Covid19, the hospital at the time of a pandemic; a review of the book and an interview of the author.

 By Tiziano Thomas Dossena

“Covid19, L’ospedale in tempo di pandemia” (Covid19, the hospital at the time of a pandemic) is a thorough photographic reportage by the famed Italian photographer Lella Beretta. It is combined by corresponding, meaningful and descriptive chapters written by doctors, nurses, and health workers who have lived, and probably still do on a smaller scale, the tragedy of Covid19 with its impact on society as a whole.
The pictures are vivid, sharp, and emotional, and the cuts are exceptional, as expected by a professional, sensitive photographer such as Lella. The progress of the text is as haunting as the photographs themselves. The individual articles act somehow as chapters in the development of the thread of Covid19’s story as it impacted two hospitals in Nothern Italy. They carry atypical names such as “The day and the night without any boundary,” “Something more,” “Protection,” “Snapshots of a life,” “Long I basked,” “Sorrowful understanding,” “Rebirth,” “Gratitude”… and are collected into groups titled “The story begins,” “Emotions,” “Tales,” but then again, what was so typical about this pandemic? Nothing.
The choice of images and articles are a perfect match and allow the reader to appreciate the sacrifices that health workers all over the world had to endure; conversely, there is much more than that in the experience that this beautiful volume offers through its imagery. Lella Beretta has the ability to convey the same emotions that she feels the moment she takes a picture through the image itself. It’s a gift, a talent that only a few chosen photographers have. Her pictures are the product of an artist, and the viewer relives somehow her personal experience by observing them.
Furthermore, this volume lets the reader visit, if only visually, a section of a hospital that only a few chosen people ever see, unless they are infected and in poor condition.
This book offers a great opportunity for everyone to view the arrival, development, diffusion, and treatment of the Covid 19 virus in Italy while at the same time allowing the reader to visualize the emotional impact it had with its isolation and deaths. “Covid19, L’ospedale in tempo di pandemia”  is a book that has found a way to describe a tragedy while still depicting poetically the dramatic moments connected to it. I personally hope that an English language version will be available soon.

L’Idea Magazine: Lella, how did it come to your mind to go into the hospital and take all the photographs you took?
Lella Beretta: In March 2020, an unpredictable and dramatic lockdown literally imprisoned me in my home and prevented me from moving around, except for a short walk twice a day with my dog.
The world around me no longer had joy, it was distressing and the few people I met, protected by masks and gloves, stayed away from everyone, terrified by the risk of contagion. A dangerous and lethal virus that was spreading with great speed in the world had destroyed my certainties in an instant, had taken me away from my children, my friends, canceled my appointments, events, exhibitions, and travels. I watched TV and the dramatic news of what had now become a pandemic accompanied my silent and lonely days.
At the time, army trucks full of coffins were taken from Bergamo to nearby towns to be cremated because there was no more room for more dead people in the city’s cemetery. When they began to parade on the news, I decided that I too had to do something and that I could not just stand by and watch. I, therefore, decided that for the first time in my life I should make a report and tell, as war photographers do, what happened to a Covid patient when he entered the hospital, his journey through the wards of Dante’s Inferno, his treatment, his healing or death. I wanted to tell how the Hospital, the most armored place on the planet, protected itself and those infected by the virus, and how overwhelming was the loneliness of Covid patients and their death, which occurred without the caress of a child or a life partner but only accompanied by the compassionate smile of a health worker, tucked into a spacesuit from which only the eyes were leaking, tired and distressed by what was happening…I had the authorization from the Hospital’s General Director, convinced that in order not to forget it was necessary to be able to tell this story, and so began my documentation, the most difficult, painful, and courageous of my life as a photographer!

L’Idea MagazineYou took great risks and, in the end, Covid too. Regrets?
Lella Beretta: There were risks, and how!! I noticed it almost immediately. When my journey began I found myself in front of space figures running from one room to another protected from head to toe, unrecognizable, lowered into diving suits, with double gloves and double masks, visors, ankle boots … in short, figures from science fiction films.
A yellow line drawn on the floor divided the clean area from the dirty one, that is, dangerous not to be crossed if not protected beyond belief. To visit and get closer to Covid patients, often intubated or with their head tucked into a helmet to help their breathing, it was necessary to carry out the ritual of protective “dressing”, and not to leave even an inch of our body uncovered.
At the end of the visits, overalls, gloves, masks, hats, shoe covers … were thrown into bags to be hermetically sealed in order to re-enter the so-called “clean” part of the ward, where the virus had no possibility of circulating. And then, disinfectants everywhere… but especially on the hands. I protected myself as well, naturally, but in the first months of the infection, I saw doctors and nurses also get sick and die and I understood that perhaps my courage was recklessness. In any case, I finished my reportage without consequences, but shortly before getting vaccinated I fell ill through a family contact, and in the days when my book was printed I met the virus in person.
I experienced directly the devastating effects of this disease and my husband, who was also infected, ended up in a hospital with serious, bilateral pneumonia, and was saved by a miracle.
No regrets … maybe I would have regretted not having done so. From the very beginning, I felt this project as a “mission”. Nobody was allowed to enter the hospital, especially in the Covid wards. I had had this pass for a very specific and very important purpose … I had to create a “Historical Document” to tell this tragic health emergency that should never be forgotten …
And this, proudly, I did…

Letter of the Pope in appreciation of the book

L’Idea Magazine: When did it occur to you that all these magnificent photographs, so full of humanity, could become a book?
Lella Beretta: At the beginning, I only wanted to give the shots of this Reportage to the Hospital Management … but then the Pandemic did not cease and continued its dramatic journey allowing me, in spite of myself, to complete the story more and more.
The vaccine was the light at the end of the tunnel, and having covered all the stages of Covid19 I understood that, with the help of an emergency room doctor who took care of the editorial project and the texts written by doctors, nurses, and health workers ​​who had faced the hospital emergency, a beautiful, true, authentic book full of exciting images and profound texts could easily be born. And so it was.

L’Idea Magazine: How did you go about creating and financing the book?
Lella Beretta: Since I had no personal profit in mind, it was decided to use any profit from the sales of the book to purchase the latest generation respiratory compressors for the hospitals photographed, which are very useful for the Pneumology, Cardiology, and the Resuscitation and Intensive Care departments.
For the printing, we found two benefactors (Dr. Alessandro Caprioglio and Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Vercelli) who took on the total cost of the printing. A non-profit organization acted as a guarantor to convey the money collected directly to the hospital and then transform them into the equipment established at the end of the sale.

Letter of the Prime Minister of Italy in appreciation of the book…

L’Idea Magazine: Are you planning to bring the photography exhibition to New York?
Lella Beretta: More than thinking of bringing the Photo Exhibition to New York … I DREAM that this could happen!
As you well know, organizing an exhibition in another continent today, precisely because of the anti-Covid measures, is very difficult and complicated.
You have to find a location, send the pictures, have someone take care of the organization from there… Of course, it would be a fantastic event and would tell something that everyone in some way knew directly or indirectly, something that changed everyone’s life … it would open a window on prohibited wards that no one in this year and a half has been able to see, and maybe it would make those who have not yet done so get vaccinated, so as not to become one of the sick people photographed in my book.

L’Idea Magazine: I know you already have an English version in the works. Can we expect to see it in the US?
Lella Beretta: A very good translator, Andrea Serpieri, after looking at the images and reading the book, became so enthusiastic that he decided to commit himself, free of charge, to its translation into English … It is a truly commendable gesture that I really appreciated. We could have used this translation for a reprint destined for international circulation, and I believe it would have been a resounding success since today it is one of the few photographic books with images taken “live” in healthcare facilities … But a home has not yet been found for it, we need a publisher that will “adopt” it, publish it and sell it all over the world.
We are waiting for the Miracle…
Are you by any chance one of the Saints who work miracles on earth? Or do you know anyone?

Letter from the President of the Republic of Italy…

L’Idea Magazine: A message for our readers?
Lella Beretta: The year I spent in the hospital, next to the ‘Cursed Virus,’ even if as a spectator, changed me a lot.
I, as a Photographer of Beauty and Joy, from the Paradise where I lived, found myself catapulted into the circles of Hell and I knew and told about Illness and Death. I saw many people enter with breathing difficulties, greet their loved ones for the last time, and then leave, after being wrapped in a sheet soaked in disinfectant, in a coffin…
In short, the messages that I could leave from this experience of mine to the readers of your beautiful Magazine would be many … but I would like one in particular to reach them, and it is the awareness of the fragility of us human beings.
We who travel in space and improve our lives every day with more and more sophisticated technological discoveries, we who communicate in a few seconds with the whole world through the Internet and who experience the power and intelligence of our mind every day, here we are, so strong and sure of our strength, and we could at any moment be annihilated by an invisible, little-known and lethal virus…

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“Italians deepened my appreciation for living each day to its fullest and savoring happiness…” An exclusive interview with Dianne Hales

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Dianne Hales is the author of La Passione: How Italy Seduced the WorldLa Bella Lingua, a New York Times best-seller; Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, an Amazon best book of the year, translated into six languages; and more than forty trade and textbooks. Her other books (listed below) include “Just Like a Woman,” “Caring for the Mind,” and thirty editions of a leading college health textbook, “An Invitation to Health.”
Following publication of the New York Times-bestselling La Bella Lingua, the President of Italy awarded Dianne the highest recognition the government can bestow on a foreigner: honorary knighthood, with the title of ‘Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella della Solidarietà Italiana”(Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity), for her contributions to promoting the Italian language.

L’Idea Magazine: Hello Dianne. You state on your website that although you have “written a thousand articles for national publications and authored more than forty trade and textbooks…the books inspired by Italy remain closest to”…(your) heart. Why is it so?
Dianne Hales  In my long career,  I’ve written on many subjects that interested me—from women’s health to psychology to fitness. But my books on Italy are true labors of love, written from the heart. I began studying Italian years before I ever thought of writing a book on Italy.  La Bella Lingua was born of a true and enduring passion for the language.

L’Idea Magazine: So. You are not Italian but fell in love with the Italian language…When did that start?
Dianne Hales: I unexpectedly found myself in Italy in 1983, and I knew only one sentence in Italian: “Mi dispiace ma non parlo italiano.”  I used it constantly, and people replied with such warmth and enthusiasm that I yearned to communicate with them. Even when I couldn’t understand exactly what they were saying, I loved the emotions they conveyed and the beauty of the sounds.
I came back to the U.S. determined to study Italian. Every time I returned to Italy, speaking Italian—very slowly at first — helped me forge new connections and friendships. Beyond conversations, I reveled in Italian’s playfulness and musicality, and nuances.  To this day I find myself smiling when I come across certain words or expressions as I read an Italian article or book.

L’Idea Magazine: Do you also cook Italian style? Do you believe your love affair with Italy and its language made you a better person? How else has it influenced your life?
Dianne Hales: There are foods, like olives, that I never even ate before I spent time in Italy. Now I can’t imagine a day without them—or without espresso. I don’t consider myself a great cook, but eating in Italy increased my awareness of flavors and high-quality ingredients. California, where I live, has wonderful fresh produce, but—alas—I’ve never found cheeses or prosciutto (even when imported) that rival the ones in Italian markets.
As for being a better person: Chissa?  We should become better, kinder, wiser, more loving and forgiving and compassionate, as we get older.  I feel that I evolved into my truest self in Italy and developed in ways I might not have otherwise.

L’Idea Magazine: Is “La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language” your first book about Italy and the Italian language? What prompted you to write it? 
Dianne Hales:  I had been studying Italian for several years when my agent Joy Harris and I were talking about my next book project. “You should write about Italy—you light up when you talk about it,” she said.
“I can’t,” I replied. “Everything that can be written about Italy has been written.”
“What about Italian?” she asked. “Does it have a story worth telling?”
I immediately started researching the history of Italian and discovered its rich, colorful, zesty, fascinating evolution—from the street language of ancient Rome to the Sicilian poets to San Francesco to Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, La Crusca…and on and on. I found it irresistible. As a journalist, I know a good story when I see it, and so I took on what turned out to be a daunting challenge: the biography of a language other than my own.

L’Idea Magazine: “La Bella Lingua” was also translated into Italian…
Dianne Hales: Outsiders always have a different perspective on a culture.  For example, a scholar in Florence told me that he was shocked to read that I had an initial dislike for Dante. “That’s unthinkable for an Italian,” he explained. Dante eventually won me over, but I’ve found that Italians are intrigued to discover how a foreigner reacts to their mother tongue.
Because Italian is my second language,  I notice and pick up on things native speakers take for granted. Italian often tell me that they appreciate their language more after reading  La Bella Lingua and feel more committed to preserving it and not using “Englishisms” like “weekend” and “coffee break.”

L’Idea Magazine: After that, you published “Mona Lisa: A Life discovered”. What were the stimuli that brought you to write this book? 
Dianne Hales: While I was researching La Bella Lingua, an art curator and professor—Ludovica Sebregondi—in Florence invited me to dinner. When I admired the palazzo where she lived, she casually remarked that the mother of La Gioconda grew up in this very place. I had never thought of Mona Lisa as a real woman—let alone as a daughter and a citizen of Florence.
With the help of local archivists, I traced the life of Lisa Gheradini—from the street where she was born to the houses where she lived as a child to the route she took to her husband’s home on her wedding day. I knelt in the chapel where her family prayed and visited the convent where her daughter took vows as a nun and where Mona Lisa chose to spend her final years and be buried. As I retraced her steps, Renaissance Florence—the city of Leonardo and Michelangelo — came alive to me. It was magical.

L’Idea Magazine: La Passione Italiana, an interesting topic for your next book about Italy, “La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World”. Could you tell us more about that?
Dianne Hales: After decades of visiting Italy, I began to see a common theme in Italians: a passion that inspired them to pour their time and energy into something they valued. To me,  la passione italiana is a primal force that stems from an insatiable hunger to discover and create.
During my quest for Italian passion,  I shadowed artisanal makers of chocolate and cheese, joined in Sicily’s Holy Week traditions, celebrated a neighborhood Carnevale in Venice, and explored vineyards, silk mills, movie sets, ceramics studios, movie sets, race tracks, and fashion salons. I wanted to introduce readers to unforgettable personalities brimming with the greatest of Italian passions—for life itself.

L’Idea Magazine: You also published an ebook titled “A is for Amore” (download it here for free). Obviously, the topic is ‘love’, but what is your approach to it?
Dianne Hales: Early in the pandemic in 2020, Italy inspired the world with its expressions of courage and compassion. Like so many, I was deeply touched. I wanted to respond with my own tribute to Italians. The first word that came to mind was amore, and then I decided to take readers on a whimsical letter-by-letter journey through the Italian ABCs– to savor Italians’ favorite dishes, delve into the worlds of fashion and wine, meet Dante, Leonardo, and the irresistible Italian man and gain a new appreciation of the Italian “H” (acca) and “Z” (zeta).
From the beginning, I wanted this to be a gift, so I published it as an e-book that can be downloaded for free on my website [www.diannehales.com].

L’Idea Magazine: What is the aim of your blog “A Passion for Italy”?
Dianne Hales: In 2009 I began writing language-themed blogs that I published as “Becoming Italian Word by Word.” Much to my delight, the readership grew and grew.  I heard from readers around the world—from South Africa to Argentina to China. As I discovered, a love for Italy and Italian is truly universal.
With the publication of La Passione, I decided to include more aspects of Italian life.  I changed the title to cover more diverse topics, and I’ve been happy to publish guest posts by authors of cookbooks, memoirs, and other Italy-based stories.
Tiziano, I don’t think I will be continuing the blog and newsletter much longer.  I’ll probably make an announcement early in 2022.

L’Idea Magazine: I am very sorry to hear about that…I am sure the visitors will miss you. You don’t only write about Italy, though. You are the author of 30 editions of a leading college health textbook, “An Invitation to Health”. What prompted you to write this textbook?
Dianne Hales: As a journalist, I specialized in writing about health and fitness, so when a publisher approached me to write a textbook for college students, I was delighted.  I believe that young people need clear, factual, relevant information about their minds and bodies, the importance of nutrition and exercise, the need for prevention of diseases, and other related topics. I ended up writing thirty editions of Invitation to Health before retiring from the project in 2020.

L’Idea Magazine: Are you working on any special projects at this time? A new book, maybe?
Dianne Hales: Since I was unable to return to Italy, I began exploring the place I call home: the coast of northern California. Rather than interviewing linguists and historians, I am talking with marine scientists, naturalists, fishermen, geologists, oceanographers, ecologists, and environmentalists. Instead of Armani jackets and Ferragamo heels, I wear waders and carry binoculars and spend my days hiking, monitoring seal moms, counting migrating raptors (birds of prey), and shadowing scientists researching climate change.  I’m not sure if this will become a book or a blog or something else entirely, but I’m relishing the adventures.

L’Idea Magazine: If you had the opportunity to meet and speak to any individual of your choice, past or present, who would that person be and what would you like to ask?
Dianne Hales: I became so fascinated with Leonardo when I was researching my book on Mona Lisa that I’d love to meet him. His mind was constantly churning with ideas and observations so rather than specific questions, I’d prefer to accompany him on a walk to observe waves or birds of other things that fascinated him. Then I’d say, “Tell me what you see.”

L’Idea Magazine: If you could define yourself with three adjectives, what would they be?
Dianne Hales: Joyful, curious,  passionate—and Italy has contributed to all three.
I inherited what my family calls “the joy gene” from my Dad, but Italians deepened my appreciation for living each day to its fullest and savoring happiness whenever we find it.  Curiosity led me into a career as a journalist and author—and to study Italian and immerse myself in Italian culture. And my passion for new discoveries and ideas led me to kindred spirits in Italy and inspired me to write La Passione.

L’Idea Magazine: Any secret dreams you’d like to share with us??
Dianne Hales:  I would wish to be as eternally fascinating as Rome, as romantic as Venice, as intense as Sicily, as elegant as Milan, as inspiring as Florence. At the moment, though, my secret dream is simply to return to Italy, to bask in its sunshine, to swim in its seas, to revel in its beauty and, above all, to share food, wine, and laughter with friends I dearly miss.

L’Idea Magazine: A message for our readers?
Dianne Hales: Thank you for sharing your homeland, your mother tongue, and your fascinating history and culture with so many foreigners like myself.  We can never be true Italians but your generosity of spirit makes us feel welcome.  Mi sento a mio agio in Italia—grazie a voi!

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The chief reason I became a writer is that God called me to be a writer… [L’Idea Magazine 2021]

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Dr. MaryAnn Diorio is a widely published, award-winning author who writes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry for both adults and children. Her work has appeared in over 100 national magazines, newspapers, and journals, including “The Saturday Evening Post,” Billy Graham’s “Decision Magazine,” The Press of Atlantic City,” and “Human Events.” She has also served as head writer for a regional television series titled “Teen Machine.” 

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You grew up in a large Italian family. How much did that influence you and in what way?
MaryAnn Diorio: As the eldest of eight children, I had to grow up fast. 🙂  In order to help my mother with all that is involved in rearing eight children, I learned to take care of my younger siblings at an early age. This helped me to develop leadership skills, organizational skills, and relationship skills. Not only that, when I had my own children, I did not experience the “new mother” fears of how to take care of babies because I already had lots of experience. 🙂 In fact, I practically “raised” one of my own brothers who is 15 years my junior. To this day, we are very close.

“As the eldest of eight children, I had to grow up fast.”

MaryAnn Diorio (standing) with her parents and one of her siblings

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You also studied and earned an advanced degree in Italy and speak fluent Italian. Would you say that being Italian had a positive effect on your writing?
MaryAnn Diorio: I would say yes, but only in terms of the cultural backdrop and the setting of my novels that take place in Italy.  In other words, the principles of fiction writing are the same regardless of the characters and the setting. But, in my novels set in Italy, my being Italian enabled me to present the Italian culture and mindset, as well as the setting, in a way that a non-Italian, perhaps, could not have. On the other hand, a non-Italian would be better able than I to present the cultural mentality of his own nationality and country of origin. This is the reason we novelists must research when we write about cultures other than our own.
To give an example, a good portion of my novel In Black and White takes place in Ghana. I have never been to Ghana, so I had to do extensive research on the people of Ghana and on the country itself. It helped that I have close friends who are from Ghana.
So, to recap, being Italian had a positive effect on my novels set in Italy with Italian characters, just as being French would have on a French author’s novels with French characters set in France.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:: Your parents’ love story is a wonderful one. Could you tell us more about that?
MaryAnn Diorio: Yes. My father was the son of Sicilian immigrants. He was the first of the five children of his family born in America. During World War II, he enlisted in the United States Army and was stationed in Italy. Since he spoke Italian, he was assigned to be an interpreter to American military officials based in Naples after the Allied invasion from Sicily. It so happened that my mother worked in the same building in Naples in which American military personnel had offices and in which my father worked. Their paths crossed in this building, and the rest is history. My mother became one of the first Italian war brides of World War II to marry an Italian-American and to come to America.

“Since childhood, I have been a voracious reader, and I love the sound of words and the way they play out on the page.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:: I can see from your curriculum that you are a prolific writer. What triggered originally your interest in writing?
MaryAnn Diorio:  I had never considered becoming a writer, although I had a fleeting moment in high school when I thought of becoming a journalist. But that thought left as quickly as it came.
Since childhood, I have been a voracious reader, and I love the sound of words and the way they play out on the page. When I was a little girl, my father would often read poetry to me. I loved to listen to the lilting sound of his voice as he read. I am sure that those poetry readings gave me a deep love and appreciation for language.
But the chief reason I became a writer is that God called me to be a writer. When I was thirty years old, I began to sense a desire to write. I found this strange because I had never considered becoming a writer. But the desire increased. By this time, I had surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I knew that He had a plan for my life, but that plan was not yet clear to me. At the time, I was still teaching foreign languages.
One day I said to the Lord, “Lord, why do I have this desire to write? Is this desire from You?  If so, please increase it. If not, please take it away.”
Well, the desire increased to the point that I could no longer ignore it. I finally realized that the strong desire was God’s way of telling me that He had called me to a writing ministry. God eventually confirmed this calling by allowing one of my poems to be published in The Saturday Evening Post, a feat virtually unheard of for a neophyte writer like me.
God has a call on each person’s life. The only way to discover that call is to discover God first. The only way to discover God the Father is first to discover His Son, Jesus Christ. The only way to discover Jesus Christ is through the power of the Holy Spirit Who draws us to Christ.
God is three Persons in one God. This is a mystery of the Christian faith. Just as an egg is one, single egg made up of three parts (yolk, albumen, and shell), so is God three Persons in one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When I discovered Jesus Christ and accepted Him, He began to show me His plan for my life, which is to write for Him.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:: So, some of your writing is aimed at bringing the values of Christianity on focus, such as in “Who Is Jesus?” and the recently published “The Iron Saint”.  Could you tell us more about this last book of yours?
MaryAnn Diorio: It is no secret that we are living in a world that has gone crazy. Jesus predicted this would happen in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, among other places in the Bible, including the Book of Revelation in the New Testament and the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. In fact, the Bible calls these times we are living in “perilous times” (2 Timothy 3: 1).

The Iron Saint is modeled after the Iron Man Triathlon.”

As things grow darker in the world, Christians will be persecuted here in America. Of course, Christians have been persecuted in other parts of the world for decades–even centuries. But persecution has not hit our own land. Well, it soon will–and has already begun–as Christians are being increasingly ostracized, maligned, and censored.
Regarding The Iron Saint, on November 3, 2020, I was having my daily time with the Lord early in the morning. In addition to the Bible, I often read from a devotional book called My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. In the entry for that day, Oswald mentions the phrase “iron saint” in reference to a Christ-Follower who remains strong through suffering and persecution.
In that instant, the Lord spoke to me (and, yes, the Lord speaks to His followers, not usually in an audible voice but through their thoughts that arise from their spirits where the Holy Spirit dwells). He said to me, “I want you to write a book called The Iron Saint to prepare the Church in America for the coming persecution. I want you to release the book in January 2021.”
Shortly thereafter, in a Sunday morning service in my church, a prophetic message came forth. The message was, “Prepare for the fire of persecution.” God was confirming the message He had given me.
So, I put aside all of my other writing projects and wrote The Iron Saint. The book was released in January 2021.
The Iron Saint is modeled after the Iron Man Triathlon. The Iron Saint is divided into three main sections that parallel a participant’s preparation for the Iron Man Triathlon: BuildingFueling, and Transitioning. It is a manual for Christians in America to help them prepare for persecution in the days ahead. While it deals with a very sobering topic, it is full of hope in God’s grace to help us overcome and endure till the end.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:: You had a popular syndicated column, “Winning with the Word,” which appeared in newspapers throughout the state of New Jersey, and it’s now a blog. What is “Winning with the Word” about?
MaryAnn DiorioWinning with the Word is a combination weekly blog post and podcast that offers Biblical principles for living the fulfilling, abundant life Jesus promises us through obedience to His Word. God has given us His Word, also called the Bible, as a manual for life. Just as we get a manual with a car or a washing machine, so do we get a manual when we are born into this world. But, as with most manuals, few people read God’s manual for life. If we did, we would avoid most, if not all, bad decisions in life. In my 50-plus years of following Jesus, I have learned that only two things are needful: 1) Hear the Word of God and 2) Obey the Word of God. If we consistently do these two things, we will make wise decisions in life.
The Word of God has been my sustenance since I first came to Christ. It has never failed me nor has it ever been proven wrong in my life.
God’s Word is true and everlasting because it was written by the Holy Spirit Who used human beings to pen His words.  The Bible is absolute truth, something our culture no longer believes in. It is the standard of measurement by which everything else is evaluated and judged. In Winning with the Word, I present this absolute truth and show how it applies to our daily lives in a very practical way.
Here is a link to a recent Winning with the Word blogpost/podcast titled “Truth and Love: Inseparable Twins”:
https://maryanndiorio.com/2021/08/09/truth-and-love-inseparable-twins

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:: Among the hundreds of articles you wrote, one of them won the Third Place Award in the prestigious Amy Awards Contest. What was the topic?
MaryAnn Diorio: The title of this winning article was “From Feminism to Freedom.” The article was published in Human Events, originally a print newspaper but now published only online in digital format.
“From Feminism to Freedom” is an essay describing my journey from a societal and cultural view of women (although I never condoned abortion at any stage of pregnancy) to a Biblical view of the woman.
The world’s concept of woman is far different from God’s concept of woman. Throughout the centuries, women in virtually all cultures have been viewed as inferior to men and incapable of great achievements.  Yet, to the surprise of many, the Bible teaches the opposite.

“Common sense–and our own observation and experience–tell us that men and women are different not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically.”

Feminism is the world’s attempt to give to women the same privileges as those belonging to men. At the root of this desire is the truth that women are equal to men in value.
But there is a logical fallacy that the feminists don’t take into account, and that is that while women are equal in value to men, they are not equal in function. The problem with feminism arises when men and women are viewed as being exactly the same in function as well as in value.
The Bible says that men and women are equal in value but different in function. God intentionally created man and woman to be different in function. If both men and women were exactly the same in function, one of them would not be necessary.
Common sense–and our own observation and experience–tell us that men and women are different not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically. These differences are good because God created man and woman to complement each other. Neither is complete without the other, although each can be whole apart from the other. Together, man and woman make a perfectly functioning whole for the building of a solid society and a solid family.
Only women can biologically produce babies. Men cannot. This does not mean that women are superior or inferior to men. It simply means that women have a different God-given function.

“Interestingly, God created woman last of all that He created. The woman, therefore, can be called the pinnacle of God’s creation.”

Just as a fork is not a knife and performs a function different from a knife, so are women different from men. The fork is not inferior or superior to the knife, just different and made for a different purpose. Both are important and necessary to eat a meal properly.
Jesus Christ honored and venerated women and elevated them to their rightful place in His creation. I find it interesting that the first person to whom Jesus appeared after His Resurrection was a woman. He also gave to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) the great privilege of being the first person to tell her whole town about Him.
That said, prior to my encounter with Jesus, I held the world’s view of women (albeit, as I mentioned above, I was and always have been strongly opposed to abortion at any stage of pregnancy). I lived in constant competition with men because I espoused the lie that I had to be equal to men in function in order to have value. But when I came to Christ, I learned that I am equal to men in value but that I am different in function. Only as I embrace who God made me to be, can I be truly fulfilled and happy.
So I did. I rejoiced in my womanhood. I also rejoiced in the manhood of men. I recognized that both man and woman were created by God for a special purpose and that both are necessary to His plan.
Interestingly, God created woman last of all that He created. The woman, therefore, can be called the pinnacle of God’s creation. If we assume that God created “from the bottom up,” as it were, then can we assume that woman is God’s masterpiece? I say this tongue-in-cheek.
The truth is that woman was taken from man’s side, clearly demonstrating that she is man’s equal. As Bible commentator Matthew Henry famously wrote: “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:: Some of the books you wrote for children are for early and reluctant readers. Could you tell us more about them? 
MaryAnn Diorio: I wrote the Penelope Pumpernickel books to help counter the lies about human nature and human life that are now being perpetrated through many children’s books. These lies are harming our children. Some of these lies are, in my opinion, tantamount to child abuse.
For example, little children are being taught that they can and should choose their own genders. This is blatantly contrary to what God says in the Bible in Genesis 1: 27: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” They are being taught that it’s all right to have two daddies or two mommies, yet another blatant violation of God’s Word.
In addition to my desire to present Biblical truth to young children, I wrote the Penelope Pumpernickel series to help early and reluctant readers enjoy reading. So much of a child’s attitude toward reading develops in the early stages of learning to read. If a child does not find the experience of learning to read enjoyable, that child will tend to shy away from reading for the rest of his life.
So, to make the learning-to-read experience an entertaining one, I created stories that reflect normal situations in a child’s life, and I present those situations in a funny and adventurous way.
I also aim in this series to show children that doing right is always the right thing to do. In a world that has abandoned virtue and values, I aim in this series to offer children the Biblical truth that doing things God’s way is always best for them in the long run.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  You also published Non-Fiction Books for Junior High School Students…
MaryAnn Diorio: Several years ago, I contracted with Enslow Publishers to write three books for their Understanding Literature series. So, I wrote A Student’s Guide to Nathanial HawthorneA Student’s Guide to Herman Melville, and A Student’s Guide to Mark Twain. In writing each of these books, I drew on my broad experience in the field of Comparative Literature and in teaching high school English.
The Guides serve as a wonderful introduction to these famous American authors included in the high school curriculum of both public and private schools. Students also find these books useful in preparing book reports and term papers.
A few years ago, the rights to all three books reverted to me, so I reissued them. They are now available on Amazon and on my website at maryanndiorio.com/book-table. Homeschoolers find them especially useful.

L’Idea Magazine: Your novels have received a lot of praise from the critics and a great response from the readers. Let’s talk about “Miracle in Milan” since I am from Milan and everything about that city interests me… (Laugh out loud)
MaryAnn Diorio: How special that you are from Milan! Auguri! 🙂  It’s such an amazing city! Miracle in Milan, of course, is set in your native city. It is the story of a young, female auditor who discovers convincing evidence that the man she loves is an embezzler. I chose Milan as the setting for this story because Milan, as the financial and business center of Italy, lends itself perfectly to a plot involving both financial suspense and romance. Moreover, the beauty of the city and its surrounding areas proved to be the perfect place to weave my plot. One of my aunts lived in Milan for several years. I still have a cousin by marriage who lives there with his family. On a visit to Italy some years ago, my first stop was Milano! 🙂

“…there is only one race: the human race…”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: A novel of yours, “In Black and White,” won First Place for Historical Fiction in the 2020 Christian Indie Book Awards Contest. What is the topic of this novel?
MaryAnn Diorio: This novel deals with the topic of prejudice and its deleterious effects on the human soul. Set in the 1950s, it is the love story between a white woman and a black man amid the insidious and horrendous societal and familial obstacles they must face and overcome in order to preserve their love. Set in the 1950s, both in the United States and in Ghana, the story reflects the futility of racism and presents the Biblical truth that there is only one race: the human race.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:: You are also the author of a popular trilogy, “The Italian Chronicles”.  The first of these three books won six awards, a remarkable feat. What inspired you to write these three books and what are they about?
MaryAnn DiorioThe Italian Chronicles Trilogy was sparked by an incident in the life of my paternal great-great-grandmother. During my growing-up years, I heard snippets of this incident here and there from older family members, but I was never able to glean the whole story. Whether my elders considered me too young to know, or whether they simply didn’t want me to know, I frankly do not know.
In any case, the incident would not leave me. I took it upon myself to investigate it. Through a miraculous series of events, God led me to a professional genealogist in Sicily who, amazingly, had close ties with my family.
He did all of the genealogical research for me, sent me copies of original documents, and filled in the gaps to my understanding of what happened.
What happened was that my great-great-grandmother, a peasant in a small Sicilian village, had been raped, resulting in the birth of my great-great-grandfather. It was not clear whether the perpetrator of the crime was a priest or a wealthy landowner. But, regardless, my great-great-grandmother had suffered at the hands of a lustful, greedy man.
After reviewing the research of my genealogist friend, I knew I had to write The Italian Chronicles Trilogy to exonerate my great-great-grandmother’s good name. Those who read the first book of the trilogy, The Madonna of Pisano, will understand how I did this.

“I love writing fiction most of all.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: In your writer’s curriculum you also have various novellas and short stories, for which you won several awards. Could you tell us something about your novella “A Christmas Homecoming,” please?
MaryAnn DiorioA Christmas Homecoming is a modern-day prodigal son story, only this story features a prodigal daughter. It is the story of an estranged relationship between a mother and her daughter. When a woman’s teenage daughter suddenly disappears, the woman faces losing her faith, her family, and her mind. While this story occurs against the backdrop of Christmas, it is a story for all seasons.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  Of all the awards you have won through the years, which one is the most meaningful for you and why?
MaryAnn Diorio: I would say that the first award I received for a novel is the most meaningful for me. The reason is that, of all the kinds of writing I have done, I love writing fiction most of all. Writing fiction has also been the most challenging type of writing for me. So, to win an award for fiction is an affirmation of sorts that all of my hard work to learn the craft of writing fiction has not been in vain.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Besides being a writer, you are also a Certified Life Coach and the director of Celebration Life Coaching. When did you embrace this activity and why?
MaryAnn Diorio: I have always loved to encourage people. Throughout my life, people have come to me for advice and would tell me how they left uplifted and empowered.
When the coaching phenomenon began to move from the business world to the mainstream world in the late nineties and the early part of the 21st century, it caught my interest. As I explored coaching further and prayed about it, I sensed that God wanted me to use the gift of encouragement He had given me to bless others on a larger scale. So, I enrolled in a life coach training program and became a Certified Life Coach. Thereafter, I opened a coaching practice that I still operate. My life coaching is done entirely from a Biblical perspective. My goal is to work with each client to help him find and fulfill the purpose for which God created him. Your readers can find more information about life coaching as well as some client testimonials here.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: A former university professor of both fiction writing and Romance languages, you are also the founder and director of The MaryAnn Diorio School of Writing where you offer courses on writing fiction. Do you feel that preparing an online course is as fulfilling as teaching a live one? How different are the two concepts, in preparing the materials of the course itself?
MaryAnn Diorio: I much prefer teaching in person, as I love the interaction an in-person setting affords. But, in the world in which we live, I am thankful for online instruction. In fact, while I taught at university, I had the opportunity to teach online courses as well as in-person courses. The two concepts are different in the following ways:

1. In-person (in-classroom) courses provide a type of live interaction that online courses do not. Most online courses are conducted at the student’s availability. Barring scheduled classes held on Zoom, for example, students in online courses do not experience the direct, live intellectual exchange with fellow students. Instead, that intellectual exchange is mostly reserved for commenting on posts. As a result, the stimulating back-and-forth repartee of in-person intellectual discussion is missing.
2. Relationships in online courses tend to be more shallow than relationships in in-person courses. In in-person courses, we deal with live people who are actually present with us in the same location and at the same time. In online courses, students rarely see their professor or hear his or her actual voice or the voices of fellow students. While some may prefer this, I, as a “people-person”, find this much less satisfying than being with students in an in-person setting.
3. Regarding the preparation of course materials, in an in-person setting, I do not have to present all of the materials at once, whereas in an online course, most, if not all, of the material must be uploaded at the beginning of the course. The reason for this is that students usually proceed at their own pace, so all of the material must be readily available to the student.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaIf you could define yourself with three adjectives, what would they be?
MaryAnn Diorio: Trustworthy, loyal, resolute.

One of MaryAnn Diorio’s paintings (acrylic)

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What other interests do you have, besides writing and teaching? 
MaryAnn Diorio: I love to paint in oils and acrylics.  I also love to play the piano and the mandolin. I am self-taught in the latter. It is a beautiful instrument with a lyrical sound. My maternal grandfather played the mandolin, and for a long time, I had a desire to learn. So, I finally bought myself a mandolin and have been teaching myself how to play. Other favorite pastimes include spending time with my husband, my children, and my grandchildren, with whom I enjoy making up silly songs. 🙂

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  Any secret dreams you’d like to share with our readers??
MaryAnn Diorio: I have a huge dream–and it is no secret–and that is to see every human being come to Jesus Christ. But since I know that the fulfillment of such a dream depends on a person’s free will, I am not so foolish as to think that everyone in the world will accept Christ. But I do know that I can share the good news of salvation with those people in my circle of influence.
And so, I do my best to tell those whom the Lord brings across my path–whether in person, online or through my books–that God loves them and longs to have a personal relationship with them. He wants to forgive their sins and bring them to Heaven to live with Him forever when they die. The only thing they need to do is to repent of their sins and to receive Jesus Christ as the only Person Who can save them. All they need do is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died to pay the price for their sin, that He rose again from the dead, and that He is coming back again.
There is nothing more important in life than to embrace the God Who saved us and made us for Himself. Unless we accept Christ–which is what “being born again” means–we will spend eternity separated from God in a real place called hell, where there is nothing but unending torment. Whether we go to Heaven or Hell is our choice.
We can choose to reject Jesus Christ and spend eternity in hell, in utter torment resulting from separation from God, or we can choose to accept Jesus Christ and spend eternity in heaven, in utter joy resulting from union with God. The choice is ours, and it can be made only while we are still alive on this earth. Once we die, it will be too late to make that choice. I urge all those who read this to make the choice now to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you had the opportunity to meet a character from the past or the present, any person you want, who would that be, and what would you ask?
MaryAnn Diorio: I would want to meet the Apostle John whose writings comprise my favorite part of the New Testament.  His heart of love for Jesus, his insight into truth, and his lyrical, poetic style of writing have inspired me and continue to inspire me as I deepen my relationship with the Lord through reading John’s Gospel, Epistles, and the Book of Revelation.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: A message for our readers?
MaryAnn Diorio: Repent and be born again before it is too late. Jesus Christ is returning soon in a cataclysmic event that the Bible calls the Rapture to remove from the earth all those who follow Him. Those who do not follow Him will be left behind to suffer the most horrific time of human history that the Bible calls the Tribulation.  This is predicted in Daniel 9: Daniel 12; Jeremiah 30; Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2, Revelation 4-21.
During that seven-year period of time, the world will be under the dictatorship and tyranny of the AntiChrist. If we think things are bad now, we have seen nothing compared to what the Tribulation will be like. At the end of the Tribulation, Jesus Christ will come back to earth with all of His followers to set up a 1000-year reign under His Lordship called the Millennium. All of this is predicted in the Bible. The problem is that most people don’t read the Bible and, consequently, have no clue about what is really going on.
God created each human being ON purpose and FOR a purpose. When we embrace Jesus Christ, we discover our true identity, our purpose, and our destiny.
So, I would urge all of your readers to repent of their sin and come to Christ. Receive Him as Savior and Lord. Then you will be saved and spend eternity with Him in Heaven. Nothing else matters more.
Thank you very much, Mr. Dossena, for this wonderful opportunity to interact with your precious readers. May God bless each and every one of them! 🙂

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From the earliest I can remember, I’ve always loved music. Exclusive interview with songwriter, singer and entertainer Paul Loren [L’Idea Magazine 2021]

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Paul Loren is a singer, songwriter, producer, and consummate entertainer. A native New Yorker, Paul was raised on the rich legacy of soul, classic pop, and the Great American Songbook, and in those musical idioms, he feels most at home.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaHello Paul. I heard so much about you and wanted to find out more about your singing career. When did you start to show interest in music?
Paul Loren: From the earliest I can remember, I’ve always loved music. I don’t think there was a time when music wasn’t part of my world. Maybe I was three or four years old when I started singing.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaHaving worked with him many years ago, I know your father was an excellent showman himself, although not a singer. Did his background sway you at all toward music and entertainment?
Paul Loren: Probably by osmosis, yes! Looking back, it was just unavoidable to see my father up on stage (with the band) and not be enthralled by it all. I guess in some ways, show business was in my blood.

“I know a place”. Click on the image to view the video

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour parents are both Italian Americans. How much did being Italian American influence your life and career choices?
Paul Loren: Being Italian, I come from a very creative stock. My ancestors were from the South and were able to make a whole lot out of very little. My father comes from a small volcanic island, Panarea, off the coast of Sicily. Every time I set foot on that soil, I do feel a certain music and rhythm in it—maybe it’s the sea, the tides, the volcano (Stromboli)—or maybe I’m a musician and I’m just looking for it. But I think it’s there, it’s inevitable. The same with my mother. Part of her family came from near Naples, and those old Neapolitan songs are woven deeply into my identity.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaExcuse my stereotyping, but most Italian men love to cook. Do you? Do you have any hobbies?
Paul Loren: The kitchen is my second home, apart from the stage. Maybe even my first! Tonight, for example, I made a ‘spaghetti al tonno’ for dinner. Quick, easy, and delicious. Nothing beats Italian food for showing off fresh ingredients that are seasonal. If I have the day off from performing or the recording studio, I spend it mostly in the kitchen.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou completed your first headline tour in 2019, after having performed as a support artist for The Temptations, Brendan James, American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, and David Bromberg. It was extremely successful, selling out Joe’s Pub at the Public in NYC multiple times. Since then, you were asked by Jennifer Lopez to perform at her Birthday Gala in Las Vegas, showcased at The SoHo House NYC, were a featured artist at the AAA Radio Convention in Boulder Colorado, and shared the stage with Paul Shaffer, Queen Latifah, and Christie Brinkley at Target’s launch event for New York Fashion Week. It seems you are fully recognized for your singing talent. How difficult was the transition from support to headline artist?
Paul Loren: I’m very grateful for the folks that support my music, and when real ‘touring’ or roadshows come back safely I can’t wait to headline again. The transition is a career-long process, I think. It has taken many years, and will probably take many more. I’m ready and excited, however. I hope to keep growing a larger audience and perform for more and more people every year.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour appearance on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” showcased your talents for millions of viewers. Was this a very emotional experience for you and your family and friends?
Paul Loren: It truly was. Emotional in the sense that I was really honored to be up on that stage, and given a real chance to be myself under pressure. It felt like a small victory after years in the business. I’m glad friends and family enjoyed it as much as I did.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaMatt Micucci, on Jazziz Magazine, stated that you evoked “smoky jazz club atmospheres and early-Sun Studios Elvis records with your new, tender ballad ‘Nighttime (Is the Loneliest Time).’” Can you tell us what inspired you to write this song?
Paul Loren: That song came very quickly to me, and actually I wrote it around midnight in maybe 15 minutes or so. It definitely reminds me of the standards that I’ve always loved, like Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours” or a classic country song like Ernest Tubbs’ “Walking the Floor over You.” It’s that age-old theme: “I can’t sleep a wink because my love isn’t here with me.”

Tiziano Thomas DossenaThey say that at the beginning of your solo career, you took “elements from early R&B, jazz, and Brill Building pop and with them crafted your music with an ear towards timelessness.” Do you agree with that statement? Do you feel that you are somehow, musically speaking, an ‘old soul’? 
Paul Loren: I definitely grew up listening to timeless American music from the 50’s and 60’s—all mid-century pop, no matter the genre. When I launched my solo project, it was a conscious decision to pay homage to the music I loved so much, but also make it contemporary—writing and singing about my own life, currently. At some point, my buddy and business partner Evan just started calling me “Mr. Leisurely”—maybe because I reminded him of those old-school Rat Pack entertainers, and the name just stuck. While I do prize my ‘leisure time,’ most days I find myself quite busy and hectic with work!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou had the rare opportunity to record in the world-renowned Sun Studio in the same room as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and so many other pioneers of Rock and Roll. They say that for a singer it is a unique, unrepeatable event. Was it so for you?
Paul Loren: It really was extraordinary. When you walk into that small studio, you can feel the weight of history and the ghosts of the greats all around you, or at least I could. It’s amazing to me how much enormously influential music and giant personalities started in such a tiny space.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour single “We’ll Be Together Again,” written and recorded at home during the early spring of 2020, was defined as a beacon of hope for those affected by the uncertainty of a tumultuous year. I was told that all of the proceeds from the song have been sent to a COVID-19 relief charity. Is it so?
Paul Loren: Yes, it’s all true. I wrote that song the very first week of our New York City shelter-in-place lockdown, in March of 2020. It’s funny to hear the song now and imagine that it was not so long at all after the lockdown that I wrote it. (I can’t believe we’re still living with it all a year-and-a-half later.) But I think it holds true to this day. Many of us have actually had the chance to be ‘together again,’ while others have simply not. Regardless of the circumstance, it is indeed a song of hope and optimism.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaThere is something completely new in your last recordings, isn’t there?
Paul Loren: Like so many of my fellow musicians and entertainers in this last year, I’ve faced lots of cancellations and some real career uncertainty. Pairing that with some personal obstacles, and it definitely gave me a lot to write about! About 25 songs came pouring out of me during the spring and summer of 2020, all of them digging into some deeper truth than my previous material, I’d say. I recorded two albums’ worth of material, each with 11 songs, and both telling the story of my life in 2020 as it happened.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaSo, your new album “Betwixt” is coming out in the fall, but your first single from that album, “No Room For Yesterday” got off to a hot start on ‘Spotify’s Indie Music Playlist’. Could you tell us more about it?
Paul Loren: Yes. “Betwixt” comes out on October 22nd—the first of the two albums. “No Room For Yesterday” is a classic rockabilly-influenced song that imagines life in a time of scarcity… much like we’ve known it this last year and a half. But even in scarcity, it’s important to raise a glass and toast to the unknown. That’s what the tune is about. I thought it was a nice way to introduce my (slightly) new sound to an audience, and the album in general.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAs I understand, “Marlena” is your second single and it has received a lot of praise, both from the critics and the public. Could you talk a bit about the birth of that song?
Paul Loren: The initial melody for “Marlena” came during a long road trip home to New York from Nashville in the spring of 2020. I was just humming it incessantly during the drive (maybe to keep myself occupied or awake!) and I didn’t end up finishing the song for another couple of months. In fact, the song was finished just 2 days before the actual recording session. But once I sat at the piano to finish it, it took less than an hour to write both the words and music. In some ways, the song seemed to write itself. Let’s just say that it was more than ready to be birthed after those 2 months in gestation!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaCould you tell us more about the other songs in this album?
Paul Loren: Another favorite of mine on the record is a song called “An Evening Such As This” which actually started as a poem first. That’s very rare for me to write the words before the music, but in this case, I did. I love the way that one came out. There are some classic country-influenced tracks like “Isn’t Everything Enough?”—which references the Bakersfield, California sound of the 1960’s—and even a nod to Roy Orbison with the song called “Come Back Around.” It’s all some new musical territory for me, but all very natural.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaA companion album, “Between”, will be released in 2022. Could you tell me more about that?
Paul Loren: Yes, “Between” is ‘Volume 2’, I’d say. Both records were actually made at the same time, and I only split them up when I sequenced them—otherwise, they would’ve been combined into one big double album… hey, maybe we’ll release a ‘collector’s version’ on vinyl of both “Betwixt & Between” at some point!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou also had a weekly online music show…
Paul Loren: That’s correct! I played every Monday evening from mid-March 2020 until the end of that June—15 weeks of livestream concerts on both Instagram and Facebook Live. I took song requests from fans and played some of my own favorites. The repertoire seemed to be very musically diverse. In one show alone, I’d play perhaps a Whitney Houston, Elton John, or even an Everly Brothers song.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAny other projects you are working on at this time?
Paul Loren: Partially inspired by last year’s livestreams, I’m currently working hard on 20 new cover songs in the studio. The song selections are also really all over the map, ranging everywhere from Hall & Oates to Madonna to Tina Turner—all songs I’ve grown up with and seem slightly out-of-the-box for me as an artist… but that’s the fun of it. They’re pleasantly surprising. I can’t wait to share some of these covers with everyone.

“No room for yesterday”. Click on the image to view the video

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAny future concerts our readers should know about?
Paul Loren: I’ll be hitting the road in early 2021 with my band—I’m truly excited to perform all these new songs live in front of audiences around the U.S. and even internationally. We’ll be posting all the dates to my website, so stay tuned!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaWould you define yourself as a singer or an entertainer?
Paul Loren: I’d probably call myself a ‘songwriter’ and ‘recording artist’ first. The singing and entertaining are really done in service to the songs and I often think of them as secondary, or better yet, serving the higher purpose of the song itself. The record-making process is also very important to me, and again, it’s all done in service to the song.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour dream?
Paul Loren: I’d love to keep sustaining myself with my music and art. I’m grateful to have made a life out of it for all these years, so far, and hope to keep doing it even better and bigger—to keep growing a larger sustainable audience—one who really connects with what I make and release.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaCould you try to describe yourself with only three adjectives?
Paul Loren: Hmmm, ok…! Curious. Intentional. Patient.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaIf you had the opportunity to meet an individual from the past or the present, who would that person be and what would you like to ask?
Paul Loren: Well, my answer might change every day (there are so many fascinating folks to choose from!), but today I’m going to have to say Louis Armstrong. I’d like to know how he kept it all together, especially in the segregated show business (and America) of the early 20th century, and what made him persevere—both musically and in life.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaA message to our readers?
Paul Loren: I’d like to thank them all for their interest, and do hope they enjoy my new music. If we have some fans of cocktails out there, specifically drinks that include amari, aperitivi or bitter(s), they can follow me on Instagram and/or YouTube where I post many recipes for fun. The Negroni happens to be my favorite drink and in addition to music, making delicious cocktails and discovering new amari is a real passion of mine. Grazie tante!

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“I’ve wondered if even my most pessimistic books aren’t pessimistic enough…” Exclusive interview with award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi. [L’Idea magazine July 2021]

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Paolo Bacigalupi is a successful science fiction and fantasy writer. He has won the HugoNebulaJohn. W. CampbellCompton CrookTheodore SturgeonEdgarPrix Planète SF des blogueursSeiun, and Michael L. Printz awards, and has been nominated for the National Book Award.
His nonfiction essays have been syndicated in newspapers, including the Idaho Statesman, the Albuquerque Journal, and the Salt Lake Tribune.
His fiction work includes various novels, a novella, novels for young adults and young readers, and many short stories, which appear in the volume “Pump Six and Other Stories,” various magazines, and the anthology “I’m With the Bears: Short Stories from a Damaged Planet.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Hello, Paolo. You started your writing over twenty years ago with short stories and non-fiction essays. What topics were your essays about?
Paolo Bacigalupi: Some of my essays were travel essays, because I spent a lot of time in China, and wanted to share parts of my experiences there. Some of them were about my hometown, and what it was like to be living in a rural mountain valley, both culturally and in terms of the landscape.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Do you still write non-fiction essays or are you now focused just on the novels? Do you expect to navigate away from your environmentally-focused thematic in the future?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I enjoy writing fiction more, so that’s where I focus my efforts these days. Honestly, I don’t know how my thematic interests will evolve in the future. It’s a process.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: They claim that the eleven stories in “Pump Six” represent the best of your work (including the Hugo nominee “Yellow Card Man,” the nebula and Hugo nominated story “The People of Sand and Slag,” and the Sturgeon Award-winning story “The Calorie Man”). Do you agree with that statement? Would you have chosen the same stories for that collection if you had to do it today? Which one is the short story that you are the proudest about and why?
Paolo Bacigalupi: It’s flattering to think that those stories are my best work. Certainly, they were the ones that garnered the most attention, but I think that also has to do with the dynamic of being a new unknown writer bursting into the scene. For a period of time, you’re sort of popular simply because you seem new and fresh.
The stories in Pump Six are the first short stories I ever sold, and I arranged them in chronological order, so you can see the way my writing and interests evolve over time. “Pocketful of Dharma” was a simple cyberpunk-inspired piece of science fiction. By the time I wrote the short story “Pump Six” I was thinking about endocrine disruptors and artificial chemical hormones and how those can fundamentally alter our biology and society. I think that represents a certain evolution.
As for the story that I’m most proud of right now, it’s not in that collection. It’s a story I published last year called “American Gold Mine” and it’s about how for-profit news media affects society.  I like it because it’s relevant to our present moment, and it’s as good a warning as I could craft.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You also have published many other short stories after “Pump Six”. Should we expect a second collection to be published anytime soon? If so, what stories would it possible include?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I think I will do a second collection. Much like Pump Six, I think there’s a good chance it will include everything I’ve written since then, also in chronological order.  Alternatively, I may do a collection that is entirely focused on my environmental and social writings. I could see grouping stories around topics like pollution, media, global warming, etc, and that might be an interesting thing for readers to have access to.

” I THINK THAT SUCCESS DEFINITELY CAN MAKE THINGS MORE DIFFICULT…”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: How do you feel being Italian American influenced your life and your life choices?
Paolo Bacigalupi: It’s hard to say. I’m a fifth-generation Italian-American, so despite how Italian-sounding my name is, I’m pretty watered down. On the other hand, I grew up hearing stories about how my great-great-grandmother Maria Bacigalupi came to America and worked as a seamstress to put all four of her boys through college. And there were stories about how my great-grandfather became very wealthy, and then went bankrupt in the Depression and how he moved to a tiny apartment next to a cemetery where he lived for the rest of his life, but he also managed to pay back every single debt he had.  My grandfather worked hard and saved enough money so that he could put every one of his children and grandchildren through college. I think that kind of ethic of striving and helping out your later generations is something that has stuck with me.  It gives you a sense that you can succeed, even if things are hard, and it also sort of reminds you that you have a duty not just to yourself but to the ones who follow you. In some ways, when I think about my son, I think not just about giving him the education and skills to succeed in life, but also in terms of handing off a planet that will support him and his children, and their children. That’s what a lot of my writing has been about.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your debut novel “The Windup Girl” was named by TIME Magazine as one of the ten best novels of 2009, and also won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. Internationally, it has won the Seiun Award (Japan), The Ignotus Award (Spain), The Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis (Germany), and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France). It appears as a grand slam of a kind for a novelist. Did the success of this novel make it easier or more difficult to write the following novel?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I think that success definitely can make things more difficult, but in a way, I was lucky, because by the time I wrote The Windup Girl I’d already written four other failed novels and spent about ten years building my craft. So I’d had a lot of time to figure out what I was trying to do with my writing and why I was writing, and that sort of acted as a rudder that helped me steer through some of the storms that success can bring. If Windup Girl had been my first novel ever, I think that level of success would have probably destroyed me.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: The main thematic of “The Windup Girl” is bioengineering. Do you feel that our world is (unfortunately) coming close to your fiction work? Do you believe or hope we are going to correct our seemingly doomed trajectory toward self-annihilation?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I think we make choices every day. Some days I think we’re steering toward a better future, and some days—especially over the last four years—I’ve wondered if even my most pessimistic books aren’t pessimistic enough. I worry that despite all of our technological advances that we’re still basically hairless apes, and just as stupid and tribal and short-sighted as those ancient ancestors of ours.

“I WAS TRYING TO WRITE STORIES THAT WOULD BE EXCITING AND PAGE-TURNING ENOUGH TO KEEP A KID ENGAGED.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Right after “The Windup Girl,” you published a novel for young adults, “Ship Breaker” (National Book Award Finalist and Michael L. Printz Award Winner This effort turned out to be the first of a very successful trilogy of books since it was followed by “The Drowned Cities” (2012 Kirkus Reviews Best of YA Book, A 2012 VOYA Perfect Ten Book, and 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist), and “Tool of War.”  Was it always in your plan to make it a trilogy or did you find it necessary to expand the original first story? What is the thematic of these three books? 
Paolo Bacigalupi: I wrote Ship Breaker because I realized I wanted to write stories for young people, particularly to highlight some of the issues I think they’ll face in the future, and the kind of world we adults are handing off to them, whether that’s the challenge of facing global warming, or the problem of politics turned violent. I was also concerned that kids don’t read enough, so I was trying to write stories that would be exciting and page-turning enough to keep a kid engaged.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You also wrote another Young Adult book, “The Doubt Factory” (Edgar Award and Locus Award Finalist). What topics did you touch on, this time?
Paolo Bacigalupi: That one is about public relations companies that try to throw doubt on science, for example how Hill & Knowlton worked with cigarette companies to throw doubt on the idea that cigarettes caused cancer. Chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies, energy companies, and more all use specific techniques to confuse the public about how dangerous their products are and to avoid regulation. I wanted to tell a sort of thriller/crime caper story about those topics.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You also contributed a story for the anthology “I’m With the Bears: Short Stories from a Damaged Planet,” for which the royalties go to 350.org, an international grassroots movement working to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It appears to be a choice coherent with your writings’ topics. What was your story about?
Paolo Bacigalupi: Right. “The Tamarisk Hunter.” Originally that story was published in the environmental journal High Country News.  It’s a global warming story focused on drought and how people try to adapt to water scarcity.  It was my first time writing about global warming and actually formed the seed for my later novel “The Water Knife.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your novella “The Alchemist” is paired with Tobias Buckell’s “The Executioness” in “The Tangled Lands.” How did you work it out to create a common realm with another writer? 
Paolo Bacigalupi: Sometimes writing can feel lonely. Toby and I decided to build a shared world so we could have an excuse to chat with each other and be creative together. It’s not actually very hard to collaborate, but it is important to work out the ground rules ahead of time.  It takes a lot of honesty and openness and sometimes when you disagree about something it can be uncomfortable, but overall, it’s a lot of fun. Mostly we were interested in writing fantasy stories that also carried an environmental metaphor. In the stories, everyone can use magic, but whenever it’s used, a magical plant called bramble grows up and starts to overcome everything, to the point that it eventually swallows up whole towns, cities, and empires, because people can’t stop using magic. It was a way to play with the ideas of the Tragedy of the Commons and global warming, without ever using those terms.

“IF WE GET RID OF THE REWARDS FOR SHARING BAD AND INFLAMMATORY INFORMATION, I THINK THE PROBLEM WILL AT LEAST BE MITIGATED.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You also wrote “The Gambler,” which was nominated for the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Novelette, and the 2009 Nebula Award for Best Novelette. Does this story break a bit from your other ones? Do you feel that ethics has been really dwindling in journalism? With the excessive amount of disinformation the world is suffering, do you see a possible positive outcome in which our society finds a way to curtail somehow all these conspiracy theories and falsehoods?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I used to work for an environmental news organization and it meant that I had a lot of time to observe how changing technologies have affected the profession. Pay-per-click advertising models create incredibly perverse incentives to pander to various audience slices to gain attention and ad dollars. This applies to websites as well as social media and large-scale news organizations.  As long as the news is connected to advertising revenue, there is going to be an incentive to pander to audiences. I wrote the Gambler because I was seeing how news organizations were learning to only post news that people would read, instead of news they needed to know, and I wrote “American Gold Mine” because I was seeing how news organizations profit from pandering and stoking the biases of their audiences, gaining viewers and ad revenue, the more outlandish and pandering they are.
I think that we have to rethink how news gets its revenue, and how social media gains revenue. This also applies to social media accounts, we all have an incentive to post things on Twitter or Instagram, or Facebook that will get us more likes and more shares, and if we don’t get those, we’ll post different things, that will be more viral. The problem is that virality doesn’t equal importance or accuracy. It’s just the thing that gives our brains the biggest drug hit of dopamine when we see them. Overall, if we’re going to get rid of disinformation, we have to get a handle on how news orgs make money, when and where advertising is allowed on news and social media, and we have to get rid of things viral sharing incentives such as like buttons and share statistics. If we get rid of the rewards for sharing bad and inflammatory information, I think the problem will at least be mitigated.

“THE PROBLEM IS THAT VIRALITY DOESN’T EQUAL IMPORTANCE OR ACCURACY.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Is there a new book to be published soon? Are you working on any new novels at the moment?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I’m actually working on a fantasy novel right now, and it’s set in a world that’s inspired by the Italian Renaissance, actually. A few years ago, I started getting interested in Italy and my family’s history and when The Windup Girl was translated into Italian I had my first chance to visit. Since then I’ve kept returning to study the language and to explore more of the country. At some point, I started writing a short story that was strongly influenced by that Renaissance history and culture that I was reading about, and the more I wrote, the more I liked it, and the more ideas I had, and the bigger the story grew….. well, at this point, it’s probably going to be at least two novels, maybe more. I love the world that I’m building, and the fact that I get to visit Italy and use that as research and inspiration is a huge bonus.

“I HAVE A LIST OF THINGS THAT I’D LIKE TO DO AND LIKE TO LEARN. ONE OF THOSE IS TO LEARN MORE ITALIAN…”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you could define yourself with three adjectives, what would they be?
Paolo Bacigalupi: Sharp. Silly. Anxious.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What other interests do you have besides writing? Any hobbies?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I do a lot of outdoor activities.  I live in Colorado, so I mountain bike in the summer, and I downhill and cross-country ski in the winter. I climb mountains. Lately, I’ve been doing more and more running, and just recently ran ten miles. I’m thinking I might try to train for a marathon now.

“I CAN FIND A WAY TO HAVE AN APARTMENT IN ITALY AND LIVE THERE FOR AT LEAST HALF THE YEAR, WRITING, STUDYING, ENJOYING THE GOOD LIFE.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Paolo Bacigalupi: It’s interesting that you ask. I have a list of things that I’d like to do and like to learn. One of those is to learn more Italian and get really comfortable with the language because I’m still very clumsy with it. I think in ten years it would be really nice if I can find a way to have an apartment in Italy and live there for at least half the year, writing, studying, enjoying the good life. I’d like to learn to play a musical instrument, maybe guitar, and I’d like to learn to draw as well. I want to be studying more history, and I want to be meeting more educated and interesting people. I hope in ten years, I’m filling my days up with a good mix of interesting conversation and time out in the sun and nature, and pleasurable silences and times for learning.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Any unrealized dreams you feel like sharing with our readers?
Paolo Bacigalupi: I’ve actually accomplished all the goals I used to have in terms of a career, or in terms of having something that I thought I needed to prove. The thing that I’d really like to work on now is figuring out how to live a happy, balanced life. That’s a lot harder than writing a novel, it turns out. It takes real practice.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you had the opportunity to meet and talk to anyone from the past or the present, who would that person be and what would you like to tell him (or her)?
Paolo Bacigalupi: If I was going back in time to tell someone something, I’d go back in time to the moment when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was organizing the New Deal and tell him to build a lot of railroads and mass transit and to ban automobiles because personal autos are something the future can’t afford.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: A message for our readers?
Paolo Bacigalupi: Read all my books. Of course. LOL.

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“Berlin Triptych” (Trittico Berlinese). A review of the book by Marina Agostinacchio. [L’Idea Magazine July 2021]

A review by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

The world of “Berlin Triptych” is a particular one in which the reader enters in silence as if he were entering a mystical place, and in which he experiences sensations that replicate those experienced by Marina Agostinacchio in her visit to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The poet experiences strong sensations, mentally reliving the horrible days of that not-so-distant historical period in which the Holocaust took place. The verses are contained but precise and effective in transposing these deep emotions to the reader, right from the first impact, that is, the entrance to the Museum ( from Jüdisches Museum):

After reading the first verses, we realize even more that completing the book will be a unique experience and certainly very different from the usual reading of a book of poems. Reading the Berlin Triptych is a bit like visiting that Berlin Museum that so impressed the poet. The reader does not come out unscathed but is spiritually tested and aware of both the poet’s emotions and what she saw. One cannot certainly remain indifferent to these verses (from The Tower of the Holocaust):

The powerful images of Elena Candeo and Paola Munari also help to keep the same mood throughout the reading process.

Arriving at the end of the book you will realize that it must be reread, perhaps several times, to fully understand the expressive nuances of the poet in this magnificent book of poetry that stands out for the originality of the subject, the aesthetic beauty of the volume, and of course for the lyrical and emotional intensity of the verses.

Praise goes to the translator Anna Rossi (the book is in Italian and English) for her ability to transpose the meaning of the verses without losing the proper rhythm of the poems.1 of 3  

Work by Elena Candeo (from the cover)
Work by Paola Munari (from page18)

PUBLISHED BY: Idea Graphics LLC
IMPRINT: Idea Press
ISBN# 978-1-948651-23-3
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS # 2019934665
PAPERBACK
LANGUAGE:  Italian/English
PRICE: $13.00  

The book is also available on Amazon.com

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“Blood Memory, Prose Poems,” a review. [L’Idea Magazine July 2021]

Review by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

In this outstanding collection of poems in prose, or prose poems as they may be defined, Michelle Reale evaluates and presents the doubts, soul’s contortions, and general emotions of her youth as well as the appraisal of her father’s troubled early life. She does this with a sensitive and expressive tone and an enviable mastering of the language, leaving to the reader nothing to imagine and everything to feel and visualize through her words, as in the poem Blood Memory, which gives the name to the collection:

“At the start, a surging melancholy.  The clash of chromosomes, the unseen bruises on the helix, contorted. A crimson drop, no mere stain, spreads into the woven, familiar fabric.  Worsted, twisted, taut, like hands around a throat. Like a whole apple in the mouth.  Memory like a cleft in the chin, indelible. There is pressure on the throat from works unspoken, truths not told.  Release the bottleneck. The trauma thrums nice and steady, predictable.  The eye is persistent in the witness of the curse of skipped generations. Grim acceptance. The waiting can drive those who are aware enough to the threshold with empty hands.”

Reading these poems is therefore an adventure of sorts in the emotional world. Be prepared to capture the emotional state of the writer as well as one of the protagonists of the poem, whether being a youthful Michelle or her father. Be prepared to sense her regrets about certain aspects of her family relations but also her awareness of the boundless love that surrounded her at home, as in the poem Stregoneria:

“…I tried, but never managed, to be able to contain all the things that I loved.  I made lists and put my dead grandparents on the top of every single one of them, and even that wasn’t enough. My mother’s superstitions kept my father awake at night, staring into the nothingness that enveloped him for years…”

These poems will touch you and bring you close to the poet, and that would be already a great reason for reading Blood Memory, but there is certainly more value to this collection than the emotions that it may pass on to you as a reader. The linguistic approach is poised and equilibrated, bringing to the printed page a feeling of stability even when the words may seem aggressive or judgmental, and the state of mind shared may be frustration or anxiety, allowing the reader to actually enjoy these poems for their construction as well as for their content.

Furthermore, even though the word Italian appears only twice in the book, and in unusual circumstances (note: “The Italian Presbyterian minister…” and “…the Italian Pentecostal Reverend Mother…”), the whole book feels Italian American through and through, presenting situations that are, if not typical, at the least normal in our community, with an emphasis on family values, love, stubbornness, love of food and traditions, etcetera. Blood Memory is therefore a collection of poems that our readers will certainly love.

BLOOD MEMORY, PROSE POEMS
BY MICHELLE REALE
IMPRINT: Idea Press
PUBLISHING DATE: April 2021
ISBN# 978-1-948651-24-0
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS # 2021907724
PRICE: $12.95

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“From day one, I realized that I would dedicate my life to dance.” Exclusive interview with Alessandra Corona. [L’Idea Magazine, 2021]

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

ALESSANDRA CORONA, a native of Cagliari, Sardinia, was trained at the National Ballet Academy in Rome, where she studied ballet, Graham, Limon, Cunningham, and jazz techniques.  In Italy, she danced for Asmed Ballet Company, directed by Paola Leoni, and Gino Landi.  She performed with Danza Prospettiva, directed by Vittorio Biagi, at the Teatro Dell’Opera di Roma and in Lausanne, Switzerland.  She toured internationally for five years as a principal dancer with Renato Greco Dance Company abroad and in the U.S.
Upon moving to New York, Alessandra joined Ballet Hispanico and quickly rose to the rank of principal dancer, touring with the Company for 15 years, originating roles in many ballets, and performing with the Company in the U.S., Europe, and South America.
At the invitation of Ann Reinking, she toured Europe and Asia for two years in the international company of Fosse, and appeared in the City Center Encores! production of Richard Rodgers’ No Strings, directed by Reinking.  She has performed as a guest artist at various international dance festivals, including “Notte di Stelle” at the historical amphitheater in Cagliari, Villa Pamphili Summer Festival in Rome, Jacob’s Pillow, and the Seattle International Dance Festival in the U.S., and more.
 A resident of New York City, she founded Alessandra Corona Performing Works in 2012. 

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : Alessandra, when did you start dancing and when did you realize this was going to be your life’s work?
Alessandra Corona:  When I was very young, I would always ask my mother to watch ballet performances on TV while my brothers were watching cartoons. I first started going to ballet classes at nine years old. The director of the school, Inez Palladino, was the pianist from the National Ballet Academy of Rome and the teacher, Paola Leoni, was also from that school. From day one, I realized that I would dedicate my life to dance.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : How difficult was the change, emotionally and physically, going from the National Ballet Academy to an actual Ballet company?
Alessandra Corona: I had decided to move to Rome and spend my final year of study at the National Ballet Academy there. But when I met with the director, Giuliana Penzi, she encouraged me to leave school and start dancing immediately. She advised me to audition for the Renato Greco dance Company and I won a six-month scholarship to train for the company. After only two months, I was invited to join the company where I worked and toured for five years.  The transition from the Academy was challenging insofar as we had to study many different techniques besides ballet: Graham, Limon, jazz, tap, etc. So, physically, it was demanding, but emotionally, it was very exciting and fulfilling.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : Were the experiences with the Asmed Ballet Company and Danza Prospettiva very different?
Alessandra Corona: Asmed Ballet was based in Cagliari and directed by Paola Leoni. The repertoire was mostly ballet with some Graham-based choreography by Joseph Fontano (National Ballet Academy). The company toured only in Sardinia. Danza Prospectiva was based
in Rome and directed by Vittorio Biaggi who choreographed his own version of the “Sagra della Primavera” of Stravinsky, which was a unique experience: we were on stage for 45 minutes without pause, the music was impossible to count so we had to memorize completely, we had to cover our bodies and face with clay. The piece premiered at the Bejart Ballet theater in Lausanne.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : You then toured as the principal dancer with the Renato Greco Dance Company for five years? Was this still exclusively ballet? Where did you tour? What is the most important lesson you took away from those years?
Alessandra Corona: Yes, I toured with Renato Greco Dance Company for about 5 years as a principal dancer.  Classical ballet technique was a basic requirement for the company but the repertoire was based on Luigi and Matt Mattox technique, repertoire was mostly choreographed by Renato Greco and Maria Teresa dal Medico. The company toured all over the world including China, Egypt, and the U.S.  I performed the principal role of “Donna Laura di Carini” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.
Renato and Maria Teresa taught us how to sustain our determination and passion and how to persist in the face of difficulties.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : How did you end up joining the Ballet Hispanico? Was this a big change, as performances go? You quickly rose to the principal dancer position and toured for fifteen years. What made you leave?


Tiziano Thomas Dossena
: During my tour with Renato Greco in New York, there was an audition for Ballet Hispanico. At that time I couldn’t speak any English, but the artistic director, Tina Ramirez, communicated in a few Spanish words that she wanted me to join the company. This was a big change from my former experience because, as a repertory dance company, each piece was created by a different choreographer with his or her own style that had to be learned.  After a few years, I became a principal dancer and toured globally for 10 years, after which I was invited as a guest artist for the following 5 years for the most prestigious venues such as the Kennedy Center, the Joyce Theater, Jacob’s Pillow, Wolftrap,  and American Dance Festival. My career with BH company started in January 1991 and finished in spring 2006.
After that period, I was ready to try something different, like musical theater, and I started to take voice classes and was invited by Ann Reinking to join the first international company of the musical “Fosse.”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : You toured Europe and Asia for two years in the international company of Fosse. Was this as exciting as it sounds? Which one was the most thrilling performance?
Alessandra Corona: It was very exciting; company members were top-level artists from all over the world, the orchestra and technicians were fantastic.
The most memorable performances were in Tokyo and Osaka. We stayed in Japan for about a month and performed every night to full houses in 2,000-seat theaters. Publicity for the show had started one year prior to our arrival and audiences were knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

A German paper lauding the Fosse performance…

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : So, now you have your own performing company. Could you tell us when was it born and what are the goals you aim to achieve with it?
Alessandra Corona: I founded the company in 2012, first of all, to share my artistic experience with younger professional dancers to give them the same performing opportunity that I had. I also started to develop my own choreographic skills. I want to create a company with a unique aesthetic, integrating theater, visual art, and original music.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : One of the works you choreographed is “Labyrinth”, which had its world premiere on January 10th. Could you tell us what was the theme and what was the emotional response you were aspiring to evoke with this choreography?
Alessandra Corona: My latest work is “Labyrinth,” from which we presented a short excerpt at the Booking Dance Festival on January 10. Because of the pandemic, we had to create a piece that was filmed outdoors and presented online. This will be included in the upcoming world premiere of the full version in a theater on May 6. This choreography was about isolation within a group and the personal struggle for freedom that we are all experiencing during this time. The Labyrinth is symbolic of the path we construct through our lives- it is both confining and liberating at the same time.

A scene from Labyrinth

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : What is your online project “We can still dance” about?
Alessandra Corona: During the lockdown, I asked the dancers to create a short dance within a confined indoor space. The idea was to inspire them to keep moving and adapt to a restricted environment. The second part was during summer where we could film the dancers outdoors.
I created a surreal backdrop simulating a field of sunflowers, which gave a sense of spaciousness and freedom.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : What other projects are you developing at this time?
Alessandra Corona: ACPW is currently completing work on two new pieces to be presented at the St. Jean Theater in New York on May 6. One is the full version of Labyrinth choreographed by me in collaboration with the dancers and the other is the full version of “Breaking through the Generational Curse” by Maiya Redding. We started these two projects last year and were scheduled to perform them in April 2020, but this was interrupted by the pandemic.

A scene from “Amore Impossibile”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : You also teach dancing online. How does that work?
Alessandra Corona: I was teaching ballet classes online every day since March 2020, mainly to the dancers in the company to keep them connected and physically prepared. From June 12 to July 10, 2020, each Friday the class was open to the public and the contributions received were donated to the BLM organization. Teaching online is limited but it helps a lot to keep us connected emotionally.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : What is your dream?
Alessandra Corona: My dream is to continue to be engaged in exciting creative projects with the company and tour with them.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : Do you miss Italy, and in particular your Sardinia? When this virus has finally gotten out of the way, do you plan to tour Italy with your company?
Alessandra Corona: I miss Italy and, in particular, Sardinia very much! The company has toured in Sardinia and Rome and I find it interesting to share Italian culture with the dancers and at the same time share the American artistic style with Italian audiences. I feel fortunate to be part of two different artistic worlds. We definitely look forward to touring again in Italy.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : Do you have any suggestions for a young woman who wants to become a dancer?
Alessandra Corona: It is very hard work and you have to be very committed.  I recommend that one dedicates a long time to the preparation and to acquiring a solid technical base. You need to sustain a strong belief in yourself and continue to nurture your dreams.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : What are your other interests? Do you still cook Italian style?
Alessandra Corona: Being the artistic director, I am involved in all aspects of the production process, including costume design, set and lighting design, and other visual effects such as video, plus collaborating with the music composer. I continue to expand my knowledge in these areas.
Of course, I cook Italian style!  I make some specific Sardinian dishes such as “Fregola with clams” and “Malloreddusu alla campidanese”.
Before the pandemic, we organized parties for the audiences following the shows to meet the artists featuring Sardinian cuisine, including pasta, different cheeses, and wines.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : If you had to define yourself with three adjectives, what would they be?
Alessandra Corona: Passionate, determined,  graceful…

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : If you had the opportunity to meet a person from the past or the present, anyone you want, who would that person be, and what would you like to ask them?
Alessandra Corona: I would have loved to meet Pina Bausch and ask her “Can I please work for you?” “Can you please create a piece for my company?”

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : A message for our readers?
Alessandra Corona: We are very excited that theaters are finally reopening and we are looking forward to welcoming audiences to our upcoming show! We want to let everyone know that the protective measures in place ensure that it is safe for people to enjoy and support the artists!

https://www.acoronaworks.com/

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I dream of performing a Shakespeare tragedy in the Doge Palace in Venice. Exclusive interview with actor, writer and producer Cristiano Benfenati. [L’Idea Magazine 2021]

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Cristiano Benfenati is an emerging Italian actor in the USA. Among his theater perfomances, ON HOW TO BE A MONSTER by Maria Müller, STUPID F**KING BIRD by Aaron Posner, DISASSEMBLY by Steve Yockey, and LOVE’S LABOR’S LOST by William Shakespeare. His movies include DETACHED by Charles Dong (Winner of Best Picture at the Tisch48 Film Festival),GOD IS BUSY SOMEWHERE ELSE, written and directed by Edoardo Vitaletti (Winner for Best Ensemble Cast and Outstanding Production Design at First Run Film Festival), and CAN’T HELP BUT RUN by Pedro Tamames.

L’Idea MagazineCristiano, when did you realize you had the acting bug?
Cristiano Benfenati: 
The first spark appeared in my junior year of high school. I spent six months living and studying in New York and we read King Lear in our English class. I fell in love with the play and the desire to be on stage portraying tragedies and triumphs started to grow within me. A few months later, with the last year of high school in sight and the big shift that comes with it, I got interested in pursuing acting and, having zero experience on stage up to that point, I decided to apply for a summer program in Los Angeles with the New York Film Academy. I wanted to see if acting was something that I liked and something that I would have wanted to pursue after high school. After the end of the program I was completely infatuated with it, I thought I found what I wanted to do and could not think about anything else.

Cristiano as Don Adriano de Armado in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost. Directed by Shariffa Ali. Fall 2018. Photo by Joanne Bouknight.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : So, from the acceptance into that school you felt you had chosen the right path…
Cristiano Benfenati: Absolutely. In my senior year, I decided to sign up for a local theater program where I got to meet and share the stage with several lovely people. Within that small theater, I think I started building familiarity with the craft and, even though I was still very new to it, my confidence in acting grew and I carried that with me in the application process for NYU. Getting there completely changed my perspective on acting as a profession. Upon arrival, I immediately got acquainted with the level of professionalism and talent that I was surrounded by and it was thrilling. Everyone in school had such a passion and drive that you could not help but match the energy that you were given. It was a pleasure to work with my peers every day for class scenes, so when later we all got to participate in full-length plays it felt surreal. My first one was Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, and from start to finish it was a process that I won’t forget. I solidified incredible friendships and my first steps in a professional setting. From then on the feeling of being backstage a few seconds before your cue to enter became something that I love deeply.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : You were the recipient of the Drama Award for Outstanding Achievement in Studio from NYU. How did that make you feel? What role were you playing that brought such an award?
Cristiano Benfenati:  It made me feel very very lucky. Considering the talent of everyone around me I felt truly humbled. I think it was not a particular performance as the recognition came from the whole three years I spent in my primary studio. In that time I took part in a variety of projects as well as three plays, Love’s Labour’s LostDisassembly, and Stupid F**king Bird.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : Where did you complete your training? 
Cristiano Benfenati: After the first three years I spent at the Atlantic Acting School I transferred to Stonestreet Studios. There I was able to hone my craft on a different acting medium as the training focused primarily on-screen acting. I got the opportunity to learn from people that are active in the industry and be exposed to a wide range of techniques both in front of and behind the camera. I received training in every aspect of film production and was able to improve skills that hadn’t been as touched upon before, such as voice acting, directing for film and TV, and editing.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : So you founded a production company. What brought up this decision? Do you have any partners in such endeavors and what is your goal?
Cristiano Benfenati: The decision came after the end of the first semester of my senior year. I and most of the individuals in my class found ourselves working very well with each other and constantly inspired by each other’s presence, so we all decided that it would have been a shame to not continue to harness the creativity and work ethic that we all showed in class. We came together and established our collective, Eudoxia, where each of us contributes our time and energy to create compelling stories and exciting projects. It’s our attempt to create our own door into the industry and I am very fortunate to be surrounded by the minds and hearts of the people in the company.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : But you decided to step up even more… 
Cristiano Benfenati: Yes. When the pandemic hit I felt taken aback as everything around me ground to a halt. I felt the need to create something and so I sat down to write.

Photo by Lily Lungren, @lily_lungren, lilylungren.com,

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : Can you talk a bit about this movie of yours?
Cristiano Benfenati: It’s a response piece to the pandemic that hit us all. In the film, a couple tries to reckon with the gigantic shift that the world underwent as they approach it in wildly different ways. You could say that I place half of myself in each of the characters, each embodying one of the prevalent moods and mindsets that I found myself fluctuating in between during the first stages of the pandemic.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : What other projects are you working on at this moment, aside from the post-production of the movie? Any future projects we should know about?
Cristiano Benfenati: I am currently writing several different projects that I plan to develop soon. A few TV scripts, among which a take on me and some friends’ experiences in acting school, and an animated series. I’m also auditioning to as many projects as possible, spanning from theater to voice acting, to try and build a substantial portfolio for my upcoming visa application.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : Who are the actors who you consider the best and someone you would like to emulate?
Cristiano Benfenati: I am a big fan of Brian Cranston. I got the opportunity to see him live and I remember being in awe of his craft and of his stage presence. I also admire Christoph Waltz deeply, as he managed to do what I’m aiming at, coming to the States from Europe and establishing himself as a phenomenal actor. Benedict Cumberbatch is also someone whose career I would like to emulate, his range going from television to theater moving through superheroes blockbusters (which I am a big fan of) is quite the dream for me.

Stanley and Tessa (Emily Combs). Spring 2019.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : When you act, do you become the character or does the character surface through you? Did you find the necessary metamorphosis into the character painful at times?
Cristiano Benfenati: I think I always try to bring myself into the character, letting its emotions surface through my instrument. I find enjoyment in the exchange between my lived experience and the arc that a character goes through as I move through the story. That duality and interaction, in my opinion, is what gives life to a performance and what fuels the craft.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : Who is the character in a play you yearn to portray?
Cristiano Benfenati: I would love to play Edmund, from King Lear. I fell in love with the play in high school and I think that character has a really challenging and compelling arc. I am very drawn to villains admittedly, but that is a character I one day definitely dream to play.

Cristiano Benfenati as Young Michele in Edoardo Vitaletti’s God is Busy Somewhere Else. Fall 2017.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : If you had to define your personality with three adjectives, what would they be?
Cristiano Benfenati: Open. Curious. Driven.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : What is the aspect of your personality you feel you would like to improve?
Cristiano Benfenati: I think I definitely would want to learn how to let go of my critic side. Sometimes it can get in the way of the creative process as you start to go over everything you put down and already try to improve and criticize what you’ve done up to that point. I think it creates situations in which I try to continue what I’m doing while trying to improve or change what I’ve already done, which makes it harder to move forward, especially when it comes to the creative process.

Trigorin in Aaron Posner’s Stupid F**king Bird. Directed by Michael Leibenluft. Fall 2019. Photo by Alessio Romano.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : If you could meet a character from the past or the present, anyone, who would that person be, and what would you like to ask him (or her).
Cristiano Benfenati: I would love to meet one of my ancestors. Like a great-great-grandfather or great-great-grandmother. I would love to see the places where they grew up before progress took place. I think I would want to ask them if they’re happy, and what fuels that for them.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : Any special dreams?
Cristiano Benfenati: I dream of performing a Shakespeare tragedy in the Doge Palace in Venice. I’ve visited a few times and I’m always in awe of the city and the palace itself, with the balcony opening on the lagoon and the breeze from the water entering the big council room. Touring Shakespeare plays in great Renaissance palaces in Italy would be the next step after that…

Tiziano Thomas Dossena : A message for our readers?
Cristiano Benfenati: Try to keep wondering. I think curiosity is what makes us who we are and learning and listening to stories is what builds up the bright side of our daily lives. I know that times have been hard and that there are priorities, but I think little by little we’ll be okay, we just have to remember to stay human, and looking at the world without assumptions I think can help with that.1 of 3  

Cristiano and Emma DeMuth in Detached. Directed by Charles Dong. Spring 2018.
Tessa (Emily Combs) and Stanley (Cristiano Benfenati) in Disassembly. Spring 2019.
From Left: Host (Adam Fisher), Sarah (Giorgia Valenti), Sean (Cristiano Benfenati) in How to be a Monster. February 2020. Photo by Pranav Kothary.
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How Women Can Discover Italy Through A Writer’s Experience. An Exclusive Interview With Susan Van Allen. [L’Idea magazine, 2020]

How women can discover Italy through a writer’s experience. An exclusive interview with Susan Van Allen.

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Susan Van Allen is the author of four book, “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go,”  “Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures, and Advice,” “50 Places in Rome, Florence, and Venice Every Woman Should Go,” and “Hungry for Italy: Culinary Adventures in the Bel Paesee.
She has attained an international fan base through her books and stories that have run on radio, and in major print publications. She is a regular contributor to “Tastes of Italia” magazine. Her blog offers free insightful tips and comments about Italy, recipes ans o much more…
Susan Van Allen also promotes Italian travel through speaking engagements. She annually leads a panel of Italian travel experts at The New York Times Travel Show.
Susan’s writing comes alive on her Golden Weeks in Italy: For Women Only, custom-designed, small group tours that she leads, which give travelers a unique insiders’ experience of the Bel Paese, with a femme-friendly focus.
Here follows a candid interview with this powerful writer who has discovered how to share in so many ways her own  wonderful experience with her roots.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAlthough your last name does not reveal it, you are Italian American. Can you tell our readers how much the Italian roots influenced your life and your writings?
Susan Van Allen: My maternal grandparents were immigrants from southern Italy (Molise and Potenza), and it was at their dining room table in Newark, New Jersey, where I first felt the fullness of Italy’s heart and soul. My earliest memories are of abundant Sunday dinners that stretched on for hours, with my nana, mamma, and the aunts carrying in steaming bowls of  pasta, opera blaring in the background, hands flying through the air in lively conversation. I loved every moment of those dinners, and of being in the kitchen with my mother when she cooked, following what was passed down to her from her mother. I also had sweet aunts and grandparents on my father’s side—they were Irish/Dutch—but the more flamboyant Italian side of my family overshadowed them.
My grandfather, who we called Papa, would go back to Italy every August to visit his family who still lived in Potenza, and he’d travel around the country, sending back postcards of piazzas, cathedrals, and masterpieces. He’d return by Labor Day with beads from Venice, rocks from Mount Vesuvius, and rosaries blessed by the Pope. Growing up on the Jersey shore, these gorgeous images of a faraway land fueled my desire and imagination.
I saved up my money from babysitting and working at Dunkin’ Donuts and got to Italy as soon as I could—on a backpacking trip after high school graduation in 1976. My first experience of Rome was a whirlwind of the major sights, tasting my first gelato, and meeting my Italian cousins for the first time. The spell was cast, and I continued to travel there, getting back as often as time and funds would allow. Keeping a travel journal, writing postcards, and lists of advice for friends, eventually grew into writing stories for magazines and books about this country that has enchanted me all my life.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You started early in your career as a playwright and writing episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond” Could you tell us more about these beginnings of yours?
Susan Van Allen: I got the “drama bug” in high school, had a fabulous time acting in musicals and comedies, and then went on to major in drama in college, at Hofstra University. I also had the travel bug, and moved from the East Coast to San Francisco after graduation, where I acted in a traveling Shakespeare ensemble and then with a lot of experimental theater companies. The atmosphere was very nurturing and creative, and there were a lot of places for people to try out new writing and solo shows. I joined in and wrote “Jersey Girls”, a show where I performed 5 different female characters from a small town on a Mother’s Day weekend—all inspired by my Italian-American family and neighbors. The show was a success, and I took it on the road—to New York and Los Angeles, where it got great reviews and the attention of casting directors and producers. I realized I enjoyed writing more than acting—at least with writing you weren’t waiting around for an audition to do it!
With that focus, I wrote a screenplay and some TV sample scripts, and then came great timing: my college friend Phil Rosenthal was creating a new show with a comedian—Ray Romano. Phil asked me to come on as a writer’s assistant—I was also a GREAT typist, as I’d been doing temporary secretarial work to support myself all through my San Francisco acting years. Being in the writer’s room was a wonderful education, and after the first season I pitched an idea for an episode, called “Marie’s Meatballs”—about Ray’s wife wanting to learn to make meatballs. That was my first script, and I went on to be on staff and write other freelance episodes for the series…always traveling to Italy during my time off!

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go” was your first book. What inspired you to write it and what is it about?
Susan Van Allen: The idea for the book actually came about in 2008, during the Writers Guild strike, when film and TV work was not happening. I had been writing about Italian travel for magazines and websites, and the idea of how attractive Italy was to females kept coming up for me.
I always thought of Italy as a feminine place, because my deep connection to it came from my maternal side, and whenever I was there, even without my relatives, I felt so “at home”. Then, meeting other female travelers, who didn’t have a drop of Italian blood in them, I heard them say exactly that: “I feel so at home…”. That’s when I explored this feeling further, and  realized that there was a great appeal to being in a country where females have been worshiped since the earth was cooling—from the Goddess Venus, to the Madonna, to everybody’s Mamma. It’s something ALL we women feel from the moment we get off the plane. And I kept coming upon all these great stories of powerful women in Italian history, women artists and artisans, winemakers, and of course all that great shopping, the spas…it’s like the country was made for us!
I had met Larry Habegger, an editor of Travelers’ Tales, years before when I attended the Book Passage Travel Writer’s Conference in Corte Madera, California. They had just published “100 Places Every Woman Should Go” in 2007, and when I saw that title, a light bulb went off, so I pitched the Italy version, and they said YES.
The book became an extension of all the lists of advice I had been giving to girlfriends for decades, arranged according to different moods—in other words, there are sections that guide readers to enjoy places where females have been worshiped, or glorified in art, or where heroines from history have lived and flourished. And there is advice for shopping—from shoes to leather to perfume, tasting the best chocolate, my favorite wine bars, and immersion activities that range from hiking on the Amalfi Coast to cooking fish in Venice and painting ceramics in Florence.
The 10th Anniversary Edition of the book will be released in September 2020. You never know when you write something where it will take you, and this experience has been such a joy, over these many years, to hear from readers far and wide about how reading this enriched their Italian travels.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour second book, “Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures, and Advice,” seems to have quite a different angle on the topic of visiting Italy, a more personal one…
Susan Van Allen: I’ve always loved reading and writing personal travel stories—about adventures that surprise and transform us. In this book I was able to take readers along with me for such experiences as flirting in a Roman wine bar, hunting for truffles in Umbria, and climbing Sicily’s Stromboli volcano. And as always, I give travel advice—adding at the end of each story my recommendations—for example my favorite Roman wine bars, or great places to stay and eat in Gubbio, Umbria, that was the starting off point for my truffle hunt.
This is a great book for armchair travelers, and it’s inspired readers to go on their own adventures, and to keep travel journals, to capture the great range of emotions that come up as we explore the Bel Paese.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour third book’s title, “50 Places in Rome, Florence, and Venice Every Woman Should Go,” seems to have more specific destinations than your first one. Why is that?
Susan Van Allen: As so many travelers, especially first timers, plan their trips around seeing The Big Three, (Rome, Florence, and Venice), I wanted to let women know about the female highlights of each of these destinations. The book has a tighter focus than 100 Places, but keeps the idea of arranging travel by mood—so if you feel like a day of church hopping in Rome with a female focus, I can guide you there, or if you want to know where to shop for glass in Venice, you can rely on my advice.
I also give a few easy day-trips away from each of these major destinations. I believe it’s great to plan a trip to Italy with some time in a small town or countryside to get a full experience. So, for example, I include a chapter about visiting gardens in the hill towns close outside of Florence, and to take an easy train ride to Padua, outside of Venice, to see Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel, that’s filled with fabulous frescoes telling the story of the Life of Mary.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou also organize special tours to Italy for women only. What is different about these tours from the standard ones offered by other agencies?
Susan Van Allen: During my book tour, when 100 Places was first published, women in the audience would raise their hands and ask, “Can you take me with you?”. I’d never really thought about creating a group tour before, though for decades I’d been arranging everything when I traveled with my family or girlfriends to Italy, and those trips were fabulous adventures, so I thought, I’ll give this a try. I joined forces with Perillo’s Italy Vacations (the division of the company that does custom small group travel), and with their 70-years of Italy business expertise and my 40-plus years of exploring, we were off!
What’s unique about these tours is that they are highly personal. My guests really enjoy traveling with a writer and with someone who has deep personal connections that have come from decades of traveling here. I design Golden Weeks exactly as I’d planned trips with my loved ones–with a balance of group time and free time to discover on our own, a beautiful location and hotel where we can feel at home and immerse ourselves for an authentic Italian experience, and an itinerary that mixes culture, history, art, great food, fabulous wine, artisan shopping, and activities (cooking, craft classes, spa time) so we LIVE Italian traditions, with my Italian friends. And everything is done at a relaxed pace and female-focused, with thanks to my fabulous local guide/girlfriends who love customizing their museum and city tours so we discover Italian heroines of the past and present, and art that glorifies females.
Over the past 8 years, it’s been an absolute joy to introduce women to places I’ve long loved, and to watch them form friendships in the small group (14 guests), that last well beyond our time together. Women from all over the USA and Canada have joined in, bonding over a range of life experiences. We’ve celebrated milestone birthdays, reunions between sisters and friends, women who have experienced losses in their lives have come to find the Golden Week profoundly healing. It’s a thrill for me to see again and again how Italy transforms travelers—women who range in age from 23 to 83, mothers and daughters, solo travelers, girlfriends on a getaway—in just one week become more radiant, more joyful—all caught up in that bliss and enlightenment I felt as a kid when I first experienced Italy. Also, like me, once they’ve had a taste, they want more! There are so many returnees on these trips, women who love traveling in this Golden Week style come back to experience another part of the country and are happy to reunite with other women they’ve met on these trips.
So far I’ve designed and hosted Golden Weeks in northern Tuscany, Southern Italy and the Amalfi Coast, Florence, the Italian Riviera, Venice, Milan and the Italian Lakes, and this year we’ve added Sicily. The choices are infinite, and I look forward to showing these wonderful women more and more of this amazing country.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaWhat do you believe is the major misconception by tourists who visit Italy and what would be the best advice for a traveler who wants to discover Il Bel Paese?
Susan Van Allen: The biggest mistake travelers make when planning a trip to Italy is trying to squeeze too much into their vacation. One week to see Rome, Florence, and Venice is too rushed! To truly experience Italy, you need time for spontaneity, time to not be rushing around to the major sights. Yes, it is amazing to see the Sistine Chapel, the Uffizi, and Piazza San Marco…but you also need time to wander through a market, linger in a piazza and people watch, be still to admire a sunset.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaLet’s talk a bit about your last book, “Hungry for Italy: Culinary Adventures in the Bel Paese.” It has added a precise topic as the main focus: food. What made you decide to take this new path and what does this book brings that is new to the table?
Susan Van Allen: Like so many other Italophiles, food was how Italy first seduced me. Growing up with an Italian-American mamma, the kitchen was always the best place to be—where Italy’s Magic Spell embraced me with deliciousness and comfort. Over so many years of travels, I’ve headed straight to kitchens in Italy, exploring traditions, and it’s been great to go beyond my first kitchen to discover the great variety of regional specialties in Italy, to get to know chefs who bring them to life, and take cooking classes with locals, which feels like getting a backstage pass to the country’s soul.
The quest is ongoing, and with Hungry for Italy I reflected on some of my favorite Italian food experiences, including meeting Gino Sorbillo, aka The King of Pizza, and learning the secrets of risotto making in Milan. Food is a jumping off point for so much more—from personal revelations to deepening connections with the Italian Way. And as always, because I love to give advice, I ended the chapters with my favorite restaurants to taste these specialties and recipes to recreate the deliciousness at home. As it came out just as the USA was going into #stayathome phase, the book became a perfect guide to experience Italy vicariously and deliciously!

WEBSITE: www.susanvanallen.com

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From Dark Secrets To The Lions: A Life Of Success. An Exclusive Interview With Suzzanne Troiani Piccolo [L’Idea Magazine 2018]

From Dark Secrets to the Lions: a life of Success. An exclusive interview with Suzzanne Troiani Piccolo
Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You went from President of a local club to vice District Governor, and then to District Governor. Did you find it difficult to adapt to the different duties or was it for you a natural flow situation?
Sue Piccolo: I was actually nervous until I realized I have run a business for so long I should just use those skills I have learned from owning my own business. Plus, the Lions offer fantastic training in Leadership not just for the Lions but, for everyday life that you can carry through into your personal life.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  What were the goals you are in mind when you became District Governor and do you feel you have achieved them?
Sue Piccolo: My goal was to not let the Lions stay the best-kept secret anymore. That actually proved to be true when Harvey hit Texas. I called upon the Lions and the community and it went viral. We were on the news, which was amazing, showing the world what we are all about. I can actually say we are the best humanitarian organization in the world and it was proven by what we did and have done all around the world, not just catastrophic emergencies, but also diabetes, pediatric cancer, eyes, measles shots and just so much more…

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  I understand you will continue your activities in the Lions after July, when you will leave your position as District Governor. What will your new duties be?
Sue Piccolo: Your duties as a past district governor is just as important as a sitting governor. We continue to be mentors for the lions and the community. I have actually taken the position of Global Membership Leader. I help clubs recruit members and I train the new and seasoned members and give them the complete foresight of what our duties are as humanitarians. I do tell members it doesn’t matter if you give one hour of your time or many hours. You’re making a difference in your community and around the world, one Lion serves 70 people and that is huge. I am so Thankful to the Lions I have met around the world and in my own district. To see the dedication that the Lions have impresses upon me to keep humanity a priority. For that, I thank them all.

Suzzanne Troiani Piccolo with Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You have received many awards from the Lions throughout the years for your efforts in the community. Most recently, though you received a special award connected to the Sandy hurricane. What was it? Why was this award different from the others?
Sue Piccolo: Yes, it’s true I have received many awards, but getting the International President’s Award is unheard of as a sitting governor. It was for giving up my everyday life, turning my store upside down and sending over 220,000 pounds of supplies to Texas, 15,000 pounds to Puerto Rico and gift certificates to Florida. I was honored to receive it, but I dedicated it to everyone who worked so hard to complete our mission. When you work as a team, you can accomplish anything. That’s what we did and that’s why the award is for everyone.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  You also contributed as a columnist for our magazine and wrote a novel, “Dark Secrets, The tale of a Shaman” Do you think that after this hectic period you will find time again for your writing endeavors? Regarding “Dark Secrets”, I was told by you that it is book one of a trilogy. Are you working on the second novel yet?
Sue Piccolo: Well, it’s my first novel and it’s aimed mainly at the young adults’ audience and the lovers of fantasy stories. It is the first book of a trilogy and I have started already on the second book, I’m trying to write again but, with all the tragedies happening, it’s hard to not answer the call of duty. But I have set a goal to write again by November.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  Without giving away the story of your novel, could you tell our readers what inspired you to write it?
Sue Piccolo: I always loved stories and poems especially ones that a dear friend of mine wrote. They always hit me in a way that always kept that intrigue in me and that inspired me to put a pen in my hand and just do it.

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I wanted to build a silent ascent to legendary… An Exclusive Interview with Veronica Vitale [L’Idea Magazine 2021]

I wanted to build a silent ascent to legendary… An exclusive interview with Veronica Vitale

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Singer, Composer, Pianist, Veronica Vitale is a full-bloodied Neapolitan who has brought her music from Italy to Germany and then the USA. And with it, a lot of unusual and intriguing concepts… Let’s find out more about her…

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour professional career started in Germany. Could you tell us a bit about those years?
Veronica Vitale: I signed my first record deal in Frankfurt am Main back in 2010. Back then Italy’s Art and Culture fields were suffocated by the rising events of “Talent Shows” and by a non-meritocratic policy that pushed abroad the Italian Excellency.  There was no other alternative for an Artist but to only follow certain compromises and specific TV channels, names, dynamics, and connections. I simply believed there are no shortcuts to what we love. I never wanted a soaring rise to fame, I wanted to build a silent ascent to legendary. I received my first music record deal after I was discovered on MySpace by some former A/R from Sony Music Entertainment who founded a new indie label group called “FBP Music Group”. “She turns pieces of shit into gold”- my former producers used to say. They offered me to be their leading recording artist, so I signed. This call was the first call of help God answered. I left my country with a deep desire to soon return and tell of a different path to victory, a clean honest one.

I was signed just a few months before Facebook took over any other social network. When I got there, I first had to deal with the anti-Italian stereotypes created mainly by Italian politicians and ministers. After that, I worked hard on the production of my debut album “Nel Mio Bosco Reale – Throughout my Royal Grove” fully in the Italian language, to transform into pop a language that was not English. Three months after the debut, I found myself on the top of the Amazon Chart, then the Hot 100 Deutschland Newcomers Chart, and represented Italy at the Musik Messe Event first, PRG LEA Live Entertainment Award, and then starring at the Buchmesse with Umberto Eco and volunteering to raise funds for the earthquake in Fukushima, Japan in the IFRC campaign with Lady Gaga and MTV and donate all income from the song “Il Cielo / Heaven” to the cause. I was the only Italian. And as much as I wanted to share this news with my country, Italy was distracted by hundreds of other things. I was seen as a permanent nobody. If you wanted to exist in Italy, you had to participate in talent shows. Common people have no idea as to why for an artist, some choices can be unhealthy. I am also the winner of the Critics “Gitarren Statt Knarren” Award 2014 in  Winnenden, Germany with the track “Under The Sky of Another Dream” which features a guitar solo by Leon Hendrix, brother of Jimi Hendrix. I was reckless and daring and facing cold German business affairs; I never found the Italian South Side Warmth I grew up in.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: With your first album, “Nel mio bosco Reale”, You received the recognition of “International Artist” at Der Musikmesse International Press Award MIPA and was on the Amazon Deutschland TOP10 Chart, How would you describe your songs in that album?
Veronica Vitale: Italian Pop composed and designed for an international audience. Italian language of course, but the structure of the songs met the beginning of experimentation with electronic music. 2011 is when Lady Gaga and Katy Perry were established if you know what I mean. The very first years of digital experimentation. It was something new.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaBefore the success in Germany you participated in various contests. Which ones? How was that experience?
Veronica Vitale: As It goes for contests, I did all that a young Italian artist could possibly think of, such as Premio Mia Martini, Castrocaro Festival, but the dearest one to me was Fonopoli by Renato Zero. In 2006 my very first music composition was nationally published and released by an Italian Star. I was 16 years old. Anyway, please keep in mind that 80% of Italian Music Competitions for newcomers are blind alleys and dead ends.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: In December 2014 you received the Critics’ Award at the Winnenden, “Gitarren statt Knarren” of Winnenden, in Germany, an international contest for the remembrance of the victims of that city’s school massacre. What was the song and what was it about?
Veronica Vitale: It’s a music piece I composed in 40 minutes, recorded in 1 hour, and delivered right away as soon as I received the competition theme. It’s a cinematic vision. “Under the Sky of Another Dream” tells the tale of loss and separation and childhood innocence. It’s the story of parents losing their children as a result of war, violence, and terrorist attacks. It’s played out by 2 main roles but the language is an immersive first-person point of view handed over to the listener… a blurry Environment. There’s a child dreaming of a different world; placed “on the edge between reality and fantasy” where stars are mistaken for missile detonations, I honestly thought of all Children in Afghanistan. As the song goes on it’s clear there’s a child dying somewhere but the listeners don’t realize it yet just like the child himself, until the end of the song.

There comes a moment when a mother; which who could be any mother, turns up the radio and hears the news about the school shooting where her child goes. The chorus is a chant of hope for tomorrow and goes like this “The rain will wash away our pain, the sun will rise again, upon a day made of extraordinary things, a fairytale ruled by normality, a new mirror where everybody looks just beautiful, a hero born in any ordinary person, another time where the days are moving on” that leads to a dramatic ending made of denial dismay and disbelief which goes “Today at the radio they said, you were killed, my little child, but they lie, you just fell asleep, under the sky of another dream”. The Dream I talk about is a new world, a decent world, which failed today to protect us all.

VERONICA IN CINCINNATI

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAfter going back and forth from Europe to the USA, you decided to move to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2015, and after a short while, you received the “Acts of Lovingkindness 2015” award. What is that about? What made you choose that city?
Veronica Vitale: It was an Award Given to all Public Figures and High Professionals who Gave Support to the City of Cincinnati and the Music Business. The Bootsy Collins Foundation planned the whole event. I consider Cincinnati like my own city, I even collected every particular sound of the city and used them in my music creation forging what I call “liquid music”. Cincy is the place where I began the production of my dearest album “Inside the Outsider”  together with Bootsy Collins, Patrick Hamiton, Ouiwey Collins, Jess Lamb, and many others I deeply respect and admire. I found who I am in Seattle and Cincinnati.

ACT OF LOVINGKINDNESS AWARD

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou were also the first Italian woman to participate in a radio program aimed to help kids at the children’s hospital…
Veronica Vitale:  October the 5th 2016, Cincinnati. I was urgently hospitalized for a sudden food allergy, I never suffered of anything like that. I was lost. My body was turning on me. 5 days in-and-out the Emergency Room groping in the dark, along with the risk of pulmonary thrombosis due to the mix of heavy medical treatments and severe backlash. Doctors got me out of a tight spot there. Together, we found out that I “became” deadly allergic to Chicken and all birds after eating some chicken break on board my flight.  I never healed. It’s the second rarest allergy of the World. It happened without warning or notice but I was blessed as I faced death. The Children’s Hospital appears in this chapter of my life. While driving on the highway I spotted their logo, the same colors as the rainbow. I promised to myself to reach out and find out what that was about and I did. I planned the visit with my Crew 3 months Later, and we were welcomed by the staff. I proposed a collaboration with the Ryan Seacrest Studios and the WKID33 Network, a series of performances featuring Disney Songs in different languages to embrace universal brotherhood and unity.

Something interesting happened there tho, Together with the nurse, I recorded the sound of my heartbeat, and together with Chris Dickerson, I composed the song “Pulse of Light” for the album “Inside The Outsider”. I replaced the drum and used my heart as the leading beat. I Couldn’t do anything truer and more honest with my music than deliver my life to the listeners. It was a gift for my dad, He was there during the struggle.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaWhat was the motivation for forming the band “Funksquad” and what did you achieve with that band?
Veronica Vitale: FunkSquad is the band formed by Ouiwey Collins, my soul brother, which I joined back in 2013. Ouiwey and I Stand against Bullying and Abuse of Power. Ouiwey is the son of Funk Legend Bootsy Collins. Besides our tours, together we also support Autism of Rock.

FUNK SQUAD

Tiziano Thomas DossenaBut that was not the only cause you fight for with your singing, is it?
Veronica Vitale: I was a victim of Bullying myself when I was 11 yrs old, and for all my life I was emotionally abused, that’s just one episode of hundred other fears I faced on my own. Today I stand for children’s rights and universal brotherhood, for indie artists and cultural diversity.

ON TOUR WITH FUNK SQUAD

Tiziano Thomas DossenaWhat is the project “Inside the outsider” about?
Veronica Vitale: “Inside the Outsider” is not just an album but a concept, a genre-defying record, it literally means “Inside The One Who Thinks Out Of The Box”. It’s Made of a vast palette of sound experiments starting from AVANT-GARDE POP to lastly a new LIQUID New Music Genre I created over the years.

The Project will be released in 3 steps: ALBUM,  BOOK, and DOCUMENTARY and holds concepts intentionally set in psychedelic environments, mysterious, otherwordly and dystopian scenarios, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, atmospheres belonging to the cyberpunk genre, which use the rules of anti-utopia to delineate worlds dominated by high-tech corporations, and for the sole purpose of awakening awareness, hope, and empathy towards the near future, humanity, the others, and a sustainable world. I co-produced this masterpiece with the American Film Director Patrick Hamilton. My Music and our entire production is to be considered “Motion Picture of Sounds”

Tiziano Thomas DossenaCan you talk about your single “World Travel”, please?
Veronica Vitale: I strongly wanted my video and my song placed in a Dystopian-like Environment. (Dystopia is translated as “not-good place”) A Post-apocalyptic mood in which the Earth’s technological civilization is collapsing or has collapsed, left with only scattered elements of life which are entirely dependent on “the machine,” a god-like mechanical entity that has supplanted all free will. I wanted to honor the Integral Theory of Everything by Ervin Laszlo and Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution. After all, my story just like the best fairytales is about the same thing: “Transformation” and “Change”.  The chorus calls for freedom for every man and human being, for every living creature, and the kids all over the lands. I must admit that there are some unspoken hot topics in my verses, such as anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, depression, and loneliness. Here You Can Check out My Favorite Trailer “Born to Be Happy

Tiziano Thomas Dossena“Diario di Bordo’ (The Captain’s Log) is a very ambitious and interesting project. Could you recount the concept behind it and the goal this marvelous project has?
Veronica Vitale: I’ve been writing my “Diario Di Bordo” for a decade now. When I lost Myspace I didn’t like the idea to be on a nonsense social media like Facebook. Unfortunately, my industry wants to see numbers and engagement and if you don’t join, they’ll do it on your behalf. So I tried to find my own route. I created an organized diary out of my Facebook wall. If you need to see my path, how did I start, how did I make it, who did I meet… all you gotta do is to “Scroll Down”.

My story is quite unbelievable, but Facebook helped me to provide photos, facts, videos, and a timeline to share my truth. I am a woman, I am Uncompromised, I didn’t fold, which means there are gonna be enemies waiting at the finish line trying to tear me down. Of course, haters are gonna hate and critics are going to criticize, no matter what! However – I wanted to be able to at least provide a story supported by precise and factual evidence to guarantee my word.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou just recorded “Hymn to humanity”. Did you write that song? What were you trying to confer to the listener?
Veronica VitaleHymn to Humanity is a Prayer composed during the first months of lockdown and Covid-19 Pandemic. The original solo performance is in English, Italian and Hebrew, all together. The World Choir Version, collected over 250 artists all over the world and 1 citizen from every country, each one performed in their native language. Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan stood together singing the same chant. Even the Chief of the Warriors Tribe that protects the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador joined me. I wanted to tell about the sorrow of those dying in hospitals in North Italy, and “play” the coming darkness wrapping around us all, my piano speaks of conflict & resolution, darkness & light.

Veronica singing Hymn to humanity

It’s the tale of humankind waiting in the shadow of the night for daybreak. My Prayer is an Anthem for Hope and Universal Brotherhood. It also recalls our oldest history from Genesis 1:3, in the beginning, there was nothing. Nothing but the silence of infinite darkness. But the breath of the Creator fluttered against the face of the void, whispering “Let there be light.” And light was, and it was good. Hymn to Humanity reached 500.000 Streams Overall on Facebook and Instagram in 1 month and was performed as a web sensation ‘til the other day. I received a video of 40 African voices in Nigeria singing together my Hymn to Humanity. It’s Breathtakingly!

People around the World sing in Every Language against Covid-19 and Racism
[Hymn to humanity]

Tiziano Thomas DossenaWhat is “Prismatic Dojo” about? 
Veronica Vitale: Prismatic Dojo “THE ALL COLORS THEORY ALBUM” is a contemporary music experiment made by Myself and Patrick J Hamilton, between colors gradients and healing frequencies, brought together to heal mind and soul. Every Album has different shades of colors and was created in environments reflecting the specific color of the tracks we were composing, to study the influence the wavelengths would have on the human psyche and creative process. Prismatic Dojo explores all the colors of the Rainbow (Prism), instead, the word DOJO is a hall or place for immersive learning or meditation means “place of the way”.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou also founded Artist United…
Veronica Vitale: Artist United is a Non-Profit International Organization that’s aimed to bring artists, both professional and enthusiastic music creators from all over the World, together in a message of Peace and Universal Brotherhood. A community where artists support each other actively. Here We Are All Together as One.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou have advanced degrees in the Sciences. How did you choose singing instead?
Veronica Vitale: Actually, I’ve never chosen one over the other. I chose both. I follow through on everything I start. My studies, especially my third degree in System’s Sciences and Quantum Consciousness built the bridge between Art and Science, and a better understanding of world societies and life itself. The Music Anthology “Prismatic Dojo” for instance, is a deep study of frequencies, electromagnetic field; some of them has been researched and explored by genetic biochemists. Frequencies is the oldest language of the universe.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaSinger, composer, producer, and so much more… What activity keeps you busy the most?
Veronica Vitale: The overall of all these things. The Real Artist is a Whole, not just a part of these things.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAny special dream?
Veronica Vitale: Old Saying Goes “don’t say your wish out loud”

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAre you working on any new projects at the moment?
Veronica Vitale: The Making of the Docufilm about my Life. We are thinking to release it on Amazon Prime Tv Series by the end of the year.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaIf you could meet a person from the past or the present, anyone, who would that person be, and what would you like to ask them?
Veronica Vitale: Monk Saint Padre Pio, to ask him how he recognized and defeated the Devil. Then Domenico Modugno or Freddy Mercury. I would ask how they dealt with the weight of people’s critics, with loneliness, and the frustration of knowing they were creating something “visionary” that would become popular and survive their death. A “Success” they wouldn’t have fully enjoyed – I mean … You work so hard on something that people don’t understand at the moment, but that one thing becomes a priceless masterpiece decades after you die. That’s a very scary thought for me. Happiness looks like a blurry canvas to me. I’m scared to never know how it really feels to be serene and happy.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaA message for our readers?
Veronica Vitale: “The most beautiful act of faith is the one made in darkness, in sacrifice, and with extreme effort.”

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I envision happy readers, children and adults alike, smiling as they turn my pages! Exclusive Interview with Barbara Barcellona Smith [L’Idea Magazine 2021]

I envision happy readers, children and adults alike, smiling as they turn my pages! Exclusive interview with Barbara Barcellona Smith

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Barbara Barcellona Smith grew up on the central coast of California with her Italian father, Giuseppe Barcellona, and Puerto Rican/ Cuban/ Lebanese mother, Emily. Barbara’s ethnic household was quite unique providing her with a lifetime supply of strange, entertaining, and valuable stories she has written and is excited to share with young readers today. In addition to writing, Barbara worked as a radio promotions director, an award-winning television commercial production coordinator, and a corporate marketer. She has a degree in journalism/public relations from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She was an English as a Second Language educator and currently lives in Enterprise, Alabama.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou have an Italian father and a Puerto Rican/ Cuban/ Lebanese mother. That is a very interesting ethnic combination. Before we talk about your Italian roots, may I know how did the ethnic fusion on your mother’s side influence you?
Barbara Barcellona Smith: First off, thank you Tiziano for this beautiful opportunity to share my voice, my children’s book, Let’s Eat Snails!, and my experiences with your readers at L’Idea, it is my honor!  I am so pleased you’ve asked about my mother, because she is as much an inspiration and hero to me, as is my father.  Let’s Eat Snails! is a culinary adventure, a cultural exchange, and a display of tradition, family, and love.  My dedication reads: To the original culinary adventurers, my parents Giuseppe and Emily Barcellona.

Grandma and granddaughter, Jacqueline Barcellona Ingenito

My mother was experimenting with food long before strange, now gourmet, ideas ever hit trendy shelves.  She was making jalapeño jelly 40 years ago!  Her Italian Easter breads were beautiful with our decorated eggs displayed like the priceless gems they were to her. She was so happy in the kitchen and she kept the three of us happily engaged early on, as well.  We helped her make homemade Italian bread, pasta, and sauce.  I literally grew up eating from the melting pot of America!   Una “fiesta”, “festa”, “waliima”, of ethnic food aromatized our home 24/7.  The air was filled with the smells of Puerto Rican arroz con pollo, Cuban congri, and Lebanese baklava! My father’s always had fruit trees and she’s canned all of it, peaches, pears, and plums, to name a few!  For fun, she would take us to the you-pick-it strawberry farm and then teach us how to make homemade preserves and dried fruit sheets.  My father was a hunter and she turned all his wild game into delicious delights, from rabbit cacciatore, quail in quick sauce, stuffed squash with venison sausage, to babbalucci, Sicilian snail stew!

Emily Barcellona serving Babbalucci to the family

My Godmother asked me once, “How did you all turn out so great?” My response, “Involved parents!”  My mother kept us active, as laziness was intolerable.  She was never idle, so we were never idle! She raised three very productive children with my sister Miriam Barcellona Ingenito being an excellent case in point, as Director of the Financial Information System for California, Fi$Cal. Our lives were spent studying, running, swimming, hiking, biking, camping, fishing, and picking mussels!  The best mussels and eel on the Central Coast of California were at Montaña de Oro, near Los Osos.  Our family of five, my Puerto Rican grandma, the Palermos, Agostinos, and Vasquezes would load backpacks and wagons and drag them over a mountain of sand, just to find these delectables.  Once we arrived, exhausted, Mom and the other matrons would set up day camp and the propane stoves while Dad and the goombahs set out to picking mussels and catching eel with giant, homemade bamboo poles.  We ate like kings out there gorging on the fattest, sweetest mussels drown in butter.  We hauled the eel back home to the kitchen sink, where they lay in wait, for my American friends, like the protagonist Margie in Let’s Eat Snails!, to arrive and discover they are, in fact, delizioso!

Barcellona Family Reunion

Tiziano Thomas DossenaObviously, from the topic of your book, we can deduct that the Italian side influenced you in your food choices and passion. How did this happen?  How else did your father’s heritage influence your life choices, if any?
Barbara Barcellona Smith: I am from humble Italian beginnings and was raised by parents who taught me to work hard and to believe in my dreams against all odds.  My father immigrated to America from Sicily with $500 in his pocket and a fifth-grade education.  Everything he built was from hard work and self-education, and his life has provided me with fodder for several children’s stories I’ve written to include, Let’s Eat Snails!  It’s always been my life dream to become a published writer and now not only has that dream come true but also my book has earned the endorsement of Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Junot Diaz, along with famed Italian writers like Dan Yaccarino, All the Way to America, and Edvige Giunta, co-editor of The Milk of Almonds!
She says, “This wonderful little book should find a special place in children’s literature that celebrates cultural traditions in all their diversity.”  She completely validates my mission!  I wrote Let’s Eat Snails! to relay the importance of deep family ties, community, tradition, food, and culture.  Those were the values given to me by both parents and those are the values I’ve passed on to my own children.
With his limited education, my father began as an upholsterer in Cleveland.  He was a quick study and had a savvy business mind.  He quickly learned a new, more lucrative trade and opened up his own cement company called, Barcellona Brothers utilizing the help of my uncles Antonino and Carmelo.  He taught himself how to speak English and Spanish and thrived not only in the Italian-American, and Puerto Rican communities but also in all Cleveland communities!  My dynamic parents, both tri-lingual by now, quickly and successfully grew the business until they eventually sold it and followed his other Italian brother, Salvatore, to California’s Central Coast.
It was on the Central Coast in Nipomo, while living in the big house with the atrium, beautifully illustrated by Karen Lewis in my story, Let’s Eat Snails!, that I best remember eating the wild game my Dad would shoot and bring home.  We didn’t need to eat rabbits, dove, quail, or deer, we just did!  And the three of us kids didn’t complain about it either!  My mother was the best cook I knew!

She made her own ricotta salata, everything was homemade, nothing was done the easy way in our house, take it from me, the lazy one, I remember!  My sister, Miriam, and brother, Francesco, both grew into respectable Italian cooks.  My brother ultimately owned his own Italian restaurant, Paisanos Pizza & Pasta in Grover Beach, for 16 years.   My mother managed to make all that game taste great; everything tasted great, except tripe!  To this day, I really can’t stomach tripe, no matter how it’s prepared.  But the point is, I tried it, and the point of Let’s Eat Snails!, encouraging children off of the fast-food menu and onto a more worldly one.  Again, we ate what my parents ate, period, no substitutions, no escaping the dinner table, and we are all the better for it!

My mother and brother, Francesco would make hundreds of pizzas per day for the local school district

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou also seem to be very proud to be considered Sicilian besides being Italian. What does that mean to you? Have you been in Sicily? If so, how was your experience there?
Barbara Barcellona Smith:  Honestly, growing up my father never really liked differentiating between Italian and Sicilian.  He would always say, “We are one Italia”!  I think we are all now finally, fully realizing and appreciating, the beauty and abundance that is Sicily.  It wasn’t until my own trip to visit my Zia Maria Barcellona Compagnino and my cuginos in Ramacca ten years ago, that I truly knew what it felt like to be specifically Sicilian.

Zia Maria Barcellona Compagnino at her orange grove near Ramacca

While touring the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, feeling the giant translator box swinging from my neck, and the ancient earth crunching beneath my feet, I set about to learn exactly how many times, indeed, the island of Sicily had been conquered.  It was at that moment I had an epiphany, a profound and DNA-deep realization that this island was a true representation of its people.  The Sicilian people are strong, fearless, and refusing to accept failure.  They remain the ultimate conquerers.  This island specifically defines my father, his family in Ramacca, and our family in America. My father overcame extreme strife and literally lived off the land while he tended sheep on a mountainside at 12 years old.  His education was the hard one of the land.  He was quick (and still remarkably is at 79) with a slingshot and often caught the family’s dinner.  The things I write about are from the island’s own DNA, they are fused into my being and a part of who I am and where my roots originated, Sicily!
As I watched ancient Mt. Etna steadily smoking in the distance from my Zia Maria’s rooftop, I could literally feel my father’s childhood.  I mean, Mt. Etna was smoking 70 years ago when MY DAD was a kid running up and down the cobbled streets of Ramacca!  My trip to Sicily was filled with profound moment after moment from significant to common day.  I still remember my “Zia tranquilla” (she was, and by far still is, the calmest Barcellona), whipping off her slipper achase after unruly and loud grandkids in the house. I remember thinking, doesn’t any generation on any continent ever learn, you just don’t mess with a slipper-yielding Sicilian (or Puerto Rican) woman!  I also remember marching down four flights of stairs each hot, sunny morning in my American shorts, only to be turned right around, to change into something more “appropriate”,  by merely the stares of Sicily’s most ancient matriarchy, my zia and her old cuginas, and of course, the ever-present power of the all-seeing Evil-Eye!

Her husband Kyle, Barbara, daughter,
Emilia, and stepson, Brent, Valley of the Temples, Agrigento

We toured fascinating Siracusa where we saw the Holy Site of the Weeping Madonna, walked through ancient catacombs, marveled at majestic Taormina, and took Holy Communion in a little Catholic Church near my zia’s house.  I endlessly tried ordering my American husband a “real Italian meatball” only to find every time I used the word carne, he was served a plate of clams!
Sicily is old and new all fused together by the roots of thousands-years-old olive trees and sprawling modern prickly-pear farms.  As we whizzed around the Mediterranean island like all the other pazzo drivers, I felt complete joy and a total connection, and I thought, I am undeniably of this place!

Barbara’s father, Giuseppe, purifying snails in cornmeal at his home in Arroyo Grande, California

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour book “Let’s Eat Snails!” is aimed at children, introducing them to ethnic food, ethnic differences, opening the mind about new things… It’s an ambitious goal and you did very well with it. Is it more or less a reconstruction of your own life experiences?
Barbara Barcellona Smith:  I am dedicated to expanding the culinary horizons of our children. I believe kids should eat what we eat, just like I had to!  Let’s Eat Snails! encourages bravery through an endearing tale of family, friendship, and eating snails!  When Margie visits the Barcellona family home, she isn’t ready for what the Sicilian family is bringing to the table: snails! Margie embarks on a culinary adventure in harvesting, purifying, and cooking snails to find out that they are, in fact, delizioso! This book is delicious, fascinating, gorgeous, important, and multiculturally inclusive!
Let’s Eat Snails! gleans from my crazy Italian-American childhood and takes all-aged readers on a culinary adventure. In addition to whetting children’s appetite for new and unfamiliar dishes, Let’s Eat Snails! offers a cultural window into the lives of ethnic neighbors who comprise a large portion of our American society.  This book is a metaphor for all sorts of cultural things we’re afraid to try, then try and find we enjoy!  Or as my paisana publisher, Suzanne La Rosa, puts it, Let’s Eat Snails! recognizes our differences and shows that what sets us apart also brings us together.
In my Italian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Lebanese house, we grew up eating weird things and all my friends knew not to say, “GROSS” no matter what they saw in the Barcellona kitchen such as dead birds, rabbits, and eel unless we all wanted a 20-minute lecture from the “Sicilian Godfather” on manners and expanding our horizons! While all the other kids had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I was complaining about my capicolla, mortadella and salami sandwiches, “Every single day Mom, really”! It took me years into my adulthood to eat any kind of cold cut, Italian or otherwise!

Babbalucci, Sicilian snail stew! Fresh onions from the garden, Mom’s homemade bread

Our camping trips into the literal middle of nowhere did, in fact, include the kitchen sink!  The whole trip was planned around food!  While other kids were grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, we were cooking giant pots of pasta with dove and quail in homemade quick sauce!  I remember my Dad stopping to pick watercress in the creeks that bubbled across the mountain roads on our drive to the top.  And at the end of the day, like typical Italians, we would laugh and laugh around the table, eating bread and cheese while sipping on homemade vino.  At night I embraced insomnia, never sleeping a wink, alert to the cacophony of Fred Flintstone snores, coyote howls, raccoons plundering pasta plates, and the never-ending buzz of cow flies in my ear, oh the memoirs of an Italian camping trip survivor! These are just a few tasty samples from my rich and colorful Italian-American childhood that I share with kids in the four books I’ve written.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAre your next books aimed at doing the same, that is reliving some of your experiences in a very unique household? 
Barbara Barcellona Smith: All my books are based on my own cultural experiences growing up with my ethnic parents in Cleveland, Ohio, and Arroyo Grande, California.   I’ve also pulled from experiences in Alabama where I’ve lived with my retired military husband for the past 23 years, minus the two years we lived in Korea while he was stationed at Camp Humphreys.  Kyle is a retired Army aviator and subsequently transitioned to another helicopter job as basically a teacher of teachers (MOI, mode of operations for instructors) at the Home of Army Aviation, Ft. Rucker. He has two sons, they are grown with their own families now, but I wrote a book about some of the difficulties, we as stepfamily encountered when they were small and growing up.
I felt compelled to write this book because I felt almost like an expert regarding the dynamics of stepfamilies, after all, I was part of one for 23 years.  I thought that I could write this because I understood from personal experience the emotional drama and angst young children and their parents go through as divorcing families struggle for control of the most important asset of all, the children.  I also knew what heartbreak children suffer, torn between one beloved parent and the other.  Being the custodial parent, along with my husband, we were afforded the greatest vantage point into my two stepsons’ lives.  Their amazing resilience and capacity to love in spite of all obstacles was a true inspiration for my picture book, The Steps to Our House.
Eight-year-old Bradley leads the young reader up the steps to his house and into his unique life living as part of two families.  His comical adventures in his primary home with his mother, stepfather, sister, and stepsiblings give the reader a sense that stepfamilies can be as normal as any.  Bradley’s weekend visits with his dad, sister, and stepmother give the reader an endearing viewpoint into the unbreakable father-son bond that transcends physicality.
The Steps to Our House climaxes at Bradley’s first baseball game where he realizes both sets of parents will have to interact for the first time.  While at bat, Bradley is distracted by both fathers shouting conflicting advice.  Torn between whom to listen, Bradley takes this courage-building opportunity to stand up for himself, ultimately resulting in the betterment of the entire family.
My next picture book is back to being based on my pazza Italian family, I mean there is so much there to pull from!  Part of expanding our horizons included on-the-job-lessons in at-home horticulture.  My father was a self-trained tree grafter and enjoyed teaching us the beautiful art of growing many different types of fruit on one glorious tree.  My ethnic household was quite unique providing me with a lifetime supply of strange, entertaining, and valuable multi-cultural stories such as Grandpa Geppe’s Gifted Tree.

Fingered citron lemon

While picking on one another during a mutual visit with their Grandpa Geppe (Giuseppe) one afternoon, cousins Tony and Thomas discover his amazing “gifted” tree.  To unite the boys, Grandpa Geppe masterfully compares himself to the orange tree or the “family tree”.  He then compares the cousins to the lemon and lime branches off of the grafted or “gifted tree” as they call it, in order to explain how similar fruit types/cousins, such as lemons, limes, grapefruit, and oranges, can all grow from the same citrus tree if grafted properly.  As the boys learn how to physically graft a lemon tree to an orange tree, they come to realize their own lives are biologically grafted as well.  They come to appreciate their familial similarities and forget their petty differences, all the while learning a bit of Italian, and that Grandpa Geppe’s Tree is truly gifted indeed!
Sneaky Peekers is a Puerto Rican inspiration based on my growing up years with my mother and green thumb grandmother.  This picture book takes a “sneaky peek” into the life of a young, Puerto Rican girl named, Miriam.  She takes the reader on her garden adventure encountering sneaky peekers of all sorts from snakes, to lizards, to slugs and caterpillars.  Children will discover little-known facts about each of these creatures from Miriam’s mishaps while learning something unique about Latin culture.
While Miriam picks strawberries for her big sister’s quinceañera, coming of age party, she learns the value of hard work and persistence as she bravely faces many sneaky peekers.  Each animal encounter provides Miriam with a courage-building opportunity that ultimately boosts her self-esteem. She learns that, like the caterpillar and her sister, she too will one day transform into a beautiful butterfly, totally capable of flying with her own two wings!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou were an English as a Second Language educator but also a radio promotions director, and an award-winning television commercial production coordinator. How did these jobs prepare you and influence you both in your writing choices and style?
Barbara Barcellona Smith: I graduated with a degree in Journalism/Public Relations from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and always knew I was meant to write.  But I also always knew the best money would be made in public relations and marketing so the majority of my writing career was business-oriented.  I’ve worked on many a press release and many an ad-campaign but of course, it’s hard to squash the creative side of one’s mind permanently.
I was best able to exercise my creative muscle while working for WDFX Fox 34 (located in Ozark, Alabama at the time).  I wrote, produced, and directed commercials for television, now that was fun and enlightening!  I’ll never forget the heavy-set used-car-lot owner who insisted on dancing what could best be described as some sort of “jig”, every time we shot a commercial.  Oh the jiggling he did, in fact, do!!  I won a local Addy-award for “Best Audio/Visual Presentation” for an annual golf tournament our station hosted for the clients.  It was a pazzo spoof on Caddyshack where I managed to convince every single client to act in some form or fashion for the video, all with one camera, quite comical.
I did my best marketing for KSLY/KSTT Radio, San Luis Obispo, California right out of college and worked for peanuts!  They loved me because I had those stations in everyone’s face 24/7.  I’m still using those skills today. I’ve got a cross-promotion currently running with Peconic Escargot, New York, PeconicEscargot.com.  We are putting my book into action bringing ‘deliziose’ snails fresh to the front door.  The Let’s Eat Snails! Peconic Escargot Family Pack includes a copy of Let’s Eat Snails, 2-dozen in-shell snails, a baking dish, snail picks, and kid-friendly recipes to include Sicilian babbalucci!
While at A.M. Windham Elementary School in Daleville, Alabama I was blessed with the task of helping a group of 4th-6th graders write and illustrate a picture book they named, Bullies to Buddies for a Scholastic book contest.  While we didn’t win, it was one of the highlights of my precious time as I watched these brilliant kids come up with an idea, decide which among them were the best writers and best illustrators, and then go to working together to create this fantastic book!  I also taught English as a Second Language primarily to Spanish-speaking children, which was fortuitous because I grew up on the Central Coast of California speaking more Spanish than I ever did Italian.

Barbara’s former ESL student, Rossy Briceno (with proud mother Lourdes and family friend, Veneranda) recently joined the Air Force

I loved those kids and ultimately, they taught me more about life and love than I could have ever taught them lessons out of a book.  Perhaps it’s because my own father was an immigrant with a tough start in life that I still keep in touch with some of those ESL families today.  I just learned one of my former second-grade students, Rossy, recently joined the Air Force!  Wow, what a difference overcoming the language barrier has meant to her.  We read countless books together, each word slowly bridging the language and cultural gap between us.  That’s the power of books, the power of cultural inclusion, and the power of Let’s Eat Snails!
In regards to style, radio and television helped me learn to write the language of every day, with plenty of salt and pepper! As an educator, I learned my writing must be purpose-driven and meaningful.  My ESL students helped validate the importance of my own family’s immigrant story and helped validate my subject matter, multicultural inclusion, family, food, and tradition.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaIs “Let’s Eat Snails” going to become an Audiobook too? 
Barbara Barcellona Smith:  I would love to see  Let’s Eat Snails! become an Audiobook and love to see it translated into Italian as well.  This book would make for fantastic listening on family road trips!  It’s a fun, fascinating story about a unique dish and special friends from different cultures coming together to share food around the table.  Boys love this book!  Girls love this book! Adults love this book!  I had a fabulous interview with Aldo Filippelli and his father, Umberto on WJCU’s Memories from Italy, Cleveland/Northeast Ohio radio last week, and was honored to experience a moment between the two after Umberto explained he had in fact eaten snails in the Old Country! Umberto went on in detail describing his experience and later, the beauty and abundance of Sicily.  It was a beautiful moment as Aldo explained he had just learned something new about his own father.  He went on to testify, Let’s Eat Snails! had just literally bridged the generational gap between his Old Country father, himself, and his own kids here in America.  For me, it was a moment of total translation, complete understanding, and pure love, bellissima!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaIf you had the opportunity to talk to a person, any person from the past or the present, who would that person be, and what would you like to ask them?
Barbara Barcellona Smith:  By the time I realized my Spanish speaking abilities had about a 25% efficacy rate with my 100% Italian speaking, Nonna, she was quite old and I was no longer living in the house.  Those last memories around the big dining room table with my Nonna, Barbara Barcellona, were special.  I remember the first time I understood the majority of what she said, we were both elated!   Her children, my father included, took turns caring for my Nonna after my Nonno died, and she would come live with us 6 months at a time.  She was quite a chatterbox speaking all the while in Italian to me, my brother, and sister, not minding a bit that we mostly returned the exchanges with big deer eyes and an, “I love you, Nonna”.  Sadly, her precious words were wasted on my young, selfish years.  By the time, I really sat down to listen to her, it was too late.  If I could speak to her now, I would give her 100% of my attention and she would have 100% of my heart.  I would ask her what her life was like back in the Old Country, did she ever experience personal joy beyond her children.  For the most part, in my life, I’ve been afforded the ability to do what I want, when I want, where I want, how I want.  That was not the case for my Nonna.I know times were tough in Paterno, Sicily and I know times were even tougher for women.  Did she have big dreams of her own, or were her big dreams, in fact, fulfilled by family.  She took turns sleeping with us kids, she’d climb in my bed, take out her teeth, put them in a glass, grab her rosary beads, clutch my arm to her, and begin in whispered Italian, “Ave Maria, piena di grazia…” May she forever rest in God’s loving arms, the way she held me to herself when I was just a child.

The author’s Nonna, Barbara Barcellona, in Ramacca with her children from top left, Vincenza, Maria, my father, Giuseppe, then next row,
Antoniono, Nonna, Carmelo. This photo is missing her Uncle Salvatore.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaIn these days of lockdowns, quarantines, isolation, and pandemic, is the writer in you thriving or suffering?
Barbara Barcellona Smith: The Public Relations and “Marketer” in me has been thriving!  Here’s the reality of a writer, tell me if I’m wrong, first she must labor over the perfect words, then she must labor to find publication, then she must find the patience of Job, and sever her tongue through the slow process of publication (tough for an Italian, right?!), AND THEN, if that didn’t take enough time, she must now labor to market the book until she becomes famous like you, certo?

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: I wish it was so, Barbara, but thank you for the compliment. Any new projects in the works at this time?
Barbara Barcellona Smith:  Currently I spend the bulk of my time marketing my book as I am yet, a fresh author.  BUT, exciting news, I have a very “BIG Fish” on the line (if I catch him with my tiny, little pole from little ole’ Enterprise, Alabama, I’ll be quick to share the news)!  With recognition from amazing publications such as L’Idea, I know my hard work is paying off and my message of culture and tradition is being received!
I’m also focused on finding placement for my television screenplay, The Second Wife.  Italian-American Theresa Giordano, struggles with the decisions she’s made with husband, children, and family, leaving behind her own Italian heritage for a life, far different, in the Deep South.
The Second Wife strums the heartstrings of those who have ever felt like they were not actively participating in their own lives.  It is a story about a woman who thought she had lost herself in her slow-paced life, but after looking back rediscovers the joy of living through the sacrifices she made along the way for her family.  She realizes she had been blessed with time to whittle away the forest of events in her mind and through her reflection, she finds the single tree, the single meaning to it all, love.
The story also examines fear of failure and self-betrayal.  The words of dead poet Langston Hughes begin to haunt the main character, Theresa.  She hears parts of his “Montage of a Dream Deferred” repeat over again in her head:  “What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?  Or fester like a sore – And then run?”  Theresa begins to relate to that poet feeling just like the raisin with all the essence of life already sucked out of it.  She feels like a sore, constantly irritated by the multitude of menial tasks she fears define her life.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaDo you have any secret wishes?
Barbara Barcellona Smith: My secret wish?! I would love to see my books sitting on end tables next to comfy, stuffed chairs in thousands and thousands of homes, where I envision happy readers, children and adults alike, smiling as they turn my pages!

Tiziano Thomas Dossena: A message for our readers?
Barbara Barcellona Smith: This is how I sign my books for children and I think it’s a message we, as adults, still love to hear at our varied ages and stages in life: I hope you enjoy this little culinary journey.  Like Margie, be brave in this big world, believe in your big dreams, and your big dreams will come true.  And always remember, FOOD IS AN ADVENTURE, Mangia! Mangia!

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Italian Innovators: A Podcast, A Website, A Classroom About Italy And Italians… An Exclusive Interview With Luca Cottini [L’Idea Magazine 2021]

Italian Innovators: A podcast, a website, a classroom about Italy and Italians… An exclusive interview with Luca Cottini

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Luca Cottini was born and raised in Varese, Italy, and completed his undergraduate degree in Classics at the University of Milan. After moving to the United States, he specialized at Notre Dame and Harvard on Italian modernist literature, and in the early industrial culture, focusing his research on the 19th and 20th centuries. He is the founder of Italian Innovators, a podcast about Italian entrepreneurs and artists…

Tiziano Thomas DossenaProf. Cottini, I highly enjoyed the story behind the creation of the bicycle, as we know it today, by Italian industrialist Edoardo Bianchi as it appeared on Italian Innovators, your YouTube channel. Could you tell our readers what prompted you to create the podcast, now YouTube channel, and what are its aims?
Luca CottiniItalian Innovators is born out of my academic work, as a professor of Italian Studies at Villanova University, as a scholar of Italian literature, and a cultural historian of Italy’s early industrialism. The project is born as an expansion of my scholarly monograph The Art of Objects. The Birth of Italian Industrial Culture, 1878-1928 (University of Toronto Press, 2018), which explores the origins of the Italian culture of design and traces its beginnings in a number of irregular and unforeseen encounters of Italian entrepreneurs and artists at the turn of the 20th century. The story of Edoardo Bianchi, and of Boccioni’s pictorial representation of bicycles, is one of my favorite chapters in the book.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaWhen you talk about people like Bianchi, Bialetti, Ferrero, Lamborghini, you are actually opening up a different understanding of the products themselves…
Luca Cottini: In presenting the stories of these entrepreneurs and innovators, I aim to explore the concentric network of their products (from the market to advertising, from social reception to symbolic representations in literature, art, or philosophy). In reconstructing this context, I aim to isolate the key factor that sparked their innovations, may it be rivalry (as in the case of Lamborghini) or scarcity (as in the case of Ferrero and Bialetti). By placing their singular stories in dialogue with Italy’s aesthetic tradition I aspire to sketch asystematically, through episodes, an ideal profile of the Italian innovator or a more profound explanation of Italy’s success model. For me, the core of the Italian way to creativity, innovation entrepreneurship unequivocably lies in its deliberate fusion of arts and industry, beauty and technology, crafts, and production.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaI see that you also have a website with the same name and theme (ItalianInnovators.com). Is this website a portal for the YouTube show?
Luca Cottini: The website is connected to the YouTube channel and provides a more detailed presentation of the overall project and of my scholarly work. It offers in a glance the vision I want to give of Italy, not as a repository of past marvels, but rather as an incredibly lively piazza of creativity and innovation. On the website and on the channel, I compile this panoramic view by way of various episode formats. In the #innovators section, I trace the intellectual and industrial profile of great contemporary Italians in fashion, design, technology, communications, or and science, from the past (e.g. Camillo Olivetti, Elsa Schiaparelli, Davide Campari) and from the present (e.g. Brunello Cucinelli, Milena Canonero, Massimo Bottura). In the #interview section, I introduce conversations with leading figures of academics in Italian studies or successful professionals as a way to introduce my Anglo-Saxon audience to the ongoing contributions that Italy continues to put forth in our contemporary world. Among others, I interviewed Mauro Porcini (chief designer at PepsiCo), Ignazio Marino (surgeon at Jefferson and former mayor of Rome), Clio Zammatteo (makeup entrepreneur), Fiorenzo Omenetto (Fortune 50 innovator), and Gaetano Di Tondo (Vice-president of Olivetti). In the #lecture section, I publish the recordings of my online presentations, which have been sponsored by the Consulate General of Italy in Philadelphia, under the initiative of Consul Pier Forlano, and which deal with the contents of the show and my ongoing research. Then there are two sections, #ItalianModernities and #ItalianAges, which I conceive as a public course available to everyone.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaI see that you have also free courses on your website. It’s a great idea, and I will gratefully take advantage of that. What are the courses about?
Luca Cottini: For me studying (as a zeal for learning) is inseparable from teaching (as an empowering art of sharing). In this sense scholarly research is intimately connected not just to storytelling but also to teaching. This year I am releasing the lessons of three itineraries through Italian culture, which will be the three components of the Italian Innovators course. In the lessons #ItalianModernities I trace the history of Italy’s impact in fashion, design, food, communications, photography, cinema, or transportation. In the lessons of #ItalianAges I present a cultural history of Italian from the middle ages to the present, from the dual perspective of the arts and technological innovation. In the lessons of #ItalianBeauties, I explore the key traits of Italy’s way to beauty: savoir faire, limit & creativity, heritage, and cultural diversity. Every month I am releasing one lesson of Italian Ages (on the 7th) and one of Italian Modernities (on the 21st), in addition to the #innovators episode (on the 1st) and the #interview (on the 15th). I will publish the four lessons of #ItalianBeauties between July and August.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena“The Art of Objects. The Birth of Italian Industrial Culture, 1878-1928” is your last book. What is the prime concept behind this book?
Luca CottiniThe book is a cultural history of early Italian industrialism and an investigation on the formation of Italy’s industrial culture at the turn of the twentieth century. In this work, I trace the origins of the Italian culture of design by focusing on several objects of mass consumption (e.g. watches, bicycles, gramophones, cigarettes, cameras, clothes, or toys), by observing their transformation from commercial items into aesthetic icons, and by reconstructing upon them the a-systematic overlapping of industrial planning and cultural imagination. By exploring the industrial transition through the double lens of aesthetics and entrepreneurship, the book maps a more comprehensive and interdisciplinary view of the age between post-unification and Fascism. In observing the irregular process of modernization of Italian industry, the book considers the nation’s so-called “imperfect” industrialization not as a flawed model but rather as a key component of its success, forcing Italian intellectuals and industrialists to a state of creative instability and continued quest for original solutions.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou have 12 publications, which is more than a respectful number, on the connection between the Italian cultural world and/or the industrial production and invention. In some, you shared the credits with names such as Umberto Eco. We cannot talk about all of them in an interview, but I would like to touch on a few of them, if you don’t mind. For example, you seem captivated by Italo Calvino’s life and works, to the point of writing a whole book and two papers about him. Why is that so?
Luca Cottini: My book on Calvino, I passaggi obbligati di Italo Calvino. Autobiografia, memoria, identità (Longo, 2017) deals with a collection of autobiographical short stories by Italy’s most renowned writer in the second half of the 20th century. The stories deal with his childhood in Sanremo, his experience with cinema, his participation in the partisan war, and his life in Paris. These stories really open up fascinating windows into Italian culture, tapping into Calvino’s relationship to Fascism or cinema, the correlation of fiction and memory, or the impact of waste in our post-modern societies. I wrote about Calvino as editor of Fenoglio (author of Una questione privata, which Calvino defined the novel of resistance) and about Calvino’s stylistic identification with Fellini in his short story Autobiografia di uno spettatore. Why Calvino? He is a phenomenal entry point into the complexity of the 20th century and also a thinker who elaborated a serious reflection on the mechanisms of storytelling, something that is key to understanding similar processes in design as well as the nature of literature as a mental architecture. In this sense, Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1972) is the prototype of the book which becomes a building, and a reflection of Italy’s architectural practice to plan buildings as books.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou also seem to write about Palazzeschi more than about other writers. Why?
Luca Cottini: Palazzeschi understands vividly an important moment of transition in Italian culture, from a humanistic endeavor to an industrialized format (in magazines, journals, and in the broader publishing market). Faced with the industrial serialization of language, and the academic crystallization of poetic expression, Palazzeschi’s theatrical irony and linguistic subversiveness not only interrogates provocatively the meaning of the ongoing changes (without falling into a dull acceptance) but also invents new forms of literary communication, in his acrobatic theatre of verbal performance, in his poetry-in-motion, or in his stunning novel Il codice di Perelà (1911), whose protagonist, a man turned into a cloud of smoke, becomes a prophetic symbol of the bodyless ubiquity of our internet age.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaCalvino, De Amicis, Alvaro, D’Annunzio, Papini, Palazzeschi… You covered quite a few Italian writers in your essays and articles. What was the connection between these writers that made you choose them?  Which one fascinates you the most?
Luca Cottini: In each of them I read a piece of our present, which, despite what we might think, is quite similar to theirs. A time of constant transition and a modernity invaded by new technologies, experiences, and products. I find D’Annunzio fascinating for his ability to read the transition of culture from a humanistic endeavor to a performing space and a mass industry. As I discuss in one of my essays, D’Annunzio is also the first Italian author who rediscovered the genius of Bernini after two centuries of oblivion. Even though it might seem surprising, one of the key influences of European modernism is actually the 17th-century poetics of the Baroque, in their common tension to read radical changes, define new parameters, and create an experience of uniqueness vis-à-vis standardization processes (the scientific method or industrialization).

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour educational interests appear to be quite diverse, ranging from Italian Literature to early industrial culture, but you also are showing an interest in visual studies and social history, giving lectures on various topics related to these subjects. Which of these subjects do you teach? What triggered your interest in such varied subjects? Do you, as a historian, feel that they connect to each other in more than one way?
Luca Cottini: My work on the origins of Italian design naturally connected my literary studies to a more visual dimension, but some of my courses at Villanova (on Italian design, or business in Italy) made my traditional literary teaching a bit more experimental. The interviews I regularly post with designers, entrepreneurs, and professionals in the industry made me observe my literary formation as a resource to observe different business models. Rather than exploring the economic facts of a business, my point of view then investigates the culture that generates a company, as well as the culture that a company generates. In the Italian model, where the industry is de facto a culture maker, this dynamic is even more prominent.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaDo you believe that the kind of innovators we have seen in the past would not have such stimuli to become innovators if they would live in today’s globalized and technological world?
Luca Cottini: The experience reading 50 years of Corriere della sera and Illustrazione Italiana, from 1880 to 1930 showed me that the energy and dynamism of the early industrial generation were stirred not only by its lively ambition to become the protagonist of their present, but also by the desire to leave a mark in future generations. Their transition to a globalized world was as shocking as ours (think of the diffusion of telephones, radio, cinema, in parallel with TV, mobile phones or internet streaming). What we are called to live is a dimension of innovation that intersects heritage, the pursuit of originality in the present, and future planning. In this sense, the forward-looking attitude of those who preceded us is a gift for us to mature in the awareness that our future will judge the substance of our innovations.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAre you working on any new projects or books?
Luca Cottini: I’m currently working on two books. One on the U.S. military, cultural, and political expansion in the 1890s, a phenomenon called Americanism, observed from the perspective of Italian society and culture. And the other on the characters of Italian excellence in culture and industry, as a continuation of the Italian Innovators project.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaIf you had the opportunity to meet any characters from the past or the present, anyone, who would be that person? What would you like to ask them?
Luca Cottini: In my interviews, I am given the incredible opportunity to meet people who excel in their disciplines and I hope to convey this sense of awe to my viewers. What I ask them is born of the desire to learn from someone who walked a successful path of entrepreneurship. I would spend an entire afternoon with many of the innovators I deal with. If I were to choose one, I would pick Walter Bonatti, one of the world’s most renowned mountaineers, who first climbed the Matterhorn in a winter solo expedition in 1965. I would ask him. What was the view from out there? What did you think of it?

Tiziano Thomas DossenaA message for our readers?
Luca Cottini: If you arrived here, thank you and I hope something caught your attention. I wish for you that you will find your idea soon, as a surprising moment, as a hypothesis connecting different fields or intuition, as an illumination that gives life its whole taste.

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From Cinematica To Being An Ambassador Of Italian Excellence In The World: The Success Continues For A Great Italian Singer. An Exclusive Interview With Romina Arena. [L’IDEA MAGAZINE 2021]

From Cinematica to being an Ambassador of Italian Excellence in the World: the success continues for a great Italian singer. An exclusive interview with Romina Arena.

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Here we are back with Romina Arena, the “Queen of Popera”. In our last interview, we covered many topics, but the news of newfound events and successes surrounding her persona has reached our magazine and I felt it would be appropriate to have an update, which she kindly agreed to.

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou just launched with huge success a new major movie album ‘CINEMATICA VOLUME ONE’. I see that it contains a very interesting selection of songs…
Romina Arena: Yes, this is one of my most heartfelt records so far I have ever released because it contains some of my most adored movie soundtracks that have accompanied my life and career! The record holds the title of ‘CINEMATICA VOLUME ONE” a brand name that with my team at THE ROMINA ARENA COMPANY, in collaboration with my co-creators, my personal manager and executive producer Jay Hall, my Chief of physical productions Chris Fisher, and my Chief Creative strategy Content Officer and Disney executive ‘EXTRAORDINAIRE’ Forrest Fisher, have created to transport all of my fans to the world of cinema and exciting inspiration, via the recording of the most successful movie soundtracks, books, and TV specials!
This is one special music compilation released by my brand new label POPERASTAR RECORDS and is having a terrific success, beyond our expectations! If you have followed my career, you know I come from the world of music scores for cinema and theme songs, such as my work with the great late Maestro Oscar-winner Ennio Morricone, and if you loved that collaboration, you will love CINEMATICA VOLUME ONE!.
Some of the theme songs (which I am sure will be very familiar to your readers) are the revisited SOMEWHERE (from WEST SIDE STORY), ARTHUR’S THEME, BABY MINE from DISNEY’S DUMBO, and many others, including my very own (and first rock song) SATELLITE, which became the super successful soundtrack to the major Bafta award-winning MICROSOFT videogame GOTHAM RACING TWO, which I composed and recorded in several languages for the release of the videogame in several markets, and so much more for all of our listeners to discover! CINEMATICA is the gift that keeps on giving! You can find it on all the digital platforms, including of course SPOTIFY, PANDORA, AMAZON MUSIC, APPLE MUSIC, and of course you can purchase music from my own website at rominaarena.com! I hope you will all enjoy it!
Again, I never leave anything to the case; I always love to tell the stories behind these movies and also how emotional it is the connection that our hearts have with films and music and when you bring these two magical media together, game over! You will never forget that one scene or one song! It is all to discover, so let me know your thoughts! I executive produced the album, but I have to give a shout to everyone who’s been with me on this amazing journey, from my personal manager and A&R Jay Hall, my chief Creative Strategy Content Officer Forrest Fisher, my Chief of productions Chris Fisher, my adored attorney of over 20 years the great Brad Rubens, my Art Director and development Eric Carlson, and my Ohana family!
Of course, the album is dedicated to God, my adored mother Rita, and to all of you media and fans who are making me who I am; I’d be nothing without you!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYou are currently involved with two major movie musicals for one of the largest Hollywood studios. What does that entail?
Romina Arena: At this point, I cannot reveal a lot, since I am under a very tight NDA (non-disclosure agreement), but all I can say is that dreams do come true. I am starring, composing the music, writing these major massive movie musicals, and executive producing them…and the team I have around me is a true dream team! For the rest you’re just going to have to wait and see…it won’t be too long! Stay tuned and follow me on my website rominaarena.com or on social media on Facebook, Instagram, and everything in between!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaI heard you are working on a new Spanish, French and American album… Could you tell us more about that?
Romina Arena: Just as above I cannot reveal much at this time, but all I can say is that I sing, write and speak fluently in ten different languages and I have been writing a lot of music lately, and I always felt the need to communicate to all people of all walks of life my passion, my pain, my triumph, and music has always been my true connector!
Yes, there is a wonderful Spanish/Italian project in the works and since I have always been a huge Edith Piaf fan ever since I was 10 years old (raised by a French nanny along with my mom who used to bring me to France every year, spending the summer holidays in Monaco and in Nice), I have always wanted to work on a French album and I am doing something very, very exciting, working with some major music producers of the French world, so I’ll be able to share more once we are ready!  I am writing as always all the songs, but I am also revisiting some classics, presented in a whole new way, so just wait and see what I am cooking up!

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  Is it true that you are at this moment composing the music for a variety of major up and coming motion pictures and TV shows? Which ones are they?
Romina Arena:  I am doing a large variety of projects but once again, due to contractual signed deals, it is hard for me to reveal all the details. I have been writing music and recording for major networks lately such as ABC, ESPN, and more. What I am working on, though, are some very large new motion pictures and streaming series needing specific sounds such as the ones I produce, so they will be released soon!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaYour fantastic cinematic travel book about Italian locations of famous movies, ‘WHERE DID THEY FILM THAT? ITALY” is a best seller. Do you have any intentions of transforming it in a travel show or a podcast?
Romina Arena: Thank you for your kind words!  Yes, this is a spectacular book that anyone can find in all local bookstores, such as BARNES & NOBLE, and of course, I don’t have to tell you, also on all digital platforms ( amazon has both versions, hard copy and digital).
As I mentioned above, my love for cinema has always been so strong and so inspiring to me. WHERE DID THEY FILM THAT?ITALY (the first of a franchise of books that will transport the readers to many places around the world), is what I consider ‘A TRAVEL GUIDE FOR MOVIE LOVERS AND A MOVIE GUIDE FOR TRAVEL LOVERS”, and especially now it is a wonderful way to learn about Italy by discovering the major movies filmed there, from THE GODFATHER to CINEMA PARADISO, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and many more!
Recently, I was approached by a major TV producer asking me to turn the book into a TV/streaming series and I accepted, so now development has started and I just cannot wait to bring this special cinematic travel project to you all!

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  Heard through the grapevine that a major 8-times Oscar-winning film producer in Hollywood is currently developing a major motion picture, and now even a large Broadway musical, based on your life story. Could you reveal the name of the producer? How proud do you feel about such an honor? Are you expected to collaborate with the songs part of the musical?
Romina Arena: Yes it is true! Although I cannot reveal yet the name of the major producer attached, he is a very, very famous one in Hollywood!  The story is going to be made into a movie and for me is truly a pleasure to produce and co-write the screenplay with an Oscar-winning writer, as well as to write the score and all the songs of the movie. Of course, this is my life story and you can only do it once as a movie, so we put a lot of incredible work and attention into it. I truly hope my story will inspire and motivate you all to never give up and always believe in the power of your dreams!

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  I am sure that Sicilians will be very proud to have you as their Sicilian Ambassador to the World. When did the region of Sicily choose you, and what does that entail?
Romina Arena: A couple of months ago, a major Sicilian journalist, Giovanni Vallone, a man of great brilliance, kindness, and desire of promoting Sicily through all of the wonderful work he does, has contacted me because he and the members of his Cultural division of Sicily, which he founded, all agreed for me to become one of their representatives in the US and in the world on behalf of Sicily as their Sicilian Ambassador of culture in the world!  My role is to create opportunities, events, and a variety of projects promoting my adored Sicily, which I consider like the Hawaii of Italy! I am extremely honored to work with Giovanni and all of the wonderful members of his Cultural division in Sicily and what we have defined as ‘THE SICILIAN MASTERS” which are selected individual with great talent and brilliance, in promoting Sicily in high regard!  I am the most successful Sicilian-born female bestselling music artist across the world, therefore I was chosen to contribute through my many activities!
I am so committed to present Sicily in the best way as possible because my gorgeous island deserves it, so I am so grateful to Giovanni for have given me this precious title!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaAll these are big news, but it seems there is even more big news. I heard the announcement that the President of M.I.R.E. (Movement of Italians Residents Abroad) has named you ‘OFFICIAL AMBASSADOR OF ITALIAN EXCELLENCE IN THE WORLD!” With this new title, you will be representing officially Italy around the world, with major Italian events, awards, consumer products… Tell us more about this new position of yours, please.
Romina Arena: This is so very exciting! And even more exciting to not only represent Sicily in the world but Italy! I owe all of this to the brilliant and great President of M.I.R.E. (Movement of Italians Residents Abroad) Commendatore Dr. Vincenzo Odoguardi (and wanted to thank publicly also Mr. Maurizio Bezzeccheri, Former Chief of Staff of the Mayor of Pompei, who introduced me to Dr. Odoguardi!)
I was so honored to receive this prestigious title, and I have begun working with the President on various major projects about promoting the authenticity of Italy in the world, create spectacular partnerships, and opportunities, events and consumer products with my name and IP, and talents while expanding Italian culture, heritage, and diversity!
We will reveal little by little all of the major and wonderful projects we are working on, but I would love to take a moment to thank you and the Media and all the Fans around the world who have supported me throughout the years with my music, my personal remarkable survival story. I am the proof that dreams do come true that if we have faith, we are thankful to God and we are grateful to all that comes to us, “appreciation becomes the currency of the soul” because appreciation appreciates!
I truly believe in the power of my dreams and if we all release anxiety and trust the universe, all things are possible! I am a kid from Sicily, but everything I wanted to do in my young career so far I was able to achieve it, so I pass on to you all positivity and encouragement; it is never too late to create greatness in your life, we just have to trust God’s timing. When God puts a dream in our hearts, it will come to pass, but we must trust and be patient and also translate our faith into action!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaThe number one Italian actress of the moment, the stunning and amazing Claudia Gerini (PASSION OF THE CHRIST, SUBURRA, JOHN WICK 2) recently started a major partnership with you. What is this partnership about?
Romina Arena: I am the most fortunate person in the world, because this amazing, brilliant, beautiful woman has come into my life, like my angel, like the sister that I always wanted to have, and our minds immediately connected, flying over the same wavelength! Claudia has been an Italian superstar since she was a little girl, a multi-talented woman in so many aspects when it comes to entertainment.
From being the number one Italian actress in the world, with huge successes, to be a breathtaking ballerina and singer, Claudia has shown the world what true talent really means.
She and I met during a major award ceremony in Hollywood and immediately connected. We have been developing recently several movies, TV series, and even consumer products which will see her be the lead actress and even producer with me. We have many wonderful projects currently in development, but all I can say is that she and I are creating magic together and soon enough will share more! Stay tuned! It is a true honor for me to work with her and have her as my ‘sister”. I simply adore her!

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  I understand from your answers that you keep yourself super-busy, but I would like to know how you are coping with this Covid19 situation. How much do you miss having a live audience?
Romina Arena: This has been the toughest time for me, as I am sure for everyone.
Of course, I believe that performing artists, actors, or anyone who performs in front of a camera is suffering terribly! I personally felt sadness for those people out there who are battling this terrible infection and for those who lost unfortunately their dear ones!  In my case, though, the worst part of it has been not been able to go to Sicily to visit my adored mama Rita, who has been battling other kinds of health serious issues, and this is breaking my heart!
As far as my business, however, things are going so well and I am thriving with so many wonderful projects and dreams coming true! I cannot stay still for a second. I have to constantly move forward! And I have to say that I have been busier than ever. Although I am a performing artist as well, I would say that during this past year, I have been writing so much music for film, streaming, musicals, books, designed new products and so much more, so I will not let Covid stop me!
My deepest wish and prayer go out there to everyone, and I’d like to remind you all that eventually we will be getting out of this situation and we will be happy again; let’s not lose hope, because hope is greater than fear and we must stay strong! God is good!

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  Where do you find the inspiration for your songs in such a period of turmoil in the world?
Romina Arena: My inspiration, as you have probably figured out from my previous answers, comes from God first and foremost! I am a survivor and even in the darkest times of my life, God has always picked me up, no matter how many times I fell! My faith is so strong and that love, passion, and the care I have for the world and for all people and animals drive me. Love is the biggest instrument for me and connects so well to my music, so definitely, I lead with the heart when it comes to creating music. My goal is to touch you all because you are all my “ARENA OF AMORE”!

Tiziano Thomas Dossena:  Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Romina Arena: Oh, wow! That is a very tough answer to give since I love to live the moment and although we all have to plan somehow our future, I know that life is so precious and we musty enjoy every single moment, living in the moment. However, my focus is to grow even more with my music and my entrepreneurship activities, to create many jobs, support my most important charities, create a legacy that will support others and their dreams, and support medical research to cure cancer. Of course, I have one personal, massive, big dream, and I can almost touch it because I worked so hard for years to achieve it, but I won’t talk about it…you will just have to wait!

Tiziano Thomas DossenaThe Covid19 situation has forced people to stay home and their life has become a different kind of life, unfortunately, almost surreal; most of the people are suffering Cabin fever at this moment. You are a woman who has shown so much purpose, energy, and achievements in spite of the various lockdowns and isolations. Could you please send our readers a message of hope?
Romina Arena: As I mentioned before, HOPE IS GREATER THAN FEAR! We must believe that all of this will soon pass, not to lose faith and focus but instead take advantage of this moment to explore further your dreams to reinforce your loving relationships with your dear ones, your children, your pets too! God will not forget us, we will overcome this and be stronger and much more appreciative for all that we have. !

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