December 30, 2009

Pull the Plug on "Jersey Shore"

Dear readers,
Provided below is a partial list of the sponsors for the MTV reality show, "Jersey Shore."  We provided links to their respective sites and contact info so please take a moment to voice your displeasure with their complicity with this offensive, anti-Italian show.  The list will be updated as additional information becomes available. 

MTV’s “Jersey Shore” features vulgar behavior, ethnic slurs and violence to stereotype Italian-Americans.  We believe this type of programming would not be tolerated if it were deemed offensive to other ethnic groups so we demand to be treated with the same respect.  Since MTV puts profits before people and we cannot count on them to listen to reason, maybe the media giant will be more inclined to oblige if we hit them in the pocket book.
– Lucian
* * *
• Been Verified

• Burger King!

• Nivea

• LG Electronics

• Papa John's Pizza

December 27, 2009

Sicilian Language and Culture Lessons

OPEN enrollment for Sicilian language and culture lessons in New York City.

NEW Class is Starting on WEDNESDAY JANUARY 6th at the ITALIAN CHARITIES OF AMERICA in Queens, located at 83-20 Queens Boulevard, Elmhurst, New York 11373, which is sponsoring the lessons.

Lessons will focus on learning the Sicilian language, culture, history, poetry and cuisine. Classes to meet weekly from 7 to 9 pm for a total of 12 weeks. The fee is $120 for 12 lessons.

Please let me know ASAP if you are interested in enrolling.

Anyone interested in enrolling should contact Mr. Domenic Giampino at

Also visit Sicilian Language in New York on facebook.

"Sicilian was the first language of Italy. It influenced the formation of the Italian language. Sicilian is spoken in Sicily and the Sicilian archipelago. It is also spoken in most of Calabria, in parts of Puglia (the Salento peninsula), in parts of Campania (Cilento Area), and all over the world by millions of Sicilian emigrants."

December 22, 2009

The Pipes of the Mezzogiorno

Prespe depicting pifferari e zampognari
with the Holy Family by Susy Gatto
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

The bagpipes are an ancient instrument, dating back thousands of years; they're even mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 4:21). Here in America we normally associate the bagpipes with the Irish and Scottish, who have a long and storied tradition with this wonderful instrument. However, many Americans, even those of Italian ancestry, are unaware that Italy has an ancient bagpipe tradition of it's own. Ironically, this tradition is not in the North where there was Celtic influence, but rather in the South, with its ancient Hellenic heritage.

Each year, beginning at the feast of the Immaculate Conception right through the Christmas season, peasant musicians, called pifferari e zampognari (fifers and pipers), make their way from town to town playing traditional songs. The pifferari e zampognari are so much a part of the Christmas tradition in Southern Italy that they have become customary characters, almost as obligatory as the Magi, in the elaborate Neapolitan presepio or Nativity scene (another venerable Southern Italian folk art dedicated to the holiday season).

Two Southern Italian Peasants
Playing the Bagpipes
by John Frederick Lewis
While the zampognari may not be as well known outside the Mezzogiorno as say the canzone napoletana (Neapolitan song) or the percussion-based tarantella, it is still an important part of Southern Italy's vast and impressive musical legacy. The clearly recognizable sound of the zampogna, as the instrument is known, fills the air bringing great joy to the Christmas celebration. This is best described by Jeff Matthews at Around Naples Encyclopedia:
"...Just as the songs of carolers on a snowy evening mean something to me, the zampogna and ciaramella [a double-reed oboe-like instrument] mean the same thing to a Neapolitan – a beauteous mixture of home, warmth, family and love, and like beauty, it is very difficult to describe, but when it happens, you know. The circumstances have to be just right: walking alone on a crisp December evening, caught up in a moment of childhood melancholy, when the cutting sound of the zampogna sweeps over you like a flash of light and you see the two pastoral figures playing music in the streets, these shepherds that Christian tradition links so intimately to the birth of the Saviour; that one transcendent simple instant becomes timeless and it is Christmas, for the shepherds are standing there as if they had just stepped away from the side of the Child for a moment to go and spread good tidings."
(L-R) Pifferari e zampognari by Antonio Caruso
Photos by of New York Scugnizzo
Further reading:
Zampogna (Neapolitan Bagpipes) by Jeff Matthews, Around Naples Encyclopedia
The Neapolitan Presepe by Jeff Matthews, Around Naples Encyclopedia
Zampogna and Zampognari, Made in South Italy Today

December 21, 2009

El Greco at the Onassis Cultural Center

Saint Demetrios on Horseback
by Donatos Bitzamanos

By Giovanni di Napoli
I recently had the pleasure to visit the Onassis Cultural Center in Manhattan to view their latest exhibit: The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete.

A huge fan of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), I couldn't wait to see the exhibit. Despite the fact that I had up to February 27, 2010, to do so, I braved the cold weather and made my way through the hoards of tourists and frantic Christmas shoppers to visit the gallery as soon as possible.

The collection is primarily made up of El Greco's early iconic work. Anyone vaguely familiar with the Cretan master's characteristic style, which was a blending of Late Byzantine and Italian Mannerism, can't help but notice the contrast between his early years and his time in Toledo, Spain. The inclusion of The Coronation of the Virgin in the exhibit highlighted the stark differences between his early and later work.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the exhibit included the works of other 16th-century Cretan painters as well, among them Georgios Klontzas and Michael Damaskenos.

One particular piece that stood out to me was the beautiful Saint Demetrios on Horseback by Donatos Bitzamanos. Although Donatos was from Heraklion, Crete, the painting originates from Otranto, in Southern Italy, where he and his uncle (or brother), Angelos Bitzamanos, were known to have worked.

On loan from The State Hermitage Museum, the painting depicts Saint Demetrios slaying Tsar Kalojan of Bulgaria. Demetrios was martyred in the fourth century in Thessaloniki but legend has it that the saint killed Kalojan during the siege of 1207. According to the book catalogue the icon was made for personal devotion and that, "The choice of subject indicates that the patron came from Thessalonki and hoped that Saint Demetrios would help him destroy his enemies, just as he himself had killed Tsar Kalojan."

I encourage anyone with a general interest in European art, and Hellenic art in particular, to visit the OCC. This prestigious institution is committed to promoting Hellenic culture, and thanks to the professionalism and high quality of its exhibits (past and present) has earned a great reputation as one of New York City's premier cultural treasures. With free admission, it's a must visit.

Onassis Cultural Center
Olympic Tower Atrium
645 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022

(212) 486-4448

Further reading: The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete, edited by Anastasia Drandaki, published by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), 2009.

No photographs were allowed at the exhibit so the photo of St. Demetrios (above) was reprinted for educational purposes from The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete.

December 18, 2009

UNICO National targets “Jersey Shore”

By Lucian

The disparaging of Italians in America is nothing new, but its continuation in today’s so-called “tolerant” society is enough to make me question what is really going on.

On Wed Dec 9, 2009, I found out that UNICO National is protesting MTV's new reality series "Jersey Shore" because of its negative portrayal of young Italians.

New York Post critic Linda Stasi described the show best:
"('Jersey Shore' furthers) the popular TV notion that Italian-Americans are gel-haired, thuggish ignoramuses with fake tans, no manners, no diction, no taste, no education, no sexual discretion, no hairdressers (for sure), no real knowledge of Italian culture and no ambition beyond expanding steroid- and silicone-enhanced bodies," … "Would that programming ever have been allowed if the group were African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Jewish people?"
In answer to her rhetorical question, no it would not be tolerated. The racial and ethnic groups mentioned by Stasi respond to anything even remotely derogatory against them. They also refuse to accept anyone else’s definition of what is derogatory, because they feel that, in this regard, their own definition is the only one that matters. As Europeans, Italians are not entitled to the same special protection gained from civil rights legislation, but that is not the point. These other demographic groups would be fighting back whether the government approved it or not, because they refuse to be pushed around. If Italians have a problem with the show, then they should adopt the same philosophy, and to their credit UNICO has.

UNICO has asked members to complain to MTV's advertisers, since their efforts began two advertisers (Domino's Pizza and American Family Insurance) have pulled out of the series. This is significant, many traditionally oriented groups tend to face their problems directly, as in calling the media network in question, or appeal to a higher power, as in writing letters to their congressmen. Neither approach is likely to get results without overwhelming numbers. The networks don’t care about who is “not watching their show” as long as they get enough people to watch it, they care about profit, not people’s feelings. Government officials might care if it alters campaign contributions or could sway an election; otherwise the letters are just a nuisance to them.
UNICO hit their detractors where they were weakest. The advertisers care about general sales, and they do indeed care about “who is not watching the show” if these people are boycotting their product. Without the advertisers the network loses profits, and then they start to care. Advertisers may also give political contributions, if they are swayed by a boycott then any politicians who they contribute to will also be paying attention to that. UNICO’s strategy was logical and highly effective.

Spencer Pratt, a former "Hills" cast member, came to the network's defense on Twitter: "Linda Stasi you should change your name to Linda Boring if you can't be entertained by young Italian-Americans enjoying youth and partying!" I guess that says a lot about him and what he cares about. He called a woman who has the courage to speak out against anti-Italian sentiment “boring.” Domino's Pizza and American Family Insurance didn’t seem to agree with Mr. Pratt when they pulled their support for the show.

One major media outlet reported that MTV New York offices received death threats because of the show but the network has denied the report. I don’t think that the network would have passed the opportunity to play the victim if the report was true. I believe that the dubious report was another underhanded attempt to portray Italians as vicious criminals. The funny thing is, if we were as violent and despicable as we are portrayed, then most people would be afraid to say so openly. The truth is that we are mostly a hard working and honest people, and we deserve respect.

December 15, 2009

Francesco Messina

Self Portrait
Photo courtesy of
By Giovanni di Napoli
Francesco Messina was born on December 15, 1900 in Linguaglossa, a small town near Catania, languishing in the shadow of Mount Etna. Like many other poor Southerners he grew up outside his native Sicily, residing wherever his family could find work.
Instead of making the arduous trip across the Atlantic to the United States his father decided to try his luck in Genoa, a major port of call during the Mezzogiorno's post-unification diaspora.
In Genoa, Messina apprenticed as a marble cutter. At an early age he showed great artistic ability carving cherubs for cemeteries. Clearly destined to be a sculptor the boy practiced tirelessly, developing his skills in various mediums and excelling in terracotta and bronze.
By the age of twenty he was already presenting his work in major European exhibits. The Sicilian had a great fondness for depicting the human form and was a proponent of naturalism in sculpture at a time when it was unfashionable. Continue reading

December 14, 2009

The Great Restorer: Charles of Bourbon

Charles of Bourbon, Napoli
b. January 20, 1716 – d. December 14, 1788 
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli
"Go forth and win: the most beautiful crown in Italy awaits you." – Elizabeth Farnese to her son Charles of Bourbon*
Charles of Bourbon was born on January 20, 1716 in Madrid. He was the eldest child of King Philip V of Spain and his second wife, Elizabeth Farnese. Through conquest and diplomacy the monarchs acquired the ducal crowns of Tuscany and Parma for the young Prince. Not content with these titles, the ambitious royals believed the Kingdom of the Two-Sicilies to be a more fitting prize for their son and plotted to wrest the Regno from the Austrian Empire.
At the age of eighteen Charles descended from his ducal dominions to invade the viceroyalty and conquer the "the most beautiful crown in Italy" for his own. At the helm of his army, which was composed of sixteen thousand infantry and five thousand cavalry, was the illustrious Captain General José Carrillo de Albornoz, the Count of Montemar. They had the support of the Spanish navy. 

When the Bourbon forces crossed the frontier they met with minimal resistance as the Austrians yielded in rapid succession. Charles entered Naples on May 10, 1734. Awaiting reinforcements from Austria, the imperial viceroy, Giulio Visconti, retreated with the bulk of his forces to Puglia. However, because the Austrians were tied up in Lombardy fighting against the French and Sardinians in the War of Polish Succession (1733-1735) the expected help never arrived. Upon hearing the news of the advancing Bourbons the viceroy wasted no time and set sail for Vienna.

On May 25th, outside the town of Bitonto, near Bari, the Bourbon forces, numbering about 12,000 strong, under the command of the Count of Montemar, clashed with 8,000 Austrians led by General Pignatelli di Belmonte. Outnumbered and disheartened, the Austrian ranks quickly broke. Belmonte fled with the remnants of his cavalry into the Abruzzi. Abandoned, the remainder of the imperial forces were killed (1,000) or captured because in their haste to escape their leaders neglected to sound the retreat. The Bourbon columns continued their advance and Bari was taken. For his valor and success Count José Carrillo de Albornoz was made a Duke.

The Duke of Montemar, 
José Carrillo de Albornoz

On June 15th the Prince published his father's decree relinquishing his ancient rights to the Kingdom. Charles declared himself King of the Two Sicilies, Jerusalem, Infante of Spain, Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Castro, and Hereditary Grand Prince of Tuscany. Tired of being a provincial backwater of the Austrian Empire the Neapolitans welcomed the conqueror at the Porta Capuana, as was the tradition.

Nonetheless, the new King still had to secure his realm. Isolated pockets loyal to the Empire still held out.

Next, preparations for the expedition to Sicily were made. On the 23rd of August the fleet set sail from Naples and Baja. Half the armada headed for Palermo, the rest landed at Messina. Learning of the Spanish fleet's approach the imperial viceroy of Sicily, Marquis Rubbi, fled to Malta. The remaining Austrian garrisons took refuge in the castles and were besieged. On August 30th Charles entered Palermo to the cheers of the people welcoming their new king.

Charles was engrossed with the chase
An avid hunter, not even the war could keep the King from practicing his favorite pastime. One day, while hunting near Rosarno, Charles and his retinue sought shelter from a violent storm in a nearby shack. Inside they found a young woman who had recently given birth to a boy. The King requested that the newborn be named Charles and vowed to be the infant's godfather. The mother was given 100 gold doubloons and a monthly stipend of twenty-five ducats to raise the child. At the age of seven the boy was to be brought to the palace for employment.

One by one, after several months of sieges and blockades the remaining Austrian fortresses surrendered. On November 24th Capua, the last Austrian stronghold on the mainland, capitulated. It's Commander, the valiant Count Traun, and garrison were escorted to the Adriatic and safely transported to Trieste. The final vestiges of the Empire were weeded out. With the fall of Trāpani the conquest of the Sicilies was complete.

On July 3, 1735 in the Cathedral of Palermo (as was the ancient custom), Charles was proclaimed King. Nine days later he returned to Naples, his new capital, in triumph. With the conclusion of the War of Polish Succession and the treaties ratified, Charles ceded Parma, Piacenza, and Tuscany, and in return the Austrian Emperor (Charles VI) renounced all claim to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. After centuries of provincial servitude to Spain, then to Austria, the once great and independent kingdom was redeemed.

* Quoted from The Bourbons of Naples by Harold Acton, Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1957, pg. 17

December 11, 2009

An Author in Search of a Cause

Luigi Pirandello – the Instrument of Creation

Luigi Pirandello
By Niccolò Graffio
“Well, if you want to take away from me the possibility of representing the torment of my spirit which never gives me peace, you will be suppressing me: that's all. Every true man, sir, who is a little above the level of the beasts and plants does not live for the sake of living, without knowing how to live; but he lives so as to give a meaning and a value of his own to life.” – Luigi Pirandello: Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1921.
It has often been said that tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin.  Indeed, most comedies seem to arise out of tragedies.  The late stand-up comedian Richard Pryor is an excellent example of this phenomenon.  For years he regaled audiences, both black and white, with tales of his childhood in the slums of Peoria, Illinois.  Audiences would regularly howl with laughter at his stories of living in bone-crunching poverty, abuse at the hands of his elders, substance abuse and trying to avoid falling into the “tender mercies” of street gangs.  One has to wonder, though, how many people would think all this funny if it happened to them, or how many others laughed simply because it was better than crying.

Tragedy, therefore, while lamentable, can also be a source of inspiration for those fortunate enough to be born with the creative spark that allows them to put feelings into words and convey their meaning to others.  This has been done not just with the genre of Comedy, but Drama as well (among others).  The subject of this article is one such man.  One who, in spite of the various tragedies that overshadowed his life, put pen in hand and gave the world some of its more memorable literature, as well as helping to reshape modern theater.

Luigi Pirandello was born on June 28, 1867 in the town of Kaos (Chaos), a poor suburb of the town of Girgenti (now Agrigento), Sicily.  Unlike the bulk of his fellow Sicilians, Pirandello was blessed with being born into a fairly wealthy family.  His father, Stefano, owned a prosperous sulfur mine.  His mother, Caterina Ricci Gramitto, descended from a family of professionals.

Ironically, the first of the many tragedies that would overshadow Luigi’s life occurred six years prior to his birth: the destruction of his homeland, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  Stefano had participated with Giuseppe Garibaldi in the Expedition of the Thousand, and eventually took part in the Battle of Aspromonte, at which Garibaldi was taken prisoner by the forces of the infamous Enrico Cialdini.  Caterina, in the meantime, had been forced to flee with her father to Malta, where he had been exiled by the collapsing Bourbon monarchy.

Luigi Pirandello’s parents, like most Southerners of the time, had been infected with the idealism of the Risorgimento and its false promises of “unification”, land reform and republican government.  When the harsh and corrupt reality set in, Pirandello’s parents became angry and bitter.  This sense of betrayal would find its way to Luigi, who later expressed it in some of his works.
“'When he bent down over her gloomily to ask her exactly what had happened, she repelled him with both arms.  And clenching her teeth, she sadistically flung the confession of her betrayal into his face.  Huddling as she opened her hands, she said with a convulsive, malicious smile: ‘In the dream!...In the dream!...’”: Luigi Pirandello: Tales of Madness: The Reality of the Dream, transl. by Giovanni R. Bussino, Dante Univ. of America, pgs. 96-97, 1984. 
Growing up, Luigi was home-schooled (not uncommon at the time for wealthier folk).  When he reached the age for secondary school education, his father enrolled him in technical school, hoping that one day his son would follow him in the family business.  Behind Stefano’s back, Luigi transferred himself to the ginnasio to study the humanities, his real love.  When his father learned of this, however, he would neither look at nor speak to his son for months.  This formed the basis of the second tragedy that would overshadow Luigi’s life: his inability to communicate with his own father.

In 1880 Pirandello’s family moved to Palermo, the capital of the island of Sicily.  It was here he finished his secondary school education, and it was here he began to read in earnest the works of great 19th century Italian poets.  It was also here that Luigi learned, after discovering some secret notes, of his father’s adulterous betrayal of his mother.  This exacerbated the schism between father and son, while simultaneously drawing Luigi closer to his mother, whom he would later come to venerate in his work Colloqui con i personaggi (“Talks with the Characters”).
After graduating secondary school, Luigi enrolled in the University of Palermo in both the departments of Law and Letters.  It was here the young Pirandello got his feet wet with the subject of politics.  The University of Palermo was a hotbed of radicalism, especially of the movement that would soon morph into the Fasci Siciliani, a democratic socialist labor movement made up of farmers, workers and miners.  Though he was never an active member of the organization, Pirandello would maintain close, friendly ties with many of its leading ideologues.

By 1887, having chosen the department of Letters, he moved to Rome to continue his studies.  His disappointment with life at the heart of the Risorgimento found their expression in his first collection of poems, Mal Giocondo (1889).  He was eventually expelled from the university for insulting a Latin professor, but was able to transfer to the University of Bonn, Germany, thanks to a letter of presentation given to him by one of his other professors.  Here he received a doctoral degree in Romance philology in 1891.  It was also here young Luigi formed the bonds with German culture that would be reflected in his works for the rest of his life.

Eventually returning to Rome, Pirandello would befriend the noted Verist writer-journalist Luigi Capuana, who encouraged him to pursue a career in narrative writing.  The year 1894 saw two milestones in his life: his publication of his first collection of short stories (Amori senza Amore), and his marriage to Antonietta Portulano, a Sicilian girl of Agrigentine origin.  Shy and from a good family, the marriage met with his father’s approval (she was the daughter of a business associate).  The first several years of married life were productive for Luigi in more ways than one.  In addition to writing numerous articles for magazines, he and his wife produced three children (Stefano, Fausto & Lietta).

In 1897, he accepted an offer to teach the Italian language at the Istituto Superiore di Magistero in Rome.  Over the next several years he wrote numerous poems, novellas and a novel, Il Turno.

Sadly, tragedy would not be far behind him.  In 1903 his father’s sulfur mine was flooded, financially ruining him.  Likewise, Antonietta lost her dowry (Luigi had invested it in the mine).  According to reports, upon learning of the disaster she became so distraught she entered a state of psychological shock!  Afterwards, she developed delusions of paranoia and jealousy which over time progressively worsened until by 1919 Pirandello had no choice left but to place her in a nursing home.  She would spend the last 40 years of her life there.

The family’s financial misfortunes forced Luigi for the first time to pursue writing as a profitable career.  In 1904 he published Il Fu Mattia Pascal (“The Late Mattia Pascal”), one of his most successful novels.  This novel, which draws thinly-veiled elements from the author’s own life, gave him the fame he needed to write for more important editors, and thereby fatten his bank account.  It also conveyed in no uncertain terms to the reader Pirandello’s feelings about the Risorgimento.
“He received us most cordially, speaking with a marked Neapolitan accent; then he begged his secretary to continue to show us the various mementos that filled the room, attesting his loyalty to the Bourbon dynasty.  At the end we were standing in front of a little square frame covered by a green cloth with the gold-embroidered legend: I do not hide; I protect.  Lift me and read.  The Marchese asked Papiano to remove the object from the wall and bring it to him.  Beneath the cloth there wasn’t a picture, but instead, framed under glass, a letter from the Royal Minister Pietro Ulloa who, in 1860, that is to say during the death throes of the realm, invited the Marchese Giglio D’Auletta to be a member of the Cabinet which was never to be formed.  Along with this invitation there was a draft of the Marchese’s letter of acceptance: a proud letter that castigated those who refused to accept the responsibility of power in this moment of supreme danger and anxiety with the enemy, the bandit Garibaldi, almost at the gates of Naples.” – Luigi Pirandello: The Late Mattia Pascal, transl. by Wm. Weaver, pg. 203, NY Review Books, 2005.
In 1913 he published in book form I Vecchi e I Giovani  (“The Old and the Young”).  This novel, which had earlier been published in episodes, deals with the violent Northern Italian suppression of the Fasci Siciliani in the years 1893-94.  It also put into perspective the author’s feelings towards his own parents.  While his mother is transfigured into the otherworldly character of Caterina Laurentano, his father, represented by Stefano Auriti, is dead and buried.

In 1921 Pirandello first staged what became perhaps his best known work: the satirical tragicomedy Sei Personaggi in Cerca d'Autore (“Six Characters in Search of an Author”).  Opening at the Valle di Roma, it was a riotous failure!  Ironically, the same play was a great success when presented at Milan a year later.  By now Pirandello was known internationally.  Six Characters was performed in English in London and New York.

In 1924, two years after Benito Mussolini’s “March on Rome”, Luigi Pirandello became a member of the Italian Fascist Party.  The following year, with “Il Duce’s” help, he assumed the artistic direction and ownership of the Teatro d'Arte di Roma.  By 1928, though, the company was forced to close due to financial problems.  Shortly after this, Pirandello began to reside abroad with great frequency, especially in Paris and Berlin.

Pirandello’s relationship with Mussolini has been much debated.  Initially he seemed supportive of the Fascist regime.  He even went on record as saying he was “…a Fascist because I am Italian.”  However, he would later state: “I’m apolitical.  I’m only a man on the world…”  His play, The Giants of the Mountain, has been interpreted as evidence of his belief the Fascists were hostile to culture.  In 1927 he tore his Fascist Party membership card to pieces in front of the secretary-general of the Fascist Party!  In 1934 Pirandello's libretto for Gian Francesco Malipiero's opera The Fable of the Changeling was criticized by the Fascist authorities.  That same year he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Yet the following year he is said to have given the gold medal to the Fascist government to be melted down for the invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia).  Yet he remained critical of the regime and its leader, once describing Mussolini as a “…top hat, and empty top hat that by itself cannot stand upright.” 

Cynics charge that Pirandello was a self-server who used his association with the Fascist regime to advance himself and his theater.  I am inclined to disagree.  It must be remembered first and foremost the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini was a totalitarian government, and such governments historically have taken a dim view of criticism, regardless of who makes them.  For his critical comments and works Pirandello was placed under close surveillance by the Fascist secret police until the day of his death on December 10th, 1936.  It should also be noted again that after 1928, Luigi Pirandello spent an increasing amount of time outside Mussolini’s Italy.

Numerous writers over the years have analyzed Pirandello’s works, attempting to get a glimpse into the mind of the great author and playwright.  Freudian themes fairly permeate his works.  One point on which there is almost complete agreement is the feeling he had a deep-seated disappointment in his fellow man.  Why shouldn’t he?  Throughout his life those closest to him more often than not were a disappointment to him.  From his own father, who betrayed his mother (and by extension, Luigi) to Mussolini, who became a disappointment as a leader.  One could even argue that Mussolini, as “Il Duce” of Italy, was in fact a surrogate father for Pirandello!

Not just people, but the ideologies that surrounded Pirandello disappointed him.  From the deceptive Risorgimento, to the failed socialist policies of the Fasci Siciliani, and finally to the sardonic myth of “Italian unity”, failure and betrayal always seemed close at hand.  One could imagine such an environment would produce feelings of melancholia in a more sensitive soul, and in Pirandello’s case it was certainly true.  He once described his life as a “…colorless existence broken only by daily walks.”

In spite of all this, however, he never stopped searching for the truth, either in the theater or in his own life.  Entire books have been written detailing his role in the debates on and around the theatrical event.  In particular the role of theater: theater as spectacle, from the director’s viewpoint, and theater as dramatic text, the author’s viewpoint.  This latter debate was perhaps best exemplified in his play Six Characters in Search of an Author.
While he may never have found something, ideologically-speaking, to give real meaning to his life, perhaps his life can give meaning to ours.  Even though he has been dead now 73 years, he still has something to teach us.  Standing where he is, on the pages of history, he is veritably shouting it at us from across the mists of time.  It is that we should never stop searching for the truth, because the truth is ever elusive.  Also, fiction can be a stronger force than reality, because reality is filled with people, and people are weak.  Left to their own devices, they can and will disappoint if not betray us.  In this day and age of so-called “conservative” politicos speaking vaguely of “family values” while spending us into bankruptcy, of leftist demagogues who preach “hope and change” while continuing with business as usual, these are lessons we would do well to remember.
"A man will die, a writer, the instrument of creation: but what he has created will never die!  And to be able to live forever you don't need to have extraordinary gifts or be able to do miracles. Who was Sancho Panza? Who was Prospero? But they will live forever because - living seeds - they had the luck to find a fruitful soil, an imagination which knew how to grow them and feed them, so that they will live forever." – Luigi Pirandello: Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1921.

Further reading:

1) Luigi Pirandello: Contemporary Perspectives; edited by Gian-Paolo Biasin & Manuela Gieri, Univ. of Toronto Press, 1999.

2) Tales of Madness by Luigi Pirandello; translated by Giovanni R. Bussino, Dante University of America Press, 1984.

3) The Late Mattia Pascal by Luigi Pirandello; translated by William Weaver, NY Review Books, 2005.

Presepio Napoletano at the IAM

Some examples of the Presepio Napoletano created by Maestro G. Ferrigno (via San Gregorio Armeno, Napoli) in the 18th century style. The presepio was brought to the museum under the sponsorship of the Honorable Antonio Bossolino, President of the Region of Campania and the Andrettese Society of NY in conjunction with the Federation of Associations of Campania in the USA. 
(Photos courtesy of New York Scugnizzo)
Last night members of Il Regno attended a lecture at the Italian American Museum on the Presepio Napoletano, which was a precursor to the modern nativity scene commonly displayed by Christians throughout the world during the Christmas season. Speaker Anita Sanseverino, gave an excellent presentation about this art form and its significance, and reacquainted us with this beautiful and ancient tradition created by our ancestors and celebrated today by the people of Naples.

A documentary about the lecture and exhibit will be shown on “Italics” CUNY TV, channel 75, on December 30th, at 10 AM, 3 PM and 11pm. The show will only be available within New York City’s five boroughs; however, it will also be available online at

Anita Sanseverino
with Dr. Joseph Scelsa
The hand made presepe not only depicts the central figures of the nativity scene, but also includes figures from different levels of Neapolitan society. It has been said that this aspect of the presepio can stand out more than the religious one.

Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa, Founder and President of the Italian American Museum pointed out that the presepio is important because in addition to its religious significance, it is also an art form deserving of all the respect traditional art is entitled to within society today. An associate of Il Regno further pointed out that in a world where anti-Christian art is praised and supported by entirely too many people, it is nice to see art that promotes a positive view of Christianity, motherhood, and our cultural heritage.

Other demographic groups have made a respectable effort to retain their cultural heritage and are overtly hostile to anyone who tries to disparage them in any way, and they are right to feel that way. We are told that our young people are not interested in their heritage, that they would rather follow fashionable trends than embrace their traditional roots. I don’t entirely believe this, how can we expect young people to embrace their own culture if they know nothing about it? Most of what I know about my culture I had to find out on my own. When our rebellious youth grow tired of popular culture and seek to find themselves, it is up to us to provide them with a real culture to fall back upon.

The Presepio Napoletano will be on display at the Italian American Museum through Sunday, January 31st, 2010.