Love & Laurels

December 9, 2015

When you get your university diploma in Italy, you are laureato  (lau-ray-áh-toe), literally “crowned with laurel.” Some graduates still wear the bay leaf wreath, a tradition dating back to ancient Greece, when poets and scholars were so honored (thus “poet laureate” and Nobel Laureate”).

I found this laurel-bedecked graduate wandering the streets with his Botticelli maiden.

Graduation in Sicily, copyright Jann HuizengaWhen he saw my lens, he pulled her in for a smooch, Latin-lover style.

Laurel Crown in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga Long live laurels. Long live love, lads and lasses. Evviva l’Italia.


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Sicilian Serenade

November 14, 2015

Sometimes the headlines make me wonder: Is there any hope for us?

Francesco and his mother dropped into my world by chance today to remind me that great big hearts outnumber the evil ones.

I went into their shop to ask if I could photograph their bright bananas and sacks of potatoes hanging on outdoor walls. Sure, says Francesco. And just like that he strolls out with a classical guitar and breaks into song–some old Sicilian ballad. And out comes his mother, seduced by the sound, yanking off her apron.

Francesco and Mother, Copyright Jann HuizengaShe joins in with her beautiful soprano.

Francesco & Mother, copyright Jann Huizenga I go on my way when the song ends. A block later I hear: SIGNORA!!!!  It’s Francesco, gesturing me back. He gives me two slices of Sicilian cotognata, a sticky-fruity autumn candy, and his huge smile.

This pair sweetened my day, my life. A small kindness bestowed by chance–casualmente, as Italians say–can change the world.

Commit random acts of love. Right where you live.


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Francesco, copyright Jann Huizenga




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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