International Intrigue--Attorney celebrates Italian heritage through work with Alighieri Society

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By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Italy is Betina Schlossberg's yearly destination--and Florence is in her heart.

It was the birthplace in 1265 of poet Dante Alighieri, one of the fathers of the Italian language. It was the city where he served in politics until his fall from power in 1301 and subsequent exile, during which he composed his medieval epic poem: La Divina Commedia--the Divine Comedy.

So it's not surprising to find Schlossberg serving on the Board of the Dante Alighieri Society Michigan Chapter.

"A friend formed a small Italian school for Italian children in Ann Arbor, and my son attended," she says. "At one of the Italian community parties I met the vice president for the DAS Michigan Chapter, who talked about joining forces and incorporating our Ann Arbor school into the DAS. I liked the idea and started working towards it--DAS is a great international organization that promotes Italian language and culture."

Schlossberg, an attorney with Pear, Sperling, Eggan, & Daniels in Ann Arbor, became involved with the DAS Michigan Chapter Board. She chairs the By-laws Committee and provides general legal support to the Society.

On December 21, 1924, the inaugural meeting of the Società Dante Alighieri in Michigan was held at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch. But it was only in 2008 that it opened its first office on Woodward Avenue in Birmingham. The DAS is part of the worldwide Società Dante Alighieri, established in Rome, Italy by Royal Decree in 1893, by King Umberto I di Savoia. The society, named in honor of Dante Alighieri has more than 500 chapters worldwide, and presents the art, science, and literature, as well as the political, social, and economic life of contemporary Italy within the global context. It brings Italian culture to the wider community. The Michigan Chapter, by itself or in partnership with other Michigan cultural or educational institutions, hosts cultural and networking events.

"DAS is perfect for me," Betina Schlossberg says. "To me, foreign languages represent a means of communication and an expression of culture. That is precisely what the DAS does, language and culture--the ultimate goal is to promote a better understanding among peoples."

Florence has been a favorite city since Schlossberg lived there while her husband was pursuing his MBA.

"I got bored alone and unable to communicate. On my first week in Florence, my husband told me to pick him up from school. So, there I went trying to find my way again and again after getting lost a zillion times (way before GPS times, mind you); at one point when I thought I was almost there, a policeman stopped me. He asked me a question, which of course I didn't understand. I couldn't even say, 'I don't understand what you are saying.' I tried to say something anyway, but words didn't come out of my mouth. He looked at me expectantly, it felt like an hour. Finally, he waved me off. After this experience, I enrolled at the University of Florence (Università degli Studi di Firenze) to obtain not only command of the Italian language, but also to get exposure to the rich artistic and political history of Tuscany in particular and Italy in general. I already liked art then, but after this experience my interest became more intense."

Now, Schlossberg is not only fluent in Italian, but also in Spanish and German, as a result of her fascination with languages and communication.

"I also love Salzburg in Austria and Heidelberg in Germany--perhaps because of streets there called 'Schlossberg'--which means the mountain of the castle," she says.

Schlossberg, who taught Legal Spanish and English for Legal Studies at the University of Michigan, draws on her global background to specialize in immigration law and assist international clients in other areas of the law.

"You can see the clients sigh with relief when I change from English into their native languages," Betina says. "It is easier to establish a closer relationship with them by speaking their own language and understanding any cultural differences that may exist."

A graduate of Wayne State University Law School, Schlossberg interned at the Archdiocese of Detroit Legal Immigration Services and was an associate editor for Michigan International Lawyer. She also serves on the Art and Cultural Heritage Committee of the American Bar Association Section of International Law.

"I enjoy art and find International Art Law to be exciting and mysterious--art is an expression of culture and affects people in a wide variety of ways," she says. "I joined the committee as a way of learning more about Art Law, and volunteered myself as an editor in order to get as involved as I can with this area of law.

"Everything spins around the same--understanding different peoples. You travel and perceive, you meet people and communicate, you look at art and see life through somebody else's eyes."

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Who was Dante Alighieri?

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 at a time of civil strife between two rival factions: the Guelfs, who fought in support of the Pope; and the Ghibellines, who fought for the interest of the Holy Roman Emperor. Dante's family was loyal to the Guelfs.

At the age of 9, Dante met and fell in love with Beatrice Portinari. Though he never married her, Beatrice became his life-long muse. Against a violent political backdrop, Dante entered into politics, holding various offices in city government. In 1301, his political rivals gained power, and Dante was exiled from Florence. He circulated around the courts of northern Italy, serving counts, dukes and lords in Verona and Ravenna. While in exile, Dante composed his medieval epic poem: La Divina Commedia--the Divine Comedy, layered with classical and Christian symbolism.

Dante died in Ravenna in 1321.

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2010 Italian Film Festival USA

The 2010 Italian Film Festival USA will be held from Thursday, April 29, to Sunday, May 9, bringing contemporary Italian films to the U.S. and providing the public the opportunity to see films that have not yet been and may never be seen locally.

The Dante Alighieri Society of Michigan is the proud sponsor of the opening film "BAARÌA" by Giuseppe Tornatore at 7 p.m., on April 29, at the Detroit Film Theatre in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Films are shown at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Wayne State University, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Henry Ford Community College, and the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts.

Visit http://italianfilmfests.org/detroit.html.

Published: Thu, Apr 29, 2010

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