Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mourning James Not Tony

The passing of any person is sad. The passing of someone at the still-young age of 51 is very sad. Actor, James Gandolfini, died in Rome on 19 June 2013. How awful to lose a person described as a "good man who never forgot his roots" a "humble, humorous man of immense talent". So I mourn the death of James Gandolfini...but not the death of Anthony John "Tony" Soprano.

I'm fully aware that the part of Tony Soprano is fictitious...kinda. His character is loosely based on real life NJ mobster and street boss, Vincent "Vinny Ocean" Palermo. I didn't like the HBO drama, "The Sopranos". I didn't like the movies, "The Godfather or Goodfellas". I am immensely proud of being an American-Italian. I don't like those of my nationality being portrayed as goons who can't speak a sentence unless it has the "F" word. None of my relatives carried a gun. The men in my family didn't curse. They were gentlemen.
What is it about evil men that much of society idolizes? Why are some of us drawn to those who murder, cheat, lie and swear up a storm? Why are TV/Movie viewers attracted to dark characters? Lucifer is called the Angel of Light. The Ancient One holds a unique attraction for many because of its wicked beauty and cunning ways. I don't want to be in that presence any more than I want to spend precious time watching men with evil dispositions.

Sorry, but even in our enlightened age, there are those who still believe in the stereotypical Italian. Case in point...my nephew attended a southern university. He never had a run-in with the law, never carried a weapon, etc, etc. His college roommate, a home state boy, commented that he tried to get out of rooming with my nephew because he was afraid to share a dorm with a New York Italian kid. You know, a mafia boy. What?

I know that Mr. Gandolfini had many stellar performances aside from that of a mob boss. But the one that many gush over is none other than cafone, Tony Soprano. Tony Soprano was shown as a short-tempered, violent sociopath prone to depression and panic attacks. Do ya think murdering eight men had something to do with his anxiety? How messed up is it when an animal lover, such as Tony, severely pistol whips a man because he had something to do with the death of a horse? Were there animal lovers out there cheering him on? Two wrongs don't make a right.

My father, Paul Cerabona, was a 1st generation Italian-American. He was admired as a "man's man". He never slapped his wife. He never had a mistress. Tony had 4. Ya know what you feared the most about my dad? That you'd lose his respect or his friendship. He often said, "You have two people to fear...me and God up-above." Interesting and much misunderstood are the words, fear of the Lord. It's not being afraid of Him, but respecting Him with humility. You would be mortified to be disgraced in my dad's eyes...& even more of a disgrace... in God's eyes.
Now gaze upon Tom Selleck's character, Frank Reagan, police commissioner in the TV drama, "Blue Bloods". I want to cheer at the end of each episode. He's someone to look up to. Someone our kids can admire and emulate. He's a family man, fair and balanced. He admits he has flaws and tries to overcome them. Jesus is welcomed at his dinner table...saying grace isn't out of vogue in the Reagan household.
I loved Ray Romano in "Everybody Loves Raymond". Ray Barone was a goofus, sure. But he was decent, and family came first...even if it took the whole episode to prove it. He didn't lust after his daughter's Girl Scout Leader, nor abused his wife for her awful cooking. He is an Italian I can relate to.

Okay, so these are actors playing characters. But who impresses our kids the most? Hollywood stars and the characters they portray. Girls get pregnant out of wedlock because their Hollywood idol is with child. The clothes they wear are trampy because the actress they most admire walks around half nude.  I admire the actress that refuses to strip for the camera. That is a real woman. That takes guts. I don't admire characters in shows like, Sex In The City or Desperate Housewives of NJ...NY...Hollywood, wherever. My friends and I don't sit around and discuss the sordid topics they discuss. My sisters and I don't behave in the raunchy way they do. I'm not desperate enough to watch those shows no less enjoy them. But thousands of viewers are enthralled with their antics. Do you know how many can't distinguish between the character and the actual actor? People meeting a TV doctor on the street will ask for medical advice!

In real life, James Gandolfini was a swell guy. In real life, celebrities like Charlie Sheen and Hugh Hefner are unsavory, to say the least. But so many people gush at their names. Our honor is our name. It's what we leave as our family legacy. Throughout history, people have died for their name's sake. I'm proud of both my maiden and married name. We instilled in our son the importance of his last name. He knows never to sully it. He knows to be proud of his heritage, too. I guess that's what bothers me the most, that characters like Tony Soprano are synonymous with my beloved ancestry. So rest in peace James Gandolfini....and may God have mercy on the Tony Sopranos of this world.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Madonnina" by Ferruzzi

(My print that hangs in our entry hall
Madonna of the Streets )
My love affair with "Madonnina" began in parochial school in the sixties. At Confirmation, confirmands were given a St. Joseph's missal. Mine was a handsome red bound book to help me comprehend and follow the Mass. I still have it. It's darn near miraculous that it survived a house fire, a major flood & several moves.

In between the whisper-thin pages are Holy Cards. Girls collected them like boys collected baseball cards. They were inspirational and often stunning portrayals of the saints, Christ, the Blessed Mother, the Holy Family or as He was called then, the Holy Ghost. Often on the back of the card was a prayer. My most beloved holy card was the "Madonna of the Streets".

Gaze upon the face of the "Madonnina", the little mother, in the photo above. Have you ever seen a more angelic expression? She is so young, innocent yet there is a strength about her....that mother's protectiveness for her child. Meditating on this lovely girl, a sense of peacefulness washes over me. It's exactly how I'd picture Blessed Mary, a young mother holding the Christ Child safely against her heart.

Truth be known, the beauty in the portrait is only 11 years old and she's cradling her year old brother. Angelina and Giovanni Cian caught the eye of Italian painter,  Roberto Ferruzzi, while he was in Venice. Intrigued by the girl, he asked her to model for him. I'm sure the family was scandalized by such a proposition. Perhaps, the family desperately needed the money. If that had been the case, they accepted it with the promise that no one would know of the arrangement. The fact that the painting was also entitled, "Madonna of the Streets", was enough reason to keep the identity of the girl a secret.

"Madonna della Strada" was exhibited in 1897, and although Ferruzzi did not intend the painting to be a depiction of the Blessed Mother and Child, it was immediately seen as such by Italian Catholics. In the early 20th century, Italian immigrants to America were enraptured with the painting and so began a love affair with Ferruzzi's, "Madonnina".

The identity of the lovely girl and child remained a secret until 1984. No one could have been more surprised at the true identity of the Madonna than Mary Bovo who later became Sr. Angela Marie, order of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Mary's parents, Angelina and Antonio Bovo, left Italy and settled with their 10 children in Oakland, California, in 1906. The family lived comfortably until 1929, when 42-year-old Antonio died of influenza. Angelina struggled to provide for her family, the stress causing her a nervous breakdown that confined her to a mental institution until her death in 1972.

The children had been placed in orphanages and foster homes, but by the grace of God, were able to keep track of one another. It is not unusual for a person that has experienced family separation to seek their roots. This was so with Sr. Angela Marie. On a visit to Italy in 1984, she was reunited with two elderly aunts. Her resemblance to her mother had not gone unnoticed by the relatives. Excitedly, Aunt Giulia showed Sr. Angela Marie a special print of Roberto Ferruzzi's beloved portrait  "Madonnina".

Sister Angela Marie was informed, "this is your mother". The nun agreed, thinking her aunt referred to Our Blessed Mother. "No,"  her aunt insisted. "Your real mother." What a revelation, what a shock that the serene girl in the print was none other than her mother, Angelina Cian-Bovo. The truth of this discovery had been verified in preserved personal notes belonging to Ferruzzi. For her entire life, Angelina, treasured this secret in her heart. It is much like the Blessed Mother treasuring the many mysteries and prophecies concerning her Son in her heart

Sadly, the original painting has never been found. The last known owner was John George Alexander Leishman, a diplomat and steel millionaire who died in France in 1924. It is thought that the original vanished during WWII and could now be in a private collection somewhere in Pennsylvania. 
The remarkable story associated with this portrait continued to unfold. A few years ago, Sr Angela Marie was rummaging through the meager belongings of her mother when she came upon a photo taken at St. Theresa's Convalescent Home. There was Angelina with a shawl gently draped over her head, her gaze heavenward, hands clasped together.
Was this just a pose of an eccentric woman confined to a sanatorium for a half a century? Or had a long ago promise finally been broken? 75 years of silence and the secret had found a voice. God had opened a window for this tucked away promise to be freed, at last. Nothing is a coincidence.

 There are many renditions of this famous painting. In some, the Madonna is wearing a blue cloak or a gold hood. In another she is surrounded by clouds and celestial beings. But all have one thing in common, the ethereal countenance of Angelina Bovo. So beatific is her expression that members of the Sisters Of Life receive a medal of the "Madonnina" at their first profession.

Though Ferruzzi's other works,
"The Girl"
"The Girl", "La Prima Penitenza", and "Zitto" to name a few, have enjoyed recognition among Italian painters, his "Madonnina" is the most famous. I believe the success of this painting is a message from God Who found favor with Angelina Bovo. The little Madonna beckons His children to open their hearts to her Son, the Christ.
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(Sr Angela Marie 50th Jubilee)