Slow paced but dangerous

Life at the in-laws is slow-paced but pleasant. Their house is a few kilometres out of Sinagra, following the river inland. Taking a left turn up from the road parallel to the seasonal river bed brings you to a steep climb where the road turns left again abruptly on a terrifying hairpin curve. The steering…

Flamboyant Italians: Vittorio Sgarbi

Sometimes, living in Italy is like being inside an awful soap opera; it's a vibrant, quirky, melodramatic place filled with controversies, corruption, and paradoxes. Italy is a place of great beauty, creativity and unique experiences, overshadowed by equally abhorrent ugliness, criminality and hypocrisy. The Italian people themselves manifest these conflicting traits. I have come across…

Earning a nickname

There are no skeletons in the closet in small-town Sicily, as the broader population identifies every individual member with distinct soprannome or nicknames. These simple and often coarse caricatures have existed for generations and can pinpoint members of a particular family, or are earned after a significant event, distinctive physical feature or personality trait. A…

Getting under Sicily’s skin

Removing the mountain's skin is like exploring Sicily. This place needs to be dissected with a sharp implement to cut through all the layers of history, culture and society to uncover its raw heart. Carving up the mountains is impossible, and slicing through Sicily's different elements of life will prove to be just as tricky.…

The good volcano

Etna is an absolute monster, a living, breathing part of the Sicilian landscape. Its sixty by forty-kilometre base is the heart of the island. The three thousand three hundred meters tall shadow has given birth to the fertile Sicilian land, rich in mythology. The volcano is different things to different people. For the ancient Greeks,…

Wintertime

During my first winter in Sicily, I visited La Pillera, an idyllic place near Montalbano, buried in the depths of the forests of the never-ending Nebrodi mountains. It is a place where time stops, and the outside world is forgotten. Here, amongst the hazelnut trees, a decomposing villa camouflaged in the folds of the sprawling…

Inside the Palazzo Salleo

My vision takes a moment to adjust to the dimness inside as I’ve just stepped through a doorway. After a few moments, I take in the shape and scale of a grand staircase crowned by an ornamental gateway. The ostentatious gate is embellished with intricate archways. A row of sculptured wrought iron flowers crowns the…

A Baron’s dominion

Deep in the kingdom of the hazelnuts, the Baron of Salleo’s family had wealthy agricultural patronage with many hectares of hazelnuts, olive trees, wheat fields, together with country properties, a residence at the centre of Sinagra and another in the nearby hamlet of Baronia, most probably named in honour of the Baron himself. The Salleo…

Slipping in from the window

Sitting at my kitchen table at my Sinagra home, I open the window on the balcony from the kitchen, which peers out onto a dirty grey wall. The wall is of another house which I can see directly in front of my window. There is another balcony jetting out of the smaller place, basically three…

All’s fair in love and Ferragosto

Italy has an abundant amount of public holidays, ranging from the usual stuff like New Year’s day and padded out with things like Liberation Day (25th April), International workers day (1st May) and Republic Day (2nd June). Not to mention a fine cavalcade of religious celebrations, including the Epiphany (6th January), All Saint’s Day (1st…

Words from Sicily: Disorientation

The mountainous landscape in Sicily persistently challenges me. The boundless slopes disorient me; they dominate the horizon. When I go hiking down steep hillsides, I am constantly holding on for dear life, grappling white-knuckled onto the flimsiest blade of grass in my reach. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sprained my ankles or fallen’…

Words from Sicily: Sicilian mountains

Looking up at the lush mountains across from me, I realise that the road on our side of the valley must be a mirror reflection of what we see on the other side, the landscape divided in half by a river at its floor. I am suddenly terrified. The bluffs are menacing, and a strange…

Words from Sicily: 100 Sicilies

Gesualdo Bufalino wrote about Sicily’s many different faces. He was fascinated by the multifacited nature of the island, filled with many paradoxes and contrasting elements that often exist side by side. The complexity and instability of the island’s cultural history has created an engimantic place which is difficult to define. Bufalino says how there are…

Words from Sicily: a slice of life

I’ve been going through a bit of a creative lull lately. It usually happens at this time of year in Sicily; the summers on the island are generally so torrid and filled with humidity that my concentration is permanently shot. I typically go on holiday and forget about getting my productivity back. I try to…

Words from Sicily: Scirocco

Taormina, Messina It’s been one hell of a week in Sicily, literally. On Sunday, I was at my nephew’s first holy communion celebration, usually an elaborate affair in small-town Sicily. The festivities involve religious service attendance and rituals as well as some social requirements. These include buying appropriate clothing, some preening and grooming, followed by…