Sicily, and a Story of Church Chairs

June 6, 2010

“I know you,” said a tall man with olive eyes as we crossed paths last week.

I racked my brain. Had we met?

“We drink coffee at the same bar,” he laughed. “All stranieri, strangers, are famous here.”

I cringed.

“Do you know Louise from England?”

I shook my head.

He pointed to a low, crumbling building adjacent to the cathedral and pulled out a ring of keys. “The church is trying to sell this building. Do you want to see inside?”

The two dank rooms inside were pigeon-pooped and depressing, but I saw two old chairs I liked in a pile of junk.

Sicilian Church Chairs with Twine Seats, copyright Jann Huizenga

“I gift them to you, Signora.”

I politely protested.

“But they’re worthless!” he said.

Old Sicilian church chairs—seats lovingly caned with a thick, rough twine—have been replaced by pews.

Heading up the stairs to my house, a salvaged chair under each arm, I felt another rush of Sicily-love.

There was also regret. Why had he let them go so lightly?


Method for Getting rid of wormwood in old Sicilian chairs, copyright Jann Huizenga

ADDENDUM: It’s true that the little church chairs were riddled with wood-munching bugs—tarli, as they’re called here. But there’s a simple solution. My friend Roberta (left) taught me the antitarlo recipe:  Buy a syringe at a farmacia, don pink plastic gloves, fill the syringe with toxic goo, plunge it into each and every pinhole (there were millions), then wrap the chair, Christo-like, in plastic and let rest for 2 weeks. Unwrap and enjoy with a glass of Nero d’Avola.

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10 comments to Sicily, and a Story of Church Chairs

  • Yeah, i have to put some tarlix on my travi (wood beams). Though the fallegname says that if there weren’t tarli, the beams would be dead wood and the house would come crashing down. I picked up 2 similar chairs in the trash and painted them egg-white. They look very nice. Yours are better quality though; mine are the Tuscan type and I don’t much like them in wood colour.

    • Jann

      It’s weird why everyone in Italy has trouble with these little tarli bugs. I’d never heard of such a thing before coming here, but every old wooden thing seems to suffer from them here. Great idea to paint the chairs white… I found two more, so maybe I’ll try something creative with them because I can only stand a certain amount of dark wood.

  • What is the toxic goo???

  • sandee wheeler

    I love that your friend, Roberta, is wearing a dress to do this “procedure”! The chairs are wonderful!

  • Nur

    Jann!They are lovely,how nice to have them,I’m always interested in antique ones.I hope you use for happy occasions.Best.

  • catherine Billups

    I love your chairs.

  • Lexi

    OMG! You have got to be kidding. If only we had known! We threw out all of my husbands grandmothers beautful furniture because of them. EEEEEEKKK!!!! Thank you for all of the wonderful posts. I absolutely love them and live through your eyes.

    • Jann

      Lexi–thanks for reading & commenting. Ouch, that’s so sad about your old furniture!!! All the antique dealers here in Sicily do this “antitarlo” treatment too. I think maybe it’s called wormwood in English?

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