Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Yoga and Hiking in Sicily

May 24, 2018

I will let the slideshow of the Yoga and Hiking in Sicily say it all!  The slideshow is set to the music of Carmen Consoli called Madre Terra, Mother Earth.  Carmen Consoli is from Catania, Sicily and has a soulful voice that is as rich as the Sicilian soil.  Turn up the volume!

I do want to mention that most everywhere we went has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The retreat was a complete success and, though I have been back only 10 days, I miss Sicily terribly.  I miss my group, the caretakers and cooks at the villa, and all the wonderful people I have met via my Sicily journeys.

Not too early to sign up for next year’s yoga retreats in Sicily. Contact me for more information:

Week I September 7-14, 2019 (Yoga + Cultural Outings, includes a visit to a ricotta farm, a day at a cooking school, two fabulous winery visits)

Week II  September 14-21, 2019 (Yoga + Hiking, includes one cooking course and a visit to a winery)

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Dentro L’Etna

May 10, 2018

Sicily Yoga and Hiking Retreat is in full-swing and there is no time to blog…will post these photos of our exhilarating trek up Etna.  Climbing Etna was tough, but we did it!  It is one of those bucket-list activities that we dream of doing.  Yes, we did it!  We were accompanied by our trekking guide, Federico, plus a volcano specialist, the vulcanist Amilcare, and we also invited Darwin to come with us.  At one point, the vulcanist Amilcare shouted, “Siamo DENTRO l’Etna! (We are INSIDE Etna!) and my skin was covered in goosebumps by the very fact of it. I looked around me! There we were inside this great mountain, on the cinder slopes, looking down at Etna’s massive crater.

It was incredible!  It was a high that I have never felt before. Stay tuned for next year’s Sicily Retreats September 2019.  (only one of those weeks will be focused on yoga and hiking and we will be sure to trek Etna!)

Below is our group at the start of our trek up the mountain. We look so fresh and excited in anticipation of our adventure.  At this point, Amilcare explained to us that Etna is a woman, a mother, one who deserves our respect.  He told us that we were about to enter her sacred territory and that we should approach the mountain with reverence for Mother Earth, Etna, Gaia.

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Fantastic Federico of Step Siracusa Trekking and our volcano specialist, Amilcare:

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Dramatic cloud formations:

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Sweeping views:

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Mountain-Man Vulcanist Amilcare:

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Clouds clear so we can see Mt Etna’s peak:L1400879

Dentro Etna:

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Mounds of new growth on Etna’s lava fields:

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One of our Hale and Hearty Yogis:L1400885

Looks like a lunar landscape.  We practically floated and flew down these ashen slopes, boots full of ash.L1400897

Rick, my Mountain-Man:

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Us, the little specks on the mountain:

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Sicily in Film

May 5, 2018

I love Italian films and attend Seattle’s Cinema Italian Style fiIm festival every November.  My only regret with the Seattle’s film festival is that I have to teach during the week and I miss out on viewing many of the festival’s featured films. And I can’t stay up late at night to attend the film festival because I have to be up at the crack of dawn during my work week.

I seek out films that were shot in Sicily.  I made a list of films I have watched which were set in Sicily for this blog post. And before writing this blog, I checked on line to make sure I wasn’t leaving any films out and I now feel overwhelmed with the number of films that have been filmed in Sicily which I have not yet seen.

Yesterday’s blog post was about Sicily in Literature.  Some of the movies mentioned below are based on novels written by prominent Sicilian writers such as Leonardo Sciasica, Luigi Capuana, Federico De Roberto, Ercole Patti, Elio Vittorini, Vitaliano Brancati, Gesualdo Bufalino and Luigi Pirandello.

In this blog post, I will include films I have watched and would recommend.   Please note that this list is NOT a complete list of movies filmed in Italy.  The blog post would be too long to include them all! Also, note that I am not a professional film reviewer.  I just know what I like and would like to share this list with you.  Perhaps you, my readers, have watched these films or would like to watch them.  Many are available on Netflix and others are available at the public library.  Sometimes the films are found with their English titles, sometimes with the original Italian titles.

Angela

This film was directed by Roberta Torre and is set in Palermo. Donatella Finocchiaro plays Angela, a woman trapped in the Mafia lifestyle.  It is based on a true story.  For more info: link  

Baaria

Directed by Tornatore.  The film had a lot going on, sort of chaotic, reminded me of a Fellini film. Shot in Bagheria and Tunisia. I found it hard to follow.  I mention it here because so many people really liked it.

Caro Diario (Dear Diary)
1994 Directed by and starring Nanni Moretti.
This semi-autobiographical film, for which Nanni won Best Director at Cannes, reads like a diary and is divided into 3 episodes. Link

Cinema Paradiso
This is a great film! Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1989 Academy-Award-winning film is a romantic look at growing up in a remote village. The filmmaker returns to his Sicilian hometown, Bagheria, for the first time in 30 years and looks back on his life. This film has become an Italian classic. The director, Tornatore, was born in Palermo.

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Diario di Una Siciliana Ribelle (first film, a documentary, I did not see)

The Sicilian Girl (Second film is based on the above documentary. I watched this and it is really good. Based on the true story of Rita Atria, who went from devoted daughter to mafia informer.)

1997 Marco Amenta.
The first film is is a documentary of Rita Atria, a 17 year-old daughter of a mafia don who gives her diaries to the authorities to avenge her father’s death. Her evidence and work with Borselino and Falcone proved extremely valuable in the exposure and convictions of many important gangsters. Bravely told, director Amenta was so captivated by Rita’s story that he made a second film, The Sicilian Girl (2008) to explore Rita Atria’s psychological and emotional journey. The rest is history. Filmed around Palermo.

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Divorzio all’Italiana (Divorce, Italian Style)
Pietor Germi’s 1961 comedy had Marcelo Mastroianni as a Sicilian aristocrat seeking a divorce when divorce in Italy was not legal.  Filmed in Catania, Ispica and Ragusa Ibla.

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film version of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel.  Set in revolutionary Sicily in the mid-1800s, the film stars Burt Lancaster as a Sicilian prince who seeks to preserve his family’s aristocratic way of life in the face of Italy’s unification by Garibaldi.  Filmed in Palermo, Mondello and Ciminna.  The costumes are incredible and it is said that a fortune was spent on making this film. The cast also features Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli.

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Il Postino 

Michael Radford’s ultra lovely romance set in a small Italian town during the 1950s where exiled Chilean poet Pablo Nerudo has taken refuge. A shy mailman befriends the poet and uses his words to help him woo a woman with whom he has fallen in love. Filmed in Procida (Bay of Naples) and the Aeolian Island of Salina. Some scenes were also filmed in Pantelleria. The main actor, the painfully shy postman played by Massimo Troisi, was having heart issues at the time of filming so they moved the filming to Procida to be near hospitals. Sadly, he died before the end of the film, but enough scenes had been filmed in order to finish the film.

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Johnny Stecchino

(Comedy, translates to Johnny Toothpick) 1991 comedy directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. Stecchino (Mr. Toothpick) is a hapless bus driver who is believed to be a snitch for the mob. Filmed in Bagheria and Capo Mulino.

Kaos (Chaos)
Directed by the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani and released in 1984, Kaos tells four stark powerful tales of old time Sicilian life based on stories by Luigi Pirandello. Filmed with haunting and mesmerizing music around Pirandello’s hometown of Agrigento. On Netflix under “Kaos” the Greek word for Chaos.

L’Uomo Delle Stelle (The Star Maker)
1995, Giuseppe Tornatore
This film, from “Cinema Paradiso” director Giuseppe Tornatore, is about a con man from Rome who, posing as a Hollywood talent scout in post-war Sicily, travels with a movie camera to impoverished villages, promising stardom – for a fee – to gullible townspeople.

To follow the locations of L’uomo Delle Stelle (The Star Maker) you need to move from one end of Sicily to the other. One can recognize: Monterosso Almo, an old village in the heart of the Iblei Mountains, and Ragusa Ibla, the old Benedictine convent just outside Gangi, in the Madonie Mountains, and the little fishing village, Marzamemi; the rural area of Casalgiordano, also in the Madonie, near the Petralies; the Gurfa Caves, a rock settlement in the territory of Alia (Palermo province), the Morgantina archaeological area and the ruins of the village of Poggioreale, destroyed by the 1968 earthquake and today used as a setting for a lot of films. The locations included in this movie inspired Theresa Maggio’s book The Stone Boudoir.

La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles) (very old film, depressing, but a classic)

Luchino Visconti’s 1948 adaptation of Verga’s I Malavoglia, the devastating story of a fisherman’s failed dream of independence. Originally a failure at the box office, the film has emerged as a classic of the neo-realistic movement.  Filmed in Aci Trezza. (on Netflix under the Italian title)

Mafioso, 1962 Mafioso is a 1962 Italian mob black comedy film directed by Alberto Lattuada.

Malena
2001 Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Set during WWII and filmed in Messina, this is the story of the life of beautiful Malena, her husband’s absence, a boy’s obsession, and angry townspeople. Shot in Siracusa.

Mid-August Lunch

2008 Filmed in Rome and not in Sicily, this film shows the influence Italian mothers have over their grown sons. Gianni di Gregorio writes, directs, and acts in this film! Humorous.

Nuovomondo (The Golden Door)
2006 Directed by Emanuele Crialese
It is the turn of the century and these poor illiterate farmers want to emigrate to the land of opportunity, America. This is their story, the story of old customs, courage, fears and the importance of the homeland.

Respiro
2002 Directed by Emanuele Crialese
A story of family, mental illness, and misunderstanding. Filmed on the island of Lampedusa.

 

Rocco & His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli)

A 1960 Italian film directed by Luchino Visconti, inspired by an episode from the novel Il ponte della Ghisolfa by Giovanni Testori. Set in Milan, it tells the story of an immigrant family from Sicily and its disintegration in the society of the industrial North. The title is a combination of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers and the name of Rocco Scotellaro, an Italian poet who described the feelings of the peasants of southern Italy. The film stars Alain, Delon and Claudia Cardinale, in one of her early roles before she became internationally known.

 

Salvatore Giuliano

1961 Directed by Francesco Rosi
While exploring the Sicilian world where politics and crime exist in a turbulent marriage, Rosi sets this film in the 1950’s western Sicily. The city of Castelvetrano, the piazzas of Montelepre, the mountains, and the small villages are scenes of the life of the Sicilian Robin Hood, Salvatore Giuliano, one of Italy’s most beloved criminals. This dark Neo-Realist film tells the story of how his passion for an independent Sicily brought him to be murdered at the age of 27. The story is so captivating that Mario Puzo wrote The Sicilian a dramatized version of the story in 1984. It was subsequently made into a film in 1987. An opera entitled Salvatore Giuliano by Lorenzo Ferrero premiered in Rome in 1986

Sedotta e Abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned)

1964 Directed by Pietro Germi
With Lando Buzzanca and Stefania Sandrelli
A masterpiece of a comedy narrating the grotesque story of a beautiful girl that is, as the title says, seduced and abandoned. Set in Sciacca, this satire on Sicilian society, focuses on the importance of saving honor.

Stromboli, Terra di Dio (a classic)

1950 Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Roberto Rossellini filmed this classic on the Aeolian Islands in 1949. Stromboli, Terra di Dio marked the beginning of Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman’s highly publicized affair.

Terraferma, directed by Crialese Drama

A Sicilian family deals with the arrival of a group of African immigrants /refugees on their island. Based on a true story and the African woman in the movie played herself and is the very person this story happened to! Very interesting and very much a current issue in Sicily since Sicily is  so close to Africa.

The Italian Americans  (I have not watched this yet)
2014, John Maggio Productions
The Italian Americans is John Maggio’s film about the Italian immigration experience. This four part documentary is intelligently done and while exploring how they evolved, helps to dispel many misunderstandings about Italians. It can be seen on  PBS video, purchased, or rented through Amazon. (the whole series is on Netflix…on my DVD queue…have not watched it yet)

Italian TV SERIES available at the library: Inspector Montalbano (Il Commissario Montalbano) 1999, based on the detective novels of Andrea Camilleri. Very popular in Sicily. Filmed in Ragusa. Try to watch at least one of the episodes and meet the cunning Inspector Montalbano, the famous commissioner with his Sicilian riddles.

Sicily in Literature

May 4, 2018

I have compiled a list of books that were either written by Sicilian authors or were written by non-Sicilians about Sicily.  The list is by no means extensive, but this is a start of some books you might consider reading if you have an interest in Sicily.

  • The Late Mattia Pascal This novel was written in 1904 by Luigi Pirandello. Its Italian title is Il Fu Mattia Pascal.  Pirandello was born in Agrigento and is Sicily’s most famous play write. This novel focuses on Pirandello’s favorite themes: the theme of “mask” and people in search of an identity. His most famous play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, also deals with the same theme. There is also a Sicilian film, Kaos, the Greek word from which we have our English word chaos, is a series of vignettes based on some of Pirandello’s short stories. Kaos is available on Netflix. images
  • I Malavoglia, by Verga Giovanni Verga was a Sicilian writer born in 1840 in Vizzini (that’s the same town where my friend Francesco was born) and died in Catania. He was best know for his depictions of life in his native Sicily. Verga is considered one of the greatest of all Italian novelists.  I noticed that he died weeks after my father was born. Verga was an Italian realist writer and his style is called verismo. The book looks at the life of an impoverished fisherman’s family and portrays what happens when economic and social structures break down. The English title is The House by the Medlar Tree and there is also an old black and white film based on the book called “The Earth Trembles”. The novel and the film are very bleak, but very moving and interesting.  He also wrote Little Novels Of Sicily.  I see his books in every Sicilian bookstore! images-1
  • Sicilian Carousel, by Lawrence Durrell  I enjoyed reading this and I wish the Sicilian Carousel Tour Bus still existed. It was a tour company in the 70s that took tourists all around the island, stopping at ruins and other places of importance.  I like how Durrell talks about Greek mythology and brings the Greek gods and goddesses to life as he journeys this ancient place.

 

  • What Makes a Child Lucky, by Gioia Timpanelli  Love her writing! images-2

 

  • Behind Closed Doors: Her Father’s House and Other Stories of Sicily, by Maria Messina. Maria Messina was a recluse. She suffered from MS. She was born in 1887 in Palermo, and wrote 18 books that portray women’s lives during her era of life.

 

  • The Day of the Owl, Leonardo Sciascia. Leonardo put the town of Racalmuto on the map and Racalmuto is the town next to my parents’ blink-the-eye-and-miss-it-village of Grotte in the province of Agrigento. Sciascia was the first writer to stand up to the mafia and lived to tell the tale. The Day of the Owl was also made into a movie. It is true crime fiction genre. The Italian title is Il Giorno della Civetta.

 

  • A House in Sicily, Daphne Phelps  This book reminds me a lot of Under the Tuscan Sun, a dream come true to refurbish an old home.

 

  • On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal, Mary Taylor Simeti

 

  • The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily, Theresa Maggio  Teri Maggio’s writing will get you hooked to her easy style. She also wrote the next featured novel below.images-4
  • Mattanza, Theresa Maggio  I liked this one, too. After I read this book, I looked at YouTube videos of the Mattanza and I read up on the tuna fisheries in Sicily that were thriving way of life for thousands of years.  It makes me sad that the tuna numbers have dwindled to dangerously low numbers.  However, here you have it, the fishing done on a day to day basis, the way it’s been done for millennia.

 

  • The Terracotta Dog, Andrea Camilleri Everyone loves Camilleri in Sicily. He is Sicily’s Agatha Christie, another great mystery writer. Camilleri has many many books to check out if you like mysteries. His mysteries were set to a very popular tv series here in Italy. And you must watch at least a few of the Inspector Montalbano television series. They are based on Camilleri’s books, subtitled and available at the library. I love the Montalbano series.

 

  • The Sicilian, Mario Puzo (author of The Godfather)  If you are Sicilian and reading this, you probably just cringed! Sicilians have fought hard against political and social corruption and they are not eager to talk about mafia or subjects of protection money and violence.  They shudder at the thought that people actually come to Sicily to do “Mafia Tours“, where certain sites of massacres are visited, and former homes and hideouts of mafiosi visited and where tourists visit the places where scenes of The Godfather were filmed.  I am surprised that such tours even exist, given how much they are abhorred by the locals!  The Sicilian is a book about the Sicilian bandit, the black market food smuggler, Salvatore Giuliano.  Giuliano was Sicily’s Robin Hood and I have actually been in humble homes where there is a huge poster of the very handsome Giuliano right smack on the wall of the living room.  I have even seen photos of Giuliano with his arm around his mother! He is a bandit who could very well be a movie star with his good looks and poise! He is local hero of sorts from the past. The photo below is Giuliano. See what I mean? latest

Persephone’s Island

May 3, 2018

Perhaps this blog post is like a star exploding.  My mind has been both calm but also wild like the winds that have whipped around this island all day today.

So many of my readers asked me to please include a photo of Darwin (read about him in my previous post)!  So, I texted him to ask permission to post a few photos of him and within seconds he replied with an enthusiastic, “Sure!”

Our man Darwin (and his sister Seemee)

And he signed his email, Meluccio (yet another Sicilian nickname for Carmello)!

Sicilians are terrific at creating nicknames for people.  You give them your name and you are reinvented into something else within seconds of giving out your name.  During one of my yoga retreats, one yogini, Rebecca, was renamed Rossella, as in Rossella O’Hara (Scarlett O’Hara’s Italian name in Gone With the Wind) by our guide Toninio in Pantelleria.

In case you are curious about Darwin’s real name, he was named after Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, geologist, biologist, contributor to the science of evolution.

And the title of this blog post refers to the nickname the Greeks gave to the island of Sicily: Persephone’s Island.  The Greeks, who colonized Sicily as early as the 8th century B.C., considered Sicily to be Persephone’s Island because, according to the myth, Hades, the ruler of the underworld (his Roman name was Pluto), abducted Persephone from the Sicilian town of Enna and imprisoned her in his underworld domain.

Persephone was the beautiful daughter of Zeus (his Roman name was Jupiter) and Demeter (Her Roman name was Ceres and she was the goddess of agriculture, grains, harvest, and fertility). Our word cereal comes from her Roman name and there is a beer here in Sicily named after her, Ceres.

Hate to mention this, but you probably already know that Demeter was Zeus’ sister. Zeus violated his own sister. Persephone was the child of their union. Persephone was absolutely gorgeous.  And she was a very innocent child. She spent her days running around the lands of the earth. Her birth name was Kore (or Cora) which means “Maiden”.  She was so beautiful that she attracted the attention of many gods.

After she was abducted by Hades, she become his queen, his reluctant bride, Queen of the Underworld. She renamed herself Persephone (Proserpina was her Roman name), which means “Bringer of destruction”.

The abduction happened as Kore (later renamed Persephone) was gathering flowers in a Sicilian field in Enna.  I can see it now.  Kore gathering red poppies and Hades bursts through a cleft in the earth and grabs her.  Kore’s poor mother Demeter searched the entire earth for her daughter.

Below is a description of what happened once Demeter found out what had happened to her daughter:

So Persephone’s grieving mother, the goddess Demeter, goddess of agriculture, plunged the island into a barren winter, until Zeus, the father of the gods, struck a bargain with Pluto to let Persephone return to the land of the living for six months of the year. So it is that when Persephone is released from Hades, Demeter allowed the world to thaw and bloom before her daughter must once again return to Pluto and Hades.

And so the seasons were born!

Below are a few more photos of paintings from the artist Fiore (also mentioned in my previous blog post).  We met a wonderful man who showed us his hotel and some of his Fiore painting collections.  I bet you can guess the hotel owner’s name: Carmello.

Carmello is a collector of Sicilian antiques and of Fiore’s paintings. I especially like Fiore’s cats:

Below is one of Fiore’s earlier works from 2003 (before he became famous)…I really like his old style:

Fiore tables!

A reminder of what happens when you eat too much pasta:

simply put: this is a beautiful place!

I spied this kitty in the courtyard through this iron fence:

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This place makes me dream:

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Creative drift wood artwork:

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I looked on line to see how many churches there are in Ortigia. I found one site that showed 14, another showed 26.  Rick and I both agree there are far more than that. Rick agrees with me and says there are certainly over 100 churches on this tiny island.  There is one on nearly every corner.

We saw one that dated back to the 3rd century AD.  San Martino Church, below, dates back to the 12th century:IMG_4472

And lastly, I leave you with this Stomachion. We came across this gem on the courtyard wall next to the San Martino Church.  It was designed/invented by Archimedes. Archimedes was born well over two thousand years ago in Ortigia when it was a Greek Colony. Archimedes is Sicily’s famous son, the great mathematician. You can still see the Piazza Archimede, where Archimedes is said to have run buck naked in the plazza shouting excitedly, “Eureka, Eureka!!” because he had just made a discovery:

“Eureka!” was shouted after he had stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, whereupon he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged.

But back to the Stomachion below. It is a puzzle Archimedes invented. It became a mathematician’s game.  No one quite understands why the Greek name has the same linguistic root as the word, “stomach”, but it does.

I am including two links below the photo to better explain the concept of Archimedes’ intricate and complex puzzle.  This is the oldest known mathematical puzzle. The inscription below the photo explains that a Stomachion always has 14 pieces, which make a square and that the 14 pieces can create endless geometric figure imaginable. It is too complicated for me to understand, but the web links below are pretty fascinating.

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http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Stomachion.html

http://www.math.cornell.edu/~mec/GeometricDissections/1.2%20Archimedes%20Stomachion.html

Dinner with Darwin

May 1, 2018

Darwin’s an impressionable, charming, and very bright young guy in his 20s, originally from Mauritius, living in Catania. We met him last year at the villa, as he is the son of the villa’s caretakers and he helps his parents with their workload at the villa. Those of you reading this, who were also at last year’s yoga retreat at Villa Saracena, will remember him.

“I work part time at a bar. The food’s the best. You should come by.  No, I don’t work on Thursdays, but I’ll plan on being there the night you come by.”

So we connected via “messenger” before our Thursday evening date with him and came to find out he no longer worked at the bar.  He had quit the night before we were going to meet. “The owner wouldn’t pay me, so I quit. But it’s ok, I’ll meet you there.”

After hearing more about his nightmarish-ex-boss, I suggested we meet elsewhere.  And so we had dinner with Darwin in an outdoor trattoria in the Massimo Bellini Opera House Piazza.  Darwin speaks English as if he were born in the back streets of London. He studied at Cambridge Preparatory High School while living with his uncle. He knows all the colloquial British English expressions, the good ones and the bad.  He’s witty, funny, charismatic, knows just about everyone, and is at that special place in his life, you know, where the whole wide world is about to unfold for you!

We enjoyed asking him questions and listened to his animated replies. As we conversed, people strolling by on their evening passeggiate saw him, and greeted him, “Eh, Darwinneh! Che mi dici?”  (Hey Darwin! What’s goin’ on, man!) And there was our attractive waitress, who came to our table one too many times so I asked him, “So, Darwin, is she your friend?”

“Well, yeah, yeah, but I don’t know her name. I just call her Mella. I call everyone Mella or something like that.  You know, Carmella/Carmello is such a popular name, so I just call everyone Mel, Mello, Mellina, Carmel, Armel, and you know, it kinda works. They love it! The women find it sexy when I call them Carmella!  Even if it’s not a given man or woman’s name, and 5 times out of 10 it is their name, they just get a kick of it. ”

He grabs his cell phone, unlocks it. Tosses it my way and says, “Look!”

I was wrapped up by his English accent and was trying to figure out why a woman would find it sexy to be called someone else’s name (in fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it if you called me Carmella!), but I managed to catch his phone.  He leaned over and opened up his contacts and there it was, in plain English, an endless list of Mellas and Mellos, and variants on the names, complete with phone numbers. Sometimes he writes in a second name to differentiate various friends: “Mello Grande (big), Mel Alto (tall), Carmello Birra (beer-probably had a beer with the guy), Carmella Serena (quiet, serene).”

I also noticed that when Darwin’s Italian friends, both men and women, young and old, stopped by our table to hug him, tap his head, punch his arms, tweak his cheek, greet him, or give him a kiss on the cheeks, Darwin added a little zest to his perfect Italian: instead of rolling his r as Italians do, he would pronounce his r like the soft throaty French r.  Now this would make sense, given that Darwin speaks French because he hails from Mauritius.  However, I have heard his English r and it doesn’t sound French.  And I have also heard him roll his Italian r, so I know he can do it. So I asked him about it.

“Oh, well, you see…they love it!  Yes, my friends love it! They find the soft French r charming, especially the girls.  Yeah, the French r!”  His laughter is contagious. “Francesca, you actually caught that?”  He doesn’t realize I’ve been around the block a few times and I understand and am fascinated by the subtleties and power of language.

“Hey, Darwin, what did your dad say when you got your nose pierced?”

Actually, Darwin’s septum is pierced and he wears a septum ring. Is that what it’s called? I should have asked him!  I think it’s just called a “nose ring”, whether the piercing is in the nostril or the septum.  It looks really good on him and gives him a certain look, along with his close-buzzed head.

“My dad? No problem. My dad understands me.  He’s cool.  He loves me and accepts me.  Yeah, he’s the best.  He’s super cool with this.”

Darwin’s a really good guy!

“So, what are your dreams?”

We found out that he once-upon-a-time wanted to be a surgeon. Why? Because he wanted to help people.  He is definitely bright enough to pursue this dream, but he quit school.  He did part of his high school in England (Cambridge), but later quit. Just didn’t work out for him to attend school.  He was bored. So now, the surgeon dream is out the back door and in through the front door is a new dream to own and run a bar with a friend in Catania.  They already have found the place and are renting it at a great price. Now they are saving money to get the business going.

I bet when we come back next year, we’ll be visiting Darwin at his new bar, assuming a more attainable dream doesn’t drift in through the side door.

The next day, we left Catania and headed to Siracusa. Below are some photos from Siracusa.

Ortigia

We toured the catacombs under the church of San Filippo.  As you enter, a skeleton is painted on the wall.  He’s been there for hundreds of years and his job is to greet you, to welcome you to this underground world of the dead.  One of his arms rests on a balcony and the other arm and hand is ready to sweep you up:

The next two pictures are also from this burial chamber. On one side of the chamber, the picture of the skull and bones says in Latin, “We were like you.” And across from this, another skull and bones says in Latin, “And you will be like us.”

Well, after such grim greetings, we walked around and delighted in the beautiful homes, the fresh sea air, the sun-filled day.

 

We see the artist Fiore’s beautiful work everywhere!  His signature works of art are on the walls of shops, restaurants, on table tops, and on planters filled with geraniums.  His colors are vivid and he really captures an essence of Ortigia and Sicily. And today, while walking around, we met him!  He was in his atelier, door flung open to the sea.  He was intense, focused, and busy at creating another masterpiece.

 

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Greek Sicily enthralls me.  The next two photos are from Apollo’s Temple. The columns are Doric style. The temple was built in the 6th century B.C. You can see the temple embedded into the nearby homes (see the second photo below). At one time, the space between the temple pillars were filled in to construct the walls of a mosque and later a church. Today, the temple stands near the lively outdoor fish and vegetable market.

And I have to include photos of Cat Lady.  Cat Lady, the woman in the photo below, stepped outside her open door and asked me to take a photo of her and the cats so I took a few photos. Believe it or not, that’s a “smile” on her face because I had just given her some money for cat food.

Using dramatic hand gestures and a passionate voice, she told me her story. “I don’t know why, but I keep finding kittens outside my door!  And what am I supposed to do?  They come to me! So I have to take them in.  They love me. I love them. I feed them. Sometimes I eat less so they can eat more.  They are wonderful! Would you like to come in? Would you like to take a photo or two?  Would you like to pet them? They love to be pet!  They don’t like to go outside. They love my home.”

And let me tell you.  I have never seen so many cats in my life. I asked her how many cats she had and she promptly said, “Eleven.”  I’d say take her number and multiply by 5. Maybe more. And, oh, did the place stink!  I took the photos by standing in the doorway.  There was no way I was going to cross the threshold.  I don’t know how the woman could still be alive inhaling that stink.  Her house was all mottled and filled with pictures of Jesus, the pope (with head bowed, praying), angels, and Mother Mary.  Maybe Cat Lady is protected by the pope’s prayers?

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And we will move away from cats and end this blog with a sunset.

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Yoga and Hiking in Sun-Kissed Sicily

April 23, 2018

Yes, our yoga and hiking retreat in sun-kissed Sicily will be taking place very soon.  I am excited about this yoga retreat coming up and wanted to include some of the trip’s highlights!

Temperatures look to be in the 70s for the week ahead. Many of my readers know that this is not the first time I am offering a retreat in lovely Sicily and that this will not be the last time I will be offering a retreat in Sicily.  I love this island, its history, the sunshine, the warmth of the people, the sea, the landscape, the food, and the Italian language and the dialect.  I love doing yoga at the villa, outdoors, looking out at the sea.

On arrival day, we will be greeted by this lovely family of caretakers of Piero’s villa (photo below). They are originally from Mauritius, have lived in Sicily for many years, and they make sure we are well cared for during our week on this magical Mediterranean island, the pearl of Italy, Sicily.

The Bangaroo family: Darwin (son), Sheemee (daughter), Luckshmee (mother), Narain (father)

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Retreat participants will be impressed by the inviting villa with its breathtaking views of the Ionian sea and Mt. Etna.  This is the view we enjoy as we do yoga. I have taken so many photos of this view.  It is different every morning and evening.

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On arrival day, we’ll unwind with a yoga session of deep stretching and relaxation.  Weather permitting, our sessions are held out on the lawn overlooking the most fabulous yoga setting I have ever experienced in my life.  All week, our yoga session themes will vary.  During shavasana, I will pepper the relaxing imagery with Italian words and the yoga retreat participants will be lulled into a deep transcendental state of being.

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And sometimes, we will go a little crazy with our yoga creativity!

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Yes, we will spend time on the road, en route to various hiking trails.  We are certain to pass field of wildflowers. Spring in Sicily is green!

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On Sunday, May 6 we will travel to Piazza Armerina and the nearby Caltagirone.  In Piazza Armerina, we will visit the famous mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with our guide and archaeologist, Serena.  I visited this incredible site long ago, when I was 16 years old. I have always wanted to go back. And I am finally going back! 

More on Villa Romana del Casale LINK

Thirty minutes drive is Caltagirone, a town known for its ceramic arts and for the town’s famous 142 ceramic Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte built in 1608.  Those who like, will climb this staircase with me and we will all have time to walk around the town. There are various festivals throughout the year when the ceramic staircase is covered in flowers or in candles. Ceramic Staircase

On Monday, May 7, we will visit the historical nature reserve of Vendicari. In the past we have gone on archaeological tours and birding in Vendicari.  We will certainly see the many birds nesting here as well as the archaeological sites as we hike to Sicily’s most beautiful beach, which also happens to be a part of the protected nature reserve, Calamosche Beach.   I can’t wait to do yoga on this beach!

Flamingos of Vendicari as seen through my scope:

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photo below taken in Vendicari:Untitled Design

Tuesday, May 8, we will go on a long day trip Mt. Etna, where we will hike, if it is safe to do so.  It is about an hour and a half drive from our villa. Mount Etna was known to the Romans by its Latin name Aetna.  The Sicilians call it Mungibeddru, which translates to “beautiful mountain”.  It is an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily. The name Etna comes from the Greek Aitne, from aithō, “I burn.”

Some facts about Mount Etna:

  • It is Europe’s tallest volcano and one of the most active in the world.
  • Mount Etna stands at 10,810 feet tall
  • Since 2001, Mount Etna has erupted every year except 2007. The last major eruption was in 1992.
  • The circumference of Mount Etna is 93 miles (over twice the size of Mount Vesuvius).
  • There is snow present on the volcano year round.
  • The soil surrounding the volcano is very fertile. 3/4 of Sicily’s crops are grown near the volcano.
  • The biggest recorded eruption was on March 8, 1669. The lava reached Catania.  At least 20,000 people died.
  • “Another myth surrounding Mount Etna is that the Roman God of fire, Vulcan, used the base of the mountain for metalworking. As God of fire, he was considered as the manufacturer of art, arms, iron and armour, amongst other items. In this mythology, it is thought that Vulcan married Venus, the goddess of love and beauty after being promised a wife by Jupiter. At the base of Mount Etna, Vulcan built a blacksmiths, where he would beat red-hot metal whenever he found out that Venus had been unfaithful, causing an eruption.”

The photo below was taken by our hiking guide in March.  We will enter the park from Schiena del’Asino, which translates to “Spine of the Donkey” and take this trail for our hike.  Years ago, I went on a day trip to Etna.  At sea level, the day was warm enough for swimming in the sea, but up on the mountain, the wind whipped and chilled our bodies as we held our wind breakers tightly around us.

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After our hike on Mount Etna, we will head over to Taormina where we will have some free time to roam around this ancient Greek city.  We will have time to see the Greek Theater ruins and the romantic piazzas overlooking the sea and the butterfly-shaped beach below.

On Wednesday, May 9, we will visit the Baroque town of Noto and hike in the nearby Cava Carosello.  While on the hike, we will do yoga at this lovely spot photographed below by our trekking company, Siracusa Trekking:

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On Thursday, May 10, we will go on an Archaeological-trekking tour in Pantalica (UNESCO World Heritage Site) with archaeologist, Alessandro. Pantalica.  This is a place where ancient man lived and died in nature, a necropolis with honeycombed tombs dotting the sides of the trail. We will  have yoga at the ruins at sunset.

More information on Pantalica

Photo below Pantalica in March:

Pantalica (1)After yoga, we will head to the medieval town of Palazzolo Acreide where we will have dinner in a restaurant owned by two brothers by the last name of Gallo. They believe they are related to me, but I don’t think so because my father shortened our family name from “Brunogallo” to “Gallo” when he immigrated to America in the late 1950s…but you never know.

More on Palazzolo Acreide

On Friday, May 11, we will hike the nearby Plemmirio Nature Preserve where we will also have a peaceful and rejuvenating yoga session out in nature.  Later on, we will visit the colorful market of Ortigia and have free time to walk around on our own.

Link of Plemmirio Nature Preserve

I love this photo below. I saw this young woman texting on the side of this ancient cathedral in Ortigia.  The ancient and the modern side by side.  The cathedral was built over the Greek Temple of Athena. The temple pillars, dating back to 5th century BC, form the bone-like structure of the cathedral.  The open spaces between the pillars were filled in with stone to form an enclosed house of worship. The girl below is sitting on the original stairs of the Greek temple.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of my favorite cathedrals in Italy:

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Follow us on our Sicilian yoga and hiking adventures by checking back in on my blog post.  Namaste, Fran

Sicily 2017 Slideshow

May 13, 2017

Was it one week or two?

It was one hundred lifetimes lived in a single day.

Warm sun on my skin

Within days, my skin goes brown, my eyes grow bright.

A gentle breeze floats in from the sea.

I am surrounded by beauty

and smiles.

How will I ever go back home?

This ancient land clings to my feet, tugs at my heart.

I am trapped by an invisible seaweed netting.

Cherry tomatoes burst with flavor. The local markets display mounds of dried wild herbs and mountains of colorful fruits and vegetables, which will taste as beautiful as they look.

Every morning and evening, we practice yoga to the sound of birdsong

and to soft lapping of waves.

The fragrance of the zagara flower is intoxicating.

Orange blossoms perfume the wall-less outdoor yoga studio.

Mt. Etna lets out a steady stream of smoke, steam, and dreams.

Mongibello stands tall, shrouded in purple at sunset, pink at sunrise.

What do you call the blue of the Sicilian sky and sea?

Flamingos, not yet fully pink, are feeding at the marsh.

Are there words to describe such insane raw beauty?

At night, I wonder how my parents ever left?  I wonder if I  carry the scars of their pain?

Quarry stones, hewn perfectly, stand witness to ancient history and warm today’s cat.

With the click of my camera, I capture the wild red poppies growing in a field of yellow daisies and I offer the poppies’ perfection to my lost friend Adriana.

We do yoga in the ruins of the tuna fisheries.

I feel the solidity of ancient stone under my feet, the mass suffering of the giants of the sea, and the beauty of the moment.

I watch my friends, long-time friends and new ones, do yoga on this ancient island. I lead them in a yoga sequence and I feel  Madre Terra’s energy coursing through us all.

Mother Earth and the Sicilian Sun nourish our spirits.

I breathe and I am renewed.

Fran’s website: http://www.frangallo.com

Turn up your speakers and enjoy the slideshow below (about 8 minutes long):

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Alive in Modica

May 3, 2017

Once again…a few of my photos to share from this incredible trip.  I have slowed down in my photo taking.  I can’t compete with Rick, Gail, Monica, and Karen, who all take great photos!  They have a good eye and their cameras are so much nicer than mine is.  Compared to their cameras, my Leica seems to be a child’s toy.  Hopefully, I will get some of their photos from the yoga sessions and some of the group photos we have been taking to share with my readers.

Below: the town of Modica!  We had a cooking lesson with Chef Ninni Radicini at the cooking school, ate a wonderful lunch, and then went walking in the town of Modica with our fabuloso guide and friend, Giorgio Modica of Modica!

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On the way to Modica, I finally got the shot I wanted: fields of wildflowers at their peak of beauty.  Red poppies standout against yellow flowers

On the way to Modica, I finally got the shot I wanted: fields of wildflowers at their peak of beauty. Red poppies standout against yellow flowers

The tomato sauce used in the Pasta alla Norma

The tomato sauce used in the Pasta alla Norma

The base for the caponata..later the eggplant, vinegar, and sugar are added to make a very delicious side dish.

The base for the caponata..later the eggplant, vinegar, and sugar are added to make a very delicious side dish.

Cannoli shells

Cannoli shells

Filled with ricotta and ready to eat!

Filled with ricotta and ready to eat!

Espresso: You cannot get a bad cup of coffee in Sicily!

Perfect Cup of Espresso: You cannot get a bad cup of coffee in Sicily!

Perfect Setting for Yoga Practice

Perfect Setting for Yoga Practice

And Yes, we really do yoga, twice daily!

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Fran back bends over Lisa

Fran back bends over Lisa

Greek Sicily

May 1, 2017

Who has time to write when in Sicily?  So photos will have to do.

And yes, the weather has suddenly turned very warm and perfect.

The Greeks left their mark here!  Sicily was a Greek Colony and has the most beautiful Greek ruins.  We spent yesterday in Siracusa with Eleonora as our guide.  Enjoy a few photos from yesterday.

A roadside shrine to Mother Mary:

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Below: Temple of Apollo.  Perhaps this was one of the most significant temples in ancient Greek times.  The pillars in the photo below are monolithic and it is short of a miracle that they are still standing because most of the area was leveled to the ground during the great earthquake of January 11, 1693. The earthquake was one of the biggest to ever hit Italy.  It destroyed at least 45 cities and killed more than 60,000 people.  Catania was hardest hit and two-thirds of the people of Catania lost their lives.  Many of the towns including Siracuse and Modica had to be completely rebuilt.

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The main cathedral in Ortigia is my favorite.  It was a Greek Temple whose ancient pillars are perfectly preserved because they were filled in with walls for a church.  In the photo below, you can see the Greek Temple pillars embedded in the exterior walls.  These columns, thousands of years old,  are even more beautiful from the interior.  From Greek Temple to Mosque to Catholic Church, this cathedral is remarkable.

Perfectly preserved Greek Temple

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Our group!

Our group!


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