Seeking Sicily: A Cultural Journey Through Myth and Reality in the Heart of the Mediterranean
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"Keahey's exploration of this misunderstood island offers a much-needed look at a much-maligned land."―Paul Paolicelli, author of Under the Southern Sun
Sicily is the Mediterranean's largest and most mysterious island. Its people, for three thousand years under the thumb of one invader after another, hold tightly onto a culture so unique that they remain emotionally and culturally distinct, viewing themselves first as Sicilians, not Italians. Many of these islanders, carrying considerable DNA from Arab and Muslim ancestors who ruled for 250 years and integrated vast numbers of settlers from the continent just ninety miles to the south, say proudly that Sicily is located north of Africa, not south of Italy.
Seeking Sicily explores what lies behind the soul of the island's inhabitants. It touches on history, archaeology, food, the Mafia, and politics and looks to nineteenth- and twentieth-century Sicilian authors to plumb the islanders' so-called Sicilitudine. This "culture apart" is best exemplified by the writings of one of Sicily's greatest writers, Leonardo Sciascia. Seeking Sicily also looks to contemporary Sicilians who have never shaken off the influences of their forbearers, who believed in the ancient gods and goddesses.
Author John Keahey is not content to let images from the island's overly touristed villages carry the story. Starting in Palermo, he journeyed to such places as Arab-founded Scopello on the west coast, the Greek ruins of Selinunte on the southwest, and Sciascia's ancestral village of Racalmuto in the south, where he experienced unique, local festivals. He spent Easter Week in Enna at the island's center, witnessing surreal processions that date back to Spanish rule. And he learned about Sicilian cuisine in Spanish Baroque Noto and Greek Siracusa in the southeast, and met elderly, retired fishermen in the tiny east-coast fishing village of Aci Trezza, home of the mythical Cyclops and immortalized by Luchino Visconti's mid-1940s film masterpiece, La terra trema. He walked near the summit of Etna, Europe's largest and most active volcano, studied the mountain's role in creating this island, and looked out over the expanse of the Ionian Sea, marveling at the three millennia of myths and history that forged Sicily into what it is today.
the head priest a chance to deliver a brief sermon or homily to those watching along the sidelines or, more likely, to give the statue carriers a brief respite. It is a slow, exhausting journey down from the tiny square, through Piazza Barona, where the bonfire blazed the night before. From there, it heads up the steep Via Regina Elena and then turns up a shorter, steeper, narrower street and onto the main street through the village center, Via Garibaldi. It takes two hours, and it represents
Sicilian book which probes the wounds of the past and present and develops as the history of the continuous defeat of reason and of those who have been personally overcome and annihilated in that defeat.” His targets are constant throughout his oeuvre: politicians, the Mafia, the church hierarchy, the police. Sometimes he has respect for a particular policeman—the northern Italian Carabinieri officer Captain Bellodi in The Day of the Owl is one—but he showers disdain on most others, along with
city by the Italian navy and by the arrival of forty thousand troops. But unlike 1860, no Garibaldi arrived to support the revolt.” The northern Italians declared martial law that lasted for several years. Many Sicilian insurgents were summarily executed. Again, as happened so many times in Sicilian history under brutal invaders, these were incredibly tough times. Only now it was driven by northerners, Piedmontese, attempting to paint Sicilians as “Italians.” Martial law was again declared in
wrote The Divine Comedy in the early fourteenth century eventually became the national language of Italy. Less known is the role that spoken, sung, and written Sicilian played in the development of that language. Around the mid-thirteenth century, wandering troubadours from France made their way into Italy and Sicily. This was the time of that relatively enlightened Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II—a man responsive to artistic tastes in his court in Palermo, from where he ruled Italy, Germany,
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