October 29, 2012

A look at the 2012 Feast of San Vincenzo, Martire di Craco, in New York City

Evviva San Vincenzo!
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending the 111th Annual Feast of San Vincenzo Martire, protector of Craco, at Saint Joseph's Church (5 Monroe Street) in Manhattan. Sponsored by the Craco Society, the festivities coincided with the 220th anniversary of San Vincenzo's relic arriving in Craco from Rome. Mass was celebrated by Rev. Msgr. Nicholas Grieco and Rev. Fr. Nicholas Mormando. Fittingly, both celebrants' ancestors hail from Craco and spoke glowingly of the Society's devotion to San Vincenzo. Cantor Susan Mello was superb.
Donations are pinned onto the 1930s era statue of San Vincenzo
The Craco Society are a hardworking, dedicated group of people who provide an invaluable service to our community. In addition to sponsoring the Mass and Feast in honor of San Vincenzo, they organize trips to Craco and an annual North American Reunion. What's more, they translate and publish important tracts and email an informative monthly newsletter filled with interesting news and data documenting Crachese history and heritage. (I was honored to be given a copy of Homage to the Madonna della Stella, one of the works translated by the society.) On top of that, they recently restored the historic statue of San Vincenzo at Saint Joseph's Church. 
The 1901 statue of San Vincenzo
The reclining statue, dating from 1901, is a copy of the relic in Craco. It's one of the last tangible pieces of Crachesi history in Manhattan from the turn of the twentieth-century.
The relic of San Vincenzo
Also on display was the Saint's sacred bone relic. Normally kept inside the glass case with the statue of San Vincenzo the ornate reliquary was exhibited for veneration.
A close up of the relic
Regrettably I had a previous engagement, so I couldn't partake in the after-party, but I did get to mingle a little with revelers and snap a few photos before leaving.
Rev. Msgr. Nicholas Grieco offers a prayer in Italian and English before lunch
Seeing that October 28th is the Feast Day of Saint Jude Thaddeus, patron of desperate causes, I paid my respects at his shrine near the entrance of the church.
Saint Jude Thaddeus 
A look inside beautiful Saint Joseph's Church

October 15, 2012

Pix from the 113th Annual Feast of Saint Gerard Maiella in Newark, New Jersey

Viva San Gerardo, patron of motherhood!
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
A look at yesterday's Feast of Saint Gerard Maiella at Saint Lucy's Church in Newark, New Jersey.

Throngs of devotees gathered at Saint Lucy's Church to venerate the Saint
To the crowds delight, St. Gerard emerges from the church 
The Saint is draped with 'blankets' of money 
A look inside beautiful Saint Lucy's Church, National Shrine to Saint Gerard 
Saint Gerard in Heavenly Glory by Gonippo Raggi.
Mural on the apse in Saint Gerard's Chapel
One of several paintings by Raggi depicting the life of the Saint
Inside the Chapel 
Next door to the church, displaying tons of historical memorabilia, is the Museum of the Old First Ward (in the basement of St. Lucy's Community Center)
Some badges and pins on display
Among the museum's many treasures is an authentic Neapolitan Presepio

October 14, 2012

Pix from the 2012 Fiaccolata di San Rocco in Astoria, Queens

Viva San Rocco!
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
 A look at yesterday's Mass and procession commemorating San Rocco, sponsored by Societá Gioventú Quagliettana.
Devotees sing and pray to Saint Rocco
A labor of love: members of the society carry Saint Rocco to Saint Joseph's Church (43-19 30 Avenue, Astoria 11103) 
The candlelight procession makes its way through the neighborhood 
Entering Saint Joseph's
The 95th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fátima was also celebrated 
Departing church
Outside Saint Joseph's
Women's Committee President Tina Carpinelli (Left) with fellow parishioners outside Saint Joseph's
Catching up with friends after Mass 
Making our way back to the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana building
Father Vincent closes the procession with a prayer 
Another look at glorious Saint Rocco

October 7, 2012

An Interview with Author Anthony Di Renzo

Anthony Di Renzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

We are honored to have the opportunity to interview Anthony Di Renzo before the release of his new historical novel Trinàcria: A Tale of Bourbon Sicily. Slated for publication in November, 2013 by Guernica Editions, the book chronicles the destruction of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies during the Italian Revolution. He was kind enough to provide us with an advance digital copy, and I'm sure it will become a must read for anyone interested in the nonconformist view of the Risorgimento and Italian Unification.

Mr. Di Renzo is an Associate Professor at Ithaca College, specializing in Classical rhetoric, professional writing and Italian history. He is the author of Bitter Greens: Essays on Food, Politics, and Ethnicity from the Imperial Kitchen (SUNY Press, 2010) and has published numerous essays and stories for various literary journals, including "Eternal Death" in Feile-Festa 3 (Spring 2008), "Lucullan Feasts" in River Styx 76: A Readable Feast (Spring 2008) and "Dark Chocolate" in Voices in Italian Americana 19.2 (Spring 2009).

Many Americans of Southern Italian descent are proud of their heritage, but you have made an extra effort to explore it. Could you tell us how your interest in Sicily began and why you pursue it?

My Sicilian mother, steeped in the island’s legends and folklore, first sparked my interest, but I probably never would have investigated Sicilian history if it hadn’t been for my teachers. I don’t mean that in a positive way. When I was growing up, most middle school and junior high teachers thought it a civic duty to make first-generation Americans as ashamed as possible of their ancestral country. Only then would these students become “real” Americans. There was nothing subtle about this indoctrination. “You people weren’t even human until you came to this country!” one teacher declared. This blatant ignorance about the Golden Door period, this contemptuous dismissal of Southern Italian culture, goaded me into uncovering the facts for myself. I’ve been digging ever since. Whitewashed history is a vast tundra. More bodies are buried there than in the Meadowlands.     

Among institutions of higher education, how does Sicily fare within Italian American studies?

Goethe considered Sicily the key to understanding Italy. It is also the key to understanding Italian American history. In both cases, certain characteristics are exaggerated and distorted in startlingly instructive ways. The Risorgimento’s failures in Sicily, too grotesque to ignore, encapsulate and explain Northern Italy’s exploitation and colonization of the entire Mezzogiorno. This calamity directly caused the Southern Italian Diaspora at the turn of the twentieth century.

When you teach Italian American History, what do you emphasize and hope your students understand?

The political, economic, and agricultural collapse of the Mezzogiorno was not a natural phenomenon, no more than Irish potato famine was a natural phenomenon. Both resulted from cruel and arrogant political policies designed to subjugate, even eradicate, a provincial population considered too backwards to benefit the state. That fact explains the impetus behind mass emigration. Northern politicians were quite happy to see Southern peasants leave Italy. It was a form of ethnic cleansing. 

Although Italian businesses and Italian government promoted the New World as the land of opportunity, both treated America as Botany Bay: a place to dump undesirables. We should question, therefore, the conventional myths about immigration and assimilation. These fig leaves cover up the shameful hypocrisies of liberal democracy on both sides of the Atlantic. The betrayal of the Italian Revolution in the late nineteenth century would be repeated by the betrayal of the American Dream in the early twentieth century. 

This double betrayal continues to affect Southern Italian Americans, especially within the Sicilian American community, even in subtle ways among their more assimilated children and grandchildren. Bitter disillusionment explains why many of us can be so insular, continue to suspect all political and educational institutions, and are reluctant to form social and cultural networks, even when they would benefit us. Instead, we should unite, ally ourselves with other ethnic groups, particularly the newest immigrants in Italy and America, and fight for justice at a time when political and financial institutions seem determined to reproduce the imperialism and plutocracy of the early twentieth century. 

What inspired you to write Trinàcria: A Tale of Bourbon Sicily?

A bizarre historical footnote worthy of Leonardo Sciascia. Shortly after Luchino Visconti had filmed The Leopard in Sicily, I was recovering from a nearly fatal bout of dysentery in Villabate, a suburb of Palermo. This was the first time my mother had returned to her hometown since the Second World War. At the time, I was just a boy, battling fever and nausea, but the local gossip distracted and entertained me. Many of my mother’s former neighbors had attended Visconti’s shoot. Some had even worked as extras. Everyone, however, had stories to tell. The most amusing concerned Ciminna, a mountaintop commune 30 miles southeast of Palermo. 

Visconti had used this town as Donnafugata, Prince Fabrizio’s ancestral fief. After the wrap, the mayor and the council had petitioned 20th Century Fox to rebuild the sets. Apparently, the American tourists no longer wanted to see Ciminna’s authentic Greek ruins, a three-thousand-year-old temple to Demeter. Instead, they wanted to pose in front of Burt Lancaster’s fake palazzo and collect autographs.

I had always thought this anecdote was a tall tale, until a documentary on Visconti’s film confirmed it. History, I realized, doesn’t stand a chance against public relations. This insight provided the frame for the novel. Family history and scholarly interest in the Risorgimento supplied the canvas and the paint. Red and gold, of course: the colors of the Sicilian flag. 

When doing the research for Trinàcria, what did you find the most interesting? Was there anything that you would have liked to add that wasn’t included in the book?

It was fascinating to learn how much British and American companies and investors helped to shape the Italian Revolution. Their motives were hardly pure, and their meddling contributed to the debacle that destroyed Sicily. Even today, Sicily lacks a functioning regional economy, thanks partly to this old pattern of internal corruption and external exploitation.

What would have happened, however, if Sicily had achieved independence in 1848? What if it had become a functioning democracy of Sicilians, by Sicilians, and for Sicilians? Either Sicily would have remained a separate country or it would have joined Italy on its own terms. The novel speculates on these questions but never directly addresses them. Ruggeru Sèttimu, president of the Sicilian Republic for sixteen months before his lifelong exile in Malta, barely appears. Even so, these issues are worth considering during the bicentennial of the Sicilian constitution.  

What's next after Trinàcria? Do you have any plans to explore the Abruzzese half of your heritage?

Currently, I’m revising After the Fair is Over, the sequel to Trinàcria. This immigrant saga deals with Donna Zita’s great-grandson, Commendatore Attilio Tumeo, who journeys from his father’s carriage shop in Villabate to the Franklin Automobile Company in Syracuse, New York. Ironically, money from his used car dealership pays to preserve the Marchesa’s crypt in the Catacombe dei Cappuccini.

My last book, Bitter Greens: Essays on Food, Politics, and Ethnicity from the Imperial Kitchen (SUNY Press 2010) partly discusses the Abruzzese half of my heritage. But I would like to investigate more fully how this remote of regions, Italy’s Yosemite Park, continues to resist globalization. Gas companies, for example, are trying to introduce fracking. The outcome is uncertain, but I’m betting on the mountain goats.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Any last thoughts?

Eduardo Galeano, a writer I deeply admire, reminds us of the importance of memory. Memory alone can save us from the collective amnesia of postmodern society, a cross between a shopping mall and a concentration camp. We need to wake up from the American Dream before it anaesthetizes our entire planet. Hypnotists have convinced us that all that matters is success. Either you’re somebody or you’re nobody. But instead of trying to be somebodies, Southern Italians and their descendants should embrace being nobodies. We are nobody’s children, owners of nothing. We speak dialects, not language; believe superstitions, not religion; practice handicrafts, not art; have folklore, not culture. We are not human beings but human resources. We do not appear in the world’s history books but in the local tabloids. Nobody will tell our stories but ourselves.
* * *
The following links allow you to visit the book's campaign site and to view its promotional video:

The fundraiser is sponsored by Italian Cultural Foundation at Casa Belvedere.

For more info visit Anthony Di Renzo

Also see Mr. Di Renzo's interview with the Times of Sicily: "The Past Never Dies — Though God Knows it Tries: An Interview with Anthony Di Renzo"

October 2, 2012

NYC's 2012 Feast of Santa Fortunata (Part II)

Viva Santa Fortunata!
A close up of the glass casket bearing the Saint
By Giovanni di Napoli

This weekend I had the good fortune of attending NYC's 2012 Mass and Procession in honor of Santa Fortunata, Patroness of Baucina, Sicily. Normally held in July, this year's two-day celebration, organized by the Societa Santa Fortunata di New York (founded in 1900), was moved to the last weekend of September. This brings the celebration closer to the actual Feast Day in Baucina, which is held on the second Sunday of the month. Because many members maintain strong familial ties with the old country and return home to participate in their hometown festivities, the society doesn't celebrate the holiday at the same time as in Sicily. 
(L-R) Societa Santa Fortunata di New York Vice President Pino Nicotra, President Ciro Quattrocchi and Councilor Giuseppe Greco
On Saturday, before the procession, I was warmly welcomed by members of the society and offered a tour of the club by their President Ciro Quattrocchi. The first thing I noticed upon entering was the beautiful chapel dedicated to their patroness. Behind glass, beneath a photo of the Sacred Body are two cherished relics, a piece of the Saint's veil and Her ring. I was amazed and privileged to see such important artifacts here in America. Statues of Saint Lucy and Saint Barbara stand sentinel beneath the treasures.
The society chapel with relics
My biggest thrill was seeing the society's original statue. Well over a hundred-year's-old, the Saint was safely stored inside her glass casket surrounded by memorabilia and old photos documenting the society's long history. I could have spent hours there studying the objects and listening to Mr. Quattrocchi's stories. 
A look at the original society statue
It was an honor to be among them, listening to family and friends sitting beneath a giant photo of Baucina catching up with one another. They generously gave me prayer and relic cards; literature recalling the story of Santa Fortunata; and a beautiful glossy photo of the Saint from Sicily. I'm definitely going to get it framed and add it to my personal shrine.

I was lucky enough to witness the unwrapping of a gift that just arrived from Sicily commemorating their 222nd Anniversary of the Feast. It was a mounted certificate honoring the society and is a sign of solidarity and kinship from their counterparts in Baucina.
A declaration of solidarity and kinship from Sicily
Ready to begin the procession, the sky was menacing and some were worried it would rain. Thankfully, the weather cooperated and our fear of showers was unwarranted. Rays of sunshine kept peeking out from behind the clouds, making the event cool and pleasant. 

The cortège made its way through the streets of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn reenacting the life and martyrdom of the Saint. Celebrated with great pageantry, costumed characters depict the various episodes of her story, stopping regularly to create a tableau, or living picture.
The procession makes its way down 18th Avenue
The carriers were close behind. Wearing white with red sashes, they pulled and periodically lifted the Vara, a large, heavy wagon used to carry Santa Fortunata and her elaborate glass casket through the streets.  Devotees (some shoeless) followed praying, reciting the Rosary and singing songs. It was encouraging to see them uphold the old ways. [For more photos see Part I]
Angels and Santa Fortunata in Glory
The spectator turnout from the neighborhood was smaller than I had hoped for. The change in demographics combined with the poor weather forecast probably had a lot to do with it. There was a time not so long ago when thousands turned out to celebrate and partake in the festivities, but fewer now make the effort to support this wonderful tradition. I'm old enough to remember when they actually held Feasts in her honor and, if I'm not mistaken, they were even able to raffle off a car, giving the nearby 18th Ave Feast (Santa Rosalia) a run for its money in fervor and devotion.
The Carriers running with the Saint
In a way, this makes the procession all the more special. The fact that the society keeps the tradition going is a testament to their hard work and commitment. Large crowds and festivals are nice, but devotion is its own purpose, and for an event like this should come first. It is important that those of us who value and cherish these traditions make an effort to support these societies and show our appreciation.
Revelers Sal and Lina Locascio and Lucia Di Marco enjoying the festivities
Any concern that I had about the neighborhood attendance on Saturday was completely dissipated on Sunday. The procession was larger and St. Rosalia — Regina Pacis Church (1230 65th St. Brooklyn, NY 11219) was filled nearly to capacity, most importantly with many young children. 

Surrounded by these beautiful families, I felt as if I was transported back to my old neighborhood when I was young. I could not have been happier.
After the procession a shrine was set up outside the society building for passerby's to show their devotion
Mass was held in Italian and concluded with a glorious hymn written by Maestro Francesco Mauro Casella in honor to Santa Fortunata:

Sposa eletta del Signore
Vieni su dagli alti cieli
Il divino eterno amore
Là ti attende senza veli
Te felice, Te beata
Donzelletta Fortunata.

La corona di Regina
E la palma gloriosa
Ora adorna l'eroina
Di Gesù la diva Sposa
Di Baucina l'Avvocata
Viva, viva Fortunata

I want to thank the Societa Santa Fortunata di New York for their wonderful hospitality. Their sense of community and spiritual fortitude is an inspiration. Viva Santa Fortunata!
A look inside beautiful St. Rosalia — Regina Pacis Church
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)

NYC's 2012 Feast of Santa Fortunata (Part I)

Viva Santa Fortunata!
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)

A look at Saturday's Santa Fortunata Procession organized by the Societa Santa Fortunata di New York in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. See Part II for more information and photos.
The color guard leads the way
Standard bearer with Baucina's Coat-of-Arms and ladies with a society sign
Devotees carry a beautiful flower arrangement spelling out the Saint's name
First tableau
Second tableau
Third tableau
Fourth tableau
Fifth tableau
Sixth tableau
Seventh tableau
Eighth tableau
Ninth tableau
Tenth and Eleventh tableaus
Adorable little Angels
Twelfth tableau
The band played traditional songs
The carriers make their way through the neighborhood with the Vara
Devotees praying and reciting the Rosary
(L-R) Sal and Gaspare handed out prayer cards during the procession