January 25, 2014

Celebrating the Beatification of Queen Maria Cristina of the Two Sicilies

Blessed Queen Maria Cristina 
of the Two Sicilies
Earlier today, the venerable Queen Maria Cristina of the Two Sicilies was beatified at the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Naples (where she is interred), bringing her one step closer to canonization. The solemn Mass was celebrated by His Eminence Cardinal Sepe, the Archbishop of Naples, and His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation of the Saints. Members of the Royal House of Bourbon, including HRH Prince Carlo di Borbone delle Due Sicilie, Duke of Castro, were in attendance. Thousands of Neapolitan faithful greeted the Royal Family, many with flowers, Bourbon flags and enthusiastic applause.

In celebration, I'm posting a Prayer to the Blessed Maria Cristina.

Prayer to the Blessed Maria Cristina

O Queen of the Two Sicilies, You're the last worthy representative of Savoy, who, after Thee, have continually betrayed God, the Catholic Church, and the Pope; thou has seen from Heaven their atrocities against the Kingdom that you had accepted full of joy and satisfaction; you have seen from above your subjects killed, robbed, dispersed and defamed because they believed in the same values as you, which ​​the modern world wants to destroy; you, blessed today, you have to guide the hand of your son Francesco, for the redemption of his people who can not wait any longer. Amen.

January 8, 2014

A Meal Fit For Three Kings

Epiphany Party with New York City's Sicilian Food, Wine and Travel Group
La Befana
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli

Monday I had the great pleasure of joining New York City's Sicilian Food, Wine and Travel Group for their second annual Befana/Epiphany party. Same as last year, we gathered at Cacio e Vino, a terrific little Sicilian Restaurant in Manhattan's East Village, to celebrate the Epiphany with a four-course meal fit for three kings. 

Owner and pastry chef Giusto and his attentive staff outdid themselves again, presenting us with another sumptuous Sicilian repast. Everything was served family style and superbly complemented with Nero d’Avola.
Our feast began with classic Sicilian sfincione, a delicious doughy focaccia topped with onions and tomatoes. This was soon followed by one of my all-time-favorite dishes: Involtini di melanzane, stuffed eggplant rolls with arugula salad on the side. The dish was so good that it would have satisfied me for the night, but happily the meal was just getting started!
Involtini di melanzane
For our second course we were served two very different, but equally celebrated pasta dishes: Penne al pesto trapanese with fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and almonds; and Aneletti “alla palermitana” with beef ragu, peas, eggplant and basil. Both were spectacular. The ingredients were fresh and the flavors were outstanding.
Penne al pesto trapanese
Just when we were sure it could not get any better, came our entrées: heaping platters of breaded pork skewers with roasted potatoes and spinach; then—after a short breather—baccala balls, smothered with tomatoes, olives, raisins and pignoli nuts. 
Aneletti "alla palermitana"
With such generous portions, we barely had enough room for dessert. However, there was no way I wasn't going to try Giusto's amazing chocolate covered soufflé with rum and strawberries. Paired with scalding espresso, it was the crowning moment to our four-hour affair.
Breaded pork skewers with roasted potatoes and spinach
Aside from the great food, what I enjoy most about our dinners with New York City's Sicilian Food, Wine and Travel Group is without a doubt the company. The people are always warm, friendly and interesting. Needles to say, it was great to see so many familiar faces and meet several new ones. Not surprisingly, the group continues to grow.
Baccala balls
Special thanks, as always to club president and organizer Vincent Titone. He is an incredible host who always goes above and beyond to make sure we all have a wonderful time. Vincenzo's a fount of information who's always broadening our horizons with interesting facts and anecdotes—especially about Sicily, for which his love seems to know no bounds. I look forward to many more enjoyable evenings together.
Chocolate covered soufflé with rum and strawberries

January 3, 2014

Naples is the Stepchild of Italy

Courtyard of Santa Chiara Cloister, Napoli
Photos courtesy of Anita Sanseverino
By Anita Sanseverino

Naples is not respected. It is criticized, abused, neglected, and misunderstood.

Although her civilization is older than Rome, many people are not aware of the rich culture and treasures of Naples, and those that are (such as the Italians themselves) do not seem to appreciate it.

Through the long history of occupation by foreign rulers and even during the unification of Italy, Naples was pillaged and plundered as thoroughly as if by the barbarian hordes. For economic, political and cultural reasons too complex to go into here, the resources and industry of southern Italy was funneled into northern and central Italy. Naples and the rest of the south were drained of anything that could be useful elsewhere.

In centuries past, the wealthy people from northern Europe, especially England, would send their young people on the grand tour of Italy, and that included Naples. It was a city of art, music and philosophy. The cultural capital of Italy at the time, it was an important stop on the grand tour for education in the higher art forms.

Naples was originally called Palepolis, the "old city" of Partenope, a Greek settlement of Magna Graecia. Later a second city was established nearby. When the neighboring "new city" grew, it merged with Partenope, which was refounded as Neapolis. The name Partenope is still referred to often in the context of Naples, even today, especially when talking about Naples in a poetic or historical/cultural context.
Spire of the Immaculate Conception
in Piazza del Gesù Nuovo, Napoli
After unification the city gained a terrible reputation, which was perpetuated by the rest of Italy. The grand tour and tourism became less about Naples the city, and more about the Amalfi and Sorrento coasts. This reputation made it seem as though the city’s problems were insurmountable.

It bothers me when people say “oh yes, I went to Naples we stayed in Sorrento and saw Vesuvius, etc.,” but all they did in the city was ride through it on a bus!

Let me just say that people who dismiss Naples, or refuse to consider it when planning a trip to Italy, are missing out on a fabulous culture, filled with the richest traditions and a fabulous people whose exuberance and love of life are the epitome of what people think of when they think of the Italian personality!

People in the rest of Italy are friendly, but in many places they are actually more reserved, especially among strangers. In Naples there is an expressiveness and spontaneity; a sense of personality that is larger than life. When people speak of the warmth and passion of the Italians, they are without knowing it, speaking of the Neapolitans.

The most enduring Italian popular songs came out of Naples. Classic Neapolitan songs are known throughout the world. O Sole Mio, Malafemmina, and Torna a’ Surriento are all Neapolitan. 

Naples was also a great center of opera, the San Carlo opera house is Italy’s oldest opera house in terms of continuity.

The language itself is musical, the body language of the people is musical. No one expresses themselves with bodily gestures the way a Neapolitan does.

There is a culture of traditional folk music and dance that is having a revival today which comes from the traditions of Campania. In this music, you can hear the sounds of the Mediterranean. There is a woman in NYC, named Allesandra Belloni, who has been performing and teaching these traditional Neapolitan and southern Italian dances and drumming.
One of many gorgeous buildings in Naples
I first heard this music and saw the ritual dances when I was in Naples. I heard this drumming, so I followed the sound down to the street to the piazza, and was mesmerized and moved to tears. I bought every CD of this type of music that I could find, and years later when I heard about Alessandra in NY, I began following her performances. I even took some lessons in the dance and drumming on tambourines. It goes deep inside you, this type of music, it is uninhibited and it puts you in touch with yourself.

It isn’t just the music though, I think there is a primal force that still exists in Naples and it is palpable. It is in the air. It is in the people.

I adore Italy, and I love certain other cities, but along with Venice (for different reasons) something happens to me when I set foot in Naples. Maybe it’s because it is the land of my ancestors, and the sound of the language, the cadence, is what I heard in my childhood. When I step off the train and go outside, and I hear those voices and see those faces, my heart starts racing and I can feel my blood bubbling with excitement.

I went with a friend of mine, who had never been to Italy before, and she loved it all, but when we got to Naples, she said, in a voice filled with wonder and pride: “Now I see the faces of my relatives.”

I think in some ways we have been over-civilized, to the point of having lost the sensation of our own passions. The Neapolitan people have not dulled their senses by covering up their real emotions. I always felt that one of the reasons I love this city so much is that that my primal self is still close to the surface. I haven’t buried it so deeply, so I can respond to Naples in a visceral way. I have not lost that part of myself.

Perhaps that is why so many people are uneasy with the city and its culture. They come to the city, hear the loudness, see the big gestures, the larger than life emotions out there for all to see, everything expressed in a grand way, good and bad, and maybe that scares them. Maybe it is too raw for people who are more comfortable with a self-contained, less expressive sensibility. Maybe it is just too much for them!
Feast of San Antonio procession in the old quarter of Naples
Even when it comes to religion it is not the quiet, soft rituals of the church that you see in Naples; it is an earthy and personal religion that is practiced here, with some ancient folkloric tradition thrown in.

I had the good fortune to be in Naples for the feast of San Gennaro, with the miracle of the liquefaction of the blood.

I was there for the vigil, in which the congregation prays for the miracle, and they do not stop praying until the blood liquefies. This is faith at its most personal level. I saw the faces of the people, this was their saint, their city, and this miracle was connected to both. Many centuries ago, San Gennaro became the patron saint of Naples and the tradition states that if the blood does not liquefy, some catastrophe would befall Naples, so the people have a vested interest in praying for this miracle.  

I think this belief, this personal stake in their saint, allows the people of Naples to retain a certain humility that other people don’t have. Those people who go to church but prefer their religion to be less mystical, maybe have lost that sense of being humble, of not being in control.

You can say, well, we deal in fact not myth, but even today’s scientists cannot explain the miracle of this liquefaction and they have tried!!

I went to the san Gennaro festival in NY a few weeks ago and was gratified to see this tradition still being carried on so many years after the people who emigrated from Naples started it. It is back to having it’s Italian flavor, and though I missed seeing the procession this year, it is my favorite part of any festival.

This is what makes the feasts special, this procession with the patron saint, people following the statue, knowing they are part of something larger than themselves.

In 20 years of going to Italy often, I have met wonderful people who are dear friends, from north to south. Italian people are friendly and I always have the most wonderful experiences, sometimes magical ones, whenever I visit; but for spontaneous encounters there is nothing like settling into a taxi and striking up a conversation with a Neapolitan taxi driver, especially when you tell him you are from New York and your family background is Neapolitan.

You will tell and be told life stories in the time of the taxi ride, and will be given all kinds of advice and information about the city. Believe me, the Neapolitans love their city and are proud of their culture, even as they admit to how difficult life there can be.

I always stay at the same hotel when I go to Naples and last time I was there, in March, I had a conversation with the hotel manager. We were talking about how much I love Naples and how, my first time in Italy gave me an identity crisis.

In the U.S. my family and every other family I knew, identified themselves as Italians. Then I came to Italy and found out I was really an American. My professor of Italian had tried to tell me that too, but I didn’t believe him. When I came to Italy and was called an American, I was in a state of shock! Why didn’t they consider me Italian? My blood was as Italian, as southern Italian as theirs! The hotel manager and I laughed about this as he said that yes, it was very strange that the American people of Italian background were the only people who would come to Italy thinking they were Italian. Other people, from Australia, England , South America, would say that they were of the place where they were born, but we Americans would say, we are Italian, I am Neapolitan, etc. 

I told him that is because for me, it is not about the place of birth, it is about the blood!
Villa overlooking the Bay of Naples, Posillipo
Another thing I want to say: it is easy to fall in love with someplace that is obviously beautiful; that fits into a neat description; that makes one feel comfortable.

To love Naples, you must open your mind and your heart, and make the effort to see all the beauty that exists within the city itself. Yes, there are still pristine places within the city that will meet the expectation of people who love Rome and Florence, but there are other parts of Naples where you must see past the grime and crumbling buildings and see the history and the beauty underneath. That is the part of Naples I love best. You don’t only see with your eyes, you see with your heart and soul too, and that is the richest most rewarding way to feel and learn about a place.

Another thing I want to address is the attitude many people seem to have about Neapolitans being lazy. This is so far from the truth it is infuriating to me.

If that were true, then America would not be the country it is today. It was the Neapolitan and southern Italian immigration that helped build this country. Those people came here because there was an opportunity to work. They weren’t lazy, they needed a fair chance instead of being oppressed and used by a government that didn’t care about them.

Even today, the job situation in Naples is very bad, again due to government neglect and corruption by some who would destroy and betray their own people for personal gain (and that exists in every nationality and race). Because of this job situation, many people from the south have now migrated to northern Italy because that is where the factories are, that is where the jobs are. These people, who are so close to their families, pick themselves up and leave, go to a northern city where they are reviled, hated and disrespected, just so they can work.

These are the least lazy people I have ever heard of.

And those people who have stayed, who make their living in small family owned shops, also deserve praise. They work hard, live in less than ideal conditions in many cases, but they are dedicated, devoted and work in a way that others would not consider doing.

I admit it takes more planning and a little more advance knowledge to make your trip to Naples easier, than it does to go to Rome or Florence, but for a little extra work, the rewards are great.

Do not deny yourself the opportunity to see and feel this city of treasures, (including the people) and do not deny this city the respect it deserves. 

Go to Napoli!

January 1, 2014

New Books

Some new and forthcoming titles that may be of interest to our readers. All are available at Amazon.com

From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town by Ingrid D. Rowland

Publisher: Belknap Press
Publication Date: March 17, 2014
Hardcover: $22.14
Language: English
Pages: 328

Poetry and Identity in Quattrocento Naples by Matteo Soranzo

Publisher: Ashgate Pub Co.
Publication Date: March 28, 2014
Hardcover: $104.45
Language: English
Pages: 166

Trilingual Talk in Sicilian Australian Migrant Families: Playing Out Identities Through Language Alternation by Antonia Rubino

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Publication Date: April 17, 2014
Hardcover: $78.74
Language: English
Pages: 304

Sicilian Epic and the Marionette Theater by Michael Buonanno

Publisher: McFarland & Company
Publication Date: May 15, 2014
Paperback: $45.00
Language: English
Pages: n/a

The Archaeology of South-East Italy in the 1st Millennium BC: Greek and Native Societies of Apulia and Lucania Between the 10th and the 1st Century BC by Douwe Yntema

Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Publication Date: May 15, 2014
Hardcover: $89.10
Language: English
Pages: 312

Campi Flegrei (Active Volcanoes of the World) edited by Giovanni Orsi, Lucia Civetta and Roberto Moretti

Publisher: Springer
Publication Date: June 23, 2014
Hardcover: $118.58
Language: English
Pages: 299

Click here to see more books