Tag Archives: Italy

Global Post Magazine: Singer-songwriting legend Emmylou Harris puts ‘mercy in motion’ for EU refugees


Emmylou Harris, wringing her fingers as she learns more and more abou thte EU refugee ciris. Photo by Justin Catnoso

Emmylou Harris, wringing her fingers as she learns more and more abou thte EU refugee ciris. Photo by Justin Catnoso

This is a little outside my specialty of climate change, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend time with and interview Emmylou Harris, one of the greatest voices in American music. She’s also a great humanitarian, as my story tries to explain. Here’s the link.

I met her in Rome, Italy, on June 3 thanks for the herculean efforts of my good friend Jill Drzewiecki with the Jesuit Refugee Service. She organized the three-day visit, which included a private concert for about 60 invited guests at the residence of David Lane, US ambassador to UN Agencies.

Emmylou trying to take in all the information being tossed her way by members of the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Emmylou trying to take in all the information being tossed her way by members of the Jesuit Refugee Service. Photo by Justin Catanoso

My good friend with JRS, Jill Drzewiecki, telling Emmylou about the discrimination encountered daily by refugees in Italy.

My good friend with JRS, Jill Drzewiecki, telling Emmylou about the discrimination encountered daily by refugees in Italy. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Emmylou Harris performing at at private concert on June 2 at the residence of David Lane, US ambassador to UN Agencies.

Emmylou Harris performing at at private concert on June 3 at the residence of David Lane, US ambassador to UN Agencies. Photo by Justin Catanoso

Elle.com: Emmylou Harris Is Ready to Do Something About the Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since World War II

Emmylou Harris and me, Rome, 2016.

Technically, this Q&A for the famous fashion magazine (website) Elle.com is not a travel story. But my subject and I certainly had to travel a long way to meet up and talk in Rome, Italy.

Emmylou Harris, the iconic queen of country music, had traveled from her home in Nashville to see how she could do her part to alleviate the worst humanitarian crisis in decades; I had traveled from my home in Greensboro, N.C., to lead a summer session in foreign affairs reporting for a dozen amazing aspiring journalists, all women, from Wake Forest University.

It all came about because my good friend in Rome, Jill Drzewiecki with the Jesuit Refugee Service, had organized Emmylou’s visit as a potential fundraiser to help the wave after wave of immigrants flooding Europe in the summer of 2016, especially Italy. Jill asked if I would interview Emmylou and write a story. Yes, please, was my immediate response. Another friend at Elle, features editor Laura Abraham, opened the door to this story. I wrote two others, including one for Mongabay!

“I’m just a tiny part, a tiny drop,” she told me of her fundraising through music idea that was just forming. “But who knows what we can accomplish. I mean, how can you see so much pain and suffering and think that it’s normal? It’s not normal. But you have to have hope. You have to believe. You have to feel like you can make a difference.” 

Emmylou and I talked for about an hour on the streets of Rome as the group she was with was touring a part of the city frequented by immigrants and never tourists. She was warm, candid and easy to talk with. That evening, I was invited to a rooftop concert by Emmylou at the home of the U.S. Ambassador for the UN Agencies. Me, a few other friends and about 50 priests. What a night. What a fabulous human being.

Emmylou Harris performing at the residence of David Lane, the U.S. ambassador to UN Agencies.

AOL Travel: Falling in love, Italian style

People in a pizzaria

I wrote this travel story for Zach Everson, a former student of mine at Wake Forest now an editor at AOL Travel. I actually wrote it originally in the summer of 2006 while in Calabria doing research and reporting for my book. It was one of those classic Italian encounters that makes the country so irresistible to travelers — even in the most unexpected places and circumstances.

Falling in “love,” Italian style

By Justin Catanoso   For AOL Travel 

I’m in southern Italy for a month, doing research for my book. One evening, I walk into a pizzeria intent on ordering in Italian, pretending I’m local. The woman behind the counter — early 30s, light brown hair pulled back off a friendly, open face– asks me what I’d like. I scan the glass case and point to a rectangular slice of thick-crusted pizza.

Quello,” I say, that one.

She responds. Uh-oh. I don’t catch a word. So I guess that she’s asked if I’d like it heated. Intent on staying undercover, I say, Si.

She looks at me as if I’ve just teased her, and I’m caught off guard by her lovely, playful smile. She slowly repeats what she said with a touch of attitude. In fact, she’s not asked me a yes or no question. Instead, she asked: are you eating here or taking out? My cover is blown. I close my eyes and shake my head; then I smile back.

At that moment, the looks we exchange are what make Italy so universally beloved by travelers. There is a kindness and playfulness in the simplest of encounters. Her eyes say it all. You’re not from here. You can’t speak Italian. But you’re giving it a shot and you’ve made me laugh. I’m glad you came in. At least, that’s what I read in her eyes — every time she stole a glance at me with another smile.

Now listen, I just talked with my wife long distance and each of m daughters; I’m entirely devoted to them. And yet, I feel like I’m falling in love. Right there in the pizzeria with the woman with the light brown hair. 

I want to lean across the counter and speak Italian like Al Pacino in Godfather III – brooding softly and confidently. I am an American witer here to research the life of a saint, my cousin, of course. Perhaps you’ve heard of him, San Gaetano Catanoso? We should meet later for a glass of wine. I know a great little place on the Corso.

 Naturally, whatever Italian I’ve learned cannot be recalled. I watch silently as she wraps the pizza in paper, tapes the package closed and asks if I’d like a bag (she holds one up, which is how I know what she said). 

Si, I say. At least I remember that.

She smiles one more time, her eyes as lovely as stars, and hands me the package. I resist telling her that I love her. My wife would be proud of me.


Postcard from Florence, Italy: A new look at old art

Stretching my artistic boundaries in Florence, I explore a lesser-known Brancacci Chapel and the frescoes of the unheralded and massively influential Masaccio.  This story was originally printed in a custom travel publication for Wells Fargo.

Postcard from Florence, Italy: A new look at old art

By Justin Catanoso

Standing in the hushed and dimly lit Brancacci Chapel in Florence last August, I could only stare and wonder: How did I not know this guy? How, in the name of Italian renaissance art, had I, after decades of amateur study, missed the pioneering influence of one young 15th-century painter named Masaccio?

There are reasons, I suppose, like lingering on favorites at the expense of recognizing a central inspiration behind the artists I loved best. You see, in all my travels to Italy, I’ve been drawn time and again to the masters of the high renaissance, the guys whose greatest hits are known even to those who wouldn’t know a fresco from a can of Fresca. Like Leonardo and his famous dinner scene. Or Michelangelo and his fabulous ceiling. Their stories and rivalries in the early16th century I know well. But there were gaps in my historical knowledge brought on largely by my own choices: to understand Leonardo and Michelangelo better, I chose to go deeper, focusing my time in Italy on returning to their monumental achievements.

That’s just what I found myself doing during a recent visit to Florence. But in doing so, I got annoyed. I had to alter my plans. And before you knew it, I was gaining profound insights into my renaissance heroes. Let me explain.

In the decade since my last visit to Florence, the Tuscan city seemed somehow changed. Still crowded, yes, but now more chaotic, less charming. As I elbowed my way around the David, through the Medici Chapel and past the Annunciation – true magnets for devotees of Michelangelo and Leonardo – I sensed a fundamental error in my strategy. My treasures were the city’s most obvious treasures. Tour guides, their umbrellas raised, guided their hordes like cattle to the very spots where I wanted to stand quietly and ruminate. No chance.

So I scanned my guidebook and spotted an attraction I had ignored before. On the south side of the Arno, it had seemed too far, too obscure to bother with. A small chapel decorated in the 1420s by a guy whose name I barely knew? It was 100 years outside my historical sweet spot. I passed then. But this time, hemmed in and impatient, I stretched my boundaries, geographically and artistically.

When I reached the Brancacci Chapel, inside the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in the little-traveled Oltrarno neighborhood, a few people were already there, rapt in their silence and attention. They weren’t just viewing this astonishing, world-changing set of frescos, they were absorbing them. Just one look at one panel – an agonized and naked Adam and Eve weeping and wailing as they walk from the Garden of Eden – offered an epiphany. Nearly 600 years old, it would look no different if it were painted today.

On the spot, I learned that Masaccio, just 21 at the time, had singlehandedly lifted painting out of the dark ages, out of the stiff, rooted, two-dimensionality of the early renaissance and gave it form, perspective, movement and real human emotion. For more than an hour, I stared at his half dozen panels. The closer I looked, the more I could see something that wasn’t precisely there —  a bridge to the future, a clear connection to the pieces I knew well and loved best. Visari, the great renaissance historian, explained why: “All those who endeavored to learn the art of painting have always gone for that purpose to the Brancacci Chapel to grasp the precepts and rules demonstrated by Masaccio for the correct representation of figures.”

My renaissance heroes, Leonardo and Michelangelo, had once stood where I was standing, Visari noted. They had stared at the same panels. They saw the bridge Masaccio constructed. And thus inspired, they strode across it to further greatness. They knew. Now I knew.