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The Festival of Saint Agatha By Laura Fortunato Petrik With Andrea Meloni
The Legend of Befana by Christine Meloni
A rare view of Rome: Learning Italian in Quick Time By Frances M. Sanfilippo
Indro Montanelli: Le Stanze By Carlo Mignani
Capodanno a Roma, A Roman New Year: Past and Present by Carlo Mignani
San Marino:  Champions in Longevity by Carlo Mignani
Studying Italian Culture in The United States and in Italy Gilda Baldassari & Dawn Hayes
Growing Up in Fascist Italy
by Andrea Meloni
Natale in Italia tra ieri e oggi (Christmas in Italy, Then and Now)
Who are the Milanesi of Milan? Understanding the People of a Target Culture by Christine Foster Meloni

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The Festival of Saint Agatha
By Laura Fortunato Petrik With Andrea Meloni


Download Italian version of this article

In Sicily, the festival of Saint Agatha is regarded as the most important annual event on the island. Held in Catania, this festival is celebrated on a grandiose scale to commemorate the birth of Saint Agatha, the patron saint of the city.

In order to understand the significance of the festival, it is necessary to know the historical context of this young patroness. According to legend (or history), Saint Agatha was born in the third century AD in Catania proper. After rejecting the love proposals of a Roman prefect during her teen years, she was persecuted for her Christian beliefs and subjected to immense torture including the cutting off of her breasts. For this reason Saint Agatha is often depicted in iconography carrying her removed breasts on a tray. In fact, during the festival of Saint Agatha, small, breast-shaped cakes of ricotta and candied fruit (such cassatas cassateddi or minnuzze of Saint Agatha) are sold with a cherry atop. Saint Agatha is revered in Catania even today because according to legend, she saved the city from an earthquake and the plague. Even after much agony and the cutting of her breasts, Agatha survived the anguish and remained faithful to God. She was imprisoned shortly after where she later died in 253 AD. Today the remains of the patroness are buried in Catania at the Abbey of Saint Agatha.

The celebrations for Saint Agatha take place annually in Catania beginning February 3rd, her birthday, and ending two days later on the 5th. The festival draws approximately one million participants both local, and from all over Italy and abroad. While the most important events take place on the final day of the festival, each of the three dates is special and unique in its own right.


The festival begins of February 3rd with a grand opening ceremony. Local authorities and provincials bearing coats of arms, flags and banners, commence the revelry with a procession through the Church of Saint Agatha. The statue of the saint, decorated with precious stones, is placed on a special silver carriage known in Catania as the "fercolo." In the evening hours the choirs sing holy songs to honor Saint Agatha while the sky is lit by an impressive fireworks display. During the night between February 3rd and 4th, the festival’s thousands of participants motion in a mass crowd over to the Church of Saint Agatha to venerate the patroness.


On day two of the festival, the bust of Saint Agatha is carried on the fercolo in a day-long procession along the outer walls of the city by select individuals identified by their traditional white coats. The most theatrical moment is when the several-ton fercolo is followed by hundreds of citizens through significant sites from the life of Saint Agatha; a journey which leads the group to climb a large hill before descending upon a plain. Finally in the evening of February 4th, the procession returns to the center of the city where again, onlookers witness a fireworks display to continue the celebrations throughout the night.

The climax of the festival is reached on day three, the 5th, when the fercolo is carried in its final march. The procession, be it shorter in length then the previous, continues as the fercolo is quickly run around the interior of Catania. Select members of prestige including religious, civil, and military commanders lead the procession having come from all over the city, state, and region. The demonstration is preceded by eleven Candlemas (large bundles of candles in heavy wooden buildings richly carved and decorated) carried by people dressed in rich, courtly costumes of the seventeenth century. Along the way the great volcano Mount Etna, always visible in the distance, seems to be watching over the festival with approval. For a final time onlookers hear melodious songs to honor the noble, young saint.

After three days of commemoration and reverence, the festival is concluded in the late evening when the statue of Saint Agatha is taken back to her home in the Cathedral. While her return is greeted with praise, the final, most spectacular fireworks display illuminates the entire city in a dramatic finish to the celebration and experience of a lifetime.

Laura Fortunato Petrik is a senior in the Elliott School for International Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. She is majoring in international affairs with a double concentration in Europe/Eurasia and International Development. In addition, she has a double minor, Italian studies and socio-cultural anthropology. She has studied abroad twice, in Siena (Tuscany) and in Siracusa (Sicily). She is also working as an intern at the central office of the Sons of Italy.

This article was reprinted courtesy of ITALIAN AMERICA Magazine, the most widely read publication in the United States for Italian Americans. ITALIAN AMERICA Magazine is published by the Sons of Italy. For subscription information, contact ITALIAN AMERICA MAGAZINE, 219 E Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002. (tel: 202/547-2900. Web:

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December 2010

The Legend of La Befana

reyesEvery year on Epiphany Eve, La Befana brings gifts to Italian children. What is the origin of the story of this ugly but good witch who sounds like a female Santa Claus? The story goes way back in time to the night between January 5 and 6 when the Three Kings (or the Three Wise Men) were on their way to find Baby Jesus in order to give him their special gifts. These Wise Men apparently lost their way at a certain point and knocked on the door of the house where La Befana lived. They asked her if she could accompany them to Bethlehem. The old woman showed them the way to go but she refused to go with them because, as she said, she had much too much housework to do.

presentiSo the Three Wise Men went on their way without her help. But, shortly after they left her house, she repented and decided to try to catch up to them. She filled a sack with some sweets that she had made and then set out to find them. But she couldn’t find them anywhere. So she decided to give her sweets to all of the children whom she encountered, hoping that one of them would be the little Jesus.
And from that time on, every year, the good woman has given gifts to children, in the hope that she would be forgiven for not having accompanied the Three Wise Men.


La Befana Today
Children in Italy receive gifts on Epiphany Eve from La Befana. They also expect a visit from Santa Claus. So they are doubly fortunate during the Christmas season! A popular poem tells the story of La Befana.

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Con le toppe alla sottana
Viva, viva la Befana!

Italian children learn that La Befana. arrives at night with broken shoes and a patched skirt.

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Porta un sacco pien di doni
Che regala ai bimbi buoni

She carries a sack full of gifts that she gives to the good children.

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Viene e bussa alla tua porta
Sai tu dirmi che ti porta?

She comes and knocks at your door. Can you tell me what she brings you?

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Con le toppe alla sottana
Viva, viva la Befana!

Long live la Befana!

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A RARE VIEW OF ROME: Learning Italian in Quick Time
By Frances M. Sanfilippo

From my hotel window I watched Rome awaken in the hazy morning sunshine.  I could feel the promise of surprises in this magnificent city.  I sipped the brew of espresso with warm milk and nibbled on a fresh croissant as I thought of the wonderful sights I had already seen.  It was my 6th day in that city of treasures.  I had been to the popular sites – the Coliseum, the Forum, the Trevi Fountain, the Vatican - and I was thinking of the new experiences that might be waiting for me   The events that followed changed the entire course of my trip. 


Shortly after leaving the hotel, I had an unfortunate encounter with a “motorino” (small motorcycle) as I was crossing Piazza Colonna. Normally there was a policeman directing traffic in this chaotic circle. Today he was not there. The traffic came streaming at me from all directions.  All of a sudden, I was knocked into the air. One of my shoes flew off.  I landed on the pavement with a thud. As I lay on my back in shock, several people rushed to my aid. They cautioned me not to move. I soon found myself in an ambulance that took me to the Ospedale San Giacomo (a public hospital) and then on to the Casa di Cura Quisisana (a private clinic). 

At the Ospedale I was placed on a gurney in a drive-up outside of the building.  There I strained to answer a policeman’s questions as I tried to formulate questions of my own in Italian.  Once inside, I tried to discover what my injuries were and how they were going to be treated. X-rays were taken and I found that the femur head of my left leg was fractured and had to be stabilized surgically in order to heal. I was wheeled to a long room where there were several other patients with families caring for them.  The atmosphere was quite sad. An attending doctor told us that I would get good care there at no cost to me.  However, because it was very crowded, the Casa di Cura Quisisana was an option.   I chose the Casa.  Mauro, a sturdy ambulance driver, had me hold him in a bear hug as he lifted me onto a stretcher and cautioned,   “Non mi bacia signora, sono sposato.” I was not to kiss him because he was married. 

At the Casa, I learned Italian faster than I could have with tapes and a tutor.  I added ‘prosthesis’ and ‘titanium pins’ to my vocabulary.  I was able to say “Is surgery necessary?” 
“What medication am I getting?”  “It hurts.”  “The bed pan, please.”  “Thank you, nurse.”  “Does anyone speak English?”  The reply to this last question was usually “No.”

 I worried a bit as a resident stabilized my foot with a plaster cast which looked like airplane wings. He began to argue with his assistants.  They became so involved with their problem that they almost forgot that my leg was being held in the air by my toes.  Actually, needing his hand to emphasize a point, the holder let go for a moment (no harm done) and apologized profusely with a truly contrite, “Scusi, signora, mi dispiace” (Excuse me, ma’am, I’m sorry).   I indicated that the discussion had me worried, whereupon the raised voices calmed to assure me that I need not be concerned, all was well.  And the animated debate resumed.  At this point I just wanted to return to the USA.  However, my better judgment opted for treatment in Rome.  A move at this point could further damage my leg.  

At the clinic, everyone was kind and helpful.  The doctors were marvelous.  The operation was scheduled and I was able to communicate that I preferred a local anesthetic.  The anesthetist, who had studied some English, obliged and I watched the surgery on a monitor.  The anesthesia wore off almost immediately afterward with no ill effects.  Throughout the procedure the surgical team worked quickly and efficiently, adding a comment now and then that kept me in good spirits.  The chief surgeon quipped that since he had used titanium screws, I would not have to worry about the metal detector at the airport.  One assistant asked, “Come sta?” (How are you?)  I answered, “Bene, come va?” (Fine, how’s it going?)  - a little word play about how I felt with his reply, “I’m ok, you’re ok.” (in English).  The doctors may not have spoken much English, but they were certainly quick-witted and well–spoken with words they did know.  


I remained in the hospital for six days.  My meals were a treat – hospital fare but with the special touch of Italian cooking.  I had heard that you can not get a bad meal in Rome and I believe it.  The morning pot of hot coffee with a pitcher of warm milk and some delicious rolls were especially welcome.  The cleaning personnel opened the drapes and raised the Roman blinds to present me with an extraordinary view.  Their warm, upbeat attitude was contagious.  At one point, the senior member of the crew teased me with a tickling gesture toward my foot which was dangling with weights at the end of the bed.  I flinched as expected, but the joke was a happy distraction from the pain I was feeling.  

While I was enjoying the hospitality of the Casa staff, my husband was seeking help in getting a flight home and having funds transferred so that I could leave the hospital. The bill
had to be paid before I was released. He went to the US Embassy for assistance and found the grounds heavily guarded.  At an adjacent building, he was introduced to an English-speaking Italian lawyer who was most helpful.   With the collaboration of our daughter and our tour agent in the US, we obtained a direct flight home.
The adventure was a unique experience and I look forward to continuing the trip tha ended so abruptly.  (Our original plan was to travel from Rome to Sicily where we had reserved a car to explore southern Italy.)  Fortunately, our travel insurance covered the missed part of our itinerary.  As tradition has it, the coins I threw in the Trevi Fountain assure our return.  Besides, the young doctor who was in charge of my care jokingly promised me a motorino ride on my next visit as we wished each other, “Ci vediamo”, “Arrivederci”. (See you, Good-bye.)

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Indro Montanelli: Le Stanze
By Carlo Mignani

The following article was written in Italian and may be downloaded by teachers of Italian and used in Italian language and culture classes. Please cite the author and the source (Carlo Mignani, the Culture Club of the National Capital Language Resource Center, 2010). 

Carlo Mignani writes about Indro Montanelli, considered the greatest Italian journalist of the 20th century. He focuses specifically on Montanelli’s recent book Stanze, published by Rizzoli in 1998. A series of lesson plans based on this book can be found in the Teachers’ Lounge.

Indro Montanelli è stato il più grande giornalista italiano del Novecento, scrittore e storico.  Ha ricevuto numerosi riconoscimenti anche internazionali tra i quali in Spagna il Premio Principe delle Asturie, e negli USA nel 1994 il prestigioso World Press Review International Editor of the year.   Durante il Fascismo è radiato dall’albo dei giornalisti e dopo l’otto settembre 1943 (l’inizio dell’occupazione tedesca dell’Italia) fa parte del movimento partigiano “Giustizia e libertà.”  Scoperto, condannato a morte dai tedeschi, è liberato per intercessione del Cardinale di Milano Ildefonso Schuster.  

Dopo la guerra lavora per “Il Corriere della Sera”, più diffuso giornale italiano, ma lo lascia perché lo considera troppo conformista, e fonda “Il Giornale” e poi “La Voce.”  Dichiarato anticomunista è gambizzato dalle Brigate Rosse (un’organizzazione terroristica) perché “schiavo delle multinazionali.”  Successivamente rifiuta la direzione del “Corriere della Sera”, ma ne accetta una collaborazione rispondendo una lettera al giorno ai suoi lettori che egli chiama i suoi veri editori, nella rubrica “ La stanza.” 

Questo libro è una collezione dei colloqui che Indro ha avuto con i lettori dal 1995 al 2001 e quindi, in un certo senso, rappresenta la storia italiana più recente.  In uno stile semplice e diretto, ma raffinato risponde in 2 o 3 pagine agli interessi, alle preoccupazioni, e ai punti di vista dei lettori che gli chiedono il suo parere.  È interessante non solo per le risposte, ma anche per il tipo di domande che gli vengono poste.

Queste hanno un contenuto letterario, per esempio quando un lettore gli chiede: “Cosa pensa del premio Nobel per la letteratura assegnato a Dario Fo”, che in Italia aveva sorpreso molta gente.  Ma trattano anche diversi temi storici e culturali, anche sugli Stati Uniti: la guerra civile, Lincoln, la schiavitù, la “mentalità americana”.  Mi piace riportare una sua risposta intelligente e sottile ad un lettore che affermava che noi italiani siamo un paese cattolico di cultura laica.”  A me sembra caso mai il contrario, cioè che “siamo un paese laico di cultura cattolica”. 

A torto o a ragione le sue opinioni traboccano d’indipendenza, di libertà e d’onestà intellettuale.  Ritengo che questo libro sia una lettura importante per gli studenti che vogliono andare oltre le parole della lingua italiana o le sensazioni provocate da un romanzo, perché può aiutarli a capire la cultura e una parte della storia di questo popolo

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December 2009
Capodanno a Roma Fireworks
A Roman New Year: Past and Present 

By Carlo Mignanifireworks

  Due ragazzi camminano sul marciapiede, si fermano vicino all’angolo di una strada, si guardano intorno furtivamente, uno di loro tira fuori qualche cosa dalla tasca e poco dopo si sentono delle esplosioni, mentre i passanti neppure ci fanno caso.   Soltanto un uomo anziano, forse colto di sorpresa, inveisce.  Mi riesce difficile trattenere un sorriso.  Alcune cose non cambiano mai: quel ragazzo avrei potuto essere io alcuni anni fa. 
Sono fermo ad un semaforo aggrappato al sedile posteriore di una Vespa, a Roma, la sera del 31 dicembre, diretto con amici verso il centro per celebrare l’anno nuovo.  Questa sera l’atmosfera della vigilia può essere accomunata a quella del 4 luglio americano o a quella da casinò.  Centinaia di migliaia di persone partecipano direttamente alle celebrazioni, che molti stranieri si lasciano sfuggire quando si limitano a visitare i musei e le chiese. 

Crescendo a Roma 
Da giovane quello che mi piaceva di più delle feste erano i botti e più forti erano meglio era! A Roma si cominciano a sentire i bum dei petardi non regolamentari dalla meta’ di dicembre fino al 6 gennaio, il giorno dell’Epifania, quando i bambini in passato ricevevano i regali.Carte

Per un quindicenne è difficile poter resistere alla tentazione di far detonare una “bomba”, fare qualche cosa di pericoloso, illegale, ma avallato dalla tradizione.   Mentre accendi la miccia raggiungi il massimo della concentrazione, niente ti distrae.  Ora devi gettarla via subito altrimenti ti esplode in mano.  Dopo che ne hai accese 10-15, l’adrenalina ti pompa nelle vene e le mani cominciano a tremarti quasi impercettibilmente.   Non riesci a controllare il tremore, ma nello stesso tempo non ti puoi fermare.  Quando abiti nel tipico appartamento di una grande città, in un palazzo di 7 o 8 piani, e esci sul balcone la notte della vigilia, i diversi tipi di bombe, petardi e razzi vengono da tutte le direzioni.  È una cacofonia, un crescendo, uno spettacolo visivo e uditivo poco apprezzato dagli animali domestici che timorosi si nascondono. 
Torno nella mia città natale generalmente per le vacanze estive, ma questa volta ho deciso diversamente.  Sto andando con Nicola, un vecchio amico del quartiere dove sono nato, su una Vespa Granturismo 250, mentre alcuni amici ci seguono in macchina.  Il nostro piano è di andare sul colle del Gianicolo per celebrare l’anno nuovo all’aperto, incontrare altri amici in un locale a Testaccio e infine andare a giocare a carte per il resto della notte 

La vigilia tradizionale 
La tipica famiglia italiana si siede a tavola per il cenone di capodanno intorno alle 9 di sera.  Sparecchiata la tavola si comincia a giocare a soldi con le carte italiane con giochi come Mercante in Fiera, Sette e Mezzo e anche Tombola (bingo) ecc., mentre i ragazzi esplodono le bombe e i petardi.  In un’atmosfera gioiosa tutti partecipano e si divertono, parenti e amici, giovani e vecchi, e persino la nonna scommette, ma ogni tanto sonnecchia.  Vorrebbe andare a letto, ma ha deciso di rimanere in piedi fino a mezzanotte, del resto le sarebbe impossibile dormire.  Verso mezzanotte e mezza, dopo il brindisi, i bambini e gli anziani a letto, i giovani per conto loro, è ora di giocare a carte sul serio per gran parte della notte, spesso fino alla mattina giocando a Bestia, Poker, Banco ecc.   Garibaldi
Bestia è simile al gioco tradizionale della Briscola e richiede una certa capacità, mentre per vincere al Banco devi essere fortunato.  Le carte italiane vanno da 1 a 10.  Se esce un 5 o una carta inferiore paghi quello che hai scommesso, mentre se esce un sei o una carta più alta, vinci.  Ho visto uscire di fila fino a otto carte basse e questo vuol dire che, raddoppiando ogni volta, la cifra finale sarebbe potuta arrivare fino a 128 volte la posta iniziale in pochi minuti.  

Gli anni più  maturi 
Più  recentemente il comune ha organizzato attività, sparse in zone strategiche della città, consistenti in fuochi artificiali e concerti di musica leggera.  Con il tempo bello abbiamo passato piacevoli capodanni all’aperto, insieme a parenti e amici sui colli del Gianicolo e del Pincio, semplicemente passeggiando e godendo lo spettacolo che la città offre.  Cosi’ facciamo questa sera.  Ci incontriamo con i nostri amici sulla piazza del belvedere del Gianicolo.  Da qui tutti insieme, armati come per andare a un picnic, con champagne nel frigo portatile, bicchieri, biscotti e l’immancabile panettone, ci avventuriamo nella confortevole notte romana insieme a migliaia di altre persone.. 
Visto dall’alto di una collina lo spettacolo cambia.  La luce dei fuochi artificiali si unisce alle esplosioni delle bombe e dei petardi, ma quello che stupisce di più è il suono.  Le migliaia di esplosioni quasi simultanee e assordanti a livello stradale, osservate a distanza si trasformano in un boato continuo simile a quello prodotto da tuoni in lontananza.  Nel centro della piazza del belvedere si erige il monumento equestre a Garibaldi, l’unificatore militare della nazione italiana.  Nel 1849, proprio su questa collina, migliaia di patrioti giovani e idealisti guidati da Garibaldi, hanno anche provato il pungente odore della polvere da sparo.  Erano venuti da tutta l’Italia per difendere la Repubblica Romana, formata appena 5 mesi prima, dall’assalto delle truppe regolari francesi che volevano insediare di nuovo il Papa.  Furono sconfitti e molti uccisi o fatti prigionieri.  Ora le esplosioni e il caratteristico odore esprimono un evento felice.  Buon anno, auguri, alla salute!  Dopo il brindisi, gli abbracci e i baci nella semioscurità alcuni decidono di tornare a casa mentre il resto di noi si dirige verso il trendy quartiere Testaccio.   

Tra anfore e centauri 

monteAbbiamo l’appuntamento al “Coyote,” una discoteca molto frequentata scavata nel “Monte dei Cocci” che risale al tempo dell’antica Roma.  La collina, alta circa 35 metri e con una circonferenza di circa 800 metri, è stata formata durante i secoli dalla continua accumulazione dei frammenti delle anfore di terracotta usate per il trasporto di derrate alimentari liquide come vino, olio, salse di pesce, conserve di frutta, miele, ecc. Gran parte del quartiere era anticamente un enorme deposito rifornito in continuazione dalle navi che dal porto di Ostia,  risalendo il fiume Tevere, attraccavano alla sua sponda.  Da Ponte Sublicio si possono vedere i resti antichi incastrati nella sponda del Tevere.  Oggi diversi ristoranti, discoteche e locali notturni si sono scavati un posto ai piedi di questa collina.  L’intero quartiere la notte è diventato una grossa area d’intrattenimento, dove durante il week-end e dopo le nove di sera, le macchine non possono entrare. Ci incontriamo con i nostri amici, ascoltiamo la musica, balliamo per un po’ e dalla terrazza della discoteca assistiamo a una spettacolare vista della città. 
La città di Roma per tradizione permette alla gente, la notte del 31 dicembre, di tirare piatti, vasi e vari articoli di terracotta e porcellana ecc. nelle strade.  Normalmente ti farebbero una multa e ti inviterebbero ad andare da uno psicologo ma per questa notte è consentito.  Dipende dal quartiere, ma può accadere che durante un party anche un w.c. o un lavandino (tenuto in casa per l’occasione dopo un rimodernamento) vengano gettati dalla finestra.  Specialmente se ti sei inimicato un vicino, stasera ti conviene parcheggiare lontano dalle abitazioni.  Per molti anni è stato un rito periodico, comunale e catartico ora quasi scomparso.  Come mai?  In parte naturalmente a causa della plastica, ma soprattutto perché i romani non vogliono danneggiare le loro beneamate e onnipresenti automobili. 
 I motociclisti, chiamati “centauri” dalla figura mitologica mezzo uomo e mezzo cavallo, s’infilano tra le macchine e anche se arrivano per ultimi a un semaforo, generalmente riescono a partire per primi quando scatta il verde.  Da giovane anch’io andavo in giro con la mia Vespa e anche se stasera come passeggero mi sento piuttosto nervoso, non sono riuscito a resistere alla tentazione di fare un veloce giro per la città.  In pochi minuti raggiungiamo il FireworksLungotevere poi tagliamo verso il Belvedere del Pincio, sotto c’è Piazza del Popolo, un altro posto strategico per i fuochi artificiali e la musica.  Sullo sfondo, nel cielo terso, emerge quello che i romani chiamano “er cupolone” la grande cupola di San Pietro tutta illuminata.  Piazza di Spagna pullula ancora di persone e poi passiamo vicino al Colosseo, un altro posto strategico dove la gente si è radunata per le celebrazioni.  Il traffico è intenso, ma rinfrescati dall’aria notturna raggiungiamo rapidamente la casa dei nostri amici pronti a giocare a carte fino alla mattina.  Giochiamo a Bestia, Poker e Banco e miracolosamente riesco ad uscirne perdendo pochi soldi. Verso le 8 di mattina ci fermiamo, andiamo al bar all’angolo per colazione e poi me ne vado a casa stanco morto, consapevole che i miei amici dopo un pisolino di 2 o 3 ore ricominceranno a giocare fino a sera. 

Ritorno alla normalità 
L’incomparabile cultura italiana permette per un breve periodo e in moderazione di fare quasi tutto.  Per 2 o 3 settimane all’anno possiamo fare esplodere bombe, petardi e razzi non regolamentari, giocare d’azzardo, tirare quello che vogliamo dalle finestre senza preoccuparci delle leggi, sentirci in colpa o temere di essere criticati.  Infatti, è tradizione!  Come per magia dopo il 6 gennaio si ritorna alla normalità:  basta con le esplosioni, il gioco d’azzardo e il comportamento facinoroso.  Ogni volta che abbiamo cercato di giocare a soldi al di là di queste tre settimane, non ci siamo mai riusciti: ognuno ha da fare.  Il gioco d’azzardo e i botti per i romani sono associati alle stagioni, alle tradizioni, alla famiglia, alle feste, e alla stanchezza, raramente, come del resto l’alcool, costituiscono una dipendenza.  Ma il prossimo anno a metà dicembre, come la luna attira la marea, la città sarà pronta e la frenesia ricomincerà da capo. 

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October 2009
San Marino:  Champions in Longevity

By Carlo Mignani

CoatWhat would you do to add five years to your life? How much money would you spend if you could buy those five years? $100,000, $500,000, all you have?

Boys born in San Marino, a tiny independent state nestled in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, are expected to live to age 81, the world's longest male life expectancy at birth, according to the World Health Organization.  Newborn boys in the US have a 76 year life expectancy, at 33rd place, tied with Cuba and Finland.
Life Expectancy

Many factors contribute to individual longevity, such as gender and genetics.  Women tend to live longer than men; however, genetics for a big pool of people like a nation, tend to average out.  Hygiene, nutrition and exercise, when speaking about the advanced countries, are not too relevant.  Infant mortality, crime and associated poor life choices will affect the averages, but it seems that diet and access to health care are the primary drivers.

San Marino

San Marino – stats and history

San Marino is in the heart of Italy in the Emilia-Romagna region near the border with the Marche.  With 61,196 square kilometers and approximately 30,000 people, it is the third smallest European country after Monaco and Vatican City.  Founded in the IV century, it is the oldest republic in the world.

Resisting the temptations of foreign adventurers and thanks to a forward looking diplomacy, it was able to maintain its independence during the Italian period of city states, the attempt of expansion of the Pontific State, and even during the Napoleonic invasion.  Italy recognizes San Marino’s independence with the convention of 22 March 1862.

During their long history the Sammarinesi have displayed a rare awareness of their own strength and an exceptional political moderation.  Maybe this moderation is felt also in their individual choices.

Diet of the Sammarinesi

Life expectancy is correlated to diet. The Emilia-Romagna region, known for its gastronomic delights, is the home of tortellini, Parmigiano Reggiano, ravioli, mortadella, prosciutto, ragù alla bolognese, zampone, and many local kinds of cured meats.  Not exactly the healthiest by today standards.

The healthy Mediterranean diet cannot explain the longevity of the Sammarinesi because this traditional diet is largely practiced in the southern regions of Italy while San Marino is in the North.  Nowadays, of course, with the increased wealth of the Italians, a richer version of the traditional Mediterranean diet is practiced throughout Italy.

Health careSan Marino

Life expectancy is also correlated to individuals’ access to health care, and San Marino provides it for all its citizens.  However, most European countries provide universal health care so this could not account for the difference in life expectancy.


So how have Sammarinesi managed to live longer than anybody else? 

San Marino has the lowest infant mortality in the world. There is little crime. But might other factors contribute? The people’s general attitude of moderation? The very small size of the country? The forced daily exercise just to do anything in this tiny but steep location? Or the wine? We do not know the entire story yet, so stay tuned. Researchers are undoubtedly hard at work trying to solve this puzzle.

Carlo Mignani is a free lance writer specializing in Italian cultural subjects. He also serves as the Italian language Book and Film Editor of the Culture Club.


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Studying Italian Culture in The United States and in Italy

We have two speakers in the Speaker’s Corner this month. First, Dr. Gilda Baldassari writes about the successful attempts to introduce Italian culture into the curriculum of the New Jersey public schools. Secondly, Dr. Dawn Hayes describes a study-abroad program in Sicily for students at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Italian Americans are the largest ethnic group in New Jersey, and both speakers focus in particular on the importance of providing students opportunities to connect with the culture of their Italian ancestors.

Download Dr. Gilda Baldassari's article
Download Dr. Dawn Hayes' article

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Growing Up in Fascist Italy (published Nov. 2007)
by Andrea Meloni

The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini took a keen interest in children because he saw them as future members of the Fascist Party. Andrea Meloni grew up in Italy and participated in the youth programs instituted by Mussolini’s government. In the interview that follows, Andrea shares his experience as a little Fascist in the making.

Teachers of Italian may want to use this interview in class to give their students more knowledge and understanding of Italian history and culture. Educators have permission to reproduce the interview for classroom use. In the Library of the Culture Club this month, you will find the review of The Cielo: A Novel of Wartime Tuscany. In this novel Paul Salsini recounts what life was like for a group of people living in Fascist Italy during World War II.


Click here for a printer-friendly version of the interview.
Teachers may make copies to distribute in class for educational purposes. Please include the attribution to the Sons of Italy.

This article was reprinted courtesy of ITALIAN AMERICA Magazine, the most widely read publication in the United States for Italian Americans. ITALIAN AMERICA Magazine is published by the Sons of Italy. For subscription information, contact ITALIAN AMERICA MAGAZINE, 219 E Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002. (tel: 202/547-2900. Web:

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Natale in Italia tra ieri e oggi (Christmas in Italy, Then and Now)
Di Cetti Mangano

Natale in Italia tra ieri e oggi Gesù Bambino, le canzoni di Natale, la letterina con la promessa di essere più buoni, Santa Lucia, le luci e le decorazioni del centro cittadino, l’albero con le monete di cioccolata e ancora il presepe, gli zampognari, la tombola, la befana: tante immagini e tradizioni che accompagnano il Natale italiano..

Alcune di queste tradizioni, oggi, sono meno sentite, altre sono state dimenticate o cambiate: adattate ad un mondo che corre, va di fretta e compra tanti regali. Ci sono meno differenze tra un paese del nord, uno del centro o del sud ma a discapito di tante tradizioni che sono andate in disuso.

In Italia l’8 dicembre, apertura ufficiale delle feste natalizie, porta ancora in molte città il piacere di svegliarsi al suono delle zampogne (1), suonate da musicisti popolari che prendono il nome dallo strumento: zampognari. Questi indossano, ancora oggi, costumi molto pittoreschi e tipici dei pastori. Nei secoli XVII e XVIII erano gli unici ad avere il diritto di suonare nei giorni di festa. Oggi invece sono spesso pagati dai negozianti e fino al 25 dicembre svegliano i cittadini al suono delle loro zampogne.

Gli alberi di Natale, sono l’elemento comune delle case italiane, tutti oggi mettono i doni sotto l’albero e li scambiano il giorno di Natale. Qualche famiglia prepara un piccolo presepe vicino l’albero ma altre vi dedicano maggiore attenzione. A Napoli, capitale del presepe, è una tradizione a cui dedicare la massima attenzione. Via San Gregorio Armeno, strada piena di negozi dove tutto l’anno si preparano pastori e personaggi per ricreare le scene del presepe, diventa il punto più affollato della città dall’8 al 24 dicembre.

La famiglia Ferrigno, artisti di presepi in ceramica da generazioni, ha anche una stanza piena di pastori antichi con trine preziose e aperta al pubblico (2). Le chiese mettono in mostra i loro presepi e alcuni con vestiti originali del 1600. I bambini italiani, oggi scrivono a Babbo Natale ma fino a poco tempo fa il Natale era principalmente una festa religiosa e in alcune regioni era Gesù Bambino a portare un dono ai bimbi buoni la notte di Natale; molti bambini italiani dovevano aspettare il 6 gennaio. La Befana infatti portava i doni in ricordo di quelli offerti al Bambino Gesù dai Re Magi. E arrivava solo un regalo ma …. che felicità! Anche dopo anni si ricorda il piacere di quel regalo!

" La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col cappello alla romana
viva viva la Befana! "

La Befana (3) è nell’ immaginario italiano una vecchietta che porta doni ai bambini la notte tra il 5 e il 6 gennaio. Le sue origini sono frutto di credenze popolari e tradizioni cristiane. La sua rappresentazione è ormai la stessa da tempo: un gonnellone scuro ed ampio, un grembiule con le tasche, uno scialle, un fazzoletto o un cappellaccio in testa, un paio di ciabatte consunte, il tutto assortito da coloratissime toppe. La Befana non porta piu’ regali ma dolcetti spesso accompagnati da un po’ di carbone (oggi di zucchero) per ricordare ai bimbi di essere più buoni.

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Who are the Milanesi of Milan? Understanding the People of a Target Culture
by Christine Foster Meloni

Stereotypes about people from other countries abound. What is the image that comes to your mind when you think of the Italians? Do you see someone with black hair and dark eyes? Someone who is extroverted and noisy? Someone who is very emotional, quick to anger but quick to tears as well? Do you see a man who adores his pasta and savors his cup of espresso coffee? A woman who is very conscious of the latest fashions? Can we make generalizations about Italians? Are the Romans the same as the people from Naples? from Turin? from Palermo? And what about the Milanesi that most Italians write off as "too German" or even "too American"?

Let's take a look at these Milanesi who are disowned by the rest of the Italian population. I have discovered a book that is a goldmine of wisdom about the Milanesi, Come Difendersi Dai Milanesi (Defending Yourself from the Milanesi) by Elena Pigozzi. While this book is meant to make the reader laugh by creating caricatures of the inhabitants of the fashion capital of Europe, it does contain seeds of truth (or so I've been told by natives of Milan). This little book gives us foreign language teachers a possible structure for analyzing people from other countries and cities. Let's look at a few of the categories featured in this book.

Attitude toward Weather: According to Pigozzi, the Milanesi love the rain. They have this in common with the Londoners. While the sun makes them feel stressed and irritable, the rain exerts a calming influence. It washes and cleans. The sound of the rain on the roofs and umbrellas is music to their ears. They also love the fog although, they say, it is not what it used to be. You can no longer slice the fog with a knife. The city, therefore, has lost some of its romantic, mysterious air.

Speed of Speaking: The Milanesi like rapid speech. If a Milanese asks you a question, don't pause. Say whatever comes into your mind. Have plenty of monosyllabic words ready. The important thing is to respond immediately.

Coffee: The Americans invented the concept of fast food, the Milanesi that of fast coffee. They don't sip their coffee; they consume it in a second without breathing. They drink it standing up, after filling their lungs with air. Of course, there are more cases of burns reported in the hospitals of Milan than in other places but fast coffee means that employees spend less time away from their desks.

Traffic: The Milanesi love their traffic system. The engineers have planned the roads so well that motorists are never alone; they are always in the midst of other motorists. Unlike the ancient Romans who built their roads in straight lines, the modern Milanesi use the form of the perfect circle: every road begins and ends in the same place. To fully appreciate this clever design, observe the traffic on week-days between 5:30 and 6:30 pm.

Panettone: The traditional Italian Christmas cake, il panettone, is becoming quite popular in the US. This is a contribution from the Milanesi who are convinced that it is the finest dessert ever invented. Not only does the panettone taste good, it is also esthetically beautiful. In fact, it has become the symbol of the city. You will find cement panettoni all over the city. The Milanesi are delighted to see these artistic reproductions, these postmodern sculptures on almost every street corner.

After reading this book, you will have quite a clear idea of who the Milanesi are. And you will realize that they don't have much in common with many other Italians who love the sun, grumble about the traffic, and are not always anxious to rush back to their office.

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