Author Archives: Valentina Scarlata


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.


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. 


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.


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.  

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. 


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.


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.     


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.

Never light up a cigarette from a candle

Main piece:

M.P.: If I am not wrong, my grandmother was the one who told me this. So we were in her house and I lighted up a cigarette from a candle. My grandmother basically turned white and told me “No, you don’t light cigarettes from candles”. Whereupon, I didn’t know the reason why. Wait how was it. [pauses in a monument of reflection]. Ah Yes. My grandma said “you don’t light up cigarette from candles because every time you do so a sailor dies”. 
From what I understood there is some sort of historical reason behind this belief, but I am not sure about the specific origin.


My informant is a 23 years old girl who was born in Bologna, Italy, and whose paternal grandmother is now in her 80s. She mentioned this piece to me, because she remembered being particularly surprised by it, especially considering that, despite having been a smoker for quite a bit now, she had never heard it before her grandma advised her against doing such thing. She also added that, even if she does’t consider herself superstitious, she has never done it after the mentioned episode.


My informant told me this folk-belief while she was smoking a cigaret between a course and the next one during a lunch. 


Many are the folk-belief and folk-superstitions which are somehow related to history and historical events. In this case, -despite the multiple assumptions made- this particular saying, mostly diffused in Eastern and Northern Europe, is said to derive from the period in which sailors, after working on sea, used to top up their profits by making and selling matches. Consequently, lighting up a cigarette from a candle, instead of using a match, implied less earnings for sailors, who, left without money, could have eventually starved to death.

In my opinion, two are the things worth of mention. First, it is interesting to notice the process of diffusion the belief underwent, considering that from Eastern and Northern Europe -where the superstition is though to be originated-, it was, someway, propagated in other parts of the continent (if not the world) as well.

Secondly, the aesthetic of belief is, here, one of the principle sources of appeal, as my informant pointed out that, despite her lack of “faith” in superstitions, she has never lighted up a cigaret from a candle never again. This was, probably, due to the fact that it was her grandmother who told her this and, as often happens, older people are perceived as wiser, and, at the same time, the absence of explanation -and the almost mystical curiosity which from it derives- made it more mysteriously fascinating. 


Potato to cure burns

Main piece:

L.S.: I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this , but if you have some kind of burn you have to cut a potato and place one half on the injury and….with that the burning sensation goes away and you do not feel the pain anymore. My mother taught me this, and I myself taught it to my friends.

V.S.: Do you know what could be the origin of this practice?

L.S.: No I don’t. I don’t even know where my mother learnt this from. But I am pretty sure it’s something quite ancient. Also, my mother, after applying the potato on the burn used to draw on it with her hands the sign of the cross and recite a sort of prayer. And I remember saying to her “Mum teach me it, so that when I get burned or when my children will get burned, I will know how to do this myself”. And she used to tell me ”No, I cannot tell you it. There is only one day in which I can tell you this….this prayer is taught only one day a year”.

Once she finally told me it, but I do not remember it anymore [laughs].


My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. She told me of practicing this folk-medical remedy still nowadays and she told me of having taught it to her children as well.


The informant recounted me this while having a tea in her living room.


Countless are those practices that could be vernacularly defined in Italy as rimedio della nonna, grandmother’s remedy, which match the border genre of folk-medicine and, to a certain degree, folk-magic. 

As my informant points out, these are, in the majority of cases, procedures and costumes which are passed on from generation to generation, and which are difficulty attributable to a single and unique creator. In this way, they perfectly reflect folklore’s definition, them becoming part of what could be described as common knowledge, and distancing themselves from scientific knowledge, which is often characterized by the singularity concerting an individual genius -either of a research group or of a single scientist. 

The reason why this particular folk-medical practice can also be seen as overlapping with contagious magic is due to the fact that, as the informant recounts, the usage of a potato in order to cure a burn was often associated with a prayer and ‘religious touch’(cross sign), involving some sort of spiritual power acting on the wound. This tells a lot about the identity Italians used to share, particularly in the past, which saw a quite strong attachment to religion, and, especially, Catholicism. Furthermore, the emphasis my informant put on the secrecy of the prayer’s words, makes another aspect emerge, which is the one of generational division and shamanic authority adults were invested with in those sorts of small rituals. 

This practice is still, nowadays, performed, but, as many of the other grandmother’s remedies, is slowly losing adherence and utilization, leaving more space to ‘proved’ science. 

Oh Bella Ciao

“Una mattina mi son svegliato,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao!
Una mattina mi son svegliato
e ho trovato l’invasor.

O partigiano portami via,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
o partigiano portami via
che mi sento di morir.

E se io muoio da partigiano,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
e se io muoio da partigiano
tu mi devi seppellir

Seppellire lassù in montagna,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
seppellire lassù in montagna
sotto l’ombra di un bel fior.

E le genti che passeranno,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
e le genti che passeranno
mi diranno «che bel fior.»

Questo è il fiore del partigiano,
o bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao,
questo è il fiore del partigiano
morto per la libertà”


One morning I awakened,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
One morning I awakened
And I found the invader.

Oh partisan carry me away,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
oh partisan carry me away
Because I feel death approaching.

And if I die as a partisan,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
and if I die as a partisan
then you must bury me.

Bury me up in the mountain,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
bury me up in the mountain
under the shade of a beautiful flower.

And all those who shall pass,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
and all those who shall pass
will tell me “what a beautiful flower.”

This is the flower of the partisan,
oh beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodbye, beautiful goodby, bye, bye!
this is the flower of the partisan
who died for freedom


L.S: “This was sang by the partisans during the…the time of victory. When American troops arrived and the German occupation ended, partisans and soldiers and…a bit everyone actually sang this song. It represented liberation.”

My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. Because of the time and location of her birth, she fully experienced the years of the Second World War, her town and own house being occupied both by German and American troops. This song recalls to her memory that chaotic and intense age, and especially evokes the sensation of freedom, relief and liberation felt when the end of the conflict was announced. Still today, when she is about to turn 90, she perfectly remembers the lyrics of the song, which remains in the collective imaginary as the emblem of resistance and liberty.


My informant and I were having a tea in her living-room and when I asked her if she knew some folk-songs she immediately started to sing it.


This song is a popular Italian hymn to freedom and liberty, known by everyone for its correlation to partisans and World War 2’s cease-fire. However, not many people know that its musicality, its rhythmic organization of verses, and part of its lyrics were taken by more ancient folk-music of the peninsula. The most glaring similarity can be noticed in a song which carries the same title and which was sang by Mondine, rice weeders, who would perform it as work-song during the long hours spent in paddies. 

This song, because of its evolution and its significance, perfectly reflects the definitions of folklore, that is “artistic communication in small groups” and “multiplicity and variation”. While the latter seems quite self-explanatory -especially considering the previously-mentioned past influences and  the various versions existent-, the first one presents itself as more interesting to analyze. In fact, Bella Ciao was transformed, throughout time, from a form of expression between members of a specific and relatively small community, that is rice weeders, into a chant performed by a wider group of people, joined by the same purpose: fighting for the liberation of their country. Later on, it was translated into an actual nationalistic hymn, in which, for a reason or another, the vast majority of Italians recognized a sense of identity. This last affirmation is further confirmed by a more recent factor, which is due to the mash-ups and remixes done after its usage in the famous tv series Money Heist. As a matter of fact, after its utilization in the television drama, the folk-song began to be played in major clubs, discos and musical events worldwide, being continuously remixed and modified depending on the DJ’s tastes and the audience’s ‘satisfaction index’. 

A question now naturally arises: considering the original meaning, isn’t its usage in a Spanish series a sort of cultural appropriation, or better, distortion?