I really believe that it is important to try to adapt to the surrounding culture. You should try to absorb what the country offers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have met so many locals here that I consider good friends; these people have helped me out in times of need when I didn’t know where to go for help. They will drop everything that they are doing to make sure I am having the best time I can in their country. Those are the characteristics of the culture that I will be bringing back to my home, not just for me to be a better individual, but also to pass the experience onto my friends and loved ones. In doing so, I’m hoping that one day, other students will want to experience what I’ve experienced in Sorrento, Italy, studying abroad at Sant’Anna.

 

To learn more about the Sant’Anna Institute and its study abroad programs, click here. NIAF student members receive a 20 percent discount on spring or fall semester study abroad programs, as well as a 20 percent discount on five-week long study abroad programs. Also, five NIAF Student Members will receive 50 percent off on Sant’Anna Institute’s two- or four-week long language course and a 10 percent discount on their accommodations during the program. You can learn all about NIAF Student Memberships here!

 

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NIAF on Capitol Hill: Vol. 3

At the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), we believe strongly in supporting future generations of the Italian American community. This is why we created the NIAF Congressional Fellowship; with it, we place outstanding Italian American college students, graduate students and recent graduates in the offices of members of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD) on Capitol Hill to encourage and support the next generation of Italian American leadership.

Below, you’ll find the experience of one of our NIAF Congressional Fellows, and what she gained from her fellowship in American government.

 

“You’re just happy to be here, aren’t you?” I looked to the tour I was leading through the U.S. Capitol to see who had said this to me. It was the boy who had just started fourth grade. He was right.

He was also delighted to be there, himself. As we stepped into the Rotunda—the actual, iconic dome of the Capitol and the hub of its breathtaking art—his eyes shot directly up to the fresco at the dome’s center. Entitled “The Apotheosis of Washington,” I explained that the painting portrayed a heavenly George Washington donned in purple, and that below him, a host of Roman gods featured alongside American historical figures. It was painted by Constantino Brumidi, a 19th century Italian-American artist, as was the fresco below showcasing a timeline of American achievements. One of my absolute favorite aspects of my time in Congress was getting to experience visitors’ first trips to the Capitol with them, and help provide their understanding of its history, functions, and art. And, it meant a great deal to realize that a significant portion of its design and culture is Italian.

Through the Congressional Fellowship, NIAF is proving that the world of government is colored and deepened by culture and language. This is something I had always believed, but never felt was given enough attention by schools which focus on politics and business—even ones with a huge international population, like my own. By partaking in the fellowship program, the consortium of Italian American Congressmen and women presented to us opportunities I couldn’t have imagined. They and their skillful office teams provided us with insight into the functions of a Congressional office, the priority and methods of serving constituents, and countless topics discussed at briefings and hearings, many of which we attended for them.

Amanda Coker, pictured left, with Lisa Femia (center) – NIAF’s Public Policy Manager, and other Congressional Fellows, Sarah Meo and Adrianna Tomasello.

I interned in the office of Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, who, through her pioneering work in education and caring impact on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, showed me the importance of maintaining courage in politics. I learned how to maintain the front desk, draft response letters, and conduct legislative research. My office also generously made it possible for me to visit the Library of Congress and the White House, and to witness meetings hosted by the Congresswoman herself. In addition, the spirit of Italian inclusivity, care, and festivity is alive and well in the Italian American Congressional Delegation, composed of some of the kindest people to grace the halls of Congress. There I found mentors who completely changed my expectations of what it means to be a leader, a friend, an Italian American, and a student of life.

Walking into our nation’s capital and hanging up my coat is something I thought would become less surreal over time, but I was wrong—that happiness never went away.

 

Amanda Coker

American University’17

Hometown: Westchester, NY

Intern with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR)

Applications are now open for NIAF’s Congressional Fellowship. Find more information on the program here!

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NIAF on Capitol Hill: Vol. 2

At the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), we believe strongly in supporting future generations of the Italian American community. This is why we created the NIAF Congressional Fellowship; with it, we place outstanding Italian American college students, graduate students and recent graduates in the offices of members of the Italian American Congressional Delegation (IACD) on Capitol Hill to encourage and support the next generation of Italian American leadership.

Below, you’ll find the experience of one of our NIAF Congressional Fellows, and what she gained from her fellowship in American government.

When I reflect on what the NIAF Congressional Fellowship has meant to me, the word that best encapsulates this once-in-a-lifetime experience is community. Not only did I have the opportunity to work in my representative’s office and interact with constituents from my district, but I also had the chance to meet a wonderful group of people and become part of the NIAF family. Whether I was working in Congresswoman DeLauro’s office or at a NIAF-sponsored event, I could always feel the strength of the Italian American community.

Working in Representative DeLauro’s D.C.office was a truly unforgettable experience. One of my favorite parts of the fellowship was getting to give constituents tours of the U.S. Capitol. As much as I valued the exposure to how our government functions, I equally admired the times when I would get to debate with people from

Adrianna Tomasello, far right, with fellow Congressional Fellows and NIAF Public Policy Manager, Lisa Femia, center.

the district meeting with Congresswoman DeLauro and staffers over which New Haven pizzeria is the best as they waited for their meetings. One such person turned out to be NIAF Executive Vice President John Calvelli!

The highlight of the NIAF portion of the fellowship was definitely the 41st Anniversary Gala Weekend. To see so many people from undoubtedly different backgrounds gathered in one place to celebrate the unifying love of being Italian was such a heartwarming event. I even had the chance to reunite with a member of my college graduating class, who happened to be there with her parents for the gala!

Growing up in East Haven (a small town with a large Italian American population) has made living anywhere else somewhat interesting. During my college years in Worcester, Massachusetts it was difficult to find people that knew the proper pronunciation of manicotti and pasta fagioli. Moving down to D.C. I was expecting the same culture shock. My experience with NIAF and working in Congresswoman DeLauro’s office made it much less difficult to leave my hometown because I knew I would be sharing in the undying love and appreciation for our Italian American culture (in addition to properly pronouncing the names of Italian American cuisine).

As I left the NIAF Christmas party last month, I walked cheerfully to hop on the metro, and not just because I had a panettone and copious amounts of Nutella in my gift bag. I was not sad saying goodbye to the people I’ve met through my fellowship experience because I know I am always welcome at NIAF events. This unforgettable experience has been so much more than what I expected it would be, and for that I cannot thank my NIAF famiglia enough.

 

Adrianna Tomasello

College of the Holy Cross’16

Hometown: East Haven, CT

Intern with Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)

 

Applications are now open for NIAF’s Congressional Fellowship. Find more information on the program here!

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A Cry of Help from an Italian Village

A group of Georgian Court University students have made it their personal mission to help save a small, Italian village named Bedonia, in the Emilia Romagna region. With the economic crisis in Italy, businesses and citizens struggle to keep afloat, but these American students hope to change that.

By building a website and social media platforms for the village, as well as contributing their efforts to promote a GoFundMe campaign to build an outdoor adventure park in the village to draw more visitors, these students are putting Bedonia back on the map.

Below is the personal account of American student Kyle Homer’s time in Bedonia!

Studying abroad is always promoted as a way to approach a culture that isn’t our own, and in our returning reflection against that culture we are supposed to learn more about ourselves. However, what some fail to realize is the immense feeling of sheer responsibility we have when we return back home. Seeing how thin our own culture has been pulled and manipulated by materialistic gains and monetary expectations leaves us feeling responsible for opening up the eyes of our fellow citizens to not only help keep these different cultures alive, but also a hope to bring our own back to its true roots.

My experience followed this notion of conflicting cultures. I was part of a study abroad group, consisting of nine students, from Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J. Focusing on a three-week social media project, we traveled to the beautiful town of Bedonia, Parma in Italy to live like locals and truly get assimilated within the culture. While we got the privilege to experience many different things during our stint across the world, our main objective was to help this small municipality build up its social media presence and allow it to have the voice it deserves within Italian tourism.

Bedonia is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. Graced with beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets, this quaint village is preserved within time and stays true to its historical origins. Outside of the town’s visual indulgences there are countless opportunities for locals and tourists alike to enjoy the simple pleasures of Italian countryside living. There are countless outdoor festivals and markets, outings for hiking and mountain biking, plus frequent live music just to name a few of its plethora of charms. Many Italian tourists frequent Bedonia each year to enjoy the fresh, clean mountain air and the beautiful rolling hills they overlook in their daily lives.

With the economic crisis in the Parma region over the past few years, factories have closed and people have moved away in search of work. With the younger generations leaving for the surrounding larger cities, this gem of a town is struggling to survive and the splendor of an authentic Italian lifestyle is hanging by a thread. This is one of the last, genuine spots left in Italy that one can experience living like an Italian without being suffocated by the huge numbers of American tourists. There are no crowds, long lines, or gaudy souvenir shops to muscle the culture out of this amazing community.

The surprising thing about Bedonia not being plagued with the negative influence of traditional American tourism is how centrally located it is around many other interesting spots. For example, after a tour of the Italian Riviera or the Prosciutto factory and Torrechiara Castle, returning to Bedonia for the local food, wine, and nightlife is always a major advantage due to visitors receiving the best of both worlds.

To truly understand how much of a contrast Bedonia was in comparison to Rome, one of the more traditional tourist vacation spots, Villa Tre Angeli brought us to see many of the famous landmarks including the Vatican, the Coliseum, and the Pantheon. We were also treated to a trip to Verona, where we saw the opera “Aida” outdoors in an ancient Roman arena. Our time in Verona ended with a stop at the breathtaking, unfathomably beautiful Lake Garda. When we were finally in Bedonia itself, we saw how prosciutto and Parmigiano cheese were made. We visited castles, tasted some wine, went hiking and horseback riding, ventured to the local swimming hole, and still had time to gawk at the picturesque scenery. We were even welcomed by the Mayor and the Town Council who arranged countless things for us to do.

While in Bedonia, we were graciously allowed to stay at Villa Tre Angeli B&B. Georgian Court University has been working with Villa Tre Angeli to boost Bedonia’s involvement with social media so that in return more American tourists get the rare opportunity to visit an authentic Italian town. Under the supervision of Dr. Gina Marcello Ph.D., we have created a website where people can find information on the town and the surrounding area all in one easy-to-access location. The problem with most of the social media pertaining to Bedonia is not only is it in Italian, but it is not specific enough to come up on a search from an American Internet provider. With the creation of our website, we’ve highlighted the best of Bedonia’s own resources while also adding our own experiences and opinions. Here, one can find pictures, endless lists of things to do, interviews, history, and links to frequently used modern day sites such as Facebook and TripAdvisor. While the website will give people a succulent morsel of what Bedonia has to offer, a true appreciation of this town cannot be captured by mere photos or words.

Strolling into town and enjoying the culture first hand led us to return to the United States with the profound understanding that this tranquil way of life is crucial to salvage and must be experienced while preserving its authenticity. We became locals in a matter of days, and the town now has a bright future due to the unlikely meshing of traditional culture and modern technology.

To see the progress that the students have made, visit www.explorebedonia.com. All photo credits attributed to Villa Tre Angeli.

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Remembering the Master Copper-Smiths

In this week’s #NIAFblog, our guest blogger, Jenifer Landor – founder of Live and Learn Italian, offers a fascinating look into the heritage of a small Italian town in the Apennine hills, known for its artisan work in copper. 

The little town of Agnone, nestled in the Apennine hills in Alto Molise, home of my ancestors, hides a very proud heritage of artisan craft.  Here, you’ll find the oldest bell foundry in the world, and the only one by Papal appointment. Beyond that, you’ll discover the main industry of the town which brought it wealth and prosperity during the Middle Ages: copper.  Today, sadly, most of the workshops are silent, but at one time the centro storico buzzed with the sound of little hammers deftly refining and decorating the many utensils and vessels. There were once 13 copper foundries and over 300 family botteghe – Agnone was not a town of peasants, but of artisans.

Work started in the foundries along the Verrino river, where water turned huge wheels, pounding the copper into basic shapes.  Cold winters and chilly autumns and springs in the mountains were the only way the craft was possible, as hours were spent in front of a hot furnace or over a constant flame.

Work in the foundries was extremely hard. Rough articles were brought into town to the master copper-smiths to finish by hand. The production was huge, and copper stamped “Agnone”, achieved the highest price in the marketplaces of Italy. This is because the town had brought in strict rules of manufacture, not only for copper but for all the trades – bronze sculptors, stonemasons, jewellers, watchmakers, blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, and many more.

In 1457 these regulations became law and anyone found cheating the standard was fined heavily. Thus Agnone was able to maintain its position as one of the 5 cities of Italy to produce the best artisan work. Today every house in Agnone proudly displays inherited copper utensils. Wine, marmalade and tomato passata are still made in vast copper pots, handed down through the generations. Cooking in local kitchens, we get to use these ancient tools – the quality is superb and clearly not just for one lifetime, but for several!

Agnone’s Museo del Rame is right next door to the workshop and shop of master coppersmith, Franco Gerbasi. Franco is 4th generation, and has taught the trade to his sons who work beside him. They sell copper vessels all over the world, the most popular being for distillation, but so many other items, impossible to list.

Franco spent years collecting the copper pieces and archive material, and raising some financial support for the museum. When asked why he simply responds, “Per non dimenticare……….”

 

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LIVE AND LEARN ITALIAN invites you to combine Italian study with exploring the traditions and everyday life of the region, mixing with the community and engaging in local activities. Of course, a visit to the Foundry is high on the list of special events.

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Costumes, confetti, and chiacchiere, oh my!

Carnevale in Italy

By Danielle DeSimone

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Every year, before the austerity and penance of Lent, Italy – and, specifically, Venice – comes alive in bursts of colors, costumes, and chiacchiere. This annual festival of Carnevale, known in other parts of the world as “Mardi Gras” or “Fat Tuesday,” is famous for its Venetian masks, elaborate costumes, and parades not just in Venice, but through all of Italy.

Carnevale is quite obviously a Catholic and Christian holiday, as the last day of gluttonous eating and celebration before Ash Wednesday, and the 40 days of Lent, which are often spent fasting before Easter. In Italy, the three biggest celebration of Carnevale are in Venice (in Veneto), Viareggio (in Tuscany), and Ivrea (in viareggio-1Piedmont). Viareggio’s Carnevale began in the late 1800’s as a form of protest against the taxes implemented by the local government and since then, it has expanded into a parade with large floats that are made up of paper-pulp and often designed to look like caricatures of politicians and celebrities.

Meanwhile, in Ivrea, there is the famous “Battle of the Oranges,” in which 9 organized teams throw oranges (quite violently) at one another in Italy’s largest food fight. The origins of such a strange tradition are still somewhat unclear; battle-of-the-orangessome claim that it is a tradition that started in defiance of the city’s ruling tyrant in the 12th or 13th centuries. Originally beans were thrown, then apples, and then finally: oranges. Today, the town goes through approximately 580,000 pounds of imported Sicilian oranges during the battle. Spectators can of course watch from behind protective nets.

And, of course, there is Venice’s Carnevale – a slightly more refined affair, in which participants dress in elaborate, Renaissance-era costumes and adorn themselves in Venice’s world-famous masks. Venice’s Carnevale festivities began in the 1100’s, but only truly took off in the 17th century, when the Venetian Renaissance was in full swing. Today, over 3 million visitors swarm Venice’s shores to celebrate this festival with days of concerts, parties, fireworks, and confetti.mask-1

Throughout all of Italy, children and adults alike enjoy dressing up and eating traditional pastries made of fried dough covered in powdered sugar, known as chiacchiere, bugie, fiocchetti, frappe, galani, or a number of other names, depending on what region of Italy you are in while celebrating.

. . .

As an American growing up in southern Italy, my experience of Carnevale was more of a small-town celebration. In our tiny little city of Gaeta, just on the border of Lazio and Campania, the celebrations were more of a family affair, bursting out of our schools and spilling out onto the streets. We arrived to class in the morning in full costume, armed with bags of confetti and streamers.

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Our maestre (teachers) tried to keep up the pretense of school only for the first 20 minutes – soon after, we were allowed to run rampant through the classroom, singing traditional songs, trailing paper streamers behind us, our faces gleefully covered in powdered sugar carnevale-2from the frappe we were allowed to eat at our desks. Eventually, the entire school would convene in the central courtyard, where nuns (sometimes in costumes themselves) would watch anxiously as we engaged in a full-school confetti fight, the multicolored bits of paper and silly string stuck in our hair and our costumes sometimes for days afterwards.

The morning after, on Ash Wednesday, the city would be somber, quiet. The pieces of rainbow confetti would flutter through the streets, forgotten until next year, which was always a highlight of attending Italian school. The inherent nature of the festival is one of rambunctious and unadulterated fun. It is a day where you can be anyone you want, and act any way you want, without any repercussions. It is Halloween in the sunshine. As a child, it was my favorite day of the year.

Today, with no Italian classmates to throw confetti at, I’m limited to eating copious amounts of fried dough and planning my return to Venice, where you can recapture that childhood spirit on the city streets, and put on a mask once more.

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Danielle DeSimone is NIAF’s Social Media Manager & Assistant Editor. 

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