100 years of Insulin


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Imagine a hospital ward full of quasi-comatose, emaciated children wasting away of ketoacidosis….and watching them slowly come back to life one by one.  That is what happened 100 years ago, after the discovery of insulin.  Today is World Diabetes Day, and this year we celebrate 100 years since the discovery of insulin.  Before injected insulin was available, Type 1 diabetes was a death sentence.  Death could be delayed for at the very most 2 years, with a very strict starvation diet.  The discovery of insulin is one of the most significant events in the field of medicine.

Sir Frederick Banting graduated as a surgeon from the University of Toronto in 1916 and immediately left for England with the Canadian Army Medical Corp.  Returning from the war with a shrapnel injury to the right arm and a case of PTSD, he did a 1 year surgical internship at the Hospital for Sick Children (aka Sick Kids) in Toronto, and then set up a private practice in London Ontario.  He was seeing few patients, and took a side job as an instructor at Western University Medical School to make ends meet.  

On October 20, 1920, he was preparing for a lecture on the pancreas by reading an article which concluded that a hormone secreted into the blood by the islets of Langerhans controlled glucose metabolism.  Banting saw the potential for isolating an extract related to diabetes from the pancreas and wrote it in his notebook October 30, 1920.  He was put in touch with Professor John Macleod, an expert on carbohydrate metabolism.  Despite the fact that 400 previous attempts to treat diabetes in animals with pancreatic extract had failed when tried on humans, Dr Macleod agreed to supervise him.  In May 1921, Banting went to Toronto to begin his research, joined by an undergraduate summer student assistant, Charles Best.  Best had the necessary lab skills for the project, since most of Banting’s experience was as a battlefield surgeon.  

In August 1921, their extract ‘isletin’ (later called insulin) decreased glucose and improved the overall condition of Marjorie, a dog with diabetes.  Macleod provided additional labs resources so the results could be reproduced.  In December, James Collip, a biochemist with an interest in hormones, was recruited to help purify the pancreatic extract.  He came up with an extraction process that made it pure enough to try on humans. Banting Best and Marjorie

On January 11, 2022 13 year old Leonard Thompson was the first human injected with the insulin extracted from pig pancreas.  It caused an abscess and an allergic reaction.  11 days later he was injected again, with the extract further purified by Collip and it worked!  Leonard Thompson lived 14 more years with insulin, and died of pneumonia at age 27.  Watch this amazing ‘Canadian Heritage Minute’ video:

March 1922, there was a 3 month shortage of insulin, as supply was not able to keep up with demand.  June 1922, in an effort to mass produce insulin in a cost effective way, the University of Toronto partnered with Eli Lilly.  Lilly was able to ship their pork insulin, called Iletin to Toronto by July, allowing Dr Banting and team to take on more patients.  In November 1922 Danish company Novo Nordisk also began to produce insulin known as Toronto.  

Most ‘newsworthy’ of Banting’s early insulin patients was Elizabeth Hughes, daughter of the US Secretary of State.  She followed the ‘starvation diet’ strictly for 3 years and was taken to Toronto at age 14.  In 1996, a collection of letters she wrote to her mother from August to November 1922 was donated to the University of Toronto. Elizabeth wrote to her mother about injecting 5cc of insulin ‘We only have a 2cc syringe.  After the first 2cc, the nurse unscrews the syringe from the needle, which is left sticking into  me, fills it again and injects 2cc more, then the same again with the final cc.  The process takes about 20 minutes, my hip feels as if it would burst, my leg is numb, then in an hour I would hardly know anything had been given.’*  She went on to graduate from University, got married, had 3 children and lived a very full life!**

I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful lecture by the late Michael Bliss during a Diabetes Canada conference in Toronto October 2011 for the 90th anniversary of insulin. He was a historian and author of the book ‘The Discovery of Insulin’.  In 1979, while writing the book, Dr Bliss contacted Elizabeth’s husband to find out when his wife had died and find out about her later life.  She wrote back to him herself saying she was alive and in good health 58 years after first receiving insulin!  

In August 1923, Banting was featured on the cover of TIME magazine. August 1923 cover of Time Magazine.  Dr Frederick Banting

October 25, 1925, the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology was awarded to Banting and Macleod for the discovery of insulin. Banting shared his prize with Best and Macleod with Collip. Frederick Banting remains the youngest recipient and the only Canadian to receive a Nobel Prize in this category.***  Since insulin is a life-sustaining treatment and they wanted it to be accessible to anyone who needed it, Banting, Best and Collip sold the patent for $1 each. Banting claimed that insulin belonged to the world, not to him.  I do not think they would be too impressed to know that in 2021, there are parts of the world that do not have access to insulin, and for many it is not affordable!  

This post may seem rather ‘off topic’ for my blog.  Those of you who only know me virtually may not know that in my ‘day job’ I am a pediatric diabetes  educator, so posting this today was important for me.  Huge advances in insulin manufacturing and delivery have been made in the last 100 years, and although insulin is a life-sustaining treatment, and still the only treatment for Type 1 diabetes, it is not a cure.  Hopefully in the not so distant future, this century’s Frederick Banting will finally discover a cure!  

Happy World Diabetes Day, Cristina

Canada Post Stamp commemorating the discovery of insulin

*Bliss, Michael The Discovery of Insulin.  Toronto:  McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1982.

**FYI – glass syringes had to be sterilized.  Needles were reused multiple times and required sharpening.  This was the standard for over 30 years.  In 1954 a disposable glass syringe was designed for the Polio vaccine and it was used for insulin delivery as well.  Disposable 1cc syringes finally became available in 1969

***Frederick Banting received a lifetime endowment to continue medical research, and also was a well respected landscape painter.  His paintings are on display at Banting House in London, Ontario.  He died in Feb 1941 at age 50 in a plane crash while serving in WW2.

Glory enough for all’ Canadian TV Docudrama

Photos from Library Archives Canada and Banting House National Historic Site

Stamp-Canada Post April 2021




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Italiese wordsThis week, we celebrate Settimana della lingua italiana nel mondo – Week of the Italian Language in the World.  The theme this year is Dante, the Italian, because 2021 is the 700th anniversary of his death.  I already wrote a Dante themed post earlier this year 700 years of Dante, so instead I am featuring a post on a topic that has a special significance for me-and probably any of you that grew up in an Italian immigrant household.  The rest of you will hopefully find it interesting too. 

Italiese is a language created by Italian immigrants in English speaking countries to express things they did not already have words for.  It is a combination of Italian, anglicized Italian words, italianized English words, and dialetto.  I grew up with Italiese, and I still sometimes use it with my parents, family and paesani.  When joking around with my siblings and cousins, it is like our own private language.  Some of my favourite Italiese words are disciuascia (dishwasher), i muscirums (mushrooms), boolsheet and sonamabeitch.  I will let you figure out the last 2 words!  Click the blue button to watch a short video :

Renowned Italiese scholar and fellow AICW member Dr Diana Iuele Colilli graciously agreed to answer some questions for me.

What made you want to study Italiese?

I wanted to research Italiese for my PhD dissertation, but my thesis director strongly discouraged me as he said I would be researching Italiese for my entire career.  He was right.  I have always been intrigued by language.  When I embarked on the path of a PhD in Italian linguistics I naturally gravitated toward the “language” that was used extensively in my home, alongside Calabrese.  My parents had a grocery store on St. Clair, so I heard Italiese all the time.  The variations fascinated me.

Why is Italiese important to Italocanadesi and the Italian diaspora in general?

Italiese is extremely important because it documents the language that Italian immigrants had to create when they arrived in Canada.  It demonstrates their resilience and their desire to fit in their adopted land. However, Italiese is a language of passage that is destined to die.  It has never been standardized, it is not used in literature or any other formal setting.  Once the immigrants die there will be no need to use it anymore.  As the child of immigrants, I use it every day with my parents and immigrant relatives.  I use it with my siblings (who grew up with it) for fun.  My children recognize it but don’t really use it beyond a few terms (garbiggio, ghellifrendi, etc) because they use standard English, French and Italian. Italiese is also important as a marker.  In Canada Italians have left their mark in so many industries (construction, food, fashion, etc).  It is important that we document how they spoke, how they assimilated linguistically.  If we don’t document it or keep it alive, as Italians assimilate into the Canadian fabric, we will have generations of Canadians of Italian extraction only.  Language is at the core of culture.  WIthout it, culture gets watered down to memories only.  If we don’t do everything possible to document Italiese, it will get to the point that we won’t know that Italians even immigrated to Canada.  That’s why Christine Sansalone, my late husband Paul Colilli and I have been frantically documenting Italiese through our theatre productions.  We now have 13 published plays that document Italiese in its purest form of the post-WWII period to today with its code-switching.

Does Canada differ from other countries in their Italian/English hybrid language?

It doesn’t.  That’s the beauty and the universality of Italiese.  Italiese is a hybrid language that has at its base (phonology, morphology and syntax) an Italian dialect but the terminology (lexicon) is that of the adopted English speaking country.  So, we have American Italiese, British Italiese, Canadian Italiese, Australian Italiese, South African Italiese …. the dialect mixed with the local English.  The differences will be found in the lexicon.  In Canada we say garbage, so the Italiese word is /garbíggio/.  However, in the US the term is trash, so the Italiese term is “tréscio” and the Australian term is “rábbiscia” because rubbish is used for our garbage.

How can we keep Italiese alive?

By using it.  By continuing to do research on it. However, it needs to be used not only in homes, but in businesses, offices and most importantly in literature. If Italian-Canadian writers would incorporate Italiese in their writings, it would give it much more prestige.

I have my own strong opinion on this, but what do you make of people who are embarrassed by Italiese or dialetto?

I think people are much more embarrassed of their dialects.  Many people who utilize Italiese don’t even realise that they’re using it. The stigma of using the dialect stems from social stigma of using it Italy.  At the time of immigration, the dialect was a marker for low social status.  There is a generation of Italians who were raised without.  Only in the last few years has there been a resurgence of the dialects.  Those stigmas were also felt by the immigrants who left their homeland.  We need to encourage the children and the grandchildren of Italian immigrants to use the “language” (dialect/italiese/mix of the two) that was passed on to them.  In a world in which English is the lingua franca, it’s easy to relegate the dialect/Italiese to the home, or to not use it all. 

Grazie Diana! Who would have thought the word garbage could be so interesting! For more information check out the website for Italiese TV and the You Tube video below.

Diana Iuele-Colilli holds a PhD in Italian Linguistics from the University of Toronto.  She was born and grew up in the Little Italy of St. Clair and Dufferin in Toronto.  Diana is an Emeritus Professor of Italian at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, where she still continues her research toward a dictionary of Italiese.  She is the author of many books dedicated to the Italian experience in Canada.  She is the co-author of 13 plays written in Italiese in its various forms.  She is also the president of the Paul Colilli Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes and disseminates the positive image of Italy and Italian Canadians in Ontario.

Now I am motivated to write some poetry in Italiese! If you have been exposed to Italiese in your country, let us know in the comments.  Ciao, Cristina

Marostica~Partita a Scacchi


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On one of my trips to Italia many years ago… before digital photography…I visited a friend in Castelfranco Veneto, near Treviso.  As soon as I got off the train, I found out that she was able to get us tickets to Marostica’s Partita a Scacchi in Costume a Personaggi Viventi -a live chess game in costume.   

While going through old photos last week, I came across these ones from the event. I decided to scan them so we could viaggiare in pultrona-armchair travel and reenact the spectacle!

In 1454, two young noblemen Rinaldo d’Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, both wanted to marry Lionora, daughter of Taddeo Parisio, the Castellano (Lord) of Marostica.  They wanted to duel for her hand, which was the thing to do at that time, but her father objected.  He did not want to make an enemy of one of the families.  Instead, he proposed a chess game played with live pieces in the main piazza on a giant chess board.  This way everyone in Marostica could see the game.  The winner would marry Lionora and the runner up her younger sister Oldrada.   The original game was on September 12, 1454 and the event is recreated every other year on the second weekend of September on a 16 metre squared marble scacchiera (chess board)which forms Piazza degli Scacchi in lower Marostica.

Merchants, peasants, gypsies and street entertainers start off the festivities with music and dancing.  

There is even a colourful jousting match as armed foot soldiers, knights and drummers parade from Castello Basso.

Sbandieratori-flag throwers entertain the crowd. Both long-staff and short-staff sbandieratori perform.  These in the photo are from Firenze and at the time, they were the world champions in short staff.  

The main performers then enter the piazza from Castello Basso.  In  the photo below, you can see the raised podium in red velvet, where the actual chess game will be played by the two suitors.

The suitors and their families are the first to enter. The man in the red tights at the front is one of the suitors.

Next in line are the noble families.  Noble families representing Verona, Venezia and Firenze are usually played by family of the sindaco (mayor) of each city.

Some of the elaborate late Medieval costumes are on loan from La Scala in Milano.

Next comes Il Castellano, Lionora in the green and gold dress, her sister Oldrada in the pink and gold dress, and their nursemaid.

Finally, the chess pieces enter.  The black and white king and queen are the most striking pieces.

The game begins with the pawns taking their places on the board.

The game is played on a regular sized chess board on a podium outside the Castello.  When one of the suitors makes a move it is called out by a crier in Dialetto Veneto, then the live piece moves.

The original chess moves have long been forgotten.  Local chess enthusiasts use plays from a more recent match for the performance.

When the game is over, the entire cast parades across the board and they return to Castello Basso.

La Partita a Scacchi in Costume a Personaggi Viventi is held in Marostica every other year (even years) on the second weekend in September.  The next dates are September 9-11, 2022.  There are 4 performances, each with 3600 spectators.  Three performances are at 9pm and one is at 5pm.  Ticket prices vary from €23 to €92.  More information is available on this website.

Have any of you been to the Partita a Scacchi or to Marostica?  Let me know in the comments.

The photos were taken by me and by Nadia Bruschetta, although we aren’t certain who took which photos because they predate digital photography and we shared prints.  I hope you enjoyed this viaggio in pultrona!  Ciao, Cristina


In my Kitchen-Summer 2021


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For the second year in a row, I am missing my kitchen in Puglia due to the plague and pestilence of this global pandemic. Hopefully we will see each other again next year. You can see why I miss it by checking out the IMK post I wrote the last time I was there In my Kitchen in Puglia.

Since I had to stay home again this summer, I invited friends over in my backyard a few times. I would usually make pizza for this type of gathering, but my 23 year old oven had been unpredictable and slowly dying. One time my crust would be nice and crispy, another time barely cooked. For a change, I was very Pugliese and made panzerotti. They were delicious, but messy to fry.  Next time I will do it outside on my portable induction burner, but this wasn’t possible by myself. Making panzerotti is really a 2 person thing. They need to be fried soon after being formed, or else they continue to rise, and the tomato sauce starts to seep through the dough. Both of these things can cause them to open and then the oil splatters and gets very messy. I did finally get a new stove last month. Isn’t it beautiful? Now my appliances are the same colour and my pizza crust is evenly cooked.  Yeah!

The pomodori in my garden have been happy. I grew all the plants from seeds, harvested from last year’s crop. Mamma and I have already dried seeds for next year.

My pomodori come in all shapes and sizes.  They have been eaten every day, in every possible way. The cherry ones taste like candy. I walk outside and eat them straight off the vine.

Speaking of pomodori, a few weeks ago, my parents’ cantina had only 3 litres of pasta left on the shelf! That has never happened before. Luckily, my family got together for our 2 day ‘salsapalooza’ and made 273 litres of passata di pomodoro. The cantina is restocked, as you can see!  The whole process can be found in the post Passata di Pomodoro. Most of the tomatoes were purchased, since the ones in our gardens are not all ripe at the same time. We are usually making our passata while jet lagged, right after getting back from Italia, so we supposedly had extra energy this year-although it didn’t feel like it!

Once the pomodori were canned, the rest of the basilico was used for making Pesto Genovese. Now I need to make some Corzetti to serve the pesto with.  I can pour myself a glass of white wine and pretend I am in the Cinque Terre.

My good friends from Sooke came to visit and I made a cake for Susanne’s birthday. Using my most popular recipe, I made Torta Caprese all’ Arancia. The margherite (daisies) design were made with almonds.  I sprinkled the entire cake with icing sugar, then removed the almonds. Ta-da!

The fig crop this year was unbelievable. My family ate all the figs we could, but there were way too many to eat #italianproblems. We made fig jam and even extra fig crostata to freeze. Next year I will have to try drying some too.

That is about all from my cucina (and my parents’ garage) for now.  What is happening in your cucina?  Let me know in the comments.  This post is part of the monthly ‘In my Kitchen’ linkup hosted by Sherry.  To read the other posts in this linkup, click this link to her blog Sherry’s Pickings.

Ciao, Cristina

Reflections from a COVID immunizer




SyringesMany of you readers have probably noticed that my blog has been neglected since April. This is mainly because I have been working a few days a week on the Covid immunization team with the local health department. I thought I it was important for me to do my part for the cause. I also thought it might be nice to actually have the opportunity to talk to live humans. British Columbia is doing well-84% of the population 12 years of age or older has had one vaccine, and 75% have had both doses. These stats are amazing-so the clinics are reducing capacity as the number of fully vaxxed people increases. My temporary extra job will be coming to an end soon.

The experience has been overwhelmingly positive. What a pleasure to work with people who are mostly positive, appreciative, respectful and relieved, …..I don’t think I ran into a single grumpy person! Many were anxious, confused and uncertain, even still hesitant and afraid-but not grumpy! What a nice change. I was continually thanked for my service and I also thanked everyone for showing up!

I worked at several different clinic locations in Vancouver, and also Whistler, but my most frequent location was the Vancouver Convention Centre ‘under the sails’ at Canada Place.  Here is the venue, the lineup and the view from my lunch break.

Vancouver Convention CenterMy first day at the convention center we had 3500 vaccine appointments booked in 10 hours.  In June, the number of appointments was increased to 5000 per day! It was crazy busy, but ran like a well-oiled machine.

Working as an immunizer involves much more than just giving the vaccine. It also involves explaining how the vaccine works, potential side effects and obtaining consent, answering all sorts of questions, assessing allergies, needle anxiety and anxiety in general, monitoring in the aftercare area for 15 minutes, delivering vaccines to immunizers’ tables and often even drawing up vaccines. Drawing up the vaccines is stressful as every last drop needs to be squeezed out of a vial so that the remainder left in 3 vials can be combined to make 1 extra dose! No wastage, but talk about pressure! My first day, there were 3500 appointments booked. Anyone who has previously fainted, felt faint with a vaccine or is really anxious is taken to the First-aid area so they can have their vaccine laying down. Some people are still unsure and confused when they arrive at their appointment and they need more time and reassurance. Canada Place

A surprising number of people booked their appts on their birthdays so they could extra celebrate. They tried to make it fun. Families and roommates showed up together, sometimes in costume or dressed in a theme colour! I loved when young adults brought along their 12 to 18 year old siblings.  Stickers where available on the way out. 

VCH Covid vaccine stickers
You can imagine the interesting responses from people during or after their immunizations. I kept track of them in a sort of ‘covid immunizer journal’ on my phone, and am including my favourites here. Details have been altered, removed and in some cases combined, to protect identity.

The Convention Centre is right in downtown Vancouver. I was amazed at the vast amount of intricately tattooed arms that were presented to me. These often required extra thought re landmarking and placement. It is totally OK to give an injection on a tattooed area, but I tried to avoid doing nasty things like stabbing angels and kittens in the eyeball! I enjoyed asking about the significance of tattooed images because I find this information fascinating, and it also served as a good distraction technique. I had some requests to give the vaccine into a particular tattoo, usually a religious or medical image. I saw a few Plague Doctor tattoos, which are considered ‘dark and edgy’ according to the internet. Plague Doctors treated victims of the Bubonic Plague. They wore big black hats, long black coats, and bird masks with large beaks. The beaks were filled with herbs and spices to mask the stench of death and disease. The large beak also prevented getting too close to the ill person. I suppose this was the 16 th century version of PPE and physical distancing?

As the eligible age to get vaccinated decreased, the amount of anxiety and needle anxiety seemed to increase-even among the tattooed. I tried to be empathetic, but since I know tattooing is painful, I found myself quite often wondering ‘were you unconscious when you got those tattoos?’. Several did lightheartedly comment that they were so drunk or high that they didn’t remember a thing!  Travel was my favourite distraction topic. Many of my vaccinees had travel plans, either for real, or in their minds. It is amazing how animated and relaxed one can get while describing a potential vacation.

I was jokingly asked questions like ‘Did you just give me 3G or the microchip?’ and ‘Do you have a magnet I can use to check?’  Some of the more enthusiastic responses include: ‘I can feel the freedom coursing through my veins!’ ‘It feels like I just got my wallet and keys back after being in jail’ ‘Now I can go lick door handles’…my response- ‘Please don’t!’.
One of my most enthusiastic reactions was from a university student-probably a research scientist. She had her eyes closed and an orgasmic look on her face while she took deep breaths and said she was imagining all of the science, research and hard work that was going into her body at that very moment. For some, getting the vaccine was actually anticlimactic….’I endured 15 months of hell for that?’

We had either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine on any given day, depending on the available supply. People often wanted to know which vaccine they would be getting. The most interesting presentation of this question was ‘So, what’s in your candy dish?’  The cutest presentation of this question-which I was asked several times-was ‘Will I be getting the Madonna vaccine?’ I really wanted to respond ‘We only have Lady Gaga on the menu today’, but I don’t think any of them realized what they had asked.Moderna vaccine and syringes

In the aftercare area, it was obvious who had seen the TikTok video on how to move your arms and body to decrease vaccine side effects! FYI this does not help at all, but does no harm and some of the moves made me laugh.

A lovely 80ish year old woman expressed her happiness to be getting her second dose as she had ‘been through this all before’. She told me about surviving the Polio epidemic in the early 1950’s and how some of her classmates were not as fortunate.  They did not get the new Polio vaccine because their parents were distrustful and afraid. Now Polio is almost eradicated. She hopes everyone will listen to the science! 

Trust Science not Morons
My cousin sent me this amusing text wondering if I was still giving vaccinations. It was altered by autocorrect! I actually like their  version better! 

Text from Maria
I hope you enjoyed reading my Covid immunization diary notes. I also hope that where you live, vaccines are available and accessible to all. Please get out and get yours ASAP! Remember…..follow the science! As our Provincial Health Officer likes to say ‘Be safe, be calm, be kind’.

VCH vaccine signCiao and stay safe, Cristina

Recent Successes for Italia


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The pandemic is not over yet, but things are looking up. Italia was hit early and hard by COVID 19. In 2020, the world became emotional watching videos from all over the country of Italians singing in solidarity from their balconies and windows. This turned into discouragement and low morale as things worsened. Besides mass vaccination campaigns and the reopening of more activities, recent successes are boosting morale across the country. Italia is back in sport, music and even outer space!

The Azzurri -the Italian national team-have won 4 times, but did not even qualify in the 2018 World Cup.  Now the team has had no losses in 34 games.  The last time they lost was September 2018 to Portugal 1-0 in the Nations League. 

Unless you have been self-isolating without electricity, you know that on July 11th at Wembley Stadium, the Azzurri beat England to win the European Cup for the first time since 1968.  The Azzurri played well throughout the tournament, so fans were hopeful.  It was not an easy win-taking 30 minutes extra time and then going to shootouts.  The game was anxiety inducing and could have gone either way.  I was sad to see the English team immediately take off their medals!  They played well and should have been better sports and role models.  Federico Chiesa asking Siri to ‘chiama mamma’ cheered me up again.  The Azzurri will be trying to earn a 5th star at the World Cup in Qatar in November 2022. 

Also on July 11th, 25 year old Matteo Berrettini was the first Italian to be in a Wimbledon final, playing Novak Djokovic. He did not win, but it is not all about winning. Berrettini is the first Italian man to win a Grand Slam since 1976.

May 22nd in Rotterdam, Festival San Remo winners, Italian Glam-rockers Måneskin won the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Zitti e buoni’ thanks to a massive public vote. This was Italia’s third win-the others being in 1964 and 1990. 

Eurovision 2021 was the largest in-person event since the Pandemic started-until Euro Cup, I believe.  The contest is huge in Europe with 39 countries participating, but hardly known at all in North America.  Måneskin is made up of singer Damiano David, bassist Victoria De Angelis, guitarist Thomas Raggi and drummer Ethan Torchio, aged 21-22.  They met in school in Roma and were finalists in the 2017 X-Factor Italia.

Zitti e buoni literally means ‘quiet and good’, but in this context means ‘shut up and behave’.  It was written by the band members.  The lyrics are brilliant.  They are about being yourself and not conforming or worrying about gossip.  Read more about the lyrics here.

So young and so talented!  Below is a video of their winning performance at Festival San Remo in February, complete with a full orchestra. 

The winning country hosts the following year, so the 66th Eurovision Song Contest in May 2022 will be in Italia. 17 cities have put in a bid and the winner should be announced by the end of August.

Last, but definitely not least we have ‘AstroSam’. Italia’s first woman in space, Samantha Cristoforetti will be the first European woman to command the International Space Station.

Last week the ‘Visit Italy’ marketing campaign at the Brussels International Airport went viral. The billboard reads ‘I migliori psicologi consigliano l’Italia dopo una pandemia‘ -The best psychologists recommend Italia for the post pandemic blues!

Auguri Azzurri, Matteo, Måneskin and AstroSam! Also visit Italia, but don’t all go at once! Ciao, Cristina

Photos from: my TV screen, Matteo Berrettini and Måneskin’s Instagram accounts @matberrettini, @måneskinofficial

Internment of Italian Canadians


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Today is the 81st anniversary of the internment of Italian Canadians during the Second World War. I am always amazed at how little is known -even by members of the Italian Canadian community-about this time in history when it was a crime to be Italian. In light of very recent events, I will take this teachable moment as an opportunity to increase awareness.

On June 10th 1940, Italy declared war on the UK, and Canada declared war on Italy. Within minutes, Italians living in Canada became ‘enemy aliens’, considered a threat to national security. Under the War Measures Act and DOCR (Defence of Canada Regulations) 31,000 Italian Canadians were fingerprinted and required to report to the RCMP on a regular basis. 610 Italians were taken from their families and sent to remote internment camps in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and New Brunswick.

None of the internees were ever charged with a crime and were held prisoner for up to 4 years. The average time was 16 months. Internees ranged in age from 16-67 years and also included Canadian born Italians and 4 women. When eventually released, they were expected to pay the incidental costs of their internment. For generations, this event had long lasting, devastating effects on the internees and their families, and the Italian Canadian community as a whole.

POW mail Columbus Center collection

Families had to cope with the trauma of seeing their spouse, parent or grandparent taken away, not knowing why, where to, or what would happen to them. In most cases, those interned were the main income earner for the family. Assets were seized and accounts frozen. Many businesses were forced into bankruptcy. There was no assistance from the government. For the entire community, this discrimination resulted in loss of work, loss of dignity and status. They suffered vandalism, verbal abuse, violence and shame, as well as fear for future generations. Little to no discussion occurred afterwards, as the internment was seen as shameful and most chose to remain silent-even with their own families. Many families were afraid to speak Italians to their children and grandchildren, and some even anglicized their names. A fellow AICW member whose father was detained but not interred told me about what it was like for them, even years afterwards. Rocks were thrown at their houses, and black-out curtains were used on basement and garage windows, so as not to be caught in the act of doing things that we ‘too Italian’ such as making wine.

In 2012, the AICW (Association of Italian Canadian Writers) received a grant from the Canadian government to publish 2 volumes related to the internment. Behind Barbed Wire is a collection of short fiction, memoir, poetry, drama and visual art inspired by the internment. Beyond Barbed Wire is a collection of essays examining the internment from historical, social, literary, and cultural perspectives. Many of the works are written by children and grandchildren of internees. They are available on the publisher’s website as free ebooks.

Today, Canada is home to almost 2 million Italian Canadians. On May 27th 2021, in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized to those who were interned, their families, and the Italian Canadian community. Families of internees were also personally invited to a virtual reception, which scrolled through the names of those interned.  

In his statement, Trudeau stated ‘Canadians of Italian heritage have helped shape Canada, and they continue to be an invaluable part of the diversity that makes us so strong. Today, we acknowledge and address historical wrongs against the Italian Canadian community, we also show our respect for their great contributions to our country. To the tens of thousands of innocent Italian Canadians who were labelled enemy aliens, to the children and grandchildren who have carried a past generation’s shame and hurt and to their community, a community that has given so much to our country, we are sorry. Chiediamo scusa.’   

Learning about these events is a step towards ensuring history does not repeat itself. More information on the Italian internment can be found on the website Italian Canadians as Enemy Aliens: Memories of WWII.


Camp Petawawa 1940 from http://www.italiancanadianww2.ca/villa/home

Nicola Germano at Camp Fredericton, 1943. Collection of Joyce Pillarella

Internees escorted by military guards back to POW Camp Petawawa, 1940. National Film Board of Canada photo.

Settebello-Bloghiversario #7


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Today is another bloghiversario-a blog anniversary.  It is hard to believe it has already been 7 years since starting Un po’ di pepe.  Where did the time go?  If feels like just yesterday I had trouble coming up with a blog name. This has been an amazing, rewarding experience and I have ‘met’ so many virtual friends and even reconnected with old ones.

7 is a lucky number in many cultures.  Settebello, the sette denari (7 of coins) is the luckiest card in an Italian deck of cards.  Let’s hope that means it will be a lucky year! We could all use more settebello.Settebello

Last year, I did not write a bloghiversario post.  We had been in ‘pandemic mode’ for 6 weeks, and it is hard to believe that 1 year later, the world is still sottosopra…upside down, and I still feel like an extra in a low-budget science fiction movie where plague and pestilence run rampant.  

I started out this pandemic being crazy productive-increasing from 2 blog posts per month to 3, trying out all the recipes I could never find the time to get to, Zoom yoga 3-4 times a week and planned out  many art projects.  I lost steam at some point and now have trouble concentrating enough to write a shopping list or paint my nails.  I am now spending most of my time reading and growing seedlings, but thankfully I am still doing the Zoom yoga 3 times a week.

5 masks hanging on a clothesline

The loss of life, paralysis of the world economy, and mental health effects of this pandemic have been devastating.   Each of us copes differently with the confusion, fear and stress of quarantine, distancing, and finding distraction from all things Coronavirus.  Some of us are madly productive, and others slow right down.  I have yo-yo’d back and forth.  What I am trying to say is, as long as what you are doing helps with coping and local guidelines to help everyone stay safe are followed, it does not really matter. Just stay safe!

I decided to do my part for ‘the cause’ and got a temporary new job.  I will be doing some relief work with the COVID 19 Immunization clinics for Vancouver Coastal Health.  My training session was a few mornings ago and it was a happy place.  The 3 people I immunized were so excited, relieved, and ecstatic, it made my week!  

Personal Protective Equipment

Today is also La Festa della Liberazione d’Italia, the anniversary of the liberation of Italia from Fascist occupation in 1945.  Viva la libertà. Since it is relevant today, I would like to share this 1955ish quote by Piero Calamandrei, an author and protagonist of the Resistenza:

La liberta è come l’aria.  Ci si accorge di quanto vale quando inizia a mancare. /Freedom is like air.  We only realize how much it is worth when it is lacking.

SettebelloGrazie to all of you for taking the time to read, comment, send messages and especially for giving me an excuse to research and write about things that interest me!  If you have any suggestions for posts or just want to say ‘ciao‘, leave me a comment. Here is a link to my first post Perché questo blog?/Why write a blog?

Grazie mille a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’ per leggere e darmi una scusa per scrivere di cose che mi piacciono.  Lasciami un messaggio se hai un idea per un post o semplicemente per dire ‘ciao’.  Un abbraccio, Cristina

Forza! Continue to stay safe everyone, and hang in there.  Un abbraccio, Cristina



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Buon Primavera!  It is the first day of spring and March 21st is also Giornata Mondiale del Tiramisù-World Tiramisù Day.  Tiramisù, made up of espresso dipped Savoiardi layered with a cream of whipped eggs and mascarpone, topped with cocoa-is thought to be a rather ‘modern’ creation.  It is widely believed to have been invented in Treviso in the late 1970’s and has been popular worldwide since the 1990’s.  The basis of it has actually existed for a long time, and Tiramisù as we know it today is an evolution of traditional local desserts, aphrodisiacs and energy drinks.  It has quite a controversial history, with at least 6 restaurants in 2 regions claiming to have invented it.  Definitely too many cooks stirring this pot!Tiramisu'

In the ‘dolci al cucchiaio’ (puddings/spoon desserts) section of Pellegrino Artusi’s 1861 book ‘La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene’ recipe #649 Dolce Torino sounds similar to Tiramisù.  It is made with savoiardidipped in a spicy liqueur layered with a cream made of eggs, butter, icing sugar, milk, vanilla and chocolate, topped with ground hazelnuts and pistachios.

Zabaione, made of raw egg yolks whipped with sugar with marsala or sometimes espresso, was considered a restorative energy drink for newlyweds, new mothers and the sick.  It also often served as a breakfast for children.  In Veneto, it was called sbattutino, meaning little beaten one.

In Treviso, they say the madama at a local brothel served a dish inspired by sbattutino, made with eggs, sugar, caffè and savoiardi to patrons and staff to restore their energy.  Sounds like an early Viagra?  It was called Tireme su, meaning lift me up in dialetto Veneto.  While this is likely leggenda metropolitana– an urban legend, I believe there may be some fact to it!

In his 1968 memoir, Giovanni Comisso (1895-1969), a writer from Treviso wrote about his nonna making a dessert called Tirame-sospiro-su in the early 1900’s and how she remembered it from her childhood.  (Note-I tried but was not able to locate his memoir).

The claim for inventing Tiramisù as we know it today is made in both Veneto and Friuli by at least 6 restaurants!  Owner Alba Campeol and chef Roberto Linguanotto both claim to have invented it around 1969 at the former Ristorante alle Beccherie in Treviso, as well as Carminantonio Iannaccone, a baker who claims he made and delivered the Tiramisú served at the restaurant!  Other Treviso restaurants staking a claim wereAl Camin, El Toula and Le Celeste.  In Friuli Mario Cosolo at Al Vetturino in Pieris and Norma Pielli at Albergo Roma in Tolmezzo both claim to have invented Tiremesù in the 1950’s.  Mannaggia!

Veneto is definitely responsible for popularizing Tiramisù, after the first published recipe appeared in Vin Veneto magazine in 1981. In the US, it became popular after being mentioned by Tom Hanks in the 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle as being a mysterious dessert that women love.

In 2013, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano requested it as a special menu item at the International Space Station……dehydrated Tiramisù.  Uh…no, grazie! Tiramisu ingredients

My Tiramisù recipe is classic and simple.  A few notes on the ingredients:

Mascarpone is a product of Lombardia.  Often called a cheese, it is actually a cream, like clotted cream.  It can not be replaced with whipping cream and definitely not with cream cheese!

Eggs are raw in Tiramisù.  If possible, use farm fresh eggs, kept in the fridge until needed.  When separating the eggs, crack the whole eggs into a bowl, then scoop the yolks out by hand and put them in another bowl, rather than using the eggshell to separate them.  Make sure there is no yolk mixed in with the whites.

Caffè = espresso, preferably made in a stovetop Moka pot.  Decaf espresso is fine and will not change the taste.  Do not use North American brewed coffee or instant coffee!

Alcohol is optional.  Marsala is the most traditional alcohol to use.  My family has always treated caffè and Sambuca as a package deal, so this is what I use and I believe it is the yummiest option. 

Savoiardi are usually called Lady Finger Biscuits in English.  They are named after the House of Savoia, the ruling family of Italia.  In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, savoiardi were considered patriotic.  Read more in the post Margherita di Savoia.  I also like to make Tiramisù with Pavesini. They are smaller, crunchier and much thinner than savoiardi and have a light vanilla taste to them.  This results in an elegant looking Tiramisù with multiple thin layers, as in the photo below.Tiramisu' with Pavesini

Dish-a dish with straight sides rather than flared works best.  I use a 20cm X 30 cm glass baking dish (8 inch X 12 inch) with a plastic lid and it works well for a 2 layer Tiramisú.  If you want a 3rd layer, use a smaller dish.



500g container of Mascarpone

1 400 g package Savoiardi

5 large eggs, separated

60g (¼ cup) sugar plus 10g (2 tsp) sugar

300ml (1½ cups) caffè

Sambuca or preferred alcohol

Cocoa powder or shaved chocolate for topping

Pinch of salt

  • Make caffè and stir in 10g (2 tsp) sugar while still hot, then add alcohol and let cool.
  • Mix yolks with sugar in electric mixer until frothy.  Add mascarpone and mix.
  • In a separate bowl, using clean whisk or beaters, whisk egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form.  Note-If you only have 1 mixer bowl and beater, it may be easier to mix the egg whites first.  If any bit of yolk gets into the whites, they will not become fluffy. 
  • Add egg whites to mascarpone mixture, stirring up from the bottom to keep it fluffy.  Do not overmix. Tiramisu' in progress
  • Spread a bit of mascarpone cream mixture to the bottom of the dish
  • Dip savoiardi one by one in caffè/sambuca mixture and arrange on bottom of dish.  Cover with half of the remaining cream mixture and repeat. Tiramisu'
  • Top with sifted cocoa powder or shaved chocolate. 
  • Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight, then cut and serve.  It is best to consume it all by the next day, which is not usually a problem!Tiramisu'

Happy World Tiramisù Day/Buon Giornata del Tiramisù! Do any of you readers, especially those from the Veneto- have Tiramisù origin stories? Buon Appetito, Cristina!

To listen to more about Tiramisú, check out Luca’s podcast on Luca’s Italy.


Percorso della Memoria


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Largo San Michele Orsara di Puglia

During my last trip to Orsara di Puglia in July 2019, I arrived just in time for a new event, the Fine Confine Festival held in conjunction with Montaguto.  Montaguto is the closest town, less than 7 km away, but it is ‘across the border’ because it is in Campania.  Fine Confine means ‘no more borders’.  Of course, there is no actual border between Puglia and Campania, it was meant to be an emotional reflection on borders and walls.  

The 3 day festa had a jam-packed creative program.  One of the featured events was an open air exhibit, Percorso della Memoria.  The exhibit featured black and white photos taken by local architect Nicola G Tramonte between 1972 – 2008, super mega enlarged and affixed to the textured stone exteriors of buildings in the Centro Storico.  The photos are from his 2016 book Consegna di un Mondo (Surrender of a World).  It weighs almost 2kg, so I left my copy in Orsara!  Percorso della memoria, literally ‘path of the memory’, is best translated as ‘a stroll down memory lane’.  

My favourite piece, both for image and location is of Z’Ndunett (Zia Antonietta), my friend’s bisnonna, with her nose in a book.  It is on the imposing portone of Palazzo Varo in Largo San Michele.  I wonder what she is reading-it looks like it could be a prayer book? It was rare for anyone of her generation to make it past grade 2, which make the photo even more interesting.

True amicizia.  These two vecchiette were likely the best of friends for almost a century. Vecchiette are little old ladies.  Isn’t that what LOL meant before texting?

Un centesimo for her thoughts?  If only we knew what she was thinking.

This image is on the outer side wall of the 17th Century Fontana Nuova, where my Mamma used to wash clothes.  These gnarled, wrinkled, sturdy hands have worked and tilled the soil.  Likely they hand washed a lot of laundry too!

The only colour photo in the exhibit, this one is on the portone of an abandoned building I have always been fond of.  I refer to it as la casa del cappero because there is a caper tree growing from the inside. The owner died long ago, and apparently a disinterested heiress in New York does not give it much thought.  The subject lived around the corner and she fits right in,  seeming to become part of the building.  I remember her from the 1980’s when she was scandalized by my sister’s short shorts.  She would mumble ‘puttanella, puttanella’ when 8 year old Lucia walked by!

My friend Antonietta’s dress blends nicely into the colour palette as she admires this photo.  I adore these chickens who look like they are doing ‘lo struscio‘ – a passeggiata up the main street of Orsara! There were actually 2 photos on this wall, as you can see in the next photo.  This beauty is one of my favourite doors in town.

The ragazzo in this portrait with his infectious gap-toothed laugh absolutely radiates the joy of childhood! The wire his hand is gripping is mirrored in the real wire of the clothesline and the cast shadow it leaves. Unlike the rest of the photos in the exhibit which are on crumbling exteriors, this one is on a clean, newly painted surface.  My nonno Luigi used to live around the corner to the right.

There is another photo across the narrow street, but I did not get a close image of it.  I love the afternoon cast shadows on the walls. I am  constantly on the lookout for cast shadows when I wander the streets of Orsara-you can see some of my discoveries in  Il Sole di Metà Pomeriggio.

This last photo by Nicola is actually from an earlier exhibit during Fucacost e Cocce Priatorje, the November 1st festa in 2017.  I had to include it here because it was affixed to the wall of a wall down and across the narrow street from my casa in Orsara.  The red palazzo belongs to the same owner as la casa del cappero.  They are painted the same colour.  You can see the street is decorated for the festa with zucche (pumpkins) and ginestra (Scotch broom).  In case anyone is wondering ….small cars do drive these  narrow streets!

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour.  Hopefully there will be another Fine Confine Festival soon, when travel is possible again.  To see more of Nicola’s photos, check out his instagram account @nicolagtramonte.  

Buon viaggio (speriamo), Cristina