Posts Tagged ‘Sicily’

La Pina Ro’

November 24, 2018

My maternal grandmother, La Mama Anto’ gave light to a child nearly every three years or so. She repeated this pattern ten times. To give light to a child is a Sicilian expression meaning “to give birth”. By the time her tenth child was born, my grandmother’s eldest child was already married and had children of her own.  The eldest of my grandmother’s ten children was named Rosa.  She was lovely, hardworking, and had a cheerful disposition.  We nieces and nephews lovingly called her La Pina Ro’.

Rosa passed away yesterday at the age of 101 years old.  I imagine Rosa being welcomed into heaven by my mother and her other siblings who made the mad dash to heaven early on.  As is the Sicilian custom, Rosa’s funeral and burial took place within twenty-four hours of her death.

I pray Rosa is resting peacefully after a long one hundred and one years of life on earth.

SB_1356359485I met La Pina Ro’ for the first time when I was ten years old, on my first trip to Grotte.  She was recently widowed when I met her in Spring of 1972. She was clad in black from head to toe. Her daughter Pina, young and still living at home, was also dressed in black, black being the color of mourning.

My Nonna didn’t have a shower in her house.  In order to bathe, I had to go down a steep ladder and into a musty-smelling damp wine cellar, where there was a large old-fashioned wash basin that my mother would fill with a mixture of boiled hot water and cold tap water for my much-dreaded bath. Water was precious so my mother filled the wash basin with about five inches of water and I had to climb in and get clean. I was ten, but, under the circumstances, my mother had to help me bathe.  As my mom washed me, I stared at Papà Vivi’s suit that hung in the cellar right next to the tub: dark gray trousers, white shirt mottled by the passing of time, and a black vest.  I was very frightened of the hanging suit.  My grandfather had already been dead many years by 1972 and there was his suit hanging in the basement cellar.  Thankfully, my mother bathed me, for I would not want to be alone in that cellar for a single moment.

La Pina Ro’ made my life much easier by offering to have me come over to her house for my showers and to wash my hair.  Her house was not far down the medieval labyrinthine streets in the oldest section of Grotte, but she had a modern shower and a water heating unit that needed to be turned on about thirty minutes before the bathing ritual. She was quite proud of her shower and water heating unit.  She even had a hair dryer for me to use.

20. GrotteRosa invited me to spend the night with her, too.  Her house was built out from one of the original grottoes the town is named after. Going back hundreds of years, perhaps to prehistory, the early inhabitants of Grotte lived in the grottoes. My aunt used her grotto as a wine cellar and for storage.

29. Pasqua 1988

When I spent the night at her house, I slept with her. If my memory is correct, I remember we had to climb a steep ladder to get upstairs to her room.  We snuggled in bed.  It was April and there was a chill in the air, but the bed was warm and super comfortable.  She had placed hot water bottles at my feet under the covers and I felt toasty warm.  As we lie in bed, she asked me if I knew my prayers in Sicilian and I said, “No.”  That night, our feet warmed by the hot water bottles, La Pina Ro’ patiently taught me to pray the Hail Mary in Sicilianu.  Again and again, she had me repeat the prayer in the ancient language of my ancestors.  Again and again, I prayed the words Rosa taught me until my eyes grew heavy and the prayer was deeply etched into my brain:

L’Avi Maria

Avi Maria, china di razzia
u Signuri esti cu Vui
Vui biniditta siti ntre fimmini
e binidittu esti u fruttu di vostru utru, Jesu.

Santa Maria, Matri di Deu
priati pi nuatri piccatura
accamora e nta l’ura da nostra morti.

Amin

She turned off the lights.  The room was the darkest dark I had ever known.  We were sealed in a cocoon of deep silence.  As I was starting to drift into sleep, she asked me, “Fra, ti scanti?”  “Fra, are you afraid?” She must have sensed that I was the kind of child who was afraid of my own shadow, certainly afraid of my deceased grandfather’s suit hanging in the cellar in my grandmother’s house, perhaps afraid of the depth of this Sicilian night.  But on this dark night, deep in the heart of Grotte,  I was not afraid.  I had the warm loving comfort of my Pina Ro’ next to me, my Sicilian prayers memorized, and the protection of Mother Mary in my heart.

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11. Grotte

Long before I met La Pina Ro’, I already knew so much about her.  My mother always spoke of her with deep respect.

One story I have of Rosa is that when she was engaged to be married, the custom was that her fiance would spend evenings at her house in the company of her entire family.  There was no television, so he would have to be creative and find a way to entertain the family.  Apparently, my mother, who was just a child, became the source of entertainment for the whole family.  She had a certain way of mispronouncing words, as many children do, so the family would say, “Pippina, what do you call a baby horse?” And my mother, who was just a little girl with a speech impediment that she would outgrow, was clever and she would avoid shouting out the word for pony, puddriddru, because it was hard to say and she knew she’d jumble up the word. Instead, she’d say cavaddru, the word for horse, because it was much easier to say. Everyone would howl with laughter because she was so funny.

Rosa started sewing at a very young age.  When Rosa was twelve years old, she sewed a suit for her father. She created the pattern by herself and she cut the material.  Furthermore, she sewed the entire suit by hand!  Her father proudly wore his suit to Sunday mass and Rosa became the talk of the town. She became a sarta, a seamstress.  In Rosa’s case, she was a child prodigy seamstress.  People lined up at her parents’ house on Via Confine to have Rosa take their measurements. She’d hand-sew beautiful suits and dresses for her clients.  She worked diligently and voluntarily gave all the money she made to her parents.

One day, Papà Vivi (her father, my grandfather) went to the neighboring town of Racalmuto to buy Rosa a sewing machine as a surprise. He carried it home on his back, all the way from Racalmuto to Via Confine.

Rosa was sewing when she saw her dad carrying the sewing machine into the house.  He heard her whisper to herself,  “Beddra fosse si fosse pi mia.”. A literal translation would be, “It would be beautiful if it were for me.”  Suddenly her father walked right up to her and placed the sewing machine down and said, “Rosa, my first born, this is for you!”  She began sewing for everyone in town.

Papà Vivi owned a sulfur mine. He rented it out and made sizable profits.  When Rosa was 12 years old, he had a savings of 18,000 lire in a private bank.  My cousin, one of Rosa’s sons, says that 18,000 lire might have a value of close to a million US dollars today.  My grandfather was able to buy Rosa a house and all her furniture outright when she got married.

But back in 1929, something really bad was about to happen.

Back in America, Wall Street crashed. After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the whole world spun into financial crisis. Banks were collapsing in America. Banks in Italy also failed at alarming rates and collapsed. Worldwide depression of the early 1930s hit Italy very hard in 1931.

The story of the Licata family’s lost wealth goes like this:  a woman came to the Licata house on Via Confine to have her clothes made and she talked about a rumor she heard.  She said, “Private banks will be going bankrupt!”  Papà Vivi’s face went pale.

Papà Vivi went to the bank the next day to withdraw just 500 lire to see if the bank was indeed going bankrupt.  He received his withdrawal of 500 lire without a problem.

My grandfather had no way of knowing that the banks were allowing their clients’ monetary withdrawals and proceeding as normal to avoid suspicions of the coming disaster. The banks knew they were in crisis mode. That night, my grandfather decided that talk of bankruptcy was simply not true.  Three days later, he lost his entire fortune as his bank collapsed.  When he thought he was completely alone, he broke down and cried.  He was inconsolable. It was his darkest hour.  He thought he was alone, but his wife and all his children witnessed his emotional breakdown.

Lagrime ‘mare.  Bitter tears.

That is how Rosa described Papà Vivi ‘s tears. Rosa would never forget this day.  She vowed to make herself stronger for the most precious person in her life, her father.   She, the eldest of this large family, would not let her father crumble.  She would see to it that her family would pull through.

My grandfather Vincenzo Licata (Papà Vivi):

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Morning to night, Rosa sewed for her clients with an unwavering resolve.  There was no field work for her.  Instead, she sat at her sewing machine morning and night, sewing to help her family out of this financial disaster.  She tried desperately to pull her father out of his deep depression.  Life became incredibly difficult. Papà Vivi got very sick. And Rosa sewed and sewed, the whir of her sewing machine echoing throughout the house, the rhythmic sound of the fast moving machine spilling out onto the narrow cobblestone streets of Via Confine.

She pulled the family through the depression.  And there is much more to her life.  She was incredibly loving and raised her own family.  She had deep faith in God and felt blessed to count among her children a son who became a priest.  Her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are the loveliest family members ever. In her later years, she developed dementia and her children tended to her with the steadfast love and respect she earned.

REST IN PEACE

Rosa Licata

October 12, 1917 – November 22, 2018

24. Pasqua 1988Below is an article from the local paper, celebrating Rosa Licata 100th year of life from last year.  Translation in English follows.

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Nonna Rosa compie 100 anni!
Gli auguri della comunità cittadina

L’Europa era in pieno Primo Conflitto Mondiale. La Russia viveva la drammatica Rivoluzione d’Ottobre. Tra i tragici eventi che funestavano quel periodo, in una abitazione di Grotte si verificava un lieto evento: nella famiglia Licata veniva alla luce una bambina, cui era dato il nome di Rosa. Era il 12 ottobre 1917 Sopravvivrà a quel conflitto e vedrà, da signorina, le vicende dell’altro confitto ancor più drammatico, la Seconda Guerra Mondiale. Ed in tutte le difficoltà che la vita le presenterà, Rosa Licata troverà i1 modo di farsi coraggio, accudire e far crescere i propri cari con quell’amore che solo una donna forte e tenera sa dare. Oggi al superamento della soglia dei 100 anni – un secolo di vita -, accanto alla signora Rosa vi sono i suoi figli e nipoti a festeggiarla con il classico augurio “Buon compleanno!”: “Nata a Grotte nel lontano 1917 Licata Rosa, nota ai più come la za Rusidda”, compie oggi i suoi 100 anni! Donna di profonda fede cattolica, l’unico “peccato” è che sia arrivata a questa veneranda età segnata dalla balorda malattia senile, ma amorosamente assistita e circondata dai figli Don Vincenzo, Giovanni e Pina, che ne rendono omaggio insieme a tutti i nipoti e pronipoti . Tutta la comunità cittadina si stringe attorno alla signora Rosa per augurarle tante altre candeline da spegnere. Gli auguri dell’Amministrazione: “Cent’anni fa nasceva una donna speciale: la Sig.ra Rosa Licata alla quale il sindaco Paolino Fantauzzo, la presidente del consiglio comunale Rosellina Marchetta, gli assessori e consiglieri tutti, formulano tantissimi auguri”. -Carmelo Arnone 12 ottobre 2017

Translation of the above written last year on Rosa’s 100th birthday:

Grandmother Rosa is 100 years old!  Congratulations from the community of Grotte.

Europe was in the thick of World War I.  Russia was living out the dramatic October Revolution (also known as The Great October Socialist Revolution).  Among the tragic events that were unfolding, a happy event was taking place in a house in Grotte: a baby girl was born to the Licata family.  They named her Rosa.  It was October 12, 1917.  She would survive these conflicts and she would live to experience, in her youth, the coming of yet another more dramatic conflict, the Second World War.  And in all the difficulties that life would present, Rosa Licata would find a way to become courageous, to look after and raise her own dear family with the kind of love that only a tender and strong woman knows how to give. Today on her reaching 100 years of age, a century of life, her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are with her to celebrate with the classic congratulatory “Happy Birthday!”   “Born in Grotte in the far off year of 1917, Licata Rosa, more popularly known as “za Rusidda”, became 100 years old today! A woman of deep Catholic faith, the only “sin” that she may have ever committed at this venerable age, is to have fallen victim to dementia. She is lovingly assisted and surrounded by her children, Don Vincenzo (Father Vincenzo), Giovanni and Pina, whom with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, bestow great honor to her.”  The entire community of citizens (of Grotte) gather closely around la signora Rosa to wish her the occasion of many more brightly lit birthday candles.  The Administration’s congratulatory wishes are: “One hundred years ago, a special woman was born: Mrs. Rosa Licata, to whom the mayor Paolino Fantauzzo, the President of the Community Counsel Rosellina Marchetta,  and all the community assessors and counselors send their best wishes”.

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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: 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

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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Sicily with Love

October 19, 2014

Our guide Graziella recited a poem, written by an anonymous poet in ancient times, which describes the legend of how Sicily came to be.  She recited it first in the Sicilian dialect and then translated it into English.  I cannot find the Sicilian words, but it was the loveliest of poems.  Here it is in English:

One day God was full of joy.  As he was walking with the saints in heaven, he thought of giving a gift to the world.  From his crown he plucked out a diamond.  He blessed the diamond with the seven elements and placed it in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  The diamond became a beautiful island and the people called her Sicily.

My hope is that the photos below show you some facets of the diamond called Sicily.

If you are at your home computer, turn up the volume to hear Bellini’s Casta Diva from Norma (the smile box slideshow music seldom plays on an iPad or phone).  Bellini was from Catania, located about half an hour from our villa.  The residents of Catania so love Bellini’s music from Norma that they named a pasta dish after her: Pasta alla Norma.  Casta Diva plays twice and, by pure coincidence, the slideshow ends just as Casta Diva comes to an end, the very last note in sync with the very last image!

Food slide show coming your way soon….

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Sicilian Cats

October 6, 2014
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You don’t have to love cats to love these cats!  They are adorable and they are all Sicilian cats.  They seem to be everywhere. They especially love to hang out around the ancient Greek temples or in the Greek theaters or Roman amphitheaters.

I haven’t had much time to blog, but had to post these cat photos.

As I sit and write, everyone has gone to bed after a full day starting out with yoga followed by an  outing with our fantastic guide Graziella, who guided us to Siracusa, Ortigia, and Noto.  Another beautiful day in paradise!  I can’t express enough how blessed I feel to have yet another beautiful group of yogis to share this week with.  I really love our group and everyone is ever so enchanted by Sicily, which-of course- makes me so happy!

It is warm out this evening. The sound of the surf is so calming.  Our villa sits on the bay and I can see the lights of Catania, at the foot of Mt. Etna, dancing and sparkling across the Ionian sea.  The night air smells of a mix of jasmine and the sea.  If the feeling of love had a smell, this would be it!

Enjoy these sweet kitties and know that we are all happy here in Sicily!  Am loving every single day here.  Our groups have been fantastic!!

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Spinning Wheels in Sicily

September 26, 2014
Sicilian oranges picked from the tree in the hotel courtyard and pressed to make a fresh sprimata (orange juice) this morning!

Sicilian oranges picked from the tree in the hotel courtyard and pressed to make  fresh juice this morning!

On Wednesday evening, Marilyn and I arrived in Catania so very tired. We traveled from Seattle to Frankfurt to Rome to Catania. Sometimes I wonder how just sitting in a on a plane can create such exhaustion. Is it the stale air on the plane or is it the body’s immune system fighting hard to stay healthy amid other people’s hacking coughs and sneezes that renders one so tired? Or perhaps it’s the endless hours of trying to sleep while sitting upright crammed in a tiny chair? Could exhaustion stem from layovers or jet lag from the 9 hours of time change?

Mary and Karol were on our same flights from Seattle to Frankfurt to Rome. Together in Rome, we waited for our luggage to appear. Almost all of our flight’s passengers had reclaimed their luggage. And still we waited. In top sleep-deprived condition, I found myself feeling dizzy just watching the luggage carousel going round and round. Was the conveyor belt moving or was I moving?   Mary said a prayer to St. Anthony, saint of lost items, so that our baggage would soon show up and, seconds later, our luggage came tumbling out together!

Marilyn and I went from picking up our luggage to picking up our rental car. As the nice fellow at Avis handed Marilyn the car keys, he said nervously in Italian, “Be careful.” I told him not to worry for us because Marilyn grew up driving in New York City!  His face broke into a Sunshine-Smile. “Oh, well then! You’ll do just fine!” Trying to find our Audi rental in the parking lot was like taking part in a treasure hunt, but we eventually found the car, got the GPS going, and off we went. And yes, Marilyn is an ACE driver and I am a good co-pilot, so all went well.

At one point on the highway, we got stuck behind a string of slow drivers. I know! Just trying to imagine one slow driver in Italy requires a vivid imagination. Marilyn changed over to the left lane to pass them up. Next thing I know, there are police lights flashing behind us!

“Marilyn, there’s a police car behind us flashing their lights!”

“That’s not the police. It’s one of those crazy drivers! This is what they do! They get right on your ass and flash their lights at you until you get out of their way.”

“But, Marilyn, these are definitely COPS!”

“Nah!”

Next, the police sounded their alarm…you know the siren you hear when you watch Italian cop shows? Yes, that’s the sound.

Oh, you’re RIGHT! They need to get past me. Well, they will just have to wait until I get past this last slow driver so I can get over safely.”

Calm-cool-collected  Marilyn deftly and safely got over to let the police pass. Just as the police car zoomed past us, the cop in the passenger car had rolled down his window so as to give us a full-on view of his road rage! His anger was almost tangible. I have never seen such fast moving expressive hands as I did that night. Our last image of the police car as it whooshed past us was that of the two cops’ hands and arms going spastic, a vivid expression of wild frustration at not getting to pass us sooner!

After we controlled our laughter, Marilyn said, “Well, I’m awake now!”

We made it, without any further excitement, to the historical center of Siracusa, the area called Ortigia where our hotel is. But once in Ortigia, we were hard put to find any parking. After 15 futile minutes of driving around looking for parking, Marilyn idled the car in a piazza while I ran down a corridor, narrower than an alley, and into the Hotel Aretusa to ask about parking. Ettore, manager of the hotel and our guardian angel of the night, asked me to lead him to the car. From there, he got in the passenger seat and guided us round and round until we scored a parking spot. We sincerely deserved to sleep in past breakfast this morning, which is exactly what we did!

Got all we can get done done and tomorrow Week I Yoga Retreat in Sicily begins!  Can’t wait to welcome the group at the Catania Airport!

View of the sea from the villa where the retreat will take place!

View of the sea from the villa where the retreat will take place!

And speaking of breakfast, here we are in the land of sun-kissed food. I leave you with some photos of this morning’s breakfast spread.

Mozzarella, tomatoes with ricotta and pistacchio, pecorino,

Mozzarella, tomatoes with ricotta, and pecorino with pistacchio

morning bruschetta (to be eaten at all times of the day)

morning bruschetta (can be eaten at all times of the day)

Grapes: as tasty as they are beautiful!

Grapes: as tasty as they are beautiful!

crostatta made by Maurizio's mother

crostatta made by hotel owner Maurizio’s mother

Cultural Note: Coffee with milk is a morning drink. Sicilians refuse to serve coffee with milk such as a cappuccino, a caffe latte, or a café au lait in the evening. It is simply, in their minds, a stomach-curdling idea. It offers the same level of disgust as when a foreigner (because no Italian in this entire country would ever do this) asks if he or she may have some grated cheese to sprinkle over their seafood pasta dish. The combination of cheese and fish or an evening cappuccino is enough to upset the stomach of any Sicilian for days on end.

And just a few more photos from today:

Che carino!

Veterinarian’s office

Sicilian puppets (puppi)

Sicilian puppets (puppi)

Sunset as seen from Cathy and Colleen's hotel rooftop, where we met before going out for dinner

Siracusa: sunset in Ortigia as seen from Cathy and Colleen’s hotel rooftop, where we met before going out for dinner.  We had a wonderful evening with Cathy and Colleen!

Moon

MOON: an acronym for Move Ortigia Out Of Normality…a great discovery for live music, poetry, vegan and vegetarian fare!  Amazing spot in the ancient heart of Greek Sicily

MoonOrtigia.com

MoonOrtigia.com  Cultural Center Extraordinaire!

 


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