A walk to the fig tree

The fig tree

In the summer Sicilian’s become like frugivorous animals living off the fruits produced by their gardens. So my husband, son and I are obliged to take a walk to the fig tree to gather up its bounty.

The only problem is the tree is hidden deep below a steep precipice behind overgrown bushes and prickly vines. So a simple walk to a fig tree becomes a trek through the Sicilian undergrowth.

According to my son’s fertile imagination, we were buried in the jungle. In reality, we were making a path through the rugged and abandoned countryside. I was imagining twisted ankles, ripped clothes and thorns.

 

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After literally cutting a path through the bushes we were rewarded by a pleasant walk under the shade of overgrown hazelnut trees in a pathway well hidden from the still burning afternoon sun littered with small mulberries we all love to eat.

 

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When we finally reached the tree, we receive the most indulgent reward, an elaborate tree filled with lush mature fruit. Something is satisfying about eating fresh fruit from under a tree. As I pick the most delicious figs, the white sap bleeds onto my hands, and the figs split open, I place them in my mouth.

 

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While slurping up my first fig of the year, I recall how Italian Renaissance poets used the image of the fig as an erotic metaphor for female genitalia, who knew to eat a fig would be so provocative.

 

 

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The fig has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years and is native to the region between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The tree repeatedly appears in the Bible, and some scholars believe the forbidden fruit picked by Eve was a fig rather than an apple.

 

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We are forced to fight off the birds for the figs, as their growing season is so short and intense, we have to be quick, or we’ll miss out. If there is an abundant crop, I might get the chance to make fig jam, or we can choose to dry them in the sun so we can eat them later with roasted hazelnuts in the winter.

The exciting possibilities are endless.

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Making your own Dolce Vita

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

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

 

 

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

 

Making your own Dolce Vita

 

 

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

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

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

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.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The imagery of Italian language

Italian word of the day title

The Italian language is so visual, it has an ability to take an image or object and use it as a metaphor for a something much greater than itself.
In English it would be akin to the literary term metonymy (from the Greek change of name) which is the term for one thing as applied to another thing with which it has become closely associated for example: the crown for a king or the turf for horse racing. Or in more specific cases the term synecdoche (Greek for taking together) which is taking a part of something and using it to signify the whole.

One example in Italian that comes to mind of metonymy is the concept of campanilismo (cam·pa·ni·lì·ṣmo) a medieval form of parochialism, associated with the historical bell towers which featured so prominently in the landscape of many ancient Italian cities. There was once a certain prestige if your town had a particularly tall or impressive bell tower and so campanilismo stemmed from the competitiveness or rivalry between one town to out do its neighbour. In Tuscany, Siena would try and build a taller tower than Lucca or Florence and San Gimignano is filled with 72 towers. These days there is no real competition but the word reflects the steadfast pride and attachment each Italian has for his own home town.

Blog title_ Campanilismo

It has been two months since the Italian  general election and Italy’s political parties are still battling to form a government. There have been many behind close door meetings and much political wheeling and dealing which makes me think of yet another apt and rather poetical word to summarise the current situation in Italy.

Poltronismo (pol–tro–nì–smo) is the obsession many politicians have with obtaining and maintaining important high status positions for as long as they can. This ugly concept comes from the word poltrone (pol·tró·ne) which is a sofa. Nobody wants to give up a comfortable seat right?!?

title Poltronismo

So any cushy or well paid job is compared to a big soft, comfortable lounge chair.

Incidentally a poltrone is also a lazy person, someone who refuses to get up off his arse and do something.

The Five Star Movement  which is the biggest single party in Italy, led by Luigi Di Maio and its possible alliance with the Lega Nord, led by Matteo Salvini is motivated by a little bit of poltronismo. No doubt they are doing their best to occupy the biggest seat available in Italy.

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.

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Shifting family trees, Australia and being a foreigner in Sicily

Perth City, Western Australia

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

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

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

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

A horse in the Sicilian landscape

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

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

Countryside

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

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

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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.

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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.

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The complexity of Italy’s cheating heart

 

I often exchange stories with other expats about the Italians who have lied and cheated us with an ease and nonchalance which is both infuriating and puzzling. Not to say other countries don’t have problems with corruption as the world is rife, but in most Anglo-Saxon countries a politician or public servant or any other important figure caught out doing dodgy deals is publicly shamed and practically disappears from circulation.

In Italy fraud is a sin easily pardoned, I’d go to the extent to say Italians expect their politicians to be sly. In the country where Machiavelli’s Renaissance masterwork of politicking The Prince has become a classic the idea of furbizia (which translates to a mixture of cunning, shrewdness, astuteness and slyness) which has become a solid part of the Italian character, it’s not very attractive and as usual this trait becomes more pronounced in the South. At the risk of offending many Italian’s these crazy foreigners are carefully trying to understand why we are persistently being cheated by the country we love.

Taormina art studios

Really bad Karma

Organized crime rooted in Mafia-style practices such as bribery, extortion, murder, public contracts, vote-buying represents only a fraction of Sicily’s corruption which includes particular areas, such as building construction, restoration and money laundering. Certain practices, though deplorable, are not necessarily illegal in Italy, where the conflict of interest laws are lax and things like nepotism and cronyism are a normal part of professional life. It is still possible, for example, to obtain a high grade at the University through an offer of money or even, in the case of a pretty studentessa, sex.

Corruption in Italy takes many forms from providing public contracts to politicians’ friends, bribery and illegal kickbacks. Funds for a construction project such as building or expanding a hotel, an education program, a skills development program, or agricultural subsidy are mismanaged and terribly corrupt. It took thirty-five years to complete the Palermo-Messina autostrada and some fifteen million Euros mysteriously disappeared during the restoration of Palermo’s Teatro Massimo opera house.

Widespread corruption is endemic, especially where public funding is involved. The situations created by the project managers are real tragedies in a land of poverty and high unemployment, where there are vast differences between rich and poor and where even a simple job is considered a privilege. Rich project designers are paid millions to produce little or nothing, while others work humble jobs just to make ends meet. Most disturbing about these opportunists is their complete lack of any sense of responsibility or guilt.

Despite these incredible hypocrisies Sicilian’s often ignore project scandals and other forms of corruption because these things are part of their daily lives. Pay offs and even sexual harassment are considered perfectly normal in Italy. It is part of the usual system of self decay that has been going on for many centuries in Sicily. If it wasn’t a distinct reality it would be the perfect fodder for a biting satire.

Sicilian’s admire the quality of ‘furbizia’ or shrewdness, the ability to outsmart someone or manoeuvring themselves around an unfair law or authority. This probably is another survival quality left behind from their history of being a so-called colonized or conquered people. This ugly personality trait results in a lot of white collar crime which is detrimental to the country as a whole. A Sicilian who is being too ‘furbo’ is ultimately shooting himself in the foot. Not to mention exposing himself to a whole lot of bad Karma!

Trying to explain the intricacies of Italy to someone who doesn’t live here is like painting a caricature, you can barely scratch the surface and it can never do justice to the complex character of Italy, it’s not that Italy is filled with darkness, violence and injustices it’s more than this country is made up of many different faces which coexist with the darker elements. There are wonderful generosity and kindness in Italy too, I know it is a contradiction but Italy is schizophrenic and amusingly diverse.

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Duplicity of character

I was recently reading an anthology titled Cento Sicilie (One hundred Sicily’s) dedicated to the many writers who have attempted to depict the island, in the introduction Sicilian writer Gesualdo Bufalino attempts to explain the reason behind the islands complexities:

‘Atlases say Sicily is an island and this must be true as atlases are trustworthy books. However one must have a shadow of a doubt, when you reflect on the definition of an island, usually comprehends a compact concentration of race and customs, while here everything is dispersed, mixed, changing like in the most complex of continents. It is true there are many Sicily’s, we will never finish counting them. There is the green Sicily of the Carob trees, the white of the salt harvests, the yellow of sulphur, the blonde colour of the honey and the purple lava. There is the foolish Sicily, so relaxed as to seem stupid; a shrewd or sly Sicily dedicated to the most useful practice of fraud and violence. There is a lazy Sicily, a frenetic one who is consumed by the worries of materialistic inheritance, one who performs life-like a carnivalesque screenplay, and one who ultimately looks out onto a ‘windswept ridge’ into the beginning of a blinding madness…

Why are there so many different Sicily’s? Because Sicily’s destiny is to be a link through different centuries between the grand culture of the West and the temptations of the desert and the sun, caught between reason and mysticism, in the contrasts of logic and the heat waves of passion. Sicily suffers from an excess of identity, who knows if this is good or bad. Of course for whoever is born here the happiness of feeling like you are sitting on the centre of the world doesn’t last long, it is quickly taken over by the suffering of not knowing how to disentangle a thousand complexities and interweaving bloodlines to find one true destiny.’

Symbol of Sicily

The frustration of fraud

So now you are as confused as I am we can begin to admit how totally utterly overwhelming Italy is. Welcome to the life of a foreigner in Italy who daily confronts the labyrinth of double-dealing. All Italians are victims of their culture of duplicity, they complain about the impossibility of getting a job on merit alone, the necessity of seeking out a political recommendation, the convoluted public service, a banking system which is persistently trying to rip them off, rampant tax evasion, an abyss of constant political upheaval and corruption which affects everything from health care, law enforcement to education.

Lining up at the local post office everyone complains about the inefficiency and liberally share their stories of scams or rip offs they have suffered. Local GP waiting rooms are a source of collective therapy and gossip for people who are frustrated by delays and handballing of medical treatment from one specialist to the next. It is one big mess which seems to overwhelm all who live in this country. Despite all this everyone gets along with the business of living life. After all what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, less naïve, more ‘furbi’ (shrewd) and not so likely to fall victim to the next fraud.

One particularly grating thing about being a foreigner living in Sicily is how a Sicilian hears an English/American or Australian accent and automatically rubs his hands, thinking about ways to rip you off. You can be living here for decades and still be treated like a cretin, charged double at the shops, ignored at the post office and spoken to as if you are a simpleton. Sometimes when I am feeling overwhelmed by this resistance to foreigners I delegate phone calls and some errands to my husband or do as a Sicilian does, complain loudly with copious amounts of Sicilian swear words and tell them where to go.

Rustic Sicily

Italy’s Dark Heart

In 2003 English journalist Tobias Jones published The Dark Heart of Italy in which he described the diabolic character of Italy’s complexities focusing on the post world war two history right up to the Berlusconi dominated years. After the book’s publication Jones was hounded by the Italian press for being a preachy Englishman who didn’t know what he was talking about. I recently read the book and apart from a little Berlusconi bashing, Jones experiences and observations about Italy are insightful even if they are at times a little superficial. It is generally a good, truthful book and expresses the frustration many foreigners feel while adjusting to living life in Italy. It’s the kind of book one would write to vent a little.

I totally agree when he says things like: ‘What really, really pisses me off is the fact that talented people in Italy very rarely rise to the top.’ And knowingly nod my head at seemingly shocking statements like: ‘Every week I’m assailed by a new example of nepotism. My favourite is the fact that, at the RAI (Italian T.V stations), employment can literally be inherited.’

Tobias Jones comes to the same conclusion most long-term expats and locals do, which is despite the ugliness you fall in love with the beauty and simplicity of day-to-day life in Italy which helps you to live through all the sordidness. Ending his book with the same note of acceptance most lovers of Italy come to: ‘And for all the complications, Italian life can sometimes seem incredibly simple. Sometimes I don’t even hear the noise of my gnashing molars.’

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The poetry of Theresa Maggio

Theresa Maggio

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

sicily 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sicilian Cart

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

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

The second question – too big for my brain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you working on any other interesting projects?

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

Sicilian Prickly Pears

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

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

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

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

Theresa Maggio

Theresa Maggio says:

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

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Going home: an expat’s internal conflict

Sydney Harbour 2012

Every time I go home for a visit I get terribly excited, start making lists of what I want to do, who I need to see and what I should buy so I can make the most of my three months in Australia (as my Italian husband travels on a short tourist visa- I’m sure there will be many more posts about my husband’s future odyssey on obtaining Australian citizenship!)

The long haul flight from Rome to Perth Western Australia is what really gets me down: the never-ending waits in airports, uncomfortable airline seats, insomnia, the drone of the plane engines (which is actually less thanks to the new generation of airbuses!), the drying out effect of recycled air conditioning,  swollen feet and the dreadful sensation the journey will never end (Rome-Perth is 13,330 km’s)

Landing in Perth W.A is like coming out of a dark tunnel, the harsh sunshine, the flatness of the terrain and the god awful feeling of isolation. Why is Australia so far away from the rest of the world?

Serpentine Jarradale W.A 2012

In the first few days, I always feel stoned as if I have fallen out of the sky or as if I have been on another planet until I slowly remember how life is in Australia. Every visit home is like recalling a long-lost memory gradually coming back to me, always slightly embarrassing and refreshing at the same time.

Australia for me is like seeing an old friend after many years, at first there is an awkward moment when you wonder if you will still connect and the joyful relief when you replenish your friendship. I think Australia and I will always be ‘mates.’ I love how free this country makes me feel, as if everything is new and possible, living in an old country takes this sensation away from me. I also cringe at the lack of style and history, it seems I have become a terrible snob spoilt by the abundance of culture in Europe. Every time I am home I am shocked at how uncomfortable English was on my tongue, it seems I have become more fluent in Italian than I could ever realise.

I love catching up and spending time with friends and family, for this the time is never enough. But I hate feeling like a tourist in my birthplace and try to shy away from sightseeing, I like to pretend I am living here full-time and do the things I always have done.

Gin Gin W.A 2012

I’m always in two minds while visiting home after being away for years at a time, it’s the dilemma of people with each separate foot in a different country, arriving is bliss while leaving is guilt and depression, for those you leave behind.

Each visit is incomplete as I never get to see everyone I love and as I leave there will be an older generation of relatives who will not be there next time.

Then there is the inevitable fate of losing your own parents, it is a thought which still fills me with dread. A few weeks ago I read Cheryl Strayed best seller ‘Wild’ and the part where she describes how she loses her mother to cancer, unlocked my deepest fears and left me weeping and wailing into my pillow.

Ferry on Sydney Harbour 2012

Coming home is pleasant but it opens up many fears and insecurities which are difficult to hold back. The way I resolve my mixed feelings is the same way I deal with anything bigger than myself, taking it in bite-sized pieces, thinking positive and living the moment, there is no sense in tearing myself in two over the eventualities of life, after all, we are made to survive them.

I have the privilege of experiencing two of the most unusual parts of the world and I love them both. My gratification is they are both a part of me. Letting go is always the hardest part of life but the freedom it offers gives us the best means to actually live life as it should.

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At the time this post was published I was visiting Australia and didn’t blog for a couple of months.

But I am back in Sicily and travelling around the island, so be sure to email me any questions or suggestions of places you’d like me to visit or write about.

Thanks so much for all the wonderful comments, enjoy the journey.

 

Sicilian Impressions: the end of Carnevale

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

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

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

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

Carnevale 2015

Carnevale 2015

The end of Carnevale 2015

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Sicilian Impressions: Icy blessing

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

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

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

Icy winter landscape 2015

Icy winter landscape 2015

Icy winter landscape 2015

Icy winter landscape 2015

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Sicilian Impressions: History

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

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

Knight's tomb, Duomo Noto Syracuse

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Searching for San Valentino

#cosilove

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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Sicilian Impressions: Maschere

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

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

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

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

Maschere 1

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