Category Archives: slum culture

Italians.

DadRima&AngeFINALCROPPeople.

It takes all kinds.

And, I’m glad to say so.

What if we were all reticent and deferential? In America, we’d be stuck on a street corner, bowing and gesturing for the other to cross. Crowds would form. Traffic would stall. Chaos to commerce. Only the strong would survive. Finally, one lone person, likely among the shortest, would push through the throng and head across the road, shaking his or her head in disbelief at the inefficiency of it all. That would be the Italian.

For every proponent of tolerance, acceptance, and the next festival in celebration of diversity there’s an old Dago who sits, reading the paper and chuckling. Somebody brings him a sandwich. Talking with his mouth full, he’ll tell you what for. He knows. He’s Italian. We always do.

For the final decade of my twenty five in public education, I worked at an elementary school at the cusp of the county line. Demographically, there were few Italians living over there. True to their history in our town, the surviving generations were still maintaining their family homes closer to the center of the west side. I remember being told by my then very blonde and fair skinned boss that I was “a bit harsh.”

Nobody at the other school, over in Little Italy, would have called me by that moniker. Everybody who worked there or ran that building told it like it was. There was a happy extroversion in that climate. And, the faculty was the most cohesive social group in the entire city. I will never forget the night of my first all school program; there had to have been seven teachers there, all helping run herd, and they’d all organized entirely unsolicited by me. They were led by one woman. She was Italian.

For just under three years, I had a mother in law. She thought Italy was a third world country, and “loved my brown eyed grand children just as much as my blue eyed grandchildren.” Everybody tries, some more than others. But, we’re all different, it’s always easier to stay the way we are, and inherent bias is unavoidable. But, when you cross the line, the Italian will tell you so.

What line?

Well, back when civilization was trying to evolve beyond barbarism, there was a people who, though their motive was to establish power, were adept at assessing a situation, identifying its obstacles, and spending intelligent energy and willpower developing a solution. To expand their influence, roads were developed and constructed, the kind which could be traveled beyond the dusty sandal and walking stick. In fact, entire transport systems were created which ultimately established connections, yielding an increase in trade and cultural exchange.  Prior to this, there were kings and their extended families, and land owners, and slaves, and the poor – the latter, in droves. These expanding road systems enabled pockets of civilization to become independent and self governing, by virtue of their access to resources which existed, well, down the road. These pockets became known as cities.

Yes. The very structure of workable American society is framed by transit routes and cities. And, we have the Romans, from Italy, to thank for it; their drive to achieve a dominating empire left behind what we now call infrastructure.

Oh, and the next time you look at something beautiful that did not occur in nature, take a moment. Be they paintings, sculpture, even cathedrals, much of the world’s most magnificent works of art were created by Italians. Inlaid tile. Stained glass. Frescoes. Even before Michelangelo and DaVinci, there were artisans. These swarthy, well oiled, slightly hairy brutes did their part to decorate the entire, known world. They frosted the cake.

Yes. Every human frailty eventually makes itself known. There is weakness, right along side strength. Nothing lasts forever, not empires, not even life. But, for every moment constrained by decorum, there will be an emergent crisis. Let’s be ready to thank the personality which steps up. That will, eight times out of ten, be the Italian.

From us, you will get candor. We’ll smile at you in public if you deserve it, and reprimand you in kind. You’ll always know where you stand, with us. We are as proud of our heritage as you are of yours, and we know one more thing. We know the value of preserving that history. We are a part of the greatest generation, in this country we call home, and you can call us by our name. It’s pronounced exactly the way it’s spelled.

Let’s eat.

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© 12/22/18    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.        All rights those of the author, whose name is pronounced “Skan – ZILL – o”, and appears above this line. Thank you for your respect.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Closet Politik.

PappyAndTheGirlsAtTheBeachCirca1929
L to R:  Dora Mae; Lydia Elisabeth (“Betty”); Henry Thomas Sweet; Front row, L to R: Martha Louise; Frances

My grandfather was a closet Republican.

Harry Truman was his hero.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, PA, of parents who’d hailed from Cornwall, England, he’d brought his young wife, Mae, across the Commonwealth on or about 1915 to build cranes at Bucyrus-Erie. Yet, Erie, newly founded, was up and coming and this move – for a working class conservative – was, at its heart, progressive.

But, after having attended a tent meeting led by Christian evangelist Billy Sunday, this naturally gruff dogmatist had experienced a conviction of belief which would solidify his politics for life. He brought with him to Erie a Bible thumping, street preacher’s passion and, after meeting two elders of the Plymouth Brethren at the City Mission, would join their fellowship at the Gospel Assembly Hall on East Avenue.

But, Henry Thomas Sweet would not register to vote.

He and the rest of his fellow fundamentalists would populate a small, but ardent, segment of this growing town. Their teachings were the most extreme among conservatives; preaching that only those things due Caesar would be rendered, the rest would be left up to Almighty God – who would put into office whom He will.

Still, Henry Sweet taught his family all the values upheld by the Republican party. Hard work having yielded sufficient income, all resources would be put toward the sustenance of family and a tenth toward “the Lord’s work”, all capital kept close to the vest for just such purposes. The downtrodden were to be regarded as slacking, irresponsible, vagrant, and were admonished – from the street corner pulpit – to “Get up out of the gutter, repent, and get a j.o.b.”

What Henry and Mae did was work. Raising four daughters, they used their hands – baking bread, and delivering it door to door; hooking and braiding rugs, from old, discarded wool coats rescued from the Salvation Army; planting vegetable gardens, and fruit trees, gathering their harvest (had poultry been permitted inside the city limits, they’d likely have had hens and chickens); “slaving” over the stove, preparing meals for the entire, extended family for every holiday and birthday celebration. Mae also sewed, repairing and altering all manner of clothing, and creating from remnants everything from pajamas to suits and spring coats, draperies, and furniture slip covers. Henry, after a long day at the crane factory, maintained every inch of their humble property on East 29th Street, as well as their royal blue Chrysler.

In his final decade, disaffected and excommunicated from the Brethren for “railing”, sunken into his harvest gold La-Z-Boy recliner in the northeast corner of the livingroom reading his National “Geographs” and his Bible, listening to talk radio (and, calling in daily), he would brood.

Sympathy was not part of his lexicon. Compassion was merely a concept, to be contemplated while meditating upon the person of the Christ. Weakness was not to be indulged; one was given a life, and one must take up the reins of it and serve the Lord with all one’s might. Paying income tax was the bane of existence.

Three of the four daughters carried on the traditions of his closet politics. All honorable citizens they, nevertheless, also never registered to vote – raising their children to accept having come out from among them, being separate, avowing to touch not the unclean thing. There were us, the elect bride of Christ, and there were them, the reprobate, damned to hellfire lest they repent and believe the Gospel.

I don’t know what happened, but something did. Time, and its inevitable evolution. Being Republican of mentality used to mean such noble (if self centered) intent, even if it appealed to the most narrow minded among them. One wonders if the GOP was forever affected by those who would only vote for he or she whom their God had ordained. Being a Democrat came to defy such selfish, belief driven ideals. In between, I now find myself – a registered Independent, caught, without a closet in which to hide. We are all part of America, a nation of so many countries, fighting to stay socially intact, more exposed than ever before, members of a globe of earthly nations pushing and pulling and hanging on.

And, the world’s eyes are still on our family.

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©10/15/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring It To The Table.

 

He probably had no idea.

But, many women crushed on Anthony Bourdain, myself included.

Given what we have now been told about his life, his worth, and the scope of his experience, this fact may have come to bear no importance to him. Like everything he’d touched, women were likely a “been there/done that” episode in an otherwise keenly focused and ultimately vital social intention.

Because, Anthony Bourdain wasn’t just a fantastic chef. He was an explorer, a journalist, and a visionary. He may also have been, in spite of his rugged earthiness, rather an idealist – receiving, with private reflection and no small frustration, the socio-political realities he encountered.

And, he found them all.

From the rapid fire race of the planet’s cosmopolitae to the cramped corners of primal civilization, Bourdain covered the story – by boat, rickshaw, taxi, mule and the boots on his own feet. And, he reached the very heart of it all, at table.

There is something about the art of not just preparing good food, but in the eating of it. When this man sat down to share a meal, be it finger fried or stew pan steamed, he brought his open mind. And, as his interviews sat with him, they ceased being subjects and became friends. And, so many of them had, until he came along, never been seen or heard by anyone outside of their tiny place in the sun.

In many cases, neither had the culture they represented. And, this was Bourdain’s fascination. He didn’t just bring his appetite. Anthony Bourdain was hungry. He really, genuinely, wanted to know them all, and everything about their lives.

And, they told him.

They told him, both through their food and the act of sharing it. By coming to the table, the story itself unfolded – unprovoked, and unrestrained. It spoke candidly, about the political upheavals of the day and the ancient history in a single pot of oil. It openly expressed the views of its people – their ideas, their needs, their hopes for survival and preservation.

I don’t know what happened in that hotel room in Paris. We are long past the proving of any of it. And, maybe that is just what Anthony Bourdain wanted. Beyond marketing and media ratings, release to our eyes and ears his legacy. Let the story tell itself.

But, do pass the mushy peas.

Please.

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©9/16/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo    All right those of the author, who wonders just how many private islands there are. Really.   Thank you for respecting original material.

littlebarefeetblog.com