Number 4. The Other Mola

Published by Bridge Apulia USA N.4, 1998

Let’s imagine one could transfer almost half the population of a town in a short time to a different geographical area. This has been done throughout history many times and mostly over a dramatic background. Pestilence, barbarians’ invasions, drought, volcano eruptions and many other unpleasant surprises by Mother Nature or by fellow humans have caused such sudden emigrations. In some cases, the original city becomes a ghost-town or disappears completely from the map as a result of these drastic changes, such as in the case of the birth of Venice and the demise of Aquileia. In such an event, the original traditions may be retained, but the attachments to those roots will vanish in a short time. Another occurrence is the creation of a new town or village where the people will tend to forget their origins because they have caused so much heartache to its populace. Has it ever been the case where a new town carries within its heart the spirit and sometimes the name of an older, distant city? Could anyone declare that an accurate reproduction of the original structure of a faraway city has been recreated? Well, many a time new cities have embraced an old name, but few similarities can be found between the two locations. If we refer instead to the attempted duplicate of a physical framework of a municipality, it has been unsuccessfully tried by many. The ever-changing characteristics of an urban area do not allow this reproduction, but for small, distinctive sections. In the case, though, a copy of the earlier construction is actually built, most often with poor results, a “shrine” for the indulgence of the nostalgic, frustrated expatriates is the final product. Is there, then, a case where the archetype of a village, the faithful cultural imprint of its community, is retained through the recreation of a particular set of activities? Ultimately, is there a place where activities such as theater performances in the original dialect, the election of a “Miss” bearing the name of that distant town, religious parades to commemorate their memorable but remote patron saint, the inception of various associations aimed at reproducing their ancestral traditions, preserve the essence of this separated entity? Unbelievable as it may seem, there is a place that fits this description: immersed in the vast land of the Greater New York City you can find an imaginary “New Mola di Bari”, where more than twenty thousand “Molesi” reside, carrying on almost as if they never left their beloved town. Five Associations, a periodical, a theatrical group, and a soccer team are only a few of the establishments that characterize such a fictitious New Mola. Considering the present population of Mola di Bari (around 28,000 souls), the New Mola is more than a presence, a group to be aware of, especially if you consider that a large percentage of these Molesi was born in Mola and not in the USA. Although they all miss their cherished Mola, the large fountain in the plaza, the winding downtown streets, the salty breeze by the port, these Molesi have aggressively and successfully pursued a perpetuation of customs that goes well beyond the normal behavior of any other group of emigrants. Taken one by one these items are not per se extraordinary, but combined they form an insuperable attempt at reproducing the environment which characterizes Mola. The October feast named “la Sagra del polpo” recreates in all particulars the one that is held back home, depicting the consecration to the sea that is intrinsic of the Molesi. In the other powerful feast, “la Processione della Madonna Addolorata”, organized by the “Circolo Maria SS. Addolorata”, the Molesi proclaim publicly their other devotion, the one to the Virgin Mary. The Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi carries the name of this famous musician which has honored so much his birthplace. One of its many activities is to organize the yearly Miss Mola pageant, whose winner participates thereafter to the Miss Puglia Contest. The Staten Island Mola Club gathers its membership in yearly Dinner Dances and picnics that allow a renewal of the networking between these industrious Apulians. Although the Mola Soccer team, sponsored just as the “Sagra del polpo” by the Circolo Caduti di Superga, has been inactive a few years, it has been renowned for its sportsmanship in the past and projects are in the works to give it a new beginning. The Circolo Culturale di Mola, the organizer of the “Miss Puglia” contest, is also the association behind the creation and the assignment of the “Premio Puglia”, an internationally recognized award for the person who has proven an utmost interest in the Apulian community in the World. The Circolo Culturale also sponsors many other activities pertinent to the Molese community, such as art shows by Molesi artists and conferences by Molesi writers visiting the USA. In 1974, the Circolo Culturale founded a periodical, L’Idea, which has grown since to be an independently run magazine, covering the activities of the Molese and Apulian population in the USA and in Italy. The cycle is therefore concluded by the writing of this valid group of Molesi who sends back to Mola the news of the “New Mola” community, but also the news of Mola itself. L’Idea is a periodical that serves a dual function and that further reinforces the undeniable existence of a New Mola. After all, a city is by definition a place inhabited by a permanent, organized population, but also the people of a city, collectively.