Mention the word Italian and I think of light-filled landscapes, voluptuous markets, unforgettable meals, breathtaking art, expressive language, generous strangers. Like the couple I met in Monterosso. You can read about them in my post called The Power of Nice.
Here in the US, October is National Italian-American Heritage Month, a time to recognize the achievements and contributions of Americans of Italian descent as well as Italians in America.
Did you know that the Bank of America (originally called the Bank of Italy) was established in 1904 by Amadeo Pietro Giannini in San Francisco? He was the model for George Bailey in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
The first Italian-American millionaire was Generoso Pope, who came to America from Benevento in 1904.
William Cafaro and Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. developed the American shopping mall.
Leonard Riggio is the founder and CEO of Barnes & Noble.
The chocolate bar exists thanks to Domenico Ghirardelli. In 1867, he perfected a method to make ground chocolate. (We are all eternally grateful.)
Mr. Coffee, the best-selling coffee maker in the world, was invented by Vince Marotta, who also invented the paper coffee filter and developed a better way to extract oil from coffee beans.
The jacuzzi hot tub and spa were invented by the seven sons and six daughters of the Jacuzzi family.
The District of Columbia is named after Christopher Columbus and many Italians and their descendants built the city and its monuments.
Neapolitan immigrant Attilio Piccirilli and his five brothers carved the statue of Lincoln at the Memorial. And those famous lions on the steps of the New York Public Library.
The Italian artist Constantino Brumidi decorated the Capitol Building’s interior dome, corridors, and the President’s Room where Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The six statues that decorate the façade of Washington’s Union Station were sculpted by Andrew E. Bernasconi.
And, of course, there are writers. Here are just a few.
Helen Barolini is an award-winning novelist, critic, translator and essayist, and one of the first to write a novel about contemporary Italian American women (Umbertina, 1979).
John Ciardi, poet and scholar, did the only English translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Don DeLillo is one of the best known contemporary American novelists. (Americana, Great Jones Street, White Noise, Libra, and Underworld.)
Pietro di Donato wrote Christ in Concrete, one of the few proletarian novels written by a blue collar worker.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso are two prominent poets of the 1950’s Beat Generation.
Barbara Grizzuti-Harrison is the author of Italian Days which is considered to be a masterpiece of travel writing.
Ed McBain is the author of The Black Board Jungle and the inventor of the police procedural novel. His real name? Salvatore Albert Lombino.
Gay Talese is a prolific writer and one of the founders of the 1960’s New Journalism.
My personal favorite? Adriana Trigiani.
So, there are still a few days left to honor those of Italian heritage who have so richly contributed to America and the world.
Celebrate and order up a cone ~ with thanks to *Antonio Valvona. Patent No. 701,776 on June 3, 1902 for an Apparatus for Baking Biscuit Cups for Ice Cream.
The patent says:
By the use of the apparatus of this invention I make cups or dishes of any preferred design from dough or paste in a fluid state this is preferably composed of the same materials as are employed in the manufacture of biscuits, and when baked the said cups or dishes may be filled with ice-cream, which can then be sold by the venders of ice-cream in public thoroughfares or other places.
*Wonder what got Antonio juiced? In the 1890s there were grave health concerns over the use of the ‘licking glass’ in eating ice cream. A seller would serve a customer a scoop of ice cream in a glass, wash it, then use it for the next customer. Many glasses were not scrupulously washed and the sanitary authorities threatened to ban the sale of ice cream.
Grazie mille, Antonio!