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.


Kathy: 12/19/03

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.


Kathy: 12/21/03

Here is something I wrote and sent to my family called Holiday Thoughts

Greetings Family,

Okay 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 did’t 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 people’s 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 Gene’s 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 dad’s job and we unquestioningly had to work with whatever he brought home). I bet it was mom’s idea to drill, and I remember we did it late at night after dad went to bed.- another one of our covert acts.
Anyway, this Christmas I feel so very thankful that any little frustration seems just that LITTLE. I even had fun at the mall last night. When we walked into the mall, I had a memory of being a teenager and always wanting a boyfriend during Christmas time to do things like shopping with. So instead of keeping that little thought to myself I shared it with Peter and he said, “well I can be your boyfriend” – so we made it a date and we held hands and snuck kisses and actually had fun. We came home tired, but happy, no cranky words and irritations.
It is white and snowy here and I hope it stays this way for Thursday. But even if it doesn’t we will have a great time. Everyone in the family I have spoken to this week seems just as excited – I am so glad – lets all try to hold that feeling right into Christmas day and evening. Let’s just love each other and have a great Christmas – remembering our roots. At a workshop recently a participant shared that he wished he were Italian, others there agreed. So I began to wonder what is it that is so appealing to others about our culture, and what do we need to do to hold onto what others want. I would be curious to hear what you all think it is, I think it is that we know what it means to be in community, that we have a huge commitment to family and we know how to have a good time. I think of my mom when I write these words. Despite how little she had, she knew how to have a good time, her love of family was unconditional, and she knew how to live in the moment and to bring joy to everyone she met. I want to be that and I thank you mom for showing me the way.
Love and peace,

Kathy: 1/10/04

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.

Kathy: 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:

Hello Dear Cousin,
Your sister Angela told me about your grand adventure in Sicily. I have read everything on your Web Site twice and will watch it frequently. Needless to say, I envy you two. You both have no hesitation to explore. The beauty of this trip for you Kathy is to, as you mention on your site,live some semblance of the life of our ancestors. I have often wonder about that life and since I too am proud of my Italian heritage would love to feel it and see it and best of all taste it. What better place than Sicily.
Several years ago my wife and I took a cruise through the Mediterranean. I made sure I was on deck when we passed through the Straits of Messina since Calabria would be on my right, the homeland of my Father's parents and Sicily would be on my left. At the narrowest point the Strait is only 5 miles across and I could see both shores with Mt. Etna dominating the scene.
I was at the bow of the ship not very high above the water when a pod of Pilot whales surfaced just off the bow. I had the overwhelming feeling that they were the spirits of my ancestors coming to welcome me home. Each time I have been in Italy I have felt at home. It is the warm nature of the people, just like the nature of our family here at home. Wishing you both the fullness of the true Spirit of Christmas and a wonderful stay in Sicily.
John Falcone

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.

Ciao, Caterina


Peter: January 16, 2004

As 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 didn‚t have a 6 month visa, we are not allowed to buy insurance here, which meant, we really couldn‚t buy the car in our name. But Kathy‚s relative, Pasquale San Fillipo took us under his manly wing and guided us through the process. It‚s 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, it‚s 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, we‚ll sell it and get some money back.

Let 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 doesn‚t do it. No,, it has to be wool socks if you want warm feet. So we‚re standing around while everyone discusses all the ins and outs of our getting a car, and we're freezing our feet off, and wondering....aren‚t they freezing? Apparently, they weren't.

Well, 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 won‚t do it. So now, we have all the papers and title for the car, but can‚t get the money. The car salesman is very patient and finds out we can have money transferred from Kathy‚s 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.
In Palermo, Kathy calls her bank, which we can only do after 3 pm in the afternoon when Sicily banks are closing, to let them know the cash withdrawal doesn‚t just work anywhere. The bank attendant in Rochester is very nice, and suddenly tells Kathy that as a backup, she'll increase the limit on the ATM machine to $3000 per day. We had already tried using an ATM and after withdrawing 250 Euros, got „sorry‰ messages at the b ranch bank in Seradifalco. So here we are in Palermo, on a busy street near to center of the city,walking up to an ATM, taking out 250 euros (the limit for one transaction) walking off a bit, circling back, and taking out another 250 euros. 10 times--we had to do this. Did we look suspicious? Two Americanos going up to the same ATM 10 times. And I'm stuffing more and more bills into my little neck pouch which is bulging under my coat like I'm 3 months pregnant. Well, it worked, so we ended up paying for the car in cash. We also found an Internet shop and got some essential on-line stuff done too.

We didn‚t 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.



Kathy: 23 Gennaio, 2004

Hello all,

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.

For the evening (cena) when eating at home - a collection of olives, cheese, escarole, bread and fruit is enough. The cheeses here are varied and every week we discover a new kind. Since they are mostly made locally they are so very fresh tasting. Last week Peter bought some fresh ricotta after having a taste of some at Lena's house. We were just going to eat it as other cheese which is fine, but then on a later visit to Angelo's store I was informed by Angelo how best to eat it - of course with a pasta. He recommended something that looked like Ditalini. He said just add black pepper and that cheese and that is all. Sure enough we tried it and wow - it was the best macaroni and cheese we have ever had.

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

Hi everyone,
here’s a little more news from Sicily,
It continues to be fabulous here. But, not to make you envious, I have to admit, we have had a bit of friction over one thing here. This sort of thing has come up several times lately. It has to do with driving adventurously into a large Sicilian city to look for something. We start heading in and following signs so everything looks great, organized, etc. Then we come to a major intersection with no signs and have to make a „guess‰ about where we should go. The guess leads us onto a small street that leads to a street just wide enough for a small car to pass, and with huge paving blocks rather irregularly placed, so you are jouncing around. You slow down to try to catch the name of whatever „via‰ you’re on, and a car hanging on your bumper behind you starts tooting and flicking its lights. So you speed up and come to a one-way intersection where you’re forced to drive the opposite direction from where you want to go. You get going and think you’ll just make a turn and circle around. But the next three streets are all one-way the wrong way too. Then you hit one going the right way, turn, and it ends up curving around between buildings and opening onto another street going the wrong way, and now, you don’t even know where you are on the map anymore. So I started getting pissed and frustrated, and it requires total concentration too, with aggressive drivers zipping in front of you or nosing in at an intersection. Then, you are enmeshed in a huge traffic jam where you are only inching forward. This is how it was when we went into Palermo to look for an...the only, it turns out, internet cafe. I was almost at the point of saying Jesus Christ, which is kind of meaningless for an atheist...but better than holy mackerel. Meanwhile, Kathy is enjoying it. She’s enthralled with the city, looking at buildings and people, and guiding with the map. „Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out.‰ If this street doesn’t connect with something we can find on the map, we should just go home‰ I’m saying. Suddenly, we turn a corner, and there’s the street we’re looking for, and the internet place. This sort of thing has happened twice now. In Catania, we got lost and when I’m threatening to just give up, we end up at the center of town, the main Piazza, just where we wanted to be. So, I guess I’m going to try to be more optimistic now.

And it seems there is always a person there to help you out when you think all is lost. A couple of days ago, we drove up streets steep enough to be limited to jeeps in the US in a city called Musomelli. We parked and walked along the main street looking at shops and for a restaurant. Well, restaurants aren’t located in the center of most small cities and towns here- they’re on the outskirts. So we stop into a bakery to get some fresh bread and the baker, as soon as he knows were Americans, just about explodes in friendliness, talking with great emotion too fast in Italian and beaming at us. We get about 50% of what he is saying. So we ask directions for a good restaurant and he tells us a string of directions. After about the third sinestra and destra for left and right turns we start getting mentally lost, but go off to try. We drive around and inexplicably, end up right back in the center of town and going by his shop again, and there he is on the street. He beams and asks us if we found it. We explain, we tried and couldn’t. He is flabbergasted and says, Aspete! Wait. He dashes into the shop, comes out, locks the door, shows us keys as he runs buy, and next thing we know, he pulls out and is leading us to the restaurant. That’s how it is here. So what I am learning is to trust, that things will work out. Just give them a chance. It is raining, only the second time in three weeks. So, I’ll close. Oh, one more thing. I woke up yesterday the the town was enveloped in fog. I drove out of town to a good vantage point, the fog broke a little, and there was the town, an island at the top of the mountain, surrounded by a sea of fog, with almond trees in the foreground. We’ll post a photo on the website.

Now let’s take up the subject of laundry. I have possibly caused a warp in the social custom vortex here by being seen doing laundry. I have never seen any men doing any kind of laundry. And here, where water is at a premium, one must think about how to conserve. Parsimonious is the word! Keeping warm, for instance. People wrap themselves in multiple layers, and sit in cold houses, with maybe a radiant heater to keep the feet warm. But with concrete walls, stone floors, your body heat just gets sucked away into mother earth. And people here are kind of „fine‰ with that. They suffer through it, complain about how cold it is, and never seem to turn up the heat. That would cost money. Or maybe it is tempered by the thought of how hot it is in the summer when the searing sun is inescapable. Everyone here seems to wear long underwear. I can say that because I can see what everyone wears hanging out over the balconies each day, drying. It’s all there, from lacy panties to sheets.

So, back to laundry. You can’t let this grow into a huge pile or you will be overwhelmed. Overwhelmed because laundry is a much more tedious process when you don’t have a machine to do it. You fill a pail or a deep sink with water, add the detergent, don rubber gloves (me anyway), and stuff in the clothes and start squeezing and squishing it and plunging it up and down. After about 5 minutes, you start the wringing out process. You make long spaghetti noodles out of shirts and pants and pillowcases with the squeezed end flopping to one side. Soak it with water again, wring it out, soak it once more, and really wring it out. The more you wring it out, the faster it will dry. And in this season, where the temp may rise to only 50 during the day, and be cloudy, it could take more than a day to dry. So then you take it out to your balcony, where there are wires strung to cantilevered metal rods extending out over the street. Here I sometimes do one more „wring‰ being careful to check that nobody is walking below, of course. Then, hang everything out with pins. I’ve learned that everything gets hung from the bottom- pants by the legs, shirts by the bottom, etc. to help keep their shape intact. As I am hanging out the clothes, I am wondering whether behind those tall windows with lacy curtains, are eyes spying on me and...making judgments. Like about Kathy!
Well, one result of all this is, you wear clothes much longer than you would at home. Since it is so cold, you don’t sweat much so I have worn shirts for 4 or 5 days and still smelled OK! And that means even less water needed. I imagine we are going to have to live more like this someday in the US too. So you might be wondering, why not just take it to a coin op laundry and do it. Hey- there aren’t any! We couldn’t even find one in the largest city, Palermo. We did take our first big load to a „lavanderia‰ and it cost us $15 for one large plastic bag full. So we’re not doing that too often.

That reminds me. The shower. It is a very conservation minded shower. You turn it on an a thin stream of water emerges in a languid, going nowhere fast kind of way. When you are soaped down, you have to maximize the effect by letting the stream start at the top of your head and run down to your toes, keeping your legs and arms squinched in. Our little heater holds probably 5 gallons so showers are short and efficient compared to home.
All right, I have to admit something else. I have been seen not only hanging out laundry, but even knocking the dust off a broom. Another one that only women seem to do here.
And the dust. It’s magical here. It materializes out of the air, I think. The air smells very clean here, but an amazing amount of dust settles on the floor ever day. I sweep first thing in the morning, and get a little pile off the smooth marble tiles. A midday, I can get an equal pile, and in the evening again! It is a very light dust, that clumps up in little bunnies on the bristles of the broom, and then you go out and brush that off on the balcony- waiting politely for pedestrians to get by, of course.

As you can see, we are loving it here. I love the simplicity of it. You really appreciate clean clothes after all that wringing. It gives you a nice firm handshake too. But here’s another thing we’ve noticed. Qualche volta- that’s anytime in Italian, we meet someone new, they always ask us quickly how we like Montedoro. We are always very effusive. And they seem surprised, even shocked sometimes. Sometimes they’ll ask point blank, „why?‰ We had a long discussion about this a few days ago. It seems that many of the younger people, say up to 30 or 40 don’t think it is so wonderful here. Most people have TV’s and see shows produced in the US, usually dubbed in with Italian. There seems to be an envy of our busy life there. And yet, people in the US don’t seem any happier to us, and in my travels, definitely less happy that people here or in Madagascar.

When we arrived in this little town, it was like falling into a vacuum in some ways. No TV, no radio, no advertisements everywhere. Of course,we have plenty to keep us occupied: meeting new people, learning Italian, exploring places. For Sicilians,life here is very much in rhythm with the season. Almost everyone has a bit of land in the campagna, or country, and now is the time to get vineyards clipped and the vines tied up, trim the almond and olive trees, plow, etc. When it gets dark, everyone heads home though on main streets in the bigger towns, shops are open till 8 and some people are still out shopping. In Montedoro, the main piazza is the only place where you’ll see a few people just at dusk. Here older men stroll about, sometimes arm in arm, stopping to chat with others, and strolling on. Otherwise, the town is often hauntingly deserted. We have gone for a walk about town at 8:00 and seen just two people out. It’s hard to see in too, since all the windows have full shutters that are closed at night. So it is completely quiet. All you can hear is the hum of the sodium vapor lamps which flood the block-like houses in yellow earth tones. A plaintive meow of a cat echoes from several blocks away.

For us, this is a blessing. We have realized that there is a frantic pace to life in the US that can breed unhappiness. There is so much media, and we are bombarded with so many choices for everything. What to buy, thousands of products in the grocery store, thousands of things to do, movies to see, clubs to visit, bands to hear, books to read. I wonder if we are in a constant state of frustration and misery. There are so many interesting things to do, and we have no where near enough time to do them and maybe, we live a constant state of disappointment over not being able to do things. Our minds are always occupied by planning what we will do next, so that in the midst of any activity, we cannot be fully present. Maybe this is the beauty of getting away to travel. You leave most of that behind and confront each new experience open, refreshed, with full awareness and attention, and absorb the beauty and depth of each experience fully. Is it possible that we can return home and continue to live this way? I don’t know.
Well, those are my musings for now. Time to jump on my scooter, smile, and wave. Hope you are all living life to the fullest, happy and healthy.