As a great lover of New York, a few years ago I started to notice a particular character on social media, unique in his way of talking about the city that fascinates me so much. I contacted him, and we met, and we became friends. One year we also walked in the Columbus Day Parade together.
His name is Piero Armenti, and today he is a real star. Tens of thousands of Italians rely on him to organize their trip to New York and get to know something about this wonderful city. It is another great Italian success story in America and in particular in the Big Apple: and today that we're fighting the same virus both in Italy and in America, I would like to talk about Piero and his success, and how Italian talent marries so well with the city that never sleeps, that will return to host Italians in love with her.
Piero, your very successful business is called “Il mio viaggio a New York” (My trip to New York). You started from Salerno, what was your trip like that brought you to New York?
I've always had the idea of leaving Salerno, and the province in general. As a child I loved the idea of the big city, and that dream led me in adulthood to New York, which is the metropolis par excellence. After high school I would have liked to go to study in a city other than Salerno, perhaps Bologna or Milan. But it was too expensive, and I had a university within walking distance. So I gritted my teeth, and I studied there dreaming that sooner or later I would go away. I was running on the waterfront, and I imagined taking that plane that I saw in the sky, and that would take me far away.
The first opportunity to escape was the Erasmus project in Alicante, Spain, thanks to which I became increasingly convinced that my destiny was abroad. Then I went for an internship at the consulate in Venezuela, where instead of three months I stayed almost five years. And finally I landed in New York with many unfulfilled dreams. I have been in New York for almost ten years, and I can say that I have made all my dreams come true, including the last one to publish a novel with a large publishing house.
Telling Italians about New York, accompanying them to see the city: apparently it is not a particularly unique idea. But you managed to do it in such a special way that you are now an authority in the sector, recognized both in America and in Italy. Can you tell us how your project was born, and how it developed?
Umberto, for me it is very simple to explain it. I've always had two passions in life. One is the story, as a boy I devoured novels upon novels, and they were a great source of escape. The other passion is the metropolis, because it is a unique laboratory of lives; you never get bored. I have combined these two passions, New York and the story, and the mix has been explosive on social media. Now I have an incredible number of people on Facebook following me. It is as if I own a TV, 10 million people watch my videos every week. If I think about it, it's madness.
Obviously, once the story was combined with New York, the third element was missing: how to turn a passion into business, and so I thought of the tour operator. After all, when they travel to New York, everyone is looking for advice. The company is doing great, and even if the coronavirus has blocked us, the value of our company has increased, because our exposure has increased on social networks. It is fortunate to have a light business. When we resume, there will be fewer competitors.
If you had to cite a reason, a distinctive trait, why "Il mio viaggio a New York" has become what it is today, what would you tell me?
I made three passes, Umberto. At first I talked about New York, then I started talking about myself, and finally I started doing entertainment. The audience followed me, and eventually became attached to the character that became one of the family. Every now and then people see me on the street and say, "Look, the one from Facebook " and it has a strange effect on me. My videos are simple, spontaneous; I don't want to create a perfect image of myself.
The New York that I show you is also the real one, which I see from my smartphone. I have built trust, and that's what matters most in business. If I trust you, I buy anything from you. The tour operator has always been seen as something impersonal, I have transformed it into a strong brand that inspires enthusiasm.
What does the future envision for "Il mio viaggio a New York"?
I would like to expand to other cities, but I delegate all this to my sister who is the company's CEO at age 30. I want to dedicate myself to writing.
Do you have a curious or funny anecdote to tell our readers?
Yes, once a mom here in New York had quarreled with her 15 year-old son, and she called the agency, and asked if it was possible to have me talk to her son to convince him to make peace with mom. My team told me about this anecdote after months, because I had no idea, otherwise I would have talked to him. Sometimes I ask myself: who knows if they made peace. The relationship between mother and child is of a unique beauty.
I ask you to reveal a tidbit of New York, a place that is perhaps not among the best known but that has something really interesting to tell.
There are many goodies to tell, because New York is a city full of stories and anecdotes. Going back to literature, I like Red Hook, which is the Brooklyn harbor area. There is a wonderful view of the waters of New York, and of the statue of Liberty. Here Al Capone was also born, and the writer H. P. Lovecraft set his horror texts there. It is a place that has a special charm, and in Red Hook I come to eat the best crab claws in New York, those of Brooklyn Crab.
In 1984 they asked the famous mayor of New York at the time, Ed Koch, to describe whom a New Yorker was. He replied, "To be a New Yorker you have to live here for six months, and if at the end of the six months you find yourself walking faster, talking faster, thinking faster, you're a New Yorker." Do you agree? And you, do you feel like a New Yorker?
Yes, I almost agree but for a small detail: it can take five minutes to become New Yorkers. Without realizing it, we immediately speak, think and walk faster. New York has changed me a lot; I realize it in conversations with my friends in Italy. I am clear, direct, of few words, I don't want to waste time in useless chatter; sometimes I think I have become a worse person. Instead, they like to speak for the sake of speaking. If I think about it I say: just a moment, but I was like that too. New York has changed me.
What do you think makes New York a unique city in the world?
The mix of wealth, despair, and the fact of being the land where all those who want a chance in life arrive. A unique human laboratory. It is not the cleanest or most modern city in the world, perhaps not even the most beautiful, but it is certainly a wonderful catastrophe, as Le Corbusier said. Here come and play your cards.
From your point of view, what would you copy of America to donate to Italy? And vice versa?
I would give Italy a little bit of that childhood enthusiasm that Americans have, and that makes you live better. I would give Americans the food culture of Italy, made up of a thousand varieties, which unfortunately does not exist in America.
You based your great success on an exceptional use of social media. You have crazy numbers. I have the impression that the merit is the result of your instinct, am I wrong?
Umberto, it is a hundred percent instinct, especially at the beginning, but now I know social media so well that I know how to dominate it; it’s is like a chef who knows his recipe well, and knows how to make the perfect dish. I have a pact with those who follow me: to be truly myself, without pretense.
Now your novel is out by Mondadori, what is it about?
I don't want to reveal too much, but I tell you this: there is a dream, a journey, an unresolved love story, many New York characters, and a surprise ending.
What will be the consequences of the coronavirus on tourism?
Negative in the short term, positive in the long term. Let's not forget that if people travel it is because they want to do it, in the future they will return to do it. I want to travel again, and many Italians want to visit New York. This thing will never change. My grandfather said he wanted to visit New York before he died, and he finally made it. New York is a great hymn to life, humanity and madness. I love her. We will come out great.
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