Roots, Feast of San Gennaro 2009

Feast

Despite my Germanic last name, culturally I connect most with my Italian roots. My mother’s family is Italian (roots in Naples) and I grew up with Italian food and drink and the dismal Italian-American alteration of the Italian language. After studying Italian and becoming relatively fluent, I always wince  at some of the pronunciations. For example, some food and drink names:

Campari  became “Gambar.”

Prosciutto is made to sound  like “Brojzoot.”

Capicolla has been turned into the frightening “Gabaghoul” a meat best eaten at Halloween I guess. (Nobody pronounced “Gabaghoul” better than James Galdofini on The Sopranos. I loved when he would stick his head in the fridge and call out, “Carm, where’s the Gabaghoul?”)

Waiting for "Gabaghoul"

Waiting for "Gabaghoul"

Since once of my cats is named Cannoli, I can’t help but flinch at how it is pronounced by my mother and her generation: “Ganawl.”  For a crash course in Italian-American food pronunciation, I invite you to the superb Court Street Bakery in Brooklyn during Christmas or Easter for a lesson in Italian pastry pronunciation.

How about a delicious "Ganawl?"

How about a delicious "Ganawl?"

Yes, the gorgeous vowels of Italy seem to have been tossed away when my ancestors settled into New York after arriving at Ellis Island. On the other hand, I love the way sausage is pronounced “Sauseege.”

"Sauseege," I want the kind he had.

"Sauseege," I want the kind he had.

The Feast of San Gennaro

 If you are a New Yorker you know about the Feast. For a week in September what is left of Little Italy is filled with outdoor stands offering sausages and peppers, zeppole, brasciol, clams, over-priced daiquiris and other tasty bits. Games of chance abound, and for a dollar you can attempt to throw what feels like a small cannon ball into a basket to win an iPod – the stakes have been raised, because when I was growing up the prizes weren’t nearly as nice.

You can also buy lots of souvenirs at the Feast. Here’s where I am going to go off on a bit of rant. Italian culture is not what the souvenir stands are about. Yes, you can buy an Italian soccer team jersey, an Italian flag or a statue of Saint Anthony – “Saint Antnee” where I grew up. But you can also buy some real gems like a shirt with Don Corleone, Tony Soprano and Tony Montana on it, stenciled on like some unholy trinity. If you are paying attention you will have rightfully pointed out that Tony Montana shouldn’t have been on the shirt since he was Cuban. Fear not, there were also shirts with John Gotti’s beatific gaze on them.

One size fits all

One size fits all

How did we come to this? Now I know a Tony Soprano t-shirt is a lot more fun for some than, let’s say, a t-shirt with Dante’s picture on it – I mean Dante the poet, not Silvio Dante the Soprano’s consigliare. I fear a couple of things are happening. I’m not going to get all weepy because the Feast of San Gennaro was never a celebration of great Italian culture. Paperbacks of Petrarch, Mirandola and Machiavelli never were sold at the various street stands. CDs of Verdi and Puccini do not outsell Jimmy Roselli CDs. Fair enough.

But did we have to actively promote TV and movie mobsters as the sole representatives of Italian culture? What concerns me is what the tourists think. There are probably more tourists from Europe and exotic places like Iowa at the Feast than people of Italian heritage.  I know what my culture is really about and I can overcome the stereotyping. But I don’t like the fact that some grandmother in a tasteless sweatshirt and fanny pack visiting from Indianapolis goes home thinking she has experienced real Italian culture.

Dante?

Dante?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or

Dante?

Dante?

All that being said, I love the Feast. I ate sauseege, flipped through the Vic Damone and Jerry Vale CDs and spent time trying to win that iPod. But I also put things in perspective and went home to read some Tasso while eating zeppole. Tasso and zeppole, Cannoli approved.

Cannoli

Cannoli

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2 Responses to “Roots, Feast of San Gennaro 2009”

  1. Mingya! No goo-goots?

  2. Craig Zeichner Says:

    Good point, bad omission. Will have to do another post.

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