December 31, 2015

Our Top Ten Posts of 2015

A look back at some of our favorite moments of 2015: The translation of San Rocco & San Vincenzo; Southern Italian Halloween costume ideas; Festa di San Rocco in Astoria, Queens; and the Feast of Saints Cosma and Damiano in NYC
01 Honoring Francesco II di Borbone in New York City
02 Celebrating Faith, Family and Culture: An Interview With Domenic Varuzza
03 Eboli — A Hidden Gem in Southern Italy
04 Hellenic Dawn: The Coming of the Greeks to Southern Italy
05 A Brief Sketch: Onorio Ruotolo
06 The Farchie Festival of Fara Filiorum Petri, A Light Against the Darkness
07 The Ides of August, Diana and the Nemoralia
08 Celebrating the Feast of Saint George with the Sacred Constantinian Military Order of Saint George
09 This Day in History: Alfonso V of Aragon Conquers Naples
10 The Bicentennial of the Death of Gioacchino Murat

Close, but no cigar:
The Light of Southern Italy and Drawn to the Light deserve honorable mention. Perhaps if these posts had as much “air-time” as some of the others they may have made our Top Ten list.  
Click here to see last year’s results 

December 30, 2015

Lady Liberty Personified Hope to a Stalwart Generation of Immigrants

The Statue of Liberty
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Cookie Curci
The Statue of Liberty stands 151 feet, 1 inch high and weighs 225 tons. The length of her right arm is 42 feet long, her hand 16 feet 5 inches long. Her facial features include a prominent nose that measures 4 feet, 6 inches set between eyes 2 feet 6 inches in width. Standing on her concrete pedestal base, she rises to a neighborhood of 305 feet. Under her huge feet are broken shackles representing Liberty's victory over tyranny.
Lady Liberty needs her mighty dimensions to hold a 23 foot high cement tablet in one hand; the "Torch of Freedom" high above her head, in the other hand, and the hopes and dreams of millions, upon million, of immigrants cradled in her bosom.
The statue of Liberty was originally created by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who christened his lovely lady, "Liberty Enlightening The World". The statue was dedicated to America on July 4th 1884. The Statue of Liberty, as she would later be known, was finally completed in 1886 and she's been welcoming travelers to our shore ever since.
Between 1901 and 1910, nearly nine million immigrants, from all parts of the world, came to this country. Like my grandparents', many of these travelers came here from Italy and settled in the Santa Clara Valley. Unfamiliar with the language and customs of their new country, the hard working aliens settled in to the poorer sections of the town, often taking jobs in industries in which poor conditions, low wages and long hours prevailed.
Great, Great Grandma
Nonna Giacomina Camarotta
Back in the old country, the young and naive immigrants had been told wondrous stories of how the streets of America were paved in gold. But when they got here they discovered three important things: First, the streets weren't paved in gold; second, they weren't paved at all; and third, they were expected to pave them!
The children and grandchildren of these immigrants share a feeling of pride at their accomplishments. A thread that runs through each of our lives, connecting one to the other through the generations.
History tells us that millions of immigrants have come to America and how they learned new trades and skills and evolved new lives and careers for themselves. As youngsters we all learned about the melting pot theory of American immigration and population growth. From an official population of some five million as of 1790, the first time a census survey was undertaken in our nation, to an estimated 248 million as of 1990, the last time a decennial census was taken.
The Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island foundation, in New York City, estimates that more than 12 million visitors have toured the Ellis Island immigration museum since it’s opening on September 10, 1990. Authorities at the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island foundation estimate that four in every 10 United States residents have at least one forbear who immigrated through Ellis Island. The immigration and naturalization service in Washington D.C. reports that in 1996 (the last available figures) 915, 900 people immigrated legally to the United States.
Grandpa Tony DiNapoli
and Grandma Maria Carmela
My Grandmother had an old saying. Translated in English it goes something like this: It doesn't matter where you start out in life, it's where you finish that counts". My Grandparent's lived their lives by that belief. My grandfather worked his way up from delivery boy in a local meat market to become the store proprietor. After learning all about the meat market business he saved enough money to purchase his own shop. With work and determination he went on to become a successful businessman.
My Grandfather never spoke much about his early days in America, or the long ship ride over the ocean, but he often mentioned the awesome feeling he experienced as a young boy when his steamer ship from Naples, Italy, approached Ellis Island. The moment was engraved in his memory. He recalled the almost eerie silence that fell over the ship; how his Papa, whom he had never seen cry, was now weeping openly as Liberty came into view, embracing his wife and three children with uncontrollable joy.
My Grandmother and her two young siblings came to America as orphans. After losing their parents to influenza, the young trio pooled their resources and boarded a ship for America. To them, the sight of Lady Liberty meant hope for a new and better life. The grand statue had come to embody the spirit of their new land- exemplifying hope and prosperity.
Great Grandpa Rizzolo, Nonna Savadia,
Flora, Mateo and Salvatore
Whenever I asked my Grandma where she found the courage to take that voyage of a lifetime, she would invariably say, in her native Italian: "A ship is safe in port, but that's not were a ship was meant to be."
She was right of course, a ship is meant to challenge the elements, ride the high seas and risk being sunk. Desire alone just doesn't cut it.       
Tales of our immigrant ancestors are repeated again and again across America. From father to son, from grandma to grandchild, we keep the legacy alive with every story told, with every memory recalled.
On the plaque of the statue of Liberty is the poem, "The Great Colossus" written by Emma Lazaras. The following words from that poem hung proudly framed on the wall of my grandparents' home throughout their lifetime "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free. The wretched refuse of your teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Contact Cookie Curci at

December 28, 2015

Photo of the Week: The Temple of Apollo, Pompeii

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo in Pompeii, with a hazy Mount Vesuvius in the background (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)

December 27, 2015

In Memory of HM King Francesco II di Borbone

Memorial for HM King Francesco II 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo*
Today we commemorate the anniversary of the death of His Majesty Francesco II di Borbone, the last King of the Two Sicilies.
Eldest Son of HM King Ferdinand II and his first wife HM Blessed Maria Cristina of Savoy, Francesco was born in Napoli on January 16, 1836. With the tragic death of his pious mother (who died from complications during childbirth), the Crowned Prince was raised by his stepmother Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria.
On January 8, 1859 Francesco married Maria Sofia of Bavaria, daughter of Duke Maximilian, by proxy in Munich. The newlyweds met with much fanfare for the first time in Bari on February 3rd. Sadly, they had only one child, Christina Louise Pia (1868), who died when she was only six months old.
After the untimely death of his father, Francesco ascended to the throne on May 22nd, 1859. He was only 23-years-old. Shortly into his reign, and before the young monarch could implement his reforms and building programs, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was plunged into chaos with the invasion of Garibaldi and his ragtag band of revolutionaries.
SG Francesco II di Borbone
With British and Piedmontese support, the garibaldini quickly took Sicily and advanced towards Naples. Looking to spare his capital the devastation of war, King Francesco II withdrew his forces north to Capua. Capitalizing on Garibaldi’s unexpected success and the young Neapolitan King's inexperience, King Victor Emanuel II of Savoy invaded the Two Sicilies from the Marche without a formal declaration of war.
After the Battle of Volturno (September 30—October 1, 1860) and his valiant defense at Gaeta (November 5, 1860—February 13, 1861), Francesco II was forced to surrender to the Piedmontese led by the bloodthirsty war criminal, General Enrico Cialdini.
Dubbed the first emigrants from Southern Italy, Francesco II and Maria Sofia lived in exile in Rome deprived of their personal assets, which were looted by Garibaldi and the Piedmontese invaders. With the fall of Rome to Italy in 1870, Their Majesties divided their time between Paris and Bavaria.

Suffering from diabetes, Francesco II died on December 27, 1894 in Arco, then part of the Trentino region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Interred inside the Chiesa dello Spirito Santo dei Napoletani in Rome, the Royal Family were moved to the Bourbon chapel inside the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Napoli in 1984. On December 16, 2020 Francesco was officially declared a Servant of God, opening the beatification process of this devoutly religious King. Viva o Rre!

~ Giovanni di Napoli, December 26th, Feast of Santo Stefano primo Martire (amended on January 11, 2021, Feast of St. Hyginus, PM)
His Majesty lying in state
Prayer for the Beatification of King Francis II of the Two Sicilies
For private use only 
O One and Triune God, Who casts Your glance on us from Your throne of mercy, and called Francis II of Bourbon to follow You, choosing him on earth to be king, modeling his life on the very Kingship of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, pouring into his heart sentiments of love and patience, humility and meekness, peace and pardon, and clothing him with the virtues of faith, hope and charity, hear our petition, and help us to walk in his footsteps and to live his virtues. Glorify him, we pray You, on earth as we believe him to be already glorified in Heaven, and grant that, through his prayers, we may receive the graces we need. Amen
Pater, Ave and Gloria 
* The accompanying photo was taken at the 2014 memorial Mass sponsored by the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George at Saint Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village, New York City.

La Vigilia and Other Christmas Traditions

Ricci di Mare
By Giovanni di Napoli
Like many Neapolitan Americans, my family keeps the tradition of La Vigilia di Natale, the southern Italian ritual of eating seafood and eschewing meat on Christmas Eve. Despite regular and varied claims to authenticity, I believe the so-called Festa dei sette pesci, or the Feast of the Seven Fishes, is a recent fabrication. Though more lavish then in the past, according to our matriarchs there were never a set number of dishes served. We simply ate what we could afford, and what was fresh and available. 
Today, we normally have shrimp, calamari (squid), clams, mussels and scungilli (whelk), which all can be prepared in a variety of ways. Capitone fritto alla napoletana (fried eel) is usually the main course, but this year we had aragosta (lobster), ricci di mare (sea urchin) and baccalà (salt cod).
As always, the ladies outdid themselves and treated us to another memorable dinner.
Following the fish bonanza was another southern Italian specialty: panzerotti, delicious crescent-shaped deep fried dough filled with ricotta, mozzarella and tomato or scallion and olives.
Next came fruit, roasted chestnuts, caffè and an assortment of delicious sweets, including Pasticciotti Leccesi and struffoli, the quintessential Neapolitan Christmas dessert that will satisfy the most stubborn sweet tooth. There is no panettone in my house.
Pasticciotti Leccesi
The vigil, of course, is not just about food, it's also about family and faith.
After dinner we played games (tombola) with the kids and attended Midnight Mass in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Afterward, we walked through the neighborhood to see the spectacular Christmas decorations. My family has been doing this for as long as I can remember, though originally it was in East New York, Brooklyn, where my maternal grand- and great-grandparents were from.
Christmas morning we exchanged presents, made the rounds and visited family and friends until dinnertime. No less extravagant than the Eve, Christmas dinner was a culinary tour de force with plenty of hot and cold antipasti, insalata, pizza, baked manicotti and a American-style Christmas ham. Fruit, dessert and caffè complete the meal.
Not quite finished yet, December 26th is the Feast of Saint Stephen, or Saint Stephen's Day. In honor of Santo Stefano, the first martyr, we usually celebrate with torrone, a sticky nougat candy made from honey, nuts and egg whites that dates back to Roman times. I like mine with a glass of Strega. Buon Natale!
Amended 2015

December 23, 2015

Christmas Coffee with Nonna Isolina Helped Dreams Come True

Nonna Isolina and Grandpa Rissolo's wedding
By Cookie Curci
It’s a fine line drawn by our parents and grandparents, in the lessons that teach us independence while at the same time anchoring us with their love. These stories and family histories are a guidepost for each generation, filled with the successes and dreams of our parents and grandparents, the words have a power all their own. Their stories remain with us a lifetime, they stay in our heart and, more importantly, in our attitude towards life. 
They say the two best things you can give children are roots and wings, to this I add grandmother’s, women who help shape our lives with their opinions, their beliefs and their love and whose indelible memories stay with us a lifetime….
CHRISTMAS COFFEE WITH NONNA.... There are times in our lives when we think all that's good or exciting has passed us by- that we may have missed out on that one big chance or golden opportunity that would have changed our lives for the better.
That's how I was feeling the day I paid my Grandma Isolina a long overdue visit.
Nonna was well into her 90s when her gentle wisdom and intuitive powers helped redirect my life. I learned from her that we all have the capability to restart our lives or to help others renew their own.
For me, it happened at that magical time of the year when Christmas touches our hearts and childhood memories call us home again.
It was Christmas time and all around me people were busily anticipating the holiday season. Decorations glittered in department store windows; a jovial Santa Claus sat merrily in every shopping mall. Everywhere I looked, I saw happy couples walking arm- and- arm anticipating the holiday.
As for myself, I was in no mood for celebration. At age 45, I'd lost my job, and was facing the fact that none of my lifelong plans and dreams were ever going to materialize. That year, I firmly decided not to celebrate Christmas.
For over 25 years, I'd put my dreams of becoming a writer on hold while I worked for a more lucrative pay as a receptionist. My job offered little creative outlet, but more importantly, it kept the bills paid. And now it was gone. I'd also put off getting married, so now here I was in my mid 40s, without a job, and without a Mr. Right.
I was deep in the doldrums when my phone rang. It was an unexpected call from my Nonna Isolina asking me to spend the holiday with her. Hearing my Nonna's voice with her familiar Italian accent comforted me and sparked happy memories.
As a lot of things I'd planned, but never found time to do, visiting Nonna was high on the list. But the longer I put it off the harder it was to do.
Nonna Isolina and
Grandpa Rissolo with mom
I wanted to remember Nonna as she once was—a robust, happy-go-lucky, robust woman, who inspired me with her deep beliefs and intrigued me with her tales of the old country. More importantly, I wanted Nonna to remember me as I used to be—young, innocent and full of ambitious dreams.
For a moment, I tried to think of a good reason to turn down Grandma's generous invitation. I wanted to keep my memories of her as she was, the sound of her vibrant voice, the reassurance of her gentle touch and that approving twinkle in her eyes that seemed to shine there just for me; and how our laughter would fill her kitchen long into the night as we sat talking and planning the future.
I was painfully aware that none of the plans we'd made for my life were going to come true. I guess I was afraid of seeing the disappointment in Nonna's eyes. Nevertheless, I knew in my heart I couldn't refuse her invitation; that night I drove the long miles to Nonna's house, back to the home of my childhood, to its cracks and creeks and timeless charm. 
What would my visit bring?
I had to knock several times before Nonna finally came to the door. Standing all alone in the doorway, she appeared fragile and much older than I remembered, but her eyes still twinkled with that same vibrant warmth of welcome.
"Come in, come in, Bella mia," she said, using her best broken English. The words mean "My beautiful," and Nonna was the only one who could still make me feel beautiful.
Nonna led me down the hall to her cozy, familiar kitchen. She sat me in Grandpa's big empty armchair at the head of the table. I remembered that table well, and all the many wonderful family suppers we'd enjoyed there on Sundays and holidays.
I was greeted by the sweet smell of anise cookies baking in the oven and the aroma of Nonna's simmering coffee pot on the stove. Mingled with the fresh scent of evergreen it painted a vivid picture of Christmases past. It was a sensory mix of flavors and feelings that is, to this day, impossible to replicate.  Assembled on the wall was a collection of baby pictures, and childhood milestones. Remnants and pictures of my baptism, my First Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Family snapshots filled her walls.
Everywhere I looked, I saw a part of my past in her treasured keepsakes. I sat on the window seat where I used to huddle on wintry afternoons to watch the rain trickle down the windowpanes. In the spring, I looked through that same window at Nonna's garden where hollyhocks ascended like skyscrapers and stout sunflowers stood like golden bastions against the wind. And, I recalled how the smell of her coffee pot, eternally simmering on the stove, gave me a feeling of well-being.
Nonna's aged cat, Chulet, was still at her feet, trailing behind her as she shuffled from room to room. I remembered the old cat and how it was once a spry young kitten chasing butterflies that thronged to Nonna's vegetable garden. Nonna and I were younger then too.
In the corner of the room stood a spindly Christmas tree filled with ornaments made by her grandchildren, who had all grown-up now and moved away. Though they were gone, I could feel that a part of them would always remain there for Nonna—in those humble objects. Like a golden talisman each ornament held a cherished place in her memory. 
Cherished Christmas memories 
Glowing beneath the evergreen was Nonna's beloved, albeit, timeworn nativity scene. The plaster of Paris figurines had been under her tree for as far back as any of us could remember. Each of her grandchildren were responsible for every chip and nick on the tattered set of figurines.
But somehow they managed to retain their original charm and were as beguiling to me now as the very first day she'd placed them under the tree.
Before I knew it, I was captivated by Nonna's old-world charm. My old hopes and dreams were suddenly resurrected, along with my faith in the Christmas spirit.
I watched Nonna's time-worn hands trembling slightly as she poured me a cup of her hot, strong coffee. Soon we were sipping coffee and dunking sweet anise cookies just as we'd done so many years ago. Chatting away like schoolgirls, the sound of our voices filled Nonna's kitchen. While the enduring elements of laughter and love inspired me, the years seemed to melt away. With each memory came renewed desire. Grandma's relentless words of encouragement had given me new inspiration.
I spent that Christmas Eve talking long into the night with Nonna.
She predicted that I'd soon find a new job as a writer and with a little more patients and faith in myself; I'd also find my Mr. Right. I snickered at Nonna's predictions. I reminded her that I was over forty now and not the young, impressionable girl who used to sit upon her knee. 
Nonna's brow furrowed as her jaw set firmly into a frown. A moment later she was cradling me in her fragile arms cajoling me while at the same time tenderly scolding me for not having faith in her predictions and faith in myself.
"Bella Mia, she said, "You're not listening with your heart, how can you be successful, if you don't believe in yourself with all your heart?"
She was right of course. I had to learn to believe in life again, and more importantly in myself. I took Nonna's advice and spent all that week listening and believing. I took endless notes as she told and retold stories of her life in the old country, of her family histories and humorous anecdotes of her arrival in America. As I recorded page after page of Nonna's colorful memories, the aroma of her simmering coffee pot warmed the atmosphere.
That year, Nonna persuaded me to return home and upon her urgings I continued writing. I submitted some of my stories to my community newspaper. My grandmother’s nostalgic family stories were so well received, I was offered my own ongoing column.
That was 15 years ago. Since that time I've been writing my column for several community and national newspapers. Grandma's stories were also published in several Chicken Soup For the Soul books as well as other national book publications, newspapers and magazines.
Just as my insightful Nonna had predicted, my Christmas wishes came true. Believing in myself had something to do with it, but her belief in me had everything to do with it. My success brought me a new career, as well as a new man in my life. I found my Mr. Right and married the following year.
Sadly, my Nonna wasn't here to see all of her predictions come true. But somehow I know on that last Christmas visit with her, that she knew in her infinite wisdom exactly what the future held in store for me and that she will always be an important and indelible part of my life.
I learned from grandma that family ties connect us to one another and that these ties lengthen and grow to accommodate change, distance and time- and in that way they are never broken.
These bits and pieces of my past remain as real and genuine to me now as Nonna's aluminum coffee pot that today sits upon my stove. And as long as I go on making coffee with that same old shiny pot, in a way, I'm still having coffee with Nonna. 
Contact Cookie Curci at

December 22, 2015

Some Old Favorites & New Discoveries at the Met

Antonello da Messina’s Ecco Homo and Portrait of a Man 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
During my recent visit to see the Neapolitan Baroque Crèche installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I took the opportunity to admire a couple of my favorite works from its vast collection, specifically Antonello da Messina’s Ecco Homo and Portrait of a Man
Blessed Leonard of Assisi by Niccolò Colantonio
To my pleasant surprise, a short distance from Messina’s paintings, there was a small panel depicting the Blessed Leonard of Assisi (ca. 1450) by Renaissance master Niccolò Colantonio, one of the earliest exponents of the Netherlandish (Dutch and Flemish) style of painting in Naples and an important influence on Antonello da Messina. Oil on wood, the work formed part of a pilaster framing an altarpiece commissioned by King Alfonso of Aragon for the chapel in the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples.
Saint Dominic, workshop of Giotto di Bondone in Naples
In the Medieval Europe gallery, I came across a couple of other precious objects from southern Italy I have not seen before. Inside a glass display case was a painting of Saint Dominic de Guzman, which may have come from an altarpiece in the Palatine Chapel of King Robert (the Wise) of Anjou and Queen Sancha of Majorca at the Castel Nuovo in Naples. Tempera and gold on a panel, the work was painted about 1329-32 in the workshop of Giotto di Bondone in Naples.
Royal seal of Charles I of Anjou, King of Sicily
Below the painting is a priceless collection of royal seals, including the golden seal of Charles I of Anjou (1227-85), King of Sicily. On the obverse we see King Charles in majesty, seated on his throne wielding a fleur-de-lys scepter and an orb with a cross (globus crucifer). The inscription around the edge reads KAROLVS • DEI • GRACIA • SICILIE • REX.
I'm lucky to have institutions in my city where I can view magnificent works of art, especially from my ancestral homeland. There is always something new to see. Thanks to these wonderful surprises, Christmas came early for me again at the Met. 

December 21, 2015

A Look at the 2015 Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche

(Above & below) The Neapolitan Nativity scene at the Met 
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
The Holy Family
Baby Jesus with lamb
(Above and below) An array of angels adorn the magnificent blue spruce
(Above & below) The angelic host look on in wonderment
(Above & below) the Three Kings and their retainers follow the star
A mother consoles her sobbing child (or a drowsy boy wakes from his nap)
A sleeping shepherd
The beloved zampognari (bagpipers)
(Above & below) Scenes of daily life from eighteenth-century Naples

December 20, 2015

Photo of the Week: Statue of Torquato Tasso

Statue of the 16th-century poet from Sorrento, best know for his epic poem Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), Piazza Tasso, Sorrento, Campania  Photo by New York Scugnizzo

December 18, 2015

Compra Sud — Cacio e Vino

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

Cacio e Vino
80 and Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 228-3269

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

December 17, 2015

Immigrant Settlement Was a Legacy of Pride

Grandpa Tony DiNapoli and
Grandma Maria Carmela
(How Green Was the Valley)
By Cookie Curci
My grandmother would often say of her people: "we were like the letters of the alphabet, alone we had little meaning, but together we were part of a great meaning."
My grandfather was never a man of many words, but when he spoke we listened. Though his words were few they were filled with wisdom. He would often say to us: "Pray for the things you want, but work for the things you need."
If grandpa said that phrase once, he said it a thousand times. Like many of his generation, who came to America during the great migration, grandpa was a man of deep faith, but he also realized that hard work would provide him and his family with the material things in life. His work in the fields, in the factories and in the orchards of the valley was honest and fulfilling because it came from a place of pure and clear devotion.
Looking back now to a century ago I can visualize in my mind’s eye the finale of my grandparent’s long journey to America and how they sailed aboard ships that took them months to reach New York’s port of entry. I can feel my ancestor’s joy and their sense of fear and expectations as they made their arrival past the gates of Ellis Island and on to California.
Grandma would often tell me stories of her grand adventures and how the excitement of her journey far outweighed her fears. Apprehensions may have been there, but it was not uppermost in her thoughts. The expectations at journeys end made them oblivious to the enormous challenges that awaited them.
First, and foremost, they would have to gain acceptance in a New World, which practiced beliefs and cultures different from their own. But the whispered promise of streets paved in gold was too overwhelming to ignore. They would gladly face the unknown to find this golden opportunity.
Soon enough, the immigrants would learn that all they had heard of the bountiful New World was not all true. Though they would discover that the streets of America were not paved in gold, they did find what they were looking for in precious opportunity. They would survive.
They etched out a living for themselves and moved into a 12-block area of San Jose south of First Street. It was a perfect location for housing the hopeful young immigrants. Despite their language barrier and unskilled labor they were able to find employment. They rolled up their sleeves and got to work and soon another of America’s "little Italy’s" was created. City dwellers would refer to the community of immigrants by a number of names, some colorful, some unflattering, but I believe ‘little Italy" to be the most accurate. The area served as home to many newly arrived ethnic groups of different cultures and backgrounds, but it was the Italian community that prevailed.
By 1910 hundreds of Italian Americans called this 12-block area of San Jose home. By 1916 the population of San Jose’s little Italy soared. Residents of the settlement were proud of their meager homes and gardens and the area bloomed with pride. There was an abundance of fruit tree, vegetables and flower gardens surrounding each plot of land. Trees, laden with prunes, cherries and apricots bore testimony to the community's’ flourishing lifestyle. It was no wonder that the grapes grew so large and fruit to unusual size and quality; most of the young immigrants had been schooled early on in life by their parents and their parents before them on the grafting, planting and pruning of fruit bearing trees. By the time a child was 10 years of age he, or she, knew all there was to know about vegetable gardening and fruit trees. They had to; it meant survival in the old county and now in the New World as well.
My grandmother would often tell me of an old ice cream vender who led his horse drawn cart around the clustered little community selling freshly made ice cream. No cones or cups—the customer supplied their own dishes and spoons. For a nickel the buyer received a delicious large bowl of strawberry or cheery ice cream. However, according to grandma, the buyer had to beware of the horse’s quick flicking tail, which, intermittently, swished over the buckets of ice cream.
In 1906, these very same Italian immigrants began work on the construction of a lavish church, one that would embody the spirit and age-old beliefs of these tenacious immigrants. They wanted their church to represent century old traditions and community spirit; it would be built in the likeness of the great St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. It would be located on San Fernando Street and run by the Jesuit fathers. Originally, the church was built for persons of Italian decent only, but the church became a church for all the people. Though they had a meager income that didn’t reflect the grandeur of the new church, the elaborate building was an important part of their cultural beliefs. Many years ago, I asked my grandfather why it was so important for his people to construct such a lavish place of worship. Grandpa responded in his native Italian, translated it means something like this "Out of our habits grow our character, on our character we build our destiny."
The church had come to represent the young immigrant’s cultural heritage and their hope for the future. Their honest work was their contribution to their community and to their future generations as well.
In time, San Jose’s urban sprawl engulfed this cluster of Italian Americans and their living spaces. And, in 1969, bulldozers raised the magnificent Holy Family church to make way for the Guadeloupe expressway. Though another church was built on Pearl Avenue, the grandeur of the original church was gone forever. But, by then, the successful immigrants had moved on to better parts of town, opened businesses, started new careers and eventually assimilated into their extended community.
Though San Jose’s "Little Italy" is gone now. A sense of appreciation for these early immigrants and their spirited accomplishments remains an indelible part of our community’s heritage and its lifestyle.
The many local families whose ancestors came to San Jose from the old country share a special bound of thanks to their parents and grandparents. They’re grateful for the way they held tight to their Old World ways and rituals while at the same time embracing the new burgeoning lifestyle of the Santa Clara valley.
I suspect there would be no "silicon valley" and perhaps no industry as we know it today without people such as my grandparents and their generation of industrious workers who planted and harvested orchards of fruit trees abundant vegetable fields and worked in the long cannery lines. To this day, the imprint made by our immigrant ancestors anchors many of us to this beautiful valley while at the same time their lofty and inspiring dreams give us our wings!
Contact Cookie Curci at

December 16, 2015

Visiting "The Secret Garden of Southern Italy"

Basilicata Treasures at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
"The Secret Garden of Southern Italy"
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Do to the unseasonably warm weather in New York City, it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas yet. So, to help me get into the Christmas spirit, I recently visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue to see the presepio (crèche) on loan from Basilacata called “The Secret Garden of Southern Italy.” 
Installed on December 8, 2015, Franco Artese’s monumental Nativity Scene will only be on view until January 6, 2016. Inspired by the cultural landscape of Mr. Artese’s native Basilicata—particularly the Sassi di Matera—the terracotta figures, dressed in period clothing, give us a brief glimpse of our past with scenes of everyday life from 1930’s Lucania. 
Amazingly, Matera’s rock-hewn landscape hasn’t changed much over the centuries and its choice as the setting for the birth of Christ gives an intangible atmosphere to the presepio.
Exhibit brochure
I love the artist’s choice of placing the Nativity inside the Cripta del Peccato Originale (Crypt of the Original Sin), a natural cave on the Murgia plateau. Known as the “Sistine Chapel of rupestrian art”, the crypt is one of the oldest examples of rock painting in southern Italy, dating back to the 8th century.
The region’s devotion to the Madonna del Sacro Monte di Viggiano and San Giuliano Martire are also on display with processional figures carrying the gilded statue of the Blessed Mother and a team of oxen with a felled tree destined for Accettura’s May Festival (il Maggio di San Giuliano) in honor of their glorious patron. 
Matera’s Bell towers of San Pietro Caveoso and the Cattedrale di Matera in the background were also a nice touch.
The "Secret Garden of Southern Italy" combines our religious traditions with local culture and history. Franco Artese has done a masterful job that reflects the soul of Basilicata. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Surrounded by zampognari (bagpipers), peasants and farm animals,
the Holy Family was sculpted in one solid piece to represent the bond
and strength of the family, as well as their common destiny
Leaving for America
Devotees carry the Madonna del Sacro Monte di Viggiano, the Queen of Lucania
Ladies carry a festive cinte (candle house) in the procession
A team of oxen carrying a felled tree back to Accettura for the Feast of San Giuliano Martire (il Maggio di San Giuliano)
Scenes of Lucanian daily life
The leper represents sin, which Christ comes to redeem us from
I imagine the band performing songs from Andrea Perrucci's Neapolitan Christmas classic, La Cantata dei Pastori (The Shepherd's Cantata)
Scenes of Lucanian daily life 
A scene of Lucanian daily life
(Left) A pifferari, or fifer. (Right) Ladies watch the festivities from their balcony
(Above and below) Scenes of Lucanian daily life
A woman doing her laundry
Detail of the Crypt of the Original Sin