Grotte, Sicilia (la famiglia)

(slide show of Grotte at the end..)

I grew up listening to my mom and dad tell stories about their hometown, Grotte, Sicily.  When I was 10 years old, I went to Grotte for the first time ever.  Their stories came to life.  I saw firsthand what my dad had described:   sun browned farmers on donkey-driven colorfully painted carts along the narrow cobbled streets, shouting out, “Cu voli cacociuli? (Who wants to buy artichokes?)  Their plaintive voices echoed in the alleys and off the stone walls. I woke up to women putting their laundry out on lines.  On the way to one of the family farms, I saw elderly women balancing water jugs (quartare) on their heads.  Women used to put their chairs outside their door and sew, knit, embroider.  The unmarried women had to sit facing the house (so that passing young men could not study their faces) while the married women could sit facing the street.

The above are images one never sees anymore.  Who would till soil by the sweat of one’s brow when there are machines to do the work for you?  Who would ride a donkey and shout when there are cars and loudspeakers to make work much easier?  You do not see a single donkey any more. They have been replaced by little trucks that look like motorized rickshaw-trucks. Like me, my cousin, who grew up in England, looked for hints of the old days.  She told me that on one recent visit to Grotte, she was thrilled to see a farmer on a donkey.  She thought to herself with satisfaction, “See, some things never change!”  Then suddenly, the farmer pulls out a cell phone and phones his wife.  My cousin could only hear the conversation from the farmer’s end.  “Darling, start cooking the pasta. I’m on my way home.”  So things do change!  And why shouldn’t they?  We romanticize it all.  Why should we (living outside of the village) be the only ones who use technology to make our lives easier?

“Oh, look at all the widows in black with framed photos of their husbands pinned to their chest.”  Why do we find that so quaint? My friend from Egypt once hosted a well known American female photographer.  My friend was so shocked to hear the American photographer exclaim about how beautiful the veiled women looked!  She shot photo after photo of the veiled women.  My Egyptian friend saw the veiled women of her country as symbols of oppression.  We seem to be attracted to what is different or antiquated, though we may not want to embrace such a lifestyle.

I noticed that some things changed in Grotte from just 4 years ago:

  • Someone told me that Grotte is like the 50’s all over again.  The young have left and are leaving in droves.   They have gone north in search of jobs.  There are not many young people to be seen in Grotte. They are in northern Italy, in Germany, in England, in France, Belgium.  They are educated men and women taking any job they can get.  The young will tell their parents they got a good job in the Hotel Industry when, in fact, they are cleaning out rooms in hotels (this is according to my uncle….I do happen to know for sure that many of my cousins have landed good  jobs in the north and abroad).  One elderly man, Vincenzuzzu, asked me if I like Grotte.  I said yes and I told him some reasons why I love Grotte.  One of my last reasons I gave him was the sun, the warmth, the food produced in this climate that tastes like it has been kissed by the sun.  And he replied, “Beh, lu suli ‘un si po mangiare.”  “Well, you can’t eat the sun!”  Good answer, Vincenzuzzu.  I fell right into your trap.  So tragic to have to leave paradise in search of jobs, just like my parents did back in the ’50’s.
  • Another difference:  traffic jams!  Those who stay in Grotte have cars.  Not as much walking these days. Too hot, some say.  Too many fast cars, not safe to walk, others say.  Regardless of the reasons, I have never seen so many cars in Grotte. What happened to all the Vespas?  Perhaps those disappeared when the youth left to go work in the north.
  • Romanians and Africans now live in Grotte.  They get jobs working in restaurants, in fields, as housekeepers, and, most importantly, they work in private homes taking care of the elderly (i.e., most of the population).  They feed the elderly, bathe them, change their Depends, clothe them, and later put them to bed.  In short, they are doing the work that no one else wants to do.
  • More litter than ever!  The ubiquitous crushed plastic bottle has really become a problem.  There are now recycle bins everywhere, but still a plethora of plastic bottles and litter everywhere.  My uncle explained to me that not long ago the garbage collectors were on strike for a long long time.  The village looked a wreck, garbage piling up everywhere.  According to him, what I was seeing was a remnant from those months of garbage piling up  for months.  Well, my friends, time for a major clean up. But who will do the cleaning up?  Only the elderly and a few youngsters and their parents remain in Grotte.   I have a feeling it will be the Romanians and Africans who will eventually be hired for the clean up work.
  • Used to be women labored over making impignolati (Grottese onion and olive  specialty bread) and cavatti (Grottese pasta rolled by hand).  But now, cavatti are made by the kilo with machines!  And impignolati are rolled out by machines and sold in bakeries throughout Grotte!  The mass production takes away the preciousness of these foods.  However, I was surprised to see that they taste just as good as the food we used to eat in our relatives home.  Progress wins again.

So what doesn’t change?

  • Widows/widowers still wear black.  Not for a lifetime like long ago, but for a long time.
  • Sicilian children will always be perfectly coddled fleshy cherubs and families will always adore all family members, especially babies and young children.
  • People still peep from behind shuttered windows (shuttered to keep the house cool)  They stare good and hard and they don’t care of you see them staring.  They are not ashamed if you stare back at them.  They just keep staring.  If they don’t know you, they won’t smile.  They just watch you.  We passersby from different countries are better than TV!
  • The food is the best in the world, the tomatoes taste like the sun, the olive oil is green and fragrant, the olives, eggs, grapes, wine, figs, coffee, choose, walnuts, almonds, and bread and pasta made of yellow durum wheat are intoxicatingly delicious and fresh. Everything you eat is a sheer delight to all the senses!
  • What never changes is the intensely sad feeling I experience, each time I leave, of having to say goodbye to our aunts, uncles, to a part of ourselves, to our heritage, to a place where we are and always will be spiritually and emotionally rooted.  There is nothing like the sense of family in Sicily!  There is nothing like the sense of belonging to a place like Sicily, to an ancient land and culture, to a family as beautiful as the one I just left behind.
Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
A free picture slideshow by Smilebox
Advertisements

26 Responses to “Grotte, Sicilia (la famiglia)”

  1. Colleen Moloney Says:

    Thanks so much Fran for sharing your family and your heritage. It comes alive when you speak of it. Such a gift.

    Like

  2. Rick Says:

    Precious!

    Riccardo

    Like

  3. Nancy Regensburg Says:

    Just so beautiful and I can feel the love in your family! It’s wonderful and everybody has a definite family resemblance. I love it all and the food and way of life!

    Like

  4. marykay Says:

    Fran, you look so much like your Mom…..what a tender tribute to your visit…

    Like

  5. enza00@aol.com Says:

    I’ve so patiently waited to read your colorful stories of your week in Sicily & to see pictures of your trip. It was well worth the wait! Thank-you for sharing, it was a pleasure seeing pictures our family & Grotte!!

    Like

  6. davidmalta Says:

    I have to get over to Sicily. It’s only a short ferry ride away from us here in Malta, and your evocative descriptions make me even more determined to get there before the year is out.

    Like

  7. Andrew Says:

    My grandmother’s parents were from “Grutti.” Their surname was Morgante. I would love more than anything to go there and research my heritage. Thank you for the pictures!

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      Hi Andrew, You definitely HAVE to go to Grotte. And yes, they say “Grutti” and the people there are Gruttisi. I think you can find an apartment for rent in the historical center of town. Some people have fixed up the old homes and rent them out. And while you are there, you can research your heritage. You will probably find some distant cousins still living right there. I hope you will go one day! Fran

      Like

  8. Linda Liotta Beale Says:

    My Grandparents were from Grotte. I know Grandpa had brothers and a sister still there. The last name was Liotta and Mazzara. Thank you for giving a face to the town. I would love to be able to visit someday and see if any cousins still live there.

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      I hope you will get a chance to go someday. Just go to the central piazza and start asking any old timer sitting outside if he or she has heard of your grandparents! I am sure you still have cousins there!

      Like

  9. Antonio Mary Morreale Says:

    I am from Grotte, we moved away when I was 4 years old but visited almost every year until I was 14 and then we moved to USA. I noticed on one of your pictures (picture 29) of your cousin, she is married to my second cousin Filippo Vitello. The last time I was in Grotte was in 1996. I love the city and all about it. I wish to go back some day. Thank you for sharing those pictures, it brings great memories.

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      Hi Antonio (Totu!), What a small world! So we are loosely related since your second cousin is married to my cousin! Mariangela’s father is my father’s first cousin. They grew up together. Thank you for sharing your love of Grotte! Maybe our paths will cross someday!

      Like

  10. Antonio Mary Morreale Says:

    Filippo’s grandmother and my grandmother were sisters. I was very close to Filippo and his sister Cursidda when we were very young, 50+ years ago. My mother and Filippo’s mother were like sisters, they lived on the same street and grew up together. Grutti always brings back great memories for me. I wonder if your father knew my family, my paternal grandfather was Antonio Morreale and my maternal grandfather was Michele Brucculeri.

    Like

    • Barbara Lenhart Says:

      My great grandmother was Pietra Morreale born 1864 died 1905 and married to Calogero Vitello. I wonder if we are related.

      Like

  11. frangallo Says:

    I wouldn’t doubt if my father knew your family. Grotte isn’t that big. So now I have a question for you…my dad had a best friend whose name was Antonio Morreale. They grew up together, neighbors in what is now knows as Grotte’s Centro Storico. This friend Antonio Morreale moved to California in the 60’s and kept in touch with my dad. I do remember this friend had some sons and one daugher (the youngest, whose name is Lucia, born in California) Sadly, they never got to meet up with each other. They just wrote letters and phoned each other at Christmas. This man’s widow is still alive. My mother, father, and their friend Antonio Morreale all passed away (6 and 7 years ago for all of them)…Maybe your relative? And I do know some Brucculeri’s in Grotte (cousins through marriage). Small small world…

    Like

  12. brillante123 Says:

    My grandmother Zaffuto was from Grotte. My dad was born there and immigrated to the states with her when he was 5. They pronounced it like gruuutte. Their Sicilian dialect was much like my mothers (born and raised near Palermo). I’ve been very close to Grotte many times while visiting Sicily but never there. I enjoyed your slides and am more motivated to swing by when next I visit.

    Fred Brillante

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      So cool! Thank you for writing and sharing your story. Yes, my parents pronounced it Gruuute. So many immigrations happened and I think there are Grutisi all over the world, like us…all originating from the same village. I hope you get a chance to go to Grotte some day!

      Fran Gallo (my dad shortened his name from Brunogallo to Gallo when he immigrated to the US in 1959.

      Like

  13. Barbara Lenhart Says:

    Leaving for Agrigento in September to visit Grotte with my 87 year old aunt. My mom was born in Grotte in 1918 and she is now 96 but unable to make the trip. My paternal grandparents were Zaffuto’s and Puglisi’s and maternal grandparents were Morreale and Vitello. I am trying to find an apartment to stay in Grotte but so far no luck. Will probably stay in Agrigento and just drive there every day to research my family’s history. I could get just so far on ancestry.com and came to a dead end. Hope there aren’t too many cars in Grotte. I took my mom for her 60th birthday and they were still using donkeys and carts, no cars in sight. Thanks for the narrative.

    Like

    • frangallo Says:

      Hi Barbara! We could very well be related. It seems that if you dig far enough, everyone in Grotte share relatives. I hate to tell you this, but there are lots of cars, even more motorbikes in Grotte..and hardly any donkeys and carts. In 1972, there were still donkeys and carts, as you mention and I even saw women carrying amphoras, filled with water, on their heads! You should be able to stay right in Grotte. The old section of the town, called Centro Storico (historical center) has Casa Vancanza (vacation homes, or apartment/homes people have renovated and rent out, often their granny’s homes) Check this out: http://www.bbplanet.it/case-vacanza/grotte/ and the first apartment house is called Casa Salva. I think it would be great if you could stay right in Grotte! A great place to do research is at the cemetery. YOu will most likely find your grandparents there. The names you mention are very familiar. I am assuming you speak Italian, or for sure your aunt does, and you shouldn’t have a problem getting around. People are, in general, very helpful. I’d love to hear about your experience with your aunt in Grotte! Thank you for connecting! -Fran

      Like

  14. Anthony Morreale Says:

    Hello
    We are looking for the cemetery in Grotte as well as a church there around 1900. Can you help?

    Like

    • Barbara Lenhart Says:

      I just came back from Grotte, and visited the very old cemetary which they are reconstructing. I will have to go through my pictures and notes to send the name as I can’t remember it offhand. I did take lots of pictures. My family is made up of Ciraolo’s, Morreale’s and Vitello’s. I did find the church my grandparent were married in and again I will have to get my notes for the name. There were so many notes to take as we were doing family ancestry and would get so caught up in speaking to people we met who turned out to be 2nd and 3rd cousins that I would lose track of the fact that I wasn’t writing down the information. Will get back to you through this blog or send me your email. Caio.

      Like

  15. Vince Licata Says:

    Wow Fran, my daughter just found this as she was showing her boyfriend where her grandfather came from- she messaged me to say there are pics of your.aunt on the net and grandad. I had a look through brought tears to my eyes ,brought back a lot of memories of when we were kids- I need to get my ass back there this summer and visit my relatives.
    Hope to catch up soon
    Enzo ( zio Vittorio’s)

    Like

  16. Debra Licata Simeone Says:

    Hello Fran, I ran across your blog when I was looking for a cavatti recipe. When I saw the n’pignolata reference, I was so excited. But my jaw dropped when I saw Grotte. My grandfather was Filipo Licata from Grotte. He married Lila Ciraini also of Grotte. When he immigrated to the USA, he settled down in Arnold, Pennsylvania north of Pittsburgh. Many other people from Grotte did the same, Zaffuto, Lamendola, Bellavia, Puglisi, are all names of families we grew up with. When we visited Grotte ten or so years ago, I was amazed to see these same names on businesses there. I would love to share some photos with you, especially of our family’s annual “Pignolata” day where we make 60+ to share with all the cousins. Can I email them to you?
    Regards,
    Debra Licata Simeone

    Like

    • Barbara Lenhart Says:

      We should compare our trees. My mother Anna Ciraolo Lenhart was born in Grotte (1918) she just passed away 4/6/16. But I brought her back for her 60th birthday and also went with her sister my aunt (86) and stayed in Grotte (old town) in 2014. My great grandmother was Anna Pugisi married to Nicolo Ciraolo. My great great grandmother was Mariagrazia Zaffuto married to Vincenzo Puglisi. I went their in 2014 to do some genealogy research. Wouldn’t it be something if we were related?

      Like

    • Barbara Says:

      I think Debra Lucata Simeone is also a relative

      Barbara

      >

      Like

  17. frangallo Says:

    Hi Barbara, I really do think we are related. Another woman from Pennsylvania just found my blog and I also think I am related to her! She has Licata and Zaffuto in her family. I need to do genealogy research, too! I’d say we are related on my mother’s side. I am pretty sure her maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Zaffuto: Rosa Zaffuto. She married into the Tirone family. I love how our lives run some parallel lines. And I am very sorry to hear of your mother’s passing in April. My condolences to you and your family. How wonderful that you brought her back to Grotte in 1986! I hope you continue to stay close to her family. They carry her stories with them. You continue to carry her love! Be well! Love, Fran

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: