Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Legacy of Eugenio Montale

On Thursday, May 3rd, 2012, the Italian Cultural Institute will be hosting an event in honor of one of the most revered Italian poets of the twentieth century, Eugenio Montale.  Montale was born in Genoa, Italy in 1896.  Being the youngest of six sons, Montale firmly believed that this aspect allowed him the freedom to pursue his true passion in life, expressing himself through the art of writing.  He recalled:

“We had a large family. My brothers went to the scagno ["office" in Genoese]. My only sister had a university education, but I had not such a possibility. In many families the unspoken arrangement existed that the youngest was released from the task to keep up the family's name.”

Montale became an accountant in his young adult years, which allowed him a sense of liberty to visit frequently the city’s libraries and thus nurture his passion for literature.  Ever since the beginning of his literary career, Montale greatly enjoyed writers such as Dante Alighieri, the “Father of the Italian Language,” in addition to the study of foreign languages such as English.  After the outbreak of World War I, Montale became a member of the Military Academy of Parma, where he briefly served as an infantry officer until his return home in 1920.  His experiences in the war in addition to the rise of Fascism in 1922 became fundamental themes for many of his poems.  

Codesto solo oggi possiamo dirti,
ciò che non siamo, ciò che non vogliamo.

(Only this is what we can tell you today,
that which we are not, that which we do not want.)

This verse forms the end of a famous poem from his first collection, Ossi di seppia (“Cuttlefish Bones”).  Ossi di seppia is an antifascist poetry collection that demonstrates Montale’s feelings of detachment from contemporary life and how he enjoyed the serenity of nature during the hard times that surrounded him.  Montale’s poetry also emphasized the natural beauty of the Mediterranean landscape of Genoa and other places of his region where he often sought solace.  Overall, Ossi di seppia was the beginning of a very distinguished career for Montale in which he left a legacy that greatly helped enrich the Italian culture as we know it today.    

Please join us for an evening of poetry readings and discussion in which we will celebrate the publication of William Arrowsmith’s translation of “The Collected Poems of Eugenio Montale 1925-1977.”  Thanks to this new translation, the English speaking community will now be provided with another glimpse into the intriguing world of Montale.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Don’t Miss the Press Conference with “la Cantautrice” Elisa!

The Italian singer and song-writer Elisa Toffoli is making her debut here at the Italian Cultural Institute on Wednesday, March 14th, where she will give the audience a taste of her new album “Steppin’ on the Water.”   Elisa is very well known in Italy and throughout the rest of Europe primarily for her single “Come Speak to me” or “Luce” in Italian, which ironically was the first song she ever composed in Italian.  It was because of “Luce” that Elisa won the 2001 edition of the famous Sanremo Festival.  Meanwhile, Americans may recognize her through the song “Dancing” which was featured in both the 2006 and 2007 seasons of “So You Think You Can Dance.”  Part of Elisa’s talent comes from her ability to write mainly in English as well as to incorporate in her work various genres of music from alternative rock, pop to electronica.  Though personally I have not heard her music played yet in America, after discussing this singer with Italians of all generations, I received the same positive responses that she is a very talented woman with great artistic sensitivity.  Due to her popularity abroad, my curiosity to explore some of her songs was peaked.  Therefore, my Italian colleagues recommended to me some of her creations such as “Labyrinth,” “Ti Vorrei Sollevare” and “Eppure Sentire.”  Even if one does not understand Italian, the combination of the instruments along with the beauty of the Italian language and Elisa’s voice are enough to make anyone appreciate her music. Nevertheless, I came to love the song “Labyrinth” not because it is written in English, but more so for its ability to demonstrate with a light-rock flare the universality of human emotions.

In the summer of 2002, Elisa released an album containing a selection of her most popular songs, which gained her significant attention in many European countries. However, this album still failed to establish her as an international artist.  I believe with the launching of her new album, “Steppin’ in the Water” in America, Elisa will not only advance her career but also have the opportunity to share her music and her passion with a whole new audience.  In a sense, Elisa and her artistic talents can serve as another bridge to join Italian and American cultures together.              

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rome through the Eyes of a "Straniero"

Every time that I travel, be it domestically or internationally, I always attempt to adopt the local customs of the people around me; therefore, I try to the best of my ability to not follow the stereotypes of a “straniero” – foreigner.  In my opinion, observing the traditions and daily activities of the people one encounters during various trips can greatly heighten the overall traveling experience.  After living in Rome for a month last summer, I learned that by opening myself up to a new culture and by adapting myself to a new way of life, I was able to conquer the city while learning more than I ever could from a classroom setting about Italian language and culture.
My name is Michael Brown and I am currently a junior at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.  Last summer, I participated in my school’s study abroad program to Rome, where I took two Italian language courses and had the unique opportunity to live with a host family right in the center of the city.  Though I was very fortunate to have traveled to Italy prior to this trip, I must say my experience in Rome was unlike any other and definitely the most rewarding.  I still remember when I first arrived at the Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino in Rome and was greeted by my Italian teacher who gave my classmates and I all kisses on the cheeks and said, “You’re now in Italy, you have to do things the Italian way!”  Although I was ecstatic to finally be in Rome, I was still very nervous for the following day when we would meet the families with whom we would be living for the next month.  Upon first meeting my “new mother” and her son, I felt like I was part of the family – I was given a key to the apartment and all my independence as well.   The host family provided me with everything I needed, home cooked meals being my favorite.  They wanted me to get a real taste of Italian cuisine and cooked for me almost every night.  “Gnocchi alla Romana” among other local dishes were all delicious!  My host mother would always say to me, “Qui, si mangia bene!”  And she was right; I ate well in Rome every day.
But, let’s be honest, this trip was not all fun and games.  Having my freedom in a foreign country and in an unfamiliar city also came with a price.  During my other trips abroad, I was always part of a tour where every aspect of my day was completely planned out and everything was provided for me.  In Rome, this was not the case, but there was something beautiful about it.  Although I felt like I was dropped in this huge city and forced to fend for myself, it was exactly what I needed.  Every morning I had to commute to school using all different kinds of public transportation.  No charter bus came to my apartment building; there was no preferential treatment this time.  I became a true Roman.  Since I grew accustomed to commuting around the city, I no longer stuck out as the token American.  It was a great feeling to have both Italians and foreigners asking me for directions.    
My classmates and I went out a few times together to get a taste of the nightlife of Rome.  Testaccio, Trastevere and Campo de’ Fiori are among some of the neighborhoods in the city that are well-known for their lounges and bars that remain open all hours of the night.  Being the risk taker of the group, I decided to stray away from the typical places frequented by American students.  Campo de’ Fiori is the zone of the city that Americans have basically made their own and it was the only place that my classmates and I would venture to for the first week of our trip.  I knew that if I wanted to have a truly enriching experience abroad, I would have to seek out places where only the locals go, even if it meant going alone.  This is exactly what I did.  I made many new friendships with Italians from all over the country, some who did not speak a word of English.  Before I knew it, I realized there were some nights where I spoke nothing but Italian, because even if I tried speaking English, no one would understand me.  Talk about complete immersion!  In my opinion, the only way to truly master a foreign language is to live in a country where the language is spoken.  It also requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone.   
They say that Rome is like one big outside museum.  During my daily commutes to and from school, I had the pleasure of exploring all that Rome had to offer.  The apartment where I lived was right near the picturesque Piazzale Flaminio, so every day I would walk down streets, such as the Via del Corso, with their churches and chic stores.  It was truly an amazing sight for me to see such ancient structures adjacent to modern buildings.  In my eyes, this combination of past and present really made Rome “una citta’ bellissima!”  I could sit here and list all of the historical sites and other hot spots that I saw, but as we both can imagine, that would take quite awhile.  Therefore, I make one suggestion, buy a plane ticket and explore for yourself!  If you want culture, history, delicious cuisine or maybe just some fun and relaxation, Rome has it all. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The First Italian-American (and Italian New Yorker): Pietro Cesare Alberti

By Ron Spence, ICI NY Press Office

This past weekend in New York was like any other. Subways were packed, Traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway snarled to a halt, and pedestrians in Battery Park unassumingly walked passed a humble marker just to the right of the Verrazano Monument. The marker commemorates the beginnings of a permanent Italian presence in the New World and New York City, and the first Italian-American and Italian-New Yorker- Pietro Cesare Alberti.

The year was 1635 and the setting was Dutch New Amsterdam (the future NYC) – a fledgling town suffering from government mismanagement, lack of support from its primary financial backer the Dutch West India Company, and the constant threat of takeover from the other European powers vying for colonial supremacy. Into this uncertainty stepped Pietro, the son of Guilo Caesare Alberti Secretary of the Ducal Treasury of Venice, and Lady Veronica, a descendant of the great Medici family. Pietro was a sailor by trade and was no doubt inspired by the great Italian explorers that had made their name on the world stage before him- Marco Polo (explorer of the Far East), Giovanni da Verrazano (the first European to explore the future site of New Amsterdam and New York), Giovanni Caboto (who served on behalf of the English), Amerigo Vespucci (explorer and cartographer for whom America is named after) and of course the first modern discoverer of ‘Terra Nova’ Christoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus).

Alberti’s sailing career began in the employ of the Dutch, as a result of the close relationship between the Dutch Republic of the United Provinces, who were fighting the 30 Years’ War against Spain and the Holy Roman Empire at the time, and the Venetian Republic, who were trading partners with the Dutch. Alberti began his adventures by serving as an officer and advisor to David Pietersen, the Captain of the Dutch Ship ‘King David,’ which was scheduled to explore lands in the New World. One such trip required the ‘King David’ to sail into New York Harbor to make ship repairs in New Amsterdam. After a dispute with Captain Pietersen, Alberti (who was in his mid-20s) decided to stay ashore on Manhattan Island and make a new life for himself. While he was the only Italian in the city of New Amsterdam, he adapted very well and became a successful tobacco farmer in what is today land stretching from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Fort Greene, in addition to owning a house and land on Broad Street in modern Manhattan. Alberti intermarried into the Dutch aristocracy, but was later killed, along with his wife Judith Manje, in a raid by Native Americans in 1655 on his farm in Brooklyn. He was survived by seven children who intermarried with such early influential New York families as the Wyckoff, Remsen, Mott, and Nostrand families- names that to this day dot the streetscape of New York.

Next Columbus Day in New York make sure to visit the spot in Battery Park in which the first Italian-American left his mark and opened the door for future immigrant generations to come. One small step for Pietro Cesare Alberti became a giant leap for Italian-Americans.


Monday, February 6, 2012

“I Like New York”

Do you have a knack for photography? Whether you are a professional photographer or simply enjoy this form of art as a hobby, this contest is for you!  Get in touch with your creative side through the Italian Cultural Institute’s new Photography Contest “I Like New York.”  Show us the beauty of New York from your point of view.  This contest is open to people of all nationalities, for we look forward to capturing New York City not only as it is seen by its residents, but also by those who are exploring the city for the very first time.  Starting on February 6th through the 16th, participants can submit up to three pictures each containing a brief description of the places chosen.  Do you have a favorite spot in New York City that others may have never seen or even heard of before? We are interested in all kinds of pictures!  The voting process will begin on February 18th and last through the 26th.  During this period, Facebook users can vote on their favorite pictures using the Like option.  The three pictures with the most on-line votes will win!  Winners will receive not only a place for their pictures in the Italian Cultural Institute’s Facebook album, but also a copy of La Dolce Vita 1950-1960 Stars and Celebrities in the Italian Fifties written by Marco Pannella. 

Please visit our Facebook page at for more information!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Alborosie Keeps the Roots of Reggae Music Alive

By Ron Spence, ICI Press Staff

In an era of massively commercialized music, one artist has kept the flame of traditional reggae alive. Is he from Trench Town? Brixton? Ethiopia? Nope, none of the above. His name is Alborosie and he’s Italian. Born Alberto D’Ascola in 1977, the Sicilian born Alberosie has climbed to the top of the reggae charts.

Alborosie’s interest in reggae stemmed from his early love of Motown music and vintage musical sounds from the 1960s and 70s, in particular Whirlitzer piano-organs and Spring reverberators which add a vintage echo to his sounds. His biggest hit to date, ‘Herbalist,’ released in 2006 (about perils of drug culture), or his follow up track ‘Kingston Town’ (a raw track about the rough side of the city) can be mistaken for a track from a Peter Tosh Jamaican-based album.

His vintage sounds lack the party feel of Terror Fabulous’ party track ‘Action’ or Shaggy’s pop vibe of a relationship gone wrong in ‘It wasn’t me,’ and provide an edge to the reggae scene celebrated by artists for maintaining the roots of the genre. “He’s one of the guys carrying the original roots of reggae culture and taking it international, a lot more than many current Jamaican artists,” said Terence Forsythe, lead singer and songwriter for the New York based reggae band Jahva. “This make me feel good as an artist because a lot of people in Jamaica are worried that the younger generation in the country are not keeping the traditions of the music. The original beats and message have changed and if an artist keeping the roots alive comes from Italy or even Germany, that’s great,” Forsythe added.

While many songs and different music genres expressed conflict and social unrest such as the breakdown of inner-city life of the in Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s early hip-hop classic ‘The Message,’ and the murder of a civil rights worker in Simon & Garfunkel’s folk song ‘He was My Brother,’ reggae served as a constant source of news for poor people in Jamaica who lacked any media outlets. Reggae was one of the earliest, if not the first music genre to take on apartheid. South African civil rights icon Nelson Mandela, upon his release from prison, made Jamaica one of his first stops in order to thank the Jamaican people and reggae artists for battling the evils of apartheid through music and keeping it in the news.

With Alborosie currently living in Jamaica, does reggae have appeal in a country in a different hemisphere separated by an ocean? “Reggae is huge in Italy,” Forsythe added. “One of Bob Marley’s last concerts before he died in 1980 was in Milan, and it drew 100,000 people. There’s a huge reggae market in Italy. Reggae artists tour there all the time.”

Until next week,


Sunday, January 29, 2012

La Dolce Lingua: Italian language classes at the IIC NY begin this Tuesday!

By Ron Spence, IIC NY Press Office

It’s still not too late to register for Italian language courses at the IIC New York! "La Dolce Lingua"  is an 8 week beginners/introductory language course organized by and held at the Italian Cultural Institute of New York. The course will be held for 8 weeks twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays from 6:00 PM - 7:30 PM) and starts this Tuesday January 31st.
The course covers the building blocks of Italian:
·         The alphabet/grammar
·         Basic conversation & pronunciation
·         Reading comprehension & writing
In addition, students will be given a ‘crash course’ in common Italian phrases that could come in handy on a trip, including greetings, appropriate dining phrases, expressing likes and dislikes, asking someone to clarify word meanings, wishing people well and more!
In keeping with the Italian flair for conversation, students will learn the language through conversational role-playing through a series of situations, and repetition, which will enhance understanding of Italian culture.
In addition to being an engaging way for learning Italian, the course serves as a great preparation tool for two language competency certifications exclusively offered for residents and visitors of New York by the Italian Cultural Institute. The certifications are recognized and can be used for proving official declarations of linguistic competency. Whether you are a student soon to be traveling abroad, a businessman or businesswoman with clients in Italy, or an aspiring diplomat the course is a great way to delve into details of the Italian language.
For more information please contact the IIC NY at 212-879-4242 or