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


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…]

Personality Profile: Corrado Riccelli

In this month’s Personality Profile, Ciao Pittsburgh chatted with Pittsburgh native Corrado Riccelli. Born and raised in the small town of Sharpsburg, PA, Corrado grew up during a time when that town was primarily populated by Italian immigrants and first generation Italian-Americans. Growing up, Corrado was surrounded by many Italian-Americans—‘compare’ of the family as well as his aunts and uncles. In fact, he spoke Italian before he learned to speak English. Today, Corrado has been married for 14 years to his wife Sabrina. They currently live with their two daughters, Isabella and Sofia, in Shaler. Corrado was kind enough to respond to some of our questions about his Pittsburgh roots, his career as a medical sales representative as well as his Italian heritage.

CP: First, tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and what you do for a living.

Corrado: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh in a small town called Sharpsburg to Italian immigrant parents who were from Calabria, Italy.  My mother Rita (Posa) is from Amantea and my father, Salvatore, was from Catanzaro. I was raised by my mother and my stepfather Carlo Lista who was from Naples, Italy. I currently work as a medical sales representative.

CP: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Corrado: I find my current career extremely rewarding. One aspect of my position is to work with products that aid in improving the development of neonatal babies. To earn a living and assist in saving the most precious of lives is a blessing.

CP: Can you tell us about your Italian heritage? 

Corrado: I feel that my heritage is very much my identity. I was brought up in a house with not just my parents but also my grandparents, Antonio and Filomena Posa.  It was like having four parents and my heritage was embedded in me on day one. We lived, breathed, ate, spoke and lived Italian. My fondest memory was my grandmother and my mother making homemade pasta and bread while listening to Sal Patitucci on the Italian radio station. Another fond memory was my Nanna in the garden nurturing her tomatoes. [Read more…]