Another look into Italy’s past, found right here in Canada. This vintage Italian postcard is undated but is certainly from somewhere around the turn of the 19th century.
At the time opera was very popular in Italy and publishing companies, like Alterocca-Terni, cashed in on the trend by producing black and white cards of the popular or new operas. The cards featured the opera stars, in full costume (sometimes hand coloured), and could also include some bars of music from the opera or a line or two. Postcards with big stars on them are worth the most nowadays, but a card like this shows a simple scene of dancers in the opera.
My grandfather had a saying, in deep Calabrese dialect (such that I can say it but can’t figure out how to properly spell it), that “a full stomach, not a clean white shirt, makes you sing.” So many of his stories, and the stories of many other Nonni currently here in Canada tell, come from a place of hardship, from all the reasons why they left Italy.
There are many other stories told in my family that brought me to an interest in Italian folktales, that I worry sometimes are left behind in our memories. As a writer, I’m interested in the stories as they are told and the morals that are common in our culture. As with most folklore, Italian folktales focus on the religious or the mythical tied to an everyday experience. Italo Calvino‘s Italian Folktales, published in 1956, is a large collection of Italian folktales that range from simple country-side stories to ones that involve magic and royalty. While I’m still trying to decode the message in some of the stories, many of them echo sentiments I had heard from my grandparents about honour, struggle, distrust of leaders (whether religious or otherwise), and so on.
Giufà, fool that he was, never got invited anywhere or asked to honor anyone with his company. Once he went to a farm to see if they would give him something, but noticing how slovenly he was, they sicked the dogs on him. His mother then bought him a fine topcoat, a pair of pants and a velvet vest. Now dressed as a country gentleman, Giufà returned to the same farm. They made a big to-do over him, invited him to sit down to the table with them, and quite turned his head with all their compliments. When they served him, Giufà carried food to his mouth with one hand; with the other he stuffed food into all his pockets as well as his hat saying, “Eat your fill, my fine clothes, for they invited you, not me!”
Before she left for Canada, my grandmother made one last purchase. A gold ring in the shape of a coiled snake. I’ve never seen another like it and I’m left wondering if there was some significance to the snake itself or if buying gold was another way of protecting what little money they had.
There is this Italian obsession with gold, though I’ve come to know living in Canada that it isn’t unlike other cultures obsession with the same precious metal. I’m well aware that that my friends who travel to their country of heritage go shopping there, like India, to get a better price on gold, just as we do when we go to Italy.
I was struck by the image of a snake bracelet the other day that I adored, only to have it make me recall a snake ring that my mother has, as my grandmother is no longer with us. It is precious to my mom because she remembers it from the trip to Canada and, of course, throughout her life. I remember it on my grandmother’s hands a lot.
It’s time to forget the Canadian food groups and follow something Italian!
After getting married last year, a Calabrese-Pugliese-Sciliano wedding, I’ve done my fair share of eating. It’s been an all-Italian free-for-all, starting with antipasto buffets and ending in a sausage and sopressata making fest this last weekend. It’s time for a diet. But I still want to eat Italian!
My largest problem with dieting has always been what prescribed diets want you to eat. I have no desire for cottage cheese or bananas or some bland chicken breast. I still want Italian food – in my own way. I was trying to create a healthy menu for this week and I remembered when I was young being taught the “Canada Food Guide”, particularly the 1980s version. It told you how much to eat of all the food groups. Great. Except the food groups didn’t include taralli, polenta, figs, tomato sauce (is that considered a vegetable serving?), ricotta or anything else recognizable. I hated that. Just like we all hated having the smelly mortadella sandwich at school when everyone else had peanut butter.
Searching for the food pyramid or food groups these days shows just how far thinking in diets has come. There’s an Italian Food Pyramid (and an Indian one, Mexican and so on.) Finally something I can relate to! It inspired me to put a nice looking one together – for all those young Italian-Canadians learning about food groups, this is for you! Polenta and foccaccia for grains, figs and grapes for fruits, artichokes and rapini for veges, parmesan and calamari for proteins. Did I miss anything integral? Let me know in the comments!
(images are courtesy of various sources from depositphoto.com)
My husband, upset by someone at work, shouted in the car today as he told me his story: “You never attack my reputation! You never attack an Italian’s reputation.”
Ah, another ltalian trait come to life in our Italian-Canadian world? It also got me thinking about my older post about a friend who found out, only after we believe he was indeed Italian in spirit and character, was actually Italian by birth. Is it stupid to try and find and define the characteristics of one race…is that racism? But certainly there are characteristics and beliefs that tie us together. A Google search later and I found a very old essay just about this very thing…Italian Traits and Characteristics.