The Odessa Journal interviewed Alessandro Masi, renowned art historian and Secretary General of the “Societá Dante Alighieri“, Italy’s network of school of Italian in the world, who recently visited Odessa.
You are the Secretary General of Dante Alighieri Society. But who is Alessandro Masi?
I am an art historian lent to Italian language policy since 1995; I have held this role since 1999 and I deal with the entire world management of the Dante Alighieri network, which is made up of 400 committees, many schools, certification centers and relationships direct with the Italian diplomatic and consular network. All this is expressed in a service that reaches about 300 thousand members and students.
Is this your first visit to Odessa?
This is not my first time in Ukraine, but in Odessa yes. I can only express my admiration and amazement for the beauty and charm of this city. And I feel how much Italian is there: in its history, in its walls, in its architecture, but also in the very spirit of the people, who, to put it mildly, are Mediterranean. Here is the Black Sea, but it is very similar to the one that borders the coasts of Naples or Palermo.
Any surprises in particular?
The surprise of this city lies in the fact that I found myself at home. In other words, the impression one often gets, during these trips around the world, is that of acclimating to different environments. Upon entering Odessa, I immediately felt at home. And I think this is of a little consequence.
Your work in promoting the Italian language in the world makes you know how the Italian language is considered by different nationalities. Why foreigners want to know this language, which is not as essential as English or other business languages?
Precisely because our language is not indispensable, it is necessary. Necessary in the sense that unlike the great vehicular languages such as English, Spanish and Mandarin, Italian is a love by choice and not by compulsion. So studying Italian means getting closer to what are the excellences of our world: art, cuisine, fashion, design, architecture.
And this passion for Italy then has a purpose: to make the famous “grand tour”, that is a travel to Italy. So, immerse yourself in the beauty of the Tuscan hills, cross the streets of Florence, cross the Venetian bridges, .. here is the purpose of the language is a pure pleasure. And as such, in a society that is always looking for more true experiences. Italian is one of those experiences that touches the bottom of the soul.
Here in Odessa you visited the Italian collection of the Museum of Western and Oriental Arts. Painting, like music, are powerful languages. Is Italian useful to understand them better?
It is critical. If we talk about meta-languages, about all that apparatus of meanings that we decipher through the eye, which are a fundamental educational part, as Plato himself said “the eye is the mirror of a soul” which, as I said, he is looking more and more for a kind of pleasure. Pleasure that is not hedonism, but is a rediscovery of the taste of life in the depths of the soul.
The British express this concept through two words: “soft power”. I prefer to say that Italian expresses a “seductive power”. Because approaching Dante’s language, and we say it exactly on the 700th anniversary of his death, is a journey in love, a journey into harmony. Italian is a language of harmony. Dante himself writes about Italy in the Sixth Canto: “il Paese dove il sí suona“ (the country where “yes” sounds). Giving a wonderful image of our country.
Which typical example of Italian culture (book, film, song, painting, actor, recipe, monument) would you choose?
Italy has represented its image for many decades through ambassadors of our country, who were actors such as Marcello Mastroianni, Sofia Loren, singers, great tenors such as Luciano Pavarotti. If I were to say what represents Italy, I would say that Italy still represents the artisan perfection with which man is able to shape life. That is, that human dimension, through which we are able to express ourselves in this life. It is not the dimension of globalization, of homologation, of zeroing, but it is a completely individual dimension, which places man at the center of the world.
What can Italy give to Odessa and what can Odessa give to Italy?
I believe that both can bring what their heritage is in an identical way. Italy can bring here to Odessa what it has always brought to the world, namely the representation of a complex system, through which culture expresses itself, becoming a tool for growth.
Odessa, with its great charm, with its golden pages of history, can confirm a centuries-old tradition, representing for Ukraine itself a center of culture and development of new thought, through which the Italian language can certainly be a fundamental passage.