The launching pad for this was the international show in Naples. The mastinari prepared themselves for the technical evaluation of the show ring, no longer just four friends around a table, but instead an event where the cream of the crop were gathered and lived through a historical moment. Many shows demonstrate the health and state of the Neapolitan Mastiff, and are also an expression of the best that the breed has to offer. But the international show in Naples, with its special entry of Mastini, marks the quality of the breed. It is there that so many explosive show careers have been launched, dogs that have made their way into the record books.
“Whoever wins in Naples is the champion of the world,” the saying goes. It is an expression of great provincialism and pride at being the cradle of the rediscovery of the Neapolitan Mastiff.
This pride over the years has produced dogs of great type whose owners and breeders awaited the Naples show in order to measure their dogs against the best produced by others from all over Italy.
Carlo Simeoli, another well-known mastinaro who used Masaniello as a stud dog, with great effect, 1950s.
The challenges are repeated over the years, with the North and South divided by an imaginary line bisecting Italy just under Lazio.
The Neapolitan contingent was there, exhibitors like the storied Peppino Siano, the unequaled handler of Mastini; no one after him has vied with the same success. Many great breeders of those founding years competed – Villanova (Piero Scanzani), Montespada (Enzo Testa), Bilangione (Saverio Bilangione), Ponzano (Mario Querci) and Grotta Azzurra (Giuseppe Siano), just to name a few.
It was a grand public spectacle, ringside packed with fans, technical critics and mastinari side by side, and, often, turbulent. It was in this tense arena that one appreciated the nobility of the judge, who was prestigious and above all courageous: Perricone, Mariotti, Morsiani, Alessandra.
“In the competition, one learns to stay in the ring,” Mario Perricone used to say. When you judge in Monaco, you can take a holiday; here in Naples you need to judge well and above all be able to exit without being accompanied by the police or the Red Cross!
The Open male class – preceded by the Champion class, which served only to break the ice and make the judge’s blood circulate anew in his veins – was measure of the judge’s ability to recognize quality.
Applause and cheers were not spared, as well as whistles and comments that were salacious and often threatening, but the show continued after the invasion to celebrate the day’s victors, who were now thrown into the dog world even if they were previous unknowns.
It was a type of social climbing to bring “o’ cane” to win in Naples, and also a kind of social revenge, a statement made and a reputation earned in the world of Mastino fanciers, without limits.
The winner set up a bar in the corner of his house, with a “macchinetta d’o’ cafè,” or coffee machine with an eight-cup capacity, always brewing. He hoped for good luck, and he broke his back day after day beside bitches who had just whelped, in the hopes of saving the litter, which oftentimes was decimated by neonatal problems. Entire days were spent attempting to breed unruly bitches, who refused the male, assaulting him ferociously.
Every stratagem was considered: the saddle of a donkey, where he rested the bitch for the mounting, on his knees holding the pair for 20 minutes, and in the end it was impossible to return the saddle to the donkey immediately, because of the weight he had been holding up.
But victory was celebrated in the best way.
Refreshments were served on the lawn of the Oltremare show, served by the “O’ Cafone” restaurant, from oyster appetizers to cheeses – buffalo mozzarella “dei Mazzoni,” absolutely the best – to timbales of macaroni, meatballs with sauce, and “Baba’” and pastiera, the traditional Neapolitan cake, at the conclusion, all washed down with wine – “Asprino fresco del Vesuvio.”
The party was massive; whoever passed by ate until the food was exhausted. The only rule: The guests of honor, sitting in a circle, were served first, and then everyone else – friends and rivals.
One way to swallow the bitter pill of losing was to help it down with bites of mozzarella and a witty joke. This was also an opportunity to smooth out some misunderstandings between breeders and to create that harmony necessary for a productive exchange, which produced the breed’s genetic “Neapolitan” line.
A pool of brood bitches and stud dogs within a geographic area limited to the zone of Vesuvius, with a considerable number of new fanciers and the production of noteworthy puppies, satisfied the market for the Mastino from the 1970s until the ’90s, during which the breed had its moment of fame and a buoyant market.
Baptism and wedding celebrations blossomed without limit, in particular for the children and grandchildren of the owner of the breed of the moment, who found himself the center of attention.
It was a world of color and choreography, where I spent many beautiful moments of my experience as a mastarino, gathering the various aspects of the reality of lives made of expedience, but always lived with great dignity and respect.
About the Author
An oncological surgeon, Nicola Imbimbo of Avellino, Italy, began breeding Neapolitan Mastiffs in 1970 under the “Dei Maraveti” and “Dei Novesoldi” suffixes. He is the author of two books about the Mastino, and has published numerous articles about canine genetics that have been translated into many languages. An all-round FCI and ENCI judge since 1970, he has judged all over the world, incluing the United States Neapolitan Mastiff Club National Specialty.