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Italian Past: Avere or Essere?

Every Italian student starts by speaking only in the present tense — that is, about what is happening in the “here and now.”  But what if we want to refer back to an event that has happened in the recent past, such as this morning, yesterday, or last year?  Well, then, will have to learn how to form the passato prossimo past tense! The passato prossimo translates into English as the present perfect tense and the simple past tense; in effect, when we learn this one type of past tense in Italian, we can substitute it for two types of ...

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Exploring your down-payment options

It’s an exciting time when you’re starting the home-buying process. One of the big questions most buyers ask at this point is, “How much do I need for a down payment?” There are a handful of options to choose from. Options for first-time homebuyers vary from state to state and it’s always good to check with a licensed mortgage broker. People who have owned homes before and are looking to relocate are still able to qualify for an FHA loan with a down payment as little as 3.5 percent of the purchase price. However, for this type of loan, the ...

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A book and a look at Pullman’s past

This is definitely that time of year when winter has dragged on for too long and we’re anxiously awaiting spring. It’s also a time when we can look back on what’s taken place over the winter and ahead to what might be coming up. First and foremost is the celebrated publishing of my book, which is a compilation of the best of 10 years of my column: “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods.” The book was in print by mid-December and became an instant hit as a Christmas gift around the world. I can ...

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Exploring Sardinia’s “Blue Zone”

I’ve traveled extensively throughout mainland Italy over the past 20 years. I love the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle differences in the regions from north to south and east to west. However, my trip to Sardinia this past November was my first encounter with the island. Italy’s second largest island after Sicily, Sardinia is best known for its beaches and emerald coast. I visited for a completely different reason. I was on a mission to see as much of the interior of the island as possible. In particular, I wanted to visit the villages that comprise the island’s “Blue Zone.” What ...

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Italians know things

“Is my eggplant parmesan soggy?” I queried my husband after a New York Times Food Section article thrust me into momentary self-doubt. “NEVER,” he reassured me. “Solving the Puzzle of Eggplant Parmesan” (NY Times, Sept. 22, 2017) quoted the advice of several accomplished chefs — one who learned to cook at his mother’s side in her well-regarded restaurant in Lyon, France — but none of them were Italian. What’s wrong with this picture? We Italians irrefutably know certain things about life, love and food. These lessons were taught to us in our nonnas’ kitchens, absorbed through the atmosphere of our ...

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Education trumps anti-defamation

The predominant image of Italian Americans in today’s media comes through representation of our working-class presence. The predominant voice of protest of those images comes from Italian Americans in the middle class. Those educated out of the working class no longer connect to those who have remained working class. One result of this class mobility through education is the creation of Americans with Italian names who do not see anything wrong with writing, producing, directing and acting in films that, while protected by the First Amendment, offend other Italian Americans. For help in understanding this struggle, we need to review ...

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Here we go again

A huge warehouse. Rival gangs. Bad blood. It all came together when a group of gangsters, dressed as outsiders, surprised their rivals and murdered them in cold blood on a cold February day. We all know the story: the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, Feb. 14, 1929. Actually, no. The gang rub-out described above refers to the Wah Mee Massacre of Feb, 19, 1983, which took place in Seattle. Thirteen gangsters were brutally murdered as opposed to the seven who were killed in Chicago, thus making it the worst mass gang slaying in American history. And yet, no one ...

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City of my soul

I first journeyed to Matera, Italy, in 1985. It’s found in southern Italy in a once impoverished region of Basilicata. The city has been inhabited by man since the paleolithic era and is touted by some as the longest continually lived-in community on Earth. It’s extensive cave-like dwelling districts, the Sassi, are a marvel to behold. Witnessing Matera from across its massive ravine, one comes to appreciate why it’s been known as the underground city. It appears as it has since the time of Christ, so much so that Matera has frequently been used as the background for biblical films, ...

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We’ve endured far worse

I can’t recall the last time a film was as simultaneously popular and polarizing as “Green Book.” The story about the unlikely friendship that blossoms between a casually racist Italian-American bouncer and an elitist African-American concert pianist during a road trip through the South in 1962 was a fan favorite, earning $322 million at the worldwide box office. It also cleaned up during awards season, netting Oscars as well as Golden Globes for best picture, supporting actor and original screenplay. But the cinematic rendition of the real-life sojourn taken by Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga and Don Shirley attracted as much ...

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We deserve better

“In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons … who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” No, that’s not a quote from a conspiracy theorist. Nor does its vaguely sinister overtone belong to someone like Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s vile minister of propaganda. Ironically, it’s a quote from Edward Bernays, the brilliant 20th-century American credited as the father of ...

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