Monday, May 28, 2018

Lucca's fascinating past is reenacted by various colorful, spectacular events

This entry is written by guest columnist and Lucca native Elena Benvenuti of Discover Lucca with Elena.

Lucca periodically relives its storied past with colorful celebrations of historical eras and events, most of them relative to the Middle Ages. These events make the city’s history come alive and provide great entertainment and amusement for citizens and tourists.

The most important celebration takes place September 13, the Luminara di Santa Croce. This famous festival is a devotional procession in which the Volto Santo (Holy Face), a wooden crucifix, is carried in a colourful yet solemn parade that starts from the Church of San Frediano and ends at the Cathedral of San Martino. The route follows the historical “miraculous path” of the Volto Santo, a relic precious to Lucca.

The celebration starts at 8 p.m., with praying people marching in medieval costumes along with parish priests and warriers with crossbows, bow and arrows and other traditional weapons. All participants carry a candle or lamp and create a parade of lights, while all the buildings along the procession route are illuminated or decorated with tiny glasses containing lit candles. Also included in the long parade are instrumental bands and choirs, the latter singing variations of a hymn called Lodi to the SS. Cross, Praise to the Most Holy Cross.

Lucca hosts other parades in costumes and lights besides Santa Croce. The Luminaria di San Paolino, named to honor the first bishop of Lucca, is held July 11. This Luminara consists of many events, including a parade lighted by torches and candles, historical costumes worn by members of the “Gruppo di San Paolino,” the firing of cannons, and religious ceremonies to honor the patron saint of Lucca.

The Association Contrade San Paolino (ACSP) with its crossbows, tambourines and actors was founded in Lucca in 1991. The members’ deep passion for the history of Lucca led them to recall and relive the origins and history of the independent city town during the medieval period. The balestrieri (crossbowmen) march in parades during the whole week leading up to the festival.

Lucca has a long tradition with the balestrieri. Written testimony about the crossbow appeared as early as 1169, when the Republic of Lucca asked for help from the friendly Republic of Genoa, and the latter sent a company of balestrieri to defend Lucca from incessant attacks from the Republic of Pisa.

A selected group of crossbowmen was then created, and the balestrieri became a highly honoured profession, entrusted with the protection of the city. The “capitano del popolo,” Castruccio Castracani, who led the town between 1316 and his death 1328, established prizes to encourage the use of the crossbow. Regular competitions were organized to train the balestrieri during periods of peace.

The next appointment with the Association Contrade di San Paolino is coming very soon: The weekend of June 2-3 the public can witness the dramatic work of six different reenactment associations in Piazzale Verdi. Medieval villages will display equipment such as armor, helmets, swords and crossbows. In addition, live performances will be conducted demonstrating the particular skills of fire manipulation, falconry, drum parades, flag throwing, stilt-walking, juggling, dancing and medieval combat. An important and thrilling crossbow competition will take place on Sunday. If you want to enjoy this incredible experience, you can also read more about it at the website for the Contrade di San Paolino:

Friday, May 18, 2018

Beware those deadly (and sometimes humorous) false linguistic friends

Banashree Das art
As I work on making travel reservations for a coming trip to Italy, I’m reminded of a verbal blunder I once made while corresponding with the proprietor of a bed and breakfast. After agreeing on the dates and cost, I asked how I could send the deposit. I didn’t know the word for deposit and didn’t want to take the time to look it up, so I just called it the depositobecause I was pretty sure I had heard that word before in my travels. True, I had heard the word, but it is not used the same way in Italy. It means warehouse or storeroom. The word I needed was quite different, which I soon discovered when the proprietor wrote back with instructions on how to make the caparrawith no mention of my gaffe. Probably he had heard it from other foreigners before.

Such words are called falsi amici, or false friends, because they fool you into thinking you know what they mean, but they actually mean something else. Here are just a few other examples of false Italian friends:
Sensibile means sensitive, not sensible
Fame means hunger, not fame
Largo means wide, not large
Fattoria means farm, not factory
Noioso means boring, not noisy
Parenti means relatives, not parents
Preservativi means condoms, not food preservatives

Many, many times the Italian and English words truly are similar, which makes Italian easier to learn than other languages, but one can’t take anything for granted. I have seen and heard some funny stories about false friends and other language blunders that are worth relating.

Of course, the problems go both ways. I once saw a sign in Italian about how a museum was being remodeled and thus was temporarily closed. The explanation ended with “Ci dispiace per il disagio.” Agio means ease or leisure, and disagio means inconvenience, which could be translated more literally to mean a lack of ease. The sign included a complete translation below into English, and it ended with “We apologize for the disease.”

Almost every English speaker learning Italian can provide ready examples of awkward misstatements they’ve made. Dianne Hales, author of La Bella Lingua, recounts: I’ve learned a lot of Italian from slips of the tongue. Once we were on a boat sailing to Sardinia and my husband and I invited the two co-captains to join us for dinner in port. They worried about interfering with a romantic dinner, but I assured them that after so many years of marriage I feared my husband was getting bored. Except I said boring. It made for an interesting three days at sea!”

My wife once wanted to tell our hostess how much she had enjoyed a remarkable home-cooked dinner. Lucy hoped to say, “You are amazing” in Italian, and the first two words proved to be no problem—but not the word amazing; it turns out there is not a similarly equivalent word in Italian. Still Lucy had heard something that sounded like it, so she went ahead and said, “Tu sei ammazzata!” When the host looked confused, I quickly chimed in, “Vuol dire, tu sei fantastica.” That is, “She wants to say you are fantastic.” Ammazzare means to kill, so what Lucy had actually told the hostess is “You are killed.”

Delia Simeone, who plans to obtain her Italian citizenship and move from Australia to Italy in the future, said she is “quite proficient at butchering Italian.” She once referred to her home as casino instead of casina (little house). Unfortunately, casino is slang for a house of prostitution, and her Italian friends still tease her about that.

Italian American Connie Rozzo Nickell tells the story of a cousin, 12 years old at the time, who tried to impress her aunt who was visiting from Sicily. “They were traveling through the mountains in Pennsylvania,” Nickell said, and my cousin thought she said, 'Look at the beautiful mountains!' But instead of montagne, she said mutandine (underwear). The aunt looked surprised and everyone else started laughing. My cousin loves telling the story now that shes an adult.”

An entire article could also be written about the many, many words in Italy that have ordinary meanings but also are earthy sexual innuendos. For example, scopare means “to sweep,” but it’s also crude slang for “to have sex.” But we’ll leave the numerous other examples of this genre for some other day—or even better, some other author.

My favorite story comes from my friends Steve and Patti Gray. It involves a British missionary lady who was ordering some work done on her kitchen while she returned on leave to England. She had laid out the plans just fine, until she told the Italian carpenters that she wanted them to purchase and install a cabinet, which she referred to as a cabineto, right here. “Qui?” they asked incredulously. “You want it here? But why?”

“Because that where I want it,” she said. “It’s the most convenient place.”

They continued to question her, but she was insistent: “Mettete il cabineto qui.”

And so they did. There is no such word as cabineto in Italian, so they did what they thought she wanted. When she returned, she found a gabinetto, a toilet, installed in her kitchen.
🔺 🔺 🔺

American confetti
This more extensive list is provided courtesy of author and blogger Michelle Fabio:
Attualmente: Currently, NOT actually (in realtà)
Italian confetti
Camera: Room, NOT camera (la macchina fotografica)
Cocomero: Watermelon, NOT cucumber (cetriolo)
Comprensivo: Understanding, NOT comprehensive (completo)

Confetti: Sugared almond, NOT confetti (coriandoli)
Confrontare: To compare, NOT to confront
Crudo: Raw, NOT crude (volgare)
Educato: Polite, NOT educated (istruito or colto)
Educazione: Good manners, NOT education (istruzione)
Eventuale: Any, NOT eventual (finale)
Fabbrica: Factory, NOT fabric (tessuto)
Fastidio: Annoyance, NOT fastidious (pignolo)
Fattoria: Farm, NOT factory (fabbrica)
Firma: Signature, NOT firm, as in company (azienda) or firm, as in a mattress (rigido)
Gentile: Nice, NOT gentle (dolce or leggero)
Intendere: To understand, NOT to intend
Libreria: Bookstore, NOT library (biblioteca)
Magazzino: Warehouse, NOT magazine (rivista)
Morbido: Soft, NOT morbid (morboso)
Noioso: Boring, NOT noisy (rumoroso)
Parente: Relative, NOT parent (genitore, madre, padre)
Patente: License, NOT patent (richiesta di brevetto)
Peperoni: Peppers, NOT pepperoni, the spicy sausage (salame piccante)
Preservativo: Condom, NOT preservative (conservante)
Pretendere: To expect, NOT to pretend (fare finta)
Rumore: Noise, NOT rumor (voce)
Sensibile: Sensitive, NOT sensible (ragionevole)
Simpatico: Nice, NOT sympathetic (comprensivo)

Stravagante: Eccentric, NOT extravagant (sprecone)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

On American Soil tells previously untold story of Italian prisoners of war and the lives of black soldiers

Most of us know about the unjust treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and many also know that Italian Americans were under suspicion and suffered hardships as well at the hands of our government. Few, however, know that Italian prisoners of war were detained in prison camps in the Northwest—and that at one of these camps, an Italian prisoner of war was found hanged on the beach of a U.S. Army base in Fort Lawton, near Seattle, after a riot by African American army troops.

The trial that followed was the Army’s longest during World War II. The lead prosecutor was Leon Jaworski, who later led the Watergate investigation. The complete story of this encounter is told by local author Jack Hamann—TV correspondent and documentary producer—in his book On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of World War II. Hamann asserts that much of what was reported about the incident at the time was inaccurate, and the court-martial ended in a miscarriage of justice.

The Italians were captured in North Africa and dispersed to various Allied countries for the duration of the war. Those who weren’t Fascists were eventually put to work in noncombatant duties to help free up American soldiers to participate more directly in the war efforts overseas. This was done only after Italy surrendered, and thus the captured soldiers were no longer considered enemies. As American GIs worked alongside them, resentments grew over what was perceived as coddling. Both white and black soldiers were irritated, but white soldiers egged on black soldiers until a riot broke out because of underlying tensions. A black soldier, in a drunken state, cursed a group of Italians, and one of whom struck back and knocked out the black soldier. The black troops, trained to seek revenge for any assault on their brethren, unleashed a violent assault on the Italians in their nearby compound. Besides the Italian prisoner who was killed, dozens of others were seriously injured by the time the MPs came upon the scene to break it up.

The justice dished out was self-serving for JAG attorney Jaworsky, who prosecuted the case with an eye to advancement of his own career. He was determined to get convictions, as was the Pentagon and the White House, given that Italy was now an ally, and the murder cast America in a bad light. Jaworsky found the initial investigation shockingly inadequate, but he compounded the injustice by withholding evidence from the defense. The lives of more than 40 men were ruined by the miscarriage of justice, many being sentenced to hard labor and dishonorably discharged from the service. The murder was never really solved, so the best and brightest of the black soldiers were charged with the crime, it being assumed that they were the ones leading the charge. The author brilliantly brings this story to light after discovering long classified material.

On American Soil sheds light on two underpublicized aspects of the war. First, Hamann brings attention to the fact that 50,000 Italian prisoners were interned in the United States, with Americans displaying a mixed attitude towards them. Many Italian Americans visited the POW facilities, hoping to find relatives or information about relatives in Italy, and some even ending up marrying the POWs. Other Americans resented the fact that the Italian POWs were treated so well and allowed to visit and dine off base. Second, Hamann publicizes the fact that even as late as 1944, African Americans in the military were kept in segregated facilities and allowed to work only in menial jobs in the service—loading and unloading ships and supplies. When these two aspects collided, murder and mayhem resulted. Anyone interested in either of these two aspects of WWII will find this book invaluable.