Matthews entry April 2010
The Neapolitan Struscio
The word struscio best translates as
“stroll.” It is onomatopoeic; the soft sibilant ssssshhhhh in the
middle of the word imitates the rustling sound of the hems
of ladies’ fine new gowns as they drag along the ground
(the hems, not the ladies!) during the traditional stroll
on Holy Thursday. The noun struscio is from the verb strusciare, similar
(to drag, to creep) and is generally used in Naples in the
context of this particular stroll on this particular day.
I first heard the word and of the tradition of the
“stroll” on Holy Thursday, I thought of Irving Berlin’s
lyrics, “In your Easter
bonnet, with all the frills upon it, You'll be the
grandest lady in the Easter parade...,” yet the
strutting of one’s finery in Naples takes place on the
Thursday before Easter and not Easter Sunday, itself,
which is significant.
Holy Thursday, in the
Christian faith, commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with
his Apostles. It is also traditionally a day for acts of
charity and humility such as, for example, the ritual
washing of feet (in imitation of Jesus’ performing this act,
recounted in the Gospel of John). In many places in the
Christian world, there is also the tradition of visiting the
sepulchers in seven churches (or, at least, according to
some lore, three —but always an odd number!). It was an act
of penance and, no doubt, a reminder of one’s own mortality.
That such a humble procession
should change into a vain display of one’s new clothes is
beyond me. (Who am I, Thomas Aquinas?) Yet in Naples and
much of southern Italy, that is what happened.
Historically, it probably goes back to the Spanish rule in
Naples, when the rulers of city and kingdom imported from
Spain the ban of going on horseback or in coaches on the
few days before Easter; they closed the main streets. In
Naples, the procession was typically along via Toledo
(alias via Roma). The churches you were supposed to visit
to show humility included, for example, San Ferdinando; yet, that church
is right across from the fine Gambrinus
Cafe. You had to have your coffee before the stroll,
and you can’t go into Gambrinus looking like a bum (this
was many years ago!), so you dressed up. Thus beginneth a
was down there the other day, on Holy Thursday,
looking for people "struscing"
along, but didn’t see many obvious examples. The tradition
is occasionally resurrected by various commercial
interests. A few years ago, they paid some actors to dress
up in finery of the 1700s and parade up and down via
Chiaia (a street that starts at Gambrinus), looking fine
and humble at the same time.
farina e forca. Libreria
scientifica editrice. Naples. 1972.
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