Reconnection to a Calabrian Heritage:
An Essay Review Around M. Rotella’s
Book, Stolen Figs.

James C. Mancuso

March, 2004

     The contents of the text of this essay/review offers a discussion of the ways in which people develop, maintain, and, in some cases, seek to reestablish, self identities that are developed within primary cultures. Specifically, the author of this essay offers a psychological theory to frame the ways in which a person reared in a primary ethnic culture adapts when he/she ventures into extended associations with an established culture group. This essay's author extends the theory to frame the text of a book written by a person who reconnected to the cultural ambiance of the people living in Calabria: the area, in Italy, from which the forebears of the book's writer had emigrated.
     The general propositions outlined by the author of this essay emerge from constructivist positions.
     The content of this essay, except where direct quotations are reproduced, is the responsibility of the author.
     For the convenience of the readers, many hypertext links have been built into the text of this account. By clicking the mouse on any of the links, the reader may connect to those world wide web sites that give more information on the topic that is linked. In some instances, the same term is linked more than once.
     The. contents of the essay are elaborated by sixteen endnotes. By clicking on the symbol Endnote (a small square box) a reader can access the endnote, through a hyperlink, that is appropriate to the text which precedes the symbol. The number immediately following the small box designates the number of the endnote, which the reader may also view by going to the end of the essay. It is important to read the endnotes. The notes elaborate the reactions of the essay's author to the text of the book under discussion.

     I would classify Mark Rotella’s (2003) book, Stolen Figs: And Other Adventures in Calabria as a chronicle of “reconnection.” (See Mancuso, 2001, for an essay on reconnection literature.) To appreciate the book and the process of reconnection, a reader would profit from an attempt to illuminate the conditions under which Italian-Americans had disconnected from the country and the members of the family that their immigrating forebears had left behind.

     It can be said that the majority of the descendants of the great Italy-to-the-USA migration -- l'avventura Endnote [1] -- who develop an interest in the long-term history of their families must reconnect. Only a small portion of the millions of descendants of l'avventura have enjoyed continuous connection with their families in Italy. Only a small portion of the descendants of l'avventura can precisely locate the Italian town or village from which their forebears had emigrated. Relatively few Italian-Americans know anything about members of their family who have descended from siblings, cousins, and other persons closely related to their emigrating forebears.

     Such disconnection assures that large segments of Italian-Americans have little knowledge of the conditions and modes of life of the people who have descended from those members of the immigrants' family who remained in Italy. Furthermore, the disconnection has resulted, for very many Italian-Americans, in their lack of knowledge of the conditions and modes of life that surrounded their families during the peak of l'avventura.

     Someone who regards such lack of knowledge as negative must welcome the publication of a series of books, such as Rotella’s Stolen Figs, that chronicle the efforts of Italian-Americans writers who have reconnected with and have explored the Italian origins of the "reconnecter's" family.

Explorations of Disconnection in the Writings of Disconnecters

     In a previously posted essay, I (Mancuso, 2001) have recorded the results of my exploration of the social, political, and psychological conditions that prompted the descendants of l'avventura to effect a disconnection to their family history and heritage. In another published essay, I (Mancuso, 2003) presented a theoretical position from which to explain the psychological activity of persons – adventurers – attempting to operate among members of an established culture while using personal psychological structures developed in a family that had been alien to the established cultural group. I maintain that many adventurers have disconnected in order to resolve the problems of taking their primary culture into a different, well-established culture.


The Problem of Immigrants as a Source of Discrepancy

     Beginning in the ninth decade of the 19th Century, there began the movement of the millions of Italians would leave their native land to build homes and families in new lands. They joined the many peoples, who, throughout history, had moved from one geographic space into other geographic spaces that were already inhabited by indigenous populations. Historic records show that immigrants have always brought their views of the world - their "TRUTHS" - into the territory they would occupy. Thus, the immigrants have inevitably provided a source of contradiction to the resident populations of a particular geographic area. In many cases, the immigrants and/or the original occupants of the area attempted to remove “the other” through the use of violence.

     Several thousand years ago, The Israelites moved into one corner of western Asia. They found their promised land already inhabited by a population that held world views that differed profoundly from the world views that the Israelites had developed. In order to assure their success in their new habitat, they determined that they needed to eliminate the established population. The Israelites asserted that they were acting on the instructions of their one and only god – the “true” god – as they massacred and enslaved the established occupants of that land. Their leaders determined that danger would follow if the Israelites consorted with the indigenous people who carried on their lives using their culture’s "TRUTHS" and worshiping multiple gods. By eliminating the native people, the conquerors would eliminate sources of challenge to the beliefs that they had engendered from their world views.

     Similarly, in the 17th century, the Puritans migrated to the east coast of sparsely populated North American territory, to establish communities. They had left England undertaking to establish a New England in which they could live according to their "TRUTHS." They intended to create a new Jerusalem, where contradiction of their ways of viewing the world – their psychollages – would not be tolerated. The land on which they intended to establish their New England had already been populated by earlier settlers known as The Pequot people; a people who organized their conduct on the basis of alternative "TRUTHS." They used their own justifications for organizing their families in ways that differed from the family organizations of the Puritans. They regarded as foodstuffs aliments that the Puritans would not eat. The Pequot people could not readily adopt the concepts of property and ownership that were used by the new arrivals. The founders of that New England readily construed the Pequot people as a form of demons, and found several ready justifications for using technologically advanced weaponry to obliterate the Pequots and their unacceptable ways of viewing the world.

     Benjamin Franklin gained esteem as one of the wise men among the people who had moved into the English colonies in North America. He acted as an articulate advocate of procedures that would reduce the possibilities that others would invalidate the protestant English ways of viewing events and objects. He established himself in Pennsylvania, and then applied his refined literary skill and political acumen to gain authorization of the Puritans' views of the people who had occupied the territory before the Europeans arrived. He opposed slavery, as did the Society of Friends. Using constructed views – psychollages – that differed from those used by the Quakers, he based his opposition on the view that by importing Africans, the Europeans were reducing their hegemony. By importing slaves, they were bringing to the new world people who should be kept out in order to allow the white people to increase and dominate the newly claimed territory.

     Penn's generosity toward the Palatine Germans stimulated Franklin's major concerns about introducing a source of contradiction of British-endorsed "TRUTHS." To avoid the possibility of Pennsylvania becoming a colony of "aliens," Franklin advocated schooling for the children of the German immigrants. Those children were to learn English ways by learning the English language and by studying the King James version of The Bible. (It should be noted that the efforts to "Anglicize" the offspring of the German immigrants through public supported schools ended in 1763. The "Pennsylvania Dutch" successfully maintained their cultural identity for over two hundred years, contributing immensely to the cultural life of Pennsylvania. Their ways of "knowing" objects and events did not impede their successful adaptation to the lands of Pennsylvania!)

     Franklin made his contribution to anti-Catholicism in the New World by turning his rhetoric to the task of opposing the British Parliament's decision to treat Roman Catholicism as a tax supported state religion in Canada. How could the Parliament allow the possibility that the "TRUTHS" espoused by the newly conquered French-speaking Catholics might be regarded as valid as those promulgated by the Protestant churches that English immigrants had established in the colonies populated by the English??

     Benjamin Franklin gave voice to some of the foundational perspectives on the treatment of people who used psychological systems that might produce contradiction to people who had acquired the cultural elements of the prevailing society. He helped to articulate important way of viewing immigrants. He helped to establish important psychollages – ways of viewing – that were to be applied in telling tales about people who would immigrate to The United States. Franklin helped to author a master narrative that would guide thinking about and action toward newly arriving immigrants: In exchange for the opportunity to live and work in "The New Jerusalem," the immigrants were to accept the "American Way" of viewing objects and events. They could prove their commitment by disclaiming affinity to the culture of the people who had occupied the geographical space from which they had emigrated. The new immigrants were to dress as did the people of the established citizens. The were to stop using the languages they had used in the lands from which they immigrated. The established citizens also would find it more comfortable if the new immigrants would not insist on the higher palatability and healthfulness of the food of the country of their origin. They were not to import or espouse political ideologies that had few roots in The New World. Through education the immigrants were to gain insight into the "rightness" of adopting the approved view of their status. Through education they would learn the advantages of accepting the "TRUTHS" of the established citizens. The official view of the process of the Americanization of immigrants placed a negative value on the use of physical violence as a means of gaining conformity. Though immigrants might be killed if they took definitive action against the interests of industrialists and other power holders, officials would overtly condemn those who did the killing. Lynchings, beatings, and murders could conveniently intimidate groups representing “the other,” but officials could not openly admit that such methods had had the approval of those who held power. Power holders could endorse blacklisting and extradition of vociferous supporters of perspectives and procedures that might forestall the exploitation of immigrants

     Violation of a person through constant contradiction. The foregoing discussion represents an attempt to understand negative reactions to the presence of immigrants and their offspring. Such negative reactions instigate actions to “homogenize” the residents of a geographical space. The position outlined develops from an assumption that all humans are motivated to maintain the validity of the personal (and often culturally shared) psychological systems that they use to “know” their surrounding world. Invalidations of the psychological systems that a person uses to develop the psychollages that he/she uses to "know" objects and events puts a person into a state of preparation for effort. It is further useful to assume that most people regard such preparation for effort as negative - as discomfort.

     The immigrants and their offspring have spent their first, very influential, formative years in a family whose members follow particular cultural practices, endorse particular values, and view the world in particular ways. They have developed psychological systems that will allow then to view the world as their caretakers view their world. That is, as a general rule, a person will develop a psychological system that will allow him/her to put together the psychollages that members of her/his family will endorse. Thus, she/ he will construe objects (including his/her self) and events as her/his family construes them, will accept the truth of the beliefs of her/his family, and will define her/his self in terms that his family and the society surrounding his family uses to pass positive or negative judgments on self enactments. As long as he/she associates with his/her family and other families that endorse the view of the world held by his/her family, he/she will generally avoid contradiction and will avoid experiencing the effects of preparation for effort to undo the contradiction.

     Consider a child born into an immigrant family who adopts her family's ways of "knowing" the world. When that child goes into communities outside that in which she has been reared, she will certainly encounter situations in which other persons will contradict, either directly or through their actions, her psychollages (collages of meaning "in-the-head" that he/she uses to “know” objects and everts). During his/her middle childhood the law might require that the child participate in an "educational situation." There the child will encounter authority figures who are employed to prompt that child to adopt "TRUTHS" that have been endorsed by the power holders of the community. The teacher believes, of course, that she serves the interests of the child by teaching him/her the "validated ways" of the broader society. According to the formulation which I have laid out above, any time that the instructor presents the child with a view of an event or object that differs from the view which the child might have regularly applied to that event or object, the instructor, directly or inadvertently, prompts the child to prepare for action. As noted, persons generally experience their selves in such preparations for action by using the dimension "uncomfortable." As a person builds a psychollage of his/her self in a discrepancy state, he/she will undoubtedly use the dimension "uncomfortable." The body changes - strong heart strokes, emptying of stomach contents, changes in blood vessels surrounding major muscles, stop in the production of saliva, etc. - that accompany preparation for action produce signals that a person senses. As a rule, persons "dislike" receiving those signals. They "know" that they "feel uncomfortable."

     The teacher might, for example, attempt to carry out a lesson plan aimed at prompting the children in his class to adopt particular views of certain foods. He intends to have the children become aware of the dangers of over consumption of fats. He asks the child of the immigrant family, "What did you eat for breakfast, this morning?" The child responds, "I had coffee with milk, a fried egg with a tomato, and a piece of bread with olive oil." It happened that the teacher recently had sat with his family on the front porch of their home observing a religious procession from the church attended by the child's family. The teacher's father, a foreman in the mine in which the child's father worked, had remarked. "Here come the greasy dagoes . Can you believe those people? They use olive oil like it was water. They even fry eggs in olive oil. I hear that some of them use it as hair tonic." Thus, the teacher has a difficult time restraining a smirk when the child tells of having eaten bread with olive oil for breakfast. And a tomato! For breakfast? The teacher quickly passes from the immigrant child to Johnny Newell. Johnny will give a report, the teacher is sure, of having eaten a breakfast that he can endorse. Johnny reports, "Shredded wheat, with milk and banana." The immigrant child wonders why the teacher did not elaborate effusively to his report as he did to Johnny's report. "Now we see that Johnny's breakfast was a low fat breakfast. We should try to eat foods that are low in fat. If we eat too much fat food, etc., etc." The immigrant child senses that the teacher's ignoring of her report and the effuse response to Johnny's report represents an implied reprimand of her eating habits. The child "knows" her bodily reaction - the changes that automatically accompany an invalidation of one’s psychollages - as "shame." She will recall her "shame," when her mother next prepares a delicious, nutritious breakfast for her.

     The child's teacher, of course, did not intend to induce a condition that the child would construe - "know" - as shame. The teacher simply intended to "educate" the children about proper diet. The teacher had never heard of "preparation for action that accompanies discrepancy between inputs and the psychollage that the person had attempted to use to construe an object or event." He might have heard of shame, anxiety, fear, and so on. A long course of instruction might lead him to see that these terms are terms that persons use to construe inputs associated with preparations for action at those times when they discover a discrepancy between the psychollages they would use and the ensuing sensory inputs. The choice of "emotion-knowing" psychollage would depend on the social situation. The immigrant child "knew" - construed - the inputs from her body changes as shame. "I have said the 'wrong' thing. I have eaten the 'wrong' breakfast. The teacher thinks I and my mother are stupid." The child had created a situation, as she sees it, in which the teacher construes her in ways that the child does not wish to be construed. In other situations when the child confronts discrepancy, she might interpret the signals associated with her body changes as fear, or anger, or sadness

     The point to be made: Children, as they develop in the ambiance of their infancy and early childhood, develop a psychological system from which they will build the psychollages that they will use to "know" the objects and events that they will encounter. (One must assume that a person must constantly "know" his/her self. In terms of psychological functioning, the self stands as an object. The psychollages that a person builds to "know" his/her self represent the most important psychollages that she/he will use as he/she interacts with the world about him/her.) Persons who take the system learned in their primary culture into a novel ambiance will build and attempt to use the psychollages they had developed in their "native" ambiance. One can expect that other persons in the novel ambiance will act in ways that will signal the invalidity of many of the psychollages used by a person reared in an alien culture.

     Following from these ways of thinking about psychological development and processes, one can conclude that the child reared in the ambiance of an immigrant family will confront many discrepancy situations.

     In the ensuing parts of this essay, I will discuss a book, Stolen Figs, written by a descendent of the Italy-to-The-USA avventura, in the context of the foregoing constructivist view on immigrant adaptation to a new environment. I will note that the family of the author had disconnected with their Italian relatives. I will use the forgoing theoretical framework to suggest the basis of such disconnection. I will discuss the author’s reports of the experiences of his reconnection with the people who continued to develop and function in the culture that flowed out of the culture that the author’s forebears had left behind. In end notes, I will comment liberally on the author’s efforts to textualize his reconnection. In a summation, I will assess the ways in which potential reconnectors might react as they study the author’s account of his reconnection..

“Assimilation” as a means of eliminating alternative world views.

          In the first paragraphs of his book, Stolen Figs and other adventures in Calabria, Mark Rotella (2003) tells his readers that he needed to cajole his father, Joseph (Giuseppe) into making a visit to Gimigliano, the town, in Italy’s region of Calabria, from which his grandparents had emigrated. When Mark suggested that he and his father visit the town, his father “.....  shrugged off the idea. ‘That was decades ago,’ he said ‘Why go back to the past’” (p. 4). Though Mark and his sister had accompanied his parents on several previous trips to Italy, they had not visited the Southern Italian village from which Mark’s grandparents had emigrated. Mark’s father, Giuseppe (Joseph) Rotella had disconnected from his pre-immigration Italian family. Mark had never met any of his father’s Italian cousins and had never met any of the descendants of the family members that his father’s parents had left behind in Calabria.

          The kind of disconnection experienced by the descendants of l’avventura did not happen haphazardly. Mark clearly recounts how his father, Joseph, had been reared in an Italian immigrant family by parents who had transplanted, as much as possible, their Italian culture to Danbury, Connecticut. Mark describes his father’s upbringing by recalling elements of the stories that his father had told him. Those stories recounted family gatherings, at which Joseph’s mother, Angelina Rotella, had served grand meals to family and friends. Grandfather Filippo had schooled Joseph in the age-old elements of Southern Italian culture.

          “My grandfather taught my father to grow tomatoes and vegetables, cultivate grapes and make wine, raise rabbits and chickens. My father learned how to slaughter pigs, as well as the rabbits and chickens he had raised. Whatever he learned, his father had taught him the old Calbrese way” (p. 41).

          Despite such efforts to preserve such aspects of Southern Italian culture and despite the salience of family cohesion, Joseph Rotella, the son of Italian immigrants, like innumerable other descendants of the Italy-to-The-USA avventura, had not maintained connections to family members that his forebears had left behind in Italy.

          Having been born in the late 1930's Mark’s father traversed his childhood and adolescence at the tail end of the great “assimilation” project. A reader of Stolen Figs can only conjecture about the extent of and the intensity of that project to which Joseph Rotella had been exposed. A reading of the history (Pozzetta, 1991) of the “Americanization” project, reveals the intensity of the arguments forwarded by advocates and opponents of the project. The arguments raged, particularly, around the functioning of the publicly supported educational systems in promoting the assimilation project.

          Though proponents of the assimilation project could argue that the immigrants and their offspring would profit from rapidly “assimilating,” opponents questioned the value of inducing individuals to forego use of cultural elements that might enrich the culture of the dominant populations of The USA. Further, the process of promoting “assimilation” frequently entailed the denigrating of the culture that the members of immigrant families had brought to The USA. Such denigration then could become a source of psychological pain (See Mancuso, 2003) that placed a heavy burden on targets of the Americanization project.

          The offspring of Italian immigrants would have been particularly susceptible to experiencing that burden. Studies have provided evidence that an estimated 80 percent of the immigrants arrived in The USA as illiterates. Thus, only a small portion of the immigrants would have been able to articulate the basis of their culture in order to understand the origins and value of the elements of their transplanted culture. Religion was a central element of their culture, but their practice of Roman Catholicism was denigrated by not only the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholics, but also by the Irish Catholics who represented the leadership of the Roman Catholicism in The USA. Unlike the Polish immigrants who were surrounded by clergy and nuns who also had immigrated, the Italian Catholics had few religious leaders to advocate their style of religious practices. In short, the Italian immigrant families had few resources to defend their culture from the denigration promulgated by the “assimilationists.”

          The status of the carriers of Southern Italian culture suffered further as a result of a powerful movement that was dressed in the garb of “modern science.” Leading social scientists who held positions at the country’s most prestigious universities propounded theories of genetic superiority/inferiority The promulgators of the eugenics movement found support for their claims in the theories of Charles Darwin (1995/1859), who had published his theories of evolution just as Giuseppe Garibaldi turned the conquered Kingdom of the Two Sicilies over to Victor Emanuel. Ten years later, with the final unification of the Italian peninsula, the political conditions made it possible for the oppressed people of that once Southern Italian kingdom to obtain passports. As they carried their passports and their culture into The USA very few of the immigrants could understand that they would enter a hostile ambiance that esteemed professors had created by promoting theories that ordered “races” of people in terms of their genetic superiority.

          The theories of genetically determined racial superiority/inferiority buttressed an advocacy of improving the quality of human characteristics by selective breeding and by restraining the infusion of poor genetic stock into the gene pools of people who had developed superior cultures. According to the proponents of eugenics theories; Italians, as representatives of “Mediterranean races,” vied with Eastern Europeans for a place on the rankings just above the dark-skinned people of the world. Thus, children of the Italian immigrants entered schools to be taught by teachers who saw it as their duty to work assiduously to Americanize the scions of inferior “races” as thoroughly as possible.

          Additionally, Mark Rotella’s father would have been an elementary school student during a period when an Italian-American stood to be denigrated because his Italian heritage would have associated him with the Italy of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini initially enjoyed the praise and support of powerful figures in The USA who lauded his efforts to bring order to a population of ungovernable primitives. The media of The USA availed itself of and helped to promote (See D’Acierno,1999; Italic Studies Institute, 2002) the readily available stereotypes of Southern Italians as ungovernable primitives (Dickie, 1999; Schneider, 1998) who needed the iron hand of a strong man.

          During the period that Mussolini enjoyed the favor of prominent power holders of The USA, many Italian immigrants also cheered the man who promised a great destiny for Italy. Then, in the later part of the 1930s, Mussolini blundered into a foolish invasion of Ethiopia and an association with Nazi Germany. Charlie Chaplin, writing, directing, and acting in his film The Great Dictator, could create parodies of Mussolini thrusting his oversized jaw into the air as he dramatically pronounced the great destiny that lay before crowds of cheering Italians. When, in 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on The USA, the Italian-Americans needed to do their best to convince their co-citizens that they had no affinity for the goonish buffoon who fronted Italy’s power holders. An adolescent, shamefully remembering his father or grandfather praising Mussolini, would surely avoid allowing his classmates to believe that he held any sympathy for the families of Italy who provided the inept soldiers who opposed the British and American troops in Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Millions of young Italian-Americans needed to prove that the Americanization programs had worked, and that they could agree to kill their cousins if they were called upon to fight in Italy.

          By the middle years of the 20th Century, the work of the assimilationists could be judged a success (Alba, 1985). The children of the avventura were the “beneficiaries” of the concerted efforts of Americanizing educators, the continuous media barrages (aided by high profile legislative and judicial actions) that portrayed Italian-Americans as goons and buffoons, and by the repeated representations of Italy as a land of a political chaos that resulted from a fickle, over-passionate, and ungovernable people. Few of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the participants in the avventura would profess an affinity for Italian culture and for the people of the regions from which their forebears had emigrated. Few descendants of l’avventura could challenge the claim of the inferiority of the culture of their forebears. To defend the assimilationists from charges of coercing unwarranted cultural hegemony, apologists could write about having achieved “assimilation – American style (Salins, 1997). The apologists could claim that the descendants of the avventura had implicitly accepted the cultural elements of the established culture in order to attain the advantages offered by the society of The USA.

          Under these conditions, the descendants of the Italy-to-The-USA immigration would have little inclination to show an interest in the history of their pre-emigration families. Only a small portion of the millions of Italian-Americans would develop a desire to acquire knowledge about the conditions that had instigated the flood of emigration from a land that wave after wave of invaders had coveted as a favorable place to inhabit. Only a small portion of Italian-Americans developed a curiosity about the status of families that grew out of the brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, and aunts that their immigrant forebears had left behind.

          I, as one of the persons who has enjoyed the rich experiences of reconnecting to their relatives in Italy, regard this state of affairs as negative. I would want other Italian-Americans to enjoy the same experiences. I know that many of my associates who have reconnected have found great pleasure from visiting the places in which their families had lived, for hundreds (and perhaps thousands) of years before their forebears had emigrated. They have been amazed at the hospitable reception that they have received from descendants of their grandparents’ brothers and sisters – relatives who would, in The USA, be regarded as remote relatives, but who, in Italy, regard themselves as continuously tied to their American relatives. Reconnecters have had the opportunity to explore the historic sites at which occurred the significant events that shaped the history and culture of their forebears. They have been able to observe, first hand, the artistic, architectural, and geographic features of the Italy that their forebears left behind. And, they have been able to see the way the ways that the Italian culture has evolved since the time when their forebears left the peninsula.

          With this orientation, I have welcomed the publication of a books like Mark Rotella’s Stolen figs and other adventures in Calabria. I anticipate the possibility that this kind of book will help other Italian-Americans to decide whether or not to seek out the pleasures and personal enrichment that result from effecting a “reconnection.”


Mark Rotella’s Reconnection Experiences

          In 1936, Mark’s grandfather (Filippo Rotella) had initiated his American family by returning to Gimigliano, a town in the Calabrian Province of Catanzaro, to marry and to bring to The USA Mark’s grandmother (Angelina Critelli). Filippo had immigrated to The USA before the country entered World War I. He first lived in Western New York State. He had enlisted in the army during WWI. According to family lore, he had became involved in transporting illegal alcoholic beverages, imported from Canada, to New York City Endnote [2]. Filippo, in his mid forties, returned to Gimigliano to take a bride that was 25 years younger than he.

          Mark’s father, Joseph, had been reared in Connecticut. After Joseph had been discharged from the US Navy, “in about 1958” (p. 35), his mother, Angelina, decided to make a visit to her native town, Gimigliano. She insisted that Joseph accompany her. Under those circumstances, Mark’s father and grandmother had spent three months living in the house of Angelina’s oldest sister, Caterina.

          Though he previously had traveled in Italy with his immediate family, Mark, had never visited the native town of his grandparents. From Mark’s report, one can assume that he had convinced his father to make a rushed, abbreviated visit to Gimigliano. Mark describes the train trip south from Naples to Lamezia, where he and his father changed trains to continue on to Catanzaro, where they then took a local train to reach Gimigliano.

          In Gimigliano relatives who recalled Joseph’s 1958 visit enthusiastically greeted Mark and his father, complained of their thoughtlessness for having allotted so little time for their visit, and extracted Mark’s promise to return for a longer visit.

          Mark, who had learned the formal Italian language in college, was intrigued by the ease with which his father reverted to the use of the dialect used by the people of the Gimigliano. During this initial, brief visit, he learned more about his family as his father and the relatives recounted details of the history of the family in Gimigliano.

          The ambiance surrounding the visit prompted Joseph to relate to Mark more of the colorful lore about Mark’s grandfather, Filippo. Joseph revealed the dramatic episode as he recalled his earlier visit to Gimigliano, when he had accompanied his mother, Angelina. The young Joseph had occasion to be driven to Catanzaro by a one-armed man. The man revealed to Joseph that Filippo had shot him, and was thus responsible for the loss of the arm. Though Joseph, according to Mark’s text, “ . . . froze,” thinking, “This is it, . . . The vendetta” (p. 39), the one-armed man explained. “It was my fault. I knew that your mother was engaged to someone back in l’America. But I loved your mother and I thought she loved me” (p. 39) Endnote [3].

          When Mark Rotella returned to Gimigliano to remain there for an extended visit, he enjoyed the stewardship and the company of another Giuseppe -- Giuseppe Chiarella, a shopkeeper/photographer who created photographic postal cards and similar items that he purveyed to novelty shops throughout the southern end of the Italian boot.

          Giuseppe guided Mark through the experience that provided the colorful title to Rotella’s book. On one excursion, Giuseppe led Rotella into “a stand of fig trees – his father’s fig trees, Giuseppe said” (p. 107). They filled a sack with the luscious fruits. Later that day, Giuseppe and Mark ate their way through the sack of figs. After they had consumed their fill of figs, Giuseppe confessed that the fig trees from which the figs had been harvested were not the property of his father. Rotella concluded that stealing figs “must be a pastime here” (p. 108). Giuseppe offered his justification for the small time banditry: “There’s nothing tastier than stolen figs” (p. 108). Rotella concludes his colorful tale with a deduction that leaves the reader with an image of Calabrians sneaking through the night on forays into other people’s property: “Giuseppe may have taken fruit from a neighbor’s tree, but he knows that in a couple of months, when the trees produce their fruit in September, he may wake up to find that his own trees have been picked clean” (p. 110). Rotella’s focus on that image, one must conclude, induced him to use the fig stealing episode to provide the title to his book Endnote [4] .

Rotella’s Accounts of his Exploration of Calabria

          At first, I envied Rotella his personal guide Endnote [5] . I have travelled through Calabria and have visited my father’s family many times. I had anticipated that Rotella’s guide would allow him to gain special insight into Calabrian history and life. I eagerly read Rotella’s text, intending to relive and to elaborate the pleasures of reconnection that I have enjoyed as I have visited and studied about the intriguing land from which my father had left, as did over 1.5 million Calabrians during the period 1876 to 1961 (from Stella, 2002). I anticipated the sharing of Rotella’s analysis of his reconnection experiences.

           Giuseppe as one source of information on criminal activity in Calabria. A reader can take the opportunity to assess the value of Giuseppe’s guidance as he/she reads Rotella’s account of their visit to , a town that connects to one unique facet of Calabria’s history. Anyone who attends to the accounts of the current influx of Albanians into Calabria will easily come across reports of the crossings of people who leave Albania to try to find a more satisfying life in Calabria. To cross the Adriatic, from Albania to the heel of Italy, a potentially illegal immigrant must travel only about 51 miles. Over the centuries, people fleeing Albania eventually found their way to Calabria. Rotella’s brief review of the influx of Albanians introduces his readers to some of the consequences of this multi-faceted aspect of Calabrian history. For example, elements of the language spoken in Albania can be heard in the towns of Calabria that were founded by and remain heavily populated by people who immigrated from Albania.

          Rotella shared the information on some Albanian women immigrants that Giuseppe conveyed to him. “They are kidnapped and brought here as girls, sold on the streets until they are used up or die. . . . . They work with the mafia. But the Albanians are brutal . . . . . They kill and they rape” (p. 132). “And nothing is done here, because the Italian men buy them. Everyone buys them for a night or more, so no one complains” (p. 131).

          Rotella’s inclusion of such colorful ruminations offered by his guide, Giuseppe, supplements Rotella’s incessant referencing of activity of organized criminals in Calabria. Giuseppe participated in warning Mark, for example, that it was dangerous to travel in Calabria’s rugged Aspromonte Mountains.

          “‘Just a few years ago they found a boy who had been held for over a year, eating only every other day,’ Giuseppe said” (p. 45).

          Though Rotella writes that “The last reported kidnapping had occurred a few years before my trip” (p 188), he continues use the present tense in his text, with quotes of Giuseppe explaining the mode of operation of the kidnappers:

          “The mafia hides the person with the help of locals. ..... They pay each shepherd or farmer to take a captive to a certain point, they then pay someone else to pick up that person and lead him to another point” (p. 189).

          With such tales as a backdrop, Rotella can later tell of how he experienced a harrowing trip in a car that he had hired (pp. 251-256). In the first place, the auto that he had hired to take him to a village in the Aspromonte – the putative site of the hideouts to which kidnap victims were transported to be held – was being driven by a person different from the driver he had expected. Thereupon, on the way to the village of Roccaforte del Greco, Rotella regularly experienced quickened pulse and racing heart as he foresaw the need to plan an escape from a possible kidnap attempt. But even if he did escape the auto, he thought, “Who would help this foreigner, especially here where everyone relied on the mafia” (p. 255).

          As he tells of a visit to Crotone, Rotella suggests that Giuseppe was not the only source of information about organized crime that colored his experiencing of his reconnection to Calabria. “The mafia still has a strong hold here. It’s common to read in the papers about recent arrests of members of ‘ndrangheta. Whereas ships used to bring food and spices from Asia and Africa, today Crotone’s chief import is prostitutes from Russia and former Eastern bloc countries” (p. 93) Endnote [6] .

          “..... Despite the mafia, money from the electricity plants has actually enriched Crotone” (p. 93)

          “Ciro Marina has worked to get on the tourist circuit, though like Crotone, it has attracted more drug traffickers than tourists” (p. 99)

          “[The mafia] continues to exist partly because the Calabresi fear the criminal element into which it has evolved” (p. 245).

          A man that Rotella had met showed him a book entitled The boss is alone, and advised that he read the book. Rotella writes that “the endpaper showed a flow chart of hierarchy within the mafia” (p/ 165) Endnote [7] . Rotella decided, however, that this man could not be judged to be an authoritative source of information. As he discussed the influence of the mafia in Calabria with the man who had offered the book, Rotella could somehow judge that the man “didn’t know much about the mafia – in Calabria or in general – and definitely hadn’t felt its influence firsthand” (p. 166). He adds a sentence that might justify his judgment, “With another glance at the book, I realized that it was about the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, not the ‘ndrangheta in Calabria” (p. 166) Endnote [8] .

          While pursuing a piece of mafia lore that seemed to stimulate Rotella’s research proclivities, Rotella visited the municipal offices of the town of Santo Stefano. There, it seems, he intended to enrich his reconnection experience by finding official records of Giuseppe Musolino, a Calabrian brigand that has been elevated to mythic status Endnote [9] . While in the offices, a member of the Italian national police, the carabinieri, interjected to assist in finding that Musolino was born on November 21, 1892. Rotella “was pleased to hear that it was the same year my grandfather was born” (p. 249). After Rotella’s discovery of that pleasing factoid, the carabiniere invited Rotella and his companion to the bar, where they were joined by three other officers. The conversation, over drinks, centered on impressions of American and Calabrian women Endnote [10] .

          Rotella transmits not only Giuseppe’s perspectives on organized crime, but also his perspectives on other features of Calabrian culture and geography. For example Rotella puts into his text Giuseppe’s version of the problems resulting from the influx of Africans into Southern Italy: “The government lets them get away with [low level street marketing] because they are poor. . . . . They show the same leniency toward the Gypsies, who steal and rob. The Africans and the Gypsies get shorter sentences for the same crimes that the Italians commit, because the government believes that poor people don’t know better” (p. 237). Rotella reports that he did make a perfunctory effort to counter Giuseppe’s claims. He does not, however, offer the views of an authority.

          Rotella also records, without clarifying comment, Giuseppe’s analysis of the decline of the size of the once over-large Southern Italian family: “But now no one has money to raise children. .... The children stay at home and live with their parents” (p. 107) Endnote [11] .

          Similarly, Rotella passed to his readers Giuseppe’s views on the agricultural economy of Calabria. “More olives grow here than anywhere else, with the exception, perhaps, of parts of Spain. .... And with all those olives . . . . . do you ever hear of anything coming from Calabria? No, no, you don’t. And why? Because of Calabrese pride. ..... All those olive trees. The farmers could easily do what they do in Tuscany: form a union, pool their fields together, and produce massive amounts of olive oil – rich, green olive oil! And they don’t. Why? Because they are stuck in their old ways. They refuse to change” (p. 265) Endnote [12] .

           Rotella's observations of other aspects of Calabrian life. Rotella does not make clear the sources of his information regarding one of the most significant events in Calabria's history. He gives the reader few clues about the base from which he could judge that "Gay Talese beautifully captures the end of Murat's reign in [his book] Unto the Sons" (p. 226)? After his tribute to Talese's description of the event, Rotella launches into a brief account of the happenings, in 1815, in the castle that he describes as a Norman castle built in 1486 by Ferdinand I of Aragon (p. 226). Rotella focuses on what appears to be a segment of the lore surrounding an ironic twist to the end of a very significant era in the history of Southern Italy and Sicily. According to Rotella's account, Gioacchino Murat, who had served as King of Naples during the years 1808 to 1815, "had established strict laws against treason, which became punishable by death" (p. 226). According to Rotella's compressed account, Murat attempted "to reclaim the throne, which had been taken by the Spanish" (p. 226). After Rotella's colorful account, in which he described Murat landing from ships at Pizzo, and having behaved rather clownishly before his being captured, he tells his readers that, "Two days later, inside the castle, the people of Pizzo tried Murat for treason under his own law" (p. 227), whereupon he was found guilty and sentenced to death by firing squad. If a reader would wonder how an account of these events could be turned out as a "beautiful" account, and then would search out other accounts of these happenings, he/she would easily find accounts that would describe the event as a dastardly political assassination, carried out in haste by a founder of the repressive, totalitarian, Bourbon monarchy who was bent on assuring that Murat would not become the figurehead for a popular revolt in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

          Rotella embeds such brief accounts of some of the highlights of Calabria’s history within his observations of the characteristics of the people of Italy and Calabria, his noting of important personages of Calabrian origin, his accounts of the lore surrounding the illicit activity of organized criminals, descriptions of the succulent fare that he enjoyed in the homes and restaurants of Calabria, the stunning land and seascapes of the region, the celebration of religious festivals, some of the magnificent achievements of human creativity that one can see in Calabria, and the warmth of his reception by the Calabrian family from which his family in The USA had been separated for many decades.

          Rotella also regales his readers with his analyses of the appearances and the psychosocial status of the people of Calabria.

          “In the United States, relationships become stronger in order for people to adapt to survive in a new country; for those living in small southern italian villages, people needed to cultivate a sense of anonymity” (p. 60).

          “In general, throughout Italy, I found that museum attendants greeted you with a look of boredom that, after a few minutes turned into one of annoyance as if you were the only thing that was preventing them from taking the next break. I found this to be less so in Calabria” (p. 94).

          “This means that the Italians’ long sense of history notwithstanding, they’re concerned almost exclusively with the present and are not terribly nostalgic; what has happened has happened” (p. 96).

          “The Calabresi are wonderful at small talk” (p. 125).

          Reporting on a distinction he had learned through dialogue with his guide, Giuseppe, Rotella reports that, “The people of [Gimigliano] Inferiore tend to be closer and a bit warmer. If a stranger starts a fight with an Inferiorese, others will come to his defense. Not so in Superiore, where Giuseppe is from. During an argument passersby may shrug their shoulders and simply watch” (p. 144).

          “Italian man – and women, for that matter – hang out in groups” (p. 150).

          “Lorella was not a typical southern Italian woman. She was straightforward, not shy, though not gregarious” (pp. 157-1 58).

          “The Calabresi – Italians for that matter – consider writing, along with reading, an antisocial activity” (p. 166)

          “It had taken me nearly two hours to exchange my money, thanks to a banking system that jumped directly from postwar hard currency to ATMs, passing the traveler’s check phase of tourism altogether” (p. 197).

          Rotella demonstrates an astounding perceptiveness when he describes his first train trip to South Italy. Though he gives no indication of having alighted from the train when it stopped in Naples, Rotella was able to report that “babies cried, people argued, and beyond the tracks cars honked amid the din of Vespas and motorcycles. .... [Vendors] were followed by a gypsy women begging for change, musicians playing guitars and accordions, and packs of children ... (p. 3).

          He was able to judge the possible motivations of a couple who appeared to be engaged in some body fondling. “A van was parked along the ledge ... I noticed that there were two people in it. A man leaned over a woman in a red sweater, her dark hair with blond highlights falling over shoulders, and unto the back of the seat as he massaged her breast. They hadn’t noticed me, or if they had, they didn’t much care. Her fingers dug into his hair” (p. 213).

          On a visit to Reggio di Calabria, he observed and speculated suggestively, as follows: “An outdoor breezeway, on both the bar level and the balcony above, could be set up with tables, but on this weekend because there were official guests, probably judges Endnote [13] , all tables had been taken in for security, and an Uzi-toting military guard was posted on each floor (p. 239).

          Aside from repeatedly offering a negative critique of the rather unimaginative architecture to be found in the tourist-oriented communities, Rotella gives little attention to significant architecture that one can visit in Calabria. It can be claimed, of course, that there is not much of such architecture to discuss. Unquestionably, Rotella’s reconnection experience would have been more enriched if the region had finely preserved remnants of the architecture, for example, that had been erected in Calabria's ancient Greek colonies, such as Sybaris, Locri, or Crotone, where elaborate temple complexes.had been built.. A descendent of those who emigrated from near Sicily’s Agrigento, or from the region close to Campania’s Paestum, needs to be prompted to consider the possibility that his forebears might have shepherded animals around the remnants of magnificent Greek temples found in those locations. What did those illiterate, uneducated early-20th century emigrants think about those 2500 year-old architectural marvels?

          One must be especially puzzled, however, after reading Rotella’s book, by his failure to survey one of Calabria’s famed architectural delights. The dust jacket issued with the book shows a composite of a number of scenes that one could associate with Calabria as he/she builds his/her reconnection.. The most notable of the scenes is a representation of the small Byzantine church known as La Cattolica, located in Stilo. Yet, in the text there is no mention of that unique architectural gem, which is reputed to be “perhaps the best preserved monument of its kind in Europe” (Blanchard, 1990, p. 260). Additionally, Rotella does not mention Gerace’s Cathedral of L'Assunta: “...the largest church in Calabria. Consecrated in 1045, it was rebuilt under Swabian rule, and restored after an earthquake in the 18C” (Blanchard, 1990, p. 281).

          Rotella includes in his book a rather cursory, one-paragraph description of one of Calabria’s most notable art treasures, the Vth Century B. C. E. bronze statues that are assumed to represent Greek warriors. As he does so, he offers a lively, if somewhat idiosyncratic, image to a visitor who explores the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Reggio: “With no glass around them and with their shields and weapons long vanished, their proximity and upraised arms make them seem almost human. At a distance, they look like two uncircumcised gay men dancing at a disco” (p. 240). That image, especially if a potential reconnector has never been to a disco to watch uncircumcised gay men dancing, will offer an interesting insight into the great art of Greek statuary.

          Rotella makes a bow to the Calabria’s contribution to the Rinascimento by giving one long sentence to the philosopher Bernardino Telesio. According to Rotella’s sweeping assessment, Telesio “wrested scientific thought from the grips of the church, and brought enlightenment from Calabria to the rest of Italy” (p. 212) Endnote [14] .

          Rotella introduces his readers to one of the Calabrians who appear among the lists of great Italian painters, Mattia Preti (1613-1699).

     During a visit to the town of Taverna, Rotella visited the XIIth Century Chiesa di San Domenica, where one can view eleven canvases completed by the prolific master. Preti came out of the influential XVIIth Century Neapolitan School of painters, of which the most famous was Caravaggio, whose influence can be seen in Preti’s early works Endnote [15] .
          Anyone who travels to Calabria, especially those who return to make contact with family members, will experience the unique and varied cuisine of the region. Rotella offers numerous descriptions of some of the sumptuous meals he enjoyed in the homes and in the restaurants in which he dined while traveling through Calabria. He describes one of the meals served to him by a cousin: “She served a feast that consisted of shells filled with ground pork and tomatoes, a lasagne with pesto and béchamel sauce ..., a tart filled with ground pork and covered with bread crumbs, a pizza rustica stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella, and soprasatta in a heavy tomato sauce” (p. 204). He describes another meal “[The trattoria] served penne with tomato sauce, along with fava beans cooked in a pot and garnished with pecorino and bread crumbs. ... We ate fragini, too, a kind of calzone filled with ricotta, cheese, egg, and parsley” (p. 191)

          Rotella told of joining a party for the celebration of Pasquetta – Little Easter. Many Italians celebrate the day after Easter by going into the countryside to enjoy picnics in the open air. There the holiday feasting continues. Rotella’s cousins and their friends had reserved a part of a restaurant in one of the the villages in La Sila – the dramatic mountain range that borders Calabria and Basilicata. At that gathering, they were served the following menu: an antipasto of a variety of cheeses and cured meats, maccheroni al forno (penne type pasta dressed with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, then baked), slice breast of goose, stuffed with pepperoni, prosciutto, and bread crumbes, veal scallopini sauteed in olive oil, roast lamb and potatoes, fruits and nuts, and cookies. All of the meal, of course, was accompanied by a generous flow of wine, with prosecco (a sparkling wine) added to close off the meal.

Assessing Rotella’s Book as an Influence on a

Person Contemplating Reconnection with Family in Calabria

          Our family had not been in contact with my father’s family in Calabria between the time of my father’s death, in 1939, and my first visit to Calabria, in 1973. To prepare for making connections with two of my father’s siblings and our eleven first cousins in Calabria, I read H. V. Morton’s (1960), A Traveler in Southern Italy. Morton painted a picture of Calabria that highlighted many of the bleak features of Calabrian life that mirrored the grim features that Norman Douglas (1915) had described in his book. As we neared the date for our departure to Italy, my wife, Susan, and I composed a very dissembling tale about our itinerary. We then sent a letter to Uncle Salvatore (my father’s youngest sibling) to inform him of our plans. We indicated that we would first stop in Reggio, whereupon we would rent an auto, and then drive to Sersale, Provincia di Catanzaro – a town that is located about 20 miles from Gimigliano, the town from which Mark Rotella’s grandparents had emigrated.

           We wanted to be sure that we could “escape” from Sersale if the life and conditions there were a close approximation of Morton’s descriptions of life in that region. To our initial dismay, Uncle Salvatore would have none of it. He would not tolerate any delay in seeing the son of a brother who had departed from Sersale fifty-one years prior to our visit. Salvatore had last seen his brother in 1922, when Salvatore was 10 years old. As we retrieved our baggage at the Reggio airport, the loudspeaker boomed my name, and asked me to report to the information desk. When we arrived there, we were immediately surrounded by Uncle Salvatore; his wife, Aunt Giuseppina; my father’s sister, Francesca; and two of the more forward of our cousins. They had rented two automobiles, into which they bundled us and our baggage. Like it or not, we would be their guests for at least several days.

          To our utter delight, we could discredit much of Morton’s negative picture of Calabria. My father’s siblings and my cousins lived in very well appointed homes – built with cash resources earned by traveling to North Italy and Germany to work and to save every lire that they could manage to set aside. Uncle Salvatore, having helped to bring about a land distribution in the coastal plain, near Cropani Marina, had acquired a piece of land on which he and his son, Cousin Antonio, successfully grew vegetables and fruits that he sold to shippers who transported the produce to the north.

           Somehow Morton had missed much of what had happened in Calabria during the fifty years between the publication of his book and the publication of Douglas’s book. I was reminded of my experiences with Morton's negativism when I read Rotella’s comment by a Canadian couple that he had met in Cosenza. After the couple had indicated that, contrary to multitudes of contrasting commentaries, they had been underwhelmed by Sicilian food; they inquired about whether or not Rotella had read Douglas’ book, Old Calabria. Assured that Rotella had read the book, the man commented , “It seems that things haven’t changed much since his time” (p. 222). Rotella did not give an indication of how he responded to that comment.

          What is clear, however, is that Rotella, like Morton, had heard of, thought he had observed, had actually observed, and then found it necessary to devote a great deal of his text to negative aspects of Calabrian life.

           Consider, then, the effects of Rotella reporting that even a highly regarded religious ceremony can turn into a negative experience. Rotella makes an old commercial truck, driven by an aggressive driver, the centerpiece of his description of a Good Friday procession. “The driver waved the guard away,and pulled up behind us. His engine rumbled, overpowering the prayers. His lights lit up everyone’s backs. The intimate magical spell was broken, but the procession crept on” (p. 148). The truck continued to follow the crowd, and at one point, the driver attempted to pass the procession. There ensued a shouted exchange between the driver and one of the volunteer keepers of order . The priest leading the procession gave a signal to let the truck pass, and stood impassively while the truck and eight other vehicles passed.

      When the report of that incident appears among repeated discussions of the threats and ubiquity of organized crime, governmental corruption, and mismanagement, a reader would find it difficult to avoid developing a negative view of the kind of society in which such an incident would occur. A reader would be more likely to develop such a negative view if he/she already had absorbed widely disseminated negative stereotypes of members of the society being described. The reader who reads Rotella's account of the disruption of the procession will already have read Rotella's frequent references to the lawlessness and ungovernability that is supposedly rampant in Calabria. How easy it would be for a reader to then think, "Just like one of those thick-headed Calibresi."

          As a result of my experiences I have determined that one must be very cautious about accepting the unauthenticated observations of travel writers. A reader must take care to avoid adopting the assumption that a writer’s declarations had been carefully researched, and that the writer’s assertions represent the most acceptable perspectives on objects and events under discussion. A reader might wish to withhold agreement with a number of Rotella’s assertions and perspectives Endnote [16] , particularly when Rotella makes those observations and assertions through quoting his guide, Giuseppe. A writer describing the environment and the people of an area can easily denigrate the people and the living conditions that do not meet the standards of the writer, particularly if the area has already earned a negative reputation. On the other hand, a travel writer can romanticize the people and the living conditions of an area that had already been romanticized by other writers.

          A reader, of course, must determine whether or not to put confidence in over generalized observations – the bane of travel writers. It seems possible that a person contemplating a reconnection to his/her Calabrian heritage might have reason to carefully assess the foundations of many of Rotella’s observations. As noted, Rotella uses the rhetorical ploy of attributing to his guide, Giuseppe, many observations about people and social conditions in Calabria. Using that ploy, he is relieved of the obligation of defending the authenticity of the assertions. Thus, for example, when reading Rotella’s frequent insertion of Giuseppe’s claims about the criminal and judicial activity of the Calabrian society, a reader is left to wonder whether or not such claims should frame one’s thinking about Calabria.

          In the end, a book such as that which Rotella has produced should neither dissuade or persuade a potential reconnecter from taking the time to explore the heritage of his family in Calabria.

          Overall, however, one must see, through all of Rotella’s text, that his reconnection had brought deep emotional and immense intellectual stimulation to the life of his family – on both sides of the world.

          A potential reconnecter should experience envy at the gains that Rotella’s reconnection had produced. Having been stimulated by Rotella’s book, the potential reconnecter should begin to dig out whatever family records and other information from which he/she can gain information about the origins of his/her adventuring forebears. If the information is written in Italian, the internet provides a wide variety of tools for learning some rudiments of the Italian language Thereupon, the candidate for reconnection should read several of the many available books on the history of Southern Italy and Sicily, search the internet for the mass of information on the regions of Southern Italy, and read the writings of other reconnecters. Thereupon, he/she should book his airline tickets, and then fly into a new phase of his/her life.


     Alba, Richard D. (1985). Italian Americans: Into the twilight of ethnicity. New York: Prentice Hall

     Blanchard, P. (1990). Blue guide; Southern Italy from Rome to Calabria. New York: W. W. Norton.

     D’Acierno, P. (1999). Cinema paradiso: The Italian American presence in American cinema. In P. D’Acierno (Ed.) The Italian American heritage: A companion to literature and arts (pp. 563-690). New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.

     Darwin, C. (1995). On the origin of species. (First published in 1859)

     Dickie, J. (1999). Darkest Italy: The nation and stereotypes of the mezzogiorno, 1860-1900. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

     Douglas, Norman (First published, 1915). Old Calabria. .

     Italic Studies Institute (2002) Research project: Italian culture on film (1928-2002).

     Mancuso, J. C. (2003). A psychology of immigrants interacting with members of established culture groups. In Scheer, J. W. (Ed.), Crossing Borders – Going Places (pp. 151-166). Geissen, Germany: Psychosozial-Verlag

     Mancuso, J. C. (2001) Reconnecting to an Italian-American Ethnic Self. /venturfr.html

     Morton, Henry C. V. (1969). A traveler in Southern Italy. New York: Dodd Mead.

Pozzetta, George E. (Ed.) (1991). Americaniization, social control, and philanthropy. (American Immigration and Ethnicity, Vol 14) New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc. .

     Rotella, M. (2003). Stolen figs: And other adventures in Calabria. New York: North Point Press.

     Salins, P. D. (1997). Assimilation, American style. New York: Basic Books.

     Schneider, J. (Ed.) (1998). Italy’s “southern question:” Orientalism in one country. New York: Oxford.

     Stella, Gian A. (2002). L’orda. Quando gli albanesei eravamo noi. Milan: Rizzoli.



Untitled Endnote 1 =
In an effort to find a term to describe the great emigration from Italy to other parts of the. world, I have chosen an Italian term: l’avventura. This term takes one back to the basic etymology of the term adventure. The term adventure indicates a looking to the future. The emigrants certainly looked to the future as they ventured into relatively unknown and, in many cases, threatening locations. In doing so, they undertook an adventure of daunting character in order to assure a more favorable future for themselves and their families.


Endnote 2 =
  A person who associates regularly with Italian-Americans might be surprised at the number of families who transmit, almost pridefully, lore that describes one or another member of the family who had been involved in illegal activity. Rotella comments on the seemingly prideful claims that a family member had engaged in organized criminal activity: “while many Italian-Americans cry out against stereotypical, derogatory portrayal in movies that glorify the mafia, just as many revel in the power the mafia dons wield” (p. 165). [One might cautiously ask if Rotella has data on he numbers of Italian-Americans who revel in the power of the mafia dons.]

     Other Italian-Americans aim to enhance the status of their families by claiming that their immigrating forebears had held positions in the landowning or “upper” classes of Southern Italy and Sicily. Those luckless immigrants, the story goes, came upon hard times, and were forced to join the millions of uneducated, impoverished peasants who left their homeland. This version of the family’s misfortunes can gain added color by including in the tale a sequence that describes the way that one of the criminal organizations in Italy had engineered the decline of the family. A further embellishment includes the description of the way that one of the descendants of the family had returned to Italy to reclaim the family’s fortunes, only to be warned by a “knowledgeable” informant that the returning claimant would expose himself/herself to grave danger were he/she to continue his/her quest.


Endnote 3 =
  Having included in his text this Pagliacci-like story about his grandfather’s Calabrian vengence, Rotella might have gathered more information in order to fill in some of the important details. Exactly what had the man done to merit the loss of an arm? Did the man blithely accept the loss of his arm?


Endnote 4 =
  In his text Rotella tells his readers that “Figs grow almost everywhere in Calabria” (p. 108) and “... in Calabria figs are ubiquitous, taken for granted, and little premium is placed on them” (p. 111). I wonder, then, why Rotella would choose to fix as his book’s title an event that would constantly remind his readers’ of an image of Calabrians as small time thieves who purloin objects on which little premium is placed. .


Endnote 5 =
  As I read further into Rotella’s account, I became somewhat less envious of the availability of Giuseppe as a personal guide – his cicerone (a term alluding to Cicero – a very talkative person). It seemed to me that Giuseppe became the source of information about many negative aspects of Calabrian people and life. That Rotella reported on Giurseppe’s pronouncements without seeking authentication of the data that his guide provided seriously detracts from Rotella’s effort to illuminate the life of the region. The over relaince on Giuseppe as the source of information, however, points up Rotella’s consistent overlooking of the availability of credible sources of information. A traveler can find that even tiny towns in Calabria boast a "pro loco" -- an organization of involved citizens who undetake projects that celebrate the culture and history of their town. A very active pro-loco operates in Gimigliano. Rotella could have found, for example, pro locos in Crotone, Ciro, Corigliano Calabro, Spezzano Albanese, and Squillace -- all towns that he visited. Anyone who stops at an office of a pro loco will be regaled with pamphlets and brochures, many of which are carefully researched texts written by citizens of the town. Additionally, from my experiences, one can expect that avaliable members of the pro loco will very cordially engage a visitor in informative and enthusiastic discussion about his/her town.


Endnote 6 =
  In the second chapter of his book, Rotella indicates that he somehow concluded that Calabria could be regarded, metaphorically, as “a nice piece of ass” (p. 22). At several other places in his book, Rotella offers observations that set images about exploitative sexual activity as a part of Calabrian life. However, Rotella does not offer any official statistics on the matter of prostitution or sex slavery, nor does he report any direct experience with prostitutes. It would be most unfortunate if a more timid person planning to reconnect to his/her Calabrian heritage would worry about visiting a part of the world that can be regarded as a ravaged woman, wherein is located a port city where the “chief import is prostitutes,” and a town in which, according to Giuseppe,“nothing is done” about sex slavery.


Endnote 7 =
 As I read Rotella’s description of the book which included an end paper showing a flow chart of the hierarchy within the mafia, I was reminded of the Italian-Americans that have tried to show their connections to “the power of the mafia” by claiming that a relative or a neighbor had a place in the mafia hierarchy. When I hear such lore, or read a writer’s account of mafia subterranean activity, I have wondered why the law enforcement agencies are not credited with having acquired the same information that the carrier of the lore had acquired. Surely, an “end paper [that] showed a flow chart of hierarchy within the mafia” (p. 165) would be useful to law enforcement agencies.


Endnote 8 =
  A reader of Rotella’s book might puzzle over how Rotella had reached a level of expertise on the activity of Calabrian organized crime that would allow him to judge that a native Calabrian – a man who engaged in writing (an “antisocial activity” [p.166], according to Rotella) – knew less about such activity than did he.


Endnote 9 =
  Giuseppe Musolino holds a place in Calabrian mythology that one might compare to the status that Robin Hood once might have held in Nottinghamshire. By doing a world wide web search, one can chose to access one of many www sites that provide information about the celebrated bandit. Norman Douglas, about a decade after Musolino was sentenced to prison; wrote, in 1915, his analysis of Musolino’s place in Calabrian society.


Endnote 10 =
  One wonders why Rotella did not take the opportunity to question those four police officers in order to gain some kind of authoritative confirmation of the stories of organized crime that he had heard from informants such as his guide, Giuseppe. Or, having missed such opportunities, why did his research propensities not carry him toward an exploration of authoritative sources of information that one can easily access on the www.

I find it equally explain why Rotella would put so much energy into exploring and chronicling information about organized crime whereas he had not been stimulated to explore other facets of Calabrian life that might have enriched his reconnection experiences. For example, he fails to mention the burgeoning development of the agriturismo movement. Nor does he explore the significant changes in Calabrian life that accompanied the land distributions of the 1950s. (See Inequality, Civic Culture, etc. for a discussion of effects of land distribution on Southern Italy.)


Endnote 11 =
  Indeed, the control of family size does relate to economic issues. I have regularly heard my age peers, in Southern Italy, assert, “We are not going to have children so that we can send them north to find employment.”

The matter of family size and population growth has become a major issue in Italy. Currently, Italy’s reproduction of its own population is near zero, and the trends suggest that, in several years, Italy will reach negative population growth levels.

Advocates of population control applaud the Italian people for recognizing the need to curb population growth, whereas other Italians see these trends as negative. Concerns about the influx of members of alien cultures spurs particularly strong reactions. At the same time, some economists and demographers view Italy as a living laboratory wherein the problems associated with negative population growth can be confronted and solved.


Endnote 12 =
  It is difficult to determine whether Rotella provides a reader with Giuseppe’s view in order to transmit useful information or in order to show the kind of misguided monologue in which a person can engage. A quick search of the information available on the world wide web reveals that 70 percent of Italy’s olive oil is produced in Apulia and Calabria. Apulia, without doubt, is the leading olive oil producing region, accounting for about 48 percent of the production, while Calabria accounts for about 22 percent of Italy’s olive oil production. Anyone who has visited Calabria, intermittently over the last 30 years would have observed the proliferation of olive groves. Someone must be doing a creditable job of organizing the marketing of all that oil.


Endnote 13 =
  What is a reader to conclude from Rotella’s speculation about the occupants of the hotel who required the protection of “uzi-toting military guards” (p 239 )? When Rotella saw the security personnel, did he conjecture that the persons being protected were “probably judges” (p. 239) who needed protection from the powerful criminals that he believed would brazenly carry out public assassinations in Calabria? Perhaps another observer would speculate that the persons being protected were Saudi Arabian sheiks who had moored their luxury yacht in Reggio’s port so that they could enjoy a fine Calabrian dinner after they had viewed the Riaci bronzes! Or, another writer, having observed the scene, and hoping to include a passage describing the scene in his book might have wandered over to the hotel and engaged the guard in a conversation by askng, “What is the reason for the special security in the hotel?”


Endnote 14 =
  A reader might find it difficult to believe that Calabria had enlightenment to export during the early part of the XVIth Century. During the early years of that century, South Italy was in more than usual turmoil as the Spanish King Ferdinand II of Aragon took over from a previously installed Aragonese line, that had ruled for about 60 years (1443-1501), following their ousting of the Angevins (1266-1442). Thereupon, Ferdinand united Sicily and South Italy under the Spanish crown as a vice regency..

It turns out that Telesio acquired little of his enlightenment in Calabria. He had left Cosenza when he was about nine years old, at which time he went to Milan to study with a scholarly uncle. Thereafter he studied in Rome,. He earned a doctorate at the University at Padua, when he was 26 years old.

As for Telesio having “wrested scientific thought from the grips of the church” (p. 212), it should be note d that apparently the church rulers did not hold any grudges against Telesio, who enjoyed the hospitality of institutions of the Roman Church. He lived in a Dominican monastery for nine years (15 35-1544). Pope Pius IV offered him the post of Archbishop of Cosenza.

Eventually the train of thought that Telesio propounded did prompt major changes in accepted epistemological views. He contested the Aristotelianism injected into Church thinking by refuting the idea that knowledge could be acquired by strict reasoning. Instead, he insisted that persons could acquire knowledge only through direct sensory experience. This position, along with positions ancillary to this perspective, led to the major shifts that introduced scientific study based on observation and data collection.

Had Rotella wanted to lionize a Calabrian thinker who forthrightly contested Church doctrine, he might better have introduced his readers to Tommaso Campanella, who was born inStilo – a town that Rotella mentions as one of the towns that had prospered during the period when Byzantium control prevailed in the region.

Campanella, born in 1568, was a follower of Telesio, and bravely laid out his extensions of Telesio’s doctrine. . Campanella, as a Dominican monk, reached a point where he denounced the inquisition, in 1592, whereupon he was confined to the monastery for a time. After his confinement, he wandered around Italy for seven years. Thereupon he was imprisoned in Naples for inciting revolution against the Spanish, and spent 27 years in Neapolitan prisons, followed by three years of imprisonment in Rome. In 1622, eleven years before Galileo was called before The Inquisition, Campanella wrote a treatise defending Galileo’s position on the utility of the Copernican theories.


Endnote 15 =
 A page into Rotella’s chapter titled “Mattia Preti’s Village,” I learned that Taverna was “known throughout Calabria as the birthplace of her most famous artist, seventeenth century painter Mattia Preti” (p. 78). I anticipated the opportunity to learn about a famous artist that had, for some reason, never come to my attention. Reading my way to Rotella’s discussion of Preti, I needed to pass through 20 lines of text devoted to another discussion of the activity of organized crime and government inaction in Calabria.

The 18 lines of text that Rotella devotes to discussion of Preti center on Rotella’s impressions of the paintings he saw in the Church of San Domenico in Taverna – paintings that he needed to study with only “just enough sunlight filtering through the stained glass” (p. 81), “because it was Easter week, [and] the lights had been turned off the paintings to draw the focus to a statue above the alter of the crucified Christ.”

Nothing in Rotella’s discussion would lead a reader to understand that Preti is known not only in Calabria, but throughout the world as one of Italy’s notable painters – a painter whose works are displayed in galleries from Saint Petersburg to Los Angeles. A reader might be prompted to find clues to explain why, as Rotella informs his readers, Preti painted himself into his painting of Saint John the Baptist..Research on the internet will lead to information about the intricate relationship that Preti had with the Order of Saint John, about why Preti was especially attached to Malta – whose patron saint is Saint John – and why Preti created a magnificent series of paintings in a place as isolated as is Taverna (Clue: In 1680, Gregoria Carafa was elected Grand Master of The Order of Saint John. Carafa was a member of the powerful Carafa family that had major holdings in Calabria).

I have no clues to explain why Rotella would have observed that Preti illustrated himself as “ironically smirking back at the observer” (p. 82). Check it out!!!.


Endnote 16 =
 Another writer would readily contest a number of Rotella’s assertions and declarations.

A. Rotella’s discussion of the assassination of Gioacchino Murat illustrates one of the passages in Rotella’s book for which a knowledgeable editor might have called for a rewrite. Throughout Southern Italy, one sees signs that Southern Italians have held Murat in high esteem. He certainly earned high regard as a glamourous and effective marshal of Napoleon’s cavalry. His tenure as king (1808-1815) of Southern Italy might not earn him the status of a highly enlightened monarch, but one can credibly believe that he introduced measures that were far more beneficial to the powerless people of South Italy than did the Italian Bourbon monarchs that the French-supported rulers had replaced. As king he enforced The Code Civil, founded a university and a naval academy, encouraged the cotton industry, and dismantled huge landed estates. Responding to the rampant brigandage in Calabria, Murat dispatched General Carlo Antonio Manhès to clear the the region of bandits, many of whom were the remnants of savage recruits that Cardinal Ruffo had enlisted to drive out the French-supported Parthenopean Republic (1799-1800)..

Several aspects of Rotella’s description (complete with Murat’s jangling spurs and Murat’s silly braggadocio) of Murat’s execution require clarification. The “people of Pizzo” (p. 227) did not try Murat. He was tried by a military tribunal, on the orders of King Ferdinand IV who had returned to power under the protection of the Austrians, after the defeat of Napoleon. When Ferdinand was asked to advise regarding Murat’s sentence, it is reported that he ordered the commission who tried him to allow him "half an hour to receive the last rites." And, one could certainly question whether or not Murat died “by the law” (p. 227). Ferdinand wanted a hasty trial, fearing that the people of the country would rise to rally to a man who many of citizens once admired, so he hastily appointed a kangaroo court made up of military officers rather than allow Murat to defend himself in a drawn out civil judicial proceeding.

B. In describing his visit to the storage room of a home that Rotella visited, he indicates that he had observed “salsicia, or shoulder meat” (p. 52). My curiosity led me to attempt to confirm, in the first place, if salsicia was something different from salsiccia the term used to name the sausage preparations that are commonly served in Italian homes and restaurants. I could find no evidence that the term salsicia designated something different from the stuff designated by the term salsiccia. Apparently, one must conclude, many writers use the term salsicia to refer to a type of sausage. A comprehensive Italian dictionary, however, lists only the word salsiccia as the term for Italian sausages. I could find no place where the term is used to designate “shoulder meat.”

C. I also found myself puzzling over several of the other of Rotella’s descriptions of food and menus. He describes one meal at which he was served “shells filled with ground pork and tomatoes, a lasagne with pesto and béchamel sauce ..., a tart filled with ground pork and covered with bread crumbs, a pizza rustica stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella” (p. 204). He describes another meal in which he was “served penne with tomato sauce, ..... fragini, too, a kind of calzone filled with ricotta” (p. 191) Though Italian-Americans have lavishly adapted Italian food customs in ways that would allow a host to serve several dishes that would be regarded a primi piatti (usually pasta-type dishes), in Calabria, I have never been served a meal that featured several such dishes.

D. In giving an account of his visit to Crotone, Rotella tells of stopping to visit the remnants of the elaborate Greek Sanctuary to Hera. A single standing column stands as the most outstanding structure that remains.of the sanctuary, thus the site is known as Capo Colonna. Rotella reports that Capo Colonna stands “twenty-two miles south of Crotone’ (p. 90). Every reference that I checked indicates that Capo Colonna is located 11 kilometers from Crotone. He goes on to say that, “The column is the last remnant of the Greek city of Crotone” (p. 90). Is the reader to conclude that the ancient Greek city was located “twenty-two miles” south of the location of the modern city of Crotone?”

If he would have checked back on Douglas’ (1915) book, which he indicated that he had read, he would have found Douglas describing his walk on the shore at Crotone,“Town visions are soon left behind; it is very quiet here under the hot, starlit heavens; nothing speaks of man save the lighthouse flashing in ghostly activityno, it is a fixed lighton the distant Cape of the Column”

E. Giving the history of Crotone, Rotella wrote, “After Hannibal and the Longobards, the Byzantines, and, in the middle of the sixth century the Normans.....” Of course, the Romans controlled Crotone during the six centuries between Hannibal having left Crotone to return to Carthage and the collapse of the hegemony of Rome. Though the Longobards extended their control deep into South Italy, they did not gain control of Apulia and Calabria, which remained under the control of Byzantium until the Normans took control of all of South Italy. Chroniclers reported that the Normans first became involved in the politics of Southern Italy in the year 1000 C. E., which, of course, is not the “middle of the sixth century.”

F. Rotella offers a series of questionable assertions when he discusses Sila mountains and forests, “The Greeks had all but cleared the forests for their shipbuilding industry, leaving barren, windblown mountains. The Romans had deforested the region for the same reason (as they did the rest of Italy” (p. 171). A sound hypothesis would attribute the deforestation of much of Italy to the production of charcoal, which was a major fuel for heating interiors, for baking the immense numbers of clay tiles and pottery that underlay the economy of the Mediterranean. Contrary to the claim that the Sila was left barren by the Greeks and Romans, other chroniclers report that until the early part of the XXth Century, one could find virgin forests in the rugged Sila. A historian could safely suggest that the region around Gimigliano benefitted economically from the harvesting of the huge trees that could be found in the Sila. Again, had Rotella checked back on Douglas to read Douglas’ chapter on the Sila, he would have found Douglas’ discussion of “virginal forests.” He also would have been reminded that the central government of the new nation of Italy continued to treat South Italy as a colony by encouraging wealthy enterprises from North Italy and other European countries to plunder and sell the timber resources of the Sila.

The people of the Abruzzo region who take great pride in the Parco Nazionale di Abruzzo, will take strong issue with Rotella’s claim that “This [The Sila massif] is the only region of Italy where wolves, bear, wildcats and boar roam the dense forests” (p. 171).

G. After first offering a paean to Gay Talese’s writings on Calabria, Rotella writes an account of a battle near the town of Maida, the place of origin of Talese’s father. Rotella writes, “Maida was the last holdout of the French during their brief rule of the Two Sicilies. ... The battle proved that Napoleon’s army could be defeated ....” (p. 183). When the battle took place Napoleon was far from Maida, coming off some of his most successful campaigns in Germany. It was in 1806 that. the French returned to Southern Italy, to once again drive out the monarchy headed by the king then known as Ferdinand II. The British forces that fought at Maida did send the French forces into rout, but they withdrew to Sicily, which was protected from the French by elements of the British fleet. Far from Maida being “the last holdout of the French,” the French supported government of Naples continued in power until 1815, when Napoleon was finally and utterly removed from the European scene. It was then that Ferdinand returned to the mainland and Gioacchino Murat was expelled from the monarchy, whereupon Ferdinand reinstituted his repressive regime.

H. Rotella describes a scene in the town of Pizzo: “Pizzo’s piazza overlooks a Norman castle built in 1486 by Ferdinand I of Aragon” (p. 226). I puzzled over the possibility that the Aragonese would have built a Norman castle. By 1486, thirty-three years after the Ottomans had used cannon in their conquest of Constantinople, military engineers would have engaged in folly had they built a castle in the style of the Normans, whose rule had been ended in South Italy during the mid-1200s. I found no other source in which Pizzo’s Aragonese castle is described as a Norman castle.

I. Those of us who can recall traveling to Italy with a money belt containing a stack of traveler’s checks that would turn into lire only after all kinds of machinations and then our celebration at becoming aware that ATMs were available in the most remote Italian villages will wonder where Rotella had encountered “a banking system that had jumped directly from postwar hard currency to ATMs, passing the traveler’s check phase of tourism altogether” (p. 197).

' '

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