December 2003 - January, 2004
This section will be where Peter and I will write our impressions, thoughts, observations and curiosities as we live in Sicily for six months. Right now I have been working each day to finish this website and to write a curriculum for our Diversity Apprentice Project. I will share more of my thinking when these responsibilities are over.
Just a quick update! I am just about finished with work. The curriculum is written and we are preparing for a wonderful holiday with family and friends. I already had my first cultural lesson last week. I called Maria, the person who will be overseeing our rental apartment. She is the closest relative that I know and have stayed with before. She and I have talked these past few weeks making arrangements for my stay. I asked one time about renting a car and she sounded vague. So I have been going about the process of maybe buying a car, but I would need an Immigration Visa to get insurance and in order to get a Visa I would need a rental agreement from Maria. She said I don't need a rental agreement so didn't send it, therefore no Visa, therefore, no car purchase. So in that conversation I said I was worried about what to do about a car and she informed me that she was already working on that. I had no idea! I made assumptions about my having to do it all myself and she was already thinking about how she was going to help me do that. I now am more relaxed then ever about going there - I am going with the assumption that I will be a part of a a community and that I don't have to think that I have to do it all myself. There will be others who feel a part of my experience and that helping me would be the natural thing to do. I feel that the theme of individual versus collective thinking is going to come up for me a lot. Well, I am going to be a good American and go off to do Christmas shopping today.
Here is something I wrote and sent to my family called Holiday Thoughts
I admit it I am in the Christmas spirit. By the way, Happy Solstice! I
guess I am in the Holiday spirit. There is something about this Christmas
that seems different to me this year, maybe it is because we will be going
away and not seeing all of you for a while, or maybe it was watching a
six -ear old die this fall, or maybe because I am retired, or maybe because
there is a war on, in any case, it feels different. Well maybe not different
for my whole life. It feels like it felt when I was much younger. When
I thought of Christmas as a time to be with cousins and aunts and uncles
and to do things differently for a day. I guess I was real young, because
in those days I didt worry about what I was buying people, or how
the house looked, but the feeling of being with a community of family.
I feel lucky to have those memories to remind me. To have had a childhood
that was filled with people and togetherness and being a part of something
bigger than me, even bigger than my immediate family. To be surrounded
by what felt like hundreds of cousins, when in reality it was only 43.
To follow a kind of ritual making thousands of Italian cookies,
tediously putting icicles on the tree one at a time, making the rounds
visiting peoples homes, midnight mass, eating Italian sausage and
chicken soup, falling asleep late and waking up early. One year sleeping
in a bed at my Aunt Genes house with at least 8 other people. It
all seemed special even the time my sisters, mom and I drilled holes in
our Christmas tree to put in extra branches because it had so many bare
spots (buying the tree in those days was dads job and we unquestioningly
had to work with whatever he brought home). I bet it was moms idea
to drill, and I remember we did it late at night after dad went to bed.-
another one of our covert acts.
We are finally here in Sicily and settled enough to get a moment to write about our journey and entry into Montedoro. We have been writing in a little purple journal, but on the webpage at this point it has been a bit difficult since we haven't had access to the Internet. Sometimes we look at each other and smile at how lucky we are to be here. It is like heaven - a magical place filled with so much history and beauty. The other day I took a walk to a ridge overlooking the town as the sun was coming up. The beauty of it took my breath away and I cried. I thought about my grandparents and their decision to leave here. I thought about how they never returned - closing a door to the past that I was now opening. I thought about how as the door was opened we (as a family) were creating a kind of renaissance after a long period of survival. On the backs of these family members we now stand - with the luxury and skill to travel and research our roots. To open up the closed doors of the past and find again what was left behind. I don't know yet what it will reveal, but I do know that I feel very at home here. It is like I have come back home even though I never lived here. As we walk the narrow hilly streets of the village I hear echoes of the past - I see my grandfather playing in the street as the kids of today are. I wonder about his mother and father and how it is that they came to this town which was formed in 1859. As we toured the area of the sulfur minds and looked at pictures of people working in them, I wondered if my grandfather as a child was in these mines, and what it must have felt like to be doing such dangerous work.
We arrived on the 30th into Palermo, Sicily. Our trip here was uneventful but our send off from Rochester and New York City were spectacular. In Rochester we had a party where many of our friends came to say good-bye. We shared our location on a Sicily map in the hallway and our beloved friends and relatives got to meet each other. We felt so lucky to be surrounded by a great group of friends and family. Carly, Juan, Viviana, Keri and Fernando did it up well in New York City. After a day of packing and last minute shopping for small necessities, we of course were a little concerned about getting to the airport on time when we saw the traffic in Queens at rush hour. However, we made it in plenty of time and we gathered at the ticket counter as the clerks worked on reissuing our return tickets (changed to an earlier date since we will be coming back for Michael and Nisha's wedding). We laughed and joked and took pictures and staged good byes photos as the clerks worked. We cried a little especially when I saw Carly cry, for the most part though the excitement was overwhelming - a dream coming true at last. Anticipation, nervousness about how to fit into the village life and the idea of leaving behind all that is familiar were the feelings that filled my mind. My soul was happy and my body was exhausted. We slept on and off on the plane and in Milan where we waited for our connection to Palermo. When we finally arrived in Palermo, we had our first real cultural experience since one of our bags never made it here. We had to report it in the office and there was a lot of confusion and paperwork with many people with lost bags. Somehow I luckily snuck into the office before they shut the door on the other passengers looking for bags. Once inside there was much shuffling of papers and some searching on the computer, with finally a phone number to call to get info. I still wasn't sure how we would get the bag when it arrived - that turned out to be the first of many uncertainties. Not knowing enough of the language at this time, has forced us to just trust that people will be helpful and that we don't have to control everything. Any other way to think would make us crazy. So, we exchanged money and were on our way. Since it was getting dark and we knew that the road to Montedoro is steep and winding, we decided to stay in Palermo for the night, then we could also check on our bag before heading out in daylight. We had the cutest hotel room with a ceiling only 5 1/2 feet high. Peter couldn't stand up. Poor Peter, he also was coming down with the flu. It was a hard night for him. The next day we bought a cell phone, a good map of Palermo and headed back to the airport to get our recently arrived bag and then headed to Montedoro.
The apartment we arranged for is one of four apartments in the house of Salvatrice Alba (a cousin) and her husband Calogero Aliamo. We had seen it last year when we were here. It is right in the center of the village a one minute walk to the Piazza. Since Salvatrice and Calogero are in France right now Calogero's sister Lina and her husband Pasquale were in charge of helping us settle in. When we didn't arrive on the 30th they thought we were in an accident or something. I had tried to call many times, but no answer. Anyway the apartment is very cute - on the second floor - a studio with a pull out couch for a bed. The kitchen has a gas stove and a tiny refrigerator. We love the simplicity of it. All of our clothes are in a tiny wardrobe closet with two small drawers and place to hang clothes. It is a good thing that we don't have many clothes with us. It is also a good thing that the clothes we brought are mostly black. It is certainly the color most people wear. We we are fitting right in. Peter has a black and light blue raincoat that is somewhat unusual, but the stares he gets everywhere we go we think are because of his beard and his height. It is very cold here right now and we dress in layers - so glad that we brought long underwear and wish we had more since all of our laundry is being done by hand. There is no washing machine available to us and no laundromats anywhere. It felt good to wash our clothes and hang them outdoors yesterday like everyone else in the village. We see clothes hanging everywhere across the streets, on balconies, on the sides of streets. It is so wonderful to smell our fresh air dried clothes. However, everything is wrinkled from wringing out the water - that must be why everyone irons so much. I read in one of my books (The Stone Boudoir - see book section) that Sicilian women iron everything including underwear. I remember my mother doing that. Hanging clothes instead of drying them in a dryer produces fresh-smelling wrinkled clothes. I wonder how we will be judged when we don't iron the clothes. I really don't want to do that. There are so many other interesting things to do here - like walk around and cook.
Cooking is real pleasure even though we don't have an oven. It actually has made us more creative and we find ourselves throwing things together. No matter what we cook it all tastes good. Simple ingredients of oregano, tomatoes, onions and garlic can make chicken and fish taste gourmet here. Everything is fresh, fresh, fresh! As we eat we think about each of the merchants who sold us these fine ingredients - our fruits, vegetables and oregano from Angelo and Giuseppe the grocers; the fish from Vincenzo the fish vendor on a truck; the bread from Danielle at the Pantifico around the corner; the eggs from Lena and Pasquale's chickens in the campana; and the chicken from Giuseppe LoBue (a relative we think from Serra di Falco).
Kathy: January 12, 2004
Still no Internet, so I will keep writing and hopefully we can download this into the webpage this week. This morning was the first time I felt like I had some of my energy back. I have been exhausted. It may have been the 6 hour time change or it could be that the past two months between writing a curriculum for work and getting ready for the trip I have been pushing myself - often up at 5:00am writing and going to bed late. Anyway, all I have wanted to do is sleep. So, today, I got up at 8:00 am and Peter was already off doing some birdwatching. I went birdwatching with him yesterday and believe it or not it was fun. I bought a new pair of binoculars before we left and have vowed to do this with him each week. Anyway, today I didn't go, since I still needed to sleep. When he returned we fixed breakfast - for me a low carb pancake and for Peter a bowl of cereal. WE both had coffee since we found decaf in a local grocery store and can make our usual half and half. The coffee here is very strong and it may be because of the coffee makers which are meant for making espresso. After breakfast we went to meet with Pietro, the cultural administrator of the town to get a tour we think of the observatory and the art work in the parks - we are not sure as usual. Anyway he wasn't at his office because we were told he had to unexpectedly go to the school and we could meet him later in the day - pommeriggio - which is after the big dinner hour around 3:00pm. Everything here shuts down at noon and opens up some time between 3:00 and 4:00pm.
January 13, 2004
Well everything changed yesterday. WE never did meet up with Pietro , but today we are at his house and his son has hooked us up to the e-mail. I only have a few minutes so I am going to try to upload this page onto our website. More later. Here is an e-mail message from a cousin of mine, John Falcone in Miami Florida. I thought it would be interesting to all of you following what we are discovering here. His feelings about our visit and his time in Italy are very moving. Here it is:
Kathy: Gennaio, 16, 2004
WE HAVE INTERNET! Well, as with everything else it was an adventure. Partly, because we don't know enough Italian to understand what people are telling us and partly because everything operates differently. In many ways when it comes to things electronic, they are actually easier than in the US. For example to get on the Internet all we needed was a phone number, an account name and password. It doesn't cost us any more than the cost of a local phone call. We found this out when we went to Pietro Petix's house and his son Davide, who is an architect student in Palermo, worked with me to get hooked up. Together we set up my computer with the correct IP addresses etc. to work with a server. The only problem we had was that my computer didn't recognize the Italian dial tone, so we also problem solved that. I set my computer to dial manually - he dialed the server number from a phone and then I hooked my computer in and I was connected. Oh the sweet sound of the static and beeps! We were so proud of ourselves - so we toasted with this very sweet lemon liqueur that everyone drinks here. We found out from Lena yesterday how to make it ourselves - guess what you all are getting for Christmas next year? It is great and I think I can even make a low carb version. Anyway, now my computer was set up to connect to a server from our house- I only needed a telephone line - another hurdle. When we arrived we were prepared to put a phone line into our apartment for Internet. However, there was a phone already in the hallway but it only would take incoming calls and was not set up to transmit calls. So we had to approach Maria who is in charge of us until Salvatrice and Calogero get back from France. Maria talked with them and I am not sure what was said, but she said we could hook up from our apartment. Then one day she called to say that a fellow teacher from her school was going to come to our house to help us. That was great, however, we soon discovered that the phone jack on our apartment didn't work. We tried plugging in a phone that Maria brought us and it didn't work. When I told Maria this she seemed mad at me, saying that of course the phone worked. I told her if that was true then maybe the phone plug didn't work. She still seemed mad about that. So I said come over and we will try it together. This morning she came and we discovered that the phone jacks on the second floor indeed don't work and that the ones on the the third floor do. The third floor is where Salvatrice and Calogero live when they are here. I suggested that she call Calogero again and ask him about turning on the phones on the second floor. She rejected that idea and instead said that we would buy a long phone cord and plug the phone in upstairs and bring it into our apartment. I agreed that it could work. We ran a test to try to connect my computer to the Internet in the 3rd floor apartment so we were off to the store to buy a long cord. We got one in a hardware store in Serradifalco owned by people named DiFrancesco, the name of my paternal grandmother. They didn't know of her, and I suggested I return when I had the genealogy information from the municipal building. They agreed that would be good. So, tonight Maria came over after work and opened up the 3rd floor apartment so that we could get hooked up. It all works and we have internet thanks to Davide and Maria.
This situation along with many others have made me reflect on the idea of independence and dependence that I have been struggling with. I hate being dependent on others and yet without all the assistance we have gotten here from family and friends we wouldn't have been able to get all that we have in order to do what we came here to do. This past month has been a series of problem solving tasks to set us up to be able to explore, write home, and live comfortably. I have had to let go of the need to control everything, be patient and know that others are also thinking about what we need. This was true when buying our car (see Peter's reflections on this below), with the Internet, and certainly with our apartment. I worry about also being indebted to people and feeling like it isn't okay to do things alone. People want to know what we are doing and I have this nagging feeling that we should be including them in what we do. For example, tonight we went to visit Racomulto, a town near here that Pasquale has been wanting to take us to. I was impatient with his need to control our movement once we got to the town. Our original intent in going there was to visit a museum that has an exhibit on the sulfur mines. He knew we were interested in the mines so he offered to take us there. Apparently we were suppose to go with him last Tuesday, but either we didn't remember, or didn't understand, since on Tuesday we instead went to Josephine and Pietro's houses. I think that was a faux pas which we apologized for and said we would do it another day. We also had lunch with them and laughed and talked and they forgave us. Anyway, we went to the museum which was incredible - it is in a renovated castle. When we arrived, we discovered that it had a huge exhibit on Africa on the first and second floors so of course we were intrigued. Pasquale was inpatient with our lingering to look at the Africa exhibit and kept prodding us on. I felt irritated that I couldn't just stay there and take it in. Finally, I had to get firm with him and tell him that we had a lot of interest in Africa also. Finally we made it up to the mining exhibit and for some reason the lights weren't on up there. He was very frustrated and said that we needed to come earlier. I feel like we had done something wrong and had hurt his feelings since we never got to see the exhibit he had brought us to. We kept telling him that we loved everything we saw but I am not sure that soothed him. Again, I felt the push and pull of doing things with family and being on our own to be spontaneous and engage with whatever is in our path, without an agenda and worrying about how others feel. I have to continuously be thinking about what it would be like if people were coming to the U.S. and we were their hosts. I would feel fine about helping them get established and wouldn't feel that it was an imposition. However, I am not sure what I would want in return. Peter thinks that it is because people have time on their hands. Also, we are a bit of a novelty. I think for the most part people here have been so very hospitable and care taking. It is really wonderful. Here are a couple of examples of people who are not even related who did things for us.
When our car broke down this week and had to go to the garage we decided to take an autobus to a town that was having a Festa in honor of Saint Mauro in Aci Castello on the coast. When the Festa ended we couldn't find the bus stop because all the streets were still blocked. So we asked a policeman (Caribinieri) and as he was figuring it out with us we saw the bus we needed, go by up on the main road. He felt so bad that we missed it that he flagged down a car and asked the woman in it if she was going to Catania (where we needed to get our bus connection to Caltanisetta). She said yes and he asked (or kind of told) her to take us to Catania. She moved stuff around in her car and within 5 minutes we were happily talking with Laura as she introduced us to her life in Catania. Then when our bus arrived in Caltanisetta we found out that there were no more buses that night to Serradifalco, so we called Mary Rose, a woman who speaks English is a friend of Pasquales and where we had arranged to pick up our car. She said our car hadn't arrived from the garage and that she and her husband were going to come to Caltanisetta and drive us to Montedoro. We insisted that we were going to get a hotel and she insisted on coming so within a half an hour we were happily and warmly being driven home. What else can I say. WE are in the womb of caretakers and we will learn to love it.
January 16, 2004
you know, we now have a car, a tiny Renault which can hold 5 people with
3 squished into the back seat. It is a 1993 model but looks pretty new.
Since we didnt have a 6 month visa, we are not allowed to buy insurance
here, which meant, we really couldnt buy the car in our name. But
Kathys relative, Pasquale San Fillipo took us under his manly wing
and guided us through the process. Its all connections, here. So
first, we go to the butcher shop, whose name is Lo Bue. Everyone stopped
to hear about us and what the possible connection was to Kathy, since
she had a relative named Lo Bue. That established us as important people
to deal with and we got a tour of the cooling rooms, with giant meat hooks
hooked through muscle of cow carcasses and pig carcasses, in all their
meaty wonder. Not a drop of blood on the floor. Walls, floors, and metal
racks spotless. Then, we went on to a car dealer and checked out two cars,
one a Fiat, the other the Renault. We took it for a test drive over rough
roads. All the roads in the towns tend to be rough, and you get to be
good at starting up in gear on a steep slope. Most towns and cities are
built on the tops of rather steep sided hills, so roads often intersect
right on a slope and there you are- jerking stupidly as your motor conks
out- or over revving so everyone nearby stares. After a couple of times
though, its old hat. Many streets are paved with roughly box shaped
great paving stones-these rather irregularly placed so there is a good
bit of jouncing around and you have to drive slow. But they look really
cool, almost metallic shiny gray from all the wear. The car looks good,
so then. We walk to two different insurance agencies, to a garage, and
listen to what seems like hours of fast paced Italian conversation, often
quite emphatic. You think people are really getting pissed off at each
other, but then voices subside, smiles on all sides and everybody is kissing
on both cheeks or saying, ciao, ciao. We were pretty fogged
about what was going on. In the end, it is worked out that, a relative
will buy the car, put us on the insurance policy, and we will drive the
car. In June, well sell it and get some money back.
me tell you, standing around in cold buildings, where the people in the
offices are wearing coats and all they have for heat is a little radiant
heater by their feet. Kathy and I were running into our apartment at the
end of every jaunt, filling a basin with hot water and warming our feet.
Now, we know the secret. Everyone wears......loooong underwear! And now
we do too. With wool socks! Not synthetic fiber which just doesnt
do it. No,, it has to be wool socks if you want warm feet. So were
standing around while everyone discusses all the ins and outs of our getting
a car, and we're freezing our feet off, and wondering....arent they
freezing? Apparently, they weren't.
we finally arrange for the car and insurance and now, we have to pay for
it. Kathy is totally confident, because her bank assured her,you just
present your bank credit/debit card and make a cash withdrawal right from
your checking account. You can do it at any bank!!! Try a branch of the
Bank of Sienna, Italy in the small town of Seradifalco. The guy at the
counter looks at Kathy dubiously,then proceeds to work on some other papers
while we stand there waiting. Finally, after 5 or 10 minutes, he takes
a little break from his work to say that we can't really do that. Kathy
hands him license, credit card after credit card to establish her creditability...but
no. He wont do it. So now, we have all the papers and title for
the car, but cant get the money. The car salesman is very patient
and finds out we can have money transferred from Kathys bank to
his account. So we get all the info. Meanwhile, we were planning to take
the car far away to Palermo for the day to access Internet and find some
items for our phone. So the salesman lets us just, take the car! Can you
believe it. And off we drive, without even paying a deposit. Cool.
We didnt even notice, until we drove all the way back to Montedoro that night, and woke up the next morning, that our car no longer had any hubcaps. Welcome to Palermo! So much for parking areas on shady back streets.
23 Gennaio, 2004
We are at home today - it is Sunday and cold out. Later we will head off to another small town for a walk around and exploration - sure to unveil another gem. It is mezzogiorno and Montedoro looks like a ghost town. It is like this every day in the afternoon 1:00 - 4:30. No matter where we go, if it is during these hours that it feels like we are walking through the Twilight Zone. Sicilians really hold those hours sacred and the one house where we invited to pranzo (lunch) it was a long drawn out affair with many courses (see info on food). Followed by fun talking, and I suppose if we weren't there a good nap. We are starting to flow with this schedule except that for us a good morning breakfast takes time and sometime one mealtime butts into another and we are all off -feeling like we are swimming against the tide - not hungry when all are eating, walking on deserted streets and tired when everyone is awake and moving around. For the most part, we like their schedule of doing things and will eventually be completely converted by the time our journey here ends.
Every time we do things, or read about something, I start musing about how to convey what I am feeling and thinking in words to all of you. It is hard because things happen so fast even when we appear to be doing nothing and are chilling out - discoveries abound. It is a web of knowledge that is unfolding through our reading, our interactions and our observations. Everything has meaning and we are putting our lenses on what we see and hear and it leaves us sometimes confused, often enchanted and never bored. I flip between the present and the past constantly thinking about how it is now and how it must have been when our grandparents walked these streets and ate this food. For example, on a short trip to Serrradifalco last night, we stopped to pick up a few items at one of the stores, when Peter realized that we were out of bread - so we had to find a Pandificio (bakery) in that town (we now know the two Pandificios in Montedoro, but not in Serradifalco). So I go into a small Verdura e Frutta (vegetable and fruit) store to ask"Per favore, pui dirme dove é un Pandificio?" (can you please tell me where there is a bakery) and they look confused - I keep saying it in what I think is my best Italian after about the fourth time they finally say oh a Pandificio!!. Well, as soon as I heard it from their mouths I knew what went wrong - here 'fic' is pronounced 'feech' and I was saying 'feak'. I felt a little silly, but as always people are very accommodating and forgiving. So with directions that I could easily understand we were off to the Pandifeeechio. Here is where both of my grandmothers comes in. I walk into this place and there are all the cookies and bread from my childhood. I felt like I was walking into a combination of my mother's kitchen (with recipes learned from her mother), Veltre's and Gruttadaria's bakeries. I couldn't believe it. The sfinge's were covered with either sugar or honey as were the guandi's (they used a different word that I haven't learned yet - however these were truly the cookies of my youth right down to the rippled ridges made with a cutting wheel). These cookies were even familiar to Peter since my sister Angela still makes them like my mother did. You roll out dough very thin and then you cut them in strips with the ridged roller - tie the strips into bows and then plop them in boiling oil. We chatted with the woman at the counter and find out that this bakery is owned by the DiFrancesco's the name of my father's mother, just like the electric store. Our treat that night in addition to the bakery was when we just dropped into another Verdura e Frutta store for two small green peppers for breakfast and the man doesn't charge us. He smiles at the small quantity and says it is not worth charging us. Can you imagine Wegman's doing that? We insist he smiles and says no and we leave with many grazies falling from our lips.
Well, in addition to the finds in this bakery, I would like to share all my impressions of the food scene here in our mountain villages. The food in Sicily is like its people - simple, unpretentious, robust, healthy and nurturing. As I stated earlier, the simplest ingredients make the most scrumptious meals. A few tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and maybe fish or chicken and you have a meal. We have no oven and it doesn't seem to matter, we throw things together always starting with Carly's favorite four ingredients - onion, garlic, olive oil (extra virgin) and love. Then we throw in a combination of whatever we find at Angelo's store that day. This season, there are always artichokes (carciofo), plenty of fresh, spinach, romaine lettuce, celery with plenty of big green leaves still on, fennel, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, and of course lots of chicory which they use like escarole. We have been looking for escarole, which is scolora in Italian , and they keep giving us chicory. Lena showed us it cooked up and sure enough it looks like escarole. So we now cook up chicory the same way we do escarole and it tastes very similar. This does seem to be a staple it is mostly cooked up in big batches stored in the frig and used for cena (the smaller evening meal). Maria gave us a whole bag full last weekend and we have been eating it all week.
So, the meals are breakfast (prima colazione) which is small - coffee and some pastry. Then comes lunch (pranzo) which as I said is the main meal. The courses are primo - an antipasto with some bread, secondo - pasta with any number of sauces, terzo - meat/fish and some salad, followed by fruit, cheese and sweets (dolci). Wine is unbelievable and part of each course. All is better digested we learned by a swig of lemon liqueur. Although this seems like a lot of food, when we have participated in all of these courses we haven't felt too full. Each of the courses is small and so tasty that you don't feel like overeating, after each course we anticipate the good taste of the next and don't feel the need for seconds.
I stuffed artichokes the other day using my mom's recipe of parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley and egg. Angelo confirmed that mixture- he always inquires how I am going to use an item that I buy. Again, we couldn 't believe how good it tasted. First of all the artichokes grow here and when you buy them they are a purple color on the outside. I noticed that they cook up quickly, not like the ones at home that seem to take forever and are hard. These are ready in no time and they are soft through and through.
Food is thought of as a prized possession and therefore, everything from the stores to the kitchens are spotless. The meat shops (macelleria) especially are like shopping in fine jewelry stores, with gleaming shelves inside of sparkling glass. Not a bit of mess. Everything is fresh and clean.
Sometimes we will buy food from the vendors who patrol the streets - singing what sounds like an old Arabic funereal dirges through a loud speaker attached to their trucks. Peter always chuckles when he hears one outside our window. There is no way to make out the words - probably all words are in old Sicilian. Once in a while we hear the word pesce and Peter is off running to the truck - learning about what new fish we can try. (The man always wants him to try more than we can ever eat.) When we first heard the vendors we both immediately thought of the men with loudspeakers in Dakar, Senegal when we were there. They were calling out Muslim prayers, and sounded very similar. These vendors sell everything - I even saw one in a car the other day with the trunk open revealing hangars and boxes with women's lingerie, and children's winter coats.
These Arabic sounding salesmen are just one of the many ways that Sicily's Arabic past is revealed. While studying the history of Sicily we learned that the Arabic period was actually a quite prosperous time(902-1091) - with cities and trade flourishing. People spoke Arabic and in Palermo alone there were 300 mosques. At that time there was religious tolerance for Christians and Jews as well, with some repression showing itself through higher taxes etc.
The history of Sicily is a classic study of a colonized island that has always been adjusting to a new conquering nation. It moved from one owner to another like a pawn in a chess game (see Information on Sicily section of this website for more info). All this conquering seems to have produced a people who have learned to survive by adjusting, accommodating and continuing to live each day no matter what happens around them. It seems like this in the village as each day plays out the same as the day before, you would never think that there was anything new or different happening in the world. The old women walk the streets to buy their daily necessities or attend mass, women sweep their floors and hang out their laundry, men work the fields and walk together arm in arm on the piazza in pomeriggio, it doesn't seem to change. There is a rhythm and pattern to life. There is even a sameness to the dress with the old women uniformly dressed in black with big scarves wrapped around their heads, middle aged women with midcalf wool skirts and stockings (even when hanging laundry), men in caps, sweaters and scarves. There are some unspoken rules to be followed based mostly on age and gender. The young people reflect some freedom from the rules, but still the same blacks, gray, brown and occasional tan rule the day. No bright colors ever.
Back to history: The mark of the many conquerors can also be seen in the mistrusting glances that we get as strangers. Until people talk with us the stares make us wonder if we have alien horns. Most stares are not hidden - they look long and hard with suspicious eyes. Sometimes I will break the mood with a smile and an outstretched hand and sometimes they will venture to ask "who are you?" Always when I say three things their whole demeanor changes: 1) that my grandfather is from this village 2) that we are going to be living here for six months (sei mesi) to learn to speak Italian and to learn the culture of Sicily, and that 3) we are from america. I am not sure which holds more weight - but they each can turn a frown into a smile and a welcome. About my grandfather - I always get the question about who he was and when I say his name they tie me to some people which if there is more than one person inquiring they remind each other of who in the town is related to me. That solved they want to know where in america we are from - the word 'Rochester' is met with a quizzical look until we state that it is near 'Buffalo' and then we get the list of aunts and uncles (die e zii), cousins (cucine), nieces and nephews who live there. I heard once that there are more people from Montedoro in Buffalo than in Montedoro currently. The other places in the U.S. where there are relatives are in Pittston, PA and sometimes in NYC. Again, back to history, most of our families emigrated after the last unsuccessful revolt to end the feudal land system of latifundi, in the 1890's. The peasantry were continually exploited and betrayed and their skilled labor in the sulphur mines made them sought after in both the U.S. and Belgium to work in the coal mines of these countries. Many people here also have had relatives in Belgium, including our grandfather's brother Vincenzo, Giuseppe Saia's father.
Final bit of history: yesterday I was taken into the Postmaster's office to be given a friendly overview of the best places in Sicily to visit. He told about hidden caves and ruins far off the tourist routes. I was soaking it all up when he then turned to talking politics. This was only the second time we had had a political discussion with anyone here. Maybe people are too polite to bring up American politics, but he wasn't. He did it all with a smile and talked about how Bush learned his techniques from Frederick II (1220 - 1250). Peter and I had just read about Frederick the night before - he was a dictatorial ruler who turned against the remaining Moslems on the island while maintaining cozy relationships with the elite Moslems of North Africa- "he transplanted thousands of Moslems to the mainland and set them up in a military colony of Lucera. This, and other operations against the Moslems, must have done considerable harm to Sicily: it left society more homogeneous, but only by destroying a class of small traders and an element in agriculture which was impossible to replace."(FromThe History of Sicily by Denis Mack Smith) The postmaster then went on to say that Bush is only sending poor people to the war and that you wouldn't find his children in the war (Sicily also has a long history of only peasants' children going to war while the nobility and landowners paid for others to substitute for their children.) He then talked about what lovely diverse people Sicilians are and how all of the ways we look are wonderful. He called me Arab and himself French.
Well, I guess that is it or now. I hope this is all of interest to you. I feel like I can write about this place forever. Look forward to our next entry: a visit to a primary school and a walk with Michele LoBue to the top of a mountain.
Con amore, A remaining Sicilian/Arab Sister
Peter: January 23, 2004