Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Shopping bags are the new enemy.

Count Italy on the offense: The country puts in effect in 2011 a nationwide ban of all poylthene bags, a.k.a. plastic shopping bags. Sacks of plastic that we find so handy to carry our goods home from shopping are no more in Italy.

It has been an ongoing crusade throughout much of the world the last five years.

The effort is to cut back on CO2 emissions and foster more recycling by banning plastic shopping bags. When a debate ensues, quite often nightly news programs show a plastic bag caught on a tree limb or shrub and in the background just within the frame a pristine river. The message is sent: Plastic shopping bags must be stopped!

The Italian government wants Italians to bring reusable bags while shopping. But what happens if you don’t have a reusable bag? Say, you’re an impulse buyer and find yourself inside a quaint mercato and on a whim purchase some cheese, bread and sausage for a picnic lunch? You must hold the items in your arms as you would a baby. You must show the world your rations.

It’s a tricky task. There is an art to carrying your groceries without a bag. I know from experience. Here in the District of Columbia, for the last 12 months we have had to pay five cents per paper or plastic bag when we shop. No longer a complimentary item for shoppers, Washingtonians are often found walking the sidewalks of the city hauling their foodstuffs in their arms, displaying to passersby what they will eat for dinner that night.

Take for example my last foray to my neighborhood grocer. The cashier, an immigrant from Korea, always assumes you don’t want a bag. Sometimes I forget to nod to the nickel fee and request a bag. He leaves my items on the checkout counter for me to haul on my person.

Thus, I have become an expert in carrying groceries without a bag. I take this opportunity to share with Italians some tips:

First, pockets are important. Items that can fit in the palm of your hand tuck in your jacket pockets. The inside breast pocket of my winter coat is surprisingly large. What once was the domain for a person’s pack of cigarettes can now be used to hold all kinds of stuff. Over the year, I have been able to place there a can of peas, a folded magazine, a newspaper, a CD, DVD, a container of Nutella, a wedge of cheese, frozen vegetables, various fruits such as a bag of dates, a bin of blue berries, an apple, a banana, even an avocado. (I pray a burly friend doesn’t give me a hug). Once I fill my pockets, the challenge is to hold my items in a way whereby I can walk the 50 feet or more to my car. You have to have a plan. For me, my left arm is for heavy items. A gallon of milk I hold there like a football while my left hand grasps a can of tomatoes. Under my right shoulder I might place there a roll of paper towels crammed next to a box of pasta, and in that hand the protein for the night’s dinner; a steak, a small roast, some chicken breasts (remember to wash your hands). Sometimes, I am able to hold the edge of a bag of lettuce or fresh vegetables between the tips my fingers.

I look like a walking Costco.

At my car, I place the items on the hood, retrieve my keys to open and pack inside my groceries.

The other way around the non-bag law is to shop somewhere else. Here in the District we drive across the border to Maryland or across the river to Virginia. At the Safeway in Arlington, Virginia, it is like a neighborhood reunion. I see members of our local PTA there and parents of my children’s schoolmates, some teachers and members of the neighborhood council. We all want to shop in peace, without government intrusion, without having to pay a nickel for each bag we use. We figure since we are spending over $100 on a week’s groceries, the least the grocer can do is offer us complimentary bags to transfer items.

But Italians will not have that privilege. The shopper in Milan will have to bear the same fate as the shopper in Naples, in Venice, in Palermo. Haul your goods in a reusable bag or hold them in your arms. It is the law. There is no escape.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010



On the cover of this year’s third edition of PRIMO is a man many of us would do well to emulate.

He is Bruno DeGol, a self-made man if there ever was one. Along with his wife Lena, he built from the ground up a lumber supply business that today is a diversified international business, the DeGol Organization, based in Altoona, Pennsylvania. With the way the economy is going today, we may wonder if the American Dream is still possible. The DeGols show it is…but that depends on how you approach attaining it.

Read the DeGol’s inspiring story in this edition and you will see a more realistic and practical way of reaching wealth and prosperity in America than what we are told by our leaders in government and academics.


Our feature article on Bruno DeGol covered a lot of ground, except for details of his military service in World War II where he won the Bronze Star.

Drafted when he was 18, DeGol trained with the 102nd Infantry Division first in Camp Maxey, Texas, before moving on to Fort Dix, New Jersey. His division made it across the Atlantic Ocean, to Cherbourgh, France where they engaged the enemy almost on their arrival there.

DeGol’s military service was exemplary. A specialist in laying wire for communications during battle, he was in the army for five years and spent much of his time on the front lines. He spent almost six months straight in a fox hall. He witnessed his buddy killed by enemy mortar.

DeGol shared many of his war experiences with his children only in the last decade of his life.

Like all veterans, he saw the worst life had to offer. He saw scores of men killed, piled high on trucks for mass burials. He saw a barrage of bullets from enemy fire whiz by him. He saw nearby buildings crushed within an instance from exploding mortar shells and German grenades. He saw war refugees, many of them Germans, scrounging for crumbs to avoid starvation.

As he said to his son Bruno Jr., “I gave five years to the army.”

We are in debt to Bruno DeGol’s and to all Italian American veterans.



Besides our wonderful magazine, PRIMO also offers a new book and calendar for readers to buy. Both make ideal gifts for Christmas.

The book is “Italian Sketches: The Faces of Modern Italy” by PRIMO contributing writer Deirdre Pirro.

Based in Florence, Pirro wrote an informative and inspiring article for PRIMO’s second edition 2010 on how Italian women won the right to vote in Italy.

Pirro knows modern Italy well. With “Italian Sketches,” she gives us over 150 pages that recount Italy’s most important figures of the 20th century. Our lives today are shaped by Italian ideas and innovations in art, architecture, cinema, commerce, politics and philosophy. These are Italian icons of modernity who achieved success in the past 75 to 100 years. They are great men and women such as Federico Fellini, Maria Montessori, Gianni Agnelli, Alberto Moravia, and many, many more. They may be overlooked by U.S. mainstream media, but not by PRIMO. “Italian Sketches” comes with drawings by one of Italy’s top illustrators, Leo Cardini. Consider buying “Italian Sketches” as a gift to a family member or friend for this Christmas.

The second publication product we offer is a 2011 calendar with our titled theme “The Saints of Sicily.”

Featured on every other page as painted by some of Italy’s greatest artists of the Renaissance and Baroque periods is a Sicilian saint. Like Mount Etna, Sicily’s religious history is a volcanic pot of passion and perseverance, tragedy and ecstasy, the mystery of Roman Catholic faith as personified by men and women of extraordinary courage, as only seen in Italy’s most unique and fascinating region.

Like me, you will be as interested in the biographies of Sicilian saints as you will their deeds and miracles that led to canonization. “The Saints of Sicily” calendar will inspire and inform, enlighten and provoke religious and historical conversation among your family and friends.

The Saints of Sicily” calendar will inspire pride in your Italian and perhaps Sicilian heritage.

Buy PRIMO’s “The Saints of Sicily” calendar, perfect for Christmas.

Friday, July 30, 2010



On the cover of this year’s second edition of PRIMO is one of history’s greatest artists, Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio.

The article is complete with Caravaggio’s extraordinary biography, analysis of his style and why he is rightly considered the catalyst of the Baroque era. After reading the article and viewing a small sample of his work in this issue, I am confident you will join me and others in considering Caravaggio Italy’s pre-eminent master painter equal in both skill and influence to the likes of Michelangelo Buonarroti (his namesake), Leonardo da Vinci and the great Raphael.

Caravaggio died 1610, 400 years ago. Thus, an occasion arises for Italy to celebrate him. Museums in a number of Italian cities have exhibitions detailing his work, along with newly published books, DVDs, film and video documentaries about his life and legacy.

Scores of paintings are credited to Caravaggio. About half of them hang in museums in Italy. Almost every region in Italy has an art museum with one or more Caravaggio paintings on display. His other works may be found throughout Europe, in museums in London, Paris, Saint Petersburg, Russia and Toledo, Spain.

Caravaggio’s paintings are also accessible to people living here in the United States. Perhaps only a short drive away from you is the nearest art museum with an original Caravaggio painting waiting for view. Here is a list of museums in America with permanent collections that include works by the great Caravaggio.

“Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy.” Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut.

“The Cardsharps.” Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

“The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew.” Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.

“Musicians.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

“The Conversion of the Magdalene.” Art Institute of Detroit, Detroit, Michigan.

“Sacrifice of Isaac.” Piasecka-Johnson Collection, Princeton, New Jersey

“Saint John the Baptist.” Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.



Almost 100 Italian festas in the United States are included in PRIMO’s annual guide of Italian festas, featured in this edition.

Most festa organizers I spoke with told me this was their toughest year yet. The sluggish economy has hit them hard. Attendance was down for most festivals, in some cases by half. Vendors, many of them small family owned businesses, were either not able to participate in a festa or did so in a reduced presence. Organizers had to cut back on rides, shows, and other activities in order to keep their festas going.

As many festas devote proceeds to scholarships and local Roman Catholic parishes, the drop in revenues they experienced this year is most troubling.

With hopes for better economic times ahead, we at PRIMO salute Italian festa organizers for their perseverance and determination. They epitomize the mantra proclaimed by T.C. Barnum: “The show must go on.”



I thank the companies for advertising their goods and services in PRIMO.

Almost all of them are Italian or Italian American owned. If you are looking for a product or service that matches your interests in Italian and Italian American heritage, the advertisers in this edition of PRIMO will not disappoint you.

Mercer County Italian American Festival places an ad on the inside front cover page of PRIMO’s second edition. Their Italian festival is one of the best in the country, from September 24 through 26, at Mercer County Park, on Old Trenton Road in West Windsor, New Jersey. Mercer County has one of the highest concentrations of Italian Americans in the United States. The festival, founded by John Scarpati, provides scores of rides, Italian food vendors, and top line entertainment. Notable is the festival’s focus on Italian culture, with a heritage tent that showcases all the great accomplishments of Italians and Italian Americans. The food is 100 percent Italian, and fantastic at that. Attend this year’s Mercer County Italian American Festival. You will be glad you did.

If you like PRIMO's “My Italian Family” column then you will surely want to get to know Bianca Ottone of My Italian Family, the genealogical service company she owns and advertises on page four of this edition. An expert in genealogy and Italian family research, Bianca can surely help you track down family members from the past and present, anywhere in Italy. Give her a call to assist you in putting together your Italian family tree.

In PRIMO’s January/February 2006 edition, we wrote about the sad tale of the eminent domain condemnation and destruction of the Italian neighborhood Greenbush in Madison, Wisconsin. Replete with photographs of the neighborhood’s decent, hard working Italian Americans, the story resonates today. Still shocking is the foolhardy and absurd decision by the state’s urban planners proclaiming Greenbush a “slum” and thus suited for demolition. Hundreds of homes, several churches, movie theaters, shops and restaurants, were bulldozed with a four-lane highway and hospital extension erected in their place.

Still, the spirit of Greenbush lives on today, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of Catherine Tripalin Murray. She has led successful efforts in Madison to preserve mementos and heirlooms of the old neighborhood, compiled together in three outstanding cookbooks she publishes titled “Grandmothers of Greenbush,” and volumes one and two of “A Taste of Memories from the Old ‘Bush’”. She advertises her books on page four. Outstanding tomes, they provide delectable Italian family recipes with stunning photographs, anecdotes and recollections, all provided by those Italian Americans who lived in Greenbush. If you are looking for a great cookbook, one part history lesson and the other, an epicurean celebration, then consider buying “Grandmothers of Greenbush” and volumes one and two of “A Taste of Memories from the Old ‘Bush’”. Check the web site now at

When it comes to Italian food, DOMA Importing Company provides the best in taste and quality. They have an ad on page six of this edition. As their slogan says, they deliver Italy to your doorstep. An authentic Italian food market founded in 1934, DOMA knows Italian food better than anyone. Their array of imported Italian meats will make anyone’s mouth water, such as prosciutta, mortadella, and my favorite pancetta. They have fresh Italian bread, imported olive oils, balsamic vinegars, homemade pasta, Italian cheeses and more, all available for you to order and delivered to your doorstep. Consider DOMA the next time you want to buy Italian specialty foods. Log on to their web site today at

The cover photograph of Francena Hall’s “Recipes My Nonna Taught Me” tells a lot about her wonderful cookbook. The advertisement is found on page 11 of this edition. A little girl at the time, Francena stands proudly next to her adoring grandmother, kneeling on the front lawn of their home. Both share the same smile and warm and enthusiastic spirit. Growing up in a predominantly German American enclave in Ohio, Francena and her family understandably had to struggle at times to retain their Italian culture. They found making Italian food, from recipes created and passed down by her grandmother the vital link to their Italian past and heritage. You will find an excerpt from “Recipes My Nonna Taught Me” on page 11 as well. The recipe Stuffed Mushrooms is an Italian classic; just one of many great recipes you’ll find in “Recipes My Nonna Taught Me.” Contact Francena at

Next to page 12 “The Truth About Wine” column are a page of ads. Several companies stand out:

Unitours has been bringing people to Italy since 1957. The company hosts a nine day tour of Rome and Umbria. What better way to see Italy! Rome, the eternal city, has for your eyes the great wonders of ancient Rome, the astounding and inspiring Vatican, the works of Italy’s greatest artists and sculptors, not to mention the modern and dynamic metropolis that is Italy’s capital city today. And then there is Umbria, a cauldron of culture in central Italy. Perugia, Spoleto and Assisi have for you the splendors of art and history that epitomize Italy. First-class hotel accommodations, a deluxe motorcoach and fine Italian dining, will give you an Italian journey never to forget. Contact Unitours today at

On page 19 is an ad by Dima’s Jewels. Hand-crafted jewelry designs and the finest jewelry material make the necklaces, brooches, rings and bracelets of Dima’s Jewels exceptionally beautiful. Prices are refreshingly reasonable with offers for free shipping during holiday seasons. Gaze the stunning collection of Dima’s Jewels. Log on to their web site

As Simple, Simply Said,” is a marvelous book of original poems by Giovanni Maria Tommaso. We profile this intriguing poet, born in Italy but raised in America, on page 56 of this edition. He has several web sites available for prospective readers. Check out,, and

One of the country’s longest running Italian American organizations is the Italian Sons and Daughters of America (ISDA). Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, forever an Italian American province, ISDA provides members a number of cultural and financial benefits. They offer life insurance and annuity plans, scholarships, social and cultural programs, financial assistance for prospective college students and youth programs. Get to know ISDA better, log on to their web site

After the feature articles, you can find two advertisers on page 58. They are both from California.

The Celebrations Wine Club gives readers a taste of Italy and Napa Valley. For a monthly fee, readers can sample hand-crafted wines from Italy’s regions and from Northern California. Check out

Two years ago, we featured an article marking the 100th anniversary of L’Italo-Americano. The Italian language newspaper has covered California’s Italian American community since 1908. An Italian American journalistic icon is L’Italo-Americano. Check out their web site

On page 63 is an ad by A company with an astounding array of Italian novelties, will not disappoint an Italian American’s need for tangible items that express pride and respect for his or her Italian heritage. Italian flags, aprons, decals and patches, lapel pins, key chains and much more are available for purchase. Show your Italian pride today. Log on to

The full page back cover ad promotes the new music CD “Aceto” by Michéal Castaldo; a compilation of songs sung in mostly Italian, but also some English, the closest thing to the style of Neapolitan love songs that you will find today. We profile Castaldo on page 57. A native of Calabria, now living and working in New York, Castaldo has a voice that emits an impressive range, founded upon deep emotions, uniquely fit for both Italian opera and American pop. Castaldo has no doubt captured the essence of Italian singing, always in key and always with feeling. Are you in the mood to hear great Italian ballads? Do you want to hear American songs sung the Italian way? Then get to know Michéal Castaldo. Log on to his web site today: www.miché

Friday, April 16, 2010


In the February/March 2010 edition, you will find extensive coverage on the City of Turin, capital of Italy’s Piemonte region.

Two articles highlight the dynamism of the city: One on the Shroud of Turin and the other on the tragic plane crash in 1948 that took the lives of the city’s beloved soccer team, Torino Football Club.

The Shroud of Turin is our cover feature. The religious relic is on public display in Turin from April 10 to May 23.

Also of note in our feature of Italy’s public universities is the first polytechnic university of the western world, located in Turin, the Politecnico di Torino.

If this issue sparks your curiosity about Turin, then you will want to review the PRIMO November/December 2006 edition, where we featured the history of the city, the sights and culture there. That year the winter Olympics was held in Turin and so complete coverage of the city was due.

One Italian friend compared Turin to Philadelphia. He claimed Turin like Philadelphia is a dichotomous city, at one end industrial and blue collar, at another surreal, a spirit imbued by some there who dabble in the occult, writers and historians who celebrate medieval folk legends and of course the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, the church that hosts the great mystery that is the Shroud.

Whenever I mention Turin to Italians, they rave about the city. They all agree that Turin is the Paris of Italy, based on its northernmost location and historical connection to France; as the city was once ruled by the House of Savoy. Many Italians from the South and elsewhere in Italy have a relative or two living in Turin. The city remains a magnet for migration from the South as jobs proliferate there in the car factories of FIAT and other manufacturing companies.


If you have the chance to travel to Italy next month, I urge you to try and see the Shroud of Turin, on public display at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.

The shroud has been on public display five times during the last century: 1898, 1978, 1998, 2000, and 2010. It remains one of the most fascinating of Christian relics, still debated among scientists, scholars and theologians as to authenticity.

A web site with considerable information about the shroud is, hosted by Barrie Schwortz, an expert on the shroud who provided extraordinary insight and commentary for our feature article. I thank Barrie for his time and expertise.


An article last year on Our Lady of Loreto, located in Brooklyn captured the attention of PRIMO readers. The church, built by Italian immigrants in the neighborhood over 100 years ago, is slated for demolition by the Brooklyn archdiocese.

As of writing this blog, plans have not changed. The archdiocese is set to tear down Our Lady of Loreto and build affordable housing in the church’s place.

If you want to lend your support and sign a petition to save Our Lady of Loreto, please log on to the web site

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Our November/December 2009 cover feature article on Silvana Mangano was inspired in part by Stephen Apolito’s Readers’ Corner submission in the August/September 2008 edition of PRIMO.

Apolito’s short article titled “A Grave Inquiry” recounts his discovery of Mangano’s gravesite while walking through a cemetery in his hometown of Pawling in Upstate New York. The actress was buried there in 1989 in a plot adjacent to her son Federico and her brother Roy. Mangano relocated from Rome to Manhattan in the 1970s. Like so many New Yorkers, she chose a quiet second home in the country to escape the busy environs of the city. Fond of the small town of less than 2,500 people, she chose Pawling for her final rest.

Mangano is survived today by her husband Dino De Laurentiis, 91, whom she divorced, and three daughters. Her oldest Veronica is mother of Food Network star and host of “Everyday Italian” Giada De Laurentiis.

Starring in almost 40 movies, Mangano’s work is worthy of review. She was a fine actress of exceptional beauty. My favorite Mangano films are “Riso Amaro,” “Anna,” and “L’oro di Napoli.”

If you have never seen Mangano’s work, then by all means do now. A list of Mangano’s films follows, many of which are still available in DVD or video.

Le judgement dernier (1945)
L’elisir d’amore (1946)
Il delitto di Giovanni Episopo (1947)
Gli uomini sono nemici (1948)
Riso amaro (1949)
Il lupo della of Sila (1949)
Black Magic (1949)
Il Brigante Musolino (1950)
Anna (1951)
Il piu comico spettacolo del mondo (1953)
Mambo (1954)
L’oro di Napoli (1954)
Ulysses (1954)
Uomini e lupi (1956)
La tempesta (1958)
This Angry Age (1958)
La grande guerra (1959)
Crimen (1960)
Five Branded Women (1960)
Il giudizio universale (1961)
Barabbas (1962)
Il processo di Verona (1963)
La mia signora (1964)
Il disco volante (1964)
Io, io, io…e gli altri (1965)
Scusi, lei e favorevole o contrario? (1966)
Le streghe (1967)
Edipo Re (1967)
Capriccio all’italiana (1968)
Teorema (1968)
Scipione detto anche l’africano (1971)
Morte a Venezia (1971)
Il Decameron (1971)
D’amore si muore (1972)
Lo scopone scientifico (1972)
Ludwig (1972)
Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (1974)
Dune (1984)
Oci ciornie (1987)


Another milestone was reached when Richard Trumka was elected the first Italian American president of the AFL-CIO; one of the most powerful and influential positions in the country, if not the world.

It was wholly appropriate to feature Trumka in PRIMO’s current coal mining special edition. Trumka is a third generation coal miner who worked his way through college and law school. In 1982, he became the youngest president of the United Mine Workers. In this edition he shares with PRIMO readers what he learned from his grandfather Attilio, a role model who inspired him to work in organized labor.

As secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO in 2008, Trumka made history with his speech to members of the United Steelworkers union on racism in the labor movement. Many political observers thought Barack Obama’s skin color might dissuade union members from voting for him for president. Trumka’s speech helped unify workers to look beyond race.

Trumka’s was in the tradition of great labor speeches (a sad rarity nowadays), full of rhetorical embellishments and personal experiences in tune with a worker’s view of history. You can view and read his speech by logging on to the United Steelworkers’ web site, To learn more about Trumka and efforts underway by the AFL-CIO, please log on to

Here is an excerpt of Trumka’s historic speech.

…there’s not a single good reason for any worker – especially any union member – to vote against Barack Obama.

There’s only one really bad reason to vote against him: because he’s not white…
Brothers and sisters we can’t tap dance around the fact that there a lot of folks out there…a lot of them are good union people; they just can’t get past this idea that there’s something wrong with voting for a black man…

It’s our special responsibility because we know, better than anyone else how racism is used to divide working people.

We’ve seen how companies set worker against worker – how they throw whites a few extra crumbs off the table – and how we all end up losing.

But we’ve seen something else, too.
We’ve seen that when we cross that color line and stand together no one can keep us down.


There is a lot to like in the November/December 2009 issue of PRIMO and our special tribute to Italian American coal miners is one of them.

Besides our exclusive interview with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, we feature a riveting story of one of the worst workplace catastrophes in American history, the Cherry Mine Disaster. Italian Americans were both victims and heroes of a fire that scorched an entire mine. It is an amazing story by Karen Tintori full of suspense and action, all the more resonating because it is true.

Moreover, you will find our montage of Italian American coal miners informative and heartwarming. It is true history, more balanced and engaging than the one-sided kind too often touted by teachers and professors with political agendas. In the words of children and grandchildren of Italian American coal miners, we find that they were not exclusively sufferers of economic injustice. Indeed, many were self-reliant and savvy entrepreneurs. From money saved digging coal, many started small businesses, bought homes and farms, even whole mountains where they themselves owned and managed profitable mining operations.


In PRIMO’s November/December 2009 Publisher’s Note, I recommend all subscribers to to read “The Wisdom of Tuscany,” by Ferenc Máté.

It is a wonderful book that captures the good life as only Italians can live it. Máté believes Tuscans serve as models for Americans in adopting a simpler and more direct lifestyle relying on self-employment, traditional crafts, agriculture, limited possessions, fine food and wine.

Like most Tuscans, Máté is a true Renaissance Man. Besides a celebrated author, he is a shipbuilder and experienced sailor, a talented landscape photographer, homebuilder and restorer, and an award-winning winemaker.

To learn more about this magnanimous Tuscan, please log on to his web site Better yet, pick up and read one of his excellent books listed, almost all of which are still in print and available for purchase from online and offline booksellers.

Seven Seas Sailors’ Calendar (published annually)
From a Bare Hull: How to Build a Sailboat
The Finely Fitted Yacht: The Boat Improvement Manual, Volumes 1 and 2
Shipshape: Art of Sailboat Maintenance
The World’s Best Sailboats
Best Boats
A Reasonable Life
The Hills of Tuscany
Autumn: A New England Journey
Ghost Sea: A Novel
A New England Autumn
A Vineyard in Tuscany
The Wisdom of Tuscany

Monday, November 2, 2009

September/October 2009 Notes

September/October 2009 Notes
From PRIMO’s Editor Truby Chiaviello…


Our feature article on San Francisco Opera is sure to make Italian Americans in that city, and those of every city in America, especially proud.

As the article points out, the opera company, today considered one of the finest in the world, was founded by Gaetano Merola of Naples over 70 years ago. We feature an in-depth biography of this incredible visionary who deserves credit for establishing opera not only in San Francisco, but in Los Angeles as well.

Merola’s legacy is immediately noticeably in a music education program that bears his name. The Merola Opera Program, offered by San Francisco Opera, fosters the talents of promising opera virtuosos. The 11 week program provides classes and opportunities for young artists to perform in public. Some 1,000 students have graduated from the program. Known as Merolini, alumni have gone on to sing in operas performed all over the country.

Visit the War Memorial Opera House and you will find inside a plaque commemorating some of the Italian Americans who supported Merola in his bid to start an opera house in San Francisco. In 1921 Italian American fishermen, bakers, grocers, and residents of North Beach and other neighborhoods donated funds to Merola to produce his first opera there. In 1931 Italian Americans supported the construction of the War Memorial Opera House.

The catalyst in the community was Giuseppe Brucia, an immigrant from Capo San Vito in Sicily. A well-respected businessman, he acquired a $15,000 loan from A.P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America, to satisfy one picky tenor’s demand for payment in gold coins. His son Joseph was also a major supporter of the opera company, funding the first opera simulcast held at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza. Joseph’s dogged determination led to the aforementioned plaque reinstalled in the opera house, after the first was stolen. Besides his father, names on the plaque are those recognized for their generous donations such as Louise Dana, Antonio Farina, James V. Frevola, Milano Milani, Alfonso Napolitano, Amedeo Napolitano, Amalio Paoni, Amedeo Paoni, Anacleto Paoni, Giulio Stradi, and Gigulielmo Torchia.


What makes this PRIMO edition truly remarkable is our investigation into Italy’s repatriations of relics and artifacts owned and displayed by America’s museums.

Titled “Who Owns Italian Culture,” consisting of four articles and an essay, our expose stands head and shoulders above all other media outlets in coverage of this issue. Much of what was written on the subject in other magazines and newspapers reported missed the mark. Disturbing elements in the story were overlooked. Reporters seemed to side with the Italian government and their claims that artifacts and items of antiquity here in America were stolen from Italian archives, libraries and archaeological sites. Our coverage shows a different view.

Read “Who Owns Italian Culture?” and you will be as troubled as I was regarding the Italian government’s denial of property rights, their presumption of guilt and the belief that history belongs to government not people.


Three art museums, in particular, had to turn over considerable material to Italy. For lack of space, we were unable to include the following list of items returned:

Apulian Crater Vase, Apulian Epichysis, Apulian or Campanian Lid, Donkey Head from Greece, Processional Cross, Tuscany, Sicilian Vase in the form of a pig, 435 B.C., Red-Figure Duck Askos, 350 B.C., Etruscan Bracelet, silver, 6th century B.C., Etruscan Bracelet, silver, 6th century B.C., Column Krater, Greece, 590 B.C., Campanian Bird, 4th century B.C., Red-Figure Lekythkos, Campania, 4th century B.C., Apulian Lekythos, 4th century B.C., Epichysis, 4th century B.C.

Two-handled vessel (nestoris) about 420-410 B.C., Lekythos, about 500-490 B.C., Water jar (kalpis-hydria) depicting Apollo making a libation before gods and goddesses, about 485 B.C., Two-handled jar (pelike) depicting Phineus with the sons of Boreas, about 450 B.C., Statue of Sabina, about A.D. 136, Water jar (hydria), about 530-520 B.C., Vase for bath water (loutrophoros) depicting Pelops and Hippodameia in chariot, 320-310 B.C., Mixing bowl (bell-krater), about 380-370 B.C., Oil flask (lekythos), about 490 B.C., Two-handled jar (amphora) depicting the murder of Atreus about 340–330 B.C., Triangular support for a candelabrum shaft, decorative colonette, or small basin, A.D. 20-60, Two-handled vessel (nestoris) depicting athletes in conversation with girls, late fifth century B.C.. Mixing bowl (bell-krater) with Thracian hunters, about 440-430 B.C.

Cult Statue of a Goddess, perhaps Aphrodite - 88.AA.76, Askos in Shape of a Siren – 92.AC.5, Fresco Fragments – 71.AG.111, Lekanis – 85.AA.107, Two Griffins Attacking a Fallen Doe – 85.AA.106, Attic Red-Figured Neck Amphora – 84.AE.63, Fragment of a fresco: lunette with mask of Hercules – 96.AG.171, Apulian Red-Figured Pelike – 87.AE.23, Apulian Red-Figured Loutrophorus – 84.AE.996, Attic Black-Figured Zone Cup – 87.AE.22, Attic Red-Figured Kalpis – 85.AE.316, Attic Red-Figured Kylix – 84.AE.569, Apulian Pelike with Arms of Achilles – 86.AE.611, Attic Red-Figured Kylix – 83.AE.287, Attic Red-Figured Calyx Krater – 88.AE.66, Attic Janiform Kantharos – 83.AE.218, Attic Red-Figured Phiale Fragments by Douris – 81.AE.213, Marble Bust of a Man – 85.AA.265, Attic Red-Figured Amphora with Lid – 79.AE.139, Apulian Red-Figured Volute Krater – 85.AE.102, Attic Red-Figured Calyx Krater – 92.AE.6 and 96.AE.335, Attic Red-Figured Mask Kantharos – 85.AE.263, Etruscan Red-Figured Plastic Duck Askos – 83.AE.203, Statue of Apollo – 85.AA.108, Group of Attic Red-Figured Calyx Krater Fragments (Berlin Painter, Kleophrades Painter) – 77.AE.5, Apulian Red-Figured Bell Krater – 96.AE.29, Statuette of Tyche – 96.AA.49, Attic Black-Figured Amphora (Painter of Berlin 1686) – 96.AE.92, Attic Black-Figured Amphora – 96.AE.93, Attic Red-Figured Cup – 96.AE.97, Pontic Amphora – 96.AE.139, Antefix in the Form of a Maenad and Silenos Dancing – 96.AD.33, Bronze Mirror with Relief-Decorated Cover – 96.AC.132, Attic Red-Figured Bell Krater – 81.AE.149, Apulian Red-Figured Volute Krater – 77.AE.14, Statuette of Dionysos – 96.AA.211, Attic Red-Figured Calyx Krater (“Birds”) – 82.AE.83, Group of three Fragmentary Corinthian Olpai – 81.AE.197, Paestan Squat Lekythos – 96.AE.119, Apulian Red-Figured Volute Krater – 77.AE.13


One cannot talk about repatriation of artifacts without mentioning Italy’s case against Marion True.

Not all lovers of Italian culture are Italian. True is one such person. A native of Oklahoma, True is the former antiquities curator at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. An expert in classicism and ancient Mediterranean culture, she was in charge of the Getty’s acquisition of artifacts and relics. She helped to establish the renowned Getty Villa, located in the hills outside LA, filled with items of antiquity from ancient Rome and Greece. Thanks in part to True’s efforts, the Getty rose to become one of the top art museums in the world within a 20 year period.

Now True’s world is turned upside down. She is the first American museum antiquities curator ever to faces criminal charges in Italy for trafficking in illicit artifacts.

Italy’s case against her is more eventful than justifiable. Trial proceedings in Rome are tarrying. Four years and six months into the case and the prosecution has yet to rest. The defense phase may take another four years. The presiding judge will retire in three. Meanwhile a host of issues between the Italian government and America’s museums have been settled.

One wonders what good can still come of the case.

Damage done to Italy from True’s alleged crimes is resolved. The Getty returned to Italy many of the suspected artifacts mentioned in the trial. Civil charges against True were dropped last year. A similar criminal case in Greece was dismissed earlier because the statute of limitations had run out. Most American museums have changed their acquisition policies to reflect greater compliance with Italian patrimony laws. Italy’s message has been received.

The prosecution’s case adds to the burden of justifiability. The convoluted nature of the antiquities trade makes it so. Too long is the line of buyers and sellers, brokers, middlemen and women, conservators, auctioneers, and private collectors to reasonably conclude True knew she was buying hot merchandise. Weak circumstantial evidence has led prosecutors to offer guilt by association. Touted are the curator’s sporadic dealings with suspicious collectors, i.e., a thank you note from her to a convicted smuggler on an unrelated matter is entered into evidence. Another tack is criminal negligence. A patronizing tone by Italian archeologists accompanies the theory that True should have known artifacts were stolen based on her extensive experience and education.

The case is unnecessary and unfounded. Italy should drop the charges against her.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The worst law enacted thus far in 2009 is Lucca’s ban on “ethnic foods.”

New vendors who wish to serve kebobs, falafel, tortilla wraps and Chinese takeout are now illegal in the city. Only those “ethnic food” vendors established prior to the law can remain in business.

The city administrators argue that foods served by immigrants, mostly on street corners and back alley entranceways, are a threat to Italy’s culture, more pointedly Tuscan cuisine. As they see it, tourists and residents of Lucca will forego the food of gourmets to feast on fast food cooked on outdoor hibachis and served from two-wheeled carts. They fear if given the choice we will prefer Moo Goo Gai Pan over Pasta Primavera.

Between Pisa and Florence, the walled medieval City of Lucca, with about 83,000 people, is noted for its hospitality and livability. Before the ban, Lucca was celebrated for its purity. As restaurants and trattorie in Florence, Rome and Venice gave in to the fickle tastes of tourists Lucca remained true to tradition. The food served in the city has always been unapologetically Tuscan, with recipes among others of wild game from nearby forests roasted with locally grown vegetables and herbs. (Reference: Please read article “Lucca-Italy’s Walled City,” in the July/August 2007 edition of PRIMO.)

Immigration is a touchy issue with me. As editor of PRIMO I have been immersed in the history of Italian migration to America. Much of that history is plagued with the persecution of Italians at the hands of opportunistic politicians and their ethnocentric constituents. As Italian immigrants took up residence outside the country’s major cities in increasing numbers the backlash against them went into high gear. It led to the passage of the National Origins Act in the 1920s for the primary purpose of keeping out Italians.

Based on this it is hard for me to agree to any law that prohibits immigration...anywhere. And that in essence is what the Lucca food ban does. It is not a law to preserve Italian culture but rather to throw out immigrants. It takes away the livelihoods of Arabs, Africans and Chinese in Lucca. Many will have to return to their native lands or come to America as a result.

There is so much I dislike about the law that it is difficult for me to find where to start. But I will try and share with you my top two peeves.

First, the law is wrong on its stated premise. The idea that Italian food is under threat of becoming extinct is ludicrous. In fact the opposite is true.

Here in America Italian cuisine reigns supreme. Every grocery store carries foods imported from Italy or inspired and created from Italian recipes. Italian food is served almost everywhere in America from the finest restaurants to the local sandwich shop. The cities of these immigrants, Cairo, Nairobi, and Hong Kong, all have numerous Italian restaurants there as well. Italian prepared foods are consumed all over the world, more so today than in the past because of free trade. Take for example Nutella, the hazelnut chocolate spread from Italy. It is fed to children all over the Middle East. And pasta; it is now a staple in households throughout Africa. The growing Chinese middle class have developed a taste for Italian wine. And then there is pizza…enough said.

Italians can rest assured that their food and culture is alive and well in the world.

That I find most galling about the law is how it seeks to tell people how to live their own lives. Why is it that officials everywhere feel a need to dictate human behavior? In that way Lucca is no different than anywhere else. But Lucca’s ban tries to govern personal choice at its most intimate level. What is more personal than the food you eat? According to Lucca administrators, the state can trust you as an adult to vote, to serve in the military and to own property, but not to choose which food to eat on the city’s streets.

It is mindless. I can only hope the days of Lucca’s “ethnic food” ban are numbered.

Until then, I advise everyone to follow the law. The next time you find yourself in Lucca, remember this: Like it or not, you have to eat delicious Italian food.