by Isabella Perricone
AN EXPERIENCE STARTED BY CHANCE THAT HAS TURNED INTO AN IMPORTANT REALITY: “PARLA PRESTO” REPRESENTS A LANDMARK IN BOSTON FOR ITALIAN CULTURE
My story is like Pinocchio’s. Like Pinocchio, I have had many lives, numerous adventures, countless experiences and, like Pinocchio, I happened to meet the Cat and the Fox, I had a Blue Hair Fairy who protected me and I ended up in the belly of the whale where I was able to grow up and to mature. I arrived in Boston, by chance, in the middle of the 90’s. I guess I was following “the cat and the fox”, the kind of people who seem extremely positive and reliable but that in the end… I am Sicilian and I had been living in Rome for a long time. Everybody knows that Rome is a very welcoming city that wraps you in its arms and makes you dream: it’s a happy city with mild weather that allows you to have breakfast at an outdoor cafe even in February! Rome is loud, full of life, full of friends to hang out with every night, and every night of the week is a night to go out and to come home late. I worked for many years in Rome, first as an actress and later as a screenwriter. To make a long story short: I was very happy and I had no intention of moving. But, I did move and without even pondering the decision. I threw myself into one of those adventures that you let happen only if you are a little daring, only if you can answer to yourself: “Why not?” So, just like Pinocchio, who never hesitated for a second, with great enthusiasm and also a little bit of recklessness, I found myself on the other side of the ocean. Boston is a gorgeous city, but when I first arrived I thought I was on the moon. The weather, for one, doesn’t forgive; winter can last up to six months, when it snows you can’t leave your home for days and driving in the snow is a nightmare! People from Boston and from the East Coast in general, are more reserved than the Americans on the West Coast, go figure compared to Italians! I am a woman from the South, I talk incessantly, I laugh out loud, I hug and kiss everybody. Well, let’s say that here I was somehow “unusual”. What saved me was being Italian, because Italians are loved and admired all over the world. In a certain way, my “Blue Hair Fairy” was Italy! Italy was, and still is, pretty fashionable here. Thanks to my cinema background, I interviewed at the BCAE (Boston Center for the Adult Education), a well known cultural organization in the center of the city and I started to organize a cinema event that put together movies and food. Almost twice a month I would screen a foreign film whose theme was “food”. Together with a caterer, I put together a menu and, on the day of the event, I would welcome the audience to a dinner that would let them taste the specialties that they would see in the movie… a pretty catchy idea! In an elegant ball room from the 1800’s, I acted a little bit as the host: I introduced myself and I talked to everybody. Before dinner I presented the movie, the director, the cast. After the screening I would run a debate: it was a huge success! People loved to come and to return to each film, they started to talk about it around the city, and little by little, different universities invited me to lecture about “not American Cinema”. Once you get used to the rigid weather and to all the snow, at that point you start to see the real beating heart of Boston! A city of great culture whose universities are an integral part of its identity, a city where everything is beautiful and where people, once you get their trust, open to you and offer you serious opportunities. In 1998, encouraged by the outpouring of people from my dinner-cinema-conversation type of events, and intrigued by the curiosity generated by Italian culture, I opened my little cultural center: “Parla Presto”. A tiny business/community where people at first arrive to learn the language, and then they stay for a ride to discover and learn about Italian culture from Dante to Ammaniti, from De Sica to Crialese , from Puccini to Pavarotti or Ligabue… a place of entertainment of the mind. In the year 2000, again by total chance, I started to teach Italian Cinema at Tufts University, a well known and prestigious college with an old campus in Medford, right outside of Boston. This has been a new challenge for me, and I am the type of person who loves being challenged! I had never taught in such a setting and in the end, after all these years, I know that I have learned so much including that I love teaching! I learned that everybody loves to think. I learned that is not true that in this hi-tech era there is no room for humanities. Anybody, if well guided, loves to think and to reflect. My 20-25 years old cinema students at Tufts, like my adult “followers” of Parla Presto, in front of the Neo-realism masterpieces or the unforgettable works of Fellini and Antonioni, at the beginning they look at me perplexed, maybe a little lost and overall speechless. Then the dialogue begins: the images exploration, the frame study, the cultural interpretation of the characters, the magic of words and everything shines! I see smiles, I see the light in their eyes and the shy ones begin to talk, the rational ones get emotional. I cannot describe my joy. So, Boston for me has been “the belly of the whale”, an amazing place to flourish and succeed. Like Pinocchio, eventually, I got rid of “the Cat and the Fox” and I finally grew up in this great belly-city. The Fairy Italy never fails to allow me to use to my advantage an old precious. Treasure that I have gathered in the course of the years, but that I have also genetically inherited living and breathing in a rich country such as Italy; precious and adaptable material that I have the privilege to pass to whomever wishes to learn. Working with people is a surprising experience, every day different and, to be honest, it is also a little bit my talent: I am good at people! Not a very practical talent, but somehow very useful for me. I always tell my Tufts students that no matter what new kind of technology class they are going to take, whatever they learn, will be obsolete in five years. But the art of learning, the skill of challenging their minds, that will always come in handy! Learning how to learn is an art that cannot be underrated. More than a “teacher”, consider myself a “mind entertainer”: I am passionate about people and I am lucky because I have made a career out of this passion.
For more information about Isabella’s approach to teaching Italian language and culture, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Parla Presto on Facebook.