L’onomastico – Name Day in Italy- Featuring St. John the Baptist & Florence

June 24, 2022

By: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

If you were born in Italy and Catholic, you most likely always celebrate your l’onomastico, which is also the birthday of the saint you were named after. My birth name is Giovanna, and in my case it is the birthday of Saint John the Baptist, which is celebrated today, June 24th. All the Johns, Joannes, Joans, Giovannis and Giovannas, etc celebrate their name day today as well. St. John the Baptist is recognized throughout Italy as the patron saint of Florence, Turin, and other cities in Italy. There are festivals throughout Italy celebrating Saint John the Baptist in June. I particularly love the amazing parades and celebrations in Florence.

For me the feast day of St. John the Baptist is always a double celebration, because it is a wonderful family tradition to celebrate St. John and his impact on Italy, and the Catholic religion , but it is also my name day. In Italy your name day is just as important as your birthday, and sometimes even more. Warm wishes are sent to you, flowers, sweets, and a preparation of a special family meal. It is a fantastic way to celebrate who you are and your relationship to your saint.

St. John the Baptist is one of the most important saints in the Catholic religion, because of his inspiration from Jesus to baptize him. The fact that St. John was chosen to baptized Jesus is especially symbolic to his ministry and to the sacrament of rebirth. It is the first sacrament we receive as Catholics. The immersion into water is to cleanse and to bring new life into our body and souls. St. John walked along with Jesus in his life, and throughout many Gospel passages. He is an essential foundation of Christianity. I am humbled to be called after him. On his feast day, we pray to St. John to reaffirm our faith, and to relive the promises our parents and godparents made on our Baptism day.

As with all celebrations, we enjoy fabulous food, which includes a pasta dish made with snails. Snails are not easy to find, but there are special seafood stores that have them. Snails are a symbol of St. John and are often depicted in many Renaissance paintings. Our meal also includes the traditional antipasti and salumi of Tuscany, branzino, or other fresh fish and some excellent Tuscan wines. Like all special occasions, there is always a beautiful dessert. On this day, we usually prepare la Schiacciata alla Fiorentina. This is a simple olive oil cake flavored with orange zest and orange liquor. It is sometimes served plain but often filled with vanilla pastry cream. The top is dusted with powdered sugar with a cocoa chocolate lily, the flower of Florence.

I hope I have inspired you to celebrate your own l’onomastico. If it is today, Auguri, and best wishes! These are special days and help us to reflect what our names may mean to us, and what they may have meant to our parents.

About the Author: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

A Hidden Treasure of Italy – The Sistine Madonna

May 6, 2022

By Joanne Natale Spigonardo

The Sistine Madonna

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would write about one of the greatest mothers of all, Mary. Mary symbolizes the unconditional love of motherhood, and the gifts that motherhood brings. The Sistine Madonna depicts the purity of devotion that Mary has for her Son. The painting was one of the great works of Raphael, and was commissioned by Pope Julius II for the church of San Sisto in Piacenza, Italy. The painting was completed in 1513 and the Rovere family of Piacenza was one of its benefactors. It is considered one of the most extraordinary masterpieces of Renaissance Italy. Its truly a hidden treasure of Italy, however it now resides in Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany.

The meaning of la Madonna di San Sisto is interpreted in many ways, however one interpretation is that Mary is at the center of reality on earth and as a Mother she will eventually lead her Son to Heaven. She is having a vision of the future. Her worried expression could be a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Christ, and the pain, as well as the glory that her Son will experience. Like all Mother’s she holds her child close to her heart, and wants to protect Him from his destiny, and like all Mother’s she knows that children need to follow their chosen path.

One of the most famous images in the Sistine Madonna is the beautiful angels, that Raphael called his putti. Raphael is greatly known for his cherubs. He was inspired by the innocence of children and their general curiosity and wonder of the beauty around them. Some historic facts about his angels are that they were the village children that were watching Raphael paint and he was touched by their attention to his art.

Raphael’s Cherub in The Sistine Madonna

There are countless masterpieces of the Madonna in Italy and throughout the world. One can only assume that the love of Mary and of mothers is one of life’s greatest gifts. Hope that all the mothers in the universe, and those that are like mothers to us, have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

About the Author

Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

Flea Markets in Italy

By Karen Titus

April 26, 2022

If you love to walk through flea markets and find a perfect treasure,  would highly suggest to make time to do this while visiting  Italy! There are numerous markets to choose from in the country, many famous markets are in Rome, Venice and Arezzo.

In Arezzo, the Fiera Antiquaria flea market is held every first Sunday of the month and the Saturday prior.  At this market, or mercari,  are a variety of eclectic items, furnishings and treasures of history.  The findings are truly unlimited, it simply depends on what your definition of treasure may be.  Th Fiera Antiquaria has an “object of the month” and they share the story on their official social media channels. For example, during Easter, focus was on collections of Easter eggs made of porcelains, ceramics and other precious metals and stone.  Some past and future markets include fine linens and fabrics.

Throughout Italy, many markets are traditionally held weekly on the street. The smaller markets within the neighborhoods or community can really tell a story of the residents and region.  The items can be fairly inexpensive to high end.  Depending on the area, the market may have focus on presenting and selling locally grown foods, produce and meats or maybe homemade wines, and fragrant flowers.  How much fun to peruse through vintage items and find the absolutely perfect gift, or t-shirt, jacket or fun jewelry, or maybe an old map, photos or someone’s favorite record collection. 

The best time of year for flea markets in Italy would be from April to September, if you are planning your trip during this time, why not take an hour or two to wander through and maybe find that treasure to bring home and recycle.  

Shopping and being sustainable at the same time, Diverti!

About the Author:

Karen Titus is a retired Delta Air Lines employee.  While not really retired, she is working on her next chapter keeping true to her passion of travel and exploration. She has a new granddaughter and plans on sharing her excitement with Violet and bringing her along on many trips abroad. 

For more information about Karen, please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karen-titus-22b4a1b

St. Joseph’s Day – A Hidden Treasure

March 19, 2022

Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

If you are originally from Italy, or an Italian American, you’ve certainly celebrated St. Joseph’s Day! It is the traditional Father’s Day in Italy, where everyone honors their own fathers as well as St. Joseph the father to us all. On March 19, everyone who is Italian, or would like to be, celebrates in some special way or maintains long-standing family traditions.

In Italy, St. Joseph’s Day is celebrated with a huge family dinner, to include extended families, especially Godfathers and special Uncles that are important in one’s life. Like all wonderful celebrations, St. Joseph’s Day includes wonderful food. The festivities usually include grilled meats, like spring lamb and goat. The antipasto consists of beautiful fresh mellanzane (egg plant) and verdure (green vegetables), with a compliment of delectable cheeses like gorgonzola and peccorino. In addition, special pastas like paglia e fieno (wheat and hay) are part of the menu. Fava beans are also eaten on St. Joseph’s day.

St. Joseph’s Day is highly celebrated in Sicily as well, where St. Joseph is the patron saint. The St. Joseph novena is said 9 days before the feast day to bring on a fertile spring, and to ward off droughts and bad weather. There are many parades and festivals in the small villages surrounding Palermo and Agrigento.

On St. Joseph’s day in America, Italian neighbors and their pastry shops begin making the beloved Zeppole di San Giuseppe, or St. Joseph Day cakes weeks prior to the feast day. They are usually plain, or filled with vanilla or chocolate cream, but the most delicious for most people are the ones filled with ricotta and chocolate chips. Our family tradition included making all of these special treats and always embracing this special day. Saint Joseph’s day was always a day we could break Lent, and because it is just a few days before spring, it is a true respite of festivity after a long winter. Hope you will celebrate it this year!

About the Author:

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

Valentine’s Day in Italy, Featuring Terni – A Hidden Treasure

By:  Joanne Natale Spigonardo

February 14, 2022

The origins of Valentine’s Day come from the beautiful city of Terni.  Terni is located in the northern part of Umbria, in the region of Perugia.  Like the rest of Italy, it has a wealth of history and antiquity.  It is the birthplace of Saint Valentine.  He was born in 226 AD and was martyred in Rome in 269 AD.  He is buried in the Basilica di San Valentino, in Terni.

San Valentino, Patron Saint of Love

Saint Valentine was a bishop who performed clandestine marriages for Christians who were being persecuted.  He also helped Christians escape from prison. He is known as the saint of love for this reason, and his love of love led to his own death.  Many couples go to Terni to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but it is also a day that many Italians get engaged and has become a tradition for couples globally. 

Homage to St. Valentine

In Italy, Valentine’s Day is for lovers, you send a Valentine to your boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, and spouse.  It is not a tradition to send general Valentine’s to everyone.  Normally, an Italian Valentine’s Day will include a romantic dinner, wine, chocolates, and beautiful flowers, and usually roses. Roses were identified with the Greek and Roman Goddess of love, Aphrodite.  The red rose is the symbol of love for that reason. Other origins of Valentine’s Day also date back to the fertility festival in Roman times, called Lupercalia.

The Ciocolattino Festival on Valentine’s Day in Terni

The Feast of Saint Valentine’s Day was first celebrated in the 5th Century on February 14 and has remained as the date to celebrate Saint Valentine and love. In Terni, Valentine’s Day is celebrated with beautiful parades and festivals.  Many flock to see the remains of Saint Valentine, in the Basilica di San Valentino, and hope for a special blessing from him to have their love last. Terni, also has a Marathon race on Valentine’s Day where runners wear love laden regalia with hearts and flowers and dedicate the race to their lover.  Terni has beautiful street fairs with cicollattini bancarelle – which means – chocolate vendor stalls that sell magnificent chocolates that are in all shapes and many of them are life sized symbols of love. Hope you will put Terni on your bucket list for a special Valentine’s Day in the future.

Terni, Marathon of Love

About the Author:

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

New Year’s Eve in Italy

Piazza Venezia – Rome Italy

By: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

December 31, 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, and we find that some of our travels have been curtailed in the last two years, it is wonderful to remember our past travels.  One of mine is travelling to Rome for a long weekend that included New Year’s Eve. 

The city was ablaze with lights as it always is during the Holidays, but it was even extra festive for New Year’s Eve.  We started the day with a noon Mass at the Vatican said by Pope John Paul.  It was an amazing experience to end and to start out the New Year with such significant spiritual guidance. We walked along the Tiber to Trastevere and Piazza Navona and visited with the Befana, who was getting ready for January 6th.  We stopped at the many outdoor stalls and purchased the seven dried fruits and nuts that are eaten for good luck on New Year’s Eve.  These consisted of almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts, dates, raisins and dried figs. We purchased fresh pomegranates because its many seeds, according to legend, bring  fertility and wealth, and have done so since ancient Roman times.

We ate a cenone – at L’ambasciata d’Abruzzo – which was a famous restaurant in Rome for many decades.  Cenone means a big feast, and a big feast we had!  We had a multitude of antipasti, prosciutto, mozzarella di buffola, soppressate, the traditional lentil soup with cotechino, bacala, bucatini with sardines, stuffed artichokes, and many other delicacies.  All of these foods are eaten for good luck and prosperity as well.  The desserts were numerous, panettone, zeppole, biscotti, grapes, and a magnificent torta con crema.

The evening ending with bottles of spumante and prosecco on the Spanish Steps with fireworks overlooking Piazza Venezia and along the Tiber.  It is a memory that sustains me till this day when we are still battling COVID and many social issues globally. 

Other cities in Italy also have amazing celebrations for New Year’s Eve.  Most of them include fireworks along the spectacular iconic and historical landmarks in each city.  Their culinary delights include lentils always, as well as the dried fruits and nuts.  Each city has many traditional and unique dishes, for example the large and life-like marzipan candy fruits in Sicily and the insalata di rinforzo in Naples, a power salad with cauliflower, green olives, pickles and anchovies.  The salad promises to bring good health to you and your family in the New Year.

New Year’s Eve in Naples
New Year’s Eve in Palermo
New Year’s Eve in Piza

In homage to my heritage, I’m making lentil soup today.  It is my hope that you and your families have a healthy, prosperous and joyous 2022.  My fondest wish is that you visit Italy in 2022 and find a hidden treasure there.  Happy New Year!

Joanne Spigonardo

About the Author:

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

Cinisi Sicily

By Karen Titus

November 14, 2021

Cinisi, Sicily a place I don’t think I have ever heard of until having a conversation with my second cousin on our family history.  As we discussed our roots and learned more of about my grandfather growing up in Sicily, he shared with me his father was from Cinisi.  So as I looked into this coastal town, well I found what sounds like a hidden treasure.

Cinisi has a population of approximately 12,500 and it lies along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.  The area brings tourists for a variety of reasons from the long history,  starting with the churches that date back to 1600 & 1700’s, the lush terrain that grows olive trees, fruits and nuts, and the beautiful beaches.   The weather is moderate with short winters and summer days that are warm but cool in the evening.

So this has peaked my curiosity and would like to visit the Benedictine Monastery.  This monastery dates back to the  that dates to the 1800 century and from there on to the Church of Santa Fara, which is dedicated to the patron saint of the town. 

Of course, my idea of a vacation includes a stay at the beack, so will plan to relax on Magaggiari Beach.  As it seas on the sea, the beaches are very rocky and they say the contract of color between the rock and the water is magnificent.

If I time my trip right,  I can also enjoy the food festivals.  In May, the town gathers to present the local products of fruits, nus and goods from the olive trees.  I can imagine the scents and tastes as you walk along.  You would have the warm sun on your skin, the blue sky for your eyes, the taste of the harvest and the smell of local dishes.  I also imagine hearing the conversations that I may not understand, but falling in love with the passion.

With the long history of the town, they do have several famous people, Giovanni Meli, 1740 – 1815 was a doctor and poet.  This could be my next blog as I dive into his poetry.

To get to Cinisi is fairly simple as it is in close proximity of Falcone – Borsellino Airport (Palermo) and as connection from Europe.  Now that borders are opening, hoping this trip to a little hidden treasure is on the horizon for 2022.

About the Author:

For more information about Karen, please visit: 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/karen-titus-22b4a1b

Caruso Redivivus

November 2, 2021

By Neil D. Garguilo

     Christmas, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1965.  The voice came up through the stairway into my tiny room as I lay in bed as a youth of 12 years old.  The voice had strength unheard of to my naïve ears.  The high notes were exceptional and hard to believe.  There was such “timbre” to his voice.  The songs were so wonderful.  The album so unique.  The most wonderful carols ever like Silent Night, The First Noel, Joy to the World and a very unusual song called Guardian Angels sung with such vocal beauty.  This last song is so moving and haunting.  To this day, I just love it!  Who was this singer?  This unique voice?  This unbelievable voice belonged to Mario Lanza.

     My father loved all the great Italian singers of that era and had many of their LPs.  Such talented singers included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jimmy Roselli, and Perry Como.  He also played the great operatic star Enrico Caruso from a prior time period.  But Mario stood out.  He stuck in my mind.  To this day I hear his voice and beautiful songs over and over again.  There is something about the “greatest” that I am drawn to whether in sports, film or singing.  And in my opinion he had the greatest voice of all time.  He was “The Voice…”

     Mario Lanza was born in Philadelphia, PA on January 31, 1921 to Italian immigrants.  That same year his idol, Enrico Caruso, died.  Mario Lanza was not his real name but a feminized version of his mother’s name, Maria Lanza.  His real name was Alfredo (Freddie) Arnold Cocozza.  It is good they changed his last name since Cocozza in Italian means “pumpkin.”

     His mercurial rise to stardom was marked by such high notes and, sadly, a swift demise.  He, too, was drawn to the family’s Victrola early in his youth.   His favorite singer was the great Caruso himself.  In his teens he was well versed in operatic arias and plots.  His mother who was quit a singer herself noticed her son’s voice and started him on voice lessons with a well know local teacher named Irene Williams.  Then, fate shined on him.  The famous conductor Serge Koussevitzky was in Philadelphia when he hears Freddy (Mario) sing.  He was dumbstruck at the wonderful voice emanating from this young man.

     In 1942, the maestro made immediate plans for Mario to sing at Tanglewood, the famous music venue in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.  He sang the role of Fenton in Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Alas, a world war was raging and Mario was soon drafted.  While in the army he sang and appeared in two Army productions, Frank Loesser’s On the Beam and the acclaimed Moss Hart’s Winged Victory.  At the end of the war he met the love of his life, Betty Hicks and married.  This marriage produced 4 beautiful children: Colleen, Ellisa, Damon, and Marc.

     Following the war, more training took place with Enrico Rosati, a very famous vocal teacher.  This study must have paid off since he signed a contract with Columbia Artists and toured as the tenor in the Bel Canto Trio with soprano Frances Yeend and the baritone George London.  Again, fate turned its illusive eyes towards him.  While singing at the Hollywood Bowl with Frances he was noticed by the great movie producer Louis B. Mayer of MGM.

     His life from this point on was forever altered.

     The star was rising very fast and so was the stress.  In addition to his MGM contract, he signed a recording contract with RCA Victor.  Then, on April 8, 1948 and April 10, 1948 he performed in the tenor role of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for the New Orleans Opera Association.  Faster and faster his career shot up.  His first motion picture was released in 1949 called That Midnight Kiss.  It was a smash hit making Mario Lanza a screen star overnight.

     But the stress started to build and its outlet was in the form of heavy drinking, excessive eating and extreme dieting.  These last two issues plagued him since he would shoot up in weight during filming.  He was only 5’ 7” and would start out at 170 pounds and then rapidly climb up to 260 pounds.   It was noticeable on film causing editors issues on how to fix.  They did the best they could.  This rapid weight gain also led him to strange dieting.  For instance, he flew to Italy and entered Rome’s Valle Giulia clinic for the purpose of losing weight for an upcoming film.  While in the clinic, he underwent a controversial weight loss program called “the twilight sleep treatment” which required its patients to be kept immobile and sedated for prolonged periods.  His excesses caused him to have heart problems.

     His star was on the ascent.  In 1950 the Toast of New Orleans was released.  Then, in 1951, Mario fulfilled a dream come true by playing his idol Enrico Caruso in the film The Great Caruso.  This was a major success in every way and brought Mario’s star to its apex.  This film was the most profitable one for MGM in 1951 and set a record gross at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, grossing $1,390,943 in ten weeks.  In addition, the film’s soundtrack issued by RCA Victor became the first operatic LP to sell one million copies.  All of this great success was followed in 1952 with Because You’re Mine—popular at the box office but not a critical success.

     Many stars feel that everything should revolve around them.  No different with Mario.  At one of his greatest moments—working for MGM—he had artistic deputes and was replaced as the star of The Student Prince in RCA. You really have to follow what the studio says or wants.  However, his voice was used on the soundtrack for the movie and RCA Victor released the LP which became the first million-seller soundtrack album. 

     From this point, Mario left MGM, made several recordings and appeared in radio and television shows until 1956 when he stared in Warner Brother’s movie Serenade.  In May 1957, Mario and his family left for Italy.  While in Europe, he performed for the Queen of England in several sell-out recitals, and made his final two films, The Seven Hills of Rome in 1957 and For the First Time in 1959.

     The end came swiftly and, for me, it is hard to believe such a man, a star dying so young.  In October 1959, he developed a severe case of advanced phlebitis.  Then, he suffered a fatal heart attack on October 7 and could not be revived.  His family and the world were shocked and brokenhearted.  To make matters worse, a scant 5 months later, on March 11, 1960, his beloved wife Betty died and joined him in eternal bliss.  Mario could be at rest with his love and have no further pressures to perform and to be a star.  He was 38 years old.

      A man with such a voice had enormous pressure and responsibility to perform at “his peak” each and every time.  A story of his idol is recounted that while he was backstage prior to opening, Caruso appeared nervous.  Someone asked him: “Why are you nervous–you are the great Caruso.”  He apparently answered and I paraphrase: “I do not have to be 100% but 150% each time I go out to perform.”  Unique personalities, unheard of talent, unbridled magnetism, and enormous success only can add to the need to perform at the “peak” all the time and, hence, tremendous pressure.  I do not envy them…

     Lanza was the first RCA Victor Red Seal artist to win a gold disc and the first artist to sell two and a half million albums.  The Red Seal is a classical music label whose origin dates back to 1902 and represents “premium-priced records made by top-tier artists.  In 1998, a Golden Palm Star on The Palm Springs, California, Walk of Fame was dedicated to him.  Further, he was awarded two Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: a Star for Recording at 1751 Vine Street, and a Star at 6821 Hollywood Boulevard for Motion Pictures.  Mario’s short career spanned popular music, opera, radio, TV and motion pictures.  It is unbelievable.  His legacy lives on in the influence he has played in the 3 Tenors lives: Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and countless others throughout the last 62 years since his death.   His recordings and films are available on CD and video and are still earning money to this day.   

     I have come full circle with my idol.  I fulfilled a bucket list item when my wife and I along with friends, Joanne and Frank, visited his museum in Philadelphia on October 2, 2021.  The museum is located at 1214 Reed Street.  It was a wonderful day to be with all his memorabilia and to hear a great presentation by the curator and president, Bill Ronayne.  Then, our friends introduced us to The Victor’s Café where we enjoyed wonderful food served by employees singing opera.  What a day to remember Mario with!!     

     Mario put his whole heart and soul into his singing.  He himself stated:  “I sing each word as though it were my last on earth.”  So true that his idol’s son, Enrico Caruso, Jr. said of him: “Mario Lanza was born with one of the dozen or so great tenor voices of the century, with a natural voice placement, an unmistakable and very pleasing timbre, and a nearly infallible musical instinct.  His diction was flawless, matched only by the superb Giuseppe Di Stefano.  His delivery was impassioned, his phrasing manly and his tempi instinctively right.  All are qualities that few singers are born with and others can never attain.”  He was “The Voice!”  Mario Lanza was “Caruso Reborn,” in the opinion of many music aficionados.

     Dad, thank you for playing Mario Lanza’s songs as I was growing up.  It connects us even though you are not with me.  Long live Mario Lanza and my Dad who introduced me to him.

Facts and data credited to The Mario Lanza Museum and Wikipedia.

About the Author:

Neil D. Garguilo is a retired business manager and leader.  He is retired but currently writes for the Italian Sons and Daughter of America newspaper, La Nostra Voce.  He also authors a blog to be found at     Neil G. – Medium, Crusaders for America.

One of Italy’s Former Treasures – Alitalia

October 23, 2021

By Joanne Natale Spigonardo

It’s hard to believe that Alitalia recently took its last flight. Alitalia had been in operation since 1947. It was a premier carrier and Italy’s world airline, with Rome Fiumicino as its main hub. Traveling on Alitalia in its hey days was luxurious even in economy class. Alitalia had excellent food on board, and white glove service. It’s sad that Alitalia has been in decline for decades, but for me it still remains very special, and one of Italy’s former treasures.

I have a personal history with Alitalia, as I traveled for the first time on an Alitalia airplane when I came to America as a five year old. I said to my Dad, I’m going to work at Alitalia one day, and I did. I worked there for 17 years and started in my 20’s. It was glamorous for me, as I always dreamed of traveling, and doing it when I was young made it even more exciting. Alitalia believed in quality, and not quantity, like many Italians believe in. It was all about the made in Italy brand, of the finer things in life. This was not the best business plan for the ever expanding travel and price challenges.

Working there was a dream come true. It was great to decide on Thursday to take the late flight out of JFK to Rome and spend a glorious weekend among the fabulous food and cypress trees. Flying standby was an adventure because you could never be sure if you would get on the flight, so those last minute whirlwind trips were for the young and free. I’m so happy I got to do it. It was truly la dolce vita!

My everyday work was stressful, as I worked with a lot of VIPs, but I got to meet many famous people like local newscasters, journalists, movie stars, and musicians. One of my most memorable encounters was with Luciano Pavarotti when he ran the Pavarotti International Voice Competition in Philadelphia. He and his entourage traveled each year on Alitalia. While I didn’t meet Pope Benedict in person, he did travel on Alitalia. Note his photo with President Bush and Laura Bush below. Like many of us, traveling on Alitalia was truly divine.

Pope Benedict with President and Laura Bush

Working at Alitalia was all about style. Can you imagine getting a full wardrobe designed by Giorgio Armani? My uniform consisted of blazers, skirts, blouses, scarves, rain-coat, and camel hair coat. It was fantastic to stay at a first class hotel while being fitted by a personal Alitalia tailor in New York. I still have the many beautiful silk scarves by Versace, Ferragamo, Valentino and others, that I purchased at a discount, in the eclectic onboard boutique. It was truly a fabulous experience.

In 1999 Alitalia closed most of its 52 offices in North America, and many worldwide. The Philadelphia Office was impacted and I was without a job. As we were leaving the office for the last time, the phone was ringing, I couldn’t help but to answer the phone and help the passenger. Alitalia was all about customer service, style, and class, something that is disappearing from travel today. Working there will always remain as one of the accomplishments that I am most proud of.

Alitalia’s VIP Lounge

About the Author: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, history wine and cuisine. She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. For more information about Joanne please visit her Linkedin page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/

A Hidden Treasure of Italy – Artist Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi – Self Portrait

By Joanne Natale Spigonardo

September 17, 2021

We all know the many great Italian masters of art.  There are too numerous male painters to mention. However, the ones that automatically come to my mind are Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Caravaggio. 

Artemisia Gentileschi is one of the most famous women in the history of art.  She was born in Rome in 1593 and worked along side of her father, Orazio Gentileschi, also a painter and student of Caravaggio. Her father was her mentor, and even though, her mother died when she was only 12, Artemisia had a gentle and strong role model in her father. Artemisia also studied the Baroque style of Caravaggio. Her style is known for its natural form and color. Her works come to life in a surreal and energetic burst of light.

Artemisia was raped by artist Agostino Tassi, who refused to marry her, but she was avenged in court where he was accused of the crime.  Her life was one of repression, rage, and unfairness.  Artemisia had a good father who encouraged her to study in Florence and she was soon married to a Florentine who supported her talent. Artemisia was the first woman to enroll in Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (the Academy of Arts and Drawing). She painted her first portrait entitled The spirit of Cesar in the Soul of a Woman at age 17.  Her work often depicts myths where women are warriors facing battle.  One of which is, Judith Slaying Holofernes. Her painting suggests the plight of women then and now. Her voice is telling us to fight suppression and use talent and intelligence as a weapon.  Artemisia was also celebrated artist in the court of the de Medici family, that aided her popularity and success.

The spirit of Cesar in the Soul of a Woman
Judith Slaying Holofernes

Artemisia paved the path for the many wonderful famous women artists in history.  She died in Rome in 1652.  She is a true treasure of Italy. Her story and talent gave inspiration to  many women artists, for example, Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Elisabeth Louise Vigee le Brun (1755-1842),  Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), and many others that are too numerous to mention.  

About the Author: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.