Home | Valente and DiRenzo Family History - From Our Correspondent in Geneva (Angelo Abiuso)

School Prize Winner in Gambatesa

The boy at the center of the photograph, who is reciting poetry, is Luca Valente, a grandson of Luca Valente (1884-1955); the boy is the son of Luca's son Salvatore Valente. The event took place in Gambatesa's Our Lady Square (Largo della Madonna) at the end of the school year, about June 1965.

Boy reciting a poem for which he won his school's first prize, Gambatesa, 40 KB

From Left to Right:
  • with the hat: don Giovanni Giordano, teacher
  • with the French hat (beret): Mario D'Amico, teacher
  • the woman: Donna Elena (primary school teacher)
  • with the sun glasses: no idea
  • with arms folded: Sig. Mario Contento, teacher
  • behind Luca Valente: unknown
  • the priest: don Giacomo Venditti, a legend in Gambatesa
  • man with moustache: Umberto "U ramare"
  • with sun glasses: "Cola d'Uva"
  • with the hat: Fiorentino "A Za pep", shop keeper
  • behind him: Pasquale Di Mauro

Notes about the Photograph

The photograph of Luca Valente is from the end of his 5th school year, circa June 1965, because Luca was born in 1954. He had to recite poetry -- he got the 1st prize in the school contest and they had him recite the poem again. This was in Largo della Madonna, which is just across Strada Statale No. 17 from Gambatesa's school building [Street map of Gambatesa].

Luca's mother does not remember the tree (in the photograph).

Donna Elena Abiuso was the one who told my mother about the Zampognaro at Christmastime. Donna Elena's mother was also a school teacher.

Umberto "U ramare" was called this because rame means "copper", and Umberto used to make pots and pans out of copper for use in the kitchen. (Gambatesans refer to people by sopranom', (soprannomi, "nicknames"), some of which are public, and some of which are "private" -- i.e. not used to the people's faces and not spoken in public, because some people do not like their nickname and would be offended by hearing it or seeing it printed.)

Don Giacomo Venditti

The priest was don Giacomo Venditti ("Don Giacomo" = Father Giacomo), and there is a lot to tell about him. (He was not related to Gambatesa's Donato Venditti.) Giacomo Venditti was the parish priest of Gambatesa for only about 10-15 years; he died young, before 1970.

Don Giacomo was from Gambatesa, like most of the parish priests of Gambatesa. He was a very clever (intelligent), very modern man, maybe too modern for Gambatesa. Many stories are still told about him.

Don Giacomo was against ignorance with respect to God, religion. Ignoranza = in dialect niurantarie, "ignorancy" as it were; but the idea is as much of a lack of enlightenment (backwardness) as it is of a lack of specific knowledge.

One morning very early -- The first Mass of the day was at 6 AM (matins) -- during harvest time, don Giacomo arrived at the church to find people waiting outside. They wanted him to say the morning Mass earlier because they had to work in the fields. But don Giacomo told them, "God knows you have a lot of work to do. You can pray in the fields or come to Mass in the evening."

Another time people asked don Giacomo to have the robes taken off the statue of St. Joseph (San Giuseppe, 19th March) in the church; otherwise St. Joseph would not be able to hear their prayers. Don Giacomo asked them if they also wanted him to remove the roof from the church building so that the prayers said at Mass would reach heaven.

On the Feast of All Saints (1st November) when people visited the cemetery, there was a man people used to give money to so that he would say prayers for their dead; this man, who was an uneducated man himself, would read the prayers from a book he owned. When don Giacomo saw this, he told the people that he wanted it to stop. "This has no value," he told the people; "this man doesn't even know your dead relatives; you do. Stop giving him money. Pray with your own words if you don't know the prayers."

But the people said, "Don Giacomo has no faith," because they thought what mattered was the ritual, as if faith were a matter of reciting magic formulas. And the people in Gambatesa did not like don Giacomo.

Don Giacomo also used to joke with people in the street. There used to be many cats in Gambatesa. Don Giacomo once asked a woman to lend him two of her cats because he said there were two rats in the church that he wanted the cats to kill. But of course in those days there were old women who used to stay in the church all day long, and the dialect word don Giacomo used, zoccl'e, although it means "female rat", if applied to a woman means "bitch" or "old whore" (but the Italian sounds less rude, and it means "someone sly like a fox"; whether it is insulting or not depends on the speaker's tone of voice).

I forgot to ask this summer (2003) about the Gambatesan saying Ho detto la messa per il cazzo ("I said the Mass for a fig"), but I'm pretty sure that this is a don Giacomo story. The expression scuppà i chiove is probably from him too.

Don Giacomo taught the religion class in Gambatesa's state school. This was a class in religious instruction and it was taught by a priest. (Maybe this was part of the Concordat (Lateran Treaty) between the Vatican and the Kingdom of Italy of 1929. There are still Crosses in Italy's state schools, but now the religion class is not necessarily taught by a priest and it is more about the history of religions.)

Don Giacomo Venditti's title was professore della dottrina religiosa ("teacher of religious doctrine"). The title professore doesn't require that you have been to university; it simply means "teacher". (If you have been one or two years at university, the Italians give you the title dottore. The Italians like titles, like the English and Germans do. In Geneva they do not use these titles.) The title don is reserved for "important people" and all priests.

Photograph Source: from the collection of Rosaria VENA, who grew up at the Taverna del Tufo in Gambatesa and married Francesco Valente's brother Salvatore Valente, Forlì (FO). Rosaria's father Giuseppe VENA was born in Ielsi, so people in Gambatesa referred to him as Giuseppe u jevezarole ("Giuseppe the Ielsian").

Detail: school children in Gambatesa, 24 KB


Preface: the idea of niurantarie -- "ignorance" (knowledge), "backwardness" (enlightenment), "boorishness" (behavior) -- is deeply connected to the Gambatesans' sense of their peasant origins and identity. Maybe it is an idea essential to understanding them. So we spend some time with it.

Niurantarie ("Ignorance")

People in Gambatesa now say that people who did the things don Giacomo criticized did them because they were gent' niurant' (gente ignorante, "ignorant people").

Niurant' (Gambat.) = ignorant (Eng.) = ignorante (Ital.)

"Niurant'" is very often used in dialect. For example: Che niurant' ("What an ignorant person!") or gent' niurant'. In French for example it is used quite seldom.

In dialect it means something like "brain-limited person"; niurant' = simple-minded. It has a strong connection (in dialect) with education. Because in Gambatesa (for my parents' generation at least) schooling and diplomas are supposed to be a kind of medicine against niurantarie ("ignorance").

There is an Italian proverb that everyone takes advantage of the ignorant, and Italians who lived in the countryside saw a lot of this in their lifetimes. This was one reason they wanted their children to have an education.

But I learned at the University, a place were I saw many niurante de niurante (stronger than niurant'; in English "half-educated person"), and from talking with old people that niurantarie has nothing necessarily to do with education.

Although in Gambatesa "niurant'" is almost always applied to uneducated people, "educated niurant'" do exist. But they aren't called niurant', until their niurantarie exposes itself. And that is the point: because an educated niurant' ("ignoramus") can hide his niurantarie ("ignorance"), and the more educated he is the more difficult it is to discover, because education allows people to talk plausibly about things they know nothing about.

In Gambatesa they call a man who thinks he knows or pretends to know what he clearly does not know u cafone niurant' ("yokel" or "uninformed, slow-witted person from the countryside"). And if someone starts talking about things he knows nothing about, then he is said to fà a fegure du cazz' (fare la figura del cazzo, passer pour un idiot, mildly put: "make a fool, or, ass, of himself"). To behave this way is also a form of niurantarie; the cruelest part of being ignorant is when the person does not know that he is ignorant.

But the word "ignorant" is not only applied to a lack of schooling, knowledge, enlightenment; it may also be applied to boorish behavior. This is also part of the way Gambatesans use the word niurant'. Education is supposed to be a cure for this too, because someone who has been to school is supposed to "behave like an educated person".

"About that I am a niurant'." This is a joke if you say it about yourself, but insulting if you say it about someone else.


"The Train for the Cafoni", a story from Gambatesa

U cafone niurant' (il cafone ignorante) means someone from the countryside with no education and doing stupid things. One day he had to take the train to Termoli or Rome; I don't remember which. So he went to Campobasso, where the nearest train station to Gambatesa was, to wait for the train. He was standing on the platform for two days. Trains came and left the station but he remained standing there. The stationmaster was struck by this strange behavior and asked the man why. The man answered that he was waiting for the train for the cafoni. The stationmaster said: There is no special train for cafoni. Then the man said that he got this idea because before the trains left the conductor would say, "Signori, in carrozza" -- "Ladies and gentlemen, please board the carriages". In Gambatesa the signori were the dons -- the rich people (like the Iosa and D'Alessandro), the doctor, the priest. So he was waiting for the train for the cafoni ("the common people, peasants"). This is an example, legend, of a cafone niurant'.

Note: Italian trains had three classes of carriages.  The man in the story thought the whole train was 1st class.


Photograph of Don Giacomo Venditti, 16 KB

Don Giacomo Venditti
15 October 1914 - 28 March 1968
Cemetery Photograph, Gambatesa

Don Giacomo Stories

These stories like the stories above about Don Giacomo Venditti show his desire that his parishioners, who were still uneducated peasants at that time, understand that Christian faith is different from superstition and ritual without thought, but they also show his sense of humor and common touch.

Don Giacomo at the Seminary

Often in Gambatesa they tell stories in the voice of the person the story is about. So this story is told in the first person.

A story Don Giacomo Venditti used to tell was from when he was a student at the seminary. When I was at the seminary, very young, one evening one of the seminary teachers asked me if I wanted to go to the chapel to pray the rosary with him. The rosary is quite a long set of prayers to recite. And when we had said it once, I thought that we had done. But then the old priest said, "Now I want to pray to Saint Francis." And when we had finished, I thought that we had done. But then he said, "Now we must pray to Saint Joseph." And then, "We forgot to pray for the pope." And after each prayer I thought that we had done; but then the old priest would say, "And now I want to pray to Saint ..." Finally I said to myself, "All right, now we pray to all the saints you want and for everyone. And don't forget anyone, because it's the last time: I won't do it any more with you." Then we finished praying. The next evening when the old priest said to me, "Giacomino, do you want to pray the rosary with me," I answered, "No, no, I have things to do."

This could be considered a form of niurantarie -- going to church and praying endlessly like the old priest.

What is the attitude they take toward people like this in Gambatesa? Someone from there once said to me:

From time to time I try to imagine how patient God must be with us, and I try to do the same. This is the way I have learned to think and act, and it is the best part I took from the Gambatesan philosophy I got from my parents and my grandparents.

Don Giacomo and Santa Lucia

People in Gambatesa were very devoted to Santa Lucia (actually there are many woman named Lucia in Gambatesa). They used to go to Santa Lucia Sanctuary in Molise near Sepino, I think, or Sassinoro, I don't know. Some went by foot, some others using an old military truck (called at that time u trucc'pole -- I don't know the meaning of this word but trucc must come from "truck"). My father told me that once he went there, but with a lorry, an old military lorry. -- It was after the war, so suddenly there were lots of American lorries left in Italy and people were using these lorries like a bus. But some people used to go Santa Lucia Sanctuary by foot, as my mother did one year. People used to spend one day; they used to go there to visit the sanctuary, and then when they were coming back to Gambatesa, the tradition was to go straight into the church, because there was, and I think there is still, a statue of Santa Lucia in the church.

A Gambatesan told me that they used to put their knees down and to walk on their knees from the entrance of the church to the statue. And then he said that he felt that this was stupid, especially because that day he had on nice trousers and he didn't want to destroy the trousers by doing so. So he was not very happy to walk on his knees, and he rolled the end of the trousers up, which made the women laugh. And well. But the story goes on. So they went on their knees to the statue of Santa Lucia and they said some prayers. "I noticed that Don Giacomo was looking at us in a strange way," the man said, "standing near the altar but he didn't say anything." They said prayers (the rosary or a novena maybe but I am not sure) and then the people were waiting for Don Giacomo to give them a blessing before leaving the church, but Don Giacomo didn't more.

Before Don Giacomo, I think there was Don Donato Venditti: he used to do a blessing for the people who were coming back from Santa Lucia Sanctuary to pray in the church. So the people had finished their prayers and they were waiting for Don Giacomo to give them the blessing. But Don Giacomo was just looking at them, and they were looking at Don Giacomo, and then they started to talk to each other: "what happens, he doesn't come to give us the blessing." And after a while Don Giacomo was still not moving, but he was just standing near the altar; he was looking at them. They said to Don Giacomo, "Ah, Don Giacomo, you don't give us the blessing."

They waited for Don Giacomo to give them a blessing, but he said nothing and did nothing. After a while somebody said, "Don Giacomo, are you going to give us the blessing?"

Don Giacomo said: "What blessing do you want? Did you go to Santa Lucia?" -- "Yes," the people answered. -- "Did you pray there?" Don Giacomo asked. -- "Yes." -- "Now you came to the church, and did you pray to Santa Lucia again?" -- "Yes." -- "So what do you want now me to do? If you did all this, it is time to go back home and to do the cooking; it is late! Andate a casa a fare da mangiare che è tardi."

That man afterwards told me: Don Giacomo was very different from Don Donato (who was aristocratic and who used to "push people away or push them back"). "Don Giacomo was too modern and people didn't understand, but he was right. Since then I don't like bigotterie ("bigotries", "sanctimony", "false piety")." That man saw that atmosphere as a kind of niurantarie ("ignorance").

Don Giacomo and The Virgin Mary who was looking for Jesus Christ ...

My father doesn't remember exactly where it was. But he told me that Don Giacomo first -- He doesn't remember if Don Giacomo was at that time at the seminary or if he was already a priest -- because my father told me that the story happened somewhere near Bari. He thinks that maybe it was the first time Don Giacomo was a priest or something like this. But it didn't happen in Gambatesa.

Do you remember I told you that there is at Easter a procession in Gambatesa where there is a statue of Jesus Christ carried ahead, and then there is a woman who plays the part of Mary a few meters behind. My grandmother told me the Virgin Mary was looking for her son on Good Friday -- I don't remember exactly now, but there was a story like this.

So it happened the same in Bari or in the place where Don Giacomo was that there was the procession. But Don Giacomo that evening was sleeping, and the church where the procession had the end was closed. So people they did the procession, and then some people realized that the church was closed and so they ran to the presbytery and knocked on the door. They were knocking very strongly at the door and then Don Giacomo woke up and opened the door. People outside said: "Hurry up, Don Giacomo, the Virgin Mary is arriving looking for Jesus Christ -- you must open the church!"

Don Giacomo who had been sleeping a few minutes before said, "What has happened?" And the people said again, "Ah, hurry up, you must open the church because Mary is looking for Jesus and the church is closed."

Then Don Giacomo looked at them and said: Allora dite alla Vergine che da qui Gesù Cristo non è passato -- "Say to Mary that Jesus didn't come this way"!

But I don't know if after he opened the church or not. But this is what he said to the people who said "The Virgin Mary is looking for Jesus Christ".

How Don Giacomo succeeded in keeping the people quiet during the Mass in Gambatesa

A couple of years ago in Geneva a man from France who married a girl from Rome told me he was surprised that at Christmas Mass in Rome the people did not stop talking during the Mass, as if it were a party or social event ........ "Thanks to Don Giacomo we don't do this anymore in Gambatesa. When people did this, Don Giacomo used to stop saying the Mass and he would call the people who were talking by their first name -- for example "Giovanni, will please you stop talking" and all the people would look at Giovanni -- and since then we don't talk during Mass anymore." Giuseppe Regina told me this story.


Notes about the word "cafone"

The word cafon' (Ital. cafone) as that word is actually used is very insulting. It can mean something like "uniformed fellow from the countryside" -- i.e. "country bumpkin". But it can also be used to mean something like: "brutishly ignorant man" or "jackass", "lout", or even "low-class slob". On this page the first sense, the sense that coincides with "peasant", is intended.

It does not follow that because someone's education is limited that his intelligence is also limited; "unschooled" does NOT = "stupid". However, a limited outlook, a limited understanding, is a consequence of a lack of education: education gives someone not only specific knowledge -- but more importantly new ideas, new ways of looking at things, new points of view. Indeed, someone may be very knowledgeable (about agriculture or engineering or languages, say) and still be very backward in his thinking about events in the world or in his own life. The idea "ignorance" (niurantarie) includes both these types of limitation: knowledge and understanding.

Ignazio Silone wrote that if the day ever comes when the suffering of the poor is recognized for what it is, then the title "cafone" will be one of honor (Fontamara, "Prefazione"). Like the crown of thorns. But that day has not yet come.

For the peasants, the cafoni, all ages were dark ages. Remember what their world was like.

[...] i contadini poveri, gli uomini che fanno fruttificare la terra e soffrono la fame, i fellahin i coolies i peones i mugic i cafoni, si somigliano in tutti i paesi del mondo; sono sulla faccia della terra, nazione a sé, razza a sé, chiesa a sé; eppure non si sono ancora visti due poveri in tutto identici.

[...] the poor farmers, the men who make the earth fruitful and suffer from hunger: fellahs, coolies, peons, muzhiks, cafoni -- they resemble each other in all the lands of the world; they are on the face of the earth a nation in themselves, a race in themselves, a church in themselves, although no two poor people who are in all respects identical have ever yet been seen.

Ignazio Silone's "Preface" to his novel Fontamara (translated by Robert, who first saw these words quoted by Morroe Berger in his "Introduction" to The Egyptian Peasant (Mœurs et coutumes des fellah, 1938) by Henry Habib Ayrout, S.J., tr. John Alden Williams).

Related Page: School Class Photograph, Gambatesa, from before WW2.


The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/valente/gambpoem.html
Last revised: 14 September 2008 : 2008-09-14 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

Back to top of page

Home | Site Map | Site Search | Map showing Gambatesa, a village in central southern Italy | Valente and DiRenzo Family History - More From Our Correspondent in Geneva