How to Drink Oil & Impress Friends

 November 18, 2012

It’s olive oil season in Sicily!

A few years ago Giuseppe Rosso, an award-winning producer, taught me the proper way to sample oil.

Giuseppe Rosso, Villa Zottopera, copyright Jann Huizenga

Giuseppe Rosso stands in his ancient olive grove in Chiaramonte Gulfi

We were at Villa Zottopera, his family’s 18th-century masseria in southern Sicily.

Villa Zottopera in Chiaramonte Gulfi, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

The entrance to Villa Zottopera

Villa Zottopera, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Villa Zottopera is an agriturismo–B&B!!!

The old estate in Chiaramonte Gulfi has thousands of twisted trees. He handed me a tiny cupful of green liquid flecked with gold.

“Hold it tightly in your hands, and do like this.”

Rosso, a non-stop talker with a twinkle in his eye, rubbed the bottom of the glass back and forth against the palm of his hand, as if preparing a magic potion. “The oil must be at body temperature. Now sniff it deeply, toss it behind your bottom lip, and watch me.”

He drained his glass, then made like a human vacuum cleaner, sucking the oil back through his bottom teeth with a big whoosh. I followed suit.

“Now wait.” He went silent for a moment to let me concentrate.

The oil had a bracing effect, tingling my tongue before trickling down the throat in a fruity-pungent sizzle.

I half-coughed.

“What do you taste?” Rosso quizzed. “Tell me what you taste.”

“Pepper.  Sunshine. Grass. . . . Nature!”

My answer was much too generic for him. Did I taste the profumo of almonds, the piccante of tomato leaves??

Uh, no. But I knew delizioso when I tasted it.

Ogghiu comuni sana ogni duluri, Sicilians say. Plain oil heals every pain.


For more information about Villa Zottopera, please visit me/BaroqueSicily on Facebook.

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La Purezza dell’Aria

March 25, 2011

The motto of Chiaramonte Gulfi, a charming hilltop village in Southeast Sicily, is this:

La purezza dell’aria non è un lusso, pure air is not a luxury.

Sign in Chiaramonte Gulfi, SIcily, Copyright Jann Huizenga

Breathing air free from toxins is not a luxury, it’s a human right: we need to guard it vigilantly.

There are greedy corporations who care much more about company profits than clean air.

My Parisian friend, Jean-Pierre Chellet, explains below why we need to be especially concerned about MOX, the unusually toxic plutonium-rich soup seeping from Reactor 3 at Fukushima, and he poses questions that need to be answered by the nuclear powers-that-be. (And please note: while MOX is still illegal for use in nuclear reactors in the US, there is a push to legalize it.)

The Fukushima reactors are old General Electric MARK1 engines designed and made with a technology that is now over 40 years old. Reactor 3, currently out of control, was recently (in late 2010) reloaded with MOX—a fuel using plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons that is sold and distributed by the French nuclear conglomerate, AREVA. Because of MOX’s toxicity, it is currently prohibited in the USA.

Many questions can be raised about TEPCO’s operations in Japan: Who guaranties, regulates, and certifies the use of MOX? Who insures that MOX is compatible with GE’s aging MARK1 reactors? Who publishes and implements the new safety regulations that need to be in place due to MOX’s toxicity?

Is GE in charge of certifying and approving this process? Given that General Electric and AREVA are competitors, this question is crucial. Has AREVA insured that MOX is fully compatible with GE’s old reactors? Are there new technical studies and safety regulations about MOX that have been released and published either by Japan’s nuclear authorities or by IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency)?

These are urgent questions since as recently as March 16, 2011 André-Claude Lacoste (the President of the National Safety Authority in France) declared on TV to a French Government Fukushima enquiry committee that he had no knowledge about either the infrastructure of the Fukushima reactors, nor about the MARK1 reactor designs! He added that Japan was currently providing documentation for a better understanding and follow-up of the Fukushima situation. Lacoste’s statements were especially astounding given that he was sitting right next to Anne Lauvergeon, the President of AREVA, whose company provided MOX for Japan’s reactors.

Obviously, the French Safety Authority and the French company AREVA doesn’t feel responsible for its MOX shipments to TEPCO in Japan; they seem to have no idea how—or whether—MOX fits Reactor 3 at Fukushima. A melting or an exploding Reactor 3 would generate the planet’s first large plutonium disaster.

Just imagine what sort of politico-commercial imbroglio is behind all these practices. These different international “partners” are all, of course, competing for the highest profits!


For more about the laxness of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, click to this New York Times article. If the oversight of the nuclear industry is anything like the so-called oversight of Wall Street, God help us….


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Sicily, and a Nostalgia for Lace

April 5, 2010

Like spun sugar.

Snow white.

Sicilian lace, full of grace.

Lace at Sicilian Window, copyright Jann Huizenga

Sicilian Lace in Window, copyright Jann Huizenga

Sicilian Woman Working on Lace, copyright Jann Huizenga

It’s women’s work, an eye-straining affair.

Sicilian Lace on Door, Siracusa, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Sicilian Lace on Door, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Twenty years ago Sicily’s shops brimmed with handmade local lace. Now it’s often made in China.

Antique Sicilian Lace Panel, copyright Jann Huizenga

Sicily’s art of lacemaking is dying, and isn’t that a shame?


Note for tourists: There’s a fine little museum of Sicilian hand embroidery and lace in Chiaramonte Gulfi in southeastern Sicily (a hilltop village also known for its olive oil museum and pork restaurant, Majore).


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