An Italian November

Choosing a subject for my blogs takes me anywhere from current events to landmark anniversaries. As I checked out our Institute almanac, I found some noteworthy events that occurred in Novembers past.

Before I recount those events, a few words are in order to explain why September through December are mis-numbered. Even a smattering of Latin reveals that September should be the 7th month not the 9th, and so on.  This was the logical case before 153 BC when our Roman ancestors celebrated New Year’s Day on March 1st.  However, by that time, the calendar was seasonally  out of whack due to unapplied solar calculations each year.  To return to the seasonal norm they made January 1st the start of the year.  I suppose the Roman Senate thought renaming the effected months would only confuse the public even more.

The dictator Julius Caesar, who reformed the calendar, also ignored the inconsistency by squeezing in two new months before September to make the year 365 days with 12 months. To continue the numbering deceit, he named the new months Quintilis and Sextilis (5th and 6th!)  The Romans later renamed them July and August to honor Divine Julius and his heir Augustus.

Now, back to November.

On November 5, 1974, Ella Grasso was elected Governor of Connecticut. She was the first woman elected to that office in any state.  When you stop to think how, out of all ethnic groups in America, Italian American women broke the multiple glass ceilings of state governor (Grasso), U.S. vice presidential candidate (Geraldine Ferraro), and House Speaker (Nancy Pelosi), you can only be awed by Italic talent and drive.

On November 7, 1860, super patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi escorted King Victor Emanuel of Savoy into Naples, the capital of the newly conquered Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Garibaldi had vanquished that Kingdom in short order and turned it over to Victor Emanuel with a handshake.  Roman Italy, from the Alps to Sicily, was reconstituted at that moment after fifteen hundred years.  Five months later the modern Italian nation was official proclaimed when Victor Emanuel was declared King of Italy.  Looking back, reuniting Italy within a decade of the 19th Century could be persuasively interpreted as an heavenly act of the Roman gods.

On November 10, 1494, the first book of accounting was published by Fra Luca Pacioli. Essentially, the method of double-entry bookkeeping was codified as the standard financial tool of capitalism.  “Balancing the books” entered our jargon as debits had to equal credits.  The Italian language gave us the everyday words of capitalism: banco, credito, debito, cassa (cash), conto (account), disconto, netto, bilanza, banca rotta (bankruptcy).  Pacioli gave capitalism a way to stay transparent. You can thank him for auditing and GAAP – “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.” (Beware: keeping “a second set of books” is not the same as double-entry bookkeeping!)

It was on November 15, 1512 that Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel was opened to the public. Italian art rendered Christianity into a full color experience to be enjoyed by the masses.  It shattered religious taboos against graven images, to give life and form to people and events in the Bible.  It propelled the rebirth of the Greco-Roman quest for beauty and humanism. It freed Western Civilization from the fanatical strictures of Middle Eastern intolerance.

On November 21, 1964, the Verrazzano Bridge was opened. Named for the first European to enter New York Harbor – explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano – the bridge was almost named for recently assassinated President John F. Kennedy.  Thankfully. Brooklyn activist John LaCorte fought to have Verrazzano rightly memorialized.  The bridge’s name is a constant reminder of an early Italian presence in America.  May it endure any future attempts to rename it!

The last week of November marks the birth of baseball great Joe DiMaggio (November 25th) and the death of opera composer Giacomo Puccini (November 29th).  These two masters of distinct skills are representative of our diverse talents.  Few ethnic groups possess the wide-ranging mental and physical talents of the Italic people.

I can pick any month of the calendar and find amazing accomplishments of the Italic people. But how do we communicate this legacy to the new generations? -JLM

2 thoughts on “An Italian November”

  1. How do we convey this? It’s a three-step process, and should be much easier than even the twelve-stop one for Alcoholics Anonymous (though it isn’t, to our detriment): 1) Convince Italian American “artists” to stop catering to the media’s definition of what “Italian” means (in their eyes, mobsters and morons); 2) Convince our own people–i.e, film audiences– to stop mooning over our “mob-stars” or treating “The Godfather” saga as the Bible of the Italian immigrant experience; and 3) have Italian American organizational leaders unafraid to shame our actors or call Hollywood bigots to task.

    We have the talent and the wealth. We do not have the will nor the educational self-confidence.

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