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Una malia contro il malocchio dei prominenti.

Una malia contro il malocchio dei prominenti.

Joseph Sciorra (July 11, 2008)
Eliza Putnam Heaton, "By-Paths in Sicily"
"Door Charms for the Evil Eye" (detail), Sicily, circa 1910.

Iettature, malie, & la lingua a strascinuni in the 21st century.



The name of my blog, Occhio contro occhio, is adapted from a number of incantations against the evil eye.
Occhi e contro occhi e perticelli agli occhi.
Crepa la invidia e schiattono gli occhi.
Eyes and against eyes and the little opening to the eyes.
Envy dies and eyes burst.
I envisioned this humble blog, in part, as a counter voice to the staid monologic representation offered by the self-appointed and self-aggrandizing Italian-American leaders who deal in the politics of victimhood, albeit ineffectively.  The blog as conjure work of digital iettature (spells).
I frame this mago-digital engagement with the Italian-American politics of culture as the babblings of a global village idiot, the playful antics of the mythic circum-Mediterranean trickster Giufà’s love child. What better way to address the often absurd pronouncements of the lackluster elite?
Stidda di lu luveri,                                          Star of the eastern light,
Veni Avanti a mai arreri.                                never back but forward bright.
A li tri, a li tri, a li tri                                         to the three, to the three, to the three,
e sinu a li ventiquattru.                                   and even to the twenty-four.
Ssu malunatu è sfasciatu.                             Now this witchcraft is no more.
Pi lu nomu di Gesu,                                       In Jesus’s name
sciogghiu ssa fimmina                                   I undo this charm
e nun mi avi neti chiu!                                    and it will harm me no more!
Up until this week, I thought I was alone in invoking the supernatural in this experiment we call “Italian American.”  
On Monday, the National Italian American Foundation chairmen Kenneth Ciongoli posted a half page ad in The New York Times entitled “Great American Roccos and Their Cousins.” This public statement took on NBC sports announcer Johhny Miller’s offensive remarks about golf pro Rocco Mediate. “Guys with the name ‘Rocco’ don’t get on the trophy, do they?” Sounds like bigotry to me. 
Let’s ignore, for this blog post at least, that the ad was a tad bit shy of timely (Stephanie Longo dealt with this matter here on June 22nd), that it evoked ethnic chauvinism (e.g., “his unsurpassed ethnic heritage”), that it relied on the tiresome litany of “successful” Italian Americans, e.g. “great Americans named Rocco” (Do other ethnic groups still use this stale strategy?), that it conjured the conservative right’s bogeyman of “the media elite,” and that it used such superannuated cultural references as “Uncle Miltie and Don Rickles.” 
What took my breath away was the invocation of a supernatural intimidation. In the last paragraph, after the exasperated Ciongoli proclaims “We are losing patience,” he uses a veiled threat of heavenly intervention:
“By the way, I further inform Mr. Miller, St. Rocco is the patron saint who protects the populace from plague. He might be somewhat anxious the next time he sneezes.”
What is Ciongoli saying here? That he, as representative of the national Italian-American organization, invokes St. Roche to inflict bodily harm on Miller? That supernatural retribution is the possible outcome of an ethnic slight of Mediate and, by extension (talk about sympathetic magic), all Italian Americans?! What sort of unseemly thaumaturgy is at work here? 
In his seminal work The Madonna of 115th Street, historian Robert Orsi briefly mentions the southern Italian-American religious practice of women dragging their tongues along the floor of the church aisle, a votive act known as la lingua a strascinuni. Reading the Times ad, I was reminded of a story I was once told of a Harlem woman who dragged her tongue supplicating the Madonna to strike dead a relative who was harming her family. 
Many years ago, immigrant butcher Antonio Davida sang me the ballad “Evvivi Santi Rocche” in his Brooklyn basement kitchen. I offer Antonio’s song (here edited), used in healing ceremonies in his hometown Pomarico (Matera province, Basilicata), as a digital palliative to inanity:
E ci la canti tre voti la dì,                   And who ever sings this three times a day,
e Santa Rocchi li leva la mala via!    St. Roche will keep from the dangerous path!
E ci la canti tre voti la dì,                   And who ever sings this three times a day,
e Santa Rocchi li leva la mala via!    St. Roche will keep from the dangerous path!

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Thank you very much for this blog. I am 24 years old, and was just able to catch the older generation that widely practiced these traditions in the Little Italys of the Pittsburgh region. I write a lot of fiction that deals heavily in folk traditions such as the ones you have mentioned above. I am also a student of anthropology with an insatiable interest in the Italian/American culture. What resources of research would you suggest? Thank you.

my nonna...

a few years back my nonna gave me the horn and the hand with the two fingers up to wear around my neck and keep the evil spirits away. she told me it would keep away the malocchio. shes from calabria and still believes that people put spells on eachother. just thought id share.... thanks...

People still *do* put spells

People still *do* put spells on each other here in Italy! :)

I live in the countryside in Tuscany and we have many people around here who take away malocchio and other things.

It is a tradition that is very much alive many places.