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Franky in New York
   The Beautiful Life

Welcome back! Can you believe it's already that part of the year, November in sight and Halloween reminders everywhere? Well, while enjoying Halloween we like to remember that Italian culture is full of its own traditions. Instead of celebrating on October 31st, Italians used to honor All Saints' Day (November 1st, which by the way is a national holiday) and the Day of the Dead (November 2nd) well before "trick or treat" and costume parties became popular. So, why don't we explore them?

A good reading is always a good start: let's dive into 1940s Sicily with a beautiful short story by the late author Andrea Camilleri. Then find out how the words Halloween and Ognissanti are closer than expected, and finally leaf through Italian traditions, culinary and not only.

Happy Halloween! Knock knock, trick or treat?

Until 1943, in the night that passed between the first and the second day of November, every Sicilian house where there was a picciliddro (a little boy, translator's note) was populated with dead familiar to him. Not ghosts with white linzòlo (bedsheet) and with the scrunch of chains, mind you, not those that are frightening, but such and such as you could see in the photographs exhibited in the living room, worn, the occasional half smile printed on the face, the good ironed dress in a workmanlike manner, they made no difference with the living. We nicareddri (kids), before going to bed, put a wicker basket under the bed (the size varied according to the money there was in the family) that the dead loved ones would fill at night with sweets and gifts that we would find on the 2nd morning, upon awakening.


Excited, sweaty, we struggled to fall asleep: we wanted to see them, our dead, while with a light step they came to the bed, caressed us, lowered themselves to take the basket. After a restless sleep we woke up at dawn to go looking. Because the dead wanted to play with us, to give us fun, and therefore they didn't put the basket back where they had found it, but went to hide it carefully, we had to look for it all around home. Never again will I feel the heartbeat of finding it when I discovered the overflowing basket above a wardrobe or by a door. The toys were tin trains, wooden toy cars, rag dolls, wooden cubes that formed landscapes. I was 8 years old when grandfather Giuseppe, begged for a long time in my prayers, brought me the legendary Meccano from the afterlife and a few lines of fever broke out for my happiness.


The sweets were the ritual ones, called "of the dead": marzipan shaped and painted to look like fruit, "apple branches" made of flour and honey, mustazzola of cooked wine and other delights such as viscotti regina, tetù, carcagnette. There was never a lack of the "sugar baby" which generally depicted a bersagliere with a trumpet in his mouth or a colorful dancer in a dance step. At a certain moment in the morning, combed and dressed in order, we went with the family to the cemetery to greet and thank the dead. For us little ones it was a party, we swarmed along the paths to meet with friends, schoolmates: "What did the dead bring you this year?". A question that we did not ask Tatuzzo Prestìa, who was our exact age, on that November 2 when we saw him standing and composed in front of the tomb of his father, who passed away the year before, while holding the handlebars of a glittering tricycle.


In short, on November 2nd we returned the visit that the dead had paid us the day before: it was not a ritual, but an affectionate custom. Then, in 1943, the Christmas tree arrived with the American soldiers and slowly, year after year, the dead lost their way to the houses where they were waiting for them, happy and awake until the end of the day, the children or the children of the children. Too bad. We had lost the possibility of touching, materially, that thread that binds our personal history to that of those who had preceded us and "printed" us, as scientists have explained to us in recent years. While today that thread can only be guessed through a science fiction microscope. And so we become poorer: Montaigne wrote that meditation on death is meditation on freedom, because whoever has learned to die has unlearned to serve.

Andrea Camilleri was one of the most famous Italian contemporary writers. This short story, whose original title is Il Giorno dei Morti, is part of Racconti Quotidiani (Everyday Stories), published in 2001 by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. The author, born in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, was also a famous radio and television writer. He passed away in 2019, at 93 years old.
Probably you all already know that Halloween comes from Allhallow's-even: in 1700s English it meant "the evening before All Saints' Day". In Italian the word used for November 1st is Ognissanti (aka All Saints). Now let's close the dictionary and open the history book. The first ones to celebrate the night between October 31 and November 1st were the Celtics: to them, it was like New Year's Eve as it was the end of the harvest season. The cold weather approaching, and the lack of farming work, made them feel the urge to celebrate the spirit of community - especially in the night in which the dead are believed to come back to meet with us.
The tradition was saved by the Romans, and even passed the Papal exam: in 700 Gregory III established Ognissanti on November 1st. Then came the Protestant Reformation, the feast lost its Catholic profile in the newly reformed countries, and went back to its pagan origins - the ones we have today. 


Until the recent past, Italy has never celebrated Halloween the English way, yet it has always had its traditions to mark the beginning of November. Ognissanti, or All Saints’ Day, on November 1st, is a Catholic feast day and a national holiday: a day meant to honor all the saints and martyrs. Just like on an extra Sunday, people go to church and gather for a festive meal. The following day, November 2nd, is Il Giorno dei Morti, aka The Day of the Dead, marked by the ritual visit to the graves of family members and friends. Italian cemeteries teem with people, cleaning the gravestones and adorning them with flowers (typically chrysanthemums, as they happen to be seasonal). 

Being Ognissanti a very ancient feast, there are many different rituals all over Italy, taking place both on the night of October 31st and November 1st, linked to rural traditions. In Orsara di Puglia, province of Foggia, they make bonfires and shape pumpkins as human heads (the "Heads of Purgatory"). A similar tradition takes place in Serra San Bruno, province of Vibo Valentia, in Calabria. As in a "trick or treat", children carry pumpkins carved as skulls and go around asking for money. In many villages, especially in Southern and insular Italy, people use to cook and set the table for the departed too, and to leave everything as it is all night long. Often, towns and villages also organize community lunches and dinners open to everybody, celebrating the spirit of togetherness and raising money to fund charity activities.

Pan dei Morti, Ossa di Morto, Fruttini di Marzapane, Castagnaccio. Even on All Saints' Day and The Day of the Dead, Italians unleash all their culinary creativity. These are just some among the most traditional treats of the season. The Pan dei Morti, that is "Bread of the Dead", is actually a kind of spicy soft cookie made with cacao and nuts. Told to come from Northern Italy, it's present in Tuscany and Sicily too.
The creepy Ossa di Morto - Dead's Bones - are a traditional Sicilian delicacy prepared with just flour, water, sugar and cinnamon. Also known as Mustazzoli or Scardellini, they are usually served with the sweet Vin Santo. Tuscany celebrates the season with the Fruttini di Marzapane, or Marzipan Little Fruits (they can be found in Sicily too): super sweet treats shaped as minion pieces of fruit. Another Tuscan tradition is the Castagnaccio, a simple chestnut bread of peasant origins.
"Our Italian Journey" Tips Your Trip
If you crave first-hand Italian tips for your next vacation, would you trust someone who is so in love with the Belpaese to have actually moved there? We bet you would, and we've got you covered. Ilene and Gary Modica are the founders of Our Italian Journey (, a multidimensional brand all focused on Italy. Beside their blog, the award-winning couple's travel blog for 2020 and 2021, Ilene and Gary have published a book, a sentimental-and-informative journal about their whole year all over Italy. Now they've settled in Lucca: let's see what the view from their window looks like...

The Charm of Lucca in Autumn
Autumn is here in Tuscany and the weather has changed, as well as the landscape. Trees are showing some beautiful reds and yellows and the chestnut trees on the medieval wall, called Le Mura in Italian, have started dropping their pods. Broken chestnuts are everywhere on the path. Scattered and broken by joggers, strollers, bicycles, and those just walking and enjoying the sunshine. Some of these trees have been around for almost 200 years. Lucca’s impressive medieval wall was originally built in the 16th century and spans for 4.2 km. It completely surrounds the Historic Centro. This wall is more than 10 meters high in several places and there are several openings, portas, to enter and leave the city center.

If you want to make a quick getaway from the town, take a 20-minute train trip to Borgo A Mozzano to see the famous Ponte della Maddalena or better known as Ponte Del Diavolo (aka Devil's Bridge, very appropriate for this Halloween time...). Though the village is lovely, the bridge is - at least in this period - a tad bit disappointing, with very little water in the river. WE’ve seen gorgeous photographs of this bridge with a full circle reflection with the water glistening in the sunshine, but apparently this is not the case these days. Located at the beginning of the Serchio Valley, about 20 km from Lucca the territory has been inhabited since ancient times. Legend has it that the bridge was built by the Devil because of its asymmetric shape as this could only have been done with the aid of the supernatural. In fact, the architect, who was unable to complete the construction of the bridge made a pact with the Devil, who would complete the task in exchange for the first soul that crossed it. Oddly enough, once finished, the architect made a dog walk across the bridge whose soul the Devil was forced to take. Again, let’s hope it’s just a legend.

For further details about Lucca you can also go to the website of Lucca Tourism Office at Our Italian Journey book is available at
The NIAF 46th Anniversary Gala has just passed, but its echo is still resonating. The Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum award for 2020 went to Yes Chef by Amy Campione, and to Potentially Dangerous by Zach & Naomi Baliva for 2021. Yet, all the finalists are being streamed free on the NIAF website. The four movies still to be watched are Who Kill da Chief? by Charles Geno Marsala (October 28th), Potentially Dangerous by Zach & Naomi Baliva (November 1st), Calzone's Pizza by Brandon Mather & Zach Laws (November 2nd), and BIG CITY, Little Italy by Jeffrey & Nick Santoro (November 4th). All the livestreamings start at 7 pm ET, registrations at 

Pack Your Luggage, Sicily Is Waiting For You

She's been put on hold by the pandemic, but finally her dream has come true again - and now nothing will stop her. Karen La Rosa, founder of La RosaWorks Sicily Tours & Travel ( is a Sicilian American who has been working for years between Sicily and the US going back and forth, touring people through an authentic Sicilian experience. Now that her two Fall tours of Sicily, Crossroads of the Mediterranean and the Magna Via Francigena Walking Tour have just been wrapped up, she's back to work planning for 2022. First appointment, the Spring Western Sicily Tour. Did you know that Spring strikes Sicily earlier than anywhere else in Italy?

Contact Karen, and get a free Sicilian treat
Just for The Beautiful Life subscribers, Karen offers a special promo. Contact her through the website to discuss a tour to Sicily and receive a free Sicilian treat. Don't forget to include the phrase "Franky sent me".
One smile before you go...
Drop the spaghetti for a moment, and just focus on the meatballs. Meatballs, aka polpette in Italian, truly are a dinner-saver: easy to make, cheap, and loved by everyone. Matteo Bruno, restaurateur, film and TV producer, is also the author of The Ultimate Guide to Meatballs: a culinary journey through 100 recipes that will make you find the perfect meatballs for a family dinner - or a football feast. And, surprise surprise, even some vegetarian (meat?)balls tips. The book is available at
Copyright © 2021 Franky in New York, All rights reserved.

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