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Article and interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Enrico Giuseppe Mazzon, Master Goldsmith and artist, philosopher of life and amiable character of New York’s cultural elite, met us in the Upper West Side for an exclusive interview. His creative energy is felt only to hear him speak and can be observed in his gaze, which reflects his love for life. With a recent past full of successes, both as an artist and as a goldsmith, with international collaborations that have distinguished him for his professionalism and originality (Scanno Award, Daikin Orchid Women’s Golf Award, etc.), this Italian personality is bringing his great cultural contribution to this intricate metropolis that always needs new voices. Here’s what he told us.Symbol for the Premio Scanno Award created by Enrico Giuseppe Mazzon
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Who is the person that you think has had more influence on your artistic activity and how did it happen?
Enrico Giuseppe Mazzon: Certainly Maestro Valerio Passerini, but now I have to say that all the people I met were inspiring for me, some on an artistic level and others on a human level, two things that I wrote separately but that are not. Anyway, I met Maestro Valerio Passerini in June 1997, after a year living in Florence, where I had done an Engraving and Repoussage course; I went to meet him personally in his studio in front of the Sanctuary of Santa Caterina in Siena. With the Maestro I have to say that there was immediately a certain feeling that led me to move to Siena in his studio as an engraver. He did not pay me but gave me the chance to start my artistic life in the field of creative jewelry; in fact, seeing him make some Etruscan earrings, I asked him to teach me the goldsmith’s art, which was for me immediately easy to interpret and realize.
I was in his studio for a year. After that period, I moved to the studio I had at home and from there I continued to work for an exclusively private clientele, which I created in the year spent with the Maestro in his studio. Sincere thanks, then, to Maestro Valerio Passerini.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Do you have an artistic ideal as a Master Goldsmith to which you aim? Who is the goldsmith/artist you most admire and why?
Enrico Giuseppe Mazzon: I do not have an artistic ideal or a Master by whom I am inspired, and I say it with great humility, in fact, looking at my Work you can go from modern to classic, ethnic to contemporary to sculpture; I mean, that mine is a constant search day after day through daily life that I then transform figuratively and materially into jewels or sculptures, so I think that life itself is the greatest teacher.
Fortunately I have been able to travel a lot and in cultural, linguistic and food diversity, I have been able to learn a lot, but above all it has given me the chance to see things from different angles and perspectives and understand that there is a right and wrong for each one of us and that all preconceptions bind us and do not free us from what we are in nature, that is, we are pure creation and from this we just let go and feel part of the universe and become like the tools I use when I have to create a jewel or a sculpture. So there are fortunately many Masters, and if I think of a future this excites me and inspires me even more.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Why do you use silver, bronze and silk thread in your sculptural works?
Enrico Giuseppe Mazzon: I started using bronze, silver, silk thread and other materials, since I felt the need to get out of the usual canons and rules of jewelry; I needed to experiment, to know myself and get to know my creativity better. I felt the need to construct an object not contained in space but to use the same space and fill it harmoniously and with balance, but still considering the creative aspect. So the first object was made of pure 925 silver and blue silk threads, a ring that I called Throne. From there, slowly, I moved on to make larger sculptural objects, however always keeping my Goldsmith background. For this reason I use materials that bring me back to the color of yellow and white gold, but the thread comes from the need to give shape without too much invading the space that surrounds the same object; it is as if there were so many pieces, one independent from the other but put and seen together form a shape. This is connected to the first question, all the people and the coincidences of life are like a puzzle that in the end takes ever more form and meaning.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You often work coupled with artists (painters and sculptors), creating jewels that recall their art. How does this combination work? What difficulties did you encounter in these projects?
Enrico Giuseppe Mazzon: The collaboration with artists was born with the art gallery INNER ROOM OF CONTEMPORARY ART of Siena, whose president and founder is the artist Federico Fusi. The gallery invited various artists every month and commissioned me a piece of jewelry that would reflect the same theme of the show, the collaboration consisted of talking with the artist and understanding what he wanted, even if I have to say that most people let me interpret their art in extreme freedom and with trust in my work, so it is always easy to work with great artists because they are also always the most humble; I must say that this collaboration gave me the opportunity to wander in conceptual jewelry, which led me to collaborate with artists such as Lucio Pozzi, Gilberto Zorio, Alfredo Pirri and Jan Fabre. At this moment I am collaborating with the artist Dove Bradshaw; I carry out her ideas, suggesting the type of material and the working methodology for the replication of her concepts; also, in this case, her full availability, humility and trust in my work, makes the collaboration constantly creative and a mutual exchange, therefore constructive.The difficulties in the job, sometimes, are in finding the right balance between imagination and possibility of realization; I must say, however, that having a strong old-school artisanal base, I have always managed to satisfy the creative need of both the artist with whom I collaborate and mine.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: How much influence have you had, both in your creativity and in the production itself, by the places where you lived? New York, for example, how much did it affect your Work?
Enrico Giuseppe Mazzon: Tuscany gave me the Classic, the Renaissance, the sense of balance of eternal beauty. Japan gave me Modernity, Contemporaneity linked to a past full of sense of honor. My first line of modern or contemporary jewelry, as we want to call it, was born from a trip to Japan in 2005. I went to Nagoya for the Expo; entering the railway station of Nagoya, I saw a chandelier with glasses cut perpendicularly and with the light that brought me back to the florescence of the diamond under the sun; from that experience, after a year and a half, I created the first ring inspired by that wall lamp, and so the Nagoya collection was born.
Here in NYC I’m dedicating myself to refine the completely different typology and production process, including material and equipment, from the creative and design one I was doing in Italy; here it is much more technical and based on speed; I would say at the moment I am in a phase of learning rather than creative, since I believe I still need to have even more knowledge and background. However, I think that a city like NYC, so dynamic and in constant change, can only add important information to my cultural background that, mixed with everything, can only give good results.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Could you explain to our readers how it works, in general, the production of a jewel designed and produced by you and which tools do you use?
Enrico Giuseppe Mazzon: The realization of an object starts from the client who orders me a jewel to make; first of all, I try to identify the person in front of me and understand which jewel is best suited to his/her personality, after which I make project drafts until I find the subject that inspires me and that satisfies me most of all, because, as I always say, the realization of a jewel starts from your ego and in the need to satisfy it, and I say this in a positive sense.
Found the right design, I start with the work phase, which is still very artisanal. I take pure gold and bring it with a copper and silver alloy from pure to 18K, then, according to the jewelry I have to make, I laminate it and work on it. My work is always and directly done with the metal in an artisanal way, I do not use wax nor I prepare models before the realization of the object itself, so for me it is like sculpting directly from the material and then arriving at the final result; this implies really small margins of error, but at the same time it leads you to confront yourself. I like to consider making a jewel as a metaphor of life, in the sense that every time I create a new jewel it’s like taking an introspective trip with all its difficulties, victories and secrets that I find when I’m in the creative and working phase.
The tools I use are from various pliers to torches, and I work with the microscope. For some jobs I have to use a specific tool for that job, such as a hacksaw, etc.
L’IDEA: Which projects are you currently working on?
Enrico Giuseppe Mazzon: Now I’m working on a couple of orders from Italy, a pendant with opals, tourmalines and diamonds, and a series of rings with diamonds; here in NYC, as already mentioned, I am in constant collaboration with the artist Dove Bradshow, a collaboration born in 2014 after my visit to New York, and now, after having made a golden reproduction of a broken goose egg, I am reproducing, from a pyrite, a pair of earrings in pure silver; I am also producing a copy of a silver earring by the artist Berridge, and completing the reproduction of bullets fired by NYC police in pure silver, plus other projects of which we are still discussing the details in this period.
Pendants and Necklaces Gallery
nterview 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 Dossena: You 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 Dossena: You 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 Dossena: I 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 Dossena: Your 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 Dossena: All 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 Dossena: The 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 Dossena: The 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!
Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Italian-American historian Stephanie Longo has dedicated her life to celebrating and focusing on her family’s heritage. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA, she holds dual Italian citizenship and descends from the towns of Guardia Lombardi, Avellino Province, and Lamezia Terme, Catanzaro Province, Italy.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Italian and French from the University of Scranton, a Master of Arts degree in History, focusing on Italian-American studies, also from the University of Scranton, and a Master of Arts degree in Journalism from Regent University.
Ms. Longo is currently the associate producer and chief administrative officer of The Italian American Podcast and is an adjunct instructor in the history department at Lackawanna College in Scranton, PA.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You seem to be extremely proud of your heritage. What do you know about Guardia Lombardi? Have you ever visited that town? Are you working on any projects related to Guardia Lombardi?
Stephanie Longo: Guardia Lombardi has been a part of my life well before I ever set foot in Italy. My grandfather, the late Joseph Anthony Longo, was born there in 1916 but, unfortunately, died before he was able to return for a visit, which was a dream of his. He died eight years before I was born, so I never knew him. As a child, my first contact with Italy was via my mother, Ann Marie, telling me that all her father wanted to do was go back to Guardia. I distinctly remember her taking my finger to trace the map of Italy as a child, repeating, “This is Italy, my daddy was born there.” Just that act made me curious about my Italian heritage. When I enrolled at the University of Scranton as a French major, I had to pick up a second foreign language—there was no question that I would take Italian. I loved it so much that I decided to declare it as a second major. My mother and I finally made it to Guardia for the first time in 2005 and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. We have been back since, but that first trip will always be etched in my mind—the emotion of seeing the house where my grandfather was born is something I still feel strongly even today. Getting to see the church (Santa Maria delle Grazie) where generations of my family worshipped helped me feel connected to my ancestors, knowing that they walked where I was walking. While the first trip over was surreal, subsequent trips were more of a homecoming. After that first trip, Guardia became mine. It’s still my ancestral town, but now it belongs to me, too. I am so grateful for that and cannot wait to return.
My grandmother, Anna, was born to immigrants to Scranton from Nicastro (now Lamezia Terme) in Catanzaro Province. My Nonna died when my mother was 10, so we didn’t have a lot of information about her family. While under COVID-19 lockdown, I made a strong effort to research as much as I could about Lamezia, joining groups on Facebook, and even finding distant relatives! I have not yet had the privilege of visiting Lamezia, but I am looking forward to it as soon as restrictions are lifted. I am sure I will have the same feelings I had when I first visited Guardia and I am sure that I will fall in love with Lamezia just as I have with Guardia.
Currently, I am working on a project focusing on Guardiese immigrants to northeastern Pennsylvania—my hometown of Dunmore has a predominantly large Guardiese population that I have studied extensively. I was able to collect a wide variety of images of these immigrants in their new lives here in the United States and am putting together a history of Guardia and this immigration to our area, including how traditions were preserved. I love discovering the stories of these people and am so proud that part of my ancestry comes from this town.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Stephanie, you are a historian and you focus on the Italian Americans of Northeastern Pennsylvania. How big and influential was and is this ethnic group in that area?
Stephanie Longo: According to the United States Census, there are 17.8 million Americans who claim Italian origin, with 1.4 million of those living in Pennsylvania. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties take up five spots among the top 20 “Most Italian” towns in the United States, with Dunmore ranking highest (12th place). There is a vast array of opportunities to discover our area’s Italian culture. Among these opportunities are, of course, the region’s Italian restaurants, many of which have been recognized nationally for their quality and authenticity. One just needs to visit any of the area’s Italian enclaves, such as Carbondale, Dunmore, Jessup, and the “Pizza Capital of the World” Old Forge to sample these delicacies. Or one could stop at any of our region’s Italian specialty stores to purchase authentic products.
For people interested in history and culture, one just needs to take a walk around downtown Scranton’s Courthouse Square to see the works of world-renowned sculptor Frank Carlucci in his masterpieces that are our Columbus and George Washington statues, among others. Carlucci was known for creating the Grand Staircase at Ellis Island, where many immigrants to our great nation made their first steps in America. Or one could stop by the Ritz Theater and Performing Arts Center, which is one of only two theaters that remain in use that were originally founded by Sylvester Poli, an Italian immigrant without whom the modern cinema industry would not exist.
In Scranton’s West Side is the jewel that is the Church of St. Lucy, sculpted by Agostino Russo and where St. Francis Cabrini actually ministered during her life. A visit to St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Rotunda at Marywood University would provide the opportunity to view the artwork of Gonippo Raggi, whose works have been catalogued by the Smithsonian Institution.
And a visit to Jessup’s St. Ubaldo Cultural Center would make the perfect opportunity to discover more about La Corsa dei Ceri, widely considered to be the nation’s number-one representation of Central Italian American culture and history.
I strongly urge anyone who is interested in Italian American history and culture to visit Northeastern Pennsylvania, it’s truly a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered!
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your books, “Italians in Lackawanna County,” recognized with a Gold Award in the History category in the 2019 Nonfiction Book Awards, and “Italians in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” address specifically this ethnic group interaction with this area. Could you talk a bit about these two books?
Stephanie Longo: “Italians of Northeastern Pennsylvania” examines the entire Northeastern Pennsylvania region and tells stories of Italian communities in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties, as well as in areas such as Williamsport (Lycoming County). The book tells the story of the Italian immigrants who came to work in the coal and rail industries and contains older photos up until about the 1960s. “Italians of Lackawanna County” focuses exclusively on Lackawanna County’s Italian enclaves, such as Scranton, Dunmore, Jessup, and others. This book also picks up where “Italians of Northeastern Pennsylvania” leaves off and focuses on modern-day representations of Italian American culture in our area. I often tell people that “Italians of Lackawanna County” is the sequel to “Italians of Northeastern Pennsylvania,” because when you read both books, you get a full sense of just how important Italian heritage and culture is to this region.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You also published a book about Dunmore, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Scranton. Could you tell us about that book? What motivated you to write it?
Stephanie Longo: My book on Dunmore coincided with the borough’s 150th anniversary in 2012. The main goal was to provide readers a pictorial history of our town. Every single person who has been fortunate enough to live in Dunmore bears a strong level of pride in our town—this book was not meant to be a full history of our town because no book can ever be considered a “complete” history, in my opinion. Rather, my idea was to share as many archival photos as possible so modern audiences could see familiar locales in other times and place themselves there, hopefully strengthening their bonds to our town. I also wanted to recall some legendary locals who people knew and loved who are still spoken of fondly to this day. My book on Dunmore is a fun glimpse into a small town that has a lot of heart.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are presently the associate producer and chief administrative officer of The Italian American Podcast. What exactly are your duties for the Podcast?
Stephanie Longo: I genuinely have the best job in the world! Through my work with the Italian American Podcast, I am fortunate enough to live my passion every single day in a multitude of ways. In terms of the Podcast, I am responsible for developing and researching new show topics as well as coordinating episodes with the Podcast co-hosts. I also work extensively with the Italian American community at large on several of our initiatives, such as our #SupportItalianAmerican campaign, where we are seeking to promote Italian American businesses that need that extra boost during these difficult times. I also moderate the Podcast’s New Neighborhood group and work on developing and deploying new initiatives, all with the overall goal of bettering the Italian American community by creating more links between people. No two workdays are ever the same and I love that—I love that I am able to learn more about my own culture by being surrounded by so many people who are just as passionate about their heritage as I am. It truly is a blessing to work for such a wonderful company!
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You also have a blog (https://irpiniastories.com/). What do you write about in the blog?
Stephanie Longo: Irpinia Stories is a passion project for me that began while I was working at a former employer. My heart has always been with Italy and I wanted to do something that kept that love alive since my day job did not have anything to do with Italy at all. Guardia Lombardi is in Irpinia, and as I studied the area more and more, I realized that a lot of Americans of Irpinian origin didn’t know much about the area. This blog is my way of teaching people about the culture and lifestyle of Irpinia, while showing its importance to Italy as a whole. Irpinia just marked the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Irpinia Earthquake, and the area is still rebuilding in many ways, even 40 years later. There is a tenacity in the Irpinian people that shows in how they handled the aftermath of the quake—this tenacity can be linked to the Irpinian diaspora, too. As immigrants, they had to fight to survive in their newly adopted land. And they did. This blog aims to unite the Irpinia of our ancestors with the Irpinia of today. I am really proud of my work and am always on the lookout for new topics!
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are an adjunct professor at Lackawanna College in Scranton. Do you also teach about Italian Americans in that college?
Stephanie Longo: I enjoy my role as an adjunct at Lackawanna College because I am able to help students gain a deeper understanding of American History and how the past affects our present lives. I do not teach an Italian American history class per se, but I am lucky to be able to discuss Italian American topics when they come up. I’ve seen my students’ surprise when they learned about the 1891 New Orleans Lynching where 11 Italians were murdered and how that was the largest mass lynching in American history. I’ve been able to tell them about Philip Mazzei’s role in the founding of our country. I’ve even been able to help correct some of the false narratives surrounding Christopher Columbus via class discussions by pointing students to primary sources debunking modern theories. I always try to give my students more information so that they can make their own decisions about what happened or might have happened in American history. It is always an honor when they message me privately asking for more resources to learn more about any historic topic.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are an award-winning journalist, the former editor of The Villager newspaper (Moscow, PA) and The Abington Suburban (Clarks Summit, PA), as well as a former correspondent for Go Lackawanna (Scranton, PA). What did you write about in these roles?
Stephanie Longo: My work in community journalism was very fulfilling to me because I had the opportunity to actively participate in the life of the communities I served. Whether I was writing about the developments at a school board meeting or plans for an upcoming annual ice festival, my articles served as a lens through which people were able to discover what made those communities tick. I thoroughly loved my time in community journalism. I got to know members of the communities I served who then became friends. I was also able to participate in many community activities, which cemented those communities becoming a part of me, too. It was an honor and a privilege to serve.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Which one is the award that you received that touched you more, emotionally?
Stephanie Longo: My first visit to Guardia Lombardi was shortly after “Italians of Northeastern Pennsylvania” was published. By this time, I had been in touch with the town, especially with the town’s historian, the late Salvatore Boniello, for my BA thesis and had remained in regular contact with everyone. When I wrote that I was coming in 2005, Signor Boniello asked if I would be interested in giving a presentation at the local school, which I gladly accepted. I had no idea that during this event, they would present a plaque to me, naming me an honorary citizen of Guardia Lombardi. I can’t properly explain what this gesture meant to me. It was as if everything came full circle for my family—to see town documents where ancestors had to sign their names with an “x” because they couldn’t read or write and to be that descendant who came back as a writer of their history was deeply moving and such an honor. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them. Everything I do is in their memory.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your roots as an Italian have obviously influenced your career choices. How much did they influence all the other aspects of your life?
Stephanie Longo: My heritage is everything to me—it influences how I relate to the world around me. It influences my actions and my choices. It influences how I treat others and how I would like to be treated as well. It’s always there. It’s my North Star, guiding me through my days and encouraging me to do better, to be better. I couldn’t be more proud to have been given something so precious as this.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What do you think is our responsibility as writers in this tragic period of forced quarantine for the nation?
Stephanie Longo: A writer is someone who observes the world and describes it through the lens of his or her experience. Our responsibility in this incredibly difficult time is to describe our thoughts and feelings as they happened, without fear of being judged. How we handle this time is up to the individual— some people are using it to learn new things, while others are just trying to make it through this overwhelming situation. There are no right or wrong answers as to how we should live this moment in history—the only thing we can truly do is live our lives as best as we can, knowing that this moment will pass.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you had the opportunity to meet a character from any historical period, who would he or she be and what would you like to ask them?
Stephanie Longo: I genuinely can’t choose! I would want to meet my ancestors from both my Campanian and Calabrese sides. I never knew my maternal grandparents, so I would give anything to be able to sit down and talk with them. There are so many questions I would ask my ancestors that I could probably fill a book! I would love to understand their motivations for coming to the United States and their feelings about leaving Italy and creating a new life here. I would also love to convey to them how thankful I am for the sacrifices they made for me because, without their courage in leaving everything they ever knew, I would not be fortunate enough to live the life I have today.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: A message for our readers?
Stephanie Longo: When you find something you are passionate about, you need to do whatever you can to keep that passion alive. I discovered my passion for my heritage at a young age and it has grown with me as I’ve gotten older. It’s to the point where this passion goes beyond anything I could properly explain. Being able to devote my professional life to something I love so much is a dream come true, as there are many people out there who, for whatever reason, were unable to follow their passion. I’ve found that when you put what you truly love doing front and center in your life, opportunities come and you end up in a place where every day is filled with joy. I hope everyone reading this is inspired to really sit down and examine what they are truly passionate about and then take the steps necessary to bring that passion to life in their daily lives.
The collection of short stories in “A Feast of Narrative Volume One” is aimed at presenting the richness of styles and creativity of Italian American writers. It consists of two sections for a total of twenty-three short stories, eight of them nonfiction and fifteen of them fiction, and eighteen authors.
Altogether, the stories that appear in this anthology explore different topics, some of them typical of the Italian American world, while others universal, offering a gamut of styles and approaches to writing that proves the existence of a vast group of Italian American writers who deserve recognition for their work.
A Feast of Narrative Volumes Two and Three in this series of Italian American Writers, contain a very interesting amalgam of different stories and authors. What is common, other than their belonging to the same ethnic group, is the validity of their content and the message they send to the readers. Some stories are funny commentaries on social gatherings of some kind, wakes included, while others address different topics with a more somber tone, such as war events, the constant search for our roots, the changing of neighborhoods, the Covid19 crisis, and so on. Regardless of the topic, these writers prove that passion for writing is another element they have in common with each other. This is their message and it proves that having them together in this anthology is the proper decision.
I am proud to announce that the first book on Emilio Giuseppe Dossena has finally been published. I hope everyone will enjoy discovering his artistic landscape work…
The landscapes of Emilio Giuseppe Dossena were well known in the years in which he produced them, as they were captivating to their audiences on many levels. He painted a variety of contrasting landscapes — from the soft valleys of Umbria to the centenary trees of Lombardy, from the sea cliffs of Liguria to the Alpine huts of Piedmont, from the gypsy caravans to the circus troupe encampment. Through his paint strokes, we were able to view the world as it was through his eyes, realistically and without gimmicks, an appeal that has set him apart from other artists of his time. This partial monograph (both in English and Italian) offers the opportunity to explore a selection of his landscapes works (62 color images) throughout his extended artistic career, introducing them to new generations. In seeing his artwork and the essence of his artistic expression, the reason for his success is revealed.
Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
A Guggenheim and Berlin Prize Fellow, a recipient of the Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor Prize from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, and the Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination from Teachers and Writers Collaborative, Mary Cappello is a former Fulbright Lecturer at the Gorky Literary Institute (Moscow, Russia) and currently Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Rhode Island. She is the author of six books and co-author of one, and she has numerous essays and articles published in professional and literary magazines, and anthologies. She kindly accepted to share her thoughts about her books and lifework with us…
Her most recent book, “Lecture,” which appeared this October, has enjoyed a warm reception with features in such places as The Atlantic and The Los Angeles Review of Books. In September, she carried out a discussion of the project with novelist, essayist, and scholar, Namwali Serpell, hosted by Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your latest book, “Lecture” is defined on your website as a “song for the forgotten art of lecture.” Could you tell us more about the book’s aims and content?
Mary Cappello: There’s a statement I find useful on the website of Columbia University’s Institute for Ideas and Imagination where they write that the purpose of the Institute is “to question the established ways in which knowledge is defined, produced, and taught.” That’s pretty much the point of my latest book. I’m very interested in what might be called “re-mediations of knowledge”—I want to pause to consider why we adhere unquestioningly to the forms that shape how and what we learn, how and what we convey or perform as writers or scholars, this includes everything from re-thinking the traditional panel presentation, to the public reading, from the conference to the syllabus. Each of these forms deserves a book in my opinion (or many books), at the least, a curiosity-imbued genealogy that might bring to the fore each mode’s historic, educational, and ideological supports. What purpose did these forms originally serve and how are they serving us (or failing to serve us) now? What might incite their re-invention, and how do the challenges of our current moment suggest the need for new ways to think about knowledge and understanding?
” …essayism seems to have capaciousness and curiosity hard-wired into its DNA.”
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your other books are varied in their topics and they are defined as a memoir; a detour; an anti-chronicle (or “ritual in transfigured time”); a lyric biography; a speculative manifesto; and, a meditative fantasia on “mood. How do you explain your creative diversification?
Mary Cappello: I think of each of my books as a different type of thought experiment—an approach inspired by Gertrude Stein’s life’s work, though my writing does not begin to approximate the radically experimental purview of hers.
The cultivation of wonder is very important to me, as is the pursuit of a kind of strange beauty.
I remember many years ago hearing the current Nobel Laureate, the poet, Louise Glück, say in an interview that with each new book that she wrote, she identified a habit that she sought self-consciously to break. While I doubt that I can claim to have succeeded in doing this with each new book that I have written, I have always been inspired by that directive, and I try to keep it nearby. I take a somewhat related approach with my students as well, suggesting that we treat each problem or question that compels us as demanding its own new relationship to form. I have also tried to take seriously something that a graduate school mentor of mine, Martin Pops, once wrote about Herman Melville. That, in Melville’s novel, Redburn, he “was doing what he could do easily rather than chancing what he could not.” If we have been working for many years at our trade, we know what we can do well. I do try to give myself over to compositional approaches that are foreign to me, or in which I have little confidence, even though I know that this could lead to failure.
As for wide-ranging subject matter, essayism seems to have capaciousness and curiosity hard-wired into its DNA. Everything is interesting! And there’s not enough time in any one writer’s life to tap even a tiny morsel of the infinite, but, still, we try.
“I was aware of the power and beauty of my mother’s voice from a very early age…”
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You stated that an essay about your mother’s agoraphobia led to your first book, “Night Bloom” (Beacon Press). Could you elucidate the connections between the two?
Mary Cappello: I was aware of the power and beauty of my mother’s voice from a very early age, and, beyond that, of the role that reading and writing played quite literally in her survival. A certain relation to language, a reverence for the power of words, a love of the transformative potential of literature was bequeathed to me by people like my mother, Rosemary Petracca Cappello, a deep reader and a poet, and her father, a shoemaker-writer from Teano, John Petracca.
Night Bloom emerged out of an essay I had written ostensibly for a panel on autobiography at a Modern Language Association convention over 20 years ago. At the time, I was hopeful to create a form that could bring my poetic practice together with a scholarly ethos. I composed an essay that was rather unconventional given the protocols of academic panels. It was a personal essay on the subject of my mother’s having used letter-writing as a means of leaving the house during a period of my childhood in which she suffered from agoraphobia.
My training as a scholar of literary and cultural theory helped me to understand my mother’s difficulties in terms of the immigrant household in which she grew up. I was very keen to release my mother’s suffering from the confines of a “personal” dilemma and understand it in terms of the sociological circumstances that produced it, which included the very real horrors of poverty. The resulting essay, lyrical at a core, I titled, “My Mother Writes the Letter That I Dream.” The great Italian American writer and scholar, Louise DeSalvo happened to be in the audience of this early morning panel, and she wrote me soon afterward about her experience of the piece. Louise became my informal agent before I had an agent, and it was through her that the idea for Night Bloom made its way to the then Executive Editor, Deborah Chasman, who acquired the book for Beacon Press.
“…awkwardness was a wholly pervasive but woefully undertheorized and under-described condition.”
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your second book, “Awkward: A Detour” (Bellevue Literary Press), a Los Angeles Times bestseller, ranges across various subjects. Could you tell us more about that and what prompted you to write it?
Mary Cappello: I couldn’t have told that, by the end of a semester teaching a seminar in Documentary Discourse and Immigrant Subjectivity, “awkwardness” would appear before me as a subject and a form begging for a book. My experiences abroad in 2001-2002, in Russia and Italy respectively, in many ways served as a foundation for my pursuit of awkwardness, most especially because of a feeling of an inability to adjust to life in the United States upon my return, particularly in the year following the events of September 11th (I was teaching and researching in Moscow in Fall of 2001, and in Italy and Sicily in the Spring and Summer of 2002). Originally in search of a conceptual center around which a book set in Italy and Russia could cohere, I found in awkwardness this possibility but much more: a book-length essay that moves out from and returns to forms of national (and global) displacement, but that also follows awkwardness toward unexpected areas of investigation: a complex braid of conceptual kin overlaid with implications for how we live in our bodies, how we manage our souls, and what is at stake in an over-valuation of balance, fit, adjustment and calm. Talking about the book with people from all walks, stations, and classes of life, I realized immediately that awkwardness was a wholly pervasive but woefully undertheorized and under-described condition. Our inability to dwell in uncertainty following the events of September 11th, and our embrace, instead, of xenophobic reaction formations served as the political ground of the book.
A striking conjunction of experiences at the end of the year following my return home literally inspired the book: I was teaching Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali; Fear Eats the Soul, a beautiful meditation on a relationship that develops between a young Moroccan immigrant to Germany (Ali) and a white German working-class cleaning woman who is many years his senior (Emi). The film is structured around surveying gazes, and, consequently, the people in the film, most especially the couple in question, move in their bodies in “unnatural” ways, stiffly, even as they try to show affection to one another. My students laughed at these stilted-seeming displays of the body, while I was, on the other hand, moved by them. This affective conundrum led me to consider all that is NOT revealed when, in Hollywood films, for example, the body is presented as though its owner has a perfectly seamless and “natural” relation to it. In the ensuing days, my students and I discussed whether perhaps this is what we should laugh at—the artificiality required to make filmic subjects appear natural. On the evening that the class screened the film, we found ourselves confronting a simultaneous, unexpected awkwardness, again at the intersection of immigrant subjectivity, representation, and the body. I wanted to share some of what I call “immigrant traces” with my class, over and against technologies of tracing to which immigrants must submit: to distinguish between the forms of tracing used by immigration services (for example, fingerprinting, and identification numbers, questionnaires and interviews) that are meant to “track down,” and therefore “find out” the immigrant, partly with the aim of always criminalizing him in advance, and the traces that immigrants themselves create in the form of literature, film, etc., traces whose aim perhaps is for the immigrant to be found, rather than found out. I was looking for a particular passage from my Italian immigrant grandfather’s journals, the collage-like traces, sentences in multiple directions, that he wrote in his shoe repair shop. I didn’t find the piece I was looking for, but instead, two letters that my grandfather had written to me when I was a child but that he had never sent. The letters were intensely beautiful in their structure and sentiment, and I was struck by the writing and re-writing that was going on in them, the letters as a palimpsest. As I turned one letter over, I saw, penciled on the reverse end, upside down, atop a page the words that my grandfather was teaching himself that day from the English dictionary, accompanied, not by their English definitions, but by their beguiling Italian counterparts. At the top of the page, the word “awkward” appeared. This was followed by “awhile,” and after that “awe.” In effect, my grandfather gifted to me the focus of this book.
In time, I would come to see awkwardness as the result of our desperate attempts to control chaos or our futile attempts to order things when they insist on falling apart. I’d become interested in the awkwardness of escaping feeling: you might try to numb yourself, but you’re left with a feeling, and the “feeling” is a feeling of awkwardness. And I would come to think of awkwardness as fundamental to our human-ness insofar as ‘being’ depends upon a great many inconsistencies and gaps that we daily try to avoid acknowledging. The gap between being alive and not understanding what it means to be alive is a kind of fundamental awkwardness. There’s no escaping it; we need to embrace it.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your third book, “Called Back” (Alyson Books), received a ForeWord Book of the Year Award and an Independent Publishers Award (IPPY), and was a Finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and a Publishing Triangle Award. What is it about? (“Getting the News,” an excerpt from Called Back that appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of The Georgia Review, won a GAMMA Award for Best Feature from The Magazine Association of the Southeast. Spring 2021 will see a re-issue of Called Back from Fordham University Press, with a new Afterward composed from the point of view of life within the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Mary Cappello: I like to say that Called Back is not “about” breast cancer but is written from it. Here are the things that cancer at the turn of the century was asking me to notice and here is what it didn’t want me to notice. Here is the thinking that becomes necessary and possible in the context of treatment for breast cancer. Educators in a variety of fields have taught the book—from classes in feminist memoir to courses in Medical Humanities, and it seems to speak to people at every level of the curriculum, as well as to physicians-in-training and of course fellow patients. The book is a cultural critique in the tradition of Sontag, Lorde, Ehrenreich, and Rose, and it’s also a kind of love song to my partner, Jean Walton, and my surgeon, Dr. Maureen Chung. I love to give readings from it and to discuss it, so I’m looking forward to its renewed life, especially in these dire pandemic times, and with gratitude to Fordham University Press’ choosing it for re-print.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your fourth book, “Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them” (The New Press, 2011) has an attention-grabbing title and I am sure my readers would like to know how it was born and what it is really about…
Mary Cappello: Swallow is based on one of the most compelling collections in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum—over 2,000 foreign bodies that a pioneering laryngologist named Chevalier Jackson extracted nonsurgically from people’s airways and stomachs in the early part of the 20th century. My encounter with this cabinet of curiosities was accidental, and originally I imagined simply writing an essay about the peculiar nature of the collection and its objects’ aura. But then I discovered that Jackson had written a best-selling autobiography in 1938, and once I read it, I was seduced by him, his life story, and my sense of him as an inventor, an artist, a writer, and humanitarian. He was an eccentric genius who saved thousands of people’s lives. I came to understand the collection as haunted by the stories that it could not tell on its own, and this led me down uncharted paths at the National Library of Medicine where a great many of the case studies attached to this collection reside. The book is a psychobiography of Jackson but it’s also an attempt to re-humanize the collection—which I subsequently played a role in re-curating and re-contextualizing. It’s a meditation on the fine line between that which we marvel at and that which disgusts us. Along the way, it tries to find a language for the complex bio-dynamics of the human swallow, and the mouth as the site of appetite, desire, aggression, and language itself.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You earned your Ph.D. at SUNY/Buffalo’s Center for the Psychoanalytic Study of the Arts with a specialization in nineteenth-century American literary and cultural studies, and Medical Humanities. How was your experience at that University and how did that influence your writing and your life?
Mary Cappello: I think of Buffalo as the city that tutored me in the importance of interiors and interiority, and SUNY/Buffalo’s English Department as the place where I came to know the extreme pleasure of thinking, not just alone and on one’s own, but with others—the relationship between thinking and sociality. The place was a cauldron of new ideas, and it was dedicated to a kind of radical originality, a quirkiness that helped me feel validated in my own odd turns of thought and imagination. No two professors in Buffalo’s English department thought alike, which might seem like an obvious thing to say, but it was very much the case that the professors I had the privilege to learn from were not much interested in orthodoxy, so even if a seminar represented a shared, new vanguard, which might seem, on the surface, predictable, what happened in these seminars never was. It was a place where the creative was never severed from the critical. A place where it wasn’t just ok but absolutely essential to think of oneself as a thinker-composer, or an artist-intellectual. Buffalo and the department were the places where I met James Morrison and Jean Walton, life-changers, forever. With both of them, I experienced “love at first sight.” Together, we wrote Buffalo Trace: A Threefold Vibration.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: So, you also collaborated with James Morrison and Jean Walton on “Buffalo Trace: A Threefold Vibration”. The three essays in it have a common theme. What is it? Could you tell us more about their connections?
Mary Cappello: Many of my favorite books to emerge from a queer sensibility are books of three, from Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives to David Plante’s Difficult Women, to Hilton Als’ The Women to Roland Barthes’ Sade, Fourier, Loyola. Our contribution to this tradition is A Threefold Vibration. As a reader, there is something elegant and inviting about a book made up of three parts to me, and there’s also something tantalizingly asymmetrical about any collection of three. I have an abiding interest in the off-kilter or the questionably balanced.
The book is about the separate but overlapping routes we took to coming into consciousness as queer intellectuals in 1980s Buffalo. There are numerous themes that recur in the essays, but always from a different angle, and we hope that is the beauty of this project. These include the limits of expression, the gender of ambition, secrecy, eroticism, academic time, and snow. We also each inadvertently created portraits of one another, and especially first encounters. One of my favorite texts is an interview that the French philosopher Michel Foucault carried out in which he proposes that homosexuality’s real threat to the social order has to do with the new forms of friendship it makes possible. I hope that readers experience an uncommon kinship in the book not just between the three of us, but between themselves and us or the stories that we bring to the page in these essays.
One of the high points of bringing it out was the chance to have a conversation with the incomparable Michael Silverblatt for KCRW’s bookworm. Silverblatt’s own relationship to Buffalo’s English Department emerges in the interview as well.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Is your fifth book, “Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack” (University of Chicago Press) related to your Ph.D.’s studies? Could you tell us more about it?
Mary Cappello: Life Breaks In is probably my most ambitious book thus far, formally and thematically. I conceived of it as a collection of essays and other prose experiments. The book has numerous premises: for example, that mood is the basis for a lucrative pharmacology even though there is no agreement either in the hard or social sciences on what mood IS. That mood is one of those subjects that is everywhere apparent but under-thought. That mood appears to be an ineffable yet essential core of who we are. That in the US, mood is grossly de-delimited by the shrunken lexicon of depression. An article appearing in Salmagundi in which the great writer, JM Coetzee called for a psychology for our times that would take mood seriously spurred me on, as did the sudden, burgeoning interest in mood in the academy in literary and cultural studies (the work of Hans Gumbrecht, for example). My book aims to contribute to these discussions though it is not an academic book. First and foremost, I wanted to see if I could create a literary form that could do justice to mood. To test the boundaries of new nonfiction forms, the elasticity of the essay, the short form, the aphorism, all in the name of a subject that asks for its own form: mood. “Cloud-writing” might be the answer the book provides. The main point of the book is to create a vast repertoire of zones that readers can enter and exit as they please, and to spark a multi-disciplinary conversation, performative as well as meditative, on the subject of atmospheres, personal and political, psychological and aesthetic, real and imagined that govern or liberate us, by turns. In the process, I found myself unexpectedly bringing to light some undiscovered spaces where mood has done interesting work in the world (specifically, the picture books of Margaret Wise Brown; the habitat dioramas of Charles D. Hubbard in the LC Bates Museum; and Florence Thomas’ fairytale Viewmasters; a major through-line of the book is mood’s kinship with sound). In the end, I considered that the major point of the book might be to offer a form of strange beauty in mood’s name.
The book is not directly related to my doctoral studies except insofar as I have always maintained an interest in the workings of the human mind, encouraged by my study at Buffalo’s Center for the Psychoanalytic Study of the Arts. And, it is probably the case that I was drawn to the unique habitat dioramas of Charles Hubbard—a forgotten American impressionist—thanks to some of my formative training in Visual Culture under Martin Pops.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You seem to have a lot of works-in-progress and I am sure you wouldn’t mind sharing some of these projects’ specifics with our readers…
Mary Cappello: I’m working on a book-length essay along the order of my earlier book, Awkward: A Detour, but this time with a focus on dormancy, on all that sleeps and what stirs something to wake, psychologically, physiologically, and culturally/socially.
I’m also working slowly on a collection of short-form prose pieces that I am calling “studies” or literary études inspired by what feels like a diminishing ability to study anything at all in the digital age.
Meanwhile, I’ve been writing a series of long-form essays on the subject of intimacy between strangers, that includes, most recently, an essay on the many meanings of the word, “keep,” after seeing a sign on a house in my neighborhood saying “keep out,” considering what a strange command that is, and wondering what it could possibly mean, especially to a non-native speaker of English.
I recently curated a collection of e-mails of my mother’s, Rosemary Petracca Cappello, for Ninth Letter, called “The Dearest Mary Project”; and I had the privilege of composing a new Afterword to my third book, Called Back, in anticipation of its re-issue from Fordham University Press in Spring of 2021.
“This is what writing is to me—a humble, ethical act that I carry out in a workshop, largely in solitude.”
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Could you tell about one or two of your essays that have been published in various magazines and why you felt compelled to write on those topics?
Mary Cappello: I think I’d like to draw your attention to two of my earlier essays, “Losing Consciousness to a Lost Art,” which appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review in 2008, and “Moscow, 9/11,” which appeared in Raritan in 2002. “Losing Consciousness to a Lost Art” materialized for me during screenings of silent film and the very special atmosphere that is created annually at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy. I have had the good fortune to attend the festival twice in my lifetime, and this essay emerged on the occasion of my first sublime experience of this week-long extravaganza. I was re-visiting the essay recently and realizing that it treats the very subject that is at the heart of my next book project. We think that we are moving on to new and different territory when we write, and hopefully in some ways we are, but this essay shows my abiding interest in how we sleep and dream and what we wake to, an interest that is at the heart of my next book project on dormancy and dormant states. The essay earned a Notable Essay of the Year citation in Best American Essays that year. “Moscow, 9/11” speaks to my experience living in Moscow, Russia, at the time of September 11th. I was teaching on a Fulbright fellowship at the Gorky Literary Institute and studying Russian at the time, and the piece is my attempt to offer a glimpse of what it was like to experience that historical cataclysm at a far distance from my homeland.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Is the teacher in you influencing the writer in you or vice versa?
Mary Cappello: The teaching and the writing always go hand in hand. Teaching is an art, and often enough I learn from my students; the classroom is often a cauldron for the testing of ideas, or for working through something I’m writing about, and things that arise unexpectedly in the classroom often directly feed my writing. My teaching career has enabled me to be present to and inspired by the truly great writing that many of my students have produced, both undergraduate and graduate, and, in some cases, to witness the meteoric blossoming of their own careers. This includes, perhaps most notably, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Ayad Akhtar, who studied with me at the University of Rochester. At the time that we met, I was 29 and he was 19! It was so many years ago. His recent novel, Homeland Elegies, includes a character based on me and a fictionalized homage to our relationship.
“…the gardens I grew up in stood for willfulness, patience, and an abiding love of changing forms..”
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Did you find your Italian American roots influenced your writing and your life choices? If so, how?
Mary Cappello: I think you can see from my earlier answers that my Italian American upbringing is at the heart of my writing. There are so many ways to talk about this, but it’s possible a line from my first book, Night Bloom, says it best. I was writing, in particular, about gardening in that book, that of my father (whose parents came from a town near Palermo, Sicily) and that of my maternal (Neapolitan) grandfather (whom I’ve already mentioned), and his father, who was a master gardener who made his living by, in summer, cultivating the gardens of the wealthy residents of Philadelphia’s Main Line, and in winter, stoking their furnaces. In either case, his job was to create warmth. In Night Bloom, I wrote that “the gardens I grew up in stood for willfulness, patience, and an abiding love of changing forms.” These principles guide my aesthetic as a writer. I have had to admit over the years that, in spite of the influence of master gardeners, I’m not a great gardener, try as I might! But I maintain an intense interest in plants and flowers and still hold out hope of studying Botany in earnest one day. The work of my gardener forebears, at any rate, manifest in the art that I try to make. As well, I place a high premium on all things artisanal as a result of my Italian American upbringing. The people who reared me were weavers and shoemakers, sheet metal craftsmen, hatters, and confectioners. I try to keep their handiwork nearby to help remind me that my writing needs to be embodied. But I also keep them near to remind me of the pleasures, power, and necessity of honest labor. This is what writing is to me—a humble, ethical act that I carry out in a workshop, largely in solitude. It’s a making and attending that serves something other than oneself. I also try to stay present and true to their stories and their complexly beautiful lives all the while knowing that I can never do justice to them—their lives are boundless, really—but I still try.
“I’d like to live in a country where those entrusted with governance recall once more their dedication to the public good…”
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What is your utmost desire at the moment?
Mary Cappello: That a new day will dawn in which we will collectively be enjoined to turn our attention to the things that need fixing, the lives that need our attention, the issues that truly matter in lieu of the daily antics and attention-grabbing inanities of a person who strikes me as a deranged and extremely dangerous individual—the current president of these United States. Someday, he will, like all of us, discover that he is human—which is to say, he, too, will have to face the limits, rather than the extent, of his powers. He will know that he is not omnipotent but, like us all, mortal. This must also be said of all those who aided and abetted him. I’d like to live in a country where those entrusted with governance recall once more their dedication to the public good over and against the acquisition of a new blue suit and a deluded sense of their own power and importance. Currently, I’m put in mind of the painstaking work involved by people who took the splinters, shards, and smashed pieces of the Jewish synagogue in Berlin and re-built it following the War. In our case, it’s not just about putting things back together—which will be hard enough—but re-conceiving of structures that, in a very real and good sense, we have been finally required to understand as deeply flawed. If demagoguery wins the election, my utmost desire will be to find my place in the revolution that will, of necessity, follow, while maintaining my own humanity, which is to say, my own sanity.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Do you believe that the isolation that Covid19 has forced most of our society into has been a boom for writers or it had a deterrent effect on creativity?
Mary Cappello: I don’t think it’s an either/or. I think it has required that we reconsider where and how we make meaning. And my own desire is to be quiet for a very long time. I have not written anything worth sharing with a public since the day on which the pandemic was announced, I remember it vividly: the 12th of March 2020. For my own part, I await the new language that I think is called for to meet the realities of this moment. I’m sure it will come, but I prefer not to rush it.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you could meet any one historical character, who would he or she be and what would you ask them?
Mary Cappello: I’d like to sit at the feet of Hannah Arendt and ask her to help me to understand how we have arrived at this moment in the history of this nation-state.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: A message for our readers?
Mary Cappello: I look forward to the day of our having survived the pandemic and being able to visit Italy and Sicily once more. To be in the presence of Italian and Sicilian culture, Italian and Sicilian people, Italian and Sicilian language, and Italian and Sicilian history once more. Such abiding beauty. I say this, and yet must pause in the presence of my own mis-spoken-ness, because, so much is unsaid in that little word, “our”—“our” having survived the pandemic. So many have not survived; people close to me and to you have already contracted the virus, are currently sick, or dying, or have died. Precariousness continues to loom; and even if we take every precaution—which we must—none of us is immune. May we continue to mourn in solidarity for a better day, and trust in the prospect of one day being able to greet each other in person, sharing the bounty of an Italian table.
Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Paul Salsini is a multi-talented Italian American author who is a contributor to the upcoming second volume of A Feast of Narrative, an Anthology of Italian American Writers, which I edit. I thought that our readers would appreciate to know more about his wonderful books and very interesting life…
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Paul, you spent 37 years as a journalist and 48 years as a college professor teaching Journalism and Musical Theater. Which one do you miss the most and why?
Paul Salsini: This may sound corny, but I knew in eighth grade that I wanted to be a journalist. I don’t know why, something about being on the scene but not being part of the scene, and also being able to write, which I loved to do. Not only that, but I wanted to work at The Milwaukee Journal. We lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and got the paper and I read it religiously. So I was thrilled when I was hired by The Journal after I graduated in journalism from Marquette University in Milwaukee. Those were the glory days of the paper, big circulation, excellent staff, ground-breaking stories. I started as a suburban reporter, then joined the State Desk, became State Editor, responsible for coverage of the state and state government, and then my best job, Staff Development Director. I handled applications, did recruiting, worked with the staff, ran the intern program and, best of all, was the writing coach. I think I was one of the first writing coaches in the country. I worked with some of the best writers on the paper and it was a very satisfying job. Like other positions on newspapers, it no longer exists.
In 1970, I thought I’d like to teach and I landed an adjunct position at Marquette. Over the years, I think I taught almost every journalism course it offered. The best was the last, Narrative Nonfiction Journalism, which I invented. Students got to delve deep into subjects and write real stories.
I’ve had a long interest in musical theater so when the instructor of History of the Musical Theater retired, I volunteered for that course. I developed a broad range, from vaudeville to “Hamilton.” It was a “core” course, which meant that all university students had to pick a course from a list. I guess mine looked like a “blow-off” course because it quickly filled to the room’s capacity – 60 students from all over campus. They soon discovered that there was work involved, but they loved it and I think they learned that art in any form should be a part of everyone’s life.
I don’t miss The Journal because journalism has changed so much and I know the staff is now depleted and has to do so much more than when I was there. I do miss my students from both departments and am still in contact with some of them. But I wouldn’t want to teach online; I’d miss the face-to-face relationships.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: But you are still teaching, aren’t you?
Paul Salsini: I’m not teaching anymore. The core curriculum was revised and, for unknown reasons, the course was dropped. But I still have a relationship with Marquette journalism. The college runs an online Neighborhood News Service that covers largely neglected areas of the city, and I do some editing of stories.
As I said, I’d long been interested in musical theater and enjoyed going to shows and reading about it. I have two favorite composers, Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim. In 1984, I thought, I’m a journalist and I like Sondheim, why not put out a publication devoted to his works? So I found a guy who would do the business side and I did the editorial side and we put out this quarterly magazine, The Sondheim Review/Devoted to the Work of the Foremost Musical Theater Composer/Lyricist. I did a lot of the writing. I traveled around the country (and even London) to write about shows and I interviewed many people, including Sondheim (who celebrated his 90th birthday in March 2020). But after ten years I needed to get a life so I gave it over to an assistant editor. It died a few years later. Over the years I had accumulated a large Sondheim collection of books, DVDs, CDs, tapes, articles, programs and other things. When my wife and I moved to a smaller apartment ten years ago I donated it all to the Marquette library, which established the Stephen Sondheim Collection, open to anyone.
I still teach, sort of. I give programs about musical theater, largely through videos, at retirement homes here. The people love them.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Although you were born in the USA, you seem to consider yourself somewhat a full-blood Tuscan, Why is it so?
Paul Salsini: My father was born in the small village of San Martino in Fredanna near Lucca in Tuscany. He came to the U.S. at 20, went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and became a copper miner. Other people from San Martino had arrived there earlier, and he boarded with a family that had five sons and a daughter. Yes, he and the daughter fell in love and married, my father and mother. So both sides of my family are from that same village in Tuscany and when I go to the cemetery there I see the Salsinis and the Consanis all together.
My mother made a lot of good Italian meals and my father and mother spoke Italian to each other, but not to us. I was always interested, though, and in 1985 The Journal sent me with a photographer to Italy for two weeks to write stories. That’s when I fell in love with Italy, and especially Tuscany. I think I wrote about 25 stories about the people, the issues, the history. The best part, though, was visiting my cousin Fosca, my father’s niece, who lived in the house where she was born in San Martino in Fredanna. She was just wonderful. She’s 95 now and still a hoot. Since her husband died two years ago she lives alone, does her own fabulous cooking and is beloved in the village. All of her siblings and all of mine have died, so we’re the last.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You wrote your first novel, “The Cielo: A Novel of Wartime Tuscany,” basing it on your cousin’s wartime experiences. Could you tell us more about that?
Paul Salsini: I have visited Fosca often, taking my wife and kids (we have three, and four grandchildren). One time, Fosca told us about living through World War II. She said she and neighbors from San Martino in Fredanna fled to the hills, literally, when the Nazis occupied the village. Some people stayed in barns, some in the woods and some in old farmhouses. She and her friends stayed in an abandoned farmhouse called the Celli, high in the hills that had been in the family for centuries. They remained there for three months, sometimes hearing nearby fighting between the Nazis and the partisans, until the Allied forces liberated the area.
Anyway, I was fascinated by her story and as a journalist I wanted to write it. But there were problems: I can’t speak or read Italian well, which was essential. I was working, so couldn’t spend months there. And many of the sources would be dead. So I decided to write it as fiction. I know, I know, journalists are often accused, falsely, of writing fiction, but this was different. So I spent months researching the war, the area, the partisans, the Nazis, etc. etc. It would be the story of how people were forced to live together while fighting was going on all around them. During the research I discovered that on August 12, 1944, Germans had invaded a nearby village, Sant’Anna di Stazzema, and slaughtered 560 people in four hours. It was the second-worst massacre by the Germans in Italy during the war. So that became part of the story, with a partisan assuming a major role, and the book becoming even more historical fiction.
So I finished the first novel I’d ever written and called it “The Cielo: A Novel of Wartime Tuscany.” I named the farmhouse Cielo, which means ‘heaven’ or ‘sky,’ but I also liked the way it was similar to the real farmhouse’s name, Celli. To my surprise, the book was well received and even won awards: First Place from the Council for Wisconsin Writers and First Place from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: From one novel about Tuscany, you end up with a series of six novels about that region. How did that happen and why are these novels all about the beautiful region of Tuscany?
Paul Salsini: Something strange happened after writing that book, and I’ve since learned that it happens to much more experienced writers as well. I couldn’t get those characters I’d created out of my head. They were real. I thought about them at night, wondering what they were doing. So I wrote a sequel, “Sparrow’s Revenge: A Novel of Postwar Tuscany.” It was about how that partisan, filled with guilt because he didn’t save his lover in Sant’Anna, sought revenge.
After that, yes, those people were still in my head and I couldn’t get rid of them. So I wrote “Dino’s Story: A Novel of 1960s Tuscany.” It was sort of a coming-of-age story about a boy who was born at the end of the first book and ten years old in the second and who goes to Florence to study art in the third. He’s there during the devastating flood of Florence in 1966. More historical fiction.
I called those three books “A Tuscan Trilogy,” but that was a mistake because those people were, yes, still in my head and I realized I was writing about them from decade to decade.
So I continued writing about these people in interrelated short stories. The first was “The Temptation of Father Lorenzo: Ten Stories of 1970s Tuscany” and then “A Piazza for Sant’Antonio: Five Novellas of 1980s Tuscany” and finally “The Fearless Flag Thrower of Lucca: Nine Stories of 1990s Tuscany.” All of the stories are set in the fictional Sant’Antonio, not unlike San Martino in Fredanna, and in Florence. The original characters age (some die) and some new ones arrive.
I decided that was the last of the series. Ezio the partisan and other original characters were now in their 80s and another book would have been very sad. I had to move on. But, yes, sometimes they’re still in my head. I wonder how Ezio and Donna, who live in the Cielo in the hills, are doing; I imagine that Dino’s adopted son from Albania must be in college by now, and I can only speculate on what’s going on between the handsome television priest Father Giancarlo and the former nun Anna.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: I stand corrected: you wrote seven books about Tuscany, including “The Ghosts of the Garfagnana: Seven Strange Stories from Haunted Tuscany.” What’s different about this book from the others?
Paul Salsini: After I’d completed the series, I thought about what to write next. I’d been fascinated by the Garfagnana area of Tuscany ever since, researching “Sparrow’s Revenge,” my driver/translator showed me the “Devil’s Bridge” near Borgo e Mozzano and told me the story of how the devil built the bridge in the Middle Ages. Surely, I thought, if a region can foster such a legend it must have lots of other good stories, too. (I’ve since learned that there are nine devil’s bridges in Italy alone and maybe up to two dozen in Europe.)
The Garfagnana, which is north of Lucca, is unlike any other area I’ve seen in Italy, not that I’ve seen all of Italy. It’s very rugged, with high snow-capped mountains, tiny villages, lots of green stretches. Just the kind of territory where witches and ghosts and strange traditions would occur.
So I fashioned a collection of short stories, interrelated again, about the people and places, and all with supernatural connections. It was fun.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You also wrote a nonfiction book, “Second Start.” What is this book about?
Paul Salsini: When I was at The Milwaukee Journal I wrote an article for the paper’s Sunday magazine about “second-career” priests. These were men who had gone through a seminary near Milwaukee that specialized in training and ordaining men who had had other careers. As far as I knew, this hadn’t been written about, so I expanded the piece into a book and included priests from other areas of the country, including New York.
Their stories were inspiring and the book was well received. I wish I knew what happened to the priests. I know a few have died, and I’ve heard bad things about one of them. That’s to be expected, I guess.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are the author of “Stefano and the Christmas Miracles” and “Stefano and the Tuscan Piazza,” two children’s books. What inspired you to write for children? What kind of message these two books are trying to convey to the readers?
Paul Salsini: I have a presepio that I bring out every Christmas. It started with a few pieces I bought in Florence and I’ve been adding one every year so there are now more than forty figures around the stable—and no more room! They’re made by Fontanini. I’d always wondered about those “other people” who are in it – a woman with geese, a man sharpening a knife, a boy asleep, an old man guided by a boy. Why are they in the Nativity scene?
So I wrote a story about a grandfather, “Nonno,” telling the boy Stefano stories of some of them. In each case, the person goes to Bethlehem and there is a miracle at the manger. For example, a boy who is a terrible bugler but is part of a “boy band” goes to the stable and suddenly is able to play beautifully.
The second book, sort of a sequel, also resulted from a collection begun in Florence. Arranged on a bookshelf in our living room are miniature ceramic pieces that form a Tuscan piazza, a tower, a church, a palace, houses, etc. They were made by “J Carlton by Dominique Gault.” It’s a French company that makes other miniatures but it has now discontinued the Tuscan line. So I used the same format, Nonno telling Stefano stories about some of the buildings, but also going into such medieval things as flag throwing, ghosts and devils, battles, the contrade of Siena, the calico storico of Florence, etc.
In both books, I hope I stressed the bond that can exist between a grandfather and a grandson. My mother’s father lived with us for years before he died. I have a photo of him and me in the back of the book.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What other literary project are you working on at the moment?
Paul Salsini: I’m deep into a story that’s unlike anything I’ve ever written. It’s contemporary and it deals with a contemporary subject. In fact, it’s so contemporary that I’m not sure how it’s going to end. That’s about all I’ll say.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you had the opportunity to meet and talk to anyone in history, who would it be and why?
Paul Salsini: Probably Leonardo da Vinci. What an incredible, but also inscrutable, person! Was anyone ever so multi-talented?
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: In a critical moment for our nation and the world as it is the one we are living, what do you think writers like us could contribute to the society around them to alleviate the stress?
Paul Salsini: When I’m writing, I seem to enter into another world, a world that I may have created but which takes on a life of its own. I let the characters tell their stories in their own way. I’m hardly one to suggest what writers could do in these perilous times, but I think they are desperately needed now. They can take readers into universes where they can explore new ideas, discover new characters, visit new places, enjoy different stories. For myself, I find that I’m reading a lot more now, more fiction than I ever have, so I’m finding more new worlds.
L’Idea: Do you have a message for our readers?
Paul Salsini: Read, read, read.
Interview By Tiziano Thomas Dossena
An artist, a chef, a businessman, a philanthropist, a bulwark of Italian culture in the world…who is really Antonio Argentieri? Let’s discover a little more about him…
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Our readers, who reside in Italy may know you from your Italian TV program on RAI Television, but I see from the flood of information online that you live in Ireland and you have strong connections to Australia and Italy. Could you tell our readers how you arrived from Vasto, in Abruzzo, to Dublin, and what are your past experiences in Australia?
Antonio Argentieri: Yes, in Italy I am also known for television programs, such as la “Prova del Cuoco” e “Cuochi e D’intorni”, Alice TV and others.
I am originally from an Abruzzese town, Vasto (ch), from where I left many years ago with my suitcase full of dreams and experiences. I was strongly convinced of bringing my Italian excellence and my corner of Abruzzo with me to the world. Quality, culture, and history seen through my art as a pastry chef.
On my return from one of my trips, I was invited to a meeting at a school, in which an Italian entrepreneur and other companies operating abroad took part. And that’s where they suggested that I move to Ireland, at the invitation of one of them. I found myself so well in Dublin that I decided to stay and establish a working platform for my businesses around the world.
My relationship with Australia has been solid and strong for several years now, particularly with W. Australia and the city of Perth. I started with my cooking show, up to returning even 3 times a year, for more and more numerous other shows in regional clubs, associations, and for events sponsored by the state. As a result of all this and for my love for the city of Perth W. A., I was honored by the “twins buttons” with the symbol of the city, and for the dissemination abroad of the Italian heritage in the world. Meanwhile, I became a guest and judge of the Perth Royal Show and the Association of Cake Decorators of W. A.
Also in Australia, for years now I have been the ambassador of the CLCRF based in Perth but operating internationally, collaborating and organizing large fundraising events for research against childhood cancer. And it is from everything that I then created and patented my “Cake Kid’s Therapy” with a therapeutic approach to children who are going through a bad period, to artistic, Italian pastry.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You are an artist who also found a path in life being a chef. How did that occur? What triggered your interest in baking? How did your son Karoljosef get involved in your passion?
Antonio Argentieri: I have always loved our Italian culture, in all its vast and unique expressions. I remember from an early age, watching my mother and my grandmother, while they made desserts, fresh pasta, and more of our tradition, which fascinated me more and more, even behind their stories. They talked to me about the art, history, and traditions that were behind those preparations.
Then growing up I lost this attention, even though it remained hidden in me. I decided to take another path, always artistic, taking me to study interior design at the academy.
And it is in a particular and delicate moment of my life that, thanks to the intuition of my son Karoljozef, this passion of mine exploded again. He is the one that praised my baking and called me “Sweet Daddy.” And it is since then that I have begun to study and specialize in this “white art”, where I express my past studies to the fullest.
After a year, I founded “Sweet Daddy Pastries & Co Italy” and I immediately started traveling the world. Today I reside in Ireland, where the “KJA FACTORY”, which absorbed Sweet Daddy Pastries & Co Italy, was born
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What about “KJA factory”?
Antonio Argentieri: The “KJA FACTORY” is a reality that collects all my experiences gained over the years. In fact it bears the name of my son Karoljozef, and it is another way to thank him.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You founded “Sweet Daddy Pastry & Co Italy” sixteen years ago. How does your company operate?
Antonio Argentieri: My Factory brings the Italian qualities and excellence, art, culture, history of my country with me to the world. I select and create culinary and non-culinary products with small Italian family businesses, which produce in an artisanal way, still following centuries-old traditions. Like the “Fratelli Costa” and the “Orma”. Sicilian, Abruzzese, Calabrian products.
Through my cooking shows, the whole of Italy is represented in a sensorial way.
I always say in my shows, “here you live and enter the heart of Italy for a couple of hours”.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: What brought this success for “Sweet Daddy Pastry & Co Italy in countries like Kyrgystan and Russia? Do you also export to USA?
Antonio Argentieri: As I said earlier, with the passage of time with my shows, I have been invited to many other countries, always thanks to the contacts and friendships that developed through my good work. I have received many satisfactions both human and professional. I built relationships that allowed me to serve many high ranking state representatives, like the Russian prime minister in Kyrgyzstan at a state banquet. I have seen, with Italy in my art and in my heart, many countries, only America was missing and I was supposed to visit in September New York and Las Vegas to start some commercial ties, but unfortunately, Covid19 has blocked everything.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Your motto is “Learn, create, rejoice”. Do you carry that belief in everything you do?
Antonio Argentieri: Yes, my motto is “Learn, create, rejoice” and I carry it in everything I do. I never forget my roots, and from Italy I can only learn, create, rejoice. Presenting yourself with a smile is the key to everything.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Do you still operate as an artist aside from your baking world?
Antonio Argentieri: Yes, my artistic field is vast and it is always alive in my “white art”.
In my creations, in my cakes, there is art, sculpture, study. I plan to organize an exhibition with my most representative pieces. I also have a second passion, singing. I love opera madly.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You appeared on the Italian RAI TV program “La prova del cuoco”. How was that experience?
Antonio Argentieri: The experience in RAI TV was fantastic, educational, and led me to meet unique people and workers, and I still feel today its effects on me.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: On the occasion of the 70th Festival di Sanremo, you created a sculpture made of sugar for the renowned soprano Katia Ricciarelli….
Antonio Argentieri: Yes, Sanremo was yet another recognition of my art and of my person. Being called to create a dessert for the fiftieth anniversary of her career, the anniversary of soprano Katia Ricciarelli, was an unparalleled emotion.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Any new projects in the works?
Antonio Argentieri: Fortunately, there are many projects. Meanwhile, I continue in the best ways to spread our traditions abroad, then in the coming months, Covid19 permitting, there is the release of my album “Singing with the chef”. I already have the confirmation of Sanremo D.O.C, a television program and finally to come to America.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you had the opportunity to meet anyone from the past or the present, who would he or she be and what would you ask them?
Antonio Argentieri: In the past, I had the privilege of meeting John Paul II, a great man, a vibrant soul for the whole of humanity, a strength, a cry, a hope, an example for the whole world. Yes, I would love to meet him again, and relive that experience, and ask him if there was still a man like him so that he can still give the man of today that strength and that light that are lost today.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: A message for our readers?
Antonio Argentieri: I am asked for a message for the reader; what to say? Times are not calm, this Covid19 has created human and social instability It is precisely at this moment that you have to take your life back in hand, and go back to planning, delineating, dreaming, studying, not getting lost in the whirlwind of fear, for a peaceful future. Never give up, never.
Always remembering that beyond the clouds, the darkest ones, there is a radiant and warm sun, which shines for everyone.
Review by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Reading “THE SECRET PRICE OF HISTORY, Searching for the Treasure behind Alexander’s Medallion” was a thrill for me in many ways. The book is a complex one, in the sense that it carries two historical lines of narratives contemporarily, one in the 19th century and one in the 21st century, and their developments are intertwined in such a matter that understanding one of them is necessary to comprehend the other one. How the authors, Gayle Ridinger and Paolo Pochettino, managed to give this effect of historical clips, almost cinematic, and not confuse the reader is a marvel and it attests to their literary and historical abilities.
I stated that it has two parallel stories, and it is so because the outcome of the older one, if presented only in chronological order with the new one, would spoil some of the surprises that our heroes and evil characters confront on their path throughout the book.
Said that, I will contradict myself by saying that the book’s start is in 1989 and not in those two centuries mentioned. This opening, though, it’s only a requirement, almost an indispensable prologue that introduces the slippery main evil character, the so-called White Devil, whose presence will effuse throughout the narrative concerning the 21st century. He is not only a wicked, depraved and soulless individual, but a corrupter and a manipulator, so that any other iniquity that is not performed by him occurring in this portion of the book is necessarily tied to him, whether because it’s a crime committed by someone following his orders or just inspired by him through their relationship, be it familial or business-induced.
The 19th century timeline narrative is a wonderful piece of historical fiction which could stand by itself and which is powerful and detailed in the description of the events. The heroes are many, considering that the story-line starts at the time of the Roman Republic in 1845. Through the vicissitudes of a Roman noblewoman, a patriotic cheese monger, and a deserter from the Austro-Hungarian army who become friends for life we can also follow the history of the making of Italy as a nation.
It is obvious that the authors spent a considerable amount of time in their historical research, since the outcome is flawless and seamless, even when interrupted by the alternating process of the book’s narrative. Through the delightful reconstruction of the focal points of their period of time that was swept by the wind of patriotism and freedom seeking, the readers not only encounter Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Hero of the Two Worlds, Antonio Meucci, the inventor of the telephone, the emperor Napoleon III, Pope Pius IX, and many other major and minor characters who left an imprint of a kind upon the pathway of history, but hear their voices and discover their thoughts, their fears, their desires, contradictions, and sometimes their obsessions.
These characters, though, are not just used as embellishment or backdrop decorations, but are essential to the progress of the story itself. Through keen observations and depictions, Ms. Ridinger and Mr. Pochettino present live reconstructions of feasible situations that allow the reader to enjoy the staging as much as the excitement that the events themselves may bring to surface. An example of that is the demonstration of the newly-invented telephone to one of our heroes, Eleonora, by Antonio Meucci:
She passed the letter to Sandor to re-study and took Meucci’s strange cylinder in hand again.
“Talk into this?” she said with a smile. “But I want to talk to Ester.”
“I know. Talk into the handle.”
“The handle’s not Ester.” She rattled the object and Meucci laughed.
“Do as I say,” Meucci gestured at her encouragingly and winked at Sandor. “The electricity will carry your voice…I call it a telettrofono. It’s what I’m working on now.”
If it weren’t a miracle. She actually heard Ester’s voice come from the cylinder three times in answer to her own. Sandor raised his eyebrows at her in equal wonderment. Yes, it was lovely, Meucci was a genius, but her mind could not fathom where Ester was.
“You can see her in a moment. You can hear her this moment,” the old inventor insisted. “And she can hear you. Tell us about yourself.”
In this charming and imaginative paragraph you can feel the excitement of the characters and at the same time somewhat witness a plausible occurrence in the household of Meucci. It is with these credible, or should I say probable settings, almost reenacted anecdotes, that the tale is carried to fruition, and in Oh, such a convincing and thrilling manner!
Through the book one can discover the mechanics behind the formation of the Garibaldi Guard during American Civil War, the horrors of the battles, whether fought on Italian or American grounds in these years of turmoil, even the passionate gestures of painters such as Induno or Freeman, who did not shy away from danger and kept on creating their masterpieces, whether on the battlefields’ edges or in the Roman ruins. The story offers also an insight on the conflict between Christianity and Mithraism, the birth of the Casane Astigiane (Italian for “Houses of Asti”) , the major family banking houses of Asti, Italy in the middle ages, the crusades, and other historical events of the past, but it does so that there can be an understanding of the existence of the medallion that is connected to Alexander’s purported treasure.
The authors, nonetheless, do not disdain to insert in the story some matter-of-fact statements, quips that can be humorous and allow for a breather in the breathtaking progression of the events. For example, in the conversation between a member of the Vatican’s IOR bank and an Italian Congressman, the ecclesiastic declares:
“…And you, who were elected by an overwhelming margin and voted even by Alzheimer sufferers, you should be the first to know that.”
Unquestionably the mysterious treasure and the people who are involved in that search through the centuries make this story a first-class thriller, but that the main story in itself is about the search for a treasure is somewhat deceiving, because this book is about passions and greed, selflessness and egoism, cruelty and love, and most of all about the people who believed strongly in an ideal, sometimes flawed or self-serving, but nevertheless always dictating their actions regardless of the outcomes.
The readers who expect to take a long time reading a 585 pages book will surprise themselves when they will discover that it isn’t so with THE SECRET PRICE OF HISTORY because this is definitely a book that is very hard to put down.
On a different note, in a moment as dramatic as the one we are living, with this newfound plague, this pandemic that has changed our way of life, to read this passage about yellow fever in this book is evermore enlightening and frightening:
The yellow fever had entered Memphis from the river; the George C. Wolf and the Bee, two supply ships from New Orleans, had arrived with two passengers sick with yellow fever and had been moored in quarantine for three weeks before Kate Bionda, a girl who worked at a riverfront stand, suddenly died, and the town knew that some sailor or passenger must have broken the quarantine to visit her and in doing so brought death to their doors. And after the flight of those thirty or forty thousand fortunate souls, a terrible calm and silence had settled over Memphis. No church bells. No mail. No news, because the telegrapher had been able to flee. There was only silence and the grief of those who had lost a loved one or their entire family.
A wonderful website, https://www.secretpriceofhistory.com/, is available to discover more about the book, the sites mentioned in it, the characters and the history events cited and so much more…
Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena
His portraits are not just beautiful images, but they capture the soul of the character represented and they are alive, something that only a few artists can claim for their art production. William John Castello has been drawing and painting portraits all his life and it shows. The artist kindly met with me and spoke about his art and his life…
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: William, at what age did start having the ‘call’ to be an artist?
William John Castello: As a child I had a condition know as chronic bronchitis that threatened my life. Between the medications and my vulnerability to infections, I spent most of my childhood indoors. I had precious little exposure to others beyond my immediate family. To fill the many hours, I would take typewriter paper and try to reproduce the faces on the covers of LOOK, LIFE and TIME magazines. I became quite good at in time and, by the time I was free of the bronchitis, the skills I had developed became my signature characteristic when I found myself among my peers in grammar school. I was the “artist”. My first public exhibition was in the local Brooklyn Public Library. They displayed a dozen of my portraits with full name credit and story. The exhibit lasted a full six months at the librarian’s insistence and led the way to local public recognition of my abilities. The nuns from my grammar school, St. Jerome’s in Flatbush, Brooklyn, encouraged and displayed my work for years to follow. Fate turned a life-threatening illness into a life-long path.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: So, you started early and follow your passion all through college, earning a B.F.A. in Fine Arts from St. John’s University. What happened after that?
William John Castello: I had to fight for my undergraduate experience. Born of two second and third-generation Italian-American parents, their desire for me to succeed was the driving force behind their demand for excellence in my academic endeavors. My good grades were the result of my parents’ efforts and constant insistence. They wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer like so many of my cousins and my sister had. I volunteered in a city hospital for two summers during high school and gained nothing but revulsion of the medical professions. Law was tacitly interesting but resulted in putting me to sleep. I wanted to be an artist. My dad said, “The word ‘artist’ is usually preceded by the word ‘starving’.” I pleaded with him to send me to art school. He would under one condition; that if I had not found a lucrative job as an artist in the first six months, I would repay him for my tuition.
And so, following a wonderful three-and-a-half-year education in the fine arts by the European instructors in St. John’s, I obtained an internship in the art department of the MacNeil-Lehrer Report on PBS. After six-months, I graduated with a position as a graphic journalist at the Associated Press. I never had to pay my father back.
For the next 35 years, I produced graphics, stories, information packets, multi-media presentations and more from the newsroom in the world headquarters of the Associated Press in New York City. All that time, I remained a fine artist when off duty. My time at the AP proved to be worth the education of a thousand universities. The window to the world was opened to me every day and I had to learn and interact. Never easy, not without many sacrifices and yet, the best view of all humanity that anyone may ever have.
When I saw retirement coming I obtained a master’s degree in global diplomacy from Norwich University to prepare for a second career, possibly in international affairs, which dominated my attention in my journalistic career.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Now you teach Professional Journalism at your alma mater. Why Journalism and not Art?
William John Castello: Upon retirement, my St. John’s alumni association informed the university that there was a journalist on the loose. I was contacted and offered a job as an adjunct professor on the spot. When I had a second to comprehend such a career move the marriage was made. They needed a journalist and I am one. As far as the fine arts, art history etc. I was advised to obtain yet one more master’s degree and then reinvent myself again as a permanent professor of whatever I wished.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: I noticed that you mostly draw portraits. What is the reason for this choice?
William John Castello: I have a love of the human face. When I was a lonely child, the television set was my constant companion. With the sound on or off, there was always the faces of familiar people. They looked in on me with the luster of black and white. They provided entertainment, humor, drama, and thrills. The faces in the magazines were compelling. I learned to know (or imagine) their thoughts through their expressions. My portraits became my people, my friends and the path to having others recognize me in time. The human face is magical, expressive. It never lies.
I produce moments of emotion and thought rather than the image of flesh and bone. My portraits are encapsulations of a moment in time, a distinctive flash of thought or emotion, a signature characteristic of a distant life. I try to capture the energy of a person in each rendering.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Do you use only the pencil or also other media in creating your works?
William John Castello: I have experimented with almost every artistic medium available, from watercolor to cast bronze. I’ve produced many oil and acrylic paintings, sculpted wood, stone and clay and worked metal. My love of portraiture determined my favorite medium, a simple pad and something to draw with. My most recent set of over two hundred portraits on tan paper in pencil and graphite began with my desire to study the works of Da Vinci and attempt to recreate the look of line on colored paper.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: One of your recent major works is “Journey to Fiddler’s Green.” Could you talk a bit about that?
William John Castello: Upon retirement, I realized that I had not produced a canvas in many years due to time and space constraints. For the prior twenty-five years, I have shared much of my life with friends associated with the Ancient Order of Hibernians which is composed of the sons and daughters of Ireland. I was folded in as an associate member (having no blood or claim from Ireland) and as their artist. The twining of these two paradigms resulted in my search for a great project to produce on canvas.
Staten Island was the gateway to the new world during the potato famine in Ireland. Thousands of Irish men and women were forced onto “coffin ships” by their English overlords and sent across the Atlantic to fend for themselves. Upon reaching New York, many had died in transit. Many more had contracted a disease in the unkind confinement of these hellish ships. When they disembarked, the dead were anonymously buried in mass graves and the sickened arrivals were quarantined in hospital/death-houses on the Staten Island shore. Thousands died yet their final resting place remained a mystery until a local high school student researched historical documents and found the mass grave, located on the eighteenth hole of a local golf course.
Upon the revelation, the Hibernians contracted me to create a commemorative piece of art, and so, “Journey to Fiddler’s Green” was created: (below)
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: You had recently a show at the Garibaldi Meucci Museum. What was the theme of the exhibit? Will something else develop from this particular experience?
William John Castello: The year-long exhibit at the GMM is known as the Sons and Daughters of Italy which combines portraits with biographies written by Marianna Randazzo and regional clothing made by local seamstresses and organized by Mary Ann Prince. Originally the exhibit was organized to celebrate the 100thanniversary of Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America Foundation’s ownership of the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum.
We, the contributors, took the opportunity to bring awareness to the world-changing contributions made by those of Italian descent. We brought to light artists and film stars, scientists and philosophers, poets and astronauts, all coming from one of the twenty regions of Italy.
Currently Marianna Randazzo and myself are composing a book, which we hope will facilitate the children, grandchildren and the descendants of all Italians to gain a proud and rich identity. Too often Italy is associated with gangsters or movie stars, ancient artists or corrupt politicians. This problem gives credence to cruel stereotypes and misconceptions. We strive to expand the ranks of those associated with the country, bring awareness to its brilliant and hard-working people and bring understanding about the true Italy to the world.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Do you have any special projects in mind for the future? Any particular shows, maybe?
William John Castello: We wish to create a series of books specializing in the Italian contribution to specific professions and to create similar books dealing with other ethnic groups. I will continue to find new inspirations and projects and explore new topics to inspire new creations.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: Who is the artist that inspired you the most and why?
William John Castello: My mentor, Claude Ponsot was a student of Ferdinand Léger, a co-founder of Cubism and close friend of Pablo Picasso. Ponsot taught painting at St. John’s and selected me as one of his students to carry on the tradition. I chose not to.
My greatest inspiration, however, is Vincent Van Gogh. I see only pure brilliance in what many consider his insanity. His mind translated reality and emotion together to produce their most complex and beautiful expression. He spoke with color and texture. He gave emotion to each stroke. His troubled mind was the confluence of all of man’s experiences. His hand translated vast complexity into recognizable form.
Van Gogh’s work embodies the meaning of each of my portraits. They are depictions of the human emotions and experiences in blazing colors and imbued with deep meanings. Our images can be interpreted as actual people or objects and yet they are abstract depictions of the human experience.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: If you could meet and talk to any historical character, dead or alive today, who would he or she be? About what would you like to talk with him, or her?
William John Castello: I have always wanted to understand the mind of Da Vinci. His curiosity, observations, creations, and vision fascinate me. He never assumed to know what he had not proven to himself. He invented, wrote, sculpted and drew, in addition to his painting. His words found their way to the most powerful people of his time. His mind was the most precious driver of man’s artistic and technical evolution and I would love to know him.
Tiziano Thomas Dossena: How much did being of Italian descent influence you in the Arts and in your private life?
William John Castello: I was distant from my heritage as a child. My grandparents attempted to provide some instruction, but they had limited contact with me. My curiosity about my origin eventually led me to discover Italy and its pivotal role in history.
I grew up in a predominantly Irish German neighborhood in Brooklyn. I was subjected to derision for my heritage and kept it from the spotlight for much of my youth. I was upon meeting my future wife Maria and her family, that I began to understand my heritage and adapt it to my life. The rest is history.