Tag Archives: italian

Ringolevio

Background:

The informant is my friend’s mother who grew up in the Bronx in the 1960s. Ringolevio is a game that they’d play in the streets outside their houses, or in the abandoned lots throughout the neighborhood. The informant told me that Ringolevio was her favorite game growing up as a kid.

Context:

My friend’s mother told me about Ringolevio over a phone call. We were discussing much of her early life growing up in mid 20th century New York City, and she spoke with particular fondness as she reminisced about Ringolevio.

Main Piece:

KB: Ringolevio was my favorite game. We’d play for hours with all the kids on my street. One house was torn down and there was a big, abandoned lot that we would play it in.

Me: So what were the rules?

KB: Well, there was a chasing team and a running team, like cops and robbers. One area would be marked off up against the fence and that would be the jail. The runners would run around the lot while the chasers would chase after them, trying to catch them. If you caught a runner – you had to try and grab them, usually their arm – you would hold on and yell “Ringolevio, coca-cola, 1-2-3, 1-2-3.” If you could say that while holding on to the runner – the runner would try and break free from your grasp – the runner would have to go to the jail area and be locked up. When someone was in jail, one of their teammates could free them by running into the jail area and tagging their jailed teammate without getting caught.

Me: And the girls played with the boys?

KB: Oh of course, everyone played everything together. We all played for hours, and it was quite rough a lot of the time. The boys were really quite rough with the girls and especially each other. A loooot of bruises and scrapes.

Me: How many kids were on one team?

KB: However many we had as long as there was even numbers.

Me: Were there ever any fights?

KB: No, not a lot of fist fights. The boys would get into arguments and things could get out of hand, but really never any fist fights that I can remember. We mostly played ringolevio at the age before boys started getting into scraps and things like that.

Thoughts:

Although we were speaking on the phone, I could deduce that the informant was thoroughly enjoying the flood of memories that was rushing back to her as she described her favorite childhood game. What stands out to me is the lack of tools or objects needed to play Ringolevio. All that is needed is the kids and some open space – no bats, balls, or nets. The prospect of boredom spurs immense creativity in kids looking to avoid it at all costs. Games like Ringolevio are customs that unify the bonds and relationships between kids. Ringolevio also appeared to offer a chance to young kids to win the praise and admiration of their friends, as whoever was the fastest and the best at the game was sure to gain the respect of the other children.

Passing the salt

Background: Informant is a 19 year old student. Their parents both grew up in Venezuela. Their mom’s side is Spanish and Italian and their dad’s is Spanish and Israeli. Informant is from Texas and Miami and now resides in Los Angeles. They identify as Latin American and Jewish.

Informant: So, ever since I was little, at the dinner table my dad has this superstition. And his whole family has this superstition that you cant pass salt directly. You have to place the salt shaker down on the table and the other person has to pick it up. If not, it’s bad luck. It’s like, a curse. Like if you pass the salt directly it’s a curse. I don’t know why, I don’t know what it’s about but my dad has always been like that. If he’s like, pass the salt and I try to hand it to him he’s like “no put it down on the table,” like he won’t accept it. At all. And when I go to my aunt’s house for a high holiday or something it’s the same thing. It’s like, in his family, so now we all do it obviously. And also if someone spills the salt, you get the salt and throw it over their shoulder because that’s also bad luck. 

Reflection: This story is a great example of superstitions in people’s culture. The informants dad enforces this superstition and it’s completely backed up by his family as they all believe in it together. I thought it was interesting how the informant described how this superstition was highly specific to their family, but this is actually a very common superstition that many have. It shows how people’s folklore becomes very personal to them even when it’s so universal. 

‘Tarantella’ Dance

Background: My informant is a 52-year-old with Italian heritage. Both his mother and father are from Mola di Bari, a seaside town in Southern Italy. The informant was born in Toronto, Canada and moved to Santa Monica, California at a young age. While he was not born or raised in Italy, the strong Italian roots in his family meant that Italian culture and tradition was still very prevalent in his household. The informant is also my father.

Context: During a car ride, I asked my father about interesting Italian folklore he knew about while growing up in an Italian family.

Main Piece: “This is a very famous Italian tradition, basically every Italian wedding I have been to has it. It’s the ‘tarantella’, the dance of the tarantula. Basically, as I understand it: Taranto is a town in southern Italy, which is actually near Bari where our family is from, and in the middle ages someone was bitten by a poisonous tarantula, and the myth had it that she went into a trance and the only way to get her out of the trance was by encircling the woman and doing a really frenzied dance with a unified rhythm. So, whenever you go to Italian festivals, Italian celebrations, and particularly Italian weddings you often times will see everyone doing the ‘tarantella’, which is basically a circle or a group of people surrounding the bride or the groom and they are all kind of moving in unison. You know, obviously they are not trying to remove a demon, but what they are trying to do is just create a spirit of happiness. But the ‘tarantella’ is very prominent in all kinds of Italian festivals, and it was born out of this myth that the only way that this woman could be saved was by doing this frenzied dance around her so that it would basically exorcise the demon that was in her because she was in a trance having been bitten by a tarantula.”

Interpretation: I have never been to a traditional Italian wedding or festival, so I was not aware of this dance. I found it very interesting that a dance whose origin apparently comes from exorcising a demon is now common in traditional Italian weddings. However, from what I can tell these seems to more of a legend then a myth. Nonetheless a very interesting folk dance with an interesting backstory.

Garlic Necklace

Background: The informant is a 14-year-old high school freshman living in El Segundo, California. The informant is my brother.

Context: After family dinner, my brother overheard a conversation about folklore I was having with my parents and he seemed interested, so I decided to explain the field of folklore to him and even interview him on some of the folklore he was aware of.

Main Piece: My brother described that one time when he got really sick, our grandmother (who is an Italian immigrant) put a garlic necklace around his neck to help him with his sickness. He believes that garlic has health benefits when it comes to illness and Italians used garlic necklaces as a folk remedy.

Interpretation: I did not even know that my grandmother had done this. Because I was interested in this folk remedy, I did a little bit of research and found that garlic necklaces were used to ward off evil spirits. I believe that sickness was likely associated with evil spirits and garlic necklaces were used to ward off the evil spirits and heal the sick. However, interestingly there has been scientific research that has found that garlic contains alliin, which is one of the most powerful antibiotics in the world.  

The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Italian)

The following was told to me by my informant.

Main piece:

“It’s called the feast of the seven fishes, it is an Italian tradition. A lot of my friends do it too, but there’s a lot of variations depending on what region you are from. Every Christmas Eve, we did this and it was led by my grandparents at their house in Pittsburgh. Basically, it’s a big fish feast, and you had to have 7 kinds of fishes. Usually there were mainstays, like calamari, bakala…it could switch around a bit, but there were always seven fish. We always made a special fried bread with mashed potatoes in it that we called rispelli. Then, the tradition came to our house, and I was more involved then, going to the fish market and helping cook starting in the morning. The entire family helped out, and we would have fun, and drink wine, then enjoy the dinner feast. Nobody’s sure what it symbolizes– Seven sacraments maybe? It’s an important number in the Bible. My dad’s family did it when he was little too. It felt special because we only ate that food at Christmas Eve, and when we were kids, we didn’t really like it. But by the time you grow up, you really like it and enjoy the food.”

Context: This was told to me when my informant came over to my house.

Background: My informant is Italian-American from the East Coast. She is from a big, close extended family who enjoys their Italian heritage. Her grandparents were immigrants from Calabria.

Thoughts:
I participate in this every year, too. I love this tradition, and I find it very true that the food really does not taste good but because you associate it with happy memories you learn to love it.