2004 Jeff Matthews & napoli.com
is not as easy to find information on Fra Diavolo as one might think.
He was a bandit, a brigand—anything from Robin Hood to Al Capone,
depending on the source of your information-- active in the Bourbon
defeat of the Neapolitan Republic in 1799.
however, there is much more information available on something called
Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I found a recipe that serves 6. I should use medium-size
(36-to 40-count) shrimp. If I can't find peeled raw shrimp, I can substitute
peeled cooked shrimp. I may try it. Then, again, I may not.
bit higher—but not much—on my Fra Diavolo list is the 3-act
opera of that name by the French composer, Daniel François Aubert
(1782-1871). It was composed in 1830. It turns out that Aubert also
composed an opera entitled Masaniello, who was a Neapolitan revolutionary
from the 1600s. (You have probably never heard that one, either, but
if you want to read about Masaniello, click
high on my list is the great 1933 Laurel and Hardy film, The Devil's
Brother-- or-- Fra Diavolo. I suppose that was my first encounter
with Southern Italian brigandage, although I didn't appreciate that
fact at the time. (My second encounter was getting mugged in the back
streets of Naples, but that is a story for another time.)
Fra Diavolo was born Michele Pezza in the late 1770s in Itri, not far
from Gaeta about 60 miles north of Naples. In 1797 he fled his town
to avoid prosecution for having murdered his employer in a squabble.
He took up the life of the bandit. He was, then, one of the first to
answer King Ferdinand's call for aid from such outlaws to help retake
the kingdom of Naples from the revolutionary government of the Neapolitan
Republic, which had successfully sent the Bourbon monarchy packing
to Sicily in 1799. He went to Sicily where he was well received
by the King and Queen. He was made a Captain in the Bourbon army and
returned north where he landed his force of 400 men near Gaeta. He spent
the next 6 months harassing the Republican forces and the French troops
supporting them. He and his men conducted themselves with such savagery
that Cardinal Ruffo, the leader of the royalist Army of
the Holy Faith, forbade them from entering centers of large population
for fear of the butchery that might ensue.
--"Brother devil"-- was so-called apparently because he had expressed
a wish as a young man to enter the clergy and on a few occasions
disguised himself as a monk. He was instrumental --with other brigands
like him-- in the Bourbon reconquest of the Kingdom of Naples and helped
pursue the retreating French forces back to Rome where that city, too,
eventually fell with the collapse of the so-called "Roman Republic".
of peace then ensued between France and the Kingdom of Naples. Fra Diavolo
enjoyed the relaxing life of the ex-bandit celebrity, now the newly
declared Duke of Cassano and loyal servant of his king. He would need
the respite, however, for in 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte brought his considerable
military prowess to bear on the Bourbons of Naples. The French invaded
the kingdom and, once again, the Bourbons fled to Sicily, protected
by the British fleet. Queen Caroline's plan was as clear as it was futile:
retake the kingdom again, the same way they had done before. Cardinal
Ruffo was called upon, again, to form another army. He would have no
part of it this time, saying that "a man is good for only one such effort
in a lifetime".
however, answered the call, as did numerous other ex-outlaws of the
day. It is moot whether they were motivated by money (they were mercenaries),
or by loyalty to their king, or by fear of eventually all being conscripted
into the French army and sent off to fight Bonaparte's wars elsewhere
in Europe. In any event, Napoleon sent his brother, Joseph, to
Naples as the king. At the top of the list of things to do was cleanse
the kingdom of brigandage. Joseph sent out Colonel Hugo (the father
of the author, Victor Hugo) to hunt down the most wanted bandit of them
all, Fra Diavolo.
only a matter of time, but in the autumn of 1806 Fra Diavolo, with a
strong force of 1500 men -- but still outnumbered-- went back into the
mountains to lead a short-lived and ferocious game of hit-and-run warfare
with the regular army. At the end he was reduced to the tactic of every-man-for-himself,
telling his remaining men to meet him in Sicily, where they would regroup.
That was not to be. He was captured alone and exhausted in a tavern
in the village of Baronissi, not far from Salerno. He was taken to Naples
and sentenced to death in spite of an appeal for clemency brought on
his behalf by his nemesis, Colonel Hugo.
however, had his own orders from his brother, Napoleon. Fra Diavolo
was executed by hanging in Piazza Mercato
in Naples on November 11, 1806. He apparently went stoically to his
death. He wore his Bourbon military uniform.
no report that he asked for Shrimp Fra Diavolo as a last meal.
was a sharp earthquake near the city of Campobasso yesterday. Naples
is close enough for such a tremor to be felt. I didn't feel it, but
I was out walking around in the city, where the normal rumblings of
passing traffic might make it difficult to tell. Others, however, tell
me they felt the quake quite perceptibly --or, at least, "saw" it in
the form of chandeliers moving slightly. Those working high up in the
skyscrapers of the new Civic Center on the eastern side of the city
really noticed it, however. Offices and schools were evacuated successfully.
are more used to the Mercalli scale for measuring quakes. Unlike the
Richter scale, which measures the magnitude of an earthquake in terms
of actual amount of energy released, the Mercalli scale is a description
of perceived effect on the environment. The quake yesterday measured
5.4 on the Richter scale and 8 on the Mercalli scale, some of the parameters
of which are:
fright. Alarm approaches panic. Sand and mud erupts in small amounts.
Damage slight in brick structures built especially to withstand
earthquakes, but considerable in ordinary substantial buildings,
with some partial collapse. Wet ground and steep slopes crack
to some extent. Walls fall. Solid stone walls crack and break
seriously. Chimneys, columns and factory towers twist and fall.
Very heavy furniture moves conspicuously and overturns.
a school collapsed in the village most directly affected by the quake,
San Giuliano di Puglia, where, as of this morning, 12 have died and
another 15 are still missing -- most of them children.
time I have ever truly and solidly felt a quake here was the big one
in 1980. There was no doubt about that one. The entire building I was
in swayed for many seconds as the intensity built and then gradually
faded. The panic in the neighborhood was almost total. The epicenter
was many miles away from Naples and there the damage and loss of life
was considerable. In the city of Naples, itself, there was little severe
damage. Some people were hurt in the panic by, for example, falling
as they tried to run downstairs to get out of buildings. My mother-in-law
was in a lift and got the scare of her life as the lift shook and banged
against the sides of the shaft.
around here are getting a little jumpy. What with Etna erupting for
the last few days a few hundred miles to the south on Sicily --and,
then, a sharp quake there during the eruption -- people around here
just stare over at Vesuvius and wonder and wait. They had a practice
evacuation about a year ago in the area that would be immediately affected
by an eruption of Vesuvius. It went very well: about 500 volunteer subjects
were evacuated along designated escape routes. No problems. The difference
between such a drill, however, and the real thing cannot be overstated.
The area near Mt. Vesuvius is the most populated area in Europe. It
is difficult to imagine hundreds of thousands of inhabitants calmly
moving along assigned routes to safety.
(Later: 4. 14 p.m.) Even as I write, there has just been another quake.
I felt this one since I am sitting in my flat on the 4th floor. The
vibrations come up strongly through the building and the height accentuates
the sway. The chandeliers danced around very nervously, as well. The
television broke in with a bulletin that the epicenter is about in the
same place as the one yesterday, meaning the same long-suffering villagers
are getting hammered again. There are no immediate reports as
to victims, but the television now reports that, grotesquely, the quake
struck during a memorial service for the children who died in yesterday's
is a separate entry about the geology of the Bay of Naples. Click
culture of (1)
memento mori stylized skull on the premises
of the Purgatorio del Arco
was All Souls' Day, when many Roman Catholics remember their departed
loved ones. In Naples, this is an important day and one that many families
spend entirely at the cemetery, placing flowers and, in general, just
it is not necessarily a melancholy occasion, it does reflect the somewhat
obsessive relationship that Neapolitans have with this last great rite
of passage. There is no pretense at all --as there is, elsewhere-- of
being a "death-defying" culture, one in which public markers of grief
such as black armbands and graveside visits are avoided. Such reminders
are unselfconsciously everywhere. And one has only to walk into some
of the older churches in town to find ornate examples of the so-called
"memento mori" (Latin for "remember that you must
die); typically, these are stylized carvings of human skulls. The Museum
of San Martino (an ex-monastery) has a courtyard lined with them, and
the Church of Purgatorio del Arco features them prominently on
the façade. If carvings are not enough, there are crypts and
catacombs where you can see the real thing. (The photo, below, is of
a hypogeum, an undergound altar
or vault, in the cellar of the Church of Purgatorio del Arco.
It is bizzarely draped rather with an eclectic, almost vodoo-like array
Yet, in spite
of this commitment to the traditional and totally serious view of death,
there is some bizarre competition never far below the surface. At least
that is my impression when I read in the local papers of two undertakers
getting into a fist-fight on the street over which one of them is going
to take custody of the deceased. The two them are waiting outside the
church for the funeral service to end, each one apparently under the
impression that he has the exclusive right to take the coffin to the
cemetery. Then, they start to haggle and push and shove each other in
an attempt to wrest the Dearly Departed into their respective hearses
--all this in the presence of mourners, who actually take time out from
their grief to get their licks in on one side or the other.
it is still possible to see large coach/hearses --huge glass and gold
affairs from another century-- drawn by as many as eight horses. Some
people save their money so they can blow it all on going out in style,
keeping the "bella figura" --a strange phrase meaning anything from
"looking good" to "keeping up a front"-- keeping that "bella figura"
right to the end --indeed, well past the end. I once saw one of these
coaches trying to turn into a small side street of the Spanish Quarter
off the main thoroughfare, via Toledo, downtown. These side streets
are narrow, generally congested and not amenable to passage by anything
less maneuverable than an anorexic bicycle; yet, the coachman turned
in, on his way to a church where a service was being held, so he could
give that last big important ride to someone who had saved up a small
fortune over many years just for this special occasion. As the horses
ably swung into their tight turn, one of the extravagant gilt curlicues
sticking out from the coach snagged on the roof of a small, prefabricated
newsstand. The vendor had set it up without too much regard for whether
or not he might be a bit too close to the corner of the sidestreet.
The coach tore the roof of the newsstand off and the noise startled
the horses, which then bolted up the alley, dragging half of this poor
man's business behind them all the way to the church.
main cemetery in Naples is worth a visit if only to see the bizarre
ends which some people go to in order to cement themselves in place
for posterity --enormous tombs, pharoahonically silly ones, encrusted
with enough kitsch ornamentation to land you in whatever part of the
afterlife is reserved for good people with bad taste.
thing I have seen so far at the cemetery is the "flower people". They
earn a pretty good living by prowling around the crypts waiting for
funeral processions to arrive. Generally, at around the same time, a
flower truck will roll up and unload onto the ground near the burial
site or tomb all the flowers that people have ordered for the service.
A good funeral will wind up with dozens of floral wreaths and displays,
representing a considerable amount of money. If, however, you want to
grab the flowers that you ordered and place them where you want at the
service, you must be there the second the flowers are unloaded, or you
will never get them. The minute the flowers hit the ground, they are
overrun by the "flower people". They will make off with everything in
a matter of seconds --and even get in some heated discussions of the
"Hey, I saw those first" type. No fisticuffs, however; you don't want
to damage the flowers. The flower people take their booty, all still
fresh and beautiful, back outside the cemetery to the main gate and
sell them to mourners who are on their way in.
is, I suppose, "So what's the big deal? It's only death." And it's even
good for a laugh, sometimes. Maybe that's not so bad.
years ago, the mayor of Venice, in a fit of high doge dudgeon, officially
declared that the gondoliers plying the city's watery by-ways should
stop serenading the tourists with Neapolitan Songs! Two questions may
occur to you. One: Why should he care? Two: What are Venetian boatsmen
doing singing 'O sole mio, in the first place? Well, one: He
cares for reasons of authenticity. Uninformed tourists may feel that
it is completely natural to go punting along the Grand Canal while their
chauffeur croons about returning to Sorrento, but the mayor knows better.
He knows that's as authentic as a Cockney waxing elegiac about the Bonnie
Banks of Loch Lomond or a Mississippi Delta blues singer belting out
a New England sea chantey. Two: The gondoliers sing these songs because
that's what the tourists want to hear. To them, Funiculì Funiculà,
Santa Lucia and other examples of la canzone napoletana,
the Neapolitan Song, are Italy. But they're not, really. They're Naples.
speaking, the Neapolitan Song is not folk-music, if by that term you
mean the result of countless ancient improvisations and reworkings handed
down from generation to generation of nameless troubadour. It is folk-music—in
spite of being formally composed and published—if you mean that
therein reflected is the ebullience, melancholy, joy, fatalism and thousand
emotions that Neapolitan character is heir to.
indeed, fragments of popular motifs which can be traced back half a
millennium, but the popular canzone napoletana, the sound which
conjures up "Italy" in the minds of millions the world over, dates back,
as a genre, to the first Festival of Piedigrotta,
held in 1835 and more or less regularly until shortly after WW II. Each
year, an official song of the festival was chosen and the winning song
from that very first year, Te voglio bene assaje, is still enormously
popular. It's about love, as you might imagine, but it is well worth
noting that the real passion in the Neapolitan Song is generally reserved
for celebrating the city, the sun and the sea-- or lamenting life's
greatest tragedy: not death, but, rather, being far from home. (The
meoldy to Te voglio bene assaje is usually attributed to Gaetano Donizetti.)
Age of la canzone napoletana was around the turn of the century
and many of the best-loved songs found their way abroad on the lips
of the millions of emigrants who left their home. Many of them were
from Naples, which explains—along with the infectious charm of
the music, itself—why it was this music that became synonymous
with Italy all over the world. The great Italian tenor, Enrico
Caruso, was from Naples, and in America, besides his normal operatic
repertoire, he recorded many of these songs for RCA and even sang them
frequently as encores after a performance at the Metropolitan Opera
in New York.
you're singing an exuberant tarantella or bewailing your lost homeland
in the immigrant tear-jerker, Lacreme napulitane, you have to
sing correctly--that is, in the Neapolitan
dialect. This means that "Napoli" becomes "Napule"
and "Sorrento""Surriento". And don't forget the retroflex "l"
and reduced final vowels. Even another great Italian tenor, Luciano
Pavarotti, evokes a good-natured wince or two down in these parts when
he wraps his Northern vowel sounds around 'O sole mio.
a few bizarre sidelights to this phenomenon of the Neapolitan Song:
the pseudo-Neapolitan Song generated abroad, for example. Some years
ago, one Dino Crocetti (aka Dean Martin) unleashed a monstrosity called
That's Amore. Don't fail to miss that immortal first line: "When
the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore." Another
line contains perhaps the most execrable rhyme ever penned: "drool /fasule
" (Neapolitan for fagioli—beans). True to the prediction
implicit in H.L. Mencken's jibe that no one ever went broke underestimating
the taste of the American public, Dino had a smash hit on his hands.
Oh, well. Another "oh, well" for Elvis Presley and the lyric, "It's
now or never," sung to the melody of 'O sole mio. It is
not clear whether this version confused or amused the ultimate arbiters
of the canzone napoletana, the Neapolitans, themselves. Who knows?
One of them, Eduardo di Capua (1864-1917), the composer of 'O sole
mio, might even have been delighted, just as he undoubtedly is when
he looks down and sees men rowing legions of Americans, British, Japanese
and Germans along the lagoon beneath the cold and grey skies of Venice
and praising to them the glorious sun of Naples -- for, yes, the mayor
of Venice finally had to give in. Ha!
here for another note on "That's Amore". In spite of my utterly
snobbish disdain for the song, I have to admit that Neapolitans love
it. Since there are no Italian or Neapolitan lyrics, they get a
kick out of singing it in the English version and trying to reproduce
a typical American accent. It's fun, or so they tell me.)
may read the texts of some Neapolitan songs in the original Neapolitan
dialect by clicking here. Also, there are separate items
in the Naples Web Log on Funiculì-Funiculà
and 'o sole mio .]
Eduardo (1900-84) (1)
to me again the other day: another Eduardo-type situation. I
was sitting in my car, double-parked at the Naples airport. I was in
a line of about 25 cars, equally double-parked and each one of us equally
guilty of impeding traffic as it ploughed its dharma-like furrows of
turn and return past the entrance, out to the parking lot and back around
to the entrance. A traffic cop walked over to me and the following conversation
you'll have to move your car, You're blocki—"
know, of all these double-parked cars —and you'll notice that
traffic is still managing to squeeze by us— I am the only…"
this is my job. People double-park, I tell them to move."
person who has stayed in his car while waiting, so I can move it to
let cars on the inside get out if they have to."
Have it your way." (Exit traffic gendarme.)
Confrontation, Understanding, Resolution, and even a good-natured
Victory of sorts on behalf of the downtrodden, all in quick succession!
If this were the stage, I don't know if it would be Absurd or Realist
or What. How does one describe this Naples and its citizens? —
a hodge-podge of humour and despair, ordinary persons besieged by life,
thwarted, vexed, stepped on, yet maintaining the all-important "figura"
of self-respect and dignity, like Laurels and Hardys struggling through
Thoreau's "lives of quiet desperation"!
De Filippo does describe it, however, and it is why he is one
of the best-loved and best-known Italian playwrights of the century.
"Eduardo" (Italians, affectionately, are on a first-name basis with
their great artists), can be as bewildering as the Absurd, yet as political
and 'socially relevant' as Shaw or Brecht.
as an actor with Neapolitan troupes in the 1920s, then with other members
of his family founded the "Compagnia del teatro Umoristico
i De Filippo," which he reformed as his own "Il Teatro di Eduardo"
in 1944. Many of his works are in the rich Neapolitan dialect and share
a number of recognizable 'Eduardian' themes, such as the struggle of
the down-and-out to retain dignity; the preservation of traditional
family values; moral deterioration in the face of poverty; and the injustice
of being forced to live beyond the law. Later in his career, he turned
somewhat away from dialect in a search to express themes which, though
they may be eternal, have become more evidently so in the twentieth
century —the need for illusion, for example. In this, his works
recall those of another great Italian playwright of our times, Luigi
are widely translated and a few have been made into films. Anyone who
has seen Marriage, Italian Style, starring Sofia Loren and Marcello
Mastroiani, has seen the film version of Eduardo's play Filumena
Marturano, the story of an ingenious ex-prostitute who gets her
common-law husband to marry her by revealing to him that he is the father
of one of her three sons. To ensure that he treats all three equally,
she refuses to tell him which one it is. The audience never finds out,
either, and to the end of his life, Eduardo good-naturedly complained
about all the letters he received from people begging to know which
one was the real son! Of course, they missed the point.
is still acknowledged to be the greatest interpreter of Eduard. Since
his death, Neapolitans have had to adjust to others playing all those
roles that he created for himself and that still seem to 'belong' to
long, long history of Naples, Eduardo, obviously, is very recent. Yet,
he so sums up this city that if a science-fiction device could present
his plays to past generations of Neapolitans, it is a sure bet that
they would nod their heads in assent, then sigh and wonder how they
had ever got along without him.
indebted to Michael Campo of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut,
for conversations and information about Eduardo de Filippo.)
had a knack for sketching caricature. This is one he drew of himself.
been reading a bit about Saverio Procida. He was a well-known Neapolitan
journalist and critic who passed away in 1940 after a 50-year career
dedicated primarily to literature and music. He was in the forefront
of those who welcomed to Italy the new and difficult music of Richard
Wagner; he also stood up for the obscure theater of Luigi Pirandello
well before it was fashionable to do so. All in all, Procida seems to
have been a reasonable critic. Unfortunately, he is primarily thought
of today as the one who drove Enrico Caruso away from Naples. He reviewed
Caruso's debut at San Carlo in the tenor role of Nemorino in Donizetti's
L'elisir d'amore, performed on the evening of 30th December 1901.
to read the actual review and found it duly tucked away in the December
31, 1901, edition of il Pungolo (The Goad, an appropriately
provocative name for a newspaper). I had read that the review was "scathing".
Well, it isn't very kind --true-- and may, in fact, have been enough
to "goad" Caruso -- a temperamental fellow, anyway, by all accounts--
into leaving his native city.
was not totally unknown in Naples before his debut at San Carlo, as
some think. The critic welcomes Caruso back to the city where he performed
at the Mercadante theater 5 years earlier. The review also acknowledges
Caruso's growing reputation and his recent success at La Scala in Milano
in the same role in L'elisir d'amore. The critic then starts
with some deft left-handed compliments (warming up for the strong rights
to come). Caruso has a "fine, baritone voice..." Caruso was a tenor,
so this, in itself, is a sharp left jab. (On the other hand, it is the
normal reaction of anyone who has ever heard a recording of Caruso.
He was, in fact, a natural baritone who developed a tenor register.)
The singer's voice has "good volume... it is even and broad... energetic...
displays rare power.. with a silver-like quality." So far --to continue
chasing a metaphor clearly much faster than I am-- if the critic were
a boxer, he is still sticking and moving ... sticking and moving.
even given the natural quality of a gifted voice, it doesn't seem
to me that he has the technical skills that might add some discipline
to his natural gift, might put some more substance in his voice,
improve his sense of how melody should move, add the agility one
needs for light music such as that of Donizetti, straighten out
his uncertain intonation (perhaps --I hope-- this was just opening-night
nervousness). In short, I do not yet discern Caruso as living
up to the reputation provided him by his remarkably gifted natural
next paragraph is a recipe, the critic's overbearing --even obnoxious--
prescription for Caruso: what music Caruso should sing and what music
he should avoid until his voice can handle it. In the latter category
are difficult roles, such as Tosca and all modern music.
After all, says the critic, bringing down the house (as Carusuo did)
with "Una furtiva lacrima" in L'elisir d'amore is not
really that difficult. An encore of that aria is a given, anyway. In
short, an untamed voice with potential. The critic hopes that "Caruso
will not be offended by my affectionate frankness". Ho-ho. Caruso was.
Caruso left after the seventh performance. (For more on Caruso,
As a small
point of order, as I noted, Caruso was not entirely unknown in Naples
before that. I have in my possession an invitation to the wedding of
Di Marzo and Capozzi, the latter being my mother-in-law's aunt (kinship
anthropologists among you are free to invent your own name for that
-- grand-aunt-in-law?). The wedding was on August 26, 1896. There was
music of Wagner, Bizet, Gounod, and Faure. There was a 6-piece orchestra,
two of whom were singers. The tenor was 21-year-old Enrico Caruso. Ominously,
the program also tells us that the harmonium player and conductor was
Vincenzo Lombardi. The band-leader was Vince Lombardi! (And they thought
Toscanini was tough.)
laay-deeez! You've just turned a wedding into a funeral! Johnson,
a 12-measure rest doesn't mean you get to sleep for the rest of the
piece, understand? Hey, Caruso, is that supposed to be vibrato?
If these people wanted to hear someone yodel, they'd get married in
Switzerland! And did you get another sandwich stuck in that golden
gorge of yours? You lay off the snacks. Them's for the guests, and you're
a singer -- or at least that's what the sign says. My grandmother croaked
17 years ago and she still has a better high B-flat than that. So, if
I may now remind you girls that those funny little marks in front of
some of the notes are called 'sharps' and 'flats', maybe we can go back
out there and not totally embarrass ourselves. Now get back out there
and play! --Caruso! Put down the cannoli!"
fun to watch them work on the new metropolitana subway station at Piazza
della Borsa in downtown Naples. Actually, you watch a lot of men in
hard-hats stand around leaning on their shovels waiting for a lonely
archaeologist to finish sorting these bits into one box and those pieces
into another box. The station is at sea-level and right on top
of part of the ancient Roman southern wall of the city. That wall apparently
incorporates even older segments of the original Greek wall of Neapolis;
thus, it is a treasure trove for archaeologists -- but a stumbling block
for those whose main concern is a huge urban population without adequate
rapid transit. Some of the unearthed segments of the wall, however,
have now been reinforced and cemented in place; thus, maybe the rumor
is true: they are planning to make it all a sort of combination museum/train
happening at a number of the new subway stations. The one adjacent to
the archaeological museum has --encased in plexiglass over the entrance!--
the original, splendid bronze horse's head
presented by Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-92) to Diomede Carafa, the
representative of the Aragonese court in Naples in the late 15th century.
It had been on display in the museum, itself; now it's in a subway station.
This approach to "art for the masses" has left some people delighted,
and others less so.
of the most interesting collections in the National Museum is Naples
is the one dedicated to counterfeit coins from the 18th century. At
the time, the archaeological digs had recently opened at Pompeii and
Herculaneum, both buried by the massive eruption of Vesuvius almost
two millennia earlier. With interest in Roman artifacts running high
at the Bourbon court of Naples, enterprising locals started turning
out "genuine" Roman coins. After more than two centuries, these coins
have, themselves, now acquired a decent numismatic value.
has always had a reputation as a hub of counterfeit goods. It is no
problem at all to walk into some stores in town and buy brand name clothes,
handbags and shoes that look like the real thing and that may even be
well made. Whether or not what you buy really is the real thing,
however, depends on the luck of the draw. The counterfeits should cost
there is an epidemic of counterfeit watches. In the past, if I was approached
on the street and offered a "genuine Rolex," and I looked at the watch
and saw "R-O-L-L-E-K-S," then even I had enough street savvy to demur
politely. ("I already own a K-A-R-T-I-E-R.") The problem with the new
counterfeits is that they are so good that even an expert from Rolex
or Cartier has to take a second (and third) glance at them. The watches
have turned up in reputable stores where at least one prominent merchant
claims he bought them legitimately from a company in Milan that had
imported them. Everyone concerned claims to have paid the appropriate
import duties and other taxes.
notice it at first, but a few days after I bought a new pair of eye-glasses,
I had occasion to examine the frames more closely. "Giorgio Armani"
is inscribed on them. I flattered myself into thinking that I was wearing
a fashionable set of specs. I know he makes clothing -- but frames for
glasses? I don't know.
wife's friend goes to a cardiologist here whose name is Adolfo Tedesco.
That surname is not uncommon in this part of Italy. It means "German".
Geographic surnames -- indicating family origin back in the middle ages--
are common in Italy. The most striking one I know of in Naples is "Ostrogoto"
--Ostrogoth-- a name presumably traceable to the Germanic invasions
of Italy at the fall of the Roman Empire.
Adolfo Tedesco. Adolf German. This was a very good name to have in Italy
between 1933 and 1943. You can be certain that the doctor was born during
those years. No doubt, he has had to put up with good-- or maybe not
so good-natured ribbing since then, however.
stroll through the Naples telephone book reveals surnames from the slightly
unorthodox Fava (Lima bean),
Bavoso (slobbering) and Mezzatesta
(half head) to sublime if unoriginal combinations of first and
surname, such as Pasquale Pasquale
(Easter Easter) and Domenico di Domenico
(Sunday of Sunday). In between are surnames such as Moccio (Snot), Malavita (Organized Crime), Quattrocchi (Four Eyes), Violino (Violin), Mangiaterra (Earth-eater) and Malato
(Sick). For no particular reason, I like the first/last name
combinations of Armando Uomo
(Man), Antonio Sesso (Sex),
Fortunato Capodanno (Fortunate
New Year) Sergio del Bufalo,
Baldasare Della Confusione,
Bianca Barba (White Beard),
Felice Popolo (Happy People),
Nello Albero (In The Tree)
and one that must be challenging to live up to — Salvatore
Delle Donne (Saviour of Women). Also, the building next to mine
was built by an engineer with the unusual though not unique surname
Della Morte (Of Death). Then his parents christened him Angelo. His name was Angel of Death. ("Uh,
dear, what's your young gentleman's name? That's nice. Well, run along,
but be back before the moon rises, won't you?")
worst, the utmost in baneful and pernicious handles to have attached
to your person if you are Italian is the surname "Bocchino". Besides
being the proper word for 'cigarette holder' or 'mouthpiece of
a musical instrument', it is the vulgar slang term for 'fellatio'. There
are seventeen of them in the Naples phone book, and an entire segment
of a recent TV program was dedicated to the problems of a gentleman
with that surname whose parents had seen fit to give him the first name
of "Generoso". There are also a number of entries in the local
phone book for "Zoccola". It means, precisely, 'slut', and a newspaper
article on this subject speculated that even if a man were perfect in
all else, he might have difficulty getting a woman to marry him, because
no woman wants to be introduced in society as "Mrs. Slut".
of a slightly different sort is Paolo Porcellini, whose surname means
'little pigs' and who has two brothers. It so happens that
the Italian version of the famous Disney jingle 'Who's Afraid of the
Big Bad Wolf' starts 'Siam tre piccoli porcellini…' ('We
are three little pigs'), rousing choruses of which, sung by mean-spirited
classmates, inevitably awaited the Piglet Brothers on many a school
day. Finally, other disconcerting Italian surnames are Piscione
and Cacace, which evoke
the acts of excretion; Schifone,
which means 'most disgusting'; Cazzato,
Cazzola, or Cazzoli, all of which recall the most
common slang term for 'penis'; and Finocchio,
the vegetable 'fennel, but also the common disparaging term for
then, simply change your name? In Italy, there is an awesome battle
of documents to be fought. In large Italian cities, about 6 or 7 people
a year apply to modify their surname, 50 a year to change their surname
completely, and 100 a year their first name. Even after the change,
creating a new identity for yourself is so overwhelming, that most simply
forget about it. There are new driving licenses to get, insurance, bankbooks,
tax forms, a new phone listing—in short, every shred of official
paper with your name on it has to be amended. Worse, you have to
deal with the infamous Hall of Records 'Bureausaurus' (as they
are so aptly nicknamed in Italy), someone who explains to you patiently
that you can't get a document attesting to your new name unless you
first present a document attesting to your new name.