March 31, 2014

Rocco Petrone: A Modern-Day Cathedral Builder

Rocco Petrone
By John A. Stavola

"The Invisible Pyramid" by Loren Eisely contains a chapter entitled "The Spore Bearers". In it the fungus, Pilobolus, is likened to a rocket. The spore which will project the descendants of Pilobolus into the future prepare themselves with a light sensitive capsule to aim ever toward the brightest light. When the right chemical pressures are built up the cells beneath the capsule explode, hurling it several feet away. This enables Pilobolus, which grows on the dung of cattle, to transport itself to fresh grass where they will be consumed again by the cattle.

The influential German "philosopher-poet'" Oswald Spengler's attempt to discern an organic pattern to cultural history and the zeitgeist or spirit of an age is also invoked by Eiseley.

"Perhaps what he (Spengler) terms the Faustian culture-our own-began as early as the eleventh century with the growing addiction to great unfillible cathedrals with huge naves and misty recesses where space seemed to hover without limits. In the words of one architect, the Gothic arch is 'a bow always tending to expand.' Hidden within its tensions is the upward surge of the space rocket." ( The Invisible Pyramid, pg. 84) Continue reading

March 30, 2014

Feast of Saint Irene the Healer

Saint Sebastian Cured by Saint Irene by Luca Giordano (c.1665)
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
March 30th is the Feast Day of Saint Irene of Rome. She was the widow of Saint Castulus, who was martyred during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. She famously nursed Saint Sebastian back to health after he was left for dead, his body riddled with arrows. To commemorate the occasion I’m posting a Prayer to Saint Irene. The accompanying photo of Saint Sebastian Cured by Saint Irene by Luca Giordano was taken at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Prayer to Saint Irene
O Glorious Saint Irene you served God in humility and confidence on earth, now you enjoy His beatific vision in Heaven. Help me to strengthen my faith and protect me in conflict. Obtain for me the grace to live a holy life, so that one day I may join you in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen

Mr. Rhythm

Frankie Laine
By Niccolò Graffio
“All things that great men do are well done.” – H.G. Bohn; Handbook of Proverbs, 1855
I am a child of the 1970’s.  I was too young to truly enjoy the music of the ‘60’s (and all the drugs that went with it).  Instead, I was ‘lucky’ enough to go through adolescence during that most wonderful epoch of music known as the Disco Era.
Unlike many of my peers in high school, however, I carried with myself something they didn’t – an appreciation for musical genres of previous generations.  Being from a fairly tight-knit family, growing up I was regularly exposed to the music of my parents and grandmother.  As a result, I often found myself listening to songs my fellow teens mocked, if they bothered to listen to them at all! Continue reading

Freedom Won and Lost: The Sicilian Vespers

The Sicilian Vespers (1846) by Francesco Hayez
By Niccolò Graffio

“Freedom cannot be granted. It must be taken.” 
– Max Stirner: The Ego and His Own, 1845.

Americans in general today certainly take for granted the freedoms they still possess. This is not an unfair or inaccurate statement to make. How many Americans, for example, take the time out of their busy schedules watching television, surfing the Net, playing video games, “hanging out” in bars/clubs or just gaining weight to engage in such innocuous activities as educating themselves on the latest bills before their legislators? How many of them go further and contact their legislators to offer them their opinions on these bills? How many even bother to just vote on Election Day? You get the point, I’m sure. Every day things go on among our elected officials that will ultimately affect our daily lives, positively or negatively, and most seem content to remain blissfully detached from these proceedings. Continue reading

March 26, 2014

Sanguinaccio: From Mexico, Naples to Brooklyn

Making sanguinaccio with Vincenzina
D'Amato and Elena Loguercio
By Danielle Oteri

There are many laments uttered about the passing of traditions in the Italian American community. 

Nobody does it the old way anymore. Not like we did it. 

All the old ways are gone. Who has time these days? 

And the heaviest, most guilt inducing of all these: Once I die, that’s it.

I appreciate why Italian Americans feel this way. We’ve experienced the slow fadeout of our old neighborhoods, the rise of packaged foods, less time spent with our extended families and a strong lean toward products of convenience. But as a historian, I see transformations instead of endings and a chance to see how traditions are always changing.

The perfect example is sanguinaccio, a rich chocolate and pig’s blood pudding that I’d been told absolutely nobody makes anymore. It can be found at some of New York’s oldest pastry shops like Egidio’s in the Bronx and Rocco’s on Bleecker Street. Friends in Italy told me this disgusting concoction could only be found in remote, rural pockets of Campania, made by very old-fashioned farmers. 
First, Vincenzina and Elena prep the ingredients
I took everyone’s word for it until I received an invitation from my friend Patrick to taste his own homemade sanguinaccio. He had just purchased pasteurized blood from a butcher in Newark, New Jersey who supplies it to Hispanic restaurants that make morcilla, or blood sausage. Patrick reported that he had sent several Italian American friends to Newark as they had plans to resurrect the old sanguinaccio tradition as well.

Surprised that sanguinaccio was resurging among my peers, all born in the 1970s, I looked to social media to see where else it might be alive and well. A quick hashtag search on Instagram, where 90% of its 150 million-person audience is between 18 and 35, revealed 846 recent pictures of sanguinaccio! 
Then, they strain the blood
Sanguinaccio may just be pudding, but it tells an important story about the Southern Italian experience that many Italian Americans no longer know. The myth begins in colonial Mexico with the Aztecs who were noted for a potent drink made of hot spices and cacao all stirred together with the fresh blood of a sacrificed human. Southern Italy was under the crown of Spain when many of Italy’s signature ingredients including tomatoes, corn, and peppers arrived on ships returning from the New World explorations. The story goes that the pig’s blood sanguinaccio is an adaptation of the Aztecs’ famous chocolate drink.

Its appearance during the pre-Lenten season is entirely secular and due to the necessity of Southern Italian farmers to slaughter their pigs in the cool, more sanitary late winter air. Neighbors from around the countryside would be asked to help and invited to feast on every piece of the pig that could not be preserved. The first product was always the sanguinaccio, which utilized blood from the pig’s freshly slit throat. With chocolate and milk, it would be carefully transformed into a silky pudding.
Next, the chocolate is melted with milk
The photos on Instagram hashtagged with sanguinaccio revealed everything from a fancy, jarred version made in an elegant Naples pasticceria to an image of a sullen pink hog, about to meet her fate. Nearly all the pictures showed the fried ribbons of dough called chiacchierre that are dipped in the pudding.

Mario Batali developed a blood-less version of sanguinaccio and after seeing all the chocolate used in the traditional recipe used by Elena Loguercio, a native of Sassano in the Cilento, I wondered if the blood was really necessary. The consensus among those I asked was that the blood added a certain depth and intensity to the pudding that was matchless. And so, a 400 year tradition born in Mexico continues. It’s now been traded across the Atlantic twice, adapted, lost and reborn.
Espresso is added to the mixture
Elena Loguercio’s Sanguenacc’ from Sassano

1 liter of pasteurized blood
3 liters of regular milk
3 k of chocolate
1 kg sugar
1 pack of Perugina cacao
1/2 kg flour
1/2 kg granulated cookies
12 cups espresso
1 stick of butter
2 squeezed oranges, juice
1 cup of Sambuca

Melt chocolate with milk and let it cool off for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add blood to the pot, add the melted chocolate, slowly stir in dry ingredients and then the espresso. Turn the flame on to medium and stir all the ingredients in the pot in a consistent clockwise motion until it hardens, which takes about an hour. When it starts to feel like a soft pudding add the orange juice and Sambuca and keep stirring until the pudding has a firm texture. 
Finally, stir until the pudding is thick
Photos courtesy of Marilena D'Amato
Danielle Oteri is an art historian, writer, speaker and founder of Feast on History. (

Come Celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph and Easter with the Figli Maria S.S. Addolorata

March 25, 2014

Feast of the Annunciation

The Annunciation by Renato Rossi, hand painted ceramic tiles on the facade of the Confraternity of Annunziata and Rosario (next door to the Chiesa San Giovanni) in Vietri sul Mare. Photos by New york Scugnizzo
March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation, when the archangel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary and announced she would conceive a Child by the Holy Spirit. In celebration I'm posting The Angelus, a devotional prayer honoring the Blessed Mother's role in the Incarnation, which should be repeated three times daily (morning, midday and evening).

The Angelus

Prayer at dawn:
Verse The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary:
Response And she conceived by the Holy Spirit

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Prayer at noon:
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
R. Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.
Hail Mary…

Prayer at twilight:
V. And the Word was made flesh:
R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary…

Conclusion after each prayer time:
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen

A Nightmare on Greene Street

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
Scene at the morgue
By Niccolò Graffio
Sitting there in the motorman’s class, I listened intently to the instructor as he attempted to impress upon us the importance of safety in the workplace. Picking up a soft cover book about the size of a notebook, he waved it in front of the class, trying to garner the attention of the know-it-alls who invariably find such lectures boring.
“This is a copy of New York City Transit’s code of safety rules.” he loudly announced. “We have a saying about this book: ‘This is a book written in blood!’ When I first came on this job, this book had only four pages. As you can see, this book is now a lot thicker. Every time someone was killed on this job, another page was added to this book.” Suddenly he had everyone’s attention. His grim meaning was abundantly clear to all: the job of transit worker is not an easy one. In fact, it’s a very dangerous one! Continue reading

March 24, 2014

Simona De Rosa Announces March Mini Tour with Inside Quartet

Hot on the heels of her success at LaFrak Concert Hall, Simona De Rosa announces an end of March mini tour before the band’s triumphant return to Naples.
• March 26th at 5:30pm
• March 27th Italian American Museum at 6:30pm
• March 28th at 7pm
• March 29th in Merrik at 7pm

To My Hero of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

A Tribute to Joseph Barbera
A screenshot of Goggles Paesano at the Indianrockolis 500
By Niccolò Graffio
“All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination?” – Carl Jung
From the earliest days our ancestors walked this earth they sought out activities during their leisure time to amuse themselves or else divert their attention from the rigors of life. These activities are today collectively called “entertainment”. Whether passive forms of entertainment, such as spectator sports or reading, or active forms, such as participatory sports and social dance, the underlying purpose was basically the same. Continue reading

March 20, 2014

Remembering Civitella del Tronto: The Last Bastion of Bourbon Resistance

The Fortress of Civitella del Tronto, Abruzzi
Photo courtesy of
By Giovanni di Napoli
"Rather than stay here, I would love to die in the Abruzzi in the midst of those good fighters." — Queen Maria Sofia, during her exile in the Papal States
March 20th marks the anniversary of the surrender of Civitella del Tronto, the last bastion of Bourbon resistance during the conquest of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. We honor the stalwart defenders by remembering them and those who fell before them.
When Giuseppe Garibaldi and his motley band of freebooters invaded Sicily on May 11, 1860 he set in motion a series of events that proved to be calamitous to the people of Southern Italy. Upon landing at Marsala he declared himself dictator in the name of King Vittorio Emanuele II and L'Italia (Italy). Unsure what L'Italia meant, many Sicilians assumed it was the name of the King's wife, la TaliaContinue reading

Happy Spring!

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
The March or vernal equinox marks the beginning of spring, a time of rebirth and fertility. In celebration of the new season I would like to share a poem by the great Sicilian poet Salvatore Quasimodo from The Night Fountain: Selected Early Poems translated by Marco Sonzogni and Gerald Sawe, Arc Publications, 2008, p. 26-27.

Wild Flowers 

Blood clots hanging over torn green velvet:
the wounds of the fields!
Breathing in the sweet air, spring has broken
the veins of its swollen breasts.
Wind gusts with eager lips: a kiss!
Blood-red wild flowers float on threadlike
and foamless waves.


Grumi pensili di sangue sul lacero velluto verdognolo.
Oh le ferite dei prati!
La primavera respirando voluttuosamente l'aria soave, ha rotte
le vene del suo seno turgido.
Un fiotto di vento con le labbra avide; un bacio! E le
primule sanguigne galleggiano su l'onde filamentose e
senza spuma.

March 19, 2014

A Look at the 2014 Festa di San Giuseppe in Ridgewood, NY

Viva San Giuseppe! 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
On March 16th several local Italian American societies gathered in Ridgewood, NY to participate in the Annual Festa di San Giuseppe. The cold weather could not deter the dedicated and friendly crowd from attending the procession. Grand Marshal Stephen La Rocca, president of the San Rocco Society di Potenza, led the festivities.

It is traditional during this feast to read Sicilian poetry in honor of San Giuseppe after the march, and it was a real treat to hear. Afterward, blessed loaves of bread were generously distributed to everyone. I was greeted with warmth and sincerity; it was an honor to be among these people and their families.
Grand Marshal Stephen La Rocca helps prepare the statue before the ceremony
Carrying the Saint to the church
Members of the Italian American Association of
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal gather before Mass
As always, there was a large turnout for Mass
Leaving Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
(Above and below) The procession makes its way through the neighborhood
During the procession, members of the Societa Concordia Partanna brought
San Francesco di Paola out to greet San Giuseppe
Another look at the procession
The Giglio Band is always a welcome sight
The friendly crowd braved the cold weather to participate
After the Procession celebrants enjoy coffee and cookies in the gymnasium
St Joseph’s Bread was raffled off for charity
For more photos visit us on Pinterest

Feast of San Giuseppe

Viva San Giuseppe!
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

March 19th is Saint Joseph's Day. As a carpenter and spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster-father of the Infant Jesus, he is the patron saint of workers and protector of the family. He is also invoked in the fight against Communism. 

In Sicily the day is popularly celebrated with La Tavulata di San Giuseppe or Saint Joseph's Table. Dating back to Medieval times, the ritual meal is held in honor of the Saint's intercession during an especially bad famine. According to legend, a severe drought struck the island inflicting widespread suffering and starvation. Saint Joseph answered the peoples' prayers and relieved them from the dreadful plight. Continue reading

March 17, 2014

Celebrating the Traditions of Saint Joseph’s Day at the Italian American Museum

Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa speaks to a packed audience at the IAM
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
With the Feast of Saint Joseph just a few days away (March 19th), what better way for the Italian American Museum to inaugurate their new event space than with a presentation about the Traditions of Saint Joseph’s Day? Warmly welcomed by the museum’s friendly staff, the venue quickly filled with an enthusiastic audience excited to learn about their ancestral folkways. Museum President Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa spoke at length to the standing room only crowd about his saintly namesake, beginning of course with the origins of the Feast in Sicily. 
According to legend, during the Middle Ages a severe draught struck Sicily causing a terrible famine. The people petitioned San Giuseppe for help and through his intercession the crops of fava beans yielded enough food to deliver the hungry populace from starvation. In gratitude, wealthy families set up tables or altars, called la tavulata di San Giuseppe, with food to help those who were less fortunate than themselves.
Known as the “lucky bean,”
fava was given as a token of luck to the museum’s guests
Over the centuries the tables have become more and more grand and bountiful. They’re decorated with flowers, fruits and grains (common symbols of fertility) as well as celebratory foods illustrating the Saint’s vocation, such as bread and cakes shaped like carpenter’s tools and bowls of toasted breadcrumbs (mudiga) symbolizing sawdust from his carpentry shop. 
In fact, just about everything connected with the tables has some sort of cultural or religious connotation. For example, the altar itself—with its three tiers—stands for the Holy Trinity. It should go without saying that meat is eschewed for Lent and the presence of fava beans is essential.
Stephanie Trudeau
Naturally, the tradition was brought to America and is popularly celebrated in places like New York and New Orleans where large numbers of Sicilians settled. Some guests shared their family’s customs, which included lighting bonfires in the town squares and wearing red for good luck. One gentleman described how to prepare a traditional dish from Bari called Saint Joseph’s Pasta or Mafaldine di San Giuseppe. Alluding again to carpentry, the mafalda pasta looks a lot like serrated saw blades. It’s typically served with cooked anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs (i.e. “sawdust”).
Picking up from where Dr. Scelsa left off was special guest speaker Stephanie Trudeau. Ms. Trudeau (who researched the Feast of Saint Joseph in Sicily as part of her 2005 Fulbright project called “Festa, Family and Food”) focused her Power Point presentation on some of the food traditions in Salemi, Sicily—specifically bread making.
Some wonderful examples of St. Joseph's Day bread were on display
During her talk, she showed us several examples of private and public altars and the myriad ways bread is used in the celebration. I knew that the loaves could be elaborate, but I had no idea how intricate and complex some could really be. Bread making for Saint Joseph’s Day has evolved into a serious art form. Sicilian women have expertly done with dough what some conventional sculptors do with clay and stone. Imitating exuberant baroque designs and Christian motifs these breads are fashioned into incredible expressions of piety and devotion to the patron of the Universal Church, Sicily, family and the working man.
More pane di San Giuseppe
Following Ms. Trudeau was “Baby John” DeLutro, proprietor of Caffé Palermo on Mulberry Street. Mr. Delutro spoke a little about the history of NYC’s Little Italy and his expertise in Sicilian desserts. Keeping with the theme of Saint Joseph Day, he told us the non-biblical story of how San Giuseppe became the patron saint of bakers. According to popular folklore, during the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, he worked for a time in Alexandria as a baker to support his wife Mary and infant Jesus. 
Afterward, guests were invited across the street to Mr. Delutro’s fine establishment to have some coffee and try his delicious zeppole and sfingi, popular southern Italian desserts during the Feast. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful evening.

Announcing the 85th Annual Grande Festa in Honor of San Rocco, Malden, Massachusetts