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Recently I was paging through one of my favorite books Festivals and Folkways of Italy by Frances Toor. Toor (1890-1956) was an ethnologist who traveled through Italy shortly after World War II. She spent eight months in Italy experiencing and writing about the festivals, crafts, foods and trad
itions of the “peasant” Italians. She believed that the “richest” traditions and folk arts belonged to the poor.
In her book, Toor describes Neapolitans as intelligent, generous and capable of great friendship. She then notes how they are good workers but do not like working under bosses. As a result they try to eke out a living by selling something or working in their crowded bassi (one room apartments). Toor states that she saw little of the dolce far niente (sweet laziness) which Neapolitans are famous for. She offered the following story as an example of dolce far niente.
A fisherman asleep on the shore in the shade of his rowboat was awakened by a friend who said to him,”Wake up Giovanni, a big passenger ship with many foreigners has just come in!”
“What’s that got to do with me?” asked Giovanni, stretching lazily.
“Why, you ought to go out there with your boat and bring in passengers. You can make lots of money that way.”
“Then what?” replied Giovanni.
“Why, in time you can buy another boat and your son can help you.”
“Then what?” Giovanni queried again.
“Then you will be rich and you can rest!”
“But here I am resting already,” said Giovanni, as he turned over and went to sleep again.
Copies of Frances Toor’s book Festivals and Folkways of Italy (1953) can be purchased on the web for less than $5! It is a must read of Italian folklore.
Submitted by Paul Torna