The cimaruta is a very old Italian portafortuna (good luck charm) rooted in the lore of the ancient Pagan religions of Italy. It can be worn around the neck or hung above an infant's bed to ward off any evil. Like many of the lasting ancient symbols and beliefs, the cimaruta design eventually took on certain symbols of Catholicism. One example of a Christian addition to the design is the appearance of "the sacred heart" of Jesus. However, ancient Roman charms did include a heart symbol, which may indicate that the heart on the cimaruta isn't an entirely new addition.
The traditional cimaruta is fashioned after the leafy sprig of rue, which is an herb that is highly featured in Italian magic and lore. The branch of the rue is divided into three stems symbolizing the three forms of the goddess Diana. Rue was a sacred herb for Diana.
Various charms appear on the rue design, each having its own meaning. The main symbols are the moon, serpent, and key. These represent the goddess as Hecate (the key), Diana (the moon) and Proserpina (the serpent). There may also be a rose; a hand holding either a wand or a sword; a flaming heart; a fish or dolphin (a nod to Diana); an owl (to flirt with the Devil); a plumed medieval helmet; a vervain blossom (a flower from Italian fairy ore); a cherub; a rooster (watchful guardian); and an eagle (able to see evil coming from far away). One cimaruta, for example, might bear the collective imagery of a key, dagger, blossom and moon. The cimaruta is worn nowadays more by women than men.
Mano in Fica
The clenched fist with a trusting thumb is known as mano in fica or simply, mano figa ("fig-hand"), or far le fiche ("c*nt gesture", pardon the profanity), for the resemblance to female genitalia. The word figa itself is a very vulgar word to describe a vagina in Italy. Such a rude hand gesture was common in past centuries, similar to "giving the finger" or "flipping the bird", but has fallen out of use. Dante's Divine Comedy (Inferno, Canto XXV) mentions the mano in fica. Supposedly, this charm is used to insult the devil and others casting evil spells.
The cornetto, shaped like a horn or chili pepper, is still popular in Southern Italy around Naples, Calabria and in the rest of Mezzogiorno (southern Italy). In Calabria and Naples this charm is worn as jewelry, hung on rear view mirrors, hung in shop windows, on key rings, and on t-shirts. It is more effective if it is red (representing an enemy's blood) and topped with a crown (representing wealth). The cornetto is a symbol of virility (obvious with its phallic shape), but it also brings luck, wealth, success and can also used by women. A similar magical horn of plenty was carried by the Roman Goddess Abundantia to represent abundance, and many think the cornetto has its roots in ancient Roman times.
An alternative to the cornetto, some claim the Mano Corno can ward off the malocchio (evil eye). However, in Italy, the Mano Corno can be seen as offensive... this hand gesture is called cornuto, or a cuckolded man. Give this hand sign to an Italian man and you are basically calling him weak, pathetic and unmanly. This sign--along with sticking up a middle finger--are the most insulting signs you can insult an Italian man with. This charm directly insults the devils and his demons himself.
The Coccinella, or ladybug (ladybird) charm brings luck in the arena of love and romance. it's a very common charm in Italy, especially with women. The red color has multiple meanings... red represents victory over one's enemies (spilling their blood); red helps ward off malocchio; and red also is the color of passion and romance. Another fact about the ladybug is they eat the bad bugs who would eat a farmer's crops, so of course they came to be thought of as a sign of good luck, helping prevent crop failure.
When I was a kid, we would occasionally find a garter snake living in our small urban garden along with our collection of 15 box turtles. I always loved snakes... smooth, silky, muscular and graceful. On our country property today, I've often seen several species of snakes: garter, ribbon, black rat. The hill behind our home is called Rattlesnake Hill, but I've never seen one. I still find it interesting when I come across snakes... but I don't honor them in any way and couldn't dream of anyone holding a festival for them!
Yet, each year in the beginning of May, in the small towns of Cocullo and Villalag0, La Festa dei Serpari is held. The festival is held in honor of Saint Dominic, protector of toothache, reptile bites and rage. But the festival also has ancient pagan roots in honor of the Oscan healer and snake goddess, Angizia. Also known as Angitia to the ancient Romans, she was revered by the Marsi, a warlike tribe of people who lived to the east of Rome in the Apennine Mountains.
Angizia possessed an ability to heal those who had been poisoned--especially by snakes--and had the power to kill serpents by casting verbal spells. First century Romans knew the Marsi region contained many healers, magicians, and snake-charmers was infamous as a hotbed of witchcraft. The Festa dei Separi honors the modern-day separi (snake wranglers), with many of them catching and contributing snakes to the festivities.
In preparation for the Festival, during the last half of March, the separi spread out across the countryside in their hunt for snakes. Once captured, they are carefully stored in wooden boxes, or as in ancient times, inside terracotta containers for 15-20 days. The snakes are fed a healthy diet of live mice and hard-boiled eggs.
On the day of the festival, pilgrims gather in the church of San Domenico to be healed. After Mass, the statue of the Saint is draped with live snakes and carried into the piazza where believers gather to touch both the Saint and the snakes for their healing powers. The local separi also drape themselves with snakes and follow the procession.
In years past, the snakes were killed afterwards and eaten in a feast, but now the bread is substituted, formed into various snake shapes... interlocking rings of snakes, biting their tails, or as serpents with sliced almond scales and coffee bean eyes. The snakes are no longer killed, but released back into the wild when the festival is over.
Some other scholars argue that the festival dates back even further to the Greek hero and god, Hercules. Supposedly, jealous Hera sent two snakes to kill him in his crib. The infant Hercules was unusually strong and fearless and strangled the snakes before they could strangle him. In the nearby hamlet of Casale votive bronzes representing Hercules have been found.
Saint Domenico himself is particularly revered in Cocullo because some personal relics are kept in the church there: a molar and a horseshoe from his mule. Villalag0 also has one of his molars. There is no telling who has the rest of his teeth. Perhaps they were eaten--by snakes.
Every year around this time, the town of Altamura in the Alta Murgia region of Puglia settles down to bed in the 21st century and awakes the next morning in the Middle Ages. The Federicus Medieval Festival is a historical re-enactment dedicated to Frederick II of Swabia who stopped in Puglia during his return journey after the Crusades. In 1232 Frederick II decided to have a cathedral built, around which the town center developed.
Held this year from April 28th through May 1st, the festival consists of an historical parade with jugglers, jesters, street performers, flag bearers, and of course, medieval ladies and gentlemen, ancient music and of course, food.
Frederick II was heading towards Bari to sail to the Holy Land, and needed to leave some of his soldiers suffering from malaria in Altamura. Miraculously, they were healed. To celebrate the miraculous recovery, the Emperor had a cathedral built in 1232. Opposing this legend, what the Emperor really wanted was to build a church to obtain the benevolence of Pope Gregory IX (who had previously excommunicated him) in a city with a strategic position within the Pope's beloved Apulia.
When visiting Altamura, don't forget to sample their amazing Pane di Altamura, a wonderful, tasty bread that can stay fresh for up to a month!
For more info: Federicus Festival
The Ferrari 250GT Cabriolet is technically a 1961 model, but it was developed and built at the end of 1959. Because of the timing, it allowed Ferrari to incorporate four-wheel disc brakes and engine lessons learned from the legendary Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa race car. It’s a more plush and powerful version of the 250GT California Spider. Only 200 examples were built, and this particular car underwent a total restoration after it was exported to the United States in the 1970s.
The 1964 Ferrari 250GT/L Berlinetta Lusso was the last model in the famous 250GT line, incorporating as many chassis upgrades and luxury features as Ferrari could stuff under its sensual, Pininfarina-Scaglietti body. There were only 350 built, with this particular car imported new to the United States, where it spent its entire life with an odometer reading of just over 44,000 miles.
This 1931 Bugatti Type 55 is the first Type 55 in existence and was owned by the Duc de la Trémoille of the French nobility. It won the 1947 Rally des Alpes—a four-day, 1035-mile race.
This 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider originally sold in Europe and raced extensively between 1954 and 1956 by its first two owners. This car has resided in the United States almost exclusively since the mid-1960s. Original to this car, its 170-hp 2.0-liter inline-four is more or less a copy of those engines that powered Alberto Ascari to Formula 1 championships for Enzo Ferrari’s team in 1952 and 1953.
When considering a visit to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum tour, perhaps you've had doubts about the long lines, heat, the expense, hours on your feet slugging through the 5 miles of museum corridors, shoulder-to-shoulder with the cruise ship tour groups, trying to soak in all of the Sistine Chapel's majesty within the 10 minutes they allow... well, you may now have a serious option for enjoying the art of the Master in a unique and new way...
Artainment Worldwide Shows, along with the expertise of the Vatican Museums, have produced Giudizio Universale's Michelangelo and the Secrets of the Sistine Chapel.
The multimedia and live performance show aims to be an important event for art lovers and will be a must-see for the millions of Italian and international visitors who place Rome and the Vatican Museum at the top of their Must See List. Conceived by Marco Balich, the show is the first example of an innovative format that combines the narrative of the origin of a masterpiece with the most sophisticated and technologically advanced instruments of live entertainment.
For this project, Marco Balich has collaborated with world-renowned musician Sting, who composed the original theme music. The other names of the cast are stunning: the voice of Michelangelo will be by Pier Francesco Favino (known for the Disney fantasy “The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian” and the collaboration with the Oscar-winning director Ron Howard’s “Rush” and “Angels and Demons”). Together with the original theme performed and arranged by Sting, there will be new music composed by John Metcalfe, a leading figure in the contemporary pop-rock scene and producer of artists such as Morrisey, Blur and Coldplay.
The show explores more than just the Sistine Chapel, but the history and works of the Master himself--Michelangelo and the 16th century Renaissance. The show is a mix of art history, theatrical performance, both photographic and physical special effects, words, images, dance and music.
The most impressive thing about the production are its 270° immersive projections, together with larger-than-life stage effects and live performances similar to Cirque du Soleil acrobatics. During a 60-minute show, spectators will follow the story of the origin of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, from Giulio II‘s commission of frescoes of the vault to the realization of the Universal Judgment, through a reenactment of the Sistine Chapel as the place for the papal election.
Through the storytelling about Michelangelo, modern special effects will animate the frescos of the Sistine Chapel to end with the wonderful Universal Judgment that will come to life throughout the space around the public. A new chapter of the Italian cultural offering, Giudizio Universale is a long-term project with a typical Italian style. It will run from March 15, 2018, at the Auditorium della Conciliazione in Rome. The audience will be able to choose to attend the show in Italian or in English (starting March 24).
Let's hope that the production draws away some of the crowds that are overburdening the Vatican Museum itself... and that the Vatican helps to publicize the show. It's become obvious the Vatican has oversold both the Museum and St. Peters Basilica with a fear that they are destined to become a tourist destination with as little passion and meaning as a visit to Euro Disney.
From the Mouth of the Bocca: This is a great option for people who normally would never spend an entire day in a hot, stuffy art museum and prefer lighter entertainment.
When I lived in Paris years ago, one of the most unexpected pleasures was when I visited the Père Lachaise Cemetery. Often, people regard this unusual site as a place of pilgrimage, to pay homage to the likes of Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde or even rock legend Jim Morrison (his grave littered with graffiti and drug paraphernalia was distasteful to me). But I went for a different reason... the art. Admittedly, wealthy families could possibly afford to commission a granite temple, travertine pyramid or marble sculptures to honor a lost beloved member--and truth be told, perhaps the effort is really a monument to perpetuate the myth of their family's importance for the ones still living and yet to come.
In any case, I didn't visit to pay homage to any heroes of mine. I went for the art itself. In Italy, it's also possible to do the same as a number of cemeteries contain some amazing monumental art.
Most modern Italian cemeteries sit on the outskirts of their towns and consist of a mix of traditional graves and headstones and multi-level rows of vaults, a method used by the both the ancient Etruscans and early Christians. The vaults are simple affairs, sealed with a marble stone, names and dates with a small medallion containing a photo of the individual as they appeared in life.
However, over the years, many wealthier families commissioned architects and artists to create chapels, tombs and sculptures resulting in many Italian cemeteries becoming open-air museums of funerary art, known as Cimiteri Monumentali (Monumental Cemeteries). I've put together a collection for you to enjoy...
Cemeteries Worth Visiting
Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno
One of the largest cemeteries in Europe, the Cimitero Monumentale di Staglieno in Genoa covers nearly a square mile on the hilltop district known as Staglieno. It was opened in 1844 at a time when Genoa was home to affluent bourgeoisie businessmen, politicians and artists. To honor their accomplishments, realistic sculptures were commissioned for their tombs. This is without doubt, one of the most visited monumental cemeteries in Europe.
San Michele Cemetery, "Island of the Dead", Venice
After the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, Napoleon prohibited any burials in town centers and in Venice, this meant that a new walled cemetery was commissioned on the island of San Michele, within reach of gondolas from the Venice waterfront. The island is landscaped with tall cypress trees, a 15th Century church and cloister. The shallow graves are occupied a dozen years and afterwards are exhumed with the bones interred into mausoleum niches or dumped into a communal ossuary.
You'll find graves of 19th and 20th Century foreigners, including celebrities like Ezra Pound, Serge Diaghilev (whose grave normally is decorated with a ballet slipper), and Igor Stravinsky.
Cimitero Monumentale di Torino
The Monumental Cemetery of Turin was commissioned in 1827 to replace the small and ancient cemetery of St. Peter in Chains. It contains numerous historical tombs and 6 miles of porticoes adorned with sculptures of artistic interest.
Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
One of two large cemeteries in Milan (Cimitero Maggiore is the other), Milan Monumental Cemetery was designed by architect Carlo Maciachini and contains a multitude of sculptures by renowned artists: Giò Ponti, Arturo Martini, Lucio Fontana, Medardo Rosso, Giacomo Manzù, Floriano Bodini, and Giò Pomodoro.
Visitors enter through an impressive Medieval style building of marble and stone that contains the tombs of the country's most honored citizens. Besides having mostly Catholic graves, there are also sections for Jews and other non-C Catholics. The cemetery contains the tombs of composers Corelli, Verdi and Toscanini.
Cimitero Monumentale di Messina
The Monumental Cemetery of Messina, in Sicily, is one the best for funerary art. In 1854, it was designed as a urban park and gardens as well as a cemetery. The cemetery is divided into the Jewish cemetery, the Catholic cemetery, and a monument to the victims of the First World War. The art in this cemetery is second only to Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno in Genoa.
OK. Now, don't scream, "sacrilege". Let me explain...
More than 100 years ago in Italy, people really would place the Nun and Priest into their beds to warm things up. The Suora e Prete (Nun and Priest) was the name of a device used to warm the bed and blankets just before bedtime. In northern dialect, they might be called Frà dël let, or Bed Brother.
They were often used until the early 1900's, and perhaps even later on in poorer parts of Italy. The Nun, or scaldaletto (warming bowl), was a removable round bowl with handle, into which hot coals (with ashes to slow down their cooling) were placed. Placing hot bricks in place of the Nun was also an option. Wealthier folks could afford rocchetti--small cylindrical containers filled with compressed coal dust. They were heated in the fireplace and lasted a lot longer than loose coals and ash.
The Priest constituted a frame that housed the Nun along with its hot embers, holding sheets and blankets well above the coals to prevent them from scorching or bursting into flames entirely. Sometimes the Nun had a lid with decorative perforations which allowed the heat to escape. The Nun and Priest also helped dry the damp sheets--a common problem in the cold and damp of stone houses during the winter months.
What are the roots of the name? Many consider the draping bed coverings to look like the draping of a nun's hood. Why "Priest" then? With Italians' tendency to be shockingly irreverent, we can only guess. Perhaps there is a reason the priest is on top... of course, I mean to hold in the heat of the Nun under "him". Wait... I'm getting myself into trouble here....
The interesting thing is, the Nun and Priest is still being made today, albeit in electric versions. When considering the thick stone walls and dampness of old Italian houses, this contraption might seem like a very good idea to warm up the bed on a cold windy night.
Very common in Italian antique stores and flea markets, many people have taken to finding new uses for the Nun and Priest, especially as decorating objects.
The Monk, a Close Cousin...
Another tool to heat the bed was il Monaco or also Mariteddu (the Monk), a kind of terracotta amphora that was filled with boiling water and placed under the covers. The rather thick, heavy ceramic would retain heat for long periods of time and release it slowly, creating a gentle warmth under the covers. Unlike the Nun and Priest which warmed the bed before you got in, the Monk could be kept in bed during the night with you.
Oh no... here I go again. I'll stop now.
This might also interest you...
Italian Warmth from the Poor Mans' Hearth: Il Braciere, the Brazier