The Giudei of San Fratello: part 2

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During the Giudei’s procession, I am introduced to a local academic and former mayor of San Fratello, Professor Salvatore Mangione. He offers me a drink at a small bar, together with other acquaintances. This gives me a chance to get off the crowded street and out of the confusion. I stand at the bar for a while, sipping a glass of peach nectar and listening to Mangione’s explanation of the Giudei.
The Professor is a proud Sicilian and talks with great ease in what seems like a finely rehearsed paragraphs of a prepared speech. I wonder for how many Diavolata’s he has been delivering his lecture to visitors. He leans with his elbow on the bar top, his golden orange Crodino bitters aperitif in his hand, and with an unaffected air of authority, he gives his performance in an impromptu tone.

He notes how the Giudei are characters in a sacred drama which has a strong cathartic element to it. They are like members of a secret confraternity who are entrusted to their roles in an age-old mystery play. Like the religious celebration, even their costumes are sacred, to be worn only during the Holy Week celebration.
The origins of the event aren’t clear. Professor Mangione suggests that the festival might refer to a social rebellion in San Fratello’s history which has long since been forgotten. The primary indication of this comes from the fact that at one time only the peasants were allowed to dress as Giudei, and the upper class allowed three days of practical joking to pass without retribution.
The Festa has a history of violence, and the Giudei’s drunken revelry creates a significant disturbance in the town. Numerous police reports have been filed against the masked revellers through the years, and there have been multiple attempts to ban the event. But despite efforts to halt the celebration, the Giudei continue to punctually re-appear after every prohibition, in even greater numbers than previously. And so the performance has continued to this day uninterrupted, even during the two World Wars.

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As the Professor finishes his little lecture, a young child at the back of the bar lifts the hood of his little Giudeo costume, and puckering his lips, he trumpets loudly on his father’s bugle horn. Taking this as a signal to end his presentation, Professor Mangione smiles, sips the rest of his drink, and confidently states that the Diavolata is a tradition that will never end, as long as the children have such enthusiasm.

Walking out of the bar, I see that the side streets, the sidewalks and the street corners are overflowing with men in masquerade. They are playing an endless stream of tunes, which intermingle with what seems to be one long sustained raspberry, creating an aural overload.
For a second I hear what I think is an emphatic triumphant march, but before I can listen to it properly, I grab onto a distorted waltz, and then I’m distracted by a strange polka; another group is distorting a selection of traditional songs, such as Torna a Sorrento and O Sole Mio.
It is such a strange, playful musical collage, the way the trumpeters pick up bits and pieces of popular tunes and distort them, creating as much colour and disarray as the celebration itself. In amongst the noise and exuberance, I get caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment, before being suddenly struck by the realisation that nothing of this makes sense. I think it’s not meant to have a particular meaning; it’s pagan, ritualistic and hedonistic all at the same time.

 

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The Giudei begin their celebration around eleven o’clock on Good Friday morning and continue their rampage around San Fratello, playing their eclectic music, blocking traffic, and creating general confusion. As the feast continues, the men begin to mix their playing with alcohol and become ever rowdier, and then start to play practical jokes. Around midday, the Giudei start to peter out at the end of the main street, to turn around and mingle at bars and side streets, or chat with friends and family in the main square, where most of the confusion is focused.
The birth of this grotesque Good Friday carnival, which corrupts the original religious celebration, can be found in the local history. San Fratello’s origins can be traced back to the time of the ancient Greek domination of Sicily when the town known as Apollonia was founded in three hundred and twelve A.D. Later, with the conquest of Sicily by the Norman Count Roger I, the town became the site of a Lombard colony.

It was Count Roger’s second wife, Queen Adelaide of Monteferrato, who ruled over the hamlet in the twelfth century, creating a unique settlement for immigrants from Northern Italy, who kept strong ties to the French language and culture and to the Catholic faith.
In the colony, a unique dialect based on French evolved, which is still spoken today. The dialect of San Fratello is entirely different from the traditional Sicilian dialect of North-Western Sicily. This language is a testament to the migration to Sicily, of colonists with origins in the north of Italy, such as Piedmont, Lombardy, and Emilia Romagna, during the Norman domination. The dialect itself is a mix between the idiomatic local dialect of the Monferrino and the dialect of Normandy. It is a strange hybrid that sounds elegantly French, yet is tainted heavily with the harsh, local rugged dialect of Sicily.
From the Norman occupation of Sicily (1061-1194 ) up until the Sicilian Vespers uprising against the French in 1282, there was a gradual influx into Sicily of colonists from Northern Italy. In general, the towns where these Norman people settled are found in the provinces of Messina and Enna. Some of the Sicilian cities strongly are influenced by French culture, particularly in the local dialect, apart from San Fratello, include Novara di Sicilia, Fondachelli Fantina, Sperlinga, Nicosia, Aidone and Piazza Armerina.
A testament to the early Norman colony in and around the town of San Fratello is the small temple located on Monte Vecchio, which is dedicated to three early Catholic martyrs, Saints Alfio, Filadelfio, and Cirino. It is from these three Brother Saints, or Santi Fratelli that the town gets its name.

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Before the Norman domination, Sicily was under Arab rule for some two hundred and thirty-three years. Contrary to popular belief, Arab Sicily was an educated and tolerant society, especially concerning other religions. Even though Islam was the dominant religion, there were strong communities of Jewish and Catholic faith allowed to exist side by side with the dominant ruler’s religious system of belief.
The Norman conquest of Sicily was based on, among other things, an intense desire to bring Catholicism to the island and remove other religions. It is with this historical context that the Giudei celebration at San Fratello takes on a sinister quality.
The Giudei (or Jews) of the Easter celebration of San Fratello can be seen to represent a grotesque parody of the ethnic minorities of the Arabs and Jews in Sicily during the Norman period. The Norman colonists of the town created a celebration to exorcise Sicily of non-Catholic minorities.
As the tradition of the Diavolata evolved into part of San Fratello’s culture, the original significance and purpose of it was slowly forgotten, and this celebration became viewed as a reflection of the nature of the local inhabitants. With the spread of Catholicism in Sicily, the irreverent mockery of the Giudei festival resulted in the widespread belief that the San Fratellani were ‘tutti Turchi,’ that is, they were “all Turks,” the term ‘Turk’ in Sicilian referring to enemies of the Christian faith.

So from its original function, the festivities at San Fratello have to a certain extent backfired, inadvertently linking the town to a non-Christian system of belief and creating one of the most undeniably unique festivals in the world.

 

The Giudei of San Fratello: part 1

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Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

San Fratello is perched high up in the rambling Sicilian highlands, nesting itself in the crown of the Nebrodi Mountains, which run along the Tyrrhenian coast towards Palermo.

The road on the way to the town negotiates its way through the mountains like an elaborate obstacle course; every car is climbing up navigates hairpin curves and steep ascents.

Driving up to San Fratello I am distracted by the endless mountains, with their irregular shapes. It’s as if this part of the earth was once a giant cauldron, filled with melted pitch left to cool after being violently boiled.
The escarpments left behind after the creation of these mountains are outlined by an expansive cloak of forest that distends out like an insidious moss, covering wet stones. The greenery of the invading vegetation expands to the length and breadth of the island, the uneven growth interrupted by the scars of past landslides and roads that cut through the slopes.

The colours, too, attract my attention; it is early spring, and the heavy greys of winter are being surpassed by the bounties of the goddess Demeter, who has reigned over the island since time began. The countryside is filled with fresh new grasses, and the dead almond trees are being resurrected by blossoming pale pink flowers.
Arriving near the town, I see paddocks divided by clumsy fences, which hold the robust San Fratello horse breed, grazing on the springtime grass. These thoroughbreds are as noble as their Arabian origins. They are the essence of strength and elegance, with their fresh, velvety black coats and steadfast physiques. They fit precisely into the landscape, as wild and intense as any steep climb or precipice.
The history of the San Fratello breed dates back to the Sicily of the eleventh century. They are said to be descendant from the remnants of cavalry left behind during one of the many battles for Sicily’s possession. The Arabs came up against the Norman invaders from France, towards the end of their period of domination over the island, from 827 to 1060 A.D. The struggle between the two powers lasted some twenty years, and one of the points of focus was here in the fertile Nebrodi Mountains.

 

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I haven’t come to San Fratello to see the horses, even though they are a fascinating sidetrack: I’ve come to witness an ancient Easter celebration, which is part spectacle and part mysterious ancient ritual.
Easter is one of the most important feasts in the Roman Catholic Church calendar, and in Europe, it’s more widely celebrated than Christmas. It also comes together with the welcomed spring, so the celebration at San Fratello is a mixture of religious ceremonies and pagan rites associated with the seasons.
There are endless Easter celebrations in Sicily, from processions re-enacting the last moments of Jesus’ life, with antique statues, which meander through small towns, to decorative Palm Sunday celebrations showing the journey of Jesus from triumphal acclamations, to betrayal and execution, death and resurrection.
These festivities are all pure theatre and spectacle, dating back to medieval times when the church sought to educate the common people about the central figure and founder of the Roman Catholic religion, with the aim of bringing people into the church. Easter in Sicily is full of traditions, the most colourful of which happens here at San Fratello.
The Diavolata of Good Friday is a mixture of the diabolical, as its name suggests, and of many other complex strands of history, exhibited by the spectacle of the costumes and the music, which is filled with both pagan and Christian energy. Good Friday is when Jesus is crucified and is considered a day of mourning for the church, but at San Fratello the characters of the Giudei, or the Jews, as they are known, turn the solemn funeral of Jesus into a macabre celebration, which mocks both Christ and those who condemned him to death.

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Driving along the main street of San Fratello, I see a Giudeo for the first time. He’s one of a series of men in the most confusing fress, which seems both comical and sinister at the same time. The Giudei slowly begin to multiply, ambling by in bright red jackets with yellow lapels; pantaloons, pseudo-military trimmings, and ridiculous helmets decorated with different shapes and designs. They are soldiers from an army that never existed; gathering together every year to disrupt the Easter celebrations, and the town, with their masked faces, ridiculous appearance, practical jokes and trumpeting.
Each Giudeo has a cornet slung over his back, the straps of the instrument hanging over the elaborately embroidered designs on the back of his jacket. They are all dressed alike, but with a subtle difference in the details of their costumes, which reflects a lack of discipline in their characters and dramatically raises the level of madness and confusion in this truly unique celebration.
One Giudeo has a long white tuft of hair hanging down from his shoulder, another a long black donkey’s tail pinned on his buttocks, hanging down suggestively between his legs. They are a strange mix of elegance and silliness, complete with military jackets and white gloves.
Some Giudei gather together and line up on either side of the main street. A reporter and two cameramen from the Rai Italian broadcaster are standing near me, ready to record, which means I’ve inadvertently chosen the best vantage point to observe the procession. The second group of Giudei comes around the corner, and this time I get a better look at them from the front, as they walk past in pairs. The first one has a large red and blue pom pom feather duster on top of his helmet, like a cruel imitation of the Italian Carabinieri’s ceremonial headdress.
They all have a Klu Klux Klan sack mask over their faces, always in bright red, with circled black eyes, designed and cut out like a Zorro mask. The sbirrijan, or hood, is completed by a long, yellow, cartoon-like nose. Some have dark moustaches, like old black and white movie villains, ready to tie helpless damsels to railway tracks, while twigging at their whiskers and sniggering at their own dastardliness.

But it is the tongues that stand out the most on the Giudei’s masks; they are long, hanging down about ten centimetres, with a cross at the centre designed in silver studs. It is this symbolism, together with the name “Giudei,” which suggests that these masked men represent a synthesis of the Jewish leaders and the Roman military that condemned Jesus to death. Their long the black tongue is a symbol of the hearsay and deception that occurred during the schizophrenic turn of public opinion, which according to the Bible story led to the condemnation of Jesus.
The crowd of masqueraded men makes up a strange collage of colours; bright red military costumes, the jackets with lapels of gold fringes all the way down the front, each with a different design on it, and on the back a long strip of yellow. These men are the symbols of a military hierarchy; not just simple soldiers, but decorated generals or officials, like high commanders in the Kiser’s German army of the early twentieth century. But even this reference to a central European military tradition is a contradiction, undercut by the yellow strips on the men’s backs, yellow being the colour associated with cowardice.

 

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These costumes are striking. At first, they slap me across the face with their very absurdity, and I am utterly at a loss for words to describe or understand what they represent. Then I begin to separate in my mind the individual pieces that make up the costume, and I start to recognise the many different elements.

The most outstanding thing is how these came to be put together like this. The truth is that no one exactly knows. This is the most intriguing thing about the Giudei and their costumes. The celebration is a source of wonder for those who study anthropology and ethnology.
On the streets, there are Giudei of all shapes and sizes, junior Giudei, fat and slim Giudei. There are no women Giudei in this celebration, and I don’t know why they are excluded; perhaps this goes back to the fact that they depict the hierarchy of the Jewish community in Jesus’ time, in which only men were the patriarchs.
Some of the Giudei are waving at the TV camera, while others casually gather along the street, waiting for the procession to begin. One of them, his mask resting slightly above the bridge of his nose, is smoking a cigarette and talking to an unmasked friend.
They all have absurd helmets on their heads, made up of standard caps with distinct ornaments on top. One helmet has a flowerpot on it, complete with flowers, and others have horsehair tails, hooks, and feather dusters on them. Some are bejewelled with half moons and stars.
The Giudei wait for the procession to pass so they can celebrate with cruel joy the perceived defeat of Jesus in the history of the early Catholic Church. These colourfully dressed Giudei disturb the solemn, religious march with their loud trumpet playing; curiously, they never speak, their improvised music becomes their voice. The cortège is typical of the many others seen throughout Sicily on Good Friday, when the crucified Christ is taken around the town on a funeral celebration to commemorate his death.

The masked men line up on either side of the road, and some climb on the top of a wide wall. They are waiting to begin their celebration. I watch them clearing out their instruments of saliva, in anticipation of the arrival of the mourners, who can be heard from around the corner, droning out the rosary prayers and singing out the refrains of a traditional procession hymn, in a disciplined drill.

 

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The procession appears from around the corner; A large crucifix is mounted on a giant float and is carried by the modest pilgrims, who continue their sombre chants. The Christ’s head is bowed down; hands nailed to the cross.
Each of the Giudei launch into their trumpeting with a distorted joy; first in a warbled drone and then with a frantic, deranged glee. Different groups form small clusters to disrupt the mournful procession with their music; a loud braying begins and echoes along the corridors created by these extraordinary dramatis personae.
Soon the solemnity of the procession is overpowered by the Giudei’s racket, and they overtake not only the march but also the whole town, filling San Fratello with their loud trumpet playing and acrobatic stunts. Despite the distractions caused by the disguised men, the worshippers in the procession continue to recite their Good Friday prayers, as they run the gauntlet.
After the pilgrims of Christ have passed by, some of the Giudei join the tail end of the funeral march, continuing their wild celebration. Hundreds of masked men crowd the streets amongst spectators and participants, to create a discord of noise and colour.

Groups of hooded men form semi-circles every few meters along the street, ecstatically trumpeting a victory theme, echoed and drowned out by other groups of trumpeters nearby. Moments of silence don’t last long, as other groups start up further down the street, their impromptu music reverberating through the hollow streets of San Fratello, and deeper still into the timeless Nebrodi Mountains.
Some of the more exuberant men perform acrobatics by hanging from lamp poles, others climbing high to hold themselves horizontally and swinging around to attract the most attention possible.

 

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Looking at the backs of the Giudei’s red coats more closely, I notice that many of the intricately embroidered designs on them have religious references. For example, in one model there is Saint Francis, in his brown Franciscan robe, helping Jesus off the cross after the crucifixion; the two religious figures are mixed together to create a unique spiritual collage, as the Saint lived many centuries after the time of Christ.

Other random designs include swans swimming on icy lakes, princesses with Barbie doll features, wearing tiaras, and peasant couples holding hands as they’re about to start dancing; also, Christ on the cross, images of the crucified Christ, Snow White, an American eagle, the Virgin Mary, and various other religious icons, rich with details. I even saw a Donald Duck on one junior Giudeo.

The designs range from the deeply religious, to the secular, a strange juxtaposition of incompatible elements. These embroidered beaded or sequined costumes are hand made and are a tradition in themselves. Often, the suits are handed down from father to son.

The Good Friday Diavolata at San Fratello is a mixture of both pagan and Catholic elements, even though some commentators suggest that the celebration has more in common with pagan festivals celebrating spring than with any Catholic ceremony. Indeed, the festival has a grotesque carnival atmosphere to it, and the participants’ focus is more on enjoyment and mischief-making rather than anything else.

10 Spectacular Easter Celebrations in Sicily

Santa Pasqua in Sicily is filled with ancient rites and traditions which are as colourful and variegated as the island itself.

The week leading up to Easter is brimming with religious celebrations, food preparations, processions and parades. Each festival is part of an elaborate pageant mixing religion and paganism in the festivities which mark the end of Winter and the rebirth of Spring.

A visit to any small town has its own versions of the Sicilian religious traditions. The week beginning with intricately woven palm fronds which are blessed for Palm Sunday, reaching a dramatic climax with passionate performances and ends with the consumption of delicate marzipan sculptured lambs or picureddi, bread or biscuits decorated with dyed eggs, many traditional dishes and endless desserts in the usual abundance of Sicily’s table.

If you are planning a trip to Sicilia specifically to experience the festivities, here is a list of the ten most spectacular celebrations of the island.

Pasqua in Sicilia

I Diavulazzi di Pasqua: Adrano, Catania

Easter at Adrano in the province of Catania is focused around the Diavolata which is a performance of an ancient religious play.

Written in 1728 by a local religious brother it is performed on the evening of Easter Sunday.

The Diavolata acts out the eternal battle between good and evil. The central part of the drama focuses on the struggle between several devils and St Michael the Archangel, who not only manages to defeat the evil doers but also gets them to praise God.

On the evening before Easter, there is the flight of the Angel, where a terrified looking adolescent girl is strapped in and hoisted along a tightrope across the local square to meet the statue of the freshly resurrected Christ and recites a piece of text welcoming and praising him.

 

Gli Incappucciati: Enna

Nineteenth-century German Romantic Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said to have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.

But to understand Sicily you need to go to the geographical centre because the island’s true identity is to be found there.

The province of Enna is known as the belly button of Sicily and is the home to Sicily’s most ancient traditions.

The sinister hooded Incappuciati are the central characters of Enna’s Easter celebrations which dates back to the Spanish period from the 15th and 17th centuries.

The male, only members of the fifteen various local confraternities, participate in a well-organised series of processions, prayers and worship in the local Cathedral.

 

TOP 10 Easter Sicily

Pashkët: Piana degli Albanesi, Palermo

At Piana degli Albanesi and nearby towns in the region of Palermo Easter takes on elements of the Greek Orthodox faith.

The celebrations are based on the ancient Byzantine church, in fact, many of the rites performed use the Greek and Albanian languages.

The towns of Contessa Entellina, San Cristina Gela, Mezzojuso and Palazzo Adriano also share this particular ethnic characteristic to their Easter festivities.
These towns traditions reflect their history as an ancient colony of people from Albania, refugees from the Balkans who fled religious persecution during the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century.

In 1482, after several attacks from the Ottomans, the Christian Albanians were forced to the Adriatic coast where they hired ships from the Republic of Venice, escaped by sailing and managed to reach Sicily.

These refugees were eventually granted land in the mountains above the city of Palermo where they were able to maintain their Greek Orthodox religion and traditions without being persecuted.
The religious rites for Easter at Piano degli Albanesi end with the Pontificale, a grand parade of women in elegant traditional dress which weaves its way through the main streets of the town, stopping at the Cathedral.

White doves are released at the end of the parade in amongst the songs of the local dialect and the distribution of red coloured eggs, symbolic of new life and of the bloodshed during the crucifixion.

 Il ballo dei diavoli: Prizzi, Palermo

At Prizzi in the province of Palermo, several devils and death itself disturb the celebrations on Easter day with their macabre dance, until they are eventually defeated by other angelic characters.
The devils are dressed in one piece red jumpsuits, with a large round flat faced masks complete with a long fabric tongue, covered in goatskin and with a chain in their hands. While death is dressed in yellow with a crossbow in hand. A fascinating mixture of dance, paganisim and religion which is so common in a Sicilian Easter celebration.

I Giudei: San Fratello, Messina

The apex of the grotesque characters in Sicily’s Santa Pasqua are the Giudei of San Fratello. The flocks of hooded brightly dressed men take over the village and disturb the solemn funeral procession on the morning of Good Friday and other marches during the week.

These characters come out of Sicily’s history, with all of their colour, practical jokes and loud trumpeting. The costumes are handed down from father to son and are in a bright red pseudo military style, complete with elaborate helmets, shiny yellow striped lapels and intricate beading work, which make them like living breathing works of folk art echoing the vibrant designs of the traditional carretto Siciliano.

The Medieval Norman colony of San Fratello is the home to these strangely dressed men who gather out of the ether and tie together many strands of history. The deafening confusion they create seems frightening, but this uproar is life-affirming chaos.

This celebration has gone on uninterrupted for generations, it went on during both world wars. Thanks to these Giudei the Sanfratellani have been called ‘non-catholic’ and ‘devils’ yet these characters are a central part of San Fratello’s identity.

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 I misteri: Trapani

Trapani’s Misteri procession re-enacts scenes from the passion of Christ, with a parade of detailed massive wooden statues depicting different scenes from this eternal story.

The celebration at Trapani is probably the most well known of the Misteri based festivities, which occur throughout the island, simply because of the dimension of the statues and the incredible artistry of the figures which are extremely emotive.

The Misteri, depict the passion of Christ and the symbolic elements also associated with the story. Side by side with the artworks are objects like spears, hammers and a crown of thorns in an extended religious metaphor, like an elaborate Mystery play from the Middle Ages.

The festivities in Trapani begin on the Tuesday after Palm Sunday with the procession of the Madonna of the Pieta’ known locally as the Massari. An artwork which dates back to the sixteenth century which is displayed within an ornate golden frame. The canvas depicts Maria Addolorata who is looking to her left on a dark background with many holy relics.

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Gli archi di Pasqua: San Biagio Palatani, Agrigento

Apart from the religious and pagan elements to Easter, there is also an immense dedication to decoration and artistry.

At San Biagio Platani the city’s streets are taken over by elaborately constructed archways, domes, bells and religious artworks.

In the months before Easter, the two major historical confraternities of San Biagio work to create a massive piece of public folk art.

Using only natural materials to decorate the streets with arches, all with religious and natural symbolism like bamboo, weeping willow, asparagus, laurel leaves, rosemary, cereals, dates and bread.

The series of decorated archways become increasingly elaborate as they reach the central part of the town, which becomes the focal point of the Easter Sunday procession as the Madonna and the resurrected Christ meet at precisely at the centre of the decorations.

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 Lu Signuri delle Fasci: Pietraperzia, Enna

One of the most elaborate and complex processions on the island is that of Pietraperzia near the centre of the island where the Signuri di li fasci creates an intricate piece of liturgical performance.

On Good Friday, a traditional crucifix is fixed to a big log, and a complex series of linen strips are wrapped around its base.

The white strands are held by devout followers as the procession makes it’s way delicately through the streets, accompanied by prayers in the local dialect. The fabric strands are reminiscent of medieval Maypoles, but the performance is unique to Sicily.

Usually, those who hold onto the forty-meter long fabric strips are either asking for a miracle or giving thanks to God for a divine intervention which has already occurred or are maintaining a family tradition.

The cavalcade is accompanied by the local confraternity in their hooded monk costumes, who carry the statue of the Madonna dell’Addolorata.

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 La Settimana Santa: Caltanissetta

Easter week at Caltanissetta is genuinely amazing, Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is a week filled with elaborate performances, baroque processions, reenactments of the last supper, the stations of the cross and traditional rites which reflect Sicily’s ancient and at times aristocratic past.

Palm Sunday sees the Processione of Gesù Nazareno, where a statue of Christ is placed within an elaborate boat shaped flower decorated float and carried around the city in a recreation of Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Nazareth. Easter Monday there is a performance of the Last Supper.

While on Wednesday the procession of the Maestranza sees a parade of local military, noble families and artisan guilds of the city in a blend of civil and religious elements.
On the dark funeral day of Good Friday while the city is in mourning and the Cristo Nero (or darkened Christ- because of its colour) becomes the focus of a profoundly religious procession.

 

La corsa di San Leone: Sinagra, Messina

I cannot possibly make up a list of suggestive Easter celebrations without mentioning my own little Sicilian village which combines the love of the local patron saint San Leone with the joy of Easter.

San Leone is taken on an elaborate procession from his country church, of the same name, to the main parish church of San Michele Arcangelo in the heart of the town. As the large wooden statue is mounted on a massive wooden float carried by the Confraternity of San Leone.

When the Saint arrives at the bridge at the beginning of the town, the statue runs over the bridge accompanied by suggestive fireworks. The running of the Saint recalls one of his miracles.

While San Leone was the Bishop of Catania, he confronted a magician who claimed to be more powerful than God.

The Saint challenged him to a literal baptism of fire, which saw the magician burnt to death while Saint Leo remained unscathed by the flames of a bomb fire.

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Se preferisce in Italiano clicca qui:

10 delle piu’ spettacolari celebrazioni di Pasqua in Sicilia

Remember to follow my advice on how to avoid Stendhal Syndrome on your next visit to Sicily:

The best way to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the beauty of art and history, especially in Sicily where art seems to grow ever more elaborate, is to space out your museum visits.
I have shared my own personal bucket list of artworks you don’t want to miss with Italy Magazine, who has published it on their webpage.

Click on the image below if you’d like to read my suggestions.
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Part two in my series of artworks you simply must not miss on your next visit to Sicily has also been published.

Thanks to Italy Magazine for sharing my love of fine art.

Click on the image below if you’d like to read more suggestions.

 

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Sicily is a must visit place for art lovers, it is filled with priceless works of art from many periods of history beginning with the ancient Greeks and ending with contemporary art. Everything from architecture, sculpture, paintings, marble work, wood carving, mosaics to gold jewellery.

Looking forward to exploring more in 2019.

Will be back soon from my visit home to Australia.

See you then.

 

Out of Sicily for now …

Little river winery

This month I’ve been travelling home to Australia to visit family and friends. It’s been a strange visit, somewhat rushed, bittersweet and filled with a terrible sense of reverse culture shock. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired or disoriented than after going from a deep Sicilian winter into the middle of a warm Western Australian summer. My head is swimming with confusion and recalling many little details I’d forgotten.

I always get this strange sense of deja vu in the first few days off the plane driving around the same old streets from my childhood. I’m sad to see many old landmarks disappear, and sometimes I struggle to recognise my old friend, Oz.

This strange sense of foreignness usually doesn’t last long as I get back into a routine, but this time I haven’t been able to shake it.

No through roads

I’m gradually recalling what I loved about home, its landscapes, colours, the laid back and warm nature of the people and the incredible amount of space there is to create your own path. For the first time, I’ve realised how European I’ve become: small things make me cringe, I am a snob about my food, I’m riddled with culture shock, and for the first time I feel like a foreigner.

But I am determined to pick up my friendship with Australia where it left off, as true friendships never die, they merely need to be revived every once in a while.

Every day here I am happily breathing in the fragrances of the summer, getting a bit of a tan and merely soaking up everything around me, gathering and making new memories.

Boat reflections

This year I have had the privilege of visiting the coastal city of Geraldton North of Perth. Thanks to my sister in laws beautiful family who lives in this charming Midwestern regional city I have been able to experience this place with many insights from the locals who adore their town.

Located 424 kilometres away from the capital, which is easily reached by plane in a fifty-five-minute plane journey Geraldton has a population of 37,432 people. It has a beautiful location right by the ocean and is a quirky mix of farmers, fishermen, families, miners, surfers and laid back trendy alternative vibe.

Port at Geraldton

The port of Geraldton is a significant link in the west coast in the major industries of the region like mining, fishing, wheat, sheep and tourism.

Since 1840 ships have been tugged in and out of the port twenty-four seven and the crystal clear waters are mesmerising.

The Batavia coast marina has been developed into a beautiful succession of jetty’s, fisherman wharves, yacht clubs, high rise apartments, beaches, a museum, restaurants and many other fascinating points of interest to explore.

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The Geraldton Foreshore is the centre of Geraldton’s social and family life. Zigzagged with cycle and walking paths it is where locals do their early morning workout, there are many playgrounds, picnic areas, beaches, cafe’s, fish and chips places and even a free water park.

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One of the distinctly colourful local food places has to be The Jaffel Shack. Anyone having an early morning swim will find delicious coffee and full breakfasts in the little surfing themed hut which spills out on the foreshore. It’s the perfect place for a snack or a milkshake after you go to the beach. (Jaffles are crusty toasted sandwiches, a word I either had forgotten entirely or perhaps never even knew.)

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Shopping at Geraldton is terrific fun, there are many surf stores and trendy boutiques to explore especially along Marine Terrace. Even if you don’t buy anything a walk around the streets of the town will be filled with street art, cafe’s and newly renovated pubs and eateries to explore.

Gero winds

The only downer to visiting Geraldton in the summer is the terribly hot and robust desert winds which literally howl through the town in the afternoons. It is much better to visit in the mild winters as you won’t be battered by the wind, or risk to be blown to one side like many of the local trees along the roadsides.

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The streets of Geraldton are broad, comfortable and welcoming, just like the locals. The golden sunsets are always spectacular, and the light makes it perfect for landscape photography. The place has a beautiful colonial country feel, like stepping back into time. Every photo I take has the feeling of an old black and white or sepia picture filled with character and tales to tell.

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The memorial of the World War two cruiser HMAS Sydney is located above Geraldton on Mount Scott. The beautifully sombre memorial recognises the loss of 645 lives in what still remains Australia’s most devastating naval loss after being sunk together with and by a German ship off Shark Bay in November 1941.

The Memorial is made up of steel based on the ships original prow, a granite wall listing the names of the ship’s crew, a bronze statue of a woman looking out to sea and I dome made up of 645 seagulls dedicated to the souls of the people who died at sea.

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When I visited the monument, there were many people who were making the most of the scenic view from above Geraldton. A handsome couple of Indian newlyweds were having their wedding photos taken in the beautiful light, their celebration gave the monument a sense of elegance, respect and honour. What a special place to have your photograph taken.

Country road

Taking a drive out of Geraldton towards Point Gregory to see a magical pink coloured lake I was reminded of the golden expansive Australian landscape which is barren and dry in the summer yet beautiful. It reminded me of the expansive golden interior of Sicily, near Enna which is like a twany coloured quilt cover with its flowing hills and harsh sunshine.

Looking out from the airconditioned car along the drive to Point Gregory I recalled an old poem by Australian writer Dorothy Mackellar titled My country:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

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Port Gregory lies near the mouth of the Hutt River on Western Australia’s Coral Coast and is home of the Pink Lake called Hutt Lagoon. This picturesque fishing village is encircled by five kilometres of exposed coral reef. Originally developed to serve the Geraldine Lead mine, the town is now a holiday hotspot for fishing and diving.

Hutt Lagoon boasts a pink hue created by the presence of carotenoid-producing algae Dunaliella salina, a source of ß-carotene, a food-colouring agent and source of vitamin A.

The lagoon is about 70 square kilometres with most of it lying a few metres below sea level. It is separated from the Indian Ocean by a beach barrier ridge and barrier dune system. Similar to Lake MacLeod, 40 kilometres to the north of Carnarvon, Hutt Lagoon is fed by marine waters through springs.

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The intensity of the lake’s colour changes right before your eyes at times it doesn’t seem pink at all then as the desert wind begins to blow and the heat begins to burn your face the lake appears to heat up and blushes in light pink. As we stood on the banks, the lake put on a lovely show for use, blooming into a gorgeous deep fuschia colour.

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Driving out onto the salt flats, the pink salt surface looks like ice, crunching under your feet and caking your shoes in light salt. It is another worldly landscape, and it takes me back to Sicily once again. For a moment I find myself near Marsala on western Sicily at the salt mines. The same hot desert air whips up the salt only here at Port Gregory no colourful windmills are helping to churn out the stockpiles of natural sea salt.

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Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the Museum of Geraldton celebrates the rich heritage of the land, sea and people of the Mid West region.

The beautiful new Maritime history museum allows you to discover ancient landforms, Yamaji history and culture, and the region’s unique natural landscapes and marine environment.

The archaeological riches included in the museum’s exhibitions include details from four different Dutch shipwrecks off Geraldton’s coast (Batavia, Gilt Dragon, Zuytdorp and Zeewijk). The whole coastline along from Geraldton is littered with wrecks from the 17th and 18th centuries as the Dutch traders would travel to and from Amsterdam into modern India and Java.

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The story of the Batavia is probably the most fascinating of all of the wrecks, coming aground near the Abrolhos fishing islands off Geraldton the fate of the Batavia was marred by a bloody mutiny and has inspired many historians and authors with its mystery and horror.

Cathedral Gero

The St Francis Xavier Cathedral was designed by World renowned Arts & Crafts architect and Catholic priest Monsignor John Hawes (1876 – 1956). Construction began in 1916 and was completed in 1938. The external of the cathedral is made in a golden coloured limestone, with a distinct mixture of Australian colonial and nineteenth-century European architecture. It resembles the Spanish style of New Norcia in the south west of Western Australia.

Gero markets

The Platform markets on Chapman road every Sunday are on the site of the original central railway station at Geraldton. They are an excellent way of exploring the local produce and the vibe of the local people. A mixture of colour, perfumes, food and creativity a visit will give you a perfect impression of the real character of the city. It was also the place I choose to end my trip to Geraldton, casually browsing and chatting with the locals before hopping on a plane back to Perth.

Poem: In Ogni Paese

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In every paese
there is an energy
filled with the spirit
of young & old paesani

Every paese has its old palazzi,
a Chiesa Madre, held together
by the perspiration
of local priests.

In every paese, children run to catechism
bounding, yelling and jumping
as only youth does.

Every paese has its
drunks, madmen, fools
buttane, delinquente
as it has its
professore, avvocati, mamme e sindaci

In every paese there is a
Peter Pan, Bar del Corso,
smoke filled Tabaccheria
a piazza 24 aprile,
monumento ai caduti
e santi padroni.

Every paese is haunted by the ghosts
of those who went away,
of dead mafiosi,
abandoned children,
poveracci and
Saraceni who were exiled
from their beloved island.

In every paese there are one eyed peasants
who will signally love their town
even if it is gradually decaying and crumbling
they see the beauty of their youth
and life pass before their eyes,
blind to the decay of time.

Every paese is filled with the desperation,
tears and joy of many lives lived
side by side for eternity.

 

Poetry: Sicilian DNA

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I live in Sicily because I fell in love with a Sicilian,

but in reality, the love affair existed long before …

I’ve been enamoured since birth, 

Italy is imprinted on my DNA,

my family and heritage has always been here

connected to this place of endless human history

my love of stories keeps me happily lost inside its tale

there is always a story, a connection, a heartbeat.

 

Advice about moving to Sicily

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Photo by Ingo Hamm on Unsplash

The world of blogging is fascinating, you meet many people who have the same interests as you, your ego gets a boost with every new subscriber and like and after a few years you begin to be viewed as an expert in your particular niche.

While I always enjoy hearing from my readers, answering questions and giving travel advice I occasionally get an email asking me about how to move to Sicily. I am honoured at the thought, some people see me as wise enough to give them advice I am always a little hesitant to dish out my opinion as everyone has their particular journey in life and I shouldn’t interfere with it.
But on the other hand, when I get a detailed email from someone asking for some help, I am ethically obliged to give them some home truths.
Recently I got an email with a list of questions which I thought would be helpful for anyone else considering a move to Sicily, as I’m sure many readers are thinking along the same lines as this person.

 

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Photo by Tomas Anton Escobar on Unsplash

 

Here are the questions and honest answers about living in Sicily:

I am paying a loan while working a full-time job and my partner has a plan is to sell our home and buy two properties, one to live in and the other one to rent for us to be able not to work. I think he’s just fantasising about this and this cannot be realistic?

Well, you could buy an excellent investment property at a reasonable price in Sicily, and the general cost of living in Sicily is much cheaper than living anywhere else in Europe, but it would be risky, what if you don’t like it here? It can be very challenging for foreigners to adapt to the quite close-knit communities of Sicily.

What I’d suggest doing would be to come over and rent a place here for a few months on an extended holiday. Don’t go selling your home just yet.

Try coming for a couple of months in the autumn/winter and search around for places you might like to buy and try out how life in Sicily fits you.

What about the education of my child in Sicily? Will he get a good education? What about the University?

I live in a small town in Sicily, and my son has been going to the local primary school which has been a lovely experience, the schools are quite traditional, but the teachers are very attentive to their students. While the infrastructure is a bit run down the schools and high schools are just fine, and there are many universities to choose from in Sicily and Italy in general, and you can always look into other European Universities in the future.

The only problem would be if you’d like your child to speak English, the English in the schools is rather basic so you could look into International schools or will have to teach your son English (which is what I am currently doing with mine) it’s time-consuming but well worth the effort.
I recently wrote a guest post about my experiences teaching my son English in a small town in Sicily if you’d like to read it on Mammaprada: The trials of raising a bilingual child in small-town Italy.

 

I cannot speak Italian and don’t understand it which for sure is a disadvantage.

Now this one may be a problem, you will need to have a basic understanding of Italian at least as there is very little English spoken outside of the major cities, so if you do consider moving here down the line, you’d need to work on this. But there are many schools around, even online if you are interested.

 

Is Sicily getting financially better or worse? Will there be any real jobs in the future?

 

Well, things in Sicily have always been slow economically, there is a high unemployment rate, and I’m not sure if it’s going to improve.

There is a considerable demand for ESL teachers, and you could probably find work with something like a CELTA qualification, teaching online is another option, you might be able to find a job in tourism or if you see a property consider turning it into a B&B, and there are many other ways to work online these days. It depends on where your skills lie, and you may need to get creative, do some private tutoring or start up a business that you think would benefit the local community.

Things like photography, babysitting, English, website design, hairdressing, beauty, nursing or as a carer anything you might see an opportunity for or are lacking in your particular community.

 

Crime. Is it safe to go out in the evenings? Is it safe to leave my son playing outside? Is it safe to let him go out when he’s a teenager?

 

I don’t think there is any need to be concerned about crime. If you are living in a small town, it is quite safe. In the bigger cities, you have to use your common sense like you’d do anywhere else, i.e., be aware of your surroundings, keep away from shady places like train stations and dodgy neighbourhoods.

Letting your son play outside shouldn’t be a problem. And when he’s a teenager, he’d well and truly have his own trusted group of friends and places where he knows it is safe to hang out and by then you’d have all of the other parent’s phone numbers from his school just in case you need them

 

Would having a place for rent be enough to be able to live comfortably without working? If not, is it difficult to find a job? I currently work as a manager; however, I have never been to university.

The price of living in Sicily is very reasonable, you could probably live off a rental property, but that would also depend on if you get a good tenant. It is easy to rent a place out for the summer.

You’d also have to consult an accountant here in Italy to see about how much tax you’d need to pay, as there are some tax allowances for new businesses, but there are also some tricky aspects to tax in Italy which can be quite high.

As for the work situation, I’ve already mentioned this.

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Photo by Sabrina Mazzeo on Unsplash

On the whole, if you are seriously thinking about moving to Sicily I’d suggest you come to stay for a while if you can manage it, take a look around visit a few places and get a feel for the area.

Life in Sicily isn’t perfect, but there is a beautiful sense of community, Sicilians are wonderfully generous, life is slow paced, there is a lot of bureaucracy, but the cost of living is much better.

You’d need to invest time in learning Italian, you may feel a little isolated, but there are lots of expats here.

I hope I’ve answered some of your questions and it’s given you a little indication about life here.

Good luck and all the best to everyone.

The inspiration of Sicily

English Novels and Novellas

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.

In fact, Sicily has inspired many English authors to write beautiful fiction.
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, second and even sometimes third generation Sicilian writers have been inspired by their heritage and continue to create beautiful literary works dedicated to Sicily.

One of my favourite novellas inspired by a person who has explored his own personal history in Sicily is The Lady of the Wheel by Angelo F. Coniglio.

The Lady of the Wheel is a journey into the poverty, misery and dignity of the insular world of the Nineteenth-Century Sicilian peasantry. This labour of love is passionate and detailed and takes us deep into a Verismo like the realistic world of small village life with heartfelt pathos and a veil of ancient dialect.

Maria Rizzo 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 by the church. We follow Maria and her daughter on their journey to find one another.

Coniglio’s novella is a beautifully sparse and well-crafted story which takes us into the poverty of one of the darkest times in Sicily’s modern history. The story of these abandoned children from the island’s history is filled with pathos and power.

Angelo F. Coniglio

I interviewed Angelo Coniglio a while ago about the background to this story and his unique passion for Sicilian genealogy which lead him to discover this story from his own personal family history.

Tell us about your book The Lady of the Wheel, where did you find this amazing, evocative story and how is it connected to you?

I have been doing Sicilian genealogical research for about ten years.  I started with the ancestors of my parents, both of whom were born in Serradifalco in central Sicily.   Then I began doing research for my friends, many of whom are also Sicilian American.  Some of my ‘friends’, my research showed, were actually distant cousins.  One had ancestors from Racalmuto, a village in Agrigento province.  One record that I found had nothing to do with his ancestry, but it caught my eye.  All births were recorded, even stillbirths and the births of abandoned children, who were left in the public ‘ruota’ or foundling wheel.  Since the parents of foundlings were unknown, the infants’ names were concocted by church or civil authorities.  Their made-up surnames were stigmatic: ‘Proietto’, (which means ‘cast out’); ‘Trovatello’ (‘foundling’); ‘Esposto'(‘exposed to the elements’) and so on.

In the 1800s in Sicily (and in much of Europe), each new birth had to be registered with civil authorities.  Usually, the infant’s father took it to the town hall to be registered, but in the case of foundlings, they were presented for registration by the person, usually a woman, who had found them.  The occupation of these women was variously given as ‘custode dei trovatelli’ (caretaker of foundlings), or ‘ricevitrice dei proietti'(receiver of castoffs).  In the particular foundling record that caught my eye the occupation of the declarant was given simply as ‘ruotaia’.  This is a word that is no longer used in modern Italian, but ‘ruota’ meant ‘foundling wheel’, and ‘ruotaia’ meant ‘woman who tends the foundling wheel’.

What further piqued my interest was that the name of the wheel-tender was given as Rosa Esposto, meaning that the ‘lady of the wheel’ most likely had been a foundling herself.  My story grew from there.

Sicily has so much fascinating history, how did you settle on this particular early modern period, the plight of the poor class and the role of the church? Tell us a little bit more about this dark phase in Sicily’s history.

My parents were born in the 1800s, so my search for their birth records and the birth records of my friends’ parents naturally led me to examine records from that period.  Over the years I have read much about the plight of families from the Southern Apennine peninsula and Sicily, after their homeland was subsumed into the Kingdom of Italy.  The poor in that region only got poorer and their youth were conscripted into the Italian army to fight northern wars.  Those factors led to the huge migration to the US and elsewhere.  80% of ‘Italian’ immigrants to America were from the South and from Sicily.

How did you manage to balance the history with the fictional elements in The Lady of the Wheel?

I guess the history came from my analytical side (I’m a retired civil engineer and educator), and the ‘fictional’ elements are a blend of facts found in my research of original Sicilian records, along with family stories that I remember.

 

What’s your own personal link to Sicily, tell us about Serradifalco, how are you connected?

Serradifalco is a small interior town whose main industry was once sulfur mining.  My uncle Giuseppe Coniglio came from there to Robertsdale, Pennsylvania in 1912.  He was an out-of-work sulfur miner and found work here as a coal miner.  He had left behind his wife Angela Alessi, sister of my mother Rosa Alessi, who was married to my father Gaetano Coniglio, Giuseppe’s youngest brother.  Get it? Two brothers married two sisters, not uncommon at all in small Sicilian towns.

In 1913, my uncle convinced my father to be the chaperone for my aunt Angela when she came to the US, so my father did so, temporarily leaving my mother (pregnant with my eldest brother) in Sicily.  My brother Guy was born in late 1913, and a year later my mother and he joined my father in Robertsdale.

Both sides of my wife’s family also sprang from Sicily, so the two of us are 100% Sicilian.

 

Do you visit Sicily often? What is your favourite Sicilian memory and experience?

I visited there in 2006 with my wife, two sisters and several nieces, and again in 2009 with my sisters and nieces.  My wife and I and two nieces are returned again in late May 2016.

My favourite memory is the warmth and friendliness of the Sicilians of small-town Sicily.  Whether they were my relatives plying us with home-grown food or strangers breaking their schedules to take us to see a local sight, they made us feel welcome.

 

I hear you are planning to write another book set in Sicily, tell us about that.

The Lady of the Wheel is a short book that practically wrote itself.  Though it’s set in Racalmuto, there are references to my ancestral village of Serradifalco.  ‘Serradifalco’ means ‘mountain of the hawk’, and I’m working on a fictional history of the town, from before Roman colonization through the recent past.  The title of that book will be ‘The mountain of the Hawk’.  Needless to say, it’s a much more daunting undertaking, a Michener-like challenge.  I am also considering putting together a book, tentatively titled ‘Discovering Your Sicilian Ancestors’, a compilation of newspaper and blog articles I have written on that subject.  Sicily and the former Sicilian territories of Southern Italy have some of the best records in the world, with civil records of birth, marriage and death dating back to the early 1800s, and church sacramental records, sometimes back to the 1300s.

 

You are also an academic with a passion for Sicilian genealogy tell us a little about your professional life and your research in Sicily

I was an academic; an adjunct professor of civil engineering at the University of Buffalo, and a practising civil engineer.  I’m retired from both, and I guess I’d be classified as an ‘amateur’ genealogist since I prefer not to charge for my services, but rather to help others to do their own research.  My Sicilian research actually has mostly been done from afar, using online services and microfilms rented at my local Mormon Family History Center, where I’m a volunteer.  I have done some on-site research in Sicily, viewing some hundred-plus-year-old registers in my own ancestral town and that of my wife.

 

I always get asked by my blog readers how to go about researching family trees in Sicily, you seem to be an expert, how does one go about it?

Before starting, google-search for, and purchase, one of many books available on Italian genealogy.  They can help you understand original Sicilian records, which are in the Italian language.

a. Review family records and local (church, library, court) records to get your immigrant ancestor’s NAME as it was in Sicily, and at least their approximate BIRTH DATE.  US Censuses are available at libraries and online and can have such information, as well as their early RESIDENCE in the US, and their IMMIGRATION DATE.

b. Ditto for your ancestor’s TOWN OF BIRTH.  This is important because the records must be searched according to the town in which they were created.  Knowing ‘they were born in Sicily’ is not enough.  Passenger manifests, available online can give an immigrant’s last residence or place of birth.  Remember that married or not, Sicilian women went by their birth surnames and would be so listed on manifests.  Citizenship papers (Petitions for Naturalization) can have all of this information.

c. Unless you can afford to travel to your ancestral town or pay someone to do so, you can search for records with the help of the Mormon site familysearch.org   Records for your town may be available online or on microfilm that can be viewed at your local Mormon Family History Center.  There is no proselytizing at these centres, and their services are free for all patrons.

d. Starting with a recent ancestor you know something about; find his/her birth, marriage, and/or death records.  Sicilian records are very detailed and give age, occupation and addresses of persons involved in a civil registration.  Use that information to search for records of earlier ancestors, and continue back in time to build your family tree.

You regularly contribute to Italian/Sicilian American publications about Sicilian heritage, tell us about some of your articles, why do you think it is so important to maintain links to Sicily?

I’m a sucker for ‘heritage’.  Regardless of our ethnicity, I feel we should ‘know our roots’.  Our ancestors, and the things that shaped their lives, actually helped form our lives, and knowing them is knowing ourselves.  I have friends who have visited Italy, and when I ask where they went, they say “Rome, Florence and Venice.”  I ask where their families were from and they reply “Racalmuto, Messina, Agrigento.”   Then why didn’t they visit Sicily?  “We didn’t think there was anything to see there.”  To travel that far and not visit the actual land of your fathers, is, I believe, a travesty.

Tell me do you think that Sicilian migrant voices/writers are important, why?

Sicily and Sicilians have been WRONGLY painted harshly because of the sensationalism of one small aspect of our society.  I’m saddened by the glorification of criminals, and would much rather see Sicilians and descendants of Sicilians display the intelligence and passion that made Sicily a cultural gem.

Sicily has produced so many fine writers, would you like to share which literary voice speaks to you the loudest and why who would you recommend to read to get a sense of Sicily.

Although my work has been compared to that of Verga, I had not read him prior to writing my novella.  Now, doing so, I see how he captured the sometimes tragic but always ‘bravu’ character of ordinary Sicilians, and I am diving into his works.

Theresa Maggio’s ‘Mattanza’ is spellbinding, and her ‘The Stone Boudoir’ captures the essence of small Sicilian mountain towns.  Lampedusa’s ‘Il Gattopardo’ and Anthony Di Renzo’s ‘Trinacria’ tell of the upheaval of Sicilian society after the ‘risorgimento’.  John Keahey’s ‘Seeking Sicily’ is a delight.

Is there anything else you would like to mention, do you have any other projects lined up in the near future.

I am concerned that the Sicilian LANGUAGE (it’s NOT a dialect of Italian, although there are many dialects of Sicilian) is not taught in Sicilian schools, and is not spoken by many modern Sicilians, who have drunk the Italian Koolaid and believe that Sicilian is ‘the language of the poor and ignorant’, when it was the first Romance language, pre-dating and helping to form the Tuscan dialect that is now accepted as ‘Italian’.  I encourage fellow Sicilians and their descendants to use the language in their speech and their posts, to help keep it alive.

I also like to remind descendants of immigrants from Abruzzo, Puglia, Calabria and the rest of the Southern ‘Mezzogiorno’ that any of their ancestors born there prior to 1860 were actually Sicilian, subjects of the kingdom of the Two Sicilies or its predecessor the Kingdom of Sicily.

I have a history of Sicily at La Bedda Sicilia,  and at the bottom are links to many Sicily-oriented pages about our language, naming conventions, foundlings, and so on.  I also invite your readers to check out my novella and if they choose to purchase it, to please post a review at Amazon.

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Thanks so much to Angelo, who was so kind to find a moment to talk to me.

His wonderful novella is available as an ebook on Amazon if you want to read it.

Also if you want to do any kind of family research in Sicily he is definitely the man to ask and will readily reply to any questions simply send him a message on his Facebook page here.

A list of Italian themed movies and books for the festive season

 

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Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

It’s the holiday season so you may have a little time on your hands so I thought I’d recommend a few books and movies with a bit of an Italian theme.

But as is usual in the silly season, I’ve gone and overindulged with the entertainment. Quindi sono guai! So now you are in for it! Get ready for a mega list of movies and great reads from a lifetime lover of Italian cinema and literature, because there is no way in the world I’m going to stick to only one recommendation.
It’s going to be ten of my personal favourite movies and ten fantastic reads I’ve come across in my random journey through Italy.
I’ve tried to keep away from huge commercial successes and clichè building monsters as I’m a bit of a hipster and want to give everyone something different and challenging.
So excuse me while I go ahead and write a totally self-indulgent blog post, in which I hope you will find something new to watch and read.

 

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Photo by Joshua Hanks on Unsplash

 

Movies

Nuovo Mondo (Golden Door: Emanuele Crialese, 2006. Vincenzo Amato, Charlotte Gainsborge).

This beautiful migrant story from the early nineteenth century is a lovely mixture of poetry, idealism and surrealism which surrounded the first wave of immigrants to the United States.

It tells the story of one families struggles with poverty, their quest for salvation, the epic journey around the other side of the world and the great leap these people made from one world to the next.

It is an ancient story told through love, tragedy, strength, injustice, with an immense sense of dignity and courage.

 

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Il Postino (Michael Radford, 1994. Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret, Maria Grazia Cucinotta).

This movie became an instant classic in the 1990’s and is a beautifully shot masterpiece, filmed on the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Messina in Sicily.

It is a sweet little film about friendship, love and poetry. It became even more precious as it was the last movie that Massimo Troisi made, so it is seen as a special tribute to this wonderfully understated Neoplitain actor.

 

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Photo by Matteo Lezzi on Unsplash

 

Room with a view (James Ivory, 1985. Maggie Smith, Judy Dench, Helena B.Carter).

This book and film adaptation is one of the reasons I fell in love with Florence. This stunning little arthouse film from the 1980’s is a perfect little love story, Helena Bonham Carter plays the complete English tourist together with an entourage of wonderful English actors who create this hilarious caricatures which were English expats in the early 19th Century.

 

Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953. Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn).

1950’s Rome in this sweet little Romantic comedy and modern fairytale is positively intoxicating. Modern Roma is a world away from this classic, but the beauty of these old style actors give this movie a sense of timelessness which makes this one of my all-time favourites.

 

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Photo by Christopher Czermak on Unsplash

 

La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960. Marcello Mastrianni, Anita Ekberg) Cassanova, La Strada, Nights of Calabria, 8 1/2, Amarcord.

I adore Federico Fellini, his movies are filled with the energy, charisma, imagination and expressiveness of one of the greatest artists of last century. La Dolce Vita became a symbol of the decadent lifestyle of 1960’s Rome and Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastrianni were symbolic of this innocent, carefree period in Italy’s history.

This year (2018) marks the 25th anniversary of Federico Fellini’s death so I think it is important to revisit these classics of Italian cinema and relive something of this Italian masters energy, flare and style.

Don’t think that Fellini is only La Dolce Vita, his films were made over a lifetime of dedication to the craft of cinema, his movies are considered to be masterpieces of Italian cinema. Be sure to hunt down other classics including his quirky retelling of the life of Cassanova with Donald Sutherland, the movies he made with his wife the iconic Giulietta Masina are also amazing including La Strada and the Nights of Calabria.

Fellini loved to use Marcello Mastriani in his movies, and he has stared in a beautiful collection including the legendary 8 1/2 and an entirely bizarre surreal love letter to women ‘Citta delle Donne’.

The semi-autobiographical Amarcord is a series of comedic and nostalgic vignettes set in the 1930s Italian coastal town where Fellini was born and is a delicious mixture of caricature, surrealism and sexual fantasy.

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Photo by Chris Bair on Unsplash

The Leopard (Visconti, 1963. Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale).

This adaptation of the Sicilian famous novel written by Giuseppe di Lampedusa is a wonderfully epic portrait of the Italian unification in Sicily. The Leopard of the titled is Prince Fabrizio di Salina, the last in a line of an ancient, tired Sicilian aristocracy which is slowly disappearing.

Set during the Italian “Risorgimento” or “The Resurgence,” which stripped Lampedusa’s own family of its royal status the movie focuses on the moment The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies became a part the Kingdom of Italy in 1860, which represented a period of tremendous change on the island.

So the film has a rich historical backdrop to draw from, including the personal reflections of the old Prince, to the raging internal battle between the royalists and republicans and the changes to the Prince’s own family.

 

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Photo by Tomas Anton Escobar on Unsplash

 

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988.) Uomo delle Stelle (the Starmaker) and Baaria.

Sicilian director Giuseppe Tornatore has a deep love for the Sicily of his childhood, and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso is his love letter to his native island and how it fostered his love of Cinema. Tornatore is a masterful storyteller, his movies are beautifully shot and his Sicilian themed trilogy shows the beauty, tragedy and poetry of his native island.

The Starmaker is about a conman working his way around small Sicilian towns taking advantage of peoples hopes and vanity until it all catches up with him. It uses many non-actors and gives you a sense of the character of Sicily in the post world war period.

While Baaria is shot in Tornatore’s native town of Bagheria, just outside of Palermo and shows the political and social transformation of Sicily after world war two.

 

A summer in Genova (Michael Winterbottom, 2008. Colin Firth, Perla Haney-Jardine).

This beautiful art-house movie shows off the beauty of the city of Genova and Italy in the intimate story of a family who is trying to survive a terrible tragedy.

 

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Nothing left to do but cry (Benigni & Troisi, 1984).

This quirky little comedy from the 1980’s reflects the offbeat humour of Italian cinema through two of its most well-known exponents. Roberto Benigni and Massimo Troisi are an incredible duo filled with quirky wordplay and imagination in this cute little romp through Italian history.

 

Stealing Beauty (Bernardo Bertolucci, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Irons) The Dreamers.

Bernardo Bertolucci is yet another master of Italian cinema, Stealing Beauty was possibly the most commercially successful of his moves, which follows the journey of a young girl after the death of her mother.

While the Dreamers is yet another coming of age film but with a more explicit sexual form of rebellion. Both movies are beautifully shot but are very experimental in nature, definitely something to experience as they are the best examples of recent Italian ‘fringe’ or experimental cinema.

Bertolucci recently passed away this year in Rome (2018) and so it seems fitting tribute to a recent legend of Italian cinema to rewatch his movies in all of their intimate beauty.

 

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Photo by César Viteri on Unsplash

 

Books

Lisa Clifford: The promise, Death in the Mountains, Naples a way of love.

Lisa Clifford is an Australia writer and journalist who has been writing and living in Italy for four decades. Her books are excellent reads and reflect her ongoing love affair with Italy.

The promise is about her own personal journey back and forth from Italy to Australia and the long-distance relationship she had with her then Italian boyfriend.

Death in the Mountains is a murder mystery set in the Tuscan countryside based on a story from her husbands family history.

And her latest book Naples a way of love explores the nature of life in the iconic Southern Italian city Napoli.

 

Penelope Green: When in Rome, See Naples and die.

Penelope Green is another Australian writer and her books are very popular and are great summer reads all about her first steps living and working in Italy with an excellent gun-ho attitude and the enthusiasm of youthful naivety.

 

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Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

 

Tim Parks: Italian Neighbours, An Italian education, A literary tour to Italy and Italian Ways.

Time Parks is an English expat who has been living in Italy since 1981. Today he is a well established academic, novelist and translator who writes wonderfully detailed books and essays about Italian literature and travel.

Italian Ways is about rail travel in Italy while his literary tour to Italy takes us on a journey through its most celebrated writers.

But before any of his trips, he was merely a spellbound expat and shared his experiences in Italy through keen and hilarious observations in Italian Neighbours and Italian education.

 

Grazia Deledda: Reeds in the wind.

Grazia Deledda is an Italian Nobel Prize-winning novelist from the cusp of the 19th and 20th century. Most of her novels are set in her native Sardinia and are lovingly crafted portraits of this ancient and mysterious Italian island.

Reeds in the wind follow the down spiralling destiny of the aristocratic Pintor family and are filled with the vibrant language, landscape and eternal voice of Sardinia.

 

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

 

Vitaliano Brancati: Il bel Antonio, Don Giovanni in Sicilia.

Il Bel Antonio (Beautiful Antonio) was developed into a movie starring Marcello Mastroianni, which became a classic of Italian cinema. It is a wonderful book filled with the colours of Sicily and Brancati’s playful comic irony a beautiful iconic read.

The novella Don Giovanni in Sicily is a rich caricature of the Sicilian male which is taken to strange extremes in a modern parable which has a core of honesty that goes beyond any form of realism.

Vitaliano Brancati created a new type of contemporary fable, filled with elaborate farce, humour and eloquent twists of fate.

 

Elio Vittorini: Conversations in Sicily.

Conversazione in Sicilia is an enigmatic work, which is a difficult read thanks to its experimental style which is filled with a stream of conscious like conversations.

The pleasure of the natural discussion between an elderly mother and now adult child, between Sicily and migrant Sicilian is lovely to read and captures the cadence and flow of the Sicilian dialect in a natural conversation.

Yet other times it is easy to get lost in the complicated connections, the shorthand, repetition and long-windedness of the social context of Sicily, like overhearing a conversation and not understanding who is being talked about.

These conversations, like many real ones, are fleeting, flippant, mundane and they slip beyond our grip and understanding. An intriguing book to read.

 

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Giorgio Bassani: The Garden of Finzini-Conti

Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini is a historical novel which chronicles the relationships between the narrator and the children of the wealthy Italian Jewish Finzi-Contini family with the rise of antisemitism and Fascism at the beginning of world war two. And it was also adapted into a well-known movie in Italy,

It is a beautiful, sad story about a dark period in Italian history. The novel captures the eerie ambience in the northern town of Ferrara as Italy loses its innocence before sliding into the evils of the Holocaust.

 

Tobias Jones: The Dark Heart of Italy

In 2003 English journalist Tobias Jones published The Dark Heart of Italy in which he described the diabolical character of Italy’s complexities focusing on the post world war two period right up to the Berlusconi years.

After the book’s publication Jones was hounded by the Italian press for being a preachy Englishman who didn’t know what he was talking about.

Apart from a little Berlusconi bashing, Jones experiences and observations about Italy are insightful even if they are at times a little superficial.

It is a truthful book which expresses the frustration many foreigners feel while adjusting to living life in Italy and highlights the seedy underbelly of corruption which is a blemish in the contemporary Italian character.

 

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Photo by Fré Sonneveld on Unsplash

 

Laurie Fabiano: Elizabeth Street

This wonderfully poignant personal family history was a labour of love written by the great-granddaughter of Calabrian migrants to America.

It is an epic tale and covers a journey which includes the vibrancy of 1900’s New York bustling with immigrants, the Messina-Calabrian earthquake, Mafia bombings and kidnappings.

The lovingly way Laurie Fabiano weaves the intimate details of her family as they move through different countries, experiences and generations with amazing perseverance and strength is what ultimately stays with you after you live this rich reading experience.
It is a cinematographic story worthy of Scorsese or Ford Coppola.

 

Jhumpa Lahiri: In other words

This fantastic book is an extended love letter dedicated to the Italian language.

In Other Words is at heart a love story of a long and sometimes tricky courtship and a passion that verges on obsession: that of a writer for another language.

For Pulizer prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri Italian first captivated her during a trip to Florence after college. Seeking full immersion, she decided to move to Rome with her family, for a trial by fire diving into a new language and world.

The result of her love affair with Italian is a deeply philosophical memoir which reflects on the nature of language, expression and the art of writing.

 

 

For some specific Sicilian reading, recommendations see my post: Ten books to read instead of visiting Sicily and keep an eye out on my Reading Trincaria reading list which I update regularly.

 

 

10 things to keep in mind while planning a trip to Italy

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1) Don’t come in August

I’ve said this many times, you can visit throughout the year so don’t come in the most overcrowded, hot and humid part of the year when most Italians are on summer holidays it will be uncomfortable and you will never have an authentic experience.

September will be just as beautiful, autumn/fall will give you an excuse to taste the new wine, eat truffles and mushrooms and visit museums. Christmas and New Years are filled with traditions and delicacies. Easter and spring are perfect for the mild weather and religious festivities.

Just do your research, discover whatever your heart desires to experience on the peninsula, visiting archaeological sites in May will be so much better than in the heat of August. Museums are less crowded in the winter, food, music and religious festivals happen through the whole year. The best time to experience Italian culture in the theatres is actually in the middle of winter (Feb/March).

But then if you have your vacations in August and can’t get here any other time, then coming to Italy in August isn’t impossible it’s just hot and in holiday mode. Only try to stay cool by heading to the mountains or the beach and try to stay put during the week of Ferragosto (15th August) which is when the country has its main summer holiday, where you will find most places closed.

2) Avoid the trains in the South, unless …

Italy is perfect for slow travel, Italians are never in a hurry so you can take the time to savour a good meal, take a bus tour or the train. From Rome, upwards train journeys are fast, easy and affordable. But in the south things are not so easy, so unless you want to descend slowly into Dante’s Inferno with endless delays and cancelled trains so don’t do a long train journey. It’s easy to get a cheap flight down from Rome to Catania or Palermo and avoid the hassle.

Unless of course, you have time for a long-winded adventure. Once you are in Sicily, for example, feel free to take a shorter journey, day trips on the trains are fun, great for families, just be sure to take a packed lunch, water and give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination. Go around the Mount Etna volcano on the Circumetenea old railway, plan a trip from Palermo to Messina along the scenic coastline or check out the new  Treni Storici ( historic train journeys) a recent development by Treni Italia which have been designed to offer their passengers to stop at Sicilian wineries and other towns where excellent food is produced and to see the main sites. (link is in Italian)

3) Get out of the major cities

There is nothing wrong for first-time visitors to visit the major Italian capitals, but try to make it into smaller towns too. Italy is such a vibrant place to explore, hire a car and go track down a food festival or a well-known church, museum or villa you once read about in a magazine.

Yes, Tuscany is Florence, but it is also Lucca, Siena, Vinci, San Gimignano and another two hundred and seventy-six Tuscan towns to explore, each with their own food, traditions, history and festivals.

Why not pick another region to visit like Emilia Romagna in the north with cities like Piacenza, Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, Ferrara, Forlì and Rimini.

In the region of Piemonte, there is Turin, Cuneo, Asti, Alessandria, Vercelli, Novara, Biella or Verbano.

In the south dive into Puglia with towns like Bari, Foggia, Lecce, Taranto, Brindisi and Barletta.

Calabria is filled with possibilities and much fewer tourists in the seaside towns like Tropea, Isca Marina or Reggio which is connected to Messina by ferry and is a perfect gateway into Sicily.

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4) Be brave, hire a car

People are a little hesitant to drive in Italy, but if you get a chance to hire a car, it is worth the challenge and expense.

Driving around Italy will give you an opportunity to be autonomous, travel and stop where you like, and it allows you to get a sense of the landscape and geography of the place.

Yes, you will see some reckless drivers speeding past you, be frustrated by a lack of parking and autostrada fees but if you go off the beaten track, you can avoid many of these problems.

5) Learn a little Italian or at least get a guidebook

There is no need to be a fluent Italian speaker, but your visit will be so much better if you put in the effort to understand Italian culture, history and language. There are many great guidebooks which will give you an excellent general introduction and help you to do necessary things like ask directions or say please and thank you.

6) See something authentic

Please stay away from tourist traps, in Italy there is so much more than pizza and pasta. Go to eat at a Trattoria (family-run restaurant) where you will be treated to a good home cooked meal. Go to a Sagra (a local food festival), which happen all the time and give you a chance to taste local delicacies for a handful of Euros.
Experience local markets, there are always open-air markets, some are dedicated to food, others to flowers and many sell arts and crafts or antiques, even if you don’t buy anything it is a unique experience.
See a patron Saint celebration, every town has a Saintly protector celebrated during the year with their own local holiday, filled with markets, religious processions, fireworks, sagras, brass bands, free concerts, art exhibitions and also usually specially prepared dishes or sweets dedicated to each particular saint.
Every town will have its own local speciality, a particular type of pasta, wine, dessert, seafood dish, cheese, bread or domestic seasonal product. Taste it all!

7) Don’t be in a hurry

Italian’s are never in a rush, they are always fashionably late, they take their time to talk, taste and savour life. When you are visiting their country, try to leave space for the unexpected.

Slow food and travel make their home in Italy which gathers experiences rather than ticking off names on a bucket list.

8) Dive into the history and culture there’s plenty of it

Not even Italians are fully aware of all the history surrounding them, but if you want to appreciate this country, you should know a little.

In Sicily alone, there have been thirteen different invaders who have ruled over the island which has been inhabited since prehistory. Each invading culture has left behind distinct monuments and cultural footprints all over the island. From the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals/Goths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normas, Swedish, French, Spanish, Albanian, Austrians and English.

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9) Taste as many local delicacies as possible

I know I keep mentioning food, but the Mediterranean diet is one of the most healthy and variegated cuisines around. Food is like a religion in Italy, if it isn’t fresh, delish and straightforward Italians won’t eat it.

From something simple like street food to a delicate gelato, fresh off the boat seafood, pizza sold by the metre or the best short black coffee you will ever drink, your taste buds will never forget the flavours of Italy.

10 ) Take home as much made in Italy as will fit in your luggage

There are many Italian artisans, small businesses and ancient crafts that exist only in Italy, help keep them alive by buying a good quality gift from Italy.

There is everything from ceramics, jewellery, wine, olive oil, pasta, biscuits, paintings, sculptures, stationery, leather goods, gold work, textiles, coral, silverwork, and fashion. You will come across endless things to treasure and bring home.

Stay away from cheap and nasty Chinese stuff at markets, buy directly from small established boutiques for guaranteed quality, you might pay more, but it will be worth it.
Be sure to check if you can bring in certain foodstuffs through the customs laws in your own country.

For example, in Australia, you can bring in anything that is cooked (i.e., cakes and biscuits) or sealed adequately like olive oil for individual consumption. But you will need to declare anything made out of wood or fresh foodstuffs to be inspected and possibly thrown out (things like cheeses, salami and Nutella will not be allowed to enter the country, unfortunately). If in doubt simply declare it when you arrive and in the worst case scenario it will be taken away from you but if you get to keep it, bonus points for you!

Sicilian Splendors: discovering the secret places that speak to the heart

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Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

 

I discovered the work of John Keahey by accident a few years ago when his first book about Sicily (Seeking Sicily: a cultural journey through myth and reality in the heart of the Mediterranean) randomly popped up on my Amazon search for books on my usual trawl through the internet for inspiration.
After a quick, effortless click, John Keahey’s book was instantly on my e-reader. This turned out to be a beautiful discovery, and to my delight I soon found this book to be only the last in a succession of many dedicated to Italy.

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It was apparent I’d review it for Sicily Inside and Out and I definitely wanted to do an interview as I had with other excellent authors who have been inspired by Sicily and in turn become an inspiration to me.
John Keahey is a retired American journalist who has gradually fallen more and more deeply in love with Sicily through the years ever since his first visit in 1986.
I sent an email to Keahey’s publisher, but I didn’t get an immediate response and then found him on Facebook and messaged him. He said yes, to my surprise and I emailed him some questions. Here is the original article about his first Sicilian themed travel book Seeking Sicily.

 

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After that, we became virtual acquaintances on Facebook, his comments, likes and questions about my Sicilian posts and on the struggles I’ve had writing my first book have become most welcomed. I like to think we are friends, even though we haven’t met in person just yet, we still encourage one another through our shared love of writing and this complex Mediterranean island.

When he said he was working on a new book about small Sicilian villages, my heart skipped a beat at the prospect of yet another excellent book about Sicily and I’m happy to report it is now available.

This time I preordered on Amazon and on the day of its release Sicilian Splendors: discovering the secret places that speak to the heart magically appeared, automatically downloaded onto my e-reader.

 

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What makes John Keahey’s approach to Sicily so special is his dedication to slow travel. He explores a place through its history, people, food, landscape and in turn crafts his own personal story which is a pleasure to read.

John is an exceptional traveller and writer, not a simple tourist blindly ticking things off a senseless status driven bucket list he is drawn to a place through his own personal interests and he then lets chance and his ability to connect with people around him to guide him.

In short, Keahey is exploring Sicily precisely as it should be, driving by car to small non-touristy places, making contact with the locals, pulling out threads of history, literature, culture and current events that intrigue him and then following them back to their original source. His journalistic approach is refreshing and offers up many fascinating insights.

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It is a pleasure to see Sicily through John’s eyes as he is always so open to the world around him, he sits with the pensioners in the piazza, knocks back double espressos and cornetti like a local, puffs on Italian cigars, savours every meal and tries to understand Sicily more and more deeply with every visit.

He’s never in a hurry, always stops to ask polite questions and is opened to the art of spontaneity and surprise which never disappoints. Sicily is definitely a place which offers its best when visitors give themselves space to be creative. It is difficult to plan anything in Sicily as things tend to develop organically and randomly.

Whenever he visits Sicily, he tries to live it from a locals perspective, and the result is a wonderfully personal travelogue which reflects the true nature of Sicily. It is always a pleasure to travel with John Keahey, he makes is wonderful company and his passion is contagious.

 

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I hope to meet John Keahley on his next visit to Sicily and finally offer him a double espresso and cornetto while secretly hoping to get a Sicilian themed trilogy from him.

I was even surprised to see my name in the acknowledgements at the end of Sicilian Splendors, which is undeniably kind and I thank him very much.

The new book Sicilian Splendors: Discovering the Secret Places that Speak to the Heart has just been released this November (2018) and is available on Amazon (also in audio book format).

Seeking Sicily is still available on  Amazon.

Yuletide Sicily

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 fewer 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.

Winter on the island over the past few years has been rather pleasant, apart from the chilly weather, a definite chill in the air, some rain it is quite rare to see snow be deposited around most of the island, apart from of the higher parts and the snowfields of the Madonie Mountains and Etna’s favourite skiing tracks.

The focus of December is as always about the food and traditions, the advent calendar is filled with roasted chestnuts in the squares, folk concerts around churches, food festivals dedicated to things like fried dumplings and other sweets. Wine is always featured in winter feats, and roasted pork is the featured meat dish.

As Christmas gets closer there impromptu folk music performances featuring traditional instruments like the Sicilian bagpipe or zampogna. Religious art is always a firm part of the Christmas season with exhibitions of detailed dioramas of the Nativity in Papier Mache, or even live reenactments of the nativity tale from the Bible.

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Every major city has its own traditional characteristic Christmas markets filled with folk art, Christmas decorations and food and wine stands which are also common in other European cities.

In Sicily, the religious festivals are as always a substantial part of the events and include everything from the feast days of St Barbara, the Immaculate Conception, San Nicola di Bari, St Lucy, Santo Natale, San Silvestro (New Year’s Eve) through to and the Epiphany in early January.

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Photo by Charl van Rooy on Unsplash

The festive table is always filled with baroque bounties where the best of what is available is consumed liberally throughout Sicily.

Christmas celebrations are seriously religious here in Italy, but the true religion is not in a church but at the table, a hedonistic ritual which demands extensive preparation and consumption. Celebrations begin on the Eve’s. Yes, the most important meals are Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve which stuff you with so much food you don’t want to eat for an entire year.

The Italian Cenone is the essence of gluttony.

A Sicilian menu is endless: starting with appetisers like bruschetta, arancini rice balls, fried bread batter, canapes, cheeses, ham and cold meats. Then a selection of at least two different pasta dishes which could be anything like lasagna, cannelloni, tortellini, farfalle or fusilli prepared with an array of rich sauces ranging from hefty béchamel flavoured with smoked salmon, porcini mushrooms or the classic Bolognese. The menu varies depending on which part of Italy you find yourself. Some believe each Vigilia must be celebrated only with seafood.

A typical menu can include main courses of roasted beef, pork, lamb, chicken, baby kid, wild boar, stuffed pigs feet, fried crumbed veal cutlets, fried baccalà or dried and salted cod, seafood salad, Russian coleslaw or lobster. Everything is washed down with red and white wines, topped off with a selection of exotic and winter fruits such as pineapple, dried figs stuffed with hazelnuts, oranges, mandarines.

 

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Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Then there is the obligatory slab of Panettone or Pandoro Christmas cake for those who don’t like sultanas or caramelised fruit. Not to mention the endless desserts like drenched liquor dumplings, cannoli, profiterole cream puffs and alike!
Finally, there is a glass of sparkling Spumante for good luck, before a night of indigestion and antacids.

For those brave of heart and strong of stomach you might indulge in a shot of digestive liquor ranging from potent Grappa, sour as hell Amaro, lemony Lemoncello or deliciously light chocolate or hazelnut delights.

The Cenone is sacred, and it’s only once a year, thank goodness!

The abundance of Christmas provisions serves to be shared with equally abundant friends and family as the festive season is where the gregarious Italian culture finds its true expression, it is excessive but needs to be as you never know how many relatives will show up between Christmas and new years.

Here below is my own personal list of events in Sicily this December (2018) for you to pin and use as a guide on your Yuletide planning.

Buon Natale to everyone and to all a good Nye celebration.

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Yuletide Sicily

Rebuilding Messina

 

The most powerful recorded earthquake to hit Europe struck Messina at about 5:20 AM local time. Its epicentre was under the Strait of Messina, which separates the island of Sicily from the province of Calabria, the “toe” of Italy’s geographical “boot.” The main shock lasted for more than 20 seconds, and its magnitude reached 7.5 on the Richter scale.
Ten minutes later a tsunami brought waves estimated to be 13 metres high crashing down on the coasts of northern Sicily and southern Calabria. More than 80,000 people were killed in the disaster. Many of the survivors were relocated to other Italian cities; others immigrated to the United States.

Experts long surmised that the tsunami resulted from seafloor displacement caused by the earthquake. However, research completed in the early 21st century suggests that an underwater landslide, unrelated to the quake, triggered the tsunami.

The Messina shoreline was irrevocably altered as large sections of the coast sunk into the sea. Houses, churches, palaces and monuments, military barracks: commercial, municipal and public buildings had all collapsed entirely or were severely damaged. Many structures were cracked shells, roofless, windowless and standing upright precariously.

Initially, authorities adopted a plan to demolish the remaining structures of Messina and transfer the city and its port elsewhere in Sicily, but this was discarded after loud protests from the Messinesi.

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The area around where today’s Cairoli square is at Messina was at the centre of the city’s rebirth after the 1908 disaster. Piazza Cairoli became the ground zero of the new town and was the main area where temporary housing was built for the newly homeless of Messina.

The square was a makeshift area made up of a tent hospital, premade wooden houses donated by countries like Switzerland, Russia and the United States, a printer and a chapel.

In the reconstruction of the city, many of Messina’s historic Palazzi was too severely damaged to be fixed and were merely knocked down while some more modern buildings built later in the fascist period were irrationally demolished to make way for modern apartment buildings in a rush to make profits. Beautiful buildings from the 1930’s like Cinema Trincaria and Cinema Teatro Peloro Anni (pictured above)  were unfortunately sacrificed for Messina’s need for public housing.

Piazza Cairoli is dedicated to the Cairoli brothers, two heroes from the period of the Italian unification. Today it is a green, fresh piece of garden in the centre of the city, divided in two by the tram lines and the main streets of the town Via Garibaldi and Viale S. Martino.

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Today there is no reference to the disaster whatsoever in the open space, it is simply a beautiful square popular with the locals because of its proximity to the best shopping in the city.

Around the piazza there are many bars, gelaterias and restaurants, hile along the furthest part of the piazza, the most well known Italian fashion brands have their stores, which makes this area the high-end shopping district of the city.

It is a beautiful part of the city and is the focus of events throughout the year, from street food festivals to the quaint Christmas markets every year. It’s lovely on a Sunday for a quick coffee or an ice cream.

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During the week you will see many families stroll around the square with their children, or take a moment to sit in the shade on a hot day and catch the tram to different parts of the city. It is also where the local MacDonalds is located so there will often be groups of teenagers slurping soft drinks. While others use it as a meeting spot before or after their shopping sprees.

The memory of the time when Messina was practically erased from existence seems to have been forgotten as this thriving modern, cosmopolitan city busily goes about its daily business.

The Normans in Messina

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The Chiesa di San Tommaso Apostolo il Vecchio is a precious artefact of the Norman period of Sicily. It dates back between 1061 and 1109 under the reign of Count Roger the first, a French Catholic ruler whose crusading knights left for the Middle East from the port of Messina.

For many years it was known as the church of the Concezione delle Vergini Riparate until it was given the name of San Tommaso Apostolo from 1530.

It is a fantastic example of Norman Arab architecture, which borrowed the dome structure of the Mosque and placed within the very stoic, classic lines of the Norman style.

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Walking past the tiny church right in the centre of Messina fills the imagination with images from of Sicilian history, you can almost see the crusaders ending their prayers and galloping onwards to the port and then the holy land.

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Sicilian churches and cathedrals simply take my breathe away, the mixture of extravagant styles from baroque, Norman, Gothic, Romanesque, Catalanian and many more. Together with the tremendous artistry of marble work, sculptures, woodwork and small details unique to this part of the world which easily mixes so many cultures in its complex history.

The Church of the Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani in Messina a most unexpected church to visit. It is literally only a short walk away from the Cathedral at Messina and is easily missed as its entrance is located under street level hidden down a flight of stairs it is often closed but if you are lucky to sneak inside you will see one of the best examples of Norman architecture on Sicily.

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The church dates from the 12th century, built on top of the ruins of an older temple dedicated to Neptune, the church is a beautiful mix of different cultural elements. The church displays influences from Arab and Byzantine architecture and also contains Roman elements.

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The central apse is well-preserved with small intricate bricks which form an archway around a beautiful dark-skinned Christ on a crucifix at its centre. The church is popularly used for local weddings, and if you are lucky to see it decorated for such an event, it is truly spectacular.

The name of the church comes from merchants from Catalonia who established a presence in Messina in the 16th century.