The Sopranos

The Sopranos has been praised by many critics as the most groundbreaking television series of all time.  It has won countless awards and has been singled out for the writing, acting and directing.  The series is noted for its content, music, cinematography and its ability to deal with controversial subjects including crime, gender roles, mental illness and Italian-American culture.  The show has also been frequently criticized for perpetuating negatives stereotypes about Italian Americans.  It ran for six seasons from 1999 to 2007.

The show centers on the life of Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini (1961 – 2013), an Italian-American mobster as he attempts to balance his family life with that of being a mafia leader.  These are explored during therapy sessions with psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi, played by Lorraine Bracco.  At times Tony seems to be a giant bear of a man prone to violence; at other times he seems small and vulnerable, as he is also prone to panic attacks and bouts of depression.  Dr. Melfi often clashes with Tony but she is rational and humane, in contrast to Tony’s personality.  A serial womanizer, Tony divulges his sexual attraction to her; Dr. Melfi, on the other hand, is more attracted to Tony’s power and danger and to the challenge of treating such an unusual patient.

Like the characters they portray, many of the actors on The Sopranos are Italian-American.  The series shares 27 actors with the 1990 Martin Scorsese gangster film, Goodfellas, including Bracco, Michael Imperioli, and Tony Sirico.  In fact, some of the episodes of the series were based on the real life of Tony Sirico who, when he was young, joined a gang and ended up being arrested 28 times for weapons possession, robbery and other crimes.  He agreed to play the role of Paulie Walnuts in the series as long as the character wasn’t a “rat.”

The series was created by David Chase, who credits American playwrights Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams for influence on the show’s writing and film director Federico Fellini as an important influence on the show’s cinematic style.  Chase was fascinated by organized crime and the mafia from an early age.  The Sopranos was inspired in part by the DeCavalcante family and the Boiardo family, two New Jersey organized crime families.  In fact, most of the exterior scenes for the series were filmed in New Jersey.  At the outset, Tony Soprano drives through the Lincoln Tunnel and onto the New Jersey turnpike before he pulls into the driveway of his suburban home.  The sequence is designed to show that this particular mafia show is set in New Jersey, as opposed to New York, where most previous mafia dramas had been set.

It is the final episode that sparked one of the most controversial finales in television history.  Tony is in a diner waiting for his wife Carmela and his daughter Meadow.  A man at the counter notices Tony and then goes to the restroom.  The tension mounts.  The diner door opens with a bell ringing.  Tony looks up, and the screen cuts to black.  After a few seconds, the credits roll in silence.  Some viewers thought that they had experienced a cable outage.  The question of whether Tony was murdered has continued for years and has spawned websites devoted to finding out Chases’ true intention. 

Posted in English, Foto, Italoamericani, Mafia, Storia, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Le Buchette del Vino

Nel periodo compreso tra le pestilenze bubboniche europee del 1300 e del 1600, i commercianti di vino in Toscana costruirono a creare le “finestre del vino” per impedire che acquirenti e venditori entrassero in stretto contatto. Queste finestre ad arco erano piccole aperture sulle facciate di palazzi ed edifici attraverso le quali, nel corso dei secoli, venivano acquistati e venduti bicchieri, fiaschi e bottiglie di vino. Queste strutture architettoniche uniche e le iniziative commerciali ad esse legate erano una specialità unicamente fiorentina. I commercianti di vino passavano il vino attraverso la finestra al cliente, ma non ricevevano il pagamento direttamente nelle loro mani. Infatti, passavano una pala di metallo al cliente, su cui questo metteva le monete.  Infine il venditore disinfettava le monete con l’aceto prima di raccoglierle.

Chi sapeva che le persone già a quel tempo capivano la teoria dei germi o come si diffondeva la malattia?

Molteplici sono i nomi attribuiti alle finestre durante quegli anni, a testimonianza della ricchezza della lingua e della cultura italiana: buchette, finestrini, tabernacoli, porticine, mostre, sportellini, nicchie, porte del paradiso, finestruole, porticcciole, buche, finestrine, porticelle. I nomi sono tanto vari quanto le caratteristiche architettoniche di ogni finestra.

Le buchette del vino sono passate di moda nel corso dei secoli, ma ora sono tornate alla ribalta durante la pandemia. Alcune attività di ristorazione e caffetteria di Firenze le stanno utilizzando di nuovo per offrire vino, caffè, cocktail, gelato e cibo da asporto per ridure il contatto al minimo. Fondata nel 1929, Vivoli è uno dei più antichi produttori di gelato di Firenze. Oggi usa una vetrina per vendere gelato, semifreddo, zuccotto e affogato.

Secondo l’associazione “Buchette del Vino” ci sono circa 150 di queste storiche finestre a Firenze. L’associazione è stata fondata quasi cinque anni fa per proteggere queste aperture uniche da demolizioni e danni, e per aiutare cittadini e turisti ad apprezzare questi tabernacoli della cultura fiorentina. C’è in previsione l’intenzione di effettuare un censimento delle finestre e di assistere i proprietari per la protezione, il restauro e in alcuni casi anche per la riscoperta di quelle smarrite. L’associazione sta anche documentando il loro utilizzo storico. Secondo Matteo Faglia, presidente dell’associazione, “la gente poteva bussare alle piccole persiane di legno e farsi riempire le bottiglie direttamente dalle famiglie Antinori, Frescobaldi e Ricasoli, che ancora oggi producono alcuni dei vini italiani più conosciuti”.

Grazie mille alla mia amica, Anne LaRiviere, che mi ha mostrato un articolo su questo argomento.

Posted in Abitudini, Architecture, Arte, Firenze, Foto, Italia, Italiano, Storia, Toscana, Vino | 1 Comment

Wine Windows

Sometime between the bubonic plagues of the 1300s and 1600s in Europe, wine merchants in Tuscany built “wine windows” to prevent buyers and sellers from coming into close contact.  These arched windows were small openings on the facades of palazzos and buildings through which, over the course of centuries, glasses, flasks, and bottles of wine were bought and sold.  These unique architectural structures and unique commercial ventures were a Florentine specialty.  Wine merchants passed the wine through the window to the client but did not receive payment directly into their hands.  Instead, they passed a metal pallet to the client, who placed the coins on it.  Then the seller disinfected the coins with vinegar before collecting them.

Who knew that people back then understood germ theory or how disease was spread?

The wine windows were given many names over time, showcasing the richness of the Italian language: buchette, finestrini, tabernacoli, porticine, mostre, sportellini, nicchie, porte del paradiso, finestruole, porticciole, buche, finestrine, porticelle.  The names are as varied as the architectural features of each window.

Wine windows fell out of fashion over the centuries, but they are now making a comeback during the pandemic.  Businesses in Florence are using them to offer minimal-contact wine, coffee, cocktails, gelato, and take-out food.  Founded in 1929, Vivoli is one of the oldest gelato purveyors in Florence.  It is using a wine window to sell gelato, semifreddo, zuccotto (a combination of cake and ice cream), and affogato (ice cream “drowned” in coffee).

According to the Wine Windows Association, there are about 150 of these historic windows in Florence.  The association was founded nearly five years ago to protect these unique apertures from demolition and damage and to help citizens and tourists appreciate this icon of Florentine culture.  It is planning to undertake a census of the windows and to assist owners in protecting, restoring, and, in some cases, uncovering lost ones.  The association is also documenting their historical usage.  According to The Wine Window Associations’ president Matteo Faglia, “People could knock on the little wooden shutters and have their bottles filled direct fromm the Antinori, Frescobaldi and Ricasoli families, who still produce some of Italy’s best-known wine today.”

Many thanks to my friend Anne LaRiviere who introduced me to this topic!

Posted in Architecture, Arte, English, Firenze, Foto, Italia, Storia, Toscana, Uncategorized, Vino | Leave a comment