Sunday, September 18, 2005

Origin of the Stone Boudoir

"These streets were so close and intimate that I felt I'd walked into someone's stone boudoir. Every time I put my foot down, it rolled over the soft convex curve of a stone. Each one had passed through the hands of a builder who had felt its shape and heft before setting it in the mosaic. In the rain the stones shone like puffed satin pillows--uneven, imperfect, and of humans. Hand-painted ceramic placards named the cross street at every corner; house numbers appeared in smaller, matching pink tiles. Wrought-iron lamps curved out over the street. The people did this all for themselves, not for tourists. So high, so serene, so alone, this town. It hardly seemed real" (The Stone Boudoir by Theresa Maggio).

I found this description of Polizzi Generosa so appealing, I talked two friends into going to see it over Labor Day weekend. It was an easy drive, all autostrada, about ninety miles in all. We stayed at a wonderful, remote agriturismo about ten kilometers from the town, with spectacular views of the rolling hills and the Madonie Mountains all around. It was so remote and so quiet, Michael thought he wouldn't be able to stay there. But he did, and he loved it, too. Each day we did what the Italians do: do one thing in the morning, take a long afternoon rest, and do one thing in the afternoon. It's a very civilized plan for life.

Back to Polizzi Generosa . . . it's an ancient town of Roman, Arab, and Norman history. Frederick the Second added the "generosa" to the name in 1234 for the generosity the town had shown his army. You can read all about it in Chapter 10 of Maggio's book, but I'll tell you our impressions.

The people ARE very generous and friendly! They talked to us, shared with us their crocheting, needlework, recipe for drying tomatoes, cactus fruit (prickly pear), posed for photos, gave us directions, and summoned their younger family members who spoke English. We were directed where to find the best sfoglio, a cake made with fresh cheese, sugar, chocolate and cinnamon. They explained the story of Saint Gandolfo (who is not really a saint except in this town) as he saved the city during the great earthquakes. We met half a dozen Sicilian-Americans, most from New York, who come back in the summer to their roots and heritage. We noted how much cleaner it was than the area of Sicily where we live. Not only the streets are made of stone, but also the houses, and they are not plastered over, as in other parts of the island. We walked, talked, took photos, explored, ate cake, and marveled at the friendliness and helpfulness of the people. (See link at right to My Photos on Yahoo for more images)

When we returned to our agriturismo that evening, the owner-host, who was from Palermo, told us that the people of Polizzi Generosa do not like each other. "They are always saying this one did that, that one said this, and fighting among themselves," he said. I thought, they've been living too long together in this ancient town!


At September 23, 2005 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You really do have a way with words. It sounds so interesting and inviting. Always a joy to read. Makes me want to come and visit.

At June 05, 2007 7:33 PM, Blogger Tego said...

Glad you up and went to Polizzi and that you had a good experience there. It is beautiful, isn't it? Inside and out.
Theresa Maggio

At June 08, 2007 5:51 AM, Blogger Tego said...

I am so glad Stone Boudoir brought you to Polizzi. In another post, I believe you also talked about the candelore for the Feast of Saint Agatha. I am working on a documentary about the feast and thought you might be interested in this link to a short film featuring them in the church of San Francesco and in procession, along with the giant 100-kilo candles the devotees carry.
Theresa Maggio

At July 28, 2009 5:37 AM, Anonymous Constance Spicero said...

I have been reading The Stone Boudoir; I am very curious about the woman, who was identified as Frances Tumminello ...that was my grandfather's name, and he was born in Sicily ... My other grandfather was in one of the orphanages, and he did have the name esposito, which he changed because it was shameful to have come from the orphanage ... Does anyone know how I could contact Theresa Maggio? Dr. Spicero


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