After she'd read Unto the Daughters, one of my fellow Italian genealogists posed an interesting question on both the PIE and COI genealogy listservs. She has given me permission to share it here with my readers.
I'm noodling an answer as I plumb my personal feelings about the differences/similarities between omerta' and la bella figura vis a vis not only the book, but in light of my decision to tell Frances' story.
With Karen Brattesani's permission, here is what she posted:
Here are some thought questions, as the elementary school sisters would tell
This post prompts me to ask about your (everyone's) understanding of "la
bella figura." I came to this term only fairly recently, having grown up in
a household with an American-born Italian grandmother, a bit removed from
Italy in some ways.
Of course, my mother made sure to provide me with many examples of the
concept. I picture her reapplying her lipstick after dinner at a
restaurant. (I never think of doing that.) I recall her stage whisper to
me as a child when I was upset, "Lower your voice. The neighbors will
hear." And the way she made me readdress an envelope to send my (Italian)
friend when I was seven. I had spelled her surname with one 'l" instead of
two, and my mom wouldn't accept my solution of squeezing in another "l".
"It looks like you don't know how to spell her name," she explained.
Duh. Well, I didn't. I was seven.
These are light-hearted examples of my understanding of "la bella figura,"
simply consistent and detailed attempts to present oneself well. I did not
think that this concept might be applied to behavior that was aimed at
preventing family shame, which I would consider a much darker side of "la
bella figura," if the term applies at all. So my first question is: What
are your reactions to the use of this term for the events of this book?
Does 'la bella figura" have implications for family disgrace, or does that
extend the term too far - what is your experience?
I just finished Karen Tintori's book, also, and she is to be commended for
tackling such a difficult subject, and so personal, which clearly does not
place her family in the best light in terms of 'la bella figura" from the
perspective of our generation.
I wonder if her family events can be better understood with the concept of
"omerta'" (which she discusses) - the code of silence around unacceptable
behavior, combined with the long-time tendency for Italians, particularly in
southern Italy, to take crime and punishment into their own hands (rather
than leaving it to the official police).
Here is the wikipedia version of omerta': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omerta
So, my second questions is: Doesn't the cultural tradition of omerta' seem
a more appropriate context in which to understand the book's events?
And Karen T., maybe you can weigh in here. Thank you.
Her question has given me much to ponder and certainly has generated a lively discussion on the lists. Check back soon for my thoughts on this comparison, and please chime in on the Book Club page. I'm interested in your take on this, too.