November 29, 2015

Photo of the Week: Fontana di Sant'Andrea

Apropos of the Feast of Sant'Andrea (November 30th), patron of Amalfi
Saint Andrew's Fountain, Piazza del Duomo, Amalfi
Photo courtesy of Andrew Giordano

November 28, 2015

Grandma's Holey Secret

Nonna Isolina and Grandpa Rizzolo
By Cookie Curci
When I was a little girl, Nonna told me enchanting stories of life in the old country and of her new life in America. I loved these ancestral tales. Each one gave me a clearer picture of my relatives and a better understanding of my family.  
One of my favorite family stories was one that Grandma often told of her early life in America; how she and grandpa felt a great wonderment and excitement when they arrived in their new land; how they left their towns and villages of Italy and came to America to find work in the golden state of California.
Grandma and Grandpa told us how the young immigrants had heard fantastic tales in the old country, tales of how the streets of California were paved with gold. But when they got here, they learned three things: First, the streets were not paved in gold, second, the streets weren't paved, and third, they were expected to pave them.    
Like many of his fellow immigrants, Grandpa went to work paving the roadways and laying railroad tracks in the city while Grandma worked part-time in the canneries while caring for her home and children. When Papa came home from work he'd eat a hurried supper then rush off to night school to get his education. After Grandpa graduated and attained his American citizenship he went to work full time on the cannery lines and part-time in a shoe repair shop. He labored on the night shift so that his days would be free to take care of the children, allowing Grandma to attend school and receive an education.
Grandma anticipated her first day of school in America. The day of her first class was a very important moment in her life, she knew that she needed an education to become a good citizen of her new country.
On the morning of her first class, Grandma rushed to dress for school. Though she didn't have much of a wardrobe, what she had was clean and well pressed. As she slipped her feet into her best pair of long black stockings, Grandma's happy mood dissolved into horror as she discovered her toes came poking through huge gaping holes in her socks.
"Forget your socks, mama, you haven't time to mend them now, you'll be late for class" urged Papa." I have a surprise for you, Mama, something that will cover up those holes in your socks."
With that, grandpa handed grandma her high button shoes. Only now, her old shoes gleamed with brand new leather soles and shiny black laces. She could see her reflection in their shine. Grandpa had worked extra hours at the shoe shop to repair his wife's old and worn high-top shoes.
Grandma's eyes glistened with pride and gratitude as she placed a kiss on her husband's cheek. "I will look like a fine lady in these shoes, Papa", she exclaimed.
"Hurry now, Mama, hurry", Papa warned, "Or you will be late for your first day of school. Slip your feet into these  shoes and no one will ever see your holey socks. It will be our little secret," smiled papa.
Grandma had no time now to darn her tattered stockings. She did what Papa suggested and slipped her feet inside her high button shoes. She quickly laced them and rushed out the doorway, pausing only a moment for Papa to kiss her good-bye and to hand her two one dollar bills for her classroom tuition. Grandpa and the children waved to grandma until she disappeared from sight on the morning trolley.
Arriving at school that day, Grandma felt uneasy in a classroom filled with strangers. At the head of the class was a stern-looking teacher by the name of Mrs. Peabody. The teacher was dressed in a long-sleeved black dress with a pristine starched white collar and matching cuffs. On her feet. she wore tightly laced high-buttoned shoes. To her nose  a pair of small, wire rimmed glasses clung tightly. In her hand she held a long, slender, ominous looking pointer stick, which she used both for pointing and intimidation.
That morning, the teacher passed a large empty bowl around the classroom, instructing each student to drop their tuition fees  into the container. Each student complied. One of the more affluent students paid his fee with a bright two dollar gold piece. After collecting all the money the teacher placed the bowl on her desk. Later, that  afternoon, when Mrs. Peabody tallied up the tuition money, she discovered the shiny gold coin was missing. Convinced that one of her students had taken the gold piece she demanded that everyone in the class empty their pockets, purses and wallets on her desk.
The students reluctantly obeyed, but still no gold coin.
Angry and frustrated the teacher took her search one step farther and demanded that everyone in the classroom remove their shoes and socks. A small gold coin could be easily hidden in the rim of a high button shoe or stocking.
One by one the students removed their shoes. Everyone that is, except Grandma. She sat there, frozen with embarrassment, hoping and praying the missing coin would be found before she had to slip off her shoes.
"Well, we're all waiting" said Mrs. Peabody, her sharp voice cutting through the silence, her pointer stick aimed at Grandma's shoes.
For what seemed like an eternity the entire classroom stared down at grandma's feet. Grandma had been so proud of her newly repaired shoes, to remove them now in front of her peers and expose her tattered stockings would be a great disgrace. Grandma's continued reluctance to remove her shoes convinced the teacher of her guilt.
Mrs. Peabody marched Grandma off to the principle's office where she immediately telephoned Papa. He gathered the children and rushed down to the school to defend his wife's honor. He explained, in his best broken English, why his wife was reluctant to remove her shoes. "My wife no take no money...she a good woman...she got the big holes in her socks, that's all she got, ma'am."
The school principle allowed Grandma to remove her shoes in the privacy of his office. He soon discovered the only thing grandma was hiding was a pair of unsightly socks. Grandma returned to her classroom, but all that day a shadow of suspicion hung over her.
Late that afternoon, just before the dismissal bell, Grandma was exonerated of any wrong doing. When Mrs. Peabody raised her right arm to write the class assignment on the black board the missing coin fell from the cuff of her sleeve. The coin rolled across the room in plain view of all the classroom. The stiffly starched cuff of her dress had accidentally scooped up the small coin as she counted up the money earlier that day.
The teacher's face flushed red with embarrassment. The wayward coin rolled past the entire student body. Struggling to keep her composure, as well as her wire glasses on her nose, she raced after the coin. As she ran, the snickering laughter of her students followed her across the room.
That day, Grandma’s teacher learned a lesson more valuable then a gold coin. Mrs. Peabody would never again rush to judgment.
That afternoon, when Grandma returned home from school, Papa was waiting for her on the front porch. Exhausted from his night job, he was quietly napping in his front porch chair. Cradled in his hard-working hands was grandma's darning basket. Inside the basket were Grandma's stockings. Papa had carefully and lovingly mended each and every one.
In later years, Grandpa became a successful businessman. He took a special pride in gifting his wife with stockings made from the finest silks and woolens. Though Grandma appreciated these stockings, they were never so dear to her or so well loved as those old cotton stockings, lovingly mended by her husband's callused, hardworking hands.
Contact Cookie Curci at

November 27, 2015

Compra Sud — Villabate Alba Pasticceria

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Let's support those who keep our traditions and folkways alive

Villabate Alba Pasticceria
7001 18th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11214
(718) 331-8430




Visit our Compra Sud Directory for complete listing

* Our recommendations will be unsolicited, and only from our personal experience. No second hand suggestions will be made.

Inaugural Ceremonies of The Holy Year of Mercy at Most Precious Blood Church in Little Italy, NYC

For more info visit or cal 212-226-6427

November 26, 2015

The Darwin of the South

Giuseppe Sergi – The ‘Father’ of Modern Physical Anthropology
Giuseppe Sergi
By Niccolò Graffio
Charles Darwin has been (rightfully) called one of the most influential figures in human history. His thesis on evolution as expounded in his seminal work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) upended the international scientific community, founded the science of evolutionary biology and changed the way we look at ourselves as a species forever.
While many scientists by this time were open to various explanations concerning the origins of life due to the diversity of so many species (and the fossil record), Darwin’s ideas were nothing less than revolutionary! As one might expect, his theory concerning the origins and complexities of life were not immediately and readily accepted.  
The core thesis to Darwin’s idea of natural selection was that new species arose as a result of gradual changes to existing ones over time due to changes in the environment. Each species’ members possessed a variety of traits and they continuously struggled for survival to capitalize existing resources which were finite. Those who possessed the traits most favored under existing circumstances were most likely to survive to pass those traits on to their offspring.   Darwin stressed these processes were totally random.
This set Darwin at odds with some of the leading thinkers, both scientific and theological, of his time. Richard Owen, the leading naturalist in the United Kingdom of Darwin’s day, attacked Darwin’s idea of natural selection, holding that while the idea of new species arising from old was plausible these were “ordained births” rather than the culmination of random events.
If Darwin’s ideas were initially greeted with skepticism if not outright hostility from many quarters in his native Britain, things were only worse elsewhere. They initially had little impact in France, where any biologists who accepted evolution embraced variations of the ideas set down by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, whose own theory of evolution emphasized what he termed “soft inheritance,” that is, an organism passing down to future generations’ traits it acquired during its lifetime. In America Darwin’s defenders ran up against those who sided with Swiss-born naturalist Louis Agassiz, who among other things believed in the concept of polygenism, the idea that each human race had a distinct origin rather than a shared ancestry.
Charles Darwin
Italy, long the bastion of the Roman Catholic Church, likewise greeted Darwin’s ideas with great skepticism, yet he did have his defenders there, as well. This article is dedicated to the most prominent among them, a man who has been rightfully called Italy’s “champion of Darwinism”.
Giuseppe Sergi was born in the city of Messina, Sicily on March 20, 1841. Information on his childhood is scant.  An avid intellectual, he first studied law before switching over to linguistics and philosophy. At the age of 19 he joined Garibaldi during the latter’s expedition to Sicily. Ever learning, after this he studied physics and anatomy. He eventually majored in racial anthropology, studying under the infamous physician and criminologist Cesare Lombroso.   
For a time after completing his studies he worked as a secondary school teacher in Milan, where he held a position in theoretical philosophy. In 1880 he was appointed to a position as Professor of Anthropology at the prestigious University of Bologna, the oldest continuously operating university in the world!
The following year the noted Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli called him up to become a member of the editorial board of Rivista di filosofia scientifica (It: “Journal of Scientific Philosophy”), at the time the leading journal of Italian Positivism. That same year he also edited the Italian version of The Data of Ethics by the prominent English philosopher, anthropologist, biologist, sociologist and classical liberal political theorist Herbert Spencer (1820-1903).  
In 1884 he obtained a position at the University of Rome. Rome had recently been established as the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. At this time Anthropology was considered part of the Literature Faculty. During his time at the University of Rome, Sergi established the Laboratory of Anthropology and Psychology to, among other things “wean” Anthropology from Literature and make it a science in its own right. He eventually succeeded in becoming Chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the Faculty of Sciences, University of Rome, La Sapienza. Here he founded Italy’s first true anthropological museum.
To be sure, Sergi was not the only person in Italy at this time doing groundbreaking research in the nascent field of physical anthropology. Paolo Mantegazza (1831-1910) of Florence and Giustiniano Nicolucci (1819-1904) of Naples likewise made important contributions, but of the three, Sergi would become the most prominent both nationally and internationally.
Sergi continued to make his mark on the anthropological sciences in Italy. In 1893, for example, he started the Società Romana di Antropologia (the name was later changed to Istituto Italiano di Antropologia). In addition to this, he also started the the publication of the Proceedings of the Society, entitled Atti della Società Romana di Antropologia (1893-1910; later Rivista di Antropologia, 1911-2003, and now Journal of Anthropological Sciences, 2004- ). This journal tried to introduce innovative trends in anthropological investigations through interdisciplinary approaches. 
Sergi had been mentored by Mantegazza for about 20 years. Shortly after founding the Società Romana di Antropologia, he broke with Mantegazza, for reasons more professional than personal.
Cesare Lombroso
Likewise, Sergi broke with his colleague Cesare Lombroso for similar reasons. Lombroso was the founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology, a school of thought that set forth the proposition that many criminals were born rather than made. Lombroso termed these types “atavistic born criminals”. In his earliest writings he viewed them as a type of human sub-species. In his later writings he came to regard them as examples of arrested development and degeneracy.
According to him, it could be possible to identify these types by taking detailed measurements of the human skull. Sergi opposed him for several reasons. For starters, Lombroso claimed that Southern Italians were much more disposed to this ‘atavism’ than Northern ones. This claim was widely used by Northerners as justification for their subjugation and disenfranchisement of Southerners. Sergi held fast to his claim that Southerners, being Mediterraneans, were a naturally gifted people who while perhaps predisposed to greater emotional volatility, were nonetheless hardly an “inferior” people. He also took issue with Lombroso using craniometric measurements in an effort to identify criminals, which he felt was unscientific.
While Cesare Lombroso’s views were generally accepted among Northern Italians, outside of Italy they generated mostly skepticism if not outright disapproval. The exception was the United States, where Anglo-American Nordicists incorporated them into their ideology. Shortly before World War I the pioneering British criminologist Charles Buckman Goring, under the sponsorship of the British government did a large-scale study of over 3,000 English convicts in order to determine if there was, in fact, any truth to Lombroso’s assertions. Collecting and analyzing data bearing upon 96 different physical traits in each of the convicts, he came to the conclusion that “There is no such thing as an anthropological criminal type.” The results of this study would be later published in his magnum opus “The English Convict: a statistical study” (1913). Other later studies would likewise contradict Lombroso’s assertion. In spite of this, many of his claims still survive among fringe groups.
The discipline of anthropology at this time was rather unspecialized and would continue to remain so in Italy until after World War I. Paolo Mantegazza, like Cesare Lombroso and Sergi, leaned more towards the medical-biological aspects of the field rather than the philological-linguistic ones. Where Sergi differed from his mentor, however, was that while Mantegazza favored a more centralist attitude, zeroing in on its purely biomedical aspects, Sergi also took into account the environmental and historical-cultural influences on individuals, populations and races.  
Where he remained in harmony with this former mentor, however, was his belief the analysis and classification of the human skull to be of primary importance in establishing the distinctiveness of the various races of mankind. Giuseppe Sergi would go far in establishing techniques in the burgeoning sub-discipline of craniology based on morphological traits of the human skull, rather than on lines and angles. He would continue to make such innovations until his death.
Unlike many others of his day, Sergi was opposed to the use of the cephalic index in determining population ancestry. Rather, he felt that cranial morphology would be a more useful tool. Though he made a number of significant contributions to the burgeoning field of physical anthropology, two stand out.
The first was his theory on the origins of Southern Europeans.Previous generations of naturalists had been heavily influenced by Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau, a 19th century French aristocrat and novelist who attempted to explain the origins of modern races in his book An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races. Though he lacked training as a theologian and naturalist, Gobineau presumptuously sought to grapple with topics that baffled even the leading erudite minds of his day.
Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau
Gobineau was thoroughly convinced the Bible was a reliable storehouse of historical information about human origins. As such, his essay was written from that perspective. At the time of his existence the scientific and theological worlds were divided on the subject of human origins (as they pretty much are today). One school of thought in both worlds, called monogenism, held that all human races held a common origin. The other, polygenism, held that the major human races (white, black & yellow) had different origins.
Where Gobineau differed from many others of his time was his belief that while the major human races of the world shared a common origin, from the beginning the progeny of Adam and Eve were separated into (what he believed) were different species of mankind. The indigenous inhabitants of places like Southern and Eastern Europe were, he also believed, “mixed”. He also believed that (Northern) Germanics were the purest example of the White race. Gobineau’s writings would have a highly influential effect on later generations of racists, including the Nazis. For this reason, he is considered by many historians to be the “Founding Father” of Aryanism or Nordicism. His views on human origins, though dated and thoroughly debunked, still survive in one form or another.
Sergi’s first standout contribution was his model of human origin, expounded in his books Human Variation and The Mediterranean Race (1901). According to Sergi, the ancestors of modern Europeans originated from what today is called the Horn of Africa and were related to modern day Hamitic peoples. At an early date, they settled into Europe, eventually becoming modern Northern and Southern Europeans. This model of human origin directly contrasted that of Gobineau’s and was a forerunner of today’s “Out of Africa” model of human beginnings.
By Sergi’s time the social theory known as Nordicism was in vogue among many Northern Europeans (and peoples elsewhere of Northern European descent). Sergi’s racial theories were in direct opposition to Nordic theory. For example, in contrast to Nordicists who claimed the ancient Greeks and Romans (or at least their rulers) were of Germanic stock who founded those great civilizations, Sergi cogently argued the Greeks and Romans were in fact, Mediterranean peoples and the later Germanic invasions of Rome produced nothing but “delinquency, vagabondage and ferocity.”  
In addition to ancient Greece and Rome, Sergi would go on to argue the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Carthage were likewise the products of native Mediterranean peoples, a claim also made by a number of British physical anthropologists including Elliot Smith and Geoffrey M. Morant.
Giuseppe Sergi’s most lasting contribution to the growing field of anthropology was his spirited defense of Darwinism. While acknowledging (at the time) the dearth of transitional life forms in the fossil record, he nonetheless held that Darwin’s core thesis – evolution by natural selection, was valid. This was at a time when support for Darwinism in many parts of Europe (especially Italy) was low.
For this and his efforts at systemizing the science, it would be only natural to confer upon him the unofficial title of the Father of Modern Physical Anthropology.
Further reading:
• Sergi, Giuseppe: The Mediterranean Race: A Study of the Origin of European Peoples; Forgotten Books; 2012

November 23, 2015

Photo of the Week: The Divine Coast of Amalfi

Apropos of the upcoming Feast of Sant'Andrea (Nov. 30th), patron of Amalfi
The Amalfi Coast (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)

November 22, 2015

Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Nov. 24, 2015—Jan. 6, 2016

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 

The Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a long-established yuletide tradition in New York. The brightly lit, twenty-foot blue spruce—with a collection of eighteenth-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs among its boughs and groups of realistic crèche figures flanking the Nativity scene at its base—once again delight holiday visitors in the Museum's Medieval Sculpture Hall. Set in front of the eighteenth-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid, with recorded Christmas music in the background, the installation reflects the spirit of the holiday season. The exhibit of the crèche is made possible by gifts to The Christmas Tree Fund and the Loretta Hines Howard Fund.

November 21, 2015

The Secret of Grandma's Sugar Crock

Tony DiNapoli and Maria Carmela
By Cookie Curci
Through the years, I've discovered bits and pieces of the past that when put all together, make up my extraordinary grandmother Maria Carmela Curci-DiNapoli. I knew that she came to this country as a young immigrant from Italy and married my grandfather Antonio Curci in 1910. A few years later, she was widowed with three children. I had heard family stories of how Grandma had  struggled to find work, to pay her debts and to keep her family together during those difficult years. In all of these stories, one fact remained prominent—Grandma's deep religious devotion guided her through each problem and task.
But it was only recently that I would discover yet another missing piece to Grandma's past that would help me know her just that much better. My memories of Grandma begin on an Almaden ranch in the heart of California's prune country during W.W.II. By then, she had married her second husband, Grandpa Tony DiNapoli, and had settled into rural ranch life, raising a family of seven boys and one girl.
During world war II a government-issued flag imprinted with five blue stars hung in the  front room window of my grandparents old farm house, meant that five of their sons were off fighting in the war. without the boys to work the land the ranch was short handed. grandma and grandpa had to work twice as hard to produce a bountiful fruit crop.
During harvest time, every member of the family pitched in to help, including grand kids like myself. Even so, it was a difficult time for Grandma: rationing was in effect, there was little money, and worst of all there was the constant worry over whether her five sons would come home safely.
The ranch was a lovely place, especially in the spring when the orchards were white with plum blossoms. During the  summer, while we  harvested the prune crop, Grandma cooked up fine Italian lunches. We would all sit on blankets spread out on the orchard ground, enjoying not just the wonderful food, but also the satisfaction of being a part of such an important family effort.
To encourage the ripe fruit to fall, Grandpa used a long wooden pole with an iron hook at the top to catch a branch and shake the fruit loose from the trees. Then the rest of us would crawl along, wearing knee pads that grandma had sewn into our overalls and gather the plums into metal buckets. We dumped the buckets of plums into long wooden trays, where the purple little plums were soon sun-dried into rich, brown prunes.
Maria Carmela, Tony Curci
and Tony DiNapoli
After a long, hard day I would walk hand-in-hand with Grandpa through the orchards while he surveyed what had been accomplished that day. I'd enjoy eating fresh plums off the trees, licking the sweet stickiness from my fingertips.
On each of these walks, Grandpa would stoop down and pick up a handful of soil, letting it sift slowly and lovingly through his strong work-callused hands. Then with pride and conviction he would invariably say: "If you take good care of the land, the land will take good care of you." 
As dark came on the ranch, we'd all gather together on the cool, quiet verandah of the front porch. Grandpa would settle comfortably into his rocker,under the dim glow of a flickering moth-covered light bulb, and there he'd read the latest war news in his newspaper. Grandma sat nearby on the porch swing, swaying and saying her perpetual rosary. The quiet squeak of grandma's swing and  the low mumbling of her prayers could be heard long into the night. 
The stillness of the quiet ranch house painfully reflected the absence of the five robust young men. This was the hardest part of the day for Grandma; the silence of the empty house was a painful reminder that her sons were far, far away, fighting for their country.
On Sunday morning, after church, Grandma was back out on the porch, again, repeating her rosary before going into the kitchen to start cooking. Then she and grandpa sat at the kitchen table, counting out ration slips for the week ahead and what little cash there was to pay the bills. Once they were finished, Grandma always took a portion of her money and put it in to an old sugar crock, placing it high on the kitchen shelf. I often asked her what the money in the jar was for, but he would only say, "A very special favor."
Well, the war finally ended, and all five of Grandma's sons came home remarkably safe and sound. After a while, Grandma and Grandpa retired, and the family farm became part of a modern expressway.
Cookie with Maria Carmela's ex-voto
I never did find out what the money in that old sugar crock was for—until a week or so before last Christmas. Completely on impulse, perhaps feeling the wonder of the Christmas season and the need to connect with its spiritual significance, I stopped at a little church I just happened to be driving past. I'd never been inside before, and as I entered the church through the side door, I was stunned to come face to face with the most glorious stained- glass window I'd ever seen. I paused for a minute to examine the intricate beauty of the window more closely.
The magnificent stained-glass depicted the Holy Mother and child. Like an exquisite jewel, it reflected the glory of the very first Christmas. As I studied every detail of its fine workmanship, I found, to my utter amazement, a small plaque at the base of the window that read, "For a favor received—donated in 1945 by Maria Carmela Curci-DiNapoli." I couldn't believe my eyes. I was reading Grandma's very words! Every day, as Grandma had said her prayers for her soldier-sons, she'd also put whatever money she could scrape together into her sacred sugar crock to pay for the window. I had always thought grandma was saving the money to buy herself some much needed new clothes, but in all those years she never wore a new garment or new shoes, and now I know why.
Her quiet donation of this window had been her way of saying thank you to the Holy Mother Mary for sparing the lives of her beloved five sons.
Through the generations, the family had lost track of the window's existence. Finding it now at Christmas time, more than half a century later, not only brought back a flood of precious memories, but also it made me a believer in small but beautiful miracles.

Contact Cookie Curci at

November 20, 2015

Jarring Tomatoes: From Castrofillipo to Brooklyn

Rob and Enza preserving their heritage
Photos courtesy of Enza Agliata
By Enza Agliata
In 1975, my grandparents, father, and uncle immigrated to America, a foreign place where they were expected to assimilate and learn the American way of life. They settled in Brooklyn, New York. Their new home was over 4,500 miles away from Sicily; however, their customs and culture would not die. These traditions have been in my family for generations. Forty years later, we are still practicing and preserving these precious traditions. One of my favorite’s is jarring homemade tomato sauce.
The ladies prepare the tomatoes
Jarring tomatoes is a multi-day affair; especially, when you’re jarring 30 bushels! We jar our crushed tomatoes on the first day. At the crack of dawn, my nonna and nonnu are already at my house preparing. At the sound of their arrival, my sisters and I know it’s time to start washing the tomatoes while the men lift and set up all the heavy equipment. After rinsing the tomatoes with water and draining them, we put the tomatoes into a boiling cauldron of water. After the tomatoes are done boiling, the most fun part of the process begins, crushing the tomatoes!
Filling the cauldron
We all take turns crushing the tomatoes through the tomato-milling machine. It is so tempting to taste the freshly crushed sauce; you can even smell the freshness of the tomatoes from the house! We pour the boiling hot sauce into mason jars with nothing but fresh basil from my nonnu’s garden. The mason jars are sealed tight and we boil them one more time. This is the longest part of the process. All those who help throughout the day get to enjoy the fruits of their labor when my mom prepares the freshly made sauce for dinner. There is nothing more rewarding then to taste how rich and delicious the sauce is. Fortunately, we get to savor the wonderful taste every Sunday for the whole year!
Rob carefully removes the boiled tomatoes 
Day two begins just as early as the first. Only today we are doing things a little different; we are jarring whole tomatoes (pomodori palati). After we clean and boil the tomatoes, we peel off their skin instead of crushing them. We jar these tomatoes whole, seal them, and boil them in the jar just as we boiled the crushed tomatoes. The pomodori palati are used for special dishes like muscles with marinara sauce.
Everyone takes turns crushing them
This beautiful tradition has traveled from the farmlands of Castrofilippo, Provincia di Agrigento, Sicily to Brooklyn, New York. Without fail, every August we will jar our tomatoes for the year. The Southern Italian traditions brought by the courageous immigrants who longed to call America home will live on for future generations.
Boiling the filled mason jars

November 19, 2015

Dyker Heights' Neapolitan Nativity

John Miniero’s latest acquisitions from Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
It’s that time of year again when local artisan John Miniero builds his annual outdoor presepio in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn (14th Avenue, between 79th and 80th Streets). The Neapolitan Christmas tradition has been a neighborhood favorite for many years and continues to astonish onlookers with its whimsy and complexity. 
I met up with Mr. Miniero this week as he was putting the finishing touches on his magical crèche and I was not disappointed. With its teeming scenes of life in 18th century Naples and many secretive nooks and crannies, the sprawling diorama truly is a wonder to behold. I can’t thank John enough for taking the time from his busy schedule to show me around his workshop and pointing out some of the new details from this year’s masterpiece.
The Magi set up camp next to the manger
Mr. Miniero recreates Piazza Tasso in his native Sorrento, including the famed Chiesa della Madonna del Carmine with working clock in the bell tower
The central part of the tableau
Devotee praying in a grotto with dripping water
A vendor roasting chestnuts
Mr. Miniero shows us some of his more modest creations
Some unused treasures
Presepi were everywhere
A wonder to behold

November 18, 2015

I Giullari di Piazza to Perform "La Cantata Dei Pastori: A Neapolitan Renaissance Christmas Concert" at the Italian American Museum

A special fund raiser to celebrate I Giullari di Piazza's 35th anniversary

Tuesday, December 8th (8:00pm)

Italian American Museum
155 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10013

La Cantata Dei Pastori was written by A. Perrucci in the 16th century and re-written and directed by Alessandra Belloni in 1984, with music composed and arranged by John T. La Barbera. La Cantata dei Pastori has been a favorite in I Guillari's repertory for 20 years.

The evening includes: Food & refreshments, a raffle, a performance, and the honoring of those who have been our supporters throughout the years.

Featuring the Neapolitan singer/actor Giuseppe de Falco in the role of Razzullo (the Pulcinella character at the center of the story); Alessandra Belloni as Mary; Mark Mindek as the Angel Gabriel on stilts; Max McGuire as la Befana; dancer Francesca Silvano; Wilson Montuori on guitar; and violinist Joe Deninzon as the devil.

Reservations and more information

Tickets & Donations:
$60 general admission
$75-friend - includes a listing on the program
$100 –Angel - includes a program listing and a CD of your choice
$150 –Archangel- includes a program listing and Alessandra Belloni’s Book – Rhythm is the cure

November 16, 2015

Photo of the Week: Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso

Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Matera, Basilicata
Photos courtesy of Andrew Giordano

November 15, 2015

Michéal Castaldo Book Signing and Performance at the Italian American Museum, Little Italy, NYC

Michéal Castaldo
Thursday, November 19th (6:30 P.M.)
Italian American Museum
155 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10013 

You are cordially invited to attend a book signing and live performance by award-winning Italian classical-crossover tenor, Michéal Castaldo at the Italian American Museum on Thursday, November 19th. Castaldo will present his first Christmas Music Folio, entitled Extravergine: A Mediterranean Christmas Folio, (in Italian, Natale nel Mediterraneo). The Folio offers up sacred, liturgical Christmas carols in Italian and Latin in lead sheet form. Castaldo has arranged these carols completely with the power deserving of these immense classics with some special effects and novel interpretations of Christmas classics.
The folio includes the music for 15 carols, including the following seasonal favorites: “Oh Santa Notte (Oh Holy Night),” “E Nato Il Bambino Gesu (What Child Is This?),” “Batte nel Cuore, Suona Natale (Little Drummer Boy),” a very upbeat, uplifting spirit for the Christmas Season, “Gioia Nel Mondo (Joy To The World),” “Puoi Sentire Quel' Che Sento Io? (Do You Hear What I Hear?),” “Astro Del Ciel (Silent Night).” In addition, “Piccolo Jesu,” an Italian translation by Castaldo of the well-known Polish carol, “Jezus Malusuenki.” Castaldo is said to be the first to perform this lovely carol in Italian on his “Extravergine” CD. Completing the perfect package, Castaldo also offers up a mash-up medley of “Day’o” (The banana boat song) and the classic Italian carol, “Gloria In Excelsis Deo,” as well as “Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle,” “Va Pensiero,” and “Adeste Fideles (Oh Come All Ye Faithful).” Rounding off the folio’s final musical selections are “Ave Maria,” “Panis Angelicus,” and Leonard Cohen’s “Allelulia.”
Extravergine does not shy away from embracing songs of faith. For Italian-Americans, the folio serves as an Italian language lesson. We know almost every song and can sing them in English. And now thanks to Castaldo’s translation efforts, we can grasp the meaning of a host of Italian words in the best way possible, through song. Playing these carols repeatedly, an Italian-American wanting to learn Italian can benefit by singing along with Castaldo arrangements.
The folio also contains photos, a “Community Connections” page, and a reprint of a review of the Extravergine CD by the Primo Magazine editor, Truby Chiavello, who proclaims: “Italian-Americans are indebted to Michéal Castaldo who raises the bar on the music of Italian-Americans. He brings the appreciation of the Italian language to a broad audience, but this time through beautiful Christmas melodies. Michéal has contributed mightily to the great canon that is the music of the Italian-American experience. The Extravergine Music Folio is highly recommended for Italian-Americans to purchase as a Christmas gift for a loved one or friend, or yourself, any time of the year.”
Castaldo's work has been called a “plush world of ballads and utter sweetness” by celebritycafe and “the perfect complement to an Italian music collection” by La Gazzetta Italiana.
Suggested donation of $10 per person
For reservations, please call the Italian American Museum at 212.965.9000 or Email:
For more information go to

November 14, 2015


Call to Arms by Auguste Rodin 
Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, PA 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families of the November 13th Islamic State terror attacks in Paris. May St. Denis, St. Genevieve, St. Joan of Arc and St. King Louis IX protect and watch over you.
A Prayer to St. Joan of Arc
In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.

It Took a Tough Woman to Make a Tender Home

Maria Carmela with her son Tony Curci
and his step father Tony DiNapoli
By Cookie Curci
Our Santa Clara Valley is known the world over as Silicon Valley, where high-tech companies spring up overnight and blossom and grow to unbelievable heights.
But long before the computer companies began to grow, the Santa Clara Valley was known for something else—fruit. Thousands of acres of fruit trees flourished and the valley was the nation's leading grower of prunes, apricots, walnuts and cherries; and it was in the shade of these trees that my own family flourished.
My grandmother Maria Carmela came to this area from the town of Tricarico, Italy. The daughter of a tight-knit Italian family, she and her siblings came to America after her parents had both died of influenza. Rather than face life in the town orphanage, the children pooled their money and boarded a ship for America. Maria Carmela dreamed of starting her own family, having her own children to love and care for in the same way that she had felt loved. Her dreams of the family she would soon start kept her going on the long sea voyage from Italy, through the processing center at Ellis Island, and as she traveled by train across her strange new country to California.
Days after arriving on these shores, she stepped off the train at the Southern Pacific depot in San Jose, and into her new life.
A prearranged marriage awaited her. Although she and her intended husband, Antonio Curci, had never before laid eyes on one another, when they finally did meet it was love at first sight. The newlyweds settled into the poorer section of town, in a roomy wood-frame house that struck Maria as a palace. So many wonderful rooms—she and Antonio could fill them with children!
The few years after their marriage passed quickly—two children arrived and Maria and Antonio both proudly received their American citizenship papers. But their happiness together was not meant to last. While working on the railroad lines, Antonio contracted pneumonia. Only 32 years old, the strapping young man couldn't believe that a mere chest cold could have such dire consequences.
When he died, Maria sat in shock next to his coffin in their living room, her belly swollen with their third child. Well-meaning friends and relatives sat down next to her, anxious to help her in her grief. Each one had the same suggestion: "Why don't you give Rosie and Rocco to me for a while? Just until your life settles down." 
Or, more frightening still: "Maria, you can't manage with all of these children and no money. You will have to send the two older children to an orphanage."
But without Antonio, her children were all she had left. She had no money, no insurance, no job and a large pile of bills. But she had the children she'd so longed for and wanted, and one more on the way. She would survive.
The Santa Clara Valley's main industry was fruit-growing, harvesting, packing and shipping fruit all over the world. Large packing plants and canneries employed thousands of people; surely there would be a job for her, too. But my grandmother soon learned that despite the appearance of abundance, jobs were scarce. All over the valley, men were working double shifts to support large families. It was only natural, in the thinking of the time, that they received preferential treatment over women. Wherever Maria went, the answer was always the same for a woman: "No work available."
With her savings depleted, her children suffering from influenza and the loan officer from the bank due to evict her any day, she made one last attempt to find work at a canning plant near her home. She'd been turned away dozens of times before, but on this day she knew that it was her last chance to save her children, her last chance to keep them all together as a family.
Carefully closing the door of her beloved American house behind her, she set out down the road to the Del Monte cannery with a new resolve, a prayer in her heart and her rosary beads in her hand.
That day, a brand-new foreman was on the job. Maria told him of her plight and he took sympathy. Antonio DiNapoli saw the bright spark of determination in her eyes, and he found her a place in his line of cannery workers.
Cannery work was laborious and tiring. In the winter, an icy chill crept in through the cracks and crevices of the old brick building. In the summer, workers sweltered from the noisy machinery's steam and heat. But Maria worked on. She earned five cents for every bucket of tomatoes she peeled, but it was enough to pay her debts, feed her three children and keep her family together.
The new foreman, a widower with six children, was moved by Maria's determination and motherly loyalty. In time their friendship grew into love and they married. More children arrived, bringing the total between them to 11. Tony and Maria purchased a fruit orchard in Almaden, and raised their big family and grew prolific crops of prunes in the rich soil of the valley.
Throughout her life, Grandma Maria Carmela Curci-DiNapoli held on tightly to the dream she'd sought as a young girl arriving in America. With faith and tenacity, she hung on tightly to her children as well. She worked to make her dream a reality for herself, her children and her grandchildren.

Contact Cookie Curci at

November 12, 2015

Compra Sud — Stephen S. La Rocca, PLLC

Let's support those who keep our traditions and folkways alive

Stephen S. La Rocca, PLLC
Attorney at Law
11 Broadway
Suite 1020
New York, N.Y. 10004

Tel: (212) 785-8127

Also see: An Interview with Stephen La Rocca, President of the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza in New York

Visit our Compra Sud Directory for complete listing

* Our recommendations will be unsolicited, and only from our personal experience. No second hand suggestions will be made.

Presepio Napoletano Exhibit at the Westchester Italian Cultural Center, Tuckahoe, New York

Dec. 5, 2015 — Jan. 16, 2016

Westchester Italian

Cultural Center
One Generoso Pope Place
Tuckahoe, NY 10707

Nativity scenes are very popular in Italy and are generally found in every household during the holiday season. The nativity originated in Italy in the 13th century when St. Francis of Assisi asked Giovanni Vellita of the village of Greccio to create a manger scene. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the nativity was turned into an art form in Naples and included representation of daily life in the city at that time. Today, many artisans are dedicated to the craft of creating handmade figures for presepi. Presepio Napoletano represents our rich cultural and spiritual traditions. It portrays a bustling village located at the base of Mount Vesuvius. The landscape is handcrafted in wood, cork and papier-mâché, while the figures, many standing over a foot tall, are made ofterra cotta, hemp and wire.

For more info visit

November 11, 2015

Award-Winning Tenor Micheal Castaldo & Friends to Perform “An Italian Christmas Journey” at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Bronx, New York

“An Italian Christmas Journey,” a traditional Christmas concert featuring award-winning Italian tenor Micheal Castaldo will take place on Sunday, December 6, 2015 at 5:00p.m. at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 687 East 187th Street, Bronx NY 10458. The concert celebrates the renewal of the music program at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church.
Castaldo will perform classic Christmas and Advent songs, most of which are from his chart-topping best-selling album, “Extravergine: Christmas in the Mediterranean.” He will be accompanied by the Scarsdale Strings Quartet. Tickets are available for $25 at 1-800-838-3006 (mention event #2149141) or online at
This Christmas/Advent concert will capture your heart and imagination with the spirit of the holidays in the beautiful century-old, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx. Even those who don’t speak Italian will be moved by the setting, the songs, and Micheal’s powerful and melodic voice. Over the past ten years Michéal Castaldo has entertained more than 500,000 people across the USA, Canada, and Europe with creative and rousing renditions of classic Italian songs. Castaldo’s performances are enchanting, heartfelt, and authentic. He treats the audience to stories, spoken in English, in between songs that share moments from his Italian upbringing, tidbits about his musical journey, and insight that went into his song choices.
Live performance of songs from Castaldo’s Extravergine CD will include “Oh Santa Notte” (Oh Holy Night), “E Nato Il Bambino Gesu” (What Child Is This?), “Batte Nel Cuore, Suona Natale” (Little Drummer Boy), “Gioia Nel Mondo” (Joy To The World), “Puoi Sentire Quel’ Che Sent Io?” (Do You Hear What I Hear?), and “Astro Del Ciel” (Silent Night). Castaldo translated the well-known Polish carol, “Jezus Malusuenki” now entitled, “Piccolo Jesu,” which will be featured, along with “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” “Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle,” “Va Pensiero,” and “Adeste Fideles.” Also to be performed are two songs traditionally sung during Advent, “Ave Maria” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
At the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, a great number of Italian immigrants entered America through the Port of New York. Some traveled westward but most stayed in the East. Many came and settled in the Bronx, especially in the Belmont section. Along with their desire to improve their economic lot, they brought with them a strong faith and strong family values. They worked to build railroads, tunnels, subways, reservoirs and skyscrapers. Some owned or worked on farms and others established small businesses. What kept them together was their common language and faith. During the Christmas season, their faith was celebrated at OLMC–Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 687 East 187th Street. In 2016, OLMC will celebrate its 110th anniversary. The parish is now led by The Reverend Jonathan Morris. For more information visit
Cibelli Productions and Majestic Castle Music Productions are partnering to help promote the Italian culture and heritage at this Italian Christmas/Advent Concert while raising funds to help Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the Bronx reach its fundraising goals in time for its 110th anniversary.
Tickets are available for $25 at 1-800-838-3006 (mention event #2149141) or online at Tickets are available at the church Rectory and following the 11am Mass. 
For more information go to 
Contact Majestic Castle Music at 877-642-7271 or 

November 10, 2015

Book Presentation and Signing with Karen Haid, Author of “Calabria: The Other Italy”

Tuesday, November 17th (6pm)
Lake Wildwood Community Center
11255 Cottontail Way
Penn Valley, CA 95946 

Free and open to the public, please RSVP by calling 530-432-3260
Author Karen Haid will present her award-winning book Calabria: The Other Italy along with an illustrated introduction of this lesser known region in the toe of the Italian boot. A book signing will follow. The public is invited to attend and an RSVP is requested. Call 530 432 3260. There is no admission charge.
Based on her four-year experience living, working and traveling in this lesser-known region in the toe of the Italian boot, Calabria: The Other Italy weaves observation, personal anecdote, salient historical information and social commentary into a nonfiction narrative that combines travelogue with an exploration of everyday life and culture. This engaging work, at times humorous, at others poignant, portrays the joys and challenges of the “other Italy,” and captures the essence of contemporary Calabria and Southern Italy.
For more information visit Calabria: The Other Italy on Facebook 

November 9, 2015

Photo of the Week: A View of Pomarico

Grazie mille Andrew Giordano for sharing your wonderful photo of Pomarico, a picturesque town in the Province of Matera, Basilicata

November 8, 2015

Around the Web (November 2015)

Items of interest from around the web

International Prize for My Book at Calabria The Other Italy
I could never have imagined, seven years ago, as I made my way down to the southern extremity of the Italian peninsula, stepping off the train in Locri to teach English, that I would one day write a book about my experiences. And I never would have dreamed that my words would be read and appreciated by the people of the region itself, so much so that I would be honored with an award. But this is just what happened. 
I had heard about the Premio Calabria through my friend Luisa. Since it was an award that also considered books in foreign languages, I thought, why not? I sent them two copies of Calabria: The Other Italy as requested. Continue reading

Mamma Ciociara at Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
Mamma Ciociara (Mother Ciociara), sculptor: Fedele Andreani
[pron: chocha'ra - ch as in 'church']
The town of Castro dei Volsci is 100 km/60 miles NW of Naples and just 25 km/15 miles beyond Monte Cassino on the way to Rome. The battles late in 1943 and early 1944 to overcome German defenses of Mt. Cassino are infamous in the history of warfare and have been the subject of films, books, oral histories—the Allied struggle up the Liri Valley, what the Allied attackers called “Death Valley.” Continue reading

Campania at a Glance at Made in South Italy Today
The Flavian Amphitheater in Pozzuoli
The emblem of Campania consisting of a red band on white background once belonged to the town of Amalfi in its early days as a Republic.
The region known by the Roman as "Campania Felix" (Fertile land), was colonized during the 8th century by ancient Greeks from Euboea (Greece), known as Cumaeans. Rich with a vast array of culture and history, Campania was also home to philosophers of the Pre-Socratic philosophy school.
Archaeological excavations in Pompeii were initiated by King Charles III of Naples in 1748 who issued the first modern laws in Europe to protect, defend and preserve archaeological sites. The natural sights of Campania make it highly important in the tourism industry, especially along the Amalfi Coast, Mount Vesuvius and the many islands dotting the gulf. Continue reading