Thursday, January 18, 2018

Introduction: Summer 2017.

Madonna ha ‘n sé vertute con valore
più che nul[l]’altra gemma preziosa: 
ché isguardando mi tolse lo core,
cotant’è di natura vertudiosa.

Più luce sua beltate e dà sprendore
che non fa ‘l sole né null’autra cosa;
de tut[t]e l’autre ell’è sovran’e frore,
ché nulla apareg[g]iare a lei non osa.

Di nulla cosa non ha mancamento,
né fu ned è né non serà sua pare,
né ‘n cui si trovi tanto complimento;

e credo ben, se Dio l’avesse a fare,
non vi met[t]rebbe al su’ntendimento
che la potesse simile formare.

Giacomo da Lentini
(13esimo secolo
[documentato 1233-1240])
My lady has within her virtue, with a worth
greater than any other precious gem;
for, just by looking, she took my heart –
so virtuous is she by nature.

Her beauty gives more light and splendor
than any other thing, even the sun;
over all other women she is sovereign and flower,
so that no one dares compare herself.

There is nothing in which she is lacking.
There never was, nor is there, nor will there be her equal –
nor one in whom we find such perfection;

and I well believe, if God were to remake her,
the divine intention would not be so disposed
as to be able to form anyone similar.

Giacomo da Lentini
(13th century [documented 1233-1240])
The translation here is my own.

Welcome to Pictures of Sicily, which I began in 2013 with articles about the delicious cooking school run by Fabrizia Lanza, as well as the Palermo women’s organization Arcidonna, headed by Valeria Ajovalasit.  I returned to Sicily in the summer of 2017 to interview some more wonderful keepers of cultural traditions, in particular celebrating religious diversity, respecting ecology and conveying historic culinary delights to young people. 

Palermo's Jewish community will soon open a cultural center and synagogue for the first time since the Renaissance synagogue was closed by decree of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile in 1492.  In so doing, the community, with the help of Archbishop Corrado Lorefice, is also opening a portal to share information about the medieval convivenza, cooperative co-existence, of people of diverse religions. 

Not far from Palermo in Alcamo, the food writer Mary Taylor Simeti recently published her book, Sicilian Summer: An Adventure in Cooking with My Grandsons, about preparing Sicilian classics with four thoughtful young men, nearly always with ingredients from the Taylor Simeti organic farm, Bosco Falconeria.

To frame my articles on these fascinating people of Sicily, I include above Giacomo da Lentini’s beautiful sonnet on the non-fungibility of humans.  Now that I have come to know Sicily a bit better, I also include a couple of photographic essays on some examples of the island’s powerful beauty today.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Santo Stefano di Camastra, Sicily


“Trittico” di Adele Gloria (1910-1985) Tre sfumature di verde
tre sfumature d’azzurro
tre case lontane l’una dall’altra

nel cielo
tre trimotori
tre nuvole bianche.
Tre mamme
si segnano:
pel Padre
pel Figliolo
per lo Spirito Santo.

“Triptych” by Adele Gloria[1]
Three shades of green,
three shades of azure,
three houses far from one another,
in the sky
three trijets
poke holes in
three white clouds.
Three mothers
make the sign of the cross:
for the Father
for the Little Son
for the Holy Spirit.
I love teaching college Italian in New York City, and I have recently begun researching a noblewoman of Renaissance Sicily.  For these reasons and more, I visited Sicily for the very first time in July 2013, and discovered, among other things, that walking around the medieval city of Erice feels like flying. 

Before turning to Sicilian studies, I wrote my dissertation on Cunizza da Romano, the sister of a medieval ruler of the Veneto, Ezzelino (1194-1259), said to have been a terrible tyrant.  I traveled back and forth to Venice many times and learned the city’s secrets sufficiently to know:

  • how to slip into a quiet library in high season (the Querini-Stampalia),
  • where to take a peaceful swim (the municipal pool),
  • when to catch the vaporetto to the islands (early enough to end up in Torcello before they close the church), and
  • what to order at one of the world’s most intensely delicious restaurants (Osteria la Zucca). 
I am only just starting to know the cities of Sicily in similar detail. 

In returning to Italy year after year for research and teaching, I am interested in the roles played by art in diverse local communities – including, in Sicily today, the heirs of Greeks, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Hohenstaufens, the Spanish, the French, the Savoyards, the Allied Forces, and immigrants from all over the world. 
I am interested in Sicilian voices and cultural projects that could lead to pluralism and meaningful opportunity at all socio-economic levels in the island's post-crisis, increasingly global experience.

[1] Santi Correnti, Il futurismo in Sicilia e la poetessa catanese Adele Gloria (Catania: Cooperativa Universitaria Editrice Catanese di Magistero, 1990), 65, and passim.  The translation here is my own.