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The Sicilian cactus fruit

Posted by Suzanne on 15 Nov 2013

It was by Sicily’s Ionian Sea south of Taormina when I first saw the exotic foil images on the colourful, embossed boxes of the small soap and fragrance company Ortigia Sicilia’s perfumes.

Names of Sicilian plants have inspired the fragrances; Melograno (pomegranate) Zagara (orange blossom) and Fico d’India (Indian fig) and images of exotic animals in silver foil; they conjure an orientalism and stir memories.

The seductive small island of Ortigia in the baroque city of Siracusa in the south east of Sicily gave the name to this Florence based fragrance company. The island of Ortigia looks east to the mysterious Levant, with street names like Lungomare di Levante Elio Vittorini.


Memories- perfume and fruit:

Ortigia’s Sicilian flagship shop on this small island was where I was first mesmerised by the beautiful Ortigia products: soaps and perfumes and smelt the Fico d'India fragrance named after the iconic Sicilian cactus. Its soft 'fig and light musky a cedar scent' with 'tones of orange blossom' captures the natural scents of Sicily. The scent and the lovely bottles of Fico d' India perfume that I have bought always bring back memories of my Sicilian holidays; in particular an exotic room in The Norman Sicilian Palace in Palermo and a house on the slopes of Mount Etna. 

It was in Zia Angela’s house in Piedimonte on Etna’s slopes in 1997 that I first ate the delicious fruit Fico d'India which in October tops the pale green prickly pear cactus. Indigenous to Mexico prickly pear cactus was planted by the Spaniards in Sicily when Vincent Schiavelli, in his book 'Many Beautiful Things' notes India was still thought to be a part of the Western Hemisphere.

The fruit found beneath the sharp fine prickles has pomegranate jewel like seeds surrounded by light refreshing flesh with colours of ruby red, golden orange and pale green.

Zia Angela peeled a dozen holding the fruit carefully between her thumb and fingers in the spaces between the almost invisible prickles.


An exotic room in Palermo:

The raised images of palm trees and impressive leopards on the heavy glass bottle of the Fico d’India perfume often brings me back to a small rectangular room on the second floor of The Norman Palace in Palermo to La Sala di Ruggero - Roger’s room, named after the great 12th century Norman Sicilian king.

It is a captivating room with purely decorative mosaics of hunting scenes covering the upper walls and vault – leopards, peacocks, lions and stags set amongst date palms and orange trees. As historian John Julius Norwich said these lively mosaics evoke an emotion of “sheer pleasure”.

It is rooms just like this one which have stirred the emotions and have fired the imagination of a soap and fragrance company to create scents of sheer joy packaged in glorious boxes which capture Sicily.

And it was this perfume, Fico d ‘India that my eldest daughter wore on her wedding day in the Australian bush on a mid spring day in 2011.







Edited 31/8/2015:

The reference to Vincent Schiavelli for the note about India was not in the original blog post. It now appears.

The paragraph referring to Ortigia's shop on the island of Ortigia is now titled " Memories- perfume and fruit". It has been revised to reflect more my memories. And the section on Roger's room is now titled "An Exotic Room". Suzanne





The first image courtesy of Sarah Trotter.



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