April 30, 2010

The Art of the Neapolitan Song

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Concert and lecture
Wednesday May 5, 2010 — 6 p.m. (Free Admission)

Award-winning, international recording artist
Cristina Fontanelli
with Maestro David Maiullo, piano
and John La Barbera, mandolin/guitar

24 W. 12 St. 
New York, NY
Info: 212-998-8730

Last night, Cristina Fontanelli and John La Barbera (pictured above) gave a packed audience at the Italian American Museum a small taste of what to expect from their upcoming concert at Casa Italiana NYU.  The duo performed the Neapolitan classic, O Sole Mio, during Mr. La Barbera's fascinating lecture, Echoes on Mulberry Street, about the history of the Neapolitan Mandolin.

For more info call: Fontanelli Productions, 212-217-6181 

April 27, 2010

Cesare Lombroso’s Barbaric Legacy


On Saturday May 8th, 2010 there will be a major demonstration at the newly renovated Cesare Lombroso Museum in Turin (Piedmont) to protest the political marginalization of Southern Italians and the desecration of the human remains contained therein. 

Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) was the father of Italian Positivist Criminology, a school of thought advocating biological determinism (the belief that human behavior is innate and unalterable) as the cause of human criminality. He contended that the born criminal could be detected by certain physical characteristics, such as high cheekbones and upturned noses, among other “atavistic stigmata.” He “proved” his theories by taking skull measurements of “criminal” Southern Italians and comparing them with soldiers loyal to Piedmont.  His gruesome collection of decapitated heads harvested from Southern Italy is currently displayed at the Cesare Lombroso museum. 

It would be very easy to attack Lombroso based on modern and politically correct philosophical grounds, which tend to be violently opposed to anything resembling his theories. However, modern philosophy is often as politically motivated as it was in Lombroso’s day; so while is seems ironic, it is not surprising that many international human-rights groups are silent when the targets of discrimination are Southern Italians, and defending us doesn’t further their interests.

It would also be simple to discredit Lombroso’s ideas based on new scientific data, but it would also be unfair. The founders of many sciences were often grossly incorrect about some of their core theories, only to have others revise them and come up with viable alternatives. Modern science is finding abundant evidence of both positive and negative behavioral tendencies linked to certain genes, which can appear across many diverse populations. Such discoveries may be very different from Lombroso’s primitive conclusions, but are not completely incompatible with other aspects of his theories.

The problem with Lombroso, and his adherents, is one of motivation. Lombroso’s conclusions had less to do with science than providing a justification for his political agenda. Lombroso was a loyal supporter of Piedmont’s invasion and occupation of Southern Italy, and served as a doctor for the invading army. Many of the “brigands” that he studied were not “criminals” at all, but Bourbon soldiers who continued to fight against Piedmont after the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies fell. Some were interred in POW camps in the North, others were killed in the South, treated like hunting trophies, and had their heads removed for transport to Lombroso’s laboratory. One can argue that these Southern “brigands” were just as loyal as the Northern soldiers that Lombroso compared them to, and their only “crime” was being on the losing side of the war.


(L-R) Ghoul posing with his trophy; slain 'brigands' on display; 
violated corpse of Michelina De Cesare; severed heads in cages.

Lombroso’s ideas were not restricted to Southern Italians, but experimenting on Southerners was of special interest to him. He was Jewish himself, born Ezechia Marco Lombroso, and was appalled by anti-Semitism and very protective of his ethnic group, but like many persecuted groups or individuals, it doesn’t necessarily translate into tolerance or sympathy for others.

Cesare Lombroso’s politically motivated experiments continue to haunt us, both in the stereotype of the Southern Italian criminal and the disdainful treatment of the Southern people. A museum about Lombroso in itself might not be a bad thing, but the way it is done can have a powerful influence on the minds of its visitors. That the uncivilized display of Piedmont’s victims is permitted in today’s so-called enlightened and progressive society only underscores the hypocrisy and barbarism behind that society. Their remains should be returned to their true homeland, either for proper burial, or at least preservation in a dignified manner.

Silvano Montaldo, the director of the Cesare Lombroso Museum, claims that they are not promoting discrimination and go to great lengths to point out Lombroso's errors. I’m sure that at some level he believes that, but the disgraceful display of Southern Italian remains is very much in tune with the negative attitude toward Southerners that survives to this day. Can you envision the reaction of the British or Americans if the remains of their soldiers were treated with such disrespect? Would they remain silent on seeing the skulls of their Marines displayed as an inferior criminal type?

Submitted by Lucian

April 25, 2010

A legendary cop


Lt. Det. Joseph Petrosino

The following excerpt from 'Fortunate' Vallone taking a trip to Italy by Elizabeth Daley appeared in last week's edition of the Queens Chronicle, a local newspaper.
"Petrosino was investigating the Sicilian Mafia when he was killed in 1909. He was a highly regarded member of the police force during his time of service and ended up being good friends with Theodore Roosevelt, among other accomplishments."

Irked by this obviously dismissive handling of Detective Lt. Petrosino's many real accomplishments, Southern Italian nationalist Nicholas J. Narducci sent the Queens Chronicle the following letter, which was printed in their April 22nd edition.


Dear Editor:

In regards to your article concerning Peter Vallone Jr.'s upcoming trip to Italy (“‘Fortunate’ Vallone taking a trip to Italy,” April 15, Western Queens edition): You actually rate having been friends with Teddy Roosevelt an “accomplishment?”

NYPD Det. Lt. Giuseppe “Joe” Petrosino had far more real accomplishments under his belt.  All of which, I might add, were omitted from your article. Allow me, please, to enlighten your readers.

He created the first police bomb squad in this country’s history.

After being promoted to lieutenant, he was put in charge of the NYPD’s elite Italian Squad to deal with the twin problems of the Cosa Nostra and the Black Hand in this city’s Italian-American community. He was so effective in this capacity that crime in New York’s Italian-American neighborhoods dropped an incredible 50 percent!  The Italian Squad (later called the Italian Legion) became the prototype for later organized crime task forces throughout the country.

He pioneered witness-protection and intelligence-gathering programs to aid law enforcement officials in their war on organized crime.  His group set up a vast network of both paid and unpaid informants. 

He rescued legendary Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso from the clutches of the Black Hand, who had been demanding monies from him in exchange for his life.

He uncovered convincing evidence that anarchists in upstate New York were plotting to murder President William McKinley.  He passed this information along to the Secret Service.  Then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt vouched for Petrosino’s skills as a police investigator.  Tragically, McKinley ignored the warnings and was shot in Buffalo by Leon Czolgosz on Sept. 6, 1901, dying eight days later.

According to Petrosino, his greatest accomplishment was rescuing one Angelo Carboni from certain execution in the electric chair for murder by finding the real culprit and bringing him to justice.

As I stated earlier, it was these that were his real accomplishments, not merely being a drinking buddy of “Old Rough Rider.”

In all fairness to you, however, nowadays it’s not what you do but who you know that determines your status in society.  Just ask people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.

Nicholas J. Narducci 
Whitestone 

April 22, 2010

Echoes of Mulberry Street


Italian American Museum presents

Echoes of 
Mulberry Street

The Neapolitan mandolin and the mandolin music publishers and instrument builders in New York City (1894-1918)
presented by John T. La Barbera
Thursday, April 29, 2010 - 6:00pm

Echoes of Mulberry Street is a presentation about the history of the Neapolitan mandolin, and its importance to Italian immigrant culture in New York City during the golden era of the instrument (1894-1918).

A powerpoint lecture and performance will be presented  featuring some of the music by Italian immigrant composers and musicians, made popular and published by the Italian Book Company, E. Rossi, at 187 Grand street.

A book signing of the  first and foremost book on Italian mandolin  "Traditional Southern Italian Mandolin and Fiddle Tunes" , by John La Barbera, (Mel Bay Publications) will follow.

For more information on the book "Traditional Southern Italian Mandolin and Fiddle Tunes" and to learn more about composer/guitarist-mandolinist, and author John T. La Barbera please click the following link.


Thursday, April 29, 2010 - 6:00pm
Italian American Museum
155 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10013
(Suggested Donation of $5 per person)

Seating is limited
To reserve a place for this event please call the Italian American Museum at (212) 965-9000 or email: info@italianamericanmuseum.org

This program is sponsored in part by funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs

April 21, 2010

Francesco de Mura

Two door panels with
Faith, Hope and putti 
attributed to Francesco de Mura,
Museo Civico di Castel Nuovo
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

In recent years I've made it a personal goal to pay homage to some of my favorite Southern Italian artists on their birthdays by viewing their works in person. Somehow, this tradition makes me feel connected to the artists; their greatness is a source of inspiration and pride. It's a simple gesture on my part and I find it to be a very rewarding. 

Luckily for me I have easy access to a few of their works, thanks to the proximity of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unfortunately, due to the museum's vast collection and limited space (which is mind boggling considering the massive size of the place), I was unable to view Francesco De Mura's preparatory sketch for The Assumption of the Virgin because it was out of circulation. A very helpful gentleman at the information desk told me that the museum rotates their collection, but sometimes it takes as long as three years before some works are put back on public display. He did, however, give me a phone number to request a special viewing of the drawings and prints in storage, but they need at least two weeks advanced notice.
Needless to say, it's impossible to stay disappointed for very long at the MET. The institution is home to one of the world's greatest art collections and I was not about to waste an opportunity to take some of it in. I made my way to the European Painting galleries on the second floor and leisurely wondered through its hallowed halls. Gazing in awe, I found myself surrounded by the esteemed works of some of Europe's most celebrated artists: Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt van Rijn, El Greco, Caravaggio, Anthony van Dyck, Nicolas Poussin, Jusepe de Ribera, et al.

Of course, some of the Titans of the South were represented as well. I made my usual pilgrimage to the R.H. Macy Gallery (room 10) and the Stephen C. Clark Gallery (room 30) to view the masterpieces of Luca Giordano, Mattia Preti, Francesco Solimena, Salvator Rosa, Corrado Giaquinto, Gaspare Traversi and Massimo Stanzione. It was almost like having a religious experience; I dreamed of being back in the land of my fathers again.

Although I didn't get to see De Mura's work, my visit to the MET was as pleasurable as ever. It was an ideal way to celebrate our culture and heritage. When I get the chance I'll make a special appointment to view De Mura's work, along with a few others that I would like to see (e.g. Salvator Rosa's Fall of the Giants), but for now I will be content to simply honor his memory.

Detail, Allegory of Faith
Francesco De Mura was born in Naples on April 21, 1696. His parents, Giuseppe di Muro and Anna Linguito, were wool merchants in the parish of Santa Maria della Scala. The boy showed an early propensity for drawing. According to the biographer Bernardo De Dominici (1683-1759), de Mura was beaten by his schoolmaster for sketching images of the saints. At the age of ten, on the advice of an artist friend, de Mura's father sent his son to study in the workshop of Domenico Viola, thus beginning the boy's formal training.

The young virtuoso was treated with great kindness by Viola, who had been a pupil of the great Mattia Preti. Sadly, in just over a year into de Mura's apprenticeship, Viola died. By 1708 he entered the studio of Francesco Solimena, Naples' most admired artist at the time. De Mura soon made an impression. As claimed by De Dominici, "It was a marvel to see" a boy of twelve skillfully copying the works of Solimena and his pupils (e.g. Giustino Lombardo). Master and protégé would form a life-long friendship.
In 1713 De Mura painted his first public work, a Crucified Christ with the Virgin and St. John, for the Chiesa di San Girolamo delle Monache. Soon followed were notable bozzetti depicting the Madonna delle Grazie and St. Anthony of Padua for the Pio Monte della Misericordia and the Immaculate Conception for the Sisters of Crocelle di Mannesi. These, and other, early works clearly show a late baroque style and the influence of Preti and Solimena.

As his reputation grew De Mura was no longer dependent on Solimena's atelier. By the 1720's he began receiving major commissions throughout Naples, including two paintings for the chapel at San Nicola alla Carità. In 1727 he painted a cycle for the sacristy of the Chiesa dell'Annunziata in Airola and five paintings for the Duomo in Capua. That same year he married Anna d'Ebreu. De Mura would then go on and produce ten paintings of the Virtues for the Chiesa di Santa Maria Donnarómita.

In 1731 De Mura was commissioned to decorate the chapel at Montecassino. He so impressed the Benedictine fathers with his work they employed him for almost ten years at the hilltop abbey. During this prolific period he produced over thirty paintings and frescoes. Sadly, these and other irreplaceable items were destroyed during the allied advance through Italy in 1943. Existing photographs show the influence of Luca Giordano.

Detail, Allegory of Hope
The next few years would be some of the artist's most noteworthy. King Carlo di Borbone employed De Mura to decorate the Palazzo Reale at Naples. The Glory of the Princes, homage to the marriage of the King to Maria Amalia of Saxony in 1738 is considered the most important of these works.

In 1739 De Mura completed The Young Christ among the Doctors in the Temple for the Certosa di San Martino. According to De Dominici the work was "one of the most beautiful painted by our Francesco, for the perfect composition as well as for the beauty, and nobility of color which, with its sweet harmony, makes one miraculous accord of all."

The Neapolitan's services were in great demand and in 1741 he left Naples for Turin where he participated (along with Corrado Giaquinto and other notable southern Italian artists) in Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy's grand project to aggrandize his capital. During his short stay in Piedmont De Mura painted several royal portraits (including the King's) and six ceilings portraying classical themes in the Royal Palace. He also received several commissions, including nine paintings depicting the heroics of the ancients, which would be sent back north from Naples. These, and later works, showed the influence acquired through contact with his fellow countryman Giaquinto during this period.

De Mura returned to his homeland in 1743 and continued to receive commissions from wealthy patrons and institutions, among these were the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, the Chiesa di Annunziata in Capua and the SS Severino e Sossio. In 1751 he repainted the Adoration of the Magi in the apse in the Nunziatella a Pizzofalcone that he originally created almost two decades earlier. He became a member of the newly founded Accademia di Belle Arti in 1752 and was appointed president in 1766. He would retire his post from the prestigious Academy four years later but continue teaching at his own studio. Among his disciples were Pietro Bardellino, Jacopo Cestaro, Giacinto Diano, Michele Foschini, Domenico Mondo and Alfonso di Spigna.

The venerable De Mura continued producing many works for the churches and patrons across Southern Italy until his death in 1782.


* * *
The following source proved invaluable to this post: 
A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America 1650-1750, Yale University Art Gallery, 1987.
* * *
Francesco de Mura in the news:
On June 26, 2010 their will be an unveiling in Airola, Benevento, of the restored painting, l'Addolorata ed il Cristo Deposto, by Francesco de Mura. The restoration was generously funded by the Associazione Culturale Italiana di New York.

April 19, 2010

Corrado Giaquinto

The Penitent Magdalen by Corrado Giaquinto
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

When I first viewed The Penitent Magdalen by Corrado Giaquinto at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was surprised to see that it was classified as Italian. I wondered about that, because many of the "Italian" paintings are classified by region. At first I thought it might be an oversight, or possibly a slight against the artist's birthplace in Puglia. Uncomfortable with my own wild speculation I decided to investigate. I found that the regional labels had more to do with particular artistic styles than the origin of the artists themselves, although in many cases they were identical. Corrado Giaquinto was a special case. He was known to adopt the style of the various locations where he painted, making classification difficult, and his work even more interesting.
Examples of the various regional classifications
Corrado Giaquinto was born in Molfetta, Puglia, in 1703. At sixteen he travelled to Naples and studied under the tutelage of Nicola Maria Rossi, a pupil of Francesco Solimena. Eventually, he would receive art instruction from the Neapolitan master himself. After several years of apprenticeship in Solimena's studio Giaquinto would seek his fortunes elsewhere. Unfortunately, only one work by the artist from this period is known to exist, a copy of one of Solimena's paintings.

Giaquinto arrived in Rome in 1723. He lodged at the workshop of Sebastiano Conca along with Neapolitan artist Giovanni Pandozzi. He spent his time studying contemporary Roman painting and sketching sculptures, oftentimes Michelangelo's famed Pietà. In addition to some altarpieces, Giaquinto was commissioned to paint the cupolas of San Nicola dei Lorenesi and the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Damaso.

On the move again, the Southerner visited Turin in 1733 where court architect Filippo Juvarra (a native of Messina, Sicily) gathered together a collection of artists to aggrandize the capital of Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy. Along with fellow Neapolitans Conca, Francesco de Mura and Sicilian Mariano Rossi (among others), Giaquinto painted decorations for the Royal Palace and villas of Cardinal Maurizo di Savoia and Queen Maria Cristina.

Giaquinto returned briefly to Rome in 1735 and again in 1738. He painted altarpieces and the vault of the Chiesa di San Giovanni Calibta. However, a series of paintings, commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV, for the Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is considered his crowning achievement in the Eternal City. In 1740 he was admitted into the prestigious Accademia di San Luca and by 1752 he was the institution's chamberlain.
The Lamentation by Corrado Giaquinto
Giaquinto's fame was such that he received commissions from patrons back in Naples. Perhaps the most notable of these were his immense, Translation from Pozzuoli to Naples of the Relics of SS Eutyhes and Acutius for Giuseppe Spinelli, the archbishop of Naples. The painting (which was the first in the southern capital to move towards the barocchetto) was highly influential on Neapolitan artists at the time.

In 1753 Giaquinto reached the pinnacle of his career when Ferdinand VI summoned him to Madrid. He succeeded Jacopo Amigoni as primer pintor de cámara and was appointed director general of the Academia de Bellas Artes and head of the Real Fábrica de Tapices y Alfombras de Santa Bárbera. As court painter he had a profound influence on Spanish artists, most notably Antonio González-Velázquez and Francisco Bayeu. Even today, Spain is one of the few places that still revere the artist.

After the abdication of Ferdinand VI and the succession of Carlo di Borbone in 1759 Giaquinto began to lose prominence. Queen consort Maria Amalia of Saxony preferred the Neoclassicism of Anton Raffael Mengs (their court painter from Naples) to the barocchetto of Giaquinto. In 1762 Giaquinto was granted permission to leave the King's service and returned to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. He received commissions for the new baroque Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta as well as for the Chiesa di San Domenico in his hometown of Molfetta. His last substantial project was to paint the sacristy in San Luigi di Palazzo in Naples.

On April 19, 1766 Corrado Giaquinto died at the age of sixty-three.
Medea Rejuvenating Aeson by Corrado Giaquinto
(Photo added 1/26/13)
Corrado Giaquinto was very popular in his day; he became very wealthy and influential (especially in Spain and Italy) and has been compared to Neapolitan giants like Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena. However, like many Southern Italian artists his reputation has waned over time as taste in art changed (among other factors). Thankfully, of late there has been a growth of scholarly interest in the history of Southern Italy; hopefully, this interest will continue to expand, especially into the arts. Anyone viewing the works of Corrado Giaquinto can plainly see they've been unjustly neglected and ignored.

It has always been the expressed purpose of this blog to recognize the achievements and contributions to world civilization by Southern Italians and to give these "forgotten" Titans their due. Well known across Europe before the Risorgimento, and celebrated in Spain today, Corrado Giaquinto is certainly one of these figures.

The following source proved invaluable to this post:
A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America 1650-1750, Yale University Art Gallery, 1987.

April 16, 2010

Curva Sud Report and Predictions: Round 34


Palermo vs. Cagliari:
Palermo are the masters of their own destiny.  If they keep winning they're in the Champions League; if they lose their unforgiving adversaries will greedily take advantage of their mistake.  It's that simple. Currently, the Rosanero are tied with Sampdoria for fourth place with 54 points.  They are closely followed by Juventus (51) and Napoli (49).

Luckily for the Sicilians they will be facing a struggling Cagliari side at the Stadio Sant'Elia, who are winless (0-4-1) in their last five matches.  The Sardinians also have the added distraction of losing their coach, Massimiliano Allegri, who was fired earlier in the week. 

Palermo have a golden opportunity to gain points on their closest rivals this round with Sampdoria facing a desperate Milan and Juventus doing battle against Inter.

I'm picking Palermo to win.

Catania vs. Siena:
Siena are fighting for their Serie A lives and I expect them to come out gangbusters.  Last weeks victory against Bari may have given them some false hope but relegation is inevitable. The Tuscans dug themselves into too deep of a hole to climb out of.  Whether they want to admit it or not I think it's safe to say they are going down. 

Red-hot Catania, on the other hand, only needs one more point to ensure they stay in top-flight football next season.  In form and brimming with confidence (and no-doubt still soaring after their Derby victory over Palermo two weeks ago) the Sicilians will be more than a match for any club at the moment.  Milan were lucky to escape with a 2-2 draw last weekend.  I just hope the Elefantini don't play down to their competition.

I predict a draw.

Bari vs. Napoli:
After last weeks disappointing 3-2 loss at home against Parma, Napoli's chances for Champions League football next season are rapidly fading.  With only five games left to play, and three very good teams (Palermo, Sampdoria & Juventus) to overcome, Partenopei can't afford any more slip-ups.  

Unfortunately, the Vesuviani's next opponent will be Bari in Puglia.  The San Nicola has been a virtual fortress for the Apulians this campaign. 

To make matters worse, Napoli will be short handed. Fabio Quagliarella will be serving a three-match ban along with defenders Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, who are each serving a one-game suspension.  Christian Maggio is still out injured as well.  Of course Napoli won’t get any sympathy from the Galetti who've been dealing with more than their share of injury problems all season long.

At this stage of the campaign the one thing that may work in Napoli's favor is motivation.  Bari are sitting in the middle of the table with little chance of making Europe and safe from relegation; perhaps complacency has set in?  Last weeks 3-2 loss to lowly Siena may be a sign of that.  Napoli, on the other hand, still has plenty to be play for.  Although it may be a long shot, Champions League is not totally out of the question.  The more realistic (and respectable) goal of Europa League is still within their grasp. 

I fully expect Napoli to win this match.

Forza Napoli! Avanti Sud!

By New York Scugnizzo

April 15, 2010

Arturo DiModica exhibit at the IAM

Photos courtesy of New York Scugnizzo
Recently, I visited New York City's Italian American Museum to view Arturo DiModica's latest sculpture, "Resurrection," and thought I would share a few photos with you.  The striking work depicts a bronze angel lifting a stainless steal Christ figure atop outstretched hands.  
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a miniature version of DiModica's stainless steal "Horse Sculpture" was also on display.  
If you haven't seen these works yet I suggest you hurry because the exhibit ends on April 30, 2010.

After our visit to the museum we got some gelato and relaxed in nearby Petrosino Square located at Kenmare, Lafayette Sts. and Cleveland Place.

April 14, 2010

One Tin Soldier

The Frank Serpico Story
Frank Serpico (Photo courtesy of The Free Info Society)
By Niccolò Graffio
“When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,The post of honor is a private station.”– Joseph Addison: Cato, IV, 1713
Francesco Vincent “Frank” Serpico was born on April 14th, 1936 in Brooklyn, New York.  His father, Vincenzo Serpico, was born in the town of Marigliano, in the province of Naples, in the region of Campania, Italy.  His mother, Maria Giovanna, was born in Ohio but returned with her family when she was young to Italy where she later met and married Vincenzo.

Frank Serpico’s childhood was an innocuous one.  At the age of 18 he joined the U.S. Army and was shipped off to Korea, where he remained stationed for two years.  Returning home, he enrolled in Brooklyn College, CUNY, while working part-time as a private investigator and youth counselor.

He joined the New York City Police Department in 1959 at the age of 23, being sworn in as a probationary patrolman on September 11th of the same year.  On March 5th, 1960 he was commissioned a patrolman for the NYPD.  His first assignment was in the 81st precinct (in the north-central area of Brooklyn).  He would hold the job of patrolman for 12 years.  He then worked for two years in the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), doing “exciting” police work such as filing fingerprints.

He was later assigned to work in the plainclothes division.  It was here he first encountered the widespread corruption he would soon learn was characteristic of the NYPD.  Serpico’s own strong moral fiber hindered his “career” as a plainclothesman, since he consistently refused to have any part in the corruption that was rampant in the department.  His attempts to expose those who did on several occasions nearly cost him his life!  
He first began reporting on the corruption in the NYPD in 1967.  However, corrupt officials high in the police hierarchy, plus the Byzantine bureaucracy, stymied his efforts.  In spite of the fact a fellow principled officer named David Durk eventually came forward to help him in his efforts, Frank soon began to believe (probably correctly) that his fellow partners learned of his secret meetings with police investigators.  Fearing for his safety, he decided to come forward into the spotlight on April 25th, 1970 by contributing to a front page article in the New York Times on rampant corruption in the police department.

That piece, plus the ensuing political fallout, forced then-Mayor John V. Lindsay (a cafone if ever there was one!) to appoint a five-member commission to investigate the article’s allegations.  The commission, headed by the redoubtable Whitman Knapp (and named after him), began its investigations of corruption in the NYPD in June, 1970.  Public hearings, however, didn’t begin until October 18th of the following year.

The publicity surrounding the investigations of the Knapp Commission would transform Police Detective Frank Serpico into a minor celebrity, but at an almost deadly cost.  As one might imagine, he was hardly a welcome sight in any precinct after violating the tacit “blue wall of silence”.

On February 3rd, 1971 at 10:42 PM during a narcotics stakeout in Brooklyn, Serpico was shot at point blank range in the face just below the eye.  In spite of the fact three other cops were at the scene, no one called in a “10-13” (officer down).  None of them came to his aid even though he called for help.  This later made Serpico believe he had been led there to be murdered.

An elderly Latino gentleman, upon hearing gunshots, called emergency services and then remained with Serpico, helping to keep him alive, until help arrived.  While in the hospital he was harassed by the police department with hourly bed checks.  Ultimately, though, he survived, and testified before the Knapp Commission.  In spite of the highly questionable circumstances surrounding Frank Serpico’s shooting, none of the other three officers were ever brought up on charges and two of them were even awarded medals!

In addition to hearing testimonies from Frank Serpico and David Durk, the commission members also heard from former Police Commissioner Howard R. Leary, corrupt policemen and victims of police shakedowns.  The investigations of the commission were far-reaching.  Numerous criminal indictments were handed down against corrupt police officials.  Reforms were instituted for the NYPD including: holding commanders accountable for the actions of their subordinates, putting offices of the Internal Affairs Division in all precincts as well as putting informants in all precincts.

Serpico retired from the NYPD on June 15, 1972, one month after receiving the department’s highest award: the Medal of Honor.  He relocated to Switzerland in order to heal from his wounds and ended up staying there for the next 10 years.  During that time he traveled extensively, lecturing on corruption and police brutality.  He eventually returned to the United States and currently resides in upstate New York.

His minor celebrity was transformed into a nationwide status with the release of the movie Serpico in 1973 starring fellow Southerner Al Pacino.  The movie is considered one of Pacino’s best roles and it helped to propel Frank Serpico into icon status as an incorruptible cop.  He still speaks out against corruption and brutality in law enforcement, as well as the weakening in civil liberties that has become characteristic of this country in recent decades.
Frank Serpico's firearms on exhibit at the Italian American Museum 
(photo courtesy of New York Scugnizzo)
The media in this country has always been too quick to paint our people as capable of little besides racketeering and murder.  Movies such as The Godfather Trilogy, The Valachi Papers; TV series such as The Sopranos and books such as The Don is Dead are quick reminders of this fact.  Movies such as Serpico are the exception, not the rule, in how we are portrayed.  Since the overwhelming majority of Americans get their worldview through this media prism, is it surprising we are so stereotyped by our fellow citizens?

It is bad enough to hear these stereotypes uttered by others, but to this writer, it is especially disheartening to hear them from the mouths of our own people.  Such is the power of the media to mold and to destroy.  Oswald Spengler was right!

Our people’s detractors (especially those of Northern European descent) might well ask themselves why in this country’s long history the first police officer to step forward to unmask the culture of corruption that existed in the NYPD was a Southern Italian!  

According to Peter Maas, author of the book Serpico, Frank Serpico was the first policeman in U.S. history to step forward and speak out against police corruption!  The existences of men like Serpico, plus men like Giuseppe Petrosino, James Vincenzo Capone (aka Richard “Two-gun” Hart) et al clearly shows a much more balanced portrayal of us as a people is in order by the media.  That will not come about until we unite as an ethnos and demand it!  If other people can do it there is no reason other than our own apathy to stop us from doing it as well.

Do we demand the media moguls show our fellow Americans our best as well as our worst, or do we content ourselves with sitting in front of the “boob tube” and watch nothing but racist drivel like Jersey Shore?  As always, the choice is ours.

Further reading:
Maas, Peter; Serpico, Frank (2005). Serpico: The Classic Story of the Cop Who Couldn't Be Bought. New York: Perennial

April 11, 2010

Le Isole Lontane

Presents


Le Isole Lontane
The Writings of Bartolo Cattafi

Reading & lecture by Nino Sottle Zumbo in Italian
English translation by Salvatore G. Rotella, Ph.D.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - 6:00pm

Le Isole Lontane. The Writings of Bartolo Cattafi. Edited by Nino Sottle Zumbo.  Printed by Giovan Battista Magno Press, Messina, Italy.


This short volume brings together in an elegant format  the reportages of a physical as well as mental voyage that goes from the Strait of Messina to the Aeolian Islands, from the Egadi and Pelagian Islands to Ustica and Pantelleria and from the  mountainous villages in the province of Messina such as Castroreale, Santa Lucia del Mela and Rometta all the way up to the Coast of England.

Barrtolo Cattafi, a unique Sicilian poet of the last century, was born in Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto in 1922 and died in 1979. His poetry has been translated into most of the major modern languages.

Nino Sottile Zumbo was born in Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, Province of Messina, Italy in 1961. He has a degree in Jurisprudence from the University of Messina and has done post-graduate work in the Economics of culture and Theory of Communication.

He is an arts critic and is the Director of the Ethno-Anthropological Museum "Nello Cassata" of Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto. In 1989 he founded a quarterly journal of politics and culture entitled Aque e Terre. He has taught Ethno-Anthropology at the University of Messina and has directed several international festivals.

Many of his publications are about individuals and events of the region in which he resides and works. For example: Seme di Arancia of Emilio Isgro', is about the work of an artist from Barcellona; La Magia del Fare, is a description of the museum Mr. Zumbo directs; Cattafi Artista, is aabout the poet and writer from Barcellona; Le Vare del Venerdi' Santo, is about the Holy Friday procession in Barcellona famous for its pageantry and historical meaning; Il Gioco dei Tarocchi.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - 6:00pm
155 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10013
Seating is limited
To reserve a place for this event please call the
Italian American Museum at (212) 965-9000
or

This program is sponsored in part by funds from the
New York City Department of Cultural Affairs