June 28, 2011

An Author in Search of a Cause

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


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

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

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

Titan of the South: Luigi Pirandello


Luigi Pirandello was born on June 28, 1867 in Caos, a small hamlet in Girgenti (now Agrigento), Sicily. He studied Philology in Rome and Bonn, and published his doctoral thesis, Sounds and Developments of Sounds in the Dialect of Girgenti, in 1891. He was a prolific writer best remembered for his plays, the most famous of which was, Six Characters in Search of an Author. The dramatist also produced poems, novels and numerous short stories, often expressing tragedy and disillusionment inspired by his own personal experiences. In 1934 Pirandello was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. To the chagrin of his many apologists the Nobel Prize Laureate was a member of the Fascist Party and donated his gold medal to support the Italian war effort in Abyssinia. The literary giant passed away in Rome on December 10, 1936. Continue reading

June 24, 2011

The 'Ndrezzata

Gulf of Naples
By Giovanni di Napoli

At the northern periphery of the Gulf of Naples lies the enchanting Island of Ischia. Steeped in history and legend, this jewel of the Tyrrhenian is the birthplace of the 'Ndrezzata, a traditional folk dance whose origins are shrouded in mystery. Twirling with increasing speed, armed participants strike and parry with wooden swords and mazzarelli (cudgels) in a dance, some say, symbolizes the war between the sexes (or nymphs and satyrs). Depending on whom you ask, there are any one of a number of stories offering an explanation.

According to one legend the 'Ndrezzata was taught to local villagers by the island's nymphs. It was supposed to remind them of happier days when the spirits of the wood gaily danced to the celestial sounds of Apollo's golden lyre. During the sybaritic festivities the sun god fell in love with the beautiful nymph, Coronis, and the two conceived a child, Asclepius, the god of healing and medicine. Blessed, the island became famous for its therapeutic qualities.
A View of Ischia from the Sea (1842) 
by Jean-Charles-Joseph Rémond (1795-1875)
This all came to an end, however, when Coronis betrayed Apollo with the faun, Ischi. A white raven looking for the god's favor exposed the infidelity, but Apollo's fury singed the bird's feathers, forever turning the species black. In a jealous rage he killed the lovers, but unborn Asclepius was saved. In some versions of the story the sun god's sister, Artemis, slew Coronis. Bitter over his mother's death, Asclepius made the hot springs of Ischia undrinkable. Be that as it may tourists still visit the ancient nymphaeum, fumaroles and thermal baths.

Colonized by Euboean Greeks during the first half of the eighth century BC, it has been suggested the martial aspects of the dance harken back to the military prowess of the ancient Hellenic warriors. Others say the custom doesn't date from the Classical Era, but simply recalls a military victory over Saracen raiders during the sixteenth century. Considering the great frequency and ferocity of these attacks (in one raid alone the infamous Turkish corsair, Barbarossa, captured 4,000 slaves) any success in repelling the invaders would be worth celebrating.
Sorrowful Woman of Ischia (1822) by unknown artist
Nevertheless, the most popular interpretation claims the dance represents the reconciliation between the neighboring villages of Barano and Buonopane. In 1540 a Baranese boy fell in love with a Buonopanese girl. He secretly gave her a belt made of coral as a token of his love and symbolizing their union. The transgression was discovered by a rival suitor and led to an open feud between their clans. A battle ensued, but thanks to the divine intervention of the Madonna della Porta cooler heads prevailed and the belt was burned at the Church of San Giovanni Battista on Lunedì dell’Angelo (Easter Monday), satisfying both parties. It remains unclear who got the girl.

Tradition has it that one cannot be taught the 'Ndrezzata, it's a special gift bestowed at birth to the people of Ischia from the nymphs of Nitrodi. The dance is performed only twice a year — during Easter Monday and Midsummer (June 24th), the feast day of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of Buonopane. Whatever its true origins, the 'Ndrezzata is a beautiful reminder of the long history and rich heritage of Southern Italy.

June 23, 2011

The Neglected Genius: Giambattista Vico of Naples


Giambattista Vico (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
“I don’t believe in any science, but my imagination grows when I read Vico in a way that it doesn’t when I read Freud or Jeung.” – James Joyce (Ellman, Richard: James Joyce. 2nd ed. pg. 693, New York: Oxford UP, 1983)
The simplest definition of history is the branch of knowledge dealing with past events. Though it is admittedly an oversimplification, one could argue that human history is created by basically two types of people: doers and sayers. The doers could also be termed “people of action”; those who make their mark by engaging in activities that significantly alter the world, for better or worse. Examples of this sort include Alexander of Macedon, Christopher Columbus, the Wright brothers and Albert Einstein.

Sayers, on the other hand, are those who, through the printed and/or spoken word, seek to alter the world around them by impressing their thoughts on others. Examples of this sort include Kong Qiu (Confucius), Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Paine and Karl Marx.

As one might imagine, often there is a considerable degree of overlap between these two broad categories. Thomas Jefferson, for example, one of America’s greatest presidents, was also a political philosopher who sought, through his writings, to spread the ideals of liberal republicanism across the globe as a counter to the hegemonistic aspirations of British monarchial imperialism.

It has been said the only thing truly respected in the animal kingdom is strength, and though many still don’t like to admit it, we humans are members of that kingdom, albeit it’s most psychologically complex members. Thus, it should come as little surprise the bulk of the Great Unwashed would be more familiar with the “greats” among the doers than those among the sayers. It should be comparatively easy (thanks to Hollywood) to find Americans familiar with the life of General George S. Patton Jr. Good luck trying to find someone (outside of a university campus) who’s ever read any of the works of Thomas Paine.

Humans first began putting their thoughts into writing about 5,500 years ago. Over the centuries, as human societies became more sophisticated, the most intelligent and learned members of those societies found time to begin tackling problems related to abstract concepts such as truth, purpose, meaning, morality and value. These early sayers wrote down their thoughts on these issues in the early scripts for posterity. It was these writings that eventually gave rise to the disciplines which today we collectively call “philosophy”.

The millennia have produced countless philosophers; most of whom, together with their philosophies, have disappeared into the mists of time. People either ignored them and their teachings or some followed them only to discard them when another caught their fancy. Still other philosophies at one time enjoyed a wide number of adherents, only to disappear under a brutal suppression. Catharism is an example of this.

One subject that has always fascinated this writer is that of the neglected genius; a person who through their writings exerted a significant if not profound influence on future generations, but for whatever reason is not rightfully given their due by historians. The subject of this essay is one such person; a son of il sud who deserves more space in the history books than he is given. Continue reading

Brief Excerpts From the "Scienza Nuova" by Giambattista Vico

Giambattista Vico (b. June 23, 1668 — d. January 22-23, 1744)
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
"Jove hurls his bolts and fells the giants, and every gentile nation had its Jove.”

“Men first feel necessity, then look for utility, next attend to comfort, still later amuse themselves with pleasure, thence grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad and waste their substance.”

“It is a mark of the strong not to lose by sloth what they have gained by valor.”

“Honor is the noblest stimulus to military valor.”

“As the popular states became corrupt, so also did the philosophies. They descended to skepticism. Learned fools fell to calumniating the truth. Thence arose a false eloquence, ready to uphold either of the opposed sides of a case indifferently. Thus it came about that, by abuse of eloquence like that of the tribunes of the plebs at Rome, when the citizens were no longer content with making wealth the basis of rank, they strove to make it an instrument of power. And as furious south winds whip up the sea, so these citizens provoked civil wars in the commonwealths and drove them to total disorder. Thus they caused the commonwealths to fall from a perfect liberty into the perfect tyranny of anarchy or the unchecked liberty of the free peoples, which is the worst of all tyrannies."

(Reprinted from The New Science of Giambattista Vico, Cornell University Press, 1984.)

June 22, 2011

Anti-Italianism: Essays on a Prejudice


Anti-Italianism: Essays on a Prejudice
Just published by Palgrave Macmillon

Please join us for a special presentation of the book, Anti-Italianism: Essays on a Prejudice. An expert panel will discuss the delicate topic of prejudice and stereotypes related to the Italian experience in America.
Moderator:

Cav. Joseph V. Scelsa, Ed.D. - Founder and President of the Italian American Museum and Professor Emeritus, Queens College, CUNY

Speakers will include:

William J. Connell - Professor of History and holder of the Joseph M. and Geraldine C. La Motta Chair in Italian Studies, Seton Hall University

Dr. Elizabeth G. Messina - Psychologist, Lenox Hill Hospital

LindaAnn LoSchiavo - Playwright and Journalist

Fred Gardaphé - Distinguished Professor in English and Italian American Studies, Queens College, CUNY
About the Book:
There has been an odd reluctance on the part of historians of the Italian American experience to confront the discrimination faced by Italians and Americans of Italian ancestry. This volume is a bold attempt by an esteemed group of scholars and writers to discuss the question openly by charting the historical and cultural boundaries of stereotypes, prejudice, and assimilation. Contributors offer a continuous series of cultural encounters and experiences in television, literature, and film that deserve the attention of anyone interested in the larger themes of American history.
Thursday, June 30, 2011 - 6:30pm

155 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10013

Suggested donation of $10 per person

** Seating is Limited **
PLEASE RESERVE EARLY

To reserve a place for this event please call the
Italian American Museum at (212) 965-9000

(Reprinted from the Italian American Museum press release)

Death of Ruggero d'Altavilla (Roger I of Sicily)

Ruggiero il Normanno
The facade of the Palazzo Reale di Napoli
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Dextera Domini fecit virtutem. Dextera Domini exaltavit me. (The right hand of God gave me courage. The right hand of God raised me up) – The inscription on Roger's shield following his victory at Cerami (Quoted from The Normans in Sicilyby John Julius Norwich)
June 22, 1101 Marks the death of Ruggero d'Altavilla (Roger de Hauteville).
The Norman arrival in Southern Italy began in the eleventh century. According to tradition, in 1016 a group of pilgrims drove away a band of Moslem raiders plaguing the Lombard Principality of Salerno. Grateful and impressed with the Normans' martial prowess the Lombards invited them to stay. Word quickly spread through the halls of Normandy about the opportunities for soldiers-of-fortune and it wasn't long before the rival lords of Southern Italy were employing Norman freebooters in their wars. Continue reading

June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

A poem by Achille Serrao

Reprinted from Cantallèsia: Poems in the Neapolitan Dialect (1990-1997), edited and translated by Luigi Bonaffini, Legas 1999, p. 68-69

My Father Never Left...

My father never left
the last mouthful in the plate
and didn’t throw away half a cigarette, ever.

I do, times have changed
and so have sayings…
as for instance:
tell me who your father is
I’ll tell you who you are.

Pàtemo nun lassava...

Pàtemo nun lassava
'o muorzo d''a crianza dint' ô piatto
e nun jettava 'a meza sigaretta, mai.
I' si, 'e tiempe só ccagnate
e 'nzieme 'e ditte càgneno...
tanto pe' mme n'ascì:
'e chi sì ffiglio, dimme
e te dico chi sì.

June 16, 2011

Dances with Fools

The Strange Case of ‘Count’ Cagliostro

Count Alessandro di Cagliostro
(Courtesy of unarosadoro.com)

By Niccolò Graffio 
“I never smarten up a chump, educate a mark and I never give a sucker an even break. Remember: you can’t cheat an honest man.” - William Claude Dukenfeld (aka W.C. Fields).

Of all the rascals, thugs and no-accounts that have darkened the pages of human history, none is perhaps as colorful as the confidence (con) artist. Whereas other types of thieves rely on force or the implied use of force to separate their victims from their money, the con artist relies on his victim’s personality to do the job. Where a robber uses a weapon, a con artist uses his (or her) wits.

Con artists come in no set profile. They exist in all varieties, as do their victims. A con can be something as simple as hitting someone up for a donation to a phony charity, to something spectacular like the infamous Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff. In the former scenario the con artist is preying on his victims’ compassion, in the latter, their greed. Despite false assurances to the contrary by some, virtually anyone can become a victim of a con artist under the right circumstances.

Some of the wealthiest and most influential people in history have in fact fallen victim to the schemes of these tricksters. A number of victims of the aforementioned Bernie Madoff were multi-millionaires and even some banks were taken in by him! Several prominent charities that had also invested in his phony wealth management business were forced to close. It is only logical then, those con artists who prey on the biggest ‘fish’ would get the most press and perhaps earn a niche in the history books.

It could be argued that it’s apropos the same ethnos that has given the world organizations like the Camorra and the Cosa Nostra has also given it some of its greatest con artists. Who pulled off the first con in history? Who knows? Who really cares? If you were to ask me, though, who was the greatest of them all, my choice unquestionably would be the man Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle called the “King of Liars.”

As one might imagine with a character like ‘Count’ Alessandro di Cagliostro, his origins are shrouded somewhat in mystery and controversy. He claimed to have been born of Christian parents of noble pedigree. For reasons he could never quite explain, he was abandoned as an orphan on the island of Malta.

Most historians agree, however, that Alessandro di Cagliostro was, in fact, Giuseppe Balsamo, a man born into the poverty of Albergheria, the old Jewish section of Palermo, Sicily on June 2nd, 1743. His father, Pietro Balsamo, was a jeweler who had died bankrupt only a few months after Giuseppe was born. This left his mother Felice (née) Bracconieri to care for him and his older sister in a two-room apartment on one of the poorest streets in the poorest section of Palermo.

Giuseppe Balsamo might have lived out his life as anyone else living in Palermo at that time, but he was not like anyone else. Quick-eyed, sharp-witted and possessed both with charisma and bravado, at an early age he commanded a gang of picciotti (It: “street toughs”) who made a name for themselves robbing people from other quarters when they weren’t battling the police.

Signora Balsamo was able to acquire needed funds from her well-off father and brothers to send the boy to school. His education included private tutoring, training as a novice monk at the monastery of the Fatebenefratelli healing order in the inland town of Caltagirone, and even tutoring from an art master in Palermo itself.

All who came in contact with young Giuseppe agreed he was exceptionally intelligent and imaginative. It was noted early on he was especially adept at chemistry and could draw with remarkable accuracy. This accuracy extended to reproducing handwriting, printing and insignia. This latter talent would serve him well in his later years.

Had he devoted himself to serious study, Giuseppe might have eventually gone on to become a fairly accomplished businessman like his uncles or even a significant figure in the Church. Sadly, however, his years on the streets of Palermo had left him with a hard edge. While his intelligence was surpassing, his behavior was appalling! His inability to conform to social norms guaranteed his expulsion from whatever institution of learning he enrolled in. That plus the dark lure of the fast ducat would forever prevent him making an honest living.

Balsamo’s first major swindle was on a local chump – a wealthy silversmith named Vincenzo Marano – in 1764. Giuseppe had convinced Marano of the existence of a treasure that had been buried centuries earlier on Mt. Pellegrino. Balsamo had also convinced this polpetta the treasure was magically guarded by demons and Marano would need him to cast the spells necessary to keep them at bay. For “services rendered” Balsamo had Marano pay him the princely sum of 70 pieces of silver.

However, when the time came to dig up the treasure, Balsamo instead attacked Marano and made off with the money. Marano was apparently so stupid he actually thought he had been attacked by demons! By the time he got around to inquiring what happened to his ‘partner’, Balsamo (and two accomplices) had left Palermo for Messina, taking Marano’s money with them.

Lorenza Seraphina Feliciani

By 1768 he found himself in Rome, where he had been able to finagle a job as secretary for one Cardinal Orsini. Soon, however, he found himself returning to old habits, eventually selling “Egyptian” amulets with purported magical properties and forged paintings. It was while in Rome he was introduced to a 14-y.o. girl named Lorenza Seraphina Feliciani, whom he married. Initially the couple lived with her parents, a deeply religious couple. However, when Cagliostro’s corrupting influences upon the girl became apparent, they were forced to move.

Around this time Balsamo befriended another ne’er-do-well by the name of Agliata who taught him how to forge letters of credit, merchants’ bills of exchange, diplomas and a number of official documents including military brevets! In return for this, however, Agliata demanded sex with Seraphina. Incredibly, Balsamo gave his consent!

Balsamo’s relationship with Agliata ended when a member of their gang betrayed them to the local constabulary (and Agliata disappeared with everybody’s money). Giuseppe and Seraphina were able to con their way out of any serious trouble with the law and departed for other parts of Europe.

Claude Louis Comte de Saint-Germain

Giuseppe and Seraphina made their way to London, where it is said they eventually made the acquaintance of the Comte de Saint-Germain, another legendary con artist and swindler. The exact details of this meeting are sketchy, but it was said to have had a profound influence on the younger Balsamo. Several years later, in July of 1776 to be exact, when Giuseppe returned to London, he began to introduce himself as ‘Count Cagliostro’ (or sometimes Count Pellegrini), taking the surname of one of his forebears. Like Saint-Germain, he also began to work his way up the food chain of the gullible and greedy by cobbling together some of the most fantastic bricolage of his day! Balsamo discovered, to his delight, there was no shortage of fat pigeons waiting to be plucked, even among the wealthiest and most educated peoples of Europe!
Observation
“Men are so simple and yield so readily to the wants of the moment that he who will trick will always find another who will suffer himself to be tricked.”
– Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince, II, 1513
Armed with their new identities, and the costumes that went with them, the Count and Countess Pellegrini-Cagliostro made a splash in London high society. Cagliostro’s fortunes in London soon changed, for he had another run-in with the law. However, it was during this time he also joined the Esperance Lodge of the Freemasons. For Giuseppe Balsamo, now Count Pellegrini-Cagliostro, this was an epiphany! For now the roguish son of a ruined Sicilian jeweler saw the means by which he could give full expression to both his genius and his connivance!

Shortly after this Cagliostro and Seraphina left London and eventually arrived in The Hague where Dutch Freemasons treated them like visiting royalty and conferred upon them both additional Masonic honors (and certificates).

With these honors bestowed upon them, Cagliostro and his wife traveled about Europe, opening up a number of Masonic lodges as they went about. In spite of official displeasure by Roman Catholic authorities (i.e. the Inquisition), Cagliostro was instrumental in spreading Freemasonry and its ideals across the Continent. Some even credit the creation of the Egyptian rite of Freemasonry to him. He is also credited with helping women to gain acceptance into the community.

Several historians point out Cagliostro did in fact do some good during his career as the “King of Liars”. Among examples of his beneficence, his is credited with starting and funding a chain of maternity hospitals and orphanages around Europe. It should be remembered though that Bernie Madoff likewise engaged extensively in philanthropy while he was simultaneously running his infamous Ponzi scheme.

Ironically, of all the scams associated with Cagliostro, the one for which he is best remembered is the one in which he probably played no part. This incident is remembered as the Affair of the Diamond Necklace.

The Affair occurred in France and was the brainchild of another con artist (a woman) named Jeanne de la Motte-Valois, wife of an officer of the gendarmes, soi-disant comte de la Motte. It concerned a lavishly expensive diamond necklace that had been ordered by King Louis XV for his mistress, Madame du Barry. However, the King had died before the necklace had been finished and his son, King Louis XVI banished Madame du Barry from court. In turn, Louis XVI’s wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, refused the necklace.

Basically, Jeanne de la Motte-Valois had conceived a scheme to make one Cardinal de Rohan, a former French ambassador to the Court of Vienna, believe the Queen was in love with him. Using a prostitute look-a-like of the Queen, she conned the Cardinal into loaning her huge sums of money which she used to enter French high society. The scheme fell apart when Jeanne le la Motte-Valois and her husband conned the Cardinal into putting a down payment on the necklace which they purloined and smuggled into England to sell off. The jewelers complained to the Queen when they realized they weren’t going to be paid. This in turn ignited a scandal which further blackened the reputation of the Queen in the eyes of the French people (who came to believe she had a part in it) and undoubtedly contributed to the French Revolution.

Cagliostro was arrested with the conspirators and thrown in the Bastille where he languished for nine months before being acquitted at trial. Nevertheless, he and his wife were ordered to leave France and never return. He and his wife departed for England in 1786.

While in England his past briefly caught up with him. He was publicly accused of being Giuseppe Balsamo by a gutter journalist named Charles Théveneau de Morande. In response Cagliostro published his Open Letter to the English People which succeeded in turning public opinion against de Morande, who apologized to Cagliostro and retracted his claim.

Not too long after this the Cagliostros traveled again to Italy, where this time he fell afoul of the dreaded Roman Inquisition. According to some accounts Seraphina had thoroughly tired of being married to her domineering husband and desired to be rid of him (since divorce was impossible). Back in Rome and the apparent safety of her family, she contacted two spies of the Inquisition who did the rest. Cagliostro was arrested on December 27th, 1789 and tried with the crime of being a member of Freemasonry (a serious charge back then in Catholic Italy). Seraphina was in turn placed under house arrest in the Convent of Santa Apollonia, apparently for the remainder of her life.

Tried and condemned to death, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Castel Sant’Angelo. After trying unsuccessfully to escape, he was relocated to the hell-hole prison in the Fortress of San Leo, where he died under miserable circumstances shortly afterwards.

Though charlatan, cheat, pimp and rogue, Giuseppe Balsamo (alias ‘Count’ Alessandro di Cagliostro) lived a life most can only dream of living. A master forger and liar extraordinaire, he used these two unsavory talents to burn his candle at both ends until he was burned in the end. Nevertheless, due to humanity’s love affair with rogues, he remains to this day a potent figure in both fiction and non-fiction. Prominent actors such as Orson Welles and Christopher Walken have portrayed him in film, and several operas have been composed about him. No less than Germany’s supreme literary genius Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a comedy based on his life, Der Groß-Coptha (Gr: The Great Cophta).

His influence on Occultism and Freemasonry are well-established, and he is regarded as a historically significant figure in both movements to this day. Much of the negative press written about him and his exploits are undoubtedly false; an occupational hazard of controversial figures.

Though I must confess to finding his life a dishonorable one, I would consider it an injustice to simply dismiss him as just another con artist. In truth, he was the King of them all! Though many would come close to him, none would match him in daring, bravado and chutzpah! That so many to this day find him so fascinating can no doubt be explained by the disturbing realization there are so many who secretly wish to be like him.

That realization, then, is probably the chief good that can come from keeping his memory alive. To know there are to this day many like him, those who promise us the moon while reaching for our wallets, may help protect some of us from these unscrupulous types. In any event, when we read about the Cagliostros of this world we can always chuckle to ourselves at the greed and naiveté that exists in us all that allows his sort to exist in the first place.

Further reading:
Iain McCalman: The Last Alchemist: Count Cagliostro, Master of Magic in the Age of Reason; Harper Collins Publishers, 2003

June 15, 2011

A Day to Remember

The Burning of the General Slocum

The PS General Slocum

Anyone who’s been reading the articles I write for this blog knows that I am a Sicilian* and am quite proud of that fact. My people have a long and rich history filled with fascinating people and events that deserves to be retold and discussed. Though the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was invaded and destroyed by its enemies in 1861, its children, scattered across the globe, still contribute to this wonderful thing we call Western Civilization, even if we no longer have a homeland to call our own.

However, I am also an American, born and raised in the City of New York and am equally proud of both of those facts, as well. Why shouldn’t I be? America, economically and militarily, is still the preeminent power in the world. New York City is the economic hub of America. Just as the Christian theologian Saul Paulus of Tarsus (aka the Apostle Paul) was proud to call himself a Roman citizen, so am I proud to call myself an American one.

Some might accuse me of being a “hyphenated American” or worse, a dual loyalist, saying it is impossible to share love and loyalty with two homelands. I find such a sentiment laughable! Do we not as human beings share our love and loyalty with both our parents (if we’re lucky enough to have two parents, anyway)? I have always thought of i Due Sicilie as my fatherland, because the seed which produced me sprang from there. Likewise, I have always felt America was my motherland because I was raised and nurtured here.

Make no mistake about it; I was born and raised in these United States of America, and I intend to die and be buried here! Yet I shall also always have a place in my heart for members of my ethnos and the lands from which they sprang. Call it tribalism, ethnocentrism, or anything else you wish; that’s just the way it is, with no apologies to anyone, including narrow-minded nativists.

To date I have written exclusively about the trials and travails of my people, the Sicilians*, both here and abroad. This is hardly surprising; given the fact this is an ethno-cultural blog. Yet if the expatriates of i Due Sicilie are my brethren, are not Americans my fellow citizens? I do not intend to go off on a tangent and start writing about American history; there are plenty of other blogs that engage in that activity, for those interested in such a topic.

Yet sitting here, staring at my calendar, I am reminded of the imminent approach of a somber date in the history of the City of New York. An anniversary of a tragedy, a horror in fact, that took the lives of over a thousand innocent New Yorkers. It is to them, my fellow New Yorkers, that I dedicate this article. Continue reading

June 12, 2011

The Enrico Caruso Museum of America's June-July 2011 schedule


Reprinted from the Enrico Caruso Museum of America calendar of events

Please join us at the programs listed below. Museum members may attend as many of the programs as you wish if space is available. Please make your reservation early to guarantee availability. Members attend free, non-members $10 per program.

The Museum is open most Sundays by appointment only.

The Museum will provide special lectures and concerts, either at the Museum, or at your facility. Contact us for more information.

Available Sunday Programs for June-July 2011:

• The Life and Times of Enrico Caruso – Jun 26
• The Life and Times of Arturo Toscanini – Jul 3
• The Life and Times of Enrico Caruso – Jul 10
• The Life and Times of Valentino – Jul 17


Enrico Caruso Museum of America
1942 East 19th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11229
Phone and Fax: (718)-368-3993

Photo courtesy of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America