Tuesday, April 20, 2010


" Numquam est tam male Siculis
qui aliquis facete et commode dicant......".


My grandfather Giuseppe Muscarà was born January 2, 1874 at 3 in the afternoon; his parents were Don Gaetano Muscarà and Donna Angela Natoli. The witnesses for the birth were Pasquale Fuso, contadino age 34, and Michele Salpietro (son of Felice), age 53 contadino. The mayor at that time was Fortunato Gugliotta. The official documents that I read categorize Giuseppe, Angela, and Gaetano as Industrioso or Civile, this terminology indicated that they were part of the upper class (the social classifications were clearly stated in all official documents).  The family, at the time of grandpa’s birth, lived in the neighborhood of Librizzi called Porta Patti. 
Great grandpa don Gaetano Muscarà, died when his son was only three years old. After Gaetano's death, great grandma Angela married don Giovanni Muscarà, brother of Gaetano.

Grandpa Giuseppe, known as don Pippinu, married Catena (Maria) Rottino, daughter of Filippo Rottino and donna Teresa Marziano. The Banns of marriage for Giuseppe and Catena were posted March 21, 1896. The witnesses for the Banns were Giuseppe Capitti, age 29, and Giuseppe Palino, age 27, calzolaio. Grandpa and grandma were married on March 22, 1896. Once again the witnesses for the wedding were Giuseppe Capitti and Giuseppe Palino.
 Maria Catena Rottino, age 68 or 69

My grandparents had the following children:

    1. Antonino Muscarà. My father was named for his paternal great grandpa don Antonino Marziano.
    2. Giovanni Salvatore Natalino Muscarà. 
    3. Filippo Muscarà. He was named for his maternal grandfather.  
    4. Gaetano Muscarà. He was named for his grandfather.
    5. Angela Muscarà. Angela was named for her grandma donna Angela Natoli.
    6. Francesco (Ciccino) Muscarà. He was named for his great grandfather Francesco Muscarà.
    7. Teresa Muscarà. She was named for her maternal grandma donna Teresa Marziano.
    8. Eufrasina (Frasina) Muscarà.  She was a redhead just like grandpa.  
    9. Carmela Muscarà. She was named for grandpa’s sister.

Grandpa had a brother and a sister. I was unaware that he had any siblings until a few years ago when I started to research my family tree. I left Italy when I was very young and, to my recollection, I was not aware that he had siblings. Grandpa’s sister was Carmela Muscarà, she was born on September 21, 1871 and died on September 29, 1883. At the time of her death Carmela was only 13 years old. Grandpa named his first daughter Carmela in remembrance of his sister. His brother was Francesco Muscarà, born in 1877. He married Anna Finocchiaro in 1907.  

  Giuseppe Muscarà was a descendant of Greeks colonists, a Siceliot (Siceliot refers to Greek Colonists of Sicily and their descendants). I base the conclusion that the Muscarà name is of Siceliot origin on the results of my research on the history of Librizzi, the consistent naming of family members with names of Greek origin, and the fact that the surname Muscarà is derived from a Greek word meaning “owners of calves”. Through the Census records, I have been able to establish a direct Muscarà ancestry starting with the early 1400s. The records show that the Muscarà owned large estates of land and homes, in the areas of Librizzi called Feu, Spinello, Fossa, Pantano, Pianoforno, Vallone Vina, Nasidi, etc. The documents also record age, sex, occupations, honorary titles and educational titles of the people living in the household of the person declaring the Census information.  The documents are signed by the head of the household if he or she could write and also by the census taker. If the declarant could not write, that information was annotated as well. All of the Muscarà documents are signed by the head of the household. Most of the male Muscarà were referred to as Dottore. In the early centuries the title of Doctor did not mean medical doctor but doctor of philosophy, law, etc. 

 First page of a Census record of one of my ancestors il Dottor Gianmatteo Muscarà

Last page of the same document signed by il Dottor Gianmatteo Muscarà

The estate at the Feu is located in the area of the Colla (Codda), it abuts the river Timeto. When I was a child, the Feu (Sicilian for fiefdom) was one of the places that I often visited with grandpa. He used to go to the Feu to talk with the overseer of the Feu and to visit with the people who formerly were tenant farmers on his estate. They were descendants of serfs and later tenant farmers who for centuries had been part of the Muscarà estates. In the 1940s the former Muscarà tenants still lived in the same ancestral homes on grandpa's land, even though the tenants no longer were part of the Feu. My great grandfather and my grandfather felt a responsibility toward these people and allowed them to live rent free (as far as I know) in their usual homes.

 River Timeto
Photo by Carmelo Rifici
In early 1800s the Sicilian Parliament outlawed feudal privileges, and by the end of the Risorgimento, the War for the Unification of Italy, former feudal lands were arbitrarily confiscated.  When Garibaldi and his Redshirts (also known as the Thousand Men), predominantly Piemontese, landed in Sicily, Garibaldi actively recruited Sicilian volunteers to fight for his cause. He did this by appealing to the peasants, promising them the division of large estates and giving them “free land” if they joined the fight. In addition if they died their family would get the promised “free land”. At the same time Garibaldi was giving ‘assurances’ to the landowners that their estates would not be broken up if they supported his cause. It was a time when Sicilians wanted to get rid of the Bourbon regime and Garibaldi also promised to free the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from the Bourbon State of Naples and Sicily.

The Bourbons were driven out but now Sicily was controlled by the Piemontese government.  The new regime confiscated the National Bank (and five million ducats from the Palermo mint) whose assets dwarfed those of Piedmont.  Most of the landholdings by the Church were confiscated by the new government, and with them numerous schools which were then closed.  Most Sicilian schools had been administered by the monastic orders and were not substituted by state institutions. This meant that illiteracy became widespread with the poorer class. The promise made to the large landowners was not kept and large tracts of land were confiscated and parceled out to the peasants. Many peasants immediately sold the free land for paltry sums to a new moneyed middle class, but now they did not have a padrone to give them work and protect them. So the poor got poorer and the landowners were impoverished.   

The societal changes in Sicily brought about by the War for the Unification of Italy are very well described by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel Il Gattopardo, The Leopard in English. The 1963 film The Leopard directed by Luchino Visconti and featuring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon is based on Lampedusa’s novel. The novel is an accurate account of what happened historically and it reflects pretty much my family’s story.

The Muscarà family was tremendously affected by the land reforms of 1812 and especially by the confiscation of land during and after the Risorgimento.  My family lost huge tracts of land at the Feu, nearby Spinello, at the Fossa, at the Pantano, etc., land that had belonged to the Muscarà for centuries. The Riveli di Bene e di Anime (Census records) clearly show that the Feu had been in the family at least from the early ,1500s hundreds. In addition to the Feu other locations for the Muscarà land and houses are mentioned in the earliest available Census records, not only in other sections of Librizzi but also in the towns of Montagnareale, Patti, Nohara (today’s Novara di Sicilia), Sant’Angelo di Brolo, and Raccuia.  Many of the properties mentioned in those early records were still owned by my family when I was a child, particularly land and houses in the areas of the Feu, Pianoforno, Fossa, Pantano, and Librizzi center. In fact even today’s Muscarà descendants including myself have land at the Pantano, Fossa, and Pianoforno, and perhaps at the Feu as well. In addition part of grandpa’s ancestral house is still owned by our family although it is abandoned, crumbling and in disrepair, a mere shell of the former edifices.  When I look at the building it makes me think of a derelict who once had been a noble prince!  

Grandfather don Pippinu was caught between two worlds, the feudal and privileged one of his ancestors and a new social order that turned the old world upside down.  His world was an inheritance already fading away, the values and expectations of a moribund social elite were no longer relevant or possible. From his birth to his death, Grandpa actually watched his own world dying. I am sure that grandpa would identify with don Fabrizio the main character of Lampedusa’s The Leopard. At one point don Fabrizio says “I am a member of the old ruling class…. I belong to an unfortunate generation, swung between the old world and the new, and I find myself ill at ease in both.   And what is more, as you must have realized by now, I am without illusions…. We of our generation must draw aside and watch the capers and somersaults of the young around this ornate catafalque.”   

Grandpa was the Pater Familias of the Muscarà and responsible for their well being and economic sustenance. The ancestral estates provided not only the land but the manpower to work the land. With the loss of feudal rights and the diminished landholdings he was also left without the manpower to maintain the former established way of life. He needed to adjust to a new world but it was very difficult for a man who lived almost 96 years. As grandpa’s liquid assets diminished, he started selling his houses and land piece by piece, and when the funds from the sale of his estates ran out he sold another house or another piece of land. Trying to adapt to the ‘new world” and having to make a living he opened a food store – macelleria -  tavern, in fact he turned part of his house into his business venue. Of course the remaining land was still cultivated by people that he hired and it yielded wine, olive oil, fruit, wheat, etc. for personal use.  The land was also the source of the hazelnuts family business, in fact the cultivation of the hazelnuts (not just by the Muscarà but by other families as well) was the town’s biggest agricultural enterprise.  I have been told by old timers that large amounts of these nuts were purchased by the Perugina Chocolate Factory to make their best known treats called Baci (Kisses). Baci are truffles made with milk chocolate, hazelnuts, and nougat, and then bathed in inky black dark chocolate. Pure heaven!   

Grandpa must have felt the conflict between the love of his own past and his appreciation for the possibilities of the newly unified Italy. I never heard grandpa talk about the past nor complain about life’s hardships in a changing world. In addition to the complications of the Risorgimento, during his lifetime he also had to deal with other historical life changing events such as the First and Second World Wars. Yet I saw a positive and fun person who took the time out to spoil me, a person who was very proud to be an Italian. One vivid memory of grandpa is that he always wore the Italian colors on his lapel. Although grandpa never spoke to me of our ancestry, perhaps because I was just a child and left Italy soon after WWII, he did make my cousins and family aware of the Muscarà history. I was absolutely surprised when in 2003, during a visit to Librizzi, I commented to a couple of cousins of my research about our ancestors, the famous Muscarà that I discovered, and that our coat of arms is found inside the church of Maria SS della Catena. They looked at me as if I had come down from Mars and said “Yes we know, grandpa told us about our family history”. In fact I found out that the town of Librizzi considers one of our ancestor don Andrea Muscarà as one of her three illustrious sons. I find it ironic that I spent years researching my family when MY FAMILY was well aware of the Muscarà history; my family just accepted our historical roots and never bragged about it. I was the one who was uprooted and trying to fit in a new country. I was the one who grew up without knowing about the ancestral roots and I was the one who truly needed to feel rooted in my ancestry!

 As I mentioned above, I used to visit the Feu with my beloved redheaded grandpa (Yes, grandpa had beautiful red hair.) who would hop on one of his horses, sit me in front of him and gallop away to the Feu. Upon arrival at the Feu I was always treated to goodies by the former tenants and by grandpa's friends who lived at the Colla, having a sweet tooth I always looked forward to the visits. Another fun part of the trip was the crossing of the River Timeto in order to get to the Feu itself. This was done on foot because during the summer the river would dry up and we could cross the river by stepping on the strategically placed river stones. Interestingly while researching the history of Librizzi I discovered that at one time the Timeto had been navigable! The land along the river was fertile, there were vineyards, orange and lemon groves, olive groves, and acres and acres of "golden fields". Wheat was grown in the area and it was quite a beautiful sight to see the fields of golden wheat spikes dotted with beautiful red papaveri, poppies.  

I loved my grandpa and he loved me. Apparently I reminded him of his wife who passed away when I was 7 years old, and therefore he doted on me, so I was told, more than he did for his other grandchildren. Actually my opinion is that he was able to spend more time with me because by the time that I was born he was an older gentleman and had plenty of time to chase me around the piazza, or read the newspaper to me, or take me on his horse to visit his land, etc. I remember that I was very mischievous and that I would run all over town with him chasing me, I ran with abandon in an effort to outrun him. I am sure that it was grandpa’s plan not to catch me but, of course, I was too young to realize that it was all part of the game. I thought that I was the one in charge!  The times spent with grandpa are happy memories for me. I felt free, loved, and very happy. He did not forget me when I came to the United States, he often wrote to me and it was obvious that he missed me tremendously. When my husband and I were married, grandpa wrote to me a lovely congratulatory note. I still have the treasured note written by the trembling hand of an 89 year old man.

Grandpa had a daily routine. First of all, on most days he walked for 5 or 6 miles, just for the fun of it. He did this until the year before his death at the age of 96 minus a month. Invariably his lunch consisted of two fried eggs, bread, and a glass of wine. He always had a newspaper nearby to read silently to himself, or aloud to me. Another item that he kept close to him for daily reading was a Bible. This was unusual since the Librizzi men of his generation seldom went to church, they expected their wives and daughters to go to church and pray for them! However many of our ancestors had been priests since our family followed the historical custom of designating the second or third son to the priesthood, perhaps grandpa was influenced by the traditional family piety.

After lunch and the usual siesta, grandpa used to sit on his balcony and chat with a man across the street whose balcony was directly across grandpa’s. Grandpa’s friend was a very old man who even in the heat of the Librizzi August summers, would sit on the balcony covered with blankets! I was fascinated with this old man who wanted to live a little longer so that he could reach his 100th birthday! His dream almost came true but not quite, he died just before his 100th birthday! In my adult life I frequently thought of this man and wondered who he was, I finally discovered his identity this past June of 2009. He was don Achille Marziano a renown mayor of the town, and grandpa’s first cousin!  Finding out that the ‘old man’ was actually one of my ancestors was a pleasant surprise. For years I had known about the celebrated mayor don Achille Marziano from the book “Memorie di ieri e dell’altro ieri” that his son Marco Marziano wrote and dedicated to his dad. I also ‘knew’ him from reading the town’s records and from reading the book “Librizzi” written by Antonino D’Amico.

The book written by Marco Marziano is very interesting because it is a collection of remembrances of Librizzesi who are eighty or older. The first story in the book is actually Marco’s own memories about “a summer night of many years ago”. It takes place during the Second World War and three of the people featured in the story are Andrea, Giuseppe, and Gennaro Muscarà, my dad’s first cousins and accomplished musicians.

The story that is of interest in regard to the events of the Risorgimento and the Mayor Achille Marziano is the one titled ‘Il Garibaldino’, his name was Cono Pizzino. The date was February 6, 1935 and the Garibaldino’s coffin was being brought to the church for the burial rites. When the Podestà of the town asked whose funeral it was he discovered that it was the Garibaldino’s.  The Podestà immediately asked the family to wait for him in church. In less than an hour a platoon of the MVSN was presenting arms in front of the altar in the church, a band was playing a funeral march, and the Italian flag was being carried in front of the procession.  The Podestà explained that it was his duty to render homage to a patriot who fought for the Unity of Italy. Cono Pizzino had been 18 years old when he joined Garibaldi’s army of volunteers.  Cono was not a Librizzese, he came to live in Librizzi to get away from the town that did not appreciate his contributions to the War. On the other hand Librizzi appreciated and honored their three volunteers who had joined the Garibaldi army, and had been rewarded by the mayor of Librizzi, as ordered by the new State, with plots of land! The mayor who awarded the land was cousin don Achille Marziano, the little old man who was the object of my fascination.

 There is one memory about grandpa that is of special importance to me, it took place during the Second World War. It occurred at the time of the invasion of Sicily and the Allied soldiers were conducting warfare against the Germans in the area of the Colla. The Colla is located at a crossroads at the foot of historical Librizzi, one road led to the center of Librizzi the other one was a major road that connected Messina, Catania, and other large cities .  The rumors and stories of Allied soldiers molesting the women and children on their path were consistent and frightening. As their march got closer to the Colla, the town’s residents went into hiding in isolated parts of the nearby mountains. Grandpa started to evacuate his little grandchildren, especially the females, then the other children and adults (basically women and old men) into the remote and less accessible areas of our land or to friends' summer homes in the mountains. The first grandchildren that he brought to the mountains were me and my little brother Pippo, he placed us on his horse and furiously galloped away. It was an exhilarating flight with the wind caressing my face and the speed of the flying horse to add the element of reckless excitement. Besides, I was with my grandpa. I was three and a half years old at that time. He brought us to the home of a friend where others from the town had already arrived. He left us there to go back and get the next batch of grandchildren. My family and I were separated for a day or two as it took a while to figure out which grandchild was left where. Eventually grandpa and my mom found us and brought us to where the rest of the family was taking refuge, we arrived to the other location in the middle of the night. The children were bedded down inside the house and the adults were sleeping outside. I did not wish to be away from mom and I went out looking for her. Walking over or around the adults sleeping under the moon I finally found my mother, grandmother, and aunts. That night and subsequent nights I slept outside with the adults. It was a magical time for a little girl, I was reunited with my mother, the warm nights were clear and the night sky was full of twinkling jewels. I was content and fearless.  It was a peaceful break from the very chaotic and frightening bombing of bridges in the Colla area, town of Patti, and other nearby locations. I do not know how long we remained hidden in the mountains but eventually we returned to the town where the old men, including my grandfather, had gone back to immediately after the evacuation. Once their families were in a safe place the man were prepared to guard their homes and businesses. Grandpa was 69 years old.   

Grandpa, age 94 or 95
Grandpa always wore a beret

I own a tiny part of the centuries old compound of houses that used to be the Muscarà residences.  For some reason my heart is tied to the past and to the part of the house where during my childhood my grandparents lived, and where my father and his siblings were born and grew up.  No, I am not emotionally ready to let go of the ‘house’ and so here are a few more comments and remembrances about the house. 

 Portico Muscara' with a brief view of the inner court

One of the doors inside the courtyard where the horses were kept
These are my remembrances of grandpa’s house: To access the house from the lower level on Via San Michele, one had to go through the East entrance which was protected by a huge wrought iron gate, this entrance led to a covered area and from there one exited into the inner court. The gate was decorated with a design which I assume was the family stemma (crest). The sheltered area and the open court, known as the cortile, is where the horses were kept. The open court was formed by connecting buildings which faced East, West, North, and South. During my childhood the East and West wings of this courtyard were still owned by grandpa and the other two opposite wings had been sold. I remember being told that for centuries the whole compound had belonged to the Muscarà family. This assertion is supported by the Census documents that I read as they record the houses that made up this compound and give the names of specific Muscarà ancestors who lived there as well as names of the neighbors (the neighbors were all Muscarà related). The documents locate this compound in the area called Il Belvedere. To my knowledge, today there is no specific place in Librizzi called Il Belvedere, rather Il Belvedere today refers to any place from where there is a spectacular view. It so happens that the upper level of the compound was located on Via San Biaggio a few feet from the piazza, from this location there is a spectacular view of the Aeolian Islands and the Tyrrhenian Sea!  I really am not sure if the Muscarà Belvedere refers to the location of grandpa’s house by the piazza or if centuries ago there was another Muscarà compound.  Perhaps the early Muscarà lived in the oldest section of Librizzi by the Chiesa Matrice, where indeed there is a spectacular view of the River Timeto, the Gulf of Patti, the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Aeolian Islands, several towns, spectacular mountains to the East which came alive at sunrise, ….   

 I have always wondered why Grandma and my aunts Teresa and Frasina lived on the East Wing of the cortile while Grandpa lived on the West Wing across the cortile. The West wing had one entrance in the courtyard of the lower level and another entrance on the third floor level which was on Via San Biaggio near the Piazza Catena. The third floor of the West wing is where grandpa had his store-macelleria-taverna.  Above the store there was a fourth level of the West Wing, the forth level and the level below the store (second level) were grandpa’s living quarters. By the time that I left Librizzi the store was no longer in operation, and when I visited Librizzi in the 1970s that third level had been returned to the original living quarters.  After his death at the age of 96 minus a month, the East Wing had been sold and the two unmarried aunts Teresa and Frasina lived in the West wing.  

In 2008 I learned a little more about my grandpa from a newly found cousin who is the daughter of my mom’s uncle and his wife C.B.  CB. is 94 or 95 years old but her memory is phenomenal. She remembers grandpa don Peppinu very well.  She says that grandpa, Angelo Calabrese (my mother’s grandfather), and Filippo Palino, nicknamed "Passuluni" (husband of grandma’s sister Antonina Rottino) used to be friends.  The three of them used to meet in the piazza where they spent hours chatting. Apparently one favorite topic was taxes.  When the bills for the taxes arrived Angelo used to complain bitterly, but grandpa don Peppinu instead of complaining would face the church in the piazza and addressing himself to the Madonna, he would let her know what he thought of her! 
CB says that grandpa was impetuous, had a great sense of humor, loved to talk incessantly, .... She also says that grandma Rottino used to keep him in line, and knew how to keep grandpa from getting 'too excited' about things. CB also says that grandpa Peppino was a hard working man.  I asked CB what grandpa's nickname was and she said that it was 'don Peppinu Chicentra'. The nickname could be derived from the expression 'Chi centra?', 'what does it have to do with anything?’ Or the word 'centra', which is derived from the Greek word 'centron' means "punta, grosso chiodo, or spranga di ferro". These words all suggest a pointed object and strength. Was his nickname a reference about his personality or character? Did it refer to his strength, being honest, “calling a spade a spade”? Was it about his favorite saying “Chi centra”? I do not know.

Grandma and grandpa continued to be a presence in my life long after their death.  Starting at the time of grandma Rottino’s death (when I was seven years old) and ending about ten years ago, I had frequent dreams of both grandparents. Unfortunately when grandma came into my dreams, they were always scary and nightmarish (My life started to feel the consequences of my father’s two years spent in the German concentration camps around the time that grandma passed away.  I associated grandma’s death with the sad moments of my young life.). However, when I dreamt of grandpa they were good dreams. I used to dream of grandpa anytime that painful events were occurring in my life, and no matter how chaotic my real life was, grandpa used to come to my rescue through my dreams. He used to take care of me in my dreams and he would not let harm come to me. I am convinced that the calming dreams of grandpa kept me sane when my real world was too much to bear. Factual or not, possible or impossible, grandpa was and is my Guardian Angel.

 My beloved grandpa don Pippinu was and is my Angel and my hero.
May he rest in peace together with his beloved wife, my grandmother.

Dorme l’angelo
Su rose d’aria, candido,
sul fianco,
a bacio del grembo
le belle mani in croce.
La mia voce lo desta
E mi sorride,
sparsa di polline
la guancia che posava.
Canta; m’assale il cuore,
opaco cielo d’alba.
L’angelo è mio;
Io lo posseggo: gelido.

Salvatore Quasimodo, “Oboe sommerso”