Palinuro

Palinuro

No hesitations this time, no halfway measures, no roundabout routes. Straight to Naples, Capodichino airport, from Spokane, Washington. Late morning arrival, zero problems, caffé and sfogliatella first order of business. Hot, but it’s the humidity that gets to you, 80 degrees in Naples is not at all like 80 degrees in San Francisco. It is a Friday.

Message from my cousin Mimmo. We’re vacationing in Palinuro (which I already knew), come join us for the weekend, we have reserved a bungalow for you right next to our villa. We have no plans, no appointments, no internet, no house, no car. It’s a rare state of Nirvana. We have our telefonini and some dollars. Change some of those right away, switch to the vertiginously expensive euro. TIP: it’s always better to change to a currency in that currency’s home country.

So, what can I tell you about Palinuro, the ancient mariner? Well, let’s don’t talk about the ancient mariner, go to Wikipedia if you are interested, there IS a story. Let’s instead talk about the little town which is named after him. First of all, you can travel from Naples to Palinuro for free. Or maybe it just happens on Fridays. Be that as it may, we did honestly try to buy train tickets, but time was short and the lines were long and the ticket machines didn’t work. So we got on the train ticketless, resigned to paying the fine when the conductor came. But lo!, no conductor in sight for the entire 2-plus-hour trip, hence the proverbial free ride. And did I mention the free entertainment? Opposite us there sat a gentleman who would not stop obsessing about the train’s punctuality. On a little piece of paper he noted the arrival and departure times at each station, kept a tally of the number of seconds we were early or late, and a running (mono/dia)logue on the train’s performance. After the fourth stop it was all I could do to keep from ripping pen and paper from his fingers and tossing both out of the window!

All Roads lead to Rome

Spokane

Spokane


So, here’s a question: how does one get to Italy by the fastest and most economical route? Answer, one drives from one’s home on the Peninsula to San Diego on a Friday, drives back to the Peninsula the following Monday, pauses three days, then drives to Spokane, Washington. After five days in Spokane he boards a flight from Spokane to Seattle, a second flight from Seattle to New York, and a third from New York to Naples (not Florida, Italy!) Then he rides a train or a car from Naples to Rome, and voila, e’ arrivato!

I kid you not, friends, Romans and countrymen, this is the odyssey, or calvary, depending on your point of view. And I will spare you the details of the trasloco from hell. For there’s beauty, justice and righteousness in this chain of events, as I will explain below.

One goes to visit foreign cultures in part to experience and savor the differences relative to one’s own. In a sense, the starker the differences the more rewarding the visit to foreign parts. But what is the culture we have in the Bay Area? Multiethnic, multilingual, admixtures of Asian elements, European, South American, etc. etc. Everything is diffuse, boundaries are fuzzy, hybrid customs proliferate, cultural transitions become matter-of-fact and ordinary. Transitioning from such an environment to a foreign milieu is inevitably a gentle and gradual process for a traveler already cushioned against cultural shock by years of exposure to foreign customs and practices.

Il Teatro San Carlo a Napoli

Teatro San Carlo in Naples, across the street from Galleria Umberto and around the corner from the Royal Palace

Teatro San Carlo

Naples’ San Carlo Theater is the oldest operating theater in Europe.  Built in 1737, it has never missed an operatic season except in the period from May 1874 to December 1876, when, because of a severe economic crisis, financial support disappeared.  The San Carlo was built by King Charles of Bourbon, son of Philip of Spain and Elisabetta Farnese of Parma.  Charles gave rise to a dynasty which quickly shed all vestiges of Spanish influence and became, to all effects, an indigenous dynasty which endured through the turbulent Napoleonic period and came to an end only with the unification of Italy in 1861.  Naples, as the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (so-called for historical reasons), was, during the early Bourbon period, one of the most populous, beautiful, and cultured cities in Europe.

The construction of the Teatro San Carlo was only one aspect of a general urban renovation whose purpose was to give Naples a physical appearance in line with the dignity and the prestige of the capital of a great kingdom.  Within the scope of this general plan, the San Carlo was conceived as a fitting symbol of the royal power and of the dynasty’s support of the musical arts, a passion long inbred in the depths of the Neapolitan psyche.  The San Carlo replaced the old (1621) and small Teatro San Bartolomeo, which was eventually made into a church.

Italian Tours

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy


Starting in the spring of 2012, the Istituto Educazione Italiana will begin offering guided tours to Italy of approximately two-weeks duration. The tours will concentrate on history, art and culture, as well as gastronomy and leisure. 

The tours are organized by Mario Fusco and Angelica di Chiara, both natives of Italy and knowledgeable of the language and culture of the country. By using their extensive network of contacts in Italy Mario and Angelica are able to offer uniquely customized tours not available from commercial organizations. Mario and Angelica accompany each tour and provide value added in the form of language instruction, historical narrative, insights in the art and culture, and personalized interactions with “real” Italians in Italy. And of course they will deal with any unforeseen circumstances that might arise while traveling. The personal approach makes it also possible to contain costs and to offer significant value for the traveler’s money.

The first tour if offered in May-June 2012. Please go to the Italian Tours page for details.

Italian Travel Tips

1. DO fly a European carrier if possible. You will have many more choices of final destinations if the second leg of your trip originates in Europe.

2. DO get some euro’s at the airport, as soon as you arrive. Their exchange rates are competitive.

3. DON’T deal with banks if you can avoid it. Generally you have to have an account at a bank to have them do anything for you at all.

4. DON’T take much cash with you, and DO use the ATM’s. They are plentiful and the fees you incur are well worth the peace of mind.

5. In restaurants, forget the 15-to-20% tipping rule. Ten percent is plenty, and then only if you think you have received good service.

6. DO tip your porter after he has taken your bags to your hotel room. Figure one euro per bag.

7. DON’T, if you are over eight years old, order a glass of milk or a cappuccino with dinner.

8. Remember that in Italy the midday meal (‘pranzo’) is the main meal of the day. For an inexpensive but still good ‘pranzo’ DO try a tavola calda on occasion.

Little Known Italy – BOLOGNA

Le Torri di Bologna

Le Due Torri

Bologna is without a doubt one of the most underrated cities in Italy. The capital of Emilia-Romagna, it is a city of about 1/3 million people, with ancient roots in pre-Roman Etruscan culture, a rich artistic heritage, a well-preserved historical center, and a coherent integration of the best that Italy has to offer in art, cuisine, architecture, and lifestyle. With a long tradition as a university city, probably the first in Europe, it is enlivened by the cultural and social contributions of young people who come from all over the world to study there. It is famous for its towers, its portici, and its centro storico, among the best-kept in Italy following a careful policy of preservation and restauration. Bologna has long enjoyed one of the most efficient and dedicated city administrations in all of Italy, and this is reflected in the efficiency of its services, the care with which the physical environment is maintained, and the smooth functioning of its civic institutions.

The relative obscurity of the city (compared to Florence and Venice, say), is perhaps due to the lack of an overarching artistic or architectural masterpiece to serve as a magnet for the attention of tourists and art aficionados, such as the David in Florence or the Sistine Chapel in Rome. And in fact the artistic importance of Bologna is due primarily to an homogeneous aggregation of first-class architectural and artistic masterpieces out of which it would be difficult to single out a distinct work for special recognition.

Italian Citizenship Once More

La Farnesina

La Farnesina


Well, enough ranting and raving. I know several people (including myself), who share Gianni Stecchino’s predicament.  I would be interested in knowing how many of us there are and in exploring the possibility of getting something done by concerted mass action.  Could we write and all sign a letter of protest to the MAE?  Could we write letters to the NIAF?  Can we lobby friends and acquaintances here and in Italy?  Can we take out announcements in the Italo Americano and other publications?  Can we establish a formal organization of “disenfranchised Italians”, with an official agenda, a war chest, and whatever else it takes?  Any other ideas?

Reply to this post if you want to be heard, and we’ll see where this goes.

Italian Citizenship – continued

Repubblica Italiana

Repubblica Italiana

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why the current citizenship regulations that apply to Italians who became naturalized Americans are capricious and inconsistent.  First off it makes no sense that there should be a cutoff date, totally arbitrary, that separates the “haves” from the “have-nots”, so to speak.  Why should it make a material difference WHEN a person became a naturalized American?  Why should a person who became naturalized in September 1992 be allowed to retain his Italian citizenship, whereas a person who did the exact same thing in March of the same year  should be deprived of it?  Allowing double citizenship is either good or bad: if it’s good, then make the law retroactive and let everybody have Italian citizenship who otherwise meets the requirements for it,  if it’s bad then rescind the law and let NOONE have it.

Second, the current rules lead to absurd family situations.  Take the case of Italian Gianni Stecchino who emigrated to the USA in 1980 at the age of 25.  After a couple of years he marries and has a child, let’s say in 1983.  In 1985, after the canonical 5 years have elapsed, Gianni becomes a naturalized American.  Meantime the child grows up in America, does not speak Italian, feels only a distant connection with his father’s country of birth; in short, he is for all intents and purposes American.  Nevertheless, the child can now easily claim Italian citizenship, because he was born BEFORE his father’s naturalization, whereas his father cannot.  The father, who was born in Italy, who is fluent in Italian, who knows its history and culture, who grew up there and has undoubtedly friends and connections there, CANNOT be a citizen.  Even more absurdly, it is possible to concoct scenarios where persons who are two or three generations removed from Italy can be citizens, but Gianni Stecchino, born and educated there, of full Italian blood, cannot.

The Conundrum of Italian Citizenship

Mille lire

Mille lire

For the majority of people in the world the citizenship issue never arises: they are citizens of the country in which they are born and of which their parents are citizens.  For large numbers of people who have emigrated or otherwise been displaced from their country of birth the citizenship issue can be vexing.  A case in point is the status of those Italians who became U.S. citizens prior to August 15, 1992.

If an Italian immigrant became a naturalized American citizen before this date he automatically forfeited his Italian citizenship.  This was a little-known fact, because large number of immigrants never bothered to register with the AIRE (Anagrafe Italiani Residenti all’Estero), largely because the existence of the AIRE was itself a little-known fact.  Many immigrants, therefore, went through the American naturalization process without being aware of the negative consequence that such a move would have on their Italian citizenship.  Certainly some of them, had they known, would have paused to consider, and to perhaps change their plans.  In any case, they would have made a more informed decision, which is always preferable.

Many of these people would now like to recover their lost Italian citizenship, but when they try to do so they run against bureaucratic restrictions which seem capricious at best and downright punitive at worst.  The whole issue is clouded by inconsistencies and obfuscation to the point where many people eventually throw up their hands in frustration.  There are many reasons why this, while exasperating for the individuals involved, is bad for Italy herself.

Agriturismo in Italy

Italian Landscape

Italian Landscape

Agriturismo, the countryside kind of tourism that has been growing in Italy in recent years, is a sort of rural retreat, generally for the whole family, during which the vacationeer can relax and reconnect with nature in its various manifestations, including getting to know your friendly horse and cow and other farm animals.  A treat for the city slicker who thinks that eggs are made in a laboratory and milk comes from the interior of coconuts.   This being Italy, agriturismo is also closely related to the regional types of cuisine that can be sampled while enjoying your stay in the rustic surroundings of the fattoria or casale of your choice.  In fact, as shown by several polls in Italy, the culinary element is key, for most people, when choosing an eventual destination.  This was explicitly recognized by Agrietour, International Salon for Agriturismo in Arezzo, in recently organizing a contest to choose the best peasant dish from 20 entries submitted by preselected agriturismi from all parts of Italy,

The prizewinner was the casata, a dish from Latium, which is a kind of pie based on an ancient recipe and made of two different dough mixes which should layer and not intermix, a result that can be verified only when the pie is cooked and eventually cut.  As agriturismo continues to grow in Italy we can look forward to more such contests and sagre that will showcase the local culinary specialties connected to each agriturismo.  All good for the vacationing public, which stands to benefit from the increased competition and the resulting improvement in the quality of agriturismo fare.

If your intent is to relax and unwind,  an agriturismo vacation is hard to beat: the Italian countryside, magically timeless, the Mediterranean climate and its glorious vegetation, excursions to solemn pinete as spiritual as any church, the rediscovery of ancient unhurried rhythms and practices, top-notch food, group activities in a convivial setting ideal for bonding with your family and making new friends … what more could you ask?

Enjoy!