In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Verona allows visitors to experience Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet first hand. In order to enjoy sites associated with the play though, it is important for visitors to glaze over historical inaccuracies. First, Shakespeare never visited Italy. Second, his play was inspired by other contemporary works which can be traced back to Luigi Da Porto’s La Giulietta, which was published in Venice in 1531.

Da Porto alleged to have learned about the 14th-century star-crossed lovers (Giulietta of the Cappelletti family and Romeo of the rival Montecchi family) from a Veronese archer while serving in the army. Shakespeare retained Verona for the setting of his story while anglicizing the surnames to Capulet and Montague. After the 1936 Academy Award winning film version of the play, the Veronese government realized they could capitalize on the story and set the stage for what visitors can see today, which includes museums, churches, and plaques containing quotes from the play.

Casa di Giulietta

Casa di Giulietta Juliet's house verona


A look at The Bellagio Center at Villa Serbellino, a center operated by the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy on Lake Como. I had the honor of participating in a conference entitled Jane Jacobs Revisited led by Kate Ascher, author of The Works and The Heights, and Mary Rowe, Vice President of the Municipal Art Society of New York. The video, produced by Don Downey, recapping the conference is available here. Apart from the thought provoking conferences and residencies held at Bellagio, it can not be understated how beautiful the setting is.

As quoted in the book, Bellagio Center: The First 50 Years, Lowell Liebermann calls it “the single most beautiful place I have ever been to. But the beauty is only one part of its magic.” With a lofty view onto Lake Como, with the mountains rising peacefully out of the waters, The Bellagio Center’s winding paths take you from a small fishing village, to a historic grotto, up to the main villa and into the town.

The peaceful setting is conducive to the mission of the Bellagio Center, which aims “to promote innovation and identify impact-oriented solutions to critical global problems. The Center, through conferences and residency programs, supports the work of scholars, artists, thought leaders, policymakers, and practitioners who share in the Foundation’s pioneering mission to “promote the well-being of humanity.” The Center has a record of major impact, from meetings that led to the Green Revolution and the Global AIDS vaccine initiative, to residencies that furthered the work of Glenn Ligon. This legacy, the serene work environment on the shore of Lake Como in northern Italy, the diverse groups of people, and the promise of future achievements make Bellagio an inspiring and productive forum for fostering positive change.”

Read more about the Jane Jacobs Revisited Conference held at The Bellagio Center.

Video produced by Don Downey.

I had the honor of organizing and participating in the Jane Jacobs Revisited: A Bellagio Conference, which took place at The Bellagio Center at Villa Serbellino, a center for learning and discussion operated by the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy. Spearheaded by Kate Ascher, author of The Works and The Heights, and Mary Rowe, Vice President of the Municipal Art Society of New York, the conference gathered twenty participants across city-building disciplines to mark the 50th anniversary of Jane Jacobs’ seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. On the agenda was to discuss the city principles Jane Jacobs promulgated in her book and address their applicability in the global cities of today.

The participants of Jane Jacobs Revisited included Edward Glaeser (Harvard University), Bing Thom (Bing Thom Architects), Nabeel Hamdi (Oxford Brookes), Helle Søholt (Gehl Architects), Jonathan Rose, Nicky Gavron (former London Deputy Mayor), Vishaan Chakrabarti (Columbia University GSAPP and SHoP Architects), John van Nostrand (PlanningAlliance), Eric Klinenberg (NYU), Clare Weisz (WXY Architecture), Andrew Altman (London Legacy Development Corporation), Alicia Glen (Goldman Sachs), Carrie Lam (Hong Kong Government), Padraic Kelly (Happold Consulting), Barbra Hoidn (UT Austin) and Jyoti Hosragrahar (Columbia University).

Rockefeller Foundation Jane Jacobs Revisited Bellagio Conference-025

View from Villa Serbellino at The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center

The programming included 3 minute Pecha Kuccha presentations on examples today that represented Jacobs’ principles and over four days of group discussion in different configurations of participants. Mary Rowe, one of the organizers of the conference told us, “It’s a Jane Jacobs world now,” and that we need to remember Jacobs was more about process, less about ideology. Says Rowe, Jacobs “was an early identifier of complexity, a supporter of organic design and diversities of all kinds, and believed everything was relational–nothing has a single cause. She had an extreme resistance to big, universal, grand one size fits all efforts from the public or private sector and believed physical, economic and ethical processes needed to interact to create the process of the city. Today there is a growing sense of what sustainable, organic, livable cities should be but there is a need to discuss the obstacles to that occurring.”

The Bellagio Framework, as put forth by the participants of Jane Jacobs Revisited is as follows:

The purpose of the city is to provide sustainable environments that allow all people to live, work, and achieve their aspirations in an environment that supports self-determination and promotes that common good.

1. Build a city of choices, an urban archipelago that offers diversity and fosters innovation.

2. Make places that promote socioeconomic mixing, openness, and cultural exchange.

3. Actively integrate nature and the city in shared spaces that bring people joy.

4. Ensure environmental health and human security.

5. Encourage compact land use with diverse physical grain, matching density, infrastructure and local conditions.

The Rockefeller Foundation clearly states in its book on the history of Bellagio conferences that the interactions, discussions and serendipitous meetings that arise from sharing the spaces at Villa Serbellino are more valuable than the physical output for the conference. This could not have been more clear as bonds were forged and commitments were made to create something that could be shared and disseminated.

Thanks to filmmaker Don Downey and the perseverance of Mary Rowe and Kate Ascher to have this video from Jane Jacobs Revisited that can be shared. For additional photographs of the incredible Villa Serbelloni, click here.

Winter Stories #54, 2009 © Paolo Ventura. Courtesy of the artist and Hasted Kraeutler Gallery

A figure with a bunch of colorful balloons covering his face floats up over a gray cityscape. A lone man wearing a fedora and a black coat with a fur collar stands on a street corner in front of a cafe holding a sparrow. In an old studio with dirty skylights, the torso of an automaton is perched on a stool surrounded by books, clocks and mechanical tools. These are some of the scenes that Paolo Ventura invents, constructs, and then photographs. I’ve been lucky enough to see a preview of his exhibition opening on January 24 at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, and I can tell you that it’s worth seeing.  (more…)

On the evening of Fashion’s Night Out, I went to satisfy my culinary interests and my long-standing relationship with Europe at a “Legends from Europe” tasting.  Legends from Europe  is a three-year campaign financed the the European Union and Italy  celebrate the quality, tradition and taste of five world—renowned Protected Designation Origin (PDO) products. This particular tasting was led  by Lou Di Palo, the fourth generation proprietor of  Di Palo, a century-old New York institution in Little Italy, a shop Untapped previously covered in our Sunday in Chinatown column.  We imbibed, sampled and discussed in the test kitchen of Lewis & Neale in the Meatpacking District.

Over four courses of Italian cheese and prosciutto, paired with wines selected by Di Palo, we were given the history of these foods and what made them unique. Each product has deep ties to the land, made from centuries in a particular place, flavored by the climate, ecosystems and land on which the animals graze. All the products are natural, free of additives and preservatives, made using traditions passed down the generations, and ensured for quality by producers’ associations.

Beyond the food, the real highlight was Di Palo himself, who spoke rousingly of Little Italy, where the spirit of immigration, in particular, the “art of enjoying food,” remains despite the reduction in the neighborhood’s size over the last century. He highlighted the difference between eating to live, which reflected the struggles of the first colonists in the new world, to the Italian heritage of “living to eat.”

Most interesting to the Untapped New York attendees there, which included a Parisian, was the cultural gap that was revealed through the culinary presentation, underlying the importance of the Legends from Europe campaign. One attendee asked how she could determine the particular cheese maker, much like how Americans shop by brand. Di Palo explained that in Italy, the focus is on the group–the consortium–versus the individual producer. Another guest asked what typical mistakes Americans make in handling cheese. “You have to understand that cheese is living,” Di Palo said, “As soon as the cheese is cut, it’s oxidizing.”

In terms of food, there is “no substitute for environment,” Di Palo contended and he reinforced this through combining foods only from the same region in each course. When traveling, order food particular to the region, he recommended: “Don’t ask for lambrusco when you’re in Florence, don’t ask for chianti in Sicily.”

In the first course, we tasted the Grana Padano and the Prosecco Cartizze from the area above the Po River, the breadbasket of Italy. There are less than 200 producers of this cheese, who follow a regimented technique using only skimmed milk. Di Palo showed us the difference between Grana Padano aged 16 months from 24 months.

In the second course, the Prosciutto di San Daniele and the Montasio Mezzano cheese were paired with a Ribolla Giala 2010 wine. The nutty, slightly salty Prosciutto was “god’s gift” to man, said Di Palo and urged us to put our noses to the ham and “smell the Adriatic.” Separate legs of prosciutto are cut for the United States market, where curing with hands does not pass quality muster.

The third course came from Parma, the gastronomical capital of the world.  There are 470 producers of parmigiano reggiano but the milk comes from one small area. Di Palo described the altitude, rolling hills and country breezes that make the product unique. We tasted parmigiano reggiano aged 28 months and 36 months, and Di Palo spoke at length about what he believes are the “seasons” of parmigiano–which he famously once recounted to The  New York Times. Spring and fall parmigiano have differences in flavor and color.  Prosciutto de Parma aged 20 months and a Lambrusco Secco accompanied this course.

The final course was presented by the consortium of Montasio and  Di Palo provided us a vision of free grazing mountain cows surrounded by snow white mountains, once ancient reefs.  The course featured a Montasio Stravecchio cheese, aged for more than one year, and a Recioto 2008 wine. The sweet tasting Recioto was a favorite of Hemingway, when it was an affordable drink to which he would often drink himself into a stupor.

The Di Palo family store in Little Italy began as a latteria, selling only cheese, milk and butter but has expanded to include hundreds of Italian specialties. Di Palo personally travels to Italy to source the products and works directly with the artisans. “One of the things we try to do,” he says, “is to share the knowledge. Education is very important.” In this presentation, he wanted to highlight “how similar, yet how diverse” the products are and how to appreciate them.

Check out Di Palo  on 200 Grand Street in Little Italy [Map] and find out more about the Legends from Europe campaign on the official website.

Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.

New York City has often been on the forefront of architectural ingenuity. Concurrently, many of the City’s notable buildings were inspired by Old World architecture. Presented below, the second part of our series provides a survey of New York City buildings and their Italian inspirations. The authorities differ on the authenticity of some of these claims, after comparing them let us know what you think.