Ouch! Beware! The Prickly Pear.

October 12, 2015

They’re natives of the Americas, the mean spiky fruits. But prickly pear cacti have flourished in  Sicily’s climate. You have to dodge them here–they rise 20 feet tall and come at you from all directions.  Lured by a poster, we decided yesterday to celebrate the fruit I fear.

Prickly Pear Poster, Sicily, copyright Jann HuizengaThe sinister plants lined the roadway, the asphalt bloody with fallen fruit.

Prickly Pears, Sicily, copyright Jann HuizengaThey paid homage to the fruit in the tiny town of Pedagaggi. They ate it fresh, candied, mashed into marmalade, and cooked into mostarda— something like prickly pear gummy bears. They drank it in liqueur.

Red Prickly Pears, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Crates of Prickly Pears, Sicily, copyright Jann HuizengaIn my early innocent days on the island, I bought several of the fruits and blithely peeled them, glove-less. For days afterwards my fingertips prickled with pain, as I sat in the sun pulling out ultra-fine spines with a tweezers. I have shunned the fruit since.

Use gloves with prickly pears, copyright Jann HuizengaThis bearded fellow explained that his hands are so calloused from the fields he has no need for gloves. But his wife came well-equipped. Every Sicilian has a story about American GIs in WWII, who plucked the fruit right off the plant and bit into it. This makes them laugh.

Food festivals in Sicily always attract a biker crowd, clad in old denim and black leather. They’re always the life of the party.

Sicilian Bikers, copyright Jann Huizenga


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Mushroom Man

October 4, 2015

He was tramping up and down on a twisty road in the mountains of Sicily. Across the wide valley loomed Etna, dark as a savage mystery.  He clutched a pink bucket in one hand, a cane in the other. Cigar smoke curled over his head, stinking up the fresh country air.

“What’s in your basket?”

“Boletus edulis,” he says, hauling out a spongy porcini the size of a piglet.

Mushroom Man, copyright Jann Huizenga

He plans to polish it off for lunch. “In an omelette?” I ask.

“No, no. Tossed with spaghettini!”

“Is it good picking in these woods?” By now Rino and I are on a cozy first-name basis.

“No,” he scoffs, sucking his cigar like a binky. “Over there,” he says nodding at Etna, Pillar of Heaven, “it’s much better.” Though it looks close, it’s at least an hour’s drive to the base from here.

I’d like to ask if he’ll share the fungus with his family at a typical Sicilian Sunday feast, or if he’ll eat all by his lonesome. “Buon pranzo,” I say instead.

“Buon spaghettini!” he cries after me, the cigar still in his teeth.


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The Last Lace

July 9, 2015

I noticed the sheet, then I spied her.

Che bella linzuola, Signora!” What beautiful linen!

She took a deep puff of the cigarette and smiled. “It is I who have made it.” Her throat sounded sandy.

“Is that what you do? Make bed linens?”

Una volta,” she said, with another smile. Once upon a time.

“Not anymore?” (I want one.)

She took another puff. “No, non piu, no more. This is the last one I have.”

And then she agreed to a portrait.

sicilian woman with sheet, copyright Jann Huizenga


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Anna Has a Dream

June 15,  2015

I go to the convent early in the morning. (Ex-convent, actually.) I use the terrace as my office. Anna, shiny as the rising sun–arrives with my cappuccio. I squirm at being served because we’ve become kissing friends. Here are the things about her that I bet you cannot guess:

Sicilian Barista, copyright Jann Huizenga

*She works 3 jobs.

*She has 5 kids.


Italians have one of the lowest birthrates on the planet. “And what surprises people more than my 5 kids,” says Anna, “is that all of them are with the same husband, and we’re still together!” Her oldest, a girl, is studying architecture in Venice.

People from Northern Italy claim that Sicilians don’t work hard. I have not found this to be true. Anna has two waitress jobs and teaches gymnastics to seniors. For fun she does amateur theater. How does she manage it all, looking gorgeous to boot? “I’ve taught my kids that a family must collaborate. Everyone must do what they can. The little one picks up her toys, and the bigger ones  clean and take care of their clothes. I do most of the cooking, but my daughter Lucrezia makes wonderful pastas with sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant.”

Her customers tell her things like: You cheer us up and If there were a contest in Italy for the most beautiful barista smile, you’d surely win. 

Anna’s dream, like that of many Sicilians, is to spend a bit of time in the US. She’d like to improve her school English by helping out in an Italian restaurant. Any ideas? Please let me know.



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Festival Crowd, Part 2

June 6, 2015

I was happy to spot this beauty with the scarlet scarf. I had only ever seen them tied about men’s thick necks.

“So a woman can belong to San Giorgio’s Association?”  This is the group that parades the saint around the village.

“I’m the secretary,” she says.

“So you’re allowed to carry the saint?”

“Oh, no,” she smiles, then shrugs, as if to say “not in my lifetime.”

Sicilian Woman at Feast of San Giorgio, Copyright Jann Huizenga

Her cameo shows San Giorgio slaying the dragon.

And to continue my previous post showing festa-goers:

Sicilian in beret, copyright Jann Huizenga

What is it about a man in a beret??

Italian Style Man, copyright Jann Huizenga

He absolutely has what his T-shirt trumpets.

Sicilian couple, copyright Jann Huizenga

Love her pizzazz. She should have dressed him in a green tie.

Sicilian couple, copyright Jann Huizenga

Angelina still on the phone. Brad’s eye wandering.

Sicilian couple, copyright Jann Huizenga

Hmm. Let’s see. Who is San Giorgio and where is he to be found?

Father and daughter, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Papa, can’t you stop these damn explosions?

Balloon vendor, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

She dresses to match her balloons.

Police, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Almost as good as a beret.

Alla prossima, amici.



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