Wednesday, January 13

Responding to the Maloik (Maloocchio)

Dear Readers:

Thank you so much for your comments and emails in the past few months, in particular in response to my post about the maloik (malocchio) Maloik which, although posted years ago, continues to generate comments from people curious about this affliction or who need it removed.

I have not been posting here for the last few months and therefore did not see many of your comments about the malocchio (24 to be exact) because my dear father passed away in September after suffering tremendously and I have been focusing my attention on a new blog about the life lessons he taught me.  If you'd like to check it out, the website is OurGussie and there I share stories about growing up with one of the most awesome human beings on the face of the earth, a loving father, a proud Italian-American and the person who shaped me. I'd love it if you take a look at my new site and leave comments.

Now, another reason I have not been on here is because I was stricken with the malocchio.  I never thought it would or could happen, but a series of events in my life from June, 2015 through October, 2015  have convinced me that not only does it exist, but that someone hit me with it.

I have a lot to say about this and how I got it removed, finally, and how, with the help of an amazing psychic/medium in New Jersey, I found out who it was.  It's a very real story, and I'll share it in the next several days.  I will answer all your questions and in the meantime, post any you have here.

Please come back and visit and accept my apologies for not responding and posting sooner.

Wednesday, February 4

Sigilicious has a new name and a new look!

My blog of 8 years is now called ItalianAmericanTales and you can bookmark it Italian American Tales.

Why did I change it?
1. Most people who are not Sicilian can't pronounce Sigi or Sigilicious
2. People keep spelling it wrong.
3. It's too long to say Italian/Sicilian-American (because, of course, all Sicilians are very clear about the distinction).

But all the same crazy stories, tales about the maloik, my Butchered Italian Word of the Day and everything else will still be here and I'll soon be debuting my You Tube Channel.

For non-Italian-American tales, please check out my other blog about parenthood, health, recipes and all that good stuff at Busy Finch.

Wednesday, January 28

Not cool to be Italian?

When I was a kid, it wasn't cool to be Italian. In fact, I have emotional scars from the experience (read on for those details). But as an adult, thankfully it's different. Nowadays being Italian has some cachet. 

Have you ever asked someone "Are you Italian?"
The response is almost always one of the following:
-100%. All italian 
-a quarter

It's never just "yes." It's never "a little."  People will tell you, proudly, how much Italian is in their blood. If it's less than a quarter, they might even round it up to a quarter.  I know people who won't even acknowledge the other half of their heritage. 
-"I'm Italian."
-"But your name is O'Brien."
-"Whatever. I'm Italian."

If they are Italian, they'll tell you the regions their families are from. All of them. 
-"I'm half Abruzzese, a quarter Napolitano and a quarter Calabrese."
-"My Mom's side is from Puglia and Basilicata, my dad's side is right off the boat from Calabria. A little town right at the tip of the boot. They used to wave to the Sicilians they were so close to Sicily." 
"Actually, I'm Sicilian. (This is another topic but trust me, don't attempt to engage a Sicilian in a discussion about 
why they say Sicilian not Italian.)
Myself? I'm Siciliana, Calabrese, Abruzzese and Basilicata. :)

If they aren't 100% FBI (that's Full Blooded Italian, a term you know if you are one), they will scramble to tell you their lineage. It's fantastic!
-"I'm a quarter. My mom's dad was born in Rome, but I was raised with all the traditions."
-"My dad's grandfather's mom came here from Piedmont. We always relate most to that side of the family."
"My mom is Irish and my dad is German but my step-dad is half Italian so you know, I'm kinda Italian."
"Not actually Italian but I married one."

I love that one especially. How do you not love someone who embraces their spouse's heritage? And let's face it, especially if an Italian mother is involved, that's a lot of heritage to embrace! The food, the um, strong opinions, the protectiveness, the hand gestures and noise level at dinner- if you haven't been around Italians all your life and you go to a big family dinner, buckle up!

It's like everyone wants to acknowledge their Italianness- (And who can blame them? Being Italian is awesome.) It's like being Italian is a very elite club with special benefits and everyone feels compelled to prove their bloodline. Sometimes it's almost like people with only a little bit of Italianness want FBIs or others to recognize them as paisans. "Accept me! Accept me into the club!" Can't fault anyone for that. I mean, it IS like a club (a very, very COOL, delicious club!) but all people proud to have Italian blood are members. In fact, if you just love Italians, we'll give you a membership card. We're like that. 

Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco (an FBI) made a joke that Italians will say they're "a hundred percent Italian. Head to toe." And anyone who is part Italian says "Yeah, I'm half Italian and half embarrassed." Nothing to be embarrassed about, everyone should be proud of their roots, but I have yet to meet anyone prouder of their heritage than an Italian-American. This pride is important to me because as a kid who moved from an all Italian neighborhood in South Philly to what my family called "Medagon town" nearby in Delaware County, PA, my Italianness was not embraced. I endured taunts of "dago," "wop," and "greaseball," through 9th grade. My name, my skin color, my nose and worst of all, my smelly Thursday leftover meatball sandwiches (thanks, Ma!) brought me undue attention. (I'd name the kid who was most relentless in doing this but I don't want to give him the satisfaction.) 

So, yeah! You wanna be Italian? Come on in!  

Share your thoughts. 

Thursday, January 15

How to Speak Italian in South Philly

Last night when I was updating the link for PhillyTawk, I came across this old video of Dom Irrera talking about how Italians in South Philly talk.  I'd like to say his examples are largely stereotypical but I can't. Just the names of the neighborhood guys alone made me laugh out loud. Granted, I can only agree with him as it pertains to South Philly Italians when I was growing up, but if you're 40 or older, I'm betting you can relate, too.


Click here:
How to Speak Italian

Wednesday, January 14

Gatzadeels and Jungadels

These are two words I grew up with and I have no idea if my mom made them up or they are so butchered beyond recognition that I cannot find the correct spelling.
I have a feeling gatzadeels comes from the word cazzo which is the word for a male body part, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, they both mean little pieces of decor- figurines, statues, decorative plates, souvenirs, random pieces of unmatching "art," basically things that must be dusted and are infinitely breakable. Gatzadeels don't have to be cheap and junkie but jungadels are.

Growing up, my mom did not have any of those. She has a credenza with a few pieces of Lladro and a piece or two of Royal Daulton, and some Capo Dimonte flowers but that's it in terms of figurines. "Simplicity is elegance" is her motto. And I can't believe it, but I adhere to it. I hate what I call "little shits" all over the house. They junk up a nice clean line of a mantel or a shelf where one or two pieces suffice. In short, my home is "gazadeel"-free.

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The Philadelphia Accent

I'm reposting this video (Philly Tawk by Sean Monahan) because the original post from a while back has gotten some hits and comments that it wasn't working.  This should work now. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 24

The Dreaded Christmas Eve Tradition

There are fewer rituals that my family performs that I dread more than Christmas Eve dinner. It should be re-named "Torture Me Night." No, it's not the Christmas carols that my kids and I sing to far away family and friends in operatic voices over the phone- I like that part. It's not the anticipation of seeing the kids wake up and see what "Santa" brought them the next day. It's not even the exhaustion I feel every December 24th at about 1:00 in the morning, having wrapped all the gifts when the kids finally have fallen asleep. Nope. It's CHRISTMAS EVE DINNER. 

What could be so dreadful about a Christmas Eve dinner? Well, my medagon friends, a typical Italian dinner on December 24th involves a long-standing and for me, unappealling traditional meal- SEAFOOD. It's the one night a year when I, myself, wear the title of "Medagon," given to me by my parents. I don't eat seafood. Non mi piace. It never has appealed to me, with the exception of fish- tilapia, haddock, tile fish, tuna, and my favorite: flounder. 

So, the meal to which I was subjected for every year of my life until I was 33 and moved far away enough from my family to not go back on Christmas Eve, just Christmas Day, is an array of "Seven Fish(es)." I used to reef to this as the Parade of Fishes as a kid, for the way they just kept coming out of the kitchen. To qualify for the "Feast," It does not have to be actual fish- any seafood will do. The offending fare can include (but is not limited to) the following: -flounder or another kind of fish (in my family it was breaded flounder, the only kind I would eat as a kid, to make me feel included and loved) -crabmeat -shrimp -mussels -clams -lobster -calamari (I think this appeared on the table once or twice at my grandparents house where we would spend Christmas Eve until 1986 when they moved to Florida) -tuna (in the marinara sauce) and the one dish that my mom opted out of making and left it to my dad and grandmother: bacala (as in dried codfish, not "Bobby."). It gets soaked a long time before preparation to remove the heavy salt taste and is served with a red sauce. You'd have to rip out my tastebuds to get it to taste good to me. The seafood was always served with linguini (I prefer capellini, but I took what I could get) with the tuna or crab sauce and I would get a "medagon special," a dish of linguini with melted butter and Locatelli cheese. Nope, I wouldn't even eat the sauce if it had fish in it. 

Now some people ask why the number seven? It's debatable- the number of days to create the universe, some say, others say the number is 13- one for each apostle plus Jesus (keep me out of THOSE houses) and my mom's version- any odd number under seven. So when I got was on my own, I made that number become ONE. The next few years I started a new tradition of flying in the face of tradition and, allegedly, Canon Law (this proved untrue- I could find nothing that says you cannot eat meat on Christmas Eve) and going out to an Italian restaurant on Christmas Eve and ordering anything but fish. For me, that means veal. On the way home from dinner the kids and I would sing to anyone who would answer the phone while we drove, and then swear to them that we were not drunk and neither were the children. The kids sang in celebration of Christmas. I sang in celebration of not having to eat fish. 

So, go ahead, take away my Italian membership card, but before you do that, you should know that this Italian-American did not drink wine, either, until the age of 45 (sweet, please). Good God, a 7 fish dinner with only dry wine to drink- what a terrible thought. blechhhh

Tuesday, July 9


Actually it's called Pastina and my mom made it for me and my sister when we were kids and usually when we were not feeling well. I don't recall ever having it for dinner, but if we were home sick, my mom would make some "pasteen" with butter and Locatelli cheese for lunch. Years later (now 2 years ago) I saw it in the very non-Italian area where I live now and bought five boxes.  It snowed the next day and I made some for my kids, just like my mom made it. When I put the first spoonful in my mouth I felt like a little kid in South Philly in the 70's again. It was unreal how the taste did that to me. My kids love it and ask for it often. Unfortunately the stores here don't always carry it so when I do see it, I stock up. 
How did your mom prepare your pastina? 

Friday, February 15

Bensonhurst Italian Spelling Bee

Mark Consuelos (1/2 Italian and speaks it) and Kelly Ripa (also Italian) watch their son in the Bensonhurst spelling bee, hosted by Lorraine Bracco and Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 14

My Philadelphia Accent?

Repost from 2008

I have been spending a lot of time with a certain New Yorker who, while he does not have many remnants of his Lawn Guyland accent (which I actually love) after spending way too many years in the Pittsburgh sticks, he does love to point out my Phluphian accent. So in his honor today I am reposting this.

For 38 years (now 44) of my life I spoke with a Philly accent and never realized how heavy it was. I had never paid attention to the way I chop the ends of my words off, or slur some words together. That was until I did an internet radio show early in 2007 and a friend of mine in Florida harrassed me about my thick Philly accent. So I started paying attention to how I speak and it's a wonder people know what I am saying! I'm way in the suburbs of Philly now and not many people speak like I do. But most of the people here are from New York or Joisey so they don't really notice. So now I catch myself saying words that other people pronounce correctly and I mangle. That's "cuz" I'm originally from "Sowfilly" (that would be South Philly, but to me, it's all one word).

I never realized that instead of saying "leg" I say "leyg." I do remember being teased by friends in high school because I couldn't (and still can't) pronounce "mirror." I say "mir-eh" and of course it's not "window" for me, it's "windeh." I say "anutheh" not "another" and "aready" not "already." My dad always corrected my pronunciation of "crayon" which was (and still is) "crown"' as if I had a speech impediment. Come to find out, it is no such thing! It's a product of my upbringing ovah deh! "Didn't" is "Dint" and "nothing" to me has neither an "o" nor an "ing." (Nuthin) If you bother me while I'm "writin" I'll say "whadyawan?"

For vacation, I just go "Downehshur" which means the Jersey Shore, and by the way, you don't go to the shore, you're not "at" or "on" the shore, you go down the shore and you are then down the shore. I pay the lectric bill, (it's a cuppela hundred dollahs but I wish it were only a cuppela corders) and I don't know what happens to the "E." I dry off with a tal after I showeh with wuhduh.

I never say "youse" or even "yiz" but I do call everyone "you guys."

There's a more complete list I found for more Philly pronunciations. I don't committ all of the crimes on the list but I have some not on there!. Check it out!

Check out this video of how Philldulphyuns talk- it's spot on!

And here is a great link for more detailed reasons as to why we tawk funny- at University of PA they actually study this phenomenon!

So, YO, next time you hear someone with a funny Philly accent speak, take a look at your own regional accent ovah deh.

Tuesday, November 20

Staten Islanders- Just Like Me

In August, 1992 I was getting ready for my first job as a teacher. Just out of grad school, I had been hired just one day before in-service in the district began. Later that week, Hurricane Andrew hit Miami. Hard. Homes and lives were destroyed in ways that were unfathomable to me living in a land-locked state. My first day of teaching coincided with an urge to sign up to volunteer to take food and water and other donated materials from the Philadelphia area to Miami and help families clean up. But because it was my first day of teaching, I just couldn’t. When Katrina hit, my children were young and I couldn’t be away from them. So again I sat helplessly watching the images on tv and donating to the Red Cross.
Fast forward 20 years later and Hurricane Sandy hits NY, NJ, PA, VA and CT. In PA we were annoyed by our loss of power for a few days. But once the power and cable came back, we saw what the rest of the area had been through. Parts of the Jersey shore were largely decimated, sections of New York were devastated, but what grabbed me most was the new from “The Forgotten Borough” of Staten Island. Staten Island was as foreign a place to me as most countries are. Until May, 2012, I had never been there. Then my daughter and I drove (my first time driving to NY!) to Staten Island for the 5 boro cycling event that brought our favorite superhero to the finish line. I wanted to be there when he finished and so I drove there. It reminded me a lot of South Philly, where I grew up. There were a lot of Italian-named places and bakeries and stores, down to earth people and a homey atmosphere, much like South Philly- specifically where my grandmother used to live. So when I heard that people’s homes- primary residences, not vacation homes like some people think Staten Island has because it’s on the ocean- were destroyed, I felt a tug at my heart. Donating blankets and coats didn’t fulfill my need to help. I wanted to do something more. I started a collection of cold weather items and toiletries at the school where I teach and then one of my classes suggested we go to SI to deliver it. I dismissed the idea right away due to logistical concerns but then it hit me- why see if the advanced level (junior and senior) students wanted to go and volunteer to help? They enthusiastically volunteered as did my colleague’s students. My boss said yes and paid for the 52 passenger bus that I filled with 41 of my Spanish 4 students who volunteered and 4 adult volunteers and in 2 days we were ready to load the 3 bays of the bus with donated items and head to Staten Island.
We rode the bus into Staten Island and audible gasps started popping up among the students. A house reduced to rubble, a roof graveyard, boats in the street, people’s possessions, wet and destroyed, piled on the curb. We headed to the Christian Pentecostal Church, a relief hub was set up there, and it was one of the only places that answered the phone when I called last week- I contacted the borough president’s office, a congressman’s office, several relief organizations, but everyone was overwhelmed with helping efforts and I finally got through to this church. Some places only wanted volunteers over 18. We pulled up and Pastor Frank Chevere deployed us to 76 Marine Way in New Dorp. There another official chaplain, Steve Marino, and his wife, Melissa, assigned my group to 3 tasks: going door to door with basic supplies for one day, donated by Lowes, cleaning up the sidewalks and streets of debris, and distributing the mountain of clothes and supplies we had brought to anyone in the neighborhood who needed it. Power was still out, people had no hot food, and in many cases, no homes. What my students saw was sobering and gave them pause: houses that looked fine from the outside were caved in on the inside; houses that looked fine on the outside but were gutted to the studs on the inside to rid the house of wet, moldy drywall and carpets. And pieces of land with piles of rubble- the remains of homes that had been leveled by the hurricane. They picked up shovels and brooms and went right to work. Others grabbed the Lowes buckets and started knocking on doors to offer supplies. People in the neighborhood greeted us with some hesitance- many had been looted already- but always with gratitude. Some cheered for the kids; some just smiled, humbled by strangers offering them enough food and toiletries for one day.
Walking through the New Dorp area the mood was melancholy as my students came across wedding photos, childhood photos from decades ago, partially ruined from the water, buried under mud, covered in wet drywall. They shook them clean and put them in the spikes of fences so someone looking for them would find them. The photographer and scrapbooker in me cringed extra hard at the thought of my photographs- some almost 100 years old, ruined and strewn all over the street amid mud and debris. Random shoes, heads of dolls, stuffed animals and small mattresses littered the sidewalk, driving home the point that some of the hurricane’s victims were younger than they were. By the time we made our way back to the hub on Marine Way, many other volunteers had joined the effort- around 100 more. Some were serving a hot meal from the back of a truck to the neighborhood residents; others were cleaning up and sorting clothes. Some of my students assisted residents in Spanish who needed clothes- a thrill to put their mastery of the language in practice and help someone at the same time.
My students, high school juniors and seniors, experienced something that day that they may not have ever seen first hand before- humanity. The humanity of people who are just like us, who were suffering and struggling to put their lives back together, and the humanity of people, who are just like us, whose hearts were big enough to show up and help strangers in their most desperate time of need. My heart overflowed with pride that day, watching my big-hearted students who I am lucky enough to teach, pitching in to do something completely selfless. I didn’t set out to give them a “life lesson,” I set out to help make many hands make light work for our New York neighbors and in return I felt my own heart break on behalf of people… just like me.

Sunday, February 12

Don't Eat That, That's for Thursday!

In October, Superman and I went to see Sebastian Maniscalco, possibly one of the funniest comedians I have ever seen, in Philadelphia. His act centers around being Italian... gee, I can relate to that like 1000%. He talks about everything from the horns hanging in his car to the bag for money the bride has to carry at the wedding. We met him after the show and he is a genuinely humble guy, and I wished the show had been longer. It was a riot.  Here is a clip if you have never seen him before, by all means go to you tube and search for more.  This is one of our favorites- Sebastian questioning tattoos.  Enjoy!

My favorite Sigi, Pec, shared a video with me yesterday called "Sh*t Italian Moms Say." It's along the lines of the other videos that are out there on You Tube like "Sh*T Jewish Moms Say", etc. It's a collection of stereotypical expressions and sweeping generalizations of what Italian-American moms say and do. I watched it with my mom and my sister and we pointed out each expression that she was guilty of saying. It has more of a New York feel but there were plenty of expressions and mannerisms that the three Philadelphia-born Italians sitting at the table were guilty of as well. In fact, with nothing better to do last night, I went through it and counted. Twenty-eight of those gems were also either mine or my mother's. If you have an Italian mom from New York or South Philly or probably anywhere in between, take a look and tell me some of this doesn't ring true to you!

If you find an Italian mother portrayed by a burly dude in mismatched animal and floral print clothing wearing a wig and sporting a five o'clock shadow offensive to you, your mamma, your nonna or the Italian people in general, don't watch this. Oh, and get over yourself!

Enjoy- it's phenomenal!

Daniel Franzese, this is gold!