August 28, 2010

It Begins!

Serie A 2010/11: Week One Predictions


Serie A is back and so is our coverage of the teams representing the south of Italy. In addition to Napoli, Palermo, Bari and Catania we welcome newly promoted Lecce to our ranks. As the season starts to develop I will expand on the coverage, but for now I will keep the introductions short and sweet.

Palermo v Cagliari:
Palermo will host the Sardinians this Sunday in an all-island affair at the raucous Stadio Barbera. The Sicilians have been highly competitive over the last several seasons and will be looking to improve on last year's fifth-place finish. Obviously, this means nothing short of fourth will be acceptable. The off-season acquisitions of Massimo Maccarone, Mauricio Pinilla, Armin Bacinovic and Josip Ilicic should more than make up for the loss of Edison Cavani (to Napoli) and proves that the club is still committed to winning. Unfortunately, they will temporarily be without the services of captain and prolific goal scorer Fabrizio Miccoli, due to injury. Palermo are also coming off a mid-week Europa League defeat against Maribor. Despite the loss the Sicilians move past the Slovenians on aggregate (5-3) to face CSKA Moscow. I fully expect the Rosanero to edge out their insular opponent.


Bari v Juventus:
Bari were one of the biggest surprises of the season last year (perhaps second only to Sampdoria), finishing in tenth place. They more than held their own against Serie A's top clubs and were a force to be reckoned with at home. They impressively conceded only 49 goals all season. The team however lost two of its biggest stars—Andrea Ranocchia and Leonard Bonucci—in the off-season. They will be sorely missed. The Galletti begin the 2010/11 campaign at "fortress" San Nicola against the dreaded Old Lady, Juventus. The giants from Turin will be looking to put last years embarrassing campaign behind them, including a loss to the Apulians. Last season Bari were "giant-killers;" we'll find out this Sunday how they measure up against the big-boys with the Bianconeri in town. I predict a draw.

Lecce v Milan:
Newly promoted Lecce have a tough task this week. Not only will they play Milan, one of Serie A's preeminent clubs, they will have to do it in hostile territory. The Salentini will journey north to Lombardy's San Siro stadium (Stadio Meazza), one of Italian football's most prestigious temples. If the Giallorossi wish to prove the pundits wrong about being a relegation favorite they could begin with a positive result against the Rossoneri. In my opinion, not losing against a quality side like Milan would be a good start. I predict a draw.

Catania v Chievo:
The Elefantini definitely want to avoid another slow start to their campaign. It took a Herculean effort to climb out of the relegation zone last year. In fact, they had one of the best records in the second half of the season and still ended with only 45 points. However, if they continue where they left off, Catania could be considered a legitimate contender for a top-ten finish, if not a Europa League spot. This week the Elefantini take the show on the road to face Chievo Verona at the Stadio Bentegodi in the Veneto. Perhaps Europe is a little too ambitious for them, but I do predict a Sicilian victory over the Gialloblu this weekend.

Napoli v Fiorentina:
As a Napoli fan, 2010/11 has a bittersweet beginning. My beloved Partenopei are coming off a mid-week victory (3-0 on aggregate) against Swedish outfit, Elfsborg, in a Europa League clash. This means Napoli get a shot at English powerhouse, Liverpool, Steaua Bucharest and Utrecht next round. My jubilation turned to disbelief, as the rumors circulating about the sale of Neapolitan striker, and fan favorite, Fabio Quagliarella to Juventus have been confirmed. I still don't know what to make of it, but the signing of Edison Cavani (from Palermo) and Hassan Yebda (from Benfica) will soften the blow.

The Vesuviani march into Tuscany this weekend looking to conquer the Viola at the Stadio Franchi. Fiorentina are always tough, especially at home. Napoli will have to improve their away record if they hope to finish in the top four this season. The victory in Sweden was a good start. It should come as no surprise that I predict a Napoli victory. Forza Napoli!

Avanti Sud!!!

By New York Scugnizzo

Round 1 results (added September 4, 2010)

Bari 1—0 Juventus
Chievo 2 — 1 Catania
Palermo 0 — 0 Cagliari
Fiorentina 1 — 1 Napoli

August 27, 2010

Pagliacci in Coney Island


Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto! Ridi del duol che t'avvelena il cor!
—Ruggero Leoncavallo, Pagliacci

["Laugh, Pagliaccio, though your love lie shattered; laugh at the pain that is poisoning your heart!"]

Canada's Mercury Opera troupe will be performing Ruggero Leoncavallo's renowned verismo classic, "Pagliacci," at the Coney Island USA Museum and Circus Sideshow [1208 Surf Ave. at W. 12th Street in Coney Island, (718) 372-5159], Sept. 1st at 8 pm. Tickets $55. For info, visit www.mercuryopera.com.

Leoncavallo was born in Naples on April 23rd, 1857. He studied at the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella, one of Naples' preeminent music institutions. His "Pagliacci" premiered on May 21st, 1892 at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan; it was an instant success. Sadly, the opera is the only work from his impressive oeuvre still performed today. He died on August 9th, 1919, in Montecatini, Tuscany.

August 24, 2010

The Legacy Of Our Buried Past

Vesuvius looming over the temple of Jupiter at Pompeii 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Lucian 
The anniversary of the destruction of Pompeii reminded me of my visit to the ruins. It was easy to feel that greatness while walking among the stones of the ancient city, preserved for centuries by the deadly ash of Vesuvius. It also humbled me to behold the legacy of the eruption, a destructive force of nature that, within a day, turned a vibrant city into a tomb.
Vesuvius has erupted several times since Pompeii. The last was in 1944, destroying a B-25 Bomber group located in Capodichino Airport (Aeroporto di Napoli, Capodichino) in Naples. The Allied occupational forces, which had taken the city a few months earlier, assisted in evacuating nearby villages. This was a relatively minor eruption compared to 1906, 1872, or 1631. Earlier eruptions during the Roman Empire caused ash to fall as far as Constantinople. In 1845 the Osservatorio Vesuviano (geological observatory) was opened in the Kingdom of Naples, and is the oldest scientific institution dedicated to studying volcanoes. Surviving the Risorgimento, it was allowed to continue its work, and can still be seen today after miraculously escaping the lava flows of the 1872 eruption.
Remains of a victim
Volcanic eruptions have always been a threat in the Mezzogiorno. Etna, Vesuvius, and the Phlegrean Fields (Campi Flegrei) are all still active. The Marsili volcano, located under the Tyrrhenian Sea approximately 150 km west of Naples, can erupt at any time, causing tidal waves the length of the Italic peninsula and Sicily. I’m sure that the Italian government has emergency plans in the event of disaster, but their inability to stop corrupt officials and organized criminals from dumping dangerous toxic waste in Naples itself gives me little confidence in how well they could handle such an emergency. Perhaps I’m being unfair to them. When I see average people in Europe or America unable to handle normal or trivial events, I’m surprised that natural selection hasn’t caught up with them, so I guess it makes sense that the leaders they help elect might not meet our expectations. The condition of Western society these days brings to mind a quote from Oswald Spengler:
"Faced as we are with this destiny, there is only one world-outlook that is worthy of us, that which has already been mentioned as the Choice of Achilles — better a short life, full of deeds and glory, than a long life without content. Already the danger is so great, for every individual, every class, and every nation, that to cherish any illusion whatever is deplorable. The march of time cannot be halted; there is no question of prudent retreat or clever renunciation. Only dreamers believe there is a way out. Optimism is cowardice.

“We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on…without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.” (Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics)
Pompeii is a reminder that our ancestors survived in very difficult times, and still managed to be pragmatic, creative and disciplined. This is not to say that all of our ancestors were nice people, but who can seriously make that claim. At least I can respect them, more so than I do many people today.
Ruins of Pompeii
I have heard mean spirited anti-southern slogans such as “Go Etna!” or “Go Vesuvius!” which enthusiastically assert that a volcanic explosion obliterating Sicily or Naples would be a wonderful thing. That they could wish something like this on Southern Italians is worse than repulsive, and to wish for the destruction of our land and history as well is a crime against civilization. 

Why bury the history of the Southern Italian people? What would be the purpose of doing this to anybody? Unfortunately such actions are common throughout history and continue today, and our homeland was, and still is, a frequent target. Many treasures of the past were willfully destroyed by successive regimes since the fall of Rome, most recently during the Second World War where both the Allied forces and the Germans deliberately destroyed ancient architecture or works of art. However, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Germans, under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, were far more likely to steal them or falsely claim credit for them.
Statue of Faun
As to why someone would do this, there is more than one opinion. There are those who claim that people with low self-esteem will try to tear down others in order to compensate for their own deficiencies, but some of them are as likely to claim that whoever disagrees with them is somehow mentally diseased and needs to be “cured.” It may comfort some people to believe that anyone who is oppressed is automatically moral and noble, or that the oppressors are always unintelligent brutes, but absolutes like this have more to do with propaganda than reality. Other claims are just as political, such as conquering an “inferior” people “for their own good.” Who on Earth wants that sort of help? In the case of Italy, the North has accomplished so much, from the ancient communes to the Renaissance, that to say their behavior is a result of low self-esteem or an inferiority complex is absolutely ridiculous. A more reasonable explanation for burying a people’s past is to make it easier to dominate them. Without their own culture, history and language to fall back on, a conquered people will more readily accept the viewpoint of their overlords. This explanation fits well into every situation where cultural leveling has been practiced or where inconvenient archeological findings threaten politically accepted views. There will always be those who wish to bury “offensive” facts under tons of cement, or volcanic ash, and hope that they will go away.

Statue of Apollo
I would like to think that Southern Italy’s well documented contribution to civilization would make it difficult to marginalize, but it is not as difficult as it would seem, and it is not the only historically significant region or people to suffer in that regard. Since The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies fell in 1861, the efforts to suppress our culture, history and languages have led to a profound lack of knowledge and understanding of our own past; but with some effort that knowledge can be reclaimed. To those who would wish Etna and Vesuvius to bury us as it did Pompeii, I will say that such an event can never erase us completely, because our volcanoes are themselves as much a part of us as that ancient city that was buried so long ago. During the Risorgimento, some Southern Italian resistance fighters aptly referred to themselves as “Sons of the Volcano.” Surrounded by history and woven into our mythos, Etna, Vesuvius, and the Phlegrean Fields will always be important parts or our rich cultural heritage.

Roman legends and Virgil’s Aeneid claim that the primary gateway to Hades is through Lake Averno in the Phlegrean Fields. It is located near Cumae, an area that was settled by Greeks as early as 700 B.C., which predates the Greek founding of nearby Naples by over 200 years. It was here that the Sibyl of Cumae, the prophetess of Apollo, spoke to Aeneas on his journey to the underworld. The region has archeological sites such as the Antrum of the Sibyl, the Terme Romana, the Amphitheatrum Flavium, Crypta Romana, and the recently uncovered temples of Jupiter and Apollo that fit well into Virgil’s account.
Telamon at the Forum baths
Mt. Etna, named after Aetna (Aitnê), a Sicilian nymph, was originally home to Adranus, a fire god worshiped by of the Sicils before the Greek settlements in Sicily. Adranus was driven out of his abode by Hephaestus, also known as Vulcan to the Romans. The Greek God of fire and the forge was originally said to reside in Lemnos. Greek colonists in Sicily moved the legendary forge of Hephaestus to Etna, the largest volcano in Europe. Under Etna Hephaestus and his assistants, the Cyclops, forged lightning bolts for Zeus and items of power for the gods and heroes of men. The fire that Prometheus gave to man was stolen from Hephaestus' forge. Mount Etna is supposed to contain a gateway to Tartarus, the lowest layer of Hades where the gods imprisoned and tormented their enemies for eternity. Aeschylus the poet said that the giant Typhon was imprisoned under Etna; his name is the origin of the word “Typhoon.” The rebellious giant Enceladus was slain and also buried there. Other giants were said to be buried or imprisoned beneath volcanoes, especially Etna, and their movements were said to cause the eruptions. Mimus, the brother of Enceladus, was supposed to be buried under Vesuvius by Hephaestus along with other giants, and their blood would flow up through the nearby Phlegrean Fields.
Statue of Diana
Vesuvius was said to be sacred to Hercules, and the town of Herculaneum was named in his honor. The eruptions of Vesuvius sometimes had odd timing, leading people throughout the ages to credit the gods. The day before the eruption of 79 A.D. the Romans observed Vulcan’s holiday (Vulcanalia), and celebrated in the name of their god of fire, unaware of their impending doom. Not only did Vesuvius destroy Pompeii, but also the towns of Herculaneum, Cossa, Leucopetra, Oplontis, Stabiae, Sora, Tora, and Taurania. Pliny the elder was killed by the eruption. His nephew, Pliny the Younger, recorded the events that as he saw them that day. Because of his detailed descriptions, the type of eruption that he witnessed is now called “Plinian.”

Even Christians have included Vesuvius in their legends, it is said that when Lucifer was cast from Heaven he fell to Mt. Vesuvius and proceeded to destroy everything in his fury. Seeing this from Heaven, Christ wept and one of his tears fell to Vesuvius and miraculously caused a vine to grow, eventually renewing the land. The wine Lacryma Christi (Christ’s tears) is named after the legend and is produced at Vesuvius. The volcano has been associated with vineyards and fertile soil for millennia. 

If you plan to visit Pompeii, consider touring the vineyards on the slopes of Vesuvius as well. For though Vesuvius is a bringer of destruction and death, it also brings the land fertility and life.

August 18, 2010

Movie Review: "The Sicilian Girl"

Basquiat playing at the same theater
was an ill omen.
Spoiler Alert!
By Niccolò Graffio and Giovanni di Napoli
"You have died for what you believed in, but without you, I too am dead" — Rita Atria, diary
Last Saturday (August 14, 2010) Niccolò Graffio and I went to Manhattan's Film Forum movie theater to see Marco Amenta's "The Sicilian Girl," a movie loosely based on the short life of Rita Atria, a young girl whose testimony played a crucial part in the convictions of several Mafiosi back in the 1990's. Normally I don't subscribe to Mafia genre films because I feel they tend to glorify gangsterism and promote negative stereotypes about Southern Italians, especially Sicilians. However, I was curious to see how the heroic Paolo Borsellino, a Sicilian magistrate assassinated in 1992 for his anti-Mafia crusade, and Rita Atria, the daughter of a murdered Don, were portrayed.
Typical of the movie industry, they took an incredible story and snuffed the life out of it. In fact, they didn't even have the courtesy of naming Borsellino's character (played by the talented Gérard Jugnot) who was simply referred to as "the prosecutor." I'm aware the movie was called "The Sicilian Girl" and focused primarily on Rita "Mancuso" (Veronica D'Agostino), but after the murder of her beloved father and brother, Borsellino was a major, almost father-like figure in Atria's life. It was, after all, his murder that led to her decision to kill herself. In Rita’s suicide note (which the movie egregiously left out for a more mawkish ending) she wrote, "I am devastated by the killing of Judge Borsellino. Now there's no one to protect me, I'm scared and I can't take any more."*
Niccolò Graffio: Giovanni, like you, I'm not a fan of gangster movies. The genre historically shows these criminals in a positive, almost envious light. Let's not also forget the fact the bulk of these movies are poorly written and executed. Even those that are well-written and produced, like The Godfather and Scarface suffer from this moral defect. To me, that shows extremely poor judgement on the part of those in the movie industry. With the very rare exception of movies like Matteo Garrone's brilliant Gomorrah, which ripped the face off the Neapolitan crime syndicate known as the Camorra and laid it bare for the world to see, we can safely say the days of Little Caesar are long gone.
As for the charge of promoting ethnic stereotypes? Well, the late Art Buchwald, in a syndicated article he wrote several years before his death, charged that anti-Italianism (i.e. against Southern Italians) is the last socially acceptable form of ethnic bigotry left in America. Certainly Shark Tale and TV shows like Jersey Shore are indicative of that fact. I can't for the life of me imagine any movie or TV production company churning out films about Jewish or black gangsters for very long and avoiding the charge of racism.
As for this film? I too, had a number of problems with it from the beginning. It was understood, and not even tacitly I might add, this was a movie about the life of the late Rita Atria. Why then the need to change the name of the central character? The ending leaves no doubt as to the true identity of "Rita Mancuso", so the defense of legal formalities is bogus. Despite this, the movie actually did pick up a little steam as it went along, then came crashing down in the last 20-25 minutes.
Giovanni di Napoli: Aside from the Borsellino slight and sentimental pap, my biggest problem with the film was the lax security during Rita's time under the witness protection program. I don't want to give too much away, but I find it very difficult to believe the Italian authorities, no matter how impotent they may be against organized crime and corruption, would have allowed their key witness in a major Mafia trial the freedom to come and go as she pleased without constant surveillance and protection. It was almost like watching the bumbling FBI agent, Barney Coopersmith (Rick Moranis) guard the "lovable" gangster, Vincent Antonelli (Steve Martin) in the 1990 Mafia spoof, "My Blue Heaven."
NG: Incredulity has always been a hallmark of the film industry, yet the viewer is to believe this young lady, a leading witness in one of the biggest anti-mafia trials of the time, was allowed to come and go as she pleased in a country that is riddled from top to bottom with corruption and organized crime. Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone travelled with heavy security; that didn't stop them from being murdered.
GdN: The jokes about the most unbelievable part of any movie is the disclaimer that states it’s "Based On A True Story" and “only the names, places and facts have been changed" most definitely applies here. I should have kept my usual aversion towards "mafia films" and never have suggested it. I only hope this film doesn't discourage people from researching the true life-stories of courageous individuals like Rita Atria, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, whose memories deserve better than this movie.
NG: Two other things about this film I didn't like: the total omission of the courage of Rita Atria's sister-in-law, Pierra Aiello. In fact, she isn't even mentioned in the film. Another is the way Rita is portrayed as being driven by a desire for vengeance. That was undoubtedly true in the beginning, but as excerpts from her diary show, as time progressed she came to realize the world she grew up in was fatally flawed and needed to be changed. Had this epiphany been more graphically illustrated, along with the deep emotional bond that developed between her and "the prosecutor", it would have added a more human dimension to this sadly predictable and formulaic piece of cinema. All together this was a bad film and I recommend people avoid it. Rita Atria and Paolo Borsellino deserved better.
* Quote reprinted from The Independent, Monday, September 21st, 1992

August 16, 2010

Discovering The Riace Warriors

The Riace Warriors
By Giovanni di Napoli

On August 16, 1972 Stefano Mariottini, a young chemist from Rome, was on holiday in Monasterace, a small town in the Southern Italian province of Reggio Calabria. Enjoying the pristine waters of the Riace Marina, located along the magnificent Ionian Coast, Mariottini made a discovery that has been referred to as "one of Italy's most important archaeological finds of the last 100 years."

While swimming—almost 340 yards off the coast and about 27 feet deep—Mariottini spotted an arm protruding from the sandy sea floor. So lifelike was the limb he thought he found a corpse. The startled diver soon realized that the lifeless appendage belonged to a bronze statue. Upon further inspection he found the leg of a second statue sticking out of the seabed.

Excited by his discovery, Mariottini reported his find to the authorities. With his help the Carabinieri unit from Messina, Sicily—supervised by the Archaeological Superintendency of Reggio Calabria—recovered the sunken statues from their watery resting place with air balloons. A crowd of curious locals and vacationers gathered on the beach and watched intently as the statues were rescued. They applauded with great delight as they were brought ashore.

The initial restoration was done at the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria, but lacking the sophisticated equipment necessary to clean the statues thoroughly, the bronzes were transported up north to the Superintendency of Antiquity in Florence, Tuscany. The restoration was completed in 1980 and the statues were finally made available to the public, first at the Museo Archeologico in Florence, then in Rome at the Palazzo del Quirinale, where an estimated million people visited them. They were eventually returned to the prestigious Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria where they draw well over 100,000 visitors annually.

The statues have been nicknamed the "Hero" and the "Strategist" for their apparent characteristics. It's said statue "A" or the "Hero," "emanates an almost savage warlike force." While Statue "B," "emanates an image of conscious and civil humanity." Both depict lifelike nude warriors that once bore shields and lances. The Strategist also wore a Corinthian helmet. No trace of their armor or weapons remain. Analysis has dated them from the fifth century B.C.

Not long after their discovery a debate ensued over the statue's origins. Some believe that they were cast overboard by a ship in distress looking to lighten up its load during a terrible storm. The vessel could have been a Roman trireme laden with booty and slaves returning from the conquest of Greece. Others claim that the statues stood proudly on the bridge and went down with the ship. The proximity to the shore and the smashing waves explains why over the course of time no wreckage or significant debris was discovered at the location.

Scholars can't even agree on who the statues represent. Are they gods from Olympia or Homeric heroes? Both Miltiades, the hero of Marathon, and Pericles of Athens have been suggested. Many other hypotheses, including the heroic Theseus, Cecrops, Erechtheus, Pandion I and II, Anthiocus, Acamante and Codrus, have been put forward.

There is just as much dispute over the identity of the artist(s). Some have put forward Pytagorus of Rhegion, Onatas of Aegina, Alkemenes and Polyclites of Argo as the possible sculptors. Others postulated that they could detect the hand of Kalamas or Myron. However, most believe they were both the work of the great Phidias of Athens.

The contention these statues came from Greece, while popular with many historians, is simply not supported by any historical evidence. They could have easily originated in Asia Minor or Southern Italy. Before Rome set out to conquer the Peloponnese it first conquered Magna Graecia (Southern Italy). For example, the Italiote city-state of Taros (modern Tàranto, in Puglia) was a thriving and influential metropolis. It was founded in 706 B.C. by Lakonian Greeks on a strategic peninsula between the Mare Grande and the Mare Piccolo. As early as the 4th Century B.C. it had a population of 300,000 people. However, during the Second Punic War the Tarantines sided against Rome and in 209 B.C. Taros was sacked by Quintus Fabius Maximus. The city's walls were toppled, it's inhabitants deported and its treasure plundered, including all marble and bronze statuary.

Whatever their story may be the fact remains that the Riace warriors are two of the finest examples of ancient Greek sculpture existing today.

Further reading:
• The Riace Bronzes and the Museo Nazionale of Reggio Calabria by Maria Gullì and Marcello Partenope
• The Greek Cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily by Luca Cerchiai, Lorena Jannelli and Fausto Longo

August 14, 2010

The Wizard of Oz: B.A. Santamaria: One Against the World

Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria (1915-98)
Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Au
By Niccolò Graffio
That cause is strong which has, not a multitude, but one strong man behind it.” – J.R. Lowell: Speech in Chelsea, Mass., Dec. 22nd. 1885
A common complaint heard in many quarters these days is that we as individuals are powerless to effect any real change in society. The powers that be have vast political, financial (and military) resources behind them to enforce their will upon us, members of the Great Unwashed. People who rail against real or perceived injustices, when asked the obvious question of why they don’t do something about it, invariably respond: “One man can’t make a difference.”
Truth be told, this is a complaint that is as old as civilization itself. It is the excuse of the indolent, the apathetic, and especially of the cowardly. One need only pour over the pages of history books to read the biographies of multitudes of people of common birth who, through little more initially than sheer force of will, sought to remake the world around them into their own image, for better or for worse.
In previous articles on this blog this writer has dealt with members of our ethnos, the denizens of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, who have made their mark in the pages of the history books, either in the supplanting pseudo-nation known as Italy, or here in the United States of America. It must be remembered, however, that numerous other Sicilians*, following the destruction of our homeland in 1861, chose to resettle in other parts of the globe. This article is dedicated to one of them; a man of common birth who ignored the admonition “One man can’t make a difference” to make a difference in his adopted homeland in ways which apparently even he never realized.
Bartholomew Augustine “B.A.” Santamaria was born on August, 14, 1915 in the city of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. His parents were immigrants from the Aeolian Islands off the north coast of Sicily. His father, a greengrocer, made enough from his shop to send young “Bob” to St. Ambrose, a Roman Catholic primary school which was located behind the elder Santamaria’s shop.
From there he went to St. Joseph’s in North Melbourne, a school run by the Christian Brothers, a Catholic lay order founded in Waterford, Ireland in 1802. He finished his secondary education at St. Kevin’s College, graduating at the top of his class. He graduated with an M.A. in arts and law from the prestigious University of Melbourne, one of the top universities in Australia and the world.
Immersed in Catholic political and social activism, he took to it vigorously at an early age. While at the University of Melbourne he became a leading Catholic student activist, speaking out publicly in support of the forces of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Though he denied ever being a Fascist, he was also initially supportive of the regime of Benito Mussolini. However, he withdrew that support in 1936 when Mussolini signed the Rome-Berlin Axis with Adolf Hitler of Germany. Santamaria never liked Hitler and the Nazis, believing them to be vicious and their principles antithetical to Catholic teachings.
In 1939, at the age of 24, Bob Santamaria married an Australian woman named Helen. They would go on to have eight children. Though she never was publicly assertive as he was, references to them in letters he wrote to friends indicated his family was of central importance in his life. While several of his children became prominent in various professions, none of them would follow their father into political activism.
In 1936 Bob Santamaria, together with a group of other Catholic activists, founded the newspaperCatholic Worker, a periodical heavily influenced by Catholic teachings, especially those contained in the Papal encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII. This was an open letter, sent to Catholic bishops throughout the world, addressing the needs of members of the working classes. Among other things, it rejected Communism and unrestricted Capitalism while reaffirming the rights of people to private property. It also supported the rights of workers to form labor unions.
While Catholic Worker was opposed to Communism, it saw unrestricted Capitalism as the main enemy. Though initially supportive of this position, Santamaria eventually came to view Communism, as expressed in the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), as the greater threat. In spite of the fact the CPA never represented a significant threat to the established political order of Australia, it nonetheless exerted quite an influence on trade unions, social movements and the national culture itself. It was this influence that Santamaria took upon himself to oppose.
In 1937 Bob Santamaria was appointed head of the National Secretariat of Catholic Action, a lay Catholic organization, by Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne. Mannix, a religious and political conservative, shared Santamaria’s concerns about the growing influence of Communism in Australia. During WWII Santamaria caused controversy by gaining an exemption from military service. Critics believed this exemption was gained through the influence of Archbishop Mannix and James Scullin, Australia’s first Catholic Prime Minister, in order that Santamaria might be able to continue his work at undermining Communist influence in Australia.
In 1941 Santamaria founded the Catholic Social Studies Movement, known more commonly as “the Movement” or Groupers, to recruit Catholic activists to aid him in overturning Communist influence in Australian trade unions. One of the chief tactics used by the Groupers was to infiltrate and gain control of the Industrial Groups, organizations formed by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in the 1940s to combat growing Communist influence in the labor union movement. This worked so well that by the late 1940s the Groupers were in control of a number of labor unions.
This tactic put Santamaria at odds not only with the CPA but also with leftist elements of the ALP who felt they should ally themselves with the Communists to present a united front during the war. Following the end of WWII and the rise of the Cold War, Santamaria became increasingly alienated from the ALP. Things came to a head in 1954 when Herbert V. Evatt, then head of the Labor Party, publicly blamed Santamaria and his followers for causing Labor’s loss in Federal elections. The following year Santamaria’s parliamentary followers were expelled from the Party. In turn, this action brought down the Labor governments in the states of Victoria and Queensland.
Though Archbishop Daniel Mannix continued to support Santamaria, the actions of Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy of New South Wales, a very influential prelate, officially ended Vatican support for the Groupers. Unlike Mannix, Gilroy favored continuing the relationship between the Church and the Labor Party.
In response to this, Santamaria founded the National Civic Council (NCC), an organization not affiliated with Catholic Action (and therefore under his direct control). He also edited its official newspaper, News Weekly (then called Freedom). Santamaria’s parliamentarian followers who had been expelled from the ALP formed their own party, the Democratic Labor Party, which lasted until 1978. Though he never officially joined it, Santamaria exerted a strong influence behind the scenes.
On November 2nd, 1963 Santamaria’s beloved Archbishop Daniel Mannix passed away, ending the last vestiges of Roman Catholic support for Santamaria and his policies.
Throughout the Vietnam War era he continued to rail against the evils of Communism and was an outspoken proponent of the governments of South Vietnam and the United States of America in that conflict. Beginning in the 1970s, however, his influence in Australian politics began to wane considerably. By 1982, there was a schism in the NCC, with the Grouper-controlled labor unions leaving to return to the fold of the ALP.
While his political clout faded, his personal stature increased. A staunch Catholic traditionalist, he opposed liberal and non-traditional trends in mainstream Catholic thought that arose following the Second Vatican Council.
Old age did not slow him down, either. Throughout the remaining years of his life he remained adamantly opposed to abortion, Communism, unrestricted Capitalism, homosexuality, euthanasia and secular humanism. He also wrote extensively against credit creation, debt-based money and private ownership of large banking institutions, believing these latter things effectively handed over Australian economic sovereignty to banks in places like New York, Frankfurt and London.
In 1980 his wife Helen died. He later married his long-time secretary, Dorothy Jensen. He lived long enough to see the fall of the USSR and the world Communist movement, two things he had spent his entire adult life opposing with vituperation. On February 25th, 1998 he passed away from an inoperable brain tumor at Caritas Christi Hospice Kew in Melbourne at the age of 82. Archbishop (later Cardinal) George Pell of Melbourne, a conservative who was a long-time supporter and admirer of Bob Santamaria, delivered the panegyric to him at his (state) funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was attended by thousands.
Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria’s legacy is that of a highly divisive figure in Australian political history. Conservatives praised him on his death for his undaunted, lifelong opposition to Communism. Catholic activists extolled him for his adherence to traditional Church teachings, especially those concerning faith and family.
Leftists, on the other hand, usually demonized him as a McCarthyist-type figure who exaggerated the threats posed by Communism to sabotage the very working classes whose cause he claimed to espouse. Yet some leftists (like ex-Cabinet Minister Clyde Cameron and Governor-General Bill Hayden) praised him for his continued and consistent criticisms of the deleterious effects of unfettered Capitalism, especially “pro-Market” reforms, which Santamaria blamed for reducing real wages of Australian workers.
Ironically, Santamaria ultimately considered himself and his Movement a total failure. He repeated this contention several times before his death. Yet there is evidence his legacy and its guiding principles have not only survived him, but have in fact found fertile ground in Australian society.
In 2004 Santamaria’s children donated 150 boxes of his working papers to the State Library of Victoria, insuring their survival and dissemination. Many of these documents were later deposited in the B.A. Santamaria Library in Perth. Scholars are even now pouring over them to gain a greater insight into the mind of the man who was unquestionably one of the most influential political figures of 20th century Australia.
Time will tell if B.A. Santamaria was, as he believed, a failure, or if in fact he laid the seeds for the future of Australia.
Further reading:
Patrick Morgan: Your Most Obedient Servant: B.A. Santamaria Selected Letters 1938-1996, Melbourne University Publishing, 2007

August 9, 2010

Announcing "The Sicilian Girl"

"The Sicilian Girl" Directed by Marco Amenta
Through Tuesday, August 17th, 2010
Showtimes: 1:00, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10:00
110 Mins.
In Italian with English subtitles

From the Film Forum:
"Based on the true story of Rita Atria and Judge Paolo Borsellino. ONE GIRL AGAINST THE MAFIA, a documentary by Marco Amenta, played in 2002 at Film Forum. THE SICILIAN GIRL is his dramatic retelling of Rita Atria’s story: how a 17-year-old Sicilian whose father and brother were both Mafia members (and victims) breaks the vow of silence that enshrouds that world, and gives evidence to famed anti-Mafia judge Borsellino. Drawing upon Rita’s extensive diaries, the filmmaker tells her story, beginning in Sicily in 1985. A small child experiences her beloved father as a respected member of the community, a man to whom neighbors turn for help when a rapacious landlord orders their eviction. Soon after, he’s shot dead in the sun-drenched village square as his daughter looks on. Six years later, her brother is murdered. In court, Rita’s words are denounced as 'the ravings of a fanatical adolescent bent on revenge.' But are they?"

Film Forum
209 W Houston St.
New York, NY 10014

Box Office: (212) 727-8110

Click here for Podcast with Q & A with filmmaker Marco Amenta (Aug. 4, 2010)

August 8, 2010

To Hell and Back

Faust, etching by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
By Giovanni di Napoli
"Hell, you call it?" asked Don Quixote. "Call it by no such name, for it does not deserve it, as you shall soon see." ~ Miguel de Cervantes
The Neapolitan saying Vedi Napoli e poi muori, or "See Naples and die," was coined during the eighteenth century, when the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was a popular destination on the Grand Tour. This cultural excursion to Europe's principle cities, a conventional undertaking by Northern Europe's well to do as part of their education, was considered incomplete if Naples wasn't included. The expression, often attributed to the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), is not as ominous as it may first appear. It quite simply means: After visiting Naples one can die content, having seen everything worth seeing in life. Considering the opulence and prestige of eighteenth and nineteenth century Naples this was no idle boast.

Naples was Europe's third largest city, behind only Paris and London. It was a major center for Baroque art and architecture, as well as Europe's music capital. In 1735 Charles of Bourbon established the first university chair of astronomy in Naples. In 1748 full-scale excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum were begun. On September 27th, 1818 its arsenale launched the Real Ferdinando I, the first steamship of the Mediterranean. In 1819 Ferdinand I founded the Astronomical Observatory (Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte). It was the first scientific center of its kind in Europe. The Naples-Portici railroad, built in 1839, was the first on the continent. Naples was by far Italy's most industrial and affluent state. Over the years countless writers, artists, musicians and scientists from across Europe made the pilgrimage to the "picturesque" South and partook in her many splendors. It truly was Naples' Golden Age.

Admittedly, this was not always the case. Under the Spanish viceroyalty (1504-1703) the local superstitions and religious peculiarities of the lazzaroni (Naples' lumpen-proletariat) offended Spanish Catholic sensibilities, which gave rise to the Inquisition and the Jesuits' "civilizing mission." This, of course, led to another famous saying about the South: A paradise inhabited by devils. However, this "interregnum" period was preceded by centuries of rule, sometimes good and sometimes bad, by the Aragonese, Angevins, Hohenstaufen and, of course, the Altavilla, under whose dominion the Regno has been called, "The Kingdom par excellence." Going back further still, the Romans called the region Campania Felix, or happy land, for its great fecundity.

Sadly, those days are long gone. The city's popularity began to wane during Napoleon's rampage across Europe. The Piedmontese invasion in 1860 sealed its fate. Following the conquest and annexation into the Kingdom of Italy the once-proud capital was relegated to a provincial backwater, robbed of its wealth and prominence. Add to this the mass bombings by the Allies during WWII and the sabotage by the retreating Germans. The impoverished city has yet to recover from these devastations.

Today, Naples has a poor reputation. Unemployment and crime are high. It is often skipped by tourists, who—if they bother visiting Campania at all—usually visit Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast, instead. A new popular saying, Va fa Napoli, has replaced Goethe's. It literally translates into "go to Naples," but figuratively means "go to hell."

I'll never forget my first visit to Naples. It felt as though I returned home after a very long journey. If Carl Jung's theories about "racial memories" or "collective unconscious" are correct, over two thousand years of history is racing through my veins, and this was never more heightened than when I was in the Siren City.

"Blood is a juice with curious properties," wrote Goethe (Faust). Everything—from the burial of Parthenope at Megaride to the destruction of the Ostrogoths on the crags of Mons Lactarius near Vesuvius; the death of Romulus Augustus, the last Western Roman Emperor, to the ascension of Charles of Bourbon; the joyous return from the Battle of Lepanto to the sad departing of my ancestors on a steamship destined to New York Harbor—are all part of who I am.

If we are to remain a distinct people it's vital that we strengthen the bonds to our ancestral homeland and to our past. We must reject the scourge of rootless individualism that has reached grotesque proportions and return to the idea of an organic community. In other words, be a Nation and a People in the true sense of these words. Only by retaining our historical memory will we be able to forge our own destiny.

An excellent way for the diaspora community to enhance our identity is by visiting "the old-country" and experiencing the people and culture firsthand. Obviously, a short vacation doesn't make someone an expert—there is, after all, more to Naples than 'O Sole Mio and pizza—but like the Grand Tour of old, this will help us to reconnect with our historic legacy. It will allow us to participate, albeit in a minor role, in Parthenope's grand narrative.

I understand that holidays to Europe are expensive and not always feasible, but if we cannot go there at the very least we can still support individuals and institutions that promote positive cultural initiatives here. There are countless things we can do. First and foremost, take the time to teach the younger generations. Read Giambattista Basile's fairy tales to your children; listen to the overtures of Domenico Cimarosa and classical guitar compositions of Ferdinando Carulli; attend lectures about the philosophy of Giambattista Vico or poetry readings featuring the prose of Salvatore Di Giacomo; visit museums exhibiting the works of Vincenzo Gemito, Salvator Rosa, or the antiquities of Magna Graecia; study our native tongues (Neapolitan, Sicilian, et al.). It will instill pride and a true identity.

I've been to "Hell;" and like Sant'Antuono (and Prometheus) before me, I returned with fire and knowledge.