Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Sicily for Adriana

April 27, 2017

I thought to post some of my best photos from the past two days.   This post is dedicated to my friend and co-worker from Seattle Athletic Club, Adriana Allison Brown, 34 years old, married to Aaron Brown and mother of two beautiful little girls.  She passed away two days ago on April 25, was hit by a vehicle as she was walking the crosswalk at Lenora and Western (Seattle) on her way to work at the Seattle Athletic Club as a personal fitness trainer.  I thought of Adriana all day these past two days.  She told me recently that she would like to come to Sicily one day.

I am heartbroken.

Adriana was as bright as the Sicilian Sun.

Adriana was as beautiful as the red poppies below.

Adriana “era buona comu lu pani“, a Sicilian expression which literally translates to Adriana “was as good as bread”  (see explanation below).

 

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Yes, I got my poppy photo! Red is the dominant color for the poppies I have been seeing.

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say, "Era buonu comu lu pani" = He was as good as bread!

Bread (pane). For my dad, a meal without bread was not a meal at all.  Bread is the staff of life. The highest compliment you can pay a person in old time Sicily was to say of that person, “E buonu (buona) comu lu pani” = He/She is as good as bread!

Old tile detail

Old tile detail

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Sweetness: potted geraniums

Simple delicious ingredients for sauce alla Norma.

Simple delicious ingredients for Pasta alla Norma.

Sicilian Cat. Her name was Meow!

Sicilian Cat. His name was Meow!

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Oranges kissed by the sun.

Cheese at the Siracusa Market

Cheese at the Ortigia Market

One of the pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

And ancient pupi (traditional puppet). There is a puppet theater in Ortigia.

La Campagnia (The Sicilian Countryside)

April 25, 2017

We wake up to birdsong and sunshine.  We wake up to our beautiful villa.  We make jokes about staying here forever.  We breathe and take in the smell of orange blossoms, laurel in bloom, fragrant flowers that smell of jasmine.  We wake up to the great big Ionian Sea.  I do the sea a great injustice if I attempt to describe the water as a deep blue.  It is that and more.  The sky is the same.  Both sky and sea take on different colors at different times of the day.  We cannot take enough photos…of the sea, of the smoking mountain, of the great blue sky, of the food, of the sunrises and sunsets, of each other.  It seems nearly impossible to capture it all and it seems not to be enough to simply stand still and take it all in.  But, we do that too: we stand still, breathe in the Sicilian air, draw in the Sicilian sunlight, and open our hearts to this experience.

our villa

our villa

Yesterday we had two beautiful outdoor yoga sessions.  We worked on elongation of the spine and on creating space.  And then we discovered, in our yoga sessions, how lovely the lettini (pool chairs) are.   You will see below how comfortable it is to do our ending meditation with legs up the chair, a form of viparita karani (legs up the wall pose) along the poolside.  Everyone in the yoga group is relaxed, happy, peaceful.

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style  (Woody and John!)

Hello Nora!

Hello Nora!

We drove to the countryside, passing the most beautiful green terraced fields, orange and lemon orchards, vineyards, and olive groves. Fields and fields of wildflowers grow brightly in the springtime in Sicily.  We passed cows, sheep, stone houses, and bright red poppies and purple thistles growing amid dainty yellow carpets of flowers I cannot name.

Wild Poppy

Wild Poppy

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Thistles

Thistles

And then a visit to an organic ricotta farm.  Yes, the real deal.  We were greeted by Maria, the ricotta and cheese maker, her sister Giovanna, and Maria’s husband, Nino.  Their walls were filled with photos of their four daughters and their families, of their daughter’s wedding photos.  We watched Maria make the ricotta.  It was amazing!  They cooked so much homemade food for us. We felt like stuffed birds at the end of the visit. They served us their homemade wine, their country bread (and they also had gluten-free and dairy-free to suit some dietary needs in our group), their homemade pasta and sauce, their various cheese made from their ten cows, their prosciutto (yes, we saw the little piglets oinking around), and so much more.

Maria makes the "tuma" for the various cheese.

Maria makes the “tuma” for the various cheese.

The cow's milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

The cow’s milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a "Stir the Ricotta Asana"

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a “Stir the Ricotta Asana”

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

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Nino

Nino

A Tavola!  The feast.

A Tavola! The feast.

When it came time to leave, Maria and Giovanna packed up bags and bags of food for us to take home.  There were 14 of us at the table, but our farmer hosts had cooked enough for the army of the Roman Empire.  They kept bringing out food.  I made the mistake of not telling my group that the first dish set out on the table was just the appetizer, that there was more to come.  Oops!  Rick delighted in having our group experience Sicilian hospitality, country-style, just as my relatives have done for him time and time again.  We now have enough ricotta to last us a month, though it is meant to be eaten right away.  We will share with our caretakers and driver.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

At the end of our visit, Maria tenderly gave me a special mystery gift, all wrapped up in butcher paper.  “Here, Francesca.  This is just for you.  A little something made with love from our farm.  Take this home with you to America.”  Later, at the villa, I unwrapped the mystery gift and saw about a large hunk of prosciutto.  The real thing, crudo prosciutto, made from their own pigs, pigs lovingly raised from piglet-hood, fed on figs.  An extremely valuable chunk of meat, cured so perfectly that it can last 1-2 years.  I know the value because I know.  Of course, I will share with the group.  Even though I don’t eat prosciutto, I can still appreciate what it is.  Our unique ricotta experience was truly remarkable.

Our bus/van

Our bus/van

Sicilian Green Bean Salad

Sicilian Green Bean Salad with Capers (served last night at the villa)

Sicily: Notes to Self

April 23, 2017

Does anyone else wake up at 3am to write a blog in his or her head…and then promptly go back to sleep, later wake up at a decent time and write it down?

Sicily: Notes To Self

  • All of my hard work is worth every second of effort put forth.
  • I must believe in myself ALL OF THE TIME.
  • Some mysteries in my life will never be solved.
  • Yoga has kept me sane. Often, it is the only part of my life that makes sense.
  • The vivid dream I had of my father on my second night in Sicily is more than just a dream.
  • The smell of Sicilian orange blossoms is the most beautiful smell in the world.
  • The Beatles had it right when they said, “Love is the Answer”.
  • I must take some photos of the Sicilian wildflowers in bloom.  The poppies are particularly beautiful.
  • Sicily is a gorgeous sun-kissed, energy-loaded island that merits many more visits during my lifetime.

And some photos with captions taken yesterday and today:

Catania Shop Window

Catania Religious Shop Window

Triton at the Catania Market Fountain

Triton at the Catania Market Fountain

Santa Agata mural in the market in Catania

Santa Agata mural in the market in Catania

 Enormous Pesce Spada (Sword Fish) in the Catania fish market

Enormous Pesce Spada (Sword Fish) in the Catania fish market

Serena enjoys her spaghetti

Spaghetti Girl

Adorable Spaghetti Girl

Adorable Spaghetti Girl (slightly blurred, but I couldn’t resist posting!)

Our wonderful driver, Francesco

Our wonderful driver, Francesco

The Apollo Temple in Ortigia

The Apollo Temple in Ortigia

Sea Nymphs (fountain), Ortigia

Sea Nymphs (fountain), Ortigia

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Yoga this evening at the villa

Yoga this evening at the villa

Mt Etna this evening, taken right after shavasana

Mt Etna this evening, taken right after shavasana

Rain Follows Me

April 21, 2017

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We woke up to birdsong and a great big blue sky.  Our morning here consists of breakfast on the rooftop and Peppa’s beautiful smile and great sense of humor.  Peppa works at this B&B San Placido Inn and prepares breakfast for us in the morning.  She is from Bulgaria, talks a million miles per minute in Italian, and is ever so funny.  Rick is very intrigued by her since he has met very few Bulgarians and is eager to ask her questions and engage her in conversation.  She is extremely friendly and has a lot to say in answer to Rick’s hungry questions. Guess who gets to be the interpreter at 8am?  Ecco la!! So I listen and translate and do my best to catch up with these two eccentric minds whose ideas bounce back and forth as if in a fast-play tennis match.

And Mt Etna this morning from our rooftop breakfast. You could really see the billows of cloud-like eruptions from the mountain. It's really something to see! The wind picked up again and it was rather chilly out today. Well, it was the same temperature as Seattle. I looked. Seattle was 50 degrees and Catania reached a high of 52. People had their coats and hats on. I could see them shivering as they walked by!

And Mt Etna this morning from our rooftop breakfast. Last night’s winds chased the clouds away! You could really see the billows of cloud-like eruptions from the mountain this morning. It’s really something to see! The wind picked up again after breakfast and it was rather chilly the rest of the day. Well, it was the same temperature as Seattle. I looked. Seattle was 50 degrees and Catania reached a high of 52. People had their coats and hats on. I could see them shivering as they walked by!

The B&B has very interesting decor: antique books on Sicily, paintings and old sketchings of Etna in eruption over the years, ships and boat collector items such as rudders, oars, nets, fishing tackle, and this "weaving". I took this photo because this reminded me of my dad. On Palm Sunday, Sicilians take the blessed palms that are handed out during mass and later, at home, they weave crosses and baskets from the crosses. My dad weaved the most beautiful and intricate crosses for us. I never learned how to do it, but it was wonderful to watch him. He told us stories as he wove these for us. We kept them and treated them as precious gifts until the next Palm Sunday came around.

The B&B has a very interesting decor: antique books on Sicily, paintings and old sketchings of Etna in eruption over the years, ships and boat collector items such as rudders, oars, nets, fishing tackle, and this “weaving”, antique cameras and puppets, typewriters and a mishmash of antiques that are fun to look at. I took this photo because this weaving reminded me of my dad. On Palm Sunday, Sicilians take the blessed palms that are handed out during mass and later, at home, they weave crosses and baskets from the crosses. My dad would take the palms we received on Palm Sunday mass and, back at home,  he’d weave the most beautiful and intricate crosses for us. He’d always start out by saying, “Oh, honey…I think I may have forgotten how to make them!”  And then he’d make them.  They were more beautiful every year!  I never learned how to do it, but it was wonderful to watch him. He told us stories as he wove these for us. Stories about his mother and about his paternal grandmother, Mamma Luigia.  We kept the weavings he made for us and treated them as precious gifts until the next Palm Sunday came around.

We made a quick trip to the villa to have a meeting with the wonderful owner, Piero, and the caretakers. Very productive time. Then once back in Catania, we saw this unusual shop with gigantic candles made of bees' wax. These candles are about 6-7 feet tall and thicker than my arms. They are used for the bi annual Santa Agata's procession. Her golden statue used to be taken out only once a year, but after she stopped a major lava flow from coming pas the city palace in the 15th C, the faithful of Catania started taking her statue out for huge processions twice a year. The second day to commemorate how she answered the prayers of the faithful to stop the lava flow. By refusing to marry a pagan, St. Agata was tortured. Her rebuked pursuer ordered her breasts to be cut off. She then was burned in a pit. Witnesses say that she

We made a quick trip to the villa to have a meeting with the wonderful owner, Piero, and the caretakers. Very productive time. Then once back in Catania, near our B&B in the heart of the historic district, we saw this unusual shop with gigantic candles made of bees’ wax. These candles are about 6-7 feet tall and thicker than Rick’s arms (slight exaggeration!) ! The faithful buy and use them for the annual Santa Agata’s procession. This third century saint has an interesting (and gruesome) story. Her golden statue, made of gold, used to be taken out only once a year, but after Santa Agata answered the town’s prayers by stopping a major lava flow from coming past the city palace in the 15th Century, the faithful of Catania started taking her statue out for processions twice a year.  The procession in February is the one that goes on for days and has been happening annually for over 1,700 years. St. Agata had made a vow to God to never marry and to devote her life to God. When she refused to marry a man of wealth and power who had fallen in love with her, beautiful St. Agata was tortured by him. Her cruel and rejected pursuer ordered her breasts to be cut off.  She then was burned alive in a pit in the center of the city for all to see. Witnesses say she didn’t burn.  According to witnesses, the flames engulfed her, she died a martyr, but her pure body did not burn.

More on St. Agata’s story below and an interesting website that helps people locate where her statue is during the procession festivities:

“Saint Agatha lived during the 3rd century AD, and yet 1,700 years later the entire city stops for three days to remember a strong girl who said no to a man.”

“She was a teenager from a wealthy family who had decided to devote her life to God. When she refused the advances of a Roman prefect (Sicily was then under the rule of the Roman Empire), he had her tortured in many ways, including severing her breasts. This episode has even inspired a local sweet in the shape of breast, minne di Sant Agata (St. Agatha’s breasts).

The Feast of Saint Agatha is the most important religious festival of Catania, attracting many people from the surrounding areas and tourists – it is estimated that up to a million people line the streets of the city during the three-day festa.

“For a few days, people forget their problems, their differences, their social class and  just focus on venerating Saint Agatha in an incredible mystical atmosphere. Everyone experiences the celebration in different ways, not everyone is a religious devotee, for some it is a photo opportunity.

The three-day festa has a long and busy program. It opens on February 3 with a midday procession of eleven candelore, large candle-shaped structures symbolizing the guilds, and two carriages belonging to the old local Senate with the highest religious and civil authorities of Catania. It ends in the evening in Piazza Duomo, where the St. Agatha Cathedral is located, with a fireworks display.

On the morning of the 4th, a statue of Saint Agatha holding her relics is placed on a 40,000 pound silver fercolo, or carriage, and carried around the city by devotees until it is returned to the Cathedral late at night, or, sometimes, even at dawn.

On the morning of the 5th, Mass is held at the Cathedral. Throughout the day, the reliquary bust of St. Agatha is exposed there. In the afternoon, it is taken for another procession, ending in the early morning of the 6th.

With such a long procession and so many different highlights, as a non-Catanese, how do you know where to go, what to do, what not to miss?

“Actually, this is also a problem for many of the locals. During the days of the festival, devotees wander the streets day and night in search of the saint, asking themselves, “Unni ie’ a’ Santa?”, Where is the saint? This is why to help everyone answer the question and honor St. Agatha, there is a website called Unni ie’ a’ Santa (Where is the saint?).”

A light dinner at DOC, where the kind and proud owner, Giuseppe, tells us that he is in his third month of newness. "Please tell people about me on Trip Advisor." So I did!

A light dinner at DOC, where the kind and proud owner (and English speaking), Giuseppe, tells us that his restaurant DOC (Duomo Of Catania) is in his third month of newness. “Please tell people about me on Trip Advisor.” So I did!

I am ruined for life...a tomato will never taste the same again once I leave sun kissed Sicily

I am ruined for life…a tomato will never taste the same again once I leave sun kissed Sicily

And many Sicilians have laughing eyes and a great sense of humor. We saw this sign outside a wine shop and just had to step in to talk with a young woman and her father. The father only spoke Sicilian and his daughter's English was impeccable. "I'm so glad you got the pun! You know, not everyone understands my humor. Some come in and ask where my buckets for sale are! They take me LITERALLY." Then we talked about the rain. She and her father's hands were ice cold! If you look at a map of Sicily, there is SUN everywhere, except this evening in Catania...where we have rain. It came suddenly. We were eating at DOC (Duomo of Catania) and then suddenly we see rain. In fact, in all of Europe, in all of ITALY, there is one rain spot and it is here in Catania. And it was cold tonight. People are wearing their coats and hats. Vendors materialize from seemingly no where..."Umbrella?" Vendors from Africa, Bangladesh, and other Asian countries trying to sell us umbrellas. We laugh and tell them, "This is nothing. We are from Seattle. This is our NORMAL." And they laugh, even though they have lost a sale or two to is.

And many Sicilians have laughing eyes and a great sense of humor. We saw this sign outside a wine shop and just had to step in to talk with the owners of the shop, a young woman and her father. The father only spoke Italian and his daughter’s English was impeccable. “I’m so glad you got the pun! You know, not everyone understands my humor. Some come in and ask where the buckets for sale are! They take me LITERALLY.” Then we talked about the rain. She and her father’s hands were ice cold! If you look at a map of Sicily, there is SUN everywhere, except this evening in Catania…where we have rain. It came suddenly. We were eating at DOC (Duomo of Catania) and then suddenly we see rain. In fact, in all of Europe, in all of ITALY, there is one rain spot and it is here in Catania!  Rain seems to have followed me from Seattle.  And it was cold tonight. People are wearing their coats and hats. Clever vendors materialize from seemingly nowhere…”Umbrella?” Vendors from Africa, Bangladesh, and other Asian countries trying to sell us umbrellas. We laugh and tell them, “This is nothing. We are from Seattle. This is our NORMAL.” And they laugh heartily, even though they have just lost a sale.

Rain on our "Sun-Kissed-No-More-Terrace" this evening

Rain on our “Sun-Kissed-No-More-Terrace” this evening

Evening sunset

Evening sunset from the terrace

 

Rooftop Dreaming

April 20, 2017

We arrived in Catania at 8:30pm last night.  It was a short taxi ride to the very sweet B&B, where we were welcomed by the friendly staff.  I was exhausted from the 30 hours of travel time it took to get here.  I am convinced that layovers cause more fatigue than running 3 miles.  Luckily, I slept through the night and am not experiencing jet lag.

Flying in, I could clearly see Mt. Etna’s lava flow glowing like red embers in the night.  Everyone-from the Sicilian couple I sat next to on the flight, and the taxi driver who took us directly to our B&B, to the lovely Peppe, who welcomed us warmly and showed us a more intimate night view of Mt. Etna from our B&B’s rooftop terrace-welcomed us warmly!

As I was going to sleep, I breathed in the Sicilian air.  It is hard to describe the air here, but the air and its fragrant smells bring me right back to my first visit here in Sicily when I was 10 years old.  That was when I first met my grandmother and the first time I saw mountains and rolling landscapes!

Today, we started our day with breakfast on the rooftop.  And we walked all over discovering new places in Catania and making final preparations for the two weeks ahead.  Below are some photos from my first day in Sicily.

Rooftop dreaming: breakfast and beautiful scenery from the 4th floor rooftop terrace

Rooftop dreaming: breakfast and beautiful scenery from the 4th floor rooftop terrace

Another view from the rooftop terrace

Another view from the rooftop terrace

Sicilians love their geraniums!

Sicilians love their geraniums!

Fountain near the Fish Market

Fountain near the Fish Market

La Pescheria in Catania

La Pescheria in Catania

Fish Market

Fish Market

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Fountain Sculpture

Fountain Sculpture

Altars and Shrines for Palermo's patron saint, Santa Agata are at every corner.

Altars and Shrines for Palermo’s patron saint, Santa Agata, are at every corner.

Lava Stone and Basalt Streets and Sidewalks in the entire city of Catania

Lava Stone and Basalt Streets and Sidewalks in the entire city of Catania

Homes built right over the Roman Amphitheater Ruins in the center of the city

Homes built right over the Roman Amphitheater Ruins in the center of the city

The Roman Amphitheater was built to seat 7000 people

The Roman Amphitheater was built to seat 7000 people  (you can see where the homes were built right over the ruins!)

In the museum connected to the amphitheater

In the museum connected to the amphitheater

Sicilian Basket Detail I

Sicilian Basket Weave  I

Sicilian Basket Weave Detail II

Sicilian Basket Weave II

Headless in Catania (background Palazzo Biscari)

Headless in Catania (background Palazzo Biscari)

Sicilian Tiled Flooring

Sicilian Tiled Flooring

Cooking, Sicilian Style!

April 15, 2017

Next week I will be leaving for Sicily, where I will be hosting two back-to-back yoga retreats.  I have been so incredibly busy, with teaching classes and workshops and planning Sicily 2017!  You haven’t seen many blog posts from me, but I hope to post more often these next few weeks!  I am very excited to share this sun-kissed island with this year’s yoga retreat participants.

Last time there in Autumn of 2014, we did a cooking course with the chef Maestro Peppe Barone.  It was a great experience.  He and his staff welcomed us.  We cooked and later ate the fabulous meal we cooked under Chef Peppe’s guidance.  Afterwards, we walked the lovely Baroque town of Modica.  Below are the photos from 2014.  We will be going to the same cooking school with my yoga groups this year.  I sure hope you are not hungry as you see the photos below!  The food that stands out in my mind -and taste buds- are the cannoli!

I am so excited for my yogis!  They are in for a treat.  Of course the food below belonged to the Autumn menu.  The spring menu will be completely different and equally delightful!

The enchanting town of Modica (Sicily)

The enchanting town of Modica (Sicily)

The beautiful interior of the cooking school and restaurant in the heart of Modica

The beautiful interior of the cooking school and restaurant in the heart of Modica.  Beyond the doors on the right is a lovely terrace surrounded by lemon trees.

Michelin Star Restaurant

A Michelin Star Restaurant, Fattoria delle Torri has the honor of having received many awards!

Action!  One of the chef's assistants teaches Don how to make the pasta for the ravioli.

Action! One of the chef’s assistants teaches Don how to make the pasta for the ravioli.

Ricotta Ravioli

Ricotta Ravioli made with the pasta in the previous photo.

And the finished product!

And the finished product!  Perfection.

Making Caponata

Making Caponata.  Every village makes caponata slightly differently! Since we were in Modica, Chef Barone added pure dark chocolate powder to the caponata. When I told my uncle in Grotte about this, he crossed himself twice, saying over and over again incredulously, “Chocolate in the Caponata?” 

An interesting note about Modica.  Modica is known for its chocolate!  When Columbus went to the Americas, Sicily was under Spanish dominion.  Some of the men who traveled to the New World with Columbus were Sicilians from Modica.  They brought back chocolate beans and the ancient Aztecan recipe for making chocolate.  To this day, chocolate is made in Modica using the ancient Aztecan recipe.  View this interesting article on the history of chocolate and Modica.

A serving of caponata. I can almost taste it!

A serving of caponata. I can almost taste it!

Making arancini (rice balls)

Making arancini (rice balls):  Saffron makes them yellow.

The arancini before getting pan fried to become orange-golden like oranges (Arancini refers to "oranges")

The arancini before getting pan fried to become orange-golden like the color of oranges (Arancini refers to “oranges”).  In the center, you may discover melted cheese or a bit of ragu.

Action in the kitchen...making pasta

Action in the kitchen…making pasta

One of the pasta dishes....

This is what the pasta looks like after it is cut into tiny pieces…

One of the meat dishes...

One of the meat dishes…

And what would life be without cannoli?  This was studded with pistachio.

And what would life be without cannoli?  Ok, now I know your mouth is watering! This was filled with ricotta and studded with pistachio nuts.

Week One Group from 2014 sits down to enjoy an incredible meal.

Week One Group from 2014 sits down to enjoy an incredible meal.

Afterwards, we walked the town of Modica to explore and digest! Otherwise, how on earth would we be able to do our afternoon session of yoga?

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In Modica, we saw this street called Via Ritiro (Retreat Street) and had to do a yoga pose!

In Modica, Karin and I saw this street called Via Ritiro (Retreat Street) and had to do a yoga pose!

Modica!  It's a jewel of a town.

Modica! It’s a jewel of a town.

Ma’s Deep Pockets

February 18, 2017

I solemnly took her coat, a beautiful leather coat. A memento of sorts, the coat was something tangible to remember her by.

I claimed it as my own, a coat I’d probably never buy for myself. I still can’t imagine my mother wearing it and found no photos to prove she wore it. I must have had it in my possession for about a year after her death before I thought to actually wear it. We were headed to see a play. It was a cool Seattle autumn evening. The coat fit as if it were tailored for me.

Ma's Leather Jacket

Ma’s Leather Jacket

On our way to the car, I discovered pockets, deep pockets, to keep my hands warm. It was when I thrust my hands into ma’s deep pockets that I made my discoveries.

In the right pocket, I found a handkerchief. Perfectly clean, starched, and ironed. Instinctively, I put the hanky to my nose, as if to search out a trace of my mother’s smell. All I smelled were mothballs. Those of you reading this, who knew my mother, are laughing. I know you are, but it is no laughing matter! My mother had this thing about mothballs. Or, more accurately, she had a fear of moth infestations so she stuffed mothballs in closets, dresser drawers, coat pockets, and between our folded sweaters. My mother knew that mothballs would keep moths away. What she didn’t know was that mothballs are made of naphthalene, an insecticide, which gives off highly toxic fumes and vapors harmful to insects, wildlife, and humans.

The handkerchief

The handkerchief

In a split second, nose to handkerchief, I was back in my childhood home. The handkerchief transported me to a small brick house in NW Indiana, where the heating and AC vents carried no-longer-secret private conversations between my parents. Conversations about their monetary worries, concerns over the safety of their children, their health, our health, our futures carried through the vents with a frightening and embarrassing clarity. I remember once confessing to a priest about eavesdropping on my parents’ private conversations. I felt that guilty so as to bring my dark shame to the confessional box! I remember the priest taking an unnatural interest in my confession! Ah, the smell of that darned handkerchief!

Back to the autumn theater night in Seattle, my fingers next touched a tube of lipstick. Ma’s coral red lipstick! My mother didn’t wear make up, but on certain rare occasions, she’d put some lipstick on. For some reason, I hardly remember this. It’s a dim memory, only brought to the surface when I found the tube of red lipstick in ma’s deep pockets.

Ma's Coral Red Lipstick

Ma’s Coral Red Lipstick

For some reason the lipstick made me sad. I am trying to understand why it makes me sad. Maybe it’s because the lipstick is a testimony to the life my mother once lived. The tube of lipstick I found bears witness to my mother’s all-too-human life, one in which she wanted to feel more feminine, more beautiful. The tube of color to redden her lips unveils a woman, my mother, who was alive for a brief time. Holding the tube of lipstick makes me sad because I am reminded of her earthly existence, and all the complex feelings we humans may have about measuring up and concerns about how we should look and present ourselves to the world. I see her applying the red lipstick, perhaps in search of a boost of confidence and I continue to feel overwhelmed with sadness.

That same autumn evening in Seattle on our way to the theater, I found one last item, the most significant one, in ma’s deep pockets. I found my mother’s beloved saint card.  I couldn’t believe I now had her treasured prayer card in my possession.

Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo

Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo

My mother loved Santa Rosalia. Santa Rosalia is also affectionately known by Sicilians as La Santuzza, or The Little Saint. I used to see my mom pull out her saint card, covered in a clear plastic card holder. She’d lovingly caress La Santuzza, flip the card over, and I’d watch her silently lip the prayer on the card.

La Santuzza (1120-1160) is always depicted wearing a crown of roses. She is sometimes shown wearing dark thick fabrics because she cast off her riches and lived a monastic life in a cave. Her story is unusual: Rosalia was born in Palermo, Sicily, to Sicilian aristocracy (Frankish aristrocrats governing Sicily). Her father was Sinibald, Lord of Roses. Rosalia was a descendant of Charlemagne. Rosalia was a beautiful noble woman, who at a very young age, experienced a calling to devote her life to God. At age 13, she moved to a cave near the town of Santo Stephano Quisquina and devoted her life to prayer. She later moved to another cave on Mount Pellegrino, near Palermo. She lived entirely alone and died alone.

Always shown wearing a crown of roses, here La Santuzza wears the clothing of a hermit.

Always shown wearing a crown of roses, here La Santuzza wears the clothing of a hermit.

As a hermit, she was not venerated by her neighbors, royalty, or family. No one came to visit her. She died completely alone.

In 1625, during a period of plague, she appeared in a vision to a hunter near her cave. Her relics were discovered, brought to Palermo, and paraded through the street. Three days later the plague ended, intercession to Rosalia was credited with saving the city, and she was proclaimed its patroness. The traditional celebration of Rosalia lasted for days, involved fireworks and parades, and her feast day was made a holy day of obligation by Pope Pius XI in 1927.

Her festival is an annual celebration in Palermo, but I also found the following:

Rosalia is deeply revered as a saint to this day.  Her festival is a big bash, not only in Palermo, but also in Bensonhurst (a neighborhood in Brooklyn) and other Sicilian communities.  Monterey, California has a three-day fishing tournament and Italian heritage festival in her honor.

Santa Rosalia, La Santuzza, beloved saint of Palermo

Santa Rosalia, La Santuzza, beloved saint of Palermo

My mother must have gotten the card from Sicily because La Santuzza’s prayer is in Italian. On the way home on the cold autumn evening, I dug my hands into ma’s deep pockets. Perhaps like my mother, I found myself caressing the card covered by clear plastic. I didn’t read the prayer until I got home that night.

Below is the prayer on the reverse side of La Santuzza’s card (translated from Italian to English).  This is the prayer my mother lipped silently every day:

Santa Rosalia, pray to God for my family and me.

Through your powerful prayers, may we obtain health, life and salvation.

I also pray for this special need and intention

(make your intention

known).

O St. Rosalia, I promise henceforth to remember and follow your example of faith and love.

Pray for me and mine.

Amen

In Ma’s deep pockets, I discovered a cornucopia of treasures transcending time.

Quintet of Daughters

October 1, 2016

I am one of five daughters.

My mother was one of five daughters.

My mother’s mother was one of five daughters.

FIVE DAUGHTERS

FIVE

I come from a lineage of five daughters born on my mother’s side of the family for three generations in a row.  Too bad it’s not five generations in a row.  It would have made for an even better blog post!  There may have been five generations of five daughters, but the fact is that I don’t have knowledge of my mother’s family past my great grandmother, Mamma Rosi.

there are five great lakes: erie, huron, michigan, ontario, superior … i was born in gary, indiana, which borders one of the five great lakes, lake michigan….my birth town, gary, indiana, was also home of the jackson five, there are five points in a star, five cups in a sake set when purchased in Japan, five arms in a starfish, and an earthworm as five hearts. there are five senses: hearing, smelling, taste, touch, sight…five vowels in the English alphabet, five players on the the court in basketball, five olympic rings symbolizing five continents, in the yoga tradition, there are five layers of a human being, which are known has the koshas in sanskrit. there are five toes on each foot and five fingers on each hand, five elements in chinese tradition: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water,  five elements in the hindu tradition: earth, water, fire, air, ether or space, and five primary colors: green/blue, yellow, red, white, black

And there are FIVE photos I’d like to share with you.

These family photos are my treasures.

PHOTO NUMBER ONE:

My Grandmother, Antonia Tirone Licata, and her sisters!

FIVE SISTERS: My Grandmother in the middle, Antonia Tirone Licata, and her sisters, on their family vineyard in Grotte during the grape harvest (la vendemmia).

Who thought to bring a camera out to the vineyards to photograph these five sisters at grape harvest time in Grotte, Sicily?  Back then, the concept of smiling when being photographed was absurd.  Instead, you looked straight into the camera and acted your dignified best.

My grandmother is the petite woman in the middle.  She was the smallest of the five, small but powerful.  She ruled the roost.  I once overheard my mother and one of her sisters describing their parents, “La mamma ficiva lu pappa e lu pappa ficiva la mamma.” Mother wore the pants and Father was the one we went to for coddling and comfort.” (Literally, “Mother played the role of Father and Father played the role of Mother.”)

My grandmother and her sisters enjoyed long lives.  My grandmother birthed and raised ten children. She also worked as both midwife and undertaker in the village of Grotte.  She helped the villagers enter the world and was there to wash and prepare their bodies for their burials.  Death did not frighten her.  Her nickname among the villagers was Sant’ Anto (Saint Antonia).  Even today, when I go to the village, I introduce myself as the daughter of Pina di Sant’Anto and immediately I carve out a place for myself in the village.

Three of the sisters are wearing black, the color of mourning because they are widows.  One of my great auntie’s has her hair covered in a white scarf, typical hair attire at harvest time in Sicily.  The white scarf served as a hat-like covering to keep the scorching sun off her head. She also is wearing a white medallion pinned to her dress.  We can’t see it up close, but it is a photo of her deceased husband.  My grandmother wore a medallion like that, too, pinned to her dress for over 3o years of widowhood. Even today, the widows of Grotte never forget their deceased husbands.  They rarely re-marry, even if widowed young, and they go to the cemetery often to wipe dust from the headstones, to water the flowers around the grave, and to pray.  One of my great aunties in the photo above has removed her white scarf, probably for the photo, and has it slung over her shoulder.  All of these sisters wore their hair long, wrapped in a tight bun.  When I visited my her, I used to love watching my Nonna undo her hair at night.  Her hair was wispy long and steely gray.

The sisters are proudly displaying bunches of picked grapes.  These magnificent women are Earth-Women.  I love how they stand, firmly rooted to the earth!   I love their strong ample bodies.  My grandmother is holding, nearly hugging, a typical woven basket from Sicily.  In the Sicilian dialect the woven basket is called a cartedda, a word derived from the Greek (from kartallos), because Sicily was a Greek colony in ancient times.  I had an uncle who used to make such baskets during the winter months, when he wasn’t busy tending his farm.

PHOTO NUMBER TWO:

Grandmother Antonia Licata (Mamma Anto') with her sisters and two brothers.

Grandmother Antonia Tirone Licata (Mamma Anto’) with her sisters and two brothers.  These are the adult children of my great grandmother, Mamma Rosi (Rosa Zaffuto Tirone).

Another priceless gem!  Again, my grandmother is in the middle with her sisters and her two brothers.  In fact, the sisters have all taken the same standing position as in the grape harvest photo! They are older in this photo.  Now there are four women dressed in black, four widows. Their hair is definitely thinner.  I love how the sisters all carry brand new purses.  What on earth did they carry in their purses?  I never knew my grandmother to carry a purse.  She carried her enormous skeleton key, tied on a long string, tucked and buried deep between her breasts.  The image left an indelible impression on this author’s ten year-old girl’s brain!

The photo was taken inside a house.  It is not my grandmother’s house.  You can see the wooden doors behind the family and the sheer lace curtains that cover the door.  And you can see a fancy doll decorating a sofa.  Maybe it is the village photography studio.

I was lucky enough to meet my grandmother and her siblings!  The five sisters and their two brothers all lived to be in their 80s and 90s.  Mostly I remember “Tsa Ve” (Zia Veva), the woman with the half smile whose hand is on my grandmother’s shoulder, because she immigrated to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada to live with her son and his family.  I met her on several occasions in Canada when I was young.

PHOTO NUMBER THREE:

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This is a great family treasure: a photo of  my grandparents, Antonia Tirone Licata and her husband Vincenzo Licata and their ten children, five girls and five boys.  My mother is one of five daughters. My mother is the one with her hand on her little brother’s shoulder. This photo was probably taken in the same place as the previous photo, which makes me think this is the village photographic studio.  Look at the floors!  But this time, there is a sheet covering the wall behind the family. I love how in the two “studio” photos, almost everyone is given a prop to hold.  I bet the photographer handed out handbags/purses to the ladies, newspapers and scrolls to the men, and toys to the children.

When I go to Grotte, every aunt and uncle present in this photo has a copy of this Licata family portrait.  My aunts and uncles keep a framed copy of this photo at their bedside.  As long as the siblings live, before going to bed, they say goodnight to their beloved mother and father who are long gone.  I have seen them kiss this photo before retiring for the night.  Five of the siblings have died (my mother being one of them) and five are still alive.  Two of the sisters are still alive.  Rosa, the eldest of all ten children, will soon celebrate her 100th birthday.  Maria celebrated 97 years of life just a few days ago! There is a 26-year span between Rosa, the eldest, and Decimo, the youngest, whose name literally means “tenth child”.

PHOTO NUMBER FOUR:

My mom and her sisters and their mother

My mom, her sisters, and their mother

The photo above was taken in 1972 at my grandmother’s house in Grotte.  My mother is wearing white.  Three of the aunties wear their long hair in an old Sicilian traditional style, tightly pulled back and knotted in a bun. This is the only photo I have of all the sisters together in their later years.

PHOTO NUMBER FIVE: My mom and her five girls!  This was taken in Gary, Indiana.  I am the baby. I love my purse!  The tradition of holding a prop in one’s hand while being photographed continues!

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My Aunt Lily (Revised Re-Post)

July 30, 2016

July 30, 2016:  I am reposting this and have added a few more photos.  I wrote this a few years ago in honor of my Aunt Lily.  Today, sadly, she died.  She just turned 89 years old last month.  I am overwhelmed with sadness.  The world today seems to be a very empty place……

I have immense gratitude for my Aunt Lily.  I have wanted to write about her for so long now, but as I write, I am not sure where to start.

I am not even sure how to write about my Aunt Lily..  She is a very special person in my life and even my friends, who have only met her through my stories, are in love with her!  She is my godmother and she has been a part of my life since day one.

When my parents and sisters immigrated to the United States, they first settled in the Boston area to be near Dad’s brother Joe (Giuseppe) Gallo, his wife, and their two children (one of them is East Coast Fran!).  My family was having a great time, settling in Boston.   However, Aunt Lily, Dad’s little sister, was living in Gary, Indiana with her husband and was feeling very lonely.   She got married at age 19 in Grotte, Sicily  to a man much older than herself.  I am not sure of their age difference, but my guess is Uncle Sam (Salvatore) could easily have been 30+ years her senior.  If given a chance to get out of an impoverished situation, who knows, many might have made the marriage choice my auntie made.  Salvatore Cuffaro (Uncle Sam) went back to his hometown, Grotte, in 1946 looking for a wife to bring back with him to America (to Gary, Indiana) where he had been living for many years.  He was well dressed, well fed,  and well filled-out in contrast to the post-war Grottese who were struggling to put food on the table.   My grandmother encouraged Aunt Lily to marry Uncle Sam, knowing she would most certainly have a better life in America.  When we were together last Christmas, I asked Aunt Lily  if she was happy in her first marriage and she said, without any hesitation whatsoever, “Yes!”.  She said Uncle Sam was a good man and he was really kind to her.

Aunt Lily lost one child and was never able to have other children. Childlessness was the absolute heartbreak of her life.  The prospect of having her only brother and his wife and his beautiful 4 little girls live near her made her heart beat once again with the promise of life!  Eventually my parents decided to leave Boston and go live near Aunt Lily in Gary, Indiana.  I can only imagine how excited she was when my mom became pregnant with me.  As I have mentioned in another blog, my mom and Aunt Lily shared the special relationship of what Sicilians call “cuma”, or co-mothers.  Together, they co-mothered me.  How many people do you know raised by two mothers and one father?  One mother disciplined me and the other, Aunt Lily,  coddled me!

Aunt Lily’s life in America was anything but easy. She worked and worked and worked.  She has told me more than once, “I been a work’ real-la hard all-a my life!”  Uncle Sam had a restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri and as soon as Aunt Lily settled in America, she was busy working at the restaurant.   She did everything!  She ran the show!  She was prep chef, sous chef, main chef, shopper, bartender, waitress, bus boy, dishwasher, and cleaning person.  She made everything from bread to tomato sauce to pasta by hand!  The restaurant was hopping!  The verdict was out about Isle of Capri. It was outrageously great!  If, today, you ever meet an old timer from Gary, Indiana, he or she will have a recollection of Isle of Capri!  Uncle Sam welcomed the guests and did the accounts.  Then he started having heart problems.  Aunt Lily continued doing the impossible, now running the entire business by herself and nursing her husband.

Eventually Uncle Sam died.  I was 10 years old and his was the first funeral I ever attended.  It was most disturbing to see Aunt Lily so distressed over his death.  Sicilians WAIL at funerals and that is what she did. I was very frightened and my parents regretting bringing me along to the funeral.  Aunt Lily came to live with us for a while and eventually she remarried an American, my Uncle Gardner Lum.  Her life changed.  They bought a huge Winnebago and traveled the USA.  They became snowbirds and spent winters in Yuma, Arizona! For the first time since leaving Grotte as a 19 year old bride,  Aunt Lily  went back to Sicily with Uncle Gardner to see all of her relatives.  Uncle Gardner charmed the villagers as he looked at Aunt Lily and declared the only words he knew in Sicilian, “Ti vogliu bene, mugliere mia.”  (I love you, my wife.)  Aunt Lily taught him well!

After 20-some years of marriage, Uncle Gardner died and Aunt Lily was widowed a second time. Even though she says, “It’s no good-a be alone, believe-you-me!”, she continues to be the independent awesome woman she is!  She will be celebrating her 85th birthday in June 2012.  She used to drive a truck that she had been spray painted with the words “Lily’s machina”  (Lily’s machine!)  She is adventurous.  She still drives, and travels solo to Canada and Italy to visit her friends and relatives there.  She still makes bread and is one of the best cooks I know.  She said to me at Christmas when I was with her, ” When you gotta good-a man-a, you gotta good-a life-a.”  She always says she was ever so lucky to have had two good husbands.

Aunt Lily is sharp, remembers everything, and is a great listener.  She is worldly and nothing shocks her. Trust me, I have tested the waters and she is solid in her wisdom and worldliness!  She has seen and heard it all. She is very easy to talk to. She has a lot of friends and her friends are of all ages.  Everyone loves Aunt Lily!  She is independent and is impressed by strong men!  If she meets you and you are a strong man, she will surely have a chore or two in mind for you to do. Maybe she will have you move her sofa, or pull out the oven so she can clean behind it!  Or maybe she will have you till the garden soil, so she can plant her zucchini!   Needless to say, she loves Rick.  His muscles get her thinking about all sorts of chores she can get him to do!

I can’t even imagine a world without my Aunt Lily in it!  I love her way of talking, her expressions, her way of laughing, her sense of humor, her gestures, her smile, her stories, her cooking.  She is so much like my dad and it is comforting to be around her.  I love her and I am so lucky to have her in my life.  We talk on the phone often and I am always the one to end the phone calls. It seems we can talk together for hours if only time permitted!  Enjoy these pictures of my dear aunt:

Uncle Sam and Aunt Lily 1955

Aunt Lily

Aunt Lily

Crying me with my godparents 1962 (my first New Year’s Celebration)

Mom, Zina, and Aunt Lily 1963

My all time favorite photo of Aunt Lily with her nieces and my mom!  I wasn't born yet, but you can see how the girls absolutely love her!

Above: My all time favorite photo of Aunt Lily with my sisters and cousins and my mom! I wasn’t born yet, but you can see how the girls absolutely love her!

Another lovely old photo with my sisters.

Above: Another lovely old photo with my sisters. (I wasn’t born yet!)

Aunt Lily in purple

The Matriarch of our family: Aunt Lily in purple

The good old days in Gary, Indiana: family gathered around the table!

The good old days in Gary, Indiana: family gathered around the table laden with food!

With Toni, Nora, and me

With Toni, Nora, and me

She loved children.  Here she is with her great-great niece!

She loved children. Here she is with her great-great niece!

A very svelte Aunt Lily taking a break from the hard work at her restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri.

A very svelte Aunt Lily taking a break from the hard work at her restaurant in Gary, Indiana called Isle of Capri.

Faded photo, but a good one!  She is holding me in the very back!  She loved to hold me.

Faded photo, but a good one! She is holding me in the very back!  I always look like I am whining or crying!! 

Cooking up a storm in her kitchen with Nora

Cooking up a storm in her kitchen with Nora

This is what we call Aunt Lily's "Wedding Soup", at her house.

This is what we call Aunt Lily’s “Wedding Soup”, at her house.

We made pies together

We made pies together

With her close friend Teresa Amore

With her close friend Teresa Amore

Aunt Lily and Uncle Gardner Lum 1983

Aunt Lily at Ocean Shores, Washington (and lentil soup and her homemade olive and onion bread rolls on the left)

Sicilian Cats II

January 15, 2015
Scruffers Cuddling

Scruffers Cuddling

What better way to make my re-entry into the 2015 World of Blogging than to post some of my favorite photos of cats!  This blog is dedicated to my friends’ father, Daddy Don, who loved cats.  He especially loved Italian cats.  Strays?  He loved them even more!  When in Italy, he’d buy cat food and fed legions of stray cats.

All of the photos below were shot in Sicily:

Cats make you happy! My daddy's cousin and one of his many many cats!

Cats make you happy:  my daddy’s cousin and one of his many cats.

Black Roof Cat

Black Cat Green Eyes

Proud Mamma

Proud Mamma I

Proud Mamma II

Proud Mamma II

Sicilian Cats

Sicilian Cats

Well fed cat

Well fed cat: I live here

Another view of Signore Gatto

Another view of Signore Gatto

Hanging out

Hanging out

Greek Temple Cat

Sicilian Greek-Temple Cat

Es

To Your Health: Salute!

Out all night, snooze all day

rough night, sleep in

Sono stanchissimo (I'm very tired!)

Sono stanchissimo (I’m very tired!)


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