Maurizio De Giovanni, an author from Naples, has written many well-received gialli (mystery novels). He is known for a series set in the 1930s featuring Commissario Ricciardi, a diligent investigator cursed with the supernatural ability to see the last moments of the dead. This strange, loner detective and his faithful sidekick Maione are brilliantly depicted as is the fascist era in its menace and limitations. Also playing a vivid role is the city of Naples itself. Fans of noir fiction should like this bleak series – which has been translated into English. De Giovanni has also started a new Neapolitan series, this time, set in the present. The “prequel” Il metodo del coccodrillo (available in English) introduces Ispettore Lojacono, a Sicilian detective transferred to Naples. The following two novels feature Lojacono and his colleagues at the precinct of Pizzofalcone – a precinct which has a last chance to validate itself to the authorities and is staffed by people with “issues.” I like this series better: it’s an Italian police procedural, there are no paranormal phenomena, while grim the plot lines are slightly less dire – there’s even (a little) comedy – and the characters are developing and becoming more three-dimensional. As always, it’s great to be immersed in the wonderful chaos that is Naples.
I was amused by the kerfuffle over Mayor De Blasio’s use of a knife and fork while eating pizza in Staten Island. New Yorkers seemed to be universally appalled by this odd behavior – after all New Yorkers (and maybe Americans in general) use only hands to devour pizza. The mayor defended himself by saying that by using utensils he was being true to his roots because in Italy pizza is eaten that way. He’s right: Italians who visit or live in New York often comment on the odd custom Americans have of eating pizza with their hands… In an informal survey of Italian friends here in NYC, all (from Romani to Torinesi to Perugini to Napoletani) eat pizza with a knife and fork. That is, pizza al piatto (an individual pizza on a plate eaten in a pizzeria) is eaten with a knife and fork. The typical Roman pizza al taglio (fast food pizza, cut into rectangles and wrapped in paper, eaten as a snack or at lunch) is eaten with the hands, usually while standing or walking. So, is there one true way to eat pizza? Not really: it all comes down to culture, habit and preference.
Italians are supposed to be voluble, excitable and incapable of talking without using their hands. This last, although a stereotype, seems to be particularly true: neither I nor any of my friends are capable of talking while sitting on our hands. The New York Times dedicates an article, accompanied by a video and an interactive “tutorial,” to Italian hand gestures and body language. Beyond the amusement factor, gestures are readily recognizable forms of non-verbal communication that are used for emphasis and to highlight emotions about the topic of conversation. Italians use gestures not simply as signals but to add inflection to what they are saying. Look at the interactive feature: it’s fun!
An article in Il Sole 24 Ore highlights some traditional Easter rituals, games and processions in Italy. Throughout the country towns and cities practice varying rites. The most well-known is Florence’s “scoppio del Carro” in which a cart, drawn by oxen, processes through the city. On the cart is a rocket which is made to explode at the end of the procession. This commemorates the sparks that supposedly emanated from shards of the Holy Sepulchre. There are many other traditions that mix religion and folklore. In many towns there are different varieties of egg races and competitions, in others there are processions that represent various aspects of the Easter story. There are fascinating traditions in towns in every region.