TODAY FROM ITALY:
POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SICILY:
1. Antonio’s House
In the morning after I woke up, I walked down the stairs and was greeted by a six-foot three-inch tall skinny Nigerian named Friday.
Friday comes by in the mornings to assist Antonio servicing his guests. Friday’s goal in life is to become a blues singer and while he putters about, he sings snatches of songs, sotto voce.
George, Friday (actually Venerdi) and Maryanne
It has been his home and that of his father before him and has the well settled feel of at least two generations arranging things for their long-term comfort. Bookcases lined the walls alon with cabinets filled with various personal acquisitions. There is even a stand containing a walking stick collection.
Clockwise from the top left: The patio; Maryanne and George in the garden; Antonio preparing dinner; The main room with fireplace and table set for breakfast.
Antonio is a pediatrician and a beguiling host. He fancies himself a gourmet chef of Sicilian cuisine and for good reason — he is one.
Antonio at his favorite place in the house
I could not possibly describe all the various dishes he made for us but a few stand out — a dessert made with fresh (one day old) flaky ricotta covered with home-made fig jam — fried meatballs of finely ground pork and veal incased in breadcrumbs from fresh Sicilian bread soaked in water — an infinite variety of preparations featuring eggplant including a compote with olives and other things to die for — calamari stuffed with almonds — freshly made tagliatelle in a pesto sauce made with basil picked from his garden that day — An ice cream dessert (cassata) he called the history of Sicily containing Arab, Norman and Angevin originated ice creams — and on and on.
The Sicilian History ice cream
I sleep in his daughter’s room complete with pictures and favorite things seemingly just the way she left it before departing to study medicine at the university in Milan. Rather than an interloper, I felt like I was in a place built over the years to provide security, comfort and joy to whoever occupies it. I sleep well there.
In fact I would prefer spending my days there rather than touring or visiting relatives I had not seen for 40 years.
2. Meet the Relatives: Part I
I first arrived in Canicatti in 1968 with my son in tow having driven from London in a three wheel vehicle. The American side of the family had not laid eyes on the Sicilian since 1928 when the patriarch of the family unceremoniously, but for the good of the family, married his newly orphaned 16-year-old niece and sent off her younger siblings, my mother included, into indentured servitude in America thereby securing for himself his brother’s inheritance — for the good of the family.
Here I am in 1968 standing in front of a part of that inheritance with the patriarch himself, Vincenzo with one of his sons Giovanni who we will meet later. As I learned at the time from other townspeople feared Vincenzo and reviled, all four-foot ten inches of him. The beanpole on the right is me in 1968. I can truly say that I am twice the man now than I was then.
Since then, Vincenzo has died and as is typical among Sicilian families they have broken into two warring groups who do not speak to or about each other. The reason for their enmity is unknown and probably forgotten by now.
The first group we visited with were the sons and daughters of the banking side of the family. Giuseppe the oldest son of Vincenzo was director of the local bank. now retired. Guillermo, the son of Giuseppina one of Vincenzo’s daughters, is a rising presence in the bank. We spent a delightful evening with them all, large and small.
Sitting on the sofa
At Dinner, of course
Guillermo is an enthusiastic marathon runner as well as a banker. I promised him that should he visit us in California I would speak to Bill Yeates about the possibility of him running in one or two while he is there.
3. A visit to Enna and Piazza Armerina
The next morning we departed to visit a few of the sites in the area. Our first stop was Enna.
Enna was the last stronghold of the Saracens before the Normans conquered them under the Great Count Roger. Unlike the Reconquista in Spain three hundred years later, the Normans did not expel the Muslims and the Jews, nor did they forcibly convert them. Instead, they welcomed them into their administration and military and adopted many of their cultural practices, (Most of Italy’s great pastries and desserts come from this period).
Enna, like Erice in the West, sits on a mountain about three thousand feet above sea level and commands the view of much of southern Sicily.
Unfortunately, the stormy that day limited touring.
We then left for a site that a visitor to Sicily should not miss: The Roman mosaics at Piazza Armerina, perhaps the finest collection of classical mosaics in existence.
The so-called Bikini girls – (actually depicts Roman female athletes in competition.)
A fanciful scene of Putti living it up on a boat.
4. Meet the Relatives: Part two, a night at Giovanni’s
That evening we spent with the other side of the family at Giovanni’s house. Giovanni, brother to Giuseppe and Giuseppina, as far as I know, did not pursue higher education and perhaps as a result was not as formal as his siblings.
“The state is a good state if it is sovereign and if it is responsible. It is more or less incidental whether a state is, for example, democratic. If democracy reflects the structure of power in the society, then the state should be democratic. But if the pattern of power in a society is not democratic, then you cannot have a democratic state. This is what happens in Latin America, Africa and places like that, when you have an election and the army doesn’t like the man who is elected, so they move in and throw him out. The outcome of the election does not reflect the power situation, in which the dominant thing is organized force. When I say governments have to be responsible, I’m saying the same thing as when I said they have to be legitimate: they have to reflect the power structure of the society. Politics is the area for establishing responsibility by legitimizing power, that is, somehow demonstrating the power structure to people, and it may take a revolution, such as the French Revolution, or it may take a war, like the American Civil War. In the American Civil War, for example, the structure of power in the United States was such — perhaps unfortunately, I don’t know — that the South could not leave unless the North was willing. It was that simple. But it took a war to prove it.”
Only in San Francisco…
(For those still confused, they jacked up one side of the building after taking the first photograph.)