Archive for the ‘Sicily’ Category

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
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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!

Little Pink Houses/Heaven in Your Hands

April 28, 2017

If you are a Hoosier, you might think that little pink houses only exist in Indiana..or at least Indiana’s very own John Mellencamp would have you believe, through his music, that little pink houses are sprinkled throughout Indiana towns and countrysides.  Yesterday, we made the discovery of the very sweet town of Brucoli and its pink houses.  (Spell check wants me to write Broccoli, so I have to be very cautious when writing out the town name.)  Well, Brucoli has pink houses and much more!

We went to the Brucoli port to enjoy a two-hour boat ride on Piero’s Starfisher 840.  The weather was pleasant, not hot, not too windy…and plenty of sunshine. The harbor, where Piero moors his boat, used to be used by the ancient Greeks.  It is a natural harbor that has been used continuously for thousands of years.  From there, we cruised along the Ionian sea and relaxed.  We saw Turtle Rock and a 6,000 year old prehistoric village.  One cave was a prehistoric three-story high-rise, complete with carved stone steps to reach the upper floors of this natural cave.

After the boat ride, we walked around the town of Brucoli for a bit.  This precious seaside town seems to have a theme.  Part of the charm of the town is that not too much has been done to the houses to make them look perfect.  Instead, they retain their old world charm and all throughout the town, there are murals, poems on the walls, and potted flowers.  When I close my eyes and think of Brucoli, I see the potted geraniums on the iron balconies. I smell the sea air and see the blue fishing boats and fishing nets hanging out to dry.  The people are friendly.  They carry the sun in their hearts.  One woman told me about a restaurant that does not have a name!  The locals call it Il Chiosco (The Kiosk) and it serves only three dishes!  One of the dishes is a seafood pasta dish.  Next time, I will make sure a meal there is a part of this trip with the yoga group. I could have spent all day there.

After the boat ride, we went back to the villa and had a bowl of lentil soup and a big seasonal green salad.

Then off to Vendicari Nature Preserve.  Some members of our group went birding with birding experts Federico and Fabiano and the other half went on an archaeological walk with Alessandro.  Not enough time to go into great detail to say how incredible the nature preserve is and it is hard to say what the highlight of the day was.  I guess if I had to choose yesterday’s highlight, the outdoor yoga session at the tuna processing ruins was over the top fantastic.

We had our Sicilian guides join us for yoga.  They were adorable!  Alessandro had tight jeans on and was frustrated because he could barely stretch and bend in them!  Both Alessandro and Federico had never done yoga before and they did really well.  They both felt peaceful and calm afterwards.  Fabiano had tried yoga twice before and he hurt his back both times so he was afraid to try.  However, he did the session with us, loved it, and asked if there is any way I can set up a studio in Siracusa since that is where he lives.  He wondered why it was that his back did fine this time and I told him he must always warm up properly and do counter-poses after the asana (posture).  All three men, new or fairly new to yoga, spoke to me after the session and said they felt the energy of the earth coursing through their bodies and spirits.  I can’t tell you how nice it was to hear them speak of their experience.

Practicing yoga in Sicily is to experience the fullness of life. 

Practicing yoga in Sicily is to breathe and listen to birdsong.

Yoga outside at Villa Saracena is to stretch and strengthen under beautiful skies and to breathe in fresh fragrant air. 

Doing yoga in Sicily is like holding heaven in your hands.

Photos from yesterday:

Brucoli Pink House

Brucoli Pink House

Brucoli

Brucoli

My artistic brother-in-law photographing the blue walled house

My artistic brother-in-law photographing the blue walled house

Brucoli Port, an ancient Greek Port where Piero moors his boat

Brucoli Port, an ancient Greek Port where Piero moors his boat

On the boat

On the boat

Kim and JD on the boat ride

Kim and JD on the boat ride

John and Nora on the boat

John and Nora on the boat

Ginger and Woody at Vendicari Nature Preserve

Ginger and Woody at Vendicari Nature Preserve

Federico the birder.  The nature preserve has flamingos among many other birds

Federico the birder. The nature preserve has flamingos among many other birds

I went on the archaeological walk with Alessandro.  (Next week I will go birding)  VERY interesting history of the tuna fishing industry of days past, dating from Phoenician times, Greek times, Arab times, to modern times...

I went on the archaeological walk with Alessandro. (Next week I will go birding) VERY interesting history of the tuna fishing industry of days past, dating from Phoenician times, Greek times, Arab times, to modern times…

Vendicari Preserve is very beautiful with fields of poppies, fields of grass, the occasional house like this one, a fort, tuna fishing ruins, the sea, boardwalk, archaeological ruins, birds, and the sea.  We learned about the ancient salt mining practices here and the former thriving production of GARUM, a Roman sought after delicacy in the ancient world.  Garum was a smelly disgusting fermented paste made of fish guts.  It was processed at these fishery points.

Vendicari Preserve is very beautiful with fields of poppies, fields of grass, the occasional house like this one, a fort, tuna fishing ruins, the sea, boardwalk, archaeological ruins, birds, and the sea. We learned about the ancient salt mining practices here and the former thriving production of GARUM, a Roman sought after delicacy in the ancient world. Garum was a smelly disgusting fermented paste made of fish guts. It was processed at these fishery points.

Our yoga spot.  Hopefully I will get some photos others took of us doing yoga here.

Our yoga spot. Hopefully I will get some photos others took of us doing yoga here.

Our fabulous group:

These yogis are practicing yoga twice a day!  What an experience this is!  Wonderful!

These yogis are practicing yoga twice a day! What an experience this is! Wonderful!

 

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

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.


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