tony rosato

Today's great Italian has great written all over him. He was born in Naples but grew up in Halifax, Ottawa and Toronto. A brilliant and hilarious comic actor and writer, he famously played the boozy celebrity chef Marcello Sebastiano (based on Chef Pasquale who appeared on this site in an earlier great Italian post) on SCTV, a show that was about twenty years ahead of its time.

But the crazy tragic thing about him is that he's currently behind bars for criminally harrassing his wife! He was denied bail for mental health reasons (he's a certifiable Capgras syndrome sufferer), and his trial is scheduled for November - an unheard of two years after his initial arrest! Today's great Italian is great in the way that all tragic figures are. Today's great Italian is Tony Rosato.  


giorgio perlasca

Today's great Italian rescued 5218 Jews from Nazi-occupied Hungary in 1944. Top that! The amazing thing is, after the war he lived in Italy as a normal, everyday man, keeping a lid on his amazing tale of courage. Today's great Italian, brought to you by tutorino - the most popular way to learn Italian in Toronto - is Giorgio Perlasca.


enrico farina

Today's great Italian died recently. Famous for his tacky wig-like hairdo and nasally vibrato, though a lousy singer, for being there in the background of Italian-Canadian lives all these years (if only as an annoying mosquito whine), Enrico Farina is nevertheless a great Italian. The Corriere ran a nice (if inaccurate where his singing abilities are concerned) obit on him (in italiano of course).


laura rocca

Simple, sweet, bright, beautiful, loyal to her roots and (one assumes, based on her job) financially successful - today's great Italian is every immigrant's dream daughter - TLN's #1 host, Laura Rocca (whom I had the honour of seeing in person at the Giro T.O. last Sunday when she hosted the opening remarks). Ciao for now!


italo marcioni

Today's great Italian has a claim to fame that's tough to top - he invented the ice cream cone! Today's great Italian is Italo Marcioni (also known as Italo Marchiony).


enrico fermi

He took the first atomic physics profressorship in Italy when he was only twenty-four years old. Widely regarded as the only 20th-century physicist who excelled both theoretically and experimentally, he contributed greatly to quantum theory and helped develop the first nuclear reactor, winning the Nobel Prize in 1938 for his work on induced radioactivity. His massive intellect notwithstanding, his colleagues marvelled at his extreme modesty and his knack for solving the toughest of problems with the simplest of solutions. Today's great Italian is Enrico Fermi.


joe girard

His formal education ended in grade 11 - he was expelled for his heated reaction to a principal's slur against Sicilians. But he went on to sell 13,001 Chevies between 1963 and 1978, a feat that got him into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's most successful salesman. He's also the only salesman in the Automotive Hall of Fame. Today's great Italian is Joe Girard.


libero bovio

boviosmall.jpgThe best poetry is readable speech. And no poetry sounds more spoken than dialect poetry. A great example of this in English is hip hop, famous for its new words (bling), new uses of words (crib), and new spellings (gangstaz) - all in fidelity to the street speech of Brooklyn and Compton, which rappers have spread all over the world and preserved in their recordings for generations to come.

Italy too has a long and rich tradition of dialect poetry. In fact some of the earliest poems from Italy were written in Sicilian. In the late 1800s and early 1900s an amazing flowering of dialect literature took place in and around Napoli. Because of the plays, musicals and above all songs this flowering produced, Neapolitan (napoletano) is today Italy's best known dialect, both at home and abroad. Many of Italy's top pop stars - and Pavarotti and Bocelli too - routinely sing from the Neapolitan songbook. And actor Massimo Troisi (of Il Postino fame) used napoletano liberally in his hugely popular films.

Today's great Italian is a poet who contributed to the napoletano renaissance of the early 20th century some of its best loved and most memorable lyrics - Libero Bovio. To read his bio, click on the link and scroll down a bit.

Lacreme napulitane

by Libero Bovio

Mia cara madre,
sta pe' trasí Natale,
e a stá luntano cchiù mme sape amaro....
Comme vurría allummá duje o tre biangale...
comme vurría sentí nu zampugnaro!...

A 'e ninne mieje facitele 'o presebbio
e a tavula mettite 'o piatto mio...
facite, quann'è 'a sera d''a Vigilia,
comme si 'mmiez'a vuje stesse pur'io...

E nce ne costa lacreme st'America
a nuje Napulitane!...
Pe' nuje ca ce chiagnimmo 'o cielo 'e Napule,
comm'è amaro stu ppane!

Mia cara madre,
che só', che só' 'e denare?
Pe' chi se chiagne 'a Patria, nun só' niente!
Mo tengo quacche dollaro, e mme pare
ca nun só' stato maje tanto pezzente!

Mme sonno tutt''e nnotte 'a casa mia
e d''e ccriature meje ne sento 'a voce...
ma a vuje ve sonno comm'a na "Maria"...
cu 'e spade 'mpietto, 'nnanz'ô figlio 'ncroce!

E nce ne costa lacreme st'America
a nuje Napulitane!...
Pe' nuje ca ce chiagnimmo 'o cielo 'e Napule,
comm'è amaro stu ppane!

Mm'avite scritto
ch'Assuntulella chiamma
chi ll'ha lassata e sta luntana ancora...
Che v'aggi''a dí? Si 'e figlie vònno 'a mamma,
facítela turná chella "signora".

Io no, nun torno...mme ne resto fore
e resto a faticá pe' tuttuquante.
I', ch'aggio perzo patria, casa e onore,
i' só' carne 'e maciello: Só' emigrante!

E nce ne costa lacreme st'America
a nuje Napulitane!...
Pe' nuje ca ce chiagnimmo 'o cielo 'e Napule,
comm'è amaro stu ppane!


henry mancini

He grew up near Pittsburgh where his steel-worker father from Abruzzo enrolled him in flute lessons at age 8.

He attended the Juilliard School but was drafted into the army before he could complete his studies, and in 1945 helped liberate a concentration camp.

Following the war he rose to fame as a film and television composer, winning a record 20 Grammys and 4 Oscars for his work on such productions as Peter Gun, Breakfast at Tiffany's (think "Moon River") and The Pink Panther.

Today's great Italian is Enrico Nicola Mancini, otherwise known as Henry.


amedeo modigliani

Today's great Italian is my favourite painter of all time. I like him because he's figurative but with a twist, not slavishly photographic, and endlessly fascinated by humankind (for he primarily painted portraits). His canvasses - never polished, the colours patchily applied - give off a welcoming casualness, and ooze the gritty Bohemian lifestyle he is now famous for. His raunchy, sexy nudes are a celebration of horniness. Today's great Italian is Amedeo Modigliani.


corrado accaputo

Who's gonna cut hair twenty years from now? I've had some great barbers over the years - Frank and Eddie, Tony, now Nick - each of them great Italians greater than the greatest. Their shops are reserve grounds for the men's men of old, the last tattered bastions of 50s masculinity. So, in honour of all the unsung great Italian barbers across T.O., here is this week's great Italian, Corrado Accaputo.


mamma bravo

If you hang around Italian Canadians much, you'll occasionally hear them use the term "mamma bravo", as in, "No thanks, I'm not wearing those mamma bravo earrings." (The earrings in question here would be large, golden hoops.)

You might not know however where this term comes from: pasta sauce. Specifically "Bravo" brand, which featured an artist's rendering of a "typical Italian mother" (or mamma) on its label.

Today's great Italian is the "Mother of All Mamma Bravos," the perfectionist cook who concocted the sauce, and on whose proud matronly visage the label drawing was based. Today's great Italian is Rose Viggiani.


ernest gallo

He was orphaned at 24 when his father, deep in the dark days of the Depression, shot first his mother Assunta, and then himself. The same year, he borrowed the better part of $5,900 and started a winery in California with his brother Julio. By the time of his very recent death at age 97, he was producing one in four bottles of wine sold in the U.S. Today's great Italian is Ernest Gallo.


vincenzo pietropaolo

In my personal pantheon of Italian-Canadian artists he sits mere notches below Nino Ricci. The Italian immigrants who arrived in Canada en masse in the post-war years won't be with us forever. This week's great Italian has given us an impressive body of work to remember them by when they're gone. This week's great Italian is Vincenzo Pietropaolo.

Go here to buy his book.


alan cocconi

A geek when being geeky wasn't cool, and a geek of the lowest rank - social-skill deficient, not cerebrally endowed - I envy this week's great Italian, whom you might recognize from the doc Who Killed the Electric Car?, and whose horn rims and lanky limbs (not to mention grey matter) net him millions. Today's great Italian (and sorry I'm a couple days late) is Alan Cocconi.


ettore boiardi

You pass this week's great Italian in the supermarket each and every week. You may even have eaten his pasta (though it's gone downhill since his death in 1985). It's safe to say he serves up more spaghetti to North Americans in a week than Mario Batali and Giada De Laurentis do in a year. Today's great Italian is the late great Ettore Boiardi, otherwise known as Chef Boyardee.


giuseppe caspar cardinal mezzofanti

He spoke languages I've never even heard of - Chaldean, Amharic, Ge'es, Guzerati - in all a whopping 38, fluently, with no accent, and he never set foot outside of Italy! He is history's greatest hyperpolyglot. Today's great Italian is an inspiration to us all, Giuseppe Caspar Cardinal Mezzofanti.

For the complete text of a 500-page biography online go here. And you can see a table of the languages Mezzofanti spoke here.


teresa cascioli

Today's great Italian post could easily be titled, "Shoes I'd Like to Fill". Actually, scratch that, she wears stilettos. Apropos, not only is today's great Italian truly great, she's also hot! But what I admire her for of course is her business success and inspiring personal integrity. Today's great Italian is buck-a-beer brewing boss Teresa Cascioli.

Wow, great gams, makes beer AND Italian - is Ms. Cascioli perfect or what!


oliviero toscani

Today's great Italian revolutionized arguably the most important artform in the world today (and easily the most pervasive): the print ad. He is something only Europe could produce - an intellectual adman. He sparked controversy everywhere he went, and quintupled his company's revenues in the process. Today's great Italian is Oliviero Toscani. Note: The page today's post links to misspells Toscani's first name. Apart from that it's really good. You should also consult the links section on Toscani's wikipedia page.


massimo troisi

I know I've said this before but today's great Italian is truly one of the greatest. He's percolated my whole personality with his endearing nervous antics and good-natured crankiness. You could almost call him a beaten down less neurotic Italian Woody Allen. You'll know him when you see him in this mini doc on youtube. Today's great Italian is the inimitable Massimo Troisi.