December 30, 2009

Pull the Plug on "Jersey Shore"

Dear readers,
Provided below is a partial list of the sponsors for the MTV reality show, "Jersey Shore."  We provided links to their respective sites and contact info so please take a moment to voice your displeasure with their complicity with this offensive, anti-Italian show.  The list will be updated as additional information becomes available. 

MTV’s “Jersey Shore” features vulgar behavior, ethnic slurs and violence to stereotype Italian-Americans.  We believe this type of programming would not be tolerated if it were deemed offensive to other ethnic groups so we demand to be treated with the same respect.  Since MTV puts profits before people and we cannot count on them to listen to reason, maybe the media giant will be more inclined to oblige if we hit them in the pocket book.
– Lucian
* * *
• Been Verified

• Burger King!

• Nivea

• LG Electronics

• Papa John's Pizza

December 27, 2009

Sicilian Language and Culture Lessons

OPEN enrollment for Sicilian language and culture lessons in New York City.

NEW Class is Starting on WEDNESDAY JANUARY 6th at the ITALIAN CHARITIES OF AMERICA in Queens, located at 83-20 Queens Boulevard, Elmhurst, New York 11373, which is sponsoring the lessons.

Lessons will focus on learning the Sicilian language, culture, history, poetry and cuisine. Classes to meet weekly from 7 to 9 pm for a total of 12 weeks. The fee is $120 for 12 lessons.

Please let me know ASAP if you are interested in enrolling.

Anyone interested in enrolling should contact Mr. Domenic Giampino at

Also visit Sicilian Language in New York on facebook.

"Sicilian was the first language of Italy. It influenced the formation of the Italian language. Sicilian is spoken in Sicily and the Sicilian archipelago. It is also spoken in most of Calabria, in parts of Puglia (the Salento peninsula), in parts of Campania (Cilento Area), and all over the world by millions of Sicilian emigrants."

December 25, 2009

The Seeds of the Kingdom

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

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

To be sure, Palermo is hardly unique in that regard. Many times in history a city was born, grew to prominence, then faded to obscurity as times changed. A little over 800 years ago the city of Angkor was the seat of the Khmer Empire, a powerful state that covered much of Southeast Asia. Today it is an abandoned ruin. The Khmer people, however, remain. We now call them Cambodians.

To really understand how the people of the now-lost Kingdom of the Two Sicilies arrived at their current state it is necessary to go back to the beginning; to study the forces and peoples who were instrumental in founding the kingdom in the first place. To be sure, that cannot be done in a single article. Volumes have been written about it. Rather, this article is simply an overview of the events and personages involved. The timing is not coincidental, either. This holiday season is special in more ways than one. Christmas, you see, is not just celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ (though it’s generally recognized by Biblical historians He was not born on December 25th). It is also the anniversary of the birth of the Kingdom of Sicily.

One could spend all day arguing where to begin. The roots of civilization in Southern Italy go back to ancient, pre-Hellenic times. For our purposes, however, we shall begin with the arrival in the region of the people who were most instrumental in setting up the actual apparatus of the kingdom itself. A people known in history as the Normans.

The Normans originated in the area known today, appropriately enough, as Normandy, France. They were a people of Scandinavian, West Germanic, Gallic and Roman stocks. They initially appeared on the world stage as a separate ethnos sometime in the early part of the 10th century AD.

The first Normans appeared in the area of Southern Italy/Sicily not as conquerors, but as religious pilgrims. It was not uncommon for Christians returning to Western Europe from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to pass through this area, and such was the case with returning Norman knights. In the year 999 AD, a group of such knights were sojourning in Salerno (in the region now known as Campania, Italy) when that city came under attack by a horde of Muslim pirates from North Africa demanding the payment of an annual tribute. 

Prince Guaimar III, Salerno’s Lombard ruler, scurried to gather together the monies necessary to buy off his domain’s tormentors. The Normans, however, remonstrated Guaimar and his Lombard knights for showing cowardice in the face of a heathenish enemy and chose to attack the Muslims instead. Emboldened by the actions of their Christian brothers, the city’s defenders joined them on the battlefield and the combined forces routed the Muslims, winning much booty in the process.

After the battle, Guaimar begged the Normans to stay, who refused. Before leaving, however, they promised to “spread the word” amongst their brethren back home of the need for mercenaries. This first arrival of the Normans in that region of the world was immortalized by the Benedictine monk Amatus of the Abbey of Monte Cassino in his tome History of the Normans as the “Salerno Tradition”.

Within a comparatively short period of time numerous bands of Norman knights, hungry for “God, gold and glory” began arriving in the region as mercenaries. The next significant date in the history of the Normans of Southern Italy occurred on May 9, 1009. On that date the Lombard inhabitants of the city of Bari, under command of the rebel Melo (Melus), revolted against their Byzantine overlords. The Byzantines had previously ruled the city and most of the territories surrounding it as the Catapanate of Italy, a territory they in turn had retaken from Muslim conquerors in 873 AD.

The Lombards chafed under the high taxes and centralized rule of the Byzantines. Melo had convinced hundreds of Norman mercenaries to join him and his Lombard allies to take on the Byzantines. At first it appeared the rebellion would succeed. Territory was taken and cities along the Apulian coast joined the rebels in the hopes of throwing off the yoke of their Byzantine rulers. Unfortunately for the rebels, however, the Emperor in Constantinople possessed the resources necessary to crush the rebellion. 

A large Byzantine army, commanded by the newly installed Katapan (military governor) Basil Boioannes arrived and in 1018 AD routed the Lombards and their Norman mercenaries at the Battle of Cannae. Melo was forced to flee to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry II at Bamberg, Bavaria, where he died. His wife and son, Argyrus, were taken captive by Basil and sent back to Constantinople. The Normans lost most of their ranks including their leader, Gilbert Bautère. The remainder of this group, though, formed the vanguard of the Norman invasion of Southern Italy.

The next couple of decades saw Norman mercenaries fighting for and against the various factions (Lombard and Byzantine) in Southern Italy. Like true mercenaries, they sold their swords to the highest bidders; all the while, however, biding their time for when they would become the true power in the region. As the observant Amatus wryly noted:

“For the Normans never desired any of the Lombards to win a decisive victory, in case this should be to their disadvantage. But now supporting the one and then aiding the other, they prevented anyone being completely ruined.” – Amatus of Monte Cassino: History of the Normans, Book I, c. 1080 AD.

That time would arrive in 1030 when the Duke of Naples, Sergius IV, himself a nominal vassal of the Byzantine emperor, gave the Norman mercenary knight Rainulf Drengot the County of Aversa as a fief for services rendered. He also gave him his sister’s hand in marriage. Sergius also entrusted his new count with the job of building a fortress from which to rule his new (although admittedly tiny) domain. 

This series of events catalyzed the Normanization of Southern Italy. No longer were the Normans just mercenary soldiers in the employ of Lombard or Byzantine overlords. They were now permanent denizens with a realm of their own from which they could lash out at their neighbors in search of booty and additional territory! Rainulf quickly sent word back to Normandy for more bodies and the call was just as quickly answered. Within several years the ranks of his knights swelled. Rainulf also allowed local miscreants to join his growing army with no questions asked. United by the language and customs of the Normans (as well as their avariciousness and bloodlust), this motley crew formed the nucleus of a new nation; a fact that did not escape the pen of Amatus.

Rainulf’s fortunes quickly escalated. In the year 1034 his first wife died, allowing him to marry the daughter of the Duke of Amalfi. She was also the niece of Pandulf IV of Capua. In 1037 his title as Count of Aversa was formally recognized by the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II. The following year he routed the Byzantines in battle, seizing large amounts of their territory. He conquered the principality of Pandulf IV of Capua, with the blessings of Conrad II. He thus achieved several important objectives: the rank of prince, a stronghold for continued Norman hegemony in Southern Italy and the largest polity in the region. In 1042, at the height of his power, he received suzerainty from the Byzantines over the territories of Sipanto and Monte Gargano. Norman domination of the area was now a reality. He died in June of 1045.

Robert Guiscard and Roger
The next chapter in the Norman history of Southern Italy deals with the life of a remarkable individual by the name of Robert Guiscard (lit: “Robert the Crafty One”). Born in Normandy around the year 1015 to a petty noble family, he was, according to one account, one of 12 brothers. He left for Southern Italy with only five mounted riders and 30 followers on foot to seek his fortune, arriving in the lands of Langobardia Minor (Central-Southern Italy) in 1047. Beginning his career there as a brigand, he eventually (but briefly) found employ as a mercenary in the service of Pandulf IV of Capua. He left the following year, to seek service with his brother Drogo in Apulia, who granted him a fief.

Guiscard showed his mettle at the Battle of Civitate (June 18, 1053), distinguishing himself against a Papal coalition of Lombard, Italian and Swabian troops. Though outnumbered, the Normans, using guile and duplicity, succeeded in defeating the Papal forces and were even able to capture Pope Leo X, forcing him to sign numerous treaties advantageous to the Norman presence in Southern Italy.

In 1057 Guiscard succeeded his half-brother Humphrey of Hauteville as Count of Apulia over his elder half-brother Geoffrey. Together with Roger, his youngest brother, Robert Guiscard completed the Norman conquests of Apulia and Calabria.

One cannot continue writing on the subject of Robert Guiscard without taking a moment to comment on the character of this man, who played a pivotal role in the Norman conquest of Southern Italy/Sicily. Perhaps no better assessment of him was made than the one by Princess Anna Komnenos, daughter of Byzantine emperor (and Robert’s nemesis) Alexios I Komnenos.

“This Robert was Norman by descent, of minor origin, in temper tyrannical, in mind most cunning, brave in action, very clever in attacking the wealth and substance of magnates, most obstinate in achievement, for he did not allow any obstacle to prevent his executing his desire. His stature was so lofty that he surpassed even the tallest, his complexion was ruddy, his hair flaxen, his shoulders were broad, his eyes all but emitted sparks of fire, and in frame he was well-built ... this man's cry it is said to have put thousands to flight. Thus equipped by fortune, physique and character, he was naturally indomitable, and subordinate to no one in the world.” – Princess Anna Komnenos: The Alexiad, Book I, 1148.
Roger I of Sicily at the Battle of Cerami in 1063
Painted by Prosper Lafaye
The Norman campaign for the then Moslem-held island of Sicily began with the capture of the city of Messina by Robert and his brother Roger in 1061. In military terms, the capture of Messina was a joke! Roger launched the invasion at night with a force of only 300 knights. Robert stayed behind in Calabria with a much larger force (and most of the ships) in order to deceive the enemy. The Muslims, fearing an enemy of unknown size, abandoned the city and fled. The success of the Norman operation was no doubt due in part to intelligence supplied to them by Greek Christians living in the northeastern part of the island who travelled frequently back and forth across the Straits of Messina. With Messina now acting as a pied-à-terre, Robert and his brother could now move large numbers of knights and supplies onto the island from the mainland with no fear of harassment by Muslim ships, since there were no other friendly ports in the vicinity for them.

Quickly fortifying the city of Messina, Robert signed a treaty of alliance with Emir Ibn al-Timnah against Emir Ib al-Hawass. These two Islamic rulers had been at odds with one another for some time (so much for Islamic unity against the infidel!). By 1072 Robert had seized the city of Palermo. A year earlier the last Byzantine forces had departed from Southern Italy, further cementing the Norman hold on the region.

Robert Guiscard’s successes in Southern Italy and Sicily took him to new heights of power and hubris, for he now dared to challenge Emperor Alexios I Komnenos for control of the Byzantine Empire itself! Sailing in May, 1081 to Byzantium with an army of 16,000 men (including 1,300 Norman knights), Guiscard’s forces captured the main town on the island of Corfu on May 21st. Guiscard finally faced his nemesis personally in the Battle of Dyrrhachium on October 18, 1081. In a gruesome engagement, Guiscard and the Normans defeated the Byzantines (and almost killed their emperor). Alexios was able to flee, however, but not before losing 5,000 men!

Robert was unable to follow-up on his victory and take Constantinople. Alexios had paid the Holy Roman emperor Henry IV a bribe of 360,000 gold pieces to invade Northern Italy. Byzantine agents had also been instrumental in stirring up rebellions in the Norman-held regions of Apulia, Calabria and Campania. Robert was forced to return to Italy, leaving his son Bohemund to continue the campaign against Alexios. Bohemund, though a capable commander, was not his father. After Robert’s departure, Alexios was able to turn the tide against the Normans, capturing the city of Kastoria by November, 1083.

Robert, in the meantime, forced Henry IV to retire from Central Italy, and sacked the city of Rome in May, 1084. He then escorted the Pope back to his temporal/spiritual throne. Upon hearing the news of his son’s debacles, he set sail with a fleet of 150 ships to reclaim his lost possessions, reoccupying the island of Corfu and seizing the island of Kefalonia. However, he died of fever on July 18, 1085. Bohemund lost his father’s last remaining Adriatic possessions shortly afterwards. He later carved out a minor principality for himself during the First Crusade in the area surrounding the city of Antioch (modern day Antakya, Turkey), but succumbing to the hubris that all too often accompanies the acquisition of power, foolishly attacked Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who defeated him once again in 1108, forcing him to sign the humiliating Treaty of Devol, depriving him of disputed territories and effectively reducing him to the status of a vassal of the Byzantine Empire. He returned to his Italian dominions a broken man, never to return to the East again.

The last personage in this tale of a kingdom’s birth is Roger II, son of Robert Guiscard’s brother, Roger I of Sicily. If Rainulf was the Great Opportunist, Robert the Great Conqueror (and Bohemund the Great Failure!), to Roger II must be given the sobriquet of the Great Uniter. It was he who has the distinction of taking all the Norman possessions in Southern Italy and Sicily and uniting them into a single kingdom with a strong, centralized government; the first such government in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire.

It is perhaps fitting, therefore, that he who would unite the peoples of Southern Italy into a single kingdom would himself have come about from a uniting of peoples. Born on December 22nd, 1085 of a Norman father and an Italian mother (Adelaide del Vasto), Roger II first came to prominence on the death of his elder brother, Simon of Hauteville in 1105. He received the title “Count of Sicily” under the regency of his mother. In 1112 having reached the age of majority, he was proclaimed “now knight, now Count of Sicily and Calabria” and began his personal rule. He married his first wife, Elvira, daughter of King Alfonso VI of León and Castile, five years later.

In 1122, William II of Apulia, a cousin of Roger’s, died childless. Roger then claimed all the Hauteville family’s possessions in Southern Italy as well as the Principality of Capua. This claim, however, put him at odds with Pope Honorius II, who was leery of the growth of Norman power in Southern Italy. The Pope tried to mount a coalition against Roger (involving his own brother-in-law!) which ultimately failed. In consequence he was forced to recognize Roger as Duke of Apulia in 1128. 

Following the death of Pope Honorius two men claimed the papal throne, with Roger II throwing his support behind Antipope Anacletus II against Innocent II. As thanks for his support, Anacletus crowned Roger II King of Sicily on December 25th, 1130 in the city of Palermo.

Almost immediately the armies of France, England and the Holy Roman Empire came out against him! Rebellions (no doubt fostered with outside help) also broke out in Southern Italy. In ten years of fighting, Roger was able to crush the rebels and drive out the invaders. In the interim, Anacletus died and Innocent II was proclaimed Supreme Pontiff. Roger desired peace with him, but Innocent wished an independent Principality of Capua as protection against the Sicilian king, something Roger would not allow.

Anticipating an attack, Innocent invaded Roger’s domains at the head of a large army, but was ambushed and captured at Galluccio on July 22, 1139. Three days later Roger forced him to sign the Treaty of Mignano, recognizing his title as King of Sicily. The treaty also recognized his son Roger III as Duke of Apulia and another son, Alfonso, as Prince of Capua. Four years later Innocent II tried to abrogate the treaty, but a show of Royal military might (in the form of a march on Benevento) reaffirmed its legitimacy.

By freeing himself from obligations to foreign suzerains and crushing the power of noble vassals, Roger II paved the way for the establishment of a strong, central government headquartered in Palermo with himself as absolute monarch. In an effort at establishing a uniform system of rule, Roger II wrote the Assizes of Ariano, the Great Law of Sicily. It regulated all affairs of the kingdom, limiting the powers of the nobility and affirming that all subjects in the kingdom were equal under the law; an unheard of assertion prior to Roger’s reign! A great fleet was also built up under Roger’s auspices, making his kingdom the leading maritime power in the Mediterranean. 

Roger II was also inclined to surround himself with some of the most learned and able men of his time at his court. These men came from as far north as England and as far east as Antioch.
The one black mark on Roger’s reign was his using the Second Crusade (1147-47) to continue the Norman assault against the magnificent Byzantine Empire begun by his uncle, Roger Guiscard. Though he did not personally lead the invasion, his underlings (led by George of Antioch) processed it, sacking the cities of Corinth and Athens. These attacks no doubt further weakened an already enfeebled Byzantium, leaving it vulnerable to further encroachment by the Muslim Turks pouring into Anatolia from the East.

Roger II’s legacy, the Kingdom of Sicily, would endure (in various forms) over the next seven centuries, until its destruction at the hands of Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1861. We, the children of the kingdom, have a responsibility to ourselves and our posterity to reclaim our birthright. We will never do this, though, until we reclaim our ethnic identity as Sicilians (peninsular and island). It remains to be seen if we are up to the task.

Further reading:
• “The Normans in Sicily” by John Julius Norwich, Penguin Books, 1970.
• “The Norman Conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily” by Gordon S. Brown, McFarland & Co., 2003.
• “The Age of Robert Guiscard” by G.A. Loud, Pearson Education, 2000.
• “Roger II of Sicily: A Ruler Between East and West” by Hubert Houben, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

December 22, 2009

The Pipes of the Mezzogiorno

Metropolitan Museum of Art 

By Giovanni di Napoli

The bagpipes are an ancient instrument, dating back thousands of years; they're even mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 4:21). Here in America we normally associate the bagpipes with the Irish and Scottish, who have a long and storied tradition with this wonderful instrument. However, many Americans, even those of Italian ancestry, are unaware that Italy has an ancient bagpipe tradition of it's own. Ironically, this tradition is not in the North where there was more Celtic influence, but rather in the South, with its ancient Hellenic heritage.

Each year, beginning at the feast of the Immaculate Conception right through the Christmas season, peasant musicians, called pifferari e zampognari (fifers and pipers), make their way from town to town playing traditional songs. The pifferari e zampognari are so much a part of the Christmas tradition in Southern Italy that they have become customary characters, almost as obligatory as the Magi, in the elaborate Neapolitan presepio or Nativity scene (another venerable Southern Italian folk art dedicated to the holiday season).

Presepe depicting pifferari e zampognari
with the Holy Family by Susy Gatto

While the zampognari may not be as well known outside the Mezzogiorno as say the canzone napoletana (Neapolitan song) or the percussion-based tarantella, it is still an important part of Southern Italy's vast and impressive musical legacy. The clearly recognizable sound of the zampogna, as the instrument is known, fills the air bringing great joy to the Christmas celebration. This is best described by Jeff Matthews at Around Naples Encyclopedia:
"...Just as the songs of carolers on a snowy evening mean something to me, the zampogna and ciaramella [a double-reed oboe-like instrument] mean the same thing to a Neapolitan – a beauteous mixture of home, warmth, family and love, and like beauty, it is very difficult to describe, but when it happens, you know. The circumstances have to be just right: walking alone on a crisp December evening, caught up in a moment of childhood melancholy, when the cutting sound of the zampogna sweeps over you like a flash of light and you see the two pastoral figures playing music in the streets, these shepherds that Christian tradition links so intimately to the birth of the Saviour; that one transcendent simple instant becomes timeless and it is Christmas, for the shepherds are standing there as if they had just stepped away from the side of the Child for a moment to go and spread good tidings."
(L-R) Pifferari e zampognari by Antonio Caruso
Photos by of New York Scugnizzo
Further reading:
Zampogna (Neapolitan Bagpipes) by Jeff Matthews, Around Naples Encyclopedia
The Neapolitan Presepe by Jeff Matthews, Around Naples Encyclopedia
Zampogna and Zampognari, Made in South Italy Today

December 21, 2009

El Greco at the Onassis Cultural Center

Saint Demetrios on Horseback
by Donatos Bitzamanos

By Giovanni di Napoli
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Onassis Cultural Center in Manhattan to view their latest exhibit: The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete.

A huge fan of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), I couldn't wait to see the exhibit. Despite the fact that I had up to February 27, 2010, to do so, I braved the cold weather and made my way through the hoards of tourists and frantic Christmas shoppers to visit the gallery as soon as possible.

The collection is primarily made up of El Greco's early iconic work. Anyone vaguely familiar with the Cretan master's characteristic style, which was a blending of Late Byzantine and Italian Mannerism, can't help but notice the contrast between his early years and his time in Toledo, Spain. The inclusion of The Coronation of the Virgin in the exhibit highlighted the stark differences between his early and later work.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the exhibit included the works of other 16th-century Cretan painters as well, among them Georgios Klontzas and Michael Damaskenos.

One particular piece that stood out to me was the beautiful Saint Demetrios on Horseback by Donatos Bitzamanos. Although Donatos was from Heraklion, Crete, the painting originates from Otranto, in Southern Italy, where he and his uncle (or brother), Angelos Bitzamanos, were known to have worked.

On loan from The State Hermitage Museum, the painting depicts Saint Demetrios slaying Tsar Kalojan of Bulgaria. Demetrios was martyred in the fourth century in Thessaloniki but legend has it that the saint killed Kalojan during the siege of 1207. According to the book catalogue the icon was made for personal devotion and that, "The choice of subject indicates that the patron came from Thessalonki and hoped that Saint Demetrios would help him destroy his enemies, just as he himself had killed Tsar Kalojan."

I encourage anyone with a general interest in European art, and Hellenic art in particular, to visit the OCC. This prestigious institution is committed to promoting Hellenic culture, and thanks to the professionalism and high quality of its exhibits (past and present) has earned a great reputation as one of New York City's premier cultural treasures. With free admission, it's a must visit.

Onassis Cultural Center
Olympic Tower Atrium
645 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10022

(212) 486-4448

Further reading: The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete, edited by Anastasia Drandaki, published by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), 2009.

No photographs were allowed at the exhibit so the photo of St. Demetrios (above) was reprinted for educational purposes from The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete.

December 18, 2009

UNICO National targets “Jersey Shore”

By Lucian

The disparaging of Italians in America is nothing new, but its continuation in today’s so-called “tolerant” society is enough to make me question what is really going on.

On Wed Dec 9, 2009, I found out that UNICO National is protesting MTV's new reality series "Jersey Shore" because of its negative portrayal of young Italians.

New York Post critic Linda Stasi described the show best:
"('Jersey Shore' furthers) the popular TV notion that Italian-Americans are gel-haired, thuggish ignoramuses with fake tans, no manners, no diction, no taste, no education, no sexual discretion, no hairdressers (for sure), no real knowledge of Italian culture and no ambition beyond expanding steroid- and silicone-enhanced bodies," … "Would that programming ever have been allowed if the group were African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Jewish people?"
In answer to her rhetorical question, no it would not be tolerated. The racial and ethnic groups mentioned by Stasi respond to anything even remotely derogatory against them. They also refuse to accept anyone else’s definition of what is derogatory, because they feel that, in this regard, their own definition is the only one that matters. As Europeans, Italians are not entitled to the same special protection gained from civil rights legislation, but that is not the point. These other demographic groups would be fighting back whether the government approved it or not, because they refuse to be pushed around. If Italians have a problem with the show, then they should adopt the same philosophy, and to their credit UNICO has.

UNICO has asked members to complain to MTV's advertisers, since their efforts began two advertisers (Domino's Pizza and American Family Insurance) have pulled out of the series. This is significant, many traditionally oriented groups tend to face their problems directly, as in calling the media network in question, or appeal to a higher power, as in writing letters to their congressmen. Neither approach is likely to get results without overwhelming numbers. The networks don’t care about who is “not watching their show” as long as they get enough people to watch it, they care about profit, not people’s feelings. Government officials might care if it alters campaign contributions or could sway an election; otherwise the letters are just a nuisance to them.
UNICO hit their detractors where they were weakest. The advertisers care about general sales, and they do indeed care about “who is not watching the show” if these people are boycotting their product. Without the advertisers the network loses profits, and then they start to care. Advertisers may also give political contributions, if they are swayed by a boycott then any politicians who they contribute to will also be paying attention to that. UNICO’s strategy was logical and highly effective.

Spencer Pratt, a former "Hills" cast member, came to the network's defense on Twitter: "Linda Stasi you should change your name to Linda Boring if you can't be entertained by young Italian-Americans enjoying youth and partying!" I guess that says a lot about him and what he cares about. He called a woman who has the courage to speak out against anti-Italian sentiment “boring.” Domino's Pizza and American Family Insurance didn’t seem to agree with Mr. Pratt when they pulled their support for the show.

One major media outlet reported that MTV New York offices received death threats because of the show but the network has denied the report. I don’t think that the network would have passed the opportunity to play the victim if the report was true. I believe that the dubious report was another underhanded attempt to portray Italians as vicious criminals. The funny thing is, if we were as violent and despicable as we are portrayed, then most people would be afraid to say so openly. The truth is that we are mostly a hard working and honest people, and we deserve respect.

December 15, 2009

Francesco Messina

Self Portrait
(Courtesy of
By Giovanni di Napoli

Francesco Messina was born on December 15, 1900 in Linguaglossa, a small town near Catania, languishing in the shadow of Mount Etna. Like many other poor Southerners he grew up outside his native Sicily, residing wherever his family could find work.

Instead of making the arduous trip across the Atlantic to the United States his father decided to try his luck in Genoa, a major port of call during the Mezzogiorno's post-unification diaspora.

In Genoa, Messina apprenticed as a marble cutter. At an early age he showed great artistic ability carving cherubs for cemeteries. Clearly destined to be a sculptor the boy practiced tirelessly, developing his skills in various media and excelling in terra cotta and bronze.
By the age of twenty he was already presenting his work in major European exhibits. The Sicilian had a great fondness for depicting the human form and was a proponent of naturalism in sculpture at a time when it was unfashionable.

In 1932 Messina moved to Milan. Two years later he was appointed the chair of sculpture at the Brera Art Academy. From here he toured Europe, studying the masterworks of the ancients. He won the prestigious Biennale Internazionale prize for sculpture in Venice in 1942.

After he retired from his position at Brera, in 1971, Messina needed a new studio to work. With the permission of the municipality of Milan the celebrated artist renovated, with his own money, the dilapidated Church of San Sisto, at Carrobbio. This is how the ancient building, founded by the last Lombard king–Desiderius, was preserved and became the Francesco Messina Museum and Studio.

Today the Sicilian master's works can be found in museums, public squares and private collections around the world. They are highly prized. Francesco Messina passed away in Milan on September 13, 1995.

Further reading:
• Messina: Graphic Works Edited by Guido Guastalla, Graphis Arte Editore, 1973