Poppies & Happiness

April 27, 2015

Poppies spring from the old stone steps.poppies, copyright Jann HuizengaA wind blows as I clatter down all 100 of them to the village “drawing room.” But in the piazza there’s warmth: we’re cocooned by the cathedral and buttery palazzi all around. The sun keeps my foamy coffee warm.
cappuccino, copyright Jann HuizengaAn old car gleams with nostalgia out on the street.

fiat 500, copyright Jann HuizengaTwo carabinieri saunter by in suits with a bright red stripe. They always travel in pairs. Brioches bake just inside the door. Bells roar. Umbrellas and birds flutter about. Even my hair is clean and smells good as it blows over my face. I scrawl in my notebook. Could there be a more perfect moment?

The piano teacher shuffles by and asks where is il marito, the husband? A constant concern of his.

Now all that remains in my cup is foam. I take the tiny spoon and scrape and scrape. I cannot bear for this moment to end.

Along comes Salvatore, 96.

sicilian elder, copyright jann huizenga

He tells me stories, this time about how he helped to plant the towering palm trees on the piazza as a kid. I love(d) these palms with a mad passion; four of the six have just been chopped down. (Big brown bugs.) My happiness quotient drops to 90%, fretting about it (again).

There’s the clanking of glass as the barista with rock-like biceps plunks an ashtray on every single table. A pigeon swoops by, too close.

Three tourists labor up the hill toward the cathedral. “No! Go away!” I don’t actually yell this, though I want to. Out come the purple iPads, raised high overhead like golf trophies. My happiness quotient drops to 85%.

Here comes long-lost chain-smoking Giorgio, with his long grey ponytail. He helped plaster my old wine cantina. We kiss hello; talk 15 seconds; kiss goodbye–lots of kissing with a few cliches thrown in for good measure. Happiness quotient bounces back up.

Do I have a right to be happy? People are dying in earthquakes, sinking in rickety boats in the Mediterranean. Joy brings guilt. I get up to visit Suleiman, a refugee from Ghana being housed in the village. For five months he’s been lost in the Italian legal system. Will he ever find happiness?

ghana refugee in italy; copyright Jann Huizenga




36 comments to Poppies & Happiness

  • Bentornata carissima!

    • Jann

      Grazie, Janine. Great to hear from you. Sorry I’ve been away from your site so long. xxxxx

    • Jann

      Janine, I just went to your site and I had trouble pulling it up. I don’t have the fastest internet connection here in Sicily, but after a few seconds most sites pop up–yours did not even after 60 seconds. Maybe it’s me???

  • John Schinina

    Ciao Jann, What can I say that everyone has said already, thanks for coming back to us.

  • Lucan

    Your pictures are beautiful Jann, but your sensitive, poetical, spiritual writing is even better.

    My happiness quotient always jumps after receiving your blog.

    • Jann

      Ciao Lucan– Some blushing going on here! I think that’s about the nicest comment anyone has ever written. Thank you very much.

  • Brioches bake just inside the door. Bells roar. Umbrellas and birds flutter about. Even my hair is clean and smells good as it blows over my face.****


    Poppies hold poetry…the way the blow in wind like tissue paper.

    You. Are. AMAZING. Jann. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Poppies are my favorite wild flower. Alpha Hubby grew me some similar to your pix – loved them! Suleiman is alive; he will find happiness again. Joy is a necessary ingredient to living a wonderful life. Compassion for others should never take away your joy. Tree loss is awful but look at that handsome young 96 year old man and I am so glad you shared his pix and life. Rude tourists? Can’t do a thing about them (ho)!

  • Love the poppies. I always do the same with my cup of coffee when in Sicily, but never anywhere else. It must be the combination of the coffee and sugar. So happy that you are posting once more.

  • Great post. How does the Italian community feel about the refugee population on the whole? I can see you arms reaching out with kindness. Is that common?

    • Jann

      Francesca, you ask me such a difficult question. And I hesitate to speak for Italians, especially since each one probably has his/her own opinions. But I have to say, first of all, that Italian rescuers, and those Italians who work directly with the refugees once they land, are veritable heroes. They have gone to extraordinary lengths. Sicily, in particular, has borne the brunt of the immigrant crisis, and I think it has borne it well. But now the number of refugees has swelled so much that it’s become harder and harder for the island to absorb more newcomers.

  • rosann

    It is just life. The good and the bad. We must fully appreciate the good when/where we find it. It is a balance. To not appreciate beauty and joy is to negate the struggle of others. Great post.

  • It is good to have you back. I look forward to your posts. Brava, bravissima and simpatica.

  • Jan Walcott

    So glad to once again be receiving posts from you, Jann, they always brighten our days!!! We were about to depart on a trip to Nepal with a fun group from our church, but thanks be to God, our departure date was May 1. Everybody is now turning their efforts to a fundraiser this weekend for the Nepalese people. So horrific! The two young people who went ahead to trek the Anapurna trail are safe, away from Katmandu, in a tiny village. Their cell phones worked to allow them to call their families. Small miracles.

    • Jann

      Jan, you are so lucky you missed the earthquake! After I posted this blog, I found out that my cousin and his daughter had been hiking on Mount Everest. They survived, barely, and just got out of Nepal today after living in a tent for more than a week.

  • I cannot believe that Salvatore is 96 years old. He doesn’t look older than 70. Poppies make me happy. They are blooming here too.

    • Jann

      Hi Loree, yes, Salvatore is quite amazing. Not only does he look younger than his years, his memory is perfect. Puts mine to shame.

  • Yes, you can be happy or maybe you must. Because we’re not in Nepal today, not on that rickety boat about to sink, not prisoner of Boko Aram. So yes, bella, we must be happy.

    • Jann

      Ciao Sylvie–I LOVE your comment: “We MUST be happy.” I needed to hear that.

    • Jann

      Sylvie–I’m delighted to have discovered your website and all your wonderful food and travel articles. BRAVA!!!

  • Yes, Jann, you can be happy cocooned in the safety of such a blissful place! Love the poppies. And Salvatore! Love how you’ve described the tourists, too. With all the madness and tragedy around the globe, it’s great coming here and seeing so much to delight in!!

  • I love the poppies, the car, Salvatore. Despite the horror in the world, you give me stuff of Sicily on a spring day. Happiness. Thanks, Jann. Susan

    • Jann

      Ciao Susan–hope all is well with you and that you’re planning another trip to Sicily soon.

  • Sam

    It appears as though your 96 year old had just come roaring up on that motorcycle!

    • Jann

      Honestly, Sam, I think he’s almost got it in him to roar off on that thing–if only he could swing his bum knee over it.

  • It seems the world is going mad. Thank goodness for poppies.

  • A really good post! Yes, this is life, the sweet and the bitter. I am so glad you visit Suleiman. When I see TV footage of the migrants I just want to take a family in. But…don’t know how in the world I would do that.

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