Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rocco Petrone: A Modern- Day Cathedral Builder

 "The Invisible Pyramid" by Loren Eisely contains a chapter entitled "The Spore  Bearers". In it the fungus, Pilobolus, is likened to a rocket. The spore which will project the descendants of Pilobolus into the future prepare themselves  with a light sensitive capsule to aim ever toward the brightest light. When the right chemical pressures are built up the cells beneath the capsule explode, hurling it several feet away. This enables Pilobolus, which grows on the dung of cattle, to transport itself to fresh grass where they will be consumed again by the cattle.

The influential German "philosopher-poet'" Oswald Spengler's attempt to discern an organic pattern to cultural history and the zeitgeist or spirit of an age is also invoked by Eiseley.

Perhaps what he (Spengler) terms the Faustian culture-our own-began as early as the eleventh century with the growing addiction to great unfillible cathedrals with huge naves and misty recesses where space seemed to hover without limits. In the words of one architect, the Gothic arch is "a bow always tending to expand". Hidden within its tensions is the upward surge of the space rocket. ( The Invisible Pyramid, pg. 84)

Eiseley opens "The Invisible Pyramid" with a haunting story of how his father, in the early years of the twentieth century, took him in his arms outside to see Halley's comet. Pointing to the sky he advised patience and caution and in seventy five years it would return. The father wanted the young Eiseley to see it again for him; because by then he would be long gone.

This ability to look forward, and then back, and then forward again is a hallmark of all great cultures. It has appeared in the West as Minerva, depicted as an owl with a neck capable of rotating 180 degrees. There are shrines to Minerva in many places in the region of Puglia. Saint Janarius, the San Gennaro of the city of Naples,for whom our January is named, is the month for reflecting on the past  and making resolutions for the coming year. Two-sided Janus heads have also been found in Celtic lands of central Europe.

 Janus-head, Roquepertuse, France

In the early 1960's when  in grade school I would feign sickness to watch the Mercury and Gemini manned rocket launches. The decade we call "the Sixties" and its social and cultural significance, did not come into full swing until 1968 and lasted into the mid seventies.The early sixties were still a time when the average schoolboy and the public at large followed the space program closely. The "invisible pyramid" that Eiseley referred to was the giant  network that supports Science and the consequent space program. We all felt that we were a part of it.

During a recent bout of the flu, at home recovering, I became aware that the last flight of the Space Shuttle had been completed the day before. Now, about fifty years later I found myself at  home, truly sick this time,  and the manned space program is over. Reflecting on the significance of this, which I still resist acknowledging, my mind wandered back to a family scene. I am watching the recovery of one of the capsules and the astronauts on television with my father. The name of a prime mover and shaker at NASA was mentioned by the news reporter. My father looks up from his newspaper and repeats the name with obvious recognition and delightful pride...Rocco Petrone!

What many would call the crowning achievement  of Western civilization, the landing of men on the moon and returning them safely, naturally involved many people besides the more well known astronauts. All played a part but some were much closer to the top.

Rocco Petrone came from apparent humble origins, and was born on March 31, 1926 near Schenectady in New York State. His parents were southern Italian immigrants from the comune of Sasso di Catalda in the region of Basilicata just across the Vallo di Diano from Sassano where my paternal ancestors originated. His father was a railroad worker who died when his son was three. His mother later remarried. He was awarded an appointment to the military academy at West Point and played on the football team as a defensive lineman graduating in 1946. He earned his masters degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 1951. Along with Werner Von Braun and scientists and technicians from the German rocket program at Peenemunde he participated in the development of America's first ballistic missile, the Redstone, which was also used for the Mercury and Gemini manned capsule orbiters.

Petrone and Von Braun

In 1960 Petrone turned down the opportunity to attend the Command and General Staff school  of the Army; instead he transferred to NASA. In May of 1961 President Kennedy announced that the US would attempt to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Petrone relished the thought of being in on a project that would help his nation present a bella figura to the outside world. On hearing the announcement:

...Rocco Petrone turned to Albert Zeiler ( a colleague) with a grin on his face and said, "Al, we've got our work cut out for us." Petrone, a man of theatrical flair, loved the drama of a nation undertaking this enormous challenge in full public view. He thought of it as saying to the world, "Here's the line we're going to cross." (Apollo, pg. 71)
After the announcement, Petrone was put in charge of the "Heavy Space Vehicle Systems Office" at Cape Canaveral. His job was to supervise the launch system for the mission. This included choosing the site, establishing a system for the launch, and then getting it it built.

"...The launch vehicle...would come to seem anthropomorphic to Petrone, as if it were a giant to whom Petrone and the thousands of workers at the Cape were bound like servants to an imperious master. "You can't be saying to him, "I'm sorry, you can't have that much propellant,' or' You can't have that much juice or that much wiring," said Petrone. He's going to get what he wants. The flight article has got to dominate." And because Goliath's demands were going to be so outrageous, the machines for tending to him would have to follow suit. Launching Saturn Vs involved the management of extremes-the biggest and the smallest, the hottest and the coldest, wispy fragility and colossal strength-and in the design of the Launch Operations center, form followed function. But they were bizarre forms to fit an outlandishly extravagant function."  Apollo pg.71
Cape Canaveral on the eastern coast of Florida was not an ideal site for this task, however it was chosen because of its remote location in the event of a catastrophic explosion or accident downrange after launch. It is an area subject to hurricanes and lighting storms. Thunderstorms roll through on a daily basis bringing humidity and salt air,all corrosive to complex machinery. After it was decided that the Saturn V "launch article" could only be built and prepped in the vertical position a building to protect it from the elements had to be built. It would be the largest enclosed space in the world; it was also built on sand.

The decade ending deadline required a system having more than one rocket ready for launch at any one time. They would have to be prepped in an area 3-1/2 miles away from the launch site. Petrone and fellow NASA engineer Don Buchanan had no choice but to design a Crawler transporter the size of a major league infield that would also have to negotiate a five degree slope . This was accomplished without the the Saturn V being outside of the vertical by more than a foot and a half.

Petrone's skill in all of this was his ability to see the big picture and make sure all the components fit and performed seamlessly. He called it "concurrency". Considering that this had never been done before, it was on an accelerated schedule, and there were many different civilian contractors supplying parts it is hard to imagine that it was successfully accomplished many times.

Saturn V ready for launch

 The night before the first launch of the multistage rocket :
"...the tower and the vehicle were bathed in lights, set off by searchlights that intersected at the apex of the stack. To a New York Times reporter, the Saturn looked like a crystalline obelisk. To a visiting Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the Saturn and the red umbilical tower with its swing arms were a white maiden clasped by a monstrous lobster. Rocco Petrone was reminded of a cathedral." Apollo, pg 234
In 1966 Petrone was appointed Director of Launch Operations at the renamed Kennedy Space Center. After the Apollo 11 landing he became the director of the entire Apollo program overseeing all the subsequent moon landings. In 1973 he became the first non-German director of the Marshall Space Flight center, formerly the domain of Von Braun and company , where he worked on the Space Shuttle and Skylab programs. In the 1980's he joined Rockwell International the manufacturer of the Space Shuttle.

The morning of the  flight of the doomed Challenger he told NASA that it would not be advisable to launch in  freezing temperature . The cause of the disaster did turn out to be the effect of  cold  on the engine O rings. Rockwell and Petrone thought that the thermal protective tiles could come loose at low temperatures. Although they were perhaps wrong about the precise danger, the next disaster, the Columbia,  was caused by damage to these tiles from falling ice buildup while still on the launch pad.

The description of Petrone, the man, by various people that worked with him are consistent. He was known at West Point as the "Italian Stallion" preceding that other fellow by a few years. His NASA obituary describes him as:

"...a broad shouldered tree of a man who in his line of work is treated with the same mixture of awe and respect football players give Vince Lombardi"
The authors of Apollo describe him as,
"Ebullient and blunt-spoken, he looked the way his name sound-big strong and Italian." pg.71
He was known as polite and fair but a probing questioner in his quest to ascertain the depth's of a persons knowledge. In an undertaking as complex as the space program attention to detail is of primary importance. The number of things that can go wrong is almost incalculable. His drive to get to the truth of the matter could be faustian in its proportions.  At one meeting in which an engineer was trying to bluff, Petrone physically removed the man, instructing his supervisor to fire him from the project. His subordinates and sometimes his superiors feared and respected him but they made sure the details were taken care of. In an obituary by Adam Bernstein of the Washington Post the weight of his opinion by the top political leaders was illustrated,
"When he asked for fresh batteries for Apollo 11 during launch testing, few others felt this expensive request was worthwhile. But Kennedy Space Center Director Kurt Debus got this reply from Washington: "If Petrone says he wants it that way, then do it that way."
Petrone was not a polished speaker of the English language. He was, however, able to communicate his ideas to many people, including people of political importance to the program. His common touch and plain spoken communication skill worked to his benefit here. He also had the ability to get to the core of a problem by simplification to its basic components.

Loren Eiseley gives a description of the spirit that animates Western or faustian man,
"Faustian man is never at rest in the world. He is never the contemplative beneath the sacred Bo tree of the Buddha. He is, instead, a spokesman of the will. He is the embodiment of a restless, exploratory, and anticipating ego. In the last word we have the human head spun round to confront its future-the future it has created.It well may be that the new world, which began amidst time-tolling bells and the stained glass and dim interiors of Gothic cathedrals, laid an enchantment upon the people of Western Europe that provided at least a portion of the seedbed for the later rise of science-just as guilt has also haunted us. In its highest moments, science could also be said, not irreverently, to be a search for the Holy Grail." (The Invisible Pyramid, pg. 85)

In the end if all of our efforts in the quest for knowledge only lands us on a distant world only to be recycled like the Polobolus fungus it wouldn't have been in vain. The sheer joy of the effort was its own reward and that is what defines us.

Rocco Petrone , the man who contributed so much to that elegant spectacle of the lunar module gracefully descending to the moon , will have the last word.
"I see man in the program as the essential element of adventure and discovery that we need. You start talking about adventure and discovery and anyone who tells you what's going to come out of it has got to be a fool to try, because out of discovery man has moved from the caves to where he is today, and we ain't finished moving. I look upon all those things out there (in space) as challenges, put there by someone for us to try to understand, and in trying to understand we're going to be better." (Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1975)

Posted by John A Stavola
Apollo, Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, Simon and Schuster,2004
Ebook copyright,2010 by Cox and Murray, Inc. 
The Invisible Pyramid, Loren Eiseley, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970
Wikipedia entry, Rocco Petrone

 All photos are courtesy of NASA and are in the public domain.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy

A documentary film about the Southern Italian bagpipe tradition by David Marker.

"If you have passion you can do anything you want"

"Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy. A feature length documentary film about Southern Italian culture told through its indigenous folk music. The film focuses on how these traditions are dealing with the rapid changes in local economy and the homogenizing effect globalization has on local culture. Filmed by an Italian American rediscovering his family's roots, the film takes the viewer on an odyssey through remote regions in Sicily, Calabria, Campania and Molise introducing the people who carry on these ancient traditions that most Italian Americans are completely unaware of. The Zampogna - the Italian bagpipe is the physical manifestation of this culture, its music represents the spirit and vitality of the Southern Italian."

Video about Apulia in English

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wolves of Southern Italy

Oh, Oh,
Ninna Nanna, Ninna Nanna, Oh,
Lu Lupu S'ha Magnata La Pecurella, Oh,

Pecurella Me' Como Facisto, Oh
Quanne "Mmocca A Lu Lupe Te Vedisto, Oh ?

Go To Sleep, Go To Sleep,
The Wolf Has Eaten The Little Lamb, Oh

Dear Little Lamb, How Did You Do, Oh
When You Saw Yourself 
In The Mouth Of The Wolf? Oh!

Many a southern Italian child has heard and felt as vibration through a mother's body this soothing lullaby. It is known throughout Italy in one version or another. This one was sung by my Barese grandmother and is probably one of the first songs I heard as a newborn.

The lyrics above are from Molise, but are very similar to the version we are familiar with, as testified to by the excellent memory of my brother.

Don't let your nodding eyelids and the sweet smelling warmth of the blankets fool you into thinking that all is safe and sound. There are beings out there lurking in the dark and you'd better beware.

Lullabies seem to serve two functions. To apply some evolutionary psychology, one function is to calm the infant and the other is a self reminder to the mother of the threats facing her newborn. The wolf still hunts nightly and not only in our folk memory.

Central Park Zoo fence inspired by Aesop's Fable

The Italian wolf, Canis lupus italicus, is increasing in number throughout the Apennine Range. From as few as 70 to 100 individuals in the 1970's the population is now estimated to be as high as 800. It is also expanding into the Alps and southern France. There are wolf populations in the Mount Cervati area close to my ancestral town of Sassano, as well as in the Pollino Parco area which straddles Calabria and Basilicata. They also can be found in the high range of the Apennines in Abruzzi east of Rome.

In 1921 a naturalist by the name of Giuseppe Altobello suggested that it was a subspecies of  the Grey wolf, Canis lupus, based on a lower hindquarter and different shading on the front legs. The Italian wolf is also smaller  in size, ranging from 55 to 90 pounds in weight and 40 to 50 inches in length . Genetic testing has confirmed that it is indeed a distinct subspecies and also the breed of wolf with the least amount of other canine admixture as wolves are capable of breeding with dogs and coyote.

It is thought that the Italian wolf population became isolated from the rest of Europe in a refugium on the southern part of the peninsula during the last glacial maximum or ice age( it is only in remission at the moment). Another theory is that the divergence came about with the deforestation and human settlement in the north of Italy causing a barrier to the different breeding populations.

The Italian wolf is a protected species in Italy as it should be. However, many are killed each year by cars and by people defending their livestock.
As we attempt to adapt to the presence of wolves they in turn are adapting to our increased presence, but not always in a positive way. University of Rome biologist Luigi Boitani estimates that between 60 to 70 per cent of a wolf's diet is now human refuse. Expect to see wolf packs trotting the slopes of Vesuvius in the near future as they have also been spotted only 25 miles from Rome.

The photo above was taken by a friend of a friend's uncle somewhere in southern Italy. It appears to be from the 1950's to the best of my estimation. The uncle and his hunting companions were out on a rabbit hunt with their hounds when the dogs were attacked by the wolves. They were forced to kill the wolves to protect themselves and the dogs. An unfortunate occurrence but one ruled by the seeming immutable laws of nature.

Predators at the top of the food chain are supposed to serve the function of limiting the numbers of those species below them whose increasing numbers would threaten the balance of the entire ecosystem. As an example, our forests here in New Jersey will never grow to what they once were even in areas not threatened by development. The deer population has grown so large that  tree shoots on the ground are quickly consumed.

Large predators at the top of the food chain are incapable of establishing  a population large enough to reduce the number of deer. While there are coyote capable of preying on young and  lesser deer they cannot increase in population due to the presence of man. As the number of human hunters continues to decrease dramatically, the situation will only worsen. Of course it will all reach a balance at some point but it may not be as some would want it. This begs the question of "what is the desired balance".

As the wolf was once at the top of the food chain, the  vanity of man being at the top could also change. Is there a species lurking out there waiting for it's turn at the top? Will certain subspecies someday be a hunted remnant at the edges? There have been nobler specimens of man who have disappeared, as well as nobler species. And could there be higher beings out there who consider man as a lamb? Oh well, sweet dreams. Maybe you will wake up and not have to "see your world from the mouth of the wolf" someday.

Posted by Il Saccente


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bernard Knox And A Strange Encounter With The Oldest Dead White European Males

Where does inspiration come from? One of the meanings of the  English word "inspiration'  is to breath in. In Christian teaching inspiration is a gift from God delivered by the Holy Ghost and is identified with the wind. To the Greeks the source of inspiration was from the Muses, transmitted orally through myth and  poetry. To speak is to breath and again the connection with the wind.

Carl Jung's theory of the collective unconscious says that inspiration can come from our genetic predisposition to organize information according to racial memory. An inspired person can be one who is attuned to the spirit of his ancestors.

Inspiration often comes when we find ourselves in dangerous situations. Many a man has found God in a foxhole as the saying goes. Others make a vow to accomplish a specific goal for which they couldn't find the strength  beforehand. Perilous situations cause us to produce more adrenalin and consequently increases our rate of breathing.

Bernard Knox was English by birth. He excelled at languages and began his study of  Classical Greek on his own to the detriment of other subjects. Studying at Cambridge, England in the 1930's he became embroiled in leftist causes and became a communist. Although he denied being a member of any organized group, he fought in the Spanish Civil war in one of the Republican International brigades. During an offensive he was wounded and left for dead by his comrades.

After his experience of loss in the Spanish Civil War, in which many of his friends perished, he married an American woman and emigrated to America. When the US entered the war he enlisted to help in acquiring citizenship. His education and military experience earned him a commission and he later volunteered to join an OSS commando unit. He parachuted into occupied France and worked  with the communist led French resistance disrupting German supply lines and communications.

He survived this assignment and then  parachuted behind the lines in Italy, where he no doubt again experienced the force of the wind on his descent. Here he worked with the communist led Italian resistance along with other Italian-American OSS agents in the same function as in France. This work navigating locally known mountain passes involved close contact with the enemy, and it was in one of these encounters that he was inspired to study the Classical inheritance .

In a bombed out building he sought cover after being caught in a machine gun crossfire. In this desperate situation while awaiting reinforcements, he spotted a book by Virgil lying on the floor. To his surprise he could still read Latin and as men are wont to do in situations where one's survival is in question he sought knowledge of his fate which was beyond his ability to know without divine assistance. He played the "Virgilian Lottery" by selecting a page and passage at random. He read of a situation from two thousand years ago which uncannily mirrored the world situation of his time. This was the culmination of events which led to his personal vow to study the Classics.

The Oldest Dead White European Males is Mr Knox's answer to the political correctness movement in higher education,  which was gaining momentum, in it's current incarnation, more than twenty years ago. Mr Knox seems to accept many of the premises of the attempt to downplay or remove completely this cultural inheritance. He was the director emeritus of the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies, and it can be argued that he wouldn't have held this prominent position in the liberal establishment if he resisted too vigorously. First studying at Yale after the war, he was known as a "pre-mature anti-fascist". This euphemism was perhaps a way for the faculty of Yale to admit a  known communist  at a time when people with those sympathies were becoming increasingly suspect.

In spite of this he defended the Greek achievements in his low key British manner. As a man of the West he seems to have intuitively seen beyond the left-right split of the times. His thought was obviously a synthesis of the two.

"Yet, canon or no canon, it is strange to find the classical Greeks today  assailed as emblems of reactionary conservatism, of enforced conformity. For their role in the history of the West has always been innovative, sometimes indeed subversive, even revolutionary." page15
  The literary cannon of the Greeks and Romans was nearly lost to the West on more than a few occasions. What survives  must be only a part of what once existed. It has survived on its own merits.

"The primacy of the Greeks in the canon of  Western literature is neither an accident nor the result of a decision imposed by a higher authority; it is simply a reflection of the intrinsic worth of the material; its sheer originality and brilliance."....

"As for the multicultural curriculum that is the ideal of today's academic radicals, there can be no valid objection to the inclusion of new material that gives the student a wider view. But that new material will have to compete with the old, and if it is not up to the same high level it will sooner or later be rejected with disdain by the students themselves; only a totalitarian regime can enforce the continued study of second rate texts or outworn philosophies. As long as the thoroughly Greek idea of competition is allowed free play, there is no need to worry about the future place of the Greeks in the curriculum.....They have stood the test of time, more than two thousand years of it, and have become a basic element of our character, of our nature. And, as the Roman poet Horace remarked, you may toss nature out with a pitchfork,but it will still come running back in." page22

As our soft totalitarianism hardens in the coming years, the free play of competition seems less likely. Hopefully, Mr. Knox's optimism is warranted.

The argument that the modern Greeks, and consequently their southern Italian cousins, are not the descendants of the Classical Greeks is addressed in the final essay entitled "The Continuity of Greek Culture". England and Germany in the nineteenth century were the prominent centers of the study of ancient Greek Culture. They identified so closely that they projected their ideal onto the physical appearance of the Greeks. A study of Greek vases shows a predominance of dark haired individuals along with those exhibiting the normal variation of shades found among Europeans. Similar proportions are found in the present day.

"...And in any case, the ancient literature gives no basis for this Western feeling (subliminal, but therefore all the stronger) that ancient Greeks were tall, blond, and blue-eyed. "Xanthos Menelaos may have been blond, though the word more than likely means red- or brown-haired, but surely the fact that he is so often called "xanthos" suggests that the other Achaian chieftains were not. And in Sophocles' Antigone, when the chorus wants to say "ever since I became an old man," they say "ever since my hair changed from black to white,". page124

   Mr Knox spent time in Greece and came to know the modern inhabitants quite well; both the man on the street and his academic colleagues. He testifies to this continuity in character,appearance and even similarities in the language, old versus new.

Bernard Knox experienced the two great crisis that the West has, and is still, facing in the twentieth century. As a scholar and a warrior he is someone to be emulated. Did he  foresee the coming demographic catastrophe that people of European descent are facing? His confidence in the value of our Greek inheritance is predicated on the survival of a people capable of receiving and carrying  that torch. Perhaps the coming storm will provide the gusts needed to wake  people up.

Posted by John A Stavola


The Oldest Dead White European Males, Bernard Knox, W.W. Norton & Co., 1993

Looking for Bernard Knox: Warrior, Ancient And Modern, Benjamin F. Jones

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Sopranome and the Contranome

A sopranome is a family nickname. In "Pan' e Pomodor, My Passage to Puglia" Ian McEwan  defines the sopranome from an outsiders perspective:
 Sopranome reflect some notoriety, deed, habit, tradition, or misfortune that befell a member of a family. Once applied, they stick and become the currency of recognition. pg.46

In the past where most lived in small tightly knit communities, people were much more familiar with their neighbors than we are today. Although small town people are ridiculed and looked down upon in popular culture, they had more opportunity to observe human behavior. While they may not have had much formal education their social intelligence was, no doubt, at a higher level.

They were also economically interdependent. Many shared labor during harvest time, in the construction of new homes and also in the maintenance of commonly used bridges and roads. People kept a close eye on each other because their survival  could depend on it.

The bestowing of these "supernames" on families also gave play, in the act of naming,  to humor and perhaps even maliciousness. At some point one individual coined the sopranome for a family; but in order for it to "stick" others had to be complicit in it's continued use. This didn't have to be unanimous. In many cases this would have had to imply that others could understand the reason for it's bestowal or delighted in it's use, for good or bad reasons. My guess is that most sopranome were given and then accepted in a good natured, wittily humorous  way. Many of them after all were also only descriptive of occupation, place of origin, or appearance. 

Ian McEwan also relates the origin of a sopranome from his wife's comune of Vico in the Gargano region.

M's great, great grandfather had the sopranome 'duh cazedd- of the little houses-and he earned it when he made his first visit to Vico from campagna (for in those days they lived in cazedd-una casa). According to legend , on arrival he was overcome by the number of houses and as the story goes he couldn't stop saying "Mah quant' cazedd-"Well what a lot of houses." pg.46
He also relates the existence of an old widow who's husband left her the sopranome of cazzo nero . Please refrain from asking the meaning of this one as Mr McEwan did in the interest of propriety. Feel free to look it up for yourself though.

In the small, often isolated towns of southern Italy many would have the same surname. Sopranome took on a life of their own in order to distinguish between different branches of a family sharing the same last name.

I have been informed that in my ancestral comune of Sassano there are four different branches of the family. Over time the exact connection between them has been lost, although at some point they had a common ancestor.

One branch was called the " break doors". The exact dialect word for this is unknown to me. Without knowing which branch my great-grandfather came from I would have to say it is "break door" based on  intimate knowledge of my personal family traits. (Don't even ask about this ; )

The other three branches of the family were known as  Pattanieddo, or little potatoes because of their short height, Ciriello, and Cefalo.

Contranome, on the other hand, are personal nicknames bestowed upon individuals. Given names in southern Italian families were governed by strict protocol. This may seem rigid and unimaginative to  modern folk but it served to maintain harmonious relations between families. The first male child was named after the father's father.The first female child was named after the father's mother. The second male child was named after the mother's father. The second female child was named after the mother's mother.

By adhering  to this tradition great insult, which could often lead to estrangement or disinheritance, was avoided. An interesting personal anecdote illustrates this.

While doing family history research I noticed that the census record for my father's family recorded his name as Dominic, his paternal grandfather's name. However, his birth certificate lists his first name as John, also his maternal grandfather's name

Could this have been the source of a feud that existed between the families? To complicate matters even further, Saint John the Baptist , the patron saint of Sassano, the town they emigrated from, was born on June 24. This is also my father's birthday. As I have been told, this was one of the few exceptions to the naming tradition. Perhaps my father's side didn't accept this, still called him Dominic, and the seeds of discord were sown.

Because many people had the same last names and first names it was only natural that personal nicknames would develop. My father's nickname from his old neighborhood was "jiggers". I was aware of this name but was always embarassed to ask the meaning until recently. 

One day when he was two years of age while out with his father at a gathering where music was being played he broke  into a spontaneous dance or "jig". The crowd broke out into affectionate laughter and the nickname has stuck for eighty odd years now. 

As with many traditions these days, old practices of naming seem dated. They will be scoffed at and dismissed as the product of uneducated, backward, bigoted minds but they had their function and purpose. They showed the playful, humorous, though often risque wit of the common people.

The following is my favorite passage from  the book "Old Calabria" by Norman Douglas. Although Douglas traveled extensively in southern Italy, knew the ancient history of the land, as many others who made the "Grand Tour" he seems to have totally misunderstood the nature of the people. He was also relieved of many of his expensive cigars along the way.

posted by John A Stavola


Pan' e Pomodor, My Passage to Puglia, by Ian McEwan, 2007,

Growing Up Under Fascism In a Little Town In Southern Italy, By Dr. Nicholas La Bianca, Xlibris Corporation, 2009

Old Calabria, by Norman Douglas, 1915, public domain

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tarantella del Gargano with lyrics

Comma dei fari pi ama' 'sta donni?
Di rose dee fari 'nu bellu ciardini.

'Nu bellu ciardini
di rose dee fari 'nu bellu ciardini
'ntorni d'intorni lei annammurari.

Lei annammurari
'ntorni d'intorni lei annammurari
di prete preziosi e ori fini
a mezzo ce la cava 'na brava funtani.

'Na brava funtani
a mezzo ce la cava 'na brava funtani
e ja ja fa' corri l'acqua sorgentivi.

L'acqua sorgentivi
e ja ja fa' corri l'acqua sorgentivi
'ncoppa ce lu mette n'auciello a cantari.

N'auciello a cantari
'ncoppa ce lu mette n'auciello a cantari
cantava e repusava bella dicevi.

Repusava bella dicevi
cantava e repusava bella dicevi
pi voi so' addivintato n'auciello
pi' fareme 'nu sonno accanto a voi bella madonna.
Me l'ha fatto annammura'
la cammenatura e lu parla'
si bella tu nun ci jve
annammura' nun me facivi
me l'ha fatto annammura'
la cammenatura e lu parla'.

Pure la cammenatura e lu parla'
me l'ha fatto annammura'
la cammenatura e lu parla'
si bella tu nun ci jve
annammura' nun me facivi.
A voie llì, a voie llì, a voie llà.

E sta 'ncagnata che vuo' da me?
mammeta lu ssape e lo vuo' dice pure a te.
Ah! pinciuè
sta 'ncagnata che vuo' da me?
mammeta lu ssape e lo vuo' dice pure a te.

Ah pinciuè
sta 'ncagnata che vuo' da me? 


How do I love this woman?
Of roses, I want her, a beautiful garden
and turn away around, around,
and you fall in love.
Gemstones and fine gold
I want to cover it.
In the middle of the quarry there is a fountain,
the source from which water flows
over there you put a bird to sing,
sings and rests
and say "how beautiful you are."
For you want to be a bird,
dreaming of being next to you, beautiful lady.

If you were not so beautiful,

I would not be in love with you
the way you walk,
the way you talk.

Ah, "pinciuè"

why are you so mean to me,
your mother already knows that I love you,
and will tell you too.


Come fare per amare questa donna?
Di rose, voglio regalarle, un bel giardino
e girarvi intorno, intorno,
e di lei innamorarmi.
Di pietre preziose e ori raffinati
voglio ricoprirla.
In mezzo alla cava c'è una fontana,
dalla quale scorre acqua della sorgente
sopra vi si mette un uccello a cantare,
canta e si riposa
e le dice «come sei bella».
Per te voglio diventare un uccello,
sognando di stare accanto a te, bella madonna.

Se tu non fossi così bella,
non mi sarei innamorato di te,
del tuo modo di camminare,
del tuo modo di parlare.

Ah, «pinciuè»,
perché sei così cattiva con me,
tua madre sa già che t'amo,
e lo dirà anche a te.