Author Archives: Valentina Scarlata

The embodiment of the Italian spirit in a Meme

Main piece:

L.L.:Ok so. [laughs] Every-time I see this meme I start to laugh. [laughs again] Basically there is this gif, which has now become also a sticker that we send to each other in chats, where there is the woman, I think she is a television’s reporter or something like that. Hum…anyway, she basically looks directly into the camera and does all these gestures and facial expression which are simply hilarious to me. Probably because it perfectly portrays the way I and the majority of other Italians act. And, I don’t know. To me it’s funny because I associate it with the daily online conversations I have with my friends and how we use it to simply represent what we would be doing if we were face to face. Also, [laugh again] it’s so funny because it has now become a thing we do “live”, so we basically mimic the woman, who is not doing anything special or different from what we would actually do normally. But I don’t know, when we now do those kinds of gestures, all the people of my generation know who are we referring to…It became a sort of national indirect joke, I guess. 

Background:

My informant is a 19 year old girl who was born in Crotone, Calabria(Southern Italy), but who spent most of her lifetime in Bologna (Italy). She is a dear-fiend of mine, with whom I have daily conversations both on the internet and off. This piece of cyber folklore is actually fairly recent and it came to her attention both through conversations with some friends and thanks to social networks. She particularly enjoys this piece because -as many trends do- it perfectly portrays the general atmosphere of the moment in which it became viral and, at the same time, it is able, somehow, to picture in a couple of frames, typical gestures, expressions and attitudes of the average Italian.

Context:

I myself entered in contact with this piece in the last few months, and we were imitating it during a lunch when I though it would be a good idea for my informant to talk about it and describe it to me. My closest friends and I use these kinds of meme/stickers quite often during online conversations, usually with the intention of either portray on a chat our physical behaviors and expressions, or maybe ‘soften’ more serious topics.     

Thoughts:

I consider this meme quite interesting for various reasons. First of all, it was originally taken from a television clip and re-created by other people-especially teenagers and young folks- on social platforms like Tik Tok or Instagram. Later on, it was transformed in various forms of cyber-folklore, like memes and stickers, which, again, young people started to exchange on chats and online conversation with the main objective of portraying their current facial and body expression also in a written chat. This, in my opinion, perfectly reflects folklore’s definition of “Multiplicity and variation”, it having been transformed and utilized ‘vernacularly’ in various different ways. At the same time, it can also be said to be a sort of new and innovative format of “artistic communication” in small groups, it having been re-crafted in various ways throughout the short-period of time from its creation. 

Secondly, I find it really compelling from a cultural and national point of view. The woman which gesticulates and has such strong facial expressive articulations is able to supremely depict the Italian way of communicating which, despite the sometimes erroneous stereotypes, still talks a lot through hand-gestures and “visual phrasings”. 

I believe this meme -and its affiliated stickers- to be extremely representative of my nationality and this is why I will probably never get tried of using it.

Cornetto

Main piece:

VS: What is this?

P.S.: This is a cornetto, a horn, which was gifted to me by my wife when we started dating, so something like 30 years ago. hmm. I actually have two, because once I thought I lost it and my wife bought a new one for me. I have always carried it with me, in my pocket. Every place I go, everything I do, this object is with me. Always. I take it out of the pocket just when I am at home. 

VS: You said you lost it once, what did you feel when this happened?

P.S: I don’t know exactly. I guess I was sorry. Not like desperate, but yeah sorry. 

VS: What does this object represents for you then?

P.S.: Mhh, I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain. It’s something like a lucky charm, a sort of protection that helped me through the years especially in my job.

V.S: How so? do you think the good things that happened derived from this object?

P.S.: I cannot tell if what happened to me was because of this object. What i know is that since I have carried this object with me, everything in my work-life turned from negative to positive, everything got in its place. One thing, then the other, then again another one. Every single thing fell into place. 

[stops talking for a bit, in a moment of reflection]. 

Yes. It is not lucky in the sense that I buy scratch cards and I win. No, it’s something in a greater sense. It has to be seen from a wider perspective. It is almost like it helped carrying out the process smoothly.

Background:

My informant is my father who was born in Belgium from Italian immigrants and who spent the majority of his lifetime in Italy. His wife is Italian as well, and this is relevant considering that this particular object was gifted to him by her. When asked about this piece, my informant put much emphasis on the fact that the cornetto was given; indeed, in the Italian tradition, for the horn to be lucky and prosperous, it never has to be acquired ‘in first person’, but it always has to be necessarily gifted, otherwise it won’t work, or worst, it could even bring bad luck. Furthermore, in Italy it’s quite common for people to carry with themselves a cornetto, either in the form of jewelry or, like in this case, in the form of talisman. 

Context:

I have seen my father, my informant, carrying this object with him since I have memory. So I decided to delve more into what the object really meant for him, and this is when this conversation happened.

Thoughts:

I have always been extremely fascinated by this object, whose origin mainly derive from the Southern regions of Italy, but that with time was diffused in all parts of the country. It is interesting to notice that the South of Italy has always been considered more connected with superstition, magic and beliefs, than other areas, and this was for much time accompanied by a sort of prejudice Northern Italians would have towards inhabitants of the South. As a matter of fact, especially in more Modern and recent times, the South of Italy has been subjected to sorts of discriminations also because of the high levels of superstitions and popular beliefs present in the area, as they were associated to illiteracy, ignorance and obsolete traditions. I stressed the word “modern” times because I believe it to be highly indicative and relevant for this analysis. In fact, Northern Italy was the first area to be industrialized at the end of the 19th century, making it more advanced and ‘educated’; consequently, the South remained more attached to the past and the un-littered culture. An interesting observation now arises: while many nations used folklore and past traditions as an incentive and a symbol for nationalistic spirits and will of independence, Italy didn’t. The reason probably lies in the fact that, despite its small size and its unification in 1861, since the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Italy had never been a untied country. On the contrary, throughout centuries, it had been governed by many different powers, which controlled different parts of the nation and influenced them with different traditions and lifestyles.

Beside the political-geographical value, the horn is said to be an amulet against the Evil Eye and it is said to have really ancient roots, it being the emblematic representation of the phallus of Priapus, the Greco-Roman divinity of prosperity. In order to be ‘effective’, it necessarily has to be red, which is the color of blood and life. In this way, also a connection with the female counterpart is established, the color red representing the woman’s fertility and sensuality.

The union of these two elements -shape and color- provides the object with a mystical value related to homeopathic magic: because of the law “like produces like”, the horn not only exemplifies the perfect emblem of prosperity and fertility, but it is also meant to attract prosperity and fertility upon the one who carries it.  

Tutti i nodi vengono al pettine

Main piece:

“Tutti i nodi vengono al pettine”

Transliteration: 

Tutti: All

i nodi: knots

vengono: come

al pettine: to the comb

Translation: All the knots come to the comb, meaning that the truth will always come out in the end and that all the bad actions or lies one commits or tells will eventually be unmasked and punished.

Background:

My informant is a 57 years old woman, born in Bologna from Italian parents. She has been told this words since she was a child and they made up much of her upbringing and education, which both had a particular emphasis on the importance of caring for the other and treating him or her as “you would treat yourself”.

Context:

My informant -my mother- has always repeated these words to me since I was really young, and when I asked her if she had some proverbs she wanted to tell me for tis collection project, she immediately brought this one up. We were having breakfast in the informant’s house.

Thoughts:

This proverb wants to be both a teaching and a warning, a philosophical approach to the evil received and, at the same time, an educational indication that should be respected.

On on side, indeed, the proverb serves as a sort of eschatological or, better, karmic ‘prophecy’ for actions committed. I often received this proverb as a reassurance when lamenting for injustices or wrongdoings received, so as to say that those who act badly or give negative energies to others will, in the end, receive their share of punishment. 

On the other hand, this saying also serves as an advice, which basically invites you to always think twice before doing something, especially if this something involves other people as well. 

Even if my general interpretation and understanding of this proverb was mostly related to what I have just explained, as my informant pointed out, the proverb can also be interpreted with a meaning related to truth: no matter how many lies are told or how many obstacle will be placed in its course, truth will always find its way to be revealed. 

I believe this proverb to be quite representative of Italian values and principles, which have been, in time, greatly influenced by Catholicism and Christian doctrine. As a matter of fact, this proverb encompasses both the care one should have towards the other and, simultaneously, the conception of Final Judgment, which are two of the main pillars of the Roman Church.

Ear are ringing, words are singing

Main piece:

S.C.:I don’t know what kind of origin this can have, but my mum used to tell me that when your ears start ringing, someone you know is either thinking or talking about you. Ehm…From the moment that it is something related to the ear, it is said that if the ear ringing is the right one, what the person is saying is positive, while if the ear ringing is the left one, the person is saying bad things. Generally, if in the moment of the ringing you are with a group of people you should ask one random person for a number comprehended between 1 and 21, and that number correspond to a letter of the alphabet. In this way, you get to know who is talking or thinking about you, because…yeah the number the person picked corresponds to the initial of the name of who is talking and thinking about you. 

This should, also, serve as a cure for the fastidious ringing [smiles] I don’t know, saying it out-loud makes it sound absorb, but it has actually always worked for me. Every-time I asked for a number and associated the resulted letter with a person, the ringing stopped. 

Background:

My informant -my mother- is a 57 years old woman, born in Bologna from Italian parents. She learnt this practice from her mum and she passed it down to her daughter as well. She still practices nowadays. 

Context:

I was in the informants’s house when she mentioned and explained it.   

Thoughts:

I think that this tradition is quite common for many cultures and countries, however, I am not so sure about the diffusion of the counter-action my informant suggests taking or performing.

I have always been “educated” at performing it by my mum, who, whenever her ears were ringing, would exclaim “tell me a number”, and then would start to list the alphabet to find the corresponding letter. This particular action of asking for a number can be, in my opinion, interpreted as a peculiar form of conversion superstition, which is meant to send the possibly evil energies or gossips away. In fact, if the ringing is interpreted as a bad thing -as I usually do-, the fact of discovering the source and auto-curing the ‘ailment’ by saying its name out-loud is a form of prevention and shield. 

Pizzica-the original Tarantella

Main piece:

S.C: Pizzica is a dance which draws its origins from our country…from our Southern regions specifically, and it was said that, when women worked in fields, there was the possibility of being bitten by these spiders, these tarantulas, so yeah to alleviate and take the pain of the moment away, these women would start to frenetically dance. 

And it’s a dance which is still performed and it represents a big tradition of our country.

There is also a festival, a really famous festival, which is held in Melpignano every year in late August, called La Notte della Taranta, and it’s a festival which summons various people, who…gather to live all together this moment of joy and freedom…of liberation I would say. 

V.S: Have you ever learnt the steps?

S.C: I tried to learned it many times [laughs], but unfortunately I was never able to. It’s quite complicated, full of little jumps and a…a difficult rhythm to follow. 

Background:

My informant is a 57 years old woman, born in Bologna from Italian parents. However, while her mother was born in Bologna as well, her father came from Apulia, and, for this reason, she spent much of her summer vacations in that particular region, getting to know many of its traditions and folk-pieces. Despite her inability of permitting it, she has always had a sort of sentimental attachment with this practice. 

Context:

I myself knew this folk-dance , and we were in the informants’s house when she mentioned and explained it.   

Thoughts:

Pizzica is one of the various names given to what is most commonly known as Tarantella. The word Pizzica can be translated into the verb “bite”, while the Tarantella or Taranta are terms related to the tarantula, a family of spiders. Other hypothesis claim that the terminology could also derive from the city of Taranto, which is one of the main cities in Apulia, the region in Southern Italy where the dance and ritualist phenomenon is said to have been originated -to be then diffused in all the rest of the Italian South. 

Pizzica fundamentally is a ritual folk dance performed to liberate those who were bitten by spiders while working in fields and in the countryside. It is, indeed, said that the music on which the dancing takes place, which is principally made up of lamenting songs and tambourine’s rhythms, miraculously helped those affected with the bite to free their body from the venom of the animal, which, in the mean time, provoked spasms and agitated movements. As a matter of fact, the dance which is still nowadays performed, presents spasmodic and frantic steps and movements, which are made up of jumps and twirls. In this way, music gained curative and healing properties, and the dance was represented both the effects of the bite and the method through which expelling venom from the organism. 

One of the most interesting aspects is that, especially in historical sources, the majority of the involved parties were women of all ages, which somehow relates this ecstatic performance to the rituals and behaviors adopted by the Bacchantes in ancient Greece. This relation makes more sense if it is considered that Apulia was one of the Greek colonies in ancient Italy, and it wouldn’t be strange for this divinatory practices to having been diffused through …

In present times, pizzica still is one of the main folkloristic traditions of Apulia, which was also translated, since 1998, into an actual festival, which attracts every year hundredth of thousands of spectators and performers. Yes, performers. because, with the live show that professional dancers, musicians and singers provide, everyone in the audience is invited to directly participate, being urged to dance and sing at the rhythm of tambourines!

[Maria Grazia Chiuri, art director of Dior, has made pizzica one of the principal components of 2021 Dior Cruise shows, which took place in Lecce, one of the most important cities in Apulia]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpVCzLQ56yM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5pBRKED0Bc