Jeanne Marie Spicuzza's My Italia
Jeanne Marie Spicuzza’s poetic travelogue, My Italia, a small chapbook with 31 pages, is packed full of delightfully funny allegories of life as an Italian; with family, food, wine, men, women, gondola rides, and even confession, taking center stage. As a fellow Italian, I can, and will swear (well maybe not swear, but will promise) on my mother’s grave, Ms. Spicuzza is dead on, in her observations, particularly hilarious was her prose piece “Sicilian Monopoly:”
When I played with my cousins Giovanni and Claudia and their friend, Roberto, I was pressured to trade my properties….My cousin Giovanni said, “you must trade!” “No!” I said….”Ah,” he said, “you are like the Sicilianas.” Then he picked up my houses on Park Place. “But I am Mafia. If you do not trade, you see these houses? I burn your houses.”
Spicuzza also genuflects nicely through not one, but two confessions with cathartic hilarity. From “Confession II:”
Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” I said. “It’s been one year since my last confession.”…I told him how I feel it is my mission to make a movie about the visionary medieval composer and Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen.
He said, “Ah, you are like’a the Frodo. Do you know Frodo?” “Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings,” I said.
“Yes! Tolkien was a great Catholic. He understood. Frodo didn’t want to go on his mission, either. But you must go. Like’a the Frodo.”
I cried. I felt happy to be like Frodo. Confession at St. Peter’s is the bomb.
Her poems, from this writer and herbalist living in Los Angeles made me laugh, made me gasp,and made me cry. It was great! I felt so at home; just like sitting ‘round the kitchen table at my grandma’s house, going through a string of emotions in a short period of time, gobbling it all up in just enough time to finish those second helpings of Catholic guilt, as well. These poems and stories, focus on the fact that most Italians, especially ones from Sicily, are surrounded by friends and relatives who are crazy and emotional, as she so keenly illustrated in her piece "Italian Theatre:"
If an audience member was funnier than the actors, the cast would have to pause, because everyone was screaming, “Bravo!” …It was madness! In Italy, there is so much drama…it’s difficult to know which side of the stage you are on.
The book is generously sprinkled like parmesan over tasty pasta with snapshot vignettes of her travels to Italy. Images for those of us who have never been there can only imagine to be true, and it turns out, are. Who among my Italian friends and relatives would not also want to go to St. Peter's to confession, want to take that gondola ride, wait in line to buy a pair of exquisite Italian made shoes, traveling by train?
For me, Spicuzza’s funniest poems were those in which the stories, the characters, the plot lines, even the dialogue, were so familiar to me; she could have been talking about my own family and friends.
From “ Belle Donnas:”
And never mess with their men, either. They’ll slap you in the back of the head.
From “Italian’s Who Yell and Punch:"
My friend Wendy got socked in
the face for no reason by a large woman
wearing a t-shirt and couldn’t read.
From “Italian Insomnia:"
My friend Jim knows why Sicilians don’t sleep well. We’re used to running
around in the night with knives, he says.
All in all, it was a delightful read, strangely filling in missing gaps in my own family history. From “Per La Mia Famiglia:”
When the train was pulling away, u papa looked up at me and proclaimed, “You look like your grandmother…Grazies a Dio, alla Famiglia! You remind me who I am.
But even if you’re not Italian, you’ll relate, you’ll laugh, Spicuzza reminds you, of who you are. Well, done. Grazies!
My Italia, from Libri Publishers, A division of seasons & a muse, inc. P.O. Box 5849. Playa del Rey, Ca 90296-5849. ISBN-0-9763f952-1-5, $9.95