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BONES OF THE DEAD COOKIES-OSSA DI MORTO

By Lora

Bones of the Dead Cookies-Ossa di Morto

The bones of the dead cookies (ossa di morto) are almond cookies that are traditionally eaten on November 2nd (All Soul’s Day, or Day of the Dead) which falls right after All Saint’s Day. In Italy it is called ponte 1-2 Novembre (the bridge of the 1st and 2nd of November) and schools are closed and depending where you are in Italy, probably many businesses.

Bones of the Dead Cookies-Ossa di Morto

Halloween isn’t an Italian holiday, although I know it is becoming more and more popular with kids (and even adults) in Italy. You can even find many Italian food bloggers posting fun and spooky Halloween recipes. But traditionally, this time period was always very solemn in Italy. Today (All Soul’s Day-Giorno dei Morti)is a day when you are supposed to pass by the cemetery and bring flowers to remember your loved ones. While you’re there, you should spiff up the graves of your family members and you may even find some people spending time there in remembrance of their loved ones for hours. But that may happen only in Sicily.

My dear cousin Alessio sent me a photo this weekend of my family’s grave in Sicily. The granite marker has the photo of my dad, my nonno Giuseppe (my grandfather), my nonna Mattia (my grandmother), my zio Giovanni (my uncle Giovanni that I never met that died on his 19th birthday), my great grandparents from my nonno Giuseppe’s side. All 6 of them are buried in this family grave. So much history can be found walking around the cemetery. So much of my own family history can be discovered exploring the different angles of this peaceful resting place overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Sicily.

Bones of the Dead Cookies-Ossa di Morto

 The bones of the dead cookies (ossa di morto) can be found at bakeries only for the All Soul’s Day (Day of the Dead) holiday in Italy. I was talking yesterday with a friend that just moved here from the Abruzzo region of Italy and she said she’s never seen a cookie for All Soul’s Day where she is from. Now I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in Abruzzo, but maybe just in her area she’s never seen it.

The ones that are made in Sicily are made with cloves and the dough is supposed to rest for 1-3 days. I’m not sure I have the patience to wait 3 days to put my cookies in the oven to bake, but perhaps next year. In Tuscany they are called ossi di morto and it’s served with Vin Santo. Ossi da morto from the Veneto region are made with white wine, baking soda and even potato starch (Italians use potato starch in a lot of baking recipes). In some parts of Sicily they are called scardellini and in Little Italy of New Orleans, they have one bakery that is famous for their Skidelina (maybe a different spelling of scardellini?). There are also cookies for All Soul’s Day (Day of the Dead)called Fave da morto,  fave dei morti or fave dolci. There is a a great reference to fava beans and death in Italy. In the Lombardy region where my in-laws live (and this is a typical recipe from that area), they are also called ossa da mordere and in dialect oss de mord. In Naples (Campania region) you can find torrone dei morti. In Sicily in some parts you will find this cookies covered with chocolate. You can also find Pan dei Morti in Lombardia, and le Fave dei Morti in Emilia – Romagna. So many different recipes and names all over Italy for this one occasion’s sweets.

When you really think about the name and the shape of the cookie, it is sort of macabre and even creepy. I couldn’t tell my kids that these were “bones of the dead”, as they probably would run instead of thinking they were cool! The cookies are shaped long and skinny and when you pile them all up together, it does look like a bunch of bones. But they sure are delicious and creepy cookies!!
Bones of the Dead Cookies-Ossa di Morto
Ossi da morto cookies are made in Italy shortly after the season’s first almonds are harvested in September. I wish I could say I was in Sicily trying the season’s just harvested almonds…maybe one day! There are recipes that include almonds and hazelnuts. I made mine with almonds and also the Italian liqueur called Nocino (a liqueur from Emilia Romagna made with unripe walnuts). Don’t get confused in thinking the cookie texture will be like a typical Italian biscotto. Biscotti are crunchy, but not as crunchy as these cookies. The cookies are more hard and crisp than chewy (maybe like the texture of a bone!).
These cookies are so perfect to dip in your hot coffee, espresso or even a glass of wine. The dough is pretty easy to put together and the shaping is also very simple. I portioned out the dough into 4 pieces and rolled it into a long snake. I cut that first long log in half, and then cut it into small sections. The pieces were about 3 inches long. It ended up being 3 trays with 12 cookies. Each cookie will not end up being the same, and I suppose that also makes them look more “bone like”. I offered them to our friends that came over for an impromptu barbecue before trick or treating last night, and everyone loved them. Just warn your loved ones and friends before they take a bite, as I did, that they are very crunchy. I added a little bit of whole wheat flour, but feel free to use only all-purpose flour. I have seen recipes that use yeast and some that use baking powder. This recipe is without any leavening agent.
Yield: 3 Dozen CookiesAuthor: Savoring ItalyPrint Recipe

BONES OF THE DEAD COOKIES-OSSA DI MORTO

A typical cookie that is hard and crunchy and full of wonderful spices. This is a cookie that varies from region to region to Italy and is eaten to remember loved ones that have left us on All Soul’s Day.
PREP TIME: 40 MINSCOOK TIME: 15 MINSTOTAL TIME: 55 MINS

INGREDIENTS:

 

  • 3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teasoon of ground cloves
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Nocino (or another Italian liqueur, white wine or even water)
  • confectioner’s sugar for dusting

INSTRUCTIONS:

 

  1. Line 3 cookie sheets with a parchment paper.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar. Add in the egg white mixed with the vanilla and beat on medium speed for a minute or two until combined.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds, grated lemon zest and spices.
  4. Slowly add in the flour mixture and mix until combined, stopping the mixer to scrape the sides of the bowl and combine all the flour.
  5. Add 1 Tablespoon of the Nocino (or other liqueur or water). Add in more 1 teaspoon at a time if needed until the dough is combined (but not too wet).
  6. Remove the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let chill for about 30-45 minutes. While dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350 F.
  7. Lightly flour a clean counter or a pastry board. Cut the dough into 4 parts. Roll the first part of dough into a rope that is about 18 inches long. Cut the rope into two parts. Cut the first section into cookies that are about 3 inches long and about 1/2 inch thick. Line them up with some space between them on a the first baking tray. Press down a little on the cookie. Continue the process with the other parts of the dough.
  8. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the edges just start to turn golden brown. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.
Created using The Recipes Generator
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Maria SS. Lauretana Festival Returns To Niles Labor Day Weekend 2018

118-Year-Old Chicago-Area Festival Has Sicilian Roots Dating Back To The 1600s

The 118th annual Feast of Maria SS. Lauretana of Altavilla Milicia in Chicago will take place Friday,  August 31 to Monday, Sept. 3 on Church Street between the Golf Mill Shopping Center and Golf Mill Park.

Between 15,000-to-20,000 people attended the four-day event last year, according to Deputy Niles Police Chief Vince Genualdi. Religious highlights of the festival include the Procession of the Vera, the Flight of the Angels and the pulling of a large ship. The festival also includes secular entertainment, a fireworks display, carnival rides, food, vendors and a beer tent.

A group of up to 60 men will carry the Vera, a two-ton altar on a wooden base with a portrait of the Virgin Mary on top, down Church Street. They will make stops for people to give offerings and kiss the face of the image of Mary.

After about two blocks, the Vera will be placed between two high scaffolds, where two young girls in dresses — one in pink the other in blue — will be tied by the waist and one ankle onto a pulley system of ropes high above the Vera, where they will “fly” out over the crowd to sing a religious song in Italian. The Vera will be moved several times Sunday, after which additional Flights of the Angels will take place.

The story of the shrine to the Virgin Mary in Altavilla Milicia, Sicily started in the 1600s when an image of Mary was looted by pirates. Traveling off the Sicilian coast, the pirates found the painting of Mary in a barrel. They blamed the portrait for the violent seas and believed it was responsible so tossed it overboard near between several Sicilian towns including Altavilla Milicia, Joe Camarda, president of the Maria SS. Lauretana of Altavilla Milicia in Chicago Society since 1966, said.

Legend said village leaders from several towns found the portrait of Mary washed up on shore and hitched oxen to a cart, intending to build a church and shrine with the recovered relic from the ship wherever the oxen stopped, Camarda continued. The oxen stopped in Altavilla Milicia where a church was built.

Immigrants from Sicily brought the festival to the Little Sicily neighborhood near North and Clybourn avenues in 1900. Angelo Camarada, chairman of the Maria SS. Lauretana of Altavilla Milicia in Chicago Society, said the festival moved to other suburbs, including Rosemont, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and more recently Berwyn until 2014. The first festival in Niles took place in 2015.

Festival Hours are 4 p.m. to midnight Friday, Sept. 1 and Saturday, Sept. 2; noon to midnight Sunday, Sept. 3; and 3 to 10 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4. There will also be a special procession and Mass in Golf Mill Park with a procession at 9 a.m. and mass at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 3. The festival will have other religious observances Saturday and Sunday. The festival will include Italian and pop music Sept. 1, 2 and 4.

by:Tom Robb

A group of 40 to 50 men, all members of the Fratellanza Brotherhood, clad in white and maroon, lift the two-ton Vera shrine holding a sacred image of the Virgin Mary at the Maria SS Lauretana Festival in Niles Sunday. Their labor is a sign of sacrifice and devotion to their faith.

 

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CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSION ON THE HILL JUNE 3, 2018

By Marianne Peri Sack

The annual Corpus Christi Procession will held at St. Ambrose Church on Sunday, June 3, after the 11:00 Mass. Immediately after the Mass, the congregation will begin lining up in front of the church. Parish members will lead the way carrying the cross and candles. Jim Garavaglia will serve as leader and director of the procession in a tradition that started with his grandfather.

Last year procession below where, Monsignor Bommarito walked with the Monstrance under a gold-fringed canopy carried by men of the parish.

The canopy was flanked along the route by elegantly-dressed Knights of Columbus. Behind them walked the parishioners and friends who are faithful participants annually in an attempt to keep this ancient tradition alive for future generations. Golf carts rolled along with the procession bearing those who no longer had the strength to walk the entire route. A few neighbors came out on their porches or stood along the sidewalks to watch. The procession moved slowly and reverently between the three erected altars set up along the route. Hymns were sung and prayers recited between altars and at each altar the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and the beatitudes recited.

The first altar at Wilson and Edwards had a round dome on top and the Edwards and Botanical location had a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague that was the focal point. The last one on Botanical and Marconi had green garland and bouquets of red roses. Kneelers, on top of carpets, had been placed in front of all the altars for the priests to kneel. At the procession’s end, everyone entered the church for the last prayers and benediction. Monsignor Bommarito invited all to attend the lunch in the school cafeteria.

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Notre Dame professors and students embody iconic ‘Ribelli e Rivoluzionari’ of Italy

 | Monday, April 16, 2018Catherine Barra

This past Friday, the faculty and students of Notre Dame’s Department of Romance Languages and Literature came together in DeBartolo Performing Art Center’s Leighton Concert Hall to perform a wide variety of fantastic Italian music for a sold-out crowd.

As part of Romance Languages International Week 2018, Professor Lesley Marcantonio’s “Intermediate Italian II: Language Through Lyrics” class organized the concert to celebrate Italian music. This year’s theme was “Ribelli e Rivoluzionari: The Role of the Artist in Italy.”

The event recognized artists such as Mina, Jovanotti and Lucio Dalla, who represented the voices of Italy’s people during times of social unrest. The songs came from a wide range of time periods and genres, from the 1940s to the 2000s, and pop, folk, rock and romantic music.

Returning performers included singers Anne Leone, Lesley Marcantonio and Patrick Vivirito, who were accompanied by musicians Joseph Rosenberg, Anthony Monta, Patrick Falvey and JJ. Wright. Talented new singers, junior Colin McCarthy and sophomore Veronica Perez, joined the line-up this year. A screen behind the performers projected the lyrics of the songs in Italian so that the audience could sing along, contributing to the warm and inviting atmosphere.

Some of the performances were introduced by Notre Dame faculty members, who shared personal stories associated with each song. Italian Professor Alessia Blad’s introduction to “Bella ciao” discussed her grandfather’s involvement in the fight against Mussolini’s fascist regime. These monologues added a personal touch to the songs, which further enforced the importance of music’s role in learning about other cultures.

As any student of Italian language and culture will tell you, Mina forms an essential part of the Italian musical canon. A dominant figure in Italian pop music from the 1960s to the mid-1970s, Mina is one of Italy’s most beloved artists. One of the best performances of the night was Leone’s rendition of Mina’s “Insieme.” Professor Christian Moevs introduced her as “Notre Dame’s own Mina,” and he was telling the truth. Leone sold the emotion of the love ballad perfectly, proving to be an Italian diva in her own right.

Perez and Vivirito expertly brought an upbeat duet to the concert repertoire with Jovanotti’s “Ti sposerò.”

Marcantonio and the special guests of the night, the adorable second graders of South Bend’s Darden Primary Center, sang a classic Italian children’s song, “Il coccodrillo come fa.” The singer led the kids through a song describing the various sounds different animals make as they danced on stage with a crocodile. The performance had the audience laughing, clapping and singing along. Together, this group proved the old adage that music is a universal language.

The concert was also an opportunity for the musicians to show off their talent. “Piccolo uomo,” a rock ballad sung by Leone, included an epic guitar solo from Rosenberg. Marcantonio declared Rosenberg a “gentle PLS professor by day, and shredding guitar player by night.” After his solo, no one could deny it.

It was Moevs who best summed up the reasons for coming to see this amazing concert, and for returning every year: “Keep singing Italian songs and you’ll be bilingual, you’ll be Italian, you’ll know Italy. And you’ll have fun.” The annual concert is a must see for those interested in learning more about different cultures and discovering the wonderful talent of our Notre Dame family. “Bravissimi!”

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Italian far right wants to turn Fascist HQ into mega-museum

The Lega party—which may soon be in power—believes that Italy, through its culture, can lead the world

HANNAH MCGIVERN

The Casa del Fascio was conceived as a symbol of the regime
The Casa del Fascio was conceived as a symbol of the regime CLAUDIO DIVIZIA

Italy’s far-right Lega party, which won almost 18% of the vote in the general election on 4 March and could form part of the next coalition government, wants to turn a former Fascist party headquarters in Como, in the Lombardy region, into northern Italy’s biggest museum of Modern art, architecture and design. The surprising pledge appears in the anti-immigration, Eurosceptic manifesto of Lega’s leader, Matteo Salvini, who has transformed the former northern separatists into Italy’s leading right-wing party.

Culture was largely sidelined in an election campaign dominated by the European migration crisis. Yet Lega’s manifesto, entitled Salvini Premier, devotes three pages to a section called “cultural heritage and Italian identity”, which champions culture as “the strategic asset of our country” and “the industry that can guarantee us primacy compared with the rest of the world”.

Among its proposals are a centralised marketing department to drive cultural tourism in tandem with regional authorities and the 30 major state museums, which, in 2015 and 2016, gained autonomy under the ousted centre-left Democratic party government. (The reforming culture minister, Dario Franceschini, lost his parliamentary seat in the election.)

Blasting Italian museums as disorganised and digitally challenged, Lega suggests consolidating non-state institutions and decentralising the national network. It is also seeking to boost the art trade by lowering VAT on art purchases and relaxing “excessive public control” over antiquities markets.

The last, and most eye-catching, of the party’s “medium-term” cultural initiatives is: “The creation of the largest museum of Modern art, architecture and design in northern Italy, in Palazzo Terragni and the adjacent buildings.” The classically inspired cuboid structure, designed by the leading rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni, was commissioned by Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party in 1932 and completed in 1936 as a Casa del Fascio, one of around 5,000 local Fascist headquarters constructed across Italy.

Casa del Fascio was conceived as a symbol of the regime. The front courtyard and the atrium were planned to accommodate large crowds at fascist rallies. Terragni worked with the artists Marcello Nizzoli and Mario Radice on decorations including a giant photomontage portrait of Mussolini for the façade—part of a series rejected by the party as insufficiently celebratory—and a marble figure of Il Duce in the conference room.

Repurposed after the Second World War, the building has housed a branch of Italy’s financial police (Guardia di Finanza) since the 1950s, and public access is restricted. For years, there has been talk of turning it into a museum. In February, the city of Como took the first step, signing an agreement with Attilio Terragni, the architect’s grandson and president of the Terragni archive, to open the monument to tourists and potentially apply for Unesco World Heritage status.

Lega did not respond to our queries about the proposed museum, and its manifesto does not include details of what would actually go on display there. But the fraught election campaign has sparked debate and protests over a revival of Italy’s far right. Salvini made headlines in January for saying in a radio interview that Mussolini had “done many things” for Italy, such as draining the marshlands and introducing pensions. He added that he “prefers democracy” and “hates dictatorships of any kind”. In late February, the neo-fascist group CasaPound threw its support behind Lega.

With no majority winner in the election, Lega was due to enter coalition talks led by the president of the republic, Sergio Mattarella, as we went to press. Salvini has reasserted his claim to lead a centre-right government with Lega’s senior ally during the campaign, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, which trailed with almost 14% of the vote. He has also mooted the idea of a previously unthinkable deal with the anti-establishment Movimento 5 Stelle party, which won the largest share of the vote, with 32%.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper300 April 2018

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Italian Film Festival Second Weekend – April 13-14

 

 
THE ORDER OF THINGS • L’ORDINE DELLE COSE
Director, Andrea Segre, Drama, 2017, 112 min.
Friday, April 13 • 7:30 p.m. • Washington University, Jerzewiak Family Auditorium, Laboratory Sciences Building
Corrado, an agent for the Italian Ministry of the Interior, will soon find himself faced with a choice: respect his orders and the law, or help someone who is in difficulty.
 
CUCINÌ
Director, Ciro Fabbricino, Documentary, 2017, 54 min.
Saturday, April 14 •  5:30 p.m. • Washington University, Jerzewiak Family Auditorium, Laboratory Sciences Building
A journey into the flavors, smells and colors of the Neapolitan gastronomic traditions through the eyes and memory of five Neapolitan cooks.

 

 
IT’S ALL ABOUT KARMA • QUESTIONE DI KARMA
Director, Edoardo Falcone, Comedy, 2017, 90 min.
Saturday, April 14 • 7:30 p.m. • Washington University, Jerzewiak Family Auditorium, Laboratory Sciences Building
A rich heir believes a con man is his reincarnated father. A surprising comedy about friendship.
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Free Admission
Please pass news of the Festival to your family and friends!
Screenings held at Washington University (WUSTL), St. Louis Community College (STLCC), St. Louis University (SLU), and Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC). Sponsored by Volpi Foods, Lou Smith in memory of Jeff LeGrand, the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago and the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis. In collaboration with WU’s Program in Film and Media Studies, Dept. of Romance Languages and Literatures, SLU, STLCC and SWIC..
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May 16th Italian Club Presentation: The Shroud of Turin and Scientific Evidence

The Shroud of Turin

The presentation will provide an overview of  the thousands of items of scientific and medical evidence that has been acquired from the Shroud of Turin to date.

The presenter will further discuss millions and billions of unfakable items of scientific evidence that could also be acquired if the Shroud was tested at the atomic and molecular levels.  This total evidence could have a profound influence in answering some of the most fundamental questions that humanity has struggled with throughout its existence.

About the Speaker Mark Antonacci is an attorney who, for more than thirty years, has studied all aspects of the evidence and its relevance regarding the Shroud of Turin.  He gave a keynote address at the international conference held in Frascati, Italy in conjunction with the Shroud’s last exhibition in 2010 in which he presented a series of scientific tests and experiments to be conducted on the Shroud and its samples.  He is the founder and president of The Resurrection of the Shroud Foundation, a non-profit corporation that funds scientific research relating to the Shroud.  He is the author of The Resurrection of the Shroud (New York: M. Evans and Co., 2000) and is writing another book on this subject. ​

More can be found at: https://www.testtheshroud.org/

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The very first Hill House Tour is scheduled for Sunday, June 24, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The tour will showcase 12 homes on The Hill, representing various construction styles – shotgun, bungalow and new construction – that have been renovated, updated, improved and new-built to meet the needs of today’s families. In addition, the tour will feature a number of venerable properties which have been renovated and repurposed for new uses. Among these are the former Columbia Theater, completely gutted and redone as a fabulous residence and Arts Foundation, the former Big Club Hall, which now serves as studio space for photographers and videographers, Gaslight, an old building turned cocktail-bar with recording studios and Oliva, another old brick building reborn as an elegant event venue with a delightful attached patio.

Tickets will go on sale online on May 14, 2018. Website details will be announced later. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Hill Neighborhood Center, 1935 Marconi Avenue, which is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each week from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cash and checks only will be accepted at the Center. Advance tickets will be $20.00 each. Tickets purchased the day of the event will be $25.00. Ticket sales may be limited. Receipts should be presented the day of the tour at the Center or other designated location where the purchaser will be presented with a tour book that will serve as admission to the tour locations.

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Panelle siciliane: la ricetta

 

 

 

 

Panelle is another traditional food eaten in Sicily

Panelle (ie pancake chickpea flour ) is one of the most popular dishes of the cuisine of Sicily , or rather, of Palermo.

Very easy to make, requiring the use of very few ingredients chickpea flour and vegetable oil for frying. If you wish, you can add a little ‘pepper.

Ingredients for 4 people:

– 200 grams of chickpea flour

– 1/2 liter of water

– Sunflower oil for frying

– Parsley or fennel seeds

– Salt and Pepper To Taste

Preparation

In a saucepan, melt cold 200 grams of chickpeas in a pint of flour salt water , making sure that no lumps are formed. Add some ‘of pepper and put on the fire to low heat stirring constantly.

Keep on the stove for about 15 minutes, or until the dough will begin to break away from the walls of the pot.
At this point, quickly pour the mixture of chickpeas on a smooth and wet surface (such as a marble table or wood) and flatten with a knife so as to make it as thin as possible.

Let cool the dough for a few minutes, then cut into rectangles; done this, heated in an abundant seed oil frying pan and fry the fritters until they are lightly browned.

So you can eat them, or put them inside a soft bun. However, the result will be great!

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Another Fascinating Italian Woman: Luisa Spagnoli

A notable figure in her own right, Dianne Hales is a widely published journalist and author. Her book, La Bella Lingua, placed her on the New York Times best-seller list and the President of Italy awarded her an honorary knighthood in recognition of her work. Dianne says of La Bella Lingua, “I never expected to fall madly, gladly, giddily in love with the world’s most luscious language. But fall I did. Over the last twenty-some years, Italian has become my passport into Italy’s culture, history, lifestyle, traditions—and its very soul. Italy’s language has taught me about its greatest art: the art of living.”

Her other works include Just Like a Woman, Caring for the Mind, and a leading college health textbook, An Invitation to Health.  She has written for many national publications, including Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, The New York Times, and Woman’s Day. 

Dianne is currently working on a new book called LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the World, which will include impressions and images from her recent interview with the great-grand-daughter of Luisa Spagnoli.

L’Italo-Americano was fortunate to meet and interview Dianne.

You are a presenter at the Italian Cultural Institute’s International Women’s Day event. This  seems a perfect fit. Could you elaborate on the connection.
A few years ago in Italy, I met several members of the Buitoni family, including a wonderful chef named Silvia Buitoni of Perugia. When she realized that I’m from the San Francisco area, she introduced me to her sister Viola, another fabulous chef.  Both of them have told me the story of Luisa Spagnoli’s affair with their uncle (or grand-uncle, I’m not sure) Giovanni Buitoni. Silvia drove me to the home and laboratorioof the “other” Luisa Spagnoli, named for her great-grandmother and the maker of the best chocolates I’ve ever tasted.

What  motivated your interest in Italy and all things Italian? 
On my very first, impromptu trip to Italy more than three decades ago, I was captivated by the Italians—but unable to speak with them because the only phrase I knew was, “Mi dispiace, ma non parlo italiano.”  As soon as I returned to the United States, I set out to learn Italian in every way I could find—from classes to audiotapes to flash cards. After many years, my literary agent suggested that I write about Italian “because you light up when you talk about it.” When I turned to Annamaria Lelli, the former director of San Francisco’s Italian Cultural Institute, she said, “Knowing Italian simply opens a door. Now you have to walk through it and discover our culture.”  And so began a never-ending journey.

 Tell us about your inspiration to write  La Bella Lingua,  Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, and your newest book,  La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World. 
All truly stemmed from a passion—for the Italian language, for Renaissance art, and for Italian creativity and culture. When I was interviewing a former attorney who became a chef in Florence years ago, I asked how her passion for food developed.  “We don’t choose our passions,” she told me. “Our passions choose us.”  In each case, a passion for Italy seized me, and I couldn’t resist.

From the time of La Bella Lingua’s publication, the Italian-American community has offered tremendous support—even though I am not Italian by birth. (My friends in Italy tell me that I  have acquired an Italian spirit.). My 93-year-old Dad accompanied me on part of my book tour for La Bella Lingua in 2009. One of my fondest memories is dancing with him—for the last time, as it turned out—at a Sons of Italy banquet in my hometown of Scranton, Pa.

(Click here for an Italian version of this article.)

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