Un Minuto con…

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

pupo italiano

Pezzo Novanta

Believe it or not!

In the movie, “The Godfather,” Vito Corleone implied that a “Pezzo Novanta,” was a person who pulled the strings and exerted lots of power – A Big Shot!

Coeleone to his son Michael:

I never wanted this for you…I thought that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone. Governor Corleone. Somethin’.”

Another meaning could have originated when referring to a 90 caliber pistol over a 45 caliber, in order to make certain the fire power was overwhelming.

The meaning I like best is the one I heard on one of my trips to Palermo, when I purchased un “Pupo Siciliano,” (see photo of 45 cm pupo). When the puppeteers were staging a show, they dressed up the puppets to represent either the common folks and soldiers, or the very powerful individuals that everybody feared or respected.

Puppeteers used 45 cm pupi (puppets), but when they introduced the powerful character, puppeteers turned to their assistant and say, “Dammi un Pezzo da Novanta,” (a 90 cm pupo).

rabbit

Roman Proverb

If you are chasing 2 rabbits, you’ll catch none.


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

Posted in Culture, Europe, Facts, History, Italy, Proverbs, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Italian A Day – Joe Marvullo

Joe Marvullo in Pompeii in the 1970s

Joe Marvullo in Pompeii in the 1970s

By Diana Luchko, niece of Joe Marvullo

“Where there is light there is color and where there is color there is Joe Marvullo”
- Norma Quarles, CNN Arts Editor

Renowned photographer Joe Marvullo is widely recognized as a leader in the ever-changing realm of images and design. His styles were both highly charged with color dynamics in his well-concentrated studies of destinations and in his more subtle romantic atmospherics of moods with a feeling of place in exotic locales.

Born in the Bronx, in 1946 – the son of first generation Italian Americans Frank and Vincenza (Martini) Marvullo- Marvullo’s love of the arts began at a young age. He received a children’s art scholarship to the Museum of Modern Art and went on to attend The High School of Art and Design and then The Cooper Union, majority in Fine Art, all in New York City. He was awarded an Honorary Masters Degree in Science from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California.

Former President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office with Joe Marvullo's painting, "Sax and Stripes."

Former President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office with Joe Marvullo’s painting, “Sax and Stripes.”

By his early twenties, Marvullo enjoyed a career as a jazz musician and as an art director for optics and imaging company, Nikon. While working for Nikon, Marvullo’s interest in photography was cultivated. Photographing the turbulent events and people of New York in the 1960s, Marvullo had found his forte and would go on to become an international photographer.

He became the President and CEO of Photomontage, and international multimedia and consulting firm to the photographic, digital, publishing and travel markets. For 30 years, he operated studios in New York City and Bucks County, Penn. Frequent visits to family in Bucks County gave way to a new chapter in his life and the big city photographer found himself choosing the peace and tranquility of life in Pennsylvania to spend his remaining years.

Joe Marvullo's "Sax and Stripes"

Joe Marvullo’s “Sax and Stripes”

Marvullo’s impressive resume could fill volumes, but a few achievements stand out among the rest:

  • In 1984, he published his first book, Improving Your Color Photography, and in 1989, published his second book, Color Vision.
  • He was the former Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director of the widely acclaimed breakthrough photojournalism magazine PhotoPro, as well as the chief consultant and promoter for PhotoProExpo, a photo/imaging fair held for several years in Washington, D.C.
  • One of Marvullo’s most noted photographs, “Sax and Stripes Forever,” was presented to President Bill Clinton and hung in the alcove to the Oval Office, during the Clinton Administration. Marvullo was also a special White House picture correspondent.
  • Marvullo was a contributing editor Archaeology Magazine, with a monthly photo column and feature called, “About Photography,” writing on sites around the world, from Guatemala to Jordan.
  • For 14 years, Marvullo taught a course, “Principles of Photography,” at the Fashion Institute of Technology, SUNY, in New York City.
Joe Marvullo on the set of Mad Magazine in the 1960s

Joe Marvullo on the set of Mad Magazine in the 1960s

For more information on Marvullo’s life and to see more of his photographs, visit the Facebook page created in his memory by Luchko, at https://www.facebook.com/photographerjoemarvullo.

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Un Minuto con…

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

Photo Source: Tasting Table

Photo Source: Tasting Table

Pasta alla Norma

In Sicily, many restaurants serve Pasta alla “Norma.”

Catania’s own Vincenzo Bellini (1801 -1835), who was the quintessential composer of the Italian Bel Canto, composed the opera “Norma” which premiered with great success at Milan’s La Scala.

The story goes that in Catania, after Bellini’s friends saw the opera, they were so impressed that they started comparing anything great to their friend’s opera.  If something was excellent it was said to be “una vera Norma” (“a real Norma”) Subsequently, friends began to enjoy a great pasta dishes made with melanzana (eggplant) fried and cut in cubes, tomato sauce, basil and the salted ricotta shaved over the top.  This dish was so sublime that it was una vera “Norma” Siciliana. Hence pasta alla Norma.

When in Sicily next or at your local restaurant enjoy this simple but tasty dish and give homage to Vincenzo Bellini. Don’t forget to sip down some local Duca di Salaparuta wine. They go great together!

Vincenzo Bellini

Vincenzo Bellini

Che Faccia!

“Losing Face” & “Straight Laced”—

In the late 1700’s, personal hygiene left much room for improvement. As a result, many women and men had developed acne scars by adulthood. The women would spread bee’s wax over their facial skin to smooth out their complexions.

When they were speaking to each other, if a woman began to stare at another woman’s face she was told “mind your own bee’s wax.” Should the woman smile, the wax would crack, hence the term “crack a smile.” Also, when they sat too close to the fire, the wax would melt and therefore the expression “losing face.” Ladies wore corsets that laced up in the front. A tightly tied lace was worn by a proper and dignified lady as in “straight laced.”


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

Posted in Italy, Travel, Italian, Culture, Food, Sicily | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Italy’s Ancient Table

the breadmakers An early portrait of Pompeii bakers

the breadmakers An early portrait of Pompeii’s bakers

Text and Photos By Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli,  www.Cooking-Vacations.com

An endless story, Pompeii attracts travelers to the ruins by Vesuvius – the world’s most dangerous volcano.

Buon  giorno, sei pronto!” This  is Signor  Gennaro, he’s an expert historian and  guide  on the ruins of Pompeii and has been leading visitors  here for the last 30 years. Dressed for the occasion and wearing comfortable walking shoes, sporty sunglasses and an  umbrella  to protect  against  the  shimmering sun, he begins our tour by handing me an elaborate  map of Pompeii. We enter  the ruins,  a UNESCO World Heritage  site at Porta  Marina and he quickly points out the Terme Suburane—a thermal bath on our left. We continue  along the via Marina  and instantly  you can see what life was like before  Vesuvius  violently  erupted on August 24, 79 A.D.

Until the  eruption, Pompeii was  a rich  and  prosperous hub  with traders,  merchants  and   travelers. It  was  also  a  cosmopolitan city populated with  a  sophisticated  society including the  Romans, who flocked here for their sun-drenched vacations.

After  Vesuvius  erupted,   the  Roman   city  remained  buried   and undiscovered  for almost  1,700 years, until  excavation began in 1748. The excavations that followed  and  continue today  provide insight into life during the Roman Empire.

We walk  along  the  via Abbondanza, an  organized  street  system lined with polygonal stone,  and  come to the Foro or city center.  It’s a  majestic  place  lined  with  columns  and  arches  leaving  you  only to imagine  its importance in ancient  times.  We pass  ancient  villas, temples, marketplaces and  bathhouses all exotically  named: Casa del Fauno (the  God  of dance), Casa  dell  Venere  in  Conchiglia (the  God of Venus  in her  sea shell)  and  the  Villa dei Misteri (villa of mysteries) depicting the magnitude of a culture that existed  over 2000 years ago.

Historians note  that Pompeii was founded around the sixth century by the  Osci  and  then captured by the  Romans in  80BC.  It took  its name from the Oscan  word pompe, for the number five, because it was composed of five hamlets.

“It was a bustling  city of lawyers, bankers,  doctors,  writers,  wine makers and  philosophers. People were  social,  liberated and  worked hard while  enjoying life. Eating, drinking, relaxing and  being entertained were very important in their culture,” Signor Gennaro explains.

“For example,  the  ancient  people  that  existed  here  started  their day  with  breakfast or jentaculum. The  upper class  ate  bread, honey, ricotta cheese, fruit,  bread and  olives, while honey  and  ricotta were fed to children for their nutritional value. At midday everyone stopped for lunch or  prandium (similar to  the  Italian word  pranzo) and  it  was  served  at a  thermopolium.”  His  Neapolitan dialect lets me know that he is from this part of southern Italy.

The   thermopoliums  were   snack   bars   where   lunch, snacks and wine were sold. The word thermopolium dates back to ancient Greek and translates to cook shop. Because lunches  were  quick,  light  and  always  eaten  outside  of home, the  thermopliums were a popular place  where everyone gathered. There were about 200 prosperous bar cafes of this kind  at the time  of the eruption.

Ancient Remnants - Columns and ruins still stand.

Ancient Remnants – Columns and ruins still stand.

As we walk along the via Fortuna by the Arco Onorario, Signor Gennaro  points  out the largest  thermopolium in the  ruins. “The  thermopoliums were  L  shape, built   of mortar and  stone and  had  a flagstone countertop. Built into  the  countertop  were  earthenware  storage   spaces called dolias where food was stored,” he says.

“A cauponae  was different  from  a thermopolium,”  he explains.  “They  were   l’osterias  that served   full  course cenam or dinner. Everyone, at home or eating out, dined at 6 p.m. and  the meal included six or seven courses starting with  soup  and  continuing with  meat,  fish,  vegetables and  fruits—both fresh  and  dried, olives, cheese  and  cake. Dessert or mensa seconda (literally meaning the second meal)  was  always  the  finale  and  included  sweet  cakes made with  anise  seed and  drenched in honey,  fruitcakes, puddings, eggs with sweet sauce, and sweet cheeses. Wine was always served  at each meal,” he adds.

The  poor  family’s food  was  different   and  included porridge,  barley,   millet  or  wheat  and   leftovers. Light soups made with lentils, beans or chickpeas were served for lunch, and  dinners included porridges or soups.

“Let’s  walk to the  Vicolo del Panottiere, the  street  of the  bread makers or panifici.” As we enter the  quarter immediately  you see dome-shaped ovens built into stone walls.  “The  ancients ate  bread at every  meal  and  it was plentiful. The panificio was a daily stop for everyone—rich or poor,” he says.

Bread  bakeries  had   their  own   mills,   ground  their grains,  baked  the  bread  and  sold  it  onsite.  Bread  was made with   flour   and   yeast and   baked in  large   round shapes that were scored  on top (before being  cooked) that marked it into  eight  equal  pieces.  This allowed the  loaves to bake  evenly without cracking open.  The markings also carved  out  equal  and  individual portions for  the  baker, who would later sell it to customers  lined up at the door. Families in general bought their bread and did not make it at home because not everyone had an oven. Bread bakers also stamped  their emblem  on each loaf guaranteeing its origin  and  tied it in a string  for easy carrying.  Focaccia and  pita  bread   were  also  popular.   The  lower  classes couldn’t  afford  bread  made  with  yeast, so they  bought and  ate  unleavened flatbread such  as  pita  bread. Bread dough was also fried  and  rubbed with  olive oil and  spices like the  pizzette of today.  Bread was a main staple in the food  culture. Pompeii had  thirty-three prosperous bread bakeries in operation at the time of the eruption.

Modern Artisan- Gennaro Calabrese with his artwork

Modern Artisan- Gennaro Calabrese with his artwork

The  food of Pompeii  was very vibrant  thanks  to  the fertile slopes of Vesuvius and  its micro-climate. The sea air and  rain  kept  the  terrain moist and  the  mountains in the  backdrop held  the  moisture and  the  sun’s warmth in. Vegetables and  fruits  grew  abundantly and were consumed by all.

Vineyards   and   wine   production  made Pompeii  the most important commercial center for its wine  trade. Wine  was an important part of  the  food  culture, and drinking wine was a very democratic  practice enjoyed by all—women, slaves and the lower classes.  It was  also  part of their religion, as people  worshiped Bacchus, the god of wine, for healthy harvests.

The  wines  of  Campania   were  so  good that they were considered  the wines of the emperors. But  the  wine  of this  time  was not fermented in  the  same  way  it  is today  and was very strong. In order to correct the wine, it was boiled or blended  with sea water and was even mixed with honey and was called muslum. In  colder   months, the   wine   was seasoned with orange zest and spices, served warm and  was called  punch caldi.  Wine  was stored in amphoraes, which were tall, large earthenware vessels that were  tapered at the bottom.  Each  amphorae was stamped  with the wine maker’s emblem  insuring  its origin—very similar to the modern DOP  or domain of production that we know of today.

Pliny  the Elder, a historian and  author during   the  period  of  Pompeii’s  prosperity, wrote  extensively on wine in the Naturalis Historia.  There he names the grape varieties: Greco,  Fiano, Aglianico, Piedirosso, Sciascinoso,   Coda   di   Volpe,   Caprettona and  Falanghina. Modern-day historians confirmed  that  Pliny’s grapes were the same varieties that were  painted in  frescoes  that were found in Pompeii, based on their shape and  root  print. The  same  grape varieties are grown in Campania today.   “In Vino Veritas,” a  famous  quote  by Pliny,  translates to  “in wine there is truth,” Gennaro smiles.

Food    was   just  as   important  as   wine, he   adds.   One   glimpse  into   Apicious, the ancient  Roman  cookbook, and   you’ll  see the    many    ingredients  and    the    methods of preparation that were used. They ate cabbage, lettuce, arugula, chicory, thistles, asparagus,  pumpkin, squash and citrus fruits including lemons. They consumed lots of vegetables—gourds,  sprouts,   cauliflower, leeks, horseradish, watercress, carrots, celery, garlic, onions, poppy, chard, leeks, turnips, watermelons, cucumbers, beans, horseradish, cardons, nettle, parsnips, capers and  mallow. Nuts such  as  walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and   pine   nuts were   used   in  almost  every recipe.    Olives   and    olive   spreads    were also popular. Spices were used and herbs extensively and included oregano, basil, mint, nutmeg, laurel, cloves, mustard, pepper, coriander, cumin and  fennel.

The ancients were great fruit growers who also dried pears, figs, raisins, cherries, pears, grapes  and  apples  in  the  summer  to  carry them through the  winter, Gennaro says. “Dates were the only food that was imported,” he notes. Signor Gennaro recites just about every food imaginable  that you would find in their kitchen.

Historian and Guide - Signor Gennaro leads guests through the ruins of Pompeii

Historian and Guide – Signor Gennaro leads guests through the ruins of Pompeii

Another    important  cooking   ingredient was  garum.  It  was  a  spicy fish  sauce  that came   from   a  process  of  layering  fish  and salt and  putting it in the  sun  to dry for three months. Once fermented, the liquid that was extracted was called  garum. “People  then bought garum in  large  quantities that were made  by the  garum  artisans  in Pompeii;  it was a prosperous business. Garum was often mixed  with  wine  and  called  oenogarum, diluted with  water and  called  hydrogarum, and   blended  with   vinegar  and   called oxygarum,” he says.

With  the  city’s proximity to  the  sea, octopus, squid, mullet, sea  bass,  snails  and prawns  were eaten  in abundance. Fish  was grilled,   boiled, salted,  smoked, pickled, stuffed and even made into patties. Pork, poultry, hare,   pigeons,  duck,   figpeckers (a type of bird), flamingo and  ostrich were stuffed  or  cooked  with  prunes or  red  fruits and  seasoned with  honey.  Honey and  wine were used  to flavor food, while  salt was used to preserve it. Defrutum and  sapa,  cooked wines,  were  also used  in ancient recipes  as a sweetener.

The   concept   of   farm-raised   fish   was already  in practice  and  people  bred  fish in their water fountains  for cooking. Although some people raised their own food products, they also bought them at the macellum or market.

As our day in Pompeii comes to an end, we pass  the  Temple of Venus  before  heading to the  exit. It’s a majestic temple overlooking a field of rosemary. The Goddess of Venus  was considered mother of the  universe, love and beauty.  She was highly worshiped because she   was   born  from   the   sea,   and   the   sea allowed Pompeii’s rich trade.

After  a long  day walking the  ruins Signor Gennaro  invites me to lunch at a Pompeiano restaurant. “Let’s try the ancient tasting menu at il Principe, the Michelin star restaurant in the center of Pompeii,” he says. It includes dishes   like  uova  di  quaglia   all’Oxigarum (quail eggs in garum sauce) and calamaro ripieno su cream du cipolla caramellata, defrutum e fave (calamari stuffed  with  fava beans, cream of onion and  reduced vinegar sauce)  and  la cassata di Opiontis dalla  villa di  Poppea  (sweet cheese   cake  with   honey and  candied fruit). “You’ll be eating like a gladiator!” Gennaro  smiles.

The Recipes

Bread Salad

Bread Salad

1    loaf of good quality bread

7    tablespoons mild vinegar

7    tablespoons water

2 ⁄ 3   cup mozzarella, grated

2   cups diced tomatoes

3   garlic cloves

Pinch of black peppercorns

1    small sprig mint

1    large bunch fresh coriander

2    tablespoons olive oil

4    tablespoons white wine vinegar

Sea salt, to taste

Sprigs of mint for decoration

Remove the crust from the bread and slice the loaf. Cut each slice diagonally to form triangles.

Mix equal amounts of vinegar and water and lightly moisten the bread. Arrange the slices in a shallow dish using a fan pattern. Mix with the grated cheese and tomatoes.

To make the dressing, crush the garlic and peppercorns using a mortar and pestle. Roughly chop the mint and coriander and

add to the mortar. Grind it into the garlic and peppercorns to make a rough paste. At this stage, adding a pinch of sea salt will aid with the maceration. Add the olive oil and white wine vinegar to the crushed mixture, mixing well. Pour over the bread slices, chill, and serve with mint.

Makes 4 servings.

Lobster Patties

2 lobster tails, about 3 pounds total

2 teaspoons garum or anchovy sauce

2 large eggs

Black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil, for frying

3   garlic cloves

Scald the lobster tails, extract the meat, and grind it. Beat the eggs, add them to

the lobster meat along with the garum and pepper. Mix well. Form small patties and fry them in a little olive oil.

Makes 4 servings.

Sweet Patinae—Sweet Pine Nuts and Walnuts

4    large eggs, beaten

7    ounces roasted walnuts and pine nuts,  ground

1 3⁄4    cups milk

2    tablespoons red or white wine

2    tablespoons olive oil

1 1 ⁄2    tablespoons honey

Pinch of black pepper

Mix the ingredients together. Pour into a nonstick pan without any additional oil. Fry on both sides before placing in a serving dish. Pepper to taste on top before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Mussels

Seasoned Mussels

40    to 50 mussels

2    teaspoons garum (fermented fish sauce)  or anchovy sauce

1 ⁄2    cup red wine

1 ⁄2    cup raisin wine or Vin Santo

1    medium leek, chopped

1    handful of fresh cumin and savory, minced

Wash the mussels thoroughly to remove the sand, then simmer them in just enough water to cover, along with the remaining ingredients. Simmer until all mussels have opened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Discard any unopened mussels. This dish is eaten with no further seasoning, as in the Neapolitan sauté of clams and mussels.

Makes 4 servings.

This article appeared in the January/February 2015  Tastes of Italia Magazine, the publication of http://www.cooking-vacations.com


Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli is founder and owner of Cooking Vacations Italy which specializes in culinary tours, hands-on cooking classes and cultural adventures in Italy. Be sure to visit their website at http://www.cooking-vacations.com.

Posted in Blog, Culture, History, Italy, Pompeii, Tourist, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Un Minuto con…

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

shutterstock_147643964

“Leave it to the Romans”

A Urine Tax (Vectigal Urinae) ?

The Romans were very creative when it came to new taxes. After all, Emperor Vespasian needed lots of money to build the Coliseum in 70AD.

Under Nero’s rule, Rome lost its magic and Vespasian, who succeeded Nero, needed to create some excitement for the city by building the Coliseum to keep the citizens of Rome entertained.

To fill Rome’s tax coffers, he came up with a tax on the distribution of urine from public urinals found all over the city.  The Roman lower class citizens urinated into pots which emptied in cesspools.

pic for story

The urine collected from public urinals was sold as an ingredient for several chemical processes. It was used for tanning and also by launderers as a source of ammonia to clean and whiten clothes.

The buyers of the urine paid the tax.

In 1834 the City of Paris introduced public toilets and called them Vespasiennes, at first there was a small charge but the modern day toilets are free. However, the advertisements on the side of the toilets are a revenue stream for modern day cities.

As you can see, there has never been a tax that the city officials disliked.

ah-mona-lisa

Did you Know?

Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) by Leonardo da Vinci

The Mona Lisa has no eyebrows. In the Renaissance era, it was fashion to shave them off!


Rosario Mariani is the owner/CEO of Europe By Choice, which promotes travel to Italy and other select European countries. He has more than 40 years of experience in the travel industry, previously serving as Director of Italy Product for Italiatour and Club ABC Tours, and also in other positions with EuroFly, Alitalia and Air France.

Posted in Culture, History, Italy, Roman Empire | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mayor Bill de Blasio remarks at the opening of “The Italian Americans” at NYU

Photo Source: New York Observer

Photo Source: New York Observer

The National Italian American Foundation was at New York University’s Kimmel Center., on February 10, for the preview screening of “The Italian Americans,” set to air nationally February 17 and 24 on PBS. At the event, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave such an amazing opening speech, discussing his experience returning back to his grandfather and grandmother’s home towns in Italy, that we felt it had to be shared with all of you.

~*~

Mayor Bill de Blasio: It is a great, great pleasure to be here for so many reasons –and I’m thrilled that so many people are here to be a part of this tonight. For me, first of all, anything that celebrates our heritage, which has given so much to us, and framed our lives here in this country –anything that focuses on that makes us feel it and think about it more – is worthy. This is a particularly powerful project, which has already –I can tell from everyone I’ve known who’s been a part of it –already touched people very deeply. And I think it’s going to strike a powerful chord and spur a great conversation. So I’m thrilled for that reason.

I’m thrilled also to be here at NYU, at my alma mater, in this beautiful new facility. When I was here, it was not a beautiful new facility –it was a grungy old facility, but we –we liked it just fine. We did well with it. And NYU, for me, was a place that really fostered a deep examination of identity, because NYU was a school then – and I think, in large part, it still is now – that was a place so many young people came to who were children of immigrants and grandchildren of immigrants, and who, for many cases, were the first going to college in their family. And it was a place where people were really exploring what their identity meant, and playing it out in terms of their journey in this country. So it’s a thrill to be at NYU.

I want to thank Stefano for the great work of Casa Italiana here. I want to thank everyone associated with this project.Jeff, thank you for the kind introduction and for all you did to make this project come to fruition. I want to thank everyone – all the networks who were involved – PBS and WNET and WETA and everyone – all those who supported this in bringing it to fruition, because it’s going to mean so much for so many people. It’s a discussion we have not had enough. It’s an exploration we haven’t done enough of. And this is going to be very, very important – and, in fact, will cause a lot of soul-searching – and good soul-searching for a lot of people. So, it’s so important –I want to thank everyone who’s been a part of it. A special thank you to my colleague of many years –over 20 years –Maria Laurino, who I knew long ago to be a great writer, but I also knew – from the first conversations that we had, I knew she was someone who was exploring the meaning of our Italian roots very, very deeply, and had really put a lot of her life into sorting out what it meant –not just for her and her family, but for all of us –and Maria, thank you for bringing that soulful search to the written page, and doing so much for this great project. Let’s give her a round of applause.

A lot of you joined us at Gracie Mansion when we celebrated Italian heritage –and I hope you will again. We are bringing a distinctly Italian flair to Gracie Mansion – let me tell you. There’s all – there’s new attributes at Gracie Mansion. There’s lots of red wine there now, except there’s –no offense to any northern Italians in the room –but we have a rule that all the wine has to come from Rome or farther south –okay, just a little –

So, and –and I had –speaking of Rome and farther south –I had a extraordinary joy this past July to go back to my grandfather’s hometown, Sant’Agata de’ Goti, which isprovincia di Benevento near Naples, and my grandmother’s hometown, Grassano, inprovincia di Matera in the region of Basilicata. And anytime you go to your forbearers’ hometowns it’s an extraordinary experience. Our family is blessed to have kept a very strong connection to the towns that our family came from, so there was a special sense of things, because we had –I had been before to both towns, and there were family members who stayed connected to the towns, and so there was something great in the continuity of it, and then, oh, by the way, I was Mayor of New York City, so they had a little bit of extra – extra celebration for that. It was pretty over the top, I must say. As you know, for all of us who share Italian heritage, there’s kind of a little bit of an operatic quality to the way we do things, so it was pretty intense, but it was a beautiful, beautiful moment.

Part of the beauty of it was to be able to see all this through the eyes of my wife, Chirlane, who, for someone who did not have the joy and privilege of being born with Italian heritage, has done a really good job of catching up –she is one of the great Italophiles you’ll ever meet –but also, of course, through the eyes of my children, Chiara and Dante. And for them, of course, from very early on in their life, they were given a strong sense of their heritage. And Chirlane was so willing and so positive about doing that –to give them names that reflected their Italian heritage. And at the same time, we taught them deeply about their African-American heritage, their Caribbean heritage, their heritage in Africa.

It was something fascinating to watch them take in all these different pieces of who they were and not find a contradiction in it. They –they were challenged, of course, like any young people trying to sort out identity. And there’s a special challenge when children are of –of different backgrounds, when they’re multiracial, and I think that comes with certain questions. But what was beautiful about watching this with our children was they –they grew in the experience. They gained depth as they learned more and more about who they were and what it meant and what the previous generations had done – and yes, the struggles, and the challenges, and the discrimination they had to overcome –and what drove them, for those who came to America by immigration; what drove them, for those who didn’t get to choose, and found themselves in America, but had to seek something within that challenge –what drove them. Our children benefited greatly.

And there are so many things I’d love to say tonight –I’ll only say a few, but I think, like so many people in this room, this chance to think about who we are is so powerful. One thing I want to say is I strongly urge all the people in this room, who I would consider among the true believers, because you care enough about your heritage and you’re thinking enough about your heritage to be here, to spread the simple notion that talking about it and thinking about it is powerful; and whenever humanly possible, for those who have the means, to go back to the hometown that your family comes from. And particularly to show members of your family who have not had that experience is an amazing thing – it’s a transcendent thing.

I first went back to my grandfather’s hometown when I was 15 years old, and I can affirm to you that my life was different from that moment on, that it – it gave me an entirely different understanding of not just who we were as a family, but who we are as Americans – all of us – because we come from somewhere, but also something life-affirming about the sweep of human history, and the permanence of family, and the fact that there’s something greater that undergirds who we are.

So, I – one thing I want to say is – please, this is a cause for me –it’s so important – if people have the opportunity to see their roots very specifically – to feel them more deeply, to demystify them, to show the next generation what it means – because we’re in an interesting point in Italian-American history, where the immigration has occurred, by and large. And now it’s up to us to take the ideas and the messages and the meaning of the culture, and maintain it, and keep it fresh, even though there’s not huge numbers of people coming in from our country of origin – to keep the meaning alive. And that’s why what you’re going to see tonight is so important, and the book is so important.

But it’s something we each have to do in our way. And again, I can see, through my own children’s experience, how much it has brought to them – and I have no doubt in my mind they will pass it on now. I have no doubt that all the things that my grandparents loved about their heritage– that they reveled in, and they passed on so generously, and with such passion, to the next generation – that it just continues and continues. And it’s continuing now very organically, because it’s deep-seated, and it’s real, and it’s meaningful.

So, one thing I want to say is how important it is to focus on that mission.

Posted in Culture, Family, Heritage, Italian, Italian American, Italy, New York City | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Un Minuto con…

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

“Chairman of the Board”  –   Frank Sinatra -

Frank Sinatra was considered the Chairman of the Board of the Rat Pack and Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop were board members.  However the “Chairman” nomenclature originated  in the late 1700’s

Back then many houses consisted only of one large room with a single chair as its only furniture. Commonly, a long wide board was folded down from the wall and used for dining. The “head of the household” always sat in the chair while everyone else ate sitting on stools or on the floor.  To sit in the chair meant you were important and in charge – “The Chairman”.  Today
in business we use the expression or title “Chairman” the others, sitting in the room, are known as board members.

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Random Fact:

The average Italian consumes half a pound of bread a day, 26 gallons of wine a year, and 25 kilograms of pasta a year.

Posted in Culture, Frank Sinatra, History, Italian, Italian Food, Italy, Musician | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carnivale di Venezia

46b1e866-915a-4e47-9287-b4288e22e15f.Venice-Carnival

Venice is currently in the midst of its annual Carnivale di Venezia, with elaborate masks, costumes, parades and partygoers taking over the city!

The world-famous festival starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday or Martedi Grasso, the day before Ash Wednesday.

The Carnival of Venice is said to have first started in 1162, after the victory of the “Serenissima Repubblica” (later the former Republic of Venice) against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven. Venetians were dancing in the streets in honor of the victory, and they would meet back up to dance each year in San Marco Square.

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During the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the reunion in San Marco had grown popularity and had become an official festival. But in 1797, under the rule of the King of Austria, the festival was outlawed and the use of masks became strictly forbidden.

It was not until 1979, that the Carnival was brought back to full operation in Venice by the Italian government as a way to highlight the culture and history of Venice. Today, an estimated 3 million visitors come to Venice each year to participate in the Carnival.

One of the many highlights of the festivities is la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”), placed at the last weekend of the Carnival and judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers.

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Learn about the Carnival celebrations held all throughout Italy here.

Take a photo tour of Carnival celebrations around the world here.

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Un Minuto con…

By Rosario Mariani, http://www.europebychoice.com

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“Un Caffe’ Pagato”   (An espresso coffee already paid for)

The tradition started along via Partenopea in Naples as a simple and good-will gesture, by well-off individuals, to pay for a coffee for someone less fortunate.

In 1884, a steam-driven espresso machine was invented in Turin and  Neapolitans believed it was the right of each person to enjoy an exquisite espresso to stimulate his day.

Altruistic and wealthier Neapolitans would buy two coffees each morning at the local bar; one was for their immediate consumption the other was for a total stranger who would later pass-by later and approach the barrista and say:

   “Buon Giorno!desidero un caffe’ pagato – grazie!

              the barista would say:

          “Volentieri, prego!”

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Where else in the world, besides Naples, can one still enjoy a free espresso compliments of a total stranger?

To me this is truly wealth redistribution, without government intervention, and very much the Neapolitan way.

Posted in Blog, Culture, Italy, Naples, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Italian Americans” Screening at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame

The National Italian American Foundation was in Chicago, on January 29, at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, for a preview of the upcoming two-part documentary series, “The Italian Americans.”

Guests at the screening were able to enjoy a taste of the documentary, which reveals how Italian immigrants challenged the notion of the American melting pot, choosing instead to maintain their distinct culture and allegiance to family.

The series’ award-winning writer and producer, John Maggio, led a post-screening Q&A, fielding questions from a very engaged audience, discussing how he hoped viewers would see themselves in the series.

And since no Italian event could be complete with offering something scrumptious to enjoy, guests at the screening enjoyed wine and amazing Italian delicacies prepared by Ron Onesti, president and CEO of Onesti Entertainment Corporation.

Be sure to tune in to the premier of “The Italian Americans,” February 17, on PBS, from 9 to 11 p.m.., with the second part airing February 24.

(l to r) Acting Consul General; Maggio; and Robert Allegrini, NIAF regional vice president and member of the Board of Directors

(l to r) Italy’s Acting Consul General in Chicago Marco Graziosi; Maggio; and Robert Allegrini, NIAF regional vice president and member of the Board of Directors

Tom Ahern. Lissa Druss Christman

Tom Ahern and Lissa Druss Christman

Ron ONesti.Gabriella Onesti. Robert Allegrini

(l to r) Ron Onest, Gabriella Onesti, Maggio and Allegrini

Ron Onesti. Gabriella Onesti. John Maggio

Ron Onesti, Gabriella Onesti and Maggio

MIchael DelGrosso and John Maggio

Series’ corporate funder, Michael DelGrosso of DelGrosso Foods and Maggio

Joey Orfini.Elissa.Katie Peraino

(l to r) Joey Orfini, NIAF Director of Branding Elissa Ruffino, and Katie Peraino

Geroge Randazzo and Robert Allegrini

George Randazzo, founder and president of The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame and Allegrini

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