Stay tuned for upcoming installments with books set in Calabria, Puglia and Basilicata! Are you planning a trip to Sicily? Click here to see how I can help you plan your trip. My grandparents were born in Sicily and we are planning to visit next year along with southern Italy. It gave me a nice introduction to life in Sicily for peasants like my nonni must have been.
About an American woman who marries a man from Venice. I loved That Summer in Sicily. So rich and beautiful in the descriptions. I know so little about Sicily, this list is going to inspire me to get down there! Apart from the Camilleri novels of course! Curious to see what Under the Volcano will be like, out soon. Great post, thank you for sharing! Search Search Facebook Twitter Instagram. Southern Italian Book Series: Every book written about Sicily is so valuable as each author who writes about Sicily from a unique experience, and a personal point of view gives us a piece of the puzzle.
New York is a delicate, intimate, intellectual and extremely well-researched portrait of Sicily. Keahey is an American journalist who has written extensively about Italy and explores many exciting elements of Sicilian culture, history and literature. Unfortunately, Keahey is a foreigner working with an interpreter, and so there are the usual minor misconceptions, idealism and small superficial errors which will identify him as such.
Sicily is not a comfortable place to explore, at times it is isolated by its own geography, mentality, language, culture and landscape. It is difficult for foreigners to accepted into the community. Even if Sicilians seem welcoming, they can still exclude outsiders out by switching into their dialect. The centre of local Sicilian communities is made up of an intricate web of relationships, language and interconnections which is virtually impenetrable for an outsider.
Seeking Sicily offers readers a charmingly well-written introduction to the island. Thanks to a robust journalistic process Keahey sheds new light on the history, culture, literature and cuisine of the island. In particular, the research into Sicilian writers like Leonardo Sciascia and Pirandello, the Mafia, the Spanish Inquisition, mythology and the many different conquerors of Sicily are engrossing and make Seeking Sicily a more than worthy addition to the library of work dedicated to and inspired by Sicily.
After reading Seeking Sicily, I was enthralled at how John Keahey was able to write so freshly and vividly about Sicily. It is surprising to see how Keahey was able to discover so many refreshing facets to Sicily. Many books about Sicily, can be quite repetitive when it comes to Sicilian history. I have a hard time defining this connection: Naval Air Station Sigonella in Friends and I would drive into Catania truly a remarkable, wonderful city! En route, creating a small hill east of Agrigento, the Greek ruins strung along the Valley of the Temples suddenly appeared, and I knew I was in love with the place.
The people, the food, and the culture cinched the deal. By , I was making almost annual trips to Italy, for pleasure and my first two books, and Sicily kept creeping back into my mind. When I worked on my first Sicily book, I made four trips, and the connection was cemented. The culture and the people are shaped by that history and by the reality that Sicilians have never been in control of their own political destinies.
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The last conqueror of the island is, in fact, the Italians. My publisher Tom Dunne St. I am crossing a street in Palermo en route to see something I had read about. I was struck by a thought as I glanced at a street sign, and turned right instead of left, ending up at the crumbling, ruined birthplace of the author of The Leopard. I never made it to the place where I was originally headed. The mob is still there; tourists just never see it. The streets are alive with activity, day and night. So the experience today is one where history can be explored, the art of all eras appreciated, wonderful food unlike any elsewhere in Italy consumed, vistas of rolling hills and expansive vineyards abound, and most importantly, friendly people are found nearly everywhere.
By my second visit, several months later, some locals remembered me. By visits three and four, some even remembered my name and would stop by my table at the local restaurant for a conversation. That, to me, is authentic Sicily.
- In the Fullness of Time.
- See a Problem?;
- Dreaming of Sicily: A Travel Memoir by Betsy Vincent Hoffman.
- travel_culture_books | LÂ´Isolabella.
Now I want to seek out the hidden, the less well-known, the secret places. I can only address what inspires me and why I keep going back.
Perhaps it is the fatalism of the people who seem to do quite well living in the moment. While many, of course, speak Italian, most grew up in households where Sicilian, a separate language, was spoken. Sicilian has no future tense, and I speculate this is because Sicilians over three thousand years had no future to look forward to; it was always in the hands of outsiders. Plus they live in a place historically wracked by earthquakes, bloody Mafia control, and occasional catastrophic volcanic eruptions.
They view Etna as a giver and a taker: The sour with the sweet. All this has helped shape a unique Sicilian mindset that has intrigued generations of writers, both from within and without. There are many Sicilian writers with whom I did not get acquainted, at least not yet. But of the dozen or so I have read and written about, it has to be Leonardo Sciascia and Giuseppe di Lampedusa. If you only read those two, you would be on your way to a basic understanding of who Sicilians are.
Sicilians famously do not consider themselves Italian. Just recently, a northern Italian Member of Parliament said he considered that sending his home soccer team to play in Palermo was the same as sending it to Africa. Sicilians do not feel they are part of the peninsula. Funds might be sent down for a project, but when the money runs out, work is stopped, often for years. Sicilian oranges are left to rot unpicked while Rome strikes deal with Morocco to import oranges in exchange for North Africans buying Fiats made in the north of Italy. That tells my publisher and me that interest in the island remains high.
So book five will be an exploration of the island seeking out those places. There is no title as yet. Thanks so much to John Keahey for finding the time to answer my questions. I love your book and on behalf do all of your readers I thank you for writing it, as it has enriched our knowledge of Sicily. Discovering the Secret Places that Speak to the Heart will be released this fall and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Seeking Sicily is available on Book Depository and Amazon. Yes, Sicilia is defiantly as feminine as her beating heart, Etna.
Category: Travel Memoir
This is an apprehensive land, savage and full of decay, rich in pagan fears and superstition which keep themselves enclosed like a firmly locked chest. Fear can capture the soul slowly suffocating it with its exotic spell. Here God and hope are forgotten as Sicily absorbs you into its ancientness. There is little movement only the stagnant ramblings of the everyday. Here people live in small towns, think of small things and talk and gossip about other people with small things.
For many centuries Sicily has been dominated by other people and the population has absorbed a certain slave mentality. Any proud Sicilian would be offended if called a slave, but it is something more subtle than this. It is a type of survival instinct which allows them to accept a certain amount of suffering without questioning. Dolci wrote about the silent acceptance of the people of Corleone near Palermo, how they: The Mafia draws strength from Omerta.
Sicilians tolerate unemployment, high taxes, a complicated welfare system which tricks them, a medical system full of doctors with more political ambition than concern for patients, a public service full of incompetence, laziness and nepotism, a legal system which is slow, complex and often unethical and a political situation which is at times volatile and usually seeks to exploit the population. In short Sicilians endure all of this and much more, but they would rather suffer than abandon Sicily and even those who somehow found the strength to go never forgot their cherished Isle.
The island has been in decay for centuries and its people have lived in its ruins, forever. Through the centuries various conquerors have tried to overwhelm Sicily usually after a period of war caused by a struggle for domination. When the diverse invaders eventually came to occupy the land they struggled to live and develop according to their cultural make up.
Any progress petered out as the next aggressor gradually pushed out its predecessor, leaving decay to take over what they had constructed. The layering and intermingling of the dominations of Sicily has created a complex concoction of culture. The strength of Sicilians to live through many centuries of invasions comes from doing very little other than surviving.
The secret to overcome invaders is to have the fortitude to endure them. Sicilians have never been completely taken over or assimilated into other cultures, they have always simply outlasted them. Sicilian people have survived by being stoic and resistant focusing on day-to-day living holding their ground with a stubborn focus on their own internal world.
This passive resistance has served them well in the past but leaves behind unattractive attributes in the Sicilian culture and point of view. Many centuries of living alongside foreign invaders has left a deep sensation of mistrust in those who come from outside of Sicily. Admittedly racism is a strong word, but fear and mistrust of all things foreign is clear in the way Sicilians relate to foreigners. Reading time 9 minutes. Sicilian people have a unique rapport with religion and superstition which binds the two seemingly conflicting doctrines together.
Yet despite this the catholic faith has had to coexist with the traditions and superstitions left behind by centuries of domination by foreign cultures, in Sicily, which has resulted in the particular phenomenon of the Santo Padrono. From the final part of the fourth century onwards the strength of Christianity lied in the way it created a bond between this life and the one beyond the grave. Help came from the Saints who were fellow human beings whom people could count on to be beloved and powerful figures in their own society.
Today each town in Sicily has its own saintly protector.
Sicilian people have a connection to their town and Saint which is almost fanatical. The cult of the patron Saint is a mixture of religious fervour, superstition and faith. The patrons are protectors who are deeply connected to each place through a long history and the Saint often represents the very character of a town. Sicilians who have migrated overseas, have brought with them the celebrations associated with their Saint to their new homes, in the post world war two period celebrations were re-enacted throughout the world from Australia, to the Americas.
The elegant mildly baroque church was rebuilt in the nineteenth century after the devastating flood of eighteen hundred and twenty-five destroyed most of the town. The wooden statue of Saint Leo is a true a work of art and is seen as a true personification of the Saint. San Leone is dressed in full ceremonial bishop vestments, he indicates up to the heavens with a gentle right hand, his intimate connection to God is also directed as a blessing towards Sinagra. In the nineteen eighties there was a controversy surrounding the restoration of this sculpture.
Today St Leo tranquilly abides in the church of Saint Michael the Archangel which itself is a puzzle pieced together with the remnants of crumbled fragments from the past. Above the altar stands the parish priests pride and joy, a trio of statues, that form an intricate trittico panel, which he often mentions to be an original of the Gangini school of sculptor, a well-known Messinese producer of high quality works from the sixteenth century.
At the centre of the precious white marble highlighted in golden details is the Virgin Mary and child flanked by Saint Michael the Archangel, the guard of heaven and Saint John the Baptist. At their feet the apostles in miniature at the last supper and above them all God is holding the earth in his hand.
Looking up at the dome above the altar, seems a little disappointing with a simple, sparse almost minimalist decorations, little angels in the corners, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, a metaphor for hope and faith and elaborate curtains which seem three-dimensional even though they are painted flat on the side walls of the apex. A puzzling circular pattern at the center completes the design with a series of chubby levitating cherub heads.
It is difficult to squint to make out more details and understand the motif better, but obviously there is a limit to how long you can stare at the ceiling during a religious ceremony. Before the procession begins St Leo is mounted on a wooden frame which is supported by four thick logs and is carried on the shoulders of a group of ten to twenty men. The bell tower clock and partial ruins are all that remain of the medieval castle fort which has been a stable part of the Sinagrese landscape for generations. Saint Leo marches down Via Roma the main commercial hub of the old town which is now nothing by hollowed out hovels, dilapidated palaces slowly filling up with pigeon faeces and the odd newly restored building in a flurry of colours like a chameleon set in reverse.
This first leg of his procession is the same taken by dearly departed Sinagrese on their final passegiata to the cemetery during their funeral. Down Via Veneto heading towards the main square the urban-scape becomes less steep until reaching a plateau in the Piazza San Teodoro. Continuing straight ahead St Leo reaches the beginning of Via Umberto primo the old civic centre of Sinagra before the successive floods of nineteen twenty-six, nineteen nineteen, nineteen thirty-one and nineteen thirty-two. At the beginning of the street there is the antique Church of the Crucifix with its bell tower dating back to the medieval period.
This church is intriguing, much smaller than St Michael the Archangel, and ultimately more suggestive. Reading time 8 minutes. All Sicilians have this blinding obsessive love of there Sicilia which exists beyond any hardships, lack of education, lack of economic betterment or even famines which have occurred on the island, everyone holds onto their beloved Sicily despite everything. Of course until they were pushed away from their homeland when things on the island became so unendurable and people could literally no longer live.
Only then did economic depression forced them to leave their close-knit communities to migrate in massive numbers all over the world. Only then did my Grandparents find the strength through adversity to cut their family bonds and unravel themselves enough to move overseas. Yet the umbilical-chord at their core still remained in tact tingeing their lives with an idolized nostalgia for their Sicily.
There are many children and now grandchildren of these Sicilian migrants who still reflect this idealized notion of Sicily inherited from their heritage. I too assume to have been caught up in this wave of historical patriotism. The constant rampage of countless other dominations whose influence has ingrained Sicilians with a sense of restlessness.
There is a latent angst which exists side by side with the Sicilians connection to each other and their land in a paradox which pulls them away from Sicily while also keeping their culture in the foremost of their mind. These were poor people, uneducated, often living in a semi-feudal economic system. Work for them was about survival. It was hard physical labour based on the land, cultivating small plots for themselves, mostly using a bartering system to provide important products like bread, meat and other necessities for everyday life.
Apart from producing for themselves, the only other activity was agricultural work for large property owners; wheat harvesting in summer, collecting hazelnuts in autumn and olives and oranges in winter.
The property owners were Barons or wealthy landowners who took advantage of the poor uneducated majority. There was no getting ahead for these people, no hope for reward or betterment. This was their life. It is a world I could never imagine. A world which should have been filled with sorrow. Yet the stories my grandparents shared were far from sorrowful. They told of energetic friendships and families that they had known all their lives. They shared stories of laughing and joking, of dancing, singing and teasing. They described the wonderful animals they had in their lives, of mad people, wise people, of their stoic grandparents, a feisty older generation who were as savage as the times and who lived lives with so much hardship that they seemed carved from stone.
Rather it was the language, the laughter of a carefree adolescence willpower and a formidable strength of character. They created their own jokes, their own language and way of relating to one another. They had their own poetry, song and dance.
Sicily Travel: Books Set in Southern Italy | My Bella Vita Travel, llc
It is this that made me fall in love with their Sicily. The yarns were not only wistful memories of a youth spent working hard, being repressed by their elders and poverty, there were also many great moments of humour and joy. My grandmother spent her evenings in the once harsh Sicilian winter indoors with her five sisters huddled around the fireside, eating roasted chestnuts and listening to her father recounting the lives of the saints, reading passages from Dante, remembering old family anecdotes, inventing songs and poetry about everything from local politics to Sicilian legends.
This experience gave her a voice with a passionate desire to tell and listen to stories an ability which she has passed onto her children and grandchildren. Each fable is told with that enigmatic tongue, full of words I find too hard to understand, a dialect which is no longer spoken, a dying language which is a product of their Sicily. It was their own language formed by their isolation and the landscape of endless mountains, which created words forged by their own inventiveness and creativity, an intimate product of their isolated daily lives.
The tales were played out in the hamlet of Campo Melia high up on a mountain ridge between the towns of Raccuja and Sinagra, where dozens of houses were once filled with family and friends. Today the buildings are silent headstones gradually being overwhelmed by the natural overgrowth in an abandoned countryside. The remaining inhabitants are a handful of elderly people and their families who tenuously hold onto their memories of home until death takes them, too and their families finally move away.
Reading time 11 minutes. Now the blog has become a wonderfully polished and hilarious laugh-out-loud-belly-laughing-thigh-slapping book and I cannot resist expressing my absolute delight! I happily talked to my fellow Sicilian based blogger friend recently about her life in Sicily and openly encourage everyone to read a copy of her hilarious book, which should be required reading for anyone considering a Sicilian life. I visited Palermo ten years ago for a wedding and it was literally love at first sight.
Within a year I was living in a fishing village called Aspra, married and expecting our little boy. Very excitingly, a Malaysian friend has recently moved to my village.
Apart from this, the only foreigners to be found where I live are African refugees asking me for food or a Euro to buy themselves a pair of flip-flops. First, a spleen sandwich of course! From day three onwards, live on ice-cream. I once spent a year with no running water because so many neighbours had not paid their bills.
The water company just decided to cut off the entire street. One fairly perfect day happened last summer when several neighbours I hated got arrested for being in the Mafia and locked up for years. Another way to spend a lovely day is on the village beach in summer, where you always bump into friends who are fatter than you. I would take you to Solunto, a city founded 3, years ago by Carthaginians from Tunisia, on a mountain with spectacular panoramic views across the sea.
The invasion from North Africa in the 11 th century. The Moors explain why there is so much cultural difference between northern and southern Italy. The ancient Romans had a very different mentality, all about discipline, self-sacrifice and hard work. I cannot find a trace of that in modern Sicily or southern Italy! They created so much of what we consider Italian. In Sicily you have to look for work wherever you can find it so I do some consultation projects, some translation work, I have authored and translated several books and I am constantly seeking other opportunities.
When my son was a toddler, he would get smothered in kisses wherever we went. The postman, the chemist and all the fishermen in the village would kiss him, cuddle him and offer him sweets. Absolutely any Sicilian restaurant would rearrange half their tables to make space for our push chair, and offer to warm up bottles of baby formula too. Teaching classes of Sicilian primary school children makes you lose your voice and can induce insanity, so I have always tried to focus on adult private students instead.
Most of them were lively, motivated and very interesting to teach; I have taught lots of doctors, medical researchers and scientists, which I loved. Over the last three years the level of demand for private lessons has steadily declined and I now only have one! In Sicily, the Spanish brought the Inquisition in the 15 th century and being anything other than a conformist Roman Catholic meant death.
The culture of fear drove people to start speaking the same dialect, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food and doing whatever it took to avoid standing out. The suspicion of what is foreign and fear of what is different flourishes in Sicilian culture to this day. The best way to master a foreign language is to hang around children.
My little boy provides this service for me full time these days. My friends all wanted to know what this place is really like.