Frank DiCristina (1920 – 2015) took great pride in being Italian and, especially, Sicilian. A man rich in character and personality, Frank was extremely proud of his family and their Sicilian heritage, his Catholic faith, andhismilitary service. His family was his most valued treasure, and he lived by the words “tutta la famiglia.” Frank grew up in Atlanta, GA, in the Catholic Italian community, and his love of heritage and faith followed him throughout his life. While living and working in Fayetteville, NC, he was very involved in the Sons of Italy and was recognized for numerous achievements. Although he passed away in 2015 at the age of 95, he once had a love in his life that he cherished as much as his family. She was a wooden donkey named Gina.
The first time that I visited my paternal cousins in the Abruzzo region in 1976, the houses of the four families that belonged to my relatives were interspersed among another 10-15 houses on a single gravel road, Colle Marrollo, that ran along the crest of a hill outside the village of Scerni, inland from the Adriatic seaside town of Vasto. As we walked along the road, I noticed what looked like very large metallic rods attached to the exterior surfaces of the walls of many houses. When I asked what they were, I was told that they held the house together in the event of an earthquake.
At first, I thought that they were trying to see how much their gullible young American cousin would believe, but they weren’t joking. In fact, not only do these metal tie-rods truly hold the houses together, they also allow the occupants to “pull the walls back together” if they shake loose! I was intrigued!
A classic Easter dessert in the region of Calabria, the cuzzupa is a lightly sweetened cake with eggs nestled into it. It is a tradition to make one cuzzupa for each member of the family, and the size of each cake may depend on age and “hierarchy” of the family member– the head of the family gets the biggest cake while the children get the smallest ones! Cuzzupe are a nice alternative to chocolate and other sweets that children receive at Easter time.
Cuzzupe can be made in many shapes. They’re molded by hand into braids, rings, hearts, nests, baskets, dolls, etc. A different shape may be used for each member of the family.
Your tombstone stands among the rest
Neglected and alone.
The name and the date are chiseled out
On polished, marbled stone.
It reaches out to all who care
It is too late to mourn.
You did not know that I exist
You died and I was born.
Yet each of us are cells of you
In flesh, in blood, in bone.
Our blood contracts and beats a pulse
Entirely not our own.
Dear Ancestor, the place you filled
One hundred years ago
Spreads out among the ones you left
Who would have loved you so.
I wonder if you lived and loved,
I wonder if you knew
That someday I would find this spot,
And come to visit you
Unfortunately we all know that the speed of modern life can make it difficult to appreciate and give proper due to the old traditions and know-how of cabinet makers, inlayers, embroiderers, upholsterers, restorers, ceramicists, and shoemakers, among others. Artisans, their traditional workshops, and thus a small piece of history are unfortunately slowly disappearing throughout Italy.
Well, rather than lament the state of affairs, our new friends at Botteghiamo (an untranslatable, made-up word; roughly meaning, “Let’s artisan workshop/ing”) have decided to do something about it. Their admirable goal is to foster an until-now non-existent link between the traditional artisans and the global community through the web, social technologies, and the increased awareness of this priceless and irreplaceable legacy. Their first project?
Italian Notebook is a free, brief, daily email from Italy read by tens of thousands of Italophiles worldwide! GB, the editor, launched the online resource with the objective of taking his dual insider/outsider perspective on Italy to the web. Born in Germany, raised in France and Italy, both a US and Italian citizen, educated at Penn in Philadelphia, he now lives in Rome again. He has many great contributors on board and is looking forward to adding exciting new features to the site.
To sign up to receive this free email and to peruse past issues, go to: http://www.italiannotebook.com/
Here’s a sample email from August of last year.
I have devoted a great deal of my life working to preserve our Italian heritage in the United States. Many of you have spent time and money doing the same but, in doing so, have we wasted our time, money, and energy? The odds are against us because we are not doing the things we should. How does an ethnic group insure its survival?
Italy today is not the same country your grandparents left, and it is true that many Italian-Americans are now highly acculturated and assimilated members of American society. We also agree that the language has been lost, and almost everything of Italy and things Italian. If there was the will, Italian-Americans could learn about Italy and her heritage. If we are able to get across to Italian-Americans that our Italian heritage is a treasure, we may have more success. We need to point out that Italian personal and family values and our way of interacting with relatives and friends is very enriching. By raising the consciousness of our intellectual heritage, they will come to value what Italy has contributed to the world!
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 traditions 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!”
Settembre, andiamo. È tempo di migrare.
Ora in terra d’Abruzzi i miei pastori
lascian gli stazzi e vanno verso il mare:
scendono all’Adriatico selvaggio
che verde è come i pascoli dei monti. Han bevuto profondamente ai fonti
alpestri, che sapor d’acqua natia
rimanga nei cuori esuli a conforto,
che lungo illuda la lor sete in via.
Rinnovato han verga d’avellano.E vanno pel tratturo antico al piano,
quasi per un erbal fiume silente,
su le vestigia degli antichi padri.
O voce di colui che primamente
conosce il tremolar della marina!Ora lungh’esso il litoral camina
la greggia. Senza mutamento è l’aria.
Il sole imbionda si la viva lana
che quasi dalla sabbia non divaria.
Isciacquio, calpestio, dolci rumori.
Ah perchè non son io co’ miei pastori?
September, let us go. It’s time to migrate.
Now in the land of Abruzzi my shepherds
leave the stables and go towards the sea:
they go down to the wild Adriatic
which is green as their mountain pastures. They drank deeply at the mountain
springs, so that a taste of native water
stays in their displaced hearts to comfort them,
so that long it may soothe their thirst along the way.
They have replaced their chestnut shepherd’s staff.And they go along the ancient track to the plain,
as if following a grassy silent river,
on the footsteps of their ancient fathers.
O the voice of he who first
recognizes the trembling of the sea waters!Now following the coast the sheep tread.
Motionless is the air.
The sun so lightens the living wool
that it’s almost indistinguishable from the sand.
Splashing, trampling, sweet noises.
It’s the day before Christmas, and Jimmy and his best friend—his dog, Blackie—are visiting Nonna, Jimmy’s grandma, in her neighborhood called Little Italy. Jimmy loves to visit with Nonna, especially when he can help her make biscotti. After they finish their baking, Jimmy, Nonna, and Blackie set out together on the wintry day to take packages of the freshly baked biscotti to St. Michael the Archangel Church, where the cookies will be given to poor families on Christmas Eve. But as they leave the church, a bus making a sudden stop startles Blackie, and the little dog runs off through the neighborhood. All too soon, Jimmy realizes that Blackie is lost. Even though Jimmy and Nonna search everywhere, the quickly falling snow covers up Blackie’s paw prints, making it impossible to follow him. Will Jimmy’s Christmas be a sad one without his best friend?
A Christmas Adventure in Little Italy is a heartwarming tale of a boy and his dog, set against the backdrop of a 1950s-era Italian neighborhood. The endearing and evocative images and child-friendly narrator’s voice will enchant young readers (and listeners), transporting them to a time gone by—a time of simple pleasures and special relationships. The inclusion of Nonna’sbiscotti recipe at the end of the book—a real taste of Little Italy—is an added treat that children and adults alike will love. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the Kathleen Muth Reading Center at Chapman University. For more information, please visit www.chapman.edu.
To buy the book from the author, go to <http://www.achristmasadventure.com/>. The book is also available through amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.