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“Safeguarding Italian language and culture”

The fighting battle of vice-president of Canadian Society for Italian Studies

By Elena Serra

There’s a organization in Canada whose aim is to promote the exchange of ideas and opinions with respect to the various aspects of Italian language and literature, from pedagogy to community to culture. We’re referring to the Società Canadese per gli Studi d’Italianistica (Canadian Society for Italian Studies), which brings together professionals and professors in the world of Italian studies and education by promoting dialogue and debate within the pages of the biannual Quaderni d’italianistica – the society’s official journal.
Corriere Canadese/Tandem interviewed Dr. Paola Basile, vice-president of the Società Canadese per gli Studi d’italianistica Scsi, which has been present in the U.S. for five years, or more precisely, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Originally from Rome and raised in Montreal, Basile, whose vice presidency comes to an end this year – tells us of her experience.

How many members does the Canadian Society for Italian Studies have?
“We have about 400 associates with about 250 who are registered and actively participating. We’re doing very well – if we look at our progress since the ’70s to today, the society has grown significantly, and we’re counting on increasing our registrations thanks to these conferences we’re holding in Italy that draw hundreds of people.”

Who are your associates?

“Almost all are professors of Italian studies, mostly in Canada and the U.S., and also in Europe. As well as from Italy, we have registrants from eastern Europe, England, Belgium, and also some from Australia and New Zealand, who have participated in our Trieste meeting. Therefore, we’re truly open to the world, and at the next conference in Venice, we also hope to have participants from Asia. Our associates also include students, who must be PhDs not Masters, however.”

What happens when someone registers?

“We check who you are and what you do, approving those who are actively involved in the Italian studies field. Being a member means being able to contribute to our publication Quaderni d’italianistica – obviously after an approval process that certifies academic qualifications for doctorate students. The focus, naturally, is on Canada and the U.S., but of course we won’t neglect Italy and Europe.”

What is your objective?
“The safeguarding of the Italian language and culture in the world, naturally, but also of the Italian-Canadian one, which is why we have various sessions dedicated to Italian-Canadian literature, culture, and film.”

Are those who take part in the directive Italians who are newly arrived to North America, or Italian-Canadians born and raised here?

“Robro Perin, the president, was raised here, and if I’m not mistaken, so is former president Olga Pugliese, while myself and others are from Italy. I’d say we’re a bit of a mix.”

So you’re also an example that, even being born and raised in another country, the Italian language can be maintained.
“I’d say so, even if, for example, participation in our events is also available in English and French. However, I work to avoid English-language domination, so I present my conferences in Italian, even though there’d be more participation if it were done in English. However, I want to keep the Italian language alive – that is my heartfelt cause, and I’ll continue along that path here in the U.S. as well, but I do see that many cede to English due to a question of increasing profits.”

Do you differences see between the Italian communities in Canada and those in the U.S.?
“Yes, many. Here, I’m also involved in the Italian-American society, the Little Italy of Cleveland, and it appears to me that everything that was Italian has been lost. If I compare this reality to that of Montreal or Toronto, I see that in Canada they still speak Italian or dialect and there are still tanglibles from Italy. Instead, the language here is gone, and all that’s left of the culture is the food, which isn’t even authentic but is Italian-American. I’d also like to promote the Italy of today, the real one, because we cannot be left behind the times and fall into stereotypes. Both in Canada and the U.S., there are small pseudo- somewhat idealized Italies insistent on family and Catholicism. But the reality in today’s Italy is quite different.”

Do you think ultimately we’ll be able to maintain the Italian language and culture in the world?
“I think so. I’m fighting with all my might because our language and culture is beautiful. I teach it with love and I make them see an Italy that is different from what they learn through film and TV. I hope the other professors do the same, and that they overcome these conventions. The important family concept exists in Italy as it does in other countries – and I think everyone all over the world loves to eat. Italy is much more than all that.”

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Lone Italian at Rogers Cup goes home empty-handed

Fabio Fognini on leaving Italy for career, difference between women’s and men’s tennis

By Elena Serra

He’s the only Azzuro in this 2010 edition of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Fabio Fognini, 23, from Sanremo, turned pro in 2002 and is currently ranked 92 on the ATP list.
Fognini began play in this tournament at Rexall Centre on the opening weekend, playing in the qualifying round and getting to the main draw by ousting 23-year-old Erik Chvojka 6-2 and 6-4, and the American Michael Yani with a 6-4 and 6-3 scoreline.
On Tuesday in a first-round match-up, the Liguria player won against Czech Radek Stepanek, ranked 29th in the world. But on Wednesday Fognini fell to Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko (ranked sixth in the world) who topped the Italian player with a score of 7-5, 6-1, effectively shutting Fognini out of the tournament.
Corriere Canadese/Tandem met with Fabio Fognini, and asked his reasons for the clear difference in performance between Italian men’s and women’s tennis.

Have you been to Canada before?
“Yes, I was in Montreal in 2007. There too I started with qualifying games then lost in the third round to Roger Federer. So far, I’ve done well in Canada. Let’s see what happens here in Toronto.”

Let’s talk a bit about the Italian tennis situation. There are two players in the top-10 for women, while it appears the men are having a harder time. What do you think is the reason for that?
“The reason is that women’s tennis and men’s tennis are two different sports. Obviously, we’re glad because we’re all Italian and we support athletes from our country, in whatever discipline. We have our difficulties, and the women probably theirs, but it’s definitely a different (brand of) tennis, and everyone makes their own way.”

What’s the mood in the Azzurri dressing room?
“We all get along. We’re very good friends.”

Are there federation-level issues that influence this difference in performance between the men and women?
“No, there’s no problem. We’ll be competing in September in the game against Sweden (Editor’s note: Davis Cup) and the women will again play for a chance to win the world championship (Editor’s note: Fed Cup).”

Where do you train?
“In Barcellona.”

So you’re another one who has decided to leave Italy.
“Yes. Even Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta left to go abroad. I made my decision three and a half years ago with my athletic trainer who came with me. For now, things are going reasonably well so I see no reason to change.”

So you wouldn’t return to Italy?
“Obviously being home is a pleasure, but I have to see what’s best for my career. I don’t know where I’ll be in a couple of years but I want to work every day to build my future.”

Make a wild prediction: Who will be the first Italian to win a Grand Slam tournament?
“I wouldn’t know,” he says laughing. “I’d like to mention my name, but there’s definitely much more work to do. I’ll remain humble, but obviously I won’t hide that I’m working every day to achieve this great dream. The road is still long.”

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Making a racket at Rogers Cup 2010

Fans can enjoy Federer-Nadal showdown, Free Family Weekend

By Elena Serra

The wait is over for all impassioned tennis fans – they will also be able to enjoy another chapter in the endless Federer-Nadal saga. The Rogers Cup that will take place Aug. 7 to 15 at York University’s Rexall Centre will in fact bring to the GTA players from the ATP top-35 list, surpassing the record set in 2009 with the appearance of the complete list of top-25 women.

We’ll see former number ones Roddick and Hewitt, the Serb Novak Djokovic who is currently ranked among the top players in the world, Spain’s Rafael Nadal, the Swiss Roger Federer – who placed third after his unfortunate Wimbledon performance – and the English Andy Murray who won last year in Montreal.
Also appearing will be Sweden’s Soderling, the Russian Nikolay, and Argentines Juan Martin Del Porto, Tomas Berdych, and Fernando Verbasco.

Faint hopes for those wearing Italy’s azzurri: Andres Seppi, Filippo Volandri, and Simone Bolelli, all ranked 55th and lower, will have to get through the qualification rounds to make the main round.
After the draw, there will be 56 contenders who will vie for the $450,000 that will go to the winner of Canada’s most important tennis tournament with a total purse of $3 million.
Twenty nations will be represented at this edition of the Rogers Cup, led by Spain with nine representatives, followed by France with five, the U.S. with four, and Argentina and Croatia with three.

The Rogers Cup – which annually alternates the men’s and women’s tournament (this year from Aug. 13 to 22) between Toronto and Montreal, and that celebrates its 129 anniversary this year – is the third oldest tennis tournament in the world, behind only Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. This is why it represents one of the not-to-be-missed events outside the Grand Slam, allowing the public to enjoy a very high-quality tournament featuring the top players.

The opening weekend (Saturday Aug. 7 and Sunday Aug. 8) will also feature the Free Family Weekend beginning at 9:30 a.m. with interactive games, field activities, entertainment, and chances to win prizes. This perfect family weekend is just the beginning of a rich, excitement-filled week that will feature the top tennis players in the world facing each other.

And not having a hometown player to cheer on – Dancevic, Duclos, Polansky and Raonic granted main draw with wildcards – the Canadian public may be hoping for a final between Federer and Nadal on Toronto’s blue cement tennis surface – who have each twice hoisted
the Rogers Cup trophy.

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Residents at risk of losing homes

Italian couple fret over TTC Greenwood extension plan

By Elena Serra

“The Better Way.” If they lived by their own motto, Toronto Transit Commission authorities would avoid major problems. The organization has in fact all too often found itself at the centre of controversies in the past few months, and after an ‘emergency’ campaign in an attempt to gain back the faith of Torontonians, we’re back at square one. This time, however, it’s not about sexual indiscretion, or employees who catch a few winks on the box office chair, or thoughtless drivers who park a bus to grab a snack as dozens of riders impatiently wait. This time at the centre of the storm is the TTC expropriation to clear space for the construction of a second exit on the Bloor-Danforth line’s Greenwood subway station.

To better understand the situation, imagine an Italian newlywed couple – Grazia and Domenico Calia – who came to Canada after the war, and after years of sacrifice finally purchase a home on 247 Strathmore Blvd. It was 51 years ago, and there wasn’t even a subway line in the area – which arrived about seven years later. They lived in that house for over half a century –she was a homemaker and he worked for the TTC. They have five children and eight grandchildren. Then, last June 17, a letter changed everything. “When I read it, I though there was some mistake,” said Bruna Amabile – the couple’s daughter who lives at 243 Strathmore Blvd told Corriere Canadese/Tandem. “It wasn’t possible that they wanted to expropriate my parents’ home.”

Only at a meeting days later attended by over 200 community residents did the information begin to leak out: the TTC Second Exit Plan is a project that calls for second exits to be built at 14 subway stations for safety reasons, at a cost of $8 million per station. It is a project dated from 2002 that no Greenwood station area resident had heard about until last month – even the information listed on the TTC Internet site magically disappeared days ago – that calls for total expropriation of two properties as well as 10 others that will be partially expropriated or affected by the construction. One of the homes to be expropriated belongs to the Calias who are almost 80 years old, require daily nursing visits, and receive assistance from daughter Bruna Amabile who fortunately lives two doors away.

“No one is questioning TTC’s safety standards,” explains Amabile. “I use public transit myself and want safety as well, but we’re questioning the manner and lack of transparency with which the TTC is behaving. The Woodbine residents have known about the TTC expropriation for over a year, but we haven’t been contacted by anyone over the past eight years, neither personally nor as a community. No one came to explain what was going on and to consult with us.” The problem is that many families could soon find themselves in the same position – the TTC Second Exit Plan involved 14 stations and is still in the preliminary phase. “Anyone can wake up tomorrow and receive a letter saying the TTC is taking your home away,” said Bruna Amabile. “My parents have lived here for 51 years and they pay their taxes. The TTC wasn’t even there when they moved here. People don’t know, but these things can happen and you lose everything in an instant.” The amount of ‘compensation’ the couple would receive from the expropriation, based on market value, would not even allow them to purchase another house. “If they wanted to buy, they’d have to take on a mortgage at 80 years of age,” the daughter continues, “without taking into account the trauma of a move and the fact that I would no longer be two doors away to assist them.”

Monday evening at a second public meeting with TTC, the organization accepted a solution by residents proposing to locate the new subway exit at a house on Linsmore that has been abandoned for years. Notwithstanding this, the expropriation proposition is still on the table and remains the final solution in case further inspection discovers logistical problems. A decision is expected within a month. “They’re in a hurry because they want to finalize everything before August and get financing before the election,” explains Amabile. “I don’t want there to be any chance my parents lose the house. And if the TTC should encounter obstacles with the Linsmore project, it’s their duty to do research and come up with alternative options that don’t require the expropriation of citizens.” “I ask myself how many other solutions are there. This demonstrates to everyone that the TTC didn’t properly do their research on what the best solution was.” And while those in white-collar positions decide, the Calias still have a month of questioning and praying before they find out if, at almost 80 years of age, they’ll have to abandon their home, and lose something much more precious.

Publication Date: 2010-07-18
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Italian songstress in Toronto

Carmen Consoli plays the Small World Music Festival this Sunday

By Elena Serra

The voice is the same distinct one as always – one that some listeners would have wrinkled their noses at, suggesting that she get another job. But Carmen Consoli – who has nine albums under her belt, is the first Italian artist to appear at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico (Olympic stadium), has won numerous awards and toured all over the world – has always gone forward along her own path.
She knew from her very first performance in front of schoolmates that to be successful in life she had to do what she was born to do.
More poet than vocalist, Consoli inherited a love of music from her late father, to whom she dedicates the song “Mandaci una cartolina” – nominated for the Mogol 2010 award – from her latest album Elettra released last October, three years after Eva contro Eva.
Corriere Canadese/Tandem reached the Sicilian singer by phone. She will appear on June 20 at 8 p.m. at Mod Club Theatre as part of the Small World Music Festival.
Consoli answered questions ranging from her “musical retreat” to the Etna mountainside on a “beautiful day,” saying that, even in the mountains, “when we’re hot, we go for a swim, considering that it’s already summer.”
Consoli is a determined Mediterranean woman who writes to tell stories, and a woman who would like to have her own family some day.

You grew up in San Giovanni La Punta, near Catania. How important is your land of origin to you?
“Very much, because it involves education I received both from my parents and from the territory itself. Sicily is bountiful, sunny, the people are very generous, genteel, and creative, so it influenced me a great deal. Like all Sicilians, I’m always thinking about the sun. I’m very tied to traditions. I feel very Mediterranean, and my music reflects that both in the melody and in the manner it is played, with tarantella-like rhythms and triplets typical of the south and of movements that are slowed by the sunlight.”

So you would never leave Italy?
“No. Despite the fact that Italy is becoming a place where you can only live if you have money, I would never leave. Even more so, I would never leave Catania because I have a strong connecton to it.”

Has anyone ever told you that you would never be successful?
“Yes, everyone. When you do something that not everyone understands – they don’t want you to be disillusioned so maybe good-naturedly they try to discourage you, but this isn’t a positive thing and it ensures that you don’t commit to the maximum.”

Your lyrics are always very elaborate and meaningful. Do you like writing?
“I love writing very much. I collect stories, tales, and in fact my songs are almost always stories. I like singing about people.”

What is the process of creating a song: do you start with the lyrics or the music?
“It begins with the lyrics because I have to have something to say, otherwise I’m not motivated to write.”

Since 1996, the year your first album was released, your music has undergone many changes from Confusa e felice and Mediamente isterica up to L’eccezione and your tour L’anello mancante, and now with the new Elettra. What inspired these changes?
“I’m always seeking new forms of expression. I like playing African music, rock, and jazz, but in the end I have to always be myself. A bit like changing clothes or hairstyle, we grow and at times things change in us. But in all my records, there are acoustic ‘moments’ and electric ‘moments’.”

In one of your songs, you say that for each renounciation there is compensation. Do you feel you have had to renounce anything to attain success ?
“I’ve never lived my life as it being a downhill ride towards success – I find that [approach] very distant to my way of living. Certainly, if things go well and people like my music, it also means I’m far from home and from my beloved ones and at times I’d like to dedicate more time to my mother and my home, but everything in time. It would mean that this is the time to hammer the nail, as the expression in our parts goes, then there are moments in which…I could be a mother…in time.”

So would you like to have children?
“Very much. I think anyone would like that.”

How would you describe your new album Elettra?
“Each album is the fruit of my creative urges, and this one was a snapshot of a moment in my life, and represents a description of that moment.”

Your new album Elettra, features the song “Mio zio,” which addresses pedophilia. How important is it for you as an artist to express and act for causes that are important to you?
“If in some way you represent an example for someone, or have a following, it’s right that you declare your stance on certain issues. I wanted to say that children should be protected because it’s very important that these obscenities that occur in the streets, in homes, and in churches don’t remain hidden, but are denounced without fear. One must not be fearful, otherwise the victims will always be the most defenceless.”

What was the best moment of your career?
“Maybe the first time I performed, in my school’s auditorium, in front of 4,000 people. I was 14-years-old and as soon as they saw me with a guitar they began booing. I gave the guitar four whacks and shut them up. Later there was thunderous applause and from that point I knew this could be my future.”

And the best moment of your life?
“The best moment of my life is in the daily routine, because I’m healthy and young. I have my entire life before me, as well as many ideas and much enthusiasm. That’s the most precious thing I have, and that makes me happy.”

Aside from music, do you have other passions? What do you do in your free time?
“I like gardening very much. I like to produce other artists’ records, and I also like sports like tennis.”

You’ll be in Toronto for the second time on June 20. What can we expect from your show?
“I’m coming with my guitar and will peform a varied repertoire. There will also be a lot of improvisation because — since me and my band have been together for 20 years — a glance is enough sometimes and we start playing the odd traditional Sicilian piece.”
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