December 31, 2013

Our Top Ten Post of 2013

A look back at some of our favorite moments of 2013: (L-R) Learning Sicilian with Professor Gaetano Cipolla at the IAM; The Feast of San Rocco with the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana; Concert dedicated to the brigands of Southern Italy with Michela Musolino and John T. LaBarbera; Dressing up as the Munaciello for Halloween; and The Feast of San Rocco with the San Rocco Society of Potenza
(L-R, Top) Dancing the tarantella at the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn; A memorable night in Little Italy with Ernie Rossi and Simona De Rosa; Fiaccolata di San Rocco in Astoria, Queens; Lifting the children's giglio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Bottom) Watching the ladies lift the giglio in East Harlem and The Feast of the Madonna Addolorata in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
Close, but no cigar:

Concert Dedicated to the Brigands of Southern Italy and "Cucina Della Nonna" in Williamsburg, Brooklyn deserve honorable mentions. Perhaps if these posts had as much "air-time" as some of the others they may have made our Top Ten list.

Still making the rounds:

* For some reason this post went "viral" and got almost 30 thousand page views in one day

Click here to see last year's results

December 27, 2013

La Vigilia and Other Christmas Traditions

Ricci di Mare
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

Like many Neapolitan Americans, my family keeps the tradition of La Vigilia di Natale, the southern Italian ritual of eating seafood and eschewing meat on Christmas Eve. Despite regular and varied claims to authenticity, I believe the so-called Festa dei sette pesci, or the Feast of the Seven Fishes, is a recent fabrication. Though more lavish then in the past, according to our matriarchs there were never a set number of dishes served. We simply ate what we could afford, and what was fresh and available. 

Today, we normally have shrimp, calamari (squid), clams, mussels and scungilli (whelk), which all can be prepared in a variety of ways. Capitone fritto alla napoletana (fried eel) is usually the main course, but this year we had ricci di mare (sea urchin) and baccalà (salt cod).

As always, the ladies outdid themselves and treated us to another memorable dinner.
Baccalà with tomato, onion and olives
Raw squid with ground black pepper and fresh lemon juice
Following the fish bonanza was another southern Italian specialty: panzerotti, delicious crescent-shaped deep fried dough filled with mozzarella and tomato or scallion and ricotta.
Next came fruit, roasted chestnuts, caffè and an assortment of delicious sweets, including cartellate and struffoli, the quintessential Neapolitan Christmas dessert that will satisfy the most stubborn sweet tooth. There is no panettone in my house.
The vigil, of course, is not just about food, it's also about family and faith. 

After dinner we played games (tombola) with the kids and attended Midnight Mass. This year we celebrated at the Shrine Church of Saint Bernadette in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Afterward, we braved the cold and walked through the neighborhood to see some of the spectacular Christmas decorations. My family has been doing this for as long as I can remember, though originally it was in East New York, Brooklyn, where my maternal grand- and great-grandparents were from.
Dyker Heights Christmas displays
Christmas morning we exchanged presents, made the rounds and visited family and friends until dinnertime. No less extravagant than the Eve, Christmas dinner was a culinary tour de force with plenty of hot and cold antipasti, insalata, baked manicotti and a American-style Christmas ham. Fruit, dessert and caffè complete the meal. 
Baked manicotti
Not quite finished yet, December 26th is Prima Festa, or First Feast. In honor of Santo Stefano (Saint Stephen), the first martyr, we usually celebrate with torrone, a sticky nougat candy made from honey, nuts and egg whites that dates back to Roman times. I like mine with a glass of Strega. Buon Natale!
Soft torrone with hazelnuts from Avellino

December 11, 2013

A Week in December

Details from the Met's Neapolitan Baroque Crèche
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

I had a busy, but fun week, full of culturally rewarding and spiritually edifying activities. Instead of several short entries, I thought I would share some of the highlights with you in one large post.

Holy Family by Salvatore di Franco
I began my week with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of art to see the Annual Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche installation. This has become one of my favorite holiday rituals.

Dating from the eighteenth century, the prestigious collection boasts over two hundred figures created by some of Naples' leading artists, including Giuseppe Sanmartino and Salvatore di Franco.

I always appreciate the Christmas display, but wish they would exhibit some of the pieces during the rest of the year. I understand there are space considerations to contend with, but I'm sure room can be found for one or two of the most significant pieces (e.g. the Angels by Giuseppe Sanmartino). The figures truly are masterpieces worthy of permanent display.

Maria Terrone
The Literary Committee of the National Arts Club presented their Authors' Showcase featuring a select group of member-authors. Their works represented a broad range of genres and subjects, including poetry, theater, fiction, politics, history, and mystery. A reception and book signing followed.

Maria Terrone was there and read excerpts from A Secret Room in Fall and her upcoming work Eye to Eye.

As always, it was a pleasure seeing Maria and her husband Bill, and catching up afterward at the reception and book signing. A big fan of her poetry, I look forward to Maria's new collection, which is scheduled to be published by Bordighera Press in 2014.

Anita Sanseverino shows us how the presepio figures are made
Thursday more than made up for the "slow" Wednesday. I made my way to Little Italy to attend a lecture about the Presepio Napoletano by Anita Sanseverino and a concert by acclaimed Neapolitan singer-songwriter Simona De Rosa at the Italian American Museum. 
A look at some of the IAM's renovations
Arriving a little early, I was lucky enough to be given a sneak-peek of the museum's highly anticipated renovations by Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa, President of the Italian American Museum. The new expansion includes the ground floor and basement at 187 Grand Street, which will provide much needed space for the museums extensive collection of Italian American memorabilia and cultural artifacts. According to Dr. Scelsa, the additions will serve as a gallery and research archive.
The presepio lecture was fascinating, as always. Anita is a terrific speaker; she's very knowledgeable, engaging and happy to answer all of our questions. Her passion for the subject is plain to see. When I first met her in 2009 I was immediately impressed by her fervor for all things Neapolitan. It felt so wonderful to meet someone who was as enthusiastic about Naples as I am, if not more.
Anita Sanseverino and Dr. Scelsa show off presepio figures
She covered everything about this popular Christmas custom, from its humble origins with Saint Francis of Assisi, to the golden age under the Neapolitan Bourbons, to today's artisans. The lecture also included a photo exhibit and short film featuring Anita's spectacular pictures from her visit to Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples. For those who may be unfamiliar with it, Via San Gregorio Armeno is famous for its many artisan workshops that specialize in making Christmas figurines and Nativity scenes. 

Following the talk, while waiting for the musicians to set up, Dr. Scelsa played a promotional DVD for Ferrigno, one of the leading artisan shops specializing in Neapolitan terracotta figures.
The sensational Simona De Rosa
Complementing the event’s Neapolitan theme, the mini concert by Neapolitan singer-songwriter Simona De Rosa was a fine way to finish the evening. Simona was joined by the very talented bassist Cristian Capasso and guitarist Gennaro Esposito. There set included several jazz numbers and classic Neapolitan standards like O Sole Mio and Torna a Surriento. However, they were performed with her own original musical arrangements. The trio entranced their audience, who clapped and sang along, bringing this wonderful program to a rousing end. 
(L-R) Cristian Capasso, Gennaro Esposito and Simona De Rosa with Dr. Scelsa

I walked through the rain to Saint Dominic's RC Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, to celebrate The Feast of San Nicola di Bari with members of Club Barese and the Associazione Culturale Pugliese Figli Maria S.S. Addolorata. 
Viva San Nicola di Bari!
It was a great thrill and privilege for me to help carry the saint from the antechamber to his place of honor aside the altar, before and after mass.

Following the service we were invited back to the cozy Caduti Superga Mola Soccer Club for pizza and dessert. I met many wonderful people—including President Joe Manfredi—who are committed to preserving our culture and traditions. 

Saint Anthony's Relics
Taking a break from my Christmas shopping, I went to Most Precious Blood Church in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, to venerate Saint Anthony's precious relics, which are currently visiting New York City in honor of the occasion of the 750th Anniversary (1263—2013) of their discovery by Saint Bonaventure.

In 2007 I was fortunate enough to visit the Basilica Sant'Antonio di Padova, but for those devotees who are unable to travel to Italy, this is a wonderful opportunity to venerate the relics in person.

Click here for the remaining New York City schedule.

(L-R) Rocco Fasano sang a traditional Quagliettana folk song;
Father Vincent led us in prayer and sang a folk hymn in honor of San Rocco
What better way to end the week than by attending the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's annual Christmas dinner dance? Held at the renowned Leonard's Palazzo in Great Neck, NY, family and friends came together to celebrate the Christmas season. There was plenty of good food, music and dance, as well as, raffles and a magician for the children (of all ages).
Revelers having a good time at the dinner dance
Coincidentally, my week ended the way it started, albeit on a more modest scale. After the dinner dance, we returned to the Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's social club in Astoria, Queens, where I was graciously shown the society's presepio by president Vincenzo Carpinelli. 
The Societá Gioventú Quagliettana's Presepio
As it was the Immaculate Conception, the traditional beginning of the Christmas season, I went home and set up my own crèche.

Neapolitan Glory: Baroque Presepio at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
I never tire of visiting the Neapolitan presepio at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; it is one of my favorite Christmas rituals. In the beginning of the tradition such grandiose displays were arranged by the nobility and the church for the public to view, only later did the populace begin to recreate them in their own homes. Seeing such a grand exhibit at the MET seemed to me akin to viewing it at a palace or cathedral, as in the times of old.