Our person of the month for February is Paola Corneo. She has been Director of Casa Italiana Language School/Ente Promotore (CIEP) since 2017. Corneo is the Executive Editor of Voce Italiana, the Italian American Gazette of the Washington DC area, since January 2021.
Paola, tell us something about yourself and your background.
I was born in Arona, on lake Maggiore, and before moving to DC in 1998, I lived in Paris, France and Berkeley, California. Since my arrival in the US, I’ve wanted to keep the Italian language and Italy as close as possible. With 3 friends, we founded DIVE in 2001, the first American Association of Italian Women Abroad. A few years later, I was elected to represent Italians at the Comites of Washington DC. All throughout, I taught Italian and raised my kids. Currently, I wear two hats, Director at CIEP and Editor at Voce Italiana. I hold two Masters, one in Pharmacy (Milan, Italy) and one in Art History and Archaeology (Paris, France).
You are the director of Casa Italiana Ente Promotore. Can you tell us something more about this prominent Italian institution in Washington DC?
The idea of Casa Italiana as Center for the Italian Community was born in 1973, and thanks to the generous donations of many Italians and Italian-Americans, a magnificent building was built, just three blocks north of the Capitol, in 1981. A few years later, an annex building was added, “la scuola”, where Italian language and culture was taught to adults and kids. At Casa, my main work is dedicated to the “corsi integrativi”, based on the Italian school curriculum and structured according to a project developed in collaboration with the School Office of the Embassy and the Università per Stranieri of Siena. For Italian students, with a long-term stay abroad project, the course represents an excellent and unique opportunity to learn the correct use of the language and to have an organic approach to Italian culture. Most recently, Casa Italiana has recently added a new building and inaugurated IAM, the Italian American Museum of Washington DC. We can’t wait to have you all there!
How the pandemic affected your activities?
Unfortunately, our classes are strictly online since March 2020. Luckily, the imagination and tenacity of all the teachers makes even remote learning a pleasure! Being online let us expand to California, New Jersey and Florida: we now have students from all over the USA.
How are your young students are handling the pandemic?
For the youngest students, it is very hard to keep their concentration in front of a screen, with no interaction with their peers. We really need to thank all the parents that spend longmany hours helping and supporting their kids. Our youngest students are only 5 years old, and can keep up with learning, but they keep saying that they miss playing with each other. We are staying positive and we are planning a big outdoor celebration in the summer!
When you go to Italy on vacation, which is the first dish you want to try and why?
In the winter: the Meringata from Aliverti (a patented semifreddo masterpiece of meringue and chestnuts in a delicious box made with milk chocolate flakes), the Margheritine of Stresa (the history of these daisies-pastries dates back to mid-800 when lake Maggiore was one of the favorite destinations of the royal house of Savoy), gorgonzola con il mascarpone, “pesce persico” (perch fillet), polenta and sausages after hiking in the mountains. In the summer: any gelato, a bowl of strawberries (the little ones), white currants and raspberries, pizza, homemade kiwi jam, soft local cheese, any season vegetables
After so long in the US, have you changed your way to cook Italian dishes?
Definitely! I realize it every time I am back to Italy and I can eat the dishes made by the best cook, my mom!
What do you miss the most about Italian way of life here in DC?
Driving a few kilometers, and being able to admire spectacular towns, landscapes, or buildings, all so abundant in Italy. Hiking in the Alps and sleeping in the Rifugi. Eating healthy without spending a fortune. Walking in my town and running into friends without a two weeks’ notice!