I’m talking about southern Italy’s not-so-well-kept-secret, malocchio, derived from the Italian words for bad (male) and eye (occhio), known colloquially as “The Evil Eye.” Anyone who is of Italian heritage, or who has ever known someone who is, probably knows about it, although the general beliefs behind this tradition run through various cultures and religions.
Its roots are in envy, and its symptoms can include headache, excessive yawning, and a general malaise; yes, this sounds like just another day for some of us, but a trained eye, excuse the pun, can tell the difference. In its more severe forms, the afflicted can end up poor, injured, ill, or dead.
Now do I have your attention?
My first introduction to the “Evil Eye” came with the story of how my older brother was “overlooked” as a baby, which to southern Italians, is a very bad thing. It happens when someone looks at another with envy or, as in my brother’s case, someone had complimented his sparkling blue eyes without adding “God bless him” or the like.
So my great-grandmother called for olive oil, water, and scissors, shooed everyone out of the room, and went to work. Some sort of prayers were overheard, but since no one else was with her, and my bisnonna isn’t around anymore, what exactly happened in there has remained a family mystery.
But another question always nagged at me: What if I had been overlooked too? My great-grandmother was already gone by the time I was born, and my grandmother didn’t do the prayers. And although I certainly can’t claim stunning blue eyes, I’ve seen baby pictures; I wasn’t a toad.
What if I had been living my whole life under an evil spell?
Fast forward twenty years to Calabria, and I would finally have the answer, because there, little to my surprise, malocchio is alive and well, despite all the plastic red chili pepper horns liberally dispersed to counteract its effects; both the color red and the figure of a horn fight off the Evil Eye.
Do this out of view of the malocchio-er in order to avoid even more nasty looks. A sprinkling of salt around the outside of your house works too.
So, back in Calabria, one morning, P and I were enjoying the morning sun and cappuccini before a trip to the weekly farmer’s market when I suddenly felt sluggish, my head heavy and headachy—classic malocchio symptoms, P informed me through violent head nods. Lucky for me, nearby was Nato, an elderly man who knew just what to do.
Normally prone to mumbling anyway, Nato mumbled in my general direction while making the sign of the cross and kissing his fingertips repeatedly. He then informed me that it was a man far away who had given me the Evil Eye. Perhaps a whole ocean away? Interesting, and food for later thought, but my head still throbbed.
Then he said a bunch of prayers, mostly inaudible although I made out the name of Sant’Antonino, a “Hail Mary,” an “Our Father,” and a “Glory Be,” which took about three minutes in total, and poof!
Malocchio gone, I was assured.
Maybe it was the fact that I had come inside out of the sun or that I finally had my caffeine fix, but, you know what? My headache was gone, and I was inspired to head off to market after all. What weapons these prayers were!
So, of course, I wanted to know them—what if someone was envying P too? Turns out you can only learn the process on Christmas Eve from someone who has also been taught on Christmas Eve. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to look any further than P’s Mamma, who, a few months later, just before Midnight Mass, walked me through the prayers as I mangled the local dialect.
Sorry, no photographic evidence was allowed.
The fun part was when the water, olive oil, and scissors came into play. Solving a 35-year-old family mystery, this must’ve been what my great-grandmother had done, having carried the tradition from Calabria to America.
The process is actually quite simple. Place water in a small dish and then drop olive oil slowly into it. If the olive oil disperses, the Evil Eye is, indeed, present, and you pierce the oil with the scissors while reciting the prayers. (Most people around here don’t seem to use this olive oil, water, and scissors thing anymore though.)
“Die Malocchio Die!”
No, that is not an official part of any prayer, but I certainly can’t give away any centuries-old secrets here.
So now I’m armed against malocchio, especially important since it seems that I had been cursed for who knows how long (by a man, Nato said…hmm….). I don’t think I can remove the Evil Eye from myself (of those I’ve asked, no one is really sure of the protocol there), but luckily there’s no shortage of paesani willing to do the trick.
Who knows whether there’s any truth to the superstition, but really, at this point, who really cares?
All I know is that once a month, I smile at my neighbor Anna Maria as I sprinkle salt around my porch and steps, and I never, ever leave home without my plastic red horn keychain.
Caught this article this morning: Woman steals another’s identity, gets into Ivy League.
Brooke Henson was 20-years-old when she went missing seven years ago. Another girl named Esther Reed has been missing for about the same time. During those seven years, Esther, a high school dropout, took on Brooke’s identity and got into Harvard and Columbia using Brooke’s identity.
To be fair to Esther, though, she took the GED (high school equivalency diploma) and SAT (college admission) tests herself only using Brooke’s identity, so she did earn her university spots for the most part, right?
Esther is now missing again, by the way, now that her two identities have been discovered; let’s hope she’s OK somewhere.
Up until now, I’m following. Mostly.
But then two odd facts stand out in the article for very different reasons:
On the serious tip:
(1) Authorities are investigating Esther’s contacts in two of the United States military academies (Navy in Annapolis, MD and Army at West Point, NY) as well as some international money transfers she’s received.
“Officials want to make sure she’s not a spy.”
Really? That was definitely a turn I wasn’t expecting.
It also says the Army is investigating. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the inner workings of high level government, but why is the Army investigating? Don’t we have, like, a Federal Bureau of Investigation or something for things like this?
And doesn’t this involve potential international terrorism? What exactly does Homeland Security do these days?
All I’m saying is that I’m worried that the Army is being overworked, what with the war and all. Maybe someone else could handle the Ivy League mystery.
And on the not so serious tip:
(2) Esther had a high IQ but poor grades in school, so an English teacher encouraged her to join the speech team. None of this is odd to me. The following sentence from the article, though, is: “Reed won competitions with the speech team, and 10 years later her name is still on plaques at the high school.”
What do you mean still? Are plaques normally plated over to make room for new speech team winners? Or, in the spirit of Everything’s About Me, should I be going back to my high school and making sure my name hasn’t been erased from plaques (assuming it’s on any)?
Spies. International Terrorism. High School Plaque Tampering.
CNN.com can be scary in the morning.
Here’s the postmark:
Today is January 18.
My birthday is October 18.
At least the number of the day is right.
Thank you Poste Italiane (and Jenn)!
[tags]italian postal service, poste italiane, post office, life in italy[/tags]
During my first date with P, he disappeared for a few minutes while snipping a miniature rose off of a nearby bush. Keeping his reputation safe as village flower thief, the other day when he took the chicken photos, he also showed up with something else for me–our first mandorla blossom this season. This wasn’t technically thieving, though, as the tree is ours.
FYI, usually February brings these dainty flowers, but I suppose the temperate weather has fooled them.
In the sunshine:
And at sunset:
Happy Love Thursday everyone!
[tags]love thursday, mandorla, almonds, almond blossoms, blossoms, flowers[/tags]
Today’s What’s Cooking Wednesday is a recipe that I’ve never even heard of outside of P’s family, so this is some secret information. Delicious too. And it also, again, involves eggs. I told you we get a lot of them.
Spaghetti con Carciofi
(Spaghetti with Artichokes)
1. Clean the artichokes, cut them into wedges, and remember to put them in lemon water as you go so they don’t lose their color. Boil the artichokes in unsalted water until they are about half way to tender. Remove and drain.
2. Put on water for the pasta, and prepare pasta when water is ready.
3. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and cheese and set aside.
4. In a medium skillet, heat up olive oil and then sauté garlic until lightly golden brown. Add parsley and artichokes, coat them in the oil, and cook for about 15 minutes or until tender.
5. Add the egg and cheese to skillet and let cook until eggs harden, adding breadcrumbs at the very end and combining them well with the mixture. Add salt to taste.
6. For ease of mixing together the pasta and the sauce, remove large pieces of artichokes and set aside. Combine pasta with the remaining mixture and then garnish with the artichoke wedges for serving.