Monday, September 3

The Maloik (Malocchio) or the "Evil Eye"

This is a re-post of what has become my most popular post- originally posted 9 years ago.

While not Italian in origin, many Italians believe in il malocchio (often pronounced "maloik.") Part superstition, part tradition, it is the belief in the evil eye, placed on someone when someone else is jealous or envious of the other's good luck. The malocchio then manifests itself in some sort of misfortune onto the cursed person, usually some physical ailment.

It can also be done involuntarily, like when you see a beautiful baby and you compliment the parent. That could be construed as envy and the parent must then say something like "God bless her" right after it to ward off a possible malocchio, many believing that even though the compliment may have sounded sincere, its real motive was envy. That's why my cousin made me put a red ribbon over the threshold of my new home and told me to throw salt out of all the doors- to protect us from envious people. The person who gives the evil eye is not necessarily evil, but does indeed harbor jealousy.

One can also ward it off by wearing a horn (cornuto) around the neck or making a gesture with your hand (mano cornuta-which you may know from heavy metal concerts). It is said that Italian men wear the cornuto to protect their genitalia from the malocchio, as the curse is said to harm sperm.

I can't say that I believe or disbelieve the malocchio and I only have one indirect experience with it...

When my mom was in her twenties, she got a great job with the government. Soon after, she began getting terrible headaches that aspirin would not relieve. She suffered with them intermittently for a few weeks when it dawned on my litte Sigi grandmother what the problem was.

"Someone gave you the maloik. (malocchio).""You're crazy. Who would do that?" my mom responded, not telling her she was crazy for believing in "stregheria" or Italian witchcraft, but, rather, for thinking someone would put the curse on her. (The irony that my grandmother was a devout Catholic whose church forbids belief in witchcraft is not lost on me.)
"Who knows? You have that nice job now- someone is jealous and put it on you."
"Nobody is jealous of me."
"I want you to go see the strega down the street."
The local strega, or Italian witch, was known to be capable of removing the horrible malocchio that afflicted unassuming Italians in the South Philadelphia neighborhood where they lived.
"I'm not going to the strega. Forget about it. The headaches will go away."
My grandmother never mentioned the malocchio again to my mother.

About a week after the strega conversation, my mom could not find her watch when she was getting ready for work. She asked my grandmother if she had seen it but she had not. My mom, a very organized and detail-oriented individual (you say anal, I say detail-oriented) who never misplaces anything, was disturbed by the missing watch. She looked everywhere for it and finally resigned herself to the fact that it must have slipped off to or from work. The stress only contributed to her constant headaches. (Knowing my mom like I do, I don't for a minute believe that she accepted that her watch was gone, and she probably continued to search for it for at least 24 hours more.)

A few days later my mom woke up and found her watch on her bureau. She put it on and asked my grandmother how it got there. My grandmother told her she didn't know. When she got home from work she grilled my grandmother about the watch.

"Are you sure you didn't borrow it and not put it back?"
"Bah, why do I need a watch? I don't go anywhere!"
"Did Daddy find it and put it in my room?"
"I don't think so. So... how are your headaches?"
"Funny, I didn't get one today."

My sigi grandmother smiled but did not say anything.
"Why are you smiling?"
"I took your watch to the strega since you wouldn't go yourself. She took off the malocchio."
she yelled
"It worked, didn't it?" My mom didn't know what to say to that. It was more troubling to her that someone had put the malocchio on her then the fact that there was a Sicilian witch living on their street who claimed to be able to both curse and remove curses.

How did the strega allegedly remove the malocchio. Probably by inserting the tip of a needle into the eye of another needle while saying: “Occhi e contro e perticelli agli occhi, crepa la invida e schiattono gli occhi." That means “Eyes against eyes and the holes of the eyes, envy cracks and eyes burst.” She then dropped the needles on top of three drops of olive oil in water and sprinkled three pinches of salt into the water. The strega would then jab scissors into the water through the oil three times and cut the air above the bowl three times and POOF! The spell was FINITO!

...or the aspirin finally kicked in.

Claudia Fanelli

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, unappealing 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 refer 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 taste buds 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.

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!

Sunday, April 10

Butchered Italian Word of the Day

Word of the day:

Cafone. In butchered Italian: "gavone," pronounced, "gavoan."
Meaning- someone who has no manners, someone who can't get enough. For example- at the deli counter there are sometimes free samples. Someone starts making lunch out of them. That's a gavone.

Saturday, September 25

Pasta Fazool

A recipe for the autumn.
Mangia bene!

Pasta E Fagioli

(Makes approximately 6 Servings)
1/2 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves chopped
2 chopped carrots
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cups of crushed tomatoes (I prefer Tuttarossa for canned, if no fresh is available)
1 and a half tablespoon fresh chopped Parsley
2 cups small uncooked ditalini pasta
2 cups cannellini beans (rinsed)
1 cup of water

Salt, Pepper, Oregano & grated Pecorino Romano cheese (to taste)

Boil water
Heat olive oil.
Sautée carrots and onions until onions are transparent.
Add garlic, oregano and parsley, then tomatoes and a cup of water.
Add salt and pepper to taste
Boil then add beans and cook on medium for 40 minutes

Bring to rolling boil. Cook pasta until it's al dente and drain.
Add the pasta and the cannelini beans to tomatoes already cooking and simmer for about 7 minutes.