Archive | October, 2013

Learning Italian

28 Oct

A few years ago, knowing that my dream of traveling to Italy annually was about to begin, I began a two-year search for Italian classes. I wasn’t looking for academic credits, or a class filled with grade conscious students; rather, I wanted to join a group of like-minded adults who yearned to improve their knowledge of everything Italian –  the language, food, culture, holidays, nuances, etc. This also meant I needed to find a native Italian teacher, not someone who merely majored in the subject.

Map of the languages and dialects spoken in It...

Map of the languages and dialects spoken in Italy.

Luckily, my search finally led me to a class offered by Casa Italia in Chicago,  I must admit, when I first learned of my instructor’s Greek last name, I was a bit disappointed and puzzled, until I learned it was her married name.

Simply put, Giovanna’s classes provide me with more than I had hoped for. Each session is interactive, dynamic, challenging, and filled with great camaraderie. The students, who are now all friends, share similar interests as many have Italian ancestry and connections.  Of most importance, however, is Giovanna’s desire to have us learn and understand what she teaches, not just memorize what is in the textbook.

Italian language

Italian language

My goal in studying Italian was to reach a point where I no longer felt like a tourist in Italy. And while my learning will be a lifelong pursuit, I’m now comfortable conversing with locals who speak no English at all – a great tribute to Giovanna!

I encourage anyone who has an interest in international travel to study a foreign language. The beauty of the Italian language, however, is that it does not always require the spoken word to be understood. So if learning a language is not your thing, or you find it frustrating, the Italians provide another, more simple option for communicating – namely gesturing.

Thanks to the NY Times, here is a fun and easy way to learn some Italian. Click on the link below, hover over each, and practice at your own pace!





Through His Words: Day One

21 Oct

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day One:

Saturday, July 16, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 1

Dear “Modjeste”

Arrived in NY without much time to lose and taxied directly to the ship. You remember the crowd where we saw the “Rex” depart; well it was the same today. 

And with those written words, Alexander Capraro’s journey began.

Alexander V. Capraro

My grandfather had taken the train from Chicago to N.Y. alone. His wife, Modesta Rose, affectionately known as Maude, (and apparently lovingly called Modjeste), had chosen to remain home with their three children, Vince, my Dad Bill, and Marion. Maude took comfort in the fact that Alex would be accompanied by his good friend Joe, who travelled to Italy annually. Shortly before their departure, however, Joe became ill and was unable to travel.

It was a beautiful, bright, sunshiny day and quite a sight to behold the N.Y. skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

I wondered about his ship, its name, origin, etc. Then a faded blue logo in the upper-left corner of his stationery caught my eye: CONTE DI SAVOIA.


How big was this ship and how old? How many passengers did it carry? And how long would it be before they reached Naples, Italy?

It was rather nice to see someone wave goodbye to us from the docks. 

With a few clues in hand, namely Rex, Conte Di Savoia, Naples, Italy, and the year 1938, I began my research.

According to, the Rex and Conte Di Savoia were sister ships built in Italy in the early 1930s. Conte Di Savoia, the smaller of the two, was built at the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico shipyard in Trieste, Italy with the following specifications:

Length: 814 feet
Beam: 96 feet
Tonnage: 48,502 gross tons
Speed: 27 knots
Capacity: 2,200 passengers:
– 500 first class, 366 second class, 412 tourist class, 922 third class
Crew: 786
Engines: Steam turbines powering four propellers

conte di savoia departs on her maiden voyage

Conte di Savoia: The Great Ocean Liners

The interesting thing about the new ship was her indoor fittings. She boasted classic style in a glamorous way, in contrast to the fashion of the period. While new liners such as Île de France, Bremen and White Star’s third Britannic sported the new Art Deco style, the Conte di Savoia proudly exposed her gilded inside – a reminder of true class. The famous Colonna Lounge – all done in marble – amazed passengers with its high ceiling decorated in murals. Along the sides of the giant room were statues standing on pedestals, and the doors were classical fairytale style high ones.   


Colonna Lounge: The Great Ocean Liners

We are well out at sea as I write this letter and the only sign of being on board ship is the vibration of the engines which account for this shaky handwriting.

Shaky handwriting? Not at all, but then Alex was a perfectionist. Besides having beautiful interiors, the Conte di Savoia was a very steady ship as she was the first ship to have gyroscopic stabilizers to reduce rolling during Transatlantic crossings.

I was rather tired from the train ride, so after lunch, and a general inspection of the ship, I went to my room and took a nap.

Conte di Savoia was completed in 1932 and left Genoa for her maiden voyage to N.Y. in November of that year. Alex joined her six years later.

My lunch time is 1:30 and dinner at 8:00, with plenty of good food and wine served at each meal; however, I am taking it easy with the food and wine in order to stay in good physical shape.

Will power, for sure.

That’s about all for today’s news. Will write more later and tell you of my itinerary. Take good care of yourself and don’t worry about anything, especially me.

Alex, born January 7, 1895, in Pietrabbondante, Italy, was just four years old when his parents brought him to America. At the age of 43, and as an accomplished Italian American architect, he was returning to Italy for his first and only time.



Besides her many transatlantic crossings, Conte di Savoia was also known for her starring role in the film, Luxury Liner. The following YouTube clip, albeit corny, shows the ship in her glory. You need only watch the first 30 seconds to “be on board” with Alex and share some of his experience some 75 years ago as he returned to the land of his ancestors.

With love to all at home, and a little extra hug to Marion, I am
Devotedly yours,

To be continued.



2013 Chicago Marathon

13 Oct

Blue skies, 100% sunshine, and cool morning weather were the setting for the running of the 36th Annual Chicago Marathon. And what a marathon it was!


As usual, Chicago rolled out the red carpet and set the stage for 45,000 runners to merge in a glorious and seemingly unending flow of courageous humanity.



My house is on the race route, and every year I make certain I am up early enough to marvel at the wheelchair competitors, who this year finished the race in less than 2 hours.


Then came the elite runners, always focused and so determined.


This year, Ernst VanDyk of South Africa won the men’s wheelchair race by one second in a photo finish.

Jose M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune

Jose M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune Photo

Dennis Kimetto of Kenya won the male division with an unofficial time of 2:03:45, breaking the previous record set last year of 2:04:38. (Chicago Tribune Photo)


Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won the female division with an unofficial time of 2:19:59, just missing a new world record. (Chicago Tribune Photo)


I love reading the t-shirts of the competitors – so many countries, cities, cultures and charities represented proudly. And today, I think I saw almost as many Boston Strong t-shirts as I did Chicago Marathon ones. We stand together.



Of course, there were the usual costumed runners. Hey, whatever it takes.


What I always love about the Marathon, besides the incredible runners, are the supporters, estimated today at 1.7 million. Yes, million! People lined the streets of the diverse neighborhoods along the race route, showing their support in so many ways. And our neighborhood was no different.

At one end of my block was a live band. In the middle of the block, “We are the Champions” blared from a loud speaker. And just down the block, a DJ accompanied a very vivacious group of well wishers who were dancing, singing, cheering, offering high-fives and many words of encouragement. Such energy and so many smiles!




Although there were 45,000 runners, I spotted two friends that were running, and even managed a photo of one who was running with a torn rotator cuff. Way to Go, Bob!


So many neighbors out cheering and enjoying this fabulous day…


For so many runners, it’s not about the time, but the finish. Long after the elite had passed, a few brave souls, weary from head to toe, and even lagging the ending time car in our area, trudged on, much to the delight of the crowd.



To all, and especially those at the end of the trail,


Put an exclamation point on that! And thanks to all for a wonderful day.

Chicago, you rock!



My Kind of “Towns”

9 Oct

While many people we know have two homes, Len and I like to say we have two towns, Chicago and Cortona, each of which we fondly call home when in residence. Although this blog tends to be mostly about Italy or things Italian, for me, there is a great connection between Chicago and Italy.

Chicago is the city that all of my Italian ancestors emigrated to long ago. While we are not 100% positive, it appears that my paternal great-grandmother was actually born in Chicago around 1870.  Courageously, and at very young ages, the rest of my grandparents made their way from Italy and settled in Chicago, a city they all grew to love.

I feel the same way about Chicago. I especially love showing it to first time visitors who always seem surprised by the friendly smiles and the beauty of the city on the lake. And although we are often known for cold and windy weather, October has given us the most magnificent autumn days with, as the weatherman said last night, 100% sunshine.

The history that separates Cortona and Chicago is over 5000 years…hard to beat those Etruscans! Yet for a “young” city, Chicago has deep and diverse cultural roots. Over the years, it has not only preserved its architectural glory but added to it in a way that makes Chicagoans proud.

To all who read this, whether you are a Chicago regular or have not yet visited, and especially my friends in Italia, I do hope you’ll enjoy Chicago someday. It is very different from Cortona, but a difference worth experiencing. In the meantime, I’ll share the city with you through some incredible technology. (Many thanks to my brother-in-law Vince for sending to me!)

So, when you have a few minutes, about six to be exact, get a glass of vino, click on the link below, then sit back and prepare to be wowed by Max Wilson’s two-year photographic journey:

Chicago Timelapse Project: Windy City Nights

A still from a six-minute time lapse of Chicago at night from Wheaton photographer Max Wilson. Source:

Windy City Nights by Max Wilson

Grazie, Max. Incredible!



Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather

2 Oct

I am about to begin an incredible adventure with my paternal grandfather. We will venture to Europe, via ship, and spend a month together touring Italy. During our stay, we will visit his birthplace, Pietrabbondante, a town he left with his parents when he was four years old to emigrate to the United States.

In the year 1895 on the 9th day of January, Mr. Ruggiero di Salvo, Mayor and official of the Bureau of Vital Statistics for the city of Pietrabbondante, received information that at the hour of 4:00 A.M. on the 7th day of Jan. 1895, was born in Pietrabbondante a male child to whom the name of Allesandro was given, son of Vincenzo Iacapraro and Maria Emerenziana Vitullo.

Meet Alexander V. Capraro, my grandfather.  An old, warn picture perhaps but a very handsome man indeed. We think this may have been his wedding day.


Now you may be wondering….born in 1895? 118 years old and taking me on a month-long trip? Exactly.

Although the Internet didn’t exist, and my grandfather only lived to the young age of 61, he was a blogger. Oh, they didn’t call it that at the time, but like so many others, he wrote about his experiences in the nearly lost art of letter writing.   Fortunately, the letters were kept and are now in my possession. Thanks, Aunt Marion!

My grandfather was small in stature but large in accomplishment. He was the first Italian-American architect licensed in the state of Illinois and fortunately, a few of his buildings still stand for us to admire. Unfortunately for his grandchildren, however, he died before we really had a chance to know him. But now I plan to change that as I read through and relive his journey to his homeland in 1938. It was his only visit to Italy, and since my grandmother didn’t want to leave their three children, he wrote her daily. Over the next year, I will include parts of his story in my blog. Next summer, Len and I will visit his hometown and perhaps even find the home where he lived.

I am so excited to begin this journey and to share my experiences along the way. My love and connection to Italy continue to grow as I research the past and partake of the present. And while studying history is one thing, studying my paternal ancestors’ history through my Grandfather’s words is clearly another.

Over the next year, Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather will unfold as I read his letters, follow his footsteps, and get to know better the man I called Grandpa so many years ago.



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