Monday, March 27, 2006

The Sicilian Omaha Connection

View of Carlentini from Borgo Nocchiara
(looks nothing like Omaha!)

This past weekend, my friend Pat invited me to stay overnight at an agriturismo call Borgo Nocchiara near Carlentini, between Catania and Siracusa. We were meeting a group of other friends and colleagues the next day for lunch at yet another agriturismo in that area, so I agreed to the mini-getaway. We drove there after school on Friday and checked in, drank some wine and relaxed, had a wonderful dinner and a peaceful, restful night in the country.

The next morning, as we ventured into the dining room in search of breakfast, we heard someone loudly speaking English in the hallway. That someone turned out to be a hard-of-hearing, white-haired little man who came our way.

I said something to him, and he said, "Hey, you speak English really well!"

"That's because we are Americans," I told him again.

"Oh," he said, "what are you doing here? Where are you from?"

I explained that we lived in Sicily and worked on the Navy base. I asked him where he was from, and he said, "Omaha."

"Omaha?" I said. I have been to Omaha, and I'm always surprised to find anyone who actually lives there willingly. Meeting someone in Sicily from Omaha was really mind-boggling. It was so incongruous.

He then went into a lengthy story about how his parents or grandparents had come from Sicily and settled in Omaha along with many other Sicilians. This did not fit my mental picture of Omaha. I couldn't even remember seeing a single Italian restaurant that wasn't a chain, athough I had eaten at a pretty good German one. The man told me how he came back here often to visit his relatives, how his son was with him, how this was their first time staying at this place, and on and on. Eventually he left, after explaining to us that they would make us a cappucino "fresh!" if we wanted one.

Today at school, when I related this story to my friend Lynn, who is married to an Italian and has lived in that area for quite a few years, she corroborated his story: "Oh, yes, it seems that nearly all the Sicilians from Lentini and Carlentini emigrated to Omaha! They are always coming back here to visit."

"But why Omaha?" I asked. "I've been there, and it's, well, not the most exciting place on earth. It's not anything at all like Sicily."

"It's just like every immigrant group. Someone goes there, then others from the family or town follow, eventually building up a community," Lynn said.

"Well, yes, I know that's how it happens, but Omaha?" I said once again.

"You can quote me on it," she said. "Just put it in your blog."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Linguaglossa--"Fat Tongue"

Another tiny town that Theresa Maggio writes about in The Stone Boudoir is Linguaglossa, which happens to be just on the other side of Etna from where I live in Nicolosi. A few Sundays ago, my friend Pat and I took our cameras and went for a ride all the way around the volcano, stopping occasionally to take photos. We were several thousand feet up on Etna, so it didn't take all that long to drive. I had never been on the west or north sides of the volcano. The snow-capped peak was awesome from every viewpoint, with a bright blue sky behind it.

Eventually, we got to Linguaglossa. We had gone through some rather ugly little towns, so I wasn't expecting Linguaglossa to be as charming as it turned out to be! Since it was at least an hour since our last coffee, we first stopped at a bar and had another. Then we just wandered around the town taking photos and checking out a wine shop. The main streets were decorated with overhead streamers for some kind of festival. I had never seen this before, but the windy day made it a very attractive and festive sight! An Annunciation relief above the door of one of the churches is well-worth seeing. Just by chance, we wandered into a side street, really just an alleyway, not even wide enough for cars. There were several interesting wall-paintings, and one was Arabic in content. We followed the street and the ancient little houses definitely had an Arab style to them. There was even the traditional blue door. Many of the houses had obviously been totally renovated by the looks of the doors and windows. I don't know if there really was an Arab presence in Linguaglossa at any time, but it sure looked like in that quarter.

According to Theresa Maggio, "Two thousand years ago Linguaglossa may well have been a bustling commercial lumber center where both Latin and Greek were spoken, for its name is made up of both languages' words for 'language.' . . . In Sicilian dialect, Linguaglossa means 'fat tongue,' which could refer to the tongue of lava the town was built on." She calls it "an old town where people live in lava houses and shake sticks at the volcano." In fact, her entire chapter on it isn't very appealing, totally unlike our impression!

We wandered back toward the main street in search of a restaurant. As luck would have it, we found one that turned out to be fantastic, the Boccaperta Ristorante (Via Umberto, 96-98). The best part of the meal was a traditional Sicilian blood orange salad, with thinly-sliced prosciutto topped with the blood orange, olive oil, onion mixture (see photo). The sweet-salty combination is fabulous!

On our way back to the car, we saw a lava tablet etched with the story of Linguaglossa being saved from "a tongue of lava" by divine intercession when Sant' Egidio, its chief patron saint, shook his bishop's crook at the volcano. The town is also the jumping-off place for skiing and snow sports on the north side of Etna, just like Nicolosi is on the south. One street, in fact, is named "Sea and Snow Street." It's well worth a Sunday drive to check it out.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Snow in Sicily? In March??

Imagine my surprise when it began to snow on my way home from work yesterday. The flurries quickly became almost a blizzard, and this was happening down at sea level, not just up on the volcano. I was a little concerned about getting home, but it melted on the road so there was no problem. By the time I got home, it was nearly stopped and nothing had accumulated but a dusting on the trees. The poor palms, aloes, lemon tree, mimosa, and cacti looked cold.

In the evening, I turned on an outdoor light to let the cats in. Why was it so bright out there? Omigosh--there was an inch or two of snow covering everything!

This morning, it appeared that MORE snow had appeared overnight . . . in fact, it was still flurrying. I thought nothing of it, though. I scraped about 3 inches off my windows and left home. I had brand-new Michelins to the tune of 700 Euros, so it shouldn't be a problem. However, there was not a single other set of tire tracks on the street. It turned out that there was ice under the snow, and my ABS chattered all the way down the hill to the main part of town. There, I expected things to be normal, as had been my previous experience. But no! Land Rovers and a huge snowplow (now, where did they get THAT?) were the only things out. I went up one hill and started down another to leave town when a city bus started skidding sideways down the hill in front of me (see photo at right). NOT a good sign. I crept, ABS chattering, to a corner and turned back into town. When I reached main street, I could see nothing was moving, so I turned to go home and wait for the melting. Unfortunately, a large truck had stopped and was skidding backwards, so I quickly ducked into a parking place, parked the car, and walked all the way home.

Now I'm waiting a few hours before I try again to go down the mountain. The school secretary said the entire volcano is covered in snow, right down to the valley. Strange at any time, but in March? Unheard of!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mail a Mafia Threat

"Sei niente senza rispetto!" You're nothing without respect!

Thanks to my friend Mary and her friend Ruth for alerting me to this great website, Only in Italy, where you can actually buy a Mafia threat to be sent to anyone in the world by priority mail! And the cost is only 6,99 Euro, or $8.12 today. They take VISA, of course.

Each letter is handwritten (time permitting) on the business letterhead of his company: Peppino's Insurance Company. "We'll protect way or another." Mailed and postmarked directly from Corleone, Sicily!

Please realize, these are only threats. Their disclaimer read, "So sorry, we don't send death nor physical threats mainly because it's against any law in any country on this planet and on Mars." That's a good thing, but still, isn't there someone in your life who deserves one of these? Check out the site for samples and ordering information.