carlo ponzi

You can be great without being good. In fact, you can be great despite being bad.

Bad of course has two senses - "lacking morals" and "lacking skill".

You can be great despite lacking morals as long as you get caught. History is far harsher on villains who get away with their misdeeds.

You can be great despite lacking skill if a) your lack of skill is total, utter and complete and b) what you’re attempting but lack the skill to pull off is upper case huge.

Someone who incorporates all of this – total lack of skill in some huge endeavour which is also immoral and gets caught – I.M.H.O. is great despite being bad.

Today’s great Italian is great in this way. Today’s great Italian is Carlo Ponzi.


chef pasquale

Ah Chef Pasquale. Holding a cleaver while holding a note. Taking a sip of whatever was in that oversized mug of his. Adding "just a little bit" (as he always vaguely put it) of lemon, oil or garlic to this or that culinary creation - it makes me nostalgic for my childhood (but then again, what doesn't). No matter how embarassed part of me felt while watching him, part felt fiercely proud. And that part won. For this reason alone

Chef Pasquale

is this week's great Italian.


michael occhipinti

There's not much out there in the way of raw data on this week's great Italian - no dates or quirky side jobs. Though I can tell you I sold shoes with his wife once! Comunque Michael Occhipinti is one of the greatest. See the events section for the deets on his show this Saturday. Ciao for now!


tony bennett

His father was a grocer and his mother a seamstress. Born in 1926 in Astoria, Queens, New York City, he sang at the opening of the Triborough Bridge at age ten and dropped out of New York's High School of Industrial Art at age sixteen. Soon he was a singing waiter at several Queens Italian restaurants. And by 1950 he was a major cog in the Columbia Records hit machine. Today's great Italian is Anthony Benedetto (a.k.a. Tony Bennett).


dean martin

He spoke only Italian until age five and dropped out of school at sixteen. He delivered bootleg liquor, worked as a speakeasy croupier and millworker and then became a boxer. But by 1964, he knocked the Beatles from the number one chart position and was recently named by Playboy as "the coolest man who ever lived." Today's great Italian is Dino Crocetti (a.k.a. Dean Martin).


joseph barbera

He was born to Sicilian parents in Manhattan's Little Italy during the Great Depression. He was a failed banker, boxer and playwright. But his fertile imagination and deft drawing hand went on to create such timeless icons of American pop culture as The Flintstones, The Smurfs and Scooby Doo. Today's great Italian is Joseph Barbera.


giovanni falcone

He cracked the mafia's code of silence or omerta'. The Palermo airport bears his name. His picture now hangs in nearly every Italian judicial office (and in schools and city halls across Sicily). He nearly brought cosa nostra to its knees, but was assassinated before he fully succeeded. Today's great Italian is Giovanni Falcone


the other leonardo

He was the first great European mathematician since the ancient Greeks. He was capable of extraordinary feats of calculation. He introduced the Hindu-Arabic decimal number system to the Latin-speaking world. And most famously, he discovered the Fibonacci sequence. Today's great Italian is Leonardo da Pisa


fiorello laguardia

He was an outspoken early critic of Hitler. He reportedly spoke seven languages. He read comics on the radio during a newspaper strike. He laid the groundwork for what would become modern New York City. Today's great Italian is Fiorello Enrico LaGuardia.


olinto de pretto

Most people are familiar with the equation E=mc2. Few know who discovered it. Amazingly, it wasn't Albert Einstein, but today's great Italian, Olinto De Pretto (1857 - 1921), an industrialist and amateur geologist and physicist from Vicenza. Here is De Pretto's bio, and here and here are articles about his discovery. Ciao for now!


eugenio montale

The third (and sadly least known) Mount Etna of Italian poetry along with Dante and Leopardi is today's great Italian, Eugenio Montale. Anyone with any interest whatsoever in l'italianistica (or even just "the human condition") must read Jonathan Galassi's bilingual translation of the collected poems.

Here is my personal favourite to get you started. And here's another one.

For some background on the poet try the usual wikipedia entry or, for something in Italian, this site (even though it annoyingly disables your browser's back button). Click on "audio" for some clips of the poet reading. Amazing stuff!

Another great book by Montale in translation is The Second Life of Art, which you can find in the libreria section to your left.


the real rocky

Today's great Italian is as much a metaphor as a man, a universal symbol of the little guy making good to sustain the hopes of little guys everywhere who remain, alas, little. He's the real Rocky, not Balboa, but Marciano.


galileo galilei

Stephen Hawking has credited him with contributing more to the modern natural sciences than anybody else. He is considered the father of modern astronomy, modern physics and the scientific method. He improved the telescope, made numerous astronomical observations, discovered the first and second laws of motion, and provided scientific support for Copernicanism. His discoveries liberated European intellectual life from Aristotelian and ultimately Roman Catholic theological domination, and led to the freedom of thought and subsequent discoveries we enjoy the fruits of today. This week's great Italian is Galileo.


canadian goddess of the blues

In the words of Ronnie Hawkins, “Once in a lifetime you hear a voice so blue it makes the angels weep. That voice is Rita Chiarelli,” this week's great Italian. I heard a track off Cuore: The Italian Sessions - molto bello!


pico della mirandola

If anyone could rival Leopardi for raw brain power and prodigious memory and learning, it's today's great Italian,

Pico della Mirandola.

His "Oration on the Dignity of Man" should be required reading for sagging decadents and underachievers everywhere.


johnny lombardi

It's hard to imagine what life would be like for Italians in Toronto - for members of almost any ethnic group really - without this week's great Italian, Johnny Lombardi. Where else would Italian merchants - names like Gino's Fashions and Grace Textiles leap to mind - hawk their wares? And where else would Italian customers find these merchants? Johnny helped build the businesses of hundreds of entrepreneurs of Italian extraction.

Living in a mostly Canadian part of town, with mostly Canadian chums whose foods and family habits differed greatly from my own, I often felt weird for being Italian while growing up. CHIN provided a backdrop against which this weirdness was dissolved. To see our weirdness reflected elsewhere beyond the limited walls of our home - on the public airwaves, at the CHIN Picnic, in the businesses of the station’s advertisers and the homes of the advertisers’ customers - made it more normal. And the music Johnny exposed me to gave me something besides food my parents and I could wholeheartedly agree on the greatness of and love, bringing us closer together across the cultural divide. Signor Presidente, La ringrazio.


maria montessori

She was the first female graduate of the University of Rome Medical School. She dedicated her life to the most vulnerable members of society: children. She was exiled by Mussolini. She graced the 1000 lire bill throughout the '90s. Today's great Italian is one of the greatest of them all, Maria Montessori.


luigi santucci

Today's great Italian is Luigi Santucci (1918-1999), an underappreciated Milanese poet.












Ottobre, il tuo pennello
dipinge i boschi e i prati.
E' pieno il mio cestello
di grappoli dorati.

La castagna e il fico
sorridono tra le foglie:
"Viva l'autunno amico:
siamo di chi ci raccoglie."


lucky luciano

Italians are such harmonious, order-loving people that even our crime is organized. And today's great Italian was one of crime's greatest organizers, Lucky Luciano.


vilfredo pareto

Some of you may know the 50/50/90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.

This may remind you of the famous 80/20 rule: in any situation, 20% of the causes produce 80% of the results.

You might not know that a brilliant Italian economist formulated an early precursor of this law, today's great Italian, Vilfredo Pareto.