Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Eye of the Cyclops and the Black Madonna

Only in Sicily an you find the such a compelling mix of folklore, religion and Greek myth. One of Sicily's best hidden gems, the Greek amphiteatre at Tindari, has just concluded its festival of Teatro dei Due Mari, and I was lucky enough to catch Il Ciclope, Euripides satirical nod to the Polyphemus episode in Ulysses... at sundown. And just in case that wasn't enough, the lore of the Black Madonna opened and closed the evening - the sandbank in the shape of the madonna's head on our way to the theatre, and the sanctuary of the Black Madonna in all its kitch shining glory as we left.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Carnival in Sicily - "A Màschira" of Cataffi

Scenes from the Carnevale at Cataffi

February is Carnival Season in Sicily – something not to be missed. Streets of most Sicilian towns and cities are strewn with confetti and streamers sprayed by children dressed up as nobility or peasants – or even as mafiosi – like some of the boys in my English class (“How do you say “mafiosi” in English, prof?”).

Carnevale, born in the sixteenth century to celebrate the end of the old year and party like mad before the asceticism of Lent,  evolved through the centuries. In the 1700s “Abbatazzi”, or folk poets, similar to the Irish Bard, improvised rhymes along the streets of Acireale, one of Sicily’s most famous carnivals. The 1800s brought the parade of decorated horse-drawn carriages, while the twentieth century introduced floats led by speers, accompanied by characters in papier-maché masks and fancy dress.

Le Maschere Tradizionali originate in the sixteenth century Italian Commedia dell’Arte, characterised by masked stereotypes and improvised sketches. Traditional stock characters are Pulcinella, Harlequin, Dottore Balanzone, Pantalone and Colombina, the only female character. You can read more about them here. This is where the satirical, burlesque nature of carnival comes from, and it reaches its most outrageous in the Grotesque floats of Acireale, where Sicilians give vent to political frustrations.

This year, the carnival of Cataffi really impressed me. "A Màschira" celebrates the 1544 battle against Saracen marauders seeking to rape and pillage their way from the coast to the hilltop town of Santa Lucia. But they met their match in the villagers of Cataffi hamlet, and Barbarossa and his Turkish pirates were banished forever. From then on villagers celebrate the victory by dressing up in the amazing attire of their erstwhile enemy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Morning walk at the cape

Two boats, two seagulls, and hundreds of cactus fruits facing the sun. This is why it is good to be in Sicily in February...

Birthday of a Sicilian matriarch

This is how the birthday of 93 year old nonna Aurora begins… This sweet, wise matriarch is already receiving visitors at 9am when I return from dropping the bambini off at school. She’s all style in a smart long cardigan, graciously offering coffee to guests. Among the first to arrive is our former and most beloved postman, Enzo, also a poet, with his daughter. He has brought nonna his latest book of poems and flowers for the occasion of course. Nonna’s sister-in-law from Turin paints her nails for her, a friend brings homemade cakes – torta di mele and a chocolate one… Ninety-three roses from Holland adorn the living room table – brought on the airplane from her son in Amsterdam…

At lunch, the extended family occupies an entire restaurant, where poems and songs from nonna’s talented children and grandchildren are performed between courses of delicious Sicilian food. “The craic is mighty” – comes to mind; as always at these family gatherings, I’m reminded of similarities between Irish and Sicilians… Nonna finishes the day checking her facebook account for more greetings and Auguri from friends and family far and wide… what a legend.