Festival Crowd, Sicily: Part 1

June 1, 2015

We just concluded our festa honoring the town’s patron, San Giorgio, who pranced around on his horse for 3 days amid much fanfare–rocket booms day and night, fireworks, tears, hollering, confetti, mobs, twinkle lights, tubas, drum beats. Tourists thought we were under attack and pigeons had heart attacks. As my Sicilian neighbor said, “It’s all a little exaggerated.”

I’ve written about the festival itself here, so now I’ll show you some shots from the crowd.

 San Giorgio Festa in Ragusa, Sicily, Copyright Jann Huizenga

“I used to carry San Giorgio on my shoulders, but now I’m too old,” he said

Balloon vendor, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Balloon vendor: she made kids smile.

Sicilian couple, copyright Jann Huizenga

She has him and she wants to talk to someone else?

Band members, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

These poor guys deserved a break; they trudged up and down hills following San Giorgio for three days.

Padre & Figlio, copyright Jann Huizenga

Padre & figlio.

Padre & Figlio, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Padre & figlio.

Sicilian Festival, copyright Jann Huizenga

All waited with bated breath for San Giorgio’s final exit and stroll.

Watching a Festival, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

They had the absolute best view in the house.


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The Meadow is On My Plate

May 1, 2015

May Day. National holiday.

Andiamo alla campagna!  One and all to the countryside!

Heading for the hills on May Day is one of those unwritten Sicilian rules, like the one that requires you, when hanging out your wash, to clip each sock at the toe and hang it neatly next to its mate.

So off we go.

And there we find: bygone lanes, farmhouses with braying dogs, fields of ripe artichokes.

Bygone lane, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Farmhouse in Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

Artichoke in Field, copyright Jann HuizengaBut why we’ve really come is to forage for wild food. We rummage in meadows, like old-time peasants. Look! There’s asparagus, lassini and malva!

This goes on for hours.

Field of flowers, copyright Jann Huizenga

Lassini--you have to pick these stems before they flower. It's already too late to eat this particular plant but we find lassini plants in the shade that have not yet flowered.

Lassini–you have to pick these stems before they flower. It’s already too late to eat this particular plant but we find lassini plants in the shade that have not yet flowered.

Malva--you eat the leaves, not the flowers. It's such an ancient food that Horace mentions it: Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea levesque malvae (As for me, olives, chickory and malva provide sustenance.)

Malva–you eat the leaves, not the flowers. It’s such an ancient food that Horace mentions it: Me pascunt olivae, me cichorea levesque malvae (As for me, olives, chickory and malva provide sustenance.)

When hunger hits, we pull down green almonds and pop the whole fuzzy thing in our mouths. I make a sour face and am admonished for my timidity.

green olive, copyright Jann HuizengaTwenty minutes after arriving home, the meadow is on my plate.

Pasta Dish, Copyright Jann HuizengaIt’s getting cold, so I will bid you buon appetito and arrivederci.



Wee Babes in Sicily

July 10, 2012

It’s taken me days to recover from the hyperbolic Festa di San Paolo in Palazzolo Acreide.

Sicily: Land of Immoderation.

The day was pizza-oven hot. You needed shorts, a cold beer, and your back against a cool blue wall as you waited for Saint Paul to parade out of the church amid pyrotechnics so intense it felt like the town was under bombardment.

Sicilian Men Against a Blue Wall, copyright Jann Huizenga

My American Man wore shorts, too. (Folks, this is totally beside the point, but do you know how hard it has been to coax him out of his Paul Bunyon duds and into Italian-made clothes? And yet: he now wears embroidered floral shirts and carries lavender blessed by a priest.)

While the men stayed cool with beer, the women fanned themselves (Sicily’s Spanish heritage on full display).

Sicilian Woman with a Fan, copyright Jann Huizenga

The animals have been blessed by the priest…

Animals Blessed at Festa di San Paolo in Palazzolo Acreide, copyright Jann Huizenga

though they don’t look too happy about it.

Cow at Festa di San Paolo in Palazzolo Acreide, copyright Jann Huizenga

Waiting, waiting…

Come on. Hurry up, Saint Paul!!! We’re dying out here.

Men Wait for San Paolo to parade by in Palazzolo Acreide, copyright Jann Huizenga

Waiting for San Paolo to Parade By in Palazzolo Acreide, copyright Jann Huizenga

OK, the explosives are just about rigged up–all over the church, thousands of them.

Rigging up Fireworks for Festa di San Paolo, Palazzolo, copyright Jann Huizenga

Notices have been posted everywhere that it’s your own damn fault if you get blown to bits.

Sweet Jesus. What’s in store?

You run as far away from the piazza as you can. The locals have warned you that “there will be no air” there.

Then all hell breaks loose.

Even blocks away from the epicenter, kids have to plug their ears.

Festa di San Paolo, copyright Jann  Huizenga

And run for cover.

Impossible. Completely impossible!

Imagine a war zone. Shock and Awe. Combine that with an earthquake and Etna exploding. That’s what it feels like.

Festa di San Paolo, copyright Jann Huizenga

Now here he comes, the hero of the day. Paparazzi move like Ferraris through the baked streets.

Paparazzi in at Festa di San Paolo in Palazzolo Acreide, copyright Jann Huizenga

 More heroes below. (And we think we’re cooking?)

Festa di San Paolo in Palazzolo Acreide, copyright Jann Huizenga

Wee babes, all pink and dimpled, barely out of the womb, are passed up in the hot sun to be blessed by San Paolo.

Festa di San Paolo in Palazzolo Acreide, copyright Jann Huizenga

And then it’s home for siesta.


The Feast of San Paolo takes place in Palazzolo Acreide every year on June 27-29. The same town hosts the Feast of San Sebastiano in August (dates vary). Both festas are amazing, though I prefer the latter because the piazza where it is held is roomier so you get a better view even when you’re far away. Don’t miss the morning parade that winds all over town to collect bread.


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Day of the Dead in Sicily

November 2, 2011

*first published Nov 2, 2009*

A few years ago, I wanted to buy a ruin of a house on a solitary road out beyond the Ragusa cemetery. Sicilian friends (perfectly rational, well-educated ones) said I was matta, insane, that I’d be visited at night by dead souls.

“What do you mean?” I hollered. “I live two blocks from a cemetery in the US and I’ve never seen a ghost!”

They looked at me mournfully and insisted that the danger was real. They themselves would absolutely never pay me a visit there!

So I gave up the idea of that house with its faded pink walls, shocked at how alive the dead are in Sicily.

Sicilian cemeteries are always set well outside of town behind imposing walls. Below is the Scicli cemetery, full of mausoleums, magnificent pines and tall cypress.


Cemeteries here are well-tended, with custodians and on-site florists. They seem to be open most of the day, even during the long lunch break.



Many of the tombs show pictures of the dead.


Streets have names, just like in a real town.


Today is il Giorno dei Morti, Day of the Dead. Sicilian families flock to cemeteries—arms overflowing with lilies, mums, roses, and daisies—to spend time with their dearly departed.


Restoring a Damp House in Sicily, Part 11

May 29, 2010

I’ve cooked up the idea of installing in my kitchen a tile baseboard (called battiscopa, literally hit-broom) with a floral design. It’s going to be more than twice as high as a normal Sicilian baseboard.

When I explain my brilliant idea to the project manager, he knits his shaggy eyebrows into a scowl and gives his head a sad shake.

No, Gianna.”

I get a whiff of his strong aftershave.

Perché no?”  Why not?

He shoots me a look you might give a very slow learner.

“Non si fa in Sicilia.” It’s not done in Sicily.


I search for the right words. I tell him the ceiling is very high “e a me piace i fiori.” And to me pleases the flowers.

“Non si fa,” he repeats with steely authority. It’s simply not done.

Does he think one non-traditional battiscopa will throw the whole island out of whack?

This isn’t the first time I’ve run smack into the Wall of Tradition. Sicily is a culture that values the Old Way, the Way of Granny.

I adore this about the island, really I do. In fact, I’m restoring my house in the Way of Granny. Mostly. I’m preserving and enhancing whatever is old. The floor tiles I’ve chosen for the kitchen are traditional Sicilian ones made in Palermo. The floral tiles are also an old Sicilian motif.

But I just want to tweak things a bit here and there, add my own little spin.

In the end, I defy the project manager. The new stonemason masterfully installs the butterscotch-colored daisies while crooning Sicilian love songs.

“Beh, non e brutta,” the project manager concedes when he sees the battiscopa. “It’s not ugly.”

Sicilian Floor Tiles, Copyright Jann Huizenga


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Readers, can you help me? Will you consider voting for my Sicily photograph in the Islands Reader’s Choice poll? Here’s the link. The link will bring you to a photo I shot of a Sicilian woman in Capo Passero (in the extreme southeast corner of Sicily). You can vote by clicking on *My Favorite* underneath the photo. (I could win a photography course and you could win a camera!) GRAZIE MILLE! (To see thumbnails of all 22 photos in the competition, click this link.)

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