I Heart Mario

March 24, 2012

“Do you speak English?” a man asks. We’re waiting in line at a fishmonger’s shop in Militello Val di Catania, Sicily.

“Yes!” I get happy when I can speak my native language.

“I am Mario. I grew up here, but lived and worked in Brooklyn for so many years.”

I stare at his gorgeous pearly teeth. They make him look so American, setting him apart from all the other old-timers.

Sicilian-American Man in Beret, copyright Jann Huizenga

“Look!” Mario suddenly yanks at his sweater, pulling it down to expose a scar that divides his chest into east and west.

Sicilian-American Man, copyright Jann  Huizenga

“Bypass surgery. My doctor told me to get away from the stress of American life. So here I am. I feel wonderful!” He throws up his hands in victory.

Sicilian-American Man in Southeast Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Do you see why Sicily has hooked me? This is normal behavior, the way that complete strangers interact with you in a fishmonger’s shop in a town you’ve never set foot in before.

People are connected. They are where they are, not in some virtual world, not plugged into ipods or emailing and texting while they wait for their fish. They’re talking and laughing with each other.

Un bacione (a big kiss) to you, Mario. XXXXX

And to you.  XXXXXX


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33 comments to I Heart Mario

  • Charlie

    Today has been “revisit Sicily” day. My wife and I were there for 6 lovely days last September. Using a new book publish feature in Lightroom 4, she did three books on our trip. One was Sicily. Just had a wonderful time having a nice glass of a red Italian wine while reliving fantastic trip memories. I seriously think my wife wishes to retire there — save room for us Jann!

    • Jann

      Charlie! I know all about the Blurb feature in Lightroom 4–how fabulous that your wife has already done a book with it. I haven’t even managed to download #4 yet. And of course we’ll save a spot for you in Sicily.

  • In North America we’re taught not to meet a stranger’s eye; in Sicily it would seem the opposite holds true.

  • Anitre

    Wonderful! I’m pleased that you know of Militello. It’s a real baroque gem. Next time you go back, check out Bar New York. The owner, Carmello, lived in Brooklyn for many years and makes a delicious cannolo.

    • Jann

      Anitre, thanks for the tip. This makes me think that there’s a whole enclave of former Brooklynites in Militello.

  • Nina

    I did not have to have bypass surgery to figure out that the USA way of life can be hazardous to your health..My Briatico Italy Condo should be done soon. This is what I have to look forward to..

    • Jann

      Nina, that’s just wonderful about your Italian piece of paradise. Welcome to the blog, and thanks for commenting.

  • He’s just adorable! I love the way you are able to connect with the people there and take their photo.

  • Thought provoking for me. I keep hearing Barbara’s statement about Internal peace. We Americans call it vacations and it doesn’t give it either. Internal Peace, I am truly thinking on that. Thanks Barbara and Jann.

  • Si si Jann. Ti capisco!! Viva la Sicilia! I love this post – and the message inside…Jxx

  • This post reminded me of the time I was asked to put my head up against a man’s bare chest in order to hear his artificial heart valves—which sounded like a horse clip-clopping down a brick road. Our acquaintance was casual at best, but afterwards I felt a strange affinity! He was nothing if not enthusiastic about the marvels of his miraculous heart. (He runs a place on the beach in Metaponto near my husband’s place).
    I love the Superman pose!

    • Jann

      Well, Sandra, it was enough of a surprise to see Mario’s scar–glad I didn’t have to listen to any inner-workings!

  • Mario is a man after my heart…Beeeeautiful.

    and so are you, Jann.

    I love how you tell exquisite stories w/ your camera. Xxx Happy Sunday.

  • Sam

    I’m wondering: is it typical for young Sicilians to want to move to the US, and then just as typical for older Sicilian emigres (in the US) to want to return to Sicily?

    • Jann

      I don’t know if I can make a blanket statement, but that seems to be true in a lot of cases, Sam. Unemployment is so high in Sicily that young people often have to get off the island to find work. Or they feel isolated and want a wider experience. And I’ve met many older (retired) emigres who come back to the island.

  • Wayne

    Yeah! I want to move there before NYC makes me need bypass surgery (it’s been 30 years working here)

  • emalene

    Love the story, so true, Southeast Sicily is a very special place.
    Still remember dancing in the street with some senior citizen locals,
    I felt so welcome

  • Aaaaw. I HEART Mario too!!! I just returned from living in Italy for three years. I miss precisely what this post is talking about. Life here in America is much more hectic and it’s precisely in the connection to others. Americans want to excel, stand out, compete… that makes for amazing inventions and innovation… but not so great for internal peace. Thanks for this post!

    • Jann

      Oh, Barbara–it must be SO tough to adapt to life in the US after 3 full years in Italy. Good luck!!! Naples will miss you, I’m sure.

  • catherine billups


  • Jann, people like Mario are the reason I want to retire to Italy. I too want to live out my days in peace, tranquility, and a perpetual state of contentment such as the one he appears to be experiencing. What joy! I love these shots! You’ve captured Mario’s love for his country so well! 🙂

  • John Ferguson

    I think that Sicily is the original Facebook Jann, but even better. I never forget my login details here! Heading back to Fiji in a few more hours. Pretty hard to leave this time 🙁 People like Mario pull you into their lives and you don’t want to leave them.

    • Jann

      Ha ha, John–the original Facebook! Yes, hard to say goodbye, but you’ll be back before you know it. Buon viaggio & baci to you both!

  • John Schinina

    Ciao, Jann
    I envy Mario, my dream is to live and die in beautiful Ragusa-Ibla, I fell in love with that region when I was 17 and never forgot its beauty, however I don’t want the doctor to tell me when to move. Jann, your captions are wonderful, never stop.

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