Solunto – One of the world’s first multicultural cities?

Ah, my legs hurt! What a long uphill hike that was!

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Solunto was a city close to Santa Flavia, on the north-western coast of Sicily. It was founded by Carthaginians (from the city that is now called Tunis) when they colonised Sicily in the 11th century B.C.

That was an awfully long time ago to be building such swanky cities on the top of high mountains. It was also long before any Arabs turned up in north Africa. Some people like to claim that African civilisation all came from the Arabs, and that they never did anything impressive before then. Solunto proves them wrong.

Solunto was such a nice city that the Greeks conquered it and took it from the Africans. Then the Romans took it from them. So what you see now is a mix of three different cultures.

Here’s the main road, which leads past the shops and some houses and also some well preserved Roman public toilets. I had so much fun demonstrating the use of the toilets to my friends that I forgot to photograph them. Sorry!

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The Carthaginians had to lug most of the rocks up the hill by hand, as there are not many rocks naturally occuring up the hill where Solunto was built.

These columns form a square shape. The colonnade surrounded an open-air courtyard in the middle of a building of offices. This type of building was called a basilica and was invented by the Greeks. The individual offices all around the columns were rented by lawyers, bankers and scribes who wold draw up contracts and register property sales.

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In this photo you can see part of the back wall of these offices still standing. Such transactions were never carried out without making a sacrifice to the relevant god to make sure it all went well.

The sign at Solunto calls this a “temple” but temples were rectangular, never square, and their columns went around the outside of the building, not an inner courtyard.

When the Roman world became Christian, they modelled their first churches on these basilica. In the early days, the entrance areas of churches were used for a lot of business transactions…. then people would proceed up towards the altar to pray.

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This well preserved mosaic in a Roman house shows a special symbol that was sacred to the Greeks, Romans and to Hindus today: the swastika. Many Hindus today still paint these on their doorstep to protect the house from evil.

These religions all originated as one, and the relevant languages – Greek, Roman and Sanskrit – are sister languages too. Hinduism has evolved and changed over the centuries under the influence of the Indian climate and countryside, but some of the Hindu Gods are actually Roman gods too. Dyaus Pitar, the Hindu god of the sky, for example, was called Jupiter by the Romans.

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We all know the Greeks and Romans used pots instead of plastic bottles and bags. The Africans were keen pot-makers before them, actually. These ones were for storing oil and grain, mostly, and they were buried in the ground up to their necks to keep their contents cool and fresh.

These particular pots are from the Roman period.

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This is a classic Roman “matron” statue, in other words, a statue of a virtuous Roman married woman. Her hand would have been holding the bobbin from her spinning wheel to prove what a good wife she was.

It was standard practice for rich men, whose wives usually had their spinning done by servants, to put one of these in their hallway to remind people their wife was a good woman, and stop the gossip.

The museum label says this is the Roman goddess Minerva but I have no idea why: she does not bear a single one of the symbols that were used to identify Minerva in art work.

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Can you guess what this is?

Most people know that the Greeks and Romans liked their public baths, but they used private ones for their babies and children.

This terracotta would have kept the water hot for quite a long time so you could probably wash several kids in the same water, one after another.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo what do you think of Solunto?

It is a long walk up the hill, but its a pity nobody lives there any more!

 

5 Top Tips: How to Park like a Sicilian

Can’t find a parking space?

Sicilians can. Take a leaf out of their book.

Parking Idea # 1 – The Forty-Fiver

So-named because you park at 45 degrees to the pavement, this technique is ideal if the available space is not actually big enough for your car, if you know you’ll need to make a quick getaway, or if you are simply a terrible driver who cannot park properly.

When space is very limited, you may have to go in at a perpendicular 90 degrees, which means you’ll have to utilise the entire pavement as well. If you do so, expect to find teenagers socialising with slices of pizza upon the bonnet of your car when you get back.

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Parking Idea #2 – The wraparound

An old favourite of mothers on the school run, the concept behind this parking style is that you wrap your car around the corner of two adjoining streets. This is widely used when there is not enough space to park your car at the end of either road without poking out beyond the corner, so instead you curve around from one to the other.

This is also handy in no-parking zones [note the signs behind this car]. The Vigili Urbani cannot give you a parking ticket because, strictly speaking, you are not really parked in either street, are you?

Yet whilst taking your precious offspring off to receive an education, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you are blocking the traffic in not just one street, but two.

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Parking Idea #3 – The Pavement Perch

This one is so simple, anyone could have thought of it.

But if you were driving that red van, do you think you could screech up there onto the pavement in reverse, park with a wrench of the hand brake and sprint away fast enough to avoid any “discussion” WHILE the driver of the grey hatchback was carefully parking in the road beside you?

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Parking Idea #4 – The Handy Cap

Only a Sicilian could come up with this one.

Here’s the scenario. You have gone up and down the road four times, there’s no gap except the one for disabled people with yellow badges – clearly indicated by a no-parking sign with a picture of a wheelchair on it – and you need to dash into Celiachia Point to buy some gluten-free cannoli before you go into hypoglycemic shock.

What do you do?

You double-park outside the imaginary car that isn’t in the disabled parking space. That way, you have not parked illegally in the disabled space. You have not blocked anyone in. You have got your cannoli.

Everyone is happy and the Vigili Urbani have no idea what to do with you.

Other than ask for a bit of your cannoli, of course.

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Parking Idea #5 – The Double Decker

When space is too limited, this may be the only option. Just bear in mind, it takes real driving skill to get away once you’re up there.

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Amazingly enough, this one was actually photographed in England! No doubt it was a rental car driven by a Sicilian on holiday.

So there you have it: five ways to park when there is nowhere to park. Now off you go, rev your engine and head off to the busiest city centre you know. Suddenly, when it comes to parking, you’ll realise you’re spoiled for choice!

Meanwhile, here are some other creative approaches to parking from around the world:

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This would not even be worthy of photographing or even comment in Sicily. Why would you cram yourself into a tiny space when there’s so much lovely room?

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Lithuania

This car is parked in a cycle lane, which is what most Sicilians regard as reserved handy roadside parking space. The mayor of this town in Lithuania thinks otherwise.

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The Sicilian fishing village of St. Elia

St. Elia is a small fishing village on the north coast of Sicily, a short drive from my home. Their fishing boats, made entirely of wood, are blue, white and orange. Each village along this coast paints its boats a specific color scheme.

The fishermen sometimes row silently, but sometimes plonk outboard motors on the back of their boats. Many families depend on fishing for their livelihood so you need a license to go out fishing here – hobby fishing is not allowed.

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This gigantic plant is over 30 feet tall and they only live two years. First the leaves at the base grow, then the following year the whole flowering stem shoots up in one springtime. After the seeds are ripe, the stem one day suddenly tips over, scattering the seeds far and wide.

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Oleanderers growing along the St. Elia sea shore.

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The cross is the main landmark in St. Elia, on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. It gives the fishermen a point of reference, and lovers a private spot to canoodle at night.

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This is the view of the village taken from the cross.

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In Sicilian fishing villages, the fishermen who fish for a living always have a separate beach for their boats from the rich people who go out in pleasure boats. The pleasure boats are always much more modern and expensive than those owned by the professional fishermen.

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A house in St. Elia.

 

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St. Elia is a fairly typical Sicilian fishing village yet it has a unique charm. My husband brought me here when plotting to take me out under the stars for our first ever kiss. And he took me here again when he proposed.

I decided to take him here when I had the exciting news that I was pregnant, and he was so overjoyed he almost fell into the sea.

Who knows what our next important event in St. Elia will be?

Knickers and Pants

I have discovered that my new-ish digital camera has much more memory than my vintage, steam-powered computer. This means I cannot upload all my lovely photos of Siracusa until I get a new one, because plugging the camera into the USB port made the computer have a kind of epileptic siezure.

Since this situation is really pants, I began reflecting philosophically on Italian cultural attitudes to pants.

Work tha booty! These are buttock enhancing padded knickers, available on Ebay. Click the image to order your very own pair!

Work that booty! These are buttock enhancing padded knickers, available on Ebay. Click the image to order your very own pair!

In Italy, they don’t have shops where you can buy underwear, nighties and day clothes all in one place. Seeing things to wear on your backside hanging next to fashionable apparel would probably lower the tone so badly that nobody would ever buy anything   …in the same way as I would not want to buy any fruit in a supermarket that put it on a shelf right next to the adult nappies.

Instead, to clothe your naked derriere in Italy, you have to go to massive out-of-town warehouses which sell nothing but socks, pants and white vests in wholesale units. They do let you open the packs and buy things individually, but few people do this. It’s just too scary.

People rummage about them looking sad, and if you bump into someone you know it is the norm to hide behind a pyramid display of Superman Y-fronts and pretend you haven’t seen each other.

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When I got married, my mother-in-law delivered her son up to me with a kind of dowry – or maybe I should call it a trousseau – which consisted of enough white vests to open a shop, so many socks he could have kitted out an army, and a range of pants that I had to leave stacked in the living room until a second wardrobe could be delivered.

They were all in sealed boxes, by the dozen. Apparently I was supposed to monitor my husband’s intimate apparel regularly and throw away any offending items post haste. Pants with flailing elastic or leg holes which might permit fallout, white vests irrevocably stained with tomato sauce, and socks which let his toenails poke out were to go in the bin without delay. Then I was to extract new items from the warehouse and insert them into general circulation as replacements. For the rest of his life. Based on his normal attrition rate, she had obviously estimated he would live to 135.

So, Hubby is alright Jack, but what about me?

Buying a bra in Italy is simply pointless. Their bra sizes go from 1 to 6. That’s it.

The gents among you may not get this, but the ladies will. A bra has to accomodate your baps with no slack, and also fit snugly round your rib cage. This means you measure them with a chest size and a cup size. These vary independently of each other.

Except if you’re Italian. In Italy, you are not allowed to be a tall woman with fried eggs, nor are you allowed to be a petite woman with a massive rack. Oh no. Your chest and mammaries have to correlate in perfect proportion.

The flat chested ladies in Italy stick socks in their bras. They have to buy pads for their bikinis too, which means that when they come out of the sea they have to stand on the beach for a minute wringing out their boobs before they can lie down and sunbathe. I have joined the ranks of the beach-boob-wringers myself and honestly, it is a very strange thing to have to do.

It can lead to dreadful wardrobe malfunctions. I bought a lovely new bikini a few years ago and kitted it out with the usual fillers. As you will be aware, boobs are make of fat, which floats on water. Sponges, on the other hand, absorb it and sink. Mine parted company and, as I emerged form the sea, about 45 old men up and down the beach urgently had to roll over and start tanning their backs.

If your bra starts to deflate you can top it up using this tube. There is also a light, and a whilstle for attracting attention in you need help. Do not inflate your bra before leaving the aircraft.

If your bra starts to deflate you can top it up using this tube. There is also a light, and a whistle for attracting attention in you need help. Do not inflate your bra before leaving the aircraft.

Meanwhile the well-endowed petite ladies – this describes the vast majority of Italians – have to buy a bra which looks like nipple caps held on with really long tapes. You don’t get much support from these things. They usually walk around with their arms folded aross their chests and refuse to hurry, ever.

The only thing which remains to report on Italian knicker warehouses is the nightclothes. I have never seen a sexy little nightie in Italy, ever. I believe the Vatican regulates nightwear in Italy to ensure that maxiumum contraception potency is achieved in each and every design.

So can you buy any underwear at all in a normal shop in Italy?

Once a year, all the rules break down and you can buy knickers literally anwhere. But only red ones. You see, Italians put on red knickers for good luck at New Year, and they are sold in quirky packaging for people to give to their lovers as gifts. So in late December, you can literally buy red pants in the supermarket, in the greengrocer’s, in jewellery shops, in electronics outlets. They probably even have them at the Post Office.

Archimedes and his Terrible Stomach Ache

This puzzle, at least 2.5 thousand years old, is called a Stomachion, which means “stomach ache”. It comes to us thanks to Archimedes, Sicily’s greatest scientist and one of the greatest mathematicians in the world. He described it in a book now called The Archimedes Palimpsest and used it to inspire some of his great mathematical discoveries.

All you have to do is fit the pieces into a square shape. You can turn any of them over if you want to.

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Why is it called a stomach ache? Well, there are 17,152 different ways to solve this puzzle and, as you fiddle about realising you cannot even figure out ONE of them…. trust me, it’s sickening!

Last weekend we went to Siracusa, birthplace of Archimedes, and tried our hands at solving this puzzle at the Tecnoparco Archimede. We were guided about the open air museum by a pair of charming and highly knowledgeable old fellows, who let us play with the catapults, set tissues on fire using the burning mirrors, and tell the time using the water clock. I shall be posting more of those fun things later, but let’s get back to this stomach ache, shall we?

Print this square out. Before cutting out the pieces, cut another piece of paper the same size to use as your base… then see how many ways you can fit all these shapes into the square.

If you can figure out any, that is.

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The tecnoparco guides began by presenting my son with a wooden stomachion, which he managed to solve in three different ways before we continued our tour. Later in our hotel, Hubby and I fiddled with it for ages before coming up with a single solution.

How many can you manage?

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The Archimedes Palimpsest – You can see the real thing in the Art Walters Museum, Baltimore

 

The Do-Good Brothers

I had to have a little operation recently. It was preceded by some blood tests in the nearest hospital, called Ospedale Buccheri La Ferla Fatebene Fratelli. The Sicilians are good at coming up with catchy names that way.

Buccheri and La Ferla are the names of the founders. The Fatebene Fratelli translates as “The Do Good Brothers”. Though they sound like a blues band, they are actually an order of monks, who lurk in the corridors annoying the patients.

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The Blues Brothers…. not seen recently in any hospital in Sicily

They mean well, but they all have medieval-looking skin diseases that make you desperately hope they won’t come any closer. I’m sure they all have nothing worse than eczema or psoriasis, or maybe a few septic bedbug bites in the most severe cases. There’s just something about seeing them in their full-length, brown monks’ habits, and white cord belts with knots all along them, that makes you think of leprosy, scrofula and smallpox.

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The Do Good brothers – encouraging patients in hospitals in 50 countries since…. oh, quite a long time ago.

It’s like an intensified form of waiting to see the dermatologist. Nobody wants to handle the magazines, and everyone sits in a funny way to make sure no part of their bare skin comes into direct contact with the seats. You never know what could be catching.

The Do-Good Brothers dedicate their lives, in Buccheri La Ferla hospital, to urging the patients to join them in the hospital chapel for a brief spot of group prayer, Gregorian chanting and bible reading. They guarantee it will take no longer than ten minutes. They assure people they’ll only do one prayer, and that they can recite it really fast. They promise that the bible reading will be so short it will seem like a Haiku poem. Eventually they offer to skip the Gregorian chanting altogether. Yet still nobody wants to go.

Is it because the patients are scared their name will get called to have their X-ray taken while they’re off saying the Lord’s prayer? That they’ll miss their bone density scan in the middle of a Hail Mary, so they’ll have to book another appointment in a month’s time? Is it that they have already been on a pilgrimage to seek a cure for whatever disease they have, and reckon some extra last minute praying would be superfluous?

Or is it the angry-red, peely, exposed dermis on that Do-Good Brother’s hands, dotted with pustules, which may have recently come into direct contact with the prayer books in the chapel?

Finally, the Do-Good Brother gives up, failing to disguise the fact that he is exasperated and disappointed, and probably feels a bit sore and itchy inside his habit. He heads of for some solitary prayer. Again.

He probably consoles himself by fervently reciting prayers in Latin, whilst mortifying his flesh with a flagellant, an even scratchier hair shirt, and some really stingy iodine lotion.

I felt so sorry for the Do-Good Brother who invited me into his little chapel that I actually did go. He was so flabbergasted he actually hopped up and down a couple of times in his home-made macramé sandals.

The prayer he said for me was really very beautiful. He read from the bible, and then in a prayer he asked for my operation to go well. I sat in the chapel and felt myself filling with serenity and the sun slanted in through the window.

God must have been listening, as it all went fine. Thank you, Do-Good Brothers!

THE DO-GOOD BROTHERS OFFICIAL WEBSITE

So you’re Sicilian. Are you in the Mafia?

“Mummy, why are the baddies English?” my son asked me last week. He was watching “Rio”, a cartoon film about parrots in which the bad parrot, from the Brazilian jungle, inexplicably talks with a very posh English accent.

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A wicked Brazilian parrot, who …. went to an expensive posh school in England?

“Well, it’s just one silly cartoon,” I reassured him.

Then he listed all the English baddies he knew in cartoons: Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda; Jaffar in Aladdin; various baddies in episodes of the Simpsons and Gumball; Scar in the Lion King; and others which I don’t even remember now.

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An Evil African lion, who had elocution lessons from an English aristocrat? Whilst his brother has lessons in morality somewhere in the US of A?

“How can Scar be English and Mufasa be American if they are brothers?” he asked me. “And why is Jaffar English? I thought they were supposed to be Arabians.”

“Yes, they are supposed to be Arabs,” I said. “It’s very strange.”

I didn’t go into the fact that it’s not very strange, it’s very racist.

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Uncle Jafar, the only man in Arabia who talks with an English accent… unlike the rest of his family. They talk like Americans, because they’re nice.

Sadly for my son, he scores the American racist double whammy. He is half English and half Sicilian.

Can you think of any film or television show at all where there were Sicilians are portrayed as law-abiding, kind Christians with strong family values, some mouthwatering family recipes, a great sense of hospitality, and pride in their ancient and seminal culture? I can’t.

I can think of dozens and dozens, however, where Sicilians are the baddies, always part of a huge family with no morals, which has commited atrocious murders for generations.

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A German-American actor portraying Sicilian-Americans as evil

Of course The Godfather is the kingpin of them all. It stars German-American actor Marlon Brandt, who chose the vaguely Italianate-sounding stage name Brando. It was written and produced by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, Americans of Italian ancestry who had no connection with Sicily.

The films portray Sicilians in both America and Sicily as a pack of criminals. And they have never been portrayed any differently ever since.

The Sopranos is the latest in this long line of anti-Sicilian garbage. The man behind this is David Chase, who claims to be Italian American… not Sicilian American. And he can only get away with calling himself “part Italian” at best, since last time I checked, nobody in Italy has the surname Chase. Sicilians suffer enough hatred from mainland Italians at home. It’s a real shame the nonsense continues across the Atlantic.

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One could claim that this is only entertainment and, in reality, the Americans know it is merely fiction. But this ain’t so.

Try going anywhere in Europe or America or, actually, anywhere in the world, and telling them your husband is from Sicily.

“Oh, is he in the Mafia?” they ask, as if it were not an insult. As if it were an acceptable thing to say. As if asking a stranger whether their husband is a murderer is normal behaviour.

A friend of mine from Palermo went to Palestine and was surrounded by people saying “Oh wow, Sicily, that must be so dangerous. How do you cope with living there?”

Yeah seriously, Palestine.

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And let’s go back to the British thing, shall we? Do you think I am exaggerating the anti-British sentiment that wafts across the Atlantic?

You can read one list here about how Barack Obama has insulted the British (Oh! Let me count the ways!) and another here. He supports Argentina in their unjustified desire to take control of the Falkland islands and their British residents. He threw out a statue of Winston Churchill from the White house which had been a gift. He downgraded Britan from “our number one ally” to not being mentioned at all in the list of American allies on the official US foreign office website.

There’s no getting away from it: America’s leader hates the British.

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Thththththtth and snubs to you, ya Limey!

“So what?” I hear some Americans say. “Britain is a has-been nation and Sicily is just a tiny island.”

If Sicily is so unimportant, why do the Americans want so many MASSIVE military bases here? The civil movement against this, and particularly the MUOS base, is so strong that the Sicilian regional government may tell the Americans to go away in the future.

Could America have protected her economic interests in Libya without using Sicilian civil airports for months, leaving countless Sicilians unable to take holidays or business trips abroad?

And if Britain is just a has-been nation, why does America send envoys over to grovel every time we think about reducing our military spending? Could it be because Britain is the second largest contributor of military resources to the United Nations? Might it be connected with the fact Britain followed the US into Iraq and Afghanistan even without UN approval?

After Barack Obama had grossly insulted his predecessor, just thinking about reducing military spending got current British PM David Cameron a 19-gun salute at the White House.

So far, these old allies of America are still hoping to be friends. They hope this is just a bad patch and that the racist brainwashing of the younger generation of Americans is just a brief, unpleasant phase.

But don’t push it. When big bully America REALLY upsets other countries, sometimes they fight back.

Nine eleven.

I don’t suppose the Sicilians or British will do anything like that any time soon, of course. Like I said, all that stuff about the Sicilians being Mafiosi and mass murderers is basically fiction.

But look out for those North Koreans. I think that movie “Olympus Has Fallen” was a big mistake. Naturally, I enjoyed seeing a film where the baddies weren’t English or Sicilian, for once.

But I wonder how the Koreans felt?

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A Narrow escape from the Fashion Police

In Italy, it is against the law to emerge in public with bad hair. Italians remain housebound on bad hair days.

In the summer, having white skin is also considered a serious fashion gaffe. There is simply no excuse. Strangers repeatedly threaten to report phosphorescent Celtic people like me to the fashion police.

Sometimes gangs of vigilantes take the law into their own hands and organise lynch-mobbings. Only the other day, I was walking along the sea front in my village when I was intercepted by four women plus an uncountable number of children, dragged onto the beach, and forced to lie there until they felt my skin must surely have changed colour a bit.

Wearing unfashionable clothes is another serious crime in Italy. Unless you are capable of preserving old clothes intact for many years, it is also impossible. Non-trendy clothes are simply not available in the shops. I suppose shopkeepers want to protect frumpy people from themselves.

This summer, for example, when you buy new shoes they will be pole-dancerish sandals with flowers on. If you want to wear something more comfortable, well you can’t, so there.

Last summer I actually flew to England to buy some flat-heeled summer footwear.

“In Italy, even the nuns wear sexier sandals than those” commented my English nephew.

The best place to ensure compliance with the only laws Italians actually take seriously is, of course, the shopping centre. They have very few of them in Sicily, but the ones they do have are the bees’ knees.

I decided to visit Sicily’s largest, the “Outlet Village” in Dittaino. If you happen to like designer gear and ice cream equally, it is paradise.

Before going, I had to prepare myself. I had some grey hairs, which I am led to believe are nowadays called “wisdom highlights”. So my first step was to go to the hairdresser and have myself dumbed down.

Next I applied the fake suntan cream I had ordered online after the lynch mobbing. It smelt of curry, which made me really hungry. Do they give it the tikka masala smell to inpsire you subliminally to achieve darker skin?

The whole of the Dittaino outlet village is purpose built. The upper storeys are just for decoration, and to provide shade from the sun as your husband lugs your trendy shopping around.

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“Ah yes, I’ve been thinking we could do with a new car. Or two.”

The Ferrari shop.

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Here I am in the semi darkness, hoping to buy a pair of shoes which I can actually walk in. I ended up with an ice cream instead. I am such a failure!

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Ready to go home.

Goodbye Gucci. Very nice to see you, Versace. It was fun, Fendi. Do come again, Dolce and Gabanna.

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Sicily vs. Australia

A wonderful guest post called Sicily vs. England, written for my blog by Pecora Nera, turned out to be so popular that it inspired another great Sicilian blogger, Rochelle Del Borello of Unwilling Expat, to write this article – Sicily vs. Australia – for my blog.

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The beauty of experiencing different cultures is seeing how they differ, and embracing the parts which are refreshingly good for your soul while simultaneously feeling frustrated about the other things that simply don’t work.

There are many aspects about life in Sicily that make me want to bash my head against the wall, but Sicilians certainly know how to enjoy the moment, their family and communities. Despite being way too close knitted for my tastes I can see how they can be comforting, nurturing and safe for young families.

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I’m taking a moment to highlight some subtle and less subtle differences between my native Australia (I think perhaps some points may also be poignant for America and the United Kingdom too!) and my current adopted home in small town Sicily.

Spontaneity: The last time I was back home in Australia I hated having to make an appointment to see my friends in advance. I understand you may have something on but to have every moment of my time programmed isn’t part of my routine. I think when you have young children around the whole ‘programming’ of time thing has to go out of the window, at least in the rigid sense.

I longed to have more spontaneous interactions with my Australian friends. In Sicily everyone simply comes over with a bottle of wine or some nice ice cream and put some pasta on, it really is that simple, no need for bookings at restaurants, just come over and hang out a little!

Pace of life: Since moving to Italy more than a decade ago, Australia’s population and economy has boomed, and once laid-back Ozzies now are always in a hurry – to where I’m not sure? Sicilians are way on the other side of the spectrum. Things here are too slow for me (perhaps if I was an elderly pensioner I’d like it better!)

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I came across a helpful article on a web page called When In Florence student services, http://www.wheninflorence.com which explains the different concepts of time between Italy and America which I think is useful to understand why the two cultures are soooooo very different.

It explained:

America is a monochronic culture. We believe that time is a precious commodity; it is meant to be made, used, wasted, spent, given, allotted, and saved. Our lives are a series of rigid schedules and each day is chopped up into time blocks. 9 – 10:45 AM : eat breakfast. 11 AM – 7 PM : work. 7 – 8 PM : dinner. Repeat.

Italy, on the other hand, is a polychronic culture. People with this time orientation see time as a flowing river; it is smooth and one minute flows into the next. If something isn’t done this minute, it can be done the next. These people do not see time as tangible or controllable. There are things to be done, but they’ll get done.

The Sicilian Housewife loves the way old people laze about in Sicily. It is too darn hot to hurry!

The Sicilian Housewife loves the way old people laze about in Sicily. It is too darn hot to hurry!

Work Ethic: In most Anglo Saxon (and Asian) cultures life is all about work. In comparison Sicilians come across as down and out lazy, a little work only when necessary is their motto because they know that unemployment is just around the corner so why should they worry (evermore so in the current economic situation). Australians are workaholics , very competitive but when they decide to relax they can be great fun too! Surely there must be some middle ground somewhere?

Food: Up until ten years ago Australians were really a little clueless when it came to good food (mostly beer, steak and chips) and have only recently discovered fine wine and European cuisine (and they are loving it!). Food in Sicily is more like a religion, it is a must to eat and prepare fresh seasonal products and don’t get me started on the wine, all quite hedonistic really but why the hell not!! (Perhaps I am becoming Sicilian after all!)

This was the roof of a Sicilian Cafe. Go on, pick one!

This was the roof of a Sicilian Cafe. Go on, pick one!

Schools: Italian schools are loud, confusing affairs with little discipline or logic. I like how even at an early age children study a lot of history and art but I find there is a terrible lack of structure, it’s all creative and sporadic but what’s the good when children don’t know the basics. (My niece is in her last year of middle school and is preparing for a state exam, she doesn’t know what a paragraph is!) Primary schools in Sicily remind me of old style country schools where everyone knows one another, terribly nurturing but very cliquey. Australian schools are green, open aired, well maintained, with swimming pools, athletic tracks, theaters and a wizz bang curriculum to make children want to learn more each day.

Hospitals: Don’t ever get sick in Italy because the hospitals may kill you. If you do you need to find a private clinic or a good doctor to follow you as public hospitals have no toilet paper, no cleanliness, lazy nurses and barely present doctors which makes for a glum prospect indeed. Australian hospitals are great in comparison even though the population boom has resulted in having to wait a long time at your GP.

The last time I was home my mother had a problem with her eyes, we had to wait a couple of hours at the emergency room but we were sent to a specialist at the main city hospital, who met us in front of the door of the Optometry ward at 8pm, which she opened up for us, examined my mother and reassured her that there was nothing serious and she did it all with a smile! This would never happen in Italy.

Ambition: Sicilians don’t have much ambition as their history has made them quite fatalistic, material things can be taken away and unemployment is always a threat for them so they live for other things like family and food rather than highly paid jobs. Australians are all about work and ambition.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a good work ethic and goals but not to the point of screwing over other people or not taking the time to look after yourself or for having a family. There needs to be a balance, Sicilians are to exaggerated and Anglo Saxons are way too anal!

Family expectations: Sicilian’s and Italians live for their families. Italian towns and communities are simply an extension of their family life. I mean it’s great to have families around for big celebrations or life events (like births,marriages and deaths) but a big eager Italian family can be extremely invasive!

It ticks me off when they tell me when to have children, how to dress my child and what to feed him (amongst many other things!) I am always expected to cook, clean and babysit other peoples children as the favor will be returned (even if I never leave my child with anyone other than his father.)

Australian families are more along the Anglo Saxon lines quite distant and each to their own, I wouldn’t mind my Australian family to be a little less distant and my Sicilian family to take a leaf out of the Australian book!

Personal space: There is no such thing as privacy and very little personal space, it comes from being an over populated and nosey people. In Sicily if you’ve been shopping people will want to know what you’ve bought. Australia is about having a lot of space, even if most of the population is spread around the coastal areas Australian’s are used to having big houses, big cars and big helpings of beer in the pub! Heck, why not there’s enough space!

Outlook on life: Life in Sicily is very much about living in the moment which at times can be quite superficial, I mean living for your family, friends, socializing and food might be all right when you are younger but it really is a juvenile way of living life.

Australians on the other hand are all about work and gathering material wealth, often when people reach retirement age they are left twiddling their thumbs not knowing what to do with themselves and with too much clutter in their lives. Perhaps its the do-gooder in me but what about giving something back to the world or getting involved in something that is less about yourself?

Female health: I guess because hospitals and doctors are so horrid in Sicily people tend to neglect things like regular check ups, but gals really shouldn’t be lazy about their health and have regular checks. Even if gynecologists in Italy are scary as hell. There are no private change rooms or robes to cover up your nakedness, you will be asked to drop your ‘dacks’ anywhere and without hesitation or shame. And girls if you are going to give birth in Italy anyone with a white coat in the hospital will get a peek at your ‘who-ha’, including the guy who mops the floor in the morning. [This is certainly true. By the time my son was born, my loins had dealt with more traffic than the Palermo ring road. Ed.] Lordy my, how I miss prudish Australian gynecologists, bless them!

Manners: Please, thank you and sorry are foreign concepts to Sicilians as are table manners, you will be spoken to by a full mouthed Sicilian and will have to pour your own wine, unless you are dating in this case ‘he’ will be on his best behavior, for obvious reasons. [Oh poor Rochelle! this must be a regional thing. I can assure you here in Palermo they keep the grub in their mouths at all tikmes! They would hate to waste any by letting it fall out... Ed.]

Australians will apologies if they accidentally cut you off with a shopping trolley at the supermarket, if they accidentally brush up against you or have any form of physical contact or simply get in your way without realizing it. (Also forget about getting compliments from Sicilians, they are very stoic people!)

Language: Sicilians will pretend not to understand you, immediately pick up a foreign accent, furrow their brow and try to charge you double. (While a Florentine on the other hand will know you are a foreigner and will probably compliment you on trying to speak their language while genteelly correcting any grammatical error.) Australians will say they love your accent and will probably buy you a beer!

Feminism: Sicilian women are still very traditional yet they defiantly wear the pants. I’ve seen many masculine women and lazy effeminate men who do next to nothing while the womenfolk do practically everything. I swear I’ve seen some Sicilian women with more ‘balls’ than their men. Australian women are constantly battling men in the workforce and are happily leveling the playground and often outdoing the gents, so yawn at male machismo. If you tell a sexist joke in an Australian office you will be sued!

Please bear with me as I’m just going to have a little rant about women in Italy:

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This is a scene from Italian national TV

I’m aghast at how many women in the Italian spotlight are still simply ‘eye candy’ and do little much else than dance around in scant costumes. Socially ideals like the ‘velline’ dancing girls and nude calendars are still seen by some young women as careers and ambitions to aspire to (How fucked up is that!)

These scientists made groundbreaking progress in new treatments for cervical cancer. Oh no, oops, that was someone else.

These scientists made groundbreaking progress in new treatments for cervical cancer. Oh no, oops, that was someone else.

Even the majority of Female politicians seem more concerned with getting their pictures published in glossy gossip magazines than having an informed opinion. Come on girls don’t give in and stop reinforcing stereotypes.

Please note I did say ‘some’ women not ‘every’ women- there are many exceptions that come to mind of well known female celebrities, politicians and journalists who are perfectly serious about their jobs and are very good at what they do. For example off the top of my head: Mariastella Gelmini, Giorgia Meloni, Michela Vittoria Brambilla, Stefania Prestigiacomo, Daniela Santanchè, Maria De Filippi , Lucia Annunziata, Lilli Gruber , Rosy Bindi, Bianca Berlinguer and Cesara Buonamici.

P.S: This post was inspired by an idea by Pecora Nera from an Englishman in Italy who compared Sicily with England. I stole his idea with great respect and reverence and ran with it way too fast and now I’ve slipped, fell and made a god awful mess. I hope he will forgive me.

A Shop on Wheels

Do you like this Sicilian Greengrocers? If you look carefully, you can see its wheels.

His weighing scales are hanging off the brake light. They hold them up with one hand and slide the ball weight along a metal bar to get the weight of your fruit and veg.

if you query the sweetness of their merchandise, they will instantly chop a fruit in half and force you to eat it on the spot to prove its quality.

These mobile greengrocers can be seen everywhere in Sicily. I have been meaning to photograph one for ages, but was beaten to it by my friend Brita. Thanks for the picture, B!

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