2 marzo, 2004
As I have increasing opportunities to travel and experience more of the island, observing people's behaviors, and piecing together a very long history, I find myself having even more questions than when I started. I also find that I am not so quick to make assumptions about what I see and experience and am giving myself time to observe many of the same things in different settings before making determinations- sometimes checking my impressions with friends here. Some of these assumptions are as simple as Peter's statement when we first arrived about most people not having washing machines. Well, we now know that was completely off base since we have visited many different homes, talked to people and found out that just about everyone has washing machines. In fact we were the only ones without a machine. The machines here are small and conserve water since it can be scarce in the dry months. The washers fit in a bathroom, and some people have separate laundry rooms. There aren't really any basements so the washing machines are usually in the upper part of the house. We never see dryers, however, and everybody we know hangs their wash on the line as we do. Not having a washing machine was one of the many reasons why we moved to a different apartment. Other assumptions involve deeper meaning behind observed behaviors like the assumption early on that people were acting suspicious of us. People here have corrected that impression - they say that what we are interpreting as suspicion is instead a form of curiosity. I later read in a book called Myths and Legends of Greek and Roman Sicily that people were welcoming to strangers out of curiosity. It stated "the wandering stranger was always welcomed as he was the bearer of news which the inexistent means of communication could not bring them." The book goes on to state that "people who live in more isolated and out of the way places, are more inclined to hospitality since they enjoy entertaining. The Greeks found the Southern Italians very hospitable as they welcomed them with open arms, allowing them to set up colonies." Sounds like the Native Americans in the U.S. Anyway we have experienced so many instances of hospitality that we can only now assume that there is something deeply cultural going on. When first entering a small village you are immediately made self conscious by the stares that are every where, however, when I have overcome my fear (often on Peter's urging) and started a conversation, it has resulted in immediate engagement - questions, sometimes offers of a place to stay the night as recently happened in San Angelo Muxaro. One day we briefly stopped in Canicatti, a city near here to have a brief look around before heading to Agrigento. We wandered into a bookstore and that was it. Two elderly men engaged us in conversations about everything from what authors we like to read, to telling us about their lives (one was a retired Veterinarian and the other was the store owner). They were both taking literature classes at the nearby college - discussing new books and authors. When we bought a few items they were looking everywhere for a gift to give us - they came up with a Carnevale joke gift to make people sneeze and a post card. We had to tear ourselves away to make it to the event we wanted to attend in Agrigento on time. These kinds of little hospitable acts happen every day. In talking to people here about this they confirm that Sicilians are very hospitable to strangers, sometimes even more so than to their own fellow citizens. One day when we visited Sutera, there was the imposing group of older men standing around in the Piazza. Peter went right up to them and started to talk - they were very engaging and couldn't do enough to assist us. I hold this image in my head whenever I am feeling reluctant to approach a group again and work through my fear to begin a conversation. So in reflection on my experience with my family and community growing up - this kind of hospitality to strangers was such a given that it was never talked about just acted on as we always made room for people at our table, and would go out of our way to make people comfortable in our home. I think I still act from this and even have a hard time expecting people to remove their shoes at the door of our house in Rochester, despite snow and dirt. The comfort of others in my home is my first concern. By the way, on the few occasions when Peter or our friends from the U.S. have tried to remove their shoes before entering a home, people immediately protest, sometimes loudly, and insist that the shoes be kept on no matter how dirty. Here are some descriptions about what we see in homes here starting with a description of our new apartment.
Our new apartment is wonderful. It is on the third floor of a house in the village, in the same neighborhood we were in before. In our living room (also something we didn't have before), we have windows all around and we get a view of both the village and the mountains that surround the town. It is breathtaking, and a real joy to sit in with a cup of coffee in the morning watching the billowing clouds drift over the mountains as the green fields are glinting in the morning sun. What joy! We also have a full big kitchen with an oven (which we also didn't have before) and a nice big bedroom with two beds in it and a dresser (also new for us). Well, we got all of this for less money than we were paying before. I am glad we decided to investigate a new place. The other apartment, was simple and uncomfortable. It was lacking comforts and too expensive. For some reason we just tolerated it, maybe not realizing that there were better places to be had out there. My back is happier also, since we were sleeping before on a fold out futon like sofa and now we have a good bed with a firm mattress. This may have been the reason why I was so tired all the time. The navigation of the situation around the move was stressful for about a week, since it involved family and could have resulted in hurt feelings. However, we had many allies who encouraged us to live more comfortably and were not content with our situation. Some people in the village worked to help us find a new place. Peter and I are so used to just making do when we travel that I think it prevented us at first from seeing that the room we had wasn't worth what we were paying for it. Several people at the municipio (the town hall) found us the place to live - including the cultural minister and the town police officer. The apartment we have belongs to the police officer's sister who lives in Paris. Once we found something and made the decision we went to Maria and announced our decision - and she was fine with it. We were relieved and moved the next day - a week ago Friday - the day before our first visitors arrived from the U.S..
This move and all the talk of houses and apartments makes it a good time to write about the houses here in the village. Most of the houses are made of stone and are 3 - 4 stories high. The upper floors have patios at a doorway - with some patios extending the full length of the house. The houses right in the village are attached to each other so when you walk down a street you just see a continuous row of houses - like row houses in New York city, except that the front door is on the street level and there are usually no outside stairs. Many houses in the village are very old and have been renovated many times. They are simple and similar on the outside, and often beautiful and more ornate on the inside. They all have terra cotta roofing tiles, which are so interestingly uniform when looking out over the village. It reminds me of a miniature Florence. When someone is living in the whole house - the usual design is to have a full kitchen on the ground floor with a dining room/living room attached. There is often limited furniture on this floor. On the next level, there is often another full kitchen with a living room and sometimes a bedroom, if they use the third floor there will be more bedrooms and a bathroom. In one house we visited, they had two full bathrooms on the same floor. Also, we find that people use the first floor kitchen more than the second floor kitchen. We are not completely sure yet why this is. One person shared that it is cooler there during the hot summer months. However, even when we go over for a special dinner, all the cooking and eating is done in the less formal first floor kitchen. The living rooms are formal and we rarely if ever sit in one. People instead like to congregate around a table where the customary espresso or liqueur is served. This is a bit of a ritual - almost immediately after the round of kisses and greetings, the table is cleared of any ornaments (artificial flower arrangements etc.) and a clean, usually hand embroidered cloth is put on the center of the table where within minutes, an assortment of items start to appear - first a bowl with some sweet candies wrapped in brightly colored wrappers, then the tiny coffee cups on saucers and the small espresso pot of coffee, then the customary plate of cookies of pastries that are in season that week, small glasses for either Limoncello (a very sweet homemade liqueur) or Avena (another sweet brown liqueur made in nearby Caltanisetta). There are newer homes encircling the village in developments (suburban sprawl is here too). These homes are usually much larger and for single families. We visited one recently that was very grand - it had an enormous living rooms with a big marble circular staircase leading to a large second floor with many bedrooms and bathrooms. Since it was only two floors the second kitchen was off the first kitchen on the same floor. This one had a special brick pizza oven. The house also had a garden outside - something you don't see in the village. Many people have planter boxes hanging from balconies and potted plants around their entrances, but no gardens. Those are in the campagna, the country home. Many people still have little homes and a plot of land in the surrounding countryside. This is where they grow fruits, vegetables and have an assortment of trees that include lemon, almond, fig and sometimes cherry. These plots are worked by the men and used for celebrations during the warmer weather. So in many ways they have the best of both worlds - village or town life - close to neighbors and stores and the country for being close to nature and experiencing the beauty of the earth.
Last Friday night we were invited to Giuseppe's going-away party at the Alessandro's family's campagna home. What a blast! We didn't get home until 2:30 am. All of Guiseppe's friends were there about 25 people. Alessandro, Daniella's boyfriend made most of the food - it was amazing - good cheese, olives, lots of hearty red wine, two soups - one with chick peas and one with cabbage, bread, and a locale favorite - a meat made of many different parts of cows, pigs and lambs that is packaged together by tying it with intestines. Guiseppe was eager for me to try it after explaining with great detail how it is made and prepared. The house was cozy, lived-in and comfortable. We stood around the center table and ate off it like a buffet and then we went to the enclosed porch where one friend from Canicatti played guitar and everyone sang and laughed as different ones enacted a song and embellished it. The songs were a mix of U.S. and Italian folk and rock songs. I was embarrassed that they knew the words to our songs, and we didn't know even one of theirs. WE had some good political discussions - disparaging Bush and Berlesconi - it was fun. On Tuesday Guiseppe left for Spain where he will do an internship for 3 months. We will miss him. We gave him a gift of a CD of jazz music from Rochester that includes Gap and Chuck Mangione. Everyone at the party had heard of them and were familiar with their music. Here were musicians from my old neighborhood in Rochester, who were listened to by our fellow Sicilians in Sicily - that felt good.
Well, we didn't write for a while because, we had our first visitors - Carol Sue and Wally Muth - our long time friends from Sodus who now live in Bar Harbor, Maine. They signed on for February because they don't mind cold weather and were interested in attending Carnival. We loved having them to share our lives here, and they were wonderful playmates and guests. We did a lot of exploring together after spending 3 days in Sciacca (pronounced She- AH- ka)_to take part in the Carnevale activities there. Their entry below will give some description to this event. It was like nothing I have ever experienced before, and something I would definitely return for in the future. Everyone should experience it at least once in their lifetimes, even if you have been to other Carnival events in other locations. The one here had an infectious family-centered joyous feeling - that at times was spell binding to the point where you found yourself never wanting it to end. Check out the photos to get an idea of the grandness and intensity of it. Here was the greatest illustration of the Sicilian attention to detail. Everything was orchestrated with such precision right down to the trim on the children's costumes, that it left outsiders wondering about how one town could accomplish all of this and from what ancient rite this had sprung. As usual we have more questions than answers. We are slowing piecing together the meaning of what we saw. At the same time, allowing ourselves to soak it in with it's full intent knowing that it also doesn't need interpretation - it is what it is - and it did what it was meant to do to us. I have invited Carol Sue and Wally to share their impressions of Sicily and their visit here.
Ciao, I am off to my first haircut here. Hope it turns out good.
Here is what our friends wrote:
Sue Muth: Mar 01, 04
Peter: March 2, 2004
...and then, comes Spring,... e poi, farai la primavera... This refrain we heard over and over from the most spectacular "carre" or float of Carnivale. Towering over 4 stories high was a huge Zeus with strange masking glasses that came forward to cover his eyes, then opened back to reveal them again. His arms would reach forward as he bent at the waist, then straighten again. Below, a serene looking woman, totally the goddess gracefully strummed a harp, and opened and closed her huge brown eyes, lusciously shaded by long black eyelashes. Her face was a gigantic smile with full, red lips. In front of her, a bowlegged gentle looking man raised his brush from a palette to paint flowers. He also smiled happily and his whole body would turn from side to side. On the sides, were flowers and insects. To see this monstrous float inching toward you lit up by a bank of floodlights on a preceding cart was mesmerizing. The throngs in the street seeing it for the first time stared with open mouths. Adding to the splendor of the scene was a cotillion of dancers in sparkling array of greens, purple, red and yellow. This troop almost continuously performed a choreographed dance routine that was a perfect reflection of the joy and richness of color of Spring. The movement of the dancers and the music soon entranced you its upbeat rhythm and enthusiasm. In the street ahead of the float, a mob of dancers bounced and danced, formed friendship circles that spun one way and the other, or formed long lines that wove through the rest of the crowd. It was impossible to resist. Kathy and I pushed into the street and began dancing, our hearts light and feeling totally alive, in love and happy. The music for each float was played on CD players and throbbed thunderously in front of the float, so you could feel it in your very core. Finally, literally "danced out" we had to step to the side to watch the whole spectacle pass, wishing we had enough energy to just keep on. What a wonderful tradition, this celebration of carnivale. It brings people out of their houses, their shells, and draws them into playfulness. People would tap you on the opposite shoulder and you spin around to nothing, then look the other way and catch a knowing smirk and a wink from the perpetrator. It was so refreshing to have the festival be the center of attention and not endless rows of vendors selling their wares. I truly felt like hugging everybody I passed. That being impossible, I playfully bonked many of them with my bright yellow mallet. E poi....already, it is a memory, its richness and vibrancy slightly faded, so quickly over. As if to emphasize this and the preciousness of our wonderful planet, the retreating side of the float was a huge earth with a sad smile, its beauty tarnished by a riffraff of discarded plastic bottles, junked electronics and trash. I will be dreaming of my next Carnivale in Sicilia.
The day before we left for the Carnivale celebration in Sciacca, we experienced our first sirocco here. I had spent over an hour cleaning our wrap around windows for a bright view on Friday. On Saturday ,we first noticed a thickening haze that gradually blocked out the more distant hills and mountains, and finally made even the closest seem far away. The sky had a distinctly brownish tinge close to the horizon and the sun was muted. It was cozy warm, enough for a short-sleeved shirt. The change was heralded in by a drizzle Saturday night. Sunday morning, the windows were pocked with drip marks outlined in brown sand. Every exposed surface had a brown coating of Sahara dust- very fine and powdery. Cars had been transformed into dingy old models in a junk yard. Woe to anyone who had left out laundry to dry overnight. White sheets were now sand brown! This phenomenon lasted another day making our celebrations of carnivale warm and pleasant by day, and not too cold at night. The next day, a strong gusty wind marked the advance of a cold front which chased away the dust and haze and returned us to clear, frigid nights once again. This powerful circulation of air originates in North Africa and lifts untold millions of tons of dust from the deserts and whirl it all up into the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. We were told it happens five or six times a year here.
A week of sunny warm days has caused an eruption here--of wildflowers. In some places the roadsides vie with the sun for color with masses of yellow oxalis and mustard waving briskly in the Spring breezes. The almond trees are flowering white or with a touch of pink, and in wet areas, we have found gorgeous purple anemones. Rocky slopes are a mix of brown stone and round patches of yellow green. These are robust shrubs in the family Euphorbiaceae- the same one our spurge belongs to. They have clusters of upright branches sprouting from a woody base, with whorls of dark green narrow leaves clustered at the branch tips. At the very ends are the yellow-green blossoms that give the shrub its overall color. If you pick a leaf, liquidy drops of white latex spurt out and make your fingers very sticky as they dry. Everywhere, except the freshly plowed fields, it is green, green- a brilliant, unreal green that defies any painter's brush or photograph to replicate. It is astonishingly beautiful and surrounds you, overwhelming your peripheral vision. I have never seen any place so completely green on earth before.
Kathy: March 8, 2004 International Women's Day
This morning when I woke up Peter asked me what I had dreamed. We often tell each other our dreams in the morning and in general I am very good at remembering them. However, since we have been here, I have noticed that I haven't been remembering my dreams so readily. Instead I wake up and think about where I am and what I did the day or night before, as I did this morning, and it is all so very different and intriguing that real life takes on that same dream like quality. I get so transfixed on these events from the previous day and don't concentrate on what I may have dreamt. In this way it feels like we are living a dream and at any moment we will wake up and it will be over.
Last night we attended a graduation party for one of our friend's Maurizio Ferla. When I woke up this morning, and thought about each interaction and the events of the party it all left me feeling like I do in a dream - asking, what did this mean and commenting on how interesting some interaction with some person was, or the conjuring up a feeling that was triggered by a passing look or comment. Maurizio graduated this week from universaio with a degree in Social Work and he is currently working with immigrant groups in Caltanisetta. He is a sweet young man full of promise and joy. Much like his friends, he is deeply passionate about his learning and his work. He represents both the old and the new Sicily.
The party was held at a restaurant in Caltanisetta. The restaurant had 3 distinct spaces- first a bar area which opened up into a larger party room where the food was laid out on tables and Maurizio stood greeting his guests with his wide smile and kisses on each cheek, and then there was a back section where the group of friends formed a circle of chairs and shared plates of food, bottles of wine and most importantly our reflections on the photos and writings in the books that surrounded us on the shelves against the walls. This restaurant was filled with art, history and literature books about Sicily and members of our group were devouring them as much as they were the rich food that was on our plates. One friend Rosario, kept bringing food plates from the buffet over to Peter and I and commenting on how wonderful each item was that we were about to eat - the green cracked olives and the soft ricotta cheese, the sun dried tomatoes and the crusty bread. He was eager for us to love each item as much as he did. Of course this wasn't hard and we could sincerely say how buonisimo it was. What I saw in Rosario was complete pride in the food of his country - I pursued it - reflecting back to him how much feeling he was sharing and he responded with words of love and adoration for Sicily as another friend Flavia interpreted the parts I didn't understand and agreed with him about their love for this land. I felt their passion and it left me with some sadness. What must it feel like to love your country so much! To feel so connected to everything about it - its food, its traditions, its language, its history. I shared that I don't always feel that same feeling where I live - that I feel at times disconnected from the extreme value that is placed on individualism that I see in the U.S. and out of sync with the direction we are going in. They shared that they feel that also when they think about the whole of Italy - especially the industrialized north which also emphasizes the individual to the detriment of the community. So, they knew what I meant, and yet despite their disconnect from their whole nation, they still had something precious to hold onto. A place to feel at home in. Each book about Sicily on the shelf that they loving looked through and shared with me - the photos of architecture and Greek pottery and statures, or a story about miners and fishermen. One book was written a long time ago about the miners of Montedoro, and Rosario said he is going to buy me a copy. There were poems in the back of the book written in English and I translated a few verses for them. They said that to know the true Sicily, I would need to walk through a yellow corn field in summer and hear the crickets singing. They wanted me to visualize how deeply in love with the land they are. And it worked. I imagined Rosario, a big muscular man of about 26 years old experiencing something moving and spiritual as he touched his earth and I understood completely. It was a new feeling for me - one who has always had a foot in two worlds - only not knowing where that other foot was suppose to touch down. The general feeling that I took away from my childhood was that there was us - the Italians (Sicilians) and there were them - the Americani. Walking the "us and them" line has been my life - never feeling completely at home often left me confused. Well, now I know where that other foot was supposed to land.
While we were embroiled in books and feelings, and history and food, there was ongoing cheering and toasting and celebrating of Maurizio going on in the center room. It was so joyous - he was so loved by everyone in those rooms and he was grateful and soaked it in completely. The evening was concluded with more champagne and a cake that resembled Mount Etna, only it was brown chocolate instead of white snow. It was made of hundreds of whipped cream filled cream puffs stacked together and covered with chocolate cream. Even, me a non chocolate eater savored every bite.
On Saturday evening , we attended a different graduation party - this one was for Maria, Guiseppe's girlfriend. She also just graduated from the universario with a teaching degree. She is currently teaching in Gela. This party was put together by friends and family and each item on the buffet was connected to one of the people at the party, as were the CD's and the stereo system. It was a great party with lots of talking, toasting and kids playing with confetti on the floor. At the end of the evening a group of us danced to a wide variety of music from folk dancing tunes to techno and motown. It was great fun for us - the first time dancing since being here. Maria was surrounded by love and at the end of the night we all pitched in and cleaned up the cups and plates in a matter of minutes as Maria, made little food packets with the left overs for each person to take home. Since there have been so many graduations this week among our friends we were cautioned to not think that it is like this all the time - that this is the season for graduations and there are always huge celebrations for that. Education is valued here and both the men and women who we know are involved with getting degrees. They are talented and have so much to give - they want to remain in Sicily to work and give of their talents, but they also have shared with us their concern over the lack of jobs here. It seems that the Southern part of Italy and Sicily are still not given the same resources as the North - the same old story.
Well, this evening I am participating in another new experience. A group of women from Montedoro have invited me to go out to dinner and dancing with them in honor of International Women's Day. Apparently every year on this day they leave their men behind to just go out and enjoy each other. I am really looking forward to being a part of this group on this special day. I think maybe this should be a tradition we adopt when I return.
Kathy: March 21, 2004 - The Spring Equinox
Hello from Sicily,
It seems at times that we are just too busy to write, and then I think about all the things there are to share and realize that it is important to at least do the highlights so they are not lost. Most of these have corresponding photos on our photo page.
The International Women's Day Dinner: I definitely think that when I return we should organize this event in Rochester as well. Maybe we can start off small and let it grow over time. Here we went to a fancy restaurant and there were tables reserved for different groups of women. The groups consisted of mothers, grandmothers, daughters, friends from a local town or neighborhood. Our group was mostly a family from Montedoro that consisted of 3 cousins, an aunt, two young daughters, and myself and another friend. The women all talked at once, there were at least 6 courses of food served by handsome young men. We took photos, danced all the traditional dances including the tarantella which took many forms. I danced with the older aunt who was a very good dancer as she led me around the dance floor bumping into younger dancers who were doing some innovative modern versions.We were each given a bouquet of mariposa flowers - the designated flower for Women's Day. There was karaoke and I sang "My Way" in English. There was also a raffle with gifts and our table won two of them. It was great fun and the women felt a little adventurous about leaving their men home and just having fun with each other. I was honored to have been invited.
View from our living room: One morning I woke up early and decided to lie down on the couch in the living room to watch the sunrise. I must have had a feeling that it would be good. I sat on the sofa and it was like watching something from another planet as the sky filled up with reds and oranges like an unfolding tapestry.
Touring: we spent some time looking at a church in Palermo before picking Peg and Paul, our friends from Rochester up at the airport. We had a great visit and did some touring of the Western end of the island:Selunite, Marsala, Trapani and Erice.Before that we took a one day trip to Enna where we had lunch on the site of the temple of Demeter, Persephone's mother.
Teaching an English Class: one of the teachers in Serradifalco, invited us to teach some English classes. It was so wonderful having a chance to talk with students. They were so curious about our lives, they had prepared questions and asked things like:
What food do you like better Italian or American food?
How do you celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Did your children go to the university?
How do you spend a typical day?
What is your work?
I asked them what they liked about being Sicilian and I am going to be putting their responses on our homepage. On the photo page you can see a photo of the responses on the chalk board.
Morocco: Tomorrow we leave Sicily for a week to visit Casablanca and Marakesh in Morocco. It feels hard to leave here, yet I know we will love learning about a country we have both always wanted to visit. Hope all is well with everyone. Will write when we return.