February, 2004

Peter: 1 Febraio, 2004

A familiar sight to us as we look to the west from our mountain top village, is a narrow flat-topped spire of rock that rises high up to a crest topped by what we thought was a castle. So one day we decided to check it out. The road there wound up over small mountains, then switch-backed down steeply into valleys, only to snake its way up another mountain. As we drew close, we suddenly had a glimpse of a tight cluster of tiny block buildings far above us, hugging the steep upper slopes on three sides of this narrowing peak. From here, we could see the western side was a sheer cliff 300-400 feet high. Above thebuildings, a small forest of pines continued up higher and then, at the top, were the walls of a castle. From below, it looks impossible! The houses should surely tumble down.
We drove up a steep winding road and into the town-white knuckles on the steering wheel. The road made sharp turns through streets sometimes only big enough for one vehicle to pass at a time. Other times, it ran along the edge of precipices. After a number of turns, we ascended to the main piazza of the village with an expansive view over a deep valley and rows of mountain ranges arrayed in rows and fading in the late afternoon haze. (Here, a couple of weeks later, we had our most glorious sunset so far).
Nearby, four men in identical style caps were observing us from the corners of their eyes, so we approached them and soon, as everywhere, were explaining Kathy’s ancestry. At the mention of one of her ancestor’s names, Lo Bue, everything became animated, one man walked off quickly and soon returned with another fellow named Lo Bue. Though he is probably of no relation, he turned out to be the guide to take people up the last few steep streets and then on foot through a gate, and up to the top. It was an incredible walk. Clumps of yellow and maroon wildflowers festooned the rock walls along the walkway, and every switchback revealed an even more spectacular view of the surrounding land.
Michelle LoBue explained the history of the site. The name of the town is Sutera. Originally, there had been a castle, and in fact, we saw a tiny cave with a heavy metal grate that was a prison for a Prince who was captured and held for months by the castle owners, in the 1300’s I think. Later, the castle became a Convent and recently, the convent closed and now there is only the church, restored and serving partly as a museum. Two Saints are revered here, one as the protector of the Village and the other as a “compatriot.” Both died here and their bones are kept in elaborate urns which you will see in our pictures on the website. One Saint, S. Paolino Vescovo Di Nola is shown in bishop style hat and fancy robes, the other, S. Onofrio Eremita, is dressed as a simple shepherd. After seeing the simple, but beautiful church, Michelle stopped for a cigarette and waved us to ascend to the very top to a separate bellfry built over the highest rocks of the peak. From below, he signaled we should ring the giant bell. Kathy grabbed the rope and made a resounding boooonnnnngg. It was so loud we felt embarrassed at disturbing the peace of that serene countryside. Michelle, below, beamed and tried to get us to keep ringing it, but we were satisfied with that mellow loud song of ancient metal. It felt like a scene from a children’s fairly tale. We were filled by a resonance of love for this enchanting place that unfolds one adventure after another for us day by day.

Ciao, Pietro

Kathy: 2 Febraio 2004

On the eve of my mother's birthday, I will celebrate her life by updating this site with more of our understanding of the people and the mysteries that are Montedoro and Sicilia. We have been going places almost every other day( on the off day we rest) - branching out from Montedoro in every direction - becoming familiar with the roads, and the uniqueness of each paese (town). So far we have explored, Mussomelli, Serridifalco, Sciaccia, Agrigento, Caltanisetta, Catania, Aci Castello, Nicolosi, Piano degli Albanase, Palermo, Raculmuto, Bompensiare and Sutera. Each of these places hold a special charm and always an unexpected find. For example in Racumulto there is a tiny old elegant theater where they hold a yearly opera season with guest performers from throughout Italy. We made reservations to see two operas this month. In Mussomelli there is a castle perched on a mountain and in Sciaccia there is the sea and ceramiche (pottery stores) everywhere. In Caltanisetta, Rochester's sister city, there is a main street called Via Rochester,and winding back streets with cafes and clubs. In Catania, the magnificent architecture, the bustling fish market and the grand old walking street of shops. In Agrigento, besides the Greek ruins we discovered a convent that sells traditional dolci and a small anthropological museum where you get a personal tour by a typical overly controlling, very nurturing woman named Salvatrice. And in Sutera we found many unexpected delights. Our first visit to Sutera was a couple of weeks ago and Peter has written about that experience. Our second visit was on Saturday evening when we participated in one of the most interesting and unexpected experiences we have had yet. On Thursday evening, we got a call from one of our relatives, Maria, asking us if we wanted to go to Sutera in the pomeriggio on Sabato (Saturday). After straining to understand what she was saying (it is always more difficult to communicate over the phone in another language, and in this case we were walking the streets of Sciacca at the time so we were really having trouble). I told her we had plans in the mattina (morning) to visit a forest near San di Stefano, and I wasn't sure since we like the freedom of winding our way back late in the evening after exploring. She said something about how we would have plenty of time to go with her to Sutera and then went on to say something about bambini (children). So I deducted that she was inviting us to a field trip in Sutera, since we had talked about us visiting her school again some time. Maria is a school teacher in Bompensiare and we visited one day (see photo page). Anyway, we said we would talk with her the next day, Friday, to work it out. We didn't make contact on Friday, so before heading off to the forest, we stopped at her school on Saturday morning to ask her about what she was inviting us to. (Yes, they do go to school here on Saturday - the teachers get one other day of the week off - Maria's day is Wednesday.) Well it was still not clear to us, but not wanting to pass up an opportunity we said yes we would go with her. There was some reluctance on our part since we didn't know what we were going there for (she did make it clear it wasn't a field trip and that the students wouldn't be going with us), but other than that the rest was a mystery. We kept asking if we were going to walk up to the church - a very steep climb that we had already done on our first visit. She responded as if we had said that the sky is green - which is how people respond to each other when someone says something stupid. "NO, NO, CHIESA (church)." Well, we hadn't seen much of Sutera, but the church there seemed to be the real highlight so we couldn't figure out what it was. Well, blind faith and a willingness to be led around sometimes unfolds into the most interesting experiences.

We promptly arrived at our meeting place in Bompensiare at 4:30 - Maria was waiting there for us. She instructed us to leave our car and follow her. We went to a home around the corner where her colleague, Salvina's, mother lives. Salvina is a fellow teacher whom we met when we visited Maria's school. Her real name is Salvatrice and she is like my mother on speed. She didn't know what to show us first - she is engaging and personable with an energy that could be exhausting. She talks very fast and flits from one topic to another. The part that reminds me of my mother is that she talks to everyone - and can hold people spell bound as we discovered as the evening progressed into our adventure where she had many opportunities to entertain.

After a half hour of shoving cookies wrapped in napkins on our coat pockets and taking pictures on her mother's balcony, we were off to Sutera. Towns here are not that far apart, but because of the winding roads they take longer to get to. Sutera is on the top of a mountain, so there are a lot of hairpin turns. What timing - when we arrived in the piazza overlooking the valley, the sun was just going down. And what a sunset it was - the best we have seen since getting here. We thought that was what we went there for, and I was content - the trip was already worth it (see photo page). Maria made us stop taking pictures and rushed us along up the hill. She does this often in a kind of sweet demanding and questioning way. It sound like this "Caterina, vene ca!?" and then gives me a disapproving look. So we follow and start to wonder what is going on since there are a good number of cars and we hear some music in the distance. It is starting to seem like an event - I ask if there is a wedding. They don't respond. So we follow some more and this is where the bambini come in. We approach a group of school children standing in front of the mountain that is the town, getting ready to sing. They were all dressed in matching orange shirts and were about middle school age. A crowd gathers and they begin with the Italian national anthem with members of the gathered crowd singing along with them. Salvina's voice seemed to be the loudest and had the most enthusiasm. It ends with a big, loud "SI!" For me watching these angelic, faces was a journey of memory to my days in 7th and 8th grade when we would go to Sibley's department store during the Christmas holiday to sing. As I looked at this group of Sicilian children I realized that was who we were in our school. We looked like these children - something that we don't see anymore in the U.S. or at least in Rochester- a school filled with Sicilian children. I was flooded with feelings, memories as I searched their faces for who they were to maybe get some insight into who I was. They looked cared for and loved. They each had their little quirks and differences - some very short others tall, some gangly and others already stunningly beautiful. They looked innocent. They sang more songs, with as much enthusiasm as the first. We called out bravo and clapped with a muffle through our gloves. It ended after about a half an hour and then the crowd started to meander up the street which ascended the hill. A group of musicians appeared - an accordion, a guitar, a clarinet and a man singing. It was so very traditional sounding and they were dressed in the traditional clothing. It felt like we were walking into the past - with only a video being projected on the rock wall above reminding us what century we were in. Along the way there were cave openings in the rock, and inside the caves were panoramas - one with a history of Sutera, replicas of cave home etc. I had read that in the early days, many people lived in the hills, where alcoves were carved out of the mountain. We began to see that there were a series of these ahead on the street, each with a door or archway open and inviting. Now what were attending became clear. Over the month of January, when we went to a town there was some kind of display either in a small form like in the museums- replicas of the early days with small houses each with some craft being done by the small Sicilian clothed figures inside. Every panorama always had the Manger Scene (crieche) prominently in the foreground, in the center, or on the top of a hill. We discovered a life-size version of this in a park in Serradifalco one day. It was meticulous with its attention to detail. Well, here we were in the real thing - a real life panorama of the way people lived a long time ago here - complete with people in traditional clothing and doing the work in the way that people did it in the time of my grandparents.

Each stop along the way to visit one of these alcoves started with a sign written in the old Sicilian dialect - very difficult to understand - so Maria said what it was and we entered to learn how they made tiles, cloth, clothing, iron works, baskets, bread, pasta, olive oil, cheese, pizza, wine.... general stores and shoe repairs, tailors and went on and on. People took time to explain life in these cave dwellings complete with making the fires, washing the clothes, repairing plates and cutting hair (see photo page for some examples). At one point we met a man and his son along the way who was from Caltanisetta and very interested in knowing us because the son had gone to Rochester, the sister city, during one of the sister city celebrations. His father is a professor of geology and has done extensive study of the sulfur mines. We plan to meet again in Caltanisetta to learn more. So as we were talking when some people came to push us along to one of the highlights - a small performance by the man playing bagpipes at the manger with Mary and Joseph. I had read about the bagpipers of Sicily. They are shepherds who have over the years developed a bag pipe out of a sheep skin and come down from the mountains only at Christmas time to perform in the towns and villages. We never thought we would really be able to see one. What beautiful music accompanied by an oboe/recorder combination instrument. We were blown away by the sound. After Peter asked about the construction of the bagpipe we were given a demonstration and then the two men burst into acapella rendition of an old Sicilian song. Wow! By now we were becoming known by the group walking the route - being the only Americans. So we were often being guided to see things - pushed to the front of the group etc. Stopping at each alcove with Salvina was very interesting as she initiated a conversation that usually started with who she was where she was from and were they related some how. Then it went into her saying something funny and telling stories that went on and on and had people of all ages laughing. She was fun to watch, but we wound up sometimes at the end of the group because of it. Eventually we lost track of each other and we were at the end of the route in the village piazza - looking madly around for Maria and Salvina as people were bringing trays filled with homemade sausage, cheese, bread with olive oil. Finally we decided to relax eat and ask more questions about what this was. We talked with a women from the town and then eventually met the mayor - as it turned out this is something that is done in this town each year during the Christmas week, but because there was some meeting of mayors going on someplace they decided to do one extra night - and we got to be there! So as we were talking some women from the town comes and grabs us and leads us up these stairs to a room filled with people and food. On the tables were froccias of all kinds, pizza, chick peas, caldones, cheese, some vegetable balls in red sauce, sausage, cannolis, wine, water, cookies.... and all homemade. People were grabbing at food and putting us always ahead making sure we got enough to eat. We were stuffed. Finally we met up with Maria and Salvina and headed for home, tired, cold, very full and mostly very happy. This is life in Sicily - the unexpected happens - and it is wonderful.

Con amore, Caterina

Kathy: 11 Febraio, 2004

Hello from Sicily,
Well, it has been a very busy week - festas, cooking lessons, meeting more relatives, researching genealogy and of course sleeping. There is so much to share. We have heard from more and more relatives and friends who are visiting this site - reading our reflections, enjoying the photos etc. The interest from home is wonderful and we often feel that this experience itself is a reflection of being a part of a collective. Something greater than us - our community of people are experiencing it with us - making it even richer. Thank you for your interest.

Based on some of the feedback I have had from family members, I suggested in an e-mail to those who have written that they share what it means to be Italian (specifically Sicilian). I have received some responses and have put them up on the homepage. I will keep adding to these as they come in. I would love to get as many responses as possible so that through our collective perspectives and memories we can have a fuller sense of our identity. At a recent outing with some new friends here we shared this initiative with them and they were very interested in contributing. We may have quite a mixture of thought with those of us who are descendents of emigrants and those who are the descendents of people who remained. It should be interesting.

Well, the most culturally stimulating days of our week were spent at two major events of the year on the island - The Feast of St. Agatha in Catania on February 3-5 and the Almond Blossom Festival in Agrigento on January 30 - February 9th. These are two very different festivals in that one is religious and one isn't. One is very old and one is relatively new. As I share the experiences at both more differences will emerge. I have needed a few days to think about how I was affected by each before writing about them.

The Feast of St. Agatha is a 3 day event starting on February 3rd with a parade of eleven candelore, 15 foot tall wooden towers, carried on the backs of men, a marathon race and the biggest firework display I had ever seen. We arrived early in Catania on the 3rd mainly so Peter could meet with some botany professors at the Botanical Garden. He is working on a botany project for the town of Montedoro (Peter will write more about this). During his meeting I went out on Via Etnea where all the action was happening as the parade to start the festival began. I had read the history of this festival in some of my books so I knew to some extent what to expect. However, seeing this event unfold in person was a whole different thing. This festival as it grew over the 3 days represented the true meaning of the word "intensity" when used to describe Sicilians. Nothing about this celebration is done part way - it has been thousands of years in the making and has built to a fervor that is like nothing I have ever witnessed. The Catholic version of the story has it that Sant' Agata (Saint Agatha) died in 252 at the age of fifteen - mutilated, lacerated and burned - because she would not marry the pagan proconsul, Quintian, who ruled the then Roman colony. This was in the days of the Roman Empire when Christianity was still very young and the Romans were persecuting Christians. It was also a time when a cultural transformation was taking place and pagan rituals and practices were being renamed and relabeled so that Christianity could get a foothold deep within the community. Agatha, the story goes, who lived near Catania had pledged her life to the church - taking a vow of chastity. Her steadfast pledge in the face of torture made her a martyr and honored by the people of Catania. As the years progressed all kinds of miracles and interceptions were attributed to Agatha. Catania sits at the base of Mt. Etna, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Many of these miracles center around her power to protect people in the city from the dangers of Etna. After the parade Peter met me for pranza (lunch) and then we took in the marathon race, which was won by the winner of the New York City marathon. We think he was from Kenya. The runners came from either Europe or Africa. The top winners were all from Africa. It was fun to watch it in such a small city, with the runners close enough to touch. There was also a women's marathon run at the same time (running the same course with less laps). There were no African women participating - all the women were either from Italy or parts of Europe. We think the winner was an Italian woman.

As we walked down via Etnea on the way to the fireworks display we could see them preparing for the big event that was going to take place on this route starting first thing in the morning. Trucks were spraying the street with water, followed by teams of men spreading fine sawdust on the street's square volcanic stones. Having read a description of the event in Theresa Maggio's The Stone Boudoir (see book review section) I knew that this was an attempt to create some safety in what is designed to be a very dangerous ceremony. I knew that for the next two days hundreds of men would be carrying gigantic lit candles the size of tree branches through the streets with wax spilling out over the street creating a very slippery path for the then five thousand men (and a few women) who were to follow pulling two long ropes attached to the fercolo carrying the bejeweled effigy of St. Agata and her relics. For thousands of years these men dressed identically in white Byzantine penitence tunics (the saio), black velvet Renaissance hats (the scuzetta) and white gloves have tested their strength, endurance and daring in honor of this saint, and whoever was her predecessor. Since many of the rituals that we see today are vestiges of earlier pre-Christian practices, I couldn't help but wonder what was the foundation for this adoration? What ancient idol, gods pre-dated Agata for the citizens of Catania always living under the threat of a volcano? How did this kind of male centered, patterned ritual get it's start - was it just the story of Agata, or is she a reincarnate Isis? In the center of the PiazzaDuomo is a sculpture that includes an obelisk depicting the life of Isis, the pagan goddess of the sun? The Cathedral that is Agata's home is in this same Piazza. It could be that our reading the DaVinci Code while traveling has created a keener eye by which we bear witness to these Sicilian rituals. In any case I sensed that this event was so ingrained, unquestioning and intended to make a statement that it could have a story behind a story. Why the men? What are they trying to prove? Why the clothes of penitence - are they trying to make up for the actions of Quintian or all men? To say that it is dangerous is an understatement. I had read that men often died during the procession - mainly from falling while pulling the fercolo up a big hill on the route. To get momentum the men have to race up the candle wax-covered hill, and cannot stop when one of their members falls and will most likely be trampled. This year 20 men were injured in this way and one died. He was a 22 year old with a wife and 2 children. Despite its danger, this event will go on year after year, without a thought of banning it.

The fireworks display was like a choreographed dance performance with classic music selections playing over the loud speakers in the Piazza as the bursts of red, blue, green stars and lights burst overhead in time to the music. It went on and on with each burst immediately followed by another and then another - feeling like it was the climax and would end at any minute, only to have it continue with even greater intensity - it was like witnessing a continuous fireworks finale. We were pressed into the crowd on a side street that radiated off of the Piazza Duomo. It was packed with thousands of men, women and children.

The next day, the 4th, we stayed home as the men of Catania pulled Agata around the longer route, which took all day. We returned on the 5th for the second tour for Agata. After her first tour on the 4th she was put in the Cathedral for a day so that people could come to visit her in her prominent position, like a Queen in waiting. We arrived just in time to wind our way through the crowd to get a close up look at her in the church just before mass and the start of her second and more dangerous journey. From about 20 feet away we witnessed the life-size effigy of Agata, fair skinned and blonde, topped by a two pound gold crown covered with diamonds and rubies. Her neck is thick with jeweled necklaces and every finger has a ring some with up to 12 diamonds in them. So much for worshiping idols. This was the most adorned statue I had ever seen.

The Cathedral was packed as the priest started mass - every aisle and pew were filled to the brim - outside the crowds were also forming. I kept looking around at the faces of the people - thousands of Sicilian faces - I had an overwhelming feeling in that church.

We waited outside for her grand entrance onto the waiting fercolo. People were forming around the front of the church and the numbers grew. We had heard that over 100,000 people attended on this day. Most interesting to me was that no one seemed to be in charge. Things just started to take shape as people gradually took their places at the ropes, others milled around and over the hour or so there it was - the ropes, the five thousand men, the 11 candelore, the hundreds of tree like candles and of course the fercolo. It happened so smoothly and slowly with no one giving any directions, few police, and no guards, everyone taking their position as if from birth they knew the role they were to play. In fact many women carried infants dressed in miniature versions of the saio and scuzetta. Little boys and girls dressed in the uniform of the day were playing everywhere on the square. The men and boys at the ropes were all ages starting at about 13 and up to about 70. According to my reading women are a recent addition to the rope pullers, and we did see them dispersed at the rope stations. When Agata finally came out of the church about a half an hour late - another huge fireworks display distracted our attention while her supporters positioned her on her carriage. Children were passed through the crowd and delivered to the fercolo to kiss or touch the effigy. Hundreds of 2 - 5 feet long candles were also passed up to the fercolo. These candles were not as big in diameter and were sold on the street everywhere for people to purchase and then have burn on the fercolo for a few minutes. There were so many candles that they were lit for a while and then exchanged with new ones. The men hoisted the ropes and the procession began and moved like a snail through the adoring crowd. The rope pullers would shout a kind of call and response chant about how much they adored Agata. Now the thousands of observers in the Piazza filtered out to the many radiating streets to find another path down to Via Etnea to get another glimpse. Peter and I used this time to get something to eat in a restaurant on a parallel street. The food was a Mexican/Italian mix which was good and interesting. We had a seat by the window and watched the crowds walk by like we were watching a video. It was fascinating. Then it hit me - the same feeling that I had had in the church earlier. I was surrounded by thousands of Sicilian people. Everywhere I looked - people were Sicilian. It was overwhelming and brought up tears - old tears, unexplainable tears. I was in the midst of 100's of thousands of Sicilians. Wow!

This procession went on all night and included the run up the hill. We stayed only until 11:00 and got to see the men carrying the huge lit candles on their backs process by us for hours. Sometimes they would stop to light the path and then move on. We saw Agata one last time as we stood 15 deep in the crowd. Fortunately, we didn't stick around for the trampling scene. That would have been horrible.

Last Sunday we were invited to go to the Almond Blossom Festival with the son, Giuseppe, and daughter, Daniella, of our new friend, Mary Rose, from Serradifalco. Guiseppe is a social worker and Daniella is an archeologist. They both speak English, as did most of their other friends who accompanied us. They were all in their 20's and so very interesting. We agreed to try to speak in Italian as much as possible so that they could feel comfortable with us and not having to accommodate us by speaking English. I think they also liked getting a chance to speak in English, so we mostly tried to speak in Italian and they spoke to us in English. The other friends were Sylvia, a women from Rome, now living near Catania and practicing medicine with a specialty in pediatric neurology and sleep disorders. Another friend, Michelangelo, from Serradifalco is a psychologist in the same town as Sylvia. Maria, Guiseppe's girlfriend also came, she lives in Serradifalco and works in Gela, about an hour and a half away. Our day was filled with laughter, constant questions and cultural musings as we wound our way through the Almond Festival events. This celebration was less crowded and intense than St. Agata, and it had a peaceful, calm, joyful quality about it. Guiseppe and I talked about the difference and he expressed that the St. Agata event has negative power. I thought that was an interesting observation.

The parade began just after we arrived - one cultural group after another passed in their traditional clothing, playing a wide array of instruments and dancing through the streets. Countries from all over the world were represented; they included Scotland, Cyprus, Singapore, Equador, Senegal, Korea, Brazil, Bosnia, Austria... These were interspersed by many groups from Sicily, particularly from Agrigento where the festival was held. The parade was followed by a procession of old Sicilian carts. I had only seen replicas of these carts and here they were the real things - hand painted and very ornate. I only imagined what it must have been like when they were used in these small towns. Children of all ages were dressed in very elaborate costumes. These costumes are in all the stores and we were told that children dress up for events this time of year in preparation for Carnevale.

Our group grew to one more, a woman named Clara who was a friend of Daniella's. We now walked together in small groups nonstop talking as we questioned and joked - got separated, called each other on cell phones, reunited and merrily moved with the crowd and the events. The questions were usually about our observations - why do most people wear dark clothing? Maria gave an interesting perspective - most people don't have a lot of money and black is a classic color that won't go out of style so to buy something black you know it will be in fashion and you don't need to keep buying new things. Others agreed and said that they also wear lighter clothes in the summer time - mostly white for the same reason I suppose. I actually like the shades of clothes that people wear -everyone looks stylish to me - they put things together very well. Being with people who were younger than others we have talked to so far - we got some very different insights. They are the generation that is challenging traditions of all kinds and breaking the rules, much the way people of our generation did. It was interesting to hear about their struggles - one women shared that it is expected that young women live at home until they get married and that when she went off to live in another city her mother had a "drama" - running after her car and crying for days. It reminded me of my mother when I was the first to live away from home before marriage - taking a job in Syracuse after graduating from college. Mom was in bed for two weeks - miserable over my decision. Now it's expected. I shared how things changed for us in one generation. We talked about so many things - dowries, who pays for weddings, compulsive cleaning, treatment of Italians in the U.S., discrimination of people of color, and how they felt that media in Italy is controlled and that they get limited news. I shared my concern about this in the U.S. as well. They feel that our countries are very similar politically right now and it concerns them. They feel that younger people are apathetic and that their Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is a billionaire who only wants to hold onto power and is trying to change their laws to assure it.

These mini conversations filled our day with Peter's favorite statement becoming "Come se dice....?" (How do you say...?) We walked a long way to the Valle di Templi where the Greek ruins towered above the sea, and the stage was positioned as a platform for the performances by the groups we had seen in the parade. We found seats on the tumbled 2500-year-old rocks below one of the ruins to watch. Before dark we did a brief tour of the temples with Daniella as our guide. She had studied archeology in this town and worked at the site, so we were delighted to have all of our questions answered by such an authority.

Another long walk back to Agrigento and drive back to Serradifalco, we arrived happy and contented - with a sense of community that we had formed that day. Sadly departing we did double kisses (you always kiss both cheeks here) and hugs (American style) and invited them to contribute to our webpage by writing about what it means to them to be Italian. They said they were going to be watching to see when they would have their pictures there. So I better go and update the Photo page so we can fulfill our promise.


Peter: Febrauary 11, 2004

Hello everyone,

We put ourselves out and reserved tickets for a play in a town nearby with a newly restored theatre. It is roughly circular with a gorgeous fresco on the big dome ceiling. Behind the central seating area at the back of the theater were two tiers of booths. The seats in the booths were cheaper that those on the floor. But the whole theater was small so that even in our booth, we were no more than 50 feet from the stage. I felt like I was revisiting the Count of Monte Christo, sitting in a little booth with our two friends looking around at the other people. We were basically way over our heads. Plus the theater is unheated and it was an especially cold night. We were a bit underdressed, even though we had put long underwear bottoms on. In fact, everyone else in the audience had big winter coats on. So...we nearly froze and our cold brains slowed with each act until by the end, I was just trying to imagine what warm feet would feel like and hardly hearing any of the lines. Oh well. We pretty much barely understood anything. We got a general gist of the plot but mostly had impressions of the rhythm of the language and the effusive gestures, which you see on the street and in interactions. It was an interesting experience, anyway.
There are a monstrous number of cats here. While they seem to live in actual houses, I have the feeling many are feral, or left to fend for themselves. Walking down any street, you‚re sure to see at least one trotting along, or sitting in front of a door. I‚ve seen two or three inside a dumpster, scavenging for food. Dumpsters are scattered around the town and most have foot bars that you step on to lift the top and put your trash in. Some have tops that are perpetually open, and these usually have a cat or two. They don‚t look really mangy or skinny, so I guess they are getting enough to eat. So far, I haven‚t seen any signs for vets or heard of any here but I'll find out.

Ciao, Peter

Kathy: February 19, 2004

Sicily continues to be buona. If you could see me you would know that as I say that I am also making a gesture with my hand that people often do here when they day the word buona. It is one of my favorite gestures and it is done by taking your index finger and pointing it at your cheek while turning your hand back and forth about 30 degrees. Angelo, the grocer often uses this gesture when he convinces us to buy a new ingredient. I sent Peter to the store the other day to buy fresh basil. After a few minutes he came back in the door and said, "well, they were out of fresh basil but I have two other (buona gestures) to try." I have been paying attention to gestures here and realize that it isn't just about talking with your hands for emphasis, it is really a form of communication. So much is expressed in a gesture, that often words are unnecessary. I project that this intriguing effusiveness has actually been a form of survival for a people whose language has been constantly changing. According to the history, the earliest people first spoke an unlettered language and there is little documentation of this earliest language, then the foreign domination began with the Greeks in 734 B.C. Greek then became the dominant language and remained so for over a 1000 years even throughout the rule of the Roman Empire. With the invasion of the Arabs in 900 A.D. Arabic became the dominant language and continued until a series of invasions and take overs, by the French, Spanish and other conquerors, created a kind of Creole language that can be called Sicilian. This blend of languages was the way in which a continually conquered people learned to communicate with one another - an of course the use of gestures. With the evolution of language and its variation depending on region and even town makes for the creation of nonverbal ways to communication an idea, thought, frustration or command. Walking down the street you can see these gestures - they ask: "what are you talking about? what do you want? you are full of xxxx, I don't care, watch out for him, it is good, let's go.... I love watching the "dance of hands" as people carry on business and the tasks of their daily lives. I can eaves drop on a conversation that is spoken in old Sicilian, and not understand a word, but the gestures give me the essence of what is said. It is like watching an interpreter for the deaf doing American Sign language. It has a beauty born out of a need to communicate a concept to another person and using more of the body to do it. It is one of life's small joys here. Listening to the old Sicilian language (some people refer to it as a dialect, but linguists think of it as a language) you can hear a mixture of French, Arabic, Italian and Spanish. It is very hard to understand and is mostly spoken today by the older people. So yet again the people of Sicily, are forsaking their language. Everyone also knows Italian and are preferring to speak in this more modern language. I hope the Sicilian doesn't die. I like hearing it even if I don't understand a thing - I think it is because it was the language that I heard in my home. We called it Italian, but in essence it was Sicilian. I also remember the language of gestures in our home – particularly the one my mother used when she wanted us to know that she meant business - she didn't need to say a word she just put her flat hand up to her mouth, sometimes even putting it between her teeth with her eyes bulging out, and we knew we were in trouble. It was very effective.

Well, on the weekend, we had two different dinner events that we attended, and no matter what the language that was spoken, both were lively, loud and effusive. People talked the way our family does at family gatherings - all talking at once and never being sure where to direct your listening attention. On Saturday night we wound up going out with Guiseppe, Daniella and all their friends again. We dropped in at their house in Serradifalco in the afternoon, and after hours of laughter and talking around the kitchen table the action started - many incoming phone calls from friends wondering what was happening, the door bell wringing with people dropping in, it was a lively scene. The crowd grew and then we departed for a place called Mamma Mia's. As usual Peter and I had no idea where we were going - was it a dance club, a restaurant, a coffee house??? We followed with complete trust that where ever we were headed it would be fun. At one point early in the evening after parking our car in Caltanisetta, we looked over and almost everyone of our group was standing around talking on a cell phone (making arrangements for others friends to joins us we supposed) and we laughed at the site and wound up taking a photo for our webpage (see photo page). We were led to a door, an ordinary door, no flashing signs, no glass windows, nothing to indicate that this was any kind of public place. Guiseppe showed a card, that some others also had, and they let us in. It is a private club that you have to join. The same card guarantees your entry into a lot of different progressive left wing establishments. This was nicely decorated, and immediately a peace (pace) sign hanging over the bar caught our eye- we knew were in the right place.

On Sunday we were invited to Lina and Pasquale's house were we were joined by another couple we met here- Lina and Carmelo. Lina has a thick Brooklyn accent - she lived there until she was 14 years old and then her family moved backed to Montedoro where she met her husband and the rest is history. All her family moved back and she is still here. We have met quite a few women that this has happened to. It seems that there is something about the men here. Be careful all my single friends and relatives who come here to visit. Lina's daughter, Melina (that made three Lina's at the dinner), her husband Guiseppe and their children Sharon and Iladio. The food was incredible - pasta (of course) - tiny home made things in red sauce, lamb with potatoes, salad, fruit, an assortment of sweets, cannolli, cookies, cakes....WOW! We laughed we talked in both languages, Lina interpreted and I asked what it meant to be Sicilian. This illicited many responses (see the home page). We feel so luck to have made so many good friends so quickly - each has helped us and given us support in so many ways. What a gift!

Finally, we moved to a new apartment today. It is much bigger and has a view over all of Montedoro, it also has an oven, four beds, a washing machine, a big bathroom with a bathtub, and a television, and it is less money than the one room we were in before. This is a long story which I will have to write about at a later time since the one thing this apartment doesn't have yet is internet access, so I will send this out from our old apartment and then hope that we will be able to write again in about a week. We moved right in time for our first visitors arrival tomorrow. Carol Sue and Wally Muth are coming from Maine. They are old friends and intrigued by Sicily. On Sunday we all depart for Sciacca where we will participate in Carnevale for three days before returning to Montedoro. Maybe we will have internet by then and I can tell all about how Carnevale is done here. On Sunday there is going to be a big exhibition by artists portraying peace through various art forms.

Well, I am signing off with a big gesture and two kisses - one for each cheek.

Peter: February 19, 2004

Here’s a different look at Sicily, from a naturalist’s eye, a series of vignettes.
Long, long ago, this land was covered with forests. These were forests of oaks at lower elevations, gradually merging into pine forests with cypress at higher elevations where snow accumulates for a month or two in the winter. These evergreen forests look almost black on the mountainsides in the distance. There are some areas being reforested with pines and cypress near us and they catch your eye with their straight-sided rectangular shapes and trees in rows. These dark forests have little undergrowth so it is usually easy to walk through them. There are patches of very sharp prickled rose bushes, though that you soon learn to avoid. Their recurved prickles like fishhooks poke right through skin and clothes and the tough branches bring you to a complete halt anytime you go astray into their tangled arms.
Very little undisturbed forest remains, except around Etna which has a broad, dark green skirt of greenery totally concealing her base. Elsewhere, you see small patches of woods, here and there on hillsides too steep to farm or rocky ravines. Whenever I spot a patch of woods, my heart jumps, hoping for a patch of native forest, but almost always, these patches are all of a telltale grayish olive color-a woods exclusively of eucalyptus trees brought from Australia. Few native birds or animals seem to live in the eucalyptus woods.
One day, we inched our car down a cobbled road to a shrine for a Saint Rosalia in the mountains not far from Montedoro. The road ended at a hermitage, which was perched on a nearly vertical slope of a mountain. From the hermitage, a woodsy path, „grassy and wanting wear‰ beckoned down into an ancient oak forest. Ancient gnarled trees with branches twisted and contorted told of slow lives eking out a bare existence in the rugged terrain. Some trees were thick trunked and leafless except for a few brown papery skeletons hanging from a twig or two. Others, were dense and leafy with narrow, dark green leaves that looked a lot like holly leaves. This tough forest had scraggly undergrowth of spiny leaved shrub oaks and patches of variegated cyclamen leaves. This was the real thing, the original Sicilian oak forest. It is still winter but spring is in the air and fresh greenery promises of a parade of flowers soon to come. We’ll be back.
I often get up just before sunrise and head up and down hill trying to catch a glimpse of local birdlife. The first time I went out, I was frustrated and discouraged by how difficult bird watching is here. Now, I am getting used to the idea of getting only one or two good looks at birds on each foray. I was mystified at first by how „flighty‰ everything is here. Birds here always fly off, long before you are even close. If you surprise one by a sudden appearance over a rise, it will give a frightened peep and dart off- not just to the next tree or shrub, but up, and away and totally out of sight behind a hill or into a valley. Other birds dart immediately down behind trees and shrubs, never to appear again. I began to suspect that birds might be shot at here. Now I am convinced of it. Hunters here have little to hunt. Even rabbits are hard to find. So I suspect that anything that moves can become a target, and this was confirmed for me by a man I met who goes hunting. Having said this, each new bird, then, becomes a major victory. I have had to develop great patience in waiting for a bird to re-emerge after darting under cover-sometimes for 20 minutes or more.
With Etna towering over one end of this island, one might think everything here is volcanic. Around Montedoro, however, there is no volcanic bedrock. The rocks are thrust up in sharp ridges, and spiky mountain tops in places, but most hills have smooth rolling curves suggestive of gigantic naked bodies lying in every conceivable position. I believe these higher slopes must have been glaciated during the last ice age to have been smoothed over so beautifully. Or, it could be the result of two thousand years of farming and erosion. Whole mountains here are made almost entirely of gypsum. It sparkles in large crystalline chunks, up to 3 or 4 inches long in boulders, road cuts, and exposed rock. The crystals are flat, like panes of broken glass, hazy with old age. Every rock looks like a specimen for a collection and it is hard not to keep picking up pieces to take home. I have to find out what geologists surmise created this huge deposit, but I imagine an ancient sea trapped between converging continental plates of Africa and Europe. Maybe it was in an arid zone and gradually evaporated away. Then, later, the rocks were crushed, twisted, shoved upward and broken as the plates rumbled together. This may not be too far from the truth, since there are large outcrops of thick limestone to the west, and salt mines a little to the south. Salt deposits are formed from evaporating seas, and limestones are formed in warm, shallow seas.
Sometimes I wander off a road into grassy unfenced fields to see what is coming up. Unfenced fields are the domain of flocks of sheep and shepherds here. The shepherds carry a staff and usually are wearing wool cloaks or loose fitting wool shirts and pants. There is a cheerful tonking of dozens of bells as the sheep move a few steps at a time, chewing what seems to be everything in sight. The fields then become a fascinating portrait of what sheep don’t like to eat. There are hundreds of tall asphodels in blossom, and bunches of brilliant blue iris only 8 or 10 inches high. There are even numerous purple spikes of orchids standing rigidly upright over the close-cropped grass. Adding a riot of green and white to the scene are huge rosettes of variegated leaves of a spiny thistle-obviously not a gourmet item on the sheep menu. And that’s about it. Everything else is pretty much gobbled up.

Ciao, Peter