November 29, 2015

Photo of the Week: Fontana di Sant'Andrea

Apropos of the Feast of Sant'Andrea (November 30th), patron of Amalfi
Saint Andrew's Fountain, Piazza del Duomo, Amalfi
Photo courtesy of Andrew Giordano

November 28, 2015

Grandma's Holey Secret

Nonna Isolina and Grandpa Rizzolo
By Cookie Curci
When I was a little girl, Nonna told me enchanting stories of life in the old country and of her new life in America. I loved these ancestral tales. Each one gave me a clearer picture of my relatives and a better understanding of my family.  
One of my favorite family stories was one that Grandma often told of her early life in America; how she and grandpa felt a great wonderment and excitement when they arrived in their new land; how they left their towns and villages of Italy and came to America to find work in the golden state of California.
Grandma and Grandpa told us how the young immigrants had heard fantastic tales in the old country, tales of how the streets of California were paved with gold. But when they got here, they learned three things: First, the streets were not paved in gold, second, the streets weren't paved, and third, they were expected to pave them.    
Like many of his fellow immigrants, Grandpa went to work paving the roadways and laying railroad tracks in the city while Grandma worked part-time in the canneries while caring for her home and children. When Papa came home from work he'd eat a hurried supper then rush off to night school to get his education. After Grandpa graduated and attained his American citizenship he went to work full time on the cannery lines and part-time in a shoe repair shop. He labored on the night shift so that his days would be free to take care of the children, allowing Grandma to attend school and receive an education.
Grandma anticipated her first day of school in America. The day of her first class was a very important moment in her life, she knew that she needed an education to become a good citizen of her new country.
On the morning of her first class, Grandma rushed to dress for school. Though she didn't have much of a wardrobe, what she had was clean and well pressed. As she slipped her feet into her best pair of long black stockings, Grandma's happy mood dissolved into horror as she discovered her toes came poking through huge gaping holes in her socks.
"Forget your socks, mama, you haven't time to mend them now, you'll be late for class" urged Papa." I have a surprise for you, Mama, something that will cover up those holes in your socks."
With that, grandpa handed grandma her high button shoes. Only now, her old shoes gleamed with brand new leather soles and shiny black laces. She could see her reflection in their shine. Grandpa had worked extra hours at the shoe shop to repair his wife's old and worn high-top shoes.
Grandma's eyes glistened with pride and gratitude as she placed a kiss on her husband's cheek. "I will look like a fine lady in these shoes, Papa", she exclaimed.
"Hurry now, Mama, hurry", Papa warned, "Or you will be late for your first day of school. Slip your feet into these  shoes and no one will ever see your holey socks. It will be our little secret," smiled papa.
Grandma had no time now to darn her tattered stockings. She did what Papa suggested and slipped her feet inside her high button shoes. She quickly laced them and rushed out the doorway, pausing only a moment for Papa to kiss her good-bye and to hand her two one dollar bills for her classroom tuition. Grandpa and the children waved to grandma until she disappeared from sight on the morning trolley.
Arriving at school that day, Grandma felt uneasy in a classroom filled with strangers. At the head of the class was a stern-looking teacher by the name of Mrs. Peabody. The teacher was dressed in a long-sleeved black dress with a pristine starched white collar and matching cuffs. On her feet. she wore tightly laced high-buttoned shoes. To her nose  a pair of small, wire rimmed glasses clung tightly. In her hand she held a long, slender, ominous looking pointer stick, which she used both for pointing and intimidation.
That morning, the teacher passed a large empty bowl around the classroom, instructing each student to drop their tuition fees  into the container. Each student complied. One of the more affluent students paid his fee with a bright two dollar gold piece. After collecting all the money the teacher placed the bowl on her desk. Later, that  afternoon, when Mrs. Peabody tallied up the tuition money, she discovered the shiny gold coin was missing. Convinced that one of her students had taken the gold piece she demanded that everyone in the class empty their pockets, purses and wallets on her desk.
The students reluctantly obeyed, but still no gold coin.
Angry and frustrated the teacher took her search one step farther and demanded that everyone in the classroom remove their shoes and socks. A small gold coin could be easily hidden in the rim of a high button shoe or stocking.
One by one the students removed their shoes. Everyone that is, except Grandma. She sat there, frozen with embarrassment, hoping and praying the missing coin would be found before she had to slip off her shoes.
"Well, we're all waiting" said Mrs. Peabody, her sharp voice cutting through the silence, her pointer stick aimed at Grandma's shoes.
For what seemed like an eternity the entire classroom stared down at grandma's feet. Grandma had been so proud of her newly repaired shoes, to remove them now in front of her peers and expose her tattered stockings would be a great disgrace. Grandma's continued reluctance to remove her shoes convinced the teacher of her guilt.
Mrs. Peabody marched Grandma off to the principle's office where she immediately telephoned Papa. He gathered the children and rushed down to the school to defend his wife's honor. He explained, in his best broken English, why his wife was reluctant to remove her shoes. "My wife no take no money...she a good woman...she got the big holes in her socks, that's all she got, ma'am."
The school principle allowed Grandma to remove her shoes in the privacy of his office. He soon discovered the only thing grandma was hiding was a pair of unsightly socks. Grandma returned to her classroom, but all that day a shadow of suspicion hung over her.
Late that afternoon, just before the dismissal bell, Grandma was exonerated of any wrong doing. When Mrs. Peabody raised her right arm to write the class assignment on the black board the missing coin fell from the cuff of her sleeve. The coin rolled across the room in plain view of all the classroom. The stiffly starched cuff of her dress had accidentally scooped up the small coin as she counted up the money earlier that day.
The teacher's face flushed red with embarrassment. The wayward coin rolled past the entire student body. Struggling to keep her composure, as well as her wire glasses on her nose, she raced after the coin. As she ran, the snickering laughter of her students followed her across the room.
That day, Grandma’s teacher learned a lesson more valuable then a gold coin. Mrs. Peabody would never again rush to judgment.
That afternoon, when Grandma returned home from school, Papa was waiting for her on the front porch. Exhausted from his night job, he was quietly napping in his front porch chair. Cradled in his hard-working hands was grandma's darning basket. Inside the basket were Grandma's stockings. Papa had carefully and lovingly mended each and every one.
In later years, Grandpa became a successful businessman. He took a special pride in gifting his wife with stockings made from the finest silks and woolens. Though Grandma appreciated these stockings, they were never so dear to her or so well loved as those old cotton stockings, lovingly mended by her husband's callused, hardworking hands.
Contact Cookie Curci at

November 27, 2015

Compra Sud — Villabate Alba Pasticceria

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Let's support those who keep our traditions and folkways alive

Villabate Alba Pasticceria
7001 18th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11214
(718) 331-8430




* Our recommendations will be unsolicited, and only from our personal experience. No second hand suggestions will be made.

November 26, 2015

The Darwin of the South

Giuseppe Sergi – The ‘Father’ of Modern Physical Anthropology
Giuseppe Sergi
By Niccolò Graffio
Charles Darwin has been (rightfully) called one of the most influential figures in human history. His thesis on evolution as expounded in his seminal work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) upended the international scientific community, founded the science of evolutionary biology and changed the way we look at ourselves as a species forever.
While many scientists by this time were open to various explanations concerning the origins of life due to the diversity of so many species (and the fossil record), Darwin’s ideas were nothing less than revolutionary! As one might expect, his theory concerning the origins and complexities of life were not immediately and readily accepted.  
The core thesis to Darwin’s idea of natural selection was that new species arose as a result of gradual changes to existing ones over time due to changes in the environment. Each species’ members possessed a variety of traits and they continuously struggled for survival to capitalize existing resources which were finite. Those who possessed the traits most favored under existing circumstances were most likely to survive to pass those traits on to their offspring.   Darwin stressed these processes were totally random.
This set Darwin at odds with some of the leading thinkers, both scientific and theological, of his time. Richard Owen, the leading naturalist in the United Kingdom of Darwin’s day, attacked Darwin’s idea of natural selection, holding that while the idea of new species arising from old was plausible these were “ordained births” rather than the culmination of random events.
If Darwin’s ideas were initially greeted with skepticism if not outright hostility from many quarters in his native Britain, things were only worse elsewhere. They initially had little impact in France, where any biologists who accepted evolution embraced variations of the ideas set down by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, whose own theory of evolution emphasized what he termed “soft inheritance,” that is, an organism passing down to future generations’ traits it acquired during its lifetime. In America Darwin’s defenders ran up against those who sided with Swiss-born naturalist Louis Agassiz, who among other things believed in the concept of polygenism, the idea that each human race had a distinct origin rather than a shared ancestry.
Charles Darwin
Italy, long the bastion of the Roman Catholic Church, likewise greeted Darwin’s ideas with great skepticism, yet he did have his defenders there, as well. This article is dedicated to the most prominent among them, a man who has been rightfully called Italy’s “champion of Darwinism”.
Giuseppe Sergi was born in the city of Messina, Sicily on March 20, 1841. Information on his childhood is scant.  An avid intellectual, he first studied law before switching over to linguistics and philosophy. At the age of 19 he joined Garibaldi during the latter’s expedition to Sicily. Ever learning, after this he studied physics and anatomy. He eventually majored in racial anthropology, studying under the infamous physician and criminologist Cesare Lombroso.   
For a time after completing his studies he worked as a secondary school teacher in Milan, where he held a position in theoretical philosophy. In 1880 he was appointed to a position as Professor of Anthropology at the prestigious University of Bologna, the oldest continuously operating university in the world!
The following year the noted Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli called him up to become a member of the editorial board of Rivista di filosofia scientifica (It: “Journal of Scientific Philosophy”), at the time the leading journal of Italian Positivism. That same year he also edited the Italian version of The Data of Ethics by the prominent English philosopher, anthropologist, biologist, sociologist and classical liberal political theorist Herbert Spencer (1820-1903).  
In 1884 he obtained a position at the University of Rome. Rome had recently been established as the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. At this time Anthropology was considered part of the Literature Faculty. During his time at the University of Rome, Sergi established the Laboratory of Anthropology and Psychology to, among other things “wean” Anthropology from Literature and make it a science in its own right. He eventually succeeded in becoming Chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the Faculty of Sciences, University of Rome, La Sapienza. Here he founded Italy’s first true anthropological museum.
To be sure, Sergi was not the only person in Italy at this time doing groundbreaking research in the nascent field of physical anthropology. Paolo Mantegazza (1831-1910) of Florence and Giustiniano Nicolucci (1819-1904) of Naples likewise made important contributions, but of the three, Sergi would become the most prominent both nationally and internationally.
Sergi continued to make his mark on the anthropological sciences in Italy. In 1893, for example, he started the Società Romana di Antropologia (the name was later changed to Istituto Italiano di Antropologia). In addition to this, he also started the the publication of the Proceedings of the Society, entitled Atti della Società Romana di Antropologia (1893-1910; later Rivista di Antropologia, 1911-2003, and now Journal of Anthropological Sciences, 2004- ). This journal tried to introduce innovative trends in anthropological investigations through interdisciplinary approaches. 
Sergi had been mentored by Mantegazza for about 20 years. Shortly after founding the Società Romana di Antropologia, he broke with Mantegazza, for reasons more professional than personal.
Cesare Lombroso
Likewise, Sergi broke with his colleague Cesare Lombroso for similar reasons. Lombroso was the founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology, a school of thought that set forth the proposition that many criminals were born rather than made. Lombroso termed these types “atavistic born criminals”. In his earliest writings he viewed them as a type of human sub-species. In his later writings he came to regard them as examples of arrested development and degeneracy.
According to him, it could be possible to identify these types by taking detailed measurements of the human skull. Sergi opposed him for several reasons. For starters, Lombroso claimed that Southern Italians were much more disposed to this ‘atavism’ than Northern ones. This claim was widely used by Northerners as justification for their subjugation and disenfranchisement of Southerners. Sergi held fast to his claim that Southerners, being Mediterraneans, were a naturally gifted people who while perhaps predisposed to greater emotional volatility, were nonetheless hardly an “inferior” people. He also took issue with Lombroso using craniometric measurements in an effort to identify criminals, which he felt was unscientific.
While Cesare Lombroso’s views were generally accepted among Northern Italians, outside of Italy they generated mostly skepticism if not outright disapproval. The exception was the United States, where Anglo-American Nordicists incorporated them into their ideology. Shortly before World War I the pioneering British criminologist Charles Buckman Goring, under the sponsorship of the British government did a large-scale study of over 3,000 English convicts in order to determine if there was, in fact, any truth to Lombroso’s assertions. Collecting and analyzing data bearing upon 96 different physical traits in each of the convicts, he came to the conclusion that “There is no such thing as an anthropological criminal type.” The results of this study would be later published in his magnum opus “The English Convict: a statistical study” (1913). Other later studies would likewise contradict Lombroso’s assertion. In spite of this, many of his claims still survive among fringe groups.
The discipline of anthropology at this time was rather unspecialized and would continue to remain so in Italy until after World War I. Paolo Mantegazza, like Cesare Lombroso and Sergi, leaned more towards the medical-biological aspects of the field rather than the philological-linguistic ones. Where Sergi differed from his mentor, however, was that while Mantegazza favored a more centralist attitude, zeroing in on its purely biomedical aspects, Sergi also took into account the environmental and historical-cultural influences on individuals, populations and races.  
Where he remained in harmony with this former mentor, however, was his belief the analysis and classification of the human skull to be of primary importance in establishing the distinctiveness of the various races of mankind. Giuseppe Sergi would go far in establishing techniques in the burgeoning sub-discipline of craniology based on morphological traits of the human skull, rather than on lines and angles. He would continue to make such innovations until his death.
Unlike many others of his day, Sergi was opposed to the use of the cephalic index in determining population ancestry. Rather, he felt that cranial morphology would be a more useful tool. Though he made a number of significant contributions to the burgeoning field of physical anthropology, two stand out.
The first was his theory on the origins of Southern Europeans.Previous generations of naturalists had been heavily influenced by Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau, a 19th century French aristocrat and novelist who attempted to explain the origins of modern races in his book An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races. Though he lacked training as a theologian and naturalist, Gobineau presumptuously sought to grapple with topics that baffled even the leading erudite minds of his day.
Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau
Gobineau was thoroughly convinced the Bible was a reliable storehouse of historical information about human origins. As such, his essay was written from that perspective. At the time of his existence the scientific and theological worlds were divided on the subject of human origins (as they pretty much are today). One school of thought in both worlds, called monogenism, held that all human races held a common origin. The other, polygenism, held that the major human races (white, black & yellow) had different origins.
Where Gobineau differed from many others of his time was his belief that while the major human races of the world shared a common origin, from the beginning the progeny of Adam and Eve were separated into (what he believed) were different species of mankind. The indigenous inhabitants of places like Southern and Eastern Europe were, he also believed, “mixed”. He also believed that (Northern) Germanics were the purest example of the White race. Gobineau’s writings would have a highly influential effect on later generations of racists, including the Nazis. For this reason, he is considered by many historians to be the “Founding Father” of Aryanism or Nordicism. His views on human origins, though dated and thoroughly debunked, still survive in one form or another.
Sergi’s first standout contribution was his model of human origin, expounded in his books Human Variation and The Mediterranean Race (1901). According to Sergi, the ancestors of modern Europeans originated from what today is called the Horn of Africa and were related to modern day Hamitic peoples. At an early date, they settled into Europe, eventually becoming modern Northern and Southern Europeans. This model of human origin directly contrasted that of Gobineau’s and was a forerunner of today’s “Out of Africa” model of human beginnings.
By Sergi’s time the social theory known as Nordicism was in vogue among many Northern Europeans (and peoples elsewhere of Northern European descent). Sergi’s racial theories were in direct opposition to Nordic theory. For example, in contrast to Nordicists who claimed the ancient Greeks and Romans (or at least their rulers) were of Germanic stock who founded those great civilizations, Sergi cogently argued the Greeks and Romans were in fact, Mediterranean peoples and the later Germanic invasions of Rome produced nothing but “delinquency, vagabondage and ferocity.”  
In addition to ancient Greece and Rome, Sergi would go on to argue the civilizations of ancient Egypt and Carthage were likewise the products of native Mediterranean peoples, a claim also made by a number of British physical anthropologists including Elliot Smith and Geoffrey M. Morant.
Giuseppe Sergi’s most lasting contribution to the growing field of anthropology was his spirited defense of Darwinism. While acknowledging (at the time) the dearth of transitional life forms in the fossil record, he nonetheless held that Darwin’s core thesis – evolution by natural selection, was valid. This was at a time when support for Darwinism in many parts of Europe (especially Italy) was low.
For this and his efforts at systemizing the science, it would be only natural to confer upon him the unofficial title of the Father of Modern Physical Anthropology.
Further reading:
• Sergi, Giuseppe: The Mediterranean Race: A Study of the Origin of European Peoples; Forgotten Books; 2012

November 23, 2015

Photo of the Week: The Divine Coast of Amalfi

Apropos of the upcoming Feast of Sant'Andrea (Nov. 30th), patron of Amalfi
The Amalfi Coast (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)

November 21, 2015

The Secret of Grandma's Sugar Crock

Tony DiNapoli and Maria Carmela
By Cookie Curci
Through the years, I've discovered bits and pieces of the past that when put all together, make up my extraordinary grandmother Maria Carmela Curci-DiNapoli. I knew that she came to this country as a young immigrant from Italy and married my grandfather Antonio Curci in 1910. A few years later, she was widowed with three children. I had heard family stories of how Grandma had  struggled to find work, to pay her debts and to keep her family together during those difficult years. In all of these stories, one fact remained prominent—Grandma's deep religious devotion guided her through each problem and task.
But it was only recently that I would discover yet another missing piece to Grandma's past that would help me know her just that much better. My memories of Grandma begin on an Almaden ranch in the heart of California's prune country during W.W.II. By then, she had married her second husband, Grandpa Tony DiNapoli, and had settled into rural ranch life, raising a family of seven boys and one girl.
During world war II a government-issued flag imprinted with five blue stars hung in the  front room window of my grandparents old farm house, meant that five of their sons were off fighting in the war. without the boys to work the land the ranch was short handed. grandma and grandpa had to work twice as hard to produce a bountiful fruit crop.
During harvest time, every member of the family pitched in to help, including grand kids like myself. Even so, it was a difficult time for Grandma: rationing was in effect, there was little money, and worst of all there was the constant worry over whether her five sons would come home safely.
The ranch was a lovely place, especially in the spring when the orchards were white with plum blossoms. During the  summer, while we  harvested the prune crop, Grandma cooked up fine Italian lunches. We would all sit on blankets spread out on the orchard ground, enjoying not just the wonderful food, but also the satisfaction of being a part of such an important family effort.
To encourage the ripe fruit to fall, Grandpa used a long wooden pole with an iron hook at the top to catch a branch and shake the fruit loose from the trees. Then the rest of us would crawl along, wearing knee pads that grandma had sewn into our overalls and gather the plums into metal buckets. We dumped the buckets of plums into long wooden trays, where the purple little plums were soon sun-dried into rich, brown prunes.
Maria Carmela, Tony Curci
and Tony DiNapoli
After a long, hard day I would walk hand-in-hand with Grandpa through the orchards while he surveyed what had been accomplished that day. I'd enjoy eating fresh plums off the trees, licking the sweet stickiness from my fingertips.
On each of these walks, Grandpa would stoop down and pick up a handful of soil, letting it sift slowly and lovingly through his strong work-callused hands. Then with pride and conviction he would invariably say: "If you take good care of the land, the land will take good care of you." 
As dark came on the ranch, we'd all gather together on the cool, quiet verandah of the front porch. Grandpa would settle comfortably into his rocker,under the dim glow of a flickering moth-covered light bulb, and there he'd read the latest war news in his newspaper. Grandma sat nearby on the porch swing, swaying and saying her perpetual rosary. The quiet squeak of grandma's swing and  the low mumbling of her prayers could be heard long into the night. 
The stillness of the quiet ranch house painfully reflected the absence of the five robust young men. This was the hardest part of the day for Grandma; the silence of the empty house was a painful reminder that her sons were far, far away, fighting for their country.
On Sunday morning, after church, Grandma was back out on the porch, again, repeating her rosary before going into the kitchen to start cooking. Then she and grandpa sat at the kitchen table, counting out ration slips for the week ahead and what little cash there was to pay the bills. Once they were finished, Grandma always took a portion of her money and put it in to an old sugar crock, placing it high on the kitchen shelf. I often asked her what the money in the jar was for, but he would only say, "A very special favor."
Well, the war finally ended, and all five of Grandma's sons came home remarkably safe and sound. After a while, Grandma and Grandpa retired, and the family farm became part of a modern expressway.
Cookie with Maria Carmela's ex-voto
I never did find out what the money in that old sugar crock was for—until a week or so before last Christmas. Completely on impulse, perhaps feeling the wonder of the Christmas season and the need to connect with its spiritual significance, I stopped at a little church I just happened to be driving past. I'd never been inside before, and as I entered the church through the side door, I was stunned to come face to face with the most glorious stained- glass window I'd ever seen. I paused for a minute to examine the intricate beauty of the window more closely.
The magnificent stained-glass depicted the Holy Mother and child. Like an exquisite jewel, it reflected the glory of the very first Christmas. As I studied every detail of its fine workmanship, I found, to my utter amazement, a small plaque at the base of the window that read, "For a favor received—donated in 1945 by Maria Carmela Curci-DiNapoli." I couldn't believe my eyes. I was reading Grandma's very words! Every day, as Grandma had said her prayers for her soldier-sons, she'd also put whatever money she could scrape together into her sacred sugar crock to pay for the window. I had always thought grandma was saving the money to buy herself some much needed new clothes, but in all those years she never wore a new garment or new shoes, and now I know why.
Her quiet donation of this window had been her way of saying thank you to the Holy Mother Mary for sparing the lives of her beloved five sons.
Through the generations, the family had lost track of the window's existence. Finding it now at Christmas time, more than half a century later, not only brought back a flood of precious memories, but also it made me a believer in small but beautiful miracles.

Contact Cookie Curci at

November 20, 2015

Jarring Tomatoes: From Castrofillipo to Brooklyn

Rob and Enza preserving their heritage
Photos courtesy of Enza Agliata
By Enza Agliata
In 1975, my grandparents, father, and uncle immigrated to America, a foreign place where they were expected to assimilate and learn the American way of life. They settled in Brooklyn, New York. Their new home was over 4,500 miles away from Sicily; however, their customs and culture would not die. These traditions have been in my family for generations. Forty years later, we are still practicing and preserving these precious traditions. One of my favorite’s is jarring homemade tomato sauce.
The ladies prepare the tomatoes
Jarring tomatoes is a multi-day affair; especially, when you’re jarring 30 bushels! We jar our crushed tomatoes on the first day. At the crack of dawn, my nonna and nonnu are already at my house preparing. At the sound of their arrival, my sisters and I know it’s time to start washing the tomatoes while the men lift and set up all the heavy equipment. After rinsing the tomatoes with water and draining them, we put the tomatoes into a boiling cauldron of water. After the tomatoes are done boiling, the most fun part of the process begins, crushing the tomatoes!
Filling the cauldron
We all take turns crushing the tomatoes through the tomato-milling machine. It is so tempting to taste the freshly crushed sauce; you can even smell the freshness of the tomatoes from the house! We pour the boiling hot sauce into mason jars with nothing but fresh basil from my nonnu’s garden. The mason jars are sealed tight and we boil them one more time. This is the longest part of the process. All those who help throughout the day get to enjoy the fruits of their labor when my mom prepares the freshly made sauce for dinner. There is nothing more rewarding then to taste how rich and delicious the sauce is. Fortunately, we get to savor the wonderful taste every Sunday for the whole year!
Rob carefully removes the boiled tomatoes 
Day two begins just as early as the first. Only today we are doing things a little different; we are jarring whole tomatoes (pomodori palati). After we clean and boil the tomatoes, we peel off their skin instead of crushing them. We jar these tomatoes whole, seal them, and boil them in the jar just as we boiled the crushed tomatoes. The pomodori palati are used for special dishes like muscles with marinara sauce.
Everyone takes turns crushing them
This beautiful tradition has traveled from the farmlands of Castrofilippo, Provincia di Agrigento, Sicily to Brooklyn, New York. Without fail, every August we will jar our tomatoes for the year. The Southern Italian traditions brought by the courageous immigrants who longed to call America home will live on for future generations.
Boiling the filled mason jars

November 19, 2015

Dyker Heights' Neapolitan Nativity

John Miniero’s latest acquisitions from Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
It’s that time of year again when local artisan John Miniero builds his annual outdoor presepio in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn (14th Avenue, between 79th and 80th Streets). The Neapolitan Christmas tradition has been a neighborhood favorite for many years and continues to astonish onlookers with its whimsy and complexity. 
I met up with Mr. Miniero this week as he was putting the finishing touches on his magical crèche and I was not disappointed. With its teeming scenes of life in 18th century Naples and many secretive nooks and crannies, the sprawling diorama truly is a wonder to behold. I can’t thank John enough for taking the time from his busy schedule to show me around his workshop and pointing out some of the new details from this year’s masterpiece.
The Magi set up camp next to the manger
Mr. Miniero recreates Piazza Tasso in his native Sorrento, including the famed Chiesa della Madonna del Carmine with working clock in the bell tower
The central part of the tableau
Devotee praying in a grotto with dripping water
A vendor roasting chestnuts
Mr. Miniero shows us some of his more modest creations
Some unused treasures
Presepi were everywhere
A wonder to behold

November 16, 2015

Photo of the Week: Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso

Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Matera, Basilicata
Photos courtesy of Andrew Giordano

November 14, 2015


Call to Arms by Auguste Rodin 
Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, PA 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families of the November 13th Islamic State terror attacks in Paris. May St. Denis, St. Genevieve, St. Joan of Arc and St. King Louis IX protect and watch over you.
A Prayer to St. Joan of Arc
In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.

It Took a Tough Woman to Make a Tender Home

Maria Carmela with her son Tony Curci
and his step father Tony DiNapoli
By Cookie Curci
Our Santa Clara Valley is known the world over as Silicon Valley, where high-tech companies spring up overnight and blossom and grow to unbelievable heights.
But long before the computer companies began to grow, the Santa Clara Valley was known for something else—fruit. Thousands of acres of fruit trees flourished and the valley was the nation's leading grower of prunes, apricots, walnuts and cherries; and it was in the shade of these trees that my own family flourished.
My grandmother Maria Carmela came to this area from the town of Tricarico, Italy. The daughter of a tight-knit Italian family, she and her siblings came to America after her parents had both died of influenza. Rather than face life in the town orphanage, the children pooled their money and boarded a ship for America. Maria Carmela dreamed of starting her own family, having her own children to love and care for in the same way that she had felt loved. Her dreams of the family she would soon start kept her going on the long sea voyage from Italy, through the processing center at Ellis Island, and as she traveled by train across her strange new country to California.
Days after arriving on these shores, she stepped off the train at the Southern Pacific depot in San Jose, and into her new life.
A prearranged marriage awaited her. Although she and her intended husband, Antonio Curci, had never before laid eyes on one another, when they finally did meet it was love at first sight. The newlyweds settled into the poorer section of town, in a roomy wood-frame house that struck Maria as a palace. So many wonderful rooms—she and Antonio could fill them with children!
The few years after their marriage passed quickly—two children arrived and Maria and Antonio both proudly received their American citizenship papers. But their happiness together was not meant to last. While working on the railroad lines, Antonio contracted pneumonia. Only 32 years old, the strapping young man couldn't believe that a mere chest cold could have such dire consequences.
When he died, Maria sat in shock next to his coffin in their living room, her belly swollen with their third child. Well-meaning friends and relatives sat down next to her, anxious to help her in her grief. Each one had the same suggestion: "Why don't you give Rosie and Rocco to me for a while? Just until your life settles down." 
Or, more frightening still: "Maria, you can't manage with all of these children and no money. You will have to send the two older children to an orphanage."
But without Antonio, her children were all she had left. She had no money, no insurance, no job and a large pile of bills. But she had the children she'd so longed for and wanted, and one more on the way. She would survive.
The Santa Clara Valley's main industry was fruit-growing, harvesting, packing and shipping fruit all over the world. Large packing plants and canneries employed thousands of people; surely there would be a job for her, too. But my grandmother soon learned that despite the appearance of abundance, jobs were scarce. All over the valley, men were working double shifts to support large families. It was only natural, in the thinking of the time, that they received preferential treatment over women. Wherever Maria went, the answer was always the same for a woman: "No work available."
With her savings depleted, her children suffering from influenza and the loan officer from the bank due to evict her any day, she made one last attempt to find work at a canning plant near her home. She'd been turned away dozens of times before, but on this day she knew that it was her last chance to save her children, her last chance to keep them all together as a family.
Carefully closing the door of her beloved American house behind her, she set out down the road to the Del Monte cannery with a new resolve, a prayer in her heart and her rosary beads in her hand.
That day, a brand-new foreman was on the job. Maria told him of her plight and he took sympathy. Antonio DiNapoli saw the bright spark of determination in her eyes, and he found her a place in his line of cannery workers.
Cannery work was laborious and tiring. In the winter, an icy chill crept in through the cracks and crevices of the old brick building. In the summer, workers sweltered from the noisy machinery's steam and heat. But Maria worked on. She earned five cents for every bucket of tomatoes she peeled, but it was enough to pay her debts, feed her three children and keep her family together.
The new foreman, a widower with six children, was moved by Maria's determination and motherly loyalty. In time their friendship grew into love and they married. More children arrived, bringing the total between them to 11. Tony and Maria purchased a fruit orchard in Almaden, and raised their big family and grew prolific crops of prunes in the rich soil of the valley.
Throughout her life, Grandma Maria Carmela Curci-DiNapoli held on tightly to the dream she'd sought as a young girl arriving in America. With faith and tenacity, she hung on tightly to her children as well. She worked to make her dream a reality for herself, her children and her grandchildren.

Contact Cookie Curci at

November 9, 2015

Photo of the Week: A View of Pomarico

Grazie mille Andrew Giordano for sharing your wonderful photo of Pomarico, a picturesque town in the Province of Matera, Basilicata

November 7, 2015

Bourbon Flags Seized at San Paolo Stadium During Europa League Match Between Napoli and Midtjylland

During Thursday’s Europa League match between SSC Napoli and FC Midtjylland police inexplicably confiscated dozens of flags and scarves depicting the coat of arms of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from Neapolitan supporters. Organized by the Movimento Neoborbonico, the festive initiative called “One Hundred Flags of the Two Sicilies at the San Paolo” was meant to raise awareness about southern Italian history and “bring out a sense of identity of a people that have been united from 1100 to 1861.”
Curiously, Italian soccer continuously fails to curtail the derogatory invectives hurled at southerners at matches across the boot, but shamefully has no problem cracking down on a peaceful, inoffensive expression of local pride by Neapolitan fans. By seizing the regalia, the ugly episode proves, once again, the hypocrisy and double standards against the people of the south.
Ironically, Napoli’s official website sells athletic clothing
with the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Coat of Arms emblazoned on it
In the meantime, representatives of the Movimento Neoborbonico will present a complaint to the courts and have requested a meeting with police authorities for an explanation regarding the incident. We anxiously await the results.
* * * 
For the record, Napoli beat the Danish side 5-0 and qualified for the next round of the tournament with two games to spare. Forza Napoli!

Maria Carmela Mazzone Begins Her Journey of a Lifetime

Tony DiNapoli and Maria Carmela
By Cookie Curci
My Grandmother Maria Carmela came to California from the little town of Tricarico, Italy. The young daughter of a tight knit Italian family, she and her siblings came to America after her parents had both died from the deadly influenza epidemic that had swept over their little town. Rather than face another year living in the town orphanage they pooled their monies and boarded a ship for America. Now their long journey had brought them to a gloomy brick building that peered bleakly out at them through the murk of a New York harbor fog. The huge building with its arched windows, high ceilings and ominous gables instilled a feeling of foreboding in the young travelers.
Having no idea what lay beyond, my grandmother, Maria Carmela Mazzone, and her young siblings, walked bravely through those doors and toward the long hours of intense scrutiny ahead of them.
For Grandma, the processing interrogation went smoothly. She was given her papers and permitted to continue to California. But for her youngest sister Rose things didn't go so well. Rose had been born with a slight limp and the long, arduous journey, had left her weak. The port authorities were leery of anyone with an illness or disability entering the country and they firmly decided to turn her away. She was ordered back to Italy.
For days, Grandma Maria Carmela campaigned on her sister's behalf, begging the inspectors to please reconsider. She and her little sister had come so far that the thought of leaving Rosine behind now, when they were so close to their destination was unthinkable. While little Rose lay detained in the Ellis Island infirmary, her brother and sisters remained by her side, nursing her back to health with hot meals and daily prayers. Though the doctors were touched by all this devotion, port authorities still refused to rescind their decision and grandma’s little sister, was ordered to return to Italy, and to the orphanage where she would reside until years later. Under a new administration, she was finally allowed to return to America and join her family in San Jose.
With a heavy heart, and a promise that they would do everything they could do to assist their sister in returning to America, Grandma and her young siblings continued their journey to the Santa Clara Valley.
In San Jose, their sister, Andonia awaited their arrival at the Southern Pacific depot. Jobs and arranged marriages were waiting for them, as well.
Although Maria and her intended husband, Antonio Curci, had never laid eyes on one another, when they finally me, it was love at first sight for the happy couple.
Unfamiliar with the language and customs of their new country, the newlyweds settled in a poorer section of town. Unskilled, they took jobs in industries that offered low wages and poor working conditions. Like most newcomers, they were viewed with some suspicion and hostility. As a result, they gravitated to communities of people from their home country. Despite it all, Grandma and Grandpa Curci knew instinctively that America was the place for them. Obtaining their citizenship papers had become a shared goal. Every night, after work, they attended classes in U.S. history. 
The young Italian immigrants came by the thousands, settling into neighborhoods in what was then San Jose's West Side. Others located in Almaden and other orchard lands of the Valley.
In July of 1904, the conscientious immigrants began working together with one goal in mind: to construct a lavish church that would embody the spirit of their newly established Italian community. It would be a church that represented century old traditions and beliefs; it would exemplify hope and prosperity. Architect Alberto Port would construct the church. It would be located in the heart of the community at River and San Fernando Streets. Its design would be a small duplicate of the great St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.
The donations for this monumental task came form the valley's prune orchards, fields, and the emerging fruit industry.
My Grandparents, Maria and Antonio Curci, like their fellow immigrants, worked long hard hours in the orchards and canneries of the valley, contributing much of their time and earnings toward the completion of this grand project. Their dream for a community church was realized on October 6th, 1905.
Heavy contributors to the church included the Christian Mothers, Holy Name Society, Italian Catholic Federation, and the Holy Family sisters.
Grandma Maria and Grandpa Antonio were among the many young couples to marry in the Holy Family church.
The day of her wedding, Grandma Maria's heartbeat fast with excitement as the moment of the ceremony drew near. As a devout young catholic, she had taken communion earlier that day at the rail of the Holy Family Church. Her impeccable spirit, now as pure and white as the bibbed collars worn by the parish nun's.
The year was 1910; the spectacular church was filled to capacity with community well wishes that had come to bestow their blessings upon the handsome young couple. Friends and onlookers crowded the church steps standing three-deep in doorways to witness the holy sacrament.
A wedding among the young immigrant community was a welcomed celebration. The event represented a continuity of their people.
Adhering to their sacred beliefs and family traditions, Maria and Antonio recited their marriage vows in the sanctity of the Holy Family church. And there, for the next 60 years, their descendants would also attend Sunday mass and receive the holy Sacraments.
During the early years of their marriage, Grandpa Antonio went to work laying track for the city railroad lines. Work was scarce, and, like many immigrant workers, he was fearful of loosing his job; refusing to miss even a day’s work though he was suffering from influenza. His condition worsened and he developed double pneumonia. At the tender age of 32, Just 6 years after his wedding day, Grandpa Antonio passed away leaving Grandma Maria a widow with two children and one on the way.
It was during this time of her life that Grandma experienced her greatest comfort at the prayer rail of the Holy Family church. Unable to find work, her children sick with influenza and the bank about to foreclose on her home, she found courage and inspiration while praying to her patron Saint Mary.   
With a prayer in her heart, and her rosary beads in her hand, Grandma Maria attempted one last time to find work on the cannery lines.
That morning, through coincidence or divine intervention, a new foreman was on the job. He felt compassion for grandma’s plight, and gave her a spot on his cannery line.  After a few years on the job, a romance blossomed between Grandma and the cannery foreman, Tony DiNapoli. He was a widower with six children who greatly admired Grandma's dedication to her family. They were later married in the Holy Family Church and together raised a total of 12 children.
I remember once asking my Grandma Maria why it was so important to her people that they construct such a lavish cathedral when many of them barely had enough food to eat. Grandma answered with an Old Italian saying. Translated it means: "Out of our habits grow our character, on our character we build our destiny".
The church had come to represent the spirit and character of these hardworking young immigrants, who they were, and what they would become. It stood, for many years as a tribute to the good habits and fine character of a brave and tenacious people. But, what the 1906 San Francisco earthquake couldn’t do to the church, a bulldozer accomplished in 1960 when the grandiose church was leveled to make way for the city's Guadeloupe expressway.
But another church would soon take in its place and like its namesake, the new Holy Family Church, located on Pearl Avenue, arose like a phoenix out of an orchard of prune trees. The original bell that rang for so many years from the old church belfry is now preserved in a revered spot at the new location. The new Holy Family Church may not be as ostentatious as its namesake may, or as lavish with artifacts as the original, but its spiritual foundation remains equally as strong.
My generation shares a deep love and respect for our immigrant grand parents, for our grandfathers who worked two jobs and sharecropped the local ranches and for our grandmothers who spent long hours on the cannery lines, earning 5 cents a bucket cutting 'cots and tomatoes so their kids could climb out of poverty and take their place in society. The success of the valley and the generations that followed is a tribute to their dedication.
Today, our once fruitful valley has become known for its microchip production. But I suspect there would be no Silicon Valley if for the bounty given our economy by our early valley orchardists.
Valley ranchers, along with the canneries, packing plants and immigrant labor, all worked in separate ways to achieve together what we all enjoy today—a valley rich in family traditions and agricultural history.

Contact Cookie Curci at

November 6, 2015

The Search for our Ancestry (XVIII)

Multiple Records
By Angelo Coniglio
Often, I have had more luck finding facts in the Mormon microfilms than I’ve had by trying to contact Sicilian towns or churches by mail, e-mail, or even by personally visiting the town. But after a trip to Sicily, I learned a lesson about primary records. The names below have been changed, but the story is factual.
I had long searched for the ancestry of a relative, Maria Galbo, born in Belpaese in 1883. The image of her birth record on the Mormon microfilms that I viewed at my local Mormon Family History Center (FHC) showed her father as Ciro Galbo, born in 1855, and her mother as Lena Marino, born in 1861. I also found the microfilmed 1855 birth record for Ciro Galbo. His mother’s first name was Maria, which, considering the Sicilian naming convention, supported the idea that he could be the father of Maria Galbo. But I could find no record for Lena Marino: in fact, I could find no record of anyone with the surname Marino in any of the records of the town for 100 years. Further delving into the films, I found an 1879 marriage record for Ciro Galbo, but it said that he had married Lena Messina (not Marino).
My search of films for a birth, baptism, marriage or death record for Lena Marino were fruitless.  Neither could I find Ciro Galbo’s death record, which might have confirmed the name of his widow. Although I found ancestry for Ciro Galbo and Lena Messina, I didn’t add the information to my genealogy records, afraid I was ‘barking up the wrong family tree’. Was my ancestor Lena Marino or Lena Messina?
On a trip to Sicily, I resolved to unravel the mystery. I went to the BelpaeseMuncipio’ (Town Hall), and asked to see Ciro Galbo’s death record, hoping it would give the name of his wife. Unfortunately, no such record could be found. The records clerk suggested looking at Ciro Galbo’s birth record. I agreed without much enthusiasm, since I had already seen the microfilmed copy at the FHC. But when the original record was retrieved, at the top I saw a ‘margin note’ that had not been on the microfilmed image. It was written many years after the birth, and said: “He (Ciro Galbo) married Lena Messina in 1879.  He now lives in Nantrabanna. His wife is here (in Belpaese) and she wants to be called Marino.” Eureka! Lena Messina and Lena Marino were one and the same, so one mystery was solved (leaving another one, discussed below).
When I saw the revealing margin note, I asked whether I could have a photocopy of the birth record. The records clerk shook her head and said that for privacy reasons, it wasn’t allowed. I started to copy the information by hand, when the clerk’s assistant asked me if I had a camera. My face brightened, but again the chief clerk solemnly said “No!” Photographs were not allowed, either.  They must have seen my crestfallen look, because the clerk suddenly lowered the window blind. Then her assistant locked the door and winked and they both whispered the classic Sicilian phrase, “Nenti vidimmu!” (“We see nothing!”)  I got my photo of the elusive record.
The second mystery I alluded to was the fact that the microfilmed Mormon record I had found (which was photographed only a few years ago) doesn’t show the margin note about Lena Messina/Marino. How could that be?  Aren’t the microfilms copies of original primary records? The answer is that back in 1855, the town clerk of Belpaese painstakingly, by hand, filled out two birth records, both considered primary records. One copy went to the ‘Tribunale’, or Magistrate’s Court of the capital city of the province in which Belpaese is located. It then was stored in the province’s ‘Archivio’ or Archives. That copy was ultimately photocopied by the Mormon Church, and found by me in my research at the FHC in the U.S. The other copy was bound in the permanent register of the town. Years after the 1855 birth, a town clerk added the margin note but didn’t send the addendum to the court or province. A hundred years later I found the note, during my personal voyage of discovery.
The moral is: there are primary records, and sometimes there are other primary records. The Mormons’ (and others’) lists of available microfilms indicate where the photocopies were made. If they were made from records in the provincial capital, it’s possible that duplicate records exist in the town of origin. It is also possible that data for specific events or for whole years, listed in the provincial records as missing, could still exist in the town. Conversely, if films were made of a town’s records, and the town’s records were subsequently damaged or lost, more complete copies may exist in the provincial capital.  In these circumstances, the only way to tell for sure is to search for missing records in the ‘old country’, or have someone do it for you. 
Coniglio is the author of the book The Lady of the Wheel, inspired by his Sicilian research. Order paperback or the Kindle version at Coniglio’s web page has helpful hints on genealogic research. If you have genealogy questions, or would like him to lecture to your club or group, e-mail him at

November 2, 2015

Photo of the Week: Tomb of the Diver

Tomb of the Diver (Tomba del Tuffatore), Paestum Archaeological Museum. 
Cover slab with scene of the dive (c. 470 B.C.) 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Discovered in 1968 in the Tempa del Prete necropolis near Poseidonia (Paestum) by archaeologist Mario Napoli, the scene is interpreted by some to represent the passage from life to death. The frescoes are the only example of Greek wall painting from the Orientalizing, Archaic, or Classical period to survive in its entirety.