“Sleep well America,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell at last night’s Lido Civic Club Capitol Hill reception.

“Congress is on track to adjourn at one of the earliest dates before Election Day since 1960, giving lawmakers more time to campaign in the final stretch but also opening up the institution to further criticism that it’s not working hard enough to address the nation’s problems . . . The 112th Congress has distinguished itself as the least productive legislative session since the end of World War II, according to a USA TODAY analysis of congressional records. The anemic legislative output has helped fuel historical lows in congressional approval ratings. ” (USAToday)


At Bonaparte Ceremony U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Recalls His Italian Roots

At the 52nd Annual Ceremony commemorating Charles J. Bonaparte held on September 12 at the U.S. Department of Justice, keynote speaker, U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli recalled his Italian roots to invited guests from the Italian American community. Charles J. Bonaparte, was the 46th Attorney General of the United States and the founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Donald Verrilli

The ceremony organized by Justice Department Attorney Francesco Isgro, opened with the singing of the national anthems of the United States and Italy by Maria Marigliano and Marco Fiorante, followed with an Invocation by Reverend Lydio Tomasi of Holy Rosary Church.

John DiCicco, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division at the U.S. Departmentof Justice gave the welcoming remarks. He was followed by special remarks given by Minister Luca Franchetti Pardo, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Italy in Washington. Minister Franchetti Pardo noted that Charles Bonaparte, by establishing an investigative force within the Department of Justice laid the groundwork for future international cooperation, noting especially the collaboration between the FBI and Italian law enforcement offcials  in combating organized crime and terrorism.

Judge Francis Allegra of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims introduced Solicitor General Verrilli who recalled his Italian roots, noting in particular that his great grandfather Rocco Verrilli, who immigrated to the United States Castelfranco in Miscano, a smal toen in Campania, near Benevento, were more or less contemporaries and shared some similar values. “Bonaparte lived from 1851 to 1921. Rocco lived from 1857 to 1931,” said Verrilli. While they shared dome values the “ihabited entirely different worlds.”

Bonaparte had an distinguished lineage, and attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School. “My greast grandfather Rocco . . . was the son of a sheperd with little in the way of a formal education and left that life as a young man to travel by ship to the United States, taking residence in New York’s Little Italy on Mulberry Street.” Verrilli recounted how his father eventually founded a bank with its offices at 129 Mulberry Street but athough it prospered, it could not survive the 1926 crash. Verrili said that Bonaparte and Rocco “appear to have have been kindred spirits in the things that matter.” Both believed in education and and “both understood in particular the indespensable link between education and effective citizenship.” Rocco put all his eight children to college, including his daughters, said Verrilli. “Bonaparte was a devoted Cathlic and so was Rocco. Bonaparte reportedly loved a good argument and did not pull punches. Neither did Rocco. And both loved his country and were utterly devoted to it.”

I like to think that Bonaparte’s commitment to public service and citizenship would have been an inspiration to my great-grandfather, and a goal he would have had for his descendants. And Bonaparte was indeed a true servant of the public interest – his service fully captured the spirit of his age, the age of Teddy Roosevelt’s progressivism – and he is justly celebrated for his role in laying the groundwork for what would become the FBI, for his fearless trust-busting, and for his lifelong fight against public corruption and in favor of a professional civil service.

Verrillli then talked about the work of Bonaparte before the Supreme Court, noting in particular that he had argued a number of cases on the issue of the fedeal authority to regulate the economy. “Even more impressive to me – given the era in which he lived,” said Verrilli, was Bonaparte’s committment to civil rights.” “Whatever its wells spring, Bonaparte’s commitment to civil rights — like the rest of his record to public accomplishment – fully justifies the honor we bestow on his memory every year,” concluded Verrilli.

Donald Verrilli, Francesco Isgro, John Dicicco, Luca Franchetti Pardo, Francis Allegra

The Bonaparte ceremony was started in 1961 by the late John LaCorte, Sr., founder of the Italian Historical Society of America in New York. At a time when Italians were still struggling with their Italian American identity, John LaCorte sought to promote the accomplishments of Italian Americans. Giovanni Verrazzano , one of the first explorers to reach the New York harbor, was one of them. LaCorte, after many years convinced New York officials to name a bridge in his honor. And then LaCorte came to Washington to promote Charles J. Bonaparte the grand nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, whose parents were originally from Italy. Through his efforts, Charles Bonaparte has received his due credit for the founding of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and for his many accomplishments in the U.S. public service arena.

When LaCorte came to Washington in 1961, the late Judge Edward Re had just been appointed by President John F. Kennedy as Chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, an office established here at the Department. Judge Re assisted John La Corte in establishing the first ceremony, making him the First Friend of Charles Bonaparte. Judge Re also made sure that then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was also present at the ceremony. On that occasion, a granite monument honoring Charles Bonaparte was presented by the Society to the Department of Justice. The monument is now installed at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance of Main Justice building.

The Friends of Charles Bonaparte, Department of Justice Senior Litigation Counsel Francesco Isgro, together with the Order Sons of Italy, and the Department of Justice  sponsored this year’s ceremony, with the support of the OSIA Commission for Social Justice, the National Italian American Foundation and the Lido Civic Club of Washington, D.C.

(CiaoAmerica! Magazine)

The Italian American Community Loses a Great Italian American: Joseph P. Vaghi, Jr. (1920-2012)

Joseph P. Vaghi Jr., 92, a Washington, D.C. architect and decorated World War II  veteran, died  peacefully at Maplewood Park Place, Bethesda Maryland, on August 25, 2012. He lived in Kensington, Maryland, for over a half century, and practiced architecture in Bethesda, Maryland with the firm of Joseph P. Vaghi, AIA and Associates. His specialty was restoration in the city and design.

Joseph Vaghi

He was born in Bethel, Connecticut on June 27, 1920, the fourth of ten children born to Italian immigrants. He attended Providence College on a football scholarship, graduating in December of 1942, and  thereafter went to midshipman’s school at the University of Notre Dame. After the war, he graduated from the School of Architecture at The Catholic University of America.

During World War II, he served in the Navy as a platoon commander and, at 23 years old, was the youngest beachmaster with the 6th Naval Beach Battalion at the D-Day Invasion on Omaha Beach, Easy Red Sector, in Normandy on June 6, 1944. His dedication to those men is legendary. Wounded on D-Day, he saved many lives after removing two gasoline cans and several boxes of hand grenades from a burning jeep. The role of beachmaster was later described as being like “a traffic cop in hell.”  For his heroism and bravery, he was awarded the Bronze Star. In the spring of 1945, he volunteered to serve in the Pacific theatre with a battalion that invaded Okinawa. His role as beachmaster and the heroism of the 6th Naval Beach Battalion were featured in The War, a documentary produced by Ken Burns.

He was honorably discharged from the  Navy  in 1947 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander and served in the naval reserves until 1959. In February, 2012, he was awarded the Legion of Honor “Chevalier” Award, at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., France’s highest civilian award, for his heroism and personal contribution to the liberation of France during World War II.

He was married to Agnes E. Vaghi for 57 years. She predeceased him in 2004. Together they were founding members of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). They were co-chairs of the Cardinal’s Appeal for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1987. He was an active member in the John Carroll Society, for which a scholarship is named after him and his wife. He was a past president of the Lido Civic Club. He was Fourth Degree, Knights of Columbus. In addition, he was a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. For his tireless service and devotion to the Church, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award from Blessed John Paul II in 1991.

Survivors include four sons, Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi, Pastor of the Little Flower Church in Bethesda, Maryland, Vincent J. Vaghi, M.D. of Potomac, Nino Vaghi of Kensington and Joseph P. Vaghi III of Potomac, two daughters-in-law, Jeanne Barbera Vaghi, M.D., and Mary Burns Vaghi and six grandchildren. He is also survived by two sisters, Dina Ceriani of Milan, Italy and Beatrice Barzetti of Cape Carteret, North Carolina.

Director Frank Capra Honored with U.S. Postal Stamp

Sicilian-born filmmaker’s movies focused on patriotism and hope

A stamp to honor film director Frank Capra, best known for the perennial favorite It’s a Wonderful Life  starring James Stewart, has been issued by the Postal Service. Capra is one of four famous filmmakers to be awarded their own stamps. The others are John Ford, John Huston and Billy Wilder. The stamps will feature images from their most famous movies.
“With these stamps, we’re bringing these filmmakers out from behind their cameras and putting them in the spotlight so that we can learn more about them,” said Samuel Pulcrano, U.S. Postal Service vice president of corporate communications.

Frank Capra

Capra’s movies, which along with It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) also include  It Happened One Night  (1934),  You Can’t Take it With You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), reflect an America ready for social change but still strongly attached to traditional family and class values.

One common theme running through his films is the presence of patriotism and hope, which Capra sees as an antidote to a hard life. “I see a small farm boy becoming a great soldier; I see thousands of marching men…And I can see the beginnings of a new nation like Abraham Lincoln said. And I can see that Ohio boy being inaugurated as president. Things like that can only happen in a country like America,” says the hero of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936).

Born Francesco Rosario Capra in 1897 in Bisacquino, near Palermo, Sicily, he was six years old when he emigrated with his family to the United States. He once recounted the ship’s arrival into New York, where he saw “a statue of a great lady, taller than a church steeple, holding a torch above the land we were about to enter.”

His father said to him, according to a 1992 biography of Capra, “Ciccio, look! Look at that. That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem! That’s the light of freedom. Remember that. Freedom.”

Capra’s family moved to an Italian section of Los Angeles, where the young Capra sold newspapers to help support his family. He worked odd jobs and played the banjo to pay his way through college, eventually earning a chemical engineering degree from California Institute of Technology.

He enlisted in the Army during World War I and after the war went into the entertainment business, starting out in comedy and eventually turning to film-making in the early 1930s.
At the height of his career, Capra again enlisted in the Army during World War II and directed war films for the government. He earned an Academy Award for one and a Distinguished Service Medal.

Capra’s films earned many Academy Awards but It Happened One Night, a comedy starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable that captured the country’s need to escape the realities of the Depression, became the first movie to win all five top Oscars including Best Picture.

Capra was also active in the film industry, working with the Screenwriters Guild and serving as president of the Academy of Motion Pictures.

Capra died of a heart attack in California in 1991 at age 94. His son Frank Capra was also in the film business until his death in 2007. A grandson Frank Capra III is a Hollywood director whose work includes the 1995 film The American President.

Capra’s films are considered timeless fables that glorify the average individual, decry materialism and offer optimism for the future.

Reprinted from Voce Italiana, Aug-Sept, 2012

Centenary of Legendary Film Director Michelangelo Antonioni’s Birth

September 29 is the centenary of the birth of one of cinema’s legendary directors, Michelangelo Antonioni. Best known for his trilogy on modern life and its discontents – made up of the films L’Avventura, La Notte and Eclipse – Antonioni is credited with redefining narrative film. An iconoclast, he challenged traditional perspectives on film, storytelling, drama, and the modern world.

Antonioni rejected action films in favor of movies that explored introspective characters and created intricate mood pieces. His focus was not on adventure or plot but on images and a movie’s design.

He received numerous awards and nominations for his enigmatic films, including several prizes at Cannes Film Festivals, and the Venice Film Festivals, and an honorary academy award in 1995.

L’Avventura (1960)

Born in Ferrara in Emilia Romagna, Antonioni was the son of prosperous landlords, Elisabetta and Ismaele. His childhood was a happy one, as he once said in an interview, spent drawing, practicing the violin and playing outdoors, mostly with the children of working class families.

“I always had sympathy for young women of working-class families, even later when I attended university: they were more authentic and spontaneous,” he said in the interview.

After graduating with an economics degree from the University of Bologna, Antonioni became a film journalist with the local newspaper. He later moved to Rome and took a short-lived job with Cinema, the official Fascist film magazine before enrolling at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia to study film technique. Shortly afterwards he was drafted into the Italian army.

Early in his film career, Antonioni produced a series of neorealist short films, some of them semi-documentaries of the lives of common people.

His first full-length movie was Cronaca di un amore (1950), which focused on the middle classes. In Le Amiche (1955), Antonioni introduced an experimental style that used exaggeratedly long takes and disconnected events.

He also used those techniques in L’avventura (1960), which became his first international success, followed by La notte (1961), starring Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, and L’eclisse (1962), starring Alain Delon. Many of the films of this period also star Monica Vitti, Antonioni’s love interest at the time.

Perhaps his most famous film is Blowup (1966), set in London and starring Vanessa Redgrave, which won him Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay.

Zabriskie Point (1970), his first film set in America had a countercultural theme and a soundtrack by popular artists such as Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones, but was not a critical or commercial success. The Passenger (1975), starring Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider, received critical praise but also failed at the box office.

Antonioni continued to make films throughout the 80s and 90s and to collect awards, including an honorary academy award in 1994 as “one of the cinema’s master visual stylists.”
Antonioni has had his share of detractors, among them director Ingmar Bergman, who said he considered some of Antonioni’s films as masterpieces for their detached and dreamlike quality, but thought the others were monotonous and questioned why he was held in high esteem.

Antonioni died at age 94 on July 30, 2007 in Rome – the same day that Ingmar Bergman died. He lay in state at Rome’s City Hall; a large screen projected a collage of his life. He is buried in Ferrara.

–Reprinted from Voce Italiana