Friday, July 12, 2013

Music at an Italian Feast

                We have come again with our folding chairs wanting to hear the music. Most of the words are not understood but we know these songs as well as we eat lasagna and pasta fagioli. These are the songs our parents knew. They are our songs too. They have a different meaning to us. Many of the songs were written when our families emigrated from Italy. The lyrics are stories in themselves. Some of them celebrate love. Some of them hold double meanings with sexual inferences. They are all heart-felt songs. They probably are not sung as many times in Italy as they are here.
 Here we are, under these trees, on a summer’s night, watching the leaves rustle in the breeze. Is the breeze spreading music through this neighborhood? It used to be New Haven’s Little Italy. So many people have come here and it is good to see this. There are as many young as there are old. We are here blending ethnically and trying to hold on to what goes with our surnames.
 We have our favorite songs. They are associated with memories of past feasts. I remember one woman who attended this feast every year. She would shout a request for Malafemmina. When the band did play the song she would shout “whoop” and raise her right fist as if she won a prize. It has become our shared family moment. We jokingly say it and know that eventually the performer is going to sing it.

Malafemmina is about a man’s torn love for a woman. She has a voice like sugar and the face of an angel and yet she is like a viper poisoning his soul. He doesn’t  know to love her or hate her.  The lyrics cannot be expressed like this anymore. How is it though that a man’s torment can be entertaining. There is a quality about these Neapolitan Songs that expresses melancholy, passion, earthiness, comedy, and love. They are the expression of the Southern Italian culture that hopefully will always be sung.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Historic Homes and what we learn

On Monday, my daughter Rachel asked me did I have any plans for the day. I said that I hadn't any plans.
"What do you want to do?", I asked.
She wanted to tour the Mark Twain Home in Hartford. I always wanted to tour it as well. We were close to touring it years ago but it was late.

Our travel to Hartford took twenty minutes from Wallingford. Interstate 91 to Interstate 84 West was easy to pass through. Mid-morning traffic was light.

The visitor center is impressive. There are galleries to explore. We visited the gallery about Samuel Clemens' life. We entered the gallery from the right instead of the left. So we were reviewing his life from the end of life to his birth.

Twain's American Classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was criticized as bigoted because of the "N" word. Twain wrote his dialogue in the vernacular and it was common to call black people that word. We consider the term derogatory now. Twain's original intent was to publish this book as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer but when he returned to the South and saw the failure of Reconstruction, he was saddened to see that the emancipated slaves were still denied rights. There is a quote from his autobiography about viewing slaves being sold. He recollected that there were the saddest faces he had ever seen. Growing up in the South, he heard the justification of slavery preached in sermons. The doubters were told to read the Bible and there written in the holy word was the truth about owning slaves.

I remember in my American Realism course we discussed that turning point for Huck Finn. He is torn between turning Jim, the escaped slave back to his owner or face damnation by turning his back on God's Word. That's when Huck states he would rather be damned than turn Jim in.

When we toured the home we learned about Samuel Clemens. He was only known as Mark Twain in the published world. His wife, children, family, and friends knew him as Sam. The family moved into this house in 1874 and lived there for the next seventeen years. The home was filled with joy. Sam and Livy had three daughters. They lived a wonderful life here. Sam would always say that he spent his happiest years here. They were also his most productive as a writer. His novels Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were written here.
We learned how Susan, Jean, and Clara lived happy and creative lives. When we toured the library, the docent told us that Sam would tell a bedtime story to the girls every night. He used objects on top of the mantel in his story. His daughters would mischievously arrange the objects so he would have to alter the story.

Clemens lost his fortune from an invention, the Pager Collaborator. It was designed for printing but it had many movable parts that needed constant repair. It failed and the family faced bankruptcy. They left their home in Hartford and traveled to Europe. It was there that Clemens rebuilt his fortune with his lectures. The family always wanted to return to their home. They were heart broken when their oldest daughter got sick. Friends thought it would be better if she recovered in the home. She died without her family there. The house was rented to the Bissel Family and Clemens sold the house in 1903.