“It can be said that Italian was one of the first western languages to claim a literary tradition,” Director of the Italian Culture Institute of Chicago, Dr. Silvio Marchetti, declares as we discuss Dante. This is in reference to an event celebrating the Year of Italian Culture, an occasion for which Dante’s natural allegories of woven through The Divine Comedy will light up Chicago’s Field Museum. I think about this for a minute and my mind’s eye travels to high school English Literature and the obligatory memorization of the sounds Chaucer’s Purple Passage (I use “sounds” and not “words,” since the prose is less than intelligible for today’s standard English speakers) and I have to give Italian a nod. Chaucer’s English, written after Dante’s lifetime, has changed in such a way that it is basically another language. However, my knowledge of present-day Italian allows me to open the Divine Comedy and read, “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita…,” with no problem at all.
This is but a tiny example of the deep cultural heritage that today’s Italy carries with it and shares with the world. In 2011, the country commemorated its unity and tradition during their 150th anniversary of the Italian nation-state, and has picked this year, 2013, to celebrate the Year of Italian Culture in the United States. Why did the US receive this honor while other countries did not? “The American people have demonstrated a keen interest in and appreciation for Italy and its culture,” Dr. Marchetti explains, especially the Italian-Americans, whose heritage and sentiment of being connected to the Old Country remains particularly strong and tangible today.
Most people are family with Dante’s Italy, as well as that of Julius Caesar, and also the on in which clergy reigned while commissioning masterpieces from genius artists, such as Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo. According to the official site, the initiative behind this year’s events is not, however, to resurrect the passed greats, but to focus on today’s “culture, not only in its traditional form of historical and artistic legacy, but as a dynamic asset…of innovation moving forward, engaged in projects and looking ahead.” In short, Italy gave a lot in the past, but has a lot to give now, and they want to share it with the American population.
So what does this mean? The Italian Embassy and Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs are hosting events across the country (you can search for them by city, event type, or organization here). These events will fall under the categories of art, music, theater, landscape and architectural heritage, cinema, literature, science, design, fashion, and food, and vary based on location.
Here in Chicago, where Select Italy is based, the Italian Culture Institute is participating in several ways. Dr. Marchetti lists off the big events: a special performance of Giovanna d’Arco at the Chicago Lyric opera to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth, a special performance of The Voices featuring the well-known actor Tony Servillo, and the aforementioned lighting of the field museum with allegories mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The IIC Chicago will also continue to offer its weekly cultural events, such as Tuesday film nights, Italian courses at Italcultura, and special events, such as the recent presentation on the Piemontese town of Saluzzo with a Barolo tasting by sommelier Matteo Capellaro.
The official calendar of events for the 2013 Year of Italian Culture across the country can be viewed here, posted by the Ministry of Italian Culture. For more information to find out how you can participate in this piece of Italy in America, contact your local office.