Leonforte at the beating heart of Sicily

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Culture Shock in Italy: Friendship

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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Culture shock in Sicily

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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.

 

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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)

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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.

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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.

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How history shapes Sicily’s character

 (Book excerpt)

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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.

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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.

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The Dangerously Truthful Diary of A Sicilian Housewife

Diary of a sicilian housewife

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have much contact or interactions with other expats?

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

What should I absolutely see in Sicily?

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

 What should I be eating or drinking in Sicily?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The invasion from North Africa in the 11th century.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sicilian beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you think Italy is a ‘monocultural’ society?

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

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

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

I speak with an English accent!

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

How did you first come to the blogging world?

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

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

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

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

Thank you for the compliments: keep them coming!

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

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

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

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

Sicilian fisherman

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

All images have been lovingly lifted from The Sicilian Housewife.

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

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

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

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

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Visit Secret Sicily with Oriana

Secret Sicily

One of my favorite new blogs about this complex isle I live on is Secret Sicily written by a fab virtual friend of mine named Oriana. I love meeting new people through their blogs and I think good blogging is about bringing out your own personality, passions and interests.

It was great to have a talk to the gal behind this wonderful resource for anyone planning a trip or currently traveling the island.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your blog… Introduce yourself.

I’m originally from Palermo, but I’ve been living outside of Italy (in the UK and the Netherlands) for about seven years now. I’m a Digital Campaigner during the day, and a blogger at night, and I started writing Secret Sicily in 2015 to share what I know about the ‘real’ Sicily with the world.

How would you describe Sicily to someone who has never visited? Are the people welcoming to foreigners?

When you go to Sicily for the first time it just blows your mind. It’s a place full of history, natural wonders and amazing food. But it’s also a ‘marmite’ place; you can either love it or hate it (sometimes both). The great thing about it is that some parts of Sicily are still totally unspoilt by tourists. The downside of this is that some itineraries are pretty much hidden and finding information can be tricky, even for locals.

On your blog you mentioned how you ‘escaped from Sicily’ and how you ‘don’t miss Sicily’ and how you ‘think Sicily sucks on many levels.’ Can explain what you mean? It sounds like you are a little disillusioned, that’s all.

Have you ever spent hours in your car, stuck in a permanent traffic jam with people yelling at each other and honking like crazy because about ten cars triple-parked in front of a bakery shop – including a police car? Well, that sums it up.

Name five things I should see and do in Sicily?

1) Hike and swim at Zingaro Natural Reserve 2) Visit the Temple Valley (Agrigento) 3) Climb Mount Etna 4) Watch a Greek tragedy in the Greek theatre of Syracuse 5) Go to at least one of the hundreds ‘sagre’ and festivals across the island.

What should I taste in Sicily?

Anything edible that comes your way, as long as it’s local and not part of a tourist menu. An absolute must is Palermo’s street food. Keep an open mind and be adventurous – it’s totally worth it.

Street scene Messina

Tell us about how to spend perfect day in Sicily?

Start with a sweet breakfast at a local ‘bar’: iris con ricotta or brioche col gelato will do. Go spend a day hiking and swimming in a local natural reserve like Zingaro and bring an arancina or two with you for the perfect lunch. If you’re not into hiking, visit one of the amazing and not very well known beaches in Sicily, like Capo D’Orlando (3 hours from Palermo). Enjoy an ice-cream or a granita in the afternoon and get ready for aperitivo time (around 7pm). Watch the sunset somewhere nice, possibly by the beach. At night, go for a concert, a theatre performance or just a relaxing walk by the beach.

Do you ever suffer from homesickness for Sicily?

Of course I do. Despite all the bad things I say about Sicily, I do miss a lot of things. Going for aperitivo with my old friends, making arancine with mamma Franca, laughing at silly jokes that only Sicilian people can get. This is why I try and go back as much as possible.

What led you to the world of blogging?

I’ve always worked in the digital sector, in one capacity or another, and blogging has always been part of my daily job, as well as my nocturnal hobby. A few years back, I co-founded a blog called Clicktivist, where myself and a dear friend of mine talk about digital campaigning, and last year I started writing for Osocio, a website about non-profit advertising and marketing for social causes. Now the problem is keeping up with all my blogging duties!

How would you describe your blog, tell us more about it …

Secret Sicily is a blog for real travellers who want to see Sicily through the eyes of a local. It’s also a place for people who are generally interested in the Sicilian culture and enjoy a bit of irony here and there.

What kind of blogger are you, is it all about getting a zillion visitors/subscribers, selling your books or is it therapy?

My blog is my playground. It’s a way to have fun and get to know people who, like me, enjoy traveling, learning new things and telling stories. I love every single aspect of it, from searching stories and writing posts, to optimizing my website and improving my social media reach. Obviously, getting a zillion visitors is also part of the plan 😉

Books can take us places without leaving home, do you have a favourite travel book which you think best describes a particular place or the art of travel in a particular way for those who are unable to travel.

‘A fortune teller told me’, by Tiziano Terzani is one of my favourite books. It’s the story of an Italian journalist who, warned by a fortune-teller not to risk flying for a year, decided to travel around Asia by rail, road and sea. He consults fortune-tellers wherever he goes and learns to understand and respect other forms of beliefs. It’s a great read and it describes exactly what travelling is all about for me.

What would be your ultimate dream trip?

A cycling trip across South East Asia. Though I’m not sure my slipped disk would appreciate it.

What are the five things you would never leave home without …

Oyster card, phone, wallet, and home keys. These four things are usually scattered in a large bag also featuring: an e-book, the latest issue of Wired magazine, a sketchbook and a pen, glasses, packed lunch, gym gear and lots of tissues.

So what’s coming up on Secret Sicily that we can look forward to …

I’m currently working on my Etsy shop, where you can find crafty gifts for travel lovers, like my collection of handpainted travel journals. More designs and a new range of products will be available soon, so watch this space!

Have you discovered any other wonderful travel/expat blogs that we should be reading?

Some of my favourite blogs include Sicilian Godmother, An Englishman in Italy, Savoring Italy and Driving Like A Maniac. As an Italian living abroad I find it very interesting (and sometimes hilarious) to read about what foreign people think about living in Italy.

Santo Stefano Ceramics

Thanks ever so much to Oriana for taking the time to answer my questions and I look forward to discovering more about Sicily from such a dedicated local.

Be sure to follow Secret Sicily via: FacebookTwitterInstagram.

Oriana Secret Sicily

Oriana is a digital campaigner and a blogger. She is the brain behind secretsicily.org – a travel blog about all things Sicilian. She loves travelling, enjoying good food and doing her bit to change the world.

 

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Searching for San Valentino

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A skeptic Valentine

As for me I think I am in serious danger of falling flat on my face here, you see I’ve never been the romantic type. I’m the one who encouraged my brother and his former girlfriend many years ago on Valentine’s day to fake a wedding proposal to get a free meal at a fancy restaurant (which they did by the way and a bottle of expensive champagne!) So I’m probably not the best person to praise the nuances of this day.

My husband doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body (I’ve written before about the rule I have about vetoing inappropriate gifts, so he generally avoids giving me anything). I’ve never received flowers of any description other than the potted variety which usually die a long a cruel death when I forget to water them.

With the risk of sounding like a Valentine ‘Scrooge’ I need to find something to redeem myself on the theme of romantic love which infuses this day for so many people.

On my search for inspiration I found myself ready every possible romantic phrase possible and I got distracted by reading about the Valentines Day mob massacre in 1920’s Chicago (fascinating reading if anyone is interested) but didn’t find anything worthwhile, apart for an inexplicable desire to watch the Untouchables starring Sean Connery and Kevin Costner.

Valentinus

Googling San Valentino

Inadvertently I have become somewhat of an expert on the enigmatic character of St Valentine, thanks to our friends at Google and Wikipedia. Here is what everyone should know about this early Christian Saint:

Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is an official feast day in the Anglican, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. While Saint Valentine the Presbyter of Rome is celebrated on July 6 and Hieromartyr Valentine (Bishop of Interamna, Terni in Umbria central Italy) is celebrated on July 30.

The Catholic Encyclopedia and other sources speak of three Saint Valentines. One was a Roman priest, another the bishop of Interamna (modern Terni) both buried along the Via Flaminia outside of Rome. The third was said to be a saint who suffered on the same day with a number of companions in the Roman province of Africa, for whom nothing else is known.

While under house arrest of Judge Asterius, Valentinus (the Roman pronunciation of his name) evangelized about the life and miracles of Jesus. The judge asked Valentinus to cure his blind adopted daughter and laying his hands on her eyes and the child’s vision was restored. The judge was baptized into the Catholic church together with his family and household servants and freed all Christians he had imprisoned.

Valentinus was arrested again for converting Romans to Christianity and was sent to the prefect of Rome, the emperor Claudius himself. The emperor took a liking to him until the Saint asked Claudius to embrace Christianity. Claudius demanded Valentinus renounce his faith or else he would be beaten with clubs and beheaded the saint refused and was executed outside the Flaminian Gate February 14, 269.

The flower-crowned skull of St. Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. In 1836, some relics that were exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina, then near (rather than inside) Rome, were identified with St Valentine; placed in a casket, and transported in a procession to the high altar for a special Mass dedicated to young people and all those in love.

In 1836, Fr. John Spratt, an Irish priest and famous preacher, was given many tokens of esteem following a sermon in Rome. One gift from Pope Gregory XVI were the remains of St. Valentine and “a small vessel tinged with his blood.” The Reliquary was placed in Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, and has remained there until this day.

One legend says, while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. Another legend says, on the eve of his death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

The historical character of St. Valentine was most probably a martyred Priest, he is the Patron Saint of couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers travelers and young people. The Saint is depicted in art often surrounded with birds and roses.

The first representation of Saint Valentine appeared in a The Nuremberg Chronicle, an illustrated book printed in 1493. Alongside a woodcut portrait of him, text states that he was martyred during the reign of Claudius the Goth [Claudius II].

Under the rule of Claudius, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.

To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

Noto Syracuse
Infiorata Festival, Noto Syracuse.

The love of my life …

Putting aside cheesy sentimentalism, religious Saints relics and my own cynicism I must confess I have been in love for a long time.

Growing up as the grand-daughter to Italians who migrated to Australia gave me that sentimental-romanticized-bitter-sweet kind of love which is in every migrants heart for their long-lost homeland.

It was more than that, Italy become an obsession.

I remember being distinguished as an Italian at school by teachers and schoolmates. At first I didn’t know what it meant to be ‘Italian’ but I saw the superficial differences. I knew for example, other children didn’t call their grandparents Nonno and Nonna, they didn’t know the tastes of olives, artichokes, olive oil, prosciutto, mortadella, or eat crusty Italian bread for breakfast.

Being a strong individualist from an early age I enjoyed being different, being a part of something special not everyone could experience. I understood quickly the knowledge of another culture was a unique advantage which made life more interesting. Above all I loved my family and if being Italian meant being part of my family, then I loved being Italian too.

I was fifteen when I first spent six weeks in Italy with my family. We stayed with my mother’s aunts and cousins, we did a tour around the boot, found my father’s relatives in the Abruzzo region across from Rome on the Adriatic coast and spent the remaining weeks in Sicily.

After that trip I had a small taste of what the words ‘Italy’ and ‘Italian’ meant. Italy was loud, confusing, tiring, chaotic and puzzling, but I loved its history, language, style, inventiveness and cuisine. I still didn’t completely understand what it meant to be Italian but I had a stronger desire to comprehend and explore Italy. I resolved to learn the language and travel through Italy’s culture and history.

The rest is the long and sordid love story I tell on my blog every day.

Made up of the tastes, sights, smells, sounds and touch of Italy.

Which pulls me in deeper each day.

Randazzo Markets
The endless flavours of the Randazzo markets (Catania).

 

 

Messina, Duomo
The magical sunlight over Messina’s Duomo.

 

San Fratello, Judei
The colour and sounds of the Judei’s Easter celebrations at San Fratello Messina.

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Postcards from Sicily: Oregano

Oregano

This summer I photographed this Sicilian Oregano drying in the sun. Oregano grows wild in amongst the Mediterranean scrub of Sicily and is gathered and saved to add flavor to meats and other dishes. As I was taking this photo I was struck by the rustic almost dirty look of the rocks and the herbs, it is harsh but like the real Sicily, that’s the way it is.

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What is happening above our heads?

Smoke lines in the Sicilian sky

The terrifying sound of a jet roaring over our heads is becoming a regular occurrence. It is a military exercise but I imagine the terror of it speeding towards a real mission.

The nightmare of hearing a fleet of such monsters heading towards you announcing death in life’s final moments, a chilling thought which haunts me throughout the day, as if someone has stomped on my grave.

Then there are those lines of smoke designed in the heavens above me. Those silent streaks creeping inadvertently without anyone noticing, trawling behind soundless planes.

The sunset reveals long paths who criss-cross one another, like someone talking behind our backs, a hurtful deception which we won’t know about until well after.

They could be innocuous condensation from air conditioning or noxious gas secretly seeping into our ecosystem, together with Etna’s ash and petrochemical plants pollution which creates pockets of cancerous death around the island.

Sicily is still here and Sicilians still withstand it all. Come vuole Dio, as God commands, a destiny out of their fatalistic hands.

 

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Sicilian’s flare for uttering profanities

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When I was a child I had an Uncle who was terribly capricious, a real joker (he still is until this day) and he took great pleasure in teaching my brother and I all the colourful Italian swear words possible. 

My Uncle thought it was all terribly funny and hoped we’d use them in front of our mother who as a former primary school teacher would be appropriately shocked.

I recently read an article which suggested people who use swear words have down to earth, truthful and logical personalities and using bad language has nothing to do with being bad mannered as traditionally thought.

Cussing is really about being to the point and realistic and simply being rude. This is an interesting take on the subject and I have found people I know who use ‘colorful language’ are genuinely no nonsense types who cut through political correctness with a knife and get to the rough truth below ornamental politeness.

 COSI language collage

I’m not looking for an excuse to launch into a litany of four letter words but when it’s needed and apt ‘cuss’ can be more powerful than all the words in a thesaurus.

I have discovered Sicilians have a particular flare for inventing swear words, curses and such phrases, mixing everything with a pinch of blaspheme for good measure.

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My education in vivid ‘Siculu’ cursing has come about thanks to the Sicilian men surrounding me, who could probably write many volumes dedicated to this particular lexicon!

I have heard swear words that are so offensive they would make a sailor blush, I have even heard women use particular words regularly which refer to male and female genitalia.

Sicilian and Italian swearing combines the holy and profane which kicks and spits out venom onto Saints, the Virgin Mary and God himself. I am not going to write any swears here but I will filter them to give you an idea of what I mean (people easily offended can skip the following paragraph.)

When things go wrong Sicilians curse the Saints and certain body parts (usually genitalia), the Madonna and certain animals (mostly pigs) and if they want to be particularly offensive it gets more personal with references to ‘your sisters privates.’

There I said it, I have never heard such colorful cuss words as here in Sicily, it’s ‘profanely’ confusing!

Thanks to the Sicilian’s curses I’ve learn the filthiest words possible about certain body parts, the names of animals, apparently animals with horns are particularly offensive as they refer to ‘cuckold’ men (an archaic term in English referring to a husband with an adulterous wife). Ridiculing Saints seems to be a popular way of insulting others and letting off steam when things are not going your way.

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Images c/o: http://youngadventuress.com/ and http://italianowithjodina.com/

 

The Sicilian art of the incomplete

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It is common in Sicily to see people living in unfinished houses or apartments with exposed bricks, cement and reinforced steel poking out dangerously like rusty modern sculptures on roofs left behind as it to say:

‘I could build a second storey if I feel like it, ora vediamo …’

Yes the quintessential loitering phrase ‘now we’ll see,’ which is a kinder way of not saying an absolute ‘no’, there’s a tad more hope here, ‘ora vediamo’ … perhaps when hell freezes over. Trades men are particularly fond of this expression, I’m sure it’s a part of their coat of arms.

In reality, idleness is only part of the reason behind these half complete buildings, it has more to do with Italy’s bizarre construction laws and tax evasion. Since it is terribly expensive and complicated to build so things are done rather gradually. Also in general Sicilian’s don’t like taking out home loans and so choose to pay with cash and do work in dribs and drabs as a way of saving money.

A house ‘in construction’ doesn’t have any taxes attached to it, hence the Sicilian’s abode can become an eternal work in progress to avoid hefty fees and excesses.

If you inherit an old house any renovations are done on the sly as you need not pay anything if you live in an animal barn or nineteenth century shack, as results in the original deeds of the house, don’t in gods name update the strata title as you will end up paying the same as Berlusconi does for his expansive Villa Arcore outside of Milan.

It’s best not to rock the boat and leave everything buried in the eternal labyrinth that is Italian bureaucracy.

It is all terribly messy and dangerous but Sicilian’s have grown used to living inside a construction site. There’s a hidden artistry to it all.

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