October 29, 2010

"Gabriele d'Annunzio: Living Life as a Work of Art" at NYU's Casa Italiana

Portrait of Gabriele d'Annunzio at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò
By Giovanni di Napoli
"On the soles of my shoes, the heels of my boots I carry the earth of the Abruzzi, the mud of my estuary. When I find myself amongst strangers, isolated, different, wildly hostile, I sit down, cross my legs and gently shake my foot, which to me seems weighty with that ground, that bit of earth, that moist sand, and it is like the weight of a piece of armour—an iron defence." —Gabriele d'Annunzio, Suo se pondere firmat (Its very weight adds firmness). Quoted from Gabriele d'Annunzio: Defiant Archangel by John Woodhouse, Clarendon Press, 1998, p. 9.
Today I visited "Gabriele d'Annunzio: Living Life as a Work of Art," the latest exhibit at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, New York University's Department of Italian Studies. Running through December 15, 2010 the showing provides a small glimpse into the controversial life of Italy's "warrior bard."
Veiled bust of Eleonora Duse and a letter, which reads, "Veiled witness who suddenly, recognizing the fighter equal to the splendor of her foreboding, in the vows of her forgiveness wished for her own wound, deepened and poisoned to acquire again..."
Best remembered for his invasion of Fiume (Rijeka) in 1919, D’Annunzio was a veritable Renaissance Man. Born into a reasonably well-to-do family in Pescara, in the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy, he would go on to become a writer, pilot, soldier, WWI war hero, politician, adventurer, and perhaps, Italy's greatest modern poet. In 1924 he was given the title Prince of Montenevoso. His was a life of extraordinary deeds and pleasure with many military exploits and scandalous love affairs.
Placard showing his mistress Maria Gravina and daughter Renata
In an excellent review of the show by Inga Pierson at i-italy.org D’Annunzio was described thusly:
Born in March of 1863, D’Annunzio died in March of 1938. Historical circumstances effectively placed him between two worlds and perhaps, this serves to explain the many contradictions in his character. He was a passionate conservationist: he invented the term “cultural goods” (“beni culturali”) and the notion that these should be protected by a ministry of the State. And yet, no artist or writer embraced the turning of the 19th Century and the dramatic onslaught of modernity with quite the same vigor and energy. D’Annunzio was interested in science and technology, in sexuality and freedom, in women and fashion, in architecture, gardens and airplanes, ships and military offences, poetry and Nietzsche. He wanted to be a Prince and yet he founded a Republic in which women could vote and hold elected office almost 30 years before those rights would be recognized in Italy. He cultivated a monastic life-style and yet he continued to write, love and collect things with unyielding frenzy. He lived for luxury but insisted on the essential simplicity of beauty. ("The Secret Life of Gabriele D'Annunzio: a New Exhibit at NYU's Casa Italiana" by Inga Pierson, i-italy.org, Oct 10, 2010)
Silver eagle with diamonds for eyes
The Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò gallery has on display many placards detailing the various periods of the great poet's life, photos, and several interesting possessions from the extravagant Vittoriale, D'Annunzio's beloved villa on the shore of the Gardone Riviera in Northern Italy. Among my favorite pieces on exhibit were his model airplane, military uniform, and silver cast eagle head with diamonds.
D'Annunzio's uniform
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò
24 West 12th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)
Mon. through Fri. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
through December 15, 2010
Free admission

For more information visit http://www.casaitaliananyu.org/.

Also see the NYU press release:
"Exhibition on Italian Poet Gabriele d'Annunzio on View at NYU's Casa Italian Zerilli-Marimò"

October 23, 2010

A History of the Town of Palo Del Colle

Metope showing Herakles Slaying the giant Alkyoneus,
Paestum Archaeological Museum (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By John Stavola

The town of Palo del Colle is located about 15 km inland from the city of Bari. It is situated on a hill [hence the name "Pole on the Hill"] 177 meters above sea level and covers 100 square kilometers in area. The population at present is about 20,000.

The Roman author Pliny mentions the Palionenses as being of Greek origin. Coins from Taranto, found in the area, point to an organized civil structure of the Magna Grecia as far back as the 5th and 6th centuries BC. Magna Grecia referrs to the Greek colonies in Italy and Sicily.
An ancient inscription reading Herculea Proles, or descendants of Hercules shows that the Greek colonizers of Palo del Colle honored Hercules as their patron. The original coat-of-arms depicts Hercules ready for the defense of the town. Over time this figure was transformed into a knight in armor on horseback.

The hill on which Palo del Colle sits, dominates a wide ,flat territory. From here a large expanse of land and ocean makes the site ideally situated for military defense. Palo del Colle became the center of the Greek colony because of this position.

According to Pliny, Palo del Colle was classified as a "municipality" by the Romans and was left to administer it's own government because it would have been too difficult to conquer.

The hill on which Palo del Colle is located was considered sacred because Hercules had won a battle there. In Greek Palaion means "victor in the fight". The inhabitants were thus called the Palionnenses. In Latin it transformed to Palium, and into Italian as Palo. Palo could also have stood for palisade or walled fort as interpreted by the Romans. Palo del Colle's excellent defensive position and the courage and wisdom of it's inhabitants has made it an undefeated town. The ancient motto of the town serves as an invitation and also a warning:
"Ercole qui regna,dando al pacifico la pace e la guerra a chi la cerca." "Hercules rules here, providing peace for the peaceful and war to those seeking a fight."
(Reprinted with permission from Southern Italian History, Culture, and Genealogy blog)

October 17, 2010

Remembering a Hero: Salvo D'Acquisto

Salvo D'Acquisto
By Lucian

Salvo D'Acquisto was born in Naples on October 15th, 1920. In 1939, during the Fascist epoch, he voluntarily enlisted in the Carabinieri, which was at the time the first corps of the Italian army in addition to military/federal police (Gendarmerie).
A year later, shortly before the start of the Second World War, he was dispatched to Libya with the 608th Police Section. During his tour he was wounded but remained with his division until contracting malaria. In 1942 he returned to Italy, was sent to officer school and graduated as a vice brigadier (deputy sergeant).

After this Salvo was assigned to Torrimpietra, near Rome. In September of 1943, shortly after the remnants of the Italian government officially rescinded their alliance with the Axis, a German SS division was stationed near a derelict military installation in an area under the jurisdiction of Salvo’s outpost. This occurred during a very difficult time in Italy, their government was effectively useless and the country was under the direct control of either the German or Allied invaders. On September 22 two of these German soldiers were caught in an explosion while inspecting boxes of abandoned munitions. One was wounded and the other killed.

The German commander, Field Marshall Kesselring, was furious about the incident and blamed the deaths on “unnamed locals.” The next day he ordered his men to conduct searches and eventually detained 22 Italian men, all of who maintained their innocence through their interrogations. Salvo conducted an investigation, which led him to believe that the explosion was accidental, but Kesselring refused to listen. Later, the Italian military policeman was forcefully removed from his station on Kesselring’s orders and once again asked the names of those responsible for the “bomb.” Salvo responded that the explosion was accidental and none of the locals were responsible for it. This answer wasn’t good enough for Kesselring and he had Salvo beaten.

The 22 detainees were given shovels to dig their own mass grave. After a time it became obvious that the unreasonable Field Marshall was serious about his threat to execute them.

At this point 23-year-old Salvo D'Acquisto, military police officer and son of Naples, came to a decision. He knew that the Germans would not be satisfied until they killed someone, so he lied to them. He confessed to planting the "bomb" himself, took sole responsibility for it and demanded the release of the other men. The Germans in turn freed the 22 detainees, but only after Salvo voluntarily stood before their firing squad. Kesselring, his bloodlust finally given a “proper” target, then had his soldiers execute the brave Carabinieri.

No doubt some of the Germans had realized what Salvo had done, and his murder was poor payment to the Italian soldier considering that they were allies only a short time before.

Salvo D'Acquisto Memorial on the Via Toledo at Piazza Carità, Napoli 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
In true heroic tradition Salvo D'Acquisto voluntarily sacrificed his life to save the lives of 22 innocent men from Lazio. For this selfless act he is honored by the Carabinieri and is even a candidate for sainthood within the Catholic Church.

There was a popular quote used in the Italian war propaganda of that period:
“Better to live one day like a lion than a hundred years as a sheep”
Men were repeating variations of this sentiment for centuries, but Salvo D'Acquisto did more than repeat it, he lived it. In a world of lions and sheep, there is no doubt that this loyal and courageous son of Naples was a lion.

October 14, 2010

A Passion for Paestum

Ruins of the Temple of Athena at Paestum
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Niccolò Graffio
Standing under the early October sun, I watched as the members of our tour group gathered themselves together near our tour guide ‘Pina’. Raising her right arm for emphasis, she proudly spoke. “Are we all together? Good. First of all, let me welcome you to my country. This is the region of Campania!” My God, she was a Meridionist! I knew I was going to like this woman.
Three-quarter view of the Temple of Athena
My friend Giovanni and I had signed up for one of the many tours of the site of Paestum, an ancient temple-city built by our ancestors, the Greeks of the Hellenic Age. The city had been founded by emigrants from the Achaean polis of Sybaris in Magna Graecia (in what is now Calabria) sometime around 600 BC. The Achaeans named it Poseidonia in honor of the god Poseidon.
Heraion II (Temple of Hera and Poseidon)
In spite of this, explained our guide Pina, the city eventually became an important center of the cult of Hera, wife of great Zeus. In fact, of the three temples we saw (Hera, Athena and Poseidon), two were dedicated to the worship of Hera. Poseidon, lord of the seas, earthquakes and horses, was forced to share his temple with the Queen of Olympus!
Votive terracotta figurine of Hera
Pina told us that due to the size of Paestum, we would be unable to view the entire site in one tour, which I found disappointing but understandable. Her in-depth knowledge of the geography and history of the site more than compensated for this. The Greeks, she went on, remained masters of the site until the end of the 5th century BC, when it was conquered by the Lucani, an Italic people who spoke an Oscan tongue. They renamed it Paistom.
Return of the Warrior
Tomb painting from Lucanian period (ca. 375-360 BC)
This Greco-Lucanian colony would thrive until 273 BC, when it would fall into the possession of the Romans after their defeat of Pyrrhus, King of Epirus. The Romans gave the city the name it enjoys today.
Marble statue of Hera, late fifth century BC
Paestum’s fortunes waned along with those of the Roman Empire. Both began to seriously decline in the 4th century AD. Deforestation led to the growth of marshes around the site, which in turn abetted the spread of malaria. The Temple of Athena (remade into a Christian church) in the northern part of the town became the new city center as the southern part was progressively abandoned. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD and the rise of Islam in the 7th century AD, Saracen raids further depleted the site of many of its populace. Paestum was abandoned altogether in the 9th century. It would not be rediscovered until the 18th century, thanks to road construction in the area.
Detail of fictile statue of Zeus or Poseidon (520-510 BC)
Many of the artifacts recovered from Paestum have been put on display at a museum located right next to the site. Giovanni and I had the good fortune to visit it before our trip through Paestum proper. The museum contains a history of the area from Greco-Roman times all the way back to the Upper Paleolithic (50,000 BC). If you, my friends, ever decide to visit Paestum I strongly recommend a stop at the museum!
Prehistoric funerary display
Pina finally brings our group back full circle to the beginning of the tour. Our trip through time has ended. Though I marvel at all I’ve seen and heard, I feel strangely unsatisfied. I leave, knowing one day I shall return. My passion for Paestum had been stoked!
Further reading:
• John Griffiths Pedley: Paestum: Greeks and Romans in Southern Italy, Thames and Hudson, 1990
• Marina Cipriani and Fausto Longo: The Paestum National Archaeological Museum: Its History, Layout and Displays, Pandemos, 2010
• M. Cipriani, E. Greco, F. Longo and A Pontrandolfo: The Lucanians in Pæstum, Fondazione Pæstum, 1996

October 12, 2010

Homeland to Home

Regional pride on display at the 2010 NYC Columbus Day Parade.

As expected my trip to Naples was amazing and far too short, but I'm glad to be back. In addition to being fun and relaxing it was also productive and spiritual. I was finally able to get my hands on a copy of Pino Aprile’s Terroni and made a pilgrimage to Piazza Vittoria (Victory Square) for the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571). It’s tempting to write about it all, but there is far too much information for a casual post. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences in more detail in the near future. Luckily I returned just in time to see the 2010 NYC Columbus Day Parade.

Copies of Terroni and la colanna spezzata (the broken column),
a monument for lost sailors by Piazza Vittoria.

I always enjoy the parade, but this year was a pleasant surprise. I saw more participants from Southern Italy marching and displaying their regional pride. Highlights included floats with beautiful sirens from Campania, a smoking replica of Mt. Vesuvius with dancers, and the Riace Warriors from Calabria.
UNICO National, the largest Italian-American service organization in the U.S.A., was also well represented. Many local chapters were in attendance, and they included a company of talented young folk dancers. UNICO does a very good job fighting against anti-Italian defamation.

(L-R) UNICO members marching in force down 5th Ave, a lovely folk-dancer,
and UNICO National president Andre DiMino.

After the parade a friend and I visited the Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center (OCC) at 645 5th Ave. With my recent trip to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, the temples of Paestum and the ruins of Pompeii, you would think that I had seen enough Greco-Roman relics and artwork, but I never seem to tire of it. The OCC never disappoints me; they continuously and generously provide quality exhibits to the public, free of charge. Among my favorite displays from this visit was a red-figure amphora from Campania depicting both a battle and a wedding ceremony, and a marble bust of the Cyclops Polyphemos. Heroes will run until January 3rd, 2011.

(L-R) Metope showing Herakles Slaying the giant Alkyoneus (Paestum Archaeological Museum), Temple of Athena (Poseidonia), Painting of Thesues
the Liberator (Museo Archeological Nazionale di Napoli)

What better way to finish a great day than with a great meal? In an attempt to share the flavor of my recent trip with my friend, we dined at Naples 28 pizzeria on Carmine St. in Manhattan. Between the staff and the quality of the food, it was as close as I could get to authentic Neapolitan cuisine in the area.

(L-R) Pizza in Napoli and at Naples 28.
(All photos by New York Scugnizzo)