Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews

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(This is the sixth in a series of oral history narratives about WW2 in southern Italy. This item  is the result of messages from Fred Hellman of Glen Cove, New York. Also, see this link for another item from Fred, as well as items 4, 7 & 8, below)

Entries for WW 2 oral history
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entry March 2007

flag/vesuvius album cover)

Dove sta Zazà?

This letter comes from Fred Hellman:

Little did I know that the Neapolitan song, Dove sta Zazà, which I first heard sung by a group of young boys of 12 to 13 years old in Recale, Italy in 1945 would enlist such luminaries as former premier Guilio Andreotti in analyzing the hidden meaning of the song.  He and many others published articles on the song and its meaning in many newspapers and magazines. To me it was a simple boy loses girl in the crowd at the San Gennaro festival and never gets over his loss. It also has to do with

the quest for democracy and freedom.

In March of 1945, I was working as a cryptanalyst on German code in Recale, a small village near Caserta. At the end of the working day I was outside the village in which I was stationed and heard a group of 12 to 14-year-olds singing a catchy tune whose refrain caught my attention. My memory fails me but I believe I asked the boys to teach me the words of the opening stanza which stayed with me for 40 years or so.  Even my Italian-born wife had never heard the song. She was more a fan of Alberto Rabagliati and swing music than Neapolitan songs.

Recently I  joined an Italian-American group celebrating some occasion in a Chinese-American restaurant and contributed to the festivities by attempting to sing the first stanza and the catchy refrain. It was sometime about 1980 while rummaging in a Cambridge, Massachusetts record shop that I spied an LP 33 rpm record titled Gente de Borgata and purchased it to bring it home. I taped it and gave copies to friends who, although of Italian heritage had never heard the song. They were all entranced by the version I had. The female singer was Sandra (last name?). It still brings back picturesque memories of that day in 1945 in Recale—a small town, the children (i ragazzini) sitting on a stone wall, my own youth. And the days dwindle down to a precious few. September, October...

Editorial note: The song that Fred refers to, Dove sta Zazà? (Where is Zazà?),

is from 1944. The text is by Raffaele Cutolo; the music is by Giuseppe Cioffe. It is one of the best-known Neapolitan songs from the Second World War. As Fred's letter indicates, the text is at least on the surface about a boy losing his girl at the Feast of San Gennaro. The first few verses (in Neapolitan dialect) are:

Era la festa di San Gennaro, / quanta folla per la via. / Con Zazá, compagna mia, / me ne andai a passeggiá. /  C'era la banda di Pignataro / che suonava il "Parsifallo"/ e il maestro, sul piedistallo,/ ci faceva deliziá.// Nel momento culminante /del finale travolgente, / 'mmiez'a tutta chella gente, / se fumarono a Zazá! / Dove sta Zazà...etc.
[That is, at the crowded feast of San Gennaro, the narrator goes walking with Zazà. The band is playing, but just at the height of the music, in the middle of all the people, Zazà disappears— or, textually, is taken away, stolen.]

The song became popular very fast in post-war Naples, throughout Italy, and, indeed, elsewhere. It has been called the Italian Lili Marlene. That comparison seems far-fetched—simply based on the long-lasting and worldwide appeal of Lili Marlene—but one should note that Dove sta Zazà? did find its way abroad and, indeed, was even used by Eva Peron in Argentina as a political anthem!

Fred's reference to Giulio Andreotti (the prime minister of Italy in 1972-1973, 1976-1979 and 1989-1992) has to do with an item in L’Europeo of Saturday, May 4, 1985. It is an article by Andreotti on the occasion of the death of Cutolo, one of the composers of Dove sta Zazà? Andreotti writes of the nervousness at the installation of the first post-war Italian parliament on June 2, 1946. The rumor was that the newly elected Communist deputies were going to sound off with a few choruses of the Internationale (the anthem of world-wide communism). Another deputy, Guglielmo Giannini (according to Andreotti) said that if that happened he and his would answer with Dove sta Zazà. That did not happen, although a third group did start to sing the long-accepted (and current) national anthem, Fratelli di Italia. Andreotti disparages Giannini for even the idea of singing that song about “…scurdammoce 'o passato…” (let’s forget the past). An editorial comment at the end of Andreotti’s article helpfully points out that the line cited by Andreotti is, in fact, not from Dove sta Zazà?, but rather another popular Neapolitan song to come out of WW2, Simmo 'e Napule, paisà. Andreotti is confused, says the editor.

I also read that Federico Fellini jocularly suggested that Dove sta Zazà? should become the Italian national anthem! Those who look for symbols will find them: the narrator becomes the nation, Zazà is the promise of new life and prosperity, perhaps (as Fred indicates) democracy and freedom. All that—to some—is never fulfilled in post-war Italy. Those less given to hidden meaning may be content to know that Zazà also became the name of a perfume, a liquor, a magazine and a 1947 film directed by Giorgio Simonelli. The song enjoyed a comeback in the 1970s, sung by Gabriella Ferri.

to: Hellman, part 3

(Photo credits:  I have been unable to trace credit/copyright information for the record album graphic of the stylized Mt. Vesuvius/US flag. If anyone has accurate information, I would be happy to list the appropriate credit.)

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