Florence adopting Tribeca

By Josh Rogers

This picture from a De Sica film used to promote an Italian celebration in Tribeca has been criticized by three Italian members of Community Board 1 who find the work offensive.
A business group from Florence, Italy is adopting Tribeca as its “sister city” and will help raise money for neighborhood children and struggling businesses at a fundraiser celebrating Italian culture this Thursday.

The event, La Famiglia Tribeca, was organized by a group of Italian-owned businesses in Tribeca and will include a gemellaggio or “twinning” ceremony in which the neighborhood will symbolically join the Tuscan city.

Ironically, three Italian-American members of Community Board 1 have raised objections to the art used on the invitation to the event, saying it is degrading to Italians.

The invitation is a still from a 1954 Vittorio De Sica film, “L’Oro di Napoli” (“The Gold of Naples”) depicting people eating spaghetti with their hands while Totò, the famous Italian comic actor, stands on the table stuffing pasta into his pockets.

“I’m appalled at the picture,” said Joe Morrone at last week’s meeting after his fellow member, Marc Ameruso, raised objections to the invitation being distributed. John Fratta, the third board member, said he thought the picture made Italians look like buffoons.

Monica Abbatemaggio-Holzer, who selected the art worker, said she was surprised. “This is a picture from one of the best, best directors in Italy,” said Abbatemaggio-Holzer, the co-owner Sorelle Firenze boutique on Reade St. “This is one of the most famous films in Italy. This is a very cultured thing.”

She said she thought the picture may be “animalesque,” but she wanted something to get people’s attention. She said it shows two of the most important things in Italian culture. “We grew up with the idea that family is the most important thing and food is the most important thing,” said Abbatemaggio-Holzer, who is originally from Florence. “The table, the food and family together it is a gesture of love, of sharing.”

Chris Boeke, one of the event’s organizers, said the same picture was used at the first La Famiglia Tribeca event in November 2001 and nobody objected then.

According to a source involved in the event who was at last week’s community board meeting, three other Italians on the board told him they didn’t understand the objection, especially considering the fact that the money is going to a good cause. About 80 percent of the proceeds will go to Manhattan Youth, a non-profit organization which runs afterschool, day camp and other programs, and 20 percent will be for Tribeca Organization, a post-Sept. 11 group formed to help local businesses. The De Sica picture ran in last week’s Downtown Express in an advertisement for the event and no one has contacted the paper objecting to the photo.

Organizers are hoping since they have only heard indirectly about three complaints, that it will not affect turnout for the fundraiser feast at the Tribeca Rooftop, 2 Desbrosses St., May 29 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $50 and there will be a silent auction of donated items from businesses in Florence and Tribeca including leather goods crystal, art work, and a $2,500 dress designed by Abbatemaggio-Holzer and her sister and made by their mother in Italy. The hope is to raise about $50,000 to help youth programs and the business group.

Abbatemaggio-Holzer said after the terror attack she got together with other Italian-owned businesses and they formed La Vita Italiana Committee. She said Confcommercio Firenze, the Florentine business group, wanted to help people in Lower Manhattan. “It’s very sentimental and romantic but it’s also political of course.”

The idea of La Famiglia is simple, she said. “You know how Italians are,” she said. “We said let’s get together, have a party and see what we can do for the neighborhood.”



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