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San Gandolfo Festival
The 7th Wednesday after Easter and the 3rd week end in September
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The Most Holy Crucifix
Starts May 1st
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La Sagra delle Nocciole (The Hazelnut Festival)
Always in August usually after the 15th, a moveable date

Lo Sfoglio
Late August

Santa Lucia
December 13


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A Sicilian Sensibility

Posted by Suzanne on 28 Mar 2014

I have been captivated by Sicily for nearly two decades through time spent there travelling and discovering the island, and reading some fabulous books about this seductive, capricious and at times dark place.

I couldn’t do without the keen observations, emotions and knowledge of some of the most fabulous works by writers who I have come to know and love:  Elio Vittorini, Peter Robb, Frances Prose, Douglas Sladen, M.I Finley, John Julius Norwich, Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa, Matthew Fort, Simonetta Agnello Hornby, Renata Pucci Di Benisichi, Sciascia, Mary Taylor Simeti – the list is long. They have been my companions along the way in my discovery.

Whether I am reading travel tales like Matthew Fort’s “Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons”, Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard” - a sweeping masterpiece about the decay of the Sicilian aristocracy and tumultuous social change during the days of the Italian Unification in 1860, Elio Vittorini’s “Conversations in Sicily” or Mary Taylor Semiti’s  “Sicilian Food, Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle” – I am always learning more about this eccentric place full of “ferocious customs” and an “excess of identity” (Gerard Gefen, 2001. Sicily: Land of the Leopard Princes: London: Tauris Parke Books) which I think has remained the same in so many ways.

A favourite is Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s  “The Leopard” because it has really helped me in my understanding of the Sicily I see.  In this classic, Tomasi Di Lampedusa has expressed what I think is a Sicilian sensibility characterised by - excess, tradition, decadence and decay, formality, death’s presence, familial bonds, deference to the village priest, reverence for food  and “una bella figura”, reluctance to change and a capriciousness which I often see in Sicily.

I see this sensibility repeatedly in the cafes, restaurants, in the piazzas and on the evening passeggiata in the streets of a mountain village, or on the promenades of the seafronts and in the streets of the cities.

And I see it in the formality of address, at the dinner table, in the landscape and in the crumbling decadent palazzi, in the worn kitchen of a faded, old baronial estate and an annually held summer party in a mountain village to celebrate friendship.

It has been palpable, ever present. The "Last Leopards"  may be dead but their mannerisms live on. It is glimpsed in everyday life and is to be discovered.

What follows is one evening in 2010 which captures a Sicilian sensibility like the sensibility evocatively and candidly captured in Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s masterpiece set in 1860. As Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa said in 1957 , “Sicily is Sicily -1860, earlier, forever.” (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, 2007. The Leopard. London: Vintage), I am coming to understand this.

One evening in the summer of 2010 we were fortunate to have been invited to a party in the next village about 15 minutes from Polizzi down the Tre Monzelli road. The party was given by a writer and university teacher who had come from a noble Sicilian family from the Madonie. Even though the whole notion of nobility was dramatically toppled by Garibaldi and the defeat of the Bourbons in the 1860’s and The First Republic in 1946 it surfaced that night in a village in the Madonie Mountains.

As I walked into the garden strung with lights and a DJ from Palermo playing hits from the 80’sand 90’s I heard guests asking, “Dov’e la Baronessa?”  La Baronessa?  –where is she? I thought noble titles were gone. But no, guests greeted each other with a formality that extended to Il Barone, Il Dottore, Architetto and Maestro. Forget about first names what mattered was your title.

“La Baronessa” was flamboyant, spoke perfect accented English, greeted us and showed us to the bar. A glossy porcelain leopard sat centre stage on a long table laid with flowers of the Madonie.

Guests cutting fabulous, " una bella figura"  both young and old lounged in arm chairs placed on the grass around the dimly lighted garden punctuated with the odd sweep of strobe lighting. Cigarette smoke encircled many. There was even talk of how Australia's Patrick White had won the Noble Prize for literature back in the 70’s.

It was an exotic and charming evening.

And, all this took place behind a faded town palazzo, una casa, on the main street of a mountain village about an hour from Palermo.


The Rosary: A Memory

In the evenings in our house the soft sounds of the Glorious, Joyful and Sorrowful mysteries can be heard from inside Sant'Orsola the tiny 16th century church at the back of the house in Via Notar Nicchi. Maybe only a few faithful are there but just like in 'The Leopard' -" the steady voice......had recalled the Sorrowful and the Glorious Mysteries: for half an hour....." ( Giuseppe di Lampedusa,2007. The Leopard;London;Vintage)

Di Lampedusa is right "Sicily is Sicily- 1860, earlier, forever."






Edited 5/9/2015. The rosary paragraph has been edited to simply recall memories of hearing the rosary being recited in the tiny church of Sant' Orsola at the back of our house in Polizzi many times. The reference to sweets in the original blog has been edited. Suzanne 








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