Messina’s Madonna

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Messina has a special connection to its Parton the Virgin Mary. Not only does she welcome the ships into the port with her giant golden statue at the entrance of the naturally formed inlet. She has many churched dedicated to her, and her image is at the centre of the city’s immense faith and religious celebrations.

On the third of June, a procession is dedicated to the Sacred Hair of Mary, a single strand of hair which according to the myth was tied around the letter sent to the city. The scroll is part of a procession around the town for the Madonna della Lettera.

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For the mid-August holidays, a float is constructed in her honour at Messina. The Vara, an elaborate cart depicts the biblical structure of the universe from the earth up to the heavens completed with a hierarchy of angels ending with the image of Christ who supports his mother in the palm of his hand raising her into the sky as she ascends body and soul into heaven.

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The ornate structure is pulled along basic iron slides by the Messinese with long tow ropes while singing praises to Mary. The celebration has a long history and is central to the city’s expression of faith and trust in their patron.

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The Quattro Fontane (four fountains) once dominated the corners of the two main streets of the city in pre-1908 Messina between Via Austria (now via I Settembre) and Via Cardines. The decorative fountain heads were constructed between 1666 and 1742.

The immense structures were symbolic of the city’s beauty and aesthetics before the disaster hit. Palermo’s surviving Quattro Canti mimic the style and grandeur of what Messina’s four fountains may have been.

The first fountain was designed by Florentine architect I. Mangani while later in 1717 the second was made by a local sculpture Ignazio Buceta. While the final two were completed in 1742 by unknown artists.

Detail quattro fontane Messina

Damaged significantly in the 1908 earthquake the two remaining fountains have been reassembled in the surviving stretch of Via Cardines, while fragments of the other fountains in this series are preserved in the Regional Museum of Messina together with many artefacts left behind in the aftermath of the destruction of the city.
The details in the two reconstructed fountain heads recall the influence of the Tuscan and Roman style which was popular in the seventeenth century. The elaborate decorative heads and features remember elements of mythology and the artistry behind their designs is obvious.

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Even if only a little part of these fountains survived, it is certain they were terrific to witness when they first became a part of the city of Messina.

Making your own Dolce Vita

The #dolcevitabloggers have chosen to explore the concept of the Dolce Vita in Italy. There is a fine line between loving and visiting the bel paese as a tourist and the reality of living here, in the search for your own personal sweet life. So cheers to Kelly from italianatheart.com, Jasmine from questadolcevita.com and Kristie of mammaprada.com for choosing such a fascinating topic this month. I can’t wait to read everyone’s posts.

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For more on how to join in on the fun click here.

 

 

I have a problem with people who idealise Italy, there are countless bloggers, Instagrammers and YouTubers who fall into the trap of depicting life in Italy and in general as an unrealistic bowl of cherries. Let’s be honest the world is far from perfect, and when you come to Italy, it isn’t going to be like Eat, Pray and Love or Under the Tuscan sun. But Italy does give you the freedom to make your own path. There is always a way to find or create your own Dolce Vita.

 

Making your own Dolce Vita

 

 

I live in Sicily which has a bad reputation when it comes to employment, so if you are the competitive type, a move to Sicily is not going to give you a better career. One popular joke describes the typical islander work environment as one Sicilian doing all the work and five others looking on at him. It’s probably more exact to say one Sicilian being paid and the others pretending not to do anything but secretly working and getting paid ‘under the table’ as no one can afford to pay all the taxes.

There is something about the South, all over the world which inspires a laid-back attitude to life coupled with decadence, idleness and corruption. It could be the heat, the poverty or history …

Sicily has always been the most downtrodden, taxed, molested, dominated and trampled part of Italy. If you read anything about the history of the island, you will be surprised by an endless diatribe of conquests, violent wars, pestilence and persistent subterfuge to most major world powers from the middle ages to modern times. No wonder Sicilian’s are so hedonistic as in their past everything has literally been taken away from them.

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Unemployment is a concern throughout the peninsula, many Italians are forced to invent their own jobs. Over the past decade, for example, there has been a succession of young Italian creatives who have set up online businesses to export their own creativity overseas. Unfortunately thanks to the current economic crisis Italy is experiencing a massive ‘brain drain’ as many brilliant Italian entrepreneurs and students are leaving to work abroad, as many industries are closing down in Italy and moving offshore, tax levels are on the hike, and the economy is going in the wrong direction.
My own experience in the Sicilian work environment is almost as long and convoluted as the Sicilian penal code. As a foreigner, you will be starting off with a distinct disadvantage, and I discovered as an ‘extracomunitaria’, or as someone born out of Europe, my academic qualifications and even drivers license are not recognised in Italy.
I cannot tell you how many dead ends I came across while trying to have my degree recognised so I could teach in Sicilian schools or at least continue my studies. Someone told me I’d have to redo my entire degree. One politician said he’d validate everything with his big magic official stamp and even promised me a job as a ‘mother tongue English specialist,’ I’m still waiting on the phone call!
I have long since given up on the academic side of my life. And as for my driver’s license is concerned I will continue to renew my ‘International’ one until I find the time to swallow my pride to sit the written and practical tests together with skintight-jeans-wearing, eye-shadow-smeared high school children.

 

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Since coming to Sicily, I’ve become a master of odd jobs and doing-all-kinds-of-shite-to make-ends-meet (this title is so on my resume) from the secretary in my husband’s architectural office, translator, interpreter, to English tutor of unmotivated ‘Liceo linguistico’. These language-based high schools are a particular breed of young adults forced to study the likes of Shakespeare, D.H Lawrence and James Joyce in implausible Literature programs when they are unable to string a simple sentence together in English.

It is difficult enough to explain the significance of Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ monologue to a bored Anglo Saxon student, but you can imagine the hours of fun doing it all in Italian, to a student who is studying English only to make his parents happy. It’s a real barrel of monkeys with much screeching and gesticulating, mostly on my part.

 

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Nowadays my English students have almost disappeared, my work boils down to tricking people into occasionally publishing my articles, working with the primary schools in individual after-school English courses, some online work and my own personal passion projects.

Most of my work in Sicily has been either underpaid or not paid at all. That’s not to say there aren’t work opportunities in Italy, there is a huge tourist industry, and in the major cities, foreigners will find work opportunities in I.T, fashion, language teaching and childcare areas. You’re not going to become a millionaire, but you will find a way of making a living to stay in one of the most fascinating countries on the planet, even if this may involve lowering your standards or getting a second job as a waitress or shop assistant to make ends meet.

 

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In small-town Sicily, where things are usually much more slow-paced and the time in between work is getting longer, there is nothing to do other than adopt a Sicilian ‘dolce far niente’ approach. This attitude of pleasant idleness has become almost a torture for this workaholic expat who keeps slamming her head forcefully into a wall of culture shock, which I always forget to look out for.
Living in the moment is normal for Sicilians but I worry about my savings, career and future and so these are challenging times for this unwilling expat who is always having to adjust. Sicily is perfect for reflection, writing, history, food and wine and finding stories. Work is not essential as life tends to disrupt employment in Sicily.
My Dolce Vita is about finding a balance between my work and life in general. I love how Italians will always choose to savour the moment, yet for me, work is something I cannot do without. I try to do as Italians do with their love of life while always working on my passions.

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Want to read past Dolce Vita Blogger Link-Ups? Check out the links below!

#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #7 June 2018 – Italian Hidden Gems

​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #6 May 2018 – Five Italian Words

​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #5 April 2018 – The Perfect Day in Italy

​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #4 March 2018 – International Women’s Day

#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #3 February 2018 – A Love Letter to Italy

#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #2 January 2018 – Favourite Italian City

​#DolceVitaBloggers Linkup – #1 December 2017 – ‘The Italian Connection

Smoky roasted Artichokes

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The Sicilian spring is moody as the weather fluctuates between rain and days of glorious sun. The Sciroccio wind whips itself up from the African desert and pushes the seasons along.

White blossoms in the fruit trees blend with shadowy greys. The spring is an armistice which allows the winter to gradually surrender itself and begin the cycle again.

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Sicilian artichokes are as prickly as the late winter weather, but after their external spikes are removed the internal fleshy flower is a delicate balm for the cold. 

The artichoke is a thistle and comes from the same family as the sunflower. This edible flower is a native of the Mediterranean and dates back to ancient Greek times when they were cultivated in Italy and Sicily.

Greek mythology tells how Zeus created the artichoke from a beautiful mortal woman. While visiting his brother Poseidon, Zeus spied a beautiful young woman, he was so pleased with the girl named Cynara, that  he decided to make her a goddess. Cynara agreed, however she grew homesick and snuck back home to visit her family. Zeus discovered this and became angry, throwing Cynara back to earth and transforming her into a plant.

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Cynar is an Italian liqueur which gets its name from the artichoke and the mythological origins of this plant. This bitter alcoholic drink is made from thirteen different plants including the artichoke. It is generally drunk straight as an after dinner digestive or as a cocktail mixing it with soda water, tonic water and lemon, lime or orange juice.

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It is always a joy to prepare artichokes as part of the Sicilian table every year. They may seem difficult but they are versatile, easily stuffed and the tender internal leaves can be prepared separately as a pasta condiment. The discarded stalks can also be blanched in hot water, then blended together to make a creamy pesto like mixture.

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The best way to prepare the first tender artichokes of the season is to stuff them with a combination of fresh spring aromas like pancetta, parsley, spring onions, garlic, finely sliced celery, a pinch of hot chilli pepper, all soaked in a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon and then cooking them slowly over hot coals, or ‘a braci’ as they say in the local dialect. 

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Covering the richly flavoured artichokes with hot smoking embers and letting the stuffing’s taste gradually imbue itself into the artichoke is the best. The tough external leaves are crusty and burnt but act as a protective shell until the internal tender parts are fully cooked. The fat of the bacon melts and amalgamates with the sweetness of the vegetable in an irresistible smoky flavour. 

I love preparing them for my Birthday in late February every year. The only flowers I ever truly enjoy are a bouquet of carciofi.

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Vedi qua il post anche in Italiano: Carciofi affumicati e arrostiti

Caronte & Circe

Caronte & Circe

July in Sicily is pleasant, the heat is more persistent and less of a novelty, in fact, people begin to take summer for granted after spending June lying on a warm rock soaking up vitamin D, like a scaly lizard who has just hatched out of its winter shell.

The wind is fluctuating bringing bursts of cool and heat, like the currents of the sea surprising your skin with contrasting moments of soothing warmth and nipping chills.

Immersed in conflicting sensations pushing against one another the weather accidentally gets tangled up with itself as August pushes towards September with the changing seasons.

The ancient Greeks gave us the myth of Demeter the Goddess of nature and fertility who plunges the world into winter as her daughter Persephone is taken away from her to live in the underworld as the wife of Hades the lord of the ancients afterlife. To this day the dominance of a mother’s joy at seeing her daughter wins over the interminable frozen heart of grief and loss. The respite of summer is so brief before the thought of losing her daughter again chills Demeter’s heart and the world again.

Apollo brings his scirocco to breathe from across the desert as the majestic mistral pushes it back towards Autumn/ Fall.

Italian weathermen report of the battle between Caronte and Circe. The epic struggle between the heat and the cold of Italy creates stifling heat in August and crazy summer storms, flooding and tornadoes.

Circe, a goddess of magic, a mix of nymph and witch daughter of Helios, god of the sun who was able to distract and enchant Ulysses so well on his journey back to Ithaca in the Odyssey tortures the peninsular through the torrid summer.

Charon, the ferryman of Hades, who carries the souls of the deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divide the world of living from the dead. Charon’s winter is as cold as death and eventually gets the upper hand over the sorceress, bringing the end of summer.

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The Dangerously Truthful Diary of A Sicilian Housewife

Diary of a sicilian housewife

I have been following Veronica Di Grigoli’s blog for a few years now, laughing along at the Sicilian Housewife’s  struggles and humorous confusion associated with day-to-day life in Sicily as an expat.

Now the blog has become a wonderfully polished and hilarious laugh-out-loud-belly-laughing-thigh-slapping book and I cannot resist expressing my absolute delight! The Dangerously truthful diary of a Sicilian Housewife  is set under the biting heat of the Sicilian sun and sirocco, deep in small town Sicily, far away from anything you can ever imagine.

I happily talked to my fellow Sicilian based blogger friend recently about her life in Sicily and openly encourage everyone to read a copy of her hilarious book, which should be required reading for anyone considering a Sicilian life.

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 So how on earth did you end up living in Sicily?

I visited Palermo ten years ago for a wedding and it was literally love at first sight. Within a year I was living in a fishing village called Aspra, married and expecting our little boy.

Do you have much contact or interactions with other expats?

Very excitingly, a Malaysian friend has recently moved to my village. Apart from this, the only foreigners to be found where I live are African refugees asking me for food or a Euro to buy themselves a pair of flip-flops.

What should I absolutely see in Sicily?

I hardly know where to begin because there is so much to see here, but perhaps you should try to see Etna, Europe’s biggest and most active volcano; Monreale Cathedral with over 2,000 kilogrammes of gold and illustrations of the entire bible on its walls; and the Baroque town of Noto which is a UNESCO World heritage site.

 What should I be eating or drinking in Sicily?

First, a spleen sandwich of course! On day two, try an arancina, which is a shell of rice with a delicious bomb of meaty ragù or cheese or salmon inside. From day three onwards, live on ice-cream. Make sure you don’t omit pistachio, mulberry or mandarin orange and I advise double helpings of hazelnut.

What is the worst and best part of living in Sicily?

I once spent a year with no running water because so many neighbours had not paid their bills. The water company just decided to cut off the entire street.

What’s your perfect or typical day in your part of Sicily?

One fairly perfect day happened last summer when several neighbours I hated got arrested for being in the Mafia and locked up for years.

Another way to spend a lovely day is on the village beach in summer, where you always bump into friends who are fatter than you. (cf. item about ice cream).

If I was coming to you to do this interview where would we meet?

I would take you to Solunto, a city founded 3,000 years ago by Carthaginians from Tunisia, on a mountain with spectacular panoramic views across the sea. It’s ten minutes from my house.

Sicily is a focus of so much Italian history, what’s your favourite part of the tapestry?

The invasion from North Africa in the 11th century.

The Moors explain why there is so much cultural difference between northern and southern Italy. The ancient Romans had a very different mentality, all about discipline, self-sacrifice and hard work. I cannot find a trace of that in modern Sicily or southern Italy!

Besides this, the Moors invented ice-cream, and pasta as we know it, and majolica ceramics and many construction techniques found in almost all of Europe’s cathedrals. They created so much of what we consider Italian. 

Tell us about your professional life; how do you make ends meet in Sicily?

That’s proving difficult lately. In Sicily you have to look for work wherever you can find it so I do some consultation projects, some translation work, I have authored and translated several books and I am constantly seeking other opportunities.

My best source of income these days is my book “Sicilian Card Games: An Easy-to-follow Guide”.

 

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You have a young son, how has motherhood been in Sicily?

When my son was a toddler, he would get smothered in kisses wherever we went. The postman, the chemist and all the fishermen in the village would kiss him, cuddle him and offer him sweets. Absolutely any Sicilian restaurant would rearrange half their tables to make space for our push chair, and offer to warm up bottles of baby formula too.

Sicilians treat everyone’s bambini as their own and I love it… though it can make it difficult to avoid your child becoming spoiled!

I know you teach ESL, how is it teaching in Sicily? Is it easy to find work and are your students as lethargic as in other parts of Italy?

Teaching classes of Sicilian primary school children makes you lose your voice and can induce insanity, so I have always tried to focus on adult private students instead. Most of them were lively, motivated and very interesting to teach; I have taught lots of doctors, medical researchers and scientists, which I loved.

Over the last three years the level of demand for private lessons has steadily declined and I now only have one!

Do you think Italy is a ‘monocultural’ society?

Yes. In Sicily, the Spanish brought the Inquisition in the 15th century and being anything other than a conformist Roman Catholic meant death. The culture of fear drove people to start speaking the same dialect, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food and doing whatever it took to avoid standing out.

The suspicion of what is foreign and fear of what is different flourishes in Sicilian culture to this day.

How is your Italian? Any advice for others trying to pick up Italian? Do you speak with a Sicilian accent?

I speak with an English accent!

The best way to master a foreign language is to hang around children. They will not let a SINGLE mistake go. My little boy provides this service for me full time these days. Anyone without a fluent Italian-speaking kid of their own should do whatever it takes to borrow someone else’s!

How did you first come to the blogging world?

My friends all wanted to know what this place is really like. The Sicily of the movies and the media has nothing to do with the real Sicily. When a friend started a blog I realised it would be the perfect way to tell everyone at once!

Tell us about your wonderful blog, The dangerously truthful diary of a Sicilian housewife?

I write three kinds of posts: photo posts of beautiful places in Sicily, “diary” posts which make people laugh, and opinion posts about current events and issues which affect us all.

As well as being a hilarious blogger you are also a pretty skillful writer, tell us about that …

Thank you for the compliments: keep them coming!

I was one of those kids who read thousands of books under the bed covers using a torch after my mother had told me to go to sleep. I think the best way to improve your writing skills is to read as many examples of good writing as possible.

 So what’s coming up on Sicilian housewife? Any new projects you’d like to talk about.

I am about to have another spate of guest blogging, writing and interviewing for other websites and inviting guest bloggers to write for mine.

I’m also planning to start interviewing some Sicilians from various walks of life for my blog… though that may not come online until summer!

Sicilian fisherman

Be sure to read Veronica’s blog: The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife and like her Facebook page.

All images have been lovingly lifted from The Sicilian Housewife.

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Veronica Di Grigoli was born in London and has worked in Istanbul, London, Milan, New York, Zurich, Frankfurt and Palermo.

She studied Classics at Cambridge University, and fell in love with Italy and all things Italian… including one man in particular!

She now lives in Palermo with her husband and son, cooking dangerously large portions of pasta, driving her car among maniacs, and trying to avoid sunburn when it is forty degrees centigrade.

She loves the weird and wacky side of living abroad and learning the hidden secrets of foreign cultures.

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The poetry of Theresa Maggio

Theresa Maggio

One of the most surprising finds in my journey into Sicily was the discovery of the works of American journalist Theresa Maggio.

Her concise poetic prose distils the true essence of Sicily in an almost intoxicating style.
Maggio’s intimate memoirs are delicate little stories which distil the essence of the character of the island.

From the ancient traditions in her novella Mattanza; love and death in the sea of Sicily where she describes the great blue tuna being lifted out the men harvest the bluefin, lifting them by hand from a labyrinthine trap used by fishermen at Favignana. The fishermen no longer use this technique, with the advent of commercial fishing this tradition has ended, yet the songs and struggles of these workers are lovingly recorded by Maggio for prosperity.

The distinct personality of the isolated old towns in her second book, The stone boudoir; travels through the hidden villages of Sicily are wonderfully evocative. Maggio’s ability to paint such vivid portraits, allows us to visit these rustic mountain towns and the women who help to keep them alive.

Her voice was one of the first voices I heard from Sicily, and it indeed spoke loudly, clearly and directly to my romantic, poetic soul.

I was thrilled to get in contact with Theresa Maggio and talk to her about her work.

 

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Your first two books Mattanza and Stone Boudoir came from a part of your own personal family history and experience tell us about how they happened together.

Yes, my first connection to Sicily was through my family. I first went there when I was still in college to see where my paternal grandparents had come from and to meet the relatives who were still there.

Back home years later I actually started writing about the little towns I had visited in 1986, when I lived in Mondello, where Piero the fisherman would take care of my dog while I went off on bus joy rides into the hinterlands. Santa Margherita Belice, my ancestral town, was one of my destinations. But so was Favignana. My friend, writer Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) , was my first reader, God bless her, and when she read the Favignana chapter I guess it popped and she said, “Here’s your book. Write this.” And that was how Mattanza was born. But I still had all these stories I wanted to tell about beautiful little medieval mountain towns, so as soon as Mattanza was finished I wrote a five-page proposal for Stone Boudoir and Perseus Books, Mattanza’s publisher, bought that too.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read them?

Colourful narrative nonfiction that makes you feel like you were there.

Was it difficult to find an audience/publisher for these books at all?

HAH. For the first one? You bet. I had given up. It took years. I saved all my rejection notes. A simple “no thanks” would have sufficed, but one editor wrote back something like, ”WhatEVER made you think I or anyone else would POSSIBLY be interested in reading a book about men killing tuna?” You’ve got to have a thick skin. No matter, I used it for fuel (“I’ll show HIM!) and forged ahead.

Years later when the book was about to be published I asked my friend and journalism school classmate (and your compatriot), Geraldine Brooks, to read it and write a blurb. She, without knowing about that editor’s stinging comment, came up with this opening line: “If you think you do not want to read a book about the death of tuna, think again….”

I was so pleased with my editor and publisher, Perseus Books, distribution and general treatment at Perseus Books that I offered my second book exclusively to them and they took it with just a mini-proposal and a few sample chapters.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write a book based on their own family history or heritage?

As for any book, figure out what makes you passionate about your subject and use that for your motor. If your people immigrated, learn the foreign language you need to learn to do the research on site.

You are working on a new book about Palermo, tell us about this new work?

It’s about good people in the historic centre who love their city, be it the people or the stones, and how they show that love by their actions.  

Do you consider yourself an Italo-American writer or does this classification bother you?

I am Siculo-American (and German–American) whether I like or not, and so far all my books have been about Sicily, so I really couldn’t complain even if it did bother me.

Your writing style is beautifully precise, intense and almost poetic, are you at all influenced by the poetic genre and if so by who.

Thanks for such a wonderful compliment. You know, back in grade school the nuns had us memorize and recite stanzas of nineteenth-century poems. I think something rubs off. I learned to appreciate rhythm and rhyme. Robert Frost is my favourite, but I also liked John Donne. I used to compose poems when I was a kid, but then I quit because I wasn’t very good at it, and for other reasons, but I thought that from then on I would turn my energy to write better declarative sentences.

Also, in journalism school, one professor advised us to read a favourite author the night before writing a piece, because that author will flavour your writing. It is true, and it works.

I actually do write a poem in the morning these days, with my left hand, as a warm-up, and to connect to the right hemisphere of my brain. I think it works and sometimes the poems are funny.

Sicilian Cart

Do you visit Sicily often? How would you describe contemporary Sicily?

Well, legally, without a visa, I can only be there for three months out of the year. So recently it has been nearly once a year, for three months at a time to get the most value out of a plane ticket.

The second question – too big for my brain.

You have a background as a journalist, do you think this has influenced your writing if so how?

Definitely. You know being classified as an Italian-American writer doesn’t bother me but having my books reviewed as memoirs really grates. Because in memoirs you can filch and make up quotes and facts you supposedly remember from long ago, whereas I consider my books first-person narrative non-fiction. Every word is true. I wrote Mattanza in such a way that it could be fact-checked by the New Yorker, just in case they ever wanted to publish an excerpt. (Never happened.) They might have had a hard time fact-checking the dream I reported, but I do keep a dream journal.

Why do you find yourself returning to Sicily as a subject for your books, I’m sure it’s quite personal, but what captivates you so much about this island?

Sicily has been a good muse, that is true. You cannot beat it for natural beauty, climate, strata of history, cuisine and character of the people. Sicily is also affordable. I don’t have a lot of money, and when I go there I can rent a room in an apartment share or stay with friends who put me up in Catania. I speak Italian, understand a lot of dialects, I’ve done the reading, I have the contacts, I know and love the territory, so it is fertile ground for me. Like I said, you can peel Sicily like an onion and have an ever-deeper understanding of and appreciation for the island. Yes, if I had more money I would expand my territory. I never made it to Corsica in 1986 when I was sidetracked by a Mondello fisherman; I’d still like to go there and explore. I’d like to spend a year on the Isle of Jura, in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, with 5,000 red deer and not 200 people, where George Orwell holed up to write 1984 because the place was “un-get-attable”. But there is a satisfaction in knowing one place really well.

Do you have a favourite Italian or Sicilian author you want to share with us?

I’ve read Lampedusa’s The Leopard four times. I loved Vitaliano Brancati’s Don Giovanni in Sicilia. But Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series I just devour like popcorn. And immediately want more.

Are you working on any other interesting projects?

On the back burner until I sell this book (wish me luck): My video documentary about the incredible feast of Saint Agatha in Catania. It is ready to be edited, and is partially edited, but needs a professional touch and funding.

Sicilian Prickly Pears

A million thanks to Theresa Maggio for answering my questions and for the gift of her beautiful books about Sicily.

Her first Mattanza; love and death in the sea of Sicily is currently out of print but can be tracked down through your local public library while  The stone boudoir; travels through the hidden villages of Sicily is available on Amazon.

While her new book about Palermo is something to look forward to.

To read more about Theresa Maggio see her web page and YouTube channel (Vermont and Sicily), she always graciously replies to emails.

Theresa Maggio

Theresa Maggio says:

I was raised in Carlstadt, NJ, went to Catholic schools from K through 12. Double majored in French and English at Wells College, worked summers at a lodge cum stable in Vermont. Hitchhiked the states and some of Europe, learned to tend bar, cocktail waitressed, became a laser optics technician in Vermont, then was recruited by Los Alamos National Laboratory to work in their captive optics shop. Went to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and returned to Los Alamos as a science writer, covering, among other divisions, the nuclear weapons designers and the Nevada Test Site. Quit to go live with a fisherman I met on vacation in Mondello, Sicily and the rest is history.

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Flamboyant Italians: Platinette

Flamboyant

In contrast to the apparent ditziness of Cicciolina and Vladimir Luxuria I come to Mauro Coruzzi alias Platinette who has done so much more for LGBT rights, with a more sober approach.

Mauro Coruzzi has gradually worked his way up the ranks after many years of work as a journalist, broadcaster and t.v personality. He has never had any desire to go into politics but instead has created a larger than life drag Queen character.

Platinette is a no-nonsense, satirical, light-hearted and comic persona who isn’t afraid of stating her own honest and straightforward opinion. And Italian’s love her.

Recently Coruzzi performed a song together with Grazia Di Michele at the 2015 San Remo Italian Song Festival (both in drag and as himself). The song is an eloquent protest against discrimination and is about seeing the truth about people, it was an ambitious and beautiful project. Coruzzi not claiming to be a singer performed with great honesty and got his point across, even if the song finished dead last.

The song titled ‘Io sono una finestra’ (I am a window) is an eloquent piece of poetry which seeks to encourage people to be more tolerant and accepting of differences.

This is what LGBT activists in Italy should be striving for.

Platinette

Io sono una finestra (I am a window) – by Grazia Di Michele and Mauro Coruzzi (Platinette) – English translation by Rochelle Del Borrello- with apologies to any professional translators who may be offended by my awkward attempt!

Io sono una finestra velata di vapore/ I am a window covered with vapor
In questa notte gelida deserta ed incolore/ on this colourless,cold deserted night
Rispecchia la finestra la carne e le emotion/ the window reflects the emotions and the flesh
Di me che sono specchio delle contraddizioni/for me it is a mirror of contradictions
Difficile vedere se il vapore non evanesce/ it is difficult to see if the vapor doesn’t dissipate
L’appiccicosa errore di chi non capisce/ the sticky error of who doesn’t understand
Eppure su riflette un’ombra che è la mia/ and even so it reflects a shadow which is mine
Un’ombra di rossetto contro l’ipocrisia/ the reflection of lipstick against the hypocrasy
Io non so mai chi sono eppure sono io/I never know who I am and yet I am myself
Anche se oltre il vetro per me/ even if on the other side of the glass for me
Non c’è mai un Dio/ there is never a God
Ma questo qui è il mio corpo benché cangiante e strano/ but this here is my body even if it is shimmering and strange
Di donna dentro un uomo eppure essere…umano/ Of a woman inside a man or even a human being
Sfogliando le parole di questa età corriva/ Reading the words of this fast age
Divento moralismo e fantasia lasciva/ I become moralistic and leave behind fantasy
Crisalide perenne costretta in mezzo al guado/ forced to be an eternal crysalis while forging against the current
Mi specchio alla finestra e sono mio malgrado/ I am my reflection in the window despite myself
Io non so mai chi sono io per la gente/I never know who I am for other people
Coscienza iconoclasta volgare irriverente / Iconoclastic conscience vulgar and irreverent
Ma questo è solo un corpo il riflesso grossolano/ but this is only a body with a big reflection
Di donna o forse uomo comunque essere umano/ Of a woman or perhaps man either way human being
Io non so mai chi sono eppure sono e vivo/I never know who I am and yet I am and I live
Più del pregiudizio che scortica captive/ with prejudice as my sordid prison
Ma quando spio il mio corpo che si riflette piano/ but when I spy my body which reflects a level
Non c’è una donna o un uomo, solo un essere umano/ there is no woman or man only a human being
Io non so mai chi sono eppure sono e vivo/I never know who I am and yet I am and I live
Più del pregiudizio che scortica captive/ with prejudice as my sordid prison
Ma quando spio il mio corpo che si riflette piano/but when I spy my body which reflects a level
Non c’è donna o uomo solo un essere… Umano/ there is no woman or man only a human being

Io sono una finestra che aspetta che il vapore/ I am a window who waits for the vapor
svanisca come un sogno./ to vanish like a dream.

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Flamboyant Italians: Vladimir Luxuria

Flamboyant

Vladimir Luxuria came into the popular Italian mainstream after she was elected into the European parliament in 2006 as a member of the Communist Refoundation Party.

Luxuria lives her life as a female and she has not undergone sex change surgery, she perceives herself to be neither male nor female.

Vladimir has been active in the Gay and Lesbian community as a cabaret performer and activist for many years.

Vladimir Luxuria

After failing to be re-elected in 2008 Luxury participated and won the Italian reality program ‘L’isola dei Famosi’ (which is a celebrity version of Survivor) she donated the €200,000 prize money to charity.

As a politician she was about as effective as Cicciolina, as she had no political experience whatsoever, but she was much more about breaking down barriers, a more subtle political approach.

However Luxuria loses credibility as she seems to suffer from the desire to be famous. She sits firmly in the Gay Pride movement which is perfectly fine but loses respect with all the reality t.v and cluelessness. Luxuria would have been more credible if only she could concentrate more on her writing career and not chasing the limelight. Alas she too has succumbed to the ‘Velina’ dancing girl dream, so many Italian women want.

Stupid publicity stunts like parading loud and proud with her I ❤ Trans t-shirt in Putin’s Russia during the 2014 summer Olympics, nearly got her thrown into prison without achieving much for gay and trans rights.

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Flamboyant Italians: Cicciolina

Sgarbi

I had wonderful fun introducing everyone to Vittorio Sgarbi as my first Flamboyant Italian in this series of articles of fascinating personalities from Italy and now I have three more to share with you. This is a substantial achievement for me given the many distractions I’ve had this month (everything from a Sicilian wedding, to a feverish five-year old, solar flares interfering with my internet connection and convincing an emotive Sicilian husband it’s time for a visit to his in-laws in Australia, it’s been grueling but I’ve survived!)

If there is anyone else you think I should feature be sure to let me know.

Flamboyant

I originally thought I’d title this post: A porno star, a transvestite and a drag queen: how mainstream Italy handles sex and transgender personalities. This sounded like it should be in an academic journal not a blog. So I’m going to simply break it down into three parts to do justice to each of these characters.

Italy has a history which encapsulates may elements of the Roman Catholic church, Rome is at the center of its origins and development and is the point where the religion began to establish and disperse itself through the world. So it is only natural to assume Italy is a staunchly Catholic country. Right?

But as with many other elements of life in Italy, Italians have their own unique way of interpreting religion and culture which means this country is always in a state of constant flux and change.

For example Italy has been seen as the last bastion of masochistic behavior, giving the vote to women as late as 1945 (1925 for local elections) and legalizing divorce in 1970.

In recent years the country has been running fast trying to catch up with the rest of Europe, quickly inserting women into a ‘pink’ quota in parliament and trying to liberate women while still maintaining dancing-girls on their t.v programs. While there is always an exception to the rampant P.C, female role models are still few and far between.

Modernizing an ancient culture is always going to be a problem and yet observing Italy’s metamorphosis I’m fascinated to see shining examples of public figures which seem to be at odds with the traditions dictated by a once stringently moralistic and closed society that Italy once was.

Now if women’s rights have been so backwards, you can imagine how gay and lesbian rights are in Italy. Yet I can think of three wonderfully popular figures who have managed to become popular despite any sexism or homophobia.

I imagine they had to combat against the haters but their names are as well-known as any other famous Italian politician or T.V personality and that is something positively amazing in a country like Italy.

So let me introduce you to Cicciolina, Vladimir Luxuria and Platinette.

Proud activists who have shined and continue to be popular.

Cicciolina

Italians have a soft spot for porn (no really!) many popular movies from the 1970’s/80’s have some form of mild female nudity and there are many comic movies where gags include the accidental removal of clothing to reveal voluptuous boobs or a backside and many more near mute female roles were the women giggles and poses in front of a camera.

So perhaps it was inevitable to see Cicciolina a well-known porn star and playboy model take to the political stage in Italy?

The anomaly of a porno star in politics perhaps isn’t so strange in the context of the rampantly politically active landscape that was Italy in the 1980’s/90’s which gave birth to Senator Cicciolina. In this period there were hundreds of political parties who divvied up the Italian’s votes. A famous song from Italian poet and performer Georgio Gaber jokes, if one Italian agrees with another they form a political party, as you only need one vote to be in the majority.

Cicciolina was elected into Italian parliament in 1987 as a senator for the Radical Party with only 20,000 votes. Cicciolina M.P’s career highlights included being a dedicated environmentalist, offering to have sex with Saddam Hussein and later Bin Laden in return for peace, delivering speeches while exposing her breasts and promptly accepting an annual parliamentary pension of €39,000 a month at the age of 60 after a total of 4 years in parliament.

For a moment Italy’s Cicciolina was famous, but this episode caused great embarrassment and nothing similar has occurred since. Even to this day Cicciolina is a sensational moment on Italian politics, as if the parliament had become a living breathing porno movie.

Everyone loved Cicciolina, she was controversial, confronting and for that reason alone she was a revolutionary symbol even if she wasn’t a productive politician.

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Sicilian Impressions: the end of Carnevale

The Sicilian Carnival is beginning to taper off at the end of February, the costumes, dancing and revelry officially comes to an end on the first Wednesday of Lent, known as Ash Wednesday the beginning of a period of sombre preparation for Easter.

In these ever secular times some celebrations are extended to make the most of expensive floats in larger Carnevale celebrations around Italy.

What I take almost every year from this hedonistic celebration are the faces of the children, who adore the music, jokes and costumes of this time of year.

Until next year’s Carnevale time I want to share my favourite costumes from my local celebration, as every small town has their own parades filled with home-made costumes, fun and joyous spirit to live life to the full ….

Carnevale 2015

Carnevale 2015

The end of Carnevale 2015

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Sicilian Impressions: Icy blessing

From New Years to February my little part of Sicily has been blessed by snow.

For me it is a blessing as I am Australian who had never seen snow until I moved to Italy in 2002, for those used to icy Northern Hemisphere winters I’m sure it’s all like ‘get over it will you.’

But until the magic and novelty I will still be in awe of these pristine winter mornings when I have awoken to find the landscape transformed …

Icy winter landscape 2015

Icy winter landscape 2015

Icy winter landscape 2015

Icy winter landscape 2015

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Sicilian Impressions: History

Wherever you find yourself in Sicily, history haunts you and comes alive in a visceral sense.

This slumbering knight in the Duomo at Noto, Syracuse tells us his story with effortlessness as if he is about to sit up on his crib and talk to us.

Knight's tomb, Duomo Noto Syracuse

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Sicilian Impressions: Maschere

Carnival time in Italy is filled with endless fried desserts, parades, tricks and masquerade.

The masks can be beautiful like the ones at Venice’s world famous Carnevale or terribly ugly like these.

When you see one do not be afraid, they are harmless they only want to be offered a glass of wine or mime something funny or rude to make you laugh.

They don’t talk, they are only strange spritely manifestations of the Carnival spirit.

Maschere 1

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Sicilian Impressions: Art

Sicily is filled with delicate pieces of art always where you least expect them.

You will find intricate statues in dusty churches, decaying statuettes in the nooks of decrepit Palazzi.

Fine art is always a surprise even if it is so terribly neglected by a country which is overburdened by an aesthetic abundance, sadly without the ability to maintain it.

Noto, Syracuse detail

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Sicilian Impressions: Belvedere

Stopping at a ‘belvedere’ or lookout on the side of a Sicilian mountain road will give you a spectacular surprise and a sense of the expansive nature of Sicily.

On a clear day you will feel like you are in the heavens looking out onto a new world.

The closest belvedere to me looks out at the Ponte di Naso road down to the coast between Brolo and Capo d’orlando in the province of Messina.

When the weather permits you can see, part of the Messina-Palermo autostrada and beyond to the Aeolian Islands of Stromboli and Vulcano.

Sicilian view from a belvedere looking at Aeolian Islands

Belvedere, Castell'Umberto looking at Aeolian Islands

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