I Lazzari is an association for social promotion aimed to protect the territory, history and culture of Southern Italy. It is a project that finds its roots in the meaning of the word “Lazzaro” and in the choice to reevaluate its use and value. The word Lazzaro was used centuries ago in a derogatory way by the Spanish conquerors of Napoli, who would certainly have preferred that Neapolitan people would welcome them with total submission. In fact, the Lazzari were those who defended their identity and their people from invaders and oppressors the same ones who died for Napoli hoping to hand down values of freedom and identity to future generations. Clearly I Lazzari were nothing more than patriots.
The projects and initiatives of the association aim to restore awareness of Napoletani as “evolved” people, armed with culture and knowledge, who repudiate any form of discrimination and violence and that keeps defending their own identity and their own city.
The association does all this through historical-cultural gatherings, Neapolitan language courses for adults and children, Neapolitan language courses in English Neapolitan literature conferences, linguistic research conferences, Neapolitan Historical Tombola ‘with costumes from 18th Century, and other initiatives.
At Palazzo Venezia in Spaccanapoli, last July 9th was held a ceremony for the Lazzaro Verace 2020 Price which was awarded to Dr. Viktor Hamotskyi, General Consul of Ukraine. The Consul dedicated a poem to Napoli and Neapolitan people,a poem that he wrote himself and that everyone greatly appreciated.The ceremony, hosted by the president of the association, continued with a stunning literary and theatrical performance, which was welcomed with participation and enthusiasm of foreign representatives such as Laurent Burin des Roziers, General Consul of France, and Mary Avery, General Consul of the United States of America, who particularly appreciated the intervention of Davide Brandi, presidentof the association, on the excessive use of Anglicism in theNeapolitan language; also Professor Veronique Autheman, president of the Alliance Européenne des Langues Régionales, attended the ceremony.
Davide Brandi, president of the Association I Lazzari and vice president of the Alliance Européenne des Langues Régionales for the Neapolitan language, is also author and poet. Connoisseur and enthusiast of Neapolitan culture after the release, in 2018, of his book “Tombola Storica del 1734. La Storia del Lotto a Napoli. I Personaggi. L’originaria Smorfia del ‘700. Commedia in 90 atti”(Historical tombola of 1734. The history of the lottery in Napoli. Characters. The original grimace of the ‘700. Comedy in “90 acts), published by Eracle. He wrote another book entitled ” ‘A Malaparola” (the bad word) which has been published by MEA last June and in which the author talks about bad words and cussing in the Neapolitan language.
Starting from the roots of the language, he goes through linguistic contaminations to get to this typical Neapolitan verve, peculiarly ironic expression often referred as ” ‘A MALA PAROLA” (the bad word), part of the culture of any people, in this case of the Neapolitan people. Davide Brandi tells us about his work and initiatives with the association I Lazzari and he also offers us different ways to get deeply into our Neapolitan heritage and finally gain back the pride to be Napoletani.
Interview with Davide Brandi
Me: Is there a definition that can make foreigners understand what “Neapolitan soul” is?
DB: Perhaps foreigners can perceive “the Neapolitan soul” more than Italians or Neapolitans can, precisely because they don’t live it daily but they come in contact with it immediately, being captivated by so much humanity, vitality but at the same time by so much suffering. Or they assimilate it very slowly until it becomes an integral part of them. How many illustrious characters of the past have been kidnapped by the “Neapolitan soul”! We remember Stendhal, Goethe, and then Herman Melville (the author of Moby Dick) and all the great artists who came to the great capital Napoli when it was a major cultural center. Napoli has been the largest city in Europe for a long time. Even more recently personalities such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marcello Mastroianni, Lucio Dalla, Jean-Noel Schifano have been captivated by the Neapolitan soul. It is not a coincidence that Neapolitan music is known and sung all over the world. Every self-respecting artist has his own version of at least one Neapolitan song because especially through the “Neapolitan” artistic forms is possible to perceive that soul we are talking about and the philosophy behind it. Think of Elvis Presley, Celine Dion and all the world greatest tenors. The words of Stanislao Nievo do a great job to describe it: “If there was a capital of the soul, halfway between east and west, between senses and philosophy, between honor and cheating, it would be based here!”
Me: Recently MEA Edizioni has published your book ‘A Malaparola (the bad word or cussing). Neapolitan cussing is an important part of the history and culture of the Neapolitan people. What is it that makes Neapolitan “mala parola” so full of nuances?
DB: It may seem an exaggeration, but ‘A MALA PAROLA is a philosophy, just like the proverbs handed down for generations are. It sounds and feels like a colorful way to mock somebody and an “I love you, but…”. It’s a valve that gives relief to the soul and that can graze malice at times. In Napoli “mala parola” is not a mere dirty word, but it is a work of art that draws its roots from Greek and Latin, sprinkled with theatricality, and mimicry, plus a “participating audience”. Neapolitan “mala parola” is a baroque painting, exaggerated in the expression, in the perspectives and the colors.
Me: The UNESCO, in the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, considers “in danger” and specifically “vulnerable” the South Italian / Napulitano – Calabrese language. Do you believe there is a specific reason why Neapolitan language is identified with the whole of Southern Italy in conjunction with Calabrese language? Why there is “confusion”?
Neapolitan is spoken in just one part of Ischia and in Forio, on the other side of the island, we find a different language. Remember that the origins of all these languages are practically similar, they come from Latin with a territorial contamination based on which populations have inhabited each individual territory through history. Mostly Greek (with Doric, Ionic, dialect etc…) in Napoli and Salento. Lombard people in the interland of Campania and Puglia. Also French (Norman, and later Angevin) and Spanish contaminations.
So the Neapolitan language, spoken in the city of Napoli and in a part of the South is clearly different from Calabrese-Cosentino, especially in phonetics, although we always understand each other thanks to the common neo-Romance origin.
Unesco has declared Neapolitan language vulnerable simply because it is neither codified nor protected as it should be by the institutions. Moreover the diffusion of incorrect spelling by users of social networks is taking “bad turn”.
Me: Which countries do you see most interested in the Neapolitan language and culture?
DB: There is a lot of interest around the Neapolitan language, especially abroad. Considering that from 1861 (the year in which the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was annexed by force to the Kingdom of the Savoy) for several decades to come, millions of southerners were forced to leave their lands to look for a future in every corner of the world, carrying their heritage, customs, traditions and language.
DB: It is easy to imagine today, after several generations, how many “southerners” there are in the world. And even more indicative is the data of young people who, even today, are forced to leave their lands to find work. Both Americas (North and South) are the territories with the most Neapolitans, Sicilians, Calabrians. Then Australia and then all the countries of central and northern Europe. At the University of Buenos Aires you can study two “Napolitan” language courses. There are other similar initiatives also in French universities. Neapolitan culture is highly appreciated all arond the world, as we said earlier, starting with our music spreading its reach.
Me: What is the response of young people to the events held by Associazione I Lazzari? Do you see young people getting closer to our traditions or are they withdrawing from them?
DB: When we bring courses in schools, we see young people very interested. Obviously their approach is different from adults. The youngest need their territorial pride to be stimulated. Any topic related to Neapolitan “language” must be liked to topics of their interest. For example studying the text of a Neapolitan rap song usually would break the ice as well as talking about bad words and cussing. In short, joining their language layer and getting into common slangs and so on… Things like these are the key when trying to encourage the usage of proper spelling or when dealing with the language’s history, the same history that will make them proudly connected to their territory and their traditions.
Me: Some believe that Neapolitan people, despite the various influences, remain the least globalized. What do you think about that?
DB: Sure, both identity and attachment to the territory and traditions remain strong. However, something recently has changed here too. The world is certainly going ahead and rightly so, but what scares me is the flattening of identities, of cultures. The annihilation of human diversity and plurality is a step backwards in the humanity evolution. We should be peaceful citizens of the world but each with their own clearly visible roots with the interest in gathering and sharing. A world of people all the same, without identity and historical awareness would create nothing but greater isolation.
Me: Does associazione I Lazzari also hold online courses?
Lazzari hold courses almost everywhere on the regional territory but only in the classroom because we love direct contact with people, we love being engulfed by the crowd, we love eye to eye questions, handshakes and, why not, maybe at the end of the lesson we all share a Neapolitan aperitif Falanghina and taralli or may enjoy a pizza all together.
Me: Does the associazione I Lazzari also offer Neapolitan courses in English?
DB: Yes, at Palazzo Venezia in Spaccanapoli, we hold nice and fun lessons in English. Rather than dwelling on spelling, we focus on developing informational paths on Neapolitan civilization and language, starting from greetings, ordering street food, to explaining the symbolism/meaning behind our hand gestures etc.
Me: What are your plans for next Autumn?
DB: I will definitely keep offering more and more Neapolitan lessons at Palazzo Venezia in Spaccanapoli but also in schools.
There will be some great news but I don’t want to spoil them. We will continue to have historical-cultural conferences, more on Neapolitan literature and linguistic research, presentations of our books, our daily appointment on Radio Marte on ‘A MALA PAROLA (the bad word/cussing) and our Neapolitan Historical Tombola set in 1734 with costumes, and many other performances.