Learning from San Sebastiano

His story is a bit extreme, however, it’s a good reminder to me to keep the faith and get up again over and over.

Although San Sebastiano lived and died in Rome, in Sicily on January 20, the early Christian martyr is celebrated with fervor in the towns of Acireale (Catania), Tortorici (Messina), and Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto (Catania), although his devotees are strong throughout the island. I took this photo of the Saint in Palermo at la Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pietà alla Kalsa.

Saint Sebastian, who is the patron saint of police, soldiers, archers, and holy death, was ordered to be killed in the late 3rd century because of his devotion to Christianity, which was illegal to practice at the time. In their first attempt at executing him, as ordered by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, his fellow military serviceman used him as a target for their archery practice, which is the reason he is most often depicted tied to a tree with arrows penetrating his body. Sebastian was left to die, but was nursed back to health by a fellow Christian. Eventually, however, his survival and even stronger faith was revealed to authorities, and he was clubbed and left for dead in a Roman sewer by Diocletian’s men.

Sicily’s citizens revere San Sebastiano because he is credited with eradicating a terrible plague that afflicted the island in the late 1620s.

Joe’s Sicily For You

Experience Sicily friend Joe Zarba is holding an exhibition of his photos of Sicily. “La MIA Sicilia… per voi” will be at the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum on Staten Island through March 24.

The museum is open Wednesday to Saturday from 1PM to 5PM. Be transported by Joe’s vision of Sicily, here in New York! More info at http://garibaldimeuccimuseum.org/

Noticing the Normal

Old door and balcony, Palermo

Gelato Dreams

What’s your favorite flavor? Because on this, a day scientists have cited as the most depressing day of the year, dreams of gelato in Sicily can cheer us all up. Here’s a selection available from one of my favorite spots: La Rotunda in Casteldaccia, Palermo Province.

A Frontier of Art

In spite of the plague of bureaucracy that was perhaps more devastating than the 1968 earthquake itself, fifty years later, the Valle del Belice has emerged as a frontier of contemporary art and architecture in Sicily. The Star of Gibellina, created by artist Pietro Consagra, represents an entryway to the area, and is meant to be a sign of rebirth. The brushed metal structure is one of almost 60 open-air works of art spread throughout Gibellina Nuova and surrounding communities.

People are often surprised to learn that Sicily has a thriving contemporary art scene–and Gibellina is at its center. Museo d’Arte contemporanea Ludovico Corrao has a collection of nearly 2,000 pieces by Italian and foreign artists, and the Fondazione Orestiadi Museo delle Trame Mediterranee features both contemporary art and performances of new music, theater, and performance art. At the site of Gibellina Vecchia, a stunning exhibition of 8,000 square meters of concrete transformed the ruins of the old town. Grande Cretto or il Cretto by Alberto Burri was completed in 2015. The moving monument was 30 years in the making.

Fifty Years Ago the Earth Shook

Fifty years ago during the night of January 14 to 15, 1968 through subsequent days leading to early February 1968, a series of earthquakes rocked southwestern Sicily. The Valle del Belice and the people who called it home have not been the same since. Because it was before the Richter Scale measured tremors in Italy, it is hard to say how strong the Terremoto del Belice, as it is known in Italy, was; However, know this: it wasn’t just one earthquake. It was many seismic events occurring on an Extreme level, one after another for many days.

The number of casualties is not as significant as it could have been because after the night of January 14, people slept outside away from buildings.

The center of the quake was in Gibellina, a town that was totally flattened and, upon rebuilding, was moved to a different location, 12 miles from its original position. Other towns affected in the Belice Valley (to name a few) include Santa Margherita di Belice, Santa Ninfa, Partanna, Salaparuta, Poggioreale, Montevago, Salemi, and Sambuca di Sicilia, pictured here in a photo from May 2016. A lot can be said of this tragedy that killed about 230 people, left nearly a thousand injured, and some say, 100,000 people homeless.

Despicably, the Italian government and regional government of Sicily were completely unprepared to manage such a disaster. Thousands of people lived in tents and army-style barracks for more than a decade following the earthquakes. Still today, you will find evidence of the dysfunction and corruption that plagued the rescue and rebuilding efforts.

Join Us Jan. 27-28 at The NY Times Travel Show

Please join me at the 2018 New York Times Travel Show, Sat. Jan., 27 and Sun., Jan. 28. in New York City at the Javits Center! Experience Sicily invites you to visit us at Booth #665. Additionally, I’ll be performing Sicilian folk music on the Europe Culture Stage on Sat. at 12:45 PM (with John T. La Barbera) and on Sun. at 1:45 PM (with Joe Ravo).

We are offering free tickets to the expo to our Experience Sicily friends, followers, and mailing list members. Follow this link https://www.xpressreg.net/register/nytt0118/start.asp?sc=AMUNI18 and use the code AMUNI18 to register.

There are a limited number of tickets available. Please register only if you plan to use them.

I look forward to seeing you at the show!

Boys Will be Girls in Sicily

It’s deceptive, but this photo of a Sicilian girl isn’t a girl at all. It’s a boy, posing as a girl. German photographer Wilhelm Von Gloeden (1856-1931) took more than 3000 photographs in Sicily from the 1890s through to his death in 1931. Von Gloeden lived and worked in Taormina for most of his adult life. He photographed landscapes and pastoral portraits, documented events such as the 1908 earthquake in Messina, and produced photographic studies of nude Sicilian boys set in various scenes that recall Greek and Roman antiquity. And in the case of this photo, dressed them as girls to capture images of young women to add to his historic collection. Von Gloeden’s photos were (and are) quite controversial, and in 1933, Mussolini’s Fascist police confiscated and destroyed more than 2000 of his prints, citing them as pornographic.

Meanwhile today, when you are visiting Taormina, keep your eyes out for Von Gloeden’s photos on postcards, in books, and decorating the walls of bars and restaurants.

Cassatelle, The Other Sicilian Pastry

How is it that I’ve never written about this delectable Sicilian dessert: cassatelle di ricotta!? Cassatelle are turnovers (or sweet calzones) stuffed with a mixture of fresh ricotta, confectioners’ sugar, and chocolate chips. They are fried and upon being served, are dusted with confectioners’ sugar. When eaten still warm from the fryer, they are out of this world!

Cassatelle are from Trapani province, and many will argue that next to homemade ones (like these made by cousins of my Sicilian tourism colleague Paula Asaro), the most revered cassatelle may be purchased from Bar La Sorgente in Castellammare del Golfo. Now, I’m really dreaming of Sicily.

Discover Sicily

Tip: It’s fun to get lost in the labyrinth of Sicily’s medieval towns’ streets, like those in Ortigia. Let your sense of discovery show you the way, and you are bound to happen upon something beautiful.