December 31, 2013

The Feast of San Silvestro I

My lucky skivvies
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
December 31st is the Feast of San Silvestro the First (St. Sylvester I), Pope and Confessor. By happenstance, the day coincides with New Year's Eve and has become entwined with the year-end celebration. Admittedly, most of the popular traditions affiliated with La Festa di San Silvestro have little to do with the Saint's day. 

Typical New Year's Eve celebrations in southern Italy begin with dinner parties. What better way to ring in the New Year than with family and friends? Customarily lentils and pork sausages are served; it's said the food represents wealth and will bring luck and good fortune. Figs are also exchanged so the coming year will be sweet as well. Afterward, people gather around bonfires or get together in the streets and squares to socialize and party. At midnight they watch huge fireworks displays; the one in Naples is sheer pandemonium. (See YouTube video)

Of course, not all the rituals and folklore are related to food. In Naples, for example, some people still throw their old and broken household items out of their windows at midnight, taking the popular saying "Out with the old, in with the new" quite literally. This cleansing ritual symbolizes an optimistic fresh start.

The superstitious also believe smashing plates and glasses on the ground will frighten and chase away evil spirits. At the very least, it is a cathartic release.

Wearing red underwear is another popular custom. The explanations for this curious custom are manifold. For Example, I've heard it said that red is a lucky color and symbolizes virility or fertility. Whatever the true meaning is, I won't be taking any chances and will be wearing mine.

Viva San Silvestro! Buon Anno! Happy New Year!

Prayer to Saint Sylvester 

O Loving Father and Saint Sylvester be a tower of strength to Your children, grant us increase, protect us from all harm and present, with your powerful intercession, our prayers to the Almighty. Pray for us, O Holy Father Saint Sylvester that we may be made worthy of promises of Christ. Be present to Your servants, O Lord, and through the intercession of our Holy Father Saint Sylvester, bestow upon us the unceasing help of Your grace so that, by following his example, we may be defended by the protection. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Our Top Ten Post of 2013

A look back at some of our favorite moments of 2013: (L-R) Learning Sicilian with Professor Gaetano Cipolla at the IAM; The Feast of San Rocco with the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana; Concert dedicated to the brigands of Southern Italy with Michela Musolino and John T. LaBarbera; Dressing up as the Munaciello for Halloween; and The Feast of San Rocco with the San Rocco Society of Potenza
(L-R, Top) Dancing the tarantella at the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn; A memorable night in Little Italy with Ernie Rossi and Simona De Rosa; Fiaccolata di San Rocco in Astoria, Queens; Lifting the children's giglio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Bottom) Watching the ladies lift the giglio in East Harlem and The Feast of the Madonna Addolorata in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
Close, but no cigar:

Concert Dedicated to the Brigands of Southern Italy and "Cucina Della Nonna" in Williamsburg, Brooklyn deserve honorable mentions. Perhaps if these posts had as much "air-time" as some of the others they may have made our Top Ten list.

Still making the rounds:


* For some reason this post went "viral" and got almost 30 thousand page views in one day

Click here to see last year's results

Photos by New York Scugnizzo

December 29, 2013

Discovering the Blue Vase of Pompeii

The Blue Vase 
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

Discovered at Pompeii on December 29, 1837, in the presence of King Ferdinand II, the Blue Vase is regarded by many to be the Naples National Archaeological Museum's most prized possession. Considering the institution's vast collection of antiquities from Pompeii, Herculcneum and Stabiae (not to mention the famed Farnese collection) that's quite a claim. 

The Blue Vase is said to have been found in the House of the Mosaic Columns during a Royal inspection. Some have suggested it was planted to impress the noble visitors. Apparently, it was not uncommon for excavators to inhume their finds and wait for an opportune time to unearth the treasure in order to keep their patrons excited and the funds coming in.(1) Continue reading

December 28, 2013

The Day the Earth Moved

The 1908 Messina Earthquake Remembered
Earthquake damage at Messina, Sicily
By Niccolò Graffio
“Many people have told me that there were three separate and quite different movements of the earth in that awful minute.  The first was backward and forward, the second upward, the third seemed to be circular.  It was the second that destroyed Messina.  Its violence, the fugitives say, was appalling.  The noise, one man told me, was exactly like that made by a fast train in a tunnel.” – Robert Hichens: After the Earthquake: The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine; pg. 932;  MacMillian & Co. April, 1909   
Archaeologists tell us that in the roughly 2,000 centuries our species has walked the earth we have only enjoyed the "creature comforts" of what we call civilization for about 60 of those centuries.  This transition certainly did not occur overnight, and if one goes by the headlines, there are those who still have yet to become civilized.

Certainly civilization has heaped many benefits upon us as a species.  For starters, there are many more humans on the earth today than at any other time in history.  As civilization has progressed technologically, human life expectancy has increased along with it. Continue reading

December 27, 2013

La Vigilia and Other Christmas Traditions

Ricci di Mare
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

Like many Neapolitan Americans, my family keeps the tradition of La Vigilia di Natale, the southern Italian ritual of eating seafood and eschewing meat on Christmas Eve. Despite regular and varied claims to authenticity, I believe the so-called Festa dei sette pesci, or the Feast of the Seven Fishes, is a recent fabrication. Though more lavish then in the past, according to our matriarchs there were never a set number of dishes served. We simply ate what we could afford, and what was fresh and available. 

Today, we normally have shrimp, calamari (squid), clams, mussels and scungilli (whelk), which all can be prepared in a variety of ways. Capitone fritto alla napoletana (fried eel) is usually the main course, but this year we had ricci di mare (sea urchin) and baccalà (salt cod).

As always, the ladies outdid themselves and treated us to another memorable dinner.
Baccalà with tomato, onion and olives
Raw squid with ground black pepper and fresh lemon juice
Following the fish bonanza was another southern Italian specialty: panzerotti, delicious crescent-shaped deep fried dough filled with mozzarella and tomato or scallion and ricotta.
Panzerotti
Next came fruit, roasted chestnuts, caffè and an assortment of delicious sweets, including cartellate and struffoli, the quintessential Neapolitan Christmas dessert that will satisfy the most stubborn sweet tooth. There is no panettone in my house.
Cartellate
The vigil, of course, is not just about food, it's also about family and faith. 

After dinner we played games (tombola) with the kids and attended Midnight Mass. This year we celebrated at the Shrine Church of Saint Bernadette in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Afterward, we braved the cold and walked through the neighborhood to see some of the spectacular Christmas decorations. My family has been doing this for as long as I can remember, though originally it was in East New York, Brooklyn, where my maternal grand- and great-grandparents were from.
Dyker Heights Christmas displays
Christmas morning we exchanged presents, made the rounds and visited family and friends until dinnertime. No less extravagant than the Eve, Christmas dinner was a culinary tour de force with plenty of hot and cold antipasti, insalata, baked manicotti and a American-style Christmas ham. Fruit, dessert and caffè complete the meal. 
Baked manicotti
Not quite finished yet, December 26th is Prima Festa, or First Feast. In honor of Santo Stefano (Saint Stephen), the first martyr, we usually celebrate with torrone, a sticky nougat candy made from honey, nuts and egg whites that dates back to Roman times. I like mine with a glass of Strega. Buon Natale!
Soft torrone with hazelnuts from Avellino

December 26, 2013

Feast of Saint Stephen, the First Martyr

Viva Santo Stefano!
December 26th is Saint Stephen's Day, or the Feast of Saint Stephen the Deacon, the first martyr of the Faith. He is the patron saint of stonecutters, bricklayers, deacons and those who suffer from headaches and migraines. 

Widely venerated across southern Italy, he is the principal patron of Civita d'Antino (AQ), Putignano (BA), Baiano (AV), Santo Stefano in Aspromonte (RC), Santa Elisabetta (AG), Melito di Napoli (NA), and Sessa Cilento (SA), among others. As my chosen confirmation name, the Feast has an additional special significance to me. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a Prayer to Saint Stephen
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
The accompanying photos were taken at Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary and Saint Stephen's Church in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

A Prayer to Saint Stephen

O Glorious Saint Stephen, first of the martyrs, for the sake of Christ you gave up your life in testimony of the truth of His divine teaching. Obtain for us, dear Saint Stephen, the faith, the hope, the love, and the courage of martyrs.

When we are tempted to shirk our duty, or deny our faith, come to our assistance as a shining example of the courage of martyrs, and win for us a love like your own.

We ask it of you for the honor of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who is the model and reward of all martyrs. Amen.

The Eighth Wonder of the World

Frederick II Hohenstaufen King of Sicily; Holy Roman Emperor

Federico II di Svevia, Palazzo Reale, Napoli 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Niccolò Graffio
“It is very obvious, and no more than natural, for princes to desire to extend their dominions, and when they attempt nothing but what they are able to achieve they are applauded, at least not upbraided thereby; but when they are not able to compass it, and yet will be doing, then they are condemned, and indeed not unworthily.” – Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince, III, 1513
The Kingdom of Sicily, founded by Roderigo (Roger) II on Christmas Day, 1130 passed to his fourth son Guglielmo (William) I upon his death on February 26th, 1154.  Growing up, Guglielmo had little expectation of ever becoming king.  Over the period of 1138-48 his three older brothers (Roderigo, Tancredo and Alfonso) all died under different circumstances, dramatically changing his fortunes.

Alas, Guglielmo had never been prepared for the rigors of kingship, and so his reign was but a shell of his father’s.  His time on the throne was marked by foreign invasions (in which he lost his father’s North African possessions) and by intrigues and revolts at home.  His last years were peaceful, him having made his peace with Pope Alexander III, who was installed in the Lateran Palace in November, 1165 under the protection of Norman guards. Continue reading 

December 25, 2013

Buon Natale!

Holy Family by Salvatore di Franco
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
On behalf of everyone here at Il Regno, I want to wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas! Peace and joy be with you all.

In celebration I'm posting "The Old Manger" from Prayers and Devotional Songs of Sicily, edited and translated by Peppino Ruggeri.(*) The accompanying photo of the Nativity was taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

The Old Manger

I recollect the old manger at Christmas fest
built by my father, his soul in peace may rest,
the grotto, the straw and the baby poorly dressed
attended by Saint Joseph and Mary blest,

The well, the gleaming houses, the grist mill,
the sheep that grazed the grass over the hill,
a frightened man, at center, a blacksmith on the right,
a shepherd standing, with his old shack in sight.

A comet, resplendent brightly like a star
over the cardboard fashioned into a cave,
guided the adoring kings from afar.

And I, enchanted, watching stood, as I was playing,
sweet angels, shining stars, clouds and songs;
I still do now, the old manger my memory recalling.

(*) Reprinted from Prayers and Devotional Songs of Sicily, edited and translated by Peppino Ruggeri, Legas, 2009, p. 43

The Seeds of the Kingdom

Detail of Christ Crowning Roger II
Church of La Martorana, Palermo
By Niccolò Graffio
“For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.” - William Shakespeare: Richard II, Act III, Scene 2, 1595.
Walking along the streets of Palermo, Sicily, one gets the feeling of being in a nexus of worlds. Whether one gazes at the Teatro Massimo opera house (the largest in Italy and third largest in Europe), strolls through the Church of Santa Teresa alla Kalsa (an outstanding example of Sicilian Baroque architecture!), walks along the ancient streets of La Kalsa with its many vendors, or peers at the mosaics in the Palazzo dei Normanni, one cannot help but notice the many cultural imprints left by this city’s former rulers.

Equally striking, however, is the level of poverty that exists there! Heavily damaged by Allied bombings during World War II, many of this city’s most majestic buildings remain unrepaired. The reasons? Neglect by both local government and Rome. Resources (financial and material) are severely limited on Sicily. The stranglehold of the Cosa Nostra on the economy is another reason. With most of Italy’s economic wealth concentrated (and kept!) in the North, there simply isn’t enough left to maintain these historic treasures, which are sadly left to crumble. It’s hard to believe less than 1,000 years ago this city was one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, city in the Mediterranean region. Such, however, was the case. Continue reading

December 21, 2013

Happy Winter!

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The occasion signifies the coming increase of sunlight and the slow return of spring. In honor of this wondrous cycle I would like to share a poem by Cosimo Savastano (b. 1939 – Castel di Sangro, Abruzzo) from Dialect Poetry of Southern Italy: Texts and Criticism (A Trilingual Anthology) edited by Luigi Bonaffini, Legas, 1997, p.69.

The Kindling

Tied to the packsaddle, my love,
is the firewood, brought down from the mountain.
What hands will loosen the ropes
at dusk, once the north wind settles?

Tonight, we'll stoke the cinders
watch the swirl of sparks.
Hands locked, love rekindled,
spellbound, we will dream.
From the hearth my kindling will lord
over the house, filled with the scent of Christmas.

(Translated by Anthony Molino)

December 16, 2013

Announcing 'La Cantata dei Pastori' at the Theater for the New City

Actors: Giuseppe De Falco (Razzullo), Max McGrath (La Befana), James Karcher (il Diavolo), Mark Mindek (Archangel Gabriel), Alessandra Belloni (Madonna)
and Francesca Silvano (Dancer) Photos by New York Scugnizzo
Celebrate the Epiphany, The Coming of The Light, in Southern Italian Style with I Giullari di Piazza's 'LA CANTATA DEI PASTORI' (The Shepherd's Cantata). Based on the Traditional Southern Italian Play Written by Andrea Perrucci in the 17th century and still performed annually in the environs of Naples. The musical version has been adapted and directed by Alessandra Belloni and enacted by masked commedia dell'arte characters, puppets, devils, and the Archangel Gabriel on stilts. Original music by John La Barbera. Narrated in English by Le Befana, the Good Witch of Christmas.

Presented by Theater for the New City, Crystal Field, Director
Sunday January 5 at 5 PM  (Epiphany Eve in Italy)
Theater for the New City (in the Johnson Theater) 
155 First Avenue (between 9th & 10th Street)
Tickets: $25; $15 for children 12 and under
Reservations: (212) 254–1109 or www.theaterforthenewcity.com 

Cast:
Alessandra Belloni - as Mary, mezzo-soprano, percussion
John La Barbera - music director, classical and renaissance folk guitar, mandolin
Giuseppe De Falco - Neapolitan singer/actor as the commedia dell'arte character Razzullo
Max McGuire  - La Befana
Mark Mindek - stilt dancer as Archangel Gabriel
Joe Deninzon - violinist as the Devil
Susan Eberenz - flute, piccolo, recorders
Enrico Granafei - as a devil and a fisherman
James Karcher - sword fighter, principal devil
Francesca Silvano - dancer, shepherdess, devil
Peter de Geronimo - shepherd, devil
Sebastian La Barbera - young devil fiddler
and special children's participation as shepherds and angels.

I GIULLARI DI PIAZZA, renowned 33-year old Southern Italian music/theater/dance company, will present their traditional Southern Italian "La Cantata dei Pastori," (The Shepherd's Cantata) a musical holiday delight for people of all ages, Sunday January 5th at 5 PM, at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue.

Join La Befana, the Good Witch of Christmas, Mary and Joseph, the Archangel Gabriel, Devils, Demons, and the commedia dell'arte characters who enact this beloved story of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and the triumph of good over evil. 
Musicians: Wilson Montouri (guitar), Susan Ebenz (wind instruments), John LaBarbera (guitar, battante), Sebastian LaBarbera (violin) and Antonio Romano (Calabrian bagpipe) Photos by New York Scugnizzo
The music - tarantellas, villanellas and pastorales - comes from traditional sources, with original music by John La Barbera. Adaptation and direction are by Alessandra Belloni. Songs are sung in Italian; music instrumentation and costuming are  traditional Southern Italian; narration is in English. The play ends with a singing by the Company of Quanno Nascette Ninno, the oldest known Neapolitan Christmas song.

The play is set during Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, during which the Devil has dispatched demons to stop the birth of Jesus. Along the way, the holy couple's escapades are entwined with the hapless commedia dell'arte character called Razzullo, a comic mischievous Neapolitan scribe who is always hungry and looking for something to eat. The demons, in the meanwhile, conjure up tempests, dragons, and do all they can to stop the birth, but all are under the protection of the Archangel Gabriel (played here, in traditional style, by  Mark Mindek, well known stilt dancer who has appeared in Metropolitan Opera productions, Disney Films and special events around the world.). The holy couple experiences funny, outrageous, and dangerous adventures before they finally reach Bethlehem and Good triumphs over Evil!    

"La Cantata dei Pastori" is still performed annually during the Christmas season in the environs of Naples. Written by Andrea Perrucci during the height of commedia dell'arte popularity in Italy, it combines commedia characteristics with those of the Italian medieval sacra rappresentazione. These elements are fused in settings which borrow from a third genre, the Italian pastoral drama.

The play's author, Andrea Perrucci, used the pseudonym of Dt. Casimiro Ruggiero Ugone when he wrote "La Cantata dei Pastori." This Sicilian-born but Neapolitan-bred poet and dramatist, who had a reputation in Naples as a stage director,  was educated by the Jesuits and received a doctorate in letters.

Also see:

December 15, 2013

Francesco Messina

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

December 14, 2013

Feast of Sant'Agnello di Napoli

Sant'Agnello di Napoli, Rodio
By Giovanni di Napoli

December 14th is the Feast Day of Sant'Agnello di Napoli, miracle worker and patron of Naples. Born in 535, it is said his parents, Giovanna and Federico, were nobles from Siracusa, Sicily, and (according to some) distantly related to Santa Lucia. Having great difficulty conceiving a child the couple invoked the Madonna on the heights of Caponapoli, the site of the city's ancient acropolis. Grateful for granting their petition, the joyous parents fulfilled their votive promise and founded the Chiesa di Santa Maria Intercede at the location of the blessing. 

According to legend, Sant'Agnello was only 20-days-old when he first spoke; saying "Hail Mary" before a statue of the Blessed Mother. At the age of fifteen he chose the ascetic life of a hermit, living for several years in solitude, praying and meditating. During this period, he may have visited Guarcino in Lazio and the Sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo, an important destination for pilgrims in the Gargano region of Apulia. 

Drawn to his great reputation for holiness, exiled monks from Abitina persuaded Sant'Agnello to become their abbot at the monastery of San Gaudioso in Naples. With his inheritance he built a hospital, gave alms to the poor and worked tirelessly with the needy. His hagiography is replete with stories of healing miracles, as well as punishments meted out to those who are blasphemous and negligent with their veneration.

Sant'Agnello died on December 14, 596. His relics were enshrined in the Chiesa di Sant'Agnello Maggiore Caponapoli, formally Santa Maria Intercede, which was renamed in his honor. Seriously damaged by indiscriminate Allied bombings during WWII, the church finally reopened in 2011 after a long restoration. Fragments of the original Greek temple were unearthed and are now on display. Sadly, all that remains of the former church is the high altar, a Renaissance masterpiece by Girolamo Santacroce of Nola. 

One of the early co-patrons of Naples, Sant'Agnello's cult spread beyond the city and its environs to the neighboring areas of Sorrento, Frosinone and the Cilento, most notably the towns of Pisciotta and Rodio. During the High Middle Ages the Tuscan city of Lucca claimed him as one of their patrons and believe the Saint's body was translated to the Duomo di San Martino. Controversy surrounds its authenticity as both Lucca and the Duomo di San Gennaro in Naples claim to be in possession of his relics. In modern times his devotion was brought to the New World by Neapolitan immigrants.  

Sant'Agnello is typically depicted bearing the banner of the Cross in his right hand and the Holy Scriptures in his left. These emblems, symbolizing faith, redemption and truth, also represent his patronage of Naples and his protection against invaders. During the Longobard Siege of Naples in 581 he appeared before the Neapolitans, banner blazoning, giving them the fortitude to drive off the attackers. The Neapolitan victory was attributed to the Saint's intercession. Legend has it this feat was repeated in 674 when Saracen raiders were put to flight after his apparition raised the standard of the cross.

In commemoration I'm posting Canto dei Pellegrini, Song of the Pilgrims.(1)

Sant'Agnello di Napoli, Pisciotta
Photo courtesy of pisciotta.net
Canto dei Pellegrini
(Arc. GIOVANNI can. MAIESE)

Agnel dolcissimo,
Da te partiamo
Ma il cor che palpita
Noi qui lasciamo.

D'amor purissimo
Ognor l'accendi:
Tu dai pericoli
Sempre il difendi.

Le nostre fervide
Preci al Signore
Per te s'innalzano
Angel d'amore.

Di questo popolo
Che parte in pianto
Il voto supplice
Odi, o gran Santo.

Chi vuole grazie
Ricorre a te,
O Sant'Agnello
Prega per me.

(1) Canto dei Pellegrini was reprinted from santuariosantagnellorodio.it

December 13, 2013

Santa Lucia of Siracusa

Santa Lucia, 
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, East Harlem
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

December 13th is the feast day of Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy), Virgin and Martyr. According to the old Julian calendar this day marked the longest night of the year, or winter solstice. Patroness of the blind, her name derives from the Latin lux, which means light. Santa Lucia is also associated with the harvest and Sicilians customarily celebrate her feast day with cuccia, a hearty porridge made with wheat berries.

Tradition has it that Lucia was born about 283 AD in Siracusa, the seat of the Roman government on the island of Sicily. She was the daughter of a wealthy Roman nobleman who died when she was very young. Her ailing mother, Eutychia, may have been of Greek stock.

Inspired by the martyrdom of Saint Agatha, who perished in 251 AD during the Christian persecutions of Emperor Decius, Lucia devoted herself to a life of Christian piety. However, when she came of age Eutychia arranged for her to marry a pagan suitor. Lucia implored her mother to allow her to remain chaste and distribute her dowry to the poor. Continue reading

December 11, 2013

A Week in December

Details from the Met's Neapolitan Baroque Crèche
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

I had a busy, but fun week, full of culturally rewarding and spiritually edifying activities. Instead of several short entries, I thought I would share some of the highlights with you in one large post.

Monday 
Holy Family by Salvatore di Franco
I began my week with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of art to see the Annual Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche installation. This has become one of my favorite holiday rituals.

Dating from the eighteenth century, the prestigious collection boasts over two hundred figures created by some of Naples' leading artists, including Giuseppe Sanmartino and Salvatore di Franco.

I always appreciate the Christmas display, but wish they would exhibit some of the pieces during the rest of the year. I understand there are space considerations to contend with, but I'm sure room can be found for one or two of the most significant pieces (e.g. the Angels by Giuseppe Sanmartino). The figures truly are masterpieces worthy of permanent display.


Tuesday 
Maria Terrone
The Literary Committee of the National Arts Club presented their Authors' Showcase featuring a select group of member-authors. Their works represented a broad range of genres and subjects, including poetry, theater, fiction, politics, history, and mystery. A reception and book signing followed.

Maria Terrone was there and read excerpts from A Secret Room in Fall and her upcoming work Eye to Eye.

As always, it was a pleasure seeing Maria and her husband Bill, and catching up afterward at the reception and book signing. A big fan of her poetry, I look forward to Maria's new collection, which is scheduled to be published by Bordighera Press in 2014.

Thursday 
Anita Sanseverino shows us how the presepio figures are made
Thursday more than made up for the "slow" Wednesday. I made my way to Little Italy to attend a lecture about the Presepio Napoletano by Anita Sanseverino and a concert by acclaimed Neapolitan singer-songwriter Simona De Rosa at the Italian American Museum. 
A look at some of the IAM's renovations
Arriving a little early, I was lucky enough to be given a sneak-peek of the museum's highly anticipated renovations by Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa, President of the Italian American Museum. The new expansion includes the ground floor and basement at 187 Grand Street, which will provide much needed space for the museums extensive collection of Italian American memorabilia and cultural artifacts. According to Dr. Scelsa, the additions will serve as a gallery and research archive.
The presepio lecture was fascinating, as always. Anita is a terrific speaker; she's very knowledgeable, engaging and happy to answer all of our questions. Her passion for the subject is plain to see. When I first met her in 2009 I was immediately impressed by her fervor for all things Neapolitan. It felt so wonderful to meet someone who was as enthusiastic about Naples as I am, if not more.
Anita Sanseverino and Dr. Scelsa show off presepio figures
She covered everything about this popular Christmas custom, from its humble origins with Saint Francis of Assisi, to the golden age under the Neapolitan Bourbons, to today's artisans. The lecture also included a photo exhibit and short film featuring Anita's spectacular pictures from her visit to Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples. For those who may be unfamiliar with it, Via San Gregorio Armeno is famous for its many artisan workshops that specialize in making Christmas figurines and Nativity scenes. 

Following the talk, while waiting for the musicians to set up, Dr. Scelsa played a promotional DVD for Ferrigno, one of the leading artisan shops specializing in Neapolitan terracotta figures.
The sensational Simona De Rosa
Complementing the event’s Neapolitan theme, the mini concert by Neapolitan singer-songwriter Simona De Rosa was a fine way to finish the evening. Simona was joined by the very talented bassist Cristian Capasso and guitarist Gennaro Esposito. There set included several jazz numbers and classic Neapolitan standards like O Sole Mio and Torna a Surriento. However, they were performed with her own original musical arrangements. The trio entranced their audience, who clapped and sang along, bringing this wonderful program to a rousing end. 
(L-R) Cristian Capasso, Gennaro Esposito and Simona De Rosa with Dr. Scelsa
Friday 

I walked through the rain to Saint Dominic's RC Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, to celebrate The Feast of San Nicola di Bari with members of Club Barese and the Associazione Culturale Pugliese Figli Maria S.S. Addolorata. 
Viva San Nicola di Bari!
It was a great thrill and privilege for me to help carry the saint from the antechamber to his place of honor aside the altar, before and after mass.

Following the service we were invited back to the cozy Caduti Superga Mola Soccer Club for pizza and dessert. I met many wonderful people—including President Joe Manfredi—who are committed to preserving our culture and traditions. 

Saturday
Saint Anthony's Relics
Taking a break from my Christmas shopping, I went to Most Precious Blood Church in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, to venerate Saint Anthony's precious relics, which are currently visiting New York City in honor of the occasion of the 750th Anniversary (1263—2013) of their discovery by Saint Bonaventure.

In 2007 I was fortunate enough to visit the Basilica Sant'Antonio di Padova, but for those devotees who are unable to travel to Italy, this is a wonderful opportunity to venerate the relics in person.

Click here for the remaining New York City schedule.

Sunday 
(L-R) Rocco Fasano sang a traditional Quagliettana folk song;
Father Vincent led us in prayer and sang a folk hymn in honor of San Rocco
What better way to end the week than by attending the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's annual Christmas dinner dance? Held at the renowned Leonard's Palazzo in Great Neck, NY, family and friends came together to celebrate the Christmas season. There was plenty of good food, music and dance, as well as, raffles and a magician for the children (of all ages).
Revelers having a good time at the dinner dance
Coincidentally, my week ended the way it started, albeit on a more modest scale. After the dinner dance, we returned to the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's social club in Astoria, Queens, where I was graciously shown the society's presepio by president Vincenzo Carpinelli. 
The Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's Presepio
As it was the Immaculate Conception, the traditional beginning of the Christmas season, I went home and set up my own crèche.