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EDINBURGH'S ITALIAN CULTURAL INSTITUTE.

The Italian Cultural Institute, founded in 1979, is an office of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Department for Cultural Promotion and Cooperation.

The Institute promotes Italian language and culture in Scotland and Northern Ireland and cooperates with local Institutions and Universities and serves as well as a gathering point for the Italian community.

The Institute promotes academic exchanges, organises arts exhibitions, sponsors the translation of Italian books, supports various events on literature, music, sciences, dance, film, design, fashion, theatre, cuisine, architecture, photography, etc

 

 

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There are countless books and subjects on the migration of Italians to Australia and the America's, but very few on Scotland and of those the vast majority are either out of print or very hard to get hold of. Some excellent books do exist, and it is from these that I have borrowed photographs and other such material.

The internet usually a reliable source of information, for this topic produced very poor results to begin with.

Consequently much of the material in this project comes to you from word of mouth alone.  

So where and how did it all start?

If you're familiar with the history then you'll know that most of today's Scotsitalians can trace their roots back to the early 1850's. 

This section skims over the 'how they got here' and 'what they did when they were here', rather it seeks to set in motion an understanding of how they have developed since those early days.

FigurineThe first settlers of note were mostly Statue Sellers (figurinai), many who had come up from London and were originally from Picinisco in the Frosinone region. Their principal aim was to escape the crippling economy and disastrous agricultural condition of their homeland and generate enough income to support their families. Many of these carved out careers in the arts and were accomplished barbers and hairdressers. Indeed in 1928 a college of Italian hairdressers opened up in Glasgow.

In the spectacularly preserved hilltop town of Coreglia Antelminelli (near Barga) there is I believe the one and only Museum of Statuettes and Migration. Many of the first journeys taken by the  pioneers is documented with tales, artefacts and even some statuettes from as early as the 1600's.

The majority of Italians soon diversified, selling ice cream, initially on the streets, later from cafe's. Interesting as most came from peasant farmer backgrounds and had no catering experience. It was not uncommon for them to work seven days 14 hours a day. It would take some years before they even made enough money even to visit Italy again. Most money was sent back to Italy then or funded other family members or villagers to come over.

Once the cafe's were fully operational, it was expected that all the family members contribute. This included long, anti-social hours which as a result led to very little contact with people from out-with the Italian community. Though schooling was deemed important, once secondary school had been completed, the children went directly into the family business. The family was all encompassing.

Much of the money was sent back to Italy either for the older generation left behind or to buy property.

As businesses expanded so the need for new employees began to grow. The head of the business would commonly recruit young Italian's, often from his home village. These Italians in turn would eventually own their own businesses in time.

In the households Italian was spoken, Italian food was the staple diet often with all the family dining together. Religious festivals were vehemently observed.

During the early part of the 20th century, Italians were expected to marry only Italians and it wasn't until the 1950's that there was a distinct shift in this thinking. Indeed, many of the older settlers hoped to return to Italy to retire one day and viewed Scotland in a transitory fashion.

As friendships from fellow settlers grew (through card games and religious occasions), a tight Italian business network soon emerged. In 1935, the Casa D'Italia opened in Glasgow,  a grand home from home for many Italians (this has  since closed down in 1989). Glasgow today has the third largest contingent of people from Italian extraction in the UK after London and Manchester.

The Cafes first major obstacle was the Temperance Movement of the early 1900's whereupon Italian shopkeepers were highlighted for the unruly behaviour that happened within the businesses (often as a result of being the only place open after the pubs closed) and of course for trading on Sundays. This was also where the young met to sing, dance and spend their pocket money, often with disregard to their parents consent! Xenophobic attacks and criticism in the press for lowering the moral tone was not uncommon. However solid legal argument and the creation of the Temperance Refreshment Traders Defence Association (consisting entirely of Italians) went in some way to eroding this mentality. Read the full web article

A large percentage of Italians in Scotland during the 30's were registered Fascist Party members. This appears to have been a response from a call from Mussolini, whose party's influence stretched to those communities outside Italy. This led to obvious tensions and with the outbreak of World War II many Italian Cafe's were vandalised and its owners persecuted.

With anti-Catholic sentiment also evident, the speed and the intensity of the violence that the Italians were subjected to shocked many. After all, for nearly half a decade they had lived side by side in total peace. Some of the family members born in the UK even fought for Britain. It wasn't long after that adult males were interned.

 

'The business life in the (Italian) community was based on trust, family loyalty and personal knowledge, which were the essential factors for economic success in a strange land.'

T.M. Devine The Scottish Nation

 

Many of these businesses somehow managed to continue trading, relying on the wives, children and the elderly members of the family. Though many had to be rebuilt from scratch following the end of the war. My great-aunt and her sister in law ran their shop for the duration of the War. This despite the fact that their husbands were interned and the husbands brother and family had escaped to Italy. In addition at one point the business was taken over by the army for use as a hospital.

For Scotsitalian growing up in the post-war period, this was an extremely trying time as taunts and abuse were commonplace. Perhaps as a direct result from this there has been very little immigration from Italy to Scotland since. This may also have to do with the fact that Italy now has a vibrant economy of its own, which at one point in 1999 had overtaken the GDP of the UK itself, known it economic circles as 'Il Sorpasso", though I suspect this is no longer the case since Italy's venture into Euro-Land. This of a scholarly disposition can check this out for yourself: CIA UK FACTBOOK  /  CIA ITALY FACTBOOK

There were of course a large number that remained and feeling a greater to need to assimilate it did not take long for many misconceptions to dissolve. 

With this understanding and an increase in further education more Scotsitalians were attending university and breaking into professional jobs and breaking out of their traditional roles in the family business. 

Despite this progressive assimilation, the Scotsitalian household retained a backbone of Italian food, customs and traditions. Superstitions were also well held, confusing to me as my mother always insisted that the number 13 was lucky! 

What remains evident however is that the Italian identity does not appear to have been diluted, rather it compliments many of the traits personified by living as a Scot, or perhaps I should say, Scotsitalian. Indeed, Scotsitalian filmmaker Sergio Casci identifies the Scotsitalians as a 'third' being representing the fusion of both backgrounds ultimately leading to the creation of a different characteristic. Never really feeling Scottish in Scotland or for that matter Italian in Italy. 

This theme is continued by the very same Sergio Casci, striking an interesting chord in the article If this was America  for biannual publication Italia and Italy discussing his views growing up as a Scotsitalian.

Mary Contini, of Valvona & Crolla in Edinburgh in a recent article states 'I am a Scot. I am a Scotsitalian. But essentially I am a Scot.' 

Also consider Anthony Minghella (of Scotsitalian parentage incidentally) when asked in a recent interview if he felt English or Italian replied: 

"I was born and raised on the Isle of Wight, an isolated area with few foreigners. My parents were Italian emigrants and therefore we were considered rather exotic. My parents talked about inglesi, as if they were talking about foreigners. But when I go to Italy, which I try to do as much as I can, I feel very English. I had an English education. English friends and my Italian is not very good. For a writer it is a good thing not to be too assimilated. I feel most at home in America, because everybody there is from another country."

However, the main theme of the last few points is what does it feel like to be a Scotsitalian.

I myself never really felt a 100% Scottish in Scotland or for that matter 100% Italian in Italy.

 Still, travelling with two passports does have its advantages.

 

What Happened to Auld Glesga?  features the following verse as it recounts the old days of the city. I believe this poem was written Adam McNaughton.

"Where is the Tally's that I knew so well?
That wee corner shoppie where they used to sell,
Hot peas, a McCallum, ice cream in a poke,
You knew they were Tallys the minute the spoke.
"

 

Lyc-an-Italian

"That's entertainment, as Scots Italians make their mark on British culture"

A recent poll conducted by Diet supplement specialist group Lyc-O-mato determined the most influential British Italians. No fewer than six Scotsitalians were listed in the top ten. Amongst them were Nicola Benedetti, Armando Iannucci, Sir Charles Forte, Tom Conti, Anthony Minghella with Sharleen Spiteri of Texas leading the list. Alicia Keys also warranted a mention.

Director of Valvona and Crolla, Francesca Contini and author Joe Pieri were interviewed for the piece.

See The Scotsman article.

 

Barga, the most Scottish town in Italy?

Today the links with the old country have been preserved as its never been easier or more affordable to visit. Indeed in a town like Barga, links are so strong that if you were to find yourself asking directions, chances are the reply you'll hear may be along the lines of 'nae bother hen, just take a wee left at the lights.

  Many Scotsitalians have returned to live in this area (Barga in particular) and now with regular air links they've also brought their friends and extended family and have settled here whether to work or retire. One such person is the inimitable Michele Biagi, raconteur, translator, sometime actor, general good guy and estate agent of Tuscan Homes, who is originally from Saltcoats. This picture is courtesy of Barganews and features Michele acting as interpreter for a RAI 3 in an interview involving Barga's Mayor Bruno Sereni (whose father spent much of his working life in Scotland) and one of Scotland's most influential artists of the present day John Bellany who now lives in the area. 

  Barga, most Scottish town in Italy?Barga claims to now be the 'Most Scottish Town' in Italy. There is even a permanent Scottish Immigrant section which features a photographic exhibition "Sull'amicizia Bargo - Scozzese" opened by Lord Provost of Edinburgh, the Rt. Hon. Lesley Hinds. This Barga-Scottish link is reciprocated here as word has reached me that the good people of Saltcoats have recently named a road, Barga Gardens in the Persimmon Homes Development in Dykesmains after the town. 

Scottish Week has now become a yearly event in Barga culminating in the Fish and Chip festival. This year in 2006, Paolo Nutini the Scotsitalian singer songwriter is expected to play at the event.

 

 

Another town that could lay claim to being the most Scottish town in Italy is Picinisco, located 850 metres above sea level in the Val Comino in ther Lazio region near Cassino, whose many sons and daughters also escaped famine, poverty and the prospect of opportunity to come to Scotland. Whilst the general pattern was for migrants from the Barga area to work in Fish and Chip shops, people from Picinisco were more likely to work in the Ice Cream trade. Despite many settling in the West coast of Scotland, many from Picinisco ventured to other parts of the UK too including Manchester, especially the Ancoats area, London, Cardiff and Belfast. 

Gayre Clan TartanLets not forget about Gurro, the small town in Northern Italy, which many considered to have been the final resting place for the Scots guards of France following Battle of Pavia in 1525, specifically the Gayre Clan (tartan opposite). The Lost Clan as it is locally referred to has left a lasting legacy on the town, they rested here following the defeat of the French and consoled the grieving widows whose husbands had died in the nearby battle. Today the local dialect still contains hundreds of Scots or Gaelic words, and many of the townsfolk appear to have a Highland look about them. The local museum even houses a relic of Tartan material worn there around the 18th century. Recently one local appeared fully clad in kilt and complete with bagpipes in Italy's version of the reality TV programme, Big Brother.

 

The call for a Scottish Italian Tartan.

I've been contacted in the past regarding the availability of a Scotsitalian Tartan and to be honest I didn't know myself and was kind of curious to find what was out there. 

I did a bit of digging and it seems to be a slightly grey area of sorts, though I managed to source out the following press reports: 

1.    A recent article appeared in the Falkirk Herald in September 2004. Mr. Lemetti of Camelon hopes to register the Italian National Tartan and has the full endorsement of the Italian Government. The Italian National Tartan is now available to buy online. I have regular contributor Russell to thank for bringing this site to my attention.

Clansman Italia is the only source for the new Italian National Tartan - ties from £12.00, scarves from £15, Gents Kilts (made to measure) from £195.00.

The Tartan contains colours that embody elements of the National and Praetorian Guard, the Tricolore, the Roman Empire and of course, the Azzurri football team.

2.    Anderson Kilts of Dumfries offer a Scozia Tartan, as modelled by Dario Franchitti. 

For more details contact:

5 Church Crescent, Dumfries DG1 1DF
Tel: 01387 250 250
Fax: 01387 250 150

3.    There are other tartans registered at the Scottish Tartan World Registry that have an Italian history to them. These are the 'Dr Confessore' tartan and the 'Prince Charles Edward Stewart' (Bonnie Prince Charlie) tartan - the latter being born in Rome.

4.    I understand that there is one that is currently awaiting registration in the Scottish Tartans World Register and has been given the term Scotsitalian Tartan. It is coloured green, white and red representing Italy of course - all on a blue background representing Scotland. I believe that this was developed by Paul Davidson, and Italian-born Tony Cirignaco. Mr. Cirignaco comments "Because the tartan Italians make up such a large part of the Scots community we felt it was about time they had a tartan of their own." The tartan is currently produced by Glencairn Crystal. Mr Cirignaco who manages the Bothwell Bridge Hotel adds "Italians have been in Scotland for so long, and the idea is so simple, that I can’t understand why nobody has thought of it before. It is a way of marrying the two cultures."

(The full article appears in the Scotsman of November 6th 2000.)

For more information on the Scotsitalian Tartan contact:

Tony Cirignaco, The Manager, Bothwell Bridge Hotel, 39 Main Street, Bothwell, G71 8EU. Scotland (UK).      Telephone No: 01698 852246.     Fax No: 01698 854686. E-mail: bothwellbridge@hotmail.com

 

The following observations of an Italian family are taken from an American perspective (courtesy of Scottish ex-pat Al Rizza) with more than some similarities for Italians living in Scotland.

  • There is some sort of religious statue in the hallway, living room and front porch.

  • The living room is filled with old Bombonieri with puffy fancy bows and stale Almonds.

  • A portrait of the Pope and Padre Pio hangs in the dining room.

  • God forbid if anyone ever attempted to eat, Ragu, Bertolli, a frozen TV dinner, or anything else in a jar, box or can; that's "Porcheria".

  • Complaints our parents have about takeout Foods:
    *Fast food - too much grease - "Porcheria" 
    *Oriental Cuisine - God knows what they put into it 
    *Pizza Hut, Domino's - I can make da same pizza for $ 2.00 - you pay $25.00!

  • Turkey is served on Thanksgiving, AFTER the antipasto, manicotti, gnocchi and lasagna. Later on we have Barbaque with da Bistecka.

Sunday Dinner is at 1:00pm after church

The meal goes something like this...

Table is set with everyday dishes, (unless Zio Luigi is visiting from Italy... then we take out the dishes in the velvet suitcase). Doesn't matter if they don't match...they're clean. 
All the utensils go on the right side of the plate and the napkin goes on the left. (Nonno's Fork has been widened to spear more pasta).
Put a clean kitchen towel at Nonno's plate because they won't use paper napkins.
Home-made wine in recycled wine bottles with a twist top; and bottles of Tap water in recycled plastic water bottles with the label worn off, are on the table. (Unless Zio Luigi is visiting from Italy....then we use the crystal Carafe with the dust in the engraved sections)
* First course, Antipasto...change plates
* Next, Macaroni (Nonna calls all pasta Macaroni)...change plate
* After that, Roasted Meats, Roasted Potatoes, and Overcooked Vegetables.
and change the plates * then and only then, (never at the beginning of the meal) would you eat the salad (homemade oil and vinegar dressing only (last years wine).. change plates
*Next, Fruit, Nuts land Lupini (on paper napkins because you ran out of dishes by now)
*Coffee Espresso with Sambuca and Hard Cookies (from the last time Nonna went to a Bridal Shower) with the stale almonds and freezer burn, to dip in the coffee.

After dinner the kids go play...the men go to lie down, (or have a game of "Briscloa"). They sleep so soundly you could perform brain surgery on them without anaesthesia.
Cousin Carmela performs a goofy hair-do on the youngest unsuspecting member of the family. The older women clean the kitchen and gossip about "il figlio de Maria" or someone that's dying.
Kids getting screamed at by Mum or Nonna -with half the sentence was English, the other half Italian.
Italian mothers never threw a baseball in their life, but they can nail you in the head with a shoe thrown from the kitchen while you're in the living room.

Italglese
A particular bizarre phenomenon, many Scotsitalian's will have experience of this mangled language where English words are often Italianised in conversation. As far as I know there isn't a name for this language so I'll call it Italglese.

Examples of such words such are:
  • Tayparey: To videotape, from the English verb To Tape. 
  • Beezy: From the English word Busy, especially used in the workplace.
  • Shayvarey: From the English verb To Shave.
  • Engagiatto: To become Engaged.

A particularly weird one is Kettola which I once heard to describe a kettle (back then there was no direct translation though I believe the word is now 'Bollitore'). 

 

Peter Muccini, a frequent contributor to this site reveals his own experiences:

The older generation of Scotsitalians developed a sort of Creole language by adapting certain English words. One such word was pambrocco which I used in an essay at Glasgow University in 1947. My tutor, Enrico Cocozza (one of the famous Scotsitalians in this websites' list), told me it did not exist and the correct term was prestitore su pegno which is Italian for ‘pawnbroker’.  These neologisms included mencia as in mencia e patate (mince and tatties), pocco (as in un pocco di patate, a poke of chips) checca (cake), broscia (brush) and trampi (yobs or uncouth persons). My favourite is sfoccheggiare, a verb that describes Billy Connolly’s frequent use of the four-lettered word beginning with F and ending in K. Thus: sfoccheggiava come un matto (‘he was effing and blinding like a madman’ or ‘he was swearing like a trooper’).

A similar phenomenon exists where I live in south-west London. The Italians here are mainly from around Naples, Ischia and Calabria. One gave me his address as Salacocca Road which, on consulting the A-Z guide, turned out to be Selkirk Road. Other Italian-sounding places in the London region are Anaorta (Hanworth), Anzelo (Hounslow) and Emelemsi (Hemel Hempstead). Michele Sasso who runs a motor repair business and specialises in Ferrari and Porsches has his own vocabulary which, to my amazement, is understood by his British customers. Michele’s language features the Neapolitan practice of truncating words by knocking off the last syllable. Thus ‘a game of snooker’ becomes ‘a game of snook’. Michele’s business is called M&S Autos but when he answers the phone he says ‘Emanessot’. Michele has also Neapolitanised the English for vehicle components so that sciocasso is his version for ‘shock absorber’. 

For those of you looking for Italian translations of Scottish poems, Peter recommends the following website  http://www.la-poesia.it/stranieri/inglesi/inglesi-index.htm.

 

 

 
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