- Alessandro Falassi (1945–2014)
Written on November 2, 2014 (All Souls’ Day)
Alessandro Falassi passed away on February 19, 2014, in his beloved Siena, Italy. He is survived by his wife, Chiara, and son, Giovanni. Falassi published widely (in Italy, Spain, France, Germany, England, and the United States) on social history, anthropology, and folklore, focusing especially on ritual and festival. He was best known for his study of one of Italy’s most extraordinary historic festivals: La Terra in Piazza: An Interpretation of the Palio of Siena (co-authored with Alan Dundes; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975; winner of the 1976 Chicago Folklore Prize).
As an empathetic field researcher as well as a sophisticated theorist, he continued to produce significant publications on Italian folklore: Folklore by the Fireside: Text and Context of the Tuscan Veglia (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980); La Santa dell’Oca. Vita, morte e miracoli di Caterina da Siena (Saint of the Goose: Life, Death, and Miracles of Catherine of Siena) (Milano: Mondadori, 1980); Italian Folklore: An Annotated Bibliography (New York: Garland, 1985); La festa (editor) (Milano: Electa, 1988); En la Mesa con Rossini (Dinner with Rossini) (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutemberg, 1993); Time Out of Time: Essays on the Festival (editor) (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987); Tradizioni italiane: Codici, percorsi e linguaggi (Italian Traditions: Codes, Currents, And Languages) (editor) (Siena: UNISTRA, 1992)—to which I contributed an essay on Italian folk song; Culture Shock! Italy: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (co-authored with Raymond Flower), which has enjoyed four editions (Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Center, and Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 1994–2008); and my favorite: Pan che canti vin che salti: cucina ricca e cucina po-vera del Chianti (Bread That Sings, Wine That Leaps: Cuisine of Rich and Poor in the Chianti Region), co-authored with Riccardo Di Corato and chef Pierluigi Stiaccini (Mantua: I Torchi Chiantigiani, 1979). From 1988–1990, he directed the filming of Italian festivals for the Italian Ministry of Culture.
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Since 1980, Falassi made his academic base Siena’s University for Foreigners, where he taught folklore and anthropology, serving as its director from 1985 to 1992. But cosmopolitan as he was, he also taught at the University of Urbino, at the University of California Berkeley, and UCLA, as well as at the University of Colorado and the University of Texas, and in the [End Page 349] “Semesters at Sea” around-the-world programs for the University of Colorado and the University of Pittsburgh. Falassi was one of the best-known Italian folkorists outside Italy. He was a member of the Accademia degli Intronati (founded in Siena ca.1525), the American Anthropological Association, the American Folklore Society, and a Folklore Fellow of the Finnish Academy of Sciences.
With family roots in the Chianti region since the Middle Ages, he was a tireless ambassador for Siena, won its coveted Mangia d’Oro prize (the city’s equivalent of an Oscar) in 1991, and was elected Prior of the Contrada Sovrana dell’Istrice (Neighborhood of the Hedgehog!) in 1992, where he lived with his family. He had collected a great number of the emblematic hedgehogs. I like to remember him sitting in his juror’s seat overlooking the piazza during the Sienese Palio itself.
On a personal note, we shared a love for food, and food research, and we prepared many a meal in my kitchen (once accompanied by his inimitable great friend chef, Luigi Stiaccini from Castellina-in-Chianti, who was in Los Angeles to do a Rossini food event at Mauro Vincenti’s restaurant, Rex). But it was on one of our research trips to Italy, as his guest at the Sienese restaurant Al Marsili, that my husband and I coined the phrase “they are killing us with pheasant”—to mean that we were enjoying too much of a good thing! (Even I had met my match.) When last I saw him in Siena in 2007, he spoke of wishing to revisit his work on Italian food in Los Angeles. In progress at the time of his death were Hollywood’s Italian Table and Italian Food in Los...