They say you can’t please everyone, but “they” haven’t joined the Tuscan Association of Oregon. The Portland-based club offers a broad array of topics and programs from month to month, hoping to satisfy the curiosity, aesthetics or appetite of all of its members over the course of time.
The club, known informally and online as the Oregon Tuscans, started in 1996 at the instigation of Carlo Ilio Mannocci. It is among dozens of Tuscan clubs worldwide that fall under the umbrella of Associazione Lucchesi nel Mondo.
“My intentions in starting the club were two-fold,” says Mannocci, who served as president for most of the club’s first decade. “First, the idea of uniting Tuscans and sympathizers as a social entity, and second – but parallel to the first – the idea of preserving the cultural treasures, traditions and history of this beautiful part of Italy, with a special emphasis on future generations.”
Since Mannocci, the Oregon Tuscans have had three other presidents, including the incumbent, Audrey Perino. Each has put his or her own stamp on the organization. For Perino, it is all about inclusion.
“Look at the numbers,” says Perino, an economist by training. “Portland has plenty of Italians, but not that many Tuscans. In order for our club to thrive we have to appeal beyond the small Tuscan community to people of Italian descent and even to people who simply like Tuscany and Italy.”
One way the club reaches out is by varying its monthly programs. Recent gatherings have featured an opera singer and violist performing during a catered Tuscan Valentine’s dinner; a screening of the historical documentary Il Violino di Cervarolo; a tasting of Piedmont wines; and an exploration of the art of the Sistine Chapel. In conjunction with Portland’s Amici d’Italia, the Oregon Tuscans put on La Festa della Befana each January to bring the Italian Epiphany tradition to a new generation of children.
The April meeting featured a look at how Italy’s World Cup soccer team reflects the country’s culture. In mid-May the group took a field trip to the Oregon Olive Mill at Red Ridge Farms, Oregon’s only olive mill for a tour and oil tasting.
History, cuisine, film, traditions, music, even sports – when it comes to programming, the Oregon Tuscans cast a wide net.
“To keep our membership happy and growing, and to keep our club viable, we have to offer a wide range of programs. They may not always hit the bull’s-eye, but you can’t say we don’t try!” says Perino.
Later this year a new president, Jimmie Moglia, will take the helm with a new initiative. “I have learned recently that there is quite a substantial community in Portland of non-Italian speakers who would like to learn the language,” says Moglia. He plans to add a component to each monthly meeting devoted to the speaking and appreciation of the Italian language.
The Tuscan Association of Oregon has evolved since its mid-1990s days when it met in a tile store, but its venerable founder, Carlo Mannocci, likes the arc of his Tuscan bambino.
“The main purpose and mission of the Oregon Tuscans remains the same, though our venues have changed over the years,” Mannocci says. He worries that these days simply maintaining associations among people of Tuscan and Italian heritage is a challenge with so many distractions and competition for people’s time. “There are more and more obstacles to maintaining the interest of the members. But the Association will remain alive and well in the years to come by virtue of adapting its programs to the changing times.”
Membership is open to anyone. The club meets monthly from fall through spring, typically on the third Sunday of the month at 3pm at Carvlin Hall at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Portland. To learn more about the club, go to www.OregonTuscans.com or the Oregon Tuscans Facebook page.