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Franky in New York
   The Beautiful Life

Welcome back! Autumn has arrived, and so has the Italian Heritage Month. What a time for us Italians to reflect on our roots - and our future. This issue will explore the essence of being Italian (and Italian American) from different perspectives.

The memoir, thanks to what author Marco Rafalà has written for us. The art, with a sneak into Joanne Mattera's exhibition. The historical research, from the book by Professor Anthony J. Tamburri on Christopher Columbus. The community, spotlighting The Mentoris Project created by the Barbera Foundation. And the food too, tipping you about where to taste the Focaccia di Recco - a traditional dish from the same Columbus' hometown.

Happy Italian Heritage Month, being Italian is truly a blessing!
My Sicilian father and I were the only ones in our house who liked the bitter taste of dandelions. When I was young, we would forage for the greens in the suburban yards of Middletown, Connecticut. I was too little to realize other people didn’t eat weeds out of their neighbor’s yards. All I knew was that, at the end, we’d have a meal with the harvest, just the two of us.

Once, we drove to the outskirts of town in his blue flatbed truck that smelled of the manure he used to fertilize his garden—a smell that did not endear us to our neighbors. He pulled up in front of an enormous unmowed yard, the house nestled far back by the tree line. Hundreds of dandelions sprouted in the unkempt grass, jagged leaves and yellow heads bobbing.

“I saw this place earlier,” he said, getting out. After glancing around to be sure no one was watching, he took out his folding knife and started digging into the soil. He grew up in Sicily during and after the Second World War. The eldest of five surviving children, he’d worked long hours in a cannery since he was a boy. He also tended olive and almond trees with his father. Like most Sicilians, he foraged wild greens and prickly pears to stretch their meals.

When he immigrated to Connecticut at 29 years old, he spoke little English. With movie-star good looks, he married the fire-haired American girl next door. I wonder what my mother thought when my father first wandered out of the house with a paper bag and his youngest son in tow to gather dandelions—a nuisance to American lawns.

We had already filled half of a brown paper grocery bag when a man called out from the porch to ask what we were doing. My father waved the man away, pretending not to speak English. Then he put his arm around me and said in Sicilian, “Let’s go, Marco.”

Retreating to the cab of the truck, we waited while the man went back inside. He stood at the window and peered at us through parted curtains. Finally, the curtains fell closed. We gave it a few more minutes, and then we went back out into the yard and picked dandelions until the bag was full. That evening, we feasted. My father cooked the greens in water first, to remove some of the bitterness, then sautéed them with garlic and onions from his sprawling vegetable garden.

As a teenager, I stopped foraging dandelions with my father and, eventually, he stopped going too. I wanted to hide that part of myself away, to fit in with the other kids at school whose parents spoke perfect English and didn’t eat weeds from other people’s yards.

But years later, when I started writing my debut novel, How Fires End, all I could write about were those days with my father. The stories of people like him—Italian men and women who lost so much in war and still kept going, who came to a new country and still held onto the old ways by teaching these traditions to their children. Foraging dandelions, my father had been teaching me to survive the way he had survived.

Often, when we talk about the meaning of food, we talk about family and connection, about culture and tradition. Especially in Italian American families, food brings us together—harvesting it, making it, eating it. Food reminds us of who we are, where we came from, and the struggles past generations overcame to bring us here.

Marco Rafalà ( is a first-generation Sicilian American novelist and writer for tabletop role-playing games. He earned his MFA in Fiction from The New School and is a co-curator of the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series in New York City. Born in Middletown, Connecticut, he now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review and Literary Hub. His debut novel, How Fires End, was a 2020 Connecticut Book Awards finalist and honorable mention and won the 2021 Italian American Studies Association Book Award.

What does being Italian mean? And is there a single answer to the question? "Italianess" is a complex matter, and artist Joanne Mattera knows it very well. To explore the feelings, the memories, the dreams of generations of people who have crossed the ocean towards a brand new life, she has spent more than a year collecting the works of 54 artists - all different for gender, age, and sexuality but with a common Italian background.
Tired of the easy stereotypes too often used to describe the Italian Americans, Mattera has created Italianità (, a virtual exhibition in three sections ("
Immigration and Traditions from the Old Country", "Inside and Outside the Sphere of Ethnicity", and "Two Worlds"that not only puts on display the works of art, but tells dozens of different stories that talk of love and hope. "We are painters and sculptors as well as photographers, filmmakers, and animators", writes the artist in her introduction to the exhibit. "We are descendants, for the most part, of the Mezzogiorno, that beautiful land east and south of Napoli that is blessed by the sun yet was cruelly unable to sustain the hopes and dreams of so many people who tried to eke a life from it. Emigration was their way out".

Joanne Mattera ( is a painter who works on different surfaces. Her works have been displayed in Manhattan, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and all over the States. In 2019 she wrote her memoir, Vita: Growing Up Italian, Coming Out, and Making a Life in Art. She is also the founder and director emerita of the International Encaustic Conference, an event devoted to a contemporary medium with a historic past. She divides her time between Manhattan and Massachusetts.

A hero? A slaver? A visionary? Just a man of his times, or a trailblazer? No doubt Christopher Columbus has left us Italians a complex legacy to deal with: now the moment has come to dive into it and better understand what's his place in history - and therefore ours. Luckily, now we have a tool to start looking at Columbus with brand new eyes: the ones of history. The Columbus Affair: Imperatives for an Italian/American Agenda is the latest work by Anthony Julian Tamburri, Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute and Distinguished Professor of European Languages and Literatures.

The book is a condensed, very accurate - and absolutely readable - excursus of the facts and historical environment in which Columbus operated, rich in historical original sources. Professor Tamburri's main point of view is that Columbus is too complex a symbol to be simply loved or hated: we absolutely must consider his historical period and its dominant culture. "Only if we look at Columbus as a symbol - says the author - we can 'save' him. Did he make mistakes? Yes, especially if we look at his acts from a contemporary perspective. Did he make something extraordinary for humanity as a whole? Absolutely, as it's thanks to him that continents separated for thousands of years have gotten in touch." If we want to understand what Columbus means today to us of Italian heritage, we can't help but approach him with the scientific attitude of the historians: read the original documents, and consider all the aspects involved. "Columbus, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, can be positioned among those who were flawed individuals but remarkable historic characters."
Yet, beyond historical investigation there's something that ancestrally links Columbus to generations of Italian immigrants: "His urge to travel towards the unknown, his perseverance, his sense of exploration have certainly deepened those bonds."

Beyond academic titles, Anthony J. Tamburri is co-founder of Bordighera Press and past president of both the American Association of teachers of Italian and the Italian American Studies Association. The Columbus Affair can be ordered on
Italians really have left their mark on world history. Their genius, their visionary attitude, their endurance, their innate sense of beauty have shaped things and thoughts for centuries, and they still resonate. But can they also be a source of inspiration for the generations to come? This is what The Mentoris Project ( is about.

Founded by Robert Barbera, the project focuses on collecting novels and biographies about extraordinary men and women of Italian heritage who have impacted on their community - if not on the whole world. What the Barbera Foundation aims to is galvanizing the readers and inspiring them to somehow follow those glorious examples. Just like a mentor in flesh and bones, the books published by The Mentoris Project are meant to widen one's knowledge and to inspire a positive action. Starting from Building Wealth: from Shoeshine Boy to Real Estate Magnate, Robert Barbera's autobiography. "Wealth isn't about money" says the author. "Real wealth is the ability to live your life on your own terms."
And, just like a good mentor does, The Mentoris Project offers concrete help too: each year the foundation runs an essay contest reserved to the high school junior and senior students. A way to make them think about the importance of living a meaningful life, and to look for the many unsung heroes who each day make a difference in others' lives.
Wanna eat like Columbus? There's a place right for you in Downtown Manhattan. Welcome to Kesté Pizza & Vino on Fulton Street (, where besides true Neapolitan pizza one can taste the famed Focaccia di Recco: a kind of thin double-crust white pizza filled with stracchino cheese, traditionally baked in a copper pan. The recipe comes directly from the outskirts of Genoa: Roberto Caporuscio, the founder of Kesté and an awarded Pizza Master, is always looking for new things to add to his menu: "As I come from a region that lies between Rome and Naples, at first I knew nothing about Focaccia di Recco. But then customers asked me about that, so I decided to do some research". And he nailed it. Now Kesté Fulton offers the focaccia in two sizes (the traditional one is huge, as you can see in the picture...), and Roberto has shown such a skill that in 2019 he was named Taste Ambassador of the Focaccia di Recco. We bet Columbus himself would enjoy this Kesté's delicatessen. 
Cassandra's Corner - Our Tips for Your Italian Trip

Welcome back to the actual window on Italy curated by our "personal travel planner" Cassandra Santoro ( Since Cassandra is there, and she's going to stay until Christmas holidays, each month she sends us a video with a new tip.
Ready to "see" Italy through Cassandra's eyes and better understand it?

In this September episode, Cassandra gives us useful advice on how to fully enjoy the Italian experience. Should one try to learn as many Italian habits as possible? Or stick to their own culture? Or embrace any differences in between? Let the expert have her say. Tap here to watch Cassandra's video

Would you like to take a look at what a family farmers olive cultivation looks like? Then follow the NOIAW - National Organization of Italian American Women - all the way down to Sabina, the region of Lazio famous for its oil production. On October 7th, at 5pm ET, Julia Scarselli will introduce you to Libellula, her family olive grove. 
Julia will show you the grove's mission of preserving the ancient practice of olive cultivation by family farmers, walk you through an olive oil tasting, and provide you with the knowledge you need to make your next informed olive oil purchase. Registrations at
One smile before you go...
V for Valentino. V for vaccines. The famed Italian fashion maison has publicly committed to the global fight against Covid. "With a fast-moving pandemic, no one is safe, unless everyone is safe" is the message by Valentino Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli. The maison has created a limited edition (V) Vaccinated Hoodie to fund COVAX facility, that ensures equitable access to vaccines by supplying doses to countries in need. 
Copyright © 2021 Franky in New York, All rights reserved.

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