Person of the month: Francesco Ciabattoni
Italian Literature Professor, Georgetown College Washington DC
Our person of the month for January, is professor Francesco Ciabattoni. He teaches Italian Literature in Georgetown College in Washington DC, and is specialist in medieval Italian literature. Dr Ciabattoni’s research focus lies on Dante and the middle ages, the twentieth century short story and the interplay of music and literature. Dr Ciabattoni is also the author of ItalianSongwriters.com, the first website that provides Italian song lyrics and their translations into English, cultural context and critical commentary.
Dr Ciabattoni’s you are a prominent Italian professor and scholar in the US Capital. How the pandemic affected your activities?
The pandemic has profoundly changed our daily routine in all schools and universities. Not only teaching online presents the challenges (and some opportunities) that most of us have by now become acquainted with, but the lack of casual talks, coffee machine conversations, and human exchanges, has affected students and teachers alike. So, we had to come up with solutions and alternatives. One was inviting guest speakers into our courses, and so many wonderful colleagues have responded to that call with generosity and promptness. Another way I have engaged in, is using more technology for the scholarly side of my work. With a group of medieval scholars from various institutions we have created the Deiphira Project, a philological project in the Digital Humanities about a work by Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti. After eight months of weekly meetings on Zoom we have almost completed the transcription and translation of this interesting dialogue about the nature of love. Aspects of paleography, philology, literary history, and html encoding were discussed collectively by our research group, allowing each one of us to learn and enjoy what we are working on.
How the international students at the Georgetown University are handling the pandemic?
I think that international students have been facing a unique challenge during this pandemic, given their mobile lifestyle and perspective on traveling. During the 2021 spring semester, I was supposed to take a cohort of students to Georgetown's beautiful Villa Le Balze, near Florence, and teach a course on Dante's Divine Comedy during the year of the poet's 700th death anniversary, but the program had to be postponed to 2022. Many other students and professors had to postpone or cancel their travels due to the pandemic, and some had to be apart from their families far away, which is very hard. But when I think of the beauty and rewards of a traveler's way of life, I know that there isn't a better way to live in this world, and soon the time for safe voyages will return.
When you go to Italy on vacation, which is the first dish you want to try and why?
Well, that depends on the season and on where I go. As a northerner from the South I get to equally enjoy all different foods and wines of Italy, but if it is the fall and I'm in Piedmont, then truffle is on the menu, with some red wine. If it is the summer and I'm near the sea, then fish and white wine, of course. I have to say I have my special food and wine advisors in Italy, Luca and Margherita, who own a restaurant in the northern region of Le Langhe. We often discuss Italian food in a cultural and historical perspective, and with samples. The Italian department at Georgetown also has a regular course on Italian Fashion and Food in a cultural perspective.
After so long in the US, have you changed your way to cook Italian dishes?
I had to, to an extent: it is a matter of ingredients, which are not always available in the US. I like cooking Italian food, including homemade pizza and focaccia, several pasta sauces (I remain quite philological about carbonara: egg yolk, no cream, and only original pancetta!), and brasato al barolo when I have guests. But I don't refrain from ethnic food of all sorts and provenances. In fact I'm a curious and voracious explorer of international foods, and when I don't know how to cook something I order in!
What do you miss the most about Italian way of life here in DC?
Walking down a 700-year-old street, running randomly into someone I know and chatting with them, the easiness of social life. In a more professional perspective, I find that spending time as I normally do between Italy and the US helps me place into a global context Italian culture, literature, music, and art, all subjects of my research and teaching at Georgetown. Living straddled between two continents gives me a dynamic angle on things, and I find it quite enriching.
What is the corner of the city that reminds you most of Italy?
There is a small round plaza park in the neighborhood of Bloomingdale, near my house. The style of the benches, the trees, the homes there have something of my own neighborhood back in Turin. It's a bit funny, but I feel home when I walk by there.
- Donatella Mulvoni