Tag Archives: History

Content about the study of history or the history of different things.

Day 5: Death, The Enlightenment, and Beer!

This will be a short post but yesterday might have been my favorite day, unexpectedly.

I went to school to become a historian (that didn’t pan out, obviously) so I probably enjoy museums and cemeteries more than the next person but those were the two highlights of the day: the Municipal Cemetary of Our Lady of Almudena and the Madrid History Museum.

First, I took the Red Line to La Almudena, out in a working-class neighborhood east of the city called Ventas. Originally I decided to go to the cemetery because I am interested in Filipino and Cuban history and there is a mausoleum dedicated to Spanish soldiers who fought there. I’m obviously interested in contemporary memory and the history of colonialism so I wanted to see what was going on. It was a nice monument–I obviously cannot deliver commentary on its existence since I’m neither Spanish nor Filipino/Cuban but I am glad I saw it.

I read an article about the cemetery and to quote: “Alien to ideology, its streets are inhabited by tributes to war heroes, Nazi pilots, hustlers, and innocent martyrs of Francoism.”

That’s the interesting thing about cemeteries. We spend our lives separating ourselves and others based on a host of labels and categories but you wander through a cemetery and you don’t know one grave from another as they relate to those categories (except maybe class since the rich have their own tombs…there’s a lesson to be had there too).

The cemetery was deserted and HUGE. I saw a few famous graves marked on Google Maps and obviously went to see the mausoleum. I made a mistake and didn’t check my camera battery so I was only able to take pictures with my phone which was a bummer. So many of the graves were in serious disrepair which was ironic because many of the inscriptions said things like, “Your wife and kids will never forget you.” etc. I have been to a lot of cemeteries in the US and I’ve never seen one in such horrible disrepair (I’m sure they exist) so it was a little strange for me.

After an hour or so of wandering around the cemetery, I realized I hadn’t eaten and found a neighborhood spot close to my train stop. Bar El Rincón de Juanca was a great choice. Unfortunately, the kitchen was closed for siesta (I was really looking forward to the bacon and cheese bocadillo) but I had a couple of beers. It was a Filipina-run bar and the ladies were singing karaoke in Tagalog which made me nostalgic for Hawaii and high school. They were super friendly and the place also has a terrace so it would be perfect in the late spring and summer. I will definitely go back when I’m here again.

After a couple of beers (2.50), I got back on the train and decided at the spur of the moment to go to the Madrid History Museum. I’m not a huge fan of art museums but I usually enjoy other museums. This one DID NOT disappoint and I would recommend it to everyone. I took a couple of classes about Enlightenment-era Europe in graduate school so these exhibits were right up my alley! It was also free because it was Sunday night, so win-win.

The museum follows the history of the city chronologically from 1561 to the 20th century with special emphasis placed on the Enlightenment and societal changes as they related to gender and urban planning (two of my favorite subgenres of history). Also, if you like fans, curiosities, and material history, you should definitely stop in. It’s an expansive exhibition with paintings, maps, objects, photos, and a really well-done and extensive narrative that guides you through each hall and helps to put everything into context. My favorite parts were about coffee houses, paying calls, promenading, women at work, and other aspects of social life during and after the Enlightenment.

The last exhibit was a temporary one dedicated to Arturo Soria and the urban planning of his Ciudad Lineal. This was also interesting because he created the Madrid Company of Urbanization in 1824 and helped conceptualize this planned city. They had pictures and different things that were part of the plan (most of the buildings are gone now) but he was a really smart guy. This was probably one of my favorite things I’ve learned about on the trip. I love being taken down rabbit holes of previously unknown topics and subject areas and this one combined a LOT of different ones.

Looks like Jiu-Jitsu! Click to learn about her!

After the museum, I realized I was in a part of the city I hadn’t gotten to explore yet (between Malasañ and Justicia) so I decided to walk from the museum, in Justicia, back down to my AirBnB. On my walk, I happened to stumble upon what appeared to be a hipster area full of little bars with different themes and an upper-middle-class area with eateries, stationery shops, and lots of young people. I ended up back in my neighborhood and decided I finally needed to eat.

I have discovered that even devoid of a man asking me what I want to eat, it is SO hard for me to choose restaurants and commit to eating somewhere. Last night, I chose a Mexican spot called Patron Taqueria, and yet again, it was completely worth it. First and foremost, they had margaritas with a chamoy rim–and those are one of my favorite things ever. Second, they served Mexican-style tacos for 1.50 each. But the star of the show was something they called a gringa which was like a combination of a quesadilla and taco. It was one of the best things I’ve eaten here, by far! So, I got 3 food items and two drinks and it was only 15.50. The more Mexican food I eat, the sadder it makes me that NYC’s Mexican food is so different (and not to my liking). A group of guys came to the counter to check out when I was ready to leave so I got up to go and I was already outside when one of them yelled after me to stop. The waitress wasn’t paying attention when I paid her colleague and she had these guys stop me because she thought I was dining and dashing, LOL!

After the restaurant, I decided to stop at a little mini-mart and get some beers and ice cream (since I won’t be able to stay out late tonight as I need to leave for the airport tomorrow morning). Then I went back to my place.

This was another absolutely perfect day: slept in, saw some historical graves, found a woman+immigrant-run neighborhood bar, got to learn some things, had some amazing food and drinks, saw a slice of life in the suburbs, and only spent  30!

Today is my last day and I need to go get a Covid test to reenter the US so fingers cross. Come back tomorrow for one last rundown!

Day 3: A Day Trip to Toledo

This was a long day and probably the most walking I’ll do the entire trip (about 9 miles)!

I woke up a bit late and showered and got ready and then walked back to Atocha station. I stopped back into the Church of the Holy Coss and went back by “my” coffee spot again to get a double espresso. I always tell myself to try new places every day when I travel but once I find somewhere I like, I always end up going back. I’ll definitely go back to Casa de Diego on Sunday too.

I got to the station at about 11:00 and tried to use the kiosk to buy a ticket but it wanted a passport number and I didn’t have my passport. I was super annoyed and thought I was going to have to walk back to my apartment and grab it. I went into the ticket office and they couldn’t help me but then I remembered I’d taken a picture of my passport and that would have the number. So, remember, if you are in the EU and plan for any train travel and don’t want to carry your passport around (I’m always worried about getting mugged or losing it) then take a picture so you can verify your identity.

I went back to the kiosk and bought a roundtrip ticket to Toledo for 22. I was really intimidated by the outside of the station and if you will remember my first misadventure this week, I am not so great at trains but this was the smoothest trip I’ve ever taken.

I found the departure board and saw that my train was leaving from the ground level platform and I still had an hour (they stopped selling tickets for the 11:20 train by the time I got to the kiosk so I had to take the 12:20). I went to the Mahou mini bar and grabbed a small beer and then went to the bathroom. I was dreading going to the bathroom in the train station but I always forget Europe isn’t plagued with the same issues as the US and the bathrooms aren’t absolute cesspools. For this bathroom, you paid a euro and got a ticket with a QR code which you scanned to enter. There were attendants and the bathroom was absolutely immaculate. Absolutely worth the euro–and no one was shooting up heroin in there!

I went to my departure platform about 15 minutes before the train was scheduled to leave and the attendant scanned my ticket as I went out of the door. I was nervous because in Italy in 2014 you had to validate your own ticket on the platform and I forgot once and the stupid ticket guy charged me an on-the-spot fine for not validating it. This system was much better/faster. I found my car and seat quickly but a Latino guy in line behind me had never taken the train before and he asked me for help finding his spot. He was in the wrong car so I told him to go to the next one. An older Spanish guy heard me and said, “No, this is car 2!” and I said, “Yes, I know, his ticket is for car 3…” It was cool to help someone while speaking Spanish. This is the second time someone has approached me–the first day in Lidl a French lady came up to me and asked me where the toilet paper was. Those are always some of my favorite experiences when traveling–people approaching me either because I look like I belong or because I look nice so they feel comfortable asking for help.

I got to Toledo and was going to take the bus into the main part of the city but I didn’t see any machines to buy tickets and I didn’t know if you could pay on board so I just walked.

Alcantara Bridge

I walked from the train station all the way across the city (after stopping for a few souvenirs–Toledo is souvenir central) to the old Jewish quarter. I visited two synagogues and a museum. The first synagogue, Sinagoga de Santa Maria La Blanca or Ibn Shushan Synagogue, was 3 to enter. It’s only one main space and there was a group tour going on inside but it was cool to take a quick walk around–it’s considered the oldest synagogue in Europe and was built in 1180.

After that, I walked a bit further and went into the Sephardic Museum and the Sinagoga del Transito. My closest friend in New York is Mizrahi and grew up following the Sephardic rite so I’m most interested in those aspects of Jewish history and this was really fascinating to see. Of course, it was also sad to think about and see all of the artifacts predating the expulsion. It’s hard to imagine all of the people who were killed, exiled, and forced to convert after participating in and building such a deep history in Spain. Since taking a history course about the Islamic world in 2010, I’ve been interested in how Dhimmi lived in various Islamic states including Jews in Spain so it was also great to see aspects of Jewish life under Islamic rule as well. Besides the religious history, I really love Toledo because the architecture and masonry are so beautiful. It reminds me of many of the same reasons I love Assisi.

After the museums and synagogues, I decided to walk back to the other side of the village so that I would be closer to the train and could relax over a nice lunch without having to worry about missing my train. Toledo is hilly and the streets are cobbled and I’ve learned my lesson the hard way about trying to run around places like that.

After ordering a full plate of Manchego cheese (I didn’t know it was going to be that much but #noregrets), some croquetas, and wine, I walked back down the hill to the station and made my way back to Madrid.

When I ride the train, I always wish I could drive around some of the smaller towns I see from the window. It’s one of the only times I become melancholic while traveling–it would be fun to rent a car with a man a go explore! When I see a random hacienda (Spanish folks, is that the right term?) with agricultural equipment outside, it always makes me want to go see what’s going on there. I always wish I could make local friends because I want to know about what life is like in the countryside. My mom comes from a rural town in Alabama and I always wonder if the cultures are similar in rural areas around the world. Do they owe money to corporations they sell their products to? What is schooling like for their kids? Has their family always been farmers on that land? What happened to them during Fascist rule? I’ll never know but it’s always interesting to think about.

Once back in Madrid, I walked back to my apartment, showered, changed, and went out to find a drink. I was still full from lunch so I was looking for something quick. One thing I noticed yesterday, even on my way to the train station, is that so many more people were out and about than had been Wednesday or Thursday. The entire journey down Calle Atocha was packed and last night when I got back to Madrid the city was bustling!

I found a small cafe to have a couple of drinks. It was SO cold outside I ended up having my second round inside. I would have loved to have stayed out later but I was so tired and sore and cold and alone on a Friday night so I thought it would be best to head back to my apartment.

I spent a little more yesterday due to the train and extra wine at lunch but the full day was still only 70 (click the link to see how+what I’ve spent so far).

Today is going to be a bit more chill but I do have a surprise in store so make sure to follow me on IG and come back tomorrow to read more!

Contemporary Lessons from La Serenissima’s Eastern Borders

First, Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! I hope you guy have a lovely day with someone you love and if not, drink some wine and eat some food and it’ll feel the same! 🙂

Second, if you want to work with me, I’ve added a new contact page to my blog with links to my CV and resume. Check it out and let’s collaborate!

Anyway, last night I went to another lecture (read about the first one here) at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia. This one consisted of 4 speakers who talked about various topics including architecture, music, economy, and religion as it related to the Venetocracy or period of Venetian rule in what is today modern Greece and Eastern Europe. East of Venice: La Serenissima as seen from its eastern frontiers showcased scholarship from Patricia Fortini Brown, Larry Wolff, Molly Greene, and Daphne Lappa.img_3170

Patricia Fortini Brown spoke about policies and ideas that influenced Venetian defensive architecture in its colonies. This presentation was fascinating because while I have obviously seen copious amounts of Venetian architecture in my travels, one seldom things about the civic ideals which influenced it (at least I don’t). Brown points to the idea of Munire et Onare or the dual concept of protection and ornamentation. She also related her work to scholarship presented in Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference and The Kings Two Bodies. She mentioned that Venice governed in its eastern (SN: I ALWAYS WANT TO CAPITALIZE DIRECTIONS) colonies by using local elites as middlemen between the Venetian state and the local population. This was a common practice for all successful empires, including Venice. She also explained that the ornamentation of defensive structures was often tripartite: it featured the Doge, St. Mark, and God the Father and could either be directed inward or outward-conveying different ideas of civic identity in each case.

The crowned lion and archways were mentioned in her presentation as well.

Gates and fortresses were the most commonly built structures in the colonies and they focused on points of egress and ingress. A few interesting things I learned from this presentation: the longest continuous siege in history occurred between Venice and the Ottomans (21 years), Corfu remained a Venetian colony until the Republic itself collapsed in 1797 (knew about this but forgot), and in 1567 Venice finished building an 11-point star fortress with each point being named after a noble family.


The second speaker was Larry Wolff. His presentation covered the presence of Ottoman subjects in Venetian and European opera, as subjects of both tragedy and comedy. He presented samples of the music which was a really nice touch, but the presentation seemed rushed. He did introduce a fascinating concept: the triplex confinium or the axis between Venice, Austria, and the Ottoman empire. This was especially interesting to me because a large part of my research focused on the cultural influence of Viennese nobility on Venetian economic patterns. I am ignorant of art and music history in all capacities so I definitely learned the most from this presentation. He explained that the first opera about a Turkish subject emerged in 1689 but references to Turks were completely erased in the 1800s. I think this is an especially interesting topic because it provides a way to connect contemporary issues to the past. The portrayal of Ottoman subjects in Venice could easily be extrapolated to contemporary portrayals of Muslims in Europe today. There is definitely room for some fascinating comparative scholarship (he just wrote a book so maybe he talks about it?)! Something else that was especially intriguing was the fact that Naples seems to have been a more popular cultural center than Venice. Once of the operas he spoke about debuted in Naples in 1820 and then in Venice in 1822 with a revised ending (counter-factual, as he said). When one considers the north-south divide in contemporary Italy and the idea of Italian culture as it relates to this divide, one wonders how this divide affected opera and music history on the peninsula. Something else for me to look into!

The third presentation was the most interesting to me and connected most directly to my own past research, although I was disappointed because Molly Greene didn’t include any information about the Jewish influence on the Venetian-Ottoman economic relationship. This was especially surprising because she directly addressed the fact that many Venetian subjects in the Ottoman empire were Cretans-and there has been a lasting community of Jews on Crete which I believe played an important economic role as intercessors between Venice and the Ottomans. She did introduce an idea that I hadn’t ever heard about: the economic network between Alexandria, Istanbul and Venice. I have studied Venetian trade with the Levant, but didn’t ever consider the centrality of Alexandria in its economic history. I am also interested to know how Jerusalem factored into this economic network, if at all. She also introduced something I had absolutely no clue about-the fact that the majority of Venetians in the Ottoman empire were Greek and the fact that Greek merchants ran the Fondaco de Turchi in Venice! Her first book, A Shared World: Christians and Muslims in the Early Modern Mediterranean covers the transition from Venetian to Ottoman rule on Crete so I definitely want to check it out and see if there is any mention of Jewish economic networks on the island or in either of the metropoles. She also mentioned the Venetian retreat from maritime trade, which connected directly the last chapter of my thesis. This is also a great place to connect Larry Wolff’s triplex confinium to changes in Venetian economic patterns because Venetian nobles looked to Vienna for ways to move away from the stato da mar.

Finally, Daphne Lappa presented part of her work on borderland religious practices and the blending of Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholicism in Corfu. This presentation was by far the best organized. She presented the time period, location, and subject clearly and she used primary sources (both textual and artistic) as evidence of her thesis. Again, I think this topic also opens up new areas to be explored relating to Judaism. She explicitly stated that Orthodox practices influenced Roman Catholics and vice versa. It would be interesting to see what the relationship was between Roman Catholics, Orthodox believers, and Jews in Venice’s eastern colonies. I think the most fascinating aspect of this presentation was the idea of double churches, or churches built for Orthodox and Roman Catholics to worship simultaneously. Her presentation was also extremely interesting for me because I know scholars who study borderlands in the context of Texas-Mexico and I would bedsc_0245 interested to see how borderlands religion in Texas has been influenced, especially in relation to Protestantism. Another fascinating aspect of this presentation was the role of calendars in Orthodox and Roman Catholic division. Lappa explained that Roman Catholics celebrated Orthodox Easter and didn’t follow the calendar change that occurred in the Roman rite.

SN: One of the presenters also mentioned that on the Hapsburg-Ottoman border, Hungarian was spoken on both sides.

While Molly Greene’s scholarship connected more closely to my own than the others, each presenter taught me something I didn’t know and definitely helped me expand and complicate my knowledge of Venetian history as it relates to the orient and occident. I think Venice proper was an economic and religious borderland in many capacities. As Muslims, Christians, and Jews worked and lived together in the city and its colonies, they created a unique economy and citizenry which helped forge a thousand-year-old empire. In the end, I think this topic is extremely relevant to our current time. Of course, history is cyclical. Not only can we explore the localisms of past European borderlands and adapt those lessons to our own southwestern borders, but Ottoman religious and economic relations with Europe are especially pertinent in contemporary times.

I don’t know when the next lecture is, but I’ll definitely keep you guys posted. I’ll be here learning more Venetian history!


Contemporary European Identity, Music, and La Serenissima

Tonight, I went to a roundtable discussion entitled “La Serenissima: The Millenarian Venice” at The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University. The speaker was Jordi Savall, a Catalan musician who has been recording, performing, writing, speaking and otherwise informing the world about ancient, medieval, renaissance, and baroque music (from both the orient and occident) for over 50 years. img_3167
I originally thought to attend the lecture because I have studied Venetian political history but know very little about music from Venice. I (very nervously and poorly) presented a paper at a conference in West, Texas in 2012 and was exposed to some Medieval Spanish music there, but I otherwise have no experience with music history (you can peep that paper on my LinkedIn profile). To my pleasant surprise, Savall went beyond the discussion of music history and touched on the two things I am most passionate about: Jewish history in Venice and European cultural identity.
Savall is in New York to perform as part of a Carnegie Hall series about Venice. He has constructed a 1 hour and 50 minute (whittled down from 4+ hours) performance which covers Venetian music history. The auditory history begins in 828 when Venice was only a cub in the Adriatic and ends in 1797 when Napoleon slaughtered the sick lion.

Savall specifically mentioned the importance of Sephardic Jews to the commercial history of Venice and the first of two pieces he played was a Sephardic melodyPor Que Llorax Blanca Nina. He explained that the piece had been played from the Expulsion in the 15th century to World War II. He brought up a great point about radio which plays into Benedict Anderson‘s ideas about shared language and print culture. Up until the 1920s and 1930s music was very much a community affair. Not only was it passed down from generation to generation orally, it also had to be played by members of the community. It could never be replicated exactly and it was not a shared experience outside of the memory of those who witnessed the live performance (still true to an extent hence the unique experience of concerts). With the invention and permeation of radio and recording, people were then able to share a common experience and simultaneously ingest audio content while also interpreting it differently. People were able to do this with vernacular language and print much earlier, but it wasn’t until the 1920s or 30s that people were able to have this shared auditory experience (then shared and simultaneous visual experiences with cinema+TV). Similar to the evolution of print culture and its relation to modes of power, Savall also touched on the idea of folk music and its relationship to the two main sources of power in European history: the king’s court and the Church. I’m interested to look into this more and it definitely reinvigorated my curiosity about ways in which European identity were and are created. While his discussion of Sephardic Jewish music in the Venetian diaspora was especially fascinating, he also discussed something much more contemporary that has always intrigued me: cultural preservation and European identity.

I have always thought that regionalism, separatism, and local governance are the best ways to preserve cultures, heritages, and languages. Savall, as a proud Catalan, voiced a different belief. He thinks that unique cultures and heritages should be preserved, but he does not see that as a separating factor between Europeans. He specifically stated that he is not only Catalan but also a citizen of Europe. He says he speaks Spanish, but talks to his friends and reads in Catalan, yet feels at home in London, Venice, and all of the other cities in Europe. This brings up something at the heart of my second Masters essay: the hierarchy of one’s cultural and political identities. He didn’t talk about referendums or separatism at all, but he made it clear that he does support European unity while maintaining a strong Catalan identity-with music being the meeting place of those identities. This expands and adds nuance to a model I used for my essay. Here is an excerpt:
“Sébastien Dubé and Raùl Magni-Berton provide a theory which directly correlates  one’s income and national GDP to Euroscepticism. Their model outlines four specific differences in European political identity. The first model is poor people living in poor EU member states, the second is poor people living in rich EU member states, the third is rich people living in rich EU member states, and the last is rich people living in poor EU member states. In general, each of these socio-economic situations produces a different hierarchy of transnational, national, and regional identities. Poor individuals living in poor states often elevate their religious identity above that of the nation, assuming the pre-nationalist identity that Anderson outlined above. Poor individuals living in rich countries are more likely to identity with their particular culture or nation. Rich people living in poor countries often elevate their transnational identity above their national or cultural identity, valuing diversity above most other qualities. While rich people living in rich countries are often concerned with improving their aesthetic environment, maintaining their material well-being, as well as pride in their nation and personal economic status. Dubé and Magni-Berton conclude that wealth, and in turn European identity, denotes support of deeper EU integration while those poorer citizens that possess a strong national and cultural identity are often against EU expansion.”

I don’t necessarily think Savall’s opinions contradict the above model (I don’t know how his ideas of European integration have changed over time), but he did introduce some intricacies which I haven’t considered. In my work, I presented art and entertainment (as it was presented to me) as tools used to build national and transnational identity. There is a wonderful book called Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice which touches on the importance of entertainment and placation of the public as a tool to create shared experiences among citizens of all classes, build a singular identity, and mold people in to allowing the state to govern them. Modes of entertainment owned and operated by elite forces (the king, the Church, wealthy European politicians, etc.) have been used as tools to sculpt the political identity of the masses since Ancient times, but I have never thought about how folk music (and music created and performed on the local or regional level) helps to shape and bolster one’s political identity. I am very intrigued to know how other folk musicians from different regions and socio-economic backgrounds think of their music in relation to European integration. I will do further research, but I am also very happy to see ideas of cultural preservation come to the forefront, without some of the xenophobic ideas that often accompany that conversation. We can and should work together to help preserve the unique music, language, art, culture, and history that we each represent in the modern world. As Stavall said, cultural conservation does not have to denote separation!

SN: The theme for the 2016-2017 year at The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America is “Conservation and preservation of heritage and the contemporary destruction of art and architecture”. The brochure presents one particular scholar and her work, which seem to tie in directly to my ideas about cultural identity and transnationalism: “Public indifference to the loss of cultural heritage and identity” by Roberta De Monticelli. I have yet to read her work (as I just learned of it this evening), but I would argue that the public (generational intricacies are super important here) is actually not indifferent to the loss of cultural heritage and identity at all. In fact, I think a majority of people who support Eurosceptic and populist political movements (beyond economics) are doing so in a desperate attempt to reclaim both national and regional cultural heritage and identity. Now, finding a singular definition of said cultural heritage and identity to “reclaim” and from whom to “reclaim” it is where the difficultly arises (which often manifests as fear, exclusion, xenophobia, racism etc.). Rather than addressing the root cause of these fears, many just scream “Fascist” or “Nazi” and go on about stripping away or militantly reshaping those very identities people are so scared of losing. I think the preservation of cultural heritage may be a great way to change some of the sentiments which lead to the support of populist and Eurosceptic political movements (againnn, just to be clear that I don’t have my head in the sand: I do think economics trumps cultural heritage and without economic changes people are going to continue to reject transnationalism). When national and transnational governments fund the protection and preservation of these local identities, they are showing citizens that in the face of globalization and economic/social/religious/linguistic integration, their personal identity matters to the success and heritage of the European Union. And we all know people just want to matter!
Anyway, tonight was FREAKING AMAZING and I can’t wait for the next discussion on the 13th: “East of Venice: La Serenissima as seen from its Eastern frontiers“! One of the criticisms of my second Masters essay was that I did not adequately situate Italy between the orient and the occident. I wasn’t thinking about this when I wrote the paper as I’ve never read any scholarship touching on Venetian history from the perspective of the East (beyond my short foray into Jewish merchants as middlemen between the Ottomans and Venetian Republic), so I am stoked to finally learn some stuff about that! Come back and join me then.

Un Duplice Omicidio: Murder, Politics, and Immigration in the Bronx

Early one Monday morning, less than half a mile from his apartment, a 38-year-old Army veteran named Joseph is stabbed to death in the Bronx. A 22-year-old man, identified as Nicholas, comes to his rescue and is stabbed 8 times in the back. They were both part of a group which had been invited by the American Legion to march in the annual Memorial Day parade downtown. All of this takes place within yards of one of the oldest hospitals in New York City, yet they both perish. Their deaths make it into the New York Times and a world-renowned attorney agrees to defend their accused murderers. He succeeds and no one is ever imprisoned for their deaths. Their funerals draw 10,000 mourners and newspapers as far as Texas and Kentucky publish their obituaries…

So, Anna, here we go again with those weeks-long gaps in writing. Why you’re absolutely right, but I have a good excuse this time: I was researching for this next piece. Now, this one is not going to be an opinion piece and there is going to be no resolution at the end, but if you are interested in history, then I think this might grab your attention. Also, it does have a tangential connection to Donald Trump (just hold your horses-it isn’t commentary on current politics…that’s for another time) and there will be lots of pictures and a few mysteries! Now, let’s get down to it.

Back in the Spring of 2015 I took a required class at NYU and the final assignment was a primary source research paper. Well, if you’ll remember, even my first M.A. thesis was based mostly on secondary sources. So, I had very little experience working with primary sources, outside of some transcription I did for a professor one year. For this paper, I went to two research libraries and a courthouse archive here in the Bronx. The result was a 20+ page primary source research paper about two murders in the Bronx and Italian political history in New York City. A few posts ago I mentioned that I “spider-webbed” a lot of my work in graduate school so that I could expand upon the same topic and do more research on one subject. That semester it was Fascism. I was also enrolled in a Nazi Germany/Fascist Italy dual-taught course. Instead of working on two separate things I wrote this seminar paper for one course and a historiography over a similar topic for the Fascism+Nazism class. I am terrible at writing historiographies so that one didn’t turn out great, but my seminar paper was much better. I got a B on the paper and I was really upset about it, but a few months later a click-bait article from BoingBoing about Donald Trump’s dad being arrested as part of a KKK brawl came across my Facebook timeline.boing-boing I didn’t plan to click, but then I saw the funeral announcement for the two men who were murdered! I clicked and realized their deaths had been a much bigger deal than I initially thought and I also picked up on some inconsistencies from my paper.

I’m not going to summarize 20 pages of writing in this blog, I just want to talk about the two guys who were murdered. If you want to know more about the Italian diaspora just read this. I was researching Fascism in the Italian-American communities in NYC and how Italian’s organized their Fascist groups abroad. In Italian Fascist Activities in North America by Gaetano Salvemini, he mentions the case of two men who were murdered in the Bronx in 1927. Clarence freakin’ Darrow defended the men accused of their murders pro bono and got them off (here is his correspondence from the trial). Despite this, the murders were only discussed in a page or two and the discrepancies regarding the accused and the victims were never addressed. I have been researching for a year and a half now, on and off, and I have yet to find another book or historian who has delved into this case. I obviously can’t travel to Italy and I can’t go back in time to know what really happened, but I will present you with the evidence I’ve found. I have used ancestry.com, the Bronx Country Courthouse, familysearch.org, and a few archival websites in Italy.

Here is the profile I’ve put together of the two victims:

Michele Ambrosoli was born on 9 September 1906 in Rionero in Volture, Potenza, Italy.birth-record His father was a farmer named Giovanni Ambrosoli. He was born at #13 Via Processione. In my research, I found a Via Ambrosoli in Melfi, nearby. When you search the street on Google it’s called Via Michele Ambrosoli, but Google maps only lists it as Via Ambrosoli. I know the Fascist government renamed many streets in Italy, so it would be interesting to know if they named this street after this Michele Ambrosoli, when, and who took Michele off of Google maps and why.

Also, Via Processione no longer exists in Rionero, but I know it existed before because other people traced their relatives to the same street on some genealogy blogs. I have searched and searched for an old map of Rionero with no success, but I will keep trying. Michele immigrated to the United States in July 1920 aboard the S.S.Patria. He was 14, traveled alone, gave no destination, and no relatives back in Italy. He was held by immigration at Ellis Island for 2 days and ultimately released on 2 August around 3:45 PM. Michele Ship.jpgI haven’t been able to track him any further until 7 years later when he is killed on the corner of 183rd and 3rd in the Bronx around 8 AM. He is then misidentified in every newspaper that reports on his death. The court records also misidentify him and the accused are tried for the death of Michele. The Fascists hold a funeral for him in the Bronx and 10,000 people attend. A new Fascist club was created in his honor in Brooklyn under the name Michele Ambrosoli.

While this information may seem trivial, we need to talk about naming and name changes. Initially, Michele Ambrosoli was identified by the New York Times as Nicola Amoroso, then Nicholas Amoruzo, Nicola, Amorosso, then Nicholas Amoruzo D’Ambrosoli. The Ambrosoli was only mentioned in one of the last stories about their funeral in Naples. His death certificate is listed on Ancestry under Michael Ramibrose. I have yet to figure out how or why he was identified as Nichola(s) Amoroso. A new Fascio was commemorated in his honor in Brooklyn and it was called Fascio Michele Ambrosoli, so the Italian community knew his real name. He was also listed as a Fascist martyr as both Michele Ambrosoli and Michele D’Ambrosoli. I am currently trying to get ahold of a funeral announcement from Mt. Carmel Church, but all evidence points to the fact that he was not going by an alias. I believe he lived in Brooklyn and was only visiting the Bronx, but I have no evidence so far. I don’t know where he worked, where he lived, if he ever traveled back to Italy, nothing. The list of Fascist martyrs says that he died trying to help a comrade who had been attacked by “subversives” and I can only assume that was the first victim that day: Giuseppe Carisi.

Now, for the other guy. I’ve had a LOT of success finding information about him. Similarly, his name is listed in various forms: His birth name is Giuseppe Carisi but he signed his name and is listed as George Carisi, Joseph Carisie, Joseph Carrisi, Joseph Carisy, etc.

Giuseppe Carisi was born on 10 February 1889 in Reggio Calabria, Italy. Pietro Carisi was his father. An unnumbered house on Via Santa Caterina is listed and Vittoria Mesiano is also listed on his birth certificate.

I have been able to track him to a home at 124-126 Thompson street in Manhattan in 1910. He was boarding with a Carmelo (twenty years his senior) and Philomena Mesiano, who I can only assume were relatives of Vittoria from back in Calabria. Carlo was making watches in his home and Giuseppe said he was an operator at a coat shop.

652In 1913, Giuseppe moved to the Bronx and according to the 1920 census Carmelo and Giuseppe were living 500 feet from one another at 502 and 552 East 187th Street. Carlo now owned a jewelry store and Giuseppe was a tailor at a factory. Giuseppe was now living with his younger brother Pietro. As of 1918, he was working at Eclipse Cloth(es) Company on 328 Church Street (which now appears to be a Post Office). In 1890 this factory had 22 employees and is listed as specializing in foodstuffs, leather, and general merchandise. During World War I, Joseph (he was signing this name now) was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Hancock, Georgia for six months.

He became a naturalized citizen there. Upon his return from the Army, he applied for a passport in 1919 and traveled back and forth to Italy at least two times in the early 20s. It appears he intended to bring his family back to the United States.

While his brother appears to have been here with him in 1920, his assets were probated in 1928 and all of his family is listed as resident aliens in Staiti, Calabria-including his brother Pietro Jr. I am unsure as of yet if he was able to bring his family back from Italy. Tragically, his father died just 18 days after he was killed. Giuseppe had over $2000 in assets which appear to have been given to his family, although it appears the legal proceedings took over a year to complete.

One of the most interesting things to note is that Carmelo Mesiano moved from 124-126 Thomson street to 502 East 187th street sometime between 1910 and 1920. I do not know when or if any of these men became full-fledged Fascists, nor what that process entailed, but he was living next door to 506 East 187th street which was the headquarters for Fascists in this area and the location of the Fascio Mario Sozini. fascist-meeting-houseThis Fascio is featured in Carlo Tresca’s memoirs as an especially active Fascio and most of the accounts I read said that the men gathered there that morning before leaving to go to the parade. Perhaps Pietro joined the Fascists first, maybe Carmelo invited Giuseppe to join for economic or social reasons. Maybe Giuseppe wasn’t Fascist at all and just hung out with his friend and neighbors regularly. People shifting their identities is nothing new, so it is important that we realize these shifts in the political and national identity of immigrants have existed for centuries.

The two men were murdered here (the train station has since been demolished)

One reason history is so fascinating to me is because we are often able to pin down the exact time and date certain things happened, but other than the occasional diary it is impossible to know how people felt. I will never know how a World War I veteran that died with a $2000 estate in 1927 became a Fascist. I will never know why a 14-year-old boy traveled to a new continent alone, became a Fascist, was murdered while trying to aide Giuseppe, was misidentified by the national media, and doesn’t show up in any extant records. But one thing is for sure, two men who were able to gain the attention of national and international media and drew 10,000 people to the Bronx for their funerals are worth talking a look at.

I think this case is incredibly relevant to current political discourse. Veterans, immigration, Fascism, identity, diaspora, allegiance, and the importance of documentation are all as important today as they were on Memorial Day 1927.

So, this is where I leave it for now. I will probably continue to research this for years to come and hopefully one day I will be able to visit Southern Italy armed with these records. I don’t know what I can do with all this stuff since I’m not in academia anymore, but I’d love to make a vlog of the significant locations, write a biography, or even a historical novel.

**I am in the process of ordering the two men’s death certificates (they are sequentially numbered which really helped with making sure I was researching the right guys) and will update this when/if I find out anything new!

Until next time, y’all!