This is the first in a series of stories about traveling to the island of Ischia in Italy.
Mine are the peasant people of Ischia in Italy. This island is considered a province of Naples in Italy. Ischia neighbors the more famous Capri. Another neighboring island, Procida, had its 15 minutes of fame when the charming film Il Postino was released. When my people left in the 1950s and 1960s, the island was suffering. World War II had decimated the economy of the entire country. And the spirit of the people was shaken. Italians are not ones for war. Truly, they are lovers and not fighters. Fighting Americans (many of whom were related) and changing sides took its toll.
Challenges Change the Islanders
Food and family are the top priorities in Italy. Back then, getting food on the table was difficult. My father disagrees. He doesn’t remember scrambling for a meal. But his older siblings have different memories. They were working the land to make ends meet. It was a tough life. In 1960, when my 13-year-old father left, everything changed. Tourism began to replace agriculture as the island’s prime business.
So, where is Ischia?
Well, it is the largest island in the Gulf of Naples. It is 17 miles southwest of Naples on the western edge of the gulf, according to the World Atlas. Foreigners travel by plane. Often, they have to take a flight to a European capital. Then, they take a shorter flight to Naples. During some times of the year, you can get direct flights from New York’s JFK.
You can easily access the island from Naples or Pozzuoli (birthplace of Sofia Loren). You simply have to take a boat or hydrofoil from either of those places. You go with the boat if you need to put a car or motor scooter on board with you. You go with the hydrofoil if you’re traveling without additional transportation. The hydrofoil, of course, is faster and takes about an hour. The boat will take about 1.5 to two hours. It all depends on whether you make a stop in Procida first.
What Makes the Geography Special
The island is actually a volcano. It last erupted 700 or so years ago. But in 2010 some experts warned it might blow again. No joke. Before you run away from Ischia, consider their final thoughts on the matter. The experts also said an eruption was not at all imminent. Still, they are monitoring it along with nearby Vesuvius.
These volcanic origins are not all bad. They provide rich soil for vegetation. You might credit it with the sweetest fruits and most delicious veggies you’ve ever eaten. Your body might also appreciate thermal waters and mud. Many athletes and ailing people come to Ischia for their healing powers.
For those who trace their roots to Ischia, it lives within the heart. It is where we find family and friends. It is where we find a slice of piece and Nonna’s parmigiana. Can’t beat that.
Criminal Catholicism refers to how mafia, such as the Camorra in Naples, defiles religion. In season 2 of Gomorrah the subject of how mob bosses and their loyalists relate to the Catholic Church is jaw dropping. Already in season 1, viewers observed Don Salvatore’s devotion. He would go to church, pray, and indulge his mamma’s religious pursuits. Yet, he was a vicious mob boss, who murdered anyone who crossed him, including a young boy. He often invoked Jesus, even when intimidating and threatening fellow mobsters.
The Boiling Point
In season 2, the writers of Gomorrah put Don Salvatore’s bizarre religious rituals into focus. At the start of a pivotal episode, he serves as the godfather to the son of a henchman. During this time viewers learn something that the other characters never find out. Don Salvatore is gay. Or at least he is attracted to a transgender woman. He seems to have a real affection for her. But criminal Catholicism and society make him hide his true feelings in public. At the baptism, for instance, he turns away when his transgender partner is performing a song at the party. Later, he brings the transgender partner’s sister to his own birthday party and introduces her as his girlfriend. He sometimes kisses her in the street to show others he’s with a woman.
Things Get Interesting
Don Salvatore’s mother gets word her son is seeing a woman in the “blue houses” and asks to meet his special someone. He tells her they will meet when he is sure it’s a serious relationship. We learn from the transgender woman that Don Salvatore does not drink alcohol, do drugs, or have sex when she jokes about it with her family. We also see a scene in which the transgender woman tries to entice him to make love by taking off her shirt. He says she’s driving him crazy, but he can’t. They sweetly part. But he takes her sister outside to make others believe that is her real girlfriend.
When the transgender partner shows up to sing at Don Salvatore’s birthday party, one of the henchman makes many loud, vulgar jokes about the transgender woman’s “pesce” or “fish.” The transgender woman and her sister posing as the girlfriend run out in tears. When the cake comes out, Don Salvatore takes the knife and coldly stabs the hand of the comedian henchman. Don Salvatore later explains he did it because the transgender woman was the sister of his girlfriend, and it was disrespectful. The henchman begs for forgiveness. But Don Salvatore takes away the henchman’s drug-selling piazza as a punishment.
Bringing on the Traitors
Despite a large transgender and gay population in Naples, homophobia is largely accepted. Part of the problem is the church’s criticism of the gay lifestyle. Don Salvatore prays and prays. He’s constantly making the sign of the cross. He has his henchmen hide drugs in religious statues that are his cover business. They smash Madonna statues numerous times in this episode. Indeed, the symbolism could not be more obvious.
But stabbing that guy over the homophobic barbs would prove Don Salvatore’s fatal mistake. Ciro and Don Salvatore don’t like to share and it becomes clear one of them is going to take the other out. Ciro moves in to talk to the stabbed henchman and his best friend to get them to turn on Don Salvatore.
The End Is Near for Someone
The criminal Catholicism is never more obvious as it is at the end of episode 3. Don Salvatore is present when the two henchmen declare to Ciro on the phone that they want to kill their boss. Don Salvatore restores the stabbed henchman’s drug selling post to thank him for his loyalty. Viewers are left to believe that Ciro is going to sleep with the fishes. The men had invited him to off Don Salvatore after a religious ceremony in his mother’s town in which he participates every year.
This is where stuff gets weird. The ceremony has Don Salvatore’s mother helping to dress him in white sheets (including a hood reminiscent of the KKK, which was meaningful to an American like me who related it to the maltreatment of gay and transgender people). He also carried a sponge with pricks in it that the men marching in the procession would use to slam their own chest. Don Salvatore kissed his mother, participated in the procession, cleaned himself of the blood from pricking and turned to his men.
Ciro and the two others watched him. Then, the men held Ciro down on his knees while Don Salvatore told him of his oncoming demise. Finally, Don Salvatore commands the stabbed henchman to slit Ciro’s throat. Just as he is about to do it, he refrains and moves the knife up to Don Salvatore’s throat and quickly slashes it. Ironically, Don Salvatore dies with a pool of blood around him on the altar of the church.
Dead or Alive?
Don Salvatore’s death revives other mobsters. Don Pietro of the Savastano clan sees this death as his moment to make a comeback. He returns to Naples with the help of his henchman Malamore. First, Don Pietro tells his son Genny of his plans. But he is still distrusting of his boy. The tension between them is more than palpable. We also see Don Pietro visit the grave of his wife, who Ciro had killed. He promises her he will never leave her again. This kept up the theme of mutated love that we’ve been witnessing in season 2.
Malamore brings his innocent niece, Patrizia, into the business by having her become an informant to Don Pietro, and they are holed up in an apartment of a retired couple, who were left with no choice but to take them in. What’s noteworthy about this is that the girl has a lion tattoo because her father, who was dead, had called her a lioness. Don Pietro tells her the tattoo would be unnecessary if she really was a lioness. So, she burns and mutilates her arm to remove the tattoo. This wins the trust of Don Pietro.
Viewers also get insight into Scianel, the only woman participating in Ciro’s newly formed family. She’s particularly cruel and heartless with her daughter-in-law. While Scianel’s son is in jail, his wife is servant to his mother, who treats her like garbage. The girl is having an affair with one of the other henchmen and calls her MIL a witch behind her back.
By episode’s end, Ciro has arranged to meet with the Savastano family to devise a peace accord and avoid total war again. Much to Don Pietro’s surprise, Patrizia informs him that Ciro has asked for Genny and not him.
Gomorrah is the No. 1 TV drama in Italy, and it airs with English subtitles on Sundance TV every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET.
Alitalia filed for bankruptcy for the third time. The news is causing shockwaves in Italy. The Abu Dhabi-based Etihad had come to the rescue in 2014, and before that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and a number of Italian companies had bailed out the national carrier in 2008, according to The New York Times. These efforts all failed. Now, Etihad has announced it has no plans to continue its investment, according to CNN.
How Italy Is Taking the News
Scouring Twitter amid news of the filing, you saw that Italians are sick and tired of bailouts. In fact, La Repubblica reported the results of a survey in which 77 percent of Italians were against helping.
One headline in La Repubblica read “Alitalia, un pasticciaccio tutto italiano,” which means, “Alitalia, a big, all-Italian mess.” In that story, Massimo Giannini compares happenings in the European Union to kick off the subject. “In Paris, you are voting to save Europe,” he writes. “In Italy, you are voting to kill Alitalia.”
What This Means for Alitalia Travelers
While Alitalia has suffered from an inability to compete with discount airlines, Ryanair and easyJet, for domestic passengers, it was still the go-to for many Italian Americans. Or at least many of the ones I know use it. Recently, many of my Italian friends and family visited the United States and traveled with Alitalia. Indeed, a few people I know have flights coming up in the next few weeks. So, what are Alitalia travelers to do? Discover the steps to take starting now:
Call Your Travel Agent
Many Italians I know still use a travel agent. Or you prefer an online agency, such as Expedia or Orbitz. Get in touch with your contacts or customer service to find out if they have any information. This is helpful even if they don’t have any news for you because you will be on their radar.
Call Alitalia Directly
If you don’t have an agent or simply prefer your independence, you can call the airline yourself. To reach support from the United States, call 800 223 5730. To reach it from Italy, call 892010. You can also call Italian support for the airline from abroad by dialing +39 06 65649. (Remember the + sign is the prefix you must dial from your point of origin, so you will need to look that up if you don’t have it.)
Keep Tabs on the Headlines
Should Alitalia flights be grounded, you will hear about it in the news. With so much going on in the United States and other places these days, you might have to look for the headlines yourself. Set up Google alerts, so any story about Alitalia is emailed to you. Scan the stories to learn what’s happening with flights and passengers. At the Alitalia website, you should also sign up for the newsletter. There’s a chance the staff will share information about canceled or grounded flights. That’s not a guarantee, of course, because some companies use newsletters just for promotion.
Have a Plan B
Recognize that travel with Alitalia is not the most secure at this point. So, be prepared for the worst. Alert family, friends, or chauffeurs who are going to pick you up at the airport that things might change in light of the bankruptcy. Brace yourself for some inconveniences. If you have kids, prepare them as well. Bring along extra snacks and distractions in case there are major delays.
Also, figure out if there are other travel options for you. Do not purchase a new ticket unless you are certain your flight is canceled and the airline won’t be doing anything to rectify the situation for you. One would like to believe they would protect consumers during this challenging time, but you never know in these circumstances. As they say in Italia, “In bocc’ al lupo,” or “In the mouth of the wolf.” It just means good luck. Really. But it seems perfectly suited to this scenario.
Gomorrah season 1 recap is my gift to those who are just tuning into Italy’s No. 1 TV drama. In it, you will find links to the descriptive recaps I wrote after each and every episode of the first season. The show is based on the critically acclaimed book Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano. It has been captivating Italians since 2014. Recently, Sundance TV introduced Americans to the show about the Camorra, the mafia ring that began in Naples but has infiltrated many parts of the world.
While the show and the book have unearthed the seediest elements of Naples, Italy, and mankind, I still recommend both. These are works of fiction based on fact. Indeed, much of what is portrayed on screen happened in real life. The book and show help consumers understand the back story of corruption. What leads people to this life? Why the desperation? Astute viewers will make connections between this world and the economic woes facing Italy. You might even better comprehend the division between north and south in the Boot.
Gomorrah Season 1 Changed the World
I’m down with the Italian culture. My parents tuned into RAI my entire life. Now, I married a native of Italy, so I know a bit more than your average American about pop culture Italian style. I’ve never seen a phenomenon quite like the popularity of Gomorrah. All my Italian friends and family could talk about was this show when it first aired. This was especially true on social media. Viewing Gomorrah is like a cult. It is more than must-see TV. It is TV that reflects the reality of their nation and their world in Naples. I think that’s what makes the violence and immorality so difficult for me to see. Truly, this struggle is real.
The First Episodes
Gomorrah, the TV show, was applauded Stateside, too. The New York Times named it among the best international shows in 2016. Fans of the Sopranos, frankly, won’t want to miss it. This show gets at the underbelly of the mafia in a way even Sopranos could not. Indeed, there’s nothing glamorous about the life of a gangster anymore, if there ever was. If you are ready to join the other viewers, here’s to catching up on Gomorrah season 1.
I am angry with the world right now, and watching Gomorrah season 2 is not the best idea. Every character in the show relies on festering anger to culminate in a capacity for evil that is unthinkable among civilized people. Still, I can’t help myself, so I watch it like a train wreck. Or at least I watch it whenever my son is sleeping or at school. After all, this is not viewing material for kids. I’m not even sure I’m old enough to watch it.
What Is Gomorrah Season 2?
Gomorrah is a TV show that is based on the bestselling book of the same name by Roberto Saviano. While the story depicted in the series is fictional, it is based on real life events. The book and TV series allow the public a firsthand look at the ugly and vile life of those who join the Camorra, one of Italy’s most infamous gangs. Much like the Sopranos, which depicted the American version of this life, Gomorrah does nothing to glamorize the mafia. And Gomorrah season 2 takes the de-glamorization to the next level.
Catch Up On Season 1
For a full description of individual episodes, read the Gomorrah season 1 recap. By the end of season 1, you had already bid arriverderci to Imma Savastano, wife of Don Pietro, the head of the Savastano clan, which was in a war with the Conte clan. You saw Don Pietro break out of jail. His top clansman Ciro Di Marzio was the one who had Imma killed. Not surprisingly Ciro switched sides and works for the Conte clan now. Many of Don Pietro’s men, in fact, ended up dead as war broke out in their family and continued with Conte and Co. Season 1 ended quite dramatically with a shootout at Ciro’s daughter’s school. There, where the children were performing a play, Ciro shot Gennaro, Imma and Don Pietro’s son, who had inherited responsibility of the “family business.” He seemed dead, but we weren’t quite sure. What would happen next? That was anyone’s guess. But it sure wasn’t going to be pretty.
Gomorrah Season 2 Episodes 1 and 2
The beauty of Gomorrah is the in-depth characterization of each personality in the cast. This is not your typical TV show. And in season 2, you really get an up-close, emotional profile of the characters. More importantly, you could spend days analyzing their relationships with each other. I felt almost as though I was coming up with conversation for a book club meeting rather than a rundown of a TV drama.
A warning to those reading, the TV show is really, really, really violent and gruesome. I have to shut it off and take a break sometimes. I definitely closed my eyes more than once in these first two episodes, and some people will find it difficult to watch. But this is the reality that many people experience in Naples and actually other parts of Europe and the world as these gangs branch out.
What Happened Next?
Don Pietro is out of jail, learns of his son’s hospital stay, where he’s near death, and is forced to run away because so many of his men have been gunned down by the Conte clan. Ciro and his wife Debora and daughter Mariarita are also kind of on the run but still in the Naples area. They are mostly escaping the police, but there is always fear someone from the Savastano family will be back for revenge. Debora is terrified and angry with her husband for putting their daughter and her into this position. While many are treating them like royalty now that Ciro seems to be ruling the land, Debora is not having it.
She wants to run far, far away. She’s worried about someone trying to kill them, and she’s most concerned with their daughter’s safety. She argues with Ciro, who is positioning himself within the Conte family. The Conte clan is clearly taking over the drug dealing and everything else the Savastano clan previously controlled. By the end of episode 1, we see Genny open his eyes. He’s alive. And Ciro has killed his wife by choking her with his bare hands. He feared she was going to the police with his guilt about the school shooting. While Debora had considered it, she did not go through with talking to the police. But anyone who had watched the Sopranos will automatically make comparisons to when Adriana was killed. This was even harsher because Debora’s own husband was the murderer.
The second episode of Gomorrah Season 2 is more focused on Genny, who has been out of the hospital for a year but has a noticeable scar on his face. He is back in Honduras, where he had been sent by his mother and first killed a man on his own in season 1. This is important because this time around Genny forces a military captain, who is locked up by a drug cartel to hack up one of his own soldiers. It’s a horrific scene that will be burned into your mind. After Honduras, he returns to Italy, where he is trying to pick up the drug business and has a rendezvous with the daughter of a drug partner.
Next, he is reunited with his father. The two of them eventually have a falling out about who’s to blame for the state of affairs and Imma’s death. They can’t reach their money, they can’t go home, and they must work with people who are on the outs with their own gang. Indeed, Mico, one of the men who was getting arms to the them, gets shot and killed while they are all at dinner together.
Genny and Don Pietro have to flee. They steal one car and then have to run again when they encounter a road stop with more police. Don Pietro is taking medication (for what we don’t know), and he gets sick while they are fleeing. Genny carries him on his back and then car jacks someone at a gas station to get another car. He forces the guy to join them and help him bring his father to the car. Then, he kills the guy on the side of the road as though he was picking up Tylenol for dad. Really disturbing.
Foreshadowing of What’s to Come
In the end, the Genny and Don Pietro sleep on the floor of an abandoned shed like farm animals. Don Pietro seems a little healthier, however. He calls someone to come pick him up. Don Pietro tells Genny his own time will come but now they must part ways. Genny seems frustrated. Dad seems relieved. One can only guess what’s going on with Ciro at this point. We’ll probably find out next week. You can watch a new episode on the Sundance channel every Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET.
May 1, known as Primo Maggio, is a holiday in Italy and many other parts of the world. This public holiday, which literally translates to May 1, is recognized as Labor Day. Some refer to this day as International Worker’s Day, but Americans continue to celebrate workers on the first Monday in September.
How to Celebrate May 1
In any event, in Italy, Primo Maggio is considered a great excuse for a three-day weekend. Where my family is from in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy, many tourists head to the beach. And the natives celebrate by continuing to work because these long weekends are money makers for them. Others in Italy flee to the mountains. Whether at the beach or the mountains, they picnic like it’s 1999. Cookouts and barbecues are common. I have eaten some sausage from the grill myself on Primo Maggio.
Not everyone feels the need to get away. Staycations or quiet time spent at home are highly popular, too. The kids are off from school. The parents are home from work. The family gets to be together without all the responsibility of the other days. Sometimes, that’s enough of a celebration.
A Holiday to Get Behind
The few times I’ve been in Italy for Primo Maggio I have been working for American outlets that don’t recognize the day as a holiday. Just another work day for we Americans. But I observed my Italian friends and family celebrating. The feast reminded me of a combination of America’s Memorial Day and Labor Day. It is like Memorial Day because it’s an unofficial launch to summer. Being in southern Italy, where it is a warmer climate, I am not surprised that summer starts sooner over there. It is like our Labor Day because, well, it’s a celebration of laborers. What is clear is that working people are the ones keeping the world moving, so we should celebrate them every day. If grilling meats or lying in the sun is a way to honor them, then count me in.
St. Joseph’s Day, which is known as the festa di San Giuseppe, is actually Father’s Day in Italy. In a country where the overwhelming majority of the population is Catholic (and the Pope is your neighbor), saints are a big deal. This is, of course, especially true in southern Italy. San Giuseppe is celebrated March 19. Like all other feast days honoring saints, this one recognizes everyone named Giuseppe (Joseph) and Giuseppina (Josephine).
How St. Joseph’s Day Is Celebrated in Italy
But some feast days include other celebrations. They sometimes associate the day as a way to honor whatever the saint is said to oversee. Saint Peter is the patron saint of fishermen, so on that feast day (June 29) in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples in Italy, the fisherman fry up fresh fish at the porto and give it away for free. Since Joseph served as Jesus’ dad on Earth, he is associated with fathers. So, Italians consider March 19 the festa dei papa (feast of fathers), too. And June doesn’t even register for them.
Indeed, today Italians are offering up handmade cards, recited poems, little gifts, and good food to their fathers. Many are shouting, “Auguri” to the fathers they see in the piazza or at the pranzo (lunch) table. I’m about to make homemade gnocchi and a promise for a dinner out to my husband, the father of our son. The meal would be incomplete without dolci, some sweets. On this day the cream adorned zeppoles that either fried or baked are the traditional dessert.
The Takeaway for Italians Abroad
The message here is to be kind to your fathers on this feast day, which happens to fall on Sunday Funday this year. You don’t need fresh pasta or even a gift. A hug and a kiss will likely suffice. And a St. Joseph’s Day zeppole like the ones in the photo above wouldn’t hurt. C’mon, who could resist?
Today is International Women’s Day, which is a big deal in Italy and for Italian women. The country, including and perhaps especially men, honor Italian women by offering bouquets of yellow mimosa flowers and small gifts. And Italian women celebrate each other with girls’ nights and other get togethers. Recently, I even read about restaurants and shops offering freebies to women today.
Is it Italy’s version of a Hallmark holiday for Italian women? Perhaps, but its origins meant a lot more than that.
Despite Italy’s devotion, the history of International Women’s Day does not trace back to Italian women. Since the early 1900s, March 8 has been a day to celebrate women’s achievements and call for gender equality. The observance actually began in the United States, but Women’s Day hardly registers here anymore.
Back then, industrialization was bringing all sorts of new problems to the surface. The fast-paced changes to the workplace helped birth movements calling for participation of minorities, including women, in all facets of life. Women were beginning to find their way in what had been a white man’s world up to that point. (To read more about International Women’s Day history, click here.) Is it just me or does this all sound quite familiar?
What Makes Italian Women Awesome?
Truly, we should celebrate Italian women and all women regularly and not just one day per year. As regular readers know, I live in two worlds. One foot is firmly planted in the United States, and the other one often wiggles around in Italy. I know Italian women and Italian American women. I see myself as belonging to both groups, even though I’m more an Italian American. Today, though, I want to share what makes Italian women, who are living in Italy, exceptionally awesome:
Italian women are among the hardest workers.
More Italian women are working part- or full-time and more are seeking employment, according to a 2013 European Commission Report, “The current situation of gender equality in Italy –Country Profile.” I know for a fact that the women in southern Italy are the ones who carry the bulk of the burdens at home, too. They do the laundry, cooking, cleaning, and childcare often without any help from their husband or any other man in the household. If there’s a sick elderly person in the family, they are the ones to take care of him or her, too. (Sometimes, extended families live together or close by.) I have seen it with my own two eyes.
People have long labeled Italian women as super moms.
The Italian mamma or nonna (grandmother) is the stuff of legend. People have long seen her as the ideal matriarch, who knows how to cook like a gourmet chef, clean like she has a magic wand fit for perfection, and pamper everyone in the house. She’s affectionate, nurturing, loving, and every family member’s biggest cheerleader. And she always has fresh pasta and a Caprese cake on the table for Sunday lunch. Nowadays, she’s bringing home the bacon, too. The role of average Italian women, in fact, is remarkable when you think about it. Who else in this world does all that?
Italian women are sexy to boot.
Looks don’t matter. Really, they don’t. But it doesn’t hurt if you have them, especially if they come with all those other skills (see above). And Italian women have a reputation for being friggin’ hot. I mean Sofia Loren, who is in her 80s, still gets attention for her timeless beauty. Looking good is a priority based on the idea of the bella figura, or beautiful figure, which refers to making a good first impression. Indeed, the sexiness of Italian women empowers them in the Homeland.
Italian women love with wild abandon.
Italian women are the heart of their family. They keep up traditions. They nurse wounds. They dote on the suffering, support the smart, and heal the down and out. They embrace you with all their might literally and figuratively. That’s the real reason Italian men can’t live without them.
Italian women have the best mentors.
One of my grandmothers helped raise her family of origin after her mother died and then raised nine children of her own during World War II. Some of her babies died as toddlers, a devastating blow to anyone. She suffered in a patriarchal household that didn’t allow her to reach her full potential and forced her to stifle some of her own desires and needs. And when she was already in her 50s and her youngest son, my father, was 13, she moved to the United States from Italy. She barely knew anyone and could not speak the language. Such courage is unthinkable nowadays. There are many Italian women just like my nonna. They are all around me.