Sicilian dolce far niente or how to pretend not to work in Southern Italy

This time around COSI is tackling the prickly subject of working in Italy. This is a topic I have not tackled much on Unwilling Expat as I know I will get up onto my soap box about it as I have always had immense problems finding and keeping a job in Sicily as a foreigner, heck it’s nearly impossible for Sicilian’s to get paid work, so what hope is there for little old me?

So, COSI you asked for it, here is my rant …

Sicilian Decay

 

Sicilian’s have a bad reputation when it comes to employment, so if you are the competitive type a move to Sicily is not going to better your 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 truer 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 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 islands history 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.

Unemployment is a concern throughout the peninsular, 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 and creations 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 overseas, 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 recognized in Italy.

I cannot tell you how many dead ends I came across while trying to have my degree recognized 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 authoritative 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 work and as for my drivers license is concerned I will continue 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.

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: secretary in my husband’s architectural office, translator, interpreter to tutor of unmotivated ‘liceo linguistico’ (language based high schools) who are a special 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 Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ monologue to a bored American/English/Canadian or Australian 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 really a barrel of monkeys with much screeching and gesticulating, mostly on my part.

Nowadays my English students have almost disappeared, my work boils down to tricking people into occasionally publishing my articles. I did a little work in the tourist industry over the summer but I prefer to define myself as a writer, blogger and mother. Not the most glamorous situation and pitifully pathetic when it comes to being paid but terribly satisfying on an emotional level.

There is always plenty of work in Sicily but Sicilians have a problem with the payment side of things, so unless I want to get all aggressive like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, yelling ‘show me the money’ down the phone, I tend to avoid confrontations or occasions which will potentially leave me empty pocketed.

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.

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, an attitude of pleasant idleness, which 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 lookout for.

Living in the moment is normal for Sicilians but I worry about my savings, career and future and so these are difficult times for this Unwilling Expat. Sicily is perfect for reflection, writing, history, food and wine and finding stories. Work is not important as life tends to disrupt employment in Sicily.

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Thanks to COSI which seems to have become my ‘therapy’ this time around. I feel much better now. If you want more well-rounded, calm and logical opinions about working in Italy be sure to see the other bloggers in our group.

‘M’ from Married to Italy

Misty Elizabeth Evans from  Surviving In Italy 

Rick Zullo from Rick’s Rome and how to Work in Italy as an Expat

Georgette’s honest account of what it’s really like to work in Italy on  Girl in Florence

Gina from The Florence Diaries and the Reality about working in Italy.

Pecora Nera’s hilarious advice about How to find work in Italy from an Englishman in Italy

To see more about C.O.S.I click here.

Insights into Ferragosto

This month C.O.S.I explores the serious business of summer holidays in Italy.

Ferragosto COSI

 

Italy has an abundant amount of public holidays, ranging from the usual stuff like New Year’s day and padded out with things like Liberation Day (25th April), International workers day (1st May) and Republic Day (2nd June).

Not to mention a fine cavalcade of religious celebrations including the Epiphany (6th January), All Saint’s Day (1st November) and the Immaculate conception (8th December).

In addition each city and town gets their own holiday to celebrate their local patron Saint (Rome for example celebrates St’s Peter and Paul on the 29th of June and Milan gets Saint Ambrose on the 7th of December.)

By far the most sacred of all holidays is the major Ferragosto summer vacation which Italians look forward to every year with a heightened level of fervent desire.

Surprisingly there is actually some serious history and culture behind this time of the year, according to Wikipedia :

The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus’ rest), which is a celebration introduced by the emperor Augustus in 18 BC. This was an addition to already extant ancient Roman festivals which fell in the same month, which celebrated the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor.

During these celebrations, horse races were held across the Empire, and beasts of burden (including oxen,donkeys and mules), were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. Such ancient traditions are still alive today, reflected by the many Palio celebrations all around Italy, the most famous on the 16th August in Siena. Indeed the name “Palio” comes from the pallium, a piece of precious fabric which was the usual prize given to winners of the horse races in ancient Rome.

The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto came about during the Fascist period. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organised hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organizations. People’s Trains for Ferragosto were available at discounted prices.

Tourist shop

My first summer alone in Italy I found myself stuck in Bologna in between projects, right in the midst of August holidays. I didn’t know anyone in this major Northern Italian city which becomes like a ghost town, every second store is closed and there is hardly anyone around. Bologna isn’t a touristy town so it wasn’t like being in Florence or Rome which are always filled with people all year round. It was a lonely place to be.

August in Italy means the thermometer hits its peak and the humid Italo summer closes down the entire peninsular as all Italians go to the beach.

In Sicily families who have migrated to the north of Italy traditionally come home to visit estranged parents and relatives and lie roasting on some Sicilian beach. With the Economic Crisis most are no longer making the trip, holidaying closer to home or not at all.

The 15th of August itself is a religious feast day which celebrates the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, when the Catholic church believes the Madonna’s sinless soul and incorruptible body was taken up to heaven. In my small part of Sicily there are many ancient festivities in the cities where the ‘Virgin of the Assumption’ is the patron or protector, the day offers elaborate parades and celebrations from Randazzo to Messina, Capo d’orlando, Motta d’Affermo, Novara di Sicilia and Montagnareale. Sorry but all my links are in Italian but the images really give you a sense of the elaborate nature of the celebrations, Sicilian’s know how to put on a show! 

Sicilian Cart

All Italian towns have their own saint which they call upon for help, nowadays it’s a quaint tradition and great excuse for a celebration but Patron Saints were an effective form of propaganda for the early church and brought in many new Catholics into the fold.

Sicilians like most Italians celebrate mezzo-agosto holiday with copious amounts of food, strange isn’t it ;-), either picnics in the mountains or bomb fire barbecues on the beach not to mention an endless array of food festivals or sagras which offer you taste of all things Sicilian. There is plenty of drunken action and I’ve witnessed many a heated argument over nothing, silly car manoeuvres and accidents. Don’t get me started on the mess that is left behind the next day! The whole nation strips down into vacation mode from suits to speedos and loud shirts, it seems ‘in ferie’ or on holidays gives people an excuse for bad behavior and worse fashion.

So what do I have planned?

Well I’ll probably will be guzzling beer, scoffing downing BBQ lamb while wearing a bikini which shows off my prosciutto thighs and flabby mummy tummy, trying to keep cool.

Buon ferragosto a tutti!

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As the rest of the C.O.S.I crew shuffle shuffle off into holiday mode they will tell you all about the summertime madness in Italy.

‘M’ from Married to Italy and her love-hate relationship with Ferragosto

Misty Elizabeth Evans from  Surviving In Italy while eating until you explode

Rick Zullo from Rick’s Rome and his very Roman way of experiencing Ferragosto

Georgette’s guide to Ferragosto in Florence on  Girl in Florence

Gina from The Florence Diaries on what the hell is this Ferragosto, anyway?

Pecora Nera from an Englishman in Italy and his boiler problems

Quirky questions about life in Italy

This time around those crazy bloggers from C.O.S.I have decided to tackle your questions about living in Italy full-time.

To be honest I haven’t been asked many questions so I got my virtual and real Facebook friends to send me some random ones, which I’ll answer below.

 

Life in Italy

Maryann asks: How is the plumbing and the water?

Well, the average Italian bathroom is made up of a strange contraption called a bidet, which is parked beside the toilet, not it’s not an alternative place to do your business but rather a spot to sit and wash your intimate bits. You can also close the bidet’s plug to wash your smelly feet after a day of sightseeing or do a rinse of dirty socks or underwear, quite versatile really!

In private homes the hot water system is usually manually turned off and on as required. This is a money-saving device as electricity is so expensive in Italy (which is also partly the reason for the lack of air conditioning along with the fact Italians think cold air can make them sick, but this is a whole other topic to explore!) So you need to think at least twenty minutes to half an hour ahead before you want a shower, unless you don’t mind cold water.

You will find the water pressure totally piss weak compared to the U.S or Australian standards, so try to do one thing at a time, either wash your hair or give yourself a shower as you won’t be able to rinse well.

The drinking water here is awesome and there is plenty of it! Water restrictions and filters don’t need to exist here and in most major cities there are public water fountains overflowing with mountain spring water which are regularly controlled by the local authorities. Yes, you can even drink from a tap at the Trevi fountain, obviously it doesn’t come from where all the coins are thrown but it is from the clean source which comes from the original roman aqueduct.

It is an excellent sign when you see locals waiting in line with their water bottles in hand, it’s like drinking Evian, but it’s free!

Sharon asks me: Do you think in English or Italian?

Well, I obstinately think in English, simply because I read it and write it so much.

I quickly translate into Italian in my own head, I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s pretty much instantaneous.

I sometimes dream 50/50 Italian and English.

When my brain isn’t working I’ll accidentally slip in an English word or do something silly like pronounce an Italian word with a particularly heavy Australian accent which gets me some puzzled looks.

Why not check out our expat blogging group C.O.S.I’s last post about what it’s really like to learn Italian in Italy. See Tongue tied in Italy for more insights.

Michelle asks: Do you have pasta for lunch and dinner?

It’s true Italians love pasta and I think Sicilians would love to have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner if they could. I have overdosed on pasta and try to avoid it but the locals usually do have pasta at least once a day.

They are also big on bread. As if the pasta doesn’t make you gain weight, the bread will! After a plate of pasta there is usually a second course of either meat or salad in the summer and don’t get me started on their roasted vegetables usually conserved in extra virgin olive oil, their predilection for all things fried and cold cut meats!

Yes, my waistline has been gradually let out through the years.

Jason asks: Do all Italian men exude romantic charm?

Well, what a surprising question, coming from a guy too!?!?

I’m sure the majority of Italian men believe they are romantic and charming. But girls keep in mind Italian men are extremely sleazy, their ‘romantic charm’ is all an act to try and charm your pants off. Now there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s all you want, just don’t think you’ve found the love of your life or expect to be taken home to meet the family. If you want an Italian husband be prepared and expect a long hard road to be excepted into the family!

My Sicilian husband is quite shy and reserved and he doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body (we have a rule, if he wants to buy me a gift I have to be there to choose it or else he will get something I don’t like!) I guess I got ripped off with the whole ‘romantic charm’ quota, but at least I can trust him and he stands out from all those other Italian peacocks!

Aron asks: What are the biggest differences between here (Australia) and Italy?

Wow! Now that’s a huge question and I’m constantly making comparisons between my native Australia and Italy. It’s kind of tricky as over the past decade the Australia I fondly remember has changed a lot, it isn’t as relaxed as I recall it, Oz too is going through the same economic crisis as Europe and it has become a terribly expensive place to live amongst other things (which is yet another topic to explore!)

The biggest difference comes from the very distinct cultures, a general topic which trickles down to form the many bumps and pot holes in the road of expat adventures in Italy. The constant culture shock between Italy and Anglo-Saxon expats makes everyone around you think differently, behave bizarrely and confuse the hell out of you constantly.

One real shock for expats and visitors from outside of Europe is the discovery that Italy is a living breathing museum. Like the rest of Europe, Italy is a place where people have lived since prehistoric times and where history and people have left behind their junk. If you dig a deep hole in Sicily you will probably find pieces of Greek ceramics, Roman coins and Etruscan tombs. There are many stories of construction workers or farmers digging around who have discovered complete Roman villas and valuable archeological sites by mistake. The Roman villa filled with the best preserved mosaics from the late roman empire in the whole world at Piazza Armerina near Enna, Sicily was buried under twenty meters of earth, local farmers had been cultivating crops on top of it for generations without knowing anything about its existence.

Cultural differences

Those are the end of the questions I received but here are ten more funny and infuriating cultural differences off the top of my head which I’d like to dedicate to anyone thinking about moving to Italy:

1) Italian’s don’t walk around without shoes, they take it as a sign of poverty/barbarism and if gals take off their shoes in the front of a guy it will be taken as a sign you want to have sex!

2) Italian’s are superficial, appearance is vital to them. They never do their shopping in a track suit and sneakers with morning hair. I’ve seen women do their grocery shopping in high heels, sequins and freshly dressed hair!

3) Food is a religion in Italy. Don’t you dare overcook the pasta or else you will be ostracized. It’s ‘al dente’ or die of shame. Stick to the cooking time on the pack!

4) Italy can be as dirty as a teenagers bedroom floor, recycling is a new concept and many Italian’s are used to other people cleaning up after them, which is never the case in the real world.

5) Italian hospitals are scary places, avoid them if you can.

6) Customer service is a foreign concept in Italy, as is politeness along with the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. You will be pushed aside on trains, others will jump the queue in front of you, doors will be slammed in your face and bank tellers will pretend you don’t exist and close as you reach the teller.

7) It is still fashionable and socially normal to smoke in Italy so you will have to put up with smokers puffing in pubs, restaurants, bars and people polluting your house and car.

8) Italian’s aren’t into sport as a pass time (of course there are always exceptions to this, especially when it comes to soccer or cycling.) So you won’t see many sports activities or clubs happening on the weekends.

9) Italian bureaucracy features heavily in Dante’s Inferno.

10) As of 2020 the act of breathing will be taxed in Italy.

For more thrilling insights into the realities of living in Italy be sure to read my recent guest post on Sicily verses Australia for The dangerously truthful diary of a Sicilian housewife.

And the more subtle aspects about life in Sicily in Ten ways to tell you’ve been living in Sicily too long.

I’m sure the rest of the C.O.S.I crew will enlighten you to the joys of an Italian life

 

‘M’ from Married to Italy

Misty Elizabeth Evans from  Surviving In Italy

Rick Zullo from Rick’s Rome

Georgette from Girl in Florence  Girl in Florence

Gina from The Florence Diaries

Pecora Nera from an Englishman in Italy

 

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Tongue tied in Italy

This week our newly baptized blogging group C.O.S.I ­ Crazy Observations by Stranieri in Italy is tackling the tricky topic of our struggling with the Italian language while living on this particular peninsular.

It is always a challenge for non native speakers of any language to learn and assimilate but Italy has its own particular surprises reserved for struggling expats.

  COSI language collage

Before moving to Italy permanently I thought I was quite savvy with my Italian. After all I had almost majored in Italian, lived in Bologna and did the usual Florentine study thing. Heck it would be a breeze. I’m Italo Australian for god’s sake, how hard could it be to become fluent? A few more months of should do it, right?

Man, I was never so wrong about anything in my life. I soon discovered, Sicily isn’t like the rest of Italy, it is another planet.

Sicilian’s don’t know how to handle foreigners trying to learn their language, they will pretend not to understand you, furrow their brows, pick your accent, painfully point out your terribly foreign sounding voice and try to charge you triple price.

A world away from my beloved ‘Firenze.’ I remember one time in Florence while ordering an iced tea drink, I accidentally said I wanted a ‘pesce’ (fish) flavor instead of pesca (peach)! I got a strange look from the barista but the charming Florentine smiled and corrected my mistake in the nicest way. He said I shouldn’t lose heart and told me if it wasn’t for the mistake with the words he wouldn’t have picked me for a foreigner at all *gush*.
Meanwhile in Sicily when I open my mouth it’s:
‘Your not from here are you?’ After the first syllable.

There are Sicilians who are dipped in a thick syrupy dialect. Most people have grown up speaking their local tongue at home and look at you strangely as you speak Italian to them. If you think learning Italian is going to be difficult, going all feral and trying to learn a dialect is nearly impossible, it takes years of practice to speak a dialect well and it helps if you’ve been born speaking it too 😉

So how did I handle my first moments of living in Italy full-time? Very awkwardly and shyly. At first I didn’t speak too much, thank goodness hand gestures are big in Italy. Then one day I just told myself to stop being a big baby and stop caring about making mistakes. Even native Italians aren’t perfect while speaking ‘proper’ Italian and if the only thing they can say is I’m a foreigner well, then that really is the truth and why should it bother me so much. So that’s been my attitude until this day and it seems to work fine.

The one thing bothers me still is the lack of actual Italian lessons I’ve taken while living in Italy, which is none. So in a vain attempt at perfecting my Italian I searched out courses for foreigners, the closest school was at Taormina and now there is another place at Cefalù but both are terribly far away from me and expensive.

Taormina art studios

I thought about going back to University and enquired at the language faculty at the University of Messina. I wanted to study Italian as a second language and perhaps pick up French or another European language. It was an ambitious idea, but surprisingly enough even if the course was taught in Italian they didn’t offer Italian as a second language. So I’d be doing everything in Italian and studying English, French and German. It wasn’t going to work for me!

This left me with the long hard old school of language learning known as ‘total emersion.’ I had a basic grammatical foundation so I spoke only Italian, watched t.v and as a workout made my way through the convoluted journo-speak of Italian newspapers.

Now after twelve years of living, working and interacting with Italy I can say I am a fluent speaker but I still feel insecure as I lack a certain level of academic or intellectual polish. I’d love to write in Italian but I am lost when it comes to the conditional tense which is used to express opinions, wishes and hypothetical ideas. Those pesky reflexive verbs give me the creeps as do feminine and masculine word endings and other tricky stuff which doesn’t exist in English.

Santo Stefano Ceramics

I’m trapped in the present tense and simple past participles as my grammar is very basic. It’s enough to get by and understand the world around me but I hope to study more to wrestle this monster that is Italian language.

Not to mention what it’s doing to my English! I often reverse my syntax and it seems I’m inventing my own personal dialect. When I can’t think of the word in English I will throw in an Italian one into the mix. I think I may be accidentally teaching my young son pigeon.

My son has begun to attend school here so I can always learn Italian with him as Italian school children study truck loads of grammar. Most high schools who are geared to preparing students for university do Latin, which is like the ultimate grammatical workout for Romance languages. Could I go back to High School? Hummm, perhaps I should simply invest in an online language course!

One thing is for certain, you never truly finish learning a language and there are no secrets to it, you simply need to dive in or else you will lose your independence.

And above all ‘Nil carborundum illegitimi’ (Don’t let the bastards get you down) as everyone has their own special way of acquiring language it’s an individual journey, enjoy it!

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C.O.S.I members are united to give us some tasty slices out of the ‘pizza pazza’ that is Italia.

 

To see more about the C.O.S.I  crew click here.

The power of superstition in Sicily 

Superstitious Italy: A Friday the thirteenth special

I have the Stevie Wonder song Superstition going around in my head, thanks to Maria from Married to Italy who pointed out to everyone from our expat blogging group that today is Friday the thirteenth.

Stevie kicks in again!

‘Very superstitious, writing’s on the wall
Very superstitious, ladders bout’ to fall
Thirteen month old baby broke the lookin’ glass
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past

When you believe in things that you don’t understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way.’

 

So this week we dive into the world of superstition in Italy!

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To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the key to everything. – Goethe

The most confusing type of superstition for an expat living in Italy are the insidious everyday ones, which don’t make sense and intensify the further south you go. I find Sicily, rather than being the key, is more like a magnifying glass, everything is blown up big time, emotions seem more explosive, pasta servings are gigantic and fear, suspicion and religion are forces of nature. 

Northern Italians secretly believe in things like the evil eye (malocchio), they fear death and try to avoid bad luck, while southerners take things to a whole different level.

Sicilians avoid compliments so as not to jinx themselves, they tie red bows on new car antennae to repel bad vibes, toss salt in front of their doorsteps after people visit to expel the envy of their guests, new-born babies sleep with a vile of holy water and religious icons under their pillows and  special prayers are recited to exorcise the evil eye from there lives. It’s all quite bizarre but if you believe it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Malocchio is a kind of bad Karma, which before heading back to haunt its instigator taints its original target who needs to be cleansed, hence the need for chants and the intervention of the Saints. Incidentally the evil eye can also be unintentional as it is also about envy, without realizing it someone could be secretly envious and hex themselves or others. 

Malediction is associated with bad luck and illness, the cure is black magic and sorcery. A victim can suffer from an array of ailments ranging from a simple headache, tiredness, stomach pain, re-occurring nightmares, to serious allergic reactions (one in particular is known as the ‘fuoco di San Antonio’ which produces large round sores who burn the skin with painful welts.) All are treated by special prayers and petitions to particular saints, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

It really isn’t difficult to get a diploma in basic Sicilian sorcery, the spells are passed on every Christmas night at midnight, just don’t tell the Pope, I bet he’ll be pissed to hear about this alternative tradition in Sicily. Sometimes the prayers are accompanied by soothing massages with olive oil which has a purifying role.

To help keep away the negativity there are a bewildering array of good luck charms from the classic red pepper known as the ‘corna’ or the simple alternate hand gesture of the same name.

All Italian and Sicilian superstitions have their roots in pure and simple fear. Everything from doing the sign of the cross while driving past a cemetery of touching genitalia when someone mentions death, it’s all about being insecure and worrying about the unknown.

I recently read a great book by American journalist John Keahey called Seeking Sicily: A cultural journey through myth and reality in the heart of the Mediterranean (a really long title for a succinct book), which supports my hypothesis. Along with Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia who believed islanders are perpetually insecure, a condition generated by the isles history of perpetual colonization. It appears the coming and going of invaders and conquerors in Sicily’s thirteen foreign dominations has made the people apprehensive. 

Superstition has found its home in innate fear inherited from past generations and it lives between the pages of Italy’s history and culture.

So: Occhio malocchio prezzemolo e finocchio (literally: sprinkle parsley and fennel and look out for the evil eye.)

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Death notices in Sicily are like advertising posters.

Perhaps the most poignant way of illustrating the power of superstition in Sicily is to take a look at the more colorful urban myths surrounding death. I’m not an anthropologist but its fascinating to hear many of the mythologies that circulate.

I don’t want to bring anyone down, but it is ‘black Friday,’ and death in Sicily is filled with many ancient fears and beliefs.

In small town Sicily when someone dies the family holds a vigil at their home. The house is open all night to receive visitors and to honor an old superstition that says all doors need to be kept open so the dead soul doesn’t remain trapped in this world and so the soul is free and the bad luck associated with death moves on.

I heard one particularly colourful story which reflects the mixture of mysticism, naïvety and fear Sicilian’s have. They say when a person dies with their eyes opened death will take another seven to the grave soon after. It doesn’t end there, the belief is elaborated to suggest the number increases if the coffin of the open-eyed deceased is dampened by rain during the funeral procession. 

It is fascinating to observed the precise symbolism and language used in this myth. The threat comes from someone who has undeniably seen death with his very eyes. Somehow this literal witness of what lies beyond life and is transformed into a manifestation of death itself, empowered to touch others with the same fate. 

Death in Sicily may seem to be a regular part of life but urban legends like this one suggest death is focal point of collective fear. Not only of fear but a personified menace that threatens the local community.

Now if that didn’t freak you out I don’t know what will!

Happy Friday the thirteenth to all.

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For fascinating and hilarious insights into the superstitious mind of the Italians check out the rest of our motley crew of expats:

 

minitaly

Maria is a 30-something (something low) American Texpat, living and working in her husband’s tiny hometown in the province of Reggio Emilia. Her blog, Married to Italy, is home to her rants and raves and serves as her therapeutic search for hilarity amongst the chaos. See her post about not messing with the Malocchio

 

 

misty-evans-surviving-italy

M.Elizabeth Evans– an American expat trapped between two worlds with her badass husband, his chest hair, and their poodle. She is a writer and partner of House Of Ossimori. Her award-winning blog Surviving In Italy, aims to honestly portray her life in Italy, the sober times, the drunken times, the yelling, food, family, and on occasion her obsession with the majestic Capybara. She’s also terrible at writing Bios. Someone do it for her next time, okay? Here is her post about witchcraft in Italy.

 

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Rick Zullo of Rick’s Rome – an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time. Rick is also the author of the silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian,” available on Amazon. Rick’s latest post gives us the low down on superstitions in Italy.

 

georgette-jupe

Georgette is an American social media strategist, copywriter, blogger and a certifiable ‘Tuscan Texan’ living and breathing all things Florence. Social inside and out, she lives in the moment and eats way too much pasta. She blogs about life in Italy, travel around Europe {and the world}.  Here is her Friday the 13th post.

 

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Gina is 26 year old California native whose unhealthy love of cheese, wine and gossip has made her a perfect transplant to Italy. She blogs about life in Florence, tour guiding for college students abroad, traveling and her dog Gorgonzola. When she’s not busy writing down all the crazy stuff that happens to her, she’s listening to Snoop Dog and trying to figure out how to open an In-N-Out Burger in Italy. Here is her take on the funky world of Italian Superstitions.

 

 

 

So you’re married to a foreigner … an Italian perspective

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This week I made some new friends, a group of expat bloggers who openly share their experiences on this infuriating and beautiful country that we call Italia and where we have all chosen to live. Occasionally we’ll be getting together to write a collective post which shares our various opinions on a particular subject. (Feeling quite proud as I’m the furthest south of all of them so I can tell some tall Mafia tales … NOT!!)

This week our subject is ‘what’s it like for an Italian to be with a foreigner’ from the perspective of our partners.

First a quick introduction to our band of misfits (be sure to check out the links to their takes on this subject) here we have:

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‘M’ is a 30-something (something low) American Texpat, living and working in her husband’s tiny hometown in the province of Reggio Emilia. Her blog,Married to Italy  is home to her rants and raves and serves as her therapeutic search for hilarity amongst the chaos.

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M.Elizabeth Evans– an American expat trapped between two worlds with her badass husband, his chest hair, and their poodle. She is a writer and partner of House Of Ossimori. Her award-winning blog Surviving In Italy, aims to honestly portray her life in Italy, the sober times, the drunken times, the yelling, food, family, and on occasion her obsession with the majestic Capybara. She’s also terrible at writing Bios. Someone do it for her next time, okay?

 

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Rick Zullo of Rick’s Rome – an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time. Rick is also the author of the silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian,” available on Amazon.

Here is Rick’s male perspective as our token male 😉 or as they say in Italian ‘beato fra le donne.’

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Georgette is an American social media strategist, copywriter, blogger and a certifiable ‘Tuscan Texan’ living and breathing all things Florence. Social inside and out, she lives in the moment and eats way too much pasta. She blogs about life in Italy, travel around Europe {and the world}.  Check out her blog, Girl in Florence.

Here are Georgette’s thoughts on this weeks topic: What’s it like being with an American.

 

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Gina is a 26 year old California native whose unhealthy love of cheese, wine and gossip has made her a perfect transplant to Italy. She blogs about life in Florence, tour guiding for college students abroad, traveling and her dog Gorgonzola. When she’s not busy writing down all the crazy stuff that happens to her, she’s listening to Snoop Dog and trying to figure out how to open an In-N-Out Burger in Italy. Here is her blog: The Florence Diaries. Here is her post.

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Rochelle Del Borrello is an Australian journalist by trade, something she has thankfully left behind to write, photograph and taste life in Sicily, an experience she shares on her blog Unwilling Expat. She is currently hating people’s obsession with the Selfie, Geordie Shore, the confusing world of Italian politics and liking Stromae, The Voice Italy, Springtime in Sicily and collaborating with other certifiable Expats in Italy.

 

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So what’s it like for a Sicilian to be married to a foreigner?

Living in the south of Italy is very much like living in a Middle Eastern country, Sicily isn’t the south of the Italian peninsula but rather a northern state of Africa. Sicilian’s are very traditional and proud of their culture. An islander is foremost a ‘Sicilian’ before they are an Italian. Until a few years ago someone catching the ferry across the strait at Messina to Calabria was greeted with ‘Welcome to Italy’ signage. That is why I have personalized the title of this collective post as marrying a Sicilian was so much more complicated than simply marrying an Italian, it was about being considered a foreigner by the wider community for many years.

There is a Sicilian saying which goes:

Moglie e buoi dei paesi tuoi

Literally ‘wives and cattle from your hometown.’ Now you might be going WTF does that mean? Which was exactly my reaction was when my husband uttered this pearl of Sicilian wisdom into my ear. (If you are involved with a Sicilian be prepared for endless bits of folk sayings to come your way, I suggest you do as I do, ignore them or use them as quaint decorations on ceramic tiles.)

So if the saying said to avoid foreigners in marriage unions, why in the hell did my husband marry me? His response is a laconic Sicilian ‘BOH!’ a guttural sound uttered by islanders which means they have no idea.

Something happened deep in the soul of this quiet sensitive typically Sicilian man to make him fall for this opinionated, free spirited and at times short tempered Australian girl. This ‘cow from the other side of the world.’

Choosing to marry me wasn’t the easiest thing for my man G. to do, his close knit family was convinced he’d move away to Australia and they would never see him again. But once they understood I wasn’t the wicked witch of the West and wanted to experience life in Sicily they gradually accepted me.

When we first moved back to Italy after being married in Australia we were the source of local gossip, many thought I wouldn’t last long in small town Sicily, but I’m still here! There’s no secret to it only perseverance and sacrifice.

 

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There are still many compromises and a tug of war still going on. G. puts up with my questioning, challenging and insisting. He has been dragged to the most isolated capital city in the world (Perth, Western Australia which is also my home town), five times over the past decade.

G’s tried and failed with English thanks to a frustrating hearing problem, which has turned me into a screecher over the years.

My Sicilian male is bemused by my need for constant dialogue and can’t understand the idea behind blogging (but I’m thinking this may be a general ‘male’ problem here – apologies to all the male bloggers out there!)

I harbor ambitions which my G. cannot understand, he sulks and says to himself, why aren’t I enough for my wife? You see I’m not your typical Sicilian spouse, who is usually your stay home type. I need to travel, buy books, take photos, connect to the internet, write, be creative and accomplish things. I’m a really ‘shitty’ housewife. I have turned whites into all the colours of the rainbow by forgetting socks in the wash, I can’t iron to save my life and my house is always dusty. Take me or leave me. It seems my husband can’t live without me, go figure!

Despite our differences G. is a steadfast Siculo male who is still in love with his wife, he is proud of how I have inserted myself into his home and holds me as tightly and passionately as ever in his life. G. frustratingly may not say much but subtly supports me and still tells me I’m ‘bellissima’ even if I’ve gained a few kilos over the years.

My Sicilian man reflects his island, he is deep, intense and spell bounding, lets hope the spell lasts forever.

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Map of Sicily taken from: The fashion blog Rum and Lace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter traditions in Sicily

Easter in Sicily is always a mixture of tradition and religion filled with rituals. There are endless customs that are played out each year from religious processions, ceremonies and food preparations which symbolize the promise of the Spring and hope of Easter.

Palm sunday weaved palm
Palm weaving and photography by yours truly.
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2014

Decorative palms announce the beginning of Easter week and Palm Sunday. In our small town, Sinagra and in many other Sicilian villages there is the blessing of the palms and olive branches, processions and religious services. After Easter many palms are taken to the cemetery to deceased relatives graves whilst the others are burned, the blessed ashes used the following year at the beginning of lent in the Ash Wednesday rite.

Sicilian Easter bread
Easter Cudduri bread straight out of the oven
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2014

Before the arrival of chocolate Easter eggs, when life was simpler and perhaps some might say better, Sicilians gave specially decorated bread as an Easter gift. The ‘Cudduri’ as they are known in the dialect were lovingly prepared with two of the most precious and prestigious products of the rustic Sicilian kitchen. Eggs were hoarded days beforehand as the chickens would have been in hibernation from laying eggs in the cold of winter, they were been dyed with the roots of native plants to give them a special appearance.

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The blessed laurel plant
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2014

With the passion of Christ on Good Friday, Churches around Sicily are bare, in mourning until the resurrection of Easter. There is no religious services as the ‘bread of the last supper’ is absent, no genuflection or sign of the cross. Today the only thing to do in Church is to bless your bay laurel leaves. This plant’s branches are taken into church, passed three times back and forth under the sparse alter and blessed by the blood of the crucifixion. During the year the leaves are used to make tea infusions that help relieve ailments of the stomach, as a calming drink and as a way of weaning babies off breast milk. A blessed plant that helps everyone.

 

Easter processions in Sicily (the Giudei)
The Giudei of San Fratello (ME)
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2014

‘The Diavolata of Good Friday is a mixture of the diabolic, as its name suggests, and of many other complex strands of history, exhibited by the pageantry of the costumes and the music, which is filled with both pagan and Christian energy. Good Friday is when Jesus is crucified and is considered a day of mourning for the church, but at San Fratello the characters of the Giudei, or the Jews, as they are known, turn the solemn funeral of Jesus into a macabre celebration, which mocks both Christ and those who condemned him to death.’

 

Giudei San Fratello, Messina
Trumpeting Giudei at San Fratello
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2014

I never tire of visiting San Fratello for Good Friday, when the procession is interrupted by the colorful Giudei, irreverent masked characters which date back to the middle ages filled with confusion, music and fantasy.

San Fratello Easter celebration
The baby Giudei who will assure the future of the celebration
© Rochelle Del Borrello 2014

Despite the town falling victim to a major landslide a few years ago which rendered half of the towns houses uninhabitable the celebration continues along the main streets despite the abandoned homes. The Giudei will continue for generations still as every little boy falls in love with this tradition.

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Quote taken from my article: San Fratello: A home to devils and saints by Rochelle Del Borrello published in

Sweet Lemons 2: International writings with a Sicilian accent edited by Venera Fazio and Delia De Santis, 2010.

I encourage everyone who loves Sicily to buy this book! (Image from Baroque Sicily)
I encourage everyone who loves Sicily to buy this book!
(Image from Baroque Sicily)

 

 

 

 

 

 

E viva San Leone … E musica

San Leone inspired ceramic designs at Longi. Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
San Leone inspired ceramic designs at Longi.
Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello

This year I was fortunate enough to get to San Leone’s ‘festa’ at Longi (20th Feb) which I find is generally more traditional and particular then the one celebrated at Sinagra (even if I love them both!)

I liked the solemn religiosity and playfulness of Longi’s interpretation of this Saint’s celebration. Not only does the procession take the Saint’s statue around the town, it has him dancing to the time of the local brass band. Leone doesn’t move without musical accompaniment, here the catchphrase is ‘Viva Santu Leo … E musica!’

Traditional procession of San Leone, 2014. Photo by: Rochelle Del Borrello
Traditional procession of San Leone, 2014.
Photo by: Rochelle Del Borrello

The face of San Leone is always the same yet the elaborate decoration gives Longi’s festa a more traditional feel, here he is decorated in flowers, monetary offerings, bells chiming, threaded wheat shafts, golden vestments and the local children adore him too. The procession lasts nearly the whole day from after the late morning church service until four o’clock in the afternoon when he is placed down in the square before the parish church to receive final offerings and salutes from the devout.

Religious procession. Photo by: Rochelle Del Borrello
Religious procession.
Photo by: Rochelle Del Borrello

During the procession the warmth the locals have to their patron is palpable and it quite frankly gave me goosebumps. A saint’s day in a small town is a particularly special occasion everyone puts on their best face and there is a real sense of pride and religiosity through out the day, it is an exceptional Sicilian tradition.

San Leone of Longi in all of his baroque glory. Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
San Leone of Longi in all of his baroque glory.
Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
Children and people casually milling around San Leone. Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
Children and people casually milling around San Leone.
Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello
A proudly displayed religious relic of San Leone. Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello.
A proudly displayed religious relic of San Leone.
Photo by Rochelle Del Borrello.

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For more details on San Leone and other Sicilian saints see my article on Times of Sicily.