40 decades later,’The Fever Still Burns’

By Alberto Macchione

It could be argued that there were three truly significant Italian American movies that cemented Italian culture into the zeitgeist. The Godfather, Rocky and Saturday Night Fever, the latter of which is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year.

Each of those movies was sold as ‘The American Dream’ all with anti-hero leads, all with flawed characters, failing the expectations of their families, their peers and the country that their families emigrated to. Underneath the Red White and Blue sheets were a different dream. The dream of a Red White and Green flag from southern Europe that had been defeated by war and had left regions with endemic poverty and few opportunities for growth. These people left close-knit communities and loving homes to make a life for themselves. They left to build America.

They went to survive, they went to make it. They didn’t always win like Vito Corleone. For most of them, winning was just Rocky Balboa making it to the final round. Surviving every well-trained punch that the stars and stripes adorning Apollo Creed could give. The subtext is America beating down this ‘other’ with all it might, The Italian Stallion, who with almost no education, no finance and poor preparation had the guts and determination to stand toe to with the world champ and take him to task. For most of them winning was just trying, such as disheveled and beaten Toney Monero crossing the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan in the final scenes of Saturday Night Fever, traveling from youth to adulthood, from the very ethnic coffee drinking Brooklyn to the white tea drinking Manhattan (Italy to America).

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Pontifical Swiss Guard

By Alberto Macchione

Tourists, the world over, often visit the Vatican City in Rome to see the Pope, St Peter’s Basilica and the the highly recognisable spear wielding court jesters that guard the sacred city. Unbeknownst to many, these elaborately adorned security detail are a very serious battalion known as the ‘Pontifical Swiss Guard’.

Unlike the equally iconic Queen’s Royal Guard in the United Kingdom who are instructed to ‘stamp their foot and request that any nuisance step away’ the Swiss Guard are a highly skilled elite fighting force who are not only highly adept with hand weapons  but also possess one of the most impressive munition stocks of army piercing weaponry on the planet.

In the 15th Century, Switzerland’s small army had a reputation of overcoming much larger rivals. As Switzerland  was an impoverished country with few prospects for many, individual soldiers and small groups of mercenaries often loaned themselves out to other armies or leaders. The relationship with Rome began with Pope Sixtus IV who had a strategic relationship with Swiss rulers. The Pontifical Guard were officially appointed on January 22nd 1506 by Pope Julius II. This makes the Swiss Guard one of the oldest standing military units in the world.
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La Befana: The Italian Witch

By Alberto Macchione

Christmas was over and the inevitable post yule tide remorse sets in. The feast is over, the family disperses, the presents are packed away and the decorations seem to take a different meaning, like a tombstone marking that the spirit of Christmas had passed through these walls in days past.

I come from a family of Italian immigrants and no country has contributed more to the traditions of the secular and Christian Christmas than Italy.  In my parent’s day, in the small villages of southern Italy, Christmas wasn’t such a big deal and there wasn’t much said of the Santa Claus we all know and love. My mother told me that they didn’t really give out much in the way of presents on Christmas day. Instead, they were still waiting for the real Santa Claus, only the real Santa Claus wasn’t a big fat man in a bright red suit but rather a woman, a tattered scrawny old woman, a witch in fact. Then it struck me, there are ’12 days of Christmas’. My mother was right. Christmas isn’t truly over until January 6th known as ‘The Epiphany’ in some Christian faiths.

So Christmas in the Christian Calendar is a little longer than many realize and that the birth of Jesus is somewhere near the beginning of that story. So what does the birth of Jesus have to do with an old witch? [Read more…]

Bella America, Bella Italia

By Betty Eggert

In September of 2001, I hiked the Cinque Terre a collection of five villages along the Ligurian coast known as the Italian Riviera. Cinque Terre literally means Five Lands.  Before World War II the inhabitants walked from one village to the next until Mussolini connected them by train. These ancient footpaths now challenge hikers to become human mountain goats and discover the drop-dead views from rocky cliffs that plunge down to meet the sea.  Equipped with backpack, sun hat and hiking boots I followed a Swiss born, 50-year plus, female guide on Trail Number One, known as the Red Trail. It is important to differentiate this from Trail Number Two, the Blue Trail, the more popular one that follows the coast line and provides a more civilized experience. Hikes on the Red Trail, went one direction — up.

I met my guide in Pisa. We would travel to Portovenere for a  “little hike on Palmaria island.” This was a preview of her stamina. She began hiking at 14 she confessed. (At 14, I was a high school freshman and hiking was the last thing on my agenda.) Every few yards she raptured, “Wonderful. Wonderful.” [Read more…]

Beyond Star Trek; Pittsburgh’s Zachary Quinto Stars in Sequel Opening This Weekend

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By Alberto Macchione

Stranded on a hostile planet, Captain Kirk, Spock and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise face an alien threat. Slated for a July 21 release, ‘Beyond’ the new Star Trek installment looks to build on the $853 million dollars already collected at the box office. The new franchise has trebled the takings of any Star Trek Motion picture so far, and from what we have seen in the trailers, is set to do it again.

The re-imagining of Spock was a delicate casting decision as the character transcends the science fiction universe from which it is derived. Pittsburgh-born Zachary Qunito who has a science fiction pedigree having starred in the highly successful television series ‘Heroes’ and ‘American Horror Story: Asylum” will reprise his role as Spock for the third time.

Quinto sought the approval of the enigmatic Leonard Nimoy when he took on the role of Spock saying that he had lost his own father very young and that his father and Nimoy were “around the same age [and that] the physical resemblance is undeniable. [Leonard Nimoy] was an incredible friend and influence on me.” [Read more…]