culture

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A NEAPOLITAN SPIRIT

Published November 2, 2012 by Tony

O’ MUNACIELLO

Not all Neapolitans know the history of “Munaciello”, especially young people, so I guess that very few of you, living in other countries,  will know it. “O ‘Munaciello” and everything that has to do with supernatural and death are part of the culture and folklore of Naples, especially in the past, when there were many legends around spirits or strange presences.
The Neapolitan “munaciello”,  that means “little monk” is just a little spirit, perhaps the most legendary of Naples, which is usually represented as a deformed child or a person of a very small stature, wearing a robe, with silver buckles on the shoes. Depending on the circumstances, it may manifest either as good spirit or as a demon, in fact, a Neapolitan proverb says,
« ‘o munaciello: a chi arricchisce e a chi appezzentisce »
which translated means,
“the munaciello either enrich (you) or send (you) in misery”
To let you know his history I will take a cue from a tale told in one of his writings by journalist and writer Matilde Serao.


During the reign of Alfonso of Aragon, after a long war in 1442 that reduced the kingdom of Naples to the extreme, the situation gradually improved, and between 1503 and 1707 many works and renovations were carried out, including sewers, roads, the Arc de Triomphe, the Spanish Quarter, via Toledo, the Riviera di Chiaia, etc..
At that time, in the area of the merchants, love had blossomed between the girl Catarinella Frezza, daughter of a merchant of cloth, and the noble guy Stefano Mariconda. Their love and their fidelity was great, but the disparity in birth forbade them the marriage as the union was not well seen by their parents. In spite of so much pain and bitterness, there were moments of happiness for the two lovers, who used to meet in secret. To get to her, Stefano at night, not without danger, jumped up to the roof, from terrace to terrace, till to reach the balcony where the beautiful beloved was waiting him. But one night two treacherous hands grabbed Stefano and threw him down from the balcony, while the poor Catarinella, crying, tried to ward off the killers. Stefano fell in the fetid street below, horribly mangled, until his parents later gave him an honorable burial. The girl, crazy with grief, ran away from home and was admitted to a convent of nuns. She was pregnant, and prematurely gave birth to a little child, tiny pale and with dismayed eyes. Over time, the child was not growing normally and nuns counseled her to take a vow to the Madonna, Catherine did it and dressed up the baby with a little black and white coat that made him look like a small monk. Even when he was a great age, he was short in stature, a dwarf in fact, and went on to wear that kind of robe, and that’s why people called him “the munaciello.” Small body, large head and almost monstrous, the nuns loved him but people in the street and shopkeepers always pointed at him frightened,   reviled at him, as people often do against the weak and defenseless persons. When he passed near the Frezza’s shop, just his uncles and cousins, they threw the most horrible curses. He only found peace and consolation in the mother’s arms. Gradually, in the poor neighborhoods where he was toddling, spread the rumor that the munaciello had something magical, supernatural. From that moment, when people met him, made the sign of the cross and murmured words of incantation. It was said that when he wore the red cap, it was a good omen, but when it was black, a bad omen then. Since he wore the red cap rarely, “the munaciello” was often blasphemed and cursed.
It was said that it was he who carried the foul air in the slums, carrying the fever, rotting water and carrying the bad luck. The mud that people threw at him, soiled the little robes, while the fruit peels hurt his face He fled without speaking, bringing the torment in not being able to react. Now that Catarinella Frezza was dead no one could comfort him. The nuns let him do small services and work in the garden but they also scared to see him suddenly in the dark, as a devilish appearance does. The saying that he had a dark face, that had never been to church, and that people could meet him in different places at the same time, corroborated this. Then, one night he disappeared and did not fail those who said, it has been the devil to carry him off by the hair. But someone suspected the  Frezza family to have strangled and thrown him into a sewer, as well as some small bones with a large skull, found in the cloaca, left suppose.

This here is the story, but nothing ended with his death because it is just here that the legend of munaciello begins.
Here, the poor and unimaginative middle class, living in the fetid narrow and dark streets, in the Neapolitans “basso”‚ without dawn, without end, without water, without poetry and without imagination, had their own sprite. It is not the elf who sings on the banks of the river, nor the gnome dancing on the grass of the meadows, or the one who lives in the new  aristocrats districts, but the evil elf of the old houses of Naples. The zones airy, beautiful, bright and neat does not belong him, just as they are, instead, the streets of Toledo, the gloomy streets of the Tribunali or the dark quarters of the Vicaria, Foria and Pendino. There, where he lived and where he wandered with his robe, with a large head, pale face and large eyes, then it is there that he reappears as a ghost scaring women, children and men. There, where people have let him suffer, unknown soul but  perhaps great in a shrunken weak and sickly body, that’s where he comes back, mischievous and evil spirit in an insatiable desire for revenge.  The “munaciello” is capable of all, when the housewife finds the door’s pantry open, the bladder of lard smashed or the vase with oil on his back, with no doubt it has been him to do it. And it’s always him who let fall the tray with the glasses in the hand of the careless servant, that brings wine to become sour, that kills the hens or dry the basil plants. If the sale in the shop goes wrong, if an established marriage fails or if a rich uncle dies and leaves everything to the parish, for people all this happen because of this little  demon who prepared these large or small misfortunes. It is always “the munaciello” that mess-up house and furniture, that troubles hearts, disarranges minds and frighten. And it is this spirit tormented and tormentor that brings turmoil with his black coat. But when the munaciello wore the red habit, his coming is a good omen. It just for this strange mixture of good and evil, malice and goodness that “munaciello” was respected, feared and loved.
That was why girls in love put themselves under his protection or because old maids were invoking him, from the balcony at midnight for nine days, so that he could procure them a husband.
For this, the player of lottery repeated three times the spells for having the numbers winning, or children to pray to him to have the wished sweets and toys. The house where the munaciello appears is regarded with distrust but not without satisfaction, the person who has seen him is looked upon with compassion, but not without envy. He appears more to girls and children but those who have seen him, keep it as a precious secret that, perhaps bringer of luck. The ghost of this story, which is a soul that has been crying and that makes we cry, that smiled and makes we smile, is a child that men have tortured and killed as a man, but also an elf who torments men as a naughty child but caress and console them as a child naive and innocent.

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DIFFERENT AMERICANS & ITALIANS MORES

Published October 16, 2012 by Tony

THINGS THAT SET APART ITALIAN & AMERICANS

 

In some previous posts, I sometimes hinted at some differences in lifestyle and customs between Italians and Americans. I realize that the term “Americans” is too general since the U.S. are made up of many countries where lifestyle and culture can be different from each other. Even if I was living in an American state, I could not generalize and assume that what happens in my state is true for others as well. Therefore, what I come to say, maybe only applies to some Americans,  but as you know, in these cases it’s the “hearsay” that counts, as happening for some clichés.

1 – The TV is one of the things that sets Italians and Americans.
For us Italians, television is one of the leading media and entertainment, and in every home there even is more than one television set. Yet, if you ask to Italian people if they watch TV, most of them will respond with a grimace, meaning, yes, but without commitment. As if watching TV is something to be ashamed of or showing laziness and waste of time. “Yes, while having dinner I just followed a little bit of that show and then a little bit of that other one….”
Anecdotally, Americans like to watch TV and talk about programs each other, while following “American Idol,” for example, does not mean being a nerd.
An Italian man at best can discuss a football game or about a political show.
Overall, for most Italians, laziness and “doing nothing” is almost something to be ashamed, and so to keep hidden. An Italian man hardly admits that has spent a whole weekend in slippers, between sofa and TV. In the eyes of the people, this would make him a debauched, a man with no interests or a bad father even.
As a cultural model or stereotype,  ‘home’ and ‘home environment’ belong to the woman. The weekend is one of those times when a man, to the father of a family, shall be granted to stay a little more at home. It is allowed to lounge and dawdle. If man or husband would be too long sitting idly at home, he will become a burden for woman or wife. A marriage with a man who stays all daytime at home will not last long! Even in retirement, a man can annoy his housewife, at least during cleaning when he must buzz off.
2 – It is said that American men do not ever greet by a kiss, while a hug is socially accepted between men. We Italians, on the contrary, often greet with hug and kisses on both the cheeks, even if there is no family relationship or close friendship. This perhaps shows the way as we are more ‘warm’ and friendly, even if we are not gay men.
3 – Another difference relates to crime and in particular those guys that you Americans call “rednecks“, “white men“, “rube” or “local yokel” who have no a precise counterpart in Italy. Still for hearsay, they are people who can behave badly in public and walk around armed. By the way, in Italy it is forbidden the possession of any firearm and it takes a “justified” reason to be allowed to buy and carry one (license to carry firearms). There, everyone seems to possess and carry a gun and any offender is trigger-happy. Then, with regard to the killings, where anyone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it seems that in America these episodes happen more frequently. In Italy, instead, are far more cases of theft, especially burglary and car theft. Here, especially in big cities, every store or apartment is equipped with heavy metal shutters, security doors and electronic locks. While crooks and drug-addicted people can rob or pickpocket.

Next time I’ll talk about other differences.

Giorgio Sommer

Published October 13, 2012 by Tony

GIORGIO SOMMER
NAPLES IMAGES & CULTURE


In a previous post dedicated to the German photographer Wilhelm von Plüschow, I also had set out to talk about another famous German photographer, Giorgio Sommer,  who gave so much to Naples, about its culture and natural beauty.  What you will read below has been taken from Wikipedia.org site.


Giorgio Sommer (1834–1914) was born in Frankfurt (Germany), and became one of Europe’s most important and prolific photographers of the 19th century. Active from 1857 to 1888, he produced thousands of images of archeological ruins, landscapes, art objects and portraits. After studying business in Frankfurt, Sommer opened his first photography studio, during which time he worked in Switzerland, where he made relief images of mountains for the Swiss government. In 1856 moved his business to Naples and later (1866) formed a partnership with fellow German photographer Edmund who owned a studio in Rome. Operating from their respective Naples and Rome studios, Sommer and Behles became one of the largest and most prolific photography concerns in Italy.
Sommer’s catalog included images from the Vatican Museum, the National Archeological Museum at Naples, the Roman ruins at Pompeii, as well as street and architectural scenes of Naples, Florence, Rome, Capri and Sicily. Most notably, Sommer published his comprehensive album “Dintorni di Napoli” (Near Naples), which contained over one hundred images of everyday scenes in Naples. In April 1872, he documented a very large eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a series of stunning photographs. Sommer and Behles exhibited extensively and earned numerous honors and prizes for their work (London 1862, Paris 1867, Vienna 1873, Nuremberg 1885). At one time, Sommer was appointed official photographer to King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.
Sommer was involved in every aspect of the photography business. He published his own images that he sold in his studios and to customers across Europe. In later years, he photographed custom images for book illustrations, as well as printing his own albums and postcards. He worked in all the popular formats of his day: carte de visite, stereoview, and large albumen prints (approximately 8×10) which were sold individually and in bound albums.

The images are a lot and I’ve chosen only a few to show to you now. Click to magnify.

730px-G__Sommer_1103  736px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_1171_-_Tempio_di_Venere_a_Diana_Baja  737px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__1155_-_Napoli_-_Vesuvio  742px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__2123_-_Sorrento  755px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__3830_-_Pozzuoli_-_Panorama  766px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__1191-_Amalfi  771px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__103_-_Napoli_-_via_Roma_(Monumento_a_Carlo_Poerio)  780px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__0556_-_Sorrento_-_Marina_coll'Albergo_Tramontano  792px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__2501_-_Napoli_-_Eruzione_del_Vesuvio_26_Aprile_1872  Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__1169_-_Capri_-_Marinella  Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__2044_Strada_da_Sorrento_ad_Amalfi_Positano_verso_Prajano  396px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__7102_COMO__Il_Duomo_  477px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_1516_-_MUSEO_DI_NAPOLI  741px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__1210_-_Pompei_-_Casa_del_Poeta  756px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__2066_-_Pesto_-_Tempio_di_Nettuno  759px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__2146_-_Capri_-_Grotta_azzurra  765px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__1297_-_Pompei_-_Strada_di_Stabia  773px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__2012_-_Amalfi_-_Convento_dei_Capuccini_-_Chiostro  800px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__4428_-_Bronzi_-_Museo_di_Napoli_-_Cornell_university_website  G__Sommer_1164  Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__3010_-_Pompei_-_Casa_dei_Vettii  761px-Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__1187_-_Napoli  777px-Makkaronifabrik_Neapel Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__11610_-_Napoli_-_Costume  Sommer,_Giorgio_-_Contadini_di_Capri_-_sec__XIX  Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__2742_-_Scritturale  Sommer,_Giorgio_(1834-1914)_-_n__2796_-_Zampognari     Sommer,_Giorgio_-_Famille_napolitaine  Makkaroniesser

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the ITALIAN BAR

Published April 14, 2012 by Tony

THE OLD BAR

One of the reasons why the international giant Starbucks has not invaded Italy with its cafes is right at the base of this new chat. It is no coincidence that the idea of exporting Italian coffee culture overseas came to Howard Schultz, just after a visit to Italy in the far 1983.
Except some countries of Latin culture, the culture of the coffee shop, or simply of the “BAR” as we call it,  has not grown around so strong as in Italy. For this, in Italy the ratio between the number of bar and people is (or was) the highest in the world. The old Italic bar, the traditional one, is however disappearing and we can find someone just in some small and remote village of the province, where time seems to stand still. Once, especially in small-towns realities, only the bar was the meeting place for a chat and pastime. In a certain way, such as the piazza (square) of each country where, especially on Sundays and holidays, people found themselves to socialize, discuss and pass the time.
From the postwar period on, the bar not only offered coffee and cappuccino, but refined by Juke-box, TV, billiard, flippers, tables for playing cards and with the inevitable table-football. The bar was the only store always open, from early morning until night, when you come home tired, with the hope of a better future.
Older people spent hours playing cards, and in Italy every region has its own playing cards and its traditional games. Alike a note picture postcard, we were used to see two, three or four elders sitting at a table, inside or outside the bar, and kill time playing cards, where often the loser was the one who had to pay for coffee or beer. Children often lingered there to watch them in the hope of a coin or lollipop. The older boys, however, played billiard, table-football or hang out between a coffee and a cigarette, watching the passersby in the street. It was par excellence the place to socialize, tittle-tattle and talk about football, because on that time we went home only to eat or sleep, and there was nothing more than television or radio as a medium of entertainment. The bartender, then, was the friend of all, always respectful and friendly and like the local barber or hairdresser, knew everything about everybody. That was just a place for men and a woman hardly hang around, unless had to buy milk or pastries.
Italian bar was a place for passaging through or have a break, a sort of pool hall where we could joke or argue, but not eating or dancing, as it came about American cafeterias. Under this point of view, we Italians are always been reserved and ashamed, while alcohol has never been our best friend in misfortune.
All of us older generation grew up with the culture of the bar, and it was there that we made acquaintance, exchanged news, made a deal, learned new things and daydreamed listening to some 45 rpm record playing in the jukebox.

And that’s where just as a thirteen-years-old I learned to smoke, play cards and table-football. Having no money, it was the only place where someone could offer me a cigarette, or challenge in a table-football match. It was there, thanks a friend who played drums, I also learned to play it and to love music. Still there, where even alone, I often hang out at and spent the long sunny summer afternoons, watching a billiard or card game. Time seemed to flow more slowly and, despite everything, it all seemed calmer and in human scale.
Over the years the situation has changed and today, including globalization, Internet, crises and busy life, this type of bar has no longer reason to exist. Many bar have closed and if those which remain do not adapt, will follow the same fate. Today we look to the comfort, luxury, all-in-one, take and go, and apart some pensioner, which of us gets time or inclination to play a game cards at a table in a bar?

Twelfth Night

Published January 4, 2012 by Tony

Epiphany

Many Italian children, in these days, are anxiously waiting: they are waiting for the arrival of the Befana who delivers Christmas gifts. In fact, in many Italian regions is a custom to celebrate the Epiphany (word transformed in Befana), the day when the Magi arrived to the hut and gave to baby Jesus their gifts; so, for a lot of Italian children, he isn’t Santa Claus to bring gifts, but an old ugly woman or hag, children call Befana, who flying on a broom will bring toys to any good children during the night of January 5. She is usually portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she could enter the children’s houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy and presents. If children have been naughty could get a few toys less and a piece of coal as a warning, symbolized by a big lump of black sugar put in the stockings left hanging in some corner of the house. The next morning, magically, the sock has turned into a long and red velvet sock full of candies and sweets, while nearby the child will also find a few toys. The Befana may also be whimsical and hide the toys anywhere in the house, so the children, woke up early in the morning, must quest for them, looking behind curtains or under the bed. Children usually leave their letter for the old witch near the sock (children call it “letterina” meaning small letter), in the hope of receiving the aspired toys. To ingratiate themselves with the witch, the parents can leave some sweet on the table with a glass of liquor or wine, and in the morning children will find only crumbs and the glass empty. Whether it’s Santa Claus or Befana, Christmas for children is time for gifts at any latitude, although parents should bring to the attention of children that in the world, however, there are many other children not so lucky because Santa Claus or Befana can’t go to their homes.

befana

Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season, as Twelve Days of Christmas and as the saying go:
Epifania tutte le feste porta via“,
which can be rougly translated in “Epiphany all holidays takes away”, meaning that with this festivity, the long period of celebrations (began with New Year’s eve) just ends (and schools reopen too).
There are different poems that children say about Befana and the most known is:

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito alla romana
Viva, Viva La Befana!

(Literal translation : The Befana comes by night, With her torn shoes, She comes dressed in the Roman way, Long life to the Befana!)
To keep rhymes you could say something like:

The Befana comes by night
with her torn shoes is here
to her broom tight-knit
hooray Befana come to me

Once, many southern moms sang this lullaby to their baby:

Ninnaà, ninnaò,
questo bimbo a chi lo do
se lo do alla Befana
se lo tiene una settimana
se lo do all’Uomo Nero
se lo tiene un anno intero
ma se il bimbo fa la nanna
se lo tiene la sua mamma

Translation:
“Ninnaòà, ninnaò,
who’ll I give this child to
if I give it to the Befana
she’ll keep him one whole week
if I give it to the bogeyman
he’ll keep him one whole year
but if the child goes to sleep
then his mom will him keep”

Befana

HOLIDAYS TIME

Published July 30, 2011 by Tony

WHY  VISIT CAMPANIA?!

Campania presents all the remarkable sites which tourists will want to discover and make the most of during their stay here: from the islands in the Bay of Naples to the Sorrentine Peninsula and the Amalfi Coast, from Cilento to the Domitian Coast, as well as the interior, with the provinces of Benevento, Caserta and Avellino, together forming a truly unique region. The scenery is

breath-taking, much of it safeguarded within the parks and numerous nature reserves which characterize Campania, from the Matese to the Park of the Monti Picentini, from Vesuvius to the National Park of Cilento e Vallo of  Diano.

Wherever you go, you can sample genuine local dishes and wines prepared according to tradition; the monuments and archaeological parks bring you into contact with past civilizations which cast their spell on young people and on the not so young, as well as on the experts. Among the many “gems”, leaving aside the extraordinary Pompeii, we can mention Herculaneum, Stabia, Boscoreale and Oplontis with their ancient villas, the Phlegrean Fields with Rione Terra at Pozzuoli, the largest urban archaeological park in Europe, Miseno and the underwater city of Baia, and the archaeological park of Conza. And on down to internal zones of Cilento, where the archaeological park of Velia lies surrounded by a splendid national park. Some of these wonderful monuments are also open in the evenings, giving visitors an unforgettable experience as they traverse the

Temples of Paestum, the archaeological site of Pompeii or the Royal Palace of Caserta with

special effects as night falls. For those in search of peace and quiet, Campania is rich in SPA: its 29 mineral water springs put it fifth among the regions of Italy possessing spa centres. From Ischia to Telese and Contursi Terme, there is a wide range of facilities, all of the highest quality. All this is made possible by the conviction of the Regione Campania that the key to the development of Campania lies in the enhancement of its cultural, artistic and environmental resources; we are investing increasingly large amounts of European and local funding to achieve this end.

by Regione Campania, Regional Department of Culture and Tourism

 

<<This land is so happy, so delightful, so fortunate that it is obvious that it is nature’s favourite. This revitilizing air, the perpetually clear skies, the so fertile land, the sunny hills, the dark forests, the mountains lost among the clouds, the abundance of vineyards and grapevines… and so many lakes, the copiousness of the running waters and springs, so much sea and so many ports! A land open at all sides to commerce and that, as if to encourage man, reaches its arms out into the sea. >>

Plinius the Elder, Ist century B.C.

In the shadow the Vesuvius tourism’s roots run deep: on the imprints of great Greek columns refined aristocrats and roman emperors built their sumptuous villas and oasis all along the shoreline of the Gulf.

It is not a coincidence that at the beginning of this third millennium the peculiar magic of this

civilization continues to generate new sources of amazement: the recovery of age old monuments and traditions – folklore, gastronomy, genuine cultivation – that were thought irreparably lost, events and shows worthy of the great international circuit, new fodder for artistic and scientific research. The artistic treasure of Naples to visit are, in fact, to many to count: the historical centre, a patrimony under the tutelage of UNESCO, the palaces, churches, catacombs and underground passageways, the Archaeological Museum, the places of medieval and renaissance power amassed

around the Castel Nuovo and Royal Palace, the unforgettable waterfront from Castel dell’Ovo to Posillipo. The hilly area of Vomero offers masterfully restored buildings like the Capodimonte Royal Palace and the Certosa (monastery) of San Martino, museum collections amongst the most important in the world.

A trip through the twentieth century city takes you, among the notable emerging urban and architectural sights, to the rationalist Mostra d’Oltremare, with its park, sports complex and exhibition space, to Città della Scienza (Science City) nearby.

Science is also witness to the recovery of industrial archaeological complexes and the originality of a scientific tradition that renews itself.

Unusual and surprising is the exploration of the new homes of contemporary art: monumental structures like the PAN, Palazzo delle Arti Napoli, the MADRE, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina (Donnaregina Contemporary Arts Museum), and the unique artistry of the metro stations that evidence the original horizons of farseeing cultural politics.

Naples, in the final sum, remains, deep in its roots, even with all the difficulties and contradictions inherent to all big metropolitan cities, an extraordinary place to live, admire, and enjoy with all the senses: for the depth of the art and civilization that has indelibly marked its history; for the mild climate that accompanies day and night the shows, musical and theatrical events, exhibitions, fairs and religious gatherings; for the gourmand possibilities to search out the age old culinary tradition, the seafood and the unique typical products (buffalo mozzarella, pizza, Docg wine, varied and refined pastries) in all their local translations, or for finding fine hidden little shops where craftsmen still ply their wares.

<< There is no one that has not dreamt of seeing Naples.>>

Paul Edme de Musset, 1885

 

 

to be continued…..