Adrienne Ward / Italian

“Discovering Italy in Charlottesville”

Most people come to the serious study of Italian language, literature and culture by falling in love with some aspect of it — often through a trip to Italy or exposure through family or neighborhood. But not all of our students can afford a term of study abroad, and it’s hard to encounter Italian culture easily in a community like Charlottesville.  Unlike bigger cities that have a clear Italian or Italian-American presence, with a “Little Italy” neighborhood, festivals, and other aspects of immigrant culture to recall Italian impact on the surroundings, Charlottesville’s connections with Italy are less apparent.

This idea proposes a series of gatherings, visits, outings, and adventures, to uncover Italian culture right here in our city and environs.  I would lead small groups of students in activities that will introduce them to a variety of ways that Italy and Italian culture influences our present experience at UVa, in Charlottesville, and in Albemarle County.

The potential activities range from the obvious:

•             Visit Monticello: to learn about Jefferson’s travels to Italy,  his interest in Italianarchitecture, music, art, wine and other agricultural developments, and his relationships w/ Italian contemporaries (Tuscans Filippo Mazzei, Giovanni Fabbroni, Antonio Giannini; Italian-English Maria Cosway), etc.;

•             Visit local vineyards:  at least two area wineries are owned or run by Italians, Barboursville (Zonin family from the Veneto) and Rausse (Gabriele Rausse, connectedw/ Jefferson Vineyards); these enterprises not only follow on Jefferson’s 18th-century hopes to cultivate Italian and French grapevines in Virginia soil, but also reflect engagement with modern Italian agribusiness;

•             attend opera production at Paramount theater: whether an actual opera or one of the Metropolitan opera broadcasts, this event would build on the enthusiastic reception we had by students last year, when the Italian Studies program sponsored an outing to the Paramount see a production of Don Giovanni;

•             dinner in local eateries : the places among which to choose include Anna’s Pizza, Christian’s Pizza, Carmelo’s, Tavola, Al Dente, Calvino Cafe, Fellini’s, Orzo, Semolina, Vivace, Splendora. These visits would be especially meaningful where there are Italian or Italian-American proprietors, such as Christian’s, Anna’s, or Carmelo’s, for example.  We could talk to owners and learn about the genesis of their establishments, provenance of recipes, and (in the case of Italian restaurateurs) accommodations necessary for an American clientele.

to the less obvious:

•             view Italian art holdings at UVA / Fralin Art Museum: for example, Italian Renaissance prints and the recent altarpiece by medieval Sienese fresco painter Bartolo di Fredi;

•             Learn about Charlottesville’s Italian sister city Poggio a Caino:  thanks to my work and contacts, I can facilitate the students’ exposure to the history and present status of this 35-year-old civic affiliation; we might also meet w/ Charlottesville community leaders who are involved with and/or have visited our Sister City, to get their perspectives;

•             peruse Italian masterpieces in Special Collection library: together we can examine 16th-century Italian writing/calligraphy books, letters between Jefferson and Italian friends, original opera libretti, etc.

•             hear works by Italian composers at Tuesday Evening Concert series

•             attend Italian films at Virginia Film Festival

•             imbibe Italian-style coffee: after a brief “seminar” on the typical Italian caffè experience, we can go to Starbucks to see the influence of Italian coffee culture (and discuss the extent to which it’s been adulterated), or to Calvino Caffè, to compare notes on coffee lexicon, technique, ambience, etc.

•             meet Italians working at UVa:  a social gathering at my home where I invite a number of Italians I know in various disciplines and programs on grounds (Architecture, Engineering, Darden, Sciences, etc.) would allow our students to get to know Italianresearchers, teachers, and students in our midst, and better appreciate global forms of academic interaction.

Each event would allow us to talk about Italy from different perspectives: regional, historical period, type of culture (colonial, educational, artistic, and agricultural, etc.). The activities would allow current Italian Studies majors to connect w/ aspects of Italian that are beyond the academic, and yet invite them to relate our explorations to specific topics from their school/classroom experience. Participating students who are not Italian Studies majors could experience the interesting ways Italian culture connects to their chosen specializations.

I don’t envision undertaking all of the listed activities, but possibly 2-3 semesters, limited to 10-15 students each time, from among our majors/minors and first- and second-year language students.  There would be a first-come first-served sign up basis.


Different activities entail different costs. The idea would be to apply the costs to the $3000 balance as we proceed.   Taking the first 4 activities listed as an example:

Visit Monticello:

15 students x $50 (signature tour, requesting special focus on Italian) =

$750 15 students x $24 (regular house/gardens tour) = $360

Visit vineyard:

15 x $5/person at Barboursville (free at other vineyards) = $75

Opera at Paramount:

15 x $60/person (opera) = $900

15 x $15/person (opera re-broadcast) = $225

Dine at local pizza place:

15 x $10/person = $150

The most expensive version of this schedule would cost $1900. Given a $3000 allowance, we would be able to do some additional activities, and attach a pizza stop on occasion, giving us the opportunity to talk and reflect on our experiences.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to partake in the Mead Endowment.  These funds would certainly help students take their Italian out of the language or literature (or history, politics, or art) classroom, and see it come alive in other contexts, among all kinds of other people.