Several years ago Maurizio De Giovanni wrote a giallo featuring a motley collection of police officers based in a Neapolitan questura – the fictional Pizzofalcone. Thus, a series was born. The cases that are dealt with often reflect real events or societal issues but the best part is following the lives of the principal characters. The protagonist is Ispettore Giuseppe Lojacono, a divorced father of a somewhat rebellious teen-ager. His love interest is Laura Piras, the magistrate often assigned to the cases. The other members of the group are the gun-loving Alessandra Di Nardo, a closeted lesbian with a domineering father; Francesco Romano, buff and with serious anger issues; the older Giorgio Pisanelli who is fixated on a series of suicides that he believes are really victims of a serial killer; Ottavia Calabrese the computer whisperer, mother of a disabled child and trapped in an unhappy marriage; and the boorish Marco Aragona who is brash, tacky and ignorant but a surprisingly effective investigator. Then there is the commissario, Gigi Palma, the calm at the center of the storm, who is trying to keep it all together and who has a soft spot for Ottavia. All these characters’ lives, issues and thoughts are explored and it’s interesting and entertaining to follow along as we get to know them better. Earlier this year RAI aired a six-episode series based on the books and a second season is in the works. The TV series is a lot more superficial than the books but the scenes of Naples are great, the casting is mostly good (serious exception, the Laura Piras character) and, all in all, it’s fun to watch.
Porchetta is a type of roasted pork that is popular throughout the country but is best-known in central Italy where it originated. The whole pig, deboned, is arranged in layers with a lot of salt and a stuffing of garlic and herbs, usually rosemary or finocchiella (fennel weed) and then rolled and roasted on a spit. It’s sliced into chunks and usually eaten as a messy panino with crusty bread or, in Rome, in a rosetta roll or between two slices of pizza bianca. A good porchetta is absolutely mouth-watering with its mix of meat, fat, crispy skin and savory herbs. A highlight of a drive is spotting a white van with its “Porchetta” sign on the side of a road, the more trucks pulled over near it, the better. Like many foods of rustic origin, porchetta now has a following among foodies and is on the menu in many trendy restaurants. The New York Times recently featured an article about the “Porchettiamo” festival in Umbria – a porchetta paradise. To satisfy a craving here in New York, the East Village “sandwich shop” Porchetta has a good version – greasy in a good way and succulent – served on a ciabatta roll. Yum.
It’s not often that you watch an old movie again and it lives up to your memories of it. However, Matrimonio all’italiana (1964) directed by Vittorio De SIca and based on Eduardo De Filippo’s play Filumena Marturano is a real gem. It features great performances by its stars Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni who not only could really act but were both incredibly good-looking! The plot could only be Italian – in fact, Neapolitan – and notwithstanding its old-fashioned nature, it’s delightful but also highlights a certain culture and attitude of wartime and post-war Naples. A true pleasure to see again.
The final volume of Elena Ferrante’s quartet about the Neapolitan friends Lila and Lenu has just been published in English to great acclaim – both by reviewers and friends. Having slogged through the first and the fourth of the books it’s mystifying to me why they are so popular. It may be a more American phenomenon: an informal survey of Italian friends found only two who liked the books. If you can get through the 450-odd pages of the fourth volume there is no real reason to read the preceding three – all the threads are explained, re-explained and tied up. It’s like watching a soap opera after a few years of not watching and seeing which relationships have broken up and reformed in other configurations. And yes, the themes and emotions may be universal and therefore appealing to some people, and it’s also an overview of Italy’s (and Naples’) history from World War Two to the present, but Lila is simply arrogant and obnoxious and Lenu has to be one of the more irritating women on the planet. Besides which I felt like smacking her for what she puts up with from one of her men. It’s all a grand pasticcio and far too many parole, parole, parole… For those who loved the series, stay tuned – the RAI miniseries is coming soon!