L'Aquila, 2009. Photo by Rebecca Heyl.
One year ago today, residents of Italy's Abruzzo region were woken in the early morning hours by an earthquake that shook the very foundations of their lives. Centuries-old walls trembled, crumbled and fell -- particularly in the historic center of L'Aquila -- and with them families, educations and careers were torn asunder.
The magnitude 6.3 quake resulted in hundreds of deaths, more than 1,500 injured and the displacement of tens of thousands. At the University of L'Aquila, administration buildings and residence halls collapsed, with eight students dying in just one dormitory. The academic institution, home to 27,000 registered students before the quake, was ultimately forced to close its doors.
But there is no darkness without light. And, in the weeks that followed, the Italian American response to this disaster shone brightly on our cultural cousins across the Atlantic. With NIAF taking the lead, a coalition of Italian American organizations, universities and individuals worked tirelessly to raise funds for affected victims and communities. Soon the U.S. Department of State, the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Consular Network expressed interest in working with us as well.
Ultimately, the NIAF/Abruzzo Relief Fund raised more than $790,000 for relief efforts, while a public-private partnership between NIAF and the State Department helped bring 52 displaced University of L'Aquila students to the U.S. to continue their studies at American universities.
Today NIAF remembers both those whose lives were inexorably altered on April 6, 2009 and those who helped provide a generous Italian American response to the tragedy.
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Last summer, Boston photographer Rebecca Heyl traveled to L'Aquila to document both the earthquake's devastation and reconstruction efforts. Her work appeared in a photo essay, "L'Aquila: The Eagle Is Wounded," in NIAF's Ambassador magazine, Vol. 21, No. 1. Click here to view more of her powerful images, like the one that appears above.
On Thursday, April 8 and Friday, April 9, NYU's Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo will host a symposium examining "Visual Culture in Italy and Germany after Dictatorship and War."
Its discussions will examine images prevalent from 1945-1955, a period in which both Italy and Germany were building new (and very different) identities after experiencing dictatorship and war. The symposium will present the latest research in this field and examine how films, paintings and photographs expressed themes of loss, disorientation and victimization while negotiating increasingly foreign (especially American) influences.
The event begins on Thursday night at 7 p.m. with a screening of the 1948 film "Germania Anno Zero" by Roberto Rossellini. Friday April 9 features a full day of panel discussions, each looking individually at films, paintings and photographs during this time.
For more information about discussions and featured speakers, click here.
A new exhibit at Pompeii reveals a more detailed look at the victims of the historic volcanic eruption in A.D. 79, according to the BBC.
The skeletal remains of many of Pompeii's victims were encased in compressed ash, preserving an imprint of the bodies even as the remains decayed. Researchers at Pompeii's workshop have created 3-D molds of the bodies by digging down to the remains and filling the remaining cavities with plaster.
The results are astonishingly lifelike molds of families, children and even animals that have never before been on display. In a video on the BBC's Web site, preserver Stefanie Giudice discusses the process with reporters, saying "It is really a human history. It is not only archeology."
In an article yesterday on i-Italy.org, writer Benedetta Grasso looks at last week's New York City observation of the 99th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.
As many may recall, the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911 lead to the deaths of 148 garment workers, mostly Italian and Jewish women, who had been locked in the factory by management to keep them working. As Grasso notes, the women either died in the fire, or by jumping out of the building's windows.
The following outcry lead to greater workplace protections for employees, with the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union achieving stricter regulations in case of fire across the country, Grasso reports.
Today the building that housed the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street is now part of NYU's campus. But its story lives on as a reminder of the challenging, exhausting and often unsafe conditions our immigrant ancestors endured in the pursuit of a better life for their families.
In an editorial in this week's Diplomatic Courier, Italian Ambassador to the U.S. Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata discussed Italy's continued involvement in Afghanistan.
"Why is Italy in Afghanistan?," Terzi begins. "Prime Minister Berlusconi recently answered that question: 'We are there because our national security is at stake. We are there to offer a future to the Afghan population. We are there because we want the Afghan Government to be able to walk alone. We are there to buttress NATO's credibility in the war on terrorism.'"
In the piece, Terzi discusses Italy's continued commitment to the region, describing how the Italian government has increased its presence in Afghanistan since 2002.
Terzi: Italy's commitment to promoting stability in the region over the last nine years is in the numbers. Our presence there -- both military and civilian -- dates back to 2002. At the beginning of 2010, we had 3,150 soldiers deployed on the ground. Last December, the government announced that Italy would be sending 1,000 more. In terms of percentages, it is the largest additional contribution among NATO allies in response to the "call" from President Obama. By the end of this year, our total military deployed in Afghanistan will be 4,000.
But, he notes, their role is far from strictly military and instead also supports economic development and reconstruction.
Terzi: The Italian military contingent supports Afghan Government, mentoring and training the Afghani police and army and disarming illegal armed groups. Our troops work in close coordination with the civilian component in rebuilding Herat province where we have established a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in direct result of a joint effort by our Foreign and Defense Ministries. The PRT is meant to function as a catalyst for programs aimed at promoting economic development while empowering local authorities and improving their ability to deliver security, especially in the country's western region where Italy is responsible for ISAF command.
Click here to read his editorial in full.
The Trento Natural History Museum announced earlier this week that researchers have found fossilized tracks made by creatures believed to be the ancestors of dinosaurs in the Dolomite Mountains, according to ANSA.
Found in the Vallarsa Valley, which pre-dates the Alps, the tracks date back 242 million years, to a time shortly before the dinosaurs appeared. The tracks were embedded in dried-up and eroded mountain streambeds.
According to researchers, these tracks may belong to a common ancestor of not just dinosaurs, but also today's crocodiles and lizards, that was previously unknown to science.
These are not the first such findings in Italy. In 2009, similar footprints from dinosaur ancestors dating to about 220 million years ago were found east of Lake Iseo near Brescia.
Hungry for more NIAF? Then visit our YouTube Channel for links to past gala footage, interviews with gala honorees, footage of NIAF's educational programs and exclusive NIAF public service announcements with appearances by Martin Scorsese, Isabella Rossellini, Mario Andretti, Alan Alda and more.
Keep watching for new videos in the coming months.
In honor of April Fool's Day, we turned to the history books and found one prank that still has the city of Venice talking almost 100 years later.
In 1919, British prankster W. Horace de Vere Cole played a now famous prank on the residents of Venice while honeymooning in la serenissima. Cole shipped large quanitites of horse manure over from mainland Italy and, while the city and his new bride slept, spread it in hundreds of piles around the Piazza di San Marco -- a landmark surrounded by canals with no possible horse traffic.
Both the city's residents and (assumedly) Cole's new bride awoke the next morning to find a nasty surprise: the confused Venetians finding what appeared to be remnants of a very large horse parade and Cole's bride discovering what must have been a rather smelly groom.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the marriage didn't last.
Cole had a reputation for pranks, targeting the British Navy, the Mayor of Cambridge and fellow members of British society. Click here to read a 2006 New York Times op-ed piece about Cole written by Wes Davis, then an assistant professor of English at Yale.
Happy April Fool's Day!
Efforts are currently underway to bring the opening stage of the 95th Giro d'Italia to the U.S. in spring 2012.
NIAF, Italian Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata, the Washington Convention and Sports Authority and others are working to bring the race's opening leg to our nation's capital. The Giro's presence in Washington, D.C., would consist of a prologue on the first day and a race stage on the second, with riders starting on Pennsylvania Avenue near the National Archives and ultimately crossing a finish line near the White House. Cyclists would then travel to Italy to complete the race, which is one of cycling's three Grand Tours in Europe (the others being the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana).
"It's going to be a fantastic event for D.C., akin to bringing the Olympics to the city," Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty told guests at an Italian Embassy gala announcing the initiative in February. An added bonus? The race is sure to boost interest in cycling here in the U.S.
Supporters have been told to expect an announcement about the bid's status following the end of this year's Giro d'Italia in Verona, Italy on May 30. So keep your fingers crossed and keep checking back here for more information.
Did toads predict last year's earthquake in L'Aquila? Some British researchers say yes.
In a new report published in the Zoological Society of London's Zoological Journal, British researcher Rachel Grant, says the breeding habits of the common toad can predict natural disasters. She based her findings on the behavior of toads in L'Aquila, Italy, in the days before and after the region's devastating earthquake last year.
Grant was part of a team of scientists from Open University studying toads in central Italy. The team noticed a sudden, sharp decline in the population of a popular breeding site.
In an audio interview available on the BBC's Web site, Grant shares her findings, noting that five days before last week's earthquake in L'Aquila, 96 percent of male toads abandoned a breeding site located 46 miles from the quake's epicenter. Then, as soon as the earthquake ended, the toads began to return. "It was just a fortuitous observation," she told BBC interviewers.
How is this possible? Grant says the toads may be detecting early radio waves, gravity waves or the release of gases from the ground prior to the disaster.
Yesterday U.S. Ambassador to Italy David H. Thorne signed an agreement with Italian Customs Agency Director Giuseppe Peleggi to boost counter-terrorism efforts in Italian ports.
Their memorandum of understanding launched the MEGAPORTS Initiative in Italy, allowing for the use of nuclear material scanners in Italy's ports. The program works to identify radioactive substances hidden in shipping and cargo containers and has a goal of scanning 50 percent of all shipping traffic by 2015.
Since launching the program in 2003, the U.S. has signed similar agreements with 27 other countries, six of which are European Union members.
According to the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C., such U.S.-Italy cooperation bears witness to the countries' joint commitment to combat terrorism worldwide.
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In an exclusive interview now available on the Italian Embassy's Web site, Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata discusses the importance of the "Made in Italy" label and the role of those products in the U.S. economy.
Amb. Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata. Photo courtesy of the Italian Embassy.
U.S. demand for "Made in Italy" products has been affected by our current economic crisis but overall sales of Italian products in this country continue to perform well, Terzi observed. In fact, he noted, many Italian products (and overall style!) are now entrenched in the American consciousness and influencing broader tastes.
Terzi: The crisis has admittedly caused some pain to our exports, partly as a result of the euro's strength against the dollar. Our exports are led in absolute terms by mechanical engineering products, with machine tools and components. We're talking 5 billion dollars/year here. Next comes the agri-food business, at 3 billion dollars, then fashion and design, totalling 5 billion dollars. These sectors have suffered less than others from the crisis, because they've put down strong roots in the American mentality and taste. And we mustn't forget pharmaceutical research and biotechnology: at least 2 billion dollars a year.
According to Terzi, growth opportunities for Made in Italy products continue to abound here in the U.S. And although the term "Made in Italy" still prompts many Americans to think of food, fashion and Ferraris, Terzi instead highlighted many of the Italian companies who've earned defense, transport and infrastructure contracts in this country.
Terzi: The American market isn't saturated, and in many states there's a lot of work to be done for our brands. I'm not just talking about consumer goods here, but capital goods and contracts for major works.
After all, big Italian industrial and manufacturing names have been operating in the United States for years through American companies. They've won market segments in sectors like defence, transport, infrastructure and services. Groups like Finmeccanica, Fincantieri, Mediaset, Italcementi, Bracco, Brembo, Pirelli, Ferretti, Eni and ENEL have a sound U.S. presence, as have many other large and medium-sized companies. The United States are Italy's main market outside Europe, a market that will continue to be of the highest significance in spite of the competition from emerging countries like China and India.
What's next? Reaching younger consumers and marketing products that build on quickly evolving cultural tastes.
Terzi: We need to increasingly link products to consumers' evolving tastes and needs, especially those of younger consumers. Take wine, for example, where products like spumante are performing very well in spite of the crisis and competition: with innovative solutions and aggressive marketing, Italy has won a 12% presence in the sector.
Click here to read Terzi's comments in full.
In an attempt to reach younger audiences, Milan's famed Teatro all Scala has launched "LaScalaUNDER30," a Web site and online community for today's younger -- and more Web-savvy -- opera and ballet fans.
Unlike the main La Scala Web site, LaScalaUNDER30 is only available in the Italian language. But if you are under 30 years of age, plan to be in Milan for more than a short trip and want to spend time at this historic cultural institution, membership has its privileges.
For 10 euros, UNDER30 members can purchase one of three UNDER30 passess -- OperaUNDER30, BallettoUNDER39 or Pass LaScalaUNDER30 -- which entitle the user to discounted tickets, access to specially priced last-minute tickets, tours of the theater and its museum, a Scala Shop Card and more. Or, by instead purchasing one of two Abbonamento UNDER30 packages for opera or ballet, La Scala fans will receive a pre-paid package of tickets to select performances in addition to a complimentary La Scala pass.
UNDER30 members also have access to special Anteprima performances of select new La Scala shows before curtains rise for general audiences.
So, what do you think? Is this an effective way to reach the next generation of opera and ballet fans?
Rabbi Barbara Aiello is an Italian American who discovered her Jewish roots from her Calabrian and Sicilian ancestors. She is the first and only woman rabbi in Italy and serves Sinagoga Ner Tamid del Sud, returning each summer to lead the first active synagogue in Calabria in 500 years.
Additionally, she makes Jewish tradition available to Calabrians and Sicilians through the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC). As its director, Aiello works with families with Jewish roots in Calabria, helping them to learn more about their traditions and history.
Recently, Aiello shared the special significance of celebrating an Italian seder with NIAF, in an article titled "The Passover Trilogy -- Italian Jewish Interfaith Families Find Their Way Home." An excerpt appears below.
Rabbi Barbara Aiello:
As rabbi of the first active synagogue in the deep south of Italy since Inquisition times, my mission as an Italian American and a Jew has been to extend the hand of Jewish welcome to the most common of all interfaith combinations -- the Italian Jewish family.
For Italians in Italy and for Italian-Americans who have "always felt Jewish," Congregation Ner Tamid has offered them the opportunity to celebrate Passover and to learn more about the rich Jewish presence that has survived underground in Italy for over 500 years...
Centuries ago, the Inquisition forced thousands of Italian Jews to either convert to Christianity or to take their Jewish practices underground. As a result the rich tapestry of Calabrian and Sicilian Jewish life unraveled and became little more than a few threads. In order to protect themselves from being denounced as Jews, religious traditions morphed into general family practice ("We never ate pork. My parents said it wasn't healthy!") to superstition ("It is bad luck to put a cross on a grave.") and eventually for many families, Jewish heritage gave way to obscurity ("We light a candle on Friday night because my grandmother always did.").
Now that modern Italian historians recognize that prior to the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, at least 50 percent of the entire population of these regions was Jewish, Italians in Sicily and Calabria are beginning to rediscover and embrace their Jewish roots. Families that baked and ate "pane azzimo," or unleavened bread during "La Pasqua degli Ebrei" or the "Easter of the Jews," are coming to realize that despite persecution, forced conversion, expulsion and other horrors, the flame of their Jewish heritage never really died.
To read Aiello's full article about her seder celebrations in Italy, click here.
Newspapers this weekend offered some choice selections for readers interested in all things Italian and Italian American. In another article, the New York Times profiled NoLIta, a neighborhood that was once considered part of Little Italy and is still dear to the hearts of many Italian Americans.
Headlined "Living In: NoLIta/A Time Capsule Invaded," this real estate piece focuses on the neighborhood's blend of history and gentrification. Photos highlight the wall of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral at the corner of Prince and Mott streets -- once a backdrop for neighborhood stickball games.
As many know, the 16-block neighborhood (whose current name refers to being "north of Little Italy") still features many traditional five- and six-story tenement buildings. But today, writer Jack Mooney reports, they are highly sought after, with units selling for more than $2,000 per square feet as condos when they do become available.
In his article, Mooney highlights one or two original neighborhood businesses, including Albanese Meats & Poultry. Run by Moe Albanese, the business was recently the subject of a 2008 documentary, "The Last Butcher in Little Italy," which was partially funded by a NIAF grant and directed by Laura Terruso. The film won the Reel 13 Shorts Competition sponsored by Channel 13/WNET in New York. To view the film, click here.
Moe Albanese in "The Last Butcher in Little Italy." Photo courtesy of Laura Terruso.
Additionally, Moe's grandchild, Val Albanese, has documented his work (below). Both works provide the history of Albanese Meats & Poultry, in addition to the neighborhood's flavor.
Familiar with the neighborhood? What are your favorite memories?
Tribune writer Jen Leo says the site allows readers to search by region, popular destinations, or specific featured monasteries and offers single pricing for travelers going it solo. But, she cautions potential users that, "Booking isn't instantaneous, and the site advises against trying to make last-minute plans." Instead, the Web site requests your travel plans and then contacts your selections to determine availability, Leo tells readers.
What do you think?
Frequent travelers to Italy will enjoy yesterday's New York Times article "Off Sardinia, an Island With Wilder Shores" - a look at one of Italy's quieter corners. In it, writer Joshua Hammer takes the reader to Sant'Antioco, a small island connected to Sardinia by a mile-long causeway.
As Hammer notes, Sant'Antioco is the antithesis of Sardinia, with "quiet roads and empty, rolling hills covered in thickets of myrtle, wild olive trees, scrubs called strawberry trees and heather."
The article details his stay on the island. But perhaps more interesting? Check the "If You Go" section at the article's end, which provides flight and rental car information in addition to hotel, restaurant and shopping recommendations. Use it to do some exploring of your own!
What are some of your favorite quiet corners in Italy?
A Washington Post article today highlights Charlie Ragusa, an Italian American senior banquet captain at the Hilton Washington who has worked at the hotel since it opened in 1965. He's waited on every U.S. president since Johnson, but, according to the article, his favorite memory was getting Joe DiMaggio to sign an autograph at a NIAF Anniversary Gala.
Charlie Ragusa. Photo courtesy of Hilton Washington.
Ragusa told the Washington Post, "I went up to DiMaggio and said, 'Listen, if a man is crazy enough to try to get an autograph with 2,700 people in a ballroom, would you do it for him?' And he said, 'Sure, no problem at all.' "
NIAF's annual Anniversary Gala is held each October at the Hilton Washington, and Ragusa is a familiar face, offering help and, in down time, sharing his memories of past galas with NIAF supporters and staff members. Today he was one of three Hilton employees honored at a celebration of the hotel, a D.C. landmark. Congratulations Charlie! We'll see you this fall!
Washington Hilton celebrates its 45th anniversary with (left to right) Joe Berger, Hilton Worldwide President, Americas, and Washington Hilton's security office Clifton Roberts, senior banquets captain Charlie Ragusa, room attendant Mary Johnson and General Manager Steve Cowan. Roberts, Ragusa and Johnson have all worked at the hotel since it opened in 1965. Photo courtesy of Washington Hilton.
It's time to start planning an October trip with friends to attend NIAF's 35th Anniversary Gala Weekend -- the most prestigious Italian American event in the nation's capital. Advanced registration is now available, making this a not-to-miss opportunity!
Held October 22-23, 2010 at the Hilton Washington, this star-studded weekend will be packed with conferences, speakers, receptions and parties (including our famed Salute to the Martini), all culminating with NIAF's black-tie 35th Anniversary Gala Dinner. This year we'll honor Christopher Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton Worldwide, and Joseph Uva, CEO of Univision Communications. More honorees will be announced in the coming months.
Special celebrity guests are already signing on to attend, including actors Michael Badalucco, Dennis Farina and Joe Pantoliano, director Chris Columbus, AFL legend Daryle Lamonica and MLB great Rick Cerone.
Want to learn more? Click here.