For a better life: the migrant experience

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

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

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

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

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

The autostrada to Messina as seen from Taormina

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

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

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

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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 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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Ten ways to tell you’ve been living in Sicily too long

1. I unashamedly buy my underwear at the markets.

I used to be embarrassed at the prospect of buying undies and bras from market stalls, the idea of everyone observing me was once crippling. Now I don’t blink an eye and happily rummage around the lingerie stand. I also occasionally buy fruit and vegetables from the back of a truck and seafood from a refrigerated van, when in Rome …

2. When someone asks me how I am I answer like a Sicilian.

‘Sono qua … Ca sugnu’ (I’m here), come vuole Dio (by gods will). The customary response of a fatalistic islander.

Man riding on a donkey province of Messina

3. I study supermarket flyers religiously and prepare meals from discounted items.

Sicilians never pay full price for anything as saving money is an obsession. The economic crisis has simply made it more of a necessity. I always ask for a discount on luxury items as I know I am entitled to one. I’ve become an expert haggler at the markets, my strategy simple, name your price, stick to it, threaten to go to another stall and you will get a great deal.

4. I can eat my bodyweight in pasta.

Yes, the waistline has been gradually let out over the years as I’ve succumbed to Sicilian’s gluttony for pasta, sweets, sugar coffee and salami. It’s been a pitiful downslide into hedonism, but it’s all so good and the diet always begins tomorrow.

Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello

5. I no longer get ticked off by delays and long waits or lines at the post office, bank or public offices.

I simply clear my timetable, wait, complain together with the other people or to the teller and take it all with a pinch of philosophy. We are in Sicily after all, it’s always been like this, there’s no need to stress, take it as a lesson in patience.

6. I take the time to greet people with a handshake, a little chat and often use the typical Sicilian custom of the brush or kiss of the cheeks.

I like how people in small towns take the time to socialise, even if it takes up time if you are in a hurry, stopping and starting conversations or offers of numerous cups of coffee. But if you have not seen a friend or relative for a while it is perfectly normal, a shake of the hand and a peck on both cheeks (starting from the left and either brushing each side or actually kissing so as to avoid head butts and awkward pauses) A word of advice though, be sure to go indecisively, as it means you are respected, well loved and accepted, there’s nothing to be frightened of!

7. I hardly ever use my car, I walk a lot around my town, to run errands, it’s nice to move my fat ass around so that constitutes physical exercise, doesn’t it?

Also, there is no way I’m driving with all those Sicilian maniacs on the road, it’s friggin dangerous! I’d rather confront the stares of all those little old men who hang around in the square rather than put my life in danger. I also refuse to go back to driving school to convert my Australian drivers license, its an embarrassing prospect, I simply renew my international license annually!

8. I am no longer surprised by news reports about corruption, swindling, cheating and tax evasion in Italy.

It happens so often I’m thinking it’s part of the cultural makeup, when you have a system that robs you blind it’s normal to want to get something back and a lot of people take it by force, a vicious circle really.

 

9. I am used to living in a more closed off conservative almost segregated society.

 I have no Sicilian friends and Sicilian society tends to believe men and women cannot be friends without a sexual element involved (a very old-fashioned idea) and then there is very little talk about emotions, opinions or even girly talk! I thank god for my writing, my blog, fellow bloggers, my Australian girlfriends, mother and husband for small talk. Virtual friends on FB are helpful too!

10. I demand good coffee and wine!

have always loved coffee, when I was younger I was all about creamy cappuccino and latte’s but now I need the punch of a sugary espresso in the morning to get me up and going. A good bottle of wine is a regular feature of my table and I am always on the lookout for the perfect wine and food combination. A fine wine can really enhance a meal and it’s not about getting drunk, it’s a real art to match the perfect wine with fine fresh seasonal produce. Italians take long expensive courses to develop their palate and it’s a true pleasure of slow eating!

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplas

 

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P.S: This post was inspired by two fab bloggers who wrote similar lists about their experiences in Sicily and Sardinia namely Veronica from The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife and  Jennifer from My Sardinian Life. Be sure to check out their lists and wonderful blogs.

The Beauty of Blogging

I am constantly surprised by the wonderful people I am meeting and the connections I am making thanks to my blog. Not only do I give my flabby writing muscles a work out but I also seem to be meeting friends and perhaps even will get some paid work out of it.

I am even doing my part in helping new expats make the move to Sicily, even if it never was my intention, but I’ve become a surprise font of information.

A few weeks ago I got a letter from a lady who is in the process of moving to Catania, Sicily for work purposes and she seemed really concerned her email read:

‘I have serious doubts about living in Catania.I am afraid of the Etna, the earthquakes, the old not so earthquake-resistant buildings, the dirt and pollution. I have never been to Sicily so those might be pointless fears but I do not know. My question is what is the safest place to live in Sicily?’

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Here is what I told her:

I am happy that you stumbled upon my blog and I feel honoured that you would ask me for advice. It sounds like your life is currently filled with wonderful new beginnings and new adventures which you should embrace. It is a scary prospect to move to a new country but don’t let yourself become too overwhelmed.

Catania is a big major city and I’m sure it will make a good home for your family. You needn’t be afraid of Etna as it really is too far away from the city to create any problems at the most you could have a little ash dirtying your laundry on the line, there is no imminent danger. Etna may be often smoking but the areas around it are mostly National Park.

Yes, there are occasional tremors but the whole island feels them and all buildings built after the 1960’s are constructed according to strict anti-earthquake requirements, unlike northern Italy, Sicily has always experienced seismic action and so its buildings aren’t going to crumble down. Some parts of Catania can be dirty and polluted but all big cities have problems with this.

I suggest you ask your future employer about the better neighborhoods of Catania, I imagine somewhere near the centre would be lovely as long as you avoid the dingy outskirts which can be a little dodgy.

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The beauty of living in Sicily is that you will find you will be quickly adopted into a local community if you try, be sure to learn the language, reach out to other expats, there are plenty of them at Catania for sure!

There are many smaller towns nearby Catania if you don’t like the idea of living in a big city, again I suggest you talk to your future employer depending if your place of work is central or if it is more convenient to look into smaller towns like Biancavilla, Paterno, Adrano or Motta Sant’Anastasia.

I know of a brilliant blogger (Kate, from Driving like a Maniac) who lives in the Catania area, perhaps she could give you more specific advice, as I live in the Province of Messina. Why not check out her blog and send another email: http://www.katebailward.com/drivinglikeamaniac/

Here are a couple of helpful sites about living and moving to Italy that you might find helpful too:

http://www.informer.it/

http://www.insidersabroad.com/

Please feel free to email me if you have any other questions or problems I’m more than happy to help.

Be sure to enjoy this adventure, living in Sicily is a challenge but its beauties will make you fall in love with the place.

Warmest regards

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(images taken from Google)