Vincenzo Pugliese
Vincenzo Pugliese
(Photo courtesy of
Wisconsin State Journal
Melanie Conklin)

Vincenzo Pugliese, owner of Café Porta Alba, has a passion for bringing Neapolitan culture to Madison. Vincenzo grew up in Alife, Italy, 45 minutes away from Naples. When he was younger, his family took short shopping excursions into Naples, and this is now he got his first taste of the city's pizza. He learned at a young age that pizza made in a wood burning oven is not necessary Neapolitan pizza. Vincenzo then attended University in Naples, and it was then that he got to know the city well and developed his passion for the finer cultural nuances that are only found in Naples. As it is impossible to separate pizza from Naples and its Neapolitan culture - the two are explicitly linked – we wish to share with you some of the fun and interesting tidbits of this wonderful culture.


In every culture and throughout all of history, there have been masks. But the mask took on new meaning at the end of the 16th century in Italy, when there a form of theatre known as the Commedia dell'Arte emerged. One of the best-known Italian masks is the one that represents Naples: Pulcinella. Generally presented as a hunchback (male hunchbacks are considered lucky in Naples!), Pulcinella is dressed in a large, white smock and soft white hat, and wears a black half-mask characterized by a hook-nose. His character type is that of the jolly bungler, always poor and hungry, yet always able to get by, singing songs and playing the mandolin. In his stereotypical ineptness, however, there always remains the touch of the true court jester who delights in snubbing his nose at the powers that be (and these powers never catch on to how much wisdom is hidden behind the mask).

It is that anti–establishment part of Pulcinella's personality, the total disrespect of authority that seems to be not so hidden in much modern-day Neapolitan behavior. That's the reason – say some – that Neapolitans drive they way they do.

Enjoy the show of some Pulcinella characters making pizza dough
-they make it truly a theatrical experience!


The Neapolitan comic Antonio De Curtis, known as Totò, is an example of humor that can be appreciated across cultures. He plays the role of the true clown, the little man down on his luck, just trying to make it through another day.

His flights of outrageous language are often combined with pure visual humor. Nothing will start a marathon session of tale-swapping quicker than Neapolitans sitting around recalling scenes from their favorite Totò films. An example of "classic Toto" is his train scene where he offers to help a windbag senator with his luggage, taking each piece and carefully passing it out the window of the moving train. Only Charlie Chaplin at his best can compare with Totó's version of a marionette puppet dancing his way across the stage to the strains of the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.

A number of Totó sayings have found their way into our language. "Siamo uomini o caporali?!" ("Are we men or corporals?") is one. The immortal, but untranslatable (because it contains a grammatical error which contradicts the spirit of the sentence) is but another: "Signore si nasce ed io lo nacqui!" (Maybe something like, "Gentlemen are born, not made, and I is one!")

Like many comics, Totò did not become appreciated as a "true clown" until after his death. But most Italians knew right from the start what it took critics decades to figure out, that Toto was a true one-of-kind.

San Gennaro

San GennaroEach year, on the first Saturday of May, as well as on the 19th of September, amazement spreads through Naples Cathedral. There one can marvel at how the blood of the beheaded San Gennaro liquifies in its ampoule. The day of the blood miracle is an important feast for Naples and the people celebrate it accordingly. Saint Gennaro was the bishop of Benevento and was beheaded during the persecution of Christians by Diocletian in 305. According to the legend, a woman collected and kept some of the martyr's blood in an ampoule, and shortly thereafter the Saint's skeleton and the ampoule with blood were brought to Naples. In 313 the miracle of the liquefaction of the blood occurred for the first time, and there are numerous records of the miracle occurring many times again.

The people of Naples have a personal rather than religious relationship with San Gennaro. They present him their wishes with love and expect them to be fulfilled. >>Click for article


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