Category Archives: History/Culture

Italian Citizenship Once More

La Farnesina

La Farnesina

Well, enough ranting and raving. I know several people (including myself), who share Gianni Stecchino’s predicament.  I would be interested in knowing how many of us there are and in exploring the possibility of getting something done by concerted mass action.  Could we write and all sign a letter of protest to the MAE?  Could we write letters to the NIAF?  Can we lobby friends and acquaintances here and in Italy?  Can we take out announcements in the Italo Americano and other publications?  Can we establish a formal organization of “disenfranchised Italians”, with an official agenda, a war chest, and whatever else it takes?  Any other ideas?

Reply to this post if you want to be heard, and we’ll see where this goes.

Italian Citizenship – continued

Repubblica Italiana

Repubblica Italiana

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why the current citizenship regulations that apply to Italians who became naturalized Americans are capricious and inconsistent.  First off it makes no sense that there should be a cutoff date, totally arbitrary, that separates the “haves” from the “have-nots”, so to speak.  Why should it make a material difference WHEN a person became a naturalized American?  Why should a person who became naturalized in September 1992 be allowed to retain his Italian citizenship, whereas a person who did the exact same thing in March of the same year  should be deprived of it?  Allowing double citizenship is either good or bad: if it’s good, then make the law retroactive and let everybody have Italian citizenship who otherwise meets the requirements for it,  if it’s bad then rescind the law and let NOONE have it.

Second, the current rules lead to absurd family situations.  Take the case of Italian Gianni Stecchino who emigrated to the USA in 1980 at the age of 25.  After a couple of years he marries and has a child, let’s say in 1983.  In 1985, after the canonical 5 years have elapsed, Gianni becomes a naturalized American.  Meantime the child grows up in America, does not speak Italian, feels only a distant connection with his father’s country of birth; in short, he is for all intents and purposes American.  Nevertheless, the child can now easily claim Italian citizenship, because he was born BEFORE his father’s naturalization, whereas his father cannot.  The father, who was born in Italy, who is fluent in Italian, who knows its history and culture, who grew up there and has undoubtedly friends and connections there, CANNOT be a citizen.  Even more absurdly, it is possible to concoct scenarios where persons who are two or three generations removed from Italy can be citizens, but Gianni Stecchino, born and educated there, of full Italian blood, cannot.




I am obliged to comment on Passione, the film by John Turturro about Naples and Neapolitan songs.  Too many people have mentioned it to me; it cannot go unheeded on this blog.  So, as a native son, what do I think of it?

First off let me be clear about the fact that I have NOT seen the film.  I have only watched some excerpts on youTube, a total of a couple of songs.  My comments therefore are limited to this thin sample and not to the work as a whole.  I suppose that I will see it sometime soon, and I may write a full review then.  But these are the impressions that I gleaned from my experience so far.

Neapolitan songs, the BEST Neapolitan songs (for the poor ones are legion!), are distinguished by a particular pathos, a peculiar blend of fatalism, vivacity, passion, and strength.  They are vigorous without being violent, they are passionate without being sentimental, they are universal without being abstract.  Successful interpreters, Murolo, Carosone, Rondinella, Arbore… have all been able to project this complex pathos, albeit through their different individual styles.  They have all been able to reach beyond the facile impulse of a superficial emotion to the deeper recesses of the souls of the listener, and all this is what has made the Neapolitan song famous all over the world.

Il Maschio Angioino

Maschio Angioino

Castel Nuovo

With this we get back to the mother lode, back to our roots, full circle, Naples, beautiful and forlorn, deceptively gay and mysteriously complex, vibrant as a tarantella and subtle as a stiletto.  The core, the essence, inseparable from the sea and the volcano, smoldering in its millennial languor, prostrated by the sweetness of the summer air, seduced and seductive in the grip of its eternal dream.  And we present here for your consideration the Castel Nuovo (distinct from the Castel Vecchio and Castel Capuano), also known as the Maschio Angioino in honor of its builder, Charles I of Anjou in the 13th century, following the expulsion of the Hohenstaufen.

Famous names are associated with the castle.  Pope Celestine V (the only pope to ever abdicate the Pontificate, and consigned to hell by Dante in his Inferno), sojourned here.  So did Petrarch and Boccaccio and Giotto, who produced frescoes which have unfortunately been lost.  The castle was almost entirely rebuilt during the tenure of the Aragonese, and further modified during the 18th century.

The Renaissance facade inserted between the medieval towers gives a startling contrast.  This exceptional work is actually a triumphal arch, executed in marble, and was commissioned by King Alfonso of Aragon following his conquest of the Kingdom from the Angevins.  It consists actually of two arches stacked vertically; the intermediate facade is where Alfonso’s triumph is actually represented.  The rest of the structure is abundantly decorated with mythological and allegorical symbols, as was the practice in those times.  Many artists from Naples, France and Spain worked on this remarkable arch, and it is difficult to accurately attribute every feature to the proper author.

Moto Guzzi – an Italian Story

Moto Guzzi Breva

Moto Guzzi Breva

As promised, I will now tell you the story of Moto Guzzi.  This is the motorcycle that I love and ride at every opportunity (fair weather and minimal luggage.)  It is a Breva 1100 of 2007 vintage, an absolutely gorgeous bike, maneuverable, fast and oozing quality and Italian flair.  It is made in a small town called Mandello, on the shore of the Lago di Como.  The manufacturing facilities were established there in the 1920′ and they have remained there ever since.  In fact, Moto Guzzi is the oldest European motorcycle manufacturer that has maintained uninterrupted production until now.  The company has had many financial ups and downs in its nearly 90 years of existence, and it is now owned by Piaggio, which also makes the Ducati motorcycle and an array of scooters, including the fabled Vespa.

Moto Guzzi was the brainchild of two aircraft pilots and their mechanic, Carlo Guzzi, Giovanni Ravelli, and Giorgio Parodi.   Guzzi was a gifted automotive engineer, Parodi came from a wealthy family able to finance the venture, and Ravelli was already a famous motorcycle race driver who could publicize the new marque through his victories.  This is in fact what happened: Moto Guzzi participated  in Grand Prix racing until 1957, by which time it had logged 3329 official races, 8 World Championships, 6 Constructors’ Championships, and 11 Isle of Man TT victories.

The Italian Sesquicentennial Revisited

Unification Logo

Unification Logo

History abounds with ironies, and one of the most poignant is surely the story of the political unification of Italy. United during the late Roman Republican period (~100 BC), Italy became fragmented following the fall of the Empire in the 5th century AD. It was to remain fragmented for more than a millennium, variously dominated by either foreign or domestic dynasties. The great period of the Renaissance was characterized by the ascendancy of indigenous autocratic rulers and by a the well-known efflorescence in the arts and sciences. The Renaissance came to an end with the advent of foreign rulers, notably the Spanish, the French, and the Austrians.

The ideals of the French Revolution and the dissemination of these ideals during the Napoleonic Era gave a great impetus to irredentist tendencies in Italy. The time had come for a national state, the Congress of Vienna could not put the genie back in the bottle. The Kingdom of Sardinia (which was ruled by the Savoia and included Piedmont, Liguria and Val d’Aosta) took the lead in trying to unify the Peninsula, and went to war three times with the Austro-Hungarian empire, which held large swathes of the territory. The result of these three Wars of Independence (1848 to 1866), together with the conquest and annexation of the southern Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Naples) in 1860, was essentially the united Italy we know today. The Austrians still clung to some disputed territory in the Northeast (notably Trieste and Trento), but the Italians managed to recover these cities following the first World War, in 1918. Further territorial adjustments were made after World War II, and voila’ contemporary Italy!

The architects of the Unification are four in number, and their names are strewn all over the Italian cityscape. Best-known is probably Giuseppe Garibaldi, the hero of two worlds, who turned down a request by Lincoln to join the Union armies; then there was the indomitable republican revolutionary, Giuseppe Mazzini, whose work was mostly done in exile; then the crafty Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, whose clever diplomacy put Italy in the middle of European affairs and resulted in key alliances; and of course the Savoy King, Vittorio Emanuele II, who became the first King of Italy since Theodoric.

San Valentino in Italy

Murano bead jewelry

Murano Blue Fire

The tradition of Valentine’s Day is rooted in the legend of an Italian Saint, San Valentino da Terni, who was a Bishop and a Christian martyr in the the second century AD. Saint Valentine is also recognized in the Anglican and Orthodox churches, and is mentioned in official Church documents dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries.

San Valentino is the protector of lovers, and there are several legends about his having protected couples in love and having disarmed opponents with words of love and understanding. Today he is the patron of the cities of Terni, in Umbria, and of Sodali, in Sardinia. In this latter city, however, he is celebrated in a three-day festival in October instead of February. He is also the patron of Vico del Gargano, and here his feast is celebrated on the same date we Americans know and love, the 14th of February. The statue of the Saint is adorned with oranges and laurel leaves and is paraded through the town, followed by throngs of faithful. The festival is not purely religious, but it includes interesting exhibitions of locally manufactured samples of arts and crafts.

If your sweetheart deserves a Valentine Day gift with a unique Italian flair visit the site for examples of lovely silver and Murano glass jewelry. There you will also find beautiful Italian artwork which will admirably soothe the pain and disappointment of not actually being there.

Little-known Italy – RAVENNA

Coat of Arms of the City of Ravenna

Coat of Arms of Ravenna

A few miles south of Venice, in Emilia Romagna, the enterprising traveler will find the city of Ravenna. This city is easily bypassed, it is not on most tourist itineraries nor does it generally host internationally advertised events such La Biennale di Venezia or La Fiera di Milano. It is nevertheless a city of capital importance both artistically and historically. And it offers a glimpse of that urbanely unhurried Italian lifestyle that most people seek when they visit the country.

The beginnings of Ravenna are uncertain, though scholarly opinion inclines towards an Etruscan origin. The city was never conquered by the Romans, rather, it was accepted into the Republic as a federated town. Ravenna was an important outpost during the period of ascendancy of the Western Empire, becoming its capital in its twilight, just before the Empire’s fall to the German foederati chieftain, Odoacer. It was then the capital of the first Kingdom of Italy, and continued in this role after Theodoric slew Odoacer and took over his kingdom. Retaken eventually by the Byzantines, Ravenna became the seat of Byzantine power in Italy (the Exarchate of Ravenna), until the Byzantines’ final expulsion by the Longobards. Ravenna’s distinguished history continued under the popes, until its unification with the newly-minted Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

La Madonnina di Milano

Madonnina di Milano, high above the city, on one of the spires of the Duomo.

Madonnina di Milano

High above the rooftops of Milano, on the highest spire of the Duomo, arms outstretched to invoke divine benediction upon Her beloved city, there stands La Madonnina, the Little Madonna. But not so little, really: She stands over four meters tall, in radiant golden brass, representing the Madonna of The Assumption. She has stood there, on her guglia 108 meters above the square, for 240 years, and in that time the legend has taken hold that no building in the city may be taller than the Madonnina, lest her divine protection be withdrawn.

The legend, eventually inserted into the law books, served to keep the height of any new building below the canonical 108 meters until the advent of the Pirellone (~1960), which stands about 127 meters. But to make the new building palatable to the Milanese a new Madonnina had to be constructed and placed on the highest point of the Pirellone . And now the precedent had been set: Palazzo Lombardia, taller than the Pirellone, was built in 2004, adorned with yet another copy of the Madonnina, which must forever occupy the highest point of the city, to best watch over her.

Pizza Margherita (and a bone to pick)

Pizza Margherita, the true, the original pizza

Pizza Margherita

So then, see here, there’s this restaurant in the Marina, corner of Chestnut and Scott, called Ristobar. It is a very good restaurant: the quality of their cuisine, the ambience, the service, all very good. I have eaten there several times, and have always come away happy. BUT, they have this entry on their menu:

lombard tomato passata, fior di latte, oregano, basil

Excuuuuse me, LOMBARD? A pizza of that description is none other than the famed MARGHERITA, and here’s the Wikipedia entry for pizza Margherita:

In 1889, during a visit in Naples, Queen Margherita of Savoy was served a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). This kind of pizza has been named after the Queen as Pizza Margherita.