November 29, 2010

A sneak peek at "The Hunger Saint"

Mine shaft entrance
at Floristella-Grottacalda
in Enna, Sicily
(Photo courtesy of
Olivia Kate Cerrone)

"The cruelties to which the child slaves have been subjected, as related by those who have studied them, are as bad as anything that was ever reported of the cruelties of Negro slavery." – Booker T. Washington, The Man Farthest Down (quoted from Child Slavery in Sicily 1910)

Meet novelist Olivia Kate Cerrone at Birch Coffee in the Gershwin Hotel as she reads from her forthcoming novel The Hunger Saint, a story based on the brutal mistreatment of Sicily's underage sulfur mine workers. Ms. Cerrone will join novelists Thais Miller and Sam Schreiber, scholar Andrea Dedmon, and poets and magicians Brian Trimboli, Monica Wendel, Ben Pease and Bianca Stone to help raise money for Covenant House and Samaritans NYU. It promises to be a very entertaining and informative evening.

Thursday Dec. 2nd, 2010
Birch Coffee @ the Gershwin Hotel
5 East 27th Street (between Fifth & Madison)
New York, NY 10016
Phone: 212-686-1444
7:00 —9:00 PM

Donations encouraged and appreciated.
Proceeds to Samaritans NYU
and Covenant House

For more on Sicily's sulfur-mines see: Child Slavery in Sicily 1910 at South of Rome–West of Ellis Island

November 28, 2010

Help Save Angelo and Others!

Angelo Lucrezia, 36 years old
Stony Point, New York

"Are you my match? My name is Angelo Lucrezia, I am 36 years old and I have Myelodysplastic Syndrome (blood cancer). My only cure is a bone marrow transplant. I have three wonderful children. They need me to be around as they grow up. You could be the one who saves my life and gives my children the ultimate Christmas present, their dad."

Become A Lifesaver!

Bone Marrow Doner Drive
Sponsored by the

Saturday, December 4, 2010
10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
San CONO Society
231 Ainslie St., Brooklyn NY, 11211

If you have any questions,
please call Elena Loguercio at 347-307-3987

Every dollar counts!
Make a $ donation and select code: ALI 001

(Reprinted from a flier I found at Villabate-Alba Pasticceria, Brooklyn NY)

November 27, 2010

The Patriotic Gangster: Charles “Lucky” Luciano, One of the "Founding Fathers" of Modern Organized Crime

America’s Original "Dapper Don": Charles “Lucky” Luciano
 By Niccolò Graffio
“Let me remember, when I find myself inclined to pity a criminal, that there is likewise a pity due to the country.” – Matthew Hale: History of the Pleas of the Crown, 1736
For as long as men have walked the earth there have been those who, in the evolutionary competition for this planet’s finite resources, proven themselves superior to those around them in the acquisition and hoarding of said resources. In the beginning, this competition was for such basic, mundane things as food and shelter. According to evolutionary psychologists, this was/is done with an eye on attracting mates, thus insuring the survival of the competitor’s genes. This behavior is widely observed as well in the rest of the Animal Kingdom. 

Later, with the rise of civilization, ambitious types turned their attention to amassing symbols of wealth like land, money and power. Though the rules of the game seem to have changed, the underlying motive, the acquiring of mates, remains, at least according to evolutionary psychologists.

Such a tacit system invariably resulted in a marked disequilibrium in the distribution of resources (and mates) among mankind. For purposes of expounding on his theories of class struggle, 19th century German-Jewish philosopher and political economist Karl Marx simplistically divided the competitive masses of mankind into two main groups: the “haves” and the “have nots”. 

Society has been called a compact between individuals to respect each other’s rights and property. Those that violate that compact do so at their own risk. It is a truism the bulk of humans, in any society at any time, most assuredly earn their bread through honest labor. It is just as true there have always been those willing to go outside established societal norms in the never-ending quest for acquiring and hoarding resources. For purposes of classification, civilized societies usually (but not always) lump the latter under the title of “criminals”. 

As with honest, hard-working folk, among criminals there are those who, due to superior ambition and intelligence, outdo their peers in illegally amassing wealth. Of all the various types of criminals (burglars, muggers, con artists, etc) involved in this pursuit the most infamous example is the gangster. 

The gangster is distinguished from other types of common criminals in a number of ways. Whereas burglars and muggers can be and are frequently solitary figures, the gangster by his very title and nature is part of a group. Low-level gangsters can and often engage in the same activities as burglars and muggers; this is often the case with youthful street gangs. High-level gangsters, on the other hand, have long since "graduated" to more immensely profitable endeavors like narcotics trafficking and prostitution on a large scale. Members of criminal organizations now generically named "mafias" fall into this category.

Of all the various sorts of criminals, it is these members (or mobsters) who exert the most pernicious influence on modern human societies, pedophiles and serial killers notwithstanding. One need only do a cursory reading of some of the vast archives of America’s eternal war on organized crime to see what I mean. For example, the presence on American streets of illicit drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, ‘crack’ cocaine, etc is directly due to the activities of mobsters. How many hundreds of thousands of lives have been ruined, directly or indirectly, by these drugs is incalculable! 

In spite of all their evil, incredibly, mobsters are frequently glorified by both the American media and public! John Gotti, “The Dapper Don”, was a great recent example in history of this phenomenon. As capo or head of the Gambino crime "family", Gotti had his filthy hands in everything including prostitution, loan sharking, murder for hire, weapons dealing, drug trafficking, etc. Yet the adulation bestowed upon this parasite by both press and people was something one would think more fitting for a popular entertainer!

This fascination with underworld figures is nothing new; rather, it has its roots in early American history. It can be seen, among other places, in the pages of the old Western dime novels that glorified the criminal exploits of vicious bandits like Jesse James and Cole Younger. It is also seen in the literature romanticizing murderous pirates like Henry Morgan (rum, anyone?) and Bartholomew Roberts.

One curious aspect of America’s fascination with organized crime is the mistaken belief (again, perpetuated by the mass media) that organized crime is the product of “others” (i.e. immigrants). According to this myth, it was these immigrants (invariably Sicilians) who brought this pestilence to these previously pristine shores. A number of problems exist with this myth.

For starters, historians have clearly established the fact organized crime was up and running here before the first waves of immigrants from places like Naples and Sicily started hitting these shores in the late 1880s. The loose confederation of ethnocentric gangs collectively known as the Irish mob was active in cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and even, ironically, New Orleans as early as near the beginning of the 19th century. 

In all fairness to the Irish, city archives from Philadelphia show a short-lived but vicious criminal organization known as the Dolan Gang terrorized that city in the 1790s. This gang, composed entirely of Anglos, engaged in robberies, burglaries, prostitution, murders, etc until state authorities stepped in and through a series of arrests, incarcerations…and hangings(!), brought the gang’s activities to a welcome end. The lesson of the Dolan Gang is abundantly clear. In places where government policing is strong (and the level of corruption is low), gang activity is usually weak.

It is therefore historically baseless to accuse immigrants from Southern Italy (especially Sicily) of being the “serpent in the Garden of Eden”, as far as organized crime in America is concerned. However, it is also wishful thinking in believing our people didn’t have a hand in the genesis of modern American gangsterism. In truth, one of ours wielded a strong hand in making organized crime in America the malignant force it is today. While I disdain those who glorify gangsters (mainly because I despise gangsters), nevertheless, his story must be told, in order that we may understand garbage still stinks, even when it’s in a $10,000 designer suit and tie.

Salvatore Lucania was born in November, 1896 (the exact date is disputed) in the commune of Lercara Friddi on the island of Sicily, Italy. He was the second of five children. In the spring of 1907 his family immigrated to the United States, settling in New York City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He was diagnosed with smallpox upon arriving. Though he recovered, he would carry the scars of that disease for life.

Due to a language barrier (he spoke only Sicilian) he was a poor student. Most sources agree he took to a life of crime almost immediately after arriving, running with older boys who taught him how to shoplift, “shoot craps”, pick pockets, among other things.

Meyer Lansky
He eventually formed his own circle who plied their trade picking pockets and mugging their fellow New Yorkers. He also hit upon a novel way to “supplement” his income: he would charge Jewish kids “protection” money to shield them from predatory attacks by other Italian or Irish kids. According to a popular account, one of the Jewish kids he tried to extort money from boldly stood up to him, daring him to come get the cash. Instead of fighting him, young Salvatore wound up respecting and even befriending him. That Jewish kid would later figure prominently in his life. His name was Maier Suchowljansky. History would remember him by his chosen name of Meyer Lansky

By the time he turned 14, Salvatore Lucania was finished with the idea of getting an education. He dropped out of school, getting a job as a shipping clerk for the Goodman Hat Company on Greene Street. He started out making $5 a week which eventually went up to the ‘princely’ sum of $7 weekly. It was here he had the epiphany that would change his life and American history, for young Salvatore Lucania, though amoral and uneducated, was nonetheless a very bright and ambitious kid. He dreamed of one day wearing the expensive clothes and driving the fancy cars he saw displayed by the best-off of his community. More importantly, he saw exactly who it was playing with these toys.

His job with Goodman Hat was merely a cover for his criminal activities. Around the time he first started working at the hat company he acquired his first gun. While proudly showing it to a friend, it went off and scarred his leg; the only time he would ever be shot in his life. When his father found out, the elder Lucania took the gun, pointing it at his son and telling him he would kill him if ever brought disgrace to the family! Salvatore left home shortly afterwards, only returning during the day when he knew his father was working. The rest of the time he lived in the streets, because the streets were now his home.

Salvatore Lucania became acutely aware of the value of the illegal drug trade long before it became the sine qua non of underworld income in America. He began running errands for a local dealer, delivering packages containing heroin and cocaine. On one of these occasions he was caught and arrested by police. Sentenced on June 27, 1916 to eight months in New Hampton Farms Reformatory, he emerged with a reputation as a “stand-up guy” for refusing to implicate his supplier. He also came out with a new name, Charles Lucania. Police records showed he would carry that name for the next 10 years.

January 17th, 1919 would prove to be a watershed date in the history of organized crime in America. On that date, Congress officially ratified the 18th Amendment, banning the manufacture, transportation, distribution and sale (but oddly, not the consumption) of alcoholic beverages in America. The Prohibition movement had largely been led in previous decades by pietistic religious denominations such as the Methodists who believed banning the sale of “demon rum” would go a long way in restoring America’s physical, psychological and spiritual health. Though well-intentioned, these peoples vastly underestimated their fellow Americans’ appetite for the hard stuff!

The ink wasn’t even dry on the 18th Amendment when criminal organizations began bootlegging and smuggling booze to thirsty Americans. Around this time Lucania’s gang was doing jobs for Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein. Like Lansky, Rothstein would later figure prominently in "Charles" life.

Joe Petrosino
In 1920 the rackets in New York City were largely controlled, directly or indirectly, by one Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria. Masseria, another gem of a human being, had earlier fled a murder indictment in his native Sicily, settling in East Harlem and later joining the Morello Gang, an early branch of the Cosa Nostra in America. When the gang’s most prolific killer, Ignazio “Lupo the wolf” Saietta (the same Saietta who once was the recipient of a brutal but well-deserved beating by legendary NYC supercop Joe Petrosino), was jailed, Masseria took control the gang, extending its influence throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.

On one occasion Lucania’s and Lansky’s gangs clashed with Masseria’s soldiers. Instead of having him killed, Masseria, impressed with Lucania, recruited him as a gunman. He told him, though, to end his friendship with Lansky. Masseria was an old-fashioned Italian Catholic who hated Jews. Lucania, on other hand, paid lip service to his new boss while secretly maintaining his friendship (and criminal ties) with his childhood buddy.

A controversy exists among writers and historians over when exactly Charles Luciano gained the moniker “Lucky”. Some say it was surviving a near-successful attempt on his life.  Others say it was pinned on him during his youth, running from the police. Whatever the case may be, it followed him to his grave, and probably deservedly so, for more than once he avoided the fate of many of his peers…an early grave.

As “Joe the Boss” Masseria’s power grew in the New York underworld, so did Charles Lucania’s influence with Masseria. While publicly acknowledging Masseria’s supremacy, however, privately Lucania chafed at the Old World ways of his boss, who he saw as a buffoon and an impediment to his own plans to one day become head of the New York underworld.

Of all the mobsters active in America at that time, few were as powerful or feared as Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein. Rothstein differed from Lucania in a number of ways. For starters, he was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan into the family of a fairly wealthy textile manufacturer, Abraham Rothstein. Unlike Lucania, Rothstein was an excellent student who was especially skilled at mathematics. He came from a family of pious Jews (his older brother had studied to become a rabbi). Those were the essential differences between the two men.

If Abraham Rothstein had any hope of his son following his footsteps into the family business, they were quickly dashed. Like Lucania, Rothstein had no interest in legitimate business, even though he obviously possessed the acumen for it. Arnold’s interest quickly turned to the underworld, and by the age of 28 he was running a highly profitable (though illegal) gambling casino in the Tenderloin district of Manhattan. Adept at running illicit gambling operations, by the age of 30 he was already a dollar millionaire. Though it was never proven, many to this day believe it was Arnold Rothstein who “fixed” the 1919 MLB World Series, precipitating the so-called “Black Sox Scandal”.

The advent of Prohibition saw Rothstein branch out his business dealings into bootlegging and brought him into contact with Lucania. Charles Lucania was in awe of Arnold Rothstein, his wealth, power and upper-class demeanor. Rothstein, in turn, took a liking to the bright, pragmatic Lucania and mentored him in the fine arts of living…and the dark arts of gangsterism. Years later Lucania would say of Rothstein, “He taught me how to dress.”

Concurrent in New York’s underworld with the rising prominence of “Joe the Boss” Masseria was the growing power of one Salvatore Maranzano. Maranzano was born in the town of Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. In his youth he dreamed of becoming a priest and even studied for a time to become one. Eventually, though, he abandoned that for a career in the Cosa Nostra. He arrived in New York sometime after the end of WW1. A tall figure with a commanding, charismatic presence, Maranzano was the veritable “man of respect” in the underworld. He was known to have a strange fascination with the subjects of Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire and often enjoyed talking about these subjects with his less-educated counterparts.

Giuseppe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano were what were popularly known as “Moustache Petes”, immigrant Sicilian gangsters who sought to bring Old World ways to their new domains in America. They distrusted other, non-Sicilian, Southern Italian gangsters and disdained doing any business with Irish or Jewish ones. They also insisted on running a “tight ship” with themselves wielding absolute power in their respective organizations. It was inevitable these two would clash. That clash came to be known as the Castellammarese War.

The “war” supposedly began sometime around February, 1930 with the murder of one Gaetano Reina, an ally of Masseria, presumably on orders from Masseria himself! Masseria is believed by some to have ordered Reina killed to protect secret allies who were at odds with Reina. The plan backfired, however, when Reina’s family, infuriated at this treachery, switched their allegiances to Maranzano.

In the beginning things went well for Masseria. Fortunes changed, however, on October 23rd, 1930 beginning with the assassination of Giuseppe Aiello, a key Masseria ally in Chicago. Lucania and Vito Genovese, another Masseria ally, read the handwriting on the wall and soon clandestinely contacted Maranzano, agreeing to betray Masseria if Maranzano would end the war. On April 15th, 1931 “Joe the Boss” Masseria was gunned down while eating dinner at Nuova Villa Tammaro, a restaurant in Brooklyn. 

With his main rival out of the way, Salvatore Maranzano now dreamed of becoming the Julius Caesar of organized crime in America. Lucania and Genovese, however, had other plans, for they now set their sights on taking down Maranzano as well. Maranzano was no fool, though. Though Lucania was now his “number two man” in New York, he realized he could not be trusted. He hired a loose cannon by the name of Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll to assassinate Lucania and Genovese.

Unfortunately for Maranzano, he had not acted quickly enough. Lucania, with the aid of his longtime friend Meyer Lansky, set Maranzano up and had him murdered by Lansky’s men in Maranzano’s office on September 10th, 1931. With Maranzano’s demise, Charles “Lucky” Luciano (as he now called himself) was undisputed head of the “Five Families” of the Cosa Nostra in New York.

Luciano wasted no time in remaking the American Mafia in his own image. An ardent pragmatist, he dispensed with the ethnocentric practices of his predecessors, doing business with Irish and Jewish gangs as long as there was money to be made. To reduce the likelihood of any further gang wars (which might attract the attention of the Feds, bad for business), he helped to establish what came to be known as “The Commission”, the governing body of the criminal organization known as the American Mafia. 

Though in theory membership was originally limited to seven Italian-American “families”, in practice Jewish mobsters such as Meyer Lansky (who served as Luciano’s advisor) and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter were allowed to participate. Luciano was nominally “Chairman of the Board” but in practice he soon wielded as much power as a de facto "capo di tutti capi" (“Boss of all bosses”).

One of the first orders of business of the Commission was to see to it its directives were obeyed. Towards that end an enforcement arm was created. This arm, dubbed ”Murder Inc.” by the press, consisted of mob assassins recruited from both Italian and Jewish gangs. Though nominally headed by one Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia, it was in fact run by Meyer Lansky along with his cohort and friend, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. Murder Inc. answered directly to The Commission (and Charles Luciano).

Many enemies of the Mob fell to Murder Inc. over the ensuing years. Perhaps the most well-known was Arthur Flegenheimer (aka "Dutch" Schultz), a New York City-area Jewish-American gangster. "Dutch", an opponent of Luciano’s, had asked the Commission for permission to assassinate Thomas Edmund Dewey, a U.S. Attorney and redoubtable anti-mafia crusader. Dewey and then-New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had set their sights on Schultz’s operations and Schultz himself.

Initially some members of the Commission were supportive of the proposal, but Luciano argued forcefully that to murder such a high-profile figure as Dewey would be to invite the wrath of the entire Justice Dept. of the United States Federal Government on their heads! The idea was canned. Schultz accused the Commission members of betraying him and stormed out of the room. The Commission heads then voted to "take out" Schultz to prevent him from killing Dewey and the order was shortly carried out.

Ironically, it would be Thomas Dewey who would prove to be Luciano’s undoing. Raiding dozens of brothels and arresting hundreds of prostitutes and their “madams”, Dewey’s office finally was able to locate three women who were willing to implicate Luciano as head of the prostitution rackets in New York City. In the greatest victory of his career, Dewey brought 62 charges of coerced prostitution against Luciano. Convicted, he was sentenced to 30-50 years in prison.

While in prison he was examined by a psychologist who noted his high IQ and excellent organizational skills. The therapist lamented that had Luciano pursued a career in honest business he would have undoubtedly been a success at whatever he did.

That might have been the end of “Lucky” Luciano but thanks to the machinations of a man named Adolf Hitler, Fortune would soon smile on him again.

During WW2 the Allies prepared to invade Italy through the island of Sicily. Though criminal organizations in Italy like the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Neapolitan Camorra had been severely persecuted by the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini, they had managed to survive. American authorities knew that Luciano had maintained good ties with these groups. In exchange for intelligence provided by these groups to insure the success of military endeavors like Operation Avalanche, and to prevent dockworker strikes, the authorities agreed to allow Luciano to run his criminal empire unfettered from his cell. To defeat Satan, America’s government made a pact with the Devil!

After the war the Feds paroled Luciano (no doubt as part of their agreement) but he was deported back to his native Sicily. To further reward Luciano and his cohorts for their cooperation, American military authorities in Sicily had allowed Mafia thugs to retake control of the island. It has suffered under the yoke of their parasitism ever since.

Though he never became an American citizen, by all accounts Luciano was deeply hurt at being deported from America, a country he had curiously come to love, even while he was preying on it. In his depraved criminal mind he saw nothing wrong with being a patriot while simultaneously helping to suck the life out of the very country he claimed as his own! Numerous photos have turned up over the years showing him in Italy posing with U.S. servicemen and tourists. It was said he enjoyed being recognized by Americans and never hesitated to sign autographs.

Extreme controversy exists over Luciano’s activities after he was booted from the United States. Official history states he continued to run his drug and racketeering empires while in exile. Writer Tim Newark, however, makes a cogent if not entirely convincing argument that after his deportation, Luciano was made a bogeyman by U.S. Federal law enforcement officials to justify their respective agencies’ budgets. 

While this writer acknowledges that many of the anecdotes concerning Luciano are more fantasy than fact, he finds it hard to believe such an ambitious and amoral man would be merely content to “rest on his laurels”. Many of the sources concerning Luciano’s activities after he left America are unreliable, most of all Luciano himself! A notorious liar, anything he said concerning himself would have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Whatever the truth, what is known is that shortly after arriving in Italy he took up with a young dancer named Igea Lissoni. Though they apparently never married, theirs seems to have been a happy union. After her death from breast cancer he is said to have withdrawn from society and probably suffered from what today is called clinical depression. On January 26th, 1962 he suffered a massive heart attack and died at Naples Airport while waiting for a movie producer who wished to do a story on his life. In death, American authorities granted him what they denied him in life. He was allowed to be buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Queens, New York City.

Almost 50 years after his death, the controversy surrounding his legacy remains. To far too many people, he was Charles “Lucky” Luciano, romanticized gangland figure and misguided, tragic patriot. In a twisted homage, Time Magazine included him as a “criminal mastermind” among the top 20 builders and titans of the 20th century.

To those who know better, he was Salvatore Lucania: thief, bully, pimp, drug pusher, murderer and above all, parasite. He was blessed with abilities most of us are denied. Instead of utilizing those abilities to make an honest name for himself while serving the public weal, he squandered them by following a baser path. For that alone he is more deserving of reproach than admiration or sympathy.

Further reading:
  • Tim Newkirk: Lucky Luciano: The Real and the Fake Gangster; Thomas Dunne Books, 2010
  • Costanzo, Ezio. The Mafia and the Allies: The Invasion of Sicily in 1943 and the Return of the Mafia, New York: Enigma Books, 2008
  • Rich Cohen: Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons and Gangster Dreams; Vintage Books, 1999

November 20, 2010

The Palio Del Viccio of the town of Palo Del Colle in Puglia

Banners of the various rione of Palo del Colle

By John Stavola

A "Palio" is a competition between different neighborhoods of a town often commemorating an historical event. The competition can involve horse racing, jousting, or archery with the competitors dressed in the attire of the Middle Ages. The Palio of Siena is the most well known and publicized. These events, however, take place throughout Italy. The Palio del Viccio of Palo del Colle developed into the present form in the fifteenth century.

In Italian Palio means banner or racing silk. The various neighborhoods of a town each have their own colorful and symbolic banner. In Palo del Colle there are ten rione, or districts represented. Each rione would select a horseman to participate. The participants carry long poles while standing on horseback and attempt to pierce a leather bag of water suspended high in the air over the street. A plump turkey called viccio in the local dialect was the original prize.

The Palio del Viccio presently takes place twice a year. The winter event takes place on the last day of Carnival, or Fat Tuesday, which is the day before Ash Wednesday in February. The summer event is held on the last Sunday in July and is a recent addition to attract tourists.

The original object of the race was a suspended live rooster which the horsemen had to decapitate in order to win. This may seem a bit gory to our modern sensibilities; the reason why a water bag has been substituted. This tradition is very ancient however, and has its roots in our agrarian past. Our forefathers saw everything in the natural world as imbued with a spirit, a living entity which had to be dealt with in order to survive. The rooster represented the spirit of the grain. It was sacrificed in order to insure a plentiful harvest after the planting which took place soon after the season of the present Palio. Over time the sacrifice of the rooster was allied with the importance of horse raising for military defense, and the turkey was substituted for the rooster after it was introduced from the New World.

(Reprinted with permission from Southern Italian History, Culture, and Genealogy Blog)

November 19, 2010

Announcing the MET's Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche

Eighteenth-century Neapolitan Angels adorn last year's twenty-foot blue spruce
(photos courtesy of New York Scugnizzo)

November 23, 2010–January 6, 2011
Medieval Sculpture Hall

The Museum will continue a longstanding holiday tradition with the presentation of its Christmas tree, a favorite of New Yorkers and visitors from around the world. A vivid eighteenth-century Neapolitan Nativity scene—embellished with a profuse array of diminutive, lifelike attendant figures and silk-robed angels hovering above—will adorn the candlelit spruce. Recorded music and lighting ceremonies will add to the enjoyment of the holiday display.

The exhibit of the crèche is made possible by gifts to The Christmas Tree Fund and the Loretta Hines Howard Fund.

Museum hours
Monday: Closed
Tuesday—Thursday: 9:30 am—5:30 pm
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 am—9:00 pm
Sunday: 9:30 am—5:30 pm

1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, NY 10028-0198
Info: 212-535-7710
TTY: 212-570-3828

November 18, 2010

Campisi and La Barbera at Fat Baby

John T. La Barbera and Laura Campisi

Last night Fat Baby Lounge was, for a moment, transported to the Via dei Candelai in Palermo. Normally a venue for rock-and-roll acts, singer-songwriter, Laura Campisi, and guitarist, John La Barbera, took to the stage in this multi-level bar (located in Manhattan's Lower East Side) and dazzled us with their brilliant brand of Sicilian folk-jazz.

As noted in my review of their recent performance at Bleu, this was not a show I wanted to miss. It's not every day one gets to see two premier, award-winning Southern-Italian musicians perform live in New York City anymore. The duo performed a wonderful selection of songs from their extensive repertoire. Highlights included traditional Sicilian classics like Buttana di to mà (forever immortalized by Rosa Balistreri) and original masterpieces like Cuorefisarmonica. Needless to say I was not disappointed.

The duo's passion for music is obvious. While passion is important in performers, it's not always enough. Their great skill and talent synergized with their passion to make these two artists very special. Music lovers will understand when I say listening to them gave me the chills.

Afterward, we spent the evening getting to know one another, discussing a variety of topics. I was impressed by the number of people who approached our table to tell Laura how much they enjoyed the show and inquired about her CD's. I was most interested in her experiences here in the States and, unfortunately, discovered some were less than flattering. Overall, I think, she had an enjoyable visit and made many new friends and contacts. She certainly has a new fan base. Soon Laura will be returning to Sicily; however, having to go visit Palermo to see her again doesn't sound like a bad thing.

* * *

"I hold myself, this tight knot of flesh and bone,
and wonder what he saw"
— Olivia Cerrone, Babydoll

As a side note, I met at the show the enchanting Olivia Cerrone, a passionate enthusiast of all things Sicilian and more. Ms. Cerrone's fire (she is, after all, a daughter of Etna) was inspirational. She's currently working on a book about Sicily's sulfur mines and child-slaves, a dark subject that's all too neglected. We will try to keep updated on this important work as news develops. Samples of her fictional writing can be found at The Summerset Review and 3:AM Magazine.

It was a very memorable evening; one I wont soon forget.