Articles by: B. Amore

  • Life & People

    Nonna Concettina and the Ballad of the Pans

    Who was she, this woman who banged on pans outside the window at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve? I hardly recognized my grandmother with her glee and antic pleasure in this transgressive act committed in the midst of our small community.

    My parents were out, celebrating at a party. I was very young, head just above the window sill. Nonna had gotten two aluminum pans from the kitchen with their covers, and wooden spoons. The night was dark, silent. Only the streetlights created cones of glow in spots along the street. At midnight, determined by Nonna who could read the clock, the window was opened. Sharp, cold air stung my face but the thrill of the unexpected drew me in. Into the void of night, my grandmother sang out her cacophonous celebration of the New Year’s birth.

    She banged the cover against the pan, beat it like a drum, rolled the spoon around inside. I watched in exalted awe, wondering what had come into this generally staid woman. I was given my own small pan and cover and carefully held it just above the window ledge to join in the concert. I saw no one else on the street, watched the windows for curious eyes, but nothing. Only our blatant joy filled the night. Nonna explained that in Italy this is what you did at midnight to greet the New Year.

    Welcoming 1963 in Naples, from my friends’ home on the Vomero hill, was not dissimilar. On the stroke of twelve, fireworks lit the black sky with streams of light. People began to throw dishes, chairs, beds from the windows. Boys with bastone romped in the streets, banging each other and any unsuspecting passers-by on the head. Only then did I fully understand my grandmother’s glee of nearly twenty years before – a momentary return to her home village - shared with a child too young to judge her actions which seemed crazy in America; a throwback to the simplicity of a time when that was the way to make noise, not turn up the volume on the TV or radio or CD player.

    Shouts and bangs announced the New Year at 17 Gladstone Street. With the adult care-takers gone, Nonna could revel in the absence of stricture and share with me the glee and unrestrained joy as we laughed in that carefree moment together, reaching through the square of black cold into the wider world of encompassing night.

    (Photo: “Following the Thread VI: Concettina – a Life”  in An Italian American Odyssey by B. Amore)

  • Art & Culture

    Month of Memoir

    Corresponding with the month of March being International Women’s Month, New York is celebrating with several readings by Italian American women authors.  On March 7th, a day long symposium, The Ethnic Eye/I: Memoir and Italian American Cultures was offered at Stony Brook University.  Organized by Dr. Mary Jo Bona and Jennifer Kightlinger, it was generously supported by the National Italian American Foundation and the Centers for Italian Studies and European Languages. 

    The presenters provided a powerhouse of Italian American writing, and memoir in particular.  Josephine Gattuso Hendin read from “Who Will Marry You Now,” her provocative memoir which further explores the questions raised in her well-known coming of age novel, The Right Thing to Do.  Both pieces raise the question of the uncertainties involved in choosing change and self-transformation, and the issue of how that can be mined as material for writing. 

    Louise De Salvo described the stages by which she “discovered” her Southern Italian identity through the writing of two memoirs, Vertigo and Crazy in the Kitchen.  Despite the difficulty of trying to research family history in a culture whose members reluctantly speak of their oppression, she has masterfully deconstructed the silence surrounding many of her family’s painful experiences during the diaspora.

    Edvige Giunta, a first generation Italian American with roots in Sicily, drew from her rich experiences both in writing and teaching the memoir.  De Salvo and Giunta co-edited Milk of Almonds, a collection of Italian American women’s writings on food and culture.  Giunta’s most recent book, Writing with an Accent highlights the vibrant literary movement of Italian American writing by women.  She gave an insightful presentation of her work in teaching memoirs to first, second, and third generation immigrant students. 

    Unsent letters, unfinished stories and other bits of material culture inspired Mary Cappello to write her new book Awkward: a Detour which ruminates on the ambiguous borders of identity as she lives the questions raised through her own life journeys.   Night Bloom: An Italian American Life drew on the fragments of writing left by her cobbler grandfather and is a tour de force of collaged writing which gives voice and resonance to the secret lives that immigrants often lived beneath the surface of their daily labor. 

    My own contribution was a sharing of images and writing from my visual memoir, Life-line, filo della vita, which premiered as a multi-media exhibit at Ellis Island Immigration Museum and has recently been published as a bi-lingual volume, An Italian American Odyssey.  Using memory as a thread in the weaving of past and present, I also drew from a work in progress which explores the themes of immigration, ethnic identity and generational change.


    NOT TO BE MISSED ! ! !

    Coming up is an exceptional reading by Jean Feraca, poet and Wisconsin Public Radio host and producer of “Here on Earth: Radio without Borders.”  She is presenting her just published memoir I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death and the Radio at the Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway, New York City, 7PM on March 13th.  Music will be provided by her son, local noise artist Dominick Fernow, a.k.a. Prurient.  Feraca’s memoir is an unforgettable journey tracing her own emergence from her sprawling Italian American family, through becoming a prize-winning poet and Wisconsin Public Radio’s Distinguished Senior Broadcaster.  Feraca’s compassion and humor bring the characters as close as members of our own families.  She is the author of three collections of poetry: South from Rome:Il Mezzogiorno, Crossing the Great Divide and Rendered into Paradise