A magical Christmas to all from mystical Sicily.
Here is my final post for the Times of Sicily this year.
Hoping to share more adventures in Sicily in 2018.
Buone Feste, everyone.
A magical Christmas to all from mystical Sicily.
Here is my final post for the Times of Sicily this year.
Hoping to share more adventures in Sicily in 2018.
Buone Feste, everyone.
The story takes us back to the end of the Arab period in Sicilian history, it has been retold many times, but the characters at its heart, are an inspiration for many artists.
See my new article about these fascinating pieces of art from for Times of Sicily: here!
A reflection on three of the most influential religious icons in Sicily.
See my new article for Times of Sicily: here
A dose of humility with the olive harvest in Sicily.
Article in the Times of Sicily
Blogging in Italy is a very small universe which means it’s easy to meet people from all around the country and make connections thanks to the many overlapping elements of Italian culture which bind together all the regions on the peninsular.
One of the most passionate bloggers and champions of Italian culture, in this niche, has to be Lucia Hannau, who is based in Turin and tirelessly promotes the beauty of her native region Piedmont to the world.
Lucia and I have gradually become friends thanks to our shared obsession with Instagram and all things food and wine. Recently I was happy to do a brief interview with her about her work and the event she organises in June every year which brings together many Italophiles to Turin.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Turin Epicurean.
I was born and raised in Turin and after spending 11 years in the US where I was teaching Italian at college level I came back to my hometown.
Looking at Turin through the eyes of the foreigner I saw (and still see) so much potential and this is what led me to Turin Epicurean Capital.
Moving from the Midwest to Turin I had access to bountiful of foods and flavours, activities and events that I thought: people need to come over and enjoy.
This is how Turin Epicurean Capital was born.
Currently 80% of the tourists in Turin are Italians from other regions and the remaining 20% is mostly made up by French and Germans. Because most non Italian tourists just spend 1.5 day in Turin I thought of giving them an excuse to stay longer and this is why Turin Epicurean Capital lasts 3 days.
It is three days of round tables about food, wine, fashion and life style in the morning and different activities in the afternoon.
The participants are food and travel bloggers, culinary professionals, designers and authors. Just a couple are from Turin and all the others are non Italians.
They come over to enjoy what I like to call our “vida royal” and this year most of them will spend a whole week in Turin!
What’s this years Turin Epicurean shaping up to be, what’s happening and who will be there.
This year we’ll have different round tables, from Turin we’ll have Patrizia Balbo, an astrologer who has just published her book about shoes, “The Bold and The Beautiful” American actor, Daniel McVicar – now a Turinese and Adriana Delfino who will present her creative process and works on June 22 at 4pm.
Guests attending this year include multi award food photographer Ilva Beretta, English jam maker Jennifer Williams of Naked Jams, a wine connoisseur couple – the Sassodoros or Bill and Margaret Goldstein, Slow Food London patron Jan Egan aka The Watchful Cook, Turin expat in the UK Carolina Stupino, My Persian Kitchen author Sanam Lamborn, famous Christina Conte of Christina’s Cucina and wine expert Amanda Courtney.
Each morning at 11am in group of four they will talk about how food and wine has influenced their lives and careers. Those who are currently living in Italy will share their culture shock stories as well as those who live abroad will compare the differences in lifestyles.
Food, pace of life and fashion are what makes our lives special, together with how we can savour life better, is basically the core of Turin Epicurean Capital.
In Turin people complain a lot but we are blessed with such high quality cuisine and art which is just simply take for granted, we are barely aware of it anymore.
On the afternoon of June 21, we’ll have a cooking class with a new chef and a new school, this year it will be Chef Marco Giachello who has worked in many famous restaurants and with the Associazione Qubi’. The Turin Epi cooking class is maybe the most looked forward activity. This year though we’ll also have an aperitif on June 22 after Adriana Delfino’s presentation. Adriana is a neuropsychologist who will explain to us what happens in our brains as we eat different textures and flavours.
Finally, on June 23 we’ll enjoy the first part of the celebrations for St John, Turin’s patron saint.
June 24th in Turin is like our July 4th we have parades in historical costumes and fireworks on the river but for some reason it is hard to find pictures online…
So I thought of inviting everybody over to enjoy the historical costumes and the bonfire on the evening of June 23.
It is really a great time to be in Turin, people can have dinner out and the city literally comes to life!
Tell us what sites we should be seeing on a visit to Turin?
To quote Ishita Sood from the blog Italophilia who recently spent a week in Turin: 7 days aren’t enough.
First of all the city center is built on the grid of an old Roman military camp, so you’ll need 1 day to walk and window shop Via Garibaldi and Via Roma, Piazza Castello, Piazza San Carlo and Piazza Carlo Felice.
This is the real heart of Turin and you can almost physically grasp the royal atmosphere.
Then, we have Mole Antonelliana the tallest building in Europe and also symbol of Turin, it’s our Eiffel Tower and it hosts an amazing national cinema museum, where you can take the elevator up to look at the city from the top. Another must see museum is the Egyptian museum currently the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. Here you can admire the personal objects of one of the pharaoh’s architects and his wife, animal mummies, 3 princesses’ mummies and so many unique and perfectly preserved papyri.
Everybody loves these two museums!
Food wise, one morning should be spent at the Porta Palazzo market the largest open air market in Europe! It is really impressive, there are many sections: produce, fish (no stink!!), deli, meat, farmers’, houseware and clothes.
Harry Potter’s fans should go to the Valentino Park on the river, while coffee lovers should go on a coffee shop tour of the most famous royal coffee shops.
Al Bicerin though, should be the coffee shop you stop at before going to the market.
Finally, one of the royal palaces… we have so many… however, Villa della Regina is a unique place with its urban vineyard!
What’s it like to live in Turin, try describing it to someone who has never been.
It is very hectic, sometimes even more than NYC. Apparently, in Turin we walk a lot more than in Milan but compared to NYC and other Italian cities, Turin is much more manageable in terms of lifestyle: the weekend is quite relaxing and we do enjoy the public piazzas. On the week days we still find the time to sit down for a coffee or a cocktail with friends after work. It is quite common to go to the theatre once a week or to concerts.
I personally love walking and doing window shopping, having a gelato and to munch on a black olives or nut bread on my way home.
It is quite different from anything you might experience and see in Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and Milan.
Turin has a main square in a very 18th century style, a bit like Philadelphia. Kinda French and yet so very much Italian with an understated flare.
And then of course, the food and wine culture is out of this world: chocolate, wines, vermouth, aperitifs, we do indulge yet always in our regal way 😉
What should we be eating and drinking while in Turin, describe your ultimate Turinese meal.
It really depends on the seasons but generally speaking: vitello tonnato – a cold teenage veal roast thinly sliced and topped with a tuna and capers mayo; a risotto or 40 egg yolk tajarin pasta with shaved white truffles; red wine braised roast; chocolate bunet pudding with a glass of delish Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco.
These are some of our staple foods but you still get an idea.
I’m always encouraging people to visit Sicily at different times of the year, when do you think is the best time to visit, what festivities really reflect the culture and the people the best.
Usually, the international high season in Piedmont is the Fall because of the harvest, the colours that change and the truffles fair while the more Italian high season is the winter because people go skiing on the Alps.
I think all the four seasons are actually amazing here: in February we have a unique Carnival celebration in Ivrea (1h driving from Turin) with an orange battle. Starting in the spring till the Fall every hamlet and small town has a wine or local festival.
Easter is particularly glorious in Turin because of our humongous chocolate eggs. May calls for the international book fair, June is St John’s,
November we have ChocolaTO the chocolate festival and the indie cinema fest in Turin plus the winter lights are turned on and each street has a different pattern.
Anytime of the year Turin is amazing, really!
You are also a passionate Instagramer, who else besides you should we be following to see great images and insights into the city of Turin.
Turin photographer Valerio Minato takes the best pictures of Turin however each resident on instagran portrays a side of the city that is quite representative of who they are.
Any more suggestions for Piedmont in general.
If you love castles, medieval abbeys, art, cheese, chocolate, wine and hazelnuts, Piedmont is your place. Up in the Alps, on the lakes, in our hamlets on the hills, anywhere you go, you’ll be living in a fairy tale.
What souvenirs should we be bringing home from Turin?
Wine bottles, artisan chocolates (a mix of gianduiotti and cremini), a tin of Pastiglie Leone, clothes and accessories by our local very talented designers, a t shirt saying espresso or vermouth was born in Turin, a fridge magnet with the green bull fountain and a chocolate liquor bottle shaped like Mole Antonelliana.
Come to Turin and Piedmont and enjoy our vida royal, you’ll love it!
Thanks ever so much to Lucia for finding the time to talk to me. I’d like to compliment her for her dedication to promoting her piece of Italy.
Turin Epicurean is a wonderful event for visitors to have an authentic and valuable Italian experience. Many thanks also for the wonderful images Lucia provided for this post.
I’d like to dedicate this article to the beautiful city of Turin, who this week inadvertently became a victim of terrorism, there was no direct attack but the people watching the soccer match in their beloved Piazza San Carlo were gripped by panic after the sound of an explosion, which turned out to be nothing more than a banal joke. Nonetheless the people gathered to watch the game between the local team Juventus and Real Madrid were caught up in a tidal wave of fear which resulted in many injuries and chaos. Turin will pick itself up and recover but I’d like to take a moment to send my prayers to all victims of all forms of terrorism.
A native of Turin, Lucia Hannau has organised Turin Epicurean Capital since 2014 to share her city with the rest of the world. A picky eater, chocoholic and yoga practitioner, Lucia bakes focaccia, loves going to the movies and eats gelato all year long. When she is not teaching ESL or ITA L2, she is THE Turin person to refer to.
The festive season is always a beautiful time of the year to visit Sicily as it is filled with the colours, tastes and sensations of a traditional Sicilian Christmas.
A Yuletide Sicily offers visitors a unique way of experiencing the island which is inhabited by less tourists and is ultimately a more authentically Italian celebration.
December in Sicily is about traditions based around the nativity, Christmas markets with a little decadence thrown in.
The Christmas Nativity has always been a font of inspiration for folk artists who choose to represent the manger scene every year as part of the festive celebrations. Italian’s often put up their Christmas trees together with a home-made nativity and this art form is also reflected in the ancient art of the nativity construction in every form (from ceramics, papier-mâché, to theatrical representations of the scenes surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ)
Every year at Acireale there is the Itinerary of the Nativity in the Chiesetta della Madonna della Neve, which is an exhibition dedicated to depictions of the nativity dating back to the 1700’s. A series of churches display these traditional pieces of art, the papier-mâché nativities are displayed in the Church of San Rocco, the elaborate Neapolitan Nativities and high art nativities are in the Basilica Collegiata di San Sebastiano.
This colorful Saint day celebration begins gradually over the month of November and reaches its climax over a three day pageant celebration filled with formal ceremonies, processions and fireworks over the 3rd,4th and 5th of December, officially coming to an end on the 11th of December with the procession of the Saint’s relics around the town.
The style of the Santa Barbara celebrations at Paternó is reminiscent of the bigger celebration of Sant Agata at Catania in February, in fact both Saints are loved by the locals and both have saved their cities from a major eruption of lava from the Mount Etna volcano in 1780.
The festive season brings the best out of the major cities for example the historical centre and squares of Catania are filled with the vibrancy and colours of many events including: Christmas markets, theatrical shows, art exhibitions, street performances and nativity displays.
The 8th of December is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione), the Madonna is also a patron of the city and the main celebrations in the Chiesa di San Francesco d’Assisi is filled with pomp and ancient religious traditions.
The celebration of the Immaculate Conception is an important celebration throughout Italy and other predominantly Roman Catholic countries, here in Sicily it is a public holiday and is filled with suggestive religious celebrations.
The most elaborate celebrations happen in towns where the Madonna of the Immaculate Conception is the patron saint, for example at Termine Immerse in Palermo province the Concezione della SS.Vergine Madre di Dio Maria has been worshipped since 1624. In almost all the churches of the city the icon of the Madonna is decorated with floral offerings including the first known wooden sculpture in the city dedicated to the Madonna, made in 1799 by Palermitano sculpture Francesco Quattrocchi. The sculpture is housed in the main church in the piazza Duomo and is the focus of religious processions and celebrations all around Termini.
Also at Termini Immerse there is the performance of the Nativity where the whole town participates to recreate biblical times and scenes from the birth of Jesus. It is a suggestive tradition which sees the entire community celebrate the central story at the heart of a Catholic Christmas. It also sees many old houses and palaces which are usually close, open up to display many folk traditions such as music and art.
Another big celebration dedicated to the Immaculate conception is in the famous ceramics city of Caltagirone which hosts a colorful Medieval procession and a Sagra food festival (dedicated to the Muffuletta a traditional bread made with fennel seeds), besides the usual religious celebrations.
The Corteo Storico del Senato Civico dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries and includes a colorful procession in traditional costumes, flag throwing and drumming.
Christmas in Sicily is also dedicated to food, so the usual succession of Sagra food festivals are filled with the Sicilian’s rich source of culinary delights which are indeed never-ending.
One suggestive mountain town in the province of Messina organises a series of traditional and fun wintertime events over December. There is something magical about celebrating Christmas up in the mountains, around bonfires, surrounded by the sounds of traditional music, church services, processions, christmas carols and the promise of sipping a warming grappa liquor after a rich meal in a local Trattoria.
The Suino Nero dei Nebrodi, is a famous breed of pig which is perfect to taste in a hearty sauce in home-made pasta but also in hand-made salami hence making it perfect as the focus of this little village’s annual Sagra celebration.
For lovers of fine chocolate the series of stands dedicated to the delicate preparation of the ancient recipe of Modican chocolatiers in the splendid historical centre of this Baroque town.
This world-famous high quality chocolate is showcased in this celebration organized by the town of Modica and is filed with many events including: guided tasting tours, demonstrations, exhibitions and other cultural events.
This Chocolate Show is dedicated to local chocolate artisans and seeks to showcase this local Sicilian product and the entire culture of the town. Many of the museums are opened during extended visiting hours, special concerts and shows are organised and local restaurants prepare special dishes and menus which show off the taste of their special chocolate.
The feast day of Santa Lucia is one of the biggest saint day celebrations in Sicily, along with St Agata of Catania, St Lucy is a native of Sicily which makes her a focal point in the local historic and religious culture.
The celebrations honor Santa Lucia as patron of Syracuse (Siracusa) with the traditions honoring the celebration of lights associated with other northern European celebrations for St Lucy day together with the Fiera di Santa Lucia (markets of St Lucy).
Saint Lucy was born in Syracuse at the end of the third century and her celebrations include processions of her holy icon from the Cathedral (Duomo) to the Church of Saint Lucy’s tomb (Sepolcro), the procession is made up of a carriage from the 17th century, with people in traditional dress.
The celebrations in honor of Santa Lucia are one of the most ancient on the island, so seeing and participating these rituals you are witnessing a truly unique and authentic piece of islander heritage and tradition.
This time around on Reading Trinacria the focus is on novels which have been written by foreign based authors, who have been inspired by Sicily or who have to set their works within a specific Sicilian historical period.
Sicily is a perfect place for lovers of historical novels, it is such an evocative place, bursting with the energy of a palpable history which seeps into everything on the island.
The Sicilian migrant diaspora is also one of the most creative spawning a genre which draws from Sicilian culture, family history and the collective migrant experience. First generation, second generation and even sometimes third generation Sicilian writers have been inspired by their heritage and continue to create beautiful literary works dedicated to Sicily.
To order the books featured on this post from Amazon feel free to click on the titles, that way you will be helping Sicily Inside and Out with a small commission.
One of the most surprising discoveries on my journey to know and understand Sicily better has been Anthony Di Renzo’s book Trinàcria which evokes the spirit of Sicily as eloquently as any Quasimodo poem or scene from The Leopard a Sicilian masterpiece penned by Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s.
Di Renzo gathers the threads of Bourbon Sicily and its most vibrant characters to bring their energy back to life. With the voice of the long dead ghost of Marchesa of Scalea he creates an eccentric aristocratic character filled with sarcasm, arrogance and shrewd observation.
Di Renzo has chosen one of Sicily’s most rich periods for his backdrop filled with social change, revolution and inevitable decadence. The eloquence of Sicilian history is enthralling and the Bourbon period speaks as loudly to us as any other part of Sicily.
I managed to interview Anthony Di Renzo, read our interview here.
A wonderfully personal journey into the poverty, misery and dignity of the insular world of Nineteenth Century Sicilian peasantry. This labor of love is passionate and detailed as it takes us deep into a Verga like realistic world of small village life with heartfelt pathos and a veil of ancient dialect.
The Lady of the Wheel is the story of Maria Rizzo who is left alone to birth and give up her fifth child. Hiding the pregnancy from the community, in the heart of a harsh Sicilian winter, Maria dresses her beautiful green eyed baby girl in the only fine clothes the family owns, a dolls dress and goes to the church to deposit the child in a special rotating door, designed to gather up foundlings for adoption. We follow the story of Maria and her daughter and their journey to find one another.
This is the fourth and penultimate novel in Ali’s celebrated Islam Quintet. Ali is a wonderful writer and recreates the Norman court of Frederick the Second in all of its political intrigue, illuminated glory and splendour.
Tariq Ali is a masterful writer who manages to weave the fascinating history of the Sicilian Arab period, which was considered to be a part of Sicily’s history filled with intellectual development which predated the Italian Renaissance, into a vivid tapestry which is a joy to read.
Barry Unsworth’s novel has become part of the literary canon when it comes to historical novels set in Sicily.
Unsworth takes the Arab period in Sicilian history and brings it to life again in a vivid, sensual and spiritual dream.
This classic tale of exotic Sicily is currently out of print but is well worth tracking down in a local library.
The Sicilian themed novels by Venero Armanno, the son of Sicilian migrants to Australia, are a homage to the Sicily of post world war two and beyond.
In the words of Armanno himself, each of these books are, in their own way, about family and love, the effects of the migrant experience on first and second generation migrants and the search for the self.
Armanno’s writing style is sensuous, lyric and heart achingly beautiful to read, a true joy for everyone.
The volcano is a novel of emotion, passion and fire set in the Shadowlands of Mt Etna and tells us of the epic journey Emilio Aquila takes from Sicily to Brisbane Australia.
Firehead is a wonderfully sensual story about Sicilian migrants to Australia and a young man’s obsession over the disappearance of his neighbor, the read headed Firehead of the title.
Armanno’s latest publication The Black Mountain tells the story of a boy sold into slavery to work in the sulphur mines of 1940’s Caltanissetta, Sicily.
While The Lonely Hunter and its sequel Romeo of the Underworld tells the story of Romeo Costanzo and the gallery of characters he meets in the seedy underbelly of Brisbane, sprinkled with strange haunting memories from a family past he can never shake.
I was lucky speak to Venero Armanno about his work and creative process, read the interview here.
For lovers of well written rambling historical gothic romance.
A Sicilian Romance is a long, intriguing and winding journey through the picturesque Sicilian landscape with many surprises along the way.
Ann Radcliffe was an 18th Century English author and pioneer of the Gothic novel. Her style is Romantic in its vivid descriptions of landscapes and long travel scenes, yet the Gothic element elements create an intriguing blend of twists and turns through the plot and elements the supernatural make for an rich journey.
This fascinating little read is available as a free ebook on the Project Gutenberg page here.
Great Maria is about a woman living in eleventh century Sicily, the daughter of a fictional Norman robber baron.
To her credit, Holland makes no attempt to provide the reader with a broad-brush view of the region’s complex politics, a patchwork of Lombards, Normans and Saracens struggling for control over various pieces and portions of the land. She simply plunges us into Maria’s world.
Great Maria is the intimate story of a woman living in Norman Sicily making her way through life by a strategic marriage, guile, courage and love.
Unfortunately the Great Maria is out of print but I recommend tracking down a copy from your local public library.
What other great reads have you come across written in English and set in or inspired by Sicily? Let me know in the comments below …
Sicily exudes a special kind of magic which inspires people to fall in love with it. A subtle kind of intoxication which overwhelms its visitors, through its sunshine, its food, history, the people, its timeless quality and pace of life, often visitors become hopelessly enamored of this island.
With those of Sicilian heritage the connection is always more intense, there is something visceral which pulls you back and makes you fit comfortably into the arms of your own personal genetic history.
Over the years I have met many people who have made valuable connections to Sicily and one of the most passionate stories has to be that of Karen La Rosa who has turned her love for Sicily into her work.
She writes on her web page La RosaWorks about how she once took a bike riding tour of Sicily and how:
At one point, riding alone and completely surrounded by olives, I dismounted and sank my hands deep into the warm earth. It was rocky but soft, and tenderly cared for. It was an incredible moment and I began to have a real sense of place. In that pile of earth was Sicilian history, generations of olive growing, labor and obstacles. Rich indeed.
Later Karen started her own unique travel company which is dedicated to sharing Sicily and Sicilian culture with the world.
I was happy to hear from Karen La Rosa who happily answered my questions about her experiences and work in Sicily.
Sicily is in my blood and it has fascinated me since I was little. I asked so many questions about my heritage as a child, and learned a lot, from conversation to what was on the table. It was on my first trip to Sicily that I recognized myself as belonging to that place. I felt a close bond, and each time I am there, that bond is reinforced, it grows deeper.
When our three boys were at the end of their school years, I decided to start a business to share what I love. The island is so under-visited by Americans that I thought I should do what I could to encourage visiting and experiencing the magic. It’s not the same place it was one hundred years ago! I organize tours for small and large groups. Some I accompany, others go on their own following my arrangements. I’ve done theme tours as well for artists and yoga lovers, for example, foodies and wine lovers, historians and music groups. It’s all fun and gratifying.
I like to be involved in events because it is a fun way to reach many people who may not have yet made the commitment to travel to Sicily. I have organized and collaborated on Sicilian themed dinners and wine tastings, on a large exhibit that incorporated many of the cultural aspects of Sicily, even exhibited some of my Sicily photos. I have created installations and displays.
Presently, I am involved in a major art initiative called Due South, involving more than 30 artists from Sicily and the US, including most recently, Letizia Battaglia, the famous Mafia photojournalist. You can read about the project on my website, here.
I am the Sicily consultant, working on press, sponsorship and tours for museum supporters and art collectors. Over the course of the 3-month Delaware Contemporary museum exhibit, which will show the result of 3 years of artists’ work focused on Sicily, we will also offer events that spotlight many aspects of Sicily life and history. I’m excited and honored to be a part of this.
The reasons to come visit are many. The island has something for everyone. It is a wonderful place to unplug and relax by the sea, or play golf, or hike. But if food and wine is your passion, you can find fabulous food, in Michelin starred restaurants, or at small home style trattorie, chefs and cooking classes, too, and you can visit some of Italy’s best wineries, each one of which is unique. The historical canvas is so wide in Sicily, and each of the people’s who visited Sicily over the centuries left their mark, certainly in the food. At every turn, their richness greets you – Greek ruins, Roman mosaics, Byzantine mosaics, Arab ceramics and inlaid, woodwork ceilings, Norman architecture, and Spanish palazzi. The destructive forces of Mount Etna, were the catalyst for building some truly fanciful and ornate Baroque structures. This is just a little nod to what is there. It is truly spectacular to see Sicily up close! Its history surrounds you in the most wonderfully overwhelming way.
Another tough question! It is tough because there are many things to talk about. Sicily is a semi-arid climate but within that there are many microclimates. Harvest begins in late summer in certain places, and continues all the way into November on Mount Etna! Since so much of Sicily is still agricultural, that means a lot of hustle, bustle and fun. The freshness and intense flavors found in the markets all year round is special and at times, there are harvest festivals all over the island. They celebrate crops such as chestnuts or artichokes, prickly pear or grapes. They are always great community events.
Then come the Christmas holidays, full of food and celebration. If you go in winter, you may not need a jacket in the cities, but go into the hill towns and the wind will make you shiver. Church bells ring everywhere.
In February and March, the greening once again begins, and the earth is covered in a blanket of yellow flowers with the gentle pink and white almond blossoms dotting the landscape. Oranges and lemons are everywhere. Agrigento hosts the Almond Blossom festival, a big cultural celebration with music and dancing.
The biggest winter event is in Catania, in the first week of February, when the Feast of Sant’Agata commands everyone’s heart. It is a 3-day event that is unparalleled in its spectacle. Religious and traditional, it is an opportunity of a lifetime to witness.
In the north, Acireale hosts one of Italy’s best Carnevale celebrations, and it continues for a month of costumes and children, music and fun.
In some years, these three events coincide and what an exceptional opportunity is that!
I think spring is the most visually exceptional, with flowers in every color imaginable and in their most intense version, visible everywhere. Sicilians are people who love to let the wild grow and cultivate the rest. Natural beauty abounds.
Summer can be warm in Sicily, but there are many hills where the breezes blow cooler air and the sea bathes you in the deepest azure blue waters. Sicily boasts more than 300 days a year of sunshine. I think the sky and the sea are rivals for their blueness.
And then, by the end of the summer, we begin again the harvest. Grapes drip from vines everywhere. The air is redolent of wine. Olives are big and juicy, leaving your hands with a subtle smell and oily film. There is nothing quite like participating in these harvests.
That’s a long way of saying that I love all the seasons in Sicily, but Spring and Fall especially.
I honestly cannot say that I have one. I love the streets of Palermo and Catania, too, where I feel so at home! I have had a couple of Stendhal moments, visiting both the Charioteer statue on Mozia and the Dancing Satyr in Mazara del Vallo. Both experiences left me speechless. They are jaw dropping works of art, so advanced for their time. I am ever amazed that Sicily is not as well visited as the other areas of Italy.
Wine and olive oil. Eggplant. Blood oranges. Pistachios. Almonds. Fennel. Ricotta….I could go on.
For me, eating freshly made and warm ricotta cheese is like a religious experience. It is simply heaven and wherever I am, I seek out the sheep farmer.
I also love visiting wineries and I have visited many. To me, a winery reflects nature, a philosophy, and a history. It is a testament to perseverance and hard work, to passion, and perhaps a little craziness. Each is unique except for one thing: they all work with grapes. I find that meeting the wine growers and makers is endlessly fascinating. They appreciate my enthusiasm and love to share. It’s a great day.
You’re going to laugh, but I really love the statue in the Piazza Duomo in Catania – the Fontana dell’Amenano. It has so much going on that represents Sicily. The boy is youth, strong, with a beautiful sculpted body. He bears a cornucopia, representing Sicily’s agricultural gifts. The two on their knees are older and carry the weight, pouring the rushing water into the river, the great river that once flowed through the city and was submerged by an eruption, the water representing to me the fast passage of time. The statue is big, graceful and proud, and yet it sits at the entrance to the fish market rather than in the center of a big piazza. Something about it says Sicily to me.
It is my heritage, and my passion. When my husband first went to Sicily, he said “I will never refer to you as Italian again.”
On my website I have a whole page dedicated to quotes I’ve collected about Sicily – words written by great writers, poets, historians and philosophers, from across the centuries. See the quotes page here.
What could I say that they haven’t?
Sicily is in my heart, plain and simple. The island fills me with happiness and I try to give back.
Thanks so much to Karen La Rosa for taking the time to answer my questions.
According to UN statistics there are 232 million expatriates in the world a steadily rising number of people who have chosen to move overseas from 154 million in 1990 and 175 million in 2000. The motives for becoming an expat are quite varied whether it be economic or personal there are many people who choose to move out of their comfort zones and freely live in another country.
It’s a brave choice to become an expat, leaving behind friends, family, culture and even a mother tongue can be the biggest adventure imaginable yet it most certainly not all smooth sailing. The biggest boundary to settling into life in a new country has to be culture shock, which is when your own personal habits and values are diametrically opposed to those of your new home. It can be emotionally isolating and depressing to hit head on with conflicting opinions and ways of life. There is no way around culture shock you just have to be aware of it and either accept it or negotiate yourself around it.
You’d think moving to your dream home in Tuscany or Villa in the South of France or any other place on your bucket list would result in instant happiness but the reality is one filled with endless daily adjustments. I’ve written extensively about my own personal struggle in a light-hearted and comical way like in this recent post for COSI’ .
I have adapted well to life in Sicily, Italy but I still find myself stressing about the smaller things which I’d still like to share with anyone who is contemplating shifting their life to Italy which is probably one of the most idealised places in the world for potential expats. So I’ll be occasionally sharing my acquired insight into daily life in Italy with everyone. This time let’s talk about Friendships in Italy.
Socially Sicilians are very closed in and insular people. Not to say they are dull, on the contrary they are warm-hearted and vivacious, but basically they have a reserved nature. Their distinct dialect can keep foreigners firmly locked outside of a conversation.
Even as you open the code of their language there is precious little small talk in their lives other than the everyday gossip that keeps society’s wheels oiled, no sharing of real emotions or opinions with others unless it involves politics or sport, then you can posture and yell as you please.
I’ve always struggled with making friends here in Sicily, simply because those around me have already formed their friendships and seldom look out of their family or established community to make new connections.
It is usual for Sicilians and Italians to grow up with the same people around them, school mates and classes are formed by the same group of people from kindergarten to primary school and often through to high school. At University or work there are new bonds formed but they are more professional connections.
People are quite formal, when you first meet someone you need to use the polite ‘lei’ form which is like calling someone Madame or Sir. Quite often the formality is maintained permanently of someone is older, more qualified or holds a more important position than the other. Usually a mutual agreement is reached between the two parties so the casual ‘tu’ or ‘you’ can be used to address one another after a few weeks of working together but if it your superior it will usually mean a lifetime of using this complex formal tense.
One disturbing aspect I find in the social life here is the fact Italians believe friendship between a man and a woman can never truly exist. There is no word to describe a male friend or female friend that doesn’t have connotations of a sexual nature. There is no way I can justify having male friends, my husband once said to me, ‘all men want is to have sex, not friendship.’ There are work colleagues, acquaintances, relatives and school friends, yet male friends outside of these contexts are considered boyfriends or lovers.
Perhaps I am generalising here but particularly in Sicily I find women tend to socialise with women and men with men, unless it is a school or work situation. For example if there is a party women will often stick to their friends, unless they have a boyfriend or are engaged and them even after people get married, they go back to their old habits, husbands with their male friends and women with their female friends.
The lack of platonic male female friendships in Italian culture is a real problem, particularly when it comes to issues such as equal rights between the sexes and feminism. How can a women be considered an equal to man when she is still seen as a sexual object and not simply a friend or equal? Italy has many problems with violence against women, women’s rights in the workplace and professional world all because of the predominance of this latent machismo in society.
At times the culture shock for foreigners in Italy can be crippling but it is something to negotiate everyday. The most frustrating thing is wanting to change things yet realising it is impossible. I began to feel happy living in Italy when I let go of trying to change the culture and accepting things the way they were.
You can never make Italy the way you want it but you can live and take what is best for you. As a foreigner you are lucky to be able to pick what is best for you while being aware of the problems. Any culture is in constant evolution so who knows, things may gradually change, but it is all beyond one person.
Personally I try to be polite but I am above all upfront and explain to people I am a foreigner and may make mistakes with the formal tense, so to an extent I am tolerated or forgiven for breaking protocol. As for the way I socialise, I don’t get intimidated and often will get up from the women’s table and go sit by my husband to talk with the guys, which really isn’t worth the trouble as they mainly talk about sports and politics anyway ;-(
The best way to socialise in Italy is through the food, everyone loves to eat so throw yourself into the cuisine, a bottle of wine helps and the friendship issue usually sorts itself out after everything is digested.
Tourism in Sicily is an exciting and constantly developing industry to be involved in with many new companies coming up with new ways in which to experience the island.
Recently one exciting new company has been founded by two Sicilian sisters born in Sicily. Francesca and Giovanna have returned to their island home after several years of education and work in the USA they have returned to help people discover their beloved homeland.
Sicilian Sisters is an online travel boutique which offers dream vacations to Sicily and Italy. Based on a unique connection to the island, the two sisters and best friends want to share the beauty of their heritage to the rest of the world.
Francesca and Giovanna kindly agreed to answer a few questions in a recent interview:
We were born and raised in Sicily. Our Papa’ is Sicilian, our Mamma Sicilian-American.We were born in a bi-cultural, multilingual home. This defined immediately the course and rest of our lives. We welcomed and entertained international visitors in our home in Sicily from an early age and traveled often to the USA and around the world to visit family and friends.
In 1997, we moved to the USA to pursue higher education and spent 18 years there. Until this year (2016) when, longing to indulge in the beauty and slow paced lifestyle of our beautiful native island (Sicily), we decided to move back to our home here. Whether we had planned or not, it was always our pleasure to advice, suggest, accompany visitors around our island and slowly throughout all of Italy.
Travel is in our DNA and through the years, we have been fortunate and grateful to be able to travel the world, develop a sensibility towards the needs of the international traveler, learn a few languages and expand our portfolio of connections.
We are delighted, honored and truly happy to be able to share our love, passion and knowledge of all that our island and country can offer to the senses of all embracing visitors!
We can work with clients in a number of ways: you can either join one of our group tours….or we can design a journey especially crafted for you, your family, business, etc…..or if you have already booked a few services (for example flights and hotels) we can assist in the planning of all other additional travel services such as cooking classes, wine tastings, Italian language courses, private guides, entrance tickets, train tickets, lunches, dinners, pastry demonstrations, tastings, cycling, sports, wellness experiences…..we are really creative and flexible and can assist really in anything related to travel in Sicily and Italy to match your exact wishes and desires and budget.
Many people know or have traveled to Italy already – and though it’s a country of immense beauty, of poets, artists, musicians, ideal for foodies and wine lovers as well as scholars of the expressive Italian language and it will always offer peculiar experiences to its visitors (….and we can help you in the design and planning of your first time or a returning journey to Italy by the way with our connections throughout the boot)……we were born and raised in Sicily, it’s our native island and it has been a personal commitment through our entire lives to simply share the most beautiful and unique layers of our island with others.
We believe that Sicily is the “island of a thousand scents and colors.” It is an island whose complex and extraordinary natural beauty mixed with a multitude of dialects and traces left from many civilizations has created a kaleidoscopic culture, people, history, language and cuisine.
Our island functions on “island time” and to best understand it, we always recommend that you have a different “tempo” when you come here to allow yourself to be immersed in its layers, to get a glimpse of a powerful history, to have your palates ignited with a “gusto” developed over centuries and your eyes filled with colors and senses inebriated by natural scents such as jasmine, orange blossom, pistachio, honey, pomegranate, prickly pears….
To travel to Sicily means to be exposed to Sicilian hospitality and generosity, to live a few days like Sicilian kings and queens did in extraordinary noble palaces or villas, to soak in the Sicilian sun and sea, and lavishly be reminded of the meaning and significance of eating well and feasting together around the dinner table, to learn about a rich archaeological and cultural history and much much more….
We will answer this question in reverse.
Sicilian summer lasts from about May through October so in these months, we certainly recommend planning a vacation that focuses on a location by the sea in one of the numerous stunning beaches around the island or in its surrounding islands (Aeolian, Aegadian, Pelagian, Pantelleria) – and intertwine cultural as well as other fun experiences.
In our late fall (October and November) – you will certainly enjoy partaking in vineyards visits, wine tastings, cooking classes, pastry demonstrations and Italian language courses perhaps….always a must are cultural highlights as well.
In winter and spring….slower tourist season here, you would enjoy “living like a local,” travel is cheaper, the weather still so pleasant – the perfect time to enjoy all of the above at slower pace, with tourist attractions less crowded.
This is a very difficult and nearly impossible question to answer because we appreciate all seasons and all destinations for their uniqueness and diversity……but if we had to highlight a few “musts” while in Sicily…..you must visit at least once in your lifetime: Taormina, the Baroque corner in South Eastern Sicily (Modica, Noto, Ragusa, Scicli, etc.), you must taste pastries and street food in Catania, you may enjoy a romantic sunset walk in the idyllic ancient city of Ortigia, also salute Mount Etna, learn about the history of Sicilian Kings and Queens in Palermo, visit the magnificent Valley of Temples in Agrigento, deepen your knowledge of Sicilian wines and cuisine, and take a few extra days to explore the Aeolian Islands – one of our favorite destinations in the whole world.
This is another very difficult question because our Papa’ was a Chef in the USA and our Mamma is an incredible cook…..we love fresh seafood prepared in a number ways, we love eggplants and fresh basil, tomato sauce made with Pomodori from Pachino, we enjoy a good glass of Nero d’Avola or Shiraz or dessert wines like Zibbibbo and Passito, we adore ricotta and pistachio and honey, we love almond or lemon or prickly pear “granita” (Sicilian ice) for breakfast in the summer.
We love to share the picturesque fishing village where our maternal grandparents were born: Brucoli. It is literally a three street village but so restorative for a day out: enjoying some time at the beach….lunch in one of the few delicious seafood restaurants overlooking the Mediterranean Sea….. a refreshing mid afternoon granita…..and an aperitivo by the water at night………….Mt Etna at a distance, the entire Bay of Catania before your eyes. It is a very simple, tranquil yet idyllic destination.
In 2012, my first book “My Sicily” (255 pages) was published in the USA. It is written in English with a few Sicilian proverbs, extracts of language. It was a travel memoir where I intertwined personal childhood memories and cultural, culinary, identity, linguistic notes on my favorite places around the island. Sicily is not mine, it belongs to the world and all those curious or interested in learning more about our culture and island….and to all the sons and daughters of Sicilian immigrants worldwide. I entitled the book “My Sicily” because I narrate “my” personal reflections as I associate them with each individual place. Thanks to the book, I enjoyed traveling across the USA on a 55 stop book tour, was invited at the Sicilian Festival in San Diego, received two Sicilian Literary Awards (in 2007 and 2013), met extraordinary people and learned even more about Sicilian culture and identity in the USA. During the journey, I launched a blog to document it and through the years it has grown to welcome almost 39,000 followers worldwide who follow my writings and literary experiences. I am so grateful. My sister who has a passion for photography and her own business (https://giovannamignosa.smugmug.com/) designed the book cover, map of Sicily and entire book. There are a few literary projects brewing at the moment, but I can’t reveal them just yet. I invite anyone interested to follow my facebook page: Francesca Mignosa Author or my blog https://francescamignosa.wordpress.com
“Sicily is the island of a thousand scents and colors” (My Sicily, 2012) when you think you know all of them….its charisma will show you a few more….we look forward to sharing and discovering more with all of you. Grazie.
We invite you to visit our website www.siciliansisterstravel.com and our Facebook page: Sicilian Sisters Travel.
You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks so much to these charming Sicilian Sisters for finding the time to talk to Sicily Inside and Out.