Monday, September 12, 2016

School AMICI - An Italian Haven in Cincinnati

by Jan Angilella

After studying Italian in Italy last year, one of the first things I did when I returned home was seek out ways to maintain my progress. I continued the lessons with the school in Italy via Skype, but I also returned to the Italian language school here in Cincinnati, School Amici.
The two hours a week at the school with the native Italian instructors encompassed grammar and fun conversation. I needed both as I continue my quest to keep improving and eventually, maybe, hopefully, get close to fluency. But I was curious about why other students were there.
Why were they studying this most beautiful language?  I found varied reasons but a few in common: a desire to learn their family’s native tongue, wanting to speak with the locals during an upcoming trip to Italy or a re-connection to ancestors.
“It’s a good way to keep in touch with my heritage in the middle of Germany here on the Ohio River,” said my fellow student Louis Solimine.  He’s originally from Brooklyn but has been in Cincinnati for 35 years.
Mike Trotta, Louis Solimine, Dominic Lemma and Eric Lombardo
Solimine, fellow students Eric Lombardo, Dominic Lemma and Michael Trotta have been studying Italian together for eight years at School Amici.  All four have family roots in Italy.
Lombardo said after studying the language and then going to Italy makes a difference in the experience. “I knew how to say things,” he said. “It adds a whole extra dimension to being there if you can speak the language. It’s a whole other layer of culture.”
Trotta wants to learn to speak the perfect Italian, since he grew up speaking and hearing the language spoken with a dialect. “It’s a whole different mindset when I’m there,” he said. “You get gun shy about not speaking correctly but you have to get over that. I can get by day to day but it’s the longer conversations that are difficult.”
Sue Zurface

Student Sue Zurface, a cyclist, attends classes so she can converse with her fellow bike riders when she returns to Italy for races. During a trip in 2014, she became fast friends with the owners and mechanics of a bike shop and went on a ride with one of the mechanics. He spoke no English, she spoke no Italian. “Our communication consisted of horrific attempts at each other’s mother tongue and a lot of hand signals,” she wrote in an e-mail.
She found School Amici in an Internet search and quickly advanced in the second level class. Her plan to return to Italy that fall hit a snag when she began treatment for stage III leukemia.  She went anyway, armed with the ability to converse at a basic level on most topics. “By the end of the week, the language no longer seemed foreign to me,” she said.
Zurface has since been back twice to Italy, once to ride the “Gran Fondo” race in the city of Cassino.  She’s still fighting the leukemia battle, she says, but she’s on a “good path.” Soon she hopes to go back and visit Calabria, the region of her roots.
School Director Michele Alonzo

School Amici was founded in 1984 by Federico Bilotti.  “I decided that the time was appropriate to provide the Cincinnati community with the opportunity to experience the Italian culture,” he wrote me in an e-mail.  Bilotti now lives in Aprilia, Italy, a small town in the Lazio region. He wrote that the idea for a school was born from second-generation Italians who wanted to get closer to their cultural roots.
Current school director Michele Alonzo, who’s been with the school for 25 years, the last 18 as director, said it’s rewarding to still see so much interest in Italian. “Italian isn't an international language. It’s not something you can speak everywhere you go, but it’s still one of the most fascinating ways of communicating.”
Some of the more common reasons students enroll in the classes are the pleasure of learning a new language and for travel, if they’re planning a trip to Italy.  “They want to learn more than ‘Buongiorno’ ‘Come stai?’,” Alonzo said“They like to participate and when they’re there, they want to show interest in the language.”
Today the enrollment averages 40 students, divided in four levels from Beginning to Advanced. The two-hour classes are held once a week at the Academy of World Languages in O’Bryonville for ten weeks.
Valeria Di Cristofaro

Instructor Valeria Di Cristofaro told me how much teaching here and sharing her experiences from home helped her deal with homesickness.  “When I came here, I was far from my family, my home in Italy. The students helped to take away some of the nostalgia I was feeling.”
There are several students with family origins from Italy and they enroll in the school to reconnect with those roots.  “The students want to go there and discover where their ancestors came from,” Alonzo said. There are others who want to get acquainted with the language before they get to Italy and have to communicate with locals in a small town, where nobody speaks English.
And of course, there are some who like to learn Italian because of what the language and the country still represent to people.  “The dream to live la dolce vita,” Alonzo said. “They really feel like Italians have the best life in the world. The food, the weather, the art, panoramic views. They think about the paradise of Italy.” He continued, “Learning the language helps them feel a little bit more Italian. They feel a part of that world.”
School Amici has relationships with “sister schools” in Italy, in Siena, Sorrento, Todi and Recanati.  If you really want to speak with the locals, get a basis here in Cincinnati and then go to Italy and enroll for a week. You can’t do much worse than living in the middle of Tuscany or on the seaside of Sorrento for a vacation.
I think Trotta has the right idea: he wants to just go rent a house in a small town in Italy, where no one speaks English and live there for six months. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me! Andiamo!
Want to learn Italian? The next session starts Wednesday, September 28 at 6:30pm.
Go to for information.  The school is donating 10 percent of class fees to the Italian Red Cross Relief Fund for the victims of the earthquake that struck Italy on August 24.
Some of the School AMICI students with their native teachers

Friday, May 27, 2016

Italian or Not Italian?

One of the recurrent questions when talking to an Italian American fellow here in the USA is: "How do I get Italian citizenship?". When it comes to requirements for citizenship of the Belpaese, there is a lot of confusion for the applicant. As usual, Italian bureaucracy makes no process easy to understand and to execute. So here is a concise explanation of what to check before applying.

An Italian law that came into force on August 15, 1992 states that Italian citizenship can be conferred by bloodline (jus sanguinis): in simple words, the descendant of an Italian citizen is already an Italian citizen; therefore the citizenship is recognized by the Italian government upon submitting application and related evidence. The applicant must produce documentation that everyone in his/her direct line of ascendants maintained uninterrupted Italian citizenship until he/she was born.

It sounds easy, but it is a little more complicated than that. A few conditions make some people scratch their head when dealing with the Italian consulate or municipality offices in Italy. Here is what they have to consider:

·        The Italian ancestor (parent, grand-parent, great grand-parent) had to be alive after March 17, 1861, since Italy was unified on that day. Before then, there was not an Italian country and therefore no Italian citizens.

·        The Italian ancestor must NOT have become a citizen of the United States (a process called “naturalization”) before July 1, 1912. Prior to that date, the Italian law was different and did not allow passing citizenship.

·        The Italian parent must NOT have naturalized American before both the applicant’s birth date and the date of August 15, 1992. So Italian citizens naturalized before the above date lost their citizenship at that time and cannot pass it anymore to their children, either they were born before or after that date.

·        The Italian ancestor must NOT have naturalized before the birth of the immediate descendant or any of the ascendants in the direct lineage of parents through which the applicant is eligible.

·        There is also a difference related to the gender: no limit on the number of generations is in place for paternal line. However, in case the ancestor in the direct lineage of the person applying for citizenship is a woman born before 1948, she can only be considered Italian through her father (provided he did not naturalize before she was born). This woman can pass jus sanguinis only to her children, male or female, who were born after January 1, 1948.

However, there have been challenges and appeals for cases that would be excluded by this last rule. In these cases, the application can be presented directly to the Civil Court in Rome, since the Italian Supreme Court has declared this rule unconstitutional. The Italian consulates are still bound by this restriction and cannot grant citizenship under these conditions.

If born in or after 1948, having one qualifying Italian parent is sufficient for deriving citizenship, even if the other Italian parent naturalized or otherwise became unable to pass on citizenship. Sometimes that qualifying parent is the foreign-born mother, because foreign women who married Italian men prior to April 27, 1983 automatically became Italian citizens and, in many cases, retained that citizenship even when their Italian husbands later naturalized.
Also a girl of minor age could keep her Italian citizenship after the naturalization of her father, but she still might not be able to pass her own citizenship to her children, particularly if they were born before 1948.

 In conclusion, everything is much smoother if the ascendants who emigrated in the USA never naturalized and remained only Italian. In that case the citizenship is passed to the descendant by each Italian parent in line with the principle of jus sanguinis. If instead an ascendant in the direct lineage became American and gave up the Italian citizenship (in the USA this was mandatory a few decades ago), it is a matter of birth date, gender and laws that have changed in time.
An Italian who has acquired a foreign citizenship (such as American) after August 15, 1992 does not lose his or her Italian citizenship and can retain both (dual citizen).

The process of acquiring Italian citizenship takes not less than two years from the date of application, also depending on the consulate that handles and reviews the papers. Often it is necessary to prove the uninterrupted lineage by requesting certificates of birth, marriage, death to the municipal office of the Italian town where the ancestor was born. This can require additional time, especially in case of big Italian cities.
All documents must be in Italian language or translated into Italian. If a document is issued by an American authority, the applicant must get an apostille from the Secretary of State where the document was issued. This document validates that certificate outside the USA.

Since 2015 the application with all documentation is submitted online through the website of the Italian Consulate located in the applicant’s circuit of residence. 
In bocca al lupo! (Good luck!)

Monday, August 11, 2014

10 Ways I'm a Different Me in Italy

When I live in Italy for extended periods, the culture gradually seeps inside my skin until I think like "they" do.  Here are some examples:

1.  I eat fruit after every lunch and dinner.

2.  From the time I walk to the bus stop at the corner of 4th & Main and catch the TANK Express for the airport, when I am in Italy I never touch a private car.  We walk, ride a bike, catch a bus or take the train everywhere.  In no way do I feel even the slightest bit limited. Quite the opposite.  I feel free and enjoy the process of getting wherever I'm going so much more.

3. When I shop at Kroger's or Trader Joe's, I always have re-usable bags in the back of my car, but forget to bring them inside 95% of the time.  In Italy they charge 25 cents for a plastic bag and I never, ever, ever forget.  In fact, when I took a little trip to Parma this week, I made sure to pack a shopping bag.

4.   I use less energy.  Of course, I don't really have a choice.  Our apartment has a quota for electricity based on square meters.  At home I'm completely oblivious to how much energy it takes to run the dishwasher.  Here, if I forget and try to do laundry while the air-conditioner is running, the city cuts me off.  Literally.  Which is when I have to grab the key and run downstairs to the meter closet to flip the switch back to the "on" position.

5.  Michele and I go grocery shopping together, pulling our little grocery cart behind us.  That's what Italian couples do.  In fourteen years together in the United States, I think we might have accidentally ended up in Kroger's together twice - and it seemed like a colossal waste of time.

6.   In Cincinnati I put on a pot of traditional American coffee every morning.  In Italy I always drink espresso.

7.  Eggs for breakfast in Italy would be absurd.  I always eat a sweet pastry or cereal with milk.

8.  Walking is a form of entertainment and everyday Michele and I take a "passeggiata" in the late afternoon or after dinner to see what everybody else is doing in town, if there's a ship at the port, how long the lines are for gelato, whether the sea is calm or wavy, do a little window shopping.  It's social.

9.  By the end of our stay I am regularly using the bidet - not as often as the Italian ladies - but consistently - and it makes a lot of sense washing the dirtiest parts more often instead of taking so many showers.

10.  I own an iron and a drying rack in Italy and actually use them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Learn Italian from the Back of a Box

I made a pretty wild purchase at the supermercato yesterday: a boxed mix called Torta della Nonna and it's cooling on the counter as I write.  It was my first and I learned a lot more than just how to make a cake.

It looked so easy on the shelf!
Very quickly, the preparation became a joint project, me reading the 16 steps of directions out-loud to Michele who would then correct my pronunciation.  A lot of the words were ones I had never used or heard before: serbandone (laying aside part of it), miscela (mix), bucherellare (to poke holes). This was no American -" add 2 eggs, half-a-cup of water and put it in the oven" kind of mix.

One of the steps that puzzled me was what to do with the mix they told me to save, ending up with an extra couple of tablespoons.  We finally figured out it was to dust the counter-top (yes, the counter top - Italian companies assume that specialized equipment is not necessary and that counter tops are clean) where I would roll out the pastry for the top of the cake.  That's when I realized the average Italian housewife does not keep flour on hand as a staple.  She buys her bread at the panificio, her pastries at the pasticceria, her focaccia at the focacceria.  Why keep extra flour around?  Space in the single food cabinet in the typical Italian kitchen is limited enough already.

Of course there was the constant need to mentally convert back and forth from the metric system.  This is easier in Italy than when I am at home trying to fix an Italian recipe in my Cincinnati kitchen - but it's still intimidating to see everything on the back of the box in grams:  350 g di miscela base per l'impasto, 10 g di pinoli,  forno a gas preriscaldato a 180 centigradi.  

Not big, but everything we Americans need (dishwasher & microwave).
When you move in  the only things in the kitchen are the tiles and pipes sticking out of the walls.

Maybe the weirdest observation I made during my cake-baking Italian lesson was the way a foreign culture can get inside your brain and change how you solve problems.  I got to the step about mattarello and realized we didn't have a rolling-pin.  My natural instinct in Cincinnati would have been to run to the store and buy one.  But not  here.   It didn't even occur to me.  See that clear glass bottle in the dish drainer, one we usually take to the man at the "Vini Sfusi" store to fill with wine?  It was perfect!

Mamma mia!  I'd hate to see how much time it would take Grandma to make this cake without the convenience of a mix.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

How School Amici Made Me A Saint

by Leslie Leverone (Intermediate Italian student at School Amici)

Many people and especially my teachers have asked me over the years why I take Italian.  I often answered that my family was from Italy, or that that I just liked to go to the opera. After spending some serious time at School Amici, I have decided that the reason I take Italian is to help me develop moral excellence.
Leslie in Florence, Italy
It sounds pazzo (insane), but taking a language involves the development and execution of many heartfelt virtues.  And, I devote ogni mercoledì (every Wednesday) to the cause.  Each week I motivate to courage and bow to humility. What normal adult would spend two hours a week being scrutinized and corrected for illiteracy after spending a lifetime engaged in education?  Where else will people help you finish your sentences because you have just developed a fatal stutter? Più umiltà, insieme con la simpatia, viene per quelli con difficoltà di linguaggio. (More humility comes as well as sympathy for those with speech impediments). Everyone knows that the good teachers at School Amici encourage their students to often practice speaking the Italian language.  During one intervallo (break time), I decided to take their advice and I asked my teacher, Gerardo Perrotta, a question.  I knew the topic of hobbies would be safe, because the word “hobby” is the same in Italian and in English! I began…
"Signor Perrotta, ha qualche hobby?” (Mr. Perrotta, do you have any hobbies?). Now many of you know…but I didn’t at the time, that Gerardo Perrotta is passionate about stamp collecting.  In fact he recently authored a book, Phila-Italy Americana.  The book is about famous Italian-Americans on postage stamps.  Fortunately our conversation went one-sided and all I had to do was act interested and smile!  But…after our conversation, I kept wondering, who in the world was Franco Bollo?  Signor Perrotta had mentioned him in about every other sentence.  Sure I had heard of many famous Italian Americans like football coach, Vince Lombardi, and banker, Amadeo Gianni. I recognized singer, Rosa Ponselle, and everyone knows the professional boxer, Rocky Marciano. But who in the world was Franco Bollo?
After class I “googled” Franco Bollo.  Results showed a punk rock band and a Facebook Member. I did not have a Facebook account, so I searched for information about the “bad boys in the band!”  No luck …they were Swedish! At the time, I didn’t think to go to “Google Italia,” so I resorted to the usual frantic search through the textbook.  Yes… I did find Franco Bollo.  He was waiting for me, and sitting right there in the glossary. Franco Bollo or rather "francobollo", was listed as a postage stamp!
È interessante che quella sera mi ha portato alcune nuove virtù.(Interestingly, that evening led me to some new virtues). I added temperance, diligence, patience, and wisdom!  I even introduced myself to the saints while I amped up serious piety.  St. Thomas said, “The virtue of real humility consists in keeping oneself within one’s own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submit to one’s superior.”  I quietly thanked Tom and decided to restrict any further Italian conversation.  So I did not register this term for Advanced Conversational Italian #105, because I was penning my new Italian book, How School Amici Made Me A Saint

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Tale

by Michele Alonzo
Area Representative for World Heritage Student Exchange Program

When Cecilia arrived to Cincinnati from her Italian hometown, Turin, on August 18 this year, the last thing she expected was to recover from the jetlag in a hospital bed, under general anesthesia. Only hours after landing on the American continent, Cecilia was evaluated for a sudden abdominal pain at a medical facility in Mason, Ohio. Diagnosis: acute appendicitis. Treatment: urgent appendectomy. Against all odds!
Cecilia after surgery
Being an Italian exchange student and having never been in the USA before, what better welcome could she have had from her host family than holding hands while she was being wheeled to the operating room only 24 hours after her arrival. Everything went nicely and smoothly. Her American mom, Lisa, spent the whole night with her in the hospital after surgery; she was there when Cecilia woke up and helped with her first American meal: cold, orange Jello!
Lisa and Mike Ruggiero encouraged and emotionally supported her before and after surgery; Cecilia could not have had better care by her new family during those days. This episode ended up as one of those stories to tell to her grandchildren someday. What a wonderful moment of bonding for Cecilia with the Ruggiero family. She was never scared and felt always part of that family that she had met only 24 hours before. She was comfortable from the first moment with those American parents who reassured her and her natural family in Italy, just like they had known each other for years.
Cecilia had to skip the first four days of school to recover from surgery, but before walking into Kings High School to meet teachers and classmates, she was already well known as the Italian girl who was in the operating room the day after arriving in the USA.
Cecilia lost a small part of her body, but she gained a lifetime experience and a true loving relationship. She understood that odd and difficult situations often become a way to bond with people and realized that love can stretch across countries, cultures and languages.

Cecilia and her American mom Lisa
She is now spending her first Christmas in the United States with her host family, enjoying the holiday spirit of their household and already missing her acquired relatives. In a few weeks she will go back to Turin to reunite with her natural parents after about six months. She will leave her appendix in Mason, Ohio, but she will carry in her heart the tender care of the Ruggieros who treated her like a daughter since the first day, supporting her in a difficult moment, thousands miles away from her hometown.
Lisa and Mike will visit Cecilia and her family during their trip to Italy this summer. They plan to see many places, but no Italian hospitals, for sure!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

History on a Square Inch

by Michele Alonzo, School Amici Director

Gerardo Perrotta is one of the first Italians I met when I came to Cincinnati, 23 years ago. We have worked in the same College of Medicine for over two decades and he has been a teacher at the Italian language School Amici for the past seven years. When I first heard from Gerardo about his plan to write a book about Italian themes stamps, he was not even teaching for the school and my kids were probably still playing hide and seek. The project was interesting and innovative;   considering that Gerardo has lived in the USA for a long long time and is passionate about Italy and its history, I had no doubt that his book would be engaging and interesting for both Italian and American readers.  Gerardo has worked for many years on a diligent research, involving many sources both here and in Italy, to complete his book and, during all these years, has collected interesting facts on many Italians who have influenced the history of the United States during many centuries. So when this past spring he told me that the book was ready to be published, I was definitely glad that we readers could finally enjoy the end result of his intellectual dedication to a project he had at heart. I was also sure that each one of us, and not only stamp collectors, would like the publication, while being educated on the life of famous Italian Americans.

There are many ways to tell the Italian American history and Gerardo found a unique novel one in his book,” Phila-Italy Americana, Italian Themes on United States Postage Stamps”. Having collected stamps over many years, he discovered that there are many US stamps that have a clear Italian theme and many others whose connection to Italy is not so apparent. 
I think that Phila-Italy Americana is a book for any Italian American interested in learning about their heritage and for all those who appreciate Italian culture in general. The book is an easy read and lends itself to initiate conversation as each stamp presents an encapsulated view of our rich history. These stamps tell stories of significant events that led to the discovery and progress of our nation; they feature historical figures some of whom have never been to the United States and much less knew of its existence. The book also profiles a vast array of art and cultural items that have become part of the US national treasure. Many Italians have crossed the Atlantic Ocean during the last few centuries to come to the USA. The many interesting details gleaned from these stamps reflect Gerardo’s genuine interest to share with pride the contributions and legacy of these immigrants to the modern country. Their sacrifices coupled with many Americans who admire Italian art, culture, music and language; their contribution has allowed Italians to grow as the fifth largest ethnic group in the United States.

We modern Italians are the beneficiary of those who struggled to establish a foothold in this country. The story draws us closer as Italian Americans because it belongs to all of us. It swells our pride in our heritage and appreciation for this great country where we live.
Gerardo Perrotta's book symbolically embodies the pride of those who helped building and shaping up the United States of America, sometimes sacrificing their life for a better future. So if you are an Italian American, you will particularly enjoy this publication. I also think that the book could be an affordable meaningful gift for a relative or friend during the upcoming holidays and something to preserve for the generations to come.
The book is available in print and electronic format on, and
Buone Feste!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Alone, But Not Lonely

by Karkie Tackett (Advanced Student at School Amici)

Karkie's place in Siena
I went to Italy alone because, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “I wanted to live deliberately.”  I wanted to find my own way, and I wanted to speak and hear the language that I remember from so long ago.  The sound of that language (Italian) brings many memories of courtesy, history, happiness and tradition.  In this frightening world, I wanted to be reminded that in Italy, life is beautiful, slow, and celebrated.  I hoped that I could bring a little of that happiness home with me.
In Italy, I wanted to stay long enough in one place to learn the names of people in a nearby bar or shop.  I wanted to learn the streets, take long walks, see ancient art and architecture, meet new friends and try new types of food.  I didn’t know which town would be the best, but a friend in Rome told me that his first choice would always be Siena.
When Michele Alonzo, Director of School Amici, heard that I was thinking of Siena, he suggested that I should contact the school Saena Iulia.  I looked online, wrote a brief e-mail, and quickly received the first of many kind and generous messages from that school.  Siena, and Saena Iulia, would be mine!
The school is located in an ancient palace directly behind the Duomo.  It’s in the center of Siena and enjoys an easy rapport with stores and bars all around.  From the open windows of the school, you can hear singing, shouting and laughing…all very joyous and all very Italian.
Every day at school, we had conversation in the morning, we enjoyed a coffee during the break, and we finished class in time for a lunch with the other students.  No one wanted to speak English, and so we continued to practice our Italian during meals, over the afternoon and during our walks.
Coffee break with students
The school offers excursions and helps with arrangements such as lodging but it is not a tourist agency.  It is a serious school with expert, well-educated instructors who are native speakers of Italian.  It has a rigorous curriculum and the lessons are stimulating.  I have always been discouraged by the conjunctive tense…but my teacher, Signorina Sabrina, taught it well and I think that (penso che) in the future, it will be (sia) easier for me.
After the lessons, we went together to explore Siena and to eat very, very well.  We discovered museums, churches, parks and we also discovered a typical soup called ribollita, sformato di formaggio (kind of baked cheese), whole roasted onions, and the delicate pastry called ricciarelli.   During a visit to Assisi, our director, Mauro Faleri, took us on a marvelous tour of the works of art in the church of St. Frances.  We explored the town of Assisi and found a salumeria (deli) where all the sausages and hams were of boar.
My memories of Siena are made up of many small pieces.  I want to list some of them: when you understand Italian but you remain silent, you sometimes overhear other conversations.  I was surprised to hear two bus drivers speaking rapidly about a woman.  I heard one man saying “….but she’s from Naples; and that is a big problem.”  (Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask what the problem is with Neapolitan women). I got the giggles with an Italian lady while we were waiting at a bus stop.  We both hoped that when the bus came, our driver would be that stupendously handsome one I had seen the day before. 
By mistake, I think I insulted a woman in a grocery store when I asked for dadi di porcini (mushroom stock cube)  “We don’t have any dadi here, signora!” she said, with a little edge to her voice.   She did, of course, have real porcini for sale. One waiter told me he is a student of film, and I looked like a famous American actress, but he couldn’t remember who.  This got my attention!  I insisted that he tried to remember.  Finally, he said it was Gena Rowlands.   I resemble Gena Rowlands to him.  I’ll take that!   He was a fine boy in a great trattoria.  I returned to eat there two more times (Us American actresses are very loyal!). 
learned a very useful word: scorciatoia (shortcut). A fine word. In Siena, the shortcuts are varied and glorious.
Liz, Mauro, Carol and Karkie
I travelled in Italy by myself but in Italy, you are never alone. The Sienese, like most Italians, are a little formal (we must always greet each other with buongiorno ….always), but warm, and welcoming.  They want to help visitors and they love to chat.  My classmates at Saena Iulia (Juliet, Carol and Liz….God bless you all) were marvelous and I hope to see them again and again. My favorite thing to hear was "But madam, you speak Italian". Thanks to my teachers Michele, Mariateresa, Mauro and Sabrina, it is almost true! I said to one man that my Italian is a little rusty. He laughed and said: "Then you must come back to remove the rust". I think that he is right.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Un Espresso, per Favore

by Michele Alonzo (School Amici Director)

Art in a Cup
It is probably the sentence that any beginning Italian students is able to say when entering a café in Italy “Un espresso, per favore”. But it may be more complicated than you think if you consider how many types of coffee beverage you can order in Italy.
As well illustrated in a famous 1997 Bozzetto’s animated cartoon, comparing the habits of Italians with all other Europeans, having a coffee in Italy may require an extensive tutorial.
It is a fact that you can have at least a dozen of different variations of beverage with coffee to enjoy la dolce vita. The following list describes the most common types:

Doppio: two regular espresso in the same cup (50 ml)
Lungo: A longer espresso, containing more water and therefore less strong (35 ml)
Ristretto: A concentrated espresso; a very strong coffee! (20 ml)
Macchiato caldo: Espresso with a few drops of warm milk
Macchiato freddo: Espresso with a few drops of cold milk
Corretto: Espresso with a shot of liquor (grappa or anisette)
Con panna: Espresso with whipped cream on top
Freddo: Cold espresso served with ice in a glass
Cappuccino: Espresso (1/3) with warm milk (1/3) and milk froth on top (1/3)
Caffè mocha: A cappuccino topped with cocoa powder
Caffelatte: A glass of warm milk with an espresso added in it
Marocchino: Cappuccino with chocolate dusted on top
Affogato: a scoop of vanilla gelato topped with a hot espresso
Decaffeinato: Espresso made with decaffeinated coffee

Classic espresso is technically hot boiled water mixed with ground coffee beans in a specific ratio. That is the key word: ratio. In fact there are approximately 0.3 ounces of coffee to one fluid ounce of water in a single shot espresso.  About the same quantity is used to prepare a drip-brewed coffee cup, which instead contains 8 fluid ounces of water. So it is intuitive that the concentration of an Italian espresso is eight time the one of a regular average cup of coffee at an American restaurant.
Also due to the higher than atmospheric pressure involved, in the first case the mixture of water and steam reaches temperatures well above 100 °C, causing a more efficient extraction of caffeine and flavors from the grounds, and resulting in a stronger brew than the one obtained by drip brewing.

Moka Express Bialetti
It is thought that the word “espresso” originates from the procedure to prepare the coffee, by which hot water is forced at high pressure through the aromatic ground powder. However, this word in Italian also means “speedy, quickly”; in fact there are treno espresso (a faster train), and raccomandata espresso (a piece of mail delivered quicker than regular mail).  Considering that Italians are always on the run because chronically late, I would lean toward the second origin…
The history of Italian coffee goes back to the late 1800’s when Angelo Moriondo in Turin first presented a patented way to prepare the hot beverage having water pressurized by steam passing through the ground coffee. A few years later other Italians improved the procedure by introducing on the market an espresso machine that could make a coffee in a few minutes.
But the popularity of homemade coffee really became widespread with the introduction of the mass produced Moka, the machine invented by Luigi De Ponti and patented for businessman Alfonso Bialetti in 1933. Still today the Bialetti company produces the “Moka express”, an aluminum pot with bakelite handle, which has become an iconic design, and considered a piece of art displayed at the MOMA in New York City.

The difference between the homemade coffee and the one you order in a café is the pressure of coffee extraction, which is about 22 psi in the Moka and 130 psi for a real espresso. Also the foam emulsion produced by a Moka is not as dense as the crema (literally cream) that you can taste on top of a single shot espresso.
San Marco Square, Venice
Whatever type of coffee you order, if you are on a budget, make sure that you sip it just standing at the counter. Sitting at a table can double the price and if you happen to be on San Marco Square in Venice, an espresso can easily cost you about ten dollars! You could say “Who cares, I am in Italy”. And that’s exactly what counts. How can you have a bad time when you start your day tasting the unique aroma of caffe' espresso, in front of the Venetian Laguna or the Spanish Steps, with a street artist singing Volare…

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Italian Art in a Nutshell (#2)

by Kris Killen Olberding 
(art aficionado, empowered female, and administrator at the Art Academy)

Italian Art in a Nutshell features a follower of Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi, and her masterpiece "Judith Slaying Holofernes,” 1618-20. 
Gentileschi was a highly accomplished early Baroque painter with the rare distinction of being a female artist of the era who achieved a high level of respect and fame. Born in Rome to a painter, Gentileschi worked alongside her father in his workshop, and like him, she was profoundly influenced by Caravaggio. Her work often depicts strong, female protagonists from mythology or the Bible. This particular work is gory and violent, telling the dramatic tale of the widow Judith who sought revenge against Holofernes, the general who besieged her town. Judith seduced him, got him drunk, and with the assistance of her maid, decapitated him with his own sword, taking his head as a trophy for her people. Caravaggio's influence can be seen in the bold brushwork, vigorous action, rich hues, and dramatic play of light illuminating the dark and horrifying moment that Judith attacks Holofernes.

Speculation abounds that Gentileschi was attempting to exorcise her own demons through such works of female empowerment, since she herself was famously the victim of rape at the hands of her art instructor. The lengthy trial that followed was very public, and the artist herself was openly tortured and interrogated during testimony. Amazingly, the court ruled in her favor, and her rapist was sentenced to one year in prison, which he never served. In an attempt to restore her virtue, Gentileschi’s father arranged a marriage for her in Florence, where the brash, young artist thrived, displaying tremendous skill at marketing herself and her work to the rich and famous, including the Medici family. To this day, she stands as a symbol of indomitable female spirit, and continues to hold her place in history as one of the boldest, most defiant, and progressive artists of her time. This painting resides in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence.