Parlatinate: “Every single student has some sort of link to Italy”

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Ava Cohen and Tom Godfrey, two third year Modern Language Students, have set up their own magazine, Parlatinate, focusing on all things Italian. From food to film and literature, the aim of the co-editors is to get as many people inspired by Italian culture as possible, set against the backdrop of their own years abroad in Italy. Palatinate spoke to them about their raison d’être, how they managed to bring the project to life, and their plans for the future.

Cohen and Godfrey started the project during their years abroad, in Catania, Sicily and Modena, Emilia-Romagna respectively.  Both share a huge passion for Italian culture. Cohen explains, “I really have always loved Italy. And I love writing about things culturally, so Parlatinate is the perfect combination of the two.” 

Godfrey, similarly, cites his passion for Italy as “the largest driving factor for the project.” It was during lockdown when the idea first came to him: “Whilst at home studying for exams last May, I was thinking back to the Decameron, one of our first-year texts. In this text, a group of students flees Florence during the plague, and they tell stories each night to pass the time. I thought that in our current period of lockdown, it would be a good idea to give people a platform to talk about things about which they are passionate – which for me is Italy. So, I contacted Ava and within about 20 minutes she had come up with a strategy for marketing and planning! What started as a simple idea soon became the basis for a serious project.”

It is a collection of voices who have something to say about Italy

Their vision for the project, however, is flexible. Godfrey says, “We are happy for people to write what they want, as long as it is related to the Italian imaginary or the Italian experience in general. People could write about Italian American history, Italian gastronomy, and so on. You don’t have to have been to Italy or speak Italian to write for us – you just need an interest. The great thing about Italian culture is that it is transnational. We aren’t asking for a particular style; we just want people to be heard. We have some more academic pieces, all the way to casual chatty articles and poetry.” 

Cohen adds, “It is a collection of voices who have something to say about Italy. So, we’re not going to limit anyone. It is our job to put it together in a way that makes sense.”

It is clear that the passion Cohen and Godfrey share for the project has helped with the process of its launch. Godfrey explains, “We started by messaging people we knew who had a keen interest in Italy or language and culture in general. People were happy to contribute! Then we contacted Heads of Departments to email students, which resulted in a great response and lots of new articles. Finally, we got in touch with Durham Italian Society who were keen to create a link with us. These links have helped us to source contributors from all sorts of disciplines – classics, economics and more. Even though we don’t all share the same subjects, we all share the same passion for language and culture.”

Ava Cohen

Despite both immersing themselves in Italian culture this year, they have found that working alongside other students is really what has made the project flow so seamlessly. “Quite simply,” Cohen states, “We’re a team. Whilst I may drive Tom mad messaging him every five seconds, that’s how we get things done.”

Godfrey adds, “Because we are both passionate about the subject, we are keen to make it a really interesting magazine, and share that passion with others. We are asking people to write about what they want. Not having to push people has been excellent.”

And they want contributors from all walks of life. Cohen argues, “I do believe every single student has some sort of link to Italy – think about how many times a month you eat pesto pasta. I rest my case.”

Living in Italy and being immersed in Italian culture was for both a huge driving force of the project. Cohen recalls her time in Catania. “I was learning so much that I would never learn in a classroom. Any opportunity to share that with as many people as possible would be amazing.”

Think about how many times a month you eat pesto pasta

Godfrey also acknowledges the influence of his year abroad on the magazine. “Living in a country really informs your ideas. If it goes right, you become so much more passionate about the culture. We’re so fortunate to be able to travel, and not everyone has these opportunities. This magazine could be a door into the culture for others. Our magazine’s title includes the word parla, which comes from the imperative ‘speak up.’ The magazine gives people a platform to share their experiences and learn about Italian culture.”

For Cohen and Godfrey, Italian culture encompasses many different elements. Godfrey attributes it to the way of life in Italy. “There is a word in Italian – sprezzatura – which describes the relaxed way in which Italians seem so cool and nonchalant, even if they are stressed. You can see this in cafés in Italy – you see these waiters running around frantically, but they don’t even look stressed. It seems easy to them. In everything to do with this culture that I’ve experienced – and everyone will have a different view – it’s about enjoying life.”

Cohen also describes feeling particularly at ease during her time in Sicily. “Italy will welcome anyone. Things like walking into an advanced level ballet class not knowing anyone – it’s just about knowing the terminology; just feeling like part of the family from the second I walked in. If you are there, you belong there. If you are interested, you belong there.”

It is not only a love for Italian culture, however, that drives them. Cohen reflects, “Learning about other cultures is the way to build tolerance, friendships, and foundations. Looking to people who feel they don’t have an aptitude for languages – you will be accepted by anyone as long as you are interested.”

Tom Godfrey

Similarly, Godfrey argues that learning about other cultures “opens so many doors. You discover new things, and add them to your identity. In a new country, you see habits that don’t exist in your home country. The more you see, there more you can create a mix and match identity for yourself. Even though I have no Italian heritage, I can see my identity becoming a mix of Italian and English.”

“You can interweave all these aspects, and that goes for every culture. There is no such thing as ‘an Italian’, especially somewhere like Italy where pride in individual regions is so important. Wherever you go, you can develop on a personal level. And then on a universal level, you can bring that to increase tolerance. People are benefiting themselves when engaging and sharing tolerance with others.”

Considering the current political climate, with Brexit coming into the fore, Cohen and Godfrey believe projects like Parlatinate are paramount. Godfrey recounts a job interview he recently had for an internship in Bordeaux: “One of the first things they found interesting about my application is that I am a British student who studies languages. They were very excited to see that – despite leaving the EU – British students are still interested in learning about other cultures. And it doesn’t have to be just languages. Engaging in any way – reading the French canon, working on a vineyard in Europe, studying in Germany – all of these things help to keep connections going. So, even if the UK is cutting some ties with Europe, we are still connected.”

Learning about other cultures is the way to build tolerance, friendships, and foundations

Cohen agrees, “On a wider scale, Italy has offered so much to the world, and you can feel their massive international network and influence everywhere. With Brexit, it is important to maintain an international network and create a strong British cultural influence elsewhere.”

The duo has encouraging advice to offer to other students who are thinking about starting their own initiatives. Cohen urges, “Just go for it! Put the idea out there and work out the practicalities later. We had the idea long before we had the means to put it into practice.” Godfrey adds, “If you have the idea, there is probably going to be someone else in the university who is keen. If you can find a team, that makes it so much easier, so you are not on your own.”

Find them on Instagram and Facebook @Parlatinate

Image: Parlatinate

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