culture

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FAMOUS ITALIAN WRITERS

Published September 19, 2014 by Tony

 

ITALIAN BOOKS TO READ

Italy is worldwide well known for many things, and in a cultural context we can’t forget writers and poets. In a hypothetical list of places to see and things to eat, those who love Italy should not forget to also note some “work” to be read.
Lately, there are some Italian writers who have become famous abroad, apart from high-sounding names with their famous classics, undisputed masterpieces of literature, such as Dante Alighieri, Alessandro Manzoni, Luigi Pirandello, Giovanni Verga, etc.
Among the Italian authors who in recent decades have become known abroad, with millions of copies sold, international awards, translations in many languages and, in some cases, even film adaptations of their books, I can mention:

Umberto Eco. A long list of Italian and foreign honors for him. “The Name of the Rose” (1980), translated into 47 languages and sold over thirty million copies, then transposed to the movies. The satirical novel “Foucault’s Pendulum” (1988).
Alberto Bevilacqua (deceased in 2013). “Caliph” (1964), “This kind of love” (1972).
Oriana Fallaci. Successful author with books of fiction, she sold all over the world more than twenty million copies. “Letter to a Child Never Born” (1975) and “A Man” (1979) are probably her most famous books.
Claudio Magris. “Danube” (1986), is perhaps his masterpiece that established him as one of the greatest contemporary Italian writers.
Roberto Saviano. Author of “Gomorrah” (2006) and “Zerozerozero” (2013), collaborates with the New York Times, Time, Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, Times, El Pais.
Giorgio Faletti (deceased in 2014). Author of bestsellers such as “I kill” (2002) and “The Killer In My Eyes” (2004), translated into thirty languages.
Susanna Tamaro.  “Follow your Heart” (2006)

If you want a longer list of recommended international authors, I recommend you the ranking published by Peter Boxall and Peter Acroyd in their book “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.”
But, back to the initial speech, among the most famous Italian authors who have made history (masterpieces of Italian literature that are even academic subjects in schools), cutting down to the bone I can quote:

DIVINE COMEDY  (Dante Alighieri, 1265–1321)
THE BETROTHED (Alessandro Manzoni, 1785–1873)
THE LEOPARD (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, 1896–1957)

But I also would add others authors like Giovanni Verga, Giovanni Pascolo, Torquato Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, Ugo Foscolo, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Italo Svevo, Carlo Levi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Cesare Pavese, Edmondo De Amicis (with his children’s novel “Heart”),  or masterworks like:

The Adventures of Pinocchio (Carlo Collodi, 1826–1890)
One, No one and One Hundred Thousand  (Luigi Pirandello, 1867–1936)
Decameron  (Giovanni Boccaccio, 1313–1375)

Works that, in addition to being undisputed masterpieces, reflect different historical moments and/or areas of our country, giving a meaningful picture.

I hope these books make enjoyable reading.

SATURDAY DINING OUT

Published April 10, 2013 by Tony

SATURDAY NIGHT IN NAPLES and NEW YORK

Standard of living and lifestyle have influenced and still influence the way how people spend their weekend. If we take as a reference two medium families, one from Naples and another from New York, both formed by working parents, with one or more adult children, probably in a month the Neapolitan parents spend one Saturday or Sunday to dine out, while the New Yorker parents spend three. For New Yorkers the Saturday “evening dining out” was, until recently, an obligation, especially for couples with both engaged in work. Due to the popular demand, in order to go to a restaurant or pizzeria in New York, a Saturday evening reservation even was necessary. Where the New Yorker didn’t go out to dinner, as an alternative there always was a dinner party hosted by some friends at their home or in a pub. A lifestyle difficult to eradicate, even in view of the fact that wives were not inclined to spend weekend at home, between cooking and dishes.
Aside from this substantial cultural difference, there was another of economic nature, because an average Neapolitan family certainly did not have the same economic opportunity of the overseas peers.
Although a normal dinner in a normal restaurant in the Neapolitan hinterland costs less than the one in a similar restaurant in New York, the average Neapolitan family culturally is more “conservative” and traditionalist, with wives, who, although involved in work, have not lost their  “housewives” identity, preferring to stay at home during the weekend.  In Naples, there has never been a “dining party” culture, and instead of Saturday dining out, if anything, the custom of a Sunday lunch away from home has always been more in vogue. But occasionally and not as a weekly habit. The Neapolitan wife has always been very attached to the house and the children and  weekend is just a chance to spend more time at home with family, and attend to all those household chores that she has not been able to do during the week.
Our habits have not changed much over the years. The economic situation has led, if anything, to renounce to some Sunday lunch at the restaurant and be thriftier in foodstuffs purchase.

Americans, instead, after a hard week spent at work, look forward to weekends, planning in advance for them.  For many weekend means going out with friends or relatives, outdoor activities or watching a game in a stadium.
In the past, one of the largest changes in American eating habits was the increasing reliance on food eaten away from home (FAFH). FAFH increased from 33% of total food expenditures in 1970 to 47% by 2003. Most of this is at table service and fast food restaurants.
Much of the growth is attributed to the rising value of household time, especially as induced by more female labor force participation, and rising household incomes.
As a 2009 Zagat Survey showed, eating out was a way of life for many Americans, with 50% of all meals prepared outside the home. In short, restaurants became the family kitchen for the busy two-career families. According to Zagat Survey CEO Tim Zagat, “Americans are still eating out in restaurants, they are just making smarter choices.”

Recently, the economic downturn, occasional jobs and financial turmoil in America have made it difficult for people to find enough money to afford their “dining out” habit.
Lately, Americans are making family dinner more often than dine out, a trend that slowly took root before the recession. Mostly, they’re cooking with and eating a narrow range of foods — and relying, to some extent, on prepared, frozen, and canned items to feed their families quickly and economically. “It’s very boring. That’s the sad truth,” says Harry Balzer, chief food industry analyst for the NPD Group, a national market research company. “For the most part, we’re looking for what’s the eaesiest way out of this, what’s the cheapest way out of this.” Balzer said, the number of restaurant meals an American family eats — dine-in or takeout — has been flat, at just under 200 a year, correlating to plateaus of both women in the workforce and household incomes.

Even the New York Times supported the thesis of the “end of the dinner party” because people do not have more money, time and wish to do so.  Someone else says that beyond the crisis there is a lack of good manners and savoir faire, with people no longer able to have a conversation and that’s why lately “finger food” and “standing up” are preferred to dinner party.

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Average family lifestyle

Published April 2, 2013 by Tony

How is the life of an average middle-class family here in Naples?
And that of a pensioner?

I think this is one of the curiosities that arises in people interested in Italian culture and living in other countries.
To realize that the answer cannot be exhaustive, ask yourself the same question, how is an usual family’s life in your country?
As you can see, at this question we can only give a very general answer, because there would be too many cases to be taken into account, varying from family to family and even according to the area they are living in.
Keeping me very general, I will consider two average family, the first consisting of a father and a mother, both workers, with two teenage children, and the second formed by two grandparents already retired.

For us, the “peak hours”, to indicate the hours of the day when there is more traffic and more people in the street, are the ones in the morning from 8.30 to 14, which roughly corresponds to the entry and exit from schools and shops and offices opening hours; then with another rush hour at about 14 (shops re-opening hour), and between 19 to 20, the closing time for factories and shops.
Of course, moving and traveling in urban centers during these hours is more difficult and takes more time giving more stress. No problem, however, for those who have schools and shops close at hand, and that, therefore, can easily move on foot.

Usually, students must leave home in time to be in their high school at 8.10 – 8.20 am, and except in special cases, most adolescents reach the school either by foot (if the school is nearby) or by public transport, and in this case they must be in the street at least one hour before. At that time, the majority of the public transport are crowded with students who move to the city and suburbs for going to school. Therefore, you can well realize the confusion and noise that you will be subjected if traveling on one of these buses.
In contrast, the majority of parents, who are employees or traders, move by car to reach their own workplace. Except in special cases, this means that between 7 and 8 in the morning they already have to leave home.

As I already have mentioned in a previous post, here most of the parents are quite tolerant towards their children. From what I know, compared to American families for example, here there is less worry and anxiety towards teenagers (from 14-15 up), who get enough freedom to go out alone and travel on their own.
With regard to working hours, I cannot generalize because depending of the work, some parents may be back home lunchtime, and then be able to eat together with their children who meantime are got out from school. Anyway, it’s a fact that are dads to be back home in the afternoon and so forced to have lunch for themselves.
During the afternoon, moms do housework and prepare dinner, and if the case go out for shopping. The youths, instead, do their homework, watch TV, spend time near computer/PlayStation alone or with some friends, and go out in case they have to go to a friend’s home, attend some gym or play some sport. Sometimes, it’s a parent to take them by the car.
Of course, in the late evening the whole family gathers for dinner, after which they all watch TV or teenagers can enjoy again computer or some game.
Generally, parents are not so strict about time to go to bed, and youngsters can stay up late evening, unless it is the whole family that goes to bed asking them to do the same.  They will pay at their own expense, having then to get up early to go to school, thing which will force them, in the future, not to stay awake up late at night.
On Sunday, if there are no commitments, boys and girls are free to do what they want, so, both in the morning and evening, they may go out to go to church or meet friends, while parents could take them to the cinema or a friend’s home if it is not so near their home.
On Sundays, parents take the opportunity to do some work at home, to engage in some hobby, meet friends or relatives, or relax by spending the whole day at home between a good meal and following football games on TV. Usually, the evening is also devoted to visit friends or relatives.

Undoubtedly, there is still a small-discrimination with regard to sex, with boys who are privileged in having more freedom to go out alone or invite both male and females friends at home. A girl who invites a male friend, would put parents in discomfort who, though agree, wouldn’t allow them to stay alone or with closed door, something that boys usually can do, instead!
Here, we are more concerned for daughters than for sons, in the sense that at the beginning of puberty girls already are thinking about a boyfriend and if they are gorgeous will also have many boys wooing them. In general, for some reason, girls are also more confident and precocious than most boys same age, and while good boys aged 14-15 still like to stay at home to play, others boys who are more rascal and untimely spend more time in the street together friends, often going around just with the intent to find a girl with whom make out.
Once the spark is struck, and the girl is in love with him, is quite certain that in the long run the boy gets its way, and unless you do not control your daughter 24 hours a day, sooner or later they will find the opportunity to be alone and even in 10 minutes do what us parents wouldn’t want our girl did at that age.
Under this point of view, from 14 to 17 is the age most critical and dangerous. A girl who is able to keep the virginity till her 18th birthday, probably will remain so until she’s sure of what is doing. Anyway, it is for this reason that unexpected and untimely pregnancies occur precisely in that age group, not so many here, fortunately. Of course, much depends on girl’s character and social context in which she’s living. Little can be done if she is a “siren” and surrounded by many tomcats or coxcombs. Although through no pregnancy (luckily phew!), I know girls who have had intercourse already at 13-14 years, and it is clear that this type of girl then will have no scruple to go ahead having sex with any guy dating her. On the contrary, at that age, many boys are still home to play with toys, watch cartoon and perhaps masturbating alone.
When children get older, over 18 years, it becomes much more difficult for parents to keep up. They want their freedom and cannot help but partying, go out on Saturday and Sunday evening, coming home very late at night. Sometimes you have to push them to devote more time to study or help them to find a job, where they have finished their studies. Nowadays, a child easily can stay with their parents even after his/her 30 years.

In Italy, every worker who has worked up to 65 years, receives a pension in proportion to the contributions. There are many so-called pensions “integrated to the minimum”, where the law has established that the amount of any pension cannot be less than 500 euro per month. So, if both spouses have a pension, life in retirement may be less difficult. Considering that in old age there are less expenses due to child support, personal expenses, partying or luxury. Here, the lives of pensioners is fairly quiet and monotonous. Grandchildren are often the only diversion that pushes grandparents to move and spend more. With crisis and unemployment are often grandparents, though their meager pensions, to help married son or daughter.
The grandmother is often full-time homemaker, spending free time between relatives, friends, church or some hobby. For him, however, things get a little harsher, because he often does not know how to pass the time and the days become all the same. Breakfast, newspaper, a stroll to meet friends around in the square, in a bar or in a social club. Someone pass the time playing cards, bocce, or doing errands for their married offspring who have little free time. If grandparents get the chance will join some organized trip by coach, and if they also are the lucky owner of a house at the sea or in mountains, bought during the long working life, on every holiday they will be there to spend a few days.
Grandparents are often the ones that invite their progeny to eat home (or vice versa), as well as become a sort of nursery for little grandchildren whose parents do not know where to leave them. Here, parents who have definitively broken any relation with their children or vice versa are very few. This can happen sometimes for economic reasons (inheritance), or because of some disagreement arose between the families. The family connection is never interrupted, unless sons have not been forced to leave their hometown. For this reason, concern and anxiety never end…. we start with babies after our wedding, and end up in sharing any issue that affect the family of our progeny.

Now it’s up to you, who live in another country, find the differences between these lifestyles and those belonging to your different culture.

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Cappella Sansevero

Published March 24, 2013 by Tony

SANSEVERO CHAPEL
Raimondo of Sangro

San Severo

Who has had the opportunity to read some articles in which I speak of Naples, about the long-standing problems facing the city, will be became aware of my love-hate feeling towards it. Different matter, however, is to consider this city under a cultural and artistic point of view. As many assert, and I am convinced, it is a city – if not the only – with the highest concentration of natural beauty and works of high historical and artistic interest, a truly huge cultural heritage. Among these is included the “Chapel of San Severo” or “Santa Maria della Pietà” in the historic center of the city.
Its creator, Raimondo di Sangro VII, Prince of Sansevero was a scholar, a soldier, an inventor, anatomist and esoteric Freemason born in Foggia in 1710 and died in Naples in 1771, around which many legends were born.   The members of his family were grandees of Spain, owners of countless feuds in Apulia (as Sansevero Torremaggiore, Castelnuovo, Casalvecchio), and, by paternal line, claimed to be directly descended from Charlemagne.
Motherless since childhood, he was assigned to the paternal grandparents who at 10 years sent him to study at the Jesuit School of Rome, where he remained until 20 years.  His father was gone to Vienna, to escape incarceration because accused of having killed a girl’s father in Sansevero, with whom he had fallen in love, and later retired to a monastery in Rome where he took his vows. Naples was the permanent residence of Raimondo’s family where he came back as soon completed his studies. In the same year, by proxy, since she lived in the Andes, he married the fourteen Carlotta Gaetani d’Aragona, who met only six years after the wedding. During his life, the prince of Sansevero took care of many things of a military nature, arts and culture, but also of inventions and alchemy. Adjacent to the family  mansion, separated by an alley, is still the chapel of his family, and according to legend, it was built by the ancestors of the prince in 1593 on an ancient temple of Isis, while in 1744, 100 years later, Raymond resumed the restoration works. Construction’s works that drained the family’s coffers and lasted until the death of the prince, but that made the small church with his Masonic influences and allegories, a masterpiece of Baroque Neapolitan, attended by famous artists.

Cristo velato

The chapel is known mainly for three idiosyncratic statues that adorn it, two of which “Veiled Modesty” and “Veiled Christ“, seem to be covered by a transparent veil of marble – that is all one with the sculpture –  and to date critics has not yet figured out the technique used. Same goes for the third statue entitled “Disillusion” on which there is a network created by marble. One of the hypotheses, by modern admirers of the Prince, is that it is the result of a process invented by the Prince to “marbleize” the fabric. This procedure, however, has not yet been put to the test, and still do not seem to be a convincing explanation. One possible interpretation of these works’ allegorical message, focuses on the Enlightenment, which is that through the reason man reaches the disappointment and gets rid of false truths. In the of the chapel’s “Underground Cave” we find two special “mummies” defined  “anatomical machines” by the prince, two human skeletons (a black woman and one man) with their entire circulatory system (including capillaries) perfectly visible.
It is not known how such structures have been obtained and legend has it that the Prince would obtain the “metallization” or “plastination” of the blood circuit “injecting” a compound of his invention and, therefore, the two subjects had to be alive at the time of the experiment (note that the syringe did not yet exist at the time). However, whether they are machines or real bodies is not certain, since the owners of the Chapel have always refused to let perform any type of investigation.

Disillusion

It was easy for the common people to give birth to magical stories on the erudite and mysterious Prince of Sansevero, who, however, did nothing to discredit the rumors rather, cloaked in the secrecy of his life, for days he remained closed in in his alchemical laboratory, where studied and realized his experiments and his inventions. It should be added that, in the basement of the palace, a printing press had been placed and its noise, very original for the time, could well fuel further rumors. From general accusations of alchemy, witchcraft and atheism, other more serious charges took root, without any basis as far as we know, such as kidnapping poor and homeless for his ignoble experiments. For this and more, he was nicknamed the “black noble”.
The Cappella Sansevero also known as the Capella Sansevero de’ Sangri received its alternative name of Pietatella (from the word pity) from a painting of the Virgin Mary (La Pietà), spotted there by an unjustly arrested prisoner, as reported in the book “Napoli Sacra” by Cesare d’Engenio Caracciolo in 1623. When the chapel was constructed it was originally dedicated to Santa Maria della Pietà, after the painting.
With its thirty works of art and decoration in late-Baroque, the chapel has always been a destination for tourists and visitors.

Metal Veins

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SCIENCE CENTRE

Published March 6, 2013 by Tony

CITY OF SCIENCE, NAPLES

Yesterday, late in the evening, a fire almost completely has destroyed the “Città della Scienza” (City of Science)  in Naples.
Firefighters had to work all night to be able to douse the flames because there were more outbreaks in different pavilions, and this, in the absence of wind, suggests that the fire might be arson. Only a dedicated theater is saved and the damages are considerable.
The City of Science was founded in 1996 by a foundation for the promotion and popularization of science, and built in the district of Bagnoli, in the big industrial area of the former Italsider, encouraging the conversion of the area into a high-tech hub, and offering at the same time new jobs opportunities. The structure was composed of a multifunctional interactive science museum and of a training center. The exhibition halls were divided according to the scientific experience proposed. There was a “gym science” that allowed people to know the dynamics of various physical and natural phenomena; a planetarium, a “workshop” for children divided by age and allowing students to learn science by playing; a huge hall used to organize exhibitions theme at particular times of the year;  a series of spaces dedicated to events, meetings and conferences, and, finally, an area dedicated to education and territorial development in the field of entrepreneurship.
The city of Science in Naples was, therefore, a second generation interactive science museum “hands-on”,  and represented one of the most advanced initiatives in Italy with regard to the creation of a comprehensive system of dissemination and transfer of scientific and technological knowledge to people and schools.

For the reconstruction the foundation is planning to organize a concert to raise funds to restore the structure.

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FLYING NANNY

Published February 6, 2013 by Tony

AU PAIR PARENTS


The idea of students staying for few weeks with host families in different countries of the world, has been successful because it is one of the easiest, practical and economical way for boys/girls to stay in a foreign country and learn traditions, customs and language. Recently also is spreading the new idea, to take advantage of older people, parents or grandparents in fact, who wish to visit another country, and staying with families that do need someone, in their absence, as babysitter and to take care of their home.
Flying Nanny is a form of child care independent of time and place.
I’m thinking of the opposite thing instead, where it is not the student to move, but a parent that does it.

The idea that I’d like to develop is similar to “au pair” students but with different assumptions, namely that the host family is looking for “flying nanny” not by their absence, but on the contrary, for people from other countries to stay together and able to teach to their kids a new language – or perfect it – sharing customs and traditions. It would, indeed, a mutual exchange, with grandparents perfecting local language and culture, and the host family that does the same, with regard to the language and customs of the country from which the “flying nanny” comes from. A sort of foreign “au pair parents” that in exchange for spending time with the kid, teaching their language and taking care of them, in case of a short absence of parents, receive room and board. An interesting and inexpensive way to have both what they are looking for and for free. 

The organization I’m thinking about and that would like to pursue, should create a database of Italian intended parents and the country in which they would like to stay, with the one of families who are looking for an Italian parent for themselves of for their kids. Combining data and, where both requirements are met, then put people in touch with each other.
Simple and easy.

In this regard I would like to know who is interested in this idea and want to share it seriously.

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Work and Family in Naples

Published January 25, 2013 by Tony

Neapolitans:  Work & Family

napoli

I am against mama’s boys, against too obsessive parent’s attachment towards their children, which limits their freedom and experiences, but it also happens the other way, especially nowadays that both parents are busy with work and various daily commitments.
Parents who leave home early in the morning for work, and in some cases back just long enough to eat, then again to work until evening. The less fortunate are back at home directly in the late evening. Things to do are many, of course, and so parents’ free time must also be used for commitments and commissions, aside from leisure and other outdoor activities.
Result?
They spent very little time with their children, often with a quick hello in the morning and good night before going to bed only. During spare time, also kids have their own commitments, studying, friends or extra-curricular activities, and this shrinks the opportunities for parents and children to meet and stay together. Everyone daily involved in their activities leads, year after year, reduction and cooling of interpersonal relationships, with children who, over time, look to their parents as a simple mandatory presence in their lives, and that, like it or painful,  they still have to apply for any need or permission, and with parents who, instead, look at their kids as one of the reasons they must work, to meet all the expenses that growth, welfare and education imply. There are cases in which parents and children, even seeing every day and sleeping under the same roof, become outsiders, by a simple cohabitation. The ones who do not know needs, issues and expectations of others. The dialogue is condensed to a minimum and when it happens to have to or want to re-establish the normal parent-child relationship, then is too late, and parents realize that, beyond the genetic characteristics, have little in common, by now. If this lack of relation happens in children’s period of life between 10 and 15 years, which corresponds to the period in which kids are most in need of a parental presence, then it even becomes much more difficult to re-establish a close relationship. If it is true what we watch in many films from U.S., the above happens much more frequently in American families, because in Italy and Naples, where I live, such situations are infrequent. This probably is another difference between you and us.
Thanks to American films, we come to know about lifestyle of you overseas’ people, and often we see that relationship between adolescents and parents are not among the best. Parents too busy with work and commitments and boys now accustomed to fend for themselves. Just the opposite of what I said at the beginning of this post. This leads us to assume that work and some commitments have a significant part in your life. This is not to say that work or hobbies are nor important and necessary, indeed, but probably you Americans give them a different priority, compared with we Neapolitans.
For us, family and children come before anything else.
scugnizziBut to understand this, it is necessary for me to say something about work and Neapolitan people’s mindset.

In the past it was common to point to Naples citizens as one of those who did not like to work, slackers and malingerers. A cliché that for long any Napoletano has been labelled, especially from Northern Italy’s fellows.
As always, the southern regions of Italy have had less industries and infrastructure than North, therefore, fewer jobs and opportunities for businesses, which over the years has produced a high rate of unemployment. Every day, many people left the house in the morning looking for a job, trying to get by,  remedy and bring “nu piezze ‘e pane” (a piece of bread) at home, at least. For this reason Neapolitans have become famous for their ability to adapt, to have invented the oddest and unimaginable jobs, just to survive poverty. Even today, here the unemployment rate is one of the highest in Italy, but that does not mean we don’t like to work or snub the job. Although to be honest, apart from a few cases, I wonder who of you like to work really?
Neapolitans when they can, get a break from work to being at home, and if must be absent form work for family reasons, they do so without too much trouble. For women, this need is even greater, and here in the south there are still many women who don’t work and devote their lives to family and home. In this regard, I should make a distinction between wealthy families, middle and poor class.
Rich families such as the poor are the ones that usually allow more freedom to their children. Poor families’ children already at an early age are accustomed to being alone, to spend more time in the streets and fend for themselves. They are the heirs of the famous “scugnizzi” (street urchins) of a time that you can still meet in the hinterland or in the narrow alleys of Naples playing in groups. But these “guaglioni or guagliuni” (boys), as we call them, do not feel their parents absence, in fact, they love freedom and cut the “umbilical cord,” that binds them to their parents, as soon as possible. The low and middle income is not conducive for hobbies or other recreational activities, and apart from moms who stay all day at home, dads like to spend free time at home with their family. Who runs a shop, closes at lunch time (around 13.30) and reopen it at 4 pm,  and then close at 8 – 8,30 pm., while a worker usually works until 5 – 6 in the afternoon. On the other hand, famous are the Neapolitan sentences: “’e figlje so piezze ‘e core” (literally, children are pieces of heart), ” ‘a famiglia è sacra” (family is sacred), “tra moglie e marito non mettere dito” (literally, between wife and husband does not put the finger), and although here parents rarely invest money for the future of their children, woe to those who do them harm.