The Italian tamborello is an integral part of Italian folk music with history over 2000 years old. Also called tammorra (a slightly different design) and tamburo, this hand drum (a fore-father of the tamborine) holds a prominent role is in the accompaniment of the tarantella, which is an old hopping dance allegedly related to ancient Dionysian ritual dances. The name references the hopping of the tarantula spiders during their mating dance.
As varied as the landscapes, dialects and cuisine of Italy, many variations exist in both the tarantelle and the playing techniques of the tamborello instrument. All techniques allow virtuoso triole-playing (rapid, triple strokes) by using different rotation techniques, where the hand rotates either over the horizontal or the vertical axis of the drum. This can also be accomplished by a stiff finger dragging and jittering forwards across the drum head--a very difficult technique only masters of the instrument achieve.
Cheap, painted tamborelli made for tourists
Traditionally, a tamborello would be made by the same artisans that made household and farm sieves. The technique used steam to bend the shape of the frame for each drum. Skins can be dog, cat, kid (goat) or even donkey. In Calabria, often the hairs are left on to give a deeper, more mellow sound. In Sicily the skins are highly refined giving a more bright, crisp sound. Many modern tamborello are made using synthetic drum heads which keep their pitch, unlike natural skins which change their pitch depending on humidity.
Even today the tamborello can be heard on every street and folk dance festival in Southern Italy. The culture and music have been passed on over the many centuries with considerable changes. Nowadays fusions of tarantella with Heavy Metal, Ancient Music, Jazz, Pop etc. are very popular.
In the United States, May Day isn't really a holiday at all. All we know about it is when people with roots from Germanic countries celebrate the return of summer with children dancing around the ribboned May Pole. We also know it as a day of marches for left-wing or worker political parties promoting their agendas for various worker's rights, similar to how workers in many countries treat May Day.
In Italy, the 1st of May is called Festa dei Lavoratori (Workers' Day), similar to American's Memorial Day or Labor Day. While there might still be workers marching and holding protests depending on which way the the political and economic wind is blowing, for most workaday furbo Italians, it's simply a day off from work and a long weekend to go to the beach, attend one of the many rock concerts, have a barbecue or rent a holiday cabin in the mountains. After all, it's a lot of work to organize and protest on hot city streets, isn't it? Easier to just go to the beach and throw some steaks on the grill.
Most museums are closed as well as many other shops for the entire holiday weekend. This is perhaps not the best weekend to visit major tourist destinations in Italy simply because this is one of the holiday weekends where Italians do the tourist thing... just the way Americans might visit tourist sites in the States during Memorial Day or Labor Day weekends.
Red flag raised on maypole at Appignano del Tronto
Still, in some parts of Italy (southern Marche, for example) a red flag is placed at the top of a poplar tree as a Socialist party symbol. If you're overly anti-communist, don't get paranoid... Italian socialists--and communists--mix well with other Italians and tourists alike. You might meet them later on during the weekend at the beach...
Basilicata is a hilly, mountainous region, and its capital, Potenza sits at 2700 feet above sea level--the highest elevation of any regional capital in Italy. It has a medieval historic center on the top of one hill, and a much newer part of the city on another, with a 300 foot dip in between. People need to commute to work from the historic center to the other hill to work in modern government offices, retail outlet stores and even a conservatory of music. Multiple modern apartment towers on that hill also have people commuting the other way around--to the old town.
Leave it to Italian ingenuity to come up with an solution--a rather expensive one. The Scale Mobile Santa Lucia is the longest pedestrian escalator in all of Europe. I've heard of--and seen--public escalators and elevators in hilltowns before, usually intended to transport people up from public parking lots to the historic center on the hilltop above. OK, so maybe it's more of an "escalator system", since it's really a series of fairly long escalators broken up by landing platforms. So, you ride, then walk, then ride, then walk, then ride... certainly sounds Italian to me. This is the result of a "public mobility project" and was designed to handle 26,000 pedestrians each day. Too bad that a mere 4000 people actually use the scala mobile. In a town of 68,000 people, I suppose it's not all that bad...
Vito Santarsiero, who spearheaded the project during his 10 years as mayor, has been optimistic that interest will grow as word spreads about Potenza’s attractions. He is no longer the mayor. The Scale Mobile Santa Lucia has been plagued by problems ever since it opened... mechanical breakdowns, cost overruns, lack of use, safety, grafitti, and even "up-skirt" weirdos photographing ladies panties as they rode up the escalators.
To me, it seems the whole design has a couple of major flaws. First of all, on the Via Tammone side (the new town), there is only the entrance building for the escalator system. There is nothing there. No parking lot--so people needing to get to the old town have somewhere to park right next to the escalators. It;s not that there isn't space for a public parking lot--there is a hugh grassy field laying empty right there. There is no piazza, no park, no bar or cafe, no where for people to mingle, meet and take in a view of the old historic town on the opposite hill. And even if there was a little piazza with a view, there would be nothing nice to look at. It seems that some time ago, local politicians gave permission to builders (meaning, they were paid off) to erect tall, ugly, modern apartment buildings which blocked the view of the old town. They are built along the edge of the old town right in front of all the historic structures. There is a beautiful bell tower, but you can't see it. There are clay tile roofs, but they too are blocked.
Perhaps I tuned in to this because of where I grew up on the Jersey Palisades across from Manhattan on the Hudson River. When I was a kid, crooked politicians sold the citizens a bill of goods about their taxes going down (never happened) as many high rise apartment buildings went up--blocking the view from the older historic homes along the boulevard. Now, when you look back to New Jersey from Manhattan, there are parts of the Palisades that are nearly wall-to-wall high risers.
I have never seen this in Italy. More typically, Italians are incredibly proud of their hilltowns and their views. I can't tell you how many wonderful little outdoor spaces I've discovered right at the edge of the hilltop view of a valley below, the sea, or mountains. I've seen large piazzas, tiny vest pocket parks, children's playgrounds, or even just a simple promenade with benches for taking a stroll during the evening passeggiatawith your family or friends after dinner. There is nothing substantial on the modern town side of this "escalator system" for several blocks. It's just sort of--there.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of public mobility projects in Italy, especially helping people get from a low part of a town to the highest parts. There are literally thousands of hilltowns in this mountainous country. In San Gimignano, I welcomed the elevators that took us up--and then back down to the old town from the public parking lot below the historic center. And I'm sure visitors parking below the "Under the Tuscan Sun" hilltown of Cortona appreciate the outdoor escalators that take them from the parking lot up almost 200 feet to the Piazza Garibaldi.
The Potenza escalators made some people's pockets fat, but was there really a need for them?
Giancarlo Gianini added his eyes into his sign language
We've all seen Italians talking with their hands, waving them wildly in the air, sometimes right into the face of the person they are talking to. To the onlooker it seems random, yet it does seem tied into their facial expressions, which will change swiftly depending on the gesture being used. It's led people to paint a caricature of every Italian, although most Italian Americans don't have a clue about this unwritten language. Yes, it's a language in and of itself.
Marcello Mastroianni was always good with his hands--just ask Sophia
Where did it start? What's the reason?
It more than likely started in the port cities of Italy after the Roman Empire. I say after, because before that Latin was a widely spread language. After the fall of the Roman Empire, imported languages started taking over, as conquerors and immigrants came from many different parts of the ancient world: The Carolingians (mixing early German and French into northern Italy), The Visigoths (mixing German, Spanish and French), the Normans (descending from Vikings from Northern France, they took over Southern Italy), Saracens (Muslims that invaded southern Italy and settled in Sicily), the German tribes (in pre-Christian times and in the middle ages), French (taking over northern Italy in the 1400s) and Austrians.
"Furbo", Watch Out, Pay Attention
Leaving Latin Behind
Latin itself morphed into what we now call the Italian language. But even "modern" Italy didn't become a cohesive nation until the 1860s, and still today Italians are very region-centric, with many varied dialects still spoken throughout the country. One example I witnessed is on the train from Bari to Rome. The announcements were in three languages: English, Italian and Southern Dialect. And believe me, Dialetto sounds very different than "proper" Italian--my Dad spoke it. He was from Molfetta. My Mom couldn't understand him. She spoke another Dialetto from Naples.
The port cities, like Naples, Venice, Bari or Palermo needed a way to communicate with the many different people, all speaking different tongues. Every so often a a new population and ruling class would be established, depending on who the conqueror was. Hand gestures became a necessity in Italy, and it remains today a large part of how people communicate. For this reason, this might make things easier on travelers to Italy as Italians have many ways of getting people to understand what they are saying.
At the end of this post is a video of a charming Italian gent illustrating the many subtleties of hand gestures. You could learn to have an entire conversation without words!
When I was a kid, my parents told me not to eat with my hands... but speaking with my hands was absolutely permitted.
"Americans never really get a day off. When they are on vacation, they still check for messages, file reports, talk to their boss and attend phone conferences. The vast majority of Italians don't do that. If they are on vacation, they are on vacation. They have no conversations about work, don't think about it and certainly don't call up their bosses to hear about what's going on while they're away."
As a young Catholic, all I knew about St. Joseph is what the nuns taught us: that he was a foster parent to Jesus; he worked as a carpenter; and that if your parents were selling their home, burying a little plastic statue of him upside down in your garden would help get a buyer. As a grown man and a father to my Lucas, I realize that St. Joseph's real strength was as a father. He must have been a man of great faith and trust and love to accept Jesus as his own son. Because of this, in Italy, the feast day honoring him is used to honor all fathers...
La Festa di San Giuseppe (Feast of St. Joseph) on March 19th in Italy is a saint day celebrating the mortal father of Jesus--namely, Joseph. There are two meanings for this day in Italy: as a Name Day to celebrate anyone with the name Giuseppe, Joseph, Josephine or Beppe, but also as La Festa del Papà (alternately, la Festa del Babbo), on which most Italians celebrate their fathers, as we do on Fathers Day.
There are some interesting ways to celebrate, but of course, most involve food. For instance, artichokes come to market in March in Italy, so eating artichokes stuffed with a breadcrumb mixture is one way... the breadcrumbs represent sawdust, honoring St. Joseph's life as a carpenter. On St. Joseph's day, tradition calls for sprinkling breadcrumbs on pasta dishes rather than cheese. Then there is Pane di San Giuseppe in which bread dough is fashioned into crosses and other various shapes.
Carciofi Ripieni - Stuffed Artichokes
An especially wonderful Pane di San Giuseppe
Another cerebration dish to make to celebrate St. Joseph or your Dad is to make Pasta cod Sarde (Pasta with Sardines), a traditional meal made with bucatini (hollow, spaghetti-like pasta), raisins, pignoli nuts, fennel, onions and sardines.
Sardines are a bit too fishy for my tastes, but my Dad would have loved this dish
Then there are the sweet treats... mainly sfinci (alt, sfinge). Some are made like profiteroles or cream puffs and stuffed or topped with either a custard or a sweet ricotta filling and topped with a sour cherry, while others are more like bready, sugared zeppole, some stuffed, some not. There are also others called Zeppole di San Giuseppe that are not bready like what we Italian-Americans buy at Italian festivals called zeppole but are like cream puffs. Bottom line, there are lots of sweets that are made to celebrate St. Joseph's Day, and in Italy, the word "zeppole" is used fairly broadly to refer to many types of fried or baked donuts.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe
Sfinci that look like Zeppole
Here's another Zeppole di San Giuseppe in a more common donut shape
In Sicily, during the Middle Ages, people prayed to St. Joseph to bring rain and save them from starvation and drought. The rains came and so did the fava bean crop, which saved the people. Still today, fava beans are part of celebrating St. Joseph--by eating Maccù di Fave (a fava bean soup) and carrying a fava bean that has been blessed by a priest in their pocket for good fortune.
Maccù di Fave
In the United States, Italian-Americans started the tradition of wearing red clothing on St. Joseph's Day. This was started to offset the proximity of St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) and the "wearing of the green". Apparently, there is no religious or other significance of wearing red on St. Joseph's Day.
To honor my Dad, I usually make a special Sicilian pizza--a traditional Sfincione--which is covered with breadcrumbs on top. My Dad was a decent carpenter, and always loved working with wood and his hands. When I was a boy, he held the wood as I would try using the saw. He was a truly great father, never judging, always there for me. Dad, you would have loved a couple of slices of Sfincione... We miss your smile, Sally Boy...
Turning Tuscan: A Step-by-Step Guide to Going Native is one of those books that will either quell your desire to live in Italy, or fire up your spirits to take the plunge, regardless of the hassles. Becoming an expat is an exercise in determination--especially when uprooting your kids and making a new life in another culture.
Author Sam Hilt wanted to start a new life and business--a tour company--and shares his family's experiences, both the good and bad in making the move. How do you become part of the local community? What about the language? How do I hire lawyers, contractors and the like? And what's with the Internet in Italy? What if we get sick? Why is it such a hassle just to get a phone? Will we ever become "Italian"?
Well, find out all this and more. It's not all frustrating... there are successes all along the way, both small and large.
"While we Italians have a reputation for being welcoming, we really expect you to adapt to our lifestyle when you are visiting. If you start complaining about our Italian lifestyle and claim things were better back home, don't expect sympathy. Only Italians are allowed to point out what's wrong with our own country! Don't like our public toilets? Go back to your hotel room and stay there! You want more ice in your drink? Go to Iceland!"