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Period Postcards from Naples
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Postcard from Naples 5 - This one is driving me nuts. Looking at the obvious first,: E. A. Mario, was the pen name of Giovanni Ermete Gaeta (b. Naples, 1884 – d. Naples, 1961). He often wrote both music and lyrics for some 2,000 songs. He wrote lyrics both in Neapolitan dialect as well as standard Italian. He is best-known for the patriotic song from the First World War, La leggenda del Piave (alias la canzone del Piave/ (legend/song of the Piave). It commemorates the stand of the Italian army at the Battle of the Piave River in June of 1918, in which Italian forces successfully resisted a massive attack by the forces of Austria-Hungary. It was the "come-back" battle for Italy, which had been routed at the earlier battle of Caporetto in October of 1917. The song was an instant success and remains iconic of Italian patriotic music. Other than that, E.A. Mario's songs and verses in Neapolitan are often compared to those of his great Neapolitan contemporaries in the genre of the famous "Neapolitan Song," such as Salvatore Di Giacomo, Ernesto Murolo  and Libero Bovio. At least for this song, E.A. Mario collaborated with Nello De Lutio, a prominent poet of Neapolitan verse and a lyricist for many Neapolitan songs of the early 20th century.

Exactly what are looking we at?  It's a postcard featuring an illustration for a song about cocaine, as well as some of the text The lyrics read "No more pleasures of wine, morphine/opium, tobacco... today there's cocaine with its magical power...". The song is not exactly a praise of cocaine (one look at the illustration tells you that. But it's not a condemnation, either -- (..."magical power."). It seems to me at least slightly ambivalent, and that may be in keeping with the view of cocaine prevalent in society at the time this song was written and when the card was issued. In terms of putting a date on this, a lot of information can be gleaned by noting the name of the artist who did the illustration--A. Bertiglia. The initial stands for Aurelio, born in Torino in 1891, died in 1973. He was one of the best-known illustrators in Italy in the early 1900s, known as a commercial artist, caricaturist, graphic designer of musical scores, advertising, fashion illustrations, postcards, books for children, and, during WWI, several anti-Austrian caricatures. The song is totally obscure today. I found one reference in the Treccani encyclopedia to it, giving the date as 1921, saying that it was considered "scandalous."

Ambivalent? Cocaine is derived from the leaves of the coca plant. Readers may be aware that in some Andean cultures the leaves are chewed as a stimulant to overcome fatigue and hunger. Cocaine, itself--the derivative--was isolated in 1855 and for a number of years was touted for its beneficial qualities. Sigmund Freud praised it in the 1880s and fictional sleuthdom's great hero, Sherlock Holmes, was an absolute coke-head in stories written about the same time. Yet, by 1920 much medical and social opinion had changed. Depending on the place, cocaine was at least frowned upon, if not illegal. Thus, the ambivalence in this song and postcard. I might have guessed around 1920 just from looking at other illustrations by Bertiglia. There's a bit of a "Flapper"-era look about the young woman, but he looks... well, you can decide for yourself. In any case, they both resemble other illustrations by Bertiglia. I might have guessed a little later, but it could not have been too much after the advent of Fascism in Italy (1922) because the government started censoring such things as newspapers and social items offensive to the Fascist sense of morality and decency--such as songs about the magical power of cocaine!


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