Articles by: Maria rita Latto

  • Art & Culture

    De Andre's Music with Mauro Pagani. Interview

    This week in New York there will be an event not to be missed on November 16 at 5:30 p.m. at Christ the King High School in Queens. The Italian Consulate is sponsoring a free public concert which will introduce the U.S. to Fabrizio De Andrè, the great Italian artist who passed away nearly ten years ago. His music will be interpreted by Mauro Pagani, De Andrè’s friend and musical collaborator who is also a versatile musician in his own right, capable of playing everything from 70s rock to folk and ethnic music. Pagani, a founding member of Premiata Forneria Marconi, the legendary Italian group of the 70s, has worked with many famous names in Italian music in addition to De Andrè, the celebrated Genovese singer-song-writer. Since his career debut in 1958, De Andrè has revealed himself to be an artist focused on going deeper to discover the essence of human reality often made of sadness, fragility, and mystery. Through his ballads suspended between myth and realty, he revolutionized the canon of traditional Italian songs. De Andrè’s world was always populated by those who were cast out – derelicts, prostitutes, and lost souls. They were all losers who were fighting an unfair battle against the arrogant, the powerful, the self-righteous, and the Pharisees. His music was inspired by medieval ballads, but also by songs of Sardinian shepherds, Baudelaire, and many others. His described his universe in ironic terms, laid everything bare, and went against all conventions. Mario Luzi, one of the greater Italian poets of the twentieth century, said: “De Andrè is really the singer-song-writer par excellence, an artist who realized the inter-relationship between literary and musical texts. His music tells a story and it digs deep.” In fact, his music continued to evolve, stretching out in different directions, searching for and experimenting with the new while and never yielding to the whims of fashion.

    I asked him to share “his” De Andrè with us – how they met and how their friendship and partnership developed over time:  

    My first meeting with Fabrizio De Andrè goes back to 1970; it was fleeting and absolutely by chance. I had just joined a group of talented musicians, and a few months later we started P. F. M. At that time we frequently worked in shifts as studio musicians. It was actually in those days in 1970 when I went to find them in Recordi’s studio where they had been called to work on the recording sessions for Fabrizio’s album La Buona Novella. It was a short meeting with few words, but at the same time it was the beginning of a relationship that would develop over the years. We practically did not meet again until 1981 when we again met by chance in a recording studio. This time it was in Carimate’s Stone Castle Studios where he was recording L’ Indiano and I was recording the soundtrack for Gabriele Salvatores’ first film Sogno di una notte d’estate (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) based on the comedy by William Shakespeare. On that occasion he invited me to play on his tours: and so a relationship that was destined to last 14 years was born!  

    In 1984, De Andrè threw himself into an original project that surprised the Italian music scene: Creuza de ma. It was an album which became a cornerstone in Italian music, born out of his collaboration with Mauro Pagani.  Written completely in the Genovese dialect, “the neo-Latin language rich with Arabic sounds,” it is De Andrè’s tribute to “his” Genoa. He envisioned it as a sort of microcosm with the “flavor of Genoa’s sea, the aroma of its kitchen, but also the stench of its port and the rotten fish.” It is a Genoa that has “the face of the outcasts in the old city, the ‘charms’ of Via del Campo, the ‘flowers that bloom from manure.’” With this album De Andrè  journeyed through clear and unforgettable images accompanied by typically Mediterranean sounds with traditional North African, Greek, and Provençal instruments, from the Macedonian gaida to the Andalusian guitar, from the Turkish shannaj to the Arabic lute, all melded with electric instruments. It is an unforgettable album which was critically acclaimed as the best album of the year and of the decade. I asked Pagani the obvious question: When did you realize that Creuza de ma represented a cornerstone in Italian music?


    At least a couple of years after its release, with respect to its incredible critical success and the astonishing number of awards and recognitions that it received.

    What is Fabrizio De Andrè’s artistic and cultural legacy?  

    His ability to recount dreams with unparalleled grace and lightness, the contradictions and the profound qualities of ordinary people without making them banal or passing judgment.   

    In 2004 you created a sequel for the twentieth anniversary release of Creuza de ma. How did this idea come about?

    In 1984 when we finished the album, we had the confidence and the justifiable aspiration to be a part of that wonderful and boundless cultural basin that is the Mediterranean. For years we had listened to Turkish, Greek, North African music, we devoured its poetry and we shared our aspirations. But in reality we had very few relationships or close friendships with musicians coming from that geographic area. Therefore, we were compelled to make a record that was less than a real journey and more of a dream, a sort of romantic affair where everything was imagined and sketched in pencil on the basis of listening and reading. Twenty years later it seemed to me that the time had arrived to transform that dream into a true journey, populated with real not invented characters, with voices and percussionists of the Maghreb, and Turkish and Persian clarinet players.  

    January 11, 2009 will mark the tenth anniversary of Fabrizio De Andrè’s passing. Over the years were there moments in which you truly felt his absence?


    Through 14 years of working daily side-by-side, you become friends, accomplices, and companions on the journey. So when a friend passes on, you miss him every day in some way, you miss his remarks, his intelligence, and his affection.  

    In Milan you opened the “Officine Meccaniche” (The Machine Shops), a new label as well as a recording studio that within a few years also became a meeting place for musicians. How do you see the future of Italian music in our society that is increasingly more multicultural?  

    I wait and dream that Italian music will become more “Italian” – with an identity and a strong and unmistakable sound, one that relies less on foreign productions and at the same time reaches such a level of professionalism that it is able to compete and claim a permanent place in the world market. Because “contamination” breeds novelty and not necessarily bad copying, it is important to have the curiosity, the courage, and the personality of someone who has much to offer and not only wants to   take.  

    And so it is an event not to be missed: a proper tribute to the exceptional artist Fabrizio De Andrè and a journey through his immortal music that will enchant New York with the sounds and moods skillfully recreated by the great Mauro Pagani.


    Sunday's concert will be preceded by a preview to be held on November 14, 6 p.m. at the Italian Cultural Institute (686 Park Avenue, NYC).

    (Translated by Giulia Prestia)


  • Mauro Pagani porta "l'universo De Andrè" nel Queens. Intervista con il musicista

    Questa settimana a New York ci sarà un evento da non perdere. Il 16 novembre alle 5:30 pm, al teatro della Christ the King High School nel Queens il Consolato Italiano offrirà un concerto totalmente gratuito per ricordare e  far conoscere anche negli Stati Uniti Fabrizio De Andrè, grande artista italiano scomparso quasi dieci anni fa, l’11 gennaio 1999.


    I brani saranno interpretati da Mauro Pagani, amico e collaboratore di De Andrè, nonché musicista versatile capace di passare dal rock degli anni '70, alla musica popolare ed etnica.

    Fondatore con Franco Mussida, Franz Di Cioccio e Flavio Premoli della Premiata Forneria Marconi, “mitico” gruppo degli anni Settanta, col tempo Mauro Pagani ha lavorato per molti nomi famosi della musica italiana tra cui, appunto, il cantautore genovese.

    A dire il vero, definire De Andrè solo “cantautore” è riduttivo, dal momento che da anni ormai, sulle antologie delle scuole medie e superiori italiane vengono riportati i testi delle sue canzoni più famose, come “Via del Campo” o “Bocca di rosa”, vere e proprie poesie. Sin dagli esordi della sua carriera, nel 1958, De Andrè si è rivelato come un artista teso ad andare a fondo, alla scoperta dell’essenza della realtà umana fatta spesso di tristezza, fragilità, miseria. Nelle sue ballate sospese tra mito e realtà ha rivoluzionato quelli che erano i canoni della canzone italiana tradizionale. Il mondo di De Andrè è sempre stato un universo popolato di emarginati, derelitti, prostitute, anime perse. Tutti perdenti che si trovano a fronteggiare in una lotta impari l’arroganza del potere, i benpensanti, i farisei.

    Un universo che trova ispirazione nelle ballate medievali, ma anche nei canti dei pastori sardi, nell’Antologia di Spoon River, in Baudelaire e tanti altri. Un mondo descritto in maniera ironica, dissacrante, andando contro tutte le convenzioni. Mario Luzi, uno dei

    maggiori poeti italiani del Novecento, ha detto: “De Andrè è veramente lo chansonnier per eccellenza, un artista che si realizza proprio nell’intertestualità tra testo letterario e testo musicale. Ha una storia e morde davvero”. Ed infatti, come per il testo, anche la sua evoluzione musicale è sempre tesa alla ricerca, alla sperimentazione, al nuovo, mai disposta a cedere alle mode in voga. 

    Ho fatto alcune domande via e-mail ad un Mauro Pagani in partenza per New York e gli ho chiesto di raccontare il “suo” De Andrè, come si sono conosciuti e come si è sviluppata nel tempo la loro amicizia e collaborazione:

    "Il mio primo incontro con Fabrizio De Andrè risale al 1970 ed è stato assolutamente fugace e casuale. Mi ero appena unito professionalmente a un gruppo di bravissimi musicisti, con i quali pochi mesi più tardi avrei fondato la P.F.M.,i quali a quel tempo prestavano spesso la loro opera in qualità di turnisti di sala di registrazione. Proprio in quei giorni del 1970 andai a trovarli negli studi della Ricordi dove erano stati chiamati a partecipare alle sessioni di registrazione per il disco La Buona Novella di Fabrizio. Fu un incontro breve e di poche parole, ma allo stesso tempo l’inizio di un rapporto che si sarebbe consolidato negli anni. Fino al 1981 non ci incontrammo praticamente più, almeno fino a quando non ci trovammo di nuovo casualmente in uno studio di registrazione, questa volta agli Stone Castle Studios di Carimate, dove lui stava registrando L’Indiano e io la colonna sonora del primo film di Gabriele Salvatores, Sogno di una notte d’estate, tratto dall’omonima commedia di W. Shakespeare. In quell’occasione mi invitò a partecipare in qualità di musicista alle suetournée: nacque così un rapporto destinato a durare 14 anni!"

     Inevitabile la domanda a Pagani: quando vi siete resi conto che Creuza de ma avrebbe rappresentato una chiave di volta nella musica italiana?

     Almeno un paio di anni dopo la sua pubblicazione, di fronte all’ incredibile successo di critica e allo stupefacente numero di riconoscimenti e premi che aveva collezionato.


    Qual’è l’eredità artistica e culturale di Fabrizio De Andrè?

     La capacità di raccontare con una grazia e una leggerezza senza pari i sogni, le contraddizioni e le qualità più profonde della gente comune, senza mai banalizzare o giudicare.

     Nel 2004 lei ha realizzato una rivisitazione per il ventennale di Creuza de ma. Come è nata questa idea?

     Quando nel 1984 realizzammo il disco avevamo la certezza e la giustificata aspirazione di far parte di quel meraviglioso e sconfinato bacino culturale che è il Mediterraneo. Ascoltavamo da anni musica turca, greca, nordafricana, ne divoravamo la poesia e condividevamo le aspirazioni. Ma, in realtà con pochi musicisti provenienti da quell’area geografica avevamo scambi, rapporti o conoscenze dirette. Quindi, siamo stati costretti a realizzare un disco che più che un vero viaggio era un sogno, una sorta di romanzo d’avventure dove tutto era immaginato e tratteggiato a matita sulla base di ascolti e letture. A vent’anni di distanza mi è sembrato fosse arrivato il momento di trasformare quel sogno in un viaggio vero, popolato di personaggi reali e non inventati, di voci del magreb, di percussionisti e clarinettisti turchi e persiani.

      L’11 gennaio 2009 saranno dieci anni che Fabrizio De Andrè se n’è andato. Durante questi anni ci sono stati dei momenti in cui ha avvertito di più la sua mancanza? 

     In 14 anni di lavoro quotidiano fianco a fianco si diventa amici, complici e compagni di viaggio. Così quando un amico se ne va ti manca ogni giorno in qualche modo, ti mancano le sue battute, la sua intelligenza e il suo affetto.

     A Milano ha aperto le “Officine Meccaniche”, una nuova etichetta nonchè studio di registrazione che in pochi anni è diventato anche luogo di aggregazione per i musicisti. Come vede il futuro della musica italiana, in una società come la nostra sempre più multiculturale?


    Mi aspetto e sogno che la musica italiana diventi sempre più “italiana” con un’ identità e un suono forti e inconfondibili; che sempre meno scimmiotti le produzioni straniere e allo stesso tempo raggiunga un livello di professionalità tale da poter competere alla pari con chiunque e ritagliarsi finalmente un posto stabile nel mercato mondiale. Perché le contaminazioni generino novità e non tristi scopiazzature bisogna avere la curiosità, il coraggio e la personalità di chi ha molto da offrire e non solo molto da prendere.
    Insomma, un'occasione da non perdere, un omaggio doveroso ad un artista unico, un viaggio attraverso la musica immortale di Fabrizio De Andrè pronta ad incantare New York con suoni e atmosfere ricreati sapientemente dal grande Mauro Pagani.  

    Il concerto di domenica sara' preceduto da un'anteprima all'Istituto di Cultura Italiana (686 Park Avenue, NYC). il 14 novembre alle ore 18.

  • Facts & Stories

    Italian and American Politics: an Ocean of Differences

     A classy speech, a lesson in style. These thoughts came to mind while I was listening to John McCain’s concession speech. Words full of dignity and patriotism. His call to be united under Obama’s presidency was respectful towards the man chosen by the American people. And in Obama’s speech there were also gracious feelings for the man who, just a few hours before, was his opponent.


    Election Day came, and a night full of emotions followed: a memorable event that was watched in every part of the world.
    The American dream is contagious here in Italy, too. The joy in the faces of thousands of people in Chicago but in Phoenix as well (despite the defeat) shows that still there is hope for the future, a confidence that the economic crisis will end at last. Though, after the enthusiasm and the emotion, so many Italians woke up again…the American dream vanished and the reality appeared more miserable than ever.
    Is there in the Italian political panorama one, just one person who would behave such as John McCain and Barack Obama did? It is so hard to imagine. In the last year we witnessed fights, insults, ruthless debates. Obama was so clear in his speech: “Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity.”
    The partisanship he referred to has nothing to do with partisanship in the Belpaese; it is milder in the U.S. Italian politics have always been very spirited, though after the arrival of Silvio Berlusconi almost twenty years ago, it became a never ending fight – a sort of reality show with frequent stage tricks and politicians who care more about maintaining their positions than taking the public interest into consideration. After the political elections in 2006, for example, when Romano Prodi won, Silvio Berlusconi refused to recognize his defeat and questioned the validity of the result of the elections because between there were only a few deciding votes. It was impossible for Prodi to rule the country in such a tenuous situation and with the center-right opposition refusing to communicate and boycotting every new law introduced by the majority.
    After two years in which the country was practically at a dead lock, there were the inevitable elections of 2008 and the situation reversed. Silvio Berlusconi’s victory was so huge that the defeated Walter Veltroni, leader of the center-left Democratic Party, was forced to make a concession call to his opponent. It was the only moment showing fair play after a “bloody” electoral campaign.
    Then the never ending arm wrestling started again, and it is still continuing. Even the results of the American election was cause for renewed competition and both the opponents, Silvio Berlusconi and Walter Veltroni along with their colleagues, are playing the part of the “most Obamian”

    of all.
    “Obama is ours!” states Veltroni, having the illusion that the democratic wave will reach the Belpaese. Berlusconi seems to have already forgotten “his dear friend” George W. Bush and attracts the attention of the entire world by giving the new president the most back-handed compliment.
    The scenario is discouraging here in Italy, while on the other side of the ocean there are historical moments and a new hope is rising. John McCain’s speech really impressed the Italians. One of my neighbors, Federico, an 18-year old student, is young and yet he has a pessimistic attitude: “The media showed that the Americans are a winning people mainly because they have the capability and the intelligence to reach their goal at any cost – even if it means being united, going beyond differences and grudges, and putting the common welfare first. Here, such a speech would be impossible with our politicians from either side!” Another neighbor, Paola, 52, a high school teacher gives a personal interpretation of McCain’s words: “Probably it was a speech written by a ghost writer, as is usual. Perhaps he decided to leave the political scene, after the defeat, with style, using words coming from the mind and not from the heart. Though,” she concludes, “his words are impressive and show the American spirit.” Paola’s daughter, Roberta, 27, adds: “I envy their sense of union. After the results were in, all the flags of the parties disappeared, and there were only American flags. McCain’s words seemed to come from another planet: he stated that all must stand together, united – an idea that is the opposite of Bossi’s “Padania” and Lega Nord [the Italian separatist movement allied with Silvio Berlusconi].”
    At this point there is no doubt: “America is a place where all things are possible.” And here?
    No, we can’t.

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)

  • Life & People

    Italy. Everybody Is Crazy For Obama

    In the last two weeks of protests against the Italian government in Rome, such as the one held at the Circus Maximus, it was impossible not to notice among the masses signs that apparently don’t have a connection with what is happening here in Italy. Three in particular really impressed me. The first one was very direct: “Forza Obama.” The second one, written in the Roman dialect, appeared as an exhortation: “Obama facce sognà” (Obama makes us dream). And the third one sounded like a sort of a prayer, again in the Roman dialect, coming directly from the heart of a desperate Italian having lost all hope: “Obama pensace tu” (Obama, you look after it).

    They express a diffused feeling in the Italian center-left, a passion shared from the start by the leader of the Democratic Party, Walter Veltroni. He wrote the preface to the Italian edition of Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope. In almost all of his public speeches in the last few months, Veltroni has supported Obama’s victory and viewed him as a model for Italian politics. He also took the slogan “Yes We Can” and translated it into the Italian “Si Può Fare” and even the Roman dialect “Se pò ffà.”  

    Over the past few days, members of the center-left, included the former Prime Minister Romano Prodi, have come out as Obama's supporters, indeed giving everyone the idea that they need a revitalizing cure, represented by the American Democratic candidate. A massive dose of Obama could revive the Italian Democratic Party, which after the defeat in the last election resembles a boxer unable to recover from a lethal punch. All the center-left members showing their love for Obama are following this idea, imagining that once Obama arrives at the White House, the new Democratic President will immediately behave according to their wishes. Their “ideal” Obama would create a less domineering America in the world. He would also be attentive to the redistribution of wealth. He would also, of course, stop the war in Iraq, and while he’s at it, he could become a real icon and demonstrate a cold attitude towards the “hateful” Silvio Berlusconi. It’s too good to be true, especially if in reality Obama does not appear to be as similar to his “ideal twin” as in the Italian center-left’s imagination. For example, could they really believe that he made this statement: “I am not in favor of homosexual weddings because of my Christian faith?” Or would they think that this sentiment belongs to a center-right character such as Rocco Buttiglione, whose similar attitude towards gays cost him an important seat in the European Parliament?

    The behavior of the Italian center-right, though, is not so different. Day after day, Barack Obama’s admirers in the People of Freedom Party have quickly increased. Its members view the American candidate as a younger Silvio Berlusconi. Ministers Sandro Bondi and Franco Frattini stated that both Obama and Berlusconi have something in common, such as charisma, no ideological attitudes, and the ability to communicate in short speeches “based on so many ideals.” But these seem to be general, vague arguments…

    In the panorama of weird statements made by center-right last-hour supporters, Maria Stella Gelmini, the Minister of Public Instruction, stands out. She said that Obama is proposing a series of reforms for American schools similar to the ones she proposed and that are now stirring up so many protests in the Italian cities. She seems to ignore the fact that, in its program, the American Democratic Party allocated 14 million dollars for schools. Renata Polverini, the leader of the UGL, the right-wing labor union, stated that she likes Obama because “he can change the international scene and also because he is black.” A group of center-right parliamentary members, such as Chiara Moroni, Lucio Malan, Marcello De Angelis, even created a website supporting him,  

    So, to whom does Obama belong? Does he belong to the Italian center-right or to the center-left? If he will be the new American president, will he behave according to their “ideal image” or will he take his decision according to the needs of his nation, the United States of America? Apparently we can just hope, and keep repeating: “Obama facce sognà! Obama pensace tu!”

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)


  • Facts & Stories

    Miracle in 100 Days

    The title is short and sweet: “Miracle In 100 Days”. The subtitle sounds like music to the Italian premier’s ears: “How Berlusconi brought order to chaotic Italy, and what comes next.”


    It is an article written by Jacopo Barigazzi in the 18-25 August issue of “Newsweek” dealing with the current situation in Italy. This article was enthusiastically welcomed by the government and by some media who quoted mainly the title and its first lines, where Barigazzi mentions that “in his first 100 days in office, Silvio Berlusconi may have done the impossible: to a degree unprecedented in modern Italian history, he asserted control over this seemingly ungovernable nation.” 


    But, is it really so? Did this “miracle” really happen that we read about in the foreign press that praises Italy and in particular Mr. Berlusconi, often negatively depicted abroad?


    If we read the article carefully, we discover that it is not a complete praise of the Italian premier. While in the media and especially on television, the prevailing idea was that the American magazine thought that Silvio Berlusconi was saving Italy from decline. Indeed, the real “miracle”, according to Newsweek, is due to a series of facts creating, in a domino effect, an upswing.


    The first miracle is to have taken control of an ungovernable nation reaching an “approval rating of 55 percent—higher than Britain's Gordon Brown, France's Nicolas Sarkozy or Spain's José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.” After this, Mr. Berlusconi “cannily exploited a 2005 electoral law that wiped out these small parties to win a surprise landslide victory from which the opposition is still trying to recover.” While the premier “enjoys something of a honeymoon period with the electorate,” -continues Barigazzi- “he has also wasted little time in consolidating his authority. One of his first acts: pushing through a bill that gives the top four national officeholders, including the prime minister himself, immunity from prosecution while in office. The bill passed overwhelmingly last month, and put an end to outstanding criminal proceedings against Berlusconi (which he and supporters say were politically driven).” The magazine is referring to the “Lodo Alfano”, a law that gives the premier a break from all trials against him for corruption, even though the fact “that this new law was a possible conflict of interest did not go by unnoticed” –comments Barigazzi-, “but Italians are feeling too poor to pay it much attention.” These last words cannot be considered as a compliment.


    Continuing the article, it appears clear that the peculiarity of the article is that, after the positive start, there is a “crescendo” accompanying the reader to a conclusion that transforms the initial sugar to a bitter taste. In fact, Barigazzi talks about the first laws approved by Mr. Berlusconi’s government that do not appear particularly concerned with the Italians’ real needs. And, as Newsweek notices, “after 10 years of near-zero economic growth—Bank of America predicts 0.5 percent growth this year—they are demanding security, financial and otherwise.” Silvio Berlusconi is trying to succeed in this task “with an iron-fist-in-velvet-glove competence.” “Emblematic” –emphasizes Barigazzi- “has been his ability to clean up Naples, buried for months under trash in part because the surrounding communities simply did not trust the government to manage the landfills.” Furthermore, with “a similar resolve he tackled the perception that violent crime is on the rise (despite data showing otherwise)” Newsweek continues, remembering the polemics between Italy and the European Union regarding laws against the Rom and troops in some Italian cities. In Barigazzi’s opinion, “such tough tactics could give Berlusconi the cover to tackle some of Italy's deeper issues.”


    The article ends with a sort of warning/prophecy on the premier: “Italians like him now, but what they really want is economic stability. Cleaning up trash and harassing immigrants won't be enough.” In fact, with time, Mr. Berlusconi will have to face more challenges, perhaps more difficult to overcome, such as defeating the economic crisis and lowerinng taxes. At his first misstep, he risks losing his popularity. And Jacopo Barigazzi explains this clearly.


    After a deeper and complete reading of the article, the inevitable question remains: is it really in praise of Mr. Berlusconi?





  • Facts & Stories

    Italy Using Soldiers to Fight Crime. Could It Really Work?

    Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won the April elections by pledging to make the country safer. After three months in office, he has offered the most visible initiative to his law-and-order campaign: his government decided to employ 3,000 troops in major Italian cities to patrol the streets and to help police reinforce security. Italian Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni and Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa explained that the six-month initiative, which began last Monday, August 4, will have the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Carabinieri working alongside local police. A total of 2,000 troops were placed at the disposal of 16 mayors to guard black spots and immigration holding centers in cities such as Rome, Milan, and Naples. Some units are watching “sensitive” sites in Rome, Milan, and Naples—51 in the capital, 20 in Milan, and one in Naples. The remaining 1,000 are patrolling the streets of Bari, Catania, Milan, Naples, Padua, Palermo, Rome, Turin, and Verona. In Rome as well as in the northern city of Turin on the first day of the initiative, at least four people were arrested on petty crime and drug trafficking charges. An additional 50 people have been identified by authorities in Turin. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said, “I believe we are on the right track to guarantee more safety for citizens, to give them the feeling that the government is there and it is serious about fighting crime.”

    Such a controversial decision stirred up the usual debate between the center-right government and the center-left opposition. Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa told the press that residents shouldn’t be afraid but that “thieves, rapists, and criminals” should worry. Antonio di Pietro, the leader of the Italy of Values Party, complained that the troops are being “reduced to the role of extras in Cinecittà”, the legendary Rome film studio. Some critics said that the deployment of 3,000 troops would do little, if anything, to reduce crime. Others condemned it as a superfluous measure that could prove counterproductive. “Putting troops on the street sends a dramatic message that the situation is more serious than it is in reality,” said Marco Minniti, the shadow interior minister of the center-left Democratic Party, the largest opposition party. Achille Serra, a former Rome prefect with a long background in law enforcement, called the deployment “useless and ineffective”. He is now a center-left opposition senator. “I’ll remind you that we are not in Beirut and I’m wondering what a soldier will do to address a burglary or mugging,” he said in a newspaper interview. Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said the presence of the armed forces was enough in itself to discourage criminals. “Citizens know the mere fact that the armed forces are on the streets… is in itself a deterrent. This is not a militarization of cities but a clear response to the perceived demand for greater security,” he said.

    Inevitably, this decision stirred discussion not only in Parliament but also among Italian citizens. I have decided to walk the sunny, summery streets of Rome and hear the mixed reactions across the city during the first days of this new initiative. The first day in front of the subway station in the working-class neighborhood of Rebbibia, people seem to think that that the government’s decision was a positive one. “I feel better, it is reassuring that there is someone around that you can trust and that knows how to help you,” said Alina, 29, a Romanian who works as a family caretaker. Alina uses the subway to go to work and worries about her safety while returning home. “Now that I look around and see the soldiers,” she adds, “I automatically feel safer.” Francesco, age 25, works as a shop assistant in downtown Rome. He said, “I am happy; I hope this will solve things and eliminate part of the crime.” I asked Alessandro, age 35, a Sardinian Grenadier and one of the soldiers on duty at this subway stop, what he thinks of this initiative. He replied, “We are here to guarantee safety. Of course, after 13 years of missions abroad in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, this seems easy to me. Residents are reacting enthusiastically; someone even offered to buy me a cappuccino and a croissant early this morning and there is a group of old women living near here that asks us every hour if we need a sandwich or a soda. It is a pleasant, homely atmosphere!”

    Claudia, a twenty-two year old student, has mixed feelings, “It would have been better to act against crime before this point; to avoid having to deploy troops, it is an exaggeration. What is important now is that they aren’t leaving us alone again, like before.” Her boyfriend, Simone, also a twenty-two year old student, expresses his fears, “The image of soldiers in the streets may appear intimidating not only to people living here in Rome but also to tourists.” Perhaps he is unaware of the decision of Roman authorities not to send soldiers into the historic areas. Gianni Alemanno, the new mayor of the Eternal City, had complained that gun-toting soldiers could scare off tourists and asked that they not be sent into tourist areas. The government complied with his request.

    The Romans seem to be getting used to seeing the troops in the streets. During a walk in the middle-class area of Via Nomentana, where there are embassies regularly patrolled by police, I met Laura, age 68, who is retired from work and who walks her dog through this neighborhood. “The soldiers make us feel safer but it is a sad fact that we have to use them,” she says, “Not to mention the risk that they could make it seem like things are worse than what they really are.”

    Matteo, age 20, a student who is waiting for the bus, is extremely critical of the government’s measure:

    “It could be a boomerang, it could hurt the country’s image abroad and even scare tourists away. Was it so necessary?”

    This is the same question that was posed by the Italian media after the government’s decision. Doubts arose because of data from a new study recently released by the Censis research center that shows, for example, that Italy has the lowest murder rate of the biggest European countries and it is falling. One union leader suggested that the military should be drafted, instead, into Italian building sites to combat a growing cause of death among Italians—fatal accidents at work, which Italy leads in across Europe, according to Censis.

    After the first six months, all doubts could be resolved once it is seen if the measure is effective or not.

    (Edited by Stephanie Longo)



  • Life & People

    An "Affair" to be Remembered

    This time, the controversy involves Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister and media tycoon and the woman depicted in Giambattista Tiepolo’s painting “Truth Revealed by Time”. According to Mr. Berlusconi’s wishes, a copy of this painting was placed as the backdrop of his media briefing room in Palazzo Chigi after he took office for the third time. Most likely, this painting was chosen because of its title since the Prime Minister wants to show the Italian public that time will tell if he has been unjustly persecuted by the judges who are trying to incriminate time.

    Apparently, the woman’s naked, firm, and well-rounded breasts, fully exposed in the original painting, have been covered by a white veil and are, therefore, no longer visible. The same thing was done to her navel. The Italian press is accusing Mr. Berlusconi of Victorian prudery; however, knowing his egocentric character, perhaps he thought that the attention of journalists and viewers would focus on the woman’s breast rather than on what he was saying in his speech. The media compared this censorship to the Vatican’s censorship of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes in the sixteenth century when the Congregation of the Council of Trent felt that some of the figures depicted in the Last Judgment were “obscene”. The task of painting a covering, called “braghe” (pants), over the questionable exposed parts in the Last Judgment was given to Daniele da Volterra, who received the nickname of “braghettone”.

    Silvio Berlusconi’s staff at Palazzo Chigi said that the exposed breasts could “offend the sensibilities of some people.” Paolo Bonaiuti, Mr. Berlusconi’s spokesman, added that some of the female staff at Palazzo Chigi had asked for the “retouching”.

    Vittorio Sgarbi, art critic and former deputy Minister of Culture, said that the decision to cover the woman’s breasts and navel was “madness, absolute madness” and added, “You cannot touch up a Tiepolo! What are they going to do with all the statues of naked women scattered in museums across Italy with busts that would make Pamela Anderson jealous? I hope that whoever came up with this absurd, mad, pathetic, comic, and futile idea did so without the knowledge of the Prime Minister.”

    Giancarlo Galan, governor of the Veneto region, which includes Venice, home of Giambattista Tiepolo, also criticized the censorship of the painting. Although he belongs to the same political party as Mr. Berlusconi, he did not hesitate to say that “It is not good to offend Tiepolo. Whoever came up with this grotesque and absurd gesture should be punished as they have offended a particular artist. The Prime Minister’s office has managed to offend one of the great artists of freedom.”

    It can’t help but be noticed that Silvio Berlusconi’s staff (if it is true that they ignored what was happening to the painting”, which was so ready to hide what could “offend the sensibilities of some people”, seems to be oblivious to what is being shown every day on television sets belonging to the Prime Minister and the state television sets controlled by his government. It is a never-ending parade of reality television shows like Big Brother and others that show young girls who dream of becoming a celebrity at all costs; all of whom don’t really care about what they are wearing, which includes mini skirts and bras that leave little to the imagination; not to mention the vulgarity of most of these shows, which lack good taste and etiquette.

    Is it so difficult for Silvio Berlusconi’s staff to take care of its viewers by promoting high-quality shows and censoring vulgarity? Should Tiepolo be censored while such television shows are considered “artistic” and, therefore, worthy of an audience?

    One thing is clear: if his staff wished to do the Prime Minister a favor by not letting Italians associate a woman’s breasts to his image, all of these rumors have created the opposite effect!



  • Un cimitero in fondo al Mediterraneo

    Un secco comunicato del governo: “Il Consiglio dei ministri ha approvato l’estensione all’intero territorio nazionale della dichiarazione dello stato di emergenza per il persistente ed eccezionale afflusso di cittadini extracomunitari”. La motivazione che ha portato a questa decisione è stata la necessità di “potenziare le attività di contrasto e di gestione del fenomeno”.


    Nel frattempo il Canale di Sicilia è quotidianamente solcato dai barconi della speranza e giorno dopo giorno sta diventando un cimitero nascosto in fondo ad un mare che si sta trasformando in un’immensa tomba. Giorno dopo giorno è sempre più difficile tenere la macabra contabilità dei morti. La notte scorsa almeno sette dispersi in mare, pochi giorni fa due bambini in tenera età morti di stenti durante la traversata e gettati in mare dal padre. Tra i disperati ci sono anche tanti bambini e molte donne incinte. Alcune hanno addirittura partorito durante il viaggio, sul gommone, davanti agli occhi di decine di altri immigrati. È un intrecciarsi di vita e morte lungo le rotte della speranza attraversate col cuore colmo di disperazione alla ricerca di un futuro migliore. Sono tante storie di uomini, donne e bambini che però passano inosservate ai nostri politici, occupati a litigare tra di loro senza trovare soluzioni valide. Storie incredibili come quelle degli “uomini-tonno”, cioè di coloro che, scampati al naufragio della “carretta del mare” su cui viaggiavano, rimangono per giorni aggrappati alle reti delle tonnare per salvarsi, ancora una volta, dalla morte in acqua. Tra di questi anche donne, alcune persino incinte, e bambini, tutti fortemente determinati a raggiungere Lampedusa, un lembo di terra che rappresenta il punto di partenza per una vita diversa, migliore. Storie incredibili di morti di cui non è giunta né mai giungerà notizia, a bordo di carrette naufragate senza che nessuno se ne sia mai accorto. Storie incredibili come il naufragio di Portopalo, quello della notte di Natale del 1996, riportato solo da pochi organi di stampa, avvenuto tra l’indifferenza generale, salvo poi piangere lacrime di coccodrillo cinque anni dopo quando la verità cominciò ad emergere dai resti umani che rimanevano impigliati nelle reti dei pescatori.



    I rappresentanti dell’Alto Commissariato delle Nazioni Unite per i Rifugiati (Unhcr), l’Organizzazione Internazionale per le Migrazioni (Oim) e la Croce Rossa Italiana hanno dichiarato recentemente che “il Mediterraneo si dimostra sempre più la via dei richiedenti asilo”. La portavoce in Italia dell'Unhcr, Laura Boldrini, ha spiegato: “I numeri parlano chiaro: un immigrato su tre di quelli giunti in Italia via mare nel 2007 ha fatto domanda d’asilo e uno su cinque ha ottenuto una forma di protezione internazionale. Il mare è sempre più la via di fuga per chi scappa da guerre e persecuzioni – ha concluso la portavoce dell'Unhcr - e dunque è importante proseguire negli interventi di soccorso in mare e insistere sul ‘modello Lampedusa’ nel cui centro di prima accoglienza operano dal marzo 2006 Croce Rossa, Oim e Unhcr per informare gli immigrati appena sbarcati sui propri diritti”. Il ministro degli Esteri Frattini ha rimarcato più volte che da sola l’Italia non può affrontare un fenomeno di questa portata, serve l’impegno dell’Unione Europea ed è importante “approvare il patto europeo per l’immigrazione entro la fine dell’anno. Su questi temi –ha concluso il ministro- lavoriamo da anni, ma oggi il momento è maturo”.



    Intanto le stime più prudenti parlano di diecimila morti annegati negli ultimi dieci anni sulle rotte tra l’Africa e le nostre coste meridionali. Considerando, poi, che ogni anno arrivano via mare circa ventimila migranti, si capisce che esiste un’alta possibilità di morire durante la traversata. Ogni cento clandestini che arrivano, cinque annegano. Per non parlare del fatto che nonostante l’inasprimento delle pene, l’istituzione del reato di immigrazione clandestina, il prolungamento del periodo di permanenza nei centri di detenzione, il flusso non diminuisce.

    Sia il passato governo Berlusconi nel 2003, sia il governo Prodi nel 2007, hanno firmato accordi con la Libia per cercare di fronteggiare il fenomeno dell’immigrazione clandestina e della tratta degli esseri umani. Nonostante gli accordi, tuttavia, salvo qualche sporadica partenza dalla Tunisia e dall’Algeria per la nuova rotta che porta alla coste meridionali della Sardegna, le imbarcazioni cariche di disperati nelle mani di trafficanti di esseri umani partono dalla terra di Gheddafi. La Libia chiede soldi all’Unione Europea per pattugliare i suoi confini che guardano il Sahara, da dove arrivano incontrollati i neri africani in cerca d’acqua e di una speranza di vita; la piccola isola di Malta non ha i soldi necessari per mantenere una flotta impegnata nei soccorsi in mare e si sente già troppo affollata per essere solidale. D’altro canto, l’Europa vive alla giornata tra mille allarmi, lutti, insicurezza e confini colabrodo.



    I migranti sono oltre due milioni, in maggioranza africani neri provenienti dal Sudan, dal Ciad, dal Niger e dal Corno d'Africa, oltre che dall’Egitto. Negli anni Novanta il colonnello Gheddafi aveva deciso di respingere questi migranti nel deserto da dove erano venuti, un metodo drastico che aveva percentuali di mortalità non diverse da quelle odierne nel Mediterraneo. Dopo oltre un decennio, ancora oggi resiste la massa di disperati pronti a rischiare persino la vita pur di raggiungere l’Europa. Una volta giunti in Italia, secondo i dati dell’Alto commissariato per i rifugiati, solo ad una minoranza, un quinto dei migranti, vengono riconosciuti l’asilo politico o la protezione umanitaria, grazie ai quali non sono più “clandestini”.



    La vera “emergenza”, tanto per usare il termine del recente decreto Maroni, è l’Africa ed il suo dramma, un qualcosa di troppo grande che non può essere risolto con articoli o commi di legge, con l’immigrazione clandestina vista come un reato. Quel che pochi sembrano capire è che la ricca Europa dovrebbe iniziare a creare investimenti in Africa, in modo da fermare le partenze. Anche perché la responsabilità di questa strage continua è prevalentemente nostra, della nostra globalizzazione che accetta tutti i movimenti di capitali, ma rifiuta le persone, tutti coloro che non riescono a vivere nei loro paesi e, rischiando la vita, tentano di sbarcare nel nostro mondo ricco e opulento, magari solo per mendicare. Anche perché in un paese ricco si può vivere di elemosine, mentre nei loro paesi d’origine la popolazione è aumentata e le produzioni sono state distrutte dalla crescita della produttività dei paesi benestanti. Tanti non accettano di morire in patria e decidono di rischiare il tutto per tutto, vedendo l’Europa come una sorta di terra promessa. 


    Nel frattempo, la sola maniera che i nostri governanti hanno per affrontare il problema è sfornare un decreto che “potenzia le attività di contrasto e di gestione del fenomeno”. Nessuna traccia di iniziative umanitarie, nessun tentativo di contrastare l’aumento di morti nel grande cimitero in fondo al Mediterraneo.


  • Life & People

    Watching the Soccer Match Italia-Romania

    Watching the soccer match at my father’s apartment is a must, especially since our national team is the world champion. Except this time it is not a typical match. According to the media it is simply “the mother of all matches:” Italy vs. Romania.

    It is an event that many interpret as more than mere sport, one that carries many implications beyond the soccer field and that touches on issues of racism, xenophobia, and politics. A reader of the extreme-left newspaper Liberazione started the argument days before: in a country as deeply racist as Italy, why should we support the national team which “represents the worst of Italy? Why choose to support the country seen by so many Italians as the receptacle for gypsies, vampires, and prostitutes?”

    It is a debate that has provoked many reactions, especially on the left, where some proponents of the Rifondazione Comunista Party, such as Manuela Palermi and Graziella Mascia, responded by enthusiastically suggesting that we support Romania against Italy. Others, such as Giovanni Russo Spena, found a compromise: “We are all Rom and Romanians. I am not going to support either Romania or Italy, but good soccer.” The opinion of the Ministro Roberto Calderoli (Lega Nord), instead, left us speechless: “The Romanians? Let them win the match if they agree to take the Roms back to Romania. I would only be sorry for Coach Roberto Donadoni who is from Bergamo, like me!”  

    So the expectations surrounding the event were incredibly high and transformed a soccer match into a potential opportunity for revenge, one of the many episodes that have created a strained relationship between Italian and Romanian diplomats. Through the press, the ambassador of Romania to Italy officially reminded us that in every competition there are losers and winners and that, of course, he wished that the team lead by coach Piturca would be successful. Though, he added, the best option would be if both teams could advance to the next round of the European championships.

    This attitude is typical of a supporter wishing to show some sense of fair play while not forgetting his diplomatic role! Despite fair play, tensions remained and prompted the city of Rome to deny the authorization to install wide screens in some parts of the city to allow the many Romanians, and of course the Italians, to watch the match in public. This absurd decision came after the advice given to Mayor Gianni Alemanno by Eugen Tertelac, a spokesperson for the Association of Romanians in Italy, who was worried about potential incidents between Italians and Romanians after the match as they both could use it as an excuse to vent previous grudges. Luckily other mayors did not adopt the same measure. In Turin, for example, and in many other cities wide screens were installed in strategic places and anyone could watch the match.

    Players on both teams tried to maintain low profiles and avoid any political comments on the match, even though the debate between the Italian and the Romanian governments about clandestine immigration inevitably left a deep mark. There were echoes of this in Romania, where the front page of the major newspaper Jurnalu National ran a headline which urged players to “chase out the macaronari.” The article continued in the same tone, characterizing the match as a time to revenge their honor which was disgraced by the xenophobic Italians. “All of the insults against the Romanians living in Italy,” the newspaper article continued, “should go back to those who caused them, multiplied by ten times.” No doubt the pre-match atmosphere was heated!  

    I decided to go to my father’s house and watch the match with him and his Romanian caregiver, Daniela. My sister, Carmen, and her 20 year-old son Ciprian also joined us for the occasion. He works in a restaurant and hopes that the Romanians do not win or humiliate the Italians, fearful of the reaction from his employer, a devoted fan of the Roma and Italia teams. Daniela prefers not to watch the match saying that, after all, “it is just a match,” and goes to another room with her sister to look at some photos that have just arrived from their family in Romania. My father is following the event in a rather sober way, as usual, and does not see any of the political implications. After the goal by Adrian Mutu, a Romanian player on Italy’s Florentine team, Daniela and her sister rush back into the room to see the replay and imagine what is happening at that moment at home. Ciprian is jumping as his cell phone starts ringing, and his friends call to comment on the magnificent goal. My father and I watch their joy and have no reaction, sure that there is still time. We are not particularly upset, and the image of them celebrating also cheers us up. Unfortunately, their joy soon ends. After a minute, Christian Panucci makes the Romanian fans freeze and this time the Italians are celebrating the goal; it is “friendly revenge” for the Azzurri. Ciprian is sad, but not too much, probably because Daniela brings us sandwiches, trying to chase away the bitterness of the moment. Emotions alternate until Mutu’s mistaken penalty – it is a deep disappointment for the Romanians who are so close to beating the world champions!

    The match ends in a draw. After so many highs and lows, a cold beer is the best way to celebrate the result that did not hurt any of us, Italians or Romanians. The living room in my father’s house is one happy oasis where polemics do not exist and the “mother of all matches” is seen as a friendly game between grandparents and caregivers, and nothing else.

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)


  • Facts & Stories

    Bush's Roman Holiday

    George W. Bush visited Italy again, one year after his previous visit to the country. On June 11 the American President arrived in Rome as part of a European tour, his last for the remainder of his tenure. The trip took Mr. Bush to Germany, Italy, France, Britain, and to his final European Union summit in Slovenia.


    In one year some things have changed here in Italy. For starters there is a new government—even  if the Prime Minister is not exactly a “brand new” one—in charge again for the third time, Bush's “old friend” Silvio Berlusconi.


    What haven’t changed, though, are the protests against Mr.Bush: thousands of people gathered in the center of Rome to demonstrate against the U.S. President’s visit. Marco Ferrando, a member of the Workers’ Communist Party, said: “We demonstrate against the government of the United States and its war policies, its social, military and environmental crimes around the world but also against the Italian center-right government which, as was the case with the former center-left one, is allied with the U.S. government, and thus co-responsible for such policies”. About 1000 people marched on the U.S. embassy in Rome to protest against Mr. Bush’s foreign policy. The march was accompanied by a heavy police presence. “Bush Terrorist,” “Warlord Bush”, “Italy out of NATO” were some of the slogans shouted by the protesters, who were mainly Italian but also included Americans of the Rome-based U.S. Citizens for Peace and Justice. A representative of the group, Stephanie Westbrook, stated that they were there to denounce Bush’s war crimes. “We don’t mean that as a slogan, it’s a well-documented case by now—she continued—(including) the criminal war against Iraq, torture and threats against Iran”. She also said: “We’ll also be calling for impeachment because it’s extremely important ... to establish a precedent for this crime to prevent future abuses of power.” The protesters followed Mr. Bush through all the steps of his visit, and outside the American Academy in Rome’s Villa Aurelia there were the usual slogans against the President, who was there to meet a group of young Italian entrepreneurs. They participated in the Fulbright Best, an exchange program planning their visit to the U.S. Mr. Bush urged them to ignore the “misinformation and propaganda” spread about his country and to learn the “first-hand truth about America” by visiting. “The best diplomacy for America, particularly among young folks, is to welcome you to our country,” he said. “We are compassionate, we are an open country, we care about people and we are entrepreneurial.”


    During the visit of the American President, Rome was practically under siege: commercial flights over the city had been diverted, 10,000 policemen had been mobilized, there were frogmen under bridges and snipers on roofs, and mobile phone signals were disrupted whenever the motorcade moved from a part of the city to another; dozens of bus and tram lines were also rerouted. Inevitably, it all fomented an incredible chaos in Roman traffic that, as a rule, is a real mess every day anyway. During Mr. Bush’s visit Rome was practically paralyzed, and it was not infrequent to hear a crush of people, yelling at Mr. Bush in different languages, as 15 Presidential cars passed and blocked their way. Not only Romans, but tourists as well, were burdened by the emergency protocol created to protect Mr.Bush.


    The troubles created by the visit yielded unexpected developments: in fact, because of the President’s trip, surgeons at the Policlinico Umberto I in Rome had to postpone a bone marrow transplant. Strange, but true, some places at the Hematology Unit were set aside as part of an emergency plan in place for Bush’s arrival. As a result, all surgical operations in certain units of Roman hospitals were postponed. This also stirred up protests against the American President, with many patients who truly lost their nerve and voiced their grievances, adding to all the shouting directed at the not particularly popular Mr. Bush.


    The American President met Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Pope Benedict XVI. This last meeting signaled a break from protocol: in fact the Pontiff decided to stand and wait for Mr. Bush’s arrival, before leading him up to the medieval St. John’s Tower. Typically, papal audiences take place in the pontiff’s private library. George W. Bush was the first head of state to be personally greeted by the Pope and led for a walk in the Vatican Gardens. The Holy See said the Pope wanted to show his gratitude for the hospitality extended to him on his recent visit to the


    After meetings, chaos and protests, President Bush’s Roman holiday ended in the most classic of ways: a romantic dinner with his wife Laura, in an effort to be, if only briefly, a “normal” tourist in Rome. The restaurant, L’Antica Pesa, is one of the most beloved places in the Trastevere area. The menu was typically Roman, with two first courses, “pasta cacio e pepe” and “amatriciana”, along with local specialties suggested by the restaurant’s owners—naturally pleased to have such illustrious guests.


    No doubt the memory of Trastevere by night will add a dose of sweetness to the rather bitter taste of George W. Bush’s last Presidential holiday in Rome.


    (Edited by Eleonora Mazzucchi)