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Reflecting on some of the career highlights of Sylvia Poggioli


One of the things we love here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED is bringing you stories from around the world. And for about the past 40 years, Sylvia Poggioli has brought us some incredible stories from Italy, the Vatican and across Europe. Sylvia has taken listeners and us hosts along with her off the beaten path through her work. But now she is hanging it up and moving on from life at NPR. Sylvia Poggioli joins us now from Rome. It's so great to have you.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Thank you for having me, Juana.

SUMMERS: I mean, you've been doing this work for nearly 50 years, and you've covered such a wide range of topics and stories. Is there perhaps a place that you went to that stands out in your mind?

POGGIOLI: Well, I think maybe Prague, December, 1989, where the Velvet Revolution was played out. But there was something about Prague - the demonstrations. It was just - it was delightful. It was peaceful. It was happy. It was gay. The most hostile act was tens of thousands of people demonstrating in the squares. They were shaking their keys. It was symbolic, a message they were sending to the communist apparatchiks, the people who had run this country for decades, to leave office, to get out, close the door. They wanted to lock them out. And the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, who later became the president of Czechoslovakia - he was sort of the leader of this incredibly peaceful revolution.


POGGIOLI: Under gothic arches, two small rooms are lined with bookcases displaying Czechoslovak samizdats, clandestine publications that were taboo reading material for the people of Czechoslovakia for decades. Some are typewritten or Xerox or carbon copies that were passed secretly from hand to hand. Some were published in the West by exiles and smuggled into the country. The cover of one book by playwright Vaclav Havel shows a pencil pierced by a thick nail while blood seeps from below.

Tell me. I see here John Lennon.


POGGIOLI: There's Andy Warhol.


POGGIOLI: Charles Bukowski.


POGGIOLI: These were banned books.


SUMMERS: I know back in 2013, you worked on this piece about the hunt for music that was lost in the Holocaust. Tell us a little bit about it. What stands out to you?

POGGIOLI: Well, it was the sheer dedication of this man, Francesco Lotoro, a musicologist. He lives in a very small town in southern Italy, a place really off the beaten track, in Barletta. And he has set out as the goal of his life to resurrect the music of the dead. He wants to fill the hole left in Europe's musical history. He has been scrounging around throughout Europe, through many capitals. He salvaged many scribbled scraps of paper. He pointed out to me that many of the compositions, just the way they're composed, they reveal the anguish of the composer not having enough time to complete their work, the sense of urgency sounding almost like a morse code.


POGGIOLI: Lotoro moves over to his piano and plays an excerpt from "Nonet," a composition for nine instruments the Czech composer Rudolf Karel wrote in Prague's Pankrac prison.

FRANCESCO LOTORO: There is a like a telegraph - you know, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee (ph). At a certain moment, I imagine that this is a Morse codex.

POGGIOLI: As an anti-Nazi political prisoner, Karel was not allowed access to notepaper, but he was able to use toilet paper for his compositions.

SUMMERS: And, Sylvia, one of the issues that you have gone deep on throughout your time here at NPR is migration, in all its forms, across Europe. And I do want to pause here to offer our listeners a warning because what we're about to discuss does involve sexual violence. But this reporting was also incredibly important and powerful. Back in the year 2000, you reported on forced prostitution in Eastern Europe. Can you just tell us a bit about what you learned?

POGGIOLI: That was really one of the toughest stories I covered. It was hard, first of all, to also reach some of these women who had been trafficked because they're so scared - they're so scared to talk. But through some women's groups who work with these women, who have had the courage to break away from their - really, their captors, it was really terrible. And the way also, you know, once they've entrapped these women, how they break their will and, of course, it's through these brutal sexual assaults on these women.


BIANCA: (Through interpreter) He will stay in Italy. He will stay here, and he will take another woman and throw her away, too. Then he will take another woman and throw her away. He will stay until they throw him into hell.

POGGIOLI: Sylvia (ph), Tatiana (ph) and Bianca (ph) are among the few who have had the courage to rebel. At nighttime, the backstreets of European cities are filled with Monicas (ph), Irinas (ph), Mimosas (ph) and Yubas (ph).

This was 20 years ago, and police at that time were saying that at least one streetwalker is found murdered every month, just in Italy.

SUMMERS: Just some incredible reporting there. I mean, Sylvia, you've had such an incredible run with us. But what comes next? What are you going to be focusing on in your life after NPR?

POGGIOLI: (Laughter) Well, first of all, I'm going to take a different pace.


POGGIOLI: But I don't know. I've got some ideas sort of running around in my brain. More than anything right now, I want to sort of be able to start reading long novels again (laughter) without any interruption from the news.

SUMMERS: (Laughter) Well, that's a voice we here in the newsroom and across NPR will miss very much. Sylvia Poggioli, former Italy foreign correspondent for NPR, thank you. And you'll, of course, be missed.

POGGIOLI: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.
Gus Contreras
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.