Roman holiday -- no scooter needed

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Roman holiday -- no scooter needed

When the new Italian ambassador, Francesco Rausi, moved to Korea in March, he quickly noticed that Koreans enjoy Italian restaurants, favor Italian designer clothes, and want to vacation and study in Italy. So he knew that the time leading up to Italy's Republic Day holiday, June 2, would be festive. On that date Italy celebrates its public referendum of 1946, when Italians voted for a republic over a monarchy.

At a news conference earlier this month, Mr. Rausi expressed enthusiasm about linking Italian culture and history to Korea, and said he was ready to kick off the Italian Festival in Seoul.

The festival is patterned after a similar production organized in Singapore last year. It consists of various events, all organized by the Italian Embassy and the Italian Trade Commission, highlighting fashion, food, art and live performances. The festival is part of efforts to introduce Italian culture and art throughout Asia and South America, said the Italian trade commissioner in Seoul, Matteo Picariello.

The festival kicked off on May 16 with a fashion exhibition in Bundang, just outside of Seoul, of works by Italian designers. The show, at the Korea Institute of Design Promotion, provides a dazzling overview of modern Italian fashion.

Included in the exhibition are interesting items made by big names in Italian fashion. Salvatore Ferragamo, famous for ergonomically correct shoes, is represented with the red pumps specially designed for Eva Peron in 1946. The shoes were later worn by Madonna who starred in "Evita." A 1970s fluid jersey dress by Roberta di Camerino is also on display, and bears the designer's signature geometric lines and bold colors: red, blue, green and brown, which became the symbol of elegance and class. Also in the show is Muccica Prada's almost weightless 1999 silver sequin dress, which was a favorite with Hollywood stars that year, and Roberto Cavalli's animal prints, which express imagination and creativity that were lauded by fashion mavens worldwide, from New York to Paris, Tokyo and Seoul.

The fashion show on the 16th featured styles from more than 20 designers, including Versace, Trussardi and Marni.

For most people, the real Italian spirit is in the savory food. The festival includes food fairs at Hyundai Department Store branches, and discounts at restaurants, such as Il Ponte (02-317-3270) in the Hilton hotel and Para Pasta (02-572-9831) and Toscana (02-2222-8647) in the Renaissance Hotel. Also, Italian restaurants and cafes serving Illy Coffee and Caffe Molinari will offer free espresso to those who bring coupons.

For more information on the Italian Festival, and to find out how to get the free coupons, call 02-779-0811.

Used to be, no one knew beans about espresso

By Matteo Picariello

Contributing Writer

When I arrived in Korea almost five years ago, just before the economic crisis, I was surprised to see how many bars Seoul had. By "bars" I mean places that brew and serve coffee.

I was not fully aware of Korean habits and customs. My mistaken image of Korea came from my concept of China as the land of tea. I was ready to try all kinds of tea from green to ginseng. But I was surprised that almost everywhere Koreans were drinking black coffee.

And the coffee was so different from the espresso we Italians are accustomed to. Yes, I have to admit I still cannot drink the dark hot water called "American coffee." I am spoiled when it comes to coffee.

Back then there was one place in Apgujeong called Palladio where we Italians used to go on Sunday mornings to drink real espresso. Now it's a big Starbucks. The only other way to get espresso then was to go to a good restaurant or make it at home, if you had the equipment.

I was resigned to this sad destiny when suddenly, and once again surprisingly, espresso sprang into the Korean market. Though I knew Koreans loved Italian food and that Seoul has many places with good pasta and pizza, I thought espresso was too strong for Korean tastes. Luckily, I was wrong.

In just a couple of years many Italian espresso brands were introduced and many bars opened: Segafredo was the first, followed by Illy, Lavazza, Molinari, Hausbrand, Caffe Mauro, Musetti and Caffe Pascucci. These days, you can even get Musetti at SK gas stations. It was such a pleasant surprise to see how fast Koreans took to this new taste.

Of course we Italians didn't start the espresso wave alone; the American colossus Starbucks entered the market, followed by many imitators. Frankly speaking, I like these places, too; but the atmosphere is different, as is the espresso. One good point, and some Italian bars in Korea are doing the same, is that they offer many choices, such as mochas and frappacinos. But the problem is that the offerings are standardized.

By contrast, in Italy we believe that espresso is better in some places than others: For example, the espresso in Naples is better than the espresso in Milan. We think a real espresso needs a good coffee mixture and a good machine -- Italian-made, of course. We think the water is crucial. And we think you need a skilled barista, who really makes the difference.

A good barista, without any lengthy menu, will make a personalized espresso or cappuccino for you upon your request. That is evident in the orders you hear in Italy: espresso semplice, or simple; macchiato, or with milk, cold or hot; in vetro (in a small glass instead of a cup), tiepido (not too hot), corretto (with a bit of grappa ). Hardly anyone orders exactly the same thing, and you can vary the possibilities to match your mood.

Now my family and I are getting ready to relocate to Sydney. I'm sure I will not have to tell my successor as trade commissioner here to bring coffee from Italy as we did: There is no need.

It's playful, it's progressive, it's powerful, it's Italian

By Park Soo-mee

Staff Writer

The art of Ugo Riva

The Italian sculptor Ugo Riva believes that the most poetic subject in art is, paradoxically, the very ordinary. Since the '70s, Riva has been exploring one of the most common subjects represented in Western art history -- motherhood. Starting Thursday, the artist's exhibition, "Italian Sculptor: Ugo Riva," will be on at the Park Yeo-sook Gallery in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul. Some 18 bronze figurative sculptures and terra cotta pieces will be on display.

Riva, 51, sculpts mothers holding their sons, but not in an idealized form like many religious statues or Renaissance piettas that aggrandize the concept of maternal beauty. Instead, the artist explores the personal relationship between herself and her own son and the inherent psychological ups and downs of being a mother -- a state which the artist describes through images that tell of wounds and healing.

To represent the imperfections of motherhood, which contrast with the elevated notions reflected in Renaissance sculptures, the artist deliberately removes certain body parts of her figures: they are often missing arms or heads. The unwholeness of the figures disturbs the viewer's perceptions about maternal beauty, and makes the pieces look like classical antiques -- one of the reasons her works are popular among nonartist audiences.

What also makes Riva's sculptures compelling is her use of traditional media. Riva uses terra cotta, a red, hard-baked pottery material which has typically been used by the architects and decorative artisans of north Italy as a sculpting material for tombs, fountains and altars. Many of Italy's Madonna compositions were made from terra cotta.

The exhibition runs through June 15. For more information, call the Park Yeo-sook Gallery at 02-549-7574.

Bruno Munari

If you want a character reference, Picasso called him "the new Leonardo." Another? The Italian art critic Andrea Branzi predicted that he would have become the John Cage of design if he had been born outside of Italy.

Parallels between the design expert Bruno Munari and the avant-garde American composer Cage come easily. Cage was once described as an artist who didn't approach his works as musical pieces, but as tools to bring social change. Munari's works, while quirky, are potently progressive. Cage's artistic paradigm was called "an open structure;" the description applies to Munari's work as well.

A retrospective at the Seoul Art Center, "Bruno Munari -- Playful Masters of Nonsense Design From Italy," is the artist's first major show in Korea.

The exhibit, comprising works Munari created over his 60-year career, is a mix of furniture, imaginative playthings, tools, postcards, sketches and sculptures, and profiles the artist's progressive interest in various fields of art, from architecture to toy design. The exhibition includes Munari's trademark pieces, such as his fork series in which the distorted cutlery is depicted as an extension of the hand.

Also on display is Munari's "Zizi Monkey Doll," which has wire in its body and changes form freely. A more subtle work is a bamboo vase he made in Japan.

While denying the conventional notion of "design" as an artificial packaging, Munari explores the world beyond the visual and external. In accord with what Munari often likes to say to his students, "Take life as seriously as a game," the artist's design is extraordinary playful without being flimsy. The show closes Wednesday. To contact the gallery, call 02-580-1538.

Soccer Sketches

From Saturday to June 29, a special exhibition has been organized at the Seoul Arts Center to celebrate the World Cup. The center's art museum will host an exhibition of 20th-century Italian artists whose drawings and sculptures document or represent scenes of soccer matches. On display will be some 90 pieces by artists such as Renato Gutuzo, Geraldo Dotori and Autorino Mancholli. For more information, call 02-580-1300. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

by Inēs Cho

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