March 29, 2015

Feast of the Pupazze

Photos of the Pupazze courtesy of Made in South Italy Today
Every year on Palm Sunday (Domenica delle Palme) in Bova Superiore, a scenic commune in the Province of Reggio Calabria, the locals celebrate the Messiah’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem with a unique ritual known as the Feast of the Pupazze.

On Palm Sunday, as the name suggests, it is traditional for devotees to weave palm leaves into religious symbols. However, in southern Italy palm was hard to come by, so during the feast celebrants used olive branches instead. In Bova, this art form was taken to new heights. Townspeople skillfully weave ornate female figures out of the branches and adorn them with flowers and local produce. The verdure effigies are carried through the town in a colorful procession to the shrine of St. Leo, Bova’s beloved patron, where they are blessed.

After Mass, the figures are stripped of their bounty and distributed among the revelers. The blessed branches are brought home and fastened to doorways or mantels for good luck and to ward off evil. The dried fronds of the previous year are burned and the ashes buried to help reinvigorate the crops and fields.

While the origins of the rite are lost in antiquity, some believe the Pupazze are allegorical figures symbolizing Lent, which is sometimes depicted as a woman. In Greece, for example, cookies are made in the image of Kyra Sarakosti, or Lady Lent, to help children learn about their religion. There is also a similarity to Lady Maslenitsa of Slavic tradition, who’s straw effigy is immolated before the Russian Orthodox Great Lent. The ashes are used in a similar fashion.

Others say the custom dates back to pre-Christian times and the images actually represent the Greek goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone (Kore), thus celebrating the transition from winter to spring. According to legend, the god Hades spied the maiden Persephone picking flowers on the slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicily. The earth shook and a great chasm opened beneath her. Up sprang Hades in a chariot, whisking the surprised goddess away to his underworld realm to be his wife and queen.

In her grief, Demeter (the goddess of fertility and agriculture) threatened to make the earth barren unless her daughter was returned to her. After a period of famine and woe, Zeus intervened and mediated a compromise begrudgingly accepted by Hades and Demeter. Persephone would spend part of the year with her husband in the underworld, and during those months Demeter would withdraw her gifts from the earth, causing the seasons of autumn and then winter. When she was returned to her mother, the goddess would once again restore her gifts and spring would begin and pass into summer. Oddly enough, Persephone and Hades were supposed to have been very happy together while she was with him in the underworld, but as every married couple should know, a mother-in-law is not something to be taken lightly.

Terracotta hydria (water jar) depicting
the abduction of Persephone by Hades.
Greek, Apulian, red figure, ca. 340-330 B.C.
Found at Canosa, Puglia before 1878
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Whatever the origin of the Pupazze, the feast is very special. It is practiced only in Bova, which incidentally is one of the few remaining pockets of Griko speakers in Calabria. It is quaint and fun, but more importantly it symbolizes ideas that are ancient and widespread. Any agrarian population understands the importance of spring and the seasonal agricultural cycles. The harvest is your life, surviving winter depends upon it and the seeds planted in the spring is where that harvest begins. In the seasons of the Church, it is also when the Son of God died, descended to Hades and was resurrected.

Even in this modern world we are not so different from our ancestors; the bread we eat and wine we drink remain products of the seasons and the harvest. Symbolism and ritual have been helping people express concepts since before written history. If we see ourselves as seekers of knowledge, then instead of turning away from these practices we should be trying to understand them, and understand ourselves through them.

Photo of the Week: Il Duomo di Vietri sul Mare

A look at the ceramic dome of the Duomo di San Giovanni Battista in Vietri sul Mare. Photo by New York Scugnizzo

March 26, 2015

A Look at the 2015 Festa di San Giuseppe in Ridgewood, Queens

Viva San Giuseppe!
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
Hundreds gathered at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Ridgewood, Queens on Sunday (March 22nd) to celebrate the annual Festa di San Giuseppe. Mass was held in Italian by Father Thomas, followed by a procession through the neighborhood with marching bands and the saint’s statue.
Sponsored by the Associazone Cattolica Italiana di Miraculous Medal, there was a terrific turnout with plenty of support from several other Italian American societies. As always, it was great to see our friends from the Congrega San Gerardo Maiella di Brooklyn, Società Concordia Partanna, Maria SS. Delle Grazie di Montevago, St. Rocco Society of Potenza and New York City's Sicilian Food, Wine & Travel Group.
After the procession, the marchers returned to the Notre Dame Catholic Academy gymnasium behind the church for the benediction. We warmed-up inside with some caffè and lite fare, and were treated to a few more songs by the Giglio Band. Guests mingled and spoke Sicilian, but sadly no one recited poetry this year. After the raffle, blessed loaves of bread were distributed to the attendees and flowers from the statue were given to the ladies.
Special thanks to President Tony Mulé and members of the Associazone Cattolica Italiana for their warmth and hospitality. My friends and I had a great time and we look forward to celebrating with them again next year. Viva San Giuseppe!
Making our way to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church
After Mass, our beloved patron is carried out to the expectant crowd
The color guard leads the way
The procession makes its way through the neighborhood
Members of the Congrega San Gerardo Maiella di Brooklyn show their support
Numerous devotees brave the cold
Halfway through, we stopped by the Società Concordia Partanna clubhouse to honor San Francesco di Paola
Members of the Associazone Cattolica Italiana di Miraculous Medal take turns pulling the vara, or cart
The Giglio Band kept the festivities rolling
Afterward, we returned to a packed gymnasium for the party
A foolproof (and fun) way to keep the raffle drawings fair 
Boxes of blessed bread were distributed to attendees
(Above and below) Men give flowers to the ladies

March 23, 2015

Photo of the Week: Mt. Vesuvius in the Distance

A view of Monte Vesuvio looming in the distance, taken from within the Parco Regionale dei Monti Lattari, Corbara (SA). Photo by New York Scugnizzo

March 17, 2015

Ponderable Quote from “Terroni” by Pino Aprile

“The South has been deprived of its institutions; it has been deprived of its industries, its riches and of its ability to react. It has also been deprived of its people (with an emigration that was induced or forced unlike any other group in Europe). Lastly, through a cultural lobotomy, the South was deprived of its self-awareness; its memory. 
“We no longer know who we were. It happened similarly to the Jews in the Holocaust (the comparison is not exaggerated: hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even a million, Southerners were killed by the Savoy troops; thirteen to twenty million people, according to records, were forced to abandon their land over the course of a century). Many who were able to survive the concentration camps began to wonder whether the evil that was inflicted upon them was perhaps deserved. When the damage becomes intolerable one seeks a cause to blame it on, even if the cause is inexistent or absurd, in order not to lose one’s mind. The historian Ettore Ciccotti spoke of ‘a sort of Italian anti-Semitism’ referring to the treatment of Southern Italians. The Lega, an expression of local comical nationalism, were it not so tragic, is the most sincere example of this." 
“It is in this manner that the resistance against the invaders, rapes as well as the loss of wealth, life, identity, and of one’s own country becomes ‘shame.’ It is only now, after a century and a half, the Southern families are beginning to recuperate their pride in their ancestors, who had previously been labeled as brigands by their aggressors (Naturally this phenomenon has also caused the moral redemption of those who effectively were brigands as well. There were other criminals: those mafia members that were enlisted by Garibaldi and the Piedmontese, but they were considered ‘good Italians.’ To be deemed a criminal it does not matter what you do, but for whom).”
* Quoted from Terroni: All That Has Been Done to Ensure That the Italians of the South Became “Southerners” by Pino Aprile, Bordighera Press, 2011, p. 8–9

Around the Web (March 2015)

Items of interest from around the web.
Courtesy of YouTube
Io Non Festeggio at Sanfedisti: Altar & Throne
In opposition to the Anniversary of Italian Unification (commemorated every March 17th), and to remind everyone of southern Italy's rich and independent past, our friends at the Sanfedisti: Altar & Throne blog posted a YouTube video of Eddy Napoli's anthem MalaUnità, a scathing indictment of the Risorgimento and Italian "unity."
Courtesy of Briganti
During a recent interview at the Convento di San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, popular Sicilian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta (star of “Il Postino”) declared her affection for the Neapolitan people and stated emphatically, “I am part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.” Visit Vesuvio Live to read the article in Italian.

March 16, 2015

Photo of the Week: The Cathedral of Montecassino

A look inside the Cathedral of Montecassino Abbey
Photo by New York Scugnizzo

March 9, 2015

Photo of the Week: The Sea Giants of Capri

Stella, di Mezzo and di Fuori, the isle of Capri's breathtaking faraglioni, or giant rock formations, in the Bay of Naples. Photo by New York Scugnizzo

March 8, 2015

Happy Women’s Day!

Shrine to my foremothers
March 8th is La Festa della Donna (Women’s Day), a time to recognize and celebrate the invaluable contributions women have made to our community. In southern Italy, bouquets of bright yellow mimosa (and sometimes chocolates) are given to women as a sign of love and respect. To commemorate the occasion, I’m posting “Lace,” a poem by Maria Terrone.* The accompanying photo is this year's familial shrine I set up in memory of my beloved foremothers.


In small Mediterranean towns
women, stooped, and girls
with rag-soft bodies
are making lace intricate as brain circuitry.

See how the light spins through,
imprinting the wall—
not with a maze, but a map
to trace your way home

to women yet unborn who’ll find
the lace at the bottom of a cedar chest,
and marvel.

When the world is like a skein
unravelling, look again to the lace: see
how absence forms its pattern,
and purpose fills even the smallest space.

* Reprinted from Eye to Eye: Poems by Maria Terrone, Bordighera Press, 2014, p. 104

March 7, 2015

The Search for our Ancestry (X)

Details, Details!
By Angelo Coniglio
When perusing individual census listings, note the township, county and state in which the census was recorded.  You can contact churches, courthouses or public offices in those localities for other records: naturalization, birth, death or marriage records, etc.
Questions varied over the years.  I’ve previously listed all the questions from the 1920 census.  Here are selected ones, with hints to look for when reading the census.
Address: Distinguish between house number (address) and the number indicating the order in which the census was taken.  Street names and house numbers identify the actual property where your ancestor lived, and can help to find churches, cemeteries, schools, etc., where  other pertinent records may exist.
Name: Remember that to search on-line or digitized census records by name, you may have to use innovative or imaginative spellings of the name.  Usually the head of household’s given name and surname are listed, with only given names for the rest of the family.
Relationship to head of family: Study the family members’ names and relationship to the head.  A woman with a different surname than the head may be listed as “mother-in-law”, thus giving you the “maiden” surname of the wife of the head of household.  When a surname listed for a “daughter” is different from that of the head of the family, it’s probably the daughter’s married surname.
Sex:  Errors here are not uncommon.  Young children with “foreign-sounding” names may have been attributed the wrong gender.  So your grandfather Andrea may have been incorrectly listed as a girl, or your aunt Carmen as a boy!  Use census information as a guide, not as gospel.
Age: The person’s age at last birthday. Infants’ ages may be given as years and fractions: 2 7/12 means the child was two years and seven months old at the time.  The date when the census was taken is at the top of the page, and by subtraction, a year of birth can be calculated.  Don’t be surprised if ages on the census are different than what was recorded elsewhere.
Marital status, including that of children, helps confirm previously found information.  Year of immigration and country of birth help in locating passenger manifests, which may list town of birth.  Notes reading al, pa, and Na stand for ‘alien’, ‘papers applied for’, and ‘Naturalized’.
Occupation is noted on the 1920 census, and also on many passenger manifests.  Matching a person’s name, year of birth, occupation and year of immigration, as given on a census, with the information on a ship’s manifest can corroborate that the records are for the same person.
Make note of the other names on the census, neighbors of your ancestor.  They may be his  relatives or friends, and research on their backgrounds may unveil otherwise unknown information about your ancestor, or ways to find it.
The censuses prior to 1920 and for subsequent years provided essentially the same information, with some variation.  The 1900 census, rather than giving a person’s age, lists the month and year of birth, while the 1910 and 1930 censuses list “Number of Years Married” or “Age at First Marriage”, from which you may determine whether the couple was married in the US, or before they came here, aiding in the search for a marriage record.
US Censuses carry meaningful data about our immigrant ancestors, especially censuses of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  They are a valuable source of information.   Depending on the state, you may also find information in the State Censuses, performed by individual states every ten years “on the fives”, as in New York, taken from 1825 through 1935; or the New Jersey State Census, every ten years from 1855 through 1915.  Unfortunately, many states did not take separate censuses.
Coniglio is the author of the book The Lady of the Wheel (La Ruotaia), based on his genealogical research of Sicilian foundlings.  Order the book in paperback or on Kindle at Visit his website,, and write to him at

March 3, 2015

A Brief Sketch: Onorio Ruotolo

The old headquarters for the Italian Labor Center, Manhattan
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
“While he worships the heroic his sympathies are with those whom life has maimed and oppressed.” — John May
Meeting friends for Sunday dinner in Manhattan over the weekend, I stumbled across an interesting facade at 231 East 14th Street half-hidden behind some trees and the building's fire escape. Unsure of its history, I snapped a few photos and continued on my way. Later that night I went online to try and learn more about the work.

Thanks to Ephemeral New York, I discovered that the old marble sign and bas reliefs are attributed to the sculptor Onorio Ruotolo (1888–1966), nicknamed the "the Rodin of Little Italy.” The building, now home to Beauty Bar, was once the headquarters for the Italian Labor Center and Cloakmakers Union in the now long-gone East Village Little Italy.

Only vaguely familiar with Ruotolo’s work, it was great to see an example in person. Before this, I’ve only seen his bust of Enrico Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera House and a few images published in the catalogue for the 2004 exhibit at the Italian American Museum entitled, The Art of Freedom: Onorio Ruotolo and the Leonardo Da Vinci Art School (Sciorra and Vellon). 
The left panel relief
The subject of the two relief panels reminded me a little of Anthony de Francisci’s Independence Flagstaff at nearby Union Square. Like de Francisci’s memorial, the contrasting allegorical figures represent the decline and triumph of civilization, respectively. 

The panel on the left depicts a downtrodden family. In the forefront we see a despondent woman entangled by a serpent, which is feeding from her breast. Her child reels away in horror as her husband toils in the distance. This, I believe, symbolizes the debilitating effects of tyranny and the hopeless plight of the worker in a corrupt society.

In comparison, the panel to the right portrays an idealized hardworking, loving family. Naked and free, the robust figures undoubtably personify family, labor and a promising future. 

Like many of Ruotolo’s works, the obscured marble facade clearly shows the artist’s understanding of the worker's hopes and fears.
The right panel relief
I’ve passed the area countless times over the years and never noticed the sign hidden in plain sight, but on that snowy day it was simply there waiting for me; just in time for me to post on his birthday.
Life and Work*

Born on March 3, 1888, in Cervinara, a small town in the Province of Avellino, Onorio Ruotolo was raised in nearby Bagnoli Irpino, where his father worked as an engineer. He studied for six years at the prestigious Reale Istituto di Belle Arti in Naples, apprenticing for two years under the great Neapolitan sculptor Vincenzo Gemito.

In 1908 Ruotolo moved to the United States from Naples, joining the vibrant, but poor, immigrant community. Quickly making a name for himself, Ruotolo sculpted from life, often depicting the injustices of poverty and the horrors of war he witnessed.

Best known for his portraits, some of Ruotolo’s more notable subjects included inventor Thomas Edison, Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, the last perhaps explaining why the artist was accused on several occasions of holding an “ambiguous attitude” toward Fascism by Carlo Tresca, a popular labor activist and anarchist leader. In addition to sculpting, Ruotolo wrote poetry, illustrated books, published his own journal, and was a teacher. 
The 2004 exhibit catalogue
In 1923 he founded, with Attilio Piccirilli, the Leonardo Da Vinci Art School, which “diffused among the children of workers, the Light of Art.”  Ruotolo, Piccirilli and the rest of the faculty (e.g. Pietro Montana) all volunteered their time and services to teach art to impoverished children. The school, after moving to several locations, ultimately closed in 1942.

Disillusioned with politics, Ruotolo would eventually go on and renounce his earlier political beliefs as well as distance himself from many of his old affiliations, including those with Arturo Giovannitti, Helen Keller and Carlo Tresca, among others.

Suffering a stroke, Ruotolo spent the last two decades of his life writing poetry and published several collections. He passed away on December 18, 1966 at the age of 78 in his home in Greenwich Village.

* The following source proved invaluable to this post: The Art of Freedom: Onorio Ruotolo and the Leonardo Da Vinci Art School, Joseph Sciorra and Peter Vellon, 2004

Further reading: Italoamericana: The Literature of the Great Migration, 1880-1943 edited by Francesco Durante, Fordham University Press, 2014

March 1, 2015

Photo of the Week: La Sala dei Cavalieri

A view from inside the Sala dei Cavalieri, or Knight's Hall, at Villa Rufolo in Ravello. Photo by New York Scugnizzo

New Books

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

The Neapolitan Recipe Collection: Cuoco Napoletano by Terence Peter Scully

Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication Date: January 12, 2015
Paperback: $31.08
Language: English
Pages: 264

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The House by the Medlar Tree by Giovanni Verga

Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication Date: May 20, 2015
Paperback: $9.45
Language: English
Pages: 272

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Click here to see more books