by Gianluca Isaia
Gesti Napoletaniby Gianluca Isaia
Without a doubt we Italians constantly use our hands when we speak, and our gestures are just as expressive as our words. This fact is often mocked abroad and is seen as something excessive, rather uncouth and vulgar. However, let me say that it's anything but! It is pure theater. It is an ability to make oneself understood and communicate that is both ancient and modern.
It is an ephemeral and eternal game of signs and extremely rapid allusions. It is a phenomenon that is a form of art in Naples, a place where hand gestures and their immediate and direct comprehension are supreme. You may have witnessed a lively conversation between two Neapolitans, accompanied as usual by continuous and frenetic hand movements and a sequence of Oscar-worthy gesticulations in a marvelous baroque emphasis that underlines and dramatizes each phrase and salient concept.
Or, better yet, you might come across someone clinging to a cellphone as if it were a question of life or death or, in a totally surreal moment, lost in the solipsism of the earphone, wandering the city streets, tracing complex and mysterious geometric shapes in the air that form and vanish, with dancing fingers and Kabuki twists, rhythmic and increasingly emblematic hieroglyphics.
I recall an article by Romeo Bassoli in the "Mattino" newspaper many years ago stating that one is born Neapolitan. This has been demonstrated and it is anything but a cliché. The daily practice of gesturing – which has unique, precise and very refined connotations in Naples and acquires semantic nuances that differ from one area to another – is perfected through everyday use, which determines its exemplificative function. I thought that some typical and very popular gestures might be useful if you should meet a real Neapolitan.
Forgive me the "aumm aumm" advice, but it is even better if you do these gestures while wearing an Isaia shirt and suit because you'll increase the veracity and your Neapolitan essence! The first gesture – the back of your right hand grazing your chin – evidently means you're out and done: a definite and concise negation of any interest in and participation with someone or something, meaning you don't give a damn. It is the granitic and resolute termination of any pathos or relationship of compassion. The second gesture is the renowned "umbrella", a courteous and eloquent invitation to "go to hell": it is derision, a satisfied and wretched jeer or worse. There is no coming back from it.
Che ‘bbuò- What do you want
Che me ne fotte - I don’t care
Na tazzulella e cafè - A cup of coffee
Tiene’e corna! - Bad luck, go away!
The extremely popular and fateful 'E 'ccorna" or "tiene e'ccorna" – the horn – gesture has various applications and versatile uses as an insult. Basically, if the gesture is done towards a man, it is one of the worst insults because it evokes and clearly expresses betrayal by his wife, partner, or fiancée. If the horns are pointing downwards, it is a gesture to ward off evil, a proper act of exorcism to avert bad luck. "Uocchio e maluocchio". The gesture is unfailingly repeated in a rapid sequence if a jinx, a person known for his evil eye, is in the vicinity. Last but not least, there is the gesture of profound and unequivocal understanding that leaves no doubt. We're on the same wavelength, we agree, done deal, see you later but just the two of us, understand? Many different conceptual nuances are incarnated in just one formidable wink of the eye and facial expression.
Tell me if this isn't pure genius?