From Allison Scola, Curator of Experience Sicily
I have been visiting Sicily regularly since 1996 when, at 24 years old, I met my grandmother’s sister and her children and grandchildren–my cousins–for the first time. Since the moment I stepped off the train at Palermo’s Stazione Centrale, I haven’t been the same. I fell in love with Sicily and Sicilians.
I am a marketing and communications professional with nearly 20 years of experience working for companies such as advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather and for higher education institutions such as Mannes College The New School for Music and Columbia University. At the same time, I have maintained a career as a professional performing artist and musician, performing throughout the United States as a member of various ensembles in both leading and supporting roles. My years working in marketing and higher education have garnered proven success in communications, customer service, and supervising teams, while my work as an entertainer has honed my responsiveness to audiences and their demand for excellence.
Combining my professional background with my love of travelling to Italy and, particularly, Sicily is where Experience Sicily enters. Together with my family who are based in and around Palermo, I aim to share my passion for Sicily with you.
A Memory to Share
As my Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane train snaked its way along the coast of Sicily approaching the Palermo train station, it dawned on me that I had no idea how to identify Mimmo and Franco. It had been a long trip from Rome—almost twelve hours through Naples and Salerno, and then Reggio Calabria, where in order to cross the Straights of Messina, the engineers disassembled the train, loaded its cars and their passengers onto a ferry for the two mile crossing, and then reassembled the series of steel carriages in Messina so we could complete the journey across the largest island in the Mediterranean—and yet seven minutes before arrival I had not even considered how I might find my unfamiliar cousins who were meeting me at the station. I suddenly panicked; After all, I was arriving after dark in the train station of an infamously Mafia-ridden city. I was a 24-year-old, single American woman, and I spoke about 150 words of Italian. It was September 1996.
I grabbed my backpack, took a deep breath, and climbed down the train’s stepladder to the platform. Within a moment I saw faces of two older gentlemen, and I immediately recognized their sharp cheek bones, kinky hair, and thin arms as similar to those of my grandmother’s back in Brooklyn.
“Al-Y-zon?,” they asked, transforming my American name into their tongue.
I loved Italian language from the moment I heard two sailors exclaim, “Accidente!,” at the sight of a beautiful woman. That was five months before that night I arrived in Palermo, when I was on a ship travelling from Athens, Greece to Bari, Italy while on a two-month solo backpacking stint through Europe. Accidente means “accident,” signifying that the said woman is so beautiful that the sight of her causes motorcycles and cars to crash because the drivers are so distracted. The word floats from my teeth when I say it, and the image it prompts reflects why I love Italian—the vibrancy of the culture is intertwined with its language like a hit song’s melody is with its lyrics.
April 1996 was my first time in Italy, and although it was for only twelve days, at the end of it, I was in love, and I had to return. After wrapping up my packed European Grand Tour and subsequently running out of money, I returned to the States to replenish my bank account so I could pay my way back to Rome. That summer I took my first Italian class at the North End Union in Boston, and saved every penny I earned as a temporary secretary. In September, I re-packed my backpack and boarded a flight to Europe. That’s when I made my way to Palermo.
During that first visit to Sicily where I was immersed for three weeks with my newly-discovered relatives—a clan of loving, animated people who I now consider closer than some of my family members who live within 60 miles of my home in New York City—I developed a deep passion that drives me to share Sicily and Sicilian culture with others every day through Experience Sicily.