August 24, 2010

The Legacy Of Our Buried Past

Vesuvius looming over the temple of Jupiter at Pompeii 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Lucian 
The anniversary of the destruction of Pompeii reminded me of my visit to the ruins. It was easy to feel that greatness while walking among the stones of the ancient city, preserved for centuries by the deadly ash of Vesuvius. It also humbled me to behold the legacy of the eruption, a destructive force of nature that, within a day, turned a vibrant city into a tomb.
Vesuvius has erupted several times since Pompeii. The last was in 1944, destroying a B-25 Bomber group located in Capodichino Airport (Aeroporto di Napoli, Capodichino) in Naples. The Allied occupational forces, which had taken the city a few months earlier, assisted in evacuating nearby villages. This was a relatively minor eruption compared to 1906, 1872, or 1631. Earlier eruptions during the Roman Empire caused ash to fall as far as Constantinople. In 1845 the Osservatorio Vesuviano (geological observatory) was opened in the Kingdom of Naples, and is the oldest scientific institution dedicated to studying volcanoes. Surviving the Risorgimento, it was allowed to continue its work, and can still be seen today after miraculously escaping the lava flows of the 1872 eruption.
Remains of a victim
Volcanic eruptions have always been a threat in the Mezzogiorno. Etna, Vesuvius, and the Phlegrean Fields (Campi Flegrei) are all still active. The Marsili volcano, located under the Tyrrhenian Sea approximately 150 km west of Naples, can erupt at any time, causing tidal waves the length of the Italic peninsula and Sicily. I’m sure that the Italian government has emergency plans in the event of disaster, but their inability to stop corrupt officials and organized criminals from dumping dangerous toxic waste in Naples itself gives me little confidence in how well they could handle such an emergency. Perhaps I’m being unfair to them. When I see average people in Europe or America unable to handle normal or trivial events, I’m surprised that natural selection hasn’t caught up with them, so I guess it makes sense that the leaders they help elect might not meet our expectations. The condition of Western society these days brings to mind a quote from Oswald Spengler:
"Faced as we are with this destiny, there is only one world-outlook that is worthy of us, that which has already been mentioned as the Choice of Achilles — better a short life, full of deeds and glory, than a long life without content. Already the danger is so great, for every individual, every class, and every nation, that to cherish any illusion whatever is deplorable. The march of time cannot be halted; there is no question of prudent retreat or clever renunciation. Only dreamers believe there is a way out. Optimism is cowardice.

“We are born into this time and must bravely follow the path to the destined end. There is no other way. Our duty is to hold on…without hope, without rescue, like that Roman soldier whose bones were found in front of a door in Pompeii, who, during the eruption of Vesuvius, died at his post because they forgot to relieve him. That is greatness. That is what it means to be a thoroughbred. The honorable end is the one thing that can not be taken from a man.” (Oswald Spengler, Man and Technics)
Pompeii is a reminder that our ancestors survived in very difficult times, and still managed to be pragmatic, creative and disciplined. This is not to say that all of our ancestors were nice people, but who can seriously make that claim. At least I can respect them, more so than I do many people today.
Ruins of Pompeii
I have heard mean spirited anti-southern slogans such as “Go Etna!” or “Go Vesuvius!” which enthusiastically assert that a volcanic explosion obliterating Sicily or Naples would be a wonderful thing. That they could wish something like this on Southern Italians is worse than repulsive, and to wish for the destruction of our land and history as well is a crime against civilization. 

Why bury the history of the Southern Italian people? What would be the purpose of doing this to anybody? Unfortunately such actions are common throughout history and continue today, and our homeland was, and still is, a frequent target. Many treasures of the past were willfully destroyed by successive regimes since the fall of Rome, most recently during the Second World War where both the Allied forces and the Germans deliberately destroyed ancient architecture or works of art. However, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Germans, under the direction of Heinrich Himmler, were far more likely to steal them or falsely claim credit for them.
Statue of Faun
As to why someone would do this, there is more than one opinion. There are those who claim that people with low self-esteem will try to tear down others in order to compensate for their own deficiencies, but some of them are as likely to claim that whoever disagrees with them is somehow mentally diseased and needs to be “cured.” It may comfort some people to believe that anyone who is oppressed is automatically moral and noble, or that the oppressors are always unintelligent brutes, but absolutes like this have more to do with propaganda than reality. Other claims are just as political, such as conquering an “inferior” people “for their own good.” Who on Earth wants that sort of help? In the case of Italy, the North has accomplished so much, from the ancient communes to the Renaissance, that to say their behavior is a result of low self-esteem or an inferiority complex is absolutely ridiculous. A more reasonable explanation for burying a people’s past is to make it easier to dominate them. Without their own culture, history and language to fall back on, a conquered people will more readily accept the viewpoint of their overlords. This explanation fits well into every situation where cultural leveling has been practiced or where inconvenient archeological findings threaten politically accepted views. There will always be those who wish to bury “offensive” facts under tons of cement, or volcanic ash, and hope that they will go away.

Statue of Apollo
I would like to think that Southern Italy’s well documented contribution to civilization would make it difficult to marginalize, but it is not as difficult as it would seem, and it is not the only historically significant region or people to suffer in that regard. Since The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies fell in 1861, the efforts to suppress our culture, history and languages have led to a profound lack of knowledge and understanding of our own past; but with some effort that knowledge can be reclaimed. To those who would wish Etna and Vesuvius to bury us as it did Pompeii, I will say that such an event can never erase us completely, because our volcanoes are themselves as much a part of us as that ancient city that was buried so long ago. During the Risorgimento, some Southern Italian resistance fighters aptly referred to themselves as “Sons of the Volcano.” Surrounded by history and woven into our mythos, Etna, Vesuvius, and the Phlegrean Fields will always be important parts or our rich cultural heritage.

Roman legends and Virgil’s Aeneid claim that the primary gateway to Hades is through Lake Averno in the Phlegrean Fields. It is located near Cumae, an area that was settled by Greeks as early as 700 B.C., which predates the Greek founding of nearby Naples by over 200 years. It was here that the Sibyl of Cumae, the prophetess of Apollo, spoke to Aeneas on his journey to the underworld. The region has archeological sites such as the Antrum of the Sibyl, the Terme Romana, the Amphitheatrum Flavium, Crypta Romana, and the recently uncovered temples of Jupiter and Apollo that fit well into Virgil’s account.
Telamon at the Forum baths
Mt. Etna, named after Aetna (Aitnê), a Sicilian nymph, was originally home to Adranus, a fire god worshiped by of the Sicils before the Greek settlements in Sicily. Adranus was driven out of his abode by Hephaestus, also known as Vulcan to the Romans. The Greek God of fire and the forge was originally said to reside in Lemnos. Greek colonists in Sicily moved the legendary forge of Hephaestus to Etna, the largest volcano in Europe. Under Etna Hephaestus and his assistants, the Cyclops, forged lightning bolts for Zeus and items of power for the gods and heroes of men. The fire that Prometheus gave to man was stolen from Hephaestus' forge. Mount Etna is supposed to contain a gateway to Tartarus, the lowest layer of Hades where the gods imprisoned and tormented their enemies for eternity. Aeschylus the poet said that the giant Typhon was imprisoned under Etna; his name is the origin of the word “Typhoon.” The rebellious giant Enceladus was slain and also buried there. Other giants were said to be buried or imprisoned beneath volcanoes, especially Etna, and their movements were said to cause the eruptions. Mimus, the brother of Enceladus, was supposed to be buried under Vesuvius by Hephaestus along with other giants, and their blood would flow up through the nearby Phlegrean Fields.
Statue of Diana
Vesuvius was said to be sacred to Hercules, and the town of Herculaneum was named in his honor. The eruptions of Vesuvius sometimes had odd timing, leading people throughout the ages to credit the gods. The day before the eruption of 79 A.D. the Romans observed Vulcan’s holiday (Vulcanalia), and celebrated in the name of their god of fire, unaware of their impending doom. Not only did Vesuvius destroy Pompeii, but also the towns of Herculaneum, Cossa, Leucopetra, Oplontis, Stabiae, Sora, Tora, and Taurania. Pliny the elder was killed by the eruption. His nephew, Pliny the Younger, recorded the events that as he saw them that day. Because of his detailed descriptions, the type of eruption that he witnessed is now called “Plinian.”

Even Christians have included Vesuvius in their legends, it is said that when Lucifer was cast from Heaven he fell to Mt. Vesuvius and proceeded to destroy everything in his fury. Seeing this from Heaven, Christ wept and one of his tears fell to Vesuvius and miraculously caused a vine to grow, eventually renewing the land. The wine Lacryma Christi (Christ’s tears) is named after the legend and is produced at Vesuvius. The volcano has been associated with vineyards and fertile soil for millennia. 

If you plan to visit Pompeii, consider touring the vineyards on the slopes of Vesuvius as well. For though Vesuvius is a bringer of destruction and death, it also brings the land fertility and life.

August 18, 2010

Movie Review: "The Sicilian Girl"

Basquiat playing at the same theater
was an ill omen.
Spoiler Alert!
By Niccolò Graffio and Giovanni di Napoli
"You have died for what you believed in, but without you, I too am dead" — Rita Atria, diary
Last Saturday (August 14, 2010) Niccolò Graffio and I went to Manhattan's Film Forum movie theater to see Marco Amenta's "The Sicilian Girl," a movie loosely based on the short life of Rita Atria, a young girl whose testimony played a crucial part in the convictions of several Mafiosi back in the 1990's. Normally I don't subscribe to Mafia genre films because I feel they tend to glorify gangsterism and promote negative stereotypes about Southern Italians, especially Sicilians. However, I was curious to see how the heroic Paolo Borsellino, a Sicilian magistrate assassinated in 1992 for his anti-Mafia crusade, and Rita Atria, the daughter of a murdered Don, were portrayed.
Typical of the movie industry, they took an incredible story and snuffed the life out of it. In fact, they didn't even have the courtesy of naming Borsellino's character (played by the talented Gérard Jugnot) who was simply referred to as "the prosecutor." I'm aware the movie was called "The Sicilian Girl" and focused primarily on Rita "Mancuso" (Veronica D'Agostino), but after the murder of her beloved father and brother, Borsellino was a major, almost father-like figure in Atria's life. It was, after all, his murder that led to her decision to kill herself. In Rita’s suicide note (which the movie egregiously left out for a more mawkish ending) she wrote, "I am devastated by the killing of Judge Borsellino. Now there's no one to protect me, I'm scared and I can't take any more." (quoted from The Independent, Monday, September 21st, 1992)
Niccolò Graffio: Giovanni, like you, I'm not a fan of gangster movies. The genre historically shows these criminals in a positive, almost envious light. Let's not also forget the fact the bulk of these movies are poorly written and executed. Even those that are well-written and produced, like The Godfather and Scarface suffer from this moral defect. To me, that shows extremely poor judgement on the part of those in the movie industry. With the very rare exception of movies like Matteo Garrone's brilliant Gomorrah, which ripped the face off the Neapolitan crime syndicate known as the Camorra and laid it bare for the world to see, we can safely say the days of Little Caesar are long gone.
As for the charge of promoting ethnic stereotypes? Well, the late Art Buchwald, in a syndicated article he wrote several years before his death, charged that anti-Italianism (i.e. against Southern Italians) is the last socially acceptable form of ethnic bigotry left in America. Certainly Shark Tale and TV shows like Jersey Shore are indicative of that fact. I can't for the life of me imagine any movie or TV production company churning out films about Jewish or black gangsters for very long and avoiding the charge of racism.
As for this film? I too, had a number of problems with it from the beginning. It was understood, and not even tacitly I might add, this was a movie about the life of the late Rita Atria. Why then the need to change the name of the central character? The ending leaves no doubt as to the true identity of "Rita Mancuso", so the defense of legal formalities is bogus. Despite this, the movie actually did pick up a little steam as it went along, then came crashing down in the last 20-25 minutes.
Giovanni di Napoli: Aside from the Borsellino slight and sentimental pap, my biggest problem with the film was the lax security during Rita's time under the witness protection program. I don't want to give too much away, but I find it very difficult to believe the Italian authorities, no matter how impotent they may be against organized crime and corruption, would have allowed their key witness in a major Mafia trial the freedom to come and go as she pleased without constant surveillance and protection. It was almost like watching the bumbling FBI agent, Barney Coopersmith (Rick Moranis) guard the "lovable" gangster, Vincent Antonelli (Steve Martin) in the 1990 Mafia spoof, "My Blue Heaven."
NG: Incredulity has always been a hallmark of the film industry, yet the viewer is to believe this young lady, a leading witness in one of the biggest anti-mafia trials of the time, was allowed to come and go as she pleased in a country that is riddled from top to bottom with corruption and organized crime. Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone travelled with heavy security; that didn't stop them from being murdered.
GdN: The joke about the disclaimer that states it’s "Based On A True Story" and “only the names, places and facts have been changed" being the most unbelievable part of any movie most definitely applies here. I should have kept my usual aversion towards "mafia films" and never have suggested it. I only hope this film doesn't discourage people from researching the true life-stories of courageous individuals like Rita Atria, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, whose memories deserve better than this movie.
NG: Two other things about this film I didn't like: the total omission of the courage of Rita Atria's sister-in-law, Pierra Aiello. In fact, she isn't even mentioned in the film. Another is the way Rita is portrayed as being driven by a desire for vengeance. That was undoubtedly true in the beginning, but as excerpts from her diary show, as time progressed she came to realize the world she grew up in was fatally flawed and needed to be changed. Had this epiphany been more graphically illustrated, along with the deep emotional bond that developed between her and "the prosecutor", it would have added a more human dimension to this sadly predictable and formulaic piece of cinema. All together this was a bad film and I recommend people avoid it. Rita Atria and Paolo Borsellino deserved better.

August 16, 2010

Discovering The Riace Warriors

Riace Warrior: Statue A
Photo courtesy of Calabria: The Other Italy
On August 16, 1972 Stefano Mariottini, a young chemist from Rome, was on holiday in Monasterace, a small town in the Southern Italian province of Reggio Calabria. Enjoying the pristine waters of the Riace Marina, located along the magnificent Ionian Coast, Mariottini made a discovery that has been referred to as "one of Italy's most important archaeological finds of the last 100 years."

While swimming—almost 340 yards off the coast and about 27 feet deep—Mariottini spotted an arm protruding from the sandy sea floor. So lifelike was the limb he thought he found a corpse. The startled diver soon realized that the lifeless appendage belonged to a bronze statue. Upon further inspection he found the leg of a second statue sticking out of the seabed.

Excited by his discovery, Mariottini reported his find to the authorities. With his help the Carabinieri unit from Messina, Sicily—supervised by the Archaeological Superintendency of Reggio Calabria—recovered the sunken statues from their watery resting place with air balloons. A crowd of curious locals and vacationers gathered on the beach and watched intently as the statues were rescued. They applauded with great delight as they were brought ashore.

The initial restoration was done at the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria, but lacking the sophisticated equipment necessary to clean the statues thoroughly, the bronzes were transported up north to the Superintendency of Antiquity in Florence, Tuscany. The restoration was completed in 1980 and the statues were finally made available to the public, first at the Museo Archeologico in Florence, then in Rome at the Palazzo del Quirinale, where an estimated million people visited them. They were eventually returned to the prestigious Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria where they draw well over 100,000 visitors annually.

The statues have been nicknamed the "Hero" and the "Strategist" for their apparent characteristics. It's said statue "A" or the "Hero," "emanates an almost savage warlike force." While Statue "B," "emanates an image of conscious and civil humanity." Both depict lifelike nude warriors that once bore shields and lances. The Strategist also wore a Corinthian helmet. No trace of their armor or weapons remain. Analysis has dated them from the fifth century B.C.

Riace Warrior: Statue B
Photo courtesy of Calabria: The Other Italy
Not long after their discovery a debate ensued over the statue's origins. Some believe that they were cast overboard by a ship in distress looking to lighten up its load during a terrible storm. The vessel could have been a Roman 
trireme laden with booty and slaves returning from the conquest of Greece. Others claim that the statues stood proudly on the bridge and went down with the ship. The proximity to the shore and the smashing waves explains why over the course of time no wreckage or significant debris was discovered at the location.

Scholars can't even agree on who the statues represent. Are they gods from Olympia or Homeric heroes? Both Miltiades, the hero of Marathon, and Pericles of Athens have been suggested. Many other hypotheses, including the heroic Theseus, Cecrops, Erechtheus, Pandion I and II, Anthiocus, Acamante and Codrus, have been put forward.

There is just as much dispute over the identity of the artist(s). Some have put forward Pytagorus of Rhegion, Onatas of Aegina, Alkemenes and Polyclites of Argo as the possible sculptors. Others postulated that they could detect the hand of Kalamas or Myron. However, most believe they were both the work of the great Phidias of Athens.

The contention these statues came from Greece, while popular with many historians, is simply not supported by any historical evidence. They could have easily originated in Asia Minor or Southern Italy. Before Rome set out to conquer the Peloponnese it first conquered Magna Graecia (Southern Italy). For example, the Italiote city-state of Taros (modern Tàranto, in Puglia) was a thriving and influential metropolis. It was founded in 706 B.C. by Lakonian Greeks on a strategic peninsula between the Mare Grande and the Mare Piccolo. As early as the 4th Century B.C. it had a population of 300,000 people. However, during the Second Punic War the Tarantines sided against Rome and in 209 B.C. Taros was sacked by Quintus Fabius Maximus. The city's walls were toppled, it's inhabitants deported and its treasure plundered, including all marble and bronze statuary.

Whatever their story may be the fact remains that the Riace warriors are two of the finest examples of ancient Greek sculpture existing today.

Further reading:
• The Riace Bronzes and the Museo Nazionale of Reggio Calabria by Maria Gullì and Marcello Partenope
• The Greek Cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily by Luca Cerchiai, Lorena Jannelli and Fausto Longo

August 14, 2010

The Wizard of Oz: B.A. Santamaria: One Against the World

Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria (1915-98)
Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Au
By Niccolò Graffio
That cause is strong which has, not a multitude, but one strong man behind it.” – J.R. Lowell: Speech in Chelsea, Mass., Dec. 22nd. 1885
A common complaint heard in many quarters these days is that we as individuals are powerless to effect any real change in society. The powers that be have vast political, financial (and military) resources behind them to enforce their will upon us, members of the Great Unwashed. People who rail against real or perceived injustices, when asked the obvious question of why they don’t do something about it, invariably respond: “One man can’t make a difference.”
Truth be told, this is a complaint that is as old as civilization itself. It is the excuse of the indolent, the apathetic, and especially of the cowardly. One need only pour over the pages of history books to read the biographies of multitudes of people of common birth who, through little more initially than sheer force of will, sought to remake the world around them into their own image, for better or for worse.
In previous articles on this blog this writer has dealt with members of our ethnos, the denizens of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, who have made their mark in the pages of the history books, either in the supplanting pseudo-nation known as Italy, or here in the United States of America. It must be remembered, however, that numerous other Sicilians*, following the destruction of our homeland in 1861, chose to resettle in other parts of the globe. This article is dedicated to one of them; a man of common birth who ignored the admonition “One man can’t make a difference” to make a difference in his adopted homeland in ways which apparently even he never realized.
Bartholomew Augustine “B.A.” Santamaria was born on August, 14, 1915 in the city of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. His parents were immigrants from the Aeolian Islands off the north coast of Sicily. His father, a greengrocer, made enough from his shop to send young “Bob” to St. Ambrose, a Roman Catholic primary school which was located behind the elder Santamaria’s shop.
From there he went to St. Joseph’s in North Melbourne, a school run by the Christian Brothers, a Catholic lay order founded in Waterford, Ireland in 1802. He finished his secondary education at St. Kevin’s College, graduating at the top of his class. He graduated with an M.A. in arts and law from the prestigious University of Melbourne, one of the top universities in Australia and the world.
Immersed in Catholic political and social activism, he took to it vigorously at an early age. While at the University of Melbourne he became a leading Catholic student activist, speaking out publicly in support of the forces of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Though he denied ever being a Fascist, he was also initially supportive of the regime of Benito Mussolini. However, he withdrew that support in 1936 when Mussolini signed the Rome-Berlin Axis with Adolf Hitler of Germany. Santamaria never liked Hitler and the Nazis, believing them to be vicious and their principles antithetical to Catholic teachings.
In 1939, at the age of 24, Bob Santamaria married an Australian woman named Helen. They would go on to have eight children. Though she never was publicly assertive as he was, references to them in letters he wrote to friends indicated his family was of central importance in his life. While several of his children became prominent in various professions, none of them would follow their father into political activism.
In 1936 Bob Santamaria, together with a group of other Catholic activists, founded the newspaperCatholic Worker, a periodical heavily influenced by Catholic teachings, especially those contained in the Papal encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII. This was an open letter, sent to Catholic bishops throughout the world, addressing the needs of members of the working classes. Among other things, it rejected Communism and unrestricted Capitalism while reaffirming the rights of people to private property. It also supported the rights of workers to form labor unions.
While Catholic Worker was opposed to Communism, it saw unrestricted Capitalism as the main enemy. Though initially supportive of this position, Santamaria eventually came to view Communism, as expressed in the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), as the greater threat. In spite of the fact the CPA never represented a significant threat to the established political order of Australia, it nonetheless exerted quite an influence on trade unions, social movements and the national culture itself. It was this influence that Santamaria took upon himself to oppose.
In 1937 Bob Santamaria was appointed head of the National Secretariat of Catholic Action, a lay Catholic organization, by Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne. Mannix, a religious and political conservative, shared Santamaria’s concerns about the growing influence of Communism in Australia. During WWII Santamaria caused controversy by gaining an exemption from military service. Critics believed this exemption was gained through the influence of Archbishop Mannix and James Scullin, Australia’s first Catholic Prime Minister, in order that Santamaria might be able to continue his work at undermining Communist influence in Australia.
In 1941 Santamaria founded the Catholic Social Studies Movement, known more commonly as “the Movement” or Groupers, to recruit Catholic activists to aid him in overturning Communist influence in Australian trade unions. One of the chief tactics used by the Groupers was to infiltrate and gain control of the Industrial Groups, organizations formed by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in the 1940s to combat growing Communist influence in the labor union movement. This worked so well that by the late 1940s the Groupers were in control of a number of labor unions.
This tactic put Santamaria at odds not only with the CPA but also with leftist elements of the ALP who felt they should ally themselves with the Communists to present a united front during the war. Following the end of WWII and the rise of the Cold War, Santamaria became increasingly alienated from the ALP. Things came to a head in 1954 when Herbert V. Evatt, then head of the Labor Party, publicly blamed Santamaria and his followers for causing Labor’s loss in Federal elections. The following year Santamaria’s parliamentary followers were expelled from the Party. In turn, this action brought down the Labor governments in the states of Victoria and Queensland.
Though Archbishop Daniel Mannix continued to support Santamaria, the actions of Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy of New South Wales, a very influential prelate, officially ended Vatican support for the Groupers. Unlike Mannix, Gilroy favored continuing the relationship between the Church and the Labor Party.
In response to this, Santamaria founded the National Civic Council (NCC), an organization not affiliated with Catholic Action (and therefore under his direct control). He also edited its official newspaper, News Weekly (then called Freedom). Santamaria’s parliamentarian followers who had been expelled from the ALP formed their own party, the Democratic Labor Party, which lasted until 1978. Though he never officially joined it, Santamaria exerted a strong influence behind the scenes.
On November 2nd, 1963 Santamaria’s beloved Archbishop Daniel Mannix passed away, ending the last vestiges of Roman Catholic support for Santamaria and his policies.
Throughout the Vietnam War era he continued to rail against the evils of Communism and was an outspoken proponent of the governments of South Vietnam and the United States of America in that conflict. Beginning in the 1970s, however, his influence in Australian politics began to wane considerably. By 1982, there was a schism in the NCC, with the Grouper-controlled labor unions leaving to return to the fold of the ALP.
While his political clout faded, his personal stature increased. A staunch Catholic traditionalist, he opposed liberal and non-traditional trends in mainstream Catholic thought that arose following the Second Vatican Council.
Old age did not slow him down, either. Throughout the remaining years of his life he remained adamantly opposed to abortion, Communism, unrestricted Capitalism, homosexuality, euthanasia and secular humanism. He also wrote extensively against credit creation, debt-based money and private ownership of large banking institutions, believing these latter things effectively handed over Australian economic sovereignty to banks in places like New York, Frankfurt and London.
In 1980 his wife Helen died. He later married his long-time secretary, Dorothy Jensen. He lived long enough to see the fall of the USSR and the world Communist movement, two things he had spent his entire adult life opposing with vituperation. On February 25th, 1998 he passed away from an inoperable brain tumor at Caritas Christi Hospice Kew in Melbourne at the age of 82. Archbishop (later Cardinal) George Pell of Melbourne, a conservative who was a long-time supporter and admirer of Bob Santamaria, delivered the panegyric to him at his (state) funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was attended by thousands.
Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria’s legacy is that of a highly divisive figure in Australian political history. Conservatives praised him on his death for his undaunted, lifelong opposition to Communism. Catholic activists extolled him for his adherence to traditional Church teachings, especially those concerning faith and family.
Leftists, on the other hand, usually demonized him as a McCarthyist-type figure who exaggerated the threats posed by Communism to sabotage the very working classes whose cause he claimed to espouse. Yet some leftists (like ex-Cabinet Minister Clyde Cameron and Governor-General Bill Hayden) praised him for his continued and consistent criticisms of the deleterious effects of unfettered Capitalism, especially “pro-Market” reforms, which Santamaria blamed for reducing real wages of Australian workers.
Ironically, Santamaria ultimately considered himself and his Movement a total failure. He repeated this contention several times before his death. Yet there is evidence his legacy and its guiding principles have not only survived him, but have in fact found fertile ground in Australian society.
In 2004 Santamaria’s children donated 150 boxes of his working papers to the State Library of Victoria, insuring their survival and dissemination. Many of these documents were later deposited in the B.A. Santamaria Library in Perth. Scholars are even now pouring over them to gain a greater insight into the mind of the man who was unquestionably one of the most influential political figures of 20th century Australia.
Time will tell if B.A. Santamaria was, as he believed, a failure, or if in fact he laid the seeds for the future of Australia.
Further reading:
Patrick Morgan: Your Most Obedient Servant: B.A. Santamaria Selected Letters 1938-1996, Melbourne University Publishing, 2007

August 8, 2010

To Hell and Back

Faust, etching by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
"Hell, you call it?" asked Don Quixote. "Call it by no such name, for it does not deserve it, as you shall soon see."
~ Miguel de Cervantes
The Neapolitan saying Vedi Napoli e poi muori, or "See Naples and die," was coined during the eighteenth century, when the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was a popular destination on the Grand Tour. This cultural excursion to Europe's principle cities, a conventional undertaking by Northern Europe's well to do as part of their education, was considered incomplete if Naples wasn't included. The expression, often attributed to the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), is not as ominous as it may first appear. It quite simply means: After visiting Naples one can die content, having seen everything worth seeing in life. Considering the opulence and prestige of eighteenth and nineteenth century Naples this was no idle boast.

Naples was Europe's third largest city, behind only Paris and London. It was a major center for Baroque art and architecture, as well as music. In 1735 HRH King Charles of Bourbon established the first university chair of astronomy in Naples. In 1748 full-scale excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum were begun. On September 27th, 1818 its arsenal launched the Real Ferdinando I, the first steamship of the Mediterranean. In 1819 HRM King Ferdinand I founded the Astronomical Observatory (Osservatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte). It was the first scientific center of its kind in Europe. The Naples-Portici railroad, built in 1839, was the first on the continent. Naples was by far Italy's most industrial and affluent state. Over the years countless writers, artists, musicians and scientists from across Europe made the pilgrimage to the "picturesque" South and partook in her many splendors. It truly was Naples' Golden Age.

Admittedly, this was not always the case. Under the Spanish viceroyalty (1504-1703) the local superstitions and religious peculiarities of the lazzaroni (Naples' lumpen-proletariat) offended Spanish Catholic sensibilities, which gave rise to the Inquisition and the Jesuits' "civilizing mission." This, of course, led to another famous saying about the South: A paradise inhabited by devils. However, this "interregnum" period was preceded by centuries of rule, sometimes good and sometimes bad, by the Aragonese, Angevins, Hohenstaufen and, of course, the Altavilla, under whose dominion the Regno has been called, "The Kingdom par excellence." Going back further still, the Romans called the region Campania Felix, or happy land, for its great fecundity.

Sadly, those days are long gone. The city's popularity began to wane during Napoleon's rampage across Europe. The Piedmontese invasion in 1860 sealed its fate. Following the conquest and annexation into the Kingdom of Italy the once-proud capital was relegated to a provincial backwater, robbed of its wealth and prominence. Add to this the mass bombings by the Allies during WWII and the sabotage by the retreating Germans. The impoverished city has yet to recover from these devastations.

Today, Naples has a poor reputation. Unemployment and crime are high. It is often skipped by tourists, who (if they bother visiting Campania at all) usually visit Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii or the Amalfi Coast, instead. A new popular saying, Va fa Napoli, has replaced Goethe's. It literally translates into "go to Naples," but figuratively means "go to hell."

I'll never forget my first visit to Naples. It felt as though I returned home after a very long journey. If Carl Jung's theories about "racial memories" or "collective unconscious" are correct, over two thousand years of history is coursing through my veins, and this was never more heightened than when I was in the Siren City.

"Blood is a juice with curious properties," wrote Goethe (Faust). Everything, from the burial of spurned Parthenope at Megaride to the destruction of the Ostrogoths on the crags of Mons Lactarius near Mt. Vesuvius; the death of Romulus Augustus, the last Western Roman Emperor, to the ascension of Charles of Bourbon; the joyous return from the Battle of Lepanto to the sad departing of my ancestors on a steamship destined to New York Harbor, are all part of who I am.

If we are to remain a distinct people it's vital that we strengthen the bonds to our ancestral homeland and to our past. We must reject the scourge of rootless individualism that has reached grotesque proportions and return to the idea of an organic community. In other words, be a Nation and a People in the true sense of these words. Only by retaining our historical memory will we be able to forge our own destiny.

An excellent way for the diaspora community to bolster our identity is by visiting "the old-country" and experiencing the people and culture firsthand. Obviously, a short vacation doesn't make someone an expert (there is, after all, more to Naples than 'O Sole Mio and pizza) but like the Grand Tour of old, this will help us to reconnect with our unique patrimony. It will allow us to participate, albeit in a minor role, in Parthenope's grand narrative.

I understand that holidays to Europe are expensive and not always feasible, but if we cannot go there at the very least we can still support individuals and institutions that promote positive cultural initiatives here. There are countless things we can do. First and foremost, take the time to teach the younger generations. Read Giambattista Basile's fairy tales to your children; listen to the overtures of Domenico Cimarosa and classical guitar compositions of Ferdinando Carulli; attend lectures about the philosophy of Giambattista Vico or poetry readings featuring the prose of Salvatore Di Giacomo; visit museums exhibiting the works of Vincenzo Gemito, Salvator Rosa, or the antiquities of Magna Graecia; study our native tongues (Neapolitan, Sicilian, et al.). It will instill pride and a true identity.

I've been to "Hell," and like Sant'Antuono Abate before me I returned with fire and knowledge.

~ Giovanni di Napoli, August 6th, Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

August 5, 2010

La vita notturna

Simple pleasures mean so much to me. Anyone familiar with this blog must know by now that I take great joy in visiting museums or listening to good music. What they may not know is that I also love good food, but perhaps that was a given with me being Neapolitan.

Last night I caught up with some old friends of mine. We took the opportunity to get together for an enjoyable evening, taking a break from the stressful demands of the rat race. Something everyone should do more often. Looking forward to a good meal we went to Numero 28 pizzeria in the West Village (28 Carmine St.) for a late dinner.

Many places claim to specialize in "authentic" Neapolitan pizza, and I'm sure some of them even believe it, but it has not been my experience. To be honest I don't think that it will ever be possible to duplicate the pizza I ate in Napoli, it was almost a religious experience. However, Numero 28 comes very close. We had the amazingly delicious pizza capricciosa, a thin crusted work of beauty topped with tomato, mozzarella, olives, artichokes and ham, cooked to perfection in a brick oven in under two minutes by the pizzaiolo (pizza maker).

More than "just" pizza, we also ordered the Insalata di rucola, and their signature pasta dish Linguine Numero 28, a perfectly cooked plate of pasta, smothered with cherry tomatoes, wilting arugula and shaved parmesan. With their excellent food, welcoming ambience and friendly service, I will definitely be going back.

Afterward, we took a passeggiata, or stroll, around the neighborhood. Taking in the warm summer air and city sites, we talked some more about art, politics and life in general.

As we made our way back to the car I noticed a sign on a park fence that earlier escaped my attention: Vesuvio Playground. The sign read that the park (formerly Thompson Playground) was renamed after a local Neapolitan bakery on Prince St. in honor of the late owner, Anthony Dapolito, known as the "mayor of Greenwich Village" for his community activism. Vesuvio Bakery has been a neighborhood favorite since 1920, and still is.

Mr. Enigma: The Strange Life and Even Stranger Fate of Ettore Majorana

Ettore Majorana
By Niccolò Graffio
“There is no great genius without a touch of dementia.” – Seneca: De tranquilitatate anime, XV, c. 62 AD. 
“When Ettore first arrived at Via Panisperna to meet Fermi, the institute was struggling to solve what is now known as the universal Fermi potential, an essential tool for doing calculations in atomic physics. Fermi had managed to tabulate some regions of the potential, doing a giant number of sums essentially by hand (this was before computers), and although the results looked promising, they were still inconclusive. Fermi explained to Ettore why there were still such gaping holes in his table and why no one had been able to fill them. Ettore asked a few short questions, then left in the enigmatic style that would become his trademark.
The next day he returned and asked Fermi to show him the table again. Ettore then produced a piece of paper, did a few quick calculations, and congratulated Fermi on having made no mistakes. When Fermi looked surprised, Ettore went to the blackboard and wrote out a simple mathematical transformation converting the impenetrable problem into a well-known textbook equation. The picture of the full potential sprang into focus. Jaws duly dropped. Young Ettore was much given to theatricality.” – Joao Magueijo: A Brilliant Darkness – The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, the Troubled Genius of the Nuclear Age, X, Basic Books, 2009.
Thus, with that staggering display of cognition, the brilliant young Sicilian physicist by the name of Ettore Majorana entered the world stage. By no means, though, would it be the last time he would impress his peers with his genius.
Students studying Physics nowadays invariably learn the names of many of the “greats” this field has produced; men like Isaac Newton, Enrico Fermi, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and of course, Albert Einstein, to name a few. The contributions to the field these men produced can (and has) filled libraries.
Less well known, though certainly no less great than these intellectual giants was the innocuous-looking young man who managed to stun future Nobel Prize-winner Enrico Fermi.
Ettore Majorana was born in Catania, Sicily on August 5th, 1906. A child prodigy, he was able to do cube roots in his head while other children his age were still trying to master the ‘art’ of playing marbles. His parents, who often showed off his intellectual prowess to others, would not allow young Ettore to play with neighborhood children. Thus, he spent his youth in isolated loneliness, which would have a profound effect on his later personality.
When he was old enough for college, he chose civil engineering at the urging of his father. However, he later changed his major (on impulse) to theoretical physics at the behest of future Nobel Laureate Emilio Segré, who recognized in young Ettore his innate brilliance. This did not sit well with his family. Physics at that time was not considered the respectable field it is today. As a result, relations with his parents would remain strained for the remainder of his short life. This reaction was odd given the fact his paternal uncle, Quirino Majorana, was also a physicist.
While in university, he befriended Giovanni Gentile Jr., son of the infamous “philosopher of Fascism”, who at that time was a junior professor at the Institute of Physics in Rome. In 1928, while still an undergraduate, he coauthored a paper with Gentile Jr. It was an early quantitative application to atomic spectroscopy of Fermi's statistical model of atomic structure.
As mentioned earlier, Ettore Majorana first came to public attention when he showed up at the Via Panisperna Institute. The “Via Panisperna boys” as they were dubbed by the Italian media, were treated to the visage of this interloper: short and slender, with black hair, olive skin and dark but bright, vivacious eyes. A textbook example of the Mediterranean sub-racial type! His clothes were disheveled; his manner shy. He was not one given to small talk, preferring to ponder on whatever problem was at hand. He must have seemed to observers a caricature of a genius.
In contrast to him were Enrico Fermi and his crew at the institute, a raucous bunch who were little more than juvenile geniuses at play in what was then one of the leading physics research institutes on earth. Though most of the “Via Panisperna boys” (Fermi included) never became especially close to Majorana, all were in awe of his genius. An excerpt from a letter written in 1984 by Gilberto Bernardini, from the Florence group of Italian physicists, sums up the typical attitude towards Majorana by his peers:
“I avoided talking physics with Ettore because anything I could have told him would have been insignificant for him. As it happened to me with Pauli later, Ettore must have thought that it was more accessible for me and less banal for him, to communicate, for example, how good it was that he’d been born after Michelangelo and Beethoven.”
One notable exception to that rule was Enrico Fermi himself. As relayed by Emilio Segré, though Ettore Majorana remained aloof from his coworkers at the institute, Fermi enjoyed his (occasional) presence due to the fact that prior to his arrival Fermi felt “somewhat isolated because only Majorana could speak with him about theory on an equal footing.”
“Equal” is being generous, for in truth, Ettore Majorana was the intellectual superior of even the great Enrico Fermi, and Fermi knew it! Several of “the boys” at the institute later relayed the fact that Ettore Majorana was the only one of the bunch who would stand up to Fermi and treat him as an equal, rather than a superior. Emilio Segré stated that Fermi once reluctantly admitted: “If Majorana can’t figure it out, no one can” and again: “Ettore is more intelligent than me.” It must have been very disconcerting for a man who was a celebrated genius in his own right to make such statements.
In addition to Fermi, Majorana befriended other great physicists including Niels Bohr (who astonished Ettore with his prowess for consuming vast quantities of Carlsberg beer!) and Werner Heisenberg. In a letter to the latter, Majorana revealed to him that he had found not only a scientific colleague, but a warm, personal friend.
Another anecdote concerning Ettore’s genius comes from the physicist Giancarlo Wick. During a conversation with Fermi and Wick over the recent discovery of an unknown subatomic particle by Irene Curie and Frederic Joliot, Majorana predicted the particle would have to be neutral in charge and have a mass similar to that of the proton. He then went on to give his reasons why this should be so. Fermi was so impressed he urged Ettore to publish his hypothesis but Majorana refused. Later, James Chadwick would rightfully be given credit for discovering the existence of the neutron, though Majorana had predicted its existence fully three years earlier.
A number of colleagues, including Enrico Fermi, had stated one flaw in Ettore Majorana’s personality was that he often would not publish his hypotheses or seek credit for his work. This was because what he considered known to be banal. While other scientists craved the recognition of making a significant discovery, to Ettore, science was just one facet of his life. In fact, according to one source, when Chadwick announced his discovery of the neutron, Majorana was said to have joked: “Great! Now I don’t have to write anything!” This cavalier attitude was a source of acrimony between Majorana and Fermi at the institute. 
Majorana returned to Italy from Germany in the fall of 1933 in declining health (due to chronic gastritis). The ‘lone wolf’ physicist became even more reclusive, withdrawing from friends, colleagues and family to the point of becoming almost a hermit! His physical problems took a toll on his personality, causing him to plunge into periodic bouts of depression.
In 1937 he was appointed a full professor in theoretical physics at the University of Naples. He was given this prestigious position (and a higher than normal salary) without having to take any examination due to his "high fame of singular expertise reached in the field of theoretical physics.”
On March 27th, 1938 Ettore Majorana, after having withdrawn his life savings (the equivalent of about $70,000 in the monies of the time), took his passport and boarded a passenger ship from Palermo, Sicily bound for Naples. He would never arrive. To this day, no one is quite sure what happened to him. His body has never been found. As often happens in cases like this, loony conspiracy theories abounded. The two most likely scenarios, according to reputable authorities:
  • Suicide – his physical and mental health were poor. Prior to his departure for Naples, he left two messages which some have interpreted as suicide notes. Of all the hypotheses I have read concerning his disappearance, this one to me has the most credence.
  • Murder – some believe he took his passport with him because he was planning to visit his friend Emilio Segré in California (he was banished there by Mussolini’s government for the ‘crime’ of being a Jew). A “dirty little secret” of both the passenger and cruise ship industries is passengers do occasionally find themselves victims of crimes such as robbery, rape and even murder. Ettore Majorana was carrying a considerable amount of cash, making him a prime target for a thug.
Ettore Majorana is chiefly remembered for his theoretical work on neutrino masses, a currently active subject of research. He was considered prescient in this regard. Several terms in particle physics (Majorana equation, Majorana mass & Majorana particle) are named in honor of him.
The year 2006 marked the centenary of his birth. The Italian Physical Society published a commemorative book containing nine of his published papers. The Electronic Journal of Physical Research in that same year established an annual prize, the Majorana Medal, “for researchers who have shown peculiar creativity, critical sense and mathematical rigour in theoretical physics — in its broadest sense.”
"There are many categories of scientists, people of second and third rank, who do their best, but do not go very far. There are also people of first class, who make great discoveries, which are of capital importance for the development of science. But then there are the geniuses, like Galilei and Newton. Well, Ettore was one of these. Majorana had greater gifts that anyone else in the world; unfortunately he lacked one quality which other men generally have: plain common sense." - Enrico Fermi (as reported by Giuseppe Cocconi).
An ongoing international collaboration of physicists, the Neutrino Ettore Majorana Observatory (NEMO), is currently searching for neutrinoless double beta decay. In addition, a next generation experiment, dubbed SuperNEMO, is currently under construction and will be ready to begin sometime in 2012.

Beginning in 2009 the Albert Einstein Society Bern and the University of Bern, Switzerland initiated the Einstein Lectures. They take place every autumn and are given, in turn, by a physicist, a mathematician and a philosopher. The first Einstein Lecture was given by Prof. Frank Wilczek, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics in 2004. It was entitled “Majorana Returns”. 
That scientists involved in cutting edge research in particle physics would feel compelled to bestow such honors upon Majorana is proof of the profound impact the late, great Sicilian had on the field, even if the mass media and academics here in America still largely ignore him.

Further reading:
• Joao Magueijo: A Brilliant Darkness – The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Ettore Majorana, the Troubled Genius of the Nuclear Age; Basic Books, 2009 (Highly recommended reading! – NG)
• http://www.ccsem.infn.it/em/EM_genius_and_mystery.pdf
• http://www.ejtp.com/articles/ejtpv3i10p1.pdf
• http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/v5/n9/abs/nphys1380.html