January 12, 2009
A reader emailed to ask me about Arab influences in southeast Sicily—in addition to the majolica mentioned in my last post.
There are so many leftover traces!
I want to share a personal story.
Do you see the man on the left, in the baseball cap? That’s Emanuele, assistant to my beloved (new) stonemason, Giorgio, the cap-less fellow, who warbles Sicilian love songs as he works, though that’s beside the point.
Here is a typical exchange between Emanuele and me:
Me, shaking his hand: A domani! See you tomorrow!
Him: Se Dio lo vuole, if God wills it.
Me: I think you’ll be able to finish tiling around the bidet.
Him: Se e la voglia di Dio, if it is the will of God.
When I first met Emanuele, I’d just returned from Morocco, where Inshallah, God willing, is a constant refrain. The fact that he used the same refrain astonished me. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked if he was Muslim.
His eyes bulged from their sockets at this suggestion, and his head jerked back on his thick neck (an Arab gesture for no.). Gianna, no! Ma che dici! Sono cattolico! Sono proprio, cento percento, cattolico!”
Scratch a Sicilian, I heard somewhere, and you’ll find a Saracen. Never mind that the two-plus centuries of Arab domination of the island ended more than a millennium ago.
NOTE: There’s a new book written by Alfonso Campisi, Ifriqiyya and Sicily: A Mediterranean Twinning, that retraces Sicily’s Arab history, but I haven’t been able to find it online. For a good summary on Arabs in Sicily click this link to Best of Sicily Magazine.