Seven inspiring people The Local interviewed in 2017

2017 has been a significant year for some of Italy's biggest names, with a comeback apparently on the cards for Silvio Berlusconi and a dramatic disappointment for the national football team just two of the year's major stories.

Seven inspiring people The Local interviewed in 2017
L-R: Katja Meier, Rosalind Pratt, Valeria Duflot.

The Local has spent the year reporting on national and local news from up and down the country, but sometimes the most interesting stories are those which don't generate global headlines.

Italy is more than the twists and turns of politics or the reputation for great food and culture; more than anything, Italy is the people who live here, whether by birth or by choice. A refugee home worker, a British baker and reality TV star, and the Verona women who respond to thousands of love letters are among seven of our most inspirational interviewees this year. Read their stories below.

The trained Swiss actress who ran a Tuscan refugee home

'In a refugee home, right and wrong don't always go hand in hand with the law'
Photo: Private

Katja Meier came to Italy looking for a career break in an olive grove, but along the way, she and found herself running a refugee home. She spoke to The Local about the contrast between how 'expats' and refugees view and experience Italy, and the lessons she learnt working in the Tuscan refugee home, which she has written about in a book, Across the Big Blue Sea. Meier was open about bureaucracy and disagreements in the centre, but had very fond memories of her time there and became close friends with many of the refugees. Reading the interview — and the book itself — offers a rare and balanced insight into the issues of immigration and integration.

The US archaeologist preserving graffiti from Pompeii and Herculaneum

Photo: Ancient Graffiti Project

When Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried in a volcanic eruption, the cities were paused at a snapshot in time, and extremely well preserved. This means they offer a good look at groups less well-represented in the history books, archaeologist Jacqueline DiBiasie Sammons told The Local. DiBiaisie Sammons studies graffiti at both sites, interpreting it and storing it digitally, and she shared some of the stories the ancient scrawls have to tell.

The British baker who became a cult favourite in Italy

Meet the Brit who battled for baking glory on Italian TV

Rosalind Pratt has called Italy home for 16 years and speaks the language fluently, but this year she went from being known as 'the English woman' in her small Bergamo village to 'the contestant in BakeOff Italia', a hugely successful TV baking show. In our interview, carried out while Pratt was baking cupcakes, she explained what it was like competing on the show and dealing with being recognized in the street afterwards. When Pratt was eliminated from the show, her exit prompted a social media storm with hundreds of Italian viewers supporting her.

The Venetian couple promoting sustainable tourism to protect their city

Photo: Venezia Autentica

A common theme in news from Venice this year was the introduction of 'anti-tourism' measures, from protests against excessive tourism by frustrated locals to bans on new hotels, fast food shops, and cruise ships. So it was refreshing to speak to Sebastian Fagarazzi and Valeria Duflot, who had a more positive spin on the tourism question.

Photo: Venezia Autentica

They've launched a social enterprise, Venezia Autentica or Authentic Venice, which promotes locally-run businesses to help steer tourists away from the overcrowded sites and support Venetian families and workers. The couple shared their advice for visitors and explained how they and the city have been affected by excessive tourism. “Venice relies on tourism, like our bodies rely on food to survive,” said Fagarazzi. “But you need to have the right kind of food; the right kind of tourism. The wrong kind can be deadly.”

The Italian physicist who will soon set sail for Antarctica

Photo: Private

Italian physicist Elena Joli will join the world's largest all-women expedition to Antarctica next year. She told us why she's always wanted to visit this “magical, wild, and remote place”, her ideas for getting more women involved in the STEMM fields, and what's making her nervous about the trip.

The Verona woman who responds to love letters sent to Shakespeare's Juliet

Dear Juliet: The Verona women who answer thousands of letters of heartbreak

Photo: Annalisa Conter

Did you know that thousands of people send love letters to Shakespeare heroine Juliet each year, some addressed simply to 'Juliet, Verona'? Elena, one of a group of 'Juliet's secretaries' who responds to these missives, told us about the history of the project, and what she's learned about love from the letters that arrive from all around the world.

Who should The Local interview in 2018? Get in touch with your suggestions at [email protected]

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La Bella Vita: Exploding myths about Italian food and how to make words smaller

From making sense of Italian grammar to understanding what's seen as 'authentic' Italian food, our weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Exploding myths about Italian food and how to make words smaller

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

*If you signed up for La Bella Vita newsletter but did not receive it this week please email [email protected]

Everyone in Italy is talking about Italian food this week. Not unusual, I know. But this time, it’s mainly because the government has announced plans to put Italian food forward for Unesco intangible cultural heritage status. This led many people to ask exactly which dishes would be included in the bid – and how exactly do you define ‘Italian food’, anyway?

One highly influential and controversial contribution to this debate came in the form of an interview published in the Financial Times with Italian food historian Alberto Grandi, who “has dedicated his career to debunking the myths around Italian food”. In it, Grandi made bold claims including that panettone and tiramisù were postwar inventions which relied on industrial processes or ingredients; carbonara is more American than Italian; and pizza was unknown in most parts of Italy before the 1970s.

It’s safe to say these ideas didn’t go down well at all with most Italians. In the below article, reporter Silvia Marchetti explains why the interview caused such a big public outcry and why she believes such claims ignore “millennia of rich food heritage”.

Why claims Italian cuisine is a ‘modern invention’ have angered Italy

Whatever you think of Grandi’s argument that the popular idea of Italian cuisine today is based chiefly on postwar advertising and political propaganda, there’s one thing everyone can probably agree on: there really are an awful lot of misconceptions out there about what constitutes traditional or authentic Italian cuisine.

Here are a few such ideas that you’ve probably encountered, and a look at why they can be safely discarded:

Four myths about ‘traditional’ Italian food you can stop believing

Neapolitan pizza. Is there any truth to claims that pizza was unknown in most of Italy until the 1970s? Photo by Nik Owens on Unsplash

And if you’re in Italy at the moment, have you noticed that things feel a little different lately?

Not only are the days brighter, but once the temperatures rise over 15C towns and cities seem to burst back to life after being (slightly) quieter over winter. Aperitivo hour moves outside, there are more motorini zipping up and down the streets, and there’s a spring-cleaning frenzy as homes are cleaned from top to bottom and wardrobes overhauled in preparation for la bella stagione.

Here are some of the sure-fire signs that spring has arrived in Italy:

Eight signs that spring has arrived in Italy

Easter is coming up and it is of course a very important celebration in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, marked across the country by countless processions and events, plenty of good food, and hopefully some good weather too. Here’s a rundown of everything to expect during an Italian Easter:

The essential guide to Easter in Italy

One thing that makes Italian such a beautiful – and complicated – language is the large number of different suffixes which tack on to the ending of words and change their meaning. A common type is the diminutive suffix, which is the type of word ending that makes a thing smaller, or maybe cuter (think gattino, libricino, or fiorellino).

But as pretty as they sound, these endings don’t always seem to have much logic behind them. Here’s what you need to know about ‘shrinking’ Italian words.

Etto, ino, ello: How to make Italian words smaller

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]