December 31, 2014

Our Top Ten Post of 2014

A look back at some of our favorite moments of 2014: (L-R) Southern Italian Halloween costume ideas; The Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Little Italy, NYC; The Feast of Santa Fortunata in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; Opening Night at Forno Rosso Pizzeria in Downtown Brooklyn; and the unveiling of commemorative markers at Petrosino Square in NYC.
01 The Samnites
02 The Greek Anthesteria in Southern Italy
03 Naples is the Stepchild of Italy
04 Sanguinaccio: From Mexico, Naples to Brooklyn
05 A Review of “The Lady of the Wheel”
06 An Interview with Stephen LaRocca, President of the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza in NYC
07 Una voce per l'eta!
08 Echoes of Gemini: Castor and Pollux from Prospect Park to the Samnites
09 A Look Inside the Santa Febronia Chapel, Hoboken, New Jersey
10 Colonel Henry A. Mucci: A Warrior’s Tale

(Top L-R) La Conca di San Rocco in Astoria, Queens; the Columbus Day Giglio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; the Feast of Santa Marina in Inwood, Long Island. (Bottom L-R) the Feast of San Rocco in NYC; and the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and San Paolino di Nola in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Close, but no cigar:

A Look at the 3rd Annual Columbus Day Giglio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Downtown Brooklyn’s Newest Hotspot deserve honorable mention. Perhaps if these posts had as much “air-time” as some of the others they may have made our Top Ten list.

Click here to see last year’s results 

December 28, 2014

Photo of the Week: "Massacre of the Innocents" by Pacecco de Rosa

Massacre of the Innocents (c.1640) by Pacecco de Rosa (Naples b. 1607—Naples d. 1656), Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by New York Scugnizzo

December 27, 2014

La Vigilia and Other Christmas Traditions

Lobster tails
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 aragosta (lobster), ricci di mare (sea urchin) and baccalà (salt cod).
As always, the ladies outdid themselves and treated us to another memorable dinner.
Ricci di Mare
Spaghetti alle vongole and sautè di cozze
Insalata di mare
Following the fish bonanza was another southern Italian specialty: panzerotti, delicious crescent-shaped deep fried dough filled with ricotta, mozzarella and tomato or scallion and olives.
Three different types of Panzerotti
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.
Struffoli, Neapolitan honey fritters
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 in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Afterward, we walked through the neighborhood to see 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.
(Above and below) Two dazzling 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, pizza, baked manicotti and a American-style Christmas ham. Fruit, dessert and caffè complete the meal. 
(L-R) My father's 'famous' Pizza and a shot of Liquore Strega
Not quite finished yet, December 26th is the Feast of Saint Stephen, or Saint Stephen's Day. In honor of Santo Stefano, 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!
Amended 2014

December 20, 2014

Two Marble Reliefs With Birds From Salerno at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Two Marble Reliefs with Birds, carved about 900-1100
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
With all my Christmas shopping done early, I took advantage of my day off from work by treating myself with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to seeing many of my old favorites and the Annual Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche installation (see upcoming post), I discovered two marble reliefs with birds from the vicinity of Salerno.
According to the museum’s wall label
These reliefs are cut down from a larger composition and show an imaginary bird, a cock with a griffin-like head, and a peacock set within foliage and amphora. Both originate from Salerno, where they were said to have been built into masonry of a church. They were reused at a later date, and cut into their present forms. While their original function is unknown, they may have been part of a chancel screen, a low wall in front of the sanctuary of a church. The exotic and orientalizing birds reflect the rich interchange of design motifs between the Islamic, Sassanian, Byzantine, and south Italian cultures in the century 1000.

December 12, 2014

John Miniero's Presepe Napoletano

A Christmas Tradition in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
John Miniero with his masterpiece
By Giovanni di Napoli

Last week (Dec. 4th) during Anita Sanseverino's Presepe Napoletano lecture and photo exhibit at the Italian American Museum I had the pleasure of meeting John Miniero, a local artisan who keeps the Neapolitan tradition of presepi making. Mr. Miniero, a retired baker, was nice enough to bring a few examples of his handiwork for the museum to exhibit.

After the presentation, while I was admiring his work, he shared some of his modeling techniques with me, as well as what kind of tools and materials he uses to build the scenery. Because of the detailed work that goes into his creations, each one takes him a couple of days to make.

Mr. Miniero, I learned, also displays a giant outdoor presepe in front of his house in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Seeing my interest in the art form, he kindly invited me over to take a look.

So the next day after work I took Mr. Miniero up on his offer and made my way to 14th Avenue, between 79th and 80th Streets. When I arrived, I was blown away by the sheer size of the presepe. Spanning the length of his front yard, the intricate diorama—made with wood, cork, paper and paint—was covered with a multitude of characters, from the Magi to Pulcinella. The impressive collection, portraying vignettes of everyday life from 18th century Naples, was acquired over the years from his native Sorrento, Napoli and various hobby shops around Brooklyn.

To the delight of the community, Mr. Miniero has been constructing his presepe for nearly 20 years. Never put together the same way twice, the display is always growing with new additions. The multi-leveled diorama—complete with scenic backdrops, hidden grottos and mirrors that create the illusion of more space—even has running water; hidden water pumps feed flowing brooks, fountains and waterfalls.

Naturally, his house has become one of the stops on the now popular Dyker Heights Christmas Lights bus tours, and the whole time I was there talking with him, people walking and driving by in cars were stopping to take photos. It was great to see so many people taking an interest in his work. I felt privileged to see it and experience his love of the tradition. 
A bustling tavern
A dinner party with Pulcinella
A town in the distance
A look inside the manger
A bakery
Scenes from an open air market
A shepherd with his flock  
Up the stairway towards the manger
Figures performing domestic choirs
Pilgrims making the journey towards the manger
Photos by New York Scugnizzo

December 10, 2014

Blessing the Flags

Benediction at the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Pozzo in Capurso, Bari
On December 8th, during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, people across southern Italy revived the old custom of blessing the flags of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. We are grateful to our friends at the Comitati delle Due Sicilie, Le Città del Sud, and others, for sharing their photos so that we, from a distance, can also feel part of the benediction. As always, it is great to see the national flag of our ancestors fly again.
Photos by Don Luciano Rotolo courtesy of Comitati Due Sicilie