Breathing new life into an old Italian favorite . . . Albuquerque revitalizes the Gruppo di conversazione italiana with a new format and a great new home

Apr 26, 2017 217

Back in the mid-90s, if you wanted to develop an ear for the Italian language, practice your own conversation skills, or simply network with like-minded lovers of Italian culture, you showed up at the Double Rainbow coffee shop on Central Avenue in Albuquerque on Saturday mornings, ordered a cappuccinoand headed for the section with the most animated discourse. The group consisted of native Italian speakers and Italian speakers-in-training. No one seems to know for sure when the group started, but most agree that its prime mover was Dr. Rachele Duke, UNM’s Professoressa of Italian language and literature, who encouraged her students to take advantage of the opportunity to meet and practice the language with local native speakers. 

The group was informal, with no particular name, format or participation requirements. You simply said, buongiorno, introduced yourself – and bada-bing, you were in. Those were the days before Facebook and Meetups and email announcements. You learned of the weekly gathering throughpassaparola

Over the years, the Double Rainbow became Flying Star Café, the Italian group waxed and waned and waxed again, then began migrating to different coffee shops in search of a more user-friendly location – quieter, more convenient, more suitably configured for group interaction. 

Through it all the group survived, even as most of the original members moved away, passed on, or simply stopped attending. But new faces continued to appear, and the demand for an Italian networking and conversation platform in Albuquerque remained strong. 

Early this year an idea was born among a couple of members of the Italian Festivals of New Mexico (IFNM) board. Steve Paternoster, IFNM board member and self-described “Capo di tutti i capi” of Scalo Northern Italian Grill, has long envisioned his restaurant as the hub for Italian community activity. Without hesitation he offered Scalo’s Cipriani Meeting Room as the home for regular get-togethers involving Italian culture and conversation. At the first meeting in February, the enthusiastic Capo di tutti i capi gave the group a warm welcome, a little history of his restaurant, and a summary of his own Italian heritage. Then, with traditional Italian hospitality, he began pouring wine and homemade limoncello, and ordering up specialties from the kitchen for all to sample and share.

Since then the group - now officially called The Albuquerque Italian Culture and Language Group -  meets in the Cipriani Room at Scalo on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Ideal for its  audio-visual capabilities, the room has already hosted several cultural presentations (some in Italian, some not) including an enjoyable and informative cantoitaliano sing-along. There are plans to show films from time to time in the future. It’s all in fulfillment of the group’s mission: To preserve, celebrate and advance the culture, language and heritage of Albuquerque’s Italian community by providing a welcoming and supportive environment for Italians and lovers of Italian culture and language to network and share, speak the language, and form friendships.With or without a presentation, there’s always plenty of spirited Italian conversation among participants.

To learn what’s planned for an upcoming meeting, Facebook users can join the Facebook Group (Albuquerque Italian Culture and Language Group) and non-Facebook folks can sign up for email notifications. (send your request to be on the email notification list to mariaberry97@gmail.com). True to its origins, the group charges no membership fees, retains its informal welcoming atmosphere and remains a “safe zone” for fledgling speakers to practice and listen. And it’s not restricted to Duke City dwellers. Some of the “regulars” live in Rio Rancho, Placitas and Tijeras. During the NM Italian Film & Culture Festival, a couple from Naples (that would be Italy, not Florida!) attended one of the sessions.

Overheard at a recent meeting: “This is a great way for us to stay in touch with our heritage and for all of us to enhance our passion for all things Italian.”

SOURCE: Italy in NM

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