Polish-Italian Connections

—Marzena Kostrzewa-Stafiej
—Justyna Nicinska, translation

It is difficult to write about Italy as a singular united nation, in terms of tradition, culture or behavior.  Only a watchful observer, after a thorough analysis is able to differentiate between the habits of those from the North, central regions and the South.  Personally, I found the residents of the South, Sicily in particular most endearing.

I remember what my professor, Salvatore Cuffaro once said…” You don’t even know how similar we Sicilians are to you Poles”.  Having noticed my slightly ironic expression, he went on…” Of course I am not speaking of appearance but our temperament and mentality, contrary to what you might think, are very similar”.  He proved this by providing several historical patterns, since both Polish and Sicilian people’s (he always spoke of Sicilians, not Italians) have been subject to permanent occupation causing them to live quite poorly, perhaps even in impoverishment and always in opposition. That is how both Sicilians and Poles have an over understanding of hard work, the lack of bread, perhaps that is why the majority of people emigrating from Italy were from the South; Sicily, Calabria and Campania among Italian immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island.

Italians and Sicilians in particular are a hospitable people; the doors to their homes are always open to visitors (similarly to our own tradition).  Regardless whether you were a guest in the interior on the islands of Stromboli, in the home of truly poor farmers or the palace of Duke Giuseppe San Vincienzo di Ganci in Palermo, everywhere the guest was surrounded by proper regard, sincerity, openness, a familial atmosphere, excellent dishes and superb wines, even if they were simple.  One cannot forget about the beautiful tradition of the Italian “canzoni”.  Music is an inseparable element of life, a friend during the hard times and the good times.

The most fascinating compositions, whose very melodic character entices you to dance, are Sicilian folk songs.  Similarly to our own Polish songs their notes are filled with the love of sentiment, theirs fragrant of the sun and sea and ours of flowers.   While dancing the Tarantelle you can easily come across steps familiar from the Mazurek or Oberek.  Sicilians are romantics just as we are, chivalrous towards ladies but happy when the majority of responsibilities (perhaps even all of them) are relegated to them (the ladies).
Of course besides the hospitality and love of beauty, music and knightly manners similar are also those traits which are not among the most positive, such as tenacity, stubbornness and unfortunately relentlessness when it comes to arguments (for example about the famous copper).

If you think that a Sicilian peasant will let a living soul win in any dispute than you are mistaken.  Just as our own Polish peasant – will not give any living soul a break.
Sicily is the birthplace of the Mafia, but also of great freedom movements, a place where Giuseppe Garibaldi along with his comrades at arms could begin the fight for freedom.
We cannot forget of the collegial ties between prominent Polish and Italian families. On this topic you could write reams starting with Queen Bona and ending on…well let us leave this extensive topic. I would like to tell you about the history of a man well known not only in Poland, but also here in America.
Vittorio de`Spuches, is a persona worthy of special notice. He was the son of an Italian diplomat from the time period between the World Wars, Roberto de`Spuches and a beautiful Polish woman, Lola de domo Klementynowska.
They met in Cracow, where Roberto worked at the Italian Consulate.
Two charming boys were born as a result of that union, Salvatore, called Tolek from Polish by his mother and Vittorio. Both of them completed middle school in Cracow and then went on to Italy, where they lived out their years.  Vittorio, a great friend of our Pope, John Paul II, ran a well functioning tourist agency, where they treated Polish pilgrims and tourists with exceptional kindness. Vittorio spoke Polish beautifully; when he sat down with us at the table he told Polish and Italian jokes intermittently.  Here in America he was known by all the members of SPATA, the Association of Polish-American Travel Agencies.  He was a member of that administration for many years and a great friend of the Polish-American community.  Wonderful loved by all, well-liked and valued Vittorio.  Half Pole, half Italian, or more correctly Sicilian.  We always debated about how much each of us has of Polish blood and how much that other.  He said that his was split 50/50, a Slavic soul with an Italian temperament.  Affiliated with great Sicilian families: de`Ganci, Amorosa, Cuffaro, Polish families such as Zamoyski and also the Spanish, Galati princes.  Vittorio always knew how to unite the love for both homelands in his heart.

Who loves soccer as much as the Italians and us: In the beautiful town of Taormine I went in to a small shop to buy something for dinner. An over eighty-year-old Sicilian woman who worked there asked me where I am from.  From my answer of Poland, or da Polonia Grandma heard Bologna.  In order to simplify the geographic dilemma for her I said that I came from the birthplace of John Paul II, surprisingly she did not understand, but when I told her that I was from the same country as Zibi Boniek the reaction was instantaneous.  Please tell me in what country does a grandmother know anything about soccer?
There are so many similarities between our two peoples that I am beginning to wonder what is different?
Let us those negative traits as well, because we cannot speak of corruption as being favorable.  Our homeland is currently experiencing a “bloom” of corruption, which has not even spared the authorities.  Word for word just like in Italy, except that I believe they are more skilled in this “profession”.  Sweet corruption and overgrown bureaucracy on every corner, again a similarity!

The last interesting commonality is a love for titles.  The Italians just like us cannot pass up the opportunity to add some kind of title before their name (which had been made somewhat difficult for us for many years), either a family or professional one.  Even while drinking coffee in a tiny café I heard all around me: signora dottoresa, signore avocato, professore, sounding very similar to our own sir engineer, doctor or sir procurator. Titles are meant to be used, of course for instance at work, but nowhere in Europe or the United States have I been so engulfed by titlemania in personal and professional life.  Perhaps that was needed to lighten the dreariness of everyday life?  On the other coast there is the American “how are you?” readily spoken by presidents of corporations along with their lowest ranking personnel and vice versa.   It loses however on commonality, apparently foreign to Europeans even in the current united Europe.  For us Poles, having been grounded on solid principle, nothing remains but to shout, “Viva Polonia”; “Viva Italia”, and that is the end of that.