Thursday, February 26, 2015

The peoples of Italy, a land of extremes

Canals of Venice. Impressionist. Pretty. Reminds me: Italy is sort of a made-up country. It's actually many little countries that don't like each other. (They even have different languages, related to Italian.) Like our North and our South, Italy's northern countries such as Venice, which are ethnically and culturally slightly more German, look down on the south, such as Naples, Calabria, and Sicily. The southerners lost out when 1800s liberals (Garibaldi) created Italy, so many of them moved to America. My guess is Italian-Americans are overwhelmingly southern in origin.

Sunset in Sicily. I love the lit-up cross. Read the descriptions of Sicily and its culture in The Godfather. Everything is sensual and vivid from the color of the flowers to the taste of a cake. By the way, an interesting detail: Michael didn't really want to remain Catholic: he's disappointed that Kay converted; he wanted their kids to be Protestant like her, that is, American.

Catholic cultures have extremes, as you can read in the book: love (family, and romance/sex: Michael and his first wife, Appolonia, a profoundly Catholic story) and holiness but also great evil (a mafioso has his illegitimate baby daughter thrown into a furnace). Protestant cultures favor lukewarmness, mediocrity: bland food, boring relationships, etc. Mark Bonocore shared that insight with me many years ago.

I haven't been to Italy.


  1. Yes that's true. Almost all Italian Americans are from the south (The only large concentration of northerners is in California).

    Also, from what I've heard, Northern Italians tended to Americanize themselves more quickly then southerners did. In California, the two main Italian groups are Ligurians, from around Genoa, and Sicilians, so it's two polar opposites represented there.

    1. How and why are the northerners in California and where in California, northern or southern? All I know of is the Italian fishing community in San Francisco, Joe DiMaggio's home.

    2. I can't say for sure. They came mainly in the 1870's, earlier then the great wave of Southern migration around the turn of the century. Most Northern Italians emigrated to South America, but I suspect that either the fishing or wine industry probably attracted them. The earliest Italian immigrants to America were all from the north. The original Italian community that built St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi church in South Philly in the 1850's was Northern, but they were later displaced by southern immigrants.

    3. So the old wine families in the Napa Valley, like the fictional Giobertis on "Falcon Crest," are northern?

    4. Northern California, San Francisco and the Napa Valley. There were Genovese in San Diego too. The northern Italians dominated the wine industry and probably still do. Sicilians came later, around the turn of the century, and gradually displaced the Ligurians in the fishing industry.

    5. Thanks. America in the early 1800s was so different from now. The few Italians were northerners, and the city with the most Jews was Charleston, SC; the South being more welcoming to the Jews than the North.

    6. Times they do change.

    7. Irony: Columbus, a Genovese, probably wanted nothing to do with the southerners having a parade in his honor in South Philly every year.

    8. Perhaps so, but we've commandeered his name for our own designs. :)

    9. And maybe in this mad world the northern Europeans have created, good and bad, pious Columbus might have decided the southern paisans aren't so bad after all.


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