Lunching at the UN for a Good Cause

Above: in Italian the United Nations Secretariat building is called the palazzo di vetro or the glass palace. Italy is the sixth-largest contributor to the United Nations ordinary budget and a key player in the fight against hunger.

Thursday, December 13, 2007–It struck me as ironic: the same day that The New York Times published Ian Fisher’s article “In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment,” I attended a luncheon at the United Nations honoring an Italian winemaker for his charitable contribution to the fight against world hunger.

That’s not to say that I don’t agree with Fisher. In fact, his eloquent however hard-to-swallow assessment is right on the money: I correspond daily with Italian friends and colleagues and their missives often convey a general sense of unease and uncertainty. While the malessere or malaise described by Fisher doesn’t cloud all brightness in the Italian sky, neither does it seem to contain a silver lining.

Like fellow blogger and italophile Terry Hughes, I’ve been known to gripe about Italy’s backwardness with respect to continental and insular Europe (check out this recent dispatch). But I’m sure that Terry would agree: Italians are among the most charitable people in the world and they generally and genuinely care about world issues (especially world hunger) despite the general cynicism and skepticism that have historically pervaded Italian life.*

Above: winemaker Marco Fantinel and tennis star Monica Seles, Iimsam’s Goodwill Ambassador and Spokesperson for its Global Sports for Peace and Development Programme Initiative.

At last Thursday’s luncheon, I was the guest of Friulian winemaker Marco Fantinel. He and I met many years ago when I was writing for The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana and when I received the invite, I gladly accepted.

Marco was named a Goodwill Ambassador by Iimsam, the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition, a Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.

Spirulina is a type of easy-to-grow and easy-to-sustain nutrient-rich algae that is used in developing countries to help combat hunger and in particular, child hunger.

Marco travels throughout Italy raising awareness and funds for Iimsam and he has created a special label called “Celebrate Life,” a Friulian Merlot Grave, for which he will donate $1.00 to the organization for every bottle sold.

I hadn’t been to the UN since my days as an interpreter for Italy’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations back in 2003-04, when Italy was the president of the European Union. It was fun to poke around the Secretariat building and remember the days when I used to scurry about in a phalanx of diplomats (I was foreign minister Franco Frattini’s personal interpreter).

Complimenti, Marco, for taking time out to make a difference and to affect change in a world where we are increasingly faced by our inability to make the world a better place for all of us to live.

* The sense of one’s inability to affect change often expresses itself in Italy’s post-war concept of qualunquismo, perhaps best captured in Leonardo Sciascia’s short novel A ciascuno il suo (To His Own), 1966. I don’t know of any succinct translation of qualunquismo. The online version of the Oxford Paravia dictionary offers “indifferent and skeptical behavior towards politics” but this putative translation doesn’t capture the term’s nuances. From the Italian qualunque, meaning “whichever” or “whatever,” the literal translation is “whicheverism.” It denotes self-interest combined with egoism and has its roots in the Renaissance concept of the particolare, Florentine statesman and historian Francesco Guicciardini’s notion of self-interest as the guiding principle of human nature with respect to governance and political unity.

2 thoughts on “Lunching at the UN for a Good Cause

  1. Pingback: Meteorites, Terroir and a Not So Bella Italia « spume

  2. Grazie, Dottore.

    We can bitch about aspects of Italian culture, but only aspects. And the wine people I meet are, by and large, among the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to have known.

    BTW, this thing about eating algae reminds me of dystopian SF from the 1950s and 1960s. “Let them eat scum…”


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