New York Times Op/Ed Writer Weighs In On Tourism In The Mezzogiorno, Or Lack Thereof

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In an Op/Ed piece from this past week in the New York Times, Beppe Severgnini offered up his thoughts on why so few travelers venture south of Italy’s “Mason-Dixon” line, i.e. Rome. He points out that only 13 percent of tourists visit the Mezzogiorno, citing failed infrastructure, bureaucratic disorganization (well that’s redundant), and blown tourism budgets, leading to a lack of real promotion of the region. It probably hasn’t helped matters that some knucklehead in the U.S. government was a few years ago quoted in a Wikileaks document referring to Southern Italy as a “failed state,” but for its attachment to the rest of Italy and Europe. These factors, plus the region’s poor economy and the continued presence of the Mafia, all make for great deterrents to Frank and Alice Fannypacker from Dubuque when planning their Italian dream vacation. (The Mafia is about as likely to harm a tourist as it is to start its own LinkedIn page.)

The great irony here is that so much of the Italian culture with which we’re familiar in the New World was brought to us by southerners – mostly Sicilians, but also Calabrese, Pugliese, Napolitani, etc. Theirs are the cuisines, traditions, languages, indeed even the facial features and clothing we think of when we think “Italian.” That’s not to detract from the great destinations of the north, nor is it to say that people can’t differentiate or don’t know who the Medici or Michelangelo were. I only mean to say that by writing off the south, people are missing out.

Part of me wants to tell Mr. Severgnini to dummy up, that the first rule of traveling to the Mezzogiorno is you don’t talk about traveling to the Mezzogiorno. It’s not that I want to rob the region of tourist dollars, but I’m reticent to see Palermo and Cosenza and Bari become flooded with trinket-peddlers and consumers in an approximation, however unlikely, of Rome, Florence and Venice-style tourist trap-ism. (To say nothing of the inevitable price inflation and corporate chains that would come with it.) We already live in a world where every place is starting to look like anyplace, so as much as I’ll tout the south’s great qualities and attractions, here’s hoping that its natural and man made beauty doesn’t become spoiled in pursuit of the Almighty Euro. In Texas’ capital they say “Keep Austin Weird.” Well, let’s keep the Italian South Southern.

 

 

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The Arbëreshë – Pre-Ottoman Albanians In Italy

tradizioni1In the 15th Century, the surging Ottoman Empire was pushing into the Balkans. The troops of Sultan Mehmet II in 1453 famously toppled Constantinople and slayed the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI. In the meanwhile it was making its presence felt in Albania and along the Adriatic in a more gradual, but no less dramatic fashion. By the turn of the 16th, the land had been ceded, and an Albanian exodus was already in motion; most of these exiles fled across the water to – guess where? – Italy.

The descendants of these refugees live on today as the Arbëreshë people. Found in pockets mostly over Southern Italy and Sicily, the Arbëreshë are distinct from modern Albanians in that their customs, language, cuisine, and other traditions bear greater resemblance to the Albania of 600 years ago. Thanks to their stubbornness and, more recently, Italy’s embrace of its minority cultures and languages, even the Arbëreshë language is closer to pre-Ottoman Albanian than what’s spoken in modern Albania. In fact, “Arbëreshë” was the name the people of Albania called themselves before the invasion.

Today there are roughly 100,000 Arbëreshë spread out over 50 different communities in Italy, mostly in the south and in Calabria. Although many of their names may have been Latinized, they were allowed from the outset to practice their Orthodox brand of Christianity in this Catholic land. Thus in many of the Arbëreshë dwellings, the town has two main churches, one Latin and one “Greek.” (Albania today remains half Muslim, either in spite of or because of the best efforts of its national hero, Skanderberg.)

Arbëreshë is not considered an official language in Italy, it has been fiercely preserved along with the customs, food, and traditional garb brought over centuries ago. Not to mention it also gave us this awesome Italian-Albanian hybrid flag.

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Although the straight-up Albanian flag is even more badass.

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List of Arbëreshë settlements in Italy.

esplorazionicosentineLa cultura arbëreshe nella biblioteca Bellusci

New York Mayor-Elect de Blasio Maintains Strong Italian Roots

deblasioOf course Bill de Blasio won’t be New York’s first Italian-American mayor, but the man elected to that office last week has shown great pride in, and strong connection to, his ancestral homeland.

The New York Times ran a story yesterday discussing de Blasio’s grandfather’s birthplace, Sant’Agata de’ Goti, outside of Naples in Campania.

Mr. de Blasio has become something of an Italian sensation, within and beyond this town’s medieval walls. A Neapolitan artisan fashioned a terra cotta figurine of Mr. de Blasio, with tricolor sash; a pizza-maker wrote “Napoli Love de Blasio” in mozzarella on a pie. In New York, candidate de Blasio offered interviews in Italian; his campaign staff jokingly designated a press aide who spoke a bit of the language as the “Italian desk,” and on election night, 15 journalists from Italy showed up to cover the festivities at the Park Slope Armory Y.M.C.A.

According to the article, de Blasio is an Italophile through and through. He’s visited Sant’Agata de’Goti half a dozen times, given his kids Italian names, he practices speaking Italian, and of course keeps plenty of fresh mozzarella at home. As for Sant’Agata, residents have reciprocated this pride, hanging American flags from balconies, naming a cake for him, and at least a few said they plan to come to New York for his inauguration.

EDIT – The good people over at the Italian Dual Citizenship Message Board have determined that Mr. de Blasio is most likely an Italian (dual) citizen by birth, through ancestry.

The New York Times – His Roots in Italy, de Blasio Now Has Fans There

Blitz Quotidiano – Sant’Agata dei Goti festeggia l’elezione di Bill de Blasio