Me that Old-Time Profession!
(This is the first in a
series. Link to part 2
3 4 5 6 )
If you are of a certain age —and who isn't?—
you may remember a day when there was no such thing as
one-stop-and-shop. If you wanted bread, you went to a
bakery; you wanted ice, you waited for the ice-man to
come to you; a pickle, you went to the pickle person.
And sometimes even the pickle person came to you! (Don't
tell me they never existed; I have sold pickles out of a
barrel, door-to-door!) Naples now has as many gigantic
superstores as anywhere else, but there are any number
of books about the Naples of old that describe the
professions of old. Some of these jobs no longer exist,
and some do. I found these delightful drawings on the
backs of a series of "Tombola"
cards (a kind of Italian Bingo).
The Cicerone. That was
the name of the Italian profession and was, as well,
used in English. The Oxford English Dictionary has the
first English citation from 1726: "It surprised me to
see my cicerone
so well acquainted with busts and statues of all the
great people of antiquity" and then adds, "...our
English quotations are earlier than any given in the
Italian dictionaries." (That is interesting,
since the English word is Italian. Cicerone is
simply the modern Italian name for the Roman orator,
Cicero. Where English uses the straight Latin
nominative case for most Roman names ending in 'o'—Cicero,
Italian truncates the Latin accusative case of Ciceronem, Platonem, Neronem and winds
up with Cicerone,
Platone, Nerone.) Cicero,
obviously, was used out of deference to his fabled
learning and oratory skills. He might be pleased (or
puzzled) to know that today his name means "tour guide."
The card indicates that this is a "cicerone" from Pozzuoli. It would have been
his job to show visitors the solfatara and the Roman ruins
of Baia and Pozzuoli (such
as the great Flavian amphitheater). Obviously, the
profession still exists, especially at large tourist
attractions such as Pompeii.
Today, people simply say "guida"—guide,
although there still exists the expression, "fare il cicerone"—to
act as a tour guide.
The Puppeteer. The card is labelled
'Bagatelle'. That is strange usage and seems to be a
description of, rather than the name of, the
profession; that is, trifling, of little import. etc.
The legitimate Italian name for the profession is
Burattinaio, from burattino—puppet. Strangely enough,
I have seen puppet shows even in this age of
television, computer games, and wall-to-wall
electronic gimcrackery. The scene is usually a Sunday
morning in a park where parents still take their kids
out for a stroll. Maybe puppet shows are so "retro"
that the novelty is entertaining (much like
dial-phones and LP's!), but the young children seem to
enjoy the show. In this particular drawing, the puppet
being held up looks like the Neapolitan iconic
which name is the source of the English term "Punch"
in, appropriately, the "Punch and Judy" shows—puppet
The Wetnurse. The Italian label is nutrice"—a woman who
nourishes. In this age of synthetic baby formula, this
is one profession that has gone out of fashion. They
were also very expensive, since the family that hired
one was expected to provide the woman with clothing and
upkeep for the time her services were required.
might have referred to "wet" and "dry," the latter
service being little more like a nanny or even full-time
baby-sitter. (That appears to be the case in this
drawing, although maybe the woman is just taking a
break.) An elderly
woman informed me that she remembers cases of these
women in her village virtually abandoning their own
children to seek lucrative employment in the big city as
wetnurses for the wealthy.
The Zampognari. There is no
one-word translation. It means, "The musicians who come
around at Christmas time"; one of them plays the ciaramella (a
double-reed folk oboe, in the foreground in this
drawing) and the other plays the Neapolitan bagpipes,
called the zampogna.
These musicians are still quite common
at Christmas in Naples. In some cases they don't even
look much different than the two in the drawing, since
rustic garb is part of symbolizing the shepherds in the
Gospel of Luke who received the "good tidings of great
joy" and then went forth to "glorify and praise God for
the things that they had heard and seen." It comes as a
surprise to many to learn that the bagpipes are
traditional in many places in the world outside of
Scotland, including southern Italy. The zampognari
generally play only one song, a Neapolitan dialect carol
entitled Quanno Nascette Ninno (When the Child
was born); it is the original minor-key version of Tu
scendi dalle Stelle, the most popular of
all Italian Christmas songs. Today these musicians are
"buskers" (street musicians) and expect you to give them
some more tangible form of "good tidings."
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