Poetry: Sicilian DNA

IMG_0297.jpg

 

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

but in reality, the love affair existed long before …

I’ve been enamoured since birth, 

Italy is imprinted on my DNA,

my family and heritage has always been here

connected to this place of endless human history

my love of stories keeps me happily lost inside its tale

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

 

Rebuilding Messina

 

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

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

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

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

IMG_3133.jpg

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

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

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

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

IMG_3140.jpg

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

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

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

IMG_3143.jpg

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

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

Italian coffee shop culture

Screenshot_2018-07-09-17-40-39

Last year I was back home in Perth, Western Australia for a visit when I suddenly became a victim to reverse culture shock. It’s a bizarre affliction for an expat living in Italy as every day you are battling tiny little moments of friction between yourself and your new home, but slowly you begin to adjust and don’t think about the smaller things.

And apparently, you begin to assimilate the new behaviour into your personality.

Then when you go back to your hometown thinking, you will be able to settle in comfortably without thinking, when you realise how much you’ve forgotten.

Speaking mostly Italian, I find myself losing words and helpful phrases, sometimes my accent becomes a little Italianized without me realising.
I begin to miss the spontaneity of Italians, for organising things at the moment, I find it strange not just to turn up at friends homes only with a bottle of wine and whip up a bowl of pasta with a few simple ingredients; instead I have to make appointments to go out to eat with them in advanced.
I never order pasta at a restaurant in Australia as I’ve gradually become a pasta snob (yes there is such a thing). I will not eat over cooked pasta, it must be al dente.

Coffee 3
And of my last visit home, I feel awkward at Australian coffee shops. Don’t get me wrong I still love, all-day breakfast and brunch is a dirty little pleasure I always indulge in whenever I’m in Australia, but it’s just I have a problem with the coffee.

I’ve become an avid espresso drinker in Italy. Every morning I have at least two cups of the thick black delicious liquid, I can’t get enough of it, I even will drink it without sugar to get the most of the bitter, full flavour.

I don’t crave thick creamy milk lattes, I can no longer stomach full cream milk cappuccinos or frappuccinos. Out with a friend for coffee, I accidentally ordered a latte instead of a flat white as I didn’t remember the difference and then felt terribly sick afterwards.

Coffe2

There are a lot of little Italian peccadillos, which I seem to have picked up without realising. I want my coffee in a cup, not a glass (it gets cold too quickly in a glass, and it tastes better in a cup), I want my cappuccino warm not boiling hot and I think people are strange to order a cappuccino in the afternoon (as it usually is a breakfast drink). I am yet to find a good espresso in Australia that does not taste bitter or burnt.

I like going to an Italian Caffe’, known as a Bar and having a quick, strong espresso while standing up, or grab a quick grappa if I’m feeling cold in the winter, or the ultimate ice coffee granita with whipped cream and brioche sweet bread in the summer.

I often wonder where on earth I will eventually feel more at home, in Australia or Italy. I’m currently debating whether I might need to create my own nation apart to accommodate my strange culture shock affliction.

jakub-kapusnak-319767-unsplash

For the record in Italy the coffee selection is usually as follows:

Cappuccino [cap-puc-cì-no] : equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk

Caffè latte [caf-fè] [làt-te]: espresso with more steamed milk and less foam

Latte macchiato [làt-te] [mac-chià-to]: steamed milk “marked” with a splash of espresso

(These milky coffees are only consumed until about 11am)

Caffè macchiato [caf-fè] [mac-chià-to]: For the softer side of coffee, enjoy this espresso “marked” with a splash of frothy milk. Unlike the breakfast drinks, this lightly milky caffè can be enjoyed as frequently as normal caffè.

Caffè corretto [caf-fè] [cor-rèt-to]: Literally translated as corrected coffee, this drink features espresso with a splash of alcohol, such as grappa or sambuca.

Caffè americano [caf-fè] [a-me-ri-cà-no]: After trying drip coffee in the United States, Italians decided to offer tourists a taste of home. Their interpretation: espresso diluted with plenty of hot water.

Caffè lungo [caf-fè] [lùn-go]: This “long coffee” comprises espresso with a splash of hot water but is stronger than the americano.

Marocchino [ma-roc-chì-no]: A marriage of cocoa and espresso. A shot of espresso, a layer of foam, and a sprinkle of cacao powder in a glass mug that has been dusted with cocoa powder.

Shakerato: The shakerato is Italy’s answer to an iced coffee.  A chilled espresso poured over ice and shaken to a froth.

Caffè freddo [caf-fè] [fréd-do]: Literally cold coffee, an espresso which has been cooled down in the fridge or freezer.

Crema di Caffè [crè-ma] di [caf-fè]: A mixture of whipped cream and espresso coffee, a light coffee flavoured dessert.

Caffè affogato [caf-fè] [af-fo-gà-to]: Another variation of dessert, have your coffee literally drowned in a scoop of plain vanilla ice cream.

Granita di Caffè [gra-nì-ta] di [caf-fè]:  Shaved iced coffee usually topped with whipped cream and consumed with sweet bread for breakfast in Sicily.

Bicerin [bitʃeˈriŋ]: A Piedmontese drink similar to a hot chocolate. Served in a big glass mixing coffee, chocolate and whipped cream.

Caffè al Ginseng [caf-fè] [gin-sèng] : An espresso prepared with ginseng extract and needs no other sweetener.

Caffè d’Orzo [caf-fè] [òr-zo]: A 100% naturally caffeine-free coffee made with barley.

Caffè Decaffeinato [caf-fè] [de-caf-fei-nà-to]: Decaffeinated coffee

 

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.

dolce-vita-2
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.

Stemma della famiglia Salleo

 

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.

 

megan-murray-99300-unsplash

 

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.

 

ludwig-thalheimer-124154-unsplash

 

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.

 

2007-068

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.

wcm0046

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

Culture Shock in Italy: Friendship

culture-shock-blog-title

According to UN statistics, there are 232 million expatriates in the world a steadily rising number of people who have chosen to move overseas from 154 million in 1990 and 175 million in 2000. The motives for becoming an expat are quite varied whether it be economic or personal many people choose to move out of their comfort zones and freely live in another country.

It’s a brave choice to become an expat, leaving behind friends, family, culture and even a mother tongue can be the biggest adventure imaginable yet it most certainly not all smooth sailing. The most significant boundary to settling into life in a new country has to be the culture shock, which is when your own personal habits and values are diametrically opposed to those of your new home. It can be emotionally isolating and depressing to hit head-on with conflicting opinions and ways of life. There is no way around culture shock you just have to be aware of it and either accept it or negotiate yourself around it.

You’d think to move to your dream home in Tuscany or Villa in the South of France or any other place on your bucket list would result in instant happiness, but the reality is one filled with endless daily adjustments. I’ve written extensively about my own personal struggle in a light-hearted and comical way like in this recent post for COSI’ .

I have adapted well to life in Sicily, Italy but I still find myself stressing about the smaller things which I’d still like to share with anyone who is contemplating shifting their life to Italy which is probably one of the most idealised places in the world for potential expats. So I’ll occasionally be sharing my acquired insight into daily life in Italy with everyone. This time let’s talk about Friendships in Italy.

Socially Sicilians are very closed in and insular people. Not to say they are dull, on the contrary, they are warm-hearted and vivacious, but basically, they have a reserved nature. Their distinct dialect can keep foreigners firmly locked outside of a conversation.

Even as you open the code of their language there is precious little small talk in their lives other than the common gossip that keeps society’s wheels oiled, no sharing of real emotions or opinions with others unless it involves politics or sport, then you can posture and yell as you please.

I’ve always struggled with making friends here in Sicily, only because those around me have already formed their friendships and seldom look out of their family or established a community to make new connections.

It is usual for Sicilians and Italians to grow up with the same people around them, schoolmates and classes are formed by the same group of people from kindergarten to primary school and often through to high school. At University or work, there are new bonds formed, but they are formal superficial professional connections.

People are quite formal when you first meet someone you need to use the polite ‘lei’ form which is like calling someone Madame or Sir. Quite often the formality is maintained permanently of someone is older, more qualified or holds a more important position than the other. Usually, a mutual agreement is reached between the two parties so the casual ‘tu’ or ‘you’ can be used to address one another after a few weeks of working together, but if it is your superior, it will usually mean a lifetime of using this complicated formal tense.

 

just-let-it-go-and-be-free-blog-graphic

One disturbing aspect I find in the social life here is the fact Italians believe friendship between a man and a woman can never indeed exist. There is no word to describe a male friend or female friend that doesn’t have connotations of a sexual nature. There is no way I can justify having male friends, my husband once said to me, ‘all men want is to have sex, not friendship.’ There are work colleagues, acquaintances, relatives and school friends, yet male friends outside of these contexts are considered boyfriends or lovers.

Perhaps I am generalising here, but particularly in Sicily, I find women tend to socialise with women and men with men unless it is a school or work situation. For example, if there is a party women will often stick to their friends, unless they have a boyfriend or are engaged and them even after people get married, they go back to their old habits, husbands with their male friends and women with their female friends.

letting-go-blog-graphic

The lack of platonic male-female friendships in Italian culture is a real problem, particularly when it comes to issues such as equal rights between the sexes and feminism. How can a woman be considered a similar to man when she is still seen as a sexual object and not merely a friend or equal? Italy has many problems with violence against women, women’s rights in the workplace and professional world all because of the predominance of this latent machismo in society.

At times the culture shock for foreigners in Italy can be crippling, but it is something to negotiate every day. The most frustrating thing is wanting to change things yet realising it is impossible. I began to feel happy living in Italy when I let go of trying to change the culture and accepting things the way they were.

You can never make Italy the way you want it, but you can live and take what is best for you. As a foreigner, you are lucky to be able to pick what is best for you while being aware of the problems. Any culture is in constant evolution so who knows, things may gradually change, but it is all beyond one person.

Personally, I try to be polite, but I am above all upfront and explain to people I am a foreigner and may make mistakes with the formal tense, so to an extent I am tolerated or forgiven for breaking protocol. As for the way I socialise, I don’t get intimidated and often will get up from the women’s table and go sit by my husband to talk with the guys, which really isn’t worth the trouble as they mainly talk about sports and politics anyway ;-(

The best way to socialise in Italy is through the food, everyone loves to eat so throw yourself into the cuisine, a bottle of wine helps, and the friendship issue usually sorts itself out after everything is digested.

wcm0046

For a better life: the migrant experience

for-a-better-life

The Sicily of Sicilian migrants exists only in their memories like the faded dreams of a past youth, vivid in the mind’s eye, too idealised to be true. Memories distort the events of everyday life as they are created by the senses and are carved into the human mind by emotions. We remember many things like people’s faces, places, aromas, personalities, situations, the people we love and hate, nightmares and desires. Memories are subjective and exist in the fluid part of the brain which can be easily distorted yet paradoxically remain extremely vivid.

Sicily is where all contradictions come together to concoct a place dominated by superstitions, fears, harsh and sweet memories, characters, traditions, endless stories of fantasy and passion, mythology, religion, violence, eccentricity and timelessness. Sicily is where the random and implausible come together. It would take many lifetimes to understand its origins, personality and soul. Sicily is where remnants of memories connected to past lifetimes are discovered.

This island is a real enigma shaped by an interminable amount of history which hasn’t always treated the place well, ever since there has been human life Sicily has been inhabited, sometimes peacefully but mostly violently with many centuries of unrest and conflict which has ravaged this place, many towns are filled with the spirit of often self-inflicted bloodshed and defeat.

migrants-blog-graphic

Sicilian’s have developed an amazing resilience, past generations have lost so much and have been so disadvantaged, yet they have always been able to live in the moment and appreciate the smaller things in life because what you are is so much greater than your situation. So if you want to socialize, drink good wine, eat the best meal of your life and learn to live every moment to the full then defiantly visit Sicily.

Throughout all of history, Sicilians have been immigrants, whether it be moving within their island as agricultural workers have always done, following the seasonal harvests around the island, from wheat in the summer, to olives and citrus in the winter. From the post world war periods which took them to the America’s and Australia. Or other generations who moved closer to home in Northern Italy to work in the factories in the 1960’s and further North still into the heavily industrialised European countries such as Germany in the 1980‘s. And now the new generation of graduates living and working all around the world today.

The autostrada to Messina as seen from Taormina

It always irritates me to hear people say how their grandparents, great grandparents or other relatives moved from Sicily to America, Australia, Canada or any other destination, so they could build a better life. These migrants didn’t know if they were going to have a better life, many returned home poorer than they left, others persisted and managed to fashion out a good life in Sicily. They simply went where the work was. Others were lucky, working hard all of their lives, educating themselves and their families and now future generations are wealthy and prospering. The legacy of migrants, is the ability to persist, work and to pull themselves and future generations up through life.

I don’t think the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren should ever look down on Sicily. It is an ancient place filled with history, with a unique energy, vivaciousness and life. A life lived in Sicily isn’t about being poor or underprivileged it’s about having the strength to overcome. It is about a community which is like an extended family that protects one another, it is about dropping everything and helping out if there is an emergency or simply taking the moment to stop and say hello.

It is the Sicilian blood in migrant veins which has made them thrive, it has given them the drive, the persistence to overcome, the shrewdness to navigate life and the energy to hustle through difficult times. Remember you are where you are thanks to the sacrifice of generations before you, so be humble and thankful for being of Sicilian heritage. No only Sicilians but migrants from any time or origin are exceptional as they are made to survive and prosper.

wcm0046

Sicilian Mountain Lessons

I’ve always been challenged by the mountainous landscape in Sicily.

The boundless slopes disorient me, I have problems finding my bearings and the horizon is blocked out by them.

When I go hiking down steep hillsides I am constantly holding on for dear life, grappling white-knuckled onto the flimsiest blade of grass. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sprained my ankles or fallen ‘head over arse’ for a lack of balance.

My part of Australia (Perth) is very flat with a small range in the distance affectionately and condescendingly called the ‘Darling’ range (actually it’s named after someone rather important). So I am used to seeing more sky than land on the horizon, at times I feel a little stifled by all of these Sicilian peaks surrounding me.

The Darling little Darling Ranges outside of Perth Western Australia. ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

I’ve been here for more than a decade but I don’t think I will able to accept them. Locals barely notice their mountains, never see the danger of a steep drop, happily detour around landslides in winter, curiously enough Mt Etna is hardly mentioned in even the greatest Sicilian literature even if a novel is set in the foothills of the Volcano near Catania, it’s simply ‘Mongibello’, a minor character in a sea of personalities.

 

Mongibello ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

I agree with D.H Lawrence when he described Sicily’s landscape in his 1920’s travelogue Sea and Sardinia as a ‘peaky confinement,’ preferring the open landscape of the island of Sardinia. The mountains here are repressive and Lawrence is right to complain about the sense of suffocation. I too need ‘room for my spirit: and you can have all the toppling crags of romance.’ Take the mountains and give me some space!

Nebrodi Mountains ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

I’m convinced the landscape is evolving before my very eyes, every time I look up I see something different. Entire houses leap out at me, old country mansions suddenly show themselves and I’m constantly asking my husband: ‘Hey has that always been there?’

There is no way of appropriately describing or photographing the summits they are so immense and vary from day-to-day. The sunlight of every different season gives them endless idiosyncrasies.

Looking out at the Aeolian Islands in Messina Province ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

I really should be used to the ranges but I am still afraid of them and the one car width wide mountain roads, carved out of ribcage on their sides, with only a flimsy guard rail (sometimes not even that) separating you from a certain death plummeting down the rest of the precipice if you were you to swerve or be hit by an upcoming car.

My Sicilian man still asks me:

‘Why are you still so afraid and uncertain?’

‘What happens if you meet another car?’ I ask.

He nonchalantly answers: ‘Someone backs up and lets the other pass.’

Oh great that means reversing down a mountain road and plummeting to my death backwards, at least I won’t see death arriving.

Mountains outside of Milazzo (Messina) ©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

An old friend of my husband did exactly that, well not backwards or to his death. But he swerved to avoid a truck along a curvy highland road near to where he lives, his car leapt over the railing and the driver door flung open (of course he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt as thick-headed Sicilians don’t do safety devices.)

He was thrown out of his four-wheel drive car falling through the branches of some chestnut trees and finally landing in the arms of some small hazelnut boughs while his car continued to roll down to the base of an abandoned gully way, way, way below the road.

Thank goodness he was stoic and tenacious enough to simply dust himself off and climb back up to the road as his cell phone was left resting with what was left of his car. With blood pouring down his face from a 30 stitches wide gash on his scalp he walked home and called an ambulance. The bits and pieces of his car were recovered and sold for spare parts ten days later.

And my fear of mountains was reinforced.

 

Gin Gin, Western Australia, so flat with no danger of falling, here speed is the killer.©Rochelle Del Borrello 2016

As if this wasn’t enough, my phobia of mountains was doubled this year thanks to another accident which hit closer to home. My sister-in-law took a tumble with her car this January while moving to the side to letting another vehicle go by, she was thrown out of the driver’s door while her car cartwheeled further down the mountain. She was conscious and managed to call for help, when I got to the scene I saw all of my worse nightmares.

After being airlifted to Messina and a month in the hospital and another month convalescing at home she has made a good recovery. Now I refuse to drive on these mountain roads and am constantly gasping when my husband gets a little too close to the edge.

Thanks, Sicily for the lesson.

wcm0046

Culture shock in Sicily

COSI post illustration

There is no need to be offended about an article about the ridiculousness of life in Italy and how to survive it. All expats dive into life’s absurdity with a relish that is slightly abnormal, because we are all a little mentally unstable. Our posts are written with a wink of an eye, extravagantly wild hand gestures, a smile on our face, a bottle of red wine on the table and the ability of an Italian to laugh at himself.

 

COSI title april

As usual, Sicily is the key to everything in Italy. Many of the peninsula’s cultural qualities have spread up from the South or become intensified here on this island isolated from the rest of the mainland.

Here’s my random list of ten culture shocks which made my skin crawl but through some kinda crazy miracle I have survived and continue to live within Sicily.

1. Confusing Dialects

It’s normal to believe Italians all speak Italian, but the reality is in a country filled with individualists there are many regional variations and dialects, which are like different languages. In the South, the day-to-day use of Italian goes out of the window as the locals slip into their comfortable dialect which is a confusing array of influences from Sicily’s thirteen different foreign occupations.

So what to do when you are affronted by a barrage of Sicilian you don’t understand? Well, don’t panic, stick to Italian, everyone learns it at school, so they do appreciate you and if you think you are being ripped off you are under no legal obligation to buy, just act like a Sicilian, yell a lot, leave the object in the store and try to get a better price. In general, if you stick to family run Trattoria instead of Ristorante, you shouldn’t be overcharged for meals.

2. Slow Living

When I first moved to Sicily I struggled with the slower paced lifestyle, I hated how most stores closed for lunch, but now there are many bigger supermarkets which are open all day just in case you have a craving for chocolate at midday!

The relaxed timetable is much less stressful, and it helps you to savour the smaller things like a good lunch, an unexpected conversation or a surprise discovery while meandering the streets or markets.

3. Ugly corruption and politics

As with any other densely populated and ancient country, fraud is often used to oil the wheels of progress and slash through red tape, something which never should be tolerated. It’s terrible to see but I always try to go above it myself, in my own dealings I’m still above-board, and I think most people like to be honest. All the politicking and underhanded deals are about being furbi or shrewder than the next guy when there is money to be made, but you can still make a living by being honest and hardworking. (Corny and idealistic I know, but true)

Sicilian image 1

4. Unemployment

The majority of people in the South are either unemployed for all or part of the year, only because of the lack of development and the terrible administration of the local economy. But this doesn’t seem to worry anyone too much, work is seen as a necessary evil, and many manage to get by with cash paying seasonal work, while an online job and savings in a foreign bank account are an expat’s lifeline.

5. Inter sex relations and friendships

I’ve always struggled to make friends in Sicily, which used to be mind-boggling to me as I’m a very charming person who makes a great dinner party guest. Most Sicilians and Italians cement their social connections at school and through family and rarely look beyond them, so for me it’s like being left out of the click.

I have some darling platonic male friends back in Oz, while I’ve been told here that men and women can’t be friends as men just want sex! WTF!?! So social life for me in Sicily is about celebrating Birthdays with the in-laws and somehow being gradually adopted into existing circles.

6. Bringing up baby

Having children in Italy is a challenge to say the least, from gynecologists who will ask you to drop your pants anywhere (operating rooms, storage rooms, in the hall on the way to the delivery room), to invasive family always offering unwelcome advice, a lack of private places and postnatal visitors who will buy your newborn a designer wardrobe they will never wear.

Taking a step back, being pregnant in Italy is great, everyone loves children and family is always prominent. As a preggie woman, you will get random gifts from shop attendants, good karma and well wishes from random strangers on the street. There will be casual opportunities to taste everything you see, as people believe you can give your unborn child a birthmark in the shape of whatever you are craving, so milk this superstition for your weight in Sicilian pastries.

7. Crumbling schools

I’m still at the beginning of my journey through the school system and in general public schools are suffering through substantial budget cutbacks (usually if there is a need to cut funding in Sicily, the tightening of the belt is done around the neck of schools and hospitals, which is sad but true). So the school’s paintwork is fading, cement has cracks in it, and there is no toilet paper but the teachers are usually local, and so they know who your child is.

Often the local teacher has been to school with the parents of the children, or are related or know the family tree of each student, which makes it hard for kids to act up. If the teacher knows where you live and everything else about you she can blackmail you into being good, so this is winning.

Sicily

8. Pasta and pastina

Sicilian’s eat pasta every single day and children are fed tiny pieces of pastina as soon as they are on solids. I cannot understand the fixation. I’ve had countless arguments about the dietary benefits of pasta, too many carbs have ruined my waistline. I love pasta, but enough is enough already, it’s not that healthy when something becomes an obsession.

9. Catholic up front

Italy is a Catholic country, but I think that’s a bit of a farce, the Roman Catholic church is like this proud tradition which people act out through the year and deep down Italian’s are pagans, confused non-believers or atheists like the rest of us. They just like to get dressed up, have holidays and be seen as morally upright while showing off their beautiful history through their church.

10. Women’s obsessions with cleaning and hairdressers.

This last point on my list is a personal peeve, and I may be generalising about this but hey I’m being self-indulgent and controversial today, so I’m going to roll with it.

Sicilian women have an unnatural obsession with cleaning their houses, they will get up at dawn to scrub and disinfect or work through the night like shoemaker’s elves to leave their homes sparkling and above all so that no one sees their efforts. It’s incredible and dumbfounding. I really have better things to do with my time, for me, it’s quick dust and mop, then I need to get on with my life.

I love getting my hair done every once in a while, it’s unique and makes me feel pretty, but many Sicilian women go continuously and obsessively. Many afternoons here in small-town Sicily the menfolk are sitting in the squares while the women are getting their hair done, talk about superficiality. Not that there is anything wrong with looking after yourself but like I said before obsession isn’t healthy.

COSI April post1 (1)

 

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

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

Working for free and the arte di arrangarsi in Italy

This table on Wikipedia compares monthly salaries in different countries. Italy’s average wage is notably much less than most of the other wealthy or economically powerful European countries (such as France, Switzerland and Germany. The Nordic countries, in particular, have much more generous stipend levels).

 

Wikipedia table about wages

Italy looks pretty comfortable compared to the former Eastern bloc countries such as Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Latvia and Romania who’s economies are still developing.

The big surprise is when you see the difference between Italy, UK and USA, wages where most of the expats in our COSI group are originally from, it literally makes your mouth drop. That is a huge salary cut for an expat who is used to a comfortable income to get used to. So why is this so?

Italy is somewhere in the middle of other Europe countries, it’s economy isn’t as strong as the most wealthy countries, yet isn’t as bad as others but it does lag behind the US and UK. I’m not an economics expert, I can only share my own personal experience as an expat in Sicily.

Piazzale Marconi, Noto Syracuse
Piazzale Marconi, Noto Syracuse

From my perspective, you don’t move to Italy for the money, you move here for the lifestyle, in general, the cost of living in the south is a lot less than many other places in Italy so you aren’t going to need a huge income to make life work here in Sicily. Sicilian’s have been living in a backward economy and high unemployment levels for what seems like an eternity. Despite these and other problems they still manage to lead happy and full lives.

The work is often shared around, many people who work for the government work only part of the year which makes them eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. For example, the state Forestry department employs workers for a certain amount of days a year which allows many people to be gainfully employed.

So while you probably need less money to live there is also less work to be found. Sicilian’s are probably the least materialistic people I know, apart from the odd smartphone, flashy pair of sunglasses or designer clothes, most live in or near an old inherited family home and spend most of their money on food.

Often young people work for free or simply to gather experience (which I find to be rather sad). I have done tonnes of free work, some things like translations have been completed as a favour to friends and acquaintances and I once was paid in jewellery instead of cash.

My husband who is a surveyor does a crazy amount of work for nothing unless he works for the local town hall or for particularly conscientious private clients. Sicilian’s are constantly trying to get out of paying full price for services and my husband is too proud to ask. Luckily he has a bossy foreigner for a wife to get him paid sometimes.

Symbol of Sicily

What is the explanation for this lack of payment? Simply because we are in Sicily. The same reason why everyone gets an appointment at the same time everywhere from the hairdresser to the doctor, where life is an eternal waiting in line. Complacency has always been a problem in Sicily and I find it an unattractive feature, it used to serve Sicilians well when they were withstanding invading cultures, it stopped them from being overwhelmed by domineering conquerors but it has slowed them down, makes them old, weary and ultimately sabotages their own lives. Waiting times for medical procedures out live patients lifespan, unless you have the money to go private. Qualified teachers wait until they are well into their forties to find a position in the public schools unless they move their lives up to northern Italy. There are no houses available for the needy and no places for the dead in some cemeteries, everyone seems to be waiting for something even after life has finished.

So when there is no above the board work, as they are waiting for something better to come along Sicilians roll up their sleeves and invent their own employment. The art of getting along or l’arte di arrangiarsi is a southern speciality from Naples down to Sicily, it is an ingenious creative way of making ends meet by using the means around you. In regards to wages this means doing anything from: be being paid in cash, working part-time and then claiming unemployment, defrauding the state using paid sick leave, bartering, saving money by growing your own vegetables, shopping at discount supermarkets or handing down clothes. You save money where you can and find work as you need it.

After all for a Sicilian work is a means to an end, a necessary evil, employment interrupts Southerner’s lives.

I recently saw this shared graphic on Facebook about Sicily which pretty much sums up life in the south of Italy. (c/o The Sicilian way community, be sure to like their page)

About Sicilian lifestyle

Here’s my rough translation:

Life in Sicily is lived by another rhythm.

People open the stores when they wake up

not always according to an arbitrary time.

The street signs are few and not clear

because if you go somewhere you

usually, know the way.

Then slowly but surely, you realize that

living a slower life is better for you.

It is the natural rhythm of life.

When you leave Sicily, as the plane takes off

you aren’t leaving a place you are leaving

behind another way of living.

A way of life which makes you happier and

makes you want to return.

wcm0046

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.

wcm0046

Coming back to Sicily: contrasting reflections

Coming back to Sicily

People love Italy, they fantasies about it, they want to live here but never realise how broken a place it is. It is slow in mentality, stubborn to change and frustrating for someone who is used to living in a younger faster moving, more efficient country. One day when the rest of the world is older perhaps they will understand the superficial awe surrounding Italy is all about magical lighting and idealistic dreams.

Above the Indian Ocean, I suddenly had flashbacks of how much I’d disappointed my family, how much my heart is filled with longing with regret, it makes me feel so lost, yet determined to not keep it in my heart. I resist the sensation of being sucked out through a vortex, under my seat.

Negotiating Rome airport is a nightmare. It’s a terrible scramble off the plane as if everyone simply has to claim their baggage and head to the exit. But often you need to catch that elusive final flight within Italy’s borders, so you need to prepare yourself for the obstacle course, which changes every couple of months, thanks to the constant evolution of Fiumicino Airport, helped along by the occasional spontaneous fire from a lack of maintenance.

First, to negotiate a conglomerate of sweaty, frustrated and simmering people, there are no orderly lines to follow, you have to push your way through onto the monorail and onto security check lines. Liquids in clear bags, tablets, cameras, portable computers, watches, belts, wallets and handbags in security trays. Dress yourselves and repack and head to passport control, if you are lucky you will be shoved into a bus heading towards the domestic terminal, dodging taxiing planes, freezing in winter and sweltering in summer, be sure to check your gate number frequently, as it will be changed at the last moment.

There will be delays in boarding, persistent confusion and you will be twiddling your thumbs on the plane as luggage is loaded and unloaded. Do not be alarmed if vapour comes out of the plane in the summer as it is the way the airline keeps passengers cool while they wait, all a part of Alitalia making travelling easier, (I wouldn’t be surprised if it has sedatives in it), so take a deep breath and grab an overpriced drink or gelato in the terminal.

Raccuja, Messina

Sicily is such a sad old place.

Italy is stylish and trendy but appearances are superficial, underneath the glitter, there are overindulged children who refuse to help themselves and their mothers in crowded airports.

Australia is so fresh and new in comparison to Italy, full of hope and too much traffic where everyone is busy, working and living lives filled with activities for their children and ambition in their hearts. This time I take with me the memory of the peppery smell after brief showers in Perth and the colours of a new crisp antipodean winter morn. Australia has changed so much I barely recognize it, forgetting how to navigate the new suburbs while Sicily barely holds back its decay. Sicilia is a contrast with the heavy smell of dust and tobacco smoke, along with the rich aroma of the coffee and the glorious July sunshine which bathes the island of the sun with a magical light.

I am a bridge between these two places, stretching myself out so thinly I nearly break.

Manago' Ceramics Taormina

I ask my dearly departed grandfather with a prayer, why did he choose to migrate to Australia from Sicily, why not Germany or France like so many of his cousins? Or America or Canada like my father’s Abruzzese family.

I suddenly realise my Nonna didn’t have a choice, where he went, he had cousins who were doing well and other friends and family who helped him as destiny pulled us to Australia. My mother and grandmother camping in the bush outside of Merredin near Kalgoorlie, W.A, sharing their tent with snakes and lizards, while Nonno cut wood for the hungry ovens of industry in 1950’s Australia. So were my family’s first steps in their adopted home and my idealized Eldorado.

Every migrant misses their birthplace, it is the irony that our origins become an elusive dream which can no longer exist. Like the fascinating poetry of Ibn Hamdis an Arab Sicilian poet from the eleventh century who was born at Syracuse and lived his first twenty-five years in Sicily, until being exiled from the island by the Normans, to never return. Hamdis lived into his eighties and wrote the most delicate, emotive poetry dedicated to what he considered his spiritual home, which can be universally addressed to anyone who has moved away from their birthplace:

la vedo a ogni ora nel ricordo

e a lei invio

le lacrime che verso

mi struggo di nostalgia

per la casa, i vicini e la virtu’

attraente delle ragazze

che partendo ha lasciato il cuore

in quella terra

con il corpo desidera tornare.

***

I see her [Sicily] in every moment of my memory

and send to her

the tears I cry

I yearn with melancholy

for the home, the neighbors and the attractive

virtues of the girls

who I left my heart to

in that land

where my body wishes to return.

wcm0046