10 Feste Patronale in Sicilia

alina-sofia-123313-unsplash

Every town and city in Italy has its own Saintly patron or protector which has its own dedicated festa or celebration during the year with associated religious processions and events.

In Sicily alone, there are three hundred and ninety town halls which means many lifetimes of Saint day celebrations.

Apart from the religious celebrations, the locals take pride in celebrating the grandness of their particular Saints miracles and the intimate connection with their specific town. The statues of each Saint is a work of art, and the parades are filled with music, prayer and colour. The locals take their saints seriously and try to keep up the traditions.

Sicily’s nine major provincial capitals each have big celebrations which have been practised uninterrupted for centuries, and today each is a significant event in each cities calendar filled with holiday markets, art exhibitions, food preparations and epic fireworks.

Some towns have more than one Patron which means several celebrations throughout the year. While other cities whose Saints celebration happens in the dead of winter, so they have decided to have a summer version of the festa for visitors to experience too.

Patron Saint celebrations sicily

Here is a list of the important Patron Saint-day celebrations of the main cities in Sicily (Agrigento, Caltanissetta, Catania, Enna, Messina, Palermo, Ragusa, Syracuse (Siracusa) and Trapani.

To round the number up to an even ten I’ve included an extra location at Cefalu where the festivities feature the Saint’s statue being loaded onto a boat, the procession continuing out into the sea, something which is common for many celebrations around the island particularly with coastal towns.

Mata and Grifone

gage-walker-709725-unsplash

Sicily is famous for its ceramics, designed in the classic Maiolica glazed style with delicate baroque patterns. The most original pieces and those who stimulate the most interest from visitors are the Moorish head designs, which consist of pairs of pots, cups or jars which depict a fair-skinned woman and a man with distinctly North African features.

Most foreigners are perplexed by this extravagant couple, which is often impressive features of many exquisitely groomed balconies and gardens all over the island.
Behind this couple, there is an intriguing mix of mythology and Sicilian history.

Theirs is a love story akin to Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde, with a surprisingly gruesome mixture of violence and folly. The story takes us back to the end of the Arab period in Sicilian history from 831 to 1091 when the island was known as the Emirate of Sicily (Arabic: إِمَارَةُ صِقِلِّيَة).

This intriguing tale has been interpreted many times, and the characters at its heart have inspired many artists throughout the centuries.

The original folktale comes from Palermo and tells of a Saracen merchant who falls in love with a beautiful local girl. They start a passionate love affair until the girl discovers her lover has a wife and children waiting for him in his homeland. In a fit of jealousy and rage, she murders him in his sleep, cutting off his head so that her lover would stay with her forever. The girl uses the head as a vase to grow a beautiful basil plant. Others who saw her flourishing plant forged themselves colourful clay head pots in an attempt to recreate the bountiful fertility.

IMG_2980

 

A more romantic version of the Moorish heads tale comes to us from Messina. Every summer as part of the elaborate mid-August celebrations dedicated to Messina’s patron the Virgin Mary, the pagan founders of the city is also featured in the religious procession.

The gigantic eight-meter tall papier-mâché statues of Mata and Grifone riding on horseback date back to 1723 and reenact the arrival of Roger the first of Sicily to Messina, after the island was finally liberated from the Arab domination in 1071.

Roger, I was a Norman nobleman he became the first count of Sicily, and his descendants continued to rule Sicily until 1194.

IMG_2990

In 1547, when archaeological excavations outside of Palermo first unearthed the remains of mini elephants and hippos which used to roam prehistoric Sicily, this discovery lead to the widespread belief that Sicily was founded by giants. The elephant skulls were also taken as proof that the Cyclops from Homer’s Odyssey existed. The elephant skulls peculiar shape, and a typical single hole at the centre seemed to confirm that the animal in question had a single eye.

Many Sicilian academics believe Messina’s Mata and Grifone are manifestations of ancient nature gods, the pale-skinned Mata is a version of the ancient Greek myth of Persephone who was the daughter of the goddess of nature Demeter and who was kidnapped by the underworld god Hades, ruler of the ancients afterlife. There is a secure connection to many other pagan gods representing contrasting elements which coexist such as night and day, male and female and winter and summer.

IMG_2999

The tale told at Messina is a love story, with a staunchly Catholic flavour and no bloodshed. Mata was the daughter of a Messinese nobleman caught the eye of Grifone a general in the invading army who had just conquered Messina.

Pledging his undying love for Mata, he asked for her hand in marriage, which was granted with the understanding Grifone would convert to Catholicism, which he did and then the two went on to become rulers of ancient Messina.

IMG_2996

Probably the most famous version of the gruesome Moorish heads story is the one retold by Boccaccio in the Renaissance short stories from his Decameron. Boccaccio sets the story directly in Messina, the main protagonist is Lisabetta or Isabella an orphaned noble girl who is jealously guarded by her three brothers.

Isabella falls honestly and spontaneously in love with Lorenzo, a local boy of modest means. Their love affair goes on in secret until the three brothers discover Lisabetta leaving to meet her lover and decide to put an end to the relationship to avoid tarnishing the good name of the family. The brothers lead Lorenzo out of the city and murder him, hiding his body in a shallow grave and on their return home tell their sister Lorenzo quietly left on business.
But when her lover is absent for too long, Lisabetta becomes desperate with worry. One night Lorenzo appears to Lisabetta in a dream telling her he was killed by her brothers and where his body is buried.

Determined to find Lorenzo, she obtains permission from her brothers to go on a trip to the countryside with her female servant. She finds Lorenzo’s body and unable to give her lover the burial he deserves and insane with grief she cuts off Lorenzo’s head. At home, she hides the head in a vase and plants some basil in it. The plan blossoms, watered by Lisabetta’s tears.
Isabella’s behaviour alarms the neighbours and her brothers discover Lorenzo’s head. They get rid of the evidence of their crime, leave Messina and flee to Naples leaving behind a distraught Isabella to die of a broken heart.

IMG_3001

In 1849 the sad tale of Isabella of Messina was revived by British artist Everett Millais who created the first painting in the romantic Pre Raphaelite style. The canvas of Lorenzo and Isabella is filled with hidden messages and subtle phallic symbols which have intrigued art lovers for generations.
Another imminent Pre Raphaelite artist Edward Coley Burne Jones painted a portrait of Isabelle and the pot of Basil in 1867. This interpretation of Isabelle depicts the emotive moment the girl weeps over her basil plant towards the end of the story.
The Coley Burne Jones masterpiece draws on ancient mythology, recalling elements of traditional folklore, for example, the ancient Greeks and Romans believed basil was associated with hatred, and according to folk beliefs the plant had to be sown with swearing and ranting. The ancient Egyptians used the herb in the embalming process, making it also a symbol of mourning.

Romantic poet John Keats used the story as the inspiration behind his poem Isabella, or the pot of Basil. In the hands of the highly idealistic romantic Keats, the tale became a love story corrupted by the pride and greed of Isabella’s brothers who treated her like an object.
The Romantic’s version is set in Florence, the poem is filled with profoundly violent imagery before and after the murder occurs. Keats quotes the Greek myth of Perseus who killed Medusa the gorgon serpent-headed monster, which is at the centre of the Trinacria an ancient symbol still used to represent Sicily today.
Behind every work of art, there is always a story, Sicily takes this aphorism to an extreme with its history filled with violence, tragedy and loss.

The baroque ceramic Moorish heads are the artistic expression of the islands rich yet dark mythology.

Reflections on a summer garden

IMG_2931.jpg

I am probably the worst gardener in the world, name a plant, and I’ve probably killed it usually by forgetting to water it.

Strangely enough, both my parents and grandparents were (and still are) fantastic green thumbs. Our family always had terrific vegetable gardens. In the summer we never needed to buy tomatoes, basil, eggplants (aubergine), zucchini, capsicums, chilli peppers or any other variety of Mediterranean vegetables. We always had figs and grapes in the summer and fennel or broccoli in the winter. My mother still has endless flowering plants decorating the outside of her house everything from roses to succulents and anything in between. My dearly departed Nonna Carmela grew flowers in her front yard. I still remember going out to check the mail, the perfume of her violets and the stunning antique white roses which lined the pathway.

My first steps were on a farm in Serpentine Jarrahdale a few hours south-east of the capital of Perth WA, filled with animals and plants. Then when it was time to start school I moved to five minutes from the CBD in Victoria Park. Luckily with the luxury of large quarter acre blocks of land in the Australia of the 1980’s, there was always space for an abundant vegetable patch behind the house. Then moving to the semi-rural Swan Valley in Western Australia I grew up with the habit of eating fresh farm vegetables together with local table grapes, rockmelons and watermelons.

IMG_2913

The Italian community always had the habit of planting their own fruit and vegetables a tradition which persisted and was shared with extended family and friends. There were bags filled with the first tomatoes from whoever was able to harvest first. Or bunches of platted garlic or onions from an overabundant crop. Kilos of broad beans or peas waiting to be shelled and frozen after a bumper year. And if someone knew your lettuce had been decimated by snails or rotted by fungus they’d likely give you some of theirs.

Since moving to Sicily, I can’t say I’ve suddenly inherited the gardening gene, but I have become more passionate about the art of gardening. A garden is a place of reflection, there is a sense of peace which connects you to the rhythms of the natural world. I love planting things and watching them grow. Growing things is like planting the seed of an idea in your mind and seeing it develop into its ultimate form. As a mother, a writer and creative I can see the obvious connections between the fertility of the natural world and that of the mind.

IMG_2910 2

 

I love to spend my summers in the vegetable garden, planting, nurturing and watching everything grow. Every year I happily take my son into the garden and teach him about the different plants, herbs and vegetables and show him how to prepare them and enjoy them in his food.

There is a deep connection between my memories and the garden, every time I am there I feel connected to my ancestors who went through these same rituals.

 

Sagre and Feste in July

scott-webb-125443-unsplash

Food and religious festivals (sagre and feste) all over the peninsula are at the heart and soul of Italian traditions. The ones celebrated on the island of Sicily are particularly rich in history, colour and taste.

Sicilians are proud of their cuisine and dedicate a considerable amount of effort in preparing and sharing their typical plates. So a visit to a sagra is a celebration and invitation to taste the best of Sicily.

5138994391_a8d1c94b0e_z

 

While patron Saint celebrations have a long history in Sicily and Italy linked to the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church throughout Europe. Sicilians have a sincere dedication to their hometown Saints and a visit to a big feast day will give a unique experience into the intriguing history of Sicily as each has been linked to a particular place for centuries.

The Saints statues are works of art unto themselves, their stories are miracles are amazing tales, and the churches they are housed in are filled with more colour and art still. The celebrations include elaborate pageants like processions, music, fireworks, food and costumes.

Sicily is dedicated to its Saints and cuisine, and these elaborate parties show the best side of the island for all to see.

Here are some events to pin for your next trip to Sicily.

July in sicily

Disappearing Sicilian Markets

For the love of Sicilian Markets title
It’s no secret I’m a fan of open air markets, I love trawling through every stand exploring what I can find. My blog is filled with photo’s of African wood carvings, crafty jewellery and fun discoveries, endless market randomness and textures. I enjoy the colours and the unexpected. A Sicilian market contains everything from fresh produce, antiques, fabrics to bric-a-brac.
Every year in Sicily, is made up of annual appointments with big Sicilian markets and fiere (/fiè·re/), which are big brothers to the simple daily food markets who bring together many vendors from other provinces together with the trade of livestock. A spring fiera previews what you will see in the stores during the summer, while an autumn one often brings a chance to find unique gifts without the Christmas rush.
Often visitors to Sicily criticise markets as places filled with cheap Chinese rip offs, which sadly is a valid lament as over the years of the never ending economic crisis in Europe, many boutique operations and family businesses selling beautiful products have closed down, moving overseas to cut costs, leaving space for dreaded cheap imports to fill in the gaps. I’m afraid my beloved Sicilian markets are beginning to disappear.

Sicilian market love
In my little piece of Sicily in Messina province most locals have an appointment with the Fiera at Capo d’Orlando on the 21st and 22nd of October which is associated with the feast day celebration of the local Madonna, who is the city’s patron. Also I never miss out on the autumn and spring markets at Sant’Agata di Militello, the ancient Fiera over the 14th and 15th of November (and the 14th/15th of April) which stretches out along the main esplanade running parallel to the Tyrrhenian sea.
The November markets are usually where I do my Christmas shopping, but for the first time last year I actually came home empty handed. There were the usual endless stalls common of this extravagant fair, yet none of the substance of these historic markets which date back to the 1700’s.
Established by the Ventimiglia family, a well known Sicilian aristocratic dynasty, who gathered up the agricultural wealth of the Nebrodi area, the Sant Agata fiera was a focal point for farmers and artisans of all types. The first day is dedicated to livestock while the second offers visitors everything from textiles to haberdashery, farming tools, local produce, fashion and crafts.
Marching up and down the stalls last year I found nothing of quality, so much cheap Chinese junk, many obviously second hand clothes and shoes being passed off as new, strange one size fits all clothing which really won’t cover anyone who weighs more than 40 kilo’s and the same series of scarves and Christmas decorations as other years. I didn’t see the usual ceramics I go crazy over and there was only one antique stall which had the same things as last year, the owner sadly told me business is really slow and he probably won’t be back next year.

IMG_0834
The decline of markets in Sicily has gradually been creeping forward all over the island. For example many travel magazines surprisingly still sing the praise of Palermo’s Vucciria as a thriving major Sicilian city market, but the once buzzing neighbourhood packed with hundreds of food stores spilling over out onto the streets has become nothing but a small strip of resilient store owners who keep the historic markets alive for the tourists.
Italians believe in slow food and travel, where you take the time to soak in the character of a place, happily making the most of the moment. In a country where the people and culture are as colourful as the scenery itself, it is justifiable to seek out a more authentic connection to everyday life.

Food markets are filled with the sights, sounds and tastes of an Italy which relishes its food. In times of economic downturn Italians will cut back on everything else except what is on the table.

 

2007-066

Thank goodness the Palermitani’s demand for fine food persists, it is this which keeps the other daily food market neighbourhoods thriving. The il Capo, Ballero’ and Borgo Vecchio markets keep the traditions alive with their associated family run restaurants and street food vendors deep in the centre of Palermo.

You can still have an authentic Sicilian market experience at Ballaró which extends from Piazza Ballarò in the Albergheria district (near the church of San Nicolò) along Via Ballarò past Piazza Carmine toward Corso Tukory, roughly parallel to Via Maqueda toward the main train station.

While the Capo markets are tucked behind the Teatro Massimo opera theater and extend from Via Porta Carini off Via Volturno near the old city wall toward Piazza Beati Paoli. The Vucceria is at Piazza San Domenico, but in a much reduced manner as compared to its past history, it still winds along Via Maccheronai toward Piazza Caracciolo and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, branching off along Via Argenteria.

The Borgo Vecchio markets are in between Piazza Sturzo and Piazza Ucciardone. Palermo’s markets are usually open all day from 9 to 7pm (they are closed Sundays and open only half days on Wednesdays).

IMG_0799

At Catania the main markets are in Piazza Carlo Alberto near Via Umberto and Corso Sicilia which is easily reached from Via Pacini off Via Etnea near the Villa Bellini park.
The Pescheria (fish markets) filled with the city’s most sought after seafood is located off Piazza Duomo near the cathedral and fountain dell’Amenano, between Via Garibaldi and Via Pacini, extending along Via Gemelli Zappalà and some of the nearby streets. Catania’s markets are closed Sundays and afternoons.

Sadly the markets around me seem to be fading into insignificance, so when you visit Sicily be sure to visit a major city’s food market as it is a precious piece of Sicilian history.

To discover the best local daily markets in Sicily simply ask around, once you arrive in Sicily the best information will be found through local knowledge. If you want a general idea about the different smaller markets to visit see the Italian Ambulente web page, which is a site set up by market stall owners to let tourists know about market days. The page is in Italian but it is easy to do a search of particular towns throughout Italy to see when the markets are usually on in most local squares.

Vedi qua il post anche in Italiano: Per l’amore dei mercati Siciliani

Here’s my personal list of Sicilian Food markets not to miss.

Sicily'a markets

 

Leonforte at the beating heart of Sicily

long read

 

 

 

 

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 in order to understand Sicily you need to go to its geographical centre because the key to the island’s identity is there. The province of Enna is known as the belly button of Sicily and is the home of the island’s most ancient traditions.

Leonforte at the beating heart of Sicily (1)

The town of Leonforte casually rests upon the Erei mountains of central Sicily, only about thirteen miles from the main provincial capital of Enna. Today it is a beautiful municipality surrounded by a scenic countryside. It’s an idealistic tranquil place like many other communities all around the island where everyday life rambles on without much fuss or bother and the locals tend to forget about the outside world, happily going through the rituals of daily life in Sicily.

The provinces of Enna and Caltanissetta have always been a source of great strategical importance in the island’s history and have been the backdrop to many battles and skirmishes throughout history. Together with its immense agricultural wealth and fertility, the heart of the island has always been more savage or untamed, its landscape isolates it from the coast, yet it has always been inhabited from prehistoric times.

Before the founding of modern Leonforte the area was home to the ancient city of Tabas or Tavaca which became an important base during the Muslim conquest of the island from 827 to 902 A.D. The Arab invaders from North Africa saw the island as an earthly paradise. The central province of Enna became a Muslim stronghold for generations together with many other major Sicilian cities such as Palermo and Syracuse.

Leonforte italiano4

Sicily was essentially an Arab Emirate from 831 to 1091 A.D after an extended struggle with the late Roman Byzantine Empire lasting nearly four hundred years. In an extraordinary piece of Sicilian history, for two hundred years the island became a multicultural society which blended together both Arab and Byzantine elements of life.

The new Arab rulers initiated land reforms increasing productivity and encouraging the growth of small estates, by introducing elaborate irrigation systems which tapped into the island’s abundant underground water supply, bringing water to areas which once suffered from drought. The introduction of crops like oranges, lemons, pistachio and sugarcane by North African Muslims also improved Sicily’s agriculture and added new elements to Sicilian cuisine. 

The local population conquered by the Muslims were Romanized Catholic Sicilians in Western Sicily and Greek-speaking Christians in the eastern half of the island. Christianity and Judaism were tolerated under Muslim rule but were subject to some restrictions as to where they could practice their rites and were obliged to pay religious based taxes.

leonforte italiano3

The gradual breakdown of Muslim rule in Sicily began in the 11th and 12th centuries as a series of Norman Kings began to push the Arabs out of Sicily. The Norman period, however, continued to be multi-ethnic in nature. Normans, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Lombards and native Sicilians lived in relative harmony. 

Arabic was the official language of government and administration for at least a century into Norman rule and traces remain in contemporary Sicilian and Maltese. Under the guidance of the royal court of Frederick the second of Sicily Italy’s first school of poetics was born, anticipating the Tuscan Renaissance. Muslims also maintained their domination of industry, retailing and production, while Muslim artisans with expert knowledge in government and administration were highly sought after.

After many centuries under the influence of Middle Eastern and North African culture and religion, Sicily began another epic transformation under a succession of staunchly Catholic French Norman Kings who all struggled with endless battles throughout the island to push out other foreign dominations. At Leonforte one ancient folktale recounts how the local river was tainted blood red during brutal wars between the Saracens and Normans to control the heartlands of Sicily.

In the succession of thirteen different invaders of Sicily’s history the Normans were surpassed by the German Hohenstaufen’s, then the French house of Anjou and eventually the Aragonese House of Barcelona who gradually transformed Sicily’s culture over the course of two centuries. The Roman Catholic Church gradually became a part of the culture and forced Sicilian Muslims to be expelled from the island.

Branciforte

The town of Leonforte was later founded by the Branciforti, a legendary Sicilian noble family, whose founding father, Obizzo gained his knightly title and name after heroically holding up the flag of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne in the battle to expel the German Lombards from Italy.

The first member of this Sicilian aristocratic family is credited as literally holding up the royal flag despite losing both of his hands in a grotesque mutilation. This heroic action earned himself and his family the name of Branciforte, in honour of his strong arms who helped to hold up the cause of  Charles the Great’s campaign to unite Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

Leonforte together with Scordia in Catania province and Niscemi at Caltanissetta were all founded around the same time in the 1600’s as part of a project to colonise central Sicily with a conscious focus on town development, infrastructure and agriculture.

Building upon what had been left behind from past foreign inhabitants the Branciforte positioned Leonforte on the same strategic position on the internal Altesina mountains as the Arabs had used to divide the island into its three historical valleys which are still used to define the geography of the island today. From the Val Demone in the east at Catania, to the Val di Mazzara of Ragusa and Syracuse in the south and the Val di Noto in the west from Trapani to Palermo.

Prince Nicolò Placido Branciforti literally built the town from the ground up, his family gradually constructing a castle, a parish church, convent, gardens and several water fountains. Leonforte developed under the flag of the Braciforte with its regal crowned lion, holding onto the royal French Lily adorned flag, complete with two severed front paws in the foreground as a testament to the family’s heroic founder.

The town’s name reflects its connection to the Sicilian nobility and its iconic coat of arms. Leonforte flourished and developed under the rule of the Braciforte and today it is well known for its agriculture from its mouth-watering peaches, fava beans, olive oil, citrus, terracotta products and cheeses.

leonforte italiano2

Of all of the historical treasures of Leonforte, the one which the locals are most proud of is their baroque Granfonte water fountain, which is at the centre of their civic and cultural history. Built on the ruins of an earlier Arab fountain known as the Fonte di Tavi, it is connected to a complex irrigation system of pipes, mills and smaller fountains which go down into the valley and was once used for the irrigation of the surrounding countryside and a now lost botanical garden.

The fountain built in 1652 was designed by prominent Palermo architect and painter Marino Smiriglio, whose works are dotted around the island and include Palermo’s central Quattro Canti at the intersection which connects the four main neighbourhoods of the Sicilian capital.

The Granfonte or 24 Cannola as it is known locally is a grandiose succession of twenty-two archways and twenty-four bronze spouts which gush out water into a series of sandstone basins once used as a public wash house, fountain and marketplace in a main square of the town. The archways are elaborate frames filled with ornamentation and inscriptions, spiral shaped stones and two lion carvings on either side which quote the coat of arms of the ever-present Braciforte.

A little over 74 feet long and 8 deep the Granfonte is imposing and faces out to the original entrance of the old town at the Palermo gates, which lead to the original trade route towards the Sicilian capital. This theatrical backdrop of water quotes influences from the historical papal gardens of Tivoli outside of Rome to the Flemish fountains of Amsterdam and is literally at the heart of the city’s civic and religious history.

leonforte 3

Public fountains in Sicily were used up until the early 1900’s and were an important focal point of everyday lives. Daily trips to gather water, wash clothes and take animals to drink were occasions for socialising, gossiping, visiting the markets and as a meeting place in general. Today the Granfonte at Leonforte no longer hosts the markets but it has become the stage for a much more elaborate religious performance during Holy Week at Easter.

Good Friday at the Granfonte water fountain of Leonforte becomes the focal point of a suggestive funeral procession which commemorates the death of Jesus Christ.  An elaborate march weaves its way through all the streets of the town on the afternoon of Venerdì Santo. The crucifix stops in front of each church it meets arriving at the Chiesa della Madonna near the Granfonte where the ancient life-sized wooden statue of Christ is taken down off the cross and placed in a decorative glass coffin, in a performance played out by the local priest.

Accompanied by a large bonfire lit in the piazza, the fountains waters are silenced as a sign of mourning and respect for the solemn funeral rite. At dawn the cortege is accompanied by a brass marching band playing a funeral march as Christ’s coffin is carried on the shoulders of the hooded and tunic wearing members of the brothers of the Confraternity of the Santissimo Sacramento, followed by the statue of the Madonna Addolorata as a symbol of the grieving mother of Christ.

leonforte 4

The parade makes its way up through the ancient stairways of Leonforte ascending up to the highest point of the town at the Church of Santa Croce, symbolic of the hill where the martyrdom of Christ took place. The band stops playing and in the silence, the mourners begin to recite a poetic lament in the form of an ancient folk song which mixes elements of prayer with the local dialect.

The Lamento is hypnotic, exotic, evocative of a middle eastern call to prayer and is an integral part of the ritual of the Passion at Leonforte. Once performed by the elders of the community today it is the young who uphold this tradition of song handed down from father to son, in a prayer recited in the local dialect which seeks to console the Virgin Mary in her hour of loss.

With the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, the people of Leonforte gather in the square of the convent of Capuchin friars to celebrate. All of the statues who participated in the many processions during holy week, are a part of the meeting of Christ with the Madonna. The Granfonte’s waters are reopened restoring their healing qualities and the baptismal promise of new life.

Per la versione in Italiano clicca qui: Leonforte il cuore della Sicilia

Leonforte il cuore della Sicilia

Leonforte title italiano

La città di Leonforte si trova su i monti Erei della Sicilia centrale, solo 13 miglia dalla provincia di Enna. Oggi è una città bellissima circondata da una scenica campagna.

È un posto idealistico e tranquillo come molte altre comunità dell’ isola, dove, la vita quotidiana senza confusione o disturbo e gli abitanti tendono a dimenticarsi del resto del mondo, vivendo serenamente i riti della vita di ogni giorno in Sicilia.

Le provincie di Enna e Caltanissetta sono sempre state luoghi di grande importanza strategica nella storia dell’isola, e, sono state campo di molte battaglie e “scaramuccie”. Insieme alla sua immenza ricchezza agricola ed alla sua fertilità, il cuore dell’isola è sempre stato più selvaggio ed incontaminato, il suo territorio lo isola dalla costa, tuttavia è sempre stato abitato sin dai tempi preistorici.

leonforte 5

Prima della fondazione della moderna Leonforte, l’area era la casa dell’antica città di Tabas o Taraca, un’ importante base durante la conquista Mussulmana dell’isola, dal 827 a 902 A.D. Gli invasori Arabi dal Nord Africa vedevano l’isola come un paradiso terrestre. La provincia centrale di Enna fu una roccaforte Mussulmana per generazioni, insieme a molte altre città principali, come Palermo e Siracusa.

La Sicilia fu essenzialmente un Emirato Arabo dall’ 831 all’ 1091 A.D. , dopo una lunga lotta con il lontano Impero Romano Bizantino, durata quasi 400 anni. Quindi per gran parte della sua storia l’isola divenne una società multiculturale, che mischiava insieme sia elementi della vita Araba che Bizantina.

I nuovi dominatori Arabi iniziarano a rivoluzionare l’agricoltura: incrementando la prodottività e incoroggiando la crescita di piccoli poderi; introducendo elaborati sistemi di irrigazione che sfruttavano la abbondanti acque presenti; portando l’acqua alle area che una volta soffrivano la siccità.

leonforte italiano3

L’introduzione di piante come arance, limoni, pistacchi e canna da zucchero da parte dei Mussumani Nord Africani migliorarono l’agricoltura dell’isola e diedero nuovi elementi alla cucina Siciliana. La popolazione locale conquistata dai Mussulmani era Cattolico Romana nella Sicilia Occidentale e Greco Cristiano nella metà orientale. Cristianità e Giudeismo erano tollerati sotto il dominio Mussulmano, ma erano soggette ad alcune restrizioni, come i luoghi in cui potevano praticare i loro riti e l’obbligo di pagare tasse religiose.

Il graduale declino del dominio Mussulmano in Sicilia inizia nell’ 11° e 12° secolo, quando il Regno Normanno inizia a spigere gli Arabi fuori dall’isola. Il periodo Normanno comunque continuò ad essere di natura multi-etnica. Normanni, Ebrei, Arabi Mussulmani, Greci, Bizantini, Lombardi e Siciliani vivevano in una relativa armonia.

L’Arabo fu la lingua ufficiale del governo e dell’amministrazione per circa un secolo durante il dominio Normanno e ne troviamo tracce anche oggi nelle lingue Siciliane e Maltese. Sotto la guida della corte di Federico II di Sicilia nacque la prima scuola poetica d’Italia, anticipando il Rinascemento Toscano. I Mussulmani mantennero inoltre il controllo dell’industria, del commercio e della produzione, mentre gli artigiani Mussulmani per la loro grande conoscenza erano altamente ricercarti.

Dopo molti secoli sotto l‘influenza della cultura e delle religioni di Medio Oriente e Nord Africana, la Sicilia inziò un’ altra epica trasformazione sotto una successione di Re Franco Normanni, fortemente cattolici, impegnati a combattere battaglie senza fine nell’isola per cacciare le altre dominizioni straniere. A Leonforte antichi racconti, parlano di come il fiume locale fosse diventato rosso come il sangue durante le brutali guerre fra Saraceni e Normanni.

Leonforte2

Nella successione di 13 differenti invasori della storia della Sicilia i Normanni furono sovrastati dai Tedeschi Hohenstaufen, poi dal casato Francese degli Anjou e in seguito dalla casa Aragonese di Barcellona che trasformò gradualmente la cultura della Sicilia nel corso di due secoli. La Chiesa Cattolica Romana lentamente divenne parte della cultura e costrinse i musulmani Siciliani ad andarsene dall’isola.

La città di Leonforte fu fondata dai Branciforte, una leggendaria famiglia nobile Siciliana, il cui padre fondatore Obizzo ottenne il suo titolo cavalleresco eroicamente, sostenendo la bandiera del Sacro Romano Impero di Carlo Magno nella battaglia per scacciare i tedeschi lombardi dall’ Italia.
Il primo membro di questo famiglia aristocratica Siciliana viene ricordato per aver letteralmente tenuto la bandiera reale nonostante avesse perso entrambe le mani in una grottesca mutilazione. Questa azione eroica fece guadagnare a lui ed alla sua famiglia il nome di Bracciaforte, in onore delle sue forti braccia che aiutarono a sostenere la causa di Carlo Magno per riunire l’europa dopo la caduta dell’ impero romano d’occidente.

leonforte 4

Leonforte insieme a Scordia nella provincia di Catania e Niscemi a Caltanissetta furono tutte fondate nello stesso periodo, nel 1600 come parte di un progetto di colonizzazione della Sicilia centrale, con l’intento di focalizzarsi sullo sviluppo delle città, delle infrastrutture e dell’agricoltura.

Costruendo su ciò che era stato lasciato dietro dai passati abitanti stranieri, i Branciforte situarono Leonforte in una posizione strategica, sul monte Altesina, seguendo la divisione territoriale dell’isola fatta dagli Arabi, che prevedeva l’individuazione di tre valli, che sono usate ancora oggi per definire la geografia della Sicilia; dal Val Demone ad est di Catania, al Val di Mazzara di Ragusa e Siracusa nel sud e la Val di Noto ad est da Trapani a Palermo.

Il Principe Nicolò Placido Branciforte costruì il suo feudo letteramente dal nulla, la sua famiglia gradualmente costruì un castello, una chiesa madre, un convento, i giardini e una serie di fontane. Leonforte si sviluppo’ sotto la bandiera dei Branciforte con il suo regale leone incoronato, che sostiene la bandiera che raffigura il giglio francese, completata da due zampe mozzate in sottofondo come testimonianza dell’ eroico fondatore della famiglia.

Branciforte

Il nome della città riflette la sua connessione con la nobilità Siciliana e il suo iconico stemma. Leonforte fioriva e si sviluppava sotto il dominio dei Branciforte ed oggi è ben conosciuta per la sua agricoltura, per le succose pesche, le fave, l’olio di oliva, gli agrumi, i prodotti di terracotta ed i formaggi.

Di tutti gli storici tesori di Leonforte, l’unico di cui gli abitanti sono più orgogliosi è la loro fontana in stile barocco, la Granfonte, che è al centro della loro storia civile e culturale. Costruita sulle rovine dell’ antica fontana Araba conosciuta come fonte di Tavi, è collegata ad un complesso sistema d’irrigazione a tubi, mulini e piccole fontane che vanno giù nella valle, ed un tempo erano usate per l’irrigazione della campagne circostanti e di un giardino botanico ormai sparito.

La fontana, costruita nel 1652, fu disegnata dall’ importante architetto e pittore Palermitano Marino Smiraglio, i cui lavori sono presenti in tutta l’isola, compresi i Quattro Canti di Palermo all’intersezione che collega i quattro prinipali quartieri del capoluogo Siciliano.

leonforte italiano2

Granfonte o 24 cannola come è conosciuta localmente, è una grandiosa successione di 22 archi e 24 bocche in bronzo dalle quali sgorga l’acqua in una serie di bacini in pietra, una volta usati come lavanderie publiche, fontana e mercato nelle piazza principale della città. Gli archi sono elaborate cornici arrichite con ornamenti e iscrizioni, pietre a forma di spirale e due leoni incisi su ogni parte che ricordano la stemma dei sempre presenti Branciforte.

Lunga un pò meno di 74 piedi e 8 profonda, Granfonte è impressionante ed è di fronte all’entrata originale della vecchia città alle porte di Palermo, che conduce all’antica rotta commerciale verso il capoluogo Siciliano. Questo teatrale sfondo di fontane vede l’influenza degli storici giardini papali di Tivoli fuori Roma, delle fontane Fiamminghe di Amsterdam ed è letterlamente il cuore della storia civile e religiosa della città.

Le fontane pubbliche in Sicilia vennero usate fino i primi del 1900 e furono un’ importante punto focale della vita quotidiana. I viaggi giornalieri per prendere l’acqua, lavare i vestiti e abbeverare gli animali erano occasioni per socializzare, spettegolare, visitare i mercati ed un posto d’incontro in generale. Oggi la Granfonte a Leonforte non ospita più i mercati ma e’ diventato luogo di più elaborate celebrazioni religiose durante la settimana santa di Pasqua.

Via Crucis

Venerdì Santo la fontana Granfonte di Leonforte diventa il punto focale di una suggestiva processione funebre che commemora la morte si Gesù Cristo. Un’elaborata marcia intreccia la sua strada attraverso le vie della città nel pomeriggio di Venerdì Santo. Il crocifisso si ferma di fronte ad ogni chiesa fino la chiesa della Madonna vicino la Granfonte, dove l’antica statua in legno a grandezza umana viene scesa dalla croce e situata in una decorativa bara in vetro, in una rappresentazione messa in scena dal prete.

Accompagnata da un grande falò nella piazza, le fontane sono spente come segno di lutto e rispetto per il solenne rito funebre. All’alba, il corteo è accompagnato da una banda di ottoni che suona una marcia funebre e la bara di Cristo è portata a spalla dai membri della confraternita del Santissimo Sacramento incappucciati e vestiti con tuniche, seguita dalla statua della Madonna Addolorata come simbolo del lutto della madre di Cristo.

La parata si fa strada attraverso le antiche scalinate di Leonforte salendo fino il punto più alto della città la Chiesa della Santa Croce, che simboleggia il colle dove il matirio di Cristo ebbe luogo. La banda smette di suonare e nel silenzio chi è in lutto inizia a recitare un lamento poetico sotto forma di un’antica canzone, che mischia elementi di preghiera con il dialetto locale.

Il lamento è ipnotico, esotico, evocativo delle musiche medio orientali, ed è parte integrale del rituale della passione a Leonforte. Una volta veniva messa in scena dagli anziani della communità, oggi invece sono i giovani a mantenere questa tradizione, tramandata di padre in figlio, una preghiera recitata in dialetto che cerca di consolare la vergine Maria nella sua ora di dolore.

Con la resurrezione di Cristo la Domenica di Pasqua, le persone di Leonforte si raccolgono nella piazza del convento dei Frati Cappuccini per festeggiare. Tutte le statue che partecipano alle molte processioni durante la Settimana Santa, prendono parte all’incontro di Cristo con la Madonna. Le acque di Granfonte sono riaperte restituendo le loro qualità guaritrici e la promessa battesimale di nuova vita.

For the english translation of this article click here:

Leonforte at the beating heart of Sicily

 

This is Sinagra

this-is-sinagra-blog

I often get asked about whereabouts I am in Sicily, I generally say I’m in the province of Messina as most small towns are rather insignificant, in the sense that they tend to be generic, small and therefore not many people know their exact location unless they are famous for some reason or another.

My tiny Sicilian village has been my quiet refuge over the years, a place where I can choose to disappear if I wish, my base to explore Sicily and the place where I choose to write. Sicily is conducive to reflection and creativity, the slower paced life here is perfect for writers and the island has created many well-known creatives. The only danger is you actually are tempted to forget the outside world, the island is quite isolated and if you become attuned to its rhythm the external world can easily not exist, in a metaphorical sense of course.

Here below are a selection of photo’s I’ve taken around Sinagra deep in Messina Province to illustrate how beautiful this part of the world can be.

Each town has a similar topography most Sicilian towns are made up of a town hall, a series of churches (for example the town of San Marco d’Alunzio has more than 100!), historical palaces, castles, the main square and a suggestive historical centre where all the older buildings are located.

Not to say each town will all be the same, but if you stick to these standard historical elements you will be sure to witness the best a town has to offer.

Together with local flare, cuisine, festa celebrations and sagre your trip to Sicily will be a rich experience.

Let me show you the town where I live.

This is Sinagra, Messina.

Parish Church

Chiesa Madre

 

Chiesa Madrice

 

Gangini Trittico

San Rocco

San Giovanni

 

Castles and Palaces

 

Castello

 

Palazzo Ioppolo

 

2016-10-01-03-49-13

 

2016-10-03-04-49-12

 

Walking along the side streets

 

Small town Sicily

 

Sinagra from Castello

 

2016-10-03-04-43-59

 

The view

 

img_0949

 

2016-10-03-05-11-12

 

Feste, sagre and market time

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

2007-066

 

Main square

 

2007-068

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I am experimenting with video, so here is a bonus short portrait of Sinagra I recently finished. It’s a little shaky at times but I think it gives you a greater sense of the character of Sinagra. I hope to invest in better camera equipment and explore Sicily through a vlog sometime soon.

I’ve had many people encouraging me to post video’s about Sicily as relatives of Sicilian migrants love their heritage. So this is dedicated to all Sicilian’s around the world and Italophiles who can never forget this beloved island.

 

wcm0046

 

 

How history shapes Sicily’s character

 (Book excerpt)

google images

The weight of Sicily’s history makes it an inherently sad place, like all places with long human histories she laments her past glories which in turn give her a unique melancholy. Yes, Sicilia is defiantly as feminine as her beating heart, Etna. Sicily’s infinite stories shape her own sorrowful character which are absorbed into the collective memory. It is a common characteristic of places like Turkey, Palestine and Sicily to carry the trauma, tears and testimony of the great tragedies and triumphs in their past which seem to inhabit the place’s soul.

This is an apprehensive land, savage and full of decay, rich in pagan fears and superstition which keep themselves enclosed like a firmly locked chest. Fear can capture the soul slowly suffocating it with its exotic spell. Here God and hope are forgotten as Sicily absorbs you into its ancientness. There is little movement only the stagnant ramblings of the everyday. Here people live in small towns, think of small things and talk and gossip about other people with small things.

For many centuries Sicily has been dominated by other people and the population has absorbed a certain slave mentality. Any proud Sicilian would be offended if called a slave, but it is something more subtle than this. It is a type of survival instinct which allows them to accept a certain amount of suffering without questioning.

Danilo Dolci a social activist from the nineteen sixties, known as the Italian Ghandi wrote many books about the nature of Sicily’s social problems, which then were akin to the problems of the third world countries, his observations illustrated the Sicilian’s self inflicted sadomasochistic nature.

Dolci wrote about the silent acceptance of the people of Corleone near Palermo, how they: ‘wear the habit of mourning perpetually and in the soul of this habit repose the essence and the apotheosis of Omerta. The Mafia draws strength from Omerta. This word from the local dialect means manliness or self-control and the idea of keeping oneself strictly to oneself in every circumstance; it implies the refusal to help established authority and is native to the Sicilian’s character by the time he is ten years old.’

© Rochelle Del Borrello 2015
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

Sicilians tolerate unemployment, high taxes, a complicated welfare system which tricks them, a medical system full of doctors with more political ambition than concern for patients, a public service full of incompetence, laziness and nepotism, a legal system which is slow, complex and often unethical and a political situation which is at times volatile and usually seeks to exploit the population. In short Sicilians endure all of this and much more, but they would rather suffer than abandon Sicily and even those who somehow found the strength to go never forgot their cherished Isle.

The island has been in decay for centuries and its people have lived in its ruins, forever. Through the centuries various conquerors have tried to overwhelm Sicily usually after a period of war caused by a struggle for domination. When the diverse invaders eventually came to occupy the land they struggled to live and develop according to their cultural make up. Any progress petered out as the next aggressor gradually pushed out its predecessor, leaving decay to take over what they had constructed. The layering and intermingling of the dominations of Sicily has created a complex concoction of culture. Sicily has a history influenced by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, French, Phoenician, German, Austrian and British occupations, Sicily has outlived them all.

©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

The strength of Sicilians to live through many centuries of invasions comes from doing very little other than surviving. The secret to overcome invaders is to have the fortitude to endure them. Sicilians have never been completely taken over or assimilated into other cultures, they have always simply outlasted them. Sicilian people have survived by being stoic and resistant focusing on day-to-day living holding their ground with a stubborn focus on their own internal world.

This passive resistance has served them well in the past but leaves behind unattractive attributes in the Sicilian culture and point of view. Many centuries of living alongside foreign invaders has left a deep sensation of mistrust in those who come from outside of Sicily. Admittedly racism is a strong word, but fear and mistrust of all things foreign is clear in the way Sicilians relate to foreigners.

wcm0046

Sicilian Patron Saints

 

Good Friday Procession San Fratello

Sicilian people have a unique rapport with religion and superstition which binds the two seemingly conflicting doctrines together. The connection between the two can be traced back to the struggle the early Catholic Church in Sicily had against pagan religions. The Roman Catholic Church always had a tremendous amount of power over Sicilian’s spiritual, cultural and political lives. Yet despite this the catholic faith has had to coexist with the traditions and superstitions left behind by centuries of domination by foreign cultures, in Sicily, which has resulted in the particular phenomenon of the Santo Padrono.

The early Church battling the strong belief in superstition used the cult of the patron Saint to tap into the people’s desire for protection from illness, bad luck and disaster, it was a shrewd strategy which brought worshippers into the church. From the final part of the fourth century onwards the strength of Christianity lied in the way it created a bond between this life and the one beyond the grave. Help came from the Saints who were fellow human beings whom people could count on to be beloved and powerful figures in their own society.

© Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

Today each town in Sicily has its own saintly protector. Sicilian people have a connection to their town and Saint which is almost fanatical. The cult of the patron Saint is a mixture of religious fervour, superstition and faith. The patrons are protectors who are deeply connected to each place through a long history and the Saint often represents the very character of a town. Sicilians who have migrated overseas, have brought with them the celebrations associated with their Saint to their new homes, in the post world war two period celebrations were re-enacted throughout the world from Australia, to the Americas.

St Leo’s springtime procession around Sinagra begins in his main home, the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel. The elegant mildly baroque church was rebuilt in the nineteenth century after the devastating flood of eighteen hundred and twenty-five destroyed most of the town. The Saint’s effigy spends most of the year here, apart from short vacations to the country church of St Leo, which is no more than a humble chapel.

The wooden statue of Saint Leo is a true a work of art and is seen as a true personification of the Saint. San Leone is dressed in full ceremonial bishop vestments, he indicates up to the heavens with a gentle right hand, his intimate connection to God is also directed as a blessing towards Sinagra. In the nineteen eighties there was a controversy surrounding the restoration of this sculpture. After being sent away to Palermo, to be cleaned and revived, the original colour of the Saint’s vestments was discovered and after removing many layers of paint, St Leo returned to Sinagra with different coloured robes, this led to rumors the Saint had been switched.

©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

Today St Leo tranquilly abides in the church of Saint Michael the Archangel which itself is a puzzle pieced together with the remnants of crumbled fragments from the past. The main Chiesa Madre’s interior is white washed with lots of natural golden light that bathes over the hodgepodge of what is decoupaged together inside. A series of saintly statues rest on either side of the church’s body in two rows of arched grottoes. Saint Rocco, The Virgin Mary, Saint Sebastian, Jesus of the Sacred heart, Saint Anthony, Saint Francesco di Paolo and Saint Lucia lead the way up to the church’s head.

Above the altar stands the parish priests pride and joy, a trio of statues, that form an intricate trittico panel, which he often mentions to be an original of the Gangini school of sculptor, a well-known Messinese producer of high quality works from the sixteenth century. At the centre of the precious white marble highlighted in golden details is the Virgin Mary and child flanked by Saint Michael the Archangel, the guard of heaven and Saint John the Baptist. At their feet the apostles in miniature at the last supper and above them all God is holding the earth in his hand.

Looking up at the dome above the altar, seems a little disappointing with a simple, sparse almost minimalist decorations, little angels in the corners, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, a metaphor for hope and faith and elaborate curtains which seem three-dimensional even though they are painted flat on the side walls of the apex. A puzzling circular pattern at the center completes the design with a series of chubby levitating cherub heads. It is difficult to squint to make out more details and understand the motif better, but obviously there is a limit to how long you can stare at the ceiling during a religious ceremony.

Before the procession begins St Leo is mounted on a wooden frame which is supported by four thick logs and is carried on the shoulders of a group of ten to twenty men. Maneuvering the statue towards the main door with short sharp shuffling feet the men lift the Saint up and down quickly three times saluting the church and crying out ‘Eh Viva Santo Leo’ in praise of their patron.

Winding painfully slowly down the steep steps outside the church Saint Leo walks over the grey lava cobble stone streets glancing over at the ruins of Sinagra’s Castello. The bell tower clock and partial ruins are all that remain of the medieval castle fort which has been a stable part of the Sinagrese landscape for generations.

©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2015

Saint Leo marches down Via Roma the main commercial hub of the old town which is now nothing by hollowed out hovels, dilapidated palaces slowly filling up with pigeon faeces and the odd newly restored building in a flurry of colours like a chameleon set in reverse. This first leg of his procession is the same taken by dearly departed Sinagrese on their final passegiata to the cemetery during their funeral.

Down Via Veneto heading towards the main square the urban-scape becomes less steep until reaching a plateau in the Piazza San Teodoro. Continuing straight ahead St Leo reaches the beginning of Via Umberto primo the old civic centre of Sinagra before the successive floods of nineteen twenty-six, nineteen nineteen, nineteen thirty-one and nineteen thirty-two.

At the beginning of the street there is the antique Church of the Crucifix with its bell tower dating back to the medieval period. This church is intriguing, much smaller than St Michael the Archangel, and ultimately more suggestive. The locals call it ‘the church of the convent,’ which indicates the existence of a former religious community, near the local cemetery there are the ruins of an old convent covered in prickly bushes and ivy.

wcm0046

Shifting family trees, Australia and being a foreigner in Sicily

Perth City, Western Australia

Suburban Perth Western Australia has always been a dull place, the most isolated capital of the world it exists in a bubble of reclusiveness, its inhabitants toiling away from the rest of the world trying to lead a beautiful and idealistic life filled with sunshine and wealth.

My Grandparents migrating from Sicily in the 1950’s found Perth to be little more than a country town dotted with colonial style wooden houses lifted up onto stilts leaving some fifty centimetres from the ground, to encourage natural air circulation to help cool down the houses when the desert air becomes subdued by the aptly named Fremantle Doctor, restoring health to the wilting population after a day of incandescent heat.

Over the years the cottages have been replaced by an urban sprawl made up of curious single storey double brick houses with coloured roofs like hundreds of tepees extending out along the coastline between the sea and the desert, with their essential air conditioners attached to them like cumbersome chunky headphones. The single level houses with their quarter acre blocks have gradually given way to townhouses and new generation apartments filled with glass windows and cold dull painted concrete. My childhood in Perth was idealistic, uneventful, almost dull if not for the fact I felt so different from the Anglo-Saxon majority.

Ironically my family tree could have easily found itself uprooted to Australia a generation earlier. Both of my great grandfathers found themselves in Australia in the early twentieth century. My great-grandfather Cosimo Gugliotta was working near Adelaide with a few compatriots when he was told the Great Depression was on its way, so he returned to Sicily with stories of not being able to make himself understood pointing at things he wanted like bread, drinking from the same places as the horses and terrifying native Aboriginals (certainly terrifying for someone who had never seen anyone different to himself). While at the same time Nonno Cosimo’s future Compare Filippo Bongiovanni was out clearing the bush for new housing deep in the South West corner of Western Australia. Fate made my family taste life in Australia but brought them back to Sicily.

A horse in the Sicilian landscape

My Grandfather visited Sicily before he passed away in 2009 and was surprised how abandoned Sicily has become. He always told the story how apart from the poverty the final thing which pushed him to leave was the fact he couldn’t find a piece of land to plant some potatoes for his own little family, all the land was cultivated by others as there were more people than space to maintain them. He remained shocked to see most of the fertile land in Sicily today abandoned in overgrowth when he recalled everything being occupied by agriculture. The Sicilian world left behind by post world war two immigrants to a large extent no longer exists.

I find Italo Australians, Italo Americans and Canadians to be strange creatures who feel deeply attached to Italy, but theirs is an idealistic time capsuled passion. I know I used to be like them but now after living here for more than a decade I can see their naivety, they idealise a country which no longer exists, often pilgrimages back to Italy are filled with awe and disappointment. Those born here are saddened by the decay, the loss of traditions and the changing language makes them feel excluded from a once inclusive island home. While their children and grandchildren brought up with those stories of Sicily will find history is all that remains of their Siculu roots.

Countryside

No one speaks the old dialects anymore and it is a slow and painful realisation that being a ‘wog’ is an artificial creation shaped by a life of plenty in a new place on the other side of the world from Italy. In Australia, a ‘wog’ used to be an Anglo-Saxon racial slur used to describe Italian migrants, but today it has been claimed by new generations of Italo Australians to describe their connection to Italy. Italy isn’t about eating pasta and pizza or speaking an outdated dialect, it is a complex country and culture which is in constant evolution as are all other societies around the world.

Coming back to Sicily, you will not be welcomed openly, you are considered a foreigner. I have been living in Sicily for nearly fifteen years and there isn’t a moment that has passed when I am not reminded of my status as an outsider, as soon as I open my mouth.

wcm0046

Drawn to Sicily

Sad road to Raccuja

All Sicilians have this blinding obsessive love of there Sicilia which exists beyond any hardships, lack of education, lack of economic betterment or even famines which have occurred on the island, everyone holds onto their beloved Sicily despite everything. Of course until they were pushed away from their homeland when things on the island became so unendurable and people could literally no longer live. Only then did economic depression forced them to leave their close-knit communities to migrate in massive numbers all over the world.

Only then did my Grandparents find the strength through adversity to cut their family bonds and unravel themselves enough to move overseas. Yet the umbilical-chord at their core still remained in tact tingeing their lives with an idolized nostalgia for their Sicily. It’s a passionate patriotism which led most to create their own Sicilian web either with their own family or in new Sicilian Diasporas. There are many children and now grandchildren of these Sicilian migrants who still reflect this idealized notion of Sicily inherited from their heritage. I too assume to have been caught up in this wave of historical patriotism.

My grandparents generation isn’t the first to have left the island the inhabitants of this region have immigration in their blood. Sicily’s ancestry is made up of generations of colonising Greeks, conquering Romans, tyrannical Normans, cosmopolitan Arabs and imperial Bourbons. The constant rampage of countless other dominations whose influence has ingrained Sicilians with a sense of restlessness. There is a latent angst which exists side by side with the Sicilians connection to each other and their land in a paradox which pulls them away from Sicily while also keeping their culture in the foremost of their mind.

Internal migration within Sicily has always occurred as the itinerate worker population have always slavishly followed the ebb and flow of seasonal work but never before had overseas migration occurred on such an immense scale as it did in the Sicily of my grandparent’s youth after the second world war.

These were poor people, uneducated, often living in a semi-feudal economic system. Work for them was about survival. It was hard physical labour based on the land, cultivating small plots for themselves, mostly using a bartering system to provide important products like bread, meat and other necessities for everyday life. Apart from producing for themselves, the only other activity was agricultural work for large property owners; wheat harvesting in summer, collecting hazelnuts in autumn and olives and oranges in winter.

The property owners were Barons or wealthy landowners who took advantage of the poor uneducated majority. There was no getting ahead for these people, no hope for reward or betterment. This was their life. It is a world I could never imagine. A world which should have been filled with sorrow.

Yet the stories my grandparents shared were far from sorrowful. They told of energetic friendships and families that they had known all their lives. They shared stories of laughing and joking, of dancing, singing and teasing. They described the wonderful animals they had in their lives, of mad people, wise people, of their stoic grandparents, a feisty older generation who were as savage as the times and who lived lives with so much hardship that they seemed carved from stone. My Nonni’s stories are from the place which grew out of Greek and Roman mythology and their tales became my family’s mythology.

Raccuja, Messina

The harshness of my grandparent’s Sicily isn’t what I heard in their anecdotes. Rather it was the language, the laughter of a carefree adolescence willpower and a formidable strength of character. They created their own jokes, their own language and way of relating to one another. They had their own poetry, song and dance. It is this that made me fall in love with their Sicily. The yarns were not only wistful memories of a youth spent working hard, being repressed by their elders and poverty, there were also many great moments of humour and joy.

My grandmother spent her evenings in the once harsh Sicilian winter indoors with her five sisters huddled around the fireside, eating roasted chestnuts and listening to her father recounting the lives of the saints, reading passages from Dante, remembering old family anecdotes, inventing songs and poetry about everything from local politics to Sicilian legends. This experience gave her a voice with a passionate desire to tell and listen to stories an ability which she has passed onto her children and grandchildren.

My grandparent’s history is full of exotic superstitions and ghosts as if they came from a fairytale land. Each fable is told with that enigmatic tongue, full of words I find too hard to understand, a dialect which is no longer spoken, a dying language which is a product of their Sicily. It was their own language formed by their isolation and the landscape of endless mountains, which created words forged by their own inventiveness and creativity, an intimate product of their isolated daily lives.

I have absorbed the images of my grandparents’ Sicily, a strange mix of characters, landscapes, history and language which has blended with my own imagination to create a personalised mythology. Their stories come from deep in North Eastern Sicily in the Province of Messina.

The tales were played out in the hamlet of Campo Melia high up on a mountain ridge between the towns of Raccuja and Sinagra, where dozens of houses were once filled with family and friends. Today the buildings are silent headstones gradually being overwhelmed by the natural overgrowth in an abandoned countryside. The remaining inhabitants are a handful of elderly people and their families who tenuously hold onto their memories of home until death takes them, too and their families finally move away.

wcm0046

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

wcm0046