Friday, July 24, 2009

The eyes have it

An astute reader points out a small ad on Page 8 of this week's East Boston Times:
La Signora "Filomena" & "her Grandmother"
Back from Italy
57 Years Experience
I could find no translation for the first word -- "chiromazia" -- with a quick check on the Internet, but add one letter -- "chiromanzia" -- and the word is translated as "palmistry" by Google Translate. The ad goes on:
Helps in reuniting lost love, finding true love,
trouble in marriage, success in business,
in-law & family problems.
The ad specifies that the duo have "Never failed a case" and, most importantly, they are:
100% guaranteed to remove Maloccio (bad luck)
The malocchio (usually spelled with an h) actually translates, of course, as "bad eye" or, more commonly, "evil eye." If you've grown up in an Italian-American household, you've heard the term many times. You never wanted to get the malocchio; in fact, you'd wear the red horn around your neck to protect you. If you had a stretch of bad luck or illness, it was commonly assumed that someone had given you the evil eye.

Seeing the ad reminded me of one of the more bizarre and frightening episodes of my childhood. When I was perhaps 10 years old, my mother had a string of painful headaches. At some point, as I looked on, my grandmother performed the ritual that chased away the malocchio and I was a bit freaked out by it. In the kitchen of our apartment on Chelsea Street, my grandmother placed drops of olive oil in a bowl of water and chanted something in Italian and then she tossed the contents of the bowl out the second-floor window.

My mother's mother was a rather practical woman who was born, I found out later, in Jersey City. I can't recall ever hearing her speak Italian except in this instance -- probably words that she had been taught by her own mother. There may have been more to the ritual, but that is all I remember. (It's quite possible that I ran out of the kitchen at that point.)

I just returned from two weeks in Italy and one of the gifts I received was a small plastic figure of a man with a blindfold on his eyes and the horn below him. I was told to hang it on my door. I'm not superstitious, but ... you know ... it was a gift, and so the giver's instructions have to be honored, right?


N.starluna said...

Several years ago we were given a gift of two 3 inch tatami sandals made out of colored straw by a Japanese friend. We were told to hang them over the front door in order to ensure "good journeys" when we left the house.

I will admit that we are superstitious people. We believe that there are forces in the universe that we don't understand and probably never will, so it's best not to mess with them. That's why we never threw out the "black Jesus" candles that my mother would bring to our house when my then-boyfriend and I were living together. It's also why we let our mothers put palm crosses in our house even though we are no longer practicing Catholics.

Those sandals have hung over every front door of every apartment and house we've lived in since then. And I will admit, our journeys so far have been good.

Anonymous said...

Jim - Great story! I've carried my "horn" in car since I was old enough to drive. I always felt it protected me for the malocchio that Boston drivers give each other when going around rotaries, double parked cars, or when trying to gain position during traffic. Of course, once I married, the wife said that it had to come down from my mirror. I was shocked; not sure how to react - I did what every other Italian man would do...I hid it in the glove compartment. Good luck continues to follow me where I drive, and most importantly, the malocchio stays awary.

Evil Eye said...

Just be sure to stay away from the Evil Eye!