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Two Mothers-in-Law in Gambatesa, Italy, in August 1971

Below: Giuseppina CANFORA (viewer's left, 1893-1983) and Nunziata DiRENZO (1897-1983).  They are standing outside Giuseppina Canfora's house in Via S. Angelo, Gambatesa, as it was in August 1971.

Giuseppina Canfora and Nunziata DiRenzo in Gambatesa, Italy, August 1971, 18 KB

Giuseppina Canfora's son Gennarino MACCHIAROLA (1924-1985) married Nunziata DiRenzo's daughter Maria Dora VALENTE in America in 1956.

Had the family of Nunziata DiRenzo remained in Gambatesa, these two women might ever have spoken to one another, belonging as they did to different social classes, rigidly defined by Italian history.  Giuseppina Canfora's family belonged to the artisan class, Nunziata DiRenzo's to the peasant class.  Thus their children might not have married in Gambatesa.

Giuseppina Canfora and Nunziata DiRenzo in Gambatesa, Italy, August 1971, 24 KB

Social Classes - Family Stories

When the younger daughter of Gennarino Macchiarola visited Gambatesa in August 1981, two of her Valente relatives came to visit her at her paternal grandmother's house.  The two men stopped at the door and removed their hats.  They only reluctantly went inside and once inside they sat holding their hats in their laps.  And her grandmother was not overly anxious that they should make themselves comfortable either.  One of her visitors was Giovanni Valente's nephew Salvatore Valente.

"Don't go and stay with those low-class people," Giuseppina had told Nunziata in 1971, "stay with me."  But Nunziata said, "I have to stay with them.  They're my family."  But I don't remember at which house Nunziata stayed in 1971; it was not with her daughter Esther Valente (1930-1994) and her grandson, who stayed at Salvatore Valente's house.

Married Women's Names

Nunziata DiRENZO was born in Gambatesa but emigrated to America in 1913.  When she married Giovanni VALENTE, they followed the American custom and Nunziata became Mrs. John VALENTE.  In Italy she would have been called Nunziata DiRenzo in Valente, "in" because "Valente" was her husband's name.  In the same way Giuseppina CANFORA was Giuseppina Canfora in Macchiarola.

Red threads run through villages.

A village is a family (excluding perhaps the few "top families" who lived in a separate world from the more common people; but even to this rule there was the occasional exception).  If you throw a stone, you will hit a relation, even if only a poor relation.  Nunziata DiRenzo was in fact related to Giuseppina Canfora's husband Giovannantonio Macchiarola through two direct lines (Giovanni d'Alesandro and Nicola Genovese), and there is a Macchiarola line in the Valente family (a line shared with Nunziata DiRenzo's family).

When anyone from the village tried to give themselves airs, and they did, Nunziata DiRenzo's response was, "We all came from the same place."  What was Gambatesa?  A poor village on the margins of history, where none of the social classes had indoor plumbing before 1960.

One shouldn't have illusions.  Postcards of the medieval villages of Europe are pretty, but the lives of the poor of Southern Italy were not.  The lives of poor farmers and day laborers are hard everywhere, but their lives in Italy were made that much harder by the perdurance of feudal attitudes well beyond the middle of the Twentieth Century and over a hundred years after the abolition of feudalism.

The Constitution of the Republic of Italy abolished titles of nobility in the late 1940s, although those titles are still used "socially" by the former landlords (masters).  My mother always said that for the Italians in Camden "Everything changed after the war" (World War II).  In Gambatesa this change came much later, maybe in the 1970s.  Not so many generations ago the poor of southern Italy still had to do many "services" for the rich.

Note: ropes issued to the British navy had a red thread woven into them to discourage their theft.

Chamber Pots and Fresh Air

Our cousin Angelo Abiuso (Geneva) told me this story.  It would be from the 1960s.  Angelo's mother, whose family name is Valente, used to have a shop in Gambatesa where she sold the pullovers (sweaters) that she made.  One morning a customer tried on a pullover; he stepped out into the street to see how the color would look in daylight ... and an old woman from the house above emptied a chamber pot on his head.  Now, the woman was very old, and she did not look to see if there was anyone below.  But life was like that in Gambatesa.  In the morning people would empty their chamber pots onto the village streets.

Of course they did not empty the ordure onto the streets.  And most houses had two sides, one facing away from the street and the pots would be emptied on that side.  This went on until the 1950s.  But the streets did not smell bad.

On the weekends all the families used to leave the masserie ("farms") for the village.  Most people left the masserie at night; maybe 2 or 3 people stayed to look after the animals and the farm.  Even during the summer people used to return from the farms at night.  It is hot during the day in Gambatesa, but it is not humid.  Evenings are very fresh in summer; it is not so warm during the night -- you need to wear a pullover.  But now not so many people work their farmland.

With respect to sanitation, life was better on Berkley Street in Camden in the 1920s and 30s.  The Italian colony was a slum -- My mother always said of the first fifteen years of her life: "We had nothing" --, but there was plumbing.

The summer temperatures in southern Italy were unusually high in 2003.  But the houses in Gambatesa are made of stone.  These stone houses do not warm up in summer -- they stay fresh.  These houses are very cold in winter, however.


The URL of this page: https://www.roangelo.net/valente/suocere.html
Last revised: 11 August 2004 : 2004-08-11 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

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