December 31, 2015

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 more to do with the new year than 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 practice are manifold. For example, I've heard it said that red is a lucky color and it will bring prosperity to the wearer. It also symbolizes virility or fertility and is worn by those looking to have children or find romance. 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 thy protection. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Our Top Ten Posts of 2015

A look back at some of our favorite moments of 2015: The translation of San Rocco & San Vincenzo; Southern Italian Halloween costume ideas; Festa di San Rocco in Astoria, Queens; and the Feast of Saints Cosma and Damiano in NYC
01 Honoring Francesco II di Borbone in New York City
02 Celebrating Faith, Family and Culture: An Interview With Domenic Varuzza
03 Eboli — A Hidden Gem in Southern Italy
04 Hellenic Dawn: The Coming of the Greeks to Southern Italy
05 Onorio Ruotolo
06 The Farchie Festival of Fara Filiorum Petri, A Light Against the Darkness
07 The Ides of August, Diana and the Nemoralia
08 Celebrating the Feast of Saint George with the Sacred Constantinian Military Order of Saint George
09 This Day in History: Alfonso V of Aragon Conquers Naples
10 The Bicentennial of the Death of Gioacchino Murat

Close, but no cigar:
The Light of Southern Italy and Drawn to the Light deserve honorable mention. Perhaps if these posts had as much “air-time” as some of the others they may have made our Top Ten list.  
Click here to see last year’s results 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo

San Nicola, Patron of Craco

San Nicola
Courtesy of the Craco Society
Reprinted from the January 2016 Craco Society Bulletin
With all the focus on San Vincenzo Martire di Craco this year we should not forget about Craco’s patron saint, especially at this time of the year.
The people of Craco, in their great wisdom, made San Nicola the town’s patron saint during that period when there was an Italo-Norman presence that brought San Nicola’s relics from Turkey to Bari. (San Vincenzo is actually called the proctor of the town.)
The devotion to the saint swept Europe and in Craco, according to Prof. D’Angella’s history it replaced Santa Barbara who was the first patron saint of Craco. 
They committed heavily to San Nicola, building a church to him which was the main church in the town. Named, La Chiesa di San Nicola Vescovo (Church of St. Nicholas, Bishop) it became known as “La Chiesa Madre” (the Mother Church) because of the prominent role it played in community life of a town where there were seven or eight other churches and chapels. 
Although the date of the church isn’t known, by 1792 when San Vincenzo’s relics were brought to Craco from Rome by the Franciscan Friars of the monastery of San Pietro, La Chiesa Madre was well established and most likely several hundred years old. 
This is where the wisdom of the Crachese people show. 
Faced with replacing San Nicola their patron saint, with this new and exciting saint, San Vincenzo Martire, rather than what was done with Santa Barbara, they chose another option. 
San Nicola remained the patron but the people named San Vincenzo Martire as the “prottetore” (protector) of Craco. 
Although San Vincenzo grew to become the most revered among the saints by Cracotans today it must be remembered the people of Craco Vecchio never built a church to him. His relic today resides in a small makeshift chapel in the Sant’Angelo section of Craco Vecchio while the statue of San Nicola Vescovo (pictured) was moved from the Chiesa Madre to the new church of San Nicola Vescovo in Craco Peschiera. 
The feast of San Nicola was celebrated in Craco Vecchio on the second Sunday in August but is no longer practiced. However, the wisdom of the decision to maintain him as patron is apparent to us and the rest of the world each December as St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6 while the North American and British Santa Claus who is so closely associated with Christmas Day is derived from San Nicola—Craco’s patron. 
Merry Christmas—Buon Natale!

December 30, 2015

Lady Liberty Personified Hope to a Stalwart Generation of Immigrants

The Statue of Liberty
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Cookie Curci
The Statue of Liberty stands 151 feet, 1 inch high and weighs 225 tons. The length of her right arm is 42 feet long, her hand 16 feet 5 inches long. Her facial features include a prominent nose that measures 4 feet, 6 inches set between eyes 2 feet 6 inches in width. Standing on her concrete pedestal base, she rises to a neighborhood of 305 feet. Under her huge feet are broken shackles representing Liberty's victory over tyranny.
Lady Liberty needs her mighty dimensions to hold a 23 foot high cement tablet in one hand; the "Torch of Freedom" high above her head, in the other hand, and the hopes and dreams of millions, upon million, of immigrants cradled in her bosom.
The statue of Liberty was originally created by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who christened his lovely lady, "Liberty Enlightening The World". The statue was dedicated to America on July 4th 1884. The Statue of Liberty, as she would later be known, was finally completed in 1886 and she's been welcoming travelers to our shore ever since.
Between 1901 and 1910, nearly nine million immigrants, from all parts of the world, came to this country. Like my grandparents', many of these travelers came here from Italy and settled in the Santa Clara Valley. Unfamiliar with the language and customs of their new country, the hard working aliens settled in to the poorer sections of the town, often taking jobs in industries in which poor conditions, low wages and long hours prevailed.
Great, Great Grandma
Nonna Giacomina Camarotta
Back in the old country, the young and naive immigrants had been told wondrous stories of how the streets of America were paved in gold. But when they got here they discovered three important things: First, the streets weren't paved in gold; second, they weren't paved at all; and third, they were expected to pave them!
The children and grandchildren of these immigrants share a feeling of pride at their accomplishments. A thread that runs through each of our lives, connecting one to the other through the generations.
History tells us that millions of immigrants have come to America and how they learned new trades and skills and evolved new lives and careers for themselves. As youngsters we all learned about the melting pot theory of American immigration and population growth. From an official population of some five million as of 1790, the first time a census survey was undertaken in our nation, to an estimated 248 million as of 1990, the last time a decennial census was taken.
The Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island foundation, in New York City, estimates that more than 12 million visitors have toured the Ellis Island immigration museum since it’s opening on September 10, 1990. Authorities at the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island foundation estimate that four in every 10 United States residents have at least one forbear who immigrated through Ellis Island. The immigration and naturalization service in Washington D.C. reports that in 1996 (the last available figures) 915, 900 people immigrated legally to the United States.
Grandpa Tony DiNapoli
and Grandma Maria Carmela
My Grandmother had an old saying. Translated in English it goes something like this: It doesn't matter where you start out in life, it's where you finish that counts". My Grandparent's lived their lives by that belief. My grandfather worked his way up from delivery boy in a local meat market to become the store proprietor. After learning all about the meat market business he saved enough money to purchase his own shop. With work and determination he went on to become a successful businessman.
My Grandfather never spoke much about his early days in America, or the long ship ride over the ocean, but he often mentioned the awesome feeling he experienced as a young boy when his steamer ship from Naples, Italy, approached Ellis Island. The moment was engraved in his memory. He recalled the almost eerie silence that fell over the ship; how his Papa, whom he had never seen cry, was now weeping openly as Liberty came into view, embracing his wife and three children with uncontrollable joy.
My Grandmother and her two young siblings came to America as orphans. After losing their parents to influenza, the young trio pooled their resources and boarded a ship for America. To them, the sight of Lady Liberty meant hope for a new and better life. The grand statue had come to embody the spirit of their new land- exemplifying hope and prosperity.
Great Grandpa Rizzolo, Nonna Savadia,
Flora, Mateo and Salvatore
Whenever I asked my Grandma where she found the courage to take that voyage of a lifetime, she would invariably say, in her native Italian: "A ship is safe in port, but that's not were a ship was meant to be."
She was right of course, a ship is meant to challenge the elements, ride the high seas and risk being sunk. Desire alone just doesn't cut it.       
Tales of our immigrant ancestors are repeated again and again across America. From father to son, from grandma to grandchild, we keep the legacy alive with every story told, with every memory recalled.
On the plaque of the statue of Liberty is the poem, "The Great Colossus" written by Emma Lazaras. The following words from that poem hung proudly framed on the wall of my grandparents' home throughout their lifetime "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free. The wretched refuse of your teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Contact Cookie Curci at Cookiecurci@aol.com

December 29, 2015

Feast of San Tommaso Becket

Gold pendant, Canterbury, ENG ca. 1174-83
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
December 29th is the Feast Day of San Tommaso Becket (St. Thomas Becket), Bishop and Martyr. Patron saint of secular clergy, he is the protector of Mottola, a town in the Province of Taranto, Puglia. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a prayer in his honor. The accompanying photo of the Reliquary Pendant of Bishop Reginald of Bath for Queen Margaret of Sicily was taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. According to the inscriptions on the obverse of the pendant, the reliquary once contained pieces of the blood-soaked vestment of the Saint. 
Prayer for St. Thomas Becket
O God, for the sake of whose Church the glorious Bishop Thomas fell by the sword of ungodly men: grant, we beseech Thee, that all who implore his aid, may obtain the good fruit of his petition. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

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. Continue reading

December 28, 2015

Feast of the Holy Innocents

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, a commemoration of the massacre of the children of Bethlehem by King Herod in an attempt to kill the infant Jesus. In remembrance, I'm posting a Prayer for the Holy Innocents. The accompanying photo of the Massacre of the Innocents (c.1640) by Pacecco de Rosa (Naples b. 1607—Naples d. 1756) was taken at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Prayer for the Holy Innocents

We remember this day, O God, the slaughter of the holy Innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod. Receive, we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent victims; and by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Photo of the Week: The Temple of Apollo, Pompeii

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo in Pompeii, with a hazy Mount Vesuvius in the background (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)

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. Continue reading

I Giullari di Piazza to Perform "La Cantata Dei Pastori" With La Befana at Casa Belvedere

Tuesday, January 5th (7:00 PM)
The Italian Cultural Foundation at Casa Belvedere
79 Howard Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10301
T. 718-273-7660
E. info@casa-belvedere.org
www.casa-belvedere.org 

Celebrate the Epiphany with Alessandra Belloni & I Giullari di Piazza for a special 35th anniversary revival of La Cantata Dei Pastori (The Shepherds Cantata), a Neapolitan Renaissance Christmas concert featuring: La Befana (the Italian Christmas Witch), the Arc Angel Gabriel, and Pulcinella from the Italian Commedia dell'Arte.
La Cantata Dei Pastori was written by A. Perrucci in the 16th century & re-written and directed by Alessandra Belloni in 1984. It has been performed by the company for 20 years with music composed & arranged by John La Barbera. 
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; music director Susan Eberenz on flute piccolo & recorders; Ivan Thomas on guitar; Mara Gerety on violin & in the role of the devil; and James Karcher as the devil.
I Giullari di Piazza, a renowned 35-year old Southern Italian music/theater/dance company, is proud to offer a beautiful concert version of La Cantata Dei Pastori for the Staten Island Community.  
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.
The music—tarantellas, villanellas and pastorales—comes from traditional sources, with original music. Songs are sung in Italian; costuming and music instrumentation is traditional Southern Italian; narration is in English. The play ends with a singing by the Company of the oldest known Neapolitan Christmas song.
$45 per person (Children 12 years and Under: Free) (cash, check or credit cards accepted)
Refreshments will be served. A light reception will follow. 
PLEASE RSVP in advance! Space is limited. Call 718-273-7660 or E-Mail info@casa-belvedere.org
Parking located in the lots directly across the street at Notre Dame Academy.

December 27, 2015

Feast of San Giovanni Evangelista

Viva San Giovanni!
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
December 27th is the Feast Day of San Giovanni the Apostle and evangelist, patron saint of writers and theologians. Widely venerated across southern Italy, he is the principal patron of San Giovanni la Punta (CT), Mariglianella (NA), Teverola (CE), Ailano (CE), Motta San Giovanni (RC), Castellalto (TE), and Paterno (PZ), among others. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a prayer in his honor. The accompanying photo of San Giovanni was taken at the Basilica Santa Trofimena in Minori.
A Prayer to St. John the Evangelist
O Glorious St. John, you were so loved by Jesus that you merited to rest your head upon his breast, and to be left in his place as son to Mary. Obtain for us an ardent love for Jesus and Mary. Let me be united with them now on earth and forever after in heaven. Amen

In Memory of HM King Francesco II di Borbone

Memorial for HM King Francesco II 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo*
By Giovanni di Napoli
Today we commemorate the 121st anniversary of the death of HM Francesco II di Borbone, the last king of the Two Sicilies.
Eldest Son of King Ferdinand II and his first wife Blessed Maria Cristina, Francesco was born in Napoli on January 16, 1836. With the tragic death of his saintly mother (she died during childbirth), the Crowned Prince was raised by his stepmother Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria.

On January 8, 1859 Francesco married Maria Sofia of Bavaria, daughter of Duke Maximilian, by proxy in Munich. The newlyweds met for the first time in Bari with much fanfare on February 3rd. Sadly, they had only one child, Christina Louise Pia (1868), who died when she was only six months old. 
After the untimely death of his father, Francesco ascended to the throne on May 22nd, 1859 at the age of 23. Shortly into his reign, and before he could implement his reforms and building programs, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was invaded by Garibaldi and his ragtag band of revolutionaries.
HM Francesco II di Borbone
With British and Piedmontese support, the garibaldini quickly took Sicily and advanced towards Naples. Looking to spare his capital the devastation of war, King Francesco II withdrew his forces north to Capua. Capitalizing on Garibaldi’s success and the young Neapolitan King's inexperience, King Victor Emanuel II of Savoy invaded the Kingdom from the Marche with-out a formal declaration of war.

After the Battle of Volturno (Sept. 30—Oct. 1) and his valiant defense at Gaeta, Francesco II was forced to surrender to the Piedmontese led by the bloodthirsty war criminal, General Cialdini. 
Dubbed the first emigrants from southern Italy, Francesco II and Maria Sofia lived in exile in Rome deprived of their personal assets, which were looted by Garibaldi and the Piedmontese invaders.

After the fall of Rome in 1870, their Majesties the King and Queen divided their time between Paris and Bavaria. Suffering from diabetes, Francesco II died in Arco, in the Trentino region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on December 27, 1894. Now buried inside the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Napoli, many are working towards the beatification of this devoutly religious King.
His Majesty lying in state
Prayer for the Repose of the Soul of HM King Francis II of the Two Sicilies 

O Triune God, who from your throne of mercy turns your gaze upon us, and who called to your following Francis II of Bourbon, electing him a King upon the earth, modeling his life to the same kingship of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, instilling in his heart sentiments of love and patience, of humility and clemency, of peace and forgiveness, cloaking him with the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, accept our plea and help us walk in his steps and live their virtues. Glorify him, we beseech you, upon the earth, as we believe he has already been glorified in heaven, and grant us through his prayer, that we may receive the graces which we need. Amen.
Pater, Ave and Gloria 
* The accompanying photo was taken at the 2014 memorial Mass sponsored by the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George at Saint Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village, New York City. 
Viva 'o Rre!

La Vigilia and Other Christmas Traditions

Ricci di Mare
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 aragosta (lobster), ricci di mare (sea urchin) and baccalà (salt cod).
As always, the ladies outdid themselves and treated us to another memorable dinner.
Baccalà
Following the fish bonanza was another southern Italian specialty: panzerotti, delicious crescent-shaped deep fried dough filled with ricotta, mozzarella and tomato or scallion and olives.
Next came fruit, roasted chestnuts, caffè and an assortment of delicious sweets, including Pasticciotti Leccesi and struffoli, the quintessential Neapolitan Christmas dessert that will satisfy the most stubborn sweet tooth. There is no panettone in my house.
Pasticciotti Leccesi
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 in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Afterward, we walked through the neighborhood to see 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.
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, pizza, baked manicotti and a American-style Christmas ham. Fruit, dessert and caffè complete the meal.
Not quite finished yet, December 26th is the Feast of Saint Stephen, or Saint Stephen's Day. In honor of Santo Stefano, 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!
Amended 2015

December 26, 2015

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
The accompanying photos were taken at Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary and Saint Stephen's Church in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
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, 2015

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 thewealthiest, city in the Mediterranean region. Such, however, was the case. Continue reading

December 24, 2015

A River of Fire in the Land of Bells

The ’Ndocciata, Agnone’s Ancient Fire Ritual
The ’Ndocciata (Photo courtesy of madeinsouthitaly.com)
By Giovanni di Napoli
In the Molise region of southern Italy, in the Province of Isernia, stands the ancient hill top town of Agnone. Rich in history, art and culture, it is perhaps most famous for the manufacturing of bells. In fact, Agnone is known as the "town of the bells” and boasts the world's oldest foundry, the Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli, which some say dates back to the year 1000.
Agnone also has the distinction of having one of southern Italy’s oldest and largest fire rituals. Known as the ’Ndocciata, which in the local vernacular means "big torch,” the rite began as a pre-Christian “festival of light” in celebration of the winter solstice.
On the shortest night of the year, Samnite tribesmen would travel from the surrounding countryside into the town square with their 'ndocce, large torches bound together in the shape of a fan, where they would erect a huge bonfire. It is said the crackling fire would scare away witches and evil spirits, and the fortunes of the coming year could be foretold by which direction the sparks blew. Continue reading

Christmas in Naples

A Presentation by Anita Sanseverino
Anita Sanseverino with IAM President Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Wednesday, December 30th (6:30 P.M.)
Please join Anita Sanseverino in a photographic tour of Naples during the Christmas season, culminating in the area's most important street during the season, Via San Gregorio Armeno, the street of the Presepio Napoletano. Anita will share a history of the presepio and how it became central to Naples, and will also share other sights around the city at this holiday season.
Italian American Museum
155 Mulberry Street
(Corner of Grand and Mulberry Streets)
New York, NY 10013

Suggested donation of $10 per person
To reserve a place for this event, please call the Italian American Museum at (212) 965-9000 or email: ItalianAmericanMuseum@gmail.com
Also see:
The Presepe Napoletano Returns to the IAM With Anita Sanseverino and Lou Barrella
Naples is the Stepchild of Italy
A Week in December

December 23, 2015

Christmas Coffee with Nonna Isolina Helped Dreams Come True

Nonna Isolina and Grandpa Rissolo's wedding
By Cookie Curci
It’s a fine line drawn by our parents and grandparents, in the lessons that teach us independence while at the same time anchoring us with their love. These stories and family histories are a guidepost for each generation, filled with the successes and dreams of our parents and grandparents, the words have a power all their own. Their stories remain with us a lifetime, they stay in our heart and, more importantly, in our attitude towards life. 
They say the two best things you can give children are roots and wings, to this I add grandmother’s, women who help shape our lives with their opinions, their beliefs and their love and whose indelible memories stay with us a lifetime….
CHRISTMAS COFFEE WITH NONNA.... There are times in our lives when we think all that's good or exciting has passed us by- that we may have missed out on that one big chance or golden opportunity that would have changed our lives for the better.
That's how I was feeling the day I paid my Grandma Isolina a long overdue visit.
Nonna was well into her 90s when her gentle wisdom and intuitive powers helped redirect my life. I learned from her that we all have the capability to restart our lives or to help others renew their own.
For me, it happened at that magical time of the year when Christmas touches our hearts and childhood memories call us home again.
It was Christmas time and all around me people were busily anticipating the holiday season. Decorations glittered in department store windows; a jovial Santa Claus sat merrily in every shopping mall. Everywhere I looked, I saw happy couples walking arm- and- arm anticipating the holiday.
As for myself, I was in no mood for celebration. At age 45, I'd lost my job, and was facing the fact that none of my lifelong plans and dreams were ever going to materialize. That year, I firmly decided not to celebrate Christmas.
For over 25 years, I'd put my dreams of becoming a writer on hold while I worked for a more lucrative pay as a receptionist. My job offered little creative outlet, but more importantly, it kept the bills paid. And now it was gone. I'd also put off getting married, so now here I was in my mid 40s, without a job, and without a Mr. Right.
I was deep in the doldrums when my phone rang. It was an unexpected call from my Nonna Isolina asking me to spend the holiday with her. Hearing my Nonna's voice with her familiar Italian accent comforted me and sparked happy memories.
As a lot of things I'd planned, but never found time to do, visiting Nonna was high on the list. But the longer I put it off the harder it was to do.
Nonna Isolina and
Grandpa Rissolo with mom
I wanted to remember Nonna as she once was—a robust, happy-go-lucky, robust woman, who inspired me with her deep beliefs and intrigued me with her tales of the old country. More importantly, I wanted Nonna to remember me as I used to be—young, innocent and full of ambitious dreams.
For a moment, I tried to think of a good reason to turn down Grandma's generous invitation. I wanted to keep my memories of her as she was, the sound of her vibrant voice, the reassurance of her gentle touch and that approving twinkle in her eyes that seemed to shine there just for me; and how our laughter would fill her kitchen long into the night as we sat talking and planning the future.
I was painfully aware that none of the plans we'd made for my life were going to come true. I guess I was afraid of seeing the disappointment in Nonna's eyes. Nevertheless, I knew in my heart I couldn't refuse her invitation; that night I drove the long miles to Nonna's house, back to the home of my childhood, to its cracks and creeks and timeless charm. 
What would my visit bring?
I had to knock several times before Nonna finally came to the door. Standing all alone in the doorway, she appeared fragile and much older than I remembered, but her eyes still twinkled with that same vibrant warmth of welcome.
"Come in, come in, Bella mia," she said, using her best broken English. The words mean "My beautiful," and Nonna was the only one who could still make me feel beautiful.
Nonna led me down the hall to her cozy, familiar kitchen. She sat me in Grandpa's big empty armchair at the head of the table. I remembered that table well, and all the many wonderful family suppers we'd enjoyed there on Sundays and holidays.
I was greeted by the sweet smell of anise cookies baking in the oven and the aroma of Nonna's simmering coffee pot on the stove. Mingled with the fresh scent of evergreen it painted a vivid picture of Christmases past. It was a sensory mix of flavors and feelings that is, to this day, impossible to replicate.  Assembled on the wall was a collection of baby pictures, and childhood milestones. Remnants and pictures of my baptism, my First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Family snapshots filled her walls.
Everywhere I looked, I saw a part of my past in her treasured keepsakes. I sat on the window seat where I used to huddle on wintry afternoons to watch the rain trickle down the windowpanes. In the spring, I looked through that same window at Nonna's garden where hollyhocks ascended like skyscrapers and stout sunflowers stood like golden bastions against the wind. And, I recalled how the smell of her coffee pot, eternally simmering on the stove, gave me a feeling of well-being.
Nonna's aged cat, Chulet, was still at her feet, trailing behind her as she shuffled from room to room. I remembered the old cat and how it was once a spry young kitten chasing butterflies that thronged to Nonna's vegetable garden. Nonna and I were younger then too.
In the corner of the room stood a spindly Christmas tree filled with ornaments made by her grandchildren, who had all grown-up now and moved away. Though they were gone, I could feel that a part of them would always remain there for Nonna—in those humble objects. Like a golden talisman each ornament held a cherished place in her memory. 
Cherished Christmas memories 
Glowing beneath the evergreen was Nonna's beloved, albeit, timeworn nativity scene. The plaster of Paris figurines had been under her tree for as far back as any of us could remember. Each of her grandchildren were responsible for every chip and nick on the tattered set of figurines.
But somehow they managed to retain their original charm and were as beguiling to me now as the very first day she'd placed them under the tree.
Before I knew it, I was captivated by Nonna's old-world charm. My old hopes and dreams were suddenly resurrected, along with my faith in the Christmas spirit.
I watched Nonna's time-worn hands trembling slightly as she poured me a cup of her hot, strong coffee. Soon we were sipping coffee and dunking sweet anise cookies just as we'd done so many years ago. Chatting away like schoolgirls, the sound of our voices filled Nonna's kitchen. While the enduring elements of laughter and love inspired me, the years seemed to melt away. With each memory came renewed desire. Grandma's relentless words of encouragement had given me new inspiration.
I spent that Christmas Eve talking long into the night with Nonna.
She predicted that I'd soon find a new job as a writer and with a little more patients and faith in myself; I'd also find my Mr. Right. I snickered at Nonna's predictions. I reminded her that I was over forty now and not the young, impressionable girl who used to sit upon her knee. 
Nonna's brow furrowed as her jaw set firmly into a frown. A moment later she was cradling me in her fragile arms cajoling me while at the same time tenderly scolding me for not having faith in her predictions and faith in myself.
"Bella Mia, she said, "You're not listening with your heart, how can you be successful, if you don't believe in yourself with all your heart?"
She was right of course. I had to learn to believe in life again, and more importantly in myself. I took Nonna's advice and spent all that week listening and believing. I took endless notes as she told and retold stories of her life in the old country, of her family histories and humorous anecdotes of her arrival in America. As I recorded page after page of Nonna's colorful memories, the aroma of her simmering coffee pot warmed the atmosphere.
That year, Nonna persuaded me to return home and upon her urgings I continued writing. I submitted some of my stories to my community newspaper. My grandmother’s nostalgic family stories were so well received, I was offered my own ongoing column.
That was 15 years ago. Since that time I've been writing my column for several community and national newspapers. Grandma's stories were also published in several Chicken Soup For the Soul books as well as other national book publications, newspapers and magazines.
Just as my insightful Nonna had predicted, my Christmas wishes came true. Believing in myself had something to do with it, but her belief in me had everything to do with it. My success brought me a new career, as well as a new man in my life. I found my Mr. Right and married the following year.
Sadly, my Nonna wasn't here to see all of her predictions come true. But somehow I know on that last Christmas visit with her, that she knew in her infinite wisdom exactly what the future held in store for me and that she will always be an important and indelible part of my life.
I learned from grandma that family ties connect us to one another and that these ties lengthen and grow to accommodate change, distance and time- and in that way they are never broken.
These bits and pieces of my past remain as real and genuine to me now as Nonna's aluminum coffee pot that today sits upon my stove. And as long as I go on making coffee with that same old shiny pot, in a way, I'm still having coffee with Nonna. 
Contact Cookie Curci at Cookiecurci@aol.com

December 22, 2015

Some Old Favorites & New Discoveries at the Met

Antonello da Messina’s Ecco Homo and Portrait of a Man 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
During my recent visit to see the Neapolitan Baroque Crèche installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I took the opportunity to admire a couple of my favorite works from its vast collection, specifically Antonello da Messina’s Ecco Homo and Portrait of a Man
Blessed Leonard of Assisi by Niccolò Colantonio
To my pleasant surprise, a short distance from Messina’s paintings, there was a small panel depicting the Blessed Leonard of Assisi (ca. 1450) by Renaissance master Niccolò Colantonio, one of the earliest exponents of the Netherlandish (Dutch and Flemish) style of painting in Naples and an important influence on Antonello da Messina. Oil on wood, the work formed part of a pilaster framing an altarpiece commissioned by King Alfonso of Aragon for the chapel in the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples.
Saint Dominic, workshop of Giotto di Bondone in Naples
In the Medieval Europe gallery, I came across a couple of other precious objects from southern Italy I have not seen before. Inside a glass display case was a painting of Saint Dominic de Guzman, which may have come from an altarpiece in the Palatine Chapel of King Robert (the Wise) of Anjou and Queen Sancha of Majorca at the Castel Nuovo in Naples. Tempera and gold on a panel, the work was painted about 1329-32 in the workshop of Giotto di Bondone in Naples.
Royal seal of Charles I of Anjou, King of Sicily
Below the painting is a priceless collection of royal seals, including the golden seal of Charles I of Anjou (1227-85), King of Sicily. On the obverse we see King Charles in majesty, seated on his throne wielding a fleur-de-lys scepter and an orb with a cross (globus crucifer). The inscription around the edge reads KAROLVS • DEI • GRACIA • SICILIE • REX.
I'm lucky to have institutions in my city where I can view magnificent works of art, especially from my ancestral homeland. There is always something new to see. Thanks to these wonderful surprises, Christmas came early for me again at the Met. 
For more photos visit us on Pinterest 
Also see:
A Look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Annual Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche
Two Marble Reliefs With Birds From Salerno at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Another Fine Day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
A Week in December
Neapolitan Glory: Baroque Presepio at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
New Discoveries at the Met
Celebrating Southern Italian Art at the Met
An Epiphany at the Met: A look at 'The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini' and The Robert Lehman Collection
An Early Christmas Gift
Sacred Art from Abruzzo at the Cloisters
Spotlight on the Met: Saints Peter and Andrew by Giuseppe Picano
Visions from the "Grand Tour" — The Mezzogiorno Through Foreign Eyes
Spotlight on the Met: Bronze Medal of Mary of Burgundy
Metropolitan Museum of Art's Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Prespio
A Day of High Culture
Discovering Our Heritage at the Met